Along with the usual summer suspects—heirloom tomatoes, juicy peaches, plump figs, etc.—I’m a bit fixated on lavender at the moment. It may have something to do with the little sachet of it that Ben’s aunt gifted us recently, which I get a whiff of each time I get in the car. Or perhaps it was the fantastic Blueberry Lavender Ice Cream (Jeni’s, per usual) that I made a few weeks back. There was also a particularly involved cookbook-related project with Kimberley last week, and I’m sure that and the numerous flower-focused conversations that preceded it had a role as well. (Related: I’m a busy assistant these days, but let me tell you, friends: you should already be looking forward to spring of 2014, because that woman is crafting one gorgeous book!)
I baked Joy’s Lavender Shortbread Cookies. I gaze longingly at the neighbor’s lavender plant as I walk past, so fragrant and lovely, its flowers light in hue but unapologetically purple. What other place might they have in the kitchen? I wonder. And, Has this roadside bush picked up any toxins?
I realized last week that this scent I’ve become so fond of is lodged in my memory as well, trapped in a corner with memories long forgotten. I found, with it, my childhood neighbors, a couple about the age of my grandparents who lived across the street in a big white house with tall columns on the front and a pretty garden all around. Mair played the piano and the organ; Richard collected stamps. He convinced me and my sister to collect them as well, which in retrospect is somewhat amusing—though, agreeable as we were, it probably wasn’t hard to win us over. I was, even then, a sucker for small objects, with several collections to my name already (coins, pins, Dixie cups…I was a weird kid). I’m sure it was a thrill for him to have two little girls so enthralled by a hobby no longer in vogue, and so he regularly gave us little glassine envelopes filled with stamps. We tucked our treasures into three-ring binders, captivated with these relics of other times.
When their grandkids, a boy and girl about our age, visited in the summer, the four of us played together. We created worlds with chalk on our driveway and explored their grandparents’ backyard, a wild paradise of bush and flowers that backed up into the woods and so seemed to last forever.
I asked my mom if she knew why all of this rushed back with lavender. She told me that she started growing lavender when I was around this age; my sister would cut stems from the plant and tie them together with ribbon. These neighbors gave us the redbud tree that for so many years stood in our front yard. My mother still thinks of them when those pink-purple blooms burst open in the spring. They’re still around, she says, Mair and Richard—playing organ, collecting stamps.
This was so long ago. I was so very small. But this is how we go, all of us: on and on, dancing through the seasons of our lives, weaving in and out of one another’s stories. Forgetting. Remembering again. Carrying on and on and on.
I’ll take every fragrant thing I can get.
P.S. I’m so pleased to be one of the first contributors to the new literary city guide section of Nicole’s lovely blog, Eat This Poem. Check out my literary and culinary San Francisco recommendations here, and while you’re there, be sure to read some of Nicole’s lovely prose as well!
Honey-Lavender Poached Figs
Serves: 4 to 6
2 cups water
1/4 cup honey
3 thin slices lemon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon dried lavender
12 small, fresh figs
Mascarpone or Greek yogurt, for serving
Chopped, toasted pistachios, for serving
Slice the figs in half lengthwise. In a small saucepan, combine the water, honey, lemon slices and vanilla. Bring to a gentle boil. Add the lavender and figs and return to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes, until the figs are soft but not falling apart.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the figs to a plate. Place a fine mesh strainer over a pyrex measuring cup or heatproof bowl, and pour the poaching liquid through it to remove the lemon slices, lavender and any escaped fig seeds. Return the liquid to the pan and cook until reduced to about half the original amount, about 10 minutes more.
Serve the figs warm or at room temperature, with a dollop of mascarpone, a generous sprinkling of toasted pistachios and the reduced syrup drizzled over top.