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Welcome, regular readers and potluckers alike, to the 3rd Virtual Vegan Potluck.

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I eat soup probably 4 or 5 times a week in the normal run of things, and I like making it because it’s easy, quick and nourishing.

Although all the soup I make is vegetarian, most of it is also vegan. One of the many wonderful things about soup is that if you stick to a few simple ingredients it’s very hard to mess it up.

I first made this soup without the coconut milk and it was nice and tangy, but quite acidic. The addition of coconut milk balances out the acidity and adds a wonderfully creamy dimension.

Ingredients:

1 can of coconut milk

1 small brown onion, peeled and chopped

1 tablespoon of grated root ginger

2 red peppers (capsicum), chopped

2 parsnips, peeled and chopped

3/4 of a pint (400 ml) of vegetable stock

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Throw the vegetables into a pan with the grated ginger, can of coconut milk and vegetable stock.

2. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

3. Liquidise with a stick blender or in a liquidiser.

4. Add black pepper to taste.

For lots more vegan deliciousness, be sure to check out some of the other participants (there are more than 170 this time round!).

A full list of bloggers with the category of dish they’ve brought to the potluck (you might be tempted to go straight to puddings, and who can blame you?) can be found here.

To visit Veganishy, the blog before mine in the potluck chain and the last in the list of side dishes, please click on the button below:

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To visit Sweetveg, the next soup in the line-up, please click on the button below:

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H a p p y   N o s h i n g !

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After my last post, I was thinking it was high time I did a post dedicated my two most delightful assistants.

Then, I thought, they really should be a more permanent fixture on my blog and so instead I’ve written a separate page about them. You can find it as a tab at the top of the blog, or by clicking here.

The picture below was taken last May and is a little corridor in their garden, between a fence and a wall, that they’ve left to grow wild.

It reminds me of the house and garden I was brought up in, where they did a similar thing. There was a section at the bottom of the garden that remained unmown and unplanted, and it was chock-full of long grasses, wild poppies and the like. There was a tree in the middle of it, from which my mum hung a wooden plank on two ropes to make a swing. I remember taking an old pan and a wooden spoon down there and mixing up recipes with soil and grass in, lost in my own little outdoor kitchen. Happy days.

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Today is the second of Annie’s Virtual Vegan Potlucks, in which a whole host of vegan and vegan-friendly bloggers unite in a big festival of meat- and dairy-free noshing around the globe.

Participants chose a category from a list of menu items (breads, mains, desserts, beverages, etc.), decided on what they wanted to bring to the virtual table, and were then placed in a list organised by Annie (for the full list of participants, please see here).

Each blogger taking part will post their own contribution today, adding a link to the blog before and after them on Annie’s list, creating a chain of vegan blogs that you can, if you wish, work your way through in a massive banquet of vegan delights.

Last time we did this, I opted for the beverages category so that I could write about tea. This time I’ve opted for the beverages category so that I can write about tea.

If you happen to live in the northern hemisphere you will perhaps have noticed a chilly change in the weather of late. In light of this, I’ve chosen to bring a lovely warming chai to the potluck (equally tasty south of the equator, I’m quite sure):

20 years ago I popped off to live and work in Pakistan, thinking I might stay there for about 3 months. Unwilling to leave a country that dished up such excellent tea, I gave up on coming home so soon and stayed on for another year to get in a decent amount of tea drinking.

During my time there I drank a lot of chai. It was consistently hot, spicy, usually sweet, and virtually always delicious.

I can only recall one less than satisfactory chai experience. I was visiting someone, I forget now who or where it was (there was a lot of visiting and tea taking going on), and was given a welcoming cup of sweet chai to sup on. My host, as he was pouring out the chai, unwittingly dropped some of his cigarette ash into the cup. Out of politeness, I consumed both the tea and the ash.

Speaking as one who has tried it both ways, I would strongly recommend drinking chai without the addition of cigarette ash.

I have often tried to recreate at home the taste of the lovely ashless Pakistani chai that I drank so much of back then, but I’ve never succeeded in getting it to taste as good.

Clipper’s chai isn’t quite like the stuff I remember from those days but it is a very quick and easy way to get that spicy, warming, delicious tea taste, and the combination of spices Clipper have come up with is far better than any concoction I’ve managed to mix up for myself. One of the slightly unusual ingredients in the tea is lemon peel, which I think is what sets it apart from other chai teas I’ve tried. The lemon is not overpowering but it adds a little citrusy zing to the spiciness, which I think works very well.

In order to bring joy to your life once you have a packet of this stuff, you’ll need some boiling water, and possibly some sort of milk and sweetener, if you like it that way (although it’s also jolly nice black, in my opinion).

It is highly acceptable served straight into a mug, or from a teapot with pretty china and a few chums to share the pleasure with.

At first glance (or indeed, after a prolonged stare), turning up to the potluck bearing nothing but a box of teabags might seem like a bit of a cop-out. I can’t deny that, I admit that it shows a distinct lack of culinary effort on my part, but on the up side if I’m let loose near a kettle I can promise you a perfectly brewed pot of tea.

As any regular tea drinker will know, there are a few key elements to making a nice cup of tea, and chief amongst these (at least for black tea) is boiling water .

I’m sorry to report that occasionally in a tearoom I have been brought a pot of hot water with a cup and teabag on the side. This has been both painful and distressing, very much like standing on an upturned plug or stubbing a toe.

In a tearoom, even if the water is boiling when it goes into the pot, it certainly won’t be boiling by the time it reaches the customer. Sitting alone in the pot, its bubbly loveliness is wasted on the inside of the pot instead of usefully infusing the tea.

Pouring hot – but not boiling – water onto a teabag is the sort of experience one should restrict to those occasions when one is marooned at the top of Mount Everest.

Following their successful ascent of Mount Everst in 1953, Tensing Norgay and Edmund Hillary take tea out of tin mugs (I bet it tasted pretty good, too).

Up at 29,000 feet, due to a decrease in pressure that results in the water boiling at a lower temperature, a warm slooshy tea-like concotion is the best the weary climber can hope for. (I have this on good authority, although I can’t claim to have tested it out for myself; it’s regrettable, but being in possession of this information has put me right off climbing Everest). Down nearer sea level there are no such excuses for shoddy tea preparation.

Here are my top tips for making a lovely pot of Clipper chai:

1. Get some Clipper chai tea, a teapot and however many teacups you require.

2. Put plenty of freshly drawn cold water into a kettle and put it on to boil.

3. Just before the water boils, pour a decent splash of nearly boiling water into the teapot to warm it.

4. Slosh the water around the teapot while the kettle comes to the boil, and then discard the teapot water and bung in as many teabags as you think you’ll need (one per person, is my advice).

5. When the kettle boils, immediately pour the water into the warmed teapot onto the teabags and give the whole lot a stir with a spoon (and perhaps a squidge of the bags, if you feel like it).

6. Pop a teacosy onto the teapot (such as this delightful creation by veteran teacosy maker, Laine Williams:

7. Wait patiently for around 3 minutes and then pour the tea into cups (personally, I wouldn’t warm the cups because my feeling is that the tea has already done all its infusing, and now I just want it to be cool enough to drink as soon as possible).

If you want to add milk, you might like to glug a slosh of soy or alternative milk (I have tried it with oat milk, which was quite nice, but I wonder if almond might be preferable) into the cup prior to adding the tea. Alternatively, you may prefer to add the milk afterwards, but in any case I don’t think you need to worry about the china breaking with the hot tea (which is, apparently, one of the reasons for adding the milk first) since the tea will have cooled down a little since you added the water to the pot. If you’re nervous about adding too much milk, I would advise adding it after you’ve poured the tea, and just a little at a time so that you can taste it and find the quantity you prefer.

Sweetener is another matter of personal taste. The chai I had in Pakistan was generally very sweet, and I enjoyed it greatly at the time, but when I make Clipper chai I don’t add any sweetener because I’ve developed a taste for it ‘plain’, so to speak.

If you fancy trying this tea but can’t find Clipper chai at an outlet near you, it is available online from a number of websites, including the Clipper site, here.

Bottoms up!

image courtesy of thethreetomatoes.com

To visit the blog on the list before mine, Don’t Switch Off The Light, please click on the image below:

To visit the blog after mine, Veganosaurus (which, as it happens, contains a chai recipe), please click on this image:

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A week ago I published a post entitled How to write a novel, which wasn’t so much a set of instructions as an update on my progress with writing one. I was pleased with myself for having hit my first 10,000 words. In the week since then I have added absolutely nothing to it.

This morning I began re-reading the first page of what I’ve written, and discovered that it’s so mindbogglingly tedious that I can’t even reach the bottom of the page without yawning my head off and wishing I was watching paint dry. Is this because I’ve read it so often, or is it because it genuinely is mind-bogglingly tedious?

I’m not sure, but it puts me in the sticky situation of not knowing what to do next. I could put the first 10,000 words to the back of my mind, pick up where I left off and keep writing regardless, or I could completely start again, rehashing the whole thing from scratch, or I could give up on it altogether, and accept that I will never write a novel.

Just at this moment, giving up seems a) the most sensible, and b) impossible. Even if every word I write is utter drivel, I don’t think I can stop myself from having a go at bashing out chapters of the stuff. Although I do think most of what I’ve written so far is excruciatingly dull, something inside me can’t seem to give it up on it.

Given this sorry state of affairs, having a bit of a whinge on my blog seemed like a refreshing balm for the soul. In fact, I feel better already, and would like to now make up for my moaning with pictures of a nice lunch I had last month in the utterly splendid bookshop and cafe, ReadingLasses (it specialises in books by women writers – rather a clever name, don’t you think?), in the small town of Wigtown.

I’ve written before about this place (here), and my most recent visit – while on holiday in Galloway with the delightful assistants – was as pleasing as ever.

It was exceptionally busy the day we popped in for luncheon, there being a busload of about 30 American tourists just having shipped in, shortly to be followed by a second busload. Each of them wanted to pay for their own meal, which led to a great deal of queueing and till-side confusion when it came to settling the bills. The way the shop is laid out, there’s not much space at the till area, indeed if you have more than one punter standing there it feels a tad cramped. We were seated near the till and the spectacle of politely shuffling tourists, peering at their strange currency and trying to remember what they’d eaten and therefore wanted to pay for, afforded us great entertainment. A small dog, that I think lives in the shop, added to the hullabaloo by getting in amongst the feet of punters and waitresses, and was clearly much excited by the sociable atmosphere.

I had been hoping for the shepherdess pie I had on my last visit here, but it wasn’t on the menu, so I plumped for a delicious sounding three bean chilli (vegan, to boot) instead. It came with crisp French bread, tortilla chips and some lettuce. The chilli was extremely hot, but the side items and a lovely glass of cool tap water helped to cool down my burning mouth. It was tasty and satisfying:

Thanks to it being, although quite substantial, also fairly light, I had room for a pudding. The puddings here are as good as the main courses, and I was tempted by the rice pud I had enjoyed previously, but then I remembered the chocolate brownie.

On the whole, I’m not much of a one for brownies, being suspicious of the sort of uncooked texture of the middle, but I had tasted one here before and recalled how exquisite it was. I took the plunge. It was served hot with ice cream, and I paired it rather decadently with an excellent decaf cappuccino:

I don’t know if that appeals to you or not, but I wish I could let you taste it. It exceeded my expectations, and even now I can lapse into a state of bliss just thinking of how the chocolate melted on the tongue and how the texture and warmth seemed to nourish my blood and make me fitter, stronger, and almost invincible. (This might be stretching things a bit, but it did make me feel magnificent, despite its artery-clogging potential.)

I can’t resist another picture of it, to emphasise the pleasure:

Delightful assistant no.1 also indulged in a dessert, and the rice pudding called to her. It was, to be truthful, more a plate of cream with some rice in it, which exactly suited her tastes:

And so, when I feel useless and unable to achieve what I’ve set out to do in the novel-writing department, at least I know I still have the ability to consume and enjoy delicious fare. Not perhaps the world’s greatest ever achievement, but eminently satisfying for me all the same.

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 “Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did.”

- William Butler, 16th Century writer

It must be summer in Perthshire because it’s warm and sunny and local strawberries are appearing all over the place.

There’s a small town called Coupar Angus just a few miles from where I live, and every year a travelling strawberry seller sets up shop on a rough bit of ground next to the Red House Hotel there. I gave him some custom today, and in return he let me take a photo of him and his strawberry kiosk:

These are the strawberries that were purchased from him:

Here they are nestling amongst some fruity chums:

I turned my back for two seconds and what do you know, but the strawberries had hopped away from their fruit comrades and clustered round this tub of double cream. Look how lovingly they’re cosying up to it:

Strawberries and raspberries are a big thing round here, an area often referred to as ‘the soft fruits capital of Scotland’. I do like strawberries but if I had to choose between them and raspberries (which would be dreadful), I would probably go for the raspberries.

In celebration of berries in general,  how about a big cake covered in raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and various other things besides? I poached this from Home is where the boat is, via the lovely Lucinda who posted it on her Crazy for Tea Time Facebook page. When I saw it, I was stunned and delighted:

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Something wonderful happened on Monday the 2nd of April: one of my favourite local tearooms reopened its doors for the season, an event I’d been waiting for all winter.

This tearoom is situated on the outskirts of Perth, on my main route into the city, and many’s the time over the past few months I’ve driven past, longing for it to open again. When the big day finally arrived, on Monday morning, I took two delightful assistants Perthwards to celebrate this marvellous event.

I have been warned on many occasions by my delightful assistants that in my over-the-top enthusiasm for certain tearooms I may be getting people’s hopes up so much that they end up being disappointed when they visit one of my recommendations. I understand this concern, but there are some occasions when I simply cannot help myself. If it’s of any reassurance, when my tearoom guidebook comes out it will be a little more restrained and balanced in its reviews (that’s the plan anyway, but who can tell what will actually happen?), so that hopefully if you read it you won’t be let down. I do apologise in advance to anyone who suffers as a result of my adoration, but when it comes to certain tearooms I feel I have some sort of defence.

If you’ve ever had a relative, friend, partner, pet or pair of shoes that you have felt a deep and fervent love for, you will understand my feelings about this tearoom. Like a proud parent when their child comes first in the egg and spoon race on sports day, stepping through the door of this tearoom the other day briefly felt like the best moment of my life.

A sight for sore eyes: an empty table in this wonderful tearoom:

It being that lovely time of day between breakfast and lunch I selected, from their splendid scone options (on this occasion: plain, fruit, date and cinnamon, and cheese), a date and cinnamon scone. It was almost certainly the best date and cinnamon scone I’ve ever had (at least, since the last one I had here):

What’s more, it had not long ago come out of the oven and was still slightly warm. A universe away from a microwaved job. The outside was of perfect crispness, while the inside was as fluffy and light as you could possibly want, and the datiness and cinnamoniness made it nothing short of heaven on a plate:

To accompany this marvellous creation I had a pot of excellent tea, which lovely assistant no.2 joined me in along with her choice of a fruit scone, while lovely assistant no.1 had a decaf coffee and another date and cinnamon delight.

One of the many things I love about this tearoom is the way the teacups and plates are laid out on the pretty tablecloths ready for my arrival. It’s so welcoming, as if they’ve been expecting me and have popped the required crockery out because they know I’ll be needing a nice cup of tea and a scone when I sit down:

Had I not gone for a scone, I might have had a slice of one of these very tempting looking cakes that were smiling at me in an engaging manner from inside the chiller cabinet:

A thing I always like to see in a tearoom is a ready supply of napkins/serviettes, because you never know when you might need a spare one. Here, we even had a choice of yellow or green, and a most delightful little cow to serve them to us:

This tearoom, as well as being one of my top places for a good scone and a nice cup of tea, has charming service. The lovely ladies (and, occasionally, men) who take the orders are volunteers, and all profits from the tearoom go to a cancer charity. Despite the very reasonable prices, they raise thousands of pounds a year by selling their delicious morsels. By patronising this tearoom, not only can you indulge in superb fare, but by doing so you’re helping to save lives. It is a most excellent win-win situation.

Attached to the tearoom is a small gift shop which sells, amongst other enticing items, the cafe’s own first class cookery book. I mentioned this book in a previous post (see here) because it is currently my favourite recipe book, and I was delighted to see that they were still selling it this year. Delightful assistant no.2 was overjoyed to discover this, as she had been waiting for months to buy a copy for herself.

Seats were set up outside ready to welcome the long warm days of summer (I live in hope), along with a rack of second-hand books, from which I have sometimes found a little gem to take home with me:

As if all of this were not good enough, when I went to pay the bill I discovered that, since we had been one of the first 12 customers of the new season, the coffee was free of charge!

If I could recommend this tearoom more highly I would, but bearing in mind the stark warnings I’ve been getting about my over-enthusiastic approach to such things, I will content myself with saying that this is a jolly nice tearoom and I’m looking forward to many more visits during the coming months.

N.B. There was no Tearoom of the Week last week because the previous one had been in two parts (see Tearoom of the Week (Part One) and Tearoom of the Week (Part Two)), and I decided to have a small break before the next one. I was delighted to be able to make this one TotW (9) though, as I’ve been wanting to highlight it ever since I started this blog. Hurrah!

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After our visit to Perth museum the other day, my lovely assistant and I made our way to a lunch place in Perth that we’d never been to before. We had initially thought of going to Breizh, a creperie nearby, but on viewing the menu of this other place, plumped for that instead. Our choice led to a jolly tasty luncheon with a twist of foreignness about it.

This place only opened in 2010 but has become very popular and was fairly hotching when we rolled up. Thankfully, someone had just vacated a nice corner table by the window, so we nabbed it in a timely manner.

There was an old-fashioned dark wooden bar near the entrance, with cloched cake stands gleaming temptingly. We both thought that the mirrored bar and style of wooden chairs made it feel a bit French. I took my chance for a quick photo when there was no-one sitting directly in my line of vision:

Cafe with a French feel

What we chose to have wasn’t very French, but it was a bit exotic. I went for falafel (Middle Eastern in origin, I believe), which was served very simply with a tub of Greek yoghurt and a beetroot side salad:

Tasty Middle Eastern fare

My assistant opted for a Greek salad, which was fairly swimming in olive oil but was declared most acceptable. She ordered some of the cafe’s own superbly crusty homemade bread to go with it, which could also be bought in loaf form to take away.

We didn’t have room for a pudding but on the way out I spotted these marvellous large meringues. They must have been about 5 inches in diameter:

An excellent use of egg white
On another occasion I may have to pop back and sample one.

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Karen, of the truly beautiful Lavender and Lovage blog, posted a wonderful feature on her mum’s fancy cakes the other day.

It inspired me to make my own fancy cakes today:

I was particularly keen to try out my new china. I got 3 more miraculous teacup-and-saucer-joined-onto-a-plate combos (I’ve decided to call them ‘cuplates’ from now on, until I find out their proper name, if they have one) in a charity shop yesterday morning, and then I found the beautiful oval roses plate in an antique shop in Abernethy in the afternoon. The pretty plate was on sale for £4 and when I asked the lady if she’d do it for £3 and she said ‘yes’ with no hesitation, I was chuffed to bits.

I decorated some of the small cakes with tiny jelly babies, including one martian:

A nice cup of tea and a small fancy cake on one of my new cuplates:

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I’ve damaged my wrist and am feeling sorry for myself (all sympathy greatly received, I always think stoically soldiering through illness without complaint is much over-rated, you miss out on lots of sympathy if you keep quiet about it).

To cheer myself up, I made myself a little invalid’s tea using the clever teacup-and-saucer-joined-onto-a-plate my mum bought me in a second-hand shop recently. A cup of Twining’s tea and two petite slices of my mum’s home-made brown bread with smooth peanut butter and cherry tomatoes has gone some way to restoring my spirits.

I admit, I only posted this in an attempt to garner sympathy, and to show off my clever plate and cup combo. I’m fine really. If you don’t count writhing in agony due to searing wrist pain.

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I imagine that most bakers have their own favourite recipe for scones, and this is the one I base my scones on, altering it depending on what kind of scones I’m making. It comes from the small Be-Ro baking book my mum used a lot when I was growing up, and to my delight I found a copy of the same book in a second hand shop. Here’s the Be-Ro book atop my current favourite cookbook, The MacMillan Coffee Shop Recipe Book:

When I made spiced pear scones the other day (click here) the following recipe is more or less what I used. (Because I’ve made scones so often I’m afraid I don’t always accurately measure ingredients).

I use the rather old-fashioned imperial measures because it’s what I was brought up with, and since the numbers are smaller than measuring in grams, they’re more practical for my easily confused mind.

Ingredients

4 oz self raising white flour

4 oz self raising wholemeal flour

1 heaped teaspoon baking powder

2 oz margarine (you could use butter instead, but I use Flora spread)

2 oz soft brown sugar (any sugar would do, I just fancied using the soft brown stuff, and I think it was 2 oz I used, although I usually only use 1 oz, but I thought it might need more with the pear in it, in any case they weren’t too sweet)

1 level teaspoon of mixed spice

1 level teaspoon of cinnamon

1 rounded teaspoon of nutmeg (I don’t honestly know how much spice I used, I just shook it in, but I think I used more nutmeg than anything else)

1 Conference pear, peeled, de-seeded and chopped into chunks

1 egg, beaten

A little milk (again, guessing here, but it may have been a tablespoon or two, it depends on how big the egg is and how wet the mixture is before you add the milk)

Method

1. Set the oven at about 220 degrees Celsius (I used a fan oven at 220 and then turned it down to 210 after the first few minutes of baking so that my scones wouldn’t burn) with an oven shelf ready at the top of the oven.

2.  Mix flours and baking powder in a bowl, rub in margarine (you could use an electric mixer for this job but I always do it by hand because I find it quite therapeutic).

3.  Add sugar, spices and chopped pear to flour mixture and mix well.

4.  Add most of the beaten egg (keeping just a little aside to paint onto the scones before baking – this gives the scones a nice shiny glaze) and enough milk to make as wet a mixture as you can handle without it sticking to your hands and the rolling pin.

5.  Spread the area you’re going to roll the scone mixture out on with a bit of flour (I have a flour shaker filled with plain white flour, but you could use self raising, it really doesn’t matter).

6.  Divide the dough into two and, handling lightly, roll out each blob into a round about 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick (this was a bit of a squishy job for me because my pear chunks were quite large).

7.  Cut each of the rounds into quarters (you could just mark the round and cook it all as one, dividing the scones once cooked which would make for more triangular scones, or you could press each scone out using scone cutters, which is what I normally do) and put onto a baking tray.

8.  Brush the top of each scone with the beaten egg using a pastry brush (I have occasionally smeared egg on with my fingers if I haven’t had a brush to hand) and bake at the top of the oven for 11 minutes (it could be 10, it could be 12, but I generally do it for 11 because I’ve found that this is what works with my oven).

The picture below shows how mine turned out. I did open the oven door quickly after about 7 minutes and turned the oven tray round but that’s only because my oven doesn’t cook evenly, you shouldn’t have to do that.

Happy baking! :)

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