"A good rotation. A rotation I define as the experiencing of the new beyond the expectation of the experiencing of the new. For example, taking one's first trip to Taxco would not be a rotation, or no more than a very ordinary rotation; but getting lost on the way and discovering a hidden valley would be." - Walker Percy (The Moviegoer)
Two years ago today, using the same exact quote by Walker Percy, I started this blog with a post about granola. It was, as many of you know, my gift to myself for surviving the first four years of graduate school--for both writing and reading more pages than I could count, for forcing myself to grapple with things that I sometimes wasn't even all that interested in and, most importantly, for expanding my food repertoire. I had read and loved many of the Russian masters; in my newly discovered freedom, it was time to turn my attention away from Tolstoy's wars and Dostoevsky's drunken gamblers and onto things that were a little more pertinent in my daily life. It was, quite simply, time to cook, to bake and to eat well. After all, the world of food was a long germinating interest of mine that had, despite the occasional cupcake, often been pushed to the sidelines since I couldn't balance everything--and still manage to sleep.
Of course, there was a part of me that was afraid to start this blog. What did I know about food photography? As my early pictures can attest, not much. But the great thing is that I picked up a few skills along the way, moved into an apartment that has an abundance of natural light and got a better camera. But photography aside, there was also the small issue of how to write about food. While I had been trained to analyze language and pick out strange moments in literary texts, I wasn't quite sure about selling a recipe or describing the intense satisfaction of making gnocchi or a lemon yogurt cake. It was (and, at times, still is) a process of trial and error, of finding my own means of bloggerly expression, but one that I have enjoyed immensely.
In general, I've gone about this blog in my own way. As I'm sure you've noticed, all but a handful of my posts start with some kind of a quote, mainly literary, but sometimes also something inspiring that I stumbled upon in some article. I suppose that's my scholarly training coming through--I feel most comfortable when I'm writing through something else. Call it my anchor, call it the theme of the post, it hardly matters. Food and literature are two of the things I like best and, somehow, I couldn't have one without the other. So I write about what I read and cook and, sometimes even about what I write. I do sometimes worry that there's not enough "Dostoevsky" on this blog and that the blog's name is nothing but a misnomer, but the simple truth is that had I never read Dostoevsky (cliche that it is), my life might have turned out very differently. This man and this man alone drove me to want to devote my life to Russian literature (i.e. the PhD track).
That's right; in the midst of all this baking, cooking and fiction reading, I've been working on my dissertation, too (and, oddly, I've been sleeping more than ever!). Some days it goes well, other days it is such a miserable process that I immediately retreat back into the kitchen to play around with lentils or dough. Only after this kind of mental "cleanse" can I even imagine returning to the computer.
This upcoming academic year is supposed to be the one in which I finish my dissertation and apply for jobs. In short, scary, scary things. I have no idea what's going to happen or how any of this will turn out, but I do know that this blog will continue to be a part of the process. When it all started two years ago, my life looked very different from how it looked today: I met the Greek, I've traveled to some amazing places, I've done a lot of work--more than I sometimes give myself credit for--and I've made so many foods that had formerly seemed beyond the reach of my culinary skills....Which just goes to show you that you can never really know how things are going to turn out.
But to those of you who stop by regularly and have been a part of this process, from my family and friends to the strangers who find their way here from other blogs and the wide world of the internet, I send you a sincere thank you. I would blog even if I had no readers, but it's a comfort to know that my words are not simply disappearing into the Great Beyond.
Since I'm leaving for Greece and Turkey tomorrow evening and I won't be back until mid-week when I've reached Greek soil and stuffed myself full of cheese, I wanted to leave you with a recipe--one that evoked the place I'm going and that also circled back nicely to how this blog began. The perfect recipe fell into my lap a few weeks ago when, while searching for an engagement gift for friends, I came across a used copy of In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite. I just couldn't resist buying it with my birthday money, partly because of my Melissa Clark love, partly because of the 75% discount off the cover price and partly because the first recipe I opened up to was the Olive Oil Granola with Dried Apricots and Pistachios. Salty sweet things have always managed to turn my head and this was no exception; I was intrigued by the addition of olive oil in granola, too. It sounded like a taste of the Mediterranean and the kind of fragrant breakfast that calls to mind sunshine and beaches, slow mornings and cloying heat. To stay true to my vision of Mediterranean bliss, I decided to use honey instead of maple syrup, to add both ginger and cardamom (Clark recommends that you make an impossible choice between the two), less brown sugar and more apricots. Texturally speaking, it's the stickiest granola I've ever made, but also some of the most flavorful. I think my impulse to add honey was spot on, too, because the granola is quite sweet--not in a bad way, but in a way that recalls the sweet syrups generously poured on baklava. Just imagine baklava in a bowl, served with either yogurt or milk: does breakfast get any better than that?
"Going to Greece Granola," aka Honey-Olive Oil Granola with Dried Apricots and Pistachios
Generously adapted from Melisssa Clark's In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite
Yields roughly 9 cups
Recipe notes: I've found that granola recipes are generous when it comes to adaptation. You can easily add things you like--nuts, seeds, etc.--and take out those ingredients that are less pleasing to your palate. In the case of this granola, the original recipe called for 3/4 cup pure maple syrup; I decided to substitute 1/2 cup honey + 1/4 cup water, heated together and diluted in a saucepan. Because honey is naturally sweeter than maple syrup, I added 3 tablespoons of light brown sugar, as compared to the original 1/3 cup. I would also say, however, that all of these quantities could be cut again; this granola would most likely be delicious with less olive oil and even less honey and brown sugar; the texture would certainly change, but since this recipe is a tad gooey, you can move only in the direction of more perfectly crisped oats.
3 cups extra-thick rolled oats
1 cup hulled pistachios
3/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
3 tablespoons packed light-brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup water
1 cup dried apricots, chopped into quarters
-Preheat the oven to 300 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
-In a large bowl, whisk together the oats, nuts, pumpkin seeds, coconut flakes, sugar, salt and spices.
-Stir in the olive oil and mix well.
-In a small saucepan, heat the honey and water until smooth. Remove from heat and stir into the oat mixture.
-Spread the mixture evenly onto the baking sheet.
-Place in the oven and bake for 35-45 minutes, or until a deep golden color. Be sure to stir the granola every 10 minutes, also rotating the pan, so that it bakes evenly.
-Remove from oven--make sure that no clumps have formed and, if they have, break them up with a knife--and let cool.
-Once the granola is at room temperature, mix in the dried apricots and place in jars.