cry into your christmas cake, don’t know what else to do

When I was a child, and Christmas inched towards me in the distance like an achingly slow-moving but manifestly mighty steam-roller, I loved the season, hard. Now that I’m older and busier, Christmas emerges with a hiss through the cracks and fissures in the pavement like a sinister steam – suddenly everywhere without warning, and prone to fogging up one’s glasses and making one’s fringe get sweaty. My feelings about Christmas these days are more than just “I’m sweaty” – I love it. I do. I do! I’m not just convincing myself here, honest. I love the sparkle and hustle and bustle and food, all the food, and there’s little more gratifying (to me and me alone) than lustily singing the alto descant to Joy To The World or Hark the Herald Angels Sing, to fill me with pine-needle scented exuberance

But: it’s also stressful. I mean, money. Where’s that stuff hiding lately? How does one go about getting really rich without much effort? Why is so much effort required to get rich and even then it’s not guaranteed? Answer me that, Santa! Also just the sense of wanting to spend lovely, important time with family but then that being high-stakes and needing to go just right, and also trying to get everything done while still working and feeling tired-er and tired-er with every day that passes. But then sniffing a christmas tree, or running your hands idly through a plush, cool pile of tinsel, or staying up late to bake something really special for someone just as special, and Christmas specials of TV shows and Mariah Carey and candy canes… 

So yeah: Christmas. I have now made the ground-breaking observation that it is happening and stirs up some feelings across the spectrum of what feelings feel like.

Even though buzzfeed and pinterest have rendered trying to list anything slightly superfluous, still I heedlessly present my annual round-up of anything I’ve ever made on this blog that might make a decent-enough edible gift for someone. Give the gift of food, yo. People want things – or at least, I want things, ever so badly – but people LOVE food. And you know it’s going to get used, not consigned to a Shelf of Guilt because you visit quite a lot and will absolutely know if your gift is not on display. 

Also – sorry if you’re getting sick of seeing Christmas everywhere and you don’t participate in it for any number of reasons. It’ll soon be over. And also you can make these things at any time, not just during this particularly pervasive and dominating seasonal landmark. 

Things In Jars. 

Note: We may have reached Peak Mason Jar Awareness but there’s no reason why you can’t ignore this, because…jars are cute! And you can’t put a price on that. 

Orange Confit (This is just slices of orange in syrup, but is surprisingly applicable to a variety of cake surfaces. And pretty. And cheap.) (vg, gf)
Cranberry Sauce (Impossibly easy.) (vg, gf)
Bacon Jam (Best made at the last minute, because it needs refrigerating) (gf)
Cashew Butter (vg, gf)
Red Chilli Nahm Jim (gf)
Cranberry (or any-berry) Curd (some effort involved, so make sure you’re awake, but very, very pretty.) (gf)
Rhubarb-Fig Jam (gf)
Salted Caramel Sauce (gf, has a vegan variant) (also: don’t even try fighting it, salted caramel is not going anywhere.) 
Apple Cinnamon Granola (vg)
Marinated Tamarillos (vg, gf)
Taco Pickles (vg, gf)
Pickled Blueberries

Baked Stuff: the classic choice. Or: The Person Who Actually Likes Doing Baking’s choice. 
Look, my Christmas Cake is amazing. It just is: deal with my lack of coyness. Make it on the day, it’ll still be great. 
Christmas-Spiced Chocolate Cake (Also a good xmas-day pudding) (gf)
Chocolate Orange Loaf Cake (y’know, wrap it in brown paper and tie with string, ba-da-bing, ba-da-cute.)
Vegan Chocolate Cake (It’s good! It’s easy!) (vg)
Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies
Also, if you click on the link to the Orange Confit above, you’ll see a recipe for the easiest, fastest fruitcake loaf. It makes an excellent present, for the sort of person who’d like to receive fruitcake. And ’tis dairy free.

Novelty! Novelty? Novelty! 

If all you have energy to do is melt some stuff and sprinkle some other stuff over it, the bulk of this list is for you, oh head-pat-needing-friend.
Moonshine Biffs (like homemade Milk Bottles!) (gf)
Raw Vegan Chocolate Cookie Dough Truffles Candy (vg, gf)
Lolly Cake
Peppermint Schnapps (vg, gf) (Pictured above)
Candy Cane Chocolate Bark (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 
And there you have it. If nothing else, a prompt to lose a pleasurably hungry hour or two on something like Pinterest, looking up endless variations on The One Cookie That Will Affirm Your Belief In Humanity or something. 
It has been a dreamy and mellow weekend – pizza eating and head-pats; wedding dress shopping and quietly reading in a cafe and swooning; watching Pretty Little Liars and drinking beer (more swooning here); book group and snacks and knitting. 
Many, many, thrice many candy canes. I love them so much and they only come into season in December! So if I’m fixing to eat five in one sitting, no-one’s going to stop me. 

Oh yeah, that’s right, more wedding dress shopping. I found the one. The two, in fact. Which sounds diva-ish, to which I say, don’t use diva as a negative term to devalue powerful women, and also that the two dresses together cost half the price of some other dresses I tried on, and also they’re both intensely beautiful and I really like the idea of having a dramatic costume change halfway through the ceremony. 
And for one fervent blogger, christmas came early this year: I got to hang out with this hund friend! Called Bruce! With a very soft, fluffy head and a huggably squat body. Like me!
Title via: Rilo Kiley, Xmas Cake. Putting the aaaagh into fa-la-la-la-la.
Music lately:

Sheep Dog and Wolf, Egospect. Blimmin’ rad, is my indepth description of it for you.
Janine and the Mixtape, Hold Me (acoustic). Could this babe be any more talented or amazing? Possibly, I mean that kind of thing in terms of measurability to – anyway. Here she is singing an acoustic version of a dreamy song that I already loved, somehow making it more gentle and delicate and yet saltily searing. 
Um, also Beyonce did the staggeringly amazing move of dropping an entire album with a video for each song in the middle of the night without any fanfare. Do yourself a favour and try to find them – they’re brilliant. ***Flawless and Grown Woman are pretty much perfection, but it’s impossible this early to choose favourites: it’s just the most excellent, saucy, in charge R’n’B I’ve heard since Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange. (Not that he was thaaaat saucy.) I am just so inspired by her control and confidence and complete difference-from-everything-else in releasing her album like this. Makes me want to write an even better cookbook. And also dance lots. 
Next time: I made an apple and cheese pie, but who knows, eh? Christmas! What a time. Be as nice to yourselves as you can muster.

it’s been this way, since christmas day, dazzled, doused in gin

For all that I’m really messy, inside and out, and will spend long stretches of time putting my nailpolish bottles into order by colour spectrum while ignoring, say, the dishes, every now and then I can really Get It Together and Be Organised. 
Every year, commencing 2006, I’ve held a big dinner party for flatmates and friends, which started as a way to toast ourselves and do something nice together before we all part ways for the summer. And that’s how it continued, because it’s a pretty decent concept that doesn’t require messing with. Last year Tim and I couldn’t have one because we’d just moved house and everything felt too difficult, but I feel like a good tradition should be malleable and flourish, rather than rigid and immoveable. 

And then, because why be merely fancy when you could be fancy in italics, Kate helped embiggen everything with her beauteous hand-made menus and table-setting ideas. It was dreamy, which is my favourite way for things to be or have been or have potential to be.

I was proud of myself at how it all worked out – it was a very last-minute fandango, but I managed to cook everything myself (including FOUR KILOS of pork belly, I mean really) and have it all appear ready to eat at a reasonable hour. Which may not sound like rocket science, but y’know, my oven is small while my ambitions are sky-high.

Speaking of, every year I use this as an opportunity to make a significant pudding. Like the year I made Baked Alaska. This year’s concept was not as impressive as I’d have liked, but luckily my concept of “not as impressive as I’d liked” is a bit like my concept of “corporate, office-friendly clothes” – quite, quite different to most other people’s.

So: berry ice cream pavlova layer cake! Two hastily thwacked-together discs of meringue, some insta-ice cream, and some preturnaturally glossy red pomegranate seeds, and you have yourself a rather fascinatingly-textured and terrifically-flavoured and most crucial of all, monumentally instagrammable pudding.

I know, pavlova is not necessarily that simple, but the good thing about this is that you can be a lot more confident about the making and baking, since it’s going to be buffered up with ice cream and covered in icing sugar and it doesn’t matter in the slightest if it cracks or deflates or, heck, breaks in two, because everything can be squished back together.

While my patriotism at the level of “New Zealand, it’s okay I GUESS” it is nice to graciously nod to the classic pavlova and time of year that xmas falls upon – high summer! – with this cold, fruity confection. You can use an electric beater, obviously, but all I have is a whisk and I managed just fine, and there’s nothing like standing in your underwear on a humid day furiously whisking egg whites to a stiff meringue to make you feel tantamount to Xena, Warrior Princess.

berry ice cream pavlova layer cake 

a recipe by myself. It looks complicated but that’s just because I’m the hand-holding type (hand-holding sounds much nicer than micro-management, yeah?) You could use cream or yoghurt instead of coconut milk but now it’s entirely dairy-free, which seems to suit a lot of people I know, so hurrah!

4 egg whites
200g sugar
1 teaspoon cornflour
2 teaspoons lemon juice or white vinegar

2 cups frozen berries (I used a packet of frozen mixed berries since they were cheapest, but plain frozen strawberries would be rad)
1/2 a can (although possibly more) coconut milk

Set your oven to 160 C/320 F and line a baking tray with baking paper. Using a 20cm caketin, or your own circle-drawing prowess, trace two circles on this sheet of baking paper. It doesn’t matter if they’re very close together. 

In a very clean, non-plastic bowl, whisk the egg whites briskly with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form. This means that the egg whites will be foamy and thickened, but not shiny, and when you lift the whisk up some mixture rises up with it but sinks back down into the bowl – if that makes sense. 

Continue whisking, despite your sore arms, and as you do this, slowly add the sugar a tablespoon or so at a time. The mixture will thicken and get shiny and bright white, continue whisking in the sugar and as hard as you can until the mixture is stiff and when you lift up the whisk, the mixture follows but stays quite still. Spread the mixture evenly between the two circles you’ve drawn on the baking paper, piling up the meringue mix and then smoothing it out so that they’re fairly evenly flat on top. You can be pretty aggressive with the mixture by this stage, so don’t worry.

Place this in the oven and bake for around an hour, although check at 40 minutes – it should look firm and dry and a little browned. Turn the oven off and allow the pavlovas to slowly cool in there, although I admit, I got impatient and took them out after half an hour of cooling. 

To serve, place one pavlova half on a pretty plate. Blast the frozen berries and coconut milk together in a food processor till they turn into a magical purple ice cream. Spoon/spread this immediately on top of the pavlova on the plate, and top with the other pavlova. Dust with icing sugar to cover any inevitable cracks and pile on some pomegranate seeds if you’ve got ’em, although fresh strawberries, raspberries, or simply more icing sugar would also be rad.

It may just be all the Poinsettia (fizzy white wine, cranberry juice, Cointreau) that I’d allowed myself to consume by this point, but this was damn spectacular. There’s something deliciously fun about the soft, dissolvingly sugary crispness of room temperature pavlova against creamy, freezing, tart berry ice cream. The juicy crunch of pomegranate seeds on top provides further antidote to all the sweetness, while still being friendly with the berry flavours in the ice cream. And they look SO pretty. The pavlova layers are a little bit of a pain to slice through, but by the time people get to pudding they’re not going to mind a hasty scoop of this in a paper bowl.

It was a wonderful, happy, lovely night. We listened to old xmas records and ate candy canes and talked good talk and also amassed a large pile of food brought by everyone to drop off at the foodbank. Even though I was a little oddly apprehensive that I was being pushy and annoying at trying to make this happen, perhaps mostly because everyone’s so busy this time of year and frankly a lot of my reasons for doing this are highly selfish, it was just a dreamy, excellent night and I’m so glad it happened.

And then on Saturday I went on a wedding dress shopping montage! Mostly with Kate, although I was joined by Kim later, with a cameo from Sarah-Rose, and man it was a strange but amazing day. Something about trying on dresses to get married in – I mean, I could marry Tim in the next five minutes very casually and not think twice about it, yet I could hardly look at myself in the mirror while trying on these beautiful dresses and when asked what occasion I was shopping for, I was all “a wedding…mine…pretty much…”

I did dally with the idea of a black wedding dress but ultimately what I was really wanting is just EVERY glorious dress I tried on. You’d think I’d get used to vicarious thrills sometime since there are so many in my life, but nope. There’s a particular ache at trying on a perfect garment then sadly putting it back on the rack.

I just love material possessions so much, okay. 

I’ve narrowed it down to two and a half potential definites, and if you’re curious, I don’t care if Tim or indeed all of the internet sees the dress before the wedding, but I do – now – want something very pale or white. Basically, it was a weekend as swoony as swoony can be, and I’m very pleased with that, even though now that it’s Monday it all feels like a million half-remembered dreams ago…
title via: Placebo’s moodily terrific Taste In Men.
Music lately:

Planet Z, Idina Menzel. Admittedly my love for her and my fondness for her early music is perhaps more boundless than most, but if there’s a song more bonkersly endearing and mid-nineties than this then I’ll probably listen to that too.

Frosty the Snowman, Fiona Apple. Have I said the word dreamy too many times in this post? I care not. This is the dreamiest.
Next time: I’m gonna make a list of every recipe I know that is good for xmas presents and so on and so forth and it will be ever so much fun! 

isn’t it rich? are we a pear?

I know, everyone’s on holiday and I said I wasn’t blogging till next year, but as Britney sang in her cover of the song My Prerogative, it’s my prerogative. Plus, cake! Cake.
The thing with traditions – they’re wonderful. They give you something to cling to in this strange, scary world, a sense of where you’ve been and where you might go – they give you stories to relay and build upon and argue over the precise order of; they give you something to pass on to other people. 
They’re also damn vexatious, because once you get sucked into a tradition it’s very difficult to break it. I have done roughly the same thing for Christmas every single year of my life, and as such the idea of being anywhere else during that time is un-contemplatable. (Admittedly: am not particularly good at compromising. Sure, Eartha Kitt romanticises it for me, but compromise does go some way to making other people happy.) As such, Tim and I have only spent one Christmas together in the past seven years…and that was when he came to my family’s place.
My family (in the very extended sense of the word) has been camping at this one particular beach every single year since I was born. I’m still pretty young, but that’s a lot of years. This year, for the first time, owing to a lack of money and time in equal measure, I’m not going along with them. I know I vocally dislike nature, but this place is magical and special and all we really do anyway is sit around and drink gin and play cards. Sigh.
And finally, the flat Christmas Dinner that I have had every year since 2006, when Tim and I moved in together, was not able to happen this year again due to a lack of time and funds – and also moving house on the 15th of December.
Damn you, traditions, getting me all emotionally attached to things and being so difficult to extricate myself from and making my heart hurt a bit! Is this what being a grown up is about? If so, then I stamp my feet petulantly in response. But also get on with it. Damn you too, grownuphoodity.
Before this gets all too, too hand-wringingly lachrymose, let us focus on a cake! Tim and I are spending New Years with a tangle of our best friends. I’m bringing novels of a worthy (Muriel Sparks) and trashy (Jilly Cooper) nature; plenty of whisky; languid-friendly dresses, and this cake.
I adapted it from a recipe that I found in the Meat Free Mondays book by Paul McCartney. I don’t eat a ton of meat as it is, let alone on Mondays, but there is many a brilliant and inspiring recipe for any day of the week to be found within its pages. This has ended up being really quite different to their recipe, but it’s what spurned on the idea, so a tip of the hat to them all the same. (PS: I would just like to say though, the caramel pear sauce was all my idea.) (I guess I’m not that grown-up yet.)
Pear and Almond Cake with Caramel Pear Sauce
PS: this needs a food processor to make it sorry – though if you don’t have one, I’d make sure the butter was quite soft, cream it with the sugar first, then the egg, then fold everything else in. So: still do-able, for sure.
1 x 70g packet ground almonds
150g flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
150g sugar
170g butter, cubed
1 egg
1 can of pears
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon golden syrup
2 teaspoons cornflour
30g butter
Set your oven to 160 C/320 F and line a 20cm springform caketin with baking paper.
Tip the ground almonds, flour, and baking powder into your food processor bowl and process for a bit to mix them together. Then add the sugar and butter and process thoroughly till it forms a thick dough. Tip in the egg and blitz briefly to mix it in. Spread this thick, luscious mixture into your caketin – it won’t be very high – and then drain your can of pears, reserving the liquid (important!) and arrange them, cut-side-up on top of the batter. 
Bake for about an hour, or till the cake feels springy and firm in the centre. 
Meanwhile, in a small pot or pan, mix the brown sugar, golden syrup and cornflour to an unlikely paste. Slowly mix in the reserved pear juice from the can, and then continue stirring it over a low heat. Allow it to simmer but not quite boil till it all becomes quite syrupy and thick and dark. When it reaches this stage, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter. 
Note: You have a choice when the cake is cooked – either do as I did, and leave it in its tin, spike several times with a skewer, pour over the hot caramel pear sauce and then allow it to cool completely. OR – unclip the cake from the tin, slice up, and serve the caramel pear sauce on the side to be poured over in quantities of each slice-eater’s choosing. 
So uh, even though I made this for other people to eat, I had to judiciously remove a small sliver and eat it, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to blog about it. Or I could, but the most conclusive thing I’d be able to say about it is that it’s very instagrammable. 
Luckily for us all, I heroically ate said sliver of cake. And it’s rather wondrous. The caramel sauce absorbs into its surface, making it a sticky confection of a thing, and the pear juice really does make itself known, flavourwise – giving the sauce a floral fragrance which elevates it above mere sugariness (though I do love mere sugariness too, to be fair.) The cake itself is dense and buttery and the almonds give it a slightly nubbly texture which echoes that of the pears. It’s damn good stuff.

Due to obstinate fog in Wellington canceling my flight and delaying my departure by 24 hours, my time up home was sadly briefer than I thought it’d be. But all the same it was a lovely time, seeing my family again and spending Christmas day with them. Everyone loved the gifts I got them and I loved the trinkets I received.

Cleaning out one of the cupboards stuffed with my old schoolbooks and things was surprisingly diverting. I was reminded how utterly, utterly righteous I was as a child. Seriously, almost all of my schoolbooks are filled with firmly written opinions like “why must we do maths? Why aren’t Spice Girls more integrated into the curriculum? UGH SPORTS WHY”.

I relayed this to Tim, who astutely pointed out that I could’ve believably expressed that same opinion yesterday.

I also adored hanging out with the cats. Or at least attempting to. Roger was largely disinterested, but at least sat still long enough that I could situate myself very close to him and pretend like we were friends. Poppy, ever the baby raptor, decided she hated me and tried to shred my face off every time we approached. I did manage to pick her up for a quick minute though, and even caught the brief affair on camera. Me, thrilled to the bone, Poppy, at least displaying only ennui, instead of her claws. A Christmas Miracle! 

Title via: Yes, I elect to end the year on a truly atrocious pun. And I’ll probably start next year with one too, as is my wont. I was always a bit terrified of the song Send In The Clowns from A Little Night Music when I was young, because frankly clowns are scary as hell. But after listening to it properly, I came to realise it’s one of Sondheim’s most quietly devastating tunes, and I rather love it. Especially when Dame Judi Dench absolutely kills it.

Music lately:

The Smiths, How Soon Is Now? We saw Morrissey in concert the night before we moved house. I know he can be horrible, but his music just turns my insides to melted butter and I love his voice and it was just amazing times a billion. It doesn’t excuse any of his horribleness, but I was glad we had the opportunity to see him. Before the show, we each picked three songs we really hoped he’d sing – cutely, or maybe grossly, we both picked the same three – and he did! He sang all three. This was one of them – a song from his erstwhile band which is so good I hardly ever listen to it, because it makes me feel all queasy inside. Not the best recommendation, but if you’ve never heard it before…just try.

Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Blank Generation. Since being lent speakers by some friends, Tim and I have been ploughing through all the vinyl we bought over in America. This album of the same name is so utterly great, and I love this song, and Richard Hell is impossibly dreamy. Which maybe helps make the song sound better, who knows?

Next time: This really is the last post I’m doing for 2012 – have a joyous relaxed happiness-filled time, and I’ll see you on the other side. 

have a cool yule and a frantic first!

I suppose this will be my final post for 2012. So I’d better make it a good one. 

*crickets, galloping endlessly on spinning tumbleweeds as though they are hamsters in a wheel, whilst making their cricket noise that signifies on reality television that someone has nothing of consequence to say*
I actually do have plenty to say, I just really like imagining crickets traveling across the land by scooting inside rolling tumbleweeds, conveying concentrated nothingness.  

So here’s what I have to say: I started my new job last week, only to find myself on holiday all of a sudden. To Tim’s and my endless relief, I got paid for the small quantity of hours I managed to get under my belt before the year ended. And piling further relief on top of that, the Christmas Pulled Pork recipe that I’d had rolling around my brain since about June was made today, and worked. Because…Tim did some noodling around with our incoming and outgoing funds over the next few weeks and it would’ve been way painful had this experiment not worked out. I like to think I have something of a knack for inventing recipes that work the first time (I mean I wrote a damn cookbook) but I did have a play with this a few months ago and it really didn’t turn out well. So I was wary. Nervous. Apprehensive. And other such synonyms.

Check that out though. That’s no failure. It is being photographed on the floor (floorpork!), but we’ve only got one tiny table that friends have donated to us and it became immediately covered in stuff, the kind of stuff that you just don’t know where to put, and I really couldn’t be bothered clearing any of it. Also the wooden floor against the brick wall kinda aesthetically appealed, and this is, after all, a food blog.

I know pulled pork isn’t necessarily what springs to mind for a traditional Christmas meal – in fact it’s probably pretty far down the food chain after turkeys and chickens and so on and so forth. However. I have endeavoured to imbue this tender, shredded pork with so much Decemberific flavour that you can’t help but wonder why we ever even bother with turkey in the first place. So – why not just make it this year?

Firstly, it’s SO DELICIOUS and that argument alone should have some significant weight.  Secondly, it involves very little effort. It does admittedly take over the oven for a long time, and needs a low temperature, but you really hardly have to do anything to it. Thirdly, wow your guests with your unapologetic, tradition-flouting now-ness! For what it’s worth. Fourthly: vegetarians aside, I’ve never met anyone who isn’t tearfully, seraphically happy while eating pulled pork. Fifthly: In case you were concerned about the oven being occupied for so long, just make a coleslaw (out of red and green cabbage if you like, for seasonal tonality) and provide a pile of soft, fresh bread rolls, plus an array of condiments – mustard, mayonaise, etc – and you have yourself one hellish heck of a festive meal.

If Christmas isn’t part of your life, you could of course change the title and just call it like, Cranberry Cinnamon Pulled Pork (which somehow sounds even christmassier? Sorry.)

Christmas Pulled Pork

A recipe by myself. 

2kg (or thereabouts – depending on how many you’re serving, and you’ll want leftovers) of belly-cut pork shoulder, or just plain pork shoulder. I used belly-cut here. Because it’s what I could find.
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
3 or 4 cloves – or 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon dried mustard
2 tablespoons brown sugar
A pinch of salt

1/4 cup strong, black coffee
2 tablespoons Cointreau (or similar orange liqueur, or the zest and juice of an orange)
2 tablespoons tomato-based chutney, or tomato paste
A handful of dried cranberries

Turn your oven to 140 C (280-ish Fahrenheit) and place the slab o’ pork in an oven dish. I have this theory that ceramic or glass ones are good for slow cooking as they don’t conduct heat so well as say, metal or enamel. But really, just an oven dish of some description is what you want. 

Mix together the spices, sugar and salt in a small bowl and spoon nearly all of it over the cut side of the pork. Then turn this over and rub the remaining into the fat. Cook it, fat side up, for four hours. 

Mix together the coffee, Cointreau, and chutney. Tip this into the roasting dish once the four hours are up, sprinkle over the cranberries, and cover the dish tightly with tinfoil. Reduce the heat to 130 C, and cook it for another half hour or so. 

Once this time is up, remove the tinfoil and carefully shred the pork to pieces – including the crackling, although discard some of it if it makes you feel squicky – I use a fork and a pair of tongs. Stir it through all the sauce and fattened cranberries, and then serve, with masses of pride.

I know the mix of coffee, orange liqueur, and tomato chutney sounds all kinds of odious, but please, trust me. The coffee just mellows and melts into the background, providing dark depth of flavour and a kind of general punchy undertone to the rich pork, without tasting like you’ve inadvertently dropped ham into your flat white. Both orange and tomato work oddly well with said coffee, while pointing up the pork’s sweetness and bringing strident Christmas flavour to echo that of the cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. The coffee needn’t be anything flash, as long as it’s strong and black – even just some instant granules stirred into water will be fine. The dried cranberries are there because sometimes restriction causes solutions – I wanted to include cranberry juice in the liquid, but was wary of adding too much sugar – which could burn – and also of the fact that I would then have to go out and spend money on said juice. I then found dried cranberries in the back of my wardrobe (as you do) while we moved house, and thought they’d be even better – they become swollen with the meaty juices in the oven, and then provide bursts of sour-sweetness once dispersed through the torn apart pork. And they make it look a bit more twinkly and festive.

So whether or not I’ve convinced you to do it, I believe I will be making this on Christmas day for my family.

Our tree keeps on tree-ing!
Christmas is, of course, a time for thinking about consumer items you’d really like. Trinkets that I have my heart set upon this year (and don’t take this to heart Santa, this is more like stuff I’ll buy myself once my earnings buffer up my bank account again) include Pinky Fang’s teeth barrette (just the word barrette fills me with Claudia Kishi thrills); Nigella Lawson’s new book (I don’t even care if it’s good or not, I just love her so much); Devon Anna Smith’s witchy Kittens and Oak print (obsessed); a really good thesaurus (I’d like to become even more wordy!); the dvd of Sondheim’s Company (impossibly thrilling) some new pots and pans that are both photogenic but also really, really good (realised during the move that I have hardly any, and what I have is rubbish); a pet cat and a fleet of Alsatian dogs. Nothing less than a fleet will do. What about you? What’s making you drop heavy hints around the nearest gift-giver in your life these days?
And of course, it’s a time for being around as many people as you love as possible. Well, that’s what they say in the Hallmark cards. I am truly looking forward to seeing my family again, to listening to our old tapes and CDs that are wheeled out every year (favourites: the Tin Lids “Hey Rudolph” tape and this jazzy, blatty, high-sheen Disney CD), to hanging out with the indifferent cats, and to making this pulled pork for everyone and seeing what happens. Since it’s high summer, it’ll likely be grey and insufferably humid – I can’t wait.
(PS: not to make it all about me, except actually to make it all about me since I have this weird – endearing? – tendency to do that anyway, I do believe this strawberry ice cream cake would make the perfect pudding to follow this up.)
See you, yes you, in 2013! Fa la la la la! 
Title via: The so important Wanda Woodward in the John Waters movie Cry-baby. Inexplicably, I could not find a screencap or gif of her saying this, but just know that she is the most. To say the least. The very least.
Music lately: 

Watercolours, Pazzida. Brand new, and so very cool. Not least because she does this dreamy old-timey tap dance halfway through. I miss tapdancing.

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Christine Ebersole. Voice like crystal, and fulfills my need for  Broadway stars singing seasonal songs.
Jessie Ware, Wildest Moments. This song is just so swoonful, o! how I wish I was seeing her at Laneway next year.
And one for luck: Johnny Cash and Neil Young, The Little Drummer Boy. A little strange, a lot wonderful. Their voices are like photo negatives of each other.
Next time: It’ll be 2013! I look forward to blogging all often-like and stuff. And till then, I wish you all a Sensible Night, Appropriate Night. Function with relative ease!

hush your mouth, it’s christmas

Learn this lesson well: if you start a new job and also move house and suddenly have no internet all within the same week, your chances of blogging, no matter how much you want to, are really slight. So with that slight chance comes a slight blog post, more a round up than anything else, but a marginally exciting one, I hope. I’m typing it in a cafe on my lunchbreak. I don’t know if it’s going to really come together, but…Behold! 


It’s pretty much last year’s one but with a few more things added in that I’ve made over this strange, long year – because why not make people food as a gift? Sure it’s ephemeral, but so many good things are. Like a satisfyingly large…sneeze. Whether or not you’re a Christmas-goer – and so many people aren’t – frankly I’m mostly in it for the food, the intoxicating scent of pine, and old-timey Hollywood stars’ Christmas albums – this list might be of use to you should you ever want to give someone something but don’t know what, or better yet, want to give them something but don’t want to be presumptuous about what it is they’d like hanging on their walls or tchotchke-ing up their shelves. 

Homemade peppermint schnapps using candy canes! Serve with a stripy straw! All is calm, all is Pinterest. 

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

Orange Confit (This is just slices of orange in syrup, but is surprisingly applicable to a variety of surfaces. And pretty. And cheap.) (vg, gf)
Cranberry Sauce (Impossibly easy to make.) (vg, gf)
Bacon Jam (Best made at the last minute, because it needs refrigerating) (vg – kidding! – but yes, gf)
Cashew Butter (vg, gf)
Red Chilli Nahm Jim (gf)
Cranberry (or any-berry) Curd (slightly more effort, so I’d do this before midnight – but so pretty.) (gf)
Rhubarb-Fig Jam (gf)
Salted Caramel Sauce (gf, has a vegan variant) 
Apple Cinnamon Granola (vg)
Marinated Tamarillos (vg, gf)

Salted Caramel Sauce: well, it IS 2012. 

Baked Things, The Classic Choice: 
Look, my Christmas Cake is amazing. I don’t have the time to be coy. Make it on the day, it’ll still be great. 
Christmas-Spiced Chocolate Cake (This is also excellent for pudding on the day itself.) (gf)
Chocolate Orange Loaf Cake
Vegan Chocolate Cake (It’s good! It’s easy!) (vg)
Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies
Coconut Macaroons (gf)
Chocolate Macaroons (gf)
Gingerbread Cut-out Cookies (vg)
Coconut Condensed Milk Brownies
Salted Caramel Slice 
Fancy Tea Cookies 
Chocolate Olive Oil Cake 
Homemade Cherry Ripe
Also, if you click on the link to the Orange Confit above, you’ll see a recipe for the easiest, fastest fruitcake loaf. It makes an excellent present, for the sort of person who’d like to receive fruitcake. And ’tis dairy free. 

Marinated tamarillos. For any of your relatives that talk about, like, Sauvignon Blanc and brie a lot, in an authoritative tone. 


Moonshine Biffs (like homemade Milk Bottles!) (gf)
Raw Vegan Chocolate Cookie Dough Truffles Candy (vg, gf)
Lolly Cake
Peppermint Schnapps (vg, gf) (Pictured above)

I Am Already Asleep But Need A Present For That Person Who Needs A Present Because They Just Showed Up NOW.

Candy Cane Chocolate Bark (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.)

SO that’s that. 

I have three minutes left on my lunch break.

So I will keep this swift like Taylor and be more talkative next time. 

We adore our new house. We also, uh, spontaneously bought a christmas tree in the middle of moving day. It just felt like the right choice, although admittedly our choice-making faculties were a little worn down given the circumstances.  

Baubles from our dear friend Jo, three handmade laser-cut decorations from dear friend Kim (who is BACK FROM JAPAN *high kick*) 40 metres of solar powered fairy lights from Tim’s and my excellent choice-making faculties, and apparently some more decorations are on their way from Mum. We’ve had visitors and I’ve made a cake and it smells like pine needles, so even though there are still boxes everywhere…sorry to get gross…it’s not just a house anymore, but a home! 

Well, it is nearly Christmas. Can’t be grumpycat alllllll the time. 
Title via: RENT. It all starts and ends with RENT. This is from Christmas Bells, a syncopated mess that I can’t get enough of. 
Music lately:

Still so obsessed with Royals, by Lorde, and because of the no-internet thing, have been cruelly, cruelly kept from listening to it. So you should listen to it twice as much for both of us! 

Nina Simone, Suzanne. Too, too beautiful.

Mariah Carey, Oh Santa. I know, not the obvious Mariah xmas choice. All I Want For Christmas Is You is actual perfection, but you know what? I flipping love this song. Mariah = flawless, even when she’s not really.
Next time: A real blog post! With real recipes! From our new kitchen! Maybe I’ll throw sanity to the wind and try to perfect that xmas pulled pork recipe I’ve been formulating in my brain. 

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.

and what’s more baby, I can cook

Christmas christmas christmas christmas christmas christmas christmas!
Christmas christmas christm- I’m just kidding. But it is upon us once more. Which means it’s time for our 6th Annual Christmas Dinner and follow-up blog post! Back in 2006 there were five of us, I wasn’t on Twitter and I didn’t have my blog. What did I even do with my time? Six years later, there were at least fifteen people, the party went for 10 hours and there were intermittent twitter updates from nearly all involved, because that’s just how life is these days. In every sense: I never thought those years ago that we’d have a veritable family of so many good people. I’m not the best out there at making and keeping friends – to the point where getting referred to by someone as part of “my ladies” nearly brought me to tears the other day. 
But anyway, let the bumper Christmas Dinner edition blog post commence! The day goes like this: I cook a huge feast, everyone turns up and eats it. This is my idea of fun, so don’t imagine me crying in the kitchen while everyone else is whooping it up. Alas, not everyone that we love could be there on Saturday but on the whole it was pretty astounding that we got so many people in the room this close to Christmas. Or anytime. 

Involtini. I make this every year. It’s Nigella Lawson’s recipe, which for me has evolved and simplified into slices of eggplant, grilled four at a time in the sandwich press, with a spoonful of herbed, almond-studded quinoa rolled messily in each, covered in tomato sauce and baked. You’re welcome to feta it up or use bulghur wheat but I had some well-meaning half packets of quinoa that needed using up, resulting in this being not only entirely vegan but also gluten free. Hey-oh!

Keeping it Nigella I simmered vast quantities of pickled pork, or gammon as it’s known in the UK, in liquids till they turned into ham – in the foreground is the one I cooked in Old Mout Cranberry Cider, and in the hindquarter is one I cooked in Budget Cola. Both wonderful. Cola has a smoky cinnamon kinda flavour while cider has that distinctive musky fermented-fruit thing going on, both of which are excellent when absorbed into the fibres of sweet, salty pink ham. Pickled pork can be a bit of a misson to find but it’s worth it – I got mine from Preston’s butchers (near Yan’s on Torrens Terrace in Wellington city) and the people there were so friendly and it was so reasonably priced and I totally recommend them.

Didn’t have the mental capacity for gravy, so instead I made up a batch of the wondrous balm that is Bacon Jam, and then – as you might be able to make out here – sprinkled over some edible glitter. Christmas christmas christmas! Honestly, this is one of my favourite discoveries of 2011 – nay, my life. It’s jam, but instead of raspberries or whatever, there is bacon. It’s perfect, it tastes as dazzlingly sticky and sweet and salty as it sounds, and it gives the feast an insouciant Ron Swansonish air.

This Hazelnut, Cranberry and Mushroom Stuffing was a new recipe from Fine Cooking magazine – entirely vegan, with the ingredients being both Christmassy but also ideally suited to each other. I simplified it to suit my needs and budget. For a recreation of my appropriation (across the nation!) roughly cube a large loaf of sourdough or similarly intense bread, drizzle with oil and toast in a hot oven. Meanwhile, fry up a diced onion and a whole bunch o’ mushrooms – the fancier the better, but I used regular button types – the real important thing here is quantity, as they reduce down. Mix together the whole lot, add a large handful of toasted hazelnuts and dried cranberries. Pour over 1 cup of stock (I used miso soup – it’s what I had) and bake for about 40 minutes at 190 C/350 F. The rich, sweet hazelnuts and savoury aggro of the mushrooms plus the occasional burst of cranberry against the croutonesque bread is some kind of taste revelation, I assure you.  

I make this cornbread stuffing every year. Cornbread’s one of my favourite foods as is, but mixing it in with eggs, butter, and cranberries then baking it again is perfection achieved. There was a bit of trouble in making it this time though, and I’m going to write it in tiny, tiny letters so you don’t all go green around the gills and start crying instead of my intention of making you salivate like hungry Alsatians. (Three rotten eggs in a row. THREE. They had weeks before the “use by” date and I even did the thing where you check it in a glass of water. The utter depressingness of that dull, formless thud with which the contents of the shell hit the bowl combined with the smell which hits you straight in the back of the throat takes you to a dark place when people are turning up in an hour, but with some reassurance, some rescue remedy and some hastily opened windows we got through it.) Also, spot the peas – I heedlessly bought 2kg of them going cheap at Moore Wilson a while back and so their presence on this table, in order to cut down on my freezer’s crowded infrastructure, was non-negotiable.

Butter in cubes on a small plate with a proper knife: because I am turning into my mother more and more every day. I love that my friends who stayed for ages and required a late-night snack asked where this butter was so they could spread it on the leftover cold potatoes. 

“FLIRTINIS ALL ROUND”. Because of a few lines in The Mighty Boosh, and because increasingly it seems everything I consume has to have a pop culture reference attached to it, I made this drink. Increasingly come-hither was that Nigella Lawson herself recently put a recipe for it online, giving me even more assurance that it was meant to be. Flirtinis are fairly hardcore but divided amongst many guests and with lots of food as blotting paper it’s all good. In a large jug, mix one cup (250ml) vodka and one cup fizzy white wine (eg, Lindauer) and top up with pineapple juice – about a litre, depending on the size of your vessel of course. Stir with a wooden spoon like you’re Betty Draper and serve in plastic cups so you don’t have to do so many dishes. 

Oh, this pie. Coffee Toffee Salted Cashew Pie, to use its full title. Another revelation from Fine Cooking, which I adapted quite easily to make necessarily dairy-free. And, with all due respect to Fine Cooking, to be less sugary and to include cashews. I think American palates have a different capacity for sugar than ours, and also cashews make a cheaper – but still exciting – substitute for their choice of pecans. 
Into a pie plate lined with a half-batch of this cookie dough, (minus the spices, and you don’t need to blind bake it) tumble 1 cup of salted roasted cashews and pour over a whisked up mixture of 1 cup golden syrup, 3/4 cup dark brown sugar, 2 tablespoons rum (I used Smoke and Oakum’s Gunpowder Rum), 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder – yes instant, it’s useful for baking and it smells weirdly alluring, okay? Look for the blue packet by Greggs – 2 tablespoons rice bran oil and three eggs. Bake at 190 C/375 F for 45 minutes to an hour, covering with tinfoil if need be. You then need to let it cool completely. I didn’t see this instruction and it would’ve saved me a reckless moment of “We’ll just eat it now and if it’s not set it can just be sauce for the ice cream, dammit!” Fortunately everyone managed to talk me down in a chorus of soothing voices while we stashed it precariously in the freezer, and it really was better for a good chilling, especially as the cold went some way to soften the intense sugar hit. It’s an incredible pie, with salty creamy cashews in their pool of intensely dark caramel-caffiene filling. 

And finally, some ice cream, since that’s my kneejerk culinary response to the promise of people in our house. This is the only photo I got of said ice cream, but in the back is my own Chocolate Coconut Ice Cream – which I’ve made many times now since Christmas 2009. It’s beautiful and it’s dairy-free and I can now make it in my sleep almost literally, but should you be awake and trying it for the first time it’s not overly taxing either. In the front is Lemonade Sorbet (with a hard ‘t’) which started life as failed jelly; it was a little weird but refreshing, and the price was right. 
There were also two roast chickens – but no-one wants me to try and take a decent photo of their sorry hides, and beautiful canapes from Jo, and homemade bread rolls brought by Piona (that’s Pia and Fiona but don’t their names condense perfectly?) There was a moment where everyone became anxious and queasy during Barbra Streisand’s Jingle Bells (you think I’m exaggerating! Not this time!) there was a psychological skirmish during supercool boardgame Apples to Apples; there was an incredible reveal from Pia whose orange dress looked cool enough under her coat, but upon removal of that coat it turned out the dress sleeves were layered and ruffly like a flamenco skirt on each arm; there was candy cane whittling; there was imaginary Christmas cracker pulling; there was semi-unpremeditated singing of Total Eclipse of the Heart; there was a portrait of me etched in a pudding bowl; there were at least ten candy canes per capita, especially once I got changed into my candy cane-esque dress; and there was so much food brought to donate to the Downtown Community Ministry Foodbank that Tim and I will have to drive it down in our ute because it’s too much to lug down in our collection of environmentally conscious yet aesthetically designed shopping carry bags. We love our friends.

And now, mere singular days from Christmas I am typically underslept, however I managed to finally get a tiny bit of Christmas shopping done, including a small gift for myself of a flower hairclip. It’s amazing how when your personality and brainpower has evaporated due to lack of sleep, put a big flower in your hair and you can trick yourself into thinking you’re still an interesting person.

It makes me feel like this: Look at how zany and witty I am! There’s a flower in my hair! I have such a personality!
Title via: Lea Delaria singing I Can Cook Too from On The Town. This challenging and excellently subject-ed song is especially good in her brassy growl of a voice.

Music lately: 

Still Haven’t Got My Gift by The Goodfun. Hilarious. But also a really nice tune.

O Holy Night, Liz Callaway and her sister Ann Hampton Callaway. You may think you’re over this son but Liz’s silvery voice against Ann’s rich golden one is pure joy for the ear canals.

Julien Dyne, Fallin’ Down – the mellow, slinky antithesis to my Broadway dalliances.
Next time: I was really convinced I’d have time to blog about the roast tomato-stuffed roast capsicums, but it just didn’t work out, no matter how I tried. So I guess I’ll change up that aim to see if I can get them done before Christmas now…

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.)

i don’t want a lot this christmas, there is just one thing i need…

If there was some kind of chart for overachieving in the field of cake, right now I woulds be significantly off that chart. The needle on its spectrum gauge would be teetering nervously out of control. (Can’t help but follow this up with “in my mind“, the hilarious-in-our-minds insult that Tim and I hiss at each other all the time after the other person says something implausible. Or even just something like, you know, “I have lots of friends!” “In your mind” – see? Effective.) Anyway, why all this self-directed hyperbole? I made up a Christmas Cake recipe. And it turned out pretty delicious, damnit. And then – I went and iced it myself too.

Aye, it’s only November, but not only is Christmas Cake the sort of thing you can make way ahead of time, like the overexcited person you may well be, it’s also good to be prepared. As that angry lion in the Lion King sang. And anyway, is the kind of cake you can make while it feels like you’re disorganisedly letting everything slide – it’s that easy. Even the icing is manageable. I know it’s divisive – I’m not personally the biggest fan of it, especially because marzipan costs about $12 for a small cube and so you have to use almond flavoured icing, for which not one single almond suffered in the making of. But it’s a fun challenge and you get to have this dazzlingly gorgeous cake to admire, eat, or pick up and reflect the sun off, to annoy the neighbours.

[Edit: awards voting now closed, ages and ages ago] You know what else is a thing? (Just watch me segue!) I got nominated in the Concrete Playground Bloggers Awards – “The Search For NZ’s Best Online Writers – under the Food Blogger category. Now that is a title I’d like to call my own. And thanks so much to whoever nominated me – too much. So kind. Yes, I’m up against some blogs you’ll likely recognise, but let’s talk about me here, okay? I feel like a bit of a veteran of the vote-driven competition, having been lucky enough to land myself in quite a few over the last year or so, but not lucky enough to actually win any. This is really cool, and I’d love to win it but I don’t want to burn my brain up too much over it, because losing’s no fun, on the other hand I want to definitely put myself out there because I believe in this blog – or I wouldn’t be up at midnight writing on it – on the other hand…

Con: Faking being stoic if do not win
Pro: Voting for people in competitions a now-normal part of life.
Con: Feel nervous asking people to vote for me…again
Pro: I really am one of the best online writer in NZ about food.
Con: In my mind…
Pro: You only have to vote once during the whole thing, not daily! Hey-ohh.
Con: Voting’s done through Facebook, so if you don’t have one…you get to dodge this whole hornet’s nest. So this con is really a sneaky pro for some of you.
Pro: COOL TO BE NOMINATED, FUN EXPERIENCE, CHILL OUT LAURA. One can still be the best food blogger in their own mind…for what it’s worth…

What I’m clumsily and bad-attitudinally trying to say is; though I’ve failed you all before, it would be really cool if you could vote for HungryandFrozen, but only of course if in your heart it’s actually the one you want to vote for. I would appreciate it with an embarrassing/refreshing lack of irony. Because seriously, NZ’s Best Online Writer? I want that! So if you do: vote here. (Please, thanks, and cake for all. Also you have to scroll round till you find my blog and click the “Like” which means, yes, you need Facebook.)

And I realise there are far more crucial voting situations going on right now. Am not going to talk about my opinion in that area, although it shouldn’t be hard to guess. But if you are in New Zealand please exercise your right to vote this Saturday – it’s one of the more important things you can do and I think back to all those who fought so that women could do this today. Your voice counts and you have the responsibility – think about everyone who you could affect with this and choose wisely.

Back to the Christmas Cake. Fa la la la la. I’m looking forward to December this year actually – Tim and I have been stocking up on old-timey Christmas records (so cheap! I love that I always want the vinyl no-one else wants) and I’ve got plans underway for the best, more hard-out flat Christmas Dinner ever. I don’t want for much this Christmas, and our very short trip up home last weekend where I got to hang out with Nana and see so many people made me feel highly anticipational for some whanau time over lots of food.

I’d been reading through a lot of old, old cookbooks and Nigella’s books and all sorts of cookbooks, and my braincells were tickled by all the variations on Christmas Cake. I was really keen to try adding my own to the squillions of recipes already out there – a kind of mash-up of all the things that sounded fun about other Christmas Cake recipes. So I included a whole can of condensed milk, because having that on the ingredients list pleases me. I soaked the fruit in ginger beer and rum – Gunpowder’s – spicy and intense – because how cool does that sound? (Are you starting to see a pattern emerging here? I’d see an ingredient, think “funnn” and that would be that.) I used dried pears which sounds extravagant, but it’s more stupidity on my part, I bought them once on the supposed insistence of Nigella Lawson, ended up too fearfully nervous of how much they cost to make anything with them, and now they’re nothing like the plump, full-of-potential specimens they started as. However, after a bathe in some rummy ginger fizz, they’re perfect for a fruit cake. You could use apricots, dried apples, or anything within that realm of wrinkly fruit, really.

I followed a decoration idea of the aforementioned Nigella’s because the gleaming white-on-white look appealed to me, and I also liked the lack of fuss involved in haphazardly piling up star shapes on each other. And then topped it with edible glitter because it cost about $9 for the tiny tub and I’m trying to insist it’s highly relevant to many things that I bake and cook on a daily basis and I’m becoming increasingly drawn to glittery things these days, like a magpie. (Thought: If you painted a magpie’s nails with glittery nailpolish…would you break the internet?)

The real question is: did it taste okay after all that? Can you really just go making up a Christmas Cake? Bit of a concern, considering how much fruit and nice liquor and time and effort and so on went into it. Luckily – BRILLIANT. Like, deck the halls with boughs of deliciousness.

And even if it turned out tasting like rum-soaked sawdust, it is pretty. It’s a tall, but surprisingly light cake, as far as this kind of thing goes, with a distinct caramel-toffee vibe from the condensed milk. Strangely the ginger wasn’t as prominent as I thought it’d be, but the dark rum definitely makes itself felt. The dried pears give a fudgy, grainy sweetness, and the sultanas are, well, they fulfill their role of being a sultana (is anyone passionate about the sultana?) All the little things – the cocoa, the cinnamon, the orange oil – mesh together to form this mysteriously tis-the-seasonal flavour. All up: It worked!

Dunno how the pencil got in there. It’s…artistic?

HungryandFrozen Christmas Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups (375ml) ginger beer
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) rum (I used Gunpowder)
  • 700g sultanas
  • 300g dried pears or dried apricots or dried apples etc – or a mix.
  • 300g butter
  • 100g brown sugar
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin (I like to think it gives it ‘something’)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon Boyajian orange oil (optional – could try replacing with the zest of an orange)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa
  • 2 eggs
  • 300g flour
  • More rum (or whichever liquor you’re using.)

Soak your fruit overnight (at least) in the liquids. I’d say there was 1/2 a cup of liquid left when I made my cake so if you’re nervous, drain out that much and discard/drink the rest.

Take a 22-23cm caketin, line the base with a double layer of paper and then, as best you can, line the sides with a double baking paper which extends about ten cm above the edge. Pulling out a long piece of the paper, folding it in half, making it into a loop and then shoving it into the caketin and hoping for the best tends to work for me.

Melt the butter, sugar, condensed milk and spices together gently. Remove from the heat, stir in the fruit and its liquid and the baking soda. It might fizz up a bit at this point. Beat in the eggs then carefully sift and stir in the flour, making sure there’s no lumps. Tip into your prepared tin, and bake at 140 C for around 2 1/2 hours. Pierce it at various intervals with either a cake tester or a piece of dried spaghetti and tip over a capful or three of rum.

Title via: Queen of my ear canals, Mariah Carey, with the immortal All I Want For Christmas Is You. Will we ever see another modern Christmas song that’s as good as this? Doubties.

Music lately:

Reach Out (I’ll Be There) – Four Tops I probably mention this song once a month, but I think for a song like this it’s okay. Frankly. And I love the “RAH!” at the start of each verse.

Idina Menzel, Heart On My Sleeve. If you can’t bring yourself to vote for me, at least indulge me by watching this entire video from start to finish – it’s slow but so beautiful and never fails to make my tear ducts spring into action.

Next time: Probably hounding you respectfully for votes again, but also aiming for some cool recipes you’ll want to try immediately.

cooler than ice cream and warmer than the sun…

Mmmhmm. Another ice cream. What can I say. When the vision appears, there’s nothing you can do but meet it head on, climb on top of it, and skilfully fly it round like a hovercraft till you can alight upon the grassy knoll of recipe-confidence.

Let that extended metaphor be a red flag that warns you not only of my 3am bedtime last night, but also of increased potential for further extended metaphors. Anyway this ice cream leapt to mind fully-formed, no need for contemplative hovering: Cranberry Curd and White Chocolate Ripple Ice Cream.

Cranberries are pretty synonymous with Christmas food, and if they’re not for you they will be after reading books by Nigella Lawson. But I’m a fan any time of year, despite their kinda maligned image. They’re not as give-it-to-you-on-a-plate sweetly juicy as strawberries, not as popular as raspberries, not as purple as boysenberries and their medicinal purposes aren’t as dinner-table-conversational as blueberries. In fact cranberries are like the grapefruit of the berry world: sour, prone to bitterness, with connotations of…groin. Luckily Nigella Lawson’s here, with her recipes for cranberry sauce and cranberry stuffing and all kinds of good Christmassy things, to save the cranberry’s image.

I’ve gone one further, and taken one of her more interesting recipes – Cranberry Curd – and turned it into an ice cream, where swirls of frozen whipped cream whirl around slashes of crimson. A beautiful vortex, like holly berries on snow…that have been prodded at and moved around with a stick…the harshness of the berries muted with sugar, eggs, and butter; the plain cream embiggened by the gorgeous colour and the still-remaining hint of sourness, as well as the frozen, buttery crunch of white chocolate (Whittakers – my favourite and what I almost always use. Just enter the name into the search bar for proof…) While you can make this any old time, the colours and the frozen nature of it and the fact that I’m making it in mid-November means it’s ideal for a yuletide pudding. Especially since December is summertime in New Zealand. Although if I had a glazed ham for every December 25th that was either coldly rainy or airlessly humid…

The method looks really long and complicated but there’s nothing to get uncomfortably nervous about – apart from a particularly brutal sieving segment, the cranberry curd is delightfully untemperamental – and then you just half-heartedly whisk some cream, mix them together, admire the swirly prettiness like it’s your 6th form art board and you’re impervious to criticism, then let the freezer do its thing. My advice is to go slowly and calmly at all stages. I was on some kind of clumsiness roll and ended up doing many stupid things, like flinging cranberry curd everywhere and getting cream in my hair and wailing about curd on my tshirt before realising there was a slowly descending splodge of cream that had been there for even longer. Oh, and accidentally dropping all the remaining cranberries out of the sieve into the carefully strained mixture below. And dropping cream on the floor. It was like that scene with McNulty and Bunk in Season 1 of The Wire but with “WHY AM I SO CLUMSY” instead of one specific expletive used as my only dialogue. Mercifully it all ended up okay. More than.

Keeping in with the theme of Christmas usefulness, you could always double the cranberry curd ingredients, jar them up and give them away as gifts. It’s exactly like lemon curd but with cranberries, doesn’t it make you just want to invent a whole lot of different curds now? Banana coconut curd, raspberry curd, kiwi-strawberry curd…

Cranberry Curd White Chocolate Ripple Ice Cream

  • 500ml/2 cups cream
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 100g or so white chocolate, roughly chopped (I used Whittakers)

Cranberry Curd:

  • 250g cranberries (straight from the freezer’s all good)
  • 100ml water
  • 200g sugar
  • 100g butter
  • 3 eggs

Bring the cranberries and the water to the boil in a small pan till the berries are softened and have released their juices. Now comes the one horrible job. You have to try push all this through a sieve into a bowl. There’s a technique – go slowly, keep pressing down and stirring with a spatula and then scraping the underside of the sieve with that spatula. You should end up with around 1/3 cup cranberry matter and a permanently clogged sieve.

From here it’s simple though. To the strained, velvety pink liquid add the butter and sugar and gently melt over a low heat, then beat the eggs and sieve them into the pan while stirring (ordinarily a pain but you’ve already got a dirty sieve, so?) continue to stir over a low heat until it has thickened a lot. Don’t let it overheat and curdle after all that trouble – if you suspect shenanigans, just remove it from the heat and keep stirring. Allow to cool. Stir in a few daring drops of red food colouring if you like – this particular time I did.

Meanwhile, whisk the cream till it has thickened and has increased in body mass but isn’t at the point where you’d call it whipped. Fold in the shards of white chocolate, and spatula all this into a freezer-proof container. Tupperware lunchboxes like the one I’ve used here are perfect.

Ripple technique: I worked this out on the fly, as the spoonful of curd hovered questioningly over the container of whipped cream. Firstly, spoon the curd into the container of whipped cream in three rough horizontal lines (across the width, like a bumblebee) then take the handle of a spoon or a skewer or something, and make lines up and down across the length of the container, through the stripes. From here, carefully swirl all this around till you’re happy. Just remember you can’t un-swirl, so go slowly and carefully.


All these surrounding ingredients really truly mellow out the cranberry, leaving it velvety and intriguingly sweet and berryish without any of that mouth puckering, tooth-coarsening quality that you might expect. The stripe method of swirling means everyone’s guaranteed a decent portion of sherbety cranberry ripple to dissolve, and white chocolate is so delicious that I almost don’t want to demean it by explaining why it’s there, but its rich sweetness works perfectly with the ingredients and lends an alluring crunch to all that smoothness. I’m proud of myself for this one.

So I’m super tired because it has been a big weekend of activity, from a raucous book group on Friday night followed by a catch up with a friend at Havana, Saturday’s plans for mini-golf were dashed upon the raindrops, but we all went to Denny’s and ate a whole lot of food (including a proper coke float) and followed it up with a Whisky Appreciation Evening that carried on long after the night had turned into the next morning. That’s what weekends are for, but now my brain’s feeling a little frantically underslept – if nothing else I can lean on this container of ice cream, cool my fevered brow, and spoon it into my mouth while I’m at it with but a minimum of effort. Just like the ice cream itself. I feel like it’s not too early to start thinking about Christmas-related things, but if you do, then maybe come back and re-read this post in three weeks so you can absorb it more comfortably?

Title via: Eurythmics, Who’s That Girl – so our Whisky last night was Scottish, but I didn’t realise babein’ Annie Lennox was too. This song doesn’t encroach on Thorn In My Side’s Favourite Eurythmics Song territory, but it’s still damn good.

Music lately:

Mos Def, Rock’n’Roll. I absolutely love Jack White, truly, but I was a little surprised he didn’t get mentioned in this song.

Underworld, Rez. So twinkly and light and gratifyingly endless.

Next time: I started making progress on a Christmas Cake today. Would’ve actually made it but was far, far too sleepy. More fool me…