to play for peanuts in a dive and blow his lungs out

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You might have noticed that this has been a quieter month as far as receiving blog posts from me goes, obviously I was in Wellington for two weeks at the start of September, but – immediately upon arriving back on the bucolic scene with my parents, my laptop started having fainting spells and gasping urgently for its smelling salts with all the purposeful hysteria of Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Considering I’ve had this laptop since 2011, considering I’ve dropped it from a great height onto concrete, considering I don’t think I’ve turned it off manually once in nine years, I feel it had a good innings – but even in light of this noble service it was nevertheless an enormous financial and emotional (because of the financial) outlay getting a new one. I was in fact quite petulantly distressed because I’d just for the first time in absolute years managed to get together a semblance of a savings account and was planning to do things with that money and now instead I had to make a large quantity of it disappear and start from scratch again. I know it’s like, literally how life goes that you have to spend money on stuff you wish was free and then you die, but does this mean I can’t be grumpy about it?

In an unprecedented fit of maturity, once I’d acknowledged and held space for that petulance, I decided to reframe the situation in a positive way. My laptop is my livelihood so there’s no question of not getting a new one. It just is what it is. And furthermore, it’s great that when something goes wrong I have the means to fix it myself! This time last year I would not have been able to afford a new laptop, I would’ve had to resort to writing these blog posts in my own blood on a wall and then inviting you all one by one to read it while I solemnly ate a biscuit in the corner, saying “this is a statement…about my bank statement” or something, and tried to remain conscious. Instead, here I proudly am with a new laptop that weighs as much as a tic tac, ready to write until its keys are worn away to a smooth nub. I mean they’re already pretty smooth due to the ergonomic design but…you know what I mean.

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Cooking when my parents aren’t home means an opportunity to put a lot of chilli in everything – not that I actually have an enormous tolerance for heat, but my tastes are exponentially more spicy than my parents, many of you out there can handle exponentially more than me, and so on. I made the African Peanut Stew from Rachel Ama’s Vegan Eats – I’d been thinking about it since I first got this cookbook. It’s a recipe from Sierra Leone and a favourite of Rachel’s mother, whose father is from there, and Rachel made this vegan version for her. Sometimes when you’re anticipating making a recipe you end up accidentally over-hyping it, but this one exceeded all internal excitement from the tastebuds of my brain’s imagination.

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Rachel Ama’s African Peanut Stew

A recipe from her book Rachel Ama’s Vegan Eats.

Paste

  • 2 onions
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek
  • 1/2 – 1 fresh red Scotch Bonnet, deseeded
  • pinch salt

For the stew

  • 1-2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 500g sweet potato, peeled and cubed (I used orange kumara)
  • 1 x 400g tin black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 fresh red Scotch bonnet chilli, whole but deseeded (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste or puree
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 500ml (2 cups) vegetable stock)
  • 125g natural peanut butter
  • 200g spinach, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Coriander, chopped spring onions, extra chilli, to serve

Note: my local supermarket is not terribly well appointed; in place of black-eyed peas I used canned black beans, in place of fenugreek I used a teaspoon of curry powder, since it contains fenugreek and overlaps with some of the other spices, and in place of the chillis I just used plenty of chilli sauce.

First, place all the paste ingredients in a good processor and blitz into a coarse paste.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or frying pan. Spatula all of the paste mixture into the pan and stir it over a medium heat for about ten minutes. It should looks a little thickened and caramelised.

Add the sweet potato, canned peas or beans, the extra chilli if using, and the tomato puree and stir it all together. Then pour in the canned tomatoes, vegetable stock, and peanut butter, season with salt and pepper and stir to combine it all thoroughly. Cover with a lid and bring to the boil, then lower the heat and let it simmer for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. I found that it spluttered quite a bit over the high heat and one of those mesh guard lids was ideal for letting it cook away but without bubbling over.

Remove from the heat and stir in the spinach, letting it wilt in the stew’s heat. To serve, stir in the lemon juice and any extra seasoning you think it needs, and sprinkle over coriander and sliced spring onions and chillis. As you can see from the photos I only used coriander, you can of course suit yourself.

Rachel recommends serving the stew with a salad, or with slaw and plantains, I had it just on its own and it was perfect but I absolutely co-sign her suggestions.

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This stew is so delicious, it’s substantial and rich with rambunctious flavour from the spices and chilli and ginger but also this mellow, sweet earthy creaminess from the peanut butter, and fresh sprightliness from the coriander and lemon. It’s so easy to make – all in one pan – though there is a food processor to clean – and fast, but it tastes like you’ve spent days slowly creating it. Naturally, it tastes even better the next day, in fact I ate some cold with a teaspoon while standing in front of the open fridge just now (you know when you kind of zone out and then come to in front of an open fridge with a mouth full of food?) and it still tastes incredible in that state. If you don’t have the spices already there is definitely a bit of shopping involved, and it uses a lot of peanut butter, but once you’ve got all those things stashed in your pantry this is a fairly straightforward and relatively inexpensive way to make an enormous hearty meal that feels – and tastes – like a feast.

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If you’d hitherto been on the fence there has now literally never been a better time to directly support me and my writing through my Patreon; joining allows you access to exclusive monthly content written just for you including the archives of what I’d been writing before you joined up, being responsible for me being responsible for myself, could there be a more responsible choice than that?

title from: Cornet Man by Barbra Streisand from the Funny Girl stage musical (the number was rudely cut from the film adaptation.) There was an Idina Menzel version that she did at a live show that was removed from YouTube but which I listened to so many times I can still hear it in full in my mind, but Barbra’s original is wonderful, a real showcase of her showstopping voice in its prime, with all her best quirks – a conversational self-deprecating tone, her incredible growl on “can’t take the place of a horn,” her silky vowels stretching like melted mozzarella and her effortless belting.

music lately:

Some Things Last A Long Time, by Daniel Johnston. RIP ❤

Let Me Be Him, by Hot Chip. Do you remember in the 90s when you heard Tell Me When by Human League for the first time on the radio and you were like “wow,” well this soaring and lush song has similar exhilarating energy but without the nineties production that to our discerning current-day ears now sounds a bit like music from an educational video game for children. Also if you hated Human League in the 90s that is also valid and you should still listen to Let Me Be Him. I myself have no real feelings towards Human League and didn’t even know that Tell Me When was by them until like a year ago when I googled it after remembering that I really enjoyed listening to it on the radio in my cousins’ car literally one time because they lived in Auckland and could actually get radio reception and that is the true 90s experience!

We Care A Lot by Faith No More, the earlier Chuck Mosley version – Mike Patton is good but Mosley’s sludgy congested vocals go straight to my veins and I love that messy guitar riff and surly drum beat, this is just such a fantastic song, somehow hostile and rude yet welcomingly dance-able at the same time.

Next time: I also have all the ingredients recipe to make Rachel Ama’s Jerk Mushrooms and Caramelised Onions, you might well be seeing them here.

you know that i liked you, jack

Vegan Jackfruit and Chickpea Curry

This week’s blog post got completely sucked into the vortex that was, well, this week, on account of my working on Saturday and Sunday at Laundry bar in a cameo role (since I no longer work there for real) during the CubaDupa festival. I couldn’t tell you with any real certainty what CubaDupa actually is but I do know for sure that it means Laundry becomes about as crowded as a mid-level Balkan EDM festival except in a small licensed Wellington premises and as such my brief return was both required and, I hope, welcomed. I was also cat-sitting for a friend at the time and am now cat-and-dog-sitting for another friend, it’s all just been comings and goings and that’s why I completely missed writing a blog post, although to be fair it’s somehow already halfway through Friday and yet! I still have traces of a heat rash on my neck from dancing for many hours after my shift finished on Sunday while wearing a $2 shop choker? So I’m really no clearer on how linear time works at all.

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I made this curry for Jason and I – Jason, who also has a dog and cat but who is simply allowing me to stay at his house between other pet-sittings and heat-rash-gatherings, just to be clear – on Tuesday night. I’ve been finding myself drawn, of all things, to idle scrolling across the ebbing and flowing tides of Pinterest, I’ve also been oddly transfixed by sped-up faceless cake decorating videos on Facebook, even though the results all look inedibly dry and packed with fondant, there’s something strangely soothing in their anonymous competence. I think it’s a bit simplistic to surmise that in difficult times we seek the reassuring – true though it may be – I think it’s really just that I’m a bit weird and get obsessively hyper-focussed upon the most pointless things, and it’s the intense focus itself that’s calming, the subject doesn’t matter. But it just so happens that I found a recipe for a butter chicken-esque vegan curry while I was in one such state of tunnel vision, and while what I ended up making was different, I appreciate the jump-off point that it provided. Much as I feel like Stacey in that scene from Gavin and Stacey where she’s like “Gav, will you laugh at me if I get a korma”, I freely admit that butter chicken sauce is like…completely delicious. It just is. And I was genuinely delighted at how much this recipe evoked it.

Vegan Jackfruit and Chickpea Curry

Jackfruit and Chickpea Curry

Inspired by this recipe from earthchick.com.au.

  • 1 can young jackfruit in brine
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1 can coconut cream
  • 1 can tomato puree (or tomato passatta)
  • 1 large onion, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 2 tablespoons rice bran oil (or similar)
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1cm thick slice of fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced
  • 2 teaspoons ground fenugreek
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons mustard (wholegrain or dijon or American or whatever)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons ground almonds
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (or lemon juice)
  • salt, to taste, but like, plenty
  • cooked long grain rice, fresh coriander, and cashews to serve

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and gently fry the onion till lightly browned, then add the garlic, ginger, and all the spices. Drain the can of jackfruit and – cutting up any larger pieces if need be – tip the entire thing into the pan. Follow this with the drained chickpeas and the tomato puree. Let it simmer away for fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally. Finally, stir in the vinegar, mustard, and sugar, followed by the coconut cream and ground almonds. Allow it to come to a simmer, taste to see if it needs anything more – salt? sugar? cumin? fenugreek? – then serve over bowls of rice, sprinkled with cashews and coriander leaves.

Feeds 2-3.

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I think the most important things in this recipe are as follows: firstly, if you don’t have fenugreek then go out and buy some, because it has this beautifully sweet-savoury flavour that is difficult to replace. Secondly, don’t leave out the sugar. If anything, add more. The sweetness gives balance and depth and ties all the spices together. Thirdly, try to let the tomato puree really caramelise in the saucepan, this will give you intensity and richness of flavour. Next, just keep tasting. Maybe it needs more salt, maybe more sugar, maybe more cumin, maybe just rakishly empty some more fenugreek into it. Finally, if you can’t find canned jackfruit then I would add an extra can of chickpeas but I love their textures together – the gentle fibrousness of the jackfruit with the grainy nuttiness of the chickpeas. Jackfruit is often incorporated into vegan recipes as a meat substitute because of that texture but here I’m not too fussed about whether or not you think it’s chicken, it just tastes really good smothered in sauce. Finally-finally, you may notice that there’s not a lick of chilli in this – I was pleased by the notion of an aggressively mellow curry with warmth from the spices but that otherwise did not put up a fight: feel free to add chilli of your choosing at any and all stages of cooking it. As it is, it’s so creamy and full-bodied and richly sweetly flavoured and comforting and I think I’m going to be making this a lot over the coming winter. And leftovers are, I assure you, fantastic cold, from the fridge, eaten standing up, out of whatever container you stored them in.

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(Since Ghost the dog has had such a presence in the last few blog posts, I thought it was Ariel the cat’s time to shine.)

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(Come back, Ariel!)

title from: JC, by Sonic Youth. I love its crunchy chewy droning guitars and the sullen urgency in the delivery of its poetic lyrics.

music lately:

Secondo Coro Delle Lavandaie by Roberto De Simone, I heard this during TV Disko’s set at CubaDupa and I have been obsessed ever since, it’s so pulsating and makes me feel like I’m running through a jungle, like, you can feel the pupils of your eyes expanding as you listen to it.

Everything Old Is New Again, by Peter Allen but specifically as it’s used in the film All That Jazz. I read an extraordinary article about Bob Fosse today which got me onto watching this, I’d always known – of course! – how influential he was, but I really wasn’t across how he was a real piece of work. In his film extremely thinly fictionalising his own life, Ann Reinking, his real life partner at the time, plays the thinly-veiled-Fosse character’s girlfriend and performs with his character’s daughter in this sweetly touching yet expansively leggy piece of classic Fosse choreography. It’s so meta it almost leaves a bad taste in the mouth but nevertheless Reinking was just born to dance, wasn’t she? (Also this film is amazing! Jessica Lange as an angel of death? Leland Palmer? A young John Lithgow? Wallace Shawn? Cliff Gorman playing a thinly-veiled version of Lenny Bruce in a film-within-a-film based on a film that Bob Fosse really did work on starring Dustin Hoffman based on the Broadway play that starred Cliff Gorman? Ben Vereen?!)

30 Century Man, Scott Walker. I already talked about this extensively last week but I’ve nevertheless listened to this song specifically so many times. His Sinatra via, I want to say, Dean Jones voice just slides right into my amygdala like a missing jigsaw piece.

Next time: I’ve already got another recipe up my sleeve so no matter how much pet-sitting or dancing or working I do this weekend I won’t end up losing half a week again, or at least that’s how I presume it will pan out.

PS: Thank you to those who have been supporting me via Patreon! If you like what I do and want me to be able to do it more, then indeed please consider signing up. A couple of dollars per month from you not only stokes the fires of my ability to write but also gets you exclusive content in return, such as a review of every book and movie that I consumed in January or an essay about what star sign I believe each character from Gavin and Stacey is.

New Mexico ain’t bad Lord, and the people there, they treat you kind

Vegan Carne Adovada

Despite having lived a substantial quantity of my life before social media ever wrapped its tentacles around me in a way that felt like love, no one could deny that I’ve thrown myself quite whole-heartedly into it since. Nevertheless I was like, how do I explain the premise of this week’s recipe? Inspired by a tweet I saw? That wasn’t even directed at me? But I guess it’s pretty simple, really, because social media is EVERYWHERE. When I went home for Christmas Mum and Dad were talking about a local Facebook group that is like Craigslist, community noticeboard, judge-jury-and-executioner and then some all in one that started off as a simple meme page. And I was like yeah, there’s one of those where I live but it’s the reverse, initially for students to offload their Psych 101 textbooks and now it’s kind of a Wellington meme page YET also the only conduit I could or indeed would fathom of for like, getting rid of a mattress. And I’m pretty sure every town has one now!

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I count myself lucky to follow so many people on Twitter who seem genuinely incredible, most of them women, and who will so casually drop the kind of powerful or powerfully hilarious tweets that entire teams of television writers would weep hot tears of jealousy over. And while Minka, the person who wrote the tweet that inspired this week’s recipe, is 100% in this category, the tweet itself was highly innocuous. It was December 4th, it was Minka tweeting to someone else the simple words “IMAGINE VEGAN CARNE ADOVADA” – that’s all! I’ll be honest, I was not feeling particularly wonderful that day and definitely not feeling imaginative. But the tweet stuck in my head, to the point where I would literally hear it as if it were a song’s lyric, and at last I decided to actually, well, imagine it. Am I saying Minka’s tweet cured my depression? I’m not not saying it?

Vegan Carne Adovada

Vegan Carne Adovada

a recipe by myself but inspired directly by this recipe of J.Kenji López-Alt and this recipe from I Am New Mexico.

  • 4 dried ancho or poblano chiles (I used 5 large dried Anaheim chiles as this was alas all I could find), seeds and stems removed
  • 4 whole chipotle chiles, canned in adobo (I used the La Morena brand)
  • Zest and juice of a large orange
  • 5 prunes
  • 3 cups vegetable stock (by which I mean, use your preferred stock powder to make this) plus 1 cup extra
  • 1 heaped tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or similar
  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1 can of jackfruit in brine
  • 1/2 cup of flour or cornflour (use the latter to make this gluten-free)
  • plenty of olive oil, for frying
  • 1 large onion, peeled and roughly diced
  • 6 large garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup or date syrup
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Plenty of salt and pepper to taste
  • Warmed tortillas, coriander, rice, to serve

Step 1: The Sauce

Heat up the dried chiles in a large frying pan, till they are aromatic but not smoking. Add the prunes, the zest and juice of the orange, the canned chipotles (don’t rinse them), the vinegar, the nutritional yeast and three cups of the vegetable stock, and bring to the boil. Let it bubble away for ten minutes, and then remove from the heat. Carefully blitz the lot in a blender to form a thick red sauce, and then transfer this to a large mixing bowl. You might find it easier to scoop out all the solids and blend them with a small quantity of the liquid before adding the rest, either way just be careful about blending hot stuff. Stir in the cumin, oregano, maple syrup, bay leaves, and a good pinch of salt and pepper, and set aside.

Step 2: The Stuff in the Sauce

Wash and dry the saucepan and heat up about three tablespoons of olive oil in it. Trim off the stem and then cut the eggplant into rough cubes and chunks, and fry them in the hot oil till dark golden brown on all sides. Tip them into the bowl of red chile sauce and return the pan to the heat.

Now, gently fry the onion and garlic in the same pan, perhaps adding some more oil if it needs it, stirring occasionally and allowing it to soften and turn golden.

While this is happening, thoroughly drain the can of jackfruit and using your hands, pull the pieces of jackfruit into smaller segments. Don’t throw away any seeds or whatever, it’s all good stuff.

Transfer the onion and garlic into the bowl of red chile sauce with the eggplant and get on to frying the jackfruit. You want to heat up another few tablespoons of olive oil in the same pan, and dip each piece of jackfruit into the flour before throwing it into the pan. Your aim here is to leave the jackfruit for long enough that it caramelises and turns golden on all sides – this will take some patience and the flour will go a bit scungy in the oil but it’s worth it for the end result. When the jackfruit pieces are golden brown and the fibrous edges look good and crisp, throw the whole lot, including whatever flour-oil gunk is in the pan – into the bowl of red chile sauce.

Step 3: Marinating, cooking, actually eating

Cover the bowl of red chile sauce and refrigerate for a couple of hours or overnight. When you’re ready to cook it, set your oven to 150C/300F and transfer the carne adovada into a baking dish. Give it a taste to see if it wants any more salt or anything. Use the extra cup of vegetable stock (or honestly just tap water is fine by this point) to sluice around the bowl that you’ve been marinating everything in, to catch any remaining sauce, and tip this over the contents of the roasting dish.

Bake for around an hour, or until everything looks rich and saucy and a little caramelised from the oven’s heat. Serve however you like – heated up tortillas, coriander, and rice is a good start.

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Without exaggeration, I honestly think this is one of the greatest recipes I’ve ever tasted and were it not for Minka’s tweet I’d have missed this opportunity completely. I’ve never been to New Mexico (where the dish originates) and am by no means familiar with New Mexico cuisine; I had in fact only hirtherto heard of Carne Adovada via Minka’s other tweets about it. With this in mind, I strenuously emphasise, that while I created the recipe that you see above, it is completely and directly based on the recipes that I linked to – one quite complex, one very simple – and I’m just a culinary tourist from a far-away land, rather than any kind of expert in this particular field. Nevertheless, allow me to respectfully explain myself.

In order to emulate the pork that is normally used in Carne Adovada (and I know carne means meat but I’m not about to do something gross like calling the recipe “car-nay”) I went for a double-pronged approach: darkly fried cubes of eggplant, oily and melting and rich; and then jackfruit, coated in flour and fried till golden and crisp: this provides that mild sweetness and, for want of better words, meaty fibrousness. Jackfruit is (a) a revelation and (b) really inexpensive and pretty easy to find these days, however on its own it felt a little un-luscious, hence the pairing. Both of these were marinated overnight in a ketchup-thick sauce made hot with papery, blood-dark dried chiles and smoky little canned chipotles and aromatic with cumin and oregano. I used prunes to sweeten the sauce because it’s what I had and I also felt they had a kind of meatiness to them, but you do what suits – one of the recipes I referenced used raisins, while the other recipe didn’t include any sweetening agent at all.

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The final slow bake in the oven makes the sauce so, well, saucy, and it’s all smoky and hot in this complex-yet-straightforward way and the eggplant and jackfruit melt and pull apart in your mouth and it’s all full-bodied and lush and while there’s a few steps involved it’s unbelievably rewarding and almost meditative to prepare each part of it. Now, when I try to make an existing recipe vegan my aim is more to evoke the abundance that meat or animal products provides rather than “this tastes like meat”, but…it doesn’t not taste meaty, you know? By which I mean I think this would and should be happily received by absolutely anyone. Thank you, Minka!

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Speaking of social media and providing spectacular content for free; this seems as good a time as any to tell you that I’ve started a Patreon page for my writing. Patreon allows you to be a modern day Patron of the Arts, magnanimously bestowing your literal money upon those of us who create in return for (a) a certain glow that I can merely assume only comes from having money and (b) the promise of exclusive content for your trouble. There is no sense of obligation or expectation placed upon any of you individually, it’s just sheer opportunism – like, if I can get money off someone then I might as well get money off someone, you know? And it’s a whole lot easier to be inspired, by tweets or otherwise, when you can comfortably pay rent. So, I entreat you to consider joining this exclusive band of money-havers, but if you don’t I’m not going to like, stop blogging, I would however like to stop talking about money just one time.

title from: White Freight Liner Blues, by Townes Van Zandt, whose despondence is to my ears like electrolytes are to, well, wherever they go – the blood?

music lately:

Last Week in HTx by Megan Thee Stallion, look her up!! She has so many good tracks but I love the way the “bitch I’m from Texas” line in the hook anchors everything in this song.

Thursday Girl, by Mitski, this song literally ruins me and YET I’ve also made a playlist on Spotify that only has this song on it and no one has stopped me, so. I’m obsessed with the nineties singer-songwriter Natalie Merchant buzz on the fourth refrain of “tell me no” in the chorus.

Venus in Furs, Velvet Underground. So throbbing and hypnotic! I’ll never forget the look on my boss’s face when I was playing it really loudly at the tiny German bakery that I worked at in 2006 and they walked in and without saying a word turned it off and then left and got in their car and drove away.

Dues, by Ronee Blakley, from the amazing Robert Altman film Nashville. Blakley performed this in the film as her character Barbara Jean but she actually wrote it herself in real life, and while several of the songs from the film are meant to be satirical of the country genre, this is just a beautiful and achy waltz and very, very real.

Next time: possibly a cocktail but also it’s been too long since I’ve made ice cream, right?

you need to understand there’s nothing fake about this

I’m highly impulsive, all things considered. If asked to come rob a bank, I’d probably shrug and say “well i haven’t got much on this afternoon, so yeah, why not.” Commitment however, is harder. I start ideas and forget them or leave them dangling, half-formed. Creative side-projects, rituals, routines, I can’t even begin to count how many I’ve gotten excited about and then just as quickly dropped. (This blog is one of the few things in my life I’ve managed to maintain, it’s turning ten years old in October.) I don’t know what I want, all I know is that I want it all, and sometimes I worry so much about not knowing what I want that it turns into a weird argument in my head over nothing. On that note, I’ve been thinking heaps lately about whether I want to become vegetarian or even vegan. I feel better when I’m eating lots of vegetables and cook mostly vegetarian anyway. My lifelong hyper-tolerance to dairy seems to be waning somewhat. The environment is like, a dystopian nightmare and we should do what we can to help it. But I can’t quite make the leap to committing. 

So I’ve decided to leave that question for now and just carry on as per usual, because I’m working on this thing at the moment called “not creating non-existent problems to get anxious over because you’re going to be anxious over IRL stuff anyway so seriously, get out of your own way”. 

To that end, here’s a vegan recipe for you, presented without any further overthinking. Jackfruit is being widely celebrated on the internet as a miraculous meat substitute; its cooked texture is incredibly juicy and fibrous like actual animal flesh, and it absorbs flavour beautifully. However, I’m not out here looking for meat substitutes. I’m just looking for good food, which this extremely is. Without being all, “this is vegan food that even meat-eaters can enjoy!”, this recipe for pulled jackfruit is like…unreal levels of delicious. No matter what your primary food source is. 

This unassuming fruit, which has been cooked prolifically in South and Southeast Asia for centuries but is just starting to hit the nation of White Moms on Pinterest (which is, I freely admit, where I come in) offers an incredible textural experience that’s hard to achieve in vegetables – a real chewy, fibrous (that word again, it’s kind of gross sounding but you know what I mean), cellular density, with heft, and richness, and, well, meatiness. On top of which, cans of it are way inexpensive and it has a wealth of vitamins and minerals and other stuff necessary to keep your body from crumbling into a pile of dust. I saw one of those Buzzfeed cooking videos that everyone shares on Facebook showing how to cook this fruit into “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” levels of submission, and it looked easy enough, so I thought I’d give it a go. 

The prevailing wisdom is to smother your cooked jackfruit in barbecue sauce before roasting it, however I have a weird quirk whereby I enjoy all the components of barbecue sauce, but actual commercial stuff makes me feel queasy (it’s something to do with bad associations from a drunkenly consumed Hell Pizza, I believe). Hardcore American barbecue sauce is all good – you know, the kind that has a picture of a horse holding a gun on the bottle and is called something like “Sweet Sammy Applebuttock’s Family Favourite”. That’s kind of hard to come by here in New Zealand though. With that in mind, I mix together a collection of things to make a flavour approaching barbecue sauce, but if you’re less delicate than me you could just tip in half a bottle of supermarket stuff and be done with it. 

And again, again, I can’t emphasise how amazingly delicious this is. Once you remove it from under the grill, half of it is all juicy and sauce-smothered and then the parts that have been scorched and caramelised are crunchy and crispy and oily and it’s all just kind of heavenly. I bought some plain steamed buns from the same supermarket I got the jackfruit from (Yan’s, if you’re in Wellington like me) microwaved and halved and stuffed the pulled jackfruit into them and it was a transcendent experience. I’m pretty obsessed, I can tell you. 

pulled jackfruit

a recipe by myself, the cooking technique is by no means my discovery though

  • two cans of green jackfruit in brine
  • olive oil
  • six cloves of garlic
  • one cup (250ml) vegetable stock (literally just water and stock powder) 
  • two tablespoons American or Dijon mustard
  • two tablespoons tomato sauce
  • three tablespoons maple syrup (or brown sugar, or honey if you don’t mind it)
  • one tablespoon soy sauce
  • one teaspoon ground cumin
  • a dash of ground cinnamon

Set your oven to 240C/450F. Put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a shallow roasting dish and pop it in the oven to heat up while you get on with the jackfruit itself. 

Drain the two cans of jackfruit and slice each wedge into thinner segments. Roughly chop the garlic cloves and cook them in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan over a low heat until they’ve softened a little. Tip in the jackfruit and stir briefly, then add the vegetable stock and raise the heat. Let the jackfruit simmer for about ten minutes, then remove it from the heat and using a wooden spoon or whatever implement you feel, mash the jackfruit roughly so that you have lots of fibrous bits and some still-solid bits. 

In a small bowl, mix together the mustard, tomato sauce, maple syrup, soy sauce and spices. Tip all of this into the pan of mashed up jackfruit and mix it together thoroughly. Remove the tray from the oven and (carefully, because it might spit) transfer the jackfruit from the pan onto the tray in an even layer. Pop it in the oven for about fifteen minutes, then change the oven setting to grill and leave the jackfruit for another ten minutes or until you have lots of caramelised browned crispy bits. You could move the tray up a level so it’s closer to the grill, but keep a close eye on it so it doesn’t burn. 

Eat however you like. 

It’s a while since I’ve been so damn jazzed by something, and I’m probably going to make myself sick of it before long, but I’m enjoying being obsessed at the moment and can’t stop thinking up different ways of using this magical fruit. 

My other obsession currently is almost equally as wholesome: I’ve got back into reading books. I’ve always been an alarmingly fast reader and would get out up to forty books at a time from the library as a child, but then, I had a lot more time on my hands. Between a full time job, the entire internet at my fingertips, and the attention span of a goldfish that’s accidentally taken some Class A drugs, I kind of fell off the whole books thing. So there’s a lot of concentration involved. But I feel like it’s doing me some good – using my brain for something that’s not a screen for once, escaping into another world and being far away from myself, absorbing other peoples’ ideas, that kind of thing. I’m averaging a book a day: The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes by Chris Tse, The Abbey Girls Again by Elsie J Oxenham, Iceland by Dominic Hoey, Les Enfants Terribles by Jean Cocteau, and Anastasia Ask Your Analyst by Lois Lowry. I’m pretty pleased with myself. 

Meanwhile, I have more cans of jackfruit at the ready in my pantry because this is all I feel like eating for the foreseeable future. At least I can commit to something.

title from: Our Lady Peace with their song Clumsy. Of this song, the band says “you can be destructive without being malicious by being clumsy” and I’m like, metaphorically tagging myself on Facebook under this sentence because it’s so relatable. 

music lately: 

In further relatable news, I’ve been enjoying Cheer Up Try Hard Tear Up Cry Hard by Wellington artist Alexa Casino. You can listen to more songs if you click on that link, which I highly recommend you do with your time.

The Look by Roxette, ugh this song is so perfect.  

next time: SAFE TO SAY probably more jackfruit? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

nana’s hatchapuri (georgian cheesebread) 

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

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

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

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

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

root vegetable stew with saffron, cinnamon, and turmeric

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

music lately: Dirtbag Disco edition

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

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

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

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

 

i’d have the cheek to say they’re equally as bleak

slow cooked beef cheeks with cinnamon and kumara
I have achieved a lot this week, which I’m very proud of, because – as I’ll tell you soon as see you – I’m really only awake and functioning for around 90 minutes a day when I’m not at work. None of this changes the fact though, that I’m honestly a bit sad about one thing that I can’t achieve my way out of, whether or not I’m awake or asleep or thriving or unthriving: Wednesday the cat has gone. Gone to live at the Cat’s Protection League, so she will be a league-protected cat, but it’s so sad to not have her stupid wee half-moustached face and crooked broken little tail around. What happened was, the flatmate who was catsitting her had to move out to be nearer to her job (which is also a major bummer since she’s lovely) and couldn’t keep her, and the rest of us remaining were unable to keep Wednesday so the only real solution was to send her off. If I was around more or was not the sole person responsible I’d adopt ten million cats but I’m just not at home enough to give a cat the attention it needs (and then entirely ignores) so…that’s that. 
However, having Wednesday around for just one happy month was wonderful, so let’s cue a montage: 
holding paws

boop

arabesque

my favourite look: business cat
Better to have loved and lost than never to have had a cat at all, right? Again, I know this might sound all overwrought (and if there is a thing to be wrought, I’m first in line to do it overly) but Wednesday appeared just when I was reaching the zenith of my climb up Cat-Longing Mountain and the utter blanketing joy of suddenly having a soft little animal around was just just just so lovely.   
Anyway! Life goes on and luckily there will be other cats out there for me and also I have dear friends close by who own animals of varying degrees of willingness to be snuggled, so yeah. This may sound all very stupid and self-indulgently whiny but do you even know how I feel about cats? I FEEL.

*Goodbye To You by Michelle Branch playing on a constant loop* 
Speaking of things that are good to have in bed in the middle of this snappishly cold weather; I recently made my first proper slow-cooked casserole thing of the Winter (it’s not even technically Winter yet but Wellington cares not for your seasonal timelines.) Whilst sleepily wandering around Moore Wilson one morning I saw that beef cheeks were incredibly well priced – like, $5! – and I grabbed some, surmising that the time had come for me to get back into cooking such things. I’d never cooked using beef cheeks before but figured there couldn’t be much to it, and about this I was highly correct.  

Seriously, the only stressful thing about cooking this is that you need a lot of time. But during that time the house smells so completely incredible, that you can zone out and come to and feel like you’ve wandered into some enchantingly bucolic French bistro when in fact you’re just sitting in your Newtown kitchen playing idly on your phone while wearing tights that have holes in places that are, shall we say, not amenable to being public-facing, and a stained hoodie that you slept in and haven’t changed out of yet. So yeah, it takes time, but look at it this way, this is a recipe that you can achieve things to: put it in the oven and then get on your laptop and write, or tidy your room, or do whatever it is that you ought to be doing, and then you are rewarded with a mouth-quiveringly good feed.

I based this recipe on a few things that I found online, purposefully going with a recipe that doesn’t use any alcohol, despite how enticing the thought of braising this meat in Pedro Ximenez or a bottle of red wine was. On my current budget I just can’t bring myself to the point of tipping a whole ton of wine into a pan, when I could be drinking it. It makes me feel all flinch-y. This recipe simply uses cinnamon – one of my very favourite scents and flavours – and stock, and lets the beef itself do the rest. Leaving any wine you might have to be poured straight into your mouth (or like, use a wine glass, you adorable heathen.)

slow-cooked beef cheeks with cinnamon 

serves two to four people, depending on appetite and what is served with. 

around 300g beef cheeks (or more, whatever) 
butter
one onion
one good size orange kumara, or half a butternut squash
250ml beef stock (ideally from a carton, but use a cube if it’s all you’ve got for sure)
two cinnamon sticks

Set your oven to 150 C/300F. Slice the onion into thin half-moons and dice the kumara roughly. 

Heat an indescriminate amount of butter in a small frying pan (around a tablespoon is fine if you need someone to make this decision for you) and sear the beef cheeks on both sides, for around a minute each side, just to brown them. Once brown on both sides, remove from the pan and sit them in a medium-sized casserole or baking dish. Then, add a little more butter to the pan and gently fry the onion and kumara (you may need to do this in batches) until the onion is softened and the kumara is a little browned and crisped in places. Tip all this into the casserole dish on top of the beef. Finally, pour the beef stock into that same pan and allow it to come to the boil. Carefully pour this over the beef, onion and kumara, nestle the cinnamon sticks in amongst all that, cover with either a lid or tinfoil, and then place it in the oven. Leave for around three hours, and then serve, over rice or some kind of potato situation or simply with plenty of bread and butter. 

It seems almost impossible that a method so simple that you’re barely touching the food as you cook it, could taste so deeply delicious, but such is the joy of slow cooking. The meat was so tender I could literally slice into it with the edge of a spoon, and half-heartedly at that. There is a wonderful stickiness to this, from the gelatinously rich meat to the warmth of the cinnamon and the sweet, slightly scorched kumara. Actually I should mention now that beef cheeks have long been a very unfashionable cut of meat and are only really now coming into prominence – in the same way that lamb shanks did a few years back – but honestly they’re so, so good and fulsomely rich in flavour that they practically deserve to become overpriced restaurant food. Also, it’s all so arbitrary, right? I mean, rump steak is a fancy cut of beef but I mean, it’s the rump. You’re literally eating a cow’s butt?

On that note, I had it pointed out to me by some rakish wag (my dazzling girlfriend in fact) that if you say “beef cheeks” out loud it’s weirdly hilarious and uh, yeah, I agree. Beef cheeks! I don’t know, but giggles ensue! Immature of me, yes, but in my defence, I am very immature.

More sensibly, you should know that the leftovers of this are quite incredible heated up and stirred through hot pasta – ideally pappardelle for that hearty ragu vibe, but all I had was linguine and the meat, shredded roughly, with the pasta absorbing the gelatinous stock and some extra butter that I threw in because I’m incapable of doing anything else, was sublime. 
Despite living the catless life currently there is still SO much to look forward to: Pretty Little Liars, aka one of the most important TV shows in the Western canon; returns next week and so does the webseries of my heart, Carmilla. Also, next Monday morning (around 9.45am I believe?) I’ll be on Radio New Zealand talking to Jesse Mulligan about food, which should be rad as. I love being on the radio! And wherever Wednesday is, I love her too and am glad I got to meet her at all. 
*Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds plays on loop* (ps oh man thanks for bearing with me, ya girl is maudlin)
_____________________________________________________________________
title from: Arctic Monkey’s moody Do Me A Favour. Those guys!
_____________________________________________________________________
music lately: 
Walk Through The Fire, from the musical episode Once More With Feeling from Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Yes. I am at the stage with my Buffy-watching where I got up to the musical episode. Verdict: oh I don’t know, I think I want to/have to watch it like seventeen more times before I can properly calibrate my feelings on it (what I’m saying is I love it)
VCR, The XX – their music just makes me feel all warm and safe, it’s so dreamy and low-key. This is one of my very, very favourites of theirs. 
_____________________________________________________________________
next time: I know it’s freezing but I made some rum’n’raisin ice cream the other day and it was honestly the nicest thing I’ve tasted in forever. So I ate it all. In one go. But I’m going to make it again and let it hang around long enough to take photos of this time! 

girls girls get that cash, if it’s nine to five or shaking that ass

Every winter I forget how to take photos when it’s dark outside, but decided I liked the mysterious moody what’s-her-story vibe that I ended up getting from these ones.

Tomorrow is my last day of work. The day after that is my birthday. Let’s face it, I am both commanding and exuding some serious special snowflake-ness right now.

With that in mind – the sentence could actually end there, like, just always keep in mind that I am a special snowflake, but actually I did have more to say than that – I have installed a donate button, just on the offchance that anyone feels like supporting me fiscally. Then, after Easter, I’m going to start featuring sponsors. Sponsors being the elegant blogger word for advertising.

This may make my blog seem less authentic or more cluttered to you or something, but honestly, everything is advertising. Why, I’m advertising myself right now just by getting you to read these words. Furthermore, money is useful and nice, and I’m sure you can relate to that.

Don’t for one second feel like you’re obliged to click the donate button, it’s mostly there in case some opportunistic rich person looking to burn through some cash just to feel something real happens to wander past and like what they see. It simply doesn’t hurt to have it there. I adore this blog and while I’d love it to be my primary source of income…somehow…I’ve been more than happy thus far to throw myself at it with every resource I have. But considering I’ve been writing it since 2007, and again, I’m going to be unemployed from 5pm tomorrow, I am entirely chill with my new gimme-the-loot attitude. Plus I’m only going to be collaborating with lovely, cool sponsors, in case you’re worried that you’ll start seeing ads for margarine.

And so, to the food. I made up this recipe in my head as I wandered around the vege market on Sunday. Considering I’d been kept up till 3am on both Friday and Saturday night by fun and good times, I feel I definitely deserve a bouquet of flowers for just being able to put on pants and make decisions like this. But honestly, it’s barely a recipe, it’s just vegetable A on vegetable B on vegetable C, and what motivated it was the freezing weather and the thought of having the oven on for a long time to warm up both the house and the soul.

I tend to blast eggplant with as high a heat as possible, but figured that slow-cooking might break it down in an equally appealing way. And, forever keeping texture in mind, I decided that it needed some kind of contrast, which is where the fried cauliflower comes in. It was all very easy, it worked, and it tasted wonderful. By the way, you can arrange the eggplant and butternut however you feel. My alternating slices felt more pleasing than typical lasagne-style layers, but it all gets covered in cauliflower and falls apart when you spoon it onto your plate. If you still need to arrange them really specifically even with this in mind, I can most definitely respect that.

slow roasted eggplant and butternut with fried cauliflower

recipe by myself.

1 large butternut
2 medium eggplants, or one large one, or literally whatever
1/3 cup cream
1/2 cup vegetable stock
olive oil
butter
half a cauliflower
thyme leaves

Set your oven to 160 C. Slice the eggplant and butternut into rounds. This will be harder with the butternut, just do what you can. I had lots of half-moon scraps that I just tucked underneath everything else. Layer them up how you please, pour over the cream, the stock, and plenty of olive oil – a good couple of tablespoons – and roast for two hours, although check at one and a half if you’re impatient.

Melt at least 25g butter in a pan till it’s sizzling. Roughly slice the cauliflower florets into tiny pieces and fry in the butter, not stirring too much, till they are all dark brown and crisp and crunchy. Remove the dish from the oven, sprinkle the cauliflower over evenly and scatter with thyme leaves. Serve immediately, because the cauliflower will lose its crunch if you leave it sitting too long. Oh and PS, you could replace the cream with more stock and the butter with more olive oil if you want to make this vegan/dairy-free.

I was nervous before I started eating it that I’d somehow failed at putting vegetables in the oven. The liquid hadn’t reduced down much and some of the eggplant looked unpromisingly undercooked. But I was wrong. Which means I was actually right in the first place. The bottom layers slowly absorb the stock, and it was all excellent: butternut softer than the plush underside of an expensive persian cat, yieldingly silky eggplant, buttery nutty popcorn-crisp cauliflower. You can add a zillion more things to this – mustard, nuts, more cream, more herbs, spices, bla bla bla, but I felt like being lazy and letting the flavour of the vegetables shine. Plus there’s butter, and sometimes that’s all you need.

As I said, the liquid doesn’t reduce down very much, so ideally you’d serve this over rice or couscous, or just something that can absorb it all and which you can squash the butternut into with the prongs of your fork. But just as is: super cool.

I feel like I say this a lot lately, but thanks for the kindness following my mega-bleak post last week. While I’d like for you to not have to worry about me (apart from in the “is Laura famous enough yet? Whatever can I do to make this happen? Let’s talk about our top 25 favourite instagrams of hers” kind of way) it also doesn’t sit right with me to be falsely perky simply to attempt to reassure you. It’s not like I’m the only person going through stuff here, I just happen to be very open about it on the internet.

Who could possibly be falsely perky while eating pizza while wearing pizza socks? Admittedly I always get some existential angst going on around my birthday – about how I have this one day, and I have to make it the best it can be and not waste a second and have the time of my life and have I achieved anything lately and so on, but am hoping I can trick this one into being low-key yet excellent. Could also go for dramatically excellent, as long as there’s some excellence involved.
title via: feminist icon, rap icon, general icon Missy Elliot dispensing sound financial advice in her song Work It. “Ain’t no shame ladies do your thing, just make sure you’re ahead of the game.”music lately:

PJ Harvey, My Good Fortune. This song has been with me a long time and remains so, so good with that zig-zag guitar riff and the ey-ey-ey-ey stretching out of the words that is so perfect for dancing to.

Patsy Cline, Walkin’ After Midnight. This song is everything.

Trip Pony featuring Jaykin, Daze. Dreamy dreamy dreamy.
 
next time: hopefully things will be looking even further upwards, and I can get some cool baking done over the easter break.