got some lemons, make some kickass lemonade

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In an entirely wholesome state of affairs, my mother and I made this lemonade together using lemons from both the garden and the neighbours’ garden, a recipe from an extremely ancient cookbook originally made to provide proceeds to returned servicemen from World War I, and bottles of it were given to family members and the neighbours who gave us the lemons. I’m surprised local bunny rabbits didn’t materialise to help us stir the mixture while bluebirds tied ribbons in our hair.

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The cookbook that this recipe came from is one of those stalwart and somewhat interchangeable publications that flourished in the early part of last century: they all boasted hundreds of recipes, delivered without ceremony, which makes them a real pleasure to read in this era of extreme hand-holding. Which is not to speak ill of hand-holding; I myself try to make my recipes as full of detail as possible to account for all confidence levels, and while the vagueness of the recipes in these old books is amusing in its way, one could assume that the built-in knowledge of its contemporary readers was because most of the women buying these books got locked into a lifetime of cooking from roughly twenty minutes after they got married until roughly twenty minutes before they died whether or not they had any interest in doing so.

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My great-grandmother’s food weights

On the upside you can open any page and have a hearty laugh at recipes that time has not been kind to: Brown Soup, Boiled Ox Heart, Mock Omelet (curiously, the recipe includes egg), Cowslip Wine, and a remedy for throat infection where you literally cover a piece of toast in tobacco, then tie it to your throat with a rag. Side note, I find it hilarious whenever anyone gets starry-eyed about the simple, chemical-free lifestyle of the past, all “just like grandma used to make,” when these cookbooks all but tell you to glaze your hams with lead paint and give your sickly nephew asbestos lozenges.

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This lemonade, however, is timelessly delicious and calmly simple. You just steep the juice and peel of several lemons in some boiling water with sugar and citric acid, and then chuck it into some bottles. It couldn’t be easier, not if there were small woodland deer peeling the lemons for you. You end up feeling almost deliriously positive while making it too, due to the the vigorously uplifting fragrance of lemon permeating the air. This recipe book was published not long after World War I, which is perhaps why they recommend an austere tablespoon of cordial per glass of water – I recommend a couple of tablespoons, but it’s obviously up to you. I prefer it in a glass of sparkling water but it’s very personable in regular water, and it has a clean, pure, sunshine-on-a-rainy-day lemon flavour to it that’s wonderfully appealing. I suspect it would be very good in a gin and tonic.

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Old Fashioned Lemonade

Adapted from a recipe in the Success Cookery Book, 1925

  • 3 cups sugar
  • 4-8 lemons (the book specifies four but eight is very comfortably accommodated)
  • 4 teaspoons citric acid
  • 3 and 3/4 cups boiling water

Get as much of the yellow rind off the lemons as possible, avoiding the white pith. I started off with a mini grater but a vegetable peeler is a lot quicker and as it’s getting strained out it doesn’t matter how big or small your rind is.

Place the rind, sugar, citric acid, boiling water, and as much juice as your can squeeze out of the lemons in a large non-metallic bowl. Give it a good stir to get the sugar to start dissolving, then cover – a tea towel is fine – and leave until it’s completely cool. At this point, strain through a sieve and funnel into clean bottles. To serve, use two tablespoons, or to taste, in a glass of water or sparkling water.

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The cookbook says that this keeps for months, I see no reason not to believe them. The book also calmly lists things that every family medicine cabinet should have in the manner of a comedian, perhaps Seth Morris, doing an escalation bit: “Court Plaster. Ginger essence. Gregory’s mixture. Gripe water for baby’s colic. Ipecauanha wine for croup. Linseed meal. Lunar caustic for dog bites. Mustard.” If you put a microphone and an audience in front of me and told me to humorously invent some old-timey remedies I honestly couldn’t come up with better than this genuine real list.

While it’s always a good time when I’m online, it’s been a particularly good time for me online lately. Allow me to list for you – in the manner of an old-timey cookbook telling you about what quasi-medieval healthcare methods you oughta know – my latest online achievements.

If you are also excited about my writing and want to support me so I’m able to create more and more and more, then I encourage you to sign up to my Patreon account, where for a mere singular dollar per month you can access content made directly and solely for you.

title from: Livin’ Large by L7, just pleasantly chunky late 90s not-too-deep guitar stuff.

music lately:

Girlfriend by Christine and the Queens featuring Dâm-Funk. Of all the music trying to sound like it’s from twenty-seven to thirty years ago, this is amazing – it has this airy smooth sophistication to it, especially that gorgeously chill chorus, and the keyboards genuinely could’ve come from a Janet Jackson track. Somehow the oddness of the translated-French lyrics add to its appeal.

Memory, by Laurie Beechman. It feels like the entire world was engaging in discourse after the Cats movie trailer dropped; the only Cats-related content I wish to engage with currently is this video of Beechman, who tragically died in 1998, singing the musical’s big hit on the Phil Donohue show, I cannot watch it without crying despite the song’s ubiquity, her voice had this incredible power and metallic fragility simultaneously and honestly if you care about me in the slightest you will watch this video.

Next time: asbestos for all!

and now all that remains is the remains of a perfect double act

Literally anyone whose had even the most passing and cursory of interactions with me will be unsurprised by the knowledge that I actively resist, with every particle of my being, planning anything in advance, and for some reason take it as almost a personal slight when I’m required to make any stabs at organisation, folding up dramatically like a pop-up tent in reverse. I don’t know why, I would like to blame it on any number of things that my brain does interestingly which I think I justifiably could, but it’s possibly also just that I’ve allowed myself to become this infuriating? I do suspect that five years of bartending and thus only knowing my roster like the day before I had to actually work has had its place in solidifying this way of being, but I really could try harder. With all this in mind, it was with some major group wrangling that I managed to put in place a date to host the book group that I’ve been a part of since it began in 2010, and then some further wrangling to get me to book flights to and from Wellington so I could actually be there for it. (My friend Charlotte was like, “umm…..have you….booked your flights yet…just a thought…” and I was like “UGH it’s ages away I must lie down now from the exhaustion of being quizzed so mercilessly” but then I looked at the time and it was less than a week away so I just did it and it turns out the effort of doing the task was actually not as bad as the effort of resisting the task? Wild?) So I made it back to Wellington on Saturday at 4pm, and book group happened on Sunday at 2pm, and despite knowing since back in May that it was happening, I did not think about what food to provide for everyone until…Sunday at 9am.

Fortunately, I’m very adept at one thing and one thing only: being very adept at many things. And one of those things is coming up with recipe ideas in a great hurry. I was somehow not terribly stressed by this, probably because food is one of the few things that is not stressful for me, and because though I could’ve planned something sooner, I knew that I would instinctively be able to deliver something at the last minute. As you can see from the photo above, a lot of the heavy lifting was done by store-bought crunchy things, but right on cue, two ideas for dips descended upon my brain at once. The first concept was for roasted butternut mashed into tahini, and the second, slightly more avant-garde concept, was roasted cauliflower blitzed to a puree with miso paste. They were excellent. And because I liked them both so much, you’re getting both the recipes.

The butternut dip takes inspiration from hummus with granular tahini giving it body and ground cumin giving it earthy depth. The texture is creamy and soft and the flavour is mild yet rich at the same time, with nutty sweetness from both the butternut and the tahini. You could definitely use a regular pumpkin but I personally love butternuts, they are so much easier to slice into and they seem to roast up quicker as well, with less of that stringy fibrousness that a big pumpkin can sometimes unwelcomely yield. You could happily consider making this with orange kūmara instead though. If you can’t find sumac, which is a red powder with a fantastically astringent lemon-sour bite, just stir in some lemon or lime zest instead. If you’re stuck for finding tahini I would use almond butter instead, but to be fair almond butter is probably about as obscure as tahini depending on where you’re situated. Peanut butter would work in a pinch, but it will absolutely taste like peanut butter.

The roasted cauliflower miso butter completely delighted me, in that the finished result exactly matched the picture of how it would taste in my brain. Roasted cauliflower has an intense buttery, toasty nuttiness and miso paste has this dense mellow saltiness and together when blasted through the food processor into a softly whipped puree they taste incredible, with an unfolding depth of flavour in each mouthful. I use the term “butter” in the title fairly loosely, it just seemed more evocative than the word “dip” and it has echoes of the caramelised onion butter than I made for my birthday dinner. It was just so delicious. Both of these dips are very easily made simultaneously, if you have a roasting dish big enough to load both the vegetables in side-by-side, but if you’re only choosing one to make, you could certainly consider doubling the ingredients – which as you’ll see, is not hard – and having plenty with which to do your culinary bidding. Either of these would be excellent stirred through pasta, spread lavishly in a sandwich, as the filling in a baked pastry case and topped with something, in a baked potato, or, obviously, just as the dips that I invented them to be.

Butternut Dip

A recipe by myself

  • 1/2 a medium sized butternut pumpkin (also known as butternut squash)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sumac
  • 1 teaspoon salt, to taste

Set your oven to 220C/450F. Slice the skin off the butternut and then chop the flesh into cubes of about 1 inch in size. Place in a roasting dish and drizzle with two tablespoons of the olive oil. Roast for about 20 minutes, or until the butternut is very tender.

Mix the tahini with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a bowl, then add the butternut, a couple of cubes at a time, stirring thoroughly to mash the roast butternut into the tahini, giving you a smooth, creamy puree. Continue mashing and stirring the roast butternut into the mixture until it’s all combined, then stir in the cumin, sumac, and salt. Taste to see if you think it needs any further seasoning, then transfer to a serving bowl. I sprinkled over some pumpkin seeds because I thought it was cute to do so but they are obviously extremely optional.

Roast Cauliflower Miso Butter

A recipe by myself

  • 1/2 a head of cauliflower, sliced roughly into small pieces
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 heaped teaspoon white miso paste

Set your oven to 220C/450F. Place the cauliflower pieces in a roasting dish and drizzle with the olive oil. Roast for about 20 minutes or until the cauliflower is very tender and becoming golden brown in places. Remove from the oven and allow it to cool a little.

Transfer the cauliflower into the bowl of a food processor, and pour/spatula any remaining olive oil from the roasting dish in with it, along with the miso paste. Blitz thoroughly, stopping to spatula down the sides as needed, until it has formed a creamy puree with no solid pieces of cauliflower left in it. Taste to see if it needs any more miso, although I found this amount to be perfect. Transfer into a serving bowl. I sprinkled over some walnuts to make it look like more effort had been expended but this is entirely optional. Walnuts are delicious though! If you have a high-speed blender this will be super velvety, but a regular food processor will still work just fine, it might just take a little longer.

As well as this I made some olive and almond puff pastry pinwheels and did a rejigging of my chocolate caramel rice bubble slice with almond butter instead of the more boisterous peanut butter, and we had a lovely afternoon discussing the book and our lives in that order. (The book in question, by the way, was Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, and it is brilliant.)

It has been extremely lovely to see my dear friends again, including my roommate Ghost, although he was initially unconvinced by the notion of resuming his regular modelling gig. (In case there are any doubts please be assured that he has the range, as his Instagram account will attest.)

But as soon as I was like “the food up here is not for you” he suddenly became interested and attentive again, a process that I have nothing but respect for since that’s largely how I operate as well (in case you thought there was any kind of upper limit on my ability to be infuriating.)

title from: I Can’t Do It Alone from the Broadway musical Chicago. The most well-known version nowadays is the film adaptation with Catherine Zeta-Jones desperately imploring Renee Zellweger through the medium of dance, but while there’s no filmed footage of it I love the zany orchestration of the original cast recording with the legendary Chita Rivera.

music lately:

I Can’t Say No, by Ali Stroker, as performed at the 2019 Tony Awards from the revival production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma. This is a musical that I’ve never felt particularly drawn to, but Stroker has immense chemistry and presence and she just throws her voice so far into the back row and is so utterly compelling in this song that could quite easily be annoying in the wrong hands. She’s not only the first performer on Broadway who uses a wheelchair, she’s now the first Tony Award winner to do so. Hopefully this paves the way for more diversity onstage at that level.

The End of The World, by Sharon Van Etten. This is a cover of the 1962 tearjerker by Skeeter Davis and it’s one of my favourite songs and I love Van Etten’s voice so I’m very happy about this combination. The production feels very gentle and timeless, it doesn’t do anything revolutionary with it but then it doesn’t have to, the song itself is strong enough.

Lazy Line Painter Jane by Belle and Sebastian. When I was a child I read and re-read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and loved it so much and yet somehow I knew that it was all that I would want to read from C.S Lewis and that anything else by him would be left wanting because it wasn’t the one book I wanted it to be, and I feel much the same about Belle and Sebastian: this is the one song of theirs that I wish to hear, but I want to hear it like, five thousand times in a row. It has such an incredible build, starting with this Phil Spector-ish muffled beat that chugs along like an old washing machine as they swap lyrics back and forth between the vocalists, then they come together in this gorgeous transposed harmony, and then just when you think you know all there is to know about this song it breaks into a wordless canter and feels like it’s getting faster and faster even though it’s not and it’s so exhilarating and you never want it to end and I’m practically hyperventilating just writing about it.

Next time: I’m back at Kate and Jason’s until well into next week so, while I’m not sure what I’m going to make, you can definitely expect to see some more Ghost paw-modelling for me.

PS: as you probably know I have a Patreon account where you can directly support me and my writing. Even at the humble level that I’m at now, being on Patreon has had an immensely positive effect on me and allowed me to support myself a tiny bit which allows me to write more and more and more. If you want to be part of this and to receive exclusive content written just for my Patreon patrons, it’s very, very, very easy to be involved.

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?

I won’t remember your birthday, I won’t remember your name, just keep talking to me I’m not listening

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Something that I realised one second after I was told it by someone else, is that in most of life’s arenas my brain will melt down when faced with a task before I’ve even been told what the task is; then should I actually undertake the task (for example, getting on a bus to an appointment) I would often end up doing it wrong (getting on the wrong bus, going to the wrong place) and be afflicted with such brain-paralysis that I would not be able to work out a way to solve it, and worse, the only thing I’d feel capable of is messaging the group chat to drag them down with me on my panicked spiral about something entirely preventable. In all arenas of life! Except in the kitchen.

Like last week’s ice cream atrocity triad: not only was I diplomatically, breezily able to keep going in the face of persistent failure, but I also didn’t see it as a morally-weighted type thing that reflected upon me personally, I was all, I know I’m a good cook, regardless of this garbage. Whereas I still feel a quaking within my nether organs when I have to get on a bus to go like, honestly, anywhere.

(It was Kate that pointed this out to me after I’d been trying to use the oven in her and Jason’s kitchen, the heat/function markings of which are all rubbed off, and instead of lying on the floor and crying I just googled the oven model and found a picture of what the un-rubbed function and heat dials looked like and proceeded accordingly. Upon reflection I was like yeah, that was off-brandingly level-headed of me.)

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With that in mind it was simply no big deal to cook dinner for twelve people last week in honour of my birthday (which was on Wednesday the 17th, in case there’s the slightest bit of unclarity over what my star sign is) and somehow I just instinctively knew which order to make everything in and when to take everything out of the fridge and what could be dovetailed and how to make everything appear on the table at once and how to fix one tricky situation without it having a domino effect on the rest of the food (food can smell fear.) (It just can!)

The menu was as follows:

  • Viv’s Crackers (Make these! They’re so good!)
  • Olive Tapenade (recipe below)
  • Lentil Dip (It’s like. Hummus but with brown lentils and sumac. I just made it up as I went along.)
  • Muhammara (recipe below)
  • Pesto (I just made this up but used my mum’s trick of adding some tahini to it which makes it wonderfully rich, you almost wouldn’t know it was vegan)
  • Caramelised Onion Butter (recipe below)
  • Dukkah (from a recipe of mine from 2018 but I used cashews instead of walnuts)
  • Zucchini, Walnut and Thyme Salad (from Ottolenghi’s book Simple)
  • Marinated Mushrooms (my own recipe from 2012)
  • Cauliflower Tabbouleh (also from Simple)
  • Broccoli Slaw with Wasabi Lime Dressing (I made this up but it’s pretty much exactly how it sounds)
  • Rice Paper Rolls with Peanut Dipping sauce (made them up but again, pretty standard)
  • Roasted Butternut and Parsnip with Cardamom Seeds (I made this up but the title is pretty self-explanatory)
  • Couscous with Fried Eggplants, Olives, Sunflower and Pumpkin Seeds (I made this up but it’s just one of those couscous things where you stir lots of bits into it, you know what I mean?)
  • Blackened Corn and Rice Salad with Pecans, Almonds, and Nasturtium Leaves (based loosely on a recipe of mine from 2012, I added pecans and Chinese Five-Spice and nasturtium leaves from the garden and so on)
  • Fried Zucchini Orzo with Pine Nuts, Mint, Spinach, and Kale (This is just something I made up but it’s definitely based on some Ottolenghi recipe)

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For precisely one minute I was worried I hadn’t made enough and for one wavering semiquaver I was like “what if it’s all bad, just real bad food” but then I laughed at both notions and carried on blithely like I was neurotypically non-avolitional. Nothing actually went wrong but there was definitely plenty of calm yet sudden improvisation required, like when there was no bulgur wheat in the entire suburb of Newtown or when half the vegetables I originally planned for were out of season (it seems the only thing confidently in season in April is meat.)

It’s funny, the psychology of cooking for increasing quantities of people. Supposing I was like, okay, everyone’s getting roast beef and potatoes and salad, you’d be like yeah, three things per person, that’s a normal reasonable meal, all you need to do is make those three things. But the MINUTE you start thinking you’ll have a cosy, low-key, unstructured banquet where everyone just helps themselves to what’s on the table, you suddenly have to provide SO MANY COMPONENTS. Three bowls of salad is NOTHING. But then conversely, the more food there is, the LESS people eat. So a bowl of couscous stuff that normally would in no way stretch to twelve, will not only serve everyone when it’s part of a big table of food, but you’ll also inexplicably have leftovers for a week.

In The Wire, Bunk tells Kima that the one thing you need at a crime scene is “soft eyes…if you’ve got soft eyes you can see the whole thing.” I don’t even know how I came up with the menu in relation to the number of people, it wasn’t based on any actual calculation, I was just like, I’m at one with the food, looking at my proposed menu list with soft eyes, and I’ll just know when I’ve planned enough. And I did! Would I suggest this as advice for anyone else hosting a dinner party? Probably not. Would I suggest watching The Wire? Sure!

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The three recipes I’ve provided for you today were from the dips and sauces – my idea was to have, as well as big bowls of things, just a ton of stuff that could be stirred in to make everything even more interesting. The first recipe, Caramelised Onion Butter, was something I thought up, but let’s be clear: it’s just caramelised onions that have been put in the blender. Nevertheless they were immensely delicious, with that bordering-on-frustratingly slow cooking process slowly breaking down the onions and making them sweet and mellow and lush and somehow even more so once pureed into a creamy mush. Make it and have it on hand to stir into soups, stews, anything that needs an absolute fistful of flavour. The muhammara was something that I adapted from Ottolenghi, not because I thought I could do better than him but because capsicums are ferociously expensive at the moment and so I reduced the quantity a little and subbed in some tomato paste. I think it worked, and the finished result, this rambunctiously flavoured smoky spicy sauce, all nubbly from the walnuts and rich from the roasting process, is highly gorgeous. And as with the caramelised onion butter, I imagine it would be useful to have on hand to embiggen any other food you’ve made. Finally the olive tapenade, which I decided to rakishly make with prunes to boost its dark richness, is so fast to make – have it with bread, stir it through pasta, eat it with a spoon, whatever. If you’re uncertain about the prunes then maybe try blending them in one at a time to see how you go but their robustness complements the equally strident olives and rosemary and the sweetness gives depth rather than unbridled prune-ishness. All three of these recipes are so easy to make (although there’s nothing easy about how much chopping onions makes me cry) I’m sorry, however, that they all involve a food processor. I’m afraid that’s just how it goes when you’re vegan: you give up meat, you inexplicably start blending everything, no almond left unpulverised.

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Caramelised Onion Butter

A recipe by myself

  • 6 large brown onions
  • olive oil (regular, not extra virgin)
  • salt (ideally sea salt or other non-iodised salt)
  • 2 heaped tablespoons soft brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Peel and slice the onions, in half and then into fine-ish half-circles. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil over a low heat in a large saucepan and tip the onions in. Sprinkle over a pinch of salt. Let the onions fry, stirring fairly often, letting them soften and soften and become lightly golden. This is not like frying onions normally, you don’t want them to catch and become brown, the idea is to just slowly, slowly, melt them down. It will seem at first like they’re never going to cook and collapse but they will! It just takes about twenty solid minutes.

Once the onions have really softened and turned into a golden tangle, tip in the brown sugar and the balsamic vinegar, turn the heat up to medium, and cook for another five or so minutes. This is the point where caramelisation is ideal so don’t stir them too much, and that way the sugar can really do its thing.

At this point, remove from the heat and allow to cool, tasting for more salt if it needs it. Spatula the onions into the bowl of a food processor and drizzle in another two tablespoons of olive oil. Blitz into a thick, creamy mush. If you use a high-speed blender it will become even more creamy but the chunkier texture from the food processor’s blades is also entirely desirable. Decant to a bowl and refrigerate. It’s best closer to room temperature so take it out of the fridge a while before you need it.

Muhamarra

Adapted slightly from a recipe in Ottolenghi’s book Simple

  • 4 red capsicums (peppers)
  • 6 fat cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (plus more for roasting the capsicum)
  • 50g walnuts
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) tomato paste
  • 3/4 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • a pinch of chilli flakes
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • salt, to taste

Set your oven to 220C/450F. Half the capsicums and remove the cores, stems and seeds. Place them cut side down in a roasting dish along with the peeled garlic cloves and drizzle liberally with olive oil. Place in the oven for 20 or so minutes, until the garlic cloves are golden brown and the capsicums are soft and their skin is starting to blacken a little.

Allow the capsicums and garlic to cool a little, then throw them into a food processor along with the remaining ingredients. Try to spatula/pour any oil and roasting juices from the pan into the processor as well. And just to clarify, “the rest of the ingredients” includes the two tablespoons of olive oil. Blitz to form a rough puree, taste for anything it might need – probably more salt – and then spatula it into a serving bowl or an airtight container and refrigerate till needed. Again, best at room temperature or gently warmed, so take it out of the fridge well before you need it.

Olive Tapenade

A recipe by myself

  • 250g (or so) black pitted olives
  • 4 prunes
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil (extra virgin is good, but whatever you’ve got)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon capers (rinsed if salt-packed)
  • a small pinch of cayenne or chilli pepper
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Place everything in a food processor and blitz to form a thick, rough-textured paste. You may need to spatula down the sides a couple of times and then blitz again. Taste to see if it needs more of anything then spatula into a serving bowl or an airtight container, and as with all these recipes, it’s best at room temperature. Just get the cheapest pitted black olives you can find – they’re getting blasted together with all these other ingredients and you don’t want to be dicking around de-stoning them. On the other hand if you do buy proper olives make sure you get more to account for the weight of the stones.

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Let me tell you, there was no greater birthday present than just sitting there watching everyone I love happily eating food I made. I wasn’t even hungry myself, I just wanted to behold everyone consuming what I’d made for them and now that I’ve said that it sounds a bit psychologically suspicious but I assure you, it’s mostly that if I’ve been cooking all day I’ve definitely been generously tasting everything as I go. For dessert I did a tray of homemade butterfingers, dried fruit and dark chocolate and didn’t click till the next day that I’d completely forgotten about a birthday cake, but the entire night was perfect just as it was: by the time it devolved into an elaborate roasting of me, from the story of how I’d never changed a lightbulb to the story of how I dropped my phone down an eight-story lift shaft and pressed the emergency button because it was an emergency, well, I think it’s truly the most content I’ve been all year.

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The Ghost with the most.

And I’m still eating the leftovers: thirty-three feels good. Thank you to Jason and Charlotte who took photos of the food on their phones and sent them to me because I forgot to get my camera ready or to learn how to take photos at night (yes, I can organise a dinner party, yes, it will be at the expense of ALL OTHER THINGS that I might possibly need my brain for.)

title from: Planet Z from my broadway idol Idina Menzel’s beautiful and occasionally bizarre 1997 debut album Still I Can’t Be Still. This boisterously energetic song is groaning under the weight of its production but it all works somehow, I listen to it and couldn’t imagine how it could possibly sound any other way. I love (and miss) her rough-yet-treacly five-zillion-miles-from-Let-It-Go voice.

music lately:

Kate and Jason and I watched Homecoming by Beyoncé last night and it’s absolutely gobsmackingly astounding viewing. Just trying to get my head around her vision, organisation, talent and monumental discipline, as well as the phenomenal production and execution in the stage show. The precision, the work, the drum line, the horn section, the fact that she was the first black woman to headline Coachella and she went okay, then I’m gonna bring hundreds of black women up there with me. Naturally I’ve got her on the brain now and she obviously has nonstop hits but I especially adore Bow Down/I Been On, which she released online in 2013 and would later rework into ***Flawless for her self-titled album. The first part with its discordant Nintendo-sounding sample is so exciting and sinister and off the wall, she sounds so in charge and has these amazing growls in her voice, and then suddenly it slows down and she’s doing operatic soprano and then she starts rapping and her vocals all chopped and screwed now sound like a man’s deep voice, and it becomes this sludgy, slow-moving salute to her hometown and past and she sounds so great. Because she dropped this in such a low-key way online I was not expecting it to pop up on the setlist of Homecoming but she did it! Honestly, even if you’re not a fan, if you generally appreciate live performance, culture, musicianship, or simply a job well done, watch Homecoming.

Invitation to Love, TB. It takes a minute to warm up but once it gets going it’s an extremely lush track that samples Laura Palmer’s Theme from Twin Peaks – that most lush of tracks – that I had a very lovely time dancing to on Sunday night thanks to TV Disko’s DJ set at the Laundry staff party (what, just because I stop working at a place, I’m no longer staff? That’s not how jobs work.)

Today’s Your Day (Whatchagonedo), Fat Lip feat Chali 2na. Deliciously languid, the sound of sunshine refracting through golden syrup, and that chorus is so good.

Next time: It’s been cold and rainy ever since my birthday so I’m thinking, you know, something cold-and-rain friendly.

PS as always thank you to my Patreon patrons, especially the new folks who joined in a birthday-related gestural fashion. It is by no means too late to still join my Patreon and have me think it’s something to do with my birthday, or to just join it because supporting me and my writing is – or could be – its own reward. Plus you get access to exclusive content from me, which is more literally its own reward.

give in, give in, and relish every minute of it

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I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge how this week’s post was written in an unprecedentedly comfortable fashion, leisurely strolling over the finish line of the somewhat arbitrary weekly deadlines I laughably set up for myself initially as opposed to the frantic and self-flagellating and days-late content that we’ve all had to get used to, I have possibly lost all semblance of an actual work ethic but I’m really finding it quite delicious how much writing I’m getting done as a result.

When I was a kid there was not a whole lot to be found flourishing in the front yard if you were opportunistically in the market for free snacking: just a mean-spirited apple tree that was more of a body corporate apartment complex for wasps, and one feckless peach tree that bore floury green-tinged fruit. Since I’ve come back home to stay for a bit, however, the place has been since transformed into a veritable Hanging Garden of Babylon, a result of – let the record state – the concentrated efforts of my parents. Like Carlotta in Sondheim’s musical Follies, the apple tree is somehow obstinately still here spitting out weta-lodged apples like Carlotta spits memories – or is the apple tree more like the literal yet also metaphorical apple tree in the Bock/Harnick musical The Apple Tree with its overriding theme of getting what you want and then realising it’s not what you wanted, not a theme I like to be confronted with in life but an undeniably consistent one nevertheless? Nevertheless – let the record state – good god, those apples are sour.

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Nowadays the abundance is really something to behold, there’s onions and potatoes and pumpkins and zucchini and cucumbers and spinach and a whole mess of herbs, and more besides, including a flourishing thatch of tomatoes, 1.5 kilograms of which Mum and I turned into a batch of the most fantastically delicious relish. The recipe comes from a 1990 revised edition of the 1908 Edmonds cookbook, a book that is firmly lodged in New Zealand’s history like a weta in an apple. It conveys a sternly inarguable air of competency, illustrated by its overall lack of illustrations and explanations: just make the recipe, it will work.

As such, it would be very easy to flick past this very recipe on the page, because there’s nothing leaping out to exhort you to spend time making it – but I’m so glad that Mum found it, because the resulting relish tastes extraordinarily good. I enjoy a pickled or preserved confection as much as the next person: that power-play of sweet and salty and vinegary is exquisite when executed correctly, but I am honestly quite next-level rapturous, even by my own standards, about this particular one.

The relish just has this stunning potency of concentrated tomato flavour, so rich and savoury and juicy and almost meaty in its intensity. The curry powder and mustard add to the fulsomeness and depth of it all and the flour, weird though it feels as an ingredient in relish, gives it a wonderfully velvety pectin-like lusciousness. Obviously there’s no reason given for including the flour in the recipe so you just have to go with it and hope for the best, but of course: the book was right. The tomatoes from the garden are candy-sweet and taste like sunshine on their own, but I’m sure this recipe would have transformative effects on even the most unfriendly and unlikely of specimens.

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Edmonds Cookbook Tomato Relish

  • 1.5kg tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes, or a mix)
  • 4 large onions
  • 25g salt
  • 500g brown sugar
  • malt vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons mustard powder
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 2 tablespoons flour

Peel the onions and chop roughly into chunks. Cut the tomatoes, also roughly – either into quarters or chunks or honestly whatever. If you’re using cherry tomatoes give them a rough pressing with a fork or similar to crush them slightly. Place the tomatoes and onions into a non-metallic bowl, sprinkle with the salt, cover, and leave for 6-8 hours or overnight – just in the pantry or generally out of the way, they don’t need to be refrigerated.

Drain off the liquid- reserve it for stock if you like – and place the tomatoes and onions into a saucepan with the sugar. Pour over enough vinegar to just cover everything. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 1 and 1/2 hours. At this point, mix the flour, curry powder and mustard to a smooth paste with a little of the cooking liquid and then stir it into the tomatoes and onions in the pan. Boil for five minutes, then spoon or pour into sterilised jars, seal tightly, and allow to cool.

Makes around 4 standard jam jars of relish.

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Relish can be put to good use in any number of ways but I especially recommend this stuff spread on crackers with equal quantities of almond butter.

Mum and I both set to getting the tomatoes and onions prepared early in the morning and then completely forgot about them until about midnight of the same day, by the time we got the stuff into the jars it was closer to 2am but it felt very relaxed, in that we were not trying to go against the grain of our inherently synced levels of disorganisation and night owl tendencies. The entire lack of urgency, The Crown playing in the background, pottering about with my writing on my laptop while the pan of tomatoes simmers away full of promise: I could get used to this.

title from: The Walk, by Imogen Heap. I love the strange gravel-scraping sound effect at the start of this song, very ASMR.

music lately:

Out Of Space, by The Prodigy. Man, I was sad as hell at the news of Keith Flint’s death, this is one of my favourite songs of theirs.

Juice, by Lizzo. This is sunshine-saturated perfect upbeat 80s funk, I love her.

Getting Married Today, from the 1970 Sondheim musical Company, as interpreted and annihilated by Julie Andrews somehow singing ALL THREE PARTS, from the opening soprano to the almost unbearably anxious patter of the verses themselves to the man’s part, which she goes over and sings TO A MAN who is sitting RIGHT THERE as if to say “look how extraneous you are when I, Julie Andrews, am around”, it’s honestly the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. The verses are so rakishly crammed with words (something like 6.5 words per second) and it’s one of the most difficult songs on Broadway to perform accurately and yet she looks so relaxed and her enunciation is so crisp and she manages to act on top of all of that and perform the words in this oddly personable tone so full of character and inflection despite it being entirely unclear whether she breathes once in the duration. And then she finishes on this high note? That’s not even required? Does she care about any of my nerves?

Next time: undoubtedly the garden will continue to inspire.

PS: if you like what I do and (a) want more of it and (b) will enjoy knowing that you were astute enough to support this from the very start and (c) wish to receive treats, then may I direct you with all the quiet authority of opening a velvet-roped VIP area, to my Patreon.

sometimes I think you’re just too good for me, every day is Christmas, every night is New Year’s Eve

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With last week’s post being absolutely enormous I thought I’d make this one fairly low-key, calm, brief. But then I watched classic Christmas film Die Hard for the first time ever and it’s really hard to not feel seasonally hyped up after that, right? So instead I decided to do the absolute opposite and give you something high-key, vast, yet still fairly calming in its own way: my annual round-up of recipes from this blog that I think would be worth considering if you’re wanting to do the home-made edible Christmas present thing. Whether or not Christmas is something you acknowledge, be it for religious reasons, self-preservation reasons, or something else entirely, there’s no denying that it’s going to literally happen this very month and besides, you could use this list at any time of year that you have a person for whom a gift is required. I for one think there’s nothing more delightful than the tangible and consumable result of a person’s concentrated time and effort as a gift, not to mention the joy of stomping on the delicate, exposed foot of capitalism by DIY-ing it yourself. (That said – and look, no one is out here defending capitalism, don’t worry – I’d also like to throw my voice to the chorus urging you to consider shopping local/small/ethical/indigenous/gay/generally independent this season.)

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THE HUNGRY AND FROZEN MODERATELY INDISPUTABLE LIST OF EDIBLE GIFT RECIPE IDEAS FOR LIFE, NOT JUST FOR CHRISTMAS

Caveat 1: Because this goes so far back through the archives, the majority of which I spent neck-deep in butter, well, there’s going to be some butter. I’ve marked accordingly whether a recipe is vegan, also gluten free if applicable – I see you!
Caveat 2: Because this goes so far back through the archives the continuity/life details on display in any given post might be kind of jarring and this is what happens when you write about many details of your life for eleven years! But if we can handle our TV characters like, changing haircuts and so on throughout the course of a series, so can we handle such things here.
Caveat 3: (And just know that I couldn’t help but hear “O CAVEAT THREE-EE-EE” in a superloud, third-time-round, “O come let us adore him” vibe in my head) I moved my blog over to WordPress halfway through this year and all the formatting completely fritzed out, so just know, every single individual blog post that I’ve linked to here that does have, y’know, line breaks, has had its individual html edited by me, and I haven’t quite managed to catch them all yet. This caveat is more of a weird flex, but.

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Category 1: Things in Jars

Too easy! Jars make everything look pulled together and clever, whether it’s the unsinkable salted caramel sauce or some pickled-into-submission vegetable. To ease any anxieties – which you admittedly might not have even considered having, but that’s why I’m here –  on the part of both giver and receiver, I advise including a gift tag with some recommendations of how to use the stuff within the jar ( and “consume in one go in bed” is entirely viable here.)

Subsection A: Saucy Stuff

Subsection B: Stuff stuff

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Category 2: Baked Goods

As easy or as hard as you like, whether it’s some cookies in a takeout container with a ribbon around it (and honestly: those takeout containers – you know the ones – are always useful to have around so it’s not a cop-out) or whether you go full out, make someone an enormous Christmas Cake and find a tastefully yet jaw-droppingly stunning plate to serve it on and make that part of the gift too. To maximise on tis-the-season seasonality I recommend embarking on all baking projects late at night with some kind of liqueur by your side, it just feels right.

 

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Category 3: No-bake Novelty!

This is (a) lots of taxing recreations of candy you can get for like forty cents at the corner dairy, (b) lots of stuffing existing products into other existing products and (c) nevertheless the most fun category.

And one more for luck:

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Almond Butter Toffee

a recipe by myself

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) water
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3 heaped tablespoons crunchy almond butter
  • 250g dark chocolate
  • sea salt

Line a baking tray or tin with a large piece of baking paper.

Place the sugar, water, and cream of tartar in a saucepan and slowly bring to the boil over a medium heat, without stirring at all. Let it continue to bubble away for five to ten minutes, until it just starts to turn golden – even though it’s boring for a while, don’t walk away or lose focus or it WILL burn, it just will – and as a pale gold cast creeps across the bubbling sugar, at this point immediately remove it from the heat. I hate to be harsh but if the sugar has turned a dark golden brown this means it’s caramelised too far and will taste harshly bitter and burnt; better to start over with more sugar and water than to try to forge ahead, I promise (I speak from much experience.)  Stir in the almond butter, and, working quickly and carefully, tip the lot onto the sheet of baking paper, coaxing it around with a spatula if need be to make it an even shape/thickness. Sprinkle over a good pinch of sea salt. Allow to set and get completely cool, then break it into pieces. 

Melt the chocolate however you prefer – short bursts in the microwave does it for me – and dip each piece of toffee in the chocolate before returning to the baking paper lined tray to set again. Sprinkle over more sea salt if you wish. Store refrigerated in an airtight container.

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This stuff tastes not entirely unlike those magical Daim bars (or Dime bars as they’re known in the UK) with a buttery, snappish crunch that is somehow sweet enough to taunt the teeth with impending fissures and yet mellow and balanced enough for you to eat an alarming quantity without giving it a second thought. As is or chocolate-dipped: novelty perfection. (And especially delicious if kept in the freezer, for some reason.)

I guess humans make traditions to give us something to cling on to in a harsh world, something that marks the passage of time other than the time itself, and making this list has become something of a tradition for me so it’s nice to visit it again, even as my eyeballs throb from all that painstaking hyperlinking. Even if you don’t make a single thing on the list – and you’re under absolutey no obligation to – the fact that you’re reading this far means you’re part of my tradition too. Sentimental, yes! But as I said: I watched Die Hard for the first time, so, you understand.

title from: Sade, The Sweetest Taboo. The sultriness! Ma’am!

music lately:

The Pure and the Damned, Oneohtrix Point Never ft Iggy Pop: “Someday I swear we’re gonna go to a place where we can do everything we want to, and we can pet the crocodiles.”

Turkey Lurkey Time, from the 1969 Tony Awards performance from the musical Promises, Promises. Another tradition! Every year on December 1st and not a moment sooner I rewatch this and every year I am breathtaken anew! Michael Bennett’s audacious choreography that cares not for your chiropractic bill! Donna McKechnie (in the red dress), triple threat, rubber-legged, spinal chord cracking like a whip! The lyrics which are SO STUPID! The final minute which every time makes tears spring to my eyes at the sheer magnitude of it!

Whack World, the album by rapper Tierra Whack. Every one of her songs is precisely one minute long (which is just perfect for me) with its own precise personality. I particularly love Black Nails and F**k Off.

Next time: less REALLY will be more, I promise. 

don’t have a cow, man

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I’m warning you right now, this blog post is long as HELL due to the fact that I was tinkering around with ideas for Christmas Dinner recipes and somehow ended up making three recipes at once in an absolute fugue state of proficiency and perspicacity: Brined and Roasted Whole Cauliflower with Pesto Glaze; Roasted Whole Pumpkin with Herb and Onion Stuffing, and Eggplant Roulade, AND Mushroom, Walnut and Red Wine Gravy. It’s suddenly less than a month till Christmas and whether or not you observe the holiday in an official capacity there’s no denying that this time of year calls for an excess of abundance and an abundance of excess so I was like why not just … write about this all this at once. So whether you’re the kind to settle in with a glass of port to scrutinise this from top to bottom or you’re already flexing your scrolling finger (or indeed, whichever body part you use to scroll downwards through large swathes of text), here we go.

I’m not one to not boast, but I just want the record to state that I made every single one of the below recipes all at once in just under two and a half hours. Why? You know and I know, because I bring it up a lot, because it happens a lot: I’m quite all or nothing. At times an inert snake lying in bed unable to finish, well, even this sentence; at times I’m like “Uh I wrote an entire violin symphony in twelve minutes” (to everything, turn turn, there is a season, turn turn) and while the presence of Ritalin in my life has helped to both enable activity on the inert-snake days and to moderate the high energy hyper-focus, that’s still just how I am. And I guess this week’s blog is precisely an example of that hyperfocus in action: I had all these ideas for recipes that might be cool for Christmas dinner, or indeed, any celebratory food-eating time, and I just put my head down and made the whole lot at once without really thinking through what I was doing and suddenly two and a half hours later there was an enormous meal just sitting there. (This is how I know I’ve made personal growth/consumed some Ritalin though: I actually wrote down the recipes as I was making them. Yes, this is what counts as personal growth for me.)

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Somewhat hilariously, none of the friends that I messaged to come help me eat it were available, leaving me alone at the table with this massive feast and wondering ruefully whether perhaps you really cannot, in fact, win friends with salad. I’m not saying I like, threw it all in the bin or anything, I had a delicious plateful of everything and have been eating leftovers gleefully ever since, but what I am saying is that you’ll just have to take my word for it that these recipes are good.

My aim for these recipes was to create a sense of lavishness, intense deliciousness and layers of texture and flavour, so that there was no sense of being without, that you would feel and indeed taste the effort and care taken. I wanted food that was somehow inherently Christmassy – which is a little weird, I grant you, because in New Zealand Christmas falls in the middle of summer but so many people still have a very traditional English style full roast meal. By which I mean, even though we’re all sweating uncomfortably, the food is resolutely winter wonderland because that’s just how it is. So that’s what I was going for.

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1: Brined and Roasted Whole Cauliflower with Pesto Glaze

A recipe by myself, but inspired by the title of this one on Food52.

  • 1 whole cauliflower
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Brine:

  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cinnamon stick, snapped in half/into bits
  • 1 inch or so slice of fresh ginger (or 1 teaspoon ground ginger)
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced in half (no need to peel)
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup

Pesto:

  • The leaves from 1 of those supermarket basil plants (roughly two cups loosely packed basil leaves)
  • 1 cup loosely packed rocket leaves
  • 1 cup cashews
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice (can be from a bottle)
  • Plenty of salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup water, optional

Remove the leaves from the cauliflower and trim off as much of the stem as you can manage, so that the cauliflower is able to sit on its haunches, so to speak, without anything protruding from the base.

Place all the brine ingredients in a large mixing bowl, fill partway with cold water, and give it a stir just to dissolve the maple syrup and salt somewhat. Sit the cauliflower in this and top with water till the cauliflower is more or less submerged. Cover – either with plastic wrap or simply by sitting a plate on top – and set aside away from any heat for an hour, although if it’s like an hour and fifteen minutes because you forgot or something came up that’s honestly fine.

Get on with the pesto while the cauliflower is brining – throw all the ingredients into a food processor and blitz to form a rough green paste. Add a little water to loosen it up a bit, it can absorb it without making it watery. Taste for salt, pepper, or more lime juice, and set aside.

Set your oven to 200C/400F and get an oven dish ready. Once the oven is hot and the brining time is up, remove the cauliflower from the brine, shaking off any bits that have stuck to it, and place it in the roasting dish. Drizzle with the two tablespoons of olive oil and roast, uncovered, for about 40 minutes, or until it’s evenly golden on the surface. At this point, spoon some of the pesto over the cauliflower, using a pastry brush to spread it down over the florets, and return to the oven for another ten minutes. Serve with the remaining pesto in a dish beside for those who (rightly) want more.

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2: Roasted Whole Pumpkin with Herb and Onion Stuffing

A recipe by myself

  • 1 good-sized buttercup pumpkin (roughly 900g I guess? But I personally relate more to “good sized” than weight for accuracy)
  • 1 can white beans, often sold as haricot beans
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1 small ciabatta or similarly hearty bread roll
  • 1 tablespoon English Mustard or wholegrain mustard
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • A pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
  • Plenty of salt and pepper, to taste

Set your oven to 200C/400F. Cut the ciabatta in half and sit it in the oven while it’s heating up for about five minutes, the aim being to lightly toast it and dry it out (just don’t forget that it’s there.)

Using a small, sharp knife, make incisions in a circular fashion around the stem of the pumpkin so you can wiggle it out and reveal the insides. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon – set aside to roast them if you like but this level of sustainability was unfortunately too much for me, and I simply binned them. (This might be a good time to check on the state of your ciabatta in the oven.)

Dice the onion and gently fry it in the olive oil till it’s softened and golden. Add the pumpkin seeds and give them a stir for a minute just to toast them a little, then set the pan aside off the heat.

Drain the can of beans and roughly mash them with a fork, it doesn’t matter if some are left whole. Roughly slice the ciabatta into small cubes and add this to the mashed beans along with the thyme, rosemary, mustard, maple syrup, cider vinegar, nutmeg, plenty of salt and pepper, and the onion/pumpkin seed mixture.

Carefully spoon all of this into the waiting and emptied pumpkin, pushing down with the spoon to fill every crevice and cavity. Place the stem on top like a lid. Sit the pumpkin on a large piece of tinfoil and bring the tinfoil up the sides of the pumpkin so it’s mostly wrapped but with the stem still exposed (did I explain this right?) and then sit this in a roasting dish. Roast for an hour and a half or until a knife can easily pierce through the side of the pumpkin, thus meaning the inside is good and tender. Serve by cutting the pumpkin into large wedges.

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3: Eggplant Roulade

A recipe by myself

  • 2 sheets flaky puff pastry (check the ingredients to make sure they’re dairy free, if this is of concern)
  • 1 large eggplant
  • olive oil, for frying
  • 1 cup bulghur wheat
  • 70g walnuts
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 teaspoons dried rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • plenty of salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons almond butter

Set your oven to 200C/400F. Place the bulghur wheat in a large bowl and pour over water from a just-boiled kettle to cover it by about 1cm. Cover with plastic wrap or similar and set aside for about ten minutes for it to absorb.

Meanwhile, slice the eggplant as thinly as you can lengthwise. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large saucepan and fry the eggplant slices a few at a time on both sides till softened and browned, adding more olive oil as you (inevitably) need it. Set aside.

Fluff the cooked bulghur wheat with a fork and stir in the walnuts, cranberries, rosemary, cumin, cinnamon, and plenty of salt and pepper.

Set the two sheets of pastry side by side with one inch overlap on a large piece of baking paper, and press down where they overlap to kind of glue them together into one large piece of pastry. Using a pastry brush, gently brush the almond butter over the pastry – soften it with a little olive oil if you need to. Place the eggplant slices on top of this in one layer starting from the left side, with the long side of the eggplant parallel to the long side of the pastry – I had six slices of eggplant so there was two sets of three laid horizontally, if that makes sense. If it doesn’t, let me know and I’ll try to explain further. Now take the bulghur wheat and spoon it in a thick column on top of the eggplant, roughly an inch in from the short side on the left. Carefully but confidently roll the pastry from the short side over the bulghur wheat and continue rolling, sushi-like, till you have a fat cylinder of pastry coiled around the eggplant and bulghur. Tuck the edges down and pinch them together, and carefully place the pastry into a baking dish. Make a couple of slashes in the top with a sharp knife and brush the surface with olive oil, then bake for 30 – 40 minutes until the pastry is puffy and golden brown. Serve in thick slices.

(There’ll be heaps of bulghur wheat leftover but it’s delicious reheated and drizzled with lots of olive oil the next day, however reduce the quantity if you don’t want leftovers.)

4: Mushroom, Walnut and Red Wine Gravy

A (vague, I admit) recipe by myself

  • 1 onion
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 7 brown mushrooms (if you have like 9 this is not a problem)
  • olive oil, for frying
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 70g walnuts
  • A pinch each of ground nutmeg and cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce

Roughly chop the onion and garlic. Make sure the mushrooms have any dirt brushed off and roughly chop them as well. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan and fry all of this over a low heat until the onions and mushrooms are softened. Sprinkle over the flour and stir for a couple of minutes, before raising the heat and tipping in the red wine. Stir till the wine is absorbed into the floury oniony mushrooms, then tip in the walnuts, the nutritional yeast, and the cinnamon and nutmeg. Slowly add water – around 250ml/1 cup – and allow it to come to the boil, stirring continuously till it’s looking a little thick. You’re going to be blending this up so all the ingredients will naturally thicken it, so it doesn’t have to be too reduced down. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before blitzing it carefully in a high speed blender. I tipped it straight back into the pan to reheat it, but by all means strain it if you want it to be super smooth. It may need more water added at this point if it’s too thick, but up to you. Finally add the soy sauce to taste, and serve hot over EVERYTHING.

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With all that in mind, let’s assess them individually.

1: The concept of roasting a whole cauliflower is, as I noted, an idea I got from Food52, and the idea of brining it first is something I got from a Nigella turkey recipe. I love the idea of treating a vegetable in the same way that you’d treat meat and while cauliflower is more or less going to look after itself in the oven this does come out sweet and tender with its crisp pesto-crusted exterior. It also looks rather wonderful in the roasting dish because it’s so big and whole. On the other hand, because one must be critical: even with the brining and the pesto, this is still just like, a cauliflower alone on a plate. My verdict: this is delicious but I would want it as well as something else, as opposed to being the only thing, otherwise it’s like “wow cool thanks for my slice of damp vegetable really appreciate this.” You of course personally might be more than satisfied by this! But this is how I feel.

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2: The whole pumpkin looks really cool, somehow splendid yet storybook-adorable at the same time. The stuffing has, somehow, and I mean this in an entirely positive and non-innuendo way: a certain sausagey-ness to it. Something in the way the vinegar and mustard play off the rich thyme and the mashed beans and the texture of the bread, it’s all very cured-smallgoodsy and hearty and traditional tasting. My verdict: I am super pleased with this, however I would recommend leaning further into the luxuriousness by making the pesto anyway to have alongside, and perhaps consider adding some pistachios or something else treat-y to the stuffing so that the vegan in your close proximity feels particularly loved.

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3: The eggplant roulade was my favourite! There’s something about pastry that makes anything feel like an enormous effort was made (which, if you managed to make it through my attempts at instructing how to roll the pastry up, is entirely true) and also tastes of true opulence. Happily, it’s very easy to find ready-rolled sheets of puff pastry at the supermarket which are incidentally vegan because they use baker’s margarine or whatever they call it; and it still somehow tastes exactly like it should, probably because it’s what’s used in all commercially made pies and pastries and so our tastebuds are used to it (depending on how many times you’ve fallen asleep with a half-eaten gas station pie nestled beside you on your pillow, I guess.) The eggplant is rich and fulsome and the cinnamon and cranberries in the bulghur wheat are merrily Christmassy. Again, you could consider adding more to make this more, well, more: pistachios, almonds, that ubiquitous pesto, but as it is this is just wonderful. My verdict: Yes.

4: Gravy is so important and I refuse to miss out! This is pretty straightforward, layering savoury upon savoury upon savoury. My verdict: absolutely necessary.

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Because this is already sprawlingly enormous I’m going to wrap it up but overall I’m delighted with everything and with myself. I mentioned last time that I was sick with something flu-like, I thought it had gone away but then halfway through Friday night at work my voice started to disappear, unfortunately I skipped right over sexy-husky and went straight to useless (whispering “hello…welcome” in a strangled modulation as customers blithely walked by, not hearing a single thing I’d said) and seemed to be regressing back into glum sickness. Fortunately I managed to harness the one burst of high-octane energy that I’ve had all week to hoon through making these recipes; I also managed to update my Frasier food blog (Niles and Daphne, sitting in a Gothic mansion!) and have spent the rest of the time when not at work in bed irritably lacking in voice, which is possibly why I’m luxuriating in talking so much on here. Whether it’s residual sickness or just sheer effort I now feel like I need a nap after writing down all those recipes and you may well too if you’ve managed to read this far: napping is the most seasonally-appropriate activity there is, let’s be honest.

title from: Initially I was going to make it “you don’t win friends with salad” from that Simpsons bit but then I thought the “don’t have a cow, man” Simpsons quote was even funnier, all things considered.

music lately:

Blackberry Molasses, Mista This was one of my favourite songs in 1996 and it’s still super sweet, but I am also so sure that the version we got on the radio was faster than this? Can anyone verify?

Laugh It Off, Chelsea Jade. I actually did 1 (one) other activity this week: I went to see local angel Chelsea Jade live at Meow. Her music is just incredible, floaty and dreamy but pinprick-sharp as well and it was so cool to see her again.

Two Dots on a Map, Russian Futurists. This song is so swoony and expansive and pretty much undeniable Laura-bait. While I’m here may I also recommend their aggressively enthusiastic song Paul Simon.

Next time: less is more, I promise.

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