A Glimpse

A few weeks ago my Grandpa friended me on Facebook. I immediately texted my two sisters to verify that this was, in fact, Grandpa. They confirmed. And so, confused, I accepted his friend request and popped over to admire his page. It was, as you can imagine, quite bare. He’d accidentally noted that he was born in 1986 and his page boasted a small handful of friends, all quite elderly. I didn’t think much of it at that time until early last week when my mom called to let me know that now Grandpa, apparently, knew everything we were up to. I imagined him incorporating this new bit of technology into his morning routine of checking stocks, doing calisthenics and having breakfast with my Gram at their little table on the porch in Florida. And then a funny thing happened: Gramp started posting on my wall. The first time was on Valentine’s Day when he wished me a very happy day and hoped I was doing something fun for myself. I decided to write back on his wall, wishing him a nice afternoon and letting him know that I’d been pretty busy baking that week. Since then, we occasionally report on the weather and what we’re up to. Many of the cousins do the same thing, so Gramp’s wall is now peppered with cheerful family updates from near and far. There are a lot of reasons to be skeptical — even scornful–of social media and the ways technology can sneak into our daily lives. We could all make a pretty lengthy list, I’m sure. But getting messages from your Grandpa that read, “I sit 85 and sunny here today” just isn’t one of them.


On Sunday night, like some of you I imagine, I set up camp in front of the Oscars (whoa, it felt long this year, no?). Sam made hummus, we roasted some veggies and I made a big salad.  For much of the show, I was texting with my mom about a particular dress, speech, song, or how happy we were that Ben Affleck won. When I lived with my Mom for a brief spell in California, we got to watch these things together, but now that luxury has passed (and I’m not certain I realized what a luxury it was at the time). But texting with her on Oscar night made me feel just that much closer to her in California — in the same way I felt closer to Gramp knowing how the weather was looking on his side of things.

And then, Monday morning, I found Mr. Miller’s address! My old friend from high school, Lori B., sent me a message with it after reading my last blog post. She asked her parents and they tracked it down, so this week: technology wins! It’s helped me to send small, chatty notes to my Grandpa, 3000 miles away. It’s allowed me to banter about silly gossip with my mom, and get in touch with a very dear former teacher. And I’m thankful for that, although just as thankful to leave it all behind for a few days, too: As you’re reading this, I’m on a very long plane ride heading to what I only hope is a very sunny beach to spend time with my Dad and sister, Zoe and her boyfriend Steffan. It was a bit of a splurge in terms of time (12-hour flight each way for only 3 days of time off), but at the end of February when you live in Seattle, you make these kinds of decisions on a whim. Sun beckons. It truly does. So while I am very much looking forward to getting away from my day-to-day life for a few days,  I’m also grateful to have had the chance to glimpse into a few other lives this week.  The sunsets and cool drinks and my new straw hat will be nice — I’m sure of that. But I’m not sure that it can top last week, full of connecting with loved ones, reaching out to those I’ve lost touch with, and making a most fine batch of homemade Fig Newton’s. If every week could be so good, really.

Because the flight to the Carribean is quite long, I knew I would need a few snacks. Lucky for me, my friend Casey Barber recently sent me a copy of her new book, Classic Snacks Made From Scratch. I first met Casey at The Greenbrier Symposium for Professional Writers and we hit it off right away. At the time, Marge was still making pies and cookies at the San Francisco farmer’s markets, so Casey and I bonded over talk of homemade snacks, singing the praises of Valrhona oreo’s and strawberry pop-tarts.  Since then, she’s done a lot of writing and recipe development for all of those snacks many of us may remember growing up with: Cheez-It’s, Homemade Nutter Butters, Fruit Roll-ups and so many more. While I’ve dog-eared quite a few recipes, I was immediately drawn to Casey’s Fig Newtons largely because they’re made with whole-wheat flour and the jammy fig filling sounded right up my alley. I made a few minor tweaks, using muscovado sugar instead of dark brown sugar (I just love its dark, fragrant stickiness and thought it’d be a perfect compliment to the earthiness of the figs). Other than that, I ended up cutting my Newtons a bit larger than Casey recommends and took a few shortcuts while putting them together. I sampled one before wrapping them up in parchment to take on the flight with me. They’re soft yet crumbly, not at all too sweet and are great for those on-the-way-out-the-door kind of mornings. I imagine they’ll take to long airplane trips quite well, too.

Muscovado Fig Newtons

Muscovado Fig Newtons

  • Yield: 36 cookies
  • Prep time: 55 mins
  • Cook time: 20 mins
  • Inactive time: 1 hr
  • Total time: 2 hrs 15 mins

I have a hunch these would be really nice with oat flour as well, so next time I’ll try them with 1 cup of all-purpose flour,  1 cup of oat flour, and 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour and see where it gets us. I also have a hunch (that Sam’s confirmed) that the dough would be wonderful with a bit of orange zest, so I’ll  sprinkle in some next time. Let me know if you make any adaptations you like.

Ever-so slightly adapted from Classic Snacks Made From Scratch  

Ingredients

Fig Newtons:

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
12 tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup muscovado sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar (or turbinado sugar if you prefer only natural cane sugars)
3 large eggs

Filling:

8 ounces dried Mission figs, quartered, with tough stems removed
2 cups fresh orange juice
1/4 cup natural cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Instructions

Make the dough: Sift the flours, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, muscovado sugar, and granulated sugar together for about 2 minutes, or until the mixture is fluffy and beige in color. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the eggs, one at a time, mixing in between each addition. Add the dry ingredients gradually to make a soft, sticky dough (I was nervous the dough was too dry — my mixer was struggling — but it turned out perfectly, so if your mixer struggles, just let it continue on). Separate the dough into four pieces and form into flat disks. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

 Make the filling: While the dough is chilling, stir the figs, orange juice, sugar and ginger together in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the figs are soft and the liquid has a jammy consistency, about 35-45 minutes (I used the back of a wooden spoon to mush some of the figs down to help it reach that jamminess).  Transfer the fig filling to a food processor and pulse until pureed but a little chunky. Cool to room temperature.  

Putting them together: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. On a floured work surface, take one of the dough quadrants out of the refrigerator . Roll into an 8 x 10 -inch rectangle approximately 1/4-inch thick. Trim the edges evenly, using a pastry cutter or sharp knife.

Spread one quarter of the fig filling onto half of the dough rectangle. Fold the uncovered half over the filling to make a long, sandwich cookie. Slice the filled rectangle into four equal pieces and then cut each of those piece in half (should yield 8 cookies total). Transfer the cookies to the lined baking sheet. Repeat the process with the remaining three pieces of dough. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown. Cool on wire racks before serving. Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to a week.

Comments

  1. Megan

    The story about your grandpa is just precious. It's true, social media can have a bad rep, but there are sweet connections and moments that make it quite nice.
    Also... the fig newtons sound perfect.

  2. la domestique

    I'm so glad you shared the story of connecting with your grandfather on Facebook. I do tend to get cynical about Facebook and you've given me a change in perspective. Fig puree is one of my favorite things to incorporate into baked goods, and those fig newtons look like a real treat!

  3. Amanda @ Once Upon a Recipe

    I've wanted to make homemade fig newtons for as long as I can remember. Thanks for the reminder - this recipe looks fabulous!
    PS. Love the accompanying story, as usual. I find it quite endearing when the older generations hop on board with current technology. (My papa has taken to texting me lately, and given the size of his fingers I'm not sure how he gets by on his iPhone, but he does, somehow!). Go Gramps! :)

  4. Kasey

    What a beautiful sentiment, Megan. We all spend so much time complaining about technology and how it's ruining our lives and the old way of doing things but it's so true- it can bring us closer together! Now that I have Neko, I find myself having 1 minute Facetime conversations with my parents and my grandfather (not to mention Skype calls with my grandfather in Russia!). xoxo

    1. megang

      Kasey: I'm sure that's so great for them getting to see Neko week by week, too. Otherwise, it would really just be in between visits and so much could change so quickly. Thanks for saying hi: you're on my "to call" list when I'm back home! xox

  5. Stacy

    What lovely stories of connecting. And it's so true -- there's a lot of joy to be found in the texts I get from my grandma and the way my mom feels more connected to me because she can see what I made for dinner via Instagram. For all of its faults, technology has given us some very good things as well. And these fig newtons!! I was never into them as a kid, but this homemade version is right up my adult self's alley, what with the buttery pastry and a decadent filling of figs.

    Hope you're enjoying that adventure away! xo

    1. megang

      Thanks, Stacy! Yes, I think you'd like them for sure. My Dad was on Instagram for a little while (he's since kind of let it slide away), but it was so fun to see the photos he'd post and he could keep up with us that way ... it's true that if you find a way to make it feel authentic and true to you, technology can be pretty cool. Definitely enjoying a little sunshine! Hope you're having a nice week, ~m

  6. Lindsey @ Pas de Deux

    I LOVE that you mention texting so much with your sisters and your mom - sounds like we have very similar families :-)

    I have been meaning to make fig newtons for months now... hopefully seeing your lovely recipe will be the encouragement I need to make them this weekend!

    1. megang

      Thanks, Lindsey! Enjoy the recipe. I'm going to make them again when I get home this weekend -- we loved them in the morning with coffee, too. Have a great rest of the week, ~m

  7. Jacqui

    My old college roommates and I figured out a way to have a book club even though we live in completely different states: Google Hangouts! We don't actually read the book, of course, but it's nice to just see each other's faces and talk about nothing in particular, like the old days. Hope you have a great trip, Megan!

  8. Nancy in NJ

    What a lovely post. I only wish my grandparents and parents were here and able to experience something so new and foreign to their generation. Your grandfather sounds amazing -- I hope I'm still so inquisitive when I'm his age. Please tell him that Nancy, who lives in Princeton, NJ says hello and "you rock"!

  9. Aimee @ Simple Bites

    I am just perusing Casey's cookbook now, and must have passed over this recipe. Am now bookmarking it to make soon, as these look quite perfect. I love that you pack your own airplane snacks. I do as well. =)

  10. Aunt V

    Of course, I love your story about Dad. I'm not on FaceBook but I now know Dad's version of what you are up to because I call him just about every morning.
    I may make the move for exactly the reasons you point out or rely
    on Grandpa. It is wonderful to hear his excitement.
    Fig newtons are Burt's favorite cookie so I just might try this healthy recipe.
    Enjoy the sun and beaches.
    Love...Aunt V

  11. Laura

    Sweetest story about your Grandpa! And I've been wanting to make my own newtons for awhile now. I like this recipe {the orange and ginger sound perfect}. Thanks and safe travels!

  12. sara forte

    It was refreshing to read this. I feel like there are so many bad things to read about social media and technology. I even prefer an email or a text over an old-fashioned phone call and I feel so guilty! The thing is, it's happening, so to act negative about it helps no one. I love the stories, so sweet. Hope you had a wonderful few days. I am certain the sun was worth it!

    1. megang

      Agreed, Sara! I can think of a million ways technology makes me skeptical and want to crawl into a little cabin somewhere ... but there are so many good things, too. I'm feeling that way more and more lately -- I guess, like anything, you just have to make it your own and take what works and leave the rest. Hope you're enjoying your weekend. I'm back in Seattle and the sun decided to shine this morning :) ~mg

  13. Danae

    What a lovely post! I live in Panama, but I decided I needed to make these, so I took a trip into the city today to find figs. They are wonderful!

    1. megang

      Hi Danae! So happy to hear you enjoyed them .. we did, too (try them for breakfast with tea!). Thanks for leaving a note, Megan

  14. molly

    You know, I went into this post, thinking Fig Newtons, meh, never a big fan.

    I left this post thinking Need Newtons NOW!!!

    Maybe, like social media, they have a huge upside. Now off to scour my pantry for figs...

    (Hope your trip was all that and then some, Megan!)

    M

  15. Amanda

    Such beautiful writing. Sometimes I find it's much easier for people to complain about things (technology especially) than to use it respectfully and appreciate it (which you could say for a lot things! ha).

    The recipe also looks great. My New Roots has an oat flour-based version that sounds nice too (http://mynewroots.org/site/2012/10/vanilla-rooibos-fig-newtons/). May have to try both! ;)

    1. megang

      Hi, Amanda! Oh I had not yet seen My New Roots' fig newtons and I love her site, so thanks so much for the link. And for your sweet writing compliments. All best, ~megan

  16. momgordon

    Yes, Gramp rather surprised the whole family with his "discovery" of Facebook. Although it is a match made in heaven because he is so nosy! Love that you wrote about this!! And YOUR Oscar night dinner sounded so much better than mine! Love you!

  17. Denise

    Megan, what a lovely post. I smiled every time I read about your grandfather - you are so lucky to still have him! Cherish those little posts about the weather ... always! On a side note, fig newtons use to be a weakness of mine!!

    1. megang

      Denise: Yes, he's pretty awesome. Very into staying connected with family and what everyone's up to ... so he's taken the facebook plunge! And the Fig Newtons: we gave some to Rachael but, truthfully, ate most of them inbetween late night snacks and breakfasts (nice with coffee!) Hope you and L are having a nice week, ~megan

  18. Art & Lemons

    What a lovely story about an unexpected connection with your Grandfather. Fig newtons have long been a favorite snack although I must admit, I've haven't attempted a homemade version, until now. Can't wait to try these.

  19. Chelayne

    Anyone have any suggestions on how to do these gluten free? I'm new to gluten free and the flour and wheat flour I'm unsure of good substitutions. Any help is appreciated. These look amazing!!!!!

    1. megang

      Hi, Chelayne- I'm not as familiar with gluten-free flours, but let me check with a friend and get back to you!

  20. Jen L | Tartine and Apron Strings

    I'm a new reader :)

    Your Grandpa is soooooooo cute! In cases like these, social media is a boon! Because of FB, I am able to keep close touch with family living hundreds and thousands of miles from me!

    Your fig newtons are beautiful! I want to eat some now!

    1. megang

      Hi, Jen! Welcome. So glad you're enjoying the blog; I agree re: Facebook. It's wonderful for keeping in touch with folks you otherwise wouldn't ... I've actually met up with old friends who are in town solely because of it. All good things. Hope you're enjoying your weekend, ~m

  21. Molly

    We had my daughter's baby naming last week, and, at the insistence of my parents, filmed the service. I can't believe it, but her little video has had more than 100 views on Youtube, and friends and family, from Israel to South Africa and everywhere in between, have contacted us to say how much they appreciated us posting it online. I love the idea of you staying in touch with your grandfather through Facebook. I am now appreciating that social networking can enhance, and not just detract, from my life.

    1. megang

      Molly: That's amazing! That's quite a few page views, eh? Your example is exactly what I'm talking about: there's so much we could say about the ways technology is really bringing us apart from one another, but then you hear a story like this and realize it can do so much to bring us together, too. Thanks for sharing + happy weekend, ~m

  22. Katy @ Katyskitchen

    I've never been a fan of store-bought fig newtons, but these look absolutely fantastic. Homemade is ALWAYS better!

  23. Jill

    Hi! I recently discovered this gem of a blog-thanks for sharing your insights and creativity! I just made these-I admit, I was a bit intimidated by the recipe at first, but it's really not complicated. I have a friend with wheat sensitivities, so I made these with 3 1/2 cups spelt flour instead of the wheat flours, and they came out great! I think spelt still has gluten, but it makes a great alternative to wheat flour

    1. megang

      Hi, Jill! Thanks so much for taking the time to stop in and comment. So glad you enjoyed the recipe -- and I always love to hear about readers' adaptations (spelt flour sounds fantastic). Enjoy the rest of your week, ~m

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