i set out to disappear and out there i found a new home

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Since we last talked a lot has happened, so let’s recap! I loved many things about my job as a bartender but I was also like, I could accidentally carry on working round the clock for another year and a half and not actually confront myself with any real life decisions, and so my final shift was last Sunday; as for the moving house bit, well my lease was coming up for renewal and the rent was hiked upwards to a height so dizzying even in this current economic climate that it would give you a nosebleed just to countenance it, and I was like honestly I can’t condone this behaviour from the landlords so I bowed out and am now temporarily but delightedly mucking in at the house of my lovely friends Kate and Jason.

I spent roughly five days in the lead up to moving house entirely consumed by fretting about packing, and doing packing (in that order), aided considerably by my stalwart pal Charlotte who managed to briskly pare my enormous wardrobe down to the point where the pile of clothes I was getting rid of was bigger than that which I kept (and to her credit sat gamely through such dialogue from me as “it’s, you know, just an everyday classic practical see through top, a real wardrobe staple” and “this coat-hanger has been in my family for generations.”) This is the first time I’ve moved house since acquiring an ADHD diagnosis, by which I really mean, this is the first time I’ve moved house with the aid of Ritalin and months of hard work on being slightly less of a liability, and I must say while it was a novelty being so relatively organised in advance I was also hit like a fleet of bicycles by anxiety about how disorganised I’d been in every single moving-of-house hitherto. But – I managed to send the movers that I’d booked to the wrong address in case you were concerned that I’d made too much progress.

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So now I live in Newtown! I made dinner for Kate and Jason and also our friend Jen on Wednesday night – cooking dinner is something I can easily do in order to be a good houseguest, but also something I haven’t done with any great sense of routine in absolute years; on top of which I’ve been feeling a bit detached and weird and nonplussed and whiplashed since leaving my job and moving house and getting rid of 2/3 of my precious, practical, see-through clothes which is of course totally normal for such circumstances but I’m trying to get a grip on myself and on my sleep cycle and on my use of time and on, well, everything really, and just when I was feeling like none of this was going to happen, I was flicking through one of Kate and Jason’s Ottolenghi cookbooks and saw this recipe and felt filled with inspiration to make it and I was like, well, this is a start.

Ottolenghi is so talented at making any old pile of vegetables feel exciting and exuberant, this is because his recipes are really good as opposed to any deeper level of witchcraft than that; but I mean he’s just such a great read if you’re feeling a bit culinarily blank and it’s also the middle of summer and you want the kind of meal that holds at least two components that are in danger of getting stuck in between your two front teeth, by which I mean, greens.

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The salad recipe I present to you is a lazy version of the original one in his book, Plenty More. The key components all have their place: the dense granular mildness of the chickpeas, the oily and caramelised fried cauliflower, the sweet summer brightness of the mango, and it’s all just very delicious and simple and straightforward. The curry powder has such a nostalgic quality to it, and its sweet earthiness against both the vibrant and the calmer ingredients is so good, don’t overlook it. Mangoes just sing of summertime, don’t they? I urge you to seek out a pertly bulging specimen, ripe but not fermentingly soft, you want it to be al dente for want of a better word. (Also? I love mangoes but their flavour is so elusive, like trying to move towards a rainbow, that I feel as though I need to eat twelve mangoes in order to experience the power of one actual mango’s flavour? But also matching them with all these savoury elements really makes them come to life?)

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Ottolenghi’s Chickpea, Mango, and Fried Cauliflower Salad

adapted slightly from a recipe in Plenty More

  • 2 cans of chickpeas in brine
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • indiscriminate quantities of olive oil (not extra virgin) or other neutral oil for frying
  • 1 small cauliflower, broken and sliced into small(er) florets
  • 2 large, firm, ripe mangoes
  • sea salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 50g baby spinach leaves
  • a handful coriander leaves, roughly chopped 

Drain the chickpeas and place them in a large serving bowl with the cumin, curry powder, mustard seeds, and sugar, and stir well.

Heat up a tablespoon of oil in a saucepan and fry the onion till softened and golden, then stir into the chickpeas.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to the boil and cook the cauliflower in it for one minute, then drain thoroughly.

Heat more oil in the same saucepan that the onion was fried in – a couple of tablespoons will do – and once it’s really hot, fry the cauliflower in it in small batches. Don’t overcrowd the pan, and let the cauliflower sit for a few minutes before turning it over, to allow it to get golden and brown. Transfer the browned cauliflower to the bowl of chickpeas and continue till all the cauliflower is done.

Chop the mango into chunks and stir into the chickpeas along with the lime juice, the spinach, the coriander, a good drizzle of olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

I liked this even better the next day when the spices and lime juice had soaked into everything, it didn’t look as good but it tasted more intense.

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In case you didn’t see my last blog post, my reason for making all these drastic life changes at the expense of all involved is that I am going to write, just like, so much stuff, with this in mind and also my unemployedness – not that it’s anyone else’s responsibility but my own, but it could be yours if you wanted! – I direct you confidently towards my Patreon where you could get in at the ground floor on supporting what I do and receive exclusive content in return. And that really is my plan, to recover from the whiplash of this all-change and to write, well, that and to be as good a house guest as I can possibly be. (I just realised as I type that there’s a double meaning to “write, well” – wow I’m doing great already.)

title from: Baltimore Blues No. 1, Deer Tick. Moody.

music lately:

Walk Away, Sisters of Mercy, they sound, as I described to the long-suffering Charlotte, as though someone is trying to convey jauntiness while trapped underwater (by which I mean, obviously, I love it)

Morning Terrors and Nights of Dread, Shilpa Ray, it starts off surfy (good) and ends up surfy and howl-y (very good!)

Blue by Rico Nasty, she is incredible!

Next time: I tried making some macarons with the leftover aquafaba from the canned chickpeas in this salad and they were delicious but super fragile, but I presumably have the energy now to nail the recipe properly.

forever green, I know she’s here

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Wednesday was so momentous in a way that I’m not sure I can accurately convey other than to hope that as you’re reading this you’re trying to understand what it means to me: I met Nigella Lawson. I was always into food in an opportunistic way but it was seeing her TV show in 2001 that showed me for the first time that food could be a cause of real happiness for not just the eater but also the cook. Without a doubt I would not have started food blogging if not for her, I probably would not have achieved much of anything in fact. If you’ve been reading this blog for even a minute you’ll already know this, but again, it’s just so big for me! This has got magnitude! It needs big mise-en-scène!

How it came together, and I still can scarcely believe that it did, was that Nigella has been on a tour where she will sit in front of an audience and be cushily interviewed and receive questions (not, as I kept accidentally calling it, “in concert”) and Mum and Dad (it was Dad’s idea) displayed the most absolute incredible parenting skills in getting me a ticket to her Wellington date for Christmas.

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Ever since I was a child I’ve always been comfortably and righteously convinced that whatever I’m obsessed with, there is none more so than I in possession of said obsession, and I am afraid to say that I was in this same frame of mind when I sat in the audience, selfishly feeling that my very presence there was so tightly packed with intensity that there should be a secondary audience watching me being in the audience in a Marina Ambracoviç-esque performance art piece. I’m not afraid to admit that I genuinely started crying when Nigella Lawson walked out on stage, before she’d even said a word. And once she did, she was – of course – wonderful. So generous, so clever, so good at making the least of the questions appear to inspire these witty and expansive answers, so warm and lovely and confident and just everything a person could hope for in someone so long idolised.

A couple of days ago I took a plate of food to a potluck dinner at a friend’s house and we spent much of the night staring off their thirteenth-floor balcony, beholding the Super Blood Wolf Moon scooting across the night sky. Now, I love the moon (I have no less than three tattoos of the moon on me and at one point was like “I hope the moon is impressed by this” and didn’t even stop to qualify that I was being humorous or whatever because honestly I think was being sincere) and without wanting to sound like a dick it genuinely felt quite momentous to be in its presence on this night, the moon so swollen and golden and we so relatively insignificant.

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I had this same feeling in the presence of Nigella Lawson, like I was somehow gaining power and energy from her, and while it was probably a combination of hype and restless energy and also lack of sleep – does it make sense to you though? Do you ever see someone and suddenly think “I could achieve anything I want, I need never stand for anything less than what I deserve, and what I deserve is good things, and I could kick a hole in the sky?” If not, have you ever tried standing in front of Nigella Lawson? Is it a coincidence that I saw her in the same week that I saw the Super Blood Wolf Moon? Do coincidences even exist? Will I ever sleep? (I should’ve probably mentioned this sooner but, I wrote this in middle of the night so please bear with me, or continue to at this point.)

Just in case I threaten to float away like a vainglorious novelty balloon, I share with you the following photo which cracks me up but at the time was just seconds away from ruining everything: so, when you line up to get your book signed by Nigella Lawson (as you can see below, that I did), there was a guy standing there to take your phone so he could photograph the moment. But the guy in charge of this important yet straightforward job, somehow thought that the person standing in front of me was my friend, and started to take a photo on their phone. And I was like no, wait, here is my phone, but also don’t you dare distract me from my brief moment with Nigella Lawson don’t you understand my entire life has been mere prelude to this point you actual imbecile – but I didn’t say any of this verbally, not wanting to cause a scene, instead, as you can see below, it was just kind of written on my face instead.

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A beautiful moment.

Luckily I managed to put my own phone in his hands and captured a more sanguine shot of Nigella Lawson and I talking, and for all this talk of being charged with power I was honestly so overwhelmed by being face to face with her that all I managed to do was murmur “you’ll never know how much you mean to me” which to her credit, probably from years and years and years of this sort of carry-on, she received cheerfully, before being hustled away from her glowing, tide-pulling presence.

I brought this week’s recipe with me to the aforementioned potluck dinner; the green beans are but a delicious conduit and the sauce is the real point of the exercise here: you could use said sauce on noodles (udon, I reckon), you could pour it over roast vegetables, you could employ it as a dip, you could mix it with rice, you could use it in a potato salad – but before we get too carried away with its potential, what actually is it? Well, it’s a sauce, that’s green, hence the name Green Sauce. I initially considered it to be both a coriander and peanut pesto and a green satay sauce but also surmised quickly that that would be simultaneously wildly insulting to both Italian and Malaysian cuisine. So: Green Sauce. It does hinge entirely upon your feelings towards coriander, admittedly – I love the stuff, its fragrance somehow earthy yet citrussy at the same time with so much grassy flavour from the stalks. Blitzed into a puree with nutty (of course) peanuts; plenty of rich olive oil, and the caramelly saltiness of miso, this makes for a compellingly punchy and near-instant sauce.

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Green Beans in Green Sauce

a recipe by myself

Green Sauce

  • leaves and stalks from one of those supermarket coriander plants, or from a large bunch of coriander
  • half a cup, ish, baby spinach leaves
  • 1 cup unsalted peanuts
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (though be prepared to add more)
  • 1 heaped teaspoon white miso paste
  • 1 heaped teaspoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice (or lemon if you don’t have lime)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon maple syrup or similar
  • 1 tablespoon cold water
  • Plenty of salt and pepper to taste

To serve

  • 2 cups frozen shelled edamame beans
  • 1 cup long green beans, topped and tailed and halved

Place all the sauce ingredients in a blender and blitz till it forms a thick green paste. Add a little extra olive oil or water (or both) and blend again if it needs to be more liquid. Taste and see if it needs more salt or lime juice.

Steam the edamame and green beans (I put them in a colander balanced on some chopsticks over a pan of boiling water but in fact feel free to simply simmer them in the water itself) – and don’t worry about defrosting the edamame. Once the beans are lightly tender, remove from the heat and run briefly under cold water, allowing them to drain thoroughly.

Tip the beans into a serving bowl, stir through the sauce, and that’s it really. Garnish with a few extra peanuts or reserved coriander leaves if you wish.

As discussed it has plenty of applications but the way I used it – with a double-billing of edamame and long green beans – is delicious, not only do you get the pleasing dovetailing of colour, but the bright, buttery soft crunch of the beans against the fulsomeness of the sauce is wonderful.

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So long in the making, so important.

title from: Velouria by Pixies, not my favourite of theirs but! What a lovely song.

music lately:

I Wanna Sleep In Your Arms by Modern Lovers. Title says it all, really.

The Angel of Death by Hank Williams, its calming waltz time signature belied by the lyrics’ gentle yet sinister persistence.

The Look, by Roxette, a song that is deeply silly and that I also find intoxicating. I remember first hearing it when I was really young and something in the minor key progression and harmonies in the chorus made me feel almost queasy but in a very good way? You know how music does that to you sometimes? (I can’t quite put my finger on why, other than maybe the minor key just genuinely messes with me, but like, for example, Shampain by Marina and the Diamonds has a similar buzz for me.)

Next time: two cocktails!

PS as I mentioned in my last post I have started a Patreon page where you can have the distinct honour of supporting this blog in as small or as large a capacity as you feel like and in return I will create even more content just for you and you’ll be genuinely helping me get by!

you know i gave that horse a carrot so he’d break your foot

So much for my posturing about how unemployment would mean I’d be able to blog all super-regularly, because guess what? I’m still sick. After all this time. And I’ve been too sick to cook. If I don’t cook, I can’t blog. And if I can’t blog, do I exist? I’m kidding, sort of. But yeah. Sick sucks. My cookbook writing didn’t start with the leader-of-the-pack style motorbike revving that I anticipated, but with a more of a sniffle and a wheeze. 

I’ve spent the past four days up home at my parents’ place – after a flight to Auckland where I was in such a hazy, groggy daze of weak hopelessness I was terrified that I was going to be pulled aside by security for suspicion of being on and/or carrying multitudes of drugs. I’m not sure ‘it’s just the cough syrup, honest’ or even ‘if I was, surely I’d be having fun than this’ is a defense they’d believe.

I had plans to test a ton of recipes for the cookbook while up home, of writing half the book, of doing a tour of royal proportions of my family in the area…but instead I just spent the whole time on the couch. It was kinda lovely though. Mum giving me old family cookware to use as props in the cookbook (and also to use in real life of course); Dad discussing asset sales with me; my younger brother making me never prouder by bringing up the Bechdel test out of nowhere while we were talking about movies. My nana surprising me by appearing in the car that picked me up from the airport, my godmother dropping in with a gift of lemons and chillis, my old babysitter who’s now a prison warden (no coincidence I’m sure) visiting after years and years away. And me on the couch, wrapped up in a feather duvet, in front of a constantly going fireplace. It was excellent.

I should also mention me discussing how much I loved the cats with the cats themselves. They were fairly impervious to my advancements.

I was, however, rewarded with indescribable happiness when I woke up to find Poppy curled up on my bed. The former Jessica Wakefield/Baby Raptor kitten has mellowed into the softest, cutest cat. Also may I draw attention to the world’s most splendid bedspread? Instagram actually softens its effect somewhat, you really need to see it in person (not that that’s an invite) to appreciate its shiny, synthetic, unforgivably fluoro resplendence. 
So I returned to Wellington yesterday afternoon, finally with a flicker of hunger to cook and eat again, which is good, because I have a million recipes to test. It was late afternoon and a snack was needed. Something simple. Something cheap. Something that would remind me that I actually like to cook and eat. Who do I turn to? Nigella of course, always. Nigella and her awesomely named Rainbow Room Carrot and Peanut Salad. 

Depending on your tastebuds and their sense of style, this salad might sound weird. Like something that you might have made in the hopes of impressing someone in the late 1970s. Like there’s too much going on, like there’s not nearly enough going on. But it works – the different levels of crunchiness, the nutty sweetness, the salty, oily, sourness – all elements coming together to form something that you won’t be able to eat fast enough, I promise. I normally never peel my carrots by the way, but the ones I found in the fridge were a bit elderly and bendy…you know…so I made an exception. Kindly note the sunny yellow knife, a congratulatory present from Mum for getting the cookbook. And the tea towel came from her too. I told you I had a good time at home.

The Rainbow Room Carrot and Peanut Salad
From Nigella Lawson’s book Forever Summer.

4 carrots, scrubbed
75g salted peanuts
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
2 tablespoons peanut oil
A few drops sesame oil

Grate or thinly slice the carrots. Mix with the peanuts. Mix in the vinegar and oil. There you have it. 

This also works well with salted roasted cashews, if you’re not peanut-inclined. But there’s something in the carrots’ own nutty sweetness that goes so brilliantly here.

Will I ever tire of framing photos this way? Maybe not till those flowers wilt beyond recognition. And I’ve had them since before Christmas, so I don’t fancy your chances…

I admit, there was one evening in the last two weeks involving Soju and karaoke and red wine. But a dear, dear friend was moving to Japan, so what can you do? I’m pretty sure that the length of this sickness is not due to that one night. Maybe it threw my recovery off-course slightly, but nothing more than that. All I can say is, I’d better be better by the next time I blog here. I don’t want to be sick forever!
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Title via: The White Stripes, that enigmatic duo with a permanent place in Tim’s and my hearts, and Well It’s True That We Love One Another, the final track on their album Elephant.
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Music lately: 

Frank Ocean, Channel Orange – stream the whole stunner mixtape here.

Vulindlela, by Brenda Fassie. I don’t know what she’s singing, but it’s so full of joy and beauty that it doesn’t matter. I mean, I want to know, but this is enough for now.

Nothing like thinking of those worse off than yourself when you’re sick – Fantine’s big number I Dreamed A Dream from Les Mis made me feel positively healthy every time I listened to it. And anything’s more healthy than Patti LuPone’s wig here.
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Next time: I. Will. Not. Be. Sick.

but if that salt has lost its flavour it ain’t got much in its favour

There are many things in life to be afraid of. But, being a person who tends rapidly towards non-endearingly sweaty anxiety I can say this with confidence: adding salt to your caramel slice – or your caramel anything – should not be on that list of things you fear.

You know what else isn’t so scary? Buying a DOMAIN NAME! I am now hungryandfrozen.com! It’s really, sincerely thrilling. I know people have been doing it since forever (Tim: “this is truly a special day” Me: “Yes. No one has ever done this before. Surely good things will only come of this”) but whatever. I’m inordinately pleased with myself for finally making it happen – someone might as well be – and surprisingly, that snappy little .com really does make me feel more part of it all. (Note: I really wanted to link through to a song called Part of it All from [title of show] there but inexplicably it’s not on YouTube. I might’ve been the only person who actually listened to it, but it makes me feel better that you know what my intentions were, anyway.)

As I was saying, don’t feel held back by the salt component of this caramel slice. The recipe is in the new issue of the excellent Cuisine magazine, and even though it’s one of those hand-it-to-you-on-a-plate kind of recipes where you can tell immediately by the title that it’s going to be really good, I was not prepared for just how amazingly amazing it’d taste.

As with browning butter in last week’s recipe, salt sharpens up every good thing about caramel. It becomes more roundedly toffeed, more intensely buttery, and less straightforwardly sugary. Lay that salt on. I can’t lie that it helps if it’s the kind of nice, flaky sea salt that costs twelve times more than the regular stuff.

This recipe is pretty uncomplicated, with just melting and stirring and then more melting and stirring involved. However, there’s a few elements that make it not your average supersweet chocolate-topped caramel slice. Not that I’m anti the regular stuff, I struggle, and always have, to choose anything else when I go to bakeries. First, there’s the salt. Then, fine cornmeal is added to the base, giving a little contrasting grit and crispness, and echoing the sweetness of the contents more than just plain flour would. Finally, the sweetened condensed milk feels more heat than usual, boiled away in the pan and then further blasted in the oven, reducing its liquid and making it as spreadable and roof-of-mouth coating as peanut butter. That’s a good thing, by the way. All told, it’s one heck of a recipe.

Salted Caramel Slice

Adapted from a recipe by Fiona Smith, from the September/October issue of Cuisine. For example, I didn’t have a tin small enough and so increased some ingredients.

  • 115g brown sugar
  • 100g fine cornmeal
  • 100g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 150g butter
  • 3 tablespoons golden syrup
  • A 395g can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt

Set your oven to 180 C/350 F and butter and line an average sized slice tin. Mix the brown sugar, cornmeal, flour and baking powder together in a bowl.

In a pan, melt 120g of the butter. Pour it into the dry ingredients, mix together well and press into the base of the tin, flattening out carefully with the back of a spoon. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes.

In the same pot/pan, melt the rest of the butter, tip in the condensed milk and the golden syrup, and cook over a low heat for six minutes or so, stirring plenty. The caramel should darken slightly and thicken up. Spread it carefully and evenly – it’ll only be a thin layer – over the base, sprinkle with the salt, and return to the oven for another 10-12 minutes.

Allow to cool, then slice how you like.

It is without hyperbole that I tell you that this is intensely dazzlingly delicious. Real special stuff. The sort of thing you should definitely make for your friends, or even people that you’re hoping to be friends with, because it’s so good and no-one could hate you after eating it, no matter how bad a first impression you made (unless they’re allergic to dairy or something, in which case this would be a really, really bad first impression). And for all that it has three different kinds of sugar in it, it’s not scarily sweet.

Speaking of things not scarily sweet, and for the sake of variety: a salad so healthy I served it in a plate shaped like a leaf. Because none of us will ever have the same ingredients as each other it would be unfair to tell you to stick exactly to this, but it was very good and served to clear out some packets of things that had been guiltily neglected for a while; quinoa, edamame, peas, torn up cavolo nero leaves, toasted almonds and pumpkin seeds, black sesame seeds, and a weird but good dressing involving peanut butter, cider vinegar, nigella seeds, ground cumin, lemon-infused olive oil and…something else that I forget. My rule for dinner salads is that there needs to be nuts or seeds involved, and an amazing dressing, and the rest will all fall into place – just use whatever’s in the fridge, freezer, and cupboard.

Saturday was awesome – rapturous sunshine, a Petone food mission with Kate, Jason, Kim and Brendan; putting salmon and pork ribs into Kate and Jason’s smoker; eating said food with heaps and heaps of cider. Later that evening Tim and I went to Kayu Manis – having had such a good time there the week before with Chef Wan – and I laughed both with and at Tim while he struggled with the chilli content of his curry. Finally we went home and watched Parks and Recreation. It was so fun that Sunday couldn’t help but be slightly mopey in contrast (but really: you go grocery shopping late on a Sunday afternoon, hear that really weird “Give me the Beach Boys” song playing over the loudspeaker and just try not to cry dismally.)

Title via: Light of the Earth from Godspell, a musical that I love unashamedly (although loving musicals in the first place could be cause of shame for some, but not I!) This isn’t even the best song from it. But it does use the word salt.

Music lately: I really recommend listening to Judy Garland’s You Made Me Love You followed by Sherie Rene Scott’s hilarious version from her musical Everyday Rapture. Which does not appear to be on Youtube. But if all you can manage to locate is just Judy’s original or anything by Judy and/or something that Sherie Rene Scott has sung, things are still looking up for you. All Your Love, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers – Tim bought this record on Saturday and I was all “Eric Clapton? Boring!” but actually that was a bit of an unfair call.

Next time: While I was at Kate and Jason’s I took stock of their other Lee Brothers book, and from it will be making Banana Pudding Ice Cream. I can’t wait, haven’t done any ice cream in aaaages. Also, If you’re in Wellington, look out for people selling cupcakes for the SPCA on Monday 29, and if you like, be kindly towards them and buy said cupcakes. It’s possibly too late to make some yourself now, although having spent many a midnight frantically baking I wouldn’t rule it out entirely.

the suburbs they are sleeping but she’s dressing up tonight

This wasn’t my intention. What I meant to present you with was a layered white chocolate and blackberry cake covered in 100s and 1000s sprinkles. But I left the caking too late in the day, forgetting how much heat their dense crumbs can hold onto, and the cake is still cooling on the bench now. While this Sunday started off sunny, it swiftly descended into greying darkness around 2.00pm, leaving my chances of photographing said cake with pleasing results significantly diminished.



But its stand-in of Fennel with Blue Cheese Buttermilk Dressing can still rightfully incite a little vaingloriousness within me. (Vainglorious! It’s a good word. I think I managed to force it in there validly.)
Nigella Lawson calls this dressing a “fabulously retro US-steakhouse-style starter” when it’s served over sliced iceberg lettuce. I wouldn’t know personally, but I can’t deny it’s a mood I’m happy to try evoke through food. Or anything. Speaking of US-steakhouse-style, last night I went to a cowgirl-themed birthday party which was not only the last word in how to feed a crowd (honestly: cornbread, ribs, fried onions, biscuits and gravy, three different pies for pudding) but also continued so late into the evening that it was suddenly early in the morning. I wouldn’t say I’m hungover as such…now…but I’m definitely trying to pummel weakly against the surprisingly firm and resilient punching bag of exhaustion. Just keep that in mind as you read.
(In case you’re wondering, that stack of books in the background includes a Mahalia Jackson biography, one of the Jason Bourne books, Margaret Atwood’s ‘Dancing Girls’ and ‘Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls’ – an original, not a reprint. Important.)
I didn’t have any iceberg lettuce, and couldn’t find any at the market or in the supermarket that looked satisfactorily perky and crisp. But I figured that fennel is not only in season, it also could provide that necessary water-cooled crunch. Further to that, its clean, aniseed flavour wouldn’t be intimidated by the rich, aggressively blue cheese. The thyme leaves have a dual purpose – firstly, the herbal flavour complements everything else going on and goes well with cheese. Secondly, a pale vegetable, covered in a pale lumpy milky liquid, does need some help in the looks department and the pretty purply-green leaves are pleasing to the eye.
Blue Cheese Buttermilk Dressing

I was simultaneously inspired by Nigella’s recipe from Kitchen and a recipe from an issue of Fine Cooking magazine. Nige’s didn’t need a food processor (considering what happened to it last week, we need some time apart) so she won. I simplified her recipe very slightly.

150g blue cheese, crumbled
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar
100ml buttermilk (or, if you don’t have any, plain unsweetened yoghurt possibly thinned with a little milk)

In a bowl, mash the cheese with a fork or a small whisk. Mix in the Worcestershire sauce and vinegar and then slowly stir in the buttermilk. Taste to see if it needs a pinch of salt. The kind of blue cheese you use will affect consistency of the texture, but it’s all good.

To serve:

2 large bulbs of fennel
Fresh thyme leaves from 2-3 stalks

Trim the base from the fennel, then slice vertically as best you can into uniform chunks and slices. Arrange the slices on a plate, spoon over as much dressing as you like, then tumble over the thyme leaves.

Serves 3-4 as a side dish (depending on the size of your fennel, really)
Keeping in mind that this is a boldly flavoured dish – you might want to run it past those who you’re serving in case they don’t like blue cheese or fennel. On the other hand, you’re putting in time and effort to feed them, so you could contrarily slam the plate in front of them and say “deal with it, fusspants!” (Or however you’d like to finish that sentence.)
Your options for using this dressing are multitudinous. Of course, there’s the original iceberg lettuce concept, and Nigella also recommends it over tomatoes and leftover beef. But its mix of sharp, salty and creamy flavours lends itself to many guises. I think you could also drizzle it over roasted beetroot; as a potato salad dressing; in a bacon sandwich; stirred through cooked, cooled mushrooms; as a sauce/dip for potato wedges; mixed through a coleslaw made of shredded cabbage and grated green apple…See? It’s a highly functional substance.
Lucky me: on Friday I was able to attend a mightily swanky lunch at The White House on Oriental Parade (to wit: Tim gave it an unprecedented five stars to in our Sunday Star-Times review of it a few months ago) as part of the launch of Visa Wellington on a Plate. Among the esteemed guests was Lucy Corry, author of food blog The Kitchen Maid, who presented me with a thyme plant after us talking about thyme back and forth on Twitter. I was already dazedly on a high after the terrifically delicious crab raviolo and crisp-edged snapper with lemon curd (yes it worked, and how) but the unexpected kindness of the plant-gift had me filled with good vibes. And it’s that very thyme plant whose leaves you see in the above recipe.
Later that night, Tim and I saw The Trip at Embassy (as part of the NZ Film Festival). I’d seen some episodes of the TV show version on the plane on the way to the UK earlier this year, and it seems like the film takes the pilot and then adds on an extra hour of action. Hilarity is inevitable when Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are stuck in small spaces together, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how monumentally funny it would be. If you get the chance to see it by some means or another – it’s not one you have to see in a cinema – then do. Something about the poster for this movie reminded me of Tim and I going to review cafes (which character we’re most like probably depends on the day) although we aren’t quite at the stage of competitively imimating Michael Caine…yet. We’re not above imitating Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon imitating Michael Caine though. (“Michael Caine. Talks. Very. Slowly”) My only complaint about the film was that Coogan didn’t mention his powerful performance in the important movie Hamlet 2.
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Title via: Blur, Stereotypes, from their album 1996 album The Great Escape (significantly, the year my crush on Damon Albarn developed. Significantly for me, not so much for him. Yet.)
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Music lately:

Francois Hardy, Tous Les Garcons Et les Filles. I can’t work out where I heard this song before – was it used in an ad campaign years ago? Maybe it was in the music from my old jazz dance classes. I don’t know, but it’s definitely familiar. That aside, it’s also really pretty and sad, good Sunday evening music. Which might mean it’s the kind of music you really shouldn’t play on a Sunday evening, come to think of it.
I bought the original London recording of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music from Slow Boat Records yesterday, and while it’s excellent, nothing tops Glynis Johns’ Send In The Clowns in my mind. However, feel free to compare levels of diction crispness between Johns and Judi Dench in her take on this standard.
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Next time: That cake, I promise. It will be resplendent.

i’ve got strength and endurance, so i count my blessings

So. After Tuesday’s horrific earthquake in Christchurch, from which the sad news continues to eclipse any good, I couldn’t consider much of anything, let alone blogging. Which is fine.

Tim and I and my whole family are so lucky. Removed physically from the horror, although not emotionally. My cousin and his partner down in Christchurch were fine, despite being in the city centre at the time, and we were able to hear this news pretty quickly. Any other friends and family we had down there have been accounted for. But the number of fatalities climb with sorrowful speed. We had two people staying in our lounge last night, friends of our flatmate’s who were in Christchurch when it happened. Their stories were a further reminder to be thankful for what I’ve got.
Thankful or not (and it’s not proper gratitude, how can you be truly thankful that something awful happened to someone else and not you?) I’ve been changed by this earthquake. Wellington, where I live, is supposed to be earthquake central, not Christchurch. I used to be such a daydreamer, floating down the street in my own world. Now I dart from block to block, each shop front a potential missile that I pass like a small victory. I take my phone everywhere. I feel nervous when Tim and I go our separate ways for work in the morning. I lie awake, mentally assessing what might fall on me in the night, the useless-in-an-earthquake concrete walls staring back at me, every twitch of my muscles or distant slamming door feeling like the opening bars of an earthquake’s crescendo. One good thing about staying up so late to listen to the news and refresh Twitter is that my eyes shut that much faster when I do get to bed.
Worth pointing out here that this specific fear of earthquakes and feeling like every creak of a building is nature getting angry isn’t anything new. It’s been this way ever since a well-intentioned but excessively heavy school assignment on disasters when I was about 10. Just now it’s a lot more…near.
As with when I was 10, I try to comfort myself with the thought that my grandma Zelda, who died when she was about 75 (would’ve been so much longer if emphysema hadn’t set in) once told me that she’d never once been in an earthquake. She might’ve been lying to an overly nervous kid (that said, she did live in Tuakau, not known for its tremors.) But then and still now, I tell myself like a mantra that if Grandma could be that age and never be in an earthquake, then maybe I could be that person too. Then there’s practical things to help soothe the mind too: we refreshed our bottled water supply, located a torch, that kind of thing.
Of course there’s food. On Tuesday night I came home and made us a risotto with extra butter and frozen peas, remembering Nigella’s philosophy of the mindless stirring being good for the soul. It wasn’t half bad, just focussing on that wooden spoon spiralling through the slowly expanding grains of rice. We ate it out of bowls on the couch and listened to Radio New Zealand till well after midnight.
With some renewed sense of purpose, I baked some stuff for the bring-and-buy sale happening at Grow From Here up the road. In a sort-of humorous twist, the friends from Christchurch who I mentioned earlier were asleep on our lounge floor while I was trying to quietly, quietly ice a cake and wrap up cookies without waking them. At Grow From Here we met up with another local food blogger, Mika of Millie Mirepoix. I’d made Chocolate Guinness Cake, gluten-free peanut butter cookies, and a couple of fruit tea loaves. Mika had made lemon-iced gingerbread (as in the dense sticky cake, not the biscuit), lemon shortbread, and mini cinnamon-raisin-walnut pinwheels. Other people had bought clothes, shoes, a stack of (mostly amusement-causing, MOR-tastic) vinyl thanks to Real Groovy, homemade candles, jigsaws, even a TV. I’m glad Tim and I were there – it felt extremely self-helpful to do something positive for others. There were so many nice people that came and bought things, often giving extremely generous donations, and it was so cool to hang with Mika and with Kaye who is one of the people who runs Grow From Here. FYI if you’re near Wellington and longing for some plant-life, totally go see Kaye at Grow From Here, she’s lovely and full of good advice and their range of fruit and vegetable plants is amazing. Massive respect to them for getting this organised.
With our powers combined, about $200 was raised by the afternoon. All going to Christchurch. I went back and visited again this afternoon and at that point $700 had been raised. Kaye said that about five minutes after Tim, myself and Mika left, someone turned up asking if they could volunteer. For all the the universe gets it really twisted sometimes, it also provides. I’m going to be dropping some more baking off tomorrow morning and while I can’t hang around, please come to the top of Cuba Street if you can – just a donation of any kind and you can take what you like. And there’s plenty of deliciousness for the taking.
Before Tuesday, this blog post was going to be a salute to vegetables, but not only do I not have the energy to talk about them in detail, I have even less energy to write recipes out. But in the interest of not being entirely lazy and self-pitying…
if you roast a halved eggplant, a few good halved tomatoes, and a halved red onion and some garlic cloves with some salt and olive oil, then simmer them (as is) with stock or water, then peel the garlic cloves and puree everything (carefully…maybe fish out the vegetables and puree them then pour them back into the stock in the pan) with some chilli then you’ll have yourself a delicious, thick and darkly savoury soup. Vegan too. I got this recipe from the latest issue of Cuisine magazine.


And if you slice a cucumber into sticks, mix it with some sliced red onion (sit the onion in water for a while to make it less tongue-harsh) mint leaves, finely chopped roast peanuts and some crisply fried garlic, and then pour over a dressing of white vinegar, fish sauce, a little sugar and sliced red chilli (I just used a spoon of sambal oelek as that’s what I had) then you have Vatcharin Bhumichtr’s gorgeously contradictorial Yoam Droksok, a Cambodian salad which heats and cools on impact and is strangely addictive.

So the baking has helped some. We went to see friends in Ngaio for book group on Wedneday night and played with/coveted deeply their kitten and ate their mini lemon meringue pies and laughed so much, which also helped. Every time I pause from any activity though, my mind goes immediately to Christchurch. Which I guess is just fine. It’s not over for them just because a little time has passed. It’s probably never going to be ‘over’ in fact, just…different.
I’m sure you’ve seen this information in a million other places but in the interest of being part of the solution:
  • Red Cross seems to be one of the most reputable ways to donate. Anything helps, but if you haven’t got anything to give, then maybe pass the link on through your networks.
  • If you’re on Vodafone (in New Zealand) you can txt Quake to 333 or 555 which will send $3 or $5 respectively to the Red Cross. Telecom users txt 4419 – a simple way of doing the above option.
  • MusicHype has an enormous ‘mixtape’ where you can download roughly a metric ton of music for a donation which goes to Red Cross. Very cool idea, and it’s also awesome that they got it set up so quickly. Artists include Salmonella Dub, Mel Parsons, King Kapisi, 1995, DJ Sticky Fingas and literally quite a few more. Click here for more info.

Finally: as a blogger it has been so heart-swellingingly good to know that all the Christchurch people whose blogs I read and who I follow on Twitter are more or less okay.

Stay safe.
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Title via: Nas and Damian Marley’s Count Your Blessings from Distant Relatives. It feels like ages ago since anything, let alone when I saw them live earlier this month, but their lyrics feel as important now as they did then.
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Music lately:

Well…I’ve spent a good long time listening to what I consider Mariah Carey’s Early 90s Trifecta of Emphatic Reliability: Anytime You Need A Friend, I’ll Be There, and Hero. In times of high stress comes both comfort food and comfort listening. And all those songs with the simple theme of “I’ll be there”, just listen to these songs enough and you do get some sense that yeah, you can get through this. Temporary it may be, but it does help. It might help more if you have songs of some kind of equivalence to this. Maybe listening to Mariah Carey really, really wouldn’t help some of you right now.
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Next time: Each day as it comes so… Who knows. Promise I’ll write the recipes out proper though.

what if the octopus, the flounder and the cod think we’re rather odd

I’ve said it before here, that despite living in a country both surrounded and infiltrated by water, Tim and I just don’t eat a lot of fish. It’s not like it is that hard to come by, we just…don’t. (Yeah, cool story, bro.)

But – hold on to your hats – sometimes we just do.
Last Sunday night I made ceviche, a dish where raw fish is cured – and ultimately cooked without heat – through the mystical magic of citrus juice. Nigella Lawson has this recipe in Nigella Express where you chop the fish up small so that it only takes about ten minutes for the juice to ‘cook’ it – like a photograph developing before your eyes. Nigella suggests serving it on rounds of toasted bread or with tortilla chips but not having either, I piled the cooked-but-raw fish on top of lettuce, with crisp celery, juicy tomato slices, and soft chunks of avocado.
We loved it. But if fish that doesn’t look like fish-fingers makes you nervous, well, this might not change your mind. But don’t feel bad – I love fish fingers, I’m sure we had them at least once or twice a week for dinner when I was growing up. They have their place.
Chopped Ceviche


250g skinless and boneless black cod or monkfish fillet (or any fish that suits being eaten raw – I used red cod, it was the cheapest.)
1/2 a teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon Maldon sea salt or a small pinch table salt
80mls lime juice (I basically went with the juice of three limes, I don’t see this measurement as sacred)
3 spring onions, finely chopped
1 green chilli, deseeded and chopped (I used red)
Bunch of coriander, chopped

Chop the fish finely into tiny dice. Place it in a shallow wide dish (I used a silicon caketin) and sprinkle with the oregano and salt and pour over the lime juice. Leave for eight minutes, shaking the dish occasionally or moving the fish around gently with a spatula to make sure it’s all mixed in. The fish should go from pinkish and pearly to a definite opaque white. It must be fun to watch with something like salmon.

Drain the fish, and mix in the spring onions, chilli and coriander. Then you’re done!


So, you could serve these as Nigella suggests, on top of grilled bread or with tortilla chips. Or you could have it in a wrap, or make a superfresh salad like I did – for raw fish, it is surprisingly practical stuff.


As you can probably tell by the solitary sprig on top of the salad, our coriander plant is more ‘gasping’ than ‘flourishing’.
The fish is soft-textured and intensely flavoured by the lime. The zinging lime and creamy avocado cool down the hot chilli and the lettuce, I don’t know, makes it better for you and gives a bit of crunch. Is anyone out there passionate about lettuce? I could eat a bowlful of avocados but lettuce I’m neither here nor there on. It’s filler material, it tastes fine but there’s things I’d rather eat, like cheese on toast.
Anyway, this ceviche was so good that we made it again for dinner this week. It’s so fast and while the fish is busily morphing (or evolving, for you rogue Pokemon fans out there) you can busy yourself getting the accompaniments ready. It’s fresh and light, and while it would be perfect in the middle of summer, the heat of the chilli and the eye-opening flavours are just right in winter if you’re getting a little over stews and mash potato (hey, it happens.)
Hopefully this all makes sense, because I’m feeling a little weary. On Saturday we stayed up till 5am dancing, not something we do that often, but it was a fun night – it was our temporary flatmate’s birthday (our actual flatmate is on holiday in Canada) and as well as nestling into some haunts we already knew, we discovered some more, met some awesome people, and between Tim and myself, even found 80 cents on the ground (is that sad? If so: whatever.) We’re lucky in Wellington – if the agenda of the night is buying expensive yet tiny drinks, then at least there are plenty of exceptionally good-looking settings to do it in.
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Title via: Um, Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Actually, forget that “um.” This film is flawless. Angela Lansbury is one of the most bodacious babes on earth, and don’t think I’m trying to be ironic when I say that. She’s an awesome lady. You thought you liked the zero-gravity fight scene in Inception? Wait till you see Angela and David Tomlinson’s underwater dance in Beautiful Briny Sea. Now those are effects that are special.
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Music lately:
Tim and I have started re-watching The Wire from Season 1. Everyone talks about The Wire and how great it is and I have already plenty of times so I won’t add to that here. It has been described as “slow-moving” and “worth the effort” but in rewatching, it feels fast-paced, the roles and connections between each character are easier to remember, and hints of things that transpire later in the season are easier to pick up on. Which is probably not so comforting if you’re 25 minutes in thinking “wait, who’s the good guys here? Is this going to wrap up soon?” The theme tune is Tom Waits’ Way Down In The Hole, sung in the first season by The Blind Boys of Alabama. They know a thing or two about how to deliver a tune well – this is typically brilliant stuff from them. I like how the intro keeps you waiting a little longer than you’re used to.
Audra McDonald’s take on Gershwin’s Someone To Watch Over Me. (In a nice segue, McDonald totally resembles Wendy Grantham, who shines as Shardeen in Season 1 of The Wire) As well as being a fantastic actress, any song is lucky to be sung by her beautiful, beautiful soprano voice.
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Next time: I’ve been baking hardout this weekend so there’s plenty to choose from for next time. I realise there’s been some space between blog posts lately – will try to counteract that by following this one up a bit more snappily!