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!

you could have my heart or we could share it like the last slice

so delicious that Pony by Ginuwine starts to play non-diegetically when you take a bite

There’s a scene in the important film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, where Dewey Cox is starting his rapid trajectory towards being a famous rock’n’roll star. He tells his wife Edith, “I’m gonna miss some things, okay? I’m gonna miss some birthdays and some christenings. I’m gonna miss some births, period. It’s just unrealistic to expect that I’m gonna be here for every time you have a baby.” I’m currently relating heavily to this, apart from, tragically, the bit with the ascension to fame, because I’m week three into working roughly five thousand times more hours than I normally do. Luckily, I adore my job and doing so many hours does make payday fun, but all I’ve been doing is sleeping and working which doesn’t bode well for getting blog posts done, or indeed anything. In fact, I’ve been trying to write this very one here that you’re reading for about seven days now, but every time I went to write I would instead just stare into space and then wake up three hours later, gently spooning my laptop like it was some kind of ergonomically disappointing teddy bear.

Yet finally here I am! With a really wilfully stupid peanut butter chocolate caramel slice! It was in a brief moment of lucidity that I concocted it, taking a base made largely of peanut butter and actual butter, a centre made of condensed milk and more butter and a handful of roasted salted nuts, and a top of melted milk chocolate. Seriously, that’s really all there is to it. You pretty much know the recipe now.

hey baby, I think I wanna marry you

It sounds like it would be stupidly, almost uncomfortably sweet and rich, and while admittedly I have literal syrup running through my veins instead of blood and therefore my bar for the overly sweet is set quite high, I assert to you that it’s honestly very manageable to eat. In that you could easily manage to eat three quarters of it before you even realise the knife is in your hand and you’re standing at the fridge slicing off thick squares of it.

Oddly enough it’s the caramel centre that keeps it in check – you blast the hell out of the condensed milk and butter in the microwave before spreading it across the base, and all that heat reduces it down and brings out the ocean-deep dark toffee flavours present in the sugars. Then the roasted nuts, crunchy as popcorn and covered in salt, add to this. Just in case it starts to sound all too sensible I then cover it in the plainest sweetest mellowest milk chocolate, but with good reason, because dark chocolate would be too punishingly intense and make it a chore to eat.

it isn’t too hard to see, we’re in heaven

Speaking of important movies and delicious things that make people flustered, my one other accomplishment of recent time is, last night I went to the movies and watched Magic Mike XXL with my girlfriend and her flatmates. But Laura! I said to myself. Aren’t you really like…gay? How could a movie about male strippers possibly hold your precious attention? My people, this movie is one of the best pieces of filmmaking I’ve ever encountered, one of the most joyful, kind-hearted, generous movies, and honestly, a rare film where women of all shapes and skin colours and faces have fun and are celebrated and support their friends and are in charge and are never, ever the joke, even though you keep thinking that’s where the movie’s gonna go. A film where men are emotional and express their love for each other without once adding “no homo”, but also a bisexual character is not seen as a curiosity to be analysed and picked apart. A film where guys listen to women and help them, not in a “you frail stupid woman let me do this better than you” kind of way, but a “I’d like to make things better so you can be happy because that’d be nice” kind of way. Just when you think it’s gonna zig, it zags. Honestly I’m getting emotional just trying to write about it.

Oh and if you’re into the sight of men and stuff, there’s…a lot of abdominal muscles being flung around. But truly, this movie is so very good, in the way that an old dog tied up on the street waiting patiently for their owner is good. Take your mother, take your 300 year old grandmother, take your husband, take your nine year old child, take everyone to see this movie! Put it this way: I came out of it saying that I’d actually love to read think-pieces on it, and normally my attitude towards think-pieces is that they should be thrown into the ocean. So. While I’ve been berating myself frowningly for not being outstanding in the field of achievement lately, getting this movie under my belt (hey-oh!) makes me feel like I’ve used my time very wisely.

just imagine another song from the Magic Mike XXL soundtrack here okay

Okay, one more thing about this movie before I get back to that other ridiculously sexy caramel confection: I love that there was more or less zero conflict. The characters were just happy and chill and overcame small hurdles and that was it! I have come to realise that I hate when movies, especially movies about an existing entity are like, what shall we do with these characters that the audience knows and loves – better make them fight and be isolated from each other until about ten minutes before the end. (For some reason A Goofy Movie is what sprang to mind here: hot take, A Goofy Movie was a bit disappointing.) Up with niceness! Okay that’s quite the end of my breathless and shrieking thoughts on Magic Mike XXL. On here at least.

peanut butter chocolate caramel nut slice

a recipe that I made by smashing several Nigella recipes together and adding bits of my own thoughts so yeah

200g smooth peanut butter
50g soft butter
half a cup brown sugar
one and a half cups icing sugar

one tin sweetened condensed milk
200g butter
two tablespoons golden syrup
half a cup (or so) salted roasted mixed nuts 

200g milk chocolate

Line a brownie tin – either a 23cm square one or a regular sized rectangular one – with a large piece of baking paper. Use a wooden spoon to beat the peanut butter and butter together, then carefully stir in the sugars (I say carefully, because icing sugar tends to fly everywhere in dusty white clouds at the slightest provocation) until you have a sandy, crumbly mixture. Press it into the base of the baking tin, using the back of a spoon (it helps if you dust it with icing sugar first) to flatten it out fairly evenly. Refrigerate while you get on with the filling.

To make the filling, melt the butter in a decent-sized china bowl (or something else microwave-proof) and then stir in the condensed milk and golden syrup. Microwave for five to seven minutes, stirring every minute or so – it will bubble up angrily but shouldn’t overflow, it’s better to stir it too much than to let it burn or overflow though – by which stage it should be thickened, and darkened into a rich, but still fairly light, golden colour. Let it sit for a bit to cool slightly, and then stir in the nuts. Pour this over the peanut butter base, using a spatula to get every last bit out and to smooth it out on top, then refrigerate till set and firm. 

Finally, microwave the chocolate in short bursts till it’s collapsing, and stir till it’s totally melted and smooth. Gently spread across the caramel layer, and allow to set either in the fridge or a cool place. 

Wait, I’ve achieved two other things lately: I zoomed to a party after one of my shifts and danced my face off with friends and had my sister-from-another-species vibe with Percy the corgi reconfirmed.
And, I dyed my hair purple. Well, more specifically, I stuck my hands in the pot of purple dye and kind of mussed up my hair (which was at the time a fading blue colour) in a haphazard manner just to see what would happen. It turned out pretty well, I think. In fact there’s probably also a metaphor for my life in there (or at least I’m self-centred enough to think that pretty much everything could be a metaphor for my life and indeed, that my life is fascinating enough to warrant multiple metaphors to represent it.) (I’m not sure if that made any sense but in my defense: oh man I’m tired.)
title from: Drake, Best I Ever Had, which is just…so Drake. “Sweat pants, hair tied, chillin’ with no make-up on/That’s when you’re the prettiest, I hope that you don’t take it wrong.”
music lately:
 
Carly Rae Jepsen, Run Away With Me. It’s like the best eighties song you don’t remember. 
 
Janet Jackson, No Sleep. It’s so dreamy. She’s back and she never even left.  
next time: I’m still working a ton more than usual but I’m gonna try so hard to cook for myself one time and blog about it before, I don’t know, the next financial year end rolls around. 

we’ll drink coffee and you can spend the night, we’ll do anything that makes you smile

I was supposed to blog about this earlier today but then I also had to make a cake and while doing so I ate so much cake batter and icing that I needed a nap, during which time if you did an x-ray scan of my skull you would see that the brain had dissolved into a nourishing yet ultimately useless sugary syrup. Which is so much the story of my life, that you could put that opening sentence on the front cover of my (inevitable, hopefully) autobiography.

On that supposed-to-be-doing-stuff vibe, I was talking to my dear friend Kate the other day about motivation and wanting to get stuff done and worrying about where I am going with my life, I seem to do little other than half-assedly start projects and then abandon them through sheer tiredness and I hate it but I also can’t seem to keep up with myself or my expectations of myself, y’know? If I could get some kind of fairy godmother situation happening right now my request to them would be for me to write another cookbook and get a TV show. I so deeply miss that wacky montage time when I was nonstop writing my first cookbook and making food and there were photoshoots and plans and ridiculous recipe testing and just so much going on. Unfortunately, in what some might look at as being a bad sign, the word document in which I put lots of plans and recipe ideas in order to pitch a new cookbook to someone…disappeared. My computer ate it. I’m gonna try to start all over again, but gosh! Psychological and literal setbacks ahoy! And yeah, I did say pitch. I am always proud of how I was approached by Penguin to write my first cookbook, but this time around I can’t sit and wait and hope for the best, I need to, oh, rediscover my inner Leslie Knope and hustle like whoa. With that in mind, if anyone knows of any highly good and cool publishers that I should be approaching, let me know. If you want to tell me that the publishing industry is going down the toilet and unless I’m writing Fifty Shades of Grey fanfic I’m screwed, I’d be less appreciative, but I guess tough love has its place sometimes. That place is not here (by here I mean anywhere near my general person.)

I love these pastel sprinkles so much 

But why have an existential meltdown when you could eat ice cream? While having an existential meltdown? (Tagline: save the meltdown for yourself, not your frozen dessert) I made this coffee ice cream, a recipe of my queen Nigella Lawson’s, three times in about ten days – which speaks to both the excellence of said recipe and also my abilities at hoovering through ice cream like a vacuum cleaner with googly eyes stuck on it to give it a human-like quality.

This stuff is wondrous. The addition of sweetened condensed milk gives it a maddeningly pleasing chewiness, as well as making it spoonable and smooth straight from the freezer without any need for churning, stirring, or waiting for it to soften. The bulging caramel taste of the condensed milk also mellows out the harsh coffee dust, giving it a crema-soft coffee flavour with tiny specks of enlivening bitterness here and there. It’s so lush and delicious and I frankly expected nothing less of Nigella but it’s still good to have such relentlessly positive ideals reinforced.

Despite the recipe being monumentally easy, when I first made it I deviated slightly and used coconut cream instead of regular cream, simply because it’s what I had in my cupboard and also I’d spent three of my last ten dollars on a can of sweetened condensed milk and felt like this frugal act counteracted some of that heathenish wretchedness. (In my, and indeed anyone’s defense, sometimes having seven dollars and ice cream is better than having ten dollars and no ice cream, in terms of living your best life.)

It was so brilliant that it’s all I’ve done ever since for fear of breaking the magic spell of deliciousness, but feel free to use actual cream if you like. The coconut flavour is completely subtle and totally overpowered by all that coffee, if that’s something that concerns you.

very easy coffee ice cream

adapted from a recipe in Nigella Lawson’s book Nigellissima. Makes around 600ml. 

one 400ml (or so) can coconut cream
one can sweetened condensed milk
about three tablespoons of instant coffee, ideally instant espresso powder

Empty the two cans into a bowl, and whisk together along with the coffee powder. If you like you can dissolve the coffee in a tablespoon or two of boiling water, otherwise your ice cream will be dotted with coffee granules – either way is fine though.

Pour into a freezer-proof receptacle – I use an old take-out plastic container with a lid – and freeze for about six hours or until solid.

Eat, rapturously.  Or morosely, I’m not here to police your facial expressions. 

Ice cream is easily one of my very favourite foods, which is possibly another factor towards my ploughing merrily through so much of this stuff recently, but don’t just take my word for it – actually, do just take my word for it, this is a food blog, damn it. This is easy and delicious and wonderful and you deserve all those words in your life materialised in food form.

What have I been up to of late when not fretting luxuriantly about how much I’m not achieving? Swanning about and swooning about, I suppose, going to parties with my thoroughly and respectively wonderful friends and girlfriend; working at work; gasping and clutching at myself with great emotion while watching Pretty Little Liars; trying to not spend money; and oh look, dying my hair pinker than it has ever been:

je vois la vie en rose 
On a final, aggressively mercenary note, if my ability to buy cream is something you care about, may I remind you that you can still purchase copies of my amazing cookbook directly through me – I have a few left but stocks are dwindling so move with haste is my advice. Also if you’re a rich weirdo who finds lighting your scented candles with hundred dollar bills gauche and passé and you’re looking for a new way to get your kicks, my paypal is always open and any and everything is so very appreciated. 
Actually, let’s end not with capitalism but with more ice cream. Which is probably still capitalism, my knowledge of the economy is hazy and based on my own hyperbolic notions at best.
affogato made with coffee ice cream, for when being merely sybaritic is not quite enough.
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title from: Little Red, by Kate Nash. It’s so strange and magical and melancholy and narrative, this song. I love it. 
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music lately: 

Marina and the Diamonds, Shampain. This song still goes off and still gets me right in the heart, it’s so rapturously dreamy and poppy, and I’m always like oh wow it’s so meaningful no matter literally what is happening in my life at the time.

Pere Ubu, Modern Dance. I haven’t heard this song in foreverrrr but it’s so great, I love how hypnotic yet dinky the melody is.

Flo Rida/T-Pain, Low. I danced ever so happily to this on Friday night and have been singing it in my head ever since (“she hit the floorSHE HIT THE FLOOR”) and I don’t even mind because T-Pain is an actual delight of a human.
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next time: your guess is as good as mine, so, uh, ooh, how mysterious. 

i still love you, girl from mars

crunch time

Well. Gosh. I hung out with friends on Saturday night and as we watched the election results unfold we all started to feel increasingly bleak and baffled and like getting very drunk. As I said in my last post, pre-election, everyone’s politics are personal and you’re entitled to them, but it should come as no surprise whatsoever that I’m not so much “left-leaning” as “riding through your town on a sustainably farmed unicorn brandishing a rainbow flag and leaving a fearsome trail of blood from my liberal bleeding heart”. And so, the results were not what I was hoping for and voting for. But here we are, and all that can be done is that we try to support the vulnerable and the needy and the children and so on and make the best of things, yeah? Which is what we should all be doing no matter who is in power, and ultimately what I’d hope anyone in power would be aiming for in some form. Also, said friends had adopted a cat that day and other friends brought their pet corgi along to the party so there was much comforting snuggling and patting to be had. 

I made this Mars Bar Cornflake Slice to bring along, thinking rightly that something sticky-sweet and deliciously immature would be ideal on such an intense night. It is adapted from a recipe in my queen Nigella Lawson’s book Feast, and you’re actually supposed to spoon the mixture into little cupcake papers. I thought I had tons of them but could only find like, seven, so panicked and threw it all into a flan dish and hoped for the best. And joyfully, it’s so damn excellent in slice form. I was worried it might be a little plain – I considered putting caramelised peanuts on it, or drizzling over melted dark chocolate – but it was stupidly perfect as is. 

If you haven’t had a Mars bar in a while (and why not, when their ad insists that a Mars a day helps you work, rest AND play, all things I could use some help with) they are a layer of soft squishy chocolate nougat, with a layer of caramel sauce, all covered in chocolate. The breakfasty-comforting taste of cornflakes – slightly malty, slightly nutty – along with all that caramel and sugar is wonderful. It’s crunchy, it’s chewy, it involves melting chocolate bars with butter, and it’s so, so easy. I liked it so much that I made another trayful this morning just to have them around (and it allowed me to feel like a good flatmate and leave a note on the fridge telling everyone else to help themselves to it.)

mars bar cornflake slice

Adapted from a recipe from Nigella Lawson’s important book Feast

three 75g Mars Bars (or similar weight made up of whatever size bars you can find)
70g butter 
four cups of cornflakes
a pinch of sea salt (optional)

Break the mars bars into pieces and melt together slowly over a low heat with the butter. The nougat filling will take the longest to break down and probably won’t incorporate entirely, so don’t worry if the mixture isn’t completely smooth. Stir in the cornflakes and spatula the lot into a baking paper lined baking dish. Use the spatula to flatten it out evenly, sprinkle over a little salt if you like, then refrigerate till solid – around half an hour. Cut into thick slices with a large knife. 

You can use whatever kind of baking tray you like, but I used a round metal flan dish. I think I chose it subconsciously because I have this thing where if I’m cutting up a slice from a round dish it feels like all the rounded-edged pieces are mere offcuts and I get to eat them all. Even though I’m going to eat it all anyway? Gotta get your thrills somehow, I suppose.

a cat showed me the vaguest hint of non-indifference and so I was eternally joyful

I enjoyed being up home, trying to get the cats to bond with me, talking about knitting with nanna, making dinner for Dad and a birthday cake for Mum and generally having swell family times. Roger, pictured above, has been with the family since 2007 and my weekend at home was pretty much the first time he’s ever shown an interest in me. I am a pushover who will gladly accept this. 
I have been selling heaps of my cookbooks which is exciting – let me remind you that if you want to buy a copy, going directly through me is your only chance while my stocks last. If reading my words isn’t enough for you, and how could it possibly be, you can also listen to this super cool interview I did with Harry Evans for his radio show Common Ground. We discussed libraries and halloumi and the election and the writing process and social media and I got to pick two songs to play and it was just really, really fun and lovely. You can either listen on iTunes or on Harry’s site. Yay interviews! 

At least no matter what happens in life you know you’re never going to have a fight with a corgi over politics. 
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title from: 90s cuties Ash and their song Girl From Mars. 
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music lately: 

Underworld, Rez. Listening to this song honestly makes me feel like I’m a flower petal adrift on late summer evening breeze. Literally.

Street Chant, Salad Daze. It’s so so dark and shadowy and hypnotic and good.

Charli XCX, How Can I. Sad pop sad pop, whatcha gonna do when it comes for you.

Buzzcocks, Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t). Oh, this song!
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Next time: I was given a ton of grapefruit from someone’s tree which is pretty exciting, therefore maybe it will be something grapefruitly?

memory falling like cream in my bones

Barbados Cream and coffee for breakfast. 

Sometimes there’s ups, sometimes there’s downs. Sometimes this happens all within one day, but this week is undeniably down. I’m learning very, very reluctantly that life is not like a movie where you get like, one shopping montage where everything’s fun and one sad montage where you learn your lesson and then everything’s fine afterwards. Nor does processing the stuff happening in your life move in an upwards diagonal line, sometimes it’s more like a hexagon shape with a star in the middle and flames shooting out one side.

Sorry to be bleak, but I feel like I’ve been pretty admirably lively for someone whose life has just changed in a million different ways, so, y’know. It’s okay to not be okay. It’s that weird thing where I’m like – this is my blog and I want to be honest! But don’t worry about me! But I want some people to be concerned but I don’t want to burden others! But I’m still getting out of bed! But things really are tough! And so on into infinity, by which time most people have stopped paying attention anyway because despite my suspicions, I know I’m not the only person on this earth with Stuff Going On.

I find old-school Nigella Lawson very, very comforting – I’d still protectively defend her and celebrate her till my feet bleed (I imagine there’s impassioned dancing involved to prove my point) but like Mariah Carey, she was at her absolute perfect best in the early years. Reading How To Eat, that seminal text, that important book, makes me feel like everything will be okay. And also, quite importantly, like cooking. This Barbados Cream isn’t actually cooking in the slightest, but I had the tail-end of a container of yoghurt to use, and so I bought a bottle of cream (sooo financially sound right now) to make this small, intriguing recipe.

It’s just yoghurt and cream mixed together, lightly blanketed in brown sugar, and left overnight in the fridge. It’s a recipe of Nigella’s grandmother, which explains a lot about it – a recipe from back when you could serve someone a bowl of formless cream for pudding and give it an uneasily “exotic” name and have people applaud you as an exemplary and sophisticated hostess. Personally, I think it makes a better breakfast.

barbados cream 

This is my slight adaptation of Nigella’s recipe from How To Eat, all I’ve done is have a tutu with the proportions to make it suitable for just one person. 

1/2 cup (125ml) really thick plain yoghurt, Greek or Greek-style or otherwise. I don’t like being stern, but this will be nasty if you use anything less tensile than a memory foam pillow. 
1/2 a cup (125ml) cream (just cream, no yoghurt-style rants here)
1 tablespoon or so of brown sugar

Whisk together the cream and yoghurt in a bowl till thickened enough that you can trail said whisk through the mixture and it will leave lines in the cream behind it. If that makes sense? This will happen quite quickly, after a minute or so. Spatula all this into a 250ml capacity ramekin or pretty trinket-y bowl, evenly sprinkle over the brown sugar, cover in gladwrap and refrigerate overnight. 

The next day, or after a suitably, unfairly long waiting time: eat. 

The sugar melts into the creamy yoghurt, getting fudgily crystallised but also saucily absorbed, giving a smoky swirl of butterscotch with every mouthful. Cream and thick yoghurt are both delicious, no further elaboration needed there. In fact the aggressive simplicity of these ingredients is what makes this so damn good. Especially first thing in the morning with an equally selfish plunger of coffee for one.

Seriously, the butterscotch-toffee-caramel family of flavours is the best thing on earth, yes?

Here’s what’s been happening in my life lately:

New stabs! Brooke at Tattoo Machine is incredible. And it has healed up with such amazing speed that I’ve been going round conspiratorially asking “am I a vampire though?” every time I show it to someone.

Been watching lots of ballet on youtube. Swan Lake is excellently bleak and beautiful and the music gets to me right in my heart and my temples. And, as they sing in A Chorus Line, “everything was beautiful at the ballet, raise your arms and someone’s always there…”

These amazing sunglasses arrived with terrible timing, not least because it has continuously rained all week.

And, I baked a seven-layer rainbow cake for a wonderful friend’s birthday. It was fun, and it looked spectacular, but uh, no-one else gets to ask me to do that for a long, long time. 

Speaking of birthdays, it’s mine in one week’s time. I wouldn’t mind if I could put it off for a month, since I always overthink birthdays with this whole “it has to be a really good wonderful perfect day” stressful attitude that I’m bringing to the table, but it is going to happen, and if nothing else – it will also be my first day after leaving my current job. So far I’ve been turned down from two jobs that I’ve applied for (it’s the strangest thing, like, it happens to everyone but it’s still so you-didn’t-want-me? demoralising) but am keeping my fingers crossed that I land on my feet. I’m also applying for more jobs, in case just keeping my fingers crossed doesn’t sound like a very sensible strategy.

That said, I really am just keeping my fingers crossed that everything works out okay. Hope is a powerful thing, and if you’ve got it, you’ve got to hold it tight. Oh my gosh, not to sound inspirational or anything, but seriously: hope is nice, right?
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title comes from: Elegie, by Patti Smith. It sounds like it’s from a musical, and also it’s so upfrontedly miserable and sad. So, naturally, I like it. (Also I can dance frantically and joyfully to Horses/Land of a Thousand Dances from this same album in case you’re like “okay Laura I get it. Bleak.”) 
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music lately: 

Lennon and Maisy, Love. These two girls are so talented and happy and this song is so sweet and happy and adorable and wise and yeah.

Ellie Goulding, Anything Could Happen. It makes me feel happy and like the title is…something true.
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Next time: still getting to know the kitchen at my new house, so…anything could happen.

it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day

I am back! With some really ordinary brownies. I did look thoughtfully into the middle distance for a while over the idea of making something that really said “it’s a new year!” in a jazz-handsy kind of way, but I didn’t really have it in me, and also wanted brownies. In the same way that every person is the lead character in their own story that they’re living – if that makes sense? – January is still just another month that happens to have danced around to the front. I guess what I’m saying is…brownies! They’re not surprising, but they are excellent.

That said, I enjoyed having the opportunity to reflect upon 2013 and think about what I want to achieve in 2014 (besides just being like “whoaaaaa it’s 2014 the movie Practical Magic is sixteen years old”) and to gather together my intentions and so on. Without loading too much pressure on myself, since no-one needs that. More just things like…I want to pay attention to the phases of the moon, and read even more books written by women this year, and cook more proactively than reactively, and learn lots of new words and their meanings…and on a more specific level, I would also like this year to bring Lorde-levels of spectacular fame and success for my cookbook and me, for my wedding at the end of June to be fun and not financially whimper-making, and – sigh – to be way tidier. So, a little bit of pressure, I guess.

Despite my complete underselling of these brownies (great food blogging, Laura) they are of course delicious and are going to help me beat the back-to-school blues when I take them for lunch with me to work every day. This is something I’ve done before, but never quite sustain it for very long – hopefully this year I can be more (as I said above) proactive rather than reactive in the kitchen.

What better way to start the year than under the velvety influence of my queen Nigella Lawson, whose cookbook Kitchen is where this recipe comes from. She charmingly calls them Everyday Brownies, which, given that the 75g cocoa she specifies is nearly a cupful, says a lot about the quality of her days. But like all brownies should be, they are reassuringly easy to make, taste brilliant, keep for ages, and will probably help embiggen your day somewhat should you be eating them on your lunch break too.

Everyday Brownies

(or just Brownies, for the rest of us) (I know, I’m going on like she’s living at the level of Marie Antoinette, it’s just 75g cocoa really is a lot.) (Though to be fair her other brownie recipe has 300g chocolate and six eggs so comparatively, this is rather austere.) (I’ll stop talking now.)

From Nigella Lawson’s book Kitchen.

  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 300g brown sugar
  • 75g cocoa powder, sifted
  • 150g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • approx 150g milk chocolate, chopped into small chunks (or similar – whatever!)

Preheat the oven to 190C, and line a 25cmx25cm (or thereabouts) baking dish with baking paper.

Melt the butter, and stir in the sugar. Sift in the cocoa powder, flour, baking soda and salt – cocoa tends to be lumpy, and baking soda is no fun to get a mouthful of, so sifting really is useful here. Add the eggs, vanilla, and chocolate, then stir, and scrape into your baking tin and bake for approximately 20-25 minutes. It depends on what you’re into, but brownies tend to be better when they’re a bit undercooked, so don’t worry if everything’s wobbly on top when you take it out of the oven.

These are wonderful – unstressful to make, perfuming the house delightfully, and achieving that perfect balance between the crisp exterior and the barely-contained mouth-rush of satiny chocolate batter within. I used some white chocolate buttons and chunks of Whittakers milk chocolate which made for a caramelly, melting contrast to the stridenly cocoa-y brownie around it. But use what you have – chocolate chips, dark chocolate, anything. These are such good, dependable, quietly lovely brownies that damn it, they really should be for every day. Thanks, Nigella (not for these brownies, I just wanted to thank her for existing.)

A cat deigned to have a selfie with me! (The Laura Vincent Story.)

I hope that the 13 changing to a 14 has seen good times for you all. I had a really nice xmas at home with my family (including – one of whom is pictured above – the two truculent cats who eventually acknowledged my presence after an enormous loss of dignity on my behalf), and read, and knitted, and that was about it really. Then, camping. I’ve been camping at this one place with my family since I was six months old (am still about as useful at helping to put up the tents now as I was back then) and it was a joy to be there again for a few days. A freezing, rained-upon, mosquito-bitten joy. I did, however, manage to read The Luminaries in 48 hours, and it was worth every last mosquito bite to be able to do that.

This place is so tightly knitted and purled into my life that it seems like the most beautiful land on earth.

But, it’s nice to be back here nestling back into this blog. I plan to resurrect my I Should Tell You interviews, which fell by the wayside as I worked on launching my cookbook, and of course there’s my aim to be mondo-successful in a low-key, unpressurised kind of way. I got so many messages around the 25th of December from people telling me that they’d given my cookbook as a present, that they’d received it, or that they were making recipes from it – every single time I read one of the messages it made my little heart wiggle with happiness. So it may be just another day of just another month, but I’m looking forward to making every second of it as excellent as possible. (Even the bits that aren’t my brownie-filled lunch break when I’m back at work next week.)

Oh! One more thing: I’ve had fun contributing to Radio New Zealand’s Summer Nights programme. I completely love public speaking, so it was super cool to be broadcasting live to air on Monday when I was last there – if you want to listen to them there are audios available at Radio New Zealand’s website. Presuming you’ve made it to here while reading this, it’s not implausible that you could handle more?
 

title from: Nina Simone, Feeling Good. While up at home I saw her performance at Montreux in 1976 played on TV, she was sublime. I love her so much.

music lately:

St Vincent, Cheerleader. Annie Clark of St Vincent is such a dreamboat and I love how this song is so stormy and dreamy. Also, rather cool name she’s chosen to perform under, hey?

Speaking of dreamy, I danced to Beyonce’s euphoric song XO on New Year’s Eve and it was…um. Dreamy. Guess I should’ve put “diversity of adjectives” on my xmas wish list.

next time: no idea but I’ve done the groceries so it will be more than just an instagram of marmite on toast or a handful of chocolate buttons. Promise.

 

it’s been this way, since christmas day, dazzled, doused in gin

For all that I’m really messy, inside and out, and will spend long stretches of time putting my nailpolish bottles into order by colour spectrum while ignoring, say, the dishes, every now and then I can really Get It Together and Be Organised. 
Every year, commencing 2006, I’ve held a big dinner party for flatmates and friends, which started as a way to toast ourselves and do something nice together before we all part ways for the summer. And that’s how it continued, because it’s a pretty decent concept that doesn’t require messing with. Last year Tim and I couldn’t have one because we’d just moved house and everything felt too difficult, but I feel like a good tradition should be malleable and flourish, rather than rigid and immoveable. 

And then, because why be merely fancy when you could be fancy in italics, Kate helped embiggen everything with her beauteous hand-made menus and table-setting ideas. It was dreamy, which is my favourite way for things to be or have been or have potential to be.

I was proud of myself at how it all worked out – it was a very last-minute fandango, but I managed to cook everything myself (including FOUR KILOS of pork belly, I mean really) and have it all appear ready to eat at a reasonable hour. Which may not sound like rocket science, but y’know, my oven is small while my ambitions are sky-high.

Speaking of, every year I use this as an opportunity to make a significant pudding. Like the year I made Baked Alaska. This year’s concept was not as impressive as I’d have liked, but luckily my concept of “not as impressive as I’d liked” is a bit like my concept of “corporate, office-friendly clothes” – quite, quite different to most other people’s.

So: berry ice cream pavlova layer cake! Two hastily thwacked-together discs of meringue, some insta-ice cream, and some preturnaturally glossy red pomegranate seeds, and you have yourself a rather fascinatingly-textured and terrifically-flavoured and most crucial of all, monumentally instagrammable pudding.

I know, pavlova is not necessarily that simple, but the good thing about this is that you can be a lot more confident about the making and baking, since it’s going to be buffered up with ice cream and covered in icing sugar and it doesn’t matter in the slightest if it cracks or deflates or, heck, breaks in two, because everything can be squished back together.

While my patriotism at the level of “New Zealand, it’s okay I GUESS” it is nice to graciously nod to the classic pavlova and time of year that xmas falls upon – high summer! – with this cold, fruity confection. You can use an electric beater, obviously, but all I have is a whisk and I managed just fine, and there’s nothing like standing in your underwear on a humid day furiously whisking egg whites to a stiff meringue to make you feel tantamount to Xena, Warrior Princess.

berry ice cream pavlova layer cake 

a recipe by myself. It looks complicated but that’s just because I’m the hand-holding type (hand-holding sounds much nicer than micro-management, yeah?) You could use cream or yoghurt instead of coconut milk but now it’s entirely dairy-free, which seems to suit a lot of people I know, so hurrah!

4 egg whites
200g sugar
1 teaspoon cornflour
2 teaspoons lemon juice or white vinegar

2 cups frozen berries (I used a packet of frozen mixed berries since they were cheapest, but plain frozen strawberries would be rad)
1/2 a can (although possibly more) coconut milk

Set your oven to 160 C/320 F and line a baking tray with baking paper. Using a 20cm caketin, or your own circle-drawing prowess, trace two circles on this sheet of baking paper. It doesn’t matter if they’re very close together. 

In a very clean, non-plastic bowl, whisk the egg whites briskly with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form. This means that the egg whites will be foamy and thickened, but not shiny, and when you lift the whisk up some mixture rises up with it but sinks back down into the bowl – if that makes sense. 

Continue whisking, despite your sore arms, and as you do this, slowly add the sugar a tablespoon or so at a time. The mixture will thicken and get shiny and bright white, continue whisking in the sugar and as hard as you can until the mixture is stiff and when you lift up the whisk, the mixture follows but stays quite still. Spread the mixture evenly between the two circles you’ve drawn on the baking paper, piling up the meringue mix and then smoothing it out so that they’re fairly evenly flat on top. You can be pretty aggressive with the mixture by this stage, so don’t worry.

Place this in the oven and bake for around an hour, although check at 40 minutes – it should look firm and dry and a little browned. Turn the oven off and allow the pavlovas to slowly cool in there, although I admit, I got impatient and took them out after half an hour of cooling. 

To serve, place one pavlova half on a pretty plate. Blast the frozen berries and coconut milk together in a food processor till they turn into a magical purple ice cream. Spoon/spread this immediately on top of the pavlova on the plate, and top with the other pavlova. Dust with icing sugar to cover any inevitable cracks and pile on some pomegranate seeds if you’ve got ’em, although fresh strawberries, raspberries, or simply more icing sugar would also be rad.

It may just be all the Poinsettia (fizzy white wine, cranberry juice, Cointreau) that I’d allowed myself to consume by this point, but this was damn spectacular. There’s something deliciously fun about the soft, dissolvingly sugary crispness of room temperature pavlova against creamy, freezing, tart berry ice cream. The juicy crunch of pomegranate seeds on top provides further antidote to all the sweetness, while still being friendly with the berry flavours in the ice cream. And they look SO pretty. The pavlova layers are a little bit of a pain to slice through, but by the time people get to pudding they’re not going to mind a hasty scoop of this in a paper bowl.

It was a wonderful, happy, lovely night. We listened to old xmas records and ate candy canes and talked good talk and also amassed a large pile of food brought by everyone to drop off at the foodbank. Even though I was a little oddly apprehensive that I was being pushy and annoying at trying to make this happen, perhaps mostly because everyone’s so busy this time of year and frankly a lot of my reasons for doing this are highly selfish, it was just a dreamy, excellent night and I’m so glad it happened.

And then on Saturday I went on a wedding dress shopping montage! Mostly with Kate, although I was joined by Kim later, with a cameo from Sarah-Rose, and man it was a strange but amazing day. Something about trying on dresses to get married in – I mean, I could marry Tim in the next five minutes very casually and not think twice about it, yet I could hardly look at myself in the mirror while trying on these beautiful dresses and when asked what occasion I was shopping for, I was all “a wedding…mine…pretty much…”

I did dally with the idea of a black wedding dress but ultimately what I was really wanting is just EVERY glorious dress I tried on. You’d think I’d get used to vicarious thrills sometime since there are so many in my life, but nope. There’s a particular ache at trying on a perfect garment then sadly putting it back on the rack.

I just love material possessions so much, okay. 

I’ve narrowed it down to two and a half potential definites, and if you’re curious, I don’t care if Tim or indeed all of the internet sees the dress before the wedding, but I do – now – want something very pale or white. Basically, it was a weekend as swoony as swoony can be, and I’m very pleased with that, even though now that it’s Monday it all feels like a million half-remembered dreams ago…
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title via: Placebo’s moodily terrific Taste In Men.
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Music lately:

Planet Z, Idina Menzel. Admittedly my love for her and my fondness for her early music is perhaps more boundless than most, but if there’s a song more bonkersly endearing and mid-nineties than this then I’ll probably listen to that too.

Frosty the Snowman, Fiona Apple. Have I said the word dreamy too many times in this post? I care not. This is the dreamiest.
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Next time: I’m gonna make a list of every recipe I know that is good for xmas presents and so on and so forth and it will be ever so much fun!