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.)
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.
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
- Cranberry Sauce (Definitely just make this for yourself to have with Christmas dinner anyway, I reckon, it’s so easy) (vg, gf)
- Cranberry Curd (gf)
- Cashew Butter (vg, gf)
- Nahm Jim red chilli sauce (gf, vg-potential)
- Peach Balsamic BBQ Sauce (vg, gf)
- Honeycomb Sauce (gf)
- Rhubarb and Dried Fig Jam (vg, gf)
- Berry Chia Seed Jam (vg, gf)
- Bacon Jam (gf)
- Matcha Mayonnaise (gf)
- Black Salted Caramel Sauce (vg, gf)
- Salted Caramel Sauce (gf) (this link also has an early prototype attempt at a vegan caramel sauce but 100% favour the Black Salted Caramel Sauce above instead, it’s by far the superior, but also good on me for trying nevertheless!)
Subsection B: Stuff stuff
- Corn and Chilli Relish (vg, gf)
- Orange Confit (vg, gf)
- Apple Cinnamon Granola (vg) (pictured above)
- Strawberry Jam Granola (vg)
- Buckwheat, Cranberry and Cinnamon Granola (vg, gf)
- Peach Crumble Granola (vg, gf)
- Lux Maple Granola (vg, gf)
- Marinated Tamarillos (vg, gf)
- Taco Pickles (vg, gf)
- Pickled Blueberries (vg, gf)
- Sake-pickled Radishes (vg, gf)
- Dukkah (vg, gf)
- Honey Thyme Roasted Peaches (gf)
- Spiced Peaches (vg, gf) (pictured above)
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.
- The Hungry and Frozen Christmas Cake (ughhhhh it’s so good, I might have to try to do an updated version of it this year because it’s just so good and I don’t want to be without it) (pictured above)
- Christmas-spiced Chocolate Cake (also makes for a good xmas day pudding) (gf)
- Chocolate-Orange Loaf Cake
- My Childhood Chocolate Cake (vg)
- Chocolate Olive Oil Cake
- Cinnamon White Chocolate Banana Loaf Cake
- Vegan Banana Bread (vg)
- Bobby Dazzler Cake
- Rhubarb and Pink Peppercorn Upside Down Cake (vg)
- Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies
- Coconut Macaroons (gf)
- Fancy Tea Cookies
- White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies
- Gingerbread Cut-out Cookies (vg)
- Peanut Butter Cookies (gf)
- Chocolate-Dipped Brown Sugar Cookies
- Flourless Double Chocolate Cookies (gf)
- Smoky Triple Chocolate Cookies (gf)
- Salted Caramel Slice
- Coffee Caramel Slice
- Cornbread Cookie Squares with Maple Buttercream
- Cinnamon Bars
- Chocolate, Coconut and Almond Cookie Bars (vg)
- Everyday Chocolate Brownies
- Avocado Chocolate Brownies (gf) (they SOUND vegan I grant you but…no)
- Secret-centre Mini Pavlovas (gf)
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.
- Moonshine Biffs (like homemade Milk Bottle lollies!) (gf)
- Toasted Honey Marshmallows (gf)
- Cookie Dough Truffles (vg, gf-potential)
- Homemade Peppermint Schnapps (a little harsh but the price is right) (vg, gf)
- Coffee-Orange Liqueur (as above) (vg, gf)
- Candy Cane Chocolate Bark (vg, gf) (pictured above)
- White Chocolate Coco Pops Slice (gf)
- Homemade Cherry Ripe (gf)
- Mars Bar Cornflake Slice (gf)
- Chocolate Cookie Dough Pretzel Things
- Brown Sugar, Cardamom and Malteaser Fudge
- Peanut Butter Chocolate Caramel Nut Slice (gf)
- Homemade Bounty Bars (vg, gf)
- Millennial Pink Salted Almond White Chocolate Toffee (gf)
- Salted Chocolate Cashew Butter Slice (vg, gf)
- Crunchie Bar Slice
And one more for luck:
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.
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!
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.
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.)
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.
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
- 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
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Next time: less is more, I promise.
PS If you wish to receive a version of this blog post before everyone else in your inbox, newsletter-style, every Sunday-ish, then consider signing up here.
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!
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.”
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.
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.)
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.)
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!
I had a dream about this corn and chilli relish and then upon reflection realised that it already existed more or less in a recipe from Nigella Lawson’s Christmas cookbook, aptly named Nigella Christmas. All I’ve done to her recipe is halve the quantities, add some red chilli, use date syrup instead of honey (I am kind of on the fence on honey consumption vis a vis veganism but for simplicity decided to not use it here) and used ground cumin instead of celery salt because I didn’t have the latter and felt like the former, while different in flavour, brought some of the same energy.
This doesn’t come out like the chow chow you might see in the supermarket, it’s not thick and gluey but more like … bits of vegetable submerged in vinegar, neither of which sound massively appealing but my god! This stuff is addictive, I haven’t actually even used it in anything yet but I’ve already finished off an entire jar just by standing at the open fridge, eating it by the spoonful. Fortunately it makes two jars full.
As I said, you could ostensibly just go to the supermarket and buy a jar of this or something similar but there’s something in the act of making a recipe that then goes into a jar, preserving and putting away, which pleases. This is based on – as I’ve said before – both the sheer resourcefulness of it and the fact that you’re investing in your own future existence and, hopefully, happiness.
The finished result isn’t particularly attractive but it tastes incredible – the sweet crunch of corn and capsicum against the bursts of burn from the chilli and the sinus-scritching mustard, the sour-sweet sugary vinegar balanced by all the salt I poured in (this can handle a LOT of salt.) It’s also so easy to make, and indeed, you could totally make a ton more if you go with Nigella’s original proportions.
As for what to do with it other than eat it by the spoonful; I think it would be ideal piled into a baked potato, layered on top of a burger, or stirred into a pile of peppery crunchy rocket and iceberg leaves.
Corn and Chilli Relish
Adapted from a recipe by Nigella Lawson from her book Nigella Christmas
- 500g frozen corn kernels, defrosted
- 1 red capsicum, seeded and finely diced
- 2 spring onions, finely sliced
- 1 large red chilli, seeded and diced
- 1 cup/250ml apple cider vinegar
- 1/3 cup date syrup, agave syrup, rice malt syrup or honey
- 1/3 cup caster sugar
- 3 teaspoons sea salt (or more to taste)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 4 teaspoons English mustard (or more to taste)
Have two 300ml glass jars at the ready, and sterilise them if you like, can be bothered.
Mix all the vegetables together in a good-sized bowl. Wash your hands thoroughly and be careful to not touch your eyes after handling the chilli or it’ll sting like hell.
Bring the vinegar, syrup, sugar, cumin, salt, and mustard to the boil in a saucepan and allow to bubble away for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. It might bubble up and look like it’s about to overflow, in which case remove it from the heat and give it a good stir or – my usual trick – drop an ice cube into it.
At this point, pour the syrup over the corn mixture and give it a stir. Carefully divide between the two jars – the easiest way is to spoon the corn out of the syrup into the jars followed by the remaining syrup, which should be completely submerging all the vegetables. Screw the lids on and refrigerate. This tastes better the longer you leave it and will last for around a month in the fridge after opening.
I’m not sure if this is a confession that’s going to elicit gasps of muffled horror or conspiratorial acknowledgement that I’m not alone in this (as long as it’s not greeted with indifference tbh) but any time a recipe is all “sterilise your jars thoroughly” I’m like “you will be FORTUNATE if I give it a rinse of the most CURSORY nature in soapy LUKEWARM water”, and you have my full permission to do the same. If the jar smells too strongly of what it previously contained (tomato in particular seems to linger) a quick slosh of water and vinegar or lemon juice seems to do the trick.
I was able to go to a bunch of LitCrawl (a local literary festival) events this weekend and left feeling replete with inspiration and goodwill towards all those who shift words from their brain onto some more tangible surface. And I met so many nice people! Some were even like “oh you’re Hungry and Frozen” and I was like yes! These words are sweeter than any writing I’ve heard this entire festival! But, to that end, after seeing him perform his poetry on Friday night I read the entirety of Kaveh Akbar’s book Calling a Wolf A Wolf; it’s very beautiful and he has this incredible way of saying things with a sense of authority where they almost sound idiomatic but you’ve also never heard those words in that order before. Even his titles are blissful – My Kingdom for a Murmur of Fanfare. I recommend it sincerely. Positively frothing with inspiration and spurred on with the lazy insolence of tramadol and having watched a movie (Outlaw King) that I genuinely the entire time thought was the pilot episode of a Game of Thrones style prestige TV show because prestige TV has melted my brain; I myself put pen to paper to write a poem: for rough context, imagine a Game of Thrones style prestige TV situation but…with…pigs. All present found it highly amusing, I assume without verification.
A pig shall rise
There is no older story than this
A cloven hoof pierces the thick mud
A squeal like a crack racing up a mirror
The air smells, sinister and ominous
And like ham
A tail curls, small but purposeful
Narrow eyes and soft ears, gently crushed by a heavy crown
Smear your face in bacon fat and walk forwards into hell
It is better to live free and die at the hoof
Than to never know freedom at all
A pig shall rise
Thanks LitCrawl! (what’s that faint noise in the distance? Is it LitCrawl frantically gesturing that they don’t want to be considered even tangentially responsible for the birth of, or by any means associated with, this new work?)
title from: C’mon Billy by PJ Harvey. So snarly!
Tadpoles, Poemme The sound of a petal floating in water, more or less, and so chill you could just scream.
IRM, Charlotte Gainsbourg. The sound of a lightbulb flickering and sputtering, more or less.
I Hate Danger, Bikini Kill. For someone who won’t stop talking I have a very short attention span most of the time and I do enjoy a song that panders to this.
Wedding, Smog. “I’m gonna be so drunk at your wedding.” Hypnotic.
Next time: I’ve been thinking up a bunch of recipes that could potentially sit proudly on the table at Christmas dinner and plan to run them all by you first.
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There’s no dramatic reason for me missing last week’s post, I was literally just really tired and kept being too tired to do anything, and that’s all there is to it. It’s not the kind of tiredness that feels sickness-related, but then it’s also possible that my show-must-go-on hospo work ethic plus my show-must-go-on hospo work hours have completely raised my bar of what sickness looks like far beyond normal. For a minute I was like…is this depression again? But surely not! I’ve been pretty on top of that whole hornets nest for a while now? In this economy, who can honestly tell.
I decided to give myself a hall pass for my lost week because, well, I can’t get it back so I might as well move forward. This week’s recipe is tangentially inspired by a Nigella Lawson recipe – and if anyone’s going to get me up and at it again, it’s she – for something she called Salt and Vinegar Potatoes. I acknowledge that her recipe looks completely delicious, but also, hers and mine ended up completely different in execution. I thought it would be cool to simmer potatoes in heavily vinegared water then roast them a high heat and just like, see what happened as a result. What happened was: they were SO delicious.
Now obviously you have got to have a taste for salt and vinegar potato chips in the first place, if you don’t then this recipe is not going to change your mind since it so beautifully imitates the flavour of their packaged provenance. As for me, ever since I was a kid I always loved their intense sour-salty flavour, the way they flay the skin from the inside of your mouth like sandpaper and burn your lips. A snack that maims. I have a vague childhood memory of being at a birthday party and alternating handfuls of salt and vinegar chips with handfuls of gumdrops, their gelatinous sugariness providing a neutralising agent in the same way that you might have a cold beer with a dish laden with hot chilli. (I also remember, possibly from the same party, possibly not, thinking it was a good idea to put lollies in my glass of lemonade, showing an early predilection for being either a culinary maverick or a horrifying concern, your stance may vary. There’s no fever dream like a sugar-fuelled child’s birthday, I tell you.)
So anyway, now we’ve established that salt and vinegar as a combination is not something that one sits on a fence about, let me continue insisting on how good this recipe tastes. The potatoes are sliced super thin to ensure maximum surface area for absorption, and I used a combination of apple cider vinegar – softer, mellower – and white vinegar – aggressive, face-dissolving, sour as hell – to simmer them in. Because of all the liquid they absorb the potatoes won’t get super super crisp in the oven, but with a high enough heat they’ll catch and brown while staying lusciously tender underneath. I guess you don’t have to use red potatoes but I like the way they straddle the waxy/floury cellular axis and the colour of the skin just looks good, okay? The finished result is so oddly compulsive – but then I find anything sour and salty to be this way – and you just want more, more, to the point where I don’t really know how many this recipe would feed: I ate the lot in two sittings, but if you’re serving it with other stuff as a side I guess it could cover four people. If in doubt, just add more potatoes.
Salt and Vinegar Red Potato Gratin
A recipe by myself
- 5 good-sized red potatoes
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup white vinegar
- salt, lots of, preferably sea salt or similar
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- fresh thyme, to serve
Slice the potatoes into rounds, as thinly as you can muster.
Place the potatoes in a saucepan with both the vinegars and then add enough water so they’re just covered. Simmer for 20 minutes, partially covered, until the potato slices are tender. If the liquid starts evaporating too much just add some more water, and give the slices a stir every now and then to make sure they don’t stick to the base and burn.
Meanwhile, heat your oven to 200C/400F.
Drain the potato slices and arrange them (as you can see I did it fairly haphazardly, mostly because the slices were super hot to the touch) in an oven-safe dish; drizzle with the olive oil and scatter over plenty of salt.
Bake for fifteen to twenty minutes on a rack positioned fairly close to the top of the oven – basically keep the potatoes in there until you’re satisfied with the level of browned and crispness of the exposed edges. This will all depend on your oven, your opinion, and your patience. Sprinkle over some fresh thyme to serve and…serve.
Don’t even try to hold back on the salt: the wall of sourness from the vinegar needs to be countered somehow. The thyme isn’t just window-dressing, but it’s obviously not the most important aspect, it does lend a gentle fragrant herbal richness to the whole affair.
The only other thing to keep in mind is that this really makes your house smell like the inside of a bag of chips for the rest of the day so make sure your scented candle budget is prioritised this week and keep as many windows open as you can. Eating this is worth having your tender olfactory bits attacked by airborne vinegar particles though: it’s just that delicious.
I hate that feeling of being in overdraft but with one’s own energy; in lieu of any external factors in my life changing (give or take the occasional kombucha or smoothie upon which I place enormous pressure to solve everything that has been and all that shall ever be) I can only hope to level up. I guess not being super hung up for too long for missing a week of blogging is its own kind of levelling up! And anyway, here I am, full of vim and vinegar, (heavy on the vinegar, working on the vim.)
If you want further potato times; may I suggest some further reading in the form of recipes for Potato Dominoes, Mashed Potato, or with a little more effort, Potato Pizza. These happen to just be great blog posts to read even if you ignore the recipe completely, I was pleased to note.
title from: Sour Times, by Portishead. So silky and noir-ish.
River Deep, Mountain High, by Tina Turner. I’m kind of obsessed with that Phil Spector Wall of Sound sound, there’s something so emotive yet calculated about it (quite literally in this hugely incredible song: Turner was reportedly made to do take after take after take for hours before Spector was satisfied.)
Patterns, by Suse Millemann. My friend sent this to me thinking I might like it, and…I do! It’s very understated yet lovely.
Stoned and Starving, by Parquet Courts. I love these guys and they’re coming to Laneway next year and SO IS MITSKI but do I have the energy for a festival? They’re of that genre where you’re like ah, this album from 1982 is fantastic wait what they’re like my age brilliant what am I doing with my life.
Next time: I had a dream about chilli corn relish and then it turns out Nigella – that minx! – has a recipe for something very similar so I’m probably going to try to make that.
PS: If you wish to receive these blog posts every Sunday-ish in your inbox, days ahead of the general public, then consider signing up here. On the other hand, reading it on here is not without its exclusive content, for example: I’m actually eating salt and vinegar chips while posting this and am wondering if it is the food writing equivalent of method acting; I’m also drinking black coffee alongside it and they’re a strangely beguiling flavour pairing? Better sign up AND read it here as well, just in case, is my staunch advice.
I admit, I held some concerns that this recipe was a little insubstantial, especially after the (a) pomp and (b) circumstance of the last blog post’s layer cake, but in a long long work week this felt, and was, manageable. On top of which, as I reasoned with myself: people always need dip. A pile of various crunch-adjacent foods and a bowl of something pliant into which to plunge them is 100% an ideal meal for me, there’s just something so abundant and yet casual, organised yet constraint-free about it.
And in case you were worried that it was all going to be too effortless, be assured that there are no less than two time-consuming steps involved in this, firstly the soaking of the sunflower seeds and then the roasting of the garlic. But nothing is required of you while both these things are happening!
I found this recipe while scooting around online and as you can see, if you click through, my recipe here is quite directly influenced by it. I made some distinct changes though based on interest and availability: the two main ones being I toasted the sunflower seeds before soaking to intensify their flavour, and because I couldn’t find the required black garlic I used regular stuff instead. Naturally I was all, “I feel like this calls for an entire bulb of garlic” – I’m at the point where my perception of garlic has shifted so much that I’m probably going to start treating bulbs of garlic as though they’re individual cloves, but we’ll cross that pungent bridge when we come to it. Honestly though once you roast the hell out of garlic like I did here the flavour is so sweetly mellow, if anything I wanted more of it but appreciate that it would be somewhat ridiculous.
(I also appreciate that it’s wantonly wasteful to turn an oven on for half an hour just for one lone garlic bulb, indeed, with guilt in my heart I also made a loaf of Irish Soda Bread to bake at the same time. It turned out to be absolutely disgusting somehow, completely inedible and I had to remorsefully throw the entire thing in the bin, with the best of intentions creating even more waste. Lesson learned: blameless garlic deserves to take up space.)
This dip (I cannot bring myself to call it hummus as per the recipe it’s based on since it doesn’t contain chickpeas but I grant you: the texture is similar) is just wonderful, buttery and fulsome with an intense nuttiness, with the earthy cumin and sharp lime keeping it from being too formless. Using sunflower seeds as the base was a bit of a revelation for me – they give gorgeous creamy texture and substance and incredible flavour, and delightfully, they cost hardly anything. I happily and willingly ate a whole plateful of vegetables simply because I had this dip to drag them through: against the sweetness of carrots the lime and cumin really sang, while the richness of the olive oil was a magnificent pairing with the surprisingly buttery baby turnips.
Toasted Sunflower Seed and Garlic Dip
A recipe inspired by this one
- 1 cup sunflower seeds
- 1 whole garlic bulb
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1 tablespoon tahini (I only had black tahini leftover from this salted caramel ice cream recipe hence the murky colour of the finished dip btw)
- salt and ground pepper, to taste
Toast the sunflower seeds in a dry saucepan (that is, no oil in it or anything) over a medium heat, stirring and keeping an eye on them till they’re all more or less lightly browned. Tip them into a bowl or small jug, cover with water and refrigerate for around six hours, or overnight if that’s easier.
At this point, set your oven to 180C/350F, wrap the garlic bulb loosely in tinfoil and pop it in the oven for about half an hour.
Now it can all come together: Drain the sunflower seeds and tip them into a high speed blender (or a regular food processor, the finished result won’t be quite as smooth though.) Remove the garlic from the tinfoil and carefully disrobe each clove from its papery casing and add them to the blender. The garlic will (obviously) be very hot, but the softened cloves should pop out easily enough. Add the cumin, oil, lime juice, tahini, and plenty of salt and pepper, and blitz the lot together till it has become a smooth, slightly nubbly paste.
Add a little fresh water to thin it if need be, and taste for whether it needs anything more – whether it needs the sharpness of more lime, a little extra body from the oil, depth from the cumin or the old fashioned helping hand of more salt and pepper. Spatula into a bowl or container and refrigerate till you need it, and festoon with mint leaves, more olive oil, and sesame seeds (or of course: more sunflower seeds) to serve, if you wish.
And finally, its salinity helped replenish my depleted vital electrolytes after watching the remake of A Star Is Born, that monumentally melodramatic movie that I consumed with predictable breathlessness. I have many thoughts about it which I wrote and then deleted (on the one hand, there’s a lot of “I see you, Brunette Girl” as a trope, on the other hand, at last: a movie where Bradley Cooper is handsome) and literally whenever I even think about the bit in the trailer where Lady Gaga walks towards the mic and starts howling I get tearful and frantic like a fretful infant, but I also can’t stop rewatching the trailer just so I can see that bit again.
If you agree, enthusiastically, with my claim that people always need dip, then may I also recommend the following recipes on here: Tarator (somehow basically just bread and water but also incredible) pomegranate-laden Hummus, or lush Cambodian Wedding Day Dip.
title from: Memory, the ubiquitous torch song from the musical Cats. For me there is but one person who I acknowledge in the role of Grizabella, and that is the late Laurie Beechman. I thought I’d heard this song so many times that its power was entirely diluted but her singing it makes me cry every time including right now. The emphatic h’s that she throws in at the start of words (“all alone h-with h-my memory”); the gentle vibrato rumbling on “enter innnnnn”; the slight youthful creak to her voice that’s just so appealing, (reminiscent of Glynis Johns or perhaps even Alma Cogan); the way she belts so hard while looking like she’s barely getting started yet and you’re looking around like where did that voice come from? Just watch her.
The Sacred Harp Singers, Soar Away. Yeah, I don’t know, I’ve just been listening to a lot of this particular kind of old-timey church music. This one though: a stern and ominous banger, I have played it back easily 100 times in the last week without exaggeration. There are stirring enough versions of modern sacred harp groups performing it on youtube but to my ears, the definitive rendition (on spotify only unfortunately) is this, a decades-old recording which has a kind of shouty, nasal, rough-and-ready vibe that renders modern interpretations too soft and polished and frankly unfearsome.
Wedding Bell Blues, by Laura Nyro. Man, she was just not afraid to be sad and haunting, even, if not especially, in the middle of what sounds deceptively like just a classic sixties-girl-group song.
Will You Smile Again For Me, by …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. It’s very good!
Next time: well, not that damn Irish Soda Bread, that’s for sure.
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This blog post marks a relatively special occasion: Hungry and Frozen, this very blog that you’re reading, turned ELEVEN years old on Sunday. I’m proud of myself, sure, but I’m also astonished. I mean, I’m always astonished by the passage of time, in that push-pull kind of way (y’know, HOW is it October already but also HOW is it only 8.03pm I swear the clock said 8.07pm before) but eleven years? Doing one thing? Were you even born eleven years ago? Frankly, I doubt it.
As I stand majestically upon this precipice, surveying all that I have done, I acknowledge there’s only so much looking back one can do – and don’t honestly have anything particularly deep or clever to offer you in summarisation of my life up until this point. But I did reread my first blog posts and was struck by how breezily carefree I was and just how much I cooked and blogged: in October 2007 alone I did twenty three blog posts in fifteen days, a hilarious quantity, really. It was hardcore stuff too: pavlova and steamed pudding and marinated ribs and choux pastry and madeleines. Present-day me could do well to be inspired by the sheer drive of then-me, time-rich though I was.
In the first post I pressed publish upon I asked “does the world need another food blog? There are millions! With really classy photographs as well! What on earth do I have to offer the world?” This was before Pinterest, before Instagram, before influencers, before videos of anonymous hands making recipes all over Facebook, before chiaroscuro or people dropping crumbs everywhere in their food photography, before Momofuku Milk Bar, before the recession – in fact I’m not sure what actually was around, come to think of it. Polka dots were big, if I remember correctly, and we were all getting into cupcakes?
Since then I’ve learned so much: how to take a photograph; how to write through literally anything happening in my personal life; to not be so righteous or else I’ll regret that I called vodka soda “a sneeringly dry drink” nine years ago; that if I refer vaguely to us all “reeling from the events this week” I will have absolutely no idea what I was talking about six weeks later especially in this rapid news cycle life that we’re stuck in; that if you hear me say something amusing in real life you’re probably going to read it repeated here because I only have so much material; and to write like I’m the most relevant and celebrated food blogger on earth even if there’s only one person in the audience. I mean where I stand currently, on this relatively fallow ground, it’s by no means a high point in my blogging career and it does weigh upon me heavily sometimes. But I’m also feeling happy and creative for the first time in ages, and I think that’s what I should be inspired by from eleven years ago: neither the quantity nor the quality, but the sheer confidence that someone out there wanted to read my writing and therefore I was going to throw my heart and soul into writing nonstop for them. And if I kept writing like that, if it was that good, surely more people would want to read it. Something I hope is still true.
What care I for the obviousness of a cake to mark a milestone; especially when it’s as incredibly delicious as this one. The champagne is a celebratory conceit but really does add something to the buttercream – a certain biscuity minerality (which sounds horrible but…trust me.) I tend to avoid putting inaccessible ingredients in my recipes and acknowledge that this one contains not just the champagne – which was a gift, I can’t imagine just owning some – but also freeze-dried passionfruit, which gives this eye-wateringly intense blast of sour passionfruit flavour and is almost irreplaceable. If it comes down to it though: I’d replace both the champagne and the passionfruit powder with a few tablespoons of strained passionfruit syrup, it won’t have the aggressive flavour but will undoubtedly still taste good.
Chocolate Maple Cake with Champagne Passionfruit Buttercream
A recipe by myself
- 1 and 3/4 cups plain flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 3/4 cup cocoa
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon golden syrup
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup almond milk (or similar non-dairy milk)
- 1/3 cup olive oil (not extra virgin – or just use plain vegetable oil)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
Champagne Passionfruit Buttercream
- 3 tablespoons good vegan butter (I used Nuttelex Buttery)
- 4 tablespoons freeze-dried passionfruit powder
- 3 – 4 tablespoons champagne
- 3 and 1/2 cups icing sugar
- a pinch of salt
Set your oven to 180C/350F. Line the base of two 20cm springform cake tins with baking paper.
Stir all your dry ingredients together in a large bowl – the flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, and baking soda – so everything is completely dispersed and free of clumps.
Carefully pour in the water, golden syrup, oil, vanilla, almond milk and vinegar and fold the ingredients together gently till it’s just combined.
Divide this mixture between the two cake tins, using a spatula to scrape out every last bit. Make a swirl in the batter with the end of a spoon (or indeed, your finger) – apparently this helps it to rise evenly and flatly and I’m not sure if I truly believe it but it doesn’t hurt to try.
Bake the cakes for 25 minutes or until they’re both springy and a skewer prodded into the centre comes out clean.
Allow both cakes to cool completely.
For the buttercream, I find it easiest to use a food processor, but a bowl and spoon is by no means the end of the world. Blitz the butter, passionfruit powder, and icing sugar together, and then add the champagne and process again to make a thick, smooth, pale-golden icing. Add more champagne if it’s too thick, but only a little at a time.
Place one of the cakes on a serving plate, and brush half the maple syrup over it with a pastry brush. Spoon a large dollop of the buttercream onto the centre of the cake and use the flat side of a knife to spread it evenly over the surface. Place the second cake on top and repeat with the remaining maple syrup and most of the remaining icing, leaving some to patch up any spaces inbetween the layers. I do this by scooping up icing with the knife and running it around the curves of the cake’s sides. I then run the knife under hot water and run it around the sides again to make sure the layer of icing in the middle is thick and flattened while the cake layers themselves are relatively clean. It doesn’t matter though: the icing and cake will both taste good no matter how it looks.
Dot with sprinkles if you wish, and dust over a little more passionfruit powder. And that’s your cake.
But nevermind what’s left out of it, let’s talk about what’s in it: this cake is rich and dense but fluffy and springy and moist and has an old fashioned taste to it – the sort of chocolate cake that storybook characters would tuck into. There’s a slightly nutty flavour from the oil and maple syrup (although hell, leave the syrup out too if you’re really strapped for cash, I know I am) and the dark, soft chocolate layers contrast beautifully with the shivers-down-the-spine tartness of the passionfruit. And it’s so easy to make – some idle stirring is all that’s required. While it uses a lot of cocoa powder this cake would be an ideal go-to recipe iced however you want – if you’re the sort of person that is in enough cake-related situations to require a go-to. On top of that, this cake really lasts – three days after making it, it’s still as soft and rich as it was on day one.
Eleven years ago I hadn’t yet met my two best friends Kim and Kate and I can’t even quantify in words or describe with statistics the effect they’ve had on me since. Needless to say there was no better people to share this cake, and the remaining champagne, with, so that’s what I spent the afternoon of this blog’s eleventh birthday doing. As far as reading about it goes though, why, there’s no one I’d want more to do that than you.
title from: Paradise, by Meat Puppets. I love the Meat Puppets so much and have absolutely nothing amusing to say about them.
Cornelius Bros and Sister Rose, Too Late To Turn Back Now. That “I believe I believe I believe I believe” bit is just lovely.
The Sacred Harp Singers, I’m Going Home. I did not care for the movie Cold Mountain but it did at least introduce me to the Sacred Harp Singers, who perform – naturally – sacred harp singing, which is like…hymns but as discordant walls of sound crashing about your ears all at once. It’s hard to explain but when I watched this particular recording of the aforementioned song being sung at a convention I genuinely cried from the enormity of it and have listened to little else since. So put in some headphones and turn up the volume and see what happens, is my recommendation and opinion both. (There’s quite a bit of it on Spotify and I enjoy the existence of the album entitled New Years Eve at the Iveys’, 1972. Now, December 31, 1972 was in fact a Sunday and I love the idea of the sheer stone-faced Biblicality overriding any seasonal festivity. “What are we doing this New Years? Same thing we do every Sunday: we’ll stand in a square barking hymns discordantly at each other, and you’re a giddy and frivolous infidel for considering otherwise.”)
Decemberists, The Infanta. I’ve been rewatching Mad Men, and as they say in the Youtube comments, “Mad Men brought me here” when the song was used at the start of one of its episodes. The sprinting drums and use of the word “palanquin” though!
(I didn’t start this format of listing music I’d been listening to until April 2009, and the first songs – with absolutely zero commentary – were Mad Tom of Bedlam by Jolie Holland, Let Me Drown by Idina Menzel and Brian D’Arcy James from the off-Broadway Musical The Wild Party, and Farmer John by Neil Young. All of which hold up well, although I did in the same breath claim to “love music with a dark passion” so you can’t win everything.)
Next time: I used all my mental capacity coming up with this week’s one, but it’ll be good, if eleven years has taught us anything it’s that we can all be certain of this.
PS: A dedicated fistful of people read this post already on Sunday evening – okay, Monday morning, but it should’ve been Sunday – and if you wish to be part of this enclave who receive my posts sent to their inbox first every week, sign up here. (On the other hand, the distance between that send-out and this post being published gave me room to add even more enthusiastic Sacred Harp Singing content, a trinket that you may or may not consider a reward for your patient waiting.)