I’ve been feeling sorta dispirited the last couple of months, a bit “mehhhh”, like time is sliding by so fast and I haven’t been able to get a grip on the days and suddenly it’s August and, I don’t know, maybe this strikes a chord or maybe it makes no sense whatsoever.
After all those feijoa brownies – which on one particular day served as both my breakfast and dinner, all I can say is that the heart wants what the heart wants – I thought I’d rekindle my relationship with tofu, get some soy back in my bloodstream. The stuff I like to get comes from the vege market on Dixon/Willis Street and is $4 for a generous block of four squares, or fillets if you like, of firm tofu.
My nana is seriously fantastic. She’s the only person in my life who will txt me to say that RENT is on TV and that she’s going to tape it, while also being able to identify buttonholing and stitching on a opshop dress of mine as dating it back to the 1950s. She was one of the very first readers and supporters of this blog back in 2007 and has always been a positive presence in my life. As if all that weren’t enough, a while back she commented on a tofu-centric post on this blog with Tofu “Balls”, a recipe she “used heaps over 20 years ago.”
I guess the title isn’t overly inviting – anything with inverted commas seems a little hesitant. That said, these literally are balls of tofu – just because there’s not any meat doesn’t make these any less, erm, ballsy, so there’s no need for them to cower behind quotation marks. Amusing thought they may be.
All hesitancy aside, they’re really, really delicious. I did kind of tweak the recipe – I love tofu, I love rolled oats, but I don’t think I can face them together. The combination belongs back in the shadows of “over 20 years ago”…for everyone’s sake. That said, if you’re game, then certainly go ahead and use them instead of the breadcrumbs/ground almonds.
With thanks to Nana for the heads-up.
In a food processor, mix the following till a crumbly mixture forms.
1/2 cup chopped peanuts or cashews
1 finely chopped onion
2/3 cup soft breadcrumbs, or 1/2 cup ground almonds
1 egg (optional – leaving it out makes these vegan)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 Tablespoons Shoyu or soy sauce
1 block firm tofu (I used half, or two squares, from those four-packs of firm tofu you get from the vege market)
Roll into balls, not too large – about the size of the old 50c pieces, or a walnut. The second time I made these I rolled them in ground almonds which was rather nice, but the world won’t fall apart if you don’t do it. Heat a little rice bran oil in a wide pan, and cook till the balls are crisp and browned on all sides.
Nana also recommended a sauce made by bringing peanut butter, lemon juice and water to the boil in a pan while stirring with a spatula, although I imagine any kind of dipping sauce you have to hand would work with these – chilli sauce, for example…
Title brought to you by: Ball and Biscuit from Elephant, the album you probably own if you’re a casual White Stripes fan. Casual we are not.
Music to blog by:
The Dirty Projectors’ No Intentions, as above, from their album Bitte Orca. See? Intriguing! Hummable!
I Cut Like A Buffalo from the Dead Weather’s debut album Horehound. The music video for this is compelling stuff. I hope sincerely that Jack White recreates that dance on stage when we see them live on the 17th. I don’t think I’ll be that functional on the 16th. 2005 seems a long time ago.
Patti LuPone singing Rainbow High – say what you will about Andrew Lloyd Webber, but the music to Evita is stunning, and this cabaret performance from LuPone at Les Mouches in 1980 is particularly ferocious. Makes me want to grab a microphone and snarl “so Christian Dior me!” too. Wish someone would stage a version of it here.
Next time: we’re having a combined Wellington Phoenix pre-game get-together/Rod Stewart Appreciation Day thing tomorrow (long story…actually no, that explains it all really) which I’m catering (self-imposedly) and the menu is growing more and more dizzying in proportions…no doubt I’ll have plenty to blog about. Like Nigella’s Girdlebuster Pie. Do you not want to know more with a name like that?
Saturday, February 6th was Waitangi Day here in New Zealand. This is a day that means different things to different people but 170 years have passed since the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, for better or for worse. It means a lot to me as my ancestors on mum’s side kicked things off around that very time when a woman named Pourewa and a man named Charles Cossill were married in Mangonui by the pragmatically named Bishop William Williams. February 6th also marked twenty years since my first ballet lesson. Talk about significant times for the nation. I was a rotund three year old who couldn’t skip and didn’t have a pushy mother with misguided ambitions for me – and even at that age you register differences in ability and atmosphere like that – but I was the only kid in that class who could touch my head with my toes.
Potstickers are perhaps the – or at least, a – culinary equivalent of getting your feet and your head to do a high-five. The process sounds a little painful. A lot of people don’t even try it in the first place. But the finished result elicits “oohs” and “aahs” at those who attempt it successfully. Actually this metaphor is a bit useless as you really need a decent set of hamstrings to do anything flexible while potstickers just require patience…but I needed a segue into the recipe and I’m damned if I’ll retreat now.
I saw this recipe in Ray McVinnie’s column in Sunday magazine a while back (the very magazine which put me on the cover! What, like I wasn’t going to mention it?) and even though I’ve seen recipes around for potstickers for years now for some reason it was this one that prompted me into action. I have to say, the Sunday magazine this week was ridiculously intuitive – it had a “Whatever happened to JTT?” piece which answered the very question I wondered as Tim and I watched a Home Improvement omnibus at 3am after getting home from Fubar last Sunday. There’s not much in this world that comforts like this – we didn’t watch a lot of TV when I was young but Home Improvement was family time). There was also an article about the man who wrote most of the jingles on the radio, when I’d just been explaining to Tim about the nostalgia I feel when I hear the ancient Auckland radio jingles (“Giltrap city, Toyota – we’re the one!”) on 1ZB after being in Wellington for so long.
I don’t love McVinnie’s column in Sunday as much as I adore his regular Quick Smart feature in Cuisine magazine but it’s still pretty engaging reading. The way he described potstickers made them seem not just do-able but necessary. I found myself lingering by the open freezers at the Asian grocery up the road, hoping wonton wrappers would be cheap – and they were. That, and the fact that there was a rapidly aging block of tofu in the fridge poured cement over the foundations of the idea in my mind. I didn’t follow his actual recipe so much as the directions but I have a feeling that as long as you keep to the method the filling is really up to you.
- 150-200g beef mince
- 200g firm tofu, diced
- 1/4 white cabbage, finely sliced
- Fresh ginger – about an inch, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons Chinese cooking wine, or sake if you prefer
- Wonton wrappers
- Rice bran oil, for frying
Stir fry the mince, tofu, and cabbage together with the seasonings until the mince is browned, the cabbage is reduced, and everything is good and fragrant. There’s no real artfulness to this – you just need it all cooked up.
This is great if you can get a friend to help you, if not it will just take a lot longer. Get your stack of wonton wrappers, a small bowl of water, a couple of plates and a couple of teaspoons. Grab a wonton wrapper, dip your fingers in the water and wet the edges of the wrapper. Get a teaspoonful of mince and tofu, place it in the centre of the wonton wrapper, fold it over to make a parcel and press the edges together. I folded the edges over each other and pressed down firmly. Put it onto a plate and start again, till you have as many as you think you’ll want.
Then! Heat a little rice bran oil in a good, wide pan which has a lid. Once it’s sizzling, fill the pan with your potstickers, all facing the same way. Don’t overcrowd the pan. Let them fry for a minute or two on that side, then flip them over and fry them for a minute or two on the other side. Pour over about a centimetre of water, clamp on the lid, and let them steam away till the water is evaporated. You want them over a good solid heat to aid the evaporation. Once the water is gone they should unstick themselves from the pan. Quickly use a silicon spatula or fish slice to lever the finished potstickers onto a plate, and eat them while the next batch is cooking.
One or two potstickers may well fall apart or stick obstinately while you try and remove them from the pan. This is not cause to get dramatic and throw the pan across the room screaming “Enough! I tried and I failed!” It’s just par for the course. They’re called potstickers for a reason. Eat them and move on to the next batch.
One bite, and you’ll likely forget the extensive effort it takes to bring these potstickers into existence. The frying-then-steaming method, while fiddly, makes the wonton wrappers crisp but silkily tender, encasing juicy savouryness. I made a quick dipping sauce out of soy, lemon juice, sesame oil, chilli oil and a little sugar which was an excellently zingy foil to the rich filling. Make plenty of these – we ate forty between the two of us – not comfortably, to be fair, but we did it. Maybe bank on about 10 to 15 per person, as they are so, so good. I heard from a relatively reliable source just this evening that if you leave the lid off the pan they get super-crispy – I may have to try this way of doing things next time. Because there will be a next time.
February 6th was also the date that the late Bob Marley was born in 1945. It seems fitting that someone who is loved by so many New Zealanders was born on the closest thing we have to a national day. Leaving Tim to make coffee on yet another public holiday, Ange and I went out to Hataitai velodrome to RadioActive One Love, the long-running event that commemorates Marley’s birthday while acknowledging Waitangi Day in a peaceful, musical fashion. The day was unnaturally warm – we really don’t get a lot of sun here in Wellington – and it was the perfect antithesis to the crowds of costumed people staggering drunkenly through town for the NZ International rugby Sevens tournament.
There was constant music, there were people everywhere of all ages and stages, there were amazing food and merchandise stalls, and in an act that seemed to sum up the happiness of the day, Liptons were giving out free iced tea. We saw Don McGlashan, The Midnights, Sola Rosa, Art Official and MC Silva (who gave my peanut butter cookies the thumbs up that very morning, to which I say look out for her album dropping later this year), watched people skanking merrily, ate glorious vegetarian curry, nodded approvingly at the host responsibility announcements, enviously gazed at children on the bouncy castle, bought insence-scented scarves, thought nice things about Bob Marley…magic. I didn’t love all the bottles littering the path on the way out, but other than that it was a seriously ideal way to spend the day. However, I think I’ll be airing out my scarves as I don’t feel quite so positive about the smell of incence as I did when I was 12. Tim and I headed to the Southern Cross later that night for an excellent time watching the Newtown Rocksteady also paying homage to Bob Marley through polished but joyful interpretations of his music, rounding off Waitangi day most satisfactorily.
Title brought to you by: Freshmint! the charmingly fey song from Brisbane’s Regurgitator. “Stick with me honey and we’ll go far” feels like a line spoken over and over but slides rather nicely into the celebrity-weary lyrics of this song. I don’t like this band’s name and to be honest this is one of two songs of their I love. I remember hearing this for the first time on Channel Z, being deeply intrigued, but not knowing for months what it was called or who sang it, until the magic of lyrics websites threw me a bone.
On Shuffle while I type:
While pondering Regurgitator my thoughts wandered to another elusive Australian song that I used to wait round for, never actually knowing what it was called till years later – Shazam by Spiderbait. It’s all fuzzy and whingy and sounds like a collection of chorusses – great fun, even if the band’s name is also bit gross.
Buffalo Soldier by Bob Marley – just such a great tune. I do enjoy a good bridge and this song enjoys one of the coolest out there.
The Juggernaut, from Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party, featuring Julia Murney, Taye Diggs, and the teeth-grittingly good use of Idina Menzel’s singing ability towards the end. This musical never made it to Broadway and could perhaps – who knows? – benefit from some tweaks. But it remains special to me for a number of reasons, and the original cast recording ten years on shines with jaw-dropping, brutal talent.
Next time: It’s clearly been far too long since I’ve dealt you a heavy-handed reference to RENT in a food-related way, so look out for that next time when, inspired by a culinary lyric in La Vie Boheme, I make rice and beans…
Gotta admit, I wasn’t feeling entirely joyful about it being the 1st of December today. At all. But after watching the 30 Rock season 3 Christmas special with Elaine Stritch and Alec Baldwin singing together I’m starting to feel a bit more welcoming towards this whole yuletide thing. I get a little panicky every year about things like presents, and finding time to buy them, but on the whole I like Christmas – how could I not? So much eating and cooking, so many songs to sing lustily, and a good time to connect with the whanau or whoever has come to represent family in your life.
This Sunday the official traditional flat Christmas Dinner will be happening once more – it’s something I’ve put on at my flat every year for whoever lives there and any plus-ones since 2006, and as I said in the invitation, just because we’ve moved into a nicer place with a better kitchen there’s no reason it can’t happen again. I’m really excited about getting all the food organised, not so much about the logistics…It’s partly an excuse for me to feed a lot of people but also for everyone we like to get together and enjoy each other’s company before everyone takes off home. Not that I’m going home any time soon – I’m working up until noon on the 23rd. That said I’m very glad to have a job at all these days, unlike Tim who isn’t exactly rolling in shifts at Starbucks. If there’s any Wellington-based media-type folk out there reading this, give him a job! I like him, so he must be worth taking on. Isn’t that reference enough?
Anyway, with all the intense food pending, I’m trying to keep the dinners a little light and chilled out here this week. Hence this quick, vegan-as-anything but also seriously flavoursome and hearty Thai salad of rice stick noodles, tofu and green vegetables. It’s not perfect (tahini is eye-wideningly fat-laden, like, avoid reading the nutritional information if you don’t want to cry) and I’m not even sure if it’s actually Thai at all, more like “a dish with fish sauce in it” but let’s not get hung up on semantics. What would Nigella say? “It’s authentically good.” There is a lot of avocado in this which makes it much sexier than it would be otherwise, so don’t be tempted to leave it out. Avocados are getting cheaper and cheaper here in New Zealand which is a mitzvah as you can buy lots of them and luxuriate in spreading it on toast, adding them to salads, placing slices alongside dinner, or simply sprinkling a cut half with good salt and maybe a little vinegar and eating the lot with a teaspoon.
Thai Rice Stick, Tofu and Green Vegetable Salad
From a little cookbook I like to call “Laura’s Mind”.
100g rice stick noodles
2 ‘fillets’ of firm tofu, diced (those 8cm-ish square blocks that come in packs of four at the vege market is what I’m talking about)
1/3 cup natural peanuts
8-10 spears asparagus, chopped into 2cm lengths
Small bunch bok choi, washed and chopped roughly
1-2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons tahini
Handful sugar snap peas
1 perfectly ripe avocado
Small bunch fresh mint
Boil the rice stick noodles in salted water till they’re opaque and slippery. I’m not sure if this is the accurate way to get them cooked, please let me know if you have a better method. While they’re cooking away, heat a nonstick pan to good and sizzling, and add the tofu, stirring with a spatula to let it turn golden but not burn. Next tip in the peanuts and asparagus, stirring as you go. Sprinkle over the fish sauce and drizzle over the tahini, mixing thoroughly. Add the bok choi and a tiny splash of water, allowing it to quickly wilt in the heat. Turn off the heat – it doesn’t matter if the asparagus isn’t totally cooked, some crunch is good here.
When the noodles are done, drain them under running cold water for about 10 seconds. Finally, chop up the avocado, sugar snap peas and mint. Divide the lukewarm noodles between two plates, top with the tofu-asparagus-peanut-bokchoi mix and finally cover them with green chunks of avocado and crisp sugar snaps, adding a sprinkling of mint to each plate.
The mix of textures makes this salad amazingly enjoyable to tuck into, plus the creaminess of the avocado with the protein-rich peanuts and densely grained tofu means you’re hardly going to go hungry. The fresh, cool mint and the pungent saltiness of the fish sauce see off any over-richness that all that texture could cause when partying together on the plate. As you can see it’s pretty seasonal in nature, but as long as you keep the avocado in you could substitute other green vegetables – brocolli, beans, edamame – and you could of course use cashews or sesame seeds instead of the peanuts and peanut butter instead of tahini. As this is a little something I’ve made up, I’d completely love to know if anyone has actually tried it themselves. Let me know what you think!
So, another reason to be thankful that it’s December already, instead of going into shock because your mind still secretly thinks it’s mid-August, is that Tim and I are going to see Mr Jarvis Cocker on Thursday night, supported by lovely lovely Wellingtonians The Phoenix Foundation. If you don’t know who Jarvis Cocker is, he’s the erstwhile frontman of the band Pulp, maker of pop songs that sound amazingly upbeat but are actually yearningly painful, and rather gorgeous in his own elbowy way. I’m really excited. I love his solo work which is good as I don’t think he’s known for performing songs from his Pulp heyday. Not that I was overly caught up in the whole 90s thing, being a year or so too young and deeply occupied being solemnly and obstinately passionate about the Spice Girls. But for what it’s worth I do remember disdainfully ignoring all boy bands and having an unrequited crush on Blur’s Damon Albarn, writing in my diary that I hated his then girlfriend Justine Frischman of Elastica even though I really had no idea who she was. Rock’n’Roll!
Title of this show brought to you by: Sufjan Stevens’ ridiculously pretty, light-as-a-macaron song Avalanche. Listen and love, even if you think you don’t like modern music. Fun facts: 1) I actually kinda hate when people call avocados “avos” but what can you do? and 2) For about a year I genuinely thought Sufjan’s name was ‘Surfjan’.
On Shuffle these days:
No Intention by Dirty Projectors from their album Bitte Orca. This song winkles its way into your consciousness so gently that if it hadn’t been completely thrashed on one of the radio stations I occasionally stream I almost could have missed it altogether. Unusual and entirely engaging stuff.
Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time from Jarvis Cocker’s eponymous solo album, a song featuring horns pleasantly reminiscent of that other Cocker from Sheffield and typically fantastic lyrics. Fingers crossed he sings this one on Thursday.
I had a fantastic weekend going up north for Tim’s cousin’s wedding, but after many hours in a van with non-stop inoffensive crowd-pleasing music, I’ve had the urge to listen to something slightly more – although relatively – polarising. Therefore plenty of Richard Hell, Tourettes, early White Stripes, and, um, Alice Ripley (whose solo stuff is near-impossible to find on youtube, that’s how underground she is) have also been featuring heavily on my iPod this week. Also memorable was the discussion Tim and I had in the van on the way home about how we should buy a bouncy castle and put it on the roof, although I think I can pinpoint the epicentre of my overtiredness to the conversation we had about whether you could domesticate a calf and get it to fetch things and curl up at your feet while you watch TV. I said yes, Tim wasn’t so sure. I was all, “Tim, I grew up next door to a farm. I think I’d know.”
Next time: this week will be largely given over to preparing for the mighty Christmas Dinner. Menu to be confirmed along with a progress report next time and you can bet that with our biggest guest list yet, it’s going to be a feast of health-compromising proportions. Bring it on!
So the best place to buy tofu as far as I can ascertain is the vege market on a Sunday. I branched out this week and went for soft tofu instead of firm; the name doesn’t lie. It near on falls to pieces if you look at it sideways. I guess it’s kind of the minced beef to firm tofu’s rump steak.
I ended up with a whole lot of root vegetables that needed eating on Sunday night. Usually my fallback option in this situation is some kind of pseudo-Moroccan would-be tagine-esque thing, which is seriously what I thought I was cooking last night until I realised it had actually shifted direction altogether into a curry. It’s a fine line – all that cumin, tumeric, coriander… suddenly I found myself wondering whether I should add more tomatoes and feta cheese or biff in a can of coconut milk. Coconut milk won out and I suddenly had this rather gorgeous vegan curry on my hands.
I defrosted some unshelled soybeans (I go through bags of them these days) and popped the beans within into the stew for a little colour contrast…to stop it being overwhelmingly like a braised curtain from the 70s (or, in fact, the curtains I remember us having at home while I was growing up – I have distinct memories of some yellow and brown floral motif…Mum?) The soybeans were awesomely elphaba-green against the earthy vegetables, their colour softened by the coconut milk.
While licking the lid of the coconut milk tin, to catch the sneaky extraneous cream that gathers there, it occurred to me that chocolate ice cream made with coconut milk could potentially be mindblowingly nice. Especially with chunks of milk chocolate and toasted coconut shreds, like a posh version of the Choc Bar ice creams of my youth (and occasional nights in town – for some reason I always crave ice cream if I’m out and about of an evening, you can keep your kebabs and pies thank you). If you haven’t had a Choc Bar it’s basically the above but in a $2.50 icecream-on-a-stick form and laced with palm oil (yeah, I went there. And while I was there, through rigorous testing, discovered that Whittaker’s white chocolate is comparitively amazing.)
The recipe for this suddenly-curry is chilled out, the only thing I measured out with any strict attention to detail was the rice. Nevertheless I’ll tell you exactly what I did in case the idea takes your fancy. It made a fantastic relaxed Sunday dinner. Warming and hearty, the creaminess of the coconut milk soaking into the ridiculous amount of vegetables (seven veges – eight if you count the tofu, which you might as well.) You basically can’t get it wrong which is also nice.
Root Vegetable Curry with Tofu and Soybeans
3 garlic cloves
1 swede (is Swede a root vegetable?)* diced
1 carrot, diced
1 parsnip, chopped
1 kumara, diced thickly
1/2 a cauliflower, chopped into small florets
Good handful soybeans
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons tumeric
1 teaspoon ginger
1 red chilli, seeded and chopped (optional if it’s not your thing)
Zest and juice of a lime
1-2 teaspoons of honey
1 tin crushed tomatoes
1 tin coconut milk
As much tofu as you like
Chop onion and garlic finely and gently saute in a wide pan. Once it has softened a little, add the spices, chilli, honey and lime juice. This will caramelise the onions slightly, you want to keep stirring it so the spices don’t char.
Add the vegetables at this point and stir thoroughly to coat them in the spicy onion mixture which by now will be quite dry. Tip in the tin of tomatoes, half fill the tin with water and swish it into the pan. Stir, cover and allow to simmer till the veges are tender (the swedes are the slowest to kick into action I’ve found).
Stir in the podded soybeans, tofu, and as much coconut milk as you like. Allow to simmer for ten minutes or so. Serve over rice (or ree-cheh if you will)
This was delicious. The vegetables (and inevitably, my entire face) all stained yellow by tumeric, the coriander seeds providing bursts of subtle citrus to complement the lime, the strident warmth of the spices cutting through the creamy coconut…the emerald-bright soybeans doing no wrong as per usual…
overheard in our kitchen
Me: Do fish bleed?
Me: Yeah, but when you cut into them…there’s no arteries…they’re not like, say, sheep, which are basically built like humans in that they’ve got leg bones and muscles and…
Tim: They’re just like sheep. They bleed.
Me: Yeah, but you cut open a fish and there’s the skeleton, but it’s just…surrounded by fish fillets.
Tim: I was thinking more like fish fingers.
Me: Yeah. Tightly woven fish fingers.
Tim and I went to see Wizard of Oz at Embassy cinema yesterday afternoon. It was wonderful seeing it on a big screen, partying like it was 1939. The technicolour made me gasp and the Wicked Witch was still as terrifying as I remember from my youth. But, this is the first time I’ve watched this film since reading the jaw-dropping Wicked and making a connection with the musical of the same name. And it was impossible to remove that context, to view it without that lens. Why does no one show sympathy when the Wicked Witch’s sister has died? Why did the Wizard get away with lying like that? How is Glinda so ‘good’ when, let’s face it, she appears to be on valium? She can hardly connect with Dorothy’s feelings of fear – although let’s also face the fact that the film wouldn’t have been so satisfying if, 23 minutes in, Dorothy was safely assisted back to Kansas.)
I actually cried during Somewhere Over The Rainbow (Judy Garland – so tragic! And it’s a beautiful song). And again when the Witch dies – it’s an emotionally fraught moment! I couldn’t help but imagine Glinda somewhere behind a curtain or pillar watching it happen a la the musical. Or the Witch being frantic by lack of sleep and an inability to communicate effectively a la the book. And I might have cried again when Dorothy said goodbye to the Tin Woodsman, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion. (Who, in retrospect, are deeply camp, yes? Also: Fiyeeeeeeeroooooo!) I really never cry in films or books or things like that so I’m always a bit interested to note when I do. And…I really want to see Wicked now. I know, it’s so done by all the cool people already but as I’ve said many times, it’s not as easy when you’re in New Zealand.
On Shuffle whilst I type:
Die, Vampire, Die by Susan Blackwell and the rest of the cast of [title of show] from the cast recording of [title of show]. Had a slight epiphany Monday morning while unable to sleep (I woke up at 5:00am! And remained awake! It’s not fair!) that I could so do the role of Susan Blackwell. It’s like it was made for me (except it was made for the real Susan Blackwell. Confused? Maybe you should be. But if you’ve made it to this segment of the blog unsullied by confusion then you’re doing pretty well, all things considered. Also, Wikipedia it, my children.)
Rez, by Underworld. It’s on this compilation from the nineties that I found. I wish I’d had this compilation back in the actual 90s because it would have made life a lot easier. Instead I lay awake at night with my ear pressed to the radio and its hopelessly crackly signal, waiting for Flagpole Sitta – back in the days before the internet when I didn’t even know what the song was called, but the lyrics “the agony and the irony they’re killing me” seemed so meaningful to a 13 year old – or something by Radiohead to come on. Anyway Rez by Underworld is incredible – like what I imagine the fairies from Shirley Barber’s beautiful picture books would dance to if they went to a rave on a lily pad. See?
Is it bad that I have this urge to make some kind of dish (probably ice cream, my default flavour-carrier) heavily featuring galangal so that I can use galangalangalang as my blog post title?
The title for this post is bought to you by: One Short Day from the musical Wicked, where Glinda and Elphaba travel to the emerald city for the first, fateful time…pausing only for a kicky song-and-dance number.
Next time: Considering this post bears little resemblance to what I promised would be happening I’m not sure if it matters what I write here. Truth be told I’m a bit terrible at snappily rounding things off so this is like an ‘out’ for me. Like on Whose Line Is It Anyway when Colin Mochrie would pretend to faint so that he didn’t have to come up with a verse in an impromptu hoedown. Does anyone remember the vastly superior British version of that show? Whatever happened to it?
I remember reading the Sunday Star Times at a cafe earlier this year, turning to the Escape section first, and saying to Tim that my blog would be ideal for it. You know, I could be that person they ask to write down what they eat over the course of the day (do people really tell the truth in those things?) or feature as an example of the general excellence available on the web these days. The thought left my mind when I flicked over the the column where Annabelle White compares various brands of organic muesli. That sort of fortunate occurrence only happens to established, famous-enough-to-appear-in-a-local-reality-show kind of people. It was Cafe Cubita on Courtney Place and I had an extremely pleasant lamb salad.
Turns out that, with a frequency just high enough to keep you trusting in mystical forces, if you put it out there, the universe can provide. It worked when I said I wanted Tourettes to come do a gig in Wellington – and lo, it was so. While I always feared it would be unlikely that Idina Menzel would come to New Zealand, the utter randomness of Patti LuPone making a tour stop here reaffirmed my faith in the world.
Oh my gosh, anyway, enough of my chatter: the point is, this blog, this very blog, was mentioned by the editor of the Escape section of the Sunday Star Times, a national newspaper. Favourably. And not just in my head – it really happened! I feel like Mark Cohen in RENT, when his footage of the riot after Maureen’s performance gets on Buzzline. I feel like Elphaba in Wicked when she finds out she’s going to see the Wizard – “he asked for me? Personally?” I feel like Jeff, Hunter, Susan and Heidi in [title of show] when they get a good review in the New York Times. I feel like…I’m so excited and self-pinching right now that all I can do is project my feelings onto pre-existing characters. If there are any new readers who have solely appeared here because they looked me up after reading the lovely things Angela Walker wrote about this place in the Sunday Star Times; Kia ora! Welcome! Kindly stick around.
Just when you thought I couldn’t bring any more excitement, I’d like to announce that I am on a massive soy kick right now. If you’ve been keeping an eye on my twitter (@HungryandFrozen) then this will be no secret, for some reason expressing my love for soy in 140 character bursts is my idea of a good time these days.
I realise tofu is as maligned and practically as unsexy as lentils. Just because it has a bad rep doesn’t make it intrinsically bad though. Like Michael Jackson jokes, I feel that wrinkling one’s nose at tofu is not only easy, it’s lazy. Anyone can do it. Takes temerity of spirit to actually try this surprisingly delicious stuff. (And no, I don’t get a kick out of Michael Jackson jokes. Ooh, make fun of a brilliant but deeply troubled dead man. Aren’t you quite the sparkling wit.)
Tonight I stir-fried a few cloves of chopped garlic in a non-stick pan, sprinkled over fish sauce and mirin, and added a block of firm tofu, which almost braised in the bubbling liquid, slowly taking on colour and absorbing the flavours of the sauce. While dealing with the edamame though, the liquid quickly reduced and the considerable sugars in the mirin caramelised on the spot, creating a thick, dark sauce. In places it actually had reduced down into a kind of brittle or toffee, disturbingly good with its salty, sweet, garlicky crunch. This is what happens when I turn my back – it gets all Heston Blumenthal up in here. I believe this is what the cool kids describe as umami – a deep-toned savoury flavour. The deliciously sauced tofu teamed with the mellow, impossibly buttery edamame made a wholly satisfying dinner, so good that I quickly snapped it and wedged it spontaneously into this blog when I was really going to write about something else altogether.
Currently on Shuffle whilst I type double time thanks to the power of soy:
Calling All Angels, by Alice Ripley at the Kennedy Centre, 2003. Say what you want about her – I personally adored her speech for winning the Tony – but I think she’s utterly brilliant. And, and, she writes the kind of songs I would want to write if I was a singer-songwriter. This is one such example.
I’m Going Home by the Sacred Harp Singers from the Cold Mountain soundtrack. The only reason we even watched the movie is because Jack White was in it, I don’t recommend it – it’s relentlessly brutal and violent although the joy of Jack White provides some respite. But the soundtrack is pretty wonderful and this particular song is astoundingly beautiful and like no other sound I’ve ever heard before. And you know, this is 2009. We have mash-ups and stuff.
All I Really Want by Alanis Morisette from Jagged Little Pill. Delightfully mid-nineties and talky as heck but still brilliant stuff to throw yourself around the room and sing along to. I actually saw her live at the Supertop in 1996, was possibly the only 10 year old in the audience. She’s always cool to me. If you like this album, it’s not too much of a stretch to hope that you’d like Minuet by Idina Menzel from Still I Can’t Be Still…
This blog title is bought to you by: Joy Division. And so obviously, this song.
Next time: I was going to write about ice cream in this one but frankly soy was more exciting right now, not to mention a large chunk of space was occupied by my bragging. As Rufus Wainwright sang in his tribute concert to Judy Garland, “you go to my head”. This week Sunday Star Times, next – who knows. Possibly the same level of mild obscurity. Various whanau members are coming down to Wellington this weekend so I am currently browsing Menumania to narrow down some cool places to take them for lunch and dinner. And definitely going to talk ice cream next time.
As Liz Lemon, a character from 30 Rock and my kindred spirit would say: “aw, blerg”. It’s a third of the way through July already and I have only just now managed to put pixel to webpage. This is partly because Tim and I have been quietly absorbed with Dexter (brutal but good!) and with rewatching season 2 of 30 Rock (brutal but good!) and, of course, packing all our earthly belongings into boxes and suitcases (merely brutal!) in anticipation of the big move this Friday. Or, as they might say in a Baby Sitters Club book, The Big Move. Unlike bicoastal Dawn or choice-burdened Stacey it’s not really a difficult wrenching decish for us. We’re excited about moving.
I haven’t really been doing a lot of cooking lately, because we are trying to use up what’s in the cupboard and fridge. And not make anything huge that needs to be frozen or eaten over several days. Or use too many pieces of cookware. Which restricts us a schmeer. Last night Tim had spaghetti on toast before choir and I had a pub quiz after work. Monday night we went to Red Tomatoes Pizzeria and Cafe. On Sunday we cooked up 12 sausages at lunchtime that we’d defrosted from the freezer “for space-saving purposes” and…honestly…by nightfall the two of us had eaten them all. Not kidding. 12 sausages, two people, 6 hours. Saturday night was Burger Fuel because we had to be at the Film Archive by 7pm for the showing of my beloved Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps. Friday night was take-out satay noodles from Chow Mein Cube on the Terrace. Tomorrow night we’ll be getting takeaways because everything will be packed away and on Friday we’ll get takeaways because we’ve been moving all day. You get the idea. I’m really not cooking. And I can feel myself occupying more space than I normally do. Which is why next week I’m promising myself to embrace vegetables and shun sugars. But for now, it works. It’s simpler this way.
It doesn’t completely resemble the innermost circles of Hades here though. There has been some cooking – prior to all the non-cooking – occurring mostly because of the divine inspiration I garnered from the latest Cuisine magazine. Despite having a fridge rapidly emptying and a cupboard filled with increasingly disparite spices and condiments, I found myself turning pages of my Cuisine magazine and saying to myself rapturously (and loudly) “I can make this! And I have the ingredients for this! And also this! And still further recipes!”
So I did.
One rather genius dish that I tried was a Fiona Smith recipe of diced vegetables, basted in a salty dressing of miso, mirin, sugar and oil, roasted and mixed gently through sushi rice. Engaging stuff, yes?
Miso Roast Sushi Salad
The vegetables need to be cut into small, equal pieces so that they roast quickly and evenly without scorching the sauce. I found the amount of vegetables, once chopped, to be enormous, so ended up more than halving the amount. I suspect this is a very forgiving, adaptable recipe and can be changed up depending on what you have, more or less. I used a mixture of kumara, carrot, and parsnip. I left out the mushrooms because Tim doesn’t like them and the tofu because we just didn’t have any and it was still, despite this, just right for two people.
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 teaspoons caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sushi rice
1 1/4 cups water
4 cm strip kombu (optional)
4 tablespoons miso paste (you could happily sub this for black bean sauce)
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon peanut oil
2 tablespoons sugar
200g firm tofu, cut into 2cm chunks
4 cups chopped winter vegetables (pumpkin, carrot, kumara, parsnip)
2 cups mushrooms, quartered
Preheat oven to 200 C.
In a small bowl, stir together the first measure of sugar with the vinegar and salt and set aside. Place the rice in a colander, run under cold water then sit to drain while you prepare the vegetables. The draining step is apparently quite important so make sure this is the first thing you do.
Whisk together the miso, mirin, peanut oil and second measure of sugar. Chop all the vegetables into small cubes and mix in with the mushrooms and tofu in a large bowl, adding the sauce and coating thoroughly. Spread onto a paper-lined baking tray and roast for 20-25 minutes till the root vegetables are tender.
While the veges cook, place the rice in a medium saucepan with the seaweed if using, and cover with the 1 1/4 cups water. Bring to the boil, stirring, then clamp a lid on and cook at the lowest heat possible undisturbed for ten minutes. Take off the heat and leave undisturbed for ten minutes. Tip the rice into a large bowl and remove the kombu if used. Pour the vinegar mix over and stir gently, then add the roasted veges and tofu and carefully combine the lot together. Serve in bowls with sesame seeds and coriander with soy sauce and wasabi to serve if desired.
This is very, very cheap and utterly delicious, the sort of thing you can happily eat by the heaped forkful while sitting cross-legged in front of the heater watching a DVD. It will, without a doubt, become a regular dinner this winter chez nous.
As I mentioned, last Saturday we went to see Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps at the Film Archive, and a very satisfying night it was too. We were part of a bare handful of under-forties whippersnappers present in the audience. It was a wonderful experience – big, beautiful sound, comfy seats, Neil in all his sneery glory on the big screen and of course his songs. Ohhhh the songs. I was tempted, in order to assert my right as a whippersnapper to be there, to state loudly, “I know! I’ve seen him live! It was a moment of spiritual clarity!” Speaking of films, I really, really can’t wait for Away We Go to open here in NZ (about 12 months after it opens in the USA, naturally). It has the most incredible cast and I’m not kidding, the trailer nearly made me tear up. And it has cameos from Catherine O’Hara, who I have a mad crush on (Catherine, call me!) and Broadway’s Allison Janney! Still speaking of films, we have been perusing the NZ Film Festival guide and circling various films we want to see, but mostly trying to find the most delightful foreign name for someone listed as working on one of the films. So far our hard-to-trump favourite is an actor called Knut Berger. Together, we salute you.
On Shuffle whilst I type feverishly:
Carry That Weight from Abbey Road by The Beatles (I love this song. It’s like launching into the built-up end of an epic, Hey Jude-like song without having to wait for the build-up. It’s like fast-forwarding to the “it’s meeeee!” part of Defying Gravity. It’s instant gratification.)
Welfare Mothers from Rust Never Sleeps by the divine Neil Young (was there e’er a cooler opening line than “people pick up on what I’m putting down”?)
Planet Z from Still I Can’t Be Still by the divine Idina Menzel (Tim actually admits to liking this song. Heavy. Very heavy. Also: buy this album. It’s ridiculous.)
Roadrunner by Modern Lovers from their eponymous album. I think I could listen to this song a squillion times and never tire of it. And I have a mad crush on the ageless Jonathan Richman. Call me, Jonathan!
In other significant happenings, Tim garnered an A and a B for two respective honours papers at uni which is just backflip-inducingly awesome. This is most likely the last blog entry I’ll post from this flat. Considering this very flat is where I began this blog as a mere blog-ling in the October of 2007, that’s…something. Right? We’d be much obliged if you could think happy, good-weather, box-lifting thoughts for us come Friday. Who was the patron saint of severely pulled muscles due to lifting from the back instead of the legs? We should probably be lighting a big old candle to him or her right now. (Not just being PC here, I wikipedia-d it and there really are a lot of lady saints.)