Tuesday, 24 March 2009

A Very Tasteful Mothering Sunday

Sunday was Mothering Sunday in England, and I was treated to a lovely lunch at The Boathouse at The Beetle and Wedge. It was a gorgeous day and we really enjoyed eating our lunch at this gem of a place on the edge of the Thames.

So many people picture the Thames the way it is often portrayed in films - dark, Dickensian and filthy. But the Thames we know is nothing like that. Sure, up in town where there is a lot of traffic on the river it is far from clean but when the sun shines on it it sparkles with a beautiful life of its own. It is interspersed by the bridges that link the North and South of the iconic city that is London. From the industrial and utilitarian Vauxhall Bridge, to the pink and blue painted Victorian fancy of the Albert Bridge, to Tower Bridge in all its' glory, each one of the many bridges that crosses this historic river has a personality all its own. But here in the Berkshire countryside, the Thames has an almost otherworldly beauty. Lined on both sides with trees, their lacy arms dripping into the water, and also by some most beautiful hills and countryside in England, the banks of the river are home to some amazing houses, pubs and restaurants. The bit of the Thames that runs through Moulsford (where The Boathouse is located) is stunningly beautiful. Perfect for "messing about in boats", the river twists and turns for miles and is home to hundreds of ducks, geese and swans.

Our in-laws discovered The Boathouse quite by accident one day years ago when driving through the Berkshire countryside. They were very impressed, so when we moved down here in 2007, we sought it out. Since then, we have had a number of delicious meals here.

The building itself really is an old boathouse. The upstairs part of the dining room has huge windows and looks out on to the river in all its glory; the downstairs affords a slightly more restricted view of the river, dominated as it is by a huge charcoal grill on which many of the dishes are cooked before your eyes.

Our table was downstairs on Sunday and we watched as the chef cooked a myriad of dishes over the flames. Beautiful pieces of lemon sole, sumptuous tiger prawns, juicy steaks and sides of lamb were all cooked in front of us. My husband had the sole and pronounced it delicious; my son was equally enthusiastic about his steak. I had roast salmon on a bed of spinach which was cooked in the kitchens upstairs and tasted just divine.

My son's favourite thing about The Boathouse is the appetizer (or starter as it is called here in England) that they make with duck breast. It is served in hoisin sauce and shredded over a gingered risotto cake. My son says it is one of his favourite dishes anywhere in the world - and from such a very well travelled lad that is praise indeed. Although I do not eat duck, the taste he gave me of the risotto was very impressive indeed. I would never have thought of flavouring something Italian with ginger, but the results speak for themselves.

I think my favourite thing about The Boathouse (aside from the location) is the desserts. So far, I have always had their sticky toffee pudding. It is different than traditional sticky toffee pudding in that it is served in slices and also in that it is served with whipped cream and a toffee sauce that is almost butterscotchy. I adore it. I have been lucky to always find it on the menu as their desserts do change regularly. They usually offer a choice of at least eight desserts - everything from traditional pies and tarts, to interesting takes on the more old school puddings, like my sticky toffee pudding. On Sunday my husband had a steamed treacle pudding that reminded him of the ones his Great Auntie Connie used to make. Crême brulée and mango cheesecake were also on offer. But if the choice is too overwhelming you can always have a delicious tray of cheese and biscuits!

Afterwards we wandered down the banks of the Thames for a little bit, taking in the lovely weather and gorgeous scenery. It really is a wonderful restaurant in a gorgeous setting.

It always seems slightly odd to me having Mother’s Day in March as coming from North America I was used to celebrating this day in May. When my Mom was alive, I used to send her cards on both occasions and flowers on the day in May. The reason we celebrate Mothering Sunday in March in England is based on two historic traditions. One was that a day in March was the only day young people in service were given as holiday to go and visit their mothers. As they walked through the fields on their way home, they would gather flowers from the hedgerows to present to their mothers when they arrived. There was also the old tradition of returning, on the middle Sunday in Lent (almost always in March) to one’s Mother Church - either the church attended as a child or the main cathedral in the area where you lived.

For some odd reason, the British media and even some ordinary folk here often make fun of the idea of Mother’s Day being in May in North America and also of its more secular origins. Of course, people in North America - all of us immigrants at one time or another, would have had difficulty returning to their “mother church” without a long and dangerous journey across the seas, so that tradition was pretty much dispensed with, making the choice of another day - in much finer weather later in the year - a lot more sensible. I don’t think it matters when you celebrate the day to be honest, but it is very nice to have a special day just to say thank you to your mum (or mom!) and treat her to something nice - or to remember her if she is no longer with you.

Here in England, more and more people are referring to Mothers’ special day as Mother’s Day instead of Mothering Sunday, partly as our society becomes more secular and also as we are influenced more and more by the wider world. Whatever we call it or however we celebrate, how wonderful to have a day where we can thank those who mean so much to us and treat them to something special in return for everything they have done for us. Here’s to mothers the world over - those that are here and those who have gone - and to those of us who are mothers now for everything we are and everything we do.

“Being a mother is the hardest job on earth. Women everywhere must declare it so.” Oprah Winfrey

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