Eat | Read with Kristen Iskandrian
It turns out Good Friday has its very own food: hot cross buns, which allegedly originated in medieval England. They seem like a kind of cousin to panettone, enjoyed throughout much of Europe during the Christmas season. Hot cross buns bear the cross, in icing, across their tops, and then there’s the fact that they are a kind of yeast roll—so the whole rising thing is covered, too. Hot cross buns fall into the genre of baked goods that’s probably my favorite: more bread than cake, but with enough sugar to distinguish it from something you’d put mustard on; iced but not frosted, and possessing a nice amount of textural intrigue, owing to the currants and/or raisins that stud the dough. They also represent a baking milestone for me personally: years ago, I purchased a half dozen from a bakery, right before Easter. I hadn’t had one since childhood, and they tasted appropriately special. I thought, when they were gone from the box and from the bakery shelves, how sad to have to wait a whole year. And then it occurred to me, after longer than you might think, oh, I suppose I could learn to make them? And I did, several times, and they were not perfect, but they were very good, better for the triumph of having done it myself. I am going to try them later today with my daughters, the older of whom is very interested in science, and the younger of whom is very interested in eating things, and since yeast is science and hot cross buns are delicious, I’m hoping it’ll be a good experience for all. I have tried the Joy of Cooking recipe, which cross-references its own Milk Bread recipe as well as its recipes for Stollen and Panettone—but this year, I’m going to defer to a combination of Martha and Nigella. I plan on using golden raisins, which I prefer to currants, and the zest of an orange, to give it that holiday flavor. The rest will be a rough compromise between the two.
Two things to note this week—
Mary Miller’s The Last Days of California. I really, really love this book. I love its premise, pacing, and characters, and I love the writing, funny and wry but shot through with empathy and tenderness. Jess, Elise, and their parents seem to lead as much with their love for one another, however misguided and misunderstood, as they do with their flaws. The result is something rare: a family. Barreling toward the Rapture on a cross-country trip, they do exactly what families on a road trip do, and yet what no family I know has ever done. This seems to be a mark, for me, of good fiction: how do you create something Real without succumbing to the cream-on-beige chevron of Realism? Miller knows how to get in to those nooks and crannies that separate the merely recognizable from the alien beauty of the really real.
At the library book sale, I picked up After the Revolution: Women Who Transformed Contemporary Art (2007). This is a good keep-it-open book: the kind you should leave open on the kitchen counter or on a table between the two rooms where you spend the most time, so that when you get up to walk to and fro or get a snack, you can linger for a few pages. A lot of my reading occurs this way—standing up while I’m waiting for water to boil or marching in place when I’ve grown tired of sitting in front of a screen. After the Revolution isn’t a read-straight-through book anyway—it’s more of a textbook, a nice refresher for various artists I haven’t spent too much time with since college and grad school. I especially appreciated the sections on Cindy Sherman and Shirin Neshat. Anthologies are always troubling in their omissions, and I’m not sure the commentary here is exceptional, but as far as a bargain book sale goes, I’m not upset to own it and keep it open.
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