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).
Oh man, it’s been not-enough-hours-in-the-day days around here lately. Most of the time it is safe to ignore me when I say that because I spend about half my waking hours huffing to B2 about the “million things I have to do” and then the other half of those hours on the couch doing zero of those things until it is too late to do them, but for once, it actually has been a little nonstop from one thing to the next. One of them is a very good one, though, and it’s that one of my good friends, source of indispensable life advice, and surrogate jie jie has been in town with her new (!) and awesome fiancé! They’ve been staying with us and I couldn’t be happier about it. I’m convinced that having house guests is one of my favorite ways to see friends. I get to feel like a real grown-up person when I put out “guest linens” and coffee accoutrements “in case you want to make some in the morning” (even if I have a couch instead of a guest bedroom and I forget to put out that cone that goes in the Hario so actually you cannot make some in the morning, oops), and it fits right in with my lazy-homebody agenda (see, e.g., dinner parties) because when things get hectic for them or me, there’s still always time before bed to sit and chat in pajamas and eat cookies even though you already brushed your teeth.
Hi friends! How was your Thanksgiving? We spent ours with my parents and my brother last week, in a couple of slow, wonderful days at home. It was pretty exciting — we sat around and told the same stories for the eighty-seventh time each, I woke up way earlier than you’d ever usually find me so that I could have sleepy coffees with my dad, my sole responsibilities at any given point were not overfilling the wonton wrappers (I failed) and making sure my mom got a Black Friday discount on a jewelry box from J.C. Penney, and my little brother drove me around everywhere because I’m very lazy and he’s nice and he “misses driving anyway.” So actually it was zero percent exciting. (But one hundred percent awesome.)
It’s a holiday birthday cake!
One of my dearest friends and future bridesmaids (!) had her birthday over Thanksgiving a few weeks ago. As hallmates in law school, we bonded over a mutual love for Waffle House and thick-skinned potstickers. Instead of heated civil rights debates, we discussed the finer points of chicken versus pork ramen broths. (Best law students ever.) Then we both came to New York for work! We ended up just one serendipitous floor apart in the same building. She was one of the first “real life” people I ever told about this little space of mine, and somehow she never gets tired of discussing what I should make next or when I should post what. (Our work situation also means she’s usually the one who gets leftovers from blog shoots on Mondays — I hand them off to her in our shared elevator bank like hot potatoes or illicit contraband and then we run into our separate elevators like be cool, man, be cool!)
Before we moved this past June, I was beginning to think the idea of neighbors who came bearing welcome casseroles when you moved in and popped by to borrow cups of sugar was a fiction. It’s not like we’ve ever had any true horror stories or anything pilfered from us (although I never did get my office gift basket last Christmas, just sayin’) but for the most part, our former neighbors have just been distantly polite, a little gruff, or mysteriously absent.
And then we moved to this building! It’s like a weird and wonderful little haven of neighborliness. In the summer we came home to neighbors sitting on the front stoop with their kids; on Halloween the owners put out baskets of candy. We have brunches and baby showers, read-a-thon sponsor sign-up sheets and holiday decorations (right now, an impressively life-size sled). I can’t say we minded comfortable anonymity (’cause it’s a-okay if I never meet the people who bear witness to my unhealthy dependence on Amazon Prime) but guys … neighbor brunches. When the travel time is about 10 seconds, shoes are optional, and I can practice my quiche skills, I can get down with that.
Here are three situations that I should have learned how to handle better at some point in my upbringing but never did. Ready?
1. Sharing free food. Or, how to go to that lunch talk with the pizza from that place you like and wait in line without freaking out about whether that person ahead of you is going to get the last piece of pepperoni pizza or wondering how you can subtly take extra to save for dinner because you’re cheap.
2. Other people giving me free food. Or, how to politely accept one of whatever has just been offered you by a friend, then eat it, placidly, without immediately convincing yourself that what you just ate was the most delicious thing on the planet and you are so missing out on life and happiness because you could only have one.
3. Those two situations combined into a mega-situation, or, what happened last Christmas, when a neighbor dropped by my parents’ house and left us a sleeve of cookies – big, cheerful, cranberry-studded shortbread cookies with flecks of sunny orange zest. Man, those cookies were so good. Either because I couldn’t get them anywhere else but from this goddess-baker-neighbor, or because I had to share them with the rest of my family, I swear to God those cookies were the best cookies I’d ever had. I coveted the crap out of them. I calculated how many I could fairly eat without hogging them … and then I ate some more. After I’d had (more than) my fair share, I stared at them wherever they were and stared at each of my family members as they ate theirs. It was so normal.
Please still be my friend.
My oven doesn’t like cookies. I didn’t know it was possible not to like cookies, but if there was anyone or anything that didn’t, it’s my oven. (Well, and Bowl #2, unnaturally immune to the powers of sugar and fat. It’s weird.) It’s mainly that the cookies don’t spread — even with different pans, less flour, different temperatures, and an oven thermometer to make sure it’s calibrated correctly, they just stay little chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin huts. I’ve eaten a lot of little fat cookie truffles since moving here.
But even my stubborn oven liked these gingersnaps. And so did Bowl #2! Based on a recipe from Smitten Kitchen, they are simple, elegant, easy perfection, and came out of the oven bakery-ready. I almost couldn’t believe my eyes when I pulled out batch after batch of cookies that were all perfectly shaped, perfectly crisp, perfectly brown, without having to check on them once, without having to poke or prod or squash, and all exactly at the baking time she specified. It was (Christmas) magic. They’re perfectly gingery, just sweet enough, with a good snap, but just a bit of chew, too. Truly classic, and truly no-fail.