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With Me All That Time

With Me All That Time

I was rocking Theo before his nap the other day when my mind started flipping back through the many iterations of this small act: holding him when he was newly born and couldn’t even hold up his head and cried and cried in the night (how much crying is normal crying? we wondered as we shushed and rocked and fed and changed and swaddled); the weeks when we had to rock him until he was totally—TOTALLY—asleep, then place him in his crib with as little movement as possible or he would wake up and the whole thing would start again; the period when he was first working on rolling and would flip to his stomach and then, stuck, start wailing; this nearly eight-month-old baby who can now be set down awake to roll over all on his own, stick his bum in the air, get cozy, and drift off. (Though don’t get me wrong: sleep is still complicated!) I remember when his face started to flash recognition as I picked him up out of his crib. It felt incredible and shocking and magic. Now, he reaches for me to be held and scoots all the way across the apartment and sits up on his own like it’s no trouble at all and has two tiny razor-sharp teeth. All of these babies are my baby. And all of these mothers are me.

The person I was before Theo and the one I am now haven’t quite merged, and the identities I’ve already carried and shed in these recent months float around me, too, disjointed. Spring, this most transitional of seasons, has me thinking about other phases of my life—times when I had not yet experienced pregnancy, birth, recovery from both of these, motherhood, breastfeeding and its myriad challenges, a confusing elimination diet for the sake of the baby, mastitis, sleepless nights, a reminder of the sweetness of sleep followed by sleeplessness again, feeling like a beginner over and over as we tackle the next new baby thing. How is it that we can keep putting on new layers, removing old ones, retaining others, fusing these selves?

“I am large, I contain multitudes.”

My aunt was recently asking some questions about Theo’s birth, and it gave me the chance to tell fragments of stories I hadn’t told for months. I was nearly two weeks past my due date. I labored all night in our apartment with our wonderful doula. It was raining and cool, the first day that felt like autumn. I showed up at the hospital eight centimeters dilated. He was born in the sac—a sign of a prophet. I had third-degree tearing. The tub was so peaceful. I was so loud. Pushing terrified me. Ben caught Theo—the first person to touch him outside of my body. For weeks after Theo was born, every time I saw a woman with a child, I thought, You did this, too? How are we not talking about this all the time?! Other than Theo himself, it was all I could think of; now days go by when I don’t think about labor or birth or those first days at all, and it is nearly impossible to conjure the wild, intense feeling of a contraction. We journey to the precipice of life and death when we bring another human into the world, and then we go back to our lives, where—though much has changed—we carry on buying groceries and going to work and stopping for a coffee and taking out the trash.

I didn’t count Theo’s fingers and toes at the hospital, though I did that later. At first, all I could do was hold him and marvel, feel the weight of him in my arms. You were the baby who was with me all of that time? Despite the extreme physicality of pregnancy, there’s a way in which I didn’t let myself believe he was coming until he arrived. And now, I can’t imagine him not being here. A friend told me that she will look at old photos and wonder for a split second why her daughter isn’t in them—oh, right, she wasn’t born! How is it that Theo was the baby I carried? How is it that he was huddled in my body one moment, then out in this air the next, screaming and breathing like the rest of us? Can you really grasp the fact that you have not always been here?

And so, I continue musing and feeling sentimental, grappling with so many new realities, realizing how many parenting clichés turn out to be true: the time has flown! He grows so fast! Etc. I’ll be back soon with food. But in the interim, with spring fully sprung and some hope on the horizon, may you marvel at the wonder of it all, too.

News & Summer Eating

News & Summer Eating
Snack Plate | Delightful Crumb

This is a photo of what I like to call a snack plate. Don’t worry—I won’t insult your intelligence by giving you a recipe for this. But it does represent my current ability to think about food, and as a result, I will be offering links and ideas today, not a formal recipe.

But first, and relatedly, a very big thing I’ve not yet mentioned here: I’m pregnant! Baby is due at the end of August, and we are so excited to meet him.

Unsurprisingly, there is much to say about this. At first I waited because it was new and I was anxious, unwilling to write anything in a public forum until baby was nearly fully baked. And then I kept waiting, because it’s so hard to neatly compose my thoughts about pregnancy, about bringing a little life into the world, about doing all of this during a pandemic. I have a journal packed with reflections, of course, but that’s very different than trying to wrap up some musings in a neat package.

Further, one of many strange things about pregnancy and having a baby and becoming a mother is that while all of this is entirely, mind-bendingly new to me, it’s not new. My observations have a small shot at being profound, maybe, but this experience—though wild and overwhelming and all-consuming—is not unique in the slightest. What can I possibly say that hasn’t been said? It feels this way, but deep down, I’m not actually concerned about re-covering familiar territory. If this blog reflects nothing else, I think it makes very clear that I believe firmly in talking about the everyday. And however constant, and despite the noise, there’s still more to be said, and things that ought to be re-said, about pregnancy and childbirth.

Also: being pregnant in a pandemic is not for the faint of heart. This experience is at least a little bit new, certainly for my generation. At the beginning, probably because the first of the lockdowns corresponded with me beginning to tell people beyond my innermost circle that I was pregnant, the specificity of my experience felt very solitary. I know that’s illogical; of course there have been many of us, spread across the world and the trimesters, in the midst of this same thing the whole time. But at first, pregnancy didn’t even pop up in the coronavirus conversation; I was left looking for pregnant in the list of “vulnerable populations” mentioned in articles, wondering about the difference between immunocompromised and this version of immunocompromised, worrying about everything we didn’t (don’t) know.

We are days from hitting our one-year mark of Chicago residency, but I still feel so new. I had only a handful of months under my belt before morning sickness started me on the self-isolation train a neat 10 weeks before the rest of the country joined in. I thought I didn’t have all that many expectations around pregnancy, but it turns out I had a few: going to appointments with my husband, seeing the entire faces of my healthcare providers, finding a prenatal yoga class, going out to dinner with Ben as my belly grew, walking with friends, having an acquaintance notice that I was pregnant (not just slightly fatter), needing at least one professional-looking pair of maternity pants. I keep mourning these everyday losses, over and over again.

These things are rather small in the grand scheme—really, all I want is a healthy baby and for everyone to wear a mask and for COVID to go the way of the mumps. And if I step back and think about it, I realize that my baby was always going to be born now, that this was always going to be my first pregnancy experience. A combination of logistical and biological and spiritual factors made it so. But on certain days, the small sorrows feel enormous. The important truth here is that everyone has their own matrix of complications and experiences that color this season for them—whether life stage, previous plans, health risks, vulnerable family members, work requirements, job loss, multi-layered isolation and/or things I’ve not even imagined. And this is always the case, even when we’re not in a crisis.

So I am over here in the home stretch, caring for very little but getting this teeny babe out into the world with us, as strange and volatile and unsafe as it might seem out here some days. Because here—well, it’s where we are. As Frederick Buechner put it, Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.

Meanwhile, as I worry about whether we have all of the things we need and try to learn how to swaddle sans an actual baby and experience the very real thing called nesting and make my best effort to get my work done before baby arrives, I am trying to eat. (This is a “food blog,” after all, so I thought I should bring it up.) I’m quite proud of the fact that I posted actual food here all throughout this pregnancy, things I actually made and ate, but this has been the strangest relationship I’ve had with food for years. I have a new and deep respect for chefs and servers and recipe developers and anyone else working full-time in food who has done so throughout a pregnancy. There was a Grub Street Diet profile at some point in the last eight months written by a pregnant person who—understandably, if you ask me—mentioned the whole pregnancy thing a couple of times. I read the comments (I know, bad idea), and people ripped her apart. But really, what ARE the pregnant food lovers eating??? It is so weird to have preferences change on a dime. So many foods were off the table during my first trimester—anything sweet or spicy or rich, to name just a few characteristics I’d generally attribute to delicious things. When the all-day (aka morning) sickness passed, I gradually got back to a normal diet, but this was all while adjusting to very different seasonality here in the Midwest, then navigating grocery and market shopping in a pandemic. Now, as of recent weeks, I’m just less interested in food, with a shorter and shorter list of things actually sounding appealing and an extremely limited interest in cooking. This feels both tragic and totally out of my hands.

Now, don’t get me wrong: overall, I feel great and have so little to complain about in terms of comfort and ability to be active and health in this pregnancy. But as someone who loves food, this part is just strange. I have, however, managed to continue eating, and here are a few things I’m into right now.

Bread, in general, has been a real star. (Isn’t it always?!) In addition to purchased (Middlebrow!) and homemade (we took a serious shortcut and bought our starter from Spinning J), I highly recommend Michael Solomonv’s pita bread from Zahav. Ben makes an excellent focaccia à la Marc Vetri, which we’ve been turning into stellar sandwiches on day two (include: vegetables of multiple textures; something creamy like mozzarella, avocado and/or hummus; something saucy like an herbed yogurt and/or mayo situation). Also pizza, of course.

Summer salads are just the thing when you are exhausted and/or too hot and/or feeling lazy, and they go very nicely with the aforementioned bread. Here’s my general template, and please make sure to do something involving watermelon and feta this summer, and with tomatoes and peaches/nectarines once they peak in your region (see the above template and/or the internet). Also in the simple-ways-with-vegetables category, I turn to roasted eggplant with goat cheese and this caper-raisin vinaigrette over zucchini, both on last weekend’s menu. And, as noted, I love a good snack plate; let this be a reminder that assembling is cooking, too. (California expats/everyone—you can order those gorgeous dried fruits and nuts straight from Inzana Ranch as if you never stopped going to the Grand Lake Farmers Market at all, sob!)

On the baked good front, my mom made me a batch of Megan Gordon’s breakfast cookies earlier this summer, and I still have a few in the freezer. They are delicious. I enlisted Ben to bake Heidi Swanson’s oatcakes earlier this week, which are as good as I remembered. We have made a couple of crumbles, though I always hate to part with the gorgeous berries and stone fruits, which I just want to eat out of hand. I am, however, going to make an exception for the blueberry boy bait from Smitten Kitchen.

I am currently very into granita, especially because it is a billion humid degrees out there, and maybe I’ll put together a recipe for next month to share that goodness with you. (Which also means that I, personally, have to make it, because the truth is that Ben has been making that, too. He’s a teacher with the summer off! He’s not pregnant! So don’t worry, this isn’t turning into a things-my-husband-made-for-me blog. Which might be fun but, let’s face it, overly precious and would primarily feature [delicious] carbohydrates.) But meanwhile, you can also find a lot of renditions out on the internet or a solid template in Samin Nosrat’s excellent book. Fruits! Coconut! Coffee! So easy and so gloriously cold.

And so, my tired self shall leave you with just those links this week. Enjoy! Make what you want! Stay cool and calm! I’ll be back (maybe) with one more recipe before baby comes.

Baby!

A Truly Excellent Cake

A Truly Excellent Cake
Almond & Cardamom Tea Cake | Delightful Crumb

It seems a strange time to talk about something so simple as cake, does it not? The world has not gotten less complex since last I visited this space. The pandemic is still here and spreading; the vulnerable are just as vulnerable as ever, and those working in hospitals and essential service jobs and now even restaurants are putting themselves in danger every day when they clock in. The Black Lives Matter movement has risen to new heights, with protests and statements and calls for justice filling our feeds and our streets. This is amazing and so, so long overdue. Yet division persists even as people increasingly agree on the importance of addressing racism and inequity and police brutality in this country. There’s not only performative posting but also angry rhetoric on Instagram, despite that newfound level of agreement and the fact that clearly Black lives matter—a very simple starting place. And everyone seems so restless in these long summer days, eager to get back out into the world even as COVID cases keep rising. Politics and judgment and fear are muddling us up as we try to make the “right” choices—a nebulous concept at best.

And yet, as unprecedented as it all feels, not much of this is actually new. There was always suffering, even if we couldn’t see it, even if it wasn’t ours. Overcrowded hospitals are a new fear for so many of us, but there have always been overcrowded hospitals. And speaking of overcrowding—those prisons were beyond an appropriate capacity long before it made the news. There have always been people for whom any illness threatens death. And as for the belated, hope-filled, still-growing energy around anti-racism, it’s worth remembering that nothing actually changed in the lived experience of Black Americans from the day before George Floyd’s death to the one after it. Only the widespread outrage was new. The reasons for outrage were right here all along.

All this to say, if talking about something so simple as cake seems odd today, the truth is that it always was. Life has always been a mix of joy and sorrow, justice and injustice, ease and struggle, simple pleasure and deep pain, even if this particular moment is demonstrating that in a new and particularly profound way for many of us. And so, I give you cake anyway. Cake to give you hope as you squint to see a brighter future. To give you strength as you continue to fight, or join in for the first time. Or maybe just to sustain you as you remain stuck in your house with your family for yet another week. And someday, when this pandemic is behind us, let’s remember when our own lives light up with joy to look for those who suffer, and if we are trapped in darkness, to know that there is hope.

Also, let me quickly note—this is no ordinary cake. This is a really, really, really good cake. Maybe the best cake I have eaten all year. And I do not take these things lightly. Difficult times call for exceptionally good cake.

Almond & Cardamom Tea Cake

From Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat

Almond & Cardamom Tea Cake | Delightful Crumb

FOR THE ALMOND TOPPING

4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter

3 tablespoons sugar

1 scant cup (3 ounces) sliced almonds

Pinch of flaky salt, such as Maldon

FOR THE CAKE

1 cup (5 1/4 ounces) cake flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt, or 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup (9 1/2 ounces) almond paste, at room temperature

1 cup (7 ounces) sugar

2 sticks (8 ounces) butter, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Set a rack in the upper third of the oven. Butter and flour a 9 by 2-inch round cake pan, then line with parchment paper.

Make the almond topping. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, cook the butter and sugar for about 3 minutes, until the sugar dissolves and the butter bubbles and froths. Remove from the heat and stir in the almonds and flaky salt. Pour into the cake pan, and use a rubber spatula to distribute the mixture evenly across the bottom of the pan.

For the cake, on a piece of parchment paper, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the vanilla, cardamom and eggs. Set this aside as well.

Place the almond paste in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to break it up. Add the sugar and process for 90 seconds, until the mixture is as fine as sand. (You can also do this in a stand mixer, which will just take a while longer.) Add the butter and continue processing until the mixture is light and fluffy, at least 2 minutes. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is combining evenly.

With the machine on, slowly begin adding the egg mixture, spoonful by spoonful. Let each addition be absorbed, and the mixture regain its silky look, before adding more. When all of the eggs have been added, stop and scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, then mix again until well combined. Scrape the batter into a large mixing bowl.

Pick up the parchment paper and sprinkle the flour mixture over the batter in three batches, gently folding in the dry ingredients between additions. Avoid overmixing, instead stirring just to combine.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick or knife comes out clean. The cake will just pull away from the sides of the pan. Let it cool on a wire rack.

Run a knife along the sides of the pan, then warm the bottom of the pan directly over the stovetop for a few seconds to encourage the cake to unmold (do this! it will help preserve the beautiful almond layer). Remove the paper and set on a cake plate until ready to serve.

Tightly wrapped, the cake will keep for 4 days at room temperature, or for 2 months in the freezer.

Walnut Relish to Put Atop Spring Things

Walnut Relish to Put Atop Spring Things
Walnut Relish with Egg | Delightful Crumb

Okay, so my memory of rhubarb and asparagus as magical springtime harbingers that emerge long before everything else and remind a girl that yes, actually, summer comes and life goes on after a frigid winter? NOT INCORRECT. I thought kale was a cold-weather thing! How is it that the root vegetables keep coming? When do we get strawberries and apricots? I’ve forgotten everything I knew about the Midwest!

I exaggerate. This isn’t entirely true. I still remember how to roast rhubarb and go with the flow of the unpredictable temperatures and enjoy a good thunderstorm. And I’m learning new things, too. Ramps seemed difficult to find in the Bay, and I don’t remember their abundance in Michigan circa 2010, but they are here in Chicago, and they are a delight. In my newfound ramp exuberance, I learned that this city is named for ramps. Did you know this? It is believed that “Chicago” is derived from the French pronunciation of the Miami-Illinois tribe’s term for this wild onion, shikaakwa. Fascinating!

While I may be a little cranky about the slow evolution of the spring market, we’ve basically arrived, so clearly I should calm down and enjoy. Early produce, as I think we all know by now, is best enjoyed as simply as possible. The recipe below is what I suggest you put atop your early asparagus and the last of the ramps and the prettiest spring onions. If you’ve got a grill, grill ’em, but roasting works wonderfully, too. Asparagus can be prepared even more simply—all it really needs is a quick blanch. This delicious condiment comes from Abra Berens’ Ruffage. She also has a more acid-forward rendition that skips the eggs, but this makes for a heartier side and is a logical yet surprising combination. Dare I say it is this spring’s answer to my beloved caper-raisin vinaigrette?!

Times are tough, and today, I don’t know what else to say about that. Except that I hope you’re finding your way. I hope you are nourished and comforted. I hope you feel joy in the simple things, like the first spring produce and the laughter of your neighbor’s daughter and the sunshine and persistent, irrational hope for a beautiful future for our children. And if you’re anything like me, moving forward feels a few degrees easier with something delicious on the table. So here’s what I’ve got for that.

Ramps | Delightful Crumb

Pounded Walnut Relish with Hard-Boiled Egg

Adapted from Abra Berens’ Ruffage

Walnut Relish with Egg | Delightful Crumb

1 cup (120 grams) raw walnuts

3 hard-boiled eggs

1 bunch flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup (120 milliliters) olive oil

Kosher salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

To boil the eggs, bring water to boil in a small saucepan. Gently slip in the eggs. Prepare a bowl of ice water while the eggs cook. After 10 to 12 minutes, remove the eggs with a slotted spoon, transferring them to the cold water. Allow to cool.

Toast the walnuts in a 350-degree oven or in a toaster oven, until fragrant and lightly browned. Allow to cool for several minutes. While they are still slightly warm, smash the walnuts roughly. (An effective method is putting the walnuts in a ziplock bag and smashing them with a rolling pin or a heavy pan. You could also just chop them, though the texture is ideal when bashed instead.)

Grate the eggs on the largest holes of a box grater.

Combine the walnuts, grated eggs, parsley, lemon zest and juice, olive oil and two big pinches of salt. The walnuts will soak up the olive oil and acidic lemon juice as they cool.

Serve over asparagus, spring onions or ramps (roasted, grilled, blanched, etc.). If it’s lunchtime, an extra half egg atop is entirely reasonable. Leftover relish will keep for a few days, refrigerated in a tightly sealed container.

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.

Herby Pea Soup for Springtime

Herby Pea Soup for Springtime
Herby Pea Soup | Delightful Crumb

Well. Here we are, still, despite everything. The times have not gotten less strange, though we’ve perhaps become more accustomed to them. For most of us, I don’t think it’s become much easier. In many ways, I feel like I’m in an extremely protracted experience of transition, one that was simply kicked off by a cross-country move so many months ago. There are new things I miss now, like the running trail near my apartment, stopping by the vast expanse of the lake, the surprising ease of visiting friends and family in Michigan, the restaurants and bars and coffee shops where I was just becoming a proper regular. But there are other things that I simply still miss—friends from Oakland, knowing at least the faces of all my neighbors, a level of familiarity that was only beginning to build here in Chicago. I wonder how long change and uncertainty will be so constant. And all this is just the tip of my own iceberg. If I’ve realized anything, it’s that everyone has an extremely specific experience of this time of coronavirus—a very personal matrix of reasons for worry or concern, with our own health risks and vulnerable loved ones, our own work worries, our own anxieties, our own fears. All I really know is that I don’t fully understand what anyone else is facing (which is generally the case in life, though we might forget it), and the best I can do is offer compassion and empathy and my very best self up to the world.

The rapid changes and unpredictability of the moment make me that much more grateful for springtime, for the trustworthy clockwork of the seasons ticking on. In some ways it feels wrong—that with so much pain and tragedy and suffering and confusion, the seasons just carry on like nothing has changed. Yet I’m also comforted that in a moment when so much is unpredictable, there’s something that happens just as expected, even when the sunny skies don’t match our moods. I’ve been reminded of a few things I’d forgotten about springtime—that is, the more dramatic arrival of this season on the heels of winter, as compared to the lovely but mild appearance at the end of a citrus-and-avocado-soaked California winter. I’d forgotten exactly how it smells, so utterly specific, especially after the rain. I was surprised by my own excitement about the first buds appearing on the trees, and the shock of seeing crocuses emerging from earth so recently frozen. I did not quite recall how deeply upsetting those last few snows are, when you are definitely over it—despite the fact that it’s just as beautiful as that first autumn snow. And last but not least, I had forgotten how weary of root vegetables a person can be. I hate to even say this, but for my Midwestern and East Coast and European friends: I happen to know that they have strawberries and edible flowers and PLENTY of asparagus over in the Bay Area by now. Meanwhile, I am living on spinach and anticipation.

This is the soup for those of us eager for springtime in all its glory but still subsisting on its promise. And, if I may be so bold to make the association, it’s a reminder that sometimes we have to live on that promise for a while, before the world turns a corner. May we all have enough outlandish hope to carry us to that moment.

Herby Green Pea & Coconut Soup

Adapted from Anna Jones’s A Modern Way to Cook

Serves 4 to 6

I love a fresh English pea, but while I’m waiting for those babies in early spring (but also in the dark of winter), this is where I turn. Swap in whatever soft, flavorful herbs you have on hand (parsley alone is less exciting but acceptable), and be generous with the toppings. If you don’t have green onions but do have a couple of leeks or spring onions, by all means use those! They will take a little longer to cook. You can use an immersion blender to purée the soup, but I always use a normal blender to make it super smooth as I find that’s part of the appeal. I sometimes make a half batch of this, and we gobble the whole thing up.

Herby Pea Soup | Delightful Crumb

Generous scoop of coconut oil

1 bunch of green onions, finely chopped

Salt

2 pounds frozen peas

1 14-ounce can of full-fat coconut milk

1 tablespoon vegetable stock powder or 1/2 stock cube

1 bunch basil, cilantro, mint, parsley or a combination of these

1–2 lemons

Freshly cracked pepper

Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving

Yogurt or more coconut milk, for serving (optional)

Toasted pepitas, for serving (optional)

Fill a kettle of water and bring to a boil while you gather the rest of your ingredients.

Put a large soup pan over medium heat. Add the coconut oil and, once melted, the green onion and a pinch of salt. Turn up the heat and cook until the green onions are softened, about 2 or 3 minutes.

Add the peas, coconut milk, stock powder or cube and 3 cups of boiling water. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn down the heat and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat. Add most of the herbs, soft stalks included, and the juice of one lemon. In a blender, purée the soup until very smooth. Taste and adjust for seasoning—you might want to add more salt or lemon. Add pepper here if you like as well.

Serve topped with a drizzle of olive oil and yogurt/coconut milk, if you wish, as well as freshly cracked black pepper, the herbs you reserved and toasted pepitas.