Duff House

One day last week the weather forecast showed the whole of Scotland under cloud apart from one little triangle in the Aberdeenshire/Banffshire area on the east coast.

Chasing forecasts often proves a futile business in this country, but as it happens on this occasion the forecasters got it bang on.

Delightful assistant no.1 and I hopped into the motor and sped off in the right direction, stopping en route at the splendid Balmakewan, where we partook of light refreshments.

A flat white with coffee and walnut cake for my delightful assistant:


Imagine sinking your teeth into an extremely light, soft and delicious coffee sponge cake with unbelievably fluffy icing that melts as soon as it hits the tongue, and you’re part of the way to having the Balmakewan coffee walnut cake experience.

I had a very hard time choosing what to have, as Balmakewan always has a painfully extensive selection of delectable goodies on offer, but in the end I plumped for this coconut affair with blueberries and raspberries through it, accompanied by a first class decaf flat white:


We decided to share these two items and while the coconut cakey thing was certainly very palatable, we agreed that the coffee walnut cake was outstandingly good.  I’m sure I’ve never had fluffier butter icing in any cake.


A delicious duo with first class flat whites to wash them down with.

We left Balmakewan feeling that our day had got off to an excellent start. The weather was not particularly good but we had high hopes for our destination.

Around about lunchtime we reached the twin towns of Banff and Macduff, which lie on the Moray coast, and headed for Duff House.


Duff House is a rather magnificent Georgian building designed by William Adam in the 1730s:


Today it’s used by the National Galleries of Scotland to house some of their artworks, with the building being maintained by Historic Scotland and Aberdeenshire Council, but it was originally built by a chap called William Duff (aka Lord Braco, later 1st Earl of Fife).

William Duff had a large family, and even though the side wings Adam designed were never built, I expect the 50 rooms they ended up with were quite sufficient.


Room for a small one?

I thought the building had many lovely features, but the curving staircases at the front were a particular favourite:


Due to a broken pelvis that continues to heal slowly, going round the inside of the house with all its floors and stairs wasn’t really possible for my delightful assistant, but there was one area of the building she was very capabale of reaching.


A sign to gladden the heart – tasty morsels this way!

Inside, the tearoom had the same sort of feel I’ve noticed in other National Gallery tearooms, being light, airy and tastefully decorated. The history of Duff House was written up on the wall in a timeline with photographs, which made for interesting reading.


The menu was not extensive, nor did it cater particularly well for vegetarians, but there were various sandwiches to be had and I opted for egg while my delightful assistant went for tuna. I’m pleased to say that the sandwich far exceeded my expectations, being freshly made on very tasty brown bread and served with a delightful little carrot salad.


One very nice surprise was that there was ‘proper’ tea, by way of leaf tea popped into long teabags of the sort that appear to be getting more popular in Scotland’s tearooms.


We ordered a pot of Assam and a pot of Darjeeling and they were both tip-top. I often find I’m squeezing out the last cup from a teapot when I take tea, but in this case I had to leave some as there was so much to begin with (I managed three cupfuls):


I don’t take sugar, but I liked the way it was served at Duff House, in a little kilner jar with lid (no flies landing on these lumps) and tongs on the side (hygenically encouraging people not to dive in with their dirty great mitts):


The facilities at Duff House were another fine feature of the building, being nicely tiled in green and white with pull chain cisterns above the loos:


After lunch we waved goodbye to Duff House and made our way along the coast to have a look at the two little villages of Gardenstown and Crovie, but I’ll save those for another post.



One year on

At the end of June 2012 I self-published my first book, “Tearoom Delights”.

Since then I have come into possession of two more self-published books which I’d like to mention.

The first was spawned, like my own, from a blog.

The blog, which ran for a year, was written by fellow blogger, Noemi, and was entitled Desayunos Veganos 365 (365 days of vegan breakfasts). It documented Noemi’s breakfast every day, 365 different breakfasts for the whole of 2012, with beautiful photographs of her delicious looking food and drink.

As someone who rarely deviates from her pint of Darjeeling, toasted bagel and bit of fruit, I was utterly astonished by this feat.

At the end of the year a book was produced, and having enjoyed the blog so much I felt I had to have a copy to drool over. Here it is:


The cover of a beautiful book full of inspiring breakfasts by Noemi Iza


The back cover is as beautiful as the front.

A selection of pages from inside reveal some of Noemi’s wonderful fare:



One of the photos even features my wee book (thank you, Noemi!), very fittingly sitting next to cinnamon spiced tea and cranberry scones:


Noemi’s delightful book can be purchased, here, in both hardback and paperback format.

The second book comes from closer to home and was written by John Palfreyman, a cycling enthusiast who lives a few miles away from me in the town of Coupar Angus.


John’s admirable little book with a lovely view of the Sidlaw Hills on the cover.

In a way, his book is similar to mine, in that he’s written about cycle routes in the same areas as I wrote about tearooms.

He’s passionate about cycling, and about the area in which he lives, and his book is a little treasure for cyclists and non-cyclists alike. I like the cartoons he uses to symbolise how hard each route is:


I feel exhausted just looking at that chap on the far right.

The book is packed with lovely photographs, details 25 different routes of varying lengths and levels of difficulty, and includes a list of cafes, restaurants and inns in the areas covered (as well as mentioning my book for further reading – thank you, John!).


You get lots of great little photographs along with the text, all beautifully reproduced throughout the book.

It also has an excellent map tucked into the back:


The map is folded up and slotted into a plastic tab at the bottom right hand corner of the inside back cover and is double-sided showing two different scales.

At £5.99 for the book and map, I think “Adventures on Two Wheels” is an absolute bargain.

It can be purchased from Waterstones in Perth and Dundee, Stewart Tower Dairy, the Post Office in Stanley, the Joinery Coffee Shop in Meigle and the Beatrix Potter Centre in Birnham, as well as various places in Coupar Angus. It will also soon be available from Tourist Information Centres in Perth, Blairgowrie, Pitlochry and Dunkeld.

Considering the book was only published last month, I think John has done an amazing job getting it into retail establishments and I wish him all the very best with future sales.

As for me, I don’t have any plans to self-publish another tearoom book any time soon, but I have written my first novel and am currently working on the second.

All I need now is a nice agent or publisher to take me on, but if that doesn’t happen then I might consider self-publishing the first novel as an e-book.

To everyone out there who’s already self-published (and I know there are one or two amongst my regular readers), I take my hat off to you. I know how much work it is and it’s great when you have something at the end to show for it.

To anyone thinking about self-publishing, I doff my hat to you, too, and encourage you to do it. It may not make you much money (initially, it might actually lose you money) but it is a satisfying thing to do, and can bring you a nice sense of achievement.

English Garden Tea

Being rather partial to a tearoom, I used to think I really ought to aim to open one of my own.

Then I realised that if I was providing tasty fare to the hungry customer, I wouldn’t be sitting at a table being waited on.

I had already found my tearoom niche: walk in, nosh up, walk out.

Very fortunately for me, not everyone thinks like this.

Blessed are those angels in human form who invest time, energy and money in delightful tearooms into which I can wander when in need of sustenance, and from which I can depart when replete.


If I were such an angel, and wondering how to go about becoming a successful tearoom provider, I might well turn to the English Garden Tea Room company to assist me.

I follow this company on Twitter and they recently very kindly sent me a stack of teas to taste:

I wasn’t expecting this volume or choice, and I was quite astonished when I received the boxes.

Rather fortuitously, my brother and his family came to visit at Easter and when my brother’s partner learned that I’d been sent all this tea and was feeling a bit overwhelmed about tasting it properly, she sprang into action.

She made a cup of each of the eight English Garden teas and labelled the brews with their packaging:

She then brought me, my mum and my brother (who were lounging around chatting) each tea in turn, and recorded our scores out of 10, as well as recording her own. Each tea was tasted black, to keep things on an even keel (ignoring my dear mama’s repeated comments of the ‘I’d like this if it had milk in it’ variety).

Later on, my dad and my sister appeared and also tasted the teas, marking down their scores on the little pieces of paper that had been provided for the purpose:

Before tasting I had my own ideas about which teas I’d like best; my preconceptions were overturned quite spectacularly.

The eight teas were:




Earl Grey

English Breakfast



Being an enthusiastic consumer of black teas, but rarely venturing into herbal arenas, I assumed that the black teas would be those I’d prefer. I was pretty much convinced that two of my most frequently chosen beverages – Assam and Darjeeling – would top my list of English Garden teas.

Here, however, was the order in which I liked them, with my score out of 10 in brackets:

Earl Grey (9)

Camomile (9)

Peppermint (8)

Darjeeling (7.5 – I just couldn’t decide on 7 or 8)

Green (4)

Lemon (4)

Assam (2)

English Breakfast (1)

There were many views and comments on each tea and although on some occasions other people completely disagreed with me (rather shocking, since when I taste a tea and make a pronouncement about it I assume I’m right), I was delighted to witness the passion with which each taster spouted their own opinion.

9 was the highest score given for any tea (2 scores of 9 for Camomile), and 0 the lowest (1 score of 0 each for Camomile, Earl Grey and Green).

I didn’t attempt to guess the outcome prior to tasting, but if I had I certainly wouldn’t have put any money on peppermint coming home in a blaze of glory.

This is the order in which they were rated, with a score out of 60 in brackets (6 tasters each scoring out of 10):

Peppermint (37)

Camomile (33)

Earl Grey (31)

Lemon (30)

Assam (30)

Green (27)

Darjeeling (27)

English Breakfast (25)

Tasting tea is all very well (and it is, to my mind, an excellent way to pass a Saturday afternoon), but sooner or later one needs a bit of stodge to balance out all the liquid.

What with it being Easter and all, I had baked a Simnel cake (which, for anyone not in the know, is a fruit cake traditionally decorated with marzipan and with a secret layer of marzipan in the middle of the cake; the marzipan on top is often browned under the grill or with a blow torch):

The making of Simnel cake apparently dates back to Medieval times. The cake is traditionally decorated with 11 balls of marzipan on top, symbolising each of Jesus’s 12 apostles minus the traitor, Judas Iscariot.

I’m a bit late to be wishing anyone a Happy Easter, but I hope that wherever you spent it there were tasty treats involved.


Teas for waking hours

I can’t claim to be an expert when it comes to tea, but I do drink several pints of the stuff most days.

My first tea of the day is taken in a large mug, which holds just over a pint. I fill it as full as I can, and so each day starts off with a nice big pint of tea:

This first tea is Darjeeling, brewed from a teabag:

It has just occurred to me while writing this that taking Darjeeling in a pint mug is a bit like wearing a silk dress with steel toe-capped boots. Somewhat incongruous, for Darjeeling is a very light, almost floral, floaty sort of beverage, also known as the ‘champagne of teas’. I think it would be the tea of choice for butterflies, flower fairies and water nymphs (this may be entirely erroneous and simply a figment of my imagination, then again it may not).

There have probably been many mountainous tomes written about Darjeeling tea, because it likes to think of itself as the glamourous face of hot beverages, attracting lots of attention and high prices for the first crops of the season. Perhaps I’m subconsciously trying to keep its feet on the ground by swilling it from a pint mug, I don’t know. All I do know is that when I wake up in the morning I am desperate for a large quantity of Darjeeling tea.

I like my first cup of tea to be black, and Darjeeling is perfect without milk. Because I take it black I can brew it slightly stronger than I want it and then add cold water to it, which allows me to drink it immediately without having to wait for it to cool down. This, to my mind, is the perfect scenario: a large quantity of instantly drinkable tea at the point in the day when I’m most keenly in need of it. Tea purists would no doubt be horrified by this ritual, and if I have offended you in any way I apologise.

About an hour or so after breakfast comes stronger leaf tea with milk. At the moment I’m in the habit of mixing two leaf teas that happen to be in the cupboard, because it turns out that they make a very flavourful and delicious blend:

The one on the left is my local supermaket, Tesco’s, cheapest leaf tea. You might think that since it’s so cheap (only about 95p for the box, I think) it wouldn’t be up to much, but it has some tricks up its sleeve. It’s a blend of African and Indian black teas and is quite astonishingly good, in fact I would say it’s even better than some other more expensive leaf teas. The one on the right is also a blend of African and Indian black teas, and was purchased in the Lancashire town of Carnforth, in the famous railway station refreshment room. Carnforth was the location for the film Brief Encounter, and they’ve jumped on the bandwagon by flogging all manner of film merchandise to anyone giddy enough to part with their cash. Being prone to a bit of giddiness, this included me when it came to their specially packaged tea.

I like to take this blended tea from one of my recently purchased tea-and-cup-plates (aka tea and toast sets, thank you for that information, Marian). Sometimes I accompany it with a scone, or a slice of cake, or some chocolate, and on other days I am a good girl and have a healthy snack instead (chunks of honeydew melon and sultanas sprinkled with cinnamon, in this instance):

My regular post-luncheon cuppa is English Breakfast (oddly enough), or occasionally Traditional Afternoon, both supplied by the inestimable Twinings:

Other black teas that are currently resident and sometimes get a look-in include the beautifully packaged and very flavourful Yorkshire Tea:

The somewhat suave and gentlemanly Earl Grey:

And Cafe Direct’s tasty blend of African teas:

One tea that is not currently residing in the tea cupboard is, strangely, one of my all-time favourite black teas: Assam. For information on this tea, I would like to refer you to the magnificent Shona Patel, a fellow blogger who was brought up on an Assam tea plantation and is a wealth of information on the subject.

If I’m not awake and drinking tea, then I like to be asleep. I’m a big fan of bedtime and look forward every night to getting into my jim-jams preparatory to falling into bed nice and early and allowing myself a decent long snooze.

In order to make the most of this,  after about 14:00 I switch to decaffeinated tea. I’ve tasted many woebegone tasteless decaf teas, but thankfully I have found two brands that do at least have a bit of oomph about them. My current favourite is Twinings Everyday Decaffeinated:

I drink this as I would most other black teas, brewed nice and strong, taken with a little cold milk and no sugar. If I fancy something a little lighter, or slightly different, in the evening there are several other decaffeinated teas I often turn to. One of these is Redbush, a beautiful red coloured tea from South Africa:

If I’m in the business of consuming a considerable quantity of chocolate (a not unusual occurrence)  there is a tea that I think is the perfect accompaniment. It’s called Kukicha and is made from roasted Japanese twigs. It’s taken black and has a sort of smoky, earthy flavour that I think is truly wonderful:

When it comes to tea on a worldwide scale, I feel I am dreadfully ignorant. I know very little about Far Eastern teas and one of these days I would like to visit Japan and attend a tea ceremony.

What I do know about tea is probably what most other Brits know. Tea is a big part of life in Blighty and, as far as I’m aware, I have only ever physically met two people who didn’t like tea. One of them didn’t like any hot beverages, and I can’t remember anything about the other one, I just remember mentally chalking up a second non-tea-drinker on my radar.

I’m not sure how widely travelled the concept of ‘Builder’s Tea’ is, but I believe it’s a British expression. It refers to strong tea with milk and lots of sugar in it, the sort that builders apparently prefer (along with a big plate of chocolate biscuits, cakes, scones, sandwiches and pies, if they can get them). I didn’t know, until yesterday, that it existed as a brand. I might not have noticed it at all, were it not for the fact that it wolf-whistled at me from the shelf:

It claims to be ‘tested and approved by real builders’ and, according to the side of the pack, the tea people are ‘proud to work in partnership with the Federation of Master Builders’. I almost bought a pack but then I put it back, remembeing that there simply isn’t any room in the tea cupboard.

There are many other excellent teas I haven’t mentioned here, some of which I only have occasionally and keep for tearoom consumption, such as Oolong and Russian Caravan, but since tea is such a massive subject any post I do will barely scratch the surface.

This afternoon, in an attempt to soothe my burning throat (all sympathy welcome, I appear to have caught a cold), I tried a sort of hot toddy tea, using this Yogic concoction:

I thought the spiciness might be good for throat pain, and to give it a bit more welly* I added some honey and a splash of whisky. The whisky was, for any interested parties, a 10 year old Macallan fine oak triple cask matured single malt. Adding this to a cup of tea might seem a disgraceful way to treat such a prestigious beverage, but it was the only whisky I had to hand, and I must say it produced a most satisfying throat soothing medicine.

*according to the Wiktionary this expression means to add fuel or power to an engine, but it’s generally used as a slang term in the UK to mean adding some ‘oomph’ to something

Foreign Tearoom Delights No.1: Dubai

Browsing through computer files today, I was reminded of taking tea in some rather nice places outwith Scotland. After Scotland, England is the place I’ve taken tea most, but I’ve also had some more far flung tearoom delights.

I’ve changed laptops three times in recent years, and during all these changes appear to have mislaid quite a lot of photos. I daresay they’re somewhere on SD cards or discs, but from amongst those readily available I found a batch from Dubai.

I worked in a Dubai shipyard for a few months in 2010, in the middle of summer, which was almost unbearably hot. We didn’t get much time off, but on one occasion I went into town with a friend and discovered a marvellous tearoom called Shakespeare & Co.

We hopped out of a taxi in the city under burning skies, in desperate need of some refreshment, and saw a place that looked like it might meet our requirements. From the outside I had no expectation of what we’d find inside. When I walked in and saw the cakes on display, I was quite astonished.

Next to the cakes there was an equally overwhelming display of sweets and biscuits:

The whole place was very beautiful, and if I were writing a guide to taking tea in Dubai, this place would certainly be in it.

In the next picture, note the Arab gentleman seated on the sofa wearing the traditional headdress. The design of this headdress is centuries old, unlike the mobile phone he’s checking.

They had the most beautiful paper placemats on the tables:

And the chairs had delightful tassels hanging down from the seats:

It was late morning when we got there and I opted for a mini cheesecake, while my friend had a cooked breakfast. We both had Darjeeling tea.

My cheesecake was soft and fluffy and topped with raspberry jam, a fresh raspberry dusted with icing sugar, a slice of strawberry and two thin sticks of dark chocolate:

The cooked breakfast came with a basket of toast, and butter pressed into a ceramic dish covered with a shiny domed lid:

There was also a selection of preserves. I took the honey back to my apartment and enjoyed it for a few days afterwards:

There was a very smiley chef visible through a hatch next to the dining area and he looked so happy that I asked if I could take his photo. He cheerfully said yes and then promptly put on a serious face for the camera. I tried to cajole him into beaming his lovely smile again for the shot, but he was having none of it. I expect he wanted to look like an earnest fellow sincere about his work.

On our way out I noticed a freezer full of lemon sorbets and other frozen desserts:

A beautiful gift shop:

And a very impressive cellophaned cone of macaroons: