'Have an ice,' offered Michael.
'I will,' said Miss Pettigrew.
'Should be good here. Owner's speciality, I understand.'
Miss Pettigrew relapsed into giggles, despite Miss LaFosse's indignant glare at Michael. But the ice was a marvellous concoction. Miss Pettigrew had never thought she was greedy before, but this was no chilled custard. There was cream and fruit and nuts and ice-cream and a wonderful syrup, all skilfully blended. She slowly turned each ambrosial spoonful round her tongue.
Last weekend, a huge number of extraordinary women I know - and millions I don't - marched, in towns and cities across the world. They marched for our rights, and in solidarity with those who stand to lose them under the new administration in the US. They marched peacefully, and passionately. It was a heartening sight; estimated to be the largest one-day protest in American history. On Monday, it became all too clear what they were marching against.
The 'global gag order' was reinstated in even more restrictive terms than under past administrations, defunding organisations around the world that acknowledge abortion as a medical option. The newly sworn in President has said he is convinced that torture is effective and appropriate; he wants to 'fight fire with fire'. A senior White House advisor labelled blatant lies 'alternative facts'. I considered doing a recipe from 1984 this week, but found the very idea of it just too depressing to face.
Instead, I read a book by a woman, about women. It was, it turns out, the perfect time to discover Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, a truly joyous book about middle-aged spinster governess Guinevere Pettigrew and Miss Delysia LaFosse, an impossibly glamorous nightclub singer who is being pursued by multiple men. They strike up an unlikely friendship when Miss Pettigrew arrives to interview for a job, and their lives are forever altered by the day that follows.
The book fell out of publication in the late 20th century, but was republished in 2000 by Persephone Books. A publisher who seek out out of print fiction by female writers, their home on Lamb's Conduit Street is one of my favourite places in London. The generous, knowledgeable staff are truly brilliant; you can wander in, describe your friends and their reading habits, and walk away with new books you know they'll love, and won't yet have read. I bought a small pile in December, for some of my favourite women. And a copy of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day for me.
Despite the proliferation of dishes that our two central characters enjoy, details are generally thin on the ground, which means I've needed to be creative. It was the description of this dessert, eaten around 2am, that most caught my eye (and tastebuds). The 'day' in question is a cold, grey November one, so an autumnal fruit is in order. Ambrosial, the food of the gods, suggests figs to me - dark, rich ones, that give up their juice on cooking. Once I had settled on them, Marsala and almonds followed quickly. All in all, it's a joy of a dessert, one that requires some prior planning, but very little work before serving it. One for beloved guests then, on late winter nights, to round out a dinner party.
Figs, Almonds, Marsala and Ice-Cream
250ml double cream
150ml whole milk
1 vanilla pod
4 egg yolks
60g golden caster sugar
2tsp runny honey
40g whole almonds
70g caster sugar
1tbsp cold water
Half a lemon
100ml double cream
1/2tsp vanilla bean paste
1. The day before you'd like to eat this, make the ice-cream. Place the cream and milk in the saucepan, split the vanilla pod and add it in too. Bring this to just under a simmer. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until light, then whisk in the Marsala.
2. Pour the hot milk and cream over the yolks, whisking constantly so as not to cook them. Pull the vanilla pod out. Wash out the saucepan, pour the custard back into it and place over a low heat. Stir with a wooden spoon until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of it. Remove from the heat, pour into the freezer-proof container, cover, and place in the fridge to cool.
3. Once cool, transfer to the freezer. Whisk vigorously every hour for the first three hours to break up any ice crystals that form, then freeze completely for a few hours, or overnight.
4. Heat the oven to 180C. Cut a cross through the top of the figs, going almost completely through the fruit. Stand them cut side up in an ovenproof dish, then drizzle some honey into each, and slosh some Marsala over the top. Roast for 25 minutes, until they are soft, sticky and have released some of their ambrosial liquid.
5. To make the praline, place the almonds in a 180C oven (while the figs are roasting would be a good time, though you can make this further in advance if you prefer) for 10 minutes, until fragrant. Chop into pieces, and then scatter in a single layer on a lined baking sheet. Place the sugar and water in the pan and stir. Bring to the boil and then simmer until a rich amber. Squeeze the lemon into the caramel, and pour over the almonds, ensuring they are all covered. Leave to cool, then chop into shards.
6. To serve, whip the cream to soft peaks and fold through the vanilla. Serve a scoop of the ice-cream with a couple of room temperature figs, a drizzle of their liquor, a spoonful of the cream and some shards of praline.