I’ve been watching the new season of “Mad Men” and, like most people who watch the show, I’ve been pretty disappointed by it. I’ve been a really big fan of the show since it started. The first season was remarkable simply for the 60s factor and the “remember when [blank] was acceptable” game. Drinking at work, smoking everywhere, sexual harassment in the office. They were all there for us to watch and laugh at, feeling smug in our contemporary,better lives, but also a little nostalgic for our childhoods.
By season too, the show became more than a neat time trick. It started exploring the main characters more deeply by placing them in situations that showed their inner gears. The writing was taut and the direction was beautiful but not showy. Some episodes were like literature. There was the one titled “The Suitcase” that was pure magic. A year or two ago there was an article on “Mad Men” in Entertainment Weekly and they asked the cast members to name their favorite episode. Most of them said it was “The Suitcase.”
But this season has been uneven, at best. There have been what, four, five episodes? And yet it feels like nothing’s happened. Everyone seems to just be going through the motions and each episode is written less about the characters and more about a different important historical event of the late 60s. It’s like a history lesson with actors.
I’ve read a few articles bemoaning this and analyzing the reasons for the show’s slump. But for me the reason is clear: there are just too many characters. As the main ones (Don, Peggy, Joan, Pete, and Roger) started to get married, divorced, remarried, to have lovers and parents and kids, too many people joined the show and the focus was lost. The show never spends enough time on the few important characters because it now has to also cover everyone else, even a little bit. The result is a watered down, overloaded soap opera.
It’s the same with food (I know you were wondering where I was going with the “Mad Men” diatribe). There is such a thing as too many ingredients, one too many techniques, or too many courses. Most of the time, I’d rather have few, good ingredients that come together beautifully and support each other in the final product, than a complicated recipe with fifteen ingredients and thirty steps to make.
This recipe for olive oil and maple granola is somewhere in the middle. It has quite a few ingredients, all easy to find, but very few steps. Mix and bake, stirring a few times along the way. The result is probably the best granola I’ve ever tasted. It’s not too sweet, with a good combination of nuts and seeds, along with toasted coconut flakes to up the ante. The olive oil is all the way in the background, a grassy note to complement the maple syrup’s smoky sweetness. It all comes together perfectly, like an early episode of “Mad Men.”
Olive Oil and Maple Granola – Adapted from Orangette
Makes about 7 cups
300 grams (3 cups) rolled oats (not the quick cooking kind)
125 grams (1 cup) raw hulled pumpkin seeds (aka pepitas)
130 grams (1 cup) raw hulled sunflower seeds
50 grams (1 cup) unsweetened coconut chips (you can substitute unsweetened, grated coconut if you can’t find the chips)
135 grams (1 ¼ cup) raw pecans, whole or chopped (you can also use any combination of nuts; almonds and pistachios work well)
85 grams (packed ½ cup) light brown sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
175 ml (¾ cup) maple syrup
120 ml (½ cup) olive oil
Preheat the oven to 300°F and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine the oats, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, coconut chips, pecans, light brown sugar, and salt. Stir with a spoon or spatula to mix. Add the olive oil and maple syrup, and stir until everything is well combined. Spread the mixture in an even layer on the prepared sheet pan. Bake, stirring every 15 minutes, until the granola is golden brown and toasted, about 45-55 minutes. If you like your granola more clumpy, stir only once or twice in the beginning and then do not stir anymore.
Remove the granola from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container, where it will keep for about a month.