Saturday, 12 January 2013

Nonna's Nutty Figs...a perfect treat to follow The Nutcracker

My New Year's Resolution is to take time to smell the roses.  

This post was written before we went to Jamaica on New Year's Day, but I was so busy I did not have the time to review and edit it.  At this point it is a recap of our holidays, with some traditions, memories and a delicious recipe tossed in...  

I love the holidays...the smells of delicious dishes and sweet treats permeates our house, Christmas music rings out in the malls, planning and plotting to find the perfect Chanukah and Christmas gifts for each of the children...

This year has flown by.  We are really busy at work and I never have as many free hours as I wish I did to just bake and home-make.  We still managed to have 2 family celebrations for Chanukah.   The first night -  traditionally our family celebration - is a night to gather together, make and eat latkes, bench licht (light the candles on the Chanukah menorah), close the meal with sufganiyot (jelly-filled donuts), and open gifts.

On the morning of the first night of Chanukah - I shared the following on MMT's Facebook Page:
It never fails...whenever a holiday arrives, I have mixed emotions...the growing excitement of preparing for, and sharing the festivities with my family, and a powerful ache and longing for my mother. 
I miss the telephone calls to plan, and discuss, and review menus. I miss the next set of telephone calls to update each other on how the recipes were turning out. I miss the encouragement and advice she would patiently share as I learned to cook, bake and entertain. I miss her so much, my heart aches...

So as I sit here this morning, having wrapped all the Chanuka gifts with Carlo as the girls schluff (sleep), and finally start perusing the collection of recipes I have been sharing over the past couple of weeks, I have decided to look up a recipe for Sufganiyot from "Auntie Martha".

Mom loved Martha Stewart, watching her show every day, collecting her cookbooks and magazines. Our girls actually thought Martha was their aunt, as that is how Mom referred to her when they'd watch her show together. And so, I know Mom would have loved the idea of making Martha's recipe for sufganiyot...if I let my mind wander I swear I can hear her giggling at my plan.

So...I thank everyone who shared their sufganiyot recipes, I am sure each one is delicious, but today, for the first time ever, I will try making Martha's Sufganiyot, to which my mother would have said: "Nomaleh, it's a Good Thing". And tomorrow, I will take one to her and hope she understands 
The sufganiyot turned out great and Mom loved them (happily eating the two I brought with me for my visit).  On the final night of Chanukah Davie, Lena and Abby returned from vacation and we had a closing candle celebration.  Lasagna, latkes, salad and sufganiyot - all home-made.  It was a night of family, fun, friends and fantastic food - what more could I ask for?

All in all I peeled and prepared 20 pounds of potato latkes during the 8 days.  It was a lot of work to make everything from scratch, and my arthritic feet screamed at me for a full day after each cooking marathon, but it was well worth it - I cannot express how important it is to me to keep the traditions alive for the next generation - and my medium of transfer is...what else?  Food!

Our Italian-Jewish family typically has celebration months - and December is the monster of all celebrations.  As soon as Chanukah ended, it was a race to begin baking and cooking for the Christmas celebrations at my in laws.

But just before the Christmas festivities started we created another memory...carrying on my mother's tradition of going to the Nutcracker Ballet.  Ever since I can remember, my mother would take me to see the Nutcracker at the O'Keefe Centre.  We would grab a bite to eat at Shopsy's restaurant across from the theatre, and then head over for an afternoon of pirouettes and Tchaikovsky.  When the girls were little she would play the Nutcracker Suite CD for them, over and over, and read the book to them until they knew the story by heart.  In fact, the winter that Sara was 3, my mother insisted that she was old enough to attend her first ballet, and took us to the Hummingbird Centre to see the Nutcracker.  Sara was mesmerized.  She loved the sparkling costumes and the music she knew by heart.  I was pleasantly surprised at how well the afternoon went - starting out with lunch at Shopsy's (Mom getting her favourite - a Reuben sandwich, Sara ordering extra pickles with her lunch!) and then off to the theatre.

Unfortunately, by the time Becca was old enough to go to the ballet Mom was suffering from early onset Alzheimer's, and I was overwhelmed at the thought of taking her and my young kids downtown for an afternoon.  It is a missed opportunity that I will always regret, and this year I was able to somewhat "right that wrong".

Early in the summer I mentioned to my sisters-in-law that I was going to get tickets to the ballet this winter, and resurrect Mom's holiday tradition of going to the Nutcracker.  They were also interested in going.  So in the Fall, 13 of the Bruni clan bought tickets to the December 23rd performance, which is now housed in the Four Seasons Centre.  Suffice it to say, it was a wonderful afternoon shared by 4 generations of Brunis.  In years to come, I know it will be a treasured memory for my girls.

What a fantastic way to kick off the holidays!  The following day was Christmas eve, and 24 of us were gathering at Nonno and Nonna's house for dinner.  My mother-in-law is a phenomenal cook - we all walk away with "Nonna Bellies" (a phrase coined by my niece and nephew).  You can't stop yourself from eating, even after you're full, because every dish is better than the last.

But Nonna is getting older, and we all try to bring various dishes for the festive meals to lessen her load, and this holiday was no exception.  I made my Greek Salad, Mom's potato latkes, and holiday cookies for the first night; and Norene's barley and mushroom risotto, Caroline's stuffed mushrooms and Nonna's stuffed figs for the second.

And lest we forget the Christmas morning brunch...on special occasions we have a brunch, home-made of course!  This extends to birthdays, Christmas, and New Year's Day.  It was a bevvy of delicacies - Belgian waffles, fruit, Eggs Benedict, and cinnamon buns.  I love this opportunity for  the 4 of us to be together, quiet and calm, enjoying all the family favourites for breakfast.

But as I recount our holidays, I would point out that the food was only part of the journey. It was the moments shared between cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and the rest of the family.  It was the giggles, and laughter and overall good cheer.  I (re)learned something this year - the food and meals paved the way for the memories and experiences we shared while we indulged.  The dishes prepared by my mother and mother-in-law (and their mothers before them) are scrumptious, but they are so much more.  They represent the ties that bind our family, now and through the generations.  And while the girls may giggle as I recount stories with each dish I prepare, I know that they will remember these moments and anecdotes in years to come, long after their matriarchs are gone, and they will share the same stories with their children as they set their grandmother's dishes down to their own families one day.  That's what it is all about.

So, from my family to yours, I hope you enjoy Nonna's recipe for stuffed figs as much as we all do.  Wishing you all a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year.  B'Tayavon and Buon Appetito!

Nonna's Stuffed Figs


  • 1 flat (package) dried figs (The plumper they are, the better)
  • ½C chopped walnuts
  • ½C coffee (regular, decaf instant or espresso will work - use whichever one you prefer)
  • granulated sugar (to taste)

Preheat oven to 350˚.  Flatten dried figs and carefully slice through, leaving a small piece intact (like a hamburger bun, so it opens and closes).  Place walnuts inside each fig, and firmly press down to form a sandwich.  Bake for 20 minutes.  As soon as you remove the figs from the oven, use a spoon to sprinkle coffee over each fig (so that it is completely covered), then immediately follow with a sprinkle of sugar (to taste).  Let them sit until they dry (1 hour), OR put them back in the cooling oven for 5 to 10 minutes.  They will keep in an airtight container (room temperature or refrigerated) for a couple of weeks - but this is a moot fact, because they will be devoured long before that!

Flatten the dried fig, then carefully slice,
leaving a small  part intact, like a hamburger bun
Fill with chopped walnuts (I fill to overflowing)
Flatten, again, with walnuts inside this time,
and place on baking sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes

Sprinkle coffee, then sugar, over the figs when
they are hot out of the oven.  Leave to cool and devour!