well I see you there with the rose in your teeth

I have some fascinating developing news for you: firstly, did you know you can get sparkling rosé by the can at the supermarket for like $4? Secondly, I’m leaving my job and devoting my life to my writing! Seriously! $4!

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But first. You don’t come to Wellington, the city I’ve lived in for 13 years now, for the weather, you just don’t. You come here for, I don’t know, the coffee and “vibrant Cuba Street” and to behold the moustache-to-face ratio with appalled disdain and reluctant respect in equal measure. But in summer 2019, with the chickens of global warming coming home to roost, Wellington is hot as BALLS. And so I felt it would be timely to make some ice cream, not only because it’s my favourite food but also to try and bring down my general temperature and perhaps yours by proxy. The heat has homogenised us and it’s all anyone can talk about now.

Rosé raspberry ripple ice cream sounds, I grant you, like it belongs on those Facebook videos with a wine glass that can hold an entire bottle of wine yet not an ounce of personality, but! The rosé has merit here outside of its pastel-coloured populism. This ice cream is distinctly lush, heavily swirled with blisteringly pink, sherbety, sour-sweet raspberry rosé sorbet. The rosé gives it a kind of biscuity, dry finish while dovetailing beautifully in both blushy colour and blushy flavour, and the oat milk is the perfect inobtrusive yet creamy backdrop for everything.

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The recipe is moderately fiddly, but not in a taxing way, and the only really annoying thing about it is that there is an undeniable quantity of dishes (I don’t know why or what moralistic properties I’ve assigned to individual kitchenware items subconsciously but for example, a bowl? I can calmly wash that. The blade of a food processor? I must lie down with a cold compress over my eyes now.) I like to be relaxed about people swapping ingredients to account for availability and affordability, but I do think oat milk is the best option here, it has a real fulsome mildness similar to actual milk in flavour. Probably soymilk would be the next best thing. If you don’t have custard powder then cornflour is a near-perfect dupe, and I would definitely consider using frozen strawberries instead of raspberries. The use of chickpea brine will either be old news to you or absolutely horrifying but here’s the thing: it acts exactly like egg whites, I don’t know why, it just does, so when you whisk it up it goes thick and creamy and holds its shape and is just an absolute blessing for vegan cooking. And having the actual chickpeas to use is no great burden – blend them into hummus, roast them with some spices, or just coat them with olive oil, salt and pepper, and stir through some rocket.

(And I’ll be honest with you, I’m not saying the rosé was entirely an aesthetic conceit, but if you left it out for whatever reason – financial, non-alcohol-consumption – the ice cream will still be both absolutely fine and delicious. But at $4 a can, can you afford to not buy it?)

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This really just tastes like summer, the fruity sourness tap-dancing up the side of your face and your skull hurting from the cold, the fragrant, juicy, lipstick-smeared-on-the-side-of-a-glass pink blast of the berries and the creamy, softening properties of the vanilla.

Rosé Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream

a recipe by myself

  • 2 cups (500ml) oat milk
  • 3 heaped tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons custard powder
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) aquafaba (liquid from a can of chickpeas in brine)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 1 vanilla bean (or one teaspoon vanilla paste/two teaspoons vanilla extract)
  • a heaped 1/2 cup frozen raspberries
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) sparkling rosé (or unsparkling will do)

Heat one cup (250ml) of the oat milk gently with the coconut oil and custard powder, plus about half the sugar. Don’t let it get to the point of boiling, but just to where the coconut oil has melted and the sugar has dissolved and the custard powder has thickened it somewhat. Run a sharp knife down the centre of the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the oat milk mixture, whisk in the second cup of oat milk, and then set it aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, start whisking the aquafaba briskly so it becomes thick and airy. Slowly add the remainder of the 3/4 cup of sugar, a little at a time, as you continue whisking. Once the sugar is all whisked in and the aquafaba is thick and meringue-like, add the sea salt and then gently fold it into the oat milk mixture. Spatula all this into a container of just over a litre capacity and freeze for about four hours.

At this point, take the ice cream out of the freezer, scrape it all into a blender or food processor, and process till creamy and smooth. Before you do this there’s a good chance that it will have separated somewhat in the freezer and appear all ice-crystal-y, but a quick go in a blender will make it come together again easily so fear not. Spatula it back into the container and return it to the freezer while you get on with the ripple.

Give the blender or food processor a half-hearted rinse, then process the raspberries, icing sugar and lemon juice to form a thick, bright pink frozen paste. You may need to add a couple of teaspoons of water if the raspberries are very frozen solid. Carefully stir in the rosé. Take the vanilla base back out of the freezer and dollop the raspberry mixture into it large spoonful by large spoonful. Give it the most cursory stir to move the separate parts around a little – you don’t need to mix it in too much and it will naturally form layers and ripples as you scoop it out. Return to the freezer for about six hours or overnight, then it’s all yours.

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Now that we’ve all got our vicarious chills, let’s talk about me. So: every now and then I like to get all irrevocable just to see what happens. This particular shake-up takes the form of two things happening in the near future: I’m leaving my apartment and moving in with my dear friends Kate and Jason for a while and leaving my job as a bartender, with the distinct aim of (a) avoiding burnout and (b) focussing on my writing and (c) yes, working out how I’m going to support myself as a writer but also (d) not burning out!

Though it may sound like a madcap lark, an imprudent caper, I am in fact acting upon what I talked about at the start of the year – I really really wanted to throw myself into my writing this time around the sun and I had this convergence of a ton of writing ideas crystallising at once, my lease coming to an end, and just desperately needing a break from hospitality, intoxicating though it is. I mean I’m genuinely fairly spooked at the contemplation of not being a bartender, it’s been my life round the clock and a large chunk of my personality for the last five years! This is not a decision I came to lightly or suddenly but man, there’s something incredible in a sandblastingly intense kind of way way about actually making a decision with clarity instead of letting life wash over you, isn’t there?

And I know, I can’t just not work, like, mate, I don’t think I’m above capitalism, if anything, I am capitalism. By which I mean, with my life upheaval in mind I’ve updated my Patreon to tell you about the exciting writing projects I’m going to be working on soon and how you could directly be supporting them. So if the notion of contributing to the existence of, for example, a novel that is (very reductively, but for the sake of brevity!) Dazed and Confused meets Kitchen Confidential or a cookbook about what to cook when you’re too depressed to cook sounds like something you’d like to claim early adoption of, then consider becoming a Patron of mine!

(Benefits to being a patron include exclusive monthly content made just for you, like, this month I reviewed every book I read and film I watched in January. Sample text: “Rachel Weisz could kick me in the head and I would thank her for it.”)

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You in turn can comfortably expect not only more blog posts from me but also more energy expressed therein, as opposed to me complaining about how tired and lacking-in-time I constantly am. On top of which I will be using my newfound spare time to get back into freelancing and pitching ideas at people so if anyone has any leads, please! Get in touch. Sometimes you have to lose money to make money, as the saying goes!

title from: Famous Blue Raincoat, Leonard Cohen. “It’s four in the morning, the end of December“, is such a captured mood, isn’t it? This song is so utterly miserable and downbeat but just when it seems too much to bear, it gently but firmly unfolds into this incredibly optimistic major key for what I guess you could call the chorus but then! Just as quickly! Retreats in fear and the second verse is somehow even more unhappy. Cohen, you maven of misery, moving tears from duct to cheek like an efficient shepherdess.

music lately:

1080p, by Sammus, a rapper, producer and PhD student from Ithaca, this is beautiful, I love the cadence of her voice, how it has a slight break to it, and there’s so many sharp lines (“we never talk yet we still share a f**ing Netflix”…”glad I took my ass to some therapy/Now I’m seeing the world in 1080p“)

I Woke Up In A F**ked Up America, Lonnie Holley. This is about as intense as you’d expect from the title, I love the record-skip repetition and layered horns and the vibrato of his voice and yeah, the intensity. Holley has had quite a life, I recommend looking him up on Wikipedia.

On My Own, Frances Ruffelle, from the Original Cast Recording of Les Miserables. There’s such a Bernadette Peters-esque porcelain-and-steel quality to her voice and I love the angle of her vowels and the way she leans into her consonants – see also the way she says “HMmbut he never saw me there” in One Day More – but also consider listening to Kaho Shimada, singing the same song from the 1988 Complete Symphonic Recording of Les Miserables, I will never stop telling anyone who will listen about how Kaho Shimada didn’t speak any English and learned her lines phonetically for this recording and her voice SOARS on the big bit near the end (you know the bit, “all my life, I’ve only been pretending” it’s the bit you came for.) I think there’s some kind of echo effect that’s been layered on it as well which makes it sound particularly as though it’s being carried on eagles wings and I don’t know what it is about high summer but it seems to compel me to devote my life to playing the same seven to nineteen Les Miserables clips on YouTube.

Next time: Something extremely from my storecupboard as I’m trying to avoid spending as much as possible between now and my last shift.

a cocktail napkin epitaph

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This week we’re briefly pivoting away from food and instead neck deep into alcohol with two cocktail recipes. I would like to caveat you, first by warning you that I’m going to use the word “caveat” as a verb, and secondly by letting you know that I’m going through a rather beastly phase of insomnia at the moment, but also that I’ve finally got a doctor prescription for sleeping pills to counteract it, and half of this was written before and half of this was written after so if there’s any Wiley Wiggins in Waking Life buzz going as you read, that’s why. What will next week’s excuse be, you ask? If it’s still insomnia I’m gonna be so mad but I reckon I’ll try to distract you with whatever the opposite of sublimation is by being all “look at this brilliant writing demonstrably lacking in flaws!”

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A few separate things had to happen for this week’s recipes to come together. First of all, I was like man, I haven’t come up with a new cocktail in ages. I used to do it all the time, because my job required it, and though I’m still bartending I just don’t have as much call for it anymore. I really enjoy it, almost as much as inventing a food recipe – it’s all about balance and texture and getting your restrictions to push you into more creative choices. Secondly, with this thought in mind I was like “huh, wow,” now that it’s 2019 it means it’s a whole year since Motel, the bar I used to run, closed. Thirdly, I came to realise that I had a bottle of prebatched alcohol base from a cocktail I invented for Motel’s closing night (December 31, 2017) under my bed (in January, 2019.)

And then I was like, well maybe this is a sign that I shouldn’t be allowed to invent things.

But invent things I did! And having re-discovered myself to be in possession of good fortune, I might as well see if it was, in truth, worth universally acknowledging. Or at least…potable. Somewhat unsurprisingly, given the grunty ABV (that’s alcohol by volume) of its contents, it had serenely preserved itself for the entire year under my bed and remained more or less completely unchanged. So I used it to make the cocktail that I served on Motel’s last night and – it was still delicious! So I decided to share it with you today.

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The cocktail is inspired by two things: an existing cocktail – The Rosebud – from Motel’s history, and myself. The Rosebud is pretty well-known in Wellington – it was, in fact, the first one I ever had when I moved to the city in 2006 – and is a smashingly drinkable combination of vanilla vodka, lemon, passionfruit, cranberry and pineapple. Sounds like someone’s just pointing at bottles of juice and saying them out loud, I grant you, but it really is a beautiful drink. I wanted to pay tribute to that drink, but also quite justifiably not-humbly to myself, by using my three favourite ingredients:

  • Fernet Branca, which I would describe as having a bouquet of minty dirt and yet! I just wouldn’t be without it
  • Smith and Cross Navy Strength Jamaican Rum, my very favourite rum, a lush and broad-shouldered overproof
  • Angostura Bitters – that familiar paper-wrapped bottle with the yellow lid filled with strangely aromatic red liquid, normally administered drop by careful drop into, for example, glasses of lemonade to make Lemon Lime and Bitters, very popular in New Zealand – I decided to use an entire half shot of the stuff.

These were the three ingredients in the bottle under my bed, equal parts in a menacing dried-blood red. As I said above, this is a moderately outrageous quantity of bitters to be putting in a drink – normally it’s used a few drops at a time – but as this was a cocktail for the final night of Motel and because I feel most comfortable in excess, I decided to be excessive. However! The drink also had to be balanced, and even more so, it had to taste good.

Balance is a word I bang on about a lot when I start getting riled up about cocktails, but it really is important. Consider the Old Fashioned – one of the most famous classic cocktails, it’s essentially just an ass-ton of bourbon, with a little sugar and bitters, diluted a bit. Like, that’s all it is. So why don’t we choke on them? Balance, people. The sugar makes it richer in body and softer, stirring the drink over ice bevels off the rough edges, the bitters…well, they taste good. Look at the Long Island Iced Tea – it’s got five different types of liquor in it and yet because there’s enough citrus and sugar to take the edge off you can down them like they’re water. I’m honestly pretty sure that with enough sugar and lime juice that even plane engine fuel would be, well, no worse than a Long Island Iced Tea at least.

So with this cocktail, what’s happening? You’ve got that mouth-open-in-a-storm-drain taste of the Fernet Branca, bracing and earthy, you’ve got the rich ripe-to-bursting fruit funk and sweetness of the rum, and you’ve got the clove and cinnamon woody spice of the angostura bitters. All of this, plus that rip-tide of high alcohol volume, is lifted and brightened by the zingy, sour-sweet passionfruit syrup – and you really do need to use syrup here, the kind they sell in the same aisle as packaged desserts in the supermarket – and mellowed by the sugar content. The pineapple juice softens it but also has overlap in the tropical flavours of the rum and the more floral notes of the bitters and the Fernet. Pineapple juice has this enzyme which, when you shake it up, it goes all fluffy and aerated. So the juice is also bringing body and texture to the cocktail (much as it does to the original Rosebud itself.)

I called it The Final Scene because of this reference to the name Rosebud in the final scene of the film Citizen Kane, and also more obviously because it was Motel’s final scene. And then just over a year later – the present day, I mean – I took the bottle of pre-batch to Laundry, the bar where I now work, and photographed the drink there. (In case you’re all “what is that adorable mise-en-scène going on there,” yeah, it’s not my house.)

And then I was like…Laura. Though being inspired by yourself is a reasonable, even obvious use of your time, this is nevertheless a seriously inaccessible cocktail recipe to be putting on your blog. Like, if I hadn’t found that bottle of prebatch under my bed there’s no way I’d be able to afford these ingredients. You would probably be laughed at if you asked someone to make this in an actual cocktail bar (although the Trinidad Sour cocktail has an entire shot of bitters in it, so my reasoning had its reasons.)

So! I have another recipe to offer you, something incredibly simple that I don’t have a photo of but you could make it yourself in the time it takes to read the instructions. By which I mean: it’s just Lindauer with some peach schnapps in it. It’s also very, very good. I called it the Queen’s Speech because (a) the queen makes a speech on Christmas Day and it was on that day I drank a lot of this, (b) I like how the linguistic structure of the title means it could also be called Queen’s Peach, (c) I got my family to watch a LOT of The Crown on Netflix while I was there at Christmas and (d) I enjoy the juxtaposition of the name’s regnal qualities with its ingredients. Like, I literally went into the alcohol shop and said “what’s your most off-brand peach schnapps” and they were all “sure here’s a 700ml bottle for $14”. And it really is so good! Soft and peachy (obviously, but I’m losing steam in the drinks description faculties of my brain by this point), celebratory in a non-threatening way, a little sweet but not head-achingly so, somehow Christmassy and yet somehow appropriate to any time, be it cosy dinner party or your parent-teacher interviews; and above all no effort at all to make.

The Final Scene

a recipe by myself

  • 15ml Angostura Bitters
  • 15ml Smith and Cross Navy Strength Jamaican Rum
  • 15ml Fernet Branca
  • 30ml passionfruit syrup
  • 45ml pineapple juice

Place everything in a shaker with ice and shake throughly. Double strain – using a cocktail strainer and a sieve – into a chilled coupe glass or similar. Serve.

Queen’s Speech

a recipe by myself

  • Lindauer or similarly inexpensive sparkling white wine
  • Peach schnapps

If you require measurements, it’s roughly 100ml of the bubbles and 15ml of the schnapps but it’s easier to just do it as follows: fill a champagne flute to about an inch from the top with the sparkling wine and then top with a good hefty splash of schnapps.

Measurement notes: the following are all equal, so apply which one makes the most sense to you.

15ml
1/2 oz
1 tablespoon (eg that you’d use for baking)
half a standard shot

The following are also all equal:

30ml
1 oz
2 tablespoons
1 standard shot

Speaking of making this accessible, I know the ingredients to the first cocktail are a bit stupid but nevertheless I made some notes in the recipe about the measurements so you could work out what you’re most comfortable with – for example if you’re in America you might be used to ounces whereas if you’ve not bartended ever you may feel more at ease with measuring spoons. It all gets the job done! As for making the thing, if you’ve got actual cocktail shaker tins at home then good for you, otherwise just use a clean jam jar with the lid on to shake it up then tip it through a small sieve. During the earthquake of October 2016, where I was on a “relaxing getaway” (yeah we screwed that up timing-wise) with my best friends Kim and Kate at a bach up a the coast, I managed to make us very serviceable tequila sours using lots of tequila, some very old sugar from the jar on the tea tray, and some bottled lemon juice we found in the fridge. I shook it up in a novelty Christmas biscuit tin with the three cubes of ice that were left in the freezer and then tipped it into glasses through an enormous sieve. And I would definitely describe the result as potable.

If you’re on a cocktail-making buzz you may also wish to read other blog posts of mine on this subject, such as the Aperol Spritz, vegan Gin Sours, or a cocktail I invented called Millennial Pink. And if you wish to explore further the prospect of fresh minty dirt flavours, consider my recipe for Fernet Branca ice cream.

title from: Beginner’s Mind, by Bright Eyes, a really nice song, just a classic example of him bright-eyes-ing around.

music lately:

Sharon Van Etten, Seventeen. I’ve been listening to her new album a lot, partly to distract myself from Mitski at Laneway, and well, it’s very good! And this song in particular is spectacular! At first I was like, hmm, it’s a bit Fleetwood Mac, isn’t it…but the rumbling urgency and building piano and melancholy-but-happy mood absolutely decked me. (No, I don’t enjoy Fleetwood Mac, yes, it’s my cross to bear.)

Waiting Room, by Fugazi, grumpy yet melodic.

Berlin, So So Modern. This magical song is the soundtrack to a million years ago, and yet something in its patient relentlessness also feels like I’m hearing it for the first time, every time.

Meadowlark, Liz Callaway. This song is from the fairly unsuccessful Broadway musical The Baker’s Wife but has since itself become something of a standard. I feel Callaway’s is the definitive version – her voice has this intense kindness and sense of hope to it and she does this thing I adore where she heavily emphasises the “r” in each word (so a line like “the one I’m burning for returns” is immensely satisfying to the ears) and honestly, don’t even get me started on the enormous ending of this song, honestly. (Also, did you know? That’s Callaway’s voice you hear in the theme song to the TV show The Nanny, which she sang with her sister Ann Hampton Callaway, who – there’s more! – also wrote the song.)

Next time: the summer heat is currently DEBILITATING and as such I am going to make ice cream.

PS: if you like what you see and you want me to be able to do more of it, then consider becoming a Patreon patron to support my writing. I’m going to be dicking around with it in the next week or so and adding tiers and generally making it clearer for one and all but nevertheless there’s no time like the present! 

forever green, I know she’s here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A beautiful moment.

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

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

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Green Beans in Green Sauce

a recipe by myself

Green Sauce

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

To serve

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

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

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

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

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

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So long in the making, so important.

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

music lately:

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

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

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

Next time: two cocktails!

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

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

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

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

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Vegan Carne Adovada

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

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

Step 1: The Sauce

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

Step 2: The Stuff in the Sauce

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

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

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

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

Step 3: Marinating, cooking, actually eating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

music lately:

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

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

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

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

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

i am the new year, i’m the way home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Viv’s Crackers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pkhali (Georgian Spinach and Walnut Dip)

Adapted from a recipe from Eat Your Greens by Pete Evans

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

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

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

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

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

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

music lately:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Category 1: Things in Jars

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

Subsection A: Saucy Stuff

Subsection B: Stuff stuff

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Category 2: Baked Goods

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

 

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Category 3: No-bake Novelty!

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

And one more for luck:

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Almond Butter Toffee

a recipe by myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

music lately:

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

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

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

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

don’t have a cow, man

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I’m warning you right now, this blog post is long as HELL due to the fact that I was tinkering around with ideas for Christmas Dinner recipes and somehow ended up making three recipes at once in an absolute fugue state of proficiency and perspicacity: Brined and Roasted Whole Cauliflower with Pesto Glaze; Roasted Whole Pumpkin with Herb and Onion Stuffing, and Eggplant Roulade, AND Mushroom, Walnut and Red Wine Gravy. It’s suddenly less than a month till Christmas and whether or not you observe the holiday in an official capacity there’s no denying that this time of year calls for an excess of abundance and an abundance of excess so I was like why not just … write about this all this at once. So whether you’re the kind to settle in with a glass of port to scrutinise this from top to bottom or you’re already flexing your scrolling finger (or indeed, whichever body part you use to scroll downwards through large swathes of text), here we go.

I’m not one to not boast, but I just want the record to state that I made every single one of the below recipes all at once in just under two and a half hours. Why? You know and I know, because I bring it up a lot, because it happens a lot: I’m quite all or nothing. At times an inert snake lying in bed unable to finish, well, even this sentence; at times I’m like “Uh I wrote an entire violin symphony in twelve minutes” (to everything, turn turn, there is a season, turn turn) and while the presence of Ritalin in my life has helped to both enable activity on the inert-snake days and to moderate the high energy hyper-focus, that’s still just how I am. And I guess this week’s blog is precisely an example of that hyperfocus in action: I had all these ideas for recipes that might be cool for Christmas dinner, or indeed, any celebratory food-eating time, and I just put my head down and made the whole lot at once without really thinking through what I was doing and suddenly two and a half hours later there was an enormous meal just sitting there. (This is how I know I’ve made personal growth/consumed some Ritalin though: I actually wrote down the recipes as I was making them. Yes, this is what counts as personal growth for me.)

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Somewhat hilariously, none of the friends that I messaged to come help me eat it were available, leaving me alone at the table with this massive feast and wondering ruefully whether perhaps you really cannot, in fact, win friends with salad. I’m not saying I like, threw it all in the bin or anything, I had a delicious plateful of everything and have been eating leftovers gleefully ever since, but what I am saying is that you’ll just have to take my word for it that these recipes are good.

My aim for these recipes was to create a sense of lavishness, intense deliciousness and layers of texture and flavour, so that there was no sense of being without, that you would feel and indeed taste the effort and care taken. I wanted food that was somehow inherently Christmassy – which is a little weird, I grant you, because in New Zealand Christmas falls in the middle of summer but so many people still have a very traditional English style full roast meal. By which I mean, even though we’re all sweating uncomfortably, the food is resolutely winter wonderland because that’s just how it is. So that’s what I was going for.

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1: Brined and Roasted Whole Cauliflower with Pesto Glaze

A recipe by myself, but inspired by the title of this one on Food52.

  • 1 whole cauliflower
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Brine:

  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cinnamon stick, snapped in half/into bits
  • 1 inch or so slice of fresh ginger (or 1 teaspoon ground ginger)
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced in half (no need to peel)
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup

Pesto:

  • The leaves from 1 of those supermarket basil plants (roughly two cups loosely packed basil leaves)
  • 1 cup loosely packed rocket leaves
  • 1 cup cashews
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice (can be from a bottle)
  • Plenty of salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup water, optional

Remove the leaves from the cauliflower and trim off as much of the stem as you can manage, so that the cauliflower is able to sit on its haunches, so to speak, without anything protruding from the base.

Place all the brine ingredients in a large mixing bowl, fill partway with cold water, and give it a stir just to dissolve the maple syrup and salt somewhat. Sit the cauliflower in this and top with water till the cauliflower is more or less submerged. Cover – either with plastic wrap or simply by sitting a plate on top – and set aside away from any heat for an hour, although if it’s like an hour and fifteen minutes because you forgot or something came up that’s honestly fine.

Get on with the pesto while the cauliflower is brining – throw all the ingredients into a food processor and blitz to form a rough green paste. Add a little water to loosen it up a bit, it can absorb it without making it watery. Taste for salt, pepper, or more lime juice, and set aside.

Set your oven to 200C/400F and get an oven dish ready. Once the oven is hot and the brining time is up, remove the cauliflower from the brine, shaking off any bits that have stuck to it, and place it in the roasting dish. Drizzle with the two tablespoons of olive oil and roast, uncovered, for about 40 minutes, or until it’s evenly golden on the surface. At this point, spoon some of the pesto over the cauliflower, using a pastry brush to spread it down over the florets, and return to the oven for another ten minutes. Serve with the remaining pesto in a dish beside for those who (rightly) want more.

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2: Roasted Whole Pumpkin with Herb and Onion Stuffing

A recipe by myself

  • 1 good-sized buttercup pumpkin (roughly 900g I guess? But I personally relate more to “good sized” than weight for accuracy)
  • 1 can white beans, often sold as haricot beans
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1 small ciabatta or similarly hearty bread roll
  • 1 tablespoon English Mustard or wholegrain mustard
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • A pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
  • Plenty of salt and pepper, to taste

Set your oven to 200C/400F. Cut the ciabatta in half and sit it in the oven while it’s heating up for about five minutes, the aim being to lightly toast it and dry it out (just don’t forget that it’s there.)

Using a small, sharp knife, make incisions in a circular fashion around the stem of the pumpkin so you can wiggle it out and reveal the insides. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon – set aside to roast them if you like but this level of sustainability was unfortunately too much for me, and I simply binned them. (This might be a good time to check on the state of your ciabatta in the oven.)

Dice the onion and gently fry it in the olive oil till it’s softened and golden. Add the pumpkin seeds and give them a stir for a minute just to toast them a little, then set the pan aside off the heat.

Drain the can of beans and roughly mash them with a fork, it doesn’t matter if some are left whole. Roughly slice the ciabatta into small cubes and add this to the mashed beans along with the thyme, rosemary, mustard, maple syrup, cider vinegar, nutmeg, plenty of salt and pepper, and the onion/pumpkin seed mixture.

Carefully spoon all of this into the waiting and emptied pumpkin, pushing down with the spoon to fill every crevice and cavity. Place the stem on top like a lid. Sit the pumpkin on a large piece of tinfoil and bring the tinfoil up the sides of the pumpkin so it’s mostly wrapped but with the stem still exposed (did I explain this right?) and then sit this in a roasting dish. Roast for an hour and a half or until a knife can easily pierce through the side of the pumpkin, thus meaning the inside is good and tender. Serve by cutting the pumpkin into large wedges.

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3: Eggplant Roulade

A recipe by myself

  • 2 sheets flaky puff pastry (check the ingredients to make sure they’re dairy free, if this is of concern)
  • 1 large eggplant
  • olive oil, for frying
  • 1 cup bulghur wheat
  • 70g walnuts
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 teaspoons dried rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • plenty of salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons almond butter

Set your oven to 200C/400F. Place the bulghur wheat in a large bowl and pour over water from a just-boiled kettle to cover it by about 1cm. Cover with plastic wrap or similar and set aside for about ten minutes for it to absorb.

Meanwhile, slice the eggplant as thinly as you can lengthwise. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large saucepan and fry the eggplant slices a few at a time on both sides till softened and browned, adding more olive oil as you (inevitably) need it. Set aside.

Fluff the cooked bulghur wheat with a fork and stir in the walnuts, cranberries, rosemary, cumin, cinnamon, and plenty of salt and pepper.

Set the two sheets of pastry side by side with one inch overlap on a large piece of baking paper, and press down where they overlap to kind of glue them together into one large piece of pastry. Using a pastry brush, gently brush the almond butter over the pastry – soften it with a little olive oil if you need to. Place the eggplant slices on top of this in one layer starting from the left side, with the long side of the eggplant parallel to the long side of the pastry – I had six slices of eggplant so there was two sets of three laid horizontally, if that makes sense. If it doesn’t, let me know and I’ll try to explain further. Now take the bulghur wheat and spoon it in a thick column on top of the eggplant, roughly an inch in from the short side on the left. Carefully but confidently roll the pastry from the short side over the bulghur wheat and continue rolling, sushi-like, till you have a fat cylinder of pastry coiled around the eggplant and bulghur. Tuck the edges down and pinch them together, and carefully place the pastry into a baking dish. Make a couple of slashes in the top with a sharp knife and brush the surface with olive oil, then bake for 30 – 40 minutes until the pastry is puffy and golden brown. Serve in thick slices.

(There’ll be heaps of bulghur wheat leftover but it’s delicious reheated and drizzled with lots of olive oil the next day, however reduce the quantity if you don’t want leftovers.)

4: Mushroom, Walnut and Red Wine Gravy

A (vague, I admit) recipe by myself

  • 1 onion
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 7 brown mushrooms (if you have like 9 this is not a problem)
  • olive oil, for frying
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 70g walnuts
  • A pinch each of ground nutmeg and cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce

Roughly chop the onion and garlic. Make sure the mushrooms have any dirt brushed off and roughly chop them as well. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan and fry all of this over a low heat until the onions and mushrooms are softened. Sprinkle over the flour and stir for a couple of minutes, before raising the heat and tipping in the red wine. Stir till the wine is absorbed into the floury oniony mushrooms, then tip in the walnuts, the nutritional yeast, and the cinnamon and nutmeg. Slowly add water – around 250ml/1 cup – and allow it to come to the boil, stirring continuously till it’s looking a little thick. You’re going to be blending this up so all the ingredients will naturally thicken it, so it doesn’t have to be too reduced down. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before blitzing it carefully in a high speed blender. I tipped it straight back into the pan to reheat it, but by all means strain it if you want it to be super smooth. It may need more water added at this point if it’s too thick, but up to you. Finally add the soy sauce to taste, and serve hot over EVERYTHING.

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With all that in mind, let’s assess them individually.

1: The concept of roasting a whole cauliflower is, as I noted, an idea I got from Food52, and the idea of brining it first is something I got from a Nigella turkey recipe. I love the idea of treating a vegetable in the same way that you’d treat meat and while cauliflower is more or less going to look after itself in the oven this does come out sweet and tender with its crisp pesto-crusted exterior. It also looks rather wonderful in the roasting dish because it’s so big and whole. On the other hand, because one must be critical: even with the brining and the pesto, this is still just like, a cauliflower alone on a plate. My verdict: this is delicious but I would want it as well as something else, as opposed to being the only thing, otherwise it’s like “wow cool thanks for my slice of damp vegetable really appreciate this.” You of course personally might be more than satisfied by this! But this is how I feel.

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2: The whole pumpkin looks really cool, somehow splendid yet storybook-adorable at the same time. The stuffing has, somehow, and I mean this in an entirely positive and non-innuendo way: a certain sausagey-ness to it. Something in the way the vinegar and mustard play off the rich thyme and the mashed beans and the texture of the bread, it’s all very cured-smallgoodsy and hearty and traditional tasting. My verdict: I am super pleased with this, however I would recommend leaning further into the luxuriousness by making the pesto anyway to have alongside, and perhaps consider adding some pistachios or something else treat-y to the stuffing so that the vegan in your close proximity feels particularly loved.

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3: The eggplant roulade was my favourite! There’s something about pastry that makes anything feel like an enormous effort was made (which, if you managed to make it through my attempts at instructing how to roll the pastry up, is entirely true) and also tastes of true opulence. Happily, it’s very easy to find ready-rolled sheets of puff pastry at the supermarket which are incidentally vegan because they use baker’s margarine or whatever they call it; and it still somehow tastes exactly like it should, probably because it’s what’s used in all commercially made pies and pastries and so our tastebuds are used to it (depending on how many times you’ve fallen asleep with a half-eaten gas station pie nestled beside you on your pillow, I guess.) The eggplant is rich and fulsome and the cinnamon and cranberries in the bulghur wheat are merrily Christmassy. Again, you could consider adding more to make this more, well, more: pistachios, almonds, that ubiquitous pesto, but as it is this is just wonderful. My verdict: Yes.

4: Gravy is so important and I refuse to miss out! This is pretty straightforward, layering savoury upon savoury upon savoury. My verdict: absolutely necessary.

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Because this is already sprawlingly enormous I’m going to wrap it up but overall I’m delighted with everything and with myself. I mentioned last time that I was sick with something flu-like, I thought it had gone away but then halfway through Friday night at work my voice started to disappear, unfortunately I skipped right over sexy-husky and went straight to useless (whispering “hello…welcome” in a strangled modulation as customers blithely walked by, not hearing a single thing I’d said) and seemed to be regressing back into glum sickness. Fortunately I managed to harness the one burst of high-octane energy that I’ve had all week to hoon through making these recipes; I also managed to update my Frasier food blog (Niles and Daphne, sitting in a Gothic mansion!) and have spent the rest of the time when not at work in bed irritably lacking in voice, which is possibly why I’m luxuriating in talking so much on here. Whether it’s residual sickness or just sheer effort I now feel like I need a nap after writing down all those recipes and you may well too if you’ve managed to read this far: napping is the most seasonally-appropriate activity there is, let’s be honest.

title from: Initially I was going to make it “you don’t win friends with salad” from that Simpsons bit but then I thought the “don’t have a cow, man” Simpsons quote was even funnier, all things considered.

music lately:

Blackberry Molasses, Mista This was one of my favourite songs in 1996 and it’s still super sweet, but I am also so sure that the version we got on the radio was faster than this? Can anyone verify?

Laugh It Off, Chelsea Jade. I actually did 1 (one) other activity this week: I went to see local angel Chelsea Jade live at Meow. Her music is just incredible, floaty and dreamy but pinprick-sharp as well and it was so cool to see her again.

Two Dots on a Map, Russian Futurists. This song is so swoony and expansive and pretty much undeniable Laura-bait. While I’m here may I also recommend their aggressively enthusiastic song Paul Simon.

Next time: less is more, I promise.

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