Last time I promised a Christmas Cake – and recklessly did I make one, at 11pm after an evening of Viognier (where I learned both how to pronounce “Viognier” and also that I like Coopers Creek’s stuff). But even more reckless was my thinking that I could blog about the cake before this weekend just gone, where Tim and I drove up to Waiuku for an important family party, when we’ve had stuff on every night of the week. Perhaps reckless-est of all, on Sunday night after nine hours of travelling, I tried to blog. I didn’t achieve the state of sleeplessness-fueled focussed intensity I was hoping for. I just fell asleep. So finally, here we are.
And instead of Christmas Cake, today’s subject is Road Trip Snacks. I’ve never been on a road trip before – I know, what kind of friendless, half-hearted Kiwi am I – and this was really just a long trip which occurred via road but I’m claiming it and you can’t take it away from me. I’ve learned that writing on a laptop while in a car with barely-existent suspension and handling isn’t the easiest; the slightest tension is magnified by your ability to stare endlessly into the ever-approaching horizon (except Tim was all “yeah, nah, I didn’t notice that” so clearly whatever I was tense over was so subtly conveyed he didn’t notice it, meanwhile I thought I was being totally, point-makingly huffy.) Another thing I noticed is that when I’m in Wellington I put some effort into my clothes, but as soon as I get out of town I’m happy to shuffle round in trackpants, jandals and a saggy old singlet. And let us not forget the proliferation of roadside shops selling local crafts. I swear there’s more sheepskin shops per capita than there are both sheep and capita.
And snacks are of great importance. I started off trying to think of something healthy, veered towards “morale boosting” instead. When you’re several hours in and the countryside around you really isn’t providing much variety, a snack is as good as a holiday, not to mention if you actually have no driving skills, it allows you to feel smugly like you’re also bringing something to the table. Snack #1 is from one of my favourite new cookbooks, the brilliant Kitchen Coquette, and involved white chocolate, coco pops, and peppermint essence. Yes. That’s right. I’m a devotee of the white chocolate so I was expecting to like it and all, but I wasn’t anticipating this: it’s one of the more perfect things I’ve ever eaten. Honest.
If you can, try to get decent white chocolate since the taste of it is so prominent here. I use Whittakers because it’s extremely delicious. But also relatively affordable. White chocolate is a little fiddly to get right, and some stuff out there is loaded up with weird oils and flavourings in lieu of whatever it actually is that gets it to taste so magical. But not Whittakers. On the other hand, use the cheapest coco pops you can find, as they’re all much of a muchness and breakfast cereal is expensive than perfume. The nearest supermarket to me gatekeepingly only had the proper stuff, but the finished recipe was so good it was worth every cent.
White Chocolate Coco Pops Slice
(It’s called Peppermint Crispies in the book but with ingredients like this I really want to list them in the title.)
From Kitchen Coquette, by Katrina Meynink. I highly recommend it.
250g good white chocolate.
1 cup cocoa pops, puffs, snaps, or whatever you call them.
2 teaspoons peppermint essence (unless your pants are fancy and you have Boyajian Peppermint Oil, in which case use a couple of drops.)
Carefully melt the chocolate on the stovetop in a metal bowl sitting on top of a small pot of water that is half-full of simmering water. Throw the essence in and stir it round, which may make it sieze up a little – inexplicably – but persevere, tip in the coco pops and stir as best as you can.
Tip out onto a sheet of baking paper, flatten as best you can – try pressing down on it with another sheet of baking paper over the top – and don’t worry about rough edges or anything. Allow to set, then slice up. It will break naturally into rough jigsaw pieces instead of neat bars – all part of the charm.
Note: I feel the white chocolate + peppermint aspect of this is crucial, but if you’re unable to eat dairy, this would still be super alluring made with dark chocolate.
While I am not normally one to reach for the peppermint essence – it always makes me feel like toothpaste has fallen into my food – here it works stunningly, its icy heat cutting through the vanilla richness of the white chocolate and yet somehow, each mint-cooled inhale also enhances its buttery, melting-textured wonderfulness. The airy crunch of the coco pops amongst the surrounding white chocolate is surprisingly habit-forming, like edible bubble wrap. Something about the peppermint actually does wake up the brain a little as you trundle along. All told, a superior snack, and one that I feel truly lucky to know of.
Over on the other end of the snack horizon are these stunning Sesame Garlic Roast Almonds which I invented myself first to use in the Sexy Pasta back in March, but have adapted for more specific nut-eating purposes. Because they’re too good to just scatter over pasta. Scatter ’em over your tastebuds too (but not the floor of your car because the scents of garlic and sesame are persistant.)
Sesame Garlic Roast Almonds
You could of course use any nut here, but almonds have a sweet edge and a popcorn-crisp texture once roasted and they’re very reasonably priced in bulk at Moore Wilson – which is why they’re my go-to fancy nut.
2 cups whole almonds, labelled “Dessert Almonds” on my bag.
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 heaped teaspoon brown sugar
Generous pinch salt
Set your oven to 200 C/400 F. Mix everything together in a bowl before tipping it out onto an oven tray. Putting a sheet of baking paper on it before doing this will save you a lot of dishes hassle. Roast the nuts for as long as you dare, until they’re darkened somewhat and smell amazing. Keep an eye on them though because it’s a fine line between roast and burnt. Allow to cool then tip into a container.
Also rivetingly good with their snappish texture and Inception-like nuttiness within nuttiness. And garlic, with its rich, rounded oniony flavour, is a far more suitable friend of the nut than chili, in my opinion. In case you’re wondering what the stuff in the photo is, I just threw the sugar over without mixing it in properly, which meant that lumps of it bubbled up under the oven’s heat and turned into a kind of garlickly brittle – strangely good. While the White Chocolate Coco Puff Peppermint slice has the edge in terms of immediate appeal, every time we brought these out to snack on we ended up grabbing them by the handful.
All that aside, we did have a terrific time up home – I got to hang out with my dear Nana a lot; see Tim dressed up as a Disney prince (veered between calling him Prince XYZ since they were never that interesting in the movies anyway, and calling him Prince Floribund which I just thought was funny) for the party we went to, which was a cartoon-themed dress-up one, in case you’re wondering what brought this alarming behavior on. I was Sleeping Beauty, Mum and Dad were an Ugly Sister and Dick Dastardly respectively, and my brother went as Jack Skillington. There was also a massive supper, a pudding buffet, beautiful speeches and a very cool birthday lady dressed as Sailor Moon. Absolutely worth the harrowingly long drive there and back!
Finally, and importantly, I saw Poppy the Kitten again who has grown just a tiny bit and has mellowed out slightly – she’s less of a baby raptor now, and will actually let you hold her without trying to claw out your nostrils. I did wake up with an ominous paw resting on my neck, but it turned out she was just using me as an overbridge so she could have a punch-up with the curtains. At 3am.
Title via: Bic Runga, lady of big achievements, with her early song Drive. I’ve loved this quiet, thoughtful song ever since Dad made me watch it on Video Hits or Max TV or something, saying “she’s going to be huge one day.” Shrewd, Dad.
I didn’t have time to make any kind of iPod playlist, and Tim’s sister’s car, which we swapped for on the way up as our ute drinks up petrol like it’s coming from one of those refill cups at Burger King, didn’t have anything to plug the ipod into. We ended up listening to National Radio and learning a thing or two, because we couldn’t find anything music-wise despite flicking obsessively through the stations.
On the last stretch of road home, having swapped back to the ute where we could plug in the ipod, we listened to Gil Scott-Heron’s Winter In America and I’m New Here – ideal music for anytime, not just cars. But it felt particularly right just then.
Next time: the Christmas cake! That said, I have to taste it first to make sure it’s okay. But I also want to ice it. Dilemma.