Vacation Highlights: England

Here are just a few highlights from our lovely family vacation in England last month.


We spent the first part of our trip visiting Harrogate in North Yorkshire.  We lived here when I was a little girl and I loved sharing all my favorite places with my nieces.

Valley Gardens

My brother and I used to play with toy boats in the boat pond when we were little and it’s always a great place for a Sunday picnic.  One of my nieces’ most favorite things about our entire trip was the zip line at their playground.  It’s a fascinating learning experience seeing how differently playgrounds are designed in another country.  Even big kids can have fun at this one!

Betty’s Tea Room

Betty’s first opened in 1919 in Harrogate.  I could eat every meal here and just about do when I’m in town.  The Yorkshire Rarebit is our family favorite with heaping spoonfuls of Betty’s tomato chutney.  I buy boxes of their tea and chutney when I’m there and online, so I can enjoy it all year.  I wish we had traditional tea rooms in DC.


In business since 1840, this is a must-stop for anyone with a sweet tooth.  Known for their toffees, my brother is obsessed with the Pear Drops, while I’m a huge fan of the Strawberry Bon Bons, Milk Caramels and Dolly Mix.

The Drum and Monkey

A fairly traditional British restaurant in a historic building.  Known for their seafood to most, the main reason I keep going back here is the Avocado with French Dressing starter.  There is a secret recipe for the French Dressing that no one can divulge.  It is AMAZING!


Buckingham Palace and Kate’s Wedding Dress

Since 1993, Buckingham Palace opens its doors to the public for a few months.  As soon as we learned that Kate’s wedding dress was going on display while we were going to be in London, we bought tickets.  The palace is as impressive as you would expect, but I was mostly overwhelmed by the beautiful collection of artwork on display.  It must be so inspiring to be surrounded by such beauty all the time.

As beautiful and fitting as I thought the gown was on TV and in pictures, my admiration significantly increased when I was able to see the very subtle details of the design and learn more about the process Sara Burton and her team went through to custom design by hand the lace patterns on the dress.  I’m also now the owner of an official ceremony programme in case any of my clients want to borrow some of their ideas.

St. Ermin’s Hotel

This hotel just re-opened after a major renovation. The location, the interior design and the staff are all top-notch.  We literally felt like royalty during our stay (thanks again, Gary! (one of the fabulous Concierges)).  I would stay here again and again and plan to the next time I am in London.

Summer Sales in London

I had been on a shopping hiatus for months, the summer sales were coming to an end and the fashion trends were finally leaving the 80s behind.  Needless to say, I shopped like crazy.  Zara, TopShop and H&M continue to be great options for trendy pieces at affordable prices.  Even though these shops have U.S. outposts, the collections are quite different.  Miss Selfridges is still a favorite for me, as well as some of the UK shops like Whistles for classic pieces, L.K. Bennett for shoes, and Monsoon for flowy, bohemian dresses and tops.

Dinner with Gwyneth Paltrow

via ELLE Magazine

I wish I could say that I actually did have dinner with Gwyneth when I was in London.  I didn’t. However, I did enjoy several of Gwyneth’s recommended restaurants, including two incredible, life-changing meals at her favorite restaurant.

Next time you are in London, I strongly recommend reserving a table at one of these fabulous restaurants.

La Petite Maison

53-54 Brooks Mews - Mayfair

On her blog, Goop, Gwyneth states that this is her favorite restaurant in London.  Having just eaten really well in London at a number and variety of fantastic restaurants, I now fully understand just how high of a compliment this is.  The food is simple and complex at the same time.  The presentation is beautiful and creative, but at the same time very authentic to the dish.  We had a lovely dinner one night and were so overwhelmed by the flavors, the service, and ambiance that we immediately booked a table for our final meal in London.

Everything we put in our mouths was delicious.  But, these dishes truly go beyond all existing words in their goodness.

Hors D’oeuvres:

Roasted red and yellow peppers (in a conversation with the chef, we learned that there is a white balsamic vinegar used to impart the subtle, but crucial acidity to this dish)

Carpaccio of scallops – this is an example of the genius of some chefs.  It’s beautiful to look at, with a beautiful assortment of “toppings.” With each bite you experience a multitude of flavors and textures – it just wouldn’t be the same with the little bit of candied citrus, the crunch of the nuts, the chives and whatever secret ingredients are used.  All the flavors combine perfectly with the subtly sweet sea water taste of the scallops.

Buratta with tomatoes – Absolute heaven! Enough said.

Salade Nicoise – I wasn’t as keen on this as the rest of my group because, hey, it’s salad.  That said, the presentation was beautiful and the southern French classic was quite enjoyable.  Perfect to share with your BFF for a quick and light lunch, but the others are so much more remarkable.

Plats Principaux:

Grilled Lamb Cutlets (lamb chops) – I love lamb and in my family, we have several favorite recipes that we make regularly.  It was unanimous that this was one of the best (some said THE BEST) lamb dishes ever tasted.  Again, what appears simple on the plate, was an explosion of flavors in the mouth.  This dish is yet another example of what I found so unique about the food here – as flavorful as the food is, no one flavor overpowers the other, and they all work in harmony to enhance the heart of the dish, the lamb.

Poulet au Foie Gras – This dish requires 55 minutes to make and is meant to serve at least 2, but easily 4.  We pre-ordered it for our second meal so we wouldn’t have to hold up everyone’s entrée.  Either way, it is worth the wait.  Easily, one of the best chickens ever.  I’m a lover of foie gras and it seems like they cook the fois gras in the cavity of the bird.  They also put slices of baguette inside during the cooking and the bread soaked in the juices was like icing on the cake.

Desserts:  Order all of these and share if you can because I can’t imagine eliminating one!

Madaleine with roasted apricots and almond milk ice cream

Lemon sorbet with vodka

Chocolate mousse with malt ice cream

Pain perdu with spice ice cream


66 Brewer Street - SoHo

From GOOP – At his restaurants, Mark Hix serves up a festive and dynamic feast and has all the London art world credentials you can conjure. At the Soho location, which is oriented toward a trendier crowd, you’ll dine surrounded by the work of London’s big time art-stars like Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Tim Noble and Sue Webster.

The food here is simple, classic, British.  The smoked Scottish salmon starter and the whole roasted chicken are amazing!  The Credit Crunch ice cream with hot chocolate sauce, divine.

La Famiglia

7 Langton Street – Belgravia

From GOOP – The quiet, charming street in Chelsea completely belies the feeling inside this joyous, boisterous, family-run restaurant. There’s also a beautiful outside patio where kids can enjoy the trees. The food is simple Italian done just right. Kids love the pasta and fried zucchini and so do I.

This was a great family-friendly choice for our last dinner in London.  My two nieces loved having dinner on the tent-covered back patio and the staff couldn’t have been friendlier or more attentive.  The food and service were so authentic,  you really thought you were in Italy!

Cup of Tea

I’m off to England for a short vacation and can’t wait to fill up on strong English tea, scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam!  Love this poster and truly believe a nice cup of tea makes everything better.

via Bodie and Fou

Inspired By: Weaver Nests

A few years ago I went camping for two weeks in East Africa with some dear friends of mine who spent three years on an overland safari throughout Africa (see their story here).  Being in the wilderness of Africa is a constant learning experience.  Everyone always talks about the Big Five, but there is so much more to explore and experience.

While camping in Ishasha, part of the Queen Elizabeth National Park in Southwestern Uganda near Congo, I was delighted to sleep next to this condominium of weaver nests.

Interestingly, the male weaver birds weave the nests in an effort to attract the females.  I had never seen anything like them before and apparently they are the most elaborate of any bird.

via Olosokwan Adventures

I’ve often thought about these nests and their awe-inspiringly beauty.  Lately, I’ve been seeing how much nature seems to be inspiring interior design and thereby events.   Recently, I came across these hanging outdoor “nests” and nearly fell off my chair.  They are probably as close as I’m going to get to being a weaver suspended from a tree branch!

from Dedon

And here are some ideas for incorporating nest-like lanterns at an outdoor dinner party.

via Concrete & Honey

via Style Me Pretty

I haven’t been able to find a source for lanterns like this yet.  Any suggestions?

Happy weekend and happy nesting!

French Friday: Paris Memories

It’s hard to believe I’ve been back from my birthday trip to Paris for two months.  Needless to say, April and May have been very busy.  Here are just a few of my favorites memories from my trip:

Musee Marmottan - an amazing collection of impressionist paintings in a beautiful historic home that, interestingly enough, can be rented for events

The delicious and visually stunning Une Dimanche a Paris, Pierre Cluizel’s chocolaterie and some goodies I bought for myself.  I was completely enamored by the chocolate dipped clementine confit.  Amazing!  Love the design, love the chocolate, love the packaging!

The chandelier in our hotel lobby, the Christian Lacroix designed Hotel Bellechasse

Even something as common as a drain pipe is a piece of art in Paris

A beautiful idea for DIY floral decor spotted in a shop window

Spring's floral bounty overflows at a local fleuriste

The last night in Paris, we had dinner at L’Absinthe, one of Michel Rostang’s restaurants.  It was simple, intimate, delicious and delightful.  I definitely plan to attempt to recreate at least one item from my dinner – the Chartreuse mojito.  Haven’t found a recipe yet, so let me know if you have any suggestions.

Lots of good food, shopping, walking and fabulousness, and, as usual, I’m ready to go back for more.

All photos by me.

Live the Language

Have you seen this yet?  I love how it captures the everyday adventures of traveling in a foreign country and, of course, beautiful, lovely, charming Paris. At the very least, it’s inspiration to use my Rosetta Stone French more.

Paris is Always a Good Idea


I’m so excited to be heading to Paris for a long weekend to celebrate my birthday.  Here are just a few of my favorite things that I’m looking forward to doing:

  • Macarons at Laduree
  • Picnic at the foot of the Eiffel tower
  • Dinner at Les DÔme
  • A long cup of café au lait at Les Deux Magots
  • A leisurely walk through Luxembourg Gardens
  • Enjoying some of the boutique chocolateries
  • Shopping, shopping, shopping

Have you seen these Live the Language posts around?  Of course, I love the one for Paris.

I will be back with my next 2011 Trend post next week.  Au revoir until then!

Bites of Chocolate

Last Fall when I was in Paris, I was on the lookout for the next “IT” trend.  Based on my trip, I guessed artisan chocolate shops.  All around town, I spied adorable boutiques with mouth-watering window displays and lines reaching out the door.  Some shops focused exclusively on chocolate, others covered all types of confections.

I love the fabulous design at Patisserie des Reves – a mix between a chic interior boutique and a chemistry lab.

photo by me

The New York Times perfectly captured what I saw in this article today.

Pierre Cluizel's chocolate venture. Bénédicte Maindiaux via NYTimes

Paving the way here in DC are two chocolatiers worth checking out, especially with Valentine’s Day around the corner - CoCo Sala and Artisan Confections.

via CoCo Sala

via Artisan Confections

St. Thomas Favorites

It has been especially hard to adjust to being back from vacation.  The frigid temperatures in the DC area and the craziness of catching up on a week of work have me wishing I were still sitting on the beach sipping a Drink of the Day.  I thought I would share a few of my daydreams with you.

My Favorite Things About My Trip to St. Thomas

1)  Eight days enjoying the perfect beach!

2)  Havana Blue – a fabulous restaurant we visit every year; you must try the ceviche and the miso sea bass – yum!

courtesy of Havana Blue

3)  Building princess sand castles with my nieces.

4)  The custom-made Caribbean lobster dinner the chef made to help us celebrate my Mom’s birthday.

5)  Making footprints, picture frames and ornaments with Magic Milk at SandArt.

What I don’t miss, the wretched cold we all came down with and the flight delays on the way back!

*unless otherwise stated, photos by me