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Archive for the ‘custards & puddings’ Category

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I don’t drink much Guinness these days, which is a shame, but I have a deep, fond love for the stuff. It goes back to my college days when, tired of watered down $2 pitchers of Coors Light, my friends and I would save our pennies and splurge once in a while on Guinness pints or Black & Tan’s at our local Irish Pub. We’d eat bowls and bowls of free pretzels, play really bad games of darts and coerce Colin the bartender to do handstand push-ups on the bar. I loved that place far more than the cheaper pitcher joint packed with the pretty people. Quirky neighborhood joints with interesting clientele have always been more my thing.

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This is a story in two parts.  One is about a kind of odd seasonal fruit that looks like bright red celery.  It’s incredibly tart, I’d even venture to say inedible, when raw and has toxic leaves. The second part is about a strange little custard, set with gelatin that someone once described to me as “milk jell-o”.  Now who in their right minds reads either of those sentences and thinks “Delicious!  Sign me up!”  Well, I do because together these two oddballs are quite delightful.

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Sometimes you lose track of things.  It happens.  Car keys, a favorite scarf, your Iphone, maybe a loaf of banana bread.  I lose track of many things but they always turn up eventually.  Like the aforementioned loaf of banana bread I found, several days after baking, tightly wrapped in a far corner of my kitchen counter.  Whoops.  Forgot about that one.  It had gone a bit stale but with more than half a loaf remaining I was hesitant to toss it.  So I thought about other options.

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Desserts that do remarkable and unexpected things never fail to delight.  When I was a kid, Jell-O was fascinating.  I’d continually poke the jiggley liquid in the metal pan.  It was magic:  one minute, a thick liquid; the next a weird firm bouncy substance.  If someone was sufficiently crafty enough to do different colored layers?  My mind was blown.  Much, much later, I made ChocoFlan; part chocolate cake, part flan.  It goes into the oven one way and somehow miraculously reverses positions during baking to end up as something else. As an adult, mind still blown.

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A friend of mine likes to collects stamps while traveling with a keen eye toward food related subjects.  They make a nice souvenir of time and place.  In whatever country she’s visiting, she’ll wander into a local post office and flip through the book of available stamps, always on the lookout for those featuring the local cuisine.  You might surprised at how many there are. (Have you seen the chocolate stamps Belgium is releasing with a flavored adhesive?) Flipping through her albums not long ago, I came across one in particular I thought was fabulous – a French ½ euro stamp featuring the classic dessert, clafouti. The United States needs to do more food related stamps.  As fond as I am of my Bob Fosse and Danny Thomas postage, I really like the idea of a fried chicken stamp.

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I was in a small pub in Chipping Camden the evening before a week long hike through the English countryside.  I was tired, having spent the better part of that day trying to get from London to this little village at the start of the trailhead.  I had convinced myself that a hike along the Cotswold Way would be a great thing, a wonderful solo adventure with everything I needed for the week in a small daypack.  The Plan was to hike between several small towns, enjoy the scenery and my own company, stopping each evening at small bed & breakfasts and pubs.  But first, I had to get to the damn trailhead.  It had been a challenge but after two trains, a bus and many curious looks I found myself deposited, slightly disoriented, smack dab in the middle of what looked like a movie set of a typical country village.  I had hoped to start hiking that afternoon but as with most best laid plans, it didn’t quite work out that way.  It was rainy, a little chilly and I stumbled upon what was to be the first of many picturesque pubs in the middle of somewhere.  Hiking would have to wait until tomorrow.  A few pints of ale and a hearty shepherd’s pie did much to improve my mood.  Feeling warm and fuzzy and not quite ready to venture out into the rain, I ordered a dram of something burning and perused the dessert list.  The usual suspects:  sticky toffee pudding, some kind of custard, an apple cake.  And Banoffee Pie.  Banoffee?  What the hell was that?

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How we Americans spend St. Patricks Day and the traditions we associate with it have very little to do with the Emerald Isle.  I came to this realization after spending one fine Chicago St. Patrick’s Day with an Irish friend and he was pretty much baffled yet highly entertained by the spectacle.  The morning started with the beloved Chicago tradition of dying the river green, followed by a rather drunken parade dubiously honoring a Saint whose origins are unclear to just about everyone present, an afternoon full of sketchy green beer and delicious pints of Guinness (and more pints and pints)  followed by a dinner of corned beef and cabbage.  The typical St. Patrick’s Day stuff.  At the end of a very long day, he looked at me with a big loopy grin and said “I don’t know what any of that has to do with my homeland, but it was great fun!”  Precisely.

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