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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

Simple Summer Bliss | Strawberry & Mozzarella Salad

Simple Summer Bliss | Strawberry & Mozzarella Salad

Strawberry & Mozzarella Salad | Delightful CrumbI’m smitten with summer. There’s no time so carefree as this, when the weather itself cries out for us to step back and set aside our obligations—real and imagined—in order to just enjoy the season, the place we’re in, the people around us. I welcome the reminder, and I try to give in whenever possible. To this end, I’ve been making the simplest of meals of late: boiled Romano beans and fingerling potatoes finished with plenty of olive oil and sea salt alongside a hunk of good cheese; big salads; thickly sliced tomatoes with olive oil and balsamic served with fresh bread to fill our bellies and soak up the dressing; avocado toast with Aleppo pepper and lots of herbs. These dishes, I find, go wonderfully with such things as porches and glasses of wine and lingering evenings, when even the sun stays out late to enjoy the glory of the season.

I am one who is often stressed and slow to relax. I have very long to-do lists and require a solid thirty-six hours of vacation to truly calm down. I’m working on these tendencies. Summertime helps. But so does my cooking philosophy. I cook very simply most days, starting with the produce that catches my eye at the market or has just sprung into season and turning it into a meal with the help of a few usual suspects: great olive oil, lemon juice, fresh herbs, black pepper, flaky salt. I turn to nuts, seeds, interesting cheeses, good toasted bread, beans, legumes and eggs to bulk things up, and much of the time, that’s it! I’m giving away my secrets here, but frankly, I’m happy to share. Believing that meals can be so simple as this is freeing. It has the power to make cooking so much less intimidating, which it truly ought to be.

As some of you might know, I write a little column on this very subject for Edible San Francisco (a wonderful publication that’s fearlessly pulled together by editor Bruce Cole and consistently full of solid content—I’m honored to be part of it!). Called “Simple Recipes for the Season,” my piece is tucked into the back spread of the magazine, charmingly illustrated by the very talented Heather Hardison. Every season, I share a handful of recipes centered around the freshest goods of the moment. And they really are simple—no ingredient lists or measurements, just a few instructions and a pretty illustration. Since this is how I love to cook, the assignment is bliss.

As I wrote my summer recipes (keep your eyes peeled for that issue, coming soon!), I realized that I should share more of these little gems on my site. You can find a smattering of my past recipes here, and what follows comes from spring’s issue.

I’m planning to offer more simple recipes throughout the summer, as I’ve always got more of these up my sleeve. While not the most innovative or shocking of recipes, they are (along with baked goods, of course) the ones that make me happiest. I hope you’ll find yourself feeling the same.

Strawberry & Mozzarella Salad

Originally published in the Spring 2015 Edible San Francisco

I have been making this salad for over a year now, and I am still just as smitten with the combination as the day I stumbled upon it. If you have a reduced balsamic vinegar (or want to reduce it yourself!), that would be, perhaps, even better. If you don’t have mozzarella on hand, use Feta or goat cheese. If you can’t find sunflower sprouts, swap in another type of sprout, or try a soft green herb like mint, parsley, chervil or basil. Arugula would be lovely as well. Be sure to serve this with good bread so you can finish off the remnants of the dressing once you’ve gobbled up the salad.

Tear mozzarella into bite-sized pieces. Arrange the pieces on a plate along with hulled, sliced strawberries. Generously drizzle the salad with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Finish with flaky sea salt, cracked pepper and a big handful of sunflower sprouts.

Familiar Rhythms | Stewed Favas, Peas & Little Gems with Parmesan Rice

Familiar Rhythms | Stewed Favas, Peas & Little Gems with Parmesan Rice

Ottolenghi's Spring Stew | Delightful CrumbIt’s comforting to find myself falling back into the familiar rhythms of a season—to be reminded that though time passes, some things really do stay the same. In recent weeks, I have arranged my stone fruit on the counter for optimal ripening, with no fruit touching another; plunged bouquets of herbs into water to decorate the counter as well as our meals; shucked corn; trimmed slender green beans; sliced the rind off a watermelon—tasks that hadn’t been mine for months. Spring produce always brings the first reminders: of warmer days, unmatchable produce, easy evenings. As I shell peas and favas, I realize my fingers remember the motions, swiftly popping out the vibrant gems as though no time had gone by since last I took on this project. Like clockwork, I question the reasonableness of all of this trouble I’m going to…until I sit down to eat. I’m smitten with these funny beans and spherical seeds, both among my favorite foods, so bright and delicious and tasting perfectly of the season. I love them just as much this year as the last.

But it’s not just the rhythms of cooking and eating that I recall. A week ago, I made a simple dinner, tossing the first cherry tomatoes of the season together with sliced nectarines and balsamic and torn leaves of basil, marinating freshly cooked cannellini beans with olive oil and thyme, combining pasta with English peas, goat cheese and lemon. It was the first proper summer meal I’d made this year, at least as evaluated by my personal rubric for such things. As we kicked up our feet, glasses of rosé in hand, I suddenly realized how distinctly I recognized the feeling: of how very easy summertime can be, of the glories of simple dinners, of produce that really doesn’t need anything to be the most perfect version of itself, of how very nice it is to eat dinner before the sun has sunk beneath the horizon. There are few things so glorious and hopeful and wonderfully quiet as all this.

We’re all aware by now, I think, that Yotam Ottolenghi just doesn’t disappoint, so I probably don’t need to say a thing about this recipe, except that it fits perfectly with all that I’ve said above. But in order to make it abundantly clear, I will tell you that it captures the best of springtime produce and embraces the spirit of those sweet lingering evenings the season provides. This is a perfect meal for these last days of spring, before the favas and peas make way for figs and tomatoes and summer squash galore. The stew is simple, an optimal, minimally disruptive way to highlight beautiful produce, and the Parmesan rice is an appropriately rich counterpart. I hope you’ll give this one a try, with gratitude for familiar rhythms and eager anticipation of long, lazy summer nights.

Ottolenghi's Spring Stew | Delightful Crumb

Stewed Fava Beans, Peas & Little Gems with Parmesan Rice

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty More

Serves 4 (or 2 with leftover rice, if you are very hungry)

FOR THE STEW

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra to finish

3 cloves garlic, sliced

10 green onions, white and green parts, cut on the diagonal into slices 3/4-inch long

1 pound fresh fava beans (weight in pods), shelled, blanched and skins removed

1 pound fresh green peas (weight in pods), shelled

2 cups vegetable stock

4 sprigs fresh thyme

2 – 3 heads Little Gem lettuce (depending on their size and the number of eaters), ends removed and quartered lengthwise

2/3 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus additional

Freshly cracked black pepper

FOR THE RICE

1 1/3 cups short grain brown rice (or use your favorite type of rice)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus extra for finishing if desired

3/4 cup (80 grams) grated Parmesan

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

Start with the rice. Place the rice, 1 tablespoon butter and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a saucepan over high heat and stir as the butter melts and the rice warms. Add 2 1/3 cups boiling water (or the amount appropriate for the type of rice you’ve chosen). Turn down the heat and simmer, covered, for about 40 minutes (or the amount of time required for the type of rice you’re using). Once the rice is cooked, with all of the liquid absorbed, remove from the heat and leave covered for another 10 minutes.

While the rice cooks, start the stewed vegetables. In a large pot or a very large sauté pan, warm the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and green onions and sauté for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they start taking on some color. Add the fava beans and cook for another 4 minutes. Add the peas, 1 1/2 cups stock, thyme, salt and a generous grind of black pepper. The vegetables should be well covered; add more stock if needed. Bring to a low simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Add the lettuce and cook for another 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. The dish is ready when the lettuce hearts have softened but aren’t soggy and you are left with about half of the stock. Remove and discard the thyme. Taste for salt and adjust if necessary, then stir in the mint.

To the hot rice, add the Parmesan and additional butter, if desired, and fluff with a fork. Stir in the lemon juice.

To serve, spoon the rice into bowls. Ladle vegetables and broth over top. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil, a bit more black pepper and the lemon zest.

Set Aside the Questions | Meringue with Berries & Cream

Set Aside the Questions | Meringue with Berries & Cream

Meringue with Berries & Cream | Delightful CrumbI’ve come to the realization in the past few years that I am one of those people who wants everything there is to be had out of life. I hate missing out, and I love knowing things. And I’d really like to have it all: the grounded life and the big adventures, the professional climb and quiet domesticity, the cohesive and serious whole and all of the delicious-yet-frivolous bits. I try to balance these where I can, wondering all the while if it would be better to just choose and go in one direction, full force.

A couple of dear friends of mine recently visited the Bay Area, and we spent an amazing afternoon wandering through the Ferry Building, eating delicious Vietnamese food from Out the Door while gazing at the Bay, walking down the Embarcadero, drinking cocktails on the sunny, marble-encased back patio at Trou Normand, working our way through so many conversations. I remembered how lovely it is to have an unstructured, unplanned afternoon to laze away with friends in the sunshine. And I remembered, too, that I’m not alone in asking those questions, in trying desperately to live a thoughtful, generous, giving life in an increasingly fast-paced (and complicated as always) world.

I’ve had different versions of the same conversation with all of my closest friends: let’s gather up all of our favorite people and make a way to live together, a little like a commune but not quite, avoiding the traps of modernity and pooling our resources so that the world doesn’t feel so stupidly unaffordable. Maybe in an apartment building in the city, with a downstairs classroom for our future children, or maybe on a big piece of farmland, with space for each one of us and opportunities to contribute our own unique skills for the good of the whole. It’s appealing. Because we’re not so sure about the rat race, and we’re not so sure about disengaging altogether, and we’re not so sure about going it alone. We don’t want to sell out or burn out, and we’d love to have some degree of professional success alongside happy families and healthy relationships.

I know we can’t actually have it all. I’m also quite certain that the loving, generous, balanced-as-possible life seems to be the right one. It can look a million different ways. But if we burn out in pursuit of glory, with nothing left to give to the people we love, success won’t be worth a damn thing.

And I also know—and have been reminded anew by both Sufjan Stevens and my aunt—that ultimately, what we’ve got to do is be grateful and stop worrying and forget about the dirty dishes and concentrate on seeing and go to bed early to quietly contemplate and embrace those we love over and over again and drink wine in the afternoon.

Perhaps what we really ought to do is set aside the questions altogether.

Because if I must choose, it is quite clear what I want: to be present and grateful, enjoying whatever it is that’s right in front of me, not lost in the weeds, not catastrophizing about the unknown future … just living.

Meringue with Berries & Cream | Delightful Crumb Meringue with Berries & Cream | Delightful CrumbThis is the sort of dessert that embraces the moment right at hand, blissfully and without pretense. When I first tasted it—the glorious combination of meringue, whipped cream and fresh berries—I laughed out loud. It is truly delightful, in the way only things with cream on them can be. But even better, because of the summery fruit and varied textures and wonderful frivolity of the whole thing. Plus, I rolled it up, which of course left me with cream on my fingers and filling sliding out the edges, a mess that could be called rustic but need not be, since we’re not worrying about such things, remember?

I don’t have the answers, let alone a five-year plan. But I do have whipped cream on my fingers and dessert for the masses and fresh laughter in my heart. I do have this, this bliss that sings through the questions and chaos. And today, that’s more than enough.

Meringue with Berries & Cream | Delightful Crumb

Meringue with Red Berries & Cream

Adapted (just barely) from Nigel Slater’s Ripe

Serves 6 – 8

Neutral oil, for brushing

6 large egg whites

1 1/3 cups (280 grams) superfine sugar, plus more for dusting

1 heaping tablespoon tapioca starch (or cornstarch)

1 teaspoon white wine (or other mild) vinegar

A handful of chopped or sliced almonds

1 1/4 cups heavy cream

About 3 1/2 cups (400 grams) sliced strawberries (or raspberries)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a 13 by 9 1/2-inch (approx.) rectangular or jelly-roll pan with parchment paper, bringing the paper up the sides of the pan. Brush lightly with oil.

Put the egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk at high speed until light, fluffy and stiff. Gradually add the sugar, continuing to whisk the whole time. Fold in the tapioca starch and vinegar. Pour the mixture into the lined pan, smoothing it evenly, then scatter with the almonds. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the heat down to 325 degrees and cook for about 15 minutes more, until the meringue is golden on top. (Mine rose quite significantly, then fell—don’t worry if this happens to you, as it turned out perfectly!) Remove from the oven.

Place a sheet of parchment on a work surface, dust it with sugar and tip the meringue upside down onto the paper. The meringue should fall out with the lining paper. Gently peel the paper from the meringue, cover it lightly with plastic wrap or parchment and leave to cool.

Pour the cream into a bowl (cool if possible) and whip lightly, so that it almost stands in peaks. Peal the plastic off the meringue. Spread the cream over the meringue, smoothing it nearly to the edges with an offset spatula. Scatter the berries over the cream.

Take the long edge nearest you and roll the meringue up gently but tightly, like a roulade. Don’t worry if some of the cream and berries slide out the edges; it’s prettier that way, after all. Transfer to a long serving platter and allow to settle for at least a half hour before serving.