Foodie Tuesday: Figs and Fika

Despite the present day craze for all things piggy when it comes to meats, bacon inserted into every imaginable recipe—and some not even possible to get my brain wrapped around at all—and the undeniable fabulousness of a grand Black Forest classic, a clove-studded Virginia ham, a spiral-cut, home glazed ham, or the umami-loaded and thus much-lauded and wildly expensive jamón ibérico, what I grew up with at home, as I recall, was that differently seasoned and prepared, smooth textured, Danish ham (as my family knew it then, whether that characterization was entirely accurate or not), and I loved it. It’s on the sweet side, generally, and usually subtler than the more intensely flavored aforementioned hams. Truthfully, I love them all, as long as they’re not those tinny, watery, pallid objects of pseudo-meat that have been processed to the point of looking and tasting like cartoon food.

I also, as you well know, am fond to an obsessive degree of salty-and-sweet combination treats, and hams are very compatible with sweet foods, whether in the form of a glorious, uncomplicated afternoon bite of perfect prosciutto wrapped around a melon slice or as a bone-in beauty bathed in fruit compote for the spring table.

Danish ham isn’t my only foodly fanaticism derived from Scandinavian roots. Here’s another thing I’ve learned from that region to love when it comes to food: the Swedish tradition of fika. Not so different in origins, perhaps, from the Italian treat Tiramisu, wherein a tradition of stopping for coffee and a sweet was the perfect pick-me-up in an afternoon or way to meet with a friend for a bit of refreshment, and eventually the practice became the name of the treat itself—the Italian Tiramisu translating roughly as, yes, “pick-me-up” and the Swedish fika deriving, ostensibly, from a syllabic reversal of “kaffe” (coffee). Not that it matters hugely to me, but I do always love an excuse to sit down at the table not only for a full meal but for the more relaxed atmosphere of a break for, say, a bite and a drink, some appetizers and a cocktail, or tea and dessert.

For a recent casual evening with friends, I got the urge for a ham-and-sweetness starter that would be extremely quick and easy to fix but bring out the simple flavors of the ingredients pretty smartly. I think I did well enough with it, because between the five of us we polished off all but a couple of small corner pieces from a whole cookie sheet’s worth, along with the actual roast beef dinner and dessert; but you can be the judge, if you like. It couldn’t be simpler to make, so there’s no excuse not to join in the testing.

Four ingredients: puff pastry dough, ham, fig jam, and Parmesan cheese. One pan. One swift browning in the oven. Slice. Eat.

I wanted to make this with fresh figs, but couldn’t find any at the moment that were in nice enough shape, so I used a small jar of store-bought fig jam that worked quite nicely. Had I used fresh figs, I would have chopped them roughly and mixed them with some honey, maple syrup, or ginger syrup as the delicious glue for the hors-d’oeuvre topping, but jam had that binder handily built right in, so if you’re unable to find fresh fruit, jam is clearly a convenient and equally tasty alternative. I did buy one package of frozen, pre-made puff pastry dough (lazy me) and about a half pound of thinly sliced ham (I chose the deli’s maple glazed version on this occasion). I had shredded Parmesan cheese in the refrigerator. The process was easy-peasy.Photo: Ham & Cheese with Figs

Ham & Cheese Bites with Fig Jam

Set the oven to heat at 400°F. Lay out all of the puff pastry dough needed to cover it (with a single layer) on a large cookie sheet pan with edges. This could get sticky if you don’t contain the food! You should have a little dough left over: I had about an eighth of the dough remaining and set it aside.

Mix equal amounts of chopped sliced ham—mine, when the thin slices were cut into about 1/2 inch (1 cm) squares, amounted to around a cupful of loose ham pieces—and shredded cheese with gently heated and liquefied jam (the jam I used took between a quarter and a half cup to blend the ham and cheese. Glued together like this, the ham, cheese, and jam mixture was probably about a scant two cups’ worth of topping and was easily distributed and spread evenly by spoonfuls over the whole pastry base. I cut the remaining pastry dough into 1/2 inch by 1-1/2 inch rectangles and I twisted each once to make a little bow and stuck those around on top of the jammy mixture. The whole sticky delight went into the oven for perhaps 14 minutes or so, and once it was golden, was ready to be cut into small rectangles that could be easily handled for eating.

Then, of course, we ate them. Whenever I make them again, I will try pre-baking the puff pastry and simply adding the jam blend for a final, melting warm-up just before serving. Crispier results, I should think. But even with a slightly chewier texture…we ate them all.

The True Breakfast of Champions

digital illustrationIn Praise of English Breakfast

Here’s to the English breakfast, dears,

That’s brought, for lo these many years

Sustenance to both health and heart

To give the day a proper start,

The source of warmth and vital grace

Beginning the day with our needs in place:

A rasher of bacon, an egg or two,

Some toast, some tea, some tomatoes; who

Wouldn’t love some beans, some mushrooms? Nay,

Don’t start without English breakfast, pray!

Hot Flash Fiction 9: Shall We Table It for Now?

digital illustrationThe lovely lady Alexandra wears a perfect pair of gleaming white kid gloves; for tea, we all sit in perfect posture and pose with poise, making our astute and marvelous and dreamlike commentary, our remarks about seemingly innocuous and polite ideas and topics far above reproach; the lady Alexandra is so ideal and beautiful and perfectly correct and her kid gloves so white, her manner of nibbling on the fresh strawberries so flawless, her tea so perfectly hot and sweet, I’d like to lean across the lace tablecloth and smash her like a roach.

Foodie Tuesday: You Slake Me

photoIn wintertime, it’s a great and welcome thing to put one’s hands around a mug of hot tea, cocoa, coffee, cider; a great and welcome hand-warmer that, when upended at the lips, becomes heartwarming as well. The mulled drinks and toddies and steaming honey lemonade can do so much to ameliorate the harshness of the cold months that I am always grateful for the offer of a cup of such kindness.

photoNonetheless, it is in the hottest parts of the year that my mind turns continually to longings for a glass, a pitcher, a fountain of something refreshing to drink. Thirst becomes more of a necessity and sometimes borders on unseemly obsession. And I find that when it’s offered to me, a good drink can be full of surprises, too.

I suppose it’s a little like whatever crossroads in my life led me to learn that many flowers were edible. That cheering revelation, coupled with the realization that this was only in keeping with recognizing how many other parts of plants I had already been eating without so much as a second thought, meant that a whole realm of unexplored flavors and methods of preparation and recipes unfurled before my hungry mind and stomach.

Safe to say that ever since that tipping (or tippling) point, I’ve been on a perpetual hunt for the next flavor, common or unique, and the next combination, easy or complicated, that will thrill my taste buds and those of my buddies, alike.photo Prickly Pear

To the uninitiated, it’s unappealing to think of cooling the desert air

by slurping at something named for its prickles

But after slaking fiery thirst with it, one finds the Prickly Pear

just as fine and dandy as ice cream and popsicles.

1 cup Prickly pear syrup + 1 cup fresh lemon juice + 1 qt/4 cups sparkling water = Prickly Pear Pink Lemonade

1 batch Prickly Pear Lemonade + 1/4 cup Limoncello + 1/4 cup Prickly pear liqueur + speared pieces of dragon fruit as garnish = Parents’ Potent Prickly Pear Lemonade

As with all of my ‘recipes’, the best way to make this in either version–or your own–is to have the ingredients on hand and then mix them, a little at a time, to your own taste.

photo

Not that any friendly drink won’t do … a Tuaca Lemon Drop, for example, can quench thirst too …


Uniquely Me

graphite drawingBe Not Ill at Ease

Around my sprockets and my spleen lurk what no doctor’s ever seen,

a plethora of arcane ills impossible to treat with pills

or pessaries, with tinctures, teas, or magic potions for disease–

not curable by overhaul of engine, tune-up, electrol-

ysis, electric shock–it’s thought by some I will infect them; not

true, though, for what seems to be feared is not contagious–

I’m just weird.

Peaceful Shadowland

Fall and Winter have a stealthy benefit that’s often overlooked. They lend themselves, more than the ebullience and exuberance of Spring and Summer, to a sort of calming melancholia, to meditation and contemplative times. In Autumn and wintertime, the chaos of the world can be lessened and untangled without the palisade thrown up by the warmer seasons interfering with the endeavor.photo

In part, it’s simply that we are increasingly encouraged by colder and often less amenable weather to stay indoors. Indoors, where the hearth beckons, where our books lie in wait, where our writing tools stay safe from the tempests outside. Indoors, where it’s easy to keep a cup of tea or coffee or cocoa hot and handy while we spend the hours tending to those tasks of repair and renovation that have lain unnoticed when the longer days of sunlight kept pulling us away. The birds flit south and abandon their choir-lofts around the house and the other creatures begin to line their dens and curl up under porches with greater urgency, leaving the airwaves to the less inviting, darker sounds of passing traffic on wet pavement and wind whistling down the fence lines, sounds that urge us to follow our instincts and the local wildlife to seek shelter and keep quiet while the forbidding cold and darkness of the ‘off seasons’ roar through town.

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But there’s another great appeal to Fall and Winter, another aspect that captures the gentler and more introspective angles of the imagination, and that is the way that these seasons strip away their frills and wash out any fripperies that might distract us from the most basic parts of our existence. It’s the way this time of year seems to contract not just the length of its daylight hours so that we see things dimly, palely and in lengthening shade and shadows, but even the spectrum of visible color, which becomes thin and subdued in the leanness of winter light. The water recedes from the fruits and flowers and stems of summer’s abundance and leaves them slightly parched and leads them to bend and fall. The slightest breeze, now colder, finds us clutching at our lapels and jamming our raw hands as far into pockets as they can go.photo

In this beautiful world, with the color rapidly draining out of memory, the stillness of hiding and hibernation weighing us into lassitudinous introversion, and the brisk chill of frost settling around our ears and shoulders like lead, we can at last let go of the impetus to run and shout and do, if only for the joy of rediscovering what waits in the seasons of shadow. We can see the world in a sort of refined simplicity if we let ourselves. We can take these moments of clean-slate clarity to listen to our innermost selves for a bit and sort out what does and doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of our lives. And we can go to sleep knowing that when the glad excesses of Spring and Summer return we will see them through new and more appreciative eyes and perhaps, yes just maybe, even find that in the midst of all that bloom and warmth and celebration we may long for the stringent joys of Fall and Winter once again.

A Picture is Worth a Mere Thousand Words; a Collage Invites Endless Elaborations . . .

digital collage“Why, yes, now I can see how much your beautiful daughter takes after her mother,” he stuttered with a hasty glance at the upstairs window. He hoped that he hadn’t started too visibly, what with that drop of ice-cold perspiration suddenly racing down his spine, and was unspeakably grateful that he hadn’t asked “Mister” Warren whether it was permissible to take Elvira to tea, for her obvious attractions were beckoning him still from where she leaned out of the parlor window below.