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How to Eat | Almond, Sunflower & Coconut Butter

How to Eat | Almond, Sunflower & Coconut Butter
Almond, Sunflower & Coconut Butter

If you’ve been reading here, you are aware that this is my first winter back in a cold climate after seven years of living in California. And while this has been a mild winter in Chicago, or so I’m told, I’m not all that into it, I’m sorry to say. I am hopeful that it will get better with more time, friends and winter gear, but that’s just the truth right now.

In addition to finding the cold, well, cold, I definitely have not figured out how to shop for groceries through these barren months in a way I feel great about. In the Bay Area, I chose to purchase mostly local food because I believed in it for a variety of reasons. But it would be naive to overlook the fact that it was also very possible—and honestly not that hard—to eat a wide-ranging diet sourced locally. I could get fantastic produce straight on through winter, fat pomelos and lemons and avocados and all kinds of lettuces, not to mention nuts and dried fruits that came from nearby. It wasn’t hard to find local cheese, milk, yogurt, butter, eggs, fish, tofu, beans, almond butter, bread or grains (or wine!). I could walk to my farmers market and carry it all home. I know, I know—some things about California are as good as they say. There’s a part of me that still doesn’t know how I let that go!

(Oh wait—it was exorbitantly expensive to live there! Also, earthquakes! But California is popular for a reason, you guys!!)

Anyway, all that to say: there’s a huge difference between that experience of shopping locally and the version in which there’s not much in season. One thing I kept telling myself as I anticipated this particular loss in the wake of our move was that if I really believe in eating locally, this would be a good test. What does it look like to eat locally when you don’t have access to abundant produce? What do you do when winter offers only beets, enormous overwintered carrots and potatoes—do you choose local, or do you choose a varied diet? What do you do when the options are local or organic? What if my fears of botulism rule out the potential of me ever becoming a prolific canner? And what do you do if you don’t have money? Even in the Bay Area, shopping locally isn’t easy at all if you are poor, and/or far from fresh markets or well-stocked grocery stores. For me, buying primarily local food was affordable, but while I’ll always advocate for the seconds bin, I absolutely recognize that I’m able to spend a lot more on groceries than many people can. I had a satisfactory answer on how to eat when I lived in California with a good income and a car, but that only solves the problem of food for a tiny fraction of the population. Alice Waters arguably represents the most virtuous form of eating in our modern food culture, and while it’s fully understandable that she took advantage of the Bay Area’s bounty in the course of defining her cuisine and her cause, the ethos might apply universally, but the practices don’t. When it comes right down to it, what is this so-called virtuous eating anyway—and who gets to define it?

I should say now that I don’t have any answers to these questions. And while there’s more I could say on the subject, I also don’t want to pretend that I’m an expert on this. I’m just one person who loves food, trying to figure out how to live a life I feel good about in this very complicated world that demands a multitude of decisions that run from silly to serious. I’ve decided that I still get to eat avocados and oranges and almonds even though I don’t live in Oakland anymore. But the truth is that it leaves me with some cognitive dissonance. I have a winter CSA that has been great, especially once we moved from shallots and beets to spinach and mushrooms. I’m reveling in the things I can get, including a shocking variety of local grains, maple syrup and popcorn from any number of farms. And I’ve found it helpful to make a few more things from scratch. If I’m further from the source of certain foods, perhaps I can get closer to the origins of others.

And that brings me to my favorite cookbook this winter, Amy Chaplin’s Whole Food Cooking Every Day. The book’s 20 chapters are organized around specific categories, including porridge, fruit compotes, nut milk, soups, dressings and granola. Each chapter has at least one base recipe, the most simple take, followed by many variations on that theme. These are definitely recipes for people who want to cook, as many are staples that could be purchased or made more simply (e.g., here, you are soaking whole oat groats overnight and grinding them to make your oatmeal). Please note that I am not recommending this book to you if you hate being in the kitchen or don’t want to devote much time to cooking. There are other great cookbooks for you! Just maybe not this one. And a lot of it is hippie food for sure, what with all of the soaking and blending and seeds and lack of sugar. But as someone who loves both hippie food and cooking, I am all in.

Most of the recipes make nice big batches, so any work required up front pays off for days. I’ve loved waking up knowing that I have porridge, a compote, berry chia pudding and nut butter to assemble into breakfast. What I’m sharing below is a delicious nut and seed butter that is excellent atop toast, drizzled on oatmeal, scooped alongside an apple or eaten straight from the jar. Back in my dreamy California life (JK! It was a really good life but honestly never dreamy!), I had two to four favorite nut butters, none of which I can find here. In their absence, I have felt extremely annoyed with the expensive and not-that-amazing grocery store options. This recipe has made me way less cranky and very satisfied. I hope it brings you the same as you persevere through winter/life.

Almond, Sunflower & Coconut Butter

Lightly adapted from Amy Chaplin’s Whole Food Cooking Every Day

Makes 1 cup (240 ml)

This is just one of many nut and seed butter recipes in this book. I’d encourage you to pick it up for that and much more inspiration! The original recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of flaky salt, which I found too salty for my taste—and I like salt. I’m giving a range below and suggest you start at 1/2 teaspoon and adjust from there.

Almond, Sunflower & Coconut Butter

1 cup (140 grams) whole raw almonds

1 cup (130 grams) raw sunflower seeds

1 cup (85 grams) unsweetened shredded dried coconut

1/2–1 teaspoon flaky salt, or to taste

Begin by toasting the almonds, sunflower seeds and coconut. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have three pans that fit into your oven at once, you can toast these simultaneously; otherwise, take them one by one. Toast the almonds for 16 to 18 minutes, the sunflower seeds for 10 to 12 minutes and the coconut for a quick 4 to 6 minutes. Check at least once during baking to shake and turn the pans for even toasting. Everything should be golden brown and fragrant. Allow to cool slightly before proceeding.

Put the toasted nuts, seeds and coconut in a food processor and process for 2 minutes, or until they are broken down and come together in a mass. Break up the mixture, scrape down the sides of the processor and continue blending until the butter is completely smooth and liquid, 3 to 4 minutes more. Scrape down the sides of the processor again, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and pulse to combine. Taste for salt and add more if you like.

Store in a sealed glass jar or an airtight container at room temperature or in the fridge for up to 1 month. This butter is very smooth at room temperature and quite solid straight out of the fridge. Assuming it’s not the height of summer, I think this stores best unrefrigerated, but if you keep it in the fridge, take it out 30 minutes before you want to use it, if possible.

Note: I’m aware that there’s something wrong with the comment function on my site right now—I’m working on getting to the bottom of it! Thanks for putting up with the lo-fi nature of this humble blog in the meantime.

Winter Salad Tips & Tricks

Winter Salad Tips & Tricks
Winter Salad | Delightful Crumb

Earlier this month, we were supposed to go to my cousin’s wedding in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I know what you’re saying right now—a January wedding in South Dakota?! Yes. And you’re right! Even hardened Chicago people said this to us. But you must understand: prairie people are particularly tough people. They live out there, you know? They do not pause their lives for snow and cold. I may have become a bit of a wimp when it comes to the cold, but I am proud to come from this stock.

But airlines, they pause. In a drawn-out comedy of errors, our Friday night flight was cancelled due to weather in Chicago, and we were put on standby for a flight the next morning. Ben was flagged at random for a super search as we went through security—if ever you see “SSSS” on the top of your boarding pass, beware! Also known as a “quad-S,” it prompted an expletive from the supervising agent, and then they shut down the whole security lane. While I sat on the other side waiting for Ben, watching the security representative flip carefully through his books and pat down the bottoms of his feet, I got a text saying this flight was cancelled due to blizzard conditions, such as 55 mph winds, in Sioux Falls. (Though it was not the reason for the cancellation, I feel obligated to mention that it was also, like, 0 degrees.) At that point, we were way down the standby list for the next flight—and all of these being tiny 50-person planes, there was no chance we were getting on. This is when we were advised to give up, which was for the best, as that flight was cancelled, too. Then, we sat for a couple of hours by the baggage claim, watching for our checked luggage, which never came, and so we gave up again. Much later that evening, Ben went back and met with success, though he had to demand that someone search for the bag in real time.

It was a true disaster. (Also, sorry, Lucas and Emily!!)

All that to say: while this has been a mild winter in Chicago, winter is tough! My memories are not incorrect! And the other truth is that being without abundant local produce is as bad as I thought it might be. Winter cooking is simply more fun when the market keeps overflowing. (Also, where is all of the escarole?! Is it really too difficult to ship, or are you Californians eating all of it?)

But there’s hope! A well stocked pantry and a few creative ideas will get you well on your way to filling up with produce even in winter. And while my tips today are most directed at those without bountiful winter markets, a good salad secret is good for anyone, even if you live in LA. Plus, another truth is that sunshine and warm temperatures and fresh vegetables (in winter or whenever) do not preclude sadness and the blues. Everyone knows what a long, hard, cold, dark winter feels like, if only internally. While I also recommend chocolate, a top-notch salad can help. Here are some thoughts on how to get there.

Winter Salad | Delightful Crumb

Techniques

  • The Creamy Layer: This has come to the fore in restaurants and cookbooks like Alison Roman’s, so you might be familiar with the concept. In short, sweep a layer of yogurt, labneh, tahini or a similarly creamy ingredient across a platter, then pile the salad on top. This is both delicious and an easy way to elevate even a simple salad. It’s great with most any leaf (though better with heartier ones) and also salads featuring roast veg. More on prepping your creamy ingredient below.

  • The Essential Crunch: A salad needs some crunch. This can come by way of nuts, seeds, croutons or simply crunchy vegetables. I’ve listed lots of ideas below, but don’t neglect this important textural element!

  • The Simplest Dressing: I generally make a very simple salad dressing and let the interest come from the rest of the ingredients. I start with the acid (lemon juice or vinegar) and whisk in mustard, salt and pepper, then add olive oil and mix again. I like a ratio of acid to oil that’s along the lines of 50/50, but many people go far heavier on the oil. Taste, adjust and find your own preference!

  • Massage That Kale: If you use kale for the base of your salad, give it some love first. Kale salads have been trendy for years, but I still encounter some sorry ones—personally, I have no interest in laboriously chewing a full leaf of raw, underdressed kale. My method is to wash the greens, strip them from the thick stalk and chop them in thin ribbons. Then, put them in a bowl and add a big pinch of salt and a pour of lemon juice or vinegar, or your completed dressing. Massage that into the leaves, really working it through. Let the kale hang out for a bit before you carry on.

Principles

  • Contrast: Consider acid, crunch and creaminess and how they all interact. Channel Samin: find the balance of salt, fat and acid even with an entirely raw salad.

  • Complexity: Think about number of ingredients. In the winter, unless you have access to super fresh greenhouse greens or live somewhere warm, delicate greens tend to be less compelling as they’ve traveled a distance. If you want to stay simple, consider a citrus salad, which can be as stripped down as a layer of citrus with two or three toppings (toasted seeds and pomegranate, for example, or olives, red onion and parsley—finished with oil and flaky salt, of course!).

    If you want something more hearty or complex, think through the role of the salad in the meal and what else is on the table. Is it a major component or a side? Do you have a lot of strong flavors in the meal already? Does the salad have a starring ingredient or set of ingredients—something you’re really craving or that looked particularly fresh?

    With this in mind, decide whether you want a creamy layer. If you’re putting creamy things atop, like Feta cheese or avocado, or if your meal is already very rich, I think this is overkill. From there, determine the base of the salad, which could be greens—leafy (butter lettuce), bitter (escarole), crunchy (romaine) or hearty (kale)—shaved vegetables (think fennel, carrot, radish) or even a fruit like citrus or apple. Three to five additional toppings feels like a sweet spot to me: fennel, apple and toasted walnuts; roasted delicata squash, farro, goat cheese and herbs; oranges, toasted pepitas and pomegranate seeds.

  • Composition: Even before you begin, imagine how the salad will look on the plate. Consider color—ingredients like pomegranate, blood orange and watermelon radish offer pops of color, or you could go for a single-color salad (green or pink/red are your best bets). Use a bowl or platter that is bigger than you think you need; it always looks attractive, and your greens won’t get squished. Also, pause before you start to chop: try slicing thin vegetables on the bias (aka a slant), supreming citrus or cutting herbs in a chiffonade. Generally, herbs go a long way in making a simple salad prettier. Finally, pile it carefully. I typically layer my ingredients rather than mixing the whole salad together. Not every component needs to be thoroughly dressed, and you can always finish with a squeeze of citrus and/or drizzle of olive oil to balance flavors.

  • Quality: Use the good stuff. It’s trickier in winter, but choose the produce that looks best—don’t get too wedded to your plan and end up buying wilting greens!

Ingredients

Crunchy
  • Nuts & seeds: Find what you like, but also keep rotating for interest. I always have almonds, walnuts, pepitas and sunflower seeds on hand. I toast them in my toaster oven or on the stovetop in a dry pan. Typically, I start with whole nuts, then chop them once cooled. You can also buy most toasted. Or, candy them by adding sugar or maple syrup to the pan, letting it caramelize. And don’t forget about the little seeds, like sesame and hemp!

  • Toasted buckwheat & quinoa: Similarly, you can get an excellent crunch from toasted buckwheat, which lends a deep, nutty character, or quinoa. If raw, toast these in a dry pan until lightly brown and fragrant. You can also find toasted buckwheat in a well-stocked bulk section.

  • Savory granola: Like nuts or seeds, with a little more oomph. Here’s a great recipe.

  • Bread based: Classic croutons, breadcrumbs and toasted pita chips all work nicely. To jazz up homemade croutons, add a chopped garlic clove or a pinch of red pepper flakes to the olive oil and salt before roasting.

  • Fruit & veg: Thinly sliced radishes, fennel, apples and pears are a few of my cold-weather favorites. Carrots shaved lengthwise in ribbons and thinly sliced red cabbage add color. (Note: citrus and avocado covered below!)
Creamy
  • Greek yogurt or labneh: Stir in a pinch of salt, then spread it onto a platter in big swoops. You can also add more flavor by mixing in chopped preserved lemon, fresh lemon zest and/or juice, a spoonful of tahini, minced garlic or pepper flakes. Thick yogurt can also be dolloped atop a hearty salad.

  • Tahini: Thin out tahini with water until it is a spreadable consistency and stir in a pinch of salt and, if you like, some lemon juice. Spread it onto the plate, or thin it until pourable and drizzle over the salad instead.

  • Hummus: If you’re making an individual salad, a scoop of hummus tucked alongside is an excellent flavor and protein addition. Try making your “hummus” with another legume, too!

  • Avocado: Avocado pairs particularly well with citrus in winter salads. When using avocado, I sometimes make an exception to my rule of tossing the greens alone before adding toppings. I like how the avocado breaks down a bit, making the salad creamier.

  • Cheese: In seeking out creaminess, consider crumbled goat cheese, Feta, burrata and torn mozzarella. (On the non-creamy front, shaved Parmesan is always a good bet.)
Heft
  • Roasted veg: My winter favorites are squash (particularly delicata and kabocha) and sweet potatoes. Beets are excellent, too, when you’re up for the mess, or choose the pretty golden ones for cleaner prep.

  • Cooked grains: Farro and wheat berries lend a nice chew and pick up dressing well. Quinoa and even brown rice are also good options. You don’t need a lot—just a handful or two tossed over top will lend texture without too much weight.

  • Legumes: In the same vein, try spooning a few spoonfuls of cooked lentils over the salad. This works best with varieties that keep their shape, such as beluga or French green lentils. Or try chickpeas, whether straight from a can, cooked from scratch or baked/fried for crunch.

  • Soft-boiled eggs: Cook them to your liking, from very runny to firm, and slice lengthwise in half or quarters. Take a cue from Bartavelle in Berkeley and top each open face with Aleppo pepper flakes, a little sprinkle of flaky salt and a quick drizzle of olive oil.

  • Sliced frittata: I learned this trick from the brilliant Kelsie at Standard Fare, my other favorite place in the world for a salad (also in Berkeley, go figure!). I’m not saying you need to prepare a frittata before you can toss together a salad, but if you happen to have leftovers of a thick frittata, slice it cold from the fridge and arrange the slices over the salad.

  • Crispy tofu: Fried or baked in cubes, tofu is a solid protein addition and can be delicious, too—just make sure to cook it until crisp. Scour the internet or your cookbooks for a flavorful marinade.
Acid
  • Preserved lemon: Truly a secret weapon. Preserved lemons have so much flavor. Chop finely, then add to your dressing or creamy component, or just sprinkle a bit on top.

  • Citrus: Any citrus is lovely, from plain old oranges to brilliant Cara Caras to textural pomelos to zippy grapefruit. If you see kumquats, get them! Slice very thinly, removing the seeds. They provide wonderfully vibrant flavor.

  • Olives: A particularly fine pairing for citrus. If they have pits, smack them on the cutting board with the flat side of a big knife for nice, rough pieces. Castelvetranos and those wrinkly black ones are my favorite.

  • Capers: Another great choice toward this end. I choose salt-packed capers whenever I have the option. If you’re feeling ambitious, fry them in a shallow layer of oil for some extra crunch.

  • Pickles: A quick pickle is an excellent way to get an extra hit of acid. Slice your veg thinly and let it marinate in some vinegar with a big pinch of salt while you put the salad together. This is particularly tasty with shallots, red onions and radishes. Or, just buy some good pickles, leaving them whole or slicing them into smaller pieces.
Pizzazz
  • Pomegranate: As beautiful as they are delicious, pomegranate seeds offer color, texture and a literal burst of flavor—a winter treasure.

  • Spices: Sprinkle spices over a salad for extra flavor—try crushed pepper flakes such as Aleppo, Urfa or Maras (all milder than red pepper flakes); toasted fennel or cumin seeds; sumac or a blend like za’atar. Alternately, stir pepper flakes or a ground spice into your tahini or yogurt.

  • Herbs: I put a lot of herbs in my salads. They can be mixed in with the leaves or tossed on top. While it takes a little bit of time to pluck leaves from stems, it’s well worth it for the payoff. My everyday salad favorites that are easy enough to find in winter are parsley, mint and chives.

  • Sprouts: Much like herbs, these add dimension and flavor to any salad. Sprout them at home for something fresh! My mom just got me a kit, a reminder of how easy this is.

  • Dates: To me, the very best sweet addition to a salad. One of my longtime go-tos is a green salad (any leaves you like) with dates, avocado and chopped toasted almonds.

  • Dressing additions: Add anchovy, chopped garlic or shallot, grated fresh ginger, turmeric or even a tiny bit of fish sauce to your dressing to kick things up a notch.

Note: I’m aware that there’s something wrong with the comment function on my site right now—I’m working on getting to the bottom of it! Thanks for putting up with the lo-fi nature of this humble blog in the meantime.

Return of the Fruitcake

Return of the Fruitcake
Austrian Fruit Bread | Delightful Crumb

Christmas is just around the corner, and I am here with fruitcake. I know my timing is bad—if by chance you have the time to spare in the next two days to make a fruitcake, it will have very little time to sit around and develop in flavor before the big day. You’ve (hopefully) planned all of your gifts already, and your menu too. I’m really far too late.

But do you know what timing I think I AM nailing? Fruitcake timing. It’s back! It’s time! I might, for once, be a tiny bit ahead of the curve here, but we Americans have evolved in our taste preferences enough to welcome in the glorious fruitcake, haven’t we? People are into bitter flavors and natural wine and weird grains and funk. We’re cutting back on sugar not for health but flavor. We’re into aging our food. In that landscape, those silly fruitcake jokes must be tired.

I made a fruitcake this year—more specifically, früchtebrot, an Austrian fruit bread. I wanted to tap into the often-less-sweet, deeply flavored, dried-fruit-and-nut-reliant European holiday flavor profile, and this fit the bill. Europeans, if I may generalize for a moment here, are very good at Christmas treats: stollen, panettone, fruitcake, gingerbread, to name just a few. They seem to be very good at Christmas in general—my personal experience is limited, but we do watch Rick Steves’s European Christmas every year. Last night, we went to a Swedish julbord, which was definitely my most charming experience thus far this holiday season (it included a about a dozen different variations on pickled herring, speaking of foods that deserve a second chance!). And have you read Nigel Slater’s The Christmas Chronicles?! Does that man ever love Christmas!

Anyway, I blanched almonds and peeled off the skins by hand, chopped piles and piles of dried fruits, let them rest overnight with sugar and rum and baked four bumpy loaves. I was absolutely taken with the result, but I wasn’t sure that was the universal response. I timidly served thin slices as part of dessert spread when my friend Erin visited from Oakland, and she loved it, too. I gave a piece to a new friend, who enthusiastically told me he’s a fruitcake fan. We discussed whether fruitcake was about to have a comeback, and he referenced a book he read in elementary school that stars fruitcake. I didn’t know what he was talking about, my primary education thus stunted, but he followed up later to tell me that it was Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory, which Erin had just gifted to me—kismet! And then, I debated bringing yet more fruitcake to my hairstylist but didn’t, mostly out of forgetfulness but also out of a fear that this is still a weird gift. She proceeded to tell me, entirely unprompted, about how her favorite holiday treat is her husband’s Aunt Marty’s fruitcake! And Aunt Marty won’t share the recipe!

So just remember: you heard it here first. The fruitcake is happening in December 2020. You have a full year to nail your rendition. Here is a place to start.

A very happy Christmas season and a hope-filled new year to you, my friends.

Früchtebrot: Austrian Fruit Bread

Adapted from Luisa Weiss’s Classic German Baking

Make 4 (8-inch) loaves

You can adjust the proportions of the various dried fruits, and the types as well. I gave Luisa’s ratio below, but I used about equal portions dates, figs and prunes and slightly more raisins than called for. Luisa notes that pears were traditional for this specific bread. You can also use bourbon instead of rum; either way, the amount is slim enough that it doesn’t yield an overly boozy loaf.

Austrian Fruit Bread | Delightful Crumb

1 pound 1 ounce (500 g) pitted dried dates

8 3/4 ounces (250 g) dried figs

7 ounces (200 g) prunes

1/2 cup (75 g) raisins

1 cup (150 g) blanched whole almonds

1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (200 g) confectioners’ sugar

1/2 cup (120 ml) dark rum

2 1/4 cups (280 g) all-purpose flour

4 eggs

Chop the dates, figs and prunes into 1/4-inch pieces, put them in a large bowl and mix in the raisins. Coarsely chop the almonds until pebbly. Add the almonds and the sugar to the fruit. Stir, then pour the rum into the bowl and stir again, until well combined. Cover with a clean dishcloth and let sit at room temperature for 8 hours or overnight.

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Remove the dishcloth from the bowl and add one-quarter of the flour. Mix well and add an egg. Mix well. Repeat with the next quarter of the flour and egg, mixing well again, and continue this process until all of the flour and eggs have been added. Knead by hand, making sure that the dough is well incorporated. It will be very stiff.

Divide the dough into quarters. Wet your hands with cold water and form each quarter into an 8-inch long loaf. Place them on the baking sheet, spaced just slightly apart (the loaves won’t spread).

Bake for 35 minutes, until the loaves are golden brown and dry to the touch. Place the pan on a rack and let the loaves cool completely.

To store, wrap each fruitcake in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil. They will keep for 2 weeks. To serve, slice very thinly into 1/8-inch thick slices with a sharp or serrated knife.

Note: I’m aware that there’s something wrong with the comment function on my site right now—I’m working on getting to the bottom of it! Thanks for putting up with the lo-fi nature of this humble blog in the meantime.

Wonderfully Circuitous | Nantucket Cranberry Pie

Wonderfully Circuitous | Nantucket Cranberry Pie
Nantucket Cranberry Pie | Delightful Crumb

Eight years ago, I made Nantucket Cranberry Pie for the first time. I wrote about it on my old blog, which I kept for three years, beginning right after college and leading up until when I started this one. It’s a wonderful record of who I was then, in the same way that reading this blog brings me back to different times and seasons. And speaking of seasons: even then, I was obsessed with them, and the ways their rhythms both do and don’t mirror those of our lives.

In the past emotional year, four seasons made the list of things that appealed about a move back to the Midwest. And here we are, trying those seasons out for a spin again, testing the hypothesis that we’d be glad to have them back.

It’s strange to experience things that are largely familiar as a version of myself to whom these things are foreign. That is, theoretically, I know all about the four seasons, winter, unseasonable cold snaps, et cetera. I was in California for 7 years, but I’m almost 33—that’s over three-quarters of my life spent in the Midwest. Yet it’s approximately the reverse when considering my so-called adult life; it turns out that I’ve spent most of it in California. Experiencing these Midwestern rhythms brings me back to tucked-away memories from before that era: the years Ben and I were falling in love, my early twenties, college, childhood, flipping back the photo album to pages that I just haven’t landed on for a while. And it’s not just memories that come back—there are things I think to make (or do or explore) here that just never came to mind in California.

For example: in the realm of produce, there’s little that the rest of America has on California—this is simply the truth. But California doesn’t have everything, regardless of what you’ve been told, and cranberries are one of those things (I’m sure they’re somewhere?! But they’re certainly not abundant). And so, when I enthusiastically picked them up at the market here in Chicago this fall, I looked at my bounty and realized I didn’t have a plan. And then I remembered Nantucket Cranberry Pie.

Nantucket Pie, as you may know, is not a pie but a cake, unless you hold the definition of pie extremely loosely. I learned about it from a Michigan Cranberry Marketing Committee brochure I was given by a not-so-friendly cranberry vendor at my Grand Rapids farmers market in 2011. In the post I wrote way back then, I mention that Laurie Colwin includes it in More Home Cooking, which at the time I’d never read (and seems a much more reasonable and charming place to encounter a recipe such as this, I have to say). But this year, when I dug up the recipe on my blog—I don’t think I made it once while living in California—I absolutely had that book on hand. (If you don’t know Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking and More Home Cooking, go find them now; they are a true delight.) That old blog post is about making dinner with Ben, when everything was ahead of us, a big anxious fabulous mystery, and here we are, all these years along, adventures and joys and sorrows behind us, the wild world more or less the same before us. It all feels wonderfully circuitous to me.

All this to say, I’m the same and I’m not, just like you. The year’s end is nearing, and I’m about to become a big ball of nostalgia, unapologetically so. We grow and we change, but we stay the same—and aren’t you glad it’s both? The things of our pasts offer old comfort and new surprises alike; at times, these are somehow one and the same.

And so I bring you Nantucket Cranberry Pie again, because I’ve discovered it again, and it felt both new and old. The cranberries do sit at the bottom in a way that resembles pie, though it perhaps feels like some mashup of cake and cobbler more than anything else. It is especially good with barely sweetened whipped cream alongside. It is also, as is well reported by the internet, shockingly easy. It would be a great addition to your Thanksgiving weekend table, if you’re looking for something sweet once the pumpkin pie has run out but the hungry guests are still around.

Nantucket Cranberry Pie | Delightful Crumb
Nantucket Cranberry Pie | Delightful Crumb

Nantucket Cranberry Pie

Adapted from Laurie Colwin’s More Home Cooking, various sources on the internet and my 2011 self

Serves 6 to 8

Some recipes call for chopping the cranberries. I like them whole, but chopped (or half of them chopped) also works and is perhaps somewhat more pie-like. This amount of sugar is plenty sweet for my palate and preserves the zing of the tart cranberries, but you can increase the first quantity of sugar to 1/2 cup if you like. I found one version of the recipe that brings the butter down to a stick, but I just don’t think this is the time or place for quite that much restraint, so I’ve not tried it. A splash of almond extract, however, is not out of place.

Nantucket Cranberry Pie | Delightful Crumb

2 heaped cups (about 225 grams) cranberries

1/2 cup (60 grams) walnuts or pecans, chopped (optional)

1/3 cup (70 grams) cane sugar

3/4 cup (170 grams) unsalted butter, melted, plus additional for the pan

1 cup (200 grams) cane sugar, plus additional for sprinkling

1 cup (140 grams) all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

Whipped cream, for serving (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Butter a 9- or 10-inch pie or cake pan. Spread the cranberries on the bottom of the pan, followed by the walnuts or pecans, if using. Sprinkle the 1/3 cup of sugar on top.

In a medium bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and beat with a whisk until incorporated, switching to a spatula once it gets thick. Pour the mixture over the cranberries and smooth the top. Sprinkle the cake with a bit more sugar if you like.

Bake for about 40 minutes, until the top of the cake is light brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Serve warm or at room temperature, preferably with whipped cream alongside. Tightly wrapped, the cake will keep for a couple of days on the countertop or in the refrigerator.

Note: I’m aware that there’s something wrong with the comment function on my site right now—I’m working on getting to the bottom of it! Thanks for putting up with the lo-fi nature of this humble blog in the meantime.

Who You Are In That Place | Fresh Ginger Cake

Who You Are In That Place | Fresh Ginger Cake
Spicy Ginger Cake | Delightful Crumb

I don’t know about you, but I’m in need of some coziness. It’s not only because the regular afternoon temperatures in Chicago have reached the approximate deep-winter lows for Oakland, though that’s part of it. There’s also the fact that California is burning, and my heart aches for my old home—disoriented, not relieved, to not be there myself. And I’m weary. All of this newness takes a toll.

The thing about being new to a place is that it’s not just the place that’s new, but also who you are in that place. My identity seems to be floating just a few inches above me, a reminder of the fact that I do indeed know who I am, if not what it means to be myself in this new place and season. It’s a normal byproduct of a big move—but it is disorienting and strange.

Someone asked me recently if I felt a resonance with California when I lived there—if I felt like a Californian. I have more than one answer to that question. When we arrived, I didn’t at all. I felt like a fish out of water, perhaps more than anything because people told me I was. They pointed to my Midwestern-ness with a set of assumptions that, like any set of assumptions, only partly fit but also gave me a window into what people had perhaps always assumed about someone “like me.” I probably let myself linger in this space for too long, seeing only the ways I might not fit. The fact that I was freelancing and baking at odd hours for little pay while looking for something more steady, new not just to Oakland but my marriage, 25 but mistakenly thinking that was well beyond the age for taking big risks or being unsteady . . . well, none of that helped.

But then, at some point, I turned a corner. I could guess about when that was, probably a year and a half in. But I didn’t realize it right away. More accurately, I woke up one day and found I fit in just fine. California is supposed to be for the people on the fringes, after all, so what does it mean to fit in anyway? And so, beginning one unidentified day somewhere in the first quarter of my California life, there I was, attached to this strange, beautiful place even when it confused me.

We labeled ourselves as Midwesterners in California, which summed up a set of things that was true of us in a way that was sufficiently accurate, even for someone as desperate to be understood as me. I could give people that and know they would understand at least two or three things about me, or at least they’d be confused in the right direction. We made friends with other Midwesterners-in-California, spotting each other from miles away, commiserating about the long trips to see our families and the lack of seasons, while also appreciating the absence of snow.

The person who asked me about feeling Californian told me that he moved to New York at 22 and felt 100% a New Yorker two months in—because he was 22 and it was New York. He was trying things on for size, which is precisely what one should be doing at that age. But it’s not quite right for the emotionally healthy 30-something. The young-person narrative is the one we’re most accustomed to discussing—there are so many movies about it, after all!—but plenty of us leave or arrive or otherwise change much later in life. My friend, by the way, left and left again. Or arrived, if you’d prefer to see it from that version of the map.

And so what of the Midwesterner who lived in California for seven years, then moved back across the country but not quite so far as where she is from? What about the me who lives in Chicago? I’m not sure yet. But I’m practicing patience, for as long as it takes.

It is in this spirit that I bring you ginger cake, just in case you need some comfort for autumn or adjusting or whatever season you are in. I read Samin’s story about this recipe and knew I had to make it. She talks about early mornings when she was new at Chez Panisse and working from the walk-in at very early hours, not her preferred time of day (nor mine). She would eat spicy slices of leftover ginger cake with steaming tea on her break, and who can refuse something warming both to body and soul on a tired morning or week or year? Not me. Let’s not even pretend resistance.

Fresh Ginger & Molasses Cake

Adapted very slightly from Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat

Makes 2 9-inch cakes

This cake is spicy and a little sticky and full of flavor. (If you’re looking for an option that is likewise nicely spiced but less sticky and more toward the bread side of the gingerbread/cake spectrum, I recommend this one, which is also delicious.) Samin’s rendition reminds me of the ginger cake from Crixa Cakes in Berkeley, CA, a high complement indeed. If you’re baking for everyday consumption, I recommend serving one cake fresh and saving the other in the freezer. Alternately, however, you can stack the two cakes for a fancy, layered presentation.

Spicy Ginger Cake | Delightful Crumb

2 1/3 cups (12 ounces) all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup (4 ounces) peeled, sliced fresh ginger

1 cup (7 ounces) sugar

1 cup grapeseed (or other neutral) oil

1 cup molasses (not blackstrap)

1 cup boiling water

2 large eggs, at room temperature

Whipped cream or powdered sugar, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Set a rack in the upper third of the oven. Butter or oil two 9-inch cake pans, then line with parchment paper. Grease the parchment, too, then sprinkle generously with flour, tap out the excess and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, spices, pepper, salt and baking soda.

In a food process or blender, purée the fresh ginger and sugar together until completely smooth, about 4 minutes. Pour the mixture into a medium bowl and add the oil and molasses. Whisk to combine. Add the boiling water, whisking again until evenly combined.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and gradually whisk in the water-oil mixture until incorporated. Gradually whisk in the eggs and stir until smooth. The batter will be quite thin.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Drop the pans onto the counter from a height of 3 inches a couple of times to release any air bubbles.

Bake in the upper third of the oven for 38 to 40 minutes, until the cakes spring back from the touch and just pull away from the edges of the pans. An inserted toothpick should come out clean.

Cool the cakes completely on a wire rack. Unmold them from the pans and peel off the parchment. They will be delicate, so take care as you do so.

Serve the cake as you like: dusted with powder sugar, topped with cream cheese frosting or with whipped cream or ice cream alongside. Or, stack the two cakes for a more dramatic presentation. To fill and decorate with whipped cream, you’ll need about 2 cups of cream. Place one cake on a cake plate. Spread with whipped cream, then gently place the second layer atop. Spread the remaining cream onto the center of the top layer and chill for up to 2 hours before serving.

Tightly wrapped, the cake will keep for four days at room temperature, or for up to two months in the freezer.