you’re so cool, everything you do is success

P1180872

It doesn’t take much psychological digging to extract meaning from why I, a person who was never particularly moved by plain vanilla ice cream during previous iterations of myself, am suddenly craving it specifically now that I’m vegan. Unfortunately the grass is doubly greener on the other side when you factor in not just wanting to consume, but also to create, but I knew I had a recipe somewhere in me. And after trial and error and error and error I finally succeeded in making a vanilla ice cream that I’m happy with, that’s not only safe for human consumption, it’s also actually delicious, and doesn’t taste gritty or like bananas or coconut or beans – absolutely not beans – despite being bean-adjacent by being largely propped up by whipped aquafaba – it just tasted like rich, creamy vanilla ice cream.

P1180892

I recounted my disastrous times trying to make a bean-based ice cream back in April and since then I’ve had at least three other goes at making a straightforward vanilla ice cream, all of which failed but unfortunately not in a humorous enough manner to blog about. Finally I hit on the near-perfect formula that uses the aeration and fluffy heft of beaten aquafaba in combination with a thick, cornflour based custard-type emulsion that gives that crucial silky richness. I honestly felt like I was in one of those Beautiful Mind type movies where the peculiar genius is furiously writing equations on a chalkboard while everyone stands up and slowly starts clapping and someone says “lads this is the arithmetic that will end the war on the moon” except it was just me in the kitchen and my mum saying “it’s a bit too sweet for me.”

P1180866

I was genuinely delighted with how it tasted, but I freely acknowledge that I haven’t had dairy-based ice cream in over a year, so my idea of what ice cream should even taste like is based on a mental image that’s becoming more and more pixelated as time goes along. But on the other hand like, I really think this is delicious, so, that’s that. The aquafaba gives it this incredible soft texture and the combination of golden syrup, cornflour, and refined coconut oil in the custard base (and I use the word custard very loosely here) lend it a richness and body and depth. Every previous attempt had just not cut it, either too watery and icy, or too flatly sweet, or it tasted like beans, overall just not something you could convincingly call ice cream. This recipe is soft and velvety and tastes luxurious and billowingly fulsome and I’m honestly just so happy with it, it tasted like the memory that I had been craving. I have no idea if non-vegans would be convinced of its resemblance to dairy-based ice cream but I feel if nothing else that my mounting failures give some sense of my still having a semblance of discerning taste, like, I’m not out here just insisting any old frozen-bean-garbage tastes amazing. I had a positive feeling about it before it went into the freezer because it was the first time since first embarking on this mission that I’d actually liked the taste of the unfrozen mixture, and when I took it from the freezer five hours later and had a taste of it, a lone tear ran down my cheek and I lifted my spoon triumphantly and said “tell the moon squadron…they’ll be home for Christmas this year” while the cats glared at me.

P1180880

Vegan Vanilla Ice Cream

A recipe by myself

  • 1 cup/250ml almond milk
  • 3 tablespoons cornflour
  • 4 tablespoons refined (flavourless) coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 heaped tablespoon golden syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • the brine from one can of chickpeas, aka aquafaba (this comes to roughly 3/4 cup/175ml liquid, it doesn’t matter if there’s a little less or more)
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Dark chocolate for grating or melting, to serve (optional)

1: Whisk the almond milk and cornflour together in a small pan till smooth. Gently cook over a low heat, whisking constantly. It will appear to be doing nothing at first and then thicken all of a sudden, and the second it does start to thicken, remove it from the heat and continue whisking to ensure no lumps form. If you have a mini whisk this is an ideal use for it rather than a big balloon one.

2: Whisk in the coconut oil, one spoonful at a time, followed by the golden syrup, vanilla, and salt. Set aside (just on the bench, not in the fridge) while you get on with the aquafaba.

3: Place the apple cider vinegar and aquafaba in a mixing bowl, and use electric beaters on a medium to high speed to whip it into soft peaks. This is when you can lift the beaters out of the mixture and a small frothy peak raises up underneath before subsiding back into the mixture. If that doesn’t make sense there are like five thousand online tutorials and reference images and so on to help you out. Also, this will take about three to five solid minutes of beating.

4: One you’ve reached this point, continue beating and slowly start adding the caster sugar to the mixture, about a tablespoon at a time. Beat the mixture at a high speed until all the caster sugar is absorbed into it and it has become stiff and glossy and bright white. Again, this will probably take another solid five or six minutes of nonstop beating, so don’t feel like you have to rush it. You really want to make sure that it’s as aerated and thick as possible. I like to hold the bowl at an angle for most of the process so that the beaters can really get in amongst the mixture.

5: Give the cornflour mixture a good stir, since it will have probably set a bit at this point. Scoop a large spoonful of the aquafaba mixture into this cornflour mixture and whisk it briskly – this will make it easier to fold back into the remaining aquafaba without losing too much of that air that you’ve spent so long beating in. Fold this whisked cornflour mixture into the aquafaba, about half or a third at a time, as gently and carefully as possible.

6: Spatula this into a 1 litre (or so) freezer-safe container, and freeze for about five hours or overnight. Serve with grated chocolate sprinkled over or drizzled with melted chocolate, or, y’know, literally however you want! This does not require any stirring while it’s freezing and it can be eaten straight from the freezer without needing to soften first.

P1180868

To get to this recipe I looked back through other ice creams that I’d made successfully to see what I could learn from them about making something that couldn’t hide behind the trompe l’oeil of flavour and it was my Rosé Raspberry Ripple recipe that finally pointed me towards victory with its combination of aquafaba and cornflour-thickened liquid. Now, though I’m not very good at being assertive, I simply have to be firm in regards to this recipe, because much like last week’s macarons there are some specifics that make it, well, specifically good. If you want a recipe that you can ignore and replace half the ingredients haphazardly then see every other recipe of mine or indeed the entire internet. I built this recipe like I was casting the revival of a classic and much-loved musical thus inviting the immediate scrutiny and comparison of the entire Broadway community and at least three surprisingly energetic LiveJournal communities.

P1180890

In descending order of what I can imagine being questioned about first from the ingredients list: the refined coconut oil gives you satiny texture and substance without any obtrusive oily flavour. Having tried this with just refined coconut oil and with a combination of that and rice bran oil, well they were both nice but you could sense the presence of the rice bran oil, unlike the refined coconut which just slinks in unnoticed. If you can’t tell by how many times I’ve pointedly said the word “refined”, you really need the refined coconut oil here which does not have a pronounced flavour. My final point in regards to this, and I’ve said it before: if you’re thinking of reducing the oil, firstly, grow up, and secondly, if anything add more than what I’ve asked for. The golden syrup has a really particular depth of flavour that you can’t get from anything else and that one mere tablespoon of it does so much for the finished product that it will literally ruin it if you leave it out. If you’re unable to get hold of golden syrup (I think it’s not very common in America?) then probably honey or light treacle would be a suitable substitute. After all that posturing I concede that you could happily change the almond milk for something like soy milk or oat milk or basically anything that’s not coconut milk unless you want the finished product to taste like coconut milk which, if I wanted that, is what I would’ve said, but if you feel like that’s an okay decision then so be it.

Finally, I really am contrite about insisting that you use electric beaters, they genuinely make life easier and feel rather crucial for achieving the level of beaten thickness in the aquafaba that is required. However, I have absolutely made like, entire pavlovas using only a whisk so it’s not impossible and I’d hate to be the gatekeeper between you and this ice cream if this is what it comes down to. Just promise me that you will whisk with honesty in your heart and not stop until the mixture is as light as a feather and stiff as a board. If, after all this, it doesn’t work out for you: feel free to blame me entirely, or indeed, attempt to write a humorous blog post about it.

P1180896.jpg

(Roger is “the friendly one” out of the two tabbies. As you can see.)

title from: Cream by the sadly late Prince. Silky smooth like well-beaten aquafaba.

music lately:

Home Is Where, by Caveboy. This is really dreamy and softly hypnotic and has gorgeous momentum, if a purple lightbulb in a darkened room could sing this is what it would sound like.

Ambition, by Subway Sect, it has this scuzzy upbeat insolence but also this odd bloopy underwater noise running through the background which is almost like ASMR? Obviously, I love it.

The River Won’t Flow from the 2018 Encores! performance of Jason Robert Brown’s 1995 off-Broadway musical Songs For A New World (which itself is notable for being an early role for Billy Porter.) I find this particular musical so compelling, it has no real plot or characters, instead evoking moods and feelings via its four performers. These songs all sound so grown up, like what you’d hear at a jazz festival by some singer you’ve never heard of but whose bio insists is extremely critically acclaimed. With no need for pushing plot forwards it means almost every number ends up sounding like the showstopper. I also recommend the more theatrical opener The New World which just builds so exhilaratingly and honestly, just listen to the whole show.

Next time: I feel like I either need a break from aquafaba recipes or to start taking out shares in canned chickpeas, only time will tell.

PS: I have a Patreon account where you can directly support me and my writing and where you can receive exclusive content written just for you, and it’s very, very, very easy to be involved and has an extremely positive effect on my life. 

play the game by putting on the breaks, slow down and make less mistakes

vegan macarons

As far as being a food blogger goes I’ve seen the trends come and go and occasionally attempted to insert myself into them – from the cupcake ubiquity of 2007 to the tiresome bacon-as-personality thing that happened around 2012 to our current fixation on superfoods. However, the great macaron phase that really gained traction around 2009 (not to be confused with the great macarena phase which both emerged and peaked in New Zealand in 1996 which was, if my maths is correct, forty three years ago) largely passed me by not because I don’t like macarons but I am absolutely not built for them. Macarons require patience and attention and non-heedlessness and I am an axiomatic slapdash shortcut-taker with ADHD who wants everything now and who shuts down at detailed instructions (I also respond badly to brief, succinct instructions, basically being told to do anything makes me anxious.)

But I live in the countryside now.

vegan macarons

I mean, I still hate reading instructions. But rushing? To what end? I’m entirely unconstrained by the pressings of temporality.

And so, at last, I devoted an entire day to try making macarons, and I mean really try. I’ve given them a go three times in the last twelve years and each time I jumped over certain instructions and pretended that the laws of science did not apply to me by ignoring other instructions and thrice I ended up with something that was more or less edible but absolutely not a macaron.

vegan macarons

And you might think, with macarons being 80% egg whites and me being 100% vegan, that I’d left it too late, but in fact – as you can see from the photos – a very lifelike vegan macaron can be yours with only seven hours of sustained effort and a can of chickpeas. That’s right, the chickpea brine known as aquafaba rears its smug head once more, is there nothing it can’t do? If there is I certainly don’t plan on acknowledging it. It’s honestly quite incredible to behold, as the plain and charmless liquid whips into aerated, glossy, gleaming white peaks that genuinely taste like meringue.

vegan macarons

You may also think I am exaggerating both my inability to sustain attention on one instructional task and the amount of time that macarons take but I promise you on no fronts am I messing with you. I started making these needy little delicacies at 10am and finally sandwiched the finished macarons together at around 5pm. Unlike my previous attempts I actually sifted all the ingredients and I actually let the mixture rest for the prescribed length of time and I actually used a piping bag and I actually listened when the instructions told me something, and as a result I got actual macarons. Admittedly, because I’m still getting to know my parents’ oven, these weren’t French Patisserie perfection. Several of them were a bit crooked and bulging – but are not we all. The important thing is that they were delicious, and they represented the more or less desired outcome of the most effort I’ve ever put into a single baking venture.

vegan macarons

Importantly, after all that faff, these macarons really are delicious, with this incredibly texture that’s both light and delicate yet chewy, almost like nougat, from the nubbly ground almonds. The simplicity of vanilla and chocolate together is pretty unimpeachable and the hint of salt in the filling gives a rounded richness and balances the airy sweetness of the macarons clamped around it. They just taste like something that required some significant behind-the-scenes work, you know?

Vanilla Chocolate Vegan Macarons

A recipe entirely indebted to this recipe from Floral Frosting

  • the brine from one can of chickpeas
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 1 cup ground almonds
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pink food colouring (optional)

Filling

  • 4 tablespoons vegan butter (make sure it’s good stuff that you actually like the taste of, I used my homemade butter)
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 3/4 cup icing sugar
  • 50g dark chocolate, melted
  • 1 tablespoon almond milk (or similar)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 pinch sea salt

(alternately: melt 200g dark chocolate and stir in 3 tablespoon of coconut cream for a more simple ganache-style filling)

1: Bring the chickpea brine (aquafaba) to the boil in a small saucepan. Let it bubble away until it has reduced in quantity to 80ml or 1/3 cup. Most cans of chickpeas contain around 160-180ml of liquid so this will take around five minutes, and you can keep an eye on its reduction progress by occasionally pouring it into a glass or other heat-resistant measuring cup and then back in the pan until it reaches that 80ml/third of a cup point. Remove from the heat, pour it into a small bowl or cup and refrigerate it for about ten minutes.

2: While the liquid is cooling, place the icing sugar and ground almonds into a food processor and blitz it a few times until it’s even more finely powdered than when you started. Sift this into a small bowl and set aside. Because I started off with whole almonds there was quite a bit of rubble left that wouldn’t go through the sieve, so I returned that to the food processor to repeat the step again until I’d managed to sieve as much as humanly possible. Once you’ve done this, discard whatever doesn’t go through the sieve.

3: Place the cooled chickpea brine in a mixing bowl and using electric beaters on medium speed (or an electric mixer fitted with a balloon whisk if you have it) start whipping the liquid until soft peaks form. This means that when you turn off the beaters and lift them out, a small “peak” of raised up mixture is left below which quickly deflates and disappears. As in, the mixture is getting thick and has some body but not enough to hold a shape.

4: Tip in half the caster sugar and continue beating until it’s incorporated and then add the rest of the sugar plus the vanilla extract and beat on a higher speed until the mixture is very thick and shiny and fluffy. Allow a good five to ten minutes of beating for this. I held the bowl at an angle to allow the beaters to really get into the mixture and also used a spatula to scrape down the sides twice.

5: Tip in half of your almond/icing sugar sifted mixture and switch to a spatula to energetically mix it together, followed by the remaining almonds and icing sugar.

6: Use the flat side of your spatula to spread the mixture across the inner walls of the bowl, then scoop it all off with the spatula so it drops back down into the centre of the bowl. This needs to be done twenty times and is called macaronage. It seems entirely the opposite of what you should be doing after all that whipping but it’s a crucial step so get flattening and spreading. The mixture will start to feel thicker and harder to manipulate or maybe it’s just your arms getting tired, but keep going.

7: Set the bowl of mixture aside and prepare a piping bag. You don’t actually need any specific equipment here, a solid sandwich bag can do the trick. I find it best to prop it up in a glass or cup. I used a toothpick to put drops of pink food colouring on the inside of the piping bag in order to create a marbled pink effect on the macarons but this is entirely optional, you could use a different colour or effect or just fold the food colouring into the mixture itself or keep the macarons plain and colour-free. Either way, carefully spatula the macaron mixture into the piping bag, squeezing it down carefully and sealing the end by spinning it around a few times.

8: Get two baking trays and line them both with a large sheet of baking paper. Snip the tip off your piping bag and start to pipe small circles onto each baking tray, using one smooth movement starting at the centre of the macaron and lifting the piping bag up and away from the tray. The recipe I followed suggested a total of thirty (fifteen on each tray) but I made mine quite small and got around twenty for each tray.

9: Bang the trays on the bench or wherever they’re sitting two or three times – this gets rid of air bubbles and will encourage them to rise evenly with what’s called the pied or “foot”, that puffy layer under the main shell. Now leave them at room temperature for AT LEAST two hours to dry. If you live in a humid area or it’s really hot, place an electric fan near them.

10: After the minimum of two hours has passed, place one of the trays into a cold oven (it must be cold, not recently used) on the shelf that is second from the top. Immediately turn the oven to 100C/210F and bake the macarons for 20 minutes. At this point, check that they’re done by carefully peeling the baking paper from the base of one of the macarons. If it comes off easily, they’re good to go, if it sticks, bake them for another ten minutes (but no more than that.)

11: Once this time is up, turn the oven off and leave the macarons in there for fifteen minutes, then open the oven door slightly and leave the macarons in there for another fifteen minutes, and then finally remove the tray and allow it to cool at room temperature.

12: When your oven is COMPLETELY cool again, you may repeat this process with the second tray of macarons. I am lucky that my parents have one actual oven and another mini oven so I was able to do both trays at the same time, all that waiting might’ve been the undoing of me, but you’ve come this far, so y’know, why not keep trying.

13: While the macarons are cooling, make the filling. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and beat in the butter, golden syrup, and vanilla. Gently melt the chocolate (I put it in a ramekin and microwaved it) and beat this into the mixture with the sea salt. Refrigerate until needed. If it’s too solidified from the fridge by the time you need it, a bare ten seconds in the microwave should bring it back.

14: Carefully sandwich pairs of macarons together by spooning a small amount of chocolate filling onto the upturned base of one macaron and joining it together with another. Immediately place them in an airtight container and refrigerate to allow the filling to set.

15: You can finally eat them.

I would have been absolutely nowhere without this recipe from Floral Frosting which I used as a base, and if you’re planning to try these yourself I recommend you read her site. Normally when I post a recipe I have any number of work-arounds at the ready but unfortunately this is one of those rare occasions where everything is crucial and that’s just the way it is. And I hate when that’s just the way it is! But that’s just the way it is.

But to put a positive spin on “trying,” there’s something quite meditatively serene about moving slowly and deliberately through a recipe’s demands, trusting in the process, allowing the macarons to come to you rather than trying to force them into existence. And they really taste good. I think I’m even going to try making them again soon, since I’m still in the countryside and all. Not that I’m desperately looking for diversions, I have in fact been remarkably focussed on driving forwards with my writing projects (which you can read more about here) but I swear to you it’s a scientific fact that the days are longer here and as such I finally feel ready to do things I’ve never done before, like reading instructions.

vegan macarons

(In case you’re like wait but Laura don’t you love cooking and reading cookbooks? How can you not pay attention to recipes? To that question I say yes absolutely I love reading cookbooks and I love making food and I’ll always pay attention to the list of ingredients but generally my eyes bounce off the minutiae of the method itself like you’re trying to hold two opposite-ended magnets together and instead I kind of take in the method as a whole, as though I’m seeing it in the form of a picture of words instead of individual words, and then I usually ignore it anyway and trust my instincts, perhaps half-heartedly consulting it if it’s something really complicated, and the only methods that I can properly read without drifting off immediately are Nigella Lawson’s because for the most part she tells them like a story, I also can happily read anything that I’ve written over and over again, but that’s possibly just ebullient vanity as opposed to a style of learning.) (And I’m sorry if you’re now sorry that you asked.)

P1180864

Ironically since I’ve gone all bucolic there’s now less animals around (I mean Kate and Jason had one cat and one dog and my parents have two cats but clearly a cat and a dog is just mathematically MORE) and the cats were much less interested in modelling for me, indeed, much less interested in anything I have been doing, than Ghost the dog was. This photo was my go at recreating that, but where Ghost had unbridled enthusiasm, Poppy (pictured) emanates a distinct vibe of “I shall laugh upon your deathbed, heartily and without compunction.”

Obviously, I love her.

title from: Oh by Sleater-Kinney, it’s kind of grungy and surfy and 60s girl group at the same time, I love it.

music lately:

The One To Wait, by CCFX, it sounds decades older than it is, with that shuffling drum machine beat and Icicle Works-style jangling guitar. It’s so beautiful, all mellow and sorrowful but with these uplifting swooping vocals from Mary Jane Dunphe whose voice is gorgeous, somewhere between Robert Smith of The Cure and Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde. If you like any of these words I am very sure you’ll love this.

Straight Boy, by Shamir, whose music is like the sparkliest electro crossed with Daniel Johnston. This particular track is more the latter than the former with this immense warmth to its production and a real driving urgent energy, I adore it.

Monkeys and Playbills from one of my very favourite Broadway musicals [title of show], it’s this nonsensical song that takes half its lyrics from titles of flopped Broadway musicals but the four-part harmonies and minor key chord progressions are so tight and even though the whole song is essentially very silly (“see the monkey sail away on his speedboat, it’s simply heavenly to ride the wind”) I get genuine shivers every time I listen to it. If you’re still paying attention I recommend watching this performance of the song from an American university production, all the projections of the actual Playbills from which the song gets its lyrics makes it all fall into place and their singing voices are excellent together, when they all join in on the “Oh, Kay/okay” part at 1.50 in it sounds incredible.

Next time: I mean it could very well be more macarons, now that I know I have it in me.

PS: I bring this up every time but who knows if this is the time that will cause you to finally part with $4? So – I have a Patreon account where you can directly support me and my writing and where you can receive monthly exclusive content written just for you, and it’s very, very, very easy to be involved.

hearts a-bubble in the rubble

P1180828

This is my last blog post [dramatic, Harold Pinteresque pause] from Wellington for a while as I have relocated myself back to my parents’ place for an indiscriminate quantity of time, it is in fact where I’m writing this from, having arrived home yesterday. (And kudos to my parents for driving down, calmly arranging my belongings Tetris-like in the back of the car, and driving back up the island with me.) Now initially I was like “okay I’m probably going to leave by the end of April” and my best friends Kim and Kate were like “wait…no” and I was like “well okay fair enough” because that’s the kind of agreeable person I am. But you and I both know that there had to be an end point to my freeloading gleefully off Kate and Jason who I’d been hitherto living with since the last time I talked about all this, and so now has come the time for me to finally take responsibility for myself, by freeloading off my parents instead.

Unlike the aforementioned pause, my exit from Wellington was neither dramatic nor Pinteresque, purposefully so. On Friday I had an Aunty Mena’s curry noodle with Kim and Kate. Two nights earlier I made dinner for my dear friend Charlotte (who you may remember from such hits as sternly making me get rid of half my clothes and advising me to make snacks and joining me in ageing into a new tax bracket back in April called “Old Enough To Be Paul Giamatti’s Hag Ex-Wife In An Indie Film“) and that’s where this recipe comes in. It’s not what we had for dinner, (though I wouldn’t have a problem if it were) but was served as a cute post-dinner sweet thing for us two cute post-dinner sweet things.

P1180813

This recipe is one of those easy no-bake slices where you melt some stuff and cram some existing processed foods into that stuff and press it into a tin and then walk away hoping for the best. It’s a legit genre that is gleefully fun to both make and eat; the sort of thing you imagine showing to your eight year old self being all like “look! I’m an adult and I can eat this whenever I want! Golden syrup in chocolate!” and then eight year old me would be like “I eat golden syrup sandwiches almost daily though” and I’d be like “well now there’s a housing crisis and the earth is boiling alive!”

P1180824

This particular slicey thing (I feel increasingly unable to refer to it with normal words, Charlotte and I were all like “cronch” and “crosp” back and forth at each other in regards to it in a manner that I can only assume was charming and humourous) is a humectant and sticky amalgamation of chocolate, golden syrup, coconut oil and peanut butter with the weightlessly crisp rice bubbles. It’s definitely sweet but it’s tempered by the bite of sea salt, the almost peppery intensity of the golden syrup, and the cocoa bitterness of the chocolate. (That being said I used the most mellow dark chocolate I could find as I don’t think that the hardcore 80% stuff would be served well here.) It evokes the chocolate crackles – as they were called – of childhood high days and holidays and there’s something marvellous about the contrast between the pure aerated crunch of the rice bubbles and the thin, snappish crunch of the chocolate on top. The peanut butter, though present in small quantities only, absolutely makes the whole thing taste like peanut butter and if you’d understandably prefer a more mild richness then by all means substitute almond butter or similar. I like it served as cold as possible to counteract that boisterous sweetness, but on the other hand it has this amazing gooeyness as it approaches room temperature. Basically there’s no bad way to eat this. Have it for dinner, even.

P1180815

Chocolate Caramel Rice Bubble Slice

A recipe by myself

  • 1/2 cup golden syrup
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter or almond butter
  • 4 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 150g dark chocolate (I used Whittakers 50% Cocoa Chocolate)
  • 3 cups rice bubbles
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Line a regular size baking tin – the sort that you might bake a batch of brownies in, or indeed, use to make a slice such as this very recipe here – with baking paper. One day I will actually measure what size this tin is so I can just give you the size of it rather than describing it vaguely but today is not that day.

Bring the sugar and golden syrup juuust to the boil in a saucepan and then immediately remove from the heat. Add the coconut oil, peanut butter and chocolate, stirring rapidly till the oil and chocolate has melted, and then tip in the rice bubbles, folding them through the mixture thoroughly. Spatula this mixture into the baking tin and use the back of a spoon to press it down into an even layer. Refrigerate for 15 minutes, then melt the remaining chocolate and drizzle it over the top, then sprinkle over the sea salt. Return to the refrigerator, and slice into squares once cold.

P1180811

I’ve been doing lots of writing and planning while staying at Kate and Jason’s but now that I’m in the middle of the countryside surrounded only by further countryside I’m going to really head into overdrive; I’m waiting to hear back from a post-graduate paper in editing that I’ve applied for (despite what these blog posts might suggest, I actually……..love editing people’s writing and I’m good at it) and I’m applying for jobs that I can do remotely and I’m just going to make things happen in an unencumbered manner! As I said, I exited the city in a low-key manner which is maybe weird because leaving Wellington after thirteen years should seem momentous but it doesn’t quite feel like anything’s significantly happened since I still don’t have a fixed abode, it’s like I’ve managed to rip a hole in the cosmos and discover a new timeline outside of time (and then freeload off that too.) I mean, as I said to Kim: “just because I’m moving myself and all my belongings home to my parents’ place 700 kilometres from Wellington doesn’t mean I don’t live in Wellington anymore!”

P1180819(did someone say the word “crisp” in an unnecessarily mangled way?)

P1180818(sounds like a job for – once more with feeling)

P1180823(GHOST!) (I’m going to miss this guy.)

Lastly, thank you as always to my Patreon patrons who have been supporting me from the ground up, you are wonderful people with shrewd business acumen. If you, too, wish to have shrewd business acumen then I suggest signing up to my Patreon yourself. In doing so you will be able to receive all my gratitude and all the exclusive content written just for you.

title from: Barbed Wire Love by Stiff Little Fingers, sweet and snarly.

music lately:

Synthy’s 1981 remix of O Superman by Laurie Anderson. The original is one of my favourite songs but this remix is perfection, retaining that soft quizzical mood of the original while mixing in this airily digital-sounding and decidedly rumpshakingly appealing beat. I first heard it when TV Disko played it at Laundry bar and I nearly blacked out from how hard I was frantically trying to express that I appreciated his music-related decision-making.

Love’s Not A Game, from the TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, sung by David Hull and most of the cast. It’s drawn pretty directly from Luck Be A Lady Tonight and yet I think it’s actually genuinely better than Luck Be A Lady Tonight? David Hull’s little wink and shoulder pops and Donna-Lynn Champlin’s enthused tap-dancing and Gabrielle Ruiz’s fouettés and the cast chanting “Odds! Sixes! Dice! Monogamy!” If any of these words have aroused your curiosity (there’s got to be someone out there) then you may enjoy this piece I wrote comparing and contrasting Fleabag, (also a TV show) with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Ooh, by De La Soul feat Redman, the sound is so warm and everyone sounds so charismatic and self-assured and I just love this song so much!

Next time: I made a ginger crunch slice tonight that I’m very happy with, I will nevertheless have to eat several more slices of it to be sure.

if I’m butter then he’s a hot knife

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

P1180799

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

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

P1180802

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

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

P1180787

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

P1180807

Homemade Vegan Butter

Adapted slightly from this recipe at A Virtual Vegan.

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

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

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

P1180786

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

P1180805

Ghost can’t believe it’s not butter.

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

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

music lately:

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

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

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

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

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

58375055_364190067772773_9147585668174577664_n

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

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

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

57614885_508834199650034_1621556626202820608_n

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

The menu was as follows:

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

57490301_2025763994384806_8660769391668887552_n

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

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

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

58462707_422324771895603_7544876582532284416_n

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

58419370_2224370391158791_1696407709919739904_n

Caramelised Onion Butter

A recipe by myself

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

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

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

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

Muhamarra

Adapted slightly from a recipe in Ottolenghi’s book Simple

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

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

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

Olive Tapenade

A recipe by myself

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

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

57459266_2248620392020331_4953268985136152576_n

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

58377105_371467633497638_103228495282307072_n

The Ghost with the most.

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

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

music lately:

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

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

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

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

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

you know that i liked you, jack

Vegan Jackfruit and Chickpea Curry

This week’s blog post got completely sucked into the vortex that was, well, this week, on account of my working on Saturday and Sunday at Laundry bar in a cameo role (since I no longer work there for real) during the CubaDupa festival. I couldn’t tell you with any real certainty what CubaDupa actually is but I do know for sure that it means Laundry becomes about as crowded as a mid-level Balkan EDM festival except in a small licensed Wellington premises and as such my brief return was both required and, I hope, welcomed. I was also cat-sitting for a friend at the time and am now cat-and-dog-sitting for another friend, it’s all just been comings and goings and that’s why I completely missed writing a blog post, although to be fair it’s somehow already halfway through Friday and yet! I still have traces of a heat rash on my neck from dancing for many hours after my shift finished on Sunday while wearing a $2 shop choker? So I’m really no clearer on how linear time works at all.

P1180682

I made this curry for Jason and I – Jason, who also has a dog and cat but who is simply allowing me to stay at his house between other pet-sittings and heat-rash-gatherings, just to be clear – on Tuesday night. I’ve been finding myself drawn, of all things, to idle scrolling across the ebbing and flowing tides of Pinterest, I’ve also been oddly transfixed by sped-up faceless cake decorating videos on Facebook, even though the results all look inedibly dry and packed with fondant, there’s something strangely soothing in their anonymous competence. I think it’s a bit simplistic to surmise that in difficult times we seek the reassuring – true though it may be – I think it’s really just that I’m a bit weird and get obsessively hyper-focussed upon the most pointless things, and it’s the intense focus itself that’s calming, the subject doesn’t matter. But it just so happens that I found a recipe for a butter chicken-esque vegan curry while I was in one such state of tunnel vision, and while what I ended up making was different, I appreciate the jump-off point that it provided. Much as I feel like Stacey in that scene from Gavin and Stacey where she’s like “Gav, will you laugh at me if I get a korma”, I freely admit that butter chicken sauce is like…completely delicious. It just is. And I was genuinely delighted at how much this recipe evoked it.

Vegan Jackfruit and Chickpea Curry

Jackfruit and Chickpea Curry

Inspired by this recipe from earthchick.com.au.

  • 1 can young jackfruit in brine
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1 can coconut cream
  • 1 can tomato puree (or tomato passatta)
  • 1 large onion, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 2 tablespoons rice bran oil (or similar)
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1cm thick slice of fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced
  • 2 teaspoons ground fenugreek
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons mustard (wholegrain or dijon or American or whatever)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons ground almonds
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (or lemon juice)
  • salt, to taste, but like, plenty
  • cooked long grain rice, fresh coriander, and cashews to serve

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and gently fry the onion till lightly browned, then add the garlic, ginger, and all the spices. Drain the can of jackfruit and – cutting up any larger pieces if need be – tip the entire thing into the pan. Follow this with the drained chickpeas and the tomato puree. Let it simmer away for fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally. Finally, stir in the vinegar, mustard, and sugar, followed by the coconut cream and ground almonds. Allow it to come to a simmer, taste to see if it needs anything more – salt? sugar? cumin? fenugreek? – then serve over bowls of rice, sprinkled with cashews and coriander leaves.

Feeds 2-3.

P1180679_2

I think the most important things in this recipe are as follows: firstly, if you don’t have fenugreek then go out and buy some, because it has this beautifully sweet-savoury flavour that is difficult to replace. Secondly, don’t leave out the sugar. If anything, add more. The sweetness gives balance and depth and ties all the spices together. Thirdly, try to let the tomato puree really caramelise in the saucepan, this will give you intensity and richness of flavour. Next, just keep tasting. Maybe it needs more salt, maybe more sugar, maybe more cumin, maybe just rakishly empty some more fenugreek into it. Finally, if you can’t find canned jackfruit then I would add an extra can of chickpeas but I love their textures together – the gentle fibrousness of the jackfruit with the grainy nuttiness of the chickpeas. Jackfruit is often incorporated into vegan recipes as a meat substitute because of that texture but here I’m not too fussed about whether or not you think it’s chicken, it just tastes really good smothered in sauce. Finally-finally, you may notice that there’s not a lick of chilli in this – I was pleased by the notion of an aggressively mellow curry with warmth from the spices but that otherwise did not put up a fight: feel free to add chilli of your choosing at any and all stages of cooking it. As it is, it’s so creamy and full-bodied and richly sweetly flavoured and comforting and I think I’m going to be making this a lot over the coming winter. And leftovers are, I assure you, fantastic cold, from the fridge, eaten standing up, out of whatever container you stored them in.

P1180693

(Since Ghost the dog has had such a presence in the last few blog posts, I thought it was Ariel the cat’s time to shine.)

P1180691

(Come back, Ariel!)

title from: JC, by Sonic Youth. I love its crunchy chewy droning guitars and the sullen urgency in the delivery of its poetic lyrics.

music lately:

Secondo Coro Delle Lavandaie by Roberto De Simone, I heard this during TV Disko’s set at CubaDupa and I have been obsessed ever since, it’s so pulsating and makes me feel like I’m running through a jungle, like, you can feel the pupils of your eyes expanding as you listen to it.

Everything Old Is New Again, by Peter Allen but specifically as it’s used in the film All That Jazz. I read an extraordinary article about Bob Fosse today which got me onto watching this, I’d always known – of course! – how influential he was, but I really wasn’t across how he was a real piece of work. In his film extremely thinly fictionalising his own life, Ann Reinking, his real life partner at the time, plays the thinly-veiled-Fosse character’s girlfriend and performs with his character’s daughter in this sweetly touching yet expansively leggy piece of classic Fosse choreography. It’s so meta it almost leaves a bad taste in the mouth but nevertheless Reinking was just born to dance, wasn’t she? (Also this film is amazing! Jessica Lange as an angel of death? Leland Palmer? A young John Lithgow? Wallace Shawn? Cliff Gorman playing a thinly-veiled version of Lenny Bruce in a film-within-a-film based on a film that Bob Fosse really did work on starring Dustin Hoffman based on the Broadway play that starred Cliff Gorman? Ben Vereen?!)

30 Century Man, Scott Walker. I already talked about this extensively last week but I’ve nevertheless listened to this song specifically so many times. His Sinatra via, I want to say, Dean Jones voice just slides right into my amygdala like a missing jigsaw piece.

Next time: I’ve already got another recipe up my sleeve so no matter how much pet-sitting or dancing or working I do this weekend I won’t end up losing half a week again, or at least that’s how I presume it will pan out.

PS: Thank you to those who have been supporting me via Patreon! If you like what I do and want me to be able to do it more, then indeed please consider signing up. A couple of dollars per month from you not only stokes the fires of my ability to write but also gets you exclusive content in return, such as a review of every book and movie that I consumed in January or an essay about what star sign I believe each character from Gavin and Stacey is.

bonfires burning bright, pumpkin faces in the night

P1180579

I’ve read seventeen books in the last two months which is more than I read in the last year, in fact I could say with neither hesitation nor exaggeration that it’s than I read in the past four years combined. One of these books was The Idiot by Elif Batuman, I call upon it because partway through this novel there was a passage that absolutely kneecapped me:

Screen Shot 2019-02-22 at 3.19.11 PM

Though I tempered the immediate butter knife that this drove through me by reminding myself that I’d been writing this very blog for eleven years now and have in fact had a cookbook published before; the precision is nevertheless really something, isn’t it, and probably applicable to any vocation that you hold out of your own reach while insisting it’s really external forces standing in the way?

And though this quote dangles in my head like a spider’s legs I’ve done a robust quantity of writing this week to helpfully back up my claim of wanting to write, including the following:

  • I updated my Frasier food blog, covering Episode 18 of Season 1 and a recipe for the Pink Lady Cocktail
  • I updated my Frasier food blog AGAIN, covering Episode 19 and a recipe for homemade Butterfingers
  • At the behest of no-one, I wrote an intense analysis of a performance of The Ladies Who Lunch, Elaine Stritch’s big number from Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 musical Company, likely to the interest of myself only, but I think it’s a fairly brilliant piece of writing.

P1180581

And I’m writing this, aren’t I! The recipe I made this week – Sticky Roast Balsamic Sumac Butternut Pumpkin and Cashews – came about simply because I was craving those precise qualities – sticky and caramelised and crisp and roasted and a little sour and salty and rich, you know what I mean? To be perfectly honest with you the sumac component came in at the last minute – after having taken the photos of this recipe I finally got to consume a bowlful, and while it was delicious it was lacking a certain top note, sort of like if you listen to a stereo and you’ve accidentally turned down the treble dial, so it’s recognisable but a little lifeless? That was when I thought to add the sumac: it dovetails with the balsamic vinegar, it imparts a kind of lemony ebullience, and lightens up the rich, oily heft of the roasted butternut pumpkin and all those cashews.

This combination is just smashingly delicious: the butternut gets all crunchy and almost adhesive to itself in the hot olive oil, the cashews with their brief blast of heat get their mild creamy flavour and crunch deepened, and the drizzle of golden syrup and balsamic vinegar intensifies everything else and ramps up the caramelisation. And the sumac demonstrably saves the day. If you don’t have any of the sour red powder that is sumac, and this is entirely reasonable, I would just squeeze over the juice of a lemon or a lime and furthermore sprinkle over its zest for good measure. Pomegranate molasses or tamarind would have a similar energy but I feel like if you have those you probably also have sumac already and therefore do not require my dupes. On that note; I chose the butternut pumpkin on purpose: it’s buttery and rich, and not only cooks quicker than regular pumpkin it’s also much easier to slice. But consider them fairly interchangeable if you only have the latter.

P1180575

Sticky Roast Balsamic Sumac Butternut Pumpkin and Cashews

a recipe by myself

  • 1/2 a large butternut pumpkin
  • (optional) 2 tablespoons plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 4 tablespoons or so olive oil
  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 1/4 cup raw peanuts (or just more cashews if you like) 
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, plus extra for drizzling
  • 2 teaspoons golden syrup or similar
  • 2 teaspoons sumac
  • coriander leaves to serve, optional
  • lots of salt and pepper

Set your oven to 220C/450F. Pour the oil into a large roasting tray and put the tray into the oven to heat up while you get everything else sorted.

Carefully slice the skin off the pumpkin and dice the flesh into pieces of roughly one inch. Sprinkle the flour over the cubes of pumpkin if you want, this will make it all the more crispy when it roasts but you can leave it out if you want for gluten-avoidance reasons.

Tip the cubes of pumpkin into the roasting dish that’s been heating up and spread them out so they’re all on one layer. Sprinkle over the cumin and drizzle over more oil if it looks like it needs it. Roast for roughly twenty minutes, stirring halfway through – the amount of time will depend on your oven, but don’t be afraid to leave it in there for a while so the pumpkin gets really crispy and browned.

While the butternut pumpkin is in the oven, pile the cashews and peanuts onto your chopping board and roughly chop them into rubble. In a small cup or bowl mix together the golden syrup and balsamic vinegar.

When you’re quite satisfied with the crisp and brown-ness of the cubes of butternut, remove the tray from the oven and drizzle over the balsamic/syrup mixture – it doesn’t have to coat everything evenly – and sprinkle over the chopped nuts. Return the tray to the oven for literally one minute, then turn the oven off. Leave the tray in there for about ten minutes (although check occasionally to make sure the cashews haven’t burnt). Remove the tray from the oven, sprinkle over the sumac and plenty of salt and pepper, and then serve with the coriander leaves sprinkled on top and an extra drizzle of balsamic vinegar for good measure.

P1180591

This recipe is one of those neither-here-nor-there ones, but in a really good way – you can serve it as a side during a larger hearty meal; you could stir it through couscous or bulghur wheat (perhaps with some capers and sultanas); or pile it on rice with some other components; you could fold it through some robust salad leaves, I’m thinking a mixture of rocket and cos lettuce; or you could mix it into spaghetti or other long pasta; or you can do what I did and just eat a bowlful of it on its own. The dish shone at any temperature as well: straight from the oven dish before I’d even decamped it to a serving bowl to photograph; at room temperature once it had finished modelling for me; even fridge-cold, the next-day leftovers were spectacularly good, the balsamic sweetness really coming through the wonderfully oily cubes of butternut pumpkin.

P1180596

(A Ghost sighting in the wild) (Ghost is the name of the dog by the way)

I’m currently staying with my parents for a bit, and have spent the last two days on the road in a car with my mother and her best friend getting from Wellington to Waiuku (including a three hour and one minute journey between the capital and Otaki due to post-Eminem concert-goer traffic – it should normally take around an hour at the most, but it’s all part of the road trip adventure as we optimistically surmised: if there’s one thing Mum and her best friend know how to do, it’s executing a cunning plan and being optimistic about it at every step of the way.) If you remember when I mentioned in my first blog post of the year that Mum suggested I could come home for a bit and frame it as a writer’s retreat, well, like foreshadowing in a prestige television show, that chicken has come home to roost.

The next thing I’m going to be working on is my actual writing projects that I’ve set out for myself (which you can read about here), an article I pitched to The Spinoff, and this month’s exclusive content for my Patreon supporters (a piece about what I believe each character from Gavin and Stacey’s star signs are, and why, and if this admittedly narrow field of appeal appeals to you then you can sign up here.)

title from: Halloween, by Misfits. I love the anxious guitar riff and the abrupt energy and the way lead singer Glenn Danzig slides over his consonants in a muffled, careless manner, much like a young Patti LuPone in, for example, the 1988 Broadway revival of Anything Goes. Let the bodies hit the floor!

music lately:

Survive It, by Ghostpoet. Really beautiful and poetic.

(I Want To See) The Bright Lights, by Julie Covington. She was the first person to record the breakout song Don’t Cry For Me Argentina in the concept album that preceded the musical Evita (when the concept materialised into a musical on the West End the role went to the unsinkable Elaine Paige, and upon its transfer to Broadway the following year, it was none other than the aforementioned Patti LuPone who sang the famous number.) This is from one of her solo albums and is a cover of a Richard and Linda Thompson song, she sounds just gorgeous and the jingle-jangle production is somehow not too dated, and it captures that very British oil-and-water quality of being plaintively melancholy and resiliently upbeat simultaneously.

Sound of Rain, by Solange. She dropped a new album all at once and everything about it, the musicality and her voice and the writing and the production is stunning and she just seems to be in top form. At 39 minutes, When I Get Home is easy to listen to in its entirety but I love this track in particular at the moment.

Next time: Mum has become an abundant and flourishing gardener and the property is positively creaking with home-grown produce, I imagine this will play a part in whatever I cook next.