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. 

you can start by having a chat and then a glass of brandy then I will start playing mind games

I’ll often insist that I don’t like change and that what I do like is, in fact, a good status quo to settle into, but I think what I really mean by that is that it’s a bit sad when nice people go far away. I’m honestly always trying to change things, most of the time incredibly rapidly without considering any consequences. Or at least, I will have thoroughly overthought the consequences, and then I’ll just be like “uhhhh what if I leap head-first into this and whatever happens after, that’s ten-minutes-from-now-Laura’s problem.” This could be anything from spontaneously bleaching my hair to the entire state of my life at any given time. It’s certainly not the most advisable way to live out your days, but it does kinda get stuff happening.

Anyway I got to thinking about this (with some self-awareness but no real emotional growth or change) following two events: I recently bleached my hair in almost panicky haste, and also some super nice people who I work with went far away to travel the world for a bit. I have no idea what to do with a status quo except frantically push in the opposite direction of it, but when people are about to leave, I know exactly what to do: make delicious sweet things for them. That’s how I ended up making this gorgeously dense fudge, bejewelled with brandy-soaked sultanas. I had, in a nice piece of symbiosis, nicked the sultanas themselves from work prior to this, where they had been lending their flavour to brandy for a cocktail we were doing over Easter. One of the people who was leaving – Brooke, a gem of a lady – suggested that I turn them into fudge at some point, and so it seemed like a nice way to sweeten up the last shift we all worked together.

I don’t expect you to have sultanas sitting around in brandy for the opportunistic thieving, but they can be very easily recreated by quickly making your own (leaving you, joyfully, with leftover infused alcohol.) You don’t even have to use brandy, rum is an obvious contender here, or you could use some other dried-grape-friendly liqueur, or – honestly – leave the fruit aspect out altogether and simply make yourself a slab of creamy, gloriously plain fudge.

This fudge has the silkiest bite to it, like your teeth are sliding through cool water. It dissolves on the tongue with rolling caramel flavours punctured by bursts of eyewateringly boozy sultanas. The sweetness of all the sugar and the heat of the alcohol plus the generally deliciousness of the butter come together to make something astonishingly balanced considering it’s, y’know, a rectangle of sugar. And while it’s not as comfortingly crumbly as super-traditional fudge but the incredible satin texture more than makes up for this.

brandy butter sultana fudge

adapted from this recipe. It’s really easy to make, I just do a lot of explaining in the method below, in case you’re freaking out at how long it looks.

one cup of sultanas
brandy – something not horrifically cheap but don’t use anything expensive either
100g butter
one can of sweetened condensed milk (the kind that’s roughly 395g in size)
two firmly packed cups of brown sugar

Put the sultanas in a bowl and pour in juuuust enough brandy that they all get a go at being in it. You don’t have to swamp them, but it’s all up to you – after all, you can use the soaking brandy however you please later, so if you want more of it then cover them in more. If you’re like “noooo my precious brandy” then use a smaller amount. Leave it to sit, covered, at least overnight, but to be honest you could probably get away with like, an hour, if you’re incredibly impatient. There’s probably some way you could speed up the process by gently microwaving it all, but I don’t have one and have completely forgotten what to do with one so couldn’t really advise there.

Put the butter, condensed milk, and brown sugar in a large saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring pretty much constantly, and let it all bubble away like there’s no tomorrow until it reaches the soft-ball stage. What is this? Get a bowl of cold water. If you drop a small spoonful of the fudge into the cold water and it forms a soft ball of like, fudgey stuff, then it’s ready. If it simply dissolves into the water or collapses into nothing, it needs to keep boiling.

Once it’s ready, remove from the heat – I like to stick it in a sink that I’ve partially filled with cold water – and stir aggressively for honestly ages until it thickens and you can see it starting to crystalise and set around the edges. Halfway through, stir in the drained sultanas. Reserve the brandy for your own good times. Usually fudge will lose its gloss and become rather crumbly as you stir but this one was a little different – it just thickened up considerably. When you feel chill about it, spatula the lot into a baking paper-lined brownie tin (or similar regularly sized baking dish) and refrigerate till super firm. Cut into slices of whatever size you like, and eat.

The fudge went down very well with the crew when I brought it in and achieved lavish praise (oh my god, do I only do this for attention and lavish praise, not just to be nice? Does it even matter if we all still get fudge as a result?) Literally all I’ve been doing otherwise is trying to stay awake long enough to write this post, and listening to Judy Garland (I was going to say “through tear-filled ears” but not only is that anatomically inaccurate it’s also troubling to consider, but what I’m trying to say is that she makes me majorly emotional.) However! One exciting thing has occurred lately: I had another crush cake published on The Toast. This one is for glorious Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda, currently crushing it in the gasp-makingly successful musical Hamilton. Go me! (Really, go me. Back to bed. Go back to bed, me.)

small cake, big crush
title from: Roll Deep, The Avenue – only one of the best songs to come out of the year 2005 ever.

music lately:

My Shot, from the musical Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan, Leslie Odom Jr and Anthony Ramos performing live at the White House – I honestly get aggressive shivers the minute this starts and can’t stop watching this.

Judy Garland, The Man That Got Away. Is there a duststorm happening inches from my face in this room? Oh wait no I’m sobbing uncontrollably at this.

Soulja Boy Tell’em, Crank That (Soulja Boy) I dunno, I just really felt like listening to this.

next time: I reallllllly feel like making bread, so maybe that will have happened by the time I next am here?

 

i’m free but i’m focused, i’m green but i’m wise

Ever since I was able to form cognitive thoughts I’ve been seriously into horoscopes and similar things. I can’t decide whether to joke that this means I’ve been into them since last week or, to paraphrase the T-Rex song over the opening credits of Billy Elliot, to imply that I was analysing my star sign in the womb, but either way, yeah. It’s a thing. It’s my birthday on Sunday which means that my usual self-absorption and introspection is now off the scale. I can’t stop thinking about myself! With all this in mind, my tarot card for this month was all, “don’t focus on what you don’t have and don’t push people away if you’re feeling down and don’t be stupid you stupid idiot” and my horoscopes are all telling me about how Mars is going into retrograde on my birthday, which like, why doesn’t the shunned fairy aunt in Sleeping Beauty just turn up and predict that I’m going to prick my finger on a spinning wheel and fall into a coma or something, and all in all I’m finding it a bit hard to just relax and be myself at the moment. It’s not because of what the tarot card and horoscopes said, but it’s more like I’m hyper aware of trying to not do stuff wrong because of their advice and I end up like a small bird flying into windows as a result. Classic Aries? Classic me, really.

(Seriously though, if you ever read descriptions of the various star signs it’ll be all, “Virgo – steadfast and thoughtful” and “Sagittarius people are ever so open-minded and motivated” and “Cancers are loyal and intensely nurturing” and then “Aries are big idiot babies who hit their head a lot and will not stop shouting to get your attention.” I mean, I don’t deny it…)

I’m short but I’m healthy, yeah

However! I’m not all uselessness. A particular horoscope that I joyfully subscribe to is the wonderful Meredith Graves’ Stargrazing column for Lucky Peach magazine. It’s food-related horoscopes and they’re very fun and interesting to read (truly – check yours out) and this month I was advised to get into soup, basically because I needed to be really kind and gentle to myself – funny that – and since I wasn’t in the mood for actual soup I decided instead to go find the most aggressively, ludicrously healthy ingredients I could lay my hands up on and make a thing out of that in the name of self-care. Those ingredients were matcha powder and chia seeds.

And that’s how I ended up with this matcha coconut raspberry chia pudding. Matcha powder is ground up green tea leaves and apparently one teaspoon of it has the power of 20 glasses of green tea, although it all depends on which Pinterest pin you’re reading. I nevertheless feel very calm and trusting of it. Chia seeds are little microbeads of intense goodness, with a billion omega’s and proteins and vitamins and antioxidants. Put them together and nothing will ever go wrong in your life, ever.

I’m lost but I’m hopeful, baby

Chia pudding is essentially a delivery mechanism for chia seeds to get into your stomach, but it is delicious. And easy. The seeds absorb liquid with the-thirst-is-real enthusiasm and end up like a cross between jelly and sago (which might sound horrifying, but go with it, please.) Pink and green are a rather ultimate colour combination in my opinion so scattering freeze-dried raspberries across the top helped both visually and flavour-wise, but honestly use whatever fruit you like – passionfruit would be cool here, as would defrosted frozen berries, canned pears, or juicy slices of ripe mango. Whatever fruit you put up on there will complement the delicate green flavour of the matcha-tinged coconut and look lovely.

And yeah, the flavour is what I would describe as very green. It’s green tea! What did you expect? There’s nothing wrong with this, but I add a little honey to gently sweeten it and mellow out any intense fresh-cut grass vibes. My tastebuds appreciated this – yours might too.

Wait, one more thing – okay so matcha powder and chia seeds are both expensive ingredients, but once you’ve got them you only need to use a teaspoon or two at a time and thus they last near-on forever. This is me here, I wouldn’t just casually tell you to buy something pricey! (Without getting defensive about it first.)

matcha, coconut and raspberry chia pudding

a recipe by myself although let us be real, I am 100% not the the inventor of this or anything. This is just what I made for myself.

one teaspoon matcha powder
around 125ml/half a cup of coconut milk or your choice of milkstuff
one teaspoon of honey or similar – I feel like agave syrup would be perfect here
one tablespoon of chia seeds
a handful of shaved coconut or coconut threads
a couple of tablespoons of freeze-dried raspberries

Using the teaspoon you measured them with, mix the matcha powder, coconut milk and honey together in a glass or whatever receptacle you’re making this in – I recommend a glass because that way you can see the pretty layers of colour, but that’s just me. Also when I say teaspoon and tablespoon I don’t, for once, mean the kind that you measure baking ingredients with. This stuff isn’t an exact science, so just use the kind of spoon you find in the cutlery draw and don’t worry about whether they’re heaped spoonfuls or whatever. Likewise just add more coconut milk if your glass doesn’t look full enough.

Stir in the chia seeds, making sure there aren’t any lumps, and then refrigerate the glass for about an hour, although you can leave it longer, and then when you’re ready to eat it, pile it up with coconut shavings and freeze-dried raspberries and wade in with a spoon.

and what it all comes down to is that I haven’t got it all figured out just yet

It’s so healthful that it seems like you’re gonna actually levitate after eating it. I’ve made it almost every day since, and while I can’t entirely tell if I feel more brilliant or not, it’s got to be doing something, right? It’s as easy to consume as it is to make- the swollen chia seeds give it this soft, barely-set texture and the zing of raspberries and quiet sweetness of the coconut milk work beautifully with the verdant-as matcha powder. It’s also remarkably filling, so makes an ideal breakfast or mid-snack snack.

And what with turning thirty and all, despite having done a deal with the devil so I stay looking young it certainly doesn’t hurt to think of one’s health more, right? (how I know I’m getting proper old: I used to be really indignant about being ID’d and now I’m like, “awwww yeah”) And it seems this is how I prefer to do health: by slothing about all day and then engaging in hardcore consumption of actual green tea leaves ground into dust like I’m the bones-eating giant in Jack and the Beanstalk. Like health shift-work. A lack of moderation followed by a hardcore lack of moderation!

everything’s gonna be fine fine fine

But back to my birthday: if you’re wondering to yourself, “what can I do to make more delightful the birthday of my favourite food blogger- nay, my favourite writer altogether” – well! My paypal is always open (it’s my email address – laura@hungryandfrozen.com) and any donations big, enormous or small would be majorly gratefully received by ya perpetually bank-account-challenged gal. For free you could spend the day in quiet, solemn reflection on how great I am on twitter, or…you could carry on with your day because I hear a horrifying rumour that I’m not the only person on earth to have a birthday and everything doesn’t stop on Sunday just because I do. It’s chill, I’ll be over here serenely glowing with omegas and the power of a thousand glasses of green tea and being myself and seeing what comes of it.

title from: Alanis Morrisette and her laconically powerful and kinda deeply meaningful song One Hand In My Pocket, from the iconic Jagged Little Pill album. I saw her in concert in 1996! What! Ladies be aging!

music lately:

Boy Problems by Carly Rae Jepsen. Her E-mo-tion album is SO important and this video is so important and her haircut in it is frankly very important and it’s all just very, very good.

The Kills, Sour Cherry. I’ve been watching a lot of Gossip Girl, and this song is on the soundtrack. I love how both this show and this band’s main aesthetic is “bratty”. I’m feeling very influenced by it, nearly ten years after the show actually screened.

next time: I made a massive three layer creme egg cake for a friend’s gf’s 21st birthday and was thinking about blogging about it just because, otherwise I made this mayo from scratch with matcha in it and it was amazing, so on the very other end of the scale, there’s also that.

 

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.

 

i don’t think you’re ready for this jelly

Much as I have respect for juice that is usually followed by the word “cleanse” and involves several pulverised green vegetables bringing joy to your liver, my preferred kind of juice is the sort that comes in rainbow colours, is preferably imported from somewhere exotic like America, and is found in the fridge in the dark back corner of the dairy down the road. Golden Pash is my absolute favourite, a passionfruit-tinged fizzy beverage in a purple can with hangover-healing properties in every carbonated bubble. I believe it’s manufactured in New Zealand but there’s something about its rather desperate insistence that it contains a whole 5% fruit juice that is kind of charming. Like, mate, my shampoo probably has five percent fruit juice in it. My shoes are probably five percent fruit juice (I’m a bartender, so this is actually possible, as opposed to hyperbole for hyperbole’s sake alone.) I’m ride-or-die for Golden Pash…but I am also easily swayed by pretty packaging and the promise of exciting flavours.

example: the results of a very casual trip to the dairy 

Anyway, after a recipe misfire where I thought I was making gummy-type candy out of Peach Snapple but instead ended up simply making delicious jelly, I thought: jelly! Fun! And so set about to make jelly on purpose out of the next juicy beverage which took my fancy. And that happened to be Arizona Iced Tea, pomegranate flavour.

one of two ingredients

Some might ask, why make your own jelly? But like, why do anything, really? In its favour, this is cute and really easy and perfect if you need to take a dessert to some kind of potluck situation or provide something for your friends – either go childs-birthday-party-esque and make a big bowl of it to be scooped up and served with ice cream, or pour it into dinky glasses and ramekins for individual servings. Oh, and it’s completely delicious – the surprisingly delicate flavour of the pomegranate, all fresh and gently astringent, tastes wonderful when suspended in gelatine. It’s refreshing, it’s barely sweet but just sweet enough, it’s gloriously wobbly when you smack it with the back of your spoon for no good reason other than to bring about your own good cheer; and if you hold it up to the light it glows gloriously red and pink like some kind of magical crystal, the sort of thing that Captain Planet would have as a household knick-knack, like a sunset’s reflection caught in water.

And there’s only two ingredients! One is simple: some kind of juice; you obviously do not need to use Arizona iced tea or even pomegranate flavoured iced tea or EVEN iced tea, I mean if you want to be truly unkind to yourself you could literally use plain water, this would not be a good time at all, but the gelatine won’t know the difference. However as I’ve outlined above, pomegranate flavour makes for a delightful jelly. The other ingredient is gelatine: mysterious, unfortunately-non-vegetarian, gelatine.

I used leaf gelatine which is pretty easy to get hold of in supermarkets and very easy to use – just let the sheets of gelatine soak in water, give them a squeeze, and then stir them into hot liquid and that’s literally it. However, if all you can find is powdered gelatine, I mean, that will be a perfectly fine substitute, and google should be able to help you with converting quantities.

pomegranate iced tea jelly

a recipe by myself

one 500ml bottle of arizona pomegranate flavour iced green tea; or whatever you like
4 sheets of gold-level leaf gelatine (I use Equagold) 

Soak the gelatine sheets in a bowl of cold water till they soften, then pick them up and give them a squeeze – this bit is delightful, not gonna lie – and tip out the water. Put the softened gelatine leaves back in the bowl and pour over about a third of a cup of recently boiled water from the kettle – just enough to cover the gelatine leaves – and stir till they’ve dissolved, which should only take a few seconds. You don’t need the entire bottle of tea, so you might as well have a sip or two first before pouring it slowly into the gelatine/hot water, stirring as you go. From here, simply pour it into cute serving bowls or one larger dish and leave in the fridge for a couple of hours to set. 

pomegranate jelly or a still from the sinister film Picnic at Hanging Rock?

Bonus: apparently gelatine helps put a shine on your coat and make your nails strong, so I look forward to being intimidatingly sleek and glossy any day now.

Speaking of monitoring one’s glossiness levels: somehow it’s March already, which means I’m turning thirty actual years old next month: I fluctuate between being terrified at this and all like “what if I am suddenly no longer interesting to anyone and everything I do is the actions of an elderly crone who no-one wants to care for” and being all like “Beyonce arguably did the most important and amazing work of her life post-thirty and she is only becoming more powerful with the passing of each day also you are not the first person to turn thirty so this is really kind of patronising and it’s probably the patriarchy’s fault that you have a weird sense of fear about leaving your twenties and how that relates to your value as a woman, nay, as a person, and to the merit of your work.” If there’s anyone out there who turned thirty and didn’t immediately turn into a small pile of ash, feeble and unwanted, then holla at ya girl!
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title via: Bootylicious by Destiny’s Child (speaking of Beyonce). I don’t think you’re ready for how obvious this song choice is for this recipe. 
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music lately: 

The Pharcyde, Drop. Made even better by its hypnotic backwards-forwards music video.

EMF, Unbelievable. I don’t really go in for youtube comments (full stop) where people are all nostalgic for the 90s when they were never even there, but there are a few songs where I’m like damn it why wasn’t I out clubbing in England somewhere in 1993. This is one such song.
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Next time: I haven’t had time to cook anything in a while so mate, I don’t even know. 

swallow it down, what a jagged little pill

that cactus is a visual metaphor for how my throat felt, also, juxtaposition! The word that saved me in Art History 101 

Next time you’re just hanging about, you know, existing within your corporeal form or whatever, take note of how many times you unconsciously swallow. Turns out humans do it a ton which is super fun when out of nowhere you have a sore throat and it feels like a serrated knife has lodged itself horizontally within your larynx. Every time you swallow. Which, as we’ve established, is unfairly often! Anyway so I’ve had a miserable bunch of days (the sore throat came with the free gift of an earache!) to the point where I couldn’t even eat soothing stuff like ice cream or soup because it was agony to swallow anything. Even cool, clear water might as well have been a nutritious bowl of sand, because they both would’ve felt the same to my poor tender throat.

In wonderful news I am now thoroughly improved, mostly due to ibuprofen, rest, and gargling so much salt water and apple cider vinegar that I’m surprised I haven’t turned into a pickle. However, I choose to attribute my entire recovery to the incredible bowl of porridge that I fixed for myself yesterday. I’d taken enough painkillers that my throat was tentatively amenable to food, and I wanted to have something aggressively nutritious and filling, but also soft and warm as the underbelly of a rabbit. Oatmeal covers all these bases, as well as allowing me to be irritatingly cute by using the portmanteau of Sore Throatmeal, and I do love to be irritatingly cute.

 rock the oat

I mean, everyone has their own way of making porridge and you can feel free to ignore my method or write it off as garbage (but if so, honestly, why are you still reading this far?) but mine has much going for it – the oats are toasted first, a step that only adds a minute to the cooking time but turns what could be gluey flavourless glue into a richly flavoured, warmly nutty concoction. I also stir in ground almonds, which add a gentle sweetness and swollen softness and richness and also, y’know, almonds put a shine on your coat. You could use any dried fruit you like but cranberries are full of anti-inflammatory and hella-vitamin properties, they also look incredibly pretty, all ruby red against the white cream and pale oats. Similarly, you could use coconut milk or almond milk or ginger instead of cinnamon and so on and so forth; but this is the recipe I made and it is so damn good.

Also I know this recipe looks really long and complicated, it’s because I’m talky and like to hold your hand throughout the process just in case there’s any small detail that confounds you. Once you sift through all my added nonsense it’s really, really straightforward, I promise.

the softest porridge, or, sore throatmeal

a recipe by myself

a handful of dried cranberries 
half a cup oatmeal or finely rolled oats
quarter of a cup of whole oats 
half a cup of water
half a cup of milk
a pinch of salt
quarter of a cup of ground almonds
cinnamon
brown sugar
cream, and lots of it

Place the cranberries in a small bowl and cover with water from a just-boiled kettle. 

Place a smallish saucepan over a medium and throw the oats in, stirring them frequently to allow them to toast – they’ll start to smell incredibly, well, toasty, and when this happens remove them from the heat and allow them to sit for a minute just to cool slightly. 

Stir in the water, milk, and salt, and return to a low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent it from sticking as it heats up and thickens. You want to get it to the stage where it’s starting to have big bubbles rise to the surface and burst, like some kind of geothermic mudpool (I think, I mean I have very little knowledge of geothermic…stuff) and at this point stir in the ground almonds and decide whether or not you think it needs a splash more milk or water – I like my porridge a little on the softer, creamier side, but you might like yours thicker. So, either it’s ready, or you need to stir it a bit longer with more liquid. 

Once you’re done, remove it from the heat, drain the cranberries (I just used a spoon to hold them back while tipping the water into the sink) and stir them in along with a hearty pinch of cinnamon. Spatula all this into a deep bowl (a deep bowl helps it stay warm for longer!) and spoon over as much brown sugar and cream as your mouth desires. 

I took one bite and was literally cured 

On account of this peskily sore throat I’ve done more or less nothing lately, I’ve either been in bed or at work; when in bed I’ve been on a Nigella-watching spree – I mean this in the nicest way, but I don’t have to think at all when I’m watching her show, and it doesn’t matter if I fall asleep halfway through, and all the stirring and gentle clattering and plummy vocals are utterly soothing to someone like me who adores background noise while I sleep. So you can see how I’m so Hallelujah-chorus rapturous over this porridge, it’s pretty much the most exciting thing to happen to me in the last few days. It was so delicious though, that I’m very sure it would still provide some kind of thrill even if you’re in full health.
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title from: Alanis Morrisette, You Learn. Remember when this album was the hugest thing in the world? This song has such a strange, meandering, conversational vibe to it that you don’t get a lot now, and I remember thinking how subversive and rad it was that her voice was kinda screechy and drawly (I was ten, okay.) 
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music lately:

Fiona Apple, Sleep to Dream. So dark and moody and intense, “this mind, this body and this voice cannot be stifled by your deviant ways,  so don’t forget what I told you, don’t come around, I got my own hell to raise” – ooof. 

Kendrick Lamar, Alright. I mean the song itself was already amazing but the video is just… *falls over sideways*
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next time: it is SO FREEZING in Wellington right now, so I’ll probably be cooking something to try and warm myself up, which at this stage is going to be a bowlful of the earth’s molten core. 

stars in the night blazing their light can’t hold a candle to your razzle dazzle

There’s nothing like lovingly taking photos of a cake on your camera and then sticking the camera’s SD card into your pocket and then losing it somewhere in the street to hinder the blog post writing process; luckily for me should anyone find it there is only cake photos on there and nothing incriminating (all my photos of me holding up signs saying “I just robbed this bank!” while pointing to a bank are on another SD card, phew!) but it was one hell of a pain to try and take photos of the cake again when I’d since demolished so much of it directly into my mouth. I managed to take a few hasty photos of what was left of it and found a couple of grainy-like-sugar snaps on my phone, but yeah, consider yourself warned that these photos aren’t my best work, and my best work is in fact dissolving in a puddle somewhere between Newtown and Wellington central.

caught by the fuzz(y photography) 
But at least the cake itself was good, and what a name: Bobby Dazzler Cake. Bobby Dazzler Cake. I found the recipe carefully written in the back of a cookbook belonging to one of my great-grandmothers (a smartly bound Aunt Daisy book with my great grandmother’s name embossed in gold on the cover, fancy!) I was utterly smitten with the name before I even saw what was in the cake itself. You know when you hear a word or a phrase for the first time and then suddenly you see it everywhere? That happened to me with didymo, although it only occurred to me recently that it was probably because there were suddenly all these “watch out for didymo” campaigns everywhere and previously there hadn’t been (once more for the people in the back: didymo! A satisfying word to say, even if you have to Watch Out for it.) But uh, sometimes it feels like more of a coincidence than that, in this case my excellent girlfriend and I were watching the terrible/amazing miniseries Tipping The Velvet and one character exclaimed to the other, “you’re a real bobby dazzler.” I was thoroughly taken with this phrase and while I initially assumed it was some secret Victorian-era glasses-waggling code, like “she’s civic-minded” or “she stands up on the night train” or “she’s remarkable” it turns out it simply means something along the lines of “the cat’s pyjamas” which makes it no less delightful. Anyway, mere days after seeing this show, I discovered this recipe, in this book I must have read dozens upon dozens of times, and I knew it was a sign that I should bake it with immediacy. 

the bee’s knees

The recipe was written in that type of handwriting that was probably considered terribly neat and full of propriety sixty years ago, and is entirely unintelligible nowadays, not to mention all in imperial measurements – a pound of this and a pound of that – and finally, as was the style of the time, it trails off mysteriously halfway through and doesn’t give you any detail about how to mix it, what temperature and how long to bake it for, or indeed what sort of tin to put it in. There was so much that you just had to know back then! In the spirit of trying to just know stuff, I made some presumptions and biffed it into a ring cake tin and baked it for an hour at 180 C, or what Aunt Daisy might’ve cryptically referred to as “a good oven”.

And it turned out splendidly! The mixture contains a resolutely old-timey mixture of prunes, grated carrot, grated apple, and sultanas, as if it’s trying to be five different cakes at once, but you get a kind of moist fruitiness that’s very comforting, the sort of cake you want to have with a large pot of tea while the rain dashes at the windows (a very easy scenario to come by in Wellington these days as we approach the middle of a neverending winter.) Honestly, when (when! Not if!) I make this again I’ll increase the apple and carrot quantity to two, and dice the prunes a lot finer – the former sort of dissolved into the cake while the latter were all like “here I am! Prune! In your face!” I’d also use brown sugar instead of white, just to hold all that fruit together with a slightly more darker caramelliness. But honestly, this cake was wonderful, especially when I spread it with a thick cream cheese icing.

bobby dazzler cake

adapted from a handwritten recipe from my great-grandmother

250g soft butter
one and a half cups sugar
three eggs
one cup milk
one cup sultanas
one cup prunes, roughly chopped
one large carrot, grated
one large green apple, grated
three cups plain flour
one teaspoon baking soda

Set your oven to 180C/350F and generously butter and flour a ring/tube cake tin. I say generously because ring tins always make me a bit nervous, since there’s so much surface area for cake to stick to. 

Beat the butter, sugar, and eggs together till soft, light and fluffy. Meanwhile, heat the milk till just below a simmer – hot and starting to wobble but not bubbling – and carefully stir it into the butter. I added a little at first, and whisked that in, then a little more and a little more and then finally tipped the lot in – this makes it easier to mix it all together. 

Stir in everything else, and spatula it into the cake tin. Bake for around an hour, or until firm and brown on top. Allow to sit for about ten minutes before running a knife carefully around the cake and its inner ring, and tipping it onto a plate. Ice with a mixture of around 250g room temperature cream cheese mixed with around half a cup of icing sugar. 

Keeping it familial, and while you’re here I may as well tell you, the grey rose-patterned plate that I photographed the cake on used to belong to a family friend’s great-aunt (if I remember correctly) and it was given to me as a birthday present years ago. The blue gold-edged plate belonged to my late grandmother on my dad’s side. I love new things and new cookbooks but there’s something quietly lovely about looking at a cookbook and seeing someone’s handwriting on it, someone who only knew you when you were a baby, and thinking about them at your own age; or how a plate that would’ve had a thousand different cakes on it throughout the years is still getting to have cake on it; or just, I don’t know, knowing that these bits and pieces aren’t stuck in a cupboard somewhere but are still getting used and loved. It’s nice!

oh wow also this knife belonged to the great-grandparents too now I think on it; also this photo is an instagram which is why it’s all clean and bright like an eidelweiss

I daresay you could do further things to spruce this up; soak the prunes and sultanas in dark rum before you mix them in, skewer the cooked cake and pour over dark rum; order take-out and forget the cake completely and drink a lot of dark rum; add sultanas or dried apricots or dark chocolate – whatever, really. And then you can look fondly at your cake and say, a la Tipping the Velvet, “you’re a real bobby dazzler”. 
Almost as exciting as thinking about cake, is the fact that I wrote about important television show Pretty Little Liars for The Spinoff; I am really so proud of this piece that I wrote since this show means so much to me and it took me so long to write and research but was also so fun, not since I wrote an essay about Idina Menzel for a media studies paper in university have I had such joy approaching a deadline. So even if you’re all, “this show is about teenage girls and therefore I’m quite sure without really knowing why that it is TERRIBLE and MEANINGLESS” perhaps I can change your mind or at least outrage you by comparing it to The Wire?  
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title from: Old Devil Moon, a song as comfortingly old-timey yet sassy as this very cake that I’m writing about. Judy Garland could break my heart singing the happiest song and as I admire that quality greatly, that’s the version I’m directing you to. 
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music lately: 
Idina Menzel covering Radiohead’s Creep, live in Manila. Oh wow. I haven’t listened to the original of this song (it’s one of those ones that you utterly thrash and then it starts to lose all meaning) and I wasn’t sure how this would work but Idina is gold here, like, old-timey late early 2000s Idina all sweary and dark and twisty and her voice sounds amazing. I love her.
Laura Lee, Little Too Late. My rad pal has just released a new single, it’s gorgeous and dreamy and fun and I love it and am so proud of her! It’s a good time to be a Laura. 
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next time: whatever it is I’m gonna take better care of my SD card, that’s for sure!