Following in the Footsteps of Queen Vic

Friday 31 August 2012
Its BFF's birthday this weekend and at her behest we headed up Royal Deeside for a walk around Loch Muick with Foodie Loon and Mr BFF.  This was a favourite haunt of Queen Victoria when she stayed at her Balmoral Holiday home but she probably had servants to carry her rucksack and tie her walking boots.  I nominated myself in charge of the picnic so duly dug out my Tiffin Box and Thermos Flask and with a tiny bit of help from M&S set out to prepare a picnic fit for a Queen.
We arrived in the car park just after 9am and were eaten alive by ferocious midgies whilst we had our flask of tea, shortbread and jammie dodgers.  Walking gear was donned and we set off on the picturesque 7 mile circuit of the loch.  No sign of Billy Connoly or Judy Dench but lots of other walkers out and about.  By 11.30am the boys were getting peckish so we sussed out a suitable picnic spot, set up base camp and opened up the Tiffin Box.
My Prawn, Squid and Stelline Pasta Salad with Chilli and Coriander Dressing, M&S Pork Pies, cocktails sausages, olives and goats cheese, My Wild Mushroom and Garlic Fritatta, Assorted cold cuts, My rice salad with chargrilled chicken, cherry tomatoes, sweetcorn, grapes, pine nuts and strawberries dressed with Little Doone Foods Garlic Sweet Balsamic Dressing.  Girl was very perturbed when she saw me putting fruit into a salad.  Not that she would have even considered eating it.  Mr BFF done good and produced a celebratory bottle of Veuve Clicquot from his rucksack and I duly topped off the goats cheese with a candle.  Desert was strawberries and meringues but someone forgot to pack the cream.  I will name no names but they may have also forgotten the picnic rug.
We made good time travelling in Queen Vic's footsteps and despite the picnic lunch thought we could squeeze in some post walk coffee and cake.  Rocksalt & Snails is a great foodie haunt in Abredeen's West End and we were delighted to discover that they also have a newly opened Coffee Shop in Ballater.  There was a lovely range of homebakes on offer and we opted for Carrot Cake, Red Velvet Cupcake, Treacle Toffee Apple Muffin and Blueberry and Almond Cake to accompany our Cappuccinos.  All were declared delicious and we had definitely earned the calories.
The lunch menu on offer looked great with a range of soup, salads, panini's and sandwiches but it was the Platters that really caught me eye.  I am definitely going to have to make a return visit to sample the Deeside Surf & Turf of Smoked Salmon and Smoked Venison.  The prices were most reasonable too - certainly not a Queen's ransom.  Alas no time to browse round the range of interesting looking Ballater shops, many by Royal appointment.  So a return visit is a must, perhaps leaving out the walking an the midgies to give sufficient time for the serious business of food and shopping.


Putting, Hammer, Caber, Tomatoes

Monday 27 August 2012
On Saturday we had the pleasure of attending the world famous Lonach Gathering at Strathdon.  Its probably got even more famous in recent years due to Big Yin Billy Connolly and some of his celebrity mates frequenting the event. We were there en famille courtesy of Subsea7.  I do love a bit of corporate hospitality.  The journey by luxury coach up Donside on winding roads took some time and we were all grateful for the mid morning sausage and bacon baps on arrival.
Both the itinerary and menu on offer looked amazing with the catering provided by Harry Fraser.  I am always on awe of those who manage to produce good food in challenging venues.  Boy and his amazing memory recalled that Masterchef used a Highland Games as the setting for one of their outdoor challenges. However on that occasion I think they were feeding the actual heavy competitors rather than a bunch of oil execs on a jolly.
We had time at leisure to explore the Games and take in the atmosphere.  The historic Parade of the Lonach Highlanders was a sight to behold.  They had been marching since 8am with six official stops for a dram  and goodness knows how many unofficial ones.  Events included Bagpipes, Highland Dancing, Tug O' War and Traditional Heavy and Light Games.  The Heavies were particularly impressive with Stones, Hammers, Weights and Caber.  The Lights no less so with Races, Long and High Jump, Hop Skip and Leap and my personal favourite - The Pillow Fight.  There were such a variety of competitions happening in the Ring at any one time that it was difficult to know where to look.  Boy compared it to the Olympics. 
A Champagne reception proceeded the buffet lunch and I made the decision to stick to the bubbles rather than move onto wine.  In hindsight I'm not sure this was the wisest choice.  Boy, Girl and Husband tucked in to the hot food on offer and I am reliably informed that the Steak and Ale Pie and Macaroni Cheese were top notch.  I couldn't see past the fantastic cold platters of seafood, meats and salady bits.  The white crab with lime crème fraîche was to die for.
But the real foodie revelation of the day for me were some amazingly tiny and sweet tomatoes about the size of blueberries. On questioning the chef I found out that they are called "Tomberries".  I've never seen them in supermarkets but he tipped me the wink that Costco could be a good place to try. ( I have future canapé plans for these little darlings.) Time for desert which included one of the most colourful and inviting fruit salads I have ever seen.  Certainly got my five a day in rainbow form and I even had room to sample the delights of the Cheeseboard.
The Retreat was duly Beat and it was time to head for home but not before we were all presented with a beautifully presented hamper of foodie goodies from Millers of Midmar containing Sinclair of Rhynie Shortbread, Dean's Oatcakes, Cairn o'Mohr wine, Kincardine Castle Kitchen jam, Cocoa Ooze chocolates, and Millers own Smiddy Loaf, tablet and white chocolate fudge.
A grand day oot.  Even if we never spotted the Big Yin himself.

When does Retro become Vintage?

Friday 24 August 2012
I do love a bit of vintage.  Even before it got trendy to do so.  Perhaps it came from being dragged reluctantly around Antique Shops throughout my childhood whilst being constantly told not to touch anything?!  So when I was invited to the Launch Party for Candy Belle's Vintique Boutique with retro snacks, cocktails and vintage shopping I got a little bit excited!  With BFF in tow we donned our glad rags and lippy and prepared to party vintage stylee.
What a nostalgic spread! Party rings, cheese straws, drumstick lollies, skips crisps, frazzles, space raiders, cheese straws and cheesy wotsits. Sputnik like cocktail hedgehogs with cheese, pineapple, pickled onions and sausages transported you straight back to a 70's childhood. Even the drinks were retro with Creamola Foam and Babycham alongside the cocktails. BFF made an instant beeline for the Pineapple Ice bucket and is now its proud new owner! I purchased some gorgeous floral mugs and a 70's cropped blouse but I was so tempted by many other goodies on offer especially some of the picnic ware. They really knew how to picnic with style in the 60's and 70's.
Even the Great British Bake off went vintage last week and I bet there's been a rush on Rum Baba tins in cookery shops up and down the country!  I'd happily let Silver Fox Mr Hollywood scrutinise my Babas... But enough of the innuendo. Here's my own attempt at retro canapés made for a 70's soiree a la Abigails Party.
Served in a genuine Tupperware Party Susan they are - Prawn Vol Au Vents, Classy Canapes, Peanut Butter Celery, Cream Cheese Celery, Cheese Straws, Twiglets & Cheeseballs. The "Classy Canapes" are fantastic in themselves made with an amazing piece of kit that I got on ebay.
The rest of the menu for our 70's party comprised of Devilled Eggs, Prawn Cocktail, Chicken Kiev, Scampi in a Basket , Smash, Sherry Trifle (with Dream Topping and Hundreds and Thousands) and Black Forrest Gateaux. All washed down with the obligatory Babycham, Blue Nun and Mateus Rose. Quality!
Candy Belle's Pop Up shop is in The Academy Shopping centre for this weekend only. Saturday 9.30am - 6pm and Sunday 12noon - 6pm. Do drop in and visit her in her weekend home. She'll make you very welcome.

A Berry Good Night

Spent a lovely evening at Castleton Farm Shop making new friends, raising money for a Berry good cause and sampling an amazing range of Cocktails and Canapés.  The event was a fundraiser for local Charity Bare All For Brain Tumours chosen as a member of staff at Castleton sadly lost her sister to a brain tumour. Castleton is well worth a visit to break up the tedious A90 Dundee to Aberdeen journey with its Cafe, Farm Shop, Gift Shop and Kids play area.  Its all go with berry picking at the moment with 400 people currently harvesting Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries and Cherries.  The Cherries were a total shock to me.  I didn't think the even grew in Scotland. #blondemoment  But they do, practically on my doorstep. Albeit in a polytunnel.  And as a long time cherry fan I can confirm that they are delicious.
Alas I was driving so only got to sample one of the boozy cocktails.  "Classically Castleton" with Sonata Strawberries, Edinburgh Gin and Sugar Syrup.  Topped off with a strawberry and obligatory cocktail umbrella.  It tasted amazing.  I reluctantly moved on to the Blueberry Mocktail so never got the opportunity to try the Blueberry Lavender Vodka Spritzer (Blueberries, Valt Vodka, Lavender Syrup) or the Chamgria (Red wine, Chambord, Rasps)
The food in the cafe at Castleton is wonderful with a real focus on quality local products and producers.  This was successfully translated into a small and nibbly scale with savoury canapés  rustled up by Sally whilst Lisa's magical bakery fingers conjured up the sweet.  Sausage Rolls, Salmon Pate on Oatcakes, Quiche and Stornaway Black Pudding paved the way for the real showcase of mini deserts sampling the full range of award winning soft fruits.
I will admit that normally I'm much more of a savoury girl than sweet - would go for a starter over desert every time.  But these fruity Canapés totally won me over. The mini Cherry Bakewells were to die for.  And the tiny lemon meringue pies with a hidden raspberry were absolutely divine.  No packet mix in sight here.  I don't know how the lovely Castleton Baker Lisa made the tiny pasty cups but I think I'm going to have to ask her very nicely if she will share the secret with me as I just might have a requirement to make some canapes of my own very soon...
Breakfast this morning was a total fruitfest with boy and girl tucking in to everything on offer. The huge raspberries were voted into gold medal position but I was somewhat disappointed that neither liked the cherries. But every cloud and all that - all the more for me. Berrylicious!


Harvesting the fruits (and vegetables) of my labours

Wednesday 22 August 2012
Harvest may be ever so slightly an exaggeration.  Alas our fruit and veggie patch has been a bit of a failure this year  Not sure if it was the weather, or old seeds or what but pretty much nothing grew.  No carrots, peas or leeks even germinated. The only real runaway successes have been potatoes, kale and rhubarb.

The strawberries have been growing vigorously but seem to be putting all their efforts into producing runners instead of fruit.  I've just Googled this and discovered that I should have been cutting them off to ensure that I don't loose fruit production on the mother plant. Whoops #strawberryfail  The solitary blackcurrant bush looked like it might yield enough for a single pot of jam but when I went to pick some I quickly realised that I was about a week too late.  Even the apple tree which had a bumper crop last year is looking rather underwhelming. I've still got a chilli plant in the greenhouse that looks promising with fruits beginning to form so a batch of Sweet Chilli Jam may still be on the cards.

The potatoes are easy to use up and will sadly be gone before I know it.  There's nothing quite like the taste of your first boiling of home grown tatties with a knob of butter. Once they're gone I'll revert to buying them from Fernieflatt Farm in Kineff who provide a local delivery service. I always buy my eggs from them too laid by Black Rock Hens with spacious fields and sheds to roam in. The huge eggs have amazingly vivid yellow yolks with a wonderful taste and occasionally there is the added excitement of a double yolker. Low food miles, supporting local farmers and free range. Hugh Fearnly Whittingstall would be proud of me!

The abundance of Kale is a bit more tricky as its not the most sexy of vegetables. However I can thoroughly recommend it simply stir fried in a splash of Rapeseed Oil infused with Garlic from Mackintosh of Glendaveny. This is my all time favourite oil for stir frying anything! Not sure what else I'm going to do with my Kale bounty but a quick Google revealed a host of ideas including a dedicated website.  Who knew there was a whole world of kale out there just waiting to be discovered?!

The Rhubarb just keeps growing and growing. The more I cut off the more it produces. I've had a pretty constant supply of Crumbles over the Summer but hadn't yet got round to any preserving however inspired by the Industrial Tent at Glenbervie I wanted to give Rhubarb and Strawberry Jam a try. The meagre harvest of my own strawberries meant that a fruit picking trip was in order so with boy and girl in tow we headed to Easter Anguston Farm

This is a hidden treasure of Deeside which supports training for people with learning disabilities. There's a cafe, kids play area, garden centre, wildlife trails and an assortment of animals in addition to pick your own fruit. The strawberries are grown at eye level in a pollytunnel which makes for less back breaking picking but unfortunately we had to battle with a plethora of wasps attacking the Strawberries and a forest of nettles surrounding the raspberry canes. Much stinging occurred.

The rasps have gone in the freezer for another day but the Strawberries have been combined with my own glut of rhubarb to create my first ever attempt at Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam. Not sure if it's worthy of any prizes but it certainly smelt amazing whilst bubbling away on the hob.  I followed a recipie in my trusty copy of the "Best Kept Secrets of the Women's Institute Jams, Pickles and Chutneys"  Secretly I would LOVE to join the WI. Jam I can do but alas I don't know the words to Jerusalem.  There was a lot of scum which the usual knob of butter didn't shift so I ended up skimming it off. Not sure if there was something else I could have done to prevent it?

The end result was a bountiful 13 jars.  Is there anything more satisfying than seeing all your own preserves lined up and sealed with their waxed discs and cellophane lids? OK just me on that one then... 

Boy was keen to get stuck in but as usual girl was more suspicious. Gentle persuasion encouraged her to try some on a pancake and it was declared a hit with a second pancake and slice of toast following close on the heels. Its a wee bit on the runny side to be honest but tastes great! I'd thought that the Rhubarb would have enough pectin to provide a reasonable set so only used half jam sugar and half granulated - my bad.

Fingers crossed there's not a wasp or nettle leaf lurking anywhere...


The Great Glenbervie Bake Off

Saturday 18 August 2012
Husband plays the bagpipes in the local Pipe Band so for the duration of the summer most Saturdays are taken up with performances at assorted galas, village fetes and highland games.  Usually the skirl of the pipes is too much for me but sometimes I tag along with boy and girl in tow. Today was one such occasion for the annual outing to the Glenbervie Amateur Hortus Club Summer Show. This is a quaint event in a stunning location with Glenbervie House providing a picturesque background.

In addition to the Horticultural and Industrial Exhibits the Summer Show comprises of an assortment of children's races (with prize money) a bouncy castle (only 20p for the whole afternoon!) bottle stall, tuck shop, teas, pipe band and and that's about it really! In all honesty the Band and and their entourage of families probably make up half of the crowd.  My previous experience of competing at such an event as been confined to the Back Isle Farmers Society Flower Show and their now sadly defunct Seed and Root Show. Both me and my sister were successful in a number of classes much to the disgust of some of the older wifies who were somewhat aghast that their scones, pancakes and chutneys had lost out to a teenager.  There was also another famous incident when my Dad inadvertently ate my sisters entry of peppermint creams.  There were much tears.

The three tents at Glenbervie today encompassed Pot Plants, Cut Flowers, Floral Art, Fruit,Vegetables, Handicrafts, Jams, Jellies and Preserves, Baking and a Children's Section. Sadly the fruit and veg didn't have high entries probably due to our lack of summer. Admittedly my gardening efforts this year have been somewhat poor but I reckon my potatoes and rhubarb would have stood a chance. However my blackcurrants, gooseberries and apples could well have been in contention for the wooden spoon.

But it was the Baking and Preserves in the Industrial Tent that really took my interest. The first class being for Lemonade Scones following a prescribed recipe. Intriguing - but I reckon I could manage them. Next up was 3 oatcakes. Something I have never attempted but would love to try.  Surely this is a skill that should have been passed down to me by my mother?! I could certainly give a fair try to the rest of this section - unfilled victoria sponge, fruit loaf, decorated cup cake, loaf using yeast, 3 empire biscuits, 2 raspberry buns, 1 individual sweet and 3 no bake cakes. Swiss milk tablet I'd have issues with. As a quine it really should be part of my repertoire but alas no. And as for 2 sausage rolls? I haven't made my own puff pastry since higher food and nutrition and I'm not about to desert Jus-Rol at this stage in my life.

Onwards to the preserves. First up Barbeque sauce. Can't stand the stuff so wouldn't bother! Rhubarb chutney I could do and I adore Lemon Curd but seldom make it as I have it eaten it as soon as it's set. Lime Marmalade could be a problem. My experience extends no further than MaMade. Apple Jelly I can do. I even have my own jelly bag and rustled up a batch of Spiced Apple Jelly last Autumn which went down very well as Christmas gifts. Onto the jams - Strawberry, Raspberry, Blackcurrant and Strawberry & Rhubarb. The latter I am definitely going to give a go with my rhubarb glut. Last but definitely not least Strawberry Vodka.  This I must try! I think a strawberry picking expedition is in order.

After perusing all the exhibits I was rather enthused and decided that a la Kirsty Alsop I'd like to enter a few classes next year and run off with a wallet full of prizemoney and a clutch of trophies. Sadly my dreams were shattered when I discovered that in order to compete you need to live within 7 miles of Glenbervie.  Alas I am 8 miles further removed.

But fear not, like Baldrick I have a cunning plan.  Could someone please stir my jelly pan and check on my rock cakes whilst I go and look on

I'm not a chocoholic but...

Wednesday 15 August 2012
I've definitely got much more of a savoury tooth than a sweet. Crisps, nibbly bits, salted nuts and popcorn are my downfall. However from time to time (you know the time of the month I'm meaning ladies!) Only chocolate will do! My chocolate of choice usually includes nuts, caramel and ideally peanut butter. I was over the moon when the Peanut Butter Chunky Kit Kat won and every Christmas husband treats me to a box full of peanut Butter and Jelly choccies from The Arran Chocolate Factory.

However closer to home is an amazing award winning chocolatier Cocoa Ooze. Set up by young entrepreneur Jamie Hutcheon when he was only 17 he opened a retail outlet in Peterculter in August last year and I noticed yesterday on Facebook that they have just launched their new online shop on the website so tI'd help to spread the word via a blog post now that his creations are able to wing their way to you UK wide thanks to the power of the interweb.

In addition to making and selling chocolate and running a Coffee Shop, Cocoa Ooze also offer chocolate making birthday parties for kids. My daughter had her 7th birthday party there and it was a huge success with a dozen small humans creating a wonderful (and sometimes weird!) range of individual chocolates, lollies, chocolate strawberries and chocolate bars.

It was a real hands on experience that was worthy of Willy Wonka himself.  The little Oompa Loompas got well and truly stuck in and we're rightfully proud of their creations. After donning disposable aprons they melted, mixed, tempered and most importantly - tasted! When they were all partied out Their creatios were all ackaged up ready for them to take home - no need for the dreaded party bag!  Result!!! 

Now for the best bit. You don't have to be a kid to be an Oooma Loompa! Cocoa Ooze also run workshops for adults. Much along the same lines but including flavour experimentation and truffles.  Sadly despite my over enthusiastic participation during my daughters party I still haren't got myself organised to go to an adult workshop. Perhaps next month ;-)

As Jamie says, Love Chcolate, Love Cocoa Ooze.  
Catch him on Twitter @CocoaOoze

Party till the Coos come hame...

Sunday 12 August 2012
Had the great pleasure of attending the wedding of one of my husbands work colleagues yesterday. It was a truly amazing day in terms of venue, decor and food! The ceremony and reception were both held at Coos Cathedral Aboyne which is a real hidden treasure of Royal Deeside. I instantly declared that this is where I will host MY next wedding! Husband didn't seem that perturbed by this suggestion as I have said similar about The Treehouse at Alnwick Garden.

On arrival we were served welcome drinks of Elderflower Cordial and Sparkling Mineral Water - clearly non alcoholic to avoid any premature rowdiness! After a moving ceremony we threw confetti and toasted the happy couple with Champagne and then moved outside for Canapés and Pimms on the lawn.  Catering for the day was provided by Hudsons and they did a superb job both with the quality of the food and the friendly and attentiveness of their staff.  There were a lovely selection of canapés on offer including haggis balls with whisky dip, grilled chilli prawns, beef on toasted croutes and marscapone cheese & beetroot and mixed pepper croustades.  I also caught a glimpse of some quiche and pastry like ones but alas they never seemed to head in our direction!

On arrival at the venue one of the first things I noticed were two large Barbeques which were there to cook the Wedding Breakfast.  My first ever BBQ wedding and I was excited about what was to come before I even glimpsed the tantalising menu. There was a slight moment of concern when we started to smell smoke and lighter fuel during the ceremony - especially for those who hadn't spotted the BBQ's!

The table settings included homemade foodie favours lovingly made by members of the happy couples family. Tablet for the gents and a pot of raspberry jam for the ladies with a message inviting you to "Spread The Love".  In keeping with the Coo theme all the tables were named after breeds of cows from the Top Table Highland Coo the the risqué Stud Farm!

Following the customary speeches it was time to tuck in.  The BBQ was served buffet style and you could have as much as you wanted - and seconds! I went for the rib eye steak, lamb, venison sausage and seafood kebab. All were delicious but the steak and kebab were my favourites.  The range of side dishes, relishes and accompaniments were amazing and as you can see I generously filled my plate!

I has assumed that desert would be one of the four choices on the menu but buffet style you could have all four!  So it seemed rude not to...  I am a huge lemon tart fan but unfortunately this was the only part of the meal that I didn't enjoy.  The pastry was undercooked and soggy and the filling insipid and lacking in any zestyness.  The Creme Brulee was gorgeous with a hidden raspberry in its depths and despite not being a chocaholic I really enjoyed the brownie.

A quick word on the venue decor which was undertaken by the bride and her friends and family.  There were lovely touches everywhere from copious pom poms and bunting to homegrown lavendar and beautiful floral decor whith hydrangeas featuring prominently. Paper lanterns, fairy lights and Candle Bags magically lit up the venue at nightfall.  I have stored lots of the ideas in away as I have a significant birthday coming up later on this year for which I am on the lookout for inspiration!

The evening buffet consisted of the now apparently traditional Stovies, Beetroot and Oatcakes. There was also a vegetarian version on offer which looked from it colour like an intreaguing mix of carrots, neeps and tatties. Alas I was still too full from earlier to try any but as lover of all things cheesy - the smellier the better - I did manage to make space for a selection from the cheeseboard including including Goats, Brie and Blue.   No room for wedding cake either but I did sneak a couple of slices home for boy and girl.

Lots of tasty memories from a fantastic day. Wishing all happiness to Rachel and Stuart.
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