roasted chickpea butter

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It’s always been like this, but now I’m vegan it’s more sharpened with the contrast turned up; a certain curtain-twitching nosiness regarding le dernier cri, the recipes which are trending across other people’s blogs, and how to make them my business.

The most recent for whom my curtains twitch is something called chickpea butter, which sounds like it’s going to be hummus but is actually more of a peanut butter dupe. I’ve been metaphorically burned by chickpeas before, although my suspicion really lies within, and not directed towards those blameless legumes – I’ll promise myself the moon and still be extremely surprised when a mere can of boiled beans doesn’t have what it takes to deliver this.

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Admittedly, when I first tasted this stuff – roasted chickpeas pulverised in a blender with salt and oil – I thought I’d made another classic chickpea failure. But then I just, like…could not stop eating it. It’s really good. It definitely tastes of roasted chickpeas, which are delicious, so that’s cool. It’s also astonishingly buttery, with this nutty, toasty backdrop of flavour, richer than peanut butter but less likely to superglue to the roof of your mouth. I love it, and as long as you are clear-eyed about what you’re getting into, I think you will too.

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I’m kind of fighting off a cold at the moment, which feels unfair when I lead such a healthy existence – I mean, I make smoothies with parsley in them! It does at least feel as though I’m as healthy as I could possibly be in these trying circumstances and it’s passing me by fairly quickly; nevertheless I acknowledge that I’m a trifle lacklustre today. If you haven’t already looked at it I recommend reading my previous blog post about Penne Alla Vodka where I was positively effervescent with lustre.

Roasted Chickpea Butter

A recipe I adapted from this one at The Kitchn.

  • 1 x 400g tin chickpeas
  • 1/3 cup rice bran oil or similar plain, but good oil
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon water

1: Drain (but don’t rinse) the chickpeas, and spread them out on a baking tray. Bake at 180C/250F for about 20 minutes, shuffling them around halfway through.

2: Allow the chickpeas to cool to something around room temperature, then tip them into a high-speed blender. Blitz several times until they’re broken down into dust.

3: Add the oil, salt, and water, and blend until it forms a thick paste.

4: Taste for salt and then spatula into a clean jar. Keep refrigerated. Makes around 170g.

music lately:

Marry Me A Little by Rosalie Craig from the 2018 West End revival of Company, one of my very, very favourite musicals, and surely one of the most-revived. But every time they revive it, I just want to listen to the original again. This is the first to gender flip the main role to a woman, which I have my feelings about, but I do like this rendition of the Act 1 closer, a fluttering, soaring song that’s heartfelt and cynical at the same time, its title a shorthand for the main character’s whole deal, and beautifully rendered in Craig’s voice.

We’re Still Friends, Donny Hathaway, gentle but heartbreaking. His voice could not have been smoother had it been put through a vegan’s high-speed blender.

Octopus, Syd Barret. This tune from the erstwhile Pink Floyd co-founder has that classic, roll-up-roll-up Sergeant Pepper Englishness to it, so English you half expect Dame Maggie Smith to appear from behind an ornamental shrub delivering a bon mot, but nonetheless there’s a slight frantic note to it, like a ferris wheel going too fast.

Next time: I still haven’t tried making my own seitan!

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swing from high to deep, extremes of sweet and sour

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While food blogging is mostly just quietly writing recipes and then being largely ignored but feeling a modest sense of peace at your own unswerving constancy and excellence; now and then a recipe comes along that makes you quite sure everything is going to change as a result of it. You’ll one day tell your grandchildren, or someone else’s grandchildren, or your small dog, that this was your origin story, the recipe equivalent of being discovered loitering in a shopping mall by a roving talent scout. I had that feeling with the caramelised tomato spaghetti and the vegan carne adovada this year, I had that feeling in 2013 when I’m quite sure I personally invented halloumi fries, and I’ve got it now with this vegan lemon curd recipe. To be fair, my instincts have never served me particularly well – my mind tells me “all who shall eat this will surely fall in love with me” like I’m some kind of fairy godmother hovering with purposeful menace at Sleeping Beauty’s christening; in reality it’s more like, literally nothing happens and life goes on, and perhaps the feeling of certainty that a recipe is truly next-level amazing is its own reward. (But you know what’s even more of a reward? Actual rewards!)

All delusional entitlement aside, let’s talk about this recipe. Lemon curd is immensely scientific for something one artlessly spreads on toast – the precise meeting point of liquefying solids and solidifying liquids. So how do you achieve this without the usual eggs and butter? In this recipe I’ve employed cornflour and coconut oil for thickening and enriching, but that’s not the part that excited me most. The real key ingredient here, the maverick game-changer, is…

Pineapple juice.

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I’ve long thought pineapple evoked a buttery vibe, without knowing quite how or why – something in the way its flavour fills the mouth – and had planned to eventually do something with this idea. While researching a piece about cocktails with pineapple juice in them for Tenderly, I asked Facebook why the juice goes frothy when shaken up (short answer: it just does, that’s why!) and a bartender friend informed me that both butter and pineapple contain butyric acid, and like Homer Simpson with the ideas of “dental plan” and “Lisa needs braces” swirling around in his head waiting to connect to each other, I suddenly saw before me what might be possible, and this lemon curd recipe jumped into my brain, fully-formed. And I could not possibly be happier with it.

Vegan Lemon Curd

A recipe by myself

  • 1 cup/250ml pineapple juice
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • Juice of one lemon (roughly 1/4 – 1/3 cup)
  • 4 teaspoons cornflour
  • 4 tablespoons refined coconut oil
  • 2 drops food grade lemon oil (optional, but good)

 

Note: the pineapple juice can come from a bottle, but make sure it’s more or less 100% pineapple juice, without any added sugar or like, cut with apple juice. You can of course add the zest of the lemon if you wish, it’s a very good idea, I was using frozen fresh lemon juice so didn’t have any zest to work with. Refined coconut oil means that it’s flavourless. If you can only get unrefined it will still work, but there will be a slight coconutty flavour to contend with. The lemon oil is optional but really boosts the fragrant lemon flavour, obviously. The finished product sets to a soft, spoonable lemon curd, if you want it thicker add another teaspoon or two of cornflour.

Bring the pineapple juice and sugar to the boil in a small saucepan, and let it bubble away for two minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat.

Mix the cornflour and lemon juice together – this helps prevent the cornflour forming lumps – then tip this into the pineapple mixture. Return the saucepan to a low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens – it will still be liquidy but should have some gelatinous body to it. Remove from the heat and thoroughly stir in the coconut oil, and the lemon oil if you’re using it. I found a small whisk ideal for this part as it takes a minute to incorporate the solid coconut oil into the liquid.

Allow to cool slightly then pour into a hot, sterile jar. Refrigerate for at least four hours, or overnight – it will thicken as it cools and the texture will appear more creamy and opaque. Makes one jar, around 300ml.

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The pineapple juice gives you heft, as in, provides the bulk of the volume, and its acidic juiciness dovetails perfectly with the sourness of the lemon without distracting – the lemon is still absolutely the star. The coconut oil with the cornflour-thickened juice gives a rich, satiny texture, but somehow combined with the pineapple juice, and its intense sunshine lusciousness, the whole thing genuinely tastes like lemon curd, and I can’t stop eating it from the jar with a spoon in wonderment at just how tart and sweet and velvety and decadent and completely lemon-curd-like it is. Perhaps even better? Honestly, I think this is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever made in my twelve years of food blogging, and I have nothing else to say about it because that’s all there is to it, really.

title from: Sit Down by James, this song is just so jangly and bittersweet and nice, isn’t it!

music lately:

Destroy The Heart by House of Love. I do enjoy an upbeat song paired with a gloomy vocal, it’s the real sound of the summer. There is this amazing guitar riff that sluices through the melody halfway through, never to reappear: I salute its mysteriousness.

I Wanna Sleep In Your Arms, by The Modern Lovers. I think if I could only listen to one band for eternity these guys would be the main contenders for the role. I love the grubby urgency of this song’s guitar riff and the sheer endearing-ness of the lyrics and Johnathan Richmond’s slightly congested singing voice, with its ad-libs and occasional charming slide into speak-singing.

As If We Never Said Goodbye, Diahann Carroll, from the musical Sunset Boulevard (based on the incredible film.) This is such a perfect musical theatre song, full of resolute controlled triumph, it’s simple, yet completely out of reach for most vocalists. The “I’ve come home at last” line at 3:20 absolutely kneecaps me, such a masterstroke of putting one note in front of the other – part of me wishes that the whole song was just that refrain. The late Diahann Carroll performs it beautifully with richness and vibrato, but I absolutely urge you to also watch Broadway legend Betty Buckley’s exquisite performance – if you jump to 8:04, I got full body chills at the effortless way she held the note on “home” so long that the audience spontaneously started applauding mid-song.

Next time: Now that I’ve tackled lemon curd I think I’d like to try making vegan fudge.

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she saved enough to get back home when spring replaced the winter

 

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Presuming I’m not an unreliable narrator – and we can’t be sure – according to this very food blog I haven’t eaten asparagus since 2014. This would not be particularly worth commenting upon other than the seasonality of asparagus makes it a kind of touchstone to me for the arrival of spring, consuming it is like a tiny ritual heralding both the end of winter and glad days of sunshine to come. I’ve mentioned my intentions to acquire asparagus in every ensuing year since 2014, but it appears to have taken me until today, five years later, to clear this remarkably low bar. Is it coincidence that this timeline coincides with the commencing and ending of my bartending career? Is correlation causation? Are we really saying that eating asparagus is my own personal responsibility along with all my other personal responsibilities now? I can’t keep up!

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Well, whatever the reasons, I’ve got some asparagus today. Unfortunately – and don’t let the sunny look of the photos fool you – it was less of an optimistic spring day and more the sort of horizontal rainy deluge that makes you want to do little more than sit resolutely in a hot bubble bath like a prune soaking in Armagnac. But, you never can tell when personal responsibility is going to hit (infrequently, it would seem) so I ignored the weather and made this decidedly sunny little lunch for myself: roasted asparagus and almond butter skordalia. I went back and forth on whether to call this skordalia when it’s not the traditional recipe, but it’s faithful in intent, for what it’s worth. Skordalia is a garlicky Greek dip that often – but not always! – uses potato and almonds. So does my recipe, just the almond component is pre-pulverised for you.

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Every ingredient plays its part – the potatoes give fluffy, starchy mildness, the vinegar balances and sharpens, the almond butter and olive oil makes it wonderfully rich and smooth, and the garlic makes it garlicky as hell. Together they form this incredibly lush puree that’s perfect for dragging vegetables through or spreading on bread, and it works beautifully with the nutty, grassy flavour of asparagus. If your asparagus is too roasted and floppy to successfully dip, just spoon it over, no harm done. This skordalia keeps well and seems to just get better and better the longer it sits in the fridge: more aromatic, more creamy, more luscious and buttery.

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Roasted Asparagus and Almond Butter Skordalia

A recipe by myself. Serves 1.

  • A handful of fresh asparagus spears (honestly, as many as you want)
  • 2 medium mashing/roasting potatoes
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 3 tablespoons almond butter
  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon white wine or red wine vinegar
  • plenty of salt, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, to serve

Set your oven to 200C/400F and place your asparagus spears in a roasting dish. Drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast for about ten minutes, or until they are slightly browned and crisped at the tips.

Peel the potatoes and cook them in a pan of boiling salted water until very tender. If you wish, you can boil the garlic cloves along with the potatoes – this will make their flavour more mellow. Drain thoroughly, retaining about 1/4 cup of the water from the pan.

Whisk together the almond butter, olive oil, potato cooking water, and vinegar. Your options here are to then use a stick/immersion blender to puree the almond butter mixture along with the drained potatoes and peeled garlic cloves. Or, you can use a food processor, or just a fork to mash and then the whisk – it won’t be aerated and velvety, but let’s not rule it out altogether. I used a stick blender, mixing until it was thoroughly pureed. Taste to see if it needs more salt.

Spatula the potato mixture into a serving dish and arrange the asparagus spears on a plate. Sprinkle over the thyme leaves, and serve.

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As if to double down on the whole spring thing, today is also Daylight Savings, not that I actually even noticed because anything before 10am – okay, before noon – feels like 6am to me and it was still pouring with rain either way. But I was delighted when I woke up to find this travel story I wrote for Tenderly about a vegan weekend in Wellington was published, which I sourced and researched during my visit at the start of this surprisingly long month. As with asparagus it’s also been several years since I’ve written a travel story!

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title from: Tecumseh Valley by Townes Van Zandt, just some classic Townes Van Zandt-y beautiful, mournful poetry. 

music lately:

Landlocked Blues by Bright Eyes, from that perennial hit-making genre of “heartbreaking songs with my name in them.”

Do You Love Me Now, by The Breeders, it’s syrupy and slow-moving but has this dizzying, longing urgency and I just love it so much, especially that come back to me right now refrain.

Shy Guy, Diana King. This song is still so good, like every single particle of it is so joyously catchy and breezily confident. And how great is her pinstripe suit!

Next time: I still have some asparagus left so can really be Present and In The Moment with it and also might still cook something else featuring it to make up for five years of culinary neglect.

start spreading the news, I’m leaving today

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It is tough out there at the moment, you know? I mean it’s always tough out there – it’s slightly reassuring but mostly terrifying to consider the fact that not a single year has gone by without something awful happening – but specifically, the burning Amazon rainforest is really making my brain glitch and my already-mounting anxiety about environmental stuff and the fragility of what time we have within that environmental stuff, ramp up significantly. To get a grip on it, this piece in The Guardian outlines clearly and calmly what’s going on and gives some ways to help – although the forests’ fate appears largely in the hands of like, three tyrannical despots and a handful of abysmally slow-moving world leaders as opposed to one individual not using a plastic bag one time. Which is not to discount the power of that plastic bag. I grant you, it’s a drop in a bucket of water that’s coming to a boil. But still. Do what you can, anything good: plant a lil native tree, write to whichever politician seems most likely to actually read your email, donate to a local shelter or women’s refuge, contribute to the kaupapa of Ihumātao, smile at a dog, ask someone how they feel and then listen to what they say.

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I recently ordered Rachel Ama’s cookbook Rachel Ama’s Vegan Eats as a baseless reward to myself, the warranting of which I assume will become apparent eventually. I mean, someone’s gotta self-indulge me! I was spurred on by a recommendation of Nigella Lawson’s on instagram – Lawson and I already have a kind of jump/how high relationship as far as her opinion and me heeding her opinion goes, but I figured that a vegan recommendation from someone so wholeheartedly meaty held particular weight. Turns out Nigella and I were both correct! This book is wonderful – not least because Ama also has listed songs in it that she listens to while making the food – it’s full of the kind of food I want to eat, and I can’t wait to cook my way through it. I decided to break it in by making something swift and chill, this Chive Tofu Spread, which takes a bare minute to come together and tastes fantastically delicious.

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Rachel Ama’s Chive Tofu Spread

A recipe from the cookbook Rachel Ama’s Vegan Eats

  • 40g raw cashew nuts (about 1/3 cup)
  • 280g extra firm tofu
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil (the refined, flavourless type is best here)
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon garlic granules or powder
  • a handful of fresh chives, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cover the cashew nuts with water and leave to soak for about two hours, then drain.

Drain the tofu and gently press down on it with a paper towel to try remove as much of the moisture as possible. Blend everything except for the chives in a food processor – although I used a stick/immersion blender to make it extra creamy, because I wasn’t sure that I trusted the food processor. Fold in the chives, and serve.

Can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for about three days.

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You might potentially not be immediately drawn to the notion of a bowl of cold blended tofu, but this is so much greater than the sum of its bits: creamily smooth, with a flavour almost approaching soft goat’s cheese, plus a pleasing sour-cream-and-chives vibe from, obviously, the chives. The tofu gives it body and tang and the cashews and coconut oil give it lushness, and I confidently urge you to try making it for yourself. I threw it together earlier this afternoon and it’s already gone: on toast, as you can see above, in vegetable wraps, and the rest taken care of spread on crackers. I would happily double or even triple this quantity in future, and am imagining it spooned into baked potatoes, spread on bagels, stirred through pasta salad, with different herbs like basil and mint; dill and parsley; rosemary and roasted garlic, thyme and roasted garlic; back to chives again but with roasted garlic.

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I want to make it super clear that by talking about both the Amazon and this recipe, I’m not trying to be flippant or imply that cooking makes everything better – although cooking is great – I just tend to think about twelve different thoughts in tandem at any given time and these are but two of them: 1) yikes, the environment and 2) wow, this recipe is great.

If you, like me, are an eager consumer of dips and spreads, I thoroughly recommend these other recipes that I’ve written about hitherto in the last six months alone: Caramelised Onion Butter; Olive Tapenade; Muhammara; Roast Cauliflower Miso Butter, and Butternut Dip.

And if you, like, me, enjoy my writing, you have the option of channeling this enjoyment by supporting me directly on Patreon. A dollar a month gets you an exclusive blog post, two dollars a month gets you that plus further exclusive monthly content and access to everything I’ve already written this year. It’s easy and it’s appreciated!

title from: New York, New York, specifically the smoky, downbeat Cat Power cover. Frank Sinatra’s bombastic original is great, just the kind of song you’d want sung about you if you were a city, but it was the closing time song for a bar I used to go to like four years ago and I’m only just managing to dis-associate it from that “now what, oh no it’s tomorrow” feeling. 

music lately:

Cripple Creek, by Buffy Sainte-Marie, a sweetly exuberant song where she accompanies herself with the water-droplet sounds of the mouth bow. I definitely recommend you watch this video of her performing it on Sesame Street, it’s just gorgeous, and a reminder of her ground-breaking presence on that show. She was the first person to breastfeed on television!

Cheree, by Suicide. You know those songs that you can feel changing you molecule by molecule, note by note? This stunningly fizzy song is somehow wildly exhilarating yet slow moving, like an iron-rich Berocca dissolving in a glass of water.

Next time: I’m still keen to try making my own seitan and am no closer to finding a definitive recipe so please, seitan hive come through!

and now all that remains is the remains of a perfect double act

Literally anyone whose had even the most passing and cursory of interactions with me will be unsurprised by the knowledge that I actively resist, with every particle of my being, planning anything in advance, and for some reason take it as almost a personal slight when I’m required to make any stabs at organisation, folding up dramatically like a pop-up tent in reverse. I don’t know why, I would like to blame it on any number of things that my brain does interestingly which I think I justifiably could, but it’s possibly also just that I’ve allowed myself to become this infuriating? I do suspect that five years of bartending and thus only knowing my roster like the day before I had to actually work has had its place in solidifying this way of being, but I really could try harder. With all this in mind, it was with some major group wrangling that I managed to put in place a date to host the book group that I’ve been a part of since it began in 2010, and then some further wrangling to get me to book flights to and from Wellington so I could actually be there for it. (My friend Charlotte was like, “umm…..have you….booked your flights yet…just a thought…” and I was like “UGH it’s ages away I must lie down now from the exhaustion of being quizzed so mercilessly” but then I looked at the time and it was less than a week away so I just did it and it turns out the effort of doing the task was actually not as bad as the effort of resisting the task? Wild?) So I made it back to Wellington on Saturday at 4pm, and book group happened on Sunday at 2pm, and despite knowing since back in May that it was happening, I did not think about what food to provide for everyone until…Sunday at 9am.

Fortunately, I’m very adept at one thing and one thing only: being very adept at many things. And one of those things is coming up with recipe ideas in a great hurry. I was somehow not terribly stressed by this, probably because food is one of the few things that is not stressful for me, and because though I could’ve planned something sooner, I knew that I would instinctively be able to deliver something at the last minute. As you can see from the photo above, a lot of the heavy lifting was done by store-bought crunchy things, but right on cue, two ideas for dips descended upon my brain at once. The first concept was for roasted butternut mashed into tahini, and the second, slightly more avant-garde concept, was roasted cauliflower blitzed to a puree with miso paste. They were excellent. And because I liked them both so much, you’re getting both the recipes.

The butternut dip takes inspiration from hummus with granular tahini giving it body and ground cumin giving it earthy depth. The texture is creamy and soft and the flavour is mild yet rich at the same time, with nutty sweetness from both the butternut and the tahini. You could definitely use a regular pumpkin but I personally love butternuts, they are so much easier to slice into and they seem to roast up quicker as well, with less of that stringy fibrousness that a big pumpkin can sometimes unwelcomely yield. You could happily consider making this with orange kūmara instead though. If you can’t find sumac, which is a red powder with a fantastically astringent lemon-sour bite, just stir in some lemon or lime zest instead. If you’re stuck for finding tahini I would use almond butter instead, but to be fair almond butter is probably about as obscure as tahini depending on where you’re situated. Peanut butter would work in a pinch, but it will absolutely taste like peanut butter.

The roasted cauliflower miso butter completely delighted me, in that the finished result exactly matched the picture of how it would taste in my brain. Roasted cauliflower has an intense buttery, toasty nuttiness and miso paste has this dense mellow saltiness and together when blasted through the food processor into a softly whipped puree they taste incredible, with an unfolding depth of flavour in each mouthful. I use the term “butter” in the title fairly loosely, it just seemed more evocative than the word “dip” and it has echoes of the caramelised onion butter than I made for my birthday dinner. It was just so delicious. Both of these dips are very easily made simultaneously, if you have a roasting dish big enough to load both the vegetables in side-by-side, but if you’re only choosing one to make, you could certainly consider doubling the ingredients – which as you’ll see, is not hard – and having plenty with which to do your culinary bidding. Either of these would be excellent stirred through pasta, spread lavishly in a sandwich, as the filling in a baked pastry case and topped with something, in a baked potato, or, obviously, just as the dips that I invented them to be.

Butternut Dip

A recipe by myself

  • 1/2 a medium sized butternut pumpkin (also known as butternut squash)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sumac
  • 1 teaspoon salt, to taste

Set your oven to 220C/450F. Slice the skin off the butternut and then chop the flesh into cubes of about 1 inch in size. Place in a roasting dish and drizzle with two tablespoons of the olive oil. Roast for about 20 minutes, or until the butternut is very tender.

Mix the tahini with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a bowl, then add the butternut, a couple of cubes at a time, stirring thoroughly to mash the roast butternut into the tahini, giving you a smooth, creamy puree. Continue mashing and stirring the roast butternut into the mixture until it’s all combined, then stir in the cumin, sumac, and salt. Taste to see if you think it needs any further seasoning, then transfer to a serving bowl. I sprinkled over some pumpkin seeds because I thought it was cute to do so but they are obviously extremely optional.

Roast Cauliflower Miso Butter

A recipe by myself

  • 1/2 a head of cauliflower, sliced roughly into small pieces
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 heaped teaspoon white miso paste

Set your oven to 220C/450F. Place the cauliflower pieces in a roasting dish and drizzle with the olive oil. Roast for about 20 minutes or until the cauliflower is very tender and becoming golden brown in places. Remove from the oven and allow it to cool a little.

Transfer the cauliflower into the bowl of a food processor, and pour/spatula any remaining olive oil from the roasting dish in with it, along with the miso paste. Blitz thoroughly, stopping to spatula down the sides as needed, until it has formed a creamy puree with no solid pieces of cauliflower left in it. Taste to see if it needs any more miso, although I found this amount to be perfect. Transfer into a serving bowl. I sprinkled over some walnuts to make it look like more effort had been expended but this is entirely optional. Walnuts are delicious though! If you have a high-speed blender this will be super velvety, but a regular food processor will still work just fine, it might just take a little longer.

As well as this I made some olive and almond puff pastry pinwheels and did a rejigging of my chocolate caramel rice bubble slice with almond butter instead of the more boisterous peanut butter, and we had a lovely afternoon discussing the book and our lives in that order. (The book in question, by the way, was Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, and it is brilliant.)

It has been extremely lovely to see my dear friends again, including my roommate Ghost, although he was initially unconvinced by the notion of resuming his regular modelling gig. (In case there are any doubts please be assured that he has the range, as his Instagram account will attest.)

But as soon as I was like “the food up here is not for you” he suddenly became interested and attentive again, a process that I have nothing but respect for since that’s largely how I operate as well (in case you thought there was any kind of upper limit on my ability to be infuriating.)

title from: I Can’t Do It Alone from the Broadway musical Chicago. The most well-known version nowadays is the film adaptation with Catherine Zeta-Jones desperately imploring Renee Zellweger through the medium of dance, but while there’s no filmed footage of it I love the zany orchestration of the original cast recording with the legendary Chita Rivera.

music lately:

I Can’t Say No, by Ali Stroker, as performed at the 2019 Tony Awards from the revival production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma. This is a musical that I’ve never felt particularly drawn to, but Stroker has immense chemistry and presence and she just throws her voice so far into the back row and is so utterly compelling in this song that could quite easily be annoying in the wrong hands. She’s not only the first performer on Broadway who uses a wheelchair, she’s now the first Tony Award winner to do so. Hopefully this paves the way for more diversity onstage at that level.

The End of The World, by Sharon Van Etten. This is a cover of the 1962 tearjerker by Skeeter Davis and it’s one of my favourite songs and I love Van Etten’s voice so I’m very happy about this combination. The production feels very gentle and timeless, it doesn’t do anything revolutionary with it but then it doesn’t have to, the song itself is strong enough.

Lazy Line Painter Jane by Belle and Sebastian. When I was a child I read and re-read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and loved it so much and yet somehow I knew that it was all that I would want to read from C.S Lewis and that anything else by him would be left wanting because it wasn’t the one book I wanted it to be, and I feel much the same about Belle and Sebastian: this is the one song of theirs that I wish to hear, but I want to hear it like, five thousand times in a row. It has such an incredible build, starting with this Phil Spector-ish muffled beat that chugs along like an old washing machine as they swap lyrics back and forth between the vocalists, then they come together in this gorgeous transposed harmony, and then just when you think you know all there is to know about this song it breaks into a wordless canter and feels like it’s getting faster and faster even though it’s not and it’s so exhilarating and you never want it to end and I’m practically hyperventilating just writing about it.

Next time: I’m back at Kate and Jason’s until well into next week so, while I’m not sure what I’m going to make, you can definitely expect to see some more Ghost paw-modelling for me.

PS: as you probably know I have a Patreon account where you can directly support me and my writing. Even at the humble level that I’m at now, being on Patreon has had an immensely positive effect on me and allowed me to support myself a tiny bit which allows me to write more and more and more. If you want to be part of this and to receive exclusive content written just for my Patreon patrons, it’s very, very, very easy to be involved.

if I’m butter then he’s a hot knife

I normally put this bit at the end but thought I’d be creative and start with it this time: Patreon! Thank you to my patrons who have been supporting me from the ground up, you are amazing and important and powerfully astute. If you’d like to be included in such praise (and I could go on) then by all means sign up to my Patreon as well, and in doing so you will be able to receive all my content written for your eyes only.

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My relationship with butter is a well-trod path on this blog, from the ten-ish years I spent smothering my personality with it to suddenly pivoting without warning to veganism last year. In October I talked about buying non-dairy butter for the first time (I don’t know why I’m weird about the word margarine but there’s just something so defeatist about the way its spreadably soft consonants sag in the mouth) and to be honest with you, since then I’ve used it very, very little, because though it tasted fine, and was okay in recipes where its flavour could be heavily masked (like Champagne Passionfruit Buttercream or Nanaimo Bars) it did not become exciting or inspiring in and of itself like butter was to me.

And though I like to frame my choice to be vegan in terms of all that I have, and not about what I lack (I mean, I’ve never eaten so many cashews in my life, I couldn’t say that a year ago!) I do miss that capitulation-makingly perfect meeting of flavour and texture and possibility that is real butter. Everything else I’ve happily let go of, and no longer sense any petulant longing from my tastebuds for cheese or bacon or steak or whatever, but butter…butter I sometimes still think of wistfully, y’know, in the form of a montage of the good times we had with Happy Together by The Turtles playing overtop. (Okay I also miss white chocolate and I know it’s not cool but it’s my favourite and I do get sulky over that sometimes. The only vegan stuff I’ve found is inexplicably like $9 and tastes like coconut, change my mind.)

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I had accepted that this was something I was going to just live with as a result of my own choices, which is totally fine, but then I found, or rather, re-found, a recipe for homemade vegan butter that had been sitting on my internet browser since last year. (Yeah, I have 72 tabs open on my browser at all times, which, let’s blame on my ADHD, like when I was a kid and found it impossible to clean my room and theorised that the system worked because everything was on the floor where I could see it, a theory which held no water because with everything on the ground it was of course impossible to find anything, a standard I unfortunately still live by but at least no longer try to justify. Naturally, with this many tabs shoulder-to-shoulder I often forget for weeks, months on end, what I’ve actually got open.) So I re-discovered this tab just last week and decided that the recipe, on a site called The Virtual Vegan, looked as promising as it did upon first click: it claimed to be spreadable, meltable, useful in cooking, and most important, it said it would taste actually buttery.

The key things holding this together are a combination of olive oil and refined coconut oil, by which I mean – and the recipe stresses the importance of this – it’s been treated to taste neutral rather than coconutty, plus ground almonds which somehow dissolve into the liquid but also help give it body and texture. I made a couple of tiny changes: I didn’t have any nutritional yeast and decided to just push ahead anyway, I used red wine vinegar instead of the stipulated cider vinegar because I feel like the former has a certain layered richness to it, and I added a tiny pinch of sugar for balance. It’s easy enough to make – just give the ingredients a good hard blend and then pour it into a jar and wait for it to solidify in the fridge. So I did.

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And…it tastes really, really good. It’s not butter, but it’s a whole lot closer than anything I’ve hitherto tasted. It has that kind of fluttering, mouth-filling sweet richness, that full-bodied tangy creaminess, it just has something that I’ve been missing. Genuine deliciousness! I made toast for the first time all year and spread the butter across and topped it with some Marmite and I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed that simple, unimpeachable pairing.

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Homemade Vegan Butter

Adapted slightly from this recipe at A Virtual Vegan.

  • 1/2 cup ground almonds
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons almond milk or similar (not soymilk or coconut milk, the former is prone to curdling, the latter tastes like coconut)
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup refined coconut oil, melted
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt or 1/2 teaspoon regular salt, to taste
  • 1 small pinch caster sugar
  • a pinch of turmeric for colour
  • optional: two teaspoons nutritional yeast (this will add to the buttery flavour, but I didn’t have any both times I made it and it’s still extremely delicious so don’t you stress if you can’t find it!)

Place everything except the oils into a blender – ideally a high-speed one – and blend the hell out of it till it looks smooth and creamy. Add the coconut and olive oils and blitz till it’s very thoroughly combined. Pour into a large clean jar and refrigerate for a few hours till it’s solid.

I recommend going and reading the recipe at A Virtual Vegan first, as it has heaps of information and recommendations.

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I feel like I want to say sorry to the non-vegans for going on about being vegan and sorry to the vegans for complaining about wanting butter, (I also feel that so much of how I talk about myself is done with an apologetic inflection: I’m trying to be a writer (sorry!) I’m vegan (sorry!) What’s this I’m listening to? Uh, it’s a Broadway musical (sorry!) I’m an Aries (sorry! Both for talking about astrology and for being an Aries.) And let me stop you right there, I hear what you’re thinking: these apologies are both necessary and justified.) If you personally are okay with eating butter then honestly you should probably just keep doing that for as long as you can stand it, but if you don’t eat butter for whatever reason, well, I was highly impressed by this recipe and have gone through two jars of it already. It’s so straightforward to make, the ingredients are all recognisable, it makes a great white sauce, there’s something pleasingly Enid Blyton-ish about butter in a jar, and most importantly, it’s genuinely, properly delicious in its own right. The chorus of Happy Together is getting fainter (and I can now close one of those 72 open tabs.)

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Ghost can’t believe it’s not butter.

(One more thing about being vegan that is possibly not as universal as I initially thought: I am a dewy-eyed sucker for vitamins and supplements but it seems now ever more so and while dissociating at the supermarket I bought this stuff called pea protein which is made from fermented lentils and Kate was like “what’s that for” and I was like “I’ve got to get my fermented lentils somehow Kate!!!”)

title from: Hot Knife by Fiona Apple. This song is extraordinarily good, soft and sharp at the same time with ominous rumbling drums and assertive piano and sparse production and chattering, layered, syncopated harmonies, I love it so much.

music lately:

I recently watched Passing Strange, a film by Spike Lee of the final performance of the eponymous Broadway show in 2008. It comes across more like a rock concept album than a traditional musical, written and narrated by musician Stew about a young black man’s journey of self-discovery in the late 1970s. The plot is so tightly woven into the music that it’s hard to pick out songs that stand alone but the Act 1 climax Keys/It’s Alright is amazing – it has this big, classic sound and I love when it gives way from the conversational, circular preamble to the massive, long-tail Hey Jude-type finish, I’ve listened to it so many times. The penultimate song, Passing Phase, showcases lead actor Daniel Breaker’s incredible voice as it harmonises with Stew’s and the music just sounds so big and warm and fulsome. If you enjoy stuff like Pink Floyd’s The Wall or 2112 by Rush then you can absolutely handle this.

Quality Seconds, by Orbital. If you’ve ever been like “what does it sound like inside Laura’s brain?” this song pretty much covers it.

Orinocco Flow by Enya. Hear me out, this song is like being serenaded by a friendly cloud, it’s what raindrops put on their sexy playlists, it’s a whale leaping triumphantly into the air in music form, and I was smacked about the head yesterday with the need to dance passionately around the lounge to it like I was in the final scene of a masterfully bittersweet TV series about an unlikeable yet disconcertingly compelling female lead, and let me tell you, Ghost was not impressed, but then I cupped his face and looked into his eyes and sang “sail away sail away sail away” and I think he understood.

Next time: Oh yeah I tried making ice cream again and it was still terrible, and I’m starting to get a bit stressed out by this honestly! Does anyone out there have a really really good recipe for vegan vanilla ice cream?

I won’t remember your birthday, I won’t remember your name, just keep talking to me I’m not listening

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Something that I realised one second after I was told it by someone else, is that in most of life’s arenas my brain will melt down when faced with a task before I’ve even been told what the task is; then should I actually undertake the task (for example, getting on a bus to an appointment) I would often end up doing it wrong (getting on the wrong bus, going to the wrong place) and be afflicted with such brain-paralysis that I would not be able to work out a way to solve it, and worse, the only thing I’d feel capable of is messaging the group chat to drag them down with me on my panicked spiral about something entirely preventable. In all arenas of life! Except in the kitchen.

Like last week’s ice cream atrocity triad: not only was I diplomatically, breezily able to keep going in the face of persistent failure, but I also didn’t see it as a morally-weighted type thing that reflected upon me personally, I was all, I know I’m a good cook, regardless of this garbage. Whereas I still feel a quaking within my nether organs when I have to get on a bus to go like, honestly, anywhere.

(It was Kate that pointed this out to me after I’d been trying to use the oven in her and Jason’s kitchen, the heat/function markings of which are all rubbed off, and instead of lying on the floor and crying I just googled the oven model and found a picture of what the un-rubbed function and heat dials looked like and proceeded accordingly. Upon reflection I was like yeah, that was off-brandingly level-headed of me.)

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With that in mind it was simply no big deal to cook dinner for twelve people last week in honour of my birthday (which was on Wednesday the 17th, in case there’s the slightest bit of unclarity over what my star sign is) and somehow I just instinctively knew which order to make everything in and when to take everything out of the fridge and what could be dovetailed and how to make everything appear on the table at once and how to fix one tricky situation without it having a domino effect on the rest of the food (food can smell fear.) (It just can!)

The menu was as follows:

  • Viv’s Crackers (Make these! They’re so good!)
  • Olive Tapenade (recipe below)
  • Lentil Dip (It’s like. Hummus but with brown lentils and sumac. I just made it up as I went along.)
  • Muhammara (recipe below)
  • Pesto (I just made this up but used my mum’s trick of adding some tahini to it which makes it wonderfully rich, you almost wouldn’t know it was vegan)
  • Caramelised Onion Butter (recipe below)
  • Dukkah (from a recipe of mine from 2018 but I used cashews instead of walnuts)
  • Zucchini, Walnut and Thyme Salad (from Ottolenghi’s book Simple)
  • Marinated Mushrooms (my own recipe from 2012)
  • Cauliflower Tabbouleh (also from Simple)
  • Broccoli Slaw with Wasabi Lime Dressing (I made this up but it’s pretty much exactly how it sounds)
  • Rice Paper Rolls with Peanut Dipping sauce (made them up but again, pretty standard)
  • Roasted Butternut and Parsnip with Cardamom Seeds (I made this up but the title is pretty self-explanatory)
  • Couscous with Fried Eggplants, Olives, Sunflower and Pumpkin Seeds (I made this up but it’s just one of those couscous things where you stir lots of bits into it, you know what I mean?)
  • Blackened Corn and Rice Salad with Pecans, Almonds, and Nasturtium Leaves (based loosely on a recipe of mine from 2012, I added pecans and Chinese Five-Spice and nasturtium leaves from the garden and so on)
  • Fried Zucchini Orzo with Pine Nuts, Mint, Spinach, and Kale (This is just something I made up but it’s definitely based on some Ottolenghi recipe)

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For precisely one minute I was worried I hadn’t made enough and for one wavering semiquaver I was like “what if it’s all bad, just real bad food” but then I laughed at both notions and carried on blithely like I was neurotypically non-avolitional. Nothing actually went wrong but there was definitely plenty of calm yet sudden improvisation required, like when there was no bulgur wheat in the entire suburb of Newtown or when half the vegetables I originally planned for were out of season (it seems the only thing confidently in season in April is meat.)

It’s funny, the psychology of cooking for increasing quantities of people. Supposing I was like, okay, everyone’s getting roast beef and potatoes and salad, you’d be like yeah, three things per person, that’s a normal reasonable meal, all you need to do is make those three things. But the MINUTE you start thinking you’ll have a cosy, low-key, unstructured banquet where everyone just helps themselves to what’s on the table, you suddenly have to provide SO MANY COMPONENTS. Three bowls of salad is NOTHING. But then conversely, the more food there is, the LESS people eat. So a bowl of couscous stuff that normally would in no way stretch to twelve, will not only serve everyone when it’s part of a big table of food, but you’ll also inexplicably have leftovers for a week.

In The Wire, Bunk tells Kima that the one thing you need at a crime scene is “soft eyes…if you’ve got soft eyes you can see the whole thing.” I don’t even know how I came up with the menu in relation to the number of people, it wasn’t based on any actual calculation, I was just like, I’m at one with the food, looking at my proposed menu list with soft eyes, and I’ll just know when I’ve planned enough. And I did! Would I suggest this as advice for anyone else hosting a dinner party? Probably not. Would I suggest watching The Wire? Sure!

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The three recipes I’ve provided for you today were from the dips and sauces – my idea was to have, as well as big bowls of things, just a ton of stuff that could be stirred in to make everything even more interesting. The first recipe, Caramelised Onion Butter, was something I thought up, but let’s be clear: it’s just caramelised onions that have been put in the blender. Nevertheless they were immensely delicious, with that bordering-on-frustratingly slow cooking process slowly breaking down the onions and making them sweet and mellow and lush and somehow even more so once pureed into a creamy mush. Make it and have it on hand to stir into soups, stews, anything that needs an absolute fistful of flavour. The muhammara was something that I adapted from Ottolenghi, not because I thought I could do better than him but because capsicums are ferociously expensive at the moment and so I reduced the quantity a little and subbed in some tomato paste. I think it worked, and the finished result, this rambunctiously flavoured smoky spicy sauce, all nubbly from the walnuts and rich from the roasting process, is highly gorgeous. And as with the caramelised onion butter, I imagine it would be useful to have on hand to embiggen any other food you’ve made. Finally the olive tapenade, which I decided to rakishly make with prunes to boost its dark richness, is so fast to make – have it with bread, stir it through pasta, eat it with a spoon, whatever. If you’re uncertain about the prunes then maybe try blending them in one at a time to see how you go but their robustness complements the equally strident olives and rosemary and the sweetness gives depth rather than unbridled prune-ishness. All three of these recipes are so easy to make (although there’s nothing easy about how much chopping onions makes me cry) I’m sorry, however, that they all involve a food processor. I’m afraid that’s just how it goes when you’re vegan: you give up meat, you inexplicably start blending everything, no almond left unpulverised.

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Caramelised Onion Butter

A recipe by myself

  • 6 large brown onions
  • olive oil (regular, not extra virgin)
  • salt (ideally sea salt or other non-iodised salt)
  • 2 heaped tablespoons soft brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Peel and slice the onions, in half and then into fine-ish half-circles. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil over a low heat in a large saucepan and tip the onions in. Sprinkle over a pinch of salt. Let the onions fry, stirring fairly often, letting them soften and soften and become lightly golden. This is not like frying onions normally, you don’t want them to catch and become brown, the idea is to just slowly, slowly, melt them down. It will seem at first like they’re never going to cook and collapse but they will! It just takes about twenty solid minutes.

Once the onions have really softened and turned into a golden tangle, tip in the brown sugar and the balsamic vinegar, turn the heat up to medium, and cook for another five or so minutes. This is the point where caramelisation is ideal so don’t stir them too much, and that way the sugar can really do its thing.

At this point, remove from the heat and allow to cool, tasting for more salt if it needs it. Spatula the onions into the bowl of a food processor and drizzle in another two tablespoons of olive oil. Blitz into a thick, creamy mush. If you use a high-speed blender it will become even more creamy but the chunkier texture from the food processor’s blades is also entirely desirable. Decant to a bowl and refrigerate. It’s best closer to room temperature so take it out of the fridge a while before you need it.

Muhamarra

Adapted slightly from a recipe in Ottolenghi’s book Simple

  • 4 red capsicums (peppers)
  • 6 fat cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (plus more for roasting the capsicum)
  • 50g walnuts
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) tomato paste
  • 3/4 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • a pinch of chilli flakes
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • salt, to taste

Set your oven to 220C/450F. Half the capsicums and remove the cores, stems and seeds. Place them cut side down in a roasting dish along with the peeled garlic cloves and drizzle liberally with olive oil. Place in the oven for 20 or so minutes, until the garlic cloves are golden brown and the capsicums are soft and their skin is starting to blacken a little.

Allow the capsicums and garlic to cool a little, then throw them into a food processor along with the remaining ingredients. Try to spatula/pour any oil and roasting juices from the pan into the processor as well. And just to clarify, “the rest of the ingredients” includes the two tablespoons of olive oil. Blitz to form a rough puree, taste for anything it might need – probably more salt – and then spatula it into a serving bowl or an airtight container and refrigerate till needed. Again, best at room temperature or gently warmed, so take it out of the fridge well before you need it.

Olive Tapenade

A recipe by myself

  • 250g (or so) black pitted olives
  • 4 prunes
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil (extra virgin is good, but whatever you’ve got)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon capers (rinsed if salt-packed)
  • a small pinch of cayenne or chilli pepper
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Place everything in a food processor and blitz to form a thick, rough-textured paste. You may need to spatula down the sides a couple of times and then blitz again. Taste to see if it needs more of anything then spatula into a serving bowl or an airtight container, and as with all these recipes, it’s best at room temperature. Just get the cheapest pitted black olives you can find – they’re getting blasted together with all these other ingredients and you don’t want to be dicking around de-stoning them. On the other hand if you do buy proper olives make sure you get more to account for the weight of the stones.

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Let me tell you, there was no greater birthday present than just sitting there watching everyone I love happily eating food I made. I wasn’t even hungry myself, I just wanted to behold everyone consuming what I’d made for them and now that I’ve said that it sounds a bit psychologically suspicious but I assure you, it’s mostly that if I’ve been cooking all day I’ve definitely been generously tasting everything as I go. For dessert I did a tray of homemade butterfingers, dried fruit and dark chocolate and didn’t click till the next day that I’d completely forgotten about a birthday cake, but the entire night was perfect just as it was: by the time it devolved into an elaborate roasting of me, from the story of how I’d never changed a lightbulb to the story of how I dropped my phone down an eight-story lift shaft and pressed the emergency button because it was an emergency, well, I think it’s truly the most content I’ve been all year.

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The Ghost with the most.

And I’m still eating the leftovers: thirty-three feels good. Thank you to Jason and Charlotte who took photos of the food on their phones and sent them to me because I forgot to get my camera ready or to learn how to take photos at night (yes, I can organise a dinner party, yes, it will be at the expense of ALL OTHER THINGS that I might possibly need my brain for.)

title from: Planet Z from my broadway idol Idina Menzel’s beautiful and occasionally bizarre 1997 debut album Still I Can’t Be Still. This boisterously energetic song is groaning under the weight of its production but it all works somehow, I listen to it and couldn’t imagine how it could possibly sound any other way. I love (and miss) her rough-yet-treacly five-zillion-miles-from-Let-It-Go voice.

music lately:

Kate and Jason and I watched Homecoming by Beyoncé last night and it’s absolutely gobsmackingly astounding viewing. Just trying to get my head around her vision, organisation, talent and monumental discipline, as well as the phenomenal production and execution in the stage show. The precision, the work, the drum line, the horn section, the fact that she was the first black woman to headline Coachella and she went okay, then I’m gonna bring hundreds of black women up there with me. Naturally I’ve got her on the brain now and she obviously has nonstop hits but I especially adore Bow Down/I Been On, which she released online in 2013 and would later rework into ***Flawless for her self-titled album. The first part with its discordant Nintendo-sounding sample is so exciting and sinister and off the wall, she sounds so in charge and has these amazing growls in her voice, and then suddenly it slows down and she’s doing operatic soprano and then she starts rapping and her vocals all chopped and screwed now sound like a man’s deep voice, and it becomes this sludgy, slow-moving salute to her hometown and past and she sounds so great. Because she dropped this in such a low-key way online I was not expecting it to pop up on the setlist of Homecoming but she did it! Honestly, even if you’re not a fan, if you generally appreciate live performance, culture, musicianship, or simply a job well done, watch Homecoming.

Invitation to Love, TB. It takes a minute to warm up but once it gets going it’s an extremely lush track that samples Laura Palmer’s Theme from Twin Peaks – that most lush of tracks – that I had a very lovely time dancing to on Sunday night thanks to TV Disko’s DJ set at the Laundry staff party (what, just because I stop working at a place, I’m no longer staff? That’s not how jobs work.)

Today’s Your Day (Whatchagonedo), Fat Lip feat Chali 2na. Deliciously languid, the sound of sunshine refracting through golden syrup, and that chorus is so good.

Next time: It’s been cold and rainy ever since my birthday so I’m thinking, you know, something cold-and-rain friendly.

PS as always thank you to my Patreon patrons, especially the new folks who joined in a birthday-related gestural fashion. It is by no means too late to still join my Patreon and have me think it’s something to do with my birthday, or to just join it because supporting me and my writing is – or could be – its own reward. Plus you get access to exclusive content from me, which is more literally its own reward.

i am the new year, i’m the way home

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Well well well, if it isn’t 2019, waltzing in bang on time. To start the year off with perhaps unearned but nevertheless ebullient ebullience I have two recipes for you, one via my mother and one via my father.

But first: I have a suspicion about the momentousness of the New Year that I also carry for weddings – everyone’s all, “we’ve got to have the time of our life! It’s New Year’s Eve! The party of the year! New Year New Me! This year will be different!” But where is that energy on like, March 3rd? Where is that energy every time someone complains about Monday looming unwelcomely on the horizon? Why are we so pressed about this one particular day that we otherwise would regard with indifference at best? That’s right, the New Year is but another calendar day. (How, if you’re wondering, this relates to weddings is: at said weddings we are all “love’s purest incarnation stands before us! I can’t believe these two love each other! I’ve never experienced anything like this! Not since the last wedding I attended!” And then two years down the line, if we see the same couple doing their groceries or whatever, well, what then of the flower petals and glad tidings? Why do we not cry and do poetry readings right there in the cat food aisle? How is it that their love is super interesting on the day of the wedding and then super mundane for the foreseeable future?)

THAT SAID! Any nudge in the direction of reflection and self-improvement is not the entire worst, and if you can use the turning of the year as motivation to do literally anything slightly better then well done, you. Indeed, as I shall demonstrate, I myself am not above such nudging! Despite my strong yet wilfully simplistic feelings about weddings, I am not anti-New Years sentiment at all. It’s just, something I have learned in this rich and storied life of mine is that every day can be a fresh start, a tiny new year, and relentless self-pressure once a year is not, in fact, the same as clear-headed motivation.

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With all that in mind I have some cautious yet hope-filled intentions for the year, about which I’m just going to see what happens but also, y’know, put in some effort, and they are as follows: I’d like to save money so I can go somewhere, perhaps on holiday, as befits an adult of my age yet eludes me entirely; I like the idea of getting kind of jacked upper arms; I wish to resume knitting again but for real; I intend to maintain a bullet journal and use it to help me in turn maintain healthy choices (it’s working so far, I’ve already cleaned my teeth every single day this year); I’d simply love, come December, to look back on the year and not regret any time wasted although that’s obviously fairly abstract and difficult to control, but most specifically and above all: I will prioritise my writing this year. I spent a lot of 2018 feeling paralysed by various factors but in 2019 I want to create more recipes, plan a cookbook, pitch more things, do fiction or fiction-ish writing, work out if I’m any good at poetry, I’m sure I am, get literally anyone to read my excellent Frasier food blog, make this blog absolutely shine, embark on projects with confidence and just really sincerely believe in myself and to not let any bad mood or sad mood or person or rejection or fear or tiredness stop me from that. (When I went home for Christmas, Mum was like “when your lease ends in February you could always just move back here and pretend it’s a writers retreat” and I was like “honestly, you know, that like, for real, could like, you know?”)

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Speaking of, going home for Christmas was the inspiration for the double-feature of recipes that you get today! First of all, on Christmas Eve while I was drinking port and enthusiastically re-watching The Crown with Dad, Mum whipped up this batch of immensely wholesome crackers held together only with goodwill and the gluey properties of chia seeds. It’s a recipe she absorbed, chia-like, from her best friend Vivienne (hence the name: Viv’s Crackers) and I honestly could not get enough of them. Because they’re comprised entirely of seeds, cooked long and slow, there’s this incredible toasty crunch yet utter lightness to them, and they’re just fantastically addictive as well as undoubtedly putting a shine on your coat with each one consumed. Mum and Viv drove me up to the airport on the day I flew back to Wellington to go to work and I pressed them for the recipe and their response was pretty vague – it’s just one of those recipes where you squint at the mixing bowl and make choices in the moment, the sort of thing that Aunt Daisy with all her instinctive wisdom and lively brevity would cook if she were around today. What I’ve written above is a kind of amalgam of what they told me, and obviously you can add many other things – Mum’s batch had cashews and pistachios in it, and Viv recommends adding a little chilli to the mixture. Either way, you’re only minimal effort and admittedly several hours’ slow baking away from nutty, softly crunchy deliciousness.

The Pkhali, which is a Georgian spinach and walnut dip, comes from a recipe in a cookbook that I got from Dad for Christmas, called Eat Your Greens. Thanks Dad! I adapted the recipe a little to suit my own tastes but it’s pretty close to what’s in the book, and what you end up with is this intensely leafy, herbal mixture, nubbly with walnuts and fragrant with spices, with juicy sour crunchy bursts of light-catching pomegranate seeds scattered over. Upon initial tasting it was a little worrisomely spinachy and spinachy alone, but after it sat in the fridge for a while it mellowed and developed and was in fact extremely compulsive stuff. Far be it from me to say what you can and can’t do to a Georgian recipe but I imagine you can play around with the components of this somewhat, based on what you have to hand. The spices all worked beautifully though and I wouldn’t personally change a thing, and the difference between the taste of the mixture before and after I added the citrus was astonishing – I know we’re all watching Salt Fat Acid Heat on Netflix but like, it really livened it up immensely. I find that packaged pomegranate seeds tend to taste a little like nail-polish remover, so if you can’t get a real pomegranate to deseed, I would consider perhaps some lemon or lime zest over the top or maybe some chopped up cherry tomatoes? Anything that makes you be all “damn, that’s fresh.”

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Viv’s Crackers

  • 1/3 cup chia seeds
  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/3 cup flaxseeds
  • a pinch of ground cumin (optional)
  • sea salt

Set your oven to 130C/260F and line a baking tray with baking paper.

Place the chia seeds in a mixing bowl and cover, by about a centimetre, with water. Use a spatula to scrape any seeds that have scooted up the side of the bowl to make sure as much of the chia is submerged as possible. Set the bowl aside for ten or so minutes until the chia seeds have absorbed most of the water and the mixture is all gluey and almost gelatinous.

Stir in the sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and flaxseeds, which should transform it into a thickly seeded paste. Add a splash more water if it seems not paste-y enough, and add more seeds if it seems to need that instead. Tip this unlikely looking mixture onto the baking tray and using your spatula or the back of a spoon, press it down evenly to a thickness of about just under a centimetre. It doesn’t matter what shape you make, as you’re just going to break it all up into pieces anyway, but a uniform thickness is pretty important. Sprinkle with sea salt and the cumin.

Bake for 1 – 2 hours – I know it’s vague, but it all depends on your oven and the curve of the earth and so on. It’s ready when the mixture is dry all the way into the centre and underneath when you lift it up, and the edges are raised slightly. If you can’t seem to be able to get the centre to dry out after an hour or so, try carefully flipping it over (it should be solid enough to do so at this point, by which I mean, I did it) so that the underside gets more heat.

Allow to cool completely, then break into pieces and store in an airtight container.

Pkhali (Georgian Spinach and Walnut Dip)

Adapted from a recipe from Eat Your Greens by Pete Evans

  • 1 large bunch of young spinach leaves or 2 bags of baby spinach leaves
  • a handful of coriander leaves, stalks attached is fine
  • a handful of parsley, stalks attached is also fine
  • 80g walnuts
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper or chilli powder
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice (or lemon juice)
  • sea salt and pepper, lots, to taste
  • pomegranate seeds, to serve

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. While this is happening, thoroughly wash your spinach (if it’s from a supermarket packet you should be fine but the fresh stuff in bunches is full of crevices for dirt to hide in) and then throw it into the pan of water, along with the coriander and parsley, for thirty seconds. Then, remove it from the heat, drain it, and run it under lots of cold water. Put all these wet leaves into a food processor and blend into a thoroughly chopped grassy mulch, then scrape into a bowl and set aside. You’re going to be putting it back in though, so you don’t have to like clean the processor or anything.

Now place the walnuts, garlic, spices, vinegar, lime juice, olive oil, and a decent amount of salt and pepper into the processor and give it a few good blitzes, so that the walnuts are moderately obliterated but not rendered into nut butter or anything. Tip the spinach and herb mixture back in and pulse to combine the lot, then spatula – with some effort this time – the whole lot into a serving bowl. Taste to see if it needs more salt – and it probably will – and consider adding another good drizzle of olive oil. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, which will allow the flavours to develop, and sprinkle generously with freshly shucked pomegranate seeds when you’re ready to serve.

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On January 1st I had a picnic with my two best friends Kim and Kate and we revelled in the glorious nothing-to-do-ness of it all. There’s something quite beautiful about the first day of the year, not knowing what’s up ahead, none of the events that will inevitably tarnish your view of the year have happened yet, all your intentions sing of potential and not of cowardice or time lost or avoidance, it’s like a safe little bubble. We ate these crackers and this dip and some other treats and talked each other up and it was really lovely. (New Years Eve itself I was just working, by the way, which is fine with me as it neatly solves any anxiety about what to do in order to have the time of one’s life, but I also managed cunningly to sign off at midnight and so did what anyone in my shoes – by which I mean me – might do: I danced for three hours. And then got my leg sliced by the contents of the glass bin which I’m choosing magnanimously to not see as a bad sign or anything.)

So, happy new year everyone! This is, I say with all the unearned ebullience of someone who has only yet experienced two and a half days’ worth of it: definitely our year.

title from: New Year by The Breeders. Dreamy yet purposeful, just like me.

music lately:

Clubbed to Death by Rob Dougan, notably used on the Matrix soundtrack. It just really feels like something important is about to happen when you listen to it!

Your Dog, by Soccer Mommy. Starts deceptively low-key and breezily meandering and then the lyrics are just like…wow.

Whilst I have listened to the song a squillion times I hadn’t actually seen the video for Mitski’s frantically lonely song Nobody and though I can guarantee every person has already said this, may I just say – it’s so Bjork-y! (By which I guess I mean, it’s so Michele Gondry-y!) In a wonderful way!

Next time: I made some “cheese” sauce with roasted carrots and other stuff and plan to turn it into mac and cheese at some point, however the weather is SO HOT at the moment that I might have to postpone that in order to favour something colder.

PS if you wish, you can sign up here to receive a version of these blog posts sent to your inbox before anyone else gets to read them, but like, I’m just going to put them up here anyway so you’re in no danger of missing anything if you don’t. Just an option!

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

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

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

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

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Category 1: Things in Jars

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

Subsection A: Saucy Stuff

Subsection B: Stuff stuff

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Category 2: Baked Goods

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

 

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Category 3: No-bake Novelty!

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

And one more for luck:

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Almond Butter Toffee

a recipe by myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

music lately:

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

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

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

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

daylight, see the dew on the sunflower

I admit, I held some concerns that this recipe was a little insubstantial, especially after the (a) pomp and (b) circumstance of the last blog post’s layer cake, but in a long long work week this felt, and was, manageable. On top of which, as I reasoned with myself: people always need dip. A pile of various crunch-adjacent foods and a bowl of something pliant into which to plunge them is 100% an ideal meal for me, there’s just something so abundant and yet casual, organised yet constraint-free about it.

And in case you were worried that it was all going to be too effortless, be assured that there are no less than two time-consuming steps involved in this, firstly the soaking of the sunflower seeds and then the roasting of the garlic. But nothing is required of you while both these things are happening!

I found this recipe while scooting around online and as you can see, if you click through, my recipe here is quite directly influenced by it. I made some distinct changes though based on interest and availability: the two main ones being I toasted the sunflower seeds before soaking to intensify their flavour, and because I couldn’t find the required black garlic I used regular stuff instead. Naturally I was all, “I feel like this calls for an entire bulb of garlic” – I’m at the point where my perception of garlic has shifted so much that I’m probably going to start treating bulbs of garlic as though they’re individual cloves, but we’ll cross that pungent bridge when we come to it. Honestly though once you roast the hell out of garlic like I did here the flavour is so sweetly mellow, if anything I wanted more of it but appreciate that it would be somewhat ridiculous.

(I also appreciate that it’s wantonly wasteful to turn an oven on for half an hour just for one lone garlic bulb, indeed, with guilt in my heart I also made a loaf of Irish Soda Bread to bake at the same time. It turned out to be absolutely disgusting somehow, completely inedible and I had to remorsefully throw the entire thing in the bin, with the best of intentions creating even more waste. Lesson learned: blameless garlic deserves to take up space.)

This dip (I cannot bring myself to call it hummus as per the recipe it’s based on since it doesn’t contain chickpeas but I grant you: the texture is similar) is just wonderful, buttery and fulsome with an intense nuttiness, with the earthy cumin and sharp lime keeping it from being too formless. Using sunflower seeds as the base was a bit of a revelation for me – they give gorgeous creamy texture and substance and incredible flavour, and delightfully, they cost hardly anything. I happily and willingly ate a whole plateful of vegetables simply because I had this dip to drag them through: against the sweetness of carrots the lime and cumin really sang, while the richness of the olive oil was a magnificent pairing with the surprisingly buttery baby turnips.

Toasted Sunflower Seed and Garlic Dip

A recipe inspired by this one

  • 1 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 whole garlic bulb
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon tahini (I only had black tahini leftover from this salted caramel ice cream recipe hence the murky colour of the finished dip btw)
  • salt and ground pepper, to taste

Toast the sunflower seeds in a dry saucepan (that is, no oil in it or anything) over a medium heat, stirring and keeping an eye on them till they’re all more or less lightly browned. Tip them into a bowl or small jug, cover with water and refrigerate for around six hours, or overnight if that’s easier.

At this point, set your oven to 180C/350F, wrap the garlic bulb loosely in tinfoil and pop it in the oven for about half an hour.

Now it can all come together: Drain the sunflower seeds and tip them into a high speed blender (or a regular food processor, the finished result won’t be quite as smooth though.) Remove the garlic from the tinfoil and carefully disrobe each clove from its papery casing and add them to the blender. The garlic will (obviously) be very hot, but the softened cloves should pop out easily enough. Add the cumin, oil, lime juice, tahini, and plenty of salt and pepper, and blitz the lot together till it has become a smooth, slightly nubbly paste.

Add a little fresh water to thin it if need be, and taste for whether it needs anything more – whether it needs the sharpness of more lime, a little extra body from the oil, depth from the cumin or the old fashioned helping hand of more salt and pepper. Spatula into a bowl or container and refrigerate till you need it, and festoon with mint leaves, more olive oil, and sesame seeds (or of course: more sunflower seeds) to serve, if you wish.

And finally, its salinity helped replenish my depleted vital electrolytes after watching the remake of A Star Is Born, that monumentally melodramatic movie that I consumed with predictable breathlessness. I have many thoughts about it which I wrote and then deleted (on the one hand, there’s a lot of “I see you, Brunette Girl” as a trope, on the other hand, at last: a movie where Bradley Cooper is handsome) and literally whenever I even think about the bit in the trailer where Lady Gaga walks towards the mic and starts howling I get tearful and frantic like a fretful infant, but I also can’t stop rewatching the trailer just so I can see that bit again.

If you agree, enthusiastically, with my claim that people always need dip, then may I also recommend the following recipes on here: Tarator (somehow basically just bread and water but also incredible) pomegranate-laden Hummus, or lush Cambodian Wedding Day Dip.

title from: Memory, the ubiquitous torch song from the musical Cats. For me there is but one person who I acknowledge in the role of Grizabella, and that is the late Laurie Beechman. I thought I’d heard this song so many times that its power was entirely diluted but her singing it makes me cry every time including right now. The emphatic h’s that she throws in at the start of words (“all alone h-with h-my memory”); the gentle vibrato rumbling on “enter innnnnn”; the slight youthful creak to her voice that’s just so appealing, (reminiscent of Glynis Johns or perhaps even Alma Cogan); the way she belts so hard while looking like she’s barely getting started yet and you’re looking around like where did that voice come from? Just watch her.

music lately:

The Sacred Harp Singers, Soar Away. Yeah, I don’t know, I’ve just been listening to a lot of this particular kind of old-timey church music. This one though: a stern and ominous banger, I have played it back easily 100 times in the last week without exaggeration. There are stirring enough versions of modern sacred harp groups performing it on youtube but to my ears, the definitive rendition (on spotify only unfortunately) is this, a decades-old recording which has a kind of shouty, nasal, rough-and-ready vibe that renders modern interpretations too soft and polished and frankly unfearsome.

Wedding Bell Blues, by Laura Nyro. Man, she was just not afraid to be sad and haunting, even, if not especially, in the middle of what sounds deceptively like just a classic sixties-girl-group song.

Will You Smile Again For Me, by …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. It’s very good!

Next time: well, not that damn Irish Soda Bread, that’s for sure.

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