So today was the day. 6.00 am and the sky was clear. It was still dark but I could see there were no clouds. It was going to be a fabulous day. A lovely drive and then a wonderful hill walk in one of Scotland’s most scenic glens. I could barely contain my excitement as I ate my porridge.
Breakfast finished, lunch, flasks of tea and rucksacks packed with warm clothes and waterproofs (not that the waterproofs were going to be needed today). Daylight had arrived, the sun was shining and the sky was clear blue. Oh my, today was going to be great.
The drive up to Glen Lyon is a bit of an adventure in itself. This involved a tootle along the M9 motorway to the Callander exit, then the wonderful drive along the A84 and alongside Loch Luibnaig. The views were amazing. The loch was like glass so clear it was difficult to decide which was the reflection and which the real thing. Driving on through Lochearnhead and up Glen Ogle, I glanced over at the old railway bridge, remembering the many different cycling adventures I have had on that cycle route. The road from here sweeps down passed all the now harvested trees, giving a glimpse of the twin munros of Ben More and Stob Binnein towards Crianlarich. Our route though takes a sharp right down to the small village of Killin and passed the tumbling Falls of Dochart. A mile or so beyond Killin we take the small single track road towards Ben Lawers and Bridge of Balgie. At least there will be no snow today to make the journey hazardous.
What could go wrong?
It’s been many years since I drove all the way down this glen and the map is a bit vague – drive to the end of the single track road to the dam. What could go wrong? Well this is me of course. So five minutes along (or up) the single track road I met my first hazard, a large timber lorry coming down the winding hill. Oh flip! Now I am the girl who can drive quite well forwards but reversing is not really my thing. I panic if I have to reverse the length of Ladysmill outside the tearoom! Of course, today it was made even worse because I had the joy of Mr M, the back seat driver. “You will have to reverse down the hill a bit,” he informed me. No kidding, I thought! “left a bit, right a bit, straight back……” You get the picture. Finally I managed to reverse down the winding single track road to a passing place large enough to allow the lorry to pass me. He passed me with a smile, a nod and a friendly wave. Perhaps he could feel the tension in the car.
Where Is That Dam?
So back to my route. Start at the end of the road below the dam of Loch an Daimh. The road continues in the same vein, twisting, rising, and getting narrower as you pass the Ben Lawers range on your right (think Beatrix chasing skiers) and the Tarmachan ridge on the left. We passed the first dam on the left. Not this dam we both agreed as this was not the end of the road and we had not driven far enough. I continued on the road, ever conscious of the Mr M gripping his seat, sighing, gasping and I am sure I even saw him mopping his brow! I was only going 20 mph at some points! This road had been blocked by deep snow for a long time during the winter and now bears evidence of this. The road surface was terrible, there were pot holes the size of our house, grit, gravel and deep ditches down the side of the narrow strip of road I was driving on. The sign at the bottom of the road said Bridge of Balgie 9 miles then I had a few more miles to drive towards the end of the glen. At least the sun was shining and the views were amazing. We eventually arrived at Bridge of Balgie and took the turning to the left, with the sign indicating this was a dead end after 10 miles. This is the road we both agreed. Can I just emphasise the word both here! Now this road was actually a little better. There were not the high drops at the side of the road and it even felt wide enough for my car. We passed another dam. No, not this one, we both agreed as it is still not the end of the road. So we drove on, enjoying the scenery. By now, my back seat driver had relaxed a little but had become the, “I think I need the toilet. I am getting hungry” passenger instead. Beatrix of course, was just sitting in the back with her head resting between the head rests. I wonder what she was thinking.
Shall I leave him here?
Eventually we did indeed come to the end of the road and the huge dam towered over us. Mr M very proudly announced that this was not the right dam as he can clearly remember having a large parking area and signs all around. So whilst he got out of the car and did what he needed to do, I turned the car around. Yes, I did contemplate leaving him there! “You will just have to go back and find the right one. You have obviously gone the wrong way”, he advised me. Obviously! So we set off back down the road and eventually found ourselves back at the Bridge of Balgie. Time was now marching on so I made the decision that I would drive back to the Ben Lawers car park and we would go for a short walk from there. In my mind, my short walk was actually to go up Beinn Ghlas (the munro you climb on the way to Ben Lawers). From the Bridge of Balgie I now had to drive back up the narrow road. Of course the steep drops were now on my side of the car, which added to my excitement a little. Now I have already told you that the road was covered in pot holes, gravel, stones and ditches down either side. I was driving very cautiously but suddenly my passenger side wheel managed to go down one of the soft ditches. The car twitched, and twisted and the steering wheel pulled in my hand. I have to admit my heart was in my mouth (actually I think at this point it was running alongside the car) but I managed to catch the skid and carry on my merry way. My back seat driver was now almost in the passenger foot well and I could hear lots of sharp in takes of breath. To his credit, he never said a word!
Finally, we arrived back at the Ben Lawers car park and safety. Excitement over, but it was now nearly lunch time. We had some of our lunch in the car and then donned our walking boots ready for the walk. I pointed out Beinn Ghlass to Mr M and said that’s where we are going. Again, to be fair to him, he never said anything.
Now just as everyone else in Scotland was enjoying the glorious whether, our sunshine disappeared at the same time as we got out of the car! The temperature had dropped somewhat and the wind was building up. Nevertheless, we had a great walk to the top of Beinn Ghlas. The rain came down in heavy showers, but fortunately, it was falling horizontally because of the force 10 wind. Mr M did make lots of comments on the way to the summit, such as, “this is steep; this wind is so strong; my hearing aid is whistling; I need another jacket on; I need a rest”. Beatrix meanwhile was chasing after every stone she could find, barking at people to thrown the stones to her and generally making a nuisance of herself. The turning point was when I told Mr M and Beatrix in no uncertain terms that if they did not stop their behaviour I would quite simply leave them on the hill and go back to the car. In hindsight, I should have said this at the start of the walk because this behaviour ceased very quickly after that.
Again, in fairness of Mr M, it was incredibly windy and I was actually blown off my feet a couple of times heading towards the summit. Nevertheless, we found a sheltered spot in the dip between the top of Beinn Ghlass and the start of the final ascent to Ben Lawers. Lunch was very enjoyable and peace reined once more. Of course, this was helped somewhat by the lovely Candy Road I had in my lunch pack.
I decided to take us down the old Shephard’s trail around Beinn Ghlass rather than back down the steep ascent we had climbed. This gave us an easy descent and eventually we were back to the safety of the car.
“Do you want me to drive from here?” asked Mr M.
Of course this week’s song has to be:
I Love My Dog by Cat Stevens.
So here we are again. It’s our weekend but still I am not out on the hills or on my bike. Today being Monday, I have a meeting to go to tonight so I could not go walking today as I would not be back in time. It’s never a good look turning up to a meeting covered in mud (which usually happens with me out walking on the hills even on a dry day), eating all the cakes yourself because you are so hungry and then falling asleep during the talks.
I decided (yet again) that I would be taking Mr M and Beatrix up Stuchd an Lochain on Tuesday. I am beginning to think Mr M has been talking to the weather gods because we have gales and torrential rain forecast for tomorrow. Now I am by far a fair weather lass, but I do recognise that there are sometimes you just have to listen to the forecasts. So a day crafting tomorrow I think.
Of course, no walking or cycling means no tales of danger and excitement to report again. Today I have been making more of our gluten and dairy free bread for the tearoom so I thought what better than to share our gluten free bread recipe that will, of course, be going in my book, Mother Murphy’s Diaries, once it is eventually finished.
Who doesn’t love a slice of homemade bread spread with lashings of homemade jam or lemon curd.
I go through phases where I make homemade bread for us at home and when my children were growing up I loved spending a Saturday morning making enough bread for the week. We would often then have some homemade bread rolls and soup for lunch before heading out for the afternoon. Now there is just Mr M and myself at home, I don’t seem to have the need to make so much bread.
If we are to believe what the history books tell us, bread originated in Egypt and first grinding stone, or quern, was invented in Egypt around 8000 bce. The unleven bread produced then would be much like the chapattis and tortillas we have now. Eventually leavened bread (where a rising agent such as yeast is added to produce fermentation and cause the dough to rise) became a symbol of Egyptian culture. It is thought that the first leavened bread was most likely to be the result of some floating yeast landing in a bowl of thick gruel. How do historians even know such things!
Later in medieval times, along came the trencher bread. These were flat, old loaves of bread that were cut in half and used as plates during feasts. It is believed that after the diners were finished with the food, the used trenchers were given to the poor. Later they were made from wood and often had writing on the back of them which was thought to encourage conversations once the food had been eaten.
Casting back a while in the short history of Mother Murphy’s tearoom, we actually set about making some trenchers in our craft sessions. We did not make these out of bread, but took some cork mats, did a bit of decoupage on them and these were used to stand hot teapots on the tables. We had great fun with this and the crafters even came up with their own sayings for the trenchers. Of course, the table cloths still bear the evidence that I was allowed to use glue!
Now bread over the years has changed and we now have the most amazing choices from loaves, sliced, unsliced, white, wholemeal, seeded, sweet, spicy, rolls, wraps, chapattis and tortillas. Of course, there is the heavy processing of bread now to meet the daily demand for this and bread is now manufactured to last more than a day or so in the supermarkets.
In 1961 the British Baking Industries Research Association in Chorleywood, Hertfordshire developed the Chorleywood Bread Process (CBP) which developed a method of producing bread with greater volume and lightness, that was labour efficient and low cost. Let’s not go into the real ins and outs and of the merits of this process except to say that making your own bread, whether gluten or gluten free has got to be better than the bread produced using this process! There is of course also the debate that this processing method has increased the gluten content in the bread we eat today.
Our gluten free bread in the tearoom
Nowadays I have to admit to not being a big bread eater but we do need a good bread to serve to our customers. In the tearoom, it is not practical for us make homemade bread for all our customers as we would be constantly bread making and have no time for cake making or talking to our lovely customers. However, we have tried to buy in different brands of gluten free bread and have not really found one that we are totally happy to serve. Actually we have found some that we would be ashamed to serve in the tearoom!
So with the taste of these often disgusting gluten free breads still in our mouths, Mr M set about having a go at making some gluten free bread and, after a few trials, disasters and lots of food waste, he now makes an exceeding good loaf of gluten and dairy free bread. All the customers love this bread, not just those needing or choosing or a gluten free diet. Mr M is very protective of his bread though and sometimes we joke that customers will need to come along to the tearoom with a note from their GP confirming that they do indeed require his gluten free bread before he will serve it to them. He has a fear of somebody coming and needing (no pun intended) his bread and finding that he has given it away to all the other customers.
Now, as often happens when you get a husband and wife working together, we often have little “discussions”. One of these little discussions was about him making the bread. The result of the discussion was him saying to me, “You could always have a go at making the bread”. Anyone that knows me will recognise that this is just fighting talk to me. Let’s just say that in the tearoom you will often get Mr M’s lovely gluten free bread but you are now just as likely to get Debra’s gluten free bread. I have challenged the customers to tell us which they prefer but they have all declared that they are equally as good as each other. Very diplomatic customers!
Our secret to a successful gluten free loaf
If you read all the cook cookery books from the famous people such as Paul Holywood, Mary Berry and Jamie Oliver, you will pick up lots of amazing tips and hints for bread making. Indeed, I have used many of their recipes over the years and produced some wonderful breads. I enjoy the process of kneading, proving, re-kneading and finally baking the dough. Sharing homemade bread with others and watching their faces as they enjoy it is truly one of the best things about baking.
Then there is gluten free bread making. For this to work, you first need to forget everything you have ever learned about bread making. Forget about getting that lovely soft dough that can be kneaded and re-kneaded. Now imagine making something that looks a little bit like smooth porridge and you will start to get the picture of how gluten free dough appears. There are of course, less stages in gluten free bread as there is no kneading (you can’t knead runny porridge). Once you have made the dough, you simply leave it to rise then bake it.
I have to say that I do not believe (I may be wrong and am happy to be corrected) that gluten free bread will ever match soft, fluffy bread made with gluten. The gluten is of course the viscoelastic protein found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye. This simply means that it is viscous (it binds together) and elastic (it stretches). This is the stuff that makes wheat bread so lovely and is perhaps one of the things that most people who cannot eat gluten miss the most.
Sometimes I do feel you have to accept that something will not be the same, like vegetarian sausages will never be sausages. Of course, you can still work at it and you can produce something that is tasty, enjoyable and 100% better than the manufactured gluten free versions. I am now very happy to serve our gluten free bread and our customers’ obvious enjoyment of it is high praise indeed.
Mr M’s (but sometimes Debra’s) gluten free bread (gf/df)
Makes two 2lb loaves
“You could always have a go at making the bread,” said Mr M to me during one of our discussions. Fighting talk indeed!
I use a free standing mixer when making this bread and it really does help to be able to have the mixer running when gradually adding the water and then the flour. I am sure you would be able to use a hand-held whisk too but it would just be a little more fiddly.
The loaves are sliced once they are completely cold and then frozen ready for slices to be taken out as and when required in the tearoom. Don’t be tempted to try and slice the loaves when they are even slightly warm. Believe me, I have tried this with disastrous results.
Our bread recipe is devised from the recipe that you can find on the back of a packet of Dove’s Farm Freee from bread flour. We have just been more specific in which oil, sugar and vinegar to use and the method we have settled on.
· 4 free range egg whites
· 12 tablespoons olive oil
· 2 teaspoons cyder vinegar
· 4 tablespoons caster sugar
· 2 teaspoons salt
· 900 ml tepid water
· 1kg gluten free white bread flour
· 4 teaspoons easy bake yeast
(I use Allinson’s)
1 Preheat oven to 220oc/200oc fan oven.
2 Put the egg whites, sugar, salt, vinegar, water and half the oil into a free standing mixer (or use an electric whisk) and using the balloon whisk attachment, whisk until frothy.
3 With the mixer running slowly, add the water slowly and continue to whisk until well blended and frothy.
4 Put the flour and yeast into a bowl and mix until well blended.
5 Change the attachment on the freestanding mixer to the dough hook and, again with the mixer running slowly, add the flour and yeast mix one tablespoon at a time until it has all been added.
6 Turn the mixer up to high and beat until you have a smooth batter with no bits. Remember to stop the mixer and use a spatula to scrape down the side of the bowl to get all the flour well mixed. Turn the mixer back on and beat again until every bit of flour is blended into the mix.
7 Take the bowl off the mixer and add the remaining olive, stirring in with a spatula until just blended. You should have a mixture something similar to runny, smooth porridge.
8 Pour the mixture into the loaf tins, dividing equally between the two. (You could weigh them to make sure they are identical if you wish). Gently smooth the top with a spatula.
9 Put the loaf tins into a plastic bag and tie the ends of the bag to keep the air in. Try and get the bag to stand higher than the edges of the loaf tins.
10 Leave until the dough has risen up to the top of the loaf tins. This will take anywhere from 50 minutes to 2 hours depending on the temperature of your kitchen. I usually pop the oven on at this point ready for the loaves to go in when they have risen.
11 Carefully remove the plastic bags and bake the loaves for 50 minutes.
12 Remove from the oven and from the tins and leave the loaves to cool on a wire rack.
13 Once cooled completely, slice, put into a freezer bag and freeze. You can then take out slices as you need them
This week’s song?
Of course now I have started the precedent of adding a song to the end of my blog, I need a song for this week. What else could it be but:
Make It With You by the band Bread
Just as most folk are getting into their first day back at work for the week, we are enjoying our weekend. #Mother Murphy’s Tearoom is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays so our weekend starts as we close the doors on a Sunday night.
Sadly I have no tales of epic mountain walks or long cycle rides to tell of this week. Our plans (ok, my plans!) were to take Mr M and Beatrix up Stuchd An Lochain in Glen Lyon. I think I have said this before, but this one of my favourite places in Scotland with the most fantastic views, weather permitting. Due to the remote location, it does mean that winter treks out here are often out of bounds as the road from Killin along to Ben Lawers and Bridge of Balgie is not treated for snow and ice, so I am every conscious that we are quickly running out of time for this trip.
Overnight I listened to the wind and rain howling around the house. Oh my! What will the morning bring I wondered. Well, I did get up at 6.00 am with all good intentions but I glanced out of the bedroom window and watched the trees in the park bending over to touch the ground. Not the best day for a trip up a Munro I thought to myself. What should I do? Well, it didn’t take me long to get back to sleep!
Sometimes, you just need a stay at home day. Now I allow myself to indulge in cakes and bakes and all things nice on a Monday as I am usually out on the hills or cycling. I am not sure that you burn the same number of calories doing some crochet or reading. I did wonder if I should forego my treat day due to the lack of exercise but I didn’t spend too long thinking about though.
This last week at the tearoom saw me seriously questioning the health benefits of vegetables. I am not known for my love of vegetables. Indeed, when I rule the world, cooked cabbage will be banned (we need raw cabbage for our coleslaw). I can be tempted to eat fruit and of course I do like carrots. So, Wednesday morning saw me working with Mr M to get everything ready for opening the tearoom for a new week. Mr M makes our fabulous coleslaw and, being the love he is, chopped up some raw carrots for me and put them in a dish for me to nibble on to save me going hungry. A moment’s lack of concentration resulted in me finding a large chunk of carrot had found its way to the back of my throat and completely blocked my airway. It took Mr M a couple of moments to realise that my clawing at him was in no way amorous!
Fortunately for me, before opening Mother Murphy’s Tearoom, we were running a training company and this included First Aid at Work courses. This, of course, covers the topic of choking. Now it may seem an obvious thing to ask somebody but the protocol for choking is to ask the person, “Are you choking”. This is to check if they are suffering from something else other than choking. With this in mind, Mr M only had to say to me, “Are you?”
The next step in the choking protocol is to encourage the casualty to cough. “Can you cough?” asked Mr M. I vaguely recall some quite explicit words coming from Mr M at this point when he realised I was really choking. Fortunately, a few good hard back blows between my shoulder blades with me bent forward forced the said carrot piece to shoot out. They were very effective back blows but I am convinced my back is still bruised!
Of course, if the back blows had not worked, Mr M would have needed to administer some abdominal trusts (think Mrs Doubtfire!). Fortunately for both of us, this was not needed. All this before we even opened the tearoom last Wednesday morning!
Are fruit and vegetables good for you? I have my doubts! I can honestly say that I have never choked or been close to choking on a piece of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. I know which I will be sticking to in future.
On a more serious note though, I do believe that everyone should have an understanding of basic first aid. You never know when you might need to help somebody – your child, your wife, your husband, your friend, a stranger on the bus.
I joined St John’s Ambulance as a cadet many, many years ago as a youngster in Halifax and over the following years attended various First at Work courses. Meeting Mr M I discovered he was a volunteer First Aider with St Andrew’s Ambulance. It just seemed natural for me to join St Andrew’s and become a volunteer alongside him. This was great fun and we attended many, many different events as volunteer first aiders. These included football matches at Park Head, Ibrox and Hampden, many different Highland games, cycling events, walking events and we even found ourselves at a Proclaimer’s concert.
We still feel very proud that we were able to do this and also to delivery First Aid at Work courses in our training company. How many people have we helped? I am not sure but I would encourage everyone to get themselves a basic knowledge of first aid.
Here in Scotland, you can attend courses with many different companies, such as
Alba Care, https://www.facebook.com/albacareltd/?ref=hovercard
and of course, there are the charities of:
British Red Cross, https://www.facebook.com/BritishRedCross/
and St Andrews Ambulance, https://www.facebook.com/standrewsfirstaid/
Now, where is that Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bar? This week, the answer, of course, comes from Bob Dylan, Blowin In The Wind.
So there I was on the Northern Rail train from Halifax to Preston heading back up to Scotland. Was I homeward bound or was I leaving home?
The train was almost empty and I had the whole carriage to myself and my thoughts. The journey on Sunday from Preston had been very different. On that train, there were two carriages only and enough people with suite cases to fill at least four carriages. Sweaty sardines would be an apt description.
This journey though was very peaceful. The train pulled away from Halifax station, leaving behind the large Nestle factory and the giant poster stating, “Quality Street, Proudly made in Halifax since 1936”. The view from the train is very limited at first with steep embankments on either side along the valley bottom to Sowerby Bridge (pronounced Sorby). Very quickly though the luscious hills of the Calder Valley start to appear. On the hillside on the right, like a knight guarding over Calderdale, stands Wainhouse Tower. This impressive tower was originally built in the 1800s as a chimney for the local dye works to meet the Smoke Abatement Act but was never actually used as a working chimney. Whatever the reason was that this tower was built, it is certainly impressive and has always been, and still is, my guiding beacon to tell me when I am reaching Halifax or leaving Halifax.
The train journey trundles gently along and very soon reaches Mytholmroyd. This area is one of my favourite cycling areas. Indeed the hills up from Mytholmroyd take you over Cragg Vale. This beautiful valley came into the national news with the Tour de France travelling up it in 2014. Cragg Vale from Mytholmroyd proudly claims to be the longest continual ascent in England with 968 feet of climbing in 5.5 miles. It is not a steep climb by anyone’s imagination but more a long, long drag. Some cyclists like short, steep climbs, some like long, long gradual hills. This is my type of hill and I am still in my element riding such routes.
Aged 14 or15 years old, I would often take myself off over Cragg Vale, to the reservoir at the top, turning right at Blackstone Edge, descending down the sweeping road to Littleborough, back along the Calder Valley to Halifax again. As a troubled teenager, the valleys and open moors were a safe haven for me and provided the solace and solitude I craved. I often wondered what my headmistress, teachers and school pupils would think if they knew about my cycling. This was an all girls’ grammar school where we were taught to be ladies and I was sent home for being indecently dressed for wearing sandals without socks! There was I clad in cycling gear (not quite lycra in those early days but still tight fitting), sweating from the effort, swigging water from my bottle and munching on mars bars from my back pocket in public!
Along the valley bottom, the train line follows the canal and the new flood defences now in place as you approach Hebden Bridge. This village has suffered with terrible floods over the years, especially in 2012 and 2015. All along the valley, the stone built houses are so obviously built from Yorkshire stone that I am sure if you were blindfolded and dropped in any area in Calderdale you could describe the stone buildings and everyone would say, “Oh you must be in Calderdale”.
Leaving Hebden Bridge the views start to subtly change. The moors come into view, the valley widens and the houses start to change. There are streets upon streets of terraced houses built on hillsides at what look like a totally impossible angle to be safe (but have been there for a life time). There are different trees, bushes and flowers along the train line with so many different greens reminding me of an artist’s paint palette. The valley closes in on the railway again. Hills climb up at either side. You can actually feel the slowing of the train as it climbs, almost crawling, up the valley.
Then it happens. The line levels, the Calder Valley is gone and the open moors of Lancashire await. There has always been a friendly rivalry between Yorkshire Folk and those from Lancashire (though it was not always friendly in the past!). Growing up I remember a TV advert aimed at getting youngsters to drink milk. Two young boys arrive home covered in mud and still in their football strips. One boy gets the glass milk bottle from the fridge and starts to drink it. He tells the other boy his dad says that if you don’t drink your milk you will end up playing football for Accrington Stanley.
So the sadness of once again leaving Halifax is gradually replaced with anticipation of the onward journey through the Lake District, the borders of Scotland and finally back home to Kirkintilloch. Of course, the pot of gold at the end of my rainbow journey is in the form of Beatrix (and Mr M of course).
The song that always comes into my head when I am travelling home is, of course…
Homeward Bound by Simon & Garfunkel