Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Surprise Raspberry Bush

At the same time that my friends' kids discovered the hidden cache of rhubarb in my backyard, we also noticed a berry bush. It was too early in the season to tell what kind of berries they'd be, but we thought they'd be either blackberry or raspberry. Turns out, they're raspberry bushes! The branches are just dripping with ripe fruit. Here's what I collected today:

Raspberries from my garden

Monday, July 30, 2012

Birthday Celebration: Part 3 (Fancy Dinner)

After the most perfect afternoon at the spa, it was time for a luxury dinner at the Burlington in the Devonshire Arms--one of Yorkshire's best restaurants. The location is absolutely stunning, right near Bolton Abbey.

Our reservations were for 7:00 p.m., but they asked us to arrive at 6:30. They sat us in the cocktail lounge where we ordered dirty martinis and were offered canapés. The chef made a roasted red pepper puree with tomato water jelly and goat cheese. It's hard to describe, but it was so refreshing and surprising. It was an excellent start to our meal!


Roasted red pepper, tomato and goat cheese

We then moved into the dining room to start our eight-course (!) tasting menu. First up, a grapefruit and basil "mojito." It was too sour for me, but the chef used really cool techniques that I've only seen on TV, like foams, jellies, and other molecular gastronomy tricks.

Grapefruit basil mojito

Our next course was a strawberry and red pepper gazpacho with goats cheese curd and basil. The picture doesn't do it justice at all. This was one of my favorite courses of the night. It was fantastic--almost like drinking a strawberry daquiri. The cheese was just perfect too. Once again I was in awe of the chef's cool techniques--a theme that continued through the night.

Strawberry and red pepper gazpacho

At this point we were also offered freshly baked breads with gourmet butters; I chose roasted red pepper with herbs and sea salt and used a roasted red pepper butter. YUM!

Our third course was my favorite of the night. It was a braised white asparagus with hen's yolk and girolle mushrooms. The egg yolk was cooked sous-vide so the texture was absolutely perfect. It was runny, but also slightly gelatinous. The mushroom puree was pure heaven, and the mushrooms added a great woody taste. The dish also had a mushroom foam that was creamy and salty at the same time. I was thisclose to licking my plate.

Braised white asparagus with hen's yolk

Course four was roasted cauliflower with cous-cous, curried raisins, carrot juice and cilantro. The cauliflower was perfectly caramelized and the cauliflower puree was really flavorful.

Roasted cauliflower

Time for a break to order wine. It takes a while considering the Burlington has more than 30,000 bottles!

The wine list

We were debating which wine to get, but then we saw this and had to go for it...just kidding!

£4,000 bottle of wine from 1899!

Next up, course number five: mushroom risotto with parmesan ice cream and sherry vinegar jellies. I've never had parmesan ice cream before, but it was so good! It tasted exactly like it sounds. I loved the combination of the hot risotto, the cold ice cream and the airy mushroom foam. Dan and I were joking that the chef must have gotten a huge delivery of mushrooms and red peppers because those were pretty much in every dish. Good thing I love them both!

Mushroom risotto with parmesan ice cream

You can tell this restaurant has a Michelin star from the excellent service we received. From the time we walked in the door we were constantly looked after by a slew of servers--our final count was eight just for us! When the head server found out that we ate fish but no meat, he suggested modifying the set vegetarian menu to include fish as the main course. They even printed a new menu for us to reflect this change. So, course number six was John Dory with sweet corn, mushrooms and purslaine (a sea herb).

John Dory with sweet corn puree

The fish was crispy on the outside and flaky and tender on the inside. It was perfectly seasoned too. The sweet corn puree was a perfect compliment to the fish, and I loved trying the purslaine which was crunchy and salty.

At this point I am definitely feeling the effects of the previous six courses. Although I am loving each course, I'm pretty grateful we're moving on to dessert. Turns out desserts were not my favorite. They just weren't the kind of flavors I like. Dan enjoyed them though.

Our seventh course and first dessert was a mango granita, cream cheese ice cream and oat biscuit. The mango granita was really refreshing, but I didn't like the cream cheese ice cream at all. It was way too tangy for me. Dan said he liked the range of flavors and textures though.

Mango granita with cream cheese ice cream

The final course of the evening, course eight, was a mint chocolate galette with mint and crème fraiche ice cream. Again, this wasn't my favorite because I don't love mint. I was really hoping it would be just plain chocolate, but it wasn't. There was a lot of great texture to this dessert, but it just wasn't my cup of tea.

Chocolate galette with mint and crème fraiche ice cream

We had the option to add a cheese course to our meal, but I couldn't even imagine it! The cheese cart looked great though. We found out that the restaurant trims each block of cheese daily to ensure that only the freshest sections are served. They also take the cheese out an hour before service to ensure that it will be the proper temperature when served.

Needless to say, this was an incredible meal that I'll remember for a long time. Is my husband the best, or what?

Catch up on my other birthday celebrations:
Part 1: Sushi Dinner
Part 2: Spa Day

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Birthday Celebration: Part 2 (Spa Day)

Dan gave me the perfect gift for my 30th birthday: a day at the spa and dinner at a Michelin-star restaurant!

Following my schedule, I left home at 12:15 with my workout clothes, swim suit, formal attire and make up kit.

In addition to using the facilities for the day, I could chose one 30 minute and one hour treatment. It was a no-brainer for me to get the full-body massage, but I couldn't decide between the mini facial and expresso hands treatment (nail file and polish). I was talked into the facial and I'm so glad for it! Both the massage and facial were so relaxing.

I loved the atmosphere of the spa. It used to be a barn so it had the beautiful brick, wood and glass that is characteristic of barn conversions.

Devonshire Health Barn

I loved just sitting by the pool and in the hot tub reading. I spent some time in the sauna too. It was incredible.

It was pretty much the most perfect afternoon, but the day wasn't over yet. I still had an eight-course dinner to look forward to! More on that in the next post :)

Catch up on my other birthday celebrations:
Part 1: Sushi Dinner
Part 3: Fancy Dinner

Friday, July 27, 2012

Birthday Celebration: Part 1 (Sushi Dinner)

This birthday was easily one of my best birthdays yet. Dan completely spoiled me rotten. There were so many components to my birthday celebrations that Dan even made me a schedule to keep everything straight.

Dan gave me this schedule first thing on the morning of my birthday. It definitely got me excited for the week!

You already saw the fantastic breakfast he made and the beautiful fresh flowers he cut from our garden. I couldn't wait to tear into the french toast since I knew he'd spent the previous two days making the brioche from scratch. It was everything I hoped for and more!

The rest of my morning was blissful. I did nothing. I stayed in my pajamas until around 4:30 p.m. I opened some gifts and cards, watched some TrueBlood (I'm only on season 3, so no spoilers, please!), and took a long bath. I also got to talk to several of my sweet friends and family who called to wish me a happy birthday. It was amazing.

Dan came home early to make my birthday cake. He went all out making a delicious yellow cake with fresh strawberries (that I picked!) and nutella, and then covered the cake with marshmallow fondant. I can't believe he made all of this from scratch--even the fondant!

Homemade Union Jack cake

Dan planned a huge gathering of friends for a sushi dinner. As I've lamented before, Harrogate doesn't have any sushi restaurants. Every Tuesday though the Chinese restaurant does sushi. How lucky is it that my birthday fell on a Tuesday?

Sushi in Harrogate

We had a huge turnout for dinner. Almost thirty people came! Dan brought party hats for everyone. So fun!

A big highlight was when we cut the cake and everyone sang happy birthday to me. I loved it!

Dan also brought sparklers for the top of the cake, but the restaurant wouldn't let us light them inside. No problem, we just took the party outside.

It really was such a fantastic day. I couldn't have asked for anything better. Lucky me though, it did get better! Stay tuned for part 2 of the birthday celebrations. Here's a sneak peak:

Catch up on my other birthday celebrations:
Part 2: Spa Day
Part 3: Fancy Dinner

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Happy Birthday to Me!!

Hooray! Today is my 30th birthday! In case you can't tell, I LOVE birthdays. Not just my own, but everyone's.

Even Google is excited it's my birthday :)

Dan has a whole bunch of great stuff planned for me, so stay tuned for those details. In the meantime, here's what I woke up to this morning.

Fresh flowers from the garden; fresh squeezed o.j.

homemade french toast from homemade bread

My birthday schedule!

Monday, July 23, 2012

DIY Plush Alphabet

My best friend's baby just turned one this week. I am still in shock that Katie has a baby, let alone a one year old! Austin is like a real person now. Last I saw her, she looked like this:

Austin: 3 weeks old

I moved to England just a few weeks after Austin was born, but I've been able to watch her grow up through Skype and Facebook. Isn't technology amazing?

I wanted to make something special to celebrate this huge milestone. When I saw a tutorial for plush alphabet letters I thought it fit the bill nicely.

Plush Alphabet Tutorial

I knew this would be a challenge, especially since I am just learning how to sew, but I was encouraged by this statement in the tutorial:
Who's going to care if you the hole you cut out on the letter "O" is a little wonky? I won't--I mean, look at that hole on my own letter "O" above. This pot will not be calling any kettles black.
Free license to make my letters wonky? I'll take it!

My first step in making these letters was to get the fabric. I went to my local fabric store, but they didn't have what I was looking for. After doing some research online, I discovered that I needed a "layer cake" which is 20-40 10" inch squares of coordinating fabric. I fell in love with this fabric from the Missouri Star Quilting Company:

Fiona's Fancy 10" Squares by Lila Tueller for Riley Blake Designs 

I also bought batting and magnets online.  Initially I intended to make the letters magnetic; however, magnets are very toxic if swallowed. I didn't trust my sewing enough to guarantee that the seams wouldn't rip and the magnet wouldn't come out. I made the first several letters into magnets, but decided halfway through to abandon that. Luckily it was easy to take the magnets out and make them plush toys instead.

I cut fifty-two 4 inch squares of batting--I used two squares for each letter. You really don't need to cut exact squares though. Each letter is pretty small (only around an inch), so it might be better to cut as you go rather than doing them all the same size in advance.


They really are super strong!

The tutorial from Chez Beeper Bebe included printouts for the letters. You can use any font you like though. I appreciated that these had as few curves as possible :)

Now that I had my fabric, batting and letters, it was time to get started. I arranged the fabrics in a way that was pleasing to my eye and grabbed my "z" fabric.

Following the tutorial, I traced my letter in reverse onto small pieces of folded fabric and then placed the batting in between the layers.

Since I initially planned to make these into magnets, I put the magnet in between the fabric and first layer of batting. This put the magnet at the back of the finished letter (because I traced the letter in reverse).

Then I sewed the letter, following the lines I traced. At this point I realized I like some letters way more than other letters. Z is always welcome in my home--S, not so much.

Nice straight lines

Lots of mean curves

This project took me a while, mostly because I'm such a novice sewer. For someone who actually knows how to sew, it is a relatively easy project. I think they turned out great though. Definitely wonky and homemade, but pretty cute.

I used some leftover fabric to made a quick draw-string bag for the letters.

I am so thrilled by the way these turned out. I'm even happier to hear that Austin is enjoying them!

Happy birthday Austin!! Aunt Calli loves you :)