My patriotism has never manifested itself in any particularly outrageous fashion. I treated rugby, our national sport, with all the disdain that someone who had panic attacks on athletics day and got picked last for teams can muster; leaving aside two brief dalliances: my thumping great crush on Doug Howlett during the world cup final of 2003 (there wasn’t much else to do at boarding school) and the appreciation of the sensually clashing thighs and men raising other men towards the sun using only their bare forearms that was all flagrantly on display, without any kind of PG 13 warning, during the last world cup final. I’m not much into like, getting out there in the nature and stuff so our beautiful landscapes kind of leave me cold. I mean I’m not a total psychopath, we have those good mountains that everyone bangs on about but much like sports, I’m happy to let other people do it and leave me alone. The Lord of the Rings movies are really, really boring and someone should tell Peter Jackson “no” for once. Our national anthem is emphatically not a banger.
So what gets me going? Lorde’s entire existence makes me jazzed to be a kiwi. Maori culture is unique and precious and should be both protected and elevated, especially since the whole awkward colonialism trampling of it and then half-assedly making vague stabs at acknowledging it aren’t exactly a stellar reflection on, well, anyone, and not much makes me feel quite so heart-swellingly of this place than anything that celebrates this crucial part of us. I’m one of those dinguses who gets really excited when we’re mentioned in pop culture, like that episode of Full House when they accidentally board a flight to Auckland, New Zealand, instead of Oakland, California (a ludicrously impossible premise but how thrilling to hear the actors say our country by name!) I heard yesterday that some rugby player is dating Hollywood actress Shailene Woodley and was genuinely like, “how exciting for us all!” So there’s that.
And then there’s onion dip. And Marmite.
The former, a genius and oddly American-style combination of packaged onion soup powder, canned reduced cream, and vinegar, which produces the most face-punchingly compulsive thing you’ve ever dragged a crisp sheet of deep fried potato through. The latter, an oddly good and polarising inky-coloured salty paste that you spread thinly on your buttered toast to make sure the fine crust of sodium caked around your arteries isn’t in any danger of dissipating.
I love them both. When I eat onion dip I come close to having the slightest understanding of why Americans are so obsessed with their flag. (I mean, I don’t really. It’s a bit of fabric. What’s the deal. Admittedly with a dope design, maybe if ours was less embarrassingly dull I’d care about it too.) If you were like “Laura you can have everlasting happiness but you have to sacrifice Marmite, what’s it going to be”, I’d be all “Marmite IS everlasting happiness, sicko” and drop-kick a piece of toasted Vogels at your head.
Anyway. Over artisinal mimosas ($10 sauvignon blanc from the dairy and Just Juice bubbles) my friend Emily and I devised a mac and cheese so patriotic it would make Helen Clarke weep. I’m going to be honest, I think most of it actually was her idea, but no one else was there in the room where it happened so I’m taking at least partial credit. And I was the one that actually made it, so. Equally bringing stuff to the table. It started with the revelation that her grandmother used to crush up salt and vinegar chips on top of her mac and cheese. That alone nearly made me faint. Then somehow in a crescendo of overactive brains it all came out at once – what if we put onion dip in the sauce? WHAT IF WE ADD MARMITE? IT’S UMAMI! DARE WE?
It might all sound kind of horrifying, and too much, and maybe even bordering on that clownish style of social-media friendly cooking where it’s all doughnuts stuffed with bacon wrapped in rainbow layer cake but guys. Guys. It tastes incredible. Upon eating it we were struck into sybaritic silence for a good twenty three minutes, which is astonishing for either of us given our tiny collective attention spans.
Let me break it down for you: pasta and cheese sauce are both comfortingly gentle of texture and flavour. Soft, bland, creamy, blanket-y. Adding the packet of onion soup powder to the sauce gave it a depth of flavour without compromising these factors – onions themselves being one of those base-level ingredients that assist rather than steal thunder. Reduced cream gave it more richness and a pleasing note of almost-sourness. The marmite, slowly whisked in tentative spoonful by tentative spoonful with me frantically yelling “ANOTHER!” after every taste test, gives beefy, brothy saltiness and savouriness, in other words, old mate Umami. The salt and vinegar crisps crumbled up on top are charmingly crunchy and the hint of said vinegar, tingly on the mouth, stops it being all too throat-cloggingly rich.
Upon tasting it, I finally understood why people care about rugby for reasons unrelated to thighs. I was like, my country did this and no other country could.
So can you.
chip and dip mac and cheese, aka mac and sleazy
- 500g macaroni elbows, pasta shells, or other small friendly pasta
- one tablespoon chilli oil
- 50g butter
- four tablespoons plain flour
- milk (I guess two cups/500ml?)
- one to two tablespoons of marmite
- one package onion soup powder
- one can reduced cream
- one and a half cups grated cheese
- one bag of salt and vinegar chips
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, and then tip in the pasta. Let it boil away for about ten minutes or until the pasta is tender, then drain and toss with the chilli oil. Don’t be tempted to leave this out, it just gives the slightest hint of heat at the end of each mouthful.
While this is happening, melt the butter in a large saucepan and stir in the flour, so that it forms a thick paste. Continue to stir this over a medium heat for a while, just to allow the flavours to develop, and then slowly, slowly add the milk, a splash at a time at first (it will absorb pretty instantly) and then continue adding more and stirring it into the butter and flour till it looks like thick pancake batter. If it looks lumpy, switch to a whisk. Tip in the onion soup powder and stir it in, then add the can of reduced cream. Continue to stir for another few minutes until you’re satistfied with the texture, then whisk in the marmite, small spoonful at a time, tasting it as you go, till you’re happy with the flavour. You’d be surprised at how much marmite it can take, and the pasta will soften the flavour, so don’t be shy.
Stir in the drained pasta and half a cup of the grated cheese, and set your oven to 170C/330 F. Transfer the contents of the pan into a baking dish and pop it in the oven for about half an hour. Finally, crush up the salt and vinegar chips (just smash the bag around with your hands, should do the trick) and take the dish out of the oven. Sprinkle the pasta with a layer of cheese, then a thick, even layer of potato chip crumbs, and then top with one more layer of cheese. Return to the oven and change the setting to grill, turning up the temperature to 220C/450F. Let it sit there till the top is golden brown and scorched in places. And there you have it.
Bonus Marmite content: If you melt butter and mix it with a spoonful of marmite and then liberally apply this to chicken and roast it, you have yourself a truly good and delicious time.
Speaking of patriotism! Had a tender moment of feeling like the country doesn’t suck when Jacinda Adern of Labour suddenly became prime minister this week (I’m not explaining the process to you, look it up, it happened is all you need to know), after two weeks of us sitting around under the impression that National had won the election. The last time National wasn’t in power was 2008 which was actually a million years ago in so many ways, and while I have reservations about a ton of things, it’s low-key thrilling to be here in a time of change. I honestly didn’t have faith in New Zealand this time around that the left would be able to take the lead, so it’s not only pleasantly surprising, it’s like…for the first time in ever so long, I’m excited as opposed to filled with dread to see what policies are enacted.
Eat the rich!….tasty macaroni and cheese.
title from: our Lorde! Her debut Royals is still pretty jaw-dropping no matter how over-exposed to it you may be.
Fiona Apple, Across The Universe. You wanna sob self-indulgently? Of course you do. Better than the original, in my correct opinion.
Her Space Holiday, Something To Do With My Hands. You wanna sob self-indulgently? Of course you do.
Limp Bizkit, Faith. You wanna sob self- okay lol. It’s uh, not better than the original but it is an indelible part of my life.
next time: I actually totally missed my blog’s tenth birthday by an entire week due to my inability to remember, well, anything, but I’m still determined to mark the occasion somehow.