you’re so cool, everything you do is success

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It doesn’t take much psychological digging to extract meaning from why I, a person who was never particularly moved by plain vanilla ice cream during previous iterations of myself, am suddenly craving it specifically now that I’m vegan. Unfortunately the grass is doubly greener on the other side when you factor in not just wanting to consume, but also to create, but I knew I had a recipe somewhere in me. And after trial and error and error and error I finally succeeded in making a vanilla ice cream that I’m happy with, that’s not only safe for human consumption, it’s also actually delicious, and doesn’t taste gritty or like bananas or coconut or beans – absolutely not beans – despite being bean-adjacent by being largely propped up by whipped aquafaba – it just tasted like rich, creamy vanilla ice cream.

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I recounted my disastrous times trying to make a bean-based ice cream back in April and since then I’ve had at least three other goes at making a straightforward vanilla ice cream, all of which failed but unfortunately not in a humorous enough manner to blog about. Finally I hit on the near-perfect formula that uses the aeration and fluffy heft of beaten aquafaba in combination with a thick, cornflour based custard-type emulsion that gives that crucial silky richness. I honestly felt like I was in one of those Beautiful Mind type movies where the peculiar genius is furiously writing equations on a chalkboard while everyone stands up and slowly starts clapping and someone says “lads this is the arithmetic that will end the war on the moon” except it was just me in the kitchen and my mum saying “it’s a bit too sweet for me.”

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I was genuinely delighted with how it tasted, but I freely acknowledge that I haven’t had dairy-based ice cream in over a year, so my idea of what ice cream should even taste like is based on a mental image that’s becoming more and more pixelated as time goes along. But on the other hand like, I really think this is delicious, so, that’s that. The aquafaba gives it this incredible soft texture and the combination of golden syrup, cornflour, and refined coconut oil in the custard base (and I use the word custard very loosely here) lend it a richness and body and depth. Every previous attempt had just not cut it, either too watery and icy, or too flatly sweet, or it tasted like beans, overall just not something you could convincingly call ice cream. This recipe is soft and velvety and tastes luxurious and billowingly fulsome and I’m honestly just so happy with it, it tasted like the memory that I had been craving. I have no idea if non-vegans would be convinced of its resemblance to dairy-based ice cream but I feel if nothing else that my mounting failures give some sense of my still having a semblance of discerning taste, like, I’m not out here just insisting any old frozen-bean-garbage tastes amazing. I had a positive feeling about it before it went into the freezer because it was the first time since first embarking on this mission that I’d actually liked the taste of the unfrozen mixture, and when I took it from the freezer five hours later and had a taste of it, a lone tear ran down my cheek and I lifted my spoon triumphantly and said “tell the moon squadron…they’ll be home for Christmas this year” while the cats glared at me.

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Vegan Vanilla Ice Cream

A recipe by myself

  • 1 cup/250ml almond milk
  • 3 tablespoons cornflour
  • 4 tablespoons refined (flavourless) coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 heaped tablespoon golden syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • the brine from one can of chickpeas, aka aquafaba (this comes to roughly 3/4 cup/175ml liquid, it doesn’t matter if there’s a little less or more)
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Dark chocolate for grating or melting, to serve (optional)

1: Whisk the almond milk and cornflour together in a small pan till smooth. Gently cook over a low heat, whisking constantly. It will appear to be doing nothing at first and then thicken all of a sudden, and the second it does start to thicken, remove it from the heat and continue whisking to ensure no lumps form. If you have a mini whisk this is an ideal use for it rather than a big balloon one.

2: Whisk in the coconut oil, one spoonful at a time, followed by the golden syrup, vanilla, and salt. Set aside (just on the bench, not in the fridge) while you get on with the aquafaba.

3: Place the apple cider vinegar and aquafaba in a mixing bowl, and use electric beaters on a medium to high speed to whip it into soft peaks. This is when you can lift the beaters out of the mixture and a small frothy peak raises up underneath before subsiding back into the mixture. If that doesn’t make sense there are like five thousand online tutorials and reference images and so on to help you out. Also, this will take about three to five solid minutes of beating.

4: One you’ve reached this point, continue beating and slowly start adding the caster sugar to the mixture, about a tablespoon at a time. Beat the mixture at a high speed until all the caster sugar is absorbed into it and it has become stiff and glossy and bright white. Again, this will probably take another solid five or six minutes of nonstop beating, so don’t feel like you have to rush it. You really want to make sure that it’s as aerated and thick as possible. I like to hold the bowl at an angle for most of the process so that the beaters can really get in amongst the mixture.

5: Give the cornflour mixture a good stir, since it will have probably set a bit at this point. Scoop a large spoonful of the aquafaba mixture into this cornflour mixture and whisk it briskly – this will make it easier to fold back into the remaining aquafaba without losing too much of that air that you’ve spent so long beating in. Fold this whisked cornflour mixture into the aquafaba, about half or a third at a time, as gently and carefully as possible.

6: Spatula this into a 1 litre (or so) freezer-safe container, and freeze for about five hours or overnight. Serve with grated chocolate sprinkled over or drizzled with melted chocolate, or, y’know, literally however you want! This does not require any stirring while it’s freezing and it can be eaten straight from the freezer without needing to soften first.

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To get to this recipe I looked back through other ice creams that I’d made successfully to see what I could learn from them about making something that couldn’t hide behind the trompe l’oeil of flavour and it was my Rosé Raspberry Ripple recipe that finally pointed me towards victory with its combination of aquafaba and cornflour-thickened liquid. Now, though I’m not very good at being assertive, I simply have to be firm in regards to this recipe, because much like last week’s macarons there are some specifics that make it, well, specifically good. If you want a recipe that you can ignore and replace half the ingredients haphazardly then see every other recipe of mine or indeed the entire internet. I built this recipe like I was casting the revival of a classic and much-loved musical thus inviting the immediate scrutiny and comparison of the entire Broadway community and at least three surprisingly energetic LiveJournal communities.

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In descending order of what I can imagine being questioned about first from the ingredients list: the refined coconut oil gives you satiny texture and substance without any obtrusive oily flavour. Having tried this with just refined coconut oil and with a combination of that and rice bran oil, well they were both nice but you could sense the presence of the rice bran oil, unlike the refined coconut which just slinks in unnoticed. If you can’t tell by how many times I’ve pointedly said the word “refined”, you really need the refined coconut oil here which does not have a pronounced flavour. My final point in regards to this, and I’ve said it before: if you’re thinking of reducing the oil, firstly, grow up, and secondly, if anything add more than what I’ve asked for. The golden syrup has a really particular depth of flavour that you can’t get from anything else and that one mere tablespoon of it does so much for the finished product that it will literally ruin it if you leave it out. If you’re unable to get hold of golden syrup (I think it’s not very common in America?) then probably honey or light treacle would be a suitable substitute. After all that posturing I concede that you could happily change the almond milk for something like soy milk or oat milk or basically anything that’s not coconut milk unless you want the finished product to taste like coconut milk which, if I wanted that, is what I would’ve said, but if you feel like that’s an okay decision then so be it.

Finally, I really am contrite about insisting that you use electric beaters, they genuinely make life easier and feel rather crucial for achieving the level of beaten thickness in the aquafaba that is required. However, I have absolutely made like, entire pavlovas using only a whisk so it’s not impossible and I’d hate to be the gatekeeper between you and this ice cream if this is what it comes down to. Just promise me that you will whisk with honesty in your heart and not stop until the mixture is as light as a feather and stiff as a board. If, after all this, it doesn’t work out for you: feel free to blame me entirely, or indeed, attempt to write a humorous blog post about it.

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(Roger is “the friendly one” out of the two tabbies. As you can see.)

title from: Cream by the sadly late Prince. Silky smooth like well-beaten aquafaba.

music lately:

Home Is Where, by Caveboy. This is really dreamy and softly hypnotic and has gorgeous momentum, if a purple lightbulb in a darkened room could sing this is what it would sound like.

Ambition, by Subway Sect, it has this scuzzy upbeat insolence but also this odd bloopy underwater noise running through the background which is almost like ASMR? Obviously, I love it.

The River Won’t Flow from the 2018 Encores! performance of Jason Robert Brown’s 1995 off-Broadway musical Songs For A New World (which itself is notable for being an early role for Billy Porter.) I find this particular musical so compelling, it has no real plot or characters, instead evoking moods and feelings via its four performers. These songs all sound so grown up, like what you’d hear at a jazz festival by some singer you’ve never heard of but whose bio insists is extremely critically acclaimed. With no need for pushing plot forwards it means almost every number ends up sounding like the showstopper. I also recommend the more theatrical opener The New World which just builds so exhilaratingly and honestly, just listen to the whole show.

Next time: I feel like I either need a break from aquafaba recipes or to start taking out shares in canned chickpeas, only time will tell.

PS: I have a Patreon account where you can directly support me and my writing and where you can receive exclusive content written just for you, and it’s very, very, very easy to be involved and has an extremely positive effect on my life. 

which definitely is as exciting as pudding

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Christmas is approaching with all of the endlessly slow then suddenly in-your-face manner of, oh, to pluck an allegory from the air, the Golden Bangkok pre-amble to One Night In Bangkok from the musical Chess, you know the one, you’re like “oh nice, an overture to open the second act, that’s reasonable” and then after a while you’re like “they’re really just … going to repeat that third movement again” and after a while it’s like “look, when will we ever get to hear Murray Head attempting to rap somewhat incongruously in the middle of this sung-through musical?!” and then suddenly there’s a flurry of violins and there he is rhyming “oyster” with “cloister” and then it’s over! With all this in mind, I made up a pudding recipe for Christmas Day.

But first: I have not been feeling entirely like myself lately, I would say in fact pretty definitively that it has been, in fact, what would appear to the casual observer to be something approaching a depressive episode; the casual observer might follow up by saying “but Laura? Why? Everything appeared to being going fairly wonderfully, perhaps more wonderful than you’d ever dared to be possible and full of more possibilities than you could ever dare wonder, how on earth could you be feeling so down?” And I would reply “well that’s more of a fervent observation than a casual observation but I relish the attention nonetheless.” I would then say, “I’ll tell you why it is so, that I’m feeling kind of blank and absent and not inclined to do much other than lie in bed and watch Frasier. I’ll tell you exactly why.”

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The reason is: you just cannot predict when it’s going to happen, no matter how much trust and faith you put into your current situation, no matter how tightly you hold onto that handful of sand, no matter how long the overture to One Night In Bangkok goes on for, sometimes it just surprises you by not being that thing anymore with all the speed and subtlety of a brick thrown into a bowl of jelly. Now, what I am not saying is that you should go through life with your trust dried out and hardened like an old piece of bread just in case you start to feel down. Please, continue to enjoy a moment without suspicion. I’m just saying, sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down. It is what it is. And while it is what it is, I found myself also feeling like, completely furious about it. I went from never better to better never and I didn’t want to cook or write and that was so infuriating to have these two things that are so crucial to my existence not available to me.

But anyway – because (a) it’s Christmas and I would like to bring this jingle-bell curve upwards and (b) because there is more to the story than me being intermittently subdued or incandescent with rage: I came up with a recipe! Which I believe is absolutely a sign of getting better. And now I’m writing about it! Cooking and writing! And indeed, before you get too worried (another thing I’m mad about: now I have to worry people? That’s so far down the list on my preferred forms of attention!) I genuinely am on the up and up and have been doing lots of good good things to augment my festiveness: my best friends Kim and Kate came over and we drank bubbles to toast 2/3 of us finishing work for the year; I’ve been watching Christmas episodes of my favourite television shows; I’ve been listening to the Christmas albums of various Broadway stars; I’ve done my Christmas shopping; I went to my work Christmas party and danced in the sun for roughly yet literally four hours straight and it felt really, really, really good.

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AND there’s this Christmas Sticky Toffee Pudding! Which I made up out of nowhere! And it’s unbelievably delicious! It’s also a pretty straightforward concept: just regular sticky toffee pudding but with some Christmas elements added to make it aggressively seasonal, yet I cannot express how much of a crowd-pleaser it is. By way of illustration: on the day that I made it last week, a friend had come to visit on her way to therapy and we sat there just looking at it and I was like “tbh I’m too depressed to eat, do you want some?” and she was like “honestly I’m too anxious to eat, no thanks.” And so we carried on looking at it. But then, bolstered, united, and probably with a sense of friendly obligation on the part of precisely one of us, we decided to share a slice and agreed that it did indeed taste fantastic! That’s how good it is. So caramelly and butterscotchy and (*checks thesaurus*) caramelly! So dense and rich! So (*checks Nigella*) redolent of Christmas! (Nigella uses that word a lot, that’s the joke.)

Christmas Sticky Toffee Pudding

A recipe by myself

  • 1 cup dates, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup prunes, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup/250ml boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 1 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 1/3 cup olive oil (or neutral vegetable oil)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon allspice (optional tbh)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup almond milk (or similar)
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 and 1/3 cups plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa

Toffee Sauce

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 3 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 1 can full-fat coconut milk (look for one with 80% or higher coconut extract)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 teaspoons custard powder (or cornflour) mixed with two tablespoons cold water

Set your oven to 180C/350F and lightly grease an oven dish, you know, one of those standard sized ones that you might bake a pudding or brownies in?

Place the dates, cranberries, prunes, baking soda and water in a large mixing bowl and allow to sit for five minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients, with the flour and cocoa last (and consider sifting them, I reckon) and spatula the lot into the baking dish. Bake for 30-45 minutes – it will depend on your oven – until the centre springs back when you press lightly on it and a knife or skewer inserted comes out clean. Cover the edges with tinfoil if they seem to be browning too much while the centre is still uncooked. Again, depends on your oven.

While the pudding is in the oven, get started on the sauce. Tip the coconut milk, brown sugar, golden syrup, salt, and cinnamon stick into a saucepan and bring to a good solid simmer. Allow to bubble away very gently over a low heat for half an hour, swirling occasionally and scraping down the sides with a spatula if need be. Once the time is up, remove the pan from the heat and discard the cinnamon stick. Stir in the custard/water mixture. When the pudding comes out of the oven, stab it several times with a skewer or knife – whatever you’ve been using to check its done-ness – and pour over roughly a third or so of the sauce. Transfer the rest of the sauce to a jug for people to pour over as they please.

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Obviously cranberries are super Christmassy, I also feel the warmth of cinnamon drifting through the toffee sauce and the intensity of all the spices in the pudding itself offer that let-it-snow cosiness which I somehow feel impelled to conjure up despite the sweatingly intense heat of a New Zealand mid-summer Yule. Now, the prunes, they’re honestly just there because I happened to have some; you could leave them out and up the cranberries, or you could include some raisins or sultanas for a more fruitcake buzz. You could consider a splash of brandy or rum in the sauce, or the cake, or your mouth, to add to the general festivity, and you could also consider not worrying at all about the fact that this recipe happens to be vegan: it tastes fulsome and rewarding and abundant and like pudding should.

This morning I, the prodigal son, the fatted calf, am flying up to stay with my family and spend Christmas with them for the first time in a few years, and I am honestly extremely excited to cook this for everyone, and! To relive the traditions of a Christmas at home: seeing the tree decorations from my childhood, listening to the old Disney and Tin Lids and Bing Crosby albums, being studiously, ruthlessly ignored by the cats. As for you, I hope you also have a wonderful time however you observe the holiday: casually or fervently.

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title from: Sam, a mellow ballad as lethargically slow-moving as toffee sauce from my absolute favourites, Meat Puppets.

music lately:

I started watching this musical TV show called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and while I tend to be cautious in terms of receptiveness to parody musical numbers the absolute homework that went into this show is genuinely extraordinary, it’s like, scholarly when it comes to musical references. The title refrain from West Covina, the song the lead character Rebecca sings about deciding on a whim to move cities in the hopes of running into a guy she used to date is really very beautiful. (I also recommend the impeccable Marilyn-ness on The Math of Love Triangles. and I think I also learned some maths from it?)

Mudhoney, Into the Drink. Good energy.

Velvet Underground, Heroin. As utterly bewitching as it is useful as a unit of time to sternly instruct yourself to clean your room for the duration thereof.

Next time: I’m going to try to blog again before the end of the year and also just generally continue hurtling ever upwards on a one-horse open trebuchet!

and what’s more baby, I can cook

Christmas christmas christmas christmas christmas christmas christmas!
Christmas christmas christm- I’m just kidding. But it is upon us once more. Which means it’s time for our 6th Annual Christmas Dinner and follow-up blog post! Back in 2006 there were five of us, I wasn’t on Twitter and I didn’t have my blog. What did I even do with my time? Six years later, there were at least fifteen people, the party went for 10 hours and there were intermittent twitter updates from nearly all involved, because that’s just how life is these days. In every sense: I never thought those years ago that we’d have a veritable family of so many good people. I’m not the best out there at making and keeping friends – to the point where getting referred to by someone as part of “my ladies” nearly brought me to tears the other day. 
But anyway, let the bumper Christmas Dinner edition blog post commence! The day goes like this: I cook a huge feast, everyone turns up and eats it. This is my idea of fun, so don’t imagine me crying in the kitchen while everyone else is whooping it up. Alas, not everyone that we love could be there on Saturday but on the whole it was pretty astounding that we got so many people in the room this close to Christmas. Or anytime. 

Involtini. I make this every year. It’s Nigella Lawson’s recipe, which for me has evolved and simplified into slices of eggplant, grilled four at a time in the sandwich press, with a spoonful of herbed, almond-studded quinoa rolled messily in each, covered in tomato sauce and baked. You’re welcome to feta it up or use bulghur wheat but I had some well-meaning half packets of quinoa that needed using up, resulting in this being not only entirely vegan but also gluten free. Hey-oh!

Keeping it Nigella I simmered vast quantities of pickled pork, or gammon as it’s known in the UK, in liquids till they turned into ham – in the foreground is the one I cooked in Old Mout Cranberry Cider, and in the hindquarter is one I cooked in Budget Cola. Both wonderful. Cola has a smoky cinnamon kinda flavour while cider has that distinctive musky fermented-fruit thing going on, both of which are excellent when absorbed into the fibres of sweet, salty pink ham. Pickled pork can be a bit of a misson to find but it’s worth it – I got mine from Preston’s butchers (near Yan’s on Torrens Terrace in Wellington city) and the people there were so friendly and it was so reasonably priced and I totally recommend them.

Didn’t have the mental capacity for gravy, so instead I made up a batch of the wondrous balm that is Bacon Jam, and then – as you might be able to make out here – sprinkled over some edible glitter. Christmas christmas christmas! Honestly, this is one of my favourite discoveries of 2011 – nay, my life. It’s jam, but instead of raspberries or whatever, there is bacon. It’s perfect, it tastes as dazzlingly sticky and sweet and salty as it sounds, and it gives the feast an insouciant Ron Swansonish air.

This Hazelnut, Cranberry and Mushroom Stuffing was a new recipe from Fine Cooking magazine – entirely vegan, with the ingredients being both Christmassy but also ideally suited to each other. I simplified it to suit my needs and budget. For a recreation of my appropriation (across the nation!) roughly cube a large loaf of sourdough or similarly intense bread, drizzle with oil and toast in a hot oven. Meanwhile, fry up a diced onion and a whole bunch o’ mushrooms – the fancier the better, but I used regular button types – the real important thing here is quantity, as they reduce down. Mix together the whole lot, add a large handful of toasted hazelnuts and dried cranberries. Pour over 1 cup of stock (I used miso soup – it’s what I had) and bake for about 40 minutes at 190 C/350 F. The rich, sweet hazelnuts and savoury aggro of the mushrooms plus the occasional burst of cranberry against the croutonesque bread is some kind of taste revelation, I assure you.  

I make this cornbread stuffing every year. Cornbread’s one of my favourite foods as is, but mixing it in with eggs, butter, and cranberries then baking it again is perfection achieved. There was a bit of trouble in making it this time though, and I’m going to write it in tiny, tiny letters so you don’t all go green around the gills and start crying instead of my intention of making you salivate like hungry Alsatians. (Three rotten eggs in a row. THREE. They had weeks before the “use by” date and I even did the thing where you check it in a glass of water. The utter depressingness of that dull, formless thud with which the contents of the shell hit the bowl combined with the smell which hits you straight in the back of the throat takes you to a dark place when people are turning up in an hour, but with some reassurance, some rescue remedy and some hastily opened windows we got through it.) Also, spot the peas – I heedlessly bought 2kg of them going cheap at Moore Wilson a while back and so their presence on this table, in order to cut down on my freezer’s crowded infrastructure, was non-negotiable.

Butter in cubes on a small plate with a proper knife: because I am turning into my mother more and more every day. I love that my friends who stayed for ages and required a late-night snack asked where this butter was so they could spread it on the leftover cold potatoes. 

“FLIRTINIS ALL ROUND”. Because of a few lines in The Mighty Boosh, and because increasingly it seems everything I consume has to have a pop culture reference attached to it, I made this drink. Increasingly come-hither was that Nigella Lawson herself recently put a recipe for it online, giving me even more assurance that it was meant to be. Flirtinis are fairly hardcore but divided amongst many guests and with lots of food as blotting paper it’s all good. In a large jug, mix one cup (250ml) vodka and one cup fizzy white wine (eg, Lindauer) and top up with pineapple juice – about a litre, depending on the size of your vessel of course. Stir with a wooden spoon like you’re Betty Draper and serve in plastic cups so you don’t have to do so many dishes. 

Oh, this pie. Coffee Toffee Salted Cashew Pie, to use its full title. Another revelation from Fine Cooking, which I adapted quite easily to make necessarily dairy-free. And, with all due respect to Fine Cooking, to be less sugary and to include cashews. I think American palates have a different capacity for sugar than ours, and also cashews make a cheaper – but still exciting – substitute for their choice of pecans. 
Into a pie plate lined with a half-batch of this cookie dough, (minus the spices, and you don’t need to blind bake it) tumble 1 cup of salted roasted cashews and pour over a whisked up mixture of 1 cup golden syrup, 3/4 cup dark brown sugar, 2 tablespoons rum (I used Smoke and Oakum’s Gunpowder Rum), 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder – yes instant, it’s useful for baking and it smells weirdly alluring, okay? Look for the blue packet by Greggs – 2 tablespoons rice bran oil and three eggs. Bake at 190 C/375 F for 45 minutes to an hour, covering with tinfoil if need be. You then need to let it cool completely. I didn’t see this instruction and it would’ve saved me a reckless moment of “We’ll just eat it now and if it’s not set it can just be sauce for the ice cream, dammit!” Fortunately everyone managed to talk me down in a chorus of soothing voices while we stashed it precariously in the freezer, and it really was better for a good chilling, especially as the cold went some way to soften the intense sugar hit. It’s an incredible pie, with salty creamy cashews in their pool of intensely dark caramel-caffiene filling. 

And finally, some ice cream, since that’s my kneejerk culinary response to the promise of people in our house. This is the only photo I got of said ice cream, but in the back is my own Chocolate Coconut Ice Cream – which I’ve made many times now since Christmas 2009. It’s beautiful and it’s dairy-free and I can now make it in my sleep almost literally, but should you be awake and trying it for the first time it’s not overly taxing either. In the front is Lemonade Sorbet (with a hard ‘t’) which started life as failed jelly; it was a little weird but refreshing, and the price was right. 
There were also two roast chickens – but no-one wants me to try and take a decent photo of their sorry hides, and beautiful canapes from Jo, and homemade bread rolls brought by Piona (that’s Pia and Fiona but don’t their names condense perfectly?) There was a moment where everyone became anxious and queasy during Barbra Streisand’s Jingle Bells (you think I’m exaggerating! Not this time!) there was a psychological skirmish during supercool boardgame Apples to Apples; there was an incredible reveal from Pia whose orange dress looked cool enough under her coat, but upon removal of that coat it turned out the dress sleeves were layered and ruffly like a flamenco skirt on each arm; there was candy cane whittling; there was imaginary Christmas cracker pulling; there was semi-unpremeditated singing of Total Eclipse of the Heart; there was a portrait of me etched in a pudding bowl; there were at least ten candy canes per capita, especially once I got changed into my candy cane-esque dress; and there was so much food brought to donate to the Downtown Community Ministry Foodbank that Tim and I will have to drive it down in our ute because it’s too much to lug down in our collection of environmentally conscious yet aesthetically designed shopping carry bags. We love our friends.

And now, mere singular days from Christmas I am typically underslept, however I managed to finally get a tiny bit of Christmas shopping done, including a small gift for myself of a flower hairclip. It’s amazing how when your personality and brainpower has evaporated due to lack of sleep, put a big flower in your hair and you can trick yourself into thinking you’re still an interesting person.

It makes me feel like this: Look at how zany and witty I am! There’s a flower in my hair! I have such a personality!
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Title via: Lea Delaria singing I Can Cook Too from On The Town. This challenging and excellently subject-ed song is especially good in her brassy growl of a voice.

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Music lately: 

Still Haven’t Got My Gift by The Goodfun. Hilarious. But also a really nice tune.

O Holy Night, Liz Callaway and her sister Ann Hampton Callaway. You may think you’re over this son but Liz’s silvery voice against Ann’s rich golden one is pure joy for the ear canals.

Julien Dyne, Fallin’ Down – the mellow, slinky antithesis to my Broadway dalliances.
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Next time: I was really convinced I’d have time to blog about the roast tomato-stuffed roast capsicums, but it just didn’t work out, no matter how I tried. So I guess I’ll change up that aim to see if I can get them done before Christmas now…

go and part the seas in malibu

Yikes last week went fast. I most definitely meant to blog sooner but one thing leads to another and all of a sudden it’s a dark Sunday afternoon and I’m pretty convinced it’s time to go to bed but it’s really only just past lunchtime. That’s how you maintain a blog, people! That said, if the week went as quickly for everyone else, then no harm done – we’re all on the same page.

Nothing like rifling through the sepia-d pages of the Edmond’s Cookbook of Mum’s that she gave me to make things feel a little more slow and relaxed. I’ve already made a bunch of crazy marshmallows from this book, but today I felt like something with more practical application to our lives. Not that marshmallows are an unreasonable possession. They have their reasons.


Am I trying to recreate a Frankie magazine photoshoot or what. Except theirs happen on beautiful fabrics and paper and stuff, and mine is on a cheap and grubby teatowel.

I’ve always been a fan of coconut but recently I’ve been really embracing the stuff – I love that it’s so intensely rich and delicious and creamy and fragrant but also very cheap. That said it feels like forever since I’ve had an actual coconut, drank the water from it and bit into the chewy, juicy white flesh (so long ago that I can remember doing it but not where or when or anything…maybe I just dreamed this bit.)

Apparently New Zealanders have loved coconut for generations, although in its most mainstream form it’s really the least appealing – I’m not talking fragrant curries or moist puddings eaten with mangoes or whatever here, I mean the dry, dessicated white flakes that cling to the edges of lamingtons or lolly cake (usually falling off and getting all over everything inbetween being on the plate and getting in your mouth). Nevertheless, as an ingredient dessicated coconut is definitely practical and still gives that definite, beachy flavour, and was recognised as such by several interesting recipes in this pretty old (sorry Mum) Edmonds Cookbook.

Coconut Kisses

These biscuity biscuits are supposed to be stuck together with butter icing…While I’m seriously the last person that would act as a gatekeeper between butter icing and the rest of the world, I liked the idea of having twice as many biscuits around if I left them alone.

110g butter

2 tablespoons hot water
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup flour
3/4 cup coconut
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder (you could do as the good book tells you to and use Edmonds)
Note: I added 1/2 a teaspoon Boyajian orange oil, partly for flavour and partly because it was really expensive and I like to pretend like it’s a useful ingredient to have around, I mean it is and all, but, you know.
Melt butter and hot water together (I sat the bowl on top of a small pot of simmering water), mix in the rest of the ingredients. Roll into balls, put on a baking tray and flatten a little (I forgot!) Bake 15 minutes at 180 C/375 F. You can, of course, stick pairs together with butter icing.

Notice the lovely cake stand, given to me for my birthday by my godmother and family!

They don’t look overly exciting but these coconut kisses are in fact mighty delicious – crisp on the outside but meltingly shortbready within. They’d be perfect dunked in a cup of tea as long as you didn’t drop them – they’re pretty small – and they have echoes of several coconut-flavoured biscuits out there on the market except of course they’re way nicer, and much cheaper to make than buy. You could also try using oil instead of the melted butter – I’m sure it would work, and if so: vegan!

Because one kind of coconut flavoured baked good is just not enough, I also gave the Coconut Cakes a crack. They’re really just small, coconut-enhanced scones, and in fact after eating one, what I really wanted to do was spread them with raspberry jam and sandwich them together with whipped cream.

Coconut Cakes


110g flour
45g butter
30g sugar
60g coconut
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
1 teacup milk (I used just under 3/4 cup)

Sift flour, rub in butter, stir in the rest of the dry ingredients. Mix to a stiffish dough with the milk. Edmonds says “place in rocky shapes” on your baking tray, I just dropped rough dessertspoons-ful onto the tray and hoped for the best. Bake 15 minutes at 180 C/375 F.

These are so good – really quick to mix up and incredibly tender and light, not a biscuit and not a cake. The coconut makes them flavourous and textural (yeah they’re words!) and they smell amazing while they’re baking. I think you could definitely get away with buttering these before eating (not that I’m the best yardstick to measure healthy buttering behaviour against) or serve with cream and jam as I mentioned earlier, but they’re great just as they are – soft and delicious.

The New Zealand International Film Festival has rolled into town again, replete with cinematic plenty. On Friday night we saw The Illusionist at the prompting of our former-flatmate-current-friend Ange – it was directed by Sylvain Chomet, who also did Triplets of Belleville. It was beautiful, so beautiful but utterly sad and desolate as well. I definitely recommend it all the same, and don’t feel that subtitled films aren’t for you because in fact there is almost no dialogue whatsoever in this film. Just beauty! I also recommend that afterwards you go somewhere warm and drink French red wine and eat homemade chocolate macaroons, it definitely worked out well for us.
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Title via: okay, all this coconut talk made me think of a certain coconut liqueur, and like all good songs named after an object or a person or something, the very thought of it had me humming Hole’s wonderful 1998 song Malibu and now here we are. Of course, I’ve already outlined my enjoyment of Courtney Love previously here
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Music lately:
I Heart Nigella by Wellington band Mammal Airlines. Tim and myself interviewed them recently for our website 100s and 1000s (please excuse the insultingly bad quality of the video, we’re getting there, we are…) and the three of them were awesomely nice and fun to talk to. But perhaps most awesomely nice of all is the fact that they have a song called I Heart Nigella, and what’s more, it’s really good. They’ve made both their EPs available for free download, so take advantage of that generosity, hey?
This Song Has No Title from Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. I know Elton John has an electric boot planted firmly in the middle of the road these days but I have no fear in saying I love this album. The reason it’s on my mind though is because Tim put it on the stereo and managed to trick me into thinking we were listening to War of the Worlds, which I really hate. I was getting pretty aggravated until album opener Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding dropped speed and changed tempo and all of a sudden I realised we were actually listening to Elton John. Now we sound like incredibly unexciting people, but it’s a true story and you heard it here first.
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Next time: I made ceviche for the first time and it was so good! Not so good was my pronunciation. Even though Nigella was all “it’s Mexican!” I’ve been pronouncing it all French-like, “se-veesh”…

gunpowder gelatine, dynamite with a laser beam

Okay: I didn’t win the blog category of that CLEO/Wonder Woman thing. In hindsight, I already knew this, but for a while there it felt like everyone in the world was voting for me and we’d all linked hands and started a wild mazurka of joy, spiralling with love for this blog and each other. And then I opened the July issue in a 24-hour convenience store at lunch today with Tim and the mazurka ceased, and David Dallas’ Big Time ended its chorus in my mind. (What’s a mazurka? You ask? Only one of the coolest folk dances ever, as this video confirms.) BUT as I’ve said previously, this has been a fun wave to flutterboard across and it was lovely being unexpectedly nominated, and of course, I’d like to extend a giant chocolate cake with “congratulations” piped across the top in icing to the actual winners at So Much To Tell You. I’m sure we all wanted this in equal amounts! I just felt particularly wanty, and this kind of obliterated any idea that anyone else could want it more and I wouldn’t win. But it’s okay. It was fun to be nominated. And to raise awareness of my desire to own a capybara. And a mightily enormous thanks to everyone that emailed in and voted for me: it means a lot! I don’t bust out folk-dancing imagery for just any old situation.

So.

Of powdered gelatine, Nigella Lawson authoritatively sneers “God knows how anyone can make that work…leaf gelatine is the answer“. It sort of has an implied “and if you want to consider yourself any kind of fan of mine, lowly blogger, then you ought to agree” tacked onto the end. In some ways, Nigella is right – leaf gelatine is much more reliable and easier to use, and very pretty. But if a packet of Davis powdered gelatine hadn’t been sighing unwantedly in my cupboard, I would not have been able to make Moonshine Biffs: then what?

My Mum gave me her old copy of the Edmonds Cookery Book, the 1971 edition I believe. It’s the sort of thing you don’t want to buy new, you want to be given it or find an old copy somewhere…I read once about how young people are able to have nostalgia for things they never knew – for things that their parents or even their grandparents experienced. Or even nostalgia for things that someone’s parents and grandparents might have experienced (ie: the 60s), which, if any of that makes sense, could explain why I get a feeling of warm safeness inside when I turn the pages of this book and read curtly delivered recipes for spiced rock cakes or Dolly Varden Cake even though I never, ever ate them growing up.

As I was leafing through the pages I discovered the recipe for Moonshine Biffs and decided whatever the heck they even were, I was going to make them for their name alone (for the same reason I’m no good to play Scrabble with because I’d rather make silly words than gain points…and I get really impatient waiting for people to have their turn…And also I’m pretty sure I don’t really like Scrabble.) I thought they’d be like marshmallows but they are in fact, better yet, essentially Milk Bottle lollies in square format.

Moonshine Biffs

From the Edmonds Cookery Book.

  • 3 dessertspoons Gelatine (I used a regular, stuff-eating spoon, the kind you’ll find in the spoon compartment in your cutlery draw, you know…spoon.)
  • 1 breakfastcup sugar (I used just under a 250ml measuring cup)
  • 1/2 pint water (A heaped measuring cup) (psych! You can’t heap water)
  • 1/2 pound icing sugar (250g)
  • coconut
  • vanilla
  • Place gelatine, water and regular sugar in a saucepan and boil for eight minutes. This was a little scary, but because the Edmonds Cookery Book is always pretty vague, to put an instruction in italics made me want to follow it. That said, if you suspect your stove-top generates a significantly hotter heat than what they had in the 70s then go slow and boil a little less.
  • Add the icing sugar and vanilla (I had some vanilla paste, proper extract would be fine, you could, I suppose, go era-specific and use essence) and beat until thick and white – I used a silicon whisk and nearly fainted from the exertion, you’re welcome to use electric beaters or whatever.
  • Pour into a wet tin – again, silicon makes life easier here, otherwise use baking paper to line the tin – and leave to set for a couple of hours. It doesn’t matter if it won’t fill the tin – it’s not a huge mixture and just stops and sets where it is. Slice up, toss in coconut. FYI, mine set very smooth and coconut wouldn’t stick to one side of it. Edmonds didn’t prepare me for that but I was chill.

As I said, these really do taste like Milk Bottles – chewy, a little creamy, very sweet. But good – so good. And they cost around 30 cents and a little arm-work to make. If your kids/flatmates aren’t snobs about what shape their lollies come in, try them on a rainy weekend and see if you don’t feel awesome about yourself and the world once you have a pile of them sitting on a plate in front of you.

On a gelatine rampage, I couldn’t help trying something else further down the page: Toasted Honey Marshmallows. Significantly more sophisticated, these intensely honeyed, soft sweets would be perfect after a spicy dinner or alongside liqueurs and truffles instead of pudding. There’s no getting around the fact that gelatine is not vegetarian, and is no less made of animal than if steak was the main ingredient of marshmallows, so if you are thinking of making either of these maybe check with your meat-shunning mates what their limits are.

Toasted Honey Marshmallows

Also from the Edmonds Cookery Book.

Soak 1 level tablespoon Gelatine in 1/4 breakfastcup cold water in a metal bowl for 3 minutes. Dissolve over hot water, by sitting the metal bowl on top of a small pot of simmering water. Tip in 1 breakfastcup liquid honey. Beat with egg beater (or whatever you have – again, I derangedly used a whisk) until fluffy and white – about ten minutes. Turn into a wet shallow tin (again, silicon is best here) and leave 24 hours. Cut into squares carefully with a sharp knife and roll in toasted coconut.

Yes, you have to wait for ages which is why these are less child-friendly, but as I said the flavours and textures that unfolded from such minimal ingredients were incredible. The taste of honey suspended within impossibly soft marshmallows against the damp, nutty and textured coconut was amazing.

Last week Tim and I, having read several two-thumbs-up reviews, went to see Cemetery Junction. Even though it all ties itself up nicely and eventually good things happen to all the good people, it’s done in a way that makes you quite happy to be taken along with it. It’s gorgeously filmed with some rollicking humour coinciding with those wonderfully quietly heartbreaking moments that the British seem to have patented, it’s full of good-looking, shiny-haired young Brits (although solemnly countered by some more menacingly lived-in faces) and it’s directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant so, hello. We recommend it heartily.

By the way everyone, Tim has a job! Yeah! Turn Big Time back up again! It’s a Monday to Friday office job which might sound hellish but they all sound nice and after barista-ing at dawn on a daily basis, it’s completely welcome. Apparently he saw off other people with more experience; of course he did! It’s Tim! Anyway, cheers for the words of encouragement from everyone, we are now on a dual income which means if I do nothing but cook from the Edmonds book that pet capybara and my dreams of Broadway may not be so far off after all. Soon we’ll hit the big time…

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Title comes to you via: Queen’s Killer QueenI know they’re not that cool, well neither am I. There’s a lot of Queen I’m not keen on, luckily this song isn’t in that list because I’m yet to see a better lyric about a setting agent.
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Music lately:

Fats Domino’s Ain’t That A Shamethe way the chugging opening melody slides into the titular question really does somehow convey a sense of something being a shame, besides that it’s a great, great song and I love Youtube for making all this old footage available.

Julia Murney singing People from the musical Funny GirlI guess I do mention her more than occasionally but friends: this woman is amazing. The bad thing about being a Julia Murney fan is that while she performs a lot she’s relatively below the radar and will never come to New Zealand and I’ll never get to see her in New York, the good thing about being a Julia Murney fan is that she performs a lot of fabulous songs at benefits and concerts and they often find their way to Youtube. And uh, looks like it’s the salute to Youtube segment on the show now.

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Next time: I’ve been promising pavlova for a while but excitement about homemade marshmallows overrides anything else. Including whether I really have any true need for marshmallows. Pavlova truly will be next time, promise. Also, you’re still most welcome to check out Tim’s and my side-project blog 100s and 1000s, where so far we’ve interviewed Grayson Gilmour, talked about new music we may or may not like, and I managed to winkle an Idina Menzel reference in there.

to fruits, to no absolutes

I had a wonderful weekend at home, but I feel a bit talked out on the subject of RENT. All the way up to Auckland in the car my family and Tim politely listened while I talked about it anticipationally, and all the way through dinner afterwards and on the drive home I was generously tolerated during my frame-by-frame debrief of the entire production. But – oh my gosh thank goodness I imagine that I hear you say – I’m not entirely out of steam. For the sake of all involved though, and because I’m probably the only person who cares what I think about this particular production, I’ll keep my review to the following thoughts: (I have more thoughts though! So many more!)

  • I was very, very happy to be given the opportunity to see the songs I love so much performed live, and the Auckland Music Theatre did a great job.
  • The vocal sound was a bit restrained which didn’t do them any favours, because in RENT if you miss one throwaway line, well there goes an entire subplot.
  • The choreography for Out Tonight wasn’t overly satisfying, and I was a little disappointed Mimi wasn’t wearing blue tights, but this seems typical of all local productions I’ve seen.
  • Some of the songs – including the difficult Contact (“Mum, there’s this giant, metaphorical…sex scene”) in which Cameron Clayton as Angel just stunned and La Vie Boheme were staged and choreographed absolutely brilliantly.
  • I didn’t like what they did with Over The Moon – while it was clever to have it more dynamic with the cast-as-audience it lost the actual audience participation. And the cowbell.
  • While the cast was overall brilliant, and it’s not fair to compare them to the original Broadway stars, occasionally a singer’s range didn’t stack up to what you expected to hear.
  • I really liked Kristian Lavercombe as Mark, he brought this narrow-hipped Buddy Holly feel to the role and led the show well.
  • The much-publicised Annie Crummer (let’s face it, there are no real main characters but if there were, Joanne wouldn’t be one) looked stunning and sounded great but her distinct vocals coupled with the slightly quiet mic made most of her lines hard to hear. If you didn’t know them off by heart already that is.
  • Go see it if you can – it’s running till May the 7th and frankly, I’d go back again if I could. We saw the Saturday matinee and I would have happily stuck around and seen the night show. I don’t say that lightly.
Oh yeah… and it was fun hearing the name of my blog in the title song.
We’re so countrified that we spent five traffic light cycles taking a photo of me in front of the Civic theatre on Queen Street. I guess since our community is now shunted into the Waikato we can officially qualify as tourists in Auckland supercity. Imagine if I ever made it to New York – but then there are probably thousands of people who take photos of the “look at me standing by this distinctive structure” variety over there.
I was also home for Anzac Day and after watching the amazing and moving coverage on Maori TV (I could have done with someone a little drier in delivery than Judy Bailey, that said, I wish I had her legs), we went to the local wreath-laying ceremony, catching up with plenty of whanau in the process. A large bag of feijoas was pressed upon us by old family friends and I managed to carefully transport them back on the plane to Wellington. Feijoas are a fairly localised fruit, I think they mostly pop up in NZ and Australian cooking but not necessarily many other places in the world. I would describe them as being similar to passionfruit in fragrance, a little like a strawberry mixed with pineapple in flavour and not unlike guava in texture. They’re basically the greatest thing on earth.
Unfortunately their relative rarity and short season (they’re one of the best things about the colder autumn days) means that recipes are few and far between. So I decided to improvise, and made Feijoa Coconut Brownies. If you aren’t within reaching distance of a feijoa I’d substitute equal weight of banana or applesauce.
Improvised on the spot though these may be, they tasted like they’d been prophesied about to come and save the world by some holy sage a thousand years ago. I’m trying to say they were really good.
Feijoa Coconut Brownies

200g butter
100g good dark chocolate
150-200g feijoa flesh (just cut them in half, scoop out the flesh with a teaspoon and mash with a fork. The weight here refers to the flesh only, not the whole fruit)
100g sugar
3 eggs
2 tablespoons good cocoa (like the Fairtrade stuff Mum gave me! Yay!)
50g thread coconut (or dessicated, the longer thread stuff gives good texture)
200g flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
100g good dark chocolate, chopped (optional)

Set oven to 180 C/350 F. Melt the chocolate and butter together gently, either in the microwave or in a bowl over a pot of simmering water. Stir to combine. Tip in the rest of the ingredients apart from the flour and baking powder, and mix thoroughly. Fold in the flour, baking powder and chopped chocolate if using, and spread the mixture into a baking paper lined 20x30cm-ish tin. Bake for 20-25 minutes (no less – this is a supermoist mixture, it can handle the slightly longer oven time). Allow to cool a bit, then slice into bars.
Notice my new favourite toy – a cakestand from my godmother and family. I love how clean and elegant it is – makes me feel very Scandinavian. Or at least what I think being Scandinavian might feel like. (Other characteristics: writing excellent electro-pop and sprinkling dill on everything)
These brownies were, and I don’t care that I’m saying so myself because look at them, gorgeous. The feijoa gave an acidy kick to the chocolate’s embroidered velvet pants, while the softly textured coconut buffered against the feijoa’s grittiness and provided a delicate richness of its own. They are super moist, cocoa-y and dense. They’re damn good brownies.
I had one for breakfast this morning and it felt good.
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Title coming your way via: surprise! RENT! I’m confident that feijoas aren’t the kind of fruits that Mark sings about in La Vie Boheme…and yet feijoas are undeniably one of the fruitier brothers in existence, so it all kind of works out.
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Music lately:
Just one more – Santa Fe from RENT. I don’t have a favourite, but this mellow beauty still thrills with every listen despite not being one of the huge showstoppers. I was a bit let down by the staging/arrangement of this song in the production we saw, but funnily enough Mum thought it was going to be the end of Act I, like Act II would be all about this group of bohemians and their attempt to start a restaurant out west. Looking back to when I first heard this song, I have to admit I didn’t quiiiiite pick up on the hypothetical nature right away either.
The amazing M.I.A’s new Suicide-sampling song Born Free. Watch the video if you dare (if you can find it) it’s definitely…an eye-widener.
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Next time: I’ve been given so many cool food-related things for my birthday (cake tins, maple syrup, limoncello, etc) that I’m going to have fun working out how to use them all, hopefully managing to incorporate my new cakestand in the process…

another year, it’ll be the best year ever

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Last post for 2009! Might as well end the year with something horrendously bad for you. There is not one single particle of nutrients in the recipe I’ve got for you today. But isn’t that what half-hearted New Year’s resolutions are exist for? Hope everyone had a smashing Christmas. Even though it can be a time where looming tensions rub up against each other, I was spared most of that – the closest we got was a bit of stress over getting lunch out all at the same temperature on Christmas Day. As our life is not an episode of Mad Men, there was no social failure involved with having to wait for the gravy to heat. It was wonderful to spend a whole week with my family doing not much in particular, especially since I’ve barely been home at all this past year. We did quizzes, drank tea, ate leftovers, went through cupboards and looked at old trinkets and schoolbooks, and my parents even indulged me by letting me watch Chess on the big TV with surround sound. Woke up the next morning to hear Don’t Rain On My Parade – Dad was looking up Idina Menzel on Youtube. Felt as though it was some kind of small achievement.

New Year’s will be a low-key one for me – lots of food, some drink, and Tim, myself and our friend and ex-flatmate Ange eating and drinking the lot over the course of the evening. The weather is looking typically dubious, so my fantasies of swanning about on the rooftop deck in a flowing dress while eating prawns (I don’t know, I’ve clearly read one too many Australian Women’s Weeklys or something) are fading but with good company, good food and no agenda I think we’re quite safe from the evening descending into some kind of awkward Rupert-and-Hubert Mr Bean situation. I’m perfectly happy (she says defensively) being low-key this time of year.

Part of the evening’s feastings is that artery-solidifying stalwart of the birthday party, Calf Club and school gala days, Lolly Cake. Also known in some circles as lolly log, quickly googling it would suggest that it is a concept more or less exclusive to New Zealand. Once you’ve tried it I’m sure you’ll agree that whoever the bright spark that invented it was should surely have their face on the back of a coin or at the very least, have a commemorative stamp made in their honour.

Lolly Cake

Recipe from the back of the fruit puffs packet. Nigella would get a kick out of this I’m sure, in a “slumming-it” kind of way – look at all those packets in the ingredients!

100g butter
200g (1/2 a tin) sweetened condensed milk
250g (1 packet) malt biscuits, crushed
150g (1 packed) fruit puffs, roughly chopped
Dessicated coconut

Melt butter, stir in condensed milk, biscuits and lollies. Shape mixture into a log, roll in coconut, and refrigerate till solid, whereupon you cut it into slices.

For those of you not in New Zealand, fruit puffs are like a solid, ovoid fruit flavoured marshmallow. Marshmallows themselves would be too soft, but what with America being the leaders of the free world or something surely you must have something similar to this in the sweets aisle of your supermarket? When Tim and I were in the UK we made this for a charity bake sale at the school we were working at (they’d never had lolly cake before) and used Dolly mixture quite successfully (picking out and eating the jellies first, though).

As you can imagine, Lolly Cake is the most delicious thing upon this earth.

It tastes a little like the base of a cheesecake, and is surprisingly sophisticated texturally – dense, cool biscuit crumbs nestled around almost sherbetty fruit puffs with the occasional damp, fibrous burst of coconut. Even though I completely avoids shop-bought biscuits (hey, ‘hydrogenated palm oil’ freaks me out a little) here the ingredients just make sense. Oh, how they make sense.

What with it being the end of a year and the end of a whole decade, everyone’s suddenly getting all list-happy and attempting to define the finest output of the last ten years. I certainly haven’t the inclination to do anything too exhaustive, and because this is a food blog, I’m sure no-one is expecting me to (as if that is a reason to stop me). I already talk about music plenty, but in terms of films I feel like a lot of lists aren’t reflecting the real best of the decade. The following could only be considered indicative of this insomuch as I feel like my opinion is correct, but…

Films That Happened In The Last Ten Years That I Truly Liked

Only six. I looked at Wikipedia’s list of all films released this decade and came to the conclusion that I don’t feel very strongly passionate about many of them. The following, however…

1: A Mighty Wind. (2002)
This film is perfect. I love it more each time I see it. It features a trifecta of the most incredible actresses in existence – I’d use the word girl-crush but I don’t like it – Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, and Jane Lynch. The acting is devastatingly good, the music is joyfully sharp and despite it being a mockumentary, dammit if the clever lot of them don’t make you care for their characters. (Trailer)

2: Hamlet 2 (2008)
This film is very close to A Mighty Wind for me in terms of brilliance. In fact I don’t know how it isn’t the top of all these best-of lists being released. It stars Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener (another incredible actress, she’s often the best thing in whatever she stars in), Spring Awakening’s Phoebe Strole and Skylar Astin, Elisabeth Shue, and the eye-wideningly gorgeous Joseph Julian Soria. It’s about a sequel to Hamlet. I mean…really. (the glorious trailer)

3: Moulin Rouge (2001)
I know this one will never make a best-of list, but I think Baz Luhrmann is brilliant. This movie and its music was hugely important to me in my teens. I’m truly not kidding, just keeping the songs in my mind (we didn’t have iPods back then) helped me psychologically get through the pain of one of those awful school camps where they force you to climb mountains and cross wire bridges and so on. It’s beautiful, it’s dramatic, it’s dark, it’s sumptuous, and truly, were Ewan MacGregor’s talents ever better put to use than in this film? (Trailer)

4: RENT (2005)
Oh alright, it’s not exactly Woody Allen or Sam Mendes or anything, it cuts out several important songs from the stage show and features a montage sequence in Santa Fe that may or may not be identical to every Bon Jovi music video ever made. But for employing all available original Broadway cast members to reprise their roles, for recognising the joy that is Tracie Thoms and Rosario Dawson, for having Idina Menzel sing Over The Moon live, for the gorgeous slow pan across at the screen end of La Vie Boheme, and most of all for making this musical accessible for people like myself on the other side of the world in New Zealand who would have struggled to find out about RENT any other way, it should be on this list. And all lists. (Youtube is a bit useless on the trailer front, so here’s Seasons of Love)

5: The Wackness (2008)
Aha! A film that would be considered cool by discerning folk! It’s a gorgeous, sad, funny little film that combines unrequited love, early nineties hip hop, and a stunning cast. (Trailer.)

6: Taking Woodstock (2009)
This film with its mellow but affecting storyline with one of the more important social and cultural events of the century as a backdrop is so good! And yet I read so many negative reviews. Many complained about how a movie with a music festival in its title didn’t really feature any performances. This I felt was a bit simplistic, as the film was centred on a person’s journey and experiences leading up to and during Woodstock. It was about people coming together for the music, not the music itself. There’s already wonderful footage of the actual performances on that day, I don’t see why this film was supposed to recreate that. Convincing, compassionate performances from all involved (including – yay! – Broadway’s Jonathan Groff, who looks like he was born to wear sandals and ride a white horse) made this film hit me where films should. (Trailer)

(Honourable mention to Moon, an incredible film directed by Duncan Jones…the fact that it’s not in the top six is more a reflection on my memory than its merit as a film. It belongs!)

There have been a lot of other films this decade that I’ve really enjoyed, (Ponyo, Billy Elliot, Revolutionary Road, Memento, Orange County, Every Little Step if that counts), plenty that I’ve disliked, and there are, admittedly, plenty that are on a lot of best-of lists that I’ve never even seen. You’d think having done two years of film studies I could muster up something a little more intellectual and film-festival-ish, but here we are. The list is slim, but sound.

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Title almost came atcha via Led Zep but I switched at the last minute to Amanda Palmer, quoting her beautiful beautiful song Another Year (The Point of It All) from her album Who Killed Amanda Palmer. She’s touring New Zealand in March and I absolutely can’t wait.
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On Shuffle while I type:

I would be completely lying if I didn’t own up to the fact that I’ve been singing along very loudly to the revival cast recording of Hair. Prosaic choice, and nothing new, but it’s just so fantastic.
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2009 has been as packed with events as any other year – there was Otaua Village’s David triumphing over the Goliath that was the Pukekohe WPC oil company wanting to more or less cripple my hometown (okay, Otaua isn’t exactly Fern Gully but it was a no less worthy cause and a long and difficult battle from the people of the village. I couldn’t have been happier that we more or less ‘won’.) There was also graduation, a new existence on Cuba Street, the wonderful Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin at the Aotea Centre… In November I had completed a year’s full time work and had my contract extended for another year. A few weeks ago this very blog got me on the front cover of a magazine – the Sunday Star-Time’s Sunday magazine (I still haven’t worked out a non-time-consuming way of saying that). I’m ready I think, I hope, for whatever 2010 has got in store for me. Happy New Year, everyone! Stay safe and happy and try the lolly cake – it’s ridiculously good. Any New Year’s resolutions?