Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - June 24, 2022

Surprise! ... but no surprise

Mid-afternoon on May 22, husband Art and I were eagerly waiting the arrival of daughters Mariya and Katie and their spouses Miriam and Matt at the Manchester, England airport. The plan had included Katie and Matt renting an additional vehicle so they could do some adventuring on their own. But as their arrival drew near, it seemed like a bad idea having a tired driver learn the ropes of driving on the left side of the road. So when they arrived, we suggested it would be better to get a full night’s rest and then pick up the second car the following day.

"But remember, we have a surprise planned tomorrow at 2:30,” Katie reminded Art.

"Oh, that sounds exciting!" I said. "What's the surprise?"

"If I told you, it wouldn't be a surprise," Katie said, grinning.

We decided to wait an additional day to rent the other car and so set off the next day in our seven-seat "van" - a rather generous term for the small vehicle we crammed ourselves into. All I was told was that I might want to wear something other than jeans and a sweatshirt. I opted for black pants and a flowery top.

At about 2:30, we arrived at Palé Hall, a grand home completed in 1871 by railway engineer Henry Robertson. Art dropped Mariya, Katie and me at the entrance and then the others headed off for some shopping in nearby Bala.

When we entered, a gentleman in formal attire greeted us and took my rain jacket. Another showed us into a room with pale green walls lined with botanical prints, a large gilt-edged mirror over a white marble fireplace, gold-tasseled draperies, and a chandelier complete with glass pendants. Each of the small round tables was surrounded by four comfortable chairs and had a centerpiece of a single red rose in a champagne glass. It was elegant and serene.

A waiter brought menus and we opted for the "full afternoon tea" - including coronation-chicken, smoked-salmon, egg-salad-and-onion and ham-and-cheese finger sandwiches; a several-layer chocolate cake with orange frosting; French pastries with lemon and banana filling; green macarons with a layer of chocolate in the middle; and warm scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream. I later educated myself on the latter, learning that heating full-cream cow's milk in a steam or a water bath followed by leaving it in shallow pans to cool causes the cream to rise to the surface to forms "clots." It sounds awful, but tastes quite delicious.

Of the many teas offered, Mariya chose Moroccan mint, Katie selected vanilla chai and I picked one with hints of mango and other tropical fruits.

We were served from silver tea pitchers, our chosen beverage poured into tea cups and saucers decorated with gold rims and delicate fruit designs. The scones were served first, followed by the sandwiches, cakes and other goodies on a three-tiered cake plate.

It was heavenly, this two hours of uninterrupted time with my daughters on my surprise belated Mother's-Day celebration.

The second surprise was six days later, arranged by Katie and Matt. It was a full dinner at Tyddyn Llan, an old estate residence that is now home to a restaurant considered one of Wales' finest. It's known for its seasonal produce, including vegetables and fruits, local meat and game, and fish from the nearby coast. When we told the owner of our self-catering cottage where we were going, she said her friend had celebrated her 40th birthday there and had described it as a very "posh" place. Art was startled to learn it was located at the edge of the tiny village of Llandrillo, the birthplace of his great-great grandmother Anne Williams.

We arrived at precisely 6:30 - our reservation time. The beautiful stone home fit perfectly into the lush green Welsh countryside with its black slate roof, walls partially covered by ivy and surrounded by rose bushes, flower beds and potted plants.

We were seated in the lounge, comfortably "appointed" with over-stuffed chairs and a settee in front of a fireplace. We had fruit drinks and appetizers of smoked salmon, Scottish eggs and other delicacies. After, we were led to our table in a room with warm yellow walls, soft lighting and views of the greenery and gardens outside.

We began with split-pea-and-mint soup - a seemingly odd combination of ingredients that proved to be quite delicious. For our next course, Mariya and Art chose scallops, Katie had zucchini with tomato sauce, Matt selected saffron risotto, and Miriam and I had white and green asparagus with leeks.

For the main course, Art and Katie opted for the "fillet or ribeye of aged Welsh Black beef au poivre served with a choice of chips or gratin dauphinois, green salad or seasonal vegetables." Miriam, Mariya and I had "new season’s rack and slow cooked breast of local lamb with vignole of peas, broad beans, artichoke and mint." Matt selected "roast guinea fowl, peas à la française, sarlaldaise potato."

Miriam's dessert was a chocolate cheesecake with caramel ice cream. Mariya had poached peaches with champagne and vanilla ice cream. Matt chose the rhubarb sorbet, while Art and Katie had a rhubarb-and-almond tart with rhubarb sorbet. I had the Jubilee Trifle - a layered gelatin-like creation with lemon curd, custard, hints of mandarin orange and lots of cream. It was the dessert selected in a national competition honoring Queen Elizabeth on her Platinum Jubilee celebration. How could I pass on the chance to help celebrate her 70 years as monarch!

The meal was elegant and delicious, making for a contented group heading home in the fading light of the Welsh evening.

While "posh" dinners or fancy teas have never been anything I have longed for, the surprise afternoon tea and evening meal are among my favorite memories of our trip. The food was wonderful and the surroundings were beautiful. But the most enjoyable element of both occasions was the leisurely time spent with our children and their spouses. And there was no surprise in that!

Top (l-r):Palé Hall; Mariya, Gloria and Katie waiting to order; a sampling of our tea selections; Mariya, Miriam, Gloria, Art, Katie and Matt outside of Tyddyn Llan. Bottom (l-r): all anticipating the culinary experince before us; the scallops served as a second course; the lamb chop main course; a sampling of the desserts. (Palé Hall exterior photo from www.palehall.co.uk)

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