New Mexico ain’t bad Lord, and the people there, they treat you kind

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Despite having lived a substantial quantity of my life before social media ever wrapped its tentacles around me in a way that felt like love, no one could deny that I’ve thrown myself quite whole-heartedly into it since. Nevertheless I was like, how do I explain the premise of this week’s recipe? Inspired by a tweet I saw? That wasn’t even directed at me? But I guess it’s pretty simple, really, because social media is EVERYWHERE. When I went home for Christmas Mum and Dad were talking about a local Facebook group that is like Craigslist, community noticeboard, judge-jury-and-executioner and then some all in one that started off as a simple meme page. And I was like yeah, there’s one of those where I live but it’s the reverse, initially for students to offload their Psych 101 textbooks and now it’s kind of a Wellington meme page YET also the only conduit I could or indeed would fathom of for like, getting rid of a mattress. And I’m pretty sure every town has one now!

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I count myself lucky to follow so many people on Twitter who seem genuinely incredible, most of them women, and who will so casually drop the kind of powerful or powerfully hilarious tweets that entire teams of television writers would weep hot tears of jealousy over. And while Minka, the person who wrote the tweet that inspired this week’s recipe, is 100% in this category, the tweet itself was highly innocuous. It was December 4th, it was Minka tweeting to someone else the simple words “IMAGINE VEGAN CARNE ADOVADA” – that’s all! I’ll be honest, I was not feeling particularly wonderful that day and definitely not feeling imaginative. But the tweet stuck in my head, to the point where I would literally hear it as if it were a song’s lyric, and at last I decided to actually, well, imagine it. Am I saying Minka’s tweet cured my depression? I’m not not saying it?

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Vegan Carne Adovada

a recipe by myself but inspired directly by this recipe of J.Kenji López-Alt and this recipe from I Am New Mexico.

  • 4 dried ancho or poblano chiles (I used 5 large dried Anaheim chiles as this was alas all I could find), seeds and stems removed
  • 4 whole chipotle chiles, canned in adobo (I used the La Morena brand)
  • Zest and juice of a large orange
  • 5 prunes
  • 3 cups vegetable stock (by which I mean, use your preferred stock powder to make this) plus 1 cup extra
  • 1 heaped tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or similar
  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1 can of jackfruit in brine
  • 1/2 cup of flour or cornflour (use the latter to make this gluten-free)
  • plenty of olive oil, for frying
  • 1 large onion, peeled and roughly diced
  • 6 large garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup or date syrup
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Plenty of salt and pepper to taste
  • Warmed tortillas, coriander, rice, to serve

Step 1: The Sauce

Heat up the dried chiles in a large frying pan, till they are aromatic but not smoking. Add the prunes, the zest and juice of the orange, the canned chipotles (don’t rinse them), the vinegar, the nutritional yeast and three cups of the vegetable stock, and bring to the boil. Let it bubble away for ten minutes, and then remove from the heat. Carefully blitz the lot in a blender to form a thick red sauce, and then transfer this to a large mixing bowl. You might find it easier to scoop out all the solids and blend them with a small quantity of the liquid before adding the rest, either way just be careful about blending hot stuff. Stir in the cumin, oregano, maple syrup, bay leaves, and a good pinch of salt and pepper, and set aside.

Step 2: The Stuff in the Sauce

Wash and dry the saucepan and heat up about three tablespoons of olive oil in it. Trim off the stem and then cut the eggplant into rough cubes and chunks, and fry them in the hot oil till dark golden brown on all sides. Tip them into the bowl of red chile sauce and return the pan to the heat.

Now, gently fry the onion and garlic in the same pan, perhaps adding some more oil if it needs it, stirring occasionally and allowing it to soften and turn golden.

While this is happening, thoroughly drain the can of jackfruit and using your hands, pull the pieces of jackfruit into smaller segments. Don’t throw away any seeds or whatever, it’s all good stuff.

Transfer the onion and garlic into the bowl of red chile sauce with the eggplant and get on to frying the jackfruit. You want to heat up another few tablespoons of olive oil in the same pan, and dip each piece of jackfruit into the flour before throwing it into the pan. Your aim here is to leave the jackfruit for long enough that it caramelises and turns golden on all sides – this will take some patience and the flour will go a bit scungy in the oil but it’s worth it for the end result. When the jackfruit pieces are golden brown and the fibrous edges look good and crisp, throw the whole lot, including whatever flour-oil gunk is in the pan – into the bowl of red chile sauce.

Step 3: Marinating, cooking, actually eating

Cover the bowl of red chile sauce and refrigerate for a couple of hours or overnight. When you’re ready to cook it, set your oven to 150C/300F and transfer the carne adovada into a baking dish. Give it a taste to see if it wants any more salt or anything. Use the extra cup of vegetable stock (or honestly just tap water is fine by this point) to sluice around the bowl that you’ve been marinating everything in, to catch any remaining sauce, and tip this over the contents of the roasting dish.

Bake for around an hour, or until everything looks rich and saucy and a little caramelised from the oven’s heat. Serve however you like – heated up tortillas, coriander, and rice is a good start.

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Without exaggeration, I honestly think this is one of the greatest recipes I’ve ever tasted and were it not for Minka’s tweet I’d have missed this opportunity completely. I’ve never been to New Mexico (where the dish originates) and am by no means familiar with New Mexico cuisine; I had in fact only hirtherto heard of Carne Adovada via Minka’s other tweets about it. With this in mind, I strenuously emphasise, that while I created the recipe that you see above, it is completely and directly based on the recipes that I linked to – one quite complex, one very simple – and I’m just a culinary tourist from a far-away land, rather than any kind of expert in this particular field. Nevertheless, allow me to respectfully explain myself.

In order to emulate the pork that is normally used in Carne Adovada (and I know carne means meat but I’m not about to do something gross like calling the recipe “car-nay”) I went for a double-pronged approach: darkly fried cubes of eggplant, oily and melting and rich; and then jackfruit, coated in flour and fried till golden and crisp: this provides that mild sweetness and, for want of better words, meaty fibrousness. Jackfruit is (a) a revelation and (b) really inexpensive and pretty easy to find these days, however on its own it felt a little un-luscious, hence the pairing. Both of these were marinated overnight in a ketchup-thick sauce made hot with papery, blood-dark dried chiles and smoky little canned chipotles and aromatic with cumin and oregano. I used prunes to sweeten the sauce because it’s what I had and I also felt they had a kind of meatiness to them, but you do what suits – one of the recipes I referenced used raisins, while the other recipe didn’t include any sweetening agent at all.

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The final slow bake in the oven makes the sauce so, well, saucy, and it’s all smoky and hot in this complex-yet-straightforward way and the eggplant and jackfruit melt and pull apart in your mouth and it’s all full-bodied and lush and while there’s a few steps involved it’s unbelievably rewarding and almost meditative to prepare each part of it. Now, when I try to make an existing recipe vegan my aim is more to evoke the abundance that meat or animal products provides rather than “this tastes like meat”, but…it doesn’t not taste meaty, you know? By which I mean I think this would and should be happily received by absolutely anyone. Thank you, Minka!

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Speaking of social media and providing spectacular content for free; this seems as good a time as any to tell you that I’ve started a Patreon page for my writing. Patreon allows you to be a modern day Patron of the Arts, magnanimously bestowing your literal money upon those of us who create in return for (a) a certain glow that I can merely assume only comes from having money and (b) the promise of exclusive content for your trouble. There is no sense of obligation or expectation placed upon any of you individually, it’s just sheer opportunism – like, if I can get money off someone then I might as well get money off someone, you know? And it’s a whole lot easier to be inspired, by tweets or otherwise, when you can comfortably pay rent. So, I entreat you to consider joining this exclusive band of money-havers, but if you don’t I’m not going to like, stop blogging, I would however like to stop talking about money just one time.

title from: White Freight Liner Blues, by Townes Van Zandt, whose despondence is to my ears like electrolytes are to, well, wherever they go – the blood?

music lately:

Last Week in HTx by Megan Thee Stallion, look her up!! She has so many good tracks but I love the way the “bitch I’m from Texas” line in the hook anchors everything in this song.

Thursday Girl, by Mitski, this song literally ruins me and YET I’ve also made a playlist on Spotify that only has this song on it and no one has stopped me, so. I’m obsessed with the nineties singer-songwriter Natalie Merchant buzz on the fourth refrain of “tell me no” in the chorus.

Venus in Furs, Velvet Underground. So throbbing and hypnotic! I’ll never forget the look on my boss’s face when I was playing it really loudly at the tiny German bakery that I worked at in 2006 and they walked in and without saying a word turned it off and then left and got in their car and drove away.

Dues, by Ronee Blakley, from the amazing Robert Altman film Nashville. Blakley performed this in the film as her character Barbara Jean but she actually wrote it herself in real life, and while several of the songs from the film are meant to be satirical of the country genre, this is just a beautiful and achy waltz and very, very real.

Next time: possibly a cocktail but also it’s been too long since I’ve made ice cream, right?

this town’s a different town to what it was last night, you couldn’t have done that on a sunday

I swear I ate and cooked best in my second and third year of university, weird though that seems – I mean, my first year was definitely full of lukewarm toast and trying to stay alive in a flat made of damp breakfast cereal held together with cobwebs (if it weren’t for that vigilant spider army my flat probably would’ve fallen down. Thank you spider army, I respect and fear you still) – but by second year I’d hit my stride. Living in a marginally less cold and damp flat felt like occupying a palace and importantly, I had both the time and the means in winter to make a ton of stews and casseroles and soups and slow-cooked things. Going into the office-job life obliterated that, because there’s no time during the day and when you get home you want feeding immediately, and going into hospo means I just eat when I can, and that might be 3am. But as a student: goddamn. All that free time during the day between lectures, searching out super cheap cuts of meat or soaking dried chickpeas because it cost less than canned, baking a cake so we’d be warmed by the oven’s heat – I’m totally not nostalgic for that time, or anything, but I also don’t want another winter to pass me by without somehow making the most of food that suits the icy weather.

(I went back to my very early days of writing this blog post just to make sure I wasn’t making this all up and glorifying the past and if anything, I undersold it. I used to make pudding every night! In one of my blog posts from November 2007 I talk about how sick I am of blind-baking pastry for pies! That’s how often I was making pastry by hand for homemade pies and tarts! Last year I literally did a blog post about cinnamon sugar on toast and a McDonalds burger. It was a difficult time, sure, but still.)

bread! stuffed! with three! different types! of! cheese! 

I believe it’s without even the slightest bit of hyperbole that I say my life would be unmitigated and incomparable garbage without Kim and Kate, the two earth-angels whom I call my best friends. Remember that Because You Loved Me song by Celine Dion? “You were my strength when I was weak, you were my voice when I couldn’t speak, you were my eyes when I couldn’t see, you saw the best there was in me” etc? I never understood that song when it was first on the radio and/or everyone’s mum by law had a copy of that cassette so it was perpetually in the background. I was like…is she singing to her boyfriend? Or is she a pet rock singing to their owner? Seriously, if you imagine a small rock with googly eyes stuck on it singing this song to someone it makes so much sense than a human singing it, so utterly codependent and clingy and bodily needy it is. It’s definitely sung by a small rock.

At least that’s what I thought, until my aggressively supportive and beautiful friendship with Kim and Kate. Then, at last, did I understand the lyrics to Because You Loved Me. (“You’ve been my inspiration! Through the lies you were the truth!”) I’m like, ah, this song is chill and not at all hysterical. The lyrics are calm and normal.

So between all that and me wanting to get back into slow-ass cooking and, monumentally, Kate being very close to travelling through the UK and Europe for a month (excitingly for her, tear-stainedly fraught for the rest of us) I decided to make the three of us a lavishly rustic, simple lunch before my shift at work on Sunday. It all came together despite attempting a recipe I’ve never tried before, the upshot of which is, if I can manage to throw this together in the middle of three ten hour shifts then all you need is a passing interest in cooking and a small amount of motivation and you can definitely achieve some version of this yourself with massive ease.

Nigella Lawson’s magical cookbook Feast inspired both the recipes I made – firstly, a red and gold root vegetable stew with turmeric and saffron from which I used a Tunisian meatball dish as a starting point. Kate is vegetarian and Kim can’t do garlic or onions so my result ended up having about two ingredients in common with what was on the page, but that’s how inspiration works, yeah? The second recipe, a Georgian cheese-stuffed bread called Nana’s Hatchapuri, was more direct – I just fiddled with the quantities a little to make it more affordable. Speaking of affordable, feel free to leave the saffron out of the stew – I just have a ton of it around because I’m the kind of person who gets given food by people for my birthday etc (which I love) but in all honesty the turmeric completely does the trick as far as flavour and colour. I don’t care about the tautological goldenness though, the doubling down was a pleasingly luxuriant note in an otherwise, let’s face it, highly plain stew.

Anyway, both were SO GOOD. And somehow so do-able. The vegetable stew I made more or less effortlessly the day before and just left it on the hob, ready to reheat. The cheesebread – despite the lengthy looking recipe below – was made very quickly before Kim and Kate got to mine, and once I’d let them in – my hands covered in flour – I just shoved it in the oven while we joyfully mixed orange juice and Lindaeur that Kate had both bought and brought from the nearest dairy.

nana’s hatchapuri (georgian cheesebread) 

my gently adapted version of Nigella’s (who had already adapted it from a woman named Nana, so) from her book Feast

six cups plain flour
two cups thick, plain yoghurt
two eggs
50g very soft butter
one teaspoon baking soda
one teaspoon sea salt, or a pinch of regular table salt
one 250g tub of ricotta cheese
two large handfuls of grated mozzarella, like, the super cheap stuff 
150g feta cheese
one more egg

Set your oven to 220 C/450 F and place a baking tray in the oven to heat up. Put the flour in a large bowl, and mix in the yoghurt, eggs, and butter till a soft, sticky dough forms. I used a wooden spoon to stir in the yoghurt and eggs and then my hands to work in the butter; you end up looking like your hands belong to zombies, but it’s very effective! Otherwise just keep on stirring. Add a little extra flour if it’s toooo sticky and knead this in with the baking soda and salt, which should leave you with a springy, soft ball of dough. Cover and leave it for 20 minutes. 

Slice the dough in half and roll out both pieces into a rough oval shape around 1.5cm thick, although it’s up to you, really. Circle, square, Mickey Mouse ears, whatever works. I recommend rolling them out on two large pieces of baking paper, that way it doesn’t mess up your bench top and you can then slide it straight onto the baking tray when it’s ready to cook. 

In the same bowl that you mixed the dough in – because, why not – roughly mash together the ricotta, the feta, and the mozzarella with the remaining egg. Spread this golden mixture thickly across one of the rolled out pieces of dough, leaving a few centimetres border around the edge. Carefully lay the second rolled out dough across the top of this – if a few holes appear, just patch them up, the dough is pretty forgiving – and roll over the edges or pinch them together securely with the prongs of a fork. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until it’s puffy and golden and bready on top. Give it a few minutes before slicing into it. 

root vegetable stew with saffron, cinnamon, and turmeric

a recipe by myself, inspired loosely by Nigella’s Tunisian stew in Feast. This recipe is vegan and gluten-free.  

olive oil
about four sticks of celery
three carrots
two parsnips
half a butternut squash, or one small crown pumpkin, or that quantity of similar
two tins of tomatoes
one cinnamon stick
two heaped teaspoons turmeric
a pinch of ground cumin
three tablespoons golden sultanas (or dried apricots, chopped roughly)
a handful of sundried tomatoes, chopped roughly
pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds, to garnish, plus any green herb you like – flat leaf parsley or coriander would be great here 

Using a large knife, finely chop the celery sticks and two of the carrots into small dice – it doesn’t have to be neat, just keep chopping till you have a pile of formless orange and green. 

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan and tip in the carrot and celery. Sprinkle over some salt and allow to cook gently over a medium heat until softened. Meanwhile, chop the remaining carrot into thick cubes or half-moons or whatever you like; slice the parsnip into short sticks, and peel and cube the pumpkin. Throw all these vegetables into the pan and stir them, then add the two tins of tomatoes, the cinnamon stick, the turmeric, cumin, sultanas and dried tomatoes.

Add some salt and pepper, and bring all of this to the boil. Reduce the heat back to low, and then let it simmer for about an hour, adding a little water or stock if it looks a bit too dry. You’re basically done at this point, but you could carry on simmering it for several more hours if you like, or let it to sit and then reheat it the next day – essentially, nothing can hurt this dish. Add more spice or salt and pepper if you see fit. Once you’re ready to serve it, simply scatter it with pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds, and bring it to the table. More olive oil to drizzle over would be nice. 

Obviously softly sweet pumpkin and parsnip with earthy turmeric and saffron and richly tomato-y sauce is going to be wonderful, all hearty and spiced and twinkling with jewel-like green pumpkin seeds and golden sultanas, but the main attraction was obviously the cheese bread. Three different kinds of cheese? In this economy?

The combination of salty feta, the barging-into-your-mouth melty nature of mozzarella, and mild, milky ricotta is superb, and when surrounded by soft, warm, scone-like bread, leavened only by eggs and baking soda, it’s celestially – almost stressfully – good. Make this, I implore you. My only other proviso is to grind over plenty of black pepper once you’ve sliced into it – the cacio e pepe vibes make it spring to life.

The three of us sat on the floor around my flatmate’s amazing coffee table, toasted to ourselves with the world’s cheapest mimosas, ate heartily, and cackled with laughter at ourselves, half in the funny-haha way and in the oh-my-god-what-is-life-I’m-breaking-the-fourth-wall-to-ruefully-shrug-at-the-studio-audience-haha way. And then I staggered to work, full of cheese and good feelings (one and the same, really) and safe in the knowledge that when I got home there was a billion tons of leftovers.

Extra delightfully, I got to dance with my two best girls last night at Dirtbag Disco, the fundraiser dance party for Ballet is For Everyone. If you’ve ever considered supporting a cause, this is a super nice one. Please keep Kim and I in your prayers and candlelit vigils during Kate’s absence, although having consumed a large quantity of this hatchapuri already this week I see it filling the void that her presence leaves more or less adequately.

PS: If slow-cooked vegetable food appeals, then maybe consider similar blog posts I’ve done, about Penang Tofu Curry and Slow Roasted Eggplant and Butternut with Fried Cauliflower.
 

title from: Arctic Monkeys, From the Ritz to the Rubble from their amaaaazing first album
 

music lately: Dirtbag Disco edition

A$AP Rocky/Drake/2Chainz/Kendrick Lamar, F***in’ Problems. This song remains so addictive and the best thing to dance to.

M.I.A, Bad Girls. This song remains so addictive and the best thing to dance to.

Rihanna, We Found Love. This song remaings so addictive and the best thing to dance to.

next time: all I’ve been eating is leftovers from this! But I will make something happen. 

 

i’d have the cheek to say they’re equally as bleak

slow cooked beef cheeks with cinnamon and kumara
I have achieved a lot this week, which I’m very proud of, because – as I’ll tell you soon as see you – I’m really only awake and functioning for around 90 minutes a day when I’m not at work. None of this changes the fact though, that I’m honestly a bit sad about one thing that I can’t achieve my way out of, whether or not I’m awake or asleep or thriving or unthriving: Wednesday the cat has gone. Gone to live at the Cat’s Protection League, so she will be a league-protected cat, but it’s so sad to not have her stupid wee half-moustached face and crooked broken little tail around. What happened was, the flatmate who was catsitting her had to move out to be nearer to her job (which is also a major bummer since she’s lovely) and couldn’t keep her, and the rest of us remaining were unable to keep Wednesday so the only real solution was to send her off. If I was around more or was not the sole person responsible I’d adopt ten million cats but I’m just not at home enough to give a cat the attention it needs (and then entirely ignores) so…that’s that. 
However, having Wednesday around for just one happy month was wonderful, so let’s cue a montage: 
holding paws

boop

arabesque

my favourite look: business cat
Better to have loved and lost than never to have had a cat at all, right? Again, I know this might sound all overwrought (and if there is a thing to be wrought, I’m first in line to do it overly) but Wednesday appeared just when I was reaching the zenith of my climb up Cat-Longing Mountain and the utter blanketing joy of suddenly having a soft little animal around was just just just so lovely.   
Anyway! Life goes on and luckily there will be other cats out there for me and also I have dear friends close by who own animals of varying degrees of willingness to be snuggled, so yeah. This may sound all very stupid and self-indulgently whiny but do you even know how I feel about cats? I FEEL.

*Goodbye To You by Michelle Branch playing on a constant loop* 
Speaking of things that are good to have in bed in the middle of this snappishly cold weather; I recently made my first proper slow-cooked casserole thing of the Winter (it’s not even technically Winter yet but Wellington cares not for your seasonal timelines.) Whilst sleepily wandering around Moore Wilson one morning I saw that beef cheeks were incredibly well priced – like, $5! – and I grabbed some, surmising that the time had come for me to get back into cooking such things. I’d never cooked using beef cheeks before but figured there couldn’t be much to it, and about this I was highly correct.  

Seriously, the only stressful thing about cooking this is that you need a lot of time. But during that time the house smells so completely incredible, that you can zone out and come to and feel like you’ve wandered into some enchantingly bucolic French bistro when in fact you’re just sitting in your Newtown kitchen playing idly on your phone while wearing tights that have holes in places that are, shall we say, not amenable to being public-facing, and a stained hoodie that you slept in and haven’t changed out of yet. So yeah, it takes time, but look at it this way, this is a recipe that you can achieve things to: put it in the oven and then get on your laptop and write, or tidy your room, or do whatever it is that you ought to be doing, and then you are rewarded with a mouth-quiveringly good feed.

I based this recipe on a few things that I found online, purposefully going with a recipe that doesn’t use any alcohol, despite how enticing the thought of braising this meat in Pedro Ximenez or a bottle of red wine was. On my current budget I just can’t bring myself to the point of tipping a whole ton of wine into a pan, when I could be drinking it. It makes me feel all flinch-y. This recipe simply uses cinnamon – one of my very favourite scents and flavours – and stock, and lets the beef itself do the rest. Leaving any wine you might have to be poured straight into your mouth (or like, use a wine glass, you adorable heathen.)

slow-cooked beef cheeks with cinnamon 

serves two to four people, depending on appetite and what is served with. 

around 300g beef cheeks (or more, whatever) 
butter
one onion
one good size orange kumara, or half a butternut squash
250ml beef stock (ideally from a carton, but use a cube if it’s all you’ve got for sure)
two cinnamon sticks

Set your oven to 150 C/300F. Slice the onion into thin half-moons and dice the kumara roughly. 

Heat an indescriminate amount of butter in a small frying pan (around a tablespoon is fine if you need someone to make this decision for you) and sear the beef cheeks on both sides, for around a minute each side, just to brown them. Once brown on both sides, remove from the pan and sit them in a medium-sized casserole or baking dish. Then, add a little more butter to the pan and gently fry the onion and kumara (you may need to do this in batches) until the onion is softened and the kumara is a little browned and crisped in places. Tip all this into the casserole dish on top of the beef. Finally, pour the beef stock into that same pan and allow it to come to the boil. Carefully pour this over the beef, onion and kumara, nestle the cinnamon sticks in amongst all that, cover with either a lid or tinfoil, and then place it in the oven. Leave for around three hours, and then serve, over rice or some kind of potato situation or simply with plenty of bread and butter. 

It seems almost impossible that a method so simple that you’re barely touching the food as you cook it, could taste so deeply delicious, but such is the joy of slow cooking. The meat was so tender I could literally slice into it with the edge of a spoon, and half-heartedly at that. There is a wonderful stickiness to this, from the gelatinously rich meat to the warmth of the cinnamon and the sweet, slightly scorched kumara. Actually I should mention now that beef cheeks have long been a very unfashionable cut of meat and are only really now coming into prominence – in the same way that lamb shanks did a few years back – but honestly they’re so, so good and fulsomely rich in flavour that they practically deserve to become overpriced restaurant food. Also, it’s all so arbitrary, right? I mean, rump steak is a fancy cut of beef but I mean, it’s the rump. You’re literally eating a cow’s butt?

On that note, I had it pointed out to me by some rakish wag (my dazzling girlfriend in fact) that if you say “beef cheeks” out loud it’s weirdly hilarious and uh, yeah, I agree. Beef cheeks! I don’t know, but giggles ensue! Immature of me, yes, but in my defence, I am very immature.

More sensibly, you should know that the leftovers of this are quite incredible heated up and stirred through hot pasta – ideally pappardelle for that hearty ragu vibe, but all I had was linguine and the meat, shredded roughly, with the pasta absorbing the gelatinous stock and some extra butter that I threw in because I’m incapable of doing anything else, was sublime. 
Despite living the catless life currently there is still SO much to look forward to: Pretty Little Liars, aka one of the most important TV shows in the Western canon; returns next week and so does the webseries of my heart, Carmilla. Also, next Monday morning (around 9.45am I believe?) I’ll be on Radio New Zealand talking to Jesse Mulligan about food, which should be rad as. I love being on the radio! And wherever Wednesday is, I love her too and am glad I got to meet her at all. 
*Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds plays on loop* (ps oh man thanks for bearing with me, ya girl is maudlin)
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title from: Arctic Monkey’s moody Do Me A Favour. Those guys!
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music lately: 
Walk Through The Fire, from the musical episode Once More With Feeling from Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Yes. I am at the stage with my Buffy-watching where I got up to the musical episode. Verdict: oh I don’t know, I think I want to/have to watch it like seventeen more times before I can properly calibrate my feelings on it (what I’m saying is I love it)
VCR, The XX – their music just makes me feel all warm and safe, it’s so dreamy and low-key. This is one of my very, very favourites of theirs. 
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next time: I know it’s freezing but I made some rum’n’raisin ice cream the other day and it was honestly the nicest thing I’ve tasted in forever. So I ate it all. In one go. But I’m going to make it again and let it hang around long enough to take photos of this time! 

excuse my french but i’m in france

I’ve said before that I obstinately love winter. But I feel that above all, what really connects me to the nose-freezingly, spine-snappingly cold weather more than soft knee socks and duvets and watching dramatic, critically-acclaimed TV shows, and sitting by the heater, is the long and slow cooking of food. Casseroles, soups, stews, they’re the kind of thing that make me feel uncomfortably sweaty to consider in summer. But come winter, by putting some time into making meat fall from bones or dried beans swell and tenderise or, I don’t know, for other stuff to gradually turn into other stuff, I really feel at one with it all, like this is what I’m supposed to be eating and doing with my time. Despite these recipes usually being quite straightforward, making a casserole or soup from scratch over a matter of hours can feel like one hell of an achievement, and is the kind of food I can only properly enjoy this time of year.

The French, I posit sweepingly, know a thing or two about slow-cooked food. Coq au vin – which basically means chicken a la lots of wine – is excellently fancy but very old-world and rustic at the same time, and really quite easy. Or at least it is when I make it, more an homage than a strictly traditional method.

This recipe comes by way of Nigella Lawson’s important book How to Eat. Speaking of important…and a slight trigger warning here…I went back and forth and wrote and deleted things about what has happened to Nigella Lawson recently. I don’t want to write clumsily about domestic violence, but I don’t want to take her recipe then skate over other things brightly, politely. Much as I adore Nigella from afar, I don’t know her. But I do know that what happened to her, what happens to so many people, is not right. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, google carefully. If you’re about to pick up a newspaper or magazine that looks even vaguely victim-blaming or rationalising of this, or any similar story…maybe take that money and donate it to your local women’s refuge instead.

So. Nigella already went and made an easy recipe for this, adorably calling it half-coq au vin. Then I went and made hers even easier, lazy creature that I am.  I suppose I could call it quarter-coq, but I think it’s more like two-thirds-coq. Wait, but that’s more than half, right? Ugh, maths! I didn’t quit it in sixth form for nothing, so let’s just get back to the food. You still end up with this intensely savoury, rich, meaty stew with plenty of wine-heavy sauce for spooning over rice or mashed potato, dissolvingly tender chicken thighs, salty bacon, and densely earthy mushrooms. Fry it up, shunt it in the oven, and some time later you have dinner so comforting you could just cry, except there’s already enough sodium in there to crystallise all the cartilage in your body, and it probably doesn’t need any more. I say this as someone who loves sodium…and doesn’t really know much of anything about cartilage. Except that it’s creepily fascinating. I’m talking about sharks, yo. Deep-sea creature made entirely of cartilage. Nope, okay, definitely back to the food now.

Note: you could happily, depending on the size of your oven dish, double or triple this and then freeze portions for future good times. Also, there are supposed to be baby onions in this, but I forgot to buy some. Then I figured lots of people are allergic to onions, and I could just tell myself I was one of those people on this day. Note: you can also use 500ml red wine instead of half wine half water.

half-coq au vin

Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s seminal text How To Eat

250ml red wine
250ml water 
a sprig of thyme 
2 garlic cloves
75-100g (I kind of grabbed a handful, but my hands are tiny) streaky bacon rashers
6 chicken thighs, boneless and skinless. Although skinless is the bit that matters really.
1 heaped tablespoon flour
12 or so button mushrooms

Set your oven to 150 C/300 F. I used the enamel dish above, which can go on the stovetop and then into the oven. It’s joyous! But if you don’t have one, just cook everything in a pot and then transfer it to an oven dish before baking. OR you can simmer it in the pot slowly, but I think the oven does a better job of taking care of it – no need to stand around nervously hoping it won’t boil over or get burnt.

In a small pot, bring the wine and water to the boil with the garlic cloves and thyme floating around in it, then continue to let it bubble away till it looks like it’s reduced by about half. Fish out the garlic and thyme, throwing away or eating curiously, and remove the wine from the heat.

Meanwhile, roughly dice the bacon and fry it in your dish or pot till lightly browned and sizzling. Push the bacon to the side slightly with your wooden spoon or chosen implement, and place the chicken thighs in, allowing them to really sit there and brown on one side. It’ll take a while, but it will happen. Halve or quarter, depending on size, your button mushrooms and tumble them in once the chicken’s browned. Finally, stir in the flour – it will turn all rough and sticky at this point – allowing it to fry a little, then tip in the wine mixture and another 250ml water. Cover the oven dish firmly with tinfoil and place in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Uncover and serve, as you wish. 

I had the grand idea that, there being six thighs, and this being two-meat levels of extravagant, this could provide dinner for Tim and I on night one, and then lunch for us on day two and three. But then two of the thighs thwarted me by simply falling to small pieces in the sauce. Damn thwarting thighs! But still, two perfect meals out of this is not bad. While we enjoyed it served over rice, I get the feeling it would be sublimely good stirred into pappardelle pasta with some cream. Or spooned over creamy soft polenta. Or served with really crisp fries to dip into the gravy. This is just such superlative stuff.

The thyme really does make a difference, flavour-wise (okay, I will make a laboured joke about time making the difference here) but I don’t recommend fronds of it as a garnish like I did here. It got all tangled up sinisterly in the spoon every time I went in for more, like seaweed lazily but determinedly knotting itself round your ankles.

After an idyllically mellow weekend – Friday night drinks and living room dancing, Saturday brunch and knitting and the truly bizarre Mad Max 3, and Sunday morning coffee, afternoon scrambled eggs, and lounging with Luther and West Wing – this half-coq au vin was an wonderfully slow, methodical way to end the week. And after a fairly stupid Monday morning of forgotten things and spilled, badly-made coffee and bitten hangnails, it made for a wondrous lunch reheated in the microwave at work. 

Finally – if you like, but especially if you don’t like, you should definitely read my contribution to new site First Comes Love about my top five wedding locations, and my guest post for Holland Road Yarn about being a new knitter. What can I say, it’s a good time to ask me to talk to you about stuff! 

Okay, finally-finally: yeah, in case you’re wondering, I did make some deeply immature homonym-type jokes about coq the entire time I was making this dinner, and every time I referred to it thereafter. Cracking yourself up with utterly stupid wordplay is the highest form of wit.
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title via: the spiky, brilliant, Kanye and Jay Z collaboration …Paris. Ball quite hard.  
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Music lately:

Miley Cyrus, We Can’t Stop. Amazingly catchy-fuzzy pop. I do think it’s worth reading and acknowledging what Wilbert Cooper has written about this video also.

Metric, Help I’m Alive. Well, that’s a great song title. For a great song. I love how sinister yet low-key this is.
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Next time: More slow cooking? More cake? Will see where my whims take me, I don’t have anything specific planned yet. 

reminds us of our birthdays which we always forget

As I was eating my dinner and watching Game of Thrones this evening, I thought: I really shouldn’t be doing this. Either eat, or watch Game of Thrones, but don’t do them simultaneously because the onslaught of viscera (which is also the name of my next band) is decidedly not food-friendly. This has nothing to do with anything, I just wanted to make the point.

It’s my birthday in tomorrow! But you get the presents! In the form of a recipe for braised lentils.

Lousy candy heart logic, I don’t need you! (Candy Heart Logic being my next band’s name after Onslaught of Viscera break up)

Anyway, yes, it’s Laura’s Birthday Eve, and as such, one’s thoughts turn to reflection. Ha. I live every day like it’s the contemplative lead-up to further aging (I also dance like everyone’s watching) and reflect upon everything I’ve ever done so much that, like a long-running TV show, the whole process should be able to go into syndication so I don’t have to come up with new stuff any more. Instead, just looping around without any effort from me, while I take time out to snooze. I got to have a late, long lunch with the fantastically high-achieving and welcoming Marianne Elliot from La Boca Loca on Saturday, and we talked about everything – the names people will call women but not men to bring them down; standing by things you’ve said; tacos; and this sense of constantly running towards the next thing having barely achieved the last thing. The latter was oddly heartening, in that basic way that recognition of something can be. I have recently been getting back into that troubled but utterly addictive musical Chess, and there’s this line that I never even noticed before that Josh Groban doesn’t so much sing as massage into the air with his throat: “Now I’m where I want to be and who I want to be and doing what I always said I would and yet I feel I haven’t won at all – running for my life and never looking back in case there’s someone right behind to shoot me down and say you always knew I’d fall“. Heavy! And yet I was like whoa, Josh Groban, way to pluck words from my brain with your rich vanilla scented-candle of a voice and articulate them perfectly via a convoluted musical that can’t even commit to its own plot.

And yet, and yet. I received some final pdfs for my cookbook that I’m driving you all away from with my angst and lentils; and oh wow. As you know a lot of time has been put into proofing the proofs (if you didn’t know, the proofs are like, here’s what your book will look like but on hundreds of pieces of paper which you will immediately drop, and as they hit the floor they will both papercut the tender vamp of your bare foot and shuffle themselves out of order with the impeccable swiftness of a Vegas croupier.) (Tender Vamp is what I call my solo project after Candy Heart Logic breaks up: also here endeth the joke before it gets the chance to become played out and tired. But know, just know, that I’m thinking it still.)

Oh, so uh, they were really beautiful and I felt every late night and early morning and email back and forth between the publishers and the whipsmart feedback of my friends and team, photographers Kim and Jason and stylist Kate, and every thought Tim had pretty much ever had since he’s good with wisdom-requiring stuff like this…was not only worth it, but completely evident in the soon-to-be real pages of this book. Which is out in September so sure, put a circle round that month on your calendar but also don’t go rushing into bookshops just yet – she says optimistically – because September is still some significant distance away. As I was reading through it I thought to myself: this book is amazing and you’re such a good writer and you deserve this. A surprisingly nice thing to think about one’s self. And also…a nice thing to think about a consumer item that you have to eventually put your name to in the public arena and sell copies of.

The word braised: I first heard it when I spent a couple of years at boarding school. It essentially means roasted but in significant liquid, but when the kitchen said “braised steak” was for dinner, they essentially meant wet beef, boiled cheerlessly in a weakly tomato-based sauce. And so…it’s not a cooking method I go out of my way to use. I’m not sure what I’m even thinking, trying to braise lentils, second only to tofu as far as maligned leguminous foodstuffs go. But word associations can change, and plus, something about the wilful ugliness of it all makes it almost head back round again to appealing? Well, whatever it sounds like to you – and I mean, it does help if you don’t entirely hate lentils in the first place – this is really very delicious. Simple and easy and surprisingly full of rich, bold flavour from the lemon, mustard and herbs, as well as a lot of oil and salt.

A lot of this can be changed for what you have to hand, although while I want to offer options it would be unhelpful not to have some kind of base recipe that I stand by. If you don’t have hazelnuts, almonds would be perfect, something like carrots would be fine instead of parsnips, use more rosemary instead of thyme, and so on and so on. But hazelnuts and thyme – my favourite herb – are rich and resinous, parsnips have a natural caramelised sweetness, and in a dish like this, cardamom is one of those stealth spices that lets you know flavour is present without revealing how or from where. But you could just leave it out.

Braised Lentils and Vegetables with Hazelnuts, Lemon and Thyme

Serves two, with some leftovers. A recipe by myself.

1/2 cup dried brown lentils
2 parsnips
2 courgettes
1 capsicum
1/3 cup olive oil
Juice of one large lemon, or two of those stupid tiny near-juiceless ones that tend to dominate the supermarket
1 tablespoon dijon mustard (or wholegrain. I could eat either with a spoon.)
Pinch of ground cardamom, or seeds from two cardamom pods
1 teaspoon dried rosemary (or “rubbed rosemary” as my packet calls it. Which made me laugh. That said, if you don’t have it, dried oregano, sage or marjoram is also fine.)
Good pinch salt
1/3 cup whole hazelnuts
A couple of stems of fresh thyme, or a couple of teaspoons of dried thyme leaves

Place the lentils in a bowl and cover with freshly boiled water. Leave to sit for an hour – although the longer the better, really. An hour is fine though, and certainly makes the whole thing more feasible straight after work or at the end of a long day.

Drain the lentils, and tip them into the base of a medium sized oven dish. Trim anything inedible from the vegetables and slice them into fairly uniform strips/sticks, then lay them on top of the lentils in the oven dish. Set your oven to 180 C/350 F.

Mix together the olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, cardamom, rosemary, and a generous pinch of salt. Pour this over the vegetables and lentils, then pour over a cup (250ml) of hot water. Place in the oven and cook for an hour. At this stage, taste the lentils – they should be firm, but cooked through. If not, return to the oven for a little longer. Then, turn the oven up to 200 C, scatter the hazelnuts and thyme leaves over the top, and return to the oven for a further ten minutes. Serve, turn the oven off and leave the door open to try and heat your house up.

The firm lentils and softly bulging vegetables slowly taking in all that lemony, oily dressing; the hazelnuts giving luxe and depth and crunch; my beatific smile at all of this being filled with more vitamins than my body can physically process. It’s a quiet, calming dinner after a Saturday night spent drinking cider while ten-pin bowling; grapefruit daquiris while celebrating the third birthday of coolhaunt Monterey, and beer while loitering at a fancy pub as Devon Anna Smith played records I liked (it maybe looks worse on paper, I was fine.)

Some facts about my birthday:

There are ELEVEN notable ice hockey players born on April 17, according to Wikipedia. 
I’m the oldest child. I was born at 8.50pm-ish. I frowned a lot and immediately got colic and did not stop screaming for six months. Luckily I made up for it by being a very overachieving preschooler.
While I can’t afford all the trinkets I want I did buy this cool cat (bottom centre), a print from local artist Pinky Fang. It seems to go well with the sinister cat we bought in New Orleans, and my Devon Anna Smith print. Three cats seems like a good number to have around. 
Tomorrow is the final reading of the Marriage Act Bill which will decide whether marriage equality is happening in New Zealand or not. Every day it seems more and more unfair that I’m allowed to marry someone just because of the ridiculous coincidence that they happen to be a man. I wrote a long thoughtsy thinkpiece paragraph after this and then deleted it because it’s much simpler to just say: this bill means a lot to me not quite just because I’m a more-or-less decent person who wants equal rights for all, or because Tim and I are engaged but have decided not to marry unless it goes ahead, but also because I’m also pansexual, as in…not straight. The Q in LGBTQ. Yes. I won’t say much more about this, apart from that I realised it an awfully long time ago, but only articulated it relatively recently. Articulating all this was like putting on glasses and seeing things just as they are but a little clearer (I use this analogy a lot, sure, but looking at things is just so great since I got my glasses). Doing so is of course a totally private, personal choice for everyone, and this is just my way. While I worried that I’d left it too long -whatever that means – or that I’d somehow express all this horribly wrong, or that braised lentils wasn’t how I wanted to remember it happening in years to come, or that maybe I should say it next time, or next-next time, I also thought I’d just…say it. It’s still a scary thing to do. But every day brings us closer to a time when it will be less and less scary to say it. Armed with the knowledge that you’re all cool and I’ve never once heard anything said against it that made the slightest bit of sense, I figure you all know pretty much everything about me anyway, and this is just another thing to matter-of-factly know. 

I’m turning 27. This is an age where people will still say “so old” but also “so young” at you, depending on the person. I’m not sure when that will stop.

Victoria Beckham is born on April 17. When I was in my deadly-fervent Spice Girls phase, sharing a birthday with one was seen as some kind of ancient sacrosanct blessing. (Seen by me, and me alone.)

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Title via: Side By Side By Side, from the Sondheim musical Company. The AMAZING Sondheim musical. Please keep having birthdays, Sondheim. 
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Music lately: 

Blurred Lines, Robin Thicke with Pharrell and TI. I am addicted to this song like wo. And also reminded of the massive crush I used to have on Pharrell.

Birthday, Sugarcubes. Ones thoughts also turn to songs with the word birthday in the title. Bjork’s soaring, growling belting here is outrageously amazing. Extra fun in Icelandic!
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Next time: Hoping to have another I Should Tell You interview up on Friday. Who’s it going to be? Why, who do you think I am, some kind of organised person? 

have a cool yule and a frantic first!

I suppose this will be my final post for 2012. So I’d better make it a good one. 

*crickets, galloping endlessly on spinning tumbleweeds as though they are hamsters in a wheel, whilst making their cricket noise that signifies on reality television that someone has nothing of consequence to say*
I actually do have plenty to say, I just really like imagining crickets traveling across the land by scooting inside rolling tumbleweeds, conveying concentrated nothingness.  

So here’s what I have to say: I started my new job last week, only to find myself on holiday all of a sudden. To Tim’s and my endless relief, I got paid for the small quantity of hours I managed to get under my belt before the year ended. And piling further relief on top of that, the Christmas Pulled Pork recipe that I’d had rolling around my brain since about June was made today, and worked. Because…Tim did some noodling around with our incoming and outgoing funds over the next few weeks and it would’ve been way painful had this experiment not worked out. I like to think I have something of a knack for inventing recipes that work the first time (I mean I wrote a damn cookbook) but I did have a play with this a few months ago and it really didn’t turn out well. So I was wary. Nervous. Apprehensive. And other such synonyms.

Check that out though. That’s no failure. It is being photographed on the floor (floorpork!), but we’ve only got one tiny table that friends have donated to us and it became immediately covered in stuff, the kind of stuff that you just don’t know where to put, and I really couldn’t be bothered clearing any of it. Also the wooden floor against the brick wall kinda aesthetically appealed, and this is, after all, a food blog.

I know pulled pork isn’t necessarily what springs to mind for a traditional Christmas meal – in fact it’s probably pretty far down the food chain after turkeys and chickens and so on and so forth. However. I have endeavoured to imbue this tender, shredded pork with so much Decemberific flavour that you can’t help but wonder why we ever even bother with turkey in the first place. So – why not just make it this year?

Firstly, it’s SO DELICIOUS and that argument alone should have some significant weight.  Secondly, it involves very little effort. It does admittedly take over the oven for a long time, and needs a low temperature, but you really hardly have to do anything to it. Thirdly, wow your guests with your unapologetic, tradition-flouting now-ness! For what it’s worth. Fourthly: vegetarians aside, I’ve never met anyone who isn’t tearfully, seraphically happy while eating pulled pork. Fifthly: In case you were concerned about the oven being occupied for so long, just make a coleslaw (out of red and green cabbage if you like, for seasonal tonality) and provide a pile of soft, fresh bread rolls, plus an array of condiments – mustard, mayonaise, etc – and you have yourself one hellish heck of a festive meal.

If Christmas isn’t part of your life, you could of course change the title and just call it like, Cranberry Cinnamon Pulled Pork (which somehow sounds even christmassier? Sorry.)

Christmas Pulled Pork

A recipe by myself. 

2kg (or thereabouts – depending on how many you’re serving, and you’ll want leftovers) of belly-cut pork shoulder, or just plain pork shoulder. I used belly-cut here. Because it’s what I could find.
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
3 or 4 cloves – or 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon dried mustard
2 tablespoons brown sugar
A pinch of salt

1/4 cup strong, black coffee
2 tablespoons Cointreau (or similar orange liqueur, or the zest and juice of an orange)
2 tablespoons tomato-based chutney, or tomato paste
A handful of dried cranberries

Turn your oven to 140 C (280-ish Fahrenheit) and place the slab o’ pork in an oven dish. I have this theory that ceramic or glass ones are good for slow cooking as they don’t conduct heat so well as say, metal or enamel. But really, just an oven dish of some description is what you want. 

Mix together the spices, sugar and salt in a small bowl and spoon nearly all of it over the cut side of the pork. Then turn this over and rub the remaining into the fat. Cook it, fat side up, for four hours. 

Mix together the coffee, Cointreau, and chutney. Tip this into the roasting dish once the four hours are up, sprinkle over the cranberries, and cover the dish tightly with tinfoil. Reduce the heat to 130 C, and cook it for another half hour or so. 

Once this time is up, remove the tinfoil and carefully shred the pork to pieces – including the crackling, although discard some of it if it makes you feel squicky – I use a fork and a pair of tongs. Stir it through all the sauce and fattened cranberries, and then serve, with masses of pride.

I know the mix of coffee, orange liqueur, and tomato chutney sounds all kinds of odious, but please, trust me. The coffee just mellows and melts into the background, providing dark depth of flavour and a kind of general punchy undertone to the rich pork, without tasting like you’ve inadvertently dropped ham into your flat white. Both orange and tomato work oddly well with said coffee, while pointing up the pork’s sweetness and bringing strident Christmas flavour to echo that of the cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. The coffee needn’t be anything flash, as long as it’s strong and black – even just some instant granules stirred into water will be fine. The dried cranberries are there because sometimes restriction causes solutions – I wanted to include cranberry juice in the liquid, but was wary of adding too much sugar – which could burn – and also of the fact that I would then have to go out and spend money on said juice. I then found dried cranberries in the back of my wardrobe (as you do) while we moved house, and thought they’d be even better – they become swollen with the meaty juices in the oven, and then provide bursts of sour-sweetness once dispersed through the torn apart pork. And they make it look a bit more twinkly and festive.

So whether or not I’ve convinced you to do it, I believe I will be making this on Christmas day for my family.

Our tree keeps on tree-ing!
Christmas is, of course, a time for thinking about consumer items you’d really like. Trinkets that I have my heart set upon this year (and don’t take this to heart Santa, this is more like stuff I’ll buy myself once my earnings buffer up my bank account again) include Pinky Fang’s teeth barrette (just the word barrette fills me with Claudia Kishi thrills); Nigella Lawson’s new book (I don’t even care if it’s good or not, I just love her so much); Devon Anna Smith’s witchy Kittens and Oak print (obsessed); a really good thesaurus (I’d like to become even more wordy!); the dvd of Sondheim’s Company (impossibly thrilling) some new pots and pans that are both photogenic but also really, really good (realised during the move that I have hardly any, and what I have is rubbish); a pet cat and a fleet of Alsatian dogs. Nothing less than a fleet will do. What about you? What’s making you drop heavy hints around the nearest gift-giver in your life these days?
And of course, it’s a time for being around as many people as you love as possible. Well, that’s what they say in the Hallmark cards. I am truly looking forward to seeing my family again, to listening to our old tapes and CDs that are wheeled out every year (favourites: the Tin Lids “Hey Rudolph” tape and this jazzy, blatty, high-sheen Disney CD), to hanging out with the indifferent cats, and to making this pulled pork for everyone and seeing what happens. Since it’s high summer, it’ll likely be grey and insufferably humid – I can’t wait.
(PS: not to make it all about me, except actually to make it all about me since I have this weird – endearing? – tendency to do that anyway, I do believe this strawberry ice cream cake would make the perfect pudding to follow this up.)
See you, yes you, in 2013! Fa la la la la! 
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Title via: The so important Wanda Woodward in the John Waters movie Cry-baby. Inexplicably, I could not find a screencap or gif of her saying this, but just know that she is the most. To say the least. The very least.
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Music lately: 

Watercolours, Pazzida. Brand new, and so very cool. Not least because she does this dreamy old-timey tap dance halfway through. I miss tapdancing.

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Christine Ebersole. Voice like crystal, and fulfills my need for  Broadway stars singing seasonal songs.
Jessie Ware, Wildest Moments. This song is just so swoonful, o! how I wish I was seeing her at Laneway next year.
And one for luck: Johnny Cash and Neil Young, The Little Drummer Boy. A little strange, a lot wonderful. Their voices are like photo negatives of each other.
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Next time: It’ll be 2013! I look forward to blogging all often-like and stuff. And till then, I wish you all a Sensible Night, Appropriate Night. Function with relative ease!

shedding a tear, lending a shoulder

On Wednesday night I had a panic attack. Wait, don’t click another tab. I know, food bloggers are supposed to drift round in a content haze of aspirational recipes, instagrammed photos of coffee and noodles, and bacon cupcake-flavoured macaron whoopie pies. Yet here I am. I was going to sort of pass it off with an “enough of that, here’s the food” kind of segue since this may not be what you want to read, but since the only criteria I keep for this blog is, did I cook it and/or did it happen to me...I’m talking about it.

I’m no stranger to panic attacks but it has been a while, and just in case anyone else had had a similar experience recently I share mine, in the spirit of you-are-not-alone-ness, of not-being-ashamed-ness, and other such forcibly portmanteau-ed words. So. I went from standing there aimlessly to sweating, heart thumping, knees buckling, having to support myself by leaning on a wall, weird thoughts flying round my brain, a massive sense of unease, gulping for shallow breath. It went for about five minutes. And then it just subsided, and all I was left with were shaking hands and confusion. The thing I found weird was that nothing in particular had happened that day. On the other hand, I tend towards being highly anxious pretty easily, and have had some fairly clenched-knuckled moments over the last year – possibly this was a reaction to a long build up of tension. It’s not ideal, and life would doubtless be much easier if I was more happy-go-lucky, but I’m not, and at least I know that…right?

You know what helps panic attacks? I don’t know, and pulled pork isn’t the answer, but it is what I was making when it happened. And the thing with making pulled pork is that it just sits there for hours and hours, but bully for me, the attack came on just at the point where it was in the middle of the basting/resting/pulling/making accompanying cornbread stage. If nothing else, it was good to have something to focus on, but my hands continued to shake for at least an hour after the attack, which is not so condusive to taking elegant blogworthy photos of my dinner. Earlier that week I’d spied some belly-cut pork shoulder that was both free range and on special, and without having ever considered making pulled pork before, suddenly it was on my mind. Pulled Pork is a classic American treatment for a side of pig, and generally one that requires a smoker or barbeque. Neither of which I have. There seemed to be so many differing methods, that I decided to gather knowledge from everywhere and make something that works for me. I’d like to lend particular gratitude however to Michelle at Thursday Night Smackdown whose recipe was the only one who advised me to sit the pork fat side up, and had the simplest method to emulate.

One does not simply walk into Pulled Pork. Although…I kind of did. At 10am I decided I wanted to make it, at 6pm we were eating it. That is not, I emphasise, a very long time for it to be in the oven. And, I didn’t marinate the pork for 12 hours in the way that every recipe recommended, either. This is a highly important step to audaciously leave out, but it was still the nicest thing I’ve ever eaten. My theory was that it’s in the oven for such a long time, on such a low heat, that the spices just marinate it as it goes along. It’s not right, but it’s okay. That is, it’s not deeply authentic, but it’s inauthentic with the greatest respect.

I literally did not require this pestle and mortar to make the rub, but gosh it made me feel like I knew what I was doing. (Further confession: I just put that cinnamon stick there for artistic effect and used ground cinnamon in the rub. If the panic attack didn’t get rid of you, hopefully that isn’t the final straw.)

Pulled Pork, HungryandFrozen-style. 

With thanks to Thursday Night Smackdown’s recipe for guidance.

2 kg or more – basically a goodly slab – of belly cut pork shoulder. Or just pork belly.

Rub:

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp mustard powder 
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cumin seeds
A grating of nutmeg (or 1/2 a teaspoon ground nutmeg)
1/2 cup brown sugar, darker the better but plain brown’s fine
Decent pinch of salt

Mop (What you use to baste it, to ensure it’ll have not a skerrick of dryness about it)

1 cup cola

1/2 cup cold strong coffee (I used Carlos Imbachi from Supreme, but instant’ll honestly do the trick)
1 tablespoon chilli sauce (I used sambal oelek)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (or malt vinegar)
1 tablespoon golden syrup
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
Another decent pinch of salt

Set your oven to low – around 140 C/ 300 F. Put your pork in a decent sized roasting dish. Mix together all the rub ingredients and rub into the surface of the pork, all over, leaving it fat-side-up and sprinkling over any leftover rub. Place in the oven and leave there for several hours – at least four. At this point, mix together the mop ingredients and pour 1/2 a cup of it over the pork every hour till it’s gone, then continue to cook for about another 1/2 hour after that to help the fat crisp up some.

Finally, remove it from the oven, cover with tinfoil and leave to sit for an hour to rest and cool slightly, before shredding the heck out of it with two forks. Bust up any bits of crackling that have formed and add them to the pulled pork too, and should you still have any porky-mop-spicy liquid in the bottom of the roasting dish, tip that in too. Ey, why not?

If you’re wondering what could motivate you to funnel that much of your time into a briquette of meat, the answer is pure, headrushy deliciousness. The pork basically melts down gradually over time till it falls apart unexpectedly when prodded (like me! This pork is both allegorical and delicious!) The spices, warm cinnamon and ginger and so on, and the sticky dirty coffee-cola mix just imbue the meat with mysterious savoury-sweetness, or umami if you will, laquering the fat as it crisps up and soaking the fibres with dark smoky flavour. 
It’s so wonderful.

I served it with this cornbread, which I’ve made roughly a squillion times, only this go around, as if it knew how much I needed it, the same old recipe produced the most beautiful, soft, tender cornbread of my life. Thanks, cornbread.

I wish it was Easter Weekend every week. This one just gone was amazing, the delightful times unfolding with increasing fantasticness, activities within activities (drinking wine while watching Flashdance while at Princess Camp; eating roast lamb while decorating cookies; busting one hell of a move to dubious music videos on YouTube while uh, drinking wine; watching Veronica Mars while tweeting about how happy I was to be watching Veronica Mars.) I flew too close to the sun though and the price for all that fun was getting absolutely nothing whatsoever done, and achieving a really sore neck from dancing so hard. But a sore neck was worth it for how great it was hanging out with the best people all weekend (and, presumably, worth it for everyone to witness my sweet dance moves.)

And thanks, not just to cornbread, but to anyone who did keep reading. Panic attacks aren’t the very worst thing in the world, but they’re also not the greatest – that is, I’m not seeking out Elizabeth Wakefield-type shoulder squeezes here, but I’m not trying to brush it off as nothing – it just is what it is.
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Title via: Company, one of my favourite musicals ever, and its mid-point showstopper Side By Side By Side. 
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Music lately:

Grimes, Oblivion. Really pretty obsess-over-able.

Chic Gamine, Closer. I’m not a fan of their actual name but I’m such a sucker for growly vocal riffs and harmonies like these.
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Next time: Apropos of nothing, it’s my birthday next week! Whoa! Still working out what to do, but I’m hoping it involves more outrageous dancing to YouTube videos. This month is wildly busy though, might just have to have a very merry unbirthday later in the year…