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California | Simple Citrus Salad

California | Simple Citrus Salad
Simple Citrus Salad | Delightful Crumb

This winter, I finally fell in love with California. I fell in love with its weirdly shaped trees and rainy winters, with the dark gray clouds that hover over the hills and the open skies, with the character in the buildings and the earth, reflecting the rough edges and free spirits of the many people who’ve “escaped” over the years to this wild coast. I’m angry about the ways tech and gentrification have smoothed that quirky landscape, always saying how I wish I could have seen this place in the 70s, but if I can get over my righteous indignation, I can see that it’s still there—just hiding a bit, beneath the overabundance of avocado toast and Google buses and extra straight white people, like me.

In the Bay Area, when it rains through fall and winter, the sky is painted shades of gray but everything else is in technicolor—lime-green grass, palm trees, chiseled succulents, smooth white Calla Lilies and otherworldly Birds of Paradise. In November, on a trip to Chicago, I suddenly remembered that there aren’t stucco houses in a rainbow pastel palette everywhere in America.

The first years we were here, the beauty of California felt oppressive. I couldn’t enjoy the Bay Area because everything I’d experienced here felt so hard, so unwelcoming—like maybe California didn’t want me at all. When my life wasn’t going as I’d hoped or planned, all that gorgeousness felt like a smack in the face. Who wouldn’t be happy in a place this beautiful, it seemed to smirk, and my heart kept beating me me me. I’d never lived somewhere like this, in a cool-kid town where the weather was stunning. I guess I thought that might change things—change me.

The truth, as it tends to be, is twofold. Even in California, I’m still me, someone who finds life profoundly complicated. I will never be a person who’s happy all the time; no amount of sunshine can alter my disposition. And I’m not from Oakland. My roots shape me just like this city does its own natives.

And, of course, I’m a multi-faceted human being, not a puzzle piece that either fits or doesn’t. California is beautiful. But we all know that beauty is never enough for true love. My relationship with this state will never be simple; I realize that now.

But I have changed, and some of it is Bay Area specific. I learned to cook with the glorious year-round produce, taking locality much further in my kitchen. In trying seasons between jobs, uncertainty propelled me to the kitchen, where the area’s abundance offered endless inspiration. I’ve become someone who wants to escape to the ocean for respite. Living somewhere so diverse, I’ve been stretched; I’ve dealt with the implications of race more than I ever had to before. I’ve forged beautiful friendships, with people who have changed me. Ben and I grew into partners here, solidifying what it means to be us.

And then there’s all of the other change of these past seven years, which is perhaps more about the passage of time and about growing older, sorting through plans and priorities again and again and again.

There are things you think you’ll never get used to. Some of them, you do, like the lemon tree in the backyard and the proximity of the ocean and the ways the seasons change so subtly you miss it if you’re not paying attention. Others, like earthquakes and the miles between you and your mom, you don’t.

I understand now that like every place, Oakland, too, is just a place—home to some, given or adopted, exotic to others, glorious and boring at once. And beautiful. Objectively so, at the end of the day. After all these years, I see it.

Simple Citrus Salad with Olives & Parsley

Citrus sings California winter to me. This is a template, not a proper recipe, so if you don’t have a particular ingredient—beyond citrus, that is!—just leave it out or swap in something else with similar qualities. A beautiful plate of citrus drizzled with great olive oil and topped with flaky sea salt is alone a delicious thing, so it’s hard to stray off the path here. I’ve given approximate measurements for a little salad for two (what’s pictured is on a small, salad-sized plate), which can easily be scaled in any direction.

Red onion (about half)

Apple cider or red wine vinegar

Fine salt (I use kosher)

A few pieces of citrus (about 3), different varieties if possible

Handful wrinkly black olives, such as Nyon

Extra-virgin olive oil

Fresh parsley, leaves picked

Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

Freshly cracked pepper

Start by making a quick pickle of the onion. Cut the onion in half lengthwise. If you’re making salad for two, thinly slice just one half of the onion into half moons as thin as possible. In a small bowl, combine the onion slices with a generous splash of vinegar and a big pinch of fine salt. Use your hands to combine, then set aside while assembling the rest of the salad.

Next, prepare the citrus. Three pieces should be about right for two people. I like to vary both the types (try at least two—here, I used two blood oranges and a tangelo) and the way I prep them. Carefully slice off the ends and the rind and pith. Try supreming one, then take it easy and slice the others into 1/4-inch slices. Save the remnants of the supremed orange. Arrange the sliced citrus on a plate.

Tear several olives, removing the pits, and tuck the pieces around the citrus. Top with as much onion as you like (save the rest in an airtight container in the fridge; you’ll find many uses, from grain bowls to salads). Drizzle generously with olive oil, then squeeze the membranes from the supremed orange over top. Add a good splash of the pickling vinegar, too. Finish with leaves of parsley—as much or as little as you like—as well as a good sprinkling of flaky sea salt and freshly cracked pepper.

Balance & A Good Green Smoothie

Balance & A Good Green Smoothie
Favorite Green Smoothie | Delightful Crumb

January! The time of new beginnings, resolutions, recovery from the holidays and, apparently, polar vortices. This month, nearly over, has been a whirlwind in my little corner of the world. We didn’t arrive home from our holiday travel until a few days into January, which left me feeling like the year had started when I wasn’t quite paying attention. I’ve traveled two of the last three weekends, visiting Seattle and Austin for work events. I love both cities, and the work and interspersed exploration have been inspiring. But my senses are overwhelmed, and I can feel the tug back toward routine and staying in.

Whilst traveling and trying to keep all of the balls in the air—work, life, etc.—my thoughts about the year ahead and unanswered questions about the future have hummed in the background, persistent, like a white noise machine, except that they keep me up rather than lulling me to sleep. Somewhere in there, I also had a birthday, so I am thinking not only about 2019 but about being 32—what does that mean, and what do I want?

I’ve always been an old soul, more easily connecting with friends a few years my senior, appealing to friends’ parents and bosses as mature, more serious and risk averse than my age might suggest. What happens to an old soul as the body catches up? I’m finding myself slightly envious of my friends and coworkers in their twenties these days; in retrospect, I see how everything carries just a bit less weight. Yet I know I’m not the only one who missed that memo, and I can’t help but wonder if I’ll think the exact same thing in 10 years more.

Maybe I’ll give up resolutions someday, but for now, the process of taking stock and being intentional about what’s ahead works for me. My resolutions include little things I want to do, like master cacio e pepe and visit the library more. I always have at least one resolution that reads more like a mantra than a goal: open heart, says the top of my list this year. And in this practice of reflecting and resolving, I also try to acknowledge the healthy patterns and practices I have already: going to yoga and baking and running and reading books and diving deep in relationships.

Because it’s all a balance, isn’t it? Resolving to grow in the year ahead while celebrating the lives we’ve built. Taking things seriously while holding them loosely. Embracing whatever chaos might come but reaching for equilibrium when we can. Asking the big questions but remembering that we have some answers already; we aren’t just lost at sea.

This week, I’m seeking that balance in small ways. The questions might be big, but the helpful everyday habits, it turns out, are small. For me, yoga and evening cups of tea and reaching for my journal and green smoothies are easy ways to sink back into my bones, to feel present in the moment and hopeful for the future. I realized that I’ve never shared my favorite smoothie formula here, and while I know it’s WAY UNDER ZERO degrees in much of the country, I often find freshness welcome in winter, waking up my insides and helping me feel lighter. (Disclaimer: I live in California.) I also think a smoothie is quite excellent alongside something warm—the pairing of bitter coffee and a just slightly sweet smoothie is under-celebrated, if you ask me.

So here’s my go-to formula, with a few adjustments and options for tweaking. If you’re into smoothies, I’d love to hear your favorite combinations! And if you have tried-and-true ways to keep your balance, I’d love to hear those, too.

Favorite Green Smoothie

Makes 1 serving, easily doubled

Key to a great smoothie is finding the texture/thickness and sweetness that you prefer. You can, of course, toss all sorts of sneaky healthful things in once you have the formula that you like. This is mine. I should also note that I have a Vitamix, which was given to me several years ago by a friend with the useful hookup of working at a large food company. But now I am extremely attached. It makes the smoothest smoothies and silkiest soups. If you have a not-so-high-powered blender, stick to spinach rather than a thicker, tougher green like kale.

Favorite Green Smoothie | Delightful Crumb

Big handful spinach (or substitute kale)

1 frozen banana, broken into chunks

Small handful frozen mango (optional)

1 Medjool date, pitted

1 scoop almond butter (1–2 tablespoons)

1/2–1 teaspoon flax seeds (optional)

1 big spoonful Greek yogurt (optional)

Grated fresh ginger, to taste (optional)

A few shakes of cinnamon

Pinch of salt

About 1/2 cup coconut water or filtered water

2–4 ice cubes

Put the greens, banana, date, almond butter, cinnamon, salt and, if using, mango, flax seeds, yogurt and/or ginger in a high-powered blender. Add most of the water (coconut or filtered) and a couple of ice cubes and start the blender. Blend on high speed for a minute or two, tamping down the contents if necessary. Depending on your desired thickness, add more liquid and/or ice. Blend again, until very smooth. Pour into a glass and enjoy!

The Season of Traditions | Savory Granola

The Season of Traditions | Savory Granola
Savory Granola | Delightful Crumb

It’s Christmastime, the season of traditions! Like all other aspects of the holiday, traditions bring with them all kinds of baggage, the good kind and the bad. But in this dichotomy, I think what’s often missed about tradition is the fact that we create it—actively, in the present tense, in small, everyday ways. We think most of the traditions that were created by others, or by our past selves, but the truth is that we’re making our own traditions all the time.

When Ben and I moved to the Bay Area over six years ago, we weren’t running away from anything—not the Midwest or even its snowy winters, and certainly not our families or friends. Rather, we were running to something—possibility, a future we could build ourselves, something fresh and bright and new. That’s honestly what I wanted most: a glimpse of what else might be possible. I understand now that other exciting things would have happened if I’d stayed where I was, but back then it didn’t feel possible to passively wait. I needed to leap, to respond to what I felt deep in my bones. And we needed it—to do this thing, together.

What we got out of this move was what we hoped for and far more—good and bad, easy and hard. But one unexpected gift we’ve ended up with is our own set of fairly robust traditions. We go back every year for Christmas with our families, criss-crossing the state to see everyone, but we don’t leave for Michigan until close to the holiday and often return on New Year’s Eve. We’ve never made it back for Thanksgiving or Easter or any other holiday on the calendar. We also don’t have kids, which I know can be a prompt to make traditions—particularly when children proclaim that something, done once or perhaps twice, is now what we do.

However, what Ben and I do have is me, and I have a profound belief in tradition and celebration. And so, forced by distance and said belief, we have built our own traditions. We’ve carried on traditions we inherited, too, but mixed in are some of our own: the late-December purchase of a big wedge of Brillat Savarin, the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir Concert, trying some new cookie recipe I’ve found. We always go out for a nice dinner, a quiet, festive moment before we jump on a plane. We’ve found holiday albums and movies that weren’t in either of our childhood repertoires but hold an important place in ours. Several times now, we’ve come home on New Year’s Eve in the interest of cheap flights, arriving within an hour of midnight. We’ve taken to putting a bottle of Champagne and cheese that won’t expire in the fridge before we go and arrive with just enough time to shower and pop some popcorn before landing on the couch to watch the ball drop and quietly ring in the new year, hours after it started back in Michigan, our other home. I’ve found such contentment in that moment—realizing, with some surprise, that we have a home and a life and traditions, built over time with a great deal of thought and also, somehow, none at all.

Traditions mean so many different things. They are a rhythm, a drumbeat to the year. They are a reminder of who we are or where we come from, and sometimes both. They tie us to what matters—faith, family, friends. And they cut through the noise. Because there is so much noise these days, is there not? Stillness and quiet feel elusive, and at times so do joy and gratitude. When I sit by the Christmas tree to wrap presents for people I love or put away my work so that I can have a special dinner with my husband or come up with a recipe to make with my nieces and nephews once we’re back in Michigan (we did it once, and now this is what we do—and let’s be real, I couldn’t be more delighted), some of that noise fades away.

This season, I have on repeat a song by Over the Rhine, from their Christmas album “Blood Oranges in the Snow.” Ben and I went to see them earlier this month. We’d each seen them perform in the past, separately, and it felt significant to see them together. It was festive and beautiful, and when they started singing this song, it hit me in a new way and has stayed with me all season.

Have you been trying too hard
Have you been holding too tight
Have you been worrying too much lately
All night
Whatever we’ve lost
I think we’re gonna let it go
Let it fall
Like snow

‘Cause rain and leaves
And snow and tears and stars
And that’s not all, my friend
They all fall with confidence and grace
So let it fall, let it fall

May we let what needs to fall go ahead and fall this season, my friends, and may we find grace in the space that remains.

And if among your traditions is making a homemade gift or two, I have a recipe here from Alison Roman that you could mix up in these next couple of days for whomever is lingering on your list, or for the host of the next party on the calendar. Alternately, serve this as a unique breakfast for family or friends, or throw it on salad or soup for a surprising crunch. More serving ideas are included with the recipe.

Wishing a joyful season to you and yours.

Savory Granola | Delightful Crumb

Savory Granola

Lightly adapted from Alison Roman’s Dining In

This savory granola is delicious on yogurt for breakfast (serving ideas below) and on top of salads and soups for an alternative to croutons or plain old seeds. It’s great for gifting and a nice savory snack to have on hand if you’re feeling overwhelmed by Christmas cookies and hot chocolate.

Makes about 5 cups of granola

1 1/2 cups rolled oats

1 cup raw sunflower seeds

1 cup raw pumpkin seeds

1 cup raw buckwheat groats (if unavailable, swap in more sunflower or pumpkin seeds)

1/2 cup flaxseeds

1/2 cup black or white sesame seeds

1/4 cup nigella seed (if unavailable, use more black or white sesame seeds)

3 large egg whites

1/3 cup olive oil

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup caraway or fennel seed

2 tablespoons Aleppo pepper (optional)

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Farenheit. Line a 9×13 rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Give the egg whites a quick whisk to loosen them. In a large bowl, combine the oats, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, buckwheat, flaxseeds, sesame seeds, nigella seed, egg whites, oil, maple syrup, caraway or fennel seed, Aleppo pepper (if using), soy sauce and salt. Toss until the mixture is well combined. Season generously with black pepper.

Spread the granola onto the prepared baking sheet and bake, stirring every 15 minutes or so, until everything is golden brown and well toasted, about 45 to 55 minutes. Let cool completely and break up any large clumps into smaller pieces. Store in glass jars or ziplock bags.

Savory Granola | Delightful Crumb

With Citrus

Slice or supreme or otherwise separate a variety of citrus—oranges, blood oranges, mandarins, pomelo, etc.

Arrange in a bowl with Greek (or other) plan yogurt. Top with a drizzle of olive oil, a big handful of savory granola and flaky sea salt.

Savory Granola | Delightful Crumb

With Cucumbers

Also adapted from Alison Roman’s Dining In

Grate fresh garlic into plain Greek yogurt. Squeeze in some lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper.

In a ziplock bag, smash (using a rolling pin or the bottom of a pan) thick slices of cucumbers and thinly sliced scallions, seasoned with more lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Serve the yogurt, cucumbers and savory granola with more sliced scallions, a drizzle of olive oil and flaky sea salt.

Six Things To Do with a Tray of Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Six Things To Do with a Tray of Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potato Soup | Delightful Crumb Roasted Sweet Potatoes | Delightful CrumbIt’s snowing in the Midwest and raining (finally, blessed be!) in California. Thanksgiving is behind us and December just around the corner. It’s old hat to say that the year has flown, but—it really did this time! Finding such truisms flying out of my mouth is a real sign of adulthood, I think. But I’ll work on finding more interesting pieces of small talk for this year’s Christmas parties.

I was in Chicago for Thanksgiving, and that city already has its holiday lights twinkling, frankly far outpacing San Francisco or Oakland’s attempts at festivity. And I was ready for them: what with the recent wildfires and weeks of bad air in the Bay, the state of American politics and our collective anxiety about it, smartphones and technology and our anxiety about them, poverty, gentrification, the cost of rent, sickness, sorrow and, of course, the complexities of everyday life—well, I am in need of some cheer!

It is always this way, is it not? I’m grateful for the moment in the year in which we pause for thanksgiving and giving and gathering and hope, which I firmly believe we all need. Yet everyone is busier and more anxious than ever. And so, it is time to crank on the oven and eat warming foods and reach for a bit of ease.

The sweet potato is a fall and winter staple in my kitchen. It’s hearty and delicious and, while hard as a rock when pulled from the ground, just a good scrub and a few steps from being transformed into the centerpiece of a meal. Chock-full of natural sweetness, it doesn’t need all that much from us—just heat and time. Most of my sweet potato preparations are super easy, and many of them begin with the same step. So I thought I’d share that today. On your day off, just pop a tray of sweet potatoes in the oven to roast, eat some right away and save the rest. You’ll be set up for days of variations on a theme!

So pull up a chair, warm your belly and enjoy the season.

Sweet Potato Soup | Delightful Crumb

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

I generally choose small-to-medium sweet potatoes, which I would quantify as somewhere in the realm of 7 to 11 ounces (about 200 to 300 grams). That’s what I have in mind in the recipes that follow, but these are truly flexible outlines, and worrying about exact ounces would thoroughly defeat our purposes of ease!

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Wash your sweet potatoes well. Poke each one with a fork or sharp knife several times. Spread the sweet potatoes out on a large pan so they’re not touching. (If you’d like, you can line the pan with aluminum foil to ease cleanup.) No oil or salt needed here!

Bake the sweet potatoes until tender, about 1 hour, though this will depend on their size. They should be very soft to the touch, and when you pierce one with a knife, it should go all the way through without any resistance. If your potatoes are different sizes, keep checking on them and remove them one by one as they’re finished.

Allow to cool or proceed to a recipe, below. You can keep the cooled sweet potatoes in the refrigerator for several days, in a tightly sealed container.

Six Variations

#1: Soup

You’ll need about one sweet potato per person for a single hearty bowl of soup each.

Boil water or stock, about 1 cup for each sweet potato. Meanwhile, put the sweet potatoes in a powerful blender, skins on. For each serving/potato, add a pinch of salt, a pinch of cumin or paprika (smoked or not), a few shakes of cayenne if you like things spicy, lots of cracked black pepper and a splash (about 1 tablespoon) of apple cider or white wine vinegar. When the liquid boils, pour it into the blender to just cover the sweet potatoes (about 1 cup per potato).

Blend the mixture until it’s completely smooth, adding more water or broth if needed. Taste and adjust the salt, spices and acid (vinegar). Blend again, and drizzle in some olive oil, a tablespoon or so per potato. If your potatoes weren’t cold and the liquid was hot, your soup may well be plenty warm. If not, heat it in a pot on the stove.

Top bowls of soup with a drizzle each of olive oil and plain yogurt, a little more black pepper, a sprinkle of spice (cumin, paprika or cayenne) and toasted pepitas if you have them on hand. Arugula and herbs like parsley also work well here, as would fried sage.

#2: Stuffed

If the sweet potatoes are cold from the fridge, warm them slightly in the oven, toaster oven or microwave. These instructions will yield enough filling for two to four potatoes, depending on how hungry you are and whether there are other dishes on the table. But leftovers will save nicely for a couple of days, too.

While the potatoes warm, heat a thin layer of olive or coconut oil in a cast iron or other heavy pan. Add a chopped large leek or onion and a big pinch of salt. Cook until the leek or onion is translucent but not yet browning, then add minced garlic and fresh ginger. Toss in a can of chickpeas (or a couple of cups cooked from scratch) and continue cooking for a few minutes more. Smash the chickpeas slightly with the back of a spoon for texture. Add a small bunch of kale, leaves stripped from the stems and chopped, or several big handfuls of spinach. Cook until the greens wilt. Taste and adjust for salt.

Slice the warmed sweet potatoes lengthwise and pile the sautéed vegetable mixture inside and over top.

This dish really sings with sauce. Make one with tahini thinned with water and brightened up with lemon juice and zest and a pinch of salt. Or, combine yogurt with a squeeze of lemon, a pinch of salt and a minced or grated clove of garlic. Drizzle the sauce over the potato and finish with Sriracha and/or parsley, if you like.

#3: Green Salad

Start with a couple of handfuls of greens per person. Anything will work here, but chicories are a favorite of mine in the fall and winter months. Make a simple dressing of olive oil, red or white wine vinegar and a small spoonful of mustard, whisked well and seasoned to taste with salt and pepper. Toss the greens with the dressing.

Slice the sweet potato into cubes. If you have an orange on hand, slice that up as well.

On a big platter or individual plates, arrange the greens and top them with the sweet potato and citrus. Add something creamy, like diced avocado or crumbled goat cheese, then something crunchy—any toasted nut or seed will do. Finish with pomegranate seeds if you have them on hand.

#4: Composed Salad

Use cooled sweet potatoes for this simple salad. One large potato will yield a small salad for two or a single sizable salad.

Thinly slice a red onion or shallot and place it in a small bowl along with red wine vinegar and a big pinch of salt. Mix thoroughly, using your hands, and allow the onion or shallot to sit and pickle slightly while you prepare the rest of the salad.

Slice the sweet potato crosswise into 1/2-inch rounds. Arrange them on a plate, slightly overlapping. Top with the lightly pickled onion or shallot and drizzle with a bit of the leftover pickling liquid, as well as a generous drizzle of olive oil. Finish with chopped toasted walnuts and crumbled Feta or blue cheese. If you have any microgreens in the crisper, they would be lovely here, as would arugula or soft herbs such as parsley, leaves picked.

#5: Toast

Start toasting some bread while you prepare the sweet potatoes. Use a thick slab of good bread for the centerpiece of a meal, or opt for thinner slices of baguette for an appetizer or party snack. Toast the bread until lightly browned.

Two sweet potatoes will yield about three hearty servings, and leftover mash saves well for a few days. You can leave on the skins, but if they’re loose, feel free to remove and discard some or all for a smoother texture. Cut the sweet potatoes into pieces and place them in a medium bowl. Add a pinch of salt, freshly cracked pepper, a splash of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil. Mash to combine, but leave some texture.

Roughly chop a big handful of well-toasted almonds. Place in a small bowl with good olive oil to cover, a pinch of salt, freshly cracked pepper and a pinch of Aleppo pepper flakes (optional).

When the bread is toasted, rub each piece with the cut side of a halved clove of garlic. Spread a big spoonful of the sweet potato mash over each slice of bread. Top with almonds, the extra olive oil from the bowl, a small handful of arugula and flaky salt.

#6: Twice-Roasted

This preparation was inspired by Bon Appétit, which has published a few versions of this technique over the years. These potatoes work nicely in a grain bowl or atop a salad, could take the place of sweet potato fries alongside a sandwich and would make a satisfying side alongside a hearty protein. Plan for about one sweet potato per person.

Preheat the oven to 450. Slightly flatten the sweet potatoes with your hand, then tear them into large, irregular pieces. Spread them out on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Arrange the potatoes skin side down so that they don’t stick to the baking sheet, and spread them out so they don’t steam. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, until crisp on the edges and golden brown underneath. Serve hot.

Shouts & Whispers | Roast Eggplants with Goat Cheese & Sumac

Shouts & Whispers | Roast Eggplants with Goat Cheese & Sumac

Roast Eggplants | Delightful CrumbThis is the time of year when I crave the signs of autumn. I’ve written about the transition into fall ad nauseam, so I will try not to go on about it again. But it’s this Midwestern internal clock that sends me out in search of apple stands and cider mills, trees in shades of orange and ochre and brick red, leaves carpeting the ground, crisp breezes and the sweater weather that has yet to arrive on my side of the Bay except for, of course, inside my apartment, which has descended into a wintery chill.

I had the chance to get out of town and go north twice in the last week or so—first a quick getaway with Ben to the Anderson Valley, where we stayed at the charming Boonville Hotel, wandered around the valley’s sweet cities, tasted cheese and wine and beer and literally every variety of apple at Philo Apple Farm. It was an ideal escape—restful, contemplative, quiet, easy. The sky was bright blue, and we found the rust-colored leaves we were seeking. We came home with a bag of perfectly imperfect apples and sparkling cider and a big jar of apricot jam.

Just days later, I drove up the stunning Sonoma Coast for a work event. I reveled in the views along the way and the evening was a great success—until my car didn’t start. The following morning, I waited for AAA for hours on a forested hill where there was no cell service or other human life, watched my AAA savior knock the car’s starter with a long metal pole until the engine lurched to life, drove straight home to the shop in Oakland without stopping—no telling whether I’d get going again. While waiting, I tried not to worry too much about the car and whether I’d be able to get it started without a tow and the impending bill (while it may well run forever, my teenaged Honda Civic invariably presents extra issues at the shop), tried not to think about the work I had intended to do that afternoon, tried not to dwell on the fact that even though I was stranded in an epically beautiful place, I couldn’t explore it.

And yet. The Pacific air was clean and fresh. The ocean, laid out dramatically behind the dated, musty lodge where I was staying, was vast and glorious. When I walked down the hill in search of aid, I heard sea lions barking in the distance.

Several days and a fat repair bill later, I keep thinking the experience must have meant something, but I still don’t know what.

Mary Oliver says, “Beauty can both shout and whisper, and still it explains nothing.”

I search for meaning in everything, yearn for explanations. But they’re not always there. Is it the beauty that matters most?

Oliver continues, “The point is, you’re you, and that’s for keeps.”

I clutch the sentiment like a pearl, admire it as an empty signpost on a trail. I think about the feeling of the ground beneath my feet and how the ocean looks as if it extends forever and try to silence my anxious questions, if only for a moment.

Roast Eggplants | Delightful CrumbRoast Split Eggplants with Goat Cheese & Sumac

Adapted from Diana Henry’s How to Eat a Peach

I’ve been making this dish since late summer, when eggplants arrived at the market, and it is both incredibly simple and terribly delicious. Diana Henry’s instruction is to roast the eggplants, but I’ve liked the texture that comes from a quicker broil, which blisters the skins and yields a meltingly soft interior. You can, of course, go the oven route instead. Henry suggests 375 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour.

Several small or medium eggplants

Extra-virgin olive oil

Soft goat cheese

Sumac

Flaky sea salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

Preheat the broiler to medium or high heat.

Wash the eggplants and make a few slashes in each one to prevent any explosions in the oven. I leave the stems on for a pretty presentation. Place the whole eggplants on a baking sheet, or a piece of aluminum foil if a baking sheet won’t fit under your broiler.

Cook for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the eggplants are completely soft. The amount of time required will depend on the heat of your oven and the size of the eggplants, so just keep checking for doneness.

Allow the eggplants to cool just slightly. Split each one down the middle. Tuck in a few small spoonfuls of goat cheese. Drizzle generously with olive oil and sprinkle with sumac, flaky sea salt and black pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Philo Apple Farm | Delightful Crumb