and morning soup can be avoided If you take a route straight through what is known as parklife

It has been a bit of a time for ya girl of late, what with – she says vaguely – one thing and another. Notably I spent the weekend firmly swaddled in illness due to kidney problems, which came with bonus excruciating back ache and the admittedly interesting conundrum of being both hellaciously feverish and shiveringly cold simultaneously. I have no idea what it is or what caused it or what its deal is, but something very similar happened to me back in 2007 so I guess it’s just that my kidneys like to act the fool once every decade. Also, when it happened in 2007 it was misdiagnosed as a sprained rib, to which I was like “um, do you even know how unlikely that is and how sedentary I am”, to which the doctor was like “nope definitely a sprain”, henceforth giving me a lifelong suspicion of diagnoses.

Anyway, I read online that tomatoes are really good for your kidneys – on one of those websites that’s all “make a tincture of parsley and sorrel and then when that’s ready six weeks later make a rudimentary poultice and apply it to the hurty bit of you” (I had to spend an amount at the after-hours clinic that was so huge it almost made me cry in order to get a prescription for antibiotics, so you see why I was initially trying to cure it on my own using dirt and leaves and stuff.) The antibiotics have more or less swept away all the pain but I figured it couldn’t hurt to up the tomato quotient in my life, in an attempt to appease my truculent kidneys.

This Ottolenghi recipe for burnt aubergine soup had caught my eye, but I really wasn’t sure when I was going to make it, on account of my opportunities to cook for myself are few and rare. Luckily the hand of fate intervened! I had some appallingly bad nightmares which woke me up at 4.30am the other day, and could not go back to sleep no matter how firmly I squeezed my eyes shut and listened to soothing meditation videos telling me I’m a good person who’s definitely relaxed and sleepy. By 8am I realised I really wasn’t going back to sleep, and in the feverish grips of all that, decided I might as well be productive with all this time. Making soup suddenly felt like a really good use of my morning, so I hurtled to the supermarket, bought the ingredients (hurrah for having spontaneous cooking whims post-payday) and started making it, all before 9am.

I think I say this in every single post about soup that I’ve ever done, but…soup usually really doesn’t appeal to me that much. It’s just a bowl of wet stuff! There’s not nearly enough crispness and crunchiness! You can’t deep-fry soup! And so on. This soup is super excellent though; the smoky grilled eggplant against a backdrop of rich tomato; the fried cubes of eggplant on top providing proper texture and silky oiliness with every bite, the feta being delicious feta.

The recipe below looks horrifyingly long, and I shan’t candy-coat it for you: this recipe does take up quite a lot of time. But it’s so easy! And I just wanted to talk you through all the steps to make sure I had explained it all properly. Really all the instructions you need for this soup are grill, fry, heat, stir, blend, eat.

burnt aubergine soup with fried aubergine, tomato and feta

adapted from a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi. I know we call them eggplants here in New Zealand but the recipe itself calls them aubergines and it sounds more poetic. So. 

three large eggplants
plenty of olive oil
one large onion, finely diced
one and a half teaspoons ground cumin
a teaspoon of sugar
a tablespoon of lemon juice
one can of crushed tomatoes
a stock cube of your chosen persuasion
feta cheese

First, deal with your eggplants. Turn the grill on your oven to as high as it will go, stab two of the eggplants a few times with a knife, and then put them on a baking tray preeettty close to the grill. Leave them there for what will feel like hours, but is probably an hour maximum, turning them occasionally. Don’t worry if they’re all blistered and deflated looking, it’s what we’re going for here. Remove them from the oven, allow them to cool a little – or don’t, if you’re impatient like me – and remove the skin, which should be crunchy and fall away with a little encouragement. I ate the lot, discard it if you like. Place the frankly weird looking eggplant flesh into a sieve set over a bowl, and allow it to sit there weirdly while you get on with everything else. 

Take the remaining eggplant, dice it into small squares, and then in a saucepan that you’ll later make the rest of the soup in, heat up about an inch of olive oil till it’s sizzling. Fry the cubes of eggplant, in batches if necessary, letting them really just sit there in the hot oil so they get properly browned, before carefully turning them over so they darken on the other side. Add more oil before tipping the next batch of eggplant in if need be. Just deal with how much oil this uses. Carefully remove the browned crispy pieces to a sieve over a bowl and sprinkle with salt (this bit is honestly probably not that necessary? Unlike the earlier sieving bit.) And try really, really hard to not eat the lot. 

Okay now you’re finally done with all the damn prep stuff, and you can actually make soup. With the remaining oil in the pan (there should be around a tablespoon or so) gently fry the onion for five to ten minutes till it’s very soft. Add the cumin, the lemon juice, sugar, can of tomatoes, stock cube and then fill up the tomato can with water from the tap and tip that in. Add another can full of water if you like and want the soup to go further. Let all this simmer briskly till it has thickened and reduced a little and, you know, looks like the makings of some literal soup.

Finally! Add the eggplant flesh to the pan (the burnt stuff, not the fried stuff) and either puree it with a hand-held stick blender thingy, if you have one, or do the stressful thing and transfer it perilously to a food processor and blitz thoroughly. I did the latter, and it doesn’t make it entirely velvety but any texture is pleasing, so, whatever. It’s just so much more of a pain to clean and also it might fly everywhere and you might spill it while getting it in and out of the processor bowl, but anyway. You now have your soup. Ladle into bowls, top generously with the fried eggplant cubes and crumble over plenty of feta. 

Serves two-ish. You could add another can of tomatoes if you want it to go further. 

As well as changing some details I reduced the original recipe’s quantities, but if I were you making this I’d increase the quantities of the liquid and the eggplant just because if you’re going to that much damn time-consuming effort you might as well get a ton of soup out of it and feed an appreciatively gasping crowd. Is it worth it just to do all that for yourself though? Of course! There’s no one more important than me. Is what you should be saying to yourself. I know I hear it enough to occasionally believe it. For real though, this soup has such excellent depth of flavour and the fried eggplant bits are so compulsively good: it is so much more than just a bowl full of wet stuff.

A bright firework of light through all this is that today is the five year anniversary of my friend Kate and I meeting each other at Mighty Mighty in a breathless, hand-clasping fashion, and ALSO Lucy Liu’s birthday. We both love Lucy Liu with the fire of a thousand fires so let’s just say it is feeling auspicious up in here. I can’t believe my life has been this blessed for five years now and I also can’t believe I didn’t meet Kim, the third prong in our equilateral triangle of friendship, till halfway through the following year.

one of my favourite photos of Kate and I, this is pretty much how our initial meeting went too. 

All of everything else aside, I know it’s a dull take but I CANNOT BELIEVE it’s literally December now. I’m not ready! Also December always makes me super introspective and I’m already feeling introspective so it’s all just a double helix of feelings. On the upside, the smell of pine sends me into catnip-esque conniptions and we have erected an enormous, splendidly bushy real Christmas tree at work, every time I pass it by I feel more and more seasons greetings-y. Thanks, Pavlov’s Christmas tree!

title via: Parklife! Man I used to have the crushiest crush on Blur’s Damon Albarn. I literally wrote angrily in my diary in 1996 about him dating Justine Frischmann from Elastica; as if their being together somehow made him less accessible to me than he already was.  
music lately:

Turkey Lurkey Time from the 1969 musical Promises, Promises. It’s my own personal Christmas tradition that every time the first of December comes around, then and only then will I rewatch this video of this utterly ludicrous song being performed. Honestly the song is ridiculous but I’m in it for the incredible dancing, especially from Donna McKechnie who blatantly has elastic where her bones should be. It’s hard to explain, but this is just weirdly important to me. The video, not the consistency of her bones, I mean.

One Direction, Hey Angel. I had very low expectations for these guys post-Zayn, but UGH this is such a good song. It is just so big and manipulative and I love it heartily.
next time: hopefully some exponentially increasing xmas spirit and exponentially decreasing introspection. And chilled out kidneys. 

i’m taking the knife to the books that i own and i’m chopping and chopping and boiling soup from stone

mushroom and lentil soup with sage leaves fried in butter. Thank goodness for garnish huh, imagine how gross this would look without those sage leaves. 
So, I got a job! I am employed, so hard! I’m working at a massively swanky cinema in town at their massively swanky bar, shaky-handedly pretending I know how to make lattes, being sassy with customers, and recommending wines with minor self-confidence. It’s rad. It’s also pretty tiring, which doesn’t necessarily explain why I woke up this morning an hour and a half before my alarm was due to go off, craving some kind of intense, hearty soup. 
But yeah, I got a job! I know it’s a tough market out there but I was getting a bit downtrodden there for a while at my perpetual cycle of applying for jobs and getting rejected. Makes you feel like you’re at your first school disco getting turned down by all the popular kids when you ask them to dance. Actually I take it back, that scenario is way worse than unemployment. 

While I was lying in bed, and in the time when I wasn’t thinking about how I’d regret this careless awakeness later on when my next shift starts at work, I was thinking about soup. Which is unusual for me, soup doesn’t hold a ton of interest and I don’t eat it very often – I tend to like things that are crunchy, crispy, fried, just generally textural, and so a bowl of liquid has to work hard to appeal to me. Lentils are unlikely to be anyone’s definition of “devastatingly sexy as far as food goes” let alone delightful texture-wise, but this recipe just appeared in my head, fully formed, as they often do, and I decided to trust myself and go with it. By the time I went out and got the mushrooms and then came home I wasn’t actually hungry any more, but did have some, and can most definitely confirm that it is worth your reading this blog post further (well, it’s always worth reading my blog posts, but y’know.)

mushroom and lentil soup with sage leaves fried in butter

a recipe by myself. You could fry the sage leaves in olive oil to make this vegan/dairy free if you wish. 

3/4 cup brown lentils
ten button mushrooms
one carrot
one large clove of garlic
olive oil
one teaspoon or so of vegetable stock powder
25g butter
four or five fresh sage leaves

If you can, pour boiling water over the lentils at least an hour before you start making the soup – it’ll help them cook way faster. 

Slice the mushrooms and dice the carrot and garlic. Gently fry them in plenty of olive oil in a medium-sized pot. You want the mushrooms to brown and sizzle slightly, and the carrot to soften. Tip in the lentils and the stock powder and pour over four cups of water. Bring to the boil and then simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the lentils are completely tender. Add more water if it has absorbed/evaporated too much. Remove from the heat and carefully spoon/tip half the soup into a food processor, and blend till it’s fairly smooth. Tip it back into the rest of the soup.

Heat the butter in a small pan and throw in the sage leaves, allowing it all to sizzle and bubble until the leaves are crisp. Divide the soup between two bowls (well, that’s how much it makes, I had some from the bowl you see pictured here and then the rest will be for another time) (if you care about such semantics) and scatter over the sage leaves. Spoon over a little of the butter if you like, and I do, and then serve. 

I always do this when I talk about lentil recipes – go on and on about how unlikeable they are before trying to convince you that this one recipe I’ve made is actually good. Sorry, lentils. Sorry you’re so unlikeable! Ha. But when I’m not being all Mean Girls up on it, this soup is delicious – simple, robust, the rough earthy flavours of the mushrooms and lentils shot through with nuttish browned butter and aromatic sage. Blending half the mixture gives it some body and textural contrast but you could just leave it as is, or pour cream in, or whatever, really. It’s simple, it’s very cheap, it’s fast, and it tastes rather excellent. The crisp sage leaves cater to my love of crisp things, and as always with soup, I am reminded as I eat it that eating something hot and non-threateningly liquefied in the middle of winter is actually wonderful.

Even more important than my getting a job, my friends got a cat from the SPCA! Her name is Minerva and she is beautiful and I’m smitten with her, both vicariously and in person.

I love her so much that we started to morph into one half-human half-cat creature, it was quite awkward to explain it to my friends who own her. 

So yeah, things will be interesting from now on – well, they always are, sometimes too interesting – as I hold down my job and this blog and my side hustle cookies. Proud of myself though.
title from: Regina Spektor’s song The Flowers. Her voice is magic.
music lately: 

One Direction, I Would. These loveable scruffs and their music just makes me so happy! And this is probably my favourite one of theirs. It’s just, so…right.

Icona Pop/Charli XCX, I Love It. This song always makes me feel reckless and free, and never more so when it came on the other night when I was out dancing, just when I needed to hear it most. Seriously just turn off the lights and jump and thrash around to this and everything will be good.

Saycon Sengbloh, Young Gifted and Black. Those harmonies, oof.
next time: ummmm…I know not. But it will be good. 

if I rap soup my beats is stock

In a wearily unsurprising turn of events, I undercooked the cornbread in the photo above. I then returned it to the oven and overcooked it. Then tonight I took the crumbly leftovers and mixed them together with eggs and milk and cheese and butter – and then undercooked that. Well of course.

Of all the things I could be queen of, it’s not what I’d choose, but if Game of Thrones has taught me anything (apart from don’t watch it while eating dinner) it’s that sometimes the crown finds you. And I seem to be the queen of false starts. It’s not simply just a case of when it rains it pours (by the way, Shakespeare invented that phrase, along with all other phrases and words and probably food blogging) it’s more like…getting in my own way, constantly being underprepared for basic things and the general game of good luck roulette that is life not offering any help. I’m not saying I’m cursed or beleaguered or miserable. I mean, good things happen. Life is pretty alright. I just have a lot of cause to say things like “well of course this happened, because I am me.”

Like, I sometimes really struggle to leave the house in a hurry. It sounds strange, but time will speed up while my movements slow down, everything feels weird, I can’t find anything, I’ll drop things, my heart will start racing and I’ll feel like I need a shower and a lie-down. Often. But surely pretty much everyone has had that feeling where you’re trying to achieve something small and the more you try the more you push it away and break it apart. Oh my gosh, this has turned into the most negative start to this blog post. I was just trying to muse. To ponder. What a damn false start!

Luckily the parsnip soup I made turned out so good, so velvety and creamy and wonderful that I wanted to not so much eat it as to fall asleep on a li-lo drifting around in a large bowl of it, one hand idly trailing into the soup as I float on by. By li-lo I mean inflatable mattress thing for a swimming pool, not the actress Lindsay Lohan. Actually in this day and age I can’t tell which reference is less up-to-date and likely to be squinted at in confusion by young people. Perhaps a better solution is an undignified but sensible inflatable ring around my waist, keeping me safely bouyant. Or just eating the soup.

I don’t even go for soup all that often, it doesn’t seem as exciting as other significantly less formless foods. It’s not crisp, it’s not chewy, it’s not crunchy, it’s not deep-fried, all those good things, you know? And yet, whenever I actually get over that and have soup, I’m always like “…oh yeah. Soup.” And that’s the eloquent response I had to this parsnip soup after making it. It certainly helped me get over the cornbread a little bit.

Dead roses: I really like them.

The texture is cloud-like, aerated and foam-light, yet rich and plushly creamy. Despite not having cream or in fact any dairy in it whatsoever. Which is really good if you’re at that days-before-payday stage where there’s no money still and there’s not the option of running down the road to pick up extra ingredients from the dairy. This is more or less parsnips and water. You do absolutely need a blender though, that’s what allows the luxuriant texture to happen, but I’m pretty sure a food processor or stick blender will still be absolutely fine. Without one of those…I’m sorry, maybe make a different soup. Or something deep-fried.

It might look like there’s a lot of oil in this – or it might not, I can’t even tell anymore – but it’s there for the rich buttery olive oil flavour, as well as the way it turns vegetables and water into something with a little more body and soul. So, if you don’t have olive oil on you, I’d use actual butter which will provide similar flavour. If not…different soup? I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be pushing you away. But c’mon.

Velveteen Parsnip Soup (I don’t know how I feel about adjectives in front of recipe names. But I really like the word velveteen. And this soup really is all soft and fleecy and wondrous.)

A recipe by myself. 

4 medium sized parsnips
3 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons of olive oil 
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
Tiny pinch of ground cinnamon
3 cups water

Roughly dice the parsnips, and peel and trim the garlic cloves. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the parsnips and garlic over a high heat for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat, very low, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, cover with the lid and allow to slowly cook for about ten minutes. At this stage the parsnip pieces should be all soft and golden. Stir in the mustard and cinnamon and pour over the water and simmer gently for another ten minutes, or until the parsnip is completely tender. Blend the hell out of it – it’s a pain to get the stuff into the blender, but it’s worth the nervousness – until not one single lump of parsnip remains. 

Optional caramelised nuts, for sprinkling over, optional since I’m not 100% sure about them

1 handful nuts, eg hazelnuts, almonds, a mix of whatever, whatever. I do have this feeling that peanuts are a no here, though.
30-ish grams butter
1/4 teaspoon/a few drops soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon/small pinch mustard powder
1 teaspoon brown sugar

Very roughly chop the nuts, then melt the butter in a pan – I used the same one I’d cooked the soup in, no need to wash – until it’s bubbling and hot. Tip in the nuts, and stir around till they’re lightly toasted. Stir in the soy sauce, mustard powder and sugar until it becomes a little clumpy and caramelised. Tip the lot, butter and gritty caramelised bits of sugar and all, into a small bowl and spoon it over your soup as you please. 

(Me: sorry Tim. It’s going to be that kind of blog post where I photograph your spookily headless body while you pause mid-spoonful.)

Parsnips have a natural mild sweetness and butteriness that you wouldn’t think was there if you just bit into a raw one (have done, not…unpleasant) and which benefits from the slow frying, from the warm rounding out of cinnamon and mustard, and from lots of salt. And what this soup lacks in deep-fried-ness, it makes up for in baffling silkiness, and caramelly parsnip deliciousness. As I hinted at in the recipe, I’m not quite sure about the caramelised nuts that I made to sprinkle over the top – the soy sauce almost made them a little too rich, if such a thing is possible. I think I would’ve been better off just toasting them in butter rather than trying to be too fancy. And of course, there is the cornbread, all undercooked and stupid. But the thing I thought most of all was not going to work – the soup that I made up on the spot – was pretty perfect.

Talk about false starts, I took the day after a public holiday off on Friday with the intention of getting a lot of writing and blog admin done. I spent the day on the floor, frustrated and sick (when I wasn’t throwing up, that is. I always instinctively end up on the floor at times like this.) Oh, and I made some cookies to blog about (I mean, I made them to eat, which is my primary reason for cooking anything, just I thought they’d be good to blog about.) And they really didn’t turn out right. Not terrible or inedible, just not what I’d intended and not particularly fantastic. I dubbed them shame-cookies, because drama is its own reward.

Saturday was glorious though, in that I watched The Hour for the, uh, fourth time in about six months. And made another convert to its swooning, heart-punching gorgeousness (Kate.) And made this cake. I know I talk about it a lot, but I can’t overstate my love for this show. Fly, don’t run or walk, to find it.

PS wanna see my tattoo? Here is a peek of the sneaky kind. I just wanted to hold onto it for a while before I posted a picture of it online, and then of course as I mentioned in my last post, it went a bit gross while healing, which is to be expected.

It’s now more or less healed, which means I can wear pants again. But I don’t even want to. (No pants are better than pants, as I always think.) But really: I just want to keep gazing at it. You can too, right here.

title via: Beastie Boys, Intergalactic. Sigh, poor Beastie Boys with only the two of them now. 

Music lately:

Let’s Get Ready to Crumble, Russian Futurists. I haven’t listened to these guys in so long! Literally not since, oh, 2009. And I really like them still. It’s hard to explain what they sound like, a little vague and dreamy but also quite punchy. I don’t know, it sounds like all that music that you like.

Fear No Pain, Willy Mason. It feels like if he’d released this now, in these post-Mumford times, he’d be intergalactic huge. But then maybe I’d instantly dislike him (I really don’t like Mumford and Sons, however I try to just let my ears tell me what music I like rather than letting taste dictate. Otherwise, let’s face it, I might not have named this blog after a line from RENT.) Anyway, it’s a gorgeous, sunny, Americana-y tune that comfortably lived-in and yet is only about five years old.

The Wayward Wind, Patsy Cline. A beautiful voice, singing one of the most beautiful songs.
Next time: I don’t know, but I really hope whatever it is I make it on the weekend and there’s decent lighting for taking photos. And that I don’t under or over-cook the thing I make.

i saw the sign, and it opened up my eyes i saw the sign

It was Tuesday, May 21 when I got the phone call confirming that I had a cookbook deal. I’ve already talked about how, while waiting for that phone call, I watched clip after clip of inspiring Broadway videos and Leslie Knope achieving stuff. But before all that, I was, to keep myself sane, keeping an eye out for good signs. You know, little things that felt like the universe was giving me a thumbs up. Here’s the list I made on the day:

– I saw Bernie, the magical giant-hound-about-town, on the way to work.
– Barack Obama tweeted “Clear eyes, full hearts” and a photo of himself throwing a football. I mean, c’mon. That’s a good sign any day. 
Jo tweeted me to let me know the actress who plays Arya on Game of Thrones was photographed wearing very similar bold pants to mine. I really wanted to get this cookbook okay people, and I was going to see good signs where I wanted to see them. 
-Tim and I beat our personal best time at getting to Customs Brew Bar that morning for a pre-work coffee, despite it feeling like we were going to be late.
-There was a man I’ve never seen, before or since, busking underneath my window, playing Beauty and the Beast on the saxophone. Anything that calls to mind the human hug that is Angela Lansbury has to be a good sign.
-And finally, spoilers ahoy, I felt like the way season four of Parks and Rec finished meant I just had to get this. 
Now I’m not super-superstitious – not as much as I used to be, anyway – plenty of life is just horribly, weirdly random. But still, I can’t help taking note of things like that when they come along.
So I was a bit concerned, because this week marked my very first days of writing my cookbook, the days I pictured spending typing furiously, drinking bottomless black coffee and gazing happily out the window, perhaps while an accordion plays somewhere in the background. I would possibly also be wearing a beret. 
And this week, I got sick. Kitten-weak, coughing constantly, aching head, my nasal passages like high pressure hoses jetting forth mucus, brain fuzzy as the ugg boots I wore to stay warm. You could say it’s not the best sign that this cookbook’s going to be amazing.

But I’ve decided to take it as a good sign. First, I’m hoping that being sick now at the start of Winter will mean I’m cool for the rest of it. Secondly, it neatly did away with any first-day-on-the-job awkwardness. Thirdly, after months of burning away on less than six hours sleep a night to put in the work to make myself as cookbook-worthy as possible, some enforced rest is kinda nice.

But yeah, did I mention kitten-weak? I could hardly lift my head yesterday. However there was a small window where hunger, my sense of taste returning, and my ability to stand up straight intersected, and I made good on it by cooking myself up some tomato soup, with sake, chilli, and cinnamon in its cherry-red depths. That aside, this is really just a can of tomatoes and some water, so as well as the fact that it ain’t no thing to make, it also costs little.

Tomato Soup with Sake, Chilli and Cinnamon.

A recipe by myself.

1 can tomatoes in juice (crushed makes your life easier, but sometimes whole are cheaper, so go with what you know.)
1 heaped teaspoon sambal oelek OR 1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced
1 tablespoon semolina
1 shotglass of sake
Cinnamon and salt to taste

Open the can of tomatoes and tip it into a pan. Fill up the can with water and tip that into the pan too. Add the sambal oelek or chilli, bring to the boil then simmer for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally. If you’re using whole canned tomatoes, mash them up with your wooden spoon as you go. Sprinkle over the semolina, stir it in quickly, and simmer for another five minutes till the soup is thickened. Finally, stir in the sake and a dusting of cinnamon (not even a quarter of a teaspoon – just shake some into your hand and scatter it in from there) plus salt to taste, and serve. 

Serves 1 – although easily multiplied for more.

Tomato soup is what it is – you either like it or don’t. This is special yet nothing special at the same time, making it a rather perfect lunch. There’s something inimitable about sake’s clean yet buttery taste and the way it mingles with the slow-simmered tomatoes. The semolina swells and thickens the soup superbly, and the chilli and cinnamon add necessary, fragrant warmth, generally distracting you entirely from the metallic beginnings of these tomatoes. If you don’t have sake kicking around, use sherry, and if you don’t have that kicking around, this will still be really nice, so fear not. And if you don’t have semolina you could use polenta, or just have your soup a little more watery. However, there is also something to be said for following my recipe as it is, too.

So I ate it for lunch yesterday with a cup of hot lime and honey – the lime simply a different take on the usual lemon drink that I’ve been having nonstop for the last few days. And it was wonderful.

I had my last day at work on Friday. It’s strange not to be going there anymore after so many years. At this stage it just feels like I’m on sick leave, but there is a persistent sense of having left something big behind – it’s a little sad, but it’s also very, very freeing, and growing more definite. And I left on good terms – the best terms in fact, dancing wildly with everyone at a local bar. Indeed, it’s possibly for the best that no-one has to make eye contact with me immediately following my particular brand of jiving to Tainted Love. I can’t help it, when the music plays I dance big, and I dance freely.

And any lingering feelings of “what have I dooooooone” were dissolved quickly on Saturday night at an amazing potluck dinner at our dear friend Jo’s (the same one who told me about Arya’s pants.) Friends that you feel comfortable enough to have a fullness-induced (slightly mulled wine-induced too, to be fair) lie-down in front of are good friends indeed. Seriously, when I get too full I have to lie down, and there’s really not many places outside the home that I can feasibly follow through with it.

So this is me now – not wearing a cool beret (or even an uncool beret), not having written gazillions of pages of my cookbook, and not feeling particularly well.

But I’ve made a tiny bit of progress and if nothing else there’s no sickness, it seems, that the right filter on instagram can’t fix. The journey has begun. And if it begins with me wearing my teenage-throwback Bjork buns and a blanket my mum crocheted for me and using a handtowel as a handkerchief because a mere handkerchief can’t sustain what my nose is throwing down, then so be it! 
Title via: Ace of Base, The Sign. You know life like, is demanding, without understanding? 

Music to write a cookbook to:

I already love Janine and the Mixtape’s song Bullets, but if anything’s going to make me listen to a remix of it, it’s the fact that Haz’Beats from Homebrew is behind it. Dreamy as.

Speaking of remixes, listen now to this Scratch 22 remix of Street Chant’s Salad Daze. Holy cow, is all I’ve got.

Was a little tipsy the other night and pulled my typical move of falling into a YouTube black hole of tears-inducing Broadway videos. And there are few more instantly tears-inducing than the late Laurie Beechman. Ugh, just typing it makes me want to cry. Watch her singing On A Clear DayIf you dare.
Next time: I have the latest Cuisine magazine and am still planning to cook something from that, but whatever it is, hopefully I’ll be well enough to make it something a little more involved than a can of tomatoes and some water. But not too involved, you know me.

who’d come through with lentils and to get the fundamentals

There are so many things that are not delightful about life in New Zealand in 2012 but I’ll tell you one thing – and it doesn’t just apply to me here in my homeland – the internet is really on form. I remember when I first heard about the internet – I guess in the mid-nineties – marveling at how much information was on it. I remember specifically saying to someone (possibly one of the cats) “so you could find a website about anything, if you want a website about bottle caps then you could probably find it”. (Little did I know I predicted the zoomed-in nature of tumblr, where there probably is at least one dedicated to bottle caps.) Little did I know just how much ridiculously specific information this thing they call the internet could hold.

Where I’m going with this is, after a particularly wearying day of clumsy mishaps, I got into my usual grumble-rut of lamenting that women in comedy movies (TV sometimes too) often seem to be portrayed in a way that clumsiness is their only personality trait. You know. She fell over in a public place. And that’s how you know she’s nice and relatable and you want her to continue on this inevitably heteronormative path towards boy-meets-girlness, maybe falling over just once more in public just to remind you how ‘zany’ she is. Oh, I could ineffectually whinge further, but I suddenly thought, you know I just bet there’s something on the internet that demonstrates what I’m talking about. And I was right. We’re at the stage where information saturation means if you want a supercut of badly written female characters in rom-coms falling over, you can find it with the half-heartedest of Googlings. Sure there are the endless trolls, but still. For that I say 2012, you’re okay. 
(If you’re wondering what it was that I did that got me thinking in such a vague manner about romcoms and clumsiness, it was the following:
Pulled on stockings in a hurry and in doing so dug a massive, red scratch with my thumbnail along…the side of my right buttock. Mmmhmm.
Took a drink of water, dribbled it all over myself, I can’t even think why.
Brought it all home with my masterstroke of weirdness: I walked into my bedroom swiftly and nearly got whiplash from being yanked backwards again because the doorhandle had got stuck in a buttonhole on my coat.)

Luckily, for those of us inclined towards ungainliness, the pear-shaped butternut squash is a squillion times easier than the pumpkin to slice into. Its tender flesh accepts the knife blade swiftly, as opposed to pumpkins which scare the heck out of me – every time I approach them with a knife it seems the stupid tough pumpkin shoots off in the opposite direction. Good to know for anything you require pumpkin for – butternut squash rules. Especially in this extremely simple soup I thought up. If you’re not blessed with a food processor there’s nothing to stop you taking the pesto ingredients and just adding them to the soup at the end – and there’s also nothing to stop you not calling this un-Italian paste ‘pesto’, I just can’t think of a better name for it.

Butternut, Lentil and Coconut Soup with Peanut, Rocket and Lime Pesto

A recipe by myself.

1 medium butternut squash, roughly diced and skin removed. (About two heaped cups)
1/2 cup red lentils
3 cups water
1/2 cup coconut milk or coconut cream

1/2 cup peanuts
2 handfuls rocket leaves
Juice of a lime
3 tablespoons sesame oil
Pinch salt

Place the diced butternut, red lentils and water in a saucepan, bring to the boil and then simmer slowly with the lid on for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a little more water if you feel it needs it. At this point use your spoon/spatula/etc to mash up the bits of butternut as you wish – this is a fairly chunky soup, although there’s nothing stopping you from blending it all up, I suppose. Sprinkle in a little salt and stir in the coconut milk. Ladle into bowls and serve with as much of the pesto as you please and a swirl of coconut milk if you like.

Meanwhile, toast the peanuts lightly in a hot pan (I actually did this first, and then used that same pan to make the soup in. Minimising dishes for all!) and then throw them into a food processor with the rocket leaves and lime juice. Blend up, scraping down the sides as you need to, then add the salt and oil and blend again. 

This makes about enough for two people with some leftovers.

You’d think the soup would be a little boring but the mild, creamy sweetness of the butternut and coconut and the earthiness of the lentils bring their own excitement. The lentils melt into the butternut and the small amount of coconut makes it surprisingly rich. But even so, there’s the pesto – lentils and peanuts aren’t a million miles removed flavourwise, with peppery rocket and sour lime to stop it being too oily, but then plenty of sesame oil…in case it’s not oily enough.
I don’t always get all that enthusiastic about soup, but this is worthy of my time, a nice mix of familiarly comforting and compellingly stimulating. Perfect for those nights when you can see your breath puffing cloudily in front of you. While you’re sitting on the couch. 
Tim and I had a ludicrously busy weekend but for now that’s a story for another time, till then I still have news: I made a podcast! Called The HungryandFrozen #soimportant Podcast. I know, how can I possibly find ever yet more ways to foist my feelings about food upon the world? Don’t feel forced to listen to it, I’m just doing it for the sheer fun of it – and it is fun – but should you be interested in what I have to say on top of everything else I have to say, you can listen to the first episode here! Oh, the internet. Couldn’t have breezily undertaken this this back when I was a nipper! I think the closest I got was pretending to be all five of the Spice Girls and an interviewer and recording it on a cassette but I only got about thirty seconds in before realising all those different accents plus witty dialogue was a lot for an eleven-or-so year old to enact. 
Title via: I was hoping to get Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner’s sprightly version of Little Me from the Broadway musical of the same name, but do you think I could find it on youtube? I could nay. And just when I was talking about how great the internet is. Luckily there’s Faith Prince singing it on the New Broadway Cast Recording.

Music lately:

I was saddened to hear of the death of Donna Summer. You know I love to obsess over a song and I Feel Love was one that stood up to two or three or seven repeat listens in a row. A huge talent lost.

Louie the ZU with Leroy Clampitt, I Want You To Know: dreamy goodness. I love it.

Next time: Apologies for being this cryptic on a Monday, but knowing what I know, hopefully I’ll have some interesting news for you.

everyone jump on the peas train

It was Tim’s birthday last Sunday. We don’t really do presents, but I did get him 25 individually filled out birthday cards. Keep in mind that this came about after about a week of laughing at him and telling him there was no way I was going to get him a birthday card. At the eleventh hour, the idea of not only getting him a birthday card after all, but in fact surprising him with a card for every year of life suddenly gripped me and by the time I’d bought a few, I had to go through with the whole thing. 
(Fluffy couldn’t be contained by any envelope. Fluffy also meowed a disturbingly discordant “Happy birthday to you” when you rubbed her stomach.)
There was a party on Wednesday, where we drank Purple Jesus, ate chocolate dipped potato chips (and mighty delicious they are too), several cheeses, venison salami (who knew it existed?) a whole lot of ice cream, and…speaking of outlandish ideas that I have…a cake I made that looked like Tim. It’s not something I paraded around on Twitter for fear of mass unfollowings but just in case, reassure me, there’s nothing tooooo weird about making a cake that looks like someone for their birthday, is there? It’s worth noting that the cake’s real-life counterpart is better looking, or at least has a more significantly visible chin. Tim was wearing the exact same clothes as the cake (following a conversation about which of his pants would be easiest to recreate in icing) which of course added to the fun. And maybe the weirdness. But mostly the fun.

It was such a fun night, but between one thing and another I’ve been feeling lingeringly seedy since, not helped by a weekend away for work. Having returned to Wellington, all my instincts tonight wailed “get take-out satay”. But instead I hunted out a recipe that not only takes a bare minimum of brain effort to make it work, it’s also delicious, and very good for you. Like taking your brain cells and your tastebuds out for a swim in the kind of cool, artesian mountain stream that you read about on the back of fancy bottled water.

Peas and water, that’s all it is. Peas, water. And a blender. Unfortunately this recipe won’t work without said blender, so if you don’t have access to one, I’d change it up and make some kind of peas and rice combination instead. If you do have one though, and some peas in the freezer, then you’re bare minutes from the foamiest, floamiest, greenest soup in existence. My photos don’t really demonstrate how vigorously green it is, because it was on the dark side when I snapped these. I’ve been on the lookout for some polystyrene to reflect light a bit, but really I’m just lazily hanging out for it to continue getting lighter in the evenings. 

For all that I’m such a crusader for this soup, I was initially suspicious of it. I’ve known about this recipe of Nigella Lawson’s for years, but always thought she was talking it up way too much. It just sounded too simple, and in my mind I pictured, like…water with peas floating in it, not this inconceivably velvety puree. 
Turns out she wasn’t talking it up nearly enough. Should’ve trusted her, since it was Nigella and all.

It tastes gorgeous – like you’re drinking the very meaning of green in itself (frozen peas have this effect on me sometimes, sorry). But it’s even better if you do like I did and add a spoonful of rich, gritty white miso paste, and a few basil leaves. You could use mint or coriander too, whatever you have, or just nothing at all – but the clean, nutty pea flavour benefited from the herbacious peppery depth of basil. You could also add rocket leaves, spinach leaves, any other green bits you have slinking around in the fridge. 
Easiest Pea Soup

Adapted slightly from a recipe of Nigella Lawson’s from her seminal text How To Eat.

450g frozen peas
1 1/2 cups water

Optional but recommended and awesome:

1 teaspoon white miso paste
Basil leaves
Boil together the peas and the water (plus the miso if you like) in the usual way, as if you were going to serve them just as is. Remove from the heat, carefully tip into a blender and whizz away till very smooth. Add the basil leaves at this point and blitz again. Tip into two bowls and serve.
Thanks so much to everyone for all the nice feedback on my video tutorial on how to to make ice cream! Seriously. I was braced for complete indifference, at best. And now I’m currently working on the second one: a salute to homemade pastry. 
Title via: Cat Stevens’ lovely song Peace Train. And let’s all just take a moment to appreciate what a babe young Cat Stevens was.
Music lately:

Like I said, I was away this weekend, and when I got home I um…listened to Mariah Carey’s monumentally good MTV Unplugged album at least four times in a row. So, no change since last week, I’m afraid.

Next time: I’m not sure, but I’m in the mood to do some proper baking. 

o souperman

This soup actually cured my cold. Either that or my cold was on its way out and the bold quantities of garlic, ginger, and chilli in this soup merely opened the door for it, put its hand in the small of its back (the soup’s hand, the cold’s back…I think) and kindly but firmly steered it outwards.

Soup isn’t always the most exciting thing to have for dinner – it’s generally never fried, crispy, crunchy, chocolate dipped, or any of those things that can be so, so good about eating. However this recipe is courtesy of Yotam Ottolenghi, whose way with food is always exciting. That said, you’ve got to make sure you really read the ingredient list, simple as it looks, and don’t miss anything out. Each thing, from the sticks of celery to the bay leaves play their important part, allowing the soup to neatly dodge the whole “wait, what? This is just bits of herbs floating in warm water” vibe.
Unfortunately I can’t avoid my “awful low-lighting and also prosaic soup composition photos” vibe. First comes the better control of photography on a Winter’s night, then comes the better composition. I promise you I’m reading…well, looking for, my camera’s instruction manual.
Garlic Soup

From Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty

Serves 4

4 shallots (or an onion) finely sliced
3 celery sticks, finely chopped
40g butter (optional – just use the oil if you like)
2 T olive oil
25 garlic cloves, finely sliced (yes, peeled and sliced, sorry)
2 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger root
1 tsp finely chopped thyme leaves
200ml white wine
generous pinch saffron threads (optional…because I accidentally left it out)
4 bay leaves
1 litre good-quality vegetable stock
1/2 tsp sea salt
Parsely, coriander and Greek yoghurt and harissa to serve.

Fry your shallots or onions and celery in the butter and oil till soft and translucent – keep an eye on them, don’t let them turn brown. Add the garlic and continue to cook over a low heat, then stir in the ginger and thyme, followed by the wine which will bubble up and reduce down a bit. Then add the saffron, bay leaves, salt and stock and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Note: I acknowledge peeling and slicing all that garlic is a big pain, but it’s worth it in terms of flavour. Maybe a buddy you can enlist, in exchange for feeding them soup?
Ottolenghi says to blitz with a hand blender or in a food processor but I didn’t have the energy for that – all the lifting and the assembling and the cleaning on a cold dark night…and it seemed just fine as it was.
As I said, every ingredient is important – the wine against the hot pan, evaporating into concentrated savoury goodness, the vigorous burst of ginger heat, the softened, traditional flavours of the onion and celery. The heavy spoonful of yoghurt isn’t exactly essential but I would definitely not leave out the green garnishy things on top – coriander’s fresh taste goes well with the rest of the soup, but it also makes it look a bit more presentable. If you don’t have harissa (I did) you’ve got a number of options – stir in some sambal oelek, chopped red chilies, or replace the olive oil with chili oil. Or, of course, ignore the chili altogether.
I realise I’ve spent nearly this whole thing saying how not-fun soup is, but this stuff is truly gorgeous (not-not-fun?), a broth of flavours unfurling like flannel sheets grabbed straight from the dryer – warming, comforting, lightly textured.
Work took me down to Christchurch on Saturday, and I was fortunately able to have a quick catch up with Mika of the mighty fine Millie Mirepoix blog who coincidentally was also down from Wellington. The chilling rubble of half-formed houses and the constant road-blocking cordons, the cracks in the road and the buildings that you had to look at twice to register that they were leaning on an angle or sunken in the middle made me feel a bit queasy and sad inside and it would’ve been easy to get stuck focussing on that. Not that it shouldn’t be focussed on (it should! But in a “now what” kind of way, maybe? Not really my place to say) but what I mean is, it was really good to see a friendly face amongst it all, and to contribute in a small way to the local economy by getting coffee and a really, really good Cherry Ripe Slice at Beat Street Cafe and another fantastic coffee from Black Betty’s. If you’re heading to Christchurch I totally recommend these places – they’re open, they’re friendly and they’re serving up seriously good food.
Title via: Laurie Anderson’s intriguing, staccato yet tranquil O Superman. Admittedly I don’t know a lot of her stuff (only really this and Language Is A Virus), and it can be, to someone attuned to songs being a bit verse-chorus-verse-chorus and so on, a bit challenging, but I do like it a lot, and not just because Idina Menzel cites Anderson as someone she studied for her character of Maureen in RENT (I heard Anderson first, so!)
Music lately:
Lena Horne – who died just over a year ago now – and her beautiful version of I Got Rhythm from the Lovely and Alive record.
Joy Division, Love Will Tear Us Apart. Heard it this morning for the first time in ages on the radio. It’s a bit obvious, but it’s always good. (Speaking for the original only, not cover versions…)
Next time: My invention of gingerbeer scones possibly hasn’t been thought of before because they weren’t as wildly gingery as I thought they’d be…but they were still delicious, and I took photos of them anyway.