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!

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. 

the corn was golden, we lay in it for days

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(It’s not pretty, I grant you, but I was like “maybe a lil bow will distract”)

I had a dream about this corn and chilli relish and then upon reflection realised that it already existed more or less in a recipe from Nigella Lawson’s Christmas cookbook, aptly named Nigella Christmas. All I’ve done to her recipe is halve the quantities, add some red chilli, use date syrup instead of honey (I am kind of on the fence on honey consumption vis a vis veganism but for simplicity decided to not use it here) and used ground cumin instead of celery salt because I didn’t have the latter and felt like the former, while different in flavour, brought some of the same energy.

This doesn’t come out like the chow chow you might see in the supermarket, it’s not thick and gluey but more like … bits of vegetable submerged in vinegar, neither of which sound massively appealing but my god! This stuff is addictive, I haven’t actually even used it in anything yet but I’ve already finished off an entire jar just by standing at the open fridge, eating it by the spoonful. Fortunately it makes two jars full.

As I said, you could ostensibly just go to the supermarket and buy a jar of this or something similar but there’s something in the act of making a recipe that then goes into a jar, preserving and putting away, which pleases. This is based on – as I’ve said before – both the sheer resourcefulness of it and the fact that you’re investing in your own future existence and, hopefully, happiness.

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(And then I was like okay that’s not working what about a bigger bow)

The finished result isn’t particularly attractive but it tastes incredible – the sweet crunch of corn and capsicum against the bursts of burn from the chilli and the sinus-scritching mustard, the sour-sweet sugary vinegar balanced by all the salt I poured in (this can handle a LOT of salt.) It’s also so easy to make, and indeed, you could totally make a ton more if you go with Nigella’s original proportions.

As for what to do with it other than eat it by the spoonful; I think it would be ideal piled into a baked potato, layered on top of a burger, or stirred into a pile of peppery crunchy rocket and iceberg leaves.

Corn and Chilli Relish

Adapted from a recipe by Nigella Lawson from her book Nigella Christmas

  • 500g frozen corn kernels, defrosted
  • 1 red capsicum, seeded and finely diced
  • 2 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 1 large red chilli, seeded and diced
  • 1 cup/250ml apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup date syrup, agave syrup, rice malt syrup or honey
  • 1/3 cup caster sugar
  • 3 teaspoons sea salt (or more to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 4 teaspoons English mustard (or more to taste)

Have two 300ml glass jars at the ready, and sterilise them if you like, can be bothered.

Mix all the vegetables together in a good-sized bowl. Wash your hands thoroughly and be careful to not touch your eyes after handling the chilli or it’ll sting like hell.

Bring the vinegar, syrup, sugar, cumin, salt, and mustard to the boil in a saucepan and allow to bubble away for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. It might bubble up and look like it’s about to overflow, in which case remove it from the heat and give it a good stir or – my usual trick – drop an ice cube into it.

At this point, pour the syrup over the corn mixture and give it a stir. Carefully divide between the two jars – the easiest way is to spoon the corn out of the syrup into the jars followed by the remaining syrup, which should be completely submerging all the vegetables. Screw the lids on and refrigerate. This tastes better the longer you leave it and will last for around a month in the fridge after opening.

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(And then I was like okay what about a new location)

I’m not sure if this is a confession that’s going to elicit gasps of muffled horror or conspiratorial acknowledgement that I’m not alone in this (as long as it’s not greeted with indifference tbh) but any time a recipe is all “sterilise your jars thoroughly” I’m like “you will be FORTUNATE if I give it a rinse of the most CURSORY nature in soapy LUKEWARM water”, and you have my full permission to do the same. If the jar smells too strongly of what it previously contained (tomato in particular seems to linger) a quick slosh of water and vinegar or lemon juice seems to do the trick.

I was able to go to a bunch of LitCrawl (a local literary festival) events this weekend and left feeling replete with inspiration and goodwill towards all those who shift words from their brain onto some more tangible surface. And I met so many nice people! Some were even like “oh you’re Hungry and Frozen” and I was like yes! These words are sweeter than any writing I’ve heard this entire festival! But, to that end, after seeing him perform his poetry on Friday night I read the entirety of Kaveh Akbar’s book Calling a Wolf A Wolf; it’s very beautiful and he has this incredible way of saying things with a sense of authority where they almost sound idiomatic but you’ve also never heard those words in that order before. Even his titles are blissful – My Kingdom for a Murmur of Fanfare. I recommend it sincerely. Positively frothing with inspiration and spurred on with the lazy insolence of tramadol and having watched a movie (Outlaw King) that I genuinely the entire time thought was the pilot episode of a Game of Thrones style prestige TV show because prestige TV has melted my brain; I myself put pen to paper to write a poem: for rough context, imagine a Game of Thrones style prestige TV situation but…with…pigs. All present found it highly amusing, I assume without verification.

A pig shall rise

There is no older story than this
A cloven hoof pierces the thick mud
A squeal like a crack racing up a mirror
The air smells, sinister and ominous
And like ham
A tail curls, small but purposeful
Narrow eyes and soft ears, gently crushed by a heavy crown
Smear your face in bacon fat and walk forwards into hell
It is better to live free and die at the hoof
Than to never know freedom at all
A pig shall rise

Thanks LitCrawl! (what’s that faint noise in the distance? Is it LitCrawl frantically gesturing that they don’t want to be considered even tangentially responsible for the birth of, or by any means associated with, this new work?)

title from: C’mon Billy by PJ Harvey. So snarly!

music lately:

Tadpoles, Poemme The sound of a petal floating in water, more or less, and so chill you could just scream.

IRM, Charlotte Gainsbourg. The sound of a lightbulb flickering and sputtering, more or less.

I Hate Danger, Bikini Kill. For someone who won’t stop talking I have a very short attention span most of the time and I do enjoy a song that panders to this.

Wedding, Smog. “I’m gonna be so drunk at your wedding.” Hypnotic.

Next time: I’ve been thinking up a bunch of recipes that could potentially sit proudly on the table at Christmas dinner and plan to run them all by you first.

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turn the music up way too loud, charge the pizza to the house

I have kind of a weird relationship with time, in that I’m never particularly relaxed and I always feel like whatever time I have is running out on me and that’s all I can focus on. I think a lot of this has to do with my writing and trying to make enough space to do that and freaking out when I fall asleep instead, but I was like this before I was writing and even if I abandoned this blog today I’d probably still end up feeling the same way. Does anyone else get that? Like if you wake up at 9am you’re all like “well it’s 9am, the day is practically over and I have achieved nothing” (don’t even get me started on the horror of waking up at 11am.) I mean, I remember thinking this as a child. There wasn’t even any internet then, what was I worried about not being on top of? Anyway, on Monday – one of my days off – I slept till 3pm because I physically could not stop going to sleep, and uh, this was kind of horrifying to me. It’s like…it’s not just writing I have to do. I can’t remember when I last did laundry! My room has not been tidied in forever which is in itself a source of stress! Six weeks ago I was supposed to start doing twenty minutes of yoga per day! I need to cook myself something so I actually have something to blog about even though I’m too tired to write! And it’s 3pm which means it’s basically tomorrow! Compounding to all this horror is the fact that it’s suddenly the following Monday and I’m in the exact same position.

Last Monday, upon waking, I somehow managed to briefly get my act together in a “I suspect there are worse problems out there than this you dingus” kind of way to make myself this scone pizza as a calming snack. One week later I’m finally spatula-ing together the time to write about it. This recipe is so easy and has a pleasing mix of so many comforting foods – not just the obvious two, scone and pizza, it also gives off cheese toastie and pie vibes. It is all good things. It is scone pizza.

I adapted it from a recipe in my OWN COOKBOOK (yes, I know, and no, you can’t buy a copy because every last one was sold and Penguin never republished it which means it’s a cult underground collectors item, not a failure) because why not be inspired by yourself? The recipe in my cookbook involves a simmered zucchini and tomato sauce to go on top, from a book of recipe clippings belonging to my paternal grandmother. But this time around I had a couple of tomatoes in the fridge and half a block of cheese and immediately knew I wanted both in my mouth together at an elevated temperature. Melted cheese is 100% my idea of a good time.

What you end up with is a thick, slightly crunchy and soft base, with the scorched sweetness of the magma-hot tomatoes and a hefty layer of melted cheese made moderately more elegant in a cacio-e-pepe kind of way by a grind of fresh pepper. I have until extremely recently hated black pepper, as it tasted like mouth-burning dust and nothing more, but I’ve come to appreciate its subtle sweetness and what it adds to a dish. Either that or my tastebuds are dying as I’m aging and this is my attempt at trying to feel something real. Little from column A, little from column B?

scone pizza

adapted from a recipe from my cookbook, Hungry and Frozen: The Cookbook.

200g plain flour (this is roughly two hastily-scooped cups full, if you don’t have scales) (which I don’t currently)
one teaspoon baking powder

25g melted butter
125g (half a cup) thick, plain yoghurt
pinch of salt
two tomatoes
as much grated cheese as you like
cracked pepper

Set your oven to 200C/400F and place a sheet of baking paper on a baking tray.

Briefly mix the flour, baking powder, butter, yoghurt and salt together in a bowl. Add a little bit more yoghurt if it’s way too floury. Squish it together gently with your hands to form a soft ball. Tip it onto the baking tray and softly roll it out to form a rough circle of a couple of centimetres. Brush it with a little extra melted butter if you like – I didn’t do this myself but it has just occurred to me now that it would be a good idea, probably.

Thickly slice the tomatoes and arrange them on top of the scone base. Grate over as much cheese as you like, and then some. Bake for around 20 minutes, till the cheese is bubbling and the tomatoes are a bit scorched and softened. Grind over some pepper.

Allow it to cool for a minute and then slice into four and hoon the lot.

Note: I, for some reason, had like two tablespoons of yoghurt left in the bottom of a container so just made up the remaining amount with milk and this worked perfectly. Consider yourself permitted to do something similar if you find yourself in this position.

As with all food, it tastes excellent in bed. It’s one thing to hang out in bed heaps and consume your main meal of the day in there, but sleep? In your bed? How troublingly self-indulgent.

By the way, I am trying to work on this strange thing I have with time, because it benefits absolutely no-one if I’m stressing constantly about it. I just don’t know how to. So far my only technique is being frustrated at myself for being stressed, followed by frustration at myself for my frustration at myself. Also trying to actually let myself sleep if I need it without being too angry about it.

Without being too on the nose, I have, uh, bought myself some thyme. This was inspired by my Stargrazing horoscope for May in Lucky Peach magazine:

This season, for you, is about translating jittery emotions into healthy, productive action. Yer an original, Aries, so I’m into forking over an idea you can truly make your own: This is a completely excellent time to plant yourself a little herb garden with whatever you like in it (…) That dualism—embarking on a project that’s all yours and has tangible, visible rewards (LI’L PLANTS!), while also slow ride, taking it easy—is perfect for you, jitterbug. Pick up a few cheapo herb plants of your choosing. Care for them diligently, as a way of transmuting the care you’re unsure of giving yourself right now. See this attention and love as the same thing.”

I mean, does that resonate or what. Thyme is one of my very favourite herbs and is also very pretty, with its gently tangled mass of tiny leaves, and I am so going to nurture this lil plant, and I guess myself as well. My first order of business: acknowledging that I’m actually asleep right now as I type this, and to let myself have a nap.

title from: Blink 182, Reckless Abandonment

music lately:

I Will Never Leave You, from the very short-lived 1996 musical Side Show. This showcases the spectacular voices of Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner, and is one of those songs that’s all like, ugh we have to get this stupid first verse out of the way so we can get to the AMAZING BELTING IN THE CODA and the payoff is thoroughly worth it.

Digital Versicolour, Glass Candy. This song is on the playlist at work and every time it comes on I’m like “woooooo!” I know, what fascinating provenance. It’s just very mellow and hypnotic and good.

Sean Paul, Like Glue. I heard this song on loop five times in a row the other day and it was honestly the ideal way to consume this song. It’s the sound of a warm evening in summer, without any of the hassle of having to be overheated.
 
next time: my friend Rose gave me some old Seventeen magazines that used to belong to her mum and the recipes in them are so great and I seriously want to try one.

 

everyone is waiting, waiting on you and you’ve got thyme

A Season For Peaches, a novel by Henri Michel

In case you are all, “damn that Laura is the epitome of perfection I really love what she does I just wish she’d sometimes display some kind of minor flaw to humanise her more” – and I have zero reason to believe this isn’t what people are thinking all the time – then have I got a relatable and relatively dull anecdote for you about how I made a terrible dinner.

On Monday I was exceptionally tired and not really thinking and as a result, I made the most aggressively bland, horrible pasta of my life, and the more I tried to fix it the worse it got. I started off wanting to make some kind of dairy-free cauliflower sauce, where you puree an entire head of cooked cauliflower and it turns out all creamy and delicious. Why? Honestly, I don’t know, but I’ve been reading too much pinterest but also if I can effortlessly conjure up a dope vegan pasta bake then that’s a pleasing outcome. However it turned into the equivalent of mashed potato and refused to puree and also tasted of absolutely nothing so in a panicked state I … upended an entire bottle of cream into it. It still wouldn’t liquefy, so with mounting panic I mixed this mashed potato-esque stuff into cooked rigatoni along with some eggplant I’d roasted, so it was like…this weird billowy mass studded with the occasional piece of eggplant. How did I think this was going to turn into an awesome pasta bake? I topped it with parsley. That made it even less good. I shoved it in the oven to grill, which, as there was nothing in it to melt, just made it more warm and didn’t change it miraculously on the cellular level that I’d been hoping for.

It might sound “insufferable” or like “not a real problem” or “good god shut up Laura” but like I said, I was super tired and making dinner is a thing I’m always good at when all else crumbles around me and honestly, just the waste of money and ingredients was incredibly disheartening. However, I did manage to avoid panic-eating the lot, and dealt with it by going for a nap and searching youtube for ASMR videos specifically featuring someone telling you repeatedly in a very gentle voice that you’re actually a good cook. (A later cursory prod of the abandoned pasta bake revealed that it had not improved with time but I made myself eat some anyway, because I was both hungry and miserably stubborn about the aforementioned waste of money and ingredients.)

This is all completely unimportant and not terribly interesting, it’s just every time I do something stupid I feel pathologically compelled to tell the entire internet about it. An incident of totally sucking shared is an incident of totally sucking halved, I say.

Having since made a few things that mercifully turned out deliciously, I am safely back in the mindset that I love cooking and it loves me. For example, these honey and thyme roasted peaches. I went to brunch at Flight Coffee Hangar with one of my dearest friends Charlotte for her birthday and had brioche covered in vanilla mascarpone and said peaches. (It’s one of those places where the menu is so good that it’s actually inconvenient, because I can never choose what to get.) I was so taken with my brunch that I bought peaches on the way home and immediately tried to recreate what they’d done.

I don’t know how similar my method is to what the cafe does, but it worked incredibly well for me. Before you even get to taste them, the slowly roasting peaches fill your house with their heady perfume, so rich and intoxicating that you want to float through the air with hearts for eyes like some kind of amorous cartoon animal from a bygone era.

There’s something oddly lovely and lazily sensual about drizzling sticky, slow-moving honey over soft freshly cut peaches before scattering them with fragrant herbs, like you have no cares in the world apart from getting weirdly skittish over ripe stone fruit.

Cooked, they have this floral depth of sweetness from the slick of honey and the caramelising heat of the oven, and the smoky herbal thyme cuts through this and makes it more than just merely sugary. With very little effort suddenly you have yourself this gorgeous quantity of fruit that you can tuck around scoops of ice cream, stir through muesli, arrange on top of a cake, or indeed, add to toasted brioche with mascarpone as they did at the cafe.

honey thyme roasted peaches

a recipe by myself, but inspired directly by my brunch at Flight Coffee Hangar

four large ripe peaches
two teaspoons runny honey
one teaspoon olive oil – I guess you could leave it out but I feel it adds some fruity richness and will put a shine on your coat
several sprigs of fresh thyme

Set your oven to 180 C/350 F. Roughly slice the peaches into quarters or thirds or whatever and lay them on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Drizzle over the honey and the olive oil, then scatter over most of the thyme leaves, and just throw the remaining sprigs on top.

Roast for twenty minutes, then turn the oven off and leave the peaches in there while it cools, for about an hour. Use how you please, and throw any remainders into a jar and keep in the fridge.

That afternoon, 100% not sick of peaches yet, I ate them with Nigella’s miso ice cream that I’d made a variation on (by adding shredded coconut and white chocolate) and it was an incredible combination, the kind of thing that makes you feel so incredibly grown up that you end up going full circle and feeling childish again because you feel so grown up; then this morning I added them to some intensely healthy chia seed muesli to which they brought depth and sweetness. I still have half a jar left, I may just eat them straight from it with a fork but I like the idea of deploying them savoury-ly, perhaps in some tagine-type dish or to accompany crispy, slow-cooked pork belly. What I’m saying is, you will not regret making these. If you avoid honey for whatever reason, I do believe maple syrup would be an excellent substitution; if you don’t like thyme then that’s a little harder as it’s not as though you could successfully use, like, parsley instead – I’d just leave it out altogether. I adore thyme though and am pretty much forever trying to work it into everything I cook.

Because my friend Charlotte and I are practically twins (that is, we’re very similar personality-wise and we were born only a handful of days apart, one can only dream of having a face as beautiful as hers) her birthday happening means that mine is getting super close. I’m feeling more chill about it than I was a few blog posts ago, I mean…it’s going to happen. It just is. Also I remembered that you get presents and lots of attention, both things that I adore, and I’m frankly curious to see what thirty-year-old me is like. It will possibly involve singing Grown Woman by Beyonce with increasing desperation, but who knows!

title from: You’ve Got Time, the stunning Orange is the New Black theme song by Regina Spektor. We have this cocktail at work that has thyme in it and whenever someone orders it I always get this song in my head, I figured I might as well pass on this gift and curse to you too.

music lately:

Sevendust featuring Skin, Licking Cream. Some nu-metal is oddly timeless, okay? This song is so exhilarating and big and soaring and happy? And honestly it’s impossible to tell who is hotter out of Skin or the Sevendust lead singer LaJon Witherspoon (when Skin sings “crawling down your spine” I’m pretty sure she wins but it’s not actually a competition and I’m just incredibly glad they collaborated on this amazing song.)

Chelsea Jade, Low Brow. This stellar human who I am proud to call a pal has released this gloriously dreamy new tune with a video that’s both beautiful and beautifully silly. “Just hold me closer than you know how to” – ugh it’s so good.

next time: I may well have to make some kind of elaborate pasta bake again to exorcise the demons of the last failed one. Will make sure I’ve slept enough this time.

 

perfect hexagon of the honeycomb and you soothe yourself with the shapes you know

how much trouble can one ice cream be?

Prologue: Laura.

Confused yet? I decided to write this blog post somewhat in the style of a Baby-Sitters Club book, for no good reason other than it occurred to me and I ran with it.

Chapter 1

WHUMP! CLATTER! 

That’s the sound of me jumping onto my bed while holding a bowl of ice cream and delicious homemade honeycomb sauce, immediately knocking over the worrying number of empty juice cans that I’m lazily keeping beside it instead of putting them in the bin. “Auughhhh!” I just manage to stop the rapidly-melting ice cream and warm sauce from spilling over onto my bed. What a day!

I guess you’re wondering by now who I am, and what I’m wearing. Well there’s me, Laura – I hope you’re taking notes, I’m going to quiz you on this later! Psych! I’m kind of the humorous one here, or so I always say. I’ve got chin-length unruly red hair and glasses, but people do still hang out with me. I’m wearing these old cerulean blue shorts that I think used to be part of some boys’ high school regulation gym uniform (I love vintage!) and a white crop top that has the word “CHALLENGE” written across the front in big black letters, because I like to wear clothing that doubles as a friendly warning for what kind of person I am. I don’t have pierced ears, but people do still hang out with me. Most importantly, I’m eating ice cream, even though it’s not even breakfast time yet. I know what you’re thinking – how do I eat all this ice cream without getting in trouble? The thing is, I’m kind of an individual when it comes to doing what I want. I’m also the only person ever that has ever been into cooking. It’s kind of my one personality trait. If anyone else likes it, I’m certainly not acknowledging it!

this ice cream is sensitive and a good listener

Chapter 2

My best friends work during the day and I work at night, but when we get together, we always have a good time! We’re the best friends you’ll ever have. Does that sound like a threat? I’m inclined to tell you the intimate details of their respective family history, but that would be really weird, so I’ll just do a brief hagiography (that means documentation of the lives of saints, it’s a word I learned recently). There’s Kim, who has lo-oo-ong dark hair and the enormous macadamia-shaped eyes of a curious woodland deer. She’s kind of the wise, yet wickedly fun one of the group. Kate has just dyed her hair blonde, which means she is now even more popular and sophisticated – she also has a crazy household with a cat AND a dog, and a real, live, husband! Confusingly, Kate is also wise yet wickedly fun. This week because of Easter and having days off I’ve been able to see them relatively heaps and it has been very good for the soul, as the saying goes. For example, on Monday night we sat on the floor of my bedroom (it’s a great meeting space, I’m so lucky to have my own one!) and ate Pop-Tarts and drank Boulevardiers. That’s a cocktail which is like a negroni but uses bourbon instead of gin, and it’s one of my favourites. We clinked our glasses together in what we call “a toast”, and in that moment we felt like real Big City women.

darn it! I said ruefully. I only described their hair, not their outfits. 

 

Chapter 3

“We’re finally getting to the plot!” I thought ruefully, tucking a lock of unruly red hair behind my tragically unpierced ears. So, I’m kind of the “food blogger” around here. I’m also kind of an ideas person. I have Big Ideas and then Occasionally Make Them Happen Around Three Weeks Later If I’m Awake Enough, I know, it’s a little exhausting trying to keep up with me! When my Ideas and food blogging combine – bam! Honeycomb Sauce. Okay, okay, I had honeycomb ice cream at a local restaurant and immediately decided that honeycomb was the new salted caramel, and wanted to make some version of it for myself to have again and again in the comfort of my own bed and/or more normal area in the house to eat. But after some time I learned a little bit about myself and a lot about the true meaning of friendship: it’s not a competition. Salted Caramel may be heavily overexposed, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious. Honeycomb is just a flavour I hadn’t thought about in forever!

I know what you’re thinking – just honey and sugar? Way too sweet. Booooring. About as fun as a pop quiz or getting Salisbury Steak for lunch, neither of which I’ve ever actually experienced.

In fact, the delicate floral sweetness of the honey and the richness of the butter come together to make something pretty magical, and very individual. It doesn’t taste overly of honey, it’s more reminiscent of (that means “reminiscent of”, it’s a word I learned recently) actual honeycomb, the kind of stuff that you find inside Crunchy Bars or other similar candies hidden around your room. This sauce isn’t perfect – I admit! – half of it remained saucy and the other half solidified as soon as it hit the cold ice cream, but this was all so fun and delicious that I decided to share it with you anyway.

honeycomb sauce: a delicious prototype 

A recipe by myself. I’m thinking of adding a tablespoon or so of cream to it next time to see if that keeps it more liquid but I do love it just like this. 

100g butter
half a cup of sugar
one tablespoon brown sugar
one heaped tablespoon honey

Heat everything together in a saucepan, stirring gently as it comes to the boil. Remove from the heat once it starts bubbling and continue stirring for a bit. Allow it to cool somewhat (it’ll be like actual lava initially) before pouring it all over your ice cream. 



Chapter 4

I decided to end the day with ice cream and honeycomb sauce – after all, I’m a grown up and kind of a bad girl who makes her own rules. The remaining sauce had turned rock solid in the fridge, so I had to carefully sit the bottle inside a cup of boiling water to soften it, but during this time, I learned five more lessons about friendship. Unfortunately I’m still wearing the same outfit that I was at the start of this story, but to pad things out a bit, I’ll tell you about what I wore yesterday: a vintage white minidress with pink and orange diamond patterns across it and a high neck with a collar. I wore it with my yellow socks with pizzas on them and chunky black ankle boots – pretty wild, huh? I’m a pretty wild dresser!

feel free to judge how well the illustration matches the description

Prologue:

Ice cream twice in 24 hours – that day was a summer I’ll never forget.

title from: One Beat by Sleater-Kinney. Howl-y goodness. Oh yeah, and while I’m all “what would Kristy Thomas, President of the Babysitters Club, have to say about Sleater-Kinney?” I’m also dropping the conceit for the remainder of the blog post, okay?  

music lately: 

I’ve finally given Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton a proper listen and I am predictably entranced and addicted. That man is a beautiful genius and I will ramble at extreme length if given the chance to talk about him. Also look, please just watch him and other members of the cast perform My Shot for the damn president at The White House and I dare you to not get shivers.

Listening to one modern musical about historic political American times got me thinking about another one: Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which in the opposite direction of the incredible success of Hamilton, ran for a mere hundred and twenty something performances on Broadway before closing. I saw a production of it in New Orleans a few years back but haven’t listened to it since; its pop punk sound is like…perfect? I don’t know what the best entry point would be, maybe Rockstar if you want something fast or Saddest Song if you want something amazing.

Kid Cudi with MGMT, Pursuit of Happiness. Whatever track this samples is intoxicating and then the rest of the song has the temerity to be excellent as well. This song is moderately ancient but sounds so fresh.

next time: the novelty is over, kids, and I have some brussels sprouts to emphasise this (they’re fried with pistachios and truffle butter though, so)