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Posts Tagged ‘cream’

Not only is the title of this post a Scottish expression meaning ‘the small talkative one’, it’s also the name of a tearoom that sits in a little village along a dead end road on the north bank of Loch Ard near Aberfoyle in Scotland.

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A side wall of the Wee Blether tearoom and post office, Kinlochard.

The tearoom is a most interesting place, with plenty both outside and inside to draw the attention.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALots of teapots hang outside the tearoom, a situation that apparently came about by a happy mistake.

Hoping to make a sculpture from broken bits of pottery, the owner asked people for donations of their old teapots, but was given such a plethora of fine pots in good condition that she abandoned the idea of smashing them up, and instead slung them onto hooks around the building.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s seating inside and out, and on a warm sunny day you might imagine you were somewhere a little more exotic than bonnie Scotland.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAInside, the tearoom has a friendly, welcoming feel and, naturally enough, more teapots.

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After consuming jacket potatoes with very generous salads, my delightful assistant and I tottered out into the sunshine for a short walk to work up our appetites for sweet treats.

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Loch Ard, near Aberfoyle.

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Carved owls in a garden in the village of Kinlochard.

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Burgeoning foliage, Kinlochard.

Back in the Wee Blether, we turned to the ‘Ye Shouldnaes’ [things you shouldn't indulge in] section of the menu:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy delightful assistant was particularly attracted by a three-layer Victoria sponge filled with raspberries and cream.

It was served freshly stabbed, giving the fork little chance of sliding off the plate onto the floor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was very taken with this arrangement, and can imagine how satisfying it must be for the waitress to plunge a fork into each slice of cake ordered. If I worked at the Wee Blether I would go out of my way to recommend sponge cakes to customers.

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Scones, on the other hand, don’t come with forks but at the Wee Blether they come in a very decent size (£10 note for scale):

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My scone was so large that I initially cut it in two intending to take half of it away in the napkin, but, what do you know, when it was time to leave the whole thing had mysteriously vamooshed.

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A large scone – now you see it, now you don’t.

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The pretty seaside town of Pittenweem sits on Scotland’s east coast, in the Kingdom of Fife.

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With its red-roofed, white-washed buildings and quiet streets, it’s a delightful place to take a stroll and relax on a sunny day.

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Last year, as part of Pittenweem in Bloom, a curious selection of old bicycles appeared throughout the town.

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Fisherman’s bike near the harbour.

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A cheery chap with a sack of potatoes outside the church.

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A bike selling eggs, although they’d all been snapped up when I walked past it.

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Little red bike that had apparently just come in from a swim.

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An artist’s bike with paintbrushes sticking out of paint pots attached to the frame.

Not all of the bikes were the right way up.

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Upside down bike harnessed to a tree in the main street.

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A question many bicycle owners consider at some point in their lives.

And at least one little bike had jumped up above street level.

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A surprisingly musical bicycle down a side street.

Pittenweem’s attractive ice cream shop had a bike secured outside the front door (you can only see the back wheel of it in the picture, I’m afraid).

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This next one had been fixed up with an unusual (if not terribly practical) set of square wheels:

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“The Flintstone Flyer”, a square wheeled oddity.

It was such a gloriously sunny day when I was snapping away at all these bikes that I felt I was somewhere considerably more exotic than the east coast of Scotland.

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A moment of disorientation – have I been transported to a Spanish island?

All of this bicycle business was pretty exhausting, but luckily revitalising victuals weren’t far away.

At the excellent Cocoa Tree Cafe, I fuelled up on an exquisite chocolate cake and a pot of cardamom tea:

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My treat came with a jug of single cream and I was very pleased with the little slug that formed when I poured the cream over the cake:

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My delightful assistant sated her hunger with a cream scone:

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*   *   *   *   *

If you’re ever mooching around in the Fife area wondering how to fill your time, I heartily recommend a trip to Pittenweem.

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A walk along the sea front makes for a pleasant bit of exercise, and while you’re dondering along be sure to keep an eye out for this appealing local resident.

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The past week has been a very good one for scones.

(I confess, most weeks are good for scones, the scone being pretty much a daily occurrence in my life.)

The first one I have a picture of was devoured in the wonderful Loch Leven’s Larder, after this delicious chickpea salad:

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Following the chickpeas was a truly first class, decent sized blueberry and vanilla taste sensation:

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The chum I was having lunch with also had a scone, opting for the dried fruit sort, served not only with jam and butter, but cream to boot (all of which disappeared very swiftly):

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A couple of days later I had another decent sized, tip-top scone while working in the A K Bell Library cafe. It was of the treacle variety:

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Yesterday I had a golden raisin scone (home produced):

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And today, in honour of my sister coming for lunch, a batch of cheese and poppy seed scones appeared:

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This is not the full complement of scones devoured in the past week, but unfortunately I don’t have a photograph of the pear and walnut or the sultana scones. They are, nonetheless, happy memories.

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One of the things that repeatedly surprises me about Scotland is the number of fascinating little out of the way villages there are, sitting quietly waiting to be discovered.

The county of Fife is full of such places, and yesterday I took the delightful assistants out for a seaside adventure in search of one.

Anyone who knows the Fife coast well might already be familiar with the village of West Wemyss (pronounced Weems), but it’s the sort of place you could easily miss, being at the end of a road that leads to West Wemyss and nowhere else.

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The village of West Wemyss, nestling on the Fife coast at the end of the road.

We parked in a free car park by the harbour, overlooked by some commanding buildings complete with pantiled roofs very typical of Fife coastal villages.

The cream coloured building is called the Belvedere, and was built in 1927 to serve as a miner’s institute and reading room. I would have liked to have gone inside and had a look for the books, but alas it was all closed up.

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The village of West Wemyss was a planned community, built by the landed gentry of the Wemyss Estate to house their workers.

Despite still having a few grand buildings the current village has a popluation of around 240 and I don’t imagine that these days many of them have work within West Wemyss itself.

The Wemyss family have lived in this area since around the 12th Century and in 1421 Sir John Wemyss built Wemyss Castle, which is now in a state of some disrepair.

The castle lies a short distance along the bay from the main part of the village.

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Wemyss Castle hiding behind trees and a most curious wall which, viewed from afar, I thought was a long arched bridge.

I’m sure there’s a lot of interesting history attached to Wemyss Castle, far more than I’ve been able to find with a quick online search, but I did learn that much of the Wemyss family wealth was built on coal mining. I also discovered that in 1565 Mary Queen of Scots first met Lord Darnley (the chap who was to become her second husband) at Wemyss Castle.

As we walked past the castle we noticed that close to shore in the bay, stretched out on rocks, were a few fat seals.

I believe that both grey and common (or harbour) seals are found in the Firth of Forth and I really don’t know which these were, but they were satisfyingly plump and shiny.

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Fat seals.

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Is a shiny seal a healthy seal? I like to think so.

Just inland from the seals was a row of large concrete blocks: tank defences put there during the second world war to stop the Jerries from climbing aboard our shores.

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Between the castle and the village, stuck onto an old bit of wall, were some mosaics, including one depicting two swans:

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Swan mosaics stuck onto an old bit of wall by the coast.

There was a snazzy mosaic door, too, which didn’t seem to lead anywhere but looked very pretty.

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Lovely mosaic door stuck into an old wall.

A plaque informed us that this artwork had come about as a collaboration between three local artists and the nearby primary school at Coaltown of Wemyss (another village along the coast). The project was supported by Fife Council and included a little picnic area:

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A view that delightful assistant no.2 claims brings sorrow to his very soul – a picnic area with no picnic in sight.

Constructed in 1512, West Wemyss harbour lies at the west end of the village.

In the old days it was an important port for ships carrying coal and salt (and, somewhat unfortunately in 1590, the plague, which spread from here throughout Fife wiping out a good many of the inhabitants).

These days it provides shelter for a few fishing and pleasure craft:

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West Wemyss harbour.

Next to the harbour we spotted a beautifully weathered building with a few bricks set into the surrounding stonework. It looked to me like a work of art.

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Interesting textures created by wind and weather, nicely contrasting with a bit of brickwork.

Having enjoyed a bracing walk along the coast with a cold wind blowing rain into our faces, we were ready for sustenance and plunged into the West Wemyss Walk Inn Cafe.

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The West Wemyss Walk Inn – the cafe inside is run by a combination of paid staff and volunteers, and jolly good it is, too.

It was lovely to get inside out of the wind and rain, and settle down in the warm cafe to peruse the menu.

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Inside the West Wemyss Walk Inn Cafe – cosy and welcoming.

I opted for the soup of the day, which was cream of tomato and came with a roll and – delightfully – a cheese and chilli stick covered in sesame seeds:

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Outstandingly good soup with bready snacks on the side.

Not having been there before I wasn’t sure what to expect, but am delighted to report that it was exceptionally good soup and a very nice little stick and roll. The soup tasted of fresh tomatoes and cream, it was thick and delicious and, I’m quite sure, the best tomato soup I’ve ever tasted.

Delightful assistant no.1 went for fish and chips, which came with a side order of bread and butter.

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Battered fish with chips, peas, bread and butter. Carbohydrates covered.

Delightful assistant no.2 chose one of his favourite toasted sandwiches, a brie and cranberry panini, which came with a fresh side salad and a few crisps:

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Brie and cranberry panini with salad and crisps.

We all had tea to drink, and a free refill of the teapot. Everything we had was just the job to warm us up and make us feel contented.

The cakes on offer were freshly baked in the kitchen upstairs and looked very tempting, but we all felt too full to have anything straight after our savouries, so we’ll save that treat for another occasion.

On the windowsill next to where I was sitting there was a small Christmas tree made from driftwood and decorated with fairy lights.

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Driftwood tree at West Wemyss Walk Inn Cafe.

Behind the tree there was a framed certificate that made me happy; it declared that in 2013 West Wemyss had won a Silver award in Beautiful Scotland’s ‘Wee Village’ category.

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An award in the Wee Village category for the West Wemyss Bloomers, 2013.

I’m not surprised that West Wemyss has won such an award and I intend to revist later in the year when there are more blooms to be seen. Even on a dull, damp January day there were bright colours dotted about to cheer us up and make us glad we’d taken the little dead end road down to the coast.

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Bright colours to cheer a dull day in West Wemyss.

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As you may be aware, there is a traditional Scottish dish called haggis.

In my meat eating days I used to enjoy a bit of haggis, with mashed neeps (turnip) and tatties (potatoes).

These days, thanks to the Scottish haggis manufacturing company, Macsween, I enjoy the veggie version just as much as I ever enjoyed the meat one.

The veggie version burst onto the scene in 1984, when John Macsween created it to celebrate the opening of the Scottish Poetry Library.

To digress a little, the Scottish Poetry Library has some interesting articles on its website, including a section for people who are new to poetry. Among other things, there’s a link to a document containing 10 points to consider when reading a poem. Worth a peek if the subject interests you.

Getting back to the haggis, here’s what a Macsween vegetarian haggis looks like:

A Macsween veggie haggis bulging beneath its tight vest.

I don’t know the proper name for the mathematical shape, but I think of it as a squat bulgous oval:

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The veggie haggis: cylindrical with rounded ends, bulging at the frontiers of its wrapping.

The outer sleeve is a vacuum sealed plastic casing:

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Outer packaging of the veggie haggis, vacuum sealed and decorated with a tartan design.

Cooking instructions, ingredients, etc. are helpfully provided on the back:

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However you choose to cook it – and you have the option of conventional or microwave oven – you need to take off the printed outer sleeve first.

This reveals a transparent sleeve beneath, sealed at the ends with metal clips:

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Transparent casing beneath the printed outer packaging of a veggie haggis.

If you’re cooking it in a microwave oven you need to take this casing off too, and then chop the haggis up and stick it in a bowl with a lid before zapping it with microwaves.

This is my usual method of cooking, since it’s quick, easy and energy efficient, but today it so happened that the oven was still hot from baking scones beforehand, so I cooked it in the oven instead. When heating it this way, you leave the inner sleeve on, wrap it all up in foil and stick it in a baking tray with some water in it:

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When it’s piping hot, after about 45 minutes, you find that the previously already bulgous parcel has puffed out even further:

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When I unwrapped the foil I discovered that the inner sleeve was stretched to its limits:

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Veggie haggis fit to burst.

The build up of pressure inside was such that when I went to slice it open, as soon as the knife’s tip had penetrated the casing, the haggis began making a break for freedom:

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Hello world!

One of the things I find a little stressful about preparing haggis, neeps and tatties, is that several things need to be done at the last minute: opening up and dishing out the haggis, and mashing and serving both neeps and tatties.

Each constituent part has the unfortunate tendency to lose heat quite rapidly, so it’s tricky to get it all dished out while everything’s still nice and hot. (If you have a little helper who can take care of the veggies while you deal with the haggis, or vice versa, I would recommend making use of them.)

Incidentally, I noticed today that my local supermarket identifies the turnip by its Scottish name, rather than the more usual English term:

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Packaging from the neep, a Scottish turnip.

These days, if you order haggis, neeps and tatties in a restaurant, it often appears as a stack like this:

Haggis, Neeps & Tatties - Picture of The Pipers' Tryst Hotel, Glasgow

Photo from The Pipers’ Tryst Hotel courtesy of TripAdvisor

But the traditional way of serving it is to make three little mounds, like this:

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Veggie haggis, neeps and tatties dolloped onto a plate in splodges.

As well as oats and lentils, which are the main ingredients of veggie haggis, Macsween’s haggis includes kidney beans, mushrooms, onions, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.

According to their website, 1 in every 4 Macsween’s haggis sold is a vegetarian one. From what I can gather from various sources of information, between 2% and 6% of UK citizens are vegetarian, and yet 25% of the haggis sold by Macsween is of the non-meat variety.

What I know for a fact is that veggie haggis is enjoyed by veggies and carnivores alike, and it certainly makes for a filling and wholesome luncheon.

If you follow it with mince pies and cream you will almost certainly want to take yourself off for a little afternoon nap…zzzzzzzzzzz

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Last week I tootled off to Scotland’s peaceful south-west with the delightful assistants for a little holiday.

Purely for scientific reasons (although what they were I couldn’t say), I gave myself the challenge of having a scone in a different tearoom every day. What follows is the photographic evidence of my work.

On our way south, we stopped at Le Jardin Cafe near Kinross. There was an excellent choice of scones, and I plumped for a plain one.

The scone was delightful, but the jam was outstanding. We were brought two different jams: mixed berry and apple, and apple and plum, and both were extremely good. This is not the best photograph of a scone, but I’ve included it because there’s a little pot of jam in the background.

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Saturday at Le Jardin Cafe – a plain scone with excellent jam

The next day, settled in nicely at our holiday cottage, we went to the beautiful Logan Botanic Gardens, where we had both morning tea and luncheon in the Potting Shed Bistro.

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Sunday at Logan Botanic Gardens – a fruit scone

The following day we visited Wigtown, known as Scotland’s Book Town for all the bookshops it contains, and called in at Cafe Rendezvous for our morning snacks.

It’s very nice when your expectations are exceeded, and such was the case with my scone at Cafe Rendezvous.

The scone was not only somewhat on the small side, but looked to me as if it might be lacking any great taste sensation. How wrong I was, it was a triumph!

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Monday at Cafe Rendezvous, Wigtown – a fruit scone

Tuesday’s scone was provided by the Pilgrim Tearoom in Whithorn. There were two scone choices, I think one was plain (it might have been fruit) and the other was treacle. I chose the treacle.

When you’ve had a particularly good scone experience one day, it  does make you wonder what the next one might be like. Again, my expectations were low, and again they were exceeded. What a happy set of circumstances.

The scones were so good that we returned to the same place for lunch, and I daresay I’ll be doing a separate post about that anon.

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Tuesday at the Pilgrim Tearoom – a treacle scone

Wednesday, the middle of the week, was a red letter day. We went to one of my very favourite tearooms anywhere in the world, Kitty’s in New Galloway (a post will follow about that too, no doubt).

We went there for the first part of our lunch and, after a walk to work up our appetites between courses, returned for sweet treats.

The many exquisite cakes on offer at Kitty’s made choosing what to have very difficult, but I was lured in by the prospect of a cream scone. It was served with an excellent full-bodied English Breakfast leaf tea.

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Wednesday at Kitty’s Tearoom – a plain scone with cream and jam

Topping Kitty’s would be very difficult and indeed it didn’t happen. Thursday’s scone was taken at the Seasons Tearoom in Dunskey Gardens, where we met up with various other family members. The company on this occasion was what mattered more than the comestibles.

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Thursday at the Seasons Tearoom – a fruit scone

The joy of Friday was that we went to a tearoom we’d never been to before, Granny’s Kitchen in Newton Stewart, where there were several flavours of scone on offer.

I delighted in choosing the unusual coconut scone, one that I’ve rarely seen in tearooms. It was a top class confection.

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Friday at Granny’s Kitchen – a coconut scone

Last year when I was in Galloway, I had a truly magnificent scone at the Woodlea Tearoom in Sandhead and I had been dreaming about having another one there.

On the last day of my holiday my dream came true. Just look at the stretch on this beauty:

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Saturday at Woodlea Tearoom – a fruit scone

Thank you to all of the wonderful Galloway tearooms that provided me with opportunities to conduct my work, it was a most enjoyable task.

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Following on from my last post, after luncheon at Duff House my delightful assistant and I tootled up to have a look at one or two of the small villages that are strung out along the Moray coast.

Our first stop was the attractively named Gardenstown, which was reached via a steep narrow road full of hairpin bends.

We parked in a quiet street just above the harbour and got out to amble through the village and gaze out to sea:

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I didn’t realise at first that this smart little building at the harbour was a toilet block. We didn’t make use of the facilities but they looked very well kept from the outside.

Attached to the railing I was leaning on to take the above photos, and at various other points in the town, there were curious little signs:

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For those not in the know, there is a department store chain in the UK called BHS, which stands for British Home Stores; I assume it inspired the name of this Gardenstown emporium.

The delightful assistant and I were keen to take a look, and found said shop lurking inside this green wooden building:

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Inside, it had the feel of a thrift shop, being largely stocked with second-hand oddments such as handbags, puzzles, books, clothes, photo frames and ornaments.

There were also a few brand new items, some of which had presumably been made locally, and amongst them were what I can only assume were gnomes. They were unlike any gnomes I’ve ever seen before, however, and I wish I had a photograph to show you. Alas, I didn’t feel able to take pictures under the watchful eyes of the assistants, who sat silent and motionless behind an old wooden counter observing our every move (we were the only customers).

The thing that impressed me most about this peculiar little shop was the high prices. In this tiny out of the way place, haphazardly dangling from the walls and strewn about dusty shelves, everything seemed to be surprisingly expensive. I remember there were a few very small notebooks filled with cheap lined paper that I would expect to cost a maximum of 30p, but which were priced at £1 each. I don’t wish to criticise the owners of this store or to pass judgement on their efforts to run a retail business, but I find it hard to imagine them ever selling anything.

On the plus side, visiting it was certainly an experience.

Back outside the store, I was attracted by this somewhat unusual pair of bollards outside someone’s front door:

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On closer inspection they reminded me of chess pieces:

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I confess, their purpose wasn’t entirely clear to me but – thanks to the heads on top – I drew the conclusion that they must be for tying your horse up to.

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By this time the afternoon was drawing on and I wanted to have a peek at the interesting village of Crovie, just along the coast, before we turned round and headed towards home, so we got back into the car and set off up the steep winding streets of Gardenstown to rejoin the main road.

Unfortunately, our departure coincided with the arrival of a convoy of funeral attendees coming down the hill and looking for places to park on the roadside. We were forced to sit with the handbrake pulled up as far as it would go, on a steep slope next to a sharp bend with another car right behind us, constantly attempting to pull away but being thwarted by ever more vehicles appearing round the bend.

In this country, there is an understanding (it may even be mentioned in the Highway Code, I can’t remember) that traffic coming downhill gives way to that going uphill, but there was none of that in Gardenstown. Mind you, due to hairpin bends and buildings obscuring the view, I expect the downhill drivers didn’t know that there were uphill drivers waiting round the bend, and by the time they swung into view there was no room for them to give way to anyone.

It was not the most comfortable part of our day out, but at least it was summer time and the roads were dry. I shuddered to think what it would be like on ice in the winter, and made a mental note never to relocate to Gardenstown.

A few miles along the main road we saw the sign we were looking for, next to an attractive bus shelter with a not so attractive bin in front of it. The little blue and white anchor on the signpost denotes that Crovie is on the scenic route along the Moray coast:

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The single track road leading down to Crovie from the main road:

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Crovie, like Gardenstown, lies by the sea at the end of a steep road with a few sharp bends in it.

We passed a sign at a car park by the roadside before the village suggesting that any non-locals might like to stop there rather than continue down, but after surviving Gardenstown I wasn’t too put off by that. We did in fact find another place to park a bit further down the road, which was possibly just as well because there wasn’t a lot of land to park on down in the village.

The cars in the distance on the left of this picture were the only ones I saw there:

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The west end of Crovie village.

Looking in the other direction there didn’t seem to be enough space for cars, and according to the Undiscovered Scotland website this is in fact the case.

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The east end of Crovie village: no room for cars.

It surprised me that people actually chose to live here with it being so close to the sea, although I’ve since found out that quite a few of the houses are now holiday lets occupied only in the summer. On a stormy day at high tide I imagine it could be quite invigorating to stick your head out of the window of one of these houses.

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For a more professional photograph of Crovie, you might like to have a look at Scott Marshall’s blog, here.

When we’d finished gawping at Crovie, we buzzed off south again and stopped in a most curious place for cream teas.

The location was a castle and apparently photography was forbidden indoors ‘for insurance reasons’ and so, despite having taken a lot of pictures before I was aware of this rule, I’ve decided not to publish them here. This is a pity, particularly as many of them were taken in the tearoom where we enjoyed truly excellent cream teas. I even went to the trouble of conducting an experiment involving a cherry scone, some raspberry jam and a large pot of whipped cream.

The ‘cream tea’ (i.e. a pot of tea served with a scone, jam and cream – traditionally clotted cream, but often whipped double cream is used instead, as it was on this occasion), is said to have originated in the English county of Devon in the 11th Century, but the county nextdoor, Cornwall, also claims the cream tea as its own. I’ve only ever had a cream tea in Cornwall, not having spent any time in Devon, but I have heard that the difference between a Devonshire cream tea and a Cornish cream tea is in the ordering of the jam and cream on the scone.

In Devon they put the cream on first (butter isn’t usually part of a cream tea, unless my delightful assistants happen to be in charge) with the jam on top, and in Cornwall it’s the other way round: jam first, then cream. Here’s an example of what I’m on about (admittedly, this is one of the forbidden pictures, but you’d never know the location from this photo), with Devon on the right and Cornwall on the left:

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I’ve observed that in Scotland people tend to follow the Cornish method, with jam first and cream on top, and I think I understand the reason for this.

Whenever I’ve tried it the other way round, with the cream on first, I’ve found it difficult to apply the jam on top of the cream in such a way as to make it look appetising. Usually what happens is the heavier jam sinks into the cream and when an attempt is made to spread the jam, it combines with the cream to create a bit of a delicious mess. Applying the jam first means you lay a good solid foundation for the lighter cream, which when spread atop the jam layer manages to hold its own without mixing in with the jam too much.

When I take a cream tea (which I fear I do far too frequently for the good of my health), I tend to use the Cornish method, simply for neatness. What is a little unfortunate is that when I tested it on the occasion pictured above, I discovered (as I had already known, deep down) that I slightly preferred the taste sensation of the Devonshire method, with the cream underneath the jam.

I say it’s unfortunate but that’s like saying that a good solid 10 hour sleep is better than a sleep of 9 hours 55 minutes, i.e. there’s not much in it and I really can’t complain about the minimal difference in the end result.

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As you may be aware, a British royal baby is due to see the light of day in the middle of July this year, first child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

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The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge playing at being Canadian Rangers.

Coincidentally, Twinings have brought out a bit of inspiration for anyone wondering how to toast the new infant, in the form of three new caddies featuring their Earl Grey, English Breakfast and Peppermint teabags.

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Rather splendidly I’ve received one of each of these delightful caddies, along with a Twinings pinny. The pinny pocket can, at a squeeze, accommodate all three caddies.

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You may already know the origins and rituals of afternoon tea, but if you’d like a little education or instruction, Twinings have helpfully devoted a page to the subject, entitled English Afternoon Tea, on their website.

I don’t know what time of day the average aristocrat gets up in the morning these days, but I suspect that in the Victorian era they liked a lie-in. I deduce this from the fact that they took their dinner rather late in the evening, which was what prompted Anne, the 7th Duchess of Bedford to popularise the business of taking afternoon tea.

The Duchess was Queen Victoria’s personal assistant, and I daresay that meant she had to eat her main meals at times dictated by the monarch. However, she found the stretch between lunch and dinner too long to bear without sustenance, and so she came up with the idea of taking tea and a few snacks mid-afternoon to keep the wolf from the door.

I can understand the Duchess’s problem, for I myself begin to get hunger pangs at the traditional afternoon tea stage (between 4pm and 6pm). However, I deal with this by eating my evening meal shortly after 5pm, and getting tucked up in bed nice and early, around the time the Duchess would have been sitting down to her evening repast. Due to dining so early, I don’t often indulge in the tradition that is afternoon tea, but I have a cunning solution that makes sure I don’t miss out, viz. every now and then I take afternoon tea in place of luncheon.

What with getting these lovely tea caddies, and the sun blazing from a blue sky on Saturday, the delightful assistants and I plumped for an afternoon tea picnic in the garden.

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We drank our fill of Twinings English Breakfast tea and, not for the first time, it occurred to me that this tea is misnamed. English Breakfast seems to me to be much more an afternoon type beverage than a morning one, and it certainly slipped down a treat with our teatime fare.

It was the perfect opportunity to make use of my tea and toast sets (or, as I like to call them, teacuplates), saucers that merge into plates, providing an ideal afternoon-tea-size treat area.

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There are certain things one ought to produce for an afternoon tea, namely tea, dainty crustless sandwiches (I saved the crusts to make breadcrumbs), small scones and nibbles of cake. (Twinings have more afternoon tea ideas on their website.)

Here we have some finger sandwiches made from soya and linseed bread with spinach and roasted ‘chicken’ (actually meat-free Quorn):

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Fluffy white bread sandwiches with sliced Quorn cocktail sausages, and cheese scones:

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I enjoyed making butter curls for the scones with a clever little metal gadget.

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The cheese scones were available in two sizes – small:

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and tiny:

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My dad perched a blueberry on one half of his tiny scone to give an idea of scale (the cutter I used has a diameter of 3cm):

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The reason I made savoury, rather than sweet, scones was because afternoon tea tends to veer towards the sweet and I often find myself craving a bit more savoury to balance all the cakes out.

On the topic of cakes, we had mini raspberry buns (a vanilla cake mix with a blob of raspberry jam in the middle of the bun), topped with whipped cream and a raspberry:

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On a few of the buns the jam was visible from the outside, owing to me being somewhat heavy handed with the jam.

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There were also chocolate fruit and nut clusters (melted Cadbury’s Dairy Milk with as many currants and chopped nuts as I could squash into a petit fours case),

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small slices of Border tart (a rich fruit tart in a pastry-type base, which I discovered is very difficult to cut into thin slices), and my mum’s excellent seed and peel cake.

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I can’t remember how old I was when I first developed a taste for tea and small treats, but I feel fairly certain that this somewhat disgruntled photograph was taken when I had been put into my pram for a sleep while my parents were sitting down to afternoon tea without me:

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And this one was taken on a far happier occasion, when I was informed that I was to join them in their tea taking:

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I hope that the new royal baby will have many happy years ahead of him/her devouring a wide variety of afternoon tea treats, and that he/she will become an excellent ambassador for the institution that is a good British* afternoon tea.

*Great British traditions such as taking afternoon tea, obsessing about the weather, apologising when someone bumps into you in the street and supporting the underdog at Wimbledon are some of the things that might just tip the balance against Scotland becoming an independent country next year. I like being Scottish but equally I like being British and I don’t relish having to choose between the two.

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If you happen to be in Scotland driving along the A90, the main road between Dundee and Aberdeen, you might be surprised by the dearth of good eateries along this busy route.

However, about halfway between the two cities, near the little town of Laurencekirk and about half a mile off the main road, there lurks a gem of a place called Balmakewan:

According to the website, Balmakewan is not only a farm shop and tearoom (housed in the old coach house building pictured above), but also a small family run mansion house, with holiday cottages to rent and a large selection of rhododendrons and azaleas for sale.

When you go through the doors of the old coach house, you find a very spacious and nicely laid out shop area:

Beyond this there is a big table surrounded by tins, jars, packets and bottles of food and drink for sale:

The big table is one of the places you can sit if you want to make use of the splendid tearoom facilities, but there are smaller options too:

Much of the seating appears to have been acquired from a church, many of the chairs having storage areas on their backs (see picture above) for a Bible/hymnbook. Old wooden church pews are also provided:

The tables are remarkably shiny, as can be seen in the picture below. The only other place I’ve seen wooden tables gleaming like this was in a small farm tearoom not far from Balmakewan. Perhaps it’s all the rage in rural Aberdeenshire.

The menu is more of a restauranty affair than you’d expect to find in the average tearoom, but helpfully they offer small portions as well as full size versions.

My delightful assistants and I all went for small portions in order to leave room for pudding.

Delightful assistant no.1 had smoked haddock with boiled new potatoes and spring greens:

Delightful assistant no.2 and I both opted for pea risotto, which came with creamy cheese fritters and was artistically finished with watercress and pea shoots. I thought it was one of the most beautiful meals I’d ever eaten:

I was particularly delighted by the curling pea shoots:

The main courses were very good, but what of the desserts?

Choosing a sweet was a fairly painful business. I’m often torn in situations where there’s a number of pleasing pudding options, and I had a sort of pleasurable nightmare at Balmakewan.

I almost plumped for St Clement’s Log, one of the day’s specials and the choice of delightful assistant no.1. I tasted a bit of hers and, although you might not get all this from the photograph, it was a creamy, moussey, extremely citrussy slab of near perfection:

Delightful assistant no.2 also went down the creamy pudding route, with Bailey’s and white chocolate cheesecake. Texturewise, it struck me as cheesecake perfection, melting in the mouth like a snowflake on the tongue:

Faced with such decadent delights, what do you suppose I went for?

Regular readers might not be too surprised by my choice of a very decent sized (enormous) fruit scone:

It was served with a little dish of swirling butter and a small cup of excellent strawberry jam:

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Due to its great girth I struggled to finish it, but the accompaniment of a pot of Lady Grey tea helped it down nicely. The assistants both went for coffee.

Prior to hot beverages, with our main courses we had a carafe of water between us. In addition to that, delightful assistant no.2 had a bottle of Thistly Cross cider, an alcoholic beverage crafted in the Scottish seaside town of Dunbar.

He enjoyed it very much, but it left him ready for a nice nap, so when our luncheon was concluded he headed off to the car for a sleep while delightful assistant no.1 and I went for a little walk up a quiet road.

On the way we passed the garden of Balmakewan House, which had an unusual stone fence (or perhaps, being made of stone, it would be considered a wall):

There was also a curious old tower in a field that caught our attention. I have no idea what it was doing there, but I thought it looked rather nice sitting alongside some pylons (I like a nice pylon):

When we got back to the car, delightful assistant no.2 was awake and ready for a new experience, so we all whisked off to the nearby Steptoe’s Yard. I wrote about this amazing place on my Teacups Press blog last year but on that occasion it was only delightful assistant no.1 and I who visited.

As anticipated, delightful assistant no.2 was fascinated by the garden implements:

Despite the profusion of items on offer, we left empty handed.

It’s several days since we had this little outing, but while I’ve been writing this post the memory of that Balmakewan scone has been looming large in my mind. It exceeded expectations and days later I’m craving another. This, in my view, is an indication of scone greatness.

 

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In my final Twinings free tea tasting review, I present the delightfully named Ceylon Orange Pekoe:

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The term ‘orange pekoe’ refers not to the flavour or colour of the tea, but to the grading of the tea leaves used.

I attempted to digest the Wikipedia article about this but it made my head hurt. If you want further information you could have a go at reading the article yourself, but the essential point would appear to be that ‘orange pekoe’ denotes a high quality large leaf tea.

It has been suggested that the ‘orange’ in the name might come from a connection with the Dutch House of Orange, who were partial to a spot of high quality tea. As for the word ‘pekoe’ there appears to be some confusion about this, but it may refer to a certain bit of the tea leaf bud.

To tea pedants this lack of certainty may appear unsatisfactory but, to my mind, orange pekoe’s enigmatic origins only add to its allure.

The Twinings Orange Pekoe I was sent contained the sort of tea I expect to find when tea shopping outside the UK: a box of individually wrapped sachets:

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I assume that the difference in packaging for tea consumed within the UK and that destined for overseas markets is related to the amount of tea drunk in a certain country. Wrapping each teabag up individually perhaps makes sense if you only use one teabag very occasionally, but I should imagine that if tea was routinely packaged like this in the UK, there would be a national outcry.

I certainly found that when I went to make a pot of Twinings Ceylon Orange Pekoe, using four teabags, I felt frustrated by the amount of effort involved in unpackaging each paper wrapper and then having to deal with the associated strings and tags that came with each one.  I ripped off the tags, but I would have been better advised to snip off the strings too because when I went to stir the teabags around in the teapot, the strings got all wrapped round the spoon and made me not a little irate.

To be fair to Twinings, they do state on their website that this orange pekoe is made for international markets, so perhaps they don’t sell much of it in the UK. The box certainly had travel aspirations, with information in more than a dozen languages.

The important thing about this tea was of course not the packaging or the name, but the taste of the stuff.

It seemed to me to be the sort of tea one might like to drink with a slice of cake (right at the moment I can’t think of any other sort of tea, but I suppose there may be such a thing), and so I made a Victoria sponge to scoff with it:

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I had a bit of an accident when pouring the icing sugar out of the packet, and since I’d dropped a load of sugary snow on one bit of the cake I thought I’d better make it look even by smothering the rest of it too:

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As I tend to expect with Ceylon, the tea was a light sort of brew, but it had a good strong colour (one might almost say orangey), and a smooth drinkable quality. The delightful assistants described the tea as ‘mellow’ and that word certainly seemed to me to fit the bill.

It was surprisingly flavourful, and we all agreed that it was the perfect partner for a sweet treat:

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To the great delight of the assistants, a bit of cream was added to mark the occasion.

N.B. The amount of cream featured in this picture is shown for example only, and is not an accurate representation of quantities consumed:

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