Take Me Away, Lucy
The other day, after 15 months away, I went back into the office.
As I walked into the building, there were all of these signs about six feet this and wearing masks that and only one person in the elevator at a time, admonitions, now out-of-date, that were oddly reassuring and alarming at the same time. As I got off the elevator, I could see that half of the office was dark. A desk in the front of the office that used to belong to one of my most beloved co-workers, who lost her job during the pandemic, sat empty. The door was locked. I had forgotten I would need a key and, in fact, I have absolutely no idea where it is. How was I supposed to keep track of anything over these last 15 months? I had to knock.
Then the door opened to familiar faces, entire faces, smiles and all, so nice to see after so long. We were all vaccinated, so the chances that our proximity to each other would lead to someone’s death was extremely low. It was weird and fun to sit around and catch up. I finally took off my mask, but then I had to wonder. Was I putting my unvaccinated friends and family at risk somehow? Well, yes, the risk is low, but what level of risk is acceptable when it comes to this beastly virus? As I sat there, making chit chat, I pondered that. I also wondered when I would stop wondering about that, when all of this would feel entirely safe and normal again.
After we caught up, I wandered over to my desk and there was a nice surprise waiting for me, a new book. It was an advance copy of the latest in the Key West Food Critic series by Roberta Isleib, who uses the pen name Lucy Burdette. A Scone of Contention is due out at the beginning of August and available for pre-order now at your local bookseller.
I remember talking last summer with the author, who lives in Madison part of the year. She told me the book would be set in a locale other than Key West, a first for this series, and that, like the other books in the series, it would include recipes for some of the food mentioned in the book. We were six months into the COVID craziness when we last talked, and I asked her then if her new books would make any reference to the pandemic.
“Include the pandemic? My reaction now is no way. Living through it is bad enough. People read these books to get away from real life,” she said.
Good call, Lucy. More than 300 pages of escape to another life and another country with characters I already know and like. Nothing about masks. Nothing about six feet. As many people in an elevator as can fit.
And recipes, too.
Here’s one I am going to try sooner rather than later.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
From A Scone of Contention
By Lucy Burdette
¾ cup pitted, quartered dates
¾ cup water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 cup flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
For sauce: ¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar, ½ cup cream, 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
Place the dates, water, and vanilla in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer until soft, which might take about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the baking soda, and mix well. Let the mixture cool.
Meanwhile, cream butter with sugars. Beat in the eggs. Add the dry ingredients and finally, the cooled date mixture. Do not worry about leaving little chunks of dates; they will provide some nice texture. Pour the batter into a well-buttered cake pan. (I also added a layer of parchment paper and buttered that for good measure.) Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Turn the cake out onto a platter.
For the sauce, mix brown sugar, cream, and butter in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, and simmer until thick, about five to seven minutes. Remove from heat and add a splash of vanilla.
Poke holes in the cake, and pour the sauce overall.
Serve warm if possible, with ice cream or whipped cream.