Fresh Fruit with Cheese and Peppery Nuts

original recipe

I swear, Carla Lalli Music can see right into my soul.

For example: how on Earth did she know about the time I spent in Paris after college? That I was there as part of a student program and therefore, basically broke? I know that she somehow already knows this origin story, but let me break it down:

I don’t even know how I decided to enroll in this particular study abroad program, but once I made the decision, I knew I would find a way to make it happen. I worked for the better part of a year, part-time at the campus Starbucks and part time at an architecture firm (while taking a full course load, mind you) and had save enough for my tuition and plane ticket to get there. I put all the money I received as a graduation gift toward this trip and I had signed up for extra French classes to get myself the basic language skills I would need to go there.

I remember arriving and being scared out of my skin. Not for any reason in particular, only that everything was foreign and I had grown up in white, middle-class California. The culture was new, the language was different (and spoken so fast!), and the people were brusque (at least upon first glance. I would be proven wrong on this point many times over during the course of my stay). At first, I had to force myself to go out and interact with the city. Eventually, I got my bearings and the city opened up. It was magic.

That particular July was extremely hot. Our dorm rooms didn’t have any mechanism for cooling other than a single window that opened onto a quiet courtyard where, if you were lucky, a soft breeze might blow a tiny gust of warm summer air past the curtains and into the room. The only other (socially appropriate) options for cooling off were as follows: stand in the refrigerated section of Le Bon Marche with the doors wide open and your head as close to the yogurt as you could get it OR head to the banks of the Seine and hope for cool air to brush the top of the water and head your way. Desperate times called for the former, but mostly we chose the latter.

None of us had any money to eat at a decent restaurant (L’As du Falafel was as fancy as it got), so my friends and I would pack up bags filled with cheap wine from the Monoprix, the corkscrew that one of us had braved the store clerk’s gaze of distain to ask for (how do you even say ‘corkscrew’ in French? It’s tire-bouchon, I later found out. Good to know), and whatever amalgam of produce/cheese/bread we could put together to form some assemblage of a meal.

We would walk up to the the Pont des Arts or just pick a point along the banks of the Seine, post up with our picnic blanket and family meal, and sit and eat and drink and laugh until the sun went down. There was always cheese: at the beginning, it was often a a mild brie, but as the trip went on our palates had evolved and bolder things showed up: Roquefort, Camembert, Comté. The same girl always brought the bread and not just any old baguette would do. This girl had armed herself with bakery reviews and printed maps and made it her personal quest to discover the best croissant in Paris during her stay. OF COURSE she was in charge of the bread. From there, it was whatever we could find and there was no wrong way to go: cherry tomatoes practically bursting out of their skin, salty olives that would make your cheeks pucker and crack a tooth if you weren’t paying full attention and absentmindedly chomped down on a pit, saucisson-sec sliced so thin you could practically see through it.

But the thing I remember more than anything else was this: juicy purple figs, practically oozing with ripeness, sliced with an ‘x’ from top to almost bottom and stuffed with tangy blue cheese. The whole thing was drizzled with honey and was an absolute mess to eat. We followed each bite with a sip champagne (when in France!) and the combination of food, wine, friends, and Paris was like fireworks — absolute magic.

That’s how I know that Carla Lalli Music gets me. Because while this fruit/cheese/honey/nuts combo is not a new concept, if a recipe can make me taste a meal I had thirteen years ago like it was yesterday, I think that qualifies as practically psychic, no?

Illustrated ingredients: pecans, olive oil, honey, rice vinegar, blue cheese, pears