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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.

The Case for Everyday Cake

The Case for Everyday Cake

Everyday Cake | Delightful CrumbI am a firm believer in cake—in particular, everyday cake. I’ve always had a sweet tooth, so I’m sure I could have been compelled by the concept very early on. Yet I trace my allegiance to a time further down the line: those post-college years that were so formative for me, when I was working my first real job, living in an apartment all my own and learning how to live as an adult in the great big real world. It was a strange time, as I think that season is for everyone, yet perhaps particularly so for those of us who graduated smack in the middle of the recession.

I sorted out the surprising challenges of just living over inexpensive bottles of red wine shared with friends, devoured food blogs on my lunch break and spent most of my free hours in the kitchen or on long runs around my city. My day job was frustrating but terrifically formative. Come 5pm, though, I was free. I would go to yoga or run a few errands, then go home to a space that was all mine. I remember making the same gingery garbanzo bean and arugula dish in my kitchen night after night, reveling in the rather new experience of creating something delicious all by myself for my own enjoyment, while streaming NPR broadcasts from the day. On the weekends, I went to the farmer’s market, established my regular haunts and identified all of the best pastries in town. When Monday rolled back around, I ate my morning oatmeal in my tiny kitchen with its bright orange walls, leaning up against the little hutch that held my then-small collection of cookbooks and treasured glass bowls from Spain. I learned what it felt like to have a routine. I met amazing people. I discovered fancy cheese. I slogged through cold winters. I struggled to get out of bed in the morning to do it all again.

There’s a particular part of myself that I found during that season. As strange and trying as those years might have been, I can’t help but think fondly of them. When I go back to the blog I kept at that time, I typically end up in tears. I remember so vividly what I felt, as I built my life and grasped for truth and experienced the grandness and strangeness and horror and mystery of living.

Last month, Anne Lamott posted something on Facebook that I imagine many of you have read by now. It was a smattering of thoughts prompted by her approaching birthday. I loved so much of it, but there was one section that jumped out at me, and when I tried to read it aloud to Ben, I started crying, but laughing, too, just so very relieved that I’m not the only one:

[Life] has been a very bad match for those of us who were born extremely sensitive. It is so hard and weird that we wonder if we are being punked. And it is filled with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together.

I’ve become both wiser and more anxious with each passing year. The longer we live, I’m realizing now, the more attached we become to the people around us, our communities, this crazy wild beautiful world we’re living in. Getting married really did me in. I thought I understood what it meant to be attached to someone, but I didn’t; I didn’t have a clue. I’m all wrapped up in Ben’s life, and he in mine. I know I’m still the strong adult human being I was before, but I’m also pretty dang attached. And we’re so incredibly fragile. My heart has been broken watching tragedy unfold out of nowhere, both in the lives of people I love and in far away places I’ve never been. I hate it when Ben steps on an airplane without me. It’s wild that we would dare to love each other at all.

Yes, Anne Lamott. I do. I do feel like I’m being punked.

Yet. Here I am. What is a person to do, but to live and love as best she can, to revel in that which is beautiful, to dance without inhibition, to chase after the things that make her blood run, to remind herself over and over again that all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well?

Which brings us to everyday cake. It was during those aforementioned formative years that I discovered Molly Wizenberg’s blog, Orangette, and with it her rendition of Edna Lewis’ everyday cake. I also found Deb’s Blueberry Boy Bait, and a whole slew of everyday cakes in her archives. Melissa Clark calls it snacking cake, another perfectly acceptable name. You may be familiar with French yogurt cake, which falls into the category, and there’s a whole subset that involves crumb toppings, as well as a slightly distant cousin characterized by fruit and caramelization and flipping. Shape matters not; throw the same batter into a loaf pan for something you could just as accurately call quick bread.

I’d had no idea that everyday cake was a thing! I had never been all that into cake—or, more accurately, I’d never been into the overly sweet, dense, buttercream-topped cake we’re accustomed to eating at weddings—but this was right up my alley. I’d bake up a cake over the weekend, then take thick slabs to work for late morning snacks and slice off thin pieces late at night, one after another, dancing around my very own kitchen, putting off the task of going to bed. The cake would last me the week, perhaps with some stashed in the freezer for a later date. And then a new recipe would catch my eye, or some new produce would hit the market stalls, and I’d begin again.

As I was learning and continue to learn, life is hard and complicated and weird and wonderful. And that’s okay. And this right here is the sort of thing that gets us through.

Everyday Cake | Delightful Crumb

(The Very Best) Everyday Cake

Adapted from Molly Wizenberg, who was inspired by Edna Lewis

Serves 8 to 10

I posted this on the blog I kept for a few years after college, the one that led to the birth of Delightful Crumb, but it seems high time for a revival. Considering the degree to which I adore this recipe, it feels essential to have record of it here. This is the simplest and best cake I know.

The cake bakes up with a slightly crisp top and perfect crumb (delightful, dare I say?). I love it most when consumed in the late morning or early afternoon, paired with a steaming mug of coffee or tea. But it’s also wonderful for dessert—with ice cream, whipped cream or honeyed yogurt and a dollop of compote or slices of fresh fruit if that’s what strikes your fancy. Speaking of embellishments, you can also toss a handful of fruit into the batter at the last minute with great results.

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, plus additional for the pan, at room temperature

1 cup cane sugar (you can reduce this down to 3/4 cup if you like things less sweet)

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups white whole wheat flour (or, use 1 cup all-purpose + 1 cup white whole wheat, whole wheat pastry, whole wheat or barley flour)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

A few gratings of nutmeg, or to taste

1/2 cup plain yogurt (anything from nonfat to full fat will do, and Greek yogurt works just as well as French style)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or with an electric mixer in a large bowl, blend the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. One by one, add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat to blend.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour(s), baking powder, salt and nutmeg.

Add about 1/4 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat on low to incorporate. Add 1/3 of the yogurt and beat again. Add the remaining dry mixture in three more doses, alternating each time with a bit of yogurt and beating just to combine. With a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl and stir to incorporate any flour not yet absorbed.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly across the top. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (Check the cake after 20 minutes. If it’s browning too quickly, tent with aluminum foil.) Cool in the pan for about 20 minutes, then remove the sides of the pan and continue to cool.

Serve at room temperature, or slightly warm. The cake will keep for several days, wrapped tightly in plastic.

LA Eats & Other Notes

LA Eats & Other Notes

Gjelina | Delightful CrumbWe went to LA earlier this month, over Ben’s spring break. We figured that I, too, should take advantage of this vacation prompt, a key perk of being and/or partnering up with a teacher. It was my first time to LA, if you can believe it, and there was so much to eat and enjoy. I only scratched the surface of my list of restaurants to visit, but I ate my way through enough that I feel confident saying that LA is full of really fantastic, thoughtful and creative food. I was thoroughly impressed.

We took the long and most beautiful way there, down the epic coastline of Highway 1. This, of course, meant that we stopped at Big Sur Bakery along the way for a pastry and espresso. I love Big Sur, with its stunning coastline, thick forests and enchanting views. I am blown away every single time I’m there—it’s one of the most beautiful places I know.

Big Sur Bakery | Delightful CrumbBig Sur | Delightful CrumbOn the recommendation of our pals Celia and Joe, they of the most impeccable taste, we stayed one night in Santa Barbara wine country, by the little towns of Los Olivos and Solvang. We drank some delicious wine, ate grilled artichokes at the very charming, very rural Hitching Post, tasted Danish aebleskiver in Solvang and fell in love with the tiny and utterly adorable intersection that is downtown Los Olivos.

Foley Estates | Delightful Crumb Aebleskiver | Delightful CrumbAnd then, LA! What a city. Growing up far away from California, most of what I heard about LA was negative or at least hyperbolic, focusing mainly on traffic, Hollywood and fanciness. Obviously, I know enough great people who’ve lived in LA to recognize that there’s a whole lot more to this city than that, but not until this visit did I experience the nuances myself—the varied neighborhoods, the gorgeous canals in Venice, several stunning bakeries (I ate some damn fine carbohydrates for a city so famous for its juicing), the wild ocean. It’s a huge city, after all, and so here is a place where one can find a bit of everything.

We stayed in Venice and kept most of our exploration to that neighborhood and Santa Monica alongside it. Venice was darling—weird, sure, but not more so than our own quirky Oakland.

Venice, CA | Delightful CrumbOne of our first meals was at Rustic Canyon Wine Bar & Seasonal Kitchen, which had first crossed my radar when Zoe Nathan’s cookbook, Huckleberry, came out last year. It’s a lovely book with flawless recipes. I was charmed by Zoe’s story, too, which I heard when she did a book event at Omnivore: she and her husband, Josh Loeb, met when she was working at Rustic Canyon, his restaurant. On top of this, I’d been hearing great things about Jeremy Fox, Rustic Canyon’s chef. His Instagram account is a stunner, and I was incredibly compelled by the excellent story about him recently published by Lucky Peach. All that considered, it’s not surprising that this meal was one of our best. The food was flawless—inventiveness and simplicity perfectly balanced. Highlights included the Marcona almonds with lavender sugar, a beet dish with charred strawberry, avocado and pistachio “soil” (below) and clam pozole verde.

Our bellies full, we made our way toward the water, wandering through the fancy Third Street Promenade, then down to the pier, where we made a split-second (and excellent) decision to ride the ferris wheel. We ended the night drinking our whiskey cocktails of choice on a fancy rooftop bar. We probably could have gone home right then, vacation bliss achieved, though I’m glad we didn’t.

Rustic Canyon | Delightful Crumb Santa Monica pier | Delightful CrumbMy favorite mornings were the ones that began at Gjusta Bakery, the only place we visited twice. The first time we went, I was saving room for lunch and couldn’t eat nearly as much as I wished, so I insisted we return. From the pastries to the smoothies and juices to the savory breakfast options, everything was wonderful. On our second visit, we shared a plate of beans, greens and fried eggs with green harissa and toast, a simple dish similar to what I might make at home but absolutely perfect, and not made by me, and consumed on the patio in the sunshine while on vacation…and therefore glorious.

Gjusta Bakery | Delightful CrumbGjusta Bakery | Delightful CrumbWe ventured well into the city just once, so that I could go to the LA Good Eggs hub and work with my usually far-off coworkers for a day. For lunch, the lovely gals on my team brought me to Sqirl, which was all I had hoped for and more. Everything I tasted was amazing: turmeric tonic, the famed toast (thickest I’ve ever seen!) draped in ricotta and strawberry-thyme jam, kabbouleh and a slice of raspberry olive oil cake. I am rarely happier than when I eat a big salad and cake for lunch, so I was quite pleased indeed.

Sqirl | Delightful Crumb Sqirl | Delightful CrumbOther great stops included Pizzeria Mozza, where we ate the most perfect white bean bruschetta I’ve yet to taste (as well as pizza, chopped salad and butterscotch budino, of course), Huckleberry Bakery & Cafe (as sweet as I’d imagined), Superba Food & Bread and Gjelina (pictured all the way up top and classy as all get out).

While the food was epic, I’d have to say that the best day of our trip was spent biking the boardwalk all the way from Venice to Santa Monica, then splashing around in the Pacific and collapsing on the sunny beach. There’s nothing like the crashing waves of the ocean to make a girl feel wonderfully small, with problems not nearly so overwhelming as I usually think. I’m trying to bring that calm home. Everything is better when I take a breath and really enjoy it.

Pacific Ocean | Delightful Crumb

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!