Saturday, January 29, 2022

Looking back at 2021 is tough as it was filled with a never-ending lockdown in the United Kingdom and several losses.

Volunteering, sourdough baking, making restaurant meal kits and cooking helped fill the voids, but those were temporary fixes. Losing a loved one is always difficult.

2021 started with Britain officially leaving the European Union, and some crazy Americans storming the U.S. capitol 2 weeks before U.S. President Joe Biden took office.

We celebrated Biden’s inauguration from London with homemade hamburger buns, hamburgers, mac-n-cheese from a box and freshly baked apple pies.

Another Zoom cooking class from Africa to London.

On March 26th, we celebrated another wedding anniversary in lockdown by cooking up a Caribbean feast at home. We made jerk chicken and Jamaican peas and rice. Hey, might as well try to “travel” somewhere, right?

The UK lockdown dragged on until April 12th when pubs and restaurants with outdoor seating could FINALLY reopen – after being closed since mid-December 2020. On April 12th, I also received my second Covid-19 vaccine that day, and we left London as fast as we could. We were itching for a break from the city, so we hired a car and headed to North Yorkshire for almost 2 weeks. Our holiday was filled with long walks and afternoon/early evening pub visits so long as we were fully bundled up in layers. It was pretty chilly out.

You don’t realize how much of your UK life revolves around the pub until you can’t go anymore. Not that we were total boozers, but we often went on long walks or bike rides on the weekends and then stopped at a local pub for a drink and food.

During our Yorkshire staycation, the locals at the Fox & Hounds Inn in the wee village of West Witton made us feel welcome.

At the end of April, we had a family emergency in the US and we flew back for nearly a month. It was a very sad and devastating time for us all.

Summer 2021

The summer of 2021 was filled with many summer BBQs with friends in London, fine dining experiences and as many English side trips we could fit in…because it was to be our last summer in London.

In June, we visited Stonehenge and, on the drive, back to London, we booked a tour at the Bombay Sapphire Distillery. Living in the UK for five years taught me to enjoy gin. Sitting in the sunshine enjoying our gin cocktails and eating a picnic box filled with local cheeses and charcuterie felt like perfection!

Having been deprived of restaurants for so many months, we decided to treat ourselves to a few Michelin-starred lunches and dinners.

We booked a belated birthday lunch at Marcus where we enjoyed 3 courses for £55. Highlights were English asparagus with roasted chicken fat mayonnaise, roasted salmon with Cornish new potatoes and a buttermilk panna cotta with cherries for dessert.

Then, we joined our Turkish friends at Murano, Chef Angela Harnett’s one-Michelin starred restaurant in Mayfair, for a fabulous five-course dinner. Highlights included crispy veal sweetbread with artichoke and fennel, risotto with summer truffles and a perfectly-cooked beef fillet with bone marrow and black garlic.

In July, we managed to squeeze in one last trip to Scotland to sightsee and visit our friends in the Scottish Highlands. On our first night, we stayed in a 19th-century manor house that looked like a castle called the Kincraig Castle Hotel, just north of Inverness. Our lovely dinner included local scallops with pickled samphire and roast apple, Scottish lamb with watercress pesto and local cheeses for dessert. Delicious!

At the end of July, my husband moved back to the US to start his new job, I stayed on in London to wrap up our international move and to spend more time with friends. I was reluctant to leave. We had lived abroad for 11 years and now we were returning to the US. I felt like a foreigner in both places, but London had been my “home” for the last five years.

One special goodbye lunch was with my pastry girlfriend the elegant Hélène Darroze, a three-Michelin starred restaurant at The Connaught Hotel. There were too many dishes to remember, but highlights included my main of roasted Welsh lamb and the desserts. Dining here is a definitely an experience that you won’t forget!

TIP: Often, fine dining restaurants like the ones I’ve mentioned offer incredible lunch deals, which are usually a fraction of the cost of dinner. Also, look for special menus posted on restaurant’s websites or through reservations sites such as Opentable.

Looking back, I had a lot of delicious meals with good friends during my last few weeks in London. Whether we were having sushi, fancy cocktails or market hall lunches or country-side pub lunches, it all seemed special.

Moving back to the U.S.

At the end of August, I said a tearful goodbye to the good friends I stayed with my last week in London and joined my husband in Charlotte, North Carolina. I’ve written about NC before on the blog because that’s where my in-laws live. Since we’ve lived outside of the U.S. for 11 years, we decided that was probably time to live closer to family for a while.

So far, Charlotte seems like an alright place to live for a few years. The metropolitan population is around 2.6 million people, so it’s a small city for us. We’re having fun checking out the local breweries and restaurants. Two dining highlights from 2021 revolved around smoked meat. Since we’re in the South, we’re taking advantage of all the really good barbecue joints.

In October, we dined at Supperland, an old church that’s been converted to a barbecue restaurant, for hubby’s birthday. Highlights included grilled oysters with burnt ember butter that was poured out a ceramic teapot (outstanding!), charred broccoli with bone marrow butter and grilled lamb neck. We’ll definitely be dining here again.

That same weekend, we also had a friend visiting us from Austin, Texas, who had read about a popular barbecue place about 45 minutes outside of Charlotte. Jon G’s Barbecue, located in the rural town of Peachland, is only open on Saturdays and serves BBQ until it runs out. We arrived at 9:30 a.m. with our camping chairs and cooler in tow. This was one of the strangest, but also coolest things we had done all for the sake of good food.

Basically, everyone hangs out in an orderly line, talking to your neighbors and then you get to order your BBQ. We waited in line a little over 2 hours, but so far, this has been the best damned BBQ that I’ve ever had. We ordered a little bit of everything off the menu – pulled pork, smoked turkey breast, homemade sausages, mouthwatering brisket and side dishes. Even the “cowboy candy” – jalapeno slices cooked in simple syrup – was a delight!

Well, 2021 was an interesting year – filled with a lot of highs and lows due to the ongoing pandemic. I’m hoping that 2022 will be a little bit kinder to us and that we’ll continue to eat well. 



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