Saturday, February 8, 2014

Amicable Alimentations: Sticky Toffee Pudding & Friendships that Stick

The steamed pudding.
Amicable Alimentations: A series of posts with no predictable order or timing dedicated to a delicious food and the friend who most reminds me of it or inspired me to love it.  Here's the link to post number one, number two, number three, number four and this is post number five in the series.

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When you're facing life as an ex-pat, the natural tendency is to compare.  To compare the familiar, the presumed-correct, the "normal," with the unfamiliar or odd or inconvenient.  Living in the UK was baptism by fire in this regard, especially because it is deceptively convenient in the sense that the language is ostensibly the same (it's really not) and the outlook, that of "first world" or "ally" or whatever other politically and culturally-charged label has been hoisted on the UK from the other side of the Atlantic, similar (it's really not).

I'm an open-minded person, one who doesn't mind certain inconveniences if the pay-out is charm or beauty or leisure, or even education.  But I'm also highly intolerant of inefficiency, laziness, and lack of perspective.  Not a whole lot of things I saw and learned in the UK really stuck with me in the end, but many of my experiences and friendships did. 

Another thing that did stick - almost inevitably, as it was a rather sticky thing - was a love of steamed puddings, and Sticky Toffee Pudding in particular.  Steamed Puddings.  Yep - that sounds kinda gross to an American audience, doesn't it?  It makes me laugh.  The first time I heard of Suet Pudding I kind of gagged a little bit.  Beef fat pudding?  Literally, steamed lard pudding?  "What could be more disgusting?" said my inner-food-snob, dismissively.  I was wrong, of course.  It's delectable, especially in its' savory iteration.  And while I am indeed a professed lover of savory things, I must also admit that it was a sweet steamed pudding that fully won me over to steamed puddings in the end.  Well, that and the colorfully named "Spotted Dick" dessert which, however displeasing an image it may conjure - runny, creamy custard oozing all over its' brown spotted glory - is strangely delicious.  But we'll return to Spotted Dick in a moment.
I think I first had Sticky Toffee Pudding one very rainy June - our first in London, only weeks before our basement flat on Warwick Road was violently thrashed by an unexpected flood, at a restaurant in Kensington called Ffiona's.  My dear friend Sandra, whom I always think of as my "New York friend" (because really she was literally the only person outside my co-workers I hung out with in Manhattan), and her husband Jed had made the trek across the proverbial pond to visit us in the UK during what we erroneously called a "short relocation period" to Europe before heading back to New York. (We never returned to New York, of course, and we ended up staying in London for almost 4 years, but never mind the commonplace oddities of foiled life-plans.)
Ffiona's Charming Exterior on Kensington Church Street
Image Credit

I'd long-before noticed Ffiona's as it fell along the pleasant bus trip from Earl's Court to Notting Hill which we often made on the weekends.  It was located on a particularly picturesque and winding road through central London called Kensington Church Street, not far from an even more picturesque church where there was the most enticingly beautiful flower stand I'd ever seen and never went to.  That's a regret.  Anyway, it was tucked away in a small series of stone buildings and had a quirky sign.  It was one of hundreds of restaurants I'd pointed out to Matt and said "We should go there!" and never did.  Such is life in London - so many things to spend one's money on, and so little money to do it with!  And, yet, in this case - we did go to Ffiona's, and all because of something else rather sticky and wonderful - my friendship with Sandra.

You know, it's not often one finds a life-long friend, but I did when I met Sandra.  And despite only having lived in the same place as friends for a little over a year, we've shared some awesome experiences together, and, most of all, continue to.  From tapas' nights cooked in tiny Manhattan kitchens to Grey's Anatomy Marathons to drooling over Bacon Naan at Tabla to Greek feasts in her first home.  From karaoke in a sleazy French quarter bar to near-fisty-cuffs outside a fancy restaurant in Nola.  From my pregnancy with Roman to watching her adopt her beautiful twins to now sharing Alexander's adoption, our lives have been, it feels, somehow divinely intertwined.  I'm happy to be able to look back and say that.

The Cozy Interior.
Image Credit
But back to the pudding.  As luck would have it, Sandra's husband's parents had lived in London too.  They'd lived less than a mile from our flat in Earl's Court, in a beautiful mew (Adam & Eve Mew, if I recall correctly) on the much nicer, less dodgy end of Kensington Borough.  They'd recommended Ffiona's to us and were good friends with the namesake owner of the joint.  We went and had a lovely dinner there - mostly due to ambiance and company, I must say - which ended with Ffiona's "infamous" sticky toffee pudding.  It wasn't the best STP I've had since, but it was good enough to be memorable and make me want more.  Also on that trip, as Sandra recently reminded me, we made a feeble but valorous attempt at making Spotted Dick (because, again, who can an opportunity to continue making fun of that name?) in our damnable but somewhat-charming basement flat on Warwick Rd., which, quite frankly, was falling apart long before the July flood of 2007.  In the midst of checking on the pudding, our oven door literally fell off very nearly smashing onto my feet at 400 degrees.  It was, as Sandra put it, a little bit scary at the time, but pretty hilarious afterwards.  Moments like that, with good friends and in memorable places, make foods come to life.

And so I dedicate this post to Sandra and our many memories, food and not, one of which has left the legacy of Sticky Toffee Pudding in my life.  Sandrett will be coming to visit me and meet Alexander in a week's time, and I can't wait to have another delicious adventure with her here - including making some STP again.  Hopefully the oven door won't fall off this time, but even if it does, we'll laugh just as hard.

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English Sticky Toffee Pudding
Serves 8-10

I made this version of Sticky Toffee Pudding, the recipe for which I found on David Lebovtz's wonderful blog, and which is a derivatory version itself, being a variation on Mani Niall's version in the book Sweet!  I have to say, I deviated slightly on the tofee recipe as I, sadly, didn't have Lyle's Golden Syrup or Molasses.  And, also, I prefer to use a few more dates in mine (because I love dates).  This recipe has always been a winner for me - I think I made a toffee addict out of my brother-in-law Jim, for one thing - but I made it again a few weeks back and it worked a treat on the chill from a Mile-High Winter's day.  Best served warm. 


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