Thursday, July 31, 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, July 29, 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, July 27, 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, July 23, 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!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Saying Good-Bye to Our House

It is the end of an era. This weekend we said goodbye to our wonderful Harrogate home. We will still be living in Harrogate for the next five weeks, but we moved out of our house on Friday and are now living in a furnished apartment in town center.

It feels like yesterday that we participated in House Hunters International, but really, it's been almost three years! There is so much that I will miss about this house, but there are some things that I'm glad to be rid of. In no particular order, they are:

Things I'll Miss:

Good riddance to:
  • The plumbing--all of it! The faucets (sinks and showers) were not mixed tap, meaning I could get hot or cold, but not warm water. The toilets all flushed differently, and sometimes not at all. And, of course we can't forget about the flood that destroyed our guest bedroom.
  • The cheap vinyl kitchen floor that was peeling at each corner.
  • The ten different types of light bulbs that burnt out on a monthly basis.

For all its faults, there was a lot of love in that house. I'll always remember throwing Dan a 30th birthday bash; hosting our friends for Thanksgiving; and bringing Zahara home, just to name a few happy memories. Here's to our next adventure!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Zahara's First Birthday Party

Zahara's first birthday has come and gone, but I can't let it go without telling you about our amazing day. When she first woke up, we filled her crib with "happy birthday" balloons and let her free. I wasn't sure how she'd react, if at all, but she loved them! She kept trying to bounce on them/hug them and then would giggle as they flew out of her reach.

We had a small party at home with some of Zoey's friends. This year definitely would not have been the same without the yoga babies. I am going to miss them so much when we leave later this summer.

I tried to reign it in and not go overboard with decorating. I made some simple bunting and spread the balloons around the house. We turned the living room into a play room by moving the coffee table out and layering down blankets and toys. It was chaos, but the babies loved it!

Every month for the past year I've been taking pictures of Zoey in the same outfit on the same blanket (thanks Aunt Katie!). I printed all those pictures out and hung them on a clothes line. I also added some of her memorable outfits, like the dress she wore at her baby naming and meet-the-baby party.

We had a simple barbecue with hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad and watermelon. The baby-friendly burgers were a hit.

I made simple, personalized gift bags filled with treats to thank everyone for coming. Don't laugh, but that blue plastic ball is actually a dog toy! Zahara loves it though.

Dan made the most amazing cakes for the party. He made one for everyone and a special "smash cake" for Zahara. Knowing how messy and enthusiastic Zoey normally is around food, we were sure that she would take the term smash cake literally. I even changed her into a different outfit thinking her party dress would get ruined. Wouldn't you know, this was the one time Zahara decided to act lady-like.

Everyone sang happy birthday to her--including all four grandparents via Google hangout--and then she very gingerly dipped her finger into the icing and into her mouth. Deciding that she liked it, she did the same delicate move again. Finally, I stuck her hand in the cake to let her know that it was OK. She kind of got the hang of it, but it definitely wasn't the reaction I thought it would be.

The best thing at the party was our photo booth. We set up a camera with a remote, put out some fun props and told people to let loose. We got some amazing shots! It's so easy to see why I love these folks.

Happy of happiest birthdays to my darling baby girl. We love you Zahara!