yesterday I woke up sucking on a lemon

 

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If you thought my Old Fashioned Lemonade recipe a few weeks ago used up the bulk of the lemon supply then you are deeply mistaken; I live in the countryside now and lemons are like, how we communicate. If you shake someone’s hand and there’s not a lemon that has been furtively passed from person to person via that handshake it’s tantamount to a slap in the face. If you wake up and there’s not a bushel of lemons anonymously placed in your letterbox then you might as well move to a new province. People will give you lemons soon as look at you. People will give you lemons and then you’ll give those lemons back to the giver in the form of lemonade. I’m exaggerating for comic effect, but only slightly. Am I exaggerating about how slightly I’m exaggerating though? Slightly.

Anyway, when mum mentioned that it might be nice to have something baked for a quickly-pending afternoon tea drop-in; I was like right, that sounds like my idea of fun, but what: it has to be something reliable, delicious, and that uses existing abundant resources since there’s no shops nearby to get ingredients from. Naturally: the answer was lemons. To be specific, this lemon syrup cake, which is wonderfully delicious and impressively big, mixes together in five seconds, and can be served still-warm from the oven to your arriving guests – although given time to cool its flavour and texture is even better.

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This recipe is adapted from one I blogged about seven years ago; that recipe was adapted from one I found on a site that appears to no longer exist; so while today’s cake is basically my own I had some help getting there, I’m just not sure who from anymore. Since I first blogged about it in 2011 I’ve made numerous versions of it and have found it to be a most versatile and resilient cake – it can adapt to any tin shape or size, lasts for days and everyone always loves it. And it happens to be vegan, which like is not necessarily something I need to announce at this point aside from the fact that my Google SEO is already so woeful, so let me just be clear, person to algorithm: this is a vegan lemon syrup cake.

My aim with this iteration was to make a traditional style iced/lemon drizzle cake, but I was thwarted by the whole lack of proximity to shops thing: we only had a bare amount of icing sugar left, so I had to switch tactics and make a syrup instead. In the end I think it worked out for the best, because we could eat the cake right away and the syrup made everything stickily luscious, and once cooled the sugar granules formed a wonderful crunchy carapace on the cake’s surface.

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Vegan Lemon Syrup Cake

A recipe by myself

  • 1 x 400g can coconut cream (or coconut milk if it’s all you can find)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup plain oil
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • the zest of one lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Syrup

  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons icing sugar
  • zest of a lemon, to garnish

Set your oven to 180C/350F, lightly grease a 22cm springform cake tin and line the base with baking paper.

Whisk together the coconut cream, sugar, lemon juice and zest, oil and vanilla till combined. Sieve in the remaining ingredients and stir briskly to form a thick batter.

Spatula the batter into the caketin and bake for around 1 hour although you might need longer – I found this took precisely one hour and 5 minutes and I covered it loosely with tinfoil from around 50 minutes in to make sure the top didn’t brown too much.

To make the syrup, bring the lemon juice and sugars to a good robust simmer in a small pan, stirring constantly, then remove from the heat.

Remove the cake from the tin and transfer to a serving plate. Stab the cake with a skewer in several places and spoon over the syrup (you may not require all of it.) Sprinkle over the second lot of lemon zest. Ideally allow the cake to cool completely before serving, but it is good warm – just be aware that if you do it might get a bit crumbly/fragile, so proceed with caution. Once it’s cooled it becomes a lot more solid.

Although there’s an entire can of coconut cream in the cake the flavour is barely discernible, it’s just a lemon hegemony from first slice to last. However, you could point up this aspect by stirring through a cup or so of shredded coconut into the batter before baking; there are also any number of other directions you could take this in: lemongrass in the syrup, blueberries in the batter, different citrus juice – although if you’re using orange juice on its own I’d add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar just to make sure the necessary acid content is present. If you have any food-grade citrus essential oils a drop of one or two of them in the syrup once it’s removed from the heat is a very good idea; you could also let the cake cool completely and pour over the lemon icing that I never managed to make. Finally, leftover slices are great heated up and served with ice cream, tasting comfortingly like a steamed pudding.

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Lemons!

Now that I have your attention; allow me to take you on a brief tour of where you can find me on the internet other than here: upon gloomily discovering that Campari isn’t vegan I wrote about some different options for fans of the classic Negroni cocktail for Tenderly; I also for Tenderly tried making the best mac and cheese that I could conceive of motivated entirely by the tweet of a celebrity. I also wrote a piece that I’m very proud of about Catherine O’Hara’s singular performance as Moira Rose on Schitt’s Creek for The Spinoff. Finally, I wrote a blog post about caramel walnut slice for my Patreon subscribers; if you wish to access it you can do so for one literal dollar, doing so will also directly support me and my writing.

title from:

Everything In Its Right Place by Radiohead, from their 2000 album Kid A which is my absolute favourite of theirs but also, I freely admit, the last new album of theirs that I’ve actually listened to. This song is amazing, somehow foreboding yet feeling like the sun rising at the same time.

music lately:

Young Ones Everywhere by Stephanie, as in, Princess Stephanie of Monaco, daughter of Grace Kelly. Turns out she was a singer for a while in the 80s and while I’m not sure if she’s the most technically gifted vocalist, her music is GREAT, like, with a dusting of highlighter this song – coldly synthy and vaguely yearning despite its fairly pointless lyrics – could literally be Carly Rae Jepsen.

Change The Beat, by Fab Five Freddy, and its famous b-side, both equally magnetic with languid French rapping over a lush, lush beat.

Give It To Me, Miya Folick. My dear friend Kate recommended this to me and it’s…perfect. Emotional in a combative way, sorrowful in a wild-eyed way.

Next time: I’m really keen on making my own seitan but can’t seem to find a definitive through line in the recipes I’ve seen online, so if anyone can recommend me one I would be most appreciative!

if you want a banana republic that much why don’t you go move to one

Before I get further into anything I extremely invite you to read Protect Ihumātao’s website to learn about the incredibly important occupation of the land happening right now; if you are feeling unfamiliar, this story by Leonie Hayden from 2017 for NZ Geographic is excellent for further background and context to this ongoing journey. There is also an ActionStation page where you can donate to the cause. Ngā mihi nui!

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Nigella Lawson often, when questioned, says that greed is her chief inspiration for recipe creation. I’m sure I must’ve been asked this at some point around the time my first cookbook came out, but these days I’m more at the daydreaming-potential-answers-to-future-interviews stage of renown, which is like, literally fine, although I wish I could apply my perpetual preparedness to be interviewed to being prepared in even one other aspect of my life. Anyway, if someone were to ask me, I completely agree with Nigella on the greed front, I just think of what I want to eat and then I make that a recipe. My secondary inspiration is probably that if someone on a TV show or movie that I’m watching mentions a food enough times I will get it in my head that I want to make it; but also significantly, I often derive inspiration from seeing people I am friendly with tweeting about food and being like “this is my BUSINESS,” such as the vegan carne adovada that I made earlier this year after seeing such a tweet.

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A few days ago my good friend Jen tweeted asking what the best vegan banana bread recipe was and I was like wow, I don’t know how to answer that, and I feel like I should, so I’m going to do something about it. (I’m only just realising now that I didn’t actually look at any of the recipes linked in other replies to her tweet, I instead just assumed I was the person to provide the definitive recipe and in turn response to her question. Upon reflection I guess I remain unchanged on that opinion?) The difference between a banana cake and banana bread is pretty much lost on me – aside from banana bread being made in a loaf tin – but if pressed for an answer – in an interview situation, perhaps – I would assert that it’s generally a little denser than the cake version and I wouldn’t expect it to be iced.

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This recipe has a fairly traditional-baked-good vibe to it, which is what I wanted – no dates masquerading as sugar content here, just actual sugar. No disrespect, but sometimes vegan baking recipes feel like they’re being blackmailed by a company that sells dates, you know what I mean? It’s light and moist but also firm with a springy crumb, and easily sliced into thick slabs – which are perfect alongside a cup of tea. You could consider folding in a couple of handfuls of walnuts or dark chocolate pieces, or the zest of a lemon, but I love it just as it is, with the sweetness of the bananas offset by the warmth of cinnamon.

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Banana Bread

A recipe by myself

  • 3 medium bananas (roughly 1 1/2 cups chopped banana)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons soy milk
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons rice bran oil or similar plain oil
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup (or maple syrup, or similar)
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt

Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a loaf tin with baking paper. By which I mean just shove a large rectangle of baking paper in there as best you can.

Place the bananas in a large mixing bowl and mash them thoroughly with a fork or wooden spoon or whatever. Mix in the sugar, milk, vinegar, vanilla, oil, and golden syrup. Sieve the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon into the bowl, and then gently fold it all together. Spatula all this into the loaf tin, and bake for around 50 minutes, or until a knife or skewer inserted in comes out clean.

Note: the first time I made this I only used 1/2 a teaspoon of cinnamon, the second time round I put in heaps more and I think it tasted better for it but obviously your own feelings around cinnamon are perfectly welcome to override mine if you make this yourself.

I guess only future history books will tell us if this is indeed a definitive banana bread recipe but till then I am definitively delighted with it, which is hopefully enough of a push for you to make it too. It’s very easy, just a one-bowl affair, and it keeps well. If you don’t like bananas I can’t help you there but you should know that this isn’t overwhelmingly banana-y, just comfortingly delicious.

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Speaking of comfortingly delicious, if you wish to support me and my writing directly it’s very easy and minimal-exertion-y to do so through my Patreon account, where your assiduousness will be rewarded with content written just for you.

title from: Stars and Stripes of Corruption by Dead Kennedys, this is an uncharacteristically long but nevertheless excellent song of theirs which ducks and dives through time signatures with lyrics which – sorry for being super obvious – are still timely.

music lately:

You Don’t Have to Cry by Emma Ruth Rundle, from her album On Dark Horses. I actually started listening to her music because Minka, who also inspired the vegan carne adovada, tweeted about it, and I am the highly suggestible type! I’m so happy I am though, this album is stunning, intense and metallic and hard and soft all at the same time, I love it. You Don’t Have to Cry is the final song on the album and it’s just lush, the sort of song you should hear while lying on the floor of a barn or in a car as the sun sets right in your eyes.

Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man, by Oscar-winning actress and singer Miyoshi Umeki. This is from her 1956 album Miyoshi Sings to Arthur Godfrey which features American standards and torch songs, sung in a mixture of Japanese and English in her gorgeous warm voice, including this truly beautiful interpretation of the Kern/Hammerstein classic.

Next time: I ordered myself Rachel Ama’s cookbook as a present to myself for reasons I will work out later – perhaps if asked during an interview context – and can’t wait to explore it. I imagine you’ll be seeing recipes from it on here before very long.

lost your love of life, too much apple pie

vegan apple tart

You might be the sort of morally upright person who enjoys a job well done, but I personally subscribe to the singular pleasure of the illusion of a job well done, where you’ve put in hardly any effort and yet the results yielded appear to be drawn from a time of great toil. This recipe is one such exemplary example of this genre, there’s just nothing to it, but fresh from the oven it precisely resembles the kind of confection that the lead in a romantic comedy, perhaps played by Kristin Wiig or Mila Kunis, would make in her job as a very part-time pastry chef who lives in an spacious, light-filled loft apartment in Manhattan.

Admittedly, I made this and then immediately ate the entire thing myself so the window of impressing other people with my no-effort-effort was quickly slammed shut but I’m going to assume that all of you are impressed while reading this at least.

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I’m in Wellington for a few more days, and have reached the point of my itinerary where I’m still staying at Kate and Jason’s house but they’ve gone away on a trip for a while, which is how I found myself looking at an apple that had hitherto belonged to them and being like, “I’d really better put this to use.” I don’t know if you get like this when you’re staying in someone’s house while they’re not there but it’s like a strange lawless urgency, like, should I drink all their shampoo and conditioner before it expires? Will they expect to have flour when they get home? Do all their cushions now belong to me?

In case your respectful awe at my apple tart making has turned to concern, like, I’ve literally only used this one apple, everyone’s belongings are intact, I’m just being farcical. (Although I do also literally think this every time I step foot into someone’s property.) (I just don’t generally act upon it.)

vegan apple tart

I already had some pastry sheets in the freezer from making some olive and almond pinwheels for book group last week and so it seemed prudent to put the remainder to use. My recipe takes direct inspiration from one of Nigella’s in her 2007 book Nigella Express, and it’s as delicious as it is un-stressful to make, as is to be expected from something of her provenance. It’s somehow sturdily old-fashioned yet daintily elegant at the same time, and there’s a pleasing delicacy to the whole proceeding, from the light, fluttery pastry to the gently sweetened, almost translucently thin apples, which retain both their shape and just the slightest, merest hint of sour bite. If you wish to emphasise this you could strew over some finely milled lemon zest, if you want to make it sweeter by all means add more sugar, but I like it just as it is.

vegan apple tart

Easy Apple Tart

Based loosely on a recipe of Nigella Lawson’s from her book Nigella Express

  • 1 sheet ready-rolled flaky puff pastry (check the ingredients to make sure it’s vegan, if you want to make sure it’s vegan)
  • 1 large red apple (or green or whatever, the one I found was red, is all)
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup (or maple syrup, or similar)
  • 2 teaspoons cornflour
  • 1 teaspoon cold water
  • small pinch of salt

Set your oven to 200C/400F and take your sheet of pastry out of the freezer to thaw a little if that’s where you’ve been keeping it.

Slice two cheeks off the sides of the apple and then, as thinly as you can, slice them into half moons. Continue with the rest of the apple.

Using the point of your knife, score a border one inch or so in from the edges of the sheet of pastry, by which I mean, run the knife along the pastry so there’s a partial incision but don’t cut all the way through. This will allow the border to puff up, and no, I have no idea how it works.

Arrange the slices of apple in overlapping layers in the centre square of the pastry, avoiding crossing the border that you’ve cut in. Mix the golden syrup, cornflour, water and salt in a small bowl and drizzle it over the apple slices.

Carefully slide this onto a baking tray lined with a sheet of baking paper – or better yet, move the pastry to the baking tray before you arrange the apples on it.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the apples are golden and the border of the pastry sheet is puffed and risen. Allow to sit for five or so minutes then cut into squares.

vegan apple tart

I feel duty-bound to draw your attention to the serendipitous vegan-ness of a lot of frozen puff pastry, but also wearily acknowledge that it often substitutes palm oil for butter, and like, on the one hand there’s only so many things you can be self-flagellating about at once in regards to late capitalism (believe me, I’ve tried), but on the other hand…actually I don’t think I have a counterpoint, but I do think I’ll be googling homemade vegan puff pastry recipes.

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It’s Ariel’s time to shine! (By which I mean, studiously ignore me, but it’s a gentle disregard unlike my parents’ cats who sit in the corner looking like cartoon villains plotting dragon-related revenge against any number of perceived slights, and so, it feels like love.)

My Patreon patrons will have known this for a minute now, but let me tell those of you who aren’t yet aware: an exciting opportunity has befallen me. In July, a new online vegan magazine will be launching from the US, via Medium.com, called Tenderly, and I will be a regular contributor to them! Do you know how specifically wild it is to have a paid writing opportunity at all and to have that writing be about a subject I am genuinely into? It’s wild!

So, you better believe there are going to be some changes around here! The quantity of content I’ll be writing for Tenderly means I will be gently receding my content on here, just like, super slightly, so that my brain doesn’t dissolve into a nourishing yet highly un-vegan broth. But then, once a month, I will be putting a blog post very much like this one on my Patreon for subscribers only to read. The good news is that if you want in, this will be available for just a dollar per month, and if you don’t want in, there will still be other blog posts for you here on hungryandfrozen.com, and the really good news is that if you want to spend more than that, well I can totally accommodate you there too.

You know that scene in The Simpsons when the teachers are on strike and Vice Superintendent Leopold busts into Bart’s classroom and he’s like “all right, you listen up, you little freaks! The fun stops here, you’re going to shut your stinking traps and behave, damn it! This is one substitute you’re not going to screw with!” and then Marge Simpson comes in radiating absolute niceness? That’s kind of my vibe with all this. It may sound like a wild door-kicking change but I’ll still just be right here, being nice. I’ll just also be writing more for Patreon (probably with appalling titles like “all in all you’re just another brick in the paywall,” some things never change.)

title from: Kennedy by The Wedding Present, a rollicking song with fabulous drums and vocals that suggest peevish gargling, by which I mean, I like it a lot.

music lately:

Sunshine On A Rainy Day by Naomi Campbell, who released an album in 1994, because why not, who would possibly stand in her way? It’s majorly patchy, and yet so endearing as a whole, it just sounds exactly how it should, it sounds how all albums like this wish they could. This song, a cover of Zoe’s 1990 hit, is a massive standout, with Campbell’s vocals so amazingly present and confident, and there’s something incredibly comforting about that 90s sound, combining gospel choirs and shuffling trip-hop beats and broad yet vague spirituality.

Whatever Lola Wants by Gwen Verdon from the musical Damn Yankees. The song itself is very old-fashioned – though oddly appealing – but she just completely embodies her husband and longtime collaborator Bob Fosse’s choreography in this. Even though the number is ostensibly a striptease, her character is a seductress for the devil who traded her soul for eternal youth so it’s supposed to be funny and disarming and Verdon, whose body moves like liquid, seems more like a cartoon than a real person – her movements are so precise yet so disjointed and so weird yet so purposeful – and notice how much of this is done in one take.

Next time: I’m in Wellington a bit longer but will be back at my parents’ place by the end of the week, so it’s anyone’s guess as to whether it will be town cat or country cat in the background of the photos.

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.