Staff Picks: Creations, Croissants, and Crutchfields


This Week’s Reading

Alia Volz.

California is rife with personal histories of various sorts—so many that one wonders if there’s anything yet to be discovered about the Golden State. Enter Alia Volz’s new memoir Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, and the Stoning of San Francisco, a beautiful evocation of the Bay Area in the years before tech bros and big money changed the city. During the wild and woolly seventies, Volz’s mother founded Sticky Fingers Brownies, a company responsible for delivering upward of ten thousand illegal cannabis edibles per month to San Francisco consumers. Like Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday, this is a narrative about a time that is now gone: San Francisco as circus, where pot was both ubiquitous and as illegal as heroin. Under Volz’s careful attention, all of it—the era, the place, and her own parents—is rendered clear, bright, and beautiful. —Christian Kiefer 

During the past three weeks, one new album has never been far from my turntable: Saint Cloud, the fifth full-length from Waxahatchee, a.k.a Katie Crutchfield. Crutchfield began her musical career in the late aughts, playing a kind of melodic punk with her twin sister, Allison, in the band P.S. Eliot. She started Waxahatchee to evolve a mellower, more folk-inspired sound. Her previous record, the break-up album Out in the Storm, is about as noisy and hard as she was willing to get, and Saint Cloud, which was written in the aftermath of her giving up drinking, is willfully mellow, countrified in the manner of Crutchfield’s hero Lucinda Williams. It took me a few listens to like it, and then I fell in love. These songs engage in a sustained self-reckoning, taking stock, owning regrets, and setting mistakes to music: “I’ll keep lying to myself / I’m not that untrue / I’m in a war with myself / It’s got nothing to do with you,” she sings in “War,” an upbeat rocker. Crutchfield’s voice is inflected with a quiet Southern lilt; it’s not that her voice is unique, but you can always tell it’s hers. You feel her whole self—disappointed, humbled, but not without excitement or hope—in every syllable. You’d know what these songs are about even if you didn’t speak English. This may be her best record—it’s certainly her most grown-up—and it’s great company in lonely, yet not unhopeful, hours that seem to be turning into days, weeks, months. —Craig Morgan Teicher




Leslie Jamison, from the depths of a trying quarantine, puts into new words the most familiar of platitudes: “the grass is always greener” suddenly has become “sure, I sometimes wish my quarantine was another quarantine.” The turn had me musing about the equalizing aspects of coronavirus (this is happening to all of us), which are as boggling in their novelty as the inequalities are in their painful familiarity (the happening is harder for some). Through my quarantine, I’ve been listening to Haim. Although the sisters who make up the band are roughly my age, until recently I’ve thought of their music as being for younger, more carefree listeners. The Steps, their newest effort, is a damn good EP that serves as a prelude to their third studio album, their first in three years. In the time of internet attention spans, such a delay could have easily dimmed the buzz of a less confident group. But Haim are as dominant as they are infectious. Their sound is a little Fleetwood Mac and later Paul Simon meets Warpaint and something a little sweeter. There are as many music videos as tracks on the EP, and the limitless talents of Paul Thomas Anderson and Danielle Haim make the video for the title track smart, puzzling, and rewatchable. The Muses—and now I mean those other sisters—tempt us in part because of their storytelling power. The strong California vibes given off Haim’s music made me feel oddly eligible to wear the snake-print slingbacks that have been waiting for their moment in the sun—just in my own living room. And for a moment I could imagine that my biggest problem was that the pool couldn’t be serviced, so that when ennui drove me back in, past nightfall, a few leaves and a moth or two would catch in my hair as they sailed into the lights—someone else’s quarantine. —Julia Berick

Although I read Kate Zambreno’s Drifts (out May 19 from Riverhead Books) before the Paris Review office started working from home, it’s a perfect book for the quarantined. In a series of photos and prose fragments, Zambreno’s narrator avoids working on her novel, reads, teaches, plays with her dog, worries about money, looks at art, and eventually, surprisingly, finds herself pregnant. It’s a work that wears its influences on its sleeves—as in all of Zambreno’s books, the references to other artists and their work fly fast and thick—and one that captures the fitful stops, starts, shame, joy, and boredom that go into creating a work of art. —Rhian Sasseen

Before we were sent indoors, my fellow intern and I kept a running list of the best croissants in Chelsea. La Colombe boasts a reliable almond, and Bottino serves a utilitarian plain that’s best when toasted. Sullivan Street Bakery, however, rises about the rest. Their croissants are cloaked in a mysterious, sugary glaze, light enough to accentuate the quality of the pastry without overpowering it. With the sudden drop in my croissant intake, however, I’ve turned to my own culinary devices. After weeks of research, I selected a traditional recipe from Poilâne, a cookbook by the pastry chef Apollonia Poilâne. She’s an elegant Franco American and the CEO of Poilâne Bakery in Paris, where each loaf of sourdough is delicately inscribed with her last initial. She adroitly demonstrates how recipes are a form of storytelling, each page of her book interwoven with personal anecdotes and culinary histories. Poilâne’s croissant recipe is a meditative process, its simple steps spanning three days of worthwhile labor. I measured the hours of these endless days by the various stages of laminating, chilling, and proofing the dough. The result: a neat set of fourteen croissants and an aroma of warm yeast and butter filling the house. I even tried to emulate Sullivan Street Bakery’s shiny, sweet exterior, consulting a chef friend who believes the glaze is a wash of egg yolks and heavy cream. I had whole milk, which nearly did the trick. Don’t fear if you have neither the wherewithal nor quantities of flour to replicate these croissants yourself: Poilâne Bakery is shipping worldwide. —Elinor Hitt


Elinor’s croissants. Photo: Elinor Hitt.