Diva in the Saddle – The Need for Speed

I’m training for the Etape Caledonia on Sunday 15 May. It’s an 81 mile timed road race mainly involving lots of men who like this…

Ingliston circuit road race

The picture is from Edinburgh Road Club the super-fast roadies we see out and about on our travels. Membership of said club is for me but an aspiration. Now I’m not saying there are no women in the Road Club – it does have a women’s race team – but road racing is a predominantly male affair. For example last year over 3,000 people did the Etape but only around 400 women. C’mon girls!

Note if you will the contrasts between me and the fast guys – the heavy bike, the rack and bag, the kit and fleece and let’s not discuss the rider… 

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Nonetheless, I’ve signed up for the Etape and training is going well. I know the distance is no problem since last year I did the Pedal for Scotland Sportive 100 mile bike ride last September. When I arrived for the Scotland Sportive admist a sea of men in lycra marshalls checked with raised eyebrows that I was really intending to do the Sportive and not the 52 mile option. I was I confirmed. And I did!

It was a glorious day for the event and such an incredible sense of achievement afterwards. It took me 8hours 40mins on my trusty old hybrid (pictured above). You can see pictures on facebook here.

The Need for Speed
The issue for the Etape will be finishing the hilly course quickly enough! You see the roads are closed for the Etape and then reopened, at which time competitors who fail to meet the minimum speed requirement are de-bibbed! My aim is to avoid this indignity!

This requires an average speed of 13mph over 81miles. And have I mentioned the course is hilly?

All that is a precursor to this posting about wonderful weekends training rides with biking friends and my Etape buddy Jack. Here are some pictures from our beautiful trip to North Berwick a few weekends ago. There aren’t many en route as I was cycling hard and managed to average 13mph on the way out to North Berwick via the mainly flat A198 coastal route (approx 26miles). So I’ll need to do better than this before next month.

A glorious day in North Berwick.

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We went for lunch al fresco at lovely bistro 12 Quality Street.

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We couldn’t resist when we saw fresh lobster being delivered and shared one between us. Divine!

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We took a longer and hillier route back to Edinburgh via Haddington, Gifford and lots of other places. We stopped in Gifford to buy more water and sat on a lovely bench in front of the church.

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And here are the bikes. Jack’s built for speed.

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Mine built for comfort!

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But the good news is Jack is lending me one of his road bikes for the Etape (he has 3!). Thanks so much Jack! I’ve trained on it a few times and love the way it really flies it but it will take a bit of time to get used to the riding position and gear change on the crossbar. I’m not even attempting the toe clips again…

And yes, a shiny new bike designed for speed is on my shopping list. It takes time to find the right bike.

UPDATE: We’re raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support and now have an online fundraising page. Please donate if you can http://www.justgiving.com/stephandjackdotheetape/

Send me positive thoughts on 15 May for the Etape.
I will need them!

So much to love about Cameron House on Loch Lomond

Mr Mac and I went to Cameron House to celebrate our anniversary. We had  high expectations. On the website it looks gorgeous, and a few friends have been and have raved about it.

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On arrival I was thrilled to learn that my lovely husband had booked us a suite! Apparently there are only 3 suites with a balcony and we had one of them. Further excitement, if that is possible.

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Here he is on the champagne cruise of the loch. In just his shirt! I, and our fellow passengers were wearing everything we had with us plus several blankets each (pictures below). It gets chilly once you get out on the water even though it was a beautiful sunny day on land. Can you tell he’s a Geordie?!

So here’s our room…

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With a free-standing cast iron bath. I could hardly contain myself. But there was more shrieking when I saw the bathroom.

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A fantastic wet room with two huge showerheads and room for a rugby team. Although we didn’t test that theory.

Not a very good picture I’m afraid, you had to be there. On the other side of the bathroom (not pictured) two sinks. Everything lush and lovely darlings!

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And for me the highlight: the amazing view from our balcony. One of only three in the hotel you understand! That’s balconies not views.

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Mr Mac had organised the weather too so it was clothes off, robe on and straight out onto the balcony with the champers and strawberries.

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This is the view from our room before we headed down to dinner. The picture doesn’t begin to do it justice.

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I’ll do a separate blog about dinner as this one already has so many pictures! And I still have quite a few things to tell you about. Heightened security at Cameron House as Princess Anne was staying. Yes HRH had heard we were staying and flew in by helicopter to join us for tea.*

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I won’t win any awards for photos this trip. I’m afraid shaky hands mean that this is the best photo I have of Princess Anne. She was lovely, lovely and we were so excited to have seen her.

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So my dears, after tea with Princess Anne* we hurried along to the spa at Carrick. If you are in the area you simply must pop in. Gorgeousness.  An outdoor jacuzzi with views across Carrick Golf Course plus every possible type of steam room, sauna and shower you can imagine. Mr Mac was most taken with the pool too. If you are chomping at the bit already view the Carrick Spa website for all the details and more pictures.

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After spa-ing we felt thoroughly rejuvenated.

There was just time for a glass of champagne on our balcony before we went off for our champagne cruise on the hotel’s yacht, Celtic Warrior.  It’s a super boat, just 3 years old.

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When you visit I do recommend the cruise, it’s great to explore the vastness of Loch Lomond and our guide Ian kept us most entertained with his tales of life in the Loch then and now.

Golfers among you may be interested to learn that Loch Lomond Golf Course is offering annual membership for a cool £250,000.

Ian also told us, rather pointedly, that there is an island for naughty and/or nagging wives. Yes legend has it that mainland menfolk would deposit their wives on said island until such time as their behaviour improved. That’s the behaviour of the wives not the husbands. You can see why this story doesn’t ring true. Is this a tall tale? Can anyone verify this story. Apparently the island is called the Gaelic for heather. I think he was pulling our leg…

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And here are a few pictures of our cruise…

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Pete (pictured above) was in just a shirt. Meanwhile I was wrapped up in fleece and 2 blankets! And I wasn’t the only one! You think I’d know better than to leave my coat behind after 11 years in Scotland.

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And a final picture of the view from our balcony.

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So a super-fabulous trip. The staff were just amazing too. So looking forward to visiting again.

We paid for this trip ourselves, by the way. I do get invited for the occasional dinner (and I point that out to you) but  haven’t been offered any holidays. Yet. But of course, am open to offers!

We loved it so much we’re planning more short breaks so I’d love to hear your thoughts on the best places to stay. 
What are your favourite hotels in Scotland and why?

CAMERON HOUSE
Loch Lomond
Dunbartonshire
G83 8QZ
01389 713 281

*this might be a slight exaggeration but sounds much better than ‘after taking bad pictures of Princess Anne across the hotel foyer…’

Diva’s new ‘hairstyle’ – Floella on Acid?

Yes darlings, that is the description of my new ‘hairstyle’. Mother please stop reading now. You may find these pictures disturbing. I’m sure you’d dispute the term  hairstyle being used to describe them. That is why we love you!

So this new style happened accidentally when, without elastic band, I decided to tie my hair up pre-shower and on emerging thought wow that looks great – go out like that! Sadly for right-thinking people I have had encouragement in this way deluded way of thinking receiving compliments left, right and centre from equally deranged persons.

My new hair arrangement has been described, rather aptly I feel, as Floella on Acid. Readers of a certain age will remember Floella Benjamin from Playschool, that classic, and now cult, children’s television programme. What’s the day? Time to play! And today we’re going through the round window… If you don’t know what I’m talking about you are too old. Only youthful people like myself will remember this show. Whatever happened to Jemima and Hamble?  I wonder if they now have their own shows?

So here is Floella, now a Baroness with one of her tamer hairstyles.

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Picture from the Floella Benjamin website

On the telephone to a friend in London, I told her that my hair had been described as Flo on Acid and she insisted on pictures. So here they are for you too.

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Now I don’t think was Floella on Acid was intended to be complimentary but I like it. I’m strange like that.

The question is dear Diva readers, do you? Love it or hate it. Let me know in the comments below darlings (not on facebook). It makes me happier that way. And I have to be demanding. I am a Diva after all!

Sublime Seafood at Ondine’s Crustacean Bar

Sometimes life is more lovely than usual. Returning from a fabulous ski holiday in Mayrhofen to an invitation to try Ondine’s new bar menu was one such time. After a superb lunch at Ondine recently I was salivating at the prospect of a return visit.

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As you may know Ondine has an enticing dinner menu for those occasions when you want to indulge and have enough time to enjoy the theatre of the full dining experience.

The launch of the bar menu offers diners the chance to enjoy that Brett magic over a couple of glasses of wine pre-show, post-shopping or whenever you want to really. It’ll be one of my go-to places for between show sustenance during the Fringe. But I won’t be waiting until August to return!

I do Ceroc dancing and went to the launch with one of my favourite dance partners, who has asked to remain incognito. I’ll call him Johnny because he’s tall, dark, handsome, would look fantastic in tight trousers and boy can he dance!

So to the food:

The menu has options from £2.75 to £10.50 and includes classics like oysters, potted shrimp, mussels and squid. There is also enough to keep non-seafood-eating friends happy with roast pigeon, duck eggs & wild mushrooms and honey and coriander lamb cutlets among others.

We ordered tapas style and here it is in pictures for your delectation…

This is the oyster rarebit. Deliciously moist and buttery. Very moreish. A quirky twist on a old favourite that really works without overpowering the delicate flavours of the oyster.

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Fishcakes with dipping sauce. Very fishy, fishcakes beautifully seasoned. So different to many of the potato filled ‘fishcakes’ I’ve had.

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Ah one of the highlights of my evening the roast pigeon with wild mushrooms. Isn’t it beautiful? Don’t you want to reach in and taste it? I quite fancy one now, perhaps I’ll pop in this evening… I digress. It is difficult to describe to you the magnificence of this wonderfully fresh, perfectly cooked, succulent bird served with a gravy I wish I knew how to make.

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The chips, double fried I think and very tasty.

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And another favourite of mine the salt and pepper squid.

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We had planned to order more but were very full after 6 dishes between the two of us (potted shrimp not pictured).

It was a most entertaining evening and not just because of the food. We were sitting next to Jo Morris of Edinburgh institution and must-read ion magazine who was utterly hilarious and just as compelling in person as in print.

Yes a most wonderful evening with excellent food, great company, friendly service and lashings of champagne. All enjoyed in the busy, buzzy environs of Ondine on a Wednesday evening.

Loved it and will definitely go back.

EDINBURGH DIVA RATING: 9.5/10

Ondine on Urbanspoon

ONDINE RESTAURANT AND CRUSTACEAN BAR
2 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1AD
0131 226 1888

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The Delicious Mark Greenaway at Hawke and Hunter

I was delighted to be invited along to sample the delights of the recently launched Mark Greenaway restaurant at Hawke & Hunter. Mark recently won Rising Star Chef of the Year 2011 at the Scottish Hotel Awards and after reading the rave reviews on Edinburgh Spotlight and The List I suspected we’d be in for a treat.

Mark Greenaway Restaurant

I went along with Alison Grieve who is a super-fabulous woman, mother of twins, inventor, MD of Safetray and negotiating queen. It was the first time I’d seen her since bumping into her at Foodies Festival back in December. We had a great time catching up and she gave me some exceedingly useful tips. Thanks a million Alison!

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The restaurant is well-sized – small enough to feel intimate but large enough that the tables are well-spaced, with additional private dining areas. I like the simple and sophisticated feel with exposed stone work (which I’m partial to as we have at home), a fireplace and the statement light fittings I like so much. It’s fine dining with a relaxed vibe.

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The food was superb and at just £20 for 3 courses. It’s exceptionally good value too.

The pictures speak for themselves.

To start, Alison chose the line caught halibut raviolo in langoustine broth, with avruga caviar.

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I choose the Gressingham duck leg with hot orange jelly, beetroot carpaccio, sakura salad and raspberry dressing. This starter was mmmmmmmmmagnificent. The combination of the sweet orange jelly with the tart beetroot carpaccio worked beautifully with the duck and with the raspberry dressing it was a real triumph. As you can see it looked beautiful too. It would be interesting to see the production of beetroot carpaccio. Not one to try at home methinks, unless planning a new purple kitchen colour scheme!

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For main Alison chose the skate wing sous-vide with beetroot purée, crisps, olive mash, crispy squid and brown butter jus. It looked amazing and Alison enjoyed it.

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I chose the free range chicken with mini pomme fondants, confit garlic, onion rings, toast purée and Pied Blu mushrooms. I’d love to know how the chicken was cooked as it was so moist it was creamy. The seasoning was very good too. On this one, my picture doesn’t do it justice.

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Alison was going to go for the cheeses, until she saw this sweet being delivered to another table and knew she just had to try it. Good call. Her jam jar, rhubarb and custard with rice pudding, rhubarb and vanilla ice cream was very very good.

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And for me a divine ending to a lovely lunch with the Manjari Chocolate fondant with vanilla tuille, white chocolate mousse, orange caviar and tonka bean ice cream. Oh! My! Goodness! Where do I start? The fondant on it’s own would have been dreamy, moist and soft sponge with a hot and gooey centre, it was love at first bite. And then the chocolate cup. I so love chocolate cups for the same reasons I enjoy Easter eggs, it special in a way that chocolate bars – even the most delicious – simply don’t. And this chocolate cup was filled with a rich and creamy white chocolate mousse.

It was pleasure overload and I haven’t even mentioned the orange caviar. Like eating two sweets really.  I can’t wait to do it all again.

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Mark Greenaway is a great addition to Edinburgh’s restaurant scene with exciting combinations, perfectly cooked and beautifully presented – as much a feast for the eyes as the tastebuds. I wonder if he’s available for hire…

EDINBURGH DIVA RATING: 9.5/10

Hawke & Hunter on Urbanspoon

MARK GREENAWAY RESTAURANT AT HAWKE & HUNTER

12 Picardy Place, Edinburgh EH1 3JT
Tel: 0131 557 0952
Mark Greenaway on twitter and Hawke & Hunter on facebook

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Diva does… cocktails and scallops at The Voodoo Rooms

This was a most lovely Saturday afternoon whiled away in the beautiful environs of The Voodoo Rooms with my lover.

The Voodoo Rooms

If you haven't been you must go, it's a beautiful bar. Look out for the ornate ceiling in the pictures below.

On arriving at the very lovely Voodoo Rooms my eyes were drawn to this menu… 

Bewitching menu at The Voodoo Rooms

Bewitching menu at The Voodoo Rooms - This picture is insisting on being landscape despite my persuasion, aaargh!

 My darlings you know how I enjoy a cocktail and find it difficult to resist a bargain. Here the two came together deliciously. I  worked my way through cocktail specials and most pleasurable it was.

First up, the rather fabulous looking El Diablo – Arette blanco tequila, creme de cassis, lime juice and ginger ale. This was sweet and tropical. On a grey Edinburgh Saturday I tried to imagine being on a beach sipping my El Diablo. But hey, even my imagination wasn’t good enough for that.

El Diablo cocktail

Tropical flavours

Next up, the Silver Ghost – Bacardi rum, velvet falernum, lime juice, rock candy, cardamom and apple juice. This was my favourite. I like cocktails that aren’t too sweet and this was perfect, light, easy and wonderful flavours from the cardomom seeds.

Silver Ghost

Rum, lime and cardamon. A winner, my favourite of the 3!

And finally, Beauty and the Fizz – 42 Below vodka, Aperol lemon juice, passionfruit syrup topped with bubbly. This was fizzy and fruity, a perfect end to my cocktail trio.

Beauty & The Fizz

Fizzy and fruity

So by now feeling a little peckish my lover and I order a bite to eat. He went the fish and chips which he tells me was very good. Obviously, I verified the chips on your behalf and not because I gained any pleasure from it whatsoever.

Fish & chips at The Voodoo Rooms

Super, I understand

And I, of course, went for the scallops. Juicy as I like them and as you can see caramelised on the outside. They look a bit darker than normal as they had to delay service while I popped out. In spite of looks they weren’t overcooked.  They were divine. And the cauliflower and vermouth puree oh oh oh to die for!

Scallops at The Voodoo Rooms

Mmmmn heavenly

And vegetables on the side

Vegetables

Beautifully cooked

A wonderful afternoon. The staff are lovely too, young and er… very easy on the eye.

So what was the damage? The cocktails were all a special £5. Fish and chips was £10.95, scallop (starter) £6.95 and vegetable side dish £2.95. Super value. More reasons to love The Voodoo.

Afterwards we went shopping in search of a very covetable item which I can’t tell you about. 

EDINBURGH DIVA RATING: 9/10

The Voodoo Rooms on Urbanspoon

THE VOODOO ROOMS
19a West Register Street, Edinburgh  EH2 2AA
Tel: 0131 556 7060

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Diva’s Photoshoot

I had a photoshoot with Bob Grant recently, a very lovely photographer. This shoot was for fun really to get some shots I can use for PR shots and one or two for Mr Mac. Bob is always keen to get his equipment out so off we went.

A big thank you to The Bonham Hotel who let us use one of the Hotel’s gorgeous suites.

Bob took hundreds of shots. Here are a few of my favourites.

Edinburgh Diva

Photo by Bob Grant

It looks great in black and white too…
I like the glow

Edinburgh Diva

Photo by Bob Grant

I like the effect Bob’s gone for here.
Really I wasn’t sweati… I mean, glowing as much as this!

Edinburgh Diva

Photo by Bob Grant

And here’s a full length one.
I’m afraid I’ve altered this to tinted black and white (sorry Bob!). I did my own makeup and it looks hideous in the colour version. Next time I will get professional makeup (are you reading Kirsty?!).

Edinburgh Diva

Photo by Bob Grant

And the famous Diva bottom*
Why oh why do I have such muscly arms? Think it would be a great shot otherwise. On the original the colours are more graded along the wall from light to dark which is a beautiful effect that is missed in this picture.

Edinburgh Diva

Photo by Bob Grant

Well that’s all for now. Bob took hundreds of shots so maybe I’ll include a few more at some point. It’s a bit self-indulgent, but that’s part of my Diva job description!

If you need a photographer, Bob is excellent. He does events for PSB Photo and specialises in gymnastics events, portraits, corporate work and lots more. You can contact bob by email bob(at)psbphoto.co.uk

Remember the Edinburgh Bicycle Coop shoot I did last month? Well I’m going to be a poster girl apparently. I’ll let you know when it’s out. So exciting!

*Famous bottom? Well it’s my blog so indulge me!