and the story’s brand new, i can take it from here, i can find my own bravado

My friends and I would sometimes joke about the exaggerated length we’d go to in avoiding compliments. “Nice dress!” someone would say. “Oh this? I found it in a ditch somewhere. It’s covered in spaghetti”, we’d reply. “Love your hair today!” says a colleage. “Oh god, I’m so sweaty!” I inevitably and truthfully insist. And amidst a world that currently appears to be doing little more than kickflipping into a pile of garbage on a daily basis, I feel like something of a dingus implying that my blog having a fresh look is an event. Oh this new site? I found it down the back of the washing machine, covered in lint. A small rat was guarding it. I gained the rat’s trust. We are to have an Autumn wedding. It’s nothing really. I’m so sweaty. 

But it is exciting! Come October I’ll have been nine years in the damn food blogging game. I have learned and unlearned things along the way, I’ve had a cookbook published, I’ve moved house and across the spectrum a million times, I haven’t got any worse at photography, and I am ready for my blog to have a new pair of pants. I’ll always be fond of my previous and truly stupid header image, of Noilly Prat jostling for position on the shelf above the stove with a can of Double Brown beer, (made by screenshotting a photo, sticking it in Microsoft Word, typing over it and then screenshotting that) but I want something new and pretty – something that still contains elements of my goofy self but thrusts the photos in your face, has text that’s deliciously easy to read, and – sorry Blogspot, it’s me, not you – is more elegant and intuitive for me to use. So here I am!

As a full-time bartender I don’t have all the time in the world to cook, so when I have a new idea for a recipe, I need it to work first time round, otherwise like, that’s my cooking window for the week dashed, ya know? It’s happened before (most recently, involving dropping a spoon into boiling sugar and burning my arm) but I had a good feeling about this idea: what if I make crispy orange beef, the kind you might get at a Chinese restaurant, but using Fanta in the sauce? I was inspired by this when drinking Fanta while at Mrs Kim’s Korean restaurant down the road; the walls are bright orange so it was rather like being in a sensory deprivation tank where the theme was Fizzy Drink Propaganda. 

Anyway not only did this idea merely work, I feel confident that it’s one of the best things I’ve ever made or eaten or thought up ever in my entire history of having ideas. The beef is almost laughably crispy, and the sauce is remarkably balanced in flavour – aggressively salty, with sesame depth and the sweet, intense orange flavour of Fanta. The Fanta is indeed the secret ingredient but the secondary secret ingredient is the tapioca starch – it gives the sauce a syrupy, thick, almost gluey texture which is entirely desirable here. It also fries up with a quickness to form, as I’ve said, a fabulously crunchy crust on the strips of beef. The Fanta itself acts as the sugar component of the sauce as well as the flavouring, and the cartoonish orange tang is honestly perfect.  I’ve named it 211 Orange Beef after the E-number present in Fanta – so as well as giving you protein this dish will also give you the hyperactivity you need to get through a busy day! 

211 orange beef

a recipe by myself. 

  • 125ml/half a cup of fanta
  • 400g sliced steak, usually labelled as for stir-fry – otherwise if it’s cheaper, slice your own
  • three tablespoons tapioca starch
  • three tablespoons soy sauce (or Tamari, to make it gluten free)
  • one tablespoon sesame oil
  • three cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • plain oil for frying, I used rice bran
  • one spring onion, for garnish

Sprinkle the soy sauce over the beef, and then toss the strips of beef in two tablespoons of the tapioca starch. With pathological attention to cutting down on things I have to clean up, I did this by pouring the soy sauce directly onto the beef in the styrofoam tray it came packaged in, and then tipped it into the plastic grocery bag that I carried it home in with the tapioca starch and shook it a few times to coat the beef. It sounds stupid but as well as cutting down on several bowls to wash, it was also incredibly effective. 

Put the bag of starch-dusted beef in the fridge while you make the sauce. This is very straightforward – place the roughly chopped garlic, remaining two tablespoons of soy sauce, remaining tablespoon of tapioca starch, sesame oil and fanta in a large pan and heat gently, stirring often. It will look very nothing-y, but as soon as it starts to come to the boil it will spring to life, forming a thick, dark, syrupy sauce as you stir. Immediately remove it from the heat and spatula it into a bowl, or better yet, into the dish you plan to serve the beef in. 

Give the pan a quick wash and dry and then heat up a few tablespoons of the oil. Fry the beef strips a small quantity at a time – this will not take long. Turn them over frequently till the starch has turned crisp and golden and any red meat has been browned. That said, this is beef: you can’t really undercook it. 

As soon as the strips of beef are cooked, transfer them to the bowl of sauce and fry the next lot of beef, continuing like this – frying and transferring into the sauce – until it’s all done. Slice up some spring onions and sprinkle them across the top of the serving bowl and eat with the rest of the fanta alongside. 

Ostensibly this should serve two, especially if you make some rice to serve it over, but I ate the lot in bed in about four minutes. 

I’ve still got a lot to work out here – it was a painstaking process just transferring everything over (importing nine years of content took like seven minutes, but trying to work out how to get the domain name over here took, without a word of a lie, about seven hours nonstop and increasingly tearful work) and I am slowly working on the recipe index, which is already looking super beautiful. It’s all pretty exciting. Anyway I could go on and on but I just wanna press publish on this damn thing and present it to the world, holding it aloft to the sky like Rafiki holding up baby Simba at the start of Lion King, or like a rugby player gently grabbing another rugby player by the butt and lifting them closer to the warm sunlight during a lineout. Because then I can relax back into my usual heavily unrelaxed state. So: welcome to the new-ish! As Waldo Lydecker said in the 1944 noir film Laura, which I only watched because it had my name in the title but it turns out it’s really good – “It’s lavish, but I call it home”.

title from: the greatest living New Zealander, Lorde, and her highly rad song Bravado

music lately: 

Spiller feat Sophie Ellis Bextor, Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love) what a jam from a time we can never get back, the year 2000. This song is so dreamy, as is SEB’s face and plummy voice.

Panic! At the Disco, Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time. They’re back and as reassuringly hysterical as ever and I love it. 

next time: well I made this organic cocoa and olive oil sorbet but I haven’t tasted it yet. I am obviously hoping it doesn’t suck; if this is the case you’ll probably see it here. 

no more flipping burgers putting on my silly hat you know I don’t want that no more

Sunday morning saw a hitherto unprecedented event: I willingly went to watch the rugby world cup finals*. I have spent my whole life hating rugby as some kind of praxis and indeed pretty much all sports except rhythmic gymnastics (so many cool flips! My brief childhood obsession with Nadia Comaneci!) This stemmed from two things: being forced to do sport all the time throughout my school years, and also it’s boring to me and I suck at it and don’t want anything to do with it. As my school days grew further into the distance behind me I softened my righteous stance and basically settled upon the attitude of, well, sports is fine for other people and I’m happy for them to do it, I just don’t want to have it rubbed in my face. Anyway, all of this is to say that I ended up willingly watching the rugby with a billion people from work and it was SO FUN and we WON and I don’t really fancy being in front of sports again for a good long time but I’m glad I went. My smart girlfriend explained it to me in a way that made me finally care: that people feel about sports teams the way I feel about will-they-won’t-they couples on TV. Will they achieve the thing? Oh my god the delicious tension! Oh no here comes an interloper to ruin everything! Wait, last minute scramble, victory just out of reach! And then it’s either all, oh my gosh they finally kissed I’m so elated; or oh my gosh we lost the game and now we are the noble underdogs until the next episode. 
It was fun because I was surrounded by lots of people whom I love and bouncing off their energy; because there was lots of running and leaping and getting-of-tries during the game as opposed to those ones where they just constantly regroup and blow the whistle and stand around looking agitated; because it was fun to objectify all these burly men lifting each other towards the sun and leaping on top of each other; because it was 5am and I was slightly delirious; and because it was just so nice that we won. The opposing team was Australia, and I feel as a nation Australia is so breezily good at so many things whereas we really only have rugby in terms of things deemed important, so they can totally take this on the chin. So yes, I freely admit that I’ve gone from Rugby: Not Even Once, to Rugby: Once, Even. 
All of which is to bury the lede; because obviously the most important thing here is that I made myself an avocado-stuffed burger today. I found the recipe on some website for paleo or something and was like, this seems outlandish and unnecessary, and therefore I must make it. Having ordered and received a bountiful influx of avocados from I found myself in the unusual situation of having more than I know what to do with – normally a ripe avocado is a precious jewel to be hyperventilated over before finally opening it up and realising that you’ve left it too long and it’s now overripe and you are destined for misery, only misery. 

I miraculously had more or less enough ingredients to cobble together a respectable burger (aside from the fact that I had to use a bagel instead of an actual bun, but I welcome any opportunity to remind myself of Sandy Cohen’s greatness.) It was all marvelously easy and fast to throw together, although in the spirit of rigorous honesty: I feel like putting the remaining avocado mix on top of the burger kind of defeated the purpose of hiding it inside the burger as well, I mean, it was delicious, but it was also just layers of meat and avocado everywhere. Also, I’d throw some more stuff in: I’m thinking a smattering of cinnamon and salt in the meat, and maybe a spoonful of pesto or something in the avocado mix – it can certainly handle a lot of flavours and textures being thrown at it. But as is, it was very wonderful, with juicy, craggily seared meat giving way to soft, creamy avocado. 

avocado stuffed burgers

a recipe adapted from this recipe

one charmingly ripe avocado
about one teaspoon of lemon juice
a little hot sauce of some persuasion
any other condiments that you fancy
around 250g – 300g minced beef
liquid smoke (optional)
butter for frying
burger buns and other fillings – mayo, lettuce, cheese, etc

Scoop the avocado flesh into a bowl and mash it with a fork, adding the salt, lemon juice, and a dash of hot sauce. Add a little liquid smoke to the mince if you like, and then divide the mince into four equal balls. Using your hands, shape two of them into circles, a little flatter than you normally would for burgers, as you’re going to be clamping them together as one soon. Spoon some avocado mixture into the centre of one, and lay the second circle over the top. Gently pinch the edges together – it should all sort of wodge into itself easily enough. Repeat with the remaining mince.

Heat some butter – 20g or so – in a small pan. I like to put the burger in the pan as it’s warming up, just to let it gently cook through a bit, and then flip it over once it’s sizzling so it gets a seared, browned crust, and then finally flip it over again to further brown the first side. But like, just fry them till they look done, okay. 

Layer them up on your burger buns with lettuce, cheese, mayo, more avocado, and whatever other sauces and spreads and bits and pieces you fancy. 

I uh, also feel like I’ve said the word avocado so many times now that it has lost all meaning and substance. Especially because I can’t help but pronounce them like Kristin Wiig does in The Californians sketch from SNL (it’s like…”ava-kya-duhs”.) But it’s worth taking a minute to collect yourself and then make this recipe because it is, like all recipes I put forth to you, so so super good.

*I uh, also acknowledge that in 2003 I was infatuated with Doug Howlett (first of all, it was 2003, what else was there to do? Also, he was beautiful) however the All Blacks really didn’t do very well and didn’t end up making it to the finals, which I subsequently did not watch.
title from: Reel Big Fish, Sell Out. Oh what, like you didn’t have a ska phase? 
music lately: 

Kate Nash, We Get On. The whole Made of Bricks album is bonkers and spectacular and this song always makes me the very, very flailiest.

Justin Bieber, Sorry. Okay first of all this song is amazing, and if you refuse to listen to it simply because it’s by Bieber then you’re so boring. But also he released a dance video choreographed and directed by Parris Goebel from New Zealand and while the team of girls dancing all carefree and happy would be cool enough on its own, it adds a certain piquancy – maybe even patriotism – knowing that they’re all from here. And honestly the song is so good.

Drake, Hotline Bling. I mean, obviously the video is incredibly special. But I’ve heard this easily seven thousand times since it was released and still it calls to me. Oh, Drake!
next time: I mean, I still have a zillion avocados. Ava-kya-duh. Oh no. 

i’d have the cheek to say they’re equally as bleak

slow cooked beef cheeks with cinnamon and kumara
I have achieved a lot this week, which I’m very proud of, because – as I’ll tell you soon as see you – I’m really only awake and functioning for around 90 minutes a day when I’m not at work. None of this changes the fact though, that I’m honestly a bit sad about one thing that I can’t achieve my way out of, whether or not I’m awake or asleep or thriving or unthriving: Wednesday the cat has gone. Gone to live at the Cat’s Protection League, so she will be a league-protected cat, but it’s so sad to not have her stupid wee half-moustached face and crooked broken little tail around. What happened was, the flatmate who was catsitting her had to move out to be nearer to her job (which is also a major bummer since she’s lovely) and couldn’t keep her, and the rest of us remaining were unable to keep Wednesday so the only real solution was to send her off. If I was around more or was not the sole person responsible I’d adopt ten million cats but I’m just not at home enough to give a cat the attention it needs (and then entirely ignores) so…that’s that. 
However, having Wednesday around for just one happy month was wonderful, so let’s cue a montage: 
holding paws



my favourite look: business cat
Better to have loved and lost than never to have had a cat at all, right? Again, I know this might sound all overwrought (and if there is a thing to be wrought, I’m first in line to do it overly) but Wednesday appeared just when I was reaching the zenith of my climb up Cat-Longing Mountain and the utter blanketing joy of suddenly having a soft little animal around was just just just so lovely.   
Anyway! Life goes on and luckily there will be other cats out there for me and also I have dear friends close by who own animals of varying degrees of willingness to be snuggled, so yeah. This may sound all very stupid and self-indulgently whiny but do you even know how I feel about cats? I FEEL.

*Goodbye To You by Michelle Branch playing on a constant loop* 
Speaking of things that are good to have in bed in the middle of this snappishly cold weather; I recently made my first proper slow-cooked casserole thing of the Winter (it’s not even technically Winter yet but Wellington cares not for your seasonal timelines.) Whilst sleepily wandering around Moore Wilson one morning I saw that beef cheeks were incredibly well priced – like, $5! – and I grabbed some, surmising that the time had come for me to get back into cooking such things. I’d never cooked using beef cheeks before but figured there couldn’t be much to it, and about this I was highly correct.  

Seriously, the only stressful thing about cooking this is that you need a lot of time. But during that time the house smells so completely incredible, that you can zone out and come to and feel like you’ve wandered into some enchantingly bucolic French bistro when in fact you’re just sitting in your Newtown kitchen playing idly on your phone while wearing tights that have holes in places that are, shall we say, not amenable to being public-facing, and a stained hoodie that you slept in and haven’t changed out of yet. So yeah, it takes time, but look at it this way, this is a recipe that you can achieve things to: put it in the oven and then get on your laptop and write, or tidy your room, or do whatever it is that you ought to be doing, and then you are rewarded with a mouth-quiveringly good feed.

I based this recipe on a few things that I found online, purposefully going with a recipe that doesn’t use any alcohol, despite how enticing the thought of braising this meat in Pedro Ximenez or a bottle of red wine was. On my current budget I just can’t bring myself to the point of tipping a whole ton of wine into a pan, when I could be drinking it. It makes me feel all flinch-y. This recipe simply uses cinnamon – one of my very favourite scents and flavours – and stock, and lets the beef itself do the rest. Leaving any wine you might have to be poured straight into your mouth (or like, use a wine glass, you adorable heathen.)

slow-cooked beef cheeks with cinnamon 

serves two to four people, depending on appetite and what is served with. 

around 300g beef cheeks (or more, whatever) 
one onion
one good size orange kumara, or half a butternut squash
250ml beef stock (ideally from a carton, but use a cube if it’s all you’ve got for sure)
two cinnamon sticks

Set your oven to 150 C/300F. Slice the onion into thin half-moons and dice the kumara roughly. 

Heat an indescriminate amount of butter in a small frying pan (around a tablespoon is fine if you need someone to make this decision for you) and sear the beef cheeks on both sides, for around a minute each side, just to brown them. Once brown on both sides, remove from the pan and sit them in a medium-sized casserole or baking dish. Then, add a little more butter to the pan and gently fry the onion and kumara (you may need to do this in batches) until the onion is softened and the kumara is a little browned and crisped in places. Tip all this into the casserole dish on top of the beef. Finally, pour the beef stock into that same pan and allow it to come to the boil. Carefully pour this over the beef, onion and kumara, nestle the cinnamon sticks in amongst all that, cover with either a lid or tinfoil, and then place it in the oven. Leave for around three hours, and then serve, over rice or some kind of potato situation or simply with plenty of bread and butter. 

It seems almost impossible that a method so simple that you’re barely touching the food as you cook it, could taste so deeply delicious, but such is the joy of slow cooking. The meat was so tender I could literally slice into it with the edge of a spoon, and half-heartedly at that. There is a wonderful stickiness to this, from the gelatinously rich meat to the warmth of the cinnamon and the sweet, slightly scorched kumara. Actually I should mention now that beef cheeks have long been a very unfashionable cut of meat and are only really now coming into prominence – in the same way that lamb shanks did a few years back – but honestly they’re so, so good and fulsomely rich in flavour that they practically deserve to become overpriced restaurant food. Also, it’s all so arbitrary, right? I mean, rump steak is a fancy cut of beef but I mean, it’s the rump. You’re literally eating a cow’s butt?

On that note, I had it pointed out to me by some rakish wag (my dazzling girlfriend in fact) that if you say “beef cheeks” out loud it’s weirdly hilarious and uh, yeah, I agree. Beef cheeks! I don’t know, but giggles ensue! Immature of me, yes, but in my defence, I am very immature.

More sensibly, you should know that the leftovers of this are quite incredible heated up and stirred through hot pasta – ideally pappardelle for that hearty ragu vibe, but all I had was linguine and the meat, shredded roughly, with the pasta absorbing the gelatinous stock and some extra butter that I threw in because I’m incapable of doing anything else, was sublime. 
Despite living the catless life currently there is still SO much to look forward to: Pretty Little Liars, aka one of the most important TV shows in the Western canon; returns next week and so does the webseries of my heart, Carmilla. Also, next Monday morning (around 9.45am I believe?) I’ll be on Radio New Zealand talking to Jesse Mulligan about food, which should be rad as. I love being on the radio! And wherever Wednesday is, I love her too and am glad I got to meet her at all. 
*Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds plays on loop* (ps oh man thanks for bearing with me, ya girl is maudlin)
title from: Arctic Monkey’s moody Do Me A Favour. Those guys!
music lately: 
Walk Through The Fire, from the musical episode Once More With Feeling from Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Yes. I am at the stage with my Buffy-watching where I got up to the musical episode. Verdict: oh I don’t know, I think I want to/have to watch it like seventeen more times before I can properly calibrate my feelings on it (what I’m saying is I love it)
VCR, The XX – their music just makes me feel all warm and safe, it’s so dreamy and low-key. This is one of my very, very favourites of theirs. 
next time: I know it’s freezing but I made some rum’n’raisin ice cream the other day and it was honestly the nicest thing I’ve tasted in forever. So I ate it all. In one go. But I’m going to make it again and let it hang around long enough to take photos of this time! 

if you got beef, your problem, not mine

beef: got it
For a while there I was feeling some sizable angst about turning 29, partly because I was like, I’ve blatantly achieved nothing in my life and am an elderly loser (I know neither of these things are true but when you’re already prone to hyperbole it’s amazing the distance that your brain will take the existing hyperbole when you’re being down on yourself) and I also was like, I’m blatantly too old to achieve anything ever, am no longer an ingenue, am a giant snore in a trenchcoat and hat with a fake mustache on pretending to be human. (Again: the hyperbole! It really goes places, doesn’t it?) 
leftover birthday cake for breakfast

And then I reminded myself that Beyonce and Nicki Minaj are 33 and 32 respectively and have released the most fire music of their careers in the last couple of years, and that I have so much ahead of me and 29 is still really young and I should just drink some water and calm down a bit because the passage of time cannot be fought so you can either age yourself horribly by worrying about it or ignore it because it’s ultimately meaningless. I mean, Beyonce’s 2013 album is honestly life-changing, to put it casually. If she can do that at 32 with all her resources and brilliance, I can achieve something productive as a tired moderately broke but talented 29 year old.  
“Rosie, dear Rosie, there’s a rose in my heart for you” 
So yes, I had a birthday recently, and it was honestly quite perfect. My boundlessly marvellous girlfriend cooked me a Full English Breakfast with about seventeen different kinds of protein (including black pudding – seems somewhat gothically appropriate to start one’s birthday consuming literal blood) and we sybaritically clinked glasses of whisky to go with it. I dyed my hair purple, I had a beauteous dinner and follow-up drink with my very best friends Kim and Kate, and then said girlfriend and I went to the St James theatre (above) to see the musical Singin’ In The Rain, which I swankily yet utterly serendipitously had scored free tickets to. It was just wonderful and I urge you to see it if you have even a passing interest in musicals, old movies, tap dancing, and singing in and/or rain. The costumes were spectacular, the dancing was brilliant, the singing was on point – Gene Kelly casts an unfairly long shadow but the guy playing his role was ideal – and it was just so joyful. The night finished with cocktails and fries at my work and some general reflection on how completely good my birthday had been (and on how funny it was that I had reflexively replied “Happy birthday!” several times that day when someone had said “Happy birthday” to me.) 
sausages/beans/tomatoes/egg/mushrooms/black pudding/bacon/fried bread/whisky/hashtag blessed
Winding back to a couple of days before my birthday though, I made myself this Mediterranean-ish eggplant and beef dish. Since it was so simple and good I thought I might as well try to blog about it, and five million days later I’ve finally got around to it, with my usual efficiency and haste. 
this bowl makes everything look rustic and nice, thank you bowl 

It’s vaguely Mediterranean insofar as it includes some flavours of that (vast, varied, unable to be generalised and yet here I am) area, but since I just made it up based on what was in my pantry I hesitate to label it anything more specific than that. What I can confidently tell you is that it’s rich yet sharp, with spiky sour sumac and lemon zest lifting up the crisply fried, melting cubes of eggplant and tomato-y beef, with thick, creamy spoonfuls of Greek Yoghurt dropped here and there adding to that rich-sharp contrast. I love thyme so much, so that’s what I scattered over this, but oregano or mint would also be splendid in their own way. The only real change I’d make is using pine nuts instead of sesame seeds – they’re just a bit more exciting and lush – but as long as you have something nut-like there it’s all good really. If you can’t find sumac – a beautiful sour, lemony powder from sumac berries – then just add more lemon zest or simply leave it out. I mean, I love its flavour but probably the main thing you’d lose is the way it somehow ties the dish together visually and stops it looking like “beef that yoghurt got tipped on”.

fried eggplant and beef with sumac and greek yoghurt

a recipe by myself, serves two 

one large eggplant
one red onion
one garlic clove
300g beef mince
half a cup tomato passata/puree
one lemon
to serve: 
thick Greek yoghurt
sesame seeds
thyme leaves

Dice the eggplant, and fry in plenty of olive oil (around three tablespoons) in a large pan. Allow to get properly browned and crisp as much as possible before setting aside, and in the same pan, fry the onion, garlic and beef until everything is thoroughly browned and cooked through. 

Grate the zest from the lemon, then squeeze the lemon juice into the beef along with the tomato passata and allow to come to a brisk simmer. After about five minutes return the eggplant to the pan to heat through, then transfer it to a serving dish (or serve straight from the pan), finishing with spoonfuls of Greek yoghurt spooned over at random, a generous blanket of sumac (she says, not having intended to put that much on but got a shaky hand, so we’re going with it) a scattering of dried thyme and toasted sesame seeds. I also add plenty of salt. Because I love salt.  

The yoghurt I use is Zany Zeus which is so thick, thicker than sour cream – if all you have is runny, slightly chalky stuff then I would not personally go putting it on this, but you do you. I do maintain though, that it’s the intensely thick, satiny texture of the yoghurt which makes this. I really haven’t cooked meat in forever but in the last two weeks I made ribs (for my girlfriend’s birthday, which also fell in April) and now this. I can go weeks without eating meat, even though I do love it, but I’m glad I dazedly purchased this mince in an overtired haze and then even gladder that I worked out something so completely delightful to make with it. If you want to though, you could just double or triple the eggplant and leave out the beef, since the vegetable’s buttery softness and golden brown crispness after being vigorously fried is entirely enough joy for your tastebuds on its own.

go big or go home

My birthday didn’t stop when the clock struck midnight on the 17th though, as my flatmate and dear friend Charlotte and I had a joint birthday party the following night. (Her birthday is a week or so before mine.) There was dancing and punch and disco lights and a noise control notification (less fun! Unimpressed tbh! But uh, it happened) and cake and candy and a little tequila and so many good people and very importantly: I had an incredible yellow shaggy fluffy cardigan.

look the part be the part as I always say (the part here being someone with a super cool fluffy cardigan who is very happy with their birthday)

So now that I’ve had a wonderful birthday and spent some time in solemn pious meditation on the achievements of Nicki/Beyonce, I’m completely ready to enter my 29th year full of thrive and bliss. 
title from: Mary J Blige, Family Affair. This song is nearly 35 years old but still sounds fresher than toothpaste and is so upbeat and positive in a gloriously instructive way. Leave your situations at the door, so when you step inside jump on the floor…
music lately: 

Ben Folds Five, Army. Oh man has Ben Folds done some terrible music, but this song is incredible, one of those ones that I get stuck listening to on loop for hours. It’s got that perfect late 90s horn section going (I used to get it mixed up with Flagpole Sitta back in the days where you might hear your favourite song on the radio once every six weeks, so if you like that song you may well enjoy this.) Am a particular fan of the rollicking piano on this. 

Sia, Elastic Heart. This song is brutal and gorgeous and the dancing and storytelling in the video is utterly compelling. Thick skin and elastic heart, such imagery in those words! Oof. Also as one who would likely livetweet brushing their teeth if the notion took me, I admire Sia’s commitment to being mysterious and anonymous. 
next time: I bought some pears and kinda dig the idea of making Poires Belle Helene! (Vanilla poached pears with chocolate sauce. I mean.)

i had fifteen people telling me to move, i got moving on my mind

All of a sudden, this is the last blog post that I’ll be writing from my little apartment that I only just moved into. It’s a tiring thought, that I’m moving house again this Friday, but I’m also pretty chill about it. Well, relatively chill considering my usual lack of it. My tarot card for this month was all “look at the facts” and “don’t follow your feelings, follow the facts” and “hey: facts” and with that in mind it’s easy to look at this move as simply a practical thing that needs to happen and that is going to make things easier in the long run. Also, I absolutely cannot wait to live with my dear friends and their pet cat. Who will be kind of like my pet cat. I actually can’t quite comprehend that there’s going to be a cat around me all the time, it’s a dizzyingly exciting prospect for someone who has wanted nothing more than to just be in the presence of a cat regularly for sooo long. 
Also pleasing: the house I’m moving into has a lovely, lovely kitchen. I can’t wait to cook in it to take photos in it (no offense to my current apartment. We can’t all be photogenic.) 
 crispy eggplant: it’s super. 
So anyway, the last blog post from where I currently hang my hat is crispy eggplant and smoky beef tacos. I made them to impress a girl, but really the girl who I’m most concerned with impressing is myself, and luckily, I was personally way taken with these tacos. I should add, I call them tacos but it would be more accurate to call them “stuff in corn tortillas” since they’re not in the slightest bit traditionally Mexican, but yeah.
Honestly, the only bit of this recipe that I really care about imparting to you is the crispy eggplant, which I’m very proud of. It’s so crisp! So delicious! And the rest is mostly assembly. But I’ll give you the whole lot because, well, mostly because it sounds cooler and slightly more credible this way.  
crispy eggplant and smoky beef tacos

a recipe by myself. (Sorry that this recipe requires liquid smoke, which is a very specific ingredient, but it’ll still be delicious without it. Just not smoky. Surprise.) 

one large eggplant

a third of a cup of flour
quarter of a cup of cornmeal/polenta (ideally the coarse-ish stuff, not the super powdery stuff, but whatevs)
olive oil

200g steak, some kind of non-terrifyingly expensive cut 
one tablespoon olive oil
one teaspoon cumin seeds
a pinch of ground cinnamon
half a teaspoon liquid smoke

corn tortillas
50g feta (or more)
finely sliced cabbage, or green of your choice
sriracha or chilli sauce of some persuasion

Set your oven to 200 C/400 F. Drizzle some olive oil into a large baking dish, and mix the flour and cornmeal together on a plate. Dice the eggplant and toss it in the flour/cornmeal mix, so that all the cubes are finely dusted on all sides. Place the eggplant in a single layer in the baking dish, and drizzle with some more olive oil. Put it in the oven and leave it for around twenty minutes, until all the eggplant cubes are crisped and brown – it may take a little longer or a little less, depending on your oven.

Meanwhile, slice the steak into strips, and mix in a bowl with the olive oil, cumin seeds, cinnamon and liquid smoke. Fry briefly in a pan over a high heat till decently browned. Finally, either microwave the tortillas or sit them in the oven for a bit to warm through. Layer them up with cabbage, the smoky beef, the crispy eggplant, and a handful of feta, then drizzle with sriracha. Or do what you like, it’s just stuff in a tortilla, there’s no strict order to proceedings. 

The eggplant is the star here – each little square of it beautifully crispy and crunchy on the outside, blissfully melting and soft within. The beef is perfectly nice, but I’d happily have this with just the eggplant. Or in fact just a bowl of the eggplant itself. That said, the spicy, cumin-y meatiness of the steak is a delightful contrast, and feta just makes everything more fun. (Considering testing this theory by taking some feta to my next dentist appointment.) And there’s something sort of pleasing about food you can assemble according to your own sense of proportional decency, and then eat with your hands.

well, I was impressed by me. Although I’m both easily impressed and in possession of strong feelings about tacos.

As well as living with a cat (oh my gosh, living with a cat), I’ll also be significantly closer to this particular dingus. All that animal closeness and also friend closeness is most definitely going to be a worthy reward for the actually ridiculous amount of packing I still have left to do.

We both just heard Kim say “dinner!” She was saying it to Percy, my reaction was all Pavlov’s Dog. Or maybe Pavlov’s Dog’s Friend.

Oh hey guess what, I was on Radio New Zealand recently talking about a couple of recipes, it was highly fun, I love being on the radio so much. Which is weird because I tend to prefer to have an audience, but I guess just having peoples’ ears is also still gratifying. Anyway, feel free to listen to it, it’s only short! And excitingest of all, I had another Crush Cake story published on magnificent important website The Toast. It was for Lucy Liu, who is the ultimate queen of my heart, so it took forever and a ton of thought to write, but I’m proud of it.

Finally, I say this all the time, but forget ye not that if you want to get your hands on a copy of my cookbook, you can only do this by ordering it directly through me. It’s a reeeeally good time to buy a copy, since it will be one less thing for me to have to cart over to my new-house-to-be…but also it’s a good time to buy a copy because it’s a seriously wondrous cookbook. And I’m the author, so I would know.

title from: White Stripes, Hotel Yorba. This band is really important to me and this song is delightful.
music lately: 

Sky Ferreira, Everything Is Embarrassing. It really, really is. 

Lykke Li, I Follow Rivers. Such a perfect, moody, intense love song, I love it.

M.I.A XXXO. This song is underrated I feel, I love how it’s so oddly mournful sounding yet so upbeat at the same time, and the chorus fully reminds of The Real McCoy.
next time: New kitchen, new house, new Laura! 

is this the comfort of being afraid



I believe comfort food is subjective, and what brings solace to me might leave others completely unmoved. Also, all food is comforting in some way, really. But I do love curling up with a significant quantity of the food which warms my soul – generally anything yielding and hot and salty, like very buttery mashed potatoes, or spaghetti with lots of butter and nutmeg, or cheese on toast, or really creamy risotto. Or this thing: pasta, covered in sauce made from minced beef and canned tomatoes, covered in white sauce made with milk and cream, covered in cheese. (PS: I deleted this way enormous preamble about anxiety and the difference between comfort food we seek in times of crisis compared to just eating it because we feel like it and wow are you lucky I edited it out, it because it went on for miles.)

Something I got to thinking about recently is comfort food for the mind: feel-better, everything’s-going-to-be-alright pop culture. Food can only do so much, and sometimes you want to take your nervous brain and transport it somewhere else for a while. If your brain is processing something soothing while your stomach is eating something particularly heartwarming? So much the better. In that way that similarities occasionally cluster in your life to make it feel like you’re in a TV show with an overarching theme in each week’s episode, I’d ended up explaining on several different occasions why I loved a particular thing so much: because when I watched/listened/read etc it, it felt like everything was going to be okay. Since that’s not a feeling any of us can take for granted, I decided to investigate it further. (Weirdly, I also had FOUR separate occasions last week of getting frustrated at not being able to find something because it was written on paper rather than being in my inbox. Bet Ray Bradbury’s out there somewhere smugly nodding.)

Here’s my (whim-based, non-exhaustive, non-alphabetical) list of comfort food pop culture.

Pop Culture Happy Hour, the nicest, happiest, snappiest podcast I’ve ever, ever heard. And it’s about pop culture, which I evidently have a general thing for.

The Hour

– Nashville (Connie Britton’s mere existence is weirdly comforting, I don’t know how she does it.)

Parks and Recreation (I want to say “you don’t understand” but that’s unfair. It’s just that it’s possibly bordering on concerning how much this show means to me.)

NewsRadio (Caveat: Actor Phil Hartman was murdered between the fourth and fifth season and I cannot physically bring myself to watch anything past the penultimate episode of season four. Just can’t do it. Luckily the previous episodes all stand up to being rewatched a million times.)

– Maeve Binchy’s book Circle of Friends. (I’ve never been moved by anything else written by The Binch, but I reread this book every summer and couldn’t be happier while it’s happening.)

– Marty Robbins’ record Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs. Mmmhmm. Also more or less anything by the Rat Pack. Frankly, if it’s from a time where singers were likely to have praised the rich smooth tar of their cigarette company sponsors for keeping their crooning voices shipshape (lookin’ at you, Nat King Cole), I’ll probably be hugging myself while listening to it.

Wet Hot American Summer (Or as I call it, “Nothing bad can happen when Wet Hot American Summer is on.”)

The Big Chill (obvious choices are sometimes obvious for a reason)

– Audra McDonald singing more or less anything.

– Nina Simone singing more or less anything except the sinister Everyone’s Gone To The Moon

My Drunk Kitchen

Pride and Prejudice, the 1995 adaptation (Although Colin Firth’s smoldering and Jennifer Ehle’s heavily loaded politeness are almost too hot)

Much Ado About Nothing, the Kenneth Branagh adaptation (There was a point in my life where I was watching this…literally…daily. I may have also had a small notebook filled with my favourite quotes from it which I carried everywhere)

Side By Side By Susan Blackwell

– Baby-sitters Club books (I regret nothing)

– Leonard Cohen, the youthful-voice years.

– Wikipedia. Okay. I mean, it can be a little bleak (especially if you’re aimlessly searching along the lines of “whatever happened to…”) but there’s not much I love more than reading about the minutia of various TV shows or one-hit wonders or people’s lives or finding out how many towns are called Taft, or just looking up things like “kissing”.

There’ll be more that I haven’t mentioned, there’ll indubitably be things that look really good on paper that I’ve completely forgotten, but if you’re feeling all tense and twisty and in need of something to take your mind off bad things and zoom it to a land of delightful, I recommend all and any of the above. The list may look long, but it’s carefully chosen – it’s not just a case of something being really, really good. I predictably exult The Wire, I do not find it comforting. I am obsessed with many musicals, but listening to, say, Wicked or Grey Gardens will usually leave me more emotionally drained than at ease with life. No, to fall within the soft, inflatable bouncy castle walls of comforting pop culture it has to really make my heart kind of clench and release with happiness at the very thought of consuming it, and give you that rain-on-the-roof, snuggled in a blanket feeling that everything’s okay, even if the material itself isn’t that uplifting (I see you, Leonard Cohen.) (Admittedly, wikipedia is more what I read when I can’t sleep rather than like, a joyous occasion, but I stand by my inclusion.)

On Monday night I made this layered up, just-bordering-on lasagne dish for dinner and Tim and I ate it while sitting on the couch watching The Hour. Comfort food plus comfort pop culture? I nearly dissolved from contentedness. Even if it’s only a relatively quick fix, it’s a delicious one on all levels while it lasts. I’m not saying this recipe is particularly impressive, or even original – in the same way that various brands will assure you that one of their product is sold every seven seconds worldwide, I’m pretty sure recipes resembling this one are made every single night somewhere. But still, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time.

To clarify some things about the recipe: Yeah, I like my white sauce that buttery, although I can’t even tell anymore what is a reasonable amount of butter to the average person, since I eat so much of it. I didn’t specify any particular herbs because something about this reminded me of when I was first learning to cook, and adding any dried herbs at all – including those generic Dried Mixed Herbs packets – felt really knowledgeable and sophisticated. Plus, after a certain point on your shelf, most dried herbs start to lose their flavour anyway, so marjoram is just as friendly as basil or oregano or whatever. Finally, I really like adding a little cream or milk to a tomato-beef pasta sauce. It just rounds it out and lusciouses it up stops it just being a recently-frozen lump of mince and an ancient can of tomatoes.

Demi-lasagne (Aw c’mon, let me have that cute name. I know it’s still fairly inaccurate. But I hate any recipe that sounds like “pasta bake” and listing the main components fancy cafe-style – Pasta, Mince, Cheese Sauce – won’t do this any favours. And it is kinda lasagna-y.)

A recipe by myself. Serves two with leftovers for at least one lucky person the next day. The recipe looks long and complicated but it’s just me being talky, promise.

250g short pasta of some kind. Penne would look better in photos, but spirals is what I had.
1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
300g beef mince
1 tin of tomatoes
2 teaspoons dried herbs of some kind (I went for dried oregano, so old you had to actually plunge your nose inside the package to detect any scent!
2 tablespoons cream
50g butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1/2 cup cream, extra
As much cheese as you can deal with grating in whatever state you’re in while making this

Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta according to packet instructions – usually 10-12 minutes makes it edible. Tip the cooked, drained pasta into the base of an oven dish, you know the kind, like big enough that a cat would attempt to fall asleep in it but small enough to stack neatly in your cupboard. Just a typical oven dish.

While the pasta is boiling, heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the beef mince. Once it’s getting to the more-brown-than-pink stage, tip in the canned tomatoes (breaking them up with your wooden spoon if they’re the whole variety) and sprinkle over your herbs of choice. Allow it to bubble away merrily over a medium heat till the tomato liquid is reduced slightly, then tip in the cream, allow it to come to the boil again, and spatula the lot evenly over the pasta in the oven dish.

At this point, set your oven to 200 C. Finally, in the same pan (don’t bother washing it out, but at least make sure you gave it a decent spatula-ing) melt the butter, tip in the flour, and continue to stir constantly till it forms a thick, magically delicious paste. Once very thick, and a little darkened, slowly tip in half the milk, stirring continuously. Don’t worry about lumps – the milk will absorb into the flour and butter eventually. Slowly add the remaining milk, and then the cream, continuing to stir. Stir the lot for a bit longer over a low heat till thick and smooth, then pour this evenly over the tomato-beef mixture in the oven dish. Then, sprinkle grated cheese over evenly, and bake the lot for ten minutes. If you like, flick the oven over to grill for a few minutes to allow the cheese to get all bubbling and amazing.

It’s almost willfully unimpressive, but also tastes so good and needs nothing more. The joy of eating it is twofold – first of all the texture, in that you barely have to exert yourself, hardly need move your jaw, to eat this layering of the soft and the minced, and secondly in the unthreatening, familiar-to-me, sustaining and rich flavours of the beef and tomatoes with the melted cheese and bubbling sauce. Plus it’s all – well, some – of the fun of lasagne without most of the faffing around.

Last Wednesday night the Marriage Equality Bill passed its second reading. By a sound, impressive, prouder-than-I-thought-I’d-be majority. I had a good feeling about it but I also tend to quietly expect the worst as a kind of emotional safeguard. Perhaps related, I occasionally unhelpfully troll myself by reading the letters to the editor of local nationwide newspapers, and gee, will they ever give you a sad outlook on the world. But I won’t give any further time to such odium, because it did get voted to the next stage, and there were some incredible, hope-spurring speeches from all sides of the political spectrum.

Which means, amongst so many things, that Tim and I are one step closer to being able to marry! This isn’t the only reason this is incredibly important to us, but immediately after getting engaged we gave ourselves this goal – of not marrying unless Marriage Equality went through – and it’s pretty thrillsy to be a little nearer to it happening. I’m not quite sure when the next, possibly final reading is. But am cautiously allowing myself to continue to have good feelings about it.

Title via: I love those moments when you hear a song for the first time and it pushes aside everything else you’ve heard before then because you can’t believe music can sound like that. And I don’t think having that feeling when you’re relatively young makes it any less valid. Aaaand I still love the song One Armed Scissor by At the Drive-In as much as I did when I heard it thirteen years ago.

Music lately:

Metallica, Whisky In The Jar. St Patrick’s day did not pass us by unobserved this year.

A few of us went to see Rodriguez on Saturday night. I most definitely recommend Searching for Sugarman, the beautiful documentary about him (although, spoiler alert: reports of his death were greatly exaggerated.) Seeing him in person was astounding. Seventy years old, being helped up to the stage, and yet playing with all the vigor in the world and his voice sounding just as it does on his 1970 record. This Is Not a Song, It’s an Outburst, or: Establishment Blues sounded like it could’ve been written yesterday.

Next time: Another I Should Tell You interview. Whoop!

they served a real nice brisket and an 8 foot party sub

I don’t know why it took so long to blog about this brisket. It’s not like it wasn’t delicious and it’s not like it hasn’t been the right weather for it lately. Maybe because it’s not as good looking as baking, it always gets pushed to the back. Sorry, brisket.

A lesson: Not all second-hand cookbooks from the seventies and eighties are adorably quaint, some are just plain terrible. Like most aspects of pop culture, you get the ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ cookbook, which, if you’re into that sort of thing, and I am, is why I continue to hold on to the QEII Cookbook with its Souffle Bowes-Lyon and tales of 24/7 caviar. Some of those cookbooks are genuinely uninspiring and dull though, and there’s a reason you see them at every single opshop. One pearl of a book that I picked up for $2 in Waiuku about three years ago is Supercook’s Supersavers Cookbook. Its title is dubious, its 1980 photography is dubious and even some of its contents are dubious (carrot and oatmeal soup ahoy) but I’ve ended up using it almost as much as any Nigella volume.
A recipe that I’ve made many times from this book is the Greek Pot Roast, which is brisket slowly braised in a cinnamon-spiced, tomato-y liquid and then served over pasta. I’m not sure what makes it wildly Greek, and there’s something about the word ‘braised’ that’s always sounded unsexy to me, but the idea of stew and spaghetti together appeals heaps and you could even call it “ragout” or something if you wanted to serve it to fancy people. Or just be straight up and see who your true friends are (if your true friends are all vegetarian then this probably isn’t the best litmus test.)

Brisket costs hardly anything, but if you have the option of sourcing good quality meat, where you have an idea that the cow whose life was taken for your dinner had been reared in relative comfort, then so much the better. Brisket can sometimes come to you with more fat than actual meat, so choose carefully.

By the way, I’m aware that today’s photos are terrible. Baking is always easier in winter because I can 
wait till the next morning to snap it, but dinner has to be photographed on the spot, which means when it’s pitch-black outside you’re going to get weirdly exposed images like these. Still, at least it matches the book that the recipe came from. I look at some of those 70s and 80s cookbooks with their weird exposure and overdressed sets and wonder how a generation of designers actually stood back and thought “Dammit yes this harshly lit image of a pot roast sitting on a frilly tablecloth with carnations and apples strewn gently about makes me hungry.”

Greek Pot Roast

From Supercook’s Supersavers Cookbook, find it if you can.

1.4kg brisket, rolled and tied if possible (I always just leave it)
3 medium sized onions, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cloves
1 bay leaf
150mls boiling stock
3 tablespoons tomato paste/passata

Note: I obviously don’t use that much meat for just me and Tim. I reduce the meat to around 400-500g for us both and use just one or two onions, but keep everything else the same. Also I just crumble in half a good stock cube and 150mls hot water rather than heating up a tiny amount of stock in a pan – same diff.

Heat your oven to 150 C/300 F. Heat a little olive oil in a flameproof casserole and brown the meat on all sides. Set it aside while you gently fry the onions, garlic and spices. If you don’t have a flameproof casserole, you could just do this in a frypan and then transfer it to an oven dish. Add the bay leaf, stock and tomato paste. Return the meat to the pan, cover and put it in the oven, leaving for at 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Serve over hot spaghetti with Parmesan cheese.

Or if you don’t have Parmesan, you could use, um, frozen peas like I did. Not quite the same, but still a nice contrast. And cheaper. And adds small bursts of vitamin-rich greenness to the incessant meatiness of the brisket. This is delicious and so easy, hence why it has become a regular fixture. The slow, low cooking process breaks down the potentially tough brisket and turns it into something intensely tender and rich-flavoured, which falls apart at the mere sight of a fork looming menacingly towards it. The tomatoey braising liquid doesn’t really reduce down or thicken up, but spooned carefully over the meat and pasta it’s delicious – deeply flavoured with the cinnamon and bay, all of which absorbs into the tangle of spaghetti below.

I hope all (do I even have any?) Canterbury and South Island readers of this blog are doing okay after the huge earthquake on Friday night, and its follow-up aftershocks. It was a scary time here in Wellington – mind you I’m terrified of earthquakes and always have been – but over pretty quickly and with no damage. Meanwhile, many, many homes and buildings in Christchurch have been completely wrecked. It’s incredibly good that not one person was killed, but there’s still so much damage to deal with – and it doesn’t help my nerves that the news media keep insisting that “the big one” is coming. Which means that every time I blink too hard I get nervous that it’s the overture tremors of said “big one”. Perspective though – I’m feeling very lucky to be sitting in my warm home with running water and electricity and to know that family and friends down in Christchurch are unharmed.
Title via: Errr…30 Rock‘s Werewolf Bar Mitzvah. “Boys becoming men, men becoming wolves!” To be fair, I couldn’t find a youtube clip of Maury Levy telling Herc he’s mishpocheh.

Music lately:

Elaine Stritch, Ladies Who Lunch, from Company. She’s incredible, but sometimes when she looks at the camera it feels like I got lemon juice in my eye. Wish I could have that kind of effect on people when I say “does anyone still wear…a hat.”

Mueve by Lido Pimienta. Read an interview with her in the new Real Groove magazine, looked her up on youtube and I’m entranced. It’s dreamy and sunny and – bonus – all en Espanol! Cross-posted to 100s and 1000s because I like it that much.
Next time: Well the Supercooks book was so fruitful that I’ve made something else from it – the awesomely, awesomely named Grumble Pie. You don’t know how hard it was not to push the poor brisket to the back of the queue AGAIN for this.

gunpowder gelatine, dynamite with a laser beam

Okay: I didn’t win the blog category of that CLEO/Wonder Woman thing. In hindsight, I already knew this, but for a while there it felt like everyone in the world was voting for me and we’d all linked hands and started a wild mazurka of joy, spiralling with love for this blog and each other. And then I opened the July issue in a 24-hour convenience store at lunch today with Tim and the mazurka ceased, and David Dallas’ Big Time ended its chorus in my mind. (What’s a mazurka? You ask? Only one of the coolest folk dances ever, as this video confirms.) BUT as I’ve said previously, this has been a fun wave to flutterboard across and it was lovely being unexpectedly nominated, and of course, I’d like to extend a giant chocolate cake with “congratulations” piped across the top in icing to the actual winners at So Much To Tell You. I’m sure we all wanted this in equal amounts! I just felt particularly wanty, and this kind of obliterated any idea that anyone else could want it more and I wouldn’t win. But it’s okay. It was fun to be nominated. And to raise awareness of my desire to own a capybara. And a mightily enormous thanks to everyone that emailed in and voted for me: it means a lot! I don’t bust out folk-dancing imagery for just any old situation.


Of powdered gelatine, Nigella Lawson authoritatively sneers “God knows how anyone can make that work…leaf gelatine is the answer“. It sort of has an implied “and if you want to consider yourself any kind of fan of mine, lowly blogger, then you ought to agree” tacked onto the end. In some ways, Nigella is right – leaf gelatine is much more reliable and easier to use, and very pretty. But if a packet of Davis powdered gelatine hadn’t been sighing unwantedly in my cupboard, I would not have been able to make Moonshine Biffs: then what?

My Mum gave me her old copy of the Edmonds Cookery Book, the 1971 edition I believe. It’s the sort of thing you don’t want to buy new, you want to be given it or find an old copy somewhere…I read once about how young people are able to have nostalgia for things they never knew – for things that their parents or even their grandparents experienced. Or even nostalgia for things that someone’s parents and grandparents might have experienced (ie: the 60s), which, if any of that makes sense, could explain why I get a feeling of warm safeness inside when I turn the pages of this book and read curtly delivered recipes for spiced rock cakes or Dolly Varden Cake even though I never, ever ate them growing up.

As I was leafing through the pages I discovered the recipe for Moonshine Biffs and decided whatever the heck they even were, I was going to make them for their name alone (for the same reason I’m no good to play Scrabble with because I’d rather make silly words than gain points…and I get really impatient waiting for people to have their turn…And also I’m pretty sure I don’t really like Scrabble.) I thought they’d be like marshmallows but they are in fact, better yet, essentially Milk Bottle lollies in square format.

Moonshine Biffs

From the Edmonds Cookery Book.

  • 3 dessertspoons Gelatine (I used a regular, stuff-eating spoon, the kind you’ll find in the spoon compartment in your cutlery draw, you know…spoon.)
  • 1 breakfastcup sugar (I used just under a 250ml measuring cup)
  • 1/2 pint water (A heaped measuring cup) (psych! You can’t heap water)
  • 1/2 pound icing sugar (250g)
  • coconut
  • vanilla
  • Place gelatine, water and regular sugar in a saucepan and boil for eight minutes. This was a little scary, but because the Edmonds Cookery Book is always pretty vague, to put an instruction in italics made me want to follow it. That said, if you suspect your stove-top generates a significantly hotter heat than what they had in the 70s then go slow and boil a little less.
  • Add the icing sugar and vanilla (I had some vanilla paste, proper extract would be fine, you could, I suppose, go era-specific and use essence) and beat until thick and white – I used a silicon whisk and nearly fainted from the exertion, you’re welcome to use electric beaters or whatever.
  • Pour into a wet tin – again, silicon makes life easier here, otherwise use baking paper to line the tin – and leave to set for a couple of hours. It doesn’t matter if it won’t fill the tin – it’s not a huge mixture and just stops and sets where it is. Slice up, toss in coconut. FYI, mine set very smooth and coconut wouldn’t stick to one side of it. Edmonds didn’t prepare me for that but I was chill.

As I said, these really do taste like Milk Bottles – chewy, a little creamy, very sweet. But good – so good. And they cost around 30 cents and a little arm-work to make. If your kids/flatmates aren’t snobs about what shape their lollies come in, try them on a rainy weekend and see if you don’t feel awesome about yourself and the world once you have a pile of them sitting on a plate in front of you.

On a gelatine rampage, I couldn’t help trying something else further down the page: Toasted Honey Marshmallows. Significantly more sophisticated, these intensely honeyed, soft sweets would be perfect after a spicy dinner or alongside liqueurs and truffles instead of pudding. There’s no getting around the fact that gelatine is not vegetarian, and is no less made of animal than if steak was the main ingredient of marshmallows, so if you are thinking of making either of these maybe check with your meat-shunning mates what their limits are.

Toasted Honey Marshmallows

Also from the Edmonds Cookery Book.

Soak 1 level tablespoon Gelatine in 1/4 breakfastcup cold water in a metal bowl for 3 minutes. Dissolve over hot water, by sitting the metal bowl on top of a small pot of simmering water. Tip in 1 breakfastcup liquid honey. Beat with egg beater (or whatever you have – again, I derangedly used a whisk) until fluffy and white – about ten minutes. Turn into a wet shallow tin (again, silicon is best here) and leave 24 hours. Cut into squares carefully with a sharp knife and roll in toasted coconut.

Yes, you have to wait for ages which is why these are less child-friendly, but as I said the flavours and textures that unfolded from such minimal ingredients were incredible. The taste of honey suspended within impossibly soft marshmallows against the damp, nutty and textured coconut was amazing.

Last week Tim and I, having read several two-thumbs-up reviews, went to see Cemetery Junction. Even though it all ties itself up nicely and eventually good things happen to all the good people, it’s done in a way that makes you quite happy to be taken along with it. It’s gorgeously filmed with some rollicking humour coinciding with those wonderfully quietly heartbreaking moments that the British seem to have patented, it’s full of good-looking, shiny-haired young Brits (although solemnly countered by some more menacingly lived-in faces) and it’s directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant so, hello. We recommend it heartily.

By the way everyone, Tim has a job! Yeah! Turn Big Time back up again! It’s a Monday to Friday office job which might sound hellish but they all sound nice and after barista-ing at dawn on a daily basis, it’s completely welcome. Apparently he saw off other people with more experience; of course he did! It’s Tim! Anyway, cheers for the words of encouragement from everyone, we are now on a dual income which means if I do nothing but cook from the Edmonds book that pet capybara and my dreams of Broadway may not be so far off after all. Soon we’ll hit the big time…


Title comes to you via: Queen’s Killer QueenI know they’re not that cool, well neither am I. There’s a lot of Queen I’m not keen on, luckily this song isn’t in that list because I’m yet to see a better lyric about a setting agent.

Music lately:

Fats Domino’s Ain’t That A Shamethe way the chugging opening melody slides into the titular question really does somehow convey a sense of something being a shame, besides that it’s a great, great song and I love Youtube for making all this old footage available.

Julia Murney singing People from the musical Funny GirlI guess I do mention her more than occasionally but friends: this woman is amazing. The bad thing about being a Julia Murney fan is that while she performs a lot she’s relatively below the radar and will never come to New Zealand and I’ll never get to see her in New York, the good thing about being a Julia Murney fan is that she performs a lot of fabulous songs at benefits and concerts and they often find their way to Youtube. And uh, looks like it’s the salute to Youtube segment on the show now.

stick with me honey and we’ll go far

Saturday, February 6th was Waitangi Day here in New Zealand. This is a day that means different things to different people but 170 years have passed since the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, for better or for worse. It means a lot to me as my ancestors on mum’s side kicked things off around that very time when a woman named Pourewa and a man named Charles Cossill were married in Mangonui by the pragmatically named Bishop William Williams. February 6th also marked twenty years since my first ballet lesson. Talk about significant times for the nation. I was a rotund three year old who couldn’t skip and didn’t have a pushy mother with misguided ambitions for me – and even at that age you register differences in ability and atmosphere like that – but I was the only kid in that class who could touch my head with my toes.

Potstickers are perhaps the – or at least, aculinary equivalent of getting your feet and your head to do a high-five. The process sounds a little painful. A lot of people don’t even try it in the first place. But the finished result elicits “oohs” and “aahs” at those who attempt it successfully. Actually this metaphor is a bit useless as you really need a decent set of hamstrings to do anything flexible while potstickers just require patience…but I needed a segue into the recipe and I’m damned if I’ll retreat now.

I saw this recipe in Ray McVinnie’s column in Sunday magazine a while back (the very magazine which put me on the cover! What, like I wasn’t going to mention it?) and even though I’ve seen recipes around for potstickers for years now for some reason it was this one that prompted me into action. I have to say, the Sunday magazine this week was ridiculously intuitive – it had a “Whatever happened to JTT?” piece which answered the very question I wondered as Tim and I watched a Home Improvement omnibus at 3am after getting home from Fubar last Sunday. There’s not much in this world that comforts like this – we didn’t watch a lot of TV when I was young but Home Improvement was family time). There was also an article about the man who wrote most of the jingles on the radio, when I’d just been explaining to Tim about the nostalgia I feel when I hear the ancient Auckland radio jingles (“Giltrap city, Toyota – we’re the one!”) on 1ZB after being in Wellington for so long.

I don’t love McVinnie’s column in Sunday as much as I adore his regular Quick Smart feature in Cuisine magazine but it’s still pretty engaging reading. The way he described potstickers made them seem not just do-able but necessary. I found myself lingering by the open freezers at the Asian grocery up the road, hoping wonton wrappers would be cheap – and they were. That, and the fact that there was a rapidly aging block of tofu in the fridge poured cement over the foundations of the idea in my mind. I didn’t follow his actual recipe so much as the directions but I have a feeling that as long as you keep to the method the filling is really up to you.

Potstickers (recipe via Ray McVinnie’s column in Sunday magazine)
If you want, you can take out the beef and up the tofu and cabbage a bit.

  • 150-200g beef mince
  • 200g firm tofu, diced
  • 1/4 white cabbage, finely sliced
  • Fresh ginger – about an inch, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese cooking wine, or sake if you prefer
  • Wonton wrappers
  • Rice bran oil, for frying

Stir fry the mince, tofu, and cabbage together with the seasonings until the mince is browned, the cabbage is reduced, and everything is good and fragrant. There’s no real artfulness to this – you just need it all cooked up.

This is great if you can get a friend to help you, if not it will just take a lot longer. Get your stack of wonton wrappers, a small bowl of water, a couple of plates and a couple of teaspoons. Grab a wonton wrapper, dip your fingers in the water and wet the edges of the wrapper. Get a teaspoonful of mince and tofu, place it in the centre of the wonton wrapper, fold it over to make a parcel and press the edges together. I folded the edges over each other and pressed down firmly. Put it onto a plate and start again, till you have as many as you think you’ll want.

Then! Heat a little rice bran oil in a good, wide pan which has a lid. Once it’s sizzling, fill the pan with your potstickers, all facing the same way. Don’t overcrowd the pan. Let them fry for a minute or two on that side, then flip them over and fry them for a minute or two on the other side. Pour over about a centimetre of water, clamp on the lid, and let them steam away till the water is evaporated. You want them over a good solid heat to aid the evaporation. Once the water is gone they should unstick themselves from the pan. Quickly use a silicon spatula or fish slice to lever the finished potstickers onto a plate, and eat them while the next batch is cooking.

One or two potstickers may well fall apart or stick obstinately while you try and remove them from the pan. This is not cause to get dramatic and throw the pan across the room screaming “Enough! I tried and I failed!” It’s just par for the course. They’re called potstickers for a reason. Eat them and move on to the next batch.

One bite, and you’ll likely forget the extensive effort it takes to bring these potstickers into existence. The frying-then-steaming method, while fiddly, makes the wonton wrappers crisp but silkily tender, encasing juicy savouryness. I made a quick dipping sauce out of soy, lemon juice, sesame oil, chilli oil and a little sugar which was an excellently zingy foil to the rich filling. Make plenty of these – we ate forty between the two of us – not comfortably, to be fair, but we did it. Maybe bank on about 10 to 15 per person, as they are so, so good. I heard from a relatively reliable source just this evening that if you leave the lid off the pan they get super-crispy – I may have to try this way of doing things next time. Because there will be a next time.

February 6th was also the date that the late Bob Marley was born in 1945. It seems fitting that someone who is loved by so many New Zealanders was born on the closest thing we have to a national day. Leaving Tim to make coffee on yet another public holiday, Ange and I went out to Hataitai velodrome to RadioActive One Love, the long-running event that commemorates Marley’s birthday while acknowledging Waitangi Day in a peaceful, musical fashion. The day was unnaturally warm – we really don’t get a lot of sun here in Wellington – and it was the perfect antithesis to the crowds of costumed people staggering drunkenly through town for the NZ International rugby Sevens tournament.

There was constant music, there were people everywhere of all ages and stages, there were amazing food and merchandise stalls, and in an act that seemed to sum up the happiness of the day, Liptons were giving out free iced tea. We saw Don McGlashan, The Midnights, Sola Rosa, Art Official and MC Silva (who gave my peanut butter cookies the thumbs up that very morning, to which I say look out for her album dropping later this year), watched people skanking merrily, ate glorious vegetarian curry, nodded approvingly at the host responsibility announcements, enviously gazed at children on the bouncy castle, bought insence-scented scarves, thought nice things about Bob Marley…magic. I didn’t love all the bottles littering the path on the way out, but other than that it was a seriously ideal way to spend the day. However, I think I’ll be airing out my scarves as I don’t feel quite so positive about the smell of incence as I did when I was 12. Tim and I headed to the Southern Cross later that night for an excellent time watching the Newtown Rocksteady also paying homage to Bob Marley through polished but joyful interpretations of his music, rounding off Waitangi day most satisfactorily.
Title brought to you by: Freshmint! the charmingly fey song from Brisbane’s Regurgitator. “Stick with me honey and we’ll go far” feels like a line spoken over and over but slides rather nicely into the celebrity-weary lyrics of this song. I don’t like this band’s name and to be honest this is one of two songs of their I love. I remember hearing this for the first time on Channel Z, being deeply intrigued, but not knowing for months what it was called or who sang it, until the magic of lyrics websites threw me a bone.

On Shuffle while I type:

While pondering Regurgitator my thoughts wandered to another elusive Australian song that I used to wait round for, never actually knowing what it was called till years later – Shazam by Spiderbait. It’s all fuzzy and whingy and sounds like a collection of chorusses – great fun, even if the band’s name is also bit gross.

Buffalo Soldier by Bob Marley – just such a great tune. I do enjoy a good bridge and this song enjoys one of the coolest out there.

The Juggernaut, from Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party, featuring Julia Murney, Taye Diggs, and the teeth-grittingly good use of Idina Menzel’s singing ability towards the end. This musical never made it to Broadway and could perhaps – who knows? – benefit from some tweaks. But it remains special to me for a number of reasons, and the original cast recording ten years on shines with jaw-dropping, brutal talent.
Next time: It’s clearly been far too long since I’ve dealt you a heavy-handed reference to RENT in a food-related way, so look out for that next time when, inspired by a culinary lyric in La Vie Boheme, I make rice and beans…

twist and stout


Cheers everyone for your enthusiastic well-wishing for Tim’s and my big move, I’ve built it up so much that soon it will surely have its own snappy title, corresponding font, and swelling theme music.

I feel as though every time Old Frau Winter hobbles into town on her icy boots, I complain that it’s the coldest one we’ve had yet. Even though I suspect it’s human nature to largely block out any past discomfort and focus on what’s happening to the body right now, hot damn if it isn’t the coldest June in living memory. It’s a particular quality of temperature – that bone chilling, dry, Nordic chill, which, combined with the damp, windy climes of Wellington, makes for quite the experience.

With this in mind, we’ve been doing a lot of that bolstering, sustaining style of eating lately. While I love sponteneity in the kitchen I hate cooking in an entirely reactive way every night (as in, “cripes I’m hungry and it’s 7.30pm! Why did I spend all that time looking at Tony Award performances on youtube instead of making dinner? Now I have to cobble together something incoherent from what’s in the cupboard!”) One of the nice things about this season is sitting down with recipe books, post-it notes and a notepad, planning out slow-cooked winter meals and writing a shopping list accordingly. One such planned meal was the following casserole, taken from Nigella Lawson’s seminal text How To Eat. (I think I refer to it as that every time. It’s like one word in my head: seminaltexthowtoeat.)

Beef With Stout and Prunes
I realise that the words ‘stout’ and ‘prune’ aren’t overly come-hither. Nigella says this is a version of Beef Carbonnade which is possibly a better option if someone fussy asks what’s for dinner tonight.

I’ll be honest, my copy of How To Eat is buried under a lot of other cookbooks in a neat pile behind another hefty pile of cookbooks and it does not behoove me to disturb the order of things and dig it out. Plus I’m feeling lazy. You hardly need a recipe for this though, so allow me to guide you through the process gently but firmly. Dust sliced beef in mustard-spiked flour (I used beef shin from Moore Wilson’s, basically you want a cut that requires long cooking) and sear in a hot pan. Transfer into a casserole dish with some carrots, sliced into batons, finely sliced onions, and prunes that have been hitherto soaked in some dark stout. I used Cascade, an Australian stout from Tasmania, because it’s what they had at the local shop and wasn’t heinously expensive. I also added some whole cloves of garlic. Cover this and place in a slow oven, and cook for as long as you like but no less than two hours. I served over plain basmati rice. It can be a little brown and plain to look at, so by all means sprinkly liberally with chopped parsely which will please both aesthetically and…tastebuddily.
Et viola, a rich, hearty, deeply flavoured casserole for you and your loved ones. And if ‘your loved ones’ means just you and your stomach, then so much the better. Freeze in portion-sized containers and microwave it back to life when you need a fast dinner. This recipe actually comes from the low-fat section of How To Eat, as long as you don’t fry the floured beef in six inches of melted butter, enticing as that now sounds, it really is a trim meal all up, with the only fat coming from the meat.
The Cascade stout came in a six-pack and while Tim was happy to quaff the unused five bottles, he impressed upon me how a chocolate Guinness cake would be an economical, ideal, nay, the only logical use for the remaining stout. So I made one. I always forget how utterly stupendous Nigella’s Chocolate Guinness Cake is. It’s so ridiculously transcendent that it makes me type excessively in italics like some overexcited damsel in an LM Montgomery novel.

The Cascade Stout was not as abruptly bitter as the stipulated Guinness but more than held its own as a worthy understudy for the part. The above photo was taken on the bedside table, as Tim has had some blood sugar antics happening in the middle of the night lately and so that’s just where the cake was sat. Because he has had nocturnal low blood sugar with soothing regularity, a lot of the cake has been eaten by him while I’m in a half-asleep state and so I only managed to secure about two slices to myself after all that. It really was as delicious as it should be though: large, dark, densely chocolately and like Angela Lansbury, even better with age.

Chocolate Guinness Cake

From Feast, by Nigella Lawson. (It has a chocolate cake chapter, so, you know it’s good)
250mls Guinness
250g butter
75g cocoa
400g sugar
145mls sour cream (one of those little yoghurt-tub sized, er, tubs, or roughly a 1/2 cup)
2 eggs
1 T real vanilla extract
275g plain flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
Set your oven to 180 C and butter/line a 23cm springform tin. First of all you want to get a big pan, pour in the Guinness and add the butter – cut into small pieces – and gently heat it so the butter melts. It shouldn’t bubble, keep the heat low. Now, simply whisk in the rest of the ingredients and pour into your tin. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on your oven. The kitchen will smell heavenly, I promise you.

Once cool, ice with a mixture of 200g cream cheese (NOT low-fat), 125mls whipped cream, and 150g icing sugar folded together. I refrained from icing it this time round as I just couldn’t be bothered spending exorbitant amounts on dairy products, but the combination of sharp icing and dark, damp chocolate cake is incredible, the icing really makes it sing.

It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the other key player in this cake: (apart from the stout and Tim’s persuasiveness) the cocoa. And not just any cocoa – proper Dutch cocoa from Equagold. The very first time I’ve ever used it. Don’t act all shocked, I’ve only just started working full time and in the food world there’s so much to keep up with – do you spend your money on the vanilla beans, or the premium brand happy pig bacon, or the Himalayan pink salt and if you let one ball drop is it tantamount to subterfuge meaning that you are forever shunned by food bloggers worldwide? I know I add fuel to the fire myself by going on about vanilla beans vs vanilla essense. With that in mind I’m lucky enough to have a wonderful whanau who will often give me such treats for Christmas and birthday presents. I’m not sure quite where I’m going with this rant but before I carry on shaking my fist for no good reason any more I’ll get back to my original point: proper Dutch cocoa has until now eluded me because it is really expensive. But as Led Zeppelin say, now’s the time, the time is now, and so I decided to buy myself a jar last week from the delightful La Bella Italia cafe/restaurant/deli on The Terrace. The woman behind the counter was impeccably helpful and friendly without being the slightest bit pushy and I emerged a very satisfied customer.

And when I opened the jar for the cake…My word. The first thing I noticed about it was the incredible cocoa scent, the second thing was how rich and dark the colour is. The deep-toned flavour of this cocoa stood comerade-like against the strident flavour of the stout and made for a surprisingly complex chocolate cake, to the point where I felt I should be eating it like one would drink a really expensive and fancy glass of wine – slowly and with reverence. What more can I say – this cake is begging to be made! Oh the feuds that could be ended with a slice of it (unless the parties who have beef with each other happen to be gluten-intolerant).

In smashing news, I interrupt this waffling to say:

My dad Mark, (el presidente of the Otaua Village Preservation Society – OVPS ) received a phone call from the OVPS’s lawyer today to say that WPC have withdrawn their appeal to the Environment Court. This means that they are no longer considering relocating their business to the Otaua Tavern site.

To reiterate: this is an “unofficial” withdrawal by WPC. There are still the lawyer’s bills to pay so the fund-raising continues. And the Otaua Tavern site is still vacant and who knows that a group even more shadily heinous and heinously shady may want to move in?

But for now: an enormous, enormous THANK YOU from the bottom, sides, inside and outside of my heart for everyone who helped by watching the video at my behest, for your supportive comments here and on youtube – it really did make a difference, and at last not just to our morale. I shudder to think of what might have had to have gone down if had the sorry WPC had their way and moved in (does that sentence even make sense? I’m a little excited, sorry for the nightmarish syntax). I have been so touched that people all round the world, people who enjoy making elaborate cakes and beautiful roasts and who have nothing to do with the woes of a tiny, clout-less village in New Zealand, have been so actively supportive. Though I am often conflicted in what I believe in (well, I’m only 23, I’ll ‘find myself’ in good time yet) I am pretty well certain on something: good deeds reap more good deeds and positive thought can have positive impact. One doesn’t want to get too mawkish and Miss World-like in one’s thank-you speeches so I’ll endeth it here, but it is an absolute relief and a triumph to be reporting this news to you all. Kia ora.

Am pretty sleepy after a weekend spent attending Smokefree Rockquest events here and in Lower Hutt, which may go some way towards explaining why my writing is so scatty but it could just be that this is how I write and you’re all dooooomed to deal with it forevermore. The students performing in Smokefree Rockquest here and in the Hutt basically melted my brain with their seriously fierce talent. I look forward to seeing some of them blaze a musical trail in the near future. Oh and I got to present an award last night. I’d like to think my many years on stage as a dancer/etc stood me in good stead, but as I was announced there was a perceptible milisecond of awkward silence that I feared would stretch into a yawning wave of quiet indifference from the audience. Luckily Tim and my godsister were there as my plus-ones to cheer and get the momentum going…


On shuffle while writing this:

Overture, from Jesus Christ Superstar, 1994 New Zealand Cast recording (just try and find it in shops. Your loss.)
Watermelon Blues from The Legend Of Tommy Johnson, Act 1: Genesis 1900’s-1990’s by Chris Thomas King

Das Hokey Kokey (Original Version Vocoder Mix) from Das Hokey Kokey by Bill Bailey


Next time: Tim and I have one episode left on our DVD of season 1 of The Wire and if it turns out as traumatic as I think it will I may need to go to ground for a bit. Believe the hype. It’s incredible. But don’t let your kids watch it, there’s violence and cussing and whatnot by the spade-load. (And by ‘whatnot’ I mean low-level nudity.) But otherwise, have I got some stuff for you. I made the bread and butter pudding to end all bread and butter puddings. Stale, defrosted hot cross buns, Marsala wine, no recipe…could have been a tear-inducing disaster of Anne Shirley proportions but sweet fancy Moses it turned out delicious.