What a fantastic day we had on Sunday at the tearoom with our Britain at War Afternoon Tea. I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as we did.
We had been planning the event for a couple of months, thinking about the food, the songs, the jokes, the quiz and the little bags of sweet things for everyone. For the last few weeks you could have been forgiven for thinking the tearoom was open late on a Thursday night as planning meetings and singing practice were had by me, Mr M and the fabulous Elaine. As usual, we started out with a couple of obvious choice songs such as There’ll be Blue Birds Over. It didn’t take long though for the three of us to be depressed by the songs and wondering how we would ever turn drab sounding songs into a fun afternoon for everyone. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying the famous songs are poor, but the way we were singing them, as Mr M said, was making them all sound like Dirges – (a lament for the dead, especially one forming part of a funeral rite). Elaine and I sulked a little at our choir master’s criticism but then realised that we actually agreed with him. So we had more tea and cake and went away to think again.
Over the next few weeks, songs were suggested and dismissed. Some that were dismissed were re-suggested in a different form and finally we had a good handful of songs. We all had a song that we demanded be included at all costs. Elaine chose “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing”. I chose “The Music Man” and Mr M picked “Where have all the flowers gone”. I did have a bit of a fight with Mr M about my song and he would insist that the song had nothing to do with Britain at War. “But there is the verse about Dam Busters,” I cried. I do believe that I even took tips from Bev, the Girl with the Puppy Dog Eyes and eventually he agreed that The Music Man could be included. Not only that, it would be first song! Victory!
Elaine suggested that we could do I’d Like To Teach The World to Sing as our duet piece. Well you wouldn’t believe the laughs, tears and more laughs we had over this song in our practices. Firstly, I don’t need to remind you that I am no singer. I open my mouth and sounds come out. Sometimes they are in tune, most times they are not. Now Mr M really is the Music Man. Many years ago he was in a band playing the guitar and strutting his stuff with his long black hair and yellow boots. Mr M did forget sometimes that it was me and not Tina Turner he was working with. I think I got more reprimands that Elaine I have to say!
Going back to this song though. Do you know what a high key the Seekers sang this in? Well Mr M could actually tell us what key they had sung in. I could tell him that there was no way on this earth I would be able to get anywhere near that key, whatever they called it! Elaine decided that she was going to do the harmonies. You know the ones – la, di, da, di da. That was great and Elaine sounded perfect. The only problem was that we very quickly realised I could not concentrate on singing the words of the songs whilst Elaine was singing the harmonies next to me. I do believe that at one point Mr M was ready for sacking me from the group and having Elaine as a solo artist! Anyway, finally I managed to crack this by ignoring the girl singing lovely harmonies in my ear and concentrate on the words I should be singing. Perfect. Oh no! No sooner had I managed to conquer this problem when Elaine said, “We need tambourines!” So the following week, Miss Tipsy wandered into the practice session with two tambourines. We laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed so much that we cried when we realised that getting me to sing, listen to harmonies being sung in my ear, play the tambourine, keep in tune and keep to the beat was just too much of an asking for me. Elaine was much better at this so she was able to keep the beat going and I just made noises with the tambourine. I have to admit to having sleepless nights about doing this song as a duet and could see it all falling apart on the night!
During one of practice sessions though, our rendition of “Where have all the flowers gone” just fell into place, helped of course by the guitar man keeping us in tune, keeping the beat and doing his own little solo bit in the middle. Me and Elaine looked at each other and said, “That’s our song!” Our duet was changed from teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony (I was never ever going to achieve that one!) to the lovely and moving Where Have All The Flowers Gone.
Thursday last week was our last practice. All our props were ready, our outfits sorted and our songs sounding as good as they were going to sound. We sang, we laughed, we chatted, we drank tea and we ate cake. That’s the benefit of practice sessions in the tearoom – there is always tea and cake to be had.
Sometimes, actually quite often, I am amazed by things that happen in the tearoom and it always seems there is a reason for things happening. On the Friday before the event in popped Colin Mitchell for his first visit to the tearoom. I have to admit that I had not a clue who he was. To me he was a customer and all customers are as special and important as each other in my eyes. Anyway, he was in with a few other people and I chatted away to them as I do with everyone whenever I have the chance. Colin saw the notice for the Britain at War event, told me about his poetry, explained that he had poems that would fit in nicely with our theme and that he would send me some to use on the Sunday if I wished.
Now I am always amazed and eternally grateful that people remember our little tearoom once they have gone out of the door. It is always a lovely surprise to receive a message from Trip Advisor telling me there is a new review or for a face book message to pop up. Checking my emails that night I was humbled that Colin had sent me a lovely message and 8 of his poems for me to look at and use at the event. As soon as I had read A Place of Safety, I knew that I wanted to read that poem at the event. I showed the poems to Elaine and asked her if she would like to read one of the poems. Elaine chose The Garden Shed. All these poems were looking at the war from different perspectives and certainly very emotional. If you check our videos on facebook you can see both Elaine and myself reading our chosen poem. I hope that we did justice to these amazing poems.
Just as a matter of interest, I am currently trying to organise a night of poetry with Colin so watch this space.
So Sunday arrived and it was time for the Britain At War Afternoon Tea. Everyone arrived and it was great fun seeing what everyone was wearing. We had an Admiral, Air Warden, Soldier, Medic, Posh Women, Air Force Men, Waitress and Amy Johnson.
The Afternoon Teas were served with lashings of tea, each person getting their own 3 tier stand with their selection of sandwiches, two small scones and 3 home-made cakes. Well, not everyone, I had to share with Mr M as there were only enough for the 16 lucky ticket holders.
The food was followed by the sing-song and everyone had a great time. Songs were sung, poems recited, jokes told and stories remembered. The quiz was marked and turned out to be a tie with Bev, The Girl With Puppy Dog Eyes and Teresa, The Cover Girl. The tie-break question was needed. When everyone arrived they had to pick up their evacuation cards I had ready for them. The tie-break question was “Imagine you are an 8 year old evacuee. Use the ticket given to you to make your own evacuation card and write on it why you think the tearoom should give you safe haven”. The Girl With the Puppy Dog Eyes made her answer way too mushy but Teresa’s was the winner with, “Because I’m Worth It”.
Slowly the tearoom emptied as everyone left to go home but with the questions of “when is the next one”, “what is the next theme”, hanging in the air.
The Temptress, The Girl With The Puppy Dog Eyes and Miss Tipsy stayed a while to give us a hand clearing all the tables. It was not long before we were all sitting listening to the hum of the dishwasher whilst we all chatted, laughed and, of course, had more tea and cake.
We are now planning our next event.
Did I tell you I love our little tearoom?
What a fun week we had at the tearoom last week. There was lots of crafting, lots of laughs and certainly lots of chat at the tearoom this last week. It did start with a video by me and Mr M, as is now the norm on a Wednesday morning. With the saga of the missing domino and whether the domino was wild card or not – let’s not even go there – we thought we would have a bit of a laugh and see how many times we could use the word blank in our little video. Oops, most people missed this and just thought Mr M was feeling a bit sad and sorry for himself because I had made him go out on the bike. Anyway….
People in at the weekend were curious as to why there is an airfix kit in the tearoom. With our Britain at War Afternoon Tea coming up soon (no tickets left sorry) I have found myself thinking back to the hobby I had as a youngster. Believe it or not, I was a bit of a tomboy when I was growing up. Never, I hear you all cry! Yep, that was me, the girl who liked to climb trees, cycle and make model planes from airfix kits. I loved doing these and would spend hours painting all the small parts before assembling them. I loved making sure that the wheels and propellers would still spin round and doors that should open still opened. I had many of these models but my pride and joy was a Lockheed C130E Hercules. I think I would be about 12 or 13 year old when I cycled with a friend from Halifax to York to stay with his Grandma for the weekend. We had a roam round the Shambles when we got there and there was, to my delight, an airfix model shop. I had saved up my pocket money to go to York and it was really burning a hole in my pocket. I remember my young pal rolling his eyes at my obvious joy at seeing this shop but in we went. I saw it straight away. There in the front of the shop looking at me. A Hercules! There was nothing else in the shop I wanted to see, that was it. “We are on our bikes don’t forget”, voiced my pal. So, in discussion with the shop owner we worked out that I had enough pocket money to buy the kit and the shop owner kindly found luggage straps to fasten the huge box to the top of my saddle bag. I can tell you I have never cycled as fast as I did that day to get home to start my new kit. Along the A64 Tadcaster, Horsforth, Pudsey and Bradford were just a blur. Mind you, not that you would want to cycle along that busy road now!
Anyway, over the next week weeks I painstakingly sanded the pieces, painted them, glued them, painted them again, attached the stickers and finally varnished the finished Hercules. Oh my. I were reight chuffed wi mi sen I can tell you. Everything was perfect. The propellers rotated, the wheels spun round and the rear door opened and closed just as it should do. It was huge mind you. I wondered where to put this to take pride of place over all the other models I had completed. To be fair to my mum, I was really given free rein in my bedroom. By today’s standards I guess I was ahead of the time and doing my form of decoupage across all the walls. Everything I had ever collected, postcards, medals, certificates, badges, posters of Bob Dylan, they were all on the walls. So there was only one thing to do with the Hercules, it had to hang from the ceiling. I can’t actually remember how I did this or even if I did this myself or if I had help but hang from the ceiling it did. Perfection in my eyes.
Now, my little sister, Rebecca, was a few years younger than me (and still is of course!). She was allowed in my bedroom sometimes when I was feeling friendly. What I didn’t know of course was that my little sister used to go in my bedroom when I was not there! I never! So, one day, Rebecca, who was obviously so in awe of my model making skills, thought that I had created a real plane and decided to see how well my Hercules flew. It would appear that although I had managed to get the propellers to rotate, the wheels to spin and the back door to open and close, the Hercules did not fly across the bedroom. Well, actually it did fly across the bedroom, but the landing was not quite so successful. Rebecca is still my favourite younger sister though!
Anyway, fast forward many years and lives to me telling Mr M tales of my childhood. Let’s not forget of course, that when I first met Mr M I told him I was a pole dancer in my younger years so he was by now in total awe of me. It was, I suspect, a great disappointment to him to find out that being a Yorkshire lass, the pole dancing was actually Maypole Dancing! However, he was quite impressed that I used to make the model planes and I told him how my heart still ached for my model Hercules. A few years ago one of my Christmas presents from Mr M was an airfix model. As I opened the box and saw airfix I was beside myself. He had bought me another Hercules to make! Do you know how difficult it was for me not to look disappointed when I saw that it was not a Hercules but a Spitfire. “I couldn’t get a Hercules so I thought a Spitfire would be the same thing for you”. The Spitfire has been on top of the cupboard at home waiting for me to get over my disappointment.
So, now with the Britain at War afternoon tea event coming up, I have told myself that it is time for me to get over my disappointment and finally get round to making the Spitfire. I am not sure it will be finished in time for the Afternoon Tea, but I will have made a good start on it. Who knows, maybe there may be Hercules airfix model in my Christmas stocking this year?
Those lucky people who have managed to get tickets to this event, don’t forget to get your stories, songs or jokes ready for sharing with us.
Moving on to this week at the tearoom there will be lots of yummy treats as usual – Fab Slice, Apricot & Ginger, Myle’s Grasmere Gingerbread, Salena’s Coffee Cake to mention a few.
Check out our new Book Club too – the first book is by Millie Johnson, The Marvellous Mrs Meyhew. Wait till you hear this, I have had an email from Millie herself who has given me some questions for our first book club meeting on Thursday 23 May.
There are more events to be added so keep an eye out for them – Tea Leaf and Card Reading, Candle and Cake, Journal Making, Silk Painting – phew, we certainly are not just a tearoom.
I think though the main event for me in May is that Miracle Minnie will be coming to visit us. I think I will have to get system in place for people to sign up for cuddle time with this little Miracle.
Finally, the video tomorrow should be amazing as I am just getting ready to go on a course for using videos in social media – thanks to the lovely Business Gateway people.
Of course, the song for this week just has to be If I Could Turn Back Time by Cher.
Caramel slice, millionaire shortbread, caramel shortbread – whatever you call it, who does not love this indulgent treat? With its crumbly shortbread base, gooey caramel centre and a thick chocolate topping, what’s not to love? Ok so it’s not the easiest or quickest recipe to make and, of course, is not without calories. It is, however, a treat to be enjoyed over a cup of tea and a chat. You can always go for a brisk walk or a cycle afterwards to use up some of the calories.
In the tearoom I have been making caramel slice since we opened and the customers just adore it. Firstly there is the crumbly shortbread base. For this I use my Empire Biscuit recipe and it never fails me. Then we come to the caramel filling. It took a little while for me to produce one I was happy with and could replicate time and again. Like the base, this loyal caramel never lets me down. It splashes and burns me every time when I am making it but never lets me down. Finally, but perhaps most importantly, we finish with the chocolate topping. For me there is no contest. It just has to be Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. I know people will say that this is not really chocolate and there are lots of other superior makes but for me, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk hits the spot all the time. Even Mr M knows now that if he wants to make me feel special (which he does all the time of course!) he just needs to put Dairy Milk down in front of me. If this should be in the form of a large box of Milk Tray, then he has me hands down.
But why Nicola’s Caramel Slice I hear you cry? Nicola’s first visit to the tearoom was probably away back in 2017. We have a hairdresser next door to the tearoom and Nicola was in desperate need of a cuppa as she waited for her Aunty getting her hair done. It was late in the day and I was rushing away to take Beatrix for a walk. Mr M took pity on the harassed young lady and served tea and cake after hours. It was only after eating the cake that Nicola was told it was gluten and dairy free and she thought about her nephew Charlie needing dairy free goodies. I think the Craft, Chat and Cake signs may have also caught Nicola’s interest. It was not long before Nicola, her partner Craig (of Craig’s Coconut Cake) and nephew Charlie became regulars and joined the tearoom family. It also transpired that Nicola is a crafty young lady too and soon started to join us for the crafting sessions. You should see some of Nicola’s cross stitching. Everything she does is just perfection. Nicola is working on her own business, Nicola’s Cards and Crafts and I am sure she will be a household name before long. Anyway, Nicola has a bit of a sweet tooth and is especially partial to a piece of caramel slice. She absolutely loves our original version and if she can twist Mr M’s arm a little, even when he is rushed of his feet (which is of course all the time), she enjoys nothing better than a piece of caramel slice with hot custard and a steaming pot of tea.
Always wanting to cater for the gluten and dairy free people, I had many attempts at making a gluten and dairy free caramel slice but just could not produce one to compare with our original version. After finally managing to make my empire biscuits gluten and dairy free, I thought I would have one last attempt to use this shortbread to make a caramel slice. The first dairy free caramel burned. There were a few that separated when once set. One tasted wonderful but was really dairy free toffee and came with a free dentist appointment. Then it happened. I had produced a gluten and dairy free caramel slice. I was beside myself. When I posted a picture of this on our face book page, the response was amazing – we even had one person offering to be our quality assurance taste tester! However, my rejoicing was short-lived as I quickly discovered that the dairy free caramel, lovely as it was, did not have the same structure as the original version. In the heat of the tearoom, the dairy free caramel quickly became almost liquid again. Served as a pudding with custard, this was still lovely, but caramel slice it was not.
Back to the drawing board once more. I thought I had a brilliant idea and would make it as a caramel tart. I used the gluten and dairy free pastry I make for the Bakewell tarts, added the dairy free caramel and topped it with our lovely gluten and dairy free chocolate I have now sourced. Perfection I thought. Of course, what I had not taken into account was that once I had taken the first piece out of the tart, the caramel would again be able to escape.
The drawing board again then! Finally, I came up with the idea of the mini caramel pie. Individual gluten and dairy free pastry tarts filled with the gluten and dairy free caramel and topped with the gluten and dairy free chocolate. Oh my! These were divine.
I can tell you that if the customers thought these were good, they thought the individual caramel meringue pies were heaven.
Now there is a saying though, “You can’t please everyone all of the time”. How true this is. No matter how hard I try to produce scrummy cakes and bakes that are gluten and dairy free, there is always somebody who is not happy. Let me point out here that this is not a complaint, just an observation. The saying is very appropriate when it comes to our caramel slice. Some people preferred the new version whilst others preferred the original version. There is also the problem that the evaporated milk and butter used in the original version had to be replaced by something. My final choice was to replace this with soya as soya cream has a creaminess that almost mimics the evaporated milk. Do you know how many people are unable to tolerate soya in their diet. I have a fairly good idea now!
In the tearoom as you know, we have our range Delicious Without, which is all gluten and dairy free. It seems that being gluten intolerant often goes hand in hand with dairy intolerances so it made sense to make the range both gluten and dairy free. If I am honest, I think baking dairy free is more problematic than baking gluten free. Sometimes I despair that I can’t make the fabulous looking cakes and bakes I see in other cafes and tearooms where they have used different sweets and chocolates as decoration on theirs. Then I get somebody in who is so overwhelmed by our choice of dairy free products that it is all worthwhile again.
Sometimes though, just sometimes, we get customers who beg and beg and beg and beg some more for me to make something that sits somewhere between the gluten and dairy free Delicious Without and our Wi Nowt Tekken Owt range (you need to say this with a Yorkshire Accent of course). This week I have succumbed to pleas of one of our regular customers, Beverley. Now Bev is partial to a caramel slice but is not able to have our original one because of the gluten and couldn’t have the new version because of the soya. “Please can you make the caramel slice with a gluten free shortbread but the original caramel”, said Bev, who has obviously been taking tips from Trixie and Beatrix for the puppy dog eye trick. How could I refuse?
Now this is where I have to remind you all that you all let me down a couple of years ago when I published my manifesto for Mother Murphy for Prime Minister. If I could draw your minds back to this, especially to point number 3…
MOTHER MURPHY FOR PRIME MINISTER
1) Everyone will wear purple (one item a day will suffice).
2) Everyone will eat Cadbury's Dairy Milk every day. (Other Chocolate will be available if your taste buds are not as plain as mine).
3) To enable those special people who have coeliac disease adhere to rule number 2, Mr Cadbury will guarantee that all Cadbury's Dairy Milk is gluten free.
4) Cooked cabbage will be banned. Raw cabbage will still be permitted so that we can continue to make our home made coleslaw
5) Chocolate brownies (better known as under-cooked chocolate cake) will be banned in all forms.
6) Any debate causing tension will be discussed whilst undertaking some form of Iris Folding during one of our Craft, Chat and Cake Sessions.
7) The missing triangles in Toblerone will replaced immediately. Any delay in this will result in a further rule that Mondelez will be forced to replace the triangle and make the whole lot larger to fully represent the Alps.
8) As a further development on the Toblerone, the dark chocolate version will be made available all year round (along with Terry's Chocolate Oranges).
9) All train carriages will be quiet coaches. The only headphones or devices allowed in these will be those playing the sound of silence. At the same time, all radios, noise and music (except for organised concerts) will be banned from nature parks and from passing cars. This does, however, exclude anyone playing Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road as this must always be played at full volume.
10) Everyone will live as left-handed for one month to get an understanding of how we left-handers have to adapt every day to a right-handed world. I think a month is a fair time scale as I did live as a Coeliac for a month last year.
Going back to the adaptation of Nicola’s Caramel Slice then. So Beverley with the puppy dog eyes wanted a gluten free shortbread base but the same lovely caramel and chocolate topping. No problem I thought. I’ll just swap the shortbread to my now successful gluten and dairy free empire biscuit mix, use my original caramel recipe and top with Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. Except of course now that I am not Prime Minister and my manifesto was not passed, Mr Cadbury can still put “may contain gluten” on his large bars of Dairy Milk. Shame on you Mr Cadbury and shame on you all for not voting for Mother Murphy as Prime Minister. Anyway, I discussed with another long standing member of the Tearoom Family, Crafty Sal, the Coeliac, whether there were any gluten free chocolates to match Dairy Milk. No was the short answer. So a hunt around the chocolate isles looking at all the Cadbury’s delights came up with the answer – giant Cadbury’s Chocolate buttons do not contain gluten and do not carry the “may contain” warning. A bit of an expense, but for an exception, it would be worth it.
I have, of course, ensured that some quality assurance has been undertaken on this new batch of Nicola’s Caramel Slice. I am positive that Beverley will be a happy bunny but the real test will be whether Nicola likes the new version as much as the original version. I will keep you updated.
Now on the theme of adaptation, another problem with some customers is sugar. Yes, sugar. It would seem this is now the drug of the century and to be avoided at all costs. I am often asked if I can make sugar free cakes. I am a little reluctant to go down this route because if I remove the gluten, the dairy, the soya, the nuts and the sugar, I will just be serving an empty plate. However, sometimes I do try. This week as well as Bev with the Puppy Dog Eyes, I have had Caroline the Shy Victorian Swimmer (think Victorian Afternoon Tea in February) asking for sugar free cakes. Well, asking is not really the truth. It was more “oh I don’t suppose you will be able to make sugar free cakes will you”, and walking out of the tearoom with I am sure a tear in her eye. I do believe the customers have me wrapped around their little fingers (but I love it).
So, reducing sugar for Caroline. Could this be done? Could this be done during Easter week? Easter is all about chocolate isn’t it? Anyway, I decided I would make a low sugar chocolate cake for Easter in the tearoom. I even managed to get a recipe where I could make it gluten, wheat, dairy, egg free and with only golden syrup for sugar. Ok, so I have now filled and coated the three sponges with chocolate ganache. I am trying though Caroline.
I wanted the top of the cake to have mini Easter eggs on it but of course, gluten and dairy free versions are non-existent in the local supermarkets and I did not have time to order some. So Mr M and I set out on an Easter sweet hunt in Cumbernauld to find sweets for the top of the chocolate cake that looked to have an Easter theme. We looked high and low and in the end found something that resembles small eggs. You will of course be able to make your own judgment on the success of these in the tearoom this week.
Now I am still following a gluten free diet to keep the arthritic hips functioning, which does seem to be working. Once the sweets had been found it was time for a coffee and a cake. How ironic it was that I had spent the best part of two days trying to source bits and pieces for my bakes only to find that I had to make do with a bought Bakewell tart from Costa as the sole gluten free cake I could find in the whole of Cumbernauld. No, I lie, but if can refer you back to point number 5 of my manifesto, there was a café with a huge gluten free sign pointing to the saddest looking, dry, 3 week old looking chocolate brownie. Pre-packed Bakewell tart in Costa it was then whilst Mr M tucked into his lovely toasted current teacake oozing with lashings of butter. Sometimes I can see why people give in and eat some gluten when they are out and starving.
If only that lovely tearoom on the hill in Falkirk had been open!
And this week’s song? Well it just has to be, “How Much is That Doggy In the Window” by Bob Merrill.
Very often when people first meet me they think that there is a little bit of madness about me. It doesn’t take them long though to realise that they are mistaken and that I am actually completely stark raving bonkers. I have to say that I would probably agree with most people but like to think I might be mad but never reckless.
Today this theory was put to the test once again on the Scottish mountains. I usually spend most of the week planning where I going to walk on my day off. This week I had decided that I would climb up The Cobbler (Ben Arthur) in the Arrochar Alps. Should I go Monday or Tuesday? I discovered that Mr M had a day planned on Tuesday with his brother involving the horses. Tuesday was the day for walking then!
Now as we all know, Mr M is actually the Health and Safety Chief Officer for the Tearoom (and for my life it sometimes feels!). “You can’t go walking on Tuesday, Storm Gareth is coming,” announced Mr H&S. So I checked the forecast, checked the warnings and checked the Mountain Rescue sites for weather in the Arrochar Alps for Tuesday. It told me that the bad weather would not actually arrive until later in the after and that there would be sunshine and showers in the morning.
I know the area quite well and have walked the hills on numerous occasions, in both summer and winter. Usually the weather is pretty similar regardless of the season I have to say. The walk starts very low down at Arrochar and climbs up a zig zag track through the forest to climb up to the dam and the start of the open hills. Walking this track, it would be quite remarkable if you managed to get lost, no matter what the weather. This is a very well defined track, a bit of a steady climb, but well defined. The walk then opens out, giving a fantastic view of the Cobbler and providing that remote feeling I crave. The mountains around seem to give protection from the weather all along the track right up to the point where you decide whether to climb the Cobbler on the left or up Beinn Ime or Beinn Narnain on the right. In my defence for choosing to go walking up here on the day the Storm was predicted, I knew that I could walk all the way up to the foot of The Cobbler and be relatively safe from exposure. Ok, so there was a bit a wind at times and there were a few snow showers on the way, but on the whole, the walk was great and the sun was out for much of the morning. I had decided that I would walk until I reached a point when I needed to put my crampons on, take stock, have a snack and choose what do to – go to the top or head back. I had a few snowy bits to negotiate on route, but nothing that a good, new pair of boots and two walking poles could not handle. As I climbed up the valley, I could feel the wind getting a little stronger so I made my decision that I would go to the point where you start the final climb up The Cobbler where I knew there were a few rocks to shelter by and have a rest. Beatrix agreed that was a good plan as she was ready for her roast ham that Mr M had packed for her. I wonder if she realises that she is probably the only dog that gets a picnic of special roast ham made up for. Very soon I was about 10 minutes walking from my planned turning point, which takes you beyond the protection of the hills. Well, that’s when the wind really hit me and practically blew me and Beatrix off our feet. We had a bit of giggle with each other and decided that we would just turn around now.
Now the wind was behind us and I am convinced that I could have been like Mary Poppins at one point and just flown down the hill. Walking back without the final climb to the summit in my legs, I was able to savour the walk more than usual. I even had the treat of catching sight of an enormous stag on the other side of the valley. All of a sudden, there were about 20 deer all looking at me and then, as quickly as they appeared, they just blended back into the hills.
We had fabulous lunch stop at the Narnain Boulders, which provide brilliant shelter from any weather and also allow you to sit a while and look out onto the amazing vista of Ben Lomond across the Valley. Of course, today was not really a day for sitting too long. Even though the sun was out and I was under the shelter of the rocks, it was still cold, the wind was blowing and the storm was coming. Flask of tea finished, butties eaten and Candy Road enjoyed, I packed my rucksack back up again and set off for the final walk back down the hill to the car. Just as we got back to the car, the heavens opened! It rained on us and blew us all the way back home across the Erskine Bridge, M8 and back to Kirkintilloch and the only time during the whole day when I got wet was getting my things out of the car into the house.
The only sadness of the day being a slow realisation that for the past two weeks, my walking pal has not been as lively at the end of the walk as she used to be. She is still full of energy on the way up the hills, darting backwards and forwards, but on the way down she is less so and I can sense she is now happy to be back at the car and sleep instead of being a bundle of energy all day. I sometimes forget she is getting old too. She is currently sleeping at my feet as I type, enjoying the warmth of the central heating and a full tummy from her tea.
So, thoughts now turn to the tearoom and the week ahead. Sometime after Mother Murphy’s opened, Fiona found her way into the tearoom, sometimes with her friends, sometimes with her daughter, sometimes with her granddaughter, but always with a smile. Fiona soon became a regular to the tearoom, liking nothing better than to sit and relax, chat, enjoy the tearoom and, of course, try all the different cakes. Very quickly, Fiona found her favourite, Stem Ginger Cake with Ginger Frosting and if this was one of the cakes that week, Fiona always chose this. If anyone came in and was trying to decide on which cake to have, Fiona would quickly jump in and recommend the ginger cake.
Long after Fiona’s first visit to the tearoom, I was having a chat to a new customer about all the different cakes and bakes. I was explaining that DW was short for Delicious Without, which shows which cakes and bakes are gluten and dairy free. Fiona joined in the chat at this point and said, “Yes, but the ginger cake is not gluten free is it because I don’t like gluten free cakes”. I can tell you, it took some convincing to get Fiona to believe that for the last year or so she had in fact been tucking in to gluten and dairy free delights every time she came into the tearoom.
Anyway, Fiona then mentioned that she had a friend who has coeliac disease and would bring her in next time she was meeting her as they always struggled to find somewhere for her friend to get good food in cafes.
Fast forward another year or so, on a Thursday morning in the tearoom you will usually find Fiona and Margaret whiling away the hours, chatting, laughing, having a late breakfast/early lunch, chatting, more laughing, persuading Mr M to serenade them with his guitar playing and of course, eating cake.
When Margaret first came in to the tearoom, she was as quiet as a mouse but was just blown away with the choices she could have that would be ok for her coeliac disease - pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, toasted sandwiches made with home-made gluten free bread, French toast with home-made gluten free bread. Just as Fiona had found her favourite cake, Margaret quickly found her own favourite cake (or two) and now has her name against our Lemon Drizzle Cake and the Cherry and Almond Cake.
Now I have told you this story, it will come as no surprise to find out that one of our cakes this week is of course Fiona’s Stem Ginger Cake with Ginger Frosting. We also have Pear and Ginger Cake (is it a cake or is it a crumble?), Shona’s Candy Road, Sir Wannabe Mint Cream Biscuits (think of a Viscount biscuit). Also back after a long absence is our Strawberry Heaven. This is a lovely crunchy toffee flavoured base, with a strawberry filling, topped with a layer of chocolate. When I made this some time ago, one of the customers described it as like eating a strawberry flavoured toffee crisp.
Craft Chat and Cake
This week at the crafting, there will be some sewing with the machine, some crochet of course, card making and we have our Crafting Special on Saturday, Box Frame Picture Making. We still have a couple of places let of this – come along and make a stunning large box frame picture. All the resources and help will be provided, along with cake and lashings of tea. (Booking required for the Crafting Special).
I wonder if I could make a request to all those lovely crafters amongst us. Now we have a sewing machine for the tearoom for people to use during the crafting sessions, I am trying to build up a sewing kit/box for the tearoom. We are looking for fabric scissors, pins, machine thread, etc. If anyone has any space items that they would like to give a new home to we would be very grateful. Thank you.
Don’t forget also that with Mother’s Day around the corner, we now have a small selection of the fantastic pens made by young Cameron. These are all individually unique and hand made by a 16 year old. If we do not have one in the colour you like, we can get one ordered for you from Cameron, with an order time of 2/3 weeks. I think these would be perfect for birthday presents, graduations, signing the register and Christmas presents so name a few.
We are still on our search for small hand-made gifts for sale in the tearoom as Something New is our theme for our 5th year in the tearoom. I am hoping that very soon we may also have some handmade candles so watch this space. So you will be able to come in for tea and cake, buy a card, buy a pen to go with it and a candle to set the scene. Where else?
Mother Murphy’s Diaries
Another aim for 2019 is for me to finish my book, Mother Murphy’s Diaries, a recipe book with a story. Of course, now that I do not have any crafting projects on the go at the moment……
Of course, the song for this week just has to be Paperback Writer by Dire Straits.
6.00 am, 22 January 2019 and all was quiet. The weather men had been warning us that the Beast from the East was going to return (though maybe not from the East!). It had certainly been cold over the last couple of days and last night was positively Baltic. However, when you only have two days away from the tearoom, you just have to make the most of what ever weather comes along on a Monday or Tuesday.
Last night, we were visiting one of our lovely customers. It does seem strange referring to people as customers because of course people are more than customers. They may well have been strangers and new customers when they first entered the tearoom, but they very quickly become friends. This is certainly the case with Dashing Tom. Tom had a bit of a tumble last week and broke his hip so we were had popped in to see him at hospital. If you can’t come to the tearoom Tom, we will bring the tearoom to you.
Anyway, I was discussing with Tom, his daughter and Mr M that I was planning to go up Ben Ledi from Callander in the morning. Well you would have thought I was talking about going up Mount Everest. (Actually, that is on my bucket list). I was trying to explain why I liked to go walking on the hills, especially in the winter and snow. It’s not because I am an intrepid explorer and live for the adrenalin rush, but quiet simply being on the hills is where my peace and tranquillity is. Everyone finds their own space, and the hills are mine.
First thing this morning Kirkintilloch was a bit on the chilly side and the ground a bit icy when I took Beatrix for a 10 minute walk before breakfast. There was no snow though. All will be well I told myself.
Back home for a bowl of steaming porridge and blueberries. I was expecting the usual, “are you sure it’s safe to go…..” from Mr M but he just said, “be careful”. So off we went. Flasks of tea (one for after the walk if needed), plenty layers and of course, crampons, were packed into the car along with the excited Border collie.
The drive to the start of the walk, just past Callander, was quite non-eventful. There were a few snow flurries but nothing to shout about. I could see Ben Ledi and the surrounding hills in the distance and they were indeed covered in snow. Parking the car, there was a good covering of snow, which is unusual for so low down in the valley.
5 minutes after leaving the car, it seemed that the Beast had caught up with us. I did lots of detailed calculations in my head. Ok, I thought, “Well, I’m here now”. No, honestly I thought that I would be better to have a bit of walk now and let the snow pass over us and let the gritters, ploughs and traffic clear the main A84 ready for us to go home later.
Usually the walk up Ben Ledi takes you along a forestry road then up a forest track before opening out onto the real hills. I know the forest track and it can be a bit tricky in good weather so I opted to go the long way round and follow the forestry road to the end before going into Stank Glen. I planned to get as far as the end of the glen and not attempt the full climb up Ben Ledi.
The highlight of the day today has to be the point along the forestry track when the snow was falling but there was not a soul about except for me and Beatrix. There was no wind, no sound, nothing. Imagine walking alone with your dog and listening to the sound of your own footsteps in crunching and your dog running in the snow. I stopped for a while and watched Beatrix playing, rolling and jumping in the snow. Once Beatrix had stopped alongside me, I just waited a while and enjoyed the silence.
As we climbed up the valley and reached the track to take us into the glen, the snow eased, and then stopped. The clouds started to lift and before long, the sunshine had joined us on our walk. At the end of the Glen, we had our picnic and flask of tea looking at the amazing scenery and I have to admit that I was very, very tempted to go up to the top of Ben Ledi. However, I did listen to my little voice of reason and agreed that Ben Ledi will be there another day when I have not used up all my limited energy walking in the deep snow. So I lingered a while and enjoyed an extra cup of tea and a boozy fruit slice. (Imagine a fruit slice but rather than just a fruit filling, this one is filled with my homemade Christmas mincemeat).
I am sure that there would have been many people cursing the snow and struggling to get to their work today, but for me, the snow provide the just what I needed. Now I have had a hot shower, a nap and had my tea cooked by Mr M. I am fit for the week ahead at the tearoom.
The Beast of the East (but from the West) was trying to scare us, but was certainly put into the shadows by the beauty of nature today.
Where will we go next week?
Of course, the song for this week just has to be Walking in Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves.
FRUIT SLICE (GF/DF/Egg Free)
Fruit Filling (or simply use some homemade Christmas mincemeat)
Making the fruit filling
1 Preheat oven to 190oc/170oc fan oven.
2 Grease and line a tray bake tin with parchment paper.
3 Put all the fruit filling ingredients in a large pan and bring to the boil, stirring constantly.
4 Boil for 4 minutes until the mixture has thickened.
5 Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Making the pastry
6 Put the flour, baking powder and xanthan gum into a free standing mixer (or a large bowl) and whisk to mix.
7 Cut the stork into small cubes and add to the flour mix. Have the mixer running at low speed and mix until you have rough breadcrumbs (or rub in with your fingers).
8 Add cold water, a little at a time, with the mixer still running (or mixing with a knife) until you have a soft but not sticky dough.
9 Cut the dough into two equal pieces and roll out each piece until they are large enough to cover the baking tray.
10 Carefully lift one of the pieces (use the rolling pin to help here) and place in the baking tray.
11 Cover the pastry with the cooled fruit mixture and spread out covering all the pastry.
12 Carefully life the second piece of pastry (again use the rolling pin to help here) and place this over the fruit.
13 Prick the pastry all over with a fork and then brush down with almond milk.
14 Bake in the pre-heated oven for 25 minutes until lightly browned.
15 Remove from the oven and (if you are not coating it in icing later) sprinkle with caster sugar.
16 Leave to cool completely in the tin before cutting into 24 equal pieces.
17 If you want to add icing to this, wait until completely cold. Mix the icing sugar with enough cold water to make a thick paste and carefully spread over the pastry and leave to set before slicing.
I know that I am not the first person to become a Grandma, but what follows is why I feel the need to tell the whole world about my new baby Granddaughter. Sadly, I know that I am not the only person to have such a take to tell. Who knows though, by telling this story it may just give hope to somebody else. Hope, determination and love is what conquered here.
Let’s take a little trip back to 2007. A short conversation from my 16 year old daughter, Chloe, was to change my whole outlook on life. “I’m pregnant”. Ok, so this was not the news I was looking forward to hearing from my young daughter, but pregnant she was. So, I was going to become a Grandma. I think it probably took about 30 minutes for me to change from being concerned at how young Chloe was to being excited about being Grandma.
Unfortunately, this was not going to be as smooth a journey as I would have hoped for my daughter. This pregnancy sadly ended in an early miscarriage. This was followed by another miscarriage.
In 2009, Chloe became pregnant again and this time she passed all the usual milestones and, flying past the usual 12 week worrying time, we thought this was her time. Two days after my birthday, 20 October, 2009, Chloe went into premature labour and suffered the unbearable pain of her first still born baby, Michael.
I cannot explain the pain of seeing your daughter going through such terrible heartache whilst being unable to do anything to help. No words, no actions, no money, nothing. Nothing I could do would make this easier for Chloe. Behind this heartache of Chloe’s my own heart was breaking for the grandchildren that were not to be. How could it be fair that one person could have to endure such pain? How could one person deal with such pain?
The next few years past and more miscarriages followed. Tests were carried out, therapy given, but still the miscarriages happened.
2012 seemed to start well though. Chloe was pregnant again. As usual, Chloe shared this information with me almost from day one. Every day I spoke to Chloe and every day we spoke about the pregnancy and how well it was going. 6 weeks passed. 12 weeks approached and the first scan. Everything was perfect. We took the pregnancy day by day and eventually the date for the 20 week scan arrived. The scan showed that this little baby was going to be girl. Oh my! This was going to be Chloe’s time. Every day we talked about things to look forward to. We talked about the things Chloe would be doing with her daughter. A name was chosen, Nieve Debra Olive. I can’t tell you how my heart was bursting with pride at this.
1st November found me at home making smiley face biscuits for our bonfire night supper up here in Scotland. That day I got the phone call that has probably changed my life for ever. It was Chloe. Just as though she was saying hello, Chloe simply said, “The baby has died”. I heard a noise and realised that I was wailing. Jim standing next to me picked me up of the floor. “Will you come down please”, asked Chloe.
What followed is still a bit of a blur. I remember having a long, dark, cold, icy journey down to Halifax from Kirkintilloch. I recall stopping at Tebay services on the M6 and trying to eat something but feeling sick at the very thought. I needed to be in Halifax. I needed to be with Chloe.
On Saturday 3 November 2012, two days after learning that her baby had died, my incredibly brave and amazing daughter endured, with no complaining, no tears, no words, the unbearable labour of her angel baby Nieve. My Granddaughter! It is no exaggeration to say that every day since then I have seen my daughter’s face as she held her still-born baby. The shock, the pain, the heartache but somehow I could see the acceptance. I held my Granddaughter, my perfect little Granddaughter who had somehow just fallen asleep for ever.
What followed was just a nightmare. A funeral. A small white coffin. Holding my daughter up whilst we buried her daughter.
How on earth was Chloe going to get through this. How could I help her through this. It was my job, no my aim in life, to make everything ok for my children. How could I have let this happen? How could I have stopped this from happening? How could anyone have stopped this happening? How can anyone help Chloe now?
Over the coming months I shed tears by the bucket full. Every time I closed my eyes I saw my daughter’s haunted face; I saw my perfect but sleeping Granddaughter and my heart was breaking. How on earth was Chloe going to get through this pain and heartache?
However, get through this Chloe did. She got through it day by day. What I could see though was a girl who was sad from the core. There was no happiness in her. My beautiful daughter was completely broken. I was broken.
Meanwhile, Mother Murphy’s Tearoom opened. Chloe found the strength to come and be with us for the open day. She came to celebrate our 1st birthday at the tearoom. But still she was broken. Still her heart ached for her lost babies and how she ached to be a mum.
Over the next few years there followed more miscarriages. More pain, more heartache, more tears.
Then in 2018 Chloe told me she thought she was pregnant. Only a few days. Pregnancy tests followed. Yes, it was true, Chloe was pregnant. My only thought was that I could not bear any more heartache for my daughter.
With the past history, Chloe was going to be monitored and monitored during this pregnancy. There was nothing extra that could be done because there were no known medical reasons for the previous losses. So, day by day, we held our breaths as the pregnancy developed. 6 weeks, 12 weeks. First scan, second scan. Everything looked perfect. Chloe had the most awful morning sickness, which everyone told her was a good sign. Regular scans followed, along with heartbeat monitoring. 20 weeks and the scan showed that the baby was another girl. A small baby on the scan, but the pregnancy was going perfectly otherwise.
I think I probably stopped breathing at this point. I could not concentrate. I ate chocolate. I ate cake. I ate more chocolate. I ate more cake. I could not sleep. I could not craft. But the tearoom still had to be run.
I was under strict instructions from Chloe that I could not tell anyone that she was pregnant. I did wonder how she was going to hide the growing bump but I understood her concerns. Of course, there were a few people I told in the tearoom. Ok, so I told lots of people. Chloe had a bit of a laugh at the idea that I had not told anyone, but I did not, of course, tell anyone on the wide, wide world of facebook, so really I had not told anyone.
Over the next few months, I have to say that the tearoom was probably my haven. I had to bake, I had to organise crafts, I had to talk to people, I had to listen to people’s concerns, I had to be a shoulder to cry on when they needed it, I had to laugh with people. Inside I was a mess. There were times when I cried, many, many times. I cried because I was scared. I was scared that something would happen and my daughter would have to go through terrible heartache again.
Eventually, a date was set for induction at 38 weeks. Everything was perfect except for baby being a bit small. Scans were carried out every two weeks. As the time progressed and baby stayed small, the induction date was brought forward to 13th December, just about 36 weeks.
Wednesday 12 December I travelled down to Halifax. The train journey was a bit of a blur. Oh my mind was running in overdrive. Jim had long since stopped expecting any common sense from me and he was just amazing dealing with my anxiety. He held me and ignored my tantrums. He wiped my tears and did everything he could to reassure me. Only one thing was going to reassure me though.
So 13 December came. We took Chloe into the Calderdale Royal Hospital. Induction medication was given in the manner it is given! I started to crochet a blanket as I waited with Chloe. I was going nowhere until this labour was over. Not one for praying usually, I can tell you that I prayed hard that night. I am sure that everyone in the tearoom (who did not of course know that Chloe was pregnant or being induced!) was praying and waiting. Jim was holding the fort and I was giving regular updates. The blanket was growing but that was the only thing progressing. 24 hours later, Chloe’s waters were broken. The labour room was full of every piece of equipment you could imagine. The consultant was not expecting anything to go wrong but as she put it, “we are prepared for everything”.
As things suddenly progressed, standing next to me the nurse pressed the emergency button and the room was suddenly filled with about 100 people (or so it seemed). “One more push and she will be here”.
Then she was here. No suction, no help, no respirator. This perfect, perfect, pink, tiny breathing baby was in her Mother’s arms. Yes I cried. But this time the tears were of joy, relief and love.
I have the most amazing photo of Chloe holding her baby and the love in her eyes is amazing. Minnie Violet is just perfect. Chloe is just perfect.
That night, I slept like a baby.
This is a tale of sadness, heartache, tears and love. Most of all though, this is a tale of one girl’s determination, strength and endurance to become a Mother. I have no doubt that Chloe will be the most amazing Mother and, if little Minnie Violet loves me half as much as I loved my Grandma, than all will be great.
It is also a tale of the support, warmth, thoughts and concern that a whole group of people who have never even met Chloe gave us. I keep saying that we created our tearoom to be a place in the community where everyone could come along, feel safe, feel loved and feel needed. I did not fully realise until this last few months that the tearoom and our wonderful customers are also providing that love and support to me. Thank you.
Behind this story of course there is a tale of hope and love. Chloe never once gave up hope that she would become a Mother.
Now we have our miracle baby Minnie, we can start to build new memories. The grief for the lost babies will never go. With tiny steps, one day at a time, Minnie will help Chloe to smile again and, one day in the near future, I hope that I will see my daughter laugh like she used to laugh, something I have not seen for a long, long time.
So, going back to November 2012 when I was making smiley face biscuits, I vowed never to make those biscuits again until there was a baby to celebrate with. In the tearoom when we open again in January, there will be smiley face biscuits. I am sure there will be tears when I make them but tears of both joy and sadness.
The song this week just has to be, "You've Got A Friend" by James Taylor.
The Tearoom On The Hill
When we opened Mother Murphy’s Tearoom in March 2015, it was far removed from the previous things we had both done in our lives. Mr M had been a lift engineer for 40 years. I had been involved in Learning and Development for many years. Somehow our two lives became entwined and we found ourselves opening our very own tearoom at Falkirk. It was a perfect size for us to manage just the two of us. It had previously been a café, so we just needed to clean, decorate and put our own stamp on the place for us to open our own place.
A Community Hub
Nearly four years down the line our tearoom is, I believe, part of the local community. We are providing a safe, relaxed, friendly environment for people to come along and enjoy the tearoom. Our food and cakes are, I believe well received and I still love the look on peoples’ faces when they try a cake that they have not been able to eat for years. Our gluten and dairy free goodies are indeed very popular. Our crafting side has developed from a couple of sessions to being a huge part of the tearoom. Crafting, chatting and eating cake – everything that the Doctor ordered for those in need of our tearoom, even when they did not realise they needed us.
Time To Grow
Now we are ready to grow. We have limited space at the Tearoom on the Hill and our location is perhaps not ideal. At times there is not a seat to be found, but other times the tearoom can be empty. I have a vision of the tearoom hosting birthday parties, book clubs, story time sessions, baby showers, hen parties. I would like to see crafting classes in the evening and for the tearoom to be an even greater part of the local community.
Mother Murphy's Tearoom at the York Cafe?
I often take a walk into Falkirk town centre and see the many empty buildings. Mr M talks fondly of being brought to Falkirk as a boy with his mum and going to the York Café for fish and chips. Wouldn’t it be great to have Mother Murphy’s Tearoom at the York Café.
Or Mother Murphy's Tearoom at the Castle?
Recently I have been reading a book by Caroline Roberts, The Cosy Teashop in The Castle. In this the main character takes over the café in a Castle and makes this a Cosy Teashop (finding love at the same time). I don’t need to find love as I have my very own Mr M, but if anyone has a castle that they would like us to move into, let us know. “Mother Murphy’s at the Castle” has a certain ring to it too don’t you think.
Seriously, though, we are now looking for new premises that we can afford, where the rent and business rates do not make it just a pipe dream. If anyone knows of anywhere……
Anyway, The Cosy Teashop in The Castle was a great read and one of the cakes mentioned throughout the book was Nanna’s Choffee Cake. At the end of the book, the recipe for this cake was given and I thought I would just have to make this for our tearoom. I have tried to keep it as close to the recipe in the book as possible but have, of course, adapted it to make it gluten and dairy free. The book’s cake did have chocolate coated coffee beans on it, but for the life of me I can’t see the point of spoiling a cake with coffee beans so there are no chocolate coated coffee beans on the top of my cake. Quite simply, a four layer sponge cake, 2 coffee, 2 chocolate, filled with layers of chocolate and coffee frosting. Oh my! There may need to be some quality assurance tomorrow at the Tearoom I can tell you!
Of course, there will also be Christmas Cake served with a slice of Wensleydale Cheese, but not until 1st December. With a bit of luck I might even manage to get my mince pies made for Saturday too. Both of these are gf/df of course (but don’t tell everyone), along with a lemon drizzle cake. There will be some of our Rocky Road (not gf/df) but still one of our customer favourites.
Back On the Hills
This weekend, I finally felt well enough to venture back out onto the hills, with just a pesky cough lingering. I woke early and to be honest, still felt rubbish and did think about just turning over and staying in bed all day. I looked over at Mr M still in a deep slumber and guilt grabbed me a little. Mr M has been doing most of the early morning walks for some time now so I thought it only right I let him sleep longer on his day off. So up I got and took Beatrix out for a short walk to do what dogs need to do in the morning. It was still a little dark, but the sky was clear, the moon shining bright and the stars glistening. In the distance I could just make out a dusting of snow on the Campsie Fells. What was I thinking? I didn’t need to spend the day in bed sleeping to get better. I needed to get out on the hills, feel the air around me and breathe in the freedom the hills bring. By the time I got home, the sun was starting to make an appearance and it was looking like a good day. I found myself almost running home to get ready. The porridge master was in action and my breakfast was almost ready when I got home. How spoiled am I!
By 9.00 am I was ready, my picnic made (all gf of course), my rucksack packed and Beatrix was giving me the huge collie smile she has when she realises an adventure is about to begin.
Driving over the hills to the start of our favourite walk up the Meikle Binn, the sun was well and truly awake, the sky clear and the added bonus was that I could see snow on the tops of the hills. Today was going to be a good day indeed.
Once we reached the start of the walk, changing my shoes into my walking boots I realised just how cold it was. I was regretting not putting my thermal leggings on so I opted to put my over trousers on to keep me warm. I even put on a hat and gloves! Off we went.
Beatrix found her stick for the walk within a minute of leaving the car (it’s a collie thing!).
Even though the walk up the Meikle Binn is so close to towns and cities, it is a surprisingly isolated walk. As I do my walks on a Monday, the chances of having crowds of folk along the way are also minimised. Strolling up the forestry track, I could feel life coming back into my bones and could feel a glow building on my face.
In The Bleak Mid-Winter
As we walked, chatting about different things (yes, I do talk to my dog when I am out walking and she talks to me!), it started to snow. Large snowflakes as big as tennis balls started to gently fall. I found myself singing In the Bleak Mid-Winter. As you all know, if Mr M had been out on the walk it would have been doom and gloom because of the cold, the snow and the wind, but for me, I seem to come alive in the winter.
As we reached the summit, the sunshine had long since disappeared and the clouds had engulfed us. The ground had a good covering of snow, so footsteps were taken carefully. Taking photos with my trusty camera, I remembered that I am now the proud owner of one of these fancy i-phones. Time for a selfie and a live video I thought. I’ll show people that I can really start to embrace technology! I managed to take a couple of photos with said super-duper phone then nothing. The phone died. I remember reading somewhere that people should not rely on their phones for navigation on the hills as they do not work very well in the cold weather. Well, lesson 1 today – i-phones don’t like to work in sub-zero temperatures. At least I had learned that lesson on a day when I did not need the phone.
We headed back down the hill and had a short break at the picnic bench for our lunch. A perk of the job is that I always seem to have a supply of yummy cakes and bakes for my walks. I also have a new flask for my tea. My trusty flask of 10 years + has finally been retired as it was no longer keeping the tea hot and the inside was flaking away. Thank you Mr M for my lovely birthday present.
My second lesson of the day was that my other lovely birthday present, new walking boots, were never ever going to be comfortable on me. I have spent the last month or so wearing them in the tearoom, on short walks with Beatrix and generally hoping that one day they would be comfortable. They were so uncomfortable today that I seriously contemplated taking them off and walking in my bare feet. If I had had a sharp knife I might have even cut the toes of them. I wonder if Mr M will mind buying me another pair of new boots?
Of course, the song for this week just has to be Another Day in Paradise by Phil Collins.
Spice Girl’s Apple Cake/Pudding
Over the few years we have been open Mother Murphy’s Tearoom has developed into a community hub; a place for people to come along, meet new friends and enjoy the peace, tranquillity (and often madness) of our traditional tearoom.
Catering for people with different dietary requirements, including those with coeliac disease and dairy intolerance, we are always seeing new customers come along who are looking to see if it is really true that most of our lovely cakes and bakes are gluten and dairy free.
One particular Saturday we were getting ourselves geared up for one of our first Craft Chat and Cake Sessions doing some encaustic art painting. You have never heard of this I hear you say. Well until the fabulous Norma came along and demonstrated this to us, neither had I. Encaustic art is basically painting with bees wax using an iron. Believe me, it is one of the best crafts I have ever tried. We even had Mr M giving it a go too!
Kiddies in a candy shop
Anyway, that Saturday lunchtime into the tearoom walked Sharon and Frances with their gorgeous little blonde haired baby Sofia. They had heard good reviews from colleagues about our baking and wanted to check us out. They were looking for somewhere that provided gluten free food that was safe for somebody with coeliac disease, a dairy intolerance and where there would be a warm welcome to a family of 3. Talk about kiddies in a candy shop! I think they wanted to take home one of each of the cakes they saw that day. Later that afternoon just as the craft session was coming to a close, Frances ran in again asking for takeaway soups because they had enjoyed their lunch time visit so much. Let’s just say that it was quite some considerable time later that Frances, Sharon and Sofia left the tearoom once again, armed with Frances’ encaustic art painting, some soup and some cakes. “I only came in for a takeaway soup”, laughed Frances.
The Teashop on the Corner by Millie Johnson
At one of their next visits, without knowing it, they made all the hard work of setting up the tearoom worth every penny when they told me that Mother Murphy’s Tearoom reminded them of a book by Millie Johnson, The Teashop on the Corner. They said this book had some sort of magic about it and that they felt that same magic when they came into our little tearoom. I was nearly in tears I can tell you! Wanting to understand fully what they meant, I went out and bought the book for myself. I can tell you that I was bursting with pride as I read it thinking that people should associate our tearoom with this novel.
After reading this book, I started to refer to our tearoom in my face book posts as The Tearoom on the Hill and this quickly became our nickname. So much so, we now even receive post addressed to the Mother Murphy’s, The Tearoom on the Hill.
The Apple Cake
As autumn drew to a close in 2017, Sharon popped in one day with a sack full of wonderful apples from their garden. Scouring recipe books for some sort of apple delight, I came across a Dorset Apple Tray Bake. I pondered this and thought about how to adapt it to make it both gluten and dairy free and also to make into a large round cake rather than a tray bake. With the addition of some warm spices and few tweaks to the ingredients, our Apple Cake was born.
In December 2017 we had a Christmas Quiz in the tearoom and the deciding question was, “We like to name our cakes after our customers. Which cake should we name after you and why?” Sharon and Frances obviously did some major cheating along the way and were the only people to get every single question correct. It did mean that the deciding question was not needed, but their answer to this did warrant the apple cake being named after them.
So, I would like to introduce to you our Spice Girls’ Apple Cake....
SPICE GIRLS’ APPLE CAKE (gf/df)
Makes a 9” round cake
Warm spices turn this simple apple cake into a wonderful treat. I am not really sure whether this is a cake or a pudding. Cake or pudding, serve it warm and the spices are enhanced. Add a good helping of hot custard and this simple treat is transformed into a delicious pudding.
1 Preheat oven to 180oc/160oc fan oven.
2 Grease and line a 9” round deep cake tin with parchment paper. (I use a parchment paper liner).
3 Peel, core and thinly slice the apples, squeeze the lemon juice over them and put to one side.
4 Put all the other ingredients in the free standing mixer (or use a hand mixer) and beat together until light and smooth.
5 Spread half of the cake mixture over the bottom of the prepared cake tin.
6 Arrange half of the apples over the top of this then repeat these two layers with the remaining cake mixture and apples.
7 Sprinkle demerara sugar over the top.
8 Bake in the pre-heated oven for 50-60 minutes or until golden and springy to touch.
9 Leave in the tin until almost cold then cool completely on a wire rack.
Of course, the song for this post, just has to be,
Wannabe by the Spice Girls.
8 October 2005 Mr M and I were married on the Isle of Skye. I was wondering how we should celebrate this year’s anniversary when fate just seemed to take over. My son was coming to stay for a few days before starting a new chapter in his life. On Monday (being our anniversary) he needed to get on the West Highland train. Mmm I wondered. After last week’s adventure in Glen Lyon, Mr M had said he thought he would be taking a break from walking with me! However, I could now see the possibility of a train journey up North to accompany my son on part of his journey, sneak in a walk and stay overnight in a hotel with Mr M to celebrate 13 years of married bliss. A bit of research on the internet and I calculated that it would be possible for us to all get the train from Croy. My son could sit back and relax and enjoy a long train journey whilst me and Mr M could jump off the train at Tyndrum. We could then walk roughly 6 miles on the West Highland Way up to Bridge of Orchy, stay in the hotel there overnight, relax over long leisurely breakfast and get the train back just after lunch.
A Perfect Plan
Now to convince Mr M that he wanted to walk part of the West Highland Way on his anniversary. “I thought we could have a night in a hotel to celebrate our anniversary My Sweet”, I said. Enough detail for now I decided. The rest of the information could be released at appropriate intervals.
So with Mr M on board with my plan, I phoned the hotel and was very pleasantly surprised that I managed to get a dog friendly room booked for us so we could take Beatrix with us. Not only did I manage to book a room, but got a deal on a separate cottage next to the hotel. Perfect. There would be nobody to walk past the hotel room causing Beatrix to bark to protect us. What could possibly go wrong this week? I did have a bit of a giggle with the manager on the phone when he asked me if I wanted the room setting out with two single beds or a double bed. “Well it is our anniversary,” I laughed.
“Have you seen the weather forecast for Monday and Tuesday?” asked Mr M. “It is going to be teaming it down both days”. Now we all know that Mr M’s idea of bad weather and my idea of bad weather are poles apart. “It will be ok. We are only walking on the West Highland way and the guide books tell us we don’t even need a map or a compass”. Mr M raised an eye brow at me. “Oh, we are walking are we?” Smiling sweetly I discussed the plans for the two days and advised Mr M that he just needed to travel light as he would be walking for 6 miles carrying everything for the overnight stay along with his picnic.
Yellow Weather Warning!
Everything was planned. Sunday came and the tearoom was closed and cleaned for our weekend. A quick check on social media at on the Sunday evening and I noticed a message from a friend, “Have you seen the weather for the West Coast. You must be mad”. I could ignore Mr M’s warnings of bad weather, but when a friend mentions the weather…. I logged onto the weather on the internet and there it was, yellow warning for torrential rain covering Crianlarich, Tyndrum, Bridge of Orchy and beyond. Now I have never walked any of the West Highland Way so have no idea what the terrain is really like, only what I have read in guide books. I read the section from Tyndrum to Bridge Orchy and the words that were suddenly jumping out of the book at me were “flood plains”. Oops. Perhaps a change of plan was needed. Ok, we would get the train all the way to Bridge of Orchy then go for a walk once we were there.
Second adjustment of plans needed. All ferries up North were cancelled for Monday. My son now needed accommodation for Monday night. Should I book him into the hotel with us? On our anniversary? So, accommodation sorted for him on his journey right by the ferry terminal ready for the re-commencement of the ferries.
An Early Start
Monday morning at some ridiculous hour, the alarms went off and we all nibbled at our breakfast and pretended that we did not mind being up so early. After a short 10 minute train journey we were in Glasgow Queen Street. We had an hour to kill before the next train but Beatrix kept the whole of the station amused going from one person to the next getting cuddles, strokes and, of course, there was always the possibility of a biscuit or too if she did the puppy dog eyes.
8.20 and we were settled on the next train. We had just short of 3 hours on the train (though my son had about 6!). How long should we hold off before we had our picnic? Realistically we could probably last until we got off the train then have our packed lunch on the walk. Just outside Helensburgh the train came to a standstill. “Ladies and gentlemen, there will be short delay”. The track on this line is single track in several places so a delay with a train from the opposite direction can cause delays for all other trains. We waited patiently, we chatted, we looked at the views (ha, ha), I did some crochet and some reading. Then, by 9.30 ish our picnics had started to creep out of our rucksacks and you know what happens once you start. It was not long before I had to tell everyone they would have to stop eating their snacks as we all had a long day ahead of us – some longer than others. Beatrix had certainly had enough – every time I looked at her my son seemed to be giving her some treat or another.
Eventually, the delayed Caledonian Sleeper train came down the track and we were once again on our way. Once beyond Arrochar and Tarbet, the views should have been amazing but imagination was needed as the rain moved in. We trundled along past Ardlui and up the long incline passing the Falls of Falloch on route to Crianlarich. Of course today any little waterfalls were now raging torrents. Next stop was Upper Tyndrum, leading to our final stop at Bridge of Orchy. So, hugs and kisses given to my son, we left the train for the very short 5 minute walk to the hotel.
The Bridge of Orchy Hotel
By the time we got to the hotel we were like drowned rats as the weather was so bad. In my opinion though, that’s what good waterproofs are for. We checked in at reception only to find that the lovely annex cottage we had been promised was now flooded due to the inclement weather so we had been moved to a different room. Did we mind? Not at all, especially as the lovely hotel manager removed the additional charge for Beatrix and even gave us a further discount for the inconvenience. Ok, time for a walk. Mr M was on his best behaviour and was, in his words, quite happy to do what I wanted as it was my anniversary treat. “Let’s walk up the West Highland Way towards Inveroran” says I. My already favourite hotel manager gave us a map and told us about a round trip we could undertake in about 3 hours or so to go the top of Màm Carraigh, drop down to the Inveroran Hotel and back to the Bridge of Orchy hotel. I think the manager’s words to us were something like “you’re mad”.
Within the first 5 minutes of the walk we had hit the mud, the flood water and the comments of “this is just too wet to go any further” started. Watching two other people go in front of us, I pointed out to Mr M that they had not come to any harm so we would be fine. It was difficult to see at this point whether it was the rain on Mr M’s face or if there were actually some tears as he reluctantly agreed to follow me. Thankfully we were soon through the mud and the path started to climb steadily to become just a stream to walk in rather than a mud bath. Before long we were passing the forest and I noticed a nice spot for lunch – sheltered from the rain and with a few logs to act as a table. What better place to have lunch on your anniversary. I also knew that the thought of warm tea and food would cheer up Mr M. Ok, so it was not quite so sheltered from the rain and all the fallen trees were way too wet and slippy to use as a table, but we had a lovely lunch and I even managed to get a cheeky anniversary kiss.
We continued on our way, with the rain getting heavier and the wind getting stronger. We did get a few glimpses of the hills around us and decided that we would go to the top of the Màm Carraigh and decide what to do from there. Lo and behold we could see the Inveroran Hotel in the distance so we knew we could make it to there and then a gentle 3 mile stroll back on the single track road to the hotel. Before long, we arrived back at the hotel, very wet and with an equally very wet dog shaking herself in reception. I confessed to the manager that I had forgotten to pack a towel for Beatrix and asked if he had an old towel I could use. This was not good enough for him though and he very kindly gave us a lovely fluffy bath sheet to use. Did I tell you how great I think this manager is?
We finally got to our room only to find that the fabulous manager had remembered our joke on the phone a few days earlier and there were chocolate covered strawberries in our room with a lovely hand written anniversary note. Hot showers and dry clothes (and chocolate covered strawberries) and the wet walk was quickly forgotten. If you are ever looking for a cosy, friendly hotel in the middle of nowhere, then the Bridge of Orchy Hotel is just perfect. We had a lovely meal in the restaurant, sitting next to the log burner, chatting to the staff and the other guests. Beatrix, of course, was the star attraction again.
Out in the Wind and Rain Again
All was going well until 4 am in the morning when, as the saying goes, Beatrix was as sick as a dog. The accumulation of treats stretching from Glasgow Queen Street, the train journey to Bridge of Orchy, the lunch in the rain and who knows what else on the fells, was too much for Beatrix and she very kindly returned them all. Yes, on the hotel room floor before we had chance to get dressed and get her outside. Fortunately the floor was not carpeted so whilst Mr M was once again outside in the wind and rain, I was on my hands and knees cleaning the hotel floor! Then, as all dog owners will understand, 10 minutes later Beatrix was back to her usual self and now snuggled up on her lovely bath sheet acting as though nothing had happened.
Happy Anniversary Mr M x
Oh, the song for this week? Under the moon of love by Showaddywaddy.
This week saw our long, hot summer slip gently away to be replaced by another of nature’s amazing seasons. Of course, up in Scotland we can often experience all four seasons in one day! There has been frost in the mornings this week and even some windscreen scraping. The temperature gauge in the car has dropped to 2 degrees at times and I have to confess that I succumbed to popping the central heating on at home for an hour on Monday night. We do have a bit of a challenge at home when we see who will give in first to the heating. A couple of extra layers, a few brisk walks and plenty of hot, steaming tea and you can usually hold off the heating for a couple more weeks.
All Quiet At The Tearoom
At the tearoom this week it’s been very quiet (as always at this time of year for some reason). This has given me time to catch up on some of my own crafting, share tea, cakes, gossip and laughter with the lovely customers and start to plan for our exhibition table at the Soul Sista’s event at the end of October. The tearoom will be closed that day so that Mr M can come along to the event and we can both show off with pride what Mother Murphy’s is all about.
I Will Succeed
After last week’s disastrous trip up to Glen Lyon I decided that this week, no matter what, I was going to be successful in climbing Stuchd an Lochan before winter makes the Ben Lawers road impassable for mere mortals like myself.
After bit of a late night on the Sunday with a birthday celebration and I headed to bed and had the alarm set for 6.00 am. Mr M had said that he thought he would not go walking as he had a few things to do. I did wonder if that was his way of saying, “there is no way on this earth that I am ever getting into a car with you again and heading down Glen Lyon, never mind thinking of going up Stuchd an Lochan”.
So, Mr M was not going. Was I brave enough to go out on the hills without Beatrix and have a totally solitary outing? Well, here’s the thing and all dog owners will know exactly what I mean. For me to go out on the hills without our highly intelligent, but sometimes naughty Border collie, I would have to put some sort of escape plan together. Firstly, I would need to pack my rucksack with all my walking clothes and boots the night before and have them stashed away in the car. Then, on the day of the walk, I would have to appear downstairs in my non-walking gear, have breakfast as usual and then try to get my packed lunch and flask ready without Beatrix seeing this. Of course, she does have some sort of sixth sense, so even if she didn’t see this secret planning, she would be able to sense it. Then the looks would start – the puppy dog eyes. There has been actual scientific study into puppy dog eyes, where the brow is raised to make the eyes appear wider and sadder. Oh, and only when humans are looking. So, lying there trying to sleep, my guilty conscience got the better of me just for thinking about it, so walking the hills without Beatrix was never going to happen!
Mr M Is Coming Too
6.00 am the alarm went off and I crept out of bed, dressed and headed out for a short walk with Beatrix to let her do what a dog needs to do.
Heading back home, the lights were all on. I smiled to myself because this could mean only one thing. Mr M was making my porridge. Sure enough porridge was on the go but I also spied Mr M’s rucksack in the room. Ok, so there would be three again in Glen Lyon.
Just before setting out I checked the mountain rescue weather forecast and was pleased to read that it was going to be fine and sunny until around 4.00 pm and visibility was recorded as very good. The views were going to be great. This week it will be great.
The drive again took us along the A84 up from Callendar and past Loch Lubnaig. What stuck both of us (and possibly Beatrix noticed it) was the difference in the colours in just a week. Last week there was a hint of autumn in the trees and hills. This week, the greens were replaced with autumn golds, yellows and orange. The sun was shining and the sky clear blue. Again! The loch shimmered again and the reflections were just as clear as last week. This week, the hills were all cloud free and there was not a hit of rain. The weather forecast was correct.
The single track road from Killin up to Ben Lawers and Bridge of Balgie was just as narrow and scary as the previous week, but this week there were no timber lorries for me to reverse for. There are signs out on the road advising a speed limit of 10 mph as there is a risk of skidding in places. Let me tell you, 10 mph is positively speeding on this road! Turning left at Bridge of Balgie I assured Mr that I had carried out extensive research on the internet and I knew exactly where I was going. Ok, I had re-read my Munro books and looked at the ordnance survey map a little closer! I knew now that the little turn off I had discarded the previous week was actually the road I needed to take. With Mr M sleeping most of the way I had no back seat passenger this week. He woke up as I switched on the indicator to take the road on the right. Why I felt the need to do that I am not sure. Who on earth did I think needed to see which way I was going? The deer? The cattle? The sheep? Well, this did wake up the back seat driver. “Why are you going down here? This is not the way. I don’t remember this road”. Anyway, 5 minutes down this even narrower road, we could see the dam in the distance. Phew!
Mr M kindly opened the gate for me to enter the final stages of our journey. This road takes us into the remnants of the Caledonian forest and these fences and gates are vein attempt to protect this wonderful area from the deer and sheep. Unfortunately for car drivers, highland cattle are not prevented from roaming this area. Now, Glen Lyon is a vast glen. Actually it is the longest enclosed glen in Scotland, running for 34 miles from Loch Lyon in the west to the village of Fortingall in the east. Why then I ask did all the highland cattle feel the need to be on the road I was travelling on. Mums, Dads and baby highland cattle. Oh flip I thought. Not to worry, if I drive slowly they will move off the road when I get to them. Or so I thought! Before I had chance to panic, the car was surrounded by cattle all looking in the windows, licking the windscreen and generally putting their huge horns far too close to my windows than would like. Now, don’t forget that I had a back seat driver and a border collie in the car with me. Beatrix by now was barking like a ferocious wild animal in the back of the car. This just intrigued the cattle more and they were putting their faces even closer to the car to get a better view of the barking dog. The back seat driver was telling me that I should not scare the cattle because we didn’t know what they would do. Is that right I thought! I inched forward slowly and eventually I was able to crawl the car through the herd. On any other road, I would have thought about reversing and going home for a cup of tea, but this was, don’t forget, the narrowest road you could find, so reversing was not an option for me.
Eventually though we were though the beasts and the car was parked safely at the side of the correct dam this week. The sun was still just about shining but there was a strong, cold breeze blowing in. Off we went.
Stuchd an Lochain starts with an almost impossibly steep climb to begin with and you do question at times whether you are walking a path or a stream. Eventually though it eases out and the views start to open out. Past the initial very steep beginning, the rest of the route up to the summit is gentle in comparison. I love this walk because you are walking most of the way up what feels likes a horseshoe ridge. The views are spectacular and mountains stretch as far as the eye can see. I was hoping to see lots of deer around the Loch on the way up to the summit but it was not to be today. Now let’s not forget that I checked the weather forecast just before setting off this morning and read about the sunshine and the very good visibility. Maybe I will send my photos to the mountain rescue weather people. Stopping for a snack and to catch our breath a little, we could see that the clouds were rapidly heading our way. The rain started but stopped almost as quickly as it started – to be replaced by snow! I am in my element in the winter weather and love the snow, the driving rain, the wind. I know! I am a little mad. Mr M, however, loves the hot, sunny weather. By now were perhaps an hour away from the final summit. Being the thoughtful, caring wife that I am, I did say to Mr M that I was happy not to go to the summit if he thought the weather was too bad. “I am not coming this far and not getting to the top” was the reply. Oops, my plan worked then!
Finally arriving at the summit, the views were not as spectacular as I had hoped but the feeling of isolation was still the same. We should have been able to see across Rannoch Moor and the Ben Nevis range but we could just about make out the dam across the valley that we arrived at by mistake the previous week. It was very cold and windy at the top so we did not hang around too long. The descent was very pleasant and the snow turned back to rain, though not quite so heavy now. The final mile or so is not quite as pleasant as we had to go back down the steep descent where the stream path was now a bit of a raging torrent at times. There were several slips and slides and lots of little swear words (from all three of us I think).
Finally we reached the dam road and just had a 5 minute walk back to the car from here. Suddenly Beatrix disappeared. I whistled to her, shouted to her and looked all around. My initial thought was that she had somehow managed to get into the dam workings. Don’t be silly, there is no chance of that. I looked and saw she was down at the edge of the water playing with the stones. Phew! Then she disappeared again! There was lots of shouting, cursing. How could we walk all that way and then loose her! I set off down to the car to see if she had gone past without us seeing her. No. She was not there. I set off back up the dam service road to see if Mr M had found her. She came running towards me like a bullet, stopped at my feet and dropped a half-eaten fish at my feet, smiling like only a collie can smile. She won’t be hungry now I thought to myself!
Drama over, we were all back in the car and Mr M said he would drive home. As we set off back up the hill, the highland cattle were nowhere to be seen but like magic they suddenly descended on the road and surrounded the car again. No matter how much we waited and waited, they were not going to move. “You will have to get of the car and shoo them along”, said Mr M. Well, I have to say, it took Mr M quite a while to keep getting out of the car, shooing the beasts and jumping back in the car to drive. I can tell you, there was no way I was getting out of the car to shoo these beasts!
Mr M says that he is going to have a little break from walking with me!
This week’s song for you to sing along to,
Rocky Mountain High by John Denver.