reading: Turgenev, Zola, Mead, paella, recipes


Fathers and Sons, Ivan Turgenev — Turgenev has a sensitivity and a clarity that makes reading him feel healthy for your mind.

The Ladies’ Paradise, Emile Zola — The novel on which the recent Masterpiece number The Paradise is loosely, rather cartoonishly based, the novel being a good deal darker and harsher. Often lovely and often sad, unafraid of sympathy or sentimentality in a bold, masterful way that makes you, the modern reader (usually so scornful of sentimentality in our jaded superiority), ready to embrace it, too. Somehow I’ve read it before Zola’s more famous Germinal, which I’ve wanted to read for a lot longer. How decisions of what to read are made are a matter of endless interest to me.

One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding, Rebecca Mead — This book reads like an engaging, well-researched magazine article that just happens to be kind of long. Mead (a staff writer for The New Yorker) gives a thoughtful breakdown of the wedding industry from the dress factories in China to  independent bridal shops, small town churches, and Vegas chapels, underscoring how blatantly commercial and inherently manipulative the industry is, and how rife with paradoxes. That weddings are becoming bigger and more expensive in concert with the divorce rate (interesting for a bunch reasons). The dream that wedding industry advertising is selling promises more and more (expanding to fit the growing consumer appetites and the cultural call for individuality), subtly conflating wedding with marriage (the better the wedding, the better the marriage, is the implication), and the consumable peripherals are multiplying as fast as vendors can dream them up, each bolstered by as much pseudo/faux-tradition as will stick to them. The Bride is one of the most desirable consumers, eagerly wooed by all industry sectors – a cash cow to be milked to the max.

This is good writing, with a mix of interesting and funny details chosen and the reflection to make it appealing for a wide audience. Picked it up at the library on a whim along with another of Mead’s titles about Middlemarch, a favorite of mine.

La Paella, Jeff Koehler

Paella!, Penelope Casa — Such a versatile, appealing dish. I love to learn culinary concepts like this; a set of basic principles which, once established, may be approached with an endless variety of ingredients. I’m determined to be a competent maker of paella, whatever the style. I got a pan.*

*A very simple, inexpensive pan with a thin bottom, the style preferred by seasoned paella chefs for its quick response to changes in temperature.

My Paris Kitchen, David Lebovitz — I like browsing this species of cookbook, part recipe compilation, part food memoir/food philosophy, part cultural translation. This has a nice blend of traditional French dishes and the ‘quirky personal dishes loosely based on a classic’ that are the natural by-product of a good, creative cook living their life. I don’t necessarily read such books in order to make the recipes, but to be inspired by various innovative or promising-sounding combinations.

Homemade Winter, Yvette Van Boven — A straight cookbook with a great rustic, homey aesthetic, featuring a lot of my favorite ingredients (cinnamon, clove, ginger…). Much more likely to try a recipe verbatim from this kind of cookbook (and likely to skim or skip whatever prose there may be, only casting an eye over the recipe ingredients). I’m a little late mentioning this, I was browsing it all winter. I think about elaborate cooking a lot more than I actually engage in it these days (I work so many hours, reader!), and I bake still less. I’ve been thinking about making a loaf of bread for 14 months at least. It’s time to confront my excuses.

on the menu: homemade granola

Few foodstuffs seem to me as sublime, as supremely edible as homemade granola. It needn’t be expensive, and you can chuck in all sorts of nice things.


I use a Fanny Farmer recipe as a base, which I’ve modified over time with a smidgen of every granola recipe I’ve liked or think I might like. The result is a bit different every time, and always to my liking.

Here’s roughly what I did this time, though the proportions can vary quite a bit before it becomes distinctly different. I say add more of what you like most. The main thing is having enough of the oil/honey mixture to coat the dry ingredients evenly.

3 c oats

1+ c almonds (flakes, whole, or both – I like extra)

1 c pumpkin seeds

1 c sunflower seeds

1 c coconut flakes

1/4 c  dried cranberries (or any dried fruit)

1/4 c flax seeds

1/3 c sesame seeds (more like 1/4 c or none for normal people)

1/2 c pistachios or pecans

1 tsp cinnamon (adjust to your taste; the recipe can handle twice this if you like, also fine with half)

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 c coconut oil (or you can substitute 1/4 c canola oil with a couple of tablespoons of butter, but the coconut oil gives excellent flavor. I often add a bit extra.)

1/2 c honey (can substitute maple syrup here, too, or add in addition. I go heavy on the honey, too)

2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Warm oil, honey, and vanilla in a saucepan and mix well into dry ingredients, coating evenly.  Spread granola mixture evenly in a baking pan or sheet (line it with parchment paper for easy stirring and removal). Bake, stirring every 10 minutes, until granola is deep golden brown, about 35 minutes (this part is flexible as well, you can do 25 minutes for a chewier texture or 45 for more crunch. The shallower the mixture on your baking pan/sheet, the less time it will take). Add dried fruit around the last 5 minutes of baking time. Let cool before eating or storing (it will harden as it cools, so expect it to seem slightly underdone when first removed from the oven). Store in an airtight container.

Note that I mean raw nuts and seeds here. A few roasted ones tend to work out OK if you opt for a quicker cooking time and adjust salt levels accordingly (or don’t mind the extra crunch).

aside: I love pistachios

I often don’t bother baking the dried fruit at all, simply adding it to individual servings as desired.


Add berries and a fraction of coconut or almond milk. Maybe some maple syrup if feeling decadent.