if I’m butter then he’s a hot knife

I normally put this bit at the end but thought I’d be creative and start with it this time: Patreon! Thank you to my patrons who have been supporting me from the ground up, you are amazing and important and powerfully astute. If you’d like to be included in such praise (and I could go on) then by all means sign up to my Patreon as well, and in doing so you will be able to receive all my content written for your eyes only.

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My relationship with butter is a well-trod path on this blog, from the ten-ish years I spent smothering my personality with it to suddenly pivoting without warning to veganism last year. In October I talked about buying non-dairy butter for the first time (I don’t know why I’m weird about the word margarine but there’s just something so defeatist about the way its spreadably soft consonants sag in the mouth) and to be honest with you, since then I’ve used it very, very little, because though it tasted fine, and was okay in recipes where its flavour could be heavily masked (like Champagne Passionfruit Buttercream or Nanaimo Bars) it did not become exciting or inspiring in and of itself like butter was to me.

And though I like to frame my choice to be vegan in terms of all that I have, and not about what I lack (I mean, I’ve never eaten so many cashews in my life, I couldn’t say that a year ago!) I do miss that capitulation-makingly perfect meeting of flavour and texture and possibility that is real butter. Everything else I’ve happily let go of, and no longer sense any petulant longing from my tastebuds for cheese or bacon or steak or whatever, but butter…butter I sometimes still think of wistfully, y’know, in the form of a montage of the good times we had with Happy Together by The Turtles playing overtop. (Okay I also miss white chocolate and I know it’s not cool but it’s my favourite and I do get sulky over that sometimes. The only vegan stuff I’ve found is inexplicably like $9 and tastes like coconut, change my mind.)

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I had accepted that this was something I was going to just live with as a result of my own choices, which is totally fine, but then I found, or rather, re-found, a recipe for homemade vegan butter that had been sitting on my internet browser since last year. (Yeah, I have 72 tabs open on my browser at all times, which, let’s blame on my ADHD, like when I was a kid and found it impossible to clean my room and theorised that the system worked because everything was on the floor where I could see it, a theory which held no water because with everything on the ground it was of course impossible to find anything, a standard I unfortunately still live by but at least no longer try to justify. Naturally, with this many tabs shoulder-to-shoulder I often forget for weeks, months on end, what I’ve actually got open.) So I re-discovered this tab just last week and decided that the recipe, on a site called The Virtual Vegan, looked as promising as it did upon first click: it claimed to be spreadable, meltable, useful in cooking, and most important, it said it would taste actually buttery.

The key things holding this together are a combination of olive oil and refined coconut oil, by which I mean – and the recipe stresses the importance of this – it’s been treated to taste neutral rather than coconutty, plus ground almonds which somehow dissolve into the liquid but also help give it body and texture. I made a couple of tiny changes: I didn’t have any nutritional yeast and decided to just push ahead anyway, I used red wine vinegar instead of the stipulated cider vinegar because I feel like the former has a certain layered richness to it, and I added a tiny pinch of sugar for balance. It’s easy enough to make – just give the ingredients a good hard blend and then pour it into a jar and wait for it to solidify in the fridge. So I did.

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And…it tastes really, really good. It’s not butter, but it’s a whole lot closer than anything I’ve hitherto tasted. It has that kind of fluttering, mouth-filling sweet richness, that full-bodied tangy creaminess, it just has something that I’ve been missing. Genuine deliciousness! I made toast for the first time all year and spread the butter across and topped it with some Marmite and I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed that simple, unimpeachable pairing.

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Homemade Vegan Butter

Adapted slightly from this recipe at A Virtual Vegan.

  • 1/2 cup ground almonds
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons almond milk or similar (not soymilk or coconut milk, the former is prone to curdling, the latter tastes like coconut)
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup refined coconut oil, melted
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt or 1/2 teaspoon regular salt, to taste
  • 1 small pinch caster sugar
  • a pinch of turmeric for colour
  • optional: two teaspoons nutritional yeast (this will add to the buttery flavour, but I didn’t have any both times I made it and it’s still extremely delicious so don’t you stress if you can’t find it!)

Place everything except the oils into a blender – ideally a high-speed one – and blend the hell out of it till it looks smooth and creamy. Add the coconut and olive oils and blitz till it’s very thoroughly combined. Pour into a large clean jar and refrigerate for a few hours till it’s solid.

I recommend going and reading the recipe at A Virtual Vegan first, as it has heaps of information and recommendations.

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I feel like I want to say sorry to the non-vegans for going on about being vegan and sorry to the vegans for complaining about wanting butter, (I also feel that so much of how I talk about myself is done with an apologetic inflection: I’m trying to be a writer (sorry!) I’m vegan (sorry!) What’s this I’m listening to? Uh, it’s a Broadway musical (sorry!) I’m an Aries (sorry! Both for talking about astrology and for being an Aries.) And let me stop you right there, I hear what you’re thinking: these apologies are both necessary and justified.) If you personally are okay with eating butter then honestly you should probably just keep doing that for as long as you can stand it, but if you don’t eat butter for whatever reason, well, I was highly impressed by this recipe and have gone through two jars of it already. It’s so straightforward to make, the ingredients are all recognisable, it makes a great white sauce, there’s something pleasingly Enid Blyton-ish about butter in a jar, and most importantly, it’s genuinely, properly delicious in its own right. The chorus of Happy Together is getting fainter (and I can now close one of those 72 open tabs.)

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Ghost can’t believe it’s not butter.

(One more thing about being vegan that is possibly not as universal as I initially thought: I am a dewy-eyed sucker for vitamins and supplements but it seems now ever more so and while dissociating at the supermarket I bought this stuff called pea protein which is made from fermented lentils and Kate was like “what’s that for” and I was like “I’ve got to get my fermented lentils somehow Kate!!!”)

title from: Hot Knife by Fiona Apple. This song is extraordinarily good, soft and sharp at the same time with ominous rumbling drums and assertive piano and sparse production and chattering, layered, syncopated harmonies, I love it so much.

music lately:

I recently watched Passing Strange, a film by Spike Lee of the final performance of the eponymous Broadway show in 2008. It comes across more like a rock concept album than a traditional musical, written and narrated by musician Stew about a young black man’s journey of self-discovery in the late 1970s. The plot is so tightly woven into the music that it’s hard to pick out songs that stand alone but the Act 1 climax Keys/It’s Alright is amazing – it has this big, classic sound and I love when it gives way from the conversational, circular preamble to the massive, long-tail Hey Jude-type finish, I’ve listened to it so many times. The penultimate song, Passing Phase, showcases lead actor Daniel Breaker’s incredible voice as it harmonises with Stew’s and the music just sounds so big and warm and fulsome. If you enjoy stuff like Pink Floyd’s The Wall or 2112 by Rush then you can absolutely handle this.

Quality Seconds, by Orbital. If you’ve ever been like “what does it sound like inside Laura’s brain?” this song pretty much covers it.

Orinocco Flow by Enya. Hear me out, this song is like being serenaded by a friendly cloud, it’s what raindrops put on their sexy playlists, it’s a whale leaping triumphantly into the air in music form, and I was smacked about the head yesterday with the need to dance passionately around the lounge to it like I was in the final scene of a masterfully bittersweet TV series about an unlikeable yet disconcertingly compelling female lead, and let me tell you, Ghost was not impressed, but then I cupped his face and looked into his eyes and sang “sail away sail away sail away” and I think he understood.

Next time: Oh yeah I tried making ice cream again and it was still terrible, and I’m starting to get a bit stressed out by this honestly! Does anyone out there have a really really good recipe for vegan vanilla ice cream?

I make spaghetti with tomato sauce because that’s all I can make

Vegan tomato spaghetti

Every now and then I get jolted by the fact that 90% of the recipes in my cookbook (yes, my cookbook, Hungry and Frozen: The Cookbook, 2013, Penguin, a highly underground cult item by which I mean it was aggressively discontinued less than a year later) were only tested once, which was entirely due to financial reasons (I didn’t anticipate the responsibility of paying for ingredients and resources for testing 150+ recipes falling to me) coupled with a certain clinging need to make it seem as though everything was fine and this is definitely what I expected from the process, and nothing to do with my lack of dedication to recipes that are proven to work.

Indeed, if looking up the word “science” on Wikipedia, ctrl-F searching for the word “test” and then immediately closing the tab without reading any of its content is anything to go by, making something once isn’t even technically testing it, you’re just, you know….making it once. I’m fortunate in that I can usually trust my oddly innate recipe-creating abilities but I nevertheless keep a place in my brain solely dedicated to housing the fear that someone will email me all like “I made that cake in your book and it wouldn’t rise and the centre was all gluey and undercooked and the flavour had little to recommend it and my wife cited it as grounds for our subsequent divorce proceedings which were fast-tracked with shoddy paperwork and little emotional closure.

Vegan tomato spaghetti

But this recipe, this recipe I made three times and am thus immensely satisfied that it’s neither fluke nor failure – no seasoning with plausible deniability here, confidence is my condiments. Yes, I’m genuinely embarrassed at myself for writing that out, and yes, no, I’m not deleting it.

The reason I made it so many times was the reason for its existence in the first place: it’s a very, very cheap recipe, a real something-from-nothing, flying by the seat of your pants that are currently being worn by the rabbit you pulled out of a hat type thing. The sum is greater than the whole of your pants: a mere onion, a lone tomato, a charmless can of tomato puree, the most off-brand dried spaghetti the supermarket can procure, it all comes together under the heat of the oven to evoke the taste of hours of toil and multitudes of ingredients. It somehow suggests the flavour of tomatoes that have been plucked in most reverent silence in the holiest of Roma’s hills while also hinting at the thickly-sauced comforting promise of canned spaghetti, I’m talking old school canned spaghetti that exists in my memory and not anymore on the supermarket shelf because I know they’ve changed the recipe to make the sauce cheap and watery and the noodles structurally unsound but in the early nineties when, you have to bear in mind, there were only like four different things that had been invented to eat, canned spaghetti was genuinely ultimate and tasted of abundance.

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The key thing here is that you roast the absolute living daylights out of the ingredients. That’s all there is to it. Without that level of heat the tomato puree will taste like expired iron tablets and the onion will be bitter, but under the oven’s blaze it all melts and bubbles and gets sticky and crunchy and charred around the edges, hence the word caramelised in the title since that’s precisely what you’re aiming to do.

It’s incredibly delicious, which is the other reason I’ve returned to it repeatedly, just so immensely full-throatedly rich and intensively tomato-ish and hearty and messy and somehow really buttery and it’s even amazing cold – but then I always did favour the spaghetti unheated, straight from the can – so your opinion of this habit may colour the value that you place on that last opinion.

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Now generally I like to give many options and segues of other ingredients you could include but honestly this is perfect as it is, and because there’s so little going on each ingredient is proportionately crucial. The only leeway I would offer is that if you can’t get hold of a whole tomato for whatever reason it’s not the end of the world, but it really does add texture and body and I assure you, even the most anemic-looking middle-of-winter tomato can be transformed by this recipe. The canned tomato puree must ideally be puree – not canned chopped tomatoes, not passata, not paste – for it alone hits that absolute sweet spot of thick texture and liquid sauciness. If you’re considering reducing the olive oil, first of all, grow up, and second of all, if anything, add more. The olive oil is central to the caramelisation and the richness and the texture and the flavour. While I’m being a fusspot I really feel like this sauce lends itself directly to actions like dramatically twirling pasta round your fork and then dramatically lifting the fork higher than your head before dropping the pasta into your open mouth getting sauce on your chin and laughing heartily yet attractively like a free-spirited character in an arthouse film or a prestige drama about a family of tension and tradition in equal measure and you can really only get that with spaghetti but if all you’ve got to hand is penne it’ll be like, literally fine.

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Spaghetti with Caramelised Tomato Sauce

A recipe by myself. (It’s much simpler than the length of the recipe makes it look, I’m just explain-y.)

  • 1 onion
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 tin tomato puree
  • 100g dried spaghetti or other long pasta of your choice
  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil, but allow for more
  • salt and pepper
  • very optional but nice: herbs (eg thyme, basil) and chopped almonds to garnish

Set your oven to 220C/430F. Peel and thinly slice the onion into half-moons, and roughly chop the tomato. Get a small roasting dish – for example, the sort that you might bake brownies or a slice in but also would make yourself a small quantity of roast vegetables, you know, those standard smallish rectangular tins – and place the onions and tomato on one side/half of the roasting dish and tip the can of puree onto the other half. Drizzle everything liberally with the olive oil – like a full four tablespoons is entirely ideal here – and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Don’t stir it yet.

Roast it for about thirty minutes, stirring one or two times during this time only once the onions and the tomato have collapsed and got a little browned/crisp around the edges. If it looks like it needs more – and it well might – return it to the oven for another ten to twenty minutes, but continue to keep an eye on it as there’s a fine line between crispy and straight up burnt. With this in mind I usually start the roasting dish on the top shelf and move it to the bottom shelf towards then end.

While all this is happening bring a large pan of salted water to the boil (which I always do by boiling the jug first and then pouring that into the pan rather than heating up the water on the stove top, it’s much faster) and cook the spaghetti until it’s tender – twelve minutes or so should do it.

When you’re satisfied with the done-ness of both the sauce and the spaghetti, remove the roasting dish from the oven and use a pair of tongs to transfer the spaghetti from its pan into the roasting dish, and to mix it all together. You could drain the spaghetti in a sieve or a colander and then dump it into the roasting dish but using tongs helps retain a little of the cooking water on the spaghetti strands which in turn helps the sauce to cohere better.

Spatula everything onto a plate, scraping as much of the sauce and any crunchy almost-burnt bits as you can from the roasting dish (I sprinkle a tablespoon or so more pasta cooking water into the dish and swirl it round to pick up every last bit of sauce) and then garnish, if you like, with fresh thyme or basil (or both!) and chopped almonds, and perhaps, one last drizzle of olive oil.

Serves 1, although I think you could quite comfortably get away with making this serve two by using 200g pasta but keeping everything else the same.

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I asked Ghost what he thought about pasta and first he was just like “PASTA” over and over again but then he was all, “as August de LaCroix said in 1842, ‘the flâneur is to le badaud what the gourmet is to the glutton,”‘ and “the badaud was later defined as “curious, astonished by everything he sees, he believes everything he hears, and he shows his contentment or his surprise by his open, gaping mouth.”‘ And I was like “Ghost, that’s exactly what I would’ve said, in that order!” (As you can see from the photo, Ghost and I are often of one mind. One…at best.)

As always, thank you to my important Patreon patrons for supporting my writing. If you have made it through this genuine nonsense and you’re like, this gal’s really going places and I want to ride those coat-tails to the top then you too, should become a patron! A mere handful of your dollars per month directly influences my ability to write and live and I might be able to create a cookbook with recipes tested more than once. You receive exclusive content in return, like book and film reviews or recipes or what star sign I believe each character from Gavin and Stacey is. Signing up is easy and my gratitude is real.

title from: Brimstone and Fire, by Cyndi Lauper. Is this one of her best songs? Honestly, I think no. But it is fine, and she does talk about spaghetti in an alarmingly relevant way.

music lately:

Falling, by Xiu Xiu, from a commissioned series they did of covers of music from Twin Peaks. This is atmospheric and foreboding, with powerful momentum dripping in slow motion like honey from a spoon, I love it. (This album was described as one of their most listenable and you know you’re really on a level when using material by David Lynch makes you more accessible.)

The Sweetest Girl, by Scritti Politti, I just adore this song, all woozy and dreamy and sinister and lovely and highly amenable to listening to on a loop about twelve times before it even registers that the song hasn’t ended yet.

Next time: If you absolutely cannot tell I had a terrible night’s sleep before writing this and perhaps it’s that lack of sleep talking but I might be ready to try making ice cream again, actually.

breakfast on incandescent, built to chew, dream to find another world

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I often say (and prove) that it takes a village to raise me, as is the case with today’s recipe. I was gently prompted by my wise friend Charlotte to get snacks (that was actually essentially the entire advice but I was like my god, a fresh and bold perspective from a true maverick, which tells you what kind of baby the village is dealing with here. But also: having snacks on hand is useful! I mean, did you know that, without someone telling you?) And then, acting upon this advice and making myself a large batch of granola – cheap, filling, nutritious, snacky – I was suddenly panicking that I wasn’t going to get it photographed before darkness fell and my wise friend Kate was simply like “why don’t you take a little out of the oven and put it in a bowl and photograph that while you carry on cooking the rest” and I was like my stars, a genius walks amongst us, lo and behold her shrewdness meant I was able to take the photos you see here in the last fifteen minutes of workable light that the day held, and in doing so I realised I’d actually forgotten when I’d even put the granola in the oven in the first place, and it was in fact extremely ready to come out anyway. This all might sound really stupid but I’ve been experiencing higher than usual anxiety (I’m fine and my higher-than-usual anxiety is way lower than the everyday-anxiety of a few short years ago but it still comes around, you know?) and when it’s there it means my brain is less able to put one foot in front of the other than usual and my usual is honestly not that impressive anyway, and having things slowly spelled out to me still feels like I’m trying to sit an exam that I haven’t studied for, and what looks like a simple conclusion seems like the most staggering realisation.

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I have made a lot of granola in my time, and I confidently assert that this is one of my best. To expound the “get snacks” advice – now that I’m not working, I (a) have resumed a relatively normal body clock and so am actually eating breakfast, (b) am not getting fed at work and so need way more of those aforementioned snacks, and (c) I’m not earning any money so it behooves me to make something at home in large quantities rather than recklessly just buy food when I’m hungry. Granola is a tidy solution. It’s simple to make, it lasts for ages, it’s not too expensive to put together, it’s nutritious, and it tastes good at any time of the day.

Caramel Walnut Granola

A recipe by myself

  • 4 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup desiccated or shredded coconut
  • 1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup linseeds
  • 1/2 cup rice bran oil or similar plain oil
  • 1/2 cup date syrup
  • 1 cup dates, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 large pinch sea salt, to taste

Set your oven to 150C/300F, and get out your biggest roasting dish – the sort that’s the size of one of the entire oven shelves ideally – and line it with a large piece of baking paper.

Pour the oats, sunflower seeds, walnuts and linseeds directly into the paper-lined roasting dish, and stir to combine – or just use your hands to shuffle everything about. Drizzle over the oil, then the syrup – and I recommend it in this order so that the syrup slides easily out of the now-oiled measuring cup – and stir it in, or again, use your hands. Place on the lowest shelf of the oven and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring once or twice partway through, till it’s golden and toasty and browned. Allow to cool, then stir in the dates, chia seeds, cinnamon, and salt, then taste some to see if it needs anything extra. Store in an airtight container. This makes a lot.

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This recipe is very comfortingly low-key – the caramel flavour comes from the date syrup, which helps give that requisite crunchy clumpiness to the oats as it crystallises under the oven’s gentle heat, plus actual dates, which taste like little chewy nuggets of toffee. Date syrup is relatively easy to get hold of these days but if you can’t, golden syrup or maple syrup would be fine instead. It’s worth hunting for though – date syrup has this almost liquorice intensity without being too overtly sweet, I really love it. The slowly toasted walnuts, buttery and soft, mesh so well with the date flavour but obviously granola is one of the easiest things to go off-course on to suit your own tastes, needs, and accessibility. You could consider adding almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, I’m just naming nuts and seeds now but you get the idea, dried apricots or dried apples or dried cranberries or figs, you could leave out the coconut or add heaps more, you could leave out the chia seeds or find an even more expensive superfood to add. I went with lots of 1/2 cup measures to make things easier but if you’ve got more or less of any ingredient that’s totally fine.

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By this point your finished product might end up being several times removed from mine, but like, I only came up with this particular recipe because I wanted to use up as many ingredients as possible that I already owned, so why shouldn’t you? And the point is: we’ll both have snacks.

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If you’d like further granolae of mine to consider, I recommend my recipes for Lux Maple Granola, or this Buckwheat, Cranberry and Cinnamon Granola (both gluten-free for what it’s worth) or Strawberry Jam Granola which I blogged about the last time I was staying with Kate and Jason almost five years ago (as well as taking a village it also took a village, and Kate and Jason are such village people.)

PS: As always, thank you in particular to my Patreon patrons for supporting me and my writing, you’re literally so immensely important. A mere handful of dollars per month directly influences my ability to write and indeed, snack, and gets you exclusive content in return, like book and film reviews or what star sign I believe each character from Gavin and Stacey is or a recipe for the best vegan scones. Signing up is easy and my gratitude is real.

title from: Metropolis, by Janelle Monáe, one of her very, very early works, I’m talking literally a demo album from 2003 – although its spaciously lush r’n’b sound and conceptuality feels amazingly recent.

music lately:

Waiting Room, by Fugazi. I just love this lurching, shambling song with its oddly sanguine call-and-response. (Credit where it’s due: I was reminded of this song after listening to an excellent Spotify playlist from La’Shaunae, one of my favourite models, for Tunnel Vision, one of my favourite fashion companies.)

My Sweet Lord, by George Harrison, look, it’s just very twinkly and uplifting and I have a real thing for songs that appear to start in the middle of the chorus and then just stay there, simply keep giving you more and more chorus, bigger and bigger, it lends them a weirdly addictive urgency of sound.

Mein Herr, by Liza Minelli, from Cabaret. Such a fantastic number – there’s something so satisfying about the way the lyrics travel across the beat in Minelli’s rich voice – “it was a fine affair, but now it’s over, and though I used to care, I need the open air” – and that exquisite, deliberating Bob Fosse choreography, so much about the negative space, with the bodies almost frozen in place but for a wiggling finger or rotating ankle, until it explodes into the floor-slapping finale.

Next time: I made a spaghetti recipe that turned out surprisingly amazing for how simple it was, I intend to try it again and if it turns out that it wasn’t a total fluke, well, you’ll be hearing about it.

feeling like a bowl of spaghetti, not knowing what to give

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Look I’m telling you right now that this doesn’t taste exactly like parmesan but it evokes a certain mood that if you’re generous and tilt your head to one side and you haven’t eaten actual parmesan in like nine months so your doltish tastebuds don’t know any better, is generally very pleasing. As you can tell by the equally generous “”””” around the word parmesan in the recipe’s title, like I’ve climbed up a small step-ladder before launching into exaggerated air-quotes. I am just a firm believer in being honest with you and making sure that you have all the information you could possibly need and indeed all that you absolutely don’t need as well before you consider embarking upon this recipe!

It’s also extremely and sincerely delicious. I’d had this recipe shuffling about my brain for a week prior but could never seem to square up actual convivial times to cook food (eg 2pm, 6pm) with when I was actually ravenously hungry (always around 11.48pm or 1.20am for no good reason at all!) This detail is, I grant you, extremely not interesting, but I needed to get it off my chest because it was literally just a whole week of me being like “I’m satisfied with a small bowl of cereal for lunch” and then hitting the hay at midnight suddenly unable to think about anything other than this pasta and it was highly frustrating! In all honesty there was some self-discipline involved in me making it at last; one afternoon I’d walked back to Newtown from my friend’s house in Brooklyn – one suburb over – following the maps app, which sounds straightforward but may I remind you how simple tasks like this cause my brain to warp like an old cassette tape and I rapidly got very lost, or at least it felt like it, I was in truth a mere handful of metres away from recognisable land when I fell into this predicament, and there’s no real way to convey the fear I felt and before you ask yes, I was looking at the map app and yes, for some reason it was now refusing to tell me where I was, possibly for haunting-related reasons, and no, it wasn’t Google maps, and yes, going off-brand is possibly to blame for the misinformation, and no, I didn’t realise that the app that came with my phone wasn’t Google maps already, and yes, it took an hour and twenty minutes to do a walk that was, according to the off-brand maps app, supposed to be thirty two minutes, and after enduring that I really just wanted to lie down but I was like Laura, you’ve got to get this recipe idea out of your head and onto a plate and to the people, and so that’s what I did and now you too can finally relax because I’ve finished telling this necessary yet wholly pointless preamble.

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So the sweet and nutty ground almonds have this wonderfully soft-yet-granular texture which truly emulates that of finely grated parmesan clinging to each al dente strand of the spaghetti as you twirl it round your fork like it’s a curly telephone cord winding around your fingertips; the fresh lemon cuts through everything with its golden shine but also echoes the acidic nature of that absent cheese; nutritional yeast is, I shruggingly concede, an obvious ingredient, bringing its crowd-pleasingly cheese-mimeographing savouriness. Don’t hold back on the olive oil, as it makes everything buttery and rich, and the splash of pasta cooking water may sound unusual but, bringing with it the starches that have leeched out of the spaghetti itself, it helps emulsify the sauce and make it surprisingly creamy. You know, considering it’s just mildly floury water.

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I hate to be firm with, well, anyone really, but I really want to insist upon the importance of the thyme’s presence – you can use bottled lemon juice instead of fresh stuff, you could still have a good time if you don’t have nutritional yeast, absolutely use regular olive oil if that’s what you’ve got but the fresh thyme gives you everything: pugnaciously herbal savouriness…resiny richness…a far-off murmur of citrus…gentle sweetness…thyme flavour.

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Lemon “””Parmesan””” Spaghetti

A recipe by myself.

  • 100g dried spaghetti
  • 2 -3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • grated zest of a lemon
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (or as much as you can get out of it)
  • 1/3 cup ground almonds
  • 2 heaped tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard (any is fine, I used Dijon)
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • a pinch of ground pepper
  • a pinch of garlic powder (optional, but worth it)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

Bring a large pan of water to the boil – it feels obvious to be explaining this to you but it always goes a lot faster if you boil the jug first and then pour that into a pan and bring that to the boil rather than just waiting for the pan of water to boil itself. Once it’s at a rolling boil tip in a generous pinch of salt (it’s hard to oversalt pasta water so don’t be scared) and cook the spaghetti for ten to twelve minutes or until it’s, you know, cooked.

Meanwhile, mix the olive oil, lemon zest and juice, ground almonds, nutritional yeast, mustard, salt, pepper, garlic powder and thyme leaves together in a bowl along with about a tablespoon of the cooking liquid from the pasta. The second time I made this I used bottled lemon juice and found that some extra olive oil counteracted the slight bitterness of the juice, I also just like a lot of olive oil. As with all recipes, taste to see what you think it needs more of. 

Once the pasta is cooked, drain it thoroughly and mix it into the lemon-almond sauce. Drizzle with a little extra olive oil and sprinkle over some extra thyme leaves because why not, and then serve.

Makes enough for one.

P1180735(Ghost’s face, when I’m really firmly like “𝘩𝘦𝘺 buddyY, this pasta is for big boys only, not for small good boys, is that okay with you ??? ? ? ? big idiot boys only. . . .not gȏod flṻffy smâll boys. . . 𝕤𝕠𝕣𝕣𝕪 bëbé. . . but in this world- oh he’s göne.” )

Pasta is my favourite and this is my favourite kind of pasta – simple, elegant, a small amount of sauce quietly shadowing it but not overshadowing it. It’s perfect as it is, but it could, however, also hold its own while holding up something else on top – perhaps some sleekly roasted eggplant slices or a customarily meatball-shaped thing.

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Speaking of words like favourite and perfect, look at this stunner tattoo I got done with my perfect favourites Kim and Kate for my birthday by Jade at Sumi Tattoo, by which I mean, we all have matching tattoos now! It represents the Three of Wands tarot card which we all kept being unconsciously drawn to over the years and the collective interpretations of which read like a bullet-list of our journey together so far and it’s really pretty and we’re each like a supportive side of the triangle! I love stuff that’s symbolic and literal at the same time!

PS: As per and as always, thank you to my Patreon patrons for supporting me and my writing, you are each and every one of you seen and appreciated. Should you wish to join this perspicacious cadre of patrons yourself, then you may sign up here. A couple of dollars or more per month directly influences my ability to write more and gets you exclusive content in return, like book and film reviews or what star sign I believe each character from Gavin and Stacey is or a recipe for the best vegan scones.

title from: Casper, a sweet and woozy song by Daniel Johnston.

music lately:

Comfortably Numb, specifically from Roger Waters’ hilariously overblown 1990 concert performance of The Wall held on land where the literal Berlin Wall itself had fallen eight months prior, like a snake eating its own tail while frantically yelling “this is GREAT!” to anyone who will listen. When Pink Floyd cleft themselves in twain in the 80s you were left with the excellent, if occasionally ponderously dour songwriting of Roger Waters in one camp and the lovely singing voice, strong melodies but very bad lyrics, (and, I suspect, slightly sunnier disposition) of David Gilmore in the other. So what’s a scamp like Waters to do when faced with the concept of putting on an all-star concert version of the album that was the bombastic undoing of his very band: why, he went all star. And so we have Van Morrison AND The Band in the David Gilmore vocals, and where Gilmore was icy, Van Morrison is like a heat pump warmly gusting towards you with The Band’s country-flavoured harmonies over that gloriously soaring chorus somehow creating the absolute sense that, despite this song actually being about swiftly-creeping dread, you are both safe and loved. To really drive this home they, in an uncharacteristically commercial bone-throwing exercise, give us another repeat of the delicious chorus at the end after Snowy White’s long and crunchy guitar solo. You bet Levon’s Helm’s trucker cap that I’ve listened to this pompous magnificence like twelve times this morning alone.

Sailin’ On, by Bad Brains, for a far more economical yet no less effective use of guitar solo. I love how scuffed up this track sounds and its headrush speed and the oddly adorable “ooooh” vocals that start in verse two, or are they saying “mmmm,” it’s hard to tell against all that noise, but still: oddly adorable.

Next time: I had some smashing cupcakes when I went to my book group today and because I’m highly suggestible I now have a singular urge to make cupcakes; it’s certainly been a while.

I won’t remember your birthday, I won’t remember your name, just keep talking to me I’m not listening

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Something that I realised one second after I was told it by someone else, is that in most of life’s arenas my brain will melt down when faced with a task before I’ve even been told what the task is; then should I actually undertake the task (for example, getting on a bus to an appointment) I would often end up doing it wrong (getting on the wrong bus, going to the wrong place) and be afflicted with such brain-paralysis that I would not be able to work out a way to solve it, and worse, the only thing I’d feel capable of is messaging the group chat to drag them down with me on my panicked spiral about something entirely preventable. In all arenas of life! Except in the kitchen.

Like last week’s ice cream atrocity triad: not only was I diplomatically, breezily able to keep going in the face of persistent failure, but I also didn’t see it as a morally-weighted type thing that reflected upon me personally, I was all, I know I’m a good cook, regardless of this garbage. Whereas I still feel a quaking within my nether organs when I have to get on a bus to go like, honestly, anywhere.

(It was Kate that pointed this out to me after I’d been trying to use the oven in her and Jason’s kitchen, the heat/function markings of which are all rubbed off, and instead of lying on the floor and crying I just googled the oven model and found a picture of what the un-rubbed function and heat dials looked like and proceeded accordingly. Upon reflection I was like yeah, that was off-brandingly level-headed of me.)

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With that in mind it was simply no big deal to cook dinner for twelve people last week in honour of my birthday (which was on Wednesday the 17th, in case there’s the slightest bit of unclarity over what my star sign is) and somehow I just instinctively knew which order to make everything in and when to take everything out of the fridge and what could be dovetailed and how to make everything appear on the table at once and how to fix one tricky situation without it having a domino effect on the rest of the food (food can smell fear.) (It just can!)

The menu was as follows:

  • Viv’s Crackers (Make these! They’re so good!)
  • Olive Tapenade (recipe below)
  • Lentil Dip (It’s like. Hummus but with brown lentils and sumac. I just made it up as I went along.)
  • Muhammara (recipe below)
  • Pesto (I just made this up but used my mum’s trick of adding some tahini to it which makes it wonderfully rich, you almost wouldn’t know it was vegan)
  • Caramelised Onion Butter (recipe below)
  • Dukkah (from a recipe of mine from 2018 but I used cashews instead of walnuts)
  • Zucchini, Walnut and Thyme Salad (from Ottolenghi’s book Simple)
  • Marinated Mushrooms (my own recipe from 2012)
  • Cauliflower Tabbouleh (also from Simple)
  • Broccoli Slaw with Wasabi Lime Dressing (I made this up but it’s pretty much exactly how it sounds)
  • Rice Paper Rolls with Peanut Dipping sauce (made them up but again, pretty standard)
  • Roasted Butternut and Parsnip with Cardamom Seeds (I made this up but the title is pretty self-explanatory)
  • Couscous with Fried Eggplants, Olives, Sunflower and Pumpkin Seeds (I made this up but it’s just one of those couscous things where you stir lots of bits into it, you know what I mean?)
  • Blackened Corn and Rice Salad with Pecans, Almonds, and Nasturtium Leaves (based loosely on a recipe of mine from 2012, I added pecans and Chinese Five-Spice and nasturtium leaves from the garden and so on)
  • Fried Zucchini Orzo with Pine Nuts, Mint, Spinach, and Kale (This is just something I made up but it’s definitely based on some Ottolenghi recipe)

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For precisely one minute I was worried I hadn’t made enough and for one wavering semiquaver I was like “what if it’s all bad, just real bad food” but then I laughed at both notions and carried on blithely like I was neurotypically non-avolitional. Nothing actually went wrong but there was definitely plenty of calm yet sudden improvisation required, like when there was no bulgur wheat in the entire suburb of Newtown or when half the vegetables I originally planned for were out of season (it seems the only thing confidently in season in April is meat.)

It’s funny, the psychology of cooking for increasing quantities of people. Supposing I was like, okay, everyone’s getting roast beef and potatoes and salad, you’d be like yeah, three things per person, that’s a normal reasonable meal, all you need to do is make those three things. But the MINUTE you start thinking you’ll have a cosy, low-key, unstructured banquet where everyone just helps themselves to what’s on the table, you suddenly have to provide SO MANY COMPONENTS. Three bowls of salad is NOTHING. But then conversely, the more food there is, the LESS people eat. So a bowl of couscous stuff that normally would in no way stretch to twelve, will not only serve everyone when it’s part of a big table of food, but you’ll also inexplicably have leftovers for a week.

In The Wire, Bunk tells Kima that the one thing you need at a crime scene is “soft eyes…if you’ve got soft eyes you can see the whole thing.” I don’t even know how I came up with the menu in relation to the number of people, it wasn’t based on any actual calculation, I was just like, I’m at one with the food, looking at my proposed menu list with soft eyes, and I’ll just know when I’ve planned enough. And I did! Would I suggest this as advice for anyone else hosting a dinner party? Probably not. Would I suggest watching The Wire? Sure!

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The three recipes I’ve provided for you today were from the dips and sauces – my idea was to have, as well as big bowls of things, just a ton of stuff that could be stirred in to make everything even more interesting. The first recipe, Caramelised Onion Butter, was something I thought up, but let’s be clear: it’s just caramelised onions that have been put in the blender. Nevertheless they were immensely delicious, with that bordering-on-frustratingly slow cooking process slowly breaking down the onions and making them sweet and mellow and lush and somehow even more so once pureed into a creamy mush. Make it and have it on hand to stir into soups, stews, anything that needs an absolute fistful of flavour. The muhammara was something that I adapted from Ottolenghi, not because I thought I could do better than him but because capsicums are ferociously expensive at the moment and so I reduced the quantity a little and subbed in some tomato paste. I think it worked, and the finished result, this rambunctiously flavoured smoky spicy sauce, all nubbly from the walnuts and rich from the roasting process, is highly gorgeous. And as with the caramelised onion butter, I imagine it would be useful to have on hand to embiggen any other food you’ve made. Finally the olive tapenade, which I decided to rakishly make with prunes to boost its dark richness, is so fast to make – have it with bread, stir it through pasta, eat it with a spoon, whatever. If you’re uncertain about the prunes then maybe try blending them in one at a time to see how you go but their robustness complements the equally strident olives and rosemary and the sweetness gives depth rather than unbridled prune-ishness. All three of these recipes are so easy to make (although there’s nothing easy about how much chopping onions makes me cry) I’m sorry, however, that they all involve a food processor. I’m afraid that’s just how it goes when you’re vegan: you give up meat, you inexplicably start blending everything, no almond left unpulverised.

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Caramelised Onion Butter

A recipe by myself

  • 6 large brown onions
  • olive oil (regular, not extra virgin)
  • salt (ideally sea salt or other non-iodised salt)
  • 2 heaped tablespoons soft brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Peel and slice the onions, in half and then into fine-ish half-circles. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil over a low heat in a large saucepan and tip the onions in. Sprinkle over a pinch of salt. Let the onions fry, stirring fairly often, letting them soften and soften and become lightly golden. This is not like frying onions normally, you don’t want them to catch and become brown, the idea is to just slowly, slowly, melt them down. It will seem at first like they’re never going to cook and collapse but they will! It just takes about twenty solid minutes.

Once the onions have really softened and turned into a golden tangle, tip in the brown sugar and the balsamic vinegar, turn the heat up to medium, and cook for another five or so minutes. This is the point where caramelisation is ideal so don’t stir them too much, and that way the sugar can really do its thing.

At this point, remove from the heat and allow to cool, tasting for more salt if it needs it. Spatula the onions into the bowl of a food processor and drizzle in another two tablespoons of olive oil. Blitz into a thick, creamy mush. If you use a high-speed blender it will become even more creamy but the chunkier texture from the food processor’s blades is also entirely desirable. Decant to a bowl and refrigerate. It’s best closer to room temperature so take it out of the fridge a while before you need it.

Muhamarra

Adapted slightly from a recipe in Ottolenghi’s book Simple

  • 4 red capsicums (peppers)
  • 6 fat cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (plus more for roasting the capsicum)
  • 50g walnuts
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) tomato paste
  • 3/4 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • a pinch of chilli flakes
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • salt, to taste

Set your oven to 220C/450F. Half the capsicums and remove the cores, stems and seeds. Place them cut side down in a roasting dish along with the peeled garlic cloves and drizzle liberally with olive oil. Place in the oven for 20 or so minutes, until the garlic cloves are golden brown and the capsicums are soft and their skin is starting to blacken a little.

Allow the capsicums and garlic to cool a little, then throw them into a food processor along with the remaining ingredients. Try to spatula/pour any oil and roasting juices from the pan into the processor as well. And just to clarify, “the rest of the ingredients” includes the two tablespoons of olive oil. Blitz to form a rough puree, taste for anything it might need – probably more salt – and then spatula it into a serving bowl or an airtight container and refrigerate till needed. Again, best at room temperature or gently warmed, so take it out of the fridge well before you need it.

Olive Tapenade

A recipe by myself

  • 250g (or so) black pitted olives
  • 4 prunes
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil (extra virgin is good, but whatever you’ve got)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon capers (rinsed if salt-packed)
  • a small pinch of cayenne or chilli pepper
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Place everything in a food processor and blitz to form a thick, rough-textured paste. You may need to spatula down the sides a couple of times and then blitz again. Taste to see if it needs more of anything then spatula into a serving bowl or an airtight container, and as with all these recipes, it’s best at room temperature. Just get the cheapest pitted black olives you can find – they’re getting blasted together with all these other ingredients and you don’t want to be dicking around de-stoning them. On the other hand if you do buy proper olives make sure you get more to account for the weight of the stones.

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Let me tell you, there was no greater birthday present than just sitting there watching everyone I love happily eating food I made. I wasn’t even hungry myself, I just wanted to behold everyone consuming what I’d made for them and now that I’ve said that it sounds a bit psychologically suspicious but I assure you, it’s mostly that if I’ve been cooking all day I’ve definitely been generously tasting everything as I go. For dessert I did a tray of homemade butterfingers, dried fruit and dark chocolate and didn’t click till the next day that I’d completely forgotten about a birthday cake, but the entire night was perfect just as it was: by the time it devolved into an elaborate roasting of me, from the story of how I’d never changed a lightbulb to the story of how I dropped my phone down an eight-story lift shaft and pressed the emergency button because it was an emergency, well, I think it’s truly the most content I’ve been all year.

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The Ghost with the most.

And I’m still eating the leftovers: thirty-three feels good. Thank you to Jason and Charlotte who took photos of the food on their phones and sent them to me because I forgot to get my camera ready or to learn how to take photos at night (yes, I can organise a dinner party, yes, it will be at the expense of ALL OTHER THINGS that I might possibly need my brain for.)

title from: Planet Z from my broadway idol Idina Menzel’s beautiful and occasionally bizarre 1997 debut album Still I Can’t Be Still. This boisterously energetic song is groaning under the weight of its production but it all works somehow, I listen to it and couldn’t imagine how it could possibly sound any other way. I love (and miss) her rough-yet-treacly five-zillion-miles-from-Let-It-Go voice.

music lately:

Kate and Jason and I watched Homecoming by Beyoncé last night and it’s absolutely gobsmackingly astounding viewing. Just trying to get my head around her vision, organisation, talent and monumental discipline, as well as the phenomenal production and execution in the stage show. The precision, the work, the drum line, the horn section, the fact that she was the first black woman to headline Coachella and she went okay, then I’m gonna bring hundreds of black women up there with me. Naturally I’ve got her on the brain now and she obviously has nonstop hits but I especially adore Bow Down/I Been On, which she released online in 2013 and would later rework into ***Flawless for her self-titled album. The first part with its discordant Nintendo-sounding sample is so exciting and sinister and off the wall, she sounds so in charge and has these amazing growls in her voice, and then suddenly it slows down and she’s doing operatic soprano and then she starts rapping and her vocals all chopped and screwed now sound like a man’s deep voice, and it becomes this sludgy, slow-moving salute to her hometown and past and she sounds so great. Because she dropped this in such a low-key way online I was not expecting it to pop up on the setlist of Homecoming but she did it! Honestly, even if you’re not a fan, if you generally appreciate live performance, culture, musicianship, or simply a job well done, watch Homecoming.

Invitation to Love, TB. It takes a minute to warm up but once it gets going it’s an extremely lush track that samples Laura Palmer’s Theme from Twin Peaks – that most lush of tracks – that I had a very lovely time dancing to on Sunday night thanks to TV Disko’s DJ set at the Laundry staff party (what, just because I stop working at a place, I’m no longer staff? That’s not how jobs work.)

Today’s Your Day (Whatchagonedo), Fat Lip feat Chali 2na. Deliciously languid, the sound of sunshine refracting through golden syrup, and that chorus is so good.

Next time: It’s been cold and rainy ever since my birthday so I’m thinking, you know, something cold-and-rain friendly.

PS as always thank you to my Patreon patrons, especially the new folks who joined in a birthday-related gestural fashion. It is by no means too late to still join my Patreon and have me think it’s something to do with my birthday, or to just join it because supporting me and my writing is – or could be – its own reward. Plus you get access to exclusive content from me, which is more literally its own reward.

hang on to this, stay and stay and fail and fail

Look at this beautiful photo of this terrible ice cream

Though we are as a society perhaps too hysterical about many things up to and including the internet, the influence of said internet can nevertheless have its undeniably shady side: maybe your toddler wants lip filler injections, maybe you lie awake fretting about how you’re not doing yoga in Prague like everyone else, maybe you read alt-right blogs. Or maybe you see a photo on Instagram that inspires you to try making ice cream out of canned beans. Which I did try. Three times.

For though I was thrice let down by these ice cream recipes like Peter denying he knew Jesus three times in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, I am not going to pretend it didn’t happen, like Peter denying he knew Jesus three times in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Firstly, I put in so much effort and what’s the point of putting effort into anything if you don’t get to tell everyone about it, and secondly, you, the reader, may at least learn what to extremely not do when making ice cream. Thirdly, I’m fairly confident many of you don’t even read this blog for the recipes, and fourthly: let’s face it, failure is kind of funny. You know when you screw something up and you’re like “we’ll look back on this one day and laugh?” Well, I’m already laughing and it only just happened.

Your suspicion serves you well, Ghost

So what went wrong? The theory of Occam’s Razor would suggest that my first misstep was TRYING TO MAKE ICE CREAM OUT OF CANNED BEANS but like, there could be more to it than that. The first batch, as I recounted at length last week, was based on chickpeas and tasted somewhat affrontingly yet not surprisingly and ultimately overwhelmingly like chickpeas. Fine! I said, in the manner of Lisa in the movie Fame changing her major to acting and pretending she never wanted to dance: I’ll try a different bean! Butterbeans are mellower and creamier, their very name has a soothingly evocative sound, and I even tried adding melted dark chocolate to really mask the flavour. First, I blitzed the drained beans in a high-speed blender till they were velvety smooth, then I added oil and sugar and stirred them into the brine that I’d drained from the can and whisked into frothy peaks with sugar and cream of tarter, because – fun fact – the liquid from any canned beans will act like egg whites if you whisk them with enough intent. Stirring in the chocolate made the mixture thicken rapidly and resemble chocolate mousse but it seemed promising. I then made some cookie dough and stirred it in and bunged the lot into the freezer and waited six to eight hours.

It looked great, and so I scooped some into a dusky pink coffee cup and took photos of it in pleasing tableaux around the house and then finally tasted it. It was…strange? Really sweet and rich and definitely chocolatey but not at all like ice cream and while I didn’t think you could taste the beans it still somehow was a little stressfully granular, as though you could sense with your tastebuds that it was guiltily hiding something. I gave some to Kate, and I was all “it doesn’t even taste like beans!” and she quietly replied “yes…it does.”

Further taste tests solidified my opinion that it wasn’t bad, just a little troubling, which when it comes to food…is bad. I deduced scientifically that the thing making this frozen dessert taste rueful and self-deprecating was a lack of liquid – it seemed more like cold cake icing than icy, creamy, uh, ice cream.

I agree.

So I resolutely ploughed ahead with a third batch: this time with no chocolate or cookie dough to distract from the matter at hand, just a simple vanilla ice cream, made using the same divide-and-conquer method of blending the beans with sugar and oil and folding them into their own whisked bean brine with plenty of vanilla essence and a full 250ml of oat milk. The mixture looked creamily promising and when I took it out of the freezer six to eight hours later and ran my spoon across its surface it looked winningly exactly like ice cream: thick and frosty and scoop-able and creamy and I tasted it and oh my god it tasted like beans the entire flavour profile was beans it was just beans it somehow tasted more like beans than the original untouched beans in the can, just BEANS BEANS BEANS and I was like…well, no one can say I didn’t try.

This is not to say that there aren’t successful recipes out there for bean-based ice cream. There undoubtedly are, and they probably involve large commercial kitchens and slightly more high-tech ingredients and knowledge than I have. There just definitely aren’t successful recipes for bean-based ice cream sitting in Kate and Jason’s freezer right now.

It’s my birthday on Wednesday 17th and I’ll be turning 33. As I noted, somewhat aghast, to my friend Charlotte who herself turned 33 last week, this means we’re no longer in the age bracket where Paul Giamatti would fall in love with us in an indie movie, we’re instead becoming the age of his unwhimsical pursed-lipped wife, probably played by Maggie Gyllenhaal or Kristin Wiig, that he cheats on in order to discover himself (next stop: you inevitably become Paul Giamatti’s mother, a role which will be played by like, Laura Linney, or Maggie Gyllenhaal in precisely two years time. If she’s lucky.) I’m having a small dinner party the day after my birthday where I’m going to be cooking for a select group of people that I really like, and I am pleased to note that neither Paul Giamatti’s opinion of me nor my failed attempts at this one particular varietal of ice cream are holding me back from feeling anything but excited and confident, I am delightedly devising a menu and can’t wait to feed everyone and nevertheless, absolutely none of it will involve ice cream. I think it’s just for the best.

(PS: I’M FINE about all this obviously but if you need reassuring that I can make ice cream, I recommend reading my recent-ish posts for Rosé Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream or Black Salted Caramel Ripple Ice Cream.)

PS should you be all like Laura! How can I mark the occasion of your birthday? I would say hey! You don’t have to do that at all! And now that I’ve got that fake demurring out of the way, I would say you can become a Patreon patron and directly support my writing! And in return you can receive treats in the form of content written exclusively for you! So it’s like a birthday present for yourself in the long run. But mostly for me.

title from: Heaven Or Las Vegas by Cocteau Twins. Elizabeth Fraser’s voice! It’s the sound of moonlight, the sound of water hitting the point of freezing, it’s undoubtedly what Handel was listening to when he wrote the Hallelujah Chorus.

music lately:

I watched the fourth and final season of musical comedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and like, I’ve watched a LOT of TV shows about people with mental health issues and I’ve never seen depictions as accurate as this, let alone with regular Stephen Sondheim references. Parody music can be like someone telling you about their dream, like, I get why you’re excited, but it’s not REAL, but these songs are REAL skilful in their execution and the fact that co-creator and star Rachel Bloom wrote like 150 of them over the show’s series is genuinely incredible. I particularly loved Don’t Be A Lawyer from this season which cleverly jacks New Jack Swing and the earlier, surprisingly incisive Love Kernels (“how do I know he really loves me? I guess the only way to prove it…is with abstract symbolism”) and its spiritual successor, Without Love You Can Save The World which matches its faux-hippie-folk sensibility with choreography right out of Twyla Tharp’s playbook. This show is kind of gruelling even if you’re into musical stuff but it’s so rewarding.

One Beat, Sleater-Kinney. The drumbeat and the overlapping voices in the chorus are so satisfying.

Another World, Richard Hell and the Voidoids. The verses are all slumping and shambling and then the chorus is so simple and sweet and then it ends sliding all over the place again, I just love him so much!

Next time: As I said I’m going to be cooking a birthday feast this week, so my next post will likely feature recipes from that night. Actual recipes!

little mean things we were doing, must have been part of the game, lending a spice to the wooing

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I started this week making some ice cream out of canned chickpeas based on a photo I’d seen on Instagram, and the whole process was kind of disastrous in that way where you start to wonder if your food is trying to tell you something, like, at first I tried pulverising the chickpeas in the food processor but they were still too chunky and granular so then I was like okay no worries I’ll spatula it into another bowl and use the stick blender, you know, the kind of thing you use to liquidise soups, and all that did was fling chickpea puree everywhere, and then I was like wait! There’s a smoothie blender in the house somewhere, one of those ones that will turn any quantity of vegetables into a silky-smooth and more or less potable liquid; at which point I accidentally misread the thrust of the fulcrum on the stick blender resting on the edge of the bowl by which I mean I flung chickpea puree across the kitchen floor, undeterred I spatula’d what was left into the smoothie maker, which finally did produce the absolutely smooth mixture I’d been seeking, uninterrupted by bits, then I made some cookie dough to stir in and added what I thought the rest of the ingredients should be (some oat milk, some golden syrup, some oil) and then put it in the freezer and realised I’d dirtied every single appliance in the kitchen, including the floor, including myself, and I did the responsible thing and burnt the house to the ground, no, I joke, I just cleaned it all up, and then when I went to taste the now-solidified ice cream six hours later I was like My God…it tastes like cold sugary hummus.

Luckily I had another recipe to blog about.

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But like, back to the ice cream for a second, the curious thing is that I couldn’t stop thinking about it and even though I was pretty convinced it was not the one, I nevertheless ended up eating the entire thing (in two sittings, don’t be aghast) in the hopes of working out if it actually tasted good or not, and honestly I’m still not sure? Like it really tasted like cold chickpeas? But then somehow it tasted almost amazing? And I simply could not stop eating it? If anything I admire the ice cream for not handing itself to me on a plate, for making me chase it, but obviously “deliciousness is a subtext that you have to really work to find” is not what most people are looking for in a recipe so I have returned to the drawing board, I just love ice cream SO much and while I’m perfectly content being vegan, I really do miss the absolute ease with which I could make or access ice cream previously.

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Anyway, this week’s recipe for Chinese Five-Spice panko fried eggplant really does hand it to you on a plate, the subtext is text, it’s straightforwardly delicious and deliciously straightforward. I saw a recipe on Food 52 for something they called Breaded Eggplant Cutlets and decided to make my own version. The main thing that I took from the recipe was the process of leaving the salted eggplant slices to sit for an hour, which is not the sort of time-consuming behaviour I’d normally indulge but it really does have a significant effect, meaning that when you come around to frying the eggplant, the flesh within gets quickly melting and tender while the panko crumb gets golden and crisp. Without the salting, there’s a good chance that the eggplant wouldn’t cook through and you’d end up with cotton-wool polystyrene.

The recipe on Food 52 suggests any number of ways that you can use these slices of eggplant but I chose to have them stuffed into a mustard-smeared supermarket roll with lots of rocket leaves: the sinus-clawing mustard and peppery greens counteract the fabulous oily richness of the eggplant and it’s a perfect lunch, where you’ve put in enough effort for it to feel like you actually care about yourself but it’s not so much effort that you end up crying from exhaustion once it’s done. Chinese Five-Spice powder is one of my favourite ingredients, it’s – usually – comprised of cinnamon, cloves, star anise, fennel, and Szechuan peppercorns, and has this warm, aromatic intensity to it that goes so well with the mildness of the eggplant. The aquafaba, which is literally just brine from a can of chickpeas, works perfectly as glue for the flour and panko crumbs but obviously if you’re not vegan or whatever you could just use a couple of beaten eggs. Panko crumbs are these really light, crunchy Japanese breadcrumbs, they really add to the crisp texture of the finished product and are pretty easy to find in most supermarkets, but if you can only find regular breadcrumbs it’ll undoubtedly still taste good because, well, everything fried tastes good.

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Chinese Five-Spice Panko Fried Eggplant

Inspired by this recipe from Food52.com

  • 1 eggplant, sliced into circles about 1cm thick
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt or other non-iodised salt
  • brine (aquafaba) from one drained can of chickpeas
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 3/4 cup plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese Five-Spice powder
  • 1/3 cup rice brain oil or similar, for frying
  • soft bread rolls, mustard, rocket or similar green leaves, to serve

Firstly, get two pieces of paper towel, and sit the eggplant slices on one of them on a plate. Sprinkle over the salt, lay over the second piece of paper towel, and then place a second plate on top to weigh it down. Leave the eggplant sitting for an hour, then remove the top plate and get rid of the paper towels.

Place the aquafaba in a bowl. Either in two separate bowls, or, as I did, in two piles on the plate that had previously been resting on top of the eggplants, mix the flour and Chinese Five-Spice powder together, and then mix the panko breadcrumbs and nutritional yeast together.

Dunk each piece of eggplant first into the flour, then the aquafaba, then the breadcrumbs, then repeat this process so each piece of eggplant has been twice-dunked in everything. It will be kind of messy and your fingers will get covered in gunk and I’m telling you now: don’t eat it, you’ll be tempted, but just don’t, it’s…not good.

Heat the oil in a good-sized saucepan and fry the coated eggplant slices for a couple of minutes on each side, carefully turning once they’re a deep golden brown colour. Remove to a plate lined with another piece of paper towel, then eat however you like: I chose to spread mustard on some soft white supermarket bread rolls and then stuffed them with the eggplant slices and a handful of rocket leaves.

The amount that this serves depends on how you serve it and how hungry you are, I had two bread rolls with four pieces of eggplant in it for lunch and was pretty content so I guess what I’m saying is definitely scale up if you’re cooking for other people.

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As for the chickpeas that are left from when you drain the can for its brine…just make hummus.

title from: I Surrender, Dear by Bing Crosby. This was one of his very first hits in 1931 and it’s just, you know, some really good rainy day crooner music.

music lately:

The Infinity Room, an album by 36. This is immensely dreamy and swoony, much like the person who recommended it to me. Like, it makes me want to lie down and also get up and dance at the same time.

Old Town Road, by Lil Nas X with Billy Ray Cyrus. Look, this song is everywhere right now and it’s so catchy but in this way where I want to hear all the catchy segments of it at the same time all on top of each other, kind of like when I tried curly fries for the first time and I was suddenly panicky like, I need to cram all the curly fries into my mouth at once in order to truly understand their deliciousness, if I eat them only one at a time it’s too fleeting. It’s hard to imagine now, but curly fries were quite the game-changer. Anyway this song is good as hell and I hope it tops the country charts for a very long time. Yee, and I cannot stress this enough: haw.

Shallow Tears, Light Asylum. It sounds atmospheric yet thrilling, it sounds old yet new, I love those big drums and the singer’s big Depeche Mode-y voice.

Next time: I am actually not done with my canned bean ice cream scheme yet, this heedlessness possibly spurred on by watching a lot of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (“face your fears! run with scissors!”)

PS: a special and heartfelt thank you to my Patreon patrons! I LOVE YOU! If you are not a patron, but you enjoy my writing and want me to be able to do it more, then indeed please consider signing up. A couple of dollars per month from you directly influences my ability to write more and gets you exclusive content in return, like book and film reviews or what star sign I believe each character from Gavin and Stacey is or a recipe for the best vegan scones.