Wednesday, February 22, 2012


My first sight of a fresh fig was in the infamous scene in Ken Russell's film of DH Lawrence's Women in Love when Rupert Birkin demonstrates how to break into one with your thumbs, pull the cheeks created apart and then suck the flesh out with you lips alluding in that Lawrencian way to the sexual imagery of the fig as vagina. For an 17 year old who had skipped school to see the film, that scene was as erotic as it was intended to be, never mind that this particular 17 year old was (undeclared to himself) homosexual.

It wasn't until years later that I came across my first fruiting fig tree in the backyard of one of the share houses of my university days. The tree produced a lot of green figs which birds had a great time pecking into and so few got anywhere near ripe and those that did were underwhelming.

Since then I've had many a fresh fig via Italian fruit shops first and then more widely as they were popularised. Charlie, my Calabrian neighbour across the road, often brings some across in season from the tree in his front yard. I went fig and chestnut picking on one of the bus trips he organises annually for the Italian and Portuguese communities in Leichhardt and Petersham. You can read about that trip at Not That Old Chestnut (not my choice of title, it was Andrew Wood's, editor of the much missed Divine magazine in which the article was printed).

All this by way of saying that it's fig season again, and I have had my first by way of a delectable fig and ricotta brioche from Black Star Pastry at the Newtown end of Australia Street. The sugary sweetness of the fig and brioche are nicely balanced by the milky sweetness of the ricotta and cut into by the sesame and poppy seeds on the brioche. The mouth feel is unctuous, the ripeness of the fig, the creaminess of the ricotta and the light almost sponge-ness of the brioche combining smoothly on the palate. Visually it seduces, the golds of the brioche echoing the khaki/bronze of the skin and core of the fig, the flecks of sesame and poppy like fig seeds grown fat and burst from their pink fleshy bed, the white of the ricotta seeming to have leached out of the band of white inner flesh of the fig. It's disingenuously simple in its ingredients and its execution.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Hot Mumma

The title of this blog I owe to my sis-in-law and comes from gin being called 'mother's milk' in the Hogarthian days. The 'hot' part needs a little more explaining.
When traveling through India some years ago, Marg, Marilyn and I were in a dive of a hotel in Aurangabad pre-excursioning to the cave temples of Ajunta. Attracted by its name which involved the word Garden and what seemed a reasonable description of a cheapish place in the Lonely Planet at the time, we booked in not knowing it was the kind of hotel that Indian commercial travellers frequented, a fact not recorded in said guidebook, but clearly the reason for the aghast looks of the reception staff when we arrived late at night and cheerfully proceeded to book in. We lasted on night, I think, post which we hastened to the Taj hotel there, much to the relief, I must say, of our chaffeur who clearly was not happy with his accommodation that night either and was definitely up about spending the next few nights with his mates at the Taj digs.
To celebrate our good fortune in finding and still perturbed by the former nights experience, though somewhat blissed out post the caves, when settled into the splendid new surrounds we decided to go wild and put a split green chili into each glass of our regular gin (drink of choice at the time). We let it steep for or a minute or two and then had what I still recall as the best neat gin I have ever had  - no jokes about the effect of several gins on recollection of anything, though I confess Marg and Marilyn had an extended fest of giggles in the restaurant later.

Having remembered to by my two bottles of duty free Bombay Sapphire recently, I couldn't resist having a welcome-home-glass (all right, it was three, and your point is?) and having been chili starved most of the time in PNG from whence I as returning (bar a brilliant biriyani at the Lamana Hotel in Port Morseby over which I sprinkled a tingling hot sliced green chili courtesy of the kitchen) I recalled I had some fresh green chilis in the fridge and had a highly satisfying sozzle.
I was intrigued to see if others had also self-discovered the delights of gin and chili, never one to think I could be particularly original in cocktail combos. There's quite a nice recipe for Chili Lime and Gin Marinated Oysters which I am very much going to try; ditto the Gin and Chili Infused Grapefruit Drink which is apparently a 'spiced up version of a greyhound cocktail' which usually is just gin and grapefruit juice and the Gin and Chili Pepper Martini and the Hair of the Dog Cocktail that is the gin alternative to a Bloody Mary.
I intend now to go the next step and put a couple of chillies into a whole bottle of gin - sooooo time-saving!