Friday, 29 August 2014

Dear Zahara: 14 Months

Dear Zahara,

What a big month this has been. We've moved across the world! I am so proud of how easily and wonderfully you adapt to new surroundings. Without exaggeration, we have completely uprooted your whole life. It makes me a little sad that you won't remember all of the wonderful memories we've made up until now, but I am excited to start this new adventure with you in America.

You've had a few big milestones this month, but the biggest is that you are now walking! You took your first steps way back in July, but you were still mostly crawling all summer. Over the past few weeks you have become a lot more confident in walking. You still toddle around like a drunkard and it's absolutely adorable.

You don't have many full words yet, but you are clearly making yourself understood. You can say hi and bye; you say "baa" for ball and "waa" for water. You are great at using sign language for food, milk, and more. You also are learning your body parts, and will point to them when asked. You especially love wiggling your fingers and toes.

You are a giant ball of energy, and sometimes it is hard keeping up with you. But your sweet little giggle and baby hugs make it all worthwhile. Happy 14-months. We love you!

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Turkish Baths in Harrogate

One of the items on my bucket list before leaving Harrogate was a visit to the Turkish Baths. Dan very thoughtfully gave me a gift certificate for Mother's Day. Initially I planned on going by myself, but when my friends said they were available to join me, I knew the experience would be that much better. Rachel, Becky, Vicky (not pictured) and I made a morning of it. No photos are allowed during the session, but we managed to sneak one in after the fact.

I've been to an authentic Turkish bath in Istanbul; I still maintain that was one of my top-ten most interesting life experiences. It was so unexpected and wonderful. Of course a lot of that had to do with the hamam we chose--if you are ever in Istanbul, you MUST visit Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami.

These baths were significantly different than the ones in Istanbul, but it was still relaxing and wonderful. This was more like a spa than a bath house. Bathers go through a series of rooms to open their pores and release toxins. First you visit the sauna, then the Tepidarium (warm room), then the Calidarium (hot room), and finally the Laconium (hottest room). In between each room you shower and take a dip in the plunge pool. It was freezing! It was really interesting how different the pool felt after each room. I thought that it would feel less cold after visiting hotter rooms, when in fact it was the opposite. The hotter the room I was in, the colder (and less pleasant) the plunge pool.

Plunge pool [source]

Before we knew it, our two-hour session was over. I left feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. The Turkish Baths are just one more thing to love about Harrogate.

Monday, 18 August 2014

My First and Last British Wedding

For three years I have been desperate to get invited to a British wedding. Why? Because of the hats! Do you remember the parade of incredible hats during the Royal wedding? It turns out, that wasn't unique. Brits love wearing intricate, colorful, huge hats and fascinators to formal events. I wore one during the Jubilee, but I wanted one more excuse before I left the country.

2012 Queen's Jubilee

I really lucked out when my friends Charity and Brock got engaged. Though they are both American, they live here in Harrogate and decided to get married here. The wedding was last week, just ten days before we leave England. Just in the nick of time! My friend Becky lent me the most amazing fascinator--I was ready!

The wedding took place at Rudding Park, which was recently voted one of the best hotels in England! The ceremony, performed by Brock's college roommate in an old chapel was stunning. Charity and Brock are both very traditional, and this suited them perfectly.

Guests threw bird seed at the happy couple as they exited the chapel.

Next up was the cocktail hour--always one of my favorite times at a wedding. The passed hors d'oeuvres were phenomenal. My favorites were the adorable little fish and chips served in a newspaper cone and the lush brownie bites.

Dinner and dancing followed. I had to sneak back home to put Zahara to bed (she was with a babysitter during the ceremony), so I missed the cake cutting and speeches. Apparently Charity's dad made everyone cry with his super emotional tribute to his daughter. Even Dan admitted getting choked up.

Charity and Brock took dance lessons for their first dance, and it really paid off. They were adorable. Nervous, but cute.

It was such a fun celebration, and a great way to end my time here in England. Congratulations Charity and Brock!

Thursday, 31 July 2014

A Dinner to Remember

As part of this year's birthday celebration, Dan took me back to the Burlington restaurant at the Devonshire Arms. We went there for my 30th birthday and I am so glad we were able to return. The Michelin-starred restaurant is expensive, but worth it. By the end of our eight-course tasting menu, I literally (not figuratively) could not have eaten another bite.

I was once again impressed by the chef's creativity. From start to finish the dishes were unique and quite memorable. Most of the dishes were delicious, but there were a couple of misses for me. Here's the run-down, course by course. Sorry for the poor pictures. Lighting in the restaurant is wonderful for ambiance, but terrible for photos.

Amuse Bouche: 
  • Green apple with avocado mousse
  • Beetroot and smoked salmon macaron
  • Mushroom duxelles "hamburger"

Before eating, Dan and I each picked which one we thought would be the best. He picked the hamburger and I picked the apple. We were both blown away by the macaron. It was so unexpected.The texture was absolutely perfect--airy and crunchy. The salmon filling was salty and smoky--a perfect pairing to the slightly sweet beetroot. 

I enjoyed the apple and avocado more than Dan. I have never had guacamole with apple before, but that's what this was. The avocado was perfectly seasoned with lemon juice and a tiny hint of cilantro, and the apple was crisp and tart. It was weird, but it worked.

The duxelles was delicious, but the filling to "bun" ratio was a bit off for me. I wanted more mushroom. All three bites were a wonderful pairing to our pre-dinner martinis.

First Course: 
  • Jellied tomato consomm√© with horseradish and fennel flatbread

This was a miss for me, but Dan really enjoyed it. I don't like the flavor of fennel, and I found the texture of the consomme off-putting. It reminded me of Vaseline. The horseradish cream was delicious though.

Second Course:
  • Heirloom Beetroot with white balsamic vinegar jelly and Dorstone cannelloni

You have to really love beetroot to enjoy this dish. Thankfully, I am a big fan. There were several different types of beets all prepared in different ways. I loved the roasted beet and the fruit leather. Apparently, there were also salt-baked and compressed beets (which take 24 hours to make!), but I couldn't detect enough of a difference to warrant the effort. The blue-cheese cannelloni was very intense, but paired well with the sweet beets and the acidic vinegar jelly.

Third Course:
  • Salt-baked Carrot with goat's curd, roasted hazelnut, truffle mayonnaise and deep-fried quail egg

This was my favorite dish of the night. It doesn't sound or look very impressive, but that makes me love it even more. It's the sign of a good chef to take ordinary ingredients like carrots and make them extraordinary. 

The carrots were prepared three ways: salt-baked, pickled and maybe freeze-dried? The last method I couldn't quite figure out. It is the powdery substance on the side of carrot. The other two methods worked really, really well. The pickle was sweet and crunchy. The salt-baked carrot melted in your mouth. The egg was perfectly cooked, and I could not get enough of the luxurious truffle mayo. I was sad when this course was over.

Fourth Course:
  • Mackerel with grapefruit terrine and dashi

This dish was a partial winner. The fish was delicious and perfectly cooked. The rest of the dish was a complete disaster. The dashi gel was OK with the fish, but the grapefruit terrine was horrifying. It did not work with the dashi at all. The apple avocado made another appearance, but it was completely out of place here. There is a saying that "if it grows together it goes together." I'm fine with some avant garde cooking, but combining grapefruit, mackerel, and dashi was a step too far.

Fifth Course:
  • Duck Egg Yolk with asparagus, watercress and truffle

We got back on track with this dish. It was another favorite of mine. I am guessing the egg yolk was sous vide because it was absolutely perfect. The creamy truffle mayo came back (yay!) and worked wonderfully with the spicy watercress and mellow asparagus.

Sixth Course:
  • East coast turbot with asparagus and hen of the woods mushrooms

I was starting to get uncomfortably full at this point. Though the fish was light and flaky, I barely ate half of it before throwing in the towel. What little I did have, I really enjoyed. The earthy asparagus sauce and mushrooms were a nice pairing with the fish.

Seventh Course:
  • Vanilla Yogurt with pineapple; and lime and mint sorbet

Nope. Not for me. The "yogurt" was, as Dan said, like astronaut ice cream. It was freeze-dried and very tangy. The sorbet was nice and refreshing.

Eighth Course:
  • Yorkshire strawberries; buttermilk shortbread; champagne and elderflower sorbet

I was so full at this point that the dessert would have to be incredible to tempt me to eat more. The shortbread biscuit and strawberry jelly did that. This was such a whimsical dish. It was basically a deconstructed strawberry shortcake. All the flavors were there, but in such unexpected ways--like the strawberry leather with cracked pepper. So interesting and delicious that I finished the whole dish!

And with that last bite, I was officially done. I could not eat another bite if someone paid me--unless it was chocolate, and then I probably could have found a way.

Read about the rest of my birthday celebrations here:
Calli's birthday
Zahara's birthday
Dan's birthday
Calli's birthday
Dan's birthday
Calli's birthday

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Dear Zahara: 13 months

Dear Zahara,

There is no denying now that you are no longer a little baby; you are a wonderful little toddler. Of course, you'll always be my baby, but you are starting to look and act more like a big girl each day. 

You are finally sleeping through the night! I cannot believe it took a full year to get to this point, but I'm so thrilled we're there now. You are waking up earlier than I would like (5:30-6:00 am), but at least I don't have to get up in the middle of the night to feed you any more. 

You've started blowing kisses now. You take your chubby little hands, put them to your mouth, smile big, and blow. You're getting better/more enthusiastic about real kisses too. You're still doing "zombie kisses" with your mouth all the way open, but daddy and I melt when you kiss us and then clap proudly at yourself.

This month marked your first time in daycare. You did pretty well! I think it was much harder for mummy than it was for you. You were the youngest in the pre-toddler room, and the only one not fully walking yet. The daycare requires everyone to wear shoes, so you got your very first pair (for £20!).

Speaking of walking, you took your first steps this month! At the Tour de France party
at Tracy's house, you just turned to our friend Deanna and walked. Daddy and I shouted, we were so excited! You've taken a few steps since then, but are still crawling and "cruising" to get around.

We had a pretty rotten few days this month while you were going through a big wonder week. Thankfully, you came out the other side even sweeter than before. You're now much happier cuddling or sitting quietly with mummy and daddy. It's lovely.

Happy 13 months! Love you lots! 

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Happy Birthday to Me!

Thursday was my birthday--my last in England. You may recall that I absolutely love birthdays (both mine and everyone else's), and Dan did a spectacular job again this year to make it feel incredibly special. Once again it was a multi-day celebration, because, why not?

On my actual birthday, Zahara gave me the greatest gift ever and slept in until past 8:00 am! That is by far the latest she's ever slept. Then Dan made me a delicious birthday breakfast of eggs, crumpet, chocolate chip pancakes and Yorkshire tea. Amazing!

We put Zahara in daycare so I had the whole day to myself! She's only been in daycare three times in her life, and two of them were last week during our move. This was the first time since she's been born that I had the day to myself. Can you believe that?? I got a haircut, had a manicure, and read outside on the Stray. Dan bought me some British treats to enjoy throughout the day. It was so relaxing.

Saturday night Dan and I celebrated by returning to the Devonshire Arms, where we spent my 30th birthday. This Michelin-starred restaurant is certainly a treat and did not disappoint. I'll write a separate post on our phenomenal 8-course meal!

The last of my birthday celebrations was a ladies-only brunch at one of my favorite spots. Jake's has delicious food and a great atmosphere. Dan baked me a four-layer chocolate and strawberry cake and brought it over in the morning before the brunch. He also bought all of my girlfriends a Buck's Fizz to make the day extra special. I had so much fun!

Another very successful birthday in the books. Is it too early to start next year's countdown?

Read about my past birthday celebrations:
Dan's 30th
Calli's 30th
Dan's 31st
Calli's 31st
Zahara's 1st

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Moving Day

As I mentioned yesterday, we are officially out of our Harrogate house and are now living in a temporary apartment for the next few weeks. Though we were fortunate enough to have movers do the actual moving for us, the whole process was still pretty intense. I am glad it's (mostly) over!

We spent several weeks preparing for the move by selling or donating things we no longer need, and by packing things we will need before we get our household goods in September. We will be in temporary housing for five weeks, and then are taking a tour of the US for three weeks before finally settling back in Washington, DC. So, we needed to pack clothes, toys, and everything else we may need for two months; two continents and seven cities!

I'm thankful we were able to sell most things, including our outdoor furniture; kitchen table and chairs (both sets!); and lots of British appliances.

On our moving day, we decided to put Zahara in daycare for the first time. It would be too difficult to have her underfoot the whole day. She needs a lot of attention, and we wouldn't be able to give it to her while watching the movers work. I was worried about her getting in the way of all the heavy furniture lifting too.

We also wanted to put her in daycare so she could start getting used to being away from me. I am hoping to get a job when I get back to the States, and she will definitely need to be in daycare then. Putting her in the daycare at Dan's work was pretty low-risk, since I was only 20 minutes away from her and could easily come get her if needed. Once we put her in daycare in the States, it will not be as easy to get to her.

Moving day went really well. The movers were very professional and efficient. It took two of them a total of ten hours over the course of two days. The second day was just loading the boxes into the crates, and they got help from two other guys. It took less than three hours to fit all of our worldly possessions into five and a half crates.

The only hitch in our move was when we almost lost Nori. It happened a few times where we thought she was locked in one part of the house but then we couldn't find her. The worst time was when we literally looked everywhere in our completely empty house and couldn't find her. We looked outside too, but no such luck. We had to pick Zahara up from daycare and were starting to panic. Dan even checked the bag of dirty cat litter that he had just thrown out in case he missed a cat in the bag. Ha! We finally found her in a closed cabinet that she had accessed from behind the washing machine.

On to our next adventure!