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We have some catching up to do, don't we? Let's get to it.

I missed two weeks in a row, which is a first on MSV. It's a bummer but couldn't be helped. First, briefly, there's a cat in the MSV house feeling poorly.

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What's more, that cat feeling poorly is nearly 18 years old. Yeah. I don't wanna talk about it.

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Additionally, I have been busy with Libacious. Specifically, we had a couple of jobs that wanted a bunch of original development—much more than would usually go on. First, there was a masquerade murder-mystery birthday party for 12 and 13-year-olds at Westwood, complete with pomegranate sours shaken up for the kiddos. I was not about to miss the chance to design something to pour into a coupe glass for this event.

Also, I got to wear a masquerade mask.

 photo by Casey Fox

 photo by Casey Fox

So much fun.

That was overlapped with/immediately followed by serving the signature cocktail for Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum's Green Thumb Gala. Meet the Barn Raiser.

There's a bunch of stuff in here: Assam tea spiced with allspice, black pepper, and cinnamon; fig-turbinado syrup; lemon juice; vodka; orange bitters; and orange blossom water—all garnished with sage leaves pinned to dehydrated orange slices and star anise.

I built the Barn Raiser from scratch, beginning with a single cocktail and scaling it all the way up to 380 servings. It was both nerve-racking and ultimately confidence-boosting, and, happily, brings us to today's recipes.

The fig-turbinado syrup is totally lovely. It obviously works in drinks (alcoholic or otherwise), but you can also drizzle it over vanilla ice cream or use it to jazz up breakfast.

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New waffle recipe coming very, very soon, by the way.

What's more, when you finish making the syrup, you'll have some rehydrated figs on your hands, which means you're only moments away from a seriously dreamy batch of fig paste.

Which brings us to a note on instant entertaining, in case it helps anyone. Lots of tips you find online for items to keep on hand for surprise guests involve animal products, so it seems worth noting that a vegan platter does not have to be a chore. I hosted a business meeting on short notice (with Libacious' wildly talented graphic designer, Tricia Bateman), at which I knew we'd be having some special celebratory cocktails all the way from Edinburgh (brought back, thoughtfully, by my business partners).

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And I never feel entirely comfortable serving drinks without something to nibble on. I had only about 20 minutes to get something onto the table. If I'd had just 15 or 20 minutes more, an almond pâté log would definitely have been the savory spread on the table, but them's the breaks.

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Clockwise from left: lemony chickpea, artichoke, and red pepper spread; two cracker varieties; fig paste; and rosemary mixed nuts.

The artichoke hearts, chickpeas, and red peppers all came straight from the pantry to combine with olive oil, lemon-infused grapeseed oil, a little lemon juice, salt, and dried herbs. That's it. The mixed nuts were purchased roasted and salted. Then there was nothing left to do but briefly toast them on the stovetop with a small amount of olive oil and fresh rosemary.

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Tiny crispy fried rosemary needles are hopelessly irresistible, you know.

And, finally, the fig paste. I grabbed a handful of rehydrated figs from the comically large batch on hand from syrup testing and blended it up with a little brandy, dried sage, orange exract, and a touch of orange blossom water (since the figs absorb syrup, not just water, the mixture is plenty sweet already). The whole thing still tastes like spreadable figs, but the additions give the paste a very subtle depth that keeps it from being one-note.

For instant entertaining, you do not have to have pre-soaked figs on hand. Begin your preparations by rehydrating figs (or any dried fruit you have in the cabinet). They will soften while you arrange everything else, then you can finish by blending them up into your paste (sweeten gently, to taste).

It's also especially nice baked into fig bars (instant breakfasts!) or dolloped on a cracker atop Kite Hill cream cheese.

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Dead Simple Fig Syrup and Fig Paste

Print the recipe

yields about 10 oz syrup and a scant cup paste

For the syrup:

1 cup water

1 cup turbinado/demerara sugar

1 cup packed dried figs [see Note], roughly chopped

For the paste:

1 tsp brandy

1/4 tsp dried rubbed sage

1/4 tsp orange extract

pinch flaked sea salt

two drops orange blossom water (optional, or substitute with a pinch orange zest)

Begin by making syrup. Heat water and turbinado in a medium pot over high heat, stirring to help dissolve sugar. As soon as it begins to boil, add chopped figs, and bring back to a boil. Remove from heat, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let steep one hour. Strain, pressing gently on figs to extract some of the absorbed liquid. Chill syrup in an airtight container.

To make the fig paste, transfer steeped figs to a food processor bowl. Add all other paste ingredients and process to a uniform paste. Store fig paste in the refrigerator, but it's best served at room temperature and will readily soften if heated briefly in the microwave.

Note: either Calimyrna or black mission figs may be used. The former will give a gentler flavor and sweetness that is particularly nice alone, while the latter will come through a bit bolder and makes a wonderful, traditional-feeling fig bar. Both are tasty, so follow your bliss.

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