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Effervescent storyteller.

Welcome to My Modern Diary, an electronic journal filled with tales of nostalgic cuisine, wistful wanderings & personal recollections by Sarah Orman.

England - home!

England - home!

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The second country on our epic vacation was none other than the motherland. It goes without saying that I was super excited about this leg of the journey; we were spending a whole week at home surrounded by family and friends!

We arrived at the train station a little after 9:00 PM on December 20th. Tired and hungry yet overjoyed to be home, we made our way from the platform to the car after greeting my mom {or "mam" as she prefers because I know she'll be reading this!}

As we dragged our suitcases through the crowd and out into the cold, dark night, a familiar voice from behind me called out "taxi for Orman!" Screams of surprise and bear-gripping hugs ensued as I realized the voice came from none other than my older sister, who had spent the past several weeks avoiding me so as not to ruin this genuine surprise! Let me back-track a little here and give this moment some context...

My sister moved South of London last year, which was a huge shock for my family as she had always resided no further than ten miles from the home we grew-up in {just twenty minutes from the border of Scotland}. I took for granted that she would always be close to my parents and never really considered that she would one day "flee the nest" herself. Despite being utterly ecstatic that she is now a new person who has never looked back on the changes she made, I was secretly angry that I heard the unfortunate news that she wouldn't be home for my 30th birthday and for Christmas from our mother. I waited with baited breath for a phone call, an email or even a text to apologize, to receive some kind of explanation, only to grow ever more disappointed day-by-day until our departure was imminent.

A week before we left for Austria, I finally said how I felt out loud to some girlfriends at work. I tried to skirt quickly around the subject as they excitedly asked me questions about my plans, however, when it came to talking about seeing all of my family it was hard to avoid the obvious; I wasn't going to see my only sister. They were all silently stunned as I tried to make excuses, however, the response was glaringly unanimous; I was flying home from the United States and my sister couldn't make the journey home from within the same country?

I tried not to let it upset me and I think I even got to a point where I was at peace with the situation. And so we headed home on December 20th with absolutely NO IDEA that for weeks my family had been plotting behind my back...

I can honestly say that first hearing and then seeing my sister that night was the best surprise I've ever had. No, seriously. Best. Surprise. Ever. It probably seems somewhat tame to be labelled the best surprise ever, I mean, it wasn't a round-trip ticket to Argentina or a table for two at the French Laundry?! But it was totally amazing none-the-less. Let me try to elaborate why...

First-off, I love surprises. I love being caught off-guard by something so wonderful and so incredible that for a split second, a single moment in time, you are truly filled with nothing but happiness. My problem is that while I genuinely love surprises, I have a terrible habit of spoiling them... yes, I'm the kid that hunted for her Christmas presents only to be pissed-off when I found them, the girlfriend who quizzed her boyfriend about the engagement ring, the wife who listens to the hushed conversation near Valentine's Day and the friend who is so damned impossible to buy a gift for that folks usually ask?! I'm not in the least bit proud of these traits, goodness no. But for whatever reason I can't seem to help it.

And so this is why the appearance of my sister that night can be labelled as the best surprise I've ever had in the past 30 years; because I honestly and 100% authentically had no clue she was coming home.

With the addition of intense excitement for my imminent 30th birthday party and the usual commotion of Christmas, our first night in my parents home was filled with enough love, chatter and laughter to make a girl high : )

The following day was no exception. On Sunday afternoon we headed to Askham Hall to celebrate the big 3-0 with 40 of my closest family and friends. From start to finish the party was beyond belief. Firstly, the venue was superb. I trusted my mam entirely with the venue selection when approximately one month prior to December 21st I began to panic about having nothing booked. In truth, I had been procrastinating, largely due to the fact that I just couldn't find exactly what I was looking for.

Despite my mam's obvious worry as to whether she had done the right thing by choosing Askham Hall, I was prepared to let go and have a great time regardless, even if things weren't perfect. For those of you who read my blog and don't know me personally, this is a huge deal... I am a total perfectionist and letting go is extremely hard for me, in fact, it's damned near impossible.

Although I was prepared to settle for less-than-perfect because I know my standards are stupidly high, I was totally elated that in this circumstance there was no need to tell myself to "let go" or turn a blind eye because everything was so freaking impeccable! The roaring open fire, the tiny tasty morsels being passed in the lounge prior to sitting down for lunch, the Champagne top-up the moment my glass was empty, the faultless layout of the dining room, the cozy atmosphere and the home-from-home feeling... every single part of it was just incredible.

And the food? Oh. My. Word. RIDICULOUS! As I circled the dining room to chat with all my family and friends, everyone told me how delicious the food had been; from the homemade bread served with local langoustines, fresh smoked salmon, shrimp cocktail, smoked salmon mousse and oysters, to the slow-roasted lamb shoulder served with dauphinoise potatoes. The final course was a delicate treacle tart served with clotted cream ice-cream before we retreated to the lounge for coffee, homemade mince pies and macarons. I was speechless. Everything was just so divine.

However, more than theĀ  stunning venue, the outstanding staff, the perfect wine selection and the most exquisite food were of course the people; the 40 family and friends who came from near and far to celebrate my birthday.

When I started thinking about my 30th in the fall of last year, it occurred to me that I will never ever have the opportunity to celebrate with all of my family and friends under one roof {holy moly, even it were to happen I can guarantee it would be so crazy good I wouldn't remember it anyway?!} This realization made me a little somber and I started to question why I even wanted to do something in England when I don't really see my UK-based family and friends very often. I was nervous about who would come, I felt anxious about whether people would have a good time and I worried that perhaps it was all just too much... how very wrong I was.

Seeing everyone from my amazing 85-year-old grandma to my best friend from college filled me with nothing but joy and happiness. I laughed with "the bezzies" and gossiped with my cousins. I cuddled my high-school buddy's baby boy and toasted the future with my Aunt and Uncle. I got tipsy with my big sister and giggled at my dad planning a vacation to the far East. I held tightly my dear friend from London who shared exciting plans for his future and I joked with my parents' cronies as they drank every drop and ate every morsel in the "naughty room." I beamed with excitement when my cherished friends from Newcastle told me they were saving to visit us and I smiled at my mam when I seen just how happy she was to have both my sister and I at home.

It was totally perfect.

The rest of the week was filled with delicious birthday cake, copious amounts of wine, a magnum of Prosecco, raucous laughter at the local pub, cuddles with Purdy, mam's amazing sticky toffee pudding, Christmas quizzes, surprise gifts, cuddles from babies and children, grandma's homemade pie, faux ice-skating, tipsy dancing and of course dreaded goodbyes...

There are but a handful of iPhone snaps from our week in England. For the most part they're not great. In fact, anyone who doesn't know me will likely pay no attention to them as they are so very far from "picture-perfect." But this small collection of images is filled with incredibly special memories that a thousand words could never explain. And so I leave you with this tiny visual glimpse of how magical part 2 of our vacation was. I guess turning 30 wasn't so bad after all : )

 

 

Iceland - Reykjavik

Iceland - Reykjavik

Austria - Salzburg

Austria - Salzburg