Thursday, October 13, 2011


Dash has bursts of energy that can result in television-punching, sister-mauling, and one very pissed off mama.

I'm not always proud of what comes out of my mouth. Find some ahimsa, dude. Settle down. Get it together. Chill out. Control yourself. Shit. You're insane.

But sometimes I manage to meet him at his level and say the right things. Why are you so angry? I want to help you. Where do you feel the intensity in your body? He points to his chest. We knock knock on his sternum. Come out crazies, we plead. Just come out and we'll take care of you.

We channel his waves of fervor into drawings, diaphragm-squishing hugs, and maniacal scooter rides around the block. And when these releases aren't enough, we bust out the tape and the rope.

Dash's intricate tape and rope installations freak out the dog and cause my grandmother to trip. But I think they're beautiful. A chair connected to a hanger, around the door knob, under the sofa, down the hall, and around my favorite boots.

Sometimes a list can stop Dash in his tracks. There's nothing quite like hearing the what, when, where, why, and how of a mama's love. 

"Dash. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways." As my list builds, you see the intensity drop down and out of his body. He melts. And then he slips into my lap.

And sometimes, I'm the one who gets grounded by a love list.

"Mama, now let ME count the ways of YOU."

"Okay. Go."

"Number one. I love your sparkly shirt. Two I love how you cook. Three is that I love that you let me stay up at night for one minute or two to get out my energy. Number four I love how you match me on Halloween. Number six I love to hold your hand. Number seven I love your feet.  And I love your eyebrows."

"One more?"

"Okay. Number 10, right? I love those package things we made with fig leaves and ricotta."

So we make them again.

Place one large fig leaf (or several smaller ones) seam side up. Add a big scoop of fresh sheep's milk ricotta.

Always an anchovy, says Dash.
Always some lemon zest, I say.
A handful of pine nuts. Some salt. 
Some garlic confit? Some scraps of prosciutto. A few drops of olive oil.
And then get busy tying.
Your kids can do every step of this process. Have them tuck in all four corners. And then they can just go crazy wrapping, tightening, and knotting.
If you ask Dash, he will tell you that a chocolate and ricotta package would be "exterminably delicious."
Throw them onto an open fire. Or bake them in your oven. Or grill them (just like we did) on a pancake griddle.  High heat for 10 minutes or so—just enough to infuse the ricotta with the essence of fig leaves. The flavor of fig leaves, by the way, is indescribable. We all tried to find the words. Herbacious? Green? Disgusting? Sweet? We all failed.
Open the packages up at the table, smear the contents onto some grilled bread, and experience what my brother described as an "awesome savory cheese danish with pig fat." 

You heard him right. Pig Fat Cheese Danishes. Bring it on.
1. I've tried these packages with leaves from three different kinds of fig trees: Adriatic, Black Mission, and Brown Turkey. They all imparted slightly different flavors—all pleasurable.
2. The old-school ricotta I grew up with was firm and gelatinous. Not appealing unless puréed into pancakes. But more and more cheesemongers and markets have fresh sheep or cow's milk ricotta that's moist, fluffy, and sweet. Make sure to eat it within a few days because sour ricotta is not appealing.
3. Or make your own.
4. Try different flavor combinations with the ricotta. Figs and honey. Pomegranate arils and parsley. Plums and balsamic. Preserved lemons and apricots.
5. These packages can be re-heated in the oven with great success.
6. I experienced ricotta baked in fig leaves for the first time at Oakland's Camino restaurant. Just wanted to send out massive thanks to chef Russell Moore. Wow, can this dude work a fire. His food is such an inspiration.
7. The figs are just ripening on the trees around Berkeley. But I realize that some of you from other areas might need to wait until next summer!
8. Have your kids taste the milky substance that drips out of the stems. And then ask them to describe it. Dash and I need some help.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


My grandmother took 24 hours to get back to me with feedback about my fig tart with blue cheese and honey. I was a bit worried. 

"Here's the thing." 
Big pause from Grandma Phyllis.
"It was very good." 
"Grandma, what is it?"
"I'm just not sure if this is supposed to be lunch or dessert,"

I say it can be both.
Or neither. 
It's a cheese and fruit course slammed together.
It's a teatime treat (yes, we do tea around here).
It's my kind of sweet and savory breakfast combo. 
It's tasty with Sauvignon Blanc.
Or Pinot Noir.
It can be eaten with your fingers.
Or it can be delicately nibbled with my (other) grandmother's fancy ivory-handled dessert forks.
It works with a salad of baby gems and warm anchovy vinaigrette. 
And it's a perfect match for a roast chicken.

And it turns out my kids will eat anything that's drizzled with honey. Even figs baked with lots of stinky Roquefort.

printable recipe
1 recipe for shortcrust pastry dough
3/4 cup goat cheese
1/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 egg
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
12-14 figs, halved and stems trimmed off
1/2 cup blue cheese (Roquefort, Stilton, Wisconsin, Gorgonzola—any blue will do)
honey for drizzling
Remove dough from the fridge 10 minutes ahead of time to soften. Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll out dough and press into a 9" tart pan. Pre-bake for 10 minutes. The dough might puff up or slide down a bit. Down worry. Just press it back in. Remove from oven and cool while preparing cheese mixture.
In a standing mixer (or by hand), mix together goat cheese, parmesan, egg, heavy cream, salt, and pepper. Spread cheese evenly into the bottom of the pre-baked shell. Place sliced figs cut side up  haphazardly or carefully on top of the cheese mixture. Crumble (if dry) or scoop (if creamy) chunks of blue cheese all over the tart. Bake until cheese base is set and figs are nicely browned (you might need to throw it under the broiler for a minute for optimum color). Drizzle honey all over the tart. Please don't serve it cold. It's icky cold.