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So Much More | Melon, Cucumber & Fig Salad

So Much More | Melon, Cucumber & Fig Salad

Melon, Cucumber & Fig Salad | Delightful Crumb

Summer is for salads, as you know, and blue skies and bare feet and rosé and all the rest. And every year I say that summer isn’t over until it’s over, which might have something to do with being married to a teacher who is back in the thick of things even though it’s still August and there are still so many tomatoes to be eaten. But I’m actually feeling ready for fall this year, thanks to cooler temperatures and the very autumnal-tasting early season apple I bought at the farmers market this weekend and a general readiness for the sort of depth of spirit that comes with less-sunny seasons. Yet I know I’ll miss the warmth soon enough, and I definitely have a few more desserts to make before the berries and peaches and nectarines leave the market, so I’m soaking it in.

Seasons are just science: an outcome of the tilt of the rotational axis of this strange spinning globe we call home and its relation to the burning ball of fire way out there in space that keeps us warm. But that’s not what we think about when summer turns to fall. We think instead of changing temperatures and precipitation and the color of the leaves and the sun or lack thereof. And those are just the obvious things—the seasons are also about much more, their other effects far less tangible or scientific. They’re intricately connected to our rhythms and routines and traditions, and my emotions get muddled into them, too.

I realized this summer that I’ve had a run of weird Augusts, not the least of which was last year’s, and this one has been notably not weird, void of the sort of transitions I’ve come to expect at this time of year. But I have that familiar feeling in my bones anyway—that anything could happen next, that the leaves are going to turn so very soon and life will keep changing and changing and changing as it always does. The other day, as I walked down to the coffee shop for a mid-day break, the air felt sparkling and electric, reverberating with anticipation and hope, reminding me of Augusts past. Because as much as those times were full of strangeness and confusion and even pain, they were also brimming with a sense of newness and hope and possibility.

I guess I’m always looking for connection, which is what I love about food blogs, when it comes right down to it, and why I write the way I do. I remember exactly what I thought when I first discovered people writing about food on the internet way back in 2008: These people are writing about food—I love food! But it’s not just food… They’re writing about food to talk about life. That’s exactly how I see the world, where my big thoughts come from: through the lens of all the seemingly boring, everyday stuff.

This is also why I love podcasts, especially the ones that are “about” science, the internet, mysteries, life in America but are actually about so much more—about everything, really. I am currently obsessed with Starlee Kine’s Mystery Show, in which Starlee solves mysteries…and also asks everyday people interesting questions that reflect an actual interest in their lives and lead to fascinating and thought-provoking and sweet conversations, the kind that make me cry while stretching after a run or walking back from the market or hand washing my most annoyingly delicate clothes in the sink—you know, living my super normal life.

Which brings us back to food. In my super normal life, I do a lot of eating, and it’s the best simple joy I know. Because it really doesn’t have to be complicated to be good, especially in the summertime, when so much beautiful produce is at hand. Take melons. I spent my entire childhood entirely unimpressed with all melons except the watermelon, but I’ve since learned that they’re really quite delicious, especially the more interesting varieties that are increasingly easy to find, like Piel de Sapo (my very favorite) and Charentais (in the photo above). I’m most impressed when I take them in a savory direction, and composed salads are as easy and good as it gets.

This is my favorite. It’s just a salad.

But if you like, it can be an awful lot more.

That part is up to you.

Melon, Cucumber & Fig Salad

Serves 2 to 4

1 small melon (I like Charentais and Piel de Sapo), peeled, halved, seeds scooped and sliced into 1/4-inch wedges

1 small or 1/2 large cucumber, or 2 – 3 Lemon cucumbers, halved lengthwise, then sliced thinly into half moons

3 – 5 fresh figs, quartered

Good olive oil

Fresh lemon juice or red wine vinegar

Parmigiano-Reggiano, shaved

Several leaves of basil, cut in a chiffonade (i.e., ribbons)

Aleppo, Marash or Urfa pepper (optional)

Freshly cracked black pepper

Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

On a large plate or platter, assemble the melon, cucumber and figs in layers. Drizzle generously with olive oil and lemon juice or red wine vinegar. Finish with as much thinly shaved Parmesan and basil as you like, Aleppo (or other) pepper if using, cracked black pepper and flaky salt.

Peach Cobbler and Other Summer Things

Peach Cobbler and Other Summer Things

Peach Scone Cobbler | Delightful CrumbFlipping through Nigel Slater’s Ripe is a regular pastime of mine when any new fruit hits the market—especially during summertime, when the varieties seem infinite. It’s not that I’m at a loss of what to do. On the contrary, I’m very happy eating peaches out of hand over the sink, believe a fig is best alongside some crumbled goat cheese drizzled with honey and nothing more, prefer melons as salad and never, ever tire of adorning bowls of yogurt with whatever pretty fruit I just carried carefully home from the market. There are endless things to do with summer fruit, not the least of which is just eating it, day after day, moving from one variety to another and back again. I’ve never understood those recipes that begin with a proclamation that the author has arrived, a long-awaited savior, to help me figure out what on earth to do with that huge haul of cherries or blueberries I just brought home. Who do they think I am? What’s the average income of Bon Appétit readers, anyway? I certainly wish this sort of thing was a huge problem for me, but I can assure you it is not, and I highly doubt I’m alone.

So no, I’m not bored or confused by perfect summer fruit. Rather, it’s that as much as I enjoy it as is, I also adore how it can be transformed into crisps and crumbles and cobblers and cakes and pies and so much more. Nigel Slater is about the best inspiration one can get on this front, offering plenty of charming little observations about his garden alongside recipes that are perfect in their simplicity and always highlight the fruit itself—exactly what’s required on a beautiful summer day when the park beckons as fervently as the fresh peaches on your counter.

And so there I was, paging through the peach chapter while eating my breakfast one mid-July morning, when I saw the words “scone crust” and came to a full stop. I’m in. I love a good scone, and the idea of putting several atop a slumping mass of baked fruit sounded like the sort of thing that would be right up my alley. In case this is your thing, too, and you’re willing to spare a few pieces of fruit in the interest of dessert, I offer it here.

I should note that this cobbler is just barely sweet, which I like very much, and which makes it an ideal and even virtuous breakfast when adorned with a dollop of yogurt. However, if you’re looking for something more indulgent, add a scoop of ice cream, or an extra tablespoon or two of sugar along the way. Or, frankly, feel free to move along, as there are plenty of fish in the sea, as they say, and summer’s fruit is fleeting!

Peach Scone Cobbler | Delightful CrumbPeach Cobbler with Scone Crust

Adapted from Nigel Slater’s Ripe

This recipe is really more of a loose formula—keep that in mind as you go. Swap in other fruit, or play around with the flours. Add more sugar if you like. Serve with vanilla ice cream, plain yogurt or mascarpone.

Enough for about 6

FOR THE CRUST

1 1/4 cups (150 g) all-purpose flour, or 100 g all-purpose flour + 50 g rye flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 tablespoon cane sugar

5 tablespoons (80 g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Salt

2/3 cup sour cream

FOR THE FILLING

4 medium or 5 small peaches

A handful of blueberries

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon cane sugar, plus additional

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a food processor, combine the flour(s), baking powder, sugar, butter and a big pinch of salt. Blitz briefly, until the mixture resembles soft breadcrumbs. Tip into a bowl.

Slice the peaches, removing the pits and dropping the fruit (and any juices) into an ovenproof dish (a 9-inch pie plate will work well). Add the blueberries, lemon juice, sugar and flour. Toss to combine.

Mix the sour cream into the crumb mixture to make a soft dough. Break off walnut-sized pieces, flatten them slightly and set them on top of the fruit. Dust the rounds generously with sugar. Bake the cobbler for 25 minutes, until the scone topping is golden and the fruit is bubbling.

Summery Nasturtium Salad

Summery Nasturtium Salad

Nasturtium Salad | Delightful CrumbHappy summer, folks! The light is lingering late into the evening, and there’s produce aplenty at the market. This is the time for easy dinners, big salads and rosé, and I’m all the more energized about the season after visiting my family in Michigan—there is no summer quite like a Michigan summer. My parents have a beautiful backyard and a deck that’s perfect for lingering, where you can draw out meals for as many hours as is reasonable, which in my mind is many. We ate salads and spring toasts, homemade sushi and paella, this almond cake and Yossy’s rhubarb rye upside-down cake—and much more, always lingering.

While I was at my parents’ house, my mom mentioned that her nasturtium plant had a few flowers that someone could throw on a salad if so inclined. Since I learned my nasturtium-plant eating from my pal Kimberley, I knew only what she taught me, which is that you can eat it all—flowers, leaves, a bit of stem if it gets in the bowl. I asked before I picked, of course, but I did surprise the table a bit with the plant-on-a-platter at the dinner table. Nasturtium leaves are peppery and bright, and, along with making for a lovely presentation, the flowers have a little sweetness.

I don’t know what percentage of the population this might apply to, but if you have a nasturtium plant that you just can’t keep in check, this is just the recipe for you! Even if you have a more modestly, prettily producing nasturtium plant, this makes a nice little salad for two. Throw in some spinach or arugula if you’d like to take it further. And even if neither situation applies to you, the dressing is a simple gem that would be good on anything.

Even though a pretty photo of this recipe graces the cover of Kimberley’s cookbook, without a nasturtium plant at my disposal, I hadn’t really thought about it since the summer I assisted her with the burgeoning book project, three (!) summers ago. And now I really want a nasturtium plant. What’s better than something cute, abundant and good for salad? Not much, if you ask me.

Nasturtium Salad

Adapted from Kimberley Hasselbrink’s Vibrant Food

If you don’t have a nasturtium plant at your disposal, substitute arugula, watercress or spinach. Goat cheese would stand in well here, too, if you prefer it to blue and feta.

Serves 2 to 4

1 1/2 teaspoons champagne vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons minced shallot

1 1/2 teaspoons honey

1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

sea salt

freshly cracked black pepper

1/4 cup sunflower seeds, toasted

4 cups firmly packed nasturtium leaves

2 small pluots or apricots, or 4 dates, pitted and sliced lengthwise

1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese or feta

Petals from 4 or 5 nasturtium flowers

To make the vinaigrette, in a small bowl or jar, whisk together the vinegar, shallot, honey and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Toss the nasturtium leaves with the vinaigrette, then arrange on a platter or in a serving bowl. Top with the sunflower seeds, fruit slices, cheese and nasturtium petals.

Ludington pier | Delightful Crumb

Lake Michigan sunset | Delightful Crumb

Being Here | Spring Pea & Ricotta Toasts

Being Here | Spring Pea & Ricotta Toasts

Spring Pea & Ricotta Toast | Delightful CrumbSeveral weeks ago, I hosted a festive spring dinner party. Ben was out of town, and I wanted to take advantage of having the apartment to myself (with, you know, something more substantive than several solo glasses of wine and a Gilmore Girls marathon). I invited a bunch of my favorite women, and the ones who could make it did, a serendipitous group. I made a big batch of a spritz in punch form, and picked up a magnum of a favorite wine, a fresh Cab Fanc called Herluberlu. The meal was springtime perfection: chilled avocado soup, tortilla española, pea and ricotta crostini, a huge salad with radishes and toasted almonds and a mustardy vinaigrette. I baked a simple cake filled with a reasonable quantity of jam and an inordinate amount of whipped cream, which spilled out the sides and onto the cake plate in billowing waves. It seemed like too much cream but wasn’t, of course, and I was reminded how good it is to have girlfriends who eat.

My friends gathered in the kitchen and drank punch and ate cheese and chatted while I finished the salad and escaped to the other room to stand on a chair and take a picture of these toasts. Then we sat at the table and stayed for hours, talking and laughing and reaching for seconds.

It was glorious. It was a Tuesday. I felt so alive.

In How to Be Here, Rob Bell writes this:

You and I were raised in a modern world that taught us how to work hard and be productive and show up on time and give it our best…

We learned lots of very valuable skills, but we weren’t taught how to be here, how to be fully present in this moment, how to not be distracted or stressed or worried or anxious, but just be here, and nowhere else—wide awake to the infinite depth and dimension of this exact moment.

It’s not easy, of course. But I feel more hopeful after nights like that one in April, when I actually was in the moment without even trying, even though I hadn’t tidied up the apartment all that much, even though I was still finishing the meal as everyone walked in the door, even though that night’s attempt at a Spanish tortilla fell into the category of very, very rustic.

Sometimes I try so hard—at peace, presence, living well, etc.—that my effort, unconsciously, becomes the point. And yet, by some wild grace, I’m occasionally handed these rare, shining moments when, without even an ounce of effort, my mind stops working in overdrive and I’m reminded that I’m here and it’s good and that’s actually enough.

Says Rob:

This exact interrelated web of people and events and places and memories and desire and love that is your life hasn’t ever existed in the history of the universe.

Welcome to a truly unique phenomenon.

Welcome to the most thrilling thing you will ever do.

The everyday stuff of working hard and doing the laundry and running errands and taking care of our partners/babies/parents and exercising and wrestling with the big questions and dreaming and gathering at the table with the people we love—this is it. This is the story. So let’s dig in and bear witness and do our very best to not miss a thing.

I can tell you this: putting tasty ingredients on good bread, well toasted, results in something that is far more than the sum of its parts. Sometimes, it really is that simple. This may be the only shortcut I know, but thankfully it is a delicious one. Here is my favorite springtime rendition.

Spring Pea & Ricotta Toast | Delightful Crumb

Spring Pea & Ricotta Toast

Serves 4 – 6 as an appetizer or part of a meal

About 2 pounds English peas, shelled

1 lemon

Extra-virgin olive oil

Salt

Freshly cracked pepper

1 1/2 cup (about 12 ounces) fresh ricotta

3 green onions, thinly sliced

1/2 stalk green garlic, thinly sliced (if available)

1 small bunch fresh mint, leaves picked and cut in a chiffonade

Sourdough or country bread, cut into 1-inch slices

Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the peas. Cook for about one minute, until the peas are bright green, then drain and allow to cool slightly.

Zest about half of the lemon and stir it into the ricotta along with a tablespoon or so of olive oil, a sprinkling of salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Put the cooked peas into a medium bowl. Add a generous drizzle of olive oil, the juice of the lemon and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Stir to combine, then gently mash the peas with a fork or potato masher. You want to have a variety of textures, with some whole peas, some quite mashed and others in between. Add the green onion, green garlic (if using) and most of the mint, then mix again. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Toast the bread in a 400 degree oven, checking every 5 minutes and flipping at least once. When the slices are well toasted, remove them from the oven. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, tossing with your hands.

To assemble the toasts, put a big dollop of the ricotta mixture on each piece of bread, spreading it thickly to the edges. Top with the pea mixture and finish with extra mint, flaky sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

Even for a Doubter | English Muffin Sandwich

Even for a Doubter | English Muffin Sandwich

English Muffin Sandwich with Fluffy Eggs | Delightful CrumbRecently, Ben and I were eating tacos at our preferred taco spot when a couple sat down at the bar next to us and, soon, received a hearty sandwich each. In what couldn’t have been more than twenty minutes, they managed to consume these sandwiches—serious sandwiches, with lots of melting cheese and hearty proteins and plenty of fixings—drink a couple of beers, have a very efficient conversation and go on their way. I was amazed. I looked down at the remaining one of my two fairly small tacos, which I had been trying to eat as slowly as possible, then at Ben, incredulous. “They’re sandwich people,” he explained.

I am not sandwich people, you see. I’ve just never been a big fan. I know! Such a controversial statement. If you’re actually still reading, you’re probably thinking, Who is this person, and why did I ever trust anything she ever said about eating? I realize that sandwiches are very popular. But they disappear far too quickly for my preference, and they’re so filling. And yes, I do know that this is exactly why most people love them.

I, on the other hand, like my meals long and lingering, and, when given the choice, I would prefer eating a much more significant volume of food than the average sandwich allows. (Vegetarianism, by the way, has served me very well in this regard.) Open-faced sandwiches, however, are totally my jam, as is the practice of deconstructing a sandwich I have been served so that I can eat the individual components. The goal here is to make the meal last, and to leave room for cake if possible.

And yet, there is a time and a place for sandwiches, even for a doubter like me. Sometimes, a person really is that hungry, or in a hurry, or both. But if I’m going to eat a sandwich, it must be delicious, and it must be interesting. Enter the English muffin, with its heartiness, pleasant texture and slight chew. Put that baby in the toaster and it boasts the most distinct and lovely scent, one that reminds me of my childhood. That’s probably because, until recently, I hadn’t eaten one in years, deterred by preservatives and unfamiliar words on the ingredient lists. I did make them from scratch once, which was fun but time consuming and so never repeated. And then, my friend Kimmy started working at Leadbetter’s Bakeshop. She has excellent taste, so I was not surprised to find that these are not just English muffins but very delicious English muffins, things of beauty without any mysterious ingredients. If you are lucky enough to live in the Bay Area, you should definitely seek them out.

But wherever you might obtain your English muffins, once you have them in hand, here’s a sandwich that even the sandwich-averse (i.e., me) can enjoy. It is fitting at any meal, pleasantly filling and highly tasty.

(Also, you can definitely eat this one open face if you want—you’ll be making a mess regardless!)

English Muffin Sandwich with Fluffy Eggs | Delightful Crumb

English Muffin Sandwich with Fluffy Eggs & Avocado

Egg cooking inspiration from Bon Appétit

Serves 1 but easily multiplied (be sure to make the eggs separately for each sandwich)

English muffin (plain, whole grain or multi-grain), like Leadbetter’s

Butter or olive oil, for the pan

2 eggs

Salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

Minced chives

Goat cheese, optional

1/2 avocado, roughly mashed (add a squeeze of lemon or lime if you like)

Sriracha or your preferred hot sauce

Arugula

Get all of your sandwich components ready so that you can construct quickly once the eggs are done. Split the English muffin in half using a fork and start toasting.

To make fluffy folded eggs, melt a pat of butter or drizzle of olive oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Whisk two eggs with a sprinkling of salt and pepper until completely uniform in color and consistency. Add the eggs to the pan and, with a spatula, move them around gently as they cook, as with a soft scramble. When the eggs are nearly cooked but still slightly runny, about 2 minutes, sprinkle some chopped chives atop. If your pan is on the larger side, push the eggs together. Fold them into a half moon, then fold again to form an English muffin-sized, quarter-of-the-pie-shaped package.

Hopefully your English muffin is perfectly toasted at this point, or just before. Spread a thin layer of goat cheese, if using, on one or both sides of the muffin. Pile the mashed avocado on the bottom half of the English muffin, with more on the top half if you like (this is a nice move if you, like me, end up deconstructing the sandwich while eating). Gently set the fluffy eggs atop the avocado. Top with plenty of hot sauce and a generous handful of arugula.

English Muffin Sandwich with Fluffy Eggs | Delightful Crumb