May 26, 2013

What is the sound of a blog without a blogger?

Strawberry Rhubarb Yogurt Parfait

Not long ago, a friend at work paid me a compliment. This friend is not a lawyer but reads a lot of legal writing as part of her job, including at least ten of my own briefs. She had read one of my reviews on Goodreads, and she said, you know, you're a really good writer-not just a good legal writer, but a writer. Not everyone can do that.

Most people (and most lawyers, good lord) don't practice writing for other people. . . NORMAL people, not lawyers, clerks, judges, or other professional logic hounds. My friend's praise was obviously flattering, especially considering she is (in my opinion) one of the smarter people at my office, but I had a logical explanation: practice. One of my majors in college was English and looking back at those papers my brain feels shrunken, so complex and focused and obtuse was some of that work. Maybe I was smarter back then, but I'm a better writer now, and it is, I think, 100% because of Fig and Plum.

People started blogs like mine all those years ago for different reasons, but community was a big one. Blogs and message boards like Craftster were proto-social networks for many (though they arguably made it easier to connect with strangers who shared your interests than Facebook or Twitter do today). Not to sound cold, but I didn't start Fig and Plum for community, although that was a wonderful and unexpected byproduct of this project. I've said this here before: I started this blog for myself. First, I wanted to catalog various projects. Ravelry and Pinterest and other tools do that much better now than a blog ever could. But second, I wanted to be a better writer and photographer. Even now, there is no substitute for the discipline a blog can impose for that purpose. When it's out there for who knows who, you want your words to be good enough to reach whomever. When your photos are out there, you want them to be good enough to please your readers and draw them in and enhance what you've written.

Here's the problem: my subject matter has withered. I work a lot. When not working, I'm trying to keep up with the rest of real life. There's a project bag next to my side of the bed, and I can't even remember what's in it. Sometimes I cook on weekends, when we have people over or need to make up a rough week to my husband, but that's it. In my spare time I try to see friends or go for a run or read a book because those are the bare minimum, activities I need to feel normal, and I don't even have time to do them any more than intermittently.

I never wrote here about my personal life or (heaven forbid) my work. I wrote about making. Ideas, successes, lessons learned. It's what I thought would be interesting and useful. Plus, putting my real life, inner or outer, on the Internet for everyone to see was always a little strange to me. It's true that I do have Facebook and Twitter accounts now, and put snippets of everyday there, but let's be honest: there isn't much substance. It's not that I don't have things to write about—I do—but they aren't public in the way knitting a sweater might be. They're journal material (incidentally, I don't keep one.) Some people fill this topical void by writing about or photographing their children, but I don't have any. (Although, there is always Moses). Bottom line: there isn't a lot of blogging material for someone in my position. I do miss it, but I'm not sure what to say. So I write the occasional book review on Goodreads and try to craft a clever little 140-character tweet and hope it's enough to keep in practice.

So is this still a blog when the blogger never writes, never calls, never visits? I don't know. I feel like I post the same thing at least once a year: I won't shut down the blog. Fig and Plum remains here even if no one reads it and its heyday as a blog is over. I'm hopeful, if unreasonably, that there will be periods in life in the future when i have things to say again and the discipline to say them here.

Until then, it's rhubarb season. Plenty of blogs have something to say about that. Maybe I will too, sometime soon :-)

January 1, 2013

Pear Pomegranate Pie.

Happy New Year! I made a pie.

Pear Pomegranate Pie in Progress

Recipe: Pear-Pomegranate Pie by Melissa Clark

December 26, 2012

Holiday Goodies: Fleur de Sel Caramels

Fleur de Sel Caramels

Direct quote: "I don't think I'm going to be able to swing any tasty treats for people this year, sadly. you'll have to be satisfied with our delightful personalities."

Our gracious pal Beth replied, our presence is presents etc. etc..


Anyway, it was a lie. Despite a not-holly-jolly end of year at work, tasty treats were made and given. I drafted my mother-in-law into transforming her kitchen into a candy lab and the long-suffering Chris into rolling caramels in wax paper despite his sad manual dexterity (he did a great job . . . years of experience at the food coop proved helpful!). Thanks is also owed to Ashley, whose efforts in 2009 provided the inspiration.

The recipe is here: Fleur de Sel Caramels from the smart and even sciency blog Not So Humble Pie.

Firm Ball or Burst

We followed the instructions to the letter, as I tend to do with all candy recipes since candy-making is, after all, chemistry. This recipe cooks the caramel at a low temperature, bringing it to the proper stage over the course of 40 minutes or so. For us, it took almost an hour, but we doggedly pursued "firm ball" stage. We were rewarded with smooth, impossibly buttery result, topped with a sprinkle of my fleur de sel hoard stash from Paris.

We had a fine holiday here with Chris' family. The highlight was listening to an audio recording that Chris' parents had made of Chris and his little brother Tom opening gifts on Christmas Day, 1984.


Here we are (Chris is not pictured), listening to the tape and laughing until we cried as Tommy screamed his head off ("THIS ONE'S MINE TOO!!!" "How do you know?" "THE TAG ON IT SAYS 'CHRISTOPHER'!!!") and Chris played with one gift at a time, making thoughtful comments about each one and offering to share the contents of his stocking with his little brother. Chris' parents are on the tape too, enjoying the chaos and trying (vainly) to interest the boys in the more scholarly gifts in the shadow of Star Wars and He-Man. I marvel at what conscientious, loving parents they are and always have been and feel lucky to spend many holidays with them now.

I may not get to post again before the year ends, so I hope you all had just the kind of 2012 you wanted. Catch you on the other side in 2013!

October 9, 2012

Himika's Neighborly

Himika's Neighborly

Pattern: Neighborly by Jennifer Casa (free) [Ravelry]
Yarn: Cascade 220, 1 skein
Needles: US 8 circulars
Recipient: Baby Himika

Notes: I fell in love with the version of Neighborly made by Alicia Paulson of Posie Gets Cozy. So, uh, I just made the same thing and then kind of um, photographed it the same way? I dunno! This is how I photograph baby sweaters most of the time too. Go visit Alicia's blog and get lost like I do sometimes, sitting at my desk at work!

Anyway, this is a darling pattern. I made what I thought would amount to a 12 month size for Baby Himika, the daughter of our college friend Simon and his wife Nami, who are a couple of our favorite people even though Simon's hobby is pretty much, to this day, harassing Chris (in a loving way!). Simon and Nami are so well matched it's almost scary. I haven't met Himi yet, but here's a photo of her visiting Las Vegas recently:

doesn't that smile say "i just doubled my college fund at the tables" to you?

There is a tricky part to this pattern, or at least there was for me: the collar. For some reason I thought it was knitted as a tube (to make it stand up?) and tried to do it that way . . . for an embarrassingly long time. Duh.

Neighborly Collar

Thank goodness for knitting groups, because one evening at mine dear Cathy set me straight. It's pretty much just a strip that you pick up at the side for the body of the sweater, and it doesn't really stand up that well (but ah! if it were a tube! nevermind.)

I also modified the way the increases were done but to be 100% honest, I can't remember exactly what I did now (shame on me for taking so long to send this out, because it was finished it a while ago!)

Anyway, hopefully this is the kind of thing Himi can get a couple of seasons of wear from - first as a dress then as more of a vest, maybe? Maybe by the time we meet she won't have outgrown it yet!

August 21, 2012

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream Success-Fail

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream SuccessFail

Recipe: David Lebovitz's Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream

This is the best and the worst ice cream I have made yet.

Best because the glace caramel at Berthillon in Paris is my favorite favorite ever, and David is right: the flavor of this recipe is almost exactly it. Not too-too salty, burnt enough, nothing like most American caramel ice creams (I'm looking at you, Blue Marble), which just taste like sugar. This ice cream has the complex flavor only conveyed by sugar that is cooked to precisely the right stage for its use. And for the salt, I used some of my precious fleur de sel stash from La Grand Épicerie for this ice cream. Plus-que-parfait.

Worst because the although the custard increased in volume in the machine and became slushy, it stubbornly refused to freeze into anything that wasn't liquid. David nobly responded to my depressed query about why it hadn't frozen, only saying that it was one of his softer ice creams, and that I *absolutely must* ensure my ice cream maker had been chilled for at least 24 hours. Well, this is probably the only time I'd satisfied myself with less than that; it was 20 hours, and I'm going to blame those 4 hours on the difference.

Also, I messed up the praline mix-ins. I was so paranoid about getting the custard in the freezer quickly after churning that I just sprinkled them on top rather than stirring them in, thinking the custard was so thin that they'd sink. They didn't. So instead of becoming delightful little pools of caramel within the ice cream, they liquified into a giant lake of thin caramel on top. No biggie, but this does I think contribute to the softness of the finished product itself.

That said, the photo here doesn't look *that* different from the one on David's blog. It did indeed end up firming into something like ice cream, albeit extremely soft ice cream that one must eat immédiatement. No problem!

Also not a problem: trying this one more time to see whether I can improve the consistency. Twice, even. The sacrifices we make in the name of perfection!