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Summery Nasturtium Salad

Summery Nasturtium Salad

Nasturtium Salad | Delightful CrumbHappy summer, folks! The light is lingering late into the evening, and there’s produce aplenty at the market. This is the time for easy dinners, big salads and rosé, and I’m all the more energized about the season after visiting my family in Michigan—there is no summer quite like a Michigan summer. My parents have a beautiful backyard and a deck that’s perfect for lingering, where you can draw out meals for as many hours as is reasonable, which in my mind is many. We ate salads and spring toasts, homemade sushi and paella, this almond cake and Yossy’s rhubarb rye upside-down cake—and much more, always lingering.

While I was at my parents’ house, my mom mentioned that her nasturtium plant had a few flowers that someone could throw on a salad if so inclined. Since I learned my nasturtium-plant eating from my pal Kimberley, I knew only what she taught me, which is that you can eat it all—flowers, leaves, a bit of stem if it gets in the bowl. I asked before I picked, of course, but I did surprise the table a bit with the plant-on-a-platter at the dinner table. Nasturtium leaves are peppery and bright, and, along with making for a lovely presentation, the flowers have a little sweetness.

I don’t know what percentage of the population this might apply to, but if you have a nasturtium plant that you just can’t keep in check, this is just the recipe for you! Even if you have a more modestly, prettily producing nasturtium plant, this makes a nice little salad for two. Throw in some spinach or arugula if you’d like to take it further. And even if neither situation applies to you, the dressing is a simple gem that would be good on anything.

Even though a pretty photo of this recipe graces the cover of Kimberley’s cookbook, without a nasturtium plant at my disposal, I hadn’t really thought about it since the summer I assisted her with the burgeoning book project, three (!) summers ago. And now I really want a nasturtium plant. What’s better than something cute, abundant and good for salad? Not much, if you ask me.

Nasturtium Salad

Adapted from Kimberley Hasselbrink’s Vibrant Food

If you don’t have a nasturtium plant at your disposal, substitute arugula, watercress or spinach. Goat cheese would stand in well here, too, if you prefer it to blue and feta.

Serves 2 to 4

1 1/2 teaspoons champagne vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons minced shallot

1 1/2 teaspoons honey

1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

sea salt

freshly cracked black pepper

1/4 cup sunflower seeds, toasted

4 cups firmly packed nasturtium leaves

2 small pluots or apricots, or 4 dates, pitted and sliced lengthwise

1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese or feta

Petals from 4 or 5 nasturtium flowers

To make the vinaigrette, in a small bowl or jar, whisk together the vinegar, shallot, honey and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Toss the nasturtium leaves with the vinaigrette, then arrange on a platter or in a serving bowl. Top with the sunflower seeds, fruit slices, cheese and nasturtium petals.

Ludington pier | Delightful Crumb

Lake Michigan sunset | Delightful Crumb

Being Here | Spring Pea & Ricotta Toasts

Being Here | Spring Pea & Ricotta Toasts

Spring Pea & Ricotta Toast | Delightful CrumbSeveral weeks ago, I hosted a festive spring dinner party. Ben was out of town, and I wanted to take advantage of having the apartment to myself (with, you know, something more substantive than several solo glasses of wine and a Gilmore Girls marathon). I invited a bunch of my favorite women, and the ones who could make it did, a serendipitous group. I made a big batch of a spritz in punch form, and picked up a magnum of a favorite wine, a fresh Cab Fanc called Herluberlu. The meal was springtime perfection: chilled avocado soup, tortilla española, pea and ricotta crostini, a huge salad with radishes and toasted almonds and a mustardy vinaigrette. I baked a simple cake filled with a reasonable quantity of jam and an inordinate amount of whipped cream, which spilled out the sides and onto the cake plate in billowing waves. It seemed like too much cream but wasn’t, of course, and I was reminded how good it is to have girlfriends who eat.

My friends gathered in the kitchen and drank punch and ate cheese and chatted while I finished the salad and escaped to the other room to stand on a chair and take a picture of these toasts. Then we sat at the table and stayed for hours, talking and laughing and reaching for seconds.

It was glorious. It was a Tuesday. I felt so alive.

In How to Be Here, Rob Bell writes this:

You and I were raised in a modern world that taught us how to work hard and be productive and show up on time and give it our best…

We learned lots of very valuable skills, but we weren’t taught how to be here, how to be fully present in this moment, how to not be distracted or stressed or worried or anxious, but just be here, and nowhere else—wide awake to the infinite depth and dimension of this exact moment.

It’s not easy, of course. But I feel more hopeful after nights like that one in April, when I actually was in the moment without even trying, even though I hadn’t tidied up the apartment all that much, even though I was still finishing the meal as everyone walked in the door, even though that night’s attempt at a Spanish tortilla fell into the category of very, very rustic.

Sometimes I try so hard—at peace, presence, living well, etc.—that my effort, unconsciously, becomes the point. And yet, by some wild grace, I’m occasionally handed these rare, shining moments when, without even an ounce of effort, my mind stops working in overdrive and I’m reminded that I’m here and it’s good and that’s actually enough.

Says Rob:

This exact interrelated web of people and events and places and memories and desire and love that is your life hasn’t ever existed in the history of the universe.

Welcome to a truly unique phenomenon.

Welcome to the most thrilling thing you will ever do.

The everyday stuff of working hard and doing the laundry and running errands and taking care of our partners/babies/parents and exercising and wrestling with the big questions and dreaming and gathering at the table with the people we love—this is it. This is the story. So let’s dig in and bear witness and do our very best to not miss a thing.

I can tell you this: putting tasty ingredients on good bread, well toasted, results in something that is far more than the sum of its parts. Sometimes, it really is that simple. This may be the only shortcut I know, but thankfully it is a delicious one. Here is my favorite springtime rendition.

Spring Pea & Ricotta Toast | Delightful Crumb

Spring Pea & Ricotta Toast

Serves 4 – 6 as an appetizer or part of a meal

About 2 pounds English peas, shelled

1 lemon

Extra-virgin olive oil


Freshly cracked pepper

1 1/2 cup (about 12 ounces) fresh ricotta

3 green onions, thinly sliced

1/2 stalk green garlic, thinly sliced (if available)

1 small bunch fresh mint, leaves picked and cut in a chiffonade

Sourdough or country bread, cut into 1-inch slices

Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the peas. Cook for about one minute, until the peas are bright green, then drain and allow to cool slightly.

Zest about half of the lemon and stir it into the ricotta along with a tablespoon or so of olive oil, a sprinkling of salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Put the cooked peas into a medium bowl. Add a generous drizzle of olive oil, the juice of the lemon and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Stir to combine, then gently mash the peas with a fork or potato masher. You want to have a variety of textures, with some whole peas, some quite mashed and others in between. Add the green onion, green garlic (if using) and most of the mint, then mix again. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Toast the bread in a 400 degree oven, checking every 5 minutes and flipping at least once. When the slices are well toasted, remove them from the oven. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, tossing with your hands.

To assemble the toasts, put a big dollop of the ricotta mixture on each piece of bread, spreading it thickly to the edges. Top with the pea mixture and finish with extra mint, flaky sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

Even for a Doubter | English Muffin Sandwich

Even for a Doubter | English Muffin Sandwich

English Muffin Sandwich with Fluffy Eggs | Delightful CrumbRecently, Ben and I were eating tacos at our preferred taco spot when a couple sat down at the bar next to us and, soon, received a hearty sandwich each. In what couldn’t have been more than twenty minutes, they managed to consume these sandwiches—serious sandwiches, with lots of melting cheese and hearty proteins and plenty of fixings—drink a couple of beers, have a very efficient conversation and go on their way. I was amazed. I looked down at the remaining one of my two fairly small tacos, which I had been trying to eat as slowly as possible, then at Ben, incredulous. “They’re sandwich people,” he explained.

I am not sandwich people, you see. I’ve just never been a big fan. I know! Such a controversial statement. If you’re actually still reading, you’re probably thinking, Who is this person, and why did I ever trust anything she ever said about eating? I realize that sandwiches are very popular. But they disappear far too quickly for my preference, and they’re so filling. And yes, I do know that this is exactly why most people love them.

I, on the other hand, like my meals long and lingering, and, when given the choice, I would prefer eating a much more significant volume of food than the average sandwich allows. (Vegetarianism, by the way, has served me very well in this regard.) Open-faced sandwiches, however, are totally my jam, as is the practice of deconstructing a sandwich I have been served so that I can eat the individual components. The goal here is to make the meal last, and to leave room for cake if possible.

And yet, there is a time and a place for sandwiches, even for a doubter like me. Sometimes, a person really is that hungry, or in a hurry, or both. But if I’m going to eat a sandwich, it must be delicious, and it must be interesting. Enter the English muffin, with its heartiness, pleasant texture and slight chew. Put that baby in the toaster and it boasts the most distinct and lovely scent, one that reminds me of my childhood. That’s probably because, until recently, I hadn’t eaten one in years, deterred by preservatives and unfamiliar words on the ingredient lists. I did make them from scratch once, which was fun but time consuming and so never repeated. And then, my friend Kimmy started working at Leadbetter’s Bakeshop. She has excellent taste, so I was not surprised to find that these are not just English muffins but very delicious English muffins, things of beauty without any mysterious ingredients. If you are lucky enough to live in the Bay Area, you should definitely seek them out.

But wherever you might obtain your English muffins, once you have them in hand, here’s a sandwich that even the sandwich-averse (i.e., me) can enjoy. It is fitting at any meal, pleasantly filling and highly tasty.

(Also, you can definitely eat this one open face if you want—you’ll be making a mess regardless!)

English Muffin Sandwich with Fluffy Eggs | Delightful Crumb

English Muffin Sandwich with Fluffy Eggs & Avocado

Egg cooking inspiration from Bon Appétit

Serves 1 but easily multiplied (be sure to make the eggs separately for each sandwich)

English muffin (plain, whole grain or multi-grain), like Leadbetter’s

Butter or olive oil, for the pan

2 eggs


Freshly cracked black pepper

Minced chives

Goat cheese, optional

1/2 avocado, roughly mashed (add a squeeze of lemon or lime if you like)

Sriracha or your preferred hot sauce


Get all of your sandwich components ready so that you can construct quickly once the eggs are done. Split the English muffin in half using a fork and start toasting.

To make fluffy folded eggs, melt a pat of butter or drizzle of olive oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Whisk two eggs with a sprinkling of salt and pepper until completely uniform in color and consistency. Add the eggs to the pan and, with a spatula, move them around gently as they cook, as with a soft scramble. When the eggs are nearly cooked but still slightly runny, about 2 minutes, sprinkle some chopped chives atop. If your pan is on the larger side, push the eggs together. Fold them into a half moon, then fold again to form an English muffin-sized, quarter-of-the-pie-shaped package.

Hopefully your English muffin is perfectly toasted at this point, or just before. Spread a thin layer of goat cheese, if using, on one or both sides of the muffin. Pile the mashed avocado on the bottom half of the English muffin, with more on the top half if you like (this is a nice move if you, like me, end up deconstructing the sandwich while eating). Gently set the fluffy eggs atop the avocado. Top with plenty of hot sauce and a generous handful of arugula.

English Muffin Sandwich with Fluffy Eggs | Delightful Crumb

For the Love of Mezze | Stuffed Grape Leaves

For the Love of Mezze | Stuffed Grape Leaves

Stuffed Grape Leaves | Delightful CrumbIt’s March! My goodness, this month snuck up on me. Spring is on the horizon, and life is good. To catch us up quickly, I’ve chosen one thing to say about my rather hectic month of February, which is that I have become obsessed with Michael Solomonov’s cookbook Zahav. And that is what I’m here to tell you about today.

I love this book. I love the stories Solomonov tells about his upbringing and how he arrived at his current understanding and interpretation of Israeli food, which was a gradual process, as most of our thoughtful concepts of culture tend to be. Solomonov was born in Israel, grew up mostly in Pittsburgh, moved begrudgingly back to Israel as a teenager, then returned to the US. When he visited his home country again, it was as an adult and a chef, and he saw Israel’s cuisine in an entirely new light. It isn’t one straightforward set of traditional recipes but instead an amalgamation of many different cultures’ cuisines, he explains, tied together by such values as hospitality and the ritual of sharing a meal, and by the collective experience of those living in what is still a fairly young country. This is what he strives to represent at his Philadelphia restaurant, and it comes through in the cookbook as well.

I also love the food in this book. To be specific, I love the mezze and the salads and the tahini, three things I have long loved with a great, undying passion. I use tahini with abandon and delight in big salads. And if I had my druthers, I would eat a meal of mezze every day. There are few experiences I enjoy more than eating a whole bunch of different dishes at once, the flavors melding, each bite different than the last. An array of dishes makes a meal into an experience, encouraging everyone to linger until the candles burn out, resting in the comfort of the table, while another bottle of wine is opened, signaling that the meal is far from over.

With the guidance of this cookbook, I have discovered the glories of a condiment called schug, baked perfectly puffed pita bread, cooked up a batch of halva (some of which landed in a CAKE, compliments of Ottolenghi), been won over to Solomonov’s method for making the most creamy hummus imaginable and prepared a downright stunning feast of mezze. (Thus far, most everything has worked out well for me, but I also think that Phyllis Grant offers a fair and thoughtful critique over on Food52’s Piglet competition, least I be swept away entirely with the fat salad chapter. At the least, I will definitely be purchasing The Food Lab after reading her glowing review.)

Today, I want to share with you Solomonov’s not-so-traditional recipe for stuffed grape leaves, or dolmades. What struck me about making these was the very fact that I could, with much greater ease than I had expected, followed by the reality that they were delicious. The barley gives them a wonderful chew, the spices are on point and the sweetness and zip of the pomegranate molasses takes them over the top. We ate them as part of an epic, all-Zahav spread of mezze, which I highly recommend if you have the time and inclination to tackle such a project.

Stuffed Grape Leaves with Barley & Pomegranate

Barely adapted from Michael Solomonov’s Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking

Makes 25 – 35 stuffed grape leaves

If you can find fresh grape leaves, blanch them quickly in boiling water. If not, you can find jarred grape leaves at a well-stocked Middle Eastern store. In the Bay Area, I’ve purchased them at Berkeley Bowl.

Next time, I’ll try this with a bit less pomegranate molasses. I didn’t use the entire mixture and felt the finished product could still have been a tiny bit less sweet. The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup, and I’ve given a range below, as I’m quite confident you could go down at least to 1/3 cup and get great flavor with a bit less sweetness.

1 cup barley

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 small bunch kale, stripped from the stems and thinly sliced (about 3 cups)

4 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 cup sunflower oil (or another vegetable oil)

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground fenugreek

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

25 – 35 grape leaves

1/3 – 1/2 cup pomegranate molasses, depending on your preference for sweetness

Put the barley in a large bowl and cover with at least 3 inches of water. Let it soak overnight. Drain.

In a skillet over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the kale and half of the garlic and cook until the kale has wilted, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

In a food processor, combine the remaining garlic, cilantro, vegetable oil, turmeric, fenugreek, cumin, salt and pepper. Puree until a smooth paste forms. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir in the drained barley and cooked kale.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Use a large cutting board as your workstation for filling the grape leaves. For each, spread the grape leaf on the cutting board, stem pointing toward you. Trim off any part of the thick stem that extends below the leaf. Place a heaped teaspoon of the barley mixture on the bottom quarter of the leaf, right on the stem. Fold in both sides of the leaf and roll it up, as you would a burrito or spring roll. Repeat until you run out of filling. Tightly pack the rolled leaves in a baking dish.

Combine the pomegranate molasses with 1 1/2 cups of hot water and whisk to blend. Pour over the stuffed grape leaves. They should be just barely covered. You may not use all of the mixture, or you may need to add a little extra water. Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the stuffed grape leaves are tender all the way through.

Serve warm or at room temperature. The grape leaves will keep for several days in a tightly closed container in the refrigerator.

If we’re lucky | Kabocha, Olive Oil & Chocolate Cake

If we’re lucky | Kabocha, Olive Oil & Chocolate Cake

Gjelina Kabocha Cake | Delightful CrumbThese last few months have felt like an interim to me, a period tucked between the last concrete set of experiences and something else yet to be revealed. I’ve called it by many names: in-between, transition, season, interlude. That’s certainly what it feels like, even now. But a couple of weeks ago, I realized something. It’s quite a bit more likely that this isn’t the in-between of anything. The crystal clear moments, it seems to me, are the rare ones. What I’m experiencing now? Perhaps this is life.

Throughout my childhood—and I know I’m not alone in this—the idea of the in-between was entirely absent. This continued into college, when the path still seemed relatively clear and simple, mostly because I didn’t yet know the wildness of the world, its myriad opportunities, roadblocks, surprises. No one mentioned that my sense of this path might change once I’d left behind the rhythm of an academic calendar, so after college, I kept trying to wrap definitions around the seasons of my life, doing my best to identify what each one was about and where it was taking me. Job applications, waiting, moving, a layoff: these were transitions, hinges between the better, sturdier, more important parts of my life, the ones that made sense. But maybe it’s not a structure I’m building, or even a path that I’m on. Maybe it’s a painting—and an abstract one at that.

Clarity is golden and comfortable but elusive. We live much more of our lives in the hazy space, where direction and purpose and the meaning behind events and experiences aren’t obvious at all.

I was listening to a Dear Sugar podcast today, part of a series in which Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond talk about singleness, finding “the one” and the idea of scarcity. The whole thing is worth a listen, relevant as it is to the current state of relationships. In this particular podcast, they spoke with Kate Bolick, author of Spinster. For a long time, Bolick explains, she looked at her life through the binary of single v. married, waiting to see which it would be. As she writes to open the book, “Whom to marry, and when will it happen—these two questions define every woman’s existence.” But then one day, when she was about thirty-five, she woke up and thought, What am I waiting for? She realized that her life, as it stood at that moment, was fantastic. She didn’t need to wait for a life partner for the story to begin. It was a great life already.

The principle applies here, too. This moment is pretty great, in its own weird way, and I’d hate to miss it. It’s taking me an awfully long time, but I’m gradually coming to terms with the fact that life doesn’t always—or rather, doesn’t usually—make sense in the logical, all-the-puzzle-pieces-fit way I once expected. The truth, I think, is that sometimes we just wait, doing our best to set aside anxiety around the question of what it is we are waiting for. We carry on. Celebrate what we have and know, right now. Enjoy it to the extent that we can. And, if we’re lucky, eat cake.

Gjelina Kabocha Cake | Delightful Crumb

Kabocha, Olive Oil & Bittersweet Chocolate Loaf Cake

Adapted from Travis Lett’s Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California

On our trip to LA last spring, Gjusta Bakery, sister project to Gjelina and also owned by Travis Lett, was the one place we visited twice. If LA wasn’t so full of incredible things to eat, I could have gone every day, multiple times. It’s that good. This is a beautiful cookbook, full of the sort of vibrant dishes that put Gjelina and Gjusta Bakery on the map, from creative vegetable dishes to epic mushroom toast to this sturdy, flavorful cake.

The glaze puts this cake more in the tea time/dessert category for me, so you could leave it off if you want a less decadent breakfast treat. However, I think the decadence would be worth it, even at breakfast, because it’s a fantastic touch. The pepitas and cacao nibs lend great texture, and it’s gorgeous to boot. The original recipe calls for kabocha squash, but since I’m no longer finding that variety at my market, I used butternut, which was delicious. I am sure acorn squash or pumpkin would cooperate here as well. Draining the roasted squash is a great trick, and the deeper flavor and lovely crumb that result are worth the extra wait.

Serves 8 to 10

One 1-lb (455-g) piece kabocha or butternut squash, seeded

Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling, plus 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon (255 ml)

Butter, for the pan

1 1/2 cups (180 g) all-purpose flour (or use half all-purpose and half white whole wheat or whole wheat pastry)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg

3/4 teaspoons kosher salt

1 cup (200 g) to 1 1/3 cups (265 g) natural cane sugar, depending on your preference for sweetness and your choice of squash

3 large eggs, lightly whisked

8 ounces (230 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

3 tablespoons raw pepitas


1 1/4 cups (150 g) confectioners’ sugar, plus more as needed

2 tablespoons hot water, plus more as needed

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons lightly crushed cacao nibs

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. On a baking sheet, drizzle the squash with olive oil, turn the piece cut-side down and cook until very soft and beginning to caramelize around the edges, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Scrape out the squash flesh and transfer to a food processor. Pulse until smooth.

Place a large piece of cheesecloth in a colander set over a bowl. Put the puréed squash in the cheesecloth and wrap tightly. Allow the squash to drain at least 4 hours, or up to overnight. Squeeze by twisting the cheesecloth to remove any excess water. Unwrap the drained squash and measure out 1 cup (225 g). You can do this up to a few days ahead of baking. Leftover squash can also be saved; keep it in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the sugar, olive oil, squash purée and eggs. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the squash mixture. Whisk until just combined, taking care not to overmix. Stir in the chopped chocolate.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until browned on top and a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 75 to 90 minutes. If it is browning too quickly, tent with foil. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Then, run a knife around the edges and invert the cake from the pan. Let cool on the rack for another 20 minutes.

In a small, dry frying pan over medium heat, gently toast the pepitas until fragrant and beginning to brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Make the glaze. In a small bowl, whisk the confectioners’ sugar with 2 tablespoons hot water until you have a thick glaze. Add more confectioners’ sugar or water as needed to create a smooth glaze with a thickness reminiscent of honey. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly.

Place a sheet of parchment paper beneath the cooling rack. Pour the glaze over the cake, allowing it to drip over the sides. Sprinkle with the cacao nibs and toasted pepitas and let the glaze set completely before serving, about 1 hour.

The cake will keep in an airtight container for several days. It also freezes well.

Gjelina Kabocha Cake | Delightful Crumb