The change from being an outsider looking in, to being an insider looking out, happens in blinks of an eye. One minute, there you are, filling out a visa application, giddy with excitement.
You stand on the sidewalk trying to remember which way to look. Marveling at black cabs, red buses and the electric green of Hyde Park. What is this magical place? The accents make you giggle. The turn of phrase is endearing. “Why yes, actually, I would fancy a cup of tea” you learn to say with a straight face.
The frustration sets in. “What? No, I didn’t know I needed a television license” and “Why can’t I just add additional gratuity on my credit card? Why doesn’t that work?” and “Well, can you or can’t you deliver by Friday? What does, ‘Generally it takes longer’ even mean?”
Friends from back home come to visit, “You are so lucky to live here.” they croon. “I guess” you respond. Then you look around and think, “You know, actually I am pretty lucky.” You use the Underground with ease. You even mind the gap. You look left instead of right. You say buggy instead of stroller. And you create relationships with a new group of wonderful people and the accents fade away.
The process is standard, or so I was told, by a relocation counselor when I first moved to London eleven years ago. First you are happy, then you are frustrated, and then it levels off to a tolerability.
What he didn’t mention was full immersion. The final transition. The point at which you stop doing the mental conversion of GBP to USD every time you pay for a cup of coffee. When you no longer notice the accent. When all of a sudden you look back and think, “Hmph. I didn’t realize that I watch BBC news instead of CNN.” And then it catches you by surprise when someone asks, “How long are you here for?” and you think, “Well, forever I guess.”
That final transition … no one can say when it happens. For some people it never does. For others it happens quickly, cheerfully. They adopt an accent within 6 months and wear a bowler cap to work. Unsurprisingly the final transition for me involved food. Suprisingly, it was only this past weekend.
Dinner Saturday night. Friends were over with their 18-month-old daughter. Rugby was on television (England v. Ireland). We had plans to eat at 6pm so the kids could eat with us. The afternoon turned to evening. Wine was opened. Stories were being swapped. Many jokes were bantered about my husband’s and my brief plan to move to the country and our rapid about-face.
As the time approached to serve dinner I started looking around for something to whip up for dessert. This is pretty standard for me. I rarely make anything in advance and, somewhat ridiculously, I always refuse offers for guests to bring something sweet. My modus operandi is to rustle up a simple batch of classic American ooey gooey chocolatey brownies while everyone is chatting, refilling wine glasses and getting ready to take their place at the table. I pop them in the oven as we begin dinner and, if all goes well, they are ready for dessert at the same time we are. You can hold your hamburgers, your chocolate chip cookies and your apple pie – nothing is more American than serving brownies for dessert at a dinner party. But this time….without really noticing….I didn’t even consider it. I looked around, spied a bowl of neglected citrus, and immediately opted for lemon puds — a basic, simple, fabulous, “boarding school dessert” as my dinner guests later told me.
I first came across lemon puds when they made an appearance in a cookbook that my mother-in-law gave me. They were absurdly simple, deliciously warm and gooey. They were puckeringly tart with a paper thin crispy brown crust – not quite like crème brûlée but not at all like a yellow cake – sort of half souffle, half quick bread. The recipe is simple, and it is hard to screw it up though it is slightly nerve wracking because the batter looks like curdled creme at a point, but in the end it all comes together to make a half-pudding, half-cake, slightly souffle-ish, deliciously morish and palate cleansing pudding. And pudding how we say dessert in England.
- 110g unsalted butter at room temperature
- 175g caster sugar
- 3 lemons - zest and juice
- 4 eggs separated
- 50g all purpose flour
- 300ml whole milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 190°C / 375°F. Grease six 250ml ramekins and set aside.
- Using an electric mixer with the whisk attachment whisk the egg whites on high speed until firm, about 1 minute. Remove them from the mixing bowl by gently spooning them into a large mixing bowl and set aside. (Do not wash the bowl for the electric mixer, you can use it dirty in the next step)
- Using an electric mixer on medium-high blend together butter, sugar, and lemon zest for about 5 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks one at a time blending for about 30 seconds after each addition. Then, with the mixer turned to low, add the lemon juice and vanilla and mix just until combined. Stop the mixer and sift the flour onto the top of the butter-egg yolk mixture. Turn the mixer on low again and slowly add the milk.
- Carefully fold the egg whites into the lemon mixture until combined. At this point the mixture looks like curdled cream. Don't worry. That's how it is supposed to look.
- Spoon the mixture carefully into the 6 ramekins and then place ramekins into an extra large baking dish. Pour boiling water into the dish so that it reaches about half way up the ramekins. Bake for 40-45 minutes.
- Serve immediately with powdered sugar sifted on top.