Last Saturday I met Mac for a Christmas afternoon tea at the Sheraton in Edinburgh. I love afternoon tea, spending time with Mac and open fires and comfy armchairs so it was a delightful combination.
We were both suffering from bad colds and so cocooning ourselves with an attentive waiter, lavish display of eats and hot tea was just the ticket.
Our waiter was a lovely chap who was happy to explain everything to us and answer any questions and was polite enough to not quarantine the two red nosed germ filled guests who had to have a constant supply of tissues at hand.
First, we had to choose our tea from a dinky tea chest. Each glass container was secured by a strap of leather and you could open them up and have a look and a sniff.
As we chose we were served with the most amazing yoghurty creamy taster pot with a plump semi dried apricot.
Mac went for a tea that looks like a shrivelled up flower that blooms in the hot water.
I went for Orange, Cinnamon and Roiboos tea which required careful timing...
My tea was amazing - it was warm and refreshing and was slightly creamy in texture. Really good for nursing my sore throat and cold, achy bones back to something resembling normality,
We were then presented with a three tier cake stand adorned with sandwiches [turkey, stuffing and cranberry, prawn, ham and mustard] and more cakes than you could shake a stick at. There was Christmas Loaf, Cinnamon Buns, Mini Mince Pies, Christmas Cake and these were supplemented with scones, clotted cream and jam. We had plain, sultana and champagne, and cinnamon scones - warm, fluffy and melt in the mouth. This was all topped off with small cups filled with Christmas Creme Brulee....yum.
The food was amazing - you wouldn't think sandwiches would be that exciting but they were wee mouthfuls of heaven. The cakes were so good we couldn't quite manage all of them.
Afternoon tea is just so lovely - you can chat away, relax and nibble delightful bites to your hearts content. Seeing Mac was great - it doesn't happen often enough - and it was fun to do something a wee bit different. The hotel is just perfect for hiding from the cold and it is nice to feel a bit pampered. Mac is definitely a good afternoon tea buddy!
After drinking enough tea to rehydrate a small army, we wanted to finish off with some coffee - and would you believe it it came with yet more biscuits and sweet things! You can never have too many sweet treats...
If you have an afternoon to while away with a good friend and want something different from the usual pub or cafe lunch I would definitely recommend the Sheraton's afternoon tea.
I don't go in for a lot of motifs but I like owls and I also like stags and thistles. Stags and thistles could end up being a bit stereotype scottish or a bit huntin', shootin', fishin'. Timorous Beasties has long been a favourite with me because of their modern take on traditional styles and designs and I am chuffed they have brought out this amazing thistle wall paper and textiles -
A few years ago I spotted the sharp,crisp lines of the Stelton vacuum jug. I thought this was a clever idea - pop your hot drink into it and sit out in the garden on those days when it is autumnal and/or spring like e.g. not warm enough for iced lemonade but not so cold and wintery that you want to be housebound.
But at the time they didn't do one for coffee - I wanted one that I could use as a cafetiere rather than having to use my inside cafetiere then transfer the hot coffee to the jug. I know, I am quite picky. But also it cools the coffee having to mess about with it like that.
The I read Stieg Larsson's book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Blomkvist spends an inordinate amount of time drinking coffee on his balcony from a vacuum jug. I was jealous. And figured that as per usual the Swedish were ahead of the curve.
I am therefore really pleased to have found that Skelton have now released a coffee press version of the original Erik Magnusson design - and you can get it from John Lewis. Who wants a bog standard picnic flask when this wee beauty can take its place on your garden table? This is a definite buy for the new garden - I can read my book, take in the air and be warmed up with a lovely cup of coffee.
We haven't quite decided on flooring for the bathroom yet. We know we don't want carpet, lino or wood. We like the flooring we had in our wee flat but am not sure how well it will go with the tiles we think we will go for. So, it is a bit different but I saw cool floor covering by The Rubber Floor Company. It is very modern but then the bathroom is a modern design - and it is better just going for it than putting in pseudo materials.
I like to keep 'memories' - it might be ticket stubs to a special concert or event, and extra special birthday card, a postcard, an old photo etc. Some people call it hoarding but I find these little talismans remind you of good things you often forget. And sometimes when you are having a bad day - or you are snowed in and have nothing better to do - it can be lovely taking a wee trip through the good times.
However, at the moment all of these wee things are crammed into shoe boxes and files - not very good for them and also not easy to sift through. So I am on the look out for storage that isn't office styled but is a bit more homey and befits the contents inside. So I am very pleased to find the London Vintage Luggage company based in Camden - nicely placed for the London office, that sells all sorts of leather luggage goods from valises and suitcaes to vanity cases and jewellery boxes. I think that keeping my memories in a 1930's small vintage case or series of ladies leather 1940's folios would be just right and very visually arresting.
I am working on some ideas on creating a cosy, relaxed nook in the mezzanine area of the new house. I want a space where I can have my books, laptop, magazines and card making stuff and have as a chill out zone. So while I am not a 'girly' girl I do want it to be softer in design than other parts of the house.
The kitchen is a very sleek and glossy space and the dining and living areas will be quite modern in style. I do not want old fashioned funriture but I do want something that is more mid century than modern.
I also like textile designs that are colourful but are more naive in design - like Marimekko and Donna Wilson.
Donna is a Scottish artist who now works in London and has managed to grow her business without going the overblown way of Cath Kidston and Orla Kiely - both of whom have achieved hugely and in some ways had radical impacts on interiors over the past 20 years [and don't get me wrong, some of their textile designs are lovely]. However, while you can recognise a Donna Wilson design the same way you can a Kidston, it is not as ubiquitous. Wilson has managed to retain a sense of the handmade - mainly because she hasn't succumbed to factory production - and of not causing her customers to bump into the designs the way you do with an Orla covered laptop and Kidston patterned suitcases.
I love the owl and robin cushions -
I also like the seventies-esque flower cushion
And you must have a cosy blanket and I like this one which is called 'up the garden path' -
And while having a thundersome cushion may not seem nice and cosy I do like the cloud range of cushions -
With the snow meaning no bread on the shop shelves we bought flour and yeast and decided to make our own [risking the wrath of our grinch-like cooker]. I was making morrocan lamb so Andy got bread duties. We based the recipe on one by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
Ingredients by HF-W - adaptations by us!
1kg strong white bread flour - we used wholemeal because that is all the shop had 10g fast-action yeast 15g fine salt 1-2 tbsp sunflower, rapeseed or olive oil (optional), plus extra to oil the dough 600ml warm water
Mix the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl.
Add the oil then add the water.
Stir to create a rough, sticky dough. The dough really should be quite sticky – if it isn’t, add a splash more water. We were using wholemeal flour which makes for a drier dough so added another 100ml of water.
Turn out the dough on to a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, rhythmically stretching the dough away from you, then folding it back on itself.
Andy beats the winter chill by kneading the dough....
When the dough is smooth and elastic, form it into a ball, coat it very lightly with oil and place in a clean bowl.
Cover with cling film and leave in a warm place until doubled in size - in the region of 1½ hours.
Tip the dough out on to a lightly floured surface and deflate with your fingertips. Reshape the dough into neat rounds and put on a lightly floured board to prove for around 45 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 250°C/gas mark 10, or its highest setting. Put a baking tray in to heat up.
When the loaves have almost doubled in size again, take the hot baking tray from the oven and sprinkle with a little flour.
Carefully transfer the risen loaves to the tray. Slash the tops with a sharp, serrated knife and put in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 190°C/gas mark 5 and bake for about 30 minutes more, or until the crust is well-coloured, and the loaf sounds hollow when you tap it sharply with your fingers. Transfer to a rack to cool completely before slicing.
The finished bread was amazing - and it lasted fine over three days. The oil really helps keep a nice soft crumb but I reckon it was Andy's excellent kneading that really made it good bread!
And the big freeze continues. I made it into work on Monday but Tuesday and today have been wiped out. My trips to Dundee and London have been cancelled and the team are all working using remote access to our networks from home.
Some of the effects of the snow are amazing - our windows were covered with ice, from the inside, and the icicles hanging from windowsills around the house are the biggest I have seen.
The garden is very snowy - all the trees look like extras from Narnia -
The sky is an amazingly clear blue - when the news have shown satellite pics of Scotland our sky is devoid of clouds - making the air icy and very cold - but also creates spectacularly clear light and skies. Against the white snow it is quite beautiful.
I popped into the garden for five minutes to just take in the snow and sharp air and it really was breathtaking - quite literally - as the cold hits your throat it makes you catch your breath and fingers and nose start tingling pretty much straight away. It is quite something.
This looks complicated because of the number of ingredients but it really isn't. We had this as our 'snowed in' meal with some of Andy's excellent bread. Chunky meaty stew and bread to soak up the juices - perfect for a cold snowy evening. The flavours are not tongue bitingly spicy - they are more subtle than that and are very satisfying.
[this serves 4]
500g diced lamb 2 sliced red onions 2 cloves of garlic - finely chopped 50g root ginger - finely chopped 1 cinnamon stick 3 tsps ground coriander 6 tsps smoked paprika 6 tsps all spice 30g chopped dried apricots 30g chopped dried dates 1 aubergine 1 courgette 1 red pepper sea salt freshly ground black pepper 15g chopped coriander 5-10g chopped mint 5-10g chopped flat leaf parsely handful of toasted psitachios handful of toasted pine nuts tin of cooked chick peas
[Gandolfi's recipe adds 3 tsps nutmeg - I hate nutmeg so have left it out. They also use zahtar which I didn't have so I used all spice]
Take a big pot and fry the onions in oil until they are all softly cooked and almost like a paste.
Mix lamb in a bowl seasoned with salt and pepper and a glug of oil. Heat a frying pan and when it is hot add the lamb in batches to brown. Don't cram it all in at once - it is difficult to turn the meat and it will steam instead of brown.
To the onion pot add the garlic, ginger, and spices. Stir, add oil if needed, then add the veggies. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the lamb and cover with water. Simmer for 60 minutes.
After the 60 minutes is done, add the chick pease and fruit and simmer for 30 minutes uncovered. When the meat is all tender and lovely, stir through the chopped herbs and serve in hearty portions in big bowls. Sprinkle the toasted nuts over the top.
This was good the first night but the second night was even better. I would suggest making this the day before you want to eat it - means you can prepare in advance if it is for folk coming round and also helps the flavours. If doing this would make it up to the point you had the herbs and would add these when you reheat to serve.
Snow, ice, freezing temperatures. We have had a couple of 'snow days' and have managed to work from home rather than risk the ice rink of the A9 or frozen scotrail system. However, despite the chill, I really can't cope with being cooped up for days on end so I convinced Andy we should go for a walk.
As you can see from Andy's layers - it was parky...
And the Wallace was surrounded in crisp white snow -
We took a stroll round the university campus. Last year the loch froze in January - it has already started freeze well ahead of schedule -
I felt bad for the wee ducks!
And we also spotted icicles -
The first half of the walk was really bitterly cold but once we got going we heated up. Mind you, we were wearing our dive base layers so had a bit of a head start on being toasty....
I bought the Cafe Gandolfi recipe book yesterday and it is pretty good - clear, simple recipes with uncomplicated ingredients. Given we are pretty much snowed in for the weekend I am going to try out their Moroccan lamb recipe. I have tried Moro's take on this so it will be a good comparison.
I haven't blogged for over a month - bad me - mainly because work has been way more busy than 24 hours in the day really allows for. We have just held our annual Volunteers Conference which was really good - and finished just before the snow really hit bad. The night before the conference the snow started to fall and the kids had fun snowball fighting. Come Monday and the deep freeze was well underway. I got into work on Monday although getting back home was a bit of a struggle.
I was snowed in Tuesday and Wednesday and while I got in on Thursday I did not enjoy the three hour wait in Queen Street for a train home. Being a seasoned commuter I am usually good at rolling with it - but at -13 my fingers and toes were not too happy. Mind you, I had a good chat with one of the staff - upbeat woman who wasn't a jobsworth type - and she said I was one of the cheeriest people she had spoken to! Probably it is because unlike others I have heard I don't take the view that the train staff caused the snow - and if there are issues around how we handle the weather I think that that responsibility might be above the ticket collectors pay grade.
Shopping has taken on a new dimension - the supermarket was out of eggs and bread and while we are not in seige mode we did stock up on comfort food to keep us warm and fueled up.The weather makes me want to cook stews and casseroles and hearty pies.
Of course, as the weather continues the stories of people having fun building snowmen and kids enjoying a couple of snow days begins to turn to more upsetting stories. Older people left stranded, people dying in the cold, and the traffic accidents caused by bad road conditions. The snow may look white and pure but it can have a dark side. But there are also positive stories of people helping each other out and looking out for each other.
So - with night time temps plummeting to -20 and icicles hanging from the trees in the garden, my aim over the weekend is to hibernate and, due to the bread shortage, tackle making some bread for the first time in quite a while.