Friday, December 24, 2010

Thanksgiving 2009 and our fifth wedding anniversary

Our American friends Steve and Jamie invited us to their Thanksgiving dinner in Chiswick, which we gladly accepted without realizing quite what we were getting ourselves into. Steve and Jamie are amazing hosts, and they made all 13 of their diners feel warm and welcome. Two of the guests were friends of theirs from Jacksonville who were living in Paris at the time. John was attending culinary school in Paris and was then working in the kitchens at the Ritz Hotel. We brought a turkey from the farmer’s market, which he volunteered to cook. We were happy to just sit back and relax and see him work his magic, and my goodness he did not disappoint. He and Jamie made all the food, and it was quite possibly the best meal of my life. We had turkey with truffled gravy, ridiculous mashed potatoes, spinach cheese casserole, sweet potatoes with brandied marshmallow cream, rolls, amazing stuffing, cranberries, the whole works. And in the best of company. It figures we had to go all the way to England to meet Steve and Jamie, who I could have known when we were all at UF together, but if somehow they had been the only thing we got out of our time in London, they alone would have been worth it.

We somehow stumbled back to Marylebone that night and fell into a food and wine-induced stupor, but we got to sleep in the next morning because it was our anniversary, and all we had to do was make it out to the Cotswolds for a weekend at a fancy country inn.

We took the train from Paddington out to a very small town in the Cotswolds, where caught a cab to our inn, The Lords of the Manor. It’s a very silly name but a not-at-all-silly place. The inn used to be some sort of stately home, and it is all Cotswold stone and leaded glass and ivy trailing on the walls. My jaw dropped when we pulled up in the cab. The porter took our bags and led us to our room, which was the prettiest hotel room I have ever seen, with gorgeous antique furniture and a giant bath tub with gleaming brass faucet and handles. We settled in, then went for a short walk around the village, which looked like a movie, it was so perfect. You couldn’t even tell what year it was; it could just as easily have been 1809 as 2009. We got back to the hotel in time to have some tea and scones in one of the common rooms with big leather club chairs and a roaring fire. Later we went back to our room to play some board games, exchange gifts, and get ready for dinner.

The hotel was doing a special wine dinner that evening, led by a representative of the Tuscan vineyard where all the wines had come from. We started out in one of the common rooms with canapés and sparkling wine, then moved into the dining room. The full menu is below:

  • · Canapés with Bruno Giacosa Spumante 2004, Piemonte, Italy
  • · Roasted Diver Caught Scallops and Sweetbreads, Date Chutney, Chicken Jus with Tiefenbrunner Kirchleiten Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Alto Adige, Italy
  • · Loin and Shoulder of Lighthorne Lamb, Roasted Aubergines, Grelot Onions, Gratin Potatoes, Rosemary Lamb Jus with Ornellaia 1994, Tenuta dell’ Ornellaia Bolgheri, Italy and Ornellaia 2001, Tenuta dell’ Ornellaia Bolgheri, Italy
  • · Locally Produced Cheeses, Chutney and Biscuits with Le Serre Nuove 2007 Tenuta dell’ Ornellaia Bolgheri, Italy
  • · Valrhona Chocolate Tart, Manjari Ganache, Passion Fruit Sorbet, Chocolate Croquant with Vigna Serre Recioto della Valpollicella 2003 Romaro dal forno, Veneto, Italy
  • · Coffee & Petit Fours

The wine guy was highly entertaining and led us through all the tastings. He gave a little notebook to each table so we could right down our own tasting notes. It was really fun. By the end of the evening we were completely stuffed and happy and very much in love.

The next day, after a “light” full English breakfast, we felt like a country walk might be in order, so we borrowed some wellies from the front desk and went tromping away across the countryside. We were staying in the village of Upper Slaughter, and we first walked down to Lower Slaughter, which we had seen with the Marders the year before. We walked along a stream for part of the way and saw the old mill in the little village. Then there was a footpath through a forest and a field with grazing horses, and then we came to another village, Bourton-on-the-Water, which we had also visited with the Marders. We walked through the little lanes and made fun of the touristy little shops, then had some tea and started our walk back to the hotel. It was a typically grey English day, but it felt right for trudging along in wellies until we got within a few hundred meters of the hotel when we hit a slippery patch of leaves on the hillside and poor Andrew took a muddy fall. We got him as cleaned up as possible, then got up to our room for a hot bath to clean away the mud and the embarrassment. While Andrew was soaking, I called down to the front desk and had them send up a giant tray of tea, scones, and sandwiches, which we enjoyed while wearing our robes and sitting in our comfy little sitting room. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so pampered as I did at that moment.

Later in the evening we went downstairs to yet another one of the common rooms, where the hotel’s sommelier was holding a champagne tasting. Perfect! We got to taste five or six different ones, and we made friends with another young couple who was staying at the hotel for a birthday celebration. Later on we sat with them at the bar before dinner, and we met up for a nightcap afterwards, sitting in front of the fire and feeling very sophisticated. Here’s the menu:

  • · Mosaic of Adlestrop Estate Game, Spiced Pear Purée, Toasted Brioche, or
  • · Poached Free Range Hen's Egg, Onion Purée, Toasted Brioche, Lambs Lettuce, Parma Ham
  • · Poached and Roasted Breast of Corn Fed Chicken, Salsify, Gratin Potatoes, Braised onions, Cep Velouté, or
  • · Fillet of Sea bream, Celeriac Purée, Wild Mushroom, Confit Potato, Red Wine Sauce

The cheese course was completely over the top, with a whole cart full of dozens of British cheeses for tasting, with little homemade crackers and chutneys as accompaniment.

The next morning we had another delicious breakfast, then sat by the fire and read while we waited for our cab back to the train and home. It was the best weekend of my life, and a perfect way to celebrate five beautiful years of marriage.

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