I’m writing this in a slightly dazed state of mind – I was working at the Vodafone Homegrown music festival on Saturday from 9.30am till midnight and at about 3pm this afternoon I got slapped in the face with the wet fish of exhaustion. If I start making vicious syntactical errors or mumbling about my desire to own a donkey, discreetly ignore me and scroll down to the recipes. It’s nothing that a stretch of good night’s sleeps and several mugs of hot tea can’t make right. Although having more than one early night in a row is a thing of the past (no, I haven’t given birth to octuplets) as we are in the thick of March and it seems that every other day I am going to a music gig.
Last Thursday I had the good fortune to see Amanda Palmer at Bodega, and she was formidable. She attracts a largely female audience who, like me, seemed to appreciate not only her strong stage presence and personality but also the way she bantered generously with the audience (at one stage doing a Q&A session). She began by stalking out to the front of the stage and howling an unaccompanied version of this Irish ballad (according to Google) by Robert Dwyer Joyce called The Wind That Shakes The Barley, all about slain loves and blood in yon river and of course, barley. The crowd that had been screaming at her entrance was utterly silent for the whole song. At one stage when her keyboard was wobbling on its stand a rare male in the audience called out asking if she needed a man. “Do I need a man?” she repeated incredulously. She then got him to come up on stage, kneel down, and hold the keyboard in place for the next couple of songs. After her amazing encore she came out again, ukelele in hand, leapt up onto the bar and sang Radiohead’s Creep. It was an intense, but good night.
It’s unfortunate that Tim really isn’t into aubergines because (a) they are very cheap at the market, and (b) I just keep on cooking them. My latest recipe using them is the Aubergine Moussaka from Nigella Lawson’s consistently astounding seminal text How To Eat. There is nothing out there quite like this book. I can abandon it for weeks and then come back to it and be inspired anew by some previously forgotten recipe. I’d never tried this particular one but since I had all the ingredients to hand and it seemed like an inexpensive meal, I thought I might give it a go. There’s one thing you should know – it’s nothing like the traditional idea of moussaka and I’m still a bit in the dark as to why it got its name. It’s more of a warm, gently spiced chickpea vegetable curry. Which in itself is a good thing, just not very moussaka-y…
Aubergine Moussaka, adapted liberally from How To Eat
2 large, glossy aubergines, diced
2 onions, finely chopped
8 fat cloves garlic, also finely chopped
150g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight then cooked in boiling water till tender
1 ½ tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 can chopped tomatoes
½ teaspoon each cinnamon and allspice
mint and feta to serve
Fry the onion, garlic, and eggplant in a little oil till softened and lightly golden. I actually used no oil at all, if the pan is hot enough and you stir regularly, the eggplant cooks quite nicely. Add the rest of the ingredients, simmer for an hour, and serve over rice or indeed as is, sprinkled with mint and feta. By the way, I don’t have any pomegranate mollasses so in its place I used a chopped up slice of equally fragrant and sour preserved lemon (made for me by my godmother. Viv, if you are reading this: they are addictive. I have to stop myself from just picking them out of the jar and eating the lot…)
I must admit: I added some sneaky beetroot when I made this. Predictably it made the whole thing bright pink which was a little distracting but tasted fine. As a whole the flavours and textures are wonderful and it’s delightfully easy to make. It also reheats well and is the sort of vegetarian dish (actually without the feta it might even be vegan, come to think of it) that is wonderfully satisfying, rather than making me look wistfully at the patch on my plate where a steak could be resting juicily.
I promised last time that I was going to get old school with Girl Guide biscuits, and old school I did get. I’m pretty sure Girl Guides or Girl Scouts are a fairly universal concept so you know what I’m talking about, yes? Wholesome, jolly young gals trying to sell biscuits is a yearly thing here in New Zealand and despite me being dreadfully snobby towards shop-bought biscuits on the whole (apart from the miraculously good Toffee Pops and Squiggles), Tim and I bought a couple of packets because of the sheer nostalgic appeal they wielded. They just taste like your average hydrogenated palm-oil based plain cookie but there’s nothing like tradition to add a veneer of deliciousness. Plus with the biscuits come a dizzying array of sugary recipes on the Girl Guide website
, including that New Zealand modern classic, Chocolate Fudge Slice. I remember making this once with Mum back when I was in Brownies (another young gal’s brigade, nothing to do with the cake unfortch) and I marvel at its squidgy deliciousness now as I did when I was nine years old.
Chocolate Fudge Slice (adapted from the website)
This looks like it shouldn’t hold together but somehow it does. The website has such modern-fangled additions as preserved ginger and chopped cherries but pah! I say. 1/2 a cup of coconut, however, would be quite permissible.
1x 250g packet Girl Guide biscuits, crushed
¾ cup sugar
1 Tbsp cocoa
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ tsp vanilla extract (or don’t even bother if it’s just essence as the website suggests. I don’t mean to sound disparaging of this useful and friendly website, but really. It’s 2009. Get some real vanilla.)
Melt the butter, and stir in the sugar, cocoa, walnuts, vanilla, biscuit crumbs and lightly beaten egg. Press into a greased 20x30cm tin and refrigerate overnight. The website suggests icing it with cocoa buttercream, and while I’m never one to say no to buttercream, I had run out of cocoa and so abandoned that idea and it was more than serviceable.
Above: This stuff just tastes…aagggghhh…magically delicious. And how could it not – it’s full of all the good things in the world – cocoa, biscuit crumbs, butter…it’s impossibly to stop at one piece and frankly it’s kind of difficult to get the delicious mixture into the tin in the first place without snarfing the lot, doing the dishes and pretending you never started at all. More pragmatically, you could also make this coeliac-friendly by crushing up gluten-free biscuits instead.
It’s not just a busy time for me. This Friday, my very talented mother flies to Argentina for a month (in a plane, by the way, her talent isn’t that she can fly) to live with a family and teach in a school there on some prestigious scholarship thing she successfuly applied for (that incidentally my godmother – the one who made me the preserved lemons – has also done). Unfortunately I won’t get to see Mum before she goes, but I’m sure the month will go fast enough and the wonders of modern technology mean that we’ll probably keep in touch more than we would have when we’re both in the same country.
Also – you may remember last year the ongoing battle against the Pukekohe WPC waste oil treatment plant who wanted to taint Otaua, the village of my youth, with their silos of poison (hey, it’s late at night, I can get mildly dramatic if I want) – initially we managed to overthrow them in a hearteningly David vs Goliath manner. But because this isn’t a Hollywood movie, they appealed, and because they’ve got money and we don’t they’ll probably get it. I’ve got a solution for you WPC: Just…don’t. To the Franklin District Council: Make it stop. You’re the council. You should be looking out for, you know, the people of Franklin. (Again, it’s late at night- I can be dramatic and overly simplistic.) If I’m psychologically exhausted considering the implications for the future of Otaua I can’t even imagine how drained the Otaua Village Preservation Society must be feeling. Just food for thought anyway. A part of me would love it for someone working against us to Google themselves, find their way here, and be conflicted by the overwhelming hate-vibes being directed towards them from my direction and their desire to continue reading my blog for the intriguing cake recipes.
Next time: Well, it’s St Patrick’s Day tomorrow which means I shall call upon the Irish blood cells that make up a goodly chunk of my lineage and make Nigella’s Chocolate Guinness Cake. Grown men have wept (in my imagination) for this cake. It’s special stuff. Do join me…