vegan penne alla vodka

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The subject of vodka raises ire within me, frankly I turn into a real killjoy when I talk about it. Then I feel bad and overcompensate, which extrapolates into me just yelling “It’s STUPID! And that’s VALID!” while people rapidly vacate the room. I say this with a former bartender’s hubris, and the absolute humility of someone who – on this very blog! – once sincerely referred to a vodka soda as a “sneeringly dry drink.” In my defence, 2009 was a simpler time and being exposed to fewer ideas meant you could garner unearned braggadocio alarmingly easily.

My issue with vodka? Its purpose is to not exist; a vodka soda might as well just be a soda. There is nothing else it can possibly taste like. If you sincerely want to make your juice alcoholic without the burden of experiencing flavour then that’s fine, go right ahead and add vodka, but I don’t understand the appeal of prestige brands – there is bad vodka, there is competent vodka, and beyond that, there’s not a lot to discern them. My one exception is Zubrowka, but that’s because the bison grass flavouring makes it delicious and actually recognisable, as opposed to the base spirit itself.

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However. Where I begrudgingly – no, blatantly! – acknowledge this otherwise dullard spirit coming into its own, is in the Italian-American dish, Penne Alla Vodka. Everything about this recipe is pleasing: its drawly, Appenine-via-the-Baltics title, the simple joy of tomato sauce spliced with cream, and, yes, the vodka, which provides sinewy, vigorous richness. Pouring vodka into your pasta might suggest novelty, but a splash of white wine in a hot pan will improve any sauce, so switch out a far higher ABV in the form of vodka and you’re rewarded with even more intensity.

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My version is vegan, so there’s obviously no cream involved. The richness instead comes from coconut yoghurt – the sort that’s so thick you can genuinely stand your spoon up in it – and a little pasta cooking water. Unlike Penne Alla Vodka, which first emerged – unsurprisingly – in the 1970s, the notion of using the starchy water from your pasta as an emulsifier dates back to the Roman Empire. Don’t leave it out, it somehow thins and silkily thickens the sauce simultaneously. The yoghurt lends tangy luxury, and yeah, you can taste the coconut to a certain extent, but coconut becomes your zero point when you’re vegan for a while. And anyway, its unique mellow sweetness works beautifully with the acidic tomatoes.

More than just the same old pasta with tomatoes you think you know, Penne Alla Vodka has a dishevelled sexiness to it, a dish you could make for someone you’re trying to impress while also doing your best to appear artless and nonchalant. And if you don’t have the titular vodka in your liquor annexe? You can always use instead that most gratifying of flavoured vodkas – gin.

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Vegan Penne Alla Vodka

A recipe by myself.

  • 100g dried penne pasta
  • 4 ripe tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 spring onion
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vodka
  • 2 tablespoons unflavoured coconut yoghurt
  • salt and pepper
  • Olive oil, to fry and serve
  • chopped parsley, to serve

1: Cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling, well-salted water. This should take around twelve minutes, give or take.

2: Halve the tomatoes, cut off the green stalky part, and scoop out the seeds. It doesn’t matter if some are left, and you can just eat them if you’re aghast at the wastefulness, I did. Roughly chop the remaining tomato flesh. Finely chop the spring onion and garlic cloves.

3: Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a saucepan, and cook the onion, garlic and tomato – all together at once – over a medium heat till the tomato has broken down a little. Add salt and pepper to taste, plus a small pinch of sugar. If you’re using crushed garlic from a jar, leave the sugar out.

4: Add the vodka and let the sauce bubble away on medium for another minute, stirring constantly.

5: Once your pasta is nearly tender and cooked, scoop out two tablespoons of the pasta cooking water and mix it into the coconut yoghurt. Stir this into the tomato sauce, and turn up the heat a little to get it bubbling. Stir until the sauce has thickened, then remove from the heat.

6: Fold the cooked, drained pasta into the sauce. Drizzle with more olive oil if you like, and sprinkle over chopped parsley.

Serves 1. If you want to make this for two I’d double the pasta but you can probably just add half the ingredients – like, another two tomatoes and another tablespoon of vodka.

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music lately:

Brand New Love by Sebadoh. Oh, what a song! You think it’s going to be fast and then it’s slow, you think it’s going to be slow and then it’s GINORMOUS. And I will never ever get over how 53 seconds in it sounds exactly like the Defying Gravity coda, like, Stephen Schwartz should be paying them royalties (seriously, please indulge me, the coda starts at 4:28 in Defying Gravity. It’s also, incidentally, my ringtone, and receiving phone calls makes me anxious, which has now made my relationship with this song super weird, although I guess my relationship with it was demonstrably already kind of weird for a grown woman.)

Wimp, by The Zeros, the A-side to their better-known 1976 song Don’t Push Me Around. It’s a great track, but I prefer Wimp’s sludgy, Stooges-y, fulsome brattiness.

Next time: As you can see from the photo above – a small sample! – we are overrun with tomatoes, so they will probably feature.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon.

it’s time to face facts and not mince a word

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When I was a kid, it felt like every day from December 1 onwards was basically Christmas Eve. As an adult working in the hospitality industry it’s like, literally every day is just another shift to clock on and I might start idly organising Christmas-related things at 11pm on the 23rd if I’m feeling sprightly. This year I’m instead occupying the odd world of freelancing, where you’re always working but it never looks like it, where no thought can go unexamined but for the question, “is this content?” Working for yourself means no Christmas parties and a very biased HR department, but on the upside, most of the toil can be done in track pants on the couch. Nevertheless even with all this sitting down I still find myself astonished at the haste with which this month has moved.

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Even with the big day itself getting precariously close it’s not too late to make one last objectively unnecessary but subjectively delicious thing, and this Rhubarb Vanilla Christmas Fruit Mince from Nigella Lawson’s wonderful book Feast easily fits the bill. Fruit mince is confusing on so many levels – why does it sound like meat, why would I actually want to eat a bunch of sultanas, how is it overly sweet yet rudely flavourless? Not this stuff though. The inclusion of rhubarb, sour-sweet and fragrant as it collapses in the heat, and lush vanilla, makes for a wonderful rush of flavour. It’s hefty and plummy and wintery yet somehow lively and vivid. The dried fruit absorbs all the intense flavour as it cooks, and it all tastes immensely luxurious. Plus it’s incredibly easy to make.

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(I freely acknowledge that I went slightly overboard with these photos, like, you can barely even see the jar in this one, but the decorations were just sitting there on the table! What was I to do! Be tasteful? At Christmas?)

Rhubarb Vanilla Christmas Fruit Mince

Adapted just slightly from Nigella Lawson’s Feast

  • 1kg rhubarb, cleaned, trimmed, and sliced into 5mm pieces
  • 300g brown sugar 
  • 2 vanilla beans*
  • 2 teaspoons mixed spice
  • 250g raisins
  • 250g sultanas
  • 250g currants
  • 2 tablespoons brandy (or similar – I used dark rum)

* I only had one vanilla bean, so added a couple of teaspoons of vanilla extract at the end. Vanilla beans are also sometimes called vanilla pods. I also just did double sultanas because I don’t really favour raisins. 

Place the rhubarb, sugar and mixed spice into a good-sized saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla beans into the pan and then slice up the beans themselves and throw them in too. Turn the heat to medium bring it to a good simmer, stirring to prevent the sugar burning. After five minutes, add the dried fruit and simmer for a further thirty minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat and stir in the alcohol. Transfer into clean jars.

Nigella reckons this makes 1.25 litres, I got a bit less but still heaps so by all means have some jars on hand.

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Obviously you need to choose your audience here but a small jar of this would make a lovely gift. It can also, of course, be made into slightly untraditional pies, or stirred into cake batter, or heated up and spooned over ice cream. Nigella recommends spreading it on toast like jam, I think it would work particularly well on a toasted bagel. I do enjoy marinading myself in Nigella’s Christmas-related material – nothing else quite makes me feel so resolutely contextualised in the season.

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Meri Kirihimete! Whether Christmas is something you delight in, politely acknowledge, or have no connection to, I certainly hope either way that the 25th is a nice day for you.

PS I absolutely recommend my last blog post where I rounded up a ton of edible gift idea recipes. The day is still young!

title from: A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Love by Barbra Streisand, an unreleased song of hers that would be otherwise a standard workhorse pleasantry if not for the remarkable D5 belt at the end that she holds for ages, truly one of the queens of possessing vocal chords.

music lately:

Pop A Top by Andy Capp. This early reggae track from 1968 is joyful and mellow at the same time, just what we need at this frantic time of year.

Thursday Girl, by Mitski. This song was my number one most played track on Spotify for 2019, which could be partially to do with my making a playlist consisting only of this song on a loop and spending many hours playing it while staring mournfully into space. It’s just devastating.

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! by the sadly late but never forgotten Elaine Stritch. If everything is feeling too comfortably sugary this Christmas, there’s always Stritch to reinvigorate your senses, her singular, matter-of-fact bark is like a cold bucket of lemon juice to the face. In a good way.

Next time: I did make some amazingly good fudge that I’d like to share with you, whether this happens before the end of the year or not is in the hands of Fate (and nothing whatsoever to do with my own diligence.)

PS: What is the true meaning of Christmas if not directly supporting me through my Patreon? It’s like a cordoned-off VIP area where you can access content written just for you: recipes, updates, poems, stories, the opening sentences of the novel I wrote.

c’mon everybody and rock with me, I am the one on the Christmas tree

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I love this time of year – no, not Christmas, I mean this precise moment, where I do my annual round up of recipes from this blog that I believe would make ideal potential edible gift ideas for the season ahead or indeed any time (which also coincides with my annual struggle to convey this concept in a concise manner.) It’s not just that it gives me a break from devising content, and it’s not just that it’s an opportunity to be self-congratulatory and self-serving in equal measure – actually, that’s more or less precisely it – but I also do love being useful, and I’d like to think this list is, in fact, of use to someone out there.

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Sake Pickled Radishes

Whether or not you subscribe to Christmas at any level there will still probably be an occasion throughout the year where a gift of some kind is required from you, and personally – second to flagrant quantities of money – there’s no better gift than something you can eat. By its very nature the space it takes up in the receiver’s home will be temporary and receding, it’s thoughtful, it’s fairly low-level as far as rampant consumerism goes, and you can completely personalise it. Giving food also lowers the fear of accidentally getting a person something they already have – as far as delicious food goes, more is more.

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chocolate-dipped pumpkin spice lemon pistachio cookies

This year I’m also going to be including some of the recipes I contributed to Tenderly, since the only thing I enjoy more than calling attention to myself is doubling down on calling attention to myself. They’re all separated out into helpful categories, and you should know that some of these recipes are from years ago, but while details and contexts and locations and motivations have changed, the deliciousness remains constant.

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salted vanilla brazil nut butter, coffee cinnamon hazelnut butter, cumin and paprika spiced pumpkin seed butter

The HungryandFrozen Inviolably Unimpeachable List of Edible Gift Ideas For Life, Not Just For Christmas, But Definitely Also For Christmas

Category One: Things In Jars

Seasons change, fickle trends come and go, but still jars abide. Put some stuff in a jar and you’ve instantly got a simple, elegantly rustic benefaction which no one can deny looks as though some considerable effort was made. It’s also what we in the business (that is, show business) call a twofer, because as well as getting something delightful to eat the receiver also gets a handy jar for their own future shoving of food into.

Savoury:

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Berry Chia Seed Jam

Sweet

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Vanilla Chocolate Macarons

Category Two: Baked Goods

Baked goods! It’s right there in the name! They’re good!

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Peppermint Schnapps and Coffee-Orange Liqueur

Category Three: From the Unbaked to the Unhinged

This is everything else, the kind of thing that comes from such lines of thought as “what if I dissolved candy canes in vodka?” The results are remarkably almost potable! Some of these items have a fairly low melting point, so use your judgment when it comes to packaging and storing them.

Oh yeah, and all these recipes are vegan.

title from: Master-Dik by Sonic Youth, a sprawling and loquacious song where the less of a point it makes the better it sounds.

music lately:

Do You Love Me Now by The Breeders, I just love this song so much, there’s something about it that evokes running through an airport frantically but also trying to wade through syrup, like it’s on fast-forward and in slow motion simultaneously.

The Look, Roxette. RIP Marie Fredriksson. This is just literally one of the best songs in the world – that chord progression in the chorus that almost makes me feel carsick with its urgency, the fantastic devil-may-care bizarreness of the lyrics, the drama of the synths, the muffled 80s production making it sound like you’re running down a corridor trying desperately to find the locked, padded room that it’s being recorded in.

Paradise By The Dashboard Light, originally by Meat Loaf, as performed on Glee. I realise that is an extremely cursed sentence right there but hear me out. I genuinely hate all of Meat Loaf’s music and by all accounts the man himself is a Republican; I also realise Glee covers of songs do not necessarily represent the highest form of art. Nevertheless, this performance is incredible and it makes my heart ache to watch it, because it was really the last time things were good on Glee, on and offscreen. The cast looks like they’re having a ball, and there’s so many little moments – I love Santana resting her head in Brittany’s hand at 1:25 – but it’s Lea Michele’s entrance at 1:40 that kills me, I swear my achilles tendons nearly snapped when she growled “I gotta know right now.” I genuinely can’t stop watching this video. On that note you should definitely read this piece I wrote about Glee and Rachel Berry (Lea Michele’s Glee character) for Tenderly – it’s one of my favourite things that I’ve written this year.

Next time: Back to business as usual! Like I don’t know what it will be specifically, but it will be business as usual.

PS: if you enjoy my writing and would like to support me directly, you can do so by joining my Patreon. It’s like a cordoned-off VIP area where you can access content written just for you: recipes, updates, a short story, the opening sentences of the novel I wrote.

talking sweet about nothing, cookie I think you’re tame

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My tea-drinking has ramped up substantially since moving back in with my parents in a remote rural village, because, well, what else is there to do? I’m not even sure that any of us have particularly passionate feelings towards tea, but nevertheless we must drink it at quarterly intervals throughout the day. I suppose it provides a marker of the passage of time, while stopping us from doing this by drinking wine at 10am; though I could be talked into that without much effort if I’m honest, indeed, let this very paragraph be considered as planting the seeds of suggestion. The good thing about tea is that it usually brings with it a biscuit or confection of some kind, and the good thing about me is that I can be relied upon to bake such things.

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If your tea-drinking intervals could also do with an accompanying sweetmeat then you might consider these Dark Rum Tahini Chocolate Walnut Cookies. Don’t be alarmed by the effect of the rum content on your day ahead, as there’s only a bare tablespoon in the mixture – you could literally allow a teething infant to use it as a rusk. Even its contribution to the flavour is fairly minimal, I just really liked how it looked in the recipe title there – aesthetic or death, as I always say. Whatever your preference, these cookies are very easy to make and completely delicious. They’re snappishly crisp with a muted sweetness and caramel warmth from the combination of brown sugar and tahini, with beautiful textural interruption from the walnuts and chunks of chocolate. If I were to make them again I would try baking them for as little time as I can get away with to try make them chewier, but as is, their light crunchiness is perfect tea-dunking material. Needless to say you could change the walnuts for something else or leave them out altogether, same with the chocolate, this dough seems well-built to support any particular fixings you might choose to mix in.

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Dark Rum Tahini Chocolate Walnut Cookies

A recipe using this one at The Curious Chickpea as a starting point.

  • 1/2 cup coconut oil at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons plant milk
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum (or an extra tablespoon of milk instead)
  • 1 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate

Place the coconut oil, tahini, and the two sugars into a mixing bowl and beat thoroughly with a wooden spoon until the mixture is thick and smoothly combined. Stir in the milk and rum, then the flour, salt, baking powder and soda, and the walnuts and chocolate. Stir thoroughly, then refrigerate the cookie dough for about half an hour, or overnight.

While the dough is chilling, set your oven to 180C/350F. Line a baking tray/cookie sheet with a piece of baking paper. Scoop out spoonfuls of dough – I used a coffee spoon of about 1 1/2 tablespoon capacity which, nevertheless, did not result at all in uniform cookies – and arrange them in rows on the tray. Don’t flatten the cookies – just leave them as squashy balls of dough on the tray, and stop when you get to about twelve cookies.

Bake them for 10 – 13 minutes, or until browned and crisp-ish looking (they’ll continue to firm up as they cool). Carefully slide them onto a cooling rack and repeat with the remaining dough.

Makes around 28 cookies give or take how much cookie dough you eat as you go.

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On Thursday night I attended the launch of Dominic Hoey’s new book I Thought We’d Be Famous, if you like extremely beautiful poetry that feels like it has its thumb on your trachea than you can and should order a copy through Dead Bird Books. This weekend I’m going down to Wellington to visit my best friends and to bask in the sensory overload of being back in a city again. Till then: it’s probably time for another cup of tea.

If you are intrigued by the use of tahini in this recipe then you should also consider my Black Salted Caramel Sauce recipe, which is then used in my Black Salted Caramel Ripple Ice Cream recipe. That particular blog post last year marked my revamp of hungryandfrozen.com, where I moved everything to another platform and changed the logo to the one you can see above, and started allowing you to receive my blog posts emailed to you before I publish them. And this is my fiftieth blog post since I changed everything! Isn’t that something? Well, not really, compared to my last blog post about how hungryandfrozen.com turned twelve years old, but I am nothing if not a Russian Doll of self-congratulation, ever striving to further uncover ways to draw attention to myself while disguising it as edifying content!

title from: Tame, by Pixies. Maybe it’s cognitive dissonance or 2019’s news cycle eroding me like a deviated septum but despite it being full of howling screams, every time I hear this song I just fondly think “ah, that’s nice. Good for them.”

music lately:

Thursday Girl by Mitski. She’s almost too powerful: yesterday I just saw her name written down and got a lump in my throat. This song is so gentle and so brutal at the same time, like a…knife with a smiley face drawn on it? Look, I can’t even write metaphors when I listen to it, that’s how good she is.

Bolero, by Ravel. I thought this piece must be like 300 years old since that’s when I assume all classical music is from, but it actually premiered less than a hundred years ago, which seems kind of wild and recent, right? Angela Lansbury is older than this song! Were people like, “ugh Maurice Ravel, you can’t do the Charleston to this“? Well if they did, jokes on them, because Bolero is an unimpeachable rumpshaker, listening to it gets me so hyped up I want to headbutt someone. If you have a short attention span like me then jump ten minutes in first to experience the drop, but I promise that you’re going to want to start from the beginning again afterwards because that build is just exquisite.

Next time: Something savoury, between last week and this week that’s quite enough chocolate for now.

PS: if you enjoy my writing and want to support me directly you should join my Patreon. It’s like a cordoned-off VIP area where you can access content written just for you: recipes, updates, the opening sentences of the novel I wrote.

well I see you there with the rose in your teeth

I have some fascinating developing news for you: firstly, did you know you can get sparkling rosé by the can at the supermarket for like $4? Secondly, I’m leaving my job and devoting my life to my writing! Seriously! $4!

Vegan Rose Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream

But first. You don’t come to Wellington, the city I’ve lived in for 13 years now, for the weather, you just don’t. You come here for, I don’t know, the coffee and “vibrant Cuba Street” and to behold the moustache-to-face ratio with appalled disdain and reluctant respect in equal measure. But in summer 2019, with the chickens of global warming coming home to roost, Wellington is hot as BALLS. And so I felt it would be timely to make some ice cream, not only because it’s my favourite food but also to try and bring down my general temperature and perhaps yours by proxy. The heat has homogenised us and it’s all anyone can talk about now.

Rosé raspberry ripple ice cream sounds, I grant you, like it belongs on those Facebook videos with a wine glass that can hold an entire bottle of wine yet not an ounce of personality, but! The rosé has merit here outside of its pastel-coloured populism. This ice cream is distinctly lush, heavily swirled with blisteringly pink, sherbety, sour-sweet raspberry rosé sorbet. The rosé gives it a kind of biscuity, dry finish while dovetailing beautifully in both blushy colour and blushy flavour, and the oat milk is the perfect inobtrusive yet creamy backdrop for everything.

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The recipe is moderately fiddly, but not in a taxing way, and the only really annoying thing about it is that there is an undeniable quantity of dishes (I don’t know why or what moralistic properties I’ve assigned to individual kitchenware items subconsciously but for example, a bowl? I can calmly wash that. The blade of a food processor? I must lie down with a cold compress over my eyes now.) I like to be relaxed about people swapping ingredients to account for availability and affordability, but I do think oat milk is the best option here, it has a real fulsome mildness similar to actual milk in flavour. Probably soymilk would be the next best thing. If you don’t have custard powder then cornflour is a near-perfect dupe, and I would definitely consider using frozen strawberries instead of raspberries. The use of chickpea brine will either be old news to you or absolutely horrifying but here’s the thing: it acts exactly like egg whites, I don’t know why, it just does, so when you whisk it up it goes thick and creamy and holds its shape and is just an absolute blessing for vegan cooking. And having the actual chickpeas to use is no great burden – blend them into hummus, roast them with some spices, or just coat them with olive oil, salt and pepper, and stir through some rocket.

(And I’ll be honest with you, I’m not saying the rosé was entirely an aesthetic conceit, but if you left it out for whatever reason – financial, non-alcohol-consumption – the ice cream will still be both absolutely fine and delicious. But at $4 a can, can you afford to not buy it?)

Vegan Rose Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream

This really just tastes like summer, the fruity sourness tap-dancing up the side of your face and your skull hurting from the cold, the fragrant, juicy, lipstick-smeared-on-the-side-of-a-glass pink blast of the berries and the creamy, softening properties of the vanilla.

Rosé Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream

a recipe by myself

  • 2 cups (500ml) oat milk
  • 3 heaped tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons custard powder
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) aquafaba (liquid from a can of chickpeas in brine)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 1 vanilla bean (or one teaspoon vanilla paste/two teaspoons vanilla extract)
  • a heaped 1/2 cup frozen raspberries
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) sparkling rosé (or unsparkling will do)

Heat one cup (250ml) of the oat milk gently with the coconut oil and custard powder, plus about half the sugar. Don’t let it get to the point of boiling, but just to where the coconut oil has melted and the sugar has dissolved and the custard powder has thickened it somewhat. Run a sharp knife down the centre of the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the oat milk mixture, whisk in the second cup of oat milk, and then set it aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, start whisking the aquafaba briskly so it becomes thick and airy. Slowly add the remainder of the 3/4 cup of sugar, a little at a time, as you continue whisking. Once the sugar is all whisked in and the aquafaba is thick and meringue-like, add the sea salt and then gently fold it into the oat milk mixture. Spatula all this into a container of just over a litre capacity and freeze for about four hours.

At this point, take the ice cream out of the freezer, scrape it all into a blender or food processor, and process till creamy and smooth. Before you do this there’s a good chance that it will have separated somewhat in the freezer and appear all ice-crystal-y, but a quick go in a blender will make it come together again easily so fear not. Spatula it back into the container and return it to the freezer while you get on with the ripple.

Give the blender or food processor a half-hearted rinse, then process the raspberries, icing sugar and lemon juice to form a thick, bright pink frozen paste. You may need to add a couple of teaspoons of water if the raspberries are very frozen solid. Carefully stir in the rosé. Take the vanilla base back out of the freezer and dollop the raspberry mixture into it large spoonful by large spoonful. Give it the most cursory stir to move the separate parts around a little – you don’t need to mix it in too much and it will naturally form layers and ripples as you scoop it out. Return to the freezer for about six hours or overnight, then it’s all yours.

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Now that we’ve all got our vicarious chills, let’s talk about me. So: every now and then I like to get all irrevocable just to see what happens. This particular shake-up takes the form of two things happening in the near future: I’m leaving my apartment and moving in with my dear friends Kate and Jason for a while and leaving my job as a bartender, with the distinct aim of (a) avoiding burnout and (b) focussing on my writing and (c) yes, working out how I’m going to support myself as a writer but also (d) not burning out!

Though it may sound like a madcap lark, an imprudent caper, I am in fact acting upon what I talked about at the start of the year – I really really wanted to throw myself into my writing this time around the sun and I had this convergence of a ton of writing ideas crystallising at once, my lease coming to an end, and just desperately needing a break from hospitality, intoxicating though it is. I mean I’m genuinely fairly spooked at the contemplation of not being a bartender, it’s been my life round the clock and a large chunk of my personality for the last five years! This is not a decision I came to lightly or suddenly but man, there’s something incredible in a sandblastingly intense kind of way way about actually making a decision with clarity instead of letting life wash over you, isn’t there?

And I know, I can’t just not work, like, mate, I don’t think I’m above capitalism, if anything, I am capitalism. By which I mean, with my life upheaval in mind I’ve updated my Patreon to tell you about the exciting writing projects I’m going to be working on soon and how you could directly be supporting them. So if the notion of contributing to the existence of, for example, a novel that is (very reductively, but for the sake of brevity!) Dazed and Confused meets Kitchen Confidential or a cookbook about what to cook when you’re too depressed to cook sounds like something you’d like to claim early adoption of, then consider becoming a Patron of mine!

(Benefits to being a patron include exclusive monthly content made just for you, like, this month I reviewed every book I read and film I watched in January. Sample text: “Rachel Weisz could kick me in the head and I would thank her for it.”)

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You in turn can comfortably expect not only more blog posts from me but also more energy expressed therein, as opposed to me complaining about how tired and lacking-in-time I constantly am. On top of which I will be using my newfound spare time to get back into freelancing and pitching ideas at people so if anyone has any leads, please! Get in touch. Sometimes you have to lose money to make money, as the saying goes!

title from: Famous Blue Raincoat, Leonard Cohen. “It’s four in the morning, the end of December“, is such a captured mood, isn’t it? This song is so utterly miserable and downbeat but just when it seems too much to bear, it gently but firmly unfolds into this incredibly optimistic major key for what I guess you could call the chorus but then! Just as quickly! Retreats in fear and the second verse is somehow even more unhappy. Cohen, you maven of misery, moving tears from duct to cheek like an efficient shepherdess.

music lately:

1080p, by Sammus, a rapper, producer and PhD student from Ithaca, this is beautiful, I love the cadence of her voice, how it has a slight break to it, and there’s so many sharp lines (“we never talk yet we still share a f**ing Netflix”…”glad I took my ass to some therapy/Now I’m seeing the world in 1080p“)

I Woke Up In A F**ked Up America, Lonnie Holley. This is about as intense as you’d expect from the title, I love the record-skip repetition and layered horns and the vibrato of his voice and yeah, the intensity. Holley has had quite a life, I recommend looking him up on Wikipedia.

On My Own, Frances Ruffelle, from the Original Cast Recording of Les Miserables. There’s such a Bernadette Peters-esque porcelain-and-steel quality to her voice and I love the angle of her vowels and the way she leans into her consonants – see also the way she says “HMmbut he never saw me there” in One Day More – but also consider listening to Kaho Shimada, singing the same song from the 1988 Complete Symphonic Recording of Les Miserables, I will never stop telling anyone who will listen about how Kaho Shimada didn’t speak any English and learned her lines phonetically for this recording and her voice SOARS on the big bit near the end (you know the bit, “all my life, I’ve only been pretending” it’s the bit you came for.) I think there’s some kind of echo effect that’s been layered on it as well which makes it sound particularly as though it’s being carried on eagles wings and I don’t know what it is about high summer but it seems to compel me to devote my life to playing the same seven to nineteen Les Miserables clips on YouTube.

Next time: Something extremely from my storecupboard as I’m trying to avoid spending as much as possible between now and my last shift.

a cocktail napkin epitaph

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This week we’re briefly pivoting away from food and instead neck deep into alcohol with two cocktail recipes. I would like to caveat you, first by warning you that I’m going to use the word “caveat” as a verb, and secondly by letting you know that I’m going through a rather beastly phase of insomnia at the moment, but also that I’ve finally got a doctor prescription for sleeping pills to counteract it, and half of this was written before and half of this was written after so if there’s any Wiley Wiggins in Waking Life buzz going as you read, that’s why. What will next week’s excuse be, you ask? If it’s still insomnia I’m gonna be so mad but I reckon I’ll try to distract you with whatever the opposite of sublimation is by being all “look at this brilliant writing demonstrably lacking in flaws!”

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A few separate things had to happen for this week’s recipes to come together. First of all, I was like man, I haven’t come up with a new cocktail in ages. I used to do it all the time, because my job required it, and though I’m still bartending I just don’t have as much call for it anymore. I really enjoy it, almost as much as inventing a food recipe – it’s all about balance and texture and getting your restrictions to push you into more creative choices. Secondly, with this thought in mind I was like “huh, wow,” now that it’s 2019 it means it’s a whole year since Motel, the bar I used to run, closed. Thirdly, I came to realise that I had a bottle of prebatched alcohol base from a cocktail I invented for Motel’s closing night (December 31, 2017) under my bed (in January, 2019.)

And then I was like, well maybe this is a sign that I shouldn’t be allowed to invent things.

But invent things I did! And having re-discovered myself to be in possession of good fortune, I might as well see if it was, in truth, worth universally acknowledging. Or at least…potable. Somewhat unsurprisingly, given the grunty ABV (that’s alcohol by volume) of its contents, it had serenely preserved itself for the entire year under my bed and remained more or less completely unchanged. So I used it to make the cocktail that I served on Motel’s last night and – it was still delicious! So I decided to share it with you today.

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The cocktail is inspired by two things: an existing cocktail – The Rosebud – from Motel’s history, and myself. The Rosebud is pretty well-known in Wellington – it was, in fact, the first one I ever had when I moved to the city in 2006 – and is a smashingly drinkable combination of vanilla vodka, lemon, passionfruit, cranberry and pineapple. Sounds like someone’s just pointing at bottles of juice and saying them out loud, I grant you, but it really is a beautiful drink. I wanted to pay tribute to that drink, but also quite justifiably not-humbly to myself, by using my three favourite ingredients:

  • Fernet Branca, which I would describe as having a bouquet of minty dirt and yet! I just wouldn’t be without it
  • Smith and Cross Navy Strength Jamaican Rum, my very favourite rum, a lush and broad-shouldered overproof
  • Angostura Bitters – that familiar paper-wrapped bottle with the yellow lid filled with strangely aromatic red liquid, normally administered drop by careful drop into, for example, glasses of lemonade to make Lemon Lime and Bitters, very popular in New Zealand – I decided to use an entire half shot of the stuff.

These were the three ingredients in the bottle under my bed, equal parts in a menacing dried-blood red. As I said above, this is a moderately outrageous quantity of bitters to be putting in a drink – normally it’s used a few drops at a time – but as this was a cocktail for the final night of Motel and because I feel most comfortable in excess, I decided to be excessive. However! The drink also had to be balanced, and even more so, it had to taste good.

Balance is a word I bang on about a lot when I start getting riled up about cocktails, but it really is important. Consider the Old Fashioned – one of the most famous classic cocktails, it’s essentially just an ass-ton of bourbon, with a little sugar and bitters, diluted a bit. Like, that’s all it is. So why don’t we choke on them? Balance, people. The sugar makes it richer in body and softer, stirring the drink over ice bevels off the rough edges, the bitters…well, they taste good. Look at the Long Island Iced Tea – it’s got five different types of liquor in it and yet because there’s enough citrus and sugar to take the edge off you can down them like they’re water. I’m honestly pretty sure that with enough sugar and lime juice that even plane engine fuel would be, well, no worse than a Long Island Iced Tea at least.

So with this cocktail, what’s happening? You’ve got that mouth-open-in-a-storm-drain taste of the Fernet Branca, bracing and earthy, you’ve got the rich ripe-to-bursting fruit funk and sweetness of the rum, and you’ve got the clove and cinnamon woody spice of the angostura bitters. All of this, plus that rip-tide of high alcohol volume, is lifted and brightened by the zingy, sour-sweet passionfruit syrup – and you really do need to use syrup here, the kind they sell in the same aisle as packaged desserts in the supermarket – and mellowed by the sugar content. The pineapple juice softens it but also has overlap in the tropical flavours of the rum and the more floral notes of the bitters and the Fernet. Pineapple juice has this enzyme which, when you shake it up, it goes all fluffy and aerated. So the juice is also bringing body and texture to the cocktail (much as it does to the original Rosebud itself.)

I called it The Final Scene because of this reference to the name Rosebud in the final scene of the film Citizen Kane, and also more obviously because it was Motel’s final scene. And then just over a year later – the present day, I mean – I took the bottle of pre-batch to Laundry, the bar where I now work, and photographed the drink there. (In case you’re all “what is that adorable mise-en-scène going on there,” yeah, it’s not my house.)

And then I was like…Laura. Though being inspired by yourself is a reasonable, even obvious use of your time, this is nevertheless a seriously inaccessible cocktail recipe to be putting on your blog. Like, if I hadn’t found that bottle of prebatch under my bed there’s no way I’d be able to afford these ingredients. You would probably be laughed at if you asked someone to make this in an actual cocktail bar (although the Trinidad Sour cocktail has an entire shot of bitters in it, so my reasoning had its reasons.)

So! I have another recipe to offer you, something incredibly simple that I don’t have a photo of but you could make it yourself in the time it takes to read the instructions. By which I mean: it’s just Lindauer with some peach schnapps in it. It’s also very, very good. I called it the Queen’s Speech because (a) the queen makes a speech on Christmas Day and it was on that day I drank a lot of this, (b) I like how the linguistic structure of the title means it could also be called Queen’s Peach, (c) I got my family to watch a LOT of The Crown on Netflix while I was there at Christmas and (d) I enjoy the juxtaposition of the name’s regnal qualities with its ingredients. Like, I literally went into the alcohol shop and said “what’s your most off-brand peach schnapps” and they were all “sure here’s a 700ml bottle for $14”. And it really is so good! Soft and peachy (obviously, but I’m losing steam in the drinks description faculties of my brain by this point), celebratory in a non-threatening way, a little sweet but not head-achingly so, somehow Christmassy and yet somehow appropriate to any time, be it cosy dinner party or your parent-teacher interviews; and above all no effort at all to make.

The Final Scene

a recipe by myself

  • 15ml Angostura Bitters
  • 15ml Smith and Cross Navy Strength Jamaican Rum
  • 15ml Fernet Branca
  • 30ml passionfruit syrup
  • 45ml pineapple juice

Place everything in a shaker with ice and shake throughly. Double strain – using a cocktail strainer and a sieve – into a chilled coupe glass or similar. Serve.

Queen’s Speech

a recipe by myself

  • Lindauer or similarly inexpensive sparkling white wine
  • Peach schnapps

If you require measurements, it’s roughly 100ml of the bubbles and 15ml of the schnapps but it’s easier to just do it as follows: fill a champagne flute to about an inch from the top with the sparkling wine and then top with a good hefty splash of schnapps.

Measurement notes: the following are all equal, so apply which one makes the most sense to you.

15ml
1/2 oz
1 tablespoon (eg that you’d use for baking)
half a standard shot

The following are also all equal:

30ml
1 oz
2 tablespoons
1 standard shot

Speaking of making this accessible, I know the ingredients to the first cocktail are a bit stupid but nevertheless I made some notes in the recipe about the measurements so you could work out what you’re most comfortable with – for example if you’re in America you might be used to ounces whereas if you’ve not bartended ever you may feel more at ease with measuring spoons. It all gets the job done! As for making the thing, if you’ve got actual cocktail shaker tins at home then good for you, otherwise just use a clean jam jar with the lid on to shake it up then tip it through a small sieve. During the earthquake of October 2016, where I was on a “relaxing getaway” (yeah we screwed that up timing-wise) with my best friends Kim and Kate at a bach up a the coast, I managed to make us very serviceable tequila sours using lots of tequila, some very old sugar from the jar on the tea tray, and some bottled lemon juice we found in the fridge. I shook it up in a novelty Christmas biscuit tin with the three cubes of ice that were left in the freezer and then tipped it into glasses through an enormous sieve. And I would definitely describe the result as potable.

If you’re on a cocktail-making buzz you may also wish to read other blog posts of mine on this subject, such as the Aperol Spritz, vegan Gin Sours, or a cocktail I invented called Millennial Pink. And if you wish to explore further the prospect of fresh minty dirt flavours, consider my recipe for Fernet Branca ice cream.

title from: Beginner’s Mind, by Bright Eyes, a really nice song, just a classic example of him bright-eyes-ing around.

music lately:

Sharon Van Etten, Seventeen. I’ve been listening to her new album a lot, partly to distract myself from Mitski at Laneway, and well, it’s very good! And this song in particular is spectacular! At first I was like, hmm, it’s a bit Fleetwood Mac, isn’t it…but the rumbling urgency and building piano and melancholy-but-happy mood absolutely decked me. (No, I don’t enjoy Fleetwood Mac, yes, it’s my cross to bear.)

Waiting Room, by Fugazi, grumpy yet melodic.

Berlin, So So Modern. This magical song is the soundtrack to a million years ago, and yet something in its patient relentlessness also feels like I’m hearing it for the first time, every time.

Meadowlark, Liz Callaway. This song is from the fairly unsuccessful Broadway musical The Baker’s Wife but has since itself become something of a standard. I feel Callaway’s is the definitive version – her voice has this intense kindness and sense of hope to it and she does this thing I adore where she heavily emphasises the “r” in each word (so a line like “the one I’m burning for returns” is immensely satisfying to the ears) and honestly, don’t even get me started on the enormous ending of this song, honestly. (Also, did you know? That’s Callaway’s voice you hear in the theme song to the TV show The Nanny, which she sang with her sister Ann Hampton Callaway, who – there’s more! – also wrote the song.)

Next time: the summer heat is currently DEBILITATING and as such I am going to make ice cream.

PS: if you like what you see and you want me to be able to do more of it, then consider becoming a Patreon patron to support my writing. I’m going to be dicking around with it in the next week or so and adding tiers and generally making it clearer for one and all but nevertheless there’s no time like the present! 

sometimes I think you’re just too good for me, every day is Christmas, every night is New Year’s Eve

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With last week’s post being absolutely enormous I thought I’d make this one fairly low-key, calm, brief. But then I watched classic Christmas film Die Hard for the first time ever and it’s really hard to not feel seasonally hyped up after that, right? So instead I decided to do the absolute opposite and give you something high-key, vast, yet still fairly calming in its own way: my annual round-up of recipes from this blog that I think would be worth considering if you’re wanting to do the home-made edible Christmas present thing. Whether or not Christmas is something you acknowledge, be it for religious reasons, self-preservation reasons, or something else entirely, there’s no denying that it’s going to literally happen this very month and besides, you could use this list at any time of year that you have a person for whom a gift is required. I for one think there’s nothing more delightful than the tangible and consumable result of a person’s concentrated time and effort as a gift, not to mention the joy of stomping on the delicate, exposed foot of capitalism by DIY-ing it yourself. (That said – and look, no one is out here defending capitalism, don’t worry – I’d also like to throw my voice to the chorus urging you to consider shopping local/small/ethical/indigenous/gay/generally independent this season.)

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THE HUNGRY AND FROZEN MODERATELY INDISPUTABLE LIST OF EDIBLE GIFT RECIPE IDEAS FOR LIFE, NOT JUST FOR CHRISTMAS

Caveat 1: Because this goes so far back through the archives, the majority of which I spent neck-deep in butter, well, there’s going to be some butter. I’ve marked accordingly whether a recipe is vegan, also gluten free if applicable – I see you!
Caveat 2: Because this goes so far back through the archives the continuity/life details on display in any given post might be kind of jarring and this is what happens when you write about many details of your life for eleven years! But if we can handle our TV characters like, changing haircuts and so on throughout the course of a series, so can we handle such things here.
Caveat 3: (And just know that I couldn’t help but hear “O CAVEAT THREE-EE-EE” in a superloud, third-time-round, “O come let us adore him” vibe in my head) I moved my blog over to WordPress halfway through this year and all the formatting completely fritzed out, so just know, every single individual blog post that I’ve linked to here that does have, y’know, line breaks, has had its individual html edited by me, and I haven’t quite managed to catch them all yet. This caveat is more of a weird flex, but.

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Category 1: Things in Jars

Too easy! Jars make everything look pulled together and clever, whether it’s the unsinkable salted caramel sauce or some pickled-into-submission vegetable. To ease any anxieties – which you admittedly might not have even considered having, but that’s why I’m here –  on the part of both giver and receiver, I advise including a gift tag with some recommendations of how to use the stuff within the jar ( and “consume in one go in bed” is entirely viable here.)

Subsection A: Saucy Stuff

Subsection B: Stuff stuff

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Category 2: Baked Goods

As easy or as hard as you like, whether it’s some cookies in a takeout container with a ribbon around it (and honestly: those takeout containers – you know the ones – are always useful to have around so it’s not a cop-out) or whether you go full out, make someone an enormous Christmas Cake and find a tastefully yet jaw-droppingly stunning plate to serve it on and make that part of the gift too. To maximise on tis-the-season seasonality I recommend embarking on all baking projects late at night with some kind of liqueur by your side, it just feels right.

 

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Category 3: No-bake Novelty!

This is (a) lots of taxing recreations of candy you can get for like forty cents at the corner dairy, (b) lots of stuffing existing products into other existing products and (c) nevertheless the most fun category.

And one more for luck:

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Almond Butter Toffee

a recipe by myself

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) water
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3 heaped tablespoons crunchy almond butter
  • 250g dark chocolate
  • sea salt

Line a baking tray or tin with a large piece of baking paper.

Place the sugar, water, and cream of tartar in a saucepan and slowly bring to the boil over a medium heat, without stirring at all. Let it continue to bubble away for five to ten minutes, until it just starts to turn golden – even though it’s boring for a while, don’t walk away or lose focus or it WILL burn, it just will – and as a pale gold cast creeps across the bubbling sugar, at this point immediately remove it from the heat. I hate to be harsh but if the sugar has turned a dark golden brown this means it’s caramelised too far and will taste harshly bitter and burnt; better to start over with more sugar and water than to try to forge ahead, I promise (I speak from much experience.)  Stir in the almond butter, and, working quickly and carefully, tip the lot onto the sheet of baking paper, coaxing it around with a spatula if need be to make it an even shape/thickness. Sprinkle over a good pinch of sea salt. Allow to set and get completely cool, then break it into pieces. 

Melt the chocolate however you prefer – short bursts in the microwave does it for me – and dip each piece of toffee in the chocolate before returning to the baking paper lined tray to set again. Sprinkle over more sea salt if you wish. Store refrigerated in an airtight container.

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This stuff tastes not entirely unlike those magical Daim bars (or Dime bars as they’re known in the UK) with a buttery, snappish crunch that is somehow sweet enough to taunt the teeth with impending fissures and yet mellow and balanced enough for you to eat an alarming quantity without giving it a second thought. As is or chocolate-dipped: novelty perfection. (And especially delicious if kept in the freezer, for some reason.)

I guess humans make traditions to give us something to cling on to in a harsh world, something that marks the passage of time other than the time itself, and making this list has become something of a tradition for me so it’s nice to visit it again, even as my eyeballs throb from all that painstaking hyperlinking. Even if you don’t make a single thing on the list – and you’re under absolutey no obligation to – the fact that you’re reading this far means you’re part of my tradition too. Sentimental, yes! But as I said: I watched Die Hard for the first time, so, you understand.

title from: Sade, The Sweetest Taboo. The sultriness! Ma’am!

music lately:

The Pure and the Damned, Oneohtrix Point Never ft Iggy Pop: “Someday I swear we’re gonna go to a place where we can do everything we want to, and we can pet the crocodiles.”

Turkey Lurkey Time, from the 1969 Tony Awards performance from the musical Promises, Promises. Another tradition! Every year on December 1st and not a moment sooner I rewatch this and every year I am breathtaken anew! Michael Bennett’s audacious choreography that cares not for your chiropractic bill! Donna McKechnie (in the red dress), triple threat, rubber-legged, spinal chord cracking like a whip! The lyrics which are SO STUPID! The final minute which every time makes tears spring to my eyes at the sheer magnitude of it!

Whack World, the album by rapper Tierra Whack. Every one of her songs is precisely one minute long (which is just perfect for me) with its own precise personality. I particularly love Black Nails and F**k Off.

Next time: less REALLY will be more, I promise. 

hold on tight, hold on eleven, this is paradise

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This blog post marks a relatively special occasion: Hungry and Frozen, this very blog that you’re reading, turned ELEVEN years old on Sunday. I’m proud of myself, sure, but I’m also astonished. I mean, I’m always astonished by the passage of time, in that push-pull kind of way (y’know, HOW is it October already but also HOW is it only 8.03pm I swear the clock said 8.07pm before) but eleven years? Doing one thing? Were you even born eleven years ago? Frankly, I doubt it.

As I stand majestically upon this precipice, surveying all that I have done, I acknowledge there’s only so much looking back one can do – and don’t honestly have anything particularly deep or clever to offer you in summarisation of my life up until this point. But I did reread my first blog posts and was struck by how breezily carefree I was and just how much I cooked and blogged: in October 2007 alone I did twenty three blog posts in fifteen days, a hilarious quantity, really. It was hardcore stuff too: pavlova and steamed pudding and marinated ribs and choux pastry and madeleines. Present-day me could do well to be inspired by the sheer drive of then-me, time-rich though I was.

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In the first post I pressed publish upon I asked “does the world need another food blog? There are millions! With really classy photographs as well! What on earth do I have to offer the world?” This was before Pinterest, before Instagram, before influencers, before videos of anonymous hands making recipes all over Facebook, before chiaroscuro or people dropping crumbs everywhere in their food photography, before Momofuku Milk Bar, before the recession – in fact I’m not sure what actually was around, come to think of it. Polka dots were big, if I remember correctly, and we were all getting into cupcakes?

Since then I’ve learned so much: how to take a photograph; how to write through literally anything happening in my personal life; to not be so righteous or else I’ll regret that I called vodka soda “a sneeringly dry drink” nine years ago; that if I refer vaguely to us all “reeling from the events this week” I will have absolutely no idea what I was talking about six weeks later especially in this rapid news cycle life that we’re stuck in; that if you hear me say something amusing in real life you’re probably going to read it repeated here because I only have so much material; and to write like I’m the most relevant and celebrated food blogger on earth even if there’s only one person in the audience. I mean where I stand currently, on this relatively fallow ground, it’s by no means a high point in my blogging career and it does weigh upon me heavily sometimes. But I’m also feeling happy and creative for the first time in ages, and I think that’s what I should be inspired by from eleven years ago: neither the quantity nor the quality, but the sheer confidence that someone out there wanted to read my writing and therefore I was going to throw my heart and soul into writing nonstop for them. And if I kept writing like that, if it was that good, surely more people would want to read it. Something I hope is still true.

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What care I for the obviousness of a cake to mark a milestone; especially when it’s as incredibly delicious as this one. The champagne is a celebratory conceit but really does add something to the buttercream – a certain biscuity minerality (which sounds horrible but…trust me.) I tend to avoid putting inaccessible ingredients in my recipes and acknowledge that this one contains not just the champagne – which was a gift, I can’t imagine just owning some – but also freeze-dried passionfruit, which gives this eye-wateringly intense blast of sour passionfruit flavour and is almost irreplaceable. If it comes down to it though: I’d replace both the champagne and the passionfruit powder with a few tablespoons of strained passionfruit syrup, it won’t have the aggressive flavour but will undoubtedly still taste good.

Chocolate Maple Cake with Champagne Passionfruit Buttercream

A recipe by myself

Cake:

  • 1 and 3/4 cups plain flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup almond milk (or similar non-dairy milk)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil (not extra virgin – or just use plain vegetable oil)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup

Champagne Passionfruit Buttercream

  • 3 tablespoons good vegan butter (I used Nuttelex Buttery)
  • 4 tablespoons freeze-dried passionfruit powder
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons champagne
  • 3 and 1/2 cups icing sugar
  • a pinch of salt 

Set your oven to 180C/350F. Line the base of two 20cm springform cake tins with baking paper.

Stir all your dry ingredients together in a large bowl – the flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, and baking soda – so everything is completely dispersed and free of clumps.

Carefully pour in the water, golden syrup, oil, vanilla, almond milk and vinegar and fold the ingredients together gently till it’s just combined.

Divide this mixture between the two cake tins, using a spatula to scrape out every last bit. Make a swirl in the batter with the end of a spoon (or indeed, your finger) – apparently this helps it to rise evenly and flatly and I’m not sure if I truly believe it but it doesn’t hurt to try.

Bake the cakes for 25 minutes or until they’re both springy and a skewer prodded into the centre comes out clean.

Allow both cakes to cool completely.

For the buttercream, I find it easiest to use a food processor, but a bowl and spoon is by no means the end of the world. Blitz the butter, passionfruit powder, and icing sugar together, and then add the champagne and process again to make a thick, smooth, pale-golden icing. Add more champagne if it’s too thick, but only a little at a time.

Place one of the cakes on a serving plate, and brush half the maple syrup over it with a pastry brush. Spoon a large dollop of the buttercream onto the centre of the cake and use the flat side of a knife to spread it evenly over the surface. Place the second cake on top and repeat with the remaining maple syrup and most of the remaining icing, leaving some to patch up any spaces inbetween the layers. I do this by scooping up icing with the knife and running it around the curves of the cake’s sides. I then run the knife under hot water and run it around the sides again to make sure the layer of icing in the middle is thick and flattened while the cake layers themselves are relatively clean. It doesn’t matter though: the icing and cake will both taste good no matter how it looks.

Dot with sprinkles if you wish, and dust over a little more passionfruit powder. And that’s your cake.

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But nevermind what’s left out of it, let’s talk about what’s in it: this cake is rich and dense but fluffy and springy and moist and has an old fashioned taste to it – the sort of chocolate cake that storybook characters would tuck into. There’s a slightly nutty flavour from the oil and maple syrup (although hell, leave the syrup out too if you’re really strapped for cash, I know I am) and the dark, soft chocolate layers contrast beautifully with the shivers-down-the-spine tartness of the passionfruit. And it’s so easy to make – some idle stirring is all that’s required. While it uses a lot of cocoa powder this cake would be an ideal go-to recipe iced however you want – if you’re the sort of person that is in enough cake-related situations to require a go-to. On top of that, this cake really lasts – three days after making it, it’s still as soft and rich as it was on day one.

Eleven years ago I hadn’t yet met my two best friends Kim and Kate and I can’t even quantify in words or describe with statistics the effect they’ve had on me since. Needless to say there was no better people to share this cake, and the remaining champagne, with, so that’s what I spent the afternoon of this blog’s eleventh birthday doing. As far as reading about it goes though, why, there’s no one I’d want more to do that than you.

title from: Paradise, by Meat Puppets. I love the Meat Puppets so much and have absolutely nothing amusing to say about them.

music lately:

Cornelius Bros and Sister Rose, Too Late To Turn Back Now. That “I believe I believe I believe I believe” bit is just lovely.

The Sacred Harp Singers, I’m Going Home. I did not care for the movie Cold Mountain but it did at least introduce me to the Sacred Harp Singers, who perform – naturally – sacred harp singing, which is like…hymns but as discordant walls of sound crashing about your ears all at once. It’s hard to explain but when I watched this particular recording of the aforementioned song being sung at a convention I genuinely cried from the enormity of it and have listened to little else since. So put in some headphones and turn up the volume and see what happens, is my recommendation and opinion both. (There’s quite a bit of it on Spotify and I enjoy the existence of the album entitled New Years Eve at the Iveys’, 1972. Now, December 31, 1972 was in fact a Sunday and I love the idea of the sheer stone-faced Biblicality overriding any seasonal festivity. “What are we doing this New Years? Same thing we do every Sunday: we’ll stand in a square barking hymns discordantly at each other, and you’re a giddy and frivolous infidel for considering otherwise.”)

Decemberists, The Infanta. I’ve been rewatching Mad Men, and as they say in the Youtube comments, “Mad Men brought me here” when the song was used at the start of one of its episodes. The sprinting drums and use of the word “palanquin” though!

(I didn’t start this format of listing music I’d been listening to until April 2009, and the first songs – with absolutely zero commentary – were Mad Tom of Bedlam by Jolie Holland, Let Me Drown by Idina Menzel and Brian D’Arcy James from the off-Broadway Musical The Wild Party, and Farmer John by Neil Young. All of which hold up well, although I did in the same breath claim to “love music with a dark passion” so you can’t win everything.)

Next time: I used all my mental capacity coming up with this week’s one, but it’ll be good, if eleven years has taught us anything it’s that we can all be certain of this. 

PS: A dedicated fistful of people read this post already on Sunday evening – okay, Monday morning, but it should’ve been Sunday – and if you wish to be part of this enclave who receive my posts sent to their inbox first every week, sign up here. (On the other hand, the distance between that send-out and this post being published gave me room to add even more enthusiastic Sacred Harp Singing content, a trinket that you may or may not consider a reward for your patient waiting.) 

i can see us many miles away, inactive, sipping cocktails

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So this weekend a group of us (eight to eleven people altogether I think, there’s no real way of knowing) stayed in a fancy house in Waikenae to celebrate the dear Kate’s birthday. Kate is one of my very best friends, from here on she’ll be referred to as just “Kate” for simplicity but know that I’m hyperventilating every time I mention her name.

Not only was the weekend itself really rewarding in terms of friendship and relaxation and real joyfulness, I also got such Instagram material out of the whole gambit. The entire place was just so aesthetic: pink magnolia leaves floating like bodies in a bright blue swimming pool at dusk; a blonde wood dining table laden with fairy lights; multitudes of tui birds, glossy thick boys calling flirtatiously from the tree branches; a cool clear river striding purposefully over flat, smooth rocks; no less than sixteen doors to the outside world; hand towels that we all initially thought were actually elegant scarves because they were so lovely looking. Like even just the bathrooms themselves were gorgeous, with this particular golden-hour warm lighting that made you look perpetually well-rested and cleverly made-up. I didn’t even care that the toilet was in the background of my mirror selfies, if anything it was an honour to include such an exemplary example of that facility in a photo of myself.

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I did barely anything useful the entire time I was there which was unquantifiably wonderful coming out of a nine-day week of shifts at work. I read a girthy novel (House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski); I prowled judgementally through the lush cookbook collection of the owners (I find myself fairly judgemental of cookbooks, in case you’re wondering why I used that adverb); I took selfies; I snuggled with Charlotte, a dear friend who we all hadn’t seen in two years who was back from London (for good, not just for the weekend as I initially and stupidly assumed) and that was about it; but the one thing I can say confidently that I contributed was that I made Aperol Spritzes for whoever wanted them. Actually, to be fair, lots of people ended up making them over the course of the weekend. But I definitely stumped up for the creation of at least one round. And then took one that I made for myself all around the house photographing it in various pleasing tableaux.

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pleasing!

If you haven’t had Aperol before, you might at least recognise its distinct orange colour and sassy logo design. It’s an Italian aperitif that has been kicking around since roughly 1919, and while the parent company is super cagey about what’s in it, there’s definitely some gently bitter herbs and sweet orange. It’s not unlike its altogether stronger and more bitter cousin Campari, which is even more tight-lipped about its ingredients – somewhat hilariously, the official website will reluctantly concede that there’s water and alcohol involved, but like, that’s all they’re gonna tell you. The Aperol Spritz is a fantastically sophisticated yet casual drink, combining Aperol, Prosecco and soda water – gorgeously orange like distilled sunset, mellowly herbal and sweet yet convivially refreshing, and low-alcohol enough that you can drink a case of it and still be on your feet. It was Kate’s idea to make them and it was honestly perfect and easy and delicious and I thoroughly recommend it if you’ve got a crowd to ease into gentle afternoon post-30s tipsiness.

Aperol Spritz

30ml Aperol (or: 1 shot, 1 oz, 2 tablespoons)
90ml Prosecco
30ml sparkling water
Orange wedge, for garnish

Fill a wine glass or fancy tumbler with ice. Measure all the ingredients straight into the glass, give a stir with a teaspoon or chopstick or breadknife or your finger, whatever is within reach and more or less non-porous, really. Throw in the orange wedge – honestly pretty optional if you’re having a bunch and not selling them to anyone – and you’re ready to drink.

Or consider the 3-2-1 proportions: 75ml Prosecco, 50ml Aperol, 25ml sparkling water. This recipe I hasten to add is also based on the concept of A Shot being 25ml instead of 30ml as it is here in New Zealand, which I simply cannot even start getting into because it’s so confusing (“it’s tearing us apart!” is my usual response every time international Standard Drinks Measurements come up.) (Don’t even get me started on how you shouldn’t get me started on what constitutes “a double”.)

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Now! The recipe I give is roughly what I was making or advising people to make – because the more you consume and the more you make the more you just become one with the drink and pour until it feels right to stop (I say this as someone actually quite genuinely confident with free-pouring accurately.) It’s also a little lower in Aperol than the generally accepted recipe, this was mostly to make the expensive title ingredient stretch further, but also the fact that I feel like it benefits from being less sweet and more fizzy. The Wikipedia page for Aperol Spritz notes in an archly withering way that “perhaps not surprisingly” the official Aperol website calls for a lot more of their own product in the drink. You: well, you suit yourself.

It was a magical time that was so good for the soul, especially getting to spend so much concentrated time with my bests, Kim and Kate, and I feel really lucky that I got to partake in it considering how relatively un-conducive to having any personal time my work schedule is. I cannot actually fathom what it would be like to live in a house like that permanently, I mean like, getting to the point where your hand towels honestly resemble a chic neck accessory, with central heating vents in the floors and slab-sized books about interior design curated by Kinfolk magazine and spoons made from unwieldy rustic wood and ceramic that you can’t actually comprehend for what their use could possibly be, including ruling out decoration alone because they were in the spoon section of the cutlery draw implying some kind of practical application; but it seems like it’d be nice. I’ll tell you something though, it felt good to use the phrase “it’s a little lavish, but I call it home” in such a rightful setting. (That’s a quote from a 1940s noir film called Laura, it’s a really good film, because it’s called Laura, but I believe it’s actually widely-regarded as good based on other merits as well.)

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title from: A New Argentina, from the musical Evita. I cannot believe I’ve never actually listened to the original concept album that preceded the stage show; it has chewy-voiced Colm Wilkinson (who played Jean Valjean in both the UK original and Broadway transfer casts of Les Miserables) as Che, singing like his mouth is full of chestnuts and stretching his words like spandex attempting to encase a sturdy thigh when he’s all “let them have their freedermmm” (this is…praise.) I also love how Julie Covington as Eva has this slight crack and whisper in her otherwise plummy voice, it’s ever so appealing. I also recommend my broadway idol Julia Murney’s take on the title role: don’t let the sight of her stiff wig, somehow giving an air of reluctance at having to do its job despite being entirely insentient, put you off, because her voice and acting is splendid (did you know her vocal cords vibrate at two different speeds, actually – I’ll shut up now.)

music lately:

Ariana Grande, No Tears Left To Cry. This is such a good song! She sounds so in charge and confidently relaxed and I love how the cadence and chord progressions have this really early 90s Janet Jackson sound. I’m also a huge fan of tempo changes in a song. Which No Tears Left To Cry has, I wasn’t just stating that about myself for no reason.

Gary Numan, Trois Gymnopedies. Dreamy.

Idina Menzel, Not A Day Goes By. My other Broadway idol, absolutely trampling all over Sondheim’s intensely delicate and sorrowful song during a live show in 2002, by all accounts (that is, the youtube comments) her pop arrangement is an insult to the song, but! While, I grant you, her take on it is melodramatic, I adore it. The metallic rasp of her voice, the way she BELTS lines that are supposed to be almost whispered, the utter lack of subtlety is its own kind of vulnerability. She even says at the start (in another bootlegged version I have, not the one I link to) “I’ll probably get thrown into prison for this.” THAT SAID, you literally cannot go past Bernadette Peter’s definitive porcelain-about-to-shatter interpretation. Every decision – the pause before “and dying”, the way she folds her arms in “day after day after day” – is quietly devastating and not to be mistaken for weakness – “the full length velvet glove hides the fist”, as another Broadway song cautions us.

Blood Orange, You’re Not Good Enough. This 2013 song keeps sounding like it was released like, last week.

Next time: I took some photos of recipes from the fancy cookbooks at the fancy house and am hoping to try at least one out this week. 

As always, I gently but committedly encourage you to sign up if you’d like to receive these blog posts sent to your inbox before the average pigeon on the street gets to read them on here.  

rye whiskey makes the band sound better, makes your baby cuter, makes itself taste sweeter, oh boy

I would be filled with consternation and a rage as hot as the fire of a thousand French fries about the monogamous relationship I’ve drifted into with my concussion if doing so didn’t require so much energy. Previously, on the TV show that I self-absorbedly regard my life to be (and please read this in the solemn tone of the “Previously, on” voice over artist of your choice) I relayed the tale of how I fainted and whacked my head and as such have not been up to much at all other than sleeping and going to work, well guess what, I have nothing new to report!

But I refuse to let this slow me down, achieving such (topically!) Olympian feats as walking two blocks to the chemist to get my passport photos taken before having to go back home for a nap.

Even previously-er, I mentioned that I was the proud recipient of a place in the finals of the Perfect Blend cocktail competition, held by Beam Suntory; this week I’ve had my cocktail available at work and it’s like…really fun! I mean I love anything where I get the opportunity to draw attention to myself, it’s not often that the opportunity is fairly legitimate and not just me being all, with neither context nor requisition, “look at me!”

 (Look at me!) (also lol I screencapped this from instagram and there’s still the scroll left dots at the bottom) (also my massively talented friend  Ryan Dominico  took this photo!)   (Look at me!) (also lol I screencapped this from instagram and there’s still the scroll left dots at the bottom) (also my massively talented friend Ryan Dominico took this photo!)

Anyway I’ve cooked precisely one (1) thing this week and that was a coffee cake for my Frasier food blog, and yeah you should definitely go read it, but delicious as it was I couldn’t exactly double up on the recipe here, that would be a move lazier than even I could countenance (I was not so lazy that I didn’t end up looking up “the shortest distance between two points is called what” to illustrate this, uh, point, and found an Archimedes quote being all “it’s a straight line”, like COOL STORY Archimedes, of course it’s a straight line, this is not a compelling quote, stick to excitedly getting in the bath, mate.)

As such I thought I would, since I occasionally foray into drink recipes on here, cocktails being one of my true loves in this life (unlike my frosty and passionless relationship with my concussion!) share the recipe for my competition cocktail – the Wry Aside – with you all. You can now, should you choose, make it yourself at home or indeed, in any location. Yes, it involves some significant legwork and the procurement of several alcohols, but if nothing else I’m hoping this will give a little insight into the building of a cocktail and the process I took to achieve this drink of mine. Plus, having a recipe with multiple sub-recipes nestled within it makes me feel extremely Dominique Crenn-esque, a feeling that can’t be had enough, quite frankly.

Wry Aside

a recipe by myself

Beetroot purée: 

  • three large, fresh beetroot
  • a dash of olive oil
  • roughly a quarter cup of lime juice 

Set your oven to 180C/350F. Trim the tops and tails off the beetroot, slice them roughly into quarters, and place in a roasting dish. Drizzle with the scantest amount of olive oil and bake for around 40 minutes, although check them occasionally, until they are slightly crisp and wrinkled without and extremely tender within. Using a high speed blender or whatever similar appliance you have on your person, blitz the beetroot with the lime juice (mostly there so that the motor doesn’t stress out completely. Transfer this into a jar and refrigerate till needed. 

 Blackberry and Pink Peppercorn Liqueur 

This is really more of a highly alcoholic syrup, if you want to actually drink it on its own I would add sugar to taste, rather than to my specs.  

  • Two cups frozen blackberries (I mean, I assume this is how you’re going to get them, fresh is A-ok) 
  • Two tablespoons pink peppercorns
  • 600ml overproof Jamaican rum  
  • white sugar 
  • two tablespoons citric acid

Put the blackberries, pink peppercorns, and rum in a non-reactive mixing bowl or jug. Cover and leave for at least six hours or overnight. At this point, give it a good stir, mashing up some of the berries to release as much juice and color as possible; then strain it into another jug. Weigh this liquid and add the same weight of white sugar, plus the citric acid, stirring to dissolve it. Refrigerate till needed.

 Beetroot Garnish

  • one small, fresh beetroot

Slice the beetroot into thin discs. Roast slowly in a hot oven or better yet, place them in a dehydrator until crisp enough to hold their shape. If you’re going to dehydrate them, cut a slit halfway through each slice, if you’re roasting the slices you can cut them when you need them. Either way, this slit then slots onto the coupe glass that you serve the drink in, a bit like a lime wheel or something, y’know?  

To make the cocktail: 

  • 50ml Jim Beam Rye
  • 15ml sweet vermouth (not one that’s too sweet, mind) 
  • 30ml blackberry and pink peppercorn liqueur
  • two heaped barspoons of beetroot purée  
  • 25ml freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 5ml lime juice

Shake everything hard in an ice-filled cocktail shaker or jam jar or whatever sealable vessel you have to hand (I’ve used a biscuit tin once when things were really desperate) and double strain (that is, use a small sieve held over the serving glass to make the texture silky smooth and to remove any bits of beetroot and such) into a coupe glass. Stick a wheel of dehydrated beetroot on the lip of the glass by way of garnish.

That’s ALL you have to do!

  (photo again, by  Ryan Dominico ) (Thanks, Ryan!)   (photo again, by Ryan Dominico ) (Thanks, Ryan!)

So yeah, there’s a lot of prep involved to get to the moment where you actually get to drink the damn thing, but I wanted a drink that was thoughtful and that didn’t have any chance of being replicated previously, as opposed to pedantry for the sake of it. I adore rye – the Sazerac is my favourite cocktail of all time – and I wanted the dry, slight spiciness of the Jim Beam Rye to be met with sweetness and earthiness: the beetroot thing was more about trying to capture the nutty caramelised flavour of roasted beetroot rather than just willfully flinging vegetables at random into a cocktail shaker. I love the gentle warmth of pink peppercorns and the juicy tartness of blackberries, I also liked the dovetailing of similar colours even though obviously the peppercorns don’t actually lend any tint to the liqueur. But anyway! You can read more about the story behind this drink at the World Bartender Day website (you have to enter your date of birth, then click on the Perfect Blend button, then the NZ button, then scroll down to find me but IT’S THERE) as well as checking out the other dazzling finalists and their drinks. There’s a mighty decent number of finalists from Wellington, I’m super proud to be part of it all alongside so many friends. Oh and non-negotiably but only if you want, come get the drink off me at my place-of-employ, Laundry Bar.

The finals themselves are on April 16th, and yes, I hear you gasp, that is the day before my birthday! Whilst I’m like, deeply competitive and winning stuff is definitely a hobby of mine, I also really extremely love public speaking and so like, getting a microphone and an audience? Best birthday ever already.

Oh and if you are all, I can’t believe this blog post is over! What next for my life? Then may I direct your attention to my blog post about the time I made vegan gin sours with aquafaba; the time I made Fernet-Branca ice cream; or the time I went to Hanging Ditch and tried a ton of their cocktails.

title from:  Rye Whiskey by the Punch Brothers, a rambunctious and foot-stomping and admittedly cautionary tale via the medium of bluegrass. 

music lately: 

After mentioning that I was going up to Auckland to see Fall Out Boy this March, a customer at work gave me a list of bands I should listen to and like, they were all such good recommendations! To pluck but one from this list I’m going to recommend in turn that you listen to American Football and their song I’ll See You When We’re Both Not So Emotional, which like…lol.

It was Rihanna’s birthday recently and on social media at least it felt like the whole world was celebrating, as well they might be! Love on the Brain is just one of the most beautiful songs on earth.

next time:  If I’m not feeling more energetic and recovered from this concussion I’m going to do absolutely nothing about it, aren’t I!!!