swing from high to deep, extremes of sweet and sour

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While food blogging is mostly just quietly writing recipes and then being largely ignored but feeling a modest sense of peace at your own unswerving constancy and excellence; now and then a recipe comes along that makes you quite sure everything is going to change as a result of it. You’ll one day tell your grandchildren, or someone else’s grandchildren, or your small dog, that this was your origin story, the recipe equivalent of being discovered loitering in a shopping mall by a roving talent scout. I had that feeling with the caramelised tomato spaghetti and the vegan carne adovada this year, I had that feeling in 2013 when I’m quite sure I personally invented halloumi fries, and I’ve got it now with this vegan lemon curd recipe. To be fair, my instincts have never served me particularly well – my mind tells me “all who shall eat this will surely fall in love with me” like I’m some kind of fairy godmother hovering with purposeful menace at Sleeping Beauty’s christening; in reality it’s more like, literally nothing happens and life goes on, and perhaps the feeling of certainty that a recipe is truly next-level amazing is its own reward. (But you know what’s even more of a reward? Actual rewards!)

All delusional entitlement aside, let’s talk about this recipe. Lemon curd is immensely scientific for something one artlessly spreads on toast – the precise meeting point of liquefying solids and solidifying liquids. So how do you achieve this without the usual eggs and butter? In this recipe I’ve employed cornflour and coconut oil for thickening and enriching, but that’s not the part that excited me most. The real key ingredient here, the maverick game-changer, is…

Pineapple juice.

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I’ve long thought pineapple evoked a buttery vibe, without knowing quite how or why – something in the way its flavour fills the mouth – and had planned to eventually do something with this idea. While researching a piece about cocktails with pineapple juice in them for Tenderly, I asked Facebook why the juice goes frothy when shaken up (short answer: it just does, that’s why!) and a bartender friend informed me that both butter and pineapple contain butyric acid, and like Homer Simpson with the ideas of “dental plan” and “Lisa needs braces” swirling around in his head waiting to connect to each other, I suddenly saw before me what might be possible, and this lemon curd recipe jumped into my brain, fully-formed. And I could not possibly be happier with it.

Vegan Lemon Curd

A recipe by myself

  • 1 cup/250ml pineapple juice
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • Juice of one lemon (roughly 1/4 – 1/3 cup)
  • 4 teaspoons cornflour
  • 4 tablespoons refined coconut oil
  • 2 drops food grade lemon oil (optional, but good)

 

Note: the pineapple juice can come from a bottle, but make sure it’s more or less 100% pineapple juice, without any added sugar or like, cut with apple juice. You can of course add the zest of the lemon if you wish, it’s a very good idea, I was using frozen fresh lemon juice so didn’t have any zest to work with. Refined coconut oil means that it’s flavourless. If you can only get unrefined it will still work, but there will be a slight coconutty flavour to contend with. The lemon oil is optional but really boosts the fragrant lemon flavour, obviously. The finished product sets to a soft, spoonable lemon curd, if you want it thicker add another teaspoon or two of cornflour.

Bring the pineapple juice and sugar to the boil in a small saucepan, and let it bubble away for two minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat.

Mix the cornflour and lemon juice together – this helps prevent the cornflour forming lumps – then tip this into the pineapple mixture. Return the saucepan to a low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens – it will still be liquidy but should have some gelatinous body to it. Remove from the heat and thoroughly stir in the coconut oil, and the lemon oil if you’re using it. I found a small whisk ideal for this part as it takes a minute to incorporate the solid coconut oil into the liquid.

Allow to cool slightly then pour into a hot, sterile jar. Refrigerate for at least four hours, or overnight – it will thicken as it cools and the texture will appear more creamy and opaque. Makes one jar, around 300ml.

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The pineapple juice gives you heft, as in, provides the bulk of the volume, and its acidic juiciness dovetails perfectly with the sourness of the lemon without distracting – the lemon is still absolutely the star. The coconut oil with the cornflour-thickened juice gives a rich, satiny texture, but somehow combined with the pineapple juice, and its intense sunshine lusciousness, the whole thing genuinely tastes like lemon curd, and I can’t stop eating it from the jar with a spoon in wonderment at just how tart and sweet and velvety and decadent and completely lemon-curd-like it is. Perhaps even better? Honestly, I think this is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever made in my twelve years of food blogging, and I have nothing else to say about it because that’s all there is to it, really.

title from: Sit Down by James, this song is just so jangly and bittersweet and nice, isn’t it!

music lately:

Destroy The Heart by House of Love. I do enjoy an upbeat song paired with a gloomy vocal, it’s the real sound of the summer. There is this amazing guitar riff that sluices through the melody halfway through, never to reappear: I salute its mysteriousness.

I Wanna Sleep In Your Arms, by The Modern Lovers. I think if I could only listen to one band for eternity these guys would be the main contenders for the role. I love the grubby urgency of this song’s guitar riff and the sheer endearing-ness of the lyrics and Johnathan Richmond’s slightly congested singing voice, with its ad-libs and occasional charming slide into speak-singing.

As If We Never Said Goodbye, Diahann Carroll, from the musical Sunset Boulevard (based on the incredible film.) This is such a perfect musical theatre song, full of resolute controlled triumph, it’s simple, yet completely out of reach for most vocalists. The “I’ve come home at last” line at 3:20 absolutely kneecaps me, such a masterstroke of putting one note in front of the other – part of me wishes that the whole song was just that refrain. The late Diahann Carroll performs it beautifully with richness and vibrato, but I absolutely urge you to also watch Broadway legend Betty Buckley’s exquisite performance – if you jump to 8:04, I got full body chills at the effortless way she held the note on “home” so long that the audience spontaneously started applauding mid-song.

Next time: Now that I’ve tackled lemon curd I think I’d like to try making vegan fudge.

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

look who’s here, I’m still here

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This time last year when my blog turned eleven I made a moderate fuss – a big chocolate cake that I ate with my best friends and a solemnly cogitative post about everything I’d learned from the moment I pressed send back in 2007 right up to that very second. This year I kind of completely forgot until literally just now, but that’s okay! Sometimes you’re Dewey Cox in Walk Hard singing a retrospective song that sums up your entire career, sometimes you’re Dewey Cox in Walk Hard telling his wife “I’m gonna miss some birthdays…I’m gonna miss some births, period.”

Nevertheless, let us take a moment, because if nothing else, twelve years is a ludicrously long time for a food blog to exist. Like, you can fit a WHOLE DECADE in there with wiggle room on either side. That’s so long ago technologically and culturally that it might as well be the 90s. Yes, I’ve hit some walls, and yes, only some of them were metaphorical. Yes, as I’ve said, I sometimes feel like the Velvet Underground of food blogs but instead of the six people who listened to them going on to form influential bands there’s just six people out there who have read this and then gone on to make a nice pilaff. Yes, it’s just a food blog, not War and Peace. The War and Peace of food blogs, perhaps? (I mean, I’ve never thought “that’s three hours I’ll never get back” about my own writing.)

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Last year to mark the occasion there was chocolate cake and entirely coincidentally I have a chocolate recipe for you this time as well. These Balsamic Triple Chocolate Squares were intended to be brownies but they’re just not quite there, texturally – you might feel differently and can call them what you like. They are nevertheless extremely delicious. The idea simply appeared in my head, fully formed, but based on the concept that balsamic vinegar and chocolate have pleasantly overlapping properties – inspired by another chocolate cake this year which was itself a variation on last year’s aforementioned celebratory chocolate cake – you know what, maybe this is on a level with War and Peace.

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The balsamic vinegar doesn’t override the strident flavour of the chocolate – how could it, when the chocolate is present threefold – but it has this kind of fruity juiciness which is wonderful alongside the rasping bitter edges of the cocoa, it almost, but not quite, tastes like some berries were involved. Any actual vinegary sourness is completely beveled off by all the sugar, but the pleasing complexity remains. It’s 2019 so I don’t know if we are still surprised that aquafaba, the brine from a can of chickpeas, is a useful ingredient – indeed, I made macarons with it this year – but in case this is new to you, the brine acts very similarly to egg whites and is thus a useful means to glue all the remaining ingredients together. As I said, I couldn’t in good conscience call these brownies, they’re just a little too cakey, although once they’re in your mouth the texture turns melting and dense. I can’t put that last sentence in a recipe title so chocolate squares they shall be. Most importantly, this recipe is as delicious as it is easy, and vice versa.

Balsamic Triple Chocolate Squares

A recipe by myself.

  • 150g dark chocolate (roughly a measuring cup full)
  • 4 tablespoons plain oil, such as rice bran
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup soy milk (or your preferred variant of this stuff)
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup aquafaba (canned chickpea brine)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate drops (or just more dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a regular baking tin, the kind that you’d make this sort of thing in, you know the one I mean, with baking paper.

Melt the chocolate (I do a few 20 second bursts in the microwave.) While this is happening, stir the balsamic vinegar and soy milk together.

Thoroughly mix the brown sugar, white sugar, balsamic/soymilk mixture, oil and aquafaba into the melted chocolate. Sift in the salt, cocoa, flour and baking powder and then stir it in along with the chocolate drops or extra dark chocolate.

Spatula the lot into your baking tin, and bake for 35 minutes. Allow to cool for around ten minutes before slicing. Store in an airtight container.

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You might ask, Laura, what is your end game here? Are you like one of those shrews in that self-help book, Women Who Love Too Much, clinging on to a loveless unreciprocated relationship, because you’re too scared of doing anything different and don’t believe in yourself? And because I spend much of my time rehearsing powerful answers to hypothetical yet inevitable interviews, I would say: somehow, twelve years on I love hungryandfrozen.com more than ever and I imagine this will continue to extrapolate out with mathematical accuracy until my ecstatic food blogging is ceased only by the collapse of the earth itself. I am currently writing a novel, I would love to write another cookbook of some kind, I would like it if a new quantity of readers – numbering the population of a New York borough, perhaps – somehow found me. Is this blog a strange manifestation of my absolute tunnel vision, is it a work of art, is it a snake, asking whether eating its own tail is vegan? Whatever: I’m going to keep writing.

title from: I’m Still Here, the bitterly triumphant song from Sondheim’s musical Follies that eventually came to belong to Elaine Stritch, a woman as elegant and acidic as balsamic vinegar itself. I think I’ve earned the right to use it here (not least because Stritch is now dead and therefore can’t beat me up for being impudent.)

music lately:

A Mistake, by Fiona Apple. This song is so on point it’s puncturing me, I get actual shivers when she sings I’m gonna make a mistake, I’m gonna do it on purpose, the absolute swaggering recklessness of it all.

Work It Out, Monie Love. She’s so good, effortlessly getting the words out rapid-fire as though the crunchy beat were actually moving three times as slowly.

Next time: potentially time for me to finally try making seitan? Starting to think it might be like haircuts and mathematics, best done for me by other people.

PS: you might say, damn it Laura, now I’m impressed, what can I do after twelve years to show my sincere adoration of you? And I would say, first of all it’s an obvious horse to lead to water but sharing my blog around to anyone you think might like it is a lovely thing to do; if you want to support me even more directly there is of course my Patreon where you can join a discerning coterie of people who, for a modest monthly sum receive exclusive content from me.

ever since we met, the world’s been upside-down

So about three weeks ago I started writing a blog post on here and then suddenly, like those weird half-dreams you have before you’re properly asleep, where you slip over and fall, slamming hard into your own bed, waking up with a gasp, I just like…could not write another word. And wanted to throw my iPad against the wall to create as much distance between myself and this blog. Once the dramatics subsided I was like okay, let’s actually analyse this rather than unsubsiding into more dramatics, tempting though it is. I think I’ve allowed myself to just drift aimlessly on here without any great sense of purpose and it’s kind of dragging me down a bit. And then I tried to look at the bigger picture, which is not something I do very often, and I was like to be fair, for the entirety of last year I was battling some massive-assed depression, so every single blog post that I wrote felt like a small victory, a mountain climbed, a display of life continuing. Then at the start of this year I spent well over a month recovering from a Literal Head Injury so actually it’s no wonder I ended up feeling super listless about my writing. Right now though, I’m actually doing pretty okay on most fronts, so I can finally take some time to focus on what I want out of this blog, out of life, out of everything. I’m not actually entirely sure what I want yet, it seems just out of reach. BUT I do know that I don’t actually want to give up on this blog at all.

Out of some kind of bloody-minded curiosity I made a list of every project I’ve embarked on and abandoned and it was almost hilarious: for a minute I had a food podcast, for a while I interviewed musicians about food, I had a mercifully short-lived (like, if only it were so short-lived that it didn’t even occur at all) foray into vlogging on YouTube, for a while I was making instructional cooking videos, for a bit there I was making cookie dough pretzel sandwiches and selling them with flagrant disinterest in the laws around making food for profit. But this blog, somehow, has remained a part of my life for ten entire years! Eleven in October! And a lack of focus is not a good enough reason to give up on it, it is in fact merely a prompt to get more focussed. It’s okay to have peaks (eg writing a cookbook) and low points (eg being ghosted by my publishers) and it’s okay to start projects and not finish them, but it’s also okay to challenge myself and to try to fight against complacency and to maybe, just maybe, put some effort into planning things rather than just starting them without any thought of sustainability.

I also realised that part of what was making me all disillusioned was how broke I am, it’s kind of hard to keep up a regular conveyer belt of blog-worthy food and it feels like any goals I do try making end up getting ground down into nothing through lack of funds. But there are small things I can do! My angelic friend Sarah gave me a laptop cord – mine had broken and I couldn’t afford to replace it so I was taking photos on my phone rather than with my proper camera because the editing software was on the laptop and the increased lack of quality was increasing my disillusionment – so this is a start. I’ve decided to put myself out there as available for freelancing work again and am working on putting together a small online portfolio. I was reading through old pieces I’d done – travel writing, pop culture stuff, whatever – and I was like you know what, I’m really good at this! And I could do it again! None of this is stopping me being broke in the short term but it is helping at least to keep my chin up. I’m also, don’t you worry, determined to not let my Frasier food blog fall by the wayside.

And I made a cake.

Yes, hand-wringingly long-story-short, I’m still here and I made a cake. I got some rhubarb from the Sunday vegetable markets (dragging myself to the markets is itself a gigantic achievement) (also I went with tip money from work the night before and this is why you should tip your bartenders, people!) and while there are any thousand million numbers of ways that you could enjoy rhubarb, I was in the mood for something pinkly sugary. An upside-down cake is a rakishly attractive way to use fruit in your baking, as it provides both flavour and decoration, but there’s certainly nothing stopping you from just folding the chopped rhubarb through the cake batter. This makes a handsomely tall and proud cake from which to carve thick, tender slices, and it’s wonderfully easy to make as well – just a one-bowl affair and a bit of stirring.

I scattered some pink peppercorns across the rhubarb before draping over the cake batter; I liked the pink-on-pink dovetailing and their musky-sweet warmth is lovely with rhubarb’s jammy tartness. If you don’t have them though just leave them out – regular pepper is too harsh to substitute in here.

rhubarb and pink peppercorn upside down cake

a recipe by myself

  • six sticks of rhubarb
  • one teaspoon pink peppercorns
  • quarter of a cup of sugar
  • three cups plain flour
  • one and a half cups of sugar (extra)
  • two teaspoons baking powder
  • one teaspoon baking soda
  • one teaspoon salt
  • two teaspoons vanilla extract
  • one can of good coconut milk
  • two thirds of a cup of sunflower or similarly plain oil
  • quarter of a cup of lemon juice

Firstly, set your oven to 180C/350F and line the base of a 21cm springform cake tin with baking paper. Trim and discard the leaves from the rhubarb, and chop the pink stalks into slices of roughly 2cm/one inch. Arrange the slices evenly inside the base of the cake tin, sprinkle with the quarter cup of sugar and the peppercorns, and set aside. 

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl, then stir in the sugar, followed by all the wet ingredients. Mix to create a thick batter, and spatula this carefully over the rhubarb in the caketin. 

Bake for fifty minutes (it may need longer, it depends on your oven) and let it sit for a few minutes before running a knife around the cake inside the tin and upturning it carefully onto a plate. Dust with icing sugar if you like, and be on your way. 

Rhubarb’s natural sourness means it can carry a lot of sugar and it works beautifully with the hint of lemon and vanilla in the cake. If rhubarb isn’t in season or just not what you’re into, you could use this as a template for damn near any other baking-friendly fruit – upside down apple cakes, berry cakes, whatever, would all be worthy uses of your time. I was really happy with this just as it was though – don’t get me wrong, I’ve been eating, but it’s been nothing particularly inspiring or joyful and nothing felt worthy of writing about here, and so the act of making a cake felt good.

And I guess after ten years it would almost be weird if I didn’t have some moments of uncertainty, yeah? Who knows if blogs will even still exist by the time I get my act together, but for now my goal is: to have a goal!

If you’ve found yourself on an fired-up upside-down cake rampage after reading this, may I suggest other recipes I’ve blogged about, such as upside-down caramel nut cake, Nigella’s pineapple upside down cake (which I blogged about in July 2008, damn) or this pear and almond cake which isn’t actually an upside-down cake but…it looks like one.

(PS: I went back and forth about whether to say something about Anthony Bourdain, who died last week. Like, does anyone need me to say anything? Nah. Have five thousand tons of things already been said? Yeah. But it’s terribly, terribly sad, isn’t it. I cannot recommend hard enough that you look up some of his shows where he traveled around the world and just listened to people about their food and their lives.)

title from: a sad and strange story – Connie Converse was one of the earliest examples of the singer-songwriter genre, but her recordings made in the 1950s went by and large unnoticed until 2004, nearly thirty years after she completely disappeared never to be seen again. I don’t mean from the music business, she like, fully disappeared. Her small but beautiful collection of music has a kind of thoughtful melancholy to it, very spare and gently folky. I took the title from her song Trouble, a short little song with the repeated stanza – “but if you go away, as trouble ought to do, where will I find another soul to tell my trouble to? 

music lately: 

Chelsea Jade, Laugh It Off. I love her! I love this new song of hers!

Faith No More, We Care A Lot, the original 1985 recording with Chuck Mosley. It’s not that the more well-known version is all that polished but I love how sludgy and grubby this one is, like it’s about to slide off the beat any second now, and I looove Mosley’s bratty, congested-sounding voice.

Rock Star from the musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, a pop-punk musical about a bad and useless American President, which as a premise may or may not appeal but this song is SO GOOD to listen to while striding purposefully down the street. If you’re more into striding with aimless melancholy I recommend instead listening to Saddest Song from the same musical.

next time: As if I know! But I’ll be here. 

i imagine that it’s there on a plate, your whole rendezvous rate

So the deal with this week’s blog post is, there are no photos and I don’t even want to talk about the recipe. Because I made it – crispy rice with preserved lime, almonds and cardamom- three days in a row and now I’m so sick of it and can’t even think about it without feeling uneasy, bordering on queasy. Let’s try and go back in time though, to the middle of those heady days, where I simply couldn’t get enough of this incredible dish and ate it with such rapidity that, though thrice did I make it (THRICE! Threefold!) not once did I pause to record the moment. Let’s periodically pause while reading this blog post and pretend there is a photo of a plate of rice with some stuff on it in between every other paragraph. Let’s pretend it’s not today but Wednesday and I’m snarfing bowlful after bowlful of tender basmati rice that has turned crunchy and golden with olive oil and made aromatic by the lemony-gingery breath of cardamom and the warm earthiness of cinnamon and cumin, that has the buttery crunch of a tumble of almonds and sesame seeds and bursts of sharp, salty preserved lime slices.

I’m genuinely super annoyed at myself for not taking any photos and did contemplate long and hard for like nine minutes about whether or not to even write this but I concluded pragmatically that my photos are deeply hit and miss anyway and it’s the writing that’s the real juicy prize here.

I spent Sunday night at my best friend Kate’s house, doing what I love best: sitting on the floor by the warmth and white noise of her fireplace, quietly pottering about reading her cookbooks for inspiration while her husband brought me dinner and her dog scooted about scootily. The recipe below evolved from one in either A Modern Way To Cook or A Modern Way To Eat by Anna Jones, both lovely books filled with lovely recipes (sometimes too lovely, for example she has a recipe called “my bright root mash” and I’m like…can you hear yourself here.) Mine is a much more pared down and simplified version of her recipe largely because, honestly, I was pretty broke this week, but you can see how you could extrapolate this out wildly to make it more elaborate, with added herbs, fancier nuts, roasted things to strew across the top, and so on. The preserved limes are just there because I had some following my friend Jen giving me a bag of limes from her tree, but preserved lemons are pretty easy to get hold of and make a chill substitute. The best thing about this recipe is how high reward it is for how simple it is to make. Don’t be tempted to hold back on the final step of pouring more oil onto the rice and turning up the heat – the golden, crunchy base that forms where the rice hits the saucepan is magical. Well it was, till I ate too much of it.

crispy rice with preserved lime, almonds and cardamom

  • one cup basmati rice
  • three tablespoons olive oil  
  • one teaspoon ground cumin
  • half a teaspoon ground cinnamon  
  • two cardamom pods
  • three tablespoons sesame seeds
  • half a cup of almonds, roughly chopped 
  • four slices of preserved lime or preserved lemon   
  • sea salt, to serve

Rinse the rice in a sieve. Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a saucepan and tip in the rice, stirring it so that the grains get lightly toasted. Tip in two cups of water, the cinnamon, cumin, and cardamom pods. Before you throw in the cardamom pods, lean on them with the side of a knife to crush them slightly. Put a lid on the saucepan and let it cook away until the rice is tender and cooked, which should take around ten minutes. At this point, use the handle of a wooden spoon to push some holes in the cooked rice, and pour the remaining olive oil into the holes. Turn the heat up as high as it will go and let the rice cook away for another five or so minutes, creating a crispy crust on the base. 

Meanwhile, toast the sesame seeds and almonds in a dry frying pan until they’re lightly browned. Roughly chop up the preserved lime slices, or lemon if you’re using it, and mix in with the sesame seeds and almonds. Divide the rice between bowls and spoon over the lime and almond mixture, and then add plenty of salt to taste. 

This recipe serves two very generously and aside from me feeding some to my friend Emily during a floor picnic on the third day, I actually ate all of it every single time which is probably why I’m so wholeheartedly sick of it now, but also, I daresay, does speak to its singular deliciousness. If you’re intrigued by the mention of lime pickle, I have a recipe for it on my Frasier food blog which was in itself based on a recipe I posted about back on this blog in 2010. That’s right, I’ll link to myself all! day! long! I will never run out of energy for drawing your attention from me, to further-me, and yet-still-more-me!

Speaking of, if you’ve got yourself a big bag of rice and are all like “hmm” and “I feel a gentle yet tugging melancholy at reaching the end of this blog post and realizing that my time of paying attention to Laura is thus coming to an end” may I recommend some further recipes from On Here: Buttermilk Risotto with Miso, Capers and Toasted Walnuts; Rice Salad with Mango, Coconut and Peanuts; or Sunday Night Pilaf with Cinnamon, Tumeric and Vegetables.

title from:  Brianstorm by Arctic Monkeys. Alternate title: “…top marks for not trying”.

music lately:  

I’ve been listening to Eyedea and Abilities’ album By The Throat which I love, I guess if I was going to pick a starting point I’d go with Junk or Smile?

Janet Jackson, Rhythm Nation . She is such a LEGEND it’s unreal. I’ve been listening to heaps of her older music and having this one in particular on loop, the chorus is so addictive the way the back up singers’ voices rise up like bubbles in lemonade and the music video is honestly kind of stressful to watch because the level of discipline and work ethic is so laid bare in her incredible and highly technical and NONSTOP dancing.

next time: photos and non-feigned enthusiasm I swear. 

three, that’s the magic number

For the last week or so I’ve been sick with a really rough cold that I’m juuuust coming out the other side of, mostly due to a drinking game that I call “take lemon honey ginger every time you cough”, a game with a sub-rule of “strawpedo Robitussin at any and all opportunities” which is curiously followed by “the floor is now lava.” I’m well aware that my last blog post was essentially a bowl of nuts and the blog post prior to that was pasta and now, what is this blog post about but a bowl of PASTA AND NUTS but as I said – I was sick! An unfailingly watertight excuse! I’m sorry I bailed on you, I was sick! I’m sorry I stole your car in the middle of the conversation we were having and then drove it into your other car, I was sick!

My tastebuds have been woefully muffled from having a blocked nose, but I woke up this morning not only feeling a lot better, but also thinking, “what if pesto, but with three different kinds of nut instead of just one” and decided, as I do with most of my thoughts regardless of content or consequence, to act upon it immediately. I feel that pesto was to 2003 what halloumi was to like, 2013, I remember being absolutely obsessed with it and having it feel hugely unattainable, and so I’d try and incorporate it into as many of my cooking class modules in high school as I could get away with (I really didn’t do well in cooking in high school but I think that’s because being a freewheeling spoon-licking pre-ADHD diagnosed idiot didn’t mesh well with teachers trying to get to grips with the assessment regime and a minimal budget that didn’t allow for just like, snorting mounds of pesto.)

But wait, who am I to think I can improve upon pesto? Well I’m me, but this isn’t a one-up so much as a side-step; I’ve subtracted the cheese and instead added knotty, sinuous walnuts and buttery pistachios to the original pine nuts. Which means yes, this fairly plain dish of pasta will cost you roughly $90 dollars, on top of which, even though the quantities of the recipe look huge it really doesn’t make that much pesto because it all reduces down to nothing in the blender, but in spite of all of these red flags may I offer you this one counterpoint! Here it is: it’s really, really delicious.

Walnuts give the mixture body and a bitter smokiness, pistachios give creamy richness and added green, the pine nuts are all…you know, they’re pine-nutty? And when thrown through glassy olive oil and basil leaves at great speed it produces the most incredibly wonderful-tasting freshly-mown-grass-looking paste to stir through pasta or to be consumed however feels right.

pasta with three nut pesto  

a recipe by myself

  • one third of a cup of shelled pistachios
  • one heaped half cup of walnuts
  • one third of a cup of pine nuts
  • one garlic clove
  • a squeeze of lemon juice (roughly a tablespoon) 
  • sea salt
  • the leaves from one of those supermarket basil plants, roughly three loose handfuls of leaves I guess? But seriously, use all the leaves, you know that no matter how diligently you try to water the plant the it’s gonna die immediately and like, how is it that they can stay alive in the supermarket but die so fast once you take them home? What’s going on there?)
  • three quarters of a cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 100g dried spaghetti or similar

Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add plenty of salt, then cook the pasta for about ten minutes or until it’s like, cooked, then drain the pasta and set aside. I always use the water from a freshly boiled kettle in the pan because it goes way faster than just boiling it on the stovetop. 

In a large frying pan, gently toast the nuts over a high heat, stirring often, until the pine nuts are lightly browned (they’re the easiest to see the color on.) Tip the nuts into a food processor or high speed blender along with the garlic clove, lemon juice, a large pinch of salt, the basil leaves and the oil, and process until it’s a thick, dark green paste. Stir a couple of spoonfuls through the drained pasta and put the rest in an airtight container in the fridge.

Honestly, this stuff is just spectacularly good and makes the simplest pile of pasta feel like a monumental treat. You can do millions of things with pesto though – stir it through roasted vegetables, spread it on toast, thin it with olive oil and drizzle it over fried halloumi for a real galaxy-brain type combination, add a spoonful as a garnish to brighten up almost any soup, whatever your tastebuds decide, follow them in the direction they’re heading.

And if you’re on a permanent pasta buzz as I seem to be, may I direct your attention gently but firmly from me, back to me, by way of these old blog posts if you want some further recipes, eg something I called Sexy Pasta; Nigella’s Pasta with Marmite; or turmeric pappardelle with brioche crumbs.

title via:  De La Soul’s The Magic Number, I love how shambling and lo fi and almost big beat the production is on this old school (I mean old school, not like “here’s one from back in the day in 2009”) track. 

music lately:

Mogwai, Take Me Somewhere Nice. Just shut your eyes and listen.

Gaslight Anthem, Here’s Looking At You, Kid. This band was recommended to me and I now in turn recommend them to you because I love them, and you will too if you like heart-on-your-sleeve, Bruce-Springsteen-influence-on-top-of-your-heart-on-your-sleeve vibes.

Bizet’s Pearl Fishers Duet, sung by Jussi Bjorling and Robert Merrill. It was probably the Robitussin in my system but as the sun streamed through my window this morning I swear this song was literally playing and I don’t know, it’s just kind of magical and soaring and you too should listen to it really loud while lying down in a dark room where the light is starting to creep in.

next time: my friend Jen gave me a bunch of limes from her tree so I’m gonna do something with them. I don’t know what yet though but having that many limes, in this economy, is very exciting! 

tell me what you saw, there was a crowd of seeds

Sometimes I’ll make a recipe and it seems so bordering-on-nothing-y that I’ll hesitate to put it on here, but the truth of the matter is that this week I made myself a gigantic quantity of dukkah and that’s what I’ve been eating, and what I’ve been eating goes on here, so here it is. I remember first having dukkah with my aunty who lived in Hamilton, which seemed extremely cosmopolitan in comparison to the small small small town I was from. She was like, you have your bread, your oil, and the dukkah – a mixture of seeds and nuts and spices – and that’s the meal. As someone for whom a meal was either a microwaved pie or meat, potatoes, and microwaved broccoli, this was a damn exciting revelation. There’s something so wonderfully leisurely about just slowly eating bread and some kind of unguent, and I’m super here for it, especially since my weird working hours (as a bartender) mean my eating habits can be reflectively weird as well, like I might not desire food till 4pm or I might be wanting a six course meal at 4am (and unfortunately, they’re mighty hard to come by at that hour) so food that drifts with me like this is ideal. And to circle back to my original point, honestly who am I to proclaim this old school Middle Eastern dish as nothing-y anyway? It’s substantial and substantially delicious.

I don’t do anything particularly revolutionary with my recipe, since in all honesty it doesn’t need any further flourish. The spices are earthy cumin, lemony-gingery coriander seed, and the warmth of cinnamon, and then it’s just loads of sesame seeds and some walnuts, which have a soft, buttery crunch under the tooth. Pistachios would be wonderful but they stay prohibitively expensive, and besides I had some walnuts leftover from the recipe I made last week. Feel free to play with proportions as you wish though – this makes a sesame-seed heavy mix but add more or less, muck around with spices, follow your dreams, live your truth, look inside your heart and find the answer there, etc.

dukkah 

  • two tablespoons cumin seeds
  • two tablespoons coriander seeds
  • one teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • one cup sesame seeds
  • one cup walnuts
  • salt and pepper
  • Bread and olive oil, to serve

Heat up a large pan and gently toast the cumin and coriander seeds, stirring often, till they’re fragrant but not browned. Tip them into a pestle and mortar and smash em up, then tip this into a large mixing bowl. Tip the sesame seeds into the same pan and stir them until the seeds are lightly browned. Transfer them to the mixing bowl with the spices, and finally, tip the walnuts into the pan and stir around till they’re lightly toasted. You can either bash up the walnuts in the pestle and mortar or roughly chop them, but either way stir them into the sesame seed mixture. Add the cinnamon and plenty of salt and pepper and stir to combine, and that’s it. Transfer to an airtight container or like, eat the lot. 

I completely acknowledge, by the way, that my photos this week might be kind of rubbish – I was extremely taken with the stark sunbeam across the table as I was eating but there is every chance that what I saw and the photos I took do not exactly match up. Nevertheless, it’s what you’re getting. Anyway frankly who cares, when the food is so delicious it can speak for itself. I’m huge on texture and absolutely love anything crunchy and so the juxtaposition of soft, soft bread dipped in oil and then in turn into the bitey, nutty, warmly spiced coating of dukkah is incredibly pleasing. I highly recommend it.

And, if you’re in the mood for other bread-and-stuff type recipes, may I recommend further reading in the form of  my recipe for hummus, or Tarator (a walnut dip), or Cambodian Wedding Day Dip (they’re also all vegan, if that’s of interest.)

title from: Gold Lion by Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I love the opening drum beat so much, it reminds me of that iconic Be My Baby opening even though it’s not actually anything like it. 

music lately:  

Okay so I watched the film Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping the other day and it was like, fine, and pretty amusing, and I have a lot of time for Andy Samberg because I have an inexplicable crush on him, but I found one song from it in particular got completely stuck in my head, and then because the internet is wonderful, someone has uploaded to YouTube precisely what I actually wanted to listen to: not the song itself but the background, which samples a song from the 60s by the Marcel’s called Heartache: basically it’s like incredibly obnoxious and I want ten hours of it on loop. So here it is: So Humble, the instrumental version, which I physically cannot stop playing.

Upon recommendation I’ve been listening to a band called Idles and! They’re so good! I love shouty punky stuff and if you do too I recommend starting with their song Mother.

Fenugreek by MF Doom always makes me feel so, SO happy, I extremely recommend it.

Finally: following some longterm strenuous recommendation I finally watched The Lost Boys, an 80s film which ticks all my boxes: 80s, ensemble cast, disaffected young men, banging soundtrack. Naturally, I cannot stop listening to its suuuuper dreamy theme song, Cry Little Sister. 

next time: I want to get into feijoas while they’re still in season!