Archives for posts with tag: figs

My heart is not with food blogging these days. I eat, of course. This morning I stirred up some sourdough waffles with a side of bacon and a bowl of fresh peaches to feed my guitar-player and my mother and myself. I made him coffee, too, which he drinks black. Our routine is that he drinks what anyone has left in the carafe when we first come down to the kitchen in the morning and then I make him some more as needed, before or after I make my own single cup of decaf. For lunch I just ate a slice of a tomato tart I made yesterday by cooking up cornmeal mush, spreading it in a tart pan and layering on sliced fresh tomatoes, fresh corn, arugula and two kinds of cheese. The tart was okay, but nowhere near as good as David Lebowitz’s tomato tart that I discovered last year. With that I had a piece of cocoa cake with salted caramel frosting that came home with me from yesterday’s music potluck. The cake is a dense, moist, not-too-sweet cake with a little cinnamon in the batter; the salted caramel icing you could eat with a spoon and not miss the cake.

When Johnny left here this morning at 10:30 I came back and lay on my bed under the top cover, listening to music, sometimes dozing. I am lucky to be able to spend my Sundays dozing since he and I are in the infamous sleep-deprived state of early love, when we can think of a million things to say to each other, a million songs to sing and, as the song says, “better things to do, maybe nothing to say,”* when we aren’t running our mouths. He, the poor man, has to work, has to function, will be up in front of a crowd singing at an Obama benefit this evening in Oakland. The adrenaline of performing will get him through. I’ll be there to cheer him on and to hang around at the show, but all I have to do is get my body on a bus or two and manage not to fall asleep while staring out the window or listening to what Johnny calls the “internal jukebox,” the songs that play in my head on a constant basis: when I hit the kitchen to make waffle batter this morning, my mind tossed up Tommy Thompson’s “Hot Buttered Rum”: “In the dead of winter when the silent snowbirds come/You’re my sweet maple sugar, honey, hot buttered rum.”

We are far from the dead of winter at the moment, but it is solidly fall in the Bay Area with leaves turning on the liquid ambar trees, with blue sky days and the light fading just after seven in the evening. Mornings and afternoons can be brief and warm when our trademark fog is not taking a holiday. Clothes are negotiations between long-sleeved cotton T-shirts and fleece vests, with an extra layer tucked into a backpack for turning weather: yesterday I shucked both my beret and my fleece vest by the time I walked the half-dozen plus blocks to a house on a  hidden lane in Bernal Heights in San Francisco. Johnny met me at the door and ushered me to a seat at the table where he sat with his red Telecaster and a small amp. We debuted a new song called “Clueless,” that I wrote about all of the missteps and misunderstandings of our courtship. We sang and played with old and new friends until 7 PM, at which time the falling light made people want to go home, get on the road.

Original watercolor painting shows vase of monardia, green figs.

Monardia and Green Figs. 6″ x 6″ watercolor pencil on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Yesterday’s Farmers’ Market was a busy one, lots of awnings set up to shield the produce from the bright morning sun. I bought three baskets of green figs and half a dozen Frog Hollow peaches, the last of the year as Frog Hollow Farm moves on to pears and the seasons turn. I bought a bouquet of monardia, its herbal fragrance and red violet flowers lighting up a corner of my room and a spot on the dining room table. I will try to make something with figs before the week is out — I bought three baskets because if I buy one or two I just eat them out of hand for snacks — this way I’ll have some left to put in a salad or a dessert — I should trawl through my hundreds of saved food blogs to see what I might like to make, or, better, bring a small stack of cookbooks to my cozy bed and see what other cooks have done with fresh figs. I’m imagining a sweet and savory salad with fresh corn and arugula and roasted figs, but I will not make that salad this evening.

Sourdough Waffles (adapted from a basic waffle recipe in the Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook)

Separate 2 eggs, whites in a small bowl, yolks in a large one.

Whip the egg whites first. Set aside. Don’t bother to change the beaters or wash them — never do extra work unless it is getting you something good like flavor or texture.

Measure 2 cups milk into bowl with egg yolks.

Add 1 cup sourdough starter.

Add 2 cups flour, 4 tsp baking powder, a little kosher salt, sugar to taste (I use less than 1/4 cup)

Add 1/2 cap of vanilla extract and a grating of fresh nutmeg.

Blend egg yolk-milk-starter-flour-sugar with your electric mixer, a whisk or a wooden spoon.

Add 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) soft butter. Beat until just incorporated.

Fold egg whites into the waffle batter. Leave it lumpy and irregular.

Preheat waffle iron. Use the time to warm plates, melt butter, heat syrup, cut up fresh fruit, set table.

Brush waffle iron with melted butter, especially if it is a non-stick waffle iron. Our waffle iron takes  one and half spoons of batter. Cook waffles according to your waffle iron’s instructions. Hold waffles in the oven or serve each one hot out of the iron with desired accompaniments. You can store leftover batter in the refrigerator for a few days, after which time you will have eaten it anyway.

Food Notes: Convert this to buttermilk sourdough waffles by using buttermilk or sour milk in place of sweet milk and adding 1 tsp baking soda.

Song Notes: * from Cheryl Wheeler’s “Miss You More Than I’m Mad.”

Painting shows lunch buffet at Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, NM.

Lunch at Mabel’s. 12″ x 12″ Gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

One of ways I become a better cook is to learn from cooks with greater skill and different repertoires than I have: once such cook is Jane Garrett who cooks at Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, New Mexico. On my most recent visit there on a snowy November afternoon Jane served a lunch that struck me as perfect for the season and the weather: marsala mushrooms over polenta served with fresh figs in a balsamic reduction. She accompanied this richness with a simple pan of roasted root vegetables and a lemony salad made of raw baby chard and radicchio. I no longer remember what we ate for dessert because it was the lunch dishes that captivated me.

I begged Jane for the recipes to share with you. She graciously obliged. I brought them home with me. I went out and bought a bottle of dry Marsala. Alas, fresh figs had disappeared from my Farmers’ Market: I bought some dried figs from Trader Joe’s and contented myself with mushrooms from the mushroom vendor. We keep polenta. The Riverdog Farm box yields plenty of leeks. I had all of the spices and herbs on hand.

I made three of the four lunch dishes for dinner tonight (We had no salad ingredients but romaine lettuce).

Because I was using dried figs, I began with the balsamic syrup, using the only balsamic vinegar I had on hand, a blackberry-vanilla blend I couldn’t resist a few years back: the small bottle sat at the back of our cooler cabinet, waiting for a compelling recipe. To make the syrup, combine

1 and 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup water

When sugar has dissolved, add

1/2 cup dark balsamic vinegar

1 cinnamon stick

1 piece of star anise

2 black peppercorns

1 allspice berry (I used about 1/2 tsp of ground allspice, being out of fresh)

rind of one orange, with juice (again, I faked it here, substituting some candied orange peel)

a few branches of dried thyme.

Jane says to simmer this for five minutes: since I was using dried figs I popped them into the syrup and let them simmer at very low heat while I cooked everything else.

I should have prepared the roasted vegetables next, but I chose to wipe about 3/4 of a pound of brown mushrooms first and clean 1 leek.

I sliced the leek into thin rings, put them through two changes of water, and skimmed them off to saute them in a skillet with olive oil and butter. While they cooked, I sliced the mushrooms, tossing any broken pieces into a stock pot with the trimmings from the leeks for vegetable stock.

When the leeks were browned, I transferred most of them into a bowl, added more oil and butter to the skillet and sauteed my mushrooms in two batches. I put one batch in with the leeks and left the other in the skillet on low heat. I splashed in some marsala and it all evaporated, so I waited and then added some more (Jane says to add it to taste and then thicken your sauce with cornstarch and vegetable stock). Then I put the other mushrooms back into it with just a few of the sauteed leeks and set the skillet aside so that I could prepare the vegetables I should have done earlier.

The vegetable compartment yielded parsnips, rutabaga and turnips. I peeled them, cut them bite-sized, more or less, poured a little olive oil in the palm of my hand and rubbed the vegetables with that on a sheet of foil in a roasting pan. I seasoned them with only a little black pepper — the other components are highly seasoned and I wanted the vegetables to contrast with the other elements. I put the parsnip tops and tails into my stock pot. As an afterthought I cut open a delicata squash and scooped  the innards into my stock pot, added water and a few branches of thyme and started simmering the stock. I put the squash cut side down in a loaf pan I had rubbed with oil and put all of the vegetables into a 375-degree oven.

Then I made polenta: 1 cup of polenta to 4 cups of water and 1 tsp salt. Bring to a boil, stir regularly, and cook until thick.

All this time, my figs were simmering and my stock boiling, then simmering.

When the vegetables were almost done, I pulled them out of the oven and nuked them for two minutes in the microwave with a quarter cup of the unfinished stock — I did this because the rutabaga had been large and tough.

Then I heated up the mushrooms, made some liquid cornstarch by shaking cornstarch, stock and a bit of marsala in a small jar, scooped in a couple of teaspoons of the fig syrup and cooked the mixture for a few minutes.

Jane mounded her polenta in a serving dish, put the mushrooms on top and the balsamic figs around the sides. I kept the figs separate and instructed Mom to dish herself a pile of polenta, top it with mushrooms and eat the figs on the side if she wanted any. She did.

We both agreed that this dish would be better with the fresh figs that Jane had used, but it is the other end of November from when Jane made it — if you live in the Southern hemisphere, please make this with fresh figs, as I will earlier next fall. On the other hand, the balsamic syrup has a future on bowls of oatmeal and coffee ice cream, maybe on polenta pancakes!

Food Notes: Use fresh figs in this dish if they are available. Use any roastable vegetables you have on hand: carrots would be good, sweet potatoes, celery root. Use any kind of mushrooms you like, or a mixture of varieties. The Kensington Wine Shop says to buy “the good stuff,” dry marsala from Italy — apparently we don’t know how to make good marsala in California yet. Serve this with an acidic green salad if you possibly can — it takes the meal up a notch — but if you are fresh out of salad makings, make it anyway. You won’t be sorry. And if you get to Mabel’s, stop in and say “Hi” to Jane.

P.S. There was a little polenta left after the mushrooms were gone. This morning I mixed in an egg, some flour, some milk, a little sugar, 1 tsp of baking powder and a bit of vanilla and had some polenta pancake batter — apparently, I know how to do this without a recipe now. I ate the pancakes with some of the fig syrup — delicious!