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More Than a Scone of the Week

Today is my Mum’s Birthday. We used to have a weekly trip out to local cafe or tea shop for a scone and a drink. I always wrote a “Scone of the Week” blog post in which we’d rate the quality of the scone baking wherever we went, but that’s not possible at the moment. We are locked down and and our favourite places are closed. We had to come up with something safe, and fun to celebrate so instead of going out, afternoon tea was delivered to her!

K and I made some dainty little sandwiches this morning: smoked salmon and cream cheese; ham and mustard; cheese and chutney; egg mayonnaise.

I baked my favourite cheese scones and some fruit ones too, which were served with jam and whipped cream.

There were cakes too: my lemon drizzle cake and daughter’s chocolate brownies…….

…..but the star bake was this magnificent celebration cake that Daughter made yesterday. It looked stunning and tasted great too – a deliciously light moist Victoria sponge. She makes the most amazing cakes.

There was a small glass of fizz too…..well it was a celebration!

Of course Mum couldn’t manage to eat the whole feast by herself. I brought some home for the rest of us.She thoroughly enjoyed her surprise. It was lovely to do something special.

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Scone of the Week Stays At Home

I’ve mentioned before that my street has been organising various activities to keep people amused during lockdown – we’ve been putting things in our windows and front gardens for people, especially children, to spot during daily exercise. First it was frogs, then scarecrows. Last week we had to put something in our windows from a country we’d visited and add the flag to reveal the identity of the country at the end of the week. This week was all things red, white and blue, for the 75th anniversary of VE Day, culminating with a socially distanced street party today, where we all sat in our front gardens for food, drink and a bit of distant socialising with our neighbours.

Of course you have to have a bit of home baking at a street party so yesterday I made scones (my favourite cheese ones of course) I do like baking, but can’t stand for long periods so I always do the ‘rubbing in” part of making scones or pastry in a food processor to save time. My go to cheese scone recipe is adapted from a Delia Smith one, but I add extra cheese, both to the dough and sprinkled on top of the scones before they go in the oven – I use a mixture of cheddar and parmesan. I was pleased with how they turned out.

I had a couple while they were still warm, with plenty of butter of course and they were lovely – really cheesy with a little bit of a spicy bite (I add English mustard powder and a pinch of cayenne pepper to the dough). Son and I delivered a few to my Mum. We are both missing our regular Scone of the Week jaunts to local cafes so there was no way she was missing out on these!

I also made some bunting to decorate the front of the house – I just made a template and used it to cut triangles from some old t-shirts (I found a red one, a white one and a blue one). T-shirt fabric doesn’t really fray so I didn’t need to hem them and I just machine stitched them to some tape, a couple of inches apart.

Today I thought I’d make some plain scones to go with our street party feast (to serve with butter and strawberry jam). I also made some little cucumber sandwiches (triangles with the crusts cut off of course). K had bought a jar of Shipphams salmon paste as he thought that was suitably retro so I made some sandwiches with that too, and , after I’d buttered the cheese scones too, our feast was assembled

Out came the teapot and cups and saucers, but we mixed a jug of Pimms and put that in the teapot! We had a great afternoon enjoying our food and drink and chatting with the neighbours. After the more sombre remembrance of those who died in the war in observing two minutes silence this morning, it was lovely to remember the celebrations that marked the end of hostilities in Europe, even if it was at a distance.

Have you taken part in any VE Day commemorations?

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Scone of the Week 12th March

It was a bright and breezy day in Northumberland when we set off today, so we decided to start by driving down to Alnmouth Beach to see the sea. it was very choppy with lots of white tops on the waves and spray blowing about, though not much surf.

The Aln estuary main channel has moved north over the winter as storms have shifted the sands. The wind had kept people away and there was only one dog walker in sight. Apologies for the marks on the car window!

We drove down the coast to nearby Warkworth. This historic village, which nestles in a bend in the River Coquet, has ruined castle and some nice pubs, cafes and shops. We decided to try Bertram’s.

The cafe is on the ground floor of a luxury B&B on the main road through the village on the right just after the bridge as you come from the north. It’s lovely inside, all duck-egg blue paintwork which looks perfect against the natural stone and scrubbed pine and it’s quite roomy inside. I loved the art on the walls, especially the pictures of hares. I took this photo of an empty table to show the decor, but it was soon occupied – the place was quite busy. They don’t take bookings. Tables are available on a first come, first served basis and a queuing system operates at busy times. It’s dog friendly too. I had to say hello to the Labrador that arrived shortly after us.

We sat at one end of a long table which was already occupied at the other end, but this wasn’t a problem as it was a very big table! Breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea are served and it’s a good menu with plenty of choice. Lunch includes hot and cold sandwiches, soups and quiche, with daily specials and preferred use of local produce. There’s a good range of cakes too…and scones!

The staff were pleasant and friendly and our scones and coffee soon arrived. Each of us was served two small cheese scones. These were at room temperature and came with a small dish of butter that was from the fridge and rather too cold to spread. The scones themselves had a good light texture but little or no cheese flavour apart from the crust. The coffee was good. Compared with other places we’ve visited, this was one of the more expensive ones. It was nicely presented and looking around at other tables all the food looked very appetising.

Bertram’s was buzzing, with plenty of atmosphere and lovely surroundings so we thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

On our walk back to the car we called in at The Greenhouse – one of my favourite shops, which is situated in a prominent position on the corner as you turn off the Main Street towards the church. It sells an eclectic mixture of gifts, tableware, ornaments, mirrors and cards. There are some fascinating and beautiful items – it’s well worth a visit.

All in all, we had a thoroughly delightful trip out for Scone of the Week.


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Scone of the Week #10: Salt Water Cafe, Beadnell

What a beautiful day it was today. The sky was brilliant blue and you could just about feel the sun’s warmth on your skin. We decided to head up the coast and arrived in Beadnell, where we found the Salt Water Cafe on a corner in the heart of the village. With outside seating on both sides, this will be a lovely place to visit in warm weather as it is sheltered from the sea, overlooking Beadnell House on one side and St Ebba’s Church on the other.

Beadnell House
St Ebba’s Church

The Cafe is open all day from 8.30am, serving breakfast, snacks, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner from 6pm. (the dinner specials board looked great, and included pigeon, halibut, chicken and a vegetarian option). I could see a good selection of cakes, desserts and pastries on the counter and in the chiller cabinet as we walked in, as well as a well-stocked bar.

We chose our usual cheese scones, and were asked if we wanted them warmed. They soon arrived, with three foil wrapped pats of butter (more generous than the usual two), and this was at room temperature, easy to spread.

The scones were really tasty and full of flavour. They were alarmingly yellow! I did ask about this and was told it could be from the mustard used in the recipe, though there was not a lot of mustard heat in them – I wondered if they contained turmeric. They had a good crumbly texture and a nice cheesy crust. Absolutely delicious!

Our coffees came with a little shortbread biscuit on the side and the milk was served in tiny churns.

I was quite fascinated by all the mirrors. There are gilt framed ones of various shapes throughout the cafe which look rather stylish grouped together. There are two amazing mosaic framed ones in the bathroom, which really attracted my attention. I’m feeling quite inspired to make one myself!

It was a lovely relaxed place to stop for our snack and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit snack. it’s dog-friendly during daytime service too. Saltwater Cafe definitely an asset to the village. I’m very tempted to return to try breakfast or dinner!

What’s the most interesting piece of decor that you’ve seen in a bar or restaurant?

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Scone of the Week #8

Today’s Scone of the Week is from Bari Tea on Narrowgate, Alnwick. Bari (pronounced bar-ee) is a Northumbrian dialect word meaning” lovely” and this is indeed a lovely tea shop. They refer to it as a tea brewery and it really is all about the tea, whether you want to sit and drink it on the premises or buy some to enjoy at home.

Unlike some places, where the tables are crammed in, there is enough room to move around (especially when you rock up on a disability scooter as I did). They serve things like cakes and scones, soup, filter coffee and very nice hot chocolate……and a comprehensive range of teas – the tea menu is quite lengthy.

There are some quirks that make you smile when you visit Bari. The toilet is twinned with one in Kenya(!) and all the staff on duty are named on a blackboard.

It was a quiet weekday lunchtime so only the “Maitre T” and the “Teas Maid” on “Sconage Duty” were named.

Our scones were really good – we got the last cheese and mustard one, which had a lovely flavour and gorgeously crusty top, and a sweet sultana one with just the right amount of fruit. Both were good-sized rustic hunks of scone, soft and crumbly without being dry. They were served with pats of butter on a tiny dish, (no foil wraps to fiddle about with), though it was hard from the fridge and hard to spread. Another little dish held a generous dollop of strawberry jam.

Mum ordered a pot of breakfast tea, with arrived in an earthenware pot with a timer and a receptacle with tongs to remove the tea bag when the allotted brewing time had elapsed.

I am not (and never will be) a tea drinker – I simply don’t like the taste, so I opted for a hot chocolate (they also serve filter coffee). My drink was lovely too – a piece of proper chocolate on a stick (two kinds available), to melt into hot milk, served with grated chocolate on top and mini marshmallows on the saucer: heaven!

The staff were really helpful and friendly too.

Situated in the part of Alnwick that is popular with tourists, sometimes referred to as the Castle Quarter (close to Alnwick Castle and surrounded by other small independent shops), Bari Tea is well worth a visit if you are in town, especially if you like tea.

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Scone of the Week #7

Today we returned to one of our favourite scone stops: The Rocking Horse Cafe at Rock Midsteads Farm. To get there from the A1 north of Alnwick, take the turn off for Christon Bank and after a few hundred yards you will see signs to follow for the cafe.

As usual we got a warm welcome. The Rocking Horse is one of the most dog-friendly cafes I know and many of the customers bring their four-legged friends along. Today the humans were joined by a Bedlington Terrier, a West and the cafe’s two resident border collies, Sam and Tess. Sam obviously thought that we were deprived as we didn’t have a dog with us, so he kept us company. What a friendly soul he is, and so well-behaved.

The cheese scones were as delicious as ever, served warm, with generous pats of butter and no foil wrappers to wrestle with. They were crumbly without being dry, with a good flavour and a decent crust. One of the best!

I ordered hot chocolate – and had a choice of types – either powder or proper chocolate. I went for the latter.

After a while of stirring the chocolate on the swizzle stick into the hot milk, it dissolved to make a deliciously chocolaty drink, perfect for a cold, blustery day.

I was sat next to the namesake rocking horse, so couldn’t resist taking a photo.

Since our last visit, one of the cafe staff, Janet, has opened a dog-grooming business next door and she splits her time between the two. Her new venture is called Hair of the Dog. I just love the name!

As we left, I noticed that the woods by the farm entrance were carpeted with snowdrops. Simply breathtaking.

I’m still under no illusion that winter is not over. Despite being so close to the sea, which can take the edge off the cold, we still get deep snow some winters, and little or none in other years. So far, all we’ve seen here in Northumberland this winter is a dusting on the tops of the Cheviots. Have you had snow where you are ? (Don’t forget to say where that is.)

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Scone of the Week #6 (with a Theatrical Twist)

We were back to our usual weekly scone-tasting today and decided to try the new cafe in the recently-refurbished Alnwick Playhouse. This was a great opportunity to check out what’s new in this popular local venue.

We got one of the last tables available in the bistro section (it was the busy lunchtime period)- there are additional tables in the foyer but it all seems to fit together well. It was good to see the place full of people again after such a lengthy closure for the renovations. The staff were helpful and our coffee and scones arrived quickly. The drinks were served in generously large cups with saucers and the scones were just warm and served with foil wraps of nicely soft butter. I wasn’t sure why the scones were sliced. I prefer to pull them apart to see the texture. They may have been a little under-baked for my taste, possibly bought in rather than made on the premises, but quite acceptable. There were some very scrumptious-looking cakes in the counter cabinet.

I do like the lunch menu, which had a good varied selection of classic sandwiches, including the local ham and pease pudding stotty, salads, soup and some with a Moroccan flavour (using ingredients like chickpeas, falafel, halloumi), It all looked very appetising and portions look generous, The staff were attentive and cleared tables quickly: it always looked tidy during our visit. It did seem a on the expensive side, but not excessively so. It’s a welcome addition to that part of the town, open to the public whether or not you are at a theatre performance.

The town has eagerly awaited completion of this multimillion pound refurbishment, following a massive fundraising effort. Alnwick Playhouse has always served its community well, with an impressive programme of theatre, music, comedy, dance and film, including live broadcast West End theatre productions, opera and ballet.

Many local people have been on both sides of the footlights at the Playhouse as amateur and school shows are given a high profile too…. and rightly so. Their standard is very high (and that merits professional performance space which brings out the best in our performers and musicians. I once spoke to some holidaymakers in the interval at a junior amateur production. They were staying nearby so thought they’d spend an evening at the theatre. Initially they been disappointed, thinking that the show that night was “just a school play” but soon changed their minds and were so impressed they wanted to come back again.

Now it’s re-opened! I’m impressed with what they’ve done to the place – thoughtful consideration of how to improve facilities AND retain the unique character and features of the building. That’s never easy but I think they’ve done a pretty amazing job. They’ve opened up areas of the building I didn’t know existed, to integrate a re-sited public library/information centre (and the cafe) alongside the theatre and gallery. It isn’t at all cramped though – it actually looks and feels more spacious. It’s a really clever use of space

There are some good improvements to accessibility too and I had a brief look at some of these. The entrance ramp has been resurfaced and the metal railings replaced by toughened glass, which doesn’t block the cafe’s view of the street. The handrails on the steps seem better too. The reception/box office counter is lower. The lift to the upper floor is easier to use as it’s not tucked into an awkward corner like before, but the beautiful spiral staircase has been retained. The gallery space looks more spacious, making use of previously dead space and flexible seating. Only the bar is still not fully accessible. It never has been so I won’t miss it! I hope to go to a show soon and try out the auditorium for accessibility – reports are good so I’m confident it will be a good experience. The young woman at reception/box office was really helpful and knowledgeable about the building’s accessibility.

Enough! I’m sounding like the brochure. I need to stop (and knit). I’m sure there’s scope to do that in the Playhouse too.

Do you have a local community theatre? What makes it special to you?

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Scone-Free Thursday: Food for Thought

Usually I post Scone of the Week on Thursdays but today was scone-free. I was meeting a friend and her daughter for drinks at Nelsons in the Park at Swarland and had this yummy hot chocolate. They have a hot chocolate menu with several flavours – I opted for the chocolate orange. it tasted as good as it looks.

We had a good old catch up – my friend’s daughters are visiting from Australia. One of the girls was ill in bed, saving her strength for the trip home which begins tomorrow. I can’t imagine anything worse than a long haul flight when you are feeling under par, so I hope she has a safe journey. It was good to see her sister though.

It was really interesting to get the insider’s view of the devastating fires in Australia. We have all seen horrific TV footage and can only imagine what it must be like for those directly affected, when lives, homes and livelihoods are lost. I sincerely hope that appropriate and timely help is given . There are lots of opportunities to donate to the relevant aid charities.

We are also hearing news of the wild animal casualties. Of course the cutest creatures will always get the most coverage. Koalas are badly affected – slow and sleepy, not best equipped to escape the flames. There will undoubtably be huge reptile and invertebrate losses too but they don’t get the coverage, although their places in ecosystem are just as important as any iconic mammal.

One of my friend’s daughters works in conservation and her sister pointed out a few things that I hadn’t considered. For example very many of the rescued koalas and other animals will have to be humanely destroyed as their injuries are too severe. Also, as so much habitat has been lost, there is nowhere to return the rescued animals to. The only option would therefore be to keep them in captivity until the environment has recovered enough to support them. This will take many years.

Knowing that I’m a knitter, a couple of friends have sent me info about groups here in the UK that are using their craft skills to make nests and pouches as bedding for the rescued animals. There are lots of different designs of suitable items in various sizes and shapes depending on the species they are intended for. It seems to be pretty well organised too, with various collection “hubs” to co-ordinate the effort. I’m still trying to get the full information on materials to use – some documents say the rescue organisations require pure wool items only and pure cotton fabric for sewn liners. I thought I’d make something and that this might be a good way of using up scraps , including donated yarn, but it’s not always obvious which is 100% wool when there is no ball band. I’m actually quite curious why some sources say “wool only”. It’s not always the easiest yarn to wash and dry. It was explained that the bobbles on boucle-type yarns could be nibbled on so this was not to be used and also that there should be no loose threads to entangle in tiny claws etc. and this makes perfect sense.

Hearing from others I know in Australia and even New Zealand, I hear that even far away from the fire zone the clouds of smoke and haze are clearly visible. The environmental and health effects of this disaster will be far-reaching and long term.

We just have to hope for all concerned that things improve soon and that lessons are learnt that can prevent this happening again.

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Scone of the Week #5

First day after the bank holiday and everyone still seems to be off work or school. In Alnwick, in search of a scone, everywhere we looked was either packed with queues forming for tables (Barter Books) or closed (most of the rest). It really was a shame as there were lots of tourists about. Baileys, at the junction of Market Street and Bondgate Within, was open with vacant tables so that’s where we went for this week’s scone.

There are steps at the entrance and to get to the counter, so this is not the most accessible cafe. Inside, the decor is rather tired and I’m not a fan of the plastic tablecloths. The staff are very pleasant though and the place is dog-friendly: a very cute shih tzu was under the next table and there were water bowls dotted around.

After ordering at the counter, our scones and drinks arrived quite quickly. The scones were ok, though not very cheesy, with an almost sweet taste. They were served just warm, with a couple of plastic/foil covered butter pats (Lurpak) – nice butter, shame about the packaging. It was at room temperature and spread easily.

While my mum had a pot of tea, I had hot chocolate, which looked quite spectacular. I declined the optional marshmallows. My drink was served in a very tall mug with a long spoon, with a swirl of whipped cream and a dusting of chocolate powder. The cream kept its shape without melting away for quite a while.

Though not the best scone of the week we’ve tasted, it was fine. I applaud Baileys for opening on 2nd January, when many establishments didn’t bother and there were lots of potential customers about.

Have you been out to any cafes or restaurants over the holidays?

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Scone of the Week #3- The Old Stables Tea Room

Today took us to the The Old Stables Tea Room, just outside Alnwick (on the roundabout just up from the Lion Bridge on the B6352). This lovely little cafe is situated in part of the stable block of a big old house.

Although they serve a lovely selection of yummy cakes and light lunches, we opted for our habitual cheese scones.

We were offered these slightly warmed and they arrived just warm enough to feel fresh from the oven, but not so hot as to melt the butter – perfect!. They were served with a very generous pot of butter, soft enough to spread easily (don’t you just hate trying to spread hard straight-from-the-fridge butter?) . The scones excellent: soft and very light with a little bit of cheese baked on the top. We accompanied them with a pot of tea for mum and hot chocolate (choice of milk or dark chocolate) for me, served with a big swirl of cream.

The cafe has a friendly team of staff and also includes a small shop area with a selection of cards and gifts. It’s usually quite full, especially in the summer holiday season and even today most of the empty tables were reserved when we arrived. It’s probably work booking in advance at busy times

As we were leaving, afternoon tea was being served to one table, complete with dainty sandwiches and cakes . It looked lovely – something to think about for another time.

What’s the nicest afternoon tea you’ve ever had?