Category Archives: Briefly noted

describes a recipe tip or technique

Hindsight: Notes for Next Year

Always make the stock, pie crust and cornbread ahead of time – anything you can think of – don’t put it off until Thanksgiving Day if you can help it. Iron everything at least week in advance.

No matter how prepared you are, the last hour will be very busy and, unless you have nerves of steel, quite intense.

On pie:

  • Sugar on a pie crust makes it crunchy and sweet but also encourages over-caramelization (burning) – see maple leaf decorations above
  • There is a very fine line between caramelized and blackened – again see maple leaf decorations
  • Fraisage is the key to the perfectly flakey crust and it really is no big deal – notice the totally flakey (albeit slightly burnt) maple leaf decorations.

12 year old girls make excellent sous chefs.

12 year old girls make excellent table setters.

5 year olds can totally peel all the carrots. In other words, put your kids to work!

Perfectly polished sterling salt cellars and pepper shakers make the table look pretty but nobody actually ever uses them – is it worth polishing them? Consider this.

Masses of inexpensive carnation or daisy type flowers in a single seasonal color can make striking table arrangements.

Dressing/stuffing is one of my favorite foods but I can’t be responsible for eating the ten extra servings I produced in my zeal for stuffing leftovers. If serving ten people, there is no need to make stuffing/dressing for twenty. Stuffing for fifteen should suffice.

Fine grain cornbread is the better choice if you have to decide between fine and medium grind. Northern style cornbread is better for stuffing/dressing – as in the sort of cornbread that has some regular flour in it, along with the cornmeal.

I’m thinking that our ceramic fondue pot might make an excellent gravy boat – keep that gravy nice and hot! However if you have no fondue pot, don’t worry. If you need to hold the gravy while finishing up vegetable sides, set it in a double boiler, or a make-shift double boiler with a lid over water that has just reached a boil. Should be quite hot for at least 20 minutes. Then you can pour it into a warm gravy boat and bring it to the table when everything else is ready.

Shoving a brining bag into your largest stockpot is a good way to increase the volume of the pot and avoid having to use a cooler to brine the bird.

If you can commit to brining for 72 hours, then you can get away with significantly less salt and the gravy won’t be ruined by overly salty turkey drippings. 3/4 cup of kosher salt + 2tbsp per 2 gallons water is the right salinity.

Rinse and dry the bird before brining and afterwards. If you can manage it, remove the turkey from the brine the night before Thanksgiving, and having rinsed and dried it, inside and out, allow it to dry out overnight in the refrigerator, lightly covered with parchment.

Play a game of Monopoly or watch at least part of the football game. Don’t spend the entire day in the kitchen. You will be able to do this if you have a good plan.

Inviting a Thanksgiving expert makes a lot of sense. I asked “the Thanksgiving Queen” to come dine with us and not only did we have a wonderful time, but at key moments, I got really solid advice!

I had already made my turkey stock from the carcass when I found this recipe for making in the oven. I’ll have to give it a  try it next year!

Finally, it’s hard to believe, but Turkey Tetrazzini is actually pretty delicious. Use the turkey stock you made (you’d better have made some!) for the velouté. Sliced baby shiitake mushrooms sautéed in butter until brown and crisp are so much more compelling than the typical button mushrooms. (As if Turkey Tetrazzini could ever be compelling!) The recipe in the Joy of Cooking or Fanny Farmer will be just right.

Thursday, I have your number.

Thanksgiving is only a day away and I am all caught up. I finished the pie crust this morning. There is some tidying and one more big trip to the store for the more perishable things like parsley, chives and celery. ( Imagine having bought celery on Sunday only to have it droopy by Thursday just because you couldn’t wait?!) My plan for Thursday has shaped up nicely.  The aim is to sit down at 6 PM, which is late enough not to feel geriatric and early enough so that the kids don’t start wigging out. This is the plan:

Thanksgiving Day Schedule

8:00 AM – Peel apples, and cook them down for pie filling (Joy of Cooking Method 2 – from 1997 edition) Remove pie crust from refrigerator so it will be just pliable enough to roll out. Do this about half way through peeling the apples.

8:30 AM – Roll out pie crust. Fill and bake the pie.

9:00 AM – Pare the carrots, trim then blanch the green beans, brown the almonds slowly  in butter, wash and finely chop parsley to be set aside for garnishing.

10:00AM – Set table. The linens are already ironed – whew! Put the cranberry sauce in appropriate serving bowls and put in the fridge.

10:30 AM – Put sparkling water, apple juice and champagne in cooler outside.

12:00 PM – Start the stuffing/dressing – chop and saute all vegetables and sausage and stir it all together – this should take about an hour.

12:30 PM – Preheat oven.

1:00 PM – Stuff and start the turkey. Refrigerate remaining dressing in an oven-to-table pan, wrapped in plastic wrap.

1:30 PM – Baste the turkey now and every half hour until it’s time for dinner

1:30-4:00 PM – Put your feet up except for the basting part. Now is the time for Monopoly, a puzzle, the football game or a walk with the dog.

4:00-5:00 PM – Peel and cut the potatoes and put them in a large pot covered with cold water.  Start the red cabbage at 4:30. It takes 1 1/2 hours to cook down. Pace yourself – the next hour will be intense!

5:00-6:00 PM:

  • Start the potatoes.
  • The turkey is ready to come out of the oven at around 5:15 PM. When the turkey comes out of the oven, pop the dressing in.
  • Remove the turkey from the roasting pan and set it on a large cutting board with a gutter to catch the juices. Cover with foil.
  • Make the gravy.
  • Start the carrots.
  • 5:45 PM – The potatoes will be done. Pull the dressing from the oven. and cover with foil.
  • Turn the oven off and put all the platters and serving dishes into it – so they warm in the residual heat.
  • Mash the potatoes and put them in a double boiler over low heat with a lid on top.
  • In a large heavy saute pan, heat the beans in olive oil and butter and season with lemon rind, salt and pepper. Toss in the almonds.
  • Finish the carrots.
  •  As you are doing the vegetables, ask someone to carve the turkey. I have Martin all lined up.
  • While the turkey is being carved, put the carrots, beans, and cabbage in the warm serving dishes, the potatoes in a hot bowl. Put the gravy in the gravy boat.
  • Set everything out on the table and call everyone to dinner.
It’s a little weird to write this without a set menu and recipes, so here is what I happen to be serving:
  • My neighbor is bringing an appetizer and I will serve the Cranberry Shrub cocktail with it
  • Turkey ( I bought a Heritage Bird and brined it.)
  • Cornbread Stuffing with Sausage, Apples, Pecans and Dried Sour Cherries
  • Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes
  • Maple Glazed Carrots
  • Haricot Vert with Brown Butter Almonds and Lemon Zest
  • Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage
  • Orange Cranberry Sauce
  • Apple Pie and whipped cream
  • My aunt is also bringing a dessert

And that is that. I just hope I remember to take a picture.

Summer Kitchen

This is the kitchen in California, where we vacation in the summer. It’s my favorite place in the world to cook, despite the clunky electric stove, the dishwasher that limps through every cycle, and the more-than-occasional mouse. Although, since we have a pizza oven, it doesn’t really matter about the stove. The oven is in a screened dining room, right outside the kitchen door.

If you were visiting the kitchen for the first time, you might think it was outfitted by an eclectic hoarder. But bear in mind that our kitchen turned 100 years old this year and is stocked by a family of people who love to cook. On the back wall is a floor-to-ceiling hutch with stocky towers of grey and cream stoneware mixing bowls and bright majolica serving bowls; one pink plastic and one flowered plastic pitcher; two dark blue Wedgewood pitchers, one large and one small, with gleaming Grecian ladies dancing around the base and that’s just a start.  There must be a dozen large platters. The Chinese ones have people in houses and gardens in reds, oranges and greens, while those from Japan are blue and white with chrysanthemums. An enormous, painted, chipped tin platter strewn with colorful strawberries, apples, grapes and a beet (or could it be a rutabaga?) stands brightly behind. All kinds of baking dishes are piled messily at the side: white ceramics from France, two small painted terra cotta ones from Mexico, and plain old pyrex, squares and rectangles. Pie plates in tin or glass, some with fluted edges are on the shelf underneath. There are so many sugar bowls, wedged in between the bowls and platters. Three teapots. Several cruets – does anyone actually use cruets? – patiently gathering dust on the top shelf. Did I forget to mention there is a stack of 15 wooden bowls, round or oval in every size? Oops. To say that this kitchen is well-stocked doesn’t quite describe it.

My favorite plate is a white scratched square for asparagus with purple and green spears painted around the edges. Like the asparagus plate, many of the pieces look like what you are supposed to serve on them. There are several bowls that either look like artichokes or are painted with artichokes. Next to those sit two small dark green artichoke-shaped containers for homemade mayonnaise. There are bowls painted with lemons or that look like a giant lemon cut in half, with little majolica lemons resting on the edge.  There is even a matching pitcher, in case you want to serve lemonade with your lemons. A small walnut shaped bowl with a lid is for serving, um, walnuts.

I haven’t even started on the tool drawer. Let’s just say that if you need to crush an entire head of garlic or open many bottles of wine simultaneously, you’ve come to the right place.

The one thing we don’t have is a heavy skillet for the pizza oven, so I haven’t had the opportunity to roast a chicken in there yet. But we do have a grill to place over the smoldering chunks of oak, so we grill steaks and chickens broken down into pieces in addition to the pizzas. You would think that a house as well-stocked as ours is would at least have a cast iron skillet, seasoned well, if a little dusty, shoved in a corner somewhere. But no. A heavy stainless steel skillet would be even better.

What we do cook,  we make over and over again. Pizza, of course. When we first got the oven, twelve times in fourteen days. Lots of grilled skirt steak rubbed with sea salt, pepper, and chili flakes, sliced thinly in corn tortillas with pico de gallo. Gazpacho. Guacamole. Big Greek salads. Lamb, butterflied, in the pizza oven. Pita bread in the pizza oven with the lamb and white bean puree. Cooking like this, reductively, with the simplest methods, a little olive oil, a chop of garlic, salt and pepper, the rhythm of my knife on the board, the scent and feel of the ingredients, the funny old tools and serving dishes – I cook more instinctively here. I use fewer recipes.

I had to make a few rules for myself, though, so I don’t spend the entire vacation chopping, being chained to the stove or going on obsessive searches for ingredients that are hard to find in a rural grocery store. (Of which I only use a few spoonfuls and then forget about after they get shoved in the back of the refrigerator.)

The rules are eccentrically specific but are important nonetheless:

  1. No julienne-ing anything under any circumstance! Just don’t! Even for Vietnamese noodle salad.
  2. No caramelizing onions. As hard as it is to resist this, if I spend another hour and a half getting the onions as brownly sweet as I like them, I will sulk. And nobody cares nearly as much as I do how brown they are. Bacon makes a good substitute.
  3. No buying any exotic ingredients. They will only be used once  anyway and then are quickly forgotten at the back of the refrigerator. For instance, tahini. There are 3 tins of tahini in the refrigerator right now. I bet I am the only person who makes homemade hummus here. It is hard to put up with plastic tub hummus, though. How about tzatiki or white bean puree instead? Martin makes pita bread in the pizza oven and we need something to go with it.
I’ll finish this post with an excellent summer cocktail. Martin made this last night and we sipped it as I was making dinner. The kids were reading quietly and a quarter moon appeared between the live oaks in the still blue sky. We could hear crickets.
Plantation from The Art of the Bar
(if you like making cocktails at all, you really should get this book)
Just outside the front door we grow basil, mint, thyme and rosemary. We use basil and mint in cocktails. 
  • 6 basil leaves
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 ounce Plymouth gin
  • 1/2 ounce Cointreau
  • 1/2 ounce lime juice
  • 1 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
  • 1/6 slice grapefruit for garnish
  1. Mash or muddle the basil with the sugar in the bottom of a large glass to make a paste. If you don’t have a muddler, you can use the handle of a wooden spoon. Make it look like pesto.
  2. Fill the glass with ice then add the gin, Cointreau, lime and grapefruit juices. Stir thoroughly until very cold.
  3. Strain through fine mesh strainer into a cold cocktail glass.
  4. Garnish with grapefruit slice.

Delicious Detox – Day 2

“Nothing tastes so good as being thin.”

I was chatting with the barrista at Espresso Vivace today and we were commiserating. I had ordered two non-fat cafe lattes Nico-style (cinnamon and orange rind and something else I can’t figure out but it is so very delicious) for me and my cousin and he said – Want a pastry with that?

Technically, the answer is  yes but sadly, I’ll be saying no – I said with a sigh. He laughed and that’s when he said it – Nothing tastes so good as being thin – He explained that he has an ectomorphic friend for whom this is a mantra.

I am not sure that I will ever feel that way but something I do often ask myself, is, “Is this really delicious enough?!” If I am really honest almost nothing you get in a coffee shop is ever actually delicious enough to eat. There are exceptions of course, but not very many. So I’m having to ask myself as I wander around town: is it really delicious enough? The answer is nearly always no. You do have to harness your inner exacting food critic to make this work.  Sometimes it would seem there is nothing so satisfying as a Devil’s Food Cupcake with Brown Sugar Buttercream. Or any kind of French pastry with custard and pears.  A pear thing could bring me to my knees. I look at that kind of pastry and it is practically looking right back into my eyes and speaking directly to me. So I have to intellectualize. Really think about it. Which would be better, tastier, if I were really analytical about it? I know it sounds puritanical, but I do think a salad of spanking fresh lettuces, a sliced avocado, thinly sliced shallots and a few toasted walnuts with a walnut oil dressing would beat the cupcake handily. Could it beat the pear custard pastry though…?

Also, I try to remember that being a little bit hungry is ok. It really is. A sort of meditation that goes with the Detox. I must point out though, there is no point in starving. Terrible slip-ups happen when you get too hungry. I should also mention hunger is not possible in the winter, not for me anyway. But in the spring, when local vegetables get gorgeous, then you can say – this delicate, perfectly balanced salad will more than suffice. Get your hands off me you stupid cupcake. I am busy eating a poem about spring.

Right now though, I am starving. Truly hungry and fighting off urges to eat an entire bag of Pirate Booty, a large square of Fresh Ginger Cake  (stupidly made by me yesterday on Day 1 of Delicious Detox), and a square of very dark chocolate smeared with peanut butter. Must….resist. I’ll sit tight and wait until dinner. We’re going out because I am too hungry to cook. I know this isn’t the healthy way, but I was running around too much today and didn’t want to eat the crap they sell at the soccer field. Thus extreme hunger. (Confession: I just caved and succumbed to a sliver of the totally excellent cake. Only a sliver though)

Tomorrow I will buy a large bag of apples for emergencies.

Menu for Day 2

  • Breakfast: Bowl of plain low fat yogurt, 3 dried apricots, 5 walnuts, 1 tsp maple syrup (the pesky sweet tooth)
  • Lunch: Nothing (Dumb move.)
  • 8 pieces of Pirate Booty (Not proud of this – just trying to stay honest)
  • Sliver of excellent cake. Sigh.
  • Dinner: Stuffed Eggplant, Stewed Chickpeas with Dill and Green Beans with Roasted Peppers and Yellow Raisins at Vios for dinner. A small glass of red wine.    (and a 1/3 of a Meyer Lemon Galactoboureko with Sour Cherry Compote. Oh dear…)

I will be much more sensible tomorrow.

Goat Cheese Honey Basil

Last week, Alistair had a couple of friends over after school. One of them has these little wire glasses, is rather small and is sort of nerdy. He usually wears too big camo-pants and a baggy t-shirt. Somehow he managed to disengage from the vortex of video games in the living room and make his way into the kitchen where I was kind of enjoying that all those boys were otherwise occupied. Oh well. He peered hungrily at my plate – Do you have anything to eat? What is that?! –  I should mention that I actually really like this kid. He’s very curious and he’s game for almost anything I serve. This time, molten goat cheese on toast with honey and basil. It was what I happened to have on hand.

Four o’clock on a Friday afternoon is a good time for a slightly decadent snack and this one is easy. I always have goat cheese and honey, and somehow, I even had fresh basil in a box in the fridge. You spread the cheese thickly on a slice of baguette, run it under the broiler until browned and bubbling, drip honey over the top and garnish with a basil leaf or two. That’s it. My sister-in-law made them and served them with cocktails on a dulcet summer evening on her terrace at the edge of a forest outside of Stockholm. It was late and the stars were just coming out, you could see them through the silhouette of the canopy of trees; the sun lurking just below the horizon. That was a lovely night. However, if standing around the kitchen counter on a sunny Friday afternoon, with a quirky and engaging ten year old, is where you happen to be, that will do nicely. Alistair’s friend took a bite, then his eyes kind of bugged out and he smiled. Then he said articulately – Wow. – I could tell he really liked them because he ate several. When we ran out of toast, we switched to oat crackers, which we didn’t toast for obvious reasons. It was still an excellent snack, we agreed.

This tiny ten year old and I stood at the counter together, me happy to have remembered this little bit of deliciousness and him marveling at how completely scrumptious it was. What a cool kid.

Warm Goat Cheese Toasts with Honey and Basil

  • soft mild goat cheese
  • honey
  • sliced rustic bread or sliced baguette or even an excellent whole grain cracker
  • basil leaves, washed and dried
  1. Preheat the broiler.
  2. Toast the bread lightly then spread thickly with goat cheese. Broil until bubbling  and golden.
  3. Drizzle honey over the cheese and top with a whole basil leaf or two.
Because I was sharing my hor d’oeuvres with a ten year old, I drank mineral water and let him have root beer.  If you have a bottle of cold dry white wine though, I would open it up and have a glass. It’s nearly Friday night after all.


The Apple Pie

Ok. Maybe I have to give up on an impeccably crimped edge in order to indulge in an all butter, totally flakey crust. It’s definitely worth it! I took a sharp little knife and sliced away a piece where no one would notice. Absolute flakiness achieved! So the edge isn’t so beautiful. I can live with it.

Lovely supple dough

The fluted edge was gorgeous before it hit the hot oven!

Ok, so the edge is still a little blobbish - do you think the all butter crust is at fault?!

Apple Pie, Thanksgiving 2011




Summer swan song: my final peach dessert of 2011

After this one last dessert recipe, I promise to get back to notes on dinner.

If you always wanted to make a fancy looking French-y style tart but were afraid to, this would be the perfect place to start.

I’m not too sure what’s going to happen when peach season is over. I will be bereft and unable to write about anything, probably. Until it is utterly and officially gone though, I will be making this gorgeous peach tart. You should too. I don’t think I’m overstating it if I say it’s shockingly easy. You mix the crust with a fork – there’s no butter to rub into the flour! Then push the dough into a tart pan with your fingertips – there’s no pastry to roll out carefully and trim! Ms. Amanda Hesser over at Food 52 doesn’t peel her peaches but I have this nifty soft fruit peeler and we are having a little fling so I’m always looking for excuses to use it. It looks like this:

Soft fruit peeler

You have to decide what works for you but I do like a peeled peach. Or a nectarine. This tart would possibly be very nice with plums. Or peaches scattered with raspberries…You can and should play with this recipe – it’s fun.

Last week I substituted brown sugar for the white in the mix on top, and some oatmeal for the flour. Next time I might scatter a few sliced almonds on top  – they would complement the almond extract in the crust nicely. But you can leave the recipe alone if you want. It’s quite perfect as written. I was afraid the topping would be too sugar-y. I worried I would take a dim view of the olive oil crust – that it would be oily and too pungent. I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Celebrate the end of the first week of school, or the last sunny weekend of the summer (or my birthday!) by making this tart. You’d better hurry up. Peach season won’t last forever.

And do whip some cream softly to serve with it, please.

Check out the gorgeous crisp crust

You can find the recipe here, at Food 52.

Iced Coffee

Is there anything more beautiful than half and half swirling into a tall glass of cold coffee on ice? Let me qualify that, is there anything more beautiful on a hot day in August?

I will now confess to something quite disgusting, although you will have to be the judge of whether it was as disgusting as what Laurie Colwin and her sister did (which was collecting all the leftover coffee from cups at the breakfast table and pouring that over ice). I think what I did was worse or maybe equally gross.

The other day, I made too much coffee for myself and a friend and I let it cool down on the counter for a future iced coffee and forgot about it for a few days…Then, driven by too much time with my cooped up, too hot children, I became desperate for iced coffee. Only instant gratification would do. I looked at the glass, and thought ew, for about 2 seconds, then shrugged and dumped in some ice cubes and a swirl of half and half. 10 minutes of unadulterated bliss – it was like a mini vacation. It should have been disgusting but, I have to report, it really was not.

I recommend making extra coffee in the morning to cool properly in a glass in the refrigerator to ice later. Usually I forget to do this and pour hot coffee over ice and then add the cream. Unfortunately hot coffee does not produce the best swirl of cream and coffee, which should be akin to Italian marbled endpapers, and which is intrinsic to the ultimate iced coffee experience. At least in my book. The appeal of the swirl is more than just aesthetic. With a good swirl, there are rivulets of cream and coffee throughout the glass. Sometimes you get a sip of pure coffee, sometimes mostly cream, then varying combinations of the two. It’s the most delicious thing.

Peach Crisp…for dinner?

Just a thought. Because it’s August and you won’t get peaches like these for a whole year. Plus, your kid will never forget it – peach crisp for dinner is the kind of thing that could make for intensely fond memories of being a child. A hot lazy day, after some kind of summer camp involving…canoes? This sweet dinner in the back yard. Maybe in a hammock. Barefoot. A shallow bowl, warm peach juices mingling with the runny edges of slightly melted vanilla ice cream. Under the thick green summer canopy of a backyard tree, the sound of sprinklers. Ok, maybe I’m getting a little carried away, but you can see where I’m headed. I would definitely go for it. Peach crisp and a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dinner. And a glass of milk, you know, to make it healthy.

All you have to do is peel the peaches, slice them, toss them with small amounts of sugar, lemon juice and a little cornstarch, rub together the oatmeal topping and bake. There are no worrisome techniques to master (see pate sucrée), no finicky chilling of pastry, no sieving of custard. There is no need for fancy or hard to come by flavorings. No trip to the liquor store. Just fresh peaches and everything else is in the pantry.

Normally I only post a recipe once a week or so but it seems like this is sort of urgent. A peach emergency! Peach season will be over in a week or two!

Peach Crisp

  • 6-8 peaches (or 6 peaches and a small basket of raspberries for the most sublime thing ever)
  • 4 tbsp white sugar
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1/4 lb cold butter
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 3/4 c. flour
  • 3/4 c/ oatmeal
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. Peel, pit and slice the peaches. I cut each peach into 12 pieces. Rinse raspberries, if using.
  3. In a medium bowl toss the peaches with the 4 tbsp sugar, cornstarch and lemon. Set aside.
  4. Cut the butter into 8 pieces and put into a large bowl or the bowl of a food processor.
  5. Add the brown sugar, flour, oatmeal, cinnamon and salt. Toss with the butter.
  6. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingers. The way to do this is to pinch a piece of flour coated butter and rub it between your fingers, pushing it through the dry ingredients until the mixture has a crumbly consistency and there are no more large pieces of butter. If you are using a a food processor, pulse until the largest piece of butter is the size of a pea. (not a tender tiny, one of the bigger kind)
  7. Put the fruit into a medium oval baking dish or an 8 x 8 pan. Pour 1/2 the crisp topping over the fruit, reserving the rest for a future crisp. It will keep in a sealed container for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator. Pat the topping gently over the fruit.
  8. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the juices are bubbling around the edges of the pan.

And just because I say you should make this for dinner, please don’t let that stop you from making it for dessert. Truthfully, that’s what I usually do! Now I have to go set up my hammock. 

Mission Figs and Blue Castello

When we go on vacation, I’m always sure I’ll post at least something short at Notes on Dinner, but it never really works out that way. I took pictures on the trip though and now I have something very easy for August: figs and blue cheese for an appetizer, although it might also be dessert. Oozing creamy cheese shot with threads of sharp blue underscores the sweetness of black figs, sticky with juice. An old wooden board, a knife, a little glass of crisp mineral-y wine. It might seem off the cuff, even haphazard, but it’s not. This is laid back yet composed; some might even say elegant. (That might be me!)

I won’t call this a recipe and it seems silly to write it all out but here’s how it works:

  1. Buy a basket of Black Mission figs and a wedge of Blue Castello or a similarly rich mild blue.
  2. Rinse figs.
  3. Unwrap cheese.
  4. Get knife.
  5. Serve on a cutting board. I like to let people cut the figs and cheese themselves.

That’s it. The only little nicety you might add, if you get to the market in the morning, is to pull the cheese from the icebox an hour before you eat. You could also put a few almonds or walnuts out – they’d be even prettier served in the shell with a nut cracker.  We had a glass of chilly rosé with our figs, blue and almonds and that was just right.