if I’m butter then he’s a hot knife

I normally put this bit at the end but thought I’d be creative and start with it this time: Patreon! Thank you to my patrons who have been supporting me from the ground up, you are amazing and important and powerfully astute. If you’d like to be included in such praise (and I could go on) then by all means sign up to my Patreon as well, and in doing so you will be able to receive all my content written for your eyes only.

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My relationship with butter is a well-trod path on this blog, from the ten-ish years I spent smothering my personality with it to suddenly pivoting without warning to veganism last year. In October I talked about buying non-dairy butter for the first time (I don’t know why I’m weird about the word margarine but there’s just something so defeatist about the way its spreadably soft consonants sag in the mouth) and to be honest with you, since then I’ve used it very, very little, because though it tasted fine, and was okay in recipes where its flavour could be heavily masked (like Champagne Passionfruit Buttercream or Nanaimo Bars) it did not become exciting or inspiring in and of itself like butter was to me.

And though I like to frame my choice to be vegan in terms of all that I have, and not about what I lack (I mean, I’ve never eaten so many cashews in my life, I couldn’t say that a year ago!) I do miss that capitulation-makingly perfect meeting of flavour and texture and possibility that is real butter. Everything else I’ve happily let go of, and no longer sense any petulant longing from my tastebuds for cheese or bacon or steak or whatever, but butter…butter I sometimes still think of wistfully, y’know, in the form of a montage of the good times we had with Happy Together by The Turtles playing overtop. (Okay I also miss white chocolate and I know it’s not cool but it’s my favourite and I do get sulky over that sometimes. The only vegan stuff I’ve found is inexplicably like $9 and tastes like coconut, change my mind.)

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I had accepted that this was something I was going to just live with as a result of my own choices, which is totally fine, but then I found, or rather, re-found, a recipe for homemade vegan butter that had been sitting on my internet browser since last year. (Yeah, I have 72 tabs open on my browser at all times, which, let’s blame on my ADHD, like when I was a kid and found it impossible to clean my room and theorised that the system worked because everything was on the floor where I could see it, a theory which held no water because with everything on the ground it was of course impossible to find anything, a standard I unfortunately still live by but at least no longer try to justify. Naturally, with this many tabs shoulder-to-shoulder I often forget for weeks, months on end, what I’ve actually got open.) So I re-discovered this tab just last week and decided that the recipe, on a site called The Virtual Vegan, looked as promising as it did upon first click: it claimed to be spreadable, meltable, useful in cooking, and most important, it said it would taste actually buttery.

The key things holding this together are a combination of olive oil and refined coconut oil, by which I mean – and the recipe stresses the importance of this – it’s been treated to taste neutral rather than coconutty, plus ground almonds which somehow dissolve into the liquid but also help give it body and texture. I made a couple of tiny changes: I didn’t have any nutritional yeast and decided to just push ahead anyway, I used red wine vinegar instead of the stipulated cider vinegar because I feel like the former has a certain layered richness to it, and I added a tiny pinch of sugar for balance. It’s easy enough to make – just give the ingredients a good hard blend and then pour it into a jar and wait for it to solidify in the fridge. So I did.

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And…it tastes really, really good. It’s not butter, but it’s a whole lot closer than anything I’ve hitherto tasted. It has that kind of fluttering, mouth-filling sweet richness, that full-bodied tangy creaminess, it just has something that I’ve been missing. Genuine deliciousness! I made toast for the first time all year and spread the butter across and topped it with some Marmite and I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed that simple, unimpeachable pairing.

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Homemade Vegan Butter

Adapted slightly from this recipe at A Virtual Vegan.

  • 1/2 cup ground almonds
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons almond milk or similar (not soymilk or coconut milk, the former is prone to curdling, the latter tastes like coconut)
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup refined coconut oil, melted
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt or 1/2 teaspoon regular salt, to taste
  • 1 small pinch caster sugar
  • a pinch of turmeric for colour
  • optional: two teaspoons nutritional yeast (this will add to the buttery flavour, but I didn’t have any both times I made it and it’s still extremely delicious so don’t you stress if you can’t find it!)

Place everything except the oils into a blender – ideally a high-speed one – and blend the hell out of it till it looks smooth and creamy. Add the coconut and olive oils and blitz till it’s very thoroughly combined. Pour into a large clean jar and refrigerate for a few hours till it’s solid.

I recommend going and reading the recipe at A Virtual Vegan first, as it has heaps of information and recommendations.

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I feel like I want to say sorry to the non-vegans for going on about being vegan and sorry to the vegans for complaining about wanting butter, (I also feel that so much of how I talk about myself is done with an apologetic inflection: I’m trying to be a writer (sorry!) I’m vegan (sorry!) What’s this I’m listening to? Uh, it’s a Broadway musical (sorry!) I’m an Aries (sorry! Both for talking about astrology and for being an Aries.) And let me stop you right there, I hear what you’re thinking: these apologies are both necessary and justified.) If you personally are okay with eating butter then honestly you should probably just keep doing that for as long as you can stand it, but if you don’t eat butter for whatever reason, well, I was highly impressed by this recipe and have gone through two jars of it already. It’s so straightforward to make, the ingredients are all recognisable, it makes a great white sauce, there’s something pleasingly Enid Blyton-ish about butter in a jar, and most importantly, it’s genuinely, properly delicious in its own right. The chorus of Happy Together is getting fainter (and I can now close one of those 72 open tabs.)

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Ghost can’t believe it’s not butter.

(One more thing about being vegan that is possibly not as universal as I initially thought: I am a dewy-eyed sucker for vitamins and supplements but it seems now ever more so and while dissociating at the supermarket I bought this stuff called pea protein which is made from fermented lentils and Kate was like “what’s that for” and I was like “I’ve got to get my fermented lentils somehow Kate!!!”)

title from: Hot Knife by Fiona Apple. This song is extraordinarily good, soft and sharp at the same time with ominous rumbling drums and assertive piano and sparse production and chattering, layered, syncopated harmonies, I love it so much.

music lately:

I recently watched Passing Strange, a film by Spike Lee of the final performance of the eponymous Broadway show in 2008. It comes across more like a rock concept album than a traditional musical, written and narrated by musician Stew about a young black man’s journey of self-discovery in the late 1970s. The plot is so tightly woven into the music that it’s hard to pick out songs that stand alone but the Act 1 climax Keys/It’s Alright is amazing – it has this big, classic sound and I love when it gives way from the conversational, circular preamble to the massive, long-tail Hey Jude-type finish, I’ve listened to it so many times. The penultimate song, Passing Phase, showcases lead actor Daniel Breaker’s incredible voice as it harmonises with Stew’s and the music just sounds so big and warm and fulsome. If you enjoy stuff like Pink Floyd’s The Wall or 2112 by Rush then you can absolutely handle this.

Quality Seconds, by Orbital. If you’ve ever been like “what does it sound like inside Laura’s brain?” this song pretty much covers it.

Orinocco Flow by Enya. Hear me out, this song is like being serenaded by a friendly cloud, it’s what raindrops put on their sexy playlists, it’s a whale leaping triumphantly into the air in music form, and I was smacked about the head yesterday with the need to dance passionately around the lounge to it like I was in the final scene of a masterfully bittersweet TV series about an unlikeable yet disconcertingly compelling female lead, and let me tell you, Ghost was not impressed, but then I cupped his face and looked into his eyes and sang “sail away sail away sail away” and I think he understood.

Next time: Oh yeah I tried making ice cream again and it was still terrible, and I’m starting to get a bit stressed out by this honestly! Does anyone out there have a really really good recipe for vegan vanilla ice cream?

little mean things we were doing, must have been part of the game, lending a spice to the wooing

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I started this week making some ice cream out of canned chickpeas based on a photo I’d seen on Instagram, and the whole process was kind of disastrous in that way where you start to wonder if your food is trying to tell you something, like, at first I tried pulverising the chickpeas in the food processor but they were still too chunky and granular so then I was like okay no worries I’ll spatula it into another bowl and use the stick blender, you know, the kind of thing you use to liquidise soups, and all that did was fling chickpea puree everywhere, and then I was like wait! There’s a smoothie blender in the house somewhere, one of those ones that will turn any quantity of vegetables into a silky-smooth and more or less potable liquid; at which point I accidentally misread the thrust of the fulcrum on the stick blender resting on the edge of the bowl by which I mean I flung chickpea puree across the kitchen floor, undeterred I spatula’d what was left into the smoothie maker, which finally did produce the absolutely smooth mixture I’d been seeking, uninterrupted by bits, then I made some cookie dough to stir in and added what I thought the rest of the ingredients should be (some oat milk, some golden syrup, some oil) and then put it in the freezer and realised I’d dirtied every single appliance in the kitchen, including the floor, including myself, and I did the responsible thing and burnt the house to the ground, no, I joke, I just cleaned it all up, and then when I went to taste the now-solidified ice cream six hours later I was like My God…it tastes like cold sugary hummus.

Luckily I had another recipe to blog about.

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But like, back to the ice cream for a second, the curious thing is that I couldn’t stop thinking about it and even though I was pretty convinced it was not the one, I nevertheless ended up eating the entire thing (in two sittings, don’t be aghast) in the hopes of working out if it actually tasted good or not, and honestly I’m still not sure? Like it really tasted like cold chickpeas? But then somehow it tasted almost amazing? And I simply could not stop eating it? If anything I admire the ice cream for not handing itself to me on a plate, for making me chase it, but obviously “deliciousness is a subtext that you have to really work to find” is not what most people are looking for in a recipe so I have returned to the drawing board, I just love ice cream SO much and while I’m perfectly content being vegan, I really do miss the absolute ease with which I could make or access ice cream previously.

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Anyway, this week’s recipe for Chinese Five-Spice panko fried eggplant really does hand it to you on a plate, the subtext is text, it’s straightforwardly delicious and deliciously straightforward. I saw a recipe on Food 52 for something they called Breaded Eggplant Cutlets and decided to make my own version. The main thing that I took from the recipe was the process of leaving the salted eggplant slices to sit for an hour, which is not the sort of time-consuming behaviour I’d normally indulge but it really does have a significant effect, meaning that when you come around to frying the eggplant, the flesh within gets quickly melting and tender while the panko crumb gets golden and crisp. Without the salting, there’s a good chance that the eggplant wouldn’t cook through and you’d end up with cotton-wool polystyrene.

The recipe on Food 52 suggests any number of ways that you can use these slices of eggplant but I chose to have them stuffed into a mustard-smeared supermarket roll with lots of rocket leaves: the sinus-clawing mustard and peppery greens counteract the fabulous oily richness of the eggplant and it’s a perfect lunch, where you’ve put in enough effort for it to feel like you actually care about yourself but it’s not so much effort that you end up crying from exhaustion once it’s done. Chinese Five-Spice powder is one of my favourite ingredients, it’s – usually – comprised of cinnamon, cloves, star anise, fennel, and Szechuan peppercorns, and has this warm, aromatic intensity to it that goes so well with the mildness of the eggplant. The aquafaba, which is literally just brine from a can of chickpeas, works perfectly as glue for the flour and panko crumbs but obviously if you’re not vegan or whatever you could just use a couple of beaten eggs. Panko crumbs are these really light, crunchy Japanese breadcrumbs, they really add to the crisp texture of the finished product and are pretty easy to find in most supermarkets, but if you can only find regular breadcrumbs it’ll undoubtedly still taste good because, well, everything fried tastes good.

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Chinese Five-Spice Panko Fried Eggplant

Inspired by this recipe from Food52.com

  • 1 eggplant, sliced into circles about 1cm thick
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt or other non-iodised salt
  • brine (aquafaba) from one drained can of chickpeas
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 3/4 cup plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese Five-Spice powder
  • 1/3 cup rice brain oil or similar, for frying
  • soft bread rolls, mustard, rocket or similar green leaves, to serve

Firstly, get two pieces of paper towel, and sit the eggplant slices on one of them on a plate. Sprinkle over the salt, lay over the second piece of paper towel, and then place a second plate on top to weigh it down. Leave the eggplant sitting for an hour, then remove the top plate and get rid of the paper towels.

Place the aquafaba in a bowl. Either in two separate bowls, or, as I did, in two piles on the plate that had previously been resting on top of the eggplants, mix the flour and Chinese Five-Spice powder together, and then mix the panko breadcrumbs and nutritional yeast together.

Dunk each piece of eggplant first into the flour, then the aquafaba, then the breadcrumbs, then repeat this process so each piece of eggplant has been twice-dunked in everything. It will be kind of messy and your fingers will get covered in gunk and I’m telling you now: don’t eat it, you’ll be tempted, but just don’t, it’s…not good.

Heat the oil in a good-sized saucepan and fry the coated eggplant slices for a couple of minutes on each side, carefully turning once they’re a deep golden brown colour. Remove to a plate lined with another piece of paper towel, then eat however you like: I chose to spread mustard on some soft white supermarket bread rolls and then stuffed them with the eggplant slices and a handful of rocket leaves.

The amount that this serves depends on how you serve it and how hungry you are, I had two bread rolls with four pieces of eggplant in it for lunch and was pretty content so I guess what I’m saying is definitely scale up if you’re cooking for other people.

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As for the chickpeas that are left from when you drain the can for its brine…just make hummus.

title from: I Surrender, Dear by Bing Crosby. This was one of his very first hits in 1931 and it’s just, you know, some really good rainy day crooner music.

music lately:

The Infinity Room, an album by 36. This is immensely dreamy and swoony, much like the person who recommended it to me. Like, it makes me want to lie down and also get up and dance at the same time.

Old Town Road, by Lil Nas X with Billy Ray Cyrus. Look, this song is everywhere right now and it’s so catchy but in this way where I want to hear all the catchy segments of it at the same time all on top of each other, kind of like when I tried curly fries for the first time and I was suddenly panicky like, I need to cram all the curly fries into my mouth at once in order to truly understand their deliciousness, if I eat them only one at a time it’s too fleeting. It’s hard to imagine now, but curly fries were quite the game-changer. Anyway this song is good as hell and I hope it tops the country charts for a very long time. Yee, and I cannot stress this enough: haw.

Shallow Tears, Light Asylum. It sounds atmospheric yet thrilling, it sounds old yet new, I love those big drums and the singer’s big Depeche Mode-y voice.

Next time: I am actually not done with my canned bean ice cream scheme yet, this heedlessness possibly spurred on by watching a lot of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (“face your fears! run with scissors!”)

PS: a special and heartfelt thank you to my Patreon patrons! I LOVE YOU! If you are not a patron, but you enjoy my writing and want me to be able to do it more, then indeed please consider signing up. A couple of dollars per month from you directly influences my ability to write more and gets you exclusive content in return, like book and film reviews or what star sign I believe each character from Gavin and Stacey is or a recipe for the best vegan scones.

you need to understand there’s nothing fake about this

I’m highly impulsive, all things considered. If asked to come rob a bank, I’d probably shrug and say “well i haven’t got much on this afternoon, so yeah, why not.” Commitment however, is harder. I start ideas and forget them or leave them dangling, half-formed. Creative side-projects, rituals, routines, I can’t even begin to count how many I’ve gotten excited about and then just as quickly dropped. (This blog is one of the few things in my life I’ve managed to maintain, it’s turning ten years old in October.) I don’t know what I want, all I know is that I want it all, and sometimes I worry so much about not knowing what I want that it turns into a weird argument in my head over nothing. On that note, I’ve been thinking heaps lately about whether I want to become vegetarian or even vegan. I feel better when I’m eating lots of vegetables and cook mostly vegetarian anyway. My lifelong hyper-tolerance to dairy seems to be waning somewhat. The environment is like, a dystopian nightmare and we should do what we can to help it. But I can’t quite make the leap to committing. 

So I’ve decided to leave that question for now and just carry on as per usual, because I’m working on this thing at the moment called “not creating non-existent problems to get anxious over because you’re going to be anxious over IRL stuff anyway so seriously, get out of your own way”. 

To that end, here’s a vegan recipe for you, presented without any further overthinking. Jackfruit is being widely celebrated on the internet as a miraculous meat substitute; its cooked texture is incredibly juicy and fibrous like actual animal flesh, and it absorbs flavour beautifully. However, I’m not out here looking for meat substitutes. I’m just looking for good food, which this extremely is. Without being all, “this is vegan food that even meat-eaters can enjoy!”, this recipe for pulled jackfruit is like…unreal levels of delicious. No matter what your primary food source is. 

This unassuming fruit, which has been cooked prolifically in South and Southeast Asia for centuries but is just starting to hit the nation of White Moms on Pinterest (which is, I freely admit, where I come in) offers an incredible textural experience that’s hard to achieve in vegetables – a real chewy, fibrous (that word again, it’s kind of gross sounding but you know what I mean), cellular density, with heft, and richness, and, well, meatiness. On top of which, cans of it are way inexpensive and it has a wealth of vitamins and minerals and other stuff necessary to keep your body from crumbling into a pile of dust. I saw one of those Buzzfeed cooking videos that everyone shares on Facebook showing how to cook this fruit into “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” levels of submission, and it looked easy enough, so I thought I’d give it a go. 

The prevailing wisdom is to smother your cooked jackfruit in barbecue sauce before roasting it, however I have a weird quirk whereby I enjoy all the components of barbecue sauce, but actual commercial stuff makes me feel queasy (it’s something to do with bad associations from a drunkenly consumed Hell Pizza, I believe). Hardcore American barbecue sauce is all good – you know, the kind that has a picture of a horse holding a gun on the bottle and is called something like “Sweet Sammy Applebuttock’s Family Favourite”. That’s kind of hard to come by here in New Zealand though. With that in mind, I mix together a collection of things to make a flavour approaching barbecue sauce, but if you’re less delicate than me you could just tip in half a bottle of supermarket stuff and be done with it. 

And again, again, I can’t emphasise how amazingly delicious this is. Once you remove it from under the grill, half of it is all juicy and sauce-smothered and then the parts that have been scorched and caramelised are crunchy and crispy and oily and it’s all just kind of heavenly. I bought some plain steamed buns from the same supermarket I got the jackfruit from (Yan’s, if you’re in Wellington like me) microwaved and halved and stuffed the pulled jackfruit into them and it was a transcendent experience. I’m pretty obsessed, I can tell you. 

pulled jackfruit

a recipe by myself, the cooking technique is by no means my discovery though

  • two cans of green jackfruit in brine
  • olive oil
  • six cloves of garlic
  • one cup (250ml) vegetable stock (literally just water and stock powder) 
  • two tablespoons American or Dijon mustard
  • two tablespoons tomato sauce
  • three tablespoons maple syrup (or brown sugar, or honey if you don’t mind it)
  • one tablespoon soy sauce
  • one teaspoon ground cumin
  • a dash of ground cinnamon

Set your oven to 240C/450F. Put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a shallow roasting dish and pop it in the oven to heat up while you get on with the jackfruit itself. 

Drain the two cans of jackfruit and slice each wedge into thinner segments. Roughly chop the garlic cloves and cook them in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan over a low heat until they’ve softened a little. Tip in the jackfruit and stir briefly, then add the vegetable stock and raise the heat. Let the jackfruit simmer for about ten minutes, then remove it from the heat and using a wooden spoon or whatever implement you feel, mash the jackfruit roughly so that you have lots of fibrous bits and some still-solid bits. 

In a small bowl, mix together the mustard, tomato sauce, maple syrup, soy sauce and spices. Tip all of this into the pan of mashed up jackfruit and mix it together thoroughly. Remove the tray from the oven and (carefully, because it might spit) transfer the jackfruit from the pan onto the tray in an even layer. Pop it in the oven for about fifteen minutes, then change the oven setting to grill and leave the jackfruit for another ten minutes or until you have lots of caramelised browned crispy bits. You could move the tray up a level so it’s closer to the grill, but keep a close eye on it so it doesn’t burn. 

Eat however you like. 

It’s a while since I’ve been so damn jazzed by something, and I’m probably going to make myself sick of it before long, but I’m enjoying being obsessed at the moment and can’t stop thinking up different ways of using this magical fruit. 

My other obsession currently is almost equally as wholesome: I’ve got back into reading books. I’ve always been an alarmingly fast reader and would get out up to forty books at a time from the library as a child, but then, I had a lot more time on my hands. Between a full time job, the entire internet at my fingertips, and the attention span of a goldfish that’s accidentally taken some Class A drugs, I kind of fell off the whole books thing. So there’s a lot of concentration involved. But I feel like it’s doing me some good – using my brain for something that’s not a screen for once, escaping into another world and being far away from myself, absorbing other peoples’ ideas, that kind of thing. I’m averaging a book a day: The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes by Chris Tse, The Abbey Girls Again by Elsie J Oxenham, Iceland by Dominic Hoey, Les Enfants Terribles by Jean Cocteau, and Anastasia Ask Your Analyst by Lois Lowry. I’m pretty pleased with myself. 

Meanwhile, I have more cans of jackfruit at the ready in my pantry because this is all I feel like eating for the foreseeable future. At least I can commit to something.

title from: Our Lady Peace with their song Clumsy. Of this song, the band says “you can be destructive without being malicious by being clumsy” and I’m like, metaphorically tagging myself on Facebook under this sentence because it’s so relatable. 

music lately: 

In further relatable news, I’ve been enjoying Cheer Up Try Hard Tear Up Cry Hard by Wellington artist Alexa Casino. You can listen to more songs if you click on that link, which I highly recommend you do with your time.

The Look by Roxette, ugh this song is so perfect.  

next time: SAFE TO SAY probably more jackfruit? 

to fill a whole, to shake the sky in two

You know that Mozart banger, Symphony No. 40, First Movement, Allegro? If you sing “carb! on carb! on carb on carb on carb!” in your head along to the tune of it while making yourself a fried potato toastie, it’s kind of a fun thing to do.

It’s easy to say that 2016 has been a garbage year. I’ve said it myself. It has been an exceptionally hard year for me in ways I didn’t even think would be possible – at least the difficulties have been keeping it fresh and interesting, I guess? – and I’m just one small struggling drop in a bucket in which we’re all lil droplets having our own difficult times magnified in concave through our personal water droplet perspectives (I imagine being a droplet is like viewing everything through a fish eye lens, the kind they used in 90s hip hop videos.)

But consider this: has any year ever been good? Can you name one good year? It’s impossible. They all sucked. And if you think they didn’t, just look at the Wikipedia entry for any given 365 days in history and rest assured that there were atrocities abounding.

All we can really hold onto is moments. Small times. A perfect afternoon. Finishing a task and not failing. A really nice enveloping hug. Realising someone was thinking about you at the exact moment you were thinking about them. A nap where you had a beautiful dream. Catching yourself in the act of existing for one weightless minute of no anxiety. Laughter. The usual stuff.

Last weekend I was up the coast in Raumati South with my two best friends. A long time ago we organised a little getaway in the face of 2016 being so intense – little did we know how much more 2016 would happen between us booking the holiday and us actually getting there. And how much more was to come. On the first night, we were woken just after midnight – full of nachos and red wine and mere minutes into a deliciously early night’s sleep – by a fairly enormous earthquake. The kind that really does damage. And then aftershock upon aftershock upon aftershock. Now I’ve been truly terrified of earthquakes ever since doing a school project on disasters in 1997; yet somehow I was calm and almost managerial throughout the quake itself, comforting my friends and holding them tight and repeating logical things.

As soon as the shaking stopped I threw up three times and then slept a total of about six hours over the next three days that we remained out there. My cool leadership was nice while it lasted I guess. On the other hand being around your best friends in a little wooden bach up a hill is about as safe as you can be against any kind of trouble.

So now all of a sudden we’re in this post-quake time; what were we even doing before it? I’m immensely, immensely lucky that no damage was done at my apartment or workplace, but I’m constantly on edge and anxious and can’t stop myself. LUCKILY, she says self-deprecatingly, I’m always anxious and so this is at least nothing out of the ordinary for me. You’ve gotta keep on keeping on, I tell people, while refusing to leave my bed.

As such I have cooked myself 1 (one) thing in the last week, and it was this: a fried potato toastie. Comfort food, how obvious of me!  But who cares, this is something you can make for yourself which requires very little in the way of gathering ingredients, and there is something about carb on carb that brings some kind of calm to the soul; who am I to fight it.

It’s very simple. Small cubes of potato fried in olive oil till crisp – which doesn’t take that long. Sandwich them in two thick slices of bread spread with something, sit that in the pan till its golden, eat it in bed. There’s something about the salty crunch of potato against fluffy, soft white bread, sinking into the cool sour cream, that makes one feel like the world is a less scary place.

fried potato toastie

recipe by myself. It looks long but I just kind of over-explain everything, it’s really easy I promise. 

  • one large potato, the kind that is ideal for roasting (eg, not a new potato) 
  • olive oil
  • two thick slices of white bread
  • sour cream (or mayonnaise, I just had sour cream and liked the potato salad vibes it gave) or use some kind of vegan mayo or hummus or whatnot to make it vegan. 
  • mustard of some kind

Heat about three tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy pan. Dice the potato quite small, into rough cubes and chunks of one or two centimetres. Once the oil is hot, tip the potato into the pan, with the aim being to get all the potato in one single layer. Add a little more oil if you like. Leave the potato to fry for five to ten minutes and then once they’re golden on one side, turn each piece over to allow it to fry on the other side. This is possibly slightly tedious but it’s also calmingly methodical, and a regular spoon is the easiest way to turn over all the little pieces. Once the potato is all cooked through and crisply golden on both sides, remove them to a plate.

Fry one of the slices of bread on one side, then set it aside. Thickly spread the un-fried side with sour cream and mustard, and spread the same on one side of the other piece of bread. Put the unfried piece of bread in the pan, pile all the potato on top of it, top with the other piece of bread (sour cream side down…) and continue to fry for a little bit longer till the bottom slice appears toasted. Remove to a plate and eat in bed. 

After eating this I immediately fell into a thick, heavy nap, which I believe speaks to the toastie’s inherent power. I didn’t have any cheese to hand and have no doubt that it would improve everything, but the sandwich was perfect on its own – oily, salty, crispy, soft, all the good things.

So now what? I mean, you have to keep on keeping on, (she says, refusing to leave her bed) and making yourself a self-indulgent toastie is definitely one way of doing that. Just do what you can. And if you’re not up to feeding yourself, you know what you should do? Go out. Support your local hospitality scene, because they need you. What are you going to do with your money anyway, put it in a museum and look at it? No! Be with your friends, have a drink, come together, help businesses to keep going. In all honesty the best thing about Wellington is the places to eat and drink, and without them what have we got? In the last couple of days I’ve taken myself out to breakfast at Loretta, coffee at Customs, drinks at Library, shotgunned beers in the backyard with my friends in the sun like nothing was the matter at all; and I barely have any money or free time. I’m also, despite my nerves, doing my best to show everyone at my home-away-from-home Motel the best time possible, because anyone who comes through that door has made the effort to leave the house and connect with people and support us. (I mean I always try to show people a good time but damn it, this earthquake has made me sentimental as heck and suddenly the smallest things feel momentous.) I’m not saying I’m a hero by like, buying a coffee. I’d go with “icon,” personally.

Anyway – just keep looking for the nice moments, and creating as many as you can muster, they are there somewhere.

Also: If carb, on carb, on carb-on-carb-on-carb is your idea of comforting, may I also direct you to my recipes for Halloumi and Hash Brown Burgers; Fried Potato Burghal Wheat with Walnuts and Rocket; and Marmite and Chip Sandwiches.

title from: Blink 182’s sad as song All of This, featuring that sadness maven Robert Smith. 

music lately:

Amy Shark, Adore. I can’t stop listening to this song!

Dead Flowers, Might As Well Get Used To It. Might as well, huh. This song from this NZ band from 1998 is gloomily beautiful and sounds like a cross between that Radiohead song from the Romeo and Juliet soundtrack and that Gorillaz song Tomorrow Comes Today but is also very much its own, sadly charming thing.

Sharon Jones, Got A Thing On My Mind. In yet another thing that makes this year suck, she died the other day, at just 60. I was so lucky to see her live with the Dap Kings when they came to Wellington a few years ago, but it’s ugh, so horrible, she was so young and her music is the most alive thing ever.

next time: hopefully my nerves will subside a bit and allow me to move on from AGGRESSIVELY PRIMAL type cooking but if I’m stuck eating nothing but fried carbs for a while I’m chill with it. 

let’s propose a toast to the thing that hurts the most

I’d already idly bitten into it when I thought I’d better photograph it because who knows when I’d next be making actual food. If you’re wondering about the bite mark. 

In late June 2012, twitter user Horse_ebooks tweeted the following: “Everything happens so much”. Well. Currently everything is indeed happening so much – so so much! – and as such one’s thoughts turn to this tweet. By which I mean, there’s a lot going on right now in my life that needs to be processed and taken stock of and other administrative-like task words. During this time I’ve been far too busy to cook for myself, which is not something I’m particularly happy about, but such is life. I mean, I’m eating, I’m just not cooking. Till I get my act together, what else can I do but blog about what I’ve actually made myself lately? So…here’s some cinnamon and sugar on toast.

This is such a stupidly simple non-recipe that it seems almost embarrassing when written down, except I’m not embarrassed at all because it tastes so wondrous. Also I am she who ebulliently blogged about marmite and crisp sandwiches, so whatever.

cinnamon sugar toast

lots of the following: 
bread
white sugar
cinnamon
butter

Toast the bread. Mix a couple of tablespoons of sugar and a teaspoon or two of cinnamon together in a small bowl. Butter the toast wayyyy thoroughly. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the top. Also thoroughly. Eat in bed. 

food in bed: excellent life choice

To me, cinnamon is the flavour that most evokes the feeling of a warm hug. I used to eat cinnamon sugar on toast all the time as a child (and I turned out okay?) but I was recently reminded of its existence and suddenly it was the only foodstuff upon this earth that I wanted to consume. My nostalgic taste-memories did not exaggerate at me – this is such a wonderful thing to eat. The softly crunchy bread full of calming carbohydrates, the lashings of salty butter, the doughnut vibes and comforting scent of the cinnamon sugar. It’s simple, it’s perfect, it costs roughly nothing.

Well. If you were outraged at me blogging about sugar on toast, wait till you finish this sentence and get onto the next paragraph.

Because I’m about to talk about McDonalds. But, you cannot even make try to me feel bad or selling out-y about mentioning them on this blog, because frankly I don’t care, I find McDonalds food to be delightful and if you’re above eating it for no other reason than you’re above eating it then that’s super boring. I mean, truth be told, I prefer Burger King (the words “ride or die” are usually used by me in relation to it.) However, I was sent some vouchers by a lovely PR company so I could try the new Create Your Taste range at McDonalds and if there’s one thing I love, it’s being sent things by PR companies. It’s ludicrously good for the ego and it gets me stuff. Recently, not hungover but definitely physically cognisant of the previous nights’ events; I found myself in the McDonalds by the basin in Newtown. How Create Your Taste works is very simple – there are screens available and you just pick from what feels like thousands of different options to create the hamburger of your dreams.

It’s completely simple and it’s weirdly fun scrolling through the options and being like “that one!” “that one” and feeling maniacally powerful. Once you’ve submitted the final burger you want and decided whether you want to turn it into a combo with fries and a drink (the answer to that: obviously you do) they then make it for you on the spot and there you have it, your own customised burger. Which is all very well and good, but like, why should I go to this trouble? I could just get a cheeseburger and some chicken nuggets at 3am and stuff the former with the latter and be on my merry way.

delicious, juicy capitalism 

Except these burgers are SO amazingly good. I got way too overexcited at the options and combined a brioche bun and angus burger with fried mushrooms, swiss cheese, aioli, guacamole, lettuce, and grilled onion. It still tasted incredible. All the ingredients taste aggressively good quality and the sweetness of the brioche was charming. I got it to take away and ate it in bed while emotionally rewatching the final episode of The OC, and all was well.

And so that’s what I’ve made for myself recently. Sorry-not-sorry that it’s just toast and McDonalds. Because from all of this, we can conclude that whatever it is you have going on in life, carbohydrates eaten in bed are really helpful and excellent and good. And you probably are, too.
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title via: Faith No More’s Last Cup of Sorrow, a song worth wrenching myself away from listening to Epic on repeat for. 
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music lately: 

I’m really into choreography tutorial videos on youtube right now and there’s this one incredible routine to Beyonce’s incredible song 7/11 that is soooo great. So I’ve heard this song a ton lately, and yet: still sounds fresh. 

That Girl, by Maxi Priest and Shaggy – I made a spotify playlist of songs I was listening to around the year 1996 and maaaaan they hold up well. This one is smooth like a freshly shaven leg. 

Imogen Heap, Hide and Seek. It’s just…such a song.   
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next time: I promise I’ll literally cook. Promise! 

no more flipping burgers putting on my silly hat you know I don’t want that no more

Sunday morning saw a hitherto unprecedented event: I willingly went to watch the rugby world cup finals*. I have spent my whole life hating rugby as some kind of praxis and indeed pretty much all sports except rhythmic gymnastics (so many cool flips! My brief childhood obsession with Nadia Comaneci!) This stemmed from two things: being forced to do sport all the time throughout my school years, and also it’s boring to me and I suck at it and don’t want anything to do with it. As my school days grew further into the distance behind me I softened my righteous stance and basically settled upon the attitude of, well, sports is fine for other people and I’m happy for them to do it, I just don’t want to have it rubbed in my face. Anyway, all of this is to say that I ended up willingly watching the rugby with a billion people from work and it was SO FUN and we WON and I don’t really fancy being in front of sports again for a good long time but I’m glad I went. My smart girlfriend explained it to me in a way that made me finally care: that people feel about sports teams the way I feel about will-they-won’t-they couples on TV. Will they achieve the thing? Oh my god the delicious tension! Oh no here comes an interloper to ruin everything! Wait, last minute scramble, victory just out of reach! And then it’s either all, oh my gosh they finally kissed I’m so elated; or oh my gosh we lost the game and now we are the noble underdogs until the next episode. 
It was fun because I was surrounded by lots of people whom I love and bouncing off their energy; because there was lots of running and leaping and getting-of-tries during the game as opposed to those ones where they just constantly regroup and blow the whistle and stand around looking agitated; because it was fun to objectify all these burly men lifting each other towards the sun and leaping on top of each other; because it was 5am and I was slightly delirious; and because it was just so nice that we won. The opposing team was Australia, and I feel as a nation Australia is so breezily good at so many things whereas we really only have rugby in terms of things deemed important, so they can totally take this on the chin. So yes, I freely admit that I’ve gone from Rugby: Not Even Once, to Rugby: Once, Even. 
All of which is to bury the lede; because obviously the most important thing here is that I made myself an avocado-stuffed burger today. I found the recipe on some website for paleo or something and was like, this seems outlandish and unnecessary, and therefore I must make it. Having ordered and received a bountiful influx of avocados from theavotree.co.nz I found myself in the unusual situation of having more than I know what to do with – normally a ripe avocado is a precious jewel to be hyperventilated over before finally opening it up and realising that you’ve left it too long and it’s now overripe and you are destined for misery, only misery. 

I miraculously had more or less enough ingredients to cobble together a respectable burger (aside from the fact that I had to use a bagel instead of an actual bun, but I welcome any opportunity to remind myself of Sandy Cohen’s greatness.) It was all marvelously easy and fast to throw together, although in the spirit of rigorous honesty: I feel like putting the remaining avocado mix on top of the burger kind of defeated the purpose of hiding it inside the burger as well, I mean, it was delicious, but it was also just layers of meat and avocado everywhere. Also, I’d throw some more stuff in: I’m thinking a smattering of cinnamon and salt in the meat, and maybe a spoonful of pesto or something in the avocado mix – it can certainly handle a lot of flavours and textures being thrown at it. But as is, it was very wonderful, with juicy, craggily seared meat giving way to soft, creamy avocado. 

avocado stuffed burgers

a recipe adapted from this recipe

one charmingly ripe avocado
about one teaspoon of lemon juice
salt
a little hot sauce of some persuasion
any other condiments that you fancy
around 250g – 300g minced beef
liquid smoke (optional)
butter for frying
burger buns and other fillings – mayo, lettuce, cheese, etc

Scoop the avocado flesh into a bowl and mash it with a fork, adding the salt, lemon juice, and a dash of hot sauce. Add a little liquid smoke to the mince if you like, and then divide the mince into four equal balls. Using your hands, shape two of them into circles, a little flatter than you normally would for burgers, as you’re going to be clamping them together as one soon. Spoon some avocado mixture into the centre of one, and lay the second circle over the top. Gently pinch the edges together – it should all sort of wodge into itself easily enough. Repeat with the remaining mince.

Heat some butter – 20g or so – in a small pan. I like to put the burger in the pan as it’s warming up, just to let it gently cook through a bit, and then flip it over once it’s sizzling so it gets a seared, browned crust, and then finally flip it over again to further brown the first side. But like, just fry them till they look done, okay. 

Layer them up on your burger buns with lettuce, cheese, mayo, more avocado, and whatever other sauces and spreads and bits and pieces you fancy. 


I uh, also feel like I’ve said the word avocado so many times now that it has lost all meaning and substance. Especially because I can’t help but pronounce them like Kristin Wiig does in The Californians sketch from SNL (it’s like…”ava-kya-duhs”.) But it’s worth taking a minute to collect yourself and then make this recipe because it is, like all recipes I put forth to you, so so super good.

*I uh, also acknowledge that in 2003 I was infatuated with Doug Howlett (first of all, it was 2003, what else was there to do? Also, he was beautiful) however the All Blacks really didn’t do very well and didn’t end up making it to the finals, which I subsequently did not watch.
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title from: Reel Big Fish, Sell Out. Oh what, like you didn’t have a ska phase? 
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music lately: 

Kate Nash, We Get On. The whole Made of Bricks album is bonkers and spectacular and this song always makes me the very, very flailiest.

Justin Bieber, Sorry. Okay first of all this song is amazing, and if you refuse to listen to it simply because it’s by Bieber then you’re so boring. But also he released a dance video choreographed and directed by Parris Goebel from New Zealand and while the team of girls dancing all carefree and happy would be cool enough on its own, it adds a certain piquancy – maybe even patriotism – knowing that they’re all from here. And honestly the song is so good.

Drake, Hotline Bling. I mean, obviously the video is incredibly special. But I’ve heard this easily seven thousand times since it was released and still it calls to me. Oh, Drake!
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next time: I mean, I still have a zillion avocados. Ava-kya-duh. Oh no. 

you think it’s easy, when you don’t know better

*Kanye voice* what she order, fish filet?

So it has come to this: ya girl has been a combination of too busy, overcommitted, otherwise engaged, and pretty much any synonym for busy that you can think of, to even think of cooking. I haven’t blogged for over a week, which, considering my insistence on overachieving, means that I may as well just delete the whole blog and throw my laptop in a river because I have clearly failed and everything is pointless. However, instead of that mildly hyperbolic behaviour, I’ve decided to just accept the past week as a write-off, and write on the few things I did make myself this week, even though those things are: fish finger butties and marmite-and-chip sandwiches.

I’m not trying to pretend like I invented either of these concepts, or that you need a recipe for them, or that they’re high art as far as food goes, but – both were really, really delicious and made me happy, and even if they’re embarrassingly easy and simple, to be honest that’s good enough for me to blog about. Especially since I have zero other options, but still. Also stupid as it may seem for me to be telling you how to put prepackaged stuff in bread; I feel like if nothing else this blog post can serve as a reminder that these concepts exist. I mean, it had been forever since I’d had a marmite-and-chip sandwich and having revived that combination for myself I am now wanting them at least daily.

I think in some countries fish fingers are called fish sticks, either way they honestly sound terrible

The inspiration for the fish finger butties (ps, buttie is another word for sandwich, and you could just call it that but the word buttie just sounds more celebratory) came when my amazing girlfriend and I needed some sustenance after striding around the zoo in the bracing cold and beholding cute animals. It went like this: we were in the supermarket, she pointed at fish fingers and was all, “we could make sandwiches out of these maybe” and I squawked “you genius!” in total wonderment, because I have a very low bar for being impressed and in awe, to be honest. (I was then like “better get this pack of forty fish fingers just to be on the safe side.”)

Whether you prefer to use mayo or butter – and I actually prefer mayo here – the bread has to be the softest, whitest, and thickest you can find. The fewer minerals and vitamins and general health-giving content the better. Similarly, if you can find those fish fingers that are crumbed and have maybe 4% actual fish content in the ingredients, you’re on to a winner.

With the marmite-and-chip sandwiches, the chips in question are the crisps that come in a packet, not fries (I don’t know why we have such confusing language around potato products, it’s very troubling!) and obviously you can use whatever sodium-delivery-spread you like – Vegemite, Promite, English Marmite. I grew up on Marmite and adore it, whereas Vegemite to me tastes like salty dirt and misery. Many of you probably feel the reverse. Whatever, as long as the chips are crinkle cut and the plain salted flavour, you’re all good. I ate marmite sandwiches roughly a billion times when I was a kid, but a marmite and chip sandwich – and I have no idea who first came up with the idea – was such an exciting upgrade. And there’s nothing like casually eating the food that was thrilling to you as a kid, when you’re an adult who can do what they want when they want.

marmite and chips on white bread: you can clearly see how I got my book deal and I should definitely get another

So, the reason either of these sandwiches are worth your time is the magical, transcendently good textural contrast between soft, soft white bread and crunchy filling. It’s as simple as that. Bursts of crispness, salty savouriness, and comfortingly pillowy blandness.

fish finger butty

four fish fingers (three for the sandwich, one for snacking on) 
mayonaise 
two slices of the thickest, softest white bread you can find

Bake or fry the fish fingers till crisp and golden. My cunning trick is to put them in the sandwich press, but do whatever is most convenient for you.

Generously spread mayo on both pieces of bread, lay the fish fingers across one slice and top with the other slice, eat the remaining fish finger so you don’t fade away between now and eating your sandwich, and then eat your sandwich. 


marmite and chip sandwich

a packet of ready salted chips, ideally crinkle cut
plenty of soft butter
marmite
two slices of white bread, as soft and thick as you can find

Spread both pieces of bread thickly with butter and then thinly with marmite. Pile up potato chips evenly on top of one slice, then gently top with the other slice. Eat. 

 

                       *Peter in Jesus Christ Superstar voice* I think you’ve made your point now
It’s kind of hard to photograph these sandwiches in a way that makes them look majorly alluring, I feel like sticking one next to a vase of flowers was not my best work, I guess I’m also pointing this out so that you know that I know. Like I said, I haven’t cooked a thing this week and so this is what I’m working with. But honestly, I’m so convinced of the excellence of both these combinations that I’m not even bashful about having blogged about them now, because if you didn’t know about them, you’ve been missing out on a world of deliciousness. I’m not saying I’m a hero, I’m just saying…nope that actually is what I’m saying.

 

befriending everyone’s dogs and cats is time-consuming okay

So just what have I been doing with myself if not devoting myself to blogging? Working; partying; helping a friend choreograph a tap dance routine for a drag competition; going on cute outings with people from work; loitering with birthday pals; seeing a friend’s band perform; recovering from watching Pretty Little Liars; taking up lots of time being amazed at how time has gone so fast and it’s July already; dancing wildly; working; berating myself for having achieved nothing this month; that sort of thing. Ya girl is determined to get cooking again though, what with it being my favourite pastime and incredibly dear to my heart and all.

title from: The White Stripes, Hardest Button To Button. I love these guys so much, that is all.

music lately: 

Carly Rae Jepsen, Emotion. TUNE. Pop music that is really upbeat but sounds kinda sad is my kryptonite.

Chelsea Jade, Lowbrow. This honey just keeps making songs that are amazing. It’s amazing.

Nicki Minaj, Anaconda. Every time I listen to this or watch the video it just gets more and more spectacular and excellent, tbh.

next time: literal recipes, I promise