It feels daunting, to put it mildly, to sit down and write a post about Kimberley Hasselbrink and her beautiful book, Vibrant Food. But I’ve got to say something, though I’m unlikely to be as eloquent as I hope, and now is the perfect time for this Apple Sage Cake. And so, here we are.
As I’ve mentioned before, I assisted Kimberley for several months of her book-making process. When I started, we were still in the realm of trusted acquaintances, but through those months, she became one of my dearest friends.
Yet I could go back even further. Kimberley’s was one of the first blogs I loved. In my post-college years in Grand Rapids, many moons ago now, I would pore over my favorite bloggers’ words and drink in their beautiful photos, then get to work on recipes in my tiny orange kitchen. I was a baby blogger myself back then, but through comments on one another’s blogs, Kimberley and I forged a connection. I remember the first time she responded to one of my comments via email. It was a post about eggplant, and I’d commented about the lead photo, an absolutely striking image of charred eggplant. When her email of simple thanks popped into my inbox late one night, my new friend suddenly seemed not-so-very-far away. We kept up our popcorn correspondence on blogs and inboxes, and so I of course reached out when I moved to the Bay Area.
I asked if she’d be up for a cup of coffee; she invited me over for lunch. I was new to actually meeting my blog friends in person, and still starry-eyed about someone I’d admired from afar. I went over for lunch one late autumn day, and she cooked something she was working on for the book—acorn squash, I think, which morphed into a fantastic delicata squash recipe you can find in the finished book.
I was looking for work, and Kimberley needed an assistant for a big project she was about to start. I helped her out with that, and she connected me with all kinds of people as I built new networks from scratch, sending me to her lovely dad for ideas and also introducing me to someone who became, months down the road, my first manager at Good Eggs. A full year before I walked through the foodhub doors, before I was even assisting Kimberley officially, she handed me a relationship that led to my current job. Serendipity and kindness at their finest, I tell you.
After we finished that first project, Kimberley asked me to help with the cookbook. It was an easy yes.
And so it happened that several days a week from early spring through late summer last year, I’d take the train into the city, walk to her house and roll up my sleeves to help in the kitchen. Through recipe after recipe, piles of dirty dishes and countless delicious lunches and snacks and drinks, I watched her craft this amazing cookbook. She was patient when I overfilled the food processor with soup and it trickled out and everywhere, when I dropped that jar of salt-packed capers on the floor and the glass shattered, when I let the almond cake get a shade too brown in the oven. I watched Kimberley tweak recipes until they were perfect and bubble up with enthusiasm as she photographed the results, in her element as she perched on a stool, moving the dish around to catch the best light. I can’t express what a gift it was to be this close to someone’s book-making process. It’s intimate, challenging work, and I feel honored to have been present as Vibrant Food came to life.
This cookbook is an amazing one, full of things I (still) want to make and to cook. It’s all about bright, beautiful, fresh food, the kind that is healthful and satisfying by its nature. And Kimberley’s expression of her love for color is genuine, I can tell you that—I’ve watched her shop, and the woman has no patience for dull or boring shades when there are striking ones in the next produce bin. It’s a simple but greatly rewarding disposition.
As for this simple cake, it’s an excellent representation of what I recall from the cookbook process. First and foremost, it’s delicious. Also, we tested it about a dozen times, past the point when I had the recipe memorized. I ate a lot of apple cake in late summer last year, and I never tired of it. This started as a loaf cake with a ribbon of apple and sage through the middle, took on varying amounts of sage, migrated into a square pan, always had a crumble atop. We were determined to bring to life Kimberley’s vision of Pink Pearl apple and grassy-green sage poking through the cake, to perfect the texture for both the gluten-free and gluten-eaters among us, to make both savory and sweet notes clear but not overpowering. And here you have the result.
Kimberley, my friend, here’s to you! I’m grateful for each bite of apple cake, late afternoon lunch, dirty dish, hour of NPR, quince cocktail on the rooftop. Thanks for letting me hitchhike on your journey. Despite any doubt or challenge you faced, there is no doubt that you’ve created something truly beautiful and wildly inspiring. I hope you’re very, very proud.
As for the rest of you, get out there and buy this book!
Apple Sage Walnut Bread
Very slightly adapted from Kimberley Hasselbrink’s Vibrant Food
Pink Pearl apples keep their rosy hue when baked, and it’s really quite enchanting. Since their season has passed, however, any small, tart apple will work nicely. This bread is great for breakfast, a mid-morning snack or dessert, and it pairs famously with coffee. Tightly wrapped, it will last for several days.
Serves 8 to 10
1 cup brown rice flour (or use all-purpose flour)
1 cup oat flour
3/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup applesauce
2 small red apples, cored and diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
FOR THE TOPPING
1/3 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
3 tablespoons oat flour (or use all-purpose)
1/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour an 8-inch square pan; set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the brown rice (or all-purpose) and oat flours, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Whisk until blended.
In a separate bowl, thoroughly whisk together the eggs, olive oil, yogurt and applesauce. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry until combined. Gently mix in the diced apples. The batter will be quite thick.
To make the topping, in a bowl, mix together the oats, walnuts, flour, brown sugar, sage, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Using your fingers, work in the butter until the mixture is well combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle the crumble topping evenly over the batter.
Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for about 10 minutes before serving.