If there had been a heart shaped necklace split in two that said “Best” and “Neighbors,” Nikkie and I would have worn those necklaces “so hard,” as Nikkie would say! Beeler Street brought us together, and our shared stoop made us the best of friends! We sat on that stoop in all kinds of weather, but especially on the sunniest of days. Nikkie and I were like the neighborhood watch, but not in a safety surveillance way.
We just enjoyed piecing together people’s lives based on what we could observe: the girl’s progression through the typical college hippy stages; the girl hopelessly in love with her [attractive] male roommate only to be let down but visibly “brave” when his [rather unimpressive] girlfriend came for graduation; the nerdy boy who simultaneously attempted rollerblading and pushing a dolly for the first time, resulting in a flailing fall to the grass; the egos of the football players from the nerd school where only the football players cared about (or even knew about) the football team; [unfortunately] the neighbor who felt the need to parade around naked in his break with society; the robotic speed walker; so on and so forth!
We may have been watching the world, but we also learned so much about each other (and papier-mached together!). Nikkie is one of the most solidly rooted women I know. She is sharper than a tack, creative, talented, humorous and wise beyond her years. She knows exactly what she wants and how to take a stand for herself. I truly valued her insights and support, and when I moved away from that stoop to another part of town, I was sad for one reason only: no more stoop sessions with Nikkie. We managed to talk in other ways and see each other every now and then, but the times were never the same quality as our stoop days. Meanwhile, Nikkie had made quite a few big changes in her life and made a big decision: a move to Atlanta!
I do declare that Nikkie and I will meet again. I’m sure of it! I even fancy a visit to the south to see her in a new context. I couldn’t let her go without a proper send off, so I set the scene for a Sunday brunch and a third character entered stage left: Deanna.
Deanna and I met through Nikkie. What really took us from two friends of Nikkie to two friends was two particular circumstances. The first was a particularly disappointing tree tending workshop, in which we sat in a community center room and looked at an excessive quantity of slides of diseased trees. We had to find humor in that, or it would have just been sad. The second circumstance was an encounter at the farmers’ market that led to a night of goodwill shopping. Deanna had visions of channeling Dolly Parton via a zombie, and I walked away with an incredible print of a Native American in a tacky gold frame.
From then on, there were Afro-Carribbean dance classes, swimming in a man made lake, bicycle rides, a night at the symphony, so on and so forth. Deanna has such an amazing spirit! She is always trying something new, and she makes me laugh so hard my sides hurt. When I fell for the song “Jolene” by Dolly Parton, I knew one person would understand my days on replay: Deanna!
Imagine both of those smart, assertive, smiling ladies at one table, and you begin to understand why my focus is turning to Sunday brunches with the important people in my life. For these lovelies, I really played with my ingredients. Could bleu cheese really join French toast at the brunch table? The combination of figs and bleu cheese was inspired by a memory shared with another smart, beautiful, sharp witted woman in my life: Magali Duzant.
Back in our Paris days, we prepared a little indoor pique-nique of a similar palate but in a more savory sense. I risked the combination for brunch, and I am ever so glad I did! It was a delicious morning with delightful ladies!
Makes about 1-1/2 cups
14 ounces dried figs
1/8 cup dried cranberries*
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Fresh juice and zest from one lemon
*I would have used ¼ cup dried cranberries, but that was all that the cupboard supplied.
For the Figgy Compote
Cut the figs into fourths and put in a bowl. Add enough red wine to cover the figs. Set aside for at least an hour and up to overnight.
In a small pot over medium-low heat, combine figs, cranberries and wine.
Cook until reduced to a jam consistency, about 20 minutes.
Remove from heat.
In a food processor, combine the fig jam, the lemon juice, the lemon zest and vanilla until pureed.
2 cups walnuts
A few squeezes from your local honey bear
For the Walnuts
Heat the walnuts over high heat until fragrant, stirring occasionally.
Add a splash of water. Drizzle honey over the nuts. Stir.
Remove from heat.
Cool. Chop. Dance. Sing if inclined.
Figgy Bleu Baked French Toast
Or…Baked Bleu Figgy French Toast (for more alliteration)
Unsalted butter for greasing baking dish
Organic brown sugar, to taste
2 Challah rolls from Mediterra Bakehouse & half a loaf (a rustic loaf, so some of the slices are smaller) of Honey Oatmeal Raisin wheat bread from Friendship Farms
2 cups fig compote* (see above recipe)
2 cups toasted walnuts* (see above recipe)
Crumbled blue cheese
Pinch of salt
4 eggs (local/free-range)
1 cup local whole milk
1/2 cup local maple syrup
Lots o’ local maple syrup for serving!
Use the butter to grease a rectangular glass pan. Spread a thin layer of the brown sugar on the pan.
Slice the challah rolls and arrange the slices on the baking dish.
Follow with a layer of the figgy compote, then bleu cheese, then the walnuts. Here is where it starts to look like a bad, box, stuffing mix, but I swear, it all tasted delicious in the end.
Assemble the raisin bread slices, and then set aside.
Whisk together the salt, eggs, milk and maple syrup.
Pour the egg mixture over the bread, making sure it fully seeps into the top layer.
Let the bread soak up the liquid for at least 45 minutes, preferably overnight.
Once properly saturated, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Place the baking dish on the middle rack in the oven and cook for 30 to 45 minutes or until the egg mixture is set, and the bread is brown.
Cut into squares and then dust with powdered sugar and drizzle with maple syrup.
(From the base to the top)
Layer one: Puréed mango
Layer Two: 2% Greek Yogurt + a smidge of local honey
Layer Three: Puréed mango
Garnish: Crushed pistachios, raspberries, a little of squashed raspberry juice and a slice of mango
Chill the entire thing in the freezer before serving
I present to you le table…
Cold brew coffee, a summer brunch necessity!
The final figgy French toast and the cocktail ingredients (Prosecco + Organic Cherry Lemonade + Fresh cherry/strawberry purée)
I mixed some of the remaining fig compote with pure maple syrup, in a sauce pan, over medium heat, to combine.
The brunching ladies in blue! I didn’t even tell them what to wear, and we all matched the table!
C’est fini for the brunching portion of the day.
It was time to take these ladies to the neighborhood pool!
Gone swimmin’. Leave a message.