and I can start a book, I can make some mac and cheese, I can sleep twelve hours

p1180468

Last Saturday I had the good fortune to appear on Radio New Zealand to talk about recipes for a tight yet manifestly fruitful eleven minutes and three seconds; as a result I had a whole lot of new people sign up to get my blog posts emailed to them. And I was like maaaan I hope I impress those who signed up in all innocence who don’t know that I’m constantly talking about my mental health and even worse, how I use the word “like” as verbal filler even though I’m writing and not like, talking out loud and therefore in need of said fillers, like, how is it that my written words somehow manage to have vocal fry?

I was also hoping to get this blog post done sooner in order to impress said new kids and indeed, literally anyone, but I’ve been SO TIRED which you either know or shall come to learn is like 67% of what I talk about, but in my defence, this week feels next level, as though all I’ve done is work or try to sleep and infuriatingly be unable to do so; you know that particular tired where the skin under your eyes feels like hot scratchy lace and there’s an egg-shaped queasiness in the centre of your ribs?

p1180463

(Speaking of eggs I last appeared on this same segment of the Radio NZ show a few years ago and at the time confessed to host Charlotte Graham-McLay that I did not know how to poach an egg, or more specifically: I knew how, but I was never successful at it. Before my appearance on the show again last Saturday, sitting outside the studio, she asked me if I was still unable to poach an egg and I was like “well yeah nah, yeah but I’m vegan now so I don’t have to worry about it.” And then I paused and was like “that’s not why I became a vegan.”)

Despite my frantic-making tiredness I’ve been productive in a gritted-teeth kind of way; I’ve somehow managed to read three books (and am halfway through another), I’ve watched twelve films (insomnia is good for something at least), I’m halfway through a knitting project and I made myself food. Specifically, this recipe for Roasted Carrot Mac n Cheese!

p1180480

Roasted Carrot Mac n Cheese

a recipe by myself

  • 7 (or so) carrots from a bunch, the kind that are smallish and have lots of green on the end and look like something from a Beatrix Potter book; or about three regular big normal carrots
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup roasted salted cashews
  • 1/3 cup oat milk, almond milk, or similar
  • 2 heaped tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon dijon or American mustard
  • a pinch of garlic powder or one clove of garlic
  • a pinch of ground cumin
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • a pinch of paprika, preferably the nice smoky kind
  • a very small pinch of turmeric
  • salt and pepper to taste (I prefer sea salt and really dusty cheap ready-ground black pepper, personally.)

To serve

  • 100-200g small dried pasta for example, but not exclusively, macaroni (I used something called Cavatelli)

Optional:

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Set your oven to 220C/430F. Slice or pull the leafy tops off the carrots and place them (the carrots, that is, not the leafy tops) in a shallow roasting dish. If you’re using regular carrots, slice them in half across the middle and then slice each half lengthwise in half, if that makes sense. Drizzle liberally with olive oil (just regular stuff is fine) and sprinkle over a little salt. Put them in the oven for around twenty minutes, or until they’re thoroughly roasted, you know, all soft and caramelised and a little shrivelled (I can’t think of a better word for it, sorry.)

Allow them to cool, then place them in a high speed blender with the oat milk, olive oil (plus tip in any olive oil that is left in the baking dish), the cashews, the nutritional yeast, mustard, lemon juice, the spices, garlic, and a little salt and pepper. Blend it thoroughly until it’s thick and creamy and there’s no trace of actual carrot or carrot remaining, then taste to see if it needs anything more – perhaps some more salt (don’t be shy) or a little more milk, just trust your tastebuds, basically. At this point, you can either spatula it into an airtight container and refrigerate it for up to a week for further use, or set to with stirring it into some pasta. In which case…

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil (I always boil the kettle first and then tip that into the pan, which saves a ton of time) and cook your pasta for around ten to twelve minutes, or until it’s tender. Drain thoroughly, then mix through the sauce. If you want, you can at this point blitz up the slice of bread with the sunflower seeds and nutritional yeast in a food processor or blender, sprinkle it on top, drizzle it with olive oil and grill till the top is browned and crunchy, but serving it just with the sauce is completely fine too.

Serves 2, or 1 with leftovers.

p1180474

I feel that a lot of vegan cooking is like playing that game where you have to describe a noun like “pencil” or “John McEnroe” or something without actually naming it, which is not a dig, I excel at such games. So here I use the words “mac n cheese” to evoke a mood rather than to convey anything literal (which to be fair you could like, reasonably expect from a recipe title, but) and everything that goes into it has its own specific purpose in the game to get you closer to imagining that which the title suggests. The spices – earthy cumin, nutmeg brings sweetness and also tricks you with its cheese-sauce familiarity; the mustard and lemon give tang and the turmeric and paprika give colour and a little back-of-throat smokiness and the high speed of the blender’s blades force salty, buttery cashews and rich, nutty, oily almost-sweet roast carrots to relinquish any commitment to their current cellular structure in order to become creamy and thickly, billowingly pureed. And of course nutritional yeast, which really does taste pretty similar to cheese and is therefore a completely obvious addition and there’s no need to get weirdly poetic about it.

The carrots are the real heroes of the piece here and I’m delighted that my idea for using them thusly worked so well. I urge you to find those cartoon-like bunches of smaller carrots bound together by their almost fluffy, leafy green tops: they simply have a ton more character and flavour than a regular-ass carrot, but if that’s all you can find then don’t let that stop you by any means. If I had my time again I’d honestly probably make double the quantity of sauce so that the pasta could get really truly submerged but as it was, modestly coated and with the crunchy sunflower-seed-breadcrumb topping (and you could just use breadcrumbs, I just decided to really lean into this whole, you know, thing), it was completely delicious.

p1180466

Through appearing on the radio (which I adore doing by the way, not much makes me happier than having a microphone in my face especially if I’m talking about myself and I encourage anyone else who’s looking for such a person to consider me) there was another pleasing side-effect: my Frasier food blog got unprecedented (by which I mean like, seven) views and I received three separate notifications that literally essentially just said “wow someone is actually reading this, end of notification!” Even my blog platform, inanimate though it is, is excited! All of which – talking into a microphone, new readers, the whole thing – makes me feel optimistic and excited! I’m admittedly approaching a somewhat anxiety-inducing fork in the road as my apartment lease comes to an end in February and I don’t know what I’m going to do about it yet and I feel like I’m never going to stop reeling with exhaustion but, with such tangible achievements already achieved in this young year, I’m okay to rest briefly on my laurels. And hopefully even sleep on them at some point.

PS new readers, one final thing I’d like to have noted for posterity is that the photo of me on the Radio New Zealand page is really old.

title from: The Frug by Rilo Kiley. A quiet and slightly odd but sweet little song from way back in their back catalogue, it does feel very of its time, by which I mean a song written in 1998 that appears on the soundtrack of a Christina Ricci film, yes it’s a genre.

music lately:

It Takes a Muscle To Fall In Love, by Spectral Display, it’s so calm and yet so beautifully momentous at the same time. It bears some of that same hypnotic energy as Scritti Pollitti’s Sweetest Girl but is less sinister. I adore them both.

Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime, by The Field, it’s one of those songs that’s so bordering on ambient that it almost blends into the background but suddenly the minor key cracks open into a major key and it feels like the sun is rising in your face.

Legend of Pat Brown, by Vandals. There’s an appealing matter-of-factness to the singer’s voice, and it’s just a great song, okay.

Oh, and some time after I published my eleventh anniversary blog post I thought it would be funny or fun something to make annual Spotify playlists of every song (that I was able to find on Spotify, that is) that I mentioned in this bit of the blog. I started doing this bit two years in which is why the playlists for each year’s songs start from 2009; anyway it’s just kind of nice and occasionally horrifying, potentially for me and me alone, seeing what I was listening to in any given year, like a little time capsule. If you want to check them out, and indeed, any of my other playlists of varying quality (by which I mean, from good quality to really good quality), I’m here on Spotify.

Next time: I intend to be (a) less tired and (b) that’s it really that’s as far as I’ve got.

i’m just a painter and i’m drawing a blank

lady whom lunch

My dear friends got a beautiful corgi last year, and when they were first doing that thing where you train a dog how to be a nice guy instead of a tiny furry hell-monkey, she would totally resist wearing her walking harness. Like, she’d be scooting around the room happily but as soon as she got the harness on she would stand very still, stiffly refuse to relax or sit down, and just kind of look right through youFor ages. With all due respect to Percy the corgi for me turning her into an analogy; this is what my brain has been doing this whole week. I am all “I have awoken! I’ve had coffee! I’m wearing soft, comfy fabrics! Time to write!” and then I’ll open my laptop and everything pauses in my brain and I just stare at the screen for hours, blankly (admittedly taking breaks to hoon through The OC because if I’m just sitting staring anyway I may as well drink in the sweet, potable waters of nostalgia while I’m at it.) I don’t know why! I’ve done heaps of cool things lately! I’ve made this incredibly delicious recipe! I love writing! So why is there nothing but the hum of white noise every time I open my laptop? Aside from the fact that I was probably listening to a youtube video of white noise at the time, because I am obsessed with it (in fact I have graduated from mere white noise to this thing called Brown Noise which was a frequency discovered by some guy named Robert Brown, it’s the best thing ever.) 
I woke up this morning at a time most would consider brutally early, especially as I’d been at a house party last night. Since I am not blessed with the powerful ability to sleep through anything for hours and hours like some people can (directing this jealously at my gf) I decided to fill up the time by just making myself write whatever came into my head and not stopping till I’d finished this damn blog post. And here I am! Halfway through already. And I haven’t even started talking about the recipe! 

See that’s why it was so frustrating that I couldn’t make myself write this week, because this recipe I made up was so spectacular and deserves more of a showcase than me having to threaten myself with throwing my laptop into a ravine if I don’t write about it soon. So, the recipe: I recently became wise to the fact that you can make risotto but with pasta instead of rice. Curious cat that I am, I wanted to try this, and happened to have some risoni in my pantry (by which I mean my designated food drawer in the flat kitchen) but didn’t really have much else. Luckily restriction can make the most delicious things happen, and I ended up improvising based on the few ingredients I had by gently frying the uncooked risoni in garlicky butter that I then stirred miso paste into. From then all I added was water and it ended up the most lush, creamy, intensely flavoured thing ever. Seriously. Just stupid old water.

Risotto is totally the white noise of food, because it’s almost hypnotically calming to make. You just keep adding water and stirring until it’s pleasingly absorbed into the grains, and then add more and stir again, just moving your wooden spoon around and around the pan repeatedly like you’re actually a gif instead of an IRL person. Like, if ever there was a recipe that encourages you to zone out and be mellow, it’s risotto.

garlic miso butter risoni risotto

a recipe by myself. serves one. 

25g butter
three cloves of garlic
one heaped teaspoon white miso paste
half a cup of risoni pasta
water

Melt the butter in a wide saucepan. Finely but roughly chop the garlic and throw it into the pan, stirring over a medium heat until the garlic is a little golden and it smells amazing. Stir in the miso paste – it won’t amalgamate completely but this will all sort itself out soon.

Tip in the uncooked pasta, and stir it for a minute or so to cover it in the garlicky butter. Add water half a cup at a time, continuing to stir the pasta until most of the water is absorbed before you add any more. Continue in this way until the pasta has absorbed enough water to become tender. Tip onto a plate, strew over some herbs if you like. Thyme is one of my favourite herbs and I happened to have a plant that I hadn’t yet managed to kill so I used some leaves from that, and it worked perfectly. 

I love pasta, I love risotto, so putting them together is like trapping myself in a pincer movement of happiness. So if that sounds like your idea of A Good Time, perhaps consider this recipe next time you need to feed yourself. I know I will. 
Thanks for bearing with me through all that, it’s like…the more time that passes since I last wrote a blog post the more panicky I get, because this blog is the most important thing to me and I don’t want it to have the slightest hint of abandonment or even just falling off the wagon, you know? All of which results in me putting more pressure on myself to write whenever I have the time to, which isn’t that often, which is probably why my brain rebelled on me by being all “nope”. 

                   

the girl with a pearl face
PS last night’s party was themed “Between the Devil and The Deep Blue Sea” and it was a joint birthday party for my dear friends Kate and Tim. I dressed up as a pearl and covered my face in makeup. I wish it was chill to wear this kind of eye makeup all the time, it’s so fun. 

PS PS as a final attempt to convey how delicious and wonderful the risotto is, here is me licking the plate after eating it. As well as outlandish makeup, I wish it was more chill to lick the plate in social settings. The tongue is nature’s spatula! I can’t quite bring myself to finish this blog post with that line, but…at least I managed to bring myself to finish this blog post at all. 

_____________________________________________________________
title from: Fall Out Boy, Don’t You Know Who I Think I Am? Party like it’s 2006.
_____________________________________________________________
music lately:

Ummm, more Fall Out Boy, I’ve Got All This Ringing In My Ears And None On My Fingers is such a tune.

Haim, Don’t Save MeWe danced to this last night, I love it so much, I could listen to it endlessly.
_____________________________________________________________
next time: Well, I refuse to have as much trouble as I had with this one. I refuse!

if you are the ghost of christmas past then won’t you stay the night?

My own xmas cake recipe. Boozy and nostalgically delicious, just like your, um, favourite food blogger used to make.

Well, I sniffed a pine tree and it did make me feel more Christmassy. I also watched Love Actually and once I’d stopped ranting at how horrible it is to its women characters, many of whom are barely, at best, one-dimensional props who exist only to help a man realise something important about himself (and those things they realise are usually “I like this hot chick rather a lot”) I did notice that in said movie, everyone keeps going on like, “well since it’s Christmas I’ll tell you the truth/finally acknowledge that I love you/run after you in an airport/generally make an enormous sweeping gesture at great risk to my reputation in the name of love.” Far be it from me to suggest that we should be inspired by Love Actually as such, but I am an all or nothing gal who enjoys a good solid enabling every now and then. Since everything is so ridiculous and high-drama and fraught at Christmas, you might as well make things more like this if you’ve got the inclination, y’know? 


 Candy Cane Bark: for those who want to put candy crush where their mouth is
  
Unsure quite where I’m going with this, I guess I just have a lot of feelings about Love Actually and also Grand Gestures. I’m honestly not in a delightful headspace right now, which is just neat because it coincides with me doing little in the way of actual blogging and everything in the way of rounding up for you, curating, if you will, a list of recipes I’ve already put on here that would make great Christmas present ideas. Aren’t I wonderful! I’ve done this for the past few years and logically it grows every time. I happen to be a staunch believer in the joy of giving and receiving edible stuff as a present, and so, if you feel the same this list might be of some use to you. Oh sure, you could go onto Pinterest or Buzzfeed or even go old-school and make a Google search to find a zillion such lists, but none of them are going to be as self-absorbedly devoted entirely to my own content. For…for what it’s worth.

Berry Chia Seed Jam: it’s almost too healthy, and there’s always someone that you have to buy for who digs that kind of description. 

Worth noting that whether or not Christmas is a significant thing for you or passes you by completely, these are obviously all nice recipes for a present for anyone. For any reason, at any time of the year. Just because Christmas is the overwhelmingly unavoidable societal status quo doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy Candy Cane Bark in the middle of April. 

Category One: Things in Jars.

Jars are cute. Jars are everywhere. Jars are gonna save you this Christmas. 

Orange Confit (This is basically just slices of orange in syrup, but is surprisingly applicable to a variety of cake surfaces. And it’s so pretty. And so cheap.) (vg, gf)
Cranberry Sauce (this is stupidly easy and you should make it to go with your main meal anyway) (vg, gf)
Bacon Jam (Best made at the last minute, because it needs refrigerating) (gf)
Cashew Butter (vg, gf) (just don’t drop your wooden spoon into the food processor) 
Red Chilli Nahm Jim (gf)
Cranberry (or any-berry) Curd (it involves a lot of effort but it’s so pretty. Just like me.) (gf)
Rhubarb-Fig Jam (gf)
Salted Caramel Sauce (gf, has a vegan variant) (I knowww, salted caramel is so boringly pervasive these days but a jar of it all for yourself is still the greatest thing ever) 
Apple Cinnamon Granola (vg)

Peach Balsamic Barbecue Sauce: give a fusspot a pot of fussy stuff. And if anyone makes any calls about barbecues being the domain of men, kick them to the curb and enjoy some chargrilled goods in peace with this delicious sauce. 


Category Two: Baked Goods.

Make your house smell glorious, eat some cake batter, wrap the baked things you haven’t eaten in rustic-looking brown paper and tie it all up with string, then toast to your own productivity and excellence.

First of all, my Christmas Cake is amazing. It just is: deal with my lack of coyness. Even if you decide at the last minute to make it on Christmas Day itself, it will still taste so great. 
Cheese Stars (make twelve times the amount you think you need because these are addictive and also great to serve alongside the inevitable copious liquor that happens this time of year)
Coconut Macaroons (gf)
Chocolate Macaroons (gf)
Gingerbread Cut-out Cookies (vg)
Coconut Condensed Milk Brownies
Salted Caramel Slice (hello again Salted Caramel! Your persistence is as admirable as your deliciousness!)
Fancy Tea Cookies
Chocolate Olive Oil Cake
Also, if you click on the link to the Orange Confit above, you’ll see a recipe for the easiest, fastest fruitcake loaf. It makes an excellent present, for the sort of person who’d like to receive fruitcake. And ’tis dairy free.

Mars Bar Cornflake Slice. I have nothing funny to say about this. Its deliciousness requires seriousness.

Category Three: Novelty!

This is mostly either homemade recreations of things you can buy from the corner dairy for fifty cents, or sticky-sweet things where you melt one ready-made thing into another. It’s frankly the best category and you know it. 

Moonshine Biffs (like homemade Milk Bottles!) (gf)
Raw Vegan Chocolate Cookie Dough Truffles Candy (vg, gf)
Lolly Cake
Peppermint Schnapps (vg, gf) (this is some harsh moonshine but also SO FUN. Weirdly, more fun the more you drink of it?)
Candy Cane Chocolate Bark (No effort, vegan – well, I think candy canes are vegan – gluten free, amazingly delicious, just store it carefully so it doesn’t melt)
White Chocolate Coco Pops Slice 

Chocolate Cookie Dough Pretzel Things: I ain’t delivering them to you anymore so make your own! Everyone will love you eternally, and buying peoples’ love with gifts is what Christmas is all about.  

Because I am an actual darling, I also give you a bonus recipe which I made for myself on the hop when some plans I’d had fell through and I’d also had two large craft beers. I had more or less nothing with which to scrape together a meal, and then was all What Would I Do? in that same way that people might ask what Beyonce would do. After all, I wrote a cookbook with a chapter full of food you can make yourself when it’s getting late and you’re feeling seedy. And thus, with only three ingredients, was born the following: 


Spaghetti with Buttery Breadcrumbs.

Cook as much dried spaghetti as you wish to eat in a large pot of boiling water till tender. Meanwhile, take three slices of white bread from the packet and kind of crumble and rough them up in your hands till they have all broken up into irregularly sized crumbs and bits and general bready rubble. Melt around 50g butter in a large pan and once it’s sizzling, throw in the breadcrumbs and stir them around till golden and crisp and fried. Drain the spaghetti, stir in the crumbs, eat.  

I’ve heard of a similar method of topping your pasta dish with breadcrumbs referred to as Poor Man’s Parmesan but that is both ickily classist and misleading. Crunchy, butter-soaked breadcrumbs don’t need to be hidden by pretending to be something else. They’ll make your pasta taste utterly fantastic and so that’s why I’m calling them what they are. Plus all those carbs will both act as blotting paper to anything you’ve had to drink and will zap you into a calming, mellow stupor. Which is so necessary at this time of year and also always. Happy holidays to you all, but also just, like, happiness to ya too. 
__________________________________________________________
title from: the splendid Regina Spector and her song Ne Me Quitte Pas. It’s French, for don’t leave me! 
__________________________________________________________
music lately: 

Turkey Lurkey Time. DUDE. No wonder I wasn’t feeling Christmassy, I forgot to watch this! It’s a scene from the 60s musical Promises Promises and features a spectacularly rubber-limbed Donna McKechnie and also just the most stupid lyrics you’ll ever hear. But the dancing is incredible and I don’t quite know why but the end makes me all gaspy and faster of heartbeat every single time. 

Beyonce, XO. It’s a full year since Queen B simultaneously blessed us and messed with the music industry by dropping her actually perfect self-titled visual album. It has been the soundtrack of my year in many ways and this song still gives me that headrush feeling of giddy happiness that it did upon first listen. 

Oh Land, Sleepy Town. I’ve been listening to so much Oh Land lately, her music is so dreamy and yearning and poppy. 

Tove Lo, Habits (Stay High). It just gets to me. 
__________________________________________________________
next time: I don’t know what I’m gonna make but I will be blogging again before Christmas for sure. Fa la la la la! 

when we walked through little italy i saw my reflection come right off your face

Ya girl is back. Or at least, ya girl is trying her best to be back. I’m still nowhere near being unpacked (my room somehow gets more embarrassingly messy the harder I try to clean? I dropped out of science early in high school but I’m pretty sure there’s nothing in all academic teachings that could explain this phenomenon) but I’m cooking more and attempting to get back on the freelancing stallion and am generally determined to recapture my ambition. For something. I mean, I never lost my ambition of being outstanding in the field of excellence, I just lost my drive due to Extenuating Circumstances and if I’m being scrutinisingly harsh, which I don’t enjoy, I probably got a bit exhaustedly complacent in that position of, well, not even trying to try. I’m not sure I’m quite approaching my old burn-all-candles-at-all-ends level, but I am rewatching a lot of Parks and Recreation to re-absorb all of Leslie Knope’s power (“there’s nothing we can’t do if we work hard, never sleep, and shirk all other responsibilities”) and I am trying to write more and I am going to start doing my chocolate cookie dough pretzel thing deliveries again!

Because ya girl is also somewhat broke. Moving house and being too busy/tired to maintain several sources of incoming cash is an expensive pastime. But also I miss scooting around town and dropping off parcels of deliciousness, like some kind of no-strings-attached moderately profitable fairy godmother. So if you’re in the Wellington CBD region and want some of the good stuff for yourself or for your secret admiree, all the information you need is here.

As I said in my last post, I have started watching The Sopranos, and despite my immediate misgivings at the violence and boring wife-is-a-thankless-harpy outlawish-schlub-husband-is-horrible-and-also-the-beloved-hero tropes, it’s so compelling. And it makes me crave Italian food something fierce. Initially I wanted to make meatballs but mine tend to fall apart and I didn’t have it in me on this particular day to bounce back from that kind of failure, so instead I went for something very easy – pasta all’amatriciana. I was hoping that it would translate to something to do with matriarchy, but it gets its name from being a dish from the region of Amatrice. Which is nice in its own way – this is just pasta with bacon and tomatoes, but calling it by its proper name gives it a more official, elegant vibe, like, oh I’m just casually making myself this traditional recipe from a beautiful town in the Lazio region of Italy, how bout you?

It really is very simple though, and therein lies its charm – gloriously saucy enough to feel like you’re doing yourself a favour, fast enough to not be stressful, familiar enough to serve up to fusspots. I feel like I’ve had several bad versions of this in my time at cafes that weren’t trying very hard, but home made it’s highly glorious. Thick tomato sauce, salty-sweet bacon, barely-melting parmesan – all twirled around ribbons of thick, comforting pasta. (Well, I for one find pasta comforting, it’s probably my favourite food.)

I slightly adapted a recipe from the Scotto Family, whose book Italian Comfort Food I own and adore. Half a cup of olive oil may sound terrifying in these austere times, but it becomes part of the sauce, making it rich and deeply flavoured and delicious and more than otherwise just a can of tomatoes. However, I understand you using less. Olive oil is expensive. Their recipe called for bucatini pasta but I am a heathen and adore pappardelle, and it was on special at the supermarket – however if you can’t find it, my sneaky and ingenious trick is to get sheets of fresh lasagne and slice them into wide lengths. Or use whatever pasta you fancy.

pasta all’amatriciana  

adapted slightly from a recipe by the Scotto family, serves two (or one with leftovers for lunch the next day, aw yeah) 

half a cup olive oil (or less, whatever)
100g pancetta or streaky bacon, diced (I used bacon but pancetta is superior if you can get it)
one onion, diced
one can chopped tomatoes
150g pappardelle pasta (or other pasta)
parmesan cheese, grated

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta according to the packet instructions, or until preeetty tender. 

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a saucepan, and fry the bacon in it till crisp and sizzling. Remove the bacon and set aside – I just put it on the plate I served the pasta on – and tip the onions into the still-hot pan, stirring them and allowing to cook until softened, but not browned. Basically until that harsh onion taste has been cooked out. At this stage, tip in the tomatoes and stir over a high heat till the sauce is thickened somewhat – maybe ten minutes – then tip in the bacon and stir again for another five minutes or so. Drain the pasta and stir it into the sauce, still over a high heat, and then remove from the heat, add as much parmesan as your heart desires, and serve. 

I haven’t bought parmesan in forever, because every time I pass it in the supermarket I passively-aggressively sigh at myself like some kind of lazily-written thankless shrew wife in nearly any TV show and say “oh…no, no I shouldn’t, that’s expensive” even though the price is never going to change and I could pay a lot more for something else and have a lot less fun. I really should’ve bought some sooner, a fresh grating of it makes so many pastas and risottos more wonderful, and a little bit goes a long way. As I said a lot when I learned the phrase false economy: that’s not false economy!

and it feels like home

There are a lot of things I don’t do that cause varying degrees of incredulity in people – can’t drive, can’t ride a bike, have never changed a lightbulb in my life – but what seems to cause the most gasps is the fact that Harry Potter completely passed me by. I never read any of the books and at most I have half-watched the first movie. But I know several people who are majorly passionate about this series, and I have been wanting to read something that is charming but which I can gallop through for some time now, and so I just…started reading Harry Potter. Three days later I am up to book three, and can say with some authority that I now understand the resilient hype. It’s so good! Hermione is so relatable, that overachieving, keen-to-inform-you-of-her-overachieving hero! Minerva is so icily awesome! Dobby sucks! A lot more of things referenced frequently on the internet make sense to me now! Hurrah for reading. Between Hermione and Leslie Knope, I’m at least surrounded by good influences. Now to allow myself to be aggressively influenced…
___________________________________________________________
title from: PJ Harvey, My Good Fortune. I’ve loved this song since I first heard it in 2000, with its jangling chevron-like melody and satisfyingly ridiculous drawing out of words at the end of each refrain. And PJ Harvey is obviously a goddess. 
___________________________________________________________
music lately
Beyonce’s performance of a medley of her entire self-titled album at the VMA awards. This is so important. I cried, I got the chills, I cried again. I’m getting chills just typing about it, thinking about her face when she sings Jealous or the sight of her standing in front of the word FEMINIST in enormous lit up letters or when Blue says “good job mommy”, I mean, just watch it. 
Liane La Havas, Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye. This wistful, dreamy Leonard Cohen song is made even more dreamy by her voice. 
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Maps. Wait. 
___________________________________________________________
next time: reading Harry Potter just makes me want to eat enormous feasts with hearty puddings and lashings of whipped cream, even though that’s actually more of an Enid Blyton thing, there is a natural echo of her words in JK Rowlings’ descriptions of food. Will see if I can make floating candles and a ceiling that looks like the night sky happen too. 

late night, come home, work sucks, i know

I want to be happy, but I’m also always just a little suspicious of it. Just…it seems that so many times lately I’ve been all “I am confidently happy about this particular thing in my life and it is good and wonderful” and then it all immediately falls apart, as if I broke a spell simply by acknowledging it. This is also a suuuper immature way of looking at things because you have to enjoy life and there are always a ton of factors that could make something nice fall to pieces and if you look for patterns you’ll find them and so on. In my defense, I am very immature. Also I guess what I’m describing here is the phrase “pride goes before a fall” but I hate that phrase, like, are we supposed to not take pride in good things? As the queen Cordelia Chase says in Buffy when told she has no shame, “…like shame is something to be proud of?”

So I’ll say it carefully but definitely (am almost tempted to make the font three sizes smaller as if that would make the universe not notice it) thus far, I really love my new job. It’s so fun. I love being charming with lots of people and meeting all the nice staff and making fancy cocktails with increasing competency and damn, there’s even a weird satisfaction to be had from clearing a ton of dishes. Now that I’ve said something nice about washing dishes it’s definitely going to fall apart (okay, admittedly closing up the bar is a bit of a nightmare but even that I’m getting the hang of), but till then: yeah, me!

Now that I’m doing so many late nights (got out at 2.30am on Saturday night, wheeeee) I need to make myself food that can be hoofed down in a hurry on my short break, that will give me energy but also be delicious enough that it makes me happy, stores easily, is filling but without making me immediately fall asleep afterwards…I have no idea if this pasta salad really fulfils any of those ideals because I just liked the thought of it and so decided to make it, but it is seriously delicious. Of course, most anything might seem seriously delicious at 10pm after being on your feet for ages. But trust me. As if I would put a less-than-dazzlingly-spectacular recipe on this blog for you.

pasta salad with broccoli-pumpkin seed pesto, feta, mint and olive oil

oh yeah so it’s not even pesto, it’s just munched up broccoli and pumpkin seeds, but what, you want to make a recipe called ‘broccoli paste’? Nope, pesto it is. 

a recipe by myself

two heads of broccoli 
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
olive oil
salt

100g short pasta like penne, bow ties, rigatoni, that kinda thing
50g feta (or as much as you want) 
a handful of mint leaves
olive oil

Chop the broccoli into small florets. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and gently cook the broccoli in it – stirring a bit, you just want to soften it a little and lose that total rawness, you know? However if it gets a little browned in places that’s great too. Tip the broccoli into a food processor, and then briefly toast the pumpkin seeds in the same pan till fragrant and browned slightly. Add them to the food processor too with a pinch of salt, and blitz the heck out of it, scraping down the sides with a spatula occasionally. Continue to process as you pour in olive oil – as much as you like, I probably used about three or four tablespoons. You’ll end up with a kind of nubbly, rubbly green substance which you can then spatula into a container and put in the fridge till you need it next. 

To make the pasta salad – cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to the packet instructions (although cooking it in boiling salted water is all there is to it, really) and then drain it under cold water for a little bit, just to take the immediate heat off. Mix together with two tablespoons – or much more – of the broccoli pumpkin seed pesto, the crumbled feta, and the mint leaves, and then drizzle over some more olive oil. 

Bursts of sharp, creamy feta and sweet, icy mint; life-giving carbs and rich pesto – it’s brilliant stuff to inhale during a brief sit (who doesn’t enjoy a good sit?) but also obviously you can eat this any day, any time, and on a proper plate instead of an old take-out container. The broccoli, pumpkin seeds and olive oil are brilliantly complementary, all the nutty, oily, grassy flavours being smashed together in the food processor. Now that I look at them, “grassy” and “oily” aren’t necessarily the most appealing words but they are the most accurate ones I could find in my tired brain today. It is filling but light and keeps for a while in the fridge but honestly the most defining feature of this pasta salad is that it will get green stuff stuck in your teeth in a major way, so totally clean your teeth afterwards if you have to talk to people and sell them consumable items.

it worked! Here’s me eating the pasta salad for dinner on my break. It literally saved my life. 

Use the leftover pesto in more pasta salad if you like, or…use it wherever else you might use pesto, I guess. It isn’t as liquid as the pesto you buy from the supermarket but it would be terrific stirred through couscous or added to a salad dressing or, you know, whatever.

me before starting my shift, feeling like a ghost. There is no after photo because I was working too diligently to pause for selfies, ha! Actually this could be argued for taking selfies just before work, but…my point stands.

As well as remaining employed for a whole week, another cool thing that I’ve done recently is have another Crush Cake published on monstrously wonderful website The Toast. This crush cake is for the decidedly late but decidedly great Clara Bow and I’m very proud of it. In your face, pride-going-before-a-fall. 
_________________________________________________________________
title from: Blink 182’s still-rad song All The Small Things. Back in 1999 before I was all “nope, definitely a lesbian” I had such a crush on Tom DeLong and this was my favourite song of theirs. Also I really strongly hated boy bands and so loved the music video for this song where they send up lots of famous-at-the-time dudes. I don’t think I could, like, listen to a whole Blink 182 album but damn if they didn’t have some great singles. Oh also disclaimer, my use of this title is ironic. Or sarcastic. Or whatever I have to say to not get in trouble with anyone. 

_________________________________________________________________
music lately:

Kate Nash, She Rules. This song is so sweet and simple and scrappy and I love it.

City Oh Sigh, My Love Has Gone. It’s…just…too dreamy, I guess.

Pixies, Where Is My Mind. This song stays amazing.
_________________________________________________________________
next time: freezing though it is, I’ve been craving ice cream…

fancy plans and pants to match: nautilus estate wine

Well hello there, and welcome to another instalment of Fancy Plans and Pants to Match. This is where I contritely admit that yeah, sometimes really nice things happen to me as a result of being a food blogger and published cookbook author, but try to do it in a way that isn’t entirely insufferable and doesn’t make you want to hate me. The name of this segment is a quote from Jimmy James, a character from the much slept-on 90s sitcom NewsRadio. It just felt right.

So here’s the thing: Nautilus Estate got in touch with me and asked if I’d like to develop some recipes for them to go with their fancy fancy wines. Oh my gosh yes, said I. I love wine, I love thinking up recipes, I love receiving a butt-tonne of wine in the mail, and honestly it’s just nice to be thought of as someone who could do this, right? And then a whole lot of stuff happened in my life. Finally though, I got around to actually completing my original task. So thanks Nautilus, not only for the wine itself, but for your infinite patience and your “hey it’s cool we can wait the wine will probably be kind of useful right now anyway” attitude.

The pitch: Nautilus Vintage Rose 2011 and Cuvee Marlborough NV Brut. Both fizzy and fizzing with deliciousness. All I have to do is come up with some recipes to complement what they’ve already got going on. Important note: I cannot get a swishy little accent on the ‘e’ in rose/cuvee for some reason so when you read it please pronounce it “rose-ayyyyy” and “coo-vayyyy” in your head.

What happened: Okay, so I really know very little about wine. I am your house-sav, eight-dollar-bottle-of-merlot-from-the-dairy, zero-brand-loyalty-because-I-don’t-know-jack wine drinker. All of which makes me an excellent, ideal candidate for drinking your flashy wines and thinking up recipes for them, because my palate is unjaded. I am an innocent fawn stumbling through a meadow, I am a blank canvas, I am able to talk like this and convince you that it’s a good idea to send me wine even though I don’t have the faintest idea of what I’m talking about. All your wine has to do is make a good impression on me. I don’t know why I can’t get my head around wine, by the way. I also couldn’t get my head around driving a manual car or the cash register at the German bakery I worked at for an entire year.

brunch: it’s the most wonderful time of year

For the rose I wanted to complement the strawberry flavours bursting through each tiny bubble (admittedly, the tasting notes said there were strawberry notes but I honestly did taste them myself independently of this) and also liked the idea of using it in a luxe brunch kind of way rather than just thinking of dinner and pudding recipes. Like, if I’m going to have a mid-morning drink, fizzy glamorous rose is totally on my top five list of ideal drinks. I also felt like pairing it with lemonade. I thought that would be kind of fun since lemonade costs about a dollar, but also to boost the sweet, bubbly lemony fragrant elements of the rose itself. And I wanted to see if I could make pancakes largely composed of lemonade. Okay, so now that you have the story of my life up until this point, did they taste good? You bet your $9.50 corner dairy Shiraz they did!

Pink and white on pink and white.

lemonade pancakes with strawberry sauce

wine match: Nautilus Estate Vintage Rose 2011

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups lemonade (not diet) although be prepared to add more
  • 2 cups frozen strawberries (or actual strawberries, should it be summer when you read this)
  • 3 tablespoons icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup lemonade (or thereabouts) extra

Place the strawberries in a bowl with the icing sugar and let the former defrost while the latter absorbs into them while you get on with the pancakes.

Whisk together the flour and baking powder, then stir in the egg, and finally slowly add the lemonade, whisking more thoroughly as you go. You should end up with a rather pale, thick-yet-liquidy batter, the consistency of, well, pancake batter.

Heat up a large pan, throw in a tablespoon of butter and let it sizzle, then use a 1/2 or 1/3 cup measure to scoop out quantities of pancake batter to tip into the hot pan. Once bubbles start to appear on the surface, flip the pancake carefully to the other side, making sure it has browned decently, then transfer it to a plate and move onto the next one. Maybe cover the done ones with a paper towel or something to absorb any steam.

Once you’re done with the pancakes, blitz the strawberries and icing sugar in a food processor and slowly pour in the lemonade till it forms a bright, thick, smooth sauce. Pour liberally over your pancakes along with plain Greek yoghurt or whatever else you want, really. Serve with a glass of rose because it’s 11am and you’re a grown woman who can do whatever you want. (You may not actually be a grown woman, this unexpectedly turned into a self-pep-talk. Either way, you can still have rose.)

Um, this doesn’t work as well IRL as it does in cartoons

Despite knowing little about wine I fortunately have a good instinct for flavour and texture and…basically everything except wine. And so. The lemonade made the pancakes light and gently sweet, which, along with the fragrant summery strawberries and thick, tangy yoghurt, was rather perfect with the rose’s fine-textured bubbles and rich-yet-dry vibe.

For the Cuvee I wanted something quite simple yet full of pugnacious flavour, as the wine itself is light and crisp yet not delicate – I felt like it could stand up to quite a lot.

pappardelle with chilli butter, chorizo and feta

wine match: Nautilus Estate Cuvee Marlborough NV Brut

  • 150g dried pappardelle pasta
  • 25g butter
  • a medium-sized firm red chilli, roughly diced
  • a lemon
  • 2 chorizo sausages, preferably good stuff (I mean, not like I’m going to say “preferably the worst chorizo you can find, and then leave it out in the sun for a few days” but basically the quality does make a difference oh wow I sound so patronising I’m going to back away now.)
  • 100g feta, the soft kind, nothing too crumbly or firm (the cheapest stuff is ideal for this, ha!)
  • olive oil
  • sumac

Put on a large pot of salted water to boil and once it is boiling, cook the pasta according to packet instructions – probably about ten minutes. While you’re doing that, melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the chilli and the zest of the lemon. Allow the butter to sizzle and the chilli to soften a little (PS: seeds in or out is up to your level of heat-resistance) and then pour all of this into a small bowl and set aside. Slice the chorizo and fry in the same pan till crisp and browned. Using a fork, mash the feta along with the juice of the lemon you just zested and about a tablespoon of olive oil, stirring harder until it’s quite smooth.

Drain the pasta, schmeer the feta thickly on two plates (I know, fussy, but it’s useful) and then divide the pappardelle between said plates, topping with the chorizo and spoonfuls of the chilli butter. The butter may well have firmed up by this point but the heat of the pasta will slowly melt it. Finally, scatter over a little sumac, and hey ho, let’s go.

you could use any pasta really but things just taste nicer when those things are pappardelle pasta

There’s a lot going on here – sour, spicy, creamy, potentially-mouth-burning – and a lesser wine might’ve been overshadowed, or just taste lousy, against all of that. But the cuvee’s sprightly crisp acidity and full, nutty flavour was not only balanced, it was, I boldly claim, enhanced by the same flavours echoed in the pasta. Also just something about the champagne style of the wine makes anything feel more exciting, and I already get one hell of a kick out of things like pasta and butter and stuff.

the chilli gets a lot more mellow as it sits in the butter, in case you’re nervous

On a scale of 1 to “a whole new world, a new fantastic point of view, no one to tell us no, or where to go, or say we’re only dreaming”: I would say an eight. I got a lot of wine, all of it far more delicious and swanky than I’m used to, and it totally improved my life whenever I had a bottle in my hand.

Would I do this for not-free: Look, it’s more expensive than the wine I usually buy, but not prohibitively so – if I was feeling both flush and celebratory I would most definitely go for a bottle of the cuvee. But also, the prices really are reasonable for what you’re getting, and I suspect that you only have to be marginally less of a dirtbag than me to not flinch at them for casual wine drinking times.

Earnest thanks for making me feel fancy to: Nautilus Estate. They’re damn rad. I’ll be doing another one of these posts in the future sometime too, in case you’re all “wait, Laura, don’t go!”

 

the day the sun turns black and there’s a money tree

Here’s the thing. (I enjoy saying “here’s the thing” before whatever follows, because it makes me feel cavalierly authoritative.) Tim txts me yesterday afternoon to say that he won a $50 bar tab at a nice place in town. This being New Zealand, that buys us two and a half drinks and one snack, but still – drinks are drinks. I suddenly realise two things: time is passing by quickly, and my motivation for making dinner is waning slightly. Also, I’m wearing high heels that are tormenting my feet with the kind of blisters I haven’t seen since my days en pointe, also I’m trying to ignore the fact that Tim and I still urgently need to wash a lot of teatowels and dishes after our engagement party on Saturday. Also I really just want to get home, eat some good food, and settle in to watching Luther and Orange is the New Black. 
Rather than us spending money on take-out, I thought we could instead go to the supermarket on the way home and pick up some ingredients for fancy pasta, something that was almost more assembly than cooking. It’s Thursday, there has been a smallish protuberance in our bank balance, and we’ve just had some very free liquor. We can afford some packets of stuff. And really, that’s all this is: buying packets of cool things and arranging them on a plate. I call it payday pasta since the ingredients are kind of treats – pistachios, ricotta, and pancetta, oh that Terpsichore of the smallgoods. It has a bonus subtext of being the sort of manageable thing you can make for yourself near-instantly should you have gone out for a drink of an evening. I couldn’t actually find pappardelle, which is my favourite of the pastas, but after some feverish deliberation, I improvised by buying fresh lasagne sheets and slicing them up. 
“Pinenuts! They’re the definitive payday nut!” and “why can’t I bring myself to buy this pancetta even though I set out to buy pancetta…okay we will eat it really reverently” and “why is this dog roll called Wound Dog? No wait, it’s Hound Dog. No wait, why does it have a picture of a cat on it?” and “okay, what’s the secondfanciest nut?” I exclaimed, as we barreled from aisle to aisle, pallid under the fluorescent lights. And once home, I managed to get out of my high heels and dress and into trackpants and a soft old jersey and make this pasta and get it on the table within twenty minutes. 

It goes without saying, except that I’m saying it now, that you don’t have to actually buy pancetta and ricotta and pistachios. You could really sub in ‘most any gaspingly expensive protein and as long as you kept the butter-wine-mustard reduction (or gosh, just drizzle over some olive oil) it’ll be something. Pasta is very forgiving like that.

payday pasta

(apart from the pasta, I measured everything by handfuls or how much felt right, but in the hopes of being more helpful than that, the below measurements are roughly what happened. Don’t feel you have to stick to them to the very last milliliter, though.)

25g butter
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1/2 cup dry white wine
200g pappardelle or fresh lasagne sheets
5 very thin slices pancetta
5 tablespoons ricotta
3 tablespoons raw pistachios
1 tablespoon capers
thyme leaves

In the same pot that you’ll later cook the pasta in, bring the butter, mustard and wine to a rapid boil, stirring occasionally, till golden, bubbly, and reduced by half. Meanwhile, bring a kettle full of water to the boil, and, if you got lasagne sheets, carefully cut them into slices about 2 1/2 cm wide. Lasagne sheets tend to come folded up, so it’s only a few incisions that you’ll have to make.

Tip the butter-wine mix into a small bowl, then fill up the pot with the freshly boiled water, add plenty of salt, and bring to the boil on the stove top. Add the pasta once it’s bubbling, and cook according to packet instructions. Fresh pasta only takes a couple of minutes.

Drain the pasta, and divide between two plates. Quickly tear up the pancetta and arrange evenly between the two plates, spoon over the ricotta, the pistachios, the capers, and the thyme leaves. Pour the butter-wine sauce over the two plates of pasta, and serve immediately.

For all that this is mostly assembly, the moving parts of which were very hastily acquired, it’s still a coherent and, in case you think I’m damning it with faint praise, a gratifyingly delicious dinner. Pappardelle is enormously fun to eat. So wide and cumbersomely floppy, all the cool, milkily plain ricotta cheese pressing into it as you twirl it round your fork, with elegantly salty, tissue-soft pancetta. I will here point out that you mercifully taste every penny of the pancetta. It’s not just overpriced ham. Pistachios add soft crunch, plus pink goes good with green, and the intensely flavoured butter-wine sauce somehow bundles it all together without overshadowing any of the other ingredients on the plate. It’s damn good, and worth waiting till payday for.

Sometimes it’s fun to spend a little money on something you’re just going to make disappear into your mouth as soon as possible. Sometimes that’s not an option. In case this all seems too chest-thumpingly pro-capitalism (to which I say please don’t ask me about capitalism, it’s good, it’s bad, etc, and also ouch, chest-thumping) a couple of payday-eve, or indeed anyday pastas you could consider include spaghetti with chili, lemon and olive oil, macaroni peas, and these two guys

What a week, huh. Tim and I finally had our engagement party. Families converging, some of whom hadn’t really converged themselves in a while, friends, us, all in one room – I was nervous. In fact for the first half of the evening I distinctly felt like my head was floating about two feet above my body. But it all went really well. And as Tim and I kept reminding ourselves, we’re not the only nervous ones, this is our house, and this is a happy occasion. In fact, here’s what happened – everyone appeared, there was nonstop talking and laughing and bonding, everyone got a massive laugh at Tim’s and my photoboard of us from 2005 till now, the food was excellent and all appeared on time, and it was just a very happy, fun night. I just wish I’d specifically organised a photo of Tim and myself, not least because my hair was ballin’ and I had an amazing new black velvet jumpsuit with a short floaty skirt (well…skorts) and enormous bow in the back, but because while making the photoboard we realised we didn’t have many recent photos of ourselves together. D’oh. Oh, and I made a FANTASTIC speech. I just did, it’s true, don’t be shocked by my un-New Zealand lack of modesty! Tim was also there to contribute to the speech once I’d had my ten minutes of ad-libbing (including a musical number fake-out which I’m quite proud of inventing on the spot) in case you’re wondering whether I’m getting married to myself, or something. Also, speaking of wondering, we fed everyone (yeah, I like to cater for forty people for kicks) like so:

snacks, chips, hummus-y dips

cornbread-topped chili, vegetarian cornbread-topped chili, paprika-fried tofu, ham in coca-cola, slaw, buns

vegan lemon-raspberry cake, spongebob squarepants candy, nerds, and jelly dinosaurs, dried fruit, grapes and cheeses.

And now we have leftovers upon leftovers (including maybe three thousand bottles of wine) which is the best way to ease yourself out of the inevitable post-event-planning slump. Nervous though entertaining them makes me, because I want everything to be just right, and slightly resentful though I was that they didn’t make good on my request to bring the cats down to visit too, it was really lovely to see my family and to show them a fun time in Wellington. And now that Tim and I have got this stressful thing out of the way, honestly, I’m feeling so casual about the wedding itself. For now.

In light of what a week it has been outside of my small world, I recommend you read this piece by the wonderful Questlove of The Roots, who wrote a response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin. I also recommend what David Simon (the person behind The Wire and Treme and have you seen The Wire) wrote in response to it. You could also, counter to what I’d usually say, try reading the comments – there is some fascinating stuff coming out in them. I’d also like to acknowledge what Rob Delaney wrote after the sad, sad news that Glee actor Cory Monteith was found dead. All of them write with far more insight on these subjects than I could, and so I’m happy to just link to them and leave it there.

Finally, let’s all reflect upon my knitting progress. After some almost comically prolonged unpicking, I am onto the final square of my blanket. Ready to tackle a hooded cape next, to give me that mysterious-yet-snug demeanour I’m always going for in the winter.
_____________________________________________________________________________
title via: The Money Tree, a gorgeously mournful Kander and Ebb song made all the more so when syncopated with Cabaret’s Maybe This Time and sung by the wondrous Julia Murney and Heidi Blickenstaff.
_____________________________________________________________________________
Music lately:

On Sunday afternoon, after spending all Saturday evening there, our friends came back to watch Rock of Ages. I know it is, um, imperfect, but I love it, I just love it. And it is entirely perfect for watching after organising a large stressful party. ANYWAY, wow, anyone else feel uncomfortably red-faced while watching a disarmingly sexy Tom Cruise, who has never appealed to me before, singing Dead or Alive? Don’t even get me started on Pour Some Sugar On Me. 

Tim and I went to see local musician Watercolours (who I’ve talked to on here before!) at Puppies bar. Talk about disarming. I may have blurted out to her that her song Pazzida is in my walk-up-the-aisle-song shortlist. She took it well.
_____________________________________________________________________________
Next time: I had a sudden urge to make a clafoutis on Tuesday. Still haven’t made good on said urge, but maybe this weekend?