I’ve been meaning to make some form of sticky toffee pudding for at least a few years, ever since a friend of mine first waxed lyrical about one she’d had at a pub near our offices called the Shakespeare. At that point, I’d never had sticky toffee pudding or, possibly, even heard of it, but her description alone had me sold–of a sticky, soft, eat-it-with-a-spoon cake, gooey with dates and draped in an abundance of caramel sauce, served warm and ideally with ice cream on top (which, in and of itself, is enough to get me on board with anything).
If you’d told me a few years ago that I’d enjoy anything about fall other than, say, eating pumpkin-y things and, nominally, wearing fluffy slippers, there’s not a chance I would have believed you. (This is how deep my fear of the cold runs.) But then we moved to a quixotic land where my Michelin Man puffer jackets are happily useless, so I no longer had the cold to dread; and shortly thereafter a very important fall birthday was added to our calendars that B2 and I are way more excited about celebrating than we’ve ever been about our own. A year later, here I am: recovering SAD-sufferer and cautious fall enthusiast.
I blinked and it’s been five months of this adventure called “writing a cookbook.” How! Before all this began I wasn’t sure how shooting and writing a book with a new babe would go. The answer is, as it turns out, a lot of running around during morning naptime, a lot of truly spectacular messes, and a lot of trudging around during afternoon naptime, cleaning up those spectacular messes. I would not recommend it if you are looking for something relaxing, exactly — but maybe if, you know, you’re looking for an at-home HIIT workout that involves bites of food and a constant mental refrain of I’ll clean that up later.
Granted, my threshold for feeling accomplished has always been, shall we say, modest (“I added the perfect amount of sugar to my matcha latte today I can do anything!“) but ever since I was introduced to these supremely distracting pudgy cheeks, I’m finding smaller and smaller accomplishments count as victories in this household. Dinner made during naptime, victory. Clean laundry, not folded, but at least in the basket, victory! (Actually, laundry where I actually remember to put in the detergent? And didn’t forget, twice, until everything had gone through the washer and the dryer? Victory.) Clean kitchen counters before bed? Clean kitchen floors, too? Huge victory.
For as long as I can remember, hazelnut coffee has been my dad’s way to start the day. Almost every day of my childhood and every day that I’m back home now, I’ve come downstairs in the morning to find him sitting in our sunny breakfast nook, already up for hours, with an oversized mug of coffee in his hand and a newspaper spread out on the table, his glasses beside it. His coffee is always the same, a spoonful of sugar and a heavy-handed pour of hazelnut Coffeemate that he stirs in with a chopstick until his coffee turns a creamy, tawny beige.
My dad’s love for cheesecake has been equally constant: In the summers that I spent tagging along with him to his oncology lab, we almost always came back from lunch in the hospital cafeteria with a narrow slice of cheesecake, perched in a plastic clamshell with a small dollop of cherry sauce on top, which we’d share in his office before he went back to work (and I went back to drawing pictures on his whiteboard or whatever it was that I did to pass the time).
My first introduction to this cake came on a brisk evening last April, in the form of a cheerful crowd of teeny baby Bundts at the launch party for Sweeter Off the Vine, the cookbook it comes from. The spread there, all baked by the inimitable Yossy herself, might have been one of the most delicious arrays of baked goods I’ve ever been privy to, from saffron lime bars and rich brown butter blondies to moist cornmeal cakes with dainty pink glaze and flaky rhubarb galettes. Yet these little Bundts, almost like pound cake in their heft but still brightly tart from a citrus glaze, still stood out so much that — shh — I squirreled away a baby cake or two to take back to friends on the way home, unable to help myself. I’ve been waiting to share it here ever since.
What a strange, hard week this has been. It feels like it has been hard in every sense of the word — difficult, unyielding. I hope everyone is okay. This is the first of a number of recipes I’ve had saved up for these first few baby-filled months, and, thankfully, it is so very easy. I think “easy” was going to be my mantra in the kitchen for the foreseeable future no matter what, now that we have a little person to cuddle and feed and care for, but right now it feels particularly apt to share something that comes together without much effort, without any stress, to be a treat that soothes and indulges.
Overwhelmingly, pregnancy thus far has been a much more peaceful experience than I ever thought it would be. This isn’t to say that it’s been a total walk in the park (in case you’ve had or are having a rough one!) but before it all happened, I had fearful visions of hugging the toilet, or raging at B2, or doing both at the same time, nonstop for nine-point-five months. Thankfully, neither of those things has come to pass. If anything, with the exception of a few spectacular sobbing-laughing-hiccuping meltdowns (“I k-know I-I’m l-laughing but it’s not funny!”) I might even be a little bit more rational than my non-pregnant self, which is a bizarre development we never anticipated. Then again, my non-pregnant self once Donkey-Kong-ground-pounded a half-eaten bag of B2’s potato chips because he hates eating chip crumbs and I was mad. (This was not my proudest moment.) So maybe there was nowhere to go but up.
If there’s one thing that’s taken my baby-growing life by storm, though, it’s pregnancy brain. Was this as real for you as it is for me? Our apartment is beginning to look like a really boring reenactment of Memento — there are Post-Its all over the house, written by my past self and asking in accusatory caps: “IS THE AC OFF?” “IS THE OVEN OFF?” “DO YOU HAVE YOUR WATER BOTTLE?” like a stern, disembodied mother. And this is just a short list of the things that I (can remember that I) have forgotten, or lost, or missed:
- Turning off the AC
- Turning off the oven
- Turning on the oven
- My phone, in the parking garage at work
- My password to log in to the app that finds your phone
- My security pass, while retracing my steps back to my office to find my phone because I could not use the app that finds your phone
- My Costco grocery list
- My new Costco grocery list, somewhere in the middle of walking around Costco
- Highway exits
- Right turns
- Left turns
- Probably many things that should be on this list but have now been forgotten.
Dear diary. Dear everyone. On Sunday, I had my very first cup of coffee in four months. !!! To be fair, I think it was about two tablespoons of coffee in a cup of milk and a boatload of sugar, so it tasted more like melted coffee ice cream than coffee, but I’m going to say it counts. It was the most exciting moment of my Sunday. Or July. I never ever imagined I’d stop drinking coffee while pregnant — instead, I was terrified of going without it, and I’m pretty sure I looked up that “one-cup-a-day” rule way before B3 was a figment of our imagination (and maybe even before B2 was a figment of mine). I was holding onto that rule with both hands and feet and entire being all the way up until one day around week 6, when I woke up and coffee suddenly and inexplicably smelled like the worst thing in the world. Such woe. But somehow this weekend, after four months of matcha (which was, granted, far from the worst), I opened up the coffee tin and thought mm instead of oh no get this noxious tub of poison away from me, and B2 had to listen to me chant “look at me, I’m drinking coffee!” as I sipped a tiny melted-ice-cream for the rest of the morning. It was an excellent Sunday.
I think I read awhile back (while in the throes of grief that the closest Crumbs shop to me was closing down) that cupcakes have been on a little bit of a roller coaster in the last few years, embarking on a wild ascent from supermarket-only to trendy to out-of-your-mind popular before being ousted from their throne by donuts. Something like that? In this little world of mine, they’ve been on a steady trajectory of adoration only — for me, they have that nostalgic timelessness of Funfetti box mix and frosting out of a can, and even at their most gourmet they’re stout and cheerful and low-maintenance, ready to be lined up on vinyl tablecloths at birthday parties and eaten with utensil-less abandon (or, in my case, eyed carefully to see which one is a little bit fatter than the others, and then eaten with abandon). I’m pretty sure I will always love them. Which makes it all the more astonishing to me that there are hardly any recipes for cupcakes to be found in this space, and none at all since around 2013! With work kicking my butt lately, and in the mood for an easy but buoyantly happy recipe to disrupt that monotony, I thought this was a perfect time to change that.