New Mexico ain’t bad Lord, and the people there, they treat you kind

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Despite having lived a substantial quantity of my life before social media ever wrapped its tentacles around me in a way that felt like love, no one could deny that I’ve thrown myself quite whole-heartedly into it since. Nevertheless I was like, how do I explain the premise of this week’s recipe? Inspired by a tweet I saw? That wasn’t even directed at me? But I guess it’s pretty simple, really, because social media is EVERYWHERE. When I went home for Christmas Mum and Dad were talking about a local Facebook group that is like Craigslist, community noticeboard, judge-jury-and-executioner and then some all in one that started off as a simple meme page. And I was like yeah, there’s one of those where I live but it’s the reverse, initially for students to offload their Psych 101 textbooks and now it’s kind of a Wellington meme page YET also the only conduit I could or indeed would fathom of for like, getting rid of a mattress. And I’m pretty sure every town has one now!

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I count myself lucky to follow so many people on Twitter who seem genuinely incredible, most of them women, and who will so casually drop the kind of powerful or powerfully hilarious tweets that entire teams of television writers would weep hot tears of jealousy over. And while Minka, the person who wrote the tweet that inspired this week’s recipe, is 100% in this category, the tweet itself was highly innocuous. It was December 4th, it was Minka tweeting to someone else the simple words “IMAGINE VEGAN CARNE ADOVADA” – that’s all! I’ll be honest, I was not feeling particularly wonderful that day and definitely not feeling imaginative. But the tweet stuck in my head, to the point where I would literally hear it as if it were a song’s lyric, and at last I decided to actually, well, imagine it. Am I saying Minka’s tweet cured my depression? I’m not not saying it?

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Vegan Carne Adovada

a recipe by myself but inspired directly by this recipe of J.Kenji López-Alt and this recipe from I Am New Mexico.

  • 4 dried ancho or poblano chiles (I used 5 large dried Anaheim chiles as this was alas all I could find), seeds and stems removed
  • 4 whole chipotle chiles, canned in adobo (I used the La Morena brand)
  • Zest and juice of a large orange
  • 5 prunes
  • 3 cups vegetable stock (by which I mean, use your preferred stock powder to make this) plus 1 cup extra
  • 1 heaped tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or similar
  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1 can of jackfruit in brine
  • 1/2 cup of flour or cornflour (use the latter to make this gluten-free)
  • plenty of olive oil, for frying
  • 1 large onion, peeled and roughly diced
  • 6 large garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup or date syrup
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Plenty of salt and pepper to taste
  • Warmed tortillas, coriander, rice, to serve

Step 1: The Sauce

Heat up the dried chiles in a large frying pan, till they are aromatic but not smoking. Add the prunes, the zest and juice of the orange, the canned chipotles (don’t rinse them), the vinegar, the nutritional yeast and three cups of the vegetable stock, and bring to the boil. Let it bubble away for ten minutes, and then remove from the heat. Carefully blitz the lot in a blender to form a thick red sauce, and then transfer this to a large mixing bowl. You might find it easier to scoop out all the solids and blend them with a small quantity of the liquid before adding the rest, either way just be careful about blending hot stuff. Stir in the cumin, oregano, maple syrup, bay leaves, and a good pinch of salt and pepper, and set aside.

Step 2: The Stuff in the Sauce

Wash and dry the saucepan and heat up about three tablespoons of olive oil in it. Trim off the stem and then cut the eggplant into rough cubes and chunks, and fry them in the hot oil till dark golden brown on all sides. Tip them into the bowl of red chile sauce and return the pan to the heat.

Now, gently fry the onion and garlic in the same pan, perhaps adding some more oil if it needs it, stirring occasionally and allowing it to soften and turn golden.

While this is happening, thoroughly drain the can of jackfruit and using your hands, pull the pieces of jackfruit into smaller segments. Don’t throw away any seeds or whatever, it’s all good stuff.

Transfer the onion and garlic into the bowl of red chile sauce with the eggplant and get on to frying the jackfruit. You want to heat up another few tablespoons of olive oil in the same pan, and dip each piece of jackfruit into the flour before throwing it into the pan. Your aim here is to leave the jackfruit for long enough that it caramelises and turns golden on all sides – this will take some patience and the flour will go a bit scungy in the oil but it’s worth it for the end result. When the jackfruit pieces are golden brown and the fibrous edges look good and crisp, throw the whole lot, including whatever flour-oil gunk is in the pan – into the bowl of red chile sauce.

Step 3: Marinating, cooking, actually eating

Cover the bowl of red chile sauce and refrigerate for a couple of hours or overnight. When you’re ready to cook it, set your oven to 150C/300F and transfer the carne adovada into a baking dish. Give it a taste to see if it wants any more salt or anything. Use the extra cup of vegetable stock (or honestly just tap water is fine by this point) to sluice around the bowl that you’ve been marinating everything in, to catch any remaining sauce, and tip this over the contents of the roasting dish.

Bake for around an hour, or until everything looks rich and saucy and a little caramelised from the oven’s heat. Serve however you like – heated up tortillas, coriander, and rice is a good start.

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Without exaggeration, I honestly think this is one of the greatest recipes I’ve ever tasted and were it not for Minka’s tweet I’d have missed this opportunity completely. I’ve never been to New Mexico (where the dish originates) and am by no means familiar with New Mexico cuisine; I had in fact only hirtherto heard of Carne Adovada via Minka’s other tweets about it. With this in mind, I strenuously emphasise, that while I created the recipe that you see above, it is completely and directly based on the recipes that I linked to – one quite complex, one very simple – and I’m just a culinary tourist from a far-away land, rather than any kind of expert in this particular field. Nevertheless, allow me to respectfully explain myself.

In order to emulate the pork that is normally used in Carne Adovada (and I know carne means meat but I’m not about to do something gross like calling the recipe “car-nay”) I went for a double-pronged approach: darkly fried cubes of eggplant, oily and melting and rich; and then jackfruit, coated in flour and fried till golden and crisp: this provides that mild sweetness and, for want of better words, meaty fibrousness. Jackfruit is (a) a revelation and (b) really inexpensive and pretty easy to find these days, however on its own it felt a little un-luscious, hence the pairing. Both of these were marinated overnight in a ketchup-thick sauce made hot with papery, blood-dark dried chiles and smoky little canned chipotles and aromatic with cumin and oregano. I used prunes to sweeten the sauce because it’s what I had and I also felt they had a kind of meatiness to them, but you do what suits – one of the recipes I referenced used raisins, while the other recipe didn’t include any sweetening agent at all.

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The final slow bake in the oven makes the sauce so, well, saucy, and it’s all smoky and hot in this complex-yet-straightforward way and the eggplant and jackfruit melt and pull apart in your mouth and it’s all full-bodied and lush and while there’s a few steps involved it’s unbelievably rewarding and almost meditative to prepare each part of it. Now, when I try to make an existing recipe vegan my aim is more to evoke the abundance that meat or animal products provides rather than “this tastes like meat”, but…it doesn’t not taste meaty, you know? By which I mean I think this would and should be happily received by absolutely anyone. Thank you, Minka!

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Speaking of social media and providing spectacular content for free; this seems as good a time as any to tell you that I’ve started a Patreon page for my writing. Patreon allows you to be a modern day Patron of the Arts, magnanimously bestowing your literal money upon those of us who create in return for (a) a certain glow that I can merely assume only comes from having money and (b) the promise of exclusive content for your trouble. There is no sense of obligation or expectation placed upon any of you individually, it’s just sheer opportunism – like, if I can get money off someone then I might as well get money off someone, you know? And it’s a whole lot easier to be inspired, by tweets or otherwise, when you can comfortably pay rent. So, I entreat you to consider joining this exclusive band of money-havers, but if you don’t I’m not going to like, stop blogging, I would however like to stop talking about money just one time.

title from: White Freight Liner Blues, by Townes Van Zandt, whose despondence is to my ears like electrolytes are to, well, wherever they go – the blood?

music lately:

Last Week in HTx by Megan Thee Stallion, look her up!! She has so many good tracks but I love the way the “bitch I’m from Texas” line in the hook anchors everything in this song.

Thursday Girl, by Mitski, this song literally ruins me and YET I’ve also made a playlist on Spotify that only has this song on it and no one has stopped me, so. I’m obsessed with the nineties singer-songwriter Natalie Merchant buzz on the fourth refrain of “tell me no” in the chorus.

Venus in Furs, Velvet Underground. So throbbing and hypnotic! I’ll never forget the look on my boss’s face when I was playing it really loudly at the tiny German bakery that I worked at in 2006 and they walked in and without saying a word turned it off and then left and got in their car and drove away.

Dues, by Ronee Blakley, from the amazing Robert Altman film Nashville. Blakley performed this in the film as her character Barbara Jean but she actually wrote it herself in real life, and while several of the songs from the film are meant to be satirical of the country genre, this is just a beautiful and achy waltz and very, very real.

Next time: possibly a cocktail but also it’s been too long since I’ve made ice cream, right?

and I can start a book, I can make some mac and cheese, I can sleep twelve hours

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Last Saturday I had the good fortune to appear on Radio New Zealand to talk about recipes for a tight yet manifestly fruitful eleven minutes and three seconds; as a result I had a whole lot of new people sign up to get my blog posts emailed to them. And I was like maaaan I hope I impress those who signed up in all innocence who don’t know that I’m constantly talking about my mental health and even worse, how I use the word “like” as verbal filler even though I’m writing and not like, talking out loud and therefore in need of said fillers, like, how is it that my written words somehow manage to have vocal fry?

I was also hoping to get this blog post done sooner in order to impress said new kids and indeed, literally anyone, but I’ve been SO TIRED which you either know or shall come to learn is like 67% of what I talk about, but in my defence, this week feels next level, as though all I’ve done is work or try to sleep and infuriatingly be unable to do so; you know that particular tired where the skin under your eyes feels like hot scratchy lace and there’s an egg-shaped queasiness in the centre of your ribs?

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(Speaking of eggs I last appeared on this same segment of the Radio NZ show a few years ago and at the time confessed to host Charlotte Graham-McLay that I did not know how to poach an egg, or more specifically: I knew how, but I was never successful at it. Before my appearance on the show again last Saturday, sitting outside the studio, she asked me if I was still unable to poach an egg and I was like “well yeah nah, yeah but I’m vegan now so I don’t have to worry about it.” And then I paused and was like “that’s not why I became a vegan.”)

Despite my frantic-making tiredness I’ve been productive in a gritted-teeth kind of way; I’ve somehow managed to read three books (and am halfway through another), I’ve watched twelve films (insomnia is good for something at least), I’m halfway through a knitting project and I made myself food. Specifically, this recipe for Roasted Carrot Mac n Cheese!

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Roasted Carrot Mac n Cheese

a recipe by myself

  • 7 (or so) carrots from a bunch, the kind that are smallish and have lots of green on the end and look like something from a Beatrix Potter book; or about three regular big normal carrots
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup roasted salted cashews
  • 1/3 cup oat milk, almond milk, or similar
  • 2 heaped tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon dijon or American mustard
  • a pinch of garlic powder or one clove of garlic
  • a pinch of ground cumin
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • a pinch of paprika, preferably the nice smoky kind
  • a very small pinch of turmeric
  • salt and pepper to taste (I prefer sea salt and really dusty cheap ready-ground black pepper, personally.)

To serve

  • 100-200g small dried pasta for example, but not exclusively, macaroni (I used something called Cavatelli)

Optional:

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Set your oven to 220C/430F. Slice or pull the leafy tops off the carrots and place them (the carrots, that is, not the leafy tops) in a shallow roasting dish. If you’re using regular carrots, slice them in half across the middle and then slice each half lengthwise in half, if that makes sense. Drizzle liberally with olive oil (just regular stuff is fine) and sprinkle over a little salt. Put them in the oven for around twenty minutes, or until they’re thoroughly roasted, you know, all soft and caramelised and a little shrivelled (I can’t think of a better word for it, sorry.)

Allow them to cool, then place them in a high speed blender with the oat milk, olive oil (plus tip in any olive oil that is left in the baking dish), the cashews, the nutritional yeast, mustard, lemon juice, the spices, garlic, and a little salt and pepper. Blend it thoroughly until it’s thick and creamy and there’s no trace of actual carrot or carrot remaining, then taste to see if it needs anything more – perhaps some more salt (don’t be shy) or a little more milk, just trust your tastebuds, basically. At this point, you can either spatula it into an airtight container and refrigerate it for up to a week for further use, or set to with stirring it into some pasta. In which case…

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil (I always boil the kettle first and then tip that into the pan, which saves a ton of time) and cook your pasta for around ten to twelve minutes, or until it’s tender. Drain thoroughly, then mix through the sauce. If you want, you can at this point blitz up the slice of bread with the sunflower seeds and nutritional yeast in a food processor or blender, sprinkle it on top, drizzle it with olive oil and grill till the top is browned and crunchy, but serving it just with the sauce is completely fine too.

Serves 2, or 1 with leftovers.

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I feel that a lot of vegan cooking is like playing that game where you have to describe a noun like “pencil” or “John McEnroe” or something without actually naming it, which is not a dig, I excel at such games. So here I use the words “mac n cheese” to evoke a mood rather than to convey anything literal (which to be fair you could like, reasonably expect from a recipe title, but) and everything that goes into it has its own specific purpose in the game to get you closer to imagining that which the title suggests. The spices – earthy cumin, nutmeg brings sweetness and also tricks you with its cheese-sauce familiarity; the mustard and lemon give tang and the turmeric and paprika give colour and a little back-of-throat smokiness and the high speed of the blender’s blades force salty, buttery cashews and rich, nutty, oily almost-sweet roast carrots to relinquish any commitment to their current cellular structure in order to become creamy and thickly, billowingly pureed. And of course nutritional yeast, which really does taste pretty similar to cheese and is therefore a completely obvious addition and there’s no need to get weirdly poetic about it.

The carrots are the real heroes of the piece here and I’m delighted that my idea for using them thusly worked so well. I urge you to find those cartoon-like bunches of smaller carrots bound together by their almost fluffy, leafy green tops: they simply have a ton more character and flavour than a regular-ass carrot, but if that’s all you can find then don’t let that stop you by any means. If I had my time again I’d honestly probably make double the quantity of sauce so that the pasta could get really truly submerged but as it was, modestly coated and with the crunchy sunflower-seed-breadcrumb topping (and you could just use breadcrumbs, I just decided to really lean into this whole, you know, thing), it was completely delicious.

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Through appearing on the radio (which I adore doing by the way, not much makes me happier than having a microphone in my face especially if I’m talking about myself and I encourage anyone else who’s looking for such a person to consider me) there was another pleasing side-effect: my Frasier food blog got unprecedented (by which I mean like, seven) views and I received three separate notifications that literally essentially just said “wow someone is actually reading this, end of notification!” Even my blog platform, inanimate though it is, is excited! All of which – talking into a microphone, new readers, the whole thing – makes me feel optimistic and excited! I’m admittedly approaching a somewhat anxiety-inducing fork in the road as my apartment lease comes to an end in February and I don’t know what I’m going to do about it yet and I feel like I’m never going to stop reeling with exhaustion but, with such tangible achievements already achieved in this young year, I’m okay to rest briefly on my laurels. And hopefully even sleep on them at some point.

PS new readers, one final thing I’d like to have noted for posterity is that the photo of me on the Radio New Zealand page is really old.

title from: The Frug by Rilo Kiley. A quiet and slightly odd but sweet little song from way back in their back catalogue, it does feel very of its time, by which I mean a song written in 1998 that appears on the soundtrack of a Christina Ricci film, yes it’s a genre.

music lately:

It Takes a Muscle To Fall In Love, by Spectral Display, it’s so calm and yet so beautifully momentous at the same time. It bears some of that same hypnotic energy as Scritti Pollitti’s Sweetest Girl but is less sinister. I adore them both.

Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime, by The Field, it’s one of those songs that’s so bordering on ambient that it almost blends into the background but suddenly the minor key cracks open into a major key and it feels like the sun is rising in your face.

Legend of Pat Brown, by Vandals. There’s an appealing matter-of-factness to the singer’s voice, and it’s just a great song, okay.

Oh, and some time after I published my eleventh anniversary blog post I thought it would be funny or fun something to make annual Spotify playlists of every song (that I was able to find on Spotify, that is) that I mentioned in this bit of the blog. I started doing this bit two years in which is why the playlists for each year’s songs start from 2009; anyway it’s just kind of nice and occasionally horrifying, potentially for me and me alone, seeing what I was listening to in any given year, like a little time capsule. If you want to check them out, and indeed, any of my other playlists of varying quality (by which I mean, from good quality to really good quality), I’m here on Spotify.

Next time: I intend to be (a) less tired and (b) that’s it really that’s as far as I’ve got.

i am the new year, i’m the way home

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Well well well, if it isn’t 2019, waltzing in bang on time. To start the year off with perhaps unearned but nevertheless ebullient ebullience I have two recipes for you, one via my mother and one via my father.

But first: I have a suspicion about the momentousness of the New Year that I also carry for weddings – everyone’s all, “we’ve got to have the time of our life! It’s New Year’s Eve! The party of the year! New Year New Me! This year will be different!” But where is that energy on like, March 3rd? Where is that energy every time someone complains about Monday looming unwelcomely on the horizon? Why are we so pressed about this one particular day that we otherwise would regard with indifference at best? That’s right, the New Year is but another calendar day. (How, if you’re wondering, this relates to weddings is: at said weddings we are all “love’s purest incarnation stands before us! I can’t believe these two love each other! I’ve never experienced anything like this! Not since the last wedding I attended!” And then two years down the line, if we see the same couple doing their groceries or whatever, well, what then of the flower petals and glad tidings? Why do we not cry and do poetry readings right there in the cat food aisle? How is it that their love is super interesting on the day of the wedding and then super mundane for the foreseeable future?)

THAT SAID! Any nudge in the direction of reflection and self-improvement is not the entire worst, and if you can use the turning of the year as motivation to do literally anything slightly better then well done, you. Indeed, as I shall demonstrate, I myself am not above such nudging! Despite my strong yet wilfully simplistic feelings about weddings, I am not anti-New Years sentiment at all. It’s just, something I have learned in this rich and storied life of mine is that every day can be a fresh start, a tiny new year, and relentless self-pressure once a year is not, in fact, the same as clear-headed motivation.

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With all that in mind I have some cautious yet hope-filled intentions for the year, about which I’m just going to see what happens but also, y’know, put in some effort, and they are as follows: I’d like to save money so I can go somewhere, perhaps on holiday, as befits an adult of my age yet eludes me entirely; I like the idea of getting kind of jacked upper arms; I wish to resume knitting again but for real; I intend to maintain a bullet journal and use it to help me in turn maintain healthy choices (it’s working so far, I’ve already cleaned my teeth every single day this year); I’d simply love, come December, to look back on the year and not regret any time wasted although that’s obviously fairly abstract and difficult to control, but most specifically and above all: I will prioritise my writing this year. I spent a lot of 2018 feeling paralysed by various factors but in 2019 I want to create more recipes, plan a cookbook, pitch more things, do fiction or fiction-ish writing, work out if I’m any good at poetry, I’m sure I am, get literally anyone to read my excellent Frasier food blog, make this blog absolutely shine, embark on projects with confidence and just really sincerely believe in myself and to not let any bad mood or sad mood or person or rejection or fear or tiredness stop me from that. (When I went home for Christmas, Mum was like “when your lease ends in February you could always just move back here and pretend it’s a writers retreat” and I was like “honestly, you know, that like, for real, could like, you know?”)

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Speaking of, going home for Christmas was the inspiration for the double-feature of recipes that you get today! First of all, on Christmas Eve while I was drinking port and enthusiastically re-watching The Crown with Dad, Mum whipped up this batch of immensely wholesome crackers held together only with goodwill and the gluey properties of chia seeds. It’s a recipe she absorbed, chia-like, from her best friend Vivienne (hence the name: Viv’s Crackers) and I honestly could not get enough of them. Because they’re comprised entirely of seeds, cooked long and slow, there’s this incredible toasty crunch yet utter lightness to them, and they’re just fantastically addictive as well as undoubtedly putting a shine on your coat with each one consumed. Mum and Viv drove me up to the airport on the day I flew back to Wellington to go to work and I pressed them for the recipe and their response was pretty vague – it’s just one of those recipes where you squint at the mixing bowl and make choices in the moment, the sort of thing that Aunt Daisy with all her instinctive wisdom and lively brevity would cook if she were around today. What I’ve written above is a kind of amalgam of what they told me, and obviously you can add many other things – Mum’s batch had cashews and pistachios in it, and Viv recommends adding a little chilli to the mixture. Either way, you’re only minimal effort and admittedly several hours’ slow baking away from nutty, softly crunchy deliciousness.

The Pkhali, which is a Georgian spinach and walnut dip, comes from a recipe in a cookbook that I got from Dad for Christmas, called Eat Your Greens. Thanks Dad! I adapted the recipe a little to suit my own tastes but it’s pretty close to what’s in the book, and what you end up with is this intensely leafy, herbal mixture, nubbly with walnuts and fragrant with spices, with juicy sour crunchy bursts of light-catching pomegranate seeds scattered over. Upon initial tasting it was a little worrisomely spinachy and spinachy alone, but after it sat in the fridge for a while it mellowed and developed and was in fact extremely compulsive stuff. Far be it from me to say what you can and can’t do to a Georgian recipe but I imagine you can play around with the components of this somewhat, based on what you have to hand. The spices all worked beautifully though and I wouldn’t personally change a thing, and the difference between the taste of the mixture before and after I added the citrus was astonishing – I know we’re all watching Salt Fat Acid Heat on Netflix but like, it really livened it up immensely. I find that packaged pomegranate seeds tend to taste a little like nail-polish remover, so if you can’t get a real pomegranate to deseed, I would consider perhaps some lemon or lime zest over the top or maybe some chopped up cherry tomatoes? Anything that makes you be all “damn, that’s fresh.”

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Viv’s Crackers

  • 1/3 cup chia seeds
  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/3 cup flaxseeds
  • a pinch of ground cumin (optional)
  • sea salt

Set your oven to 130C/260F and line a baking tray with baking paper.

Place the chia seeds in a mixing bowl and cover, by about a centimetre, with water. Use a spatula to scrape any seeds that have scooted up the side of the bowl to make sure as much of the chia is submerged as possible. Set the bowl aside for ten or so minutes until the chia seeds have absorbed most of the water and the mixture is all gluey and almost gelatinous.

Stir in the sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and flaxseeds, which should transform it into a thickly seeded paste. Add a splash more water if it seems not paste-y enough, and add more seeds if it seems to need that instead. Tip this unlikely looking mixture onto the baking tray and using your spatula or the back of a spoon, press it down evenly to a thickness of about just under a centimetre. It doesn’t matter what shape you make, as you’re just going to break it all up into pieces anyway, but a uniform thickness is pretty important. Sprinkle with sea salt and the cumin.

Bake for 1 – 2 hours – I know it’s vague, but it all depends on your oven and the curve of the earth and so on. It’s ready when the mixture is dry all the way into the centre and underneath when you lift it up, and the edges are raised slightly. If you can’t seem to be able to get the centre to dry out after an hour or so, try carefully flipping it over (it should be solid enough to do so at this point, by which I mean, I did it) so that the underside gets more heat.

Allow to cool completely, then break into pieces and store in an airtight container.

Pkhali (Georgian Spinach and Walnut Dip)

Adapted from a recipe from Eat Your Greens by Pete Evans

  • 1 large bunch of young spinach leaves or 2 bags of baby spinach leaves
  • a handful of coriander leaves, stalks attached is fine
  • a handful of parsley, stalks attached is also fine
  • 80g walnuts
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper or chilli powder
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice (or lemon juice)
  • sea salt and pepper, lots, to taste
  • pomegranate seeds, to serve

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. While this is happening, thoroughly wash your spinach (if it’s from a supermarket packet you should be fine but the fresh stuff in bunches is full of crevices for dirt to hide in) and then throw it into the pan of water, along with the coriander and parsley, for thirty seconds. Then, remove it from the heat, drain it, and run it under lots of cold water. Put all these wet leaves into a food processor and blend into a thoroughly chopped grassy mulch, then scrape into a bowl and set aside. You’re going to be putting it back in though, so you don’t have to like clean the processor or anything.

Now place the walnuts, garlic, spices, vinegar, lime juice, olive oil, and a decent amount of salt and pepper into the processor and give it a few good blitzes, so that the walnuts are moderately obliterated but not rendered into nut butter or anything. Tip the spinach and herb mixture back in and pulse to combine the lot, then spatula – with some effort this time – the whole lot into a serving bowl. Taste to see if it needs more salt – and it probably will – and consider adding another good drizzle of olive oil. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, which will allow the flavours to develop, and sprinkle generously with freshly shucked pomegranate seeds when you’re ready to serve.

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On January 1st I had a picnic with my two best friends Kim and Kate and we revelled in the glorious nothing-to-do-ness of it all. There’s something quite beautiful about the first day of the year, not knowing what’s up ahead, none of the events that will inevitably tarnish your view of the year have happened yet, all your intentions sing of potential and not of cowardice or time lost or avoidance, it’s like a safe little bubble. We ate these crackers and this dip and some other treats and talked each other up and it was really lovely. (New Years Eve itself I was just working, by the way, which is fine with me as it neatly solves any anxiety about what to do in order to have the time of one’s life, but I also managed cunningly to sign off at midnight and so did what anyone in my shoes – by which I mean me – might do: I danced for three hours. And then got my leg sliced by the contents of the glass bin which I’m choosing magnanimously to not see as a bad sign or anything.)

So, happy new year everyone! This is, I say with all the unearned ebullience of someone who has only yet experienced two and a half days’ worth of it: definitely our year.

title from: New Year by The Breeders. Dreamy yet purposeful, just like me.

music lately:

Clubbed to Death by Rob Dougan, notably used on the Matrix soundtrack. It just really feels like something important is about to happen when you listen to it!

Your Dog, by Soccer Mommy. Starts deceptively low-key and breezily meandering and then the lyrics are just like…wow.

Whilst I have listened to the song a squillion times I hadn’t actually seen the video for Mitski’s frantically lonely song Nobody and though I can guarantee every person has already said this, may I just say – it’s so Bjork-y! (By which I guess I mean, it’s so Michele Gondry-y!) In a wonderful way!

Next time: I made some “cheese” sauce with roasted carrots and other stuff and plan to turn it into mac and cheese at some point, however the weather is SO HOT at the moment that I might have to postpone that in order to favour something colder.

PS if you wish, you can sign up here to receive a version of these blog posts sent to your inbox before anyone else gets to read them, but like, I’m just going to put them up here anyway so you’re in no danger of missing anything if you don’t. Just an option!

which definitely is as exciting as pudding

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Christmas is approaching with all of the endlessly slow then suddenly in-your-face manner of, oh, to pluck an allegory from the air, the Golden Bangkok pre-amble to One Night In Bangkok from the musical Chess, you know the one, you’re like “oh nice, an overture to open the second act, that’s reasonable” and then after a while you’re like “they’re really just … going to repeat that third movement again” and after a while it’s like “look, when will we ever get to hear Murray Head attempting to rap somewhat incongruously in the middle of this sung-through musical?!” and then suddenly there’s a flurry of violins and there he is rhyming “oyster” with “cloister” and then it’s over! With all this in mind, I made up a pudding recipe for Christmas Day.

But first: I have not been feeling entirely like myself lately, I would say in fact pretty definitively that it has been, in fact, what would appear to the casual observer to be something approaching a depressive episode; the casual observer might follow up by saying “but Laura? Why? Everything appeared to being going fairly wonderfully, perhaps more wonderful than you’d ever dared to be possible and full of more possibilities than you could ever dare wonder, how on earth could you be feeling so down?” And I would reply “well that’s more of a fervent observation than a casual observation but I relish the attention nonetheless.” I would then say, “I’ll tell you why it is so, that I’m feeling kind of blank and absent and not inclined to do much other than lie in bed and watch Frasier. I’ll tell you exactly why.”

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The reason is: you just cannot predict when it’s going to happen, no matter how much trust and faith you put into your current situation, no matter how tightly you hold onto that handful of sand, no matter how long the overture to One Night In Bangkok goes on for, sometimes it just surprises you by not being that thing anymore with all the speed and subtlety of a brick thrown into a bowl of jelly. Now, what I am not saying is that you should go through life with your trust dried out and hardened like an old piece of bread just in case you start to feel down. Please, continue to enjoy a moment without suspicion. I’m just saying, sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down. It is what it is. And while it is what it is, I found myself also feeling like, completely furious about it. I went from never better to better never and I didn’t want to cook or write and that was so infuriating to have these two things that are so crucial to my existence not available to me.

But anyway – because (a) it’s Christmas and I would like to bring this jingle-bell curve upwards and (b) because there is more to the story than me being intermittently subdued or incandescent with rage: I came up with a recipe! Which I believe is absolutely a sign of getting better. And now I’m writing about it! Cooking and writing! And indeed, before you get too worried (another thing I’m mad about: now I have to worry people? That’s so far down the list on my preferred forms of attention!) I genuinely am on the up and up and have been doing lots of good good things to augment my festiveness: my best friends Kim and Kate came over and we drank bubbles to toast 2/3 of us finishing work for the year; I’ve been watching Christmas episodes of my favourite television shows; I’ve been listening to the Christmas albums of various Broadway stars; I’ve done my Christmas shopping; I went to my work Christmas party and danced in the sun for roughly yet literally four hours straight and it felt really, really, really good.

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AND there’s this Christmas Sticky Toffee Pudding! Which I made up out of nowhere! And it’s unbelievably delicious! It’s also a pretty straightforward concept: just regular sticky toffee pudding but with some Christmas elements added to make it aggressively seasonal, yet I cannot express how much of a crowd-pleaser it is. By way of illustration: on the day that I made it last week, a friend had come to visit on her way to therapy and we sat there just looking at it and I was like “tbh I’m too depressed to eat, do you want some?” and she was like “honestly I’m too anxious to eat, no thanks.” And so we carried on looking at it. But then, bolstered, united, and probably with a sense of friendly obligation on the part of precisely one of us, we decided to share a slice and agreed that it did indeed taste fantastic! That’s how good it is. So caramelly and butterscotchy and (*checks thesaurus*) caramelly! So dense and rich! So (*checks Nigella*) redolent of Christmas! (Nigella uses that word a lot, that’s the joke.)

Christmas Sticky Toffee Pudding

A recipe by myself

  • 1 cup dates, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup prunes, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup/250ml boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 1 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 1/3 cup olive oil (or neutral vegetable oil)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon allspice (optional tbh)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup almond milk (or similar)
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 and 1/3 cups plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa

Toffee Sauce

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 3 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 1 can full-fat coconut milk (look for one with 80% or higher coconut extract)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 teaspoons custard powder (or cornflour) mixed with two tablespoons cold water

Set your oven to 180C/350F and lightly grease an oven dish, you know, one of those standard sized ones that you might bake a pudding or brownies in?

Place the dates, cranberries, prunes, baking soda and water in a large mixing bowl and allow to sit for five minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients, with the flour and cocoa last (and consider sifting them, I reckon) and spatula the lot into the baking dish. Bake for 30-45 minutes – it will depend on your oven – until the centre springs back when you press lightly on it and a knife or skewer inserted comes out clean. Cover the edges with tinfoil if they seem to be browning too much while the centre is still uncooked. Again, depends on your oven.

While the pudding is in the oven, get started on the sauce. Tip the coconut milk, brown sugar, golden syrup, salt, and cinnamon stick into a saucepan and bring to a good solid simmer. Allow to bubble away very gently over a low heat for half an hour, swirling occasionally and scraping down the sides with a spatula if need be. Once the time is up, remove the pan from the heat and discard the cinnamon stick. Stir in the custard/water mixture. When the pudding comes out of the oven, stab it several times with a skewer or knife – whatever you’ve been using to check its done-ness – and pour over roughly a third or so of the sauce. Transfer the rest of the sauce to a jug for people to pour over as they please.

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Obviously cranberries are super Christmassy, I also feel the warmth of cinnamon drifting through the toffee sauce and the intensity of all the spices in the pudding itself offer that let-it-snow cosiness which I somehow feel impelled to conjure up despite the sweatingly intense heat of a New Zealand mid-summer Yule. Now, the prunes, they’re honestly just there because I happened to have some; you could leave them out and up the cranberries, or you could include some raisins or sultanas for a more fruitcake buzz. You could consider a splash of brandy or rum in the sauce, or the cake, or your mouth, to add to the general festivity, and you could also consider not worrying at all about the fact that this recipe happens to be vegan: it tastes fulsome and rewarding and abundant and like pudding should.

This morning I, the prodigal son, the fatted calf, am flying up to stay with my family and spend Christmas with them for the first time in a few years, and I am honestly extremely excited to cook this for everyone, and! To relive the traditions of a Christmas at home: seeing the tree decorations from my childhood, listening to the old Disney and Tin Lids and Bing Crosby albums, being studiously, ruthlessly ignored by the cats. As for you, I hope you also have a wonderful time however you observe the holiday: casually or fervently.

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title from: Sam, a mellow ballad as lethargically slow-moving as toffee sauce from my absolute favourites, Meat Puppets.

music lately:

I started watching this musical TV show called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and while I tend to be cautious in terms of receptiveness to parody musical numbers the absolute homework that went into this show is genuinely extraordinary, it’s like, scholarly when it comes to musical references. The title refrain from West Covina, the song the lead character Rebecca sings about deciding on a whim to move cities in the hopes of running into a guy she used to date is really very beautiful. (I also recommend the impeccable Marilyn-ness on The Math of Love Triangles. and I think I also learned some maths from it?)

Mudhoney, Into the Drink. Good energy.

Velvet Underground, Heroin. As utterly bewitching as it is useful as a unit of time to sternly instruct yourself to clean your room for the duration thereof.

Next time: I’m going to try to blog again before the end of the year and also just generally continue hurtling ever upwards on a one-horse open trebuchet!

sometimes I think you’re just too good for me, every day is Christmas, every night is New Year’s Eve

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With last week’s post being absolutely enormous I thought I’d make this one fairly low-key, calm, brief. But then I watched classic Christmas film Die Hard for the first time ever and it’s really hard to not feel seasonally hyped up after that, right? So instead I decided to do the absolute opposite and give you something high-key, vast, yet still fairly calming in its own way: my annual round-up of recipes from this blog that I think would be worth considering if you’re wanting to do the home-made edible Christmas present thing. Whether or not Christmas is something you acknowledge, be it for religious reasons, self-preservation reasons, or something else entirely, there’s no denying that it’s going to literally happen this very month and besides, you could use this list at any time of year that you have a person for whom a gift is required. I for one think there’s nothing more delightful than the tangible and consumable result of a person’s concentrated time and effort as a gift, not to mention the joy of stomping on the delicate, exposed foot of capitalism by DIY-ing it yourself. (That said – and look, no one is out here defending capitalism, don’t worry – I’d also like to throw my voice to the chorus urging you to consider shopping local/small/ethical/indigenous/gay/generally independent this season.)

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THE HUNGRY AND FROZEN MODERATELY INDISPUTABLE LIST OF EDIBLE GIFT RECIPE IDEAS FOR LIFE, NOT JUST FOR CHRISTMAS

Caveat 1: Because this goes so far back through the archives, the majority of which I spent neck-deep in butter, well, there’s going to be some butter. I’ve marked accordingly whether a recipe is vegan, also gluten free if applicable – I see you!
Caveat 2: Because this goes so far back through the archives the continuity/life details on display in any given post might be kind of jarring and this is what happens when you write about many details of your life for eleven years! But if we can handle our TV characters like, changing haircuts and so on throughout the course of a series, so can we handle such things here.
Caveat 3: (And just know that I couldn’t help but hear “O CAVEAT THREE-EE-EE” in a superloud, third-time-round, “O come let us adore him” vibe in my head) I moved my blog over to WordPress halfway through this year and all the formatting completely fritzed out, so just know, every single individual blog post that I’ve linked to here that does have, y’know, line breaks, has had its individual html edited by me, and I haven’t quite managed to catch them all yet. This caveat is more of a weird flex, but.

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Category 1: Things in Jars

Too easy! Jars make everything look pulled together and clever, whether it’s the unsinkable salted caramel sauce or some pickled-into-submission vegetable. To ease any anxieties – which you admittedly might not have even considered having, but that’s why I’m here –  on the part of both giver and receiver, I advise including a gift tag with some recommendations of how to use the stuff within the jar ( and “consume in one go in bed” is entirely viable here.)

Subsection A: Saucy Stuff

Subsection B: Stuff stuff

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Category 2: Baked Goods

As easy or as hard as you like, whether it’s some cookies in a takeout container with a ribbon around it (and honestly: those takeout containers – you know the ones – are always useful to have around so it’s not a cop-out) or whether you go full out, make someone an enormous Christmas Cake and find a tastefully yet jaw-droppingly stunning plate to serve it on and make that part of the gift too. To maximise on tis-the-season seasonality I recommend embarking on all baking projects late at night with some kind of liqueur by your side, it just feels right.

 

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Category 3: No-bake Novelty!

This is (a) lots of taxing recreations of candy you can get for like forty cents at the corner dairy, (b) lots of stuffing existing products into other existing products and (c) nevertheless the most fun category.

And one more for luck:

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Almond Butter Toffee

a recipe by myself

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) water
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3 heaped tablespoons crunchy almond butter
  • 250g dark chocolate
  • sea salt

Line a baking tray or tin with a large piece of baking paper.

Place the sugar, water, and cream of tartar in a saucepan and slowly bring to the boil over a medium heat, without stirring at all. Let it continue to bubble away for five to ten minutes, until it just starts to turn golden – even though it’s boring for a while, don’t walk away or lose focus or it WILL burn, it just will – and as a pale gold cast creeps across the bubbling sugar, at this point immediately remove it from the heat. I hate to be harsh but if the sugar has turned a dark golden brown this means it’s caramelised too far and will taste harshly bitter and burnt; better to start over with more sugar and water than to try to forge ahead, I promise (I speak from much experience.)  Stir in the almond butter, and, working quickly and carefully, tip the lot onto the sheet of baking paper, coaxing it around with a spatula if need be to make it an even shape/thickness. Sprinkle over a good pinch of sea salt. Allow to set and get completely cool, then break it into pieces. 

Melt the chocolate however you prefer – short bursts in the microwave does it for me – and dip each piece of toffee in the chocolate before returning to the baking paper lined tray to set again. Sprinkle over more sea salt if you wish. Store refrigerated in an airtight container.

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This stuff tastes not entirely unlike those magical Daim bars (or Dime bars as they’re known in the UK) with a buttery, snappish crunch that is somehow sweet enough to taunt the teeth with impending fissures and yet mellow and balanced enough for you to eat an alarming quantity without giving it a second thought. As is or chocolate-dipped: novelty perfection. (And especially delicious if kept in the freezer, for some reason.)

I guess humans make traditions to give us something to cling on to in a harsh world, something that marks the passage of time other than the time itself, and making this list has become something of a tradition for me so it’s nice to visit it again, even as my eyeballs throb from all that painstaking hyperlinking. Even if you don’t make a single thing on the list – and you’re under absolutey no obligation to – the fact that you’re reading this far means you’re part of my tradition too. Sentimental, yes! But as I said: I watched Die Hard for the first time, so, you understand.

title from: Sade, The Sweetest Taboo. The sultriness! Ma’am!

music lately:

The Pure and the Damned, Oneohtrix Point Never ft Iggy Pop: “Someday I swear we’re gonna go to a place where we can do everything we want to, and we can pet the crocodiles.”

Turkey Lurkey Time, from the 1969 Tony Awards performance from the musical Promises, Promises. Another tradition! Every year on December 1st and not a moment sooner I rewatch this and every year I am breathtaken anew! Michael Bennett’s audacious choreography that cares not for your chiropractic bill! Donna McKechnie (in the red dress), triple threat, rubber-legged, spinal chord cracking like a whip! The lyrics which are SO STUPID! The final minute which every time makes tears spring to my eyes at the sheer magnitude of it!

Whack World, the album by rapper Tierra Whack. Every one of her songs is precisely one minute long (which is just perfect for me) with its own precise personality. I particularly love Black Nails and F**k Off.

Next time: less REALLY will be more, I promise. 

don’t have a cow, man

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I’m warning you right now, this blog post is long as HELL due to the fact that I was tinkering around with ideas for Christmas Dinner recipes and somehow ended up making three recipes at once in an absolute fugue state of proficiency and perspicacity: Brined and Roasted Whole Cauliflower with Pesto Glaze; Roasted Whole Pumpkin with Herb and Onion Stuffing, and Eggplant Roulade, AND Mushroom, Walnut and Red Wine Gravy. It’s suddenly less than a month till Christmas and whether or not you observe the holiday in an official capacity there’s no denying that this time of year calls for an excess of abundance and an abundance of excess so I was like why not just … write about this all this at once. So whether you’re the kind to settle in with a glass of port to scrutinise this from top to bottom or you’re already flexing your scrolling finger (or indeed, whichever body part you use to scroll downwards through large swathes of text), here we go.

I’m not one to not boast, but I just want the record to state that I made every single one of the below recipes all at once in just under two and a half hours. Why? You know and I know, because I bring it up a lot, because it happens a lot: I’m quite all or nothing. At times an inert snake lying in bed unable to finish, well, even this sentence; at times I’m like “Uh I wrote an entire violin symphony in twelve minutes” (to everything, turn turn, there is a season, turn turn) and while the presence of Ritalin in my life has helped to both enable activity on the inert-snake days and to moderate the high energy hyper-focus, that’s still just how I am. And I guess this week’s blog is precisely an example of that hyperfocus in action: I had all these ideas for recipes that might be cool for Christmas dinner, or indeed, any celebratory food-eating time, and I just put my head down and made the whole lot at once without really thinking through what I was doing and suddenly two and a half hours later there was an enormous meal just sitting there. (This is how I know I’ve made personal growth/consumed some Ritalin though: I actually wrote down the recipes as I was making them. Yes, this is what counts as personal growth for me.)

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Somewhat hilariously, none of the friends that I messaged to come help me eat it were available, leaving me alone at the table with this massive feast and wondering ruefully whether perhaps you really cannot, in fact, win friends with salad. I’m not saying I like, threw it all in the bin or anything, I had a delicious plateful of everything and have been eating leftovers gleefully ever since, but what I am saying is that you’ll just have to take my word for it that these recipes are good.

My aim for these recipes was to create a sense of lavishness, intense deliciousness and layers of texture and flavour, so that there was no sense of being without, that you would feel and indeed taste the effort and care taken. I wanted food that was somehow inherently Christmassy – which is a little weird, I grant you, because in New Zealand Christmas falls in the middle of summer but so many people still have a very traditional English style full roast meal. By which I mean, even though we’re all sweating uncomfortably, the food is resolutely winter wonderland because that’s just how it is. So that’s what I was going for.

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1: Brined and Roasted Whole Cauliflower with Pesto Glaze

A recipe by myself, but inspired by the title of this one on Food52.

  • 1 whole cauliflower
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Brine:

  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cinnamon stick, snapped in half/into bits
  • 1 inch or so slice of fresh ginger (or 1 teaspoon ground ginger)
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced in half (no need to peel)
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup

Pesto:

  • The leaves from 1 of those supermarket basil plants (roughly two cups loosely packed basil leaves)
  • 1 cup loosely packed rocket leaves
  • 1 cup cashews
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice (can be from a bottle)
  • Plenty of salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup water, optional

Remove the leaves from the cauliflower and trim off as much of the stem as you can manage, so that the cauliflower is able to sit on its haunches, so to speak, without anything protruding from the base.

Place all the brine ingredients in a large mixing bowl, fill partway with cold water, and give it a stir just to dissolve the maple syrup and salt somewhat. Sit the cauliflower in this and top with water till the cauliflower is more or less submerged. Cover – either with plastic wrap or simply by sitting a plate on top – and set aside away from any heat for an hour, although if it’s like an hour and fifteen minutes because you forgot or something came up that’s honestly fine.

Get on with the pesto while the cauliflower is brining – throw all the ingredients into a food processor and blitz to form a rough green paste. Add a little water to loosen it up a bit, it can absorb it without making it watery. Taste for salt, pepper, or more lime juice, and set aside.

Set your oven to 200C/400F and get an oven dish ready. Once the oven is hot and the brining time is up, remove the cauliflower from the brine, shaking off any bits that have stuck to it, and place it in the roasting dish. Drizzle with the two tablespoons of olive oil and roast, uncovered, for about 40 minutes, or until it’s evenly golden on the surface. At this point, spoon some of the pesto over the cauliflower, using a pastry brush to spread it down over the florets, and return to the oven for another ten minutes. Serve with the remaining pesto in a dish beside for those who (rightly) want more.

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2: Roasted Whole Pumpkin with Herb and Onion Stuffing

A recipe by myself

  • 1 good-sized buttercup pumpkin (roughly 900g I guess? But I personally relate more to “good sized” than weight for accuracy)
  • 1 can white beans, often sold as haricot beans
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1 small ciabatta or similarly hearty bread roll
  • 1 tablespoon English Mustard or wholegrain mustard
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • A pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
  • Plenty of salt and pepper, to taste

Set your oven to 200C/400F. Cut the ciabatta in half and sit it in the oven while it’s heating up for about five minutes, the aim being to lightly toast it and dry it out (just don’t forget that it’s there.)

Using a small, sharp knife, make incisions in a circular fashion around the stem of the pumpkin so you can wiggle it out and reveal the insides. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon – set aside to roast them if you like but this level of sustainability was unfortunately too much for me, and I simply binned them. (This might be a good time to check on the state of your ciabatta in the oven.)

Dice the onion and gently fry it in the olive oil till it’s softened and golden. Add the pumpkin seeds and give them a stir for a minute just to toast them a little, then set the pan aside off the heat.

Drain the can of beans and roughly mash them with a fork, it doesn’t matter if some are left whole. Roughly slice the ciabatta into small cubes and add this to the mashed beans along with the thyme, rosemary, mustard, maple syrup, cider vinegar, nutmeg, plenty of salt and pepper, and the onion/pumpkin seed mixture.

Carefully spoon all of this into the waiting and emptied pumpkin, pushing down with the spoon to fill every crevice and cavity. Place the stem on top like a lid. Sit the pumpkin on a large piece of tinfoil and bring the tinfoil up the sides of the pumpkin so it’s mostly wrapped but with the stem still exposed (did I explain this right?) and then sit this in a roasting dish. Roast for an hour and a half or until a knife can easily pierce through the side of the pumpkin, thus meaning the inside is good and tender. Serve by cutting the pumpkin into large wedges.

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3: Eggplant Roulade

A recipe by myself

  • 2 sheets flaky puff pastry (check the ingredients to make sure they’re dairy free, if this is of concern)
  • 1 large eggplant
  • olive oil, for frying
  • 1 cup bulghur wheat
  • 70g walnuts
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 teaspoons dried rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • plenty of salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons almond butter

Set your oven to 200C/400F. Place the bulghur wheat in a large bowl and pour over water from a just-boiled kettle to cover it by about 1cm. Cover with plastic wrap or similar and set aside for about ten minutes for it to absorb.

Meanwhile, slice the eggplant as thinly as you can lengthwise. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large saucepan and fry the eggplant slices a few at a time on both sides till softened and browned, adding more olive oil as you (inevitably) need it. Set aside.

Fluff the cooked bulghur wheat with a fork and stir in the walnuts, cranberries, rosemary, cumin, cinnamon, and plenty of salt and pepper.

Set the two sheets of pastry side by side with one inch overlap on a large piece of baking paper, and press down where they overlap to kind of glue them together into one large piece of pastry. Using a pastry brush, gently brush the almond butter over the pastry – soften it with a little olive oil if you need to. Place the eggplant slices on top of this in one layer starting from the left side, with the long side of the eggplant parallel to the long side of the pastry – I had six slices of eggplant so there was two sets of three laid horizontally, if that makes sense. If it doesn’t, let me know and I’ll try to explain further. Now take the bulghur wheat and spoon it in a thick column on top of the eggplant, roughly an inch in from the short side on the left. Carefully but confidently roll the pastry from the short side over the bulghur wheat and continue rolling, sushi-like, till you have a fat cylinder of pastry coiled around the eggplant and bulghur. Tuck the edges down and pinch them together, and carefully place the pastry into a baking dish. Make a couple of slashes in the top with a sharp knife and brush the surface with olive oil, then bake for 30 – 40 minutes until the pastry is puffy and golden brown. Serve in thick slices.

(There’ll be heaps of bulghur wheat leftover but it’s delicious reheated and drizzled with lots of olive oil the next day, however reduce the quantity if you don’t want leftovers.)

4: Mushroom, Walnut and Red Wine Gravy

A (vague, I admit) recipe by myself

  • 1 onion
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 7 brown mushrooms (if you have like 9 this is not a problem)
  • olive oil, for frying
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 70g walnuts
  • A pinch each of ground nutmeg and cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce

Roughly chop the onion and garlic. Make sure the mushrooms have any dirt brushed off and roughly chop them as well. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan and fry all of this over a low heat until the onions and mushrooms are softened. Sprinkle over the flour and stir for a couple of minutes, before raising the heat and tipping in the red wine. Stir till the wine is absorbed into the floury oniony mushrooms, then tip in the walnuts, the nutritional yeast, and the cinnamon and nutmeg. Slowly add water – around 250ml/1 cup – and allow it to come to the boil, stirring continuously till it’s looking a little thick. You’re going to be blending this up so all the ingredients will naturally thicken it, so it doesn’t have to be too reduced down. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before blitzing it carefully in a high speed blender. I tipped it straight back into the pan to reheat it, but by all means strain it if you want it to be super smooth. It may need more water added at this point if it’s too thick, but up to you. Finally add the soy sauce to taste, and serve hot over EVERYTHING.

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With all that in mind, let’s assess them individually.

1: The concept of roasting a whole cauliflower is, as I noted, an idea I got from Food52, and the idea of brining it first is something I got from a Nigella turkey recipe. I love the idea of treating a vegetable in the same way that you’d treat meat and while cauliflower is more or less going to look after itself in the oven this does come out sweet and tender with its crisp pesto-crusted exterior. It also looks rather wonderful in the roasting dish because it’s so big and whole. On the other hand, because one must be critical: even with the brining and the pesto, this is still just like, a cauliflower alone on a plate. My verdict: this is delicious but I would want it as well as something else, as opposed to being the only thing, otherwise it’s like “wow cool thanks for my slice of damp vegetable really appreciate this.” You of course personally might be more than satisfied by this! But this is how I feel.

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2: The whole pumpkin looks really cool, somehow splendid yet storybook-adorable at the same time. The stuffing has, somehow, and I mean this in an entirely positive and non-innuendo way: a certain sausagey-ness to it. Something in the way the vinegar and mustard play off the rich thyme and the mashed beans and the texture of the bread, it’s all very cured-smallgoodsy and hearty and traditional tasting. My verdict: I am super pleased with this, however I would recommend leaning further into the luxuriousness by making the pesto anyway to have alongside, and perhaps consider adding some pistachios or something else treat-y to the stuffing so that the vegan in your close proximity feels particularly loved.

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3: The eggplant roulade was my favourite! There’s something about pastry that makes anything feel like an enormous effort was made (which, if you managed to make it through my attempts at instructing how to roll the pastry up, is entirely true) and also tastes of true opulence. Happily, it’s very easy to find ready-rolled sheets of puff pastry at the supermarket which are incidentally vegan because they use baker’s margarine or whatever they call it; and it still somehow tastes exactly like it should, probably because it’s what’s used in all commercially made pies and pastries and so our tastebuds are used to it (depending on how many times you’ve fallen asleep with a half-eaten gas station pie nestled beside you on your pillow, I guess.) The eggplant is rich and fulsome and the cinnamon and cranberries in the bulghur wheat are merrily Christmassy. Again, you could consider adding more to make this more, well, more: pistachios, almonds, that ubiquitous pesto, but as it is this is just wonderful. My verdict: Yes.

4: Gravy is so important and I refuse to miss out! This is pretty straightforward, layering savoury upon savoury upon savoury. My verdict: absolutely necessary.

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Because this is already sprawlingly enormous I’m going to wrap it up but overall I’m delighted with everything and with myself. I mentioned last time that I was sick with something flu-like, I thought it had gone away but then halfway through Friday night at work my voice started to disappear, unfortunately I skipped right over sexy-husky and went straight to useless (whispering “hello…welcome” in a strangled modulation as customers blithely walked by, not hearing a single thing I’d said) and seemed to be regressing back into glum sickness. Fortunately I managed to harness the one burst of high-octane energy that I’ve had all week to hoon through making these recipes; I also managed to update my Frasier food blog (Niles and Daphne, sitting in a Gothic mansion!) and have spent the rest of the time when not at work in bed irritably lacking in voice, which is possibly why I’m luxuriating in talking so much on here. Whether it’s residual sickness or just sheer effort I now feel like I need a nap after writing down all those recipes and you may well too if you’ve managed to read this far: napping is the most seasonally-appropriate activity there is, let’s be honest.

title from: Initially I was going to make it “you don’t win friends with salad” from that Simpsons bit but then I thought the “don’t have a cow, man” Simpsons quote was even funnier, all things considered.

music lately:

Blackberry Molasses, Mista This was one of my favourite songs in 1996 and it’s still super sweet, but I am also so sure that the version we got on the radio was faster than this? Can anyone verify?

Laugh It Off, Chelsea Jade. I actually did 1 (one) other activity this week: I went to see local angel Chelsea Jade live at Meow. Her music is just incredible, floaty and dreamy but pinprick-sharp as well and it was so cool to see her again.

Two Dots on a Map, Russian Futurists. This song is so swoony and expansive and pretty much undeniable Laura-bait. While I’m here may I also recommend their aggressively enthusiastic song Paul Simon.

Next time: less is more, I promise.

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colour you peach and black, colour me taken aback

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I said on Twitter a while back about how Aunty Mena’s (this noodle place on my street that I eat at roughly once per day) is a liminal space, just like…the lighting there is slightly too bright and once you’ve ordered your food it could be that you’ve been there for twenty minutes but maybe it’s been three hours and no one will notice if you’re sitting there eating your noodles and silently crying, and are you even there at all? I find the idea of liminal spaces pretty fascinating – simply put they’re an area of transitioning, waiting, not knowing, airports being an obvious example, where the energy of the space feels different to how you normally move through life.

Having a day off sick from work, as I did on Monday, turns your bedroom into a liminal space of sorts. You’ve stolen back time that wasn’t going to be yours, but it’s still not: you’re weakened and unable to move convincingly, you want to be anywhere but your bed even though normally every moment not spent in bed your thoughts are devoted to how much you wish you were back there. You’ve got just enough energy to watch The Crown through weighted eyelids (the plummy accents and high production values are very soothing to me) but not enough energy to read the AV Club recaps thereof. It’s 9am for three hours and then suddenly it’s 7pm. I’m feverishly hot but if I take my duvet off my arms are too cold. I’m too sick to eat this healthy granola but I’m not too sick to eat a bowl of mee goreng. I don’t understand it at all!

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Making my own granola is something that I indulge in once every few months or so, I’ll make an enormous batch and smugly act like a person who has breakfast all the time before falling back into my bad old breakfast-less ways. Currently I’m not doing too badly, really, like I’ve got into making myself smoothies on a semi-regular basis and I seem to be sticking to it, and aside from yesterday when I was feeling grotty, I’ve had a bowl of this granola within an hour of waking since the day I made it. Honestly it doesn’t matter how delicious the breakfast, it’s really all in the mindset: and it’s not yet about telling yourself that you’re a person who deserves breakfast, it’s first about convincing yourself that you’re a person who even has breakfast.

And if you are going to have breakfast regularly, (you braggart), well you could do worse than this granola here. It’s so intensely full of protein-rich seeds that the smallest bowl of it not only fills you up, it also puts a shine on your coat and makes your eyeballs whiter, so rich in omegas does it be. I accept that putting a can of peaches in there may seem a little déclassé to some but: I love canned peaches and this is my recipe. I grew up consuming absolute vats of them so there’s something nostalgic going on there I suppose, but also they’re so easy and you get that summery bulgingly-ripe flavour for zero effort; when paired with warm cinnamon and rich vanilla and buttery almond butter it makes for a fulsome and pleasurable breakfast experience. The other good thing about this recipe is that it’s actually fairly inexpensive to knock together, if you want to level up and add some toasted almonds or pecans to the mix I think that would be a brilliant idea. As with most of my recipes it’s all up to you really, add more cinnamon if it needs it, pour in some golden syrup if you want it sweeter, use oats if buckwheat doesn’t appeal, add extra buckwheat if you’re like “this could be more punishing, frankly.”

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Peach Crumble Granola

A recipe by myself

  • 1 and a 1/2 cups buckwheat
  • 1 and a 1/2 cups sunflower seeds
  • 1 and a 1/2 cups pumpkin seeds
  • 1 cup linseeds
  • 1 cup coconut chips/shredded coconut
  • 1 400g (or thereabouts) can of peaches in juice
  • 4 tablespoons almond butter
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt

Toast the buckwheat in a large saucepan over a high heat till it’s lightly browned. Tip it into a large mixing bowl. Toast the sunflower seeds in the same fashion, stirring so they get lightly browned but not burnt, and tip them in with the buckwheat. Follow with the pumpkin seeds and coconut chips, toasting and adding to the bowl. The linseeds don’t need toasting, and can simply be added to everything in the bowl.

Set your oven to 100C/210F and line a large baking dish with baking paper.

Tip the peaches, juice and all, into the same pan and using a fork or a potato masher, crush the peaches roughly. Bring to the boil and allow to bubble away for a couple of minutes, before stirring in the almond butter, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt. Bring back to the boil and stir for a minute, then remove this from the heat and tip it into the buckwheat/seed mixture, stirring to combine it thoroughly.

Finally, tip all of this into the baking dish and spread it out evenly. Bake for an hour, taking it out and stirring at least once. I find it easiest to use the side of a spoon to draw lines down the tray, creating deep ditches in the granola, as this ensures more surface area will see the oven’s low heat.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely, then transfer to a sealed jar or container.

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At around 7pm on Monday I spatula-d myself out of bed and stumbled down to Aunty Mena’s, clad in a stained hoodie not to be unzipped because there was not an awful lot beneath it protecting any semblance of modesty, and these flowing pants that my Mum got me from the Waiuku $2 shop. At Aunty Mena’s, the state of being in that fluorescently lit, yellow-walled space was almost as calming as the noodles themselves; and then suddenly someone walked in who I knew and I was like wait I didn’t bank on this but luckily, before they’d even said hello they leaned over and assured me that they were quite drunk, and peace was restored to one and all but most importantly me. Yes, it’s horrifying to be recognised in such a state, but in my mind, someone drunkenly coming in only adds to the out-of-space-out-of-time vibe that Aunty Mena’s is undoubtedly unwittingly projecting. (I stopped short of telling this person “this is just a dreeeeeam, I’m not really heeeere” rationalising that being seen at one’s worst occasionally was a necessarily humanising activity.)

The next day I felt tentatively, comparatively healthy, and so was able to confidently face eating this granola and not only am I quite convinced that my hair grew at least another inch by the time I licked the bowl, I also suddenly felt like I knew exactly what time it was and my room no longer seemed a woozy lobby of confusion. (In sickness or in health though I really do recommend The Crown, everyone is called Toffee or Fruity or Binky and the way Claire Foy enunciates her “oh” as like, “eaughhh” is literally almost as delicious as this granola.)

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If you’re on a granola buzz, and why wouldn’t you be at this point, you might want to consider some of my other recipes such as Buckwheat, Cranberry and Cinnamon Granola; Strawberry Jam Granola; or Apple Cinnamon Granola.

title from: U Got The Look by Prince featuring Sheena Easton, a shiny and classic slice of Princedom. (Imagine being even a quarter as prolific as Prince. He released 39 studio albums, I was like, not even entirely sure if he was older than 39 when he died.)

music lately:

Conduit for a Sale!, Pavement. By turns insistent and reluctant, I love it.

Southpaw, Afghan Whigs. Southpaw!

Don’t Rain On My Parade, Linda Eder. There are so many renditions of this song that you can get almost numb to it (if you’re a certain kind of person, admittedly) but upon my own grave this version is astonishing, definitive. The way she’s so relaxed at 2.25 when she’s winding into the finale, the way her vowels sound so rich and oily, the way she toys rakishly with the syntax on “perfection”/”complexion”, the way her voice raises up to a note not yet found in nature on the very final word of the song, I LITERALLY clutched myself.

The Fire In Which You Burn, Indelible MCs, this was my favourite song in 99, still so good 20 years later.

Next time: I said last time I was going to be thinking about Christmas Dinner-friendly recipes and I’m still thinking!