you’re so cool, everything you do is success

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It doesn’t take much psychological digging to extract meaning from why I, a person who was never particularly moved by plain vanilla ice cream during previous iterations of myself, am suddenly craving it specifically now that I’m vegan. Unfortunately the grass is doubly greener on the other side when you factor in not just wanting to consume, but also to create, but I knew I had a recipe somewhere in me. And after trial and error and error and error I finally succeeded in making a vanilla ice cream that I’m happy with, that’s not only safe for human consumption, it’s also actually delicious, and doesn’t taste gritty or like bananas or coconut or beans – absolutely not beans – despite being bean-adjacent by being largely propped up by whipped aquafaba – it just tasted like rich, creamy vanilla ice cream.

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I recounted my disastrous times trying to make a bean-based ice cream back in April and since then I’ve had at least three other goes at making a straightforward vanilla ice cream, all of which failed but unfortunately not in a humorous enough manner to blog about. Finally I hit on the near-perfect formula that uses the aeration and fluffy heft of beaten aquafaba in combination with a thick, cornflour based custard-type emulsion that gives that crucial silky richness. I honestly felt like I was in one of those Beautiful Mind type movies where the peculiar genius is furiously writing equations on a chalkboard while everyone stands up and slowly starts clapping and someone says “lads this is the arithmetic that will end the war on the moon” except it was just me in the kitchen and my mum saying “it’s a bit too sweet for me.”

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I was genuinely delighted with how it tasted, but I freely acknowledge that I haven’t had dairy-based ice cream in over a year, so my idea of what ice cream should even taste like is based on a mental image that’s becoming more and more pixelated as time goes along. But on the other hand like, I really think this is delicious, so, that’s that. The aquafaba gives it this incredible soft texture and the combination of golden syrup, cornflour, and refined coconut oil in the custard base (and I use the word custard very loosely here) lend it a richness and body and depth. Every previous attempt had just not cut it, either too watery and icy, or too flatly sweet, or it tasted like beans, overall just not something you could convincingly call ice cream. This recipe is soft and velvety and tastes luxurious and billowingly fulsome and I’m honestly just so happy with it, it tasted like the memory that I had been craving. I have no idea if non-vegans would be convinced of its resemblance to dairy-based ice cream but I feel if nothing else that my mounting failures give some sense of my still having a semblance of discerning taste, like, I’m not out here just insisting any old frozen-bean-garbage tastes amazing. I had a positive feeling about it before it went into the freezer because it was the first time since first embarking on this mission that I’d actually liked the taste of the unfrozen mixture, and when I took it from the freezer five hours later and had a taste of it, a lone tear ran down my cheek and I lifted my spoon triumphantly and said “tell the moon squadron…they’ll be home for Christmas this year” while the cats glared at me.

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Vegan Vanilla Ice Cream

A recipe by myself

  • 1 cup/250ml almond milk
  • 3 tablespoons cornflour
  • 4 tablespoons refined (flavourless) coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 heaped tablespoon golden syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • the brine from one can of chickpeas, aka aquafaba (this comes to roughly 3/4 cup/175ml liquid, it doesn’t matter if there’s a little less or more)
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Dark chocolate for grating or melting, to serve (optional)

1: Whisk the almond milk and cornflour together in a small pan till smooth. Gently cook over a low heat, whisking constantly. It will appear to be doing nothing at first and then thicken all of a sudden, and the second it does start to thicken, remove it from the heat and continue whisking to ensure no lumps form. If you have a mini whisk this is an ideal use for it rather than a big balloon one.

2: Whisk in the coconut oil, one spoonful at a time, followed by the golden syrup, vanilla, and salt. Set aside (just on the bench, not in the fridge) while you get on with the aquafaba.

3: Place the apple cider vinegar and aquafaba in a mixing bowl, and use electric beaters on a medium to high speed to whip it into soft peaks. This is when you can lift the beaters out of the mixture and a small frothy peak raises up underneath before subsiding back into the mixture. If that doesn’t make sense there are like five thousand online tutorials and reference images and so on to help you out. Also, this will take about three to five solid minutes of beating.

4: One you’ve reached this point, continue beating and slowly start adding the caster sugar to the mixture, about a tablespoon at a time. Beat the mixture at a high speed until all the caster sugar is absorbed into it and it has become stiff and glossy and bright white. Again, this will probably take another solid five or six minutes of nonstop beating, so don’t feel like you have to rush it. You really want to make sure that it’s as aerated and thick as possible. I like to hold the bowl at an angle for most of the process so that the beaters can really get in amongst the mixture.

5: Give the cornflour mixture a good stir, since it will have probably set a bit at this point. Scoop a large spoonful of the aquafaba mixture into this cornflour mixture and whisk it briskly – this will make it easier to fold back into the remaining aquafaba without losing too much of that air that you’ve spent so long beating in. Fold this whisked cornflour mixture into the aquafaba, about half or a third at a time, as gently and carefully as possible.

6: Spatula this into a 1 litre (or so) freezer-safe container, and freeze for about five hours or overnight. Serve with grated chocolate sprinkled over or drizzled with melted chocolate, or, y’know, literally however you want! This does not require any stirring while it’s freezing and it can be eaten straight from the freezer without needing to soften first.

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To get to this recipe I looked back through other ice creams that I’d made successfully to see what I could learn from them about making something that couldn’t hide behind the trompe l’oeil of flavour and it was my Rosé Raspberry Ripple recipe that finally pointed me towards victory with its combination of aquafaba and cornflour-thickened liquid. Now, though I’m not very good at being assertive, I simply have to be firm in regards to this recipe, because much like last week’s macarons there are some specifics that make it, well, specifically good. If you want a recipe that you can ignore and replace half the ingredients haphazardly then see every other recipe of mine or indeed the entire internet. I built this recipe like I was casting the revival of a classic and much-loved musical thus inviting the immediate scrutiny and comparison of the entire Broadway community and at least three surprisingly energetic LiveJournal communities.

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In descending order of what I can imagine being questioned about first from the ingredients list: the refined coconut oil gives you satiny texture and substance without any obtrusive oily flavour. Having tried this with just refined coconut oil and with a combination of that and rice bran oil, well they were both nice but you could sense the presence of the rice bran oil, unlike the refined coconut which just slinks in unnoticed. If you can’t tell by how many times I’ve pointedly said the word “refined”, you really need the refined coconut oil here which does not have a pronounced flavour. My final point in regards to this, and I’ve said it before: if you’re thinking of reducing the oil, firstly, grow up, and secondly, if anything add more than what I’ve asked for. The golden syrup has a really particular depth of flavour that you can’t get from anything else and that one mere tablespoon of it does so much for the finished product that it will literally ruin it if you leave it out. If you’re unable to get hold of golden syrup (I think it’s not very common in America?) then probably honey or light treacle would be a suitable substitute. After all that posturing I concede that you could happily change the almond milk for something like soy milk or oat milk or basically anything that’s not coconut milk unless you want the finished product to taste like coconut milk which, if I wanted that, is what I would’ve said, but if you feel like that’s an okay decision then so be it.

Finally, I really am contrite about insisting that you use electric beaters, they genuinely make life easier and feel rather crucial for achieving the level of beaten thickness in the aquafaba that is required. However, I have absolutely made like, entire pavlovas using only a whisk so it’s not impossible and I’d hate to be the gatekeeper between you and this ice cream if this is what it comes down to. Just promise me that you will whisk with honesty in your heart and not stop until the mixture is as light as a feather and stiff as a board. If, after all this, it doesn’t work out for you: feel free to blame me entirely, or indeed, attempt to write a humorous blog post about it.

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(Roger is “the friendly one” out of the two tabbies. As you can see.)

title from: Cream by the sadly late Prince. Silky smooth like well-beaten aquafaba.

music lately:

Home Is Where, by Caveboy. This is really dreamy and softly hypnotic and has gorgeous momentum, if a purple lightbulb in a darkened room could sing this is what it would sound like.

Ambition, by Subway Sect, it has this scuzzy upbeat insolence but also this odd bloopy underwater noise running through the background which is almost like ASMR? Obviously, I love it.

The River Won’t Flow from the 2018 Encores! performance of Jason Robert Brown’s 1995 off-Broadway musical Songs For A New World (which itself is notable for being an early role for Billy Porter.) I find this particular musical so compelling, it has no real plot or characters, instead evoking moods and feelings via its four performers. These songs all sound so grown up, like what you’d hear at a jazz festival by some singer you’ve never heard of but whose bio insists is extremely critically acclaimed. With no need for pushing plot forwards it means almost every number ends up sounding like the showstopper. I also recommend the more theatrical opener The New World which just builds so exhilaratingly and honestly, just listen to the whole show.

Next time: I feel like I either need a break from aquafaba recipes or to start taking out shares in canned chickpeas, only time will tell.

PS: I have a Patreon account where you can directly support me and my writing and where you can receive exclusive content written just for you, and it’s very, very, very easy to be involved and has an extremely positive effect on my life. 

play the game by putting on the breaks, slow down and make less mistakes

vegan macarons

As far as being a food blogger goes I’ve seen the trends come and go and occasionally attempted to insert myself into them – from the cupcake ubiquity of 2007 to the tiresome bacon-as-personality thing that happened around 2012 to our current fixation on superfoods. However, the great macaron phase that really gained traction around 2009 (not to be confused with the great macarena phase which both emerged and peaked in New Zealand in 1996 which was, if my maths is correct, forty three years ago) largely passed me by not because I don’t like macarons but I am absolutely not built for them. Macarons require patience and attention and non-heedlessness and I am an axiomatic slapdash shortcut-taker with ADHD who wants everything now and who shuts down at detailed instructions (I also respond badly to brief, succinct instructions, basically being told to do anything makes me anxious.)

But I live in the countryside now.

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I mean, I still hate reading instructions. But rushing? To what end? I’m entirely unconstrained by the pressings of temporality.

And so, at last, I devoted an entire day to try making macarons, and I mean really try. I’ve given them a go three times in the last twelve years and each time I jumped over certain instructions and pretended that the laws of science did not apply to me by ignoring other instructions and thrice I ended up with something that was more or less edible but absolutely not a macaron.

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And you might think, with macarons being 80% egg whites and me being 100% vegan, that I’d left it too late, but in fact – as you can see from the photos – a very lifelike vegan macaron can be yours with only seven hours of sustained effort and a can of chickpeas. That’s right, the chickpea brine known as aquafaba rears its smug head once more, is there nothing it can’t do? If there is I certainly don’t plan on acknowledging it. It’s honestly quite incredible to behold, as the plain and charmless liquid whips into aerated, glossy, gleaming white peaks that genuinely taste like meringue.

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You may also think I am exaggerating both my inability to sustain attention on one instructional task and the amount of time that macarons take but I promise you on no fronts am I messing with you. I started making these needy little delicacies at 10am and finally sandwiched the finished macarons together at around 5pm. Unlike my previous attempts I actually sifted all the ingredients and I actually let the mixture rest for the prescribed length of time and I actually used a piping bag and I actually listened when the instructions told me something, and as a result I got actual macarons. Admittedly, because I’m still getting to know my parents’ oven, these weren’t French Patisserie perfection. Several of them were a bit crooked and bulging – but are not we all. The important thing is that they were delicious, and they represented the more or less desired outcome of the most effort I’ve ever put into a single baking venture.

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Importantly, after all that faff, these macarons really are delicious, with this incredibly texture that’s both light and delicate yet chewy, almost like nougat, from the nubbly ground almonds. The simplicity of vanilla and chocolate together is pretty unimpeachable and the hint of salt in the filling gives a rounded richness and balances the airy sweetness of the macarons clamped around it. They just taste like something that required some significant behind-the-scenes work, you know?

Vanilla Chocolate Vegan Macarons

A recipe entirely indebted to this recipe from Floral Frosting

  • the brine from one can of chickpeas
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 1 cup ground almonds
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pink food colouring (optional)

Filling

  • 4 tablespoons vegan butter (make sure it’s good stuff that you actually like the taste of, I used my homemade butter)
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 3/4 cup icing sugar
  • 50g dark chocolate, melted
  • 1 tablespoon almond milk (or similar)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 pinch sea salt

(alternately: melt 200g dark chocolate and stir in 3 tablespoon of coconut cream for a more simple ganache-style filling)

1: Bring the chickpea brine (aquafaba) to the boil in a small saucepan. Let it bubble away until it has reduced in quantity to 80ml or 1/3 cup. Most cans of chickpeas contain around 160-180ml of liquid so this will take around five minutes, and you can keep an eye on its reduction progress by occasionally pouring it into a glass or other heat-resistant measuring cup and then back in the pan until it reaches that 80ml/third of a cup point. Remove from the heat, pour it into a small bowl or cup and refrigerate it for about ten minutes.

2: While the liquid is cooling, place the icing sugar and ground almonds into a food processor and blitz it a few times until it’s even more finely powdered than when you started. Sift this into a small bowl and set aside. Because I started off with whole almonds there was quite a bit of rubble left that wouldn’t go through the sieve, so I returned that to the food processor to repeat the step again until I’d managed to sieve as much as humanly possible. Once you’ve done this, discard whatever doesn’t go through the sieve.

3: Place the cooled chickpea brine in a mixing bowl and using electric beaters on medium speed (or an electric mixer fitted with a balloon whisk if you have it) start whipping the liquid until soft peaks form. This means that when you turn off the beaters and lift them out, a small “peak” of raised up mixture is left below which quickly deflates and disappears. As in, the mixture is getting thick and has some body but not enough to hold a shape.

4: Tip in half the caster sugar and continue beating until it’s incorporated and then add the rest of the sugar plus the vanilla extract and beat on a higher speed until the mixture is very thick and shiny and fluffy. Allow a good five to ten minutes of beating for this. I held the bowl at an angle to allow the beaters to really get into the mixture and also used a spatula to scrape down the sides twice.

5: Tip in half of your almond/icing sugar sifted mixture and switch to a spatula to energetically mix it together, followed by the remaining almonds and icing sugar.

6: Use the flat side of your spatula to spread the mixture across the inner walls of the bowl, then scoop it all off with the spatula so it drops back down into the centre of the bowl. This needs to be done twenty times and is called macaronage. It seems entirely the opposite of what you should be doing after all that whipping but it’s a crucial step so get flattening and spreading. The mixture will start to feel thicker and harder to manipulate or maybe it’s just your arms getting tired, but keep going.

7: Set the bowl of mixture aside and prepare a piping bag. You don’t actually need any specific equipment here, a solid sandwich bag can do the trick. I find it best to prop it up in a glass or cup. I used a toothpick to put drops of pink food colouring on the inside of the piping bag in order to create a marbled pink effect on the macarons but this is entirely optional, you could use a different colour or effect or just fold the food colouring into the mixture itself or keep the macarons plain and colour-free. Either way, carefully spatula the macaron mixture into the piping bag, squeezing it down carefully and sealing the end by spinning it around a few times.

8: Get two baking trays and line them both with a large sheet of baking paper. Snip the tip off your piping bag and start to pipe small circles onto each baking tray, using one smooth movement starting at the centre of the macaron and lifting the piping bag up and away from the tray. The recipe I followed suggested a total of thirty (fifteen on each tray) but I made mine quite small and got around twenty for each tray.

9: Bang the trays on the bench or wherever they’re sitting two or three times – this gets rid of air bubbles and will encourage them to rise evenly with what’s called the pied or “foot”, that puffy layer under the main shell. Now leave them at room temperature for AT LEAST two hours to dry. If you live in a humid area or it’s really hot, place an electric fan near them.

10: After the minimum of two hours has passed, place one of the trays into a cold oven (it must be cold, not recently used) on the shelf that is second from the top. Immediately turn the oven to 100C/210F and bake the macarons for 20 minutes. At this point, check that they’re done by carefully peeling the baking paper from the base of one of the macarons. If it comes off easily, they’re good to go, if it sticks, bake them for another ten minutes (but no more than that.)

11: Once this time is up, turn the oven off and leave the macarons in there for fifteen minutes, then open the oven door slightly and leave the macarons in there for another fifteen minutes, and then finally remove the tray and allow it to cool at room temperature.

12: When your oven is COMPLETELY cool again, you may repeat this process with the second tray of macarons. I am lucky that my parents have one actual oven and another mini oven so I was able to do both trays at the same time, all that waiting might’ve been the undoing of me, but you’ve come this far, so y’know, why not keep trying.

13: While the macarons are cooling, make the filling. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and beat in the butter, golden syrup, and vanilla. Gently melt the chocolate (I put it in a ramekin and microwaved it) and beat this into the mixture with the sea salt. Refrigerate until needed. If it’s too solidified from the fridge by the time you need it, a bare ten seconds in the microwave should bring it back.

14: Carefully sandwich pairs of macarons together by spooning a small amount of chocolate filling onto the upturned base of one macaron and joining it together with another. Immediately place them in an airtight container and refrigerate to allow the filling to set.

15: You can finally eat them.

I would have been absolutely nowhere without this recipe from Floral Frosting which I used as a base, and if you’re planning to try these yourself I recommend you read her site. Normally when I post a recipe I have any number of work-arounds at the ready but unfortunately this is one of those rare occasions where everything is crucial and that’s just the way it is. And I hate when that’s just the way it is! But that’s just the way it is.

But to put a positive spin on “trying,” there’s something quite meditatively serene about moving slowly and deliberately through a recipe’s demands, trusting in the process, allowing the macarons to come to you rather than trying to force them into existence. And they really taste good. I think I’m even going to try making them again soon, since I’m still in the countryside and all. Not that I’m desperately looking for diversions, I have in fact been remarkably focussed on driving forwards with my writing projects (which you can read more about here) but I swear to you it’s a scientific fact that the days are longer here and as such I finally feel ready to do things I’ve never done before, like reading instructions.

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(In case you’re like wait but Laura don’t you love cooking and reading cookbooks? How can you not pay attention to recipes? To that question I say yes absolutely I love reading cookbooks and I love making food and I’ll always pay attention to the list of ingredients but generally my eyes bounce off the minutiae of the method itself like you’re trying to hold two opposite-ended magnets together and instead I kind of take in the method as a whole, as though I’m seeing it in the form of a picture of words instead of individual words, and then I usually ignore it anyway and trust my instincts, perhaps half-heartedly consulting it if it’s something really complicated, and the only methods that I can properly read without drifting off immediately are Nigella Lawson’s because for the most part she tells them like a story, I also can happily read anything that I’ve written over and over again, but that’s possibly just ebullient vanity as opposed to a style of learning.) (And I’m sorry if you’re now sorry that you asked.)

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Ironically since I’ve gone all bucolic there’s now less animals around (I mean Kate and Jason had one cat and one dog and my parents have two cats but clearly a cat and a dog is just mathematically MORE) and the cats were much less interested in modelling for me, indeed, much less interested in anything I have been doing, than Ghost the dog was. This photo was my go at recreating that, but where Ghost had unbridled enthusiasm, Poppy (pictured) emanates a distinct vibe of “I shall laugh upon your deathbed, heartily and without compunction.”

Obviously, I love her.

title from: Oh by Sleater-Kinney, it’s kind of grungy and surfy and 60s girl group at the same time, I love it.

music lately:

The One To Wait, by CCFX, it sounds decades older than it is, with that shuffling drum machine beat and Icicle Works-style jangling guitar. It’s so beautiful, all mellow and sorrowful but with these uplifting swooping vocals from Mary Jane Dunphe whose voice is gorgeous, somewhere between Robert Smith of The Cure and Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde. If you like any of these words I am very sure you’ll love this.

Straight Boy, by Shamir, whose music is like the sparkliest electro crossed with Daniel Johnston. This particular track is more the latter than the former with this immense warmth to its production and a real driving urgent energy, I adore it.

Monkeys and Playbills from one of my very favourite Broadway musicals [title of show], it’s this nonsensical song that takes half its lyrics from titles of flopped Broadway musicals but the four-part harmonies and minor key chord progressions are so tight and even though the whole song is essentially very silly (“see the monkey sail away on his speedboat, it’s simply heavenly to ride the wind”) I get genuine shivers every time I listen to it. If you’re still paying attention I recommend watching this performance of the song from an American university production, all the projections of the actual Playbills from which the song gets its lyrics makes it all fall into place and their singing voices are excellent together, when they all join in on the “Oh, Kay/okay” part at 1.50 in it sounds incredible.

Next time: I mean it could very well be more macarons, now that I know I have it in me.

PS: I bring this up every time but who knows if this is the time that will cause you to finally part with $4? So – I have a Patreon account where you can directly support me and my writing and where you can receive monthly exclusive content written just for you, and it’s very, very, very easy to be involved.

hearts a-bubble in the rubble

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This is my last blog post [dramatic, Harold Pinteresque pause] from Wellington for a while as I have relocated myself back to my parents’ place for an indiscriminate quantity of time, it is in fact where I’m writing this from, having arrived home yesterday. (And kudos to my parents for driving down, calmly arranging my belongings Tetris-like in the back of the car, and driving back up the island with me.) Now initially I was like “okay I’m probably going to leave by the end of April” and my best friends Kim and Kate were like “wait…no” and I was like “well okay fair enough” because that’s the kind of agreeable person I am. But you and I both know that there had to be an end point to my freeloading gleefully off Kate and Jason who I’d been hitherto living with since the last time I talked about all this, and so now has come the time for me to finally take responsibility for myself, by freeloading off my parents instead.

Unlike the aforementioned pause, my exit from Wellington was neither dramatic nor Pinteresque, purposefully so. On Friday I had an Aunty Mena’s curry noodle with Kim and Kate. Two nights earlier I made dinner for my dear friend Charlotte (who you may remember from such hits as sternly making me get rid of half my clothes and advising me to make snacks and joining me in ageing into a new tax bracket back in April called “Old Enough To Be Paul Giamatti’s Hag Ex-Wife In An Indie Film“) and that’s where this recipe comes in. It’s not what we had for dinner, (though I wouldn’t have a problem if it were) but was served as a cute post-dinner sweet thing for us two cute post-dinner sweet things.

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This recipe is one of those easy no-bake slices where you melt some stuff and cram some existing processed foods into that stuff and press it into a tin and then walk away hoping for the best. It’s a legit genre that is gleefully fun to both make and eat; the sort of thing you imagine showing to your eight year old self being all like “look! I’m an adult and I can eat this whenever I want! Golden syrup in chocolate!” and then eight year old me would be like “I eat golden syrup sandwiches almost daily though” and I’d be like “well now there’s a housing crisis and the earth is boiling alive!”

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This particular slicey thing (I feel increasingly unable to refer to it with normal words, Charlotte and I were all like “cronch” and “crosp” back and forth at each other in regards to it in a manner that I can only assume was charming and humourous) is a humectant and sticky amalgamation of chocolate, golden syrup, coconut oil and peanut butter with the weightlessly crisp rice bubbles. It’s definitely sweet but it’s tempered by the bite of sea salt, the almost peppery intensity of the golden syrup, and the cocoa bitterness of the chocolate. (That being said I used the most mellow dark chocolate I could find as I don’t think that the hardcore 80% stuff would be served well here.) It evokes the chocolate crackles – as they were called – of childhood high days and holidays and there’s something marvellous about the contrast between the pure aerated crunch of the rice bubbles and the thin, snappish crunch of the chocolate on top. The peanut butter, though present in small quantities only, absolutely makes the whole thing taste like peanut butter and if you’d understandably prefer a more mild richness then by all means substitute almond butter or similar. I like it served as cold as possible to counteract that boisterous sweetness, but on the other hand it has this amazing gooeyness as it approaches room temperature. Basically there’s no bad way to eat this. Have it for dinner, even.

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Chocolate Caramel Rice Bubble Slice

A recipe by myself

  • 1/2 cup golden syrup
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter or almond butter
  • 4 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 150g dark chocolate (I used Whittakers 50% Cocoa Chocolate)
  • 3 cups rice bubbles
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Line a regular size baking tin – the sort that you might bake a batch of brownies in, or indeed, use to make a slice such as this very recipe here – with baking paper. One day I will actually measure what size this tin is so I can just give you the size of it rather than describing it vaguely but today is not that day.

Bring the sugar and golden syrup juuust to the boil in a saucepan and then immediately remove from the heat. Add the coconut oil, peanut butter and chocolate, stirring rapidly till the oil and chocolate has melted, and then tip in the rice bubbles, folding them through the mixture thoroughly. Spatula this mixture into the baking tin and use the back of a spoon to press it down into an even layer. Refrigerate for 15 minutes, then melt the remaining chocolate and drizzle it over the top, then sprinkle over the sea salt. Return to the refrigerator, and slice into squares once cold.

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I’ve been doing lots of writing and planning while staying at Kate and Jason’s but now that I’m in the middle of the countryside surrounded only by further countryside I’m going to really head into overdrive; I’m waiting to hear back from a post-graduate paper in editing that I’ve applied for (despite what these blog posts might suggest, I actually……..love editing people’s writing and I’m good at it) and I’m applying for jobs that I can do remotely and I’m just going to make things happen in an unencumbered manner! As I said, I exited the city in a low-key manner which is maybe weird because leaving Wellington after thirteen years should seem momentous but it doesn’t quite feel like anything’s significantly happened since I still don’t have a fixed abode, it’s like I’ve managed to rip a hole in the cosmos and discover a new timeline outside of time (and then freeload off that too.) I mean, as I said to Kim: “just because I’m moving myself and all my belongings home to my parents’ place 700 kilometres from Wellington doesn’t mean I don’t live in Wellington anymore!”

P1180819(did someone say the word “crisp” in an unnecessarily mangled way?)

P1180818(sounds like a job for – once more with feeling)

P1180823(GHOST!) (I’m going to miss this guy.)

Lastly, thank you as always to my Patreon patrons who have been supporting me from the ground up, you are wonderful people with shrewd business acumen. If you, too, wish to have shrewd business acumen then I suggest signing up to my Patreon yourself. In doing so you will be able to receive all my gratitude and all the exclusive content written just for you.

title from: Barbed Wire Love by Stiff Little Fingers, sweet and snarly.

music lately:

Synthy’s 1981 remix of O Superman by Laurie Anderson. The original is one of my favourite songs but this remix is perfection, retaining that soft quizzical mood of the original while mixing in this airily digital-sounding and decidedly rumpshakingly appealing beat. I first heard it when TV Disko played it at Laundry bar and I nearly blacked out from how hard I was frantically trying to express that I appreciated his music-related decision-making.

Love’s Not A Game, from the TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, sung by David Hull and most of the cast. It’s drawn pretty directly from Luck Be A Lady Tonight and yet I think it’s actually genuinely better than Luck Be A Lady Tonight? David Hull’s little wink and shoulder pops and Donna-Lynn Champlin’s enthused tap-dancing and Gabrielle Ruiz’s fouettés and the cast chanting “Odds! Sixes! Dice! Monogamy!” If any of these words have aroused your curiosity (there’s got to be someone out there) then you may enjoy this piece I wrote comparing and contrasting Fleabag, (also a TV show) with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Ooh, by De La Soul feat Redman, the sound is so warm and everyone sounds so charismatic and self-assured and I just love this song so much!

Next time: I made a ginger crunch slice tonight that I’m very happy with, I will nevertheless have to eat several more slices of it to be sure.

if I’m butter then he’s a hot knife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Homemade Vegan Butter

Adapted slightly from this recipe at A Virtual Vegan.

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

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

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

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

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Ghost can’t believe it’s not butter.

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

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

music lately:

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

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

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

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

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

Vegan tomato spaghetti

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

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

Vegan tomato spaghetti

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

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

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

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

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

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Spaghetti with Caramelised Tomato Sauce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

music lately:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caramel Walnut Granola

A recipe by myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

music lately:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lemon “””Parmesan””” Spaghetti

A recipe by myself.

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

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

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

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

Makes enough for one.

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

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

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

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

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

music lately:

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

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

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