As I peered out of the plane and the Isles of Scilly first came into view, my heart leapt. I fell in love with these beautiful verdant islands bobbing in a scintillating turquoise sea when I first set foot there at the age of twelve. I couldn’t believe it was already five years since my last visit. I’ve said it before and no doubt will say it again, time has a habit of running away with you. This trip was a flying visit, literally.
You may have noticed it’s been a bit quiet around here. You may also have noticed a number of photos from Hampshire and Sussex popping up in my sidebar. It doesn’t happen often, but yes we’ve been on holiday. Now I’ve had a few days off, I’m raring to go again and eager to share some of the highlights of our travels. Don’t worry, they’re not too extensive.
Last month a group of food bloggers gathered for a weekend of Dorset food and fun. If you follow me on Twitter, FB or Instagram, you may already have seen several posts tagged #HCBloggerTrip. The large country house almost looked as though it could have been built in the 1930s; it reminded me of an Agatha Christie style venue where the guests are bumped off one after the other. Luckily no bodies were found floating in the pool and the only victim was a vast quantity of Dorset provender.
Whenever we head west out of Liskeard, we have the delight of driving down the glorious Glynn Valley. It makes for a fantastic mini road trip. Glynn is the Cornish word for a deep wooded valley, so the name is a bit of a tautology, but an attractive one.
|Well Walk Tea Rooms|
Finally, after many months of talking, or possibly even years, #thesmuts arranged a meet up. Smuts? You might well ask, but it is a long story and I’m not going into it here. Suffice it to say, it started as a bit of fun and ended up as a group of eight food bloggers who tweet to each other using some sort of hashtag that includes “smut”. Far flung as we all are – France, Scotland, Cornwall, East Anglia and London, we eventually agreed on Cheltenham as a nice place to meet. It is relatively central and is on a main train line with good links. One by one, as is inevitable with meet-ups, various #smuts were unable to make it. Jac of Tinned Tomatoes was away in Cyprus, Dom of Belleau Kitchen wasn’t well and Sue of A Little Bit of Heaven on a Plate had work commitments.
|Well Walk Tea Rooms – the aftermath|
Thus it was the Cheltenham Five who finally met and enjoyed a gluttonous afternoon and evening of eating and drinking: Janice of Farmersgirl Kitchen, Roz of The More Than Occasional Baker, Karen of Lavender and Lovage, Fiona of London Unattached and me. I’d met Karen and Fiona briefly before at a Fortnum & Mason event and it was lovely to see them again. It was also really good to finally meet Janice and Ros. With top hole organisation courtesy of Fiona and Janice, everything went swimmingly well. The only contribution I had to make was to turn up.
|Well Walk Tea Rooms Cake Medley|
We all met up for an early afternoon tea at the Well Walk Tea Room. Quirky, stuffed full of vintage china and other items AND with great cake, this was an excellent find – thank you Fiona. Apparently, they have supplied props for Downton Abbey and I can well believe it; there are some very fine items down in the basement and indeed crammed into every available space of the two floors of the tea rooms.
|Almost as good as a Cornish cream tea|
Feeling somewhat peckish as she hadn’t had any lunch, Fiona started off with toast and Gentleman’s Relish. The rest of us, no sooner saw the menu than there were cries of “we want CAKE” – a cake medley to be precise, which was a stand of six assorted slabs of homemade cake and clotted cream. We tried to be decorous, but somehow that cake just disappeared. The verdict was unanimous, we all loved the rhubarb and cinnamon cake and wanted the recipe. In this respect, we were doomed to disappointment, the recipe was a house secret. Somewhat stuffed and with dinner not far off, we somehow couldn’t resist the call of scones when we were told they were freshly out of the oven. Served with homemade jam and clotted cream, they were nearly as good as a Cornish cream tea.
Not being much of a black tea drinker I didn’t share the very large pot of tea with the others, but ordered Rooibos and had a lovely teapot all to myself, named Boudica – yes, every teapot has its very own name.
|The Tavern Cocktails|
Not long after this, we made our way to The Tavern, a couple of streets away. Luckily we got a little lost which meant we had a bit more time to digest before the next onslaught. Here, we were greeted by friendly staff and complimentary cocktails – something to do with Fiona having forewarned them that we were food bloggers, I suspect. The Mojito Royal was a popular choice and one I was not averse to indulging in – it really hit the spot. Drinks were served with mugs of popcorn making for a festive atmosphere.
|The Tavern Veggie Burger|
Whilst we made up our minds as to what to order, we opted for some nibbles to keep us going. The chickpea chips were a real winner and everyone’s favourite, but we were all a bit nonplussed by the deep fried olives, which were, quite frankly, weird and not something I’d choose to eat again. The others all had fleshy things for their mains, but were well satisfied. I was pleased to have some interesting veggie choices. I opted for a rather splendid burger stuffed with all sorts, including roast vegetables and a field mushroom. The fact it was accompanied by more of the delightful chickpea chips might have played its part in my decision.
|The Tavern Kitchen|
The meal didn’t disappoint. Again the service was good and the prices were very reasonable. I’d be very happy to pay a return visit and rather wish we had something similar here in Liskeard. We were asked to take a look upstairs where the dishes are cooked in front of diners. In fact you can sit at the kitchen serving bar and for a few pounds ask to taste any of the dishes you see being prepared. This is a fun idea, but with the clang and clatter of pans, perhaps not the most conducive place for a tete a tete. We were, I felt, better off in the relative quiet of downstairs.
|The Tavern Molten Chocolate Pudding|
Full as we were, we just couldn’t miss out on pudding and chocolate had to feature somehow. I was lucky – we plumped for a hot chocolate mouse with pistachio ice-cream – we all tucked in.
For some reason we picked a particularly busy weekend and were unable to book into the same hotel, as was the original plan. This was a shame as it would have been fun to carry on the food fest by feasting on breakfast together. After trying several hotels, I eventually found one with a free room and gosh I was lucky. Lypiatt House was a lovely little Regency hotel in a quiet and attractive quarter of Cheltenham, not far from both the town centre and the station. I had the best night’s sleep there I’ve had in a very long time and the breakfast was delightful. I’m not sure I’d put the hotel down as the five star it claimed, but it really was a very comfortable and spacious place to stay. I later learned that there was a “buskers’ conference” in Cheltenham that weekend which might have accounted for the lack of hotels. It all seemed rather peculiar and I have to say I didn’t encounter a single busker whilst out and about in Cheltenham.
I really enjoyed my trip and meeting up with the other #smuts; in fact I’m looking forward to a repeat performance and maybe with the full eight next time. Not only was it a pleasure to join company with such lively and friendly fellow food bloggers, but it was also very interesting to finally visit Cheltenham. As a regency spa town, I knew I would like the Georgian architecture, but with its wide leafy avenues too, I was unprepared for how much it made me miss Leamington Spa, where I lived for seven years – a similar, if slightly smaller town.
This is more of a Scilly post than a flapjack one. But scroll down to the bottom of the post and you’ll find the recipe for some very scrumptious fig, almond and honey flapjacks with optional chocolate chips. Meanwhile, if you’ve never thought of heading off to the Isles of Scilly, this post might just make you change your mind.
We are just back from a rather damp week spent on the Lizard. For those wondering, the Lizard is not a large scaly reptile, although there is a reptilian link. It’s a peninsula lying at the most southerly point of mainland UK and is made of serpentine rock. It’s actually a piece of sea floor which somehow ended up in the wrong place. The serpentine has unusual chemical properties which leads to a unique habitat, making it a Mecca for botanists – CT was in his element. Despite the fact we only had one morning of sun the entire duration of our stay, it wasn’t as wet as it might have been and we had a lovely time, spoilt only by the fact it passed far too quickly.
Before leaving, the big question was what cake to take with us? On our last stay there, two years ago, I made a well remembered chocolate mayonnaise cake which was not only delicious but lasted the whole week. I needed to replicate the delicious and lasting qualities, but wanted something a little different. In the end, the sheer number of apples I’d been given sealed the deal, it just had to be an apple cake. Leafing through my many recipe books and scraps of paper, I finally plumped for an Apple & Hazelnut cake. I’ve had this recipe for at least 14 years but have never actually made it and where it came from is now lost in the mists of time. I adapted it to include chocolate of course and made a few other amendments along the way, including brandy soaked sultanas.
This is what I did:
- Soaked 3oz sultanas in 1 tbsp brandy for a couple of hours (overnight would have been better).
- Spent an age cracking the last of last year’s hazelnuts, then toasted 3oz of them.
- When cool, blitzed them in a coffee grinder.
- Peeled, cored and chopped 1 lb cooking apples
- Creamed 8oz unsalted butter with 6oz cardamom sugar.
- Beat in 3 duck eggs.
- Stirred in 2 tsp dried orange zest.
- Sieved in 12oz flour (half wholemeal and half white), 1.5 tsp baking powder, a pinch of salt and 1 tsp cinnamon.
- Mixed in the apple and hazelnuts.
- Stirred in sultanas and 3oz milk chocolate drops (40%).
- Spooned into a 23cm cake mould.
- Sliced an unpeeled dessert apple and placed slices around the top.
- Scattered over 2 tbsp demerara sugar
- Baked for 45 mins at 180C.
Luckily the cake was delicious and it did last us the week, although with the various other treats we had whilst we were there, we probably shouldn’t have had any cake at all.
Here are a few highlights of our trip in no particular order of merit or occurrence:
Walking the coastal path on that first sunny morning somewhere near Kennack Sands.
Spotting our first view of Cornish Heath (Erica vagans) this year – no longer at its best but always exciting as the Lizard is one of the very few places that it grows in the UK.
Dodging showers around Trewidden Gardens, Penzance – 1st visit and the most impressive grove of tree ferns we’ve seen in the UK.
Kynance Cove as we saw it two years ago – this time it was hard to discern through the thick mist.
The biggest swathe of Devil’s Bit Scabious either of us have ever seen.
Dragonfly on CT’s knee.
The delightful fishing village of Cadgwith.
Posh nosh at New Yard Restaurant, Trelowarren.
There is so much to say about the wonderful city of Ghent, I hardly know where to begin. It’s a city about the size of Plymouth (where I work) and it couldn’t be more different. It’s flat for a start! Flat, of course, makes it nice and easy for cycling and it was truly wonderful to see so many cyclists scooting about – how I miss my bike. This combined with the many cobbled streets acted as a form of traffic calming and presumably a car deterrent – so much of the old city was car free – bliss.
Not having visited St Ives for at least four years, I thought it was about time we renewed our acquaintance. It was my birthday and “I’ll do what I want to” – that was my line of reasoning and I did have the day off work booked anyway. I dragged CT along with me and we boarded the train westwards. Parking in St Ives is a bit of a nightmare and taking the train is the most sensible option on all counts – it’s a lovely ride.