hearts a-bubble in the rubble

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This is my last blog post [dramatic, Harold Pinteresque pause] from Wellington for a while as I have relocated myself back to my parents’ place for an indiscriminate quantity of time, it is in fact where I’m writing this from, having arrived home yesterday. (And kudos to my parents for driving down, calmly arranging my belongings Tetris-like in the back of the car, and driving back up the island with me.) Now initially I was like “okay I’m probably going to leave by the end of April” and my best friends Kim and Kate were like “wait…no” and I was like “well okay fair enough” because that’s the kind of agreeable person I am. But you and I both know that there had to be an end point to my freeloading gleefully off Kate and Jason who I’d been hitherto living with since the last time I talked about all this, and so now has come the time for me to finally take responsibility for myself, by freeloading off my parents instead.

Unlike the aforementioned pause, my exit from Wellington was neither dramatic nor Pinteresque, purposefully so. On Friday I had an Aunty Mena’s curry noodle with Kim and Kate. Two nights earlier I made dinner for my dear friend Charlotte (who you may remember from such hits as sternly making me get rid of half my clothes and advising me to make snacks and joining me in ageing into a new tax bracket back in April called “Old Enough To Be Paul Giamatti’s Hag Ex-Wife In An Indie Film“) and that’s where this recipe comes in. It’s not what we had for dinner, (though I wouldn’t have a problem if it were) but was served as a cute post-dinner sweet thing for us two cute post-dinner sweet things.

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This recipe is one of those easy no-bake slices where you melt some stuff and cram some existing processed foods into that stuff and press it into a tin and then walk away hoping for the best. It’s a legit genre that is gleefully fun to both make and eat; the sort of thing you imagine showing to your eight year old self being all like “look! I’m an adult and I can eat this whenever I want! Golden syrup in chocolate!” and then eight year old me would be like “I eat golden syrup sandwiches almost daily though” and I’d be like “well now there’s a housing crisis and the earth is boiling alive!”

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This particular slicey thing (I feel increasingly unable to refer to it with normal words, Charlotte and I were all like “cronch” and “crosp” back and forth at each other in regards to it in a manner that I can only assume was charming and humourous) is a humectant and sticky amalgamation of chocolate, golden syrup, coconut oil and peanut butter with the weightlessly crisp rice bubbles. It’s definitely sweet but it’s tempered by the bite of sea salt, the almost peppery intensity of the golden syrup, and the cocoa bitterness of the chocolate. (That being said I used the most mellow dark chocolate I could find as I don’t think that the hardcore 80% stuff would be served well here.) It evokes the chocolate crackles – as they were called – of childhood high days and holidays and there’s something marvellous about the contrast between the pure aerated crunch of the rice bubbles and the thin, snappish crunch of the chocolate on top. The peanut butter, though present in small quantities only, absolutely makes the whole thing taste like peanut butter and if you’d understandably prefer a more mild richness then by all means substitute almond butter or similar. I like it served as cold as possible to counteract that boisterous sweetness, but on the other hand it has this amazing gooeyness as it approaches room temperature. Basically there’s no bad way to eat this. Have it for dinner, even.

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Chocolate Caramel Rice Bubble Slice

A recipe by myself

  • 1/2 cup golden syrup
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter or almond butter
  • 4 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 150g dark chocolate (I used Whittakers 50% Cocoa Chocolate)
  • 3 cups rice bubbles
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Line a regular size baking tin – the sort that you might bake a batch of brownies in, or indeed, use to make a slice such as this very recipe here – with baking paper. One day I will actually measure what size this tin is so I can just give you the size of it rather than describing it vaguely but today is not that day.

Bring the sugar and golden syrup juuust to the boil in a saucepan and then immediately remove from the heat. Add the coconut oil, peanut butter and chocolate, stirring rapidly till the oil and chocolate has melted, and then tip in the rice bubbles, folding them through the mixture thoroughly. Spatula this mixture into the baking tin and use the back of a spoon to press it down into an even layer. Refrigerate for 15 minutes, then melt the remaining chocolate and drizzle it over the top, then sprinkle over the sea salt. Return to the refrigerator, and slice into squares once cold.

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I’ve been doing lots of writing and planning while staying at Kate and Jason’s but now that I’m in the middle of the countryside surrounded only by further countryside I’m going to really head into overdrive; I’m waiting to hear back from a post-graduate paper in editing that I’ve applied for (despite what these blog posts might suggest, I actually……..love editing people’s writing and I’m good at it) and I’m applying for jobs that I can do remotely and I’m just going to make things happen in an unencumbered manner! As I said, I exited the city in a low-key manner which is maybe weird because leaving Wellington after thirteen years should seem momentous but it doesn’t quite feel like anything’s significantly happened since I still don’t have a fixed abode, it’s like I’ve managed to rip a hole in the cosmos and discover a new timeline outside of time (and then freeload off that too.) I mean, as I said to Kim: “just because I’m moving myself and all my belongings home to my parents’ place 700 kilometres from Wellington doesn’t mean I don’t live in Wellington anymore!”

P1180819(did someone say the word “crisp” in an unnecessarily mangled way?)

P1180818(sounds like a job for – once more with feeling)

P1180823(GHOST!) (I’m going to miss this guy.)

Lastly, thank you as always to my Patreon patrons who have been supporting me from the ground up, you are wonderful people with shrewd business acumen. If you, too, wish to have shrewd business acumen then I suggest signing up to my Patreon yourself. In doing so you will be able to receive all my gratitude and all the exclusive content written just for you.

title from: Barbed Wire Love by Stiff Little Fingers, sweet and snarly.

music lately:

Synthy’s 1981 remix of O Superman by Laurie Anderson. The original is one of my favourite songs but this remix is perfection, retaining that soft quizzical mood of the original while mixing in this airily digital-sounding and decidedly rumpshakingly appealing beat. I first heard it when TV Disko played it at Laundry bar and I nearly blacked out from how hard I was frantically trying to express that I appreciated his music-related decision-making.

Love’s Not A Game, from the TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, sung by David Hull and most of the cast. It’s drawn pretty directly from Luck Be A Lady Tonight and yet I think it’s actually genuinely better than Luck Be A Lady Tonight? David Hull’s little wink and shoulder pops and Donna-Lynn Champlin’s enthused tap-dancing and Gabrielle Ruiz’s fouettés and the cast chanting “Odds! Sixes! Dice! Monogamy!” If any of these words have aroused your curiosity (there’s got to be someone out there) then you may enjoy this piece I wrote comparing and contrasting Fleabag, (also a TV show) with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Ooh, by De La Soul feat Redman, the sound is so warm and everyone sounds so charismatic and self-assured and I just love this song so much!

Next time: I made a ginger crunch slice tonight that I’m very happy with, I will nevertheless have to eat several more slices of it to be sure.

grass grows greener on the other side, corn is sweeter on the other side

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This recipe is based on one that I found in a fancy cookbook at the fancy house that I stayed at with my friends last weekend (a callback for the fans!) specifically, the Genius Recipes cookbook from the Food52 website. There’s something about the language they use that occasionally even my hyperbolic-assed self will blanch at (not least the attribution of “genius” to everything) but I can’t deny that the recipe in it for what they call corn butter is genuinely incredible.

It’s literally just corn kernels, blitzed in a food processor, strained and heated, and somehow it turns into this satiny-smooth intensely buttery-rich stuff, with the texture of expensive moisturiser and with the flavour of corn to the power of corn times corn. Squared. Like corn yelling its own name through a megaphone. Like….it’s really corny. If you’re having trouble picturing it, it’s pretty much exactly like what lemon curd is to lemons in both taste and texture, if that makes sense. The book suggests using it in a risotto, so that’s exactly what I did.

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The risotto itself is very simple, to allow the Aggressive Corn flavour of the corn butter to shine through like the liquefied sunshine that it is. However, I use the husks and pulp leftover from the strained corn to make a quick stock to flavour it, lest you fear it’s going to be too bland, or indeed, wasteful. This doesn’t take too much effort but the effect on the flavour is amazing. And then the cool, silky corn butter against the rice’s softly gritty creaminess, from the starch in the rice grains bleeding into the stock with every turn of the wooden spoon around the saucepan – it’s honestly spectacular. Despite how wordy the method is the actual making of it is very simple too – all you’re doing is slowly adding water to rice and letting it absorb bit by bit, the hardest bit is having the patience to just keep stirring. In risotto, as in life. But mostly risotto.

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Corn Butter Risotto

2 ready-to-eat ears of corn*
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 cup risotto rice (I use calasparra rice because that’s what was in the cupboard, arborio tends to be the least expensive and always does the trick)
A splash of white wine or dry vermouth
salt and pepper to taste
one sprig of basil for garnish so your risotto doesn’t look nakedly yellow in the photos

1: Corn Butter

Carefully slice the corn kernels from the cob, throw them in a blender, and blitz to a thick yellow puree. Pour it through a sieve into a saucepan, pushing with a spatula and scraping underneath to get out as much velvety liquid as possible. Retain the remaining corn mush, because you’ll be using that to make a quick stock for the risotto.

Stir the sieved corn puree over a fairly high heat for a few minutes – it should thicken pretty quickly and start to look like lemon curd. Remove from the heat and set aside.

2: The risotto.

Put a kettle of water on to boil. Put the remaining corn mush from the sieve into a 1 litre measuring jug, fill it with the freshly boiled water, and give it a stir. If you don’t have a litre measuring jug, just use whatever size you have and add more water as you need it.

Heat the olive oil in a wide saucepan, and tip in the risotto rice, stirring it over medium heat for a few minutes just to allow the grains to toast a little, which makes the whole thing taste way nicer. Add the garlic, a good pinch of salt, and the splash of white wine which will steam dramatically and smell amazing.

Pour the corn stock through a sieve over the rice in small quantities – about half a cup at a time – and stir over a low heat till the rice has more or less absorbed all the stock before you add another quantity. Keep on stirring and topping up with more stock until the rice is super tender and creamy. If you need to add more liquid just add more, if you need less then that’s like, also fine.

Once you’re happy with the tenderness of the rice, remove the saucepan from the heat. Drizzle over some more olive oil (a tablespoon or two I guess) and add salt and pepper to taste. This is a really mellow-flavoured risotto so I tend towards plenty of both. To serve, spoon the risotto onto your plate and swirl generous spoonfuls of the corn butter through it.

This recipe serves two, more or less, because like, I ate it all, but in two goes.

*So, the recipe in the book asks for uncooked corn on the cob, but all I could find was the ready-to-eat variety. If you’re using uncooked corn, just be prepared to cook the puree for longer before it thickens. With that in mind, you could probably use canned corn (the plain kernels, not creamed corn) with similar effect.

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My younger brother has been staying with me this weekend and while I haven’t cooked us anything I’ve been enjoying catching up with him over those things only someone who’s grown up with you can appreciate (eg the doctor who saw me after I had a horrible horse-riding accident in 1996 is still there at the same practice and is still astonishingly handsome.) In-between me being at work all the time, we went to an art gallery, ate at a pop-up vegan cafe, he visited Te Papa, he bought a sitar, just normal weekend-y things like that.

All I’ve been doing otherwise is working or going deep into the snake hole of fan theories about House of Leaves which I read last weekend, it’s the kind of book where you’ll be nineteen pages deep into an online forum at 3am and find yourself whispering “oh my god the protagonist’s name is an anagram for….protagonist” and being so unsettled as a result that you have to sleep with the light on. If it’s not obvious, I highly recommend it. I’ve also just finished The Miseducation of Cameron Post which has that kind of bubbling-hot-tar-mosquito-bite-sticky-faced American Gothic quality that I adore.

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I cannot wait to make vast quantities more of corn butter – the recipe above gives you about half a cup, but I know I need more than that around, to spread on toast, to daub onto grilled corn (how wry!), to fold through pasta, to enliven a salad, to spread over my entire body before floating in the sea, the options are simply endless.

If you are on a corn buzz may I also recommend such further recipes of mine as Roast Corn and Tomatoes or Blackened Corn and Tortilla Salad.

title from: In A Hole, by Jesus and Mary Chain. I love these guys SO much. It literally sounds like someone was doing the vacuuming while this song was being recorded and that is precisely the amount of (a) scuzzy reverby grubbiness and (b) white noise I want around me at all times.

music lately:

We Are Scientists, The Great Escape. Saying this song sounds like every British indie record from 2005-2007 was put in a blender and strained through a sieve, cooked over a low heat and what remained covered with water to use as a flavoursome stock does it something of a disservice; the way that the chords climb on “great idea/wait right here” is truly thrilling to the ears.

Lynne Thigpen, Bless The Lord, from the film adaptation of the musical Godspell. This song belongs to her, there is no better rendition – her demeanour so effortlessly joyful, her voice so effortlessly enormous. The way she does those “Ohhh, yeaahhhh” bits, like, they’re just begging to be sampled into something.

Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté’s album that they collaborated on, called rather straightforwardly, Ali and Toumani. It’s so heavenly and calm and beautiful!

Next time: I made some vegan cheese that tasted AMAZING-ly adequate, I cannot express how aggressively neutral I am towards this cheese, and you all frankly deserve better than to hear any more about that. So hopefully it’s not what I end up blogging about.

Also: if you wish to receive these blog posts newsletter-style every Sunday before everyone else gets it and with such exclusive subscriber-only content as (having just checked what I wrote) an extended metaphor for gratitude that turns into a tirade about the local housing system, by all means sign up here

i imagine that it’s there on a plate, your whole rendezvous rate

So the deal with this week’s blog post is, there are no photos and I don’t even want to talk about the recipe. Because I made it – crispy rice with preserved lime, almonds and cardamom- three days in a row and now I’m so sick of it and can’t even think about it without feeling uneasy, bordering on queasy. Let’s try and go back in time though, to the middle of those heady days, where I simply couldn’t get enough of this incredible dish and ate it with such rapidity that, though thrice did I make it (THRICE! Threefold!) not once did I pause to record the moment. Let’s periodically pause while reading this blog post and pretend there is a photo of a plate of rice with some stuff on it in between every other paragraph. Let’s pretend it’s not today but Wednesday and I’m snarfing bowlful after bowlful of tender basmati rice that has turned crunchy and golden with olive oil and made aromatic by the lemony-gingery breath of cardamom and the warm earthiness of cinnamon and cumin, that has the buttery crunch of a tumble of almonds and sesame seeds and bursts of sharp, salty preserved lime slices.

I’m genuinely super annoyed at myself for not taking any photos and did contemplate long and hard for like nine minutes about whether or not to even write this but I concluded pragmatically that my photos are deeply hit and miss anyway and it’s the writing that’s the real juicy prize here.

I spent Sunday night at my best friend Kate’s house, doing what I love best: sitting on the floor by the warmth and white noise of her fireplace, quietly pottering about reading her cookbooks for inspiration while her husband brought me dinner and her dog scooted about scootily. The recipe below evolved from one in either A Modern Way To Cook or A Modern Way To Eat by Anna Jones, both lovely books filled with lovely recipes (sometimes too lovely, for example she has a recipe called “my bright root mash” and I’m like…can you hear yourself here.) Mine is a much more pared down and simplified version of her recipe largely because, honestly, I was pretty broke this week, but you can see how you could extrapolate this out wildly to make it more elaborate, with added herbs, fancier nuts, roasted things to strew across the top, and so on. The preserved limes are just there because I had some following my friend Jen giving me a bag of limes from her tree, but preserved lemons are pretty easy to get hold of and make a chill substitute. The best thing about this recipe is how high reward it is for how simple it is to make. Don’t be tempted to hold back on the final step of pouring more oil onto the rice and turning up the heat – the golden, crunchy base that forms where the rice hits the saucepan is magical. Well it was, till I ate too much of it.

crispy rice with preserved lime, almonds and cardamom

  • one cup basmati rice
  • three tablespoons olive oil  
  • one teaspoon ground cumin
  • half a teaspoon ground cinnamon  
  • two cardamom pods
  • three tablespoons sesame seeds
  • half a cup of almonds, roughly chopped 
  • four slices of preserved lime or preserved lemon   
  • sea salt, to serve

Rinse the rice in a sieve. Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a saucepan and tip in the rice, stirring it so that the grains get lightly toasted. Tip in two cups of water, the cinnamon, cumin, and cardamom pods. Before you throw in the cardamom pods, lean on them with the side of a knife to crush them slightly. Put a lid on the saucepan and let it cook away until the rice is tender and cooked, which should take around ten minutes. At this point, use the handle of a wooden spoon to push some holes in the cooked rice, and pour the remaining olive oil into the holes. Turn the heat up as high as it will go and let the rice cook away for another five or so minutes, creating a crispy crust on the base. 

Meanwhile, toast the sesame seeds and almonds in a dry frying pan until they’re lightly browned. Roughly chop up the preserved lime slices, or lemon if you’re using it, and mix in with the sesame seeds and almonds. Divide the rice between bowls and spoon over the lime and almond mixture, and then add plenty of salt to taste. 

This recipe serves two very generously and aside from me feeding some to my friend Emily during a floor picnic on the third day, I actually ate all of it every single time which is probably why I’m so wholeheartedly sick of it now, but also, I daresay, does speak to its singular deliciousness. If you’re intrigued by the mention of lime pickle, I have a recipe for it on my Frasier food blog which was in itself based on a recipe I posted about back on this blog in 2010. That’s right, I’ll link to myself all! day! long! I will never run out of energy for drawing your attention from me, to further-me, and yet-still-more-me!

Speaking of, if you’ve got yourself a big bag of rice and are all like “hmm” and “I feel a gentle yet tugging melancholy at reaching the end of this blog post and realizing that my time of paying attention to Laura is thus coming to an end” may I recommend some further recipes from On Here: Buttermilk Risotto with Miso, Capers and Toasted Walnuts; Rice Salad with Mango, Coconut and Peanuts; or Sunday Night Pilaf with Cinnamon, Tumeric and Vegetables.

title from:  Brianstorm by Arctic Monkeys. Alternate title: “…top marks for not trying”.

music lately:  

I’ve been listening to Eyedea and Abilities’ album By The Throat which I love, I guess if I was going to pick a starting point I’d go with Junk or Smile?

Janet Jackson, Rhythm Nation . She is such a LEGEND it’s unreal. I’ve been listening to heaps of her older music and having this one in particular on loop, the chorus is so addictive the way the back up singers’ voices rise up like bubbles in lemonade and the music video is honestly kind of stressful to watch because the level of discipline and work ethic is so laid bare in her incredible and highly technical and NONSTOP dancing.

next time: photos and non-feigned enthusiasm I swear. 

and if i recover, will you be my comfort

My first recollection of the song One Night in Bangkok, from the troubled yet oddly compelling musical Chess (especially since it’s like two and a half hours of people singing about literal games of chess, it’s really punching up in the compelling stakes) was when I did a dance to it for one of my jazz dance exams, probably around 1994-ish timeline-wise. I can still remember quite a few of the steps, because muscle memory is funny about what it holds on to.

The track that I danced to had been dubbed to cut out what I later realised was there: this long, rather indulgent overture that goes on and on and on rather endlessly until the musical phrasing spins around and all of a sudden the beat drops and there’s a white guy rapping, kind of.

At 4.20 (nice) this morning as I drove in a taxi to the airport with this French guy who I used to work at Library with nearly every single day to farewell him as he moves overseas forever, it made me think of the overture of this song. I was with his flatmate and dear friend, and we were like…we knew this was coming ages ago but how is it so suddenly this very moment? Obviously I’m going to miss this guy heaps but it made me think about missing people in general. You’re going along, in the overture, everything feels fine, its repetitive nature lulls you into thinking well, I guess this is the song. And then suddenly there’s a tailspin and the beat drops and everything is completely different and you’re like, oh man. This is the song now. And the new bit of the song is so different to the overture that you’re like…why can’t I hear that overture right now, how is it so impossibly different to right now, how did it used to be all that there was.

 comfort, food comfort, food

Anyway, the passage of time, wow, it’s a thing, I’m soooooo deep for noticing it. Whether or not the earth turning as it usually does has got you caught up or not, there’s really not much else to do right now but eat comfort food, and in the case of this recipe it’s a foodstuff I turn to often in times of need. Risotto.

I’ve talked about risotto so much On Here that there’s almost nothing new I can come up with about it; I think calling it “white noise in food form” was my highest apex of descriptiveness. It comforts in the making as well as the eating – obviously it’s soft, warm, creamy rice, as bland or as punchy as you want it to be, as close as you can get to actually eating a large fluffy blanket (okay, eating a freshly baked loaf of bread does challenge this notion) but the power of the calming, soothing, endless go-round of stirring hot liquid into the grains of rice and transfixedly watching them swell up slowly cannot be overstated.

A friend and coworker recently told me they were vegan now and I was like “wow, vegan, huh? That makes me think of…the word vegan.” And so I wanted to try and make a creamy as heck risotto without adding any animal products (specifically: my usual butt-tonne of cream and butter); I also wanted it to be fairly gentle and simple and non-aggressive.

It’s olive oil that gives this risotto its magical texture and richness; apart from that there’s just some pistachios and orange interrupting the soft grains. It may be non-threatening but it’s by no means bland though. The olive oil gives this intensity of buttery flavour and merges with the starch released by the rice, emulsifying into the most creamy and pleasingly gluggy finished product. The pistachios add soft crunch and their own almost-buttery flavour, and the orange brightens it all up but in a mellow way. It’s truly delicious, the flavour unfolding in this elusive way that makes you want to chase it with mouthful after mouthful.

This makes a large batch but the leftovers are strangely good cold from the fridge and if you roll them into tiny balls and dunk them in breadcrumbs before frying in some quantity of hot oil, you can get some highly serviceable arancini; crispy on the outside and creamy within.

orange, pistachio and olive oil risotto

a recipe by myself

  • one onion
  • plenty of extra virgin olive oil (soz to be vague, you just need plenty, okay)
  • one and a half cups of arborio rice (the cheapest stuff is fine here)
  • three quarters of a cup of white wine or dry vermouth (sorry this is a lot, but it makes a lot of risotto)
  • one tablespoon dijon mustard
  • one vegetable stock cube or a tablespoon of white miso paste
  • 70g pistachios, roughly chopped
  • one large orange, zest grated off
  • salt and pepper

Heat a generous tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a large pan. Finely dice the onion and tip it into the pan, and fry the pieces gently until they’re a little translucent and soft but not brown. Now tip in the uncooked rice grains and stir them in the oily onion for a minute or two. Pour in the wine or vermouth – it should bubble up merrily for a bit before settling down. This is where the stirring starts. Stir and stir over a medium heat (although I tend to impatiently turn it up high) till the rice has absorbed almost all the wine. Now add the stock or miso and the mustard, plus two tablespoons of the pistachios, and the orange zest, and continue adding water from a recently boiled kettle, about a cupful at a time, stirring and stirring till it’s absorbed and you can add the next one. Every time you add more water, also drizzle in a little more olive oil, about a teaspoon or so. Sorry I don’t have specific measures here, you just add liquid till it’s done, you know? 

Once it’s done it should be creamy and thick, with no granular bite when you taste the rice. Just yielding softness. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste – and indeed, more mustard if you like. Serve drizzled with more olive oil, and squeeze over some of the orange’s juice. More salt and pepper is good here – and finish with a scattering of cheerfully green pistachios. 

It maybe sounds like there’s a nervous-making amount of olive oil in this but there’s not much of anything else, and you’re only adding a little at a time. Some of the cheapest extra virgin olive oils still have massive flavour, so don’t feel like you have to go high end here. Don’t skip out on the salt and pepper either, it ties everything together – salt makes everything taste more of itself, and I never used to like black pepper but it was just what I felt like having here – plus its dull heat helps stop the whole thing being too sleepy.

I know I bang on about comfort food and like, it’s not going to solve everything, but whatever’s going on you still need feeding and honestly, risotto is just the best, I can’t recommend it enough. If you can’t breathe, if you can’t think, if you can’t stand up, I believe that you can make it. The risotto I mean, but like, in general too.

As I said, I have five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred risotto recipes, but continuing in this vein, if you want more maybe try my take on Nigella’s Pea Risotto (which can be made vegan) or this oven-baked risotto if standing and stirring is beyond you right now (and if it is: I get it.)

title from: CHVRCHES affecting-like-whoa song Recover.

music lately: 

My song that I can’t stop listening to this week is Montaigne, Lonely, but beautiful as it is I’m trying to counteract it with taking Love Myself by Hailee Steinfeld repeatedly like it’s medicine. 

Muse, Plug In Baby. Emostalgia. 

next time: well it’s DECEMBER THE DAMN FIRST tomorrow and I’m NOT prepared in ANY way but maybe I’ll start thinking about xmas food. 

eleanor rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been

I started writing this blog while slightly hungover after the Visa Wellington on a Plate launch party, and I’ll finish it slightly drunk. Or at least that’s what I thought two nights ago when I got in after work (and after a couple of after-work drinks); when I woke up on Sunday morning I realised I’d been distinctly less productive than how it felt at the time, and had to delete a very rambling paragraph where I tried valiantly to really convince you of the specificity of the tanginess of buttermilk. This is what happens when I miss out on my window of opportunity to write solidly! On the upside “The Specificity of the Tanginess of Buttermilk” sounds 100% like a lesbian novel set in the 60s that would get adapted into an acclaimed and beautiful but ultimately award-snubbed feature film, doesn’t it?

It was now a whole week ago that I made this, but it resonates still: a risotto containing not much at all but somehow still incredibly full of flavour depths and things of interest to your tastebuds. Walnuts toasted in butter, sizzled capers, slightly crisp from the heat, miso paste and buttermilk.

The miso paste acts like an instagram filter, boosting everything it touches while still leaving the original risotto below fairly unchanged. The buttermilk, even more than the miso, is the magic ingredient here – it gives the aforementioned specific tanginess that echoes thick Greek yoghurt or sour cream, but somehow still gives a creaminess to the texture as well. It makes the richness of the browned butter more sharpened without making the overall dish too heavy. It’s just really good. You end up with this aggressively simple yet deeply-toned dish that’s as intensely comforting to eat – all soft and warm and creamy – as it is to make. Or at least, I find risotto comforting to make, all that endless stirring of the rice as it slowly, slowly swells and cooks becomes meditative, like white noise in food form. In Nigella Lawson’s book Kitchen she refers to it as “the solace of stirring”, and the result is threefold, TBH – as well as the cooking and eating of risotto being calming, reading about Nigella describing the calming nature of risotto is honestly the most soothing thing ever.

buttermilk risotto with miso, toasted walnuts and capers

a recipe by myself

  • around 25g butter
  • a handful of walnuts (70 – 100g) roughly chopped
  • two tablespoons of capers
  • one cup of risotto-friendly rice such as arborio or carnaroli
  • three tablespoons of dry vermouth such as Noilly Prat, or use dry white wine (sparkling is fine! Just nothing too sweet)
  • one stock cube of your choosing (I used chicken because that’s what I had)
  • one tablespoon white miso paste
  • three tablespoons of good-quality buttermilk (I used Karikaas – it has the texture of thin yoghurt. Some commercial buttermilk is kind of lumpy and weird. But also: aren’t we all.)

Fill a kettle with water and bring to the boil. (You’ll be using this in a bit to top up the risotto as it’s cooking.) Melt the butter in a saucepan and then tip in the walnuts. Once they’re lightly browned remove them from the pan and set aside (I just put them on the plate I was planning to eat my cooked risotto on) and then throw in the capers. Once the capers are thoroughly sizzled, remove them to the same plate as the walnuts, and pour in the rice. Stir the grains in the butter so they’re all covered and get a chance to toast a little, then pour in the vermouth – it will hit the pan with a hiss and smell amazing. Once it’s absorbed, crumble in the stock cube and stir in the miso paste.

Pour in some hot water from the kettle and start your stirring process – just keep stirring over a medium heat till the rice grains have absorbed it all, then add more. This will take a good twenty minutes and there’s no way around it, but it’s nice to just stand there in a trance over a warm pan.

Once the rice is thoroughly cooked, all soft and creamy but with a tiny bit of bite, remove from the heat and stir in the buttermilk – adding more if you like – and tip over the walnuts and capers, scraping in any browned butter that has pooled under them. Stir in more actual butter if you like (I always do) and serve immediately.

I tried turning the leftovers into arancini but they fell apart pretty well immediately (to which I was like “I can relate to this”) but having swiped a forkful of the cold risotto before adding eggs and breadcrumbs and then ruining everything, I can attest to the fact that it definitely keeps well. The walnuts can be changed out for whatever nut you like, but I did choose them on purpose – their autumnal butteriness and soft bite is the only interruption I want in this otherwise formless bowl of rice.

Back to where I started on this post, I would like to reiterate that the Visa Wellington on a Plate launch was super cool! I ate lots of gin and elderflower jelly and drank many chardonnays (I once had a dream about chardonnay where it was described as “buttery and rowdy” and I swear that’s how all chardonnays have presented themselves to me since) and hung out with cool people and hooned much fernet and champagne at the extremely great Noble Rot wine bar launch afterwards. Never mind moderation, I’m about spending three weeks in bed followed by sand-blasting myself with glamour and fanciness for 24 hours. Better than any fancy event this week however was the fact that I finally saw a capybara IRL after being fans of them for many years, and five years on from my tragic (tragic, I tell you!) and fruitless wait at the Berlin Zoo to try and see them. There are FOUR of them at the Wellington Zoo direct from Paris – how sophisticated – and seeing their beautifully regal, yet utterly dingus-y faces today made five-years-ago me feel finally at peace.

So calm. Like a risotto.

PS: If you enjoyed reading about this risotto and want to immerse yourself in the damn stuff, please consider considering this Oven-baked Risotto and this Pea Risotto that I’ve also blogged about here.

title from: Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles, although for many years I genuinely believed my dad wrote this song because his band did a cover of it and so my first introduction to it was hearing them play it during their Sunday band practices.

music lately:

Johnny Cash, I Hung My Head. It has the most phenomenally beautiful – and immediate – building of piano chords, which are typical of many of the songs in his later collections of covers. (Kudos to one of the user comments on the Youtube video: “how are like all his songs about playing with guns going wrong”)

The Cribs, Mirror Kissers. Whatchu know about 2006 nostalgia?

Joan Osborne, Right Hand Man. This song goes OFF and I don’t know how that What if God Was One of Us song became her only real big hit when this one is so big and hitty.

next time: I made a big lunch for my two best friends and I’m gonna blog about it!

 

down with love, with flowers and rice and shoes

I have a day off today and approached it with gleeful anticipation of writing a blog post with diligence and discipline, but instead I had a terrible sleep last night (the kind where you just wake up at irritatingly regular intervals for no good reason) and I’m assuming it’s that which has left me staring listlessly at the screen unable to think of anything cool to say about this rice pudding.

So then I had a break and spontaneously danced around the lounge, free-limbed and embarrassingly passionate! I leapt and did high kicks and sank into the splits and twirled! And now I’m back on the couch sitting under my laptop and I’m still tired and uninspired but like, dancing was fun, I guess. But if doing enthusiastic self-flinging to Inside Out by Eve Six and Problems by ASAP Rocky and Honey to the Bee by Billie Piper can’t help inspire one to talk about rice pudding, then, well. What is there.

But now that I think about it, having worn holes in my socks from pirouetting on carpet and exhausted my lung capacity from doing powerful leaps, this rice pudding was really, really good. I don’t even consider myself someone who considers rice pudding…at all. But I had some at a cafe recently and was, upon eating it, filled with profound thoughts like “This is so exemplary, I might make my own damn rice pudding some time.”

The rice pudding I’ve made is part of a mighty enough English tradition of milk-based puddings, with this being rice cooked slowly in said milk till it has swollenly absorbed the lot and turned all creamy and soft and comforting. Numerous cultures worldwide have their own similar version, presumably with everyone coming to the same culinary conclusion around the same time many years ago. It can be utterly vile, and worse, boring, but when made right it’s pretty brilliant. Rice has its own subtle flavour and texture which suits the aggressive creaminess, and as a prop for other flavours – in this case, sesame-tinted caramel sauce and sugary blackberries – it’s excellent.

I was determined to avoid any troubling blandness here so used a mixture of full cream milk and water plus milk powder, which seems counter-intuitive for the sake of it, but if there’s one thing I enjoy, it’s seeming counter-intuitive for the sake of it. But also I do like the vanilla-salt-kick that milk powder gives, and have this vague and unfounded scientific feeling that a mixture of milk and water makes for better liquid absorption. The rice itself releases its starches slowly, making it stupidly creamy all on its own, and then you can pour over as much actual cream as you like once it’s cooked. The sesame seeds aren’t super necessary but their warm toasty nutty flavour makes things more compelling, and works oddly well with the particular tartness of the berries. And when you’re making a pudding that you’re not entirely sure you’re even that enthused about the concept of in the first place, “oddly well” is a highly respectable result.

rice pudding with blackberries and sesame caramel sauce

a recipe by myself. Serves four, although I ate the lot entirely alone (in two sittings, not that I’m entirely concerned what you think about my portion-related decisions) This makes honestly about seventeen times more caramel sauce than you need but it’s nice to wake up the next morning and drink the remainders of it while standing in front of the fridge. I’m assuming you’ve got frozen blackberries here, but by all means use freshly picked ones if you’ve got them, you princess of the meadow.  

three cups full fat milk
two cups water
four tablespoons full fat milk powder
two tablespoons sugar
a pinch of salt
three quarters of a cup of arborio rice

one cup of frozen blackberries
one tablespoon caster sugar
one teaspoon vanilla extract

one tablespoon of sesame seeds
50g butter
half a cup of brown sugar
half a cup of cream
a small pinch of salt

Place the blackberries, sugar, and vanilla in a bowl and leave to sit while you make the rice. 

In a large pot, bring the milk, water, milk powder, sugar, and pinch of salt gently to the boil. Pour in the rice and stir it, lowering the heat to a simmer. Allow to simmer, stirring often, for around thirty minutes or until the rice is swollen and soft. You may need to add extra water if it’s looking like this will never happen. I did. There was totally a point where I was like, ‘wow, I guess I’m never going to have rice pudding ever’, because the rice just would not soften entirely. You just have to keep stirring and tasting (don’t bother tasting till most of the liquid is absorbed though) and eventually it honestly will be cooked.

Let it sit while you make the caramel sauce – toast the sesame seeds in a small pan till they’re browned, then quickly tip them into a bowl (quickly, because they will burn swiftly if left unattended) and in the same pan, melt the butter and brown sugar together. Once it’s bubbling, tip in the cream and stir vigorously, then remove from the heat. It might look all weird and separated but stirring will bring it together! Tip the sesame seeds back in along with the salt and stir them through. 

The blackberries by now should have defrosted into the sugar and be all glossy and syrupy. Spatula the rice into a serving dish, fling the berries and some of their syrup over the top and then spoon over as much caramel sauce as you like. Serve with more cream and caramel sauce for pouring over. Should you have leftovers, it’s worth knowing that the rice near the berries will turn an unpromising blue colour, it’s all good and all still plenty edible. 

Describing rice pudding as comforting might seem a bit obvious, but sometimes things are obvious for a reason. It is just so soft, and creamy, and mildly sweet, and warm, like eating that particular feeling where you pull a pile of laundry out of the dryer and then lie down and pile it all on top of yourself like a cosy mountain. The caramel sauce pierces all the plainness with its dark sugary salty toffee vibes, and the blackberries bring some pure fruity sweetness which feels necessary in the face of all that milk and starch.

And importantly, the berries also look so pretty against the snowy white rice.

Aside from trying to write this post I’ve spent the weekend thus far rewatching Skins, reading up with terror and horror on Ferguson (I recommend this brief but devastating piece by Roxane Gay), making a pre-wedding breakfast for a bride and bridesmaids at my flat (my roomie Kate being one of those bridesmaids), lying in bed willing myself to go buy iron pills, and anticipating December with trepidation. My tarot card for November was all “it’s over, let it goooo” and “get lots of hugs” and I’m not sure that I’ve quite lived up to the potential of it but I mean, I did cut my hair.
I still have short hair! And that was the weekly Laura’s Hair Roundup

So the thought of December being amongst us is making me a little nervous – this will be the first ever Christmas I don’t spend at home with family, because I’ll be working, and also there’s just that weird thing where the end of a year makes you consider every damn moment that’s led up to this point and what you could have done differently and what it all means and who you are and where you’re going with life and stuff. But my tarot card for December is Queen of Wands, which is a super rad one to have, being all about things like creative vision and achieving goals; enjoying the limelight; acting upon feelings; and, according to one site, potentially finding love by meeting someone through a light-haired friend (am I that light-haired friend to myself?) Cool, yes? Well, whatever the cards say could happen, as long as I thrive aggressively and be 100% successful in all aspects of my life and get intimidatingly rich and radiate pure happiness, I’ll be quietly satisfied. 
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title from: Down with Love, by that queen Judy Garland. Up with love, I say, but the song’s sentiment is pretty understandable sometimes. Especially if Judy’s singing.
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music lately: 
Eve 6, Inside Out. Erm yeah I listened to this about nineteen times yesterday, whatever. 
Lorde, Yellow Flicker Beat, live at the AMA’s. The last five seconds, chills through my heart. 
En Vogue, Don’t Let Go (Love). The lyrics to this are blisteringly good. “Have the right to lose control”, omg. This is the kind of song that gives me false nostalgia about the nineties. Actually, so is the Eve 6 song. Damn it!
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Next time: I might blog about the granola that I made for the bridal kids? It’s delicious stuff and looked pretty, and those are my usual requirements covered. 

alone, listless, breakfast table in an otherwise empty room

The box in the background is where all my kitchen accoutrements will go, including this bowl and fork. Once I’ve washed them, don’t worry.

This is the last blog post I’ll be writing from my not-quite-my-home-anymore-home, before I move house next Wednesday. The new place is like…fine, but I’m going to miss where I am now so much: the celestial light, the concrete floors, the bathroom that looks like it’s from a nice hotel, waking up in the night to see the moon hovering protectively outside my window, how stupidly instagrammable it all is, how enormous my room is, and so on and (self-indulgently wallowing) so forth. But, as I say to myself sternly, a change could be good for me, and whether or not it is, it’s still happening, and I can do my best to turn my new room into a beautiful haven too. I have a recurring bad dream where it’s suddenly Christmas Day and I have five minutes to get to my plane home and forgot to buy any presents and am generally very lost and confused as to how it all happened so fast, and that’s a decent description of how I feel right now, but…yeah. It’s happening. And I’m sure I’m gonna love this new place too.

All I’ve been doing with my spare time is looking for a flat, visiting flats, and packing my things up, so not much time to cook, but I wanted to minimise the amount of things I had to transfer between houses and so decided to make some kind of all-inclusive salad from the various nubbins of food in the pantry and fridge. Which means this is kind of ridiculous and bitsy and piecey and not really anything at all, but since it’s the last thing I’m likely to cook here and I don’t want to sacrifice writing this blog just because I am so busy making all signs of myself slowly reduce as the place becomes more and more empty…I thought I’d share it here anyway.

Also gosh, sorry for being so maudlin and overwrought, in my defence, I’m maudlin and overwrought. I am being relatively practical and calm in comparison to my own self, if that makes sense. As I said in my last blog post, a lot of things just kinda suck right now, but I’m working on what I can control (ha! very little) and getting through the rest somehow. Just like everyone else is.

brown rice, wheat berry, fried bean salad

a recipe by myself; makes quite a lot.

half a cup wheatberries 
half a cup brown rice
one cup frozen green beans (or fresh ones trimmed and sliced, you fancy thing you)
half a cauliflower, sliced into florets
two cloves garlic
a couple of tablespoons of capers
50g butter, at least
a handful of almonds, sliced 
olive oil
white wine vinegar
a tablespoon harissa
pinch salt

Soak the wheatberries and rice in boiling water for a couple of hours – this will speed up the cooking process, which will still take kind of ages. There is a reason that they’ve been sitting untouched in my cupboard for so long. 

Cook them together in boiling water in a good sized pot for around 25 minutes or until both the rice and the wheat are tender. Drain, and set aside. Melt the butter in a saucepan till it’s sizzling, then throw in the beans, cauliflower, capers and garlic and allow to fry aggressively till everything is quite browned and cooked through. Add the almonds at this stage and allow them to brown a little too, then remove from the heat. Stir all this into the rice/wheat mixture, then in a small bowl, stir together about three tablespoons of olive oil, one and a half tablespoons of the vinegar, and the harissa and salt. Stir this through the salad then serve. 

The important thing here is lots of olive oil and lots of texture. There are a zillion ways you could change this to suit your own needs – use barley instead of wheat berries (infinitely easier to find/cook anyhow) use just one type of grain, fry different vegetables like broccoli or courgette, use different nuts, use something other than harissa to flavour the dressing, make so many changes that it’s essentially an entirely different recipe, that kind of thing. The soft bite of the grains with the crisp, oily vegetables and crunchy nuts is excellent though, and adding plenty of salt and oil and chilli-rich harissa makes sure it’s delicious and elegant, rather than the punishing and dour.

It keeps well – I ate about a third for lunch on the day that I made it, then ate another third in spoonfuls taken from the bowl while standing in front of the fridge at various hours of the day, and then had the remainder for dinner at work last night. The fridge and pantry are now significantly denuded of things, and I looked up wheatberries on wikipedia and damn they are a good-for-you foodstuff! Satisfaction all round. Except for the photos, it was high afternoon sun and I only decided at the last minute to actually snap this dish, so… Not the best final view of the place, but what can ya do? (Not a lot.)

Just a short blog post today because yeah, got to carry on packing my belongings into boxes until infinity – isn’t it weird how physics is literally a thing and yet if I spend an hour piling books and trinkets into boxes I will have created no extra space and my pile of said books/trinkets will not appear to have diminished whatsoever? Pretty suspicious.

(FC = Fancy Clothes. Please be assured that this is but one bag of clothing that fits this description.)

Okay, lies: have also been rewatching Twin Peaks and knitting myself a blanket from my yarn scraps. Isn’t it too dreamy? Yes it is, Audrey Horne. 

So, next time you see me here it’ll be in my new place. Weird…but hopefully good. 
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title from: I do enjoy Ye Olde Pearl Jam (anything after about 1995 am not interested in whatsoever) and if you haven’t tried ever had a go at singing along while studiously imitating Eddie Vedder’s voice, you’re missing out on some good clean fun, I can tell ya. I had Deep Feelings about the song Daughter in my teens but now just think it’s pretty rad.  
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music lately:  

Joanna Newsom, Sawdust and Diamonds. Um. I have always enjoyed Newsom’s music but am properly close-readingly appreciating it heaps right now. Her lyrics are so spectacular and literary and full of the elements and fragments of stories, I love it. Also her harp is like wo. 

Beyonce, XO. This song makes me feel rapturous. 

Patti Smith, Gloria. I like putting this one on when I’m closing the bar at work, it’s all snarly and good to bounce along to while washing dishes and mopping and inevitably knocking over literally everything and so adding many, many minutes to your closing process. I will never ever tire of the bit where she’s all “Ah, uh, make her mine”.
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next time: I know not, but it’ll be from my new place! So! New things for you all to look at! So there’s that!