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Barley Salad with Asparagus & Herbs

Barley Salad with Asparagus & Herbs

Barley Salad with Asparagus & Herbs | Delightful Crumb

I Go Down to the Shore

by Mary Oliver

I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall—
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.

Barley Salad with Asparagus & Herbs | Delightful Crumb

Barley Salad with Asparagus & Herbs

This is the sort of thing I love eating in during this season—a big, hearty grain salad full of the best of early springtime produce, rich and creamy from the avocado and bright with lemon and lots of herbs. Think of this more as a template than anything else, and assemble something similar with whatever you have on hand. Wheat berries or brown rice would stand in nicely for the barley, and any nut or seed would be delicious here. A handful of arugula would be a welcome addition, and no one could scoff at an egg atop the whole thing.

1 cup hulled barley

3 cups water

Sea salt

3 stalks green garlic, sliced thinly

Olive oil

1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut on the bias into 1-inch pieces

White wine

1/2 cup chopped soft herbs, like parsley, dill and chives

Juice of 1 lemon

Freshly cracked black pepper

1 small avocado, sliced

1/4 cup blanched almonds, toasted

Feta, crumbled (optional)

To cook the barley, combine the barley, water and a pinch of salt in a medium pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer. Start checking for doneness around 40 minutes. Add more water to the pot if needed. The barley is done when it is soft but still retains some chew. If the barley is cooked but there is still water in the pot, drain in a colander. Fluff the barley, then set aside to cool while you prep the remaining ingredients.

In a sauté pan over medium-low heat, warm a thin layer of olive oil. Add the sliced green garlic and a pinch of salt. Sauté for several minutes, until the garlic is cooked through. Taste a piece—it should no longer be crunchy, and the garlicky bite should be softened. Add the asparagus and a splash of white wine and cook for about 1 minute more, until the liquid has cooked off and the asparagus is bright green. Allow to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, combine the cooked barley, green garlic and asparagus mixture, herbs, lemon juice and a long pour of olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Top with the sliced avocado, almonds and feta, if using.

The Very Best Avocado Toast

The Very Best Avocado Toast

The Very Best Avocado Toast | Delightful CrumbAvocado toast is a staple in my diet, and in many of yours, I’m sure. And of course! It is appropriate for all times and places. It can be dinner on those evenings when one is short on time and unsure what to eat, part of an impressive breakfast for houseguests, star of the sort of lazy Sunday brunch that’s best enjoyed on the couch with your feet up, an afternoon snack before dashing out of the house. Any sort of bread can be the base, from a seed-heavy whole grain loaf to a chewy sourdough to the no-frills sliced bread you bought at the grocery store.

And it goes far beyond the bread: avocado toast is entirely customizable. You can prepare it simply or all dolled up. Lemon juice, good olive oil, flaky sea salt and cracked pepper are essential in my book, but from there, the possibilities are endless. I learned from Laura the deliciousness of nutritional yeast; at the delightful Berkeley cafe Bartavelle, I discovered Marash pepper. I’m not sure who recommended rubbing just-toasted bread with a cut clove of garlic, but it’s the sort of small step that yields a subtle yet tremendous difference. And with an egg—fried, poached or soft boiled, runny yolk highly recommended—this toast walks confidently into meal territory.

On top of all of that, avocado toast is both healthful and comforting. This, if you ask me, is about as close to perfection as we get.

There are times for fanfare, of course: meals of many courses, yeasted things that demand a day of waiting, pots that bubble for hours. But there are times, too, for simplicity. After all, our most beautiful and profound moments usually spring from the everyday, from those quiet moments when we don’t expect a thing. And so, avocado toast. As good a meal as any, and easier than most, this one is sure to leave you contented.

I served this toast for breakfast when our dear friends Josh and Sara were staying with us a couple of weekends ago, and they declared it one of the best things they ate on the trip. High praise after a string of food-centric days in the Bay! I’m flattered and unsure if I’m deserving, but either way, their appreciation reminded me that while this is still the simplest of meals (and very hard to ruin entirely), I’ve learned some tips and tricks over the years that set me up for making a pretty excellent piece of avocado toast. I’m sure this is review for some of you, but since no one should be eating mediocre toast—especially in this day and age—I thought I ought to share!

And what about you? What do you put atop your avocado toast? What tips would you add to the mix? I’d love to know!

The Very Best Avocado Toast | Delightful Crumb

The Very Best Avocado Toast

It just so happens that Samin has christened this #EggMonth, making this recipe all the more timely. What follows is our favorite way to prepare sunny-side up eggs at home. Ben is typically in charge of egg-making and deserves the credit there. As for the instructions on how to toast your bread, I must again tip my hat to Cal Peternell. I’ve made toast a good many ways, and this is the most perfect method for making thick, soft toast I’ve found, by far. This is the toast I always dreamed of but only occasionally managed to achieve until I found this technique.

Other excellent toppings that aren’t listed here include sesame seeds, hemp seeds, nutritional yeast—all three of these best when added atop your avocado with the first sprinkling of salt—tomatoes in their season, feta cheese and Sriracha.

Good sourdough bread, sliced 3/4 inch thick

Whole garlic clove, sliced in half

Extra-virgin olive oil

Eggs from happy chickens/ducks/etc., 1 per toast

Avocado, about 1/2 per toast

Lemon juice, freshly squeezed if possible

Fine-grain salt

Marash pepper flakes (or your preferred red pepper flakes)

Freshly cracked black pepper

Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

Micro greens (I am especially fond of arugula), or soft fresh herbs, like chives or parsley

Get all of your ingredients ready so that you can quickly assemble your toast once it’s ready and serve it nice and hot.

Begin with the toast. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Once hot, place the slices right on the rack (or use a baking sheet if you’d prefer). The toasts will be ready in about 5 minutes, once they’re golden brown and, if it’s to your taste, slightly blackened in places. Immediately rub the side of the toast you’ve deemed the top with a cut clove of garlic. Drizzle lightly with olive oil.

As soon as the toast is out of the oven, make the eggs. Heat a cast-iron pan over a medium flame. Add a thin layer of olive oil (or use butter). Once the oil is shimmering (or the butter sizzling), crack in the eggs one at a time. Once the whites have set, cover the pan. At this point, you can add a little splash of water to the pan to help steam the eggs if you’d like. The eggs are done when the yolks are just barely set, about 3-4 minutes. You can gently touch the yolks to gauge doneness, which will make much more sense with practice.

If your avocados are very ripe, you can mash them directly onto the toast. Slice each halved avocado, scoop out the flesh and put it on the toast. Mash gently with a fork until the avocado is coarsely textured: you want a somewhat even consistency, but you don’t want to turn it into guacamole. If your avocados are less ripe, you can do this in a bowl, then transfer to the toast. Squeeze lemon juice over the avocado, drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt.

Top each toast with a prepared egg. Finish with a generous sprinkling of Marash pepper flakes, freshly cracked black pepper, flaky sea salt and a small handful of micro greens or herbs.

Serve right away!

In all times & seasons | Cocoa Brownies

In all times & seasons | Cocoa Brownies

Cocoa Brownies | Delightful CrumbThis time of year is strange for a Midwestern girl in California. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but it’s feeling particularly true this year. I keep forgetting what month it is, and a season that always held a certain role in my life is, for all intents and purposes, absent. Rainy and gray days can stir up the same feelings I recall from years of Michigan winters, but this year has lacked even that. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am very glad that I’m not buried in snow, constantly cold, scraping ice off my car every morning before work and/or suffering from a severe lack of vitamin D. I don’t miss any of that. But I do miss the seasons. I have always loved them, for the rhythms they both bestow on us and reflect. It’s strange to be without the time of reflection and hibernation and realizing I’m strong enough to handle it that winter provided me for years. Midwestern people, you may have noticed, are tough. Those winters might be brutal, but they churn out some seriously resilient people—a trait I don’t want to lose in the midst of year-round balminess.

I crave definition for the seasons I go through in life. And the truth is that I’m not really sure what this winter was about. Ben and I have both been busy with work. We had a wonderful, mellow holiday visit back home. I turned 28. The slicing-my-finger, evening in the ER incident definitely stands out in my mind. We tidied the apartment in a serious way (more on that some other day, perhaps!). I rediscovered the delight of baking. We ate some really amazing meals. But an overarching picture? I don’t see one.

I had a conversation with friends last week about the fact that we don’t need to find immediate meaning for our experiences, and that if we’re feeling pain, the bow doesn’t need need to be tied on the situation in any timely way, if ever. I keep repeating this to myself. Spring is coming, after all, and that never ceases to be profoundly meaningful to me, even in the California sunshine.

A friend of mine who grew up in Detroit told me that she was talking to her sister recently, and her sister, who still lives in Michigan, asked what she’d been up to that day. “Oh, we had a picnic by the lake,” my friend replied. Her sister erupted, “A picnic? We’re fighting for our lives over here, and you’re having a picnic?!” Which is fair. Michigan people: I’m in your corner, wishing you meaningful winter hibernation vibes to get you through.

But we all are fighting for our something, aren’t we? Everyone’s in the midst of a season. Even if your challenges are the everyday sort, which are nothing to scoff at: we’re all trying to pay our rent and raise our children and do meaningful work and be kind and live in a way that matters. Living, if you ask me, is no small feat.

Enter brownies, appropriate and helpful in all times and seasons, whether cold or confusing or celebratory or just plain impossible to define. This recipe is one that you should be able to make from what’s already in your pantry—forgiving in the kindest and most generous sense. I hope you’ll make them. I think they’ll help.

Cocoa Brownies | Delightful Crumb

Cocoa Brownies

Very slightly adapted from Alice Medrich, via Food52

Makes about 16 brownies

Any cocoa will work for this recipe, so there’s no need to worry yourself over the distinctions between natural and Dutch process. I love how Medrich, queen of chocolate, perfected the proportions of fat and sugar in this recipe by using cocoa instead of chocolate. This is a simple recipe that yields a highly delicious treat.

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups cane sugar

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cold large eggs

1/2 cup (nearly 2.5 ounces) unsifted all-purpose flour

Cacao nibs, for sprinkling (optional)

Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling (optional)

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhand on two opposite sides.

Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of just-simmering water. Stir occasionally, until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside until the mixture is warm, not hot.

Using a vanilla spoon, stir in the vanilla. Add the eggs one by one, stirring after each addition. When the batter is thick, shiny and well blended, add the flour and mix until you cannot see it any longer. Beat vigorously for 40 strokes. Pour the batter into the pan, smoothing the top. Sprinkle on the cacao nibs, if using.

Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt, if desired. Let the brownies cool completely on a rack. Once they are cool, lift the parchment and transfer the brownies to a cutting board to slice and serve.

Healdsburg Getaway

Healdsburg Getaway

The view from Scribe | Delightful CrumbGetting out of town is something not to be taken lightly, or for granted, I’m reminded once again. A couple weeks ago, Ben and I escaped to Healdsburg, a favorite destination of ours, for just one night, but it was enough to reinvigorate me entirely. It was such bliss to be outside in the sun, far from any piles of papers I ought to attend to or dusty corners to sweep or emails that beg response. We stayed in a darling Airbnb tucked into a wooded Healdsburg neighborhood, up in the hills, so close to the center of town but feeling a million miles away from civilization. It boasted a sweet little fireplace and the requisite quirky decorations as well as a delicious breakfast delivered to our tiny patio, tiled with brilliant mosaics made by our hostess. We walked up the dirt road that morning, the cold air welcome on our faces. With the dreamy spirits so characteristic of vacation, we decided that maybe we should live up in these hills ourselves someday, once we’ve gotten our fill of city living and crave something quiet and wild.

Healdsburg patio | Delightful Crumb Brunch spread | Delightful CrumbWe went to SHED, where we ate housemade pickles (beets! eggs! beech mushrooms!) and crackers with a myriad of dips and drank fermented probiotic beverages, and where I couldn’t stop smiling, as is the case whenever I’m there. All of the items they make and carry are beautiful and thoughtful and drenched in sunlight, it seems, and I swoon each time over everything from napkins to spice blends to chocolates.

SHED pickles | Delightful Crumb SHED mezze plate | Delightful CrumbSHED deli case | Delightful Crumb

We drove to several wineries, admiring the mustard plants that painted the landscape with their wild yellow blooms, and feasted on baguettes and cheese. Also, pie.

Noble Folk pie | Delightful CrumbWe finished the trip with an afternoon at Scribe, which was dreamy indeed. I can think of few things better than sitting with a glass of wine and a beautiful view next to my favorite person, wrapped up in a blanket to stay warm while daylight fades.

Good eats at Scribe | Delightful Crumb Blue hour at Scribe | Delightful CrumbHere’s wishing you your own getaway, to somewhere either near or far, very soon.

Edge of the world | Delightful Crumb Mosaics | Delightful Crumb

A Mighty Fine Time for Solace | Rustic Bean Gratin

A Mighty Fine Time for Solace | Rustic Bean Gratin

Snowcap beans | Delightful CrumbAfter a rather exhausting week of work, I came home last Friday and started working on the simplest of dinners, a bean gratin from Twelve Recipes that I’d been trying to make all week, halted by weariness and longer-than-anticipated days in each of my previous attempts. I planned to pair it with soft boiled eggs, sautéed greens and a pan of whatever veggies were lounging in the crisper, roasted until crispy and caramelized on the edges. There was a partial bottle of white wine in the refrigerator, a bonus payment left over from a natural wine event I’d helped out with that Wednesday, and there was another bottle of something red and French and light standing by. Home, finally.

So, naturally, while running a knife through a crusty, days-old loaf of Tartine bread, breaking it down on the way to breadcrumbs, simultaneously trying to listen well as Ben talked about his day, I sliced straight through my finger, too. And so it was that we ended up in the ER instead of cozy on the couch, where they sanitized and butterfly-bandaged me up, poked my arm with a tetanus shot for good measure and sent us home even more tired than before.

Truth be told, I’m fine—no stitches, even! But life, I tell you. It’s rough.

And this, of course, is why we gather at the table. It’s why we’re deeply comforted by simple things, like beans and breadcrumbs, so much less complicated than everything else we face from day to day. It’s the beauty of glasses of wine and slices of cake and everyday celebration and friends who laugh with you whether you’re winning or losing or just hanging on.

We made the dinner anyway. We were starving, after all. I tried to let Ben do everything knife or heat related, with marginal success, and the gratin was warming and comforting as all get out when we sat down with it at 10:30pm. I was pretty cranky and still rather shaken up, and Ben had passed the Point of No Return in the hunger department, so we certainly weren’t at our best. But as we filled our bellies with buttery beans mixed with earthy rosemary and crowned with crisp, savory crumbs, we were nourished and soothed—even more, I’m sure, than if the evening had gone as I’d planned.

On Monday morning, I volunteered with my team at Glide, serving breakfast to several hundred people over the course of two hours. They, too, were eager to be nourished, though most were hungry in a way I can’t possibly imagine. But watching these folks slide into seats next to both friends and strangers, it was clearer to me than ever that at our core, we’re all the same. We make do, feasting by whatever means we have. I was impressed with the dedication to flavor of the gentleman who brought his own salt and pepper shakers, the ingenuity of the diner who pulled a bottle of mustard out of his bag, the myriad of ways people paired together the simple items on the menu that day: grits, a hard boiled egg, sausage, a piece of bread, fruit, milk.

We are human, all of us, and we are hungry—for food and so much more. At the end of the day, a cut on the finger is a very small thing indeed, but everyone has some sort of pain that needs soothing. And, if you ask me, dinner is a mighty fine time for solace.

The recipes in Cal Peternell’s Twelve Recipes bring just the sort of consolation I find so essential. My friend Annaliese gifted me this book for my birthday a couple of weeks ago, and I have been devouring it ever since. It is full of wonderful cooking advice, simple recipes and abundant charm. Cal Peternell is the head chef at Chez Panisse, where he’s been cooking for nearly twenty years. The book was inspired by his desire to teach his sons to cook before leaving home, and it reads with the familial kindness and warmth you might expect of something with that origin, pushing readers toward confidence and creativity. The photos of the author, his wife and their three sons in their cheery Berkeley home, complete with long wooden table and mismatched napkins, and the illustrations etched by each member of the family certainly don’t hurt, either.

It’s fitting that the inimitable Samin Nosrat, also of the Chez Panisse ilk, dubbed January #beanmonth and has been singing the praises of beans all month long on her blog. I could not agree more with her sentiments about this incredible food, and I swear it’s not because I’m a vegetarian and don’t know where else to get protein (I do!). I love making a pot of beans over the weekend, then employing it to make soup, toast, salad, hummus-style dip, gratin and more throughout the week. This, of course, is what Peternell is encouraging, too, which brings us to this simple and oh-so-very-comforting dish.

Snowcap beans | Delightful Crumb

Rustic Bean Gratin with Rosemary, or Bread on Beans

Adapted from Cal Peternell’s Twelve Recipes

Cannellini and Snowcap beans work nicely here, but most anything would be delicious. Substitute another herb for the rosemary if you like: sage, marjoram and thyme are similarly excellent choices. I like to pair this gratin with eggs (soft boiled, poached or fried) and sautéed greens. In the summer, Peternell suggests serving it with slices of tomato alongside, and I think that sounds divine. If you have extra crumbs, you won’t be sorry; sprinkle them over pasta and other dishes.

Stale loaf/slices of a good rustic bread

Olive oil

Sea salt

Cooked beans with their cooking liquid (about 3/4 cup per person)

Rosemary, finely chopped (optional)

Freshly cracked pepper

For the crumbs

Carve the crust off of the bread VERY CAREFULLY with a serrated knife and tear into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Grind coarsely in a food processor or blender, then toss in a bowl with plenty of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. The crumbs should be tasty and pretty oily, though not totally soaked. Spread onto a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 7 minutes. With a spatula, scoop the crumbs into a pile, stir them around, then spread them back out. Put the pan back into the oven for 5 minutes and repeat with the spatula. Keep baking and stirring until the crumbs are crisp and golden.

For the gratin

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Put the beans in a casserole dish with just enough of the cooking liquid that the beans on top are on dry land while those below are awash. If it seems to watery, mash some of the beans to thicken the mixture. Season with freshly cracked pepper and salt, if necessary, then stir in the rosemary.

If the beans are cold, bake them for 15 minutes, then sprinkle the crumbs on top and bake for another couple of minutes. If the beans are already hot, put the crumbs on from the start and bake away.