Marmite Babka

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Yes, as you can see from the photos, I burnt this a little. But you won’t! At no point in the instructions do I tell anyone to burn anything. Admittedly, I didn’t tell myself to burn anything and yet here we find ourselves. But I hate food waste, and the recipe did work perfectly well, the variable factor was me, putting something in the oven and then promptly forgetting about it. In fact, I hate wasting food so much I wrote an essay about it for Tenderly, which was spurred on from an extremely disastrous cake I tried making last week. The premise was: wasting food sucks anyway, but during COVID-19 lockdown it feels appallingly guilt-ridden. If I’ve learned anything from attempting to monetise my every complete thought, there’s no better way to process an emotion than in essay form! I’m not even being flippant – because I wrote that whole essay, I was so much more quickly able to be pragmatic about this burnt babka.

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Babka is a traditional Jewish dessert – often more of a leavened cake than mere sweetened bread – and this recipe, with Marmite swirling through the dough, is obviously deeply untraditional, though made with great reverence for its provenance. If you’re unfamiliar with Marmite, it’s a black, salty, vitamin-enriched yeast spread, which I concede sounds horrific, but as with most foodstuffs based on sodium it’s super compelling to the taste buds. There are variants, which inspire vehement allegiance from some – for example, Vegemite, or the Marmite you get in the UK, which curiously, tastes exactly like Vegemite. Despite their being so closely aligned in spirit, Vegemite tastes utterly disgusting to me, but if it inherently appeals to you, then by all means make this recipe using it instead. I don’t want it near me, but I can understand how someone would feel the same way about Marmite.

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Non-stop caveats and burnt bits aside, how does the Marmite Babka actually taste? Amazing! The dough is soft and feathery with a light, crisp pastry-like crust, and as you can see from the photos, a gratifyingly perfect swirl of Marmite throughout. Salt being the dear friend of sugar, the Marmite naturally pairs wonderfully with the sweetness of the dough, and the finished babka is barely savoury – I’d happily eat it for dessert. This is partially due to the coconut oil and tahini I added to mellow out the salinity, and honestly, it was a struggle to not simply eat the filling mixture on its own. I also can’t emphasise enough how half-hearted the dough-twisting process is for such good-looking results.

This is really not a practical recipe – it takes forever to make, though little of that involves effort from you, and once it’s baked the twisted pull-apart nature of it means it’s quite easy to make a whole loaf disappear in one sitting. But I woke up with the strong urge to make this idea which came into my head, and since having drive to do anything seemed like an avenue of joy rather lost to lockdown, I had no choice but to act upon it. If you want something more sensibly utilitarian to put in the oven, I recommend my Social Distancing Bread.

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Marmite Babka

A recipe by myself.

  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup lukewarm water
  • 3 cups high-grade/bread flour
  • 1/2 cup aquafaba (brine from a can of chickpeas)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 heaped tablespoon Marmite
  • 2 heaped tablespoons coconut oil, softened
  • 2 heaped tablespoons tahini

1: Place the yeast, sugar and water in a large mixing bowl, swirl the bowl to combine them, and leave to sit for five minutes to get a little bubbly.

2: Stir in 1/4 cup of the flour, and sit for another five minutes.

3: Tip in the remaining flour and the aquafaba and stir to form a shaggy dough. Now, knead in the olive oil – drizzle some oil over, pull and push with your knuckles and the heel of your palm, and repeat until the oil is gone. The dough will be dense, and not particularly springy, but should be a fairly cohesive and smooth ball by the time you’re done.

4: Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap (sorry!) and leave in the refrigerator for six hours, or overnight.

5: Once the time is up, remove the bowl from the fridge and let it sit for about an hour to get to room temperature (I recommend setting your alarm early, staggering out to remove the bowl, and then going back to bed.) Don’t worry if it hasn’t risen dramatically, as long as it’s bigger than when it went in.

6: Mix the Marmite, coconut oil and tahini together in a small bowl.

7: Take the dough and roll it out to a large, even-ish rectangle about 1-2cm thick. It helps to do this on a piece of baking paper, which you can then use when you bake the bread.

8: Spread the Marmite mixture evenly over the entire dough rectangle, then roll it up from one side into a long cylinder. Slice this cylinder in half lengthwise, then twist these two halves around each other by lifting up one piece and shuffling the other underneath and so on. Don’t overthink it.

9: Transfer the dough into a baking-paper lined loaf tin – I just lifted up the piece of baking paper that it was sitting on and transferred the whole thing into the tin – cover again and leave to rise again for 40 minutes.

10: Bake at 180C/350F for 45 minutes or until cooked through. Check regularly to make sure it’s not burning – like mine did!! – and place a piece of tin foil over the loaf if it looks like it’s browning too quickly.

11: Leave the loaf to rest for a few minutes and then eat the lot.

Note: this was based on a recipe for babka I made for Tenderly which has photos of the rolling/cutting/twisting process if that’s helpful.

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music lately:

Rumble, by Link Wray. One of those perfect pieces of music you can listen to and feel the approaching shadows of so many songs to come since.

Ladies Who Lunch, performed by Audra McDonald, Christine Baranski and Meryl Streep yesterday, live-streamed from their respective houses for Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday celebrations. This should be too much – the three of them performatively drinking for the camera, singing Sondheim’s sardonic song disparaging rich women while very much being rich women during a global pandemic. But it was just right, and deliciously so – a demonstration of what real performing is, and how it doesn’t always need a stage. The whole concert itself was incredibly moving in places, a little not-for-me in others, but this was certainly the most instantly memorable part.

So What’cha Want, Beastie Boys. I love this song so much, I love them so much, and I want that lumbering drumbeat to follow me around everywhere.

Next time: I totally forgot that I was going to blog about pesto seitan! After spending so long asking the universe for a good seitan recipe! You can really see how I could accidentally leave a loaf of bread in the oven too long, huh.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

Social Distancing Bread

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Everything’s changing – not just week to week, but by the hour, literally last Friday I was scoffing about the prospect of Broadway closing in the face of coronavirus and idly checking if flights overseas were getting cheaper. Seven days later that seems unspeakably churlish and straight up stupid and I also haven’t left the house once since. That’s the new normal for ya.

If your new normal includes being at home a lot more, then perhaps your thoughts are turning more to the kitchen. Obviously we need food – whether or not the making of it provides any comfort is by no means a given, but presumably if you’re reading this you have some passing interest in it. So, you might consider baking bread. This recipe is named Social Distancing Bread partly because it’s cute, I concede – it’s a no-knead method so you’re literally practicing social distancing with your own bread as you make it. But the real point is that the lack of kneading makes it relatively easy and un-strenuous, so whether you’re a newcomer to bread or simply life-weary, my recipe asks very little of you. You stir, you wait, you bake.

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I’ve also heard from people who have gone outside in the last week that supermarkets are being fleeced of flour – so presumably this recipe will be relevant to someone out there.

There is one brief step in preparation – I’ve used the Japanese tangzhong method where you heat a small amount of flour and water together first to be added to the dough. For scientific reasons which I can’t convey convincingly, incorporating the tangzhong makes your bread particularly tender and pillowy. It only takes a minute and it really works – this bread is feather-soft and springy, with an impressively crisp, rich golden crust. And it’s delicious – just simple, perfect bread. I particularly like it dunked in olive oil. Life doesn’t offer us a lot of direct proportionality between patience required and reward promised – bread is one of the few reliable examples. And because you don’t have to knead it, the waiting really is the hardest part.

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If I may, I’m going to re-refer you to last week’s list of recipes on my blog which rely largely on pantry or freezer ingredients.

Recipes from or Near the Store Cupboard

And in slightly less practical news, I hope to offer some levity with this piece I wrote for Tenderly: Fifteen animals who invented social distancing. (The deep-sea bony-eared assfish is my personal favourite.)

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Social Distancing Bread

A recipe by myself.

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 teaspoons active dried yeast
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 and 1/4 cups lukewarm water, extra
  • 3 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, extra
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt

1: First, make the tangzhong – a simple roux which will be stirred into the dough. In a small saucepan (nonstick is particularly good here) mix the 1/4 cup flour and 1/2 cup water together. Stir constantly over a low heat until it forms a thick paste that more or less holds its shape. This should only take a minute, and remove the pan from the heat as soon as it reaches this stage, continuing to stir just to prevent it burning in the residual heat. Set aside until it’s cooled to a lukewarm temperature.

2: While the tangzhong is cooling, stir the yeast, sugar, and remaining 1 and 1/4 cups lukewarm water together in a large mixing bowl, and leave it to sit for about five to seven minutes to get a little foamy/activated.

3: The most taxing part of the recipe is over – now all you have to do is tip the remaining flour, oil, salt and the cooled tangzhong into the yeast mixture, and give it a stir with a spatula till it’s thoroughly combined. Cover tightly – we have these reusable covers that resemble shower caps which make me feel slightly less environmentally guilty – and leave on the bench for an hour to let the dough rise.

4: Once your hour is up, remove the cover and press down on the inflated dough with your spatula to release the air bubbles. Line a regular sized loaf tin with baking paper and scrape the dough into it. Cover again with plastic or something similar (sorry!) and leave to prove – a second rise – for half an hour. This dough is quite sticky, so it might help to brush a little extra olive oil over the top first.

5: Set your oven to 200C/400F – about twenty minutes into the proving session is a good time to do this so it’s super hot and ready for the bread. Remove the cover from the dough – it should be significantly risen and puffy in the loaf tin – and bake for 50 minutes, covering with tinfoil for the last twenty if the top looks quite browned already.

6: Remove the bread from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for fifteen minutes before slicing (or just hoof right into it, but it’s easier to slice after sitting for a bit)

music lately:

Song #1, Fugazi. A big chunky bruiser of song which somehow evokes both Led Zep and Beastie Boys.

Thursday Girl by Mitski, whenever I don’t know what to listen to or can’t commit to more than fifteen seconds of any song, even ones I like, I always end up realising that Mitski is precisely what I wanted to listen to the whole time. In particular this song, which has just continued to have a profound effect, moving back and forth through me like a persistent ghost.

Never Alone, by the Contemporary Gospel Chorus of the High School of Performing Arts, from the movie Fame. With Fugazi levels of energy and exuberance, Never Alone makes you feel about as much like you’re running downhill with your arms in the air and your eyes shut as a song is able to, and I love it.

Next time: I still have that pineapple sage syrup and still haven’t had it in a gin, despite having been in extremely close proximity to it all week, so perhaps that’ll be next week’s recipe.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Also! I wrote a round up of television recommendations if you’re stuck at home and need them, which anyone can read on my Patreon for free.

oh i wish i had a pizza and a bottle of wine

There’s this movie called Wet Hot America Summer, released in the summer of 2001 to very little attention or acclaim. It’s become notable in the ensuing years for how immensely high profile most of the ensemble cast has gone on to become (Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks) and the deliciousness of seeing them in their career infancy. People also finally started to appreciate how stupidly funny it is, and it gathered a lot of steam in a cult-hit kind of way. Anyway, I really love it and it’s one of those movies where whatever is happening in your life, it feels like nothing bad can happen when you’re watching it. I have similar feelings about the One Direction movie.

There’s also this bit in the movie where one of the characters tells the girl that he has a crush on, “I’ve really grown up a lot since before dinner when we last talked”. Due to my live-life-ten-seconds-at-a-time haphazardly whimsical and exhausting persona I have always related to this moment since I first encountered it, but I am like, really feeling it currently.

 actual footage of me actual footage of me

As I said in my last blog post, I’ve started on some new medication for my anxiety and whatnot. It’s been a trip. My doctor was all, there might be some weird side effects, and I was all, ma’am, respectfully, my whole LIFE is a side effect, I’m just keen to try something new. There’s some massively positive stuff, the most of which is that I’m now so UNNERVINGLY calm in comparison to the spiky, nervous tumbleweed of buzzing wires and thorny branches and barbed wire that I was hitherto rolling along in the guise of. I mean, I’m still me, that can’t be helped, but I feel much more able to process information quietly, make decisions, and anticipate things without a constant sound of wasps in my ears and sirens in my stomach.  I feel more able to stand my ground whereas previously I would’ve just panicked. It’s not perfect, but it’s really something observing myself being this person. So yeah, I’ve really grown up a lot since before dinner when we last talked.

Bad side effects are some morning sluggishness and some nighttime head-spins, but in the middle I’m afforded at least a few hours of intense, clear-eyed activity. Which is how, on Monday morning, I found myself making this entire damn pizza from scratch and then eating it within the space of an hour and a half.

I’ve had potato pizza on my culinary to-do list after having it at brunch at Loretta with a friend a while back; theirs had darkly beautiful purple potato slices and I could only find, at best, red-skinned potatoes, but no harm done. On a whim I decided to use fresh yeast instead of the usual instant dried stuff, and I’m a fan! Having not tried this particular recipe, which I made up on the spot, with anything other than fresh yeast, I couldn’t tell you precisely how it’s different to the dried kind but you should know that it’s very little effort, requires barely any kneading or rising time and tastes magical.

Potatoes on pizza is a classic Italian combination, and there’s nothing quite so comforting as carb on carb. The dough is tender and puffy, the potatoes are sliced so thin that they’re almost translucent and so they crisp up quickly under the oven’s heat. I draped slices of nutty, sweet Emmentaler over the pizza, but you could definitely use Gruyere if you can stomach the price. A schmeer of rich, creamy mascarpone with mustard, chilli, and cider vinegar spikes the bland calmness of the other ingredients and the resiny pungency of thyme is just, I don’t know, I really love thyme and like putting it on everything.

Scared though you may be of tackling any kind of yeasted dough from scratch, this one comes together with a few brief stirs, prods, and a rise time so fast you don’t even have to have a TV show cued up to watch while you wait. I suppose there’s more olive oil in it than you might normally expect but I feel that it adds to the soft, puffy texture and the flavour. Plus, you make enough dough for some pizza now, and some pizza for future-you. Planning for the future? ME? Whomst even am I?

 yoink yoink

potato pizza

a recipe by myself

dough:

  • one heaped teaspoon fresh yeast
  • one tablespoon golden syrup (or honey, or maple syrup) 
  • 500ml (two cups) lukewarm water
  • 80ml (1/3 cup) olive oil
  • six cups high grade/strong/bread flour
  • two teaspoons sea salt

the on top stuff:

  • one medium red potato
  • 150g mascarpone
  • one tablespoon chilli oil
  • one teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • one teaspoon dijon, english, or similar mustard
  • 150g emmentaler, thinly sliced
  • fresh thyme leaves

Set your oven to 250C/480F and put an oven tray (or if you have it, a pizza stone) in to heat up. 

Place the yeast, golden syrup and warm water in a large bowl and leave it for fifteen minutes till it’s a little frothy on top. Tip in the salt, oil, and flour, and stir together till it forms a rough, sticky dough. Give it a really quick knead, adding just a little extra flour if you need to, till it’s a smoothish coherent ball. Cover with a tea towel and leave it for fifteen minutes till it’s puffy. 

While this is happening, mix the mascarpone, mustard, chilli oil, and cider vinegar in a small bowl. Use a vegetable peeler to make thin, thin slices out of the potato. You won’t need the whole thing, but just throw the remaining potato in with the pizza as it’s cooking and then eat it or something. Sit the potato slices in a bowl of cold water. This will bring out some of the starches and make it roast quicker. 

Cut the dough in half and place the remaining dough in an airtight container in the fridge to use another time. Place the dough on either a nonstick silicon baking mat or a sheet of baking paper and using your hands, gently push the dough out into a rough rectangle shape. If it seems like it won’t stretch as far as you want, let it rest for a few minutes and continue to shape it. 

Spread the mascarpone across the pizza base. Drain the potato slices and pat them dry with a clean tea towel. Layer the potato and cheese over the mascarpone and finally sprinkle with a little more sea salt. Leave to sit for ten minutes. 

Carefully lift the baking sheet or piece of paper and place it on the hot oven tray or pizza stone. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, or until the cheese is golden brown and the edges are crisp. Scatter with thyme leaves before eating. 

Pizza is so unfathomable, in that if you cut this rectangle into eight large squares then you could give that to eight people, but you could also QUITE comfortably eat at least half of this yourself and then reheat the other half later, or share it between two people but still be kind of hungry? It’s this strange loaves-and-fishes alchemy that I’ll never understand. Unsurprisingly though, I was in the half-now-for-me, half-now-for-later category of consumers. However you slice it, this pizza is stupidly delicious.

If you’re on a DIY dough buzz, may I suggest some further reading from my archives, such as no-knead Challah, Fougasse Bread, or Nigella’s Maple Walnut Bread.

Till next time…I guess this is growing up.

title from: this surfy punky bratty band (I LOVE surfy punky bratty bands) called Girls, and their song Lust for Life. 

music lately:

SO another weird side effect of the medication is that I’m feeling music on a hellaciously deep level, like I was listening to Meadowlark as sung by Liz Calloway the other day while walking down the street and nearly threw up and fell over sideways from the intensity of it all. I’ve always had the proclivity to y’know, cry at songs and feel like they were written for me and me alone, but this is next level.

I’ve been hitting the Les Mis pretty hard and folks, I’ve never felt more pumped for 1800s Frenchy War Stuff in my life. To pluck but one example from the air, literally every time I watch this clip from the 2014 Tony awards I genuinely cry and get full body shivers (particularly at the revoltingly beautiful face of Ramin Karimloo and Kyle Scatliffe’s monumental voice and Will Swenson’s appealingly nasal Javert) and I’ve been watching it a LOT.

Also been seriously feeling the Meat Puppets lately. Lake of Fire, famously covered by Nirvana, is so sludgy and about to topple over with its own heaviness, but then you’ve got like, Up On The Sun or Aurora Borealis which are just really, really nice grunge.

next time: IT’S DECEMBER! What? Whomst? How? That’s all I have to say about THAT. 

rosemary, oh heaven restores you in light

Making your own bread is undeniably impressive. Like, you’ve used your own hands (look at them! Those hands!) to coax life from raw ingredients, patiently letting it rise and fall and rise again to eventually become this foodstuff steeped in ancient tradition. And it’s delicious as hell.

Extremely deniable in terms of being impressive: the ageing process, which involves all the effort of an oiled billiard ball rolling down a highly polished diagonal slope. You can literally do it in your sleep. What I’m trying to say is, I had a moderately underwhelming birthday on Monday, mostly through my own complete lack of organisation (example: I could’ve taken myself out for a fancy brunch but instead I laid in bed watching Frasier) and now I’m like…wait! I’m not done with it being my birthday yet! I can do better! After about twelve minutes of soul-searching though I learned an important lesson from all this, and that is: hey! Paying me massive amounts of attention is not a finite resource and can, should in fact, be done on any day regardless of whether it’s my birthday or not. A comforting thought for all and something to keep at the forefront of all our minds! (It’s evidently on my mind.)

Back to bread though: it’s honestly not too taxing to make, if anything, it’s the length of time that’s the annoying thing rather than the frankly minimal effort of the kneading. So don’t be scared. This particular recipe occurred to me, like most of my ideas do, all at once and fully formed: I liked the idea of using maple syrup to lightly sweeten the dough and to echo the smokiness of it with also-smoky, fragrant rosemary. The maple syrup is actually extremely mellow, in case you’re concerned for the sweetness of the finished product – like, honestly, if you don’t actually have access to the real stuff then just use honey or golden syrup or even a few tablespoons of sugar. As long as there’s sweetness there – it balances the intensely savoury-yet-floral rosemary and hypes up the fruitiness of the olive oil. Salt is the all-important thing tying it together. Like, don’t skip out on anything here.

It’s best eaten the second it gets out of the oven – I just tore pieces off and dipped them in more olive oil mixed with the tiniest pinprick of maple syrup with more salt over the top. Salty, sweet, rich – it’s a heady and addictive combination (by which I mean, I ate 3/4 of this loaf thing in this one sitting.) You could just spread it with butter or drizzle over olive oil or dip it in, like, dips, or just eat it nakedly plain while it’s still soft and warm.

maple, rosemary, and olive oil turkish bread

a recipe by myself

  • three cups of high-grade/bread flour
  • one sachet of instant yeast
  • two generous tablespoons of real maple syrup
  • one teaspoon salt
  • just under 250ml/one cup of warm water
  • three tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling and eating
  • a couple of stems of fresh rosemary

Mix the flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Tip in the maple syrup, olive oil and water, and use a spoon to mix the lot together into a frankly unimpressive looking floury lump of dough. 

Begin kneading the dough – I usually just do this to the dough while it’s still inside the bowl, to save making a mess on the bench, but do what you like. I tend to just push the dough away from me with my palm, then fold it over back towards me and push it away again with either my palm or knuckles. Basically you want to give your dough extremely mixed messages with your hands. It should come together fairly quickly to form a smooth, but still floury ball of dough which should spring back immediately when you prod it with a finger. At this point, drizzle it with a little more olive oil and cover the bowl in clingfilm and leave it in a warmish place (or literally anywhere) for about thirty minutes to an hour to rise. I filled the sink with warm water and sat the bowl in it, but I don’t know that it necessarily had that much effect.

At this point, you’re so nearly done: squash down the hopefully now-puffy dough with your fist, and then put it on a baking tray (either lined with baking paper, or, if you don’t have any like me, scatter some flour across it first) and press it out with your hands into a rough oval shape. It should be fairly pliant and stretchy but if you feel it resisting, let it rest for ten minutes before giving it another nudge. Set your oven to 220 C/450 F, cover the dough with a teatowel and let it have one final rise for about 25 minutes. At this point, you want to drizzle over a little more olive oil, scatter it with some rosemary leaves, and then bake it for around 15 minutes – keep an eye on it at the 12 minute mark though, and depending on your oven and the curve of the earth and what not it could take up to 20 minutes.

Take it from the oven and you’re ready to go.   

There’s this scene in The Simpsons where Homer is trying to build his own barbeque and the instructional video ebulliently reassures Homer that it’s no harder than installing your own aviary or Olympic-sized swimming pool and I KNOW that’s the vibe that comes off when I’m all, “you can totally make your own bread at home!” But guess what. You can totally make your own bread at home. Just set aside an afternoon, be prepared to get covered in a light but persistent dusting of flour, and have some faith in yourself.

(Also, side note: a lot of really nice things did happen on my birthday, I’m just an existentially-challenged brat. And I do genuinely believe in not being restrained by a flimsy concept like the date of my own birth as far as garnering massive amounts of attention goes.)

If you’re on a roll with your breadmaking (ROLL! GET! IT!) then feel free to consider some of my other blog posts on this delicious subject, such as Italian Fougasse Bread; this recipe for Beetroot Bread (from back in 2009 so like, bear with me), or Aunt Daisy’s Condensed Milk Bread.

title from: Interpol’s song Evil from their album Antics. I got into this album in a huge way in 2005 to impress a random boy but happily, while I can’t even remember what the guy’s name is I still really love this album. 

music lately:

It’s a year since Beyonce blessed us with her thunderbolt of an album, Lemonade. The whole thing is incredible, but watch Sorry or Formation as an example of its brilliance.

Pink Floyd, Brain Damage/Eclipse. I was working on the night of my birthday (on purpose! My friends were all out of town, I might as well earn money) and I decided to play Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety just for kicks. The final tracks are so damn satisfying, that little upward emphasis on “all you create, and all you destroy” and the way the word “sun” in “everything under the sun is in tune” is sung so hard kinda makes my heart sing. It’s so dated that it’s timeless.

I’m neither here nor there on opera but Pavarotti’s fifteen year old niece, Sislena Capparros, singing Nessun Dorma, made me literally sob actual tears. The ending is so hardcore!

next time: I’m kind of sick at the moment in a sore throat way, so maybe something intensely medicinal. 

this town’s a different town to what it was last night, you couldn’t have done that on a sunday

I swear I ate and cooked best in my second and third year of university, weird though that seems – I mean, my first year was definitely full of lukewarm toast and trying to stay alive in a flat made of damp breakfast cereal held together with cobwebs (if it weren’t for that vigilant spider army my flat probably would’ve fallen down. Thank you spider army, I respect and fear you still) – but by second year I’d hit my stride. Living in a marginally less cold and damp flat felt like occupying a palace and importantly, I had both the time and the means in winter to make a ton of stews and casseroles and soups and slow-cooked things. Going into the office-job life obliterated that, because there’s no time during the day and when you get home you want feeding immediately, and going into hospo means I just eat when I can, and that might be 3am. But as a student: goddamn. All that free time during the day between lectures, searching out super cheap cuts of meat or soaking dried chickpeas because it cost less than canned, baking a cake so we’d be warmed by the oven’s heat – I’m totally not nostalgic for that time, or anything, but I also don’t want another winter to pass me by without somehow making the most of food that suits the icy weather.

(I went back to my very early days of writing this blog post just to make sure I wasn’t making this all up and glorifying the past and if anything, I undersold it. I used to make pudding every night! In one of my blog posts from November 2007 I talk about how sick I am of blind-baking pastry for pies! That’s how often I was making pastry by hand for homemade pies and tarts! Last year I literally did a blog post about cinnamon sugar on toast and a McDonalds burger. It was a difficult time, sure, but still.)

bread! stuffed! with three! different types! of! cheese! 

I believe it’s without even the slightest bit of hyperbole that I say my life would be unmitigated and incomparable garbage without Kim and Kate, the two earth-angels whom I call my best friends. Remember that Because You Loved Me song by Celine Dion? “You were my strength when I was weak, you were my voice when I couldn’t speak, you were my eyes when I couldn’t see, you saw the best there was in me” etc? I never understood that song when it was first on the radio and/or everyone’s mum by law had a copy of that cassette so it was perpetually in the background. I was like…is she singing to her boyfriend? Or is she a pet rock singing to their owner? Seriously, if you imagine a small rock with googly eyes stuck on it singing this song to someone it makes so much sense than a human singing it, so utterly codependent and clingy and bodily needy it is. It’s definitely sung by a small rock.

At least that’s what I thought, until my aggressively supportive and beautiful friendship with Kim and Kate. Then, at last, did I understand the lyrics to Because You Loved Me. (“You’ve been my inspiration! Through the lies you were the truth!”) I’m like, ah, this song is chill and not at all hysterical. The lyrics are calm and normal.

So between all that and me wanting to get back into slow-ass cooking and, monumentally, Kate being very close to travelling through the UK and Europe for a month (excitingly for her, tear-stainedly fraught for the rest of us) I decided to make the three of us a lavishly rustic, simple lunch before my shift at work on Sunday. It all came together despite attempting a recipe I’ve never tried before, the upshot of which is, if I can manage to throw this together in the middle of three ten hour shifts then all you need is a passing interest in cooking and a small amount of motivation and you can definitely achieve some version of this yourself with massive ease.

Nigella Lawson’s magical cookbook Feast inspired both the recipes I made – firstly, a red and gold root vegetable stew with turmeric and saffron from which I used a Tunisian meatball dish as a starting point. Kate is vegetarian and Kim can’t do garlic or onions so my result ended up having about two ingredients in common with what was on the page, but that’s how inspiration works, yeah? The second recipe, a Georgian cheese-stuffed bread called Nana’s Hatchapuri, was more direct – I just fiddled with the quantities a little to make it more affordable. Speaking of affordable, feel free to leave the saffron out of the stew – I just have a ton of it around because I’m the kind of person who gets given food by people for my birthday etc (which I love) but in all honesty the turmeric completely does the trick as far as flavour and colour. I don’t care about the tautological goldenness though, the doubling down was a pleasingly luxuriant note in an otherwise, let’s face it, highly plain stew.

Anyway, both were SO GOOD. And somehow so do-able. The vegetable stew I made more or less effortlessly the day before and just left it on the hob, ready to reheat. The cheesebread – despite the lengthy looking recipe below – was made very quickly before Kim and Kate got to mine, and once I’d let them in – my hands covered in flour – I just shoved it in the oven while we joyfully mixed orange juice and Lindaeur that Kate had both bought and brought from the nearest dairy.

nana’s hatchapuri (georgian cheesebread) 

my gently adapted version of Nigella’s (who had already adapted it from a woman named Nana, so) from her book Feast

six cups plain flour
two cups thick, plain yoghurt
two eggs
50g very soft butter
one teaspoon baking soda
one teaspoon sea salt, or a pinch of regular table salt
one 250g tub of ricotta cheese
two large handfuls of grated mozzarella, like, the super cheap stuff 
150g feta cheese
one more egg

Set your oven to 220 C/450 F and place a baking tray in the oven to heat up. Put the flour in a large bowl, and mix in the yoghurt, eggs, and butter till a soft, sticky dough forms. I used a wooden spoon to stir in the yoghurt and eggs and then my hands to work in the butter; you end up looking like your hands belong to zombies, but it’s very effective! Otherwise just keep on stirring. Add a little extra flour if it’s toooo sticky and knead this in with the baking soda and salt, which should leave you with a springy, soft ball of dough. Cover and leave it for 20 minutes. 

Slice the dough in half and roll out both pieces into a rough oval shape around 1.5cm thick, although it’s up to you, really. Circle, square, Mickey Mouse ears, whatever works. I recommend rolling them out on two large pieces of baking paper, that way it doesn’t mess up your bench top and you can then slide it straight onto the baking tray when it’s ready to cook. 

In the same bowl that you mixed the dough in – because, why not – roughly mash together the ricotta, the feta, and the mozzarella with the remaining egg. Spread this golden mixture thickly across one of the rolled out pieces of dough, leaving a few centimetres border around the edge. Carefully lay the second rolled out dough across the top of this – if a few holes appear, just patch them up, the dough is pretty forgiving – and roll over the edges or pinch them together securely with the prongs of a fork. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until it’s puffy and golden and bready on top. Give it a few minutes before slicing into it. 

root vegetable stew with saffron, cinnamon, and turmeric

a recipe by myself, inspired loosely by Nigella’s Tunisian stew in Feast. This recipe is vegan and gluten-free.  

olive oil
about four sticks of celery
three carrots
two parsnips
half a butternut squash, or one small crown pumpkin, or that quantity of similar
two tins of tomatoes
one cinnamon stick
two heaped teaspoons turmeric
a pinch of ground cumin
three tablespoons golden sultanas (or dried apricots, chopped roughly)
a handful of sundried tomatoes, chopped roughly
pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds, to garnish, plus any green herb you like – flat leaf parsley or coriander would be great here 

Using a large knife, finely chop the celery sticks and two of the carrots into small dice – it doesn’t have to be neat, just keep chopping till you have a pile of formless orange and green. 

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan and tip in the carrot and celery. Sprinkle over some salt and allow to cook gently over a medium heat until softened. Meanwhile, chop the remaining carrot into thick cubes or half-moons or whatever you like; slice the parsnip into short sticks, and peel and cube the pumpkin. Throw all these vegetables into the pan and stir them, then add the two tins of tomatoes, the cinnamon stick, the turmeric, cumin, sultanas and dried tomatoes.

Add some salt and pepper, and bring all of this to the boil. Reduce the heat back to low, and then let it simmer for about an hour, adding a little water or stock if it looks a bit too dry. You’re basically done at this point, but you could carry on simmering it for several more hours if you like, or let it to sit and then reheat it the next day – essentially, nothing can hurt this dish. Add more spice or salt and pepper if you see fit. Once you’re ready to serve it, simply scatter it with pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds, and bring it to the table. More olive oil to drizzle over would be nice. 

Obviously softly sweet pumpkin and parsnip with earthy turmeric and saffron and richly tomato-y sauce is going to be wonderful, all hearty and spiced and twinkling with jewel-like green pumpkin seeds and golden sultanas, but the main attraction was obviously the cheese bread. Three different kinds of cheese? In this economy?

The combination of salty feta, the barging-into-your-mouth melty nature of mozzarella, and mild, milky ricotta is superb, and when surrounded by soft, warm, scone-like bread, leavened only by eggs and baking soda, it’s celestially – almost stressfully – good. Make this, I implore you. My only other proviso is to grind over plenty of black pepper once you’ve sliced into it – the cacio e pepe vibes make it spring to life.

The three of us sat on the floor around my flatmate’s amazing coffee table, toasted to ourselves with the world’s cheapest mimosas, ate heartily, and cackled with laughter at ourselves, half in the funny-haha way and in the oh-my-god-what-is-life-I’m-breaking-the-fourth-wall-to-ruefully-shrug-at-the-studio-audience-haha way. And then I staggered to work, full of cheese and good feelings (one and the same, really) and safe in the knowledge that when I got home there was a billion tons of leftovers.

Extra delightfully, I got to dance with my two best girls last night at Dirtbag Disco, the fundraiser dance party for Ballet is For Everyone. If you’ve ever considered supporting a cause, this is a super nice one. Please keep Kim and I in your prayers and candlelit vigils during Kate’s absence, although having consumed a large quantity of this hatchapuri already this week I see it filling the void that her presence leaves more or less adequately.

PS: If slow-cooked vegetable food appeals, then maybe consider similar blog posts I’ve done, about Penang Tofu Curry and Slow Roasted Eggplant and Butternut with Fried Cauliflower.
 

title from: Arctic Monkeys, From the Ritz to the Rubble from their amaaaazing first album
 

music lately: Dirtbag Disco edition

A$AP Rocky/Drake/2Chainz/Kendrick Lamar, F***in’ Problems. This song remains so addictive and the best thing to dance to.

M.I.A, Bad Girls. This song remains so addictive and the best thing to dance to.

Rihanna, We Found Love. This song remaings so addictive and the best thing to dance to.

next time: all I’ve been eating is leftovers from this! But I will make something happen. 

 

turn the music up way too loud, charge the pizza to the house

I have kind of a weird relationship with time, in that I’m never particularly relaxed and I always feel like whatever time I have is running out on me and that’s all I can focus on. I think a lot of this has to do with my writing and trying to make enough space to do that and freaking out when I fall asleep instead, but I was like this before I was writing and even if I abandoned this blog today I’d probably still end up feeling the same way. Does anyone else get that? Like if you wake up at 9am you’re all like “well it’s 9am, the day is practically over and I have achieved nothing” (don’t even get me started on the horror of waking up at 11am.) I mean, I remember thinking this as a child. There wasn’t even any internet then, what was I worried about not being on top of? Anyway, on Monday – one of my days off – I slept till 3pm because I physically could not stop going to sleep, and uh, this was kind of horrifying to me. It’s like…it’s not just writing I have to do. I can’t remember when I last did laundry! My room has not been tidied in forever which is in itself a source of stress! Six weeks ago I was supposed to start doing twenty minutes of yoga per day! I need to cook myself something so I actually have something to blog about even though I’m too tired to write! And it’s 3pm which means it’s basically tomorrow! Compounding to all this horror is the fact that it’s suddenly the following Monday and I’m in the exact same position.

Last Monday, upon waking, I somehow managed to briefly get my act together in a “I suspect there are worse problems out there than this you dingus” kind of way to make myself this scone pizza as a calming snack. One week later I’m finally spatula-ing together the time to write about it. This recipe is so easy and has a pleasing mix of so many comforting foods – not just the obvious two, scone and pizza, it also gives off cheese toastie and pie vibes. It is all good things. It is scone pizza.

I adapted it from a recipe in my OWN COOKBOOK (yes, I know, and no, you can’t buy a copy because every last one was sold and Penguin never republished it which means it’s a cult underground collectors item, not a failure) because why not be inspired by yourself? The recipe in my cookbook involves a simmered zucchini and tomato sauce to go on top, from a book of recipe clippings belonging to my paternal grandmother. But this time around I had a couple of tomatoes in the fridge and half a block of cheese and immediately knew I wanted both in my mouth together at an elevated temperature. Melted cheese is 100% my idea of a good time.

What you end up with is a thick, slightly crunchy and soft base, with the scorched sweetness of the magma-hot tomatoes and a hefty layer of melted cheese made moderately more elegant in a cacio-e-pepe kind of way by a grind of fresh pepper. I have until extremely recently hated black pepper, as it tasted like mouth-burning dust and nothing more, but I’ve come to appreciate its subtle sweetness and what it adds to a dish. Either that or my tastebuds are dying as I’m aging and this is my attempt at trying to feel something real. Little from column A, little from column B?

scone pizza

adapted from a recipe from my cookbook, Hungry and Frozen: The Cookbook.

200g plain flour (this is roughly two hastily-scooped cups full, if you don’t have scales) (which I don’t currently)
one teaspoon baking powder

25g melted butter
125g (half a cup) thick, plain yoghurt
pinch of salt
two tomatoes
as much grated cheese as you like
cracked pepper

Set your oven to 200C/400F and place a sheet of baking paper on a baking tray.

Briefly mix the flour, baking powder, butter, yoghurt and salt together in a bowl. Add a little bit more yoghurt if it’s way too floury. Squish it together gently with your hands to form a soft ball. Tip it onto the baking tray and softly roll it out to form a rough circle of a couple of centimetres. Brush it with a little extra melted butter if you like – I didn’t do this myself but it has just occurred to me now that it would be a good idea, probably.

Thickly slice the tomatoes and arrange them on top of the scone base. Grate over as much cheese as you like, and then some. Bake for around 20 minutes, till the cheese is bubbling and the tomatoes are a bit scorched and softened. Grind over some pepper.

Allow it to cool for a minute and then slice into four and hoon the lot.

Note: I, for some reason, had like two tablespoons of yoghurt left in the bottom of a container so just made up the remaining amount with milk and this worked perfectly. Consider yourself permitted to do something similar if you find yourself in this position.

As with all food, it tastes excellent in bed. It’s one thing to hang out in bed heaps and consume your main meal of the day in there, but sleep? In your bed? How troublingly self-indulgent.

By the way, I am trying to work on this strange thing I have with time, because it benefits absolutely no-one if I’m stressing constantly about it. I just don’t know how to. So far my only technique is being frustrated at myself for being stressed, followed by frustration at myself for my frustration at myself. Also trying to actually let myself sleep if I need it without being too angry about it.

Without being too on the nose, I have, uh, bought myself some thyme. This was inspired by my Stargrazing horoscope for May in Lucky Peach magazine:

This season, for you, is about translating jittery emotions into healthy, productive action. Yer an original, Aries, so I’m into forking over an idea you can truly make your own: This is a completely excellent time to plant yourself a little herb garden with whatever you like in it (…) That dualism—embarking on a project that’s all yours and has tangible, visible rewards (LI’L PLANTS!), while also slow ride, taking it easy—is perfect for you, jitterbug. Pick up a few cheapo herb plants of your choosing. Care for them diligently, as a way of transmuting the care you’re unsure of giving yourself right now. See this attention and love as the same thing.”

I mean, does that resonate or what. Thyme is one of my very favourite herbs and is also very pretty, with its gently tangled mass of tiny leaves, and I am so going to nurture this lil plant, and I guess myself as well. My first order of business: acknowledging that I’m actually asleep right now as I type this, and to let myself have a nap.

title from: Blink 182, Reckless Abandonment

music lately:

I Will Never Leave You, from the very short-lived 1996 musical Side Show. This showcases the spectacular voices of Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner, and is one of those songs that’s all like, ugh we have to get this stupid first verse out of the way so we can get to the AMAZING BELTING IN THE CODA and the payoff is thoroughly worth it.

Digital Versicolour, Glass Candy. This song is on the playlist at work and every time it comes on I’m like “woooooo!” I know, what fascinating provenance. It’s just very mellow and hypnotic and good.

Sean Paul, Like Glue. I heard this song on loop five times in a row the other day and it was honestly the ideal way to consume this song. It’s the sound of a warm evening in summer, without any of the hassle of having to be overheated.
 
next time: my friend Rose gave me some old Seventeen magazines that used to belong to her mum and the recipes in them are so great and I seriously want to try one.

 

my anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hon

d’ough!
Well, ya girl is finally not completely sick, which I’m taking as a victory. Considering I’ve spent the last month battling both the flu and a cold, while they in turn both battled each other for fealty to my body, simply being able to get through the night without coughing with metronome-like regularity is pretty wonderful. 
Somewhat more unwonderful is that I had a book proposal turned down. You all know I want little more than to write another cookbook and start an incredibly hilarious TV cooking show and live out my days as a gloriously rich happy wee celesbian. So in the spirit of doing stuff instead of just talking about it endlessly, last month I approached a publisher with my idea for my next book. And…it wasn’t picked up. It’s so weird because half of me is unusually pragmatic about it – telling myself that book proposals get rejected constantly and this is entirely normal and also my proposal was probably very badly formatted since I’ve never done one before; while the other half of me is all dramatically clutching at my heart and wailing “whyyyyyyy but I’m so good why am I not good enough please hold all my calls because I need to take to my bed for a week” and so on. 
So while I’m wrestling between the burning embarrassment of rejection and also the cool, calm acknowledgement that this happens to pretty much everyone who approaches publishers, in telling you all this I’m hoping it lets the cool-calm side win. I like to be stupidly open about myself On Here and just the act of relaying this situation helps it not seem like the worst thing in the world, (I know, there are a lot of worse-er things in the world but I’m incredibly self-centred, okay) and that’s a start. Firstly, I was so lucky to be approached by the publishers for my first book rather than me having to go approaching people, and after what happened with my book last year it took a long time for me to even get to this point where I can put myself out there like this, so it’s all progress and stuff.  Related: my tarot card for September is all about emotional stability and being highly chill. Look at me go! 
look upon my works ye mighty and despair (I care not that this is probably completely the wrong use of this phrase) 

Meanwhile, in an act that reassured me that I still have something to offer the world, I thought up this bread roll recipe the other day and I’m incredibly pleased with how well it all turned out. I had some cream cheese left over from making another thing and wondered if it might be good worked into bread dough in the same way that you work butter into dough when making brioche. As they smugly tend to do, my idea worked. The buns were impossibly tender and fluffy, with a slight, slight hint of tanginess from the cream cheese. I know I make it look incredibly complicated in the recipe below, but really this is very easy – you just mix some stuff together with a spoon, let it rise, knead in the cream cheese and shape it into buns, let it rise again, then bake it. And then, several hours later, tearful, covered in flour and utterly starving, you have yourself some freshly baked buns for very little effort.

I acknowledge that making your own bread might seem like little more than a way to wilfully make your life more difficult, but it really is weirdly fun – watching the dough rise, feeling the change in texture as you knead it, and most of all when you get to hold up the finished product and be all “I created life! With my own two hands! These hands!” The smell of bread baking in the oven is actual heaven, and busting them open and spreading them with butter, which swiftly melts into every puffy crevice, before rapturously biting through the crisp exterior feels like a reward for living. And frankly we all deserve more rewards for living.

cream cheese buns

a recipe by myself

three cups strong bread flour
one sachet instant dried yeast
one teaspoon salt
25g melted butter (plus a little extra for brushing)
one and a half cups of warm water
150g cream cheese

Firstly, take the cream cheese out of the fridge so that it is soft enough to work into the dough later on. Then: put the flour, yeast and salt together in a good sized bowl, then tip in the melted butter and warm water and give it a rough stir so it forms a shaggy, loose mixture. You may need a tiny bit more water, it all depends on your flour and sea level and the curve of the earth and so on. Cover the bowl in plastic wrap or a tea towel and leave in a warmish place – a room with the heater on, in a sunny spot on a table, in a hot water cupboard, on top of an aging and overheated laptop, that kind of thing – for an hour or so, until it has expanded in size somewhat. 

At this point, use your fist to push it down and deflate it, and now you’re going to start kneading the cream cheese into it. If you’ve got the kind of cream cheese that comes in a block, then cut it into thin slices, otherwise just get small spoonfuls of it. Either leave the dough in the bowl and knead it there (my usual choice for saving on mess) or transfer it to a clean, lightly floured surface, and work the cream cheese in while kneading it by putting the cream cheese on top of the dough then pushing it away from you with the heel of your palm and then folding it back towards you, then pushing it away from you again, adding more cream cheese every time. Does that make sense? Push away, bring back towards you, push away, and with every push and fold you should be able to work the cream cheese further into the dough. Ideally you want to be able to actually get it to become part of the dough itself, but it doesn’t matter if there’s a few bits here and there. Just keep working it till it forms a springy, smooth ball of dough. 

Pull off bits of this dough and roll them into small buns, sitting them close together on a paper-lined baking tray. Set your oven to 200C/400F and let the buns sit for about 20 minutes to get a final rise, brush with some extra melted butter, and then bake them for around 15-20 minutes until golden brown on top.  

I ate four of these immediately after taking them out of the oven, and then I delivered some to my friend Jen in a pleasingly neighbourly manner, and the remaining ones I ate at around 3am after getting home from work the next night. They are so good. And frankly, I’m pretty alright myself.
_________________________________________________________
title from: the wonderful and important Nicki Minaj and her amazing song Anaconda (although obviously this bit is sampled from Baby Got Back.) If you don’t mind ending up on a downward spiral of watching choreography videos on youtube and lamenting your own lack of skills, you should definitely get stuck in a downward spiral of watching choreography videos on youtube because the Tricia Miranda choreo for Anaconda is incredible.
_________________________________________________________
music lately: 

Carly Rae Jepsen, Emotion. I’m SO into her right now. Perfect pop.

If Mama Was Married, with Leigh-Ann Larkin and Laura Benanti from the 2009 Broadway revival of Gypsy. You have to scroll few to several minutes in to get to the song but the harmonies get me right in the heart every time. I watched the Bette Midler version of this recently with my excellent girlfriend and it’s just such the musical to end all musicals.

Breeders, Cannonball. Gah this song is so good and there was no one cuter than Kim and Kelley Deal.
_________________________________________________________
next time: I’ve been making lots of little bits and pieces and instagramming them lately, maybe I’ll do a big post about all of them? Also you wouldn’t know it from the weather but it is the first day of spring so maybe something….springy. 

rise up wise up say it loud

greet the new year with arms and bread wide open

On New Year’s Day, my best girls Kim and Kate and I crawled into a small tent, away from the angry heat of the sun, and did tarot card readings for the year ahead. The tent was already up and we were at a barbeque/picnic thing, we didn’t just go into a field and purposefully erect a Tent of Mystery, although that would’ve been pretty neat. Next year? The cards were from The Wild Unknown and each design was so utterly beautiful that I want the whole lot of them tattooed all over my body. The card that I ended up picking as my overall theme for 2015 was not the funnest but when I found out the meaning, I was like UGH you accurate damn tarot cards. It is all about not deceiving myself or being deceived, seeing reality instead of what I want to see, and not being sucked in by wishful thinking or being stuck inside my own head (two things that like, define me currently.) So it’s not quite “a thousand riches shall befall you instantly and you can chill out indefinitely” but it’s very wise and for someone who needs to take such advice on board, I’m sorta impressed with myself for instinctively being drawn to this particular card when I was choosing from the pack, instead of gravitating towards something nicer but less direct.

Another thing I did on New Year’s Day was get up early and bake bread with my own two hands, despite being out verrrry late the night before dancing wildly to Beyonce (the only way to end the year since she was my soundtrack for the entirety of it.) Am I a hero? Yes. Although, as far as they go this is a nice, unthreateningly simple bread recipe, which requires no difficult ingredients, very little kneading, and the deep characteristic slashes in the dough make it eye-catchingly gorgeous. Which means that you can loudly and obnoxiously announce “Oh, just some simple rustic artisinal exquisite Italianate bread” when you place it at the table in front of people.

This particular bread, with its leafy, sliced-open facade, is known as Fougasse. When I was a youth I used to claim that fougasse bread was my favourite food – if I was ever asked – because I tried it once from a bakery in Titirangi with my family, and was deeply impressed with it, and I guess, also with myself. I think my train of thought was that it made me sound loftily sophisticated, which when you grow up in tiny rural farmland with big city dreams and a hearty respect for Stacey McGill, is apparently very important. No-one actually cared about fougasse being my favourite food and the only impression it gave off was (an accurate) one of insufferableness. But at least my tastes weren’t misguided! I wasn’t wrong! Because fougasse bread is highly delicious.

This recipe produces two loaves (one of mine was much larger than the other because when I divided the ball of dough in half I didn’t really get the ‘half’ bit right) of chewy, airy, crisp, wonderful bread. While it would be a fine accompaniment to literally anything (including another loaf of bread) probably my ideal way of eating it would be like this: just myself, sitting at a table with an entire loaf of fougasse, a bowl of very good olive oil, and maybe some balsamic vinegar and sea salt. And some wine.

fougasse bread

recipe by myself, mashed together from a bunch of different recipes I read online. The instructions look scarily lengthy but I just like to hand-hold you through anything that might be slightly unfamiliar or confusing.

500g bread/hi-grade flour
one sachet dried yeast
two teaspoons sea salt or some similarly fancy sodium product (or one teaspoon regular salt)
one teaspoon sugar
one and a half cups water
one tablespoon olive oil, plus more for brushing
dried herbs of your choice for sprinkling over – I used za’atar, a mix of dried thyme, sumac, and sesame seeds. Some grated parmesan would be rad here.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, salt and sugar. Slowly pour in the water – just cold tap water is fine – and the oil, and stir together to make a sticky mass. Knead the dough either in the bowl or on a floured surface, pushing it away with your knuckles and folding it over and repeating, decisively, adding a little more flour or water if it seems to require it. However, it should come together on its own. When it’s ready, the dough should be a smoothish, slightly springy ball. Put the dough back into the bowl (you might want to wash and dry it first) and cover with gladwrap/clingfilm.

Allow the dough to rise in a warmish spot – a sunny windowsill, a hot water cupboard, something like that, but don’t stress too much about temperature, just on the bench is fine – and in an hour’s time it should be puffy and doubled in size.

At this point, set your oven to 250 C/480 F and put an oven tray in there to heat up with it. Place a large sheet of baking paper on the bench, cut the dough in half, and carefully transfer half of this dough onto the baking paper. Use your fingers to gently push it out into a large, rough oval shape – the idea is to retain lots of air, which is why you aren’t using a rolling pin – and when you’re satisfied, use a sharp knife to make cuts in it to form a kind of leafy pattern like I have done in the pictures here. Spread the slices apart with your fingers (otherwise they’ll merge back together when you bake them) and then brush the loaf with a little olive oil and sprinkle over your sprinklings of choice – as I said in the ingredients, I went with za’atar. Cover loosely with gladwrap/clingfilm and allow to sit for fifteen minutes, which will help it puff up a little. Finally, open the oven, being careful not to blast yourself with the heat of it like I did, and carefully pick up the piece of baking paper with the dough on it (it’s not that hard to transfer it, but like, don’t wave it around or anything.) Place the baking paper and dough straight onto the oven tray and bake the loaf for ten to fifteen minutes, until deep golden and bready-looking. While it’s baking, get another sheet of baking paper and shape the second half of the dough as per the instructions above, and once it has rested for fifteen minutes, bake that one. Yayyy, two loaves of bread!

slash fiction

I truly hope that all of you reading this (and also basically everyone, even people who don’t read my blog deserve love) have exciting goals, thrilling plans, and a lot of love for yourself as you start this year. And if you don’t, that’s incredibly normal and fine and tomorrow’s another day. 2014 was a seriously weird year and very uneasy in places, but 2015 seems to be tentatively full of promise. Good and bad and strange and surprising things will always happen though, and I’m just going to do my very best to do my very best.

title from: those twin cuties Tegan and Sara with their scrappily heartfelt song Missing You.

music lately:

Nicki Minaj, Pills’n’Potions and Azealia Banks, Soda. I feel like these two sad, sweet, dreamy songs go together well. Also, both these women have new albums out and they are killer, go listen, go listen.

Scarlett Johansen, Anywhere I Lay My Head. Her album of the same name is SO great, and this is my favourite from it. It’s just glorious. (Yeah, she made an album.)

next time: gosh! I don’t know. Something summery and dreamy, hopefully.

 

all i wanna do is cook your bread, just to make sure you’re well fed

literal banana bread 

Me oh my, guess who has been busy lately? Me of course, who else do I talk about on here. I mean, this blog post opens with two sentences both starting with the word “me”. And then a sentence beginning with “I”. Well, that’s why it’s called “a blog” and not “a Place of Altruistic Humility”, I guess. Pop psychology aside, I have been one busy kitten recently, and happily, it’s all stuff that I enjoy doing. Like freelance writing and starting a small yet successful chocolate cookie dough pretzel thing delivery business. The latter of which was a clever idea by my clever friend Kate, which I kind of dismissed at first – not because I thought it was a bad idea, but because I thought no-one would care. Turns out people care hard about my cookie dough pretzel things. I have been striding all over town, getting way more exercise than I care for, dropping off parcels of chocolatey salty-sugary glory to both suspecting and unsuspecting people. The unsuspecting ones are fun – when people order them as a surprise for a friend, and then I get to appear at their work saying “hello, you don’t know me, but I’m Laura and I started a small cookie delivery business and your friend ordered some for you.” Cookie dough is sweet, but so is being the recipient of a human being’s surprised joy, I’ve come to learn.

I’m still drifting around in a “what am I doing with my life what’s to become of me I’m still not a famous cookbook empire-wielding squillionaire with many tumblr fansites dedicated to me yet I have clearly failed wait chill out Laura it’s only Tuesday” kind of haze, but am definitely feeling more productive now that I’m making it rain cookie dough. And it also means that this week I’m paying my rent with money that exists, instead of doing it with my credit card!

Speaking of being super-unemployed, I am feeling very reproachful towards myself for not using the time I had being all jobless to make like, make falling-to-pieces-tender casseroles and brisket and hummus from scratch using soaked dried chickpeas and brioche and rich broth and so on and such. Time flies when you’re not making the most of it to make exquisite slow-cooked food, I tell you. However, I did make one thing that befits the time on my hands: literal banana bread, from my cookbook. My underground, rare collector’s item, soon-to-be-out-of-print, definitely-have-come-to-terms-with-this-lololol cookbook.

This is the photo that appears in my cookbook. Kim and Jason did all the beauteous photos for it, but neither could remember who took this one, so I’m going to praise them both just to be diplomatic. All I know for sure is that my nails were painted this way because I dressed up as a Gold Lion for a party the previous night. 

This is a really easy recipe, because you don’t have to do any kneading. Just stir and wait and bake. It’s charmingly simple. The bananas take the place of any fat and sugar that you might add normally, not because I don’t adore both those things, but because I wanted to see if bananas had it in them to be used in a yeasted bread recipe as the major source of flavour and sweetness. Also I really like the idea of using the word “literal” in a recipe title. Y’know, because banana cake baked in a loaf tin is called banana bread, but this is actual bread made with bananas, so the title is literally justified.

literal banana bread

a recipe by myself, from my soon-to-be rare cult hit collector’s item cookbook Hungry and Frozen. Makes one large loaf.

500g flour
one sachet dried instant yeast
one teaspoon salt
two ripe bananas
300ml warm water
two tablespoons raw sugar

Mix the flour, yeast and salt together in a large bowl. Mash the bananas, and mix them into the flour with the water. It’ll look a bit gross. 

Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave in a gently warmish place for two hours.

At this point it should be risen and puffy and frankly even more gross looking – a bit greyish and unpromising. Scrape it into a well greased (or baking paper lined) loaf tin, and leave to sit for twenty minutes while you heat the oven to 180 C. 

Sprinkle over the sugar, and bake for 45 minutes. Allow to sit for a minute or two before tipping it out of the tin. You might need to run a knife around the sides to loosen it. 

You end up with this piping hot loaf of gently banana-scented bread, crusty and doughy and really wonderful when thickly sliced and spread with butter and honey, or even better, butter and cream cheese and brown sugar. It’s a good one to try if you’re unsure about breadmaking, since all you need is a little time, a bowl, and a spoon. And all the ingredients I listed. And, um, an oven. And I’ll stop there, because you probably don’t need me to elaborate further (although I always am concerned that people do, and never quite know when to stop over-explaining things.) I actually don’t love bananas just on their own – something about the texture and the sickly scent and the freakish little nubbin bits at each end of the fruit put me off, but they suddenly become appealing again when they’re baked into something. The banana flavour isn’t overwhelming here – just a sweet, promising hint of it with every bite.

literally delicious
So if you’re in Wellington CBD and you want chocolate cookie dough pretzel things delivered to your door with what will most likely be a smile, giz a yell. If you’re not in Wellington CBD, here’s what you’re missing, sorry.
dark chocolate, white chocolate, bounty thing. I eat a lot of cookie dough, I am highly authorised to assure you these are majorly delicious.
just a reminder that I’m literally cute. Hey, I said this is a blog, not a Place of Altruistic Humility!
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title from: the truly excellent Etta James singing I Just Wanna Make Love To You. 
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music lately:

the aquadolls. I really love all their music, it’s kind of foul-mouthed surfy pop and it’s so much fun.

Dillon, Texture of My Blood. Dreamy and feelingsy.

FKA Twigs, Two Weeks. Almost too dreamy to bear, tbh.

Jesse Thomas, Say Hello. Lovely, happy, country-ish music, so naturally it makes me feel sad.
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next time: not sure, yeah? something delicious written about in a charming manner, no doubt. 

we’re up all night to get lucky

It seems very unfair to have both insomnia and writer’s block, not that I like the phrase writer’s block because it seems so self-fulfilling, but these are the words that rolled around my head like a marble on a wooden floor this entire night (not like the regular marbles that we used to play with in school, or even the double-sized ones we called bonkers, but the rare prize known as the grandaddy, triple the size of a normal marble and like holding a planet in your own hand. Until you inevitably lost them all. I have no idea what the point of playing marbles was when you could spend all your time gazing deeply into them – needless to say I was much better at looking at them than playing with them competitively. Man, I guess I have a lot of feelings about marbles.) I paused only to have a brief but elaborate dream about being unable to go to sleep, which was, I don’t know, a little bit on the nose even for my brain. 
But: I have a doctor’s appointment today (which will basically be me pleading “make me slee-hee-heeeeeep”) so hopefully that will start to take care of it. It being a complete state of somnambulance, of being unable to sleep more than two or three hours a night, of being unable to keep my eyelids from flying open and staying that way. Uncool! Sleeping should be one of those things you don’t have to try too hard at, like being funny and paying attention to letters from the IRD.  

Also a bit unfair: I’m not sure that today’s recipe is as good/irrefutably perfection as it could be, but I also think I know how to make it better, so I’m sharing it with you anyway. Every time I went to sweepingly refuse to write about it, I had to admit that it did taste really, really good. I’m talking about cinnamon date rolls, by the way.

But first, I’m talking about my Auckland cookbook launch last week. Wow. 
hard twee.
MC Rose Matafeo and I. She was super amazing. Also this is her instagram. Hope that’s okay, Rose. Rose?

 I choo-choo-choose you.
It was such a fun, incredible night. My mum, dad, and little brother were able to be there, outlandishly stunning Sacha McNeil from Nightline came along; I invited Anna Coddington (who I’ve interviewed on this blog before) and she brought Anika Moa and I was like “HI ANIKA MOA THIS IS SO IMPORTANT”; I got to see so many friends and meet so many gorgeously terrific and terrifically gorgeous new people that I’ve previously only talked to online, like Amanda, Lani and Jilly, I got given a corsage (!!) and there were so many nice people and they were all so nice to me and it ruled. Seriously, do yourself a favour and have a cookbook launch party. 
Feverish and fervent thanks to Delaney Mes who helped in a million different ways to get the party happening, to Unity Books who supplied copies of my book and a friendly person to sell them on the night, to the people at the beauteous Bread and Butter Letter boutique for being charming and kind and having such a fun place for my party, and to fizzy sherbet lollies and pretzels for helping get me through the night. So many nights, in fact.
And, if you want, you can watch MC Rose’s delightful intro and my own speech, which, like all public speaking, I ADORED. If you were at the Wellington launch party, yeah, I recycled most of my jokes. I’m not good at letting go. 

So finally, these cinnamon date rolls that I’m quite, but not intensely enthused about. Here’s the deal. They are easy. Amazingly delicious. And other such adjectives. But…don’t do what I did and use regular flour. It’s tiresome, but if you specifically buy hi-grade/bread flour, these buns will have the extra gluten they deserve to become puffier and lighter and easier to knead and even more wonderful than they already are. So – if you only have regular flour, they’re pretty much great, but go on. Learn from my stumbles. Since there are so many and all.

What I’ve done here is take two rectangles of dough and roll them, sushi-ly, around chopped dates, butter, cinnamon, and a gritty sprinkling of brown sugar. They’re then scored, garlic-bread-style, and baked so they have a kind of pull-apart quality, while leaving the sticky, caramelly filling thoroughly cocooned in soft dough so it doesn’t burn. Cinnamon is such a warm, comforting scent and for what it’s worth, these will make your house smell incredible. Kneading the dough isn’t so hard, it’s just some patient, rather satisfying pushing and flattening, and the yeast comes in sachets so you don’t have to worry about getting scientific with it. Just throw it in to the flour and go. There isn’t actually that much sugar sprinkled into these, but what’s there melts into the butter and creates sticky, syrupy toffee wonderfulness. That will burn your DNA off if you eat them straight from the oven, so try to let them cool a little.

cinnamon date rolls


A recipe by myself

500g plain flour
50g sugar
1 sachet instant dried yeast
1 teaspoon salt
50g melted butter
3 tablespoons greek yoghurt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup dates
2 tablespoons brown sugar
50g butter, extra, cubed
Cinnamon

Place the flour, sugar, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Tip in the butter, yoghurt, and milk, and mix to make a rough, sticky dough. Knead repeatedly by pushing the dough with the palm of your hand and back into a ball repeatedly, until it forms a solidly cohesive-enough lump, which springs back quickly when you prod it. Cover with gladwrap and allow to rise in a warmish (or at least, not freezing, it doesn’t actually have to be that warm) place for an hour or so, then get back in the kitchen with it. Push it down again with your fist and divide it into two even pieces. 

Roll them out into rectangles about fifteen centimetres wide and 25 centimetres long – although really, so long as they’re similarly sized rectangles it doesn’t matter about measurements. You may need to let the dough sit for ten minutes to allow it to relax a bit before rolling it further. Roughly chop the dates, and sprinkle them, along with the brown sugar, plenty of cinnamon, and the and cubed remaining butter, over the two rectangles. Roll them up from one of the long sides so you have two long tubular tubes of dough. 

Set your oven to 180 C/350 F and sit the two dough rolls in a baking dish lined with baking paper, as I’ve done in these pictures. Using a serrated knife, make some decent slashes across the top of each roll of dough, which will allow you to be able to pull the whole thing apart into segments easier once it’s coked. Allow to sit for a further fifteen minutes while the oven warms up – this stage is called proving, I guess because you have to prove your commitment to breadmaking by waiting again – and finally bake for around 40 minutes. 

Homemade bready things don’t last like ones from a packet, but you and I both know (now that I’ve told you) that pulled apart pieces of this come back to life easily in the microwave.
Oh, okay, I guess I didn’t have writer’s block after all.

One more from the launch party –
Here I am signing a book for someone. Clearly my years and years of ballet training have reaped dividends, as far as my impeccable sitting posture goes.
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title via: the assuredly ubiquitous Daft Punk song with the splendidly handsome Pharrell, Get Lucky. You’ll probably like it.
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Music lately: 

Bastille, Laura Palmer. I do like a good Twin Peaks reference. And a good song. This, luckily, is both.

Tim and I hosted a dear friend’s birthday party on Saturday night. We danced till three am. In the morning. I particularly enjoyed flinging myself recklessly to Marina and the Diamonds’ heart-searing song Shampain.
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Next time: Sleep. If I have to stay awake and think about all the ways that I should be sleeping in order to make it happen. Also: a recipe that I believe in to some exaggerated percentage, like 799% or 100% or something.