Skip to content

With its grandeur | Tomato & Pickled Peach Salad with Labneh

With its grandeur | Tomato & Pickled Peach Salad with Labneh

Market tomatoes | Delightful CrumbI read Nigel Slater’s Notes from the Larder while eating my breakfast and wish desperately that my life looked more like his. He seems to live at a wonderfully slow and thoughtful pace, where there isn’t a plan for every moment and the surprise ripeness of backyard fruit can set the course for the day. Here, he is plucking damsons from the tree in his backyard, the bounty of fruit raining down. He contemplates what to make with them and, genius that he is, throws together a cake that is perfect, as I understand it, on the very first try. Suddenly we’re transported to the close of the day: friends gathered around a table enjoying a meal together, passing around dishes filled with the bounty from Nigel’s garden, drinking wine. Along with jealousy, I am full of questions. Who are these people, and was this planned? Is it the weekend, or just a normal Tuesday? What would it take, really, for me to create a similar scene? Or could I perhaps just be his friend?

I dream of this sort of flexibility and whimsy, the kind that results in a full table at the end of a normal old workday. Everyone drops their plans and weariness to join in the fun, the host is calm and carefree, whipping together tasty and simple things, absent of a drop of sweat, the tower of dishes building alongside the sink no concern whatsoever. I’ve had small glimmers of this, sure, but I’m not sure I’ve ever caught the rhythm. The closest I’ve gotten was just after college. We were all 22 or 23 or so, and it’s no exaggeration that all of my friends were more carefree than I, which made things easier. We had minimal commitments and expectations, all of us living in old crooked houses with plenty of character, cooking and feeling like adults for the first time in our lives. Things felt easy, despite our lack of money, direction, boyfriends, girlfriends, nice dishes, tablecloths or matching silverware. We made meals composed primarily of vegetables sautéed with plenty of garlic, alongside simple things like beans and toast and eggs and grains. I baked cakes and cookies that caught my eye on the exciting new medium of the food blog. We drank cheap red wine from ball jars. My friend Sarah taught me how to cook garlic slowly in olive oil, add red pepper flakes and toss it all with pasta, flavor abounding. I loved recipes, but she didn’t need or want them, and I was enthralled. If we were at my house, we’d pull folding chairs out of the closet and gather around my tiny square table meant for no more than two, or forgo the table entirely and tuck in around the coffee table, sitting on my rocking loveseat or the floor. I longed for a big, beautiful dining table, one that could fit a crowd, not realizing that the haphazardness of my life back then was part of the charm, that I’d miss it someday.

It feels very far away, that time. And yet I’m finding that I’m more flexible than I’ve given myself credit for these last several years, or maybe my whole life. I think it might have been there all along, buried under an excess of structure and plans, those things that bring such great but artificial comfort. I’m trying to be quicker to embrace changes to expectations for my days, invite guests whether the house is tidy or not, celebrate weeknights as much as weekends, give myself a break. I have had guests over not once but twice this week, and it was a thrill to have my apartment full of their laughter and my beloved grown-up table creaking under the weight of a meal shared with friends. Every once in a while, and more and more these days, a simple, unplanned thing surprises me with its grandeur, flawed-but-perfect right out the gate, like friends at the table and tomato salads, and I think that perhaps there’s still a chance for me to be like Nigel Slater.

Tomatoes, Pickled Peach & Labneh | Delightful Crumb

Tomato, Pickled Peach & Avocado Salad with Labneh

Enough for 2

I love the pairing of stone fruit and tomato, and I got the idea for pickling the peaches from a recipe I clipped out of Bon Appétit way back in August 2013. I’m obsessed with labneh, so it was the clear choice for a creamy pairing. These little salads are hearty, fresh and full of enough flavor and richness to feel positively decadent. You can certainly use store-bought labneh, though making it yourself is so easy and satisfying that I can’t urge you enough to give it a try. Slices of mozzarella or a slathering of Greek yogurt would also work in a pinch.

Plain yogurt

Salt

1 peach or nectarine, thinly sliced

1 shallot or 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

Big pinch of sugar

Freshly cracked black pepper

1 large heirloom tomato, sliced into wedges

1 avocado, sliced into wedges

Generous handful of arugula, mint, basil and/or microgreens

Extra-virgin olive oil

Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

For the labneh: Stir a pinch of salt into some plain yogurt, then pour it into a cheesecloth-lined mesh strainer. Set that over a bowl in the refrigerator for 8 – 24 hours, until it reaches the consistency you like. Remove the yogurt cheese from the strainer. (The leftover whey can be used for bean cooking, smoothie making or bread baking.)

For the pickled peaches: Toss together the peach, shallot, white wine vinegar, sugar, a pinch of salt and some freshly cracked pepper. Let sit for about 10 minutes.

Add to the peach mixture the tomato, avocado and greens. Toss gently. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and toss again.

Spread a big spoonful of labneh on each plate, arrange the salad mixture on top and drizzle the whole thing with whatever dressing is left in the bowl. Finish with more greens or herbs, flaky sea salt and cracked pepper. Enjoy!

Obsessed with simplicity | Cucumber, Feta & Mint Salad

Obsessed with simplicity | Cucumber, Feta & Mint Salad

Cucumber, Feta & Mint Salad | Delightful CrumbI am obsessed with the pursuit of simplicity. I love simple meals, advanced planning and an empty inbox. I just re-tidied my home, Marie Kondo-style. The idea of a very simple life has me utterly captivated. Yet despite my efforts and preoccupation, the older I get, the harder this seems to achieve.

I know why I crave it. Life is complicated, what with the frustrating traffic and the cost of living and budgets and stock markets and the challenges of relationships and the many things I ought to do to prepare wisely for the rest of my life, not to mention the lives of my future children. Every time I read the news, I’m aware of an increasing number of dangers and diseases that could strike at any moment, and the more people I love (I know, I know, lucky me!), the greater my worries.

(A quick aside: if you can relate to these statements, give this great exercise a try.)

I imagine that if I achieved a life with no clutter, less stuff, dust-free floors, fewer to-dos on my list, highly organized files in paper form and on my computer and even up there in the cloud, dang it!, an ever-empty inbox and so on and so forth, my head would be clearer. Life wouldn’t feel so weighty. I could relax! I think to myself that if I could just manage to take care of this project, or that one, or if I got rid of a few more shirts I don’t really need, then life would feel simpler. But it doesn’t work that way. When you reduce and simplify and clear away the clutter, there is always more beneath, or more to take its place. The task is endless. We can see and imagine the many things that could be done, but we cannot do it all.

All this, of course, is because life isn’t simple. Things in this broken up world are not as they should be, and my extremely human attempts at trying to reverse that are just not going to work. And frankly, it’s also true that the complexity is the good stuff. It’s what makes us human. It’s what matters. My pastor said recently, wisely, that when everything is going well, it’s boring. When life is just humming along, when the plot is flat, it feels pretty great, but it’s not that interesting. And the same goes for our homes and our task lists and our sinks full of dishes and all the rest of it.

So will keep up the KonMari Method. I’ll keep organizing things around the apartment, because there’s got to be a better way to arrange my pantry and store my books. I will try to own less. But I will also work on being more okay with the fact that life is complicated, and that isn’t going to change, and it’s actually alright. I have heard that having a child speeds up the process of accepting this reality, but as I am not yet ready for that particular shortcut, I turn instead to simple food, which I find very helpful and also a much smaller commitment. If you, too, are looking for glimmers of simplicity, I give you a perfectly straightforward, terrifically forgiving, crunchy and delicious little recipe that’s perfect for these hot August days.

Cucumber, Feta & Mint Salad | Delightful Crumb

Cucumber, Feta & Mint Salad

An amazing trifecta! And, lucky for our hungry bellies, this is about as easy as cooking gets, cool and crunchy and utterly perfect for those summer days when you’d rather sip rosé on the porch than swelter in a hot kitchen. This is the outline I usually follow, but feel free to swap and adjust to fit your preferences and the contents of your pantry. Delicious additions might include avocado, other herbs, sliced green onions, crunchy lettuce or tomato. Substitute lemon juice or white wine vinegar for the red wine variety if that’s what you have on hand. Add red pepper flakes if you want a kick of heat. You get the idea.

This salad is great as a side but also works wonderfully as an appetizer, with crackers for scooping or garlic-rubbed toast beneath.

1 – 2 cucumbers, cut into small wedges

Block of good, salty Feta cheese (look for one made of sheep’s milk, or a combination of sheep and goat’s milk), cubed

Extra-virgin olive oil

Red wine vinegar

Sea salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

Small bunch of fresh mint, large leaves torn

Gently toss the cucumber and Feta cheese together to combine. Drizzle the ingredients generously with olive oil and give them a good splash of red wine vinegar. Toss again. Add salt and pepper to taste, then add most of the mint, reserving a few leaves for garnish. Toss one more time, taking care so that the mint isn’t bruised. Finish with more cracked pepper and the remaining mint.

For Many Reasons | Yeasted Fig & Goat Cheese Tart

For Many Reasons | Yeasted Fig & Goat Cheese Tart

Yeasted Fig & Goat Cheese Tart | Delightful CrumbI’d long dreamt of making this tart, probably ever since I spotted it in the pages of Plenty More. Figs! Goat cheese! Almonds! Herbs! Gorgeous yeasted pastry! It’s certainly a beauty, and Yotam Ottolenghi always gets this sort of thing right. The vision sat patiently in my head (and on a scrap of paper along with several other culinary delights that couldn’t be realized in the absence of summer produce) for many months.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, with beautiful, near-bursting figs fresh at my favorite source at the Saturday market, I pulled it together over the course of a lazy day. I tended to it carefully, kneading the dough, gently feeding it plenty of butter as it twirled around in my stand mixer, allowing the tart the necessary time to rise not just once but twice, timing things so that we could eat it slightly warm for dessert. It was the perfect punctuation to a simple, summery dinner of my favorite corn and zucchini fritters, blistered Jimmy Nardellos, a big salad and a pretty bottle of rosé. Just as I’d hoped, it hit all of the right notes—savory from the goat cheese and herbs, sweet from the almonds mixed into the layer between dough and figs, those perfectly sticky figs adding an amount of sultriness appropriate for a warm summer night.

Relaying my weekend activities to a coworker and friend the following Monday—simple excursions to my favorite wine bar and coffee shop, movies at home, boring errands, a good handful of culinary efforts like this—she asked if I’d made the puffed up figgy tart for any occasion in particular. None at all, I told her with a bit of embarrassment. Oh dear, I thought in a panicked moment of self-doubt. Is it silly that I make things so time consuming and indulgent as this, for no event whatsoever, for only the stomachs of myself and my (thankfully ever-hungry) husband? But she laughed and said she thinks it’s great, and after a moment of self-doubt, I remembered why I feel the same.

I cook and bake and make for many reasons. Sometimes it’s for a dinner party, or for a potluck or picnic contribution, or for feeding guests from out of town. Sometimes I cook for little more than sustenance, for dinner on the table—healthy and inexpensive and satisfying, I hope. But other times, it’s just for me. I do it for the creative rush, for the sense of satisfaction at making something so gloriously tangible with my two hands and five senses, for the very good feeling of feeding myself well, and generously.

I love that a recipe can catch my eye, be on my mind for weeks or months, over the dark days in which a particular ingredient is out of season or times when I can’t seem to find extra hours to dedicate to “unnecessary” kitchen endeavors. And then, at the serendipitous moment when the season, my schedule and inspiration align, I pull the book from the shelf or the recipe from my folder of clippings or the link up from the vastness of the internet, and the dream is realized. My sink fills with dishes, the kitchen with the scent of something delicious and our little apartment with an unmistakable feeling of warmth and abundance. A couple of hours, some dishwashing, cups and tablespoons and dashes of ingredients later and there’s a beautiful dish on the table that will fill our bellies. For me, there’s little so simple and constant and joyful as this.

Maybe you feel this way, too (a good possibility if you’re reading this site), or perhaps there’s something else that holds the magic for you. Regardless, once we’ve discovered that golden spark, what could we call it but necessary? We’d best hold it close and share it well, lucky as we are to have the chance.

Yeasted Fig & Goat Cheese Tart | Delightful Crumb

Yeasted Fig & Goat Cheese Tart

Slightly adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty More

Serves 8, generously

This tart is sweet but not too sweet, making it appropriate for dessert or breakfast or a snack. Thanks to its savory-sweet nature, I think it could even pass for an appetizer alongside something sparkling. Store leftovers, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to a few days.

FOR THE YEASTED PASTRY

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (265 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting (use up to 1 cup whole wheat flour if desired)

1/4 cup (50 g) natural cane sugar

1 teaspoon yeast

Zest of 1/2 lemon

2 eggs, beaten

5 1/2 tablespoons (75 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into cubes

Sunflower oil, for brushing

Salt

FOR THE FILLING & ASSEMBLY

5 oz (150 g) soft goat cheese

2/3 cup (85 g) powdered sugar

Heaped 1/2 teaspoon orange zest

1 tablespoon chopped thyme leaves, plus more for garnish

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup (100 g) ground almonds

1 1/3 lb (600 g) ripe figs (about 12 – 18), halved or quartered lengthwise, depending on the size

1 tablespoon natural cane sugar

1 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

First, make the pastry. Place the flour, sugar, yeast and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix to combine. Add the eggs and 1/4 cup water. Using the dough hook attachment, work for a few seconds on low speed before increasing to medium and kneading for 3 minutes, until the dough comes together. Add 1/8 teaspoon salt and the butter, a few cubes at a time, until it all melts into the dough. Continue kneading on medium speed for about 10 minutes, until the dough is completely smooth, elastic and shiny. If the dough is sticking to the sides of the bowl, throw in a small amount of flour.

Place the dough in a large bowl brushed with sunflower oil, cover with plastic wrap and leave in the refrigerator for at least half a day, up to overnight. It will increase in volume, by about one-fourth.

To make the filling, combine the goat cheese, 2 teaspoons of the powdered sugar, the orange zest, the thyme and all but a couple spoonfuls of the beaten eggs in a medium bowl. Whisk until smooth and then stir in the almonds. Mix until evenly combined and smooth.

Lightly flour a clean work surface and roll the pastry into an 11-inch square (it should be about 1/4-inch thick). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer the pastry to the baking sheet. Spread the goat cheese mixture on top, leaving a border of about 2/3-inch. Brush the remaining egg over the border.

Top the goat cheese filling with the sliced figs, placing them cut side up and slightly overlapping, as they will shrink while cooking. Sprinkle with the sugar, cover the tart with aluminum foil and set it aside in a warm place for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the foil from the tart and bake for about 30 minutes, until the figs are caramelized and the base of the pastry is golden brown.

Whisk the remaining powdered sugar with the lemon juice until you have a thick yet pourable icing. Remove the tart from the oven and use a spoon to drizzle the icing over top. Sprinkle with thyme leaves and enjoy warm or at room temperature.

Sentimental Summer Days | Tomato & Nectarine Salad

Sentimental Summer Days | Tomato & Nectarine Salad

Tomato & Nectarine Salad | Delightful CrumbI discovered this Mary Oliver poem a few years ago, during the summer of 2010. It was a glorious summer, the sort of moment in time I think back on fondly and with a solid dose of nostalgia. I had the best community of friends I’d yet to experience. I was falling in love with Ben, this amazing person who had suddenly landed in my life, entirely unexpected, making me laugh at ever turn. I was realizing that my life was actually rather well ordered, and perhaps the whole being-an-adult-in-the-real-world thing could be pretty okay after all.

That summer, my friends and I went to Chicago. We visited college friends and got a special back-rooms tour of the Field Museum with my aunt, who worked there at the time. We visited Floriole, a cafe I’d long wanted to visit, where we sampled multiple baked goods and were thoroughly charmed by the neighborhood. It remains a favorite to this day, the one spot I’m sure to visit whenever I’m in that city. I picked up treats on my next visit to enjoy in the park nearby, lunched there with Ben a few years later on the day we got engaged on a pier by the lake, took my mom there when we went to Chicago to shop for my wedding dress.

But the above moments and the chocolate hazelnut tart from Floriole are about all I remember from that summer’s trip, aside from the fact that it was hot and humid, Midwestern summer at its finest. I felt so free and alive and refreshed, the world full of possibility. It was afterward that I first read this poem, and it’s an understatement to say that it resonated.

The wonder Mary Oliver describes is where I, too, land in my reflections on life, the world, all that we experience. There’s so much that’s unknown, making me all the more grateful for every drop of clarity. The question of what to do remains ever hazy, but there are moments, shining ones, where that fact doesn’t matter at all.

I wish you those, in abundance, these summer days.

The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver (from House of Light, 1990)

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Tomato & Nectarine Salad | Delightful Crumb

Tomato & Nectarine Salad

This combination, in various iterations, is one of my favorite things to eat in the summer. I included a version of it in my most recent set of recipes for Edible San Francisco. What follows is a very basic outline, but it’s all you need. Add other herbs if you like, or slices of avocado. Leave out the cheese if you don’t have any. Use peaches instead of nectarines. Serve with good bread, or mix the ingredients in a bowl instead of arranging on a plate and pile the whole thing on garlic-rubbed toast. You just can’t go wrong!

Heirloom tomatoes, sliced thinly into 1/2-inch rounds or wedges

Cherry tomatoes, halved (optional)

Just-ripe nectarines, sliced into 1/2-inch thick wedges

Olive oil

Balsamic vinegar

Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

Freshly cracked black pepper

A good, creamy cheese—options include, but are not limited to, torn burrata, slices of fresh mozzarella, dollops of ricotta (I like sheep’s milk), crumbled goat cheese, cubed feta

Fresh basil, roughly torn or sliced into ribbons (chiffonade)

Fresh mint, tarragon and/or chives, torn or sliced (optional)

Arrange the tomatoes and nectarines on a large platter. Drizzle generously with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Top with flaky sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, and allow to sit for several minutes for the flavors to meld. Add as much cheese as you like, and finish with lots of herbs.

Where the pines are so high

Where the pines are so high

Big horns | Delightful Crumb Badlands | Delightful Crumb Panorama in the Hills | Delightful CrumbSummertime evokes a million memories for me. There’s something magical about the season, what with the lingering sunlight and bonfires and fresh produce in abundance and fireflies flitting about. But I imagine my onslaught of memories also has something to do with the greatness of Michigan summers and the splendor of South Dakota, these the two stages for my childhood summers.

My parents are from South Dakota—Rapid City, more specifically, “the gateway to the Black Hills.” Throughout my childhood, we road-tripped from Michigan to the Black Hills every summer to see my extended family, as the majority of them still lived (and live) there. My sister and I adored the whole trip. Atypical children, we loved the car ride, filled with games and little presents to keep us going and roadside picnics and the rare pleasure of fast food and music on our Walkmans. We loved the usual trappings of summer vacation: swimming, lazy mornings, picnics, cookouts, ice cream. And we loved staying at our grandparents’ little house on a wide, busy road, a place filled with memories from my dad’s childhood and delicious smells and a quiet backyard garden and a funky, orange-and-brown-patterned corner sofa in the basement. I was enamored with the old photos of the family hanging on his parents’ walls—the big, gold-framed family photo of him and his six siblings when the oldest of them were teenagers, the six boys outfitted in leisure suits my grandma made; the image from my uncle and aunt’s perfectly 80s wedding, puffy dress sleeves very much included; the graduation photographs hanging in my grandparents’ room. Sometimes my grandma would pull out boxes of even older photos, tiny black-and-white images of her and my grandfather when they were kids, living in the same little town. I always wanted to drive by my mom’s childhood home on the boulevard, have her tell me again which window was hers, see my parents’ schools on opposite sites of town and their old haunts and my dad’s college campus.

The summers are hot there, with rainstorms that arrive with only the briefest notice, dark clouds rolling over the plains, stopping abruptly to drop buckets of rain, maybe even hail. We would read in the mornings and sit on the living room floor to make friendship bracelets and play with our many cousins and visit the store downtown that sold brightly colored beads and Native American art. Family constantly dropped by, making me feel like royalty. Toss in a wonderful place called Storybook Island that sits only a block from my grandparents’ house and giant cement dinosaurs perched on a hill above the city and doting grandparents, and it is easy to understand the appeal.

Presidents | Delightful CrumbDinosaur Hill | Delightful CrumbBen and I flew out to meet my parents in Rapid City a few weeks ago, and after a couple of years away, I was enthralled once again with the place, and grateful, too, for the chance to share it with Ben. I always say that a part of me is from South Dakota, and now I think he can better understand. The Black Hills themselves are grand and glorious, full of unmatched natural beauty, the sort of place that captures you. After years of travel, my dad still says that his home is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and I’m inclined to agree. There’s nowhere like it. The hills are stunning from a distance, dark but not foreboding, trees and the remnants of fires dotting the landscape. The lakes are gorgeous, the Needles Highway a winding path through spindly mountains and rocks. Nearby, the Badlands rise like sandy-colored castles from the dry ground. Above that, the biggest expanse of sky you’ll ever see, with magnificent clouds dotting the blue landscape.

I took Ben to my favorite childhood destinations, introduced him to the whip-smart and wonderful great-aunts on my mother’s side, mixed up simple salads to share at big family meals. We saw uncles and aunts and cousins suddently all grown up, played cards, ate plenty of ice cream, drank beers in the afternoon, picnicked by lakes. We visited places I hadn’t been in years, like Mount Rushmore and the Badlands, savored slices of my grandma’s amazing rhubarb pie and taught Ben the art of making peanut bars, a Ladenburger institution.

Peanut Bars | Delightful CrumbLake picnic | Delightful CrumbRhubarb pie | Delightful CrumbIn the long tradition of my childhood, we drove to Custer State Park and stayed in the same little Lincoln-Log cabins charmingly tucked into the pines at Blue Bell Lodge, where we’ve stayed for years. Per our tradition, we went around and around the Wildlife Loop, seeing buffalo by the hundreds, big horn sheep, antelope, deer, chirping prairie dogs (my childhood favorite), majestic elk.

I’ve been to South Dakota a few times in the last several years, but it had been quite a while since my last visit to Blue Bell, and I was struck by the partial accuracy of my memories. When Ben and I walked around the lodge property, I was surprised to see that there were not so many cabins as in my memory, and an end to the campground well before I expected it. I have a vivid memory of dinner at one of the park lodges, and of the gift shop my sister and I would peruse with enthusiasm. I couldn’t find either spot—it turns out that the places in my mind are amalgamations of many.

Our memories, I recently learned, are altered each time they’re recalled, given a new filter as they’re remembered, then locked away as a new version. It’s unnerving in a way, and it makes me plenty nostalgic—we really can’t get anything back. But even with the details off, my memories told the right story: of comfort; of feeling so very small in a big, beautiful place; of adventure; of the magic of a land with endless sky and roaming buffalo. And some things do stay the same: bison really are epic creatures, the breeze feels a certain way at dusk up in the hills, my grandmother’s peanut bars are something to behold, my late grandfather’s myriad collections decorate the basement, that sweet little house smells just exactly the same.

There’s a song my mother sang to me while putting me to bed when I was small, a song her mother sang to her. When I’m feeling sentimental or lonely for my family and the comfort of what’s familiar, it circles through my mind: Take me back to the Black Hills, the Black Hills of South Dakota, where the pines are so high that they reach the sky above. I think it’s the most beautiful thing, evoking all of the magic of the place, of safety, of glory like summertime.

Sylvan Lake | Delightful Crumb Bison | Delightful Crumb