we don’t talk about love, we only want to get drunk

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I had intended to make these Drunken Noodles because I thought they’d be delicious, and not because of the reason for their cute name – which supposedly came about because they’re a good hangover cure. But then I got a bit of a hangover! Not a huge one, but just a certain dull-edged self-indulgent seediness that made me crave salt and heat. As I said in my last blog post, there’s not much else to do in the countryside other than drink tea; now that I’m back visiting Wellington there are significantly more bars per capita and people to catch up with, in said bars, also per capita. You start off with a ferrous, silt-thick craft beer while using a bar’s WiFi, then move to a second location to meet your dear friend Kate for a Prosecco, then another dear friend Kim joins and it’s like, would it be morally wrong not to split a bottle of wine now? And then you have more wine with dinner, and then whisky afterwards, and before you know it’s 9pm and you’ve been drinking since noon.

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The next day I made these noodles for Kate and myself and I do think they had some kind of positive effect, but they were so delicious that I’d very much like to eat them on a weekly basis whether or not there’s a hangover involved. Drunken Noodles are a Thai dish that you might see on menus as Pad Kee Mao, and it’s not traditionally vegan. My recipe is obviously absolutely not authentic because it’s something I came up with from trawling other recipes and trying to suss out how I could make it work for me – but it’s straightforward, and it tastes fantastic, and as you can see from the ingredients list there’s plenty of room to move. You could fry some mushrooms or tofu to bulk it out, you can toy with the seasoning and sweetness, and you can make it as chilli-hot as your tastebuds can withstand.

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Drunken Noodles

A recipe by myself

  • 200g (or as many as you want) rice noodles
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Thai seasoning sauce, Maggi sauce, liquid amino sauce, or similar (or just more soy sauce if you’re stuck)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons oil (peanut oil is great, otherwise use vegetable)
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar (Zhenjiang/Chingkiang vinegar is amazingly delicious, otherwise just apple cider or malt would work)
  • 2 teaspoons sriracha, or to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • a handful (roughly) of fresh basil leaves, plus extra for serving
  • 2 spring onions
  • a handful of cherry tomatoes
  • chilli flakes, to serve 

(Note: if you can get hold of Thai basil then use that instead, I could not find any but regular basil seems to be a serviceable substitute. Similarly, if you can get hold of some vegan oyster sauce then definitely add a spoonful of that to the sauce.)

Place the noodles in a heatproof dish and cover in boiling water. Let them sit for a couple of minutes to soften, then drain and set aside.

Stir together the soy sauce, seasoning sauce, sugar, oil, vinegar, sriracha, and finely chopped garlic cloves. Finely chop most of the basil, reserving some for garnish, and stir it into the sauce. Finely slice the spring onions, and halve the cherry tomatoes.

Heat a little extra oil in a frying pan and tip in the spring onions, stirring until they’re softened and a little browned. Add the cherry tomatoes, the drained noodles, and the sauce, stirring for a couple of minutes to let the noodles absorb everything and the cherry tomatoes collapse a little.

Remove from the heat, and divide between two bowls. Sprinkle over as much of the chilli flakes as you want, and a little extra basil.

Serves 2, although one person could probably handle this quantity, that person being me.

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For something that comes together in a minute this gives so much depth of flavour – layers of dark saltiness, bursts of heat, slippery tender noodles, the sweet juiciness of the tomatoes, and the almost cinnamon-like warmth of the basil. Tomatoes and basil are always presented as an Italian cuisine thing, but I think this pairing of them here is even more iconic.

I’m in Wellington for another week or so and am not going to be operating at this high level of activity for the entire time but I absolutely will be making these noodles again. And there’s nothing quite like the pure creamery quadruple-distilled corn-fed joy of seeing old friends again – I am hugely enjoying myself.

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(Friends like…Ghost the dog!!!)

title from: A Design For Life by Manic Street Preachers, I really don’t like their music on the whole but I extremely love this one song – the dramatic strings and the way the chorus thunders into your ears and the structure of the lyrics, it’s so good.

music lately:

Spindrift by Colin Stetson. This is an incredible piece of noise, like a cavalcade of uplifting fluttery sounds coming from the saxophone of all things, it’s like a shower of cold water running over your ears but also you’re floating?

Beautiful Baby, by Elizabeth. Kate introduced me to this artist, and I was instantly in love! This song holds that particular kind of melancholy where it feels like it should be playing while you watch a person that you’re in love with slow-dancing purposefully with with someone else.

Next time: All I want to make is these noodles, it seems kind of unfair that I have to plan other recipes? But I guess that’s how food blogs work? What if I just talked about this recipe till the end of time?

PS: if you enjoy my writing and would like to support me directly, you can do so by joining my Patreon. It’s like a cordoned-off VIP area where you can access content written just for you: recipes, updates, etc – this month I reviewed 41 films and 20 books, last month I revealed the opening sentences of the novel I wrote.

start spreading the news, I’m leaving today

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It is tough out there at the moment, you know? I mean it’s always tough out there – it’s slightly reassuring but mostly terrifying to consider the fact that not a single year has gone by without something awful happening – but specifically, the burning Amazon rainforest is really making my brain glitch and my already-mounting anxiety about environmental stuff and the fragility of what time we have within that environmental stuff, ramp up significantly. To get a grip on it, this piece in The Guardian outlines clearly and calmly what’s going on and gives some ways to help – although the forests’ fate appears largely in the hands of like, three tyrannical despots and a handful of abysmally slow-moving world leaders as opposed to one individual not using a plastic bag one time. Which is not to discount the power of that plastic bag. I grant you, it’s a drop in a bucket of water that’s coming to a boil. But still. Do what you can, anything good: plant a lil native tree, write to whichever politician seems most likely to actually read your email, donate to a local shelter or women’s refuge, contribute to the kaupapa of Ihumātao, smile at a dog, ask someone how they feel and then listen to what they say.

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I recently ordered Rachel Ama’s cookbook Rachel Ama’s Vegan Eats as a baseless reward to myself, the warranting of which I assume will become apparent eventually. I mean, someone’s gotta self-indulge me! I was spurred on by a recommendation of Nigella Lawson’s on instagram – Lawson and I already have a kind of jump/how high relationship as far as her opinion and me heeding her opinion goes, but I figured that a vegan recommendation from someone so wholeheartedly meaty held particular weight. Turns out Nigella and I were both correct! This book is wonderful – not least because Ama also has listed songs in it that she listens to while making the food – it’s full of the kind of food I want to eat, and I can’t wait to cook my way through it. I decided to break it in by making something swift and chill, this Chive Tofu Spread, which takes a bare minute to come together and tastes fantastically delicious.

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Rachel Ama’s Chive Tofu Spread

A recipe from the cookbook Rachel Ama’s Vegan Eats

  • 40g raw cashew nuts (about 1/3 cup)
  • 280g extra firm tofu
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil (the refined, flavourless type is best here)
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon garlic granules or powder
  • a handful of fresh chives, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cover the cashew nuts with water and leave to soak for about two hours, then drain.

Drain the tofu and gently press down on it with a paper towel to try remove as much of the moisture as possible. Blend everything except for the chives in a food processor – although I used a stick/immersion blender to make it extra creamy, because I wasn’t sure that I trusted the food processor. Fold in the chives, and serve.

Can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for about three days.

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You might potentially not be immediately drawn to the notion of a bowl of cold blended tofu, but this is so much greater than the sum of its bits: creamily smooth, with a flavour almost approaching soft goat’s cheese, plus a pleasing sour-cream-and-chives vibe from, obviously, the chives. The tofu gives it body and tang and the cashews and coconut oil give it lushness, and I confidently urge you to try making it for yourself. I threw it together earlier this afternoon and it’s already gone: on toast, as you can see above, in vegetable wraps, and the rest taken care of spread on crackers. I would happily double or even triple this quantity in future, and am imagining it spooned into baked potatoes, spread on bagels, stirred through pasta salad, with different herbs like basil and mint; dill and parsley; rosemary and roasted garlic, thyme and roasted garlic; back to chives again but with roasted garlic.

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I want to make it super clear that by talking about both the Amazon and this recipe, I’m not trying to be flippant or imply that cooking makes everything better – although cooking is great – I just tend to think about twelve different thoughts in tandem at any given time and these are but two of them: 1) yikes, the environment and 2) wow, this recipe is great.

If you, like me, are an eager consumer of dips and spreads, I thoroughly recommend these other recipes that I’ve written about hitherto in the last six months alone: Caramelised Onion Butter; Olive Tapenade; Muhammara; Roast Cauliflower Miso Butter, and Butternut Dip.

And if you, like, me, enjoy my writing, you have the option of channeling this enjoyment by supporting me directly on Patreon. A dollar a month gets you an exclusive blog post, two dollars a month gets you that plus further exclusive monthly content and access to everything I’ve already written this year. It’s easy and it’s appreciated!

title from: New York, New York, specifically the smoky, downbeat Cat Power cover. Frank Sinatra’s bombastic original is great, just the kind of song you’d want sung about you if you were a city, but it was the closing time song for a bar I used to go to like four years ago and I’m only just managing to dis-associate it from that “now what, oh no it’s tomorrow” feeling. 

music lately:

Cripple Creek, by Buffy Sainte-Marie, a sweetly exuberant song where she accompanies herself with the water-droplet sounds of the mouth bow. I definitely recommend you watch this video of her performing it on Sesame Street, it’s just gorgeous, and a reminder of her ground-breaking presence on that show. She was the first person to breastfeed on television!

Cheree, by Suicide. You know those songs that you can feel changing you molecule by molecule, note by note? This stunningly fizzy song is somehow wildly exhilarating yet slow moving, like an iron-rich Berocca dissolving in a glass of water.

Next time: I’m still keen to try making my own seitan and am no closer to finding a definitive recipe so please, seitan hive come through!

soy un perdador

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Over on my Frasier food blog I talk about tropes a lot – a trope is, loosely, a recurring theme or motif – and I feel like I’ve hit a vegan trope with this week’s recipe: tofu. Let us face it, there’s no food more generically symbolising the vegan life as a whole than tofu, (perhaps other than lentils) the implication being that in its meatless blandness it represents not only all that you are missing out on and have left behind but also the miserable and sepia-flavoured journey ahead that you’ve chosen. (There are those who say “how do you know someone is a vegan? Because they’ll tell you at any opportunity” and there are those who say that people pre-emptively berating vegans outweighs any levels of militance from the vegan camp, and then there’s me, and I say guess what: everyone has the capacity to be really annoying.)

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Rest assured, no one is forcing anyone to eat tofu. You can quite happily live your entire life without touching the stuff. I myself actually really like the taste of it – which is admittedly fortunate – and always have. It’s often said of tofu that peoples’ main mistake is not giving it enough flavour – but like, why would you want to make anything that doesn’t have flavour to it? If you cook something blandly, it’s going to be bland. A plainly-cooked chicken breast has no liveliness, it is at best tantamount to a dry flannel.

Anyway, if you are going to consume tofu, you might consider doing so in the form of this week’s recipe, since it’s monumentally delicious. I actually had the idea for the sauce first and worked backwards from there to fill in the blanks for how I could use it (other than just drinking the sauce in its entirety, I suppose) but it all worked so well that both the tofu and the sauce are the double-billing stars of the show.

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The golden crust on the tofu is made from a glorious mixture of coconut, sunflower seeds and breadcrumbs – light, nutty, buttery, crunchy, with anything that doesn’t stick to the tofu toasted in the oven and scattered over your salad leaves. I’m all about contrast in texture and the intensely crisp exterior giving way to bouncingly tender interior is marvellous. And the sauce! How it shines! Wasabi has this particular, sharp, mustardy, sinus-scritching heat to it, which is balanced perfectly against the cool hit of mint, the sour, fresh lime, and the richness of the oil. All of which is then further tied together by the power of an entire bulb of garlic, roasted into mellow sweetness. The resolute mildness of the tofu is the ideal backdrop for all this action, but this sauce would be wonderful on pretty much anything, I imagine. If you don’t have wasabi or can’t find it then horseradish or indeed mustard would surely be a fine substitute, since all three are part of the same family.

Coconut-Crusted Tofu with Wasabi, Mint and Roasted Garlic Sauce

A recipe by myself

1 block of firm or extra firm tofu
2 tablespoons shredded coconut
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs (leave them out to make this gluten-free and up the coconut and sunflower seeds)
Salt and black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon of cornflour
salad leaves, to serve

Wasabi, Mint and Roasted Garlic Sauce

1 bulb garlic
2 teaspoons wasabi paste, or add more to taste
3 tablespoons water
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lime juice
4 mint leaves
A pinch each of salt and pepper
Set your oven to 180C/350F.

Slice the very base off the garlic bulb – the knotty bit holding it all together – and wrap the garlic itself loosely in tinfoil and roast it for twenty minutes in a small dish that you’ve drizzled the two tablespoons of olive oil into.

While this is happening, slice the tofu in half horizontally so that you’ve got two flatter rectangles, and either reserve one of them for later or add some more coconut and sunflower seeds to your coating and make two.

Blitz the coconut and sunflower seeds in a blender till they resemble breadcrumbs, and tip into a small bowl. Stir in the panko breadcrumbs, and a pinch of salt and pepper.

In another small bowl, mix the cornflour with a tablespoon of cold water.

Spoon some of the cornflour mixture over the tofu and then sit it, cornflour-spooned side down, in the bowl of coconut breadcrumbs. Spoon more cornflour mixture over the side facing you and turn it over. Continue spooning more cornflour over and pressing more breadcrumbs into it so it’s as thickly coated as possible.

Remove the roasting dish from the oven and carefully lift the coated tofu into it, sitting it beside the garlic. Return to the oven for another ten minutes. Reserve any remaining breadcrumb mixture.

Once the ten minutes is up, turn the tofu over and remove the garlic. Put the tofu back in for another five to ten minutes.

Unwrap the garlic and carefully – it will be hot as hell – squeeze the garlic cloves from their paper casings into a small blender or food processor. Add the remaining sauce ingredients and blend it into a lime green sauce.

At this point – you’re almost there – remove the tofu to a serving plate, sitting it on a bed of salad leaves or kale or something and tip any remaining breadcrumbs into the roasting dish. Put the dish back into the oven for a minute or two until the breadcrumb mixture starts to brown and the scatter them over the salad, then pour over as much of the sauce as you want. Finally, eat.

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So my usual plan is to send these blog posts out on a Sunday night to all the email subscribers (and sign up here if you want this to be you) but instead on Sunday gone I was too hyped up watching the Khabib vs McGregor fight before work to write (reacting to my livestream cutting in and out alone provided ample adrenaline) and then after work I accidentally got on the go from having several birthday shots given to me (not my birthday, I might add, I was merely collateral damage.) Not drunk, but precisely enough consumed to immediately and heavily fall asleep when I got home instead of diligently writing as planned.

I don’t know if it was my addle-headedness either just in general or post-shots but no matter how hard I revised, this recipe came out sounding monstrously complicated. It’s literally just sticking some stuff in an oven and then sticking some stuff into other stuff and then sticking that in an oven and blending yet further stuff but trying to explain it was oddly difficult; should you have glanced over the recipe and felt a quickening in your heart at how many steps are involved rest assured it’s just 1000% me talking myself into a corner. This is easy as. And so cheerfully resigned to a life of tofu am I, that the next day I made myself some tofu scramble, for the express purpose of (a) writing about it on my next Frasier food blog post and (b) eating. For, you see, the only thing I’m even more cheerfully resigned to is a life of self-promotion.

title from: Loser, by Beck. This is one of those songs where it’s like wow, he really just…wrote those lyrics down….didn’t he…but then that recurring guitar lick is so good and the chorus so singalong-friendly that I’m like you know what, who cares, sing on about rabbits shaving their legs or whatever, sweet Beck. Also because I’m always worried that people won’t get the joke – on account of I often need stuff explained to me – tofu is…made of soy…hence this title.

music lately:

Edwin Starr, 25 Miles He’s better known for the song War but I maintain that the “ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah” bit in this song is honestly one of the greatest contributions ever bestowed upon the musical canon.

Fiona Apple, Hot Knife. “If I’m butter then he’s a hot knife” is such a perfect and simple metaphor to build this light, chatty and intoxicating song around.

Alice Coltrane, Om Rama. This song just drops you head-first into it and keeps it frenetically high-paced until the middle section where it dramatically changes tempo and gets all woozy and dreamy and just when you start to relax it speeds up again. I love this song so much.

Next time: GUESS WHAT, next time you read this my blog will have officially turned eleven years old, I don’t know quite what to cook to acknowledge this level of momentousness and indeed, welcome any thoughts and feelings you might have.

soy un perdador

tofu is made of soy, and soy is Spanish for I AM, as in “I am being so deep right now.”  

Right, well I intended for this blog post to be about the meal I cooked on Valentine’s Day, but what transpired was this: I had an elaborate dinner planned, then my reason for the season came down with a brutal case of tonsilitis, and then I mysteriously also ended up with a sore throat myself, and so postponed said elaborate dinner to instead make us the world’s most nourishing broth which I then took terrible photos of, so the whole thing was a flop, really. (That is, it was a very pleasant evening, mutual ailments aside, and the soup was also very pleasant, it was a flop only in terms of being bloggable. Let me be clear lest I sound more obnoxious than usual!)

With that option unavailable to write about, it took me a while to get my act together, but to paraphrase Beyonce the god, I woke up like this: craving tofu. And so I made myself this rather incredibly good tofu and cucumber salad for lunch today and now here we are!

those flowers were just sitting there on the table when I walked in but nevertheless I’m gonna assert that coordinating your flowers to your lunch is a clear sign of success in life

I know tofu gets regularly maligned for being flavourless or unfun or the epitome of dull vegetarian eating, but in the words of Harvey Danger, if you’re bored then you’re boring. Let the record state that I think tofu is amazing. Fresh, chilled tofu is an actual joy, all cashew-mild and milky of flavour with a softly firm (yes, both those things) protein-rich texture and the world’s most absorbent surface for whatever flavour you should choose to throw at it. Also deep-fried tofu is a revelation, but so is everything – I mean, probably even deep-fried socks would be palatable, so that’s not necessarily an impressive fact.

This recipe mostly came out of my head, although it’s inspired by a bunch of different things I’ve had at restaurants over the years. It’s so cold and crisp and refreshing and even though the dressing is all salty and oily and sour, somehow the cool juicy cucumber and dense cubes of tofu keep everything very mellow and calm. Both sesame and miso paste have this mysterious, magical savoury taste which help spruce up the ingredients that frankly do need some sprucing, and it’s all just very satisfying and nourishing and good. You could leave out the spring onion (by the way I think they’re called green onions in America, for my readers in that neck of the woods) but the flavour is so gentle and a million miles removed from actual raw onion.

tofu, cucumber and spring onion salad with sesame miso dressing

a recipe by myself. I know using olive oil in the dressing is a bit out of place with the rest of the ingredients but it’s all I had and honestly it tasted amazing so…yeah. 

100g firm tofu
half a cucumber
one spring onion
one tablespoon rice vinegar
one tablespoon soy sauce
one or two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
two heaped teaspoons white miso paste
a pinch of caster sugar
one tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

Make sure your tofu and cucumber are well-chilled. Dice them both into small squares, about 1.5cm but, y’know, this is not a time for measurement accuracy. Just something smallish and squareish. Finely slice the spring onion, reserving some of the green for garnish.

In a bowl, whisk together the vinegar, soy, olive oil, miso, and most of the sesame seeds until it comes together as a smooth dressing. Tip in the tofu, cucumber, and spring onion, stir to cover, then transfer to whatever bowl you’re going to be eating it from (if it’s a different bowl, that is) and garnish with the remaining sesame seeds and green spring onion slices. 

this serves one, but if you can’t work out how to increase it to feed more then…actually I cannot judge, my maths is hopeless, but seriously, it’s pretty easy to increase the properties to feed more people here.  

my new flat is a bit cute, yeah?

The other thing to note about tofu is that it’s aggressively filling. So even though this salad may not look like much, it is indeed…much. We’ve just ticked over into March here so it’s officially autumn, but Wellington is so whimsically changeable as far as weather goes and today I’m disgustingly overheated so this was a perfect meal for the temperature my body is currently burdened with, however I feel like this salad would be perfect any time alongside roast chicken and rice; to take to some kind of potluck thing, or with noodles that you’ve maybe also sprinkled with soy sauce and sesame oil. On its own though: a perfect little meal. 
I just realised this is pretty much my first blog post that include photos of my new flat, which is fitting, since I moved in just under a month ago and yet still am not entirely unpacked. I’ve decided to see the glass half full and congratulate myself on being amazing at progressing very slowly and being incredibly disorganised. My new room is so dreamy though, and will only get dreamier as I firmly take myself by the hand and make myself continue to tidy it up and unpack fully. 
fairy light grotto (they’re solar powered so hopefully I get to actually enjoy them, oh Wellington weather you’re easy to poke fun at! But really. I hope I get to enjoy them.)

make up n stuff nook! Also there’s nothing like the haunted eyes of Judy Garland greeting you as you wake up, if that’s wrong I don’t want to be right.

But really, it’s now March 2015, holy wow. From February last year to February last month it was basically nonstop turbulent difficult times, and even though I’m very much in this quagmire of “what the heck am I doing with my writing and am I making my own opportunities and why won’t endless flailing about wanting to write another cookbook afford me the ability to do just that” I am also feeling rather cloyingly serene and delightful about many things in life right, so watch out. Ya girl is quite happy. I mean, look how rapturous I’m getting about tofu.
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title from: Beck’s shufflingly and charmingly dour song Loser. Check me out, making truly awful Spanish puns all over the place. Obvs Beyonce shoulda won that Grammy but this is a damn nice song and the opening guitar riffs are truly excellent. Nice work, Beck. 
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music lately: 
Let Me Be Him, Hot Chip. The chorus (or whatever it is, this song just kind of drifts) is so uplifting and pretty and dreamy and full of “Oh-ohhh” bits and it’s just a lovely, lovely thing to listen to. Definite mood upswing stuff.
Eternal Flame, Joan As Policewoman. I’ve loved this song for years and years but have been listening to it over and over lately, it flickers like a candle and swoons and sways and the lyrics are so, so excellent. I love how soft and whispery and then deep and rich her voice goes. Oh yeah and also this is not a cover of the Bangles song which was later covered by Atomic Kitten, they just share a title, ya know?
The Killing Moon, Echo and the Bunnymen. Love a bit of tremolo, I do. 
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next time: I’ve made two batches of this Nigella coffee ice cream but I keep eating it all before I can take photos of it. If this trajectory is anything to go by though, there will probably be at least one more outing of the recipe in my near future so maybe that’s what I’ll blog about next! 

i am the definite feast delight

Apropos of nothing: If – although let’s go with when – I get famous, I should like to do many things. I’d like to start a trend for not having to wear a bra if you don’t want to. Not that I can necessarily “get away” without one, but sometimes on a humid day they just feel so punishing and unfair. And really, if someone pulls you aside and says “look, you’re not wearing a bra and it’s making me really uncomfortable”, I’d wager it says more about them than you, right? Second order of business: try and wangle an OPI HungryandFrozen nailpolish range. Am thinking matte rainbow-coloured dots which look like hundreds and thousands sprinkles, a rich yellow butter colour, perhaps a sophisticated, buff-tinted “Cake Batter”, and something else which still hasn’t fully formed in my brain yet. Nigella-Cardigan-Pink? The colour of those heavy velvet curtains that sweep across a stage before and after a show? Something Claudia Kishi-inspired? The third thing I’ve been thinking about is just buying a huge warehouse somewhere with a huge speaker system, so anytime you want to dance around a room like this, you can hire it for an hour from me. Apart from the high likelihood that my dancing moves and I are occupying it already, that is.

Apropos of nothing, I really enjoy saying apropos of nothing! Indubitably!

Anyway here I am. Can’t hurt to daydream about everything in such minute detail that it can never possibly happen the way I want it to and I end up disillusioned and sad when it doesn’t, right? Right!

In the meantime I am rich in friends and famous in my brain, which is a good start. You know friends are good friends when you see them practically every day but it still feels like something exciting’s going to happen every time you do. As a few of us were coincidentally all going to see the band Bon Iver on the same night I suggested that I cook us all dinner beforehand. Which was perhaps an even more exciting prospect than the concert itself at the time. I just love orchestrating situations where I get to cook for people I like. The finished menu was a logical middle point between maximising on what I had on hand already, what recipes I liked the look of, and what would actually be delicious to eat.

It somehow, despite being entirely created in the space of an hour and a half, all came together to form a spectacular vegan feast. Which I liked so much that I’m going to share with you. All three of these recipes are very loosely based on actual recipes – the first two from the Meat-free Mondays book and the third from Katrina Meynink’s gorgeous Kitchen Coquette book. It’s not that the original recipes didn’t sound perfect as they were, it was all about minimising time taken and money spent. And yes, I did just happen to have pomegranate seeds lying round. In a container in the freezer no less. But if it’s any consolation they were over a year old. So I can be smug, but not that smug.

Lentils are just alright with me, but this is lifted from its admittedly beige earnestness by the juicy pomegranate seeds and smoky, tender eggplant.

Barley, Lentil, and Eggplant with Pomegranate and Mint


1/2 cup brown lentils
1/2 cup barley
1 eggplant
1 onion
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tomato, chopped roughly
2 tablespoons chopped preserved lemon or hot lemon pickle (or just some lemon juice)
Seeds of a pomegranate and a handful of mint leaves

Optional – and I did – 1 can cannellini beans or chickpeas to beef (heh) it out. 


Soaking the barley and lentils at least a few hours before you get started will make the cooking process quicker. Boil them together in a pan with plenty of water till tender. Drain, set aside. Slice up the eggplant into chunks, fry in a little oil  – in batches is easier – till browned and softened. Tip them into the lentils and barley. Slice the onion up and in the same frying pan brown it with the garlic. Add the tomato, chilli sauce and lemon, and continue to cook for a little longer. Return the eggplant, lentil and barley to the pan, stir to warm through and season to taste. Serve scattered with pomegranate seeds and shredded mint leaves.

Feel free to just use barley OR lentils. But this is a great way to use up those stupid tail-end packets of things which inevitably sit round for guilty years in your pantry. Free your lentils, and your mind will follow. Actually the whole thing with these recipes is that since I’ve already messed around with them to suit my needs, feel free to do the same. They are very low stress. No watercress? Use rocket. No almonds? Use any other nut. No pomegranate? Sprinkle over feta or just use more mint or something!

Something about blackening the corn and partnering it with toasty-sweet almonds and peppery watercress in this salad is surprisingly spectacular.

Rice, Charred Corn, Avocado, Watercress and Almond Salad


1 cup rice – I used basmati but brown rice would be really good here.
1 cup frozen corn kernels (or you know, however YOU get hold of them)
1/2 cup rice bran oil plus extra for frying
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons chili sauce
1/2 cup whole almonds
1 tablespoon icing sugar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
A handful of watercress leaves, rinsed and chopped
1 avocado, diced


Cook the rice as you usually would, and allow to cool a little. Stir the 1/2 cup oil, the cinnamon and the chili sauce through it, plus plenty of salt. Taste to see if you think it needs any more of anything in particular. Set aside and heat up a frying pan. Mix together the almonds, sugar and cumin and then heat them in the pan till fragrant and toasted. Set aside. Rinse the pan – or don’t – and heat up a tablespoon or two of oil. Throw in the corn kernels and let them fry till some are slightly darkened and scorched in places. They might start to ‘pop’ and jump around a little so watch out. Stir occasionally. Tip them into the rice along with the watercress, almonds, and avocado and mix thoroughly. 

These are just edamame beans and regular green beans cooked in boiling water and stirred through a dressing made of 1 tablespoon shiro miso paste, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 1 teaspoon honey and a little chopped fresh ginger and garlic. Miso’s intense, fermented flavour is strangely addictive and even more strangely versatile. Here it’s nutted up with sesame and used to coat creamy edamame and crunchy green beans.

Cheers to Kate and Jason and Ange and Ricky for indulging me. And cheers to Bon Iver for putting on a seriously good show.

I was almost as happy with my dress as I was with anything else. If only there was an Instagram filter called “Cheekbone Finder” or something. But yes, the show, wow. From listening to Bon Iver’s music, I was expecting one guy, one microphone, and maybe a mandolin and a few handkerchiefs. But there was a many-peopled band all outstanding in the field of excellence, a glittering light show, and the singer, Justin, seemed so happy to be here! Which is always an endearing trait in someone you’ve paid a lot of money to see. This might sound weird, but I think my favourite bit was an unsettlingly brilliant saxophone solo, which brought to mind the eeriness of the dinosaur sequence in Fantasia.

And…apropos of something, recently Tim and I were in line for another gig, in front of three guys. From their clothes and piercings and so on, they looked like interesting-enough, open-minded people. And then they started talking. And Tim and I wanted to vomit. I wanted to say something – especially since several of my friends have felt able to speak up to people to tell them what they think recently – but it was late, and there were three of them and two of us, all those kinds of reasons. Tim and I just had to stand there in line and listen. And while I wasn’t up to doing anything that night, I’m able to pass on to you my convictions instead. Please. If you ever hear people saying things so casually like “they aren’t saying yes but they weren’t saying no” and “if they’re that drunk they’re asking for it” or worse – please understand how terrible this is. How it builds. Keeps a particular victim-blaming attitude accepted. I’m not saying this very well but I feel really strongly about it so I’m going to let some other people say it better than I can. If you like pithy analogies, this one might help open your eyes a little. This might make you think about the conflicting messages women are constantly given, and this is the flipside which is told all too little. And this is Derailment Bingo. Many thanks to the Wellington Young Feminists Collective site for resources. If I was more confident in the results I could’ve talked to those people, if I was Veronica Mars I could’ve somehow sassed the bouncer into not letting them in, but all I can do is pass on some excellent links to people who, I would guess, might know all this already. I know it’s not usually the direction I go in on here, but this blog is where I write about what’s important to me…
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Title via: Sugarhill Gang, Rappers Delight. The song is 14 minutes long so I don’t really feel the need to add anything further to the conversation.
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Music lately:

Eileen Jewell, Shaking All Over. Her voice is deliciously mellow and relaxed and after hearing Wanda Jackson’s version so many times, I like the calmer but still dirty arrangement of this classic.

Christine Ebersole’s voice goes from crystal-clear to shrieky in a matter of seconds while she’s acting her face off in Grey Gardens the musical. Will You is one of the more crystalline moments in the show, and while the song was only written a few years ago it sounds like a lost track from the forties. Beautiful.

This is probably a decent Bon Iver song to listen to if you’ve never heard them before. It was way souped up live!
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Next time: It’s nearly midnight and I feel like chocolate. And I don’t see any reason why that want would be inconsistent when I’m next in the kitchen cooking something…

"your wife is sighing, crying, and your olive tree is dying"

“Oh jeeez Tim, you’ve got a huge bit of sleep in your eye. Don’t let it fall in the cornmeal, I won’t be able to find it.” And other such romantic truisms of our time. As I say every year, I don’t dig Valentine’s Day (val-meh-ntines?) partly as a “whatever” to corporate pushers of expensive heteronormative cards and presents, but also as a fist bump of solidarity to the Dolly magazine reading full o’ sighs younger me. Waitangi Day is a much more important date to circle on the calendar for me. 
However, should you want to impress someone in a woo-ing manner, say it with tofu! If they reply with “NONE OF THAT EXOTIC FOREIGN RABBIT FOOD MUCK FOR ME”, then they’ll be really surprised and impressed with the deliciousness of this and they’ve handily let you know how small-minded they are so you don’t have to hang out with them anymore. If they’re a nice person who’s either “I love tofu!” or “huh, tofu, haven’t tried that before but this sounds nice” then you’re good to go. A further option: I just made this for myself, and it was wonderful. Indubitably! 

Would I ever shut up about the price of dairy in this country? Not till its price ceases to make me wince like lemon juice swiftly applied to a papercut. With this in mind, I recently got this strange idea – what if I could make tofu taste like haloumi? They’re the same shape, for a start. I was trying to analyze exactly what flavour haloumi is closest to, and settled upon black olives. Think about it. Oily, salty, intense…Then it turned out so delicious I decided to just call it what it is. Tofu pride!

Black Olive Marinated Fried Tofu Salad


Recipe by me.


1 block of firm tofu (250g-ish)
1/2 cup black olives, stones in
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 big cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 heaped tablespoon fine cornmeal 
1 tablespoon sherry
1 big handful green beans
1 big handful clean spinach leaves


Sometimes I suggest substitutions but please don’t undermine your own tastebuds by getting those pre-sliced olives – they’re so gross and vinegary and bland. Olives with the stones in them are a bit more work, but the oily fullness of flavour will reward you tenfold. Also, if you don’t have sherry, try sake, Marsala, or a little white wine. 


Squeeze the stones out of the olives (seriously, just squeezing them is the easiest way) and mash the olive flesh with a fork in a bowl with the oil and garlic cloves. Slice the tofu into cubes and mix with the olives – pour over a little more olive oil if it looks like it needs it. Leave it while you slice the ends off the beans and simmer them in a pan of water. Once you’ve got that sorted, add the cornmeal to the olive mixture and stir it round so every bit of tofu has some grains clinging to it.


Heat a frying pan up, and lift out all the tofu cubes (sorry, also fiddly) and drop them in it. Fry over a decent heat on all sides, till excellently crisp. Tip into a bowl. By this time the beans’ll be where you need them to be – drain and add them to the tofu. Roughly slice the spinach and add that to the bowl. Finally, heat up the frying pan again, tip in the remaining marinade, including all the squashed olives, add the sherry and fry for about ten seconds. Mix into the tofu and serve! 

It is wildly good. The olives have this soft, mellow intensity and a rich saltiness, which absorbs quickly into the tofu’s usefully porous surface. The cornmeal is subtly sweet yet unsubtly crunchy, and the flavour from the sherry hitting the hot pan is basically indescribably good, but generally adds to the whole savoury, buttery, lusciousness of it all. The juicy crunch of the beans are improved by a slick of oily marinade, and the spinach is…present. And makes the salad go further. Thanks spinach!

I am proud of my brain. It did right by me with this. And I can tell you it’s very, very good the next day too. Tofu doesn’t always last so well once it has seen the light of day, but if anything, this got even nicer. It almost tastes like cold fried chicken. Indubitably! (I like that word.)

The weekend was a full and busy one, where the hobnobbing was non-stopping. Caught up with my wise and awesome aunty who has been living in Australia for years, plus her son (my cousin) and his son (my cousin…twice removed…any Downton Abbey watchers know the correct term for this?) We played Settlers of Catan with Krendan and I surprised myself by loving it, and surprised no-one by yelling “the hunter has become the hunter” every time I picked up a card or ate a Cheezel or whatever. Went to Jo‘s not once but twice, for a party of great delightfulness and an afternoon of delightful greatness, where she introduced Tim and myself to the awesomeness of Veronica Mars. We visited our dear friend Ange at her tiny, tidy flat which is really close to ours (so we can be the Kimmie Gibbler to her Tannerino!) We also went to superlovely cafe Arthur’s with Kim and Brendan (Krendan!) and met up with Perth-based blogger Emma of Lick My Cupcakes, whose blog I just love. Her and her man were really sweet and I love that her photos of Wellington show the city in different way how I usually see it. Finally, Tim and I reflected upon Waitangi Day, shook our heads sadly at a few people and nodded them agree-antly with other, and watched some more of Season 2 of Twin Peaks. SO CREEPY. So important. “Mares eat oats and does eat oats…”
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Title via: All For The Best, a song from just one in a very long list of musicals with which I’m well obsessed: Godspell. I learned a tap dance to this song once, but muscle memory didn’t see fit to hold on to that one. Even if musicals aren’t your thing, a young Victor Garber was surprisingly babein‘ as Jesus.
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Music lately: 

Ten seconds in, all I could think was ‘this is a bit weak and makes no sense’ but as it goes on it becomes an intoxicatingly catchy song and I love it, indubitably. M.I.A Bad Girls.

Eclipsed only in catchy goodness by Kei Konei Ra by Ahomairangi. They’re young, they’re talented, they’ll make you want to press repeat over and over on this song.
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Next time: Aforementioned aunty got me some ceramic pastry weights for baking blind. If that makes no sense at all: it has to do with making pie. PIE! So I might do that. Or it might be something slightly simpler but still cake-tatious. 

hot like fire…take you higher

Given that the spiciest thing I was fed as a kid was Chinese takeaways….and considering chili can burn your face off like flaming magma…and also taking into account that the normalisation of ready-made Thai curry pastes and the like happened well after my formative years…it’s unsurprising that it’s only in the last few years that I’ve got into hot spicy food.

Spooning chillies! Is what I thought when I uploaded this photo to the computer. That third one’s really getting into it. Giving the middle one a right old affectionate nuzzle.

Now, it’s got to the point where I near-on crave chilli – the tingly burn it brings to the corners of my mouth and the back of my throat, the fresh, almost lemony flavour of its crisp flesh. With this big talk I’m surprised I wasn’t crawling into the frame of the photo myself to spoon those chilies. What can I say. I’m a spicy convert. My latest chilli venture was to make Nahm Jim from a page I’d ripped out of a magazine – I didn’t write down what the magazine was or who the recipe author was, but I do have a photo:

Anonymous, smiling “guest chef”: thank you.

What is Nahm Jim? A flavour-ly balanced Thai sauce or dressing, which in this recipe harnesses the bright, colourful flavours of red chilli, coriander and lime, and rides them like a capable mule into the salty intensity of fish sauce and caramel fudge sweetness of palm sugar. It all becomes quite the drinkable finished product, which you can pour over things, mix into things, or use it like I did, to marinate things.

Red Chilli Nahm Jim

  • 1 1/2 long red chillies, seeds removed, finely chopped (I used 3)
  • 1 small red chilli, finely chopped (I didn’t use one)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 4cm coriander stem with root attached, well washed and finely chopped (note: I just used the stem)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons palm sugar (note: I ate so much palm sugar, it’s delicious)
  • Juice from about five limes 

Using a mortar and pestle, bash the chili, garlic, coriander and 1 tsp salt to a paste. This really didn’t happen for me, it was more just bashed up stuff, but it still worked. Use a food processor or just chop everything superfine by hand if you don’t have the equipment. Work in the palm sugar, then add the fish sauce and lime juice. Check the flavour balance, add more of something if necessary and refrigerate in an airtight container.

Hot Chilli Tips:

So a chili’s heat depends a lot on its size and colour. Big = mild, and red is milder than green, and therefore if you’re just getting into it, use the biggest red ones you can find, make sure all the heat-packing seeds are scraped out of its lengthy belly, and don’t whatever you do touch your face after dealing with them. I rubbed my nose after chopping up these ones and it was burning away for ages. It was a cold night, so it actually worked in my favour, but in the eyes is not so fun. That said, I wussed out of using the small chilli and upped the big chilli quantity – the sauce was gorgeous, don’t get me wrong – but in the end it wasn’t quite hot enough, so more fool me.

Who just puts noodles on the table? This fool.

I had a very appealing idea for marinating chicken in a mixture of this Nahm Jim and coconut milk, but a look at our bank balance meant it wasn’t really a chicken-buying kind of week. Instead I turned to that full-of-potential and megacheap foodstuff that is tofu, to make Coconut Nahm Jim Tofu and Rice Noodles.

My method went like so: slice up one block of firm tofu as you please (I chopped it into pretty diamond shapes which really just look like crooked squares, defeating the purpose completely) and place it in a small container (like a leftover plastic takeout one) and spoon over about half of your Nahm Jim. Or indeed any chilli sauce you like and have handy. Leave for as long as possible – I marinated mine for over 24 hours, on recommendation of Ally – and then about an hour before you cook it, like say when you come home from work, tip in half a can of coconut milk and let it marinate further. Heat up a little oil in a frying pan, spoon the tofu out of the container and into the pan, and let it sizzle away. I like my tofu to be either crunchily crisp, or super tender, and think this recipe suits it being on the tender side, but you do as you please. The residual coconut milk will bubble up and evaporate, and it’ll smell amazing. Remove from heat when you’re satisfied with the tofu’s level of cooked-ness. Meanwhile cook up some rice noodles, drain them, tip in any leftover marinade from the container, a little more coconut milk from the rest in the can, and some salt. Serve drizzled with sesame oil, the remaining Nahm Jim, coriander and sesame seeds.

I love tofu heaps and this may or may not convince you to also, but it’s a pretty simple dinner that looks and tastes good. Not to mention, doesn’t cost a whole lot. Tofu is so cheap and ridiculously filling, making it a pal to our bank balance. The Nahm Jim and coconut really soaks into its spongy surface during its marinading stage, and the sugars in both elements smell gorgeous when they hit the hot pan and start caramelising. While it’s perfect straight from the hot element, if you let it sit for a while the slippery rice noodles absorb the coconut milk and become even more luscious and silky-textured. Mint would be a nice substitute for coriander if you’ve got it – nothing like a bit of green sprinklage to make a plate of food look more professional. Oh, and you could feel free to spoon the uncooked tofu into a salad or something straight from the marinade – it tastes amazing as is.

Introducing The List:

I’m a very determined and ambitious person. Not that I’m used to things going my way. I am in fact extremely used to things going decidedly not my way. But in order to help me help myself to get more things going my way (if that makes sense) I’ve made a big to-do list, inspired by three friends, all outstanding in the field of excellence (Jo, Kim and Kate) who have all previously created their own.

It’s all very well and good to be determined and ambitious, but it’s very very well and good to write stuff down so I don’t forget things, and so I can be accountable to my own brain, which flings around ideas like a pinball machine. I’ve already started writing it (and you can read my list here) and I’ve got till the end of Sunday to finalise it, and from there, till June 30 2012 to complete the tasks. I’m looking for some more things to add to it, so feel free to make suggestions (I’m talking kinda broad thematic things, not like, say, “Oi Peter Gallagher, resolve to pluck your eyebrows!” because that’s just not helpful.) Yes, I’m pretty serious when I say “get a book deal”, I don’t want this to sound like the tagline to a Justin Bieber movie but I dream bigtime big and I think I can make all these things happen, if I work at it. If I could keep our room tidy for a month though, that would honestly (I can’t emphasise my hopelessness) be almost as much of an achievement. And now that it’s written down on this list, I am going to make it happen. Hopefully. Wait, no! DEFINITELY. What would Leslie Knope Do? Is what I’ll remind myself when things look uncertain.

Oh yeah, and Snacks the Goldfish is now nearly two weeks into her new life with us and thriving. I like to amuse her/annoy Tim by singing at her whenever I get home from work and walk in the room. I can tell you with certainty that yelling “who let the dogs out!” and then pointing expectantly will not elicit a response of “who, who, who, who” from either Snacks or Tim.

Title via: the always sadly-late Aaliyah, shortlived R’n’B perfection, with Hot Like Fire.

Music lately:

Who do you love? I love Bo Diddley, you blazer of trails and creater of amazing guitar rhythms.

Nature Boy, Nat King Cole. We found a record of his at the Waiuku Bookfair that turned out to be the same one my grandparents on my dad’s side used to blast all the time. Nice to be able to remember them while listening to his beautiful, restrained singing.

Next time: I still have that poached pear sorbet idea under my skull, but there’s no way that can happen until we eat more of the existing ice cream…