look who’s here, I’m still here

P1190290

This time last year when my blog turned eleven I made a moderate fuss – a big chocolate cake that I ate with my best friends and a solemnly cogitative post about everything I’d learned from the moment I pressed send back in 2007 right up to that very second. This year I kind of completely forgot until literally just now, but that’s okay! Sometimes you’re Dewey Cox in Walk Hard singing a retrospective song that sums up your entire career, sometimes you’re Dewey Cox in Walk Hard telling his wife “I’m gonna miss some birthdays…I’m gonna miss some births, period.”

Nevertheless, let us take a moment, because if nothing else, twelve years is a ludicrously long time for a food blog to exist. Like, you can fit a WHOLE DECADE in there with wiggle room on either side. That’s so long ago technologically and culturally that it might as well be the 90s. Yes, I’ve hit some walls, and yes, only some of them were metaphorical. Yes, as I’ve said, I sometimes feel like the Velvet Underground of food blogs but instead of the six people who listened to them going on to form influential bands there’s just six people out there who have read this and then gone on to make a nice pilaff. Yes, it’s just a food blog, not War and Peace. The War and Peace of food blogs, perhaps? (I mean, I’ve never thought “that’s three hours I’ll never get back” about my own writing.)

P1190297

Last year to mark the occasion there was chocolate cake and entirely coincidentally I have a chocolate recipe for you this time as well. These Balsamic Triple Chocolate Squares were intended to be brownies but they’re just not quite there, texturally – you might feel differently and can call them what you like. They are nevertheless extremely delicious. The idea simply appeared in my head, fully formed, but based on the concept that balsamic vinegar and chocolate have pleasantly overlapping properties – inspired by another chocolate cake this year which was itself a variation on last year’s aforementioned celebratory chocolate cake – you know what, maybe this is on a level with War and Peace.

P1190291

The balsamic vinegar doesn’t override the strident flavour of the chocolate – how could it, when the chocolate is present threefold – but it has this kind of fruity juiciness which is wonderful alongside the rasping bitter edges of the cocoa, it almost, but not quite, tastes like some berries were involved. Any actual vinegary sourness is completely beveled off by all the sugar, but the pleasing complexity remains. It’s 2019 so I don’t know if we are still surprised that aquafaba, the brine from a can of chickpeas, is a useful ingredient – indeed, I made macarons with it this year – but in case this is new to you, the brine acts very similarly to egg whites and is thus a useful means to glue all the remaining ingredients together. As I said, I couldn’t in good conscience call these brownies, they’re just a little too cakey, although once they’re in your mouth the texture turns melting and dense. I can’t put that last sentence in a recipe title so chocolate squares they shall be. Most importantly, this recipe is as delicious as it is easy, and vice versa.

Balsamic Triple Chocolate Squares

A recipe by myself.

  • 150g dark chocolate (roughly a measuring cup full)
  • 4 tablespoons plain oil, such as rice bran
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup soy milk (or your preferred variant of this stuff)
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup aquafaba (canned chickpea brine)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate drops (or just more dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a regular baking tin, the kind that you’d make this sort of thing in, you know the one I mean, with baking paper.

Melt the chocolate (I do a few 20 second bursts in the microwave.) While this is happening, stir the balsamic vinegar and soy milk together.

Thoroughly mix the brown sugar, white sugar, balsamic/soymilk mixture, oil and aquafaba into the melted chocolate. Sift in the salt, cocoa, flour and baking powder and then stir it in along with the chocolate drops or extra dark chocolate.

Spatula the lot into your baking tin, and bake for 35 minutes. Allow to cool for around ten minutes before slicing. Store in an airtight container.

P1190293

You might ask, Laura, what is your end game here? Are you like one of those shrews in that self-help book, Women Who Love Too Much, clinging on to a loveless unreciprocated relationship, because you’re too scared of doing anything different and don’t believe in yourself? And because I spend much of my time rehearsing powerful answers to hypothetical yet inevitable interviews, I would say: somehow, twelve years on I love hungryandfrozen.com more than ever and I imagine this will continue to extrapolate out with mathematical accuracy until my ecstatic food blogging is ceased only by the collapse of the earth itself. I am currently writing a novel, I would love to write another cookbook of some kind, I would like it if a new quantity of readers – numbering the population of a New York borough, perhaps – somehow found me. Is this blog a strange manifestation of my absolute tunnel vision, is it a work of art, is it a snake, asking whether eating its own tail is vegan? Whatever: I’m going to keep writing.

title from: I’m Still Here, the bitterly triumphant song from Sondheim’s musical Follies that eventually came to belong to Elaine Stritch, a woman as elegant and acidic as balsamic vinegar itself. I think I’ve earned the right to use it here (not least because Stritch is now dead and therefore can’t beat me up for being impudent.)

music lately:

A Mistake, by Fiona Apple. This song is so on point it’s puncturing me, I get actual shivers when she sings I’m gonna make a mistake, I’m gonna do it on purpose, the absolute swaggering recklessness of it all.

Work It Out, Monie Love. She’s so good, effortlessly getting the words out rapid-fire as though the crunchy beat were actually moving three times as slowly.

Next time: potentially time for me to finally try making seitan? Starting to think it might be like haircuts and mathematics, best done for me by other people.

PS: you might say, damn it Laura, now I’m impressed, what can I do after twelve years to show my sincere adoration of you? And I would say, first of all it’s an obvious horse to lead to water but sharing my blog around to anyone you think might like it is a lovely thing to do; if you want to support me even more directly there is of course my Patreon where you can join a discerning coterie of people who, for a modest monthly sum receive exclusive content from me.

you’re all mixed up like pasta primavera

P1190276

This post is like a companion to last week’s recipe for Roasted Asparagus with Almond Butter Skordalia, or perhaps an answer to the question, “so I got lots of asparagus, now what?” Spaghetti with Stuff In It is one of my very favourite foods and if I were even more permissive and self-indulgent than I already am that’s probably all this blog would comprise of; it’s certainly a great way to enjoy the new season’s asparagus. As with the previous asparagus recipe it was still pouring with rain when I made this distinctively spring-like pasta but the sheer buoyancy of flavour made it feel like the sun was momentarily shining.

P1190278

This recipe is incredibly easy, with only one strict proviso, that the pasta goes in the boiling water at the same time as the vegetables go into the oven so that they can emerge, perfectly cooked, simultaneously, but even if you muck that up and something ends up having to sit around for a bit it’ll still be fine. Zucchini and asparagus are very friendly together, both with a certain rich green flavour, and roasting them makes them soft and caramelised and stickily delicious, with the olive oil, a little wine, and a few drops of the pasta cooking water providing a brief sauce to entangle them all in. (Also: here in New Zealand we tend to refer to zucchini as courgettes in the French/English fashion but I prefer their Italian/American name. Theirs is more sprightly and sexy, ours sounds damply microwaved.)

You can do a zillion different things to make this your own: green beans would be very fine roasted instead of or as well as; you could stir in baby spinach or something else leafy, you could add thyme, basil, or flat leaf parsley as well as or instead of the mint, you could augment or replace the almonds with something else altogether. This could be made with something like fusilli and served cold as a pasta salad, you could add chilli or capers or sliced preserved lemons. Honestly, I wish I did – the reason the recipe is like this is simply because this is what I had: a few leftover asparagus spears, some mint in the garden. I wasn’t even planning to photograph it because it was so barely-considered, just a thrown-together meal – but I’m glad I did, because it is very, very delicious, both decadent and light, artless but elegant.

P1190274

Spaghetti with Roasted Asparagus, Zucchini, Mint and Almonds

A recipe by myself. Serves 1.

  • 100g spaghetti or long pasta of your choice
  • 6 or so asparagus spears
  • 2 medium zucchini (courgettes)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • a splash of white wine (optional – if not a squeeze of lemon juice) 
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • handful of fresh mint leaves
  • salt and pepper

Set your oven to 200C/400F. Cook the pasta in lots of boiling, salted water for about twelve minutes or until tender. As always, I boil the kettle first then pour this into the pan rather than heating the water in the pan because it’s faster but feel free to ignore this suggestion!

While the water is boiling, trim the ends off the asparagus, and slice them into thirds lengthwise. Trim the zucchini and slice lengthwise into sticks roughly the same size as the asparagus. Peel and roughly chop the garlic cloves. Place the asparagus, zucchini and garlic into a small roasting dish and drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Sprinkle over plenty of salt and pepper and roast for around ten minutes.

At this point, give the vegetables a bit of a stir, sprinkle over the almonds and return to the oven for another couple of minutes, to let the almonds brown lightly.

Remove the dish from the oven, pour in the white wine if using and extra olive oil, and then use tongs to transfer the cooked pasta into the roasting dish. Moving the pasta like this rather than draining it allows some of the pasta cooking water to transfer into the roasting dish as well, the starchiness of which helps everything cohere. Sprinkle over most of the mint and use the tongs to lift and stir everything together, then transfer to a plate and sprinkle over the remaining mint, and more olive oil, salt, and pepper if you want it.

P1190279

Speaking of delicious, here is a round up of pieces I’ve written for Tenderly recently! I’ve derived so much joy from contributing to this publication since it launched in July, not least because it’s literally wild to be able to support myself through my writing. To be fair I’m still living at home with my parents but – if I hadn’t moved back in with them I wouldn’t have had the time and energy and clarity of mind to pursue an opportunity like this and to actually deliver content without having a mental meltdown at the thought of self-directed task based activities – like a snake eating its own tail on a rollercoaster, it’s hard to know what went up, down or around first, but it’s definitely happening and I am one happy snake.

P1190277

Speaking of “speaking of delicious”, if you, too, are into Spaghetti With Stuff In It as a genre, you might also want to consider other recipes of mine like Spaghetti with Caramelised Tomato Sauce; Lemon “Parmesan” Spaghetti; and, as a true companion to this spring-y recipe for my northern hemisphere readers, Autumn Spaghetti (Spaghetti with Roasted Butternut, Parsnip and Broccoli; Maple Nutmeg Black Pepper Walnuts and Pumpkin Seeds; Garlicky Crumbs and Fried Sage.) (Easier to make than it is to say out loud, I assure you.)

title from: What Goes Around by Beastie Boys, a sunnily traipsing track from 1989’s Paul’s Boutique, an album that was largely passed over when it was released but eventually was recognised as an important and influential classic, something I can’t wait to relate to.

music lately:

Alley Oop by The Hollywood Argyles, this is a novelty song from 1960 and the lyrics are indeed stupid as hell but it has the cadence of a really good song, with that tick-tock bass and slightly honky tonk piano and Gary Paxton’s insolent vocals, weirdly sexy despite the purposefully silly lyrics.

In My Room, The Walker Brothers. This song is stunning, from its Bach Toccata and Fugue in D Minor-biting opening chords to Scott Walker’s intense, soaring voice and that pure sixties shag-carpeted beat. Perfectly deployed in The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, it’s as much synopsis as it is soundtrack.

Next time: time for something sweet, I think.

PS: if you enjoy my writing and want to support me directly, you can do so by joining my Patreon. A mere dollar or two per month will not only extremely help make hungryandfrozen.com possible, it also gets you exclusive content created just for you. Exclusively.

she saved enough to get back home when spring replaced the winter

 

P1190261

Presuming I’m not an unreliable narrator – and we can’t be sure – according to this very food blog I haven’t eaten asparagus since 2014. This would not be particularly worth commenting upon other than the seasonality of asparagus makes it a kind of touchstone to me for the arrival of spring, consuming it is like a tiny ritual heralding both the end of winter and glad days of sunshine to come. I’ve mentioned my intentions to acquire asparagus in every ensuing year since 2014, but it appears to have taken me until today, five years later, to clear this remarkably low bar. Is it coincidence that this timeline coincides with the commencing and ending of my bartending career? Is correlation causation? Are we really saying that eating asparagus is my own personal responsibility along with all my other personal responsibilities now? I can’t keep up!

P1190260

Well, whatever the reasons, I’ve got some asparagus today. Unfortunately – and don’t let the sunny look of the photos fool you – it was less of an optimistic spring day and more the sort of horizontal rainy deluge that makes you want to do little more than sit resolutely in a hot bubble bath like a prune soaking in Armagnac. But, you never can tell when personal responsibility is going to hit (infrequently, it would seem) so I ignored the weather and made this decidedly sunny little lunch for myself: roasted asparagus and almond butter skordalia. I went back and forth on whether to call this skordalia when it’s not the traditional recipe, but it’s faithful in intent, for what it’s worth. Skordalia is a garlicky Greek dip that often – but not always! – uses potato and almonds. So does my recipe, just the almond component is pre-pulverised for you.

P1190267

Every ingredient plays its part – the potatoes give fluffy, starchy mildness, the vinegar balances and sharpens, the almond butter and olive oil makes it wonderfully rich and smooth, and the garlic makes it garlicky as hell. Together they form this incredibly lush puree that’s perfect for dragging vegetables through or spreading on bread, and it works beautifully with the nutty, grassy flavour of asparagus. If your asparagus is too roasted and floppy to successfully dip, just spoon it over, no harm done. This skordalia keeps well and seems to just get better and better the longer it sits in the fridge: more aromatic, more creamy, more luscious and buttery.

P1190265

Roasted Asparagus and Almond Butter Skordalia

A recipe by myself. Serves 1.

  • A handful of fresh asparagus spears (honestly, as many as you want)
  • 2 medium mashing/roasting potatoes
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 3 tablespoons almond butter
  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon white wine or red wine vinegar
  • plenty of salt, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, to serve

Set your oven to 200C/400F and place your asparagus spears in a roasting dish. Drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast for about ten minutes, or until they are slightly browned and crisped at the tips.

Peel the potatoes and cook them in a pan of boiling salted water until very tender. If you wish, you can boil the garlic cloves along with the potatoes – this will make their flavour more mellow. Drain thoroughly, retaining about 1/4 cup of the water from the pan.

Whisk together the almond butter, olive oil, potato cooking water, and vinegar. Your options here are to then use a stick/immersion blender to puree the almond butter mixture along with the drained potatoes and peeled garlic cloves. Or, you can use a food processor, or just a fork to mash and then the whisk – it won’t be aerated and velvety, but let’s not rule it out altogether. I used a stick blender, mixing until it was thoroughly pureed. Taste to see if it needs more salt.

Spatula the potato mixture into a serving dish and arrange the asparagus spears on a plate. Sprinkle over the thyme leaves, and serve.

P1190269

As if to double down on the whole spring thing, today is also Daylight Savings, not that I actually even noticed because anything before 10am – okay, before noon – feels like 6am to me and it was still pouring with rain either way. But I was delighted when I woke up to find this travel story I wrote for Tenderly about a vegan weekend in Wellington was published, which I sourced and researched during my visit at the start of this surprisingly long month. As with asparagus it’s also been several years since I’ve written a travel story!

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to put a price on that; I invite you to join my Patreon where you can support me directly and access exclusive content written especially just for you.

title from: Tecumseh Valley by Townes Van Zandt, just some classic Townes Van Zandt-y beautiful, mournful poetry. 

music lately:

Landlocked Blues by Bright Eyes, from that perennial hit-making genre of “heartbreaking songs with my name in them.”

Do You Love Me Now, by The Breeders, it’s syrupy and slow-moving but has this dizzying, longing urgency and I just love it so much, especially that come back to me right now refrain.

Shy Guy, Diana King. This song is still so good, like every single particle of it is so joyously catchy and breezily confident. And how great is her pinstripe suit!

Next time: I still have some asparagus left so can really be Present and In The Moment with it and also might still cook something else featuring it to make up for five years of culinary neglect.

to play for peanuts in a dive and blow his lungs out

P1190247

You might have noticed that this has been a quieter month as far as receiving blog posts from me goes, obviously I was in Wellington for two weeks at the start of September, but – immediately upon arriving back on the bucolic scene with my parents, my laptop started having fainting spells and gasping urgently for its smelling salts with all the purposeful hysteria of Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Considering I’ve had this laptop since 2011, considering I’ve dropped it from a great height onto concrete, considering I don’t think I’ve turned it off manually once in nine years, I feel it had a good innings – but even in light of this noble service it was nevertheless an enormous financial and emotional (because of the financial) outlay getting a new one. I was in fact quite petulantly distressed because I’d just for the first time in absolute years managed to get together a semblance of a savings account and was planning to do things with that money and now instead I had to make a large quantity of it disappear and start from scratch again. I know it’s like, literally how life goes that you have to spend money on stuff you wish was free and then you die, but does this mean I can’t be grumpy about it?

In an unprecedented fit of maturity, once I’d acknowledged and held space for that petulance, I decided to reframe the situation in a positive way. My laptop is my livelihood so there’s no question of not getting a new one. It just is what it is. And furthermore, it’s great that when something goes wrong I have the means to fix it myself! This time last year I would not have been able to afford a new laptop, I would’ve had to resort to writing these blog posts in my own blood on a wall and then inviting you all one by one to read it while I solemnly ate a biscuit in the corner, saying “this is a statement…about my bank statement” or something, and tried to remain conscious. Instead, here I proudly am with a new laptop that weighs as much as a tic tac, ready to write until its keys are worn away to a smooth nub. I mean they’re already pretty smooth due to the ergonomic design but…you know what I mean.

P1190252

Cooking when my parents aren’t home means an opportunity to put a lot of chilli in everything – not that I actually have an enormous tolerance for heat, but my tastes are exponentially more spicy than my parents, many of you out there can handle exponentially more than me, and so on. I made the African Peanut Stew from Rachel Ama’s Vegan Eats – I’d been thinking about it since I first got this cookbook. It’s a recipe from Sierra Leone and a favourite of Rachel’s mother, whose father is from there, and Rachel made this vegan version for her. Sometimes when you’re anticipating making a recipe you end up accidentally over-hyping it, but this one exceeded all internal excitement from the tastebuds of my brain’s imagination.

P1190246

Rachel Ama’s African Peanut Stew

A recipe from her book Rachel Ama’s Vegan Eats.

Paste

  • 2 onions
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek
  • 1/2 – 1 fresh red Scotch Bonnet, deseeded
  • pinch salt

For the stew

  • 1-2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 500g sweet potato, peeled and cubed (I used orange kumara)
  • 1 x 400g tin black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 fresh red Scotch bonnet chilli, whole but deseeded (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste or puree
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 500ml (2 cups) vegetable stock)
  • 125g natural peanut butter
  • 200g spinach, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Coriander, chopped spring onions, extra chilli, to serve

Note: my local supermarket is not terribly well appointed; in place of black-eyed peas I used canned black beans, in place of fenugreek I used a teaspoon of curry powder, since it contains fenugreek and overlaps with some of the other spices, and in place of the chillis I just used plenty of chilli sauce.

First, place all the paste ingredients in a good processor and blitz into a coarse paste.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or frying pan. Spatula all of the paste mixture into the pan and stir it over a medium heat for about ten minutes. It should looks a little thickened and caramelised.

Add the sweet potato, canned peas or beans, the extra chilli if using, and the tomato puree and stir it all together. Then pour in the canned tomatoes, vegetable stock, and peanut butter, season with salt and pepper and stir to combine it all thoroughly. Cover with a lid and bring to the boil, then lower the heat and let it simmer for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. I found that it spluttered quite a bit over the high heat and one of those mesh guard lids was ideal for letting it cook away but without bubbling over.

Remove from the heat and stir in the spinach, letting it wilt in the stew’s heat. To serve, stir in the lemon juice and any extra seasoning you think it needs, and sprinkle over coriander and sliced spring onions and chillis. As you can see from the photos I only used coriander, you can of course suit yourself.

Rachel recommends serving the stew with a salad, or with slaw and plantains, I had it just on its own and it was perfect but I absolutely co-sign her suggestions.

P1190249

This stew is so delicious, it’s substantial and rich with rambunctious flavour from the spices and chilli and ginger but also this mellow, sweet earthy creaminess from the peanut butter, and fresh sprightliness from the coriander and lemon. It’s so easy to make – all in one pan – though there is a food processor to clean – and fast, but it tastes like you’ve spent days slowly creating it. Naturally, it tastes even better the next day, in fact I ate some cold with a teaspoon while standing in front of the open fridge just now (you know when you kind of zone out and then come to in front of an open fridge with a mouth full of food?) and it still tastes incredible in that state. If you don’t have the spices already there is definitely a bit of shopping involved, and it uses a lot of peanut butter, but once you’ve got all those things stashed in your pantry this is a fairly straightforward and relatively inexpensive way to make an enormous hearty meal that feels – and tastes – like a feast.

P1190250

If you’d hitherto been on the fence there has now literally never been a better time to directly support me and my writing through my Patreon; joining allows you access to exclusive monthly content written just for you including the archives of what I’d been writing before you joined up, being responsible for me being responsible for myself, could there be a more responsible choice than that?

title from: Cornet Man by Barbra Streisand from the Funny Girl stage musical (the number was rudely cut from the film adaptation.) There was an Idina Menzel version that she did at a live show that was removed from YouTube but which I listened to so many times I can still hear it in full in my mind, but Barbra’s original is wonderful, a real showcase of her showstopping voice in its prime, with all her best quirks – a conversational self-deprecating tone, her incredible growl on “can’t take the place of a horn,” her silky vowels stretching like melted mozzarella and her effortless belting.

music lately:

Some Things Last A Long Time, by Daniel Johnston. RIP ❤

Let Me Be Him, by Hot Chip. Do you remember in the 90s when you heard Tell Me When by Human League for the first time on the radio and you were like “wow,” well this soaring and lush song has similar exhilarating energy but without the nineties production that to our discerning current-day ears now sounds a bit like music from an educational video game for children. Also if you hated Human League in the 90s that is also valid and you should still listen to Let Me Be Him. I myself have no real feelings towards Human League and didn’t even know that Tell Me When was by them until like a year ago when I googled it after remembering that I really enjoyed listening to it on the radio in my cousins’ car literally one time because they lived in Auckland and could actually get radio reception and that is the true 90s experience!

We Care A Lot by Faith No More, the earlier Chuck Mosley version – Mike Patton is good but Mosley’s sludgy congested vocals go straight to my veins and I love that messy guitar riff and surly drum beat, this is just such a fantastic song, somehow hostile and rude yet welcomingly dance-able at the same time.

Next time: I also have all the ingredients recipe to make Rachel Ama’s Jerk Mushrooms and Caramelised Onions, you might well be seeing them here.

I will look at you with the focus I gave to my birthday candles

69843800_392399774796563_982031756695699456_n

Guess who’s back? But also about to leave again? But also perhaps, in a way, never really left at all? But perhaps, in a more literal way, literally did leave? Also by “back” I mean, back in the city of Wellington? The answer to all these questions – to any question ever, in fact – is me. Like a beloved TV character who moved away because in real life they started to get movie roles but is contractually obliged to make occasional appearances, I’ve returned for a big party, in this case my dear friend Kate’s Russian Doll-themed 36th birthday. The thing about leaving your full time bartending job to move far far away to a rural village is that you still end up seeing your friends roughly the same amount anyway, but this visit did feel especially special since it has been a relatively long time since we’ve all been in the same area code and I’ve been missing them so much it sometimes feels like my heart is trying to relocate under badly-managed witness protection to my elbows, or something.

P1190182

Though I lack initiative, I do love being useful – it’s a real rare treat for me – so I jumped at the chance to help out by making a birthday cake. As you can see, the cake is decorated very specifically, that’s because I was emulating the cake that was actually visible in Russian Doll, (which is, to clarify, an incredible TV show on Netflix that you should absolutely watch.) This cake is quite similar to the one I made for the eleventh anniversary of hungryandfrozen.com last year, but I tweaked and simplified it a little and also – I’ll be honest with you – I just wanted something to blog about while I was down here in Wellington so am happy to opportunistically shoe-horn this in.

P1190186

Birthday Cake (aka, a simple vegan chocolate cake)

A recipe by myself.

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 cup good quality cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup soy milk or similar
  • 1/3 cup plain oil such as rice bran or sunflower
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (or apple cider or malt vinegar, but balsamic goes beautifully with the chocolate)
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup (or similar eg maple syrup)
  • 1 cup cold water

Set your oven to 180C/350F. Use baking paper to line either one 22cm springform cake tin or two 20cm cake tins if you want layers. Or you can do what I did and make one big one, panic that it is overcooked, make a whole entire new one, realise the first one isn’t really overcooked, and then layer those up!

Whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Pour in the wet ingredients – I like to dig a hole in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour the liquids into it – and then whisk together to form a thick batter.

Spatula the mixture into your chosen cake tin or tins. Bake for about 25 minutes if you’re making two small cakes, or around 40 minutes for one big one. However, this will depend on your oven – you may need more or less time. When the top is firm and bouncy, the cake is ready to come out.

Allow the cake to cool thoroughly then ice however you wish. For the white buttercream I used four tablespoons of olive oil-based vegan butter, two cups of icing sugar, and the juice of half a lemon, plus a tiny splash of strawberry essence. It didn’t make the icing taste of strawberry, but balanced out the flavour of the vegan butter really well somehow. It was honestly just a guess on my part, but it worked. I then melted 200g dark chocolate to pour over the top, this does set very hard though so I had to use a skewer to make indentations for the birthday candles to sit in.

69858485_393968097973433_2367401375307923456_n

This cake is extremely low-effort to make – a real one-bowl affair – and it gives you a big, friendly, old-fashioned chocolate cake, the sort that everyone is always pleased to have a slice of. It’s moist and springy and rich but not ridiculous, just an old-timey proper cake that you could give to your grandmother, in fact, I did make it for my own grandmother’s 85th birthday in July. The hardest part was writing “happy birthday” on the top, I kept making the letters all wonky and then taking them off and eating them and then writing them even more wonkily, growing ever more frantic and sugar-riddled, but as you can see from the photos, I…eventually stopped doing this. Fortunately the party was not only dark, it was illuminated by a series of different-coloured lights, as per the aesthetic of Russian Doll itself, which the cake – indeed, all of us – definitely benefited from.

It was a wonderful party, so so good to see so many people I care about in one place and to celebrate the sweet birthday baby Kate while having an opportunity to dress up fancy and glue great quantities of glitter to my eyes – not so much call for that in the rural countryside.

P1190185

Guess who else is back! Ghost the dog’s modelling career, that’s who!

It’s sweet and strange and kind of wildly over-stimulating being back in the city that I spent thirteen years in, not least because it’s really easy to drink like three pints of strong filter coffee without realising, and I know if I blink too hard I’ll suddenly be very far away from it again, and I haven’t achieved half the things I meant to, but I am so so happy I got to spend time with the people I love, and to feed them cake, and then to hear them say that the cake was really delicious. That’s what friendship is all about.

title from: Love Ridden, by Fiona Apple. She really knows how to make a song that crawls all over you.

music lately:

Mariners Apartment Complex by Lana Del Rey. Hold onto your tear ducts, there’s a new Lana album. This song is so, so lovely and late-sixties sorrowful, it has these melodic echoes of numerous songs – one that leapt to mind was Never Learn Not To Love, the Beach Boys song that was originally a Charles Manson song. “They mistook my kindness for weakness” is a great line, “I’m your man” is a great line.

Waves, Normani feat 6LACK. This is dreamy and swoony and aerated and lush but with this crunchy bassline holding it down. It feels reminiscent of Mine by Beyoncé in its silky spaciousness, so if you like that song you’ll probably enjoy this, if you don’t like that song then I don’t know what to say to you to be honest!

The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss), by Cher. The sheer ebullience coming off this song is unreal. My friend Charlotte showed me the 1990 film Mermaids, which is where this song is from, and even though I’d never seen the film before I also felt in my bones that I’d watched it once a week since I was five years old, you know those kind of instantly comforting films? I also recommend the original 1964 version of this song by Betty Everett, it’s gorgeous.

Next time: Not sure, but I’ll be back in the countryside, and I’m STILL looking for a good seitan recipe!

PS If you derive any particular enjoyment from my writing, there exists the shrewd business opportunity to support me directly on Patreon. A dollar a month gets you exclusive blog posts, two dollars a month gets you that plus further exclusive content and access to everything I’ve already written this year. It’s easy, and it’s extremely appreciated!

start spreading the news, I’m leaving today

P1190152

It is tough out there at the moment, you know? I mean it’s always tough out there – it’s slightly reassuring but mostly terrifying to consider the fact that not a single year has gone by without something awful happening – but specifically, the burning Amazon rainforest is really making my brain glitch and my already-mounting anxiety about environmental stuff and the fragility of what time we have within that environmental stuff, ramp up significantly. To get a grip on it, this piece in The Guardian outlines clearly and calmly what’s going on and gives some ways to help – although the forests’ fate appears largely in the hands of like, three tyrannical despots and a handful of abysmally slow-moving world leaders as opposed to one individual not using a plastic bag one time. Which is not to discount the power of that plastic bag. I grant you, it’s a drop in a bucket of water that’s coming to a boil. But still. Do what you can, anything good: plant a lil native tree, write to whichever politician seems most likely to actually read your email, donate to a local shelter or women’s refuge, contribute to the kaupapa of Ihumātao, smile at a dog, ask someone how they feel and then listen to what they say.

P1190155

I recently ordered Rachel Ama’s cookbook Rachel Ama’s Vegan Eats as a baseless reward to myself, the warranting of which I assume will become apparent eventually. I mean, someone’s gotta self-indulge me! I was spurred on by a recommendation of Nigella Lawson’s on instagram – Lawson and I already have a kind of jump/how high relationship as far as her opinion and me heeding her opinion goes, but I figured that a vegan recommendation from someone so wholeheartedly meaty held particular weight. Turns out Nigella and I were both correct! This book is wonderful – not least because Ama also has listed songs in it that she listens to while making the food – it’s full of the kind of food I want to eat, and I can’t wait to cook my way through it. I decided to break it in by making something swift and chill, this Chive Tofu Spread, which takes a bare minute to come together and tastes fantastically delicious.

P1190154

Rachel Ama’s Chive Tofu Spread

A recipe from the cookbook Rachel Ama’s Vegan Eats

  • 40g raw cashew nuts (about 1/3 cup)
  • 280g extra firm tofu
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil (the refined, flavourless type is best here)
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon garlic granules or powder
  • a handful of fresh chives, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cover the cashew nuts with water and leave to soak for about two hours, then drain.

Drain the tofu and gently press down on it with a paper towel to try remove as much of the moisture as possible. Blend everything except for the chives in a food processor – although I used a stick/immersion blender to make it extra creamy, because I wasn’t sure that I trusted the food processor. Fold in the chives, and serve.

Can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for about three days.

P1190157

You might potentially not be immediately drawn to the notion of a bowl of cold blended tofu, but this is so much greater than the sum of its bits: creamily smooth, with a flavour almost approaching soft goat’s cheese, plus a pleasing sour-cream-and-chives vibe from, obviously, the chives. The tofu gives it body and tang and the cashews and coconut oil give it lushness, and I confidently urge you to try making it for yourself. I threw it together earlier this afternoon and it’s already gone: on toast, as you can see above, in vegetable wraps, and the rest taken care of spread on crackers. I would happily double or even triple this quantity in future, and am imagining it spooned into baked potatoes, spread on bagels, stirred through pasta salad, with different herbs like basil and mint; dill and parsley; rosemary and roasted garlic, thyme and roasted garlic; back to chives again but with roasted garlic.

P1190156

I want to make it super clear that by talking about both the Amazon and this recipe, I’m not trying to be flippant or imply that cooking makes everything better – although cooking is great – I just tend to think about twelve different thoughts in tandem at any given time and these are but two of them: 1) yikes, the environment and 2) wow, this recipe is great.

If you, like me, are an eager consumer of dips and spreads, I thoroughly recommend these other recipes that I’ve written about hitherto in the last six months alone: Caramelised Onion Butter; Olive Tapenade; Muhammara; Roast Cauliflower Miso Butter, and Butternut Dip.

And if you, like, me, enjoy my writing, you have the option of channeling this enjoyment by supporting me directly on Patreon. A dollar a month gets you an exclusive blog post, two dollars a month gets you that plus further exclusive monthly content and access to everything I’ve already written this year. It’s easy and it’s appreciated!

title from: New York, New York, specifically the smoky, downbeat Cat Power cover. Frank Sinatra’s bombastic original is great, just the kind of song you’d want sung about you if you were a city, but it was the closing time song for a bar I used to go to like four years ago and I’m only just managing to dis-associate it from that “now what, oh no it’s tomorrow” feeling. 

music lately:

Cripple Creek, by Buffy Sainte-Marie, a sweetly exuberant song where she accompanies herself with the water-droplet sounds of the mouth bow. I definitely recommend you watch this video of her performing it on Sesame Street, it’s just gorgeous, and a reminder of her ground-breaking presence on that show. She was the first person to breastfeed on television!

Cheree, by Suicide. You know those songs that you can feel changing you molecule by molecule, note by note? This stunningly fizzy song is somehow wildly exhilarating yet slow moving, like an iron-rich Berocca dissolving in a glass of water.

Next time: I’m still keen to try making my own seitan and am no closer to finding a definitive recipe so please, seitan hive come through!

yesterday I woke up sucking on a lemon

 

P1190144

If you thought my Old Fashioned Lemonade recipe a few weeks ago used up the bulk of the lemon supply then you are deeply mistaken; I live in the countryside now and lemons are like, how we communicate. If you shake someone’s hand and there’s not a lemon that has been furtively passed from person to person via that handshake it’s tantamount to a slap in the face. If you wake up and there’s not a bushel of lemons anonymously placed in your letterbox then you might as well move to a new province. People will give you lemons soon as look at you. People will give you lemons and then you’ll give those lemons back to the giver in the form of lemonade. I’m exaggerating for comic effect, but only slightly. Am I exaggerating about how slightly I’m exaggerating though? Slightly.

Anyway, when mum mentioned that it might be nice to have something baked for a quickly-pending afternoon tea drop-in; I was like right, that sounds like my idea of fun, but what: it has to be something reliable, delicious, and that uses existing abundant resources since there’s no shops nearby to get ingredients from. Naturally: the answer was lemons. To be specific, this lemon syrup cake, which is wonderfully delicious and impressively big, mixes together in five seconds, and can be served still-warm from the oven to your arriving guests – although given time to cool its flavour and texture is even better.

P1190140

This recipe is adapted from one I blogged about seven years ago; that recipe was adapted from one I found on a site that appears to no longer exist; so while today’s cake is basically my own I had some help getting there, I’m just not sure who from anymore. Since I first blogged about it in 2011 I’ve made numerous versions of it and have found it to be a most versatile and resilient cake – it can adapt to any tin shape or size, lasts for days and everyone always loves it. And it happens to be vegan, which like is not necessarily something I need to announce at this point aside from the fact that my Google SEO is already so woeful, so let me just be clear, person to algorithm: this is a vegan lemon syrup cake.

My aim with this iteration was to make a traditional style iced/lemon drizzle cake, but I was thwarted by the whole lack of proximity to shops thing: we only had a bare amount of icing sugar left, so I had to switch tactics and make a syrup instead. In the end I think it worked out for the best, because we could eat the cake right away and the syrup made everything stickily luscious, and once cooled the sugar granules formed a wonderful crunchy carapace on the cake’s surface.

P1190147

Vegan Lemon Syrup Cake

A recipe by myself

  • 1 x 400g can coconut cream (or coconut milk if it’s all you can find)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup plain oil
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • the zest of one lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Syrup

  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons icing sugar
  • zest of a lemon, to garnish

Set your oven to 180C/350F, lightly grease a 22cm springform cake tin and line the base with baking paper.

Whisk together the coconut cream, sugar, lemon juice and zest, oil and vanilla till combined. Sieve in the remaining ingredients and stir briskly to form a thick batter.

Spatula the batter into the caketin and bake for around 1 hour although you might need longer – I found this took precisely one hour and 5 minutes and I covered it loosely with tinfoil from around 50 minutes in to make sure the top didn’t brown too much.

To make the syrup, bring the lemon juice and sugars to a good robust simmer in a small pan, stirring constantly, then remove from the heat.

Remove the cake from the tin and transfer to a serving plate. Stab the cake with a skewer in several places and spoon over the syrup (you may not require all of it.) Sprinkle over the second lot of lemon zest. Ideally allow the cake to cool completely before serving, but it is good warm – just be aware that if you do it might get a bit crumbly/fragile, so proceed with caution. Once it’s cooled it becomes a lot more solid.

Although there’s an entire can of coconut cream in the cake the flavour is barely discernible, it’s just a lemon hegemony from first slice to last. However, you could point up this aspect by stirring through a cup or so of shredded coconut into the batter before baking; there are also any number of other directions you could take this in: lemongrass in the syrup, blueberries in the batter, different citrus juice – although if you’re using orange juice on its own I’d add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar just to make sure the necessary acid content is present. If you have any food-grade citrus essential oils a drop of one or two of them in the syrup once it’s removed from the heat is a very good idea; you could also let the cake cool completely and pour over the lemon icing that I never managed to make. Finally, leftover slices are great heated up and served with ice cream, tasting comfortingly like a steamed pudding.

P1190134

Lemons!

Now that I have your attention; allow me to take you on a brief tour of where you can find me on the internet other than here: upon gloomily discovering that Campari isn’t vegan I wrote about some different options for fans of the classic Negroni cocktail for Tenderly; I also for Tenderly tried making the best mac and cheese that I could conceive of motivated entirely by the tweet of a celebrity. I also wrote a piece that I’m very proud of about Catherine O’Hara’s singular performance as Moira Rose on Schitt’s Creek for The Spinoff. Finally, I wrote a blog post about caramel walnut slice for my Patreon subscribers; if you wish to access it you can do so for one literal dollar, doing so will also directly support me and my writing.

title from:

Everything In Its Right Place by Radiohead, from their 2000 album Kid A which is my absolute favourite of theirs but also, I freely admit, the last new album of theirs that I’ve actually listened to. This song is amazing, somehow foreboding yet feeling like the sun rising at the same time.

music lately:

Young Ones Everywhere by Stephanie, as in, Princess Stephanie of Monaco, daughter of Grace Kelly. Turns out she was a singer for a while in the 80s and while I’m not sure if she’s the most technically gifted vocalist, her music is GREAT, like, with a dusting of highlighter this song – coldly synthy and vaguely yearning despite its fairly pointless lyrics – could literally be Carly Rae Jepsen.

Change The Beat, by Fab Five Freddy, and its famous b-side, both equally magnetic with languid French rapping over a lush, lush beat.

Give It To Me, Miya Folick. My dear friend Kate recommended this to me and it’s…perfect. Emotional in a combative way, sorrowful in a wild-eyed way.

Next time: I’m really keen on making my own seitan but can’t seem to find a definitive through line in the recipes I’ve seen online, so if anyone can recommend me one I would be most appreciative!