Twilight at the Tower Bridge

London

Tower Bridge, just beyond the Tower of London, as the sun goes down. February 2016
Tower Bridge, just beyond the Tower of London, as the sun goes down. February 2016

About this time last year, Katie and I flew off to London for the weekend to take in some theater, a London Fashion Weekend show, some good food, some history, and a shot of urban living.

Our first night in town, we’d seen the play “The End of Longing” on the West End.  The play was pretty good, the stage sets were remarkable (both for their look and for their “rapid changeability”), and our meeting with Matthew Perry after the show went well– no matter what my daughter might tell you to the contrary.  (Unless Matthew Perry is actually reading this, in which case, let me take a moment to apologize and say that I’ll try to be much cooler if I ever meet you again, please don’t feel the need to take out a restraining order against me.  And, for the record, that person who called out your name before you approached me, thinking it was me, was actually someone standing behind me– and this is why I was totally unprepared for your approach and may have lost it a little.  Seriously.  I don’t usually blither . . . or shake–it was REALLY cold out too, and I was wearing a sleeveless coat in the middle of winter in London– not practical, but it was really cute, don’t you think?  Anyway, Matthew, we got off on the wrong foot, you and me.  I’m lots cooler than that.  Sometimes. Anyway, embarrassing as it was, I really did mean it– you are great.)

Moving on. . .

Our second night in London required a strong drink to make me forget how I’d embarrassed myself on our first night in London.  Katie wanted to go to a rooftop restaurant or bar and soak up a little urban chic.  Good plan.  But the chicest of the chic would have required reservations much in advance, so we looked for “in and out” bars that would fit the bill.  One popped up with potential, and in an area of the city that we know well and has some great views.  The rooftop bar at the Hilton Doubletree by the Tower of London.

It fit the bill well.  The bar itself was chic enough, if not ultra swanky.  The drinks and desserts we ordered while oogling the view were spot on– I went for a Moscow Mule, my favorite go-to, and something cheesecake derived (fuzzy memory, but I remember that the presentation was great).

We sat inside (it being February), but there is a very large and lovely outdoor terrace too, if you find yourself in London during warmer months.

The view as the sun dropped low and disappeared altogether was stunning.    I did feel urban, and I did feel chic, as I sipped my Moscow Mule and looked out over the hustle and bustle of London.  So much energy and atmosphere rolling out in the streets below and all along the Thames.

First, it’s the urban energy and the architectural artistry that quickens your pulse.  But then . . . well, maybe it’s my wistful nature, or maybe it was the Moscow Mule, but I think maybe it’s a universal truth that you look out over a scene like this and you find yourself not just overlooking geography, but gazing at history rolled out before you like a red carpet just begging you to walk it.

The Tower of London alone could suck you into its stories, never to re-emerge in the present.  (Because so many people who entered the Tower of London never did re-emerge.  So many.)  There alone you have 1000 years of history: a history that includes  Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, Guy Fawkes, and Sir Walter Raleigh.  A history that includes the prisoner who escaped by dressing as a washer woman and walking out of the gates undeterred– a tale later immortalized by Mr. Toad in the Wind in the Willows.  And a history that, despite it’s strong-arm nature, notes its own possibly precarious existence in the legend of the ravens.  The flock of ravens that lives at the Tower, considered a menace by some, enjoys nearly sacred status by others.  Legend has it that if the ravens ever leave the Tower, the Tower and the Monarchy will fall.  This legend is taken seriously, if not somberly: the ravens have their own Yeoman Raven Keeper.  (Brexit may be problematic, Parliament may be bickering, but rest assured that the Monarchy doesn’t plan to fall any time soon, and the Raven Keeper will see to that.)

If your gaze slides just west of the Tower and down the Thames, you’ll be strolling into Southwark.  Into the history of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, past The George Inn, the oldest (or only) galleried Georgian pub remaining in London, and a favorite drinking spot of the ever-thirsty  Charles Dickens.  Here, if you are terribly bookish, or prone to the seductive ambiguity of twilight, or more than one Moscow Mule into the night (which I wasn’t), you might get so caught up in the teaming past-life of the London streets you are over-looking (that you might have, in a less wistful mood, entirely overlooked), in their teaming vapors of past-present-literary lives that, each and every one, ask to be explored and understood– well, you might just never re-emerge.

But we did. We drank in the view and wondered at the lights and lives we peered out over, if not into.  Then we left our towering view above the Tower. We emerged energized, awe-spired, and feeling rather chic and smart.  We emerged ready to tackle more of what our fabulous friend London could throw at us.

If only it had given me one more chance at making a good impression on Matthew Perry.

C’est la vie.  Or, as my London friends might say:  th9sb27hg3

 

 

All I Want for Christmas is a Ghost*

(*Originally posted December 17, 2015)

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a This Old House post, but here goes.

 

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A foggy winter night at “the castle.”

We loved the atmosphere of this house from the first moment we saw it.  We have continued to love those moments when you turn the corner toward our house and– “Ta Da!”– you see the oh-so-European red stone castle (albeit diminutive) that we call home.

We moved into the house a year and a half ago, fully aware that an old house would have its share of issues: hot spots, cold spots; inefficient utilities; old bathrooms; pipes that occasionally clog; and light fixtures that give up the ghost.

But we also considered that the ghosts of this house might not be the giving up kind.

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“Marley was dead, to begin with … This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.” ―  Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Creative Commons licensing

When we first moved into this old home, I harbored a secret fear and longing–an uncomfortable pairing– that the place might be haunted.  It was the right sort of house for that:  imposing, old, creaky, and definitely situated in a country with its share of ghosts.

I was terrified that we’d be plagued by eerie happenings.

 But then nothing happened.  

Eventually, I became simply curious about whether eerie things might happen.

Still, nothing happened.  

After a while, I was just put out that nothing, not one darn thing, spooky had happened.  What a rip off!  I have to live with old (I mean OLD) bathrooms, and I don’t even get a good ghost story out of it!?  Not a fair trade off if you ask me.

DSC_0300 - CopyBut ghosts are people too; they have their own agendas.  I remember putting up Christmas decorations last year and wondering what sort of celebrations this house had seen over the century-plus of its life.  It’s no manor, but it’s grand enough that the original owners must have lived a fine life.  What was Christmas like for them?  Did the Christmas Eve table gleam with silver?  Was it loaded with salmon, goose, and sausage?  Did the children go to sleep fat with gingerbread and the parents groggy with spiced wine?

And what of the years after World War I, when French troops occupied the area?   Was the occupation oppressive or a barely perceptible weight on the shoulders of the locals . . . who must have been haunted already by their own grief, so many young soldiers lost in the war.

And this interplay of politics and personal life certainly wasn’t diminished in the years that crept toward World War II.  What about those Christmas dinners?  Were there rousing nationalistic talks around the table, was there support for the Third Reich, or was there dread at the creeping dark?  Were Jewish friends hidden in the cavernous basement to keep them safe?  Were Nazi armaments held there? This is the era whose ghosts send icy chills through me.  I want to know the house’s history, but I don’t want to know the house’s history.

Staircase between floors/apartments
Staircase between floors/apartments

And then after World War II, when the house was divided into apartments on each level–still lovely, but divided,  like Germany itself, by the rise and fall of its fortunes, ambitions, and fate.

Reverence or dread–the families who have lived here might inspire either.  I would revel in the one, but stoop under the weight of the other.

It’s better not to know, I tell myself.

Still, I want a ghost for Christmas.  I can’t shake that feeling.  It’s part of the old house package.

 

“The past isn’t dead.  It isn’t even past.”  -William Faulkner

I had a ghost once, a few years ago.

I know, I know–just hear me out.  This is a story that is usually told under different circumstances.  The general rule: you must be at least a glass of wine or two into the evening.  For that matter, I must be at least a glass of wine or two into the evening (the story becomes infinitely more plausible at that point).  And one more thing–the children aren’t around.  If they heard the story, they’d never sleep again.

I’m taking a risk in telling this story: first, I can’t be sure that you’ve had any wine (strike one); second, it’s 8 a.m., and I’m nursing a semi-cold cup of coffee, which is a much starker place to be than wrapped in the warmth of a wine glass (strike two); and third, my children may read this (although unlikely, as they find this “mommy blog” vaguely ridiculous) (strike three on two counts).

So here’s the deal–I’ll tell you my ghost story in a few days.  That gives you a chance to grab a glass of wine, if you are so inclined.  It gives me a chance to write this post in a foggy evening state, instead of this stark-morning-coffee-mind that has its current grip on me.

Meet me here then, if you dare, and I will tell you my story.

chistms carol page

 

Send ‘Em to Whitby! (Happy Halloween)

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Whitby, England. Beautiful . . . and a little spooky. (old postcard)

If you’re yearning for an atmospheric English town with cobbled and winding streets, hugging the seaside in crannies and cliffs, and teaming with a sense of menace as the sun goes down, then you’re due a trip to Whitby.

Can you find Scarborough? (red dot)
Can you find Scarborough?

Whitby lies in the northern corner of North Yorkshire, a close neighbor to Scarborough, and is a popular seaside retreat.  But it’s not all sea spray and fish and chips here.  It’s not all Victorian boardwalks, either.  No,  Whitby’s greatest claim to fame may be as part of the setting of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. (And you thought you were safe this Halloween if you just steered clear of Transylvania.  Wrong!)

In the gothic tale, Dracula is aboard the ship The Demeter and is shipwrecked on the Yorkshire shore.   He then storms Whitby in the form of a dark dog, runs up the hill to St. Mary’s Church and the Abbey and graveyard above the city,  and soon terrorizes his victims as the vampire that he is.

Looking out to the mouth of the harbor, thinking of Dracula's shipwreck.
Looking out to the mouth of the harbor, thinking of Dracula’s shipwreck.

In fact, Bram Stoker did visit Whitby, and it seems to be where much of his story took root in local history and scenery.  The Demeter  shipwreck was based on a true incident — the shipwreck of The Demetrius, a ship full of coffins being transported for burial . . . a grim cargo that proceeded to wash ashore on the town’s beaches for days after the accident.

The city of Whitby is lovely and would certainly survive as a traveler’s destination without the legend of Dracula, but she has been forever tied to the story now.  And the city is all too happy to play up its link to the blood-thirsty Count.  There are plenty of Dracula tours, books, and plaques to remind visitors of the city’s link to the gruesome story.  It’s all in fun.

Unless, of course, you are excessively squeamish . . . or  roughly four years old.

My children were taking this all in, and William, very young at the time, was growing a little skittish about Whitby.  He constantly looked over his shoulder, he stayed close by our sides (unusual for the  turbo-charged kid who usually ran yards ahead of us), and by the end of the day he was loudly and frequently proclaiming his dislike of Whitby.

My son never mentioned Dracula in his complaints; still, he was very clear about his feelings: he would never go back to Whitby.  Never.  Ever.  It wasn’t his kind of town at all.

So we never did go back to Whitby.   But we came close.

A few months after our visit to the sinister town, we had an unwanted visitor in our house.  A small, furry, unwanted visitor.  A mouse was stalking my son’s bedroom and, it seemed, spending time under his bed while William was asleep.  While this didn’t make me any too happy, it really upset Will.  We wanted to catch this rodent and catch him fast.  However, I have a soft spot for animals and was hoping that a catch and release plan would be possible.

My son and I walked to the local hardware store one morning to discuss humane mousetraps and my desire to re-house this mouse.  The owner looked at me like I was a truly daft American.  He produced a humane trap from his backroom, but shook his head at my plan.  “It won’t work,” he said.  “You won’t get rid of that mouse,” he continued, “unless you take it many  miles away, it will just come back to its home.”  (Its home, of course, being my  home.)

I imagine this man was overstating just how far a little mouse’s legs could carry him, but before I could question the store owner  my tiny son shouted out, “Let’s take him to Whitby!  We’ll take him to Whitby!”  (I should note that Whitby was an hour and a half from our home.)

The store owner looked at my son, then returned his gaze to me– registering that we Americans were even more daft than he had originally suspected.  I was in no mood to fight his assessment:  I took the trap, told my son that was a great idea, and quickly left the shop.*

For years after, whenever someone at our house was badly behaved, they were told that they’d better straighten up  or we’d take them to Whitby.   A terrible fate indeed– a place only fit for the  worst and most wicked.

whitby-bones-theguardian
Photo of erosion, from the Daily Mail

Although not really–it’s a very nice town.  Except that. . . well, it almost does seem that something is a little off about Whitby.  The cliffs over Whitby began crumbing just three years ago:  a potential disaster for the church.  If they can’t stop the erosion, St. Mary’s could soon tumble into the sea.  Locals are watching the situation with concern, and more than a little dread and disgust:  the homeowners below the eroding cliff report that skulls and bones  are falling from the sky into their backyards.  The crumbling cliff is the church’s graveyard!  This is like the wreck of The Demetrius all over again.  It doesn’t bode well, my friends. . . it doesn’t bode well.

So a word to the wise:  if you are naughty enough to get sent to Whitby any time soon, make sure to pack your garlic necklace.    Happy Halloween!

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A few more photos from Whitby:

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Near the top of the 199 steps up to Whitby Abbey.

 

Above the harbor at Whitby, high up on the cliffs, sits Whitby Abbey– or the ruins of it, anyway.  It was to the abbey and graveyard that Dracula ran, up 199 stairs that are still there today.

If you make it up the stairs (not such a bad climb), you have a great view of the city and the harbor below.

 

 

whitby%20multiview

 

 

If I were designing this postcard, it would have a little grey mouse at its center!

 

 

*Our little mouse never did make it to Whitby.  He met a different, but sad, end that  I’d rather not discuss.

Remembering Days at Alnwick Castle

via Photo Challenge: Nostalgia

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Move over Lancelot and Guinevere, Harry and Hermione– we’re storming the castle! (Alnwick Castle, 2006)

Traveling through the UK with my two knee-high knights was always a good time.  It’s easy to see a photo these days (when both of my kids have grown to my height) and feel a twinge of nostalgia.  But since moving back to the States recently, I’m a little overwhelmed by waves of nostalgia.  It’s a problem.  Nostalgia is a great place to visit, but it’s no place to live.  I’m aware of that.  And I know that, as I move forward with this blog (I still have plenty of stories and photos to share, and hopefully new travels in the works too), I don’t want this fug of nostalgia to take over entirely.

But, when logging into my blog account last week, I noticed many– so very many– other blog posts popping up about Nostalgia-this and Nostalgia-that.  I laughed a little, thinking the internet was riding some wistful wave–a viral mood gripping its readers as the autumn chill and  our nesting instincts kicked in.  As it turns out, that wasn’t it at all.  Wordpress had posted a weekly photo challenge entitled “Nostalgia.”   People were jumping on board the theme.

Although I’m a few days late for the weekly challenge, I think this gives me free reign to go nostalgic this week.  I’m sure it won’t be the last time my posts take this tone, but I hope (for both our sakes) that a little indulgence of my nostalgic mood will help it to pass.

Old Railway Poster: Alnwick Castle, aka Hogwarts. (Alnwick was used in many scenes from the Harry Potter films.)
Old Railway Poster: Alnwick Castle, aka Hogwarts. (Alnwick was used in many scenes from the Harry Potter films.)

On offer today: some photos, and a few notes, from Alnwick Castle, Northumberland, England.  (“Alnwick” is pronounced “An-nick”)

Alnwick Castle
Alnwick Castle – copyright J. Stringer, licensed for reuse under Creative Commons

 

Alnwick, on the river Aln, is set by the coast in Northumberland.  It is a couple of hours north of our old homebase of Ripon, N.Yorkshire, and a couple of hours south of Edinburgh.  That made it a great stopping off point when we would drive the beautiful coastal road up to Edinburgh . . . but it was also a great destination in its own right.

Alnwick Castle is, was, and quite possibly always will be, home to the Duke of Northumberland.  The family still lives in the castle, and, although tourism is big business for the castle, it is still very much a family home.  There are family photos in the living areas, family stories told by tour guides, and, if you are lucky, plenty of family sightings.

On one visit there, we had to scurry quickly through one of the stone entrance gates to make way for the Duchess of Northumberland to drive through.  (Jane Percy gave us an appreciative nod as she motored her convertible Audi through the gate– she was gracious and graceful, and yes, I envied her life in the castle and the convertible just a bit.)

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A family affair: we make the castle ours, if only for an afternoon.

Alnwick Castle is about 1,000 years old–yes, you heard that right.  Some nip, tuck, and augmentation over the years, but she’s a medieval beauty with a fantastic backstory (both illustrious and checkered) of exploits in British history.  Much of her prominence owes to the fact that she sits near the present day Scottish border.  The border lands have long been disputed territory, so Alnwick was strategically important. Her most famous son was Harry “Hotspur” Percy.  He became a knight, Sir Harry Hotspur (I kid you not), who earned some fame for his military prowess, and later for rebelling against Henry IV.

 

alnwick-as-hogwarts
Alnwick as Hogwarts–quidditch lesson

But Alnwick’s past often takes a backseat for tourists who know her better as the backdrop for many scenes in the Harry Potter films and the Downtown Abbey Christmas Special.   Nevermind that– the Percy family is glad to entertain Potter fans and sneaky enough to slip a little British history into their experience, even if they only showed up to frolic on the Quidditch Lawn.

The Alnwick Treehouse
The Alnwick Treehouse

The grounds of Alnwick are beautiful and extensive.  The gardens are certainly worth a tour and they will surprise you.  There is a poison garden (clearly needed for horticulture and potions classes at a Hogwarts proxy) and the massive Treehouse restaurant that will blow your mind if you are, or ever were, a child.  When I was little, I used to dream of being part of the Swiss Family Robinson, just for the tree house– but this tree house puts that one to shame!  Also, the food is supposed to be fantastic. . . we never ate there, owing to very young children who were only interested in running full throttle through the structure.  (Only an adult would climb into  a huge treehouse and immediately set themselves in a seat, right?)

The Percy family dining room, impossible not to covet. Image from Alnwick Castle website.
The Percy family dining room, impossible not to covet. Image from Alnwick Castle website.

As you can imagine, the interior rooms of Alnwick are extraordinary. My favorite rooms were the dining room and the library.  The library is grand, but also filled with family touches that remind you that this space isn’t a museum, it is very much a family home.  My only complaint with this room is that Jane Percy, in a misguided fit of whimsy (that steered right past whimsy and landed in the territory of macabre), has on display a taxidermied dog.  Yes, a stuffed dog.  (Not her own, we were assured.)  This is a step too far. . . even for a colorful dutchess who lives in a 1,000 year old castle.  Not cool, Jane Percy, not cool.

Moving on.

Training the next generation of Hotspurs.
Training the next generation of Hotspurs.

Alnwick boasts a “Knights’ School” tucked into one of its courtyards, where children can have some hands-on time sharpening their medieval knight’s skills.  (The lead off photo on this post is my kids at the Knights’ School.)  By our second visit to Alnwick (nine or ten years ago), there were also Harry Potter exhibits (tastefully) in place around the castle.  I expect there might be even more Potter Paraphernalia in place these days.  It’s all in good fun, and the Percy’s seem to develop these exhibits and activities in ways that feel right and respectful to the space.

On that second visit, we stayed overnight in a small hotel in Alnwick (I can’t recall the name).  It was simple, but comfortable, and the English breakfast was fantastic.  It was a “Full English Breakfast” with toast, beans, eggs, tomato, sausage and bacon, and black pudding.  I couldn’t face the black pudding (a highly seasoned blood sausage, sliced and fried) –a little too medieval for me.  Honestly, I dodged a few items on the menu, having a pork allergy– but I always wonder how anyone can consume a “Full English” and still be ambulatory at 8 o’clock in the  morning.  That much food for breakfast would send me moaning back to bed. But I digress.

Hanging out where the Harry Potter cast and crew stayed.
Hanging out where the Harry Potter cast and crew stayed.

The thing more impressive than the breakfast itself was the fact that we found ourselves eating under a signed photo and note from the cast of Harry Potter #1– a photo of, and signed by, the all important trifecta of young wizards, Harry, Ron, and Hermione.  I think parts of the cast and crew had stayed in the hotel during filming.  I would guess that half of the hotels in Alnwick would have been filled with cast and crew, it was such a big production in a small town.   Anyway, it brought a smile to our faces to sit under the gaze of our favorite wizards. (We may have gone to Knights’ School to learn to be Hotspurs, but our hearts have always yearned to be wizards!)

Although the castle dominates the town, there is plenty to do on a stroll through the town of Alnwick too.  Great restaurants and pubs, some lovely, small antique shops, and a bookstore that I still vividly remember 10 years later–very impressive.  Barter Books is housed in a former  Victorian Rail Station and is massive, with books new and used, fireplaces and cozy chairs, and a tea room right there in the store.  You might disappear into this place on a rainy day and not come back out until closing time.  (Unless, like us, you have two young “Hotspurs” running in circles and dragging you on to the next adventure.)

And so, Alnwick has a little something for everyone . . . or a little of everything for everyone.  It has history and Hollywood, medieval and muggle, sprawling grounds and mile-long dining rooms, tree houses and train stations . . .it has charm.   Who wouldn’t get nostalgic about days spent there?

Alnwick Castle painting, by J.M.W. Turner
Alnwick Castle painting, by J.M.W. Turner

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How We Eat: Banana Pudding, Banoffee Pie, Songs, and Stretchy Ice Cream

PicMonkey banana pud shoofly

The title is a mouthful:  a delicious, caloric mouthful.  Inspired by a delicious and caloric, if somewhat stressful, week of cakes and puddings at our house.  An actual storm is sitting out in the Gulf, on our doorstep, and making vague threats, while the figurative storm of finding your bearings in a new environment is battering us around quite handily.  Under the circumstances, why not fatten our bodies and spirits for the fight, right?  Cakes and Ale is a fine battle strategy, I say.  Anyhoo, on with the post. . .

When I was young, my mother used to sing a song that would make us giggle and make us hungry at the same time: “Shoofly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy, make your eyes light up and your tummy say ‘howdy.'”  Silly.  I’ve never had Apple Pan Dowdy, but I can imagine the cobbler-like creation with no problem.  Shoofly Pie is harder to conjure.  Obviously sweet and sticky– a fly magnet (yuck!)– but the closest thing I can picture is a chess pie, and I don’t think that’s exactly right.  Which brings me to stretchy ice cream.  What, you’ll ask, is that?  A Floridian taffy-ice cream hybrid?  An over-cooked custard that makes a chewy ice cream?  No and no.  I’m thinking of Turkish Dondurma– an ice cream made with wild orchid extracts and salep ( a milky Turkish drink containing orchids).

Dondurma doesn’t taste of orchids, it comes in many flavors.  My favorite was banana.

Image from website: http://www.lakshmisharath.com/
Image from wikicommons and website: http://www.lakshmisharath.com/

I only discovered dondurma toward the end of our life in Turkey, which is a shame because it is silky and delicious . . . and stretchy.  That doesn’t really affect the taste, but it makes for a great parlor trick.  Dondurma is often served in a dramatic way, dished out with a paddle and wrapped around your cone, only to be pulled back at the last moment.  The Turks love a laugh and good food, so why not marry the two?

I’ve been thinking about Dondurma lately.  August in Florida will bring out all of your ice cream fantasies, believe me.  But this week, I’m remembering Banana Dondurma while making a traditional Banana Pudding for my children.  A REAL Banana Pudding– no instant pudding and cool whip.  Ugh.  A silky homemade custard is the only way to go, people.

My mother made this Banana Pudding for us growing up, and I’m pretty sure that her mother made it too.  I’m printing the recipe at the end of this post.  It’s simple and satisfying, and I like it best when it’s still a tad warm (but I know people who only like it cold, so this is clearly a matter of personal taste).

Photo from myrecipes.com--sadly we ate into our pudding too quickly to get a good photo!
Photo from myrecipes.com–sadly we ate into our pudding too quickly to get a good photo!

Like all recipes for BP, this one layers Vanilla Wafers, banana slices, and pudding.  Like all the best recipes for BP, this one features a homemade pudding of milk/cream, eggs, and sugar– with a splash of vanilla tossed in after the pudding thickens.  Believe me, you’ll be licking the mixing spoon after making this one.  (And, as I’m writing this, I’m wondering if I could use this pudding, with banana and wafer bits thrown in to churn up a really delicious–though certainly un-stretchy– ice cream.  I’m going to try this soon and get back to you.)

Banana Pudding is a staple of the American South, a time-tested comfort food, welcome around any pot luck or picnic table.  Why is it Southern?  I have no idea.  It goes well with bourbon?  (There are worse theories.)   If you want a primer on the treat and its history, I’d suggest you read the article posted on the SeriousEats website– an interesting and remarkably in-depth read.  If you’re here for the yummy, not the history, feel free to skip the article, fast forward to my recipe, and judge for yourself.

But not before you consider Banoffee Pie.  It deserves a mention in a travel and culture blog, because what Banana Pudding is to the American South, Banoffee Pie seems to be to Brits.  A perfect comfort food, a sweet banana dessert that pops up everywhere.

photo from commons.wikimedia.org
photo from commons.wikimedia.org

“Banoffee” you say?  Yes– bananas, cream, and toffee.  BAN. OFFEE.

Although it’s a British staple, it’s not one of those long-standing English recipes that dates back to the middle ages (think mincemeat pie).  No– bananas weren’t easy to come by before modern times.  Still, you find it in so many homes, on so many menus, and in endless incarnations these days. Nigella Lawson has a great looking Banoffee Cheesecake recipe, as well a Chocolate Banoffee recipe.  There are Banoffee sundaes and cupcakes and pastries.  If you can think up a twist to banoffee pie, it’s out there.

I have nibbled at Banoffee creations, but haven’t perfected my own version, so I’ll encourage you to find your own recipe.  If you already have the perfect recipe, feel free to share it with me!

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moveable feastI’ll leave you with my pudding recipe and a final thought on comfort food.  On how we eat.  I love sugar, and I love rich puddings, and I love sharing these things with family.  But it’s not just the yumminess, and it’s not just the hospitality, it is the comfort that gets me this week– the ritual of sharing this favorite family recipe. Hemingway spoke of Paris as a moveable feast–a joy and light and influence, a wealth of experiences–that stays with you wherever you go.   Whether or not we have Paris, we all have a storehouse of moveable feasts.

This week, Banana Pudding is my moveable feast.  The world is spinning a bit fast for me, the Gulf is churning a bit violently, but I have my pudding (a tad warm yet) and I have my children with their spoons at the ready . . . and I find that I have a feast of friends around this table — I have my grandmother’s cooking, my mother’s singing, my Turkish ice cream man, and my British bakery, and I sit in the company of these fine things and dig in to my bowl, and I know, with a quiet conviction, that the world will be right soon enough.

*Ba’s BANANA PUDDING

  • For the custard: 1/2 cup sugar, 3 Tablespoons flour, dash of salt, 1 whole egg, 3 egg yolks (save the whites), 2 cups of milk.
  • Cook this in a medium saucepan over a low heat until it thickens.  Then take it off the stove and stir in 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • Layer vanilla wafers and banana slices; pour some custard over the top; then repeat these layers.
  • For meringue topping: beat the 3 egg whites, gradually adding up to 1/4 cup of sugar (and 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar, if you wish).  Bake this until browned (at 400 degrees, or using the broiler).
  • Enjoy!