a simpler sound.

The Sweetest Fig.

The Sweetest Fig is a book penned by one of my favorite authors and illustrators, Chris Van Allsburg [made famous by The Polar Express and Jumanji]. It tells the story of a surly French dentist who performs a procedure on an old woman, and in return receives two figs.  Aside from being the most delectable fig he's ever had, the dentist discovers these figs also possess an Alice in Wonderland quality he never would have imagined. 

When I first read this book as six year old, I too thought figs would have this magical ability. Much to my dismay, when I finally tried said fig, it tasted funky [nothing like a grape, which was one of my four food groups at the time, and I expected anything purple was automatically part of the grape family] and my dreams did not in fact come true, despite what the book led me to believe...

My picky eating habits as a child kept me from figs until a few years ago, when I had some dried figs in a Moroccan dish.  I was at Whole Foods this week, and was excited to see that figs were in stock.  Black Mission figs are only found in the summer, usually in early on and then again at the end, just before fall is in full swing.  Right now they're just reaching their peak, and are perfectly jammy and sweet. I love trying both sweet and savory preparations, but they're at their best just as they are.  I like my figs on the extra ripe side, so I'm holding off on eating them for another day. 

In the meantime, I get to enjoy their rich, indigo color, much like blueberries [I happened to also buy blueberries that day, so you can see the similarity].  If you're lucky to hang out with me tomorrow, that's when I'll slice into these beauties.  And that's really something to behold.  Yum.

1. Photo: The Sweetest Fig

Battling the heat wave: raspberry lemon iced tea.

This past weekend was hot.  Not your normal, sticky, humid Atlanta summer-hot.  That's unpleasant, but tolerable.  The sun was glaring, the humidity was in full force, and the temperatures did not waver much below 105.  My recent sunburn only made things worse.  All I could do was watch movies: the #1 and #2 in the box office, both of which were mentally stimulating and deeply contemplative [my sarcasm runs rampant when I'm hot and cranky].  I also spent a fair amount of time in pools, and even made my way to one of my more stress inducing places, the mall, just for any excuse to get out of the heat. 

Enough ranting about the weather, here's a recipe for cooling down this wet, hot American summer [which also happens to be an awesomely awful American 'classic']. There's nothing I love more than iced tea on a summer afternoon [well, fresh lemonade is pretty unbelievable too, but I'll save that for another day].

There are three tricks to making the perfect iced tea: 

#1 is of course the tea [I love Teavana's tea, but any good quality tea works]

#2 is the sugar used.  Caster sugar is extremely fine, and will dissolve in most liquids, so it's perfect for making iced tea.  If you can't find Caster, you can always create your own simple syrup, and use that in a pinch.  

#3 is in the tea/water ratio.  Normally for black tea, I use one teaspoon tea for every 8oz. water.  For my iced tea I double my ratio of tea [2 teaspoons for 8oz.]

Raspberry Lemon Iced Tea

2 quarts water
16 teaspoons raspberry tea [or 5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon for quicker measuring]
2-3 tablespoons Caster sugar, or sugar syrup [you can double this if you want 'sweet tea']
1 lemon, juiced
A few sprigs of mint [optional, but delicious]

Pour tea leaves into a pot or glass pitcher. Bring water to a boil in a tea kettle [I use my favorite electric]. Pour the hot water over your tea, allowing it to steep for 10-15 minutes, or longer if you prefer it super strong.

Strain out the tea leaves and add the sugar, stirring to dissolve.  Add lemon juice and mint leaves [I use a tea ball for the mint, since it infuses the tea without the need to fish out the leaves later, see above].  Allow the mint to steep for another 15 minutes.  Pour this mixture into a pitcher and allow it to cool completely in the fridge [this can take a few hours, so I always like to make my iced tea super early, or the night before]. To serve, fill a large glass [I use these awesome old milk glasses, see below] with ice and pour tea over.  Garnish with a sprig of mint or a twist of lemon rind. Or, if you've got raspberries on hand, throw a few of those in!  

*For a fun, alcoholic cocktail, forego the caster sugar completely, and add a half cup [or more if you're feeling up for it] of sweet tea vodka.

I like my tea to have a bit of sweetness, but I much prefer lemon and mint as additions, because they help bring out the delicate flavors in tea. 

Zucchini Pasta with Seared Scallops in a Chive Cream Sauce.

If you haven't noticed, I love Italian food.  I feel like there's this recurring trend of pasta and pizza in my posts.  It's a love affair I can't seem to quit. The family I cook for [have I mentioned I cook for a family?] wants to omit carbs as much as possible from their diet, which is commendable, but also torture for me.  90% of what I love to cook involves pasta, and it's something I've had to actively phase out of my repertoire.  It takes some creative work to come up with alternatives for such a major food group, but sometimes, the results can be delicious.

I recently tried a recipe for "zucchini spaghetti" and of course it was absolutely nothing like a traditional pasta. That being said, I was really impressed with how it tasted.  I've made spaghetti squash plenty of times, but zucchini is something I'd be more likely to have on hand.

My mom found this recipe on Martha Stewart's site, and I tweaked it to make it a bit more healthy. Don't get me wrong, I love me some heavy cream and there is absolutely a time and a place for it, I just try to keep it to a minimum. I also opted not to slice the zucchini as narrow as I paired this with seared scallops [something I've grown to love in recent years].

Zucchini Pasta with Seared Scallops in a Chive Cream Sauce

For the Zucchini:
1lb. zucchini, both ends cut off
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Mandoline [but this can also be done with a vegetable peeler, or a knife if you've got expert skills]

Slice zucchini in half, lengthwise.  Then, slice lengthwise in long, thin strips [if done this way, the thickness is similar to that of pappardelle pasta]. Combine zucchini with salt and allow it to sit in a colander for 15 minutes.

Lay on paper towels to remove any excess water [the salt naturally draws out water from foods FYI].

For the Chive Cream Sauce:
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2/3 cup half and half [you can also use whole milk, but it's much thinner and affects the texture of the sauce]
1/3 cup freshly minced chives 
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt [plus more to taste]

Whisk together all ingredients and allow it to sit [can sit covered in the fridge for an hour if need be]

For the Scallops:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
6-8 diver scallops, rinsed and dried
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Heat butter and oil on medium high heat [making sure not to burn butter].  Season scallops and cook for two minutes per side.  The scallops will turn golden brown, while staying a creamy white at the center. 

To assemble:

Combine 1/4 cup of sauce with zucchini.  Place 2-3 diver scallops [per person] on top of a half cup of zucchini.  Drizzle top with additional sauce, and a squeeze of lemon. Garnish with chives.

Serves 3-4

This is a perfect, simple, light summer meal. Enjoy!

Summer Spinach Salad with Sugared Pecans.

On a hot day, something cool and refreshing is the only thing I can tolerate to eat. Ice cream and popsicles aside, I actually really enjoy a good salad on a day like this.  Usually my salads consist of a hodge podge of ingredients found in my fridge.  I'm of the 'more is more' mindset when it comes to ingredients in my salad.  That being said, here's what I'm eating today:

Jo's Hot Summer Spinach Salad with Sugared Pecans

Serves 2 [or one very hungry girl, like myself]

For the dressing:
1 Tablespoon unfiltered apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 squeeze of clementine juice [this probably comes to about a teaspoon I'd guess]
salt & pepper [to taste]
a pinch of sugar [depending on the fruit in my salad, I sometimes omit this, but it does add a nice balance to the acidity of the vinegar]

Whisk all ingredients together in a large bowl.

For the salad:
2 cups baby spinach
1 tablespoon of alfalfa sprouts [I really like pea shoots too, whatever you've got around works]
1-2 clementines, segmented [or tangerines, or naval oranges]
1/4 cup raspberries, lightly rinsed

Add baby spinach to the large bowl with dressing and toss to coat. Add in sprouts, clementines and raspberries, gently tossing.  

For the Sugared pecans:
1 cup pecans [this is a bit much in one salad, so I like to save some for snacking later]
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar

Warm a pan on medium heat and add nuts.  Allow them to toast for a few minutes, just until they become fragrant.  Add butter and melt.  Toss to coat. Remove from heat and add sugar and toss to combine.

Add 1/4 cup of pecans to salad, lightly tossing.

I also like to add sliced grilled chicken breast to this salad.  In the summer, I like to grill a lot of chicken at once, allow them to cool, slice and store them in the fridge.  Then, I can always add them to any meal. 

There's more than one way to cool off.

The weather this summer has been a little wonky.  Today, the high is 88 degrees here in Atlanta.  It's humid, but not all that unbearable [I write this as I sit by the Brookwood Hills Community Pool...not too shabby].  

But back in my hometown, it's a balmy 99 degrees today! The entire northeast is experiencing a serious heatwave.  Even Boston has a high of 99 today.  Not sure what's going on, but I'll take advantage of this cooler [for Atlanta] weather while I can. 

For my friends up north, I feel your pain.  When you don't have access to a pool and it's just too unbearably hot, look at this [below], and you're sure to cool off a few degrees. 

A photo I took at the top of Jungfraujoch in Switzerland, June 2011

Or have a popsicle. They're just the best. 
Homemade orange popsicle with fresh raspberries. Yum.