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.



Spinach Lamb Hand pies- Comforting Food

Ready to eat lamb hand pie.

I have weathered Sandy here in NYC without a single scratch- except for the emotional impact that I have for my fellow citizens. There is a very familiar similarity in my state this week compared to post 9/11. The same sadness, weariness and struggle to wrap my brain around so much devastation. I expected plenty of wreckage- but I am just so overwhelmed by the total losses. I’ve stopped watching the news updates and have turned instead towards putting my energy towards sending good thoughts and positive energy for our wounded city.

As the recovery unfolds I will no doubt find some way to help. I have a bag of clothes to donate sitting by the door, and I can certainly cook. There will be plenty of opportunity and I will be ready for it.

Ready to be folded

The mayor is presently on the TV saying that they need money, not food- or at least not right now. We’ll see about that as time goes on. NYer’s are a gathering of some of the most resilient folks around- but the future is long and the recovery is great.

So my pretty little lamb hand pies- what jewels to behold in the midst of this. I had made a fairly large roast the other day and ate all I could for a day or two. I live in a Hispanic neighborhood and in the freezer section of the markets are several brands of pre-made empanada dough. The one I found here is low in saturated fat and quite delicious. I usually make my own dough- the recipe for which you can find HERE– but this was a great alternative, and I’m not ashamed to say that for something simple like this, it was well worth it.

I quickly made up about 20 of them in no time flat. Some I have stashed in the freezer, the others I handed out to neighbors and friends. I had one the other day as a quick snack while studying. I only had to warm it up and I was good to go. Years ago I used to eat Cornish Pasties when I was a photo intern at the Catskill Center for Photography in Woodstock, NY. They are a delight. Comforting and wholesome- real stick to your ribs sort of food.

My heart goes out to any of my readers that have been negatively touched by Sandy.  Know that I am thinking of you.

Spinach and Mushroom Lamb Hand Pie
makes 20
You can make them and freeze them unbaked, or as I did, bake them off first. I like the latter for quick snacking or a rushed meal- both work equally well.
8-10 oz pre-cooked lamb- leftovers are fantastic, cut into small cubes
8 handfuls of fresh spinach, or one frozen package squeezed dry
1# white mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
.5 yellow onion, diced
2T fresh minced Rosemary
2 packages of pre-made empanada dough, thawed or homemade
egg wash for sealing and finishing (1 egg + 3T water)
In a large frying pan, sautee the garlic and onion over medium heat until onions become slightly translucent. 
Add the mushrooms and sautee 2-3 minutes until they release their juice.
Add the spinach and sautee until fresh spinach is wilted or the frozen is well heated through
Add the rosemary and S&P to taste.
Allow the mixture to cool as you prepare the dough. Allow the frozen dough to thaw but not fully room temperature- keep cool.
Fill each wrapper on one half side of the circle. I like to be generous with mine. I know it may seem that you won’t get them closed shut, but they will, promise.
Fold over the dough and paint edge with egg wash (or plain water if you prefer). Then pinch and crimp the edge together to seal tightly. 
Paint finished hand pies with egg wash and place on a lined baking tray.
Preheat oven to 375˚ and back until golden brown. The insides are pre-cooked, so they are done as soon as they look tempting.
Be patient and allow them to cook a few minutes before eating. The filling can get mighty hot.

Warm and Spicey Clam Broth with Cous Cous

The cool is coming in and already I am feeling the day’s light getting shorter. Aside from the childish pleasure of running out the door and not having to remember a sweater- I love the long days of golden light that we get in the summer months in the North, and I will really miss them.

I love the Fall though. More than anything, I truly enjoy the change. I am reminded every few months that no matter how much I desire it, change is happening. Life is a river. We are the river- and it’s joyous to embrace the flow. Have you ever swam against a strong current and then tried swimming with it? Going against is hard and you get nowhere fast- but going with nature’s flow makes one feel powerful and exhilarated. It’s hand over fist glory- Look at MEEEEEEEEEEEE!

My birthday is coming up soon. It’s a big one. One that makes a person usually take a few moments to evaluate. One often asks:  Is this where I expected I’d be at this point in my life? The answer is, I am always here. I am always in this moment right here, right where I am supposed to be. So decade markers mean nothing as I move forward into change, they simply just do not matter.

I used to resist change. I used to fight for the exact spot and location of where I wanted to be, and then hold onto it for dear life. I thought this was right and good- I also thought it was success.

I now think differently.

Change means growth. Change means lessons learned (hopefully). Change is life.

Besides, who really wants to complain?  Cooler days means it’s more fun to turn the oven on, or invest an afternoon in a roast. It’s also wonderful for a soup like this one- warm and spicy and easy to make. So perfect for sharing on a cloudy day when there is nowhere to go. Steaming bowls of broth, warm friends and glasses of crisp wine.

Cooler weather is also wonderful for snuggle lovely sweaters- and really, don’t you just love that feeling when the air nips and your sweater keeps you warm and toasty? I just have to remember now to pull one down from the shelf and take it with me.

A small lesson learned. (hopefully)

Spicey Clam Broth with Cous Cous
any small clam will work in this dish from vongole, to cherry stones. If you’re not a fan of clams, you can substitute shrimp or fish filets too.
serves 2
1T Olive Oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
generous pinch of red chili flakes
1c rough chopped tomatoes
3c of mild vegetable broth or chicken broth
.33c whole wheat cous cous 
2 dozen cherrystone clams
Cilantro to garnish
S&P to taste
In large sauce pan warm the oil and gently sautee the garlic. After 2 minutes add the tomatoes and chili flakes. Cook until the tomatoes are wilted but still juicy-about 3 minutes.
Add in the broth and bring to the boil. Add the cous cous and gently boil for 15 minutes.
Add the scrubbed clean clams and cover the pot. Allow to cook for another 4-5 minutes until the clams are open. Turn off from heat and allow to stand for 2-3 minutes.
Serve into shallow bowls and garnish with fresh cilantro leaves.
***This dish is wonderful with a Viognier or a light Chardonnay***