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

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! 

and after that, we can ketchup like tomato

Nothing makes me feel like I’m smugly going to avoid scurvy (she says, having only eaten pizza, Nerds, and beer all day) than eating a vegetable one time. Despite my wayward ways, I do actually love vegetables not simply because they keep me more or less alive, but because they’re delicious and abundant and almost all of them taste incredible when they have heat applied to them followed by lots of olive oil. 
I’m one week in back at work, and without casting aspersions on my work ethic (why cast aspersions when you can be frank: my work ethic is usually in the category of “reluctant yet non-existent, at best”) it should be obvious enough that I’d much rather be on holiday. Who among us can say, etc etc. However, as with the chocolate brownies last week, I’m doing my best to improve upon last year’s trend of bleak lunches, month in and out. From days of pot noodles, to seemingly endless bowls of plain couscous with butter and salt, to microwaved cheese sandwich (we’re not allowed a toaster in the work kitchen. Oh, I know) I’ve decided I deserve better. By “better” I guess I mean “not having scurvy” but it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry, or something. 

Simple though the concept is, I’m not always good at remembering to make a large enough dinner to allow for lunch leftovers the following day. That’s where this Ottolenghi recipe for Mejadra, from his book Jerusalem, is useful – it uses such unstressfully-priced ingredients as lentils, rice, and onions, it’s all cooked in one pan, and it makes a metric butt-ton. I hear you, that those ingredients aren’t the first to spring to mind as examples of “whoa, alluring”, but there’s something in the crunchy-crisp fried onions, and the spices which find their way into the earthy lentils and rice, that is really rather wonderful.  

I’m just going to link to Ottolenghi’s recipe for Mejadra rather than write it out in full, because…oh, I’m very lazy. That’s it, really. I told you my work ethic was found wanting.

I shall, however, heroically type out another Ottolenghi recipe that I made to go with the Mejadra – this is properly simple, both of ingredients list and execution, and while it doesn’t sound like much it’s super excellent. Fried slices of tomato, bursting at the seams with sweet ripeness, a little garlic and chili for, well, the flavour of garlic and chili, and plenty of soft, buttery olive oil…when we have tomatoes at such peak being-in-season-ness, there’s not a lot that needs to be done to them. When they’re at their most prolific, I kinda like to eat them like apples. For now, this fast recipe can help bolster up anything from toast, to scrambled eggs, to…to rice and lentils and onions.

fried tomatoes with garlic

from Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Jerusalem.

three garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 a small hot chilli, finely sliced (I just used some sriracha as I was lacking a small hot chilli, or indeed a chilli of any size)
two tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
three large, ripe, firm tomatoes
two tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Mix the garlic, chilli, and parsley together in a small bowl, and set aside. Top and tail the tomatoes and slice thickly vertically – about 1.5cm thick, but like, whatever. Heat the olive oil in a pan and then fry the tomato slices, turning over after a minute or two. I used an enamel roasting dish that can be used on a stove top, but I suppose it’s better the more surface area you have. It’s just that my saucepan was being used for the Mejadra, and…enamel is cute. Add the garlic mixture, fry a little longer, and then serve. 

It’s the sort of thing that you could – and in fact probably already have – come up with yourself quite easily, but nevertheless, sometimes it’s pleasingly comforting to be told what to do when cooking.  

And straightforward as it is, this recipe is pretty spectacular. All sweet and spicy and rich, yet very simple and plain and unfancy.

And very fitting on a table full of potluck brunch. I’m trying something called luxterity (luxe + austerity) this year, where there’s more care with spending (necessarily so) but in as elegant/dramatic/sybaritic a manner as we can manage (also necessarily so, because I like those things.) Having friends over for brunch saves a lot of money, is super fun, and there’s nothing like an air of “pants are barely required because I’m in my own damn house” to add a frisson to your morning repast.

That’s about it, really. This week has been very long yet very fast. Full of hangings-out (out-hangings?) and knitting (a hat) and reading (The Character of Rain/Amelie Nothomb; Are You My Mother?/Alison Bechdel) and watching (Pretty Little Liars and Practical Magic and all the new Beyonce videos again and again) and eating (endless Mejadra – that recipe really makes a lot; plus as many seasonal berries as I can find) and small but joyful things like that.

Also, I got a new beanie that I adore.

This isn’t going to make my knitted hat any less fun of a project, for one thing, I intend to put a pom pom on top of that one. Wellington’s weather has been monumentally horrible lately, so weird as it sounds to be thinking about warm hats in the middle of summer, that’s what we’re dealing with. I couldn’t care less. As long as tomatoes continue being cheap for a while longer…so if nothing else, I can pre-load on vitamins to cover me during my next inevitable stretch of candy and sodium chloride.
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title from:  Mariah Carey, More Than Just Friends. Even when it’s not the mid-nineties any more, Mariah still rules my heart and ears. 
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music lately

City Oh Sigh, Still Let Me In. Dreamy, too dreamy.

Joan Jett, Roadrunner. The original by the Modern Lovers is one of my very, very favourite songs. But hurrah for good covers, like this boisterous one by the babein’ Jett.
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next time: I may have a hat that says “witch” but I don’t know everything. You’ll find out when I do.

lazy jane, all the time

Tulips holding up well. As is my twee agenda, it seems.
Also holding up well: this risotto recipe. I’ve made it three times in the last week. Once, twice, three times a lady recommending this recipe to you all. I know I often go on about how I work myself down to a nub writing this blog and the cookbook and meeting other various deadlines, but that aside, I’m really very lazy. If there’s a way I can do less than what’s required, even at the expense of the outcome, I will. It’s just the way it is. Some people accept that there’s hard work involved in life, some people (me) want to sit around and knit or check Twitter all day. Fortunately for me, Tim tends to meet this laziness with shrugging resignation/lifting/cleaning of all the things, but occasionally it works out well for both of us. In the case of this risotto, that is. I already love making risotto, with its calmingly repetitive stirring motion, and I don’t mean to sound like Troy McClure, but sometimes I want to take an already pretty easy thing and make it even more flagrantly low in effort. And not only does this make enough excellently delicious risotto for dinner and then a non-bleak lunch the next day (in your face, instant noodles!) it also uses only one dish. So, less dishes for Tim to do, or for him to rinse and then put in the dishwasher (I can’t comprehend how we have a machine to do the dishes for us but still have to pre-wash them, hence why I never do it.) I’m not trying to be proud of how lazy I am or anything, in fact I’m too lazy to expend any feelings over it whatsoever. Kidding! On the one hand, I feel like “why should naturally helpful, good people in society be celebrated when I can’t help being this unhelpful” and on the other hand sometimes I am just being a dick to see how much I can get away with not doing.  
Back to the risotto, you wouldn’t necessarily think a version that you just shunt into the oven would work, since it’s the constant stirring of it that slowly releases the starch from the rice grains and gives it that soft, collapsing texture. But somehow it does, and frankly I don’t care to question why. It just does. The first time I tried this I simply stirred some herbs in and topped it with a little Whitestone Butter by Al Brown Manuka Smoked Butter that arrived in the mail because that’s right, I have the veneer of a fancy food blogger (as always, I wish I could tell my much younger self that this would happen, as something to cling on to and look forward to.) I’m not just saying this because I got it for free (I mean, in a roundabout way I am, but I would never lie to you about butter, okay?)  this butter really is quite incredible, the manuka smoke somehow making it meatily rich while the texture is dissolvingly creamy and light. It’s the ideal substance atop a very plain, but perfect risotto. But regular butter and plenty thereof is also always the right choice, too.
Oven Risotto

Adapted from a Donna Hay recipe. Makes plenty for four, or in our case, for two people and then two lunches the next day. 

2 cups arborio rice
2 teaspoons vegetable stock powder
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
5 cups water, of which up to 1 cup is white wine 
Optional: fistfuls of butter, lemon zest and juice (especially if you don’t have wine), herbs. I guess the mustard is optional too, but you want this to taste like something.

Set your oven to 180 C/350 F. In an oven dish – around 2L capacity – tip in the rice, the wine, the water, the mustard and the stock powder. At this point I also dice up plenty of butter and add that in too, but if you don’t have butter or can’t eat dairy, I would lavishly drizzle in some olive oil. 

Cover the dish tightly with tinfoil, then bake for around an hour. At this point, you can stir in more butter, some lemon zest and juice, some herbs, some cream, parmesan, whatever, really. For this I grabbed a handful of chives and thyme leaves, since that’s what I had. 

Just plain, with a little mustard and butter and lemon, it’s surprisingly fulsome – heftily creamy and starchily comforting, the rice’s natural flavour shining through.

However, it also lends itself well to not being utterly plain. I made a glossy pink roast beetroot version of this – sliced up beetroot, roasted in plenty of olive oil, before adding the rice and liquid and baking. Last night I made a roasted parsnip version, with so much butter that the rice itself couldn’t quite absorb it all. It basically turned to nutty, caramelised paste. And was really wonderful. But uh, if you want to make your own, just bear in mind that it can only absorb about 150g butter before it starts heading paste-wards.

Some other cool things of late, in order of most to least of what I thought of first to write about: 
Am quite obsessed with knitting. It’s so calming, and repetitive. A bit like risotto, but you don’t have to stand up to do it! 
Witness the knitness.

On Friday I went to a secret party to celebrate ten years of Creative HQ. As with receiving butter, occasionally I get to go to A Thing. Tim and other friends were also there, and it was really quite an amazingly surreal, and just generally amazing night – fancy beer, a dance troupe, green screens, dry ice, a photobooth, a glitter cannon, pretzel sticks, chocolate schnapps. It gave me lots of good ideas on how I want my life to be (more glitter cannons! And pretzel sticks! And dance troupe-ing! And everything I just said, really.)

And today a really wonderful-for-me thing happened: I had my first story ever published in Cuisine magazine. I’ve spoken so often of how much I love this magazine and I won’t go on about it too much in case anyone from said magazine happens to read this and gets distinctly weirded out, but: I adore this magazine, and have been an avid reader of it since before I even knew how to cook. The fact that I have a story in there is a very big deal to me. The story itself is a piece on Treme, New Orleans, and the sights and sounds and eats therein, based on the time Tim and I spent there last October.

Finally: saw some cool hund friends!

Finally-finally: I’m going to bring up again that I was published in Cuisine magazine, because I’m just so happy and excited and self-proud. 
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title via: Lazy Line Painter Jane, by Belle and Sebastian. This is one of about three of their songs that I am into, but I am so VERY into this song. The breakdown at the end is spectacular. 
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music lately:
Camera Obscura, The Sweetest Thing. This song is from an album called My Maudlin Career, which is a bit of a great title. The song also rules. Otherwise I wouldn’t have put it here, of course.

The sadly late Selena, Dreaming of You. Silky-soft early nineties pop/r’n’b. Alas, my particular obsession with reading about tragically dead celebrities on wikipedia was what reminded me about how sweet this song is.
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Next time: possibly something from the new Cuisine magazine, if I ever manage to stop reading my byline over and over that is. 

and i will be alone again tonight my dear

I’m not all that good at just cooking stuff for myself to eat when Tim’s not around – which is weird for so many reasons. Like, I love food. And cooking for two people involves only one more person than cooking for one. At best. And I’m not all codependent or anything, honest. But if Tim’s not around, I tend to find myself spending the usual dinner-ing hours eating golden syrup or something. Maybe it’s because I coincidentally feel like eating golden syrup at those times? I don’t know. Sometimes things just happen and there’s no reason for it. If I get famous off this cookbook I request that everyone overanalyses it for me in the comments section.

I’m saying this because I had lunch by myself today and I felt like eating something marginally more diverse to the palate than golden syrup. Having spent last night drinking whisky and sloe gin at Brendan’s birthday party, I also didn’t feel like expending any extraneous energy.

So I made this: Fried Onion Rice with Nuts, Cardamom and Cinnamon. It’s literally just onion, rice, nuts, some water and some spices. And yet so much more vigorously flavoured than that restrained list would suggest. I adapted it from a recipe in Nigella Lawson’s book Feast, a book I’ve read about a squillion times, and yet which can still jolt me from my indolence and make me want to cook something for myself immediately.




You do need to really crisp up the onions for this. You know how you’re normally supposed to focus on the cooking? With this I encourage you to get distracted. I recommend checking twitter and perhaps peruse an aggregator of viral content like buzzfeed.com – whatever their latest list of animals doing cute stuff is, it should use up just the right amount of time to let the heat of the pan really char those onions. Don’t go any further than that though – the onions are for flavour, not just texture – this isn’t the time to go getting lost in a ‘where are they now’ quagmire of looking up 90s actors on Wikipedia or look at every single inexplicably happy photo on someone you used to go to school with’s Facebook. We’re not building a casserole here, people. 


Fried Onion Rice with Nuts, Cardamom and Cinnamon

Adapted from a recipe from Feast, by Nigella Lawson, moon of my life.



3 tablespoons/a handful/whatever of nuts – almonds, cashews or peanuts are good here
1 onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup basmati or other long grain white rice
Seeds from 3 cardamom pods (just slice the pods in half and shake out the seeds)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Peel, halve, and finely slice your onion. Heat a large pan and toast the nuts in it till lightly browned. Set them aside. Heat the oil in the same pan and fry the onions in it till good and browned – they should have reduced in size with most of them crisp and darkened. Set aside with the nuts. In your same pan, stir the rice and spices over a low heat for a minute – this just helps with the flavour of things – before tipping in 1 cup/250ml water and a pinch of salt and clamping on the lid. Turn the heat down low and let it simmer away without disturbing it for about ten minutes. At this stage the rice should be completely cooked, but if not let it go a little longer. Remove from the heat, stir in the nuts and onions, and shuffle everything onto your plate. Serves 1.

I have tons of cardamom pods – what, I’m a food blogger – but if you don’t it’s not the end of the world and this is fine with just cinnamon. But cardamom’s particularly lemony-gingery, mildly eucalyptus-y flavour lends a particular elegance to the earthier, oilier flavours. But seriously, fried onions, nuts, rice? Some of the nicest things in the world, making this dish a worthy alternative to golden syrup. Less sticky and prone to getting in my hair, too.

Winter is good for so many things: cooking soup and stews and roasts and such; piling on as many soft cosy clothes as you can; weather complaining as a universal conversation topic; less potential for public sweatiness; whisky tastes better. It goes on. But above all of that, I love spending a lot of time watching TV, like really snuggling into a good TV series. I say that, because I really just wanted to say this:
Tim and I have been rewatching the short but incredible Freaks and Geeks and today I discovered I have the exact same sweater as the character Millie Kentner. I happened to be wearing it while we watched this episode. It’s difficult to photograph one’s self and a screen but trust me: these wooly jumpers are identical. Even in these exciting times, this stands out as a particular milestone.
The last week of June marks the last week of me being at my job – then my main focus in life is going to be bringing this cookbook into existence. It looks like it’s going to be a little nightmarish, logistics-wise – but I’m telling myself that I’ve never been a slave to logic, so everything looks like a logistical nightmare to me. Right? Right. I’ll totally get there though. Somehow.
But: if any fancy people out there are reading, but also staring out the window sighing wistfully because you can’t find the right freelance foodwriter to pay some money to, may I suggest…myself? While the book is going to take a lot of time I’m hoping to pick up some extra opportunities to bolster my soon-to-be-flailing bank balance. I already do lots of freelancing for reassuringly real things like Sunday Star-Times and 3news.co.nz, and I’ll tell you candidly: I think I’m a really good writer. And as another great writer made their awesome character say: thank you for your consideration.
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Title via: Love’s Alone Again Or. One of the most excellent songs I’ve ever heard. So there’s that.
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Music lately:

Azealia Banks, Liquorice. Not as immediately, life-changingly gripping as 212, but still super awesome with a catchy as heck chorus.

Nina Simone, Here Comes The Sun. Heard some Nina Simone on the radio today and reflected on how she can pretty much do no wrong, and how I wanted to hear more. So why not this video with its slideshow of unrelated artwork?
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Next time: I got the new Cuisine magazine – maybe something from that? Time will tell, better than I am right now.