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.

vegan macarons

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.

vegan macarons

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.

vegan macarons

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.

vegan macarons

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.

vegan macarons

(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.

i am the new year, i’m the way home

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Well well well, if it isn’t 2019, waltzing in bang on time. To start the year off with perhaps unearned but nevertheless ebullient ebullience I have two recipes for you, one via my mother and one via my father.

But first: I have a suspicion about the momentousness of the New Year that I also carry for weddings – everyone’s all, “we’ve got to have the time of our life! It’s New Year’s Eve! The party of the year! New Year New Me! This year will be different!” But where is that energy on like, March 3rd? Where is that energy every time someone complains about Monday looming unwelcomely on the horizon? Why are we so pressed about this one particular day that we otherwise would regard with indifference at best? That’s right, the New Year is but another calendar day. (How, if you’re wondering, this relates to weddings is: at said weddings we are all “love’s purest incarnation stands before us! I can’t believe these two love each other! I’ve never experienced anything like this! Not since the last wedding I attended!” And then two years down the line, if we see the same couple doing their groceries or whatever, well, what then of the flower petals and glad tidings? Why do we not cry and do poetry readings right there in the cat food aisle? How is it that their love is super interesting on the day of the wedding and then super mundane for the foreseeable future?)

THAT SAID! Any nudge in the direction of reflection and self-improvement is not the entire worst, and if you can use the turning of the year as motivation to do literally anything slightly better then well done, you. Indeed, as I shall demonstrate, I myself am not above such nudging! Despite my strong yet wilfully simplistic feelings about weddings, I am not anti-New Years sentiment at all. It’s just, something I have learned in this rich and storied life of mine is that every day can be a fresh start, a tiny new year, and relentless self-pressure once a year is not, in fact, the same as clear-headed motivation.

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With all that in mind I have some cautious yet hope-filled intentions for the year, about which I’m just going to see what happens but also, y’know, put in some effort, and they are as follows: I’d like to save money so I can go somewhere, perhaps on holiday, as befits an adult of my age yet eludes me entirely; I like the idea of getting kind of jacked upper arms; I wish to resume knitting again but for real; I intend to maintain a bullet journal and use it to help me in turn maintain healthy choices (it’s working so far, I’ve already cleaned my teeth every single day this year); I’d simply love, come December, to look back on the year and not regret any time wasted although that’s obviously fairly abstract and difficult to control, but most specifically and above all: I will prioritise my writing this year. I spent a lot of 2018 feeling paralysed by various factors but in 2019 I want to create more recipes, plan a cookbook, pitch more things, do fiction or fiction-ish writing, work out if I’m any good at poetry, I’m sure I am, get literally anyone to read my excellent Frasier food blog, make this blog absolutely shine, embark on projects with confidence and just really sincerely believe in myself and to not let any bad mood or sad mood or person or rejection or fear or tiredness stop me from that. (When I went home for Christmas, Mum was like “when your lease ends in February you could always just move back here and pretend it’s a writers retreat” and I was like “honestly, you know, that like, for real, could like, you know?”)

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Speaking of, going home for Christmas was the inspiration for the double-feature of recipes that you get today! First of all, on Christmas Eve while I was drinking port and enthusiastically re-watching The Crown with Dad, Mum whipped up this batch of immensely wholesome crackers held together only with goodwill and the gluey properties of chia seeds. It’s a recipe she absorbed, chia-like, from her best friend Vivienne (hence the name: Viv’s Crackers) and I honestly could not get enough of them. Because they’re comprised entirely of seeds, cooked long and slow, there’s this incredible toasty crunch yet utter lightness to them, and they’re just fantastically addictive as well as undoubtedly putting a shine on your coat with each one consumed. Mum and Viv drove me up to the airport on the day I flew back to Wellington to go to work and I pressed them for the recipe and their response was pretty vague – it’s just one of those recipes where you squint at the mixing bowl and make choices in the moment, the sort of thing that Aunt Daisy with all her instinctive wisdom and lively brevity would cook if she were around today. What I’ve written above is a kind of amalgam of what they told me, and obviously you can add many other things – Mum’s batch had cashews and pistachios in it, and Viv recommends adding a little chilli to the mixture. Either way, you’re only minimal effort and admittedly several hours’ slow baking away from nutty, softly crunchy deliciousness.

The Pkhali, which is a Georgian spinach and walnut dip, comes from a recipe in a cookbook that I got from Dad for Christmas, called Eat Your Greens. Thanks Dad! I adapted the recipe a little to suit my own tastes but it’s pretty close to what’s in the book, and what you end up with is this intensely leafy, herbal mixture, nubbly with walnuts and fragrant with spices, with juicy sour crunchy bursts of light-catching pomegranate seeds scattered over. Upon initial tasting it was a little worrisomely spinachy and spinachy alone, but after it sat in the fridge for a while it mellowed and developed and was in fact extremely compulsive stuff. Far be it from me to say what you can and can’t do to a Georgian recipe but I imagine you can play around with the components of this somewhat, based on what you have to hand. The spices all worked beautifully though and I wouldn’t personally change a thing, and the difference between the taste of the mixture before and after I added the citrus was astonishing – I know we’re all watching Salt Fat Acid Heat on Netflix but like, it really livened it up immensely. I find that packaged pomegranate seeds tend to taste a little like nail-polish remover, so if you can’t get a real pomegranate to deseed, I would consider perhaps some lemon or lime zest over the top or maybe some chopped up cherry tomatoes? Anything that makes you be all “damn, that’s fresh.”

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Viv’s Crackers

  • 1/3 cup chia seeds
  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/3 cup flaxseeds
  • a pinch of ground cumin (optional)
  • sea salt

Set your oven to 130C/260F and line a baking tray with baking paper.

Place the chia seeds in a mixing bowl and cover, by about a centimetre, with water. Use a spatula to scrape any seeds that have scooted up the side of the bowl to make sure as much of the chia is submerged as possible. Set the bowl aside for ten or so minutes until the chia seeds have absorbed most of the water and the mixture is all gluey and almost gelatinous.

Stir in the sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and flaxseeds, which should transform it into a thickly seeded paste. Add a splash more water if it seems not paste-y enough, and add more seeds if it seems to need that instead. Tip this unlikely looking mixture onto the baking tray and using your spatula or the back of a spoon, press it down evenly to a thickness of about just under a centimetre. It doesn’t matter what shape you make, as you’re just going to break it all up into pieces anyway, but a uniform thickness is pretty important. Sprinkle with sea salt and the cumin.

Bake for 1 – 2 hours – I know it’s vague, but it all depends on your oven and the curve of the earth and so on. It’s ready when the mixture is dry all the way into the centre and underneath when you lift it up, and the edges are raised slightly. If you can’t seem to be able to get the centre to dry out after an hour or so, try carefully flipping it over (it should be solid enough to do so at this point, by which I mean, I did it) so that the underside gets more heat.

Allow to cool completely, then break into pieces and store in an airtight container.

Pkhali (Georgian Spinach and Walnut Dip)

Adapted from a recipe from Eat Your Greens by Pete Evans

  • 1 large bunch of young spinach leaves or 2 bags of baby spinach leaves
  • a handful of coriander leaves, stalks attached is fine
  • a handful of parsley, stalks attached is also fine
  • 80g walnuts
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper or chilli powder
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice (or lemon juice)
  • sea salt and pepper, lots, to taste
  • pomegranate seeds, to serve

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. While this is happening, thoroughly wash your spinach (if it’s from a supermarket packet you should be fine but the fresh stuff in bunches is full of crevices for dirt to hide in) and then throw it into the pan of water, along with the coriander and parsley, for thirty seconds. Then, remove it from the heat, drain it, and run it under lots of cold water. Put all these wet leaves into a food processor and blend into a thoroughly chopped grassy mulch, then scrape into a bowl and set aside. You’re going to be putting it back in though, so you don’t have to like clean the processor or anything.

Now place the walnuts, garlic, spices, vinegar, lime juice, olive oil, and a decent amount of salt and pepper into the processor and give it a few good blitzes, so that the walnuts are moderately obliterated but not rendered into nut butter or anything. Tip the spinach and herb mixture back in and pulse to combine the lot, then spatula – with some effort this time – the whole lot into a serving bowl. Taste to see if it needs more salt – and it probably will – and consider adding another good drizzle of olive oil. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, which will allow the flavours to develop, and sprinkle generously with freshly shucked pomegranate seeds when you’re ready to serve.

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On January 1st I had a picnic with my two best friends Kim and Kate and we revelled in the glorious nothing-to-do-ness of it all. There’s something quite beautiful about the first day of the year, not knowing what’s up ahead, none of the events that will inevitably tarnish your view of the year have happened yet, all your intentions sing of potential and not of cowardice or time lost or avoidance, it’s like a safe little bubble. We ate these crackers and this dip and some other treats and talked each other up and it was really lovely. (New Years Eve itself I was just working, by the way, which is fine with me as it neatly solves any anxiety about what to do in order to have the time of one’s life, but I also managed cunningly to sign off at midnight and so did what anyone in my shoes – by which I mean me – might do: I danced for three hours. And then got my leg sliced by the contents of the glass bin which I’m choosing magnanimously to not see as a bad sign or anything.)

So, happy new year everyone! This is, I say with all the unearned ebullience of someone who has only yet experienced two and a half days’ worth of it: definitely our year.

title from: New Year by The Breeders. Dreamy yet purposeful, just like me.

music lately:

Clubbed to Death by Rob Dougan, notably used on the Matrix soundtrack. It just really feels like something important is about to happen when you listen to it!

Your Dog, by Soccer Mommy. Starts deceptively low-key and breezily meandering and then the lyrics are just like…wow.

Whilst I have listened to the song a squillion times I hadn’t actually seen the video for Mitski’s frantically lonely song Nobody and though I can guarantee every person has already said this, may I just say – it’s so Bjork-y! (By which I guess I mean, it’s so Michele Gondry-y!) In a wonderful way!

Next time: I made some “cheese” sauce with roasted carrots and other stuff and plan to turn it into mac and cheese at some point, however the weather is SO HOT at the moment that I might have to postpone that in order to favour something colder.

PS if you wish, you can sign up here to receive a version of these blog posts sent to your inbox before anyone else gets to read them, but like, I’m just going to put them up here anyway so you’re in no danger of missing anything if you don’t. Just an option!

sometimes I think you’re just too good for me, every day is Christmas, every night is New Year’s Eve

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With last week’s post being absolutely enormous I thought I’d make this one fairly low-key, calm, brief. But then I watched classic Christmas film Die Hard for the first time ever and it’s really hard to not feel seasonally hyped up after that, right? So instead I decided to do the absolute opposite and give you something high-key, vast, yet still fairly calming in its own way: my annual round-up of recipes from this blog that I think would be worth considering if you’re wanting to do the home-made edible Christmas present thing. Whether or not Christmas is something you acknowledge, be it for religious reasons, self-preservation reasons, or something else entirely, there’s no denying that it’s going to literally happen this very month and besides, you could use this list at any time of year that you have a person for whom a gift is required. I for one think there’s nothing more delightful than the tangible and consumable result of a person’s concentrated time and effort as a gift, not to mention the joy of stomping on the delicate, exposed foot of capitalism by DIY-ing it yourself. (That said – and look, no one is out here defending capitalism, don’t worry – I’d also like to throw my voice to the chorus urging you to consider shopping local/small/ethical/indigenous/gay/generally independent this season.)

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THE HUNGRY AND FROZEN MODERATELY INDISPUTABLE LIST OF EDIBLE GIFT RECIPE IDEAS FOR LIFE, NOT JUST FOR CHRISTMAS

Caveat 1: Because this goes so far back through the archives, the majority of which I spent neck-deep in butter, well, there’s going to be some butter. I’ve marked accordingly whether a recipe is vegan, also gluten free if applicable – I see you!
Caveat 2: Because this goes so far back through the archives the continuity/life details on display in any given post might be kind of jarring and this is what happens when you write about many details of your life for eleven years! But if we can handle our TV characters like, changing haircuts and so on throughout the course of a series, so can we handle such things here.
Caveat 3: (And just know that I couldn’t help but hear “O CAVEAT THREE-EE-EE” in a superloud, third-time-round, “O come let us adore him” vibe in my head) I moved my blog over to WordPress halfway through this year and all the formatting completely fritzed out, so just know, every single individual blog post that I’ve linked to here that does have, y’know, line breaks, has had its individual html edited by me, and I haven’t quite managed to catch them all yet. This caveat is more of a weird flex, but.

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Category 1: Things in Jars

Too easy! Jars make everything look pulled together and clever, whether it’s the unsinkable salted caramel sauce or some pickled-into-submission vegetable. To ease any anxieties – which you admittedly might not have even considered having, but that’s why I’m here –  on the part of both giver and receiver, I advise including a gift tag with some recommendations of how to use the stuff within the jar ( and “consume in one go in bed” is entirely viable here.)

Subsection A: Saucy Stuff

Subsection B: Stuff stuff

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Category 2: Baked Goods

As easy or as hard as you like, whether it’s some cookies in a takeout container with a ribbon around it (and honestly: those takeout containers – you know the ones – are always useful to have around so it’s not a cop-out) or whether you go full out, make someone an enormous Christmas Cake and find a tastefully yet jaw-droppingly stunning plate to serve it on and make that part of the gift too. To maximise on tis-the-season seasonality I recommend embarking on all baking projects late at night with some kind of liqueur by your side, it just feels right.

 

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Category 3: No-bake Novelty!

This is (a) lots of taxing recreations of candy you can get for like forty cents at the corner dairy, (b) lots of stuffing existing products into other existing products and (c) nevertheless the most fun category.

And one more for luck:

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Almond Butter Toffee

a recipe by myself

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) water
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3 heaped tablespoons crunchy almond butter
  • 250g dark chocolate
  • sea salt

Line a baking tray or tin with a large piece of baking paper.

Place the sugar, water, and cream of tartar in a saucepan and slowly bring to the boil over a medium heat, without stirring at all. Let it continue to bubble away for five to ten minutes, until it just starts to turn golden – even though it’s boring for a while, don’t walk away or lose focus or it WILL burn, it just will – and as a pale gold cast creeps across the bubbling sugar, at this point immediately remove it from the heat. I hate to be harsh but if the sugar has turned a dark golden brown this means it’s caramelised too far and will taste harshly bitter and burnt; better to start over with more sugar and water than to try to forge ahead, I promise (I speak from much experience.)  Stir in the almond butter, and, working quickly and carefully, tip the lot onto the sheet of baking paper, coaxing it around with a spatula if need be to make it an even shape/thickness. Sprinkle over a good pinch of sea salt. Allow to set and get completely cool, then break it into pieces. 

Melt the chocolate however you prefer – short bursts in the microwave does it for me – and dip each piece of toffee in the chocolate before returning to the baking paper lined tray to set again. Sprinkle over more sea salt if you wish. Store refrigerated in an airtight container.

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This stuff tastes not entirely unlike those magical Daim bars (or Dime bars as they’re known in the UK) with a buttery, snappish crunch that is somehow sweet enough to taunt the teeth with impending fissures and yet mellow and balanced enough for you to eat an alarming quantity without giving it a second thought. As is or chocolate-dipped: novelty perfection. (And especially delicious if kept in the freezer, for some reason.)

I guess humans make traditions to give us something to cling on to in a harsh world, something that marks the passage of time other than the time itself, and making this list has become something of a tradition for me so it’s nice to visit it again, even as my eyeballs throb from all that painstaking hyperlinking. Even if you don’t make a single thing on the list – and you’re under absolutey no obligation to – the fact that you’re reading this far means you’re part of my tradition too. Sentimental, yes! But as I said: I watched Die Hard for the first time, so, you understand.

title from: Sade, The Sweetest Taboo. The sultriness! Ma’am!

music lately:

The Pure and the Damned, Oneohtrix Point Never ft Iggy Pop: “Someday I swear we’re gonna go to a place where we can do everything we want to, and we can pet the crocodiles.”

Turkey Lurkey Time, from the 1969 Tony Awards performance from the musical Promises, Promises. Another tradition! Every year on December 1st and not a moment sooner I rewatch this and every year I am breathtaken anew! Michael Bennett’s audacious choreography that cares not for your chiropractic bill! Donna McKechnie (in the red dress), triple threat, rubber-legged, spinal chord cracking like a whip! The lyrics which are SO STUPID! The final minute which every time makes tears spring to my eyes at the sheer magnitude of it!

Whack World, the album by rapper Tierra Whack. Every one of her songs is precisely one minute long (which is just perfect for me) with its own precise personality. I particularly love Black Nails and F**k Off.

Next time: less REALLY will be more, I promise. 

hold on tight, hold on eleven, this is paradise

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This blog post marks a relatively special occasion: Hungry and Frozen, this very blog that you’re reading, turned ELEVEN years old on Sunday. I’m proud of myself, sure, but I’m also astonished. I mean, I’m always astonished by the passage of time, in that push-pull kind of way (y’know, HOW is it October already but also HOW is it only 8.03pm I swear the clock said 8.07pm before) but eleven years? Doing one thing? Were you even born eleven years ago? Frankly, I doubt it.

As I stand majestically upon this precipice, surveying all that I have done, I acknowledge there’s only so much looking back one can do – and don’t honestly have anything particularly deep or clever to offer you in summarisation of my life up until this point. But I did reread my first blog posts and was struck by how breezily carefree I was and just how much I cooked and blogged: in October 2007 alone I did twenty three blog posts in fifteen days, a hilarious quantity, really. It was hardcore stuff too: pavlova and steamed pudding and marinated ribs and choux pastry and madeleines. Present-day me could do well to be inspired by the sheer drive of then-me, time-rich though I was.

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In the first post I pressed publish upon I asked “does the world need another food blog? There are millions! With really classy photographs as well! What on earth do I have to offer the world?” This was before Pinterest, before Instagram, before influencers, before videos of anonymous hands making recipes all over Facebook, before chiaroscuro or people dropping crumbs everywhere in their food photography, before Momofuku Milk Bar, before the recession – in fact I’m not sure what actually was around, come to think of it. Polka dots were big, if I remember correctly, and we were all getting into cupcakes?

Since then I’ve learned so much: how to take a photograph; how to write through literally anything happening in my personal life; to not be so righteous or else I’ll regret that I called vodka soda “a sneeringly dry drink” nine years ago; that if I refer vaguely to us all “reeling from the events this week” I will have absolutely no idea what I was talking about six weeks later especially in this rapid news cycle life that we’re stuck in; that if you hear me say something amusing in real life you’re probably going to read it repeated here because I only have so much material; and to write like I’m the most relevant and celebrated food blogger on earth even if there’s only one person in the audience. I mean where I stand currently, on this relatively fallow ground, it’s by no means a high point in my blogging career and it does weigh upon me heavily sometimes. But I’m also feeling happy and creative for the first time in ages, and I think that’s what I should be inspired by from eleven years ago: neither the quantity nor the quality, but the sheer confidence that someone out there wanted to read my writing and therefore I was going to throw my heart and soul into writing nonstop for them. And if I kept writing like that, if it was that good, surely more people would want to read it. Something I hope is still true.

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What care I for the obviousness of a cake to mark a milestone; especially when it’s as incredibly delicious as this one. The champagne is a celebratory conceit but really does add something to the buttercream – a certain biscuity minerality (which sounds horrible but…trust me.) I tend to avoid putting inaccessible ingredients in my recipes and acknowledge that this one contains not just the champagne – which was a gift, I can’t imagine just owning some – but also freeze-dried passionfruit, which gives this eye-wateringly intense blast of sour passionfruit flavour and is almost irreplaceable. If it comes down to it though: I’d replace both the champagne and the passionfruit powder with a few tablespoons of strained passionfruit syrup, it won’t have the aggressive flavour but will undoubtedly still taste good.

Chocolate Maple Cake with Champagne Passionfruit Buttercream

A recipe by myself

Cake:

  • 1 and 3/4 cups plain flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup almond milk (or similar non-dairy milk)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil (not extra virgin – or just use plain vegetable oil)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup

Champagne Passionfruit Buttercream

  • 3 tablespoons good vegan butter (I used Nuttelex Buttery)
  • 4 tablespoons freeze-dried passionfruit powder
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons champagne
  • 3 and 1/2 cups icing sugar
  • a pinch of salt 

Set your oven to 180C/350F. Line the base of two 20cm springform cake tins with baking paper.

Stir all your dry ingredients together in a large bowl – the flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, and baking soda – so everything is completely dispersed and free of clumps.

Carefully pour in the water, golden syrup, oil, vanilla, almond milk and vinegar and fold the ingredients together gently till it’s just combined.

Divide this mixture between the two cake tins, using a spatula to scrape out every last bit. Make a swirl in the batter with the end of a spoon (or indeed, your finger) – apparently this helps it to rise evenly and flatly and I’m not sure if I truly believe it but it doesn’t hurt to try.

Bake the cakes for 25 minutes or until they’re both springy and a skewer prodded into the centre comes out clean.

Allow both cakes to cool completely.

For the buttercream, I find it easiest to use a food processor, but a bowl and spoon is by no means the end of the world. Blitz the butter, passionfruit powder, and icing sugar together, and then add the champagne and process again to make a thick, smooth, pale-golden icing. Add more champagne if it’s too thick, but only a little at a time.

Place one of the cakes on a serving plate, and brush half the maple syrup over it with a pastry brush. Spoon a large dollop of the buttercream onto the centre of the cake and use the flat side of a knife to spread it evenly over the surface. Place the second cake on top and repeat with the remaining maple syrup and most of the remaining icing, leaving some to patch up any spaces inbetween the layers. I do this by scooping up icing with the knife and running it around the curves of the cake’s sides. I then run the knife under hot water and run it around the sides again to make sure the layer of icing in the middle is thick and flattened while the cake layers themselves are relatively clean. It doesn’t matter though: the icing and cake will both taste good no matter how it looks.

Dot with sprinkles if you wish, and dust over a little more passionfruit powder. And that’s your cake.

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But nevermind what’s left out of it, let’s talk about what’s in it: this cake is rich and dense but fluffy and springy and moist and has an old fashioned taste to it – the sort of chocolate cake that storybook characters would tuck into. There’s a slightly nutty flavour from the oil and maple syrup (although hell, leave the syrup out too if you’re really strapped for cash, I know I am) and the dark, soft chocolate layers contrast beautifully with the shivers-down-the-spine tartness of the passionfruit. And it’s so easy to make – some idle stirring is all that’s required. While it uses a lot of cocoa powder this cake would be an ideal go-to recipe iced however you want – if you’re the sort of person that is in enough cake-related situations to require a go-to. On top of that, this cake really lasts – three days after making it, it’s still as soft and rich as it was on day one.

Eleven years ago I hadn’t yet met my two best friends Kim and Kate and I can’t even quantify in words or describe with statistics the effect they’ve had on me since. Needless to say there was no better people to share this cake, and the remaining champagne, with, so that’s what I spent the afternoon of this blog’s eleventh birthday doing. As far as reading about it goes though, why, there’s no one I’d want more to do that than you.

title from: Paradise, by Meat Puppets. I love the Meat Puppets so much and have absolutely nothing amusing to say about them.

music lately:

Cornelius Bros and Sister Rose, Too Late To Turn Back Now. That “I believe I believe I believe I believe” bit is just lovely.

The Sacred Harp Singers, I’m Going Home. I did not care for the movie Cold Mountain but it did at least introduce me to the Sacred Harp Singers, who perform – naturally – sacred harp singing, which is like…hymns but as discordant walls of sound crashing about your ears all at once. It’s hard to explain but when I watched this particular recording of the aforementioned song being sung at a convention I genuinely cried from the enormity of it and have listened to little else since. So put in some headphones and turn up the volume and see what happens, is my recommendation and opinion both. (There’s quite a bit of it on Spotify and I enjoy the existence of the album entitled New Years Eve at the Iveys’, 1972. Now, December 31, 1972 was in fact a Sunday and I love the idea of the sheer stone-faced Biblicality overriding any seasonal festivity. “What are we doing this New Years? Same thing we do every Sunday: we’ll stand in a square barking hymns discordantly at each other, and you’re a giddy and frivolous infidel for considering otherwise.”)

Decemberists, The Infanta. I’ve been rewatching Mad Men, and as they say in the Youtube comments, “Mad Men brought me here” when the song was used at the start of one of its episodes. The sprinting drums and use of the word “palanquin” though!

(I didn’t start this format of listing music I’d been listening to until April 2009, and the first songs – with absolutely zero commentary – were Mad Tom of Bedlam by Jolie Holland, Let Me Drown by Idina Menzel and Brian D’Arcy James from the off-Broadway Musical The Wild Party, and Farmer John by Neil Young. All of which hold up well, although I did in the same breath claim to “love music with a dark passion” so you can’t win everything.)

Next time: I used all my mental capacity coming up with this week’s one, but it’ll be good, if eleven years has taught us anything it’s that we can all be certain of this. 

PS: A dedicated fistful of people read this post already on Sunday evening – okay, Monday morning, but it should’ve been Sunday – and if you wish to be part of this enclave who receive my posts sent to their inbox first every week, sign up here. (On the other hand, the distance between that send-out and this post being published gave me room to add even more enthusiastic Sacred Harp Singing content, a trinket that you may or may not consider a reward for your patient waiting.) 

you’re lying with your gold chain on, cigar hanging from your lips

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I’ve been pretty committedly vegan for a few months now, but it felt like the one insurmountable hurdle I truly had to surmount was the issue of butter. And that’s because I’ve really made butter my thing over the years. Why, in 2009, when this blog was but two years old, I wrote the following:

“Maybe in years to come, when my blog has changed lives, and gets turned into a beautiful book, and then the movie of the book of the blog changes peoples’ lives (oh wait, that’s Julie and Julia that I’m thinking of, and somewhat more feasibly, I’ll probably slide quietly into further obscurity), and a naive child asks their grandparents what the ultimate blog post that would describe Hungry and Frozen would be, what the very distilled essence of this whole strange business is, the ur-text, the definitive piece of writing, their grandparents might lean down and utter with a wise, earthy croak: The one where she made her own butter.

(the blog post was about me making my own butter.)

I actually did of course, some years later but also some years ago, get my blog turned into a beautiful cookbook (such are my powers of manifestation) although it didn’t quite take the path that I so breathlessly imagined back then. The point is, I was extremely about butter and it’s scary backing down from anything you’ve been vocally definite about, right? When I first started this blog in 2007 the subheading was a quote from Nigella Lawson herself about butter and in all honesty, the very thought of butter alternatives (alright, margarine, the butter alternative that dare not speak its name) made me genuinely quite panicky. Like my reputation – whatever it may have been or currently be – would be utterly tarnished if one single person wasn’t wholly aware of my commitment to butter.

When you are as righteous and strident as I have been about ever so many things, it becomes extremely stressful to change that, because there’s this heavily-weighted sense that people will judge you for subverting the expectations that you’ve built up so thoroughly for them. That you’re letting people down somehow by stepping sideways into slightly newer versions of the person they usually recognise you as.

It’s chilling in every sense of the word (that is, it’s horrifying but also relaxing) that actually people never are thinking about you as much as you think they are; I’m also learning ever so slowly that being low-key instead of super righteous makes for much less stress in the long run, and reminding myself what people expect from me and what I owe people are pretty equally minimal. This is a good thing to remind yourself of, and while it’s easy to just say don’t worry about what people will think of you for your various life choices, just like…on the whole, none of us have to worry as much as we think we do.

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So with ALL this in mind, I handed over New Zealand Dollars in exchange for a butter alternative for the first literal time in my life the other day, and not only did the sky not fall in, not for want of me waiting for it to; the stuff I bought also tasted pretty decent. I do genuinely still believe there’s no better flavour on earth than actual butter but I’m also okay, currently, with just not having it. I suppose in the same way that any commitment you make has its compromises. Nuttelex Buttery is what I went for and it tastes quite similar to Lurpak, that pale European butter that I used to spread on my toast when I lived in England.

And I used it in this recipe (yes finally, the recipe!) comprising cauliflower roasted with miso and mustard, wrapped in sheets of filo pastry, each layer of pastry brushed with a mixture of the melted vegan butter and nutritional yeast. I purchased the former and the latter together and really felt like I’d levelled up in my veganism. If you haven’t had it before, nutritional yeast is this truly magical dust, it makes everything taste intensely savoury and savourily intense. If I were to describe the flavour it would be somewhere between parmesan, Marmite and roasted mushrooms, and it’s absolutely perfect with the cauliflower’s mildness and the papery-thin crispness of the pastry.

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I made these filo cigars very much on the fly, one of those recipes that is a reaction to whatever one happens to have on hand as opposed to the result of actual planning. But I was, as is often the case with such recipes, completely delighted with them and ended up eating five out of the six pictured in one go as opposed to having them sitting about for future snacking purposes. The whole thing is an exercise in savouriness – the sharp, salty miso mustard coating the cauliflower, the nuttiness of the sunflower seeds and the, yes, vegan butter, the crunch of the pastry with the aforementioned absolute magic of the nutritional yeast between each fragile layer.

Miso Cauliflower Filo Cigars

A recipe by myself

  • 9 sheets of filo pastry
  • 4 tablespoons vegan butter (or actual butter, or olive oil)
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (Bragg’s is the brand I got)
  • half a head of cauliflower
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons miso paste
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • Black pepper, to taste

Set your oven to 200C/400F.

Chop the cauliflower roughly into small pieces. Place on a baking tray, drizzle with the two tablespoons of olive oil and roast for fifteen minutes or until softened and browned at the edges.

Mix the miso paste, mustard, and black pepper together and spoon or brush it over the cauliflower, and return to the oven for another five minutes. Throw the sunflower seeds over the top at this point as well so they can get toasted by the oven’s heat, if you wish (I, for one, recommend it.)

Melt the butter in a small bowl in the microwave and stir in the nutritional yeast.

Three layers of filo pastry will yield you two cigars, so brush one sheet of pastry with the melted butter/nutritional yeast mix, then lay another sheet of filo on top and brush that with butter, and then finally another sheet. Cut it down the middle so you’ve got two layered rectangles.

Mix the breadcrumbs and dried rosemary in another small bowl (sorry about all the dishes involved.)

Spoon a small quantity of the cauliflower and sunflower seeds into roughly the middle of one of the pastry rectangles, followed by a heaped spoonful of the breadcrumbs. The simplest way to fashion these cigars, I find, is to tuck the sides in over the top of the cauliflower and then roll the whole thing away from yourself so you’ve got a thick parcel. Set aside onto a baking tray lined with baking paper, and repeat with the other rectangle of pastry.

Brush more sets of three sheets of filo with the butter and then cut, fill, and roll into cigars in the same manner. Brush the cigars with any remaining butter and bake for ten to fifteen minutes or until crisp and golden. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and more rosemary if you like. And then eat them.

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You could be as reactionary as I’ve been and make these based on what you have to hand or can easily access – broccoli would surely be just as good as the cauliflower, literally any nut would be fine instead of sunflower seeds, obviously you could use real butter or olive oil instead of a butter alternative, and if you wanted to bulk it out with couscous or bulghur wheat instead of breadcrumbs I suspect it would be fantastic. But as they are, as I made them, these tasted incredibly incredible, and even the one remaining cigar, consumed cold and moderately soggy after work sometime around 5am, was unexpectedly delicious. Maybe even more so.

title from: Off to the Races, by Lana Del Rey. The very distillation of a Lana Del Rey song, to be honest, and I love her for it.

music lately:

INXS, Don’t Change. As far as INXS songs go this one from 1982 is not nearly as well-known as their main hits but it’s so, so good! It has this drive and energy and sounds so ahead of its time, like a song from 2004 written by a band trying to sound like they were from 1982!

Felt, Primitive Painters. This already lovely song is sent into the stratosphere by the presence of Elizabeth Fraser, “the voice of god” – she sounds like cold falling water, like a feather being run across the back of your neck, like a casual angel (to corroborate this, should you have your doubts, may I direct you to where you’ve probably heard her already: Teardrop by Massive Attack.)

Tim Buckley, Song to the Siren. SO sad and pretty, a real exemplary example of this genre. (The genre being, sad and pretty.)

Next time: CAN YOU BELIEVE it’s technically, and worse, literally, October; I’m super excited to eat some asparagus, should I manage to ever not sleep through the Sunday markets, or indeed, Spring itself.

PS: if you want to receive these blog posts ahead of the crowd like the bon vivant you are, you may consider signing up here which will allow you to get these posts sent to your inbox every Sunday, which, if you’ve done it already, means you already read this post three days ago, in which case congratulations on your excellent taste for making it through this far upon second reading. 

death by chocolate is a myth, this I know because I lived

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I recently was re-reading Nigella Lawson’s seminal text How To Eat, a book I turn to in times of crisis, happiness, fragility, anxiety, normality, national sporting-related success to which I’m entirely indifferent, pre or post-jeans shopping – there’s literally no mood this book can’t augment. I got my copy of this book in 2006 and it’s really something reading the little notes that I wrote by recipes in the first blush of ownership – so earnest, so youthful! “Didn’t have red wine but used leftover sangria and it worked a treat” was scribbled beside a slow-braised lamb and bean dish, a troubling phrase that raises more questions than its supposedly helpful inclusion answers (Did it really work a treat? Was it really sangria or was it just corner dairy red wine mixed with orange juice? Why, nevertheless, did we have leftovers?)

What cracked me up was the amount of times I’d put a tick beside a title with a modifying note stating what part of the recipe I actually had been able to afford to make. Lamb and chickpeas (tick – just made the chickpeas.) Cod and mushy peas (tick – just made the peas.) Who could have predicted that twelve years later I’d be equally as broke and meatless: tick and double tick.

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All this was in mind as I went shopping for ingredients for this week’s recipe, these Chocolate, Coconut and Almond Cookie Bars. It was precisely the moment where I considered abandoning the recipe altogether because nuts are so whole-assedly expensive; but then I shrewdly deduced that buying dark chocolate with almonds in it ($5-ish) would be markedly cheaper than buying dark chocolate ($5-ish) plus a bag of almonds ($9,000,000.) I already was darkly resigned to the fact that maple-flavoured syrup is monumentally cheaper than the real stuff.

This recipe is based pretty tightly on one that I found online. I was taken with the simplicity of the concept of blending up bananas to essentially use as glue, holding the coconut, chocolate and almonds to the base. Strangely, but appealingly, it barely tastes of banana – just kind of gently sweet and caramelly. I was a bit panicked because at first, straight from the fridge, the slice honestly didn’t taste like much of anything. But the more it gets towards room temperature the more all the flavours reassuringly make themselves known. I made some slight adjustments to the recipe – I nearly doubled the oaty base because the measurements given seemed to make hardly anything; I fiddled with the quantities of what went on top, I added more maple syrup and I added plenty of salt, which I think was the most important addition – it just makes everything taste so much more confidently of itself, so don’t be afraid to scatter a decent amount across the top. The oat base gets super hard over time so you definitely want to consume this within the next day or so; if you can’t get through it then might I suggest microwaving it or adding an oat-moistening scoop of ice cream to your plate.

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With this low-stakes rollercoaster of establishing whether or not it tasted good out of the way, I can assure you that this slice is in fact, really very delicious – the toasty, nutty oats, the flutter of maple sweetness from the fake but gamely hardworking syrup, the bitter, cocoa-rich dark chocolate for your teeth to slice through, the damply chewy shards of coconut, and barely a whisper of intrusive banana. Sorry banana, but sometimes what you bring to the table is what you don’t bring to the table, you know?

Chocolate, Coconut and Almond Cookie Bars

based on this recipe from feastingonfruit.com

2 and a half cups rolled oats
7 tablespoons maple syrup or golden syrup
3 bananas
200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 cup almonds, roughly chopped (or 200g dark chocolate with almonds) 
3/4 cup shredded coconut
Sea salt

Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a standard brownie tin (you know, one of those standard ones…rectangular…not too big) with baking paper.

Process the rolled oats in a blender till they’ve turned into fine dust, then pour in five tablespoons of the maple syrup and a pinch of salt and pulse briefly till it’s all clumpy. Spatula it into your brownie tin and carefully press it down evenly (use the back of a wet spoon and be prepared for it to take some patience) and bake for ten to fifteen minutes, until it’s firm and golden around the edges.

Meanwhile, rinse out the blender, and throw the bananas in with the remaining maple syrup, blitzing them to an airy yellow puree. Spread this evenly over the oat base, and then evenly sprinkle over the chocolate, almonds, and coconut. Sprinkle over another good pinch of salt. Return the tray to the oven for another forty minutes, although check after 30, and cover with tinfoil if it’s browning too much. Allow to cool, then refrigerate overnight, and slice into bars. Taste to see if it needs some more salt sprinkled over – these ingredients really benefit from it.

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Should you wish to use different nuts (walnuts would be excellent here I think) or different chocolate or add other textural elements altogether – perhaps chopped dried apricots, or smashed up pretzels, or dried cranberries, or chopped crystalised ginger – you just go with precisely the amount of creativity that the intersection between what you want and what you can afford allows you to act upon, too.

And if you’re on a specific chocolate buzz, may I also recommend such recipes as Salted Chocolate Cashew Butter Slice, or Homemade Bounty Bars.

title from: Death by Chocolate from Sia’s fourth album Some People Have Real Problems, absolute years before her mainstream breakthrough. This song is just gorgeous, melancholy with these occasional major key bursts, with real classic torch song vibes to it and a stunning coda that I almost wish was its own song, it’s so lovely.

music lately:

Nina Simone, Children Go Where I Send You. This style of song is known as cumulative and there’s something so weirdly thrilling about the way it builds and expands with each verse. Obviously Ms Simone is an absolute master of interpreting a song and making it the best, most joyful thing you’ve ever heard in your life. However! I also strenuously recommend Johnny Cash’s version with June Carter Cash (and the casually fulsome snarl in her vocals) and family, Carl Perkins, and the Statler Brothers on backing, it’s so earnestly rollicking and you’re like how does it keep going up a notch each verse? Was there ever even a more exciting song than this to be sung? I’ve literally listened to both versions of this song every day for the last week and would be happy to continue on in this manner for the actual rest of my life.

The Pharcyde, Drop. The incredible video has this almost queasy surreal vibe from the backwards-forwards Spike Jonze direction but even without the slightest hint of visuals this song is so so good, mellow and soft but just slightly sinister with amazing lyricism. You should definitely watch the video though.

Next time: I genuinely just want to make absolute bathtubs full of the corn butter from last time, but will attempt to look further afield for all of our sakes.

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