"Because I've odd ideas about Christmas. Because I have all that money can buy. I want more people, but no more things."
I've got to agree with Margaret Schlegel on this one. As I get older and acquire more stuff, I find that providing Christmas gift lists gets harder and harder. I don't need any more things, just more people. Or rather, more time with the people I like.
Yesterday was the Annual Holiday Lunch* with the girls -- oh, and husbands and children and even a dog, but really it's the girls that matter here. This particular group of girlfriends all centres around the lovely S. who married an adorable Englishman in 2005 and went to live in London for a few years. In her absence, and missing her dreadfully, us bridesmaids would get together for lunch or dinner every so often and boom! a group friendship was cemented. I adore these women. They're so funny and so bright, they sparkle. They eat everything I put on their plates. They're wonderful. And now that S. is back in Canada with husband and daughter, the group is complete and all's right with the world.
You would think. But not quite. The fly in the ointment is that, despite the fact we're all in the same general geographic area, we still can't seem to get together more than once a month, and that's if we're lucky. What has happened to the world that we're all so busy? Children, jobs, family commitments, I know, I know, it all adds together to eat up every moment of free time, but suddenly the year is over and you realize that all your communication with your friends is electronic and you can't remember what they look like. It's kind of sad, when you think about it. Your friends are the family that you get to choose (what a luxury!) and here we are, squandering it because we're all so busy that in some cases 2 years may go by before you can actually pull together a casual dinner.
Ah, well. What can you do?
Resolve, I guess, to make the most of the time you do spend together. Try to ensure that there's at least one high-quality weekend away a year together. Keep dreaming of renting a house in Sonoma together. And seal the deal with food, of course, as N. did yesterday with her superb roast beef for lunch and I did with this heart-stopping dessert made specially for S. who counts herself as something of an Sticky Toffee Pudding expert. It passed the test.
Sticky Toffee Pudding with Toffee Sauce**
1 1/2 cups pitted dates, chopped
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp.baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
pinch of salt
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of allspice
For Toffee Sauce:
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
Combine the dates and water in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for 10 minutes, or until most of the liquid had been absorbed by the dates or evaporated. Puree the dates in a food processor, blender or stick mixer.
With an electric mixer, beat the butter with the brown sugar. Beat in eggs, one at a time.
In a medium-sized bowl, mix flour with baking powder and baking soda. Add to the wet batter and then stir in pureed dates.
Spoon the batter into a buttered & floured 9" x 13" baking dish. Bake in a 350° over for 35 to 45 minutes or until the top feels firm when gently pressed in the center.
While pudding is cooking, make the toffee sauce by combining cream sugar and butter in a heavy-bottom saucepan. Bring to a boil then cook, boiling and stirring for about 3 minutes. Let cool slightly.
When cake is done and cooled slightly, prick with a skewer to make lots of tiny holes. Spoon half of the toffee sauce over the cake.
When ready to serve, heat remaining toffee sauce (stirring all the while) and spoon over individual portions. If you really want to kill them with kindness, add a scoop or two of highest quality vanilla ice cream.
* this event does not, in fact, happen annually because of scheduling conflicts. Go figure. However, I am determined to make it so and start by labelling it, quite firmly, as the Annual Holiday Lunch.
**adapted from Food & Whine:http://www.fortysomething.ca/2008/01/sticky_toffee_pudding.php