Rogue Food Pen Pal: Jedi Max

This month, despite taking a leave from the official Foodie Pen Pals exchange due to travel, I sent a package to a very special pen pal with a story that I hope will touch your heart. Jedi Max is the eight-year-old son of a high school friend of mine, Jay, and her husband, Scott. In high school, Jay and I were in theatre together so we have lots of crazy stories! I don’t have too many close friends from my youth anymore, so the few who I do have are quite precious to me, as are their families. Max and I even have a history. 🙂 Once, I visited Jay over Valentine’s Day weekend, and Max declared himself my boyfriend. He was quite the sweetheart all weekend long.

With permission from his mama, I sent Max questions about food allergies and preferences, just like I would for any other pen pal and waited for his response. I’m pretty sure that Max wins the award for fastest response time for any of my pen pals so far as I had his answers back in under 30 minutes! His questions were a little more kid-friendly, but still centered around likes/dislikes/information-gathering for my shopping purposes. When his answers came back via Jay, one thing was clear: the boy has a sweet tooth!! I also appreciated that he said he was willing to try new things.

Here is what Max and Jay had to say about the treats Max received. They also took great pictures with some of the most hilarious faces ever!

Dried Pineapple: “It smelled okay. It looked interesting.” He didn’t like it. “I like my food with more moisture.”

Dried Apple Rings: He was scared when he saw it. He tasted it and disliked it. He said “It tasted like a bad frozen yogurt.” (He and Katie both tried the fruit).

Katie's thumbs down           Max's thumbs down
(Yikes on Max’s face, huh? Kinda feel sorry for him just a little bit!)

Julio’s Chips: “They looked good. The bag was bright!” He said they were “okay” but disliked them more than he liked them. He had more fun feeding them to me b/c they are GOOD! 🙂

Mom LOVES Julio’s, even if Max isn’t a fan.

Jr. Mints: They were melted in the box. 😦 He said it smelled “nice and minty.” He said, “They didn’t taste like I thought they would.” He was hoping they would taste more like the ice cream.

Green and Red Apple Jelly beans: “The red ones were the best… they were sweeter.”

jelly bean and jumior mint collage
Blueberry Oatmeal: “Kind of okay.” He said it “looked good” but there was “too much blue and not enough berry.”

Green Apple Soda: By far his favorite! “It was green and delicious!”

green soda face

What is this??

close up with soda

Love the soda!

Mmm…mmm…good!!

Everything Max (and Mom!) got.

If you take a minute and look up at the tabs across the top of my blog, you’ll notice a new tab titled “Jedi Max.” There you can find more details about what I’m fixing to share with you and how you can make a difference, but I wanted to introduce it to you in person. At the beginning of May, Jay took Max to the doctor several times over the course of two weeks for not feeling well, and it culminated in a trip to the ER and emergency transport from their town to Dell Children’s Hospital in Austin because Max had a mass on the right occipital lobe of his brain. In under a week, he had surgery to have the mass taken out, and while he was slated to be in the hospital for at least a week, he was released in 4 days. Now he’s just finished radiation with chemotherapy soon to follow. They travel 800 miles a week, total, for his medical appointments which are all in Austin where they do not live, but the doctors do. It has gotten difficult financially for them and will continue to get even more so as Max’s medical bills come in over time. At this point, it’s unclear if Jay will be able to return to her job in the fall or not.

Getting radiation in his Star Wars face mask.

Just a boy and his Legos.

A friend of theirs has started a donation site at Give Forward where folks can donate to help cover their expenses. I’ve read through the site, and it seems legit. What I did notice is that the site takes 7% of funds raised (“a small processing fee”), so if we want to give Max and his family $20,000 in September, we really need to raise approximately $21,500 (if I did the math right). If you feel led to help a little boy and his family, or even just to learn more about his story, please click on the “Jedi Max” tab for links to the original blog of his story, the current blog, and the donation site. If every pen pal and friend who visited my blog over the next few days was willing to donate $15 (the cost of the average pen pal package), we could nearly double the amount they currently have raised. Can we do that? I bet we could! I feel confident about the difference we can make.

In the mean time, enjoy some pictures of Max! He’s a great kiddo with a big heart who is going to beat this cancer and go on to make a difference in the world. Love this kid!

Mmmm…turkey leg!!

miami vice max

Miami Vice Max! He’s got charm, for sure!

Yowsa! Bless his heart for trying! 🙂

Did I mention he has a sweet tooth?

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Baked Fig Bites

Dear eaters, I went on an unknown culinary adventure recently. I am going to share with you what I did, what I ate, and my thoughts on the whole thing, but please do let me know your experiences with figs if you have any as I’m a wee bit uncertain about the whole thing. It all started when I realized that my significant other has a fig tree outside his apartment. Well, color me happy! Hello, free produce! The only tricky part is that I am pretty much totally unfamiliar with fresh figs. But when you are handed free produce, you do not shy away simply because you don’t know. Well, at least I don’t think you should – not when you have the World Wide Web at your disposal. So I researched via Google and my friends on Facebook, and I waited for the figs to get ripe. By mid-last week, there were a whole bunch of ripe ones, and I could tell the birds were starting to eat the figs, so Lance and I harvested an overflowing quart bag for me to bring home for experimentation purposes. Here are those experiments for your reading and eating perusal and enjoyment.

Plate o' Deliciousness

Baked Fig Bites

Ingredients – all to taste, depending on how much of each kind of bite you want to eat
Fresh figs
Semi soft cheese – I used plain goat cheese
Bacon
Walnuts
Honey
Prosciutto
Bread – I used ciabatta

Steps
1. Wash the figs, scrubbing as necessary to remove any outdoor detritus from the outside of the fruit. Be gentle as the skin is fragile. I used my handy-dandy produce brush.
2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a jelly roll pan with foil. I recommend placing a cookie cooling rack or small wire rack on the pan if you use bacon on your bites so the bacon grease drips away from your bites.
3. If you are using walnuts, chop them up so they are ready to go when you want them. I chopped up about 4 or 5 halves and had leftovers.
4. If using bacon, slice each long piece in half.
5. Start slicing figs in half. Most of mine I sliced from top to bottom, vertically rather than horizontally, although I did experiment with a few horizontal cuts. I think I prefer the vertical cut (although the horizontal cut seems prettier) because it opens up sort of a wee bit of a pocket in the fruit that is ideal for widening to stuff. I used a cheese spreader (small, dull, round implement) to widen a divot in the fruit.

Divot for Stuffing!

Then I began making decisions. Some I put walnuts in first and then smushed goat cheese on top. Others just got goat cheese smushed in there without any walnuts. It was a bit random. Some got walnuts (no more than ½ teaspoon), and goat cheese,  were wrapped in bacon, and then were secured with a toothpick. Two halves went on the baking sheet plain, just to see.

6. Bake the non-bacon bites for about 12 minutes. They will be quite soft and a little bubbly/juicy at this point. The bacon still wasn’t done, so I gave it 5 more minutes.
7. Drizzle some with honey, as you see fit. Wrap others in pieces of prosciutto as you see fit.
8. Smear some pieces on bread.
9. Eat them all, and be satisfied.

Ready for the oven!

 

As I was preparing my bites, I tasted the raw fruit in minute quantities to have an idea of the fresh fruit flavor. Only once did I sort of squint my eyes and make a face, thinking, “hmmm that wasn’t quite good eats.” But I prepped it anyway. Baked, I thought they all tasted good, although I did get a little burned out by the end of my plate of fig bites. It was a lot of bites, y’all. I liked having the nuts in them as it provided a bit of texture in an otherwise mostly creamy/soft bite. I do like texture in my food. The bacon/prosciutto bites were good also, but I think I liked the prosciutto over the bacon, just by a hair. I’d do either of them again. The salty notes added an edge against the creaminess also. I’ve heard you can use blue cheese instead of goat, and as I do love blue cheese, I will be giving that a try next. I promise to report back. It was a little hard to scrape the fruit out of the skin to spread on the bread, so frequently I just cut the bites into smaller pieces to put on the bread, and it was delicious. I definitely was wanting some fig preserve-type product, so that’s on my mind to figure out as well. I would give all my bites two thumbs up, for sure.

Up close and personal!

 

When I was doing my research online to figure out how to know when the figs were ripe, I learned quite a bit. First of all, there are many different kinds of figs. They are not all dark brown/black/purple, like I thought, nor do they turn that color when they ripen. These figs are green figs, and they turn sort of a yellow/weird light brown/unfortunate pale yucky green color. Appetizing, I know. It’s a tricky color to describe. What would you call those colors below?

Bottom one is ripe.

Left one is ripe.

Anyway. Bright/dark green figs are a no-go. Rock hard figs are a no-go. As the figs ripen, they turn color and get heavier. This will cause them to go from perpendicular to the tree branch to more parallel. As it drops, the skin on the neck may crack a bit. It will also start to drip nectar from the bottom of the fig. They are also soft and kind of squishy. A girlfriend of mine also watches the “bellybutton” at the bottom of the fig.

Bellybuttons on figs

She says when it starts to turn pink, that’s a clue for her to pick them. There was conflicting information out there on whether or not they continue to ripen once picked, so I’m not sure what to tell you about that. My girlfriend who has been figging for years says she picks hers a bit early to keep the birds from getting them and leaves them on the counter to ripen. That’s how she rolls. I found this website to have helpful progression pictures of figs as they ripen. You should check it out!

See how the neck is starting to crack on the right?

 

Let’s talk prosciutto, a quick moment. It is, to be truthful, kind of a pricey ingredient. However, in my opinion, a few slices go quite a long way. For instance, last week I bought six slices at Central Market, and I got three meals/snacks out of those slices, and I believe the six slices cost me $4.25 or so. Plus I got a free “tasting” slice while I was standing at the counter. Bonus! If you are lucky enough to live near a Whole Foods or Central Market, the folks working the counter are often nice and knowledgeable enough to talk to you about what you are eating/serving it with so as to help you make the best choice out of your options. They also usually let you taste them so you can make sure to get one you like. I would use this as a measure of a quality meat counter, wherever you are shopping. If they won’t let you taste it before you pay $22.50/lb, then go elsewhere. Your money is too precious to waste on an ingredient you might not like. And remember, you really don’t need a whole pound. While it depends on the number of people you are feeding, in my opinion, 6 – 12 slices will probably be sufficient. But talk to the meat counter staff person, and they should help you out. It will be cut quite thin, and because of how the meat falls apart, one slice can be used to wrap at least 2 fig bites, most likely. If you are like me, you may want to be prudent and get one more slice than you really think you need for the bites as you may find yourself snacking on the prosciutto while you are preparing the rest of the bites. I’m just saying…it’s a possibility. Stay tuned for more prosciutto education as we continue our fig adventures!

The tree of abundant figs!

 

Since the first picking and bite making, I’ve got another quart bag, and still half of the original bag in my fridge. I’m going to have to figure out a preserves recipe or a pie or something, stat! I also should probably try some of them just raw. I might give the blue cheese and prosciutto bites a go. That sounds tasty to me. Perhaps some will find their way into my lunch. Either way, there is a lot of fig-figuring out going on around here. I refuse to let them all go to the birds. I’m a quick learner, so back off, birdies! I’ll keep sharing my adventures. It was recently suggested to me by a Food Network star (via Twitter – how fun!) to try them roasted with a balsamic-garam masala drizzle. So what that I don’t know how to make that? I’ll figure it out and keep you posted! In the meantime, how do you like to eat figs? What are your tips for how to know how they are ripe? I’d love to hear! Happy eating!

 
I’m still working on figuring out nutritional information for my figs. I will report back when I find something out!