I had lunch with an old friend this week, for the first time in twelve years.
It’s hard to say why it’s been so long. Ruth’s been pursuing a demanding career on one side of the city, and I’ve been raising children and writing books on the other side. When she left her job to start a consulting company this month, I suggested we meet for lunch. What was it like to see her after all those years? The time flew by, we didn’t stop talking, and we promised ourselves the next lunch would be much sooner.
Ruth and I met in Europe, both of us between university degrees and both on a Contiki tour for travellers between 18 and 35. Although I went by myself, so did many of the others and meeting people was incredibly easy. I kept a journal on that trip, and my first mention of Ruth was when a group of us went dancing one night in Rome.
Here’s what else Ruth and I shared on that trip:
1. She taught me one of my most important life skills ever – how to French braid my hair.
2. While we were in Munich, we shared strawberries from the market (cool) and caramel sundaes from McDonald’s (not so cool).
3. We sang “Tales From the Vienna Woods” while we passed through those woods, likely to the annoyance of the rest of our tour group. (I’m aware that “Tales From the Vienna Woods” has no actual lyrics, but that didn’t stop the performance.)
4. We sang songs from The Sound of Music on our way to the photo op at the von Trapp gazebo. Amazingly, no one kicked us off the bus.
5. We posed for a picture together in the Netherlands wearing traditional Dutch costume. Ruth looks adorable. I look like a tourist posing in an ill-fitting Dutch costume.
I’m not posting that photo, but we’re both in the photo above, in a loft in Switzerland. (I’m third from the left, Ruth is second from the right, and Jennifer, who lives in B.C. is on the far left.) And here’s a photo from this week.
The other thing we’ve always shared is a love of sweets. Ruth, I’m dedicating these Skor Bar Squares to you and to memories of Europe!
Skor Bar Squares (Caramel Crunch Bars)
(From Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours)
For the base:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 ounces premium-quality milk chocolate, finely chopped
For the topping:
6 ounces premium-quality milk chocolate, finely chopped
3/4 cup toffee bits or chopped Skor bars
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a 9 x 13” pan or line with parchment paper.
Whisk together the flour, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl.
Beat the butter at medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the sugars and beat for another 3 minutes, or until the mixture is light and creamy. Beat in the vanilla, then turn off the mixer. Add dry ingredients and stir by hand, just until they are almost incorporated. Add the chopped chocolate and mix only until the dry ingredients disappear. You’ll have a heavy, sticky dough. Scrape the dough into the prepared pan and spread it into a thin, even layer.
Bake for 20 to 22 minutes. Remove from oven and turn off the heat. Scatter the 6 ounces chopped chocolate evenly over the hot base and put the pan back in the (still warm) oven for about 3 minutes, until the chocolate is soft. Remove from the oven and immediately spread the chocolate over the bars, using the back of a spoon. Sprinkle the toffee bits over the chocolate and press down lightly with your fingertips. Let cool to room temperature, then remove from pan and cut into bars.