we don’t talk about love, we only want to get drunk

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I had intended to make these Drunken Noodles because I thought they’d be delicious, and not because of the reason for their cute name – which supposedly came about because they’re a good hangover cure. But then I got a bit of a hangover! Not a huge one, but just a certain dull-edged self-indulgent seediness that made me crave salt and heat. As I said in my last blog post, there’s not much else to do in the countryside other than drink tea; now that I’m back visiting Wellington there are significantly more bars per capita and people to catch up with, in said bars, also per capita. You start off with a ferrous, silt-thick craft beer while using a bar’s WiFi, then move to a second location to meet your dear friend Kate for a Prosecco, then another dear friend Kim joins and it’s like, would it be morally wrong not to split a bottle of wine now? And then you have more wine with dinner, and then whisky afterwards, and before you know it’s 9pm and you’ve been drinking since noon.

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The next day I made these noodles for Kate and myself and I do think they had some kind of positive effect, but they were so delicious that I’d very much like to eat them on a weekly basis whether or not there’s a hangover involved. Drunken Noodles are a Thai dish that you might see on menus as Pad Kee Mao, and it’s not traditionally vegan. My recipe is obviously absolutely not authentic because it’s something I came up with from trawling other recipes and trying to suss out how I could make it work for me – but it’s straightforward, and it tastes fantastic, and as you can see from the ingredients list there’s plenty of room to move. You could fry some mushrooms or tofu to bulk it out, you can toy with the seasoning and sweetness, and you can make it as chilli-hot as your tastebuds can withstand.

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Drunken Noodles

A recipe by myself

  • 200g (or as many as you want) rice noodles
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Thai seasoning sauce, Maggi sauce, liquid amino sauce, or similar (or just more soy sauce if you’re stuck)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons oil (peanut oil is great, otherwise use vegetable)
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar (Zhenjiang/Chingkiang vinegar is amazingly delicious, otherwise just apple cider or malt would work)
  • 2 teaspoons sriracha, or to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • a handful (roughly) of fresh basil leaves, plus extra for serving
  • 2 spring onions
  • a handful of cherry tomatoes
  • chilli flakes, to serve 

(Note: if you can get hold of Thai basil then use that instead, I could not find any but regular basil seems to be a serviceable substitute. Similarly, if you can get hold of some vegan oyster sauce then definitely add a spoonful of that to the sauce.)

Place the noodles in a heatproof dish and cover in boiling water. Let them sit for a couple of minutes to soften, then drain and set aside.

Stir together the soy sauce, seasoning sauce, sugar, oil, vinegar, sriracha, and finely chopped garlic cloves. Finely chop most of the basil, reserving some for garnish, and stir it into the sauce. Finely slice the spring onions, and halve the cherry tomatoes.

Heat a little extra oil in a frying pan and tip in the spring onions, stirring until they’re softened and a little browned. Add the cherry tomatoes, the drained noodles, and the sauce, stirring for a couple of minutes to let the noodles absorb everything and the cherry tomatoes collapse a little.

Remove from the heat, and divide between two bowls. Sprinkle over as much of the chilli flakes as you want, and a little extra basil.

Serves 2, although one person could probably handle this quantity, that person being me.

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For something that comes together in a minute this gives so much depth of flavour – layers of dark saltiness, bursts of heat, slippery tender noodles, the sweet juiciness of the tomatoes, and the almost cinnamon-like warmth of the basil. Tomatoes and basil are always presented as an Italian cuisine thing, but I think this pairing of them here is even more iconic.

I’m in Wellington for another week or so and am not going to be operating at this high level of activity for the entire time but I absolutely will be making these noodles again. And there’s nothing quite like the pure creamery quadruple-distilled corn-fed joy of seeing old friends again – I am hugely enjoying myself.

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(Friends like…Ghost the dog!!!)

title from: A Design For Life by Manic Street Preachers, I really don’t like their music on the whole but I extremely love this one song – the dramatic strings and the way the chorus thunders into your ears and the structure of the lyrics, it’s so good.

music lately:

Spindrift by Colin Stetson. This is an incredible piece of noise, like a cavalcade of uplifting fluttery sounds coming from the saxophone of all things, it’s like a shower of cold water running over your ears but also you’re floating?

Beautiful Baby, by Elizabeth. Kate introduced me to this artist, and I was instantly in love! This song holds that particular kind of melancholy where it feels like it should be playing while you watch a person that you’re in love with slow-dancing purposefully with with someone else.

Next time: All I want to make is these noodles, it seems kind of unfair that I have to plan other recipes? But I guess that’s how food blogs work? What if I just talked about this recipe till the end of time?

PS: if you enjoy my writing and would like to support me directly, you can do so by joining my Patreon. It’s like a cordoned-off VIP area where you can access content written just for you: recipes, updates, etc – this month I reviewed 41 films and 20 books, last month I revealed the opening sentences of the novel I wrote.

how bout them transparent dangling carrots

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I’ve been so sick this whole last week, which is extremely unfair and puzzling, because I take supplements and am therefore supposed to be invincible. Day one it was cold, day two was flu, day three there was a matinee performance of flu followed by an evening engagement of cold, and so on. I do respect an indecisive bug though: in this economy even our viruses have to be cutely relatable.

On Sunday I started to cautiously feel better and so made myself these fried carrot noodles, which are a variation on something I’ve made a zillion times for myself and my friend Charlotte, hence why I’ve given them the also-cute alternative title of “friend carrot noodles” which you are entirely within your rights to ignore completely. I just like putting these little easter eggs in my blog sometimes (an easter egg is a term for a very subtle unexplained reference or joke that only a few people will notice, for example, me yelling “hey Charlotte remember those noodles I made you!”) (Just to be clear, that was a joke and would be a terrible example of an easter egg.) (Not to be confused with, since we’re talking about tropes now, a Noodle Incident, which is an event from the past referred to obliquely and often repeatedly but never elaborated, so the audience can only but guess at the scale of its magnitude. This is an incidence of noodles, but not a Noodle Incident. I know, I’m also glad we cleared that up.)

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This recipe was improvised at my friend Charlotte’s house from a few ingredients and her teeny-tiny kitchen, and we both liked it so much that I ended up repeating it numerously for us during successive times together. We quickly assessed that the real star of the piece was the fried carrot, you wouldn’t think that a carrot could elicit much enthusiasm, but like most things, they really come alive after some vigorous heat and oil is applied. Sweet, toasty, nutty, rich, delicious, they are just so good. All it takes is some very hot oil and some patience, letting them really sizzle and brown and shrink down without too much stirring. The sauce was also just made from what I could find in Charlotte’s cupboard, but it has a marvellously galvanising effect on the noodles- salty, aromatic, rich.

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Fried Carrot Noodles, or, Friend Carrot Noodles

A recipe by myself

  • 2 carrots
  • 90g noodles of your choice (preferably udon, though I used soba here)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (not extra virgin)
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon almond butter or tahini
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup, sugar, or similar sweetener
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese Five-Spice powder
  • 2 teaspoons crushed garlic or two garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • good pinch of ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons sliced almonds, or similar
  • optional: whatever other vegetables/etc you want to add to this, like, go for it

Get your noodles started first by cooking them according to the packet instructions. To make this bit quicker I boil the jug first and then pour that into the pan that I’m going to cook the noodles in rather than heating the water up on the stove. Drain the noodles and set aside.

Wash the carrots, but don’t peel them. Slice lengthwise into sticks of about 1/2 – 1cm wide, not that you need to worry about uniformity, I just gave that measurement because that’s what recipes are supposed to do, but just like, make some carrot sticks, you know?

Heat the oil in a good-sized frying pan at the highest setting and tumble in the carrot sticks. Let them fry for a good 5-10 minutes, without stirring too often, till they’re really browned and crisp and fried.

Meanwhile, stir together the sesame oil, vinegar, almond butter, sweetener, garlic, and pepper together in a small bowl. Taste to see if you think it needs more of anything, more spice, more garlic, more oil? Probably.

Once the carrots are looking really good and done, tip in the almonds and stir them around so they briefly toast in the pan’s heat, then tip in your drained noodles and 3/4 of the sauce. Stir to combine thoroughly, then remove from the heat and transfer everything to your plate. Drizzle over the remaining sauce.

The carrots aside, this is a recipe that is extremely amenable to variations based on what you like and have to hand respectively. Firstly, the base – I much prefer udon or other similarly thick wheat noodles, but when I made it on Sunday I could only find soba noodles and they were still very good. Secondly, you can add any number of other vegetables to this, just remove the carrots to the side as you fry each vegetable individually and add them back in with the noodles at the end. Broccoli is really good, if you let it sit long enough to get properly browned and scorched, same with cauliflower, and don’t be afraid to add more oil to the pan, also chopped spring onions, green beans, and capsicum would be great. I often would stir through a couple of handfuls of baby spinach leaves right at the end too. As for the sauce, you could add chilli, or different spices (I am addicted to Chinese Five-Spice though, it makes everything taste amazing) and if you can get hold of that bottled sesame dressing – you know the one – then that is a particularly fantastic addition. And of course you can use whatever nuts or seeds you want.

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I honestly think that fried and roasted carrots are going to have a moment soon, kind of like how we all started frantically eating cauliflower a couple of years ago. I’ve never been particularly drawn to the carrot on its own – all that crunching and orange coldness tastes like hard work and penance – but when you apply massive heat and lots of oil they suddenly taste beyond incredible. Also, if the carrot does have a moment, let the record state that I called it.

Speaking of carrots, Tenderly, the vegan magazine that I’m contributing to, is launching tomorrow! Or maybe it’s like two days away, I can’t really tell with the time difference between here and the USA. Either way, I’m very excited and you can read and follow Tenderly here.

title from: Thank U by Alanis Morrisette, I love the tremulous little piano notes at the start and the unapologetic largeness of the chorus and the classically cerebrally therapeutic nature of the lyrics (“how bout no longer being masochistic, how bout remembering your divinity.”)

music lately:

A Night We’ll Never Forget from Carrie the musical, that’s to say, a Broadway musical literally based on Stephen King’s horror Carrie. Whatever you think you can make up, Broadway can top. First staged in 1988, this show is a notorious flop but also has had some of the most illustrious names involved with it: Annie Golden, Laurie Beechman, Marin Mazzie, Betty Buckley (who was actually the teacher Miss Collins in the original film), Darlene Love, Gene Anthony Ray, Liz Callaway, Alice Ripley, Debbie Allen, Sutton Foster, and even Barbara Cook of all people! This song was written for the 2012 off-Broadway revival and while it’s very much a musical theatre number, with plenty of exposition, it has this incredible sense of anticipation and 70s menace right from that dark opening piano chord that I adore.

30 Century Man, Scott Walker, I just love this song so much, those guitars and that voice have the warmth of a gas heater on a rainy day.

Torched and Wrecked, by Third Coast Percussion, it’s just a whole ass-ton of, I don’t actually know what those instruments are, I want to say glockenspiels but there’s probably more to it than that, anyway this is unsettling and ethereal simultaneously, it sounds like a thousand butterflies all holding knives, coming towards you in a beautiful swarm, the sun bouncing off their blades, it sounds like nervous rocks in a shallow pool of water. I also recommend Niagara by this same group, it’s got similar vibes but it’s more swirly and momentous and somehow kind of 80s? Like the sort of music a butterfly would use for a movie training montage?

Next time: I don’t know yet, but if I’m still sick I’m going to be so mad.

PS: if you wish to support all the writing that I do – not just for you here but also my other projects that I’m working on – then you can do so by joining my Patreon, where for a literal dollar a month you can access content written just for you on top of all of this.

choked up on the smoke and the charcoal

I’m not one for the long game, I like a shortcut, me. This is an attitude that makes me highly susceptible to pyramid schemes and not susceptible to actually achieving anything, so apropos of this, I was having an idle wander around Yan’s supermarket the other day and saw a packet of charcoal noodles, upon which the only words that I understood other than “charcoal noodles” were “health benefits”, and I was like, these noodles are going to solve all my problems right now, I just know it. And so I bought them.

As I said in my last blog post I’ve been having incredibly strong cravings for sugar lately – my chocolate bar budget is through the roof – so I was determined to make myself at least one aggressively savoury thing to eat before, I don’t know, the year is out. These noodle presented themselves at precisely the right moment. To go with them I made edamame beans, lightly coated in spiced cornflour and deeply fried in oil till crispy, a salty-sweet-sour dressing, and some chopped roasted nuts. While I have no idea what the health benefits of these noodles are because I couldn’t read the language on the package, I trust implicitly the fact that there were health benefits, but if all you can find is regular noodles then there’s no harm done, I’m sure.

This is honestly barely a recipe and definitely doesn’t lean towards any particular region or have any claim to authenticity, but it is really, really nice: slippery noodles, crunchy, nutty fried beans, the balanced dressing with its salty, sour, hot and sweet notes in equal measure, and then the further crunch of the roasted nuts. I am such a huge fan of edamame beans, with their gorgeous emerald color, and when you fry them up they get this almost pistachio-like nuttiness going on. This recipe is incredibly easy to throw together, even with some semi-deep frying, and surprisingly filling. And it’s savoury as hell.

charcoal noodles with ginger, chili, and crispy edamame  

  • half a packet of charcoal rice noodles
  • one cup shelled edamame beans
  • three tablespoons cornflour
  • one teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
  • salt and pepper
  • two tablespoons sesame oil
  • one tablespoon rice vinegar
  • one tablespoon soy sauce
  • one tablespoon chili sauce eg sriracha
  • one tablespoon sugar
  • one inch fresh ginger, roughly chopped
  • a handful each of roast almonds and cashews
  • oil, for frying
  • Chili flakes, to serve (optional) 

First, get your noodles sorted: place them in a bowl, and cover with water from a freshly boiled kettle. Once they’re fully softened, drain them in a sieve and set aside.  

To make the dressing, whisk together the sesame oil, vinegar, soy sauce, chili sauce and sugar, then stir in the ginger. Pour over the drained noodles.

Run the edamame beans under cold water in a sieve if they’re super frozen, just to remove any extraneous ice crystals. Mix the cornflour, five spice powder, and a pinch each of salt and pepper in a bowl and throw the beans in. Heat about an inch of oil in a pan. Toss the beans in the cornflour mix and once the oil is hot, carefully spoon the beans into the oil in batches and fry till crisp and slightly browned. 

To serve, put the dressed noodles into a bowl, and pile on the edamame. Roughly chop the roasted nuts and sprinkle them over along with the chili flakes, if you wish. 

Meanwhile, I cannot believe it’s April already; who let this happen? It’s less than ten days till my birthday which means I’m extremely trying to not have some kind of where-am-I-what-am-I-doing-what-am-I-like existential breakdown, but also I’m like Laura, you’ve had several birthdays now, there’s no need to be surprised by the fact that another one is rolling around. Either way it’s definitely Aries season, which means watch out; I’m more powerful and at least twice as annoying than I would be at any other time.

If you’re on a noodle buzz, may I recommend some further reading: soba noodles with steamed vegetables and hot and sour dressing; Ottolenghi’s glass noodles with edamame beans; or pepper-crusted tuna with soba noodles and peanut sauce.

title from:  Limp Bizkit and Method Man, N2Gether. Yes, Limp Bizkit are objectively terrible, but for a good decent while there I absolutely loved them and honestly, this song still bangs. Is it mostly because of Method Man’s presence? Yeah, probably. But can you deny your nu-metal roots? No you cannot. 

music lately:

Marty Robinson, Big Iron. There’s something about Marty Robinson and his gunfire ballads, I find them so comforting!

Wildchild, Renegade Master, the Fatboy Slim remix. I am SUCH a fan of big beat, like the bigger and stupider the better. This song pops up quite often at work when we’ve got DJs on and no matter how tired I am it always makes me rise up from my grave and jump around.

Laurie Beechman, Memory  I know Memory from Cats is like the ultimate overdone overworked musical theatre song in existence but damn it, it’s beautiful, and the late Laurie Beechman singing it absolutely RUINS me, like, don’t click through and listen to this if you have to do literally anything at all of import afterwards, you’ll need a lie down, I assure you.

Next time:  I intend to have like, slightly more energy this time, promise!!

 

to loving tension, no pension, to more than one dimension

So I watched this video on quantum physics dimensions (yes, times are strange lately) and it explained how humans live in the third dimension, as in, we are 3D, and basically each following dimension eats up the previous dimension like The Very Hungry Caterpillar until you’re at this stage where you’ve got all possible timelines and outcomes to the point of infinity but even that can be shrunk down to a small dot containing all the previous dimensions. The last week has been kind of like this. Things just kept happening that would absorb what had happened the previous day – David Bowie died, Alan Rickman died, I was a bridesmaid in a wedding, Pretty Little Liars returned…and that’s just the stuff I feel like going into. I’m not sure if I’m explaining any of this very well, least of all the dimensions of quantum physics which I begrudgingly concede might take more than a quick youtube video to properly understand. Basically: wow, lots of stuff, every day.

I hadn’t been a bridesmaid since 2004 and this time around I was there to support a dear friend from high school. It was such a long, surreal day, but really genuinely beautiful and lovely and all the good adjectives and it was an honour to be part of it. I was away from Wellington for three and a half days; during which time my main achievement was discovering that for some reason during this visit Poppy the cat was outraged at how much she likes hanging out with me.

the face of a cat who has just realised they’ve given too much information away

such begrudgement

 

waves of disapproval emanating

I made myself this noodle-y thing the day before I left for the wedding, but I was thoroughly naive in believing I would have time to write about it before then. This recipe was born from me running round the supermarket and being all “I crave garlic” but also “I really don’t feel like trying very hard at anything right now”. All this comprises is noodles and a series of things all fried briefly in the same pan. Calling the tahini sauce “satay” is a bit of a stretch, and indeed, feel free to use peanut butter instead if you want, but you get the idea.

Green tea soba noodles have the barest hint of grassy bitterness to them which keeps things lively, tahini is all sesame-nutty, and the bursts of golden, sticky garlic are frankly the universe rewarding you for existing.

This is one of those recipes that you can add a million different things to – a seared salmon steak laid across it would be wonderful – but is also extremely satisfying in its simplicity. I enjoy recipes like this, where it looks like there’s not much going on but you get whammed in the tastebuds with flavour and texture. PS: fresh garlic is a little different from the usual stuff, it is all youthful and mellow and usually has a trimmed green stalk at the top; regular garlic is of course still good. And if you want to use different noodles, it’s not going to ruin anything.

green tea soba noodles with fried garlic and edamame beans, and tahini satay sauce

a recipe by myself

  • 45g/a handful of dried green tea soba noodles
  • three large cloves of fresh garlic, or four of regular garlic
  • a handful of frozen podded edamame beans
  • olive oil
  • two tablespoons of tahini
  • one tablespoon soy sauce
  • one teaspoon sesame oil
  • a pinch of brown sugar
  • a dash of chilli sauce
  • sesame seeds, to garnish

Bring a large pan of water to the boil, drop the noodles in and allow them to boil away till the noodles are soft and cooked through. Drain them in a colander or sieve and run some cold water over them. Set aside.

While the noodles are cooking, slice the garlic cloves into thin slivers and gently fry them in a few tablespoons of olive oil. Carefully remove them from the pan and set aside and then tip the edamame beans into the same pan. Let them fry briskly till they’re heated through and a little scorched in places from the heat. Finally, remove the beans and set aside, and proceed to make the sauce – throw the tahini, the soy sauce, the brown sugar and the chilli sauce into the pan and stir over a low heat. Add water about half a cup at a time and continue stirring – it will be all weird at first but it should thicken fairly quickly. Continue to add water till you’re pleased with the consistency, and taste to see if it needs more salt, sugar or heat.

Arrange the noodles between two plates, pile some sauce on top, then scatter over the fried beans and garlic pieces. Spoon over more sauce if you like, and then blanket with sesame seeds.

Noodles! So good. This whole thing is kind of at its best at room temperature, eaten immediately, otherwise the tahini gets all thick and solid. If you have to eat it cold the next day from the fridge in a giant gluey mass it’ll probably still be more or less excellent though.

Going back a few dimensions, the whole David Bowie thing hit me really hard, he was one of those artists that was present and meaningful throughout my entire life, you know? Labyrinth was the first movie that really had a proper impact on me at around three or four (and I maintain that Bowie in that was my first crush) and from then on he was just everywhere. I’m barely exaggerating when I say he gave off immortal vibes, like if he’d been all “yes I’ve low-key been an immortal alien this entire time and I will never die” I’d be like, yeah that checks out. But there he went. I have nothing particularly intelligent to add to the obituarial chorusing but through his personas he explored and played with ideas of gender presentation while being one of the coolest people on earth because of it, not in spite of it – we were lucky to have him.

found another cat at the wedding to befriend, in your face Poppy (love you Poppy)

 

If you need me, I’ll be over here lying down while trying to process how every possible outfit I could choose to wear tomorrow morning counts as the start of its own potential timeline. I told you I understand quantum physics.
title from: La Vie Boheme, Act 1 closer to the indefatigably ebullient and important-to-me musical RENT (from which this blog gets its name)
music lately:

Craig David covering Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself. Welcome back to the singer so smooth he’s basically a human creme brulee. Actually that implies crunchiness, but the bit under that is really smooth, okay? And this cover is amazing.

Scritti Politti, The Sweetest Girl. Such an unnerving and stunning song, the sort that I will listen to on a loop five times in a row quite happily, even though not a lot happens in it.

Sia, Chandelier. It’s not new but I’ve been listening to it a bunch lately, if you haven’t seen the video but watching unsettlingly incredible dancing and choreography raises your heartbeat then I strenuously recommend you watch it.

Cold War Kids, First. It is just so, so, so good.
next time: I’m way overdue something sweet, tbh

 

umami said knock you out

Birthdays are a very important and special time for me.
Because I’m self-absorbed and love attention. No, I mean, yes, but there’s more to it than that. And not just the promise of neatly wrapped consumer items, either. But honestly, so many people said incredibly nice things to me on my birthday. I felt very loved and liked and lucky and a little bit tearful. 

Birthday me. Twenty seven. This was one of about fifty photos that a drunk Tim snapped of me. I hated them all so willfully went for two particularly awkward shots. Can someone please get me some photogenic-ness for a late birthday present?
Like being my own hype man, I’d indulged in some deep pre-birthday buildup. The day itself though, was quiet but pretty ideal. It was raining, which made me so very happy. Tim made me fresh coffee and rice bubbles with canned peaches for breakfast. I did yoga. I had a long bath in which I drank whisky and read Joan Didion, since I enjoy doing things that let me use the words “sybaritic lotus-eater”. I met Tim for lunch at the very beautiful Nikau cafe, and had an Aperol spritzer (Aperol is like Campari, which I adore, only with more lunchtime-friendly levels of alcohol) and a quince and raspberry donut. I cried twice while watching Nashville. And later I watched while the NZ government passed the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill, meaning marriage equality was indeed A Thing. 
Let’s just say: best birthday present ever. To try and articulate it further…I don’t know. I kept leaving this page and procrastinating on other pages because I couldn’t work out to say. I guess I’m just utterly happy with the result. It’s not a magic solution to all the ills and hate of the world, but it will not only do no harm, it will be super amazing. It was just so damn delightful to see politicians from all across the political spectrum – or rainbow, if you will – giving speeches that were eloquent and beautiful and impassioned, or at least vaguely sensible. To hear the vote results announced, and feeling like this was one more step in the right direction of affirming that we’re all okay. It made me feel really pretty okay. And proud of all those who had gone before so that we could be watching this debate unfold now in 2013.  And while I should stay positive, I mean, I said in my last blog post that I’d never heard an anti-gay argument that made any sense whatsoever. So it’s just really vindicating and hopeful that the law, in this case at least, sides with those of us who do make sense. 
You know how you can pop a balloon, so it explodes with a bang, or just carefully pierce the surface so it deflates slowly, almost imperceptibly, over time? I thought I was going to erupt in scream-tears like a popped balloon when it was finally, finally clear that we’d won. But I didn’t, instead just wiping away quiet tears and not even realising how much I’d been crying till later when my eyeliner had rendered my face panda-esque. 
“No take-backs!” I yelled at Tim. Guess we’re really-really getting married now! 

Umami is one of those words that gets evoked a lot in the food writing of yonder present times. Unlike many popular and overused words (“om”, “nom”, “nom”, and variations thereof), umami is a perfect and quite irreplaceable term from Japan which refers to the mysteriously savoury. That unmistakeable but pretty elusive quality that makes fried mushrooms and miso soup and soy sauce and gruyere cheese and worcestershire sauce particularly fascinating, and fascinatingly particular. Also can I just step back and point out from this short distance and say that I’ve made, and will make recipes that illustrate the concept of umami SO MUCH BETTER than these two but I liked the title that I came up with and so insisted on making this all fit.    

Make these noodles once and then commit the concept to memory and ignore the recipe because they’re a perfect go-to, fallback meal when you feel like something resembling this end result, and you really don’t need to live or die by the below quantities. As it is, what I’ve written below is not Nigella’s original recipe – she was a little more restrained with the sesame oil than I, but it’s such an incredible flavour that I just wanted more. They’re cold and slippery and nutty and salty and delicious and many other positive adjectives besides.

Sesame Soba Noodles

Adapted just barely from Nigella Lawson’s excellent book Forever Summer


200g soba noodles (although they sometimes come in 90g packs, so y’know, two of those is fine.)
2 teaspoons rice vinegar 
5 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
75g sesame seeds, or sunflower seeds like I did. Or peanuts. Or nothing.
Chives or spring onions to serve.

If you’ve got sesame seeds or whatever, toast them in a dry pan over a low heat, shaking or stirring often to prevent them burning. It will seem to take forever and then they’ll burn all of a sudden, so stay patient and you’ll be rewarded with a rich golden brown colour.

Cook the soba noodles according to packet instructions in boiling water. This probably won’t take long. Drain, running under cold water while you do so. Mix together the remaining ingredients and stir them into the slightly cooled, drained noodles. Finely slice the chives or green onions, and sprinkle over the top. Serves two. 

Apologies that my photos are so weak this week, I adore winter but am in denial about the bad lighting it brings. Will try to do something about it so you can return to the kinda-decent photos you deserve.

Surprise second recipe, it’s something I just thought into existence all casual-like, with the hopes that it would work. Oh, how it worked. The butter sizzles in the oven emphasising its – all together now – umami properties, deepening and darkening its already amply pleasing taste. The rum is sweet and sticky and rich but not overpowering, matching the sweetness of the pumpkin and parsnip and making them taste like the best vegetables on earth. Mustard helps it not all taste like pudding, and thyme is my favourite herb (well, that and mint) and I’ve managed not to kill my potplant of it yet and so I thought I’d throw some in as well.

Pumpkin and Parsnips roasted in Butter and Rum

A recipe by myself. Serves 3-4, or two of us with leftovers. 

1 small pumpkin (or butternut, or a couple of kumara)
2 medium parsnips
100g butter
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon golden rum
Half a handful of thyme leaves (or one handful if your hands are tiny-tiny like mine.)

Set the oven to 190 C. Remove the skin from the pumpkin if you like, and slice it into thick chunks. Slice the parsnips into thick sticks. Place in a large roasting dish. Cube the butter and dot it over, then spoon over the mustard. Sprinkle with salt and roast for about 40 minutes, until the vegetables are a little browned and very tender. Pour over the rum and a little more salt, and return to the oven for another ten minutes. Serve. 

Pumpkin and Rum: friendly. (Rumpkin? No, wait, I didn’t say that.)

Another thing I did on my birthday was – okay, after the whiskey and Aperol – only drink a tiny bit of cider while watching the marriage equality vote, because I had a tattoo booked the next day. Do you want to see it? Well, you can’t. It’s currently not fit to be seen, as a result of the long, fascinating, but ultimately sorta gross healing process. As Led Zeppelin and Johnny Cash played on the stereo I went through three solid hours of absurd pain, pausing only to have a fizzy drink or inhale deeply on a small bottle of pepperminty essential oils (which didn’t necessarily do that much, but did put my brain squarely back where it should be and made me feel all medieval) while Tim held my hand, and later, hands plural, which also didn’t seem to do anything as far as pain-assuaging and yet made me feel better. I was with Gill at Tattoo Machine, and he was brilliant. Super brilliant. And I mean, of course it’s going to hurt. I found it very interesting identifying the different kinds of pain – sometimes slicing, sometimes like a small yet mightily-toothed animal was chewing on me, sometimes an odd sensation like a tiny flaming vacuum was moving over my leg, and sometimes more straightforward: like a needle plunging deep into me. I felt weirdly powerful while I was lying there, thinking look what I can do, look what I’m capable of withstanding just because I want to. It’s also possible these are things that the brain tells itself while something like this is happening. At not one point, even during the most intense pain, did I think oh no this was the wrong choice. And now: I love it. I’m completely enraptured with it. Also probably 85 billion percent of people in New Zealand have a tattoo so maybe I’m rambling away on something that’s not particularly ground-breaking. But I’m very, very happy with mine.

Post-tattoo, while I lay on the couch with stabbed leg aloft, Tim trudged round town in the still-there rain and returned home with Voltarin, Bepanthen, a pie and a bunch of roses. He then made this platter of cheese (oh hey, umami), grapes and crackers to eat while we waited for the pies to heat up and poured me a whisky and patiently waited while I hobbled over to the table and took several goes to instagram the moment to my sufficient liking. Frankly, I’m surprised someone else didn’t try to marry him already with behaviour like that, but I’m glad it’s going to be, and can be, me.
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Title via that gleaming beacon of handsomeness, LL Cool J with Mama Said Knock You Out. Don’t call it a comeback! 
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Music lately:

Gavin Creel must’ve bought his voice at the good voice shop or something, because damn son, he renders me unable to write a decent sentence about how great he sounds while singing Going Down from the musical Hair. I love this song anyway, he embiggens it like wo.

Garbage, Push It. Not sure how I missed how utterly terrifying this video was during the 90s. As far as those 90s-scary-subversive music videos go, this one has aged well. The song is brilliant, I bet there’s a version with just a static image if you’re reading this alone and in the dark. (PS thanks Kate for reminding me how excellent this is.)
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Next time: something photographed in better lighting, if I can. Got a yearning to make cookies, and also basically everything, so we’ll see.

stone cold soba as a matter of fact

Note: I’ve been mucking round with fonts and things, Blogger’s formatting is a bit of a nightmare and it has all gone horribly wrong. I ended up having to put my old font back but stupid blogger won’t seem to let me get rid of all these weird gaps between the photos and the text. Shoulda left well alone! Maybe the .com went to my head…

Yes, again. Like you’ve never been obsessed with a plate shaped like an autumn leaf before.
 
I was recently reading Wayfaring Chocolate, one of my favourite food blogs, and its writer/custodian Hannah acknowledged her considerable fear of spiders, and how she hilariously freaked out at the sight of one in her room before realising it was in fact a sock that she’d owned for years, with spiders printed on it. In this spirit of laughing with, not at, I’d like to disclose how massively scared I am of…pelicans. Now as I said last time, I’m honestly pretty scared of many things, to the point of it not being particularly hilarious (I’m talking panic attacks) but people tend to find this specific fear funny. And well they might. When Tim and I were in Europe earlier this year we went to three different zoos and every time, I had to get Tim to be on lookout for them and whenever they were on the horizon, he’d tell me which direction to not look in order to avoid accidentally seeing their scary eyes and death-beaks.
 
If you’d read our little blog while we were traveling you’ll know how much I wanted to see a capybara. At one point, when it was starting to look unlikely, I said loudly “wouldn’t it be just my luck if the capybara and the pelicans were in the same enclosure” to kind of try and tempt fate or something, but no luck. There were just horrible shuddery pelicans (if anything, it’s like fate misheard me and was like “okay, gotcha, so you want heaps of pelicans and no capybara, right?)
 
In case you’re wondering what’s the deal, well solidarity, for one thing. And it’s a blog! I share without hurdles, I share without filters! (Don’t worry, this is actually me filtering.) And in case you’re wondering what’s the deal with pelicans, I had a spine-freezingly scary nightmare about them. And from that night forth, I’ve tried to keep my distance and avoid eye contact with them.
 

Anyway: Noodles. I love them. Cold, hot, spicy, salty, satay-y, wide, thin, whatever. In this case, intertwined with vegetables and with a hot and sour sauce coating each cold strand of soba. The always-important Nigella Lawson has this cool salad in Nigella Express which uses tom yam paste in the dressing, which uses the flavours of soup that you’d normally use said paste in, but in a concentrated manner. I took that dressing and instead dressed grainy buckwheat soba noodles and steamed vegetables with it. It only turned out the way it has because of what I had in the fridge and freezer (not a lot, to be honest) – you could use any number of things to make it SO much better than mine. Like broccoli, avocado, carrots, rocket, zucchini, mushrooms and so on. You could also swap it for any other noodles you’ve got hanging round – rice sticks, ramen, somen…I wouldn’t choose udon for this, since it suits a more solid bitey strand, but really as long as you’ve got the dressing, you’re all good.

I know I said it’d be Banana Pudding Ice Cream this time, but I only ended up making it late last night, and it wasn’t properly frozen this morning. So no photos, and therefore no blog post. I can tell you though, having ploughed into it with a spoon several times, that it is amazingly good and will be worth the wait.
Soba Noodles with Steamed Vegetables and Hot and Sour Dressing
(adapted from a Nigella Lawson recipe)

 
Serves as many as you provide for. I’d hazard a guess that this dressing can deliver for noodles for between 1-4 people, any more than that and start increasing quantities.
Ingredients:
Soba noodles
Selection of vegetables – I used frozen peas, frozen soybeans, cavolo nero, and one smoked capsicum because that’s all I could cobble together.
Coriander or mint, sesame seeds, sesame oil etc to serve.
Dressing:
1-2 teaspoons tom yam paste (depending on your taste)
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar, lemon juice or lime juice (I had a lime – yuss!)
1 teaspoon honey or sugar
Good pinch of salt, or a splash of soy sauce

Whisk together the dressing ingredients in a large bowl.

Cook the noodles according to packet instructions. While you’re boiling the water for the noodles, fit either a metal colander or a steamer over the top of the pot you’re cooking them in and put in it any of your vegetables that need cooking (like…peas yes, avocado, no) and allow them to steam away.

 
Once the noodles have had their time, tip the colander of vegetables into the bowl of dressing, drain the noodles under running cold water in the same colander (well, this works if you used a colander – if you have a steamer just drain them separately.)

 
Tip the noodles into the bowl as well and carefully mix it all together to incorporate the vegetables and the dressing. Divide between the plates of people you’re serving. Top with coriander and/or mint, and sesame seeds if you like.
 


Super spicy and sharp and awesome. Taste to see if you need any more of a particular ingredient – don’t feel constrained to the (admittedly already vague) parameters I gave you. You might find you want more heat, more salt, or that you want it to be oilier. Tim and I had this for dinner on Monday night and it was damn wonderful, the slightly softened greens leaning into the noodles as they twirled round my fork, and the strong buckwheat flavour of said noodles being ably challenged by the hot, limey dressing soaking into them. We then had it for lunch today, and apart from the already annoying peas (they just don’t stick to your fork) losing their bright colour overnight, it was just as good on day two.
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Title via: Elton John’s The Bitch Is Back. That’s right I love Elton John. If you click through the footage of him singing this on Top of the Pops in 1974 is grainy, but very fun (like soba noodles, incidentally.)
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 Music lately:
 
Somehow, even with the internet making everything accessible and instant, I hadn’t thought to look up Missing You from the Set It Off soundtrack, which would make it…15 years since I’ve heard it? It’s emotional, it’s harmony-tastic, it’s got CHAKA KHAN. Closely rivaled by En Vogue’s equally dramatic Don’t Let Go (Love) from the same album, for ‘best song ever from a movie or anything ever’.

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Next time: That Ice Cream.

"she used to say, harlan pepper, if you don’t stop naming nuts…"

Having now made cashew butter for the first time, I can only hope that if you try it too, you don’t experience the same terrifying lows, dizzying highs and creamy middles that I endured to achieve one small bowl of camel-coloured paste. I first heard about cashew butter in a Baby-Sitter’s Club book, Dawn and the We Heart Kids Club, in fact. Who could’ve known that about fifteen years would pass before cashew butter had any further significance in my life?

Please ‘scuse the green stain on the teatowel.

I’ve now relayed this story dramatically on Twitter and Facebook, but for context, and because I’m not good at letting go of things easily, I’ll re-summarise here. I saw on Mrs Cake’s blog that she’d done homemade peanut butter, and breezily so, and I thought her method could be easily transferable to cashew nut butter. The sort of thing I read about – see above – but have never actually eaten.

While pulverising my cashews in the food processor, I saw that a significant amount of cashew-matter had crept up the sides and remaining there, safely away from the whizzing blades. So, unthinkingly, I got my wooden spoon, poked it through the feed tube in the lid of the processor, and waggled it round to scrape down the sides. It worked! But then the blades forced everything back up again. Instead of sensibly turning it off and scraping down the sides with a spatula, I just stuck the wooden spoon back in the tube again. And dropped it. There was an awful noise as the processor was almost jumping around with the exertion of trying to blitz at full speed with a spoon jammed in it, and finally with a crash, the plastic tube broke, pieces of it hurtling into the air, and all this forced the lid off so the food processor finally stopped going. Leaving me with butter dotted with tiny woodchips, a significantly clawed and scraped wooden spoon (it was my favourite!) and a busted food processor lid.

If you follow this method *except* for the wooden spoon bit, I promise you’ll have cashew butter – homemade, wildly delicious, fairly inexpensive if you snap them up on special, non-traumatic cashew butter. Unfortunately there’s no getting around the fact that you need a food processor. I kind of need one now, too.

Homemade Cashew Butter

  • Roasted, salted cashews, as many as you like
  • Plain oil such as rice bran (optional)

I say roasted and salted, because this is how they’re usually presented, but if yours are plain, then just roast and salt them as you wish.

Place the cashews in the bowl of the food processor. Put on the lid and blitz them pretty constantly, pausing occasionally to scrape down the sides and give the motor a break.

Eventually – it does take a while – the cashews will go from being crumbly particles, to forming a smooth, solid mass. This might be extremely solid, so feel free to drizzle in a little oil to soften it up a bit.

Transfer to a container and refrigerate.

Really, if you’re not going in for processor-busting shenanigans like me, the only difficult part of this operation is the horrible loud clattery noise that the food processor makes when it first starts chopping up the nuts. It’s like the sound of a massive snarling dog sitting on top of a ride-on lawnmower driving over gravel.

Consider the cashew: it’s a pretty ultimate nut. Classier and less abrasive than the peanut, easier to get at than a pistachio, less fancy than the pinenut, cheaper than macadamias, softer than Brazils, more savoury than the almond, and um…less wrinkly than pecans and walnuts. Its mild, creamy flavour and excellent affinity with sodium makes the cashew so favourably inclined to becoming a spreadable version of itself. The cashew butter has a caramelly richness which just hints at white chocolate (although I maintain that macadamias are the white chocolate of the nut world) but also that recognisable peanut butter quality of coating your throat and choking you if you eat it too fast. (I also maintain that clouds are the whales of the sky, but that’s mostly to annoy Tim.)

In case you’re wondering what to do with your cashew butter, apart from eat it euphorically (it really is good) you might consider these Spicy Cashew Noodles that I brought into being last night for dinner. In a bowl, place three tablespoons of cashew butter, chilli sauce in a make and quantity of your preference (I used 1 tablespoon sambal oelek) and either a little finely chopped fresh ginger or a brief dusting of ground ginger. Now add about 1/2 a cup water. Using a fork or a small whisk, mix this together till it forms a saucy sauce – the cashew butter will magically accommodate the water so add more if you like. The cashews are already salty and sweet but taste and see if you want to add sugar or salt. Finally, mix in a teaspoon of cider vinegar (that’s what I had, I can’t vouch for the taste of other vinegars but I’m sure they’ll work) and stir the sauce through the cooked noodles of your choice. Me, I went for rice sticks. Tip over a little more chilli sauce and some coriander or mint if you like.

And pa-dah. You have dinner, of sweet, spicy nutty sauce which coats each delicious strand of noodle. If cashews are out of your reach right now, you could always make this with peanut butter instead.

The NZ Film Festival has started in Wellington, and Tim and I are filming it up large in response. I particularly can’t wait for Pina and The Trip. Also Visa Wellington on a Plate starts this Friday so if you’re not already – there’s a significant amount of justifiable hype surrounding it like jus surrounds a cutlet – then Get Excited and check out their website for things to do that will bring yourself and food closer together.

Title via: A rare non-music title; the nut-monologue from Best in Show. A movie not quite as rapturously good as A Mighty Wind but still brilliance.

Music lately:

Ali Farka Toure, Beto. Beautiful music.

How To Dress Well, Decisions (Orchestral Mix) it’s actually playing on the radio right now and I like it so much that I had to look it up. Nice work, radio. (Or should I say, Martyn Pepperell on the radio, since he’s the one who played the song)

I know I go on about her a bit, but it’s with good reason. You should see Mariah Carey sing the ever-loving heck out of one of her early hits Emotions in this video. (I mean her awesomely peppy song of that name by the way, not the gross BeeGees one.)

Next time: Strange as it seems, it feels like ages since I’ve done any proper baking so it might be that; I also have some tamarillos up my sleeve….not literally…