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a map for the rest of us

a map for the rest of us

Strawberry & Cucumber Ribbon Salad | Delightful CrumbMy friend Erin throws incredible parties. She seems to do it with ease. She always looks calm and breezy, wearing some kind of lovely flowing dress and appearing as though the whole lovely scene came together with a snap of her fingers. She’s fantastically creative, too. The first party of hers that I attended, she’d strung kumquats on baker’s twine to make necklaces for guests. The second, I found myself helping skewer fresh figs onto sprigs of rosemary to cook on the grill. Beautiful little signs identify the appetizers, and there’s always has a fun cocktail at hand. It doesn’t hurt, either, that she lives in an adorable apartment in the woods, with a patio that overlooks a forest full of stately redwoods.

It’s easy for me to think, I could never be so creative! And also, my floor is dirty! But as I flipped through Erin’s new cookbook, I realized something. Though her imaginative spirit is, indeed, a force to be reckoned with, her great parties are more than anything the result of exceptional hospitality. She’s one of the special ones, quick to open her home and heart. Her husband, Jonathan, is the same way (they’re quite the team). And so, they entertain. They do it because they love to, because they want to open their home, gather with friends, share what they have and create a space where people are nourished with food and laughter and cocktails and kindness. To do that, they’ve made this a simpler, less daunting affair than we typically think it to be.

Erin’s book is a map for the rest of us. A salad doesn’t need a million components, but if you slice those avocados in rounds (by magic, you might think—buy the book for that trick!) and match them with circles of fresh oranges, everyone will be in awe. The book is filled with interesting combinations and pretty preparations and colorful arrangements. It’s not a cookbook explicitly for entertaining but rather one that encourages us to eat joyfully every day, whether alone, with a few others or with a crowd.

Strawberry & Cucumber Ribbon Salad | Delightful CrumbStrawberry & Cucumber Ribbon Salad | Delightful Crumb I knew that Erin and Jonathan had a similar journey to ours—the whole getting married then moving across the country all in one summer thing—and that it had taken her time to find her rhythm in a new place. But reading the intro to this cookbook, I found that our experiences were even more similar than I thought. We both worried about what we’d left behind and felt lost as we tried to figure things out, at home alone during the first weeks and months after we’d arrived.

This cookbook is a testament to so many things—to the fact that feeding people doesn’t have to be hard, to the goodness of food simply prepared, to the truth that we all do, in fact, find our way in time.

And, it comes out tomorrow, so hurry and get your copy! It will be well loved on your coffee table and in your kitchen alike.

Cheers to you, Erin! This book is marvelous, and I know you’ve got much more up your sleeve. I’m so grateful for your creativity, hospitality and friendship—they make this world a more lovely place in which to live.

Strawberry & Cucumber Ribbon Salad | Delightful Crumb

Strawberry & Cucumber Ribbon Salad

Adapted from Erin Gleeson’s The Forest Feast

If you remember anything about last summer, you will recall how much I enjoy shredding cucumbers and zucchini into ribbons and strips for salad. It’s fun, unexpected and delicious. And as for this preparation, who would have guessed how wonderfully cucumber and strawberries pair? Erin, of course! Thank goodness for her. I love this salad exactly as she made it, but I might add an extra couple of snow peas next time—the crunch is fantastic. A handful of mint, parsley or cilantro would be a welcome addition as well. Note: These pictures show just half of the salad as it is written below.

Serves 4

Make ribbons from 2 large cucumbers using a peeler. Stop when you start skimming the seeds. (I like to chop up those cucumber cores and add them to yogurt with salt, pepper, garlic and lemon for a lovely dip.)

Combine with:

1 cup (170 g) sliced strawberries

1/2 cup (60 g) crumbled goat cheese

3/4 cup (75 g) sliced snow peas (slice on the bias)

1/2 cup (50 g) sliced toasted almonds

Dress with olive oil and lemon juiceSalt and pepper to taste.

Party at Erin's | Delightful Crumb

small economies

small economies

Almond Biscotti | Delightful CrumbThe other day, I went for a run in the pouring rain. I do this from time to time, and I’m never sorry. I feel so clean and refreshed when I come home, sopping wet with a chill coming on. The rain here isn’t so cold and the drops are tiny, small enough to get me absolutely soaked with their slow, steady cadence.

The rainy mornings are quiet ones. On this particular day, I saw just four people out for exercise instead of dozens, a handful more commuting with their hoods and boots. I passed an old woman running slowly with an umbrella lifted above her head and saw another runner who’d brought her poor dog along, long hair now dripping. There was older gentleman I often see, a walker who swings his arms forcefully as though they’re the limbs that propel him along. He nodded, a comrade in the deluge.

As I splashed through the puddles on the path, I watched the ducks pull their heads towards their bodies as they swam across the lake, uncertain as the rest of us. A small group of geese with a pair of ducks had found a puddle and crowned themselves kings of it, floating around and stomping through like children. But the cormorants—accustomed to getting wet and well aware of how to get dry—were the true royalty, gliding through the water with heads high. To be so fearless! I envied them.

Almond Biscotti | Delightful Crumb Almond Biscotti | Delightful CrumbI adore these small economies, made even smaller in the rain—the people I recognize on my morning runs, the commuters on the same timeline, the market-goers I know by face not name. I’m comforted to splash through the puddle for a time, as it were, as though that really is the whole world instead of just a tiny microcosm. These cities by the bay and the spinning earth suddenly seem a bit less overwhelmingly enormous.

I made these biscotti for the world that circled through the little cafe in my neighborhood where I used to bake and occasionally serve coffee. It was—and is—one of those places where people know one another by name, everyone picks up the toddling girl who’s charmed us all and the baristas know just what you’d like to drink. I was a bit more attuned to people’s preferences in baked goods—exactly who was particularly in love with these biscotti, and who was most excited to see my blueberry coffee cake on the counter. But the very best thing was chatting with folks about new jobs and relationship angst and weekend trips and all of the big small things. I met people I’d just seen in passing, was the recipient of the excess apricots from the tree in the neighbor’s backyard, felt part of something. And isn’t this what we all want?

That and biscotti. Especially when it rains.

Almond Biscotti | Delightful Crumb

Classic Almond Biscotti

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours

These biscotti are classic and delicious. They’re not too sweet, and they’re crisp without threatening to break your teeth. I’ve also found that they take well to variation—different nuts, a bit of spice and the like.

Makes about 20 biscotti

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup cornmeal

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract

3/4 cup sliced almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and cornmeal.

Working with a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together at medium speed for 3 minutes, until very smooth. Add the eggs and continue to beat for another 2 minutes, or until the mixture is light, smooth and creamy. Beat in the almond extract.

Reduce the mixer to low speed and add the dry ingredients. Mix until just incorporated. The dough should be soft and sticky. Scrape down the paddle or beaters and the bowl, toss in the almonds and mix just to blend.

Scrape half of the dough onto one side of the prepared baking sheet. Use your fingers and a spatula or scraper (I always find that an offset spatula works best), work the dough into a log 8 – 9 inches long and 5 – 6 inches wide. The log will be rough and uneven. Make a second log on the other side of the baking sheet.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until the logs are lightly golden but still soft to the touch. Transfer the baking sheet to a rack and cool for 30 minutes.

If you turned the oven off, bring it back to 350 degrees.

Transfer the logs to a cutting board. Trim the ends, then cut the logs into 3/4-inch-thick slices. Return them to the baking sheet and place them on their sides (with one of the cut sides down), spaced apart slightly.

Bake for another 15 minutes, until the biscotti are golden and firm. Transfer them to racks and cool to room temperature.

Almond Biscotti | Delightful Crumb

the hopeful reminder

the hopeful reminder

Spring Vegetable & Mushroom Frittata | Delightful CrumbSpring is upon us, and with it, asparagus and pretty purple spring onions and chives and soft greens and the first strawberries. Here in Northern California, the sky has been a brilliant blue and the days warm and full of sun that lingers into evening. Rhubarb will be coming soon, and fresh peas and fava beans and chickpeas, and so much more. All of these are harbingers of what is to come—the brightness of springtime, first, then summer in all its glory.

Every year, I love spring more. Even in California, where the winters aren’t harsh in the slightest, it brings the promise of newness and life, with little fresh things peeping out from the dirt and evening revelers congregating by the lake to watch the sunset. I’ve long been enamored with the way spring enlivens us, gives us the hopeful reminder that the seasons always change, the cold will give way to warmth, the good and bad both ebb and flow. My parents were just visiting from Michigan, and their enthusiasm about the sunlight and warmth and overflowing stalls of the farmers market reminded me how extraordinary all of this is for those who’ve gone through a long, cold, dark winter—and how it could be the same for all of us.

Spring Vegetable & Mushroom Frittata | Delightful CrumbWe’re better for being captivated by the season, I think, and I’m charmed by the shared enthusiasm: those lakeside revelers, my coworkers who sit on the pavement outside at lunchtime, diners filling restaurants’ outdoor tables. The shared joys seem to be the sweetest. I was writing this post, waxing poetic about spring’s bounty and thinking about frittatas, and I popped over to see if my friend Kimberley had anything new on her blog, just to give myself a little writing break. As it turns out, what she posted earlier today conveys what I’ve been trying to say about springtime…and greens and eggs to boot! (I swear, Kimberley, I’ve been planning this for days! Kindred spirits, indeed.)

I made this spring frittata for brunch a couple of weekends ago, serving it with a green salad and hearty toasts topped with smashed avocado and with walnut butter and jam. Our friends Rita and Gerard were in town for a few days, coming, like my parents, from the Midwestern chill. I’d been prematurely paging through the springtime section of Megan‘s book to look for inspiration for that weekend’s meals and stumbled upon this recipe.

Frittatas have always felt like spring to me. Perhaps it’s because those soft springtime greens and herbs fold so easily into eggs, or because a frittata boasts the simplicity I crave come warm weather, or because eggs themselves can taste as fresh and new as spring. Or maybe my subconscious knew about the Persian New Year…? Regardless, this is a lovely recipe for the season, and a flexible one that is forgiving of what has not yet sprung up from the ground. I hope you’ll try it in celebration of whatever hints of spring have come your way.

Spring Vegetable & Mushroom Frittata | Delightful Crumb

Spring Vegetable & Farro Frittata

Adapted from Megan Gordon’s Whole-Grain Mornings

Serves 4 to 6

Megan’s original recipe calls for asparagus; I used leeks and shiitake mushrooms instead. Aim for about 1 pound of whatever spring vegetable you choose. Asparagus should be sliced into bite-sized pieces, artichokes sliced thinly, leeks and garlic scapes diced small and mushrooms cut in half. Megan notes that a few fava beans would be an excellent addition as well, and I think that sounds delightful.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup minced shallot (about 1 large shallot)

1 pound spring vegetables, such as asparagus, leeks, mushrooms, baby artichokes and/or garlic scapes, cleaned and sliced

1/2 cup fresh or thawed frozen peas

6 eggs, beaten

1/4 cup whole milk

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup cooked and cooled farro

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Heat the olive oil in a 10-inch ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot, spring vegetables and peas if using fresh. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the heartiest vegetable is just tender. Season with a generous pinch of salt. If using thawed frozen peas, add them now. Remove the pan from the heat.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, cheese, salt and a few grinds of pepper. Stir in the farro, then pour the mixture directly into the skillet, nudging the veggies around so that they’re evenly distributed throughout the frittata.

Place the skillet in the oven and bake until the frittata is set, about 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. Then, loosen the edges with a spatula and slice into wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature. Leftovers can be saved, covered and refrigerated, for up to 5 days.

Botanical Gardens | Delightful Crumb

the sea ranch

the sea ranch

Sea Ranch | Delightful CrumbSeveral years ago—back when I lived in Michigan, Ben was just my pal and California wasn’t even a speck in my dreams—I learned about a hidden oasis on the Pacific called The Sea Ranch by way of photographer Brian Ferry’s blog. The place looked wild, peaceful and breathtakingly gorgeous. And the recommendation stuck. Ben and I have talked about going ever since we moved to the Bay Area over a year and a half (!) ago. I’ve been busy with a new role at Good Eggs, and we have a host of visitors coming and going this spring. It seemed the perfect moment to get away—to breathe fresh ocean air and require nothing of ourselves. And so, the last full weekend in February, we skipped town and made our way up the coast, through Bodega Bay, past a thousand stunning vistas, to the northern edge of the Sonoma Coast.

Sea Ranch | Delightful CrumbSea Ranch | Delightful CrumbThe Sea Ranch is a tiny community, spanning ten miles of the coast but reaching just one mile inland. Those who founded it were committed to the principle of living lightly on the land and built homes with distinctive architecture that blends seamlessly into the surroundings. It’s a place where people have done their best to care well for the earth, keeping it in its gloriously wild state. Aside from the natural-hued homes, miles of trails, plenty of wildlife and a stunning coast, there’s not much: a bakery, a beautiful little non-denominational chapel, a lodge with a restaurant, a winery tucked between the Redwoods on the hills. We walked, drank wine while the sun set, ate well and admired our surroundings—little else.

Sea Ranch | Delightful Crumb Sea Ranch | Delightful CrumbOur room boasted windows that looked out on the water, and at night, we cracked them open and listened to the crashing waves while the sun slipped down from the clear sky, through a ridge of clouds and into the ocean. A group of mule deer wandered toward our window, and dusk slowly gave way to night. When we went outside, the sky was full of stars, and I felt blessedly small.

Sea Ranch | Delightful Crumb Sea Ranch | Delightful CrumbWe sat by the same window in the morning. While Ben showered, I clutched my coffee and read Nigel Slater’s Notes from the Larder, watching the fog creep ever closer toward the shore, the sunny morning turned to gray. I was reading through his February entries and, serendipitously, stumbled upon this:

I have always loved the color gray. Peaceful, elegant, understated; the color of stone, steel, and soft, nurturing rain. The view from the window across the harbor has every shade, from driftwood to charcoal: the lagoon, the restaurant’s weathered cedar cladding, the moored boats, the trees on the opposite shore, all in delicate shades of calming gray.

The weather that weekend was perfect for our mood, precisely what I needed: one day full of sunshine and brilliant blue sky, then next foggy and mysterious, gray like the wood panels of the houses. We walked, that gray day, for miles and miles along the coast, watching birds swoop and seals laze the day away on rocks not far from shore. I don’t know that I’ve always loved the color gray, but that weekend, I absolutely did. I think I’ve been converted.

I don’t have a recipe today, just this. I hope it calms your spirit as it does mine.

Sea Ranch | Delightful Crumb

feed a body, nourish a mind

feed a body, nourish a mind

Roasted Kabocha Squash Salad | Delightful CrumbMy elementary school was one block from my childhood home, an easy walk down the street and up a gravel path that faded at the border of the playground. Most days, I walked that route only twice, to and from school, staying through lunch. Lunch was most often a wholesome meal that had been packed just for me. Very occasionally, I got to purchase a school lunch, parceled out into the geometric compartments of a styrofoam lunch tray.

Every week or so, though, I walked the short way back home for lunch with my mom. This was perhaps even less cool than my lunchbox and the plastic bags I brought home to wash and reuse, and sometimes I worried what it did to my reputation. But the feeling fled when I reached the front door. The table was always set, and a delicious meal was waiting. The treat I remember best is my mom’s homemade mac and cheese, warm and filling, hot off the stoveop. Some days, we’d have “lunchtime with the oldies,” listening to the radio or my parents’ old records while we sat across the table from one another. I remember how happy my mom seemed to see me, and how simple and good life was when the two of us sat together on the tall chairs at our kitchen island. It was respite. It was glorious.

There’s something special about lunchtime. Breakfast is for gearing up and starting the day—or, when it’s the weekend, for lounging around in one’s cozy pants. Dinner is the reward after a long, tiring day. Lunch, though, is the pause in the middle of everything. It’s easy to skip it, to work straight through in an effort to keep up momentum or get as much as possible accomplished. But when taken, it’s a reminder that we’re worth that bit of rest and nourishment.

Yet it’s a luxury to even see it that way.

Roasted Kabocha Squash Salad | Delightful Crumb Roasted Kabocha Squash Salad | Delightful CrumbAlong with a long list of other bloggers, I’m donating today’s post to The Giving Table‘s campaign to raise money for The Lunchbox Fund, a nonprofit that provides lunch to at-risk school children in South Africa. A shocking 65 percent of South African children live in poverty. Nearly 20 percent are orphans, in large part due to HIV/AIDS. A proper lunch nourishes children’s bodies and minds, helping them focus in school and receive an education that will benefit them for years to come. That’s what I received throughout my childhood, thinking nothing of it. But in impoverished countries like South Africa, many children’s loved ones are simply unable to provide that. This is where The Lunchbox Fund steps in. They partner with schools, NGOs and community organizations to help feed school children—which means that communities benefit as well.

Roasted Kabocha Squash Salad | Delightful CrumbRoasted Kabocha Squash Salad | Delightful Crumb This campaign is timely for me because my sister and brother-in-law are moving to Uganda next weekend. They lived there from 2009-2010 and have been back in the states since, dreaming of and preparing for their return. Their year in Uganda happens to be the same year Ben lived and taught in Nigeria, though he was just an acquaintance of mine at the time. Suffice it to say, though I personally have not visited, the continent of Africa has a solid grip on a corner of my heart.

In this campaign, our goal is to raise $5,000 for The Lunchbox Fund—enough to provide lunch to 100 South African children for an entire year. I have more than enough to eat and plenty to share, and I imagine many of you do as well. Will you join me in giving to The Lunchbox Fund? Even the smallest gift will help bring more children to the table and, in turn, one more step toward a bright future.

Roasted Kabocha Squash Salad | Delightful Crumb

Roasted Kabocha Squash Salad

Makes 2 generous portions

These days, this is the sort of thing I like to eat when I’m home for lunch. It’s hearty and healthful and delicious. Whoever convinced us that salads are boring? Quite the opposite! When I made this salad over the weekend, Ben and I polished it off, one big bowl each, but if you’d like to serve it as a side instead, it could easily feed four.

1 small gray kabocha squash, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional

1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper

Sea salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds

2 small shallots, thinly sliced

1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar, plus additional

3 ounces goat cheese

4 heaped cups baby arugula

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the squash in half. Remove and discard the seeds and strings, and slice the squash into 3/4-inch wide crescent moons. Toss with the olive oil, Aleppo pepper, a generous pinch of salt and freshly cracked pepper. Spread the slices in an even layer on a baking sheet. Roast until cooked through and golden brown, about 35 to 40 minutes, flipping once or twice.

While the squash is roasting, toast the sunflower seeds in a dry pan over medium-low heat. Stir often, toasting until the seeds are light brown, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and set aside to cool.

Put the sliced shallot in a small bowl with the vinegar and a pinch of salt. Allow to rest to soften the bite of the raw shallot.

When the squash is ready, let it cool for several minutes. Then, place in a large bowl. Crumble the goat cheese over top and toss gently. Add the shallots and vinegar, arugula and sunflower seeds, reserving some seeds for decorating the top of the salad, and toss again. Finish with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and, if desired, a splash of vinegar and/or a drizzle of olive oil. Serve warm or at room temperature.