10 December 2010

A Sticky Toffee Pudding Send-Off

If you happen to follow me on Twitter, lately you have seen me gushing a lot about @darrenstravels.  The owner of that twitter handle is my hero, and lucky for me, he also happens to be my uncle.

@darrenstravels  (aka "Uncle D")  My hero
"D", as he is affectionately called by nearly everyone in the family, is my mom's baby brother - "baby" by enough that he is only 12 years older than me, and I'm the baby of all the grand-daughters.  As such, he often babysat my sister and I a lot when we were little, and he's always seemed more like a big brother to us than an uncle.  Helping cement his "brother" image in our minds, he used to absolutely torment us as kids, as brothers tend to torment younger sisters.  For example; to this day, my sister won't step on a drain of any kind - not even in a shower - for fear that she'll be sucked down the drain (she was always a skinny kid).  Me?  I have vivid memories of him threatening to put me in the freezer (geez, that looks *wayyyy more menacing on paper than it was in real life) -  it was really just one of many ways to make me squirm and scream "nooooooo!", and it was as fun for me as I think it was for him.  As much as he tortured us, I know we always looked forward to nights when our parents would go out and Uncle D would come over to babysit, because we'd laugh a LOT and even get to stay up late :)

As Darren went on to his career in radio, and later television, he moved away.  I've always missed him since he moved, but at the same time, proud of who he was and what he was doing.  When Sis and I took Mom to Paris for her 60th birthday a couple of years ago, we convinced D to come along and join us for a few days - and we had a blast.  As a television producer in Toronto, he was always working incredibly long hours, and vacations were always short, but travel has always been one of his passions.  A few years ago, he made it even more of a priority, taking short trips to New York City whenever he could, and training for life-changing treks like his climb to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa.  Still, at a certain point in life, a handful of brave and incredibly smart individuals realize that we don't get to live forever, and decide to take life by the horns and go off to actually *live* their dreams.  My Uncle Darren is one such individual.  There is a price for all of this, however, and I don't just mean airfare.  He's purged himself of almost all belongings, ended a withering 23-year relationship, left his two beloved dogs, sold his home and quit his job - things few of us would have the guts to do - all so he can go and Live The Dream. For the first time since he was 14, he is now officially Unemployed, not to mention Homeless.... scary things to be when you're 50. Still, this is part of what it costs to follow your dreams.

(for those of you who crave a little adventure without the sacrifice, you can live vicariously through Darren by following his blog on rtwtravels.com)

So, a little more than a year ago, he began planning his Round The World Adventure, a two year journey to go around the world and see and do all of the things he has always dreamed about.  A 17-day bike tour through Vietnam, bungee jumping in New Zealand, working in an Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka, and participating in as many of the countless cultural festivals around the world as he can.... these are just a few of the things he has on his agenda for the next two years.  Thankfully, the boy who is "chasing summer" for the next two years is kicking off his journey with 10 days freezing his butt off to hang with us here in Edmonton.  (lucky for him, the -33 cold snap ended before he arrived! but he's still freezing...)

Bon Voyage!  Have some Coconut Cake!

In addition to taking a full day off work just to hang with my uncle (because some things in life are more important than spreadsheets and paperwork.  No, make that ALL things in life...), I also baked up the desserts for his Happy Birthday & Bon Voyage fête last weekend.  What were his requests?  My Coconut Cake (aka my "When Harry Met Sally Cake), because he loves coconut, and his favourite dessert: Sticky Toffee Pudding. Done and done! Into the kitchen I go!

My hugs in luggage tag form
Nothing makes me happier than to bake for people I care about, so I was especially happy to see how much D loved these desserts.  Between groans of delight, he was gushing with compliments ("Oh my god, this is the *best* Sticky Toffee Pudding I have ever tasted!" and "This Coconut Cake tastes better than any Bounty Bar, and they're my favourite!") - all of which makes me grin from ear to ear.  I'm so incredibly proud of him that I just want to spoil him as much as I can before tomorrow, when he literally heads off into the world, and I don't know exactly when (or where) I will see him again.... To remind him that I love him and that I'm proud of him, I also gave him these gorgeous luggage tags from Of The Fountain on Etsy.  The quote is absolutely perfect, and they don't add too much weight to the 60 litre backpack that he will be living out of for the next 730 days.  (can you imagine?)  Hopefully, if he ever finds himself a little heartsick for family and old friends, he will look at these luggage tags and smile, and know they also carry all the love and hugs and kisses that I have for him.

So, to my darling uncle... Thank you for being such an important part of my childhood, and my adulthood,  for walking me down the aisle on my wedding day, and for every time you made me laugh until my cheeks hurt.  Thank you for being my hero and my inspiration.  I love you with all my heart.  To quote E.E. Cummings.... "I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)".  Go live your dreams......

Oh yeah - and Thank You for including one winter destination and freezing your butt off just so we can all wish you Bon Voyage in person.  XOXOX

Sticky Toffee Pudding Send Off

Sticky Toffee Pudding
from Cook's Illustrated
serves 8-10

250g (1 1/4 Cups) whole dates, pitted, cut into 1/4-inch slices
180ml (3/4 Cup) warm water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
178g (1 11/4 Cups) unbleached all-purpose flour 
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
150g (3/4 Cup) brown sugar, light or dark
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
60g (4 Tbsp) unsalted butter, melted

Toffee Sauce
113g (8 Tbsp) unsalted butter
200g (1 Cup) brown sugar, light or dark
180ml (2/3 Cup) heavy cream
1 tablespoon rum
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon juice from 1 lemon

For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 8-inch square baking dish and set it in large roasting pan lined with clean towel. Bring kettle or large saucepan of water to boil over high heat.
Combine half of dates with water and baking soda in glass measuring cup (dates should be submerged beneath water) and soak for 5 minutes. Drain dates, reserving liquid, and transfer to medium bowl. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in another medium bowl.
Process remaining dates and brown sugar in food processor until just blended, about five 1-second pulses. Add reserved soaking liquid, eggs, and vanilla and process until smooth, about 5 seconds. With food processor running, pour melted butter through feed tube in steady stream. Transfer this mixture to bowl with softened dates.
Gently stir dry mixture into wet mixture until just combined and date pieces are evenly dispersed. Pour batter into prepared baking dish. Add enough boiling water to reach halfway up sides and cover pan tightly with aluminum foil. Bake until outer 2 inches develop small holes and center has puffed and is firm to touch, about 40 minutes. Immediately remove dish from water bath and set on wire rack.
For the toffee sauce: Meanwhile, melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in brown sugar until smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved and mixture looks puffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Slowly pour in cream and rum, whisk just to combine, reduce heat, and simmer until frothy, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, cover to keep warm, and set aside.
Liberally poke top of pudding with paring knife or wooden skewer; pour toffee sauce over pudding and allow the sauce to be soaked up by the sticky toffee sponge.   Cool for 10 minutes, cut into squares, and serve accompanied by crème anglaise or vanilla ice cream.

As this dish is best served warm, re-heat it briefly in the microwave before serving if need be.


Kerrin @ MyKugelhopf.ch said...

wow, what a post julia. and i am not even factoring in the sticky toffee pudding. and you KNOW how i feel about sticky toffee pudding !!!

you are both amazingly lucky. you, to have such an inspiring "big bro" and he, to have a niece who shows such love and pride. and seriously, after reading your post, who wouldn't look up to him ?! that is some adventure he is embarking on. i have no doubt he will enjoy every experience and every day. safe travels, d !

and my goodness, what oh what will you bake for him upon his return ??? =)

Sam said...

This is an amazing blog post. I love how you wander through some pretty intense emotional territory an bring it all back to baking. On a technical note: my oven bakes low what would you recommend I do vis a vis baking times.

Darren said...

When I offered to make the Xmas dessert at my friend's home in Hawaii, I considered the possibilities.Since we had just read the blog together it couldn't have been more appropriate to have a new family tradition from Julia to share with my good friends. The problem was I had never attempted to make it before. We had all the ingreidents but not all the tools so we improvised and it turned out pretty good. Not as good as Julia's but we enjoyed it.
Thanks sweetie,
Uncle D

Jamie said...

Wow! I need to have husband read this because he dreams of selling up, quitting and going off to live the dream. We may be doing that one day (though he'll keep his 23 year relationship going :-) Don't give him too many ideas! What a lovely story and tribute to an amazing person. You are indeed lucky to have an Uncle Darren in your life! And lucky Darren for having a neice like you to bake him such special treats! Now if he could only pack some of these sticky toffee puddings to carry along with him! A safe and fabulous trip to you, Darren!