oh, these sour times

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There’s no dramatic reason for me missing last week’s post, I was literally just really tired and kept being too tired to do anything, and that’s all there is to it. It’s not the kind of tiredness that feels sickness-related, but then it’s also possible that my show-must-go-on hospo work ethic plus my show-must-go-on hospo work hours have completely raised my bar of what sickness looks like far beyond normal. For a minute I was like…is this depression again? But surely not! I’ve been pretty on top of that whole hornets nest for a while now? In this economy, who can honestly tell.

I decided to give myself a hall pass for my lost week because, well, I can’t get it back so I might as well move forward. This week’s recipe is tangentially inspired by a Nigella Lawson recipe – and if anyone’s going to get me up and at it again, it’s she – for something she called Salt and Vinegar Potatoes. I acknowledge that her recipe looks completely delicious, but also, hers and mine ended up completely different in execution. I thought it would be cool to simmer potatoes in heavily vinegared water then roast them a high heat and just like, see what happened as a result. What happened was: they were SO delicious.

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Now obviously you have got to have a taste for salt and vinegar potato chips in the first place, if you don’t then this recipe is not going to change your mind since it so beautifully imitates the flavour of their packaged provenance. As for me, ever since I was a kid I always loved their intense sour-salty flavour, the way they flay the skin from the inside of your mouth like sandpaper and burn your lips. A snack that maims. I have a vague childhood memory of being at a birthday party and alternating handfuls of salt and vinegar chips with handfuls of gumdrops, their gelatinous sugariness providing a neutralising agent in the same way that you might have a cold beer with a dish laden with hot chilli. (I also remember, possibly from the same party, possibly not, thinking it was a good idea to put lollies in my glass of lemonade, showing an early predilection for being either a culinary maverick or a horrifying concern, your stance may vary. There’s no fever dream like a sugar-fuelled child’s birthday, I tell you.)

So anyway, now we’ve established that salt and vinegar as a combination is not something that one sits on a fence about, let me continue insisting on how good this recipe tastes. The potatoes are sliced super thin to ensure maximum surface area for absorption, and I used a combination of apple cider vinegar – softer, mellower – and white vinegar – aggressive, face-dissolving, sour as hell – to simmer them in. Because of all the liquid they absorb the potatoes won’t get super super crisp in the oven, but with a high enough heat they’ll catch and brown while staying lusciously tender underneath. I guess you don’t have to use red potatoes but I like the way they straddle the waxy/floury cellular axis and the colour of the skin just looks good, okay? The finished result is so oddly compulsive – but then I find anything sour and salty to be this way – and you just want more, more, to the point where I don’t really know how many this recipe would feed: I ate the lot in two sittings, but if you’re serving it with other stuff as a side I guess it could cover four people. If in doubt, just add more potatoes.

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Salt and Vinegar Red Potato Gratin

A recipe by myself

  • 5 good-sized red potatoes
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • salt, lots of, preferably sea salt or similar
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • fresh thyme, to serve

Slice the potatoes into rounds, as thinly as you can muster.

Place the potatoes in a saucepan with both the vinegars and then add enough water so they’re just covered. Simmer for 20 minutes, partially covered, until the potato slices are tender. If the liquid starts evaporating too much just add some more water, and give the slices a stir every now and then to make sure they don’t stick to the base and burn.

Meanwhile, heat your oven to 200C/400F.

Drain the potato slices and arrange them (as you can see I did it fairly haphazardly, mostly because the slices were super hot to the touch) in an oven-safe dish; drizzle with the olive oil and scatter over plenty of salt.

Bake for fifteen to twenty minutes on a rack positioned fairly close to the top of the oven – basically keep the potatoes in there until you’re satisfied with the level of browned and crispness of the exposed edges. This will all depend on your oven, your opinion, and your patience. Sprinkle over some fresh thyme to serve and…serve.

Don’t even try to hold back on the salt: the wall of sourness from the vinegar needs to be countered somehow. The thyme isn’t just window-dressing, but it’s obviously not the most important aspect, it does lend a gentle fragrant herbal richness to the whole affair.

The only other thing to keep in mind is that this really makes your house smell like the inside of a bag of chips for the rest of the day so make sure your scented candle budget is prioritised this week and keep as many windows open as you can. Eating this is worth having your tender olfactory bits attacked by airborne vinegar particles though: it’s just that delicious.

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I hate that feeling of being in overdraft but with one’s own energy; in lieu of any external factors in my life changing (give or take the occasional kombucha or smoothie upon which I place enormous pressure to solve everything that has been and all that shall ever be) I can only hope to level up. I guess not being super hung up for too long for missing a week of blogging is its own kind of levelling up! And anyway, here I am, full of vim and vinegar, (heavy on the vinegar, working on the vim.)

If you want further potato times; may I suggest some further reading in the form of recipes for Potato Dominoes, Mashed Potato, or with a little more effort, Potato Pizza. These happen to just be great blog posts to read even if you ignore the recipe completely, I was pleased to note.

title from: Sour Times, by Portishead. So silky and noir-ish.

music lately:

River Deep, Mountain High, by Tina Turner. I’m kind of obsessed with that Phil Spector Wall of Sound sound, there’s something so emotive yet calculated about it (quite literally in this hugely incredible song: Turner was reportedly made to do take after take after take for hours before Spector was satisfied.)

Patterns, by Suse Millemann. My friend sent this to me thinking I might like it, and…I do! It’s very understated yet lovely.

Stoned and Starving, by Parquet Courts. I love these guys and they’re coming to Laneway next year and SO IS MITSKI but do I have the energy for a festival? They’re of that genre where you’re like ah, this album from 1982 is fantastic wait what they’re like my age brilliant what am I doing with my life.

Next time: I had a dream about chilli corn relish and then it turns out Nigella – that minx! – has a recipe for something very similar so I’m probably going to try to make that.

PS: If you wish to receive these blog posts every Sunday-ish in your inbox, days ahead of the general public, then consider signing up here. On the other hand, reading it on here is not without its exclusive content, for example: I’m actually eating salt and vinegar chips while posting this and am wondering if it is the food writing equivalent of method acting; I’m also drinking black coffee alongside it and they’re a strangely beguiling flavour pairing? Better sign up AND read it here as well, just in case, is my staunch advice.

eight years later you won me over

you say potato, I say potato, you say this is confusing without vocal cues for context

Historically speaking, more than a few auspicious things have happened on October 14: in 1964 Martin Luther King Jr received the Nobel Peace Prize; the first gay rights march was held in Washington DC in ’79; Katherine Mansfield, Usher, Ben Whishaw and the All Saints’ Shaznay all were born, and in 2007, I started this blog. I mean. Wow. I may not be on the Wikipedia page for “On This Day In History Yet”, but I stand by my Wow.

I went back and read through some blog posts from that time eight years ago and was struck by two things: firstly, I was vigorously earnest. In a way that I’m going to insist upon thinking of as endearing, for self-care purposes. Secondly, I’m kind of impressed at how hard I threw myself into this blog. In October 2007 alone I wrote 22 posts. That’s almost as many as I’ve written this entire damn year. And I was so adventurous – every single post is all like, “Well, I got home from uni so I thought I’d make three pavlovas for my flatmates” or “just marinating two kilos of pork” or “I made this steamed pudding and this loaf of bread and this tray of brownies for while we caught up on Outrageous Fortune which is basically like studying for uni since the title is a Shakespeare quote, zing!”

But here I am, many addresses, story arcs, jobs, sub-plots, identities, hair colours, recipes and one cookbook later. And this blog is still one of the most important things in my life, and it’s still going. I think that’s impressive, yeah? Much as I feel vaguely cringey occasionally looking back at my old blog posts, I mean, it’s not like I’m that amazing now at being not-cringey. If anything, it wouldn’t hurt to try and harness that fresh-faced 2007-level of energy.

But, today is not that day. Earlier this week I thought it would be cool to make myself an enormous birthday cake to be all “yay hungryandfrozen!” but instead I went to work and then went out dancing and then slept for most of the next day in an embarrassingly unproductive off-brand manner and suddenly it was several days later, so instead all you’re getting is my introspective introspection and this potato salad.

Fortunately, it’s an incredible potato salad.

For all that Nigella gets framed as someone who is wantonly extravagant (and frankly I would be too if I had her millions) if you dig around she has so many recipes that are extremely accessible to the average living-paycheck-to-paycheck human. Which is why I was able to throw myself into her cookbooks as a ludicrously broke student many years ago – although admittedly it’s because I would often buy, say, pomegranates or dried porcini while sticking bits of cardboard in the bottom of my shoes to block the holes in the soles and tying the broken shoelaces together instead of buying more – and in hindsight, I frankly don’t know why on earth buying new shoelaces seemed like such a personal sacrifice but I guess it explains something about who I am as a person.

Within her excellent and fairly underrated book Forever Summer, I found a recipe that perfectly straddled my particular needs on a particular day: cheap enough to make on Payday Eve, and fulfilling my bid to eat a vegetable occasionally.

baked potato salad 

this is how I made Nigella Lawson’s recipe from her book Forever Summer. 

three medium-to-large floury potatoes
extra virgin olive oil
salt
sumac
flat-leaf parsley 
lemon juice

Set your oven to 200C/400F and give the potatoes a quick stab with a fork or other stabbing implement. Wrap them snugly in tinfoil and throw them in the oven for an hour or so until a sharp knife slides right into them without the slightest hint of resistance. 

Carefully unwrap the potatoes and half them lengthwise, and allow them to cool just enough that they’re not entirely resembling the surface of the sun. Use a spoon to scrape out the soft baked potato flesh from the skins, and pile it all onto a large flat plate. That is all the hard work done: now just drizzle over as much olive oil as you please, squeeze lemon juice over, scatter with salt and sumac and finally adorn it all with parsley leaves. This is nicest when it’s right at room temperature but eat it how and when you choose. 

Meanwhile, because the universe is occasionally bountiful, you can also turn the oven to grill, put grated cheese in the cavities of the remaining scraped-out potato skins, and grill them till it’s all bubblingly melted and the skins are crunchy and everything is good.  

Sumac is a spice that is similar to pomegranate and tamarind in that it imparts a fresh, punchy sourness along with gorgeous colour – so if you don’t have any on you and are unlikely to find some anytime soon, consider just blanketing this with tendrils of lemon zest. Sometimes recipes can seem almost too simple, as though you have to explain them contritely to whoever you’re serving them to in case they’re like “wait so is this just a potato on a plate or what” but simplicity of this salad is what makes it so perfect. The olive oil sinks into the crumbled, tender potato, the parsley gives a slight stab of peppery leafiness, the sumac and lemon juice subtly yet tartly liven everything up, and it really doesn’t matter how much of any particular ingredient you add. I guess this technically serves a few people but I ate the entire thing all at once; if you want more just add more ingredients, silly.

Aside from achieving eight years of being in a relationship with this blog, the only other real significant things that have happened recently are: I finally finished watching every last episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with Kate and became an emotional unfilled brandy snap as a result (that is; hollow and fragile and fairly outdated); and I dyed my hair bright red. My parents also visited Wellington for the first time in ages and I was able to show them around my stomping grounds (that is, work) and it was lovely to spend time with them. Unfortunately they didn’t bring the cats along on the visit, but I won’t hold it against them.

I’m a lot happier about the dye job than I let on

So I didn’t manage to get my act together to celebrate my blog’s birthday in a suitably jaunty manner, but I think it will be okay. I mean, look how far I’ve come since this photo I posted here eight years ago. I still have that plate, and for some reason that year our flat got sent a LOT of Scientology literature and pamphlets, which is what it’s sitting next to. Thanks to all of you who have been reading this though, whether for years and years or merely for regretful minutes – I appreciate every set of eyeballs, every kind email I’ve got, everyone who has lived through my life along with me. As I said in my very first blog post, “what I’ve been cooking and what I’ve been up to lately are often the same thing”. Bring on six seasons and a movie.
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title from: The Veronicas’ mercilessly sad song In Another Life. There’s actually a bit where you hear an audible sniffle (followed by me audibly breaking down)
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music lately: 

Millencolin, Penguins and Polar Bears. I heard this song for the first time in forever at Kim’s goth-themed birthday party recently and have been listening to it nonstop ever since. It contains many of my kryptonites: a gratuitously adorable song title, angst, and a lead singer who sounds like they’ve got a blocked nose. 

Roxette, She’s Got The Look. Oh my gosh, this SONG. It came on the other day when I was out dancing and I hadn’t heard it in actual years and it slays me, all that 80s-ness and minor keys and frantic-ness. 

Tom Cruise, Dead or Alive. I mean. I rewatched Rock of Ages with Kim recently and was so irritated at how hot he is in this. Also Bon Jovi is another of my many kryptonites, so. But seriously, just watch this and then deal with your feelings. 
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next time: maybe a better-late-than-never cake? 

we’re so much more than pointless fixtures, instagram pictures

*lou reed voice* shiny shiny 

I’ve always been one to self-absorbedly imagine that I’m in a scene in a movie while doing otherwise mundane things like staring inscrutably out the window while on a train or sitting inscrutably on a park bench or getting a coffee by myself, inscrutably – I know I’m not the only one that does this! It’s like, this is the quiet bit in the indie movie where the camera stays fixed on me for an almost uncomfortably long time while I do something very normal but in an utterly enigmatic way. Right?

Anyway after spending the longest time of only listening to podcasts when getting to and from places, I’ve started listening to music through my headphones on my phone again (having got the Spotify app and an ad-free premium account) and wow, nothing enhances the “I’m a mysterious and important character in an indie film that you’ll guiltily download because you can’t stomach spending $25 on a ticket during festival season or waiting forever for it to have a limited-at-best release” feeling like walking down the road utterly immersed in your own personal soundtrack. Sauntering in the dark to Lazy Line Painter Jane by Belle and Sebastian – the lyrics are stupid but the beat and the melody are heavenly and the coda makes the mere act of walking seem like art; striding through the rain to Shazam by Spiderbait feeling like a complete brat as you jaywalk (in my defence the roads in Wellington are ridiculous and there’s nothing to do but jaywalk); drifting dreamily, almost floating, through the industrial end of town to Julee Cruise’s Rockin Back Inside My Heart. I know this is the most pretentious thing I’ve written in a long time and I sound like a teenager who has just discovered Morrissey (you should’ve seen me when I was a teenager who had just discovered Morrissey) but like, it’s just so, so, so long since I’ve done this and it’s such a small thing but it’s so amazing. That’s it, that’s the story: listening to music through headphones is nice, did you know?

*freddy mercury voice* hash! Aaa-aah, saviour of the universe!

Speaking of all the small things; I still haven’t replaced my lost SD card for my fancy digital camera, partly out of not wanting to spend excess money and partly out of a self-flagellating sense of punishment. As such my phone has graduated from being merely my best friend and confidante to my main camera. Which also makes it slightly harder to get a decent bundle of blog-worthy photos happening for any one dish I’ve made at any one time. In lieu of that, I’ve decided to do a wee round-up of some food I’ve made and quickly instagrammed lately – united they are greater than the sum of their parts, or something. All three of these things – peanut butter cookies; sausage and potato hash; and tomato and feta tart – are stupidly delicious and the recipes can be imparted to you super quickly, so…yeah. No harm done.

peanut butter cookies

one cup smooth peanut butter
one cup sugar
one egg
one teaspoon baking powder
dark chocolate

set your oven to 180 c/350 F. Mix all the ingredients together, roll the mixture into rather small balls (the smaller they are, the less likely they are to crumble) and place on a paper-lined baking tray. Press down slightly with the back of a spoon to flatten them juuuust a little. Bake for about ten minutes, then let them sit for ten minutes (important so they don’t crumble…again) before carefully transferring to a wire rack to cool. Melt the chocolate and spoon it over the top of the cooled cookies as you please. Makes many. 

If you’re a gluten-free person you will likely have encountered some version of this recipe already a million times but man it’s good – soft, chewy, salty-sweet cookies, the throat-coating peanut butter cut through with the crunch of bitter dark chocolate. I’d usually prefer milk chocolate here but using dark makes them dairy-free too – I made these to take into work one evening in a kind of a sustain-the-troops kind of move, and also because I thrive on presenting people with food that I’ve made whether they want it or not.

sausage and potato hash

four fresh pork sausages
two large floury potatoes
one onion, diced 
dried thyme
oil and butter
two eggs
HP sauce and/or ketchup/hot sauce/whatever other condiment your sodium-caked heart desires

It’s fairly uncool but if you microwave the sausages in a bowl of water for three minutes and then microwave the potatoes for three minutes (give both of them a stabbing with a fork first) then your life will be an awful lot easier. Otherwise consider simmering them in a pan of water for a bit first or just plough ahead and hope for the best. 

Heat plenty of olive oil or similar in a large pan. Gently fry the onion until softened and golden. Roughly chop the sausages and tip them into the pan, allow them to sizzle and brown. Then dice the potato fairly small, and add to the pan – try and get as much surface area touching the base of the pan as possible to encourage browning and crisping. Put a lid on the pan for about five minutes to allow the steam to cook the potato through, then remove the lid, turn up the heat, add a knob of butter and the thyme and allow everything to sizzle like whoa. Push everything to the side and crack the two eggs into the pan and allow them to fry till you’re quite satisfied. Remove from the heat; divide the sausage and potato mixture between two plates, top with the eggs, and apply as much sauce as you please. 

I made this for my wonderful girlfriend and myself on Sunday when we were both varying degrees of hungover and indecisive (okay, well she fried the eggs – I’m just not that great at eggs and she is) and it was the absolute perfect thing. Cheap, fast, fried, carb-loaded, slightly greasy, sustaining, nourishing, hot, covered in salt and sauce, and the ideal accompaniment to watching 21 Jump Street. From which we can learn two things: one, Dave Franco has ascended to being The Superior Franco, and two, Channing Tatum’s acting career is the greatest thing to happen to America this century.

tomato and feta tart 

one sheet ready-rolled puff pastry
half a tin of chopped tomatoes
one tablespoon cornmeal
about fifty or so grams of feta cheese
thyme leaves
a little oil, milk, melted butter or something for brushing the pastry with

Set your oven to 200 C/400 F and place some baking paper on a baking tray. Put the sheet of pastry on top and score a one-inch border around the edge – this is where you use the point of a knife to almost-but-not-quite cut through it, like you’re drawing a slightly smaller square inside of it. This is gonna make the edges puff up and make a fetching border once you bake it. Sprinkle the cornmeal over the middle of the pastry, drain the tomatoes well and spread them evenly across, then sprinkle/crumble the feta on top of the tomatoes. Brush the edges with melted butter or whatever if you like, and then bake for about 15-20 minutes until it’s golden, puffy and risen around the edges. Sprinkle with salt and strew with thyme leaves. Slice into bits and snarf the lot. 

Look, if you have some ready-rolled pastry in your fridge or freezer then you have the makings of a good time no matter how meagre the rest of your pantry supplies may be. You could literally just bake a piece of pastry and it would still be a charming snack. I mean, I wouldn’t be above such things. Tomatoes and feta are obvious pals so don’t even make me try to explain it to you, but there’s something fun about the tangy feta once it’s warmed through and how it contrasts with the relative sweetness of the tomatoes and the buttery, puffy pastry. This is another one that I threw together for my excellent gf and myself one Sunday and it’s the perfect lunch for two – cut it into four squares, have two each, put a little rocket or spinach on the side if you’re feeling outlandish, and deliciousness shall abound.

*no particular voice* this is a tomato and feta tart
As I alluded to before I’m trying so hard to spend as little money as possible right now, on account of how living paycheck to paycheck is no fun, but I also decided to ignore that rule and hoist myself off to a cafe to write this blog post over a coffee. Also it’s payday today! I doubt I’m gonna be able to afford to replace my SD card any time soon, so you’ll just have to get used to these phone-photos, but honestly instagram is so great that I’m not even too bothered (that said if you’re feeling like you’re too rich right now may I remind you that I have a paypal, pal) – somewhat unsurprisingly I love making my life look more dreamy and hazily lit than it really is. Just as I’m massively digging soundtracking my life like I’m the first person who discovered how to do this. Some might say it’s whimsical, some might say it’s insufferable and not even particularly interesting, but as long as they’re saying something I really don’t mind.
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title from: Queen Beyonce, with her drown-in-the-sexy song Rocket from her incredibly important self-titled album. Don’t listen to it unless you’re ready to fall over sideways. 
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music lately: 
Misterwives, Twisted Tongue. Uhhhh this is such a good pop song, I can’t even deal and I frankly refuse to deal. 
Beach House, A Walk In The Park. Another good one to make your way from A to B to. The perfect child of Billy Idol’s Eyes Without A Face and The Pixies’ Where Is My Mind (a perfect child that I never knew I needed, to be fair.) They’ve just been announced as coming to Laneway festival next year and I MUST GO. 
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next time: I mean technically it’s Spring, despite the weather being more appalling than it has been all winter, and I am determined to hunt down some asparagus. 

you want it all but you can’t have it, it’s in your face but you can’t grab it

My highly wonderful girlfriend recently linked me to a story online that she thought I’d relate to – an interview with Canadian writer Fariha Roisin – and while reading it I was nodding so emphatically in agreement that I probably kicked off some kind of like, Butterfly Effect. I mean, look at this:

“I really struggle with the idea of productivity. I hate the fact that I value myself on my own creative produce, and I enact so much frustration and hate onto myself when I can’t, or won’t (due to emotional blockages, etc) create. Recently I’ve felt a great big void in the center of my being. I want to let myself have days off, but I don’t necessarily think I deserve them.”

It’s oddly calming to read Roisin articulate that storminess just as I would. Like I said in my last blog post, I’m trying to manage my expectations of myself (which are, some might say, a little ludicrously high) in relation to the actual time available to achieve them all, and not getting a particularly satisfactory outcome.

All of this dark-eye-circled self-centredness has really only increased because I have a lot of projects happening where the time to do them seems just out of reach, but I’m not sure if it’s the lack of time or if it’s just me, you know? And as I blurted on twitter the other day, I really want to make a food show web series, the sort that you watch and think “oh yeah that will definitely end up on TV at some stage”, and I want it to be hilarious and excellent and different and not simply pleasant and straightforward like 99% of the existing food-related content out there. The world does not need another pleasant cooking show, but I feel like one that’s fun and stupid and properly funny and irreverent without being too laboured and studied is…well, just as unnecessary in the greater scheme of things, but still, I want it to happen and that’s reason enough for me. And I don’t know how to do this and whenever I’ve had time to think about it, I’ve had to sleep, because there’s only so many hours in the day. Part of me wonders if I’m letting myself use my busy schedule as an excuse to not have to actually do anything, and part of me is literally asleep right now as I write this, so.

But! I did achieve potatoes! Take that, The Passage of Time! It also happens to be the one single thing I’ve cooked in the time since the caramel slice in my last blog post, so thank goodness it’s monumentally incredibly delicious.

Say what you will about microwaves, but I realised recently if you briefly zap potatoes in one, you can then fry or roast them with extreme haste, and have yourself some kind of carbohydrate-rich dish in significantly less time than it would normally take! And that time always feels endless when you’re waiting for potatoes. With this recipe you can have a lusciously wonderful dish of crisply fried potatoes in a not-overly unbearable time. It’s not exactly instant, but it’s instant-er than you’re gonna get otherwise.

I made this up the other day as a pre-work snack, just based on ingredients I had to hand, and it’s really as quite-fast as I claim. The time it took for the potato pieces to sizzle into golden crispness was just the right amount of time to go look for my camera’s SD card, be entirely unable to find it in the nourishing vegetable soup of possessions that is my bedroom, also realise I couldn’t find the bowl I wanted to photograph the potatoes in, declare everything to be literal garbage and I, the luckless raccoon atop it all, then pull myself together and decide to find a different bowl and to use my phone to take photos instead.

Importantly, it tastes incredible.

quite fast garlic and parmesan potatoes

a recipe by myself

three medium-sized floury potatoes, or potatoes that are labelled suitable for frying/roasting
30g butter, or more to taste (obviously I added more) 
a teaspoon or so of olive oil (it stops the butter from burning) 
four fat cloves of garlic, or thereabouts
parmesan cheese for grating over 

Stab the potatoes a couple of times with a fork, and then throw them in the microwave – no need to even put them on a plate or anything, but I guess you can – and cook on high for about three minutes. 

Meanwhile, peel the garlic cloves and very roughly chop them – you’re looking for good-sized bits here, not crushed garlic – and put them into a wide saucepan along with the butter and oil. Place the pan on a medium heat, stirring occasionally while the butter melts and the garlic starts to gently sizzle.

Remove the potatoes from the microwave – you might want oven mitts or tongs for this – and very roughly chop them into smallish pieces. If the edges get roughed up and some bits get a little crushed, so much the better. Turn up the heat on the butter and tip in the potatoes, stirring around so they’re all evenly sitting in the pan. Let them fry until wonderfully golden, stirring occasionally so all surface areas are against the heat of the pan. This will take about ten minutes. 

Once you’re satisfied with the done-ness of the potatoes, tip them onto a plate or bowl and grate over as much parmesan as you see fit. 

Stickily rich garlic, golden crunchy potatoes which are fluffily tender inside, barely melting sharp parmesan, blanketed as thickly as you can be bothered grating it – this is both comforting and beautiful. The quantities of ingredients listed are a little vague, because you can make this as garlicky and buttery and parmesan-y as you please really, and because apparently I like to overexplain things. What I’m saying is, trust yourself and what you want, but what I’ve given you here is a good starting point.

I ate the entire bowlful and licked the plate (some might say that’s an uncouth habit but I say the tongue is nature’s spatula) and was utterly pleased with myself, which, given my aforementioned tendency towards sternly growling at myself all the time, was…nice. Of course you can have these as part of a table of brunch food or to accompany steak or a roasted thing or whatever you want, but eaten on their own they’re pretty perfect.

Speaking of what is and isn’t perfect, I leave you – and myself- with these wise words from Fariha Roisin:
I’m learning to not have conditions attached to myself. I’m unbuckling the belt and loosening the idea tied up to what it means to be a person, or what it means to be me. 
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title from: Epic, a song by Faith No More that I may have listened to roughly twelve thousand times in the last few days. This live version is amaaaazing. I just love this song so much. I am okay with this. I am not okay with how great the song is though. How dare it!
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music lately: 

Sick, an EP from Allison Stone. She is wonderful and it is wonderful, okay?

Shades, I’ll Be Around. This is from…1996? And still goes off.
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next time: hopefully I will cook something in the next like, six months – whatever it is, it’s all yours. 

we should hash it out like a couple of grownups

hashtag hash
I come to you buried under three layers of exhaustion: firstly I ate a lot of macaroni cheese for dinner and with every passing second the carbs are lulling me into a dopey stupor (well the only pasta I had was risoni and then I was like is this macaroni risoni or macarisoni and then I was like Laura quit being insufferable and eat your pasta. Once you’ve instagrammed it.) Secondly I had a useless night’s sleep last night. And reason the third, I am in the process of leaving my current job and starting another and there is some overlap of schedules and as a result of all these things I am less human and more a tired baby penguin, fluffy and confused and keen to get around by lying down and zooming on my stomach instead of having to stand up.  
(The changing of the jobs is all very jolly by the way, I’m grateful to the first job for teaching me a lot and delighted by the opportunity of the new job, which is also a bartender role. I realise I’m being cagey about what these places are called, but if you have an issue with that then that’s kinda weird.)
So it’s with all these floaty, veil-like layers of tiredness, that I can’t promise that this post is going to be my best work. Just kidding, all my blog posts are amazing. But uh, this one might sound a little strained as my eyes increasingly struggle to remember what their one job is.
oh look, the same thing from a slightly different angle. 

It wasn’t on my agenda to blog about this – I made it up on the spot and it seemed too simple and insubstantial. Then I told myself, that what is essentially a two-ingredient dish, which uses those specific ingredients because that’s all I had in the house and couldn’t afford to run out and buy more, could still be something that other people might want to have in their own lives on purpose.

And well you might, because it’s decidedly delicious.

 spot the can of golden pash in the background: very on-brand. Speaking of brands the hot sauce that I have is called Secret Aardvark and it comes from Portland, Oregon, and I just want to say Secret Aardvark again. 
I made this for my girlfriend and myself the morning after a friend’s beautiful engagement party, where there was wild dancing and cat-patting and wine-drinking and cake-eating and a general mood of lovely happiness. But yeah, let’s not bury the lede: there was so much dancing and wine drinking. I was determined to use only ingredients I had in the house to make something brunchily cool yet bolstering and reviving. Miraculously I had some eggs, which I scrambled, y’know, satisfactorily. This potato and corn hash was a bit of a revelation though, and so I’m sharing the recipe with you here. Quantities can be upped easily, just make sure your pan is big enough and your heart is true. (I’m so tired, okay.)

smoky potato and corn hash

a recipe by me

two decent sized potatoes (kind of the size of a decent-sized tomato, or a small avocado? No smaller than that but feel free to go wayyyy bigger)
about three tablespoons of olive oil 
roughly 20g butter
one cup frozen corn kernels
salt, to taste
liquid smoke 

Finely dice the potatoes into roughly 1/2 cm cubes/rectangles/any four sided shape you can approach a likeness of. Heat the oil in a wide frying pan and once it’s proper hot, tip in the potatoes and spread them out evenly. Allow them to fry for about ten or fifteen minutes, stirring and turning very occasionally – the longer you leave the potatoes in one place the more golden and crisp they get. At this point, add the butter and let it sizzle for a little longer, then tip in the corn and stir. Again, the less you stir the better, so that the corn gets a little bit scorched, but you don’t want it to get burnt. Basically, use your eyes, see what needs moving around and what needs more time on the heat.

Finally, sprinkle over a few drops of liquid smoke – you don’t need much – and stir it in, then add as much salt as your merrily brined wee heart desires, and divide between two plates. 

hot sauce hand model (also you can see in the foreground where we both spilled juice from a truculent and entirely uncooperative tetra-pak)

This would be so good with some chopped up herbs, or diced onion fried with the potato, or some parmesan grated over, or some turmeric and cumin, but on its own it was quite perfect. The potato is cut into minute pieces which cook quickly in the sputtering oil and become darkly golden and crisp in that way that makes you feel weepily grateful depending on what else is going on in your life. The corn is sweet and juicy and slightly browned in places and just wonderfully corn-like (I really like how corn-like corn is.) Liquid smoke has saved me from blandness many a time, but if you don’t have it – and it’s not necessarily that easy to get hold of – you’ll lose some of that standing-near-a-barbecue vibe, but it will still be so good. Just add more butter and salt and keep on truckin’.

what are you trying to hide, parsley sprig?  

Look, I just love brunch so much, it’s such a kind meal – you get to sleep in, you get to eat so many rich foods, you get to feel fancy, you get the rest of the day still to do things. Making it for yourself is charming in its own way that going out for it can’t replicate (especially if you are cooking for someone else) and while you have to do the dishes at least you can eat while wearing severely ancient trackpants and an insouciantly draped blanket.

I sold my last cookbook today, which was a strange feeling. I’m so determined to write another one, and soon, but also looking at this cookbook, which was written, tested and photographed in its entirety in just three months, I’m very proud of myself. On a wearily capitalistic note, it’s also a shame because I was making money from selling them and now I’m not, but I still have a good feeling that I’ll be a zillionaire or even a mere billionaire pretty soon. I’d just be so good at being rich!

One last thing, before I leave you, and frankly I can’t believe I made it this far, but of course I did because I am good at pushing myself to write when I’m 90% asleep, and anyway: I thought it would be kinda dinky and fun to put all the songs I’ve listed in the music lately section at the bottom of the blog onto a Spotify playlist. So far I have one for this year, one for the back end of last year, and one that I’m going to put Christmas songs in. My username is Laura Vincent if you want in – sometimes I couldn’t find the specific song (damn you Taylor Swift, release your iron grip and let the people listen to you on Spotify) so I’d try to get the next best thing, but it’s more or less everything I’ve been recommending. It’s…not coherent, but it’s cute! Like me.

bye
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title from: so hash is an interesting dish to find a title for…this one is from Drake and Jhene Aiko’s dreamy dreamy song From Time. Oh Drake, trust you to come through for me. 
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music lately: 
Fiona Apple, Every Single Night. This song is bewitching.
De La Soul with Redman, Oooh. I haven’t heard this in so long and it makes me so happy, how compelling is that melody! (very compelling.)
Rilo Kiley, I Never. This song is so beautiful, and sounds like it’s from another time, maybe the sixties? I don’t know. But I love how it gets so swoony and bigger and bigger the further it goes along.
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Next time: I’ll have done the groceries and have more to play with, don’t worry

you may come full circle and be new here again

So I’ve moved house! Last week was so weird. But it’s Monday now, and every Monday is like a little January 1, where you can start all over again. I have the day off work today and decided it would finally be the day I get my act together and buy some food and then cook that food for myself, for the first time in ages. My two options thus far for the last week or so have been buy food from cafes or takeaways, or sit in bed and contemplatively eat expired Golden Grahams cereal by the handful or a bag of twisties, scattering orange twistie dust everywhere (and here I’d like to apologise to my teddy bear, Avery, who looks like he has purchased a very bad fake tan.) The first option is not financially stable and the second option will probably have some weird effect on me eventually like dissolving my bones or giving me scurvy.

So, after eating some twisties in bed, I propelled myself towards the supermarket with the hopes that I’d inspire myself by the time I got there into knowing what it was I actually wanted to buy and make. I wanted something that could be done in one pan, so I wouldn’t make too much mess in the new kitchen. I also wanted something vaguely nutritious. I had grand intentions to buy a ton of fruit, but then remembered that winter is when fruit is all “nah, not in the mood to exist right now”, but potato and fennel are both present and cheap, and halloumi is the best way of making something half-assed feel celebratory and highly lux. And so, this salad appeared.

halloumi, fried potato, and raw fennel salad

a recipe by myself. Serves one, but it takes little rocket science to work out how to make it serve more.

one medium sized potato – I used a red one
half a large fennel bulb, or all of a small one
four thick slices of halloumi
olive oil
butter
juice of half a lemon

Dice the potato very finely – the smaller it is, the quicker it will cook. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a decent sized pan and wait for it to look sizzling, then throw in the potato and allow to cook till crisp, stirring occasionally. It’ll feel like it’s taking forever but the whole process really only takes about ten minutes – just make sure you let them sit till they’re plenty golden. Undercooked potato is no fun.

Finely slice the fennel and arrange half of it on a plate. Tip the potato on top of it, and then top with the rest of the fennel. Heat some butter (I used about 25g) in the same pan, and fry your halloumi slices till very golden brown on each side. Slide the halloumi onto the plate, scatter over some of those feathery green fennel fronds, because what else are you going to do with them, squeeze the lemon juice into the buttery pan and then spatula all that over the halloumi. 

I’d started watching The Sopranos last night – a show I hadn’t made any effort to seek out despite its general acclaim, on account of I don’t fool with violence and I also don’t need another TV show about a lawless white man who treats the significant woman in his life horribly and yet is received as the hero while she is the shrew, going through season after season of ultimately self-inflicted tension. However. I was with a group of people and the opportunity presented itself and I do have a very soft spot for the sadly late James Gandolfini. And wow, yeah, it’s a very well-made show, and I can see how it impressively influenced later HBO and HBO-style shows. But where I’m going with this is oh damn I wanted some meatballs or Bolognese or eggplant or pretty much anything aggressively Italian to eat after watching it. Alas, this salad is what happened instead. Luckily, this salad is hugely excellent in its own way.

Fried potatoes and buttery, melting halloumi are so good together it’s almost stupid, their textures both echoing and diverting from each other in a crunchily sybaritic fashion. The fennel itself also brings crunch of a different kind, not only stopping the entire thing from being burdonsomely rich, but also lifting the golden flavours of the halloumi with its faintly aniseed flavour. But then of course I pour over the melted butter from the pan, in case it’s not quite burdonsomely rich enough. The squeeze of lemon brings it all together, and with very little effort you have yourself a massively amazing lunch.

In lieu of a carefully staged photo of the dish sitting on a beautiful table, because there is none, here’s a photo of it on my lap on the couch, where I ate it. Four slices of halloumi is ideal – any fewer and you’d start to feel sad halfway through that the good times were nearly over, any more and you’d probably end up uncomfortably full but still doggedly determined to finish it because halloumi is halloumi. A scattering of sumac or mint leaves wouldn’t hurt this in the slightest, but for a hastily assembled meal it’s pretty great as is.

So, am slowly getting unpacked and used to my new world. My new bedroom has kind of got no natural light whatsoever, which is…something…but the people are nice and there’s unlimited internet and I love being so central, right in town, and I’m gonna eventually get there and have all my stuff where it should be.

Like this dress, back on the wall where she belongs (admittedly rather crumpled from the moving process, but like, same)

I feel like now that I’m no longer in this pre-move limbo zone I very much want to get my life together and cook heaps and write heaps and do heaps and really just be as super excellent as I can to continue propelling myself towards being lowkey ridiculously famous and adored by all.

If you ever do want to feel adored by all, by the way, my advice for you is: visit a dog. My darling friends Kim and Brendan spontaneously adopted a corgi who needed a home, and she is the most loving tiny dingus that ever lived. She’s like the hearts-for-eyes emoji existing in a corporeal form. I visited her on Friday, because she needs company and I needed dog hugs. As soon as I walked in she ran up to me and gazed up at me with such joy in her eyes, I actually felt my bones melt. And not just from eating all those twisties. I visited her again today for the same reason, and she was just the snuggliest thing ever, greeting me with a face that said “hi, you’re perfect and I love you indiscriminately and also everyone around you and everything around you!”

We get on well because we’re both fluffy and needy and have great eyeliner. 

Percy still has a lot to learn about taking selfies, but luckily Aunty Laura is here, and uncharactaristically patient.

So yeah, new house, new blog post, new hund friend! A lot of things in life are still very hard to deal with but I’m greeting the future with one hand in my pocket, and the other one is giving a peace sign (oh wait I started singing Alanis Morrisette there.)
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title from: Gil Scott-Heron’s contemplatively perfect song I’m New Here. The low rumble of the guitar and the low rumble of his voice, “told her I was hard to get to know and near impossible to forget”…so sad I’ll never get to see him live. 
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music lately:

Janine and the Mixtape, Hold Me. The anthem. 

Unknown Mortal Orchestra, So Good At Being In Trouble. The…other anthem. 

Nicki Minaj, Jessie J and Ariana Grande, Bang Bang. This song goes OFF. I intend to dance to it many, many times. Am also just generally pro anything Nicki Minaj lays her hands on or says or does. 
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next time: Maybe some bolognese or meatballs or something, yeah? 

the burgers are two for one but i’m not having any fun

Halloumi and hashbrown burgers. Pictured: one serving. At best. Maybe more like quarter of a serving. Okay, this fed two of us, but now that I’ve said it I would probably eat four of them to stubbornly prove a point. A delicious point.

Post-confessional blog post confession: While I am glad I was open about being dropped by my publishers and having my cookbook slowly fade towards being out of print, I’m not necessarily doing any better now that this blog post has rolled around. But that’s understandable, right? You can have all the facts and logic and numbers and tough love (ugh, tough love, give me indulgence any day!) and still just stare blankly at them and feel downtrodden and sullen nonetheless. I mean this applies to anything. Relationships, jobs, talents, plans…pants…

But, I made halloumi and hash brown burgers, and for that simple, selfless act I think I deserve an internationally recognised award for Persistent Services To Deliciousness, or another book deal, or something. (That’s right: I can be aggressively hard on myself and aggressively self-believing at the same time. It’s…charming.) On the other hand, I hardly needed to write a blog post about these – it’s mostly just assembly, if I say the words “halloumi and hash brown burgers” that is kind of the whole recipe and information that you need right there. But while this may be simple, it’s still something you might not have thought of making before, and those are my favourite kind of recipes – the sort that make you say “oh damn!” in a low, appreciative voice, and make you watch the clock till you can next rush into the kitchen to lovingly cook for yourself.

Halloumi is essentially the flavour of butter suspended in the form of a captivating cheese that you can fry goldenly without melting entirely. Hash browns combine soft potato insides with magically crunchy exteriors. These two things just make sense together. The bulging cheese with the crisp hash brown, the salty, oily bliss of it all against the peppery rocket leaves and soft, chewy ciabatta – it’s burger brilliance, and it can be yours within minutes.

halloumi and hash brown burgers

a recipe by myself, although inspired by meeting someone who works at a cafe describing what they like to make themselves on their breaks.

two ciabatta buns
one 200g or so block of halloumi
four triangular frozen hash browns or two rectangular ones
a handful of rocket leaves
mayonnaise, lots of mayonnaise (or aioli if you like)

Heat up a large frying pan. Cut four thick slices from the block of halloumi, and split the ciabatta buns in half. Fry the hash browns for about five minutes on each side, till golden and crisp and y’know, blatantly not frozen. Set them aside on a plate and fry the halloumi slices. If you have space in the pan, add the ciabatta bun slices cut side down to warm/toast them slightly, but it’s not essential. Once the halloumi slices are deep golden on both sides, turn the heat off and, if you like, return the hash browns to the pan to let them stay warm in the residual heat.

Meanwhile, spoon mayonnaise generously onto both the top and bottom halves of the bun, then layer up your burger like so – bottom half bun, handful of rocket leaves, hash browns, two halloumi slices, top half bun. Eat immediately, pausing only to take instagrams because you suspect people will lose it over the sight of these on their dashboard.

The cheese and potato together are almost…meaty? Cheeseburger-esque? I can’t quite pinpoint it but the whole thing is breathtakingly good and you should make this for yourself and anyone else you care for. I guarantee it will make you unbelievably happy.

As I said at the start, I am not feeling terribly outstanding in the field of excellence lately – still deeply unemployed, although I have been applying for lots of things and pitching my writing to lots of great places and have had some flickers of interest, so there’s that. I’ve come to realise that I am not necessarily looking for a steady office job. I’m a people person when I’m not being sullen and a night owl and am hoping to find something that uses that side of me. And as I said in my last blog post, I refuse to let it occur to me that I might not achieve massive success and fame from my writing and cooking. It’s not so much that failure is not an option, it’s more that triumph is the only option. Failure, well, it only gets you closer to winning, right? (And other things we tell ourselves.)

(Olive, where the brioche is caramelly and buttery and the coffee is excellent and swift and the wifi is in existence and exists)

Till then, I’ll continue setting up camp at cafes around town with my laptop, drinking coffee and feeling like a Sophisticated Writer About Town (look the part, be the part, as Prop Joe said) sending hustle-atious emails and writing blog posts and making lists and looking thoughtfully into the middle distance in the kind of way that makes passers-by say, “how mysterious, what’s her story.” (And other things we tell ourselves.)
 
title from: OMYGOD! by Kate Nash, if you like your heart-stabbing poignance served via upbeat pop music, which I often do.  

music lately:

Right Beside You by Sophie B Hawkins. Just because this song is from 1994 I don’t know why it isn’t constantly top of the charts, it’s so, so good.

Brave, Sara Bareilles. Wise words for me, still.

Always Starting Over by Idina Menzel at the recent Tony Awards. Still the queen.
 

next time: raw chia seed berry jam. I think I like it better than usual jam?