As many people already know, in Mother Murphy’s tearoom just about all of the menu can be prepared and served gluten and dairy free. Indeed, the majority of our cakes and bakes are gluten and dairy free, with not a chocolate brownie in sight. It may then come as a surprise to some people to find out that neither myself of Mr M are coeliac or gluten intolerant. So why, you may well ask, do we have so much choice in gluten and dairy free?
This stems back from the time when we were planning our home baking business (never imagining for one minute that I would actually be able to open my very own tearoom). I would try out different cakes and bakes on anyone and everyone I came into contact in both my work and home life. I noticed that some people always refused my cakes saying they could not have them as they could not eat gluten. Gluten? What’s this then? Coeliac Disease? Never heard of it! In my naivety, I boldly told people that I would make them a gluten free cake no problem. Well can I tell you that my food waste bin was overflowing at times trying out this gluten free baking. The cakes looked lovely but fell apart when I tried to cut them. The crumbs were very tasty though. I did lots of research, lots of trials, lots of sampling and finally started to get cakes and bakes that tasted just as good as gluten versions, in some cases, even better.
By the time we had opened up Mother Murphy’s Tearoom, I had realised that our range of cakes and bakes that were “Delicious Without” were just as popular in the tearoom as they had been at the markets and Highland games. I do believe that it was by good fortune I had made “Delicious Without” both gluten and dairy free. It appears that although it is difficult for people to get good gluten free food in eating establishments, it is just as difficult to get good dairy free food.
Allergy Show, SECC 2016
Always keen to make sure we are doing the best we can in the tearoom, we decided to attend the Allergy Show at the SECC Glasgow in April 2016. Our hope was that we would be able to see what other people were doing; talk to people with different allergies; get some samples of good gluten free food and get some new ideas for the tearoom. What an eye opener this was! I sampled so many different things that day which left a dry, horrible taste in my mouth. By the time we had been there for just an hour, Mr M simply refused to taste any more samples. I remember vividly somebody passing me and saying, “These are the best doughnuts I have ever tasted”. Always a sucker for a good hot, sugar-coated doughnut, I was instantly drawn to the stall and before I knew it I had a bag of these warm delights in my hands. Sampling did not take long. I took one bite of the first one and promptly gave the rest of them away to somebody walking past. However, by far the worst sample was a custard cream biscuit by a well-known gluten free producer. Now, growing up in a not so wealthy Yorkshire household, the Family Favourite range of basic biscuits with bourbons, custard creams and coconut creams were really the only biscuits to be seen in our biscuit barrel. Basic as they might have been, I just loved custard creams – the look, the smell, and the way you could pull them apart and scrape the cream away with your teeth, the taste. Oh, the memories. These free samples of the custard creams at the Allergy Show were small, pale and the worse tasting biscuit I had ever tasted. It was an insult to custard creams to give these the same name I felt. This was the pattern for our day at the Allergy Show – people telling us how wonderful something was, me tasting it and putting it in the bin or giving it away.
1 month as a coeliac
As we left the show we pondered over our experiences and wondered why just about everybody else had found things to be wonderful and we thought they were terrible. Were we just too critical? There was only one thing for me to do. I needed to live the life of a Coeliac. So there the plan was formed. I would live like a strict Coeliac for a month starting on 1 May 2016 try to get a feel for how it feels. Was our tearoom really geared up to provide a good menu for Coeliacs?
Nothing to it I thought. Life will be easy as the tearoom is full of gluten free cakes and bakes and we have gluten free bread in the freezer. How difficult can it be? I spent the next couple of weeks looking at all the foods at home and checking which things I would have to change. Oh dear, this is not quite as simple as I thought! It is one thing to be able to say your cakes are gluten free as I know exactly what ingredients I am putting into them but not so quick and easy in the outside world. I quickly found out how long it takes to do the shopping when you have to look at the tiny ingredients lists of every single product you are thinking of popping into your mouth.
What no digestive biscuit!
So Sunday, 1st May 2016 and day 1 of my gluten free month arrived. Time for elevenses in the tearoom. Ok, it’s always tea and biscuit time for me! “I know, I’ll have a cup of tea and a digestive biscuit,” I thought to myself. Oh no! Digestive biscuits were now off the menu. I looked across our wide array of cakes and bakes. Not a single biscuit for Coeliacs. There was shortbread for those who could eat gluten but nothing in our Delicious Without Range for anybody who simply wanted a little biscuit to go with their drink. New bake number 1 identified – gluten and dairy free digestive biscuits. With the Allergy show still fresh in my mind and the custard cream memory, I also set about creating a custard cream to sit in our Delicious Without Range.
We now have a range of gluten and dairy free biscuits including Wannabe Digestives, Nice Coconut Creams, Jammie Dodgers and Ginger Creams.
Published Recipe in the Gluten Free Magazine
One of my proudest moments was to have my Nice Coconut Cream biscuit recipe published in the October 2017 issue of the Gluten Free Magazine. These have to be one of my favourite biscuits and everyone loves these and many don’t realise they are gluten and dairy free.
Why not make the tearoom totally gluten and dairy free?
I have been asked this many times and quite simply the reason is that not everyone wants or needs to eat a gluten and dairy free diet. There are some things, bread being the obvious one, that simply are not palatable for many people (including those who have to eat it). We do have lovely home-made gluten free bread in the tearoom but we could not replace our wheat bread with this for all our customers.
How do I decide you might ask? I realised during my month as a coeliac that those living a gluten and/or dairy free life accept poor quality food and choices because very often there is only one thing on menu for them to eat. This then leads to, dare I say, their taste buds becoming accustomed to this poor quality food so before long they become like the people at the Allergy Show believing that things are great, simply because they are the only thing they can eat.
Now I am not saying that our food in the tearoom is the best you can get but what I can say is that we put every effort into making it the best we possibly can. When I am converting a recipe to make it gluten and dairy free, the finished product has to look and taste as good as the previous non gluten/dairy free version. Simply having a cake that is gluten free for the sake of it is not good enough for us. There is a lot of quality assurance and taste testing in the tearoom and customers love to give me their opinions, good or bad. I believe that the best customers to test my gluten/dairy free recipes are those who can eat gluten and dairy. If they can tell that it is gluten and dairy free and feel it is not as good as the previous version, it does not get served and goes back to the testing (or discarded). There are some recipes, like our now famous pancakes, that are gluten and dairy free and we only ever make that version. Everyone eats gluten and dairy free pancakes and everyone loves them. Cakes and bakes are almost all gluten and dairy free.
Rocky Road or Candy Road
There are some exceptions, like our Rocky Road, which is made from McVitie’s Digestive biscuits, maltesers and Cadbury’s Dairy Milk that will always be full of gluten and dairy. I have adapted this receipt though and make a Candy Road, made using our Wannabe digestives biscuits, homemade cinder toffee to replace the maltesers and some lovely gluten and dairy free chocolate I have now sources from Plamil foods. This does not replace our Rocky Road but is a lovely different variety.
Empire Biscuits are another example. Our customers love my empire biscuits and I cannot get my gluten and dairy free versions to be quite as good. However, knowing that a good gluten and dairy free empire biscuit is difficult to find, I now have what our customers say is a fabulous version. Some weeks we have gluten free empires, other times they are not. We do not have both versions in the tearoom at the same time to avoid confusion.
Work in progress
My latest challenge is to convert my Fruit Slice (often called Fly Cemetery) to be gluten and dairy free. My usual recipe results in a fruit slice that is filled with wonderfully sticky, mixed fruit coated in shortcrust pastry that literally melts in your mouth. My first version of our gluten and dairy free fruit slice this week was a bit of disappointment. The filling is exactly the same so this was no problem. The pastry was a bit difficult to cut, but tasted not too bad.
Our now almost resident gluten free taste tester Bev was very happy to sample this with us, along with another customer who can eat gluten and dairy. Bev’s opinion was that even though the pastry was a bit tough, it was still better than any bought gluten free fruit slice. Both customers tucked in happily to their bowl of fruit slice served with a big helping of hot custard and I did at one point think they were both going to lick the bowls. So, all in all, not a total failure, but not one I happy to serve in the tearoom yet.
Welcome to another episode of Mother Murphy’s Diaries.
My plan for this Monday’s hike was to go up above Loch an Daimh in Glen Lyon and climb the Munro Stuchd an Lochain. Glen Lyon is one of my favourite places to walk in. Apparently as well as having the most fantastic scenery, there is a local legend that Pontius Pilate was born in the village of Fortingall! I think the very first time I climbed Stuchd an Lochain it was a glorious day and the views just literally blew me away. On a good day, you get to see Ben Lawers, Rannoch Moor, the peaks of Glen Coe and Ben Nevis beyond. The access road up from Killin is often impassable in winter for mere mortals such as me so this really needs to be tackled in the summer months. However, you know the saying, “the best laid plans of mice and men”.
On Sunday night, Mr M decided that he was going to come walking with me again and put up with the pain of his damaged knees. I decided a quick change of plan was in order as the chosen hill was incredibly steep and boggy at the start (which means incredibly steep and boggy on the way back too on my route). Being the kind, loving wife I am, I thought I would find a more knee-friendly walk. Ben Ledi came to mind - nice easy climb with no nasty bits. If the small car park was full we could then drive on a little further and tackle Ben Lawers.
So, lunches made, flasks filled, waterproofs, walking boots and Beatrix packed into the car, we were off. The drive to the start of the walk takes you past Stirling Castle, along the A85 and alongside Blair Drummond safari park and through Callander. You then get the lovely drive up along the rising Falls of Lenny. Limited car parking is available just by the junction of the Strathyre Lodges. It did cross my mind that as we were a little late setting off, we might not get parked but lo and behold, spaces were there waiting for me.
By 10.00 am we were ready to tackle the hill. What could go wrong? Mind you, let’s not forget that this is the same hill I found myself totally lost on one of our winter whiteouts this year which resulted in me cancelling my good friend Salena’s friendship membership when she failed to answer her phone as I called for help from the top of the mountain!
Anyway, as I have already said, I am a kind, loving, considerate wife so was thinking about the hike and decided that an easier route for sore knees was required. I decided that doing the climb straight from the car park and then descending down into Stank Glen for a gentle stroll back down the valley would be a lovely change. Off we went.
The weather was perfect. It was sunny, warm and no wind – not quite shorts and t-shirts but still very pleasant. Even Mr M took his winter fleece off. The path up Ben Ledi has been made much easier by the National Trust for Scotland to prevent further erosion, but it is still a long, long, steep at times, climb up to the top – with many false summits on the way. The views down loch lubnaig were stunning and I thought we were in for some cracking views when we eventually reached the top. Then it started, just a little bit of mist at first. Very quickly, the clouds blew across the valley and surrounded Ben Ledi. Jackets and waterproofs were quickly put on. A tip when buying waterproof trousers – always make sure the zip on the legs goes all the way up the leg so you can put on your waterproof trousers on the hill without having to remove your boots first. I learned this lesson many years ago.
Now the views of Ben Ledi looked exactly like the ones in winter. I could see just about to the end of my arm. We did find a bit of a sheltered spot on the top though to have our lunch. What more do you need on a wet, windy, misty day on the top of the hill but a flask of hot tea and a Bev’s Ginger Cream. Ok, bit of a view would have been nice. Refreshed and full, we set off for the gentle stroll down the hill and into the valley below.
All I can say is that the walk completed in the opposite direction to my usual route is not quite so easy. In fact I think Mr M would compare it to something like the North face of the Eiger. It would be fair to say that we had one or two exchanges of opinions on the way down but we managed and live to tell the tale again. We even managed to pick some bilberries, brambles and rosehips for making into wild berry jelly jam. I have never seen so many bilberries on one place. I decided that I will now call Ben Ledi the Bilberry Hill. Mr M said he doesn’t care what I call it so long as he never has to climb it again!
Everything is always better after a good night’s sleep.
In my last blog I was telling you how I had Runrig’s Loch Lomond playing constantly in my head. It was driving me slightly mad but oh how I wish I could turn the clock back! This week I have a different ear worm. In the tearoom last week were chatting to people about the song There Was An Old Woman. You know, the one where she swallows a fly, then a spider to catch the fly, then a bird to catch the spider to catch the fly….. I was surprised at how many people did not know that song. Some people even thought we had made it up. So this is my earworm this week which, for somebody who suffers with arachnophobia, is possibly the worst song to have running through my head.
With this in mind, the big cake at the tearoom this week will be The Old Woman. This is decorated as a spider’s web but is flavoured with chocolate, orange and vanilla and, in theory, once sliced into, should have a chequered design. Time will tell.
I will leave you this week with the words of the song, best performed by Burt Ives which you can get on utube.
There was an old lady...
Tonight I was wondering whether to do a post on facebook or whether it should be blog. The blog seemed to be shouting the loudest, so here goes.
Last week in a visit to Stirling with Mr M I was scouring one of the charity shops for some books for our book folding session at the tearoom tomorrow. I quickly found the books I needed - not too bit, not too fat, hard backed and in good condition. The content of the books was not important so I didn't even really look at the titles.
I am quite an avid reader and my tastes for books changes like the Scottish weather. At the moment I seem to be choosing books for myself that are somehow related to tearooms and cafes. This comes from somebody a while ago coming into the tearoom and telling me that our tearoom reminded her of the book, The Teashop on The Corner by Millie Johnson. Since then, I have read many similar books, such as The Little Tearoom of Lost and Found by Tricia Ashley and the Seafront Tearooms by Vanessa Green.
From all of these uplifting reads the same message was coming out loud and clear that there are people all around us who need (not always knowingly) somebody to give them a smile, a helping hand or to make them feel valued.
Going back to my new stash from the charity shop, as well as the hard backed books my attention was caught by a paperback book I had heard several people mention to me and just had to pick that one up too. Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman - a plain looking book and it was only others mentioning I should read this made it catch my eye. Well, I started reading this on Wednesday this week. If I am honest, I could have quite happily played truant from the tearoom so that I could sit alone and read this from cover to cover in one sitting.
I am not going to tell you what the book was about or, heaven forbid, how it ends. I will tell you though that I have been disturbed, moved, laughed, even cried whilst reading it.
What it did do was to highlight again that there are people out there trying to live their lives in the best way they can. We as individuals, rich, poor, old, young, have the ability to affect everyone's lives in some small way. It is up to us to make sure that the effect we have is a good one, that we make people feel welcome, smile, say hello, offer help, give help without looking for reward or acknowledgement.
It's been a bit of mixed bag for me this week with my thoughts all over. On Monday, it would have been my wonderful Grandma's birthday. My Grandma to me was the best person in the whole world as I grew up and it is a great sadness to me that she never got to see my tearoom. I planned and created the tearoom based on what I thought my Grandma would have liked. As I have reflected on my memories of Grandma, what has lit up my memories more than any sadness is the wonderful smile my Grandma always gave me when she saw me (or anyone else for that matter). There was always a kind word, a holding of your hand, offering of tea and cake but never, ever criticism (even if it would have been justified).
In our tearoom we try at all times. No that's wrong, we don't try, we just do smile at people, talk to everyone, reassure people, hold a hand when needed and offer a shoulder to rest a while. I would like to think we are a place where people come along and somehow feel better when they leave the tearoom than when they arrived.
Another fine example of my Grandma's fine traits is one of our lovely customers, Dashing Tom. A friendly face, a smile for everyone, a good word for everyone and praise whenever possible. Tom slipped quietly into our world and become part of the Mother Murphy family. It is also thanks to him that we are having our book folding session tomorrow (fully booked) and we are pleased to say that Dashing Tom is hoping to be there to say hello to everyone at the session. I don't think he will be there all afternoon as he has been a bit under the weather this week but look out for him as he is certainly somebody you feel all the better for talking to.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine will be in the tearoom library tomorrow for anyone to borrow.
Oh and the ear worm from the last blog post, it's still there!
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond
I was lucky enough to get a ticket for Runrig’s The Last Dance at Stirling Castle last Friday. What a fantastic night that was. So much talent on one stage! At least I still have my memories of Runrig and CDs to listen to even though there will be no more concerts. Of course one of the highlights was hearing Loch Lomond at the end of the concert. So, having heard this blasted out, sang until my voice was hoarse and danced until my joints were sore (old age you know!) it comes as no surprise to know that I have had this tune as an ear worm since then.
I was planning a hill walk for my day off from the tearoom and what else could it be but to go up the Munro Ben Lomond. My long suffering husband, Jim (aka Mr M) decided that he was going to come along despite his bad knees. I was a little concerned at this act of heroism from Mr M as he has not done any hill walking for some time and Ben Lomond is no mean feat standing at 3,193 ft (974 m). However, come Monday morning lunches were packed, flasks filled with tea, rucksacks filled with spare clothes and walking boots sorted. This all has to be done just before the walk of course because Beatrix (the border collie) gets so excited when she sees the rucksacks as she knows this means a play day on the hills.
The drive from Drymen to Rowardennan is a bit of adventure itself with its dipping, weaving and meandering single track road leading to the banks of Loch Lomond. By 9.30 am though we were there, rucksacks on our backs and Beatrix looking for a stone to take with her up the hill. It’s a collie thing! Of course, one of the drawbacks of walking in the summer is that your rucksack is packed out with spare clothes just in case. In winter, you have most of your clothes and waterproofs already on.
We had a bit of fun as we started the hill and just so that everyone had the same earworm as I did, we started our own version of Loch Lomond and I have to say that I was a star on air drum. I think there were nearly as many people up Ben Lomond today as there were at the Runrig concert on Friday night – just another hazard of summer walking.
The walk up the Ben is a glorious one, but a bit of a pull at times. National Trust for Scotland have done an excellent job of sorting the eroded paths to prevent Ben Lomond disappearing but also to help us folk who think we are real mountaineers have access to these wonderful hills. The views today were amazing. At one point as we were taking a break we were watching in amazement the clouds rising from the valley in front of us. The hills around were in an out of the clouds all day. The Cobbler (Ben Arthur) across Loch Lomond was as clear as I have ever seen it. The 360 degree vista seems to take in every mountain of Scotland and many a while was spent looking in awe at the finery Scotland has to offer. Scotland’s finery does not however, include the thousands of midges that had also climbed Ben Lomond with us today. Smidge certainly does the trick though.
Now I am a bit of a clumsy soul and also not that keen on ridges with steep drops so my route on Ben Lomond is to come down the same way I go up. No ptarmigan ridge for me! After taking in the photos and admiring the vista, we tucked into our packed lunches. A comfy spot found and we both enjoyed a bit of well-deserved relaxation. I decided it was time to get going again though when I heard to my horror that not only had Mr M fallen asleep at the top of the Ben, he was also snoring like a train! Oh the embarrassment!
Heading off the summit, it is a bit slow going to start with as the path is steep and rocky in places. I always remember being told, “take each step as though it might be your last” so I am never in a rush down the hills. By this time, Beatrix had realised that walking in summer was great as there are hundreds of people to fall for her border collie charms. Beatrix has her a smile and cute head tilt mastered that have people talking to her, hugging her, stroking her and, much to Beatrix’s delight, throwing her precious stone for her. I have to say that I felt a bit like I was out with my teenage daughter. She came along in the car with us, but spent the rest of the day chatting and playing with everyone else. Maybe she was hoping that all these rucksacks would also be filled with goodies for her.
The hightlight of the day I think though has to be when we about half way down the hill. Beatrix was a distance from us with a group of people and they were being totally taken in by her charms. It did not matter to Beatrix that these people spoke in a foreign language as they could still stroke her, cuddle her and throw her stone. Now I had noticed a couple of sheep on the hill, but Beatrix was far more interested in all the people she could get to throw her stone than the boring sheep. In the distance further back up the hill breaking the peace I could hear somebody shouting. The shouting started getting louder and turning into a roar. As I looked up the hill it was like something out of a cartoon strip. Sheep were running in all directions being chased by an enormous brown dog. The said dog was being chased by its owner who was howling at it to stop and also using some very short, fast words. The throngs of people on the hill walking, sitting, lying and chatting became aware of the chase and were flying in all directions. It looked like a game of human skittles. I had just enough about me to glance over to Beatrix who now was also aware of the chase. I could read her thoughts and could tell that she was now going to give chase and sort this mess out (well, she is a collie). I joined in the fracas and was shouting up to the people with Beatrix to grab hold of her collar for us. It turned into a bit of a game of charades as I realised they were not understanding a simple, “grab her collar”. Fortunately they realised just in time what I meant and grabbed Beatrix off her starting blocks before she could join in the chase. If looks could kill! Beatrix was not happy that I had spoiled the chase! Anyway I am pleased to say that no dogs, sheep or people were hurt in this story.
Disaster averted and we continued on our way back down to the car and home again safely. I have aching legs, Mr M has sore knees and Beatrix is asleep on her blanket twitching like she is re-running the day. And the ear worm. It is still there.
Welcome to my world. Well here I am writing up my first blog. There are so many questions.....What should I put in it? Who will read it? Will it be of interest to anybody? Hopefully I will be able to fill this will tales of the tearoom and tales of my adventures outside the tearoom.