Summer Bounty: Lavender Honeyed Seared Figs

Lavender Honeyed Seared Figs - A Stack of Dishes

Alas, once again I find myself in the throes of change. It’s been awhile since I’ve posted, and for that I apologize. Know that my heart and mind has not been far from this place- I’ve just been overwhelmingly busy.

My life has once again taken me in a new direction. I am returning to New York City to begin again. The reasons are not complicated. I love a woman, she loves me, but we could not create an US that gave us joy and completion. It has been sad and frustrating, maddeningly so. In the end it was a realization of truth, which lead to a loving gesture to allow each other to go.

When I left Louisiana I spilled enough tears to overflow the bayou. It is indescribable the warmth and generosity of heart that the people have shown me there. I was an awkward scrappy Noo Yawk City gal who was quick to interrupt and spoke at a much faster cadence. My friends were patient, they were kind. Though I never lost my city edginess, I learned to slow down, smile more and breathe that Southern sultry air. I have come to recognize the drawling Southern accent as comforting, and I will sorely miss the “might could’s” and “fixin’ to’s”. Louisiana has left an indelible mark upon me.

Making Lavender Honey - A Stack of Dishes

Now that I am a returned New Yorker I see the city in a different light. Though I have visited plenty over the past two years, as a full time resident I feel it very differently. It’s true, New Yorkers are gruff and abrupt. I’ve heard quite a few “FU’s” and sharp bitter language between strangers that rattles my sensibility. Folks don’t slide and glide along, they often bump and butt against each other and the results are hissing cat standoffs. My reaction at first was to cringe, but now- now I find it endearing in a way. My NYer brethren, you make me smile. The truth about us city folk is that we may possess a scaly exterior, but inside there are tender golden hearts. There is generosity and community here too, you just have to patiently work past that tough outer skin.

And now begins the new. I found a sun filled studio apartment in Morningside Heights with a kitchen that is open and large enough to become a productive playground. I made an offer in May and it was accepted. Now I await the verdict of the board for my approval. It’s been three months of imagining and planning (Oh I can’t WAIT to show you!), but this trial is far from over. Welcome back to the Big Apple where no one buys an apartment without first tearing out much of their hair! In the end it will be worth it. I practice supreme patience.

In the meantime I am nested in my dear friend Claire’s apartment where she has generously cleared shelves and emptied a closet for me. Her cosy home is a safe gentle place to untangle myself from my past and reenter the new. I simply cannot fully express my gratitude- you should all be so fortunate to have such dearness in your life.

So here I am dear ones. I am back, in all respects, and it is now you that I turn my attention to. I have missed you.

One of my first acts of nesting here was to purchase a batch of herbs for my windowsill. They sit in front of me at my writing place so that I might look upon them as I think. To my left, in the corner I placed the lavender. I’ve never kept lavender before or even considered it for a potting, but this particular plant caught my eye at the farmer’s market, and that wink completely seduced me. Lavender is a fantastic thinking plant. I love its simple grace to gaze upon, and when my mind wanders I appreciate the refreshing scent it gives me when I stroke the leaves. And so naturally it wasn’t long before it made it’s way into a recipe.

Lavender in my window

Figs grew beautifully in Louisiana into beautiful plump jewels. My dear friend Candy Peavy handed me a bucketful last year that made me swoon with delight. Her tree hugs an outer wall of her home espalier style with elegant grandeur. It reaches up to the roof ridge with wide open arms. She has tended it beautifully, and it’s thanks to her is to drip sublime fruits off of it’s limbs. Whenever I drove past I always slowed to admire her gorgeous tree.

Here in NYC rich purple figs are everywhere on fruit market stands, tempting me at every turn. Late one recent afternoon at the end of a long walk, I grabbed myself a basket and headed home. I eyed them on the counter for a bit (that is after enjoying one or two), and my mind turned to the lavender.

Sliced Figs - A Stack of Dishes

I thought a fragrant honey would be perfect match for my ruby fruits. After snipping a stalk off my plant, I simply plucked the flower buds and put them into a small pot with a glug of honey. I gently warmed the little pot over a low flame and then set that aside for a few minutes to steep. The figs I sliced in half and seared in a cast iron pan to gently enhance their natural sweetness.  After a few minutes onto the plate they went, along with a dosing of fresh goat cheese and chopped toasted almonds- to be topped with the warm lavender honey. Salty, sweet, fragrant, with the mild crunch of almonds and fig seeds. Heavenly!

In this instance I gobbled these up myself, but think of these as a quick and delightful dish to accompany some of that summer rose wine you’re drinking with friends.

It is with friends and for friends that I believe the world exists. Gathering and sharing is what grounds us, connects us and feeds our souls. I have learned this to be more true than ever. In the kitchen cooking, behind my camera photographing, and writing has always been my solace, my joy and my best playground. I am supremely grateful for it.

It’s good to be back amongst you. Thanks for waiting for me.

drops

 

Boozy Fig Onion Jam with Bacon

blended

Figgy Bourban JamOh my dear ones, forgive me, forgive me. I’ve been out of pocket for the last couple of weeks, but for a very good reason. Last week my love and I eloped to Napa Valley and got ourselves hitched!  The whole experience has been magical and so full of love and happiness that I am bubbling over with exuberance. I promise that as the pictures come back I will be posting all about it. There are many beautiful, and sometimes zany, stories that I cannot wait to share- and of course some amazing food.

Until then, first onto this delectable condiment and the story behind the many hands that brought it together.

figsIt starts with a bountiful fig season, which thrilled me to no end. I love the warm stickiness of fresh figs, but I’ve never had them so close to the tree that produced them. I am also so fortunate to have not one, but TWO wonderful friends who were willing to share their bounty.

The first is my ’round the corner neighbor, Cindy Gleason Johnson.  I felt like a thief at first sneaking into her backyard- but when I saw that the birds were boldly helping themselves I jumped right in. Her golden figs were so delicious that they did not stand much of a chance.  They barely made it home where upon I instantly gobbled them up in a snap.

The black figs above came from another friend in the opposite direction, Candy Peavy. Her beautiful fig tree is espallied against the side of her house into a towering glory in such a royal and commanding manner it took my breath away. Having been satiated with the first batch of fresh beauties, I had the presence of mind to think of how I might create something with this second batch.

bacon

Another dear friend Caroline Manning recently opened an amazing restaurant called Blue Southern Comfort Food.  Caroline’s got heart and soul as big as the south, and the flavors and finger lickin’ good food to match. She’s famous for clean plates and her Blue Burger, which is topped with her special Bacon Jam. It’s a sweet, oniony, syrupy topping that seeps right down into the sourdough bun and sidles up real nicely to the layer of cheese that is melted over some of the best burger beef I’ve ever tasted.

I have made NO attempt to replicate her specialty sauce, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t an inspiration. My onion jam is thicker and less sweet. The bacon adds a heft and a chew and there is the added crunchy texture from the fig seeds.  Mine also has a secret ingredient: Camellia Coffee– which adds a round dark bitter base note.camellia

Camellia Coffee is from right here in Caddo Parrish and another project of our beloved Cindy Gleason Johnson. She has created a couple of blends, but I went right for this Dark Roast. We have some amazing things being produced right in our backyards and kudos to Cindy for bringing this gorgeous coffee together for us to enjoy.

So you see, it’s all the goodness of the land and good people who can come together and create something magically delicious.

onionsintopan

The jam takes a while to reduce and meld, the whole time filling the kitchen with sweet fragrance. I have yet to try my jam on a burger, (I’ll be getting mine at Blue) I prefer it on a grilled gruyere cheese sandwich, or any other stinky pungent cheese. A Goat Brie would be awesome too.

gruyerefig

With a jar of this in your fridge, anyone could stop by at a moment’s notice and even served on toast and cream cheese, or some hot buscuits- you be having some good southern community cooking.

Boozy Fig Onion Jam with Bacon
Smoky, sweet with a hint of bourbon for lip smackin' southern goodness
Print
1145 calories
157 g
83 g
31 g
31 g
10 g
728 g
2412 g
140 g
0 g
17 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
728g
Yields
2
Amount Per Serving
Calories 1145
Calories from Fat 277
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 31g
47%
Saturated Fat 10g
50%
Trans Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 4g
Monounsaturated Fat 13g
Cholesterol 83mg
28%
Sodium 2412mg
100%
Total Carbohydrates 157g
52%
Dietary Fiber 9g
37%
Sugars 140g
Protein 31g
Vitamin A
10%
Vitamin C
20%
Calcium
22%
Iron
19%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Ingredients
  1. 1 pound smoked bacon
  2. 1 very large yellow onion, sliced
  3. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  4. 2 cups halved fresh figs
  5. 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  6. 2/3 cup maple syrup
  7. 1/2 cup brown sugar
  8. 2 tablespoon ground dark roast Camillia Coffee
  9. 3 Tablespoons white vinegar
  10. 1/2 cup bourbon
  11. 1 teaspoon black pepper
  12. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  13. water if needed to thin during pureeing process
Instructions
  1. In a large cast iron skillet, brown the bacon and then remove.
  2. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of grease. Over medium/low heat gently sauté the onions and garlic for one minute, then add the fresh figs. Gently cook for 4 minutes until the onions are wilted and the figs soften.
  3. Add the cayenne, maple and brown sugar, coffee grounds and vinegar and slowly simmer until thick and a dark amber color. Add the bourbon and cook for 5 more minutes.
  4. Add pepper and salt- adjust to taste.
  5. Add back the bacon and continue to cook for a total of one hour. Remove from the heat and cool.
  6. In a food processor or with a hand blender, puree the mixture in batches to a rough grind. There should be some texture to the bacon.
  7. Store in a sterile jar in the fridge and consume within 2 weeks.
Notes
  1. Any type of fig may be used, including reconstituted dried figs if that's all you have.
beta
calories
1145
fat
31g
protein
31g
carbs
157g
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A Stack of Dishes http://www.astackofdishes.com/

Fresh Fig Cake

Is there anything more elegant than a fig? I just love the deep purple color of it’s delicate skin giving way to ruby fruit inside. They say that when figs are ripe on the tree that they drip their sweet juice. How sensual is that?
Though what I really love about figs is that my Maternal Grandmother, Louisa, had a tree growing right outside her kitchen door. My Grandparents had a modest house in suburban New Hyde Park, NY. I remember coming in through the side gate into the patio along the side of the house. One would pass that tree as you took the steps up into the kitchen. As a child I couldn’t help gently touching those big mitt shaped leaves.
My Grandfather, Joseph, who died when I was a wee babe, was an avid gardener and worked that backyard himself. There are old faded snapshots of him- a very smart, proud and sincere man who emigrated here from Spain at the young age of 16, tending to his rows of vegetables. Many of the photos of my Grandfather show a serious man, but the pictures of him in his garden, wearing white shirt and suspenders, were relaxed and happy.
His family were grocers back in Valencia. They sold cured meats, pickles, olives in the great market. The market is still going strong today, though the family no longer has a stall. There was no family from Spain here, but my Puerto Rican Grandmothers family was. I am told that he would cook Sunday supper for everyone. The cousins, mostly from The Bronx, would gather and he would make paella. In the Hispanic culture big Sunday gatherings are hugely important. Long afternoons after church are spent relaxing, eating and drinking until the day ran out and it was time to put sleepy children into the back seats of cars and head home.
He had a legacy of sharing his hard work and success with this family. Unbeknownst to my Grandmother he sent money to the family in Spain who desperately needed it. It kept them from starving, it sent children to school and to college. For his wife and three children he moved them out to Long Island, Nassau County, which was big doings in those days. To live out of the city in the suburbs was moving up and a real accomplishment for a man who came to this country as a boy penniless.
It was he, that strong, stern, purposed man that planted that tree for my Grandmother. Tender acts of love. I wish I had known him.
So when rich purple jeweled figs appear in the markets I am more than compelled to reach for a basket and place it in my cart.
As a cake baker by trade it’s not in my habit to make cake for myself to have around the house. I do like scones though, and tea cakes and things of that sort. I have hankering for some scones, but somehow didn’t want individual blobs. I had noticed my long tart pan in the cabinet that hadn’t been used in awhile and thought it would be fun to make something in that.
Poking around I came across Heidi Swanson’s recipe for Buttermilk Cake in her latest cookbook, Super Natural Everyday. She made hers in a tart pan, (round), and used plums for her fruit. If you don’t own this cookbook than, uh…why not? Heidi is awesome, everyone says so, including me.
The cake is not overly sweet and made with whole wheat flour and a zing lemon zest. I made a few tweaks with my version, but it’s essentially the same. (it’s just so hard to EVER tell me what to do.)
The result was just what I was looking for. A simple easy eating treat that showcased my figs. The lemon zest gave it a refreshing lift to offset the earthiness of the whole wheat. Thoroughly enjoyable.
Enjoy!