Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lake District

This past weekend, I went to the Lake District in Northern England with all of my study abroad program. Before going, I was excited but also curious as to how I would tie an adventure weekend into a food blog, luckily for me, I was placed in the accommodations with an "award-winning kitchen." Students were split among three hostels and an adventure center, and by some stroke of luck I was assigned to stay at Glaramara in Borrowdale. It was gorgeous! The building was humble and rustic in its appearance with a brick building that housed the rooms and an old siding building with sloped roof that held the kitchen and dining room. The location was picturesque, to say the least, with sheep on both sides of the center, mountains all around, and luscious green grass in every direction. As soon as I disembarked the bus, the air smelled fresh and crisp. For dinner the first night, we had a choice of several appetizers, mains and desserts. The appetizers included the options of tomato basil soup, shrimp cocktail with a sort-of remoulade sauce, a salad, or a pasta. I opted for the pasta composed of penne noodles, olive oil, garlic, and artichoke hearts. The pasta was really good (I love artichokes) as was the soup, which I tried as well. For the main course, we had four choices including a lamb pie, salmon, chicken, and a vegetarian dish. I choose the salmon with mussels and a saffron cream sauce and it was to die for! The serving size was very reasonable and was topped with four or five mussels, all of which were perfectly cooked, and the sauce struck an ideal balance between too creamy and too runny. For dessert, we choose from homemade vanilla ice cream, fresh fruit or a sticky toffee pudding. Knowing I'm not a big ice cream person and wanting to be healthy, I opted for the ice cream. It was definitely homemade: certain bites were very good, creamy, and sugary, while the next bite contained chunks of sugar and others almost entirely cream. It's flavor reminded me of the ice cream we used to make at science fairs as a kid, although I'd ordered it with the intent of not eating much so I guess it was successful in that regard...

For breakfast the second day, there was a self-service buffet of toast, several jams, cereal, fried eggs, scrambled eggs, British bacon (which is basically ham), and sausage. It was fine and for mass-made eggs, they actually still tasted like real eggs. For lunch, we went through an assembly line to pack our lunches to take with us to the day's activities. We had a choice of sandwich halves, options of crisps (potato chips), a homemade brownie or some type of lemon berry cake, a choice of fruit, juice, and a mini Kit-Kat bar. The tuna sandwich was actually very good while the cheese was very bland and the cake was also very delectable. I opted out of the Kit-Kat though after consuming mass amounts of chocolate, Cadbury yummmm, on the bus ride to the Lake District. For the day's activity, I chose to climb England's tallest mountain, Scafell Pike. The hike was not too strenuous and the hardest part was the areas where the trail was comprised of giant rocks you had to just sort of jump between. From 3,209 feet above England though, the views were incredible! We were incredibly lucky with the weather that day but it was still a little too cloudy to make out Ireland, we could however see to part of Scotland. And who knew, sheep even climb up that high! Yes, there were sheep right near the summit! After such a great accomplishment, I was very excited for Saturday's dinner. To start with, we had a choice of a rocket (arugula) salad, mussels with a white wine cream sauce or potato leek soup. I ordered the potato leek soup after a long day on the windy side of the mountain. The soup was really good and had the envisioned warming effect. For the main course, we choose between a pork loin with whole-grain mustard sauce, a fisherman pie of shrimp and fish, beef with red wine and mushrooms, or a goat cheese phyllo roll. I decided for the vegetarian phyllo roll, out of nostalgia for my vegetarian days I guess, and it was delicious! The phyllo was flaky and not overly greased or cooked, the goat cheese was just melted to be softer and the veggies inside brought it all together perfectly. After climbing the mountain, I reckoned I deserved a good dessert so I chose the apple crumble toffee pudding. Other choices included homemade strawberry ice cream, cheesecake, and fruit. The crumble toffee Saturday night was very disappointing. It tasted like escalloped apples, mixed with soggy breading, and a sauce reminiscent of Play-Doh.

Yes, it was this pretty the entire hike up

One of the views from the summit of Scafell Pike
Sunday, we woke to the same breakfast and lunch options, but we all opted to eat lunch in the quaint town of Keswick instead. For our Sunday activity, we ventured into Keswick which definitely filled the image in my head of a quintessential English village with cobblestone streets, old buildings, and a constant light mist. The town is geared towards outdoor activities so many of the shops were outdoor stores but there were also a number of cute sandwich shops and cafés. I ordered arguably the best hot chocolate of my life from a small café in town while wandering the village. Keswick is famous for a pencil museum, but due to time constraints and a three pound entry fee, I didn't make it there.

I had a wonderful time in the gorgeous Lake District and was incredibly lucky and satisfied with the wonderful and rich food at Glaramara. Although the desserts were disappointing both nights, I will rise above and acknowledge the work of award-winning chef Gareth Speight, who was trained in a Michelin-stared restaurant and has cooked lunch for the Queen. Because after all, who am I to stick up my nose at a meal deserving of the Queen?

And did you know, the sheep in the Lake District, Herdwick sheep, were original inhabitants of the land but now the government subsidizes farmers who breed this variety of sheep for the historical feel they give to the land? Also, the sheep are purely aesthetic and bred for this purpose, the coat of this variety of sheep cannot be used to make wool and they do not really eat mutton. Also, the sheep prevent trees from growing on the land and mountains because they like eating grass and other plants, such as shrubs. It was really cool seeing so many sheep up close but it's a little weird the government is paying farmers to breed sheep for aesthetic purposes especially since the sheep are actually detrimental to the land, in terms of foliage.  

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