Vegan Treacle Black Pepper Ripple Ice Cream

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For something to be delicious, it only needs one person to perceive it as such. “The customer may not always be right, but their tastebuds are,” is a phrase I used to diplomatically employ while bartending, and it’s true – if a customer wants a microwaved gin and tonic, or a slice of salami garnishing their glass of mid-level chardonnay – if that’s what their personal tastebuds crave – then who am I to deny them? It’s valid! Distressing, but valid. (That being said, your bartender is probably in a huge rush and trying valiantly to ignore their lumbar pain so I would also advise not being wilfully irritating.)

All of which is to say, I made an ice cream that I adored, but no one else in my family wanted to go near. Normally I am disproportionately, long-term wounded if peoples’ response to my cooking doesn’t match the applause I envisioned, but in this case I was happy to take the L, since it meant I got the Treacle Black Pepper Ripple Ice Cream all to myself.

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Despite the presence of treacle, and despite my usual sugary tendencies, this ice cream is bracingly unsweet – or at least, any sweetness is strongly counteracted by the black pepper and generous splashes of malt vinegar. I’ve always found treacle – and by proxy, its cousins golden syrup and molasses – to have a throat-prickling, peppery edge, which is why it traditionally pairs so well with other heat-emanating flavours like ginger and cinnamon. Here, I’ve decided to take this opinion to its natural conclusion and pair the treacle with freshly ground black pepper, adding spice and depth to its already near-savoury burnt toffee taste. Propping it up is whipped aquafaba, that magical leftover brine from your can of chickpeas. Whisked into a billowing meringue with just a scattering of extra sugar, it provides a fluffy, creamy, instantly spoonable proper ice cream texture – even though it’s just water that some beans have been sitting in – and the ideal backdrop to the ribbons of peppery treacle.

The result is quite intense but highly rewarding, and you’ll probably already know whether or not this ice cream is for you. If it’s not, don’t worry – you can make my entirely more accessible, traditionally sweet berry ice cream, which also uses a similar method. And if treacle isn’t hard-core enough for you, then I recommend this ginger-molasses cake (which is, incidentally, also delicious made with treacle) from Bryant Terry’s book The Inspired Vegan – I’ve made this loaf at least once a fortnight since I first posted about it.

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Treacle Black Pepper Ripple Ice Cream

No churn, no equipment, no dairy, no nuts, no coconut – and not for everyone. But for those who dare, it’s SO delicious. Makes around 800-900ml (around two US pints) Recipe by myself.

  • a heaped 1/3 cup treacle (by heaped, I mean – let it be really full and convex meniscus-y)
  • 1/4 cup soy milk
  • 1/4 cup water
  • just under 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup aquafaba (the brine from one standard tin of chickpeas)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 teaspoons malt vinegar

1: Place the treacle, soy milk, and water in a small pan. (I just use the 1/3 cup measure for the soy milk and water, filling it not quite to the top and scraping out every last droplet of treacle with it.) Bring it just to the boil, stirring all the while, and then let it simmer, still stirring regularly, for a minute or two more. It will likely appear quite frothy and pale, but will regulate back into liquid once it cools a little. Remove from the heat, stir in the pepper and salt, and set aside (I sit it in a sink filled with an inch of cold water to rapidly bring down its temperature.)

2: Place the aquafaba and another small pinch of salt in a large mixing bowl and using a whisk, start whipping/beating the aquafaba until it thickens and becomes an opaque white. At this point, continue whisking it briskly while adding a tablespoon of the sugar, whisking, adding a teaspoon of vinegar, whisking, and continuing in this alternating fashion until everything is incorporated and the mixture is thick enough to form soft peaks – this is when you lift the whisk out of the bowl and the mixture rises up with it to form a small peak, which holds its shape long enough for you to notice it before eventually dissipating back down again. Also, if you want to increase the sugar here, I won’t hold it against you.

3: Whisk most of the treacle mixture, saving a few tablespoons, into the aquafaba. It will deflate a little, but this is fine. Turn this aquafaba mixture into a freezer-safe container, and then using a spoon, drizzle the remaining treacle mixture over it in a ripple fashion.

4: Cover the container and refrigerate for two to four hours, but two at the very least. Then, transfer the container into the freezer and leave it for six hours or overnight.

The ice cream is ready to eat, and should be soft enough to scoop, straight from the freezer.

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music lately:

Televised Mind by Fontaines DC. Dad recommended this song to me and he hit it out of the park: it’s really good! Somehow it calls to mind both Joy Division and Dick Dale, a genre crossover which should happen more often in my opinion.

Suddenly Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors by George Salazar and Mj Rodriguez. I’ve listened to so many covers of this song and none comes anywhere close to occupying the same stratosphere as Ellen Greene’s iconic original – until this one. It’s so beautiful, and powerful, and exhilarating! I have chills just thinking about it!

In The City, by Elastica. Ugh, they were just so good.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

Vegan No-Churn Pineapple-Lemon Gelato

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This frozen dessert occupies a space somewhere between sorbet and ice cream – it’s opaquely, mildly creamy, and yet icily brisk and refreshing – and so, with the kind of abject, disrespectful non-authenticity which I seem particularly intent on applying to Italian cuisine only, I’ve called it gelato. It’s inspired by this wonderful lemon curd recipe which I devised last year, with three key components: the pineapple juice for buttery zing and general lengthening, a cornflour-based custard for smooth texture, and a little raw cacao butter for body, richness, and to bevel out the water content.

Unlike with the lemon curd, you really can taste the pineapple when it’s used here, but I decided – once I realised this – that it was intentional. Pineapple and lemon frozen together taste like cold distilled sunshine, with the sugar content somehow making the lemon even more sour, and vice versa. A truly delightful combination.

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As with all my recipes of this nature, this Pineapple-Lemon Gelato doesn’t require an ice cream maker – and I will never cease my objections against Big Ice Cream Maker – you don’t even have to stir or blend it as it freezes, that’s how well-behaved the recipe is. However, the key to success here is to cool the mixture very slowly – first on the bench, and then in the fridge. This allows the cacao butter content to gradually solidify without separating out, plus you can say the gelato has been “aged” to improve the flavour, as though it’s a twenty dollar bottle of wine or a rare cheese. Neither of these outcomes is based on any scientific knowledge – just wild guesswork and following my heart – but the method worked for me.

If being self-satisfied about making a recipe based on another recipe I made up isn’t enough, I also have an alternative ice cream recipe for you that’s even easier than this gelato – the fluffy, soft, rich no-churn Berry Ice Cream that I made for Tenderly, published this week. If making custard and sourcing cacao butter feels like too much effort, all this ice cream uses is a bit of fruit, some sugar, and the aquafaba from a can of chickpeas. And it tastes like a dream.

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Look at it!

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But also look at this! Better make them both, just to be safe.

No-Churn Pineapple-Lemon Gelato

Sour-sweet and delicious, and no special equipment required beyond a wooden spoon. Recipe by myself.

  • 2 cups pineapple juice
  • 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (around four good-sized lemons’ worth)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup soy milk
  • 7 teaspoons cornflour (aka cornstarch)
  • 1 heaped tablespoon finely chopped raw cacao butter*
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • a pinch of salt
  • finely grated zest from the lemons (optional but very good)

1: Bring the pineapple juice, lemon juice and sugar to the boil in a saucepan, and then lower to a simmer and stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. Turn off the heat, but leave the pan where it is.

2: Mix the cornflour with a little of the soymilk in a small bowl – just enough to make it into a wet slurry, which will ensure it blends smoothly without lumps. Add the cornflour mixture and remaining soy milk to the pineapple mixture and cook it over a low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens to about the texture of a good smoothie – you’ll be able to feel the difference in it as you stir, as it becomes less watery and more saucy.

3: Remove from the heat and stir in the cacao butter, vanilla extract, and salt, continuing to stir until the cacao butter has melted and is completely incorporated. At this point, stir in the lemon zest if using.

4: Transfer the mixture to a freezer-safe container, cover, and allow to come to room temperature on the bench. Then, refrigerate it for four to six hours. This step is important – it helps the mixture to settle, so that the fat doesn’t separate, and I am convinced it improves the flavour. Give it a stir – only if it looks like it needs it – and then freeze for six hours or overnight. It should be ready to serve right away, otherwise sit it on the bench for ten minutes first.

Makes around 800ml.

*If you can’t find cacao butter this will probably work with coconut oil – I haven’t tested it but I’m quite sure it would be fine. Keep it at a heaped tablespoon, but you won’t need to chop it up because coconut oil melts very quickly.

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music lately:

Classic Girl by Jane’s Addiction. I love the way it starts drowsy and woozy and suddenly springs to life with those jaunty, Space Oddity-style drum fills. I love whatever top-of-nose metallic register Perry Farrell’s voice is in. An excellent closer to an eternally excellent album.

Legends Never Die by Orville Peck and Shania Twain – in a year of so little positivity, this song is just very uncomplicatedly lovely. Peck’s cavernous Orbison-y voice blends gloriously with Twain’s more raspy vocals on the road-weary lyrics, and they’re both clearly having a wonderful time.

You’ve Got A Friend, sung by Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters and Mama Cass on a 1971 episode of The Carol Burnett Show. My friend Sam sent this to me correctly assuming it would bring me joy – and oh what joy it brings. The daffy choreography, the flowing gowns, the teeny microphones, the hyperactive vocal arrangement (“you’ve got a friend, you’ve got a good friend, you’ve got a very good friend”) the soaring sumptuousness of Mama Cass’s voice, baby Bernadette Peters’ voice like a china plate falling to the floor but never quite hitting it, the fact that the song lasts six minutes and fifty five whole seconds. There’s something so comforting about that immense, competent professionalism that you get in stars of yesteryear like Carol Burnett (see also the endlessly capable Julie Andrews) which becomes even more comforting when she’s assuring you repeatedly through the medium of song that you’re not alone.

Next time: more pasta?

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

Sticky Shiitake Yuba with Creamy Double Corn Polenta

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When making or devising vegan recipes, a lot of the time the point is suggesting a prior, existing food – eg, this tastes just like white chocolate! This tastes like pulled pork! I can’t believe it’s not butter! and so on. In choosing to close myself off to several avenues of consuming food, this comes as no surprise. When considering what today’s recipe was supposed to represent, however, I couldn’t come up with anything. It’s supposed to be itself, that’s all. In fact I wasn’t even making it to be blogged about – as you can probably tell from the slightly hasty vibe of the photos – but it tasted so good, that I couldn’t selfishly keep it to myself. Fortunately for me there’s a current vogue for food photography which looks as though it took place under a yellow lightbulb, but it probably helps to let you know of this trend in case the imagery strikes you as hideous and unwarranted. It’s warranted! Much as prior generations gasp at the antics of the subsequent youth, I can imagine my 2007 self being moderately aghast that the ugly photos I took then out of necessity, due to living in a house as dark and wet as the underside of a lake, might later be recreated on purpose. That being said, the photos I took back then were properly ugly regardless of context, and no, you should not go back into the archives and investigate. I love to brag about how I’ve been blogging for a very long time, less fun is having reminders of what that content actually was.

Anyway, the recipe!

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This is a double bill of which you can take or leave either part, but the components work beautifully together. Firstly, yuba – more specifically, the skin that forms on top of the soy milk while making tofu, then sold as a versatile product in its own right – which is marinated in a number of condiments and pastes and fried till stickily dense and chewy in a delicious and elegant salty-sweet tangle of crisp shiitake mushrooms and caramelised onions.

Secondly, the lotion-thick polenta, slowly simmered in coconut cream and stock with corn kernels added for no real reason other than I like corn and that’s my prerogative. If you’ve never had soft polenta before its floppy, porridge-like texture might seem a little disconcerting – is it hard soup? Is it cake batter? Big sauce? But its creamy, rich yielding-ness is wonderfully comforting and a great way of both propping up and absorbing the sauce of other foods in the same way you might use mashed potato. If, on the other hand, you are extremely familiar with polenta then you’ll probably hate my explanation not to mention my untraditional method of mixing the polenta and liquid together before heating it, instead of dropping the polenta into hot liquid and I’m sorry but I refuse to change! Or apologise!

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This recipe would be, I think, an ideal meal if you want to impress someone. I just made it for my brother and me for dinner, but I was pretty impressed with myself, for what it’s worth.

We’re back in lockdown in New Zealand, or at least, we are in my part of the country. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by returning to prior restrictions, I’m glad we have relatively clear leadership deciding this for us. Like, I extremely resist any sense of being part of a “team of five million”, which to me sounds like the realm of people who enjoy ice-breaker games and beep tests, but there’s nothing stopping us not being dicks about it at least. We’ve done this before and it’s not a surprise. We got to enjoy one hundred days free of COVID-19, on borrowed – and unprecedented – time, and now we’re putting in the work again. I’m very lucky that the activities which bring me joy are mostly housebound – knitting, cooking, writing, watching movies, reading – and maybe next time you hear from me I’ll be frazzled and denouncing this calmness, but till then: one hour at a time, one day at a time.

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Sticky Shiitake Yuba with Creamy Double Corn Polenta

Low-key and elegant. Recipe by myself. Serves 2.

  • 1 package yuba (also sold as tofu skin or bean curd skin)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for frying
  • 1 tablespoon liquid aminos or soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 2 tablespoons muscovado sugar (or brown sugar)
  • A dash of your preferred hot sauce, or to taste
  • 1 heaped tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 large onions
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Polenta

  • 3/4 cup polenta
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup coconut cream
  • 1 and half cups water
  • 1 vege stock cube (or your preferred flavour)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 can corn kernels, drained (or 1 cup frozen corn kernels)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

1: First, the prep – place all of the yuba into a medium bowl and the shiitake mushrooms into a smaller bowl. Cover the yuba in cold water and leave for about four hours or until very soft. If the day is warm, cover and put it in the fridge, otherwise just leaving it on the bench is fine. At the same time, since they need to be soaked too, you might as well cover the shiitake mushrooms in boiling water.

2: Drain the soaked yuba, gently squeezing it to remove most of the water. Roll it up on a board and roughly chop into thin strips and shreds. Return it to the same bowl and add the olive oil, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, sugar, hot sauce and tomato paste. Drain the mushrooms, reserving a tablespoon of the soaking liquid, and add this liquid to the yuba. Leave the yuba to marinate for about an hour, and set the drained mushrooms aside.

3: Peel and finely slice the two onions, and fry them in a medium-sized saucepan in a little extra olive oil till quite browned. Turn off the heat, but leave the saucepan where it is.

4: Now for the polenta – mix all the ingredients except the corn kernels together in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring often with a wooden spoon, then add the corn kernels, lower the heat, and allow to simmer for about twenty minutes – stirring quite often – until the polenta has lost any grittiness. You may need to add a little extra water along the way. I like to stir in more olive oil at the end but it’s optional, I am just extremely pro-oil. The level of seasoning is also up to you, but please, do season it.

5: While the polenta is simmering, turn the heat up under the onions again, push the onions to one side of the pan, add a little extra oil, and fry the shiitake mushrooms, allowing them to get browned on both sides. Next, push everything to the side and add the yuba along with its marinade, and the chopped garlic cloves, and stir over a high heat for a couple of minutes. The yuba should be sticky and chewy, and a little shrivelled in places, for want of a better word.

Spoon the polenta onto two plates, and divide the yuba mixture between them on top. Sprinkle over the parsley.

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music lately:

Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain by Harry Dean Stanton. A classic, from a classic.

Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu by Dolores Duran – a song often recorded under a name you might be more familiar with: Volare. Duran’s voice was stunning – smoky and rich with a comforting heft which belied her young years.

Next time: Ice cream!

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

Vegan White Chocolate

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It’s with no qualms that I admit I’m far more likely to name a problem and then complain about it ceaselessly rather than do anything about it. But every now and then my rare sense of initiative materialises and I become briefly solutions focussed. In the case of this recipe, I’d already spent a long time complaining about the price and flavour of vegan white chocolate in New Zealand, but then – I tried making my own – and it tasted AMAZING. Capital letters and italics level amazing and, I believe, extremely white chocolate-y.

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Before we go any further, here are the drawbacks: first you have to get your hands on some cacao butter and cashews. As I’ve said before, it pains me to my soul to recommend key ingredients which are potentially expensive or difficult to find, and who knows, perhaps one day I’ll devise a white chocolate recipe comprised solely of flour, water, and air. Till that blessed day comes, there’s no getting around the fact that cashews give this body and heft without any obtrusive nuttiness and the cacao butter gives it authentic texture and richness. The second drawback is this is really just an eating white chocolate – you could chop it up and use it in, say, brownies, but it’s not a melting-and-dipping type creation, or at least, I haven’t tested that aspect of it enough to encourage it with any confidence. Once you’ve got that out of the way it’s fairly straightforward. There’s a lot of blending involved – the near-unavoidable hallmark of vegan cooking – but not much else.

So this is just an eating chocolate, but what an eating experience! It really captures that flickering vanilla creaminess of regular white chocolate, the way it slides across your tongue and dissolves in your throat and the way it tastes better than any other chocolate. I do regret that I can’t approach naturally vegan artisanal dark chocolate with any of the enthusiasm I still hold for cheap non-vegan white chocolate but alas, this is how I am. At least now I can go into the world with my head held a little higher, rallied by the deliciousness of this fake white chocolate.

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It’s been a real week for showing initiative (which presumably means my faculties are spent and the coming weeks will be completely devoid of any resourcefulness.) Specifically, for the first time since I tried fifteen years ago, failed, tried again, got it, freaked out at the responsibility and let it lapse and expire – I have my learners license! It’ll sound like exaggerating to describe how hard I resisted anything to do with driving, instead choosing to be fruitlessly angry at this country’s abysmal public transport and over-reliance on cars, and also at the way learning to drive and ADHD are not immediately compatible. But after fifteen years of that, a different approach was required. I forced myself to focus, and memorise every practice question in the road code, until it was all I could think about, and certainly all I could talk about, and just when my brain was about to explode, I sat the test. And got it. 100%. What a singular rush. Getting my learners means I’m legally allowed to get driving lessons, which will involve a whole lot more wrenching of focus and determination, but I think I’m finally ready, second time around, to take less than fifteen years to achieve this.

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Vegan White Chocolate

Creamy, delicious, and amazingly similar to the memory of white chocolate. The recipe may look wordy but it’s just a case of blending everything thoroughly. Recipe by myself.

  • 70g/half a cup cashews (raw/not toasted)
  • 1 cup roughly chopped cacao butter
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 and 1/2 cups icing sugar + half a cup extra just in case
  • 1/8 teaspoon (as in, a tiny, tiny pinch) coco
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • a pinch of salt
  • freeze-dried raspberry powder for garnish (optional)

1: Soak the cashews in recently-boiled water for at least two hours, around four hours is optimal.
2: Place the cacao butter and coconut oil in a heatproof bowl and rest this bowl on top of a small pot or pan of simmering water (as in, the bowl rests in the mouth of the pan but the base doesn’t actually touch the water.) Let the heat from the water melt the cacao butter, stirring it occasionally (the bowl itself will heat up, so be careful.) Once the cacao butter is melted, turn off the heat and leave it till required.
3: Drain the cashews and place them in a medium sized mixing bowl. Using a stick/immersion blender, begin to blend the cashews until they are very smooth. It may help to add a little of the icing sugar at this point to give the blender more to grip on to. Add the cocoa and blend again to combine. You can leave out the cocoa if you want, but I feel, psychologically at least, that it adds something.
4: Add the icing sugar and melted cacao butter mixture to the cashews alternately a quarter cup or so at a time with the blender still running.
5: If the mixture looks like it’s not quite coming together, add the extra half cup of icing sugar a little at a time.
6: Once you’ve added in everything, switch to a spatula and fold in the vanilla and salt. I found that this folding motion also helped to incorporate any final visible cacao butter. Spatula this mixture into a 20cm square tin lined with baking paper (or whatever tin you have, it doesn’t matter if it won’t fill it completely) and leave to set in the fridge for about an hour or until firm. Sprinkle with the raspberry powder, if using. In all honestly I only added it because I thought it would make the photos look better, but it did taste lovely.

Slice into squares and store in the fridge.

Note: thank you to this recipe at glutenfreeonashoestring.com – our recipes are not the same but mine is inspired directly by reading theirs. I have not tried making this using a regular food processor – I’m sure it’s possible, the important thing is to make sure the cashews are thoroughly blended smooth before adding the melted cacao butter.

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music lately:

Mary Anne by Boytoy. This song is featured in the monumentally charming new Baby-Sitters Club series on Netflix, which I implore you to watch, and then to read the expression of adoration about it which I wrote for Tenderly. This song is wonderfully sixties in that sunny, Turtles/Monkees fashion, and disarmingly catchy.

I Know The End by Phoebe Bridgers. It starts like (this) and ends like THIS which is the ideal way for songs to progress! I also love Salt in the Wound by Boygenius, a group which Phoebe Bridgers is in, another excellent example of going from small to huge, this time with amazing harmonies, it’s real hardcore swoony stuff. I have my dear friend Charlotte to thank for introducing me to Phoebe Bridgers (or at least, for making it clear that she wasn’t Kasey Chambers, when I inexplicably thought they were the same person) and also for making me watch the Baby-Sitters Club series, which you should also watch!

Next time: I used cacao butter to try making ice cream and honestly? It didn’t really work. But I feel like I’m getting closer.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

Vegan Kale, Pecan, and Fried Carrot Salad

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Since my friend Charlotte and I devised the Friend Carrot Noodles last year, not a day has gone by where I don’t think about the fried carrot. Not a single day. This is not me exaggerating to be cute! I know we’re at a crossroads of the word “literally” meaning whatever you want it to mean, and food bloggers insisting every recipe to be the most sandblasting-intensity deliciousness they’ve ever encountered, but even so please believe me when I say that I literally do think about fried carrots all the time. It’s not that we invented the concept, since people have been putting carrots over a heat source for centuries, but I’d never previously considered the carrot to be a main event food. It had been a member of the chorus, a background extra, essential in a sofrito and a useful dip pipeline but not something I relished crunching on raw and unadorned with any great enthusiasm (so much exertion! So punitive!) Fried carrots though – as in, carrots that are left to go caramelised and crisp and collapsing – are incredible, a star, something I’d gladly eat a bowl of on their own.

Having been on a very brief visit to Wellington recently (spurred on by what I thought were cheap flights, which ended up being extremely not-cheap due to numerous hidden fares, causing me once again to curse this ground I was born upon and this country’s terrible public transport) I was able to revisit the Friend Carrot Noodles in their proper setting – with my friend Charlotte. Much as Champagne may only be called such if it’s from the Champagne region of France, these noodles are really at their most exemplary when consumed in their place of origin, otherwise they’re just Fried Carrot Noodles.

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A few things fell into place upon my return home to allow this Kale, Pecan and Fried Carrot Salad come together: first of all, pecans were unexpectedly cheap at the supermarket so I treated myself to a couple packets, secondly, there was not much in the way of ingredients at home other than greens from the garden and a large bag of carrots. Envisioning a wintery salad – more rich and robust than cold and wet – I thought the pecans and the oily sweetness of the carrots would fare well against the substantial, almost leathery kale leaves.

It worked – this salad is so good. The pecans have a real complexity to them, buttery and earthy and dense and just slightly smoky, but if they’re not on special where you are, walnuts or even pine nuts would be a solid back up. The combination of mouthfilling richness and soft crunch is honestly stunning.

You could consider hiffing this salad through some short pasta to make a real meal of it, or add other bits and pieces – peas could work, fresh mint leaves would be wonderful, roasted beetroot is an obvious addition, super bitter leaves like chicory would hold their own. If life is really in your favour, why not add some avocado, or indeed, double the pecans. The worst thing about this salad is also its greatest feature – there’s nothing fun about chopping up that many carrots. But they reward your efforts significantly. In fact, the best thing you could do for this salad would be to add more carrots.

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Kale, Pecan and Fried Carrot Salad

A recipe by myself. Serves 4 as a side.

  • 70g/half a cup pecans
  • 1 spring onion
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Maggi seasoning (or, 1 teaspoon soy sauce or a pinch of salt)
  • Juice and zest of one lemon
  • 4 medium-large carrots
  • Rice bran oil, or similar, for frying
  • 2 cups loosely packed kale leaves, or a mixture of robust leafy greens eg cavolo nero, spinach – roughly a handful of greens per person is a good starting point, use more or less as you please.
  1. Roughly break up the pecans into smaller pieces – you can chop them up but I find it easer to break them along their central lines. Toast them gently in a frying pan for a couple of minutes until they are warmed through and fragrant – being careful not to let them burn. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  2. Finely slice the spring onion. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the olive oil, Maggi seasoning, lemon zest and lemon juice, and add the spring onions and pecans.
  3. Slice the carrots lengthwise into sticks, not worrying if they’re particularly uniform thickness. It will look like there’s an alarmingly large quantity of carrots but they do reduce down in the pan. Heat a little rice brain oil in a large frying pan and in smallish batches, fry the carrots till they’re browned and caramelised on both sides. The best way to do this is to let them sit in one layer, without stirring, for a few minutes, then use tongs to turn them over. A bit of a faff, but much quicker than constantly stirring them. Remove the carrots as they’re browned and drop them into the mixing bowl with the pecans, and continue frying the remaining carrots, adding a little more oil to the pan each time. Don’t be tempted to skip the oil – it really helps the process and the flavour.
  4. Wash the kale leaves and gently pat or shake them dry, then tear the leaves into small pieces and add to the mixing bowl. Use tongs to mix the ingredients all together, and taste to see if the seasoning needs anything. Transfer to a serving bowl.

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music lately:

Cyclical by Cassowary feat Tyler Cole. This is one song of twenty-nine featured on my latest playlist for Tenderly which I recommend you both read and listen to, especially this song – that opening is funkier than a bottle of Smith and Cross Pot Still Navy Strength rum.

Washington On Your Side from the musical Hamilton, performed by Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan and Leslie Odom Jr. I know there’s all sorts of Hamilton discourse going on and it’s a corny show but it’s my cross to bear that I’m obsessed with musical theatre and if someone’s going to release an incredibly well-produced filmed production of a Broadway show, well it’s probably the only opportunity I’ll ever have to see it, so of course I’m going to watch it with joy in my heart! And this is a really great song! Those decisive strings! The famed breath control from Diggs! That insolent little casiotone melody at the start!

Bo Diddley, by Bo Diddley. Probably one of the most exciting and important pieces of music ever written? You can hear this in so many songs, and if you can’t hear it in a song, then honestly what’s the point?

Next time: I used the cacao butter to make vegan white chocolate and it was amazing and you will be hearing about it.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

Mustard Tomato Broth (or, Anti-Anxiety Broth)

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As someone with vast, abundant, storied, unceasingly and almost impressively regenerative experience with anxiety, I find myself – perhaps surprisingly – more mentally soothed by high-intensity noise. Loud, beat-driven music, aggressive ambient frequencies, moderately humorous mid-century patter songs.

This mustard tomato broth is like that. But in broth form. This is noisy food. When you eat this mustard tomato broth, all you can sense is its ingredients, and not your spiralling thoughts. I’m not saying I’m anxious right now, but even at my most serene my brain still sounds like someone is tap-dancing to Scotland the Brave while brandishing a chainsaw (as I often say, I only wish I were exaggerating for comic effect) and yet – I was notably silenced by my own lunch.

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The main source of shock-value here is a brisk spoonful of sinus-punting mustard powder. There’s balance though, it’s not mere distraction, otherwise I might as well simply direct you to snort the powder instead of cooking with it. You get sweetness and rich salinity from the tomato, briefly steeped in salt to draw out its liquid, effectively making you a small quantity of highly-flavoured stock. There’s lemongrass – if you have it – or a strip of citrus peel, to lend the broth an air of zesty optimism, and spring onion for its obvious savoury backdrop.

You can add extra bits to your broth, of course. I would’ve used chilli flakes but a mouse broke into our cupboard and ate them, so I used chilli sauce instead – only a drop, because there’s enough going on already without being wilfully obtuse. A dash of sesame oil would probably be lovely, you could also try this with horseradish instead of mustard if you can get hold of it. Though the tomato and salt has to sit around for a while, the remainder of the recipe requires the briefest of heating and stirring – and just like that, you have an outwardly tranquil and inwardly rambunctious snack.

I was tempted to call it Anti-Anxiety Broth on its own, but would like to hope the bulk of you can enjoy my recipe removed from that particular context, on top of which I don’t want to saddle it with expectations. Besides, the most relevant attribute is: it’s delicious.

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Mustard Tomato Broth, or, Anti-Anxiety Broth

A recipe by myself.

  • 1 medium-sized tomato (or a handful of cherry tomatoes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1 spring onion, finely sliced (white part only)
  • 1 stalk lemongrass cut into short lengths, or a wide strip of lemon or lime zest
  • 250ml/1 cup water
  • chilli flakes or chilli sauce, to taste

1: Dice the tomato quite finely, removing the green stalk, and place in a small bowl or cup and sprinkle over the salt. Leave to sit on the bench for half an hour to an hour.

2: Transfer the entire contents of the dish – tomato, salt, drawn-out liquid – into a small pan. Stir in the mustard powder, then add the sliced onion, lemongrass stalks, and the water. Bring the liquid to the boil, stirring as you do, and remove from the heat as soon as it reaches this point.

3: Stir in chilli, to taste, and then tip everything into a small bowl.

Serves 1.

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music lately:

Cokane in my Brain by Dillinger. This is so charming and breezy and garrulous. “A knife a fork, a bottle and a cork, that’s the way we spell New York.”

Nag Nag Nag by Cabaret Voltaire, wonderfully sparkly and energetic yet droning and miserable, a true winning formula for capturing the attention of my ears.

King of the Wild Frontier, Adam and the Ants. When those drums come in! I have a real thing for any song that sounds this urgent, even if the urgency itself is lost on me. Back to the drums, if big noise is also your thing I highly recommend this incredible recording of The Drummers of Burundi from 1987, it was their sound which directly influenced – or was nicked by – bands like Adam and the Ants.

Next time: still working on that ice cream.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

forty cloves of garlic with potatoes and artichoke hearts

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There’s a fine line between gallows humour and insensitivity, so you’ll just have to trust me that I had this recipe working over in my brain well before the prevalence of coronavirus and the ensuing cancelled events and social distancing. But for what it’s worth: this recipe really does have forty cloves of garlic in it, and garlic is powerfully good for your immune system, and if you’re self-isolating for the safety of the public already you might as well marinade yourself in its divisive pungency.

As someone who’s essentially been in quarantine for the past year anyway (by which I mean – I moved from Wellington to a tiny rural village to live with my parents) not much is changing for me. The routine shutting down or cancellation of everything, in the erstwhile meaning of the word, is pretty overwhelming – Disneyland! The NBA! Tom Hanks! But it’s becoming clear that it’s all for the greater good and there’s no fighting it. I’m definitely feeling anxiety – firstly for people actually contracting the virus, and secondly for everyone whose roles so dearly depend, minute-to-minute, on human contact – such as bartending, the job that used to occupy my every waking moment. Like, I can’t express how difficult-to-nonexistent paid sick leave is in hospitality roles, so if you are out and about I recommend tipping as generously as you can muster since those people are probably especially nervous with few options other than to show up for work and hope for the best. I mean, I would hope you don’t need me to tell you to be nice to anyone in customer service but! Experience would suggest there are numerous people out there who haven’t quite reached this conclusion.

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Roast chicken with forty cloves of garlic is a Provençal-via-American classic from which I’ve quite obviously removed the chicken to make the garlic the star – which is always was, rather in the manner of the curtain pulling aside behind Lina Lamont to reveal Kathy Selden doing all the work in Singin’ In The Rain. To bolster the garlic and to echo the French countryside cuisine vibes I’ve added cubes of potato and artichoke hearts, all of which cook together in a roasting dish to create something spectacular, unpretentiously sumptuous and incredibly delicious. To say nothing of the lack of effort involved: just place it into the oven and wait, hungrily.

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The artichokes offer briny contrast, a little luxury, and a certain gentle fibrousness, and potatoes are just obviously delicious. The garlic cloves, partially braised and partially roasted, grow soft and creamy and buttery and caramelised in their thin casings, and astonishingly mellow considering how much of it there is. The point is to leave them unpeeled so they cook this way, also I couldn’t possibly ask you to undertake the task of actually peeling forty cloves. It means some interaction is involved with your dinner, and there’s no getting around it: you either have to extract the garlic with your teeth, or neatly spit the emptied husks out onto the plate, or swallow them. I freely admit I spat the husks out and then went back to idly chew on them again to access any possible remaining garlic flavour: whether this suggests an upside or a horrifying inculpation of prolonged solitude, is up to you, and I won’t judge you for your reaction.

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This is just so delicious and I am delighted with both it and myself – and as if this recipe weren’t giving me enough already it also looks gorgeous, in a Rococo landscape painting kind of way.

Given that the prevailing advice is to stay in as much as possible, and given that I like to be useful, I’ve compiled a list of some recipes I’ve written about before that are either from the pantry, freezer, or store cupboard, with minimal shopping required for fresh ingredients.

Recipes from or Near the Store Cupboard

What else can I say? Wash your hands thoroughly, check in on people you know who might need help, be patient…and eat garlic.

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Forty Cloves of Garlic with Potatoes and Artichoke Hearts

A recipe by myself

  • 3 garlic bulbs
  • 2 large floury potatoes (eg Agria) clean but not peeled
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 can artichoke hearts (400g or 15oz or thereabouts)
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine or white vermouth
  • Several sprigs of fresh thyme and oregano – around 1 1/2 tablespoons each/a small handful
  • salt and pepper to taste

Note: If you don’t have wine or don’t wish to use it, a couple spoons of brine from the artichokes works well instead. If you can only get hold of one of the herbs feel free to proceed, but they really do need to be fresh. Finally, tough old garlic with green shoots coming out of it won’t work well here – look for unblemished bulbs threaded with pink or purple.

1: Set your oven to 190C/375F.

2: Separate the garlic bulbs into cloves – three bulbs should get you about forty, it’s up to you whether or not you want to be precise or not about the numbers. Chop the potatoes into chunks of roughly 1 inch and scatter them with the garlic cloves into a roasting dish.

3: Drizzle the olive oil over the potatoes and garlic and then place the dish in the oven and roast for fifteen minutes.

4: Chop the artichoke hearts into quarters – they may fall apart a little, this is fine. Remove the dish from the oven and scatter the artichoke hearts over the garlic and potatoes, along with the wine and the oregano and thyme.

5: Return the dish to the oven for another twenty to thirty minutes, until the potatoes are completely tender. At this point you can either serve it as is, or turn the grill on for five to ten minutes to crisp the potatoes up a little, which is what I did.

With bread and a salad this would happily serve two, but also you should know I very, very easily ate the entire thing on my own.

music lately:

Dry The Rain, The Beta Band. It’s not only the line about choking on a vitamin that makes it timely, this song has that warm, hopeful, lazy-yet-momentous sound that makes it feel for real like everything will be okay.

My Man by Barbra Streisand, from the musical Funny Girl – if you only ever listen to one Barbra song, this should be it – and please, indulge me by making this it, since I’m going to presume most people reading this aren’t listening to a whole ton of Barbra to begin with. My Man starts off as a tearful murmur and then without warning it skyrockets, and then keeps going up and up and up to outer-space levels of huge. It’s emotional and intense and glorious, the kind of song where where you want to lie down while listening to it but require an auxiliary lie-down afterwards to recover from how immense it is.

Next time: I made some syrup from the pineapple sage plant in the garden, I suspect it will work well with gin and can’t wait to be proven right.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. If nothing else, I have dozens and dozens of book and film reviews on there should your solitude require inspiration.

vegan scrambled eggs

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I’ve been editing the manuscript of my first novel – I wrote a novel! – rather brutally, and it’s honestly making it so hard to read anything outside of that context without applying the same scrutiny – is that passive voice I see? Wow. Did we need that “did” or “that?” Are you sure about that decision, Joan Didion? (I’m currently reading a Joan Didion novel.) I always call myself the least-edited writer in New Zealand but suddenly I have a taste of what it feels like to carefully peel layers off your words with a sharp knife. That’s why I’m being particularly rambling and self-indulgent in this very paragraph, because I can do that here, and the whoosh of unnecessary words falling from my brain is a relief after such austerity measures.

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With said bumbling words I’m here to talk about this recipe for vegan scrambled eggs using moong dal and kala namak, two specific ingredients without which you should merely read this but not proceed, because they’re both pretty crucial. Moong dal is split yellow mung beans, and when soaked, pureed and cooked they have a gentle fluffy texture and mellow flavour. Kala namak, black salt, is most often described as having an eggy flavour and it does, but not in a stressful way – it’s a distinct and compelling yolky richness. I followed a recipe pretty closely from the Minimalist Baker, making only the most, well, minimal of adaptions, since I’ve never used either key ingredient before. Moong dal is a classic ingredient of – very broadly speaking – Indian cooking, in recipes such as Moong Dal Chilla – but recently, the product Just Egg co-opted this ingredient to sell plastic bottles of it to Americans at a vastly marked up price. Which I guess makes this recipe a counter-co-opt.

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This recipe is absolutely delicious, but I would describe the texture as being more that of soft polenta than scrambled eggs. I adore polenta so this is no hardship but it’s good to know going in. The black salt really is the hero of the piece, giving a superb depth of flavour – it’s sulphuric, yet chill. I’ve made this twice now, the first time I missed the baking powder accidentally and it’s definitely better with – more confidently fluffy – but still delightful without.

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Also more of a pinky-mauve colour.

Scrambled eggs isn’t something I miss terribly since turning vegan, but I do love the novelty of dressing one foodstuff up as another existing foodstuff. This recipe is wonderful – filling, plentiful, brunchily luxurious – even the uncooked batter tastes good, as I found when I checked to see if it needed more black salt. Like, I’ve had worse smoothies. Which really speaks more to the smoothies I make than anything else.

If my earlier mention of writing a novel has you afroth at the mouth, the best way to forage insights is by supporting me directly on Patreon – for a few singular dollars you can enjoy untold (well, twice monthly) exclusive communiqué sweetmeats from me. If the pickled spring onions beside the scramble have your tastebuds narrowing their eyes thoughtfully, you can make them following my recipe on Tenderly. But I shall be patiently sitting with my fingers crossed that both, in fact, have caught your attention.

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Vegan Scrambled Eggs

Adapted pretty directly from The Minimalist Baker.

  • 3/4 cup moong dal (these may also be called mung dal or split mung beans and they’re yellow. Important to get the right ones!)
  • 1 1/2 cups rice milk
  • 1 tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons nutritional yeast
  • a pinch turmeric
  • a pinch nutmeg
  • kala namak, also called black salt, to taste

1: Soak the moong dal in water at least six hours or overnight.

2: Drain the dal and process it in a high-speed blender with the rest of the ingredients till it’s a smooth batter. Taste to see if it needs more salt.

3: Heat a little oil in a saucepan and pour in enough batter to coat the surface. Once bubbles appear on the surface, you can use a spatula to shift and turn the batter. I found this cooks quickly, and the less you move it, the better. It’s hard to not stir it around though! Remove from the pan once it’s no longer liquid, and serve however you please.

According to the recipe I followed this makes six servings although it depends on how hungry you are – I’d call it enough for four people. The recipe also recommends using a nonstick pan to cook it in, the pan I had was very much not non-stick and it worked, but the sticking prevented it from staying in one piece like the original recipe. Still tasted great, so don’t worry too much.

Note: I got the moong dal – labelled as such – from Grabgrocery in Sandringham, and the Kala Namak – labelled Black Salt – from Manga The Foodstore in Newtown. If you use rice flour as per the original recipe instead of regular flour this will be gluten-free. 
music lately:

Independent Love Song by Scarlet. That 90s world-weary self-awareness! That Paula Cole-style howling! The violins! That wind tunnel chorus! My hair is blowing back behind dramatically just listening to it.

Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You from the 2002 off-Broadway musical The Last 5 Years. In the manner of a protective parent who tells their children that The Sound of Music ends after the wedding, I like to pretend that this song ends just before the dash in the title – only heartbreakingly happy, no heartbreak. It’s just so much, the way Sherie Rene Scott sings “I open myself one stitch at a time,” Norbert Leo Butz and his retroflex approximant! That Morse Code opening piano riff which causes me to hyperventilate every time! Like tithing, but more worthwhile, ten percent of my brain is dedicated to thinking about this song at any given time.

Sprung, from Australian legend Ces Hotbake’s EP Mush From The Wimp, it’s tremulous and uplifting and beautiful!

Next time: Kala namak on everything!

old fashioned vegan fudge

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It’s 2020! Hasn’t this year got off to a smashingly awful start? Aren’t we doing well, at being terrible? I wasn’t even sure how to articulate all of this and then fortunately – and I mean fortunately on a minuscule scale – I ended up writing a poem that was published on The Spinoff, about how everything feels right now. The thrust of the poem, and indeed, how I feel about 2020, is that it seems like all the bad things are global-scale, and all the good things are only small and anecdotal. Hence its title: Anecdotal Happiness.

Who knows what this murky new decade will bring, but I’m starting it here providentially with a recipe for fudge – proper, old fashioned fudge, with that dense, granular texture like hard-packed wet sand, where you can feel the sugar softly exfoliating your teeth as they slide through it. Creamy and rich with no particular flavour other than that of caramelised sugar – the very best flavour there is. Tiny squares that burst into dissolution in your mouth and almost make you cough from the throat-burning sweetness.

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This recipe tastes just like the fudge that I used to make as a child, despite having not quite the same ingredients – since this is vegan fudge – though I suspect you might detect a fluttering taste of coconut from it, especially the longer it sits. Fudge is, frankly, quite a stressful undertaking, with all the magma-hot boiling sugar and careful timing and so on. But even if it all goes wrong it will still be incredibly delicious. The first time I made this – as you might be able to see in the photos – I both boiled and beat it a little too long, giving it a slightly crumbly dry texture. The second time I was more cautious and was rewarded with perfection.

At any rate, if you go in confidently you should be fine – I feel that food, like horses, can sense your nervousness and reacts accordingly, but even as a child I managed to make this without any mishaps. Although when I was a kid it was always microwaved fudge, poured into a buttered upturned Pyrex lid, perhaps with a little cocoa added in if I wanted to be extra fancy. I think – unless you grow up in a particularly moneyed and permissive environment – those occasional childhood moments where you’re allowed to experience such pure sugar rush end up sticking with you in a more emotional way, and is probably why, now that I’m vegan, I’m always trying to recreate such recipes (like the lemon curd) because, without butter and cream and so on, they’re now further out of reach culinarily as well as just from the passage of time and so it makes that emotional pull feel stronger.

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Does that make sense? What I’m saying is: this fudge tastes wonderful, you should make it.

With the dawn of a new decade comes changes. When I started hungryandfrozen.com in 2007, in the decade before last, I thought it would be super cute to have all my blog post titles be the lyrics of songs that related somehow to the recipe, rather than just the name of the recipe itself. It was indeed pretty cute. Initially. As the blog enters its thirteenth year I have decided to finally retire this quirky notion. My motivation is partly mercenary – I honestly shudder to think what these song lyrics titles have done to my site’s SEO, and what might have transpired had my recipes been slightly more easy to google. But it’s also motivated by sheer exhaustion – I was actually, genuinely, running out of songs to plunder for lyrics. That might sound like exaggeration, but I’ve written nearly 700 blog posts so far. The whole thing was honestly giving me anxiety every time I had to find a new title, which is stupid, since only a small number of people even read this blog, probably because of all the obtuse titles making everything so hard to find! So from now on the blog posts will just have the title of the recipe – which feels strange, though perhaps not quite as strange as it feels for you reading this mini-essay breaking down my feelings about this inconsequential aspect of my blog.

Also – as well as reading Anecdotal Happiness, you may also wish to read my recent essay, that I’m very proud of, about Dawn Schafer, the teenage vegetarian from The Baby-Sitters Club. She was not necessarily the most loveable of the cast of babysitters, but looking back, she was remarkably ahead of her time.

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Old Fashioned Fudge

  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 cup coconut cream*
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 4 tablespoons golden syrup*
  • a solid pinch of salt, plus more to taste

* Use full fat coconut cream, and look at the ingredients list to make sure there’s at least 85-90% coconut extract. If you are in America and can’t get golden syrup, try using light corn syrup or even maple syrup instead. The flavour of golden syrup is spectacular though, it’s worth hunting for.

1: Get a sheet of baking paper and place it in a regular sized oven dish – the sort you’d bake brownies or a slice in. That said, because the fudge sets so quickly you can really turn it out onto anything – even just a baking tray. Whatever it is you end up using, just make sure there’s baking paper on it and it’s ready to go.

2: Place all the ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve. Continue to let the mixture bubble away for seven minutes (set a timer if this helps.) You may need to occasionally reduce the heat to stop it bubbling over – hence why a big pan is useful – but ideally it will be properly bubbling the whole time.

(Seven minutes should do the trick but for peace of mind you can also try carefully dropping a spoonful of the mixture into a glass of very cold water, if, once it’s dropped to the bottom, you can pick it up and it holds its shape between your fingers, then the fudge is ready. If it dissolves into the water then you need to keep boiling it.)

3: At this point remove the fudge from the heat and start stirring it vigorously – but carefully, this stuff is HOT – with a wooden spoon or similar implement. The timing of this stage is quite crucial – you want to stop just as it starts to thicken up and lose its gloss – the very second this happens, quickly spatula it into your prepared tin and use the back of a spoon to press it out into an even layer. Wetting the spoon first helps.

If you beat it for slightly too long it’ll seize up and suddenly feel like cement, it’s still very edible but will just be quite crumbly.

4: Allow to set in the fridge for a few hours before slicing into small pieces – about an inch squared works for me. Store the fudge in an airtight container somewhere cool.

music lately:

Pull Back The Bolt by Minimal Man, from their 1984 album Safari. This has a kind of Gary Numan fizziness to it and this incredible combination of urgency and dizzy exhilaration. I just want to listen to it over and over and over. If you’re sitting around glumly all like “it’s a while since I’ve become completely obsessed with a song,” this could be the one.

Werkin Girls by Angel Haze. I was obsessed with them in 2014 and this song – from 2012 – still has the impact of one freshly-baked this morning. I love the way that whiplash-speed rapping slides into the swagger of the chorus.

Next time: I am prosaically but understandably keen to make the most of summer food while it’s still summer.

PS: Consider truly starting your decade correctly by supporting me and my writing directly through my Patreon. It’s like a cordoned-off VIP area where you can access content written just for you: recipes, updates, poems, reviews, short stories.

it’s time to face facts and not mince a word

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When I was a kid, it felt like every day from December 1 onwards was basically Christmas Eve. As an adult working in the hospitality industry it’s like, literally every day is just another shift to clock on and I might start idly organising Christmas-related things at 11pm on the 23rd if I’m feeling sprightly. This year I’m instead occupying the odd world of freelancing, where you’re always working but it never looks like it, where no thought can go unexamined but for the question, “is this content?” Working for yourself means no Christmas parties and a very biased HR department, but on the upside, most of the toil can be done in track pants on the couch. Nevertheless even with all this sitting down I still find myself astonished at the haste with which this month has moved.

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Even with the big day itself getting precariously close it’s not too late to make one last objectively unnecessary but subjectively delicious thing, and this Rhubarb Vanilla Christmas Fruit Mince from Nigella Lawson’s wonderful book Feast easily fits the bill. Fruit mince is confusing on so many levels – why does it sound like meat, why would I actually want to eat a bunch of sultanas, how is it overly sweet yet rudely flavourless? Not this stuff though. The inclusion of rhubarb, sour-sweet and fragrant as it collapses in the heat, and lush vanilla, makes for a wonderful rush of flavour. It’s hefty and plummy and wintery yet somehow lively and vivid. The dried fruit absorbs all the intense flavour as it cooks, and it all tastes immensely luxurious. Plus it’s incredibly easy to make.

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(I freely acknowledge that I went slightly overboard with these photos, like, you can barely even see the jar in this one, but the decorations were just sitting there on the table! What was I to do! Be tasteful? At Christmas?)

Rhubarb Vanilla Christmas Fruit Mince

Adapted just slightly from Nigella Lawson’s Feast

  • 1kg rhubarb, cleaned, trimmed, and sliced into 5mm pieces
  • 300g brown sugar 
  • 2 vanilla beans*
  • 2 teaspoons mixed spice
  • 250g raisins
  • 250g sultanas
  • 250g currants
  • 2 tablespoons brandy (or similar – I used dark rum)

* I only had one vanilla bean, so added a couple of teaspoons of vanilla extract at the end. Vanilla beans are also sometimes called vanilla pods. I also just did double sultanas because I don’t really favour raisins. 

Place the rhubarb, sugar and mixed spice into a good-sized saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla beans into the pan and then slice up the beans themselves and throw them in too. Turn the heat to medium bring it to a good simmer, stirring to prevent the sugar burning. After five minutes, add the dried fruit and simmer for a further thirty minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat and stir in the alcohol. Transfer into clean jars.

Nigella reckons this makes 1.25 litres, I got a bit less but still heaps so by all means have some jars on hand.

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Obviously you need to choose your audience here but a small jar of this would make a lovely gift. It can also, of course, be made into slightly untraditional pies, or stirred into cake batter, or heated up and spooned over ice cream. Nigella recommends spreading it on toast like jam, I think it would work particularly well on a toasted bagel. I do enjoy marinading myself in Nigella’s Christmas-related material – nothing else quite makes me feel so resolutely contextualised in the season.

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Meri Kirihimete! Whether Christmas is something you delight in, politely acknowledge, or have no connection to, I certainly hope either way that the 25th is a nice day for you.

PS I absolutely recommend my last blog post where I rounded up a ton of edible gift idea recipes. The day is still young!

title from: A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Love by Barbra Streisand, an unreleased song of hers that would be otherwise a standard workhorse pleasantry if not for the remarkable D5 belt at the end that she holds for ages, truly one of the queens of possessing vocal chords.

music lately:

Pop A Top by Andy Capp. This early reggae track from 1968 is joyful and mellow at the same time, just what we need at this frantic time of year.

Thursday Girl, by Mitski. This song was my number one most played track on Spotify for 2019, which could be partially to do with my making a playlist consisting only of this song on a loop and spending many hours playing it while staring mournfully into space. It’s just devastating.

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! by the sadly late but never forgotten Elaine Stritch. If everything is feeling too comfortably sugary this Christmas, there’s always Stritch to reinvigorate your senses, her singular, matter-of-fact bark is like a cold bucket of lemon juice to the face. In a good way.

Next time: I did make some amazingly good fudge that I’d like to share with you, whether this happens before the end of the year or not is in the hands of Fate (and nothing whatsoever to do with my own diligence.)

PS: What is the true meaning of Christmas if not directly supporting me through my Patreon? It’s like a cordoned-off VIP area where you can access content written just for you: recipes, updates, poems, stories, the opening sentences of the novel I wrote.