and sugar, we’re going down swinging

In this, the year of grace 2015, mere non-plural months away from turning thirty, ya girl played beer pong for the first time in her life on a Sunday evening and also finally completed watching The OC in its entirety, finishing the last ever episode by literally crying into a bagel at 3.40am on a Wednesday night. I also finished Buffy the Vampire Slayer last week and may have listened to Say Anything’s 2004 album Is A Real Boy around seven times in one day, so all in all I’m partying like it’s the early-to-mid-to-late 2000s. It may be that pop culture is getting the better of me though: yesterday I walked away from the self-checkout counter at the supermarket without paying (immediately turning around and going “oh my god I’m so sorry I didn’t mean to it’s just that I was listening to Spike’s song from Once More With Feeling, the musical episode of Buffy, and got all flustered, you must get this all the time, right, here I’m paying right now”) and then later that evening while rewatching Pretty Little Liars I was so flaily at a particularly potent moment that I accidentally kicked myself really hard.

But though I’m about ready to throw my heart in a ravine if, say, Sandy Cohen so much as dares to enter my thoughts (he’s just so good) I have also been taking rather excellent care of myself; ramping up my vegetable intake and removing my makeup before I go to bed and remembering that I love yoga, especially the kind on youtube where you essentially just lie down and sway gently and someone tells you that you’re a good person. And then yesterday I made fudge, which I’m not going to pretend is like, nutritious, but I’m also not going to pretend that I, like, care. I’m more into adding extra good things to my life than subtracting anything that other people might consider “bad” (and here please picture me elaborately doing air quotes with a disdainful look upon my face) because basically I want to have my cake and eat it too in literally every sense of the word.

I found a particularly simple yet wonderful sounding brown sugar fudge recipe in this amazing American cake and pudding cookbook of mine; and then tinkered with it some, as is my wont. I have been thinking lots about cardamom lately and liked the idea of adding some to the fudge, but that seemed a bit worthy and earnest; I then thought about texture and crunch and considered adding some kind of candy to the recipe, but that seemed a bit basic and obvious. Then I was like, why not both? The combination of ready-made packet candy and sophisticated, nuanced spice pleased me and I was also quite sure that the flavours would be complementary enough to make my resolute commitment to a silly idea worth it.

I am so smug about how correct I was: sweet fancy Moses this fudge is good. First of all can we just take a moment to hold our palms to the sky reverently and just consider how amazing the texture of fudge is? It’s firm yet yielding, like a really pert butt; it’s somehow buttery and soft yet has the slightest hint of grit from the boiled sugar, it melts on impact in your mouth, it’s magical, when you add in the intermittent crunch from the malteasers it’s actual sorcery, in fact I have to draw this moment to a close before I flail so hard that I kick myself again. So yeah, the texture is great, but the flavours here are rather perfect too – the warm gingery elements of the cardamom nuzzle into the throat-burningly dark caramelly flavours of the brown sugar and give it depth beyond mere sweetness. The spikes of crunch provided by the malteasers on the other hand stop it being all too intense, and the chocolate coating unsurprisingly goes well with everything.

brown sugar, cardamom and malteaser fudge

one cup brown sugar 
one cup white sugar
one cup milk
25g butter
a pinch of salt
a pinch of ground cardamom
one packet of malteasers

Place the sugars and milk into a good sized saucepan, and bring to the boil. Allow it to continue boiling, stirring occasionally and watching carefully so it doesn’t bubble over, until it reaches what is known as the soft-ball stage – what you want to do is get a bowl of cold water, and periodically take small spoonfuls of the boiling sugar and lower them slowly into the cold water. Initially it should just dissipate and dissolve into the water (and you may want to change the water occasionally if it gets too sugary) but once you can lower a spoonful of sugary stuff into the water and it solidifies into a soft, pliant kinda substance, you know you’re ready. I hope that makes sense. This should take about ten minutes. 

At this point, remove it from the heat and sit the pan in a sink partly filled with cold water – this is optional but helps, obviously, to cool it down faster – and stir in the butter, the salt, and the cardamom. Stir vigorously until it is thick and seems to have lost most of its glossiness.  I use a whisk for this, as I figure the aeration helps cool it and thicken it faster, but any old spoon will do the trick. At this point, stir in half the malteasers – some of them will melt a bit, which is totally ideal – and transfer the fudge onto a buttered tray/dish. Use the back of a spoon to gently push it out into an even square, then tip the remaining malteasers over the top and push them into the fudge a little to ballast them. Allow it to cool in the fridge for a bit and then slice into irregular squares. I say irregular because you have no option, the malteasers make it a bit hard to get straight lines. 

I think I’ve definitely hit this home by now, but wow this is so good. Even if you’re wary of playing with sugar and/or fire, if you follow the instructions that I give in the recipe to gauge when the fudge is ready, you can’t go wrong. Because even if you do go wrong you can still do ever so many things – pour the ineffectual fudge onto ice cream, stir it into softened ice cream, just eat an ice cream and throw the fudge at the wall – either way, there’s enough serendipity to go around.

PS: if you’re wondering, I was honestly pretty good at beer pong and it was a taut and thrilling game for all involved. However I think I generally prefer to drink my drinks in a more straightforward way rather than having to leap through elaborate hoops to get to them.
title from:  here I am keeping it real, real era-specific that is, with one of my favourite Fall Out Boy songs.

music lately:

Tori Amos, Little Earthquakes. I have listened to precisely zero Tori Amos in my life but wanted to take a chance on her so picked this song at random, and mercy me it’s beautiful. So, so beautiful. Except now I’m stuck being unable to choose a follow-up because what if it’s not as good as this one, and she has so many songs! Love to overthink! 
Say Anything, the Is A Real Boy/Was A Real Boy album. Frankly: listening to it seven times is actually not enough for me. 
Hailee Steinfeld, Love Myself. It’s so good!
next time: I am about to come into possession of a treasure far higher in worth than rubies: avocados. So, expect avocados. 

you could have my heart or we could share it like the last slice

so delicious that Pony by Ginuwine starts to play non-diegetically when you take a bite

There’s a scene in the important film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, where Dewey Cox is starting his rapid trajectory towards being a famous rock’n’roll star. He tells his wife Edith, “I’m gonna miss some things, okay? I’m gonna miss some birthdays and some christenings. I’m gonna miss some births, period. It’s just unrealistic to expect that I’m gonna be here for every time you have a baby.” I’m currently relating heavily to this, apart from, tragically, the bit with the ascension to fame, because I’m week three into working roughly five thousand times more hours than I normally do. Luckily, I adore my job and doing so many hours does make payday fun, but all I’ve been doing is sleeping and working which doesn’t bode well for getting blog posts done, or indeed anything. In fact, I’ve been trying to write this very one here that you’re reading for about seven days now, but every time I went to write I would instead just stare into space and then wake up three hours later, gently spooning my laptop like it was some kind of ergonomically disappointing teddy bear.

Yet finally here I am! With a really wilfully stupid peanut butter chocolate caramel slice! It was in a brief moment of lucidity that I concocted it, taking a base made largely of peanut butter and actual butter, a centre made of condensed milk and more butter and a handful of roasted salted nuts, and a top of melted milk chocolate. Seriously, that’s really all there is to it. You pretty much know the recipe now.

hey baby, I think I wanna marry you

It sounds like it would be stupidly, almost uncomfortably sweet and rich, and while admittedly I have literal syrup running through my veins instead of blood and therefore my bar for the overly sweet is set quite high, I assert to you that it’s honestly very manageable to eat. In that you could easily manage to eat three quarters of it before you even realise the knife is in your hand and you’re standing at the fridge slicing off thick squares of it.

Oddly enough it’s the caramel centre that keeps it in check – you blast the hell out of the condensed milk and butter in the microwave before spreading it across the base, and all that heat reduces it down and brings out the ocean-deep dark toffee flavours present in the sugars. Then the roasted nuts, crunchy as popcorn and covered in salt, add to this. Just in case it starts to sound all too sensible I then cover it in the plainest sweetest mellowest milk chocolate, but with good reason, because dark chocolate would be too punishingly intense and make it a chore to eat.

it isn’t too hard to see, we’re in heaven

Speaking of important movies and delicious things that make people flustered, my one other accomplishment of recent time is, last night I went to the movies and watched Magic Mike XXL with my girlfriend and her flatmates. But Laura! I said to myself. Aren’t you really like…gay? How could a movie about male strippers possibly hold your precious attention? My people, this movie is one of the best pieces of filmmaking I’ve ever encountered, one of the most joyful, kind-hearted, generous movies, and honestly, a rare film where women of all shapes and skin colours and faces have fun and are celebrated and support their friends and are in charge and are never, ever the joke, even though you keep thinking that’s where the movie’s gonna go. A film where men are emotional and express their love for each other without once adding “no homo”, but also a bisexual character is not seen as a curiosity to be analysed and picked apart. A film where guys listen to women and help them, not in a “you frail stupid woman let me do this better than you” kind of way, but a “I’d like to make things better so you can be happy because that’d be nice” kind of way. Just when you think it’s gonna zig, it zags. Honestly I’m getting emotional just trying to write about it.

Oh and if you’re into the sight of men and stuff, there’s…a lot of abdominal muscles being flung around. But truly, this movie is so very good, in the way that an old dog tied up on the street waiting patiently for their owner is good. Take your mother, take your 300 year old grandmother, take your husband, take your nine year old child, take everyone to see this movie! Put it this way: I came out of it saying that I’d actually love to read think-pieces on it, and normally my attitude towards think-pieces is that they should be thrown into the ocean. So. While I’ve been berating myself frowningly for not being outstanding in the field of achievement lately, getting this movie under my belt (hey-oh!) makes me feel like I’ve used my time very wisely.

just imagine another song from the Magic Mike XXL soundtrack here okay

Okay, one more thing about this movie before I get back to that other ridiculously sexy caramel confection: I love that there was more or less zero conflict. The characters were just happy and chill and overcame small hurdles and that was it! I have come to realise that I hate when movies, especially movies about an existing entity are like, what shall we do with these characters that the audience knows and loves – better make them fight and be isolated from each other until about ten minutes before the end. (For some reason A Goofy Movie is what sprang to mind here: hot take, A Goofy Movie was a bit disappointing.) Up with niceness! Okay that’s quite the end of my breathless and shrieking thoughts on Magic Mike XXL. On here at least.

peanut butter chocolate caramel nut slice

a recipe that I made by smashing several Nigella recipes together and adding bits of my own thoughts so yeah

200g smooth peanut butter
50g soft butter
half a cup brown sugar
one and a half cups icing sugar

one tin sweetened condensed milk
200g butter
two tablespoons golden syrup
half a cup (or so) salted roasted mixed nuts 

200g milk chocolate

Line a brownie tin – either a 23cm square one or a regular sized rectangular one – with a large piece of baking paper. Use a wooden spoon to beat the peanut butter and butter together, then carefully stir in the sugars (I say carefully, because icing sugar tends to fly everywhere in dusty white clouds at the slightest provocation) until you have a sandy, crumbly mixture. Press it into the base of the baking tin, using the back of a spoon (it helps if you dust it with icing sugar first) to flatten it out fairly evenly. Refrigerate while you get on with the filling.

To make the filling, melt the butter in a decent-sized china bowl (or something else microwave-proof) and then stir in the condensed milk and golden syrup. Microwave for five to seven minutes, stirring every minute or so – it will bubble up angrily but shouldn’t overflow, it’s better to stir it too much than to let it burn or overflow though – by which stage it should be thickened, and darkened into a rich, but still fairly light, golden colour. Let it sit for a bit to cool slightly, and then stir in the nuts. Pour this over the peanut butter base, using a spatula to get every last bit out and to smooth it out on top, then refrigerate till set and firm. 

Finally, microwave the chocolate in short bursts till it’s collapsing, and stir till it’s totally melted and smooth. Gently spread across the caramel layer, and allow to set either in the fridge or a cool place. 

Wait, I’ve achieved two other things lately: I zoomed to a party after one of my shifts and danced my face off with friends and had my sister-from-another-species vibe with Percy the corgi reconfirmed.
And, I dyed my hair purple. Well, more specifically, I stuck my hands in the pot of purple dye and kind of mussed up my hair (which was at the time a fading blue colour) in a haphazard manner just to see what would happen. It turned out pretty well, I think. In fact there’s probably also a metaphor for my life in there (or at least I’m self-centred enough to think that pretty much everything could be a metaphor for my life and indeed, that my life is fascinating enough to warrant multiple metaphors to represent it.) (I’m not sure if that made any sense but in my defense: oh man I’m tired.)
title from: Drake, Best I Ever Had, which is just…so Drake. “Sweat pants, hair tied, chillin’ with no make-up on/That’s when you’re the prettiest, I hope that you don’t take it wrong.”
music lately:
Carly Rae Jepsen, Run Away With Me. It’s like the best eighties song you don’t remember. 
Janet Jackson, No Sleep. It’s so dreamy. She’s back and she never even left.  
next time: I’m still working a ton more than usual but I’m gonna try so hard to cook for myself one time and blog about it before, I don’t know, the next financial year end rolls around. 

let’s just make this part go faster

mugging for the camera
Comfort food can take many forms. For me it’s usually something that gives you the masticatory impression of gently sliding into a warm bath, like a slowly-stirred risotto or a bowl of soft, butter-saturated polenta or an enormous pile of mashed potato, but sometimes comfort food is more about the act itself than whatever form the food ends up taking. Sometimes it can simply be like, it’s 2am and I just finished work and it’s too windy to stand up straight and you’re sad and I’m sad and I bought you this bag of crisps from a 24/7 dairy because the line at BK was too long and also I didn’t know what else to do but this $3 gesture represents a lot more than merely just crunchy sodium goods…y’know? 
But sometimes comfort food is very obvious and straightforward, in this case: a chocolate peanut butter cake that you make in a mug (the most comforting vessel!) microwaved briefly so that quite instantly you can reward yourself for existing with a piping hot, warm, rich cake. Just for you. I’d never made a mug cake before but I’d sure heard of them: in my completely unresearched experience mug cakes started off as the sort of thing that an enthusiastic relative would email you accompanied by sparkly gifs of puppies and a phrase along the lines of “This is the most dangerous cake in the world…..Because now chocolate cake IS OnLy five minutes away!” A few rotations of the earth and the very simple recipe is now a staple of pinterest and has morphed into such things as “choc chip cookie in a mug” (why would a cookie be in a mug though) and “red velvet layer cake in a mug” (this does not sound comforting or fast tbh.) However you come to it, and whatever your opinion on microwaves, there’s something thoroughly charming about going from point A – you standing there with no cake – to point B – you eating a small cake from a mug – within about five minutes. And so, in the mood for sugar and immediacy, I recently made my first mug cake. 
 stay inside, drink more coffee, make cake really suddenly

I made this recipe up based on ingredients I already had in my possession, basically just whatever dusts and pastes I could find that might together form a half-decent cake. A little cocoa, a little coconut sugar (included for its extraordinarily deep caramel flavour, but just use brown sugar or plain sugar if you like) a little peanut butter for those this-is-a-fun-cake vibes…and after a long 90 seconds it transformed into a soft, meltingly chocolately, utterly delicious brownie-type thing, which I poured cream all over and ate in a chocolate-scented haze of beatific calm. All of which could be yours really, really quickly if you make yourself this.

chocolate peanut butter mug cake

a recipe by myself

two tablespoons butter (around thirty grams)
one tablespoon coconut sugar or brown sugar
two tablespoons cocoa powder
two tablespoons peanut butter
quarter of a cup milk
a pinch of baking powder
a couple of squares of chocolate, roughly chopped

Place the butter in the mug that you’re using and soften it in the microwave. Stir in all the ingredients – a teaspoon with a long handle or a narrow whisk is good for this – and add a little extra milk if it seems toooo stiff. It should come to about halfway up the mug. I microwaved it for a minute on high, then another thirty seconds, by which stage it was firm enough on the surface for me to decide it was ready to eat. 

Plunge a spoon into the cake, pour cream or milk into it, and eat all by yourself. 

It doesn’t rise very much, mind you, but I was astounded at how filling it was, so what it lacks in height it makes up for in cellular density I guess? Also for the work of minutes that you can count on one hand it’s a pretty tidy result. In fact pretty tidy is underselling it: it’s really, completely, wonderfully delicious.

This blog post is also going to be fast and mug-sized, but to distract you (and indeed, myself) from this I will leave you with Wednesday the silly beautiful tiny dingus of a cat being a literal loaf.

loaf cat (the demonic glow is coming from my heater/the camera on my phone not being able to deal with said glow)

Wait, one more thing! If anyone out there could please recommend a rad web designer that would be excellent. I’m thinking about refreshing this old blog here since it currently looks thoroughly ancient and un-cute. I don’t know anything about anything so am hoping to go by personal recommendations for people who do good work like this, and am also hoping that my blog can undergo some kind of movie makeover transformation to the effect of a stunning brunette removing her glasses and undoing her ponytail and suddenly everyone gasps and notices how bodacious she is. 


title from: mate, it has been a while since I’ve quoted RENT on here. This song that I quote today, I Should Tell You, is so fragmented and tentative and nervous and beautiful. Jonathan Larson could really, really write. 
 music lately:

I don’t know why Anna Kendrick’s voice in the Don’t You Forget About Me bit of the final number in Pitch Perfect makes me feel emotional, but there you have it. (I saw Pitch Perfect 2 last night, there is wonderful singing and Anna Kendrick is great and it’s so weirdly racist and many other bad things! That’s my review.) 

Shazam, by Spiderbait, from one of my favourite music genres, “bratty”.
Lorde, Royals. I hadn’t listened to this song in forever and ever and wow it is still such a tune.  
 next time: roast chicken in a mug! I’m kidding.  

i still love you, girl from mars

crunch time
Well. Gosh. I hung out with friends on Saturday night and as we watched the election results unfold we all started to feel increasingly bleak and baffled and like getting very drunk. As I said in my last post, pre-election, everyone’s politics are personal and you’re entitled to them, but it should come as no surprise whatsoever that I’m not so much “left-leaning” as “riding through your town on a sustainably farmed unicorn brandishing a rainbow flag and leaving a fearsome trail of blood from my liberal bleeding heart”. And so, the results were not what I was hoping for and voting for. But here we are, and all that can be done is that we try to support the vulnerable and the needy and the children and so on and make the best of things, yeah? Which is what we should all be doing no matter who is in power, and ultimately what I’d hope anyone in power would be aiming for in some form. Also, said friends had adopted a cat that day and other friends brought their pet corgi along to the party so there was much comforting snuggling and patting to be had.
I made this Mars Bar Cornflake Slice to bring along, thinking rightly that something sticky-sweet and deliciously immature would be ideal on such an intense night. It is adapted from a recipe in my queen Nigella Lawson’s book Feast, and you’re actually supposed to spoon the mixture into little cupcake papers. I thought I had tons of them but could only find like, seven, so panicked and threw it all into a flan dish and hoped for the best. And joyfully, it’s so damn excellent in slice form. I was worried it might be a little plain – I considered putting caramelised peanuts on it, or drizzling over melted dark chocolate – but it was stupidly perfect as is.

If you haven’t had a Mars bar in a while (and why not, when their ad insists that a Mars a day helps you work, rest AND play, all things I could use some help with) they are a layer of soft squishy chocolate nougat, with a layer of caramel sauce, all covered in chocolate. The breakfasty-comforting taste of cornflakes – slightly malty, slightly nutty – along with all that caramel and sugar is wonderful. It’s crunchy, it’s chewy, it involves melting chocolate bars with butter, and it’s so, so easy. I liked it so much that I made another trayful this morning just to have them around (and it allowed me to feel like a good flatmate and leave a note on the fridge telling everyone else to help themselves to it.)

mars bar cornflake slice

Adapted from a recipe from Nigella Lawson’s important book Feast

three 75g Mars Bars (or similar weight made up of whatever size bars you can find)
70g butter 
four cups of cornflakes
a pinch of sea salt (optional)

Break the mars bars into pieces and melt together slowly over a low heat with the butter. The nougat filling will take the longest to break down and probably won’t incorporate entirely, so don’t worry if the mixture isn’t completely smooth. Stir in the cornflakes and spatula the lot into a baking paper lined baking dish. Use the spatula to flatten it out evenly, sprinkle over a little salt if you like, then refrigerate till solid – around half an hour. Cut into thick slices with a large knife. 

You can use whatever kind of baking tray you like, but I used a round metal flan dish. I think I chose it subconsciously because I have this thing where if I’m cutting up a slice from a round dish it feels like all the rounded-edged pieces are mere offcuts and I get to eat them all. Even though I’m going to eat it all anyway? Gotta get your thrills somehow, I suppose.

a cat showed me the vaguest hint of non-indifference and so I was eternally joyful
I enjoyed being up home, trying to get the cats to bond with me, talking about knitting with nanna, making dinner for Dad and a birthday cake for Mum and generally having swell family times. Roger, pictured above, has been with the family since 2007 and my weekend at home was pretty much the first time he’s ever shown an interest in me. I am a pushover who will gladly accept this.
I have been selling heaps of my cookbooks which is exciting – let me remind you that if you want to buy a copy, going directly through me is your only chance while my stocks last. If reading my words isn’t enough for you, and how could it possibly be, you can also listen to this super cool interview I did with Harry Evans for his radio show Common Ground. We discussed libraries and halloumi and the election and the writing process and social media and I got to pick two songs to play and it was just really, really fun and lovely. You can either listen on iTunes or on Harry’s site. Yay interviews!
title from: 90s cuties Ash and their song Girl From Mars. 
music lately: 

Underworld, Rez. Listening to this song honestly makes me feel like I’m a flower petal adrift on late summer evening breeze. Literally.

Street Chant, Salad Daze. It’s so so dark and shadowy and hypnotic and good.

Charli XCX, How Can I. Sad pop sad pop, whatcha gonna do when it comes for you.

Buzzcocks, Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t). Oh, this song!
Next time: I was given a ton of grapefruit from someone’s tree which is pretty exciting, therefore maybe it will be something grapefruitly?

no good deed goes unpunished, no act of charity goes unresented

There’s this bit in the really wonderful Hyperbole and a Half book where the author, Ally Brosh, elaborates via her artwork, about how she’s kind of a bad person. Because when she does good deeds, it’s usually because then she’ll in turn appear to be, and receive the acclaim of, a good person. As opposed to doing a good deed for the sheer bountiful joy of actually being a good person. I can’t impress upon you enough just how aggressively this resonated with me. Well, the reason these cookie dough chocolate pretzel things came about is because someone – local artist Pinky Fang – did a very good deed just because she’s an excellent person. And then someone else (*waggles glasses*) was like “I should make her some really cool cookies to say thanks and then I can blog about them and I need something to blog about so this is great and I’ll look like such a nice person but also it really was nice what she did and this is my small way of sincerely saying hey, thanks.”
The deed in question that merited rad Pinky these edible trinkets: she designed the logo from the kindness of her heart and the talent of her, uh, hands I guess, for the Wounded Gazelles team, who are doing the Round the Bays race later this month and raising money for the Casper organisation. I know a lot of dear-to-me people in this team, but also wouldn’t run ever unless like, it was towards Lucy Liu in a kind of slow-motion-high-emotion scene at an airport to try to stop her leaving town. Otherwise, I do not run. Not for money, certainly not for love – a combination of remembering embarrassment and panic attacks in PE class and sports days at primary school, plus too many vexingly bouncy body parts, plus zero interest. What I can do though, is let you know that Casper is a really important organisation, and that the Wounded Gazelles have so many cool people on their team and if you want to pledge a little money, or buy a branded tshirt, tote, or singlet, why, it’s not that difficult. They’ve raised a thousand dollars so far from so many kind people. 
Also, I am a literal hero, because I made these cookies and blogged about them. Um, but really, I adore Pinky’s work (ocular proof: one of her insolent pink cat prints is on my wall) and it’s so great that she donated her skills to make the super-endearing logo for the Wounded Gazelles. Check out her shop!
Admittedly I initially was going to make some kind of fall-back chocolate chip cookie type thing, but then I thought damn it, this deserves something special. I thought: I’m going to make some Internet Cookies. The type that appears on pinterest and is named something incoherently noun-heavy, as if someone just opened up their pantry and threw darts at things and then put all of those in a recipe together. Chocolate peanut butter brownie stuffed waffles with snickers cronut frosting. Cake batter donut cake donuts cake pops. Or something. 
These, though, these cookie dough chocolate pretzel things, are quite coherent. And coherently delicious, importantly. They’re oddly not too sweet, being more about texture than merely exfoliating your lungs with three kinds of sugar. The crack of the chocolate coating, the crunch of the pretzels, the bulge of cookie dough, the roar of the crowd. 

They are also strangely easy – the dough comes together in minutes, they sandwich easily, and then all you have to do is chill them and then half-assedly dip them in chocolate. I know we don’t quite have the same tradition of eating cookie dough here in New Zealand as America does – more’s the pity – but like, it’s the same ingredients that are in actual cookies, so no need to get nervous. And more objectively, there’s no egg in the recipe. I guess putting pretzels in sweet things isn’t quite as well-known here either but we should really get used to it because it’s the best. Thanks, America!

pretzel cookie dough chocolate things 

Inspired by this recipe. However, maybe don’t actually click through if you don’t like words like “sinful” used to describe your completely non-sinful food that you’re eating because you want to eat it. 

makes many.

125g butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups or so flour
a couple of tablespoons of milk
150g dark chocolate (I’m very partial to milk chocolate, but dark is what I had.)
1 packet of pretzels

soften the butter, and beat together with the brown sugar. Tip in the flour and mix into something that looks like cookie dough – since that’s what it is – and add a little milk as you see fit to make it something that can be easily rolled into balls. Not too soft, not too not-soft, just feel your way. 

Roll a very small ball of the dough with your hands, and sandwich it between two pretzels, squashing it down a little so the dough bulges out through the pretzel holes. Continue with the rest of the dough until it’s finished (or you run out of pretzels) and chill them thoroughly in the fridge for at least half an hour. 

Melt the chocolate and dip the pretzel sandwiches so they’re halfway covered, and then chill them again till you’re ready to eat them. 

I…haven’t actually given these away yet. But I’ve only eaten one. They’re stupidly delicious and I couldn’t exactly blog about them without trying them. But your stash is intact, Pinky, I promise.

It has been a quietish time lately, I’ve either been knitting or…knitting. Or watching very sad movies, while knitting. But on Saturday night I danced my cares away in town and it was very wonderful. (Incidentally, Pinky was one of the DJs that night, sorry if I’m weirding you out by saying your name too many times in this one post, Pinky.)

While I may never ever run anywhere, I can dance for hours in the dark. (Also yeah my lipstick here is mint green, I’m not in the grips of scurvy or something.)

title from: um, I guess I’m not quite on-theme here but any chance to be like, “hey! look at my idol Idina Menzel! And can we talk about Wicked?” so here she is singing No Good Deed in her role of Elphaba, Wicked Witch of the West. 
music lately:

Lana del Rey, Born to Die. Sometimes I’m just in a Lana-del-Rey-singing-sad-songs-mood.

The Breeders, Saints. Ughhhhhh so cool.

Selena, Bidi Bidi Bom Bom. Jennifer Lopez was exquisite in the biopic about this tragically killed, amazing singer (I told you I’d been watching sad movies) but this song is nothing but joy.  
Next time: I discovered that you can buy candy love hearts in 2kg quantities online so upcoming will probably be recipes like “a bowl of candy love hearts” and also “candy lovehearts, served in clenched handfuls”. 

sugar, she’s refined, for a small price she blows my mind

I grew up with some fully-formed ideas about, of all things, Toblerone chocolate bars. Firstly, as a kid I convinced myself that the droning chorus-y bit to Heavenly Pop Hit by the Chills was them singing “Toblerone, toblerone” over and over again. I know, what? A slight stretch of the imagination, but I was young, and there was no Google, and possibly I liked the idea of a band singing about a chocolate bar more than I enjoyed fact-checking, so I let my ears believe what they wanted. Less bizarrely, but closer to the truth, this chocolate bar was indelibly associated with other people going overseas. Yes, Mum and I went to Melbourne once when I was five to see her best friend, but that aside we weren’t given to big holidays at the drop of a pay packet. However someone at school must’ve been, because I distinctly remember talk of Toblerones upon their return, and associating them with fancy-pants overseas trips. These days you can just buy this particular chocolate bar from your corner dairy, but back in the day, when it spoke of air travel and rock’n’roll, the very idea of just having one felt unspeakably sophisticated.

I’d like to posit myself as bearing no ill-will towards the Toblerone. They’re really, really nice if you manage to get your hands on one, there’s no attitude here of “the world needs urgently a new version of the Toblerone and I charge myself with the noble duty of providing an inconvenient and slightly inferior appropriation!” Nooo.

I just like crunchy toffee nutty chocolatey stuff, and why should Toblerone be the only thing that gets to monopolise that combination?

So I made this stuff, inspired by that chocolate bar. It’s kind of a slice, kind of just melted chocolate with more sugar added, but it’s simple and seriously wonderful to eat with its crystals of toffee and bashed up toasted almonds. Fine as is, broken into rough shards, particularly effective when chopped up and sprinkled over icecream.

Toffee Brittle Chocolate

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup salt (jokes! A small pinch of salt, that’s all)
250g dark chocolate, broken into pieces (I used Whittaker’s Dark Cacao)

Firstly, toast the almonds in a saucepan over a low heat till lightly browned. Tip them into either a silicon baking dish, or a medium-sized baking dish (the sort you could fit a roast chicken into, but not two, or use a pie dish) lined with baking paper. In the same saucepan, slowly melt the sugars and the water over a low heat, and bring to the boil without stirring. Stirring causes bigger crystals to form which isn’t what we’re after here. Allow it to bubble away merrily for about five minutes until it smells like caramel and the syrup under the silvery bubbles appears to be dark brown. At this point, carefully but quickly pour it over the almonds, getting as much as you can out with the help of a spatula. Sprinkle over the salt and allow to set.

Once set, chop it all up very roughly and then transfer it all back into the baking dish. Then slowly melt the chocolate and tip it over the chopped up almond toffee, stirring to mix. It’ll look rough and like the chocolate’s not going to cover everything, but that’s all good. Pop in the freezer for a bit to set properly, then break into small pieces and serve as you wish.

Bubbling sugar and water is kind of beautiful, am I right? Just don’t get close, it’ll burn you faster than an insult from Blackadder.
It’s also quite pretty once all chopped up but before getting covered in chocolate – all golden and sparkly. I guess food blogging has conditioned my brain to think such things, but I swear it looked pretty in real life.

I’ve been keeping it in a container in the freezer, and something about the icecold chocolate makes the delicate almond crunchiness even more excellent. It’s perfect for a sweet thing after a big dinner but also, as I said, completely delicious chopped up over ice cream.

On Saturday night I went to see Rose Matafeo’s show Scout’s Honour as part of the Comedy Festival. I didn’t know tooooo much about her apart from she’s on TV and on Twitter seems like my kind of person, but in real life, on stage, she is a scream. Hilarious. She’s got some shows coming up in Auckland so if that’s where you’re from, I most definitely recommend attending. Not least because her show had tea and biscuits, and super-nice audience members. I was by myself and appreciated the rolling-with-the-punches niceness of the people either side of me. In that when I asked “can I sit here?” they said “sure” and smiled, rather than blankly staring at me, or saying no. But also: about halfway through her show she worked in a Babysitters Club joke, so, you know, free pass for life.

Luckily everyone can join in basking in the tiny, adorable splendour of Rory the kitten, one of our friend Jo’s foster cats. (Speaking of Jo, kindly check out this write-up she did of an incredible dinner we had at Hummingbird. Includes a panna cotta gif!) I can’t adequately express how tiny and sweet Rory is, but I’ll tell you this: he’s truly much the same size as he appears to be in this picture. Spent significant time adoring him inbetween episodes of Veronica Mars. So important.
Title via: tick, tick…BOOM! the musical by a young Jonathan Larson, who would go on to write RENT, which this blog is named for. The song really is about sugar, in case you’re wondering, and it is good, especially with Raul Esparza wrapping his sweet, sweet vocal cords around it. 

Music lately:
Woke up Saturday morning to the news that Adam Yauch, MCA from Beastie Boys had died. This is such sad news – Beastie Boys have been together longer than I’ve been alive and consistently putting out music that I love. Honestly part of the soundtrack of my life. Remote Control is one of my favourite songs of theirs. However I’d also like to call attention to this glorious rhyme from the glorious Sure Shot: “I want to say a little something that’s long overdue/ the disrespect to women has got to be through.”

Finally listened to some Lana Del Rey, and uh, have become mildly obsessed with her music. It’s just so utterly melancholy, I can’t help but love it.

It’s not actually him singing, but a young Johnny Depp with an also-young Amy Locane in John Waters’ Crybaby on Please Mr Jailer is worth suspending reality for. As is the heavily crushable Wanda Woodward, thanks to Kate for the necessary reminder!
Next time: I was thinking about Gin and Tonic Ice Cream. First to catch my gin…

ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb

When I was a kid I thought Robin Hood: Men In Tights was the last word in genius filmmaking. The very last. I rewatched it a few years ago and boo-urns, it really wasn’t that hilarious to me anymore. I guess when I was an impressionable youth, all it took was a few anachronisms and the merry men rapping their exposition and I was happy. I find it interesting what pop culture from my youth holds up to me – inexplicably Babysitters Club books yes, The Wedding Singer sadly no, despite how bodacious I thought Billy Idol was. Princess Bride, better with every watch, whereas time has not been kind to Aqua’s sound production. All 90s R’n’B without exception yes, Limp Bizkit…no. A thousand times nay. This is just me, what say you?  
I ask, because when eating a Cherry Ripe chocolate bar on the weekend (Americans: they’re like an Almond Joy with cherries instead of almonds) it became clear that it was unfairly undelicious. Weak chocolate. Nosebleed-inducing sweetness. Flavour more meh-ry than cherry. I was really, really hungry and I’d been lifting heavy things all afternoon so I ate the lot anyway. But I was sure they used to be nicer. Not that I had Scarface-level piles of cherry ripes around me as a kid. They’re only a relatively recent love of mine from the last decade or two. And yet. At first I thought it was my tastebuds evolving, and with all this “Mmm, tapenade and crackers” and “I love hummus!” and so on it had pushed out all the space available for enjoying the process of having your mouth waterblasted with sugar. But would a person who makes a pavlova and covers it in smarties say that? (I’m talking about myself, if you didn’t click that link.) I think not. So maybe it’s the fault chocolate bars? I do know a lot of people I’ve talked to are convinced Creme Eggs used to be better when they were kids. So.
Anyway I thought, to quote Jason Robert Brown: I can do better than that.

I had half a can of cherries in the fridge leftover from making Purple Jesus for Tim’s birthday last year. Coconut doesn’t cost much and I suspected condensed milk would be excellent glue to hold it all together. Finally I selected the kind of dark chocolate whose pure intensity of flavour and excellence of texture is matched only by its accessibility and reasonable price: Whittaker’s Dark Ghana. Bonus: sometimes if you’re lucky and the humidity is just so, this block of chocolate honestly sounds like a maraca when you snap it.
It worked. OH HOW IT WORKED! 
I’m not implying that if you do like Cherry Ripes we can’t hang out or anything, never! None of that. All I’m saying is: In my personal opinion I don’t like them anymore, and this is my attempt at recreating the Cherry Ripe so I do like it. So no need for hand-wringing.
Cherry-Coconut Chocolate Bars (Ah, c’mon, couldn’t use the registered brand name thingy, could I? I did consider Shmerry Shmipes, so feel free to use that.)

2 1/2 cups dessicated coconut
1 tin sweetened condensed milk
1 cup drained cherries from a jar
1 x 250g block very dark chocolate (I used Whittaker’s Dark Ghana)

In a large pan, over a low heat, lightly toast the coconut until slightly nut-brown in parts. At this point, tip in the entire can of condensed milk and continue to stir, doing your best, over a low heat. Add the cherries – it will turn a ridiculous purple-grey, just go with it – and continue stirring till it forms a solid paste-like texture.

Remove from the heat, and tip the mixture onto a large sheet of baking paper on a bench, or onto a silicon baking sheet. Use the spatula to prod and spread and shape this forgiving mixture into a rough square, then use either a dough cutter or a knife and a fish slice to divide them into squares and shift them apart from each other.

Break the chocolate into pieces and place in a metal or china bowl that’s big enough to rest on top of a small pot of water. Bring said pot of water to the boil, which will gently melt the chocolate. Or you could microwave it, if you’ve got one. Use a teaspoon to transfer melted chocolate on top of each square of coconut, spreading it across and down the sides as per the above photo. Once they’re set, use the fish slice or a spatula or whatever to carefully flip them over, then using the remaining chocolate – which you might have to carefully re-melt, drizzle chocolate over (I use a kind of loose-wristed flinging movement which isn’t overly successful, to be honest.) If you feel like you’ve got enough chocolate you could just spread the chocolate over the bases so the coconut is entirely concealed. Store in a cool place.

All that writing makes it look like the most painfully complex recipe in history but I’m just trying to be elaborate with the instructions. This is honestly easy. There’s nothing fiddly involved, just a bit of time. 

Just a bit of stirring and spreading and slicing and melting and spreading and Jackson Pollock drizzling and verily you end up with a whole flipping jar full of delicious, chewy-sweet chocolate bars. Not too sweet, weirdly enough, despite the entire can of condensed milk (minus whatever stuck to the underside of the top of the can, which I carefully removed with my tongue). I think this comes from the toasting of the coconut, the relative sourness of the cherries, and the cocoa onslaught of the dark, dark chocolate. These morsels are best kept in the fridge, which means when you bite into them you get the full texture ruckus of cold, firm chocolate snapping into softly coarse coconut and pliant condensed milk. It’s truly splendid.
Seriously now. Try before you buy.
Nothing overly wacky to report from the weekend, as I was up in Auckland toiling away for work. Hence the post-toil cherry ripe bar which inspired all this. The time away toiling has rendered me completely useless which is why this blog post took forever to get to you. And even with all this time simmering away, it hasn’t necessarily improved. Did however have a “drawing club” at Kate and Jason’s house with what little time was left of my weekend, which was as gloriously old-timily fun as it sounds (or as awful as it sounds, depending on your opinion I guess). I got a rush of happiness from doing something I haven’t done since probably 1994 – just lying on the floor at a friend’s place drawing all afternoon. Finished the day with Jo and Laura (another one!) seeing out the first season of Veronica Mars. Leslie Knope has a hot contender for being my Favourite Fictional Hero Whose Fictionality Doesn’t Hinder Their Influence Upon Me…I can tell you.
Wait! Something a bit exciting: at our last book group, you know, the one with literary karaoke to three different versions of Wuthering Heights, I got a call from Australia’s edition of Vice magazine because they were wanting to talk to some people in Wellington about what they were up to of a weekend. Despite being genuinely excited about book club I wasn’t sure if the concept would translate particularly well, but lo: here I am in Vice! FYI, they asked me to send in a photo and I didn’t realise it’d be that big. Has my face always been that crooked? And ruddy-nosed? And, let’s face it, was my hair always that awesomely huge?
Title via: Runaways, Cherry Bomb. I love the threatening way Cherie Curry spits out “HELLO” in the chorus. 
Music lately:
Tim made me listen to this song by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, 99 and a Half Won’t Do. Now I’m trying to make you listen to it. It’s a beauty.
Who Are You, by Julien Dyne feat Ladi6 and Parks. Brill. Complicated and straightforward at the same time. I love the twinkly triangles and swirly piano notes. 
Next time: I’m heading back up to Auckland this week for yet more toiling, but hopefully it won’t be quite so long before I bounce back this time round. 

candy cane girl, don’t you know my name girl?

Ever feel like what the French call les incompetents? If like me, “oui, le constantly-ment”, then I salute you. My useless actions always seem amplified – I’m much more likely to dwell on slamming into a doorframe, saying something without thinking, or hassling everyone about but not winning a blogging award. Or sometimes I’ll be walking quietly down the street and my brain will say something along the lines of “hey, remember this very specific mistake/bad judgement call/awkward situation?” When all this happens I try and steer the brain towards thinking positively, shrinkening the tiny or huge mistakes and remembering the good things. What else can you do? (Apart from not make mistakes? Which: doubties.)

I try instead to remember small things, like friends who instinctively invite themselves round for wine just when you feel like friends and wine. Like getting a tweet reply from people in The Wire or on Broadway. And like this utterly manageable Christmassy snack to go with my Christmassy movie reference. It has less ingredients than I have eyelashes after a night wearing mascara (seriously, mascara is like a tiny version of one of those weird rolly things that remove lint from your clothes…for my eyelashes) and – the snack that keeps on giving – is also charmingly simple to make, strangely delicious to eat, and aggressively festive to behold.

Make it when you’ve got people coming round and you don’t know what to serve up – especially since the two main ingredients can be bought from most corner dairies; make it when you feel like things should be more recognisably yuletide-y than they are; make it if you’ve had a hard day which can be soothed by the feeling of a knife blade plunging through solid sugar; make it when you’re wavering between “Shut up, self! Your life is good! Check your privilege and stop complaining!” and “I just want to hug a large cat and allow its soft pelt to absorb my salty tears.”

So, yes, this conversation again – I didn’t win the blogger award I was nominated for. D’oh! I feel like the Raul Esparza of blogger awards. But you can’t go round hitching your wagon to every star that rolls by. Had I won, of course, I would’ve talked about it heaps, and big congratulations to the winner. But here we are. Asking for votes isn’t something I love, and while I didn’t quite have the energy to be involved, I also didn’t have the energy not to be involved, if that makes sense. On the upside of things, it’s cool that someone/s nominated me, thanks heaps everyone who did vote because of – or in spite of – my petitioning, I’m pretty sure I got some new readers out of this (do stay!) and it’s a good learning experience.

So what even is this recipe? It’s so simple, and yet a triumph of both texture and flavour. The sugary crunch against soft chocolate snap; the spicy chill of synthetic peppermint flavouring melting into the cocoa darkness. While I have a feeling I’ve seen this recipe before somewhere other than my brain, I also can’t place it specifically. That said, I haven’t tried googling it or anything. But importantly, it’s easy, it’s delicious, it’s beautiful. In fact the most difficult part is wrangling the wrapping off the candy canes – this strange plastic, which on the candy canes is like trying to scrape off a layer of clear nail polish, and then when finally removed it floats around and clings obstinately to your eyebrows.

Candy Cane Bark

A recipe by myself

  • 250g dark chocolate. (I use Whittakers. It is both delicious, and the best.)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil or plain oil (I like rice bran) or even Kremelta, if you dare.
  • Five candy canes
  • Salt
  • Edible Glitter (optional)

Place the unwrapped candy canes on a chopping board, and carefully, using a big knife, chop away at them till they’re reduced to peppermint splinters.

Melt the chocolate, a decent grind of salt, and the oil together gently either in the microwave or in a metal bowl that’s sitting on a small pot of simmering water (not actually touching the water.) Pour into a smallish tin – if it’s silicone you’re all good, but consider lining it with baking paper if it’s ceramic or metal or something. Once it has cooled a little, sprinkle the candy cane shards over evenly and top with glitter. Chill and slice evenly.

This is best when freezing cold, to encourage maximum crunch and minimum melting in your hand. Also good topped, if you will, with a tasteful and elegant dusting of edible glitter. You could double the chocolate, to make it thicker, or double the candy canes, to make it crunchier and prettier. Don’t leave out the salt – I know salted everything these days is getting a little blah, but its intensity not only balances out the sweetness, but also makes everything taste more of itself.

Every time I’m convinced peppermint flavouring is as fun as eating food right after after cleaning your teeth, a combination like this comes along to change my mind. While it looks like it’d make an ideal gift, it’s a little too melty to be sit around in a wrapped box for hours under the tree. Instead, whip it out when you’ve got guests and they’ll hopefully be so dazzled by the pretty shards of candy cane, that you’ll look far, far more competent than you might be feeling.

I know I’m always sleepy these days but lately life’s been like when you go to get Chinese takeaways and you optimistically stuff way too much food from the buffet table into your plastic container and it bulges out the lid and noodles dangle out the side, and then you insist on eating it all rather than just put it in the fridge and admit defeat about your stomach capacity. That is to say, I was busy and had amazing times, like karaoke, cases of wine appearing, skidding down a hallway in socks, dancing – possibly terrifyingly – wild and free with friends, attending book group that went on for five hours because we were talking about everything ever. Would rather have the overstuffed $7 buffet container than a single crabstick off the menu any day (wait, that metaphor makes no sense, let’s just finish things here.)

Finally, I don’t know how many times you’ve seen Home Alone but that’s what the Les Incompetents quote comes from – I was talking to someone on Twitter about how I’d wanted to use it on my blog for a while, and lo, the universe provides me with lots of incompetency to not so much quote it as turn it into a thematic motif for my life, or something.

Title via: People, there are just not that many songs referencing candy canes, which makes no sense to me. Luckily the White Stripes not only made a song, they basically devoted their working life to resembling peppermint-flavoured candy.

Music lately:

Ladi6 released a beautiful video for her beautiful song Jazmine DL. She’s so awesome I can’t even talk about her properly without a good night’s sleep so I’ll just link through to the video and leave it at that.

The song that always, always makes me feel better, but especially during an attack of the les incompetents: Die, Vampire, Die.

Next time: I was going to tack it on as an afterthought but I like it so much it’ll get its own post, and hopefully act as a nice buffer between all the Christmas overload. I’ll leave you with one word: Capsimato. (Also these parentheses and this explanatational colon: it’s roast tomato inside roast capsicum. Just in case capsimato wasn’t working for you.)

no boy, don’t speak now you just drive

Last time I promised a Christmas Cake – and recklessly did I make one, at 11pm after an evening of Viognier (where I learned both how to pronounce “Viognier” and also that I like Coopers Creek’s stuff). But even more reckless was my thinking that I could blog about the cake before this weekend just gone, where Tim and I drove up to Waiuku for an important family party, when we’ve had stuff on every night of the week. Perhaps reckless-est of all, on Sunday night after nine hours of travelling, I tried to blog. I didn’t achieve the state of sleeplessness-fueled focussed intensity I was hoping for. I just fell asleep. So finally, here we are.

And instead of Christmas Cake, today’s subject is Road Trip Snacks. I’ve never been on a road trip before – I know, what kind of friendless, half-hearted Kiwi am I – and this was really just a long trip which occurred via road but I’m claiming it and you can’t take it away from me. I’ve learned that writing on a laptop while in a car with barely-existent suspension and handling isn’t the easiest; the slightest tension is magnified by your ability to stare endlessly into the ever-approaching horizon (except Tim was all “yeah, nah, I didn’t notice that” so clearly whatever I was tense over was so subtly conveyed he didn’t notice it, meanwhile I thought I was being totally, point-makingly huffy.) Another thing I noticed is that when I’m in Wellington I put some effort into my clothes, but as soon as I get out of town I’m happy to shuffle round in trackpants, jandals and a saggy old singlet. And let us not forget the proliferation of roadside shops selling local crafts. I swear there’s more sheepskin shops per capita than there are both sheep and capita.

And snacks are of great importance. I started off trying to think of something healthy, veered towards “morale boosting” instead. When you’re several hours in and the countryside around you really isn’t providing much variety, a snack is as good as a holiday, not to mention if you actually have no driving skills, it allows you to feel smugly like you’re also bringing something to the table. Snack #1 is from one of my favourite new cookbooks, the brilliant Kitchen Coquette, and involved white chocolate, coco pops, and peppermint essence. Yes. That’s right. I’m a devotee of the white chocolate so I was expecting to like it and all, but I wasn’t anticipating this: it’s one of the more perfect things I’ve ever eaten. Honest.

If you can, try to get decent white chocolate since the taste of it is so prominent here. I use Whittakers because it’s extremely delicious. But also relatively affordable. White chocolate is a little fiddly to get right, and some stuff out there is loaded up with weird oils and flavourings in lieu of whatever it actually is that gets it to taste so magical. But not Whittakers. On the other hand, use the cheapest coco pops you can find, as they’re all much of a muchness and breakfast cereal is expensive than perfume. The nearest supermarket to me gatekeepingly only had the proper stuff, but the finished recipe was so good it was worth every cent.

White Chocolate Coco Pops Slice

(It’s called Peppermint Crispies in the book but with ingredients like this I really want to list them in the title.)

From Kitchen Coquette, by Katrina Meynink. I highly recommend it.

250g good white chocolate.
1 cup cocoa pops, puffs, snaps, or whatever you call them.
2 teaspoons peppermint essence (unless your pants are fancy and you have Boyajian Peppermint Oil, in which case use a couple of drops.)

Carefully melt the chocolate on the stovetop in a metal bowl sitting on top of a small pot of water that is half-full of simmering water. Throw the essence in and stir it round, which may make it sieze up a little – inexplicably – but persevere, tip in the coco pops and stir as best as you can.

Tip out onto a sheet of baking paper, flatten as best you can – try pressing down on it with another sheet of baking paper over the top – and don’t worry about rough edges or anything. Allow to set, then slice up. It will break naturally into rough jigsaw pieces instead of neat bars – all part of the charm.

Note: I feel the white chocolate + peppermint aspect of this is crucial, but if you’re unable to eat dairy, this would still be super alluring made with dark chocolate.

While I am not normally one to reach for the peppermint essence – it always makes me feel like toothpaste has fallen into my food – here it works stunningly, its icy heat cutting through the vanilla richness of the white chocolate and yet somehow, each mint-cooled inhale also enhances its buttery, melting-textured wonderfulness. The airy crunch of the coco pops amongst the surrounding white chocolate is surprisingly habit-forming, like edible bubble wrap. Something about the peppermint actually does wake up the brain a little as you trundle along. All told, a superior snack, and one that I feel truly lucky to know of.

Over on the other end of the snack horizon are these stunning Sesame Garlic Roast Almonds which I invented myself first to use in the Sexy Pasta back in March, but have adapted for more specific nut-eating purposes. Because they’re too good to just scatter over pasta. Scatter ’em over your tastebuds too (but not the floor of your car because the scents of garlic and sesame are persistant.)


Sesame Garlic Roast Almonds

You could of course use any nut here, but almonds have a sweet edge and a popcorn-crisp texture once roasted and they’re very reasonably priced in bulk at Moore Wilson – which is why they’re my go-to fancy nut.

2 cups whole almonds, labelled “Dessert Almonds” on my bag.
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 heaped teaspoon brown sugar
Generous pinch salt

Set your oven to 200 C/400 F. Mix everything together in a bowl before tipping it out onto an oven tray. Putting a sheet of baking paper on it before doing this will save you a lot of dishes hassle. Roast the nuts for as long as you dare, until they’re darkened somewhat and smell amazing. Keep an eye on them though because it’s a fine line between roast and burnt. Allow to cool then tip into a container.

Also rivetingly good with their snappish texture and Inception-like nuttiness within nuttiness. And garlic, with its rich, rounded oniony flavour, is a far more suitable friend of the nut than chili, in my opinion. In case you’re wondering what the stuff in the photo is, I just threw the sugar over without mixing it in properly, which meant that lumps of it bubbled up under the oven’s heat and turned into a kind of garlickly brittle – strangely good. While the White Chocolate Coco Puff Peppermint slice has the edge in terms of immediate appeal, every time we brought these out to snack on we ended up grabbing them by the handful.

All that aside, we did have a terrific time up home – I got to hang out with my dear Nana a lot; see Tim dressed up as a Disney prince (veered between calling him Prince XYZ since they were never that interesting in the movies anyway, and calling him Prince Floribund which I just thought was funny) for the party we went to, which was a cartoon-themed dress-up one, in case you’re wondering what brought this alarming behavior on. I was Sleeping Beauty, Mum and Dad were an Ugly Sister and Dick Dastardly respectively, and my brother went as Jack Skillington. There was also a massive supper, a pudding buffet, beautiful speeches and a very cool birthday lady dressed as Sailor Moon. Absolutely worth the harrowingly long drive there and back!

Finally, and importantly, I saw Poppy the Kitten again who has grown just a tiny bit and has mellowed out slightly – she’s less of a baby raptor now, and will actually let you hold her without trying to claw out your nostrils. I did wake up with an ominous paw resting on my neck, but it turned out she was just using me as an overbridge so she could have a punch-up with the curtains. At 3am.
Title via: Bic Runga, lady of big achievements, with her early song Drive. I’ve loved this quiet, thoughtful song ever since Dad made me watch it on Video Hits or Max TV or something, saying “she’s going to be huge one day.” Shrewd, Dad.

Music lately:

I didn’t have time to make any kind of iPod playlist, and Tim’s sister’s car, which we swapped for on the way up as our ute drinks up petrol like it’s coming from one of those refill cups at Burger King, didn’t have anything to plug the ipod into. We ended up listening to National Radio and learning a thing or two, because we couldn’t find anything music-wise despite flicking obsessively through the stations.

On the last stretch of road home, having swapped back to the ute where we could plug in the ipod, we listened to Gil Scott-Heron’s Winter In America and I’m New Here – ideal music for anytime, not just cars. But it felt particularly right just then.
Next time: the Christmas cake! That said, I have to taste it first to make sure it’s okay. But I also want to ice it. Dilemma. 

girls would turn the color of the avocado when he would drive down their street in his el dorado

Magical things, avocados.

But first a BIG thank you, as big as the words Thank You made out of colourful rubber and inflated to the size of a forty-foot building, with a noble capybara balancing on top of it looking thoughtfully into the distance, for all the nice comments and emails about my last blog post. From the bottom of my chocolate-iced heart.

Back to avocados; aren’t they exciting? Like nature’s version of rich creamery butter, kept in an endearingly curvaceous, bumpy casing. Nutty and smooth and yes, buttery, I love it mashed into guacamole to be scooped up with corn chips, spread on toast for a breakfast treat anytime of day, or sliced into a bowl of salad so that you can try and surreptitiously dig for it all with the spoons when serving yourself.

But to turn them into pudding? Inconceivable!

Conceive of this. I know I go on about Hannah at Wayfaring Chocolate a fair bit, so I’ll try and squash down the enthusiasm a little here so I don’t sound like some kind of creepy person who waits outside your window and cries “the hunter has become the hunted!” No, it’s not like that. It’s just that she’s got one of my favourite food blogs in the world, is all. And while I’ve heard of using avocados in non-savoury recipes, it was she who prised open my eyes to how delicious and non-threatening it could be. Through the medium of raw vegan brownies. Regular baked brownies have their place (and that place is a table marked “DELICIOUS THINGS HERE, PLEASE”) but it’s fun to push the limits of creativity in the kitchen sometimes by restricting your parameters. Which is what Hannah did with this amazingly delicious recipe.

Yes, those are useless-ish stripy novelty straws: they make my heart soar, and what price soaring? Occasionally I buy into pretty things, and occasionally…I literally buy them. Treat yo’self.
A daring mixture of dates and nuts are whizzed up in a food processor with cocoa to form the base, and then the power of a whole avocado is harnessed to create the icing. It’s amazing – you add golden syrup and cocoa and suddenly it turns into this creamy, darkly chocolatey, shiny ganache-like substance.
Unfortunately when I busted anticipationally into the avocado it wasn’t entirely usable – instead of two bowl-like halves offering up smooth, unbroken greenness, there were significant portions that were bruised and horribly stringy. I scooped out what was salvageable, and this is why the layer of icing on my brownies is sadly thin. But another time, another avocado. 
Raw Vegan Chocolate Brownies with Spectacular Avocado Icing

Adapted slightly, and respectfully, from Hannah’s recipe which she adapted from another recipe of her own anyway: inception! Feel free however to just click through to hers.

2 cups nuts: I used a mixture of almonds and pecans, but near-on anything would suit. 
2 cups dates, roughly sliced
1/3 cup cocoa powder

Blend the living heck out of these ingredients in a food processor. It may take some time to come together. Eventually it will be a fine-ish, crumbly mixture of tiny ingredient particles. Turn it out into a baking dish, roughly 20cm square or a little bigger or smaller. Press down on it with a spoon, freeze while you make the icing.

1 ripe, perfect avocado
2 tablespoons golden syrup 
2 tablespoons cocoa
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (optional, by which I mean I forgot)
Small pinch of salt

Thoroughly clean out your food processor, then blend all of the above till smooth and shiny and amazing. Add more of anything to taste, then spread evenly across the base. Return to the freezer, slice once ‘set’.

I admit: I had issues making this. I increased the base quantities a bit from Hannah’s recipe and I don’t know if it was because of that, but the food processor just Would. Not. Break. Them. Down. Rather than being sliced up, it was like the blades were some kind of carnival ride for the dates and nuts to scoot round on. I’d be processing the heck out of it, take the lid off, look in: perfect, whole almonds and dates. Stir it round, repeat. Look in: perfect, unblemished nuts and dates. So confusing. I’m not sure if I should’ve soaked the dates first or something but eventually, eventually, they started to break down. This is why I recommend you chop them first.

But despite that, as long as you own a food processor these are a complete breeze to make, and even though I’ve only eaten a few pieces I know I’m going to make this again, and often. For one thing, to get a better quantity of icing. For another thing, to try out all the different flavours (except carob, I can’t go for that) like having maple syrup in the icing or walnuts in the base. This is incredibly delicious stuff – a little crumbly, although I suspect that’s my own fault – but caramelly and dark and biscuity and cold and wonderful. Something about the texture of the dates and the intensity of the cocoa makes it taste and feel almost like solid chocolate. And the icing – oh my. Even with the mean scraping of it across the top it’s almost aggressively luscious, showing how avocados in sweet things makes total sense – the buttery flavour, its yielding texture, and whipped-cream body. And they’re vegan and gluten-free! (Well I’m not sure if golden syrup is strictly vegan, but it seems to be…if not, just use maple syrup as per her recipe.)

Thanks Hannah – and I urge you to run, not walk, to her blog and read through all the other good things she’s come up with.

What have we been up to lately, apart from eating all this brownie? Went to the SPCA to drop off some newspapers but also to hang out with the beautiful cats and dogs there for a bit – seriously, I want them all. Baddddd. Words can only hint at how cool the cats were and at the depths of love in the dogs’ eyes. I just wish we had the space! We were a little slow-moving that day though because what started off as a spontaneous BYO dinner to toast Jo’s job success on the previous night had escalated into a spontaneous-er wingding at our place. On Sunday I went with Tim to the Wellington Phoenix’s first football game of the season (The Pheen, as I call them, but it doesn’t seem to be catching on). It almost didn’t happen – the internet cafe I usually go to was inexplicably full, then when I finally found another one my e-ticket refused to print for ages. The upshot of it was that arriving late to the stadium meant I didn’t suffer that mid-point slump – as I really don’t like sports in the first place, my attention span is not cut out for ninety minutes of people running round kicking a ball. Anyway, they won, which was super pleasant. Hooray for weekends.
Title via: The laconic and shambling but nonetheless exciting Pablo Picasso, by the Modern Lovers. LOVE this band. Not least for the fact that they use the word avocado in this song.

Music lately: 

Shout, Isley Brothers. I know I say this about so many songs, but this has just got to be one of the best songs in the world. It’s beautiful.

Badd Energy, Third Eye – am a huge Coco Solid (she who makes up part of this act) fan so clicked through the moment I saw a link to this. While it stands up easily on its own, if you can watch the video you’re in for some fun times. Fun cats-wearing-robes-and-shooting-at-you times.
Next time: I tried making quinoa balls tonight, kinda like meatballs, and while they predictably fell to bits what was there tasted SO SO good and so that’ll likely be my next blog post.