Tuesday, June 28, 2011
June 7, 2011. Larry turned 40.
We kicked off the celebration a little early, though - just the two of us. (Which coincidentally was the same day as our 8th anniversary.) My surprise invitation:
I picked out this bottle specifically for the picture of the Roogle - a cross between a kangaroo and an eagle!
(And also because it was a highly acclaimed wine, according to the peeps at Total Wine.)
Larry and I are huge fans of Top Chef, and particularly of Chef Bryan Voltaggio from Season 6. (Or maybe that's just me - Bryan Voltaggio is my celebrity crush. Yes, that's right, I choose chefs over movie stars!) We've both been wanting to eat at his restaurant, VOLT, which is about an hour north of us. A fortieth birthday seemed like the perfect occasion to check it out.
The whole experience was fantastic. We started with drinks at the bar, and as we were waiting, someone said "Excuse me" and walked past us - it was Chef Voltaggio! (I promptly elbowed Larry in the ribs and hissed "that was him!") We also saw the man himself in the dining room - so, it was nice to know that the chef was in the house that night! Despite his celebrity status, the restaurant was elegant and understated and all the diners were polite and respectful.
And the food...oh, the food was so delicious.
What we ate:
Larry - clam chowder, sweetbreads*, lamb, apple cake.
Me - shitake veloute, goat cheese ravioli, halibut, goat cheese cake.
(*Yes, I did try Larry's sweetbreads, despite my aversion to offal. And it was delicious! I still am not sure exactly what I was eating...and it's probably better that way. I had always thought sweetbreads were brains, but evidently, it could be just about any animal part. Hmm.)
In addition to that, there were several types of fresh baked bread (Chef Voltaggio serves as pastry chef, too, so the breads and desserts are also his recipes), an amuse bouche which consisted of foie gras (again with the organ meat!) inside some sort of meringue puff (sounds weird, tasted awesome), a fantastic bottle of wine, a special dessert (pistachio semifreddo) since it was Larry's birthday, homemade chocolate truffles (in case you're counting, that's the fourth dessert we had there!), and a doggie bag of apple coffee cake muffins to take home for breakfast the next day. (We'll definitely be going back, and hope to check out Table 21 - the chef's table next to the kitchen - for the 21-course tasting menu.)
I was polite enough to not go all paparazzi on the food (or Chef Voltaggio), but here's a pic of the outside of the restaurant, which is housed in a 19th century mansion in downtown Frederick, Maryland.
During Larry's birthday week, he got a surprise in the mail - 40 birthday cards...
...with 40 messages from friends and family.
On Tuesday, his actual birthday, he woke up to Forty by John Eddie, which includes liberal usage of the
f-bomb along with the lyrics "I guess I'm f*ckin' forty"...
...and treats from me and the dogs.
Banjo and Gravy got him the wine - Faithful Hound and Mad Dogs & Englishmen: (We drank them later that night.)
Is anyone surprised that this happened?
Then we hit the road for a drive through the country.
We stopped for lunch at the Market Salamander in Middleburg.
And we took a hike through the blooming mountain laurels in the Shenandoah Mountains.
Then we came home to enjoy the evening on our patio with grilled food, pyrotechnics, a miniature coconut cake, and a bonfire.
The 40 firestarter (an idea I stole from A Subtle Revelry):
I can't hear/type the word firestarter without getting that *#&@^%$ song by Prodigy stuck in my head. I'm a firestarter, twisted firestarter...
(Can you believe this song is 15 years old?!)
It didn't really achieve the domino effect of flame that I was hoping for (the matches weren't close enough together), but it still looked cool.
Then time for the bonfire! All boys like to play with fire, even when they're forty:
Banjo liked it, too. (I think at this point Gravy had already put himself to bed.)
Time for a confession: I didn't make Larry a cake. It was his 40th birthday and I didn't make him a cake.
I grew up having never eaten a store-bought cake. My mom made everyone's birthday cakes herself, and even took a cake decorating class when I was a child so she could make masterpieces for our birthdays. And I think that's the way it should be - everyone deserves a homemade cake for their birthday. I have always made cakes (or sometimes pies, because that's what he's requested) for Larry's birthday, and I had grand plans for Larry's 40th birthday cake. And then I ran out of time. At midnight before his birthday, I still hadn't started making the cake, and I realized it was foolish to start. I felt terrible and had to confess to Larry that I didn't make him a cake.
Of course, Larry was completely cool about it and had been saying that he didn't want a cake anyway because then the two of us are stuck eating an entire cake ourselves (what's the problem with that again?). So on the way back from Shenandoah, we stopped at Wegmans to pick up some meat and veggies to throw on the grill for dinner. As we walked through the impressive bakery section (if you've never been to a Wegmans, it's not your ordinary grocery store), Larry was drawn like a moth to a flame to a miniature coconut cake. "This is my birthday cake!" he proclaimed, and tossed it in our cart buggy. (Larry calls shopping carts "buggies". Isn't that cute?)
So not only was Larry's cake store-bought (and not even from a bakery, but from a grocery store), but he picked it out himself. Complete fail on my part.
But here's the thing: That cake was freaking delicious. The two of us devoured the whole thing, raved that it tasted homemade, and said that we never need to bake our own cakes again. (Of course I will, but I'm telling you, those Wegman's cakes are really delicious. I kind of have a craving for one right now.)
We finished off the evening with the wine I mentioned earlier and a toast to my boy...
Forty cheers for forty years!
I love you, babe. (And I'm still sorry I didn't make you a cake!)
Sunday, June 26, 2011
A couple weeks ago we celebrated Larry's birthday. It was a very important birthday - worthy of several days of celebration - but I'll write more about that later.
On his actual birthday, I convinced him to play hooky from work and we headed west to Shenandoah National Park for a day in the mountains.
I imagine that people who have never been here envision Virginia looking like this.
If only the whole state was this beautiful!
By June in Virginia, it is often already too hot to hike. But if you are lucky enough to get a temperate day, it always amazes me how green everything is in June - after a rainy May and before the inevitable droughts in July and August, for a few weeks everything is growing like crazy and eye-poppingly green.
We hiked the White Oak Canyon Trail. We didn't bring the dogs with us, so we were able to stop for lunch along the way and hike at our own pace without two male dogs needing to pee on everything.
The best surprise was that the mountain laurel were in full bloom. I have a near obsession with mountain laurel (so much so that See Mountain Laurel in Bloom was an item on my Summer List! Check!). I have a vivid childhood memory of hiking somewhere surrounded by blooming laurels and I've been obsessed with recreating that experience. I still don't know where the memory is from, but I was ecstatic when we drove into the park and the woods were just full of it. Beautiful.
It was frustrating to photograph. Mountain laurel doesn't really show up well in pictures, but the woods were just full of it as far as you could see.
As for the rest of the hike, I'll let the pictures do the talking...