hang on to this, stay and stay and fail and fail

Look at this beautiful photo of this terrible ice cream

Though we are as a society perhaps too hysterical about many things up to and including the internet, the influence of said internet can nevertheless have its undeniably shady side: maybe your toddler wants lip filler injections, maybe you lie awake fretting about how you’re not doing yoga in Prague like everyone else, maybe you read alt-right blogs. Or maybe you see a photo on Instagram that inspires you to try making ice cream out of canned beans. Which I did try. Three times.

For though I was thrice let down by these ice cream recipes like Peter denying he knew Jesus three times in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, I am not going to pretend it didn’t happen, like Peter denying he knew Jesus three times in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. Firstly, I put in so much effort and what’s the point of putting effort into anything if you don’t get to tell everyone about it, and secondly, you, the reader, may at least learn what to extremely not do when making ice cream. Thirdly, I’m fairly confident many of you don’t even read this blog for the recipes, and fourthly: let’s face it, failure is kind of funny. You know when you screw something up and you’re like “we’ll look back on this one day and laugh?” Well, I’m already laughing and it only just happened.

Your suspicion serves you well, Ghost

So what went wrong? The theory of Occam’s Razor would suggest that my first misstep was TRYING TO MAKE ICE CREAM OUT OF CANNED BEANS but like, there could be more to it than that. The first batch, as I recounted at length last week, was based on chickpeas and tasted somewhat affrontingly yet not surprisingly and ultimately overwhelmingly like chickpeas. Fine! I said, in the manner of Lisa in the movie Fame changing her major to acting and pretending she never wanted to dance: I’ll try a different bean! Butterbeans are mellower and creamier, their very name has a soothingly evocative sound, and I even tried adding melted dark chocolate to really mask the flavour. First, I blitzed the drained beans in a high-speed blender till they were velvety smooth, then I added oil and sugar and stirred them into the brine that I’d drained from the can and whisked into frothy peaks with sugar and cream of tarter, because – fun fact – the liquid from any canned beans will act like egg whites if you whisk them with enough intent. Stirring in the chocolate made the mixture thicken rapidly and resemble chocolate mousse but it seemed promising. I then made some cookie dough and stirred it in and bunged the lot into the freezer and waited six to eight hours.

It looked great, and so I scooped some into a dusky pink coffee cup and took photos of it in pleasing tableaux around the house and then finally tasted it. It was…strange? Really sweet and rich and definitely chocolatey but not at all like ice cream and while I didn’t think you could taste the beans it still somehow was a little stressfully granular, as though you could sense with your tastebuds that it was guiltily hiding something. I gave some to Kate, and I was all “it doesn’t even taste like beans!” and she quietly replied “yes…it does.”

Further taste tests solidified my opinion that it wasn’t bad, just a little troubling, which when it comes to food…is bad. I deduced scientifically that the thing making this frozen dessert taste rueful and self-deprecating was a lack of liquid – it seemed more like cold cake icing than icy, creamy, uh, ice cream.

I agree.

So I resolutely ploughed ahead with a third batch: this time with no chocolate or cookie dough to distract from the matter at hand, just a simple vanilla ice cream, made using the same divide-and-conquer method of blending the beans with sugar and oil and folding them into their own whisked bean brine with plenty of vanilla essence and a full 250ml of oat milk. The mixture looked creamily promising and when I took it out of the freezer six to eight hours later and ran my spoon across its surface it looked winningly exactly like ice cream: thick and frosty and scoop-able and creamy and I tasted it and oh my god it tasted like beans the entire flavour profile was beans it was just beans it somehow tasted more like beans than the original untouched beans in the can, just BEANS BEANS BEANS and I was like…well, no one can say I didn’t try.

This is not to say that there aren’t successful recipes out there for bean-based ice cream. There undoubtedly are, and they probably involve large commercial kitchens and slightly more high-tech ingredients and knowledge than I have. There just definitely aren’t successful recipes for bean-based ice cream sitting in Kate and Jason’s freezer right now.

It’s my birthday on Wednesday 17th and I’ll be turning 33. As I noted, somewhat aghast, to my friend Charlotte who herself turned 33 last week, this means we’re no longer in the age bracket where Paul Giamatti would fall in love with us in an indie movie, we’re instead becoming the age of his unwhimsical pursed-lipped wife, probably played by Maggie Gyllenhaal or Kristin Wiig, that he cheats on in order to discover himself (next stop: you inevitably become Paul Giamatti’s mother, a role which will be played by like, Laura Linney, or Maggie Gyllenhaal in precisely two years time. If she’s lucky.) I’m having a small dinner party the day after my birthday where I’m going to be cooking for a select group of people that I really like, and I am pleased to note that neither Paul Giamatti’s opinion of me nor my failed attempts at this one particular varietal of ice cream are holding me back from feeling anything but excited and confident, I am delightedly devising a menu and can’t wait to feed everyone and nevertheless, absolutely none of it will involve ice cream. I think it’s just for the best.

(PS: I’M FINE about all this obviously but if you need reassuring that I can make ice cream, I recommend reading my recent-ish posts for Rosé Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream or Black Salted Caramel Ripple Ice Cream.)

PS should you be all like Laura! How can I mark the occasion of your birthday? I would say hey! You don’t have to do that at all! And now that I’ve got that fake demurring out of the way, I would say you can become a Patreon patron and directly support my writing! And in return you can receive treats in the form of content written exclusively for you! So it’s like a birthday present for yourself in the long run. But mostly for me.

title from: Heaven Or Las Vegas by Cocteau Twins. Elizabeth Fraser’s voice! It’s the sound of moonlight, the sound of water hitting the point of freezing, it’s undoubtedly what Handel was listening to when he wrote the Hallelujah Chorus.

music lately:

I watched the fourth and final season of musical comedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and like, I’ve watched a LOT of TV shows about people with mental health issues and I’ve never seen depictions as accurate as this, let alone with regular Stephen Sondheim references. Parody music can be like someone telling you about their dream, like, I get why you’re excited, but it’s not REAL, but these songs are REAL skilful in their execution and the fact that co-creator and star Rachel Bloom wrote like 150 of them over the show’s series is genuinely incredible. I particularly loved Don’t Be A Lawyer from this season which cleverly jacks New Jack Swing and the earlier, surprisingly incisive Love Kernels (“how do I know he really loves me? I guess the only way to prove it…is with abstract symbolism”) and its spiritual successor, Without Love You Can Save The World which matches its faux-hippie-folk sensibility with choreography right out of Twyla Tharp’s playbook. This show is kind of gruelling even if you’re into musical stuff but it’s so rewarding.

One Beat, Sleater-Kinney. The drumbeat and the overlapping voices in the chorus are so satisfying.

Another World, Richard Hell and the Voidoids. The verses are all slumping and shambling and then the chorus is so simple and sweet and then it ends sliding all over the place again, I just love him so much!

Next time: As I said I’m going to be cooking a birthday feast this week, so my next post will likely feature recipes from that night. Actual recipes!

little mean things we were doing, must have been part of the game, lending a spice to the wooing

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I started this week making some ice cream out of canned chickpeas based on a photo I’d seen on Instagram, and the whole process was kind of disastrous in that way where you start to wonder if your food is trying to tell you something, like, at first I tried pulverising the chickpeas in the food processor but they were still too chunky and granular so then I was like okay no worries I’ll spatula it into another bowl and use the stick blender, you know, the kind of thing you use to liquidise soups, and all that did was fling chickpea puree everywhere, and then I was like wait! There’s a smoothie blender in the house somewhere, one of those ones that will turn any quantity of vegetables into a silky-smooth and more or less potable liquid; at which point I accidentally misread the thrust of the fulcrum on the stick blender resting on the edge of the bowl by which I mean I flung chickpea puree across the kitchen floor, undeterred I spatula’d what was left into the smoothie maker, which finally did produce the absolutely smooth mixture I’d been seeking, uninterrupted by bits, then I made some cookie dough to stir in and added what I thought the rest of the ingredients should be (some oat milk, some golden syrup, some oil) and then put it in the freezer and realised I’d dirtied every single appliance in the kitchen, including the floor, including myself, and I did the responsible thing and burnt the house to the ground, no, I joke, I just cleaned it all up, and then when I went to taste the now-solidified ice cream six hours later I was like My God…it tastes like cold sugary hummus.

Luckily I had another recipe to blog about.

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But like, back to the ice cream for a second, the curious thing is that I couldn’t stop thinking about it and even though I was pretty convinced it was not the one, I nevertheless ended up eating the entire thing (in two sittings, don’t be aghast) in the hopes of working out if it actually tasted good or not, and honestly I’m still not sure? Like it really tasted like cold chickpeas? But then somehow it tasted almost amazing? And I simply could not stop eating it? If anything I admire the ice cream for not handing itself to me on a plate, for making me chase it, but obviously “deliciousness is a subtext that you have to really work to find” is not what most people are looking for in a recipe so I have returned to the drawing board, I just love ice cream SO much and while I’m perfectly content being vegan, I really do miss the absolute ease with which I could make or access ice cream previously.

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Anyway, this week’s recipe for Chinese Five-Spice panko fried eggplant really does hand it to you on a plate, the subtext is text, it’s straightforwardly delicious and deliciously straightforward. I saw a recipe on Food 52 for something they called Breaded Eggplant Cutlets and decided to make my own version. The main thing that I took from the recipe was the process of leaving the salted eggplant slices to sit for an hour, which is not the sort of time-consuming behaviour I’d normally indulge but it really does have a significant effect, meaning that when you come around to frying the eggplant, the flesh within gets quickly melting and tender while the panko crumb gets golden and crisp. Without the salting, there’s a good chance that the eggplant wouldn’t cook through and you’d end up with cotton-wool polystyrene.

The recipe on Food 52 suggests any number of ways that you can use these slices of eggplant but I chose to have them stuffed into a mustard-smeared supermarket roll with lots of rocket leaves: the sinus-clawing mustard and peppery greens counteract the fabulous oily richness of the eggplant and it’s a perfect lunch, where you’ve put in enough effort for it to feel like you actually care about yourself but it’s not so much effort that you end up crying from exhaustion once it’s done. Chinese Five-Spice powder is one of my favourite ingredients, it’s – usually – comprised of cinnamon, cloves, star anise, fennel, and Szechuan peppercorns, and has this warm, aromatic intensity to it that goes so well with the mildness of the eggplant. The aquafaba, which is literally just brine from a can of chickpeas, works perfectly as glue for the flour and panko crumbs but obviously if you’re not vegan or whatever you could just use a couple of beaten eggs. Panko crumbs are these really light, crunchy Japanese breadcrumbs, they really add to the crisp texture of the finished product and are pretty easy to find in most supermarkets, but if you can only find regular breadcrumbs it’ll undoubtedly still taste good because, well, everything fried tastes good.

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Chinese Five-Spice Panko Fried Eggplant

Inspired by this recipe from Food52.com

  • 1 eggplant, sliced into circles about 1cm thick
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt or other non-iodised salt
  • brine (aquafaba) from one drained can of chickpeas
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 3/4 cup plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese Five-Spice powder
  • 1/3 cup rice brain oil or similar, for frying
  • soft bread rolls, mustard, rocket or similar green leaves, to serve

Firstly, get two pieces of paper towel, and sit the eggplant slices on one of them on a plate. Sprinkle over the salt, lay over the second piece of paper towel, and then place a second plate on top to weigh it down. Leave the eggplant sitting for an hour, then remove the top plate and get rid of the paper towels.

Place the aquafaba in a bowl. Either in two separate bowls, or, as I did, in two piles on the plate that had previously been resting on top of the eggplants, mix the flour and Chinese Five-Spice powder together, and then mix the panko breadcrumbs and nutritional yeast together.

Dunk each piece of eggplant first into the flour, then the aquafaba, then the breadcrumbs, then repeat this process so each piece of eggplant has been twice-dunked in everything. It will be kind of messy and your fingers will get covered in gunk and I’m telling you now: don’t eat it, you’ll be tempted, but just don’t, it’s…not good.

Heat the oil in a good-sized saucepan and fry the coated eggplant slices for a couple of minutes on each side, carefully turning once they’re a deep golden brown colour. Remove to a plate lined with another piece of paper towel, then eat however you like: I chose to spread mustard on some soft white supermarket bread rolls and then stuffed them with the eggplant slices and a handful of rocket leaves.

The amount that this serves depends on how you serve it and how hungry you are, I had two bread rolls with four pieces of eggplant in it for lunch and was pretty content so I guess what I’m saying is definitely scale up if you’re cooking for other people.

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As for the chickpeas that are left from when you drain the can for its brine…just make hummus.

title from: I Surrender, Dear by Bing Crosby. This was one of his very first hits in 1931 and it’s just, you know, some really good rainy day crooner music.

music lately:

The Infinity Room, an album by 36. This is immensely dreamy and swoony, much like the person who recommended it to me. Like, it makes me want to lie down and also get up and dance at the same time.

Old Town Road, by Lil Nas X with Billy Ray Cyrus. Look, this song is everywhere right now and it’s so catchy but in this way where I want to hear all the catchy segments of it at the same time all on top of each other, kind of like when I tried curly fries for the first time and I was suddenly panicky like, I need to cram all the curly fries into my mouth at once in order to truly understand their deliciousness, if I eat them only one at a time it’s too fleeting. It’s hard to imagine now, but curly fries were quite the game-changer. Anyway this song is good as hell and I hope it tops the country charts for a very long time. Yee, and I cannot stress this enough: haw.

Shallow Tears, Light Asylum. It sounds atmospheric yet thrilling, it sounds old yet new, I love those big drums and the singer’s big Depeche Mode-y voice.

Next time: I am actually not done with my canned bean ice cream scheme yet, this heedlessness possibly spurred on by watching a lot of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (“face your fears! run with scissors!”)

PS: a special and heartfelt thank you to my Patreon patrons! I LOVE YOU! If you are not a patron, but you enjoy my writing and want me to be able to do it more, then indeed please consider signing up. A couple of dollars per month from you directly influences my ability to write more and gets you exclusive content in return, like book and film reviews or what star sign I believe each character from Gavin and Stacey is or a recipe for the best vegan scones.

autumn leaves drift by like angels

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Bad things are always happening and we absorb them into our perception of reality without even realising it. Yesterday you were X, today you are X+N(N=new bad thing) and next week you might be X+N+N+N or you might get away with not being this at all, for now. On Friday March 15 a white supremacist terrorist attack happened in Christchurch, where 50 Muslim people who were praying at mosques were murdered by a man with a gun, and now this is the new reality and I can’t remember what it was like to not know this.

This blog post is not going to be about this or about how it’s affected me – that’s not what anyone needs! – but I need to acknowledge that it happened and that it’s added an extra layer on top of us all, like a coating of poison-laced buttercream on an old, stale cake. I will say: everything feels kind of urgent and pointless at the same time, however I am focussing on direct, concrete actions that I can take, because I want to be contributing positively in whatever ways possible. I believe strongly that this is the most important thing that those of us who aren’t part of the Muslim community can do: actual, concrete things. If you don’t have money, it could be time, energy and mental effort. Volunteering, supporting, writing letters to politicians to endorse new gun control measures and to the media to condemn those they employ who contribute to white supremacist ideology. Have uncomfortable conversations, challenge your racist uncle, don’t pretend you can’t see weird posts from your long-ignored acquaintances or workmates on Facebook. Read Muslim writers’ articles and stories. Acknowledge your rising anxiety and be kind to yourself, but examine where you stand in proximity to this tragedy. There’s a good article on The Spinoff that links to where you can contribute money for the victims and their families and places you can volunteer. I want New Zealand as a whole to scrutinise itself, to do better and do more for the Muslim community and in turn for all those who need it. That’s what I have to say.

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This week’s recipe is full of elements that I find comforting but I would like to establish real quick that I’m not equating it with what’s happened in a greater context, this is just what I happened to cook for Kate and Jason for dinner the other night. It’s not like, self-care pasta or anything! Let’s not do that.

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I’m kind of obsessed with roasted butternut squash (indeed, see my recent recipe for sticky roast balsamic sumac butternut and cashews), I love its mellow sweetness and how when you roast it the edges are all crisp and crunchy and the insides are all soft and oily and I really love how it’s about a thousand times easier to slice up than regular pumpkin and cooks quicker too. Parsnips have a similar vibe, only even more mellow and creamy, and together they taste like a welcome payoff for the fast-retreating summer. (Summer actually ended like a month ago but global warming has blurred the edges of that framework and anyway I live in a city with a climate that seems to consider itself cavalierly above the concept of seasons.)

Nutmeg has this soft woodsy scent that merges beautifully with the fresh-cedar-cabinet vibes of the toasted walnuts and then when you add the warmth of black pepper and the smoky sweetness of maple syrup it’s that feeling of winding a long scarf around your neck and over your chin several times and then pulling a beanie low down over your forehead so basically only your nose is visible to the biting cold; but in food form. The garlicky crumbs are a cheap way of adding opulence and richness and the sage – as woody as nutmeg and almost eucalyptus-y – adds to the overall depth of flavour.

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Autumn Spaghetti (Spaghetti with roasted butternut, parsnip and broccoli, maple nutmeg black pepper walnuts and pumpkin seeds, garlicky crumbs, and fried sage.)

A recipe by myself

  • olive oil, plenty, and just regular, not extra virgin
  • 400g dried spaghetti
  • 1/2 a large butternut squash
  • 2 medium parsnips
  • 1/2 a head of broccoli
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons maple syrup
  • a good pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (or a pinch of dried, ground nutmeg from a package)
  • 2 soft white bread rolls (or similar)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (or one finely chopped garlic clove or a teaspoon of garlic from a jar)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato relish
  • 2 teaspoons mustard – Dijon, English, or wholegrain
  • 6 fresh sage leaves
  • lots of salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons or so freshly chopped chives, to serve

Set your oven to 200C/400F. Pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a good-sized roasting dish and put it in the oven to heat up while you prepare the vegetables.

Carefully slice the skin from the butternut and cut the flesh into cubes of roughly 1-2cm, then do the same with the parsnips. No need to peel them though. Carefully tip both of these into the hot roasting dish, spread them out into one single layer, and roast for around twenty minutes. Chop the broccoli up into small pieces – stem and all – and add it to the roasting dish, then return it to the oven for another ten minutes. Pour over more olive oil if it looks like it needs it.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil (I always boil the kettle first and then pour that in, it’s a lot faster), add plenty of salt, and then cook the spaghetti for as long as the package instructions require (around ten to twelve minutes usually does it.) Drain, and stir through the tomato relish and mustard.

While the pasta is cooking, toast the pumpkin seeds and walnuts over a low heat in a frying pan, keeping a close eye on them to make sure they don’t scorch. Transfer them to a bowl and stir in the maple syrup, the nutmeg, and plenty of salt and black pepper. Set aside.

Tear the bread rolls into small pieces and crumbs. Heat three tablespoons of olive oil in the same pan, and tip in the breadcrumbs. Stir over a medium heat till they’re golden brown and crisp. Stir in the garlic powder, then tip the crumbs into a bowl and set aside.

Heat another tablespoon of olive oil in the same pan and fry the sage leaves till they’re very dark, then remove them from the pan and set aside on a chopping board or something. This will only take a few seconds per leaf, I recommend using a pair of tongs to get the leaves out.

Pile the spaghetti onto three plates, then spoon over the roasted vegetables, followed by the garlic crumbs, then the toasted maple walnuts and pumpkin seeds, then crumble over the sage leaves, then finally sprinkle over the chives. Drizzle a little extra olive oil over it if you like, then serve. If the garlic crumbs have got too cold they can quickly be reheated in the pan before you tip them over.

Serves 3 although could maybe stretch to four, just up the quantities a little.

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every good boy deserves pasta

I’m back in Wellington for a couple of weeks which means I’m back staying with the eternally kind and generous Kate and Jason; I cooked this for us for dinner and then – having not taken any photos of it but being quite pleased with myself – made it again the next day for lunch just for me, and made some adjustments to improve it, and that’s the recipe that I’ve written up today. (“oh” – Kate and Jason reading this, probably. Sorry, Kate and Jason, that you got the first draft.) As with all my recipes I encourage you to work with what you have to hand. If you don’t have sage or chives, plenty of freshly chopped (not fried) parsley would be good, fresh thyme leaves also are delicious and evocative of autumn. You could try hazelnuts or almonds instead of walnuts, cauliflower instead of broccoli, and use penne or some other short pasta instead of spaghetti. If you’re using short pasta, you could also let it get to room temperature and serve it as a salad – in which case perhaps consider stirring through some rocket and slices of crisp pear. And honestly, if you’re not avoiding dairy for whatever reason, I freely and slightly gloomily concede that any iteration of this recipe would probably be amazing with some parmesan shaved over.

I’ve been out of work for about a month now and even though I’m still kind of buffeting about on the wind like a balloon, with no fixed abode and no real deadlines to tie myself to; I nevertheless feel like the amount of space in my brain available to being creative has grown tangibly and as a result so has the creative work that I’ve done. Every day that passes seems to make things ever more sharper-focussed which is honestly an amazing feeling. I spent a lot of last year with the low-level hum of panic in my ears about my lack of direction, now I have SO much direction and it’s such a relief. I don’t have any advice on how to make that direction appear any faster than it has, if I did, I wouldn’t have spent so much time panicking, but I suspect…panicking does not help? Do I advise you to stop panicking? I mean sure, and while you’re at it why not turn back the incoming tide by like, kicking it lightly.

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(I was all, Blankets! Candles! Books! Pasta! Autumn! And Ghost was all, “I agree!”)

title from: Park Song, by Laura Nyro. Her voice is so beautifully melancholic, it’s the sound of grey clouds making it dark at 4pm but not so dark that you can turn a light on so you just sit there in the semi-gloom getting increasingly existential.

music lately:

30 Century Man, by the recently-late Scott Walker, it opens with those guitar chords that I can’t describe in a technical sense but where you just immediately know this song’s going to be sad but uplifting and feel like you’ve heard it before and like you’ve never heard it before all at the same time and like it should play over the one happy scene in an unhappy arthouse film where people stare out of windows a whole lot (for example, So Long Marianne by Leonard Cohen and Alone Again Or by Love also have these guitar chords, you know what I mean?)

Poe, by The Shirts. I like that it’s kind of punky and proggy at the same time, by which I guess I mean that it’s punky but goes for over five minutes. Notable for the presence of a young Annie Golden!

Zadok the Priest, by Handel. I’ll be honest with you, this is a good song and all but I’m really here for the first minute and fifty seconds of it which goes SO HARD, with the teetering anticipatory climb of its building chords which, when it finally drops, gives us the choir singing with this incredible anxious urgency of sound. After that it starts to sound more straightforwardly celebratory, all “rejoice, rejoice” but for that first stretch it’s brilliantly tense and exciting.

Next time: I will aim to cook Kate and Jason dinner that’s not a first draft.

PS: If you would like to support what I do and receive exclusive content (such as a review of every book and movie that I consumed in January or what star sign I believe each character from Gavin and Stacey is) then I encourage you to sign up to my Patreon.

give in, give in, and relish every minute of it

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I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge how this week’s post was written in an unprecedentedly comfortable fashion, leisurely strolling over the finish line of the somewhat arbitrary weekly deadlines I laughably set up for myself initially as opposed to the frantic and self-flagellating and days-late content that we’ve all had to get used to, I have possibly lost all semblance of an actual work ethic but I’m really finding it quite delicious how much writing I’m getting done as a result.

When I was a kid there was not a whole lot to be found flourishing in the front yard if you were opportunistically in the market for free snacking: just a mean-spirited apple tree that was more of a body corporate apartment complex for wasps, and one feckless peach tree that bore floury green-tinged fruit. Since I’ve come back home to stay for a bit, however, the place has been since transformed into a veritable Hanging Garden of Babylon, a result of – let the record state – the concentrated efforts of my parents. Like Carlotta in Sondheim’s musical Follies, the apple tree is somehow obstinately still here spitting out weta-lodged apples like Carlotta spits memories – or is the apple tree more like the literal yet also metaphorical apple tree in the Bock/Harnick musical The Apple Tree with its overriding theme of getting what you want and then realising it’s not what you wanted, not a theme I like to be confronted with in life but an undeniably consistent one nevertheless? Nevertheless – let the record state – good god, those apples are sour.

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Nowadays the abundance is really something to behold, there’s onions and potatoes and pumpkins and zucchini and cucumbers and spinach and a whole mess of herbs, and more besides, including a flourishing thatch of tomatoes, 1.5 kilograms of which Mum and I turned into a batch of the most fantastically delicious relish. The recipe comes from a 1990 revised edition of the 1908 Edmonds cookbook, a book that is firmly lodged in New Zealand’s history like a weta in an apple. It conveys a sternly inarguable air of competency, illustrated by its overall lack of illustrations and explanations: just make the recipe, it will work.

As such, it would be very easy to flick past this very recipe on the page, because there’s nothing leaping out to exhort you to spend time making it – but I’m so glad that Mum found it, because the resulting relish tastes extraordinarily good. I enjoy a pickled or preserved confection as much as the next person: that power-play of sweet and salty and vinegary is exquisite when executed correctly, but I am honestly quite next-level rapturous, even by my own standards, about this particular one.

The relish just has this stunning potency of concentrated tomato flavour, so rich and savoury and juicy and almost meaty in its intensity. The curry powder and mustard add to the fulsomeness and depth of it all and the flour, weird though it feels as an ingredient in relish, gives it a wonderfully velvety pectin-like lusciousness. Obviously there’s no reason given for including the flour in the recipe so you just have to go with it and hope for the best, but of course: the book was right. The tomatoes from the garden are candy-sweet and taste like sunshine on their own, but I’m sure this recipe would have transformative effects on even the most unfriendly and unlikely of specimens.

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Edmonds Cookbook Tomato Relish

  • 1.5kg tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes, or a mix)
  • 4 large onions
  • 25g salt
  • 500g brown sugar
  • malt vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons mustard powder
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 2 tablespoons flour

Peel the onions and chop roughly into chunks. Cut the tomatoes, also roughly – either into quarters or chunks or honestly whatever. If you’re using cherry tomatoes give them a rough pressing with a fork or similar to crush them slightly. Place the tomatoes and onions into a non-metallic bowl, sprinkle with the salt, cover, and leave for 6-8 hours or overnight – just in the pantry or generally out of the way, they don’t need to be refrigerated.

Drain off the liquid- reserve it for stock if you like – and place the tomatoes and onions into a saucepan with the sugar. Pour over enough vinegar to just cover everything. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 1 and 1/2 hours. At this point, mix the flour, curry powder and mustard to a smooth paste with a little of the cooking liquid and then stir it into the tomatoes and onions in the pan. Boil for five minutes, then spoon or pour into sterilised jars, seal tightly, and allow to cool.

Makes around 4 standard jam jars of relish.

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Relish can be put to good use in any number of ways but I especially recommend this stuff spread on crackers with equal quantities of almond butter.

Mum and I both set to getting the tomatoes and onions prepared early in the morning and then completely forgot about them until about midnight of the same day, by the time we got the stuff into the jars it was closer to 2am but it felt very relaxed, in that we were not trying to go against the grain of our inherently synced levels of disorganisation and night owl tendencies. The entire lack of urgency, The Crown playing in the background, pottering about with my writing on my laptop while the pan of tomatoes simmers away full of promise: I could get used to this.

title from: The Walk, by Imogen Heap. I love the strange gravel-scraping sound effect at the start of this song, very ASMR.

music lately:

Out Of Space, by The Prodigy. Man, I was sad as hell at the news of Keith Flint’s death, this is one of my favourite songs of theirs.

Juice, by Lizzo. This is sunshine-saturated perfect upbeat 80s funk, I love her.

Getting Married Today, from the 1970 Sondheim musical Company, as interpreted and annihilated by Julie Andrews somehow singing ALL THREE PARTS, from the opening soprano to the almost unbearably anxious patter of the verses themselves to the man’s part, which she goes over and sings TO A MAN who is sitting RIGHT THERE as if to say “look how extraneous you are when I, Julie Andrews, am around”, it’s honestly the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. The verses are so rakishly crammed with words (something like 6.5 words per second) and it’s one of the most difficult songs on Broadway to perform accurately and yet she looks so relaxed and her enunciation is so crisp and she manages to act on top of all of that and perform the words in this oddly personable tone so full of character and inflection despite it being entirely unclear whether she breathes once in the duration. And then she finishes on this high note? That’s not even required? Does she care about any of my nerves?

Next time: undoubtedly the garden will continue to inspire.

PS: if you like what I do and (a) want more of it and (b) will enjoy knowing that you were astute enough to support this from the very start and (c) wish to receive treats, then may I direct you with all the quiet authority of opening a velvet-roped VIP area, to my Patreon.

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!

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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?)

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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! 

forever green, I know she’s here

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Wednesday was so momentous in a way that I’m not sure I can accurately convey other than to hope that as you’re reading this you’re trying to understand what it means to me: I met Nigella Lawson. I was always into food in an opportunistic way but it was seeing her TV show in 2001 that showed me for the first time that food could be a cause of real happiness for not just the eater but also the cook. Without a doubt I would not have started food blogging if not for her, I probably would not have achieved much of anything in fact. If you’ve been reading this blog for even a minute you’ll already know this, but again, it’s just so big for me! This has got magnitude! It needs big mise-en-scène!

How it came together, and I still can scarcely believe that it did, was that Nigella has been on a tour where she will sit in front of an audience and be cushily interviewed and receive questions (not, as I kept accidentally calling it, “in concert”) and Mum and Dad (it was Dad’s idea) displayed the most absolute incredible parenting skills in getting me a ticket to her Wellington date for Christmas.

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Ever since I was a child I’ve always been comfortably and righteously convinced that whatever I’m obsessed with, there is none more so than I in possession of said obsession, and I am afraid to say that I was in this same frame of mind when I sat in the audience, selfishly feeling that my very presence there was so tightly packed with intensity that there should be a secondary audience watching me being in the audience in a Marina Ambracoviç-esque performance art piece. I’m not afraid to admit that I genuinely started crying when Nigella Lawson walked out on stage, before she’d even said a word. And once she did, she was – of course – wonderful. So generous, so clever, so good at making the least of the questions appear to inspire these witty and expansive answers, so warm and lovely and confident and just everything a person could hope for in someone so long idolised.

A couple of days ago I took a plate of food to a potluck dinner at a friend’s house and we spent much of the night staring off their thirteenth-floor balcony, beholding the Super Blood Wolf Moon scooting across the night sky. Now, I love the moon (I have no less than three tattoos of the moon on me and at one point was like “I hope the moon is impressed by this” and didn’t even stop to qualify that I was being humorous or whatever because honestly I think was being sincere) and without wanting to sound like a dick it genuinely felt quite momentous to be in its presence on this night, the moon so swollen and golden and we so relatively insignificant.

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I had this same feeling in the presence of Nigella Lawson, like I was somehow gaining power and energy from her, and while it was probably a combination of hype and restless energy and also lack of sleep – does it make sense to you though? Do you ever see someone and suddenly think “I could achieve anything I want, I need never stand for anything less than what I deserve, and what I deserve is good things, and I could kick a hole in the sky?” If not, have you ever tried standing in front of Nigella Lawson? Is it a coincidence that I saw her in the same week that I saw the Super Blood Wolf Moon? Do coincidences even exist? Will I ever sleep? (I should’ve probably mentioned this sooner but, I wrote this in middle of the night so please bear with me, or continue to at this point.)

Just in case I threaten to float away like a vainglorious novelty balloon, I share with you the following photo which cracks me up but at the time was just seconds away from ruining everything: so, when you line up to get your book signed by Nigella Lawson (as you can see below, that I did), there was a guy standing there to take your phone so he could photograph the moment. But the guy in charge of this important yet straightforward job, somehow thought that the person standing in front of me was my friend, and started to take a photo on their phone. And I was like no, wait, here is my phone, but also don’t you dare distract me from my brief moment with Nigella Lawson don’t you understand my entire life has been mere prelude to this point you actual imbecile – but I didn’t say any of this verbally, not wanting to cause a scene, instead, as you can see below, it was just kind of written on my face instead.

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A beautiful moment.

Luckily I managed to put my own phone in his hands and captured a more sanguine shot of Nigella Lawson and I talking, and for all this talk of being charged with power I was honestly so overwhelmed by being face to face with her that all I managed to do was murmur “you’ll never know how much you mean to me” which to her credit, probably from years and years and years of this sort of carry-on, she received cheerfully, before being hustled away from her glowing, tide-pulling presence.

I brought this week’s recipe with me to the aforementioned potluck dinner; the green beans are but a delicious conduit and the sauce is the real point of the exercise here: you could use said sauce on noodles (udon, I reckon), you could pour it over roast vegetables, you could employ it as a dip, you could mix it with rice, you could use it in a potato salad – but before we get too carried away with its potential, what actually is it? Well, it’s a sauce, that’s green, hence the name Green Sauce. I initially considered it to be both a coriander and peanut pesto and a green satay sauce but also surmised quickly that that would be simultaneously wildly insulting to both Italian and Malaysian cuisine. So: Green Sauce. It does hinge entirely upon your feelings towards coriander, admittedly – I love the stuff, its fragrance somehow earthy yet citrussy at the same time with so much grassy flavour from the stalks. Blitzed into a puree with nutty (of course) peanuts; plenty of rich olive oil, and the caramelly saltiness of miso, this makes for a compellingly punchy and near-instant sauce.

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Green Beans in Green Sauce

a recipe by myself

Green Sauce

  • leaves and stalks from one of those supermarket coriander plants, or from a large bunch of coriander
  • half a cup, ish, baby spinach leaves
  • 1 cup unsalted peanuts
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (though be prepared to add more)
  • 1 heaped teaspoon white miso paste
  • 1 heaped teaspoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice (or lemon if you don’t have lime)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon maple syrup or similar
  • 1 tablespoon cold water
  • Plenty of salt and pepper to taste

To serve

  • 2 cups frozen shelled edamame beans
  • 1 cup long green beans, topped and tailed and halved

Place all the sauce ingredients in a blender and blitz till it forms a thick green paste. Add a little extra olive oil or water (or both) and blend again if it needs to be more liquid. Taste and see if it needs more salt or lime juice.

Steam the edamame and green beans (I put them in a colander balanced on some chopsticks over a pan of boiling water but in fact feel free to simply simmer them in the water itself) – and don’t worry about defrosting the edamame. Once the beans are lightly tender, remove from the heat and run briefly under cold water, allowing them to drain thoroughly.

Tip the beans into a serving bowl, stir through the sauce, and that’s it really. Garnish with a few extra peanuts or reserved coriander leaves if you wish.

As discussed it has plenty of applications but the way I used it – with a double-billing of edamame and long green beans – is delicious, not only do you get the pleasing dovetailing of colour, but the bright, buttery soft crunch of the beans against the fulsomeness of the sauce is wonderful.

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So long in the making, so important.

title from: Velouria by Pixies, not my favourite of theirs but! What a lovely song.

music lately:

I Wanna Sleep In Your Arms by Modern Lovers. Title says it all, really.

The Angel of Death by Hank Williams, its calming waltz time signature belied by the lyrics’ gentle yet sinister persistence.

The Look, by Roxette, a song that is deeply silly and that I also find intoxicating. I remember first hearing it when I was really young and something in the minor key progression and harmonies in the chorus made me feel almost queasy but in a very good way? You know how music does that to you sometimes? (I can’t quite put my finger on why, other than maybe the minor key just genuinely messes with me, but like, for example, Shampain by Marina and the Diamonds has a similar buzz for me.)

Next time: two cocktails!

PS as I mentioned in my last post I have started a Patreon page where you can have the distinct honour of supporting this blog in as small or as large a capacity as you feel like and in return I will create even more content just for you and you’ll be genuinely helping me get by!