Vegan Lemon Bars

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One hour at a time, one day at a time: ten words so repetitively stuck in my head, I suspect they’ll soon tip from reassuring to cloyingly irritating the longer I spend with myself. Until then, it’s a serviceable mantra for these times – for this literal time in fact, this hour and this day and the next ones to follow. Since I last updated, New Zealand has gone into lockdown – we’re all under house arrest unless in essential services, so on the one hand there’s not much to do other than cook and bake, but on the other hand, ducking out to the supermarket for a specific ingredient is an activity of the past. With all this in mind I might as well to keep writing about food so long as I have the means to, but hopefully with a vibe of low-key non-urgency. Gentle food blogging. I can’t know what’s in your kitchen, and there’s no perfect catch-all recipe that will cover every variable, but on the upside if today’s recipe doesn’t work for you there’s the whole internet out there and surely someone will have used the exact same combination of ingredients you have to make something delicious.

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This being week one of lockdown we’re pretty well stocked from prior supermarket shops, nevertheless I was wary of burning through too many ingredients at once. I also didn’t want to get stuck just staring at the ingredients too nervous to touch them, you know? The specific ingredient that kicked this recipe off was an abundance of lemons fresh from the tree, needing to be used before they turned oxidised and doughy. This recipe for Vegan Lemon Bars uses plenty of lemon juice – though you could of course sub in any citrus you have to hand, or use bottled lemon juice, or you could even try it with pineapple juice or whatever you’ve got in the fridge. Usually I prefer to bake with coconut oil but went with margarine for the base since I figured that was a cheaper and more accessible ingredient, and if you did happen to have a jar of coconut oil you might not want to lose a whole half cup of it in one fell swoop. There’s plenty of lemon zest and juice in the base and I promise the finished result doesn’t actually taste of the margarine. The real magic here comes from the cornflour, turning a liquid filling into a gelatinously firm and sliceable topping, and I realise “gelatinously firm” isn’t the most enticing language, but…it’s true.

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The crisp base against the dense, bouncy topping is texturally pleasing, and the intense hit of lemon tastes and smells of pure optimism. The sight of the finished product alone is immensely cheering with its sunshine yellow colour (aided, admittedly, by a bump of turmeric.) It’s sweet but not overly so, keeps well, and when there’s not a whole lot else going on it’s nice to know this deliciousness is waiting in the fridge to accompany your next cup of tea.

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Vegan Lemon Bars

Adapted pretty liberally from this recipe at Namely Marly.

Base:

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegan butter/margarine
  • lemon zest, from the lemons used for juice
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice

Filling

  • 1/2 cup cornflour (cornstarch)
  • 1 cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup rice milk (or whatever you have)
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon essence or a couple drops food-grade lemon oil
  • a pinch of salt
  • a pinch of turmeric, for colour (optional)

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line the base of a standard brownie/baking tin with baking paper. Mix all the base ingredients except for the lemon juice together in a bowl, using the back of a spoon to press the butter into the flour. Add the lemon juice – you may not need it all – and continue to stir until the mixture forms rough crumbs that stick together when pressed.

2: Tip the base mixture into the baking dish and press down firmly with the back of a spoon to form an even layer. Jab it a few times with a fork or sharp knife (this, plus pressing down firmly, helps it to bake evenly without rising) and bake for ten minutes. Once the time is up, remove the dish from the oven and reduce the heat to 160C/320F)

3: In a small saucepan, whisk together the ingredients for the filling, making sure there are no lumps of cornflour trapped in the liquid. Cook over a low heat, stirring constantly, until it’s significantly thickened to a fairly spreadable, gluey (for want of a better word) paste. It may initially look like it’s thickening all lumpy and uneven, but if you keep stirring it will come together. Remove from the heat immediately at this point and continue stirring for a minute just to stop it catching on the base of the pan, and then spread it evenly over the cooked base in the baking dish.

4: Return it to the oven, now at its lower setting, for fifteen minutes. It may appear to be a little puffy and weird-looking, but it settles down once cooled! Allow it to cool completely and then refrigerate for about two hours before slicing.

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music lately:

Clay Pigeons, John Prine. I talked about this song in a playlist I made for Tenderly back on March 11 (literally a decade ago?) and as I said then, it’s simply one of the most beautiful songs ever written. Something about the world shrinking down to one house is making new music a little harder to take in, hence turning to the warmth of the familiar like this cover of Blaze Foley’s wonderful tune. I read yesterday morning that John Prine is now in critical condition with Covid-19, and my good thoughts, such as they are, are going out to him and his family in the hopes he pulls through.

You Don’t Have to Cry by Emma Ruth Rundle, continuing in the vein of songs I already love, songs that give without asking too much of you: this is glorious, building and swirling to magnitudes while still remaining extremely mellow.

Next time: let’s be honest, probably some kind of baking, I’ll try to make it more minimal than this week’s recipe. Also – I finally updated my Frasier food blog with an amazing curry noodle soup recipe if you want to check that out while you’re waiting. 

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Also! I wrote a round up of television recommendations if you need them while stuck at home, which anyone can read on my Patreon for free.

Social Distancing Bread

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Everything’s changing – not just week to week, but by the hour, literally last Friday I was scoffing about the prospect of Broadway closing in the face of coronavirus and idly checking if flights overseas were getting cheaper. Seven days later that seems unspeakably churlish and straight up stupid and I also haven’t left the house once since. That’s the new normal for ya.

If your new normal includes being at home a lot more, then perhaps your thoughts are turning more to the kitchen. Obviously we need food – whether or not the making of it provides any comfort is by no means a given, but presumably if you’re reading this you have some passing interest in it. So, you might consider baking bread. This recipe is named Social Distancing Bread partly because it’s cute, I concede – it’s a no-knead method so you’re literally practicing social distancing with your own bread as you make it. But the real point is that the lack of kneading makes it relatively easy and un-strenuous, so whether you’re a newcomer to bread or simply life-weary, my recipe asks very little of you. You stir, you wait, you bake.

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I’ve also heard from people who have gone outside in the last week that supermarkets are being fleeced of flour – so presumably this recipe will be relevant to someone out there.

There is one brief step in preparation – I’ve used the Japanese tangzhong method where you heat a small amount of flour and water together first to be added to the dough. For scientific reasons which I can’t convey convincingly, incorporating the tangzhong makes your bread particularly tender and pillowy. It only takes a minute and it really works – this bread is feather-soft and springy, with an impressively crisp, rich golden crust. And it’s delicious – just simple, perfect bread. I particularly like it dunked in olive oil. Life doesn’t offer us a lot of direct proportionality between patience required and reward promised – bread is one of the few reliable examples. And because you don’t have to knead it, the waiting really is the hardest part.

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If I may, I’m going to re-refer you to last week’s list of recipes on my blog which rely largely on pantry or freezer ingredients.

Recipes from or Near the Store Cupboard

And in slightly less practical news, I hope to offer some levity with this piece I wrote for Tenderly: Fifteen animals who invented social distancing. (The deep-sea bony-eared assfish is my personal favourite.)

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Social Distancing Bread

A recipe by myself.

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 teaspoons active dried yeast
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 and 1/4 cups lukewarm water, extra
  • 3 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, extra
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt

1: First, make the tangzhong – a simple roux which will be stirred into the dough. In a small saucepan (nonstick is particularly good here) mix the 1/4 cup flour and 1/2 cup water together. Stir constantly over a low heat until it forms a thick paste that more or less holds its shape. This should only take a minute, and remove the pan from the heat as soon as it reaches this stage, continuing to stir just to prevent it burning in the residual heat. Set aside until it’s cooled to a lukewarm temperature.

2: While the tangzhong is cooling, stir the yeast, sugar, and remaining 1 and 1/4 cups lukewarm water together in a large mixing bowl, and leave it to sit for about five to seven minutes to get a little foamy/activated.

3: The most taxing part of the recipe is over – now all you have to do is tip the remaining flour, oil, salt and the cooled tangzhong into the yeast mixture, and give it a stir with a spatula till it’s thoroughly combined. Cover tightly – we have these reusable covers that resemble shower caps which make me feel slightly less environmentally guilty – and leave on the bench for an hour to let the dough rise.

4: Once your hour is up, remove the cover and press down on the inflated dough with your spatula to release the air bubbles. Line a regular sized loaf tin with baking paper and scrape the dough into it. Cover again with plastic or something similar (sorry!) and leave to prove – a second rise – for half an hour. This dough is quite sticky, so it might help to brush a little extra olive oil over the top first.

5: Set your oven to 200C/400F – about twenty minutes into the proving session is a good time to do this so it’s super hot and ready for the bread. Remove the cover from the dough – it should be significantly risen and puffy in the loaf tin – and bake for 50 minutes, covering with tinfoil for the last twenty if the top looks quite browned already.

6: Remove the bread from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for fifteen minutes before slicing (or just hoof right into it, but it’s easier to slice after sitting for a bit)

music lately:

Song #1, Fugazi. A big chunky bruiser of song which somehow evokes both Led Zep and Beastie Boys.

Thursday Girl by Mitski, whenever I don’t know what to listen to or can’t commit to more than fifteen seconds of any song, even ones I like, I always end up realising that Mitski is precisely what I wanted to listen to the whole time. In particular this song, which has just continued to have a profound effect, moving back and forth through me like a persistent ghost.

Never Alone, by the Contemporary Gospel Chorus of the High School of Performing Arts, from the movie Fame. With Fugazi levels of energy and exuberance, Never Alone makes you feel about as much like you’re running downhill with your arms in the air and your eyes shut as a song is able to, and I love it.

Next time: I still have that pineapple sage syrup and still haven’t had it in a gin, despite having been in extremely close proximity to it all week, so perhaps that’ll be next week’s recipe.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Also! I wrote a round up of television recommendations if you’re stuck at home and need them, which anyone can read on my Patreon for free.

forty cloves of garlic with potatoes and artichoke hearts

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There’s a fine line between gallows humour and insensitivity, so you’ll just have to trust me that I had this recipe working over in my brain well before the prevalence of coronavirus and the ensuing cancelled events and social distancing. But for what it’s worth: this recipe really does have forty cloves of garlic in it, and garlic is powerfully good for your immune system, and if you’re self-isolating for the safety of the public already you might as well marinade yourself in its divisive pungency.

As someone who’s essentially been in quarantine for the past year anyway (by which I mean – I moved from Wellington to a tiny rural village to live with my parents) not much is changing for me. The routine shutting down or cancellation of everything, in the erstwhile meaning of the word, is pretty overwhelming – Disneyland! The NBA! Tom Hanks! But it’s becoming clear that it’s all for the greater good and there’s no fighting it. I’m definitely feeling anxiety – firstly for people actually contracting the virus, and secondly for everyone whose roles so dearly depend, minute-to-minute, on human contact – such as bartending, the job that used to occupy my every waking moment. Like, I can’t express how difficult-to-nonexistent paid sick leave is in hospitality roles, so if you are out and about I recommend tipping as generously as you can muster since those people are probably especially nervous with few options other than to show up for work and hope for the best. I mean, I would hope you don’t need me to tell you to be nice to anyone in customer service but! Experience would suggest there are numerous people out there who haven’t quite reached this conclusion.

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Roast chicken with forty cloves of garlic is a Provençal-via-American classic from which I’ve quite obviously removed the chicken to make the garlic the star – which is always was, rather in the manner of the curtain pulling aside behind Lina Lamont to reveal Kathy Selden doing all the work in Singin’ In The Rain. To bolster the garlic and to echo the French countryside cuisine vibes I’ve added cubes of potato and artichoke hearts, all of which cook together in a roasting dish to create something spectacular, unpretentiously sumptuous and incredibly delicious. To say nothing of the lack of effort involved: just place it into the oven and wait, hungrily.

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The artichokes offer briny contrast, a little luxury, and a certain gentle fibrousness, and potatoes are just obviously delicious. The garlic cloves, partially braised and partially roasted, grow soft and creamy and buttery and caramelised in their thin casings, and astonishingly mellow considering how much of it there is. The point is to leave them unpeeled so they cook this way, also I couldn’t possibly ask you to undertake the task of actually peeling forty cloves. It means some interaction is involved with your dinner, and there’s no getting around it: you either have to extract the garlic with your teeth, or neatly spit the emptied husks out onto the plate, or swallow them. I freely admit I spat the husks out and then went back to idly chew on them again to access any possible remaining garlic flavour: whether this suggests an upside or a horrifying inculpation of prolonged solitude, is up to you, and I won’t judge you for your reaction.

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This is just so delicious and I am delighted with both it and myself – and as if this recipe weren’t giving me enough already it also looks gorgeous, in a Rococo landscape painting kind of way.

Given that the prevailing advice is to stay in as much as possible, and given that I like to be useful, I’ve compiled a list of some recipes I’ve written about before that are either from the pantry, freezer, or store cupboard, with minimal shopping required for fresh ingredients.

Recipes from or Near the Store Cupboard

What else can I say? Wash your hands thoroughly, check in on people you know who might need help, be patient…and eat garlic.

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Forty Cloves of Garlic with Potatoes and Artichoke Hearts

A recipe by myself

  • 3 garlic bulbs
  • 2 large floury potatoes (eg Agria) clean but not peeled
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 can artichoke hearts (400g or 15oz or thereabouts)
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine or white vermouth
  • Several sprigs of fresh thyme and oregano – around 1 1/2 tablespoons each/a small handful
  • salt and pepper to taste

Note: If you don’t have wine or don’t wish to use it, a couple spoons of brine from the artichokes works well instead. If you can only get hold of one of the herbs feel free to proceed, but they really do need to be fresh. Finally, tough old garlic with green shoots coming out of it won’t work well here – look for unblemished bulbs threaded with pink or purple.

1: Set your oven to 190C/375F.

2: Separate the garlic bulbs into cloves – three bulbs should get you about forty, it’s up to you whether or not you want to be precise or not about the numbers. Chop the potatoes into chunks of roughly 1 inch and scatter them with the garlic cloves into a roasting dish.

3: Drizzle the olive oil over the potatoes and garlic and then place the dish in the oven and roast for fifteen minutes.

4: Chop the artichoke hearts into quarters – they may fall apart a little, this is fine. Remove the dish from the oven and scatter the artichoke hearts over the garlic and potatoes, along with the wine and the oregano and thyme.

5: Return the dish to the oven for another twenty to thirty minutes, until the potatoes are completely tender. At this point you can either serve it as is, or turn the grill on for five to ten minutes to crisp the potatoes up a little, which is what I did.

With bread and a salad this would happily serve two, but also you should know I very, very easily ate the entire thing on my own.

music lately:

Dry The Rain, The Beta Band. It’s not only the line about choking on a vitamin that makes it timely, this song has that warm, hopeful, lazy-yet-momentous sound that makes it feel for real like everything will be okay.

My Man by Barbra Streisand, from the musical Funny Girl – if you only ever listen to one Barbra song, this should be it – and please, indulge me by making this it, since I’m going to presume most people reading this aren’t listening to a whole ton of Barbra to begin with. My Man starts off as a tearful murmur and then without warning it skyrockets, and then keeps going up and up and up to outer-space levels of huge. It’s emotional and intense and glorious, the kind of song where where you want to lie down while listening to it but require an auxiliary lie-down afterwards to recover from how immense it is.

Next time: I made some syrup from the pineapple sage plant in the garden, I suspect it will work well with gin and can’t wait to be proven right.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. If nothing else, I have dozens and dozens of book and film reviews on there should your solitude require inspiration.

ginger-molasses cake

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It’s nice to know I can climb to the weird age of thirty three (thirty four in just over a month!) and still be astonished by an ingredient previously unknown to my tastebuds. I say weird only because I seem to socialise with people much older or way younger than me and I’m either like “oh god, the eighties, what a time that was,” or “how do you find Frozen 2 compares to Frozen 1?” and were it not for my friend Charlotte in Wellington who was born ten days before me I’d think I was the only thirty three year old in the world, and even so I’ve missed the boat on knowing what a person my age is supposed to be like, and honestly, why is no one frantically trying to jovially relate to MY stuff?

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Returning to my original point: I’m thirty three years old, and I tried molasses for the first time. In my defence, it’s not a terribly common ingredient in New Zealand, though the word is so easily part of one’s everyday vernacular and thoughts – slow like molasses, Blackberry Molasses, the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 – that perhaps my brain complacently assumed I’d already eaten it. My brain was, typically, incorrect. Who could mistake that flavour! That heady, thick, magnesium richness, like sweetened road tar, like a puréed cedar hope chest, like a photo negative of Marmite. I practically needed a lie down afterwards. It’s too much! I thought. Too intense! And then I went back for another spoonful.

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My reason for trying molasses was this Ginger-Molasses Cake recipe from Bryant Terry’s excellent book The Inspired Vegan – I pared his down a little for simplicity (he includes walnuts that have been caramelised with further molasses, you should definitely consider following his lead there) but other than that the cake is entirely his and it is wonderful. Dense and intense, hefty and hearty yet light and springy, with the ginger’s rhizome heat and the baritone sweetness of the molasses and I swear, notes of chocolate appeared from somewhere. It’s incredible warm from the oven, and amazing after sitting in the fridge, the chill making it extra fudgy. And it takes about three minutes to mix together.

You know that feeling, when you can tell a recipe is going to be part of your life forever? A feeling almost as delicious as that which you just cooked? That’s this cake.

Ginger-Molasses Cake

Adapted very slightly from Bryant Terry’s recipe in his book The Inspired Vegan

  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1/2 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1 cup unsweetened rice milk
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a loaf tin with a sheet of baking paper.

2: Whisk the molasses, coconut oil, rice milk, apple cider vinegar, and salt together briskly. The coconut oil might form little clumps as it combines with the cold rice milk, which didn’t cause any issues – but if it puts you at ease you can gently microwave the mixture in fifteen second bursts to bring it all together. If you’re heating the liquids, do this before you add the vinegar.

3: Sift the flour and baking soda into a large bowl, and then stir in the sugar, ground ginger and walnuts.

4: Fold the liquid into the dry ingredients, stirring gently until just combined. Don’t worry if it’s a little lumpy or wet looking.

5: Spatula this mixture into your loaf tin, and bake for fifty minutes or until the top is springy and firm and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool for fifteen minutes before slicing, and store in an airtight container.

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music lately:

Love Is In The Air by John Paul Young. This, like Berlin’s Take My Breath Away, is from a highly specific genre – that possibly exists only in my head – of songs that are instantly, heart-poppingly euphoric, unflinchingly sincere, and bafflingly simple – I can’t think of anyone currently writing songs like this but I want to be proven wrong! Anyway, this song, with that come-hither disco beat, those iconic stair-step chords, the fact that he just repeats the title over and over and yet it sounds more profound every time? It’s a reward for being alive.

Emmenez-Moi, by Charles Aznavour. He was dubbed the French Frank Sinatra, although I personally pick up Scott Walker vibes – his voice ripples effortlessly over the music, I love the echoey, theatrical production, his deliciously glottal pronunciation, and the way the words speed up practically into patter at various intervals. Glorious! And without his jaunty Parce que tu crois we wouldn’t have Dr Dre’s What’s The Difference, so.

Next time: I was given some tiger nuts for Christmas and still haven’t tried them, it’s hard to tear my eyes away from what remains in the jar of molasses though.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon.

roasted chickpea butter

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It’s always been like this, but now I’m vegan it’s more sharpened with the contrast turned up; a certain curtain-twitching nosiness regarding le dernier cri, the recipes which are trending across other people’s blogs, and how to make them my business.

The most recent for whom my curtains twitch is something called chickpea butter, which sounds like it’s going to be hummus but is actually more of a peanut butter dupe. I’ve been metaphorically burned by chickpeas before, although my suspicion really lies within, and not directed towards those blameless legumes – I’ll promise myself the moon and still be extremely surprised when a mere can of boiled beans doesn’t have what it takes to deliver this.

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Admittedly, when I first tasted this stuff – roasted chickpeas pulverised in a blender with salt and oil – I thought I’d made another classic chickpea failure. But then I just, like…could not stop eating it. It’s really good. It definitely tastes of roasted chickpeas, which are delicious, so that’s cool. It’s also astonishingly buttery, with this nutty, toasty backdrop of flavour, richer than peanut butter but less likely to superglue to the roof of your mouth. I love it, and as long as you are clear-eyed about what you’re getting into, I think you will too.

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I’m kind of fighting off a cold at the moment, which feels unfair when I lead such a healthy existence – I mean, I make smoothies with parsley in them! It does at least feel as though I’m as healthy as I could possibly be in these trying circumstances and it’s passing me by fairly quickly; nevertheless I acknowledge that I’m a trifle lacklustre today. If you haven’t already looked at it I recommend reading my previous blog post about Penne Alla Vodka where I was positively effervescent with lustre.

Roasted Chickpea Butter

A recipe I adapted from this one at The Kitchn.

  • 1 x 400g tin chickpeas
  • 1/3 cup rice bran oil or similar plain, but good oil
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon water

1: Drain (but don’t rinse) the chickpeas, and spread them out on a baking tray. Bake at 180C/250F for about 20 minutes, shuffling them around halfway through.

2: Allow the chickpeas to cool to something around room temperature, then tip them into a high-speed blender. Blitz several times until they’re broken down into dust.

3: Add the oil, salt, and water, and blend until it forms a thick paste.

4: Taste for salt and then spatula into a clean jar. Keep refrigerated. Makes around 170g.

music lately:

Marry Me A Little by Rosalie Craig from the 2018 West End revival of Company, one of my very, very favourite musicals, and surely one of the most-revived. But every time they revive it, I just want to listen to the original again. This is the first to gender flip the main role to a woman, which I have my feelings about, but I do like this rendition of the Act 1 closer, a fluttering, soaring song that’s heartfelt and cynical at the same time, its title a shorthand for the main character’s whole deal, and beautifully rendered in Craig’s voice.

We’re Still Friends, Donny Hathaway, gentle but heartbreaking. His voice could not have been smoother had it been put through a vegan’s high-speed blender.

Octopus, Syd Barret. This tune from the erstwhile Pink Floyd co-founder has that classic, roll-up-roll-up Sergeant Pepper Englishness to it, so English you half expect Dame Maggie Smith to appear from behind an ornamental shrub delivering a bon mot, but nonetheless there’s a slight frantic note to it, like a ferris wheel going too fast.

Next time: I still haven’t tried making my own seitan!

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon.

vegan penne alla vodka

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The subject of vodka raises ire within me, frankly I turn into a real killjoy when I talk about it. Then I feel bad and overcompensate, which extrapolates into me just yelling “It’s STUPID! And that’s VALID!” while people rapidly vacate the room. I say this with a former bartender’s hubris, and the absolute humility of someone who – on this very blog! – once sincerely referred to a vodka soda as a “sneeringly dry drink.” In my defence, 2009 was a simpler time and being exposed to fewer ideas meant you could garner unearned braggadocio alarmingly easily.

My issue with vodka? Its purpose is to not exist; a vodka soda might as well just be a soda. There is nothing else it can possibly taste like. If you sincerely want to make your juice alcoholic without the burden of experiencing flavour then that’s fine, go right ahead and add vodka, but I don’t understand the appeal of prestige brands – there is bad vodka, there is competent vodka, and beyond that, there’s not a lot to discern them. My one exception is Zubrowka, but that’s because the bison grass flavouring makes it delicious and actually recognisable, as opposed to the base spirit itself.

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However. Where I begrudgingly – no, blatantly! – acknowledge this otherwise dullard spirit coming into its own, is in the Italian-American dish, Penne Alla Vodka. Everything about this recipe is pleasing: its drawly, Appenine-via-the-Baltics title, the simple joy of tomato sauce spliced with cream, and, yes, the vodka, which provides sinewy, vigorous richness. Pouring vodka into your pasta might suggest novelty, but a splash of white wine in a hot pan will improve any sauce, so switch out a far higher ABV in the form of vodka and you’re rewarded with even more intensity.

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My version is vegan, so there’s obviously no cream involved. The richness instead comes from coconut yoghurt – the sort that’s so thick you can genuinely stand your spoon up in it – and a little pasta cooking water. Unlike Penne Alla Vodka, which first emerged – unsurprisingly – in the 1970s, the notion of using the starchy water from your pasta as an emulsifier dates back to the Roman Empire. Don’t leave it out, it somehow thins and silkily thickens the sauce simultaneously. The yoghurt lends tangy luxury, and yeah, you can taste the coconut to a certain extent, but coconut becomes your zero point when you’re vegan for a while. And anyway, its unique mellow sweetness works beautifully with the acidic tomatoes.

More than just the same old pasta with tomatoes you think you know, Penne Alla Vodka has a dishevelled sexiness to it, a dish you could make for someone you’re trying to impress while also doing your best to appear artless and nonchalant. And if you don’t have the titular vodka in your liquor annexe? You can always use instead that most gratifying of flavoured vodkas – gin.

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Vegan Penne Alla Vodka

A recipe by myself.

  • 100g dried penne pasta
  • 4 ripe tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 spring onion
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vodka
  • 2 tablespoons unflavoured coconut yoghurt
  • salt and pepper
  • Olive oil, to fry and serve
  • chopped parsley, to serve

1: Cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling, well-salted water. This should take around twelve minutes, give or take.

2: Halve the tomatoes, cut off the green stalky part, and scoop out the seeds. It doesn’t matter if some are left, and you can just eat them if you’re aghast at the wastefulness, I did. Roughly chop the remaining tomato flesh. Finely chop the spring onion and garlic cloves.

3: Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a saucepan, and cook the onion, garlic and tomato – all together at once – over a medium heat till the tomato has broken down a little. Add salt and pepper to taste, plus a small pinch of sugar. If you’re using crushed garlic from a jar, leave the sugar out.

4: Add the vodka and let the sauce bubble away on medium for another minute, stirring constantly.

5: Once your pasta is nearly tender and cooked, scoop out two tablespoons of the pasta cooking water and mix it into the coconut yoghurt. Stir this into the tomato sauce, and turn up the heat a little to get it bubbling. Stir until the sauce has thickened, then remove from the heat.

6: Fold the cooked, drained pasta into the sauce. Drizzle with more olive oil if you like, and sprinkle over chopped parsley.

Serves 1. If you want to make this for two I’d double the pasta but you can probably just add half the ingredients – like, another two tomatoes and another tablespoon of vodka.

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music lately:

Brand New Love by Sebadoh. Oh, what a song! You think it’s going to be fast and then it’s slow, you think it’s going to be slow and then it’s GINORMOUS. And I will never ever get over how 53 seconds in it sounds exactly like the Defying Gravity coda, like, Stephen Schwartz should be paying them royalties (seriously, please indulge me, the coda starts at 4:28 in Defying Gravity. It’s also, incidentally, my ringtone, and receiving phone calls makes me anxious, which has now made my relationship with this song super weird, although I guess my relationship with it was demonstrably already kind of weird for a grown woman.)

Wimp, by The Zeros, the A-side to their better-known 1976 song Don’t Push Me Around. It’s a great track, but I prefer Wimp’s sludgy, Stooges-y, fulsome brattiness.

Next time: As you can see from the photo above – a small sample! – we are overrun with tomatoes, so they will probably feature.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon.

vegan scrambled eggs

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I’ve been editing the manuscript of my first novel – I wrote a novel! – rather brutally, and it’s honestly making it so hard to read anything outside of that context without applying the same scrutiny – is that passive voice I see? Wow. Did we need that “did” or “that?” Are you sure about that decision, Joan Didion? (I’m currently reading a Joan Didion novel.) I always call myself the least-edited writer in New Zealand but suddenly I have a taste of what it feels like to carefully peel layers off your words with a sharp knife. That’s why I’m being particularly rambling and self-indulgent in this very paragraph, because I can do that here, and the whoosh of unnecessary words falling from my brain is a relief after such austerity measures.

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With said bumbling words I’m here to talk about this recipe for vegan scrambled eggs using moong dal and kala namak, two specific ingredients without which you should merely read this but not proceed, because they’re both pretty crucial. Moong dal is split yellow mung beans, and when soaked, pureed and cooked they have a gentle fluffy texture and mellow flavour. Kala namak, black salt, is most often described as having an eggy flavour and it does, but not in a stressful way – it’s a distinct and compelling yolky richness. I followed a recipe pretty closely from the Minimalist Baker, making only the most, well, minimal of adaptions, since I’ve never used either key ingredient before. Moong dal is a classic ingredient of – very broadly speaking – Indian cooking, in recipes such as Moong Dal Chilla – but I believe its use as a scrambled egg dupe in vegan cooking can be attributed to the product Just Egg, which co-opted this ingredient to sell plastic bottles of it to Americans at a vastly marked up price.

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This recipe is absolutely delicious, but I would describe the texture as being more that of soft polenta than scrambled eggs. I adore polenta so this is no hardship but it’s good to know going in. The black salt really is the hero of the piece, giving a superb depth of flavour – it’s sulphuric, yet chill. I’ve made this twice now, the first time I missed the baking powder accidentally and it’s definitely better with – more confidently fluffy – but still delightful without.

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Also more of a pinky-mauve colour.

Scrambled eggs isn’t something I miss terribly since turning vegan, but I do love the novelty of dressing one foodstuff up as another existing foodstuff. This recipe is wonderful – filling, plentiful, brunchily luxurious – even the uncooked batter tastes good, as I found when I checked to see if it needed more black salt. Like, I’ve had worse smoothies. Which really speaks more to the smoothies I make than anything else.

If my earlier mention of writing a novel has you afroth at the mouth, the best way to forage insights is by supporting me directly on Patreon – for a few singular dollars you can enjoy untold (well, twice monthly) exclusive communiqué sweetmeats from me. If the pickled spring onions beside the scramble have your tastebuds narrowing their eyes thoughtfully, you can make them following my recipe on Tenderly. But I shall be patiently sitting with my fingers crossed that both, in fact, have caught your attention.

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Vegan Scrambled Eggs

Adapted pretty directly from The Minimalist Baker.

  • 3/4 cup moong dal (these may also be called mung dal or split mung beans and they’re yellow. Important to get the right ones!)
  • 1 1/2 cups rice milk
  • 1 tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons nutritional yeast
  • a pinch turmeric
  • a pinch nutmeg
  • kala namak, also called black salt, to taste

1: Soak the moong dal in water at least six hours or overnight.

2: Drain the dal and process it in a high-speed blender with the rest of the ingredients till it’s a smooth batter. Taste to see if it needs more salt.

3: Heat a little oil in a saucepan and pour in enough batter to coat the surface. Once bubbles appear on the surface, you can use a spatula to shift and turn the batter. I found this cooks quickly, and the less you move it, the better. It’s hard to not stir it around though! Remove from the pan once it’s no longer liquid, and serve however you please.

According to the recipe I followed this makes six servings although it depends on how hungry you are – I’d call it enough for four people. The recipe also recommends using a nonstick pan to cook it in, the pan I had was very much not non-stick and it worked, but the sticking prevented it from staying in one piece like the original recipe. Still tasted great, so don’t worry too much.

Note: I got the moong dal – labelled as such – from Grabgrocery in Sandringham, and the Kala Namak – labelled Black Salt – from Manga The Foodstore in Newtown. If you use rice flour as per the original recipe instead of regular flour this will be gluten-free. 
music lately:

Independent Love Song by Scarlet. That 90s world-weary self-awareness! That Paula Cole-style howling! The violins! That wind tunnel chorus! My hair is blowing back behind dramatically just listening to it.

Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You from the 2002 off-Broadway musical The Last 5 Years. In the manner of a protective parent who tells their children that The Sound of Music ends after the wedding, I like to pretend that this song ends just before the dash in the title – only heartbreakingly happy, no heartbreak. It’s just so much, the way Sherie Rene Scott sings “I open myself one stitch at a time,” Norbert Leo Butz and his retroflex approximant! That Morse Code opening piano riff which causes me to hyperventilate every time! Like tithing, but more worthwhile, ten percent of my brain is dedicated to thinking about this song at any given time.

Sprung, from Australian legend Ces Hotbake’s EP Mush From The Wimp, it’s tremulous and uplifting and beautiful!

Next time: Kala namak on everything!