a low-key handful of recipes: mushroom stroganoff, gumbo-esque stew, mince on toast, chocolate pear pudding

We’re about three weeks into lockdown here in NZ but for me it’s been a full month since I’ve left the house – even to go outside at all. I had romantic notions of reading and knitting in the yard but every time you open a window wasps and mice and flies pour in and though it gives the vibe of living in a Southern Gothic novel it’s also massively off-putting. I generally regard the outdoors with suspicion anyway so I guess this is simply the universe reinforcing my assessment of it.

If you’re reading this I certainly hope things are as close to your current working definition of “okay” as possible. I personally cannot complain too much (and yet!) but I do find myself increasingly quick to irritation as a result of all this repetition. People trying to be funny online annoy me, people trying to be heartfelt annoy me, if you say something inane, that’s annoying, if you say something deep, that’s super annoying, if you mention hanging out with your partner, it’s plumbing the very teeth-eroding depths of intolerable. Oh, don’t worry, I find literally everything I say and do annoying too – and then comes the guilt at being so grumpy at everyone, guilt for not being a fountain of perky positivity – even though I’ve always been irritated by fountains of perky positivity whether or not there was a pandemic closing in on us. Then, just as it feels like my skin is going to fall off from sheer, resentful aggravation – I stand up and do some form of cardio exercise. And afterwards, even if I only exerted myself for ten minutes, and if I’m honest it’s seldom more than ten minutes – afterwards I’ll feel benign, positively magnanimous. Everyone is excused, everyone is clearly doing their best in these trying circumstances!

And then I get annoyed at the exercise, for being so maddeningly effective. Why can’t I get my endorphins from sitting down?

As you can see this blog post is a little different from usual; despite having all the time in the world I have a lot less focus – and I didn’t have an abundance to begin with – and while I’ve been cooking food I haven’t exactly been making specific recipes. I was about to give up on the notion of writing this altogether to sit and stew in my own pinging, directionless ire, when I realised I could still talk about what I’d cooked, and perhaps, collectively, it might be of some use. Each recipe is, as you can see, open to tinkering with – indeed, each one of them was the result of me meandering about, hoping what I was cooking would meet the image in my mind. The stroganoff is rich and creamy and lush (and don’t skip the cayenne, it might be that there is very little going on in my life but for days after I couldn’t stop thinking about how perfectly a pinprick of pepper brought the whole stroganoff to life.) The gumbo-esque stew was inspired by a Bryant Terry recipe, in that I looked at it and then ignored pretty much everything he suggested, but I would absolutely not have had this incredible dinner without him as a starting point. Mince on toast is pretty self-explanatory but I am keen to champion Chinese Five-Spice to anyone who will listen; and the pudding is even more self-explanatory: pudding is nice.

You may notice I haven’t mentioned garlic at all in any of the savoury recipes: it’s not that none was used – quite the opposite – but I also assume you each have highly specific opinions on what constitutes a suitable quantity and so I’m going to trust you to follow your instincts there. And once again – I really do hope you’re all okay, whatever okay is!

Mushroom Stroganoff

Slice enough button mushrooms for however many people you’re serving. If you don’t know how many mushrooms to serve people, just slice up every mushroom you have – they shrink in the pan and if you have leftovers, so be it. Fry a chopped onion in plenty of olive oil till softened, then add the mushrooms and continue stirring till they’ve collapsed and browned. Add a 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg, one heaped teaspoon paprika, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and a spoonful of whatever mustard you have, along with two tablespoons of flour. Add a splash of whatever wine you’re drinking, if you have it – red or white, doesn’t matter. After stirring this around for a minute or two, slowly pour in coconut milk (or almond milk/soy milk/whatever) continuing to stir as you pour, and then let it simmer away, stirring, until as thickened yet saucy as you want it to be. Feel free to add more coconut milk and make it really saucy, and if you only have a little milk to hand you can top it up with water. I am going to assume at some point you’ve added salt and pepper. Taste to see if it needs more of anything, then serve over rice or mashed potatoes with chopped parsley. Of course you can use portobello mushrooms or fancy mushrooms or a mix but, button mushrooms will do the trick just fine.

Gumbo-esque Stew

I say Gumbo-esque because this lacks the requisite filé powder (though if you have it, go ahead) and other signposts of a classic gumbo. It tastes magnificent though, and it’s even better the next day. Roughly chop a generous handful of greens per person: spinach, kale, silverbeet, cabbage, whatever you have. It’ll shrink down in the pan, so don’t hold back. Finely chop a large onion, one or two sticks of celery, and a green capsicum (bell pepper for the Americans.) Heat four tablespoons olive oil and half a cup of flour together in a large pan, stirring over a medium heat for at least ten minutes, or until the flour is a rich golden brown colour. Then add the onion/celery/capsicum mixture and cook until the vegetables are a little softened. Add two teaspoons paprika, a good pinch of cayenne, a teaspoon of sugar (or maple syrup or molasses or whatever) and then slowly stir in about four cups of strongly seasoned stock/broth (I like vegan beef stock here for the flavour), followed by a drained can of black beans (or whatever beans you like, and you can add more beans to feed more people) as well as any extra chopped vegetables you want – carrots, kumara, etc. Bring to the boil, stirring constantly, then add the greens. Simmer for about 20-40 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more of anything (including stock) until it’s the taste and texture you want. If you have some good vegan sausages, chop them up and add them to the simmering pot too. And if you have a bay leaf, now would be the time to throw that in. Once it’s done simmering, stir in plenty of fresh thyme leaves and a splash of any vinegar you have before serving over rice or simply as is.

Mince on Toast

I mean like: cook mince and put it on toast, but also: fry an onion and a few chopped button mushrooms, add your vegan mince, stir to let it cook through, then tip in a quarter to half a jar of tomato relish and a good teaspoon of Marmite, add a splash of water/red wine and let simmer. A pinch of Chinese Five-Spice always makes everything delicious. If you don’t have vegan mince to hand, a mixture of fried mushrooms, chopped walnuts and chopped sun-dried tomatoes is really good.

Chocolate Pear Pudding

This is based on a recipe of Nigella Lawson’s, which I made vegan and more chocolatey. If you have fresh actual pears – which we did, and which was what prompted the making of this – then slice them up and arrange them in the baking dish and pop them in the oven as it heats up while you make the batter. Otherwise, as is more likely the case, simply drain two tins of pears and arrange over the base of a baking dish. Melt 1/3 cup coconut oil (though you could use margarine) and stir in 1 cup sugar, 1 and 1/2 cups flour, 4 tablespoons cocoa, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds mixed with 4 tablespoons of water (mix the flaxseed and water first and leave it to sit while you mix everything else.) Finally, stir in around 3/4 cup soy milk or whatever milk you have, until the texture is thick yet softly spreadable. Chop up about 50g-75g dark chocolate and sprinkle it over the pears, then spoon the batter over the top, smoothing it evenly with a knife or the back of a spoon. It will only just cover the pears, so try not to eat too much while you’re making it. Bake for about thirty minutes at 180C/350F. Serve as is, or with cold coconut milk or ice cream.

music lately:

Lungs, by Townes Van Zandt, from his Live at the Old Quarter album. That final line, “we’ll tell the world we tried,” I just!

Yon Ferrets Return, Neko Case. Possibly the most fiercely joyful song ever written about the ferret, and #14 in another playlist I made for Tenderly, this time about the less-celebrated members of the animal kingdom.

I’m Going Home, from the 36th Annual Sacred Harp Convention. Turns out you can get your endorphins sitting down: listening to this – and I recommend headphones – is even more rewarding than cardio. I mean, everything’s more rewarding than cardio to me, but this really does approach similar levels of busting through the hardened plaque built up around one’s brain.

Next time: photos, I promise! It’s my birthday tomorrow (the 17th) so I’m aiming to cook something cool for dinner and will report back here. I mean, there’s not much else I can do for a birthday in lockdown, but fortunately cooking dinner is pretty much all I ever want to do anyway.

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. Also! I wrote a round up of television recommendations if you need them while stuck at home, which anyone can read on my Patreon for free.

Spaghetti with Olives, Nori, Pine Nuts and Chilli

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Not once in my thirteen years of writing hungryandfrozen.com has a recipe featured anchovies. I wasn’t against anchovies – I also clearly wasn’t going out of my way to court their flavour. Being vegan now would suggest that stance is unlikely to change, but then I re-read a Nigella Lawson cookbook, as smooth and eroded from my fingerprints as a statue of Mary in a particularly tourist-friendly French cathedral, and suddenly I was consumed with trying to capture the flavour of anchovies – minus the anchovies. You might shrewdly ask, where was this fervour over the last thirteen years? The thing is, I’ve already had my first Nigella-fuelled attempts at an anchovy phase back in 2006, just before I started my blog. It wasn’t successful – I don’t think I’d amassed the life experience needed to truly enjoy anchovies – and it had since lain dormant, waiting for the trigger: the fact that I really can’t eat them anymore, and so of course, strangely want them. Limitation being the mother of invention – and Nigella being the mother of the mother of my invention, which I guess would make me the mother of my own limitation, and my limitation a servant of two masters, and this paragraph complete nonsense – I made this spaghetti.

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As they say when they’re quoting The Wire, all the pieces matter – the olives give briny density, the nori sheets strongly suggest the ocean, the pine nuts are gently rich, the parsley is strident and a little astringent, and the prunes add darkly subtle balancing sweetness without any actual, you know, pruniness. I know prunes are deeply un-alluring but I insist that you humour me here! I’ve previously paired them with olives in my tapenade recipe – frankly I think they’re an ideal match for each other’s intensity. The chilli flakes were a reckless, “more is more” addition, but their heat grounds the sauce, stopping the flavour from skidding too wildly off-course.

The flavour of this sauce is A Lot, and it looks completely hideous – like hearty mud – but once you’ve made peace with both these factors, deliciousness awaits you. Because, A Lot of flavour is great! And the ugliness of the pasta can be carefully hidden under parsley and extra pine nuts, as you see in the photos. It would take someone more recently familiar with those tiny fish than I to assess for sure if this captures the flavour of anchovies, but it’s definitely got a vibe, you know? This is pasta that has known the sea.

Given that this was inspired by her numerous anchovy-pasta recipes I probably should’ve given it a Nigella-esque high kick of a name, but I find it more helpful for all involved to simply list the main star ingredients. (Pointedly, minus the prunes, since I don’t want to alienate people before they’ve even begun.) That style works for Nigella – no-one needs to read me calling something “Sprightly Spaghetti.”

(To be fair, it really is sprightly.)

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Spaghetti with Olives, Nori, Pine Nuts and Chilli

A recipe by myself

  • 1/2 cup pine nuts (70g)
  • 3/4 cup black olives, pitted
  • 1/2 cup parsley (more or less – just grab a handful)
  • 2 x 10cm nori sheets, or to taste
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves or to taste
  • 2 prunes
  • chilli flakes, to taste
  • 100g spaghetti or pasta of your choice

1: Toast the pine nuts in a small pan over a medium heat till they’re lightly browned. Reserve a tablespoon or so for sprinkling over at the end, if you like, along with a little of the parsley.

2: Blend the pine nuts, olives, parsley, nori sheets, olive oil, prunes, and chilli flakes either using a stick blender in a small bowl (which is what I did) or in a small food processor, until it forms a thick paste. You will probably need to scrape down the sides once or twice. Taste to see if you think it needs more chilli, nori, etc.

3: Bring a pan of well-salted water to the boil (or, more efficiently, boil the jug and then pour that into the pan along with your salt) and cook the spaghetti for ten to twelve minutes, or however long it takes for them to be done.

4: This is a good opportunity to steal some of the pasta cooking water to stir into the olive paste to make it more saucy, if you like – around quarter of a cup should do it. The starch from the pasta makes the cooking water particularly great for this purpose, as opposed to plain tap water which will just make it watery.

5: Drain the pasta, stir through as much of the olive sauce as you like, and sprinkle over more parsley, chilli flakes, and the reserved pine nuts to serve.

Serves 1 generously, and the sauce would easily stretch to two people, just double the pasta obviously. If you don’t have a blending implement, you could chop all the sauce ingredients as finely as possible and mix them together – it will be a lot more textured as opposed to saucy, but this isn’t a bad thing!

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music lately:

All Through The Night, Cyndi Lauper – one of the most beautiful pop songs. My introduction to this was via a 2002 Idina Menzel concert bootleg at Ars Nova (if you know, you know!) but Lauper’s original is glorious, with those delicious twinkly keys and that reckless, triumphant, anything-is-possible chorus.

Suddenly Seymour by Ellen Greene and Rick Moranis, from Little Shop of Horrors. There is no one else on earth who should sing this but Ellen Greene – the way she goes from that feather-squeak speaking voice to a blood-freezing full belt is astonishing. I love the way the verses rush over each other in the middle section, I love the Kermit (as in, the Frog) earnestness of Moranis’ voice, and – Ellen Greene’s belting! So exhilarating.

Also, if you like the way I write about music and also like dogs, I made a playlist called 25 Great Songs For Dog Lovers and wrote a bit about each song for Tenderly, and you should definitely both read and listen to it.

Next time: I cooked some pulled jackfruit into which I may have put way too much chilli. I’ve been nervously avoiding returning to it to taste-test, but if it actually is good you’ll be the first to know.

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.

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.

lost your love of life, too much apple pie

vegan apple tart

You might be the sort of morally upright person who enjoys a job well done, but I personally subscribe to the singular pleasure of the illusion of a job well done, where you’ve put in hardly any effort and yet the results yielded appear to be drawn from a time of great toil. This recipe is one such exemplary example of this genre, there’s just nothing to it, but fresh from the oven it precisely resembles the kind of confection that the lead in a romantic comedy, perhaps played by Kristin Wiig or Mila Kunis, would make in her job as a very part-time pastry chef who lives in an spacious, light-filled loft apartment in Manhattan.

Admittedly, I made this and then immediately ate the entire thing myself so the window of impressing other people with my no-effort-effort was quickly slammed shut but I’m going to assume that all of you are impressed while reading this at least.

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I’m in Wellington for a few more days, and have reached the point of my itinerary where I’m still staying at Kate and Jason’s house but they’ve gone away on a trip for a while, which is how I found myself looking at an apple that had hitherto belonged to them and being like, “I’d really better put this to use.” I don’t know if you get like this when you’re staying in someone’s house while they’re not there but it’s like a strange lawless urgency, like, should I drink all their shampoo and conditioner before it expires? Will they expect to have flour when they get home? Do all their cushions now belong to me?

In case your respectful awe at my apple tart making has turned to concern, like, I’ve literally only used this one apple, everyone’s belongings are intact, I’m just being farcical. (Although I do also literally think this every time I step foot into someone’s property.) (I just don’t generally act upon it.)

vegan apple tart

I already had some pastry sheets in the freezer from making some olive and almond pinwheels for book group last week and so it seemed prudent to put the remainder to use. My recipe takes direct inspiration from one of Nigella’s in her 2007 book Nigella Express, and it’s as delicious as it is un-stressful to make, as is to be expected from something of her provenance. It’s somehow sturdily old-fashioned yet daintily elegant at the same time, and there’s a pleasing delicacy to the whole proceeding, from the light, fluttery pastry to the gently sweetened, almost translucently thin apples, which retain both their shape and just the slightest, merest hint of sour bite. If you wish to emphasise this you could strew over some finely milled lemon zest, if you want to make it sweeter by all means add more sugar, but I like it just as it is.

vegan apple tart

Easy Apple Tart

Based loosely on a recipe of Nigella Lawson’s from her book Nigella Express

  • 1 sheet ready-rolled flaky puff pastry (check the ingredients to make sure it’s vegan, if you want to make sure it’s vegan)
  • 1 large red apple (or green or whatever, the one I found was red, is all)
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup (or maple syrup, or similar)
  • 2 teaspoons cornflour
  • 1 teaspoon cold water
  • small pinch of salt

Set your oven to 200C/400F and take your sheet of pastry out of the freezer to thaw a little if that’s where you’ve been keeping it.

Slice two cheeks off the sides of the apple and then, as thinly as you can, slice them into half moons. Continue with the rest of the apple.

Using the point of your knife, score a border one inch or so in from the edges of the sheet of pastry, by which I mean, run the knife along the pastry so there’s a partial incision but don’t cut all the way through. This will allow the border to puff up, and no, I have no idea how it works.

Arrange the slices of apple in overlapping layers in the centre square of the pastry, avoiding crossing the border that you’ve cut in. Mix the golden syrup, cornflour, water and salt in a small bowl and drizzle it over the apple slices.

Carefully slide this onto a baking tray lined with a sheet of baking paper – or better yet, move the pastry to the baking tray before you arrange the apples on it.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the apples are golden and the border of the pastry sheet is puffed and risen. Allow to sit for five or so minutes then cut into squares.

vegan apple tart

I feel duty-bound to draw your attention to the serendipitous vegan-ness of a lot of frozen puff pastry, but also wearily acknowledge that it often substitutes palm oil for butter, and like, on the one hand there’s only so many things you can be self-flagellating about at once in regards to late capitalism (believe me, I’ve tried), but on the other hand…actually I don’t think I have a counterpoint, but I do think I’ll be googling homemade vegan puff pastry recipes.

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It’s Ariel’s time to shine! (By which I mean, studiously ignore me, but it’s a gentle disregard unlike my parents’ cats who sit in the corner looking like cartoon villains plotting dragon-related revenge against any number of perceived slights, and so, it feels like love.)

My Patreon patrons will have known this for a minute now, but let me tell those of you who aren’t yet aware: an exciting opportunity has befallen me. In July, a new online vegan magazine will be launching from the US, via Medium.com, called Tenderly, and I will be a regular contributor to them! Do you know how specifically wild it is to have a paid writing opportunity at all and to have that writing be about a subject I am genuinely into? It’s wild!

So, you better believe there are going to be some changes around here! The quantity of content I’ll be writing for Tenderly means I will be gently receding my content on here, just like, super slightly, so that my brain doesn’t dissolve into a nourishing yet highly un-vegan broth. But then, once a month, I will be putting a blog post very much like this one on my Patreon for subscribers only to read. The good news is that if you want in, this will be available for just a dollar per month, and if you don’t want in, there will still be other blog posts for you here on hungryandfrozen.com, and the really good news is that if you want to spend more than that, well I can totally accommodate you there too.

You know that scene in The Simpsons when the teachers are on strike and Vice Superintendent Leopold busts into Bart’s classroom and he’s like “all right, you listen up, you little freaks! The fun stops here, you’re going to shut your stinking traps and behave, damn it! This is one substitute you’re not going to screw with!” and then Marge Simpson comes in radiating absolute niceness? That’s kind of my vibe with all this. It may sound like a wild door-kicking change but I’ll still just be right here, being nice. I’ll just also be writing more for Patreon (probably with appalling titles like “all in all you’re just another brick in the paywall,” some things never change.)

title from: Kennedy by The Wedding Present, a rollicking song with fabulous drums and vocals that suggest peevish gargling, by which I mean, I like it a lot.

music lately:

Sunshine On A Rainy Day by Naomi Campbell, who released an album in 1994, because why not, who would possibly stand in her way? It’s majorly patchy, and yet so endearing as a whole, it just sounds exactly how it should, it sounds how all albums like this wish they could. This song, a cover of Zoe’s 1990 hit, is a massive standout, with Campbell’s vocals so amazingly present and confident, and there’s something incredibly comforting about that 90s sound, combining gospel choirs and shuffling trip-hop beats and broad yet vague spirituality.

Whatever Lola Wants by Gwen Verdon from the musical Damn Yankees. The song itself is very old-fashioned – though oddly appealing – but she just completely embodies her husband and longtime collaborator Bob Fosse’s choreography in this. Even though the number is ostensibly a striptease, her character is a seductress for the devil who traded her soul for eternal youth so it’s supposed to be funny and disarming and Verdon, whose body moves like liquid, seems more like a cartoon than a real person – her movements are so precise yet so disjointed and so weird yet so purposeful – and notice how much of this is done in one take.

Next time: I’m in Wellington a bit longer but will be back at my parents’ place by the end of the week, so it’s anyone’s guess as to whether it will be town cat or country cat in the background of the photos.

forever green, I know she’s here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A beautiful moment.

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

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

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Green Beans in Green Sauce

a recipe by myself

Green Sauce

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

To serve

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

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

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

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

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

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So long in the making, so important.

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

music lately:

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

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

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

Next time: two cocktails!

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

the corn was golden, we lay in it for days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corn and Chilli Relish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A pig shall rise

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

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

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

music lately:

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

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

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

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

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

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cold comfort for change

I used to have a much, much sweeter tooth than I do currently. My idea of a good time tastebud-wise is generally on the savoury-salty-oily-sour side of things, but the me who used to have a thousand-dollar-a-day candy necklace habit (a moderate exaggeration) and think nothing of hooning through love hearts or boxes of Nerds as a modest snack, will apparently always be there below the surface. I say that because I recently found myself having actual dreams, as in while I was asleep, of tables laden with chocolate and cookies and caramelly things and cakes. Naturally, I would then wake up feeling kind of empty, because when you eat in a dream – whatever it signifies – it’s always blurred and hard to get a grip on and leaves you wanting. Because you’re not actually eating, you’re just thinking about it with your eyes closed, duh.

I also recently found myself strongly requiring some kind of soul-soothing comfort food, and so naturally turned to Nigella Lawson. Her book Simply Nigella yielded a recipe for these cookie dough pots – literally just chocolate-studded dough that you bake in ramekins instead of in cookie form, so you get a pleasing combination of slightly crisp top and gooey middle into which to greedily plunge your spoon.

They take about three minutes to throw together and twelve-ish minutes to bake so comfort is really not that far away, however I had like two spoonfuls of the finished product and immediately needed a lie down from the spike in blood sugar. However the second: the actual act of baking something for myself was actually pretty calming in itself, which I guess is worth keeping in mind – sometimes you just need to spend some time doing something that’s for you and you alone, to remind yourself that you are okay. Part of my immediate reaction was possibly also due to the fact that like, Nigella specifies that this makes six ramekins’ worth of cookie dough and I divided the entire mixture between two larger ramekins, so proportionately and with the curve of the earth and whatnot I’d probably actually eaten more than I thought I had. I don’t know, but what I do know is that I bravely soldiered on and consumed the rest of the first, plundered cookie dough pot (pouring some milk into the crevice left by the spoon) and was highly pleased with myself, and was even more pleased with myself when I returned from work many hours later to see the second cookie dough pot waiting for me beside my bed.

cookie dough pots

From Nigella Lawson’s book Simply Nigella, but changed to use cup measures because that’s all I’ve got and much as baking is all specific and stuff, it’s definitely easier this way.

  • 110g soft butter
  • half a cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • one egg
  • one teaspoon vanilla extract
  • one cup plain flour
  • half a teaspoon baking soda
  • one teaspoon sea salt flakes, or half a teaspoon table salt
  • as many and whatever kind of chocolate chips/chunks/pieces as you fancy, really, but like roughly 75g is a good place to start  

Set your oven to 180C/350F and prepare as many ramekins as suits you, but up to six of roughly 200ml capacity. Again, I used only two, so.  

Beat the butter and sugar together, then add the egg and the vanilla and give a further vigorous stirring. Fold in the flour, salt, baking soda, and chocolate, and divide the dough between your ramekins. Bake for 12-15 minutes, at which point the dough should be firm and cookie-like on top, but gooey not much further below. That’s all you have to do.

These are really delicious, which is hardly surprising considering the ingredients, but the just-cooked and barely-barely-cooked dough in tandem feels ludicrously gratuitous and gratuitously ludicrous at the same time, which, I assure you, is a very good thing. I used good milk chocolate because I’m the kind of heathen who can’t really handle just up and eating dark dark chocolate for like, joy and pleasure, but as with pretty much all recipes that I put on here, you do as you please.

Anyway I had a monumentally enormous weekend at work and so any brain capacity that I might have even had the ghost of a chance of possessing beforehand has hitherto been drained, but if comfort food is what your soul also needs right now, may I, by way of further reading, recommend these other hug-like recipes I’ve blogged about: Instant Coconut Custard Semolina (which is also vegan!), Nigella’s Butternut Pasta Soup (also also vegan) and something I that at the time of making I called Demi-lasagne. 

title from:  Pink Floyd’s song Wish You Were Here, I’m all galaxy-brain-meme on Pink Floyd in that I used to be desperately into them at about 18 and then felt like it was uncool to be into them and now I’m all, I think it’s…okay…..to enjoy….things….that I enjoy. Anyway, it’s a good song, you know it is, and a masterpiece in making you wait and wait and wait for the chorus before only playing it ONCE, you spry mavericks.   

music lately:

Speaking of enjoying things that I enjoy, I decided to branch out from just relentlessly thrashing various cast recordings of Les Miserables and also lean into the troubled and patchy musical Chess, which is a musical, about chess, like, how did they not realize this was going to be trouble. Anyway MATE the premise aside – and since when have musicals burdened themselves with worrying about the legitimacy of premise anyway – the music absolutely BANGS. You might know, so well, the song I Know Him So Well or One Night In Bangkok, but Nobody’s Side is the lost ABBA song that gets much less attention than it deserves: try my queen Idina Menzel’s rendition of it at the 2008 concert performance that I remember discussing on message boards and LiveJournal like it was yesterday.

The glassie at work put on Bad Karma by Axel Thesleff while we were closing the other night and I was like what IS this I LOVE it, it’s all hypnotic and mellow which, despite the previous breathless paragraph about no less than two bombastic musicals from the 80s, is a vibe that I really enjoy.

 Vul’Indlela by Brenda Fassie. Just do yourself a favour and listen to this soaring and upbeat and happy pop song.

next time: something aggressively savoury, I imagine