ever since we met, the world’s been upside-down

So about three weeks ago I started writing a blog post on here and then suddenly, like those weird half-dreams you have before you’re properly asleep, where you slip over and fall, slamming hard into your own bed, waking up with a gasp, I just like…could not write another word. And wanted to throw my iPad against the wall to create as much distance between myself and this blog. Once the dramatics subsided I was like okay, let’s actually analyse this rather than unsubsiding into more dramatics, tempting though it is. I think I’ve allowed myself to just drift aimlessly on here without any great sense of purpose and it’s kind of dragging me down a bit. And then I tried to look at the bigger picture, which is not something I do very often, and I was like to be fair, for the entirety of last year I was battling some massive-assed depression, so every single blog post that I wrote felt like a small victory, a mountain climbed, a display of life continuing. Then at the start of this year I spent well over a month recovering from a Literal Head Injury so actually it’s no wonder I ended up feeling super listless about my writing. Right now though, I’m actually doing pretty okay on most fronts, so I can finally take some time to focus on what I want out of this blog, out of life, out of everything. I’m not actually entirely sure what I want yet, it seems just out of reach. BUT I do know that I don’t actually want to give up on this blog at all.

Out of some kind of bloody-minded curiosity I made a list of every project I’ve embarked on and abandoned and it was almost hilarious: for a minute I had a food podcast, for a while I interviewed musicians about food, I had a mercifully short-lived (like, if only it were so short-lived that it didn’t even occur at all) foray into vlogging on YouTube, for a while I was making instructional cooking videos, for a bit there I was making cookie dough pretzel sandwiches and selling them with flagrant disinterest in the laws around making food for profit. But this blog, somehow, has remained a part of my life for ten entire years! Eleven in October! And a lack of focus is not a good enough reason to give up on it, it is in fact merely a prompt to get more focussed. It’s okay to have peaks (eg writing a cookbook) and low points (eg being ghosted by my publishers) and it’s okay to start projects and not finish them, but it’s also okay to challenge myself and to try to fight against complacency and to maybe, just maybe, put some effort into planning things rather than just starting them without any thought of sustainability.

I also realised that part of what was making me all disillusioned was how broke I am, it’s kind of hard to keep up a regular conveyer belt of blog-worthy food and it feels like any goals I do try making end up getting ground down into nothing through lack of funds. But there are small things I can do! My angelic friend Sarah gave me a laptop cord – mine had broken and I couldn’t afford to replace it so I was taking photos on my phone rather than with my proper camera because the editing software was on the laptop and the increased lack of quality was increasing my disillusionment – so this is a start. I’ve decided to put myself out there as available for freelancing work again and am working on putting together a small online portfolio. I was reading through old pieces I’d done – travel writing, pop culture stuff, whatever – and I was like you know what, I’m really good at this! And I could do it again! None of this is stopping me being broke in the short term but it is helping at least to keep my chin up. I’m also, don’t you worry, determined to not let my Frasier food blog fall by the wayside.

And I made a cake.

Yes, hand-wringingly long-story-short, I’m still here and I made a cake. I got some rhubarb from the Sunday vegetable markets (dragging myself to the markets is itself a gigantic achievement) (also I went with tip money from work the night before and this is why you should tip your bartenders, people!) and while there are any thousand million numbers of ways that you could enjoy rhubarb, I was in the mood for something pinkly sugary. An upside-down cake is a rakishly attractive way to use fruit in your baking, as it provides both flavour and decoration, but there’s certainly nothing stopping you from just folding the chopped rhubarb through the cake batter. This makes a handsomely tall and proud cake from which to carve thick, tender slices, and it’s wonderfully easy to make as well – just a one-bowl affair and a bit of stirring.

I scattered some pink peppercorns across the rhubarb before draping over the cake batter; I liked the pink-on-pink dovetailing and their musky-sweet warmth is lovely with rhubarb’s jammy tartness. If you don’t have them though just leave them out – regular pepper is too harsh to substitute in here.

rhubarb and pink peppercorn upside down cake

a recipe by myself

  • six sticks of rhubarb
  • one teaspoon pink peppercorns
  • quarter of a cup of sugar
  • three cups plain flour
  • one and a half cups of sugar (extra)
  • two teaspoons baking powder
  • one teaspoon baking soda
  • one teaspoon salt
  • two teaspoons vanilla extract
  • one can of good coconut milk
  • two thirds of a cup of sunflower or similarly plain oil
  • quarter of a cup of lemon juice

Firstly, set your oven to 180C/350F and line the base of a 21cm springform cake tin with baking paper. Trim and discard the leaves from the rhubarb, and chop the pink stalks into slices of roughly 2cm/one inch. Arrange the slices evenly inside the base of the cake tin, sprinkle with the quarter cup of sugar and the peppercorns, and set aside. 

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl, then stir in the sugar, followed by all the wet ingredients. Mix to create a thick batter, and spatula this carefully over the rhubarb in the caketin. 

Bake for fifty minutes (it may need longer, it depends on your oven) and let it sit for a few minutes before running a knife around the cake inside the tin and upturning it carefully onto a plate. Dust with icing sugar if you like, and be on your way. 

Rhubarb’s natural sourness means it can carry a lot of sugar and it works beautifully with the hint of lemon and vanilla in the cake. If rhubarb isn’t in season or just not what you’re into, you could use this as a template for damn near any other baking-friendly fruit – upside down apple cakes, berry cakes, whatever, would all be worthy uses of your time. I was really happy with this just as it was though – don’t get me wrong, I’ve been eating, but it’s been nothing particularly inspiring or joyful and nothing felt worthy of writing about here, and so the act of making a cake felt good.

And I guess after ten years it would almost be weird if I didn’t have some moments of uncertainty, yeah? Who knows if blogs will even still exist by the time I get my act together, but for now my goal is: to have a goal!

If you’ve found yourself on an fired-up upside-down cake rampage after reading this, may I suggest other recipes I’ve blogged about, such as upside-down caramel nut cake, Nigella’s pineapple upside down cake (which I blogged about in July 2008, damn) or this pear and almond cake which isn’t actually an upside-down cake but…it looks like one.

(PS: I went back and forth about whether to say something about Anthony Bourdain, who died last week. Like, does anyone need me to say anything? Nah. Have five thousand tons of things already been said? Yeah. But it’s terribly, terribly sad, isn’t it. I cannot recommend hard enough that you look up some of his shows where he traveled around the world and just listened to people about their food and their lives.)

title from: a sad and strange story – Connie Converse was one of the earliest examples of the singer-songwriter genre, but her recordings made in the 1950s went by and large unnoticed until 2004, nearly thirty years after she completely disappeared never to be seen again. I don’t mean from the music business, she like, fully disappeared. Her small but beautiful collection of music has a kind of thoughtful melancholy to it, very spare and gently folky. I took the title from her song Trouble, a short little song with the repeated stanza – “but if you go away, as trouble ought to do, where will I find another soul to tell my trouble to? 

music lately: 

Chelsea Jade, Laugh It Off. I love her! I love this new song of hers!

Faith No More, We Care A Lot, the original 1985 recording with Chuck Mosley. It’s not that the more well-known version is all that polished but I love how sludgy and grubby this one is, like it’s about to slide off the beat any second now, and I looove Mosley’s bratty, congested-sounding voice.

Rock Star from the musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, a pop-punk musical about a bad and useless American President, which as a premise may or may not appeal but this song is SO GOOD to listen to while striding purposefully down the street. If you’re more into striding with aimless melancholy I recommend instead listening to Saddest Song from the same musical.

next time: As if I know! But I’ll be here. 

i imagine that it’s there on a plate, your whole rendezvous rate

So the deal with this week’s blog post is, there are no photos and I don’t even want to talk about the recipe. Because I made it – crispy rice with preserved lime, almonds and cardamom- three days in a row and now I’m so sick of it and can’t even think about it without feeling uneasy, bordering on queasy. Let’s try and go back in time though, to the middle of those heady days, where I simply couldn’t get enough of this incredible dish and ate it with such rapidity that, though thrice did I make it (THRICE! Threefold!) not once did I pause to record the moment. Let’s periodically pause while reading this blog post and pretend there is a photo of a plate of rice with some stuff on it in between every other paragraph. Let’s pretend it’s not today but Wednesday and I’m snarfing bowlful after bowlful of tender basmati rice that has turned crunchy and golden with olive oil and made aromatic by the lemony-gingery breath of cardamom and the warm earthiness of cinnamon and cumin, that has the buttery crunch of a tumble of almonds and sesame seeds and bursts of sharp, salty preserved lime slices.

I’m genuinely super annoyed at myself for not taking any photos and did contemplate long and hard for like nine minutes about whether or not to even write this but I concluded pragmatically that my photos are deeply hit and miss anyway and it’s the writing that’s the real juicy prize here.

I spent Sunday night at my best friend Kate’s house, doing what I love best: sitting on the floor by the warmth and white noise of her fireplace, quietly pottering about reading her cookbooks for inspiration while her husband brought me dinner and her dog scooted about scootily. The recipe below evolved from one in either A Modern Way To Cook or A Modern Way To Eat by Anna Jones, both lovely books filled with lovely recipes (sometimes too lovely, for example she has a recipe called “my bright root mash” and I’m like…can you hear yourself here.) Mine is a much more pared down and simplified version of her recipe largely because, honestly, I was pretty broke this week, but you can see how you could extrapolate this out wildly to make it more elaborate, with added herbs, fancier nuts, roasted things to strew across the top, and so on. The preserved limes are just there because I had some following my friend Jen giving me a bag of limes from her tree, but preserved lemons are pretty easy to get hold of and make a chill substitute. The best thing about this recipe is how high reward it is for how simple it is to make. Don’t be tempted to hold back on the final step of pouring more oil onto the rice and turning up the heat – the golden, crunchy base that forms where the rice hits the saucepan is magical. Well it was, till I ate too much of it.

crispy rice with preserved lime, almonds and cardamom

  • one cup basmati rice
  • three tablespoons olive oil  
  • one teaspoon ground cumin
  • half a teaspoon ground cinnamon  
  • two cardamom pods
  • three tablespoons sesame seeds
  • half a cup of almonds, roughly chopped 
  • four slices of preserved lime or preserved lemon   
  • sea salt, to serve

Rinse the rice in a sieve. Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a saucepan and tip in the rice, stirring it so that the grains get lightly toasted. Tip in two cups of water, the cinnamon, cumin, and cardamom pods. Before you throw in the cardamom pods, lean on them with the side of a knife to crush them slightly. Put a lid on the saucepan and let it cook away until the rice is tender and cooked, which should take around ten minutes. At this point, use the handle of a wooden spoon to push some holes in the cooked rice, and pour the remaining olive oil into the holes. Turn the heat up as high as it will go and let the rice cook away for another five or so minutes, creating a crispy crust on the base. 

Meanwhile, toast the sesame seeds and almonds in a dry frying pan until they’re lightly browned. Roughly chop up the preserved lime slices, or lemon if you’re using it, and mix in with the sesame seeds and almonds. Divide the rice between bowls and spoon over the lime and almond mixture, and then add plenty of salt to taste. 

This recipe serves two very generously and aside from me feeding some to my friend Emily during a floor picnic on the third day, I actually ate all of it every single time which is probably why I’m so wholeheartedly sick of it now, but also, I daresay, does speak to its singular deliciousness. If you’re intrigued by the mention of lime pickle, I have a recipe for it on my Frasier food blog which was in itself based on a recipe I posted about back on this blog in 2010. That’s right, I’ll link to myself all! day! long! I will never run out of energy for drawing your attention from me, to further-me, and yet-still-more-me!

Speaking of, if you’ve got yourself a big bag of rice and are all like “hmm” and “I feel a gentle yet tugging melancholy at reaching the end of this blog post and realizing that my time of paying attention to Laura is thus coming to an end” may I recommend some further recipes from On Here: Buttermilk Risotto with Miso, Capers and Toasted Walnuts; Rice Salad with Mango, Coconut and Peanuts; or Sunday Night Pilaf with Cinnamon, Tumeric and Vegetables.

title from:  Brianstorm by Arctic Monkeys. Alternate title: “…top marks for not trying”.

music lately:  

I’ve been listening to Eyedea and Abilities’ album By The Throat which I love, I guess if I was going to pick a starting point I’d go with Junk or Smile?

Janet Jackson, Rhythm Nation . She is such a LEGEND it’s unreal. I’ve been listening to heaps of her older music and having this one in particular on loop, the chorus is so addictive the way the back up singers’ voices rise up like bubbles in lemonade and the music video is honestly kind of stressful to watch because the level of discipline and work ethic is so laid bare in her incredible and highly technical and NONSTOP dancing.

next time: photos and non-feigned enthusiasm I swear. 

three, that’s the magic number

For the last week or so I’ve been sick with a really rough cold that I’m juuuust coming out the other side of, mostly due to a drinking game that I call “take lemon honey ginger every time you cough”, a game with a sub-rule of “strawpedo Robitussin at any and all opportunities” which is curiously followed by “the floor is now lava.” I’m well aware that my last blog post was essentially a bowl of nuts and the blog post prior to that was pasta and now, what is this blog post about but a bowl of PASTA AND NUTS but as I said – I was sick! An unfailingly watertight excuse! I’m sorry I bailed on you, I was sick! I’m sorry I stole your car in the middle of the conversation we were having and then drove it into your other car, I was sick!

My tastebuds have been woefully muffled from having a blocked nose, but I woke up this morning not only feeling a lot better, but also thinking, “what if pesto, but with three different kinds of nut instead of just one” and decided, as I do with most of my thoughts regardless of content or consequence, to act upon it immediately. I feel that pesto was to 2003 what halloumi was to like, 2013, I remember being absolutely obsessed with it and having it feel hugely unattainable, and so I’d try and incorporate it into as many of my cooking class modules in high school as I could get away with (I really didn’t do well in cooking in high school but I think that’s because being a freewheeling spoon-licking pre-ADHD diagnosed idiot didn’t mesh well with teachers trying to get to grips with the assessment regime and a minimal budget that didn’t allow for just like, snorting mounds of pesto.)

But wait, who am I to think I can improve upon pesto? Well I’m me, but this isn’t a one-up so much as a side-step; I’ve subtracted the cheese and instead added knotty, sinuous walnuts and buttery pistachios to the original pine nuts. Which means yes, this fairly plain dish of pasta will cost you roughly $90 dollars, on top of which, even though the quantities of the recipe look huge it really doesn’t make that much pesto because it all reduces down to nothing in the blender, but in spite of all of these red flags may I offer you this one counterpoint! Here it is: it’s really, really delicious.

Walnuts give the mixture body and a bitter smokiness, pistachios give creamy richness and added green, the pine nuts are all…you know, they’re pine-nutty? And when thrown through glassy olive oil and basil leaves at great speed it produces the most incredibly wonderful-tasting freshly-mown-grass-looking paste to stir through pasta or to be consumed however feels right.

pasta with three nut pesto  

a recipe by myself

  • one third of a cup of shelled pistachios
  • one heaped half cup of walnuts
  • one third of a cup of pine nuts
  • one garlic clove
  • a squeeze of lemon juice (roughly a tablespoon) 
  • sea salt
  • the leaves from one of those supermarket basil plants, roughly three loose handfuls of leaves I guess? But seriously, use all the leaves, you know that no matter how diligently you try to water the plant the it’s gonna die immediately and like, how is it that they can stay alive in the supermarket but die so fast once you take them home? What’s going on there?)
  • three quarters of a cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 100g dried spaghetti or similar

Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add plenty of salt, then cook the pasta for about ten minutes or until it’s like, cooked, then drain the pasta and set aside. I always use the water from a freshly boiled kettle in the pan because it goes way faster than just boiling it on the stovetop. 

In a large frying pan, gently toast the nuts over a high heat, stirring often, until the pine nuts are lightly browned (they’re the easiest to see the color on.) Tip the nuts into a food processor or high speed blender along with the garlic clove, lemon juice, a large pinch of salt, the basil leaves and the oil, and process until it’s a thick, dark green paste. Stir a couple of spoonfuls through the drained pasta and put the rest in an airtight container in the fridge.

Honestly, this stuff is just spectacularly good and makes the simplest pile of pasta feel like a monumental treat. You can do millions of things with pesto though – stir it through roasted vegetables, spread it on toast, thin it with olive oil and drizzle it over fried halloumi for a real galaxy-brain type combination, add a spoonful as a garnish to brighten up almost any soup, whatever your tastebuds decide, follow them in the direction they’re heading.

And if you’re on a permanent pasta buzz as I seem to be, may I direct your attention gently but firmly from me, back to me, by way of these old blog posts if you want some further recipes, eg something I called Sexy Pasta; Nigella’s Pasta with Marmite; or turmeric pappardelle with brioche crumbs.

title via:  De La Soul’s The Magic Number, I love how shambling and lo fi and almost big beat the production is on this old school (I mean old school, not like “here’s one from back in the day in 2009”) track. 

music lately:

Mogwai, Take Me Somewhere Nice. Just shut your eyes and listen.

Gaslight Anthem, Here’s Looking At You, Kid. This band was recommended to me and I now in turn recommend them to you because I love them, and you will too if you like heart-on-your-sleeve, Bruce-Springsteen-influence-on-top-of-your-heart-on-your-sleeve vibes.

Bizet’s Pearl Fishers Duet, sung by Jussi Bjorling and Robert Merrill. It was probably the Robitussin in my system but as the sun streamed through my window this morning I swear this song was literally playing and I don’t know, it’s just kind of magical and soaring and you too should listen to it really loud while lying down in a dark room where the light is starting to creep in.

next time: my friend Jen gave me a bunch of limes from her tree so I’m gonna do something with them. I don’t know what yet though but having that many limes, in this economy, is very exciting! 

tell me what you saw, there was a crowd of seeds

Sometimes I’ll make a recipe and it seems so bordering-on-nothing-y that I’ll hesitate to put it on here, but the truth of the matter is that this week I made myself a gigantic quantity of dukkah and that’s what I’ve been eating, and what I’ve been eating goes on here, so here it is. I remember first having dukkah with my aunty who lived in Hamilton, which seemed extremely cosmopolitan in comparison to the small small small town I was from. She was like, you have your bread, your oil, and the dukkah – a mixture of seeds and nuts and spices – and that’s the meal. As someone for whom a meal was either a microwaved pie or meat, potatoes, and microwaved broccoli, this was a damn exciting revelation. There’s something so wonderfully leisurely about just slowly eating bread and some kind of unguent, and I’m super here for it, especially since my weird working hours (as a bartender) mean my eating habits can be reflectively weird as well, like I might not desire food till 4pm or I might be wanting a six course meal at 4am (and unfortunately, they’re mighty hard to come by at that hour) so food that drifts with me like this is ideal. And to circle back to my original point, honestly who am I to proclaim this old school Middle Eastern dish as nothing-y anyway? It’s substantial and substantially delicious.

I don’t do anything particularly revolutionary with my recipe, since in all honesty it doesn’t need any further flourish. The spices are earthy cumin, lemony-gingery coriander seed, and the warmth of cinnamon, and then it’s just loads of sesame seeds and some walnuts, which have a soft, buttery crunch under the tooth. Pistachios would be wonderful but they stay prohibitively expensive, and besides I had some walnuts leftover from the recipe I made last week. Feel free to play with proportions as you wish though – this makes a sesame-seed heavy mix but add more or less, muck around with spices, follow your dreams, live your truth, look inside your heart and find the answer there, etc.

dukkah 

  • two tablespoons cumin seeds
  • two tablespoons coriander seeds
  • one teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • one cup sesame seeds
  • one cup walnuts
  • salt and pepper
  • Bread and olive oil, to serve

Heat up a large pan and gently toast the cumin and coriander seeds, stirring often, till they’re fragrant but not browned. Tip them into a pestle and mortar and smash em up, then tip this into a large mixing bowl. Tip the sesame seeds into the same pan and stir them until the seeds are lightly browned. Transfer them to the mixing bowl with the spices, and finally, tip the walnuts into the pan and stir around till they’re lightly toasted. You can either bash up the walnuts in the pestle and mortar or roughly chop them, but either way stir them into the sesame seed mixture. Add the cinnamon and plenty of salt and pepper and stir to combine, and that’s it. Transfer to an airtight container or like, eat the lot. 

I completely acknowledge, by the way, that my photos this week might be kind of rubbish – I was extremely taken with the stark sunbeam across the table as I was eating but there is every chance that what I saw and the photos I took do not exactly match up. Nevertheless, it’s what you’re getting. Anyway frankly who cares, when the food is so delicious it can speak for itself. I’m huge on texture and absolutely love anything crunchy and so the juxtaposition of soft, soft bread dipped in oil and then in turn into the bitey, nutty, warmly spiced coating of dukkah is incredibly pleasing. I highly recommend it.

And, if you’re in the mood for other bread-and-stuff type recipes, may I recommend further reading in the form of  my recipe for hummus, or Tarator (a walnut dip), or Cambodian Wedding Day Dip (they’re also all vegan, if that’s of interest.)

title from: Gold Lion by Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I love the opening drum beat so much, it reminds me of that iconic Be My Baby opening even though it’s not actually anything like it. 

music lately:  

Okay so I watched the film Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping the other day and it was like, fine, and pretty amusing, and I have a lot of time for Andy Samberg because I have an inexplicable crush on him, but I found one song from it in particular got completely stuck in my head, and then because the internet is wonderful, someone has uploaded to YouTube precisely what I actually wanted to listen to: not the song itself but the background, which samples a song from the 60s by the Marcel’s called Heartache: basically it’s like incredibly obnoxious and I want ten hours of it on loop. So here it is: So Humble, the instrumental version, which I physically cannot stop playing.

Upon recommendation I’ve been listening to a band called Idles and! They’re so good! I love shouty punky stuff and if you do too I recommend starting with their song Mother.

Fenugreek by MF Doom always makes me feel so, SO happy, I extremely recommend it.

Finally: following some longterm strenuous recommendation I finally watched The Lost Boys, an 80s film which ticks all my boxes: 80s, ensemble cast, disaffected young men, banging soundtrack. Naturally, I cannot stop listening to its suuuuper dreamy theme song, Cry Little Sister. 

next time: I want to get into feijoas while they’re still in season! 

you turn my legs into spaghetti, you set my heart on fire

There are milestones, there are millstones, as they sing in the Broadway musical Gypsy, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the two apart, but I clocked two milestones this week that I’m not undelighted to have out of the way: firstly I competed in my first cocktail competition finals, and secondly it was my 32nd birthday, the latter in swift succession of the former. I didn’t win the competition but in all honesty I’m quite okay with it because the real prize for me was all the attention and getting to stand in front of an audience with a microphone. I appreciate that public speaking is many people’s idea of actual hell incarnate, but for me there’s nowhere I’d rather be than in front of a crowd of people that I have to quickly win over using little more than charm and yet more charm. However, it also is a bit of a sigh of relief that it’s finally done. I’m proud of myself and I’m suuuuper proud of my friends who won in their respective categories, and I learned a honk-ton of information (did you know that Suntory was established in 1923 initially to sell imported wine? Did you know that Canadian Club was the most smuggled liquor into the states during Prohibition? Did you know Kid Rock did the forward to the book about Jim Beam that I read?)

And then it was my birthday, and I find them a bit stressful because while it’s just another day ostensibly, there’s also all this pressure (almost entirely self-directed to be fair) to have the time of your life, but to my mild surprise, I had a genuinely fantastic birthday. I’m feeling exceptionally calm about turning 32, despite having a general one-step-forward-three-steps-backwards existence I feel like I am every day growing gradually more focussed and able to cope with life to the point where I very occasionally even feel like I could kick a hole in the sky.

And another small but nevertheless achieve-y achievement: I made myself some food! WooooOO! It was actually a staff meal at work that inspired me to make this vegan take on spaghetti bolognese, we were given pasta with sundried tomatoes and pine nuts and there was something in the richness and bite of It all that made me want to extrapolate it out further. I figured that walnuts would provide texture and a little smokiness and mushrooms would add further depth and that if you blended them with said sundried tomatoes, so you couldn’t tell where one element started and another finished, it could be an extremely good time. All three of these ingredients have a kind of meatiness, not that they actually taste like meat, but they’ve got body and heft and savoury intensity and presence.

Anyway once you’ve got your ingredients together this is all extremely easy – you just blitz the mushrooms, tomatoes and walnuts in a processor and fry it with some tomato passata (which is like tomato purée and pretty easy to find in the supermarket). It honestly looks and tastes a lot like bolognese, all richly comforting and tomato-y, but also is extremely delicious in its own right, like, not just as a meat substitute. I don’t know why I feel like I’m bending over backwards to not insult a mushroom by comparing it to meat but you know what I mean? This is really good because it just is, not because it is quite successfully mimicking something. On top of which it’s been so icy cold lately which I actually love, I really enjoy that wintery vibe of getting covered in blankets or wearing enormous coats and doing cosy things like drinking cups of tea and googling “how to spoon yourself”, and mate, there’s nothing like some spag bol eaten in bed on a cold day.

vegan spaghetti bolognese   

  • six or seven large button mushrooms (or better yet, about four big field mushrooms) 
  • 10 sundried tomatoes
  • half a cup of shelled walnuts  
  • four cloves of garlic
  • olive oil
  • a splash of red wine (optional)
  • 250ml/one cup tomato passata  (or use a can of chopped tomatoes) 
  • salt and pepper  
  • 200g dried spaghetti  
  • fresh basil leaves, to serve

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to the packet instructions, eleven minutes usually does it, then drain and tip it onto two serving plates. I use water from a freshly boiled kettle just to make the process faster. 

Meanwhile, throw the mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, walnuts and garlic cloves into a food processor and blend it all together till it’s a roughly chopped paste mixture type thing.  

Heat some olive oil – a couple of tablespoons, I suppose – in a large saucepan, and spatula the mushroom mixture into the pan. Stir over a high heat for about ten minutes – mushrooms tend to give off a little liquid when they cook and you want to get it to the point where this has all evaporated. At this point I add a splash of red wine to the pan which adds some wonderful depth to it all but if you’re strictly vegan and not sure on the origins of your wine just leave it out. Add the tomato passata and let it simmer away till it’s looking all thick and saucy. If too much liquid has evaporated add more passata or some water, just trust your instincts. 

At this point give it a taste and add some salt and pepper if you think it needs it, and pile on top of your cooked spaghetti. Throw some basil leaves on top and eat. Serves two. 

You can, as with most of my recipes, just take this and run with it: add any number of herbs that you feel like, use a mixture of nuts (although I really feel like walnuts are the best here, a mixture of Brazil and almonds could probably hold their own), have the sauce on toast or use it in a lasagne-type layered up fashion.

My birthday actually started early when I (started anticipating it the minute my birthday last year ended, wait what) had wine and takeaways with my best friends Kim and Kate on Sunday (Kim has since gone overseas on holiday for like, EVER or maybe three weeks or six weeks or something so please keep me in your thoughts during this difficult time while she’s away.) On the day of I had brunch with Kate and we had prosecco like fancy functioning humans, and then I had an absolutely banging nap, and then I went and saw my friend Dom’s play, Your Heart Looks Like A Vagina, and it’s super fantastic and if you’re in Wellington I strongly recommend that you go see it this week. You maybe wouldn’t think seeing a one-man play about chronic disease would be like, the most joyful way to spend a birthday, but there’s gallows humour and regular-level humour running all the way through it, promise.

  I was not lying about eating it in bed, but also why would someone lie about that to be fair   I was not lying about eating it in bed, but also why would someone lie about that to be fair

If you’re on a vegan buzz then I recommend by way of further reading these other recipes I’ve blogged about: Vegan Apple Cake; almond feta; and this “fried chicken” recipe using jackfruit that I wrote about on my Frasier food blog.

title from: Dillon’s gently achey song Thirteen Thirty Five

music lately:  

Car Seat Headrest, My Boy. A good song for wallowing, I know at least one of you out there other than just me needs this information.

California Soul, the Diplo remix of Marlena Shaw’s already excellent 1967 track.

Washington On Your Side from the cast recording of Hamilton, the Broadway musical. This song is so jaunty and banger-y and I literally can’t stop listening to it over and over, Daveed Diggs is an absolute treasure.

next time: yeah nah your guess is as good as mine. 

choked up on the smoke and the charcoal

I’m not one for the long game, I like a shortcut, me. This is an attitude that makes me highly susceptible to pyramid schemes and not susceptible to actually achieving anything, so apropos of this, I was having an idle wander around Yan’s supermarket the other day and saw a packet of charcoal noodles, upon which the only words that I understood other than “charcoal noodles” were “health benefits”, and I was like, these noodles are going to solve all my problems right now, I just know it. And so I bought them.

As I said in my last blog post I’ve been having incredibly strong cravings for sugar lately – my chocolate bar budget is through the roof – so I was determined to make myself at least one aggressively savoury thing to eat before, I don’t know, the year is out. These noodle presented themselves at precisely the right moment. To go with them I made edamame beans, lightly coated in spiced cornflour and deeply fried in oil till crispy, a salty-sweet-sour dressing, and some chopped roasted nuts. While I have no idea what the health benefits of these noodles are because I couldn’t read the language on the package, I trust implicitly the fact that there were health benefits, but if all you can find is regular noodles then there’s no harm done, I’m sure.

This is honestly barely a recipe and definitely doesn’t lean towards any particular region or have any claim to authenticity, but it is really, really nice: slippery noodles, crunchy, nutty fried beans, the balanced dressing with its salty, sour, hot and sweet notes in equal measure, and then the further crunch of the roasted nuts. I am such a huge fan of edamame beans, with their gorgeous emerald color, and when you fry them up they get this almost pistachio-like nuttiness going on. This recipe is incredibly easy to throw together, even with some semi-deep frying, and surprisingly filling. And it’s savoury as hell.

charcoal noodles with ginger, chili, and crispy edamame  

  • half a packet of charcoal rice noodles
  • one cup shelled edamame beans
  • three tablespoons cornflour
  • one teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
  • salt and pepper
  • two tablespoons sesame oil
  • one tablespoon rice vinegar
  • one tablespoon soy sauce
  • one tablespoon chili sauce eg sriracha
  • one tablespoon sugar
  • one inch fresh ginger, roughly chopped
  • a handful each of roast almonds and cashews
  • oil, for frying
  • Chili flakes, to serve (optional) 

First, get your noodles sorted: place them in a bowl, and cover with water from a freshly boiled kettle. Once they’re fully softened, drain them in a sieve and set aside.  

To make the dressing, whisk together the sesame oil, vinegar, soy sauce, chili sauce and sugar, then stir in the ginger. Pour over the drained noodles.

Run the edamame beans under cold water in a sieve if they’re super frozen, just to remove any extraneous ice crystals. Mix the cornflour, five spice powder, and a pinch each of salt and pepper in a bowl and throw the beans in. Heat about an inch of oil in a pan. Toss the beans in the cornflour mix and once the oil is hot, carefully spoon the beans into the oil in batches and fry till crisp and slightly browned. 

To serve, put the dressed noodles into a bowl, and pile on the edamame. Roughly chop the roasted nuts and sprinkle them over along with the chili flakes, if you wish. 

Meanwhile, I cannot believe it’s April already; who let this happen? It’s less than ten days till my birthday which means I’m extremely trying to not have some kind of where-am-I-what-am-I-doing-what-am-I-like existential breakdown, but also I’m like Laura, you’ve had several birthdays now, there’s no need to be surprised by the fact that another one is rolling around. Either way it’s definitely Aries season, which means watch out; I’m more powerful and at least twice as annoying than I would be at any other time.

If you’re on a noodle buzz, may I recommend some further reading: soba noodles with steamed vegetables and hot and sour dressing; Ottolenghi’s glass noodles with edamame beans; or pepper-crusted tuna with soba noodles and peanut sauce.

title from:  Limp Bizkit and Method Man, N2Gether. Yes, Limp Bizkit are objectively terrible, but for a good decent while there I absolutely loved them and honestly, this song still bangs. Is it mostly because of Method Man’s presence? Yeah, probably. But can you deny your nu-metal roots? No you cannot. 

music lately:

Marty Robinson, Big Iron. There’s something about Marty Robinson and his gunfire ballads, I find them so comforting!

Wildchild, Renegade Master, the Fatboy Slim remix. I am SUCH a fan of big beat, like the bigger and stupider the better. This song pops up quite often at work when we’ve got DJs on and no matter how tired I am it always makes me rise up from my grave and jump around.

Laurie Beechman, Memory  I know Memory from Cats is like the ultimate overdone overworked musical theatre song in existence but damn it, it’s beautiful, and the late Laurie Beechman singing it absolutely RUINS me, like, don’t click through and listen to this if you have to do literally anything at all of import afterwards, you’ll need a lie down, I assure you.

Next time:  I intend to have like, slightly more energy this time, promise!!