Banoffee Pie–A British Treat

SWEET TOOTH ALERT!

I’ve been addicted to the idea of banoffee pie since a British acquaintance told me about it four years ago. I even included the treat in a scene in Where There Is Will.

My hunt for banoffee pie on a recent trip to England was a bust, so I decided if I wanted to taste the delicacy (or what I presumed would be a delicacy), I’d have to make it myself. So I did. Twice. And the pie received rave reviews and requests for the recipe.

I didn’t follow a particular recipe. Instead, I mixed and matched different pieces from several recipes. But I’ve written down what I did, with what I hope is enough precision to come up with a decent pie if you decide to give it a go.

And I highly recommend you decide to give it a go–especially if you like your sweets sweet.

banoffee pie

Banoffee Pie—A British Treat

Ingredients

2 cans sweetened condensed milk

1 stick unsalted butter

10 ounces digestive biscuits

3 large bananas, sliced ¼ to ½ inch thick

1 ½ cups chilled heavy cream

1 ½ tablespoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoons instant coffee powder

Notes: Digestive biscuits are a plain British cookie, similar to a graham cracker. Look for them in the international section of your grocery store. If you can’t find them, substitute graham crackers.

Make the toffee in advance because it takes time to cook and cool. I’ve done it up to a week in advance with no ill effects.

Make the toffee:

If you can easily remove the labels from the cans of sweetened condensed milk, do so. (Otherwise you should remove them from the pot as soon as they slip off the can.) Put cans in a large pot (I use an 8-quart) and cover with water. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat slightly and let boil for 3 hours. Keep checking to make sure the cans remain covered with water. If the water level goes too low, add more water. When the 3 hours are up, use tongs to remove the cans from the pot and let cool.

Make the crust:

Melt the butter.

Make crumbs out of the digestive biscuits or graham crackers. I use a food processor but a rolling pin works too.

Mix butter and crumbs.

Press into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan, tart pan, or springform pan.

Make the filling:

Spread the toffee over the crust.

Distribute banana slices over the toffee, leaving no gaps between them. You might not use all the slices, or you might need to slice part of another banana.

Make the cream:

Add the chilled cream, granulated sugar, and coffee powder to a large mixing bowl. Whip until firm peaks form. Spread over pie filling.

Chill pie until ready to serve. If you want to cover the pie, I suggest doing so before whipping the cream. Spread the banana slices with a little lemon juice and cover with waxed paper before putting on the cream. When ready to serve, whip the cream and spread over the filling.

Where Are Will and Michelle?

I just returned from a wonderful trip to London where, besides seeing many of the standard sites, such as the Tower of London and Big Ben, I went in search of all (well, some) things Will and Michelle. That is Will Sheridan and Michelle Loeser, the hero and heroine of my book Where There Is Will.

If you have read Where There Is Will, you know the story takes place in London. When I began writing, I was determined to get as much as I could right. I chose real coffee shops and pubs on real streets, Michelle and Will ate authentic foods using brand names available in the U.K., and I selected a flat for Michelle that was really available for rent within her price range.  I even described the flat just as I saw it in the photos accompanying the estate agency ad.

But in the end, for legal reasons, my publisher didn’t want me to use the names of real places, with the exception of well-known landmarks like those mentioned above. So I made up names for shops and restaurants, for food products, and so forth. That didn’t stop me from tracking down the real things when I was in London. I took photographs whenever possible too, and I’d like to share what I found.

Remember Michelle’s panic attack on the London Eye?

I hoped no one in the capsule was watching me, wondering why I was taking in such long breaths and concentrating so hard on something they couldn’t see. But then again, I was standing next to a famous actor and having an anxiety attack. What were the chances no one was looking my way?

I heard Will say that this would be the best thirty minutes of the day, sending my heart into such frenzy I could have whipped an egg white in my chest. My knuckles turned white from gripping the railing. My face was undoubtedly the same shade. I made another attempt to fill my lungs. That’s when I felt a warm hand cover my own.

“Are you afraid of heights?” Will asked. “Now I remember how nervous you seemed on the aeroplane.

This is what caused it:

London Eye

London Eye

Two scenes take place in a pub called The Greenbriar. (For those local to Fairfax County, I named the pub after the neighborhood where my two older children went to school.) The real pub is The Blackfriar. As Will states in the book, “The building is awesome—art nouveau with reliefs made of copper and marble.”

It turns out the pub IS pretty awesome. See for yourself.

The Blackfriar, a Nicholsons Pub

The Blackfriar, a Nicholsons Pub

A copper relief

A copper relief

When Harold takes Michelle to The Greenbriar after she and Will broke up, Michelle wonders, “What’s the harm?”

The answer came as soon as we were seated next to the table in the corner where Will and I had that awkward exchange in front of his cast mates when I first arrived in London. Throughout lunch, I pictured Will sitting on the same stool, knee bobbing and fingers tapping; his cast mates’ eyes upon me, waiting to hear if I said anything interesting to Will.

The table Will sat at when Michelle first runs into him at The Blackfriar

The table where Will sat when Michelle first runs into him at “The Greenbriar”

I had gotten particularly lost on my way to The Blackfriar, but I knew I had found it when I spotted a triangular-shaped building ahead of me. The pub was very similar to what I had envisioned from its description on the Internet except its size was a little smaller. And their Steak and Ale pie, which is what Michelle ordered when she was there with Harold, was just as delicious I thought it would be. I even sat two tables away from the corner table in the photo.

Malteasers

Malteasers

While I’m on the subject of food, about those malted milk balls Penny pops into her mouth after Amanda accuses her of voting “no” to the question, “Should Michelle sleep with Will?”

They were originally Malteasers.

When Will’s grandmother meets Michelle for the first time, she gives Michelle biscuits (cookies).

Granny Bea presented me with a tin of assorted cookies from of one of London’s most famous department stores. “No English home should be without biscuits.”

Marks and Spencer Custard Creams

Marks and Spencer Custard Creams

No home should be without biscuits!

In the original draft I submitted to my publisher, Granny Bea doesn’t present Michelle with just any cookies, she presents her with custard creams from Marks and Spencer. I happened to pick up a package at the well-known department store.

I haven’t tried them yet, but they look like a standard vanilla sandwich cookie. However, I bet they taste great with a cuppa!

perf5.000x8.000.inddAnd a Will and Michelle hunt couldn’t be complete without searching for the book’s cover image. It turns out that I suspect their was some photoshop work done on the cover because I never found a vantage point that did not include the Tower of London. However, I did find some great views of the Tower Bridge, which is at the right of the photo.

Me at the Tower Bridge

Me at the Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

While on a walking tour of the City of London, I first spotted the modern building second from the left. One if its kinder nicknames is The Gherkin. Imagine how excited I was to recognize it.

The Gherkin

The Gherkin

My only Will and Michelle regret is that I could not locate a piece of banoffee pie.

With her hand on my shoulder, she nudged me down the hallway, her expression suggesting she held the secret to a long life. Our journey terminated in the office kitchen where a group was helping themselves to tea, coffee, cookies, and cakes.

“We do this every Wednesday,” Olivia explained. “A treat in the middle of week.” She sliced a piece of banana cream pie and offered it to me. “It’s an English favorite. Try it.”

Not one to pass up dessert, even if it wasn’t made from chocolate, I dug in. A burst of toffee erupted in my mouth. I was hooked. “What is this divine concoction?”

“Banoffee.”

That made sense. Bananas and toffee. I could taste them both.

“Who’s responsible for the banoffee pie?” Olivia asked the others.

A woman who looked like she had eaten her fair share of pies in her lifetime raised her hand.

“Michelle’s from America,” Olivia explained. “She’s never had it.”

“It’s delicious,” I said. “I’d love the recipe.”

“You’ll need to convert the ingredients from grams, you know,” Olivia said.

Even the flippant edge to her voice wouldn’t deter me from wanting to work for a company that served dessert once a week.

I’ll be making my own banoffee pie for our once-a-year eating frenzy at work. It might not be weekly like tea time at Wynware, but it saves me quite a few calories!

I hope you enjoyed this little trip down Will and Michelle Memory Lane as much as I did. And if you haven’t read Where There Is Will, maybe this is just the enticement you need.

Has Facebook ruined LinkedIn?

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ID-10046884_by_Ambro

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I believe LinkedIn began as an online forum whose members could use their resources to grow professionally. According to their website, they “want to help our members be more productive and successful. We do that by offering tools to network, build professional identity, and learn.”

LinkedIn at its beginning was a place to go to find like-minded professionals who might help grow your knowledge, to get introduced to people through their network of contacts, and to look for new business opportunities.

But lately, I’ve seen a trend that makes me think LinkedIn is no longer effectively meeting its purpose, and I think Facebook is to blame. That’s a pretty harsh accusation, I know, so let me explain.

For many, their Facebook friends (which I will abbreviate as FFs) are not really their friends; they’re more like acquaintances. One test you can use to determine if you agree is to ask yourself, how many of my FFs do I get together with at least once a year? (Long-distance family and friends don’t count.) A year is a pretty generous time frame, yet I bet a good fraction of your FFs didn’t pass this test. And Facebook is constantly suggesting more people you could “friend” based on the number of your friends who are also friends with them. How easy is it when you can expand your friend list with a click of the button. For some people those numbers matter. “I have 300 FFs, how ‘bout you?”

I think in LinkedIn’s early years, people only made contact with those they knew professionally. This does not seem to be the case anymore. Every time I log on to LinkedIn, the site greets me with a page of my email contacts with whom I might want to connect. I get emails from all sorts of people who wouldn’t be appropriate to add to my contact list on a professional social media site.

And endorsements? What’s happened to LinkedIn endorsements is a shame. My philosophy is to only endorse contacts for skills I know they have. Judging from who has endorsed me for certain skills, not everyone follows this philosophy. How would a realtor or a physical therapist know I’m skilled in FrameMaker? Do they even know what FrameMaker is? Unlikely. Yet when LinkedIn pops up a suggestion to endorse a contact for a particular skill, people click “Yes” just as easily as they click “Like” on Facebook. This makes the data on LinkedIn unreliable.

Fortunately, I think at present, we can count on written recommendations on LinkedIn. In this fast-paced, one-click world we live in, no one is willing to take the time to write about a person’s abilities if they don’t believe the person is qualified in skills X, Y, and Z. Thank goodness for that.

Do you think Facebook has hurt LinkedIn? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Did you read Lord of the Flies in high school?

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Lord of the Flies coverI was surprised to learn that my teenage daughter was reading William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (LOTF) in tenth grade. I’d have thought a book written in the 1950s, and read by both my husband and me when we were in high school, would be long gone. Apparently, I was wrong.

But what surprised me more than studying the book in 2014 is that my daughter liked it! I have such bad recollections of that book that I shudder when I hear the title. My husband feels the same way.

So how come our teen liked it?

I have a theory.

Back in the seventies, I wasn’t much of a reader (I know, strange for a writer, but I had my reasons). When I chose to read, I enjoyed stories about teenager girls and what they were going through. I suppose it was women’s fiction for the teen population. Nothing too deep. Easy to understand. Likely held no symbolism, allegory, or anything else that gives rise to the continuous study of LOTF sixty years after it was written. So when I read LOTF, I was shocked by the content. It was barbaric, vulgar, and sad. I wasn’t accustomed to reading books of this nature.

But, do you know what? Our kids are. Beginning with Harry Potter and continuing through the Hunger Games and Divergent series, our children have been exposed to evil, death, torture, fighting for survival, and a myriad of other dark situations. For my teen, LOTF did not have the shock effect it had on me as at her age.

I’d love to get a discussion going in the comment section. Did you read Lord of the Flies in high school? What did you think of it? Do you agree with my theory that teens are exposed to much darker themes than we were at that age?

Reducing germs in your life

Reducing Germs: Washing hands

Image courtesy of FrameAngel / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Everyone knows that washing hands often is one of the easiest ways to reduce the risk of illness. But did you know that according to research published in the Journal of Environmental Health, only five percent of people wash their hands properly after using the bathroom? My initial reaction is “yuck,” but after reading that one should lather up with soap and water for twenty seconds before rinsing, I’m not surprised. In fact, I’m guilty. If I know I’ve been exposed to a threat, such as being around someone with a cold, I might pay particular attention to my hand-washing method, but in general, I spend less than the required time scrubbing.

You do too. Admit it.

Wondering what else you can do to avoid germs? Along with hand washing, Women’s Health magazine suggests the following:

Carry dry hand sanitizer. It’s good to have a dry hand sanitizer handy (pun intended) in case there is no soap and water available.

Use metal water bottles. Use metal water bottles over plastic because bacteria adhere more to plastic than metal. And be sure to clean the metal bottle well after each use to eliminate any lingering germs. Confession time. I used to keep a plastic bottle of water in my car and sip from it for days. Eventually, I concluded this was an unsafe habit, and I stopped drinking from it,but it remained in my cup holder in case of emergency stickiness. Like when I eat apple slices while driving.

Clean your cell phones regularly. They are another big source of bacteria. Think about it. We touch that thing all day long, why shouldn’t it carry loads of germs? Combat them by cleaning your phone at least once a week with an alcohol-free wipe, then dry it with a super-soft cloth.

Keep your work area clean. Regular cleaning of your entire work environment with a disinfectant wipe will help keep the germs at bay. I’ll add that this practice probably isn’t such a bad idea for your home work area, that is, your laptop, house phones, etc., either.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Monitor your make-up. Clean your brushes once a week and your make up bag once a month. Liquid products used around the eye, such as eyeliner and mascara, are particularly vulnerable to bacterial growth, and, therefore, eye contamination. There are differing opinions on when to dispose of these products, but I think it’s safe to say that you should keep them no more than a year, maybe less. Check all make up products for their recommended expiration dates.

Scrub your purse. It contains more bacteria than the average toilet seat. Now there is a not-so-pleasant piece of data. If you own a cloth purse, you can machine wash using the delicate cycle and cold water. For leather, use a disinfectant wipe inside and out. I can identify with this. I often put my purse places I know I shouldn’t, like the bathroom floor or under my chair in a restaurant or coffee shop. They make portable purse hooks you can use to hang your purse on a table, but I’m skeptical of using them because they take up table space. Some restaurant tables are so tight to begin with; hang a purse next to you and you’re taking up more than your allotted space, probably using some of your neighbor’s precious property.

How do you feel about purse hooks?

Do you have other suggestions for reducing germs in your life?

How does the middle-aged woman make headlines?

It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. Maybe in some offbeat way it is.

To find topics for this blog, I set a Google Alert for the phrase “middle-aged woman”. Each day I get a headline and snippet of web articles that contain this phrase. Rarely do I find a topic I want to write about.

What comes with frequency, however, are the headlines that turn my stomach and make me wonder what is wrong with the world. I recognize that there are cultural differences worldwide, but we are all human. Don’t we all deserve equal respect?

Do gruesome headlines play on the same innate curiosity that makes us turn towards, rather than away from, accident scenes? Witnessing an accident leaves me unsettled for days, wondering what happened to the injured. No good comes of my observation. Don’t gruesome stories have the same effect?

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Old lady habits? Me?

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I don’t know exactly when it began, but I realize now that I’ve become an old woman. Not old in the sense of age, I still have many more years left in me. But old in the sense of habits. When I was in my twenties and thirties,  fully aware of the warning signs , I swore I would not succumb when I got older.

I succumbed.

What do I mean by old lady habits? For one, I carry a sweater or pashmina on occasion, in case it’s chilly. I don’t mean chilly outside, I mean chilly inside, like the air is more conditioned than I need. Or maybe I’m the unlucky one sitting under the vent. Whatever the reason, I’m cold, and I don’t like it.

Two, my knees, ankles, and feet snap, crackle, pop more than a large bowl of Rice Krispies. Forget any plan to sneak around the house. No midnight snacks for me. My bones and joints announce my presence like an updated version of Ed McMahon. “Heeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrre’s Monica!” However, no one applauds my arrival like they did for Johnny Carson.

(See I am getting old. I reference people who were on television twenty years ago.)

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Men rent tuxes, how about women renting dresses?

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Have you ever needed a dress for a special occasion and you didn’t think you’d ever wear it again?

I experienced this when I was very pregnant with my second child. It was a month before my due date, and I was invited to black tie affair. I knew no one with an appropriate maternity dress I could borrow. I was saved when I learned about a woman who had a home business renting out maternity clothes, primarily fancy dresses. When I looked for her with my third pregnancy she was out of business.

Fast forward twenty-four years. With the help of the Internet, a company has taken a very similar business idea and turned it into what seems to be a successful business called Rent the Runway. Their website boils the process down into four steps: Find it, rent it, wear it, return it. That simple.

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Does healthy eating prevent menopause weight gain?

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Image of middle-aged woman on scale

Image courtesy of Hyena Reality, FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A study led by Professor Clare Collins of the University of Newcastle in Australia followed healthy women aged 48 to 56 for six years, and found those who ate the most healthy foods gained just as much weight over that time as those who ate the least healthy foods – about 1.7 kilograms, which translates to 3.75 pounds.

How depressing. Might as well double up on ice cream and skip the salad. Kidding. Really I am. Except for maybe one day a week 😉

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Chili for a cold day or Superbowl Sunday

In winter, we tend to reach for food that is hot and soothing, like soups, stews, and chili. They’re the antithesis of the weather outdoors; they warm our chilled bodies and comfort our stinging souls. No wonder chili is so popular a dish to serve on Superbowl Sunday, which falls smack in the middle of the coldest time of the year in America.

I’ve eaten so many delicious chilis in recent years, I can’t possibly pick a favorite. I can’t even narrow it down to meat or vegetarian. And if I were to pick meat would it be chicken or beef, and if it were beef, would it be ground or cubes? My mood runs the show if I’m doing the cooking. If someone else cooks, I’ll gladly eat what they prepare.
 

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