“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
I read the The Great Gatsby when I was in high school. Curiously, I have no memory at all of this beautifully melancholic, metaphoric closing line. It’s a line wasted on youth. At least, it was wasted on me.
At the moment I’m working on a project about Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister. He is a fantastic character – whose remarkable intellect and sense of humour was only exceeded by his many foibles including an addiction to alcohol and a penchant for women of ‘dubious distinction.’
If I wasn’t in the middle of all this writing and researching about Sir John A., I’d down tools and start re-reading The Great Gatsby immediately. It’s first up on my reading list as soon as I get through my work. And next after that is a Hemingway binge. For the past few years, I’ve been revisiting literature that I either skipped entirely or was wasted on me earlier – Steinbeck, Emily Bronte, Virginia Woolf, and Sylvia Plath. My favourite book from my recent reading list was Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar followed closely by The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean Dominque Beauby. But I also loved Steinbeck – especially The Grapes of Wrath and Travels with Charley. If I didn’t have so much reading to do – I’d read them all again, immediately. So many books, so little time…
Which brings me to figs. Another thing wasted on youth!
When I was very young, I was given a dried fig at a very posh, adult Christmas party. I was wearing a red velvet dress with stockings and black patent leather shoes. A pearl headband in my hair. Before we went in, I was read the riot act about how to behave. So when I was given a fig, I took a small bite and then nearly died trying to eat the mouthful of horrible dried, seedy pulp. I had nothing else to eat for the duration of the entire party because I had the remainder of the fig clutched in my hand and didn’t know what to do with it. I held it there throughout the party and then all the way home in the car, my hand folded up inside my mitten, clutched around the fig which was melting into my warm little hand – a big brown gooey sticky blob. I was afraid to tell anyone. So I kept quiet, and when I got home, I went straight to the bathroom and scrubbed my hands. I thought I’d never eat a fig again so long as I lived.
Then I went to live in Australia. And I discovered fig trees and the joy of eating fresh figs plucked straight from the tree. Now I love figs – one of my favourite fruits – fresh or dried. The season for fresh figs in Canada is short. They are imported though according to this story in The Toronto Star – you can grow figs in this climate – even here in Ontario where winters can be long and harsh. One curious fact about figs – strictly speaking, they’re not considered to be vegan because in the process of pollinating figs, the female wasp can be absorbed into the fig, where it is broken down by enzymes.
This recipe was inspired by a dessert served at Le Chien Noir in Kingston. It’s a dark chocolate coated shortbread base, topped with whipped cream and fresh figs and finished with a swirl of balsamic reduction. I made my own version at home – a simple and elegant dessert. Fit for a party. So I’m taking it over to Fiesta Friday at The Novice Gardener.
Chocolate and Fig Shortbread
For the shortbread crust:
- 1 cup butter, softened
- I cup brown sugar
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
Mix together the butter and brown sugar. Stir in the flour and salt. The mixture will be crumbly but should hold together with pressed.
Press into a buttered 9 inch pie dish. Bake at 325 for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool.
- 1 cup pure semi-sweet chocolate pieces
- 1 tbsp butter
- 4-6 ripe fresh figs, washed and quartered
- 1 cup of whipping cream, whipped with a teaspoon of liquid honey
- a few tablespoons of balsamic reduction – you can use a commercial one or reduce your own by cooking a cup of balsamic vinegar over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes or until it is reduced by half.
Melt the chocolate and butter in the top of a double-boiler or by whatever means you like including low power on the microwave. Spread the chocolate over the shortbread and let set. Cut the shortbread into wedges. Top with a generous spoonful of whipped cream, a couple of quartered figs, and a drizzle of balsamic reduction.