Greetings from Budapest! My husband and I are thrilled to be here for two whole weeks on holiday. Let me tell you– Budapest is a mecca for two of my favorite things: books and coffee. Very shortly, I’ll be telling you all about it in a literary tour of the city. For the moment, here’s a little detour. A few nights into our stay, I was on the Metro by myself. Being the savvy traveler that I am, I only had a small cross-body bag with me to deter any potential Dodgers. The downside of this is that it doesn’t leave much room for a book, and I was feeling a bit out of place among the many readers on the underground M2. I have a stack of Budapest-related fiction and non-fiction with me (which I’m sure to inundate you with in time), but for this commute to the other side of the Danube, I opened my Kindle app to see what I had at the ready.
I settled on I Am Watching You by Teresa Driscoll. Later I realized the irony, as I just finished reviewing It’s News to Me. Like Olga Campos Benz, Teresa Driscoll was a journalist and a TV news anchor for many years. She was a BBC TV news presenter, covering stories of crime for many years. As she entered the world of writing fiction, she felt a need to explore the ripples that these crimes cause in the lives of victims, families, witnesses, and friends.
I Am Watching You is written in the genre I read a lot of presently: psychological thriller. I love the fast pace, the multiple points of view. Admittedly, sometimes I can get frustrated with many different threads of story. When you come to a cliffhanger with one person’s tale, it’s hard to switch gears. This author handled it beautifully. The story moves so quickly, and the characters are so intertwined, that one doesn’t feel deprived when the focus shifts to another person. I like that the narrative is primarily in real time, with only a few time lapses to explain pieces of the puzzle.
As with most thrillers, not much can be said without giving away crucial information. Driscoll weaves a story about the quest to find a missing girl who was last seen riding a train to London. Adding to the complexity is the impact this crime has had upon a quiet florist from Devon (where the author lives as well), who had to make a split decision… and live with the results of that decision for the rest of her life. Not just a uni-dimensional “whodunit” story, I Am Watching You delves into the spirals of grief and guilt, and the effect these emotions can have on our relationships. I couldn’t put this book down, and heartily recommend it for an entertaining short read.
Ooh, I just now realized a second irony– I chose this book and began reading it while riding on a train. Creepy.
Anna is the missing girl. Her mother stress cooks. She is the quintessential homemaker– happiest when her home is bubbling over with kids, muddy boots, laughter, warmth, and lots and lots of good home cooking. Anna’s friend Sarah describes her wonder at the meals Barbara produced on a daily basis.
“Stews and pies, lasagne and all manner of delicious offerings– always with a pudding to follow. Anna’s favourite was this plum slice, like a flapjack with stewed fruit through the middle. It had a lovely smell, which Anna said was cinnamon. They would eat them cold as snacks some days when they played two-ball in the yard, and other times Anna’s mother would warm them for pudding to be served with clotted cream or custard.”
When the news comes that Anna is missing, her mother immediately turns to the kitchen to do the only thing she can think of to do: cook Anna’s favorite dessert. Plum slice. Funnily enough, I haven’t found anything like this description. Anna’s family lives in Cornwall. I recently researched Cornish food for my review of My Cousin Rachel and didn’t come across anything exactly like this. Plum pudding, yes. Flapjack-like plum slice, no.
Update: When I gave this post to my husband to proofread, he took on the challenge and quickly found a recipe for Sticky Plum Flapjack bars. Of course he did. This is far different from what I had pictured in my mind, but it does seem like a dessert that could either be eaten cold, or warmed like a pudding to be eaten with custard and a spoon. If you would like to try it out, follow this link to the recipe by BBC Good Food! I reached out to the author on her Facebook page, and she confirmed that this link is an accurate description.
Seeing as I’m on holiday anyway, I’m NOT cooking. 🙂 So, today I set off through Budapest on a mission to find something as much like plum slice as I could.
My first find was rather serendipitous. I had been planning a visit to The Donut Library anyway. (Really, how could you not visit a shop with that name, and a free little book library inside to boot?) When I asked the cashier what she recommended, she immediately drew my attention to the plum filled doughnuts. Perfect. And delicious. The doughnut itself was average, but the plum jam filling was divine. Option #1 is a strong contender!
After walking off the doughnut and visiting several bookstores in between, I came to my next location: Hiszteria Cremeria. I had a feeling that the Hungarian “pancakes” (palacsinta) would come close to the “kind of flapjack with stewed fruit through the middle” described in the book. Palacsinta are essentially crepes, filled with any manner of fruits, jams, nutella, cottage cheese, etc. They are often served with whipped cream and/or ice cream.
I had hoped that I could find a place that offered custard as well, but this particular cremeria did not. I have tasted Hungarian custard, and it is heavenly. No plums on the menu, so I chose apricot with whipped cream. I was disappointed that real fruit was not used; instead, a type of syrupy puree. It was very tasty, albeit a little too sweet.
Of the two, I do believe that I will go with contender #1, even though neither are true to the Cornish pudding-like dessert in I Am Watching You. I am always open to more taste-testing, and will continue to look for a more authentic experience!
Have you ever had plum slice? Drop me a recipe in the comments, and I’ll be happy to try it out!
I can’t even begin to put myself in Anna’s mother’s shoes. I surely can’t fault her for cooking her favorite meal. What do you do when you are stressed or worried and don’t know how to act? Do you bake? Fret? Shop? What’s your coping mechanism? I don’t think mine is cooking. Maybe planning. Even when there are no solutions, there are always problems for problem solvers to try to solve.
For now, I’ll be planning how to jam-pack my last three days in Budapest and then fit all of my treasures into my luggage like a tricky Rubik’s cube! (The Rubik’s cube was invented in Hungary. Now you know.)
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