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Posts Tagged ‘United States’

Mimi’s Bakehouse is a tearoom I’ve been wanting to visit for some time. It’s situated in the Leith area of Edinburgh, a part of the city I know reasonably well, having inhabited three different flats in the vicinity.

Edinburgh, and Leith in particular, has been on my mind quite a bit lately. In the past couple of weeks I’ve read two Ian Rankin books set in Edinburgh, and the main character in my own novel (still under construction, currently at 25,000 words) lives in Leith.

All of this, combined with my desire to meet up with a chum who lives in the great metropolis, led to me nipping down there last week.

The day was dreich (wet, damp, dull and – some might say – a bit miserable) but, arriving a bit early, I wandered round some of my old haunts.

One never knows, on revisiting a place, quite what one’s feelings will be. I was half expecting to be irritated by the noise and traffic, put off by the general busyness of the city, which has sometimes been the case when I’ve been back to Edinburgh after my quiet life in leafy Perthshire. However, I was surprised to find that I felt happy, exhuberant and delighted to be back. Quite a few of Leith’s streets are cobbled, rather than covered with tarmac (is this known in the US as asphalt? I’ve never been too sure): I was glad to see this old chap again, a fellow I often used to walk past and bid good day to: Although some of the shops, pubs, cafes, etc. have changed since I was last here, it was reassuring to see that some looked exactly as I’d left them. This wee pub has probably looked much the same for the past 200 years, dating back as it does to 1785: Inside, Mimi’s provided a bright and welcoming contrast to the weather. Indeed, far from feeling the chill outside, the ladies on the wallpaper appeared to be feeling the heat: We opted to sit in one of the sofa areas, which was decorated with some stylish cushions: The main point of interest to my mind, however, was the cake counter. I opted for the coffee and walnut: If I’d been in a chocolate mood I would have found this creation hard to resist: And if I’d been craving the malty crunchiness of Maltesers, this little gem would have been top of my list: To go with my cake, I ordered Teapigs Chai tea, which came in a little teapot with a slice of orange on the side: The cake was heavily iced (a bit too much for me on this occasion, although if I’d been desperate for a sugar rush I’d have scoofed it back readily enough), but the sponge itself was extremely light and fluffy:

Just as coffee and walnut is one of the cakes I frequently like to try, my chum is very partial to a caramel, or millionaire, shortbread. Mimi’s had large slabs of the stuff on offer, and he jumped at the opportunity, pairing it with a cappuccino: I wasn’t too fussed about trying it, since it looked a bit heavy and solid to me, but when I tasted a little corner I was astonished by its melt-in-the-mouth texture. The biscuit, toffee and chocolate disappeared together in a most pleasant manner. It was, surely, one of the best of its kind.

Mimi’s is, altogether, rather a stylish establishment. The ladies toilet can be located by this attractive notice on the door: The black and white theme evident throughout the tearoom itself, is continued in the bathrooms: After our delicious repast, my comrade had to get back to work and I thought I’d get a little exercise by way of trotting round the Botanic Gardens, which were on my route out of the city. The colours were beautiful but it was raining quite heavily. One good thing about going to the Botanics on such a wet day was that I virtually had the place to myself, including the magnificent hot houses: While I was pounding the pavements in Leith and driving through the city, I noticed that there are lots of new tearooms that weren’t there in my day.

The trouble, if you can call it that, is that there are far more tearooms to sample than I have the capacity for. Just as I don’t expect to die with an empty in-tray, neither do I anticipate managing to consume all the cakes I would like to gorge on in this one short lifetime. If ever there were a reason for reincarnation, that must be it.

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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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How dark to you think dark chocolate should be?

This is not necessarily the definitive answer, but according to the European Union (click to see Wikipedia article), in order for chocolate to be ‘dark’ it must contain at least 35% cocoa solids (the same article states that the US has no official definition for dark chocolate). By contrast, something like the Cadbury’s Twirl (milk chocolate) contains ‘a minumum of 25% cocoa solids’.  When I think of dark chocolate, I expect it to contain at least 60% cocoa solids, and in today’s little investigation I’ve decided to compare two bars containing 70% cocoa solids.

There are many different makes of dark chocolate, and if I were doing this thing properly I would have a wider sample range, but since this is really just an excuse for me to try out different chocolate, I’m comparing Green and Black’s with Divine (I should have taken a photograph of them nicely wrapped up together but unfortunately I had already started eating them before it occurred to me):

Part of my non-scientific approach to this was to purchase bars of different sizes. The Green & Black’s bar shown is the 100g size, whereas the Divine one is 45g. The reason for this is that I happened to see the small size of Divine the other day when I fancied some chocolate and then yesterday in Tesco I noticed that Green & Black’s chocolate was on special offer in the 100g size. It’s all down to practicalities.

Both companies are fully Fairtrade certified, so thumbs up to that in the first instance. They’re also both attractively packaged, in my opinion, and immediately recognisable due to their design.

First up: Green & Black’s. Here’s what greets you when you peel off the outer paper layer:

The foil inside continues the Green & Black’s font from outside the packet, and reinforces the fact that what you’re about to nibble on is organic. Very reassuring. As nice as the foil is, you need to remove it to get at the chocolate, and this is what faces you when you’ve done so:

Close up each individual rectangle carries the Green & Black’s leaf motif, apart from the rectangle at the bottom right, which is unique and special and wants to grab your attention with its distinctiveness:

The rows and columns of little chunks are segregated by channels that lead you to believe it would be easy to break them up into single blocks. In my experience this is not the case. They’re almost tolerant of you trying to break them into columns, but when it comes to rows they like to give you the run around. How often I have tried to break them into rows I don’t know, but I have no recollection of it ever having been successful. I tried for this investigation and all I got were bits like this, defiant in their refusal to break as I wished them to:

On the up side, the way they break makes the chocolate look inviting (whether this demonstrates conchoidal fracture or two directional cleavage I wouldn’t like to say, but either way it looks rather nice to me).

Most importantly, what does Green & Black’s 70% chocolate taste like? Well, here are my thoughts, and you may well disagree with me. The words that came to mind when I munched on a piece were: dark, bitter, sweet, tangy, lively and complex. Of these, the tanginess was what probably impressed itself on me most.

Very good, and now to the Divine:

The foil inside a bar of Divine is uniformly gold, certainly less interesting than the Green & Black’s. However, before you even get to the foil it has a few little tricks up its sleeve. End on, with this small bar at least, it demonstrates just how much thought has been put into the wrapper design:

When you open the wrapper, a pleasing symmetry of design is evident:

The imprints on the bar itself are very different from those on the Green & Black’s, but I’m not sure what they’re like on the 100g bar; obviously I will need to buy one and have a look.

To my mind, there is nothing linking the design on the outside of the packaging with that on the chocolate bar. Where there is a satisfying balance on the Green & Black’s bar and its packaging, no such balance exists with the Divine bar. You may consider it to be a good thing, this self-effacing gesture on the part of the Divine bar. Perhaps, it’s telling us, the taste will speak for itself. I endeavoured to find out. The individual blocks seemed to be too big for one mouthful and so I tried to bite into one. This was not an easy task, due to the thickness of the chocolate.

However, what I was hit with was a very welcome taste. One word entered my mind when I tasted this chocolate: smooth. Not for Divine, the tangy liveliness of the Green & Black’s. This chocolate had a laid-back, relaxed attitude and a smoothness I didn’t detect in the Green & Black’s. Also, unlike the Green & Black’s, it left no bitter after-taste. The sensation I had after eating this chocolate was that I had drifted off for a minute or two into a land of peaceful meadows, where all my cares and worries had been lifted and I felt happy and at one with the world.

And so, the verdict. Which did I like best?

What I would say is this. If you’re about to enter a martial arts competition – you’ve got your pjyamas on and your belt tied neatly round your waist – you need a chocolate bar that will stir the sinews, make you feel alert and vibrant and ready for action. In this case, I would recommend opting for Green & Black’s. The complexity will stimulate different areas of your brain, allowing your feet and arms to move in unison and enabling you to fly through your movements with ease and fluidity.

On the other hand, if you’re having a relaxing day off from the Ju-jitsu, you would be much better off with the Divine bar. Sink into your favourite chair with a nice cup of tea, or lie on the soft grass staring up at the blue sky and the fluffy white clouds, and let the smooth dark chocolate of Divine relax body and soul, refreshing and repairing your tired limbs and bringing peace and clarity to your mind.

There is, in my opinion, a time and a place for each of these wonderful chocolate bars and I would recommend keeping a small stock of each in your medicine cabinet.

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