I called my parents today on speaker phone as I took down the Christmas tree. It was nice to have their company; I missed being with them after a Christmas of togetherness. Their house is quiet now that we’ve all vacated. Food is still coming from the neighbours – turkey soup, tea biscuits, tourtière. They’ve both lost weight, between my mother’s lung condition and my father’s cardiac arrest, but their appetites are slowly creeping back.
“How are you both?” I shouted at the phone from where I stood on a stool, teetering next to eleven feet of dried needles that fell like confetti every time I unwound the lights.
“We’re great,” my mom shouted back. “This morning I watched a bobcat tiptoe across the frozen river. I followed its tracks across our property and down the driveway, until I wondered if it might jump down on me from a tree,” she said, smiling through the phone.
“I’m going to try yoga!” my Dad chimed in. His friend, a physician, had just dropped off a book of postures. This would break a forty-five year pre-shower push-up / sit up workout routine. “Why not?” he said.
“And I have a new journal,” my mom added. “I’m calling it Things I Need To Know. I’m writing down the answers to all the questions I had for your father when I thought I’d lost him. Everything from computer passwords to the name of the man who delivers our paper.”
It was a Bridget Jones moment – me wound in Christmas lights, several pounds heavier than before the holidays, needles raining down around me, with my Renaissance parents on the other end of the line, pragmatic, loving and slightly wild.
I hopped off the stool and thought about my own Things I Need To Know book. We all need a book like this, something practical to refer to when life gets derailed. Somewhere in that book, tucked amongst passwords, secrets and practical tips and tricks will be this sticky toffee pudding recipe. It comes from an Inn in Strachur, Scotland, scratched on a piece of paper by the pastry chef. My sister was working the bar back then, but popped into the kitchen to help make this dessert whenever she could. It was a highlight at the Inn; it’s a highlight now in our family. The kind of recipe we’d all leave behind in our Things I Need to Know book.
Sticky Toffee Pudding – adapted from The Creggan’s Inn, Strachur, Scotland
1 lb dates, pits removed and roughly chopped
1 tsp cold coffee
1 1/2 cups boiling water
2/3 cup butter, room temperature
6 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
Preheat oven to 400F
Grease a 8×11.5 inch pan, or 10 (125ml 1/2 cup) ramekins.
Place chopped dates in a bowl. Cover with coffee and boiling water and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in eggs, one at a time. Mixture will be wet and not smooth. Don’t worry. Sift together flour and baking soda (I do this in a sieve placed over the mixing bowl) and combine with butter mixture. Add dates and their liquid and stir well.
Spoon batter into pan or ramekins. Place ramekins on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes, (a little longer in a pan) until skewer inserted has moist crumbs attached.
Meanwhile, make the sauce.
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
Ice cream – optional
Combine butter and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves and mixture is smooth. Slowly add cream. Turn up the heat and boil gently for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
To serve, invert warm puddings onto serving plates (or slice if using a pan). Pour sauce over puddings. Any remaining sauce can be stored in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 1 week.
Finish with a scoop of ice cream – optional