Saturday, June 22, 2013

Sticky Toffee Pudding

I can't get enough of the UK.  I am in nation-love.  There are the accents, from the rarefied posh London accents to the heavy Cockney accent to the cheerful Scottish brogue.  There are the weekly magazines, of which Hello! is my personal favorite.  It's like US Weekly, but with dukes and earls and tiaras thrown in.  There is the fact that there seems to be some regulation requiring every establishment to have a changing table.  There are the child-friendly museums and palaces featuring costumes and/or toys for little ones to play with.  There is the Duchess-formerly-known-as-Kate Middleton.  There are the high street shops like Reiss, Whistles, Hobbs, and LK Bennett.  There are scones and clotted cream.  There are fish and chips.  There is excellent beer.  There is amazing Indian food and even Thai food.  There are the hundreds of years of history.  

So perhaps I've developed a bit of an obsession.  Our recent trip to Scotland - our last trip of our European sojourn - only solidified my love for the UK when I met Sticky Toffee Pudding.

The name alone sounds delicious.  The actuality is simply rich, caramely, sticky, and incredible.  It is quite basic in a way - a cake, usually made with dates, covered with toffee sauce, and typically served with vanilla ice cream.  Toffee sauce is the stuff of dreams, and all I can really say is that when our server walked by our table approximately 2 minutes after placing the sticky toffee pudding in front of us, the plate was empty.  She even exclaimed, "Didn't I just put that down?"  Slightly embarrassed, we stuttered over several statements of "It was so good...we were was so good...".

Naturally, I also found Sticky Toffee Pudding ice cream at the well-regarded B. Janettas in St. Andrews.  Scotland has fantastic ice cream, and while sticky toffee pudding is better in its regular form, the ice cream was not too shabby.

Scotland is the second country we have visited in the past few years that made us both feel, almost immediately, like we want to come back.  The first was Portugal, and we still talk about wanting to go back to Lisbon and head north towards Porto.  But without hesitation we both agreed that five days in Scotland was simply not enough to do justice to this incredible place.

The country is absolutely gorgeous.  When have you ever seen a cliff like this in a public park in a major city?  Holyrood Park in Edinburgh is the only one I know of.

On a picture perfect day like we had, I better understood why golfers trek from around the world to places like St Andrews, Scotland to golf on the oldest golf course in the world.

The fishing villages of East Neuk were quaint and charming, everything a fishing village should be, with the added bonus of Scottish accents, the occasional kilt, and a wide selection of Scotch at the local pub.

Every Scot we encountered was genuinely friendly, from the girl at the Scotch Whisky Experience who gave us a list of places she loved to visit in Edinburgh as a child to the jovial, large-bellied man making flirtatious jokes with me when we asked for directions to a gas station near the airport. Of course, this was after we mildly traumatized Baby Oil by taking him on the barrel ride at the Scotch Whisky Experience - like an amusement park ride, you sit in a "barrel" and are escorted through a virtual distillery. The problem was that your "host" for the trip was a ghost.  And it turns out that 2-year-olds are not big fans of ghosts, no matter how friendly and Scottish they may be.  Furthermore, try as I might, I have to admit that I just don't like Scotch.  The only exception is when that whisky comes in the form of fudge. 
The ghost
The traumatized toddler
The first day we tried to tour the Palace at Holyroodhouse, no visitors were allowed because the Duke of Rothesay was in residence.  Who's that, you say?  Oh, nobody much, just Prince Charles - the Duke of Rothesay is his title in Scotland (because why stop at one title when you can have four or five?).  The next day, when we were able to visit, I basically felt like I was hanging out with Charles and Camilla as I strolled through the dining room where they had eaten the day before.  Much appreciated were the sample menus laid out for visitors to see of actual formal meals previously served at the palace.  It is a bit crazy in this day and age that there are still people with palaces, and that they can just call up and say, "Hey, we're dropping by for a few days - could you please have the chef whip up some of that lemongrass and ginger marinated duck breast?" 

I wouldn't want you think our trip was all royalty and whisky.  We also toured Scotland's Secret Bunker (or as Baby Oil would say, "Scotland's Secret Plunker").  For 40 years, this was a top-secret location that housed all of the equipment and supplies necessary to serve as a headquarters for Scotland's government in the case of nuclear war.  When you approach it, it looks like a typical Scottish farmhouse.  Except for this:
I'm going to go out on a limb and say this wasn't here when it was a secret

Conveniently, we happened to stay in a town boasting a restaurant that has been named the UK's best fish and chips.  We may have eaten there two nights in a row.  It was really that good. 

Scotland, I love you, and I'm not just using you for your sticky toffee pudding.  After all, look how happy you make my kids:

My 2.5 year old has visited 8 countries in the past 2 years (France, US, Portugal, Italy, Denmark, UK (England and Scotland), Belgium, and Spain). My 5 month old has hit four countries already (France, Belgium, Spain, and UK).  I hope they're okay with being stuck in the US for a while...