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California | Simple Citrus Salad

Simple Citrus Salad | Delightful Crumb

This winter, I finally fell in love with California. I fell in love with its weirdly shaped trees and rainy winters, with the dark gray clouds that hover over the hills and the open skies, with the character in the buildings and the earth, reflecting the rough edges and free spirits of the many people who’ve “escaped” over the years to this wild coast. I’m angry about the ways tech and gentrification have smoothed that quirky landscape, always saying how I wish I could have seen this place in the 70s, but if I can get over my righteous indignation, I can see that it’s still there—just hiding a bit, beneath the overabundance of avocado toast and Google buses and extra straight white people, like me.

In the Bay Area, when it rains through fall and winter, the sky is painted shades of gray but everything else is in technicolor—lime-green grass, palm trees, chiseled succulents, smooth white Calla Lilies and otherworldly Birds of Paradise. In November, on a trip to Chicago, I suddenly remembered that there aren’t stucco houses in a rainbow pastel palette everywhere in America.

The first years we were here, the beauty of California felt oppressive. I couldn’t enjoy the Bay Area because everything I’d experienced here felt so hard, so unwelcoming—like maybe California didn’t want me at all. When my life wasn’t going as I’d hoped or planned, all that gorgeousness felt like a smack in the face. Who wouldn’t be happy in a place this beautiful, it seemed to smirk, and my heart kept beating me me me. I’d never lived somewhere like this, in a cool-kid town where the weather was stunning. I guess I thought that might change things—change me.

The truth, as it tends to be, is twofold. Even in California, I’m still me, someone who finds life profoundly complicated. I will never be a person who’s happy all the time; no amount of sunshine can alter my disposition. And I’m not from Oakland. My roots shape me just like this city does its own natives.

And, of course, I’m a multi-faceted human being, not a puzzle piece that either fits or doesn’t. California is beautiful. But we all know that beauty is never enough for true love. My relationship with this state will never be simple; I realize that now.

But I have changed, and some of it is Bay Area specific. I learned to cook with the glorious year-round produce, taking locality much further in my kitchen. In trying seasons between jobs, uncertainty propelled me to the kitchen, where the area’s abundance offered endless inspiration. I’ve become someone who wants to escape to the ocean for respite. Living somewhere so diverse, I’ve been stretched; I’ve dealt with the implications of race more than I ever had to before. I’ve forged beautiful friendships, with people who have changed me. Ben and I grew into partners here, solidifying what it means to be us.

And then there’s all of the other change of these past seven years, which is perhaps more about the passage of time and about growing older, sorting through plans and priorities again and again and again.

There are things you think you’ll never get used to. Some of them, you do, like the lemon tree in the backyard and the proximity of the ocean and the ways the seasons change so subtly you miss it if you’re not paying attention. Others, like earthquakes and the miles between you and your mom, you don’t.

I understand now that like every place, Oakland, too, is just a place—home to some, given or adopted, exotic to others, glorious and boring at once. And beautiful. Objectively so, at the end of the day. After all these years, I see it.

Simple Citrus Salad with Olives & Parsley

Citrus sings California winter to me. This is a template, not a proper recipe, so if you don’t have a particular ingredient—beyond citrus, that is!—just leave it out or swap in something else with similar qualities. A beautiful plate of citrus drizzled with great olive oil and topped with flaky sea salt is alone a delicious thing, so it’s hard to stray off the path here. I’ve given approximate measurements for a little salad for two (what’s pictured is on a small, salad-sized plate), which can easily be scaled in any direction.

Red onion (about half)

Apple cider or red wine vinegar

Fine salt (I use kosher)

A few pieces of citrus (about 3), different varieties if possible

Handful wrinkly black olives, such as Nyon

Extra-virgin olive oil

Fresh parsley, leaves picked

Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

Freshly cracked pepper

Start by making a quick pickle of the onion. Cut the onion in half lengthwise. If you’re making salad for two, thinly slice just one half of the onion into half moons as thin as possible. In a small bowl, combine the onion slices with a generous splash of vinegar and a big pinch of fine salt. Use your hands to combine, then set aside while assembling the rest of the salad.

Next, prepare the citrus. Three pieces should be about right for two people. I like to vary both the types (try at least two—here, I used two blood oranges and a tangelo) and the way I prep them. Carefully slice off the ends and the rind and pith. Try supreming one, then take it easy and slice the others into 1/4-inch slices. Save the remnants of the supremed orange. Arrange the sliced citrus on a plate.

Tear several olives, removing the pits, and tuck the pieces around the citrus. Top with as much onion as you like (save the rest in an airtight container in the fridge; you’ll find many uses, from grain bowls to salads). Drizzle generously with olive oil, then squeeze the membranes from the supremed orange over top. Add a good splash of the pickling vinegar, too. Finish with leaves of parsley—as much or as little as you like—as well as a good sprinkling of flaky sea salt and freshly cracked pepper.

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