and we walked off, to look for america

As the late, always-makes-me-cry-so-I-can-only-listen-to-her-occasionally, great Laurie Beechman sang in the original Broadway production of Annie: “NYC, I give you fair warning: up there, in lights, I’ll be.”
I also give YOU fair warning: Tim and I have a plane to catch in less than two hours. All the tasks and jobs and endless succession of things that needed doing pushed this necessary blog post further, and further, and further back, till suddenly I’m typing really fast and realising that I haven’t had breakfast but I have had two coffees and I still need to finish packing.
With that, please allow me some self-indulgently breathless bullet points. I’ll try to make them wordily eloquent bullet points though. 
– I handed in my cookbook manuscript. It made me feel a bit like this:
This cookbook has been my life for the last three months. Frankly, it has been my life since I got the email from my publisher back in January asking if I was interested. Franklier than that, it has been my life for a much longer time, it just didn’t realise it yet. Or something. It’s so strange not to be working on it – a little bittersweet and empty, a watermark left from a glass of campari on a table – but my flipping gosh it’s good to have achieved it. I feel like I climbed a huge mountain, only way better, because there was no actual mountain-climbing involved. My creative team of Jason, Kim and Kate (plus project-manager Tim) were utterly brilliant to the last. I’ll be full of more details about the book itself as the process goes along, but for now: I’m just going to enjoy not thinking about it quite so hard.

– Here is some pasta I made. It’s a very specific recipe, based on there being almost no food left in the house because we’re leaving for a month, but also some foods that really need eating. I like bowtie pasta because of its rakish, eyebrow-wagglingly charming shape, but use whatever, of course.

Bowties with Smoked Paprika Burnt Butter and Almonds

A recipe by me. Serves one.

100g bowtie pasta
30g butter
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
50g almonds
Green stuff for garnish. Parsley is good here.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water till al dente. Drain. 

While the pasta’s cooking, melt the butter in a pan and allow it to properly sizzle and burn. This will give you marvelous depth of flavour. Tip in the paprika, and stir, followed by the almonds. Continue to cook a little longer till the almonds are coated and lightly browned. Remove from the heat, tip on top of the drained pasta, and blanket with any kind of garnishy greens.

This is simple, yet highly delicious. Nutty, saltily fulsome butter. Smoky, intense paprika. Crunchy, lightly scorched almonds. The greens aren’t really that necessary but the paprika tints the butter dark orange and it does have connotations of engine grease. If I wasn’t photographing it I probably wouldn’t have bothered, really.

More bullet points ahoy!

– Dearest Jo made me this amazing and delicious cake to say congratulations for finishing the book. It’s appropriate because I have SO MANY feelings. We ate it, along with waffles and other important breakfast foods, while watching the new season of Parks and Recreation. Did I say feelings? FEELINGS.

– Speaking of Parks and Rec, a pie recipe of mine is featuring in the new edition of BUST magazine, which has the clever and hilarious and stunning Aubrey Plaza on the cover. BUST is an American magazine, even, so just try to calculate how blown my mind is right now.

– I guess I’ll leave it there, since I really, really, really do have to carry on packing and cleaning and such before we go. These beyond-dreamy prints by Colette St Yves arrived in the mail today though: I may just quietly swoon over them instead of doing anything productive. 
Tim and I threw ourselves a little going-away party on Wednesday night and afterwards I fully started sobbing. Tim, ever the logical person, said “it’s only a month”. To which I, ever the logical-in-my-head person, replied “yes but we always do so much every month”. A self-indulgent cry out of the way, I am now more or less full of excitement about America. There might be a tiny, tiny bit of maudlin pillow-hugging before we leave though, what can I say. Feelings. 
I promise real, proper blogging will resume when we get back at the end of October. But – oh what a but – I have two thoroughly awesome guest bloggers to house-sit this blog for me while I’m away. Guest blogger the first is Kate, stylist queen of my cookbook and all round purveyor of excellence. Guest blogger the second is cooler-than-ice cream artist-in-every-sense-of-the-word Coco Solid. You’re in mighty good hands.
However, while I’m gone Tim and I are upkeeping a travel blog, which we’ve called USA! USA! USA! (it was so hard not to try to make some kind of Babysitters Club or Broadway-related title, a Homer Simpson quote is a good compromise.) You’re welcome to read it and keep abreast with our traveling times.
Thanks for all the good words as I felt my way through this cookbook-writing process – if it’s not too disconcerting, imagine me hugging my laptop right now by way of metaphorical gratitude. I mean the gratitude is real, me hugging the laptop is a metaphor for me hugging you all. Actually I’m not sure if it is a correct metaphor, maybe more of a – well, anyway. You get what I mean. 
And so: au revoir. Ka kite. See you soon.
Title via: Simon and Garfunkel’s America. Dreamy. 
Music Lately: The All-American Edition
Azealia Banks released her new video for Luxury last night. What a talented babe is she.
Lana Del Rey, Jump. Del Rey always makes me feel a bit moody, but I love her songs so much, so what can you do? I feel like I’m building up an immunity though, this is one of her more bewitching songs that’s juuuuuust upbeat enough.
Seasons of Love, from the movie soundtrack (though the original cast recording is also beautiful and I unsurprisingly recommend both) of RENT. We’re going to New York. Where RENT is from. What is life? 
Next time: well I’ll certainly have plenty to talk about, won’t I?

too late for second guessing, too late to go back to sleep

Cat tension at Christmastime has to be the tensest tension of all, don’t you think? No-one does room-filling awkward silence and passive-aggressive stares and face-clawing like two mistrustful cats.
I mean these days for me Christmas is a time to be grateful above all for family and food and love, but one must also be realistic. So my ultimate Christmas tip is that if you’re feeling like your family Christmas isn’t going to be the smoothest day, for whatever reason – breakups, extreme political differences, old feuds, control issues – find two cats who don’t like each other, put them in the room and their belly-deep snarls and fixed hateful gazes may well help make the humans in the room seem quite mellow in comparison. Bonus: if they settle down, they may then go nuzzle people and no-one can be angry or critical of your roast while patting a cat.
Also: Hasn’t Poppy grown since we first saw her? She’s the one on the right, Roger’s on the left. 
It is Christmas Eve in New Zealand, which means it’s the 23rd up in the northern Hemisphere. I love Christmas Eve most of all – the anticipation, the midnight baking, the present wrapping, the sellotape in the hair, the crying over a cake that just will not bake, the weird feeling watching the news and seeing that horrible things happen no matter what time of year it is, the Rock’n’Roll Christmas cassette with Australian session singers singing Do They Know It’s Christmas turned up just a little too loud, seeing your parents’ impressed faces when you organisedly place your presents under the tree, singing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen to the cats who are suddenly united by their distinct unimpressedness for you.
Yes, midnight baking. It started off as disorganisation, now it’s practically a tradition. But still disorganisation. I’m not saying you HAVE to do the homemade present thing, but if you’re looking for something to make yourself feel less laid-back today; if you’re wanting to supplement what’s already under the tree; if your aunty or dad or whoever doesn’t need any more stuff taking up space in the house; if you want to get someone a present but don’t know them well enough to commit to buying them something; if you suddenly got a call from Great-Granny Mildred saying she’s descending upon your home for Christmas and you have to provide her a gift – look, there’s enough reasons to want to make someone food as a gift. Scorched almonds for all is also completely fine and takes up a lot less administration in the brain, but if you’re feeling some last-minute frantic commitment, then read on, friends.
The HungryandFrozen List Of Last-minute, 11th Hour, Easy Homemade Christmas Presents That Won’t Make You Cry If You Start Them After 11pm And Will Also Make You Look Quite Good In The Eye Of The Receiver.

First: White Chocolate Candy Cane Hearts. Slice the tails off two candy canes if you want them to be nice squat little love hearts like here, make them face each other, fill the cavity with melted chocolate and sprinkle over edible glitter, 100s and 1000s or your decoration of choice. Refrigerate, and give a couple to anyone under 10 (or under 10 at…heart!)

This list contains such wonders as Orange Confit and the easiest fruitcake…

Christmas-Spiced Chocolate Cake….

Gingerbread Cut-out Cookies….

Rhubarb-Fig Jam

…. and Coconut Condensed Milk Brownies.

Jams and Sauces and Things In Jars But Are Actually Pretty Easy Despite Looking Fancy:

Orange Confit (sliced oranges in syrup. They’ll find things to do with it. Bonus: is cheap!)
Cranberry Sauce (So, so fast.)
Bacon Jam (The best to make at the last minute, because it needs refrigerating. Please tell the recipient this, please.)
Cashew Butter
Red Chilli Nahm Jim (for your cool relative, esp if accompanied by a jar of cashew butter.)
Cranberry (or any-berry) Curd (slightly more effort, so I’d do this before midnight – but so pretty.)
Rhubarb-Fig Jam (Easier than it sounds)

Baked Things, The Classic Choice:

Christmas-Spiced Chocolate Cake (This is also excellent for pudding on the day itself. Yes, you’ll have to dash to the supermarket to get almonds but it’s really easy and it doesn’t matter if it sinks in the middle.)
Chocolate Orange Loaf Cake
Vegan Chocolate Cake (It’s good! It’s easy!)

Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies  (Dairy free!)
Coconut Macaroons
Chocolate Macaroons (These two macaroons aren’t the fancy French kind, but they’re amazingly easy, travel well, and are both delicious and gluten free. With the Coconut macaroon recipe, if you don’t have the time/money/energy for ground almonds, just use the same quantity of dessicated coconut.)
Gingerbread Cut-out Cookies (vegan, hey-ohh!)
Christmas Cake (I know, what? But I ate this the very next day and it tasted great. If you gently microwave the fruit in the ginger beer and then stir in the liquor it should do the trick. The rest is just stirring!)
Coconut Condensed Milk Brownies
Salted Caramel Slice (This is a food blog, I have to use the words “salted caramel” once every post. It’s a rule!)
Also, if you click on the link to the Orange Confit above, you’ll see a recipe for the easiest, fastest fruit loaf, which is a GREAT present to give away to those in your family who you know actually eat fruitcake. It’s dairy-free, too!


Moonshine Biffs (like homemade Milk Bottles!)
Raw Vegan Chocolate Cookie Dough Truffles (Actually just look through Hannah’s wonderful wonderful archives if this isn’t enough for you, she’ll see you right.
Lolly Cake

I Am Already Asleep But Need A Present For That Person Who Needs A Present:

Candy Cane Chocolate Thing (No effort, vegan – well, I think candy canes are vegan – gluten free, amazingly delicious, just store it carefully so it doesn’t melt)
White Chocolate Coco Pops Slice (Even less effort! Maybe try adding a little oil to the white chocolate so it doesn’t sieze up like mine did.)

Merriest of merry Christmasses to you all – whatever you do or don’t celebrate at this time of year, I hope that plenty of love and good things come your way. I’m currently at home with the whanau and it feels good. Yesterday at the airport while waiting for my flight the news came in of another big earthquake in Christchurch – followed by a sickening and unfair wave after wave of huge aftershocks. Thinking of you all in Canterbury, and hoping the earth settles down already. Seriously. Whether Christmas is your thing or not, some peace on earth and goodwill to (hu)mankind is top of my wishlist right now.

Enoch the Christmas Skeleton says Merry Christmas too. (Oh, those parents of mine…)
Title via: Nothing speaks of Christmas Festivity like Defying Gravity from the musical Wicked, sung by the magical Idina Menzel. Nothing. (I’m sure I’ve said this before but even if you hate all musicals stick around to the end, it’s spectacular spectacular.)
Music lately:

So one of our Christmas traditions chez moi is listening every year to the same old Christmas cassettes. One such cassette is the amazing Tin Lids (ie Jimmy Barnes’ kids) “Hey Rudolph” tape, which has the kind of exuberant 90s production that’s good to hear at this excessive time of year. Another one is this really old Disney Christmas tape which features a (pre CGI) Chipmunks Christmas Song, strangely appealing and horribly catchy. Bringing a little much-needed classiness to our collection, is Bing Crosby and his rich handsome voice.

Next time: I plan to resurface here on the 28th, with something entirely non-Christmassy, I promise. MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE, YOU’RE ALL AMAZING PEOPLE, AND JUST REMEMBER YOU CAN’T OUT-TENSION A TENSE CAT.

as if to say he doesn’t like chocolate, he’s born a liar

Self Portrait With Chocolate Fudge Pie.
I have many many people that I look up to in this world. For example: Susan Blackwell. She is extremely funny and clever, she has a very cool job and she’s aspirational – despite (I’m sorry Susan Blackwell, if you’re reading this – and if you are, hiii!) not having the most bankable voice, she starred in the Tony-nominated musical [title of show]. As herself. I love that she has created basically the only role I could ever hope to play in a musical (apart from maybe the girl from A Chorus Line who can’t sing), for having one of the few songs that I can absentmindedly sing along to without stopping mid-note and saying “oh forget it” which is what happened when I was singing (yes, lustily) along to Aquarius from the musical Hair the other day. These days, among other things, she has her own joyful online show where she interviews Broadway stars in an array of locations. It’s called Side By Side By Susan Blackwell. I basically would like to model my life upon her career trajectory. Except with the addition of authoring an extremely excellent cookbook. Perhaps if my (still hypothetical) cookbook becomes exceptionally popular, I’ll just be able to command that someone puts on a local production of [title of show] and casts me as Susan. That’s quite the “if” though…
Anyway, the point of all this is that in one of her recent segments of SBSBSB, she interviews stage and screen actor Billy Crudup, and, in the process, they make his grandma’s recipe, Chocolate Fudge Pie. I was captivated by this; its name, its provenance, its promise of chocolate, fudge, and pie in one handy substance…and vowed to make it pronto.
Obligatory pouring-of-mixture into receptacle shot, which I can never quite get right.
I adapted this very American recipe into metric (hello, cups of butter, what?) but the only thing I had trouble with was the original request for “six squares of bittersweet chocolate”. Figuring that because “this America, man,” these squares are probably fairly large. Even taking into account that I’m halving the recipe presented on the show, 70g of chocolate felt about right. Enough for plenty of flavour plus a little bit of mixture-tasting.
Billy Crudup’s Grandma’s Chocolate Fudge Pie
With thanks to Billy Crudup, Billy Crudup’s Grandma, Susan Blackwell, and whoever hired Billy Crudup on Broadway so that he’d be a legitimate interview subject for Susan Blackwell thus creating the opportunity for him to share this recipe in a place that I was likely to find it.
70g dark, dark chocolate (I used Whittaker’s Dark Ghana)
180g butter
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup plain flour
pinch of salt

Set your oven to 160 C/325 F. Grease a 20-22cm pie plate (like the one in my picture. You could also use one of those throwaway tinfoil tins that are very, very cheap at the supermarket) I also cut a circle of baking paper for the base, because I’m nervous like that.

Carefully – either in the microwave, in a double-boiler contraption (rest one heatproof bowl over a small pan of simmering water, not letting the water touch the bottom of the bowl) or just in a pan over a low heat, melt the butter and chocolate together. Set aside. Whisk the living daylights out of the eggs and sugar, pour in the chocolatey butter, the flour (good to sift it to prevent lumps) and the salt.

Bake for around 45 minutes until no longer super wobbly in the middle. I found 45 minutes perfect for me but you may want to check it at 35, in case your oven is a bit enthusiastic.
This pie rules. Like brownies, but somehow superior, because here in every single slice there is an ideal and just plain nice ratio of cakey exterior to melting, squidgy centre. It’s not off-puttingly rich, and the relatively scanty quantity of chocolate somehow flourishes while baking to create a result of astonishing chocolatey depth. It’d be completely fantastic with some ice cream on the side, slowly liquefying into its pliant, satiny centre – but is still practical and cake-resembling enough for me to take a clingfilm-wrapped slice to work in my handbag for lunch.
My attempt at prettying up this brown spongey savannah with icing sugar was patchy to middlingly successful, at best.
I’m not just saying this because the recipe came to me via someone that I think is really, really really cool (I’m talking about Susan Blackwell, not Billy Crudup by the way, hence the ‘via’) but this recipe is amazing and will most definitely become a regular fixture on my circuit. Speshly because it gives me a legitimate excuse to bore people about [title of show], as my knife hovers with maddening endlessness over the pie and they wait for me to serve them a slice. “It’s about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical!”
By the way, I did three really clumsy things on the day of making this Chocolate Fudge Pie. Firstly, I dropped my phone into a bowl of salad. Secondly, I dropped and smashed my Kilner jar, at least half full of homemade quince brandy (oh, the swearing and endless vacuuming that ensued) and finally, I dropped a full, open, king-sized box of weetbix (not actual weetbix, but those “weeta-brix” knockoff type ones) down the back of the pantry. Yet I managed to make this entire pie, chocolatey and eggy and rich, in a white shirt, without getting one particle of it on myself. At this point, I was really expecting to get covered in mixture, somehow it didn’t happen. I’m not sure what my message is here, apart from: enjoy life/your nice alcohol/applicable consumable item now, rather than saving it for an appropriate occasion, because you never know when it might slip out of your hands and smash to pieces. On carpet. Even as the jar of brandy fell I remember thinking “wheeee-ew, it’s landing on carpet, it’ll bounc-ohhhh no.”
Title via: Bloc Party’s Helicopter. I really like these guys, although it’s hard to know if my view of them is softened because they really remind me of living in the UK in 2005. Although I spose any music can be affected by the circumstances that you hear it in, I’m pretty sure this is still a good song with or without my contexty lens over it.

Music lately:

Probably said it before, but while the movie adaptation of the musical Hair is pretty awful, they got one thing right in the casting of Cheryl Barnes to sing the song Easy To Be Hard; it’s so beautiful. Even then, I hate that the camera cuts away from her so much.

@Peace, a new creation from Homebrew’s Tom Scott and Nothing To Nobody’s Lui Tuiasau. You can stream it, or you can buy it – and in a cool but bold move from its makers – pay what you like for it, right here. It’s all excellent, with silky as production from Benny Tones, and if you’re not sure, the title track is a good place to start (although so is the opening song, “this goes out to all walks, living in this village that we call Aucks”)

Next time: Completing the completely coincidental trifecta (pie-fecta?) of blog posts about pies, and entirely inspired by Twin Peaks, which Tim and I have been obsessively watching lately: Cherry Pie.

don’t feel so alone, got the radio on

So, the Royal Wedding on Friday night. I seriously didn’t think I’d be watching it, I really wasn’t more than passingly interested, and even then only so far as it was a big thing happening in my lifetime, as opposed to being all “Wedding!! Fairytale princess!!!!” Tim and I went out to dinner with good friends that night, and when I got home there seemed to be only moments between casually but curiously turning on the TV “just to see the dress”…and me sitting in bed, mug of tea in hand, crocheted blanket and hot water bottle on lap, tweeting complete strangers about Princess Bride references and Victoria Beckham’s choice of hair extension and having txt conversations with Mum that went like “awww” and “:D”.

Anyway, earlier that day I inadvertently ended up making something not a million years removed from Prince William’s choice of wedding cake. Inadvertently, despite having read about his choice of cake already and, despite-er still, having read a recipe referencing it at the Kitchen Maid blog. I’m not trying to cash in on the wedding, I promise. Because the reason I wanted to make this recipe, is the following story.

I was on Wikipedia one time, and I was clicking on links and clicking and clicking and clicking as you do, and somehow I found myself reading about Radiokaka or Radio Cake, a type of Swedish confection “launched with the advantage that it can be eaten without a sound, without nibbling, which was an advantage when you listened to the radio with headphones…” That this doubly advantageous cake was thusly promoted to children appealed to me massively. I like the pragmatic approach; the radio needs to be listened to and cake needs to be eaten, here there is minimal imposition on either act.

Fact: a charming piece of information like this is the difference between me looking at a recipe and thinking “yeah, nah, boring” and me thinking “I need this in my life without delay”.

To find the recipe, I had to translate a whole bunch of Swedish sites, and it became pretty clear that butter, Copha or coconut oil were the emollients of choice. I know butter’s expensive these days but it’s cheaper than coconut oil, and to me feels less creepy than Copha. That said I grew up ingesting Kremelta in various party-foods (and Mum’s seasonal treat “White Christmas”) so go for your life if that’s what you’d prefer. For me: butter. On that note, it’s probably best to just look at the ingredients, take it in, and then move on. There’s no getting around them. And if it’s good enough for generations of radio-listening, silently nibbling youthful Swedes, it’s more than good enough for me. And there’s really nothing here that you wouldn’t find in a cake.

I normally don’t even go down the biscuit aisle at the supermarket, in fact if Tim so much as glances sideways at them I’ll inevitably roar “you want biscuits? I’ll MAKE YOU BISCUITS” but in a friendly, couplesy in-joke kind of way, well I hope. However we saw some plain ones going cheap a while back and I grabbed a couple of packs in case of future cheesecake. Their presence in my cupboard seemed to make it all the more obvious that I should make this recipe.

The recipe itself I cobbled together from various translated sources, it seems there’s not a heck of a lot of variation but I’m happy to be proven wrong. In a nod to the coconut oil, I added some threads of coconut to the chocolatey, biscuity layers. I think if I was making this again I might stir in a couple of spoonsful of good cocoa too, just to give a bit more of a dark edge to the chocolate. The recipe below might look really long and complicated but it’s truly not – a bit of mixing and layering, is all – I just wanted to talk you through it, and through any potential hurdles.

Radiokaka (Radio Cake)

200g dark, dark chocolate. I use Whittakers Dark Ghana.
200g butter
2 cups icing sugar (loosely heaped, not tightly packed or anything).
2 eggs
1/2 cup coconut, either dessicated or thread
1 packet plain biscuits, like superwines. If you’re in the US, pop culture would suggest…Graham Crackers?

Take a loaf tin, and line with either baking paper or plastic wrap.

Break chocolate into pieces and gently melt it with the butter over a low heat. Or if you like, get a small pot of water simmering away and then sit your pot with the chocolate and butter in it over that. As soon as it all starts to collapse, you can probably take it off the heat and leave it before stirring together, as the general heat will continue to melt everything.

Meanwhile, thoroughly whisk together the eggs and icing sugar until thick and very pale. Carefully pour in the chocolate mixture, continuing to whisk briskly (so that it doesn’t sieze with the heat. Pour some into the base of your prepared loaf tin – enough to cover it properly, a few milimetres – making sure it goes right to the corners. Set this aside to cool and slightly solidify.

Once this has happened, carefully place a layer of biscuits on top of the chocolate. I realised halfway through that the biscuits weren’t the right shape and I needed to carefully slice them in half. A bit of crumble-age isn’t a big deal, it’s just getting covered with chocolate anyway. Sprinkle with coconut (toast it if you like first) and then carefully spoon over some more chocolate. The chocolate may have set a bit by this point and will need some handling. Spread it evenly over with the back of a spoon – be rough, don’t worry about the coconut staying put. Layer up biscuits and chocolate again, making sure you leave enough chocolate to cover the top. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

To serve, turn out and slice fairly thinly – about 1/2 to one inch gives you plenty.

Considering its ingredients it’s pretty astonishing that the Radiokaka doesn’t taste aggressively sweet. What it is, is rich. Rich rich rich. It’s a good richness though, and the silky dark chocolate flavour, broken up by the almost-crunch of the softening biscuits and the relatively neutral coconut is a pretty extraordinary combination. It’s a wonder the Swedish kids could concentrate on their frequencies at all. It keeps well (you can even freeze it), slices like a dream and is fancy enough to serve up at a dinner party but could also be served up for kids to demolish happily.

It’s one week since Tim and I got back from our trip overseas and as I guessed, it’s feeling more like a zillion years ago. However small things like making chocolatey Swedish recipes, flicking through the Musicals section of the vinyl selections at Slow Boat Records and watching the dogs being walked on the waterfront makes me glad to be back in Wellington, and just glad in general.

I guess there is a decent segue to be found in that this cake could be described as “a bit wicked” and then I could talk about Wicked the musical but as I really hate using “wicked” to describe food (worse still: “wickedly indulgent”) and I can’t think of a segue that doesn’t irritate me, I’ll just say – Wicked was incredible. You think you know something every which way to Sunday and then…seeing it live, I felt like that moment in the Wizard of Oz movie where Dorothy steps out from her black-and-white house into the world of Technicolour. Everything was heightened, more impressive, both funnier and sadder, given more meaning. By the end of the first act, when the crucial Defying Gravity scene happens, I was shaking, and I didn’t even realise it. Another thing I didn’t realise was that in Tim’s and my travel blog it might’ve sounded like I didn’t like it that much. What I was trying to articulate was, that a lot of people don’t like musical theatre, but if you were one of these people there was still a lot to enjoy in the scenery and production values alone. I honestly didn’t think it would impact me that much – there are many better-written musicals out there and there’s music that affects me much more on a day-to-day basis than Wicked’s score. But in person it delivers so hard that all I could think, once it was over, was that I needed another hit. Which means traveling to Australia…or even better, New York…maybe the next trip?

Title via: the kind of adorable Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers with Roadrunner, one of my favourite songs ever. Something about it – simple, repetitive, conversational – I can just listen on repeat over and over again and not get weary of it.

Music lately: sadly the branch of Real Groovy – across the road from where Tim and I live – is closing down at the end of this month. It’s a place that I’ve spent heaps of time (and money) ever since we moved here in 2006. I’ll miss it. They seem to be largely fleeced of most decent stock but I managed to pick up some Liza Minelli and Judy Garland on vinyl, plus some other bits and pieces. Liza Minelli’s title track from Liza With a Z shows some serious work ethic in terms of actually delivering the song at all…it’s so fast she’s practically rapping.

Chico, by The Concretes. Tim’s mum and sister came down from Palmerston North yesterday and this song was playing at the place we went out to get pizza at. I hadn’t heard it in so long, and even though I normally like my songs to have a bit more, erm, concreteness to them, but with a bit of distance I was struck by how pretty it was – the twinkly bells and dreamy-woozy vocals make it feel like you’re drifting off to sleep, which is very occasionally what I like in a song.

Next time: In the name of good value, we bought 2kg of yoghurt the other day so you can most definitely expect some yoghurty recipes soon, including a really delicious cake recipe. Plus some more slow-dripped travel stories.

bangled tangled spangled and spaghetti-ed

Firstly, sorry for the lack of blogging over the last week – I’ve been busy all over the place and was basically out of the house every single night. Presuming the lack of updates concerns people, I’ll try not to let it happen too often.

I was very, very lucky to be sent a copy of Nigella Lawson’s brand new book Kitchen which I’ve finally been able to spend some quality time with. The book fell open on the page with a recipe for Spaghetti with Marmite. I know it sounds like a kinda weird combination but as soon as I saw it, I was reminded of the million marmite and cheese sandwiches I must have eaten as a kid before ballet classes. Well, it was either that, or a Big Ben pie, or a 2-minute noodle or one of those dusty pasta snacks – if it could be microwaved, I would eat it. My specialty was stacking up about four pieces of white, heavily buttered toast bread, all spread with marmite and layered with slices of cheese, then microwaving it till the cheese was melted and bubbling fiercely in places. Marmite was my staple but sometimes I’d swap it for tomato sauce to make a kind of low-rent lasagne. With that in mind, the idea of stirring Marmite into pasta doesn’t scare me. Not much could, after that kind of after-school snack.

Anyway, Nigella attributes this recipe to Anna Del Conte and compares it to the Italian practice of spaghetti tossed with butter and a stock cube, so with that in mind this dish is practically high-class cuisine.

Spaghetti with Marmite

From Nigella Lawson’s Kitchen

  • 375g dried spaghetti
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon Marmite, or more, to taste
  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese

Cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling, salted water. When it’s nearly done, melt the butter in a small pan and add the Marmite and a tablespoon of the pasta cooking water, mixing well. I don’t know if NZ Marmite is a bit special but it didn’t blend too easily – I had to use a mini whisk and stir hard to get it mixing. Although I’m sure it doesn’t really matter too much. Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the water, and pour the Marmite mixture over the top, stirring carefully to mix it through and adding a little of the reserved water if needed. Serve topped with plenty of parmesan.

Parmesan is too expensive – or at least, it’s one of those things that I always set out to buy, but then can’t bring myself to pay upwards of $7 for a tiny triangle of yellow matter. So I just grated regular cheese using the smaller holes to make it look fancier.

Tim reckoned I was too cautious with the Marmite but once it’s done it’s done – it’s not like I could smear more on the cooked pasta once the sauce was distributed. So with that in mind, don’t be too nervous with the “antipodean ointment” as Nigella typically and charmingly over-names it.

It tastes fantastic – but then buttery, slightly salty pasta will, right? It was admittedly a bit unusual on the tastebuds but overall fantastic. That savoury, salty-sweetness of Marmite is a perfect match with salty, rich butter (as years of experience have taught me) which is absorbed by the starchy pasta and only enhanced by the topping of cheese. Of course, you’re welcome to use Vegemite in this recipe – I hate the stuff but when you take a step back they’re both pretty freaky, and I can see how it’s just a case of personal taste.

For what seems like the first time, in Kitchen Nigella acknowledges that not everyone sweats money like her. She talks of cheaper cuts and substitutions and of her luxury of choice. She also seems a little defensive of any sugar content in places, but I think people just like to look for what they want to see – she has a huge variety of recipes in her books. So, it’s interesting charting the development of Nigella through her books, but this one is just as exciting as any of her others – the sort of thing where I flick through and think “I want to cook EVERYTHING! I love you Nigella!” Like the more grown-up equivalent of listening to Mariah Carey and wondering how she manages to put your feelings into song form.

So as I said, it’s been a busy time. Cool for me, this busyness included seeing two musicals and flying home to catch up with my family. Last Tuesday I saw the Toi Whakaari second year students’ production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company. I’ve been listening to this musical on high rotation recently so it was an awesomely awesome coincidence that I suddenly got to see it in real life. Overall, the performance was polished, sharp, clever and beautifully acted and sung – I absolutely loved it and wished they’d had a longer run.

On Saturday morning Tim and I flew up to Auckland to see 42nd Street with my family. Tim and I caught the shuttle into Queen Street then walked to Ponsonby Road to observe. Unfortunately, when Mum, Dad and my brother met up with us we somehow intuitively picked what had to be the worst cafe on the whole road for lunch, but that aside it was awesome to see everyone again, considering I hadn’t been up since RENT in April. 42nd Street was brilliant – although – the plot is definitely not as sharp as it seemed to me when I saw it nearly 20 years ago…the tap dancing and the singing was wonderful though, and it was great to see Derek Metzeger as Julian Marsh when I’d seen him about 15 years ago in Me and My Girl. The music is amazing and has so many brilliant lyrics that it makes me wonder how the dialogue got to be so bad. Fortunately it wasn’t long between tap dances.

It was an awesome 24 hours at home – five seconds in the local supermarket and I’d run into half the whanau, found out that my aunty had got the most votes and was elected to the local council, and had my plans rejigged to take in a dinner quickly organised at my Nana’s. The next day we took my cousin (age 7) round visiting even more people, before zooming back to the airport. I’d been up in Auckland already that week for meetings so I was pretty zonked by the time I got back to Wellington – but nothing that some spaghetti with Marmite can’t fix…

Title from: The musical Hair’s title song. Amazing as revival-star Gavin Creel is in so many ways, I do seriously love the way James Rado says “gimme” in the original Broadway cast recording with such conviction. Thinking about Hair has reminded me of something else I hate about the film adaptation – they cast Annie Golden, who has such a sweet voice, and didn’t get her to sing by herself once

Music lately:

Southside of Bombay, What’s The Time Mr Wolf? Last week news came that Ian Morris had died. His was one of those names I’d seen and heard around a lot but it was admittedly not until people began to share their thoughts that I became fully aware of his contribution to New Zealand music. Originally a member of Th’Dudes, he went on to produce some of our best music, including this song by Southside of Bombay, a band with a name that I’ve always liked because of its geographic relatability to where I grew up. A sunny tune with a questioning chorus that gets stuck in the mind….

Lullaby of Broadway from 42nd Street. Jerry Orbach (aka the dad in Dirty Dancing and the old guy in Law and Order) is typically fantastic originating the role of Julian Marsh on Broadway – this song is the first chance he gets to sing in the musical, at the start of Act 2, and he’s given plenty to work with, till it builds into yet another enormous song-and-dance number.

Next time: Definitely more of the same Nigella book – hard to tear myself away from it.


johnny all she does is lies

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about cornbread (apart from the fact that I really really love it) it’s this: the only way to take an oven-hot slab of cornbread with a two-by-four sized slice of butter melting quietly on top and make it more fun, is to transform it into pancakes.

The mighty Nigella Lawson has this recipe for Johnnycakes in How To Be A Domestic Goddess, and while Wikipedia reckons the name of this American creation was adapted from ‘journey cakes’ I’d like to think there was an original Johnny, who wanted to blaze trails by combining the golden grittiness of cornbread with the circular fun-ness of a pancake. I was away up in Rotorua over the weekend (plus chasing the hour lost in Daylight Saving) but I managed to cobble these together without any trouble for a late lunch when I landed back in Wellington on Sunday afternoon. This recipe is forgiving – only a few Johnnycakes turned out bung, either buckling or sticking to the pan – the rest obediently slid onto the spatula and flipped over easily.

This one’s for you, generous, possibly non-existent Johnny.


From Nigella Lawson’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess.

  • 150g fine cornmeal/polenta
  • 100g plain flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder (gotta admit I was all “really? four?” about this, and put in only three teaspoons)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 300mls milk
  • 30g butter

Stir together the dry ingredients in a bowl, then whisk in everything else till you have a thick, yellow batter (don’t worry about any small lumps.) Heat an oiled griddle or pan and drop tablespoons-ful into it. Once they’re thoroughly bubbled on top, carefully turn them over to cook on the other side. Transfer to a plate and cover with tinfoil till you’re finished.

When I was a kid I always impressed by those Disney movies where a character would have a whole stack of pancakes with butter and maple syrup on top, and then eat the stack all at once with a knife and fork. I’m sure it was Disney movies anyway, it must have happened a lot in order to stick in my brain like that… Johnnycakes are too stubby for this practice, so I unstacked them after these photos and ate them the best way – two sandwiched together with maple syrup.

While there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from making actual cornbread or actual pancakes, both being more practical in their own special ways, Johnnycakes are so good that it’s worth a bit of potentially dubious fusion (fusious?). The cornmeal gives a textural presence to the Johnnycakes which the average pancake sometimes lacks (like chewing through a foam rubber camping mattress if you’re unlucky) and you get a hearty jolt of bright yellow cheeriness without the need for pesky e-numbers, useful if you’re the sort of person who gets nervous around them. Their lightly perforated surface is an ideal conduit for ferrying lots of butter into the mouth. They’re slightly sweet and very light, and work with both savoury and sweet stuff on the plate. How To Be A Domestic Goddess is amazing – the Johnnycake recipe being just one example of the gems to be found within its pages. If you’re casually thinking about getting into baking intensely good food, you couldn’t do much better than finding this book.

Funnily enough when I last blogged about cornbread-related issues I was thinking about what my favourite food was in case I got asked in an interview with a cool magazine. A girl can dream, but nothing wrong with dreaming in a hubristically prepared kinda manner, right? Anyway this morning I had the mighty good fortune to have my first ever radio interview over the phone with Charlotte Ryan on 95bFM’s Morning Glory show. With the job I’m in I try to keep relatively non-partisan about NZ media but Morning Glory has most definitely been a favourite of mine for a while now. It was the first time I’d ever been on the radio (although I have this memory of requesting some Nirvana song from the late Channel Z years back) and I was nervous as, but Charlotte was so nice that I rambled away quite happily, sharing this recipe, my tooth-rattling nervousness while the endless intro song played through the phone forgotten. I’ll post a link to the podcast when it’s up so you can listen if you like. Just before I got the call I realised I might be asked what I love about cooking. I had this frenzied moment of panic where my mind blanked and the closest thing to a coherent sentence about why I loved cooking was “there’s so much deliciousness in this world and I like making it happen in front of me”. Luckily that specific question didn’t come up. An enormous thanks to Charlotte and bFM for having me on the show, the excitingness of it all can’t be underplayed, truly.

Title via: Salmonella Dub’s cautionary tale Johnny from their 1998 album Killervision. I have a feeling this was the first song of theirs I ever heard.

Music Lately:

Late Sunday afternoon Tim and I went to Embassy theatre to see a special screening of Hair. Having seen the movie before, I knew it’s pretty painful in places (and cuts out some of my favourite tracks – it’s gratifying to know that the creators of the musical it’s based on hated it) but I love the source music intensely, and I like having the opportunity to see a musical on the big screen. One flawless moment in all the awkwardness is Cheryl Barnes singing Easy To Be Hard. Heartfelt – not just belting for the sake of it (although if I could sing I’d be melisma-ing up a storm, daily) it’s one of my favourite recordings of this track. Apparently she did it in one take.

While we’re down the flawless lady/Hair road, and I’ve probably linked to this before, but here’s Nina Simone singing Ain’t Got No/I’ve Got Life, taking two songs from Hair and sieving them together to create something incredible. Her vibrato-y voice delivers the lyrics in her incomparable way (by incomparable, I mean I haven’t come up with a word to describe how good it is) over a fantastic music arrangement while her dinner-plate sized earrings sway.

Also: while I was up in Rotorua Tim went to see Lil Band O’ Gold at San Francisco Bath House. Apparently they played for two and a half hours and were seriously awesome.

Next time: I’m a Nigella lady to the core, but tried my first ever Delia Smith recipe last week, and that’s probably what I’ll put up next.


my mother said i should eat an ice cream cone

I love ice cream so much. Maybe it’s that extremely cold food is more exciting, maybe it’s that the creamy chillyness is the ideal taxicab to drive a million different flavours to your tastebuds, maybe it’s that particular melty smoothness.

Maybe it’s that ice cream reminds me of good times growing up. So many of my ‘birthday cakes’ were a tub of vanilla ice cream sprinkled with Smarties or jellybeans and spiked with sparklers, which were then set alight for extra glamour. Mum would put a scoop of ice cream in a cup and top it up with Coke or Fanta to make ice cream sodas for everyone which I thought was very cool. (Some kids got lovingly baked cakes but not everyone’s mum has the foresight to combine Tip Top and gunpowder.)

So… I love ice cream. And one of the best, best, and once more best recipes in the world is one that I’m sharing today. I can’t remember where I absorbed it from, it just mysteriously became part of my frozen repertoire. I’d like to say “I absorbed it from my own brilliant mind” but that’s just not true. What I did invent was this particular version – a completely vegan, two-ingredient, relatively instant and completely delicious-ful ice cream.

Confession: I don’t usually serve my ice cream on a bowl-within-a-plate thing. And I never eat it with second-hand commemorative spoons. It was all done so the photos would look nice. Between that and the precisely situated forkful of risotto last week, this blog has become an offal pit of visual lies! To force some honesty into the situation, I made myself eat that bowl of icecream using only the decorative spoon which has a palm-tree embossed cavity of 2cm. It took roughly forty minutes.

Anyway! That’s a lengthy bit of emotional baggage for such a quick recipe. I first made this last year using delicious cream but not only does coconut milk make it vegan-tastic, it also lends a fluttery flavour of its own. How this works is – I think – as the food processor blades reduce the frozen fruit to rubble, the liquid is forced through at great speed, turning it into a kind of instantly frozen puree thing which resembles actual ice cream. It’s not perfect – you have to eat it on the spot as it loses its texture if refrozen – and it’s not overly sweet, so pour in sugar if you like. I chose blackberries because they were cheapest at the time – the seeds to get in your teeth a bit but between friends it’s no biggie, plus their tart berryishness and beautiful colour makes up for any of that.

Blackberry-Coconut Ice Cream

2 1/2 cups frozen blackberries (or other)
250ml/1 cup canned coconut milk (or cream, or yoghurt)

Put everything in a food processor. Add some sugar if you like. Blend. Be warned: it will make a racket. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides and process again till it looks like magical ice cream. Scoop into bowls and sprinkle with coconut if you like (or any kind of sprinkly thing, really).

I’m not sure how many this serves – only you can look inside yourself and find the answer – by which I mean Tim and I finished this but it probably could have been divided between four people. It tastes sparklingly and singularly of the fruit that went into it, with a clean, softening hint of coconut. It comes together in seconds, so if you have a can or two of coconut milk in the cupboard and a bag of frozen fruit in the freezer you’re only ever moments from ice cream. Which is a very good feeling. 

Spontaneous dinner party? Spontaneous children appear? Spontaneous vegan children appear? Spontaneous simple desire for ice cream? Sorted.

On Thursday night Tim and I went to the Whitireia Performing Arts School’s first year performance of Godspell, a musical by Stephen “Defying Gravity” Schwartz, who wrote the bulk of the music when he was only in his early 20s. The cast themselves on Thursday night must have been around 19 and they were brilliant – there were some beautiful voices, sure, but the humour was sharp and the ability to grab props and change character out of nowhere was fairly mind-boggling. I ended up sitting next to this woman who knew my dance teachers from when I was growing up south of Auckland, miles and miles away from Wellington. Small world, isn’t it…It was funny in the intermission, they played a karaoke version of Wicked. You could hear pockets of girls in the audience singing along quietly. In these post-Glee days it’s more cute than anything else but a couple of years back I probably would have gone and introduced myself with a qualifying “Oh my gosh you know who Idina Menzel is”.
Title via: The philosofly girl Coco Solid in another incarnation as Parallel Dance Ensemble with their song Weight Watchers, which won best video at Handle The Jandal awards last year. I was there – imagine those donuts and psychedelic licorice allsorts writ large across the Embassy cinema screen in psychedelic colours. Lip-smackingly delicious both to watch and listen to.
Music lately:

Michael Franti and Spearhead, Sometimes, from their 2001 album Stay Human. Nice as this song is, I love the acoustic version, although the fact that I learned a dance to it at a workshop a few years back may have cemented it in my mind – sometimes it’s impossible not to love the music you learn dances to, no matter how bad. Not that this is bad. This is gorgeous.

By My Side from the aforementioned Godspell. We used to sing this in choir sometimes, it’s satisfying for an alto like me. Such a beautiful, beautiful song, I can’t believe it was the pretty but abrasively earnest Day By Day that instead made it onto the Billboard charts when Godspell came out in the 70s. The video I linked to is the film version featuring an astonishingly good-looking young Victor Garber as Jesus. (FYI, he’s in the Superman tshirt). The harmonies aren’t as clear as I’d like but it’s one of the better versions available on Youtube. Plus, Victor Garber, hello!
Next time: I think this is the third time I’ve put off the Grumble Pie. With a name like that I can’t keep denying it a blog post…