Well hello there, and welcome to another instalment of Fancy Plans and Pants To Match, a regular-ish segment on this blog where I self-deprecatingly-ish acknowledge that sometimes I get to do cool stuff because I am that most deserving, worthy, and merit-filled type of person: a blogger. The title of this segment comes via a quote from this generally forgotten 90s sitcom that I adore called NewsRadio, you should definitely look it up if only to wrestle with the odd sensation of having a crush on a young, handsome, Joey Tribbiani-esque Joe Rogan, who starred in it. Oh, and you can read the Fancy Plans and Pants to Match archives here.
So here’s the thing: In October of 2015, which was, appallingly, a year and a half ago, a charming bar called Hanging Ditch opened in the Hannah’s Laneway precinct.
The pitch: Hanging Ditch makes lush as hell cocktails and are going through a bit of a menu update. Having been there for their previous menu update and being an extreme fan of drinking alcohol, writing, and enthusiastically supporting my friends, I returned on Tuesday to try some of their new drinks and then pass on my predictably delighted thoughts to you.
What happened: Since I last wrote about this place they’ve expanded the team via the presence of immensely talented bartender Dave McAvoy (best qualities: 1, is extremely easy to roast, 2, puts up with being roasted with admirable Canadian affability) and there were some new contributions from him to try, as well as drinks from co-founder and general sparkling gem of a human Benji Irvine. Also I’d like to acknowledge that I was wrestling with the aperture on my camera the entire damn time I was sitting there drinking and as such some of these photos aren’t totally brilliant, but ignore that and just concentrate on my glowing praise instead.
The drinks I tried included:
One Night In Bangkok (Beefeater gin, kaffir lime leaf syrup, muddled fresh ginger and Thai basil, lime, and a green chartreuse rinse). This starts off dazzlingly refreshing with the one-two punch of kaffir lime syrup and actual lime, before tickling the back of the throat with the warmth of the ginger and Thai basil. The chartreuse rinse is subtle and adds a little richness to an otherwise astringent mix. The power-of-a-thousand-limes limeness of the kaffir lime leaves used in the syrup is spectacular and if you’ve never sniffed one, do yourself a favour. This is one of Dave’s submissions to the World Class competition and guys, it’s a damn lovely drink. Also it reminds me of one of my favourite songs of all time, which adds an extra layer of deliciousness.
The Preacher Man (Makers Mark Bourbon, Amaro Angostura, Fernet-Branca, cherry bitters, sugar, flamed cinnamon) Being a bartender it’s obligatory for my eyes to light up any time the words “Fernet-Branca” are uttered: it’s fiercely herbal, throat-scrapingly minty, eye-bleedingly intense and we love it. Here it’s used in an impressively understated way, adding the slightest shy nudge of Fernet-ness to this lush, layered, and punchy cocktail. I only tried Amaro Angostura recently and adore it – imagine Angostura Bitters but imminently drinkable (I’m not saying I haven’t done shots of Angostura Bitters, I’m just not sure how sustainable it is on several levels) and it works magic with the classic sweetness of the bourbon and the smokiness of the cinnamon.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Reposado Tequila, grapefruit shrub, Yellow Chartreuse, honey, lemon, orange bitters, shaken in a smoked shaker) This was spectacular, somehow zingy in a sour-candy type way but with backdrop of smoke softly overlapping with the inherent and beguiling smoky pepperiness of tequila. A shrub is a kind of fruity syrup preserved with vinegar and is also, I feel, a highly underrated way of adding flavour to a drink. Here the grapefruit’s bitterness and sourness – which is partly where I suspect that candy vibe comes from – is gently imparted to gorgeous effect. It took all my willpower, of which I repeatedly and demonstrably have precious little to begin with, to not slam it back in one mouthful. Bravo.
The Best Bit: The whole bit. Extremely delicious cocktails made by aggressively competent bartenders, charming banter from at least one of them, and just generally getting to bask in their current creative endeavours. Oh wait, the BEST bit: Hanging Ditch has a newly installed FERNET AND COKE ON TAP! This is immensely exciting as well as a slightly hilarious novelty and a blessing to the hospitality community and if you don’t hear from me it’s because I’m lying on my back underneath said tap with my mouth open drinking their entire stock dry.
On a Scale of 1 to Is This The Real Life, Is This Just Fantasy: As I say every time I do these write ups for Hanging Ditch they get a 1 out of 10 but only because it’s actually extremely accessible and anyone can just walk in and order a cocktail: this is a good thing.
Would I Do It Again For Not-Free: Can, will, have, going to, you should too.
Earnest Thanks For Making Me Feel Fancy To: The goodest boys at Hanging Ditch, which can be found next to Goldings and opposite Shepherd in the Hannah’s Laneway precinct down Leed’s Street. They’re open daily from late afternoon until midnight and have a notably good hospo night on Mondays.
Want me to come take better photos than this and write almost troublingly enthusiastic words about your event, new menu, whatever? Giz a yell at firstname.lastname@example.org
When I was a child I joined, for some odd reason since I really only loved dancing – although I do remember saying loftily, at some point, that “I want a busy life” – an organisation called Brownies. It was like a pre-Girl Guides/Scouts activity group for sprightly, do-gooding young gals and you’re welcome to google what their aspirations are but my main memories of it are as distinct as they are strange – a billowing brown sack of a dress that was the uniform; performing an elaborate song and dance about snails as some kind of occasional treat; going away on camps that had the inexplicable themes of Snoopy; Wombles; and Rock’n’Roll respectively; and the constant working towards getting badges for various exploits, such as Planting A Tree or Something.
There was also, however, access to Girl Guide biscuits. If you’re in America I know you’ve got Girl Scout cookies of all different flavours and permutations because I’ve like, seen movies, but here in New Zealand we had but one, plain, vaguely sugary round mass-produced cookie to push onto the masses, damn it. I still have, at my parents house, a Girl Guide Biscuit box that’s used as a storage container for old stage show programmes and booklets, the vessel itself by this point providing as much nostalgia as that which it contains.
Anyway so where I’m going with all this is that during Girl Guide Biscuit season everyone had an overabundance of them because New Zealand is small and there’s only so many people you can palm them off to before the degrees of separation means that literally every third person is your aunty and yes they’ve already bought three boxes and no they don’t want any more.
So you made Girl Guide Biscuit slice: crushed up biscuits held together by an appealing buttery, sugary, cocoa-y gunge. It’s magnificently delicious and so much better than just choking down another plain dry biscuit for no discernable reason whatsoever (seriously, why would you eat these biscuits? They’re SO PLAIN. NO OFFENCE IF YOU LIKE THEM, YOUR OPINION IS VALID AND I RESPECT IT.)
I recently came into possession of an unmarked shopping bag full of packets of biscuits very similar to these – the kind of nothing-spectacular biscuit that you’d make a cheesecake base out of. It was just some leftover stock from work, in case I made that sound far more excitingly illicit than it is. I’d held onto them for a while, just knowing that the perfect use for them would present itself to me. And lo; I started making batches of this Crunchie Bar Slice, an incredibly souped up version of the original Girl Guide recipe, and bringing it in for the people I work with at the bar on Fridays or Saturdays to provide some kind of sugary boost to get through the long shift.
And then I kept making it every week. Smashed up biscuits, which I stirred into a buttery, sugary, cocoa-y mixture with milk chocolate melted softly into it and topped with sparkling golden smashed up Crunchie bar honeycomb dust. And it got to the point where I was like, well this is cute and I’m going to take some photos of it and blog about it.
And then I realised I kind of buried the lede here: the people I’m making this slice for aren’t just my colleagues, they’re…my staff. Because I have become General Manager of the cocktail bar I work at. Large and in charge, queen bee, those kinds of words, y’know? Isn’t that exciting? Isn’t that nice? Not to undersell myself but if you were all “Laura, quick! Describe yourself!” I’d be like “…despite all my rage I am still just…a rat…in…a cage? Am I doing this right?” but here I am, with all this responsibility and a wonderful little team to look after and nurture and a fancy cocktail bar to run. I’m going to be straight up with you, I’ve never been in charge of ANYTHING in my life and I really thought this was how I was going to live out my days, always the bridesmaid never the manager; so obviously I’m determined to learn everything immediately and be a spectacular juggernaut of a success by approximately forty minutes in to my first day on the job otherwise I’m a complete failure. I’m also trying really hard to be nice to myself and let myself learn stuff slowly and go with the flow. Literally both these things at the same time.
More importantly though, this slice tastes incredible and is so easy to make. It’s a textural triumph – the bite of the biscuits against the soft, fudge-like chocolate, ever so slightly gritty from the grains of sugar and the bursts of crisp Crunchie bar dissolving on your tongue. The chill from the freezer and the (once more for the people in the back) plainness of the biscuits counteracts any oversweetness, although by all means feel free to put, I don’t know, chocolate chips or drizzled white chocolate or something on top.
As per, my recipe is really long and over-explainy but I strenuously assure you, this is easy to make. Actually the only real effort involved is reading through the recipe without being put off by how wordy it is.
crunchie bar slice
a recipe by myself
- 150g butter
- one cup sugar
- 50g milk chocolate (this is generally the size of a chocolate bar)
- one tablespoon of cocoa
- one egg
- one packet of malt biscuits/plain cookies/the sort of thing you’d make cheesecake base from
- one regular-sized Crunchie bar or similar honeycomb style bar.
Get a rectangular tin – the kind you might bake brownies or slice in – and have it sitting there along with a large piece of baking paper to line it, while you make the slice. I sometimes put it in the freezer if I’m in a hurry so that the mixture starts to cool as soon as I spoon it in. Whatever!
Using a rolling pin or something heavy, carefully bash the unopened packet of biscuits on all sides so that you can feel them crumbling beneath the surface of the packet. You don’t have to have created dust, just attempt to smash them up a bit.
In a large pan, melt the butter gently over a low heat. Stir in the sugar and the milk chocolate, allowing the chocolate to melt into it. Remove from the heat and stir in the cocoa, then open up the packet of biscuits and tip them in, using your hands or your spoon to crush up any larger bits. Finally, stir the egg in as quickly as possible – the mixture will still be warm so you don’t want the egg to cook against it – and then spatula the lot into your waiting tin. Use the back of a metal spoon to press it evenly down into the corners. Finally, give the unopened Crunchie bar a bit of a bash as well, then open it up and sprinkle the golden chocolatey dust evenly over the surface of the slice, using the back of that spoon to push it in.
Freeze for at least an hour, and then use a large knife to cut it into slices.
As you can see from the recipe it’s really just a couple of pre-packaged things held together by not much at all, but a thick slice of this, straight from the freezer in the middle of a busy shift or indeed, any time at all, can leave you feeling briefly invincible. I accidentally typed invisible just now instead of invincible but same difference, all things considered.
If bopping about making things that can be sliced up and received with happiness are your thing right now, may I also recommend my recipes for Ginger Crunch Slice and/or Peanut Butter Chocolate Caramel Nut Slice.
PS: I’m honestly so excited about this sudden career trajectory, definitely come visit me.
title from: Neneh Cherry’s perfect song Buffalo Stance.
Kill Em With Kindness by Selena Gomez sounds aggressively of this moment, but wow it’s so good. Your lies are bullets, your mouth’s a gun? Hello.
next time: I have some frozen prawns in my freezer. So maybe something prawn-y.
Hi friendly people, I have some massive personal life stuff going on right now, so I’m gonna be gone for a minute. While I normally find it excruciating to do anything without telling as many people as I can about it, this one requires some time and privacy and other responsible things like that. But, I will be back blogging before you know it. In the meantime, read all my old posts or hug your loved ones or something.
Thanks heaps to everyone who took part in my cookbook giveaways. I wish I could give cookbooks to all of you, but that probably wouldn’t be very good business practice (have also been known to say “Tim is so lovely it’s a pity EVERYONE can’t marry him” so make of this what you will.) If nothing else, all the super-nice comments on my Instagram and on this blog have been endlessly good for my soul and ego and smile occurrence. Especially in this very strange week where I dropped my precious cellphone down an eighth storey lift shaft, and also got sent home from work after a very big, scary earthquake.
For the rest of you, it’s less than a week till my cookbook is out! Fathom THAT!
Also for the rest of you, here are some guinea pigs I saw in a pet shop a couple of weeks ago. Couldn’t leave you with nothing.
title via: The achingly perfect Maybe This Time. By Liza.
next time: Fancy plans and pants to match at a Hippopotamus degustation!
Look, at some point when I’m more emotionally stable I’ll write something deep and meaningful that convinces you that I’m up to the task, of the task that I’m about to tell you that I’m up to, but in the meantime, know this. I’ve kept a secret from you since January 19. That day I got an email. Which resulted in hours and hours and hours of work. And some tears. And so much waiting. And then a phone call this afternoon.
The phone call which means that I, Laura Vincent, food blogger, am going to write a cookbook. A REAL COOKBOOK. For you! And you! And you and you and you you and you!
I’ve barely slept over the last few days and poor Tim (although, let’s face it, lucky Tim), it’s all I’ve talked about, and today was nothing but a strange blur (although dazedly asking if anyone wants to volunteer “as tribute” instead “for chair” during an important meeting that I myself was chairing kinda sticks out). I can’t say just yet who’s publishing it but you know them! You’ve totally heard of them and of course I’m going to say good things about them because they’re being so cool but I promise you: couldn’t have asked for a more exciting name behind my name. And of course they’re awesome, right? They’re publishing my cookbook! Who else had the foresight, the patience, the risk-take-ivity? This as-yet-unnamed publishing house, that’s whom!
This is me after I found out, panic-stripped, and found myself wearing my shiny gold party dress. (I’m now back in trackpants, so you know.) That is the smile of someone who has wanted this for so, so long, with the fiery burn of a thousand French fries. This is the smile of someone who has had intense, self-worth-damaging disappointments along the way. This is the smile of someone who has kept a secret since January and has finally been able to share it with her parents and with the best friends in the world, who I’m totally dragging to the top with me to share in the joys of whatever being a cookbook author is like.
This is the smile of someone who sat on a bed this afternoon while waiting for the phone call and listened to Defying Gravity and cried and then wondered if someone who would do such a thing was suitable for a book deal. After giving it some thought I decided someone who does that absolutely deserves a book deal! I then watched the finale of Parks and Recreation again and cried again because I felt like what happened to Leslie Knope was a sign that everything was going to work out for me. Then I watched Defying Gravity (the Tony Awards show version) and cried again. Then I listened to Die, Vampire Die from [title of show] and looked at photos of capybaras and at a gif of Vince Noir and Howard Moon pashing. Then I watched Over the Moon from RENT. Finally, I started watching Donna McKechnie performing Music and the Mirror from A Chorus Line. It got to the bit where she’s sings the amazing line, “I’ll dooooo you prouuuuuud”. And then the phone rang.
And I got it. I GOT IT.
I promise, as well as this being one of the most important things to ever happen to me, I will make sure it’s something that makes your life more amazing too. I think a cookbook can do that. I think my cookbook can do that. There will never have been a cookbook like this before!
I mean, I hope so. Even as someone given to panic attacks and an I’m-sure-delightful personality mix of absolutely sure of myself mixed with nauseating insecurity (hey there, publishing house!) I do believe in myself. I know I can do this.
I’m going to write a cookbook! I LOVE EVERYTHING! HEY NIGELLA, YOU SHOULD SEE ME NOW!
The Wright Sprouts
Contact: (the lovely) email@example.com
This is a bit of an interim thing. The equivalent to those four songs in the middle of a teen pop album from the late nineties. We’ve officially moved into our new stomping ground on Cuba Street and I’ve started cooking again, with a gas-top stove and an expel-air, oh untold joys abounding. But, if my free time were a pizza, right now unpacking boxes and arranging the objects that represent our lives to fit in this new space is eating nearly every slice of my time-pizza, not to mention my side order of headspace-fries with aioli.
To tide you all over – because I will start posting with soothing regularity asap to assuage the palpitations of the heart that surely start in my prolonged absense – I thought I might do a round-up of all the restaurants and cafes that I’ve reviewed since starting this blog in 2007 so that they’re in one nifty post. This idea may fall flat, especially considering my international readership, but whatever. This is my blog, I’ll openly pad it out with recycled filler material if I so wish. And if you should ever find yourself in Wellington – and why not? It’s easily the best city New Zealand has to offer the world – consider this a starting point for where to eat.
Read about the faint-makingly fantastic chocolates on Featherston Street’s Melting Perfection chocolaterie: click HERE
Read about Deluxe cafe, which is so cool that I felt as though it was my fault when I didn’t enjoy it that much, Roxy Cafe on Cuba Street which has the BEST hash browns, and Casablanca, a cheap and cheerful BYO: click HERE
And there it is, friends. A rough guide to eating hither and yon across Wellington and a competely understocked guide to eating out in Auckland. A little something to let you know I still am very much in existence.
On Shuffle whilst I type:
Horehound, the debut album by The Dead Weather, ie how much more wine can Jack White squeeze from his mind-grapes? The man is relentless! As is the seriously brilliant album. Jack White, you genius, you’ve done it again.
Next time: for one thing, an actual post with pictures and recipes. I’ve got a whole mess of baking planned for this weekend, and our espresso machine has finally entered the world so I also predict affogatos every which way to Sunday. On top of that there is something quite bewitching about living on Cuba Street. I’m noticing things I’ve never seen before. Like the Babylon Kebab shop – why didn’t they just call themselves Kebabylon? Or, for maximum flair, Babylon Kebabylon? There is a quilting supplies shop just down the road from me that I never knew existed. At Moore Wilson’s the other day (now divinely close to our house) Tim didn’t even twitch when I bought tofu and actually actively suggested that I buy Israeli couscous. This from the fellow who once thought there was no discernable difference between canola oil and extra virgin olive oil. There may have been salty language employed to let him know the difference. You know what I’m saying.