you’re all mixed up like pasta primavera

P1190276

This post is like a companion to last week’s recipe for Roasted Asparagus with Almond Butter Skordalia, or perhaps an answer to the question, “so I got lots of asparagus, now what?” Spaghetti with Stuff In It is one of my very favourite foods and if I were even more permissive and self-indulgent than I already am that’s probably all this blog would comprise of; it’s certainly a great way to enjoy the new season’s asparagus. As with the previous asparagus recipe it was still pouring with rain when I made this distinctively spring-like pasta but the sheer buoyancy of flavour made it feel like the sun was momentarily shining.

P1190278

This recipe is incredibly easy, with only one strict proviso, that the pasta goes in the boiling water at the same time as the vegetables go into the oven so that they can emerge, perfectly cooked, simultaneously, but even if you muck that up and something ends up having to sit around for a bit it’ll still be fine. Zucchini and asparagus are very friendly together, both with a certain rich green flavour, and roasting them makes them soft and caramelised and stickily delicious, with the olive oil, a little wine, and a few drops of the pasta cooking water providing a brief sauce to entangle them all in. (Also: here in New Zealand we tend to refer to zucchini as courgettes in the French/English fashion but I prefer their Italian/American name. Theirs is more sprightly and sexy, ours sounds damply microwaved.)

You can do a zillion different things to make this your own: green beans would be very fine roasted instead of or as well as; you could stir in baby spinach or something else leafy, you could add thyme, basil, or flat leaf parsley as well as or instead of the mint, you could augment or replace the almonds with something else altogether. This could be made with something like fusilli and served cold as a pasta salad, you could add chilli or capers or sliced preserved lemons. Honestly, I wish I did – the reason the recipe is like this is simply because this is what I had: a few leftover asparagus spears, some mint in the garden. I wasn’t even planning to photograph it because it was so barely-considered, just a thrown-together meal – but I’m glad I did, because it is very, very delicious, both decadent and light, artless but elegant.

P1190274

Spaghetti with Roasted Asparagus, Zucchini, Mint and Almonds

A recipe by myself. Serves 1.

  • 100g spaghetti or long pasta of your choice
  • 6 or so asparagus spears
  • 2 medium zucchini (courgettes)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • a splash of white wine (optional – if not a squeeze of lemon juice) 
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • handful of fresh mint leaves
  • salt and pepper

Set your oven to 200C/400F. Cook the pasta in lots of boiling, salted water for about twelve minutes or until tender. As always, I boil the kettle first then pour this into the pan rather than heating the water in the pan because it’s faster but feel free to ignore this suggestion!

While the water is boiling, trim the ends off the asparagus, and slice them into thirds lengthwise. Trim the zucchini and slice lengthwise into sticks roughly the same size as the asparagus. Peel and roughly chop the garlic cloves. Place the asparagus, zucchini and garlic into a small roasting dish and drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Sprinkle over plenty of salt and pepper and roast for around ten minutes.

At this point, give the vegetables a bit of a stir, sprinkle over the almonds and return to the oven for another couple of minutes, to let the almonds brown lightly.

Remove the dish from the oven, pour in the white wine if using and extra olive oil, and then use tongs to transfer the cooked pasta into the roasting dish. Moving the pasta like this rather than draining it allows some of the pasta cooking water to transfer into the roasting dish as well, the starchiness of which helps everything cohere. Sprinkle over most of the mint and use the tongs to lift and stir everything together, then transfer to a plate and sprinkle over the remaining mint, and more olive oil, salt, and pepper if you want it.

P1190279

Speaking of delicious, here is a round up of pieces I’ve written for Tenderly recently! I’ve derived so much joy from contributing to this publication since it launched in July, not least because it’s literally wild to be able to support myself through my writing. To be fair I’m still living at home with my parents but – if I hadn’t moved back in with them I wouldn’t have had the time and energy and clarity of mind to pursue an opportunity like this and to actually deliver content without having a mental meltdown at the thought of self-directed task based activities – like a snake eating its own tail on a rollercoaster, it’s hard to know what went up, down or around first, but it’s definitely happening and I am one happy snake.

P1190277

Speaking of “speaking of delicious”, if you, too, are into Spaghetti With Stuff In It as a genre, you might also want to consider other recipes of mine like Spaghetti with Caramelised Tomato Sauce; Lemon “Parmesan” Spaghetti; and, as a true companion to this spring-y recipe for my northern hemisphere readers, Autumn Spaghetti (Spaghetti with Roasted Butternut, Parsnip and Broccoli; Maple Nutmeg Black Pepper Walnuts and Pumpkin Seeds; Garlicky Crumbs and Fried Sage.) (Easier to make than it is to say out loud, I assure you.)

title from: What Goes Around by Beastie Boys, a sunnily traipsing track from 1989’s Paul’s Boutique, an album that was largely passed over when it was released but eventually was recognised as an important and influential classic, something I can’t wait to relate to.

music lately:

Alley Oop by The Hollywood Argyles, this is a novelty song from 1960 and the lyrics are indeed stupid as hell but it has the cadence of a really good song, with that tick-tock bass and slightly honky tonk piano and Gary Paxton’s insolent vocals, weirdly sexy despite the purposefully silly lyrics.

In My Room, The Walker Brothers. This song is stunning, from its Bach Toccata and Fugue in D Minor-biting opening chords to Scott Walker’s intense, soaring voice and that pure sixties shag-carpeted beat. Perfectly deployed in The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, it’s as much synopsis as it is soundtrack.

Next time: time for something sweet, I think.

PS: if you enjoy my writing and want to support me directly, you can do so by joining my Patreon. A mere dollar or two per month will not only extremely help make hungryandfrozen.com possible, it also gets you exclusive content created just for you. Exclusively.

she saved enough to get back home when spring replaced the winter

 

P1190261

Presuming I’m not an unreliable narrator – and we can’t be sure – according to this very food blog I haven’t eaten asparagus since 2014. This would not be particularly worth commenting upon other than the seasonality of asparagus makes it a kind of touchstone to me for the arrival of spring, consuming it is like a tiny ritual heralding both the end of winter and glad days of sunshine to come. I’ve mentioned my intentions to acquire asparagus in every ensuing year since 2014, but it appears to have taken me until today, five years later, to clear this remarkably low bar. Is it coincidence that this timeline coincides with the commencing and ending of my bartending career? Is correlation causation? Are we really saying that eating asparagus is my own personal responsibility along with all my other personal responsibilities now? I can’t keep up!

P1190260

Well, whatever the reasons, I’ve got some asparagus today. Unfortunately – and don’t let the sunny look of the photos fool you – it was less of an optimistic spring day and more the sort of horizontal rainy deluge that makes you want to do little more than sit resolutely in a hot bubble bath like a prune soaking in Armagnac. But, you never can tell when personal responsibility is going to hit (infrequently, it would seem) so I ignored the weather and made this decidedly sunny little lunch for myself: roasted asparagus and almond butter skordalia. I went back and forth on whether to call this skordalia when it’s not the traditional recipe, but it’s faithful in intent, for what it’s worth. Skordalia is a garlicky Greek dip that often – but not always! – uses potato and almonds. So does my recipe, just the almond component is pre-pulverised for you.

P1190267

Every ingredient plays its part – the potatoes give fluffy, starchy mildness, the vinegar balances and sharpens, the almond butter and olive oil makes it wonderfully rich and smooth, and the garlic makes it garlicky as hell. Together they form this incredibly lush puree that’s perfect for dragging vegetables through or spreading on bread, and it works beautifully with the nutty, grassy flavour of asparagus. If your asparagus is too roasted and floppy to successfully dip, just spoon it over, no harm done. This skordalia keeps well and seems to just get better and better the longer it sits in the fridge: more aromatic, more creamy, more luscious and buttery.

P1190265

Roasted Asparagus and Almond Butter Skordalia

A recipe by myself. Serves 1.

  • A handful of fresh asparagus spears (honestly, as many as you want)
  • 2 medium mashing/roasting potatoes
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 3 tablespoons almond butter
  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon white wine or red wine vinegar
  • plenty of salt, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, to serve

Set your oven to 200C/400F and place your asparagus spears in a roasting dish. Drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast for about ten minutes, or until they are slightly browned and crisped at the tips.

Peel the potatoes and cook them in a pan of boiling salted water until very tender. If you wish, you can boil the garlic cloves along with the potatoes – this will make their flavour more mellow. Drain thoroughly, retaining about 1/4 cup of the water from the pan.

Whisk together the almond butter, olive oil, potato cooking water, and vinegar. Your options here are to then use a stick/immersion blender to puree the almond butter mixture along with the drained potatoes and peeled garlic cloves. Or, you can use a food processor, or just a fork to mash and then the whisk – it won’t be aerated and velvety, but let’s not rule it out altogether. I used a stick blender, mixing until it was thoroughly pureed. Taste to see if it needs more salt.

Spatula the potato mixture into a serving dish and arrange the asparagus spears on a plate. Sprinkle over the thyme leaves, and serve.

P1190269

As if to double down on the whole spring thing, today is also Daylight Savings, not that I actually even noticed because anything before 10am – okay, before noon – feels like 6am to me and it was still pouring with rain either way. But I was delighted when I woke up to find this travel story I wrote for Tenderly about a vegan weekend in Wellington was published, which I sourced and researched during my visit at the start of this surprisingly long month. As with asparagus it’s also been several years since I’ve written a travel story!

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to put a price on that; I invite you to join my Patreon where you can support me directly and access exclusive content written especially just for you.

title from: Tecumseh Valley by Townes Van Zandt, just some classic Townes Van Zandt-y beautiful, mournful poetry. 

music lately:

Landlocked Blues by Bright Eyes, from that perennial hit-making genre of “heartbreaking songs with my name in them.”

Do You Love Me Now, by The Breeders, it’s syrupy and slow-moving but has this dizzying, longing urgency and I just love it so much, especially that come back to me right now refrain.

Shy Guy, Diana King. This song is still so good, like every single particle of it is so joyously catchy and breezily confident. And how great is her pinstripe suit!

Next time: I still have some asparagus left so can really be Present and In The Moment with it and also might still cook something else featuring it to make up for five years of culinary neglect.

to play for peanuts in a dive and blow his lungs out

P1190247

You might have noticed that this has been a quieter month as far as receiving blog posts from me goes, obviously I was in Wellington for two weeks at the start of September, but – immediately upon arriving back on the bucolic scene with my parents, my laptop started having fainting spells and gasping urgently for its smelling salts with all the purposeful hysteria of Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Considering I’ve had this laptop since 2011, considering I’ve dropped it from a great height onto concrete, considering I don’t think I’ve turned it off manually once in nine years, I feel it had a good innings – but even in light of this noble service it was nevertheless an enormous financial and emotional (because of the financial) outlay getting a new one. I was in fact quite petulantly distressed because I’d just for the first time in absolute years managed to get together a semblance of a savings account and was planning to do things with that money and now instead I had to make a large quantity of it disappear and start from scratch again. I know it’s like, literally how life goes that you have to spend money on stuff you wish was free and then you die, but does this mean I can’t be grumpy about it?

In an unprecedented fit of maturity, once I’d acknowledged and held space for that petulance, I decided to reframe the situation in a positive way. My laptop is my livelihood so there’s no question of not getting a new one. It just is what it is. And furthermore, it’s great that when something goes wrong I have the means to fix it myself! This time last year I would not have been able to afford a new laptop, I would’ve had to resort to writing these blog posts in my own blood on a wall and then inviting you all one by one to read it while I solemnly ate a biscuit in the corner, saying “this is a statement…about my bank statement” or something, and tried to remain conscious. Instead, here I proudly am with a new laptop that weighs as much as a tic tac, ready to write until its keys are worn away to a smooth nub. I mean they’re already pretty smooth due to the ergonomic design but…you know what I mean.

P1190252

Cooking when my parents aren’t home means an opportunity to put a lot of chilli in everything – not that I actually have an enormous tolerance for heat, but my tastes are exponentially more spicy than my parents, many of you out there can handle exponentially more than me, and so on. I made the African Peanut Stew from Rachel Ama’s Vegan Eats – I’d been thinking about it since I first got this cookbook. It’s a recipe from Sierra Leone and a favourite of Rachel’s mother, whose father is from there, and Rachel made this vegan version for her. Sometimes when you’re anticipating making a recipe you end up accidentally over-hyping it, but this one exceeded all internal excitement from the tastebuds of my brain’s imagination.

P1190246

Rachel Ama’s African Peanut Stew

A recipe from her book Rachel Ama’s Vegan Eats.

Paste

  • 2 onions
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek
  • 1/2 – 1 fresh red Scotch Bonnet, deseeded
  • pinch salt

For the stew

  • 1-2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 500g sweet potato, peeled and cubed (I used orange kumara)
  • 1 x 400g tin black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 fresh red Scotch bonnet chilli, whole but deseeded (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste or puree
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 500ml (2 cups) vegetable stock)
  • 125g natural peanut butter
  • 200g spinach, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Coriander, chopped spring onions, extra chilli, to serve

Note: my local supermarket is not terribly well appointed; in place of black-eyed peas I used canned black beans, in place of fenugreek I used a teaspoon of curry powder, since it contains fenugreek and overlaps with some of the other spices, and in place of the chillis I just used plenty of chilli sauce.

First, place all the paste ingredients in a good processor and blitz into a coarse paste.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or frying pan. Spatula all of the paste mixture into the pan and stir it over a medium heat for about ten minutes. It should looks a little thickened and caramelised.

Add the sweet potato, canned peas or beans, the extra chilli if using, and the tomato puree and stir it all together. Then pour in the canned tomatoes, vegetable stock, and peanut butter, season with salt and pepper and stir to combine it all thoroughly. Cover with a lid and bring to the boil, then lower the heat and let it simmer for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. I found that it spluttered quite a bit over the high heat and one of those mesh guard lids was ideal for letting it cook away but without bubbling over.

Remove from the heat and stir in the spinach, letting it wilt in the stew’s heat. To serve, stir in the lemon juice and any extra seasoning you think it needs, and sprinkle over coriander and sliced spring onions and chillis. As you can see from the photos I only used coriander, you can of course suit yourself.

Rachel recommends serving the stew with a salad, or with slaw and plantains, I had it just on its own and it was perfect but I absolutely co-sign her suggestions.

P1190249

This stew is so delicious, it’s substantial and rich with rambunctious flavour from the spices and chilli and ginger but also this mellow, sweet earthy creaminess from the peanut butter, and fresh sprightliness from the coriander and lemon. It’s so easy to make – all in one pan – though there is a food processor to clean – and fast, but it tastes like you’ve spent days slowly creating it. Naturally, it tastes even better the next day, in fact I ate some cold with a teaspoon while standing in front of the open fridge just now (you know when you kind of zone out and then come to in front of an open fridge with a mouth full of food?) and it still tastes incredible in that state. If you don’t have the spices already there is definitely a bit of shopping involved, and it uses a lot of peanut butter, but once you’ve got all those things stashed in your pantry this is a fairly straightforward and relatively inexpensive way to make an enormous hearty meal that feels – and tastes – like a feast.

P1190250

If you’d hitherto been on the fence there has now literally never been a better time to directly support me and my writing through my Patreon; joining allows you access to exclusive monthly content written just for you including the archives of what I’d been writing before you joined up, being responsible for me being responsible for myself, could there be a more responsible choice than that?

title from: Cornet Man by Barbra Streisand from the Funny Girl stage musical (the number was rudely cut from the film adaptation.) There was an Idina Menzel version that she did at a live show that was removed from YouTube but which I listened to so many times I can still hear it in full in my mind, but Barbra’s original is wonderful, a real showcase of her showstopping voice in its prime, with all her best quirks – a conversational self-deprecating tone, her incredible growl on “can’t take the place of a horn,” her silky vowels stretching like melted mozzarella and her effortless belting.

music lately:

Some Things Last A Long Time, by Daniel Johnston. RIP ❤

Let Me Be Him, by Hot Chip. Do you remember in the 90s when you heard Tell Me When by Human League for the first time on the radio and you were like “wow,” well this soaring and lush song has similar exhilarating energy but without the nineties production that to our discerning current-day ears now sounds a bit like music from an educational video game for children. Also if you hated Human League in the 90s that is also valid and you should still listen to Let Me Be Him. I myself have no real feelings towards Human League and didn’t even know that Tell Me When was by them until like a year ago when I googled it after remembering that I really enjoyed listening to it on the radio in my cousins’ car literally one time because they lived in Auckland and could actually get radio reception and that is the true 90s experience!

We Care A Lot by Faith No More, the earlier Chuck Mosley version – Mike Patton is good but Mosley’s sludgy congested vocals go straight to my veins and I love that messy guitar riff and surly drum beat, this is just such a fantastic song, somehow hostile and rude yet welcomingly dance-able at the same time.

Next time: I also have all the ingredients recipe to make Rachel Ama’s Jerk Mushrooms and Caramelised Onions, you might well be seeing them here.

how bout them transparent dangling carrots

P1190061

I’ve been so sick this whole last week, which is extremely unfair and puzzling, because I take supplements and am therefore supposed to be invincible. Day one it was cold, day two was flu, day three there was a matinee performance of flu followed by an evening engagement of cold, and so on. I do respect an indecisive bug though: in this economy even our viruses have to be cutely relatable.

On Sunday I started to cautiously feel better and so made myself these fried carrot noodles, which are a variation on something I’ve made a zillion times for myself and my friend Charlotte, hence why I’ve given them the also-cute alternative title of “friend carrot noodles” which you are entirely within your rights to ignore completely. I just like putting these little easter eggs in my blog sometimes (an easter egg is a term for a very subtle unexplained reference or joke that only a few people will notice, for example, me yelling “hey Charlotte remember those noodles I made you!”) (Just to be clear, that was a joke and would be a terrible example of an easter egg.) (Not to be confused with, since we’re talking about tropes now, a Noodle Incident, which is an event from the past referred to obliquely and often repeatedly but never elaborated, so the audience can only but guess at the scale of its magnitude. This is an incidence of noodles, but not a Noodle Incident. I know, I’m also glad we cleared that up.)

P1190051

This recipe was improvised at my friend Charlotte’s house from a few ingredients and her teeny-tiny kitchen, and we both liked it so much that I ended up repeating it numerously for us during successive times together. We quickly assessed that the real star of the piece was the fried carrot, you wouldn’t think that a carrot could elicit much enthusiasm, but like most things, they really come alive after some vigorous heat and oil is applied. Sweet, toasty, nutty, rich, delicious, they are just so good. All it takes is some very hot oil and some patience, letting them really sizzle and brown and shrink down without too much stirring. The sauce was also just made from what I could find in Charlotte’s cupboard, but it has a marvellously galvanising effect on the noodles- salty, aromatic, rich.

P1190054

Fried Carrot Noodles, or, Friend Carrot Noodles

A recipe by myself

  • 2 carrots
  • 90g noodles of your choice (preferably udon, though I used soba here)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (not extra virgin)
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon almond butter or tahini
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup, sugar, or similar sweetener
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese Five-Spice powder
  • 2 teaspoons crushed garlic or two garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • good pinch of ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons sliced almonds, or similar
  • optional: whatever other vegetables/etc you want to add to this, like, go for it

Get your noodles started first by cooking them according to the packet instructions. To make this bit quicker I boil the jug first and then pour that into the pan that I’m going to cook the noodles in rather than heating the water up on the stove. Drain the noodles and set aside.

Wash the carrots, but don’t peel them. Slice lengthwise into sticks of about 1/2 – 1cm wide, not that you need to worry about uniformity, I just gave that measurement because that’s what recipes are supposed to do, but just like, make some carrot sticks, you know?

Heat the oil in a good-sized frying pan at the highest setting and tumble in the carrot sticks. Let them fry for a good 5-10 minutes, without stirring too often, till they’re really browned and crisp and fried.

Meanwhile, stir together the sesame oil, vinegar, almond butter, sweetener, garlic, and pepper together in a small bowl. Taste to see if you think it needs more of anything, more spice, more garlic, more oil? Probably.

Once the carrots are looking really good and done, tip in the almonds and stir them around so they briefly toast in the pan’s heat, then tip in your drained noodles and 3/4 of the sauce. Stir to combine thoroughly, then remove from the heat and transfer everything to your plate. Drizzle over the remaining sauce.

The carrots aside, this is a recipe that is extremely amenable to variations based on what you like and have to hand respectively. Firstly, the base – I much prefer udon or other similarly thick wheat noodles, but when I made it on Sunday I could only find soba noodles and they were still very good. Secondly, you can add any number of other vegetables to this, just remove the carrots to the side as you fry each vegetable individually and add them back in with the noodles at the end. Broccoli is really good, if you let it sit long enough to get properly browned and scorched, same with cauliflower, and don’t be afraid to add more oil to the pan, also chopped spring onions, green beans, and capsicum would be great. I often would stir through a couple of handfuls of baby spinach leaves right at the end too. As for the sauce, you could add chilli, or different spices (I am addicted to Chinese Five-Spice though, it makes everything taste amazing) and if you can get hold of that bottled sesame dressing – you know the one – then that is a particularly fantastic addition. And of course you can use whatever nuts or seeds you want.

P1190062

I honestly think that fried and roasted carrots are going to have a moment soon, kind of like how we all started frantically eating cauliflower a couple of years ago. I’ve never been particularly drawn to the carrot on its own – all that crunching and orange coldness tastes like hard work and penance – but when you apply massive heat and lots of oil they suddenly taste beyond incredible. Also, if the carrot does have a moment, let the record state that I called it.

Speaking of carrots, Tenderly, the vegan magazine that I’m contributing to, is launching tomorrow! Or maybe it’s like two days away, I can’t really tell with the time difference between here and the USA. Either way, I’m very excited and you can read and follow Tenderly here.

title from: Thank U by Alanis Morrisette, I love the tremulous little piano notes at the start and the unapologetic largeness of the chorus and the classically cerebrally therapeutic nature of the lyrics (“how bout no longer being masochistic, how bout remembering your divinity.”)

music lately:

A Night We’ll Never Forget from Carrie the musical, that’s to say, a Broadway musical literally based on Stephen King’s horror Carrie. Whatever you think you can make up, Broadway can top. First staged in 1988, this show is a notorious flop but also has had some of the most illustrious names involved with it: Annie Golden, Laurie Beechman, Marin Mazzie, Betty Buckley (who was actually the teacher Miss Collins in the original film), Darlene Love, Gene Anthony Ray, Liz Callaway, Alice Ripley, Debbie Allen, Sutton Foster, and even Barbara Cook of all people! This song was written for the 2012 off-Broadway revival and while it’s very much a musical theatre number, with plenty of exposition, it has this incredible sense of anticipation and 70s menace right from that dark opening piano chord that I adore.

30 Century Man, Scott Walker, I just love this song so much, those guitars and that voice have the warmth of a gas heater on a rainy day.

Torched and Wrecked, by Third Coast Percussion, it’s just a whole ass-ton of, I don’t actually know what those instruments are, I want to say glockenspiels but there’s probably more to it than that, anyway this is unsettling and ethereal simultaneously, it sounds like a thousand butterflies all holding knives, coming towards you in a beautiful swarm, the sun bouncing off their blades, it sounds like nervous rocks in a shallow pool of water. I also recommend Niagara by this same group, it’s got similar vibes but it’s more swirly and momentous and somehow kind of 80s? Like the sort of music a butterfly would use for a movie training montage?

Next time: I don’t know yet, but if I’m still sick I’m going to be so mad.

PS: if you wish to support all the writing that I do – not just for you here but also my other projects that I’m working on – then you can do so by joining my Patreon, where for a literal dollar a month you can access content written just for you on top of all of this.

and now all that remains is the remains of a perfect double act

Literally anyone whose had even the most passing and cursory of interactions with me will be unsurprised by the knowledge that I actively resist, with every particle of my being, planning anything in advance, and for some reason take it as almost a personal slight when I’m required to make any stabs at organisation, folding up dramatically like a pop-up tent in reverse. I don’t know why, I would like to blame it on any number of things that my brain does interestingly which I think I justifiably could, but it’s possibly also just that I’ve allowed myself to become this infuriating? I do suspect that five years of bartending and thus only knowing my roster like the day before I had to actually work has had its place in solidifying this way of being, but I really could try harder. With all this in mind, it was with some major group wrangling that I managed to put in place a date to host the book group that I’ve been a part of since it began in 2010, and then some further wrangling to get me to book flights to and from Wellington so I could actually be there for it. (My friend Charlotte was like, “umm…..have you….booked your flights yet…just a thought…” and I was like “UGH it’s ages away I must lie down now from the exhaustion of being quizzed so mercilessly” but then I looked at the time and it was less than a week away so I just did it and it turns out the effort of doing the task was actually not as bad as the effort of resisting the task? Wild?) So I made it back to Wellington on Saturday at 4pm, and book group happened on Sunday at 2pm, and despite knowing since back in May that it was happening, I did not think about what food to provide for everyone until…Sunday at 9am.

Fortunately, I’m very adept at one thing and one thing only: being very adept at many things. And one of those things is coming up with recipe ideas in a great hurry. I was somehow not terribly stressed by this, probably because food is one of the few things that is not stressful for me, and because though I could’ve planned something sooner, I knew that I would instinctively be able to deliver something at the last minute. As you can see from the photo above, a lot of the heavy lifting was done by store-bought crunchy things, but right on cue, two ideas for dips descended upon my brain at once. The first concept was for roasted butternut mashed into tahini, and the second, slightly more avant-garde concept, was roasted cauliflower blitzed to a puree with miso paste. They were excellent. And because I liked them both so much, you’re getting both the recipes.

The butternut dip takes inspiration from hummus with granular tahini giving it body and ground cumin giving it earthy depth. The texture is creamy and soft and the flavour is mild yet rich at the same time, with nutty sweetness from both the butternut and the tahini. You could definitely use a regular pumpkin but I personally love butternuts, they are so much easier to slice into and they seem to roast up quicker as well, with less of that stringy fibrousness that a big pumpkin can sometimes unwelcomely yield. You could happily consider making this with orange kūmara instead though. If you can’t find sumac, which is a red powder with a fantastically astringent lemon-sour bite, just stir in some lemon or lime zest instead. If you’re stuck for finding tahini I would use almond butter instead, but to be fair almond butter is probably about as obscure as tahini depending on where you’re situated. Peanut butter would work in a pinch, but it will absolutely taste like peanut butter.

The roasted cauliflower miso butter completely delighted me, in that the finished result exactly matched the picture of how it would taste in my brain. Roasted cauliflower has an intense buttery, toasty nuttiness and miso paste has this dense mellow saltiness and together when blasted through the food processor into a softly whipped puree they taste incredible, with an unfolding depth of flavour in each mouthful. I use the term “butter” in the title fairly loosely, it just seemed more evocative than the word “dip” and it has echoes of the caramelised onion butter than I made for my birthday dinner. It was just so delicious. Both of these dips are very easily made simultaneously, if you have a roasting dish big enough to load both the vegetables in side-by-side, but if you’re only choosing one to make, you could certainly consider doubling the ingredients – which as you’ll see, is not hard – and having plenty with which to do your culinary bidding. Either of these would be excellent stirred through pasta, spread lavishly in a sandwich, as the filling in a baked pastry case and topped with something, in a baked potato, or, obviously, just as the dips that I invented them to be.

Butternut Dip

A recipe by myself

  • 1/2 a medium sized butternut pumpkin (also known as butternut squash)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sumac
  • 1 teaspoon salt, to taste

Set your oven to 220C/450F. Slice the skin off the butternut and then chop the flesh into cubes of about 1 inch in size. Place in a roasting dish and drizzle with two tablespoons of the olive oil. Roast for about 20 minutes, or until the butternut is very tender.

Mix the tahini with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a bowl, then add the butternut, a couple of cubes at a time, stirring thoroughly to mash the roast butternut into the tahini, giving you a smooth, creamy puree. Continue mashing and stirring the roast butternut into the mixture until it’s all combined, then stir in the cumin, sumac, and salt. Taste to see if you think it needs any further seasoning, then transfer to a serving bowl. I sprinkled over some pumpkin seeds because I thought it was cute to do so but they are obviously extremely optional.

Roast Cauliflower Miso Butter

A recipe by myself

  • 1/2 a head of cauliflower, sliced roughly into small pieces
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 heaped teaspoon white miso paste

Set your oven to 220C/450F. Place the cauliflower pieces in a roasting dish and drizzle with the olive oil. Roast for about 20 minutes or until the cauliflower is very tender and becoming golden brown in places. Remove from the oven and allow it to cool a little.

Transfer the cauliflower into the bowl of a food processor, and pour/spatula any remaining olive oil from the roasting dish in with it, along with the miso paste. Blitz thoroughly, stopping to spatula down the sides as needed, until it has formed a creamy puree with no solid pieces of cauliflower left in it. Taste to see if it needs any more miso, although I found this amount to be perfect. Transfer into a serving bowl. I sprinkled over some walnuts to make it look like more effort had been expended but this is entirely optional. Walnuts are delicious though! If you have a high-speed blender this will be super velvety, but a regular food processor will still work just fine, it might just take a little longer.

As well as this I made some olive and almond puff pastry pinwheels and did a rejigging of my chocolate caramel rice bubble slice with almond butter instead of the more boisterous peanut butter, and we had a lovely afternoon discussing the book and our lives in that order. (The book in question, by the way, was Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, and it is brilliant.)

It has been extremely lovely to see my dear friends again, including my roommate Ghost, although he was initially unconvinced by the notion of resuming his regular modelling gig. (In case there are any doubts please be assured that he has the range, as his Instagram account will attest.)

But as soon as I was like “the food up here is not for you” he suddenly became interested and attentive again, a process that I have nothing but respect for since that’s largely how I operate as well (in case you thought there was any kind of upper limit on my ability to be infuriating.)

title from: I Can’t Do It Alone from the Broadway musical Chicago. The most well-known version nowadays is the film adaptation with Catherine Zeta-Jones desperately imploring Renee Zellweger through the medium of dance, but while there’s no filmed footage of it I love the zany orchestration of the original cast recording with the legendary Chita Rivera.

music lately:

I Can’t Say No, by Ali Stroker, as performed at the 2019 Tony Awards from the revival production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma. This is a musical that I’ve never felt particularly drawn to, but Stroker has immense chemistry and presence and she just throws her voice so far into the back row and is so utterly compelling in this song that could quite easily be annoying in the wrong hands. She’s not only the first performer on Broadway who uses a wheelchair, she’s now the first Tony Award winner to do so. Hopefully this paves the way for more diversity onstage at that level.

The End of The World, by Sharon Van Etten. This is a cover of the 1962 tearjerker by Skeeter Davis and it’s one of my favourite songs and I love Van Etten’s voice so I’m very happy about this combination. The production feels very gentle and timeless, it doesn’t do anything revolutionary with it but then it doesn’t have to, the song itself is strong enough.

Lazy Line Painter Jane by Belle and Sebastian. When I was a child I read and re-read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and loved it so much and yet somehow I knew that it was all that I would want to read from C.S Lewis and that anything else by him would be left wanting because it wasn’t the one book I wanted it to be, and I feel much the same about Belle and Sebastian: this is the one song of theirs that I wish to hear, but I want to hear it like, five thousand times in a row. It has such an incredible build, starting with this Phil Spector-ish muffled beat that chugs along like an old washing machine as they swap lyrics back and forth between the vocalists, then they come together in this gorgeous transposed harmony, and then just when you think you know all there is to know about this song it breaks into a wordless canter and feels like it’s getting faster and faster even though it’s not and it’s so exhilarating and you never want it to end and I’m practically hyperventilating just writing about it.

Next time: I’m back at Kate and Jason’s until well into next week so, while I’m not sure what I’m going to make, you can definitely expect to see some more Ghost paw-modelling for me.

PS: as you probably know I have a Patreon account where you can directly support me and my writing. Even at the humble level that I’m at now, being on Patreon has had an immensely positive effect on me and allowed me to support myself a tiny bit which allows me to write more and more and more. If you want to be part of this and to receive exclusive content written just for my Patreon patrons, it’s very, very, very easy to be involved.

I make spaghetti with tomato sauce because that’s all I can make

Vegan tomato spaghetti

Every now and then I get jolted by the fact that 90% of the recipes in my cookbook (yes, my cookbook, Hungry and Frozen: The Cookbook, 2013, Penguin, a highly underground cult item by which I mean it was aggressively discontinued less than a year later) were only tested once, which was entirely due to financial reasons (I didn’t anticipate the responsibility of paying for ingredients and resources for testing 150+ recipes falling to me) coupled with a certain clinging need to make it seem as though everything was fine and this is definitely what I expected from the process, and nothing to do with my lack of dedication to recipes that are proven to work.

Indeed, if looking up the word “science” on Wikipedia, ctrl-F searching for the word “test” and then immediately closing the tab without reading any of its content is anything to go by, making something once isn’t even technically testing it, you’re just, you know….making it once. I’m fortunate in that I can usually trust my oddly innate recipe-creating abilities but I nevertheless keep a place in my brain solely dedicated to housing the fear that someone will email me all like “I made that cake in your book and it wouldn’t rise and the centre was all gluey and undercooked and the flavour had little to recommend it and my wife cited it as grounds for our subsequent divorce proceedings which were fast-tracked with shoddy paperwork and little emotional closure.

Vegan tomato spaghetti

But this recipe, this recipe I made three times and am thus immensely satisfied that it’s neither fluke nor failure – no seasoning with plausible deniability here, confidence is my condiments. Yes, I’m genuinely embarrassed at myself for writing that out, and yes, no, I’m not deleting it.

The reason I made it so many times was the reason for its existence in the first place: it’s a very, very cheap recipe, a real something-from-nothing, flying by the seat of your pants that are currently being worn by the rabbit you pulled out of a hat type thing. The sum is greater than the whole of your pants: a mere onion, a lone tomato, a charmless can of tomato puree, the most off-brand dried spaghetti the supermarket can procure, it all comes together under the heat of the oven to evoke the taste of hours of toil and multitudes of ingredients. It somehow suggests the flavour of tomatoes that have been plucked in most reverent silence in the holiest of Roma’s hills while also hinting at the thickly-sauced comforting promise of canned spaghetti, I’m talking old school canned spaghetti that exists in my memory and not anymore on the supermarket shelf because I know they’ve changed the recipe to make the sauce cheap and watery and the noodles structurally unsound but in the early nineties when, you have to bear in mind, there were only like four different things that had been invented to eat, canned spaghetti was genuinely ultimate and tasted of abundance.

P1180754

The key thing here is that you roast the absolute living daylights out of the ingredients. That’s all there is to it. Without that level of heat the tomato puree will taste like expired iron tablets and the onion will be bitter, but under the oven’s blaze it all melts and bubbles and gets sticky and crunchy and charred around the edges, hence the word caramelised in the title since that’s precisely what you’re aiming to do.

It’s incredibly delicious, which is the other reason I’ve returned to it repeatedly, just so immensely full-throatedly rich and intensively tomato-ish and hearty and messy and somehow really buttery and it’s even amazing cold – but then I always did favour the spaghetti unheated, straight from the can – so your opinion of this habit may colour the value that you place on that last opinion.

P1180763

Now generally I like to give many options and segues of other ingredients you could include but honestly this is perfect as it is, and because there’s so little going on each ingredient is proportionately crucial. The only leeway I would offer is that if you can’t get hold of a whole tomato for whatever reason it’s not the end of the world, but it really does add texture and body and I assure you, even the most anemic-looking middle-of-winter tomato can be transformed by this recipe. The canned tomato puree must ideally be puree – not canned chopped tomatoes, not passata, not paste – for it alone hits that absolute sweet spot of thick texture and liquid sauciness. If you’re considering reducing the olive oil, first of all, grow up, and second of all, if anything, add more. The olive oil is central to the caramelisation and the richness and the texture and the flavour. While I’m being a fusspot I really feel like this sauce lends itself directly to actions like dramatically twirling pasta round your fork and then dramatically lifting the fork higher than your head before dropping the pasta into your open mouth getting sauce on your chin and laughing heartily yet attractively like a free-spirited character in an arthouse film or a prestige drama about a family of tension and tradition in equal measure and you can really only get that with spaghetti but if all you’ve got to hand is penne it’ll be like, literally fine.

P1180746

Spaghetti with Caramelised Tomato Sauce

A recipe by myself. (It’s much simpler than the length of the recipe makes it look, I’m just explain-y.)

  • 1 onion
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 tin tomato puree
  • 100g dried spaghetti or other long pasta of your choice
  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil, but allow for more
  • salt and pepper
  • very optional but nice: herbs (eg thyme, basil) and chopped almonds to garnish

Set your oven to 220C/430F. Peel and thinly slice the onion into half-moons, and roughly chop the tomato. Get a small roasting dish – for example, the sort that you might bake brownies or a slice in but also would make yourself a small quantity of roast vegetables, you know, those standard smallish rectangular tins – and place the onions and tomato on one side/half of the roasting dish and tip the can of puree onto the other half. Drizzle everything liberally with the olive oil – like a full four tablespoons is entirely ideal here – and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Don’t stir it yet.

Roast it for about thirty minutes, stirring one or two times during this time only once the onions and the tomato have collapsed and got a little browned/crisp around the edges. If it looks like it needs more – and it well might – return it to the oven for another ten to twenty minutes, but continue to keep an eye on it as there’s a fine line between crispy and straight up burnt. With this in mind I usually start the roasting dish on the top shelf and move it to the bottom shelf towards then end.

While all this is happening bring a large pan of salted water to the boil (which I always do by boiling the jug first and then pouring that into the pan rather than heating up the water on the stove top, it’s much faster) and cook the spaghetti until it’s tender – twelve minutes or so should do it.

When you’re satisfied with the done-ness of both the sauce and the spaghetti, remove the roasting dish from the oven and use a pair of tongs to transfer the spaghetti from its pan into the roasting dish, and to mix it all together. You could drain the spaghetti in a sieve or a colander and then dump it into the roasting dish but using tongs helps retain a little of the cooking water on the spaghetti strands which in turn helps the sauce to cohere better.

Spatula everything onto a plate, scraping as much of the sauce and any crunchy almost-burnt bits as you can from the roasting dish (I sprinkle a tablespoon or so more pasta cooking water into the dish and swirl it round to pick up every last bit of sauce) and then garnish, if you like, with fresh thyme or basil (or both!) and chopped almonds, and perhaps, one last drizzle of olive oil.

Serves 1, although I think you could quite comfortably get away with making this serve two by using 200g pasta but keeping everything else the same.

P1180762

I asked Ghost what he thought about pasta and first he was just like “PASTA” over and over again but then he was all, “as August de LaCroix said in 1842, ‘the flâneur is to le badaud what the gourmet is to the glutton,”‘ and “the badaud was later defined as “curious, astonished by everything he sees, he believes everything he hears, and he shows his contentment or his surprise by his open, gaping mouth.”‘ And I was like “Ghost, that’s exactly what I would’ve said, in that order!” (As you can see from the photo, Ghost and I are often of one mind. One…at best.)

As always, thank you to my important Patreon patrons for supporting my writing. If you have made it through this genuine nonsense and you’re like, this gal’s really going places and I want to ride those coat-tails to the top then you too, should become a patron! A mere handful of your dollars per month directly influences my ability to write and live and I might be able to create a cookbook with recipes tested more than once. You receive exclusive content in return, like book and film reviews or recipes or what star sign I believe each character from Gavin and Stacey is. Signing up is easy and my gratitude is real.

title from: Brimstone and Fire, by Cyndi Lauper. Is this one of her best songs? Honestly, I think no. But it is fine, and she does talk about spaghetti in an alarmingly relevant way.

music lately:

Falling, by Xiu Xiu, from a commissioned series they did of covers of music from Twin Peaks. This is atmospheric and foreboding, with powerful momentum dripping in slow motion like honey from a spoon, I love it. (This album was described as one of their most listenable and you know you’re really on a level when using material by David Lynch makes you more accessible.)

The Sweetest Girl, by Scritti Politti, I just adore this song, all woozy and dreamy and sinister and lovely and highly amenable to listening to on a loop about twelve times before it even registers that the song hasn’t ended yet.

Next time: If you absolutely cannot tell I had a terrible night’s sleep before writing this and perhaps it’s that lack of sleep talking but I might be ready to try making ice cream again, actually.

I won’t remember your birthday, I won’t remember your name, just keep talking to me I’m not listening

58375055_364190067772773_9147585668174577664_n

Something that I realised one second after I was told it by someone else, is that in most of life’s arenas my brain will melt down when faced with a task before I’ve even been told what the task is; then should I actually undertake the task (for example, getting on a bus to an appointment) I would often end up doing it wrong (getting on the wrong bus, going to the wrong place) and be afflicted with such brain-paralysis that I would not be able to work out a way to solve it, and worse, the only thing I’d feel capable of is messaging the group chat to drag them down with me on my panicked spiral about something entirely preventable. In all arenas of life! Except in the kitchen.

Like last week’s ice cream atrocity triad: not only was I diplomatically, breezily able to keep going in the face of persistent failure, but I also didn’t see it as a morally-weighted type thing that reflected upon me personally, I was all, I know I’m a good cook, regardless of this garbage. Whereas I still feel a quaking within my nether organs when I have to get on a bus to go like, honestly, anywhere.

(It was Kate that pointed this out to me after I’d been trying to use the oven in her and Jason’s kitchen, the heat/function markings of which are all rubbed off, and instead of lying on the floor and crying I just googled the oven model and found a picture of what the un-rubbed function and heat dials looked like and proceeded accordingly. Upon reflection I was like yeah, that was off-brandingly level-headed of me.)

57614885_508834199650034_1621556626202820608_n

With that in mind it was simply no big deal to cook dinner for twelve people last week in honour of my birthday (which was on Wednesday the 17th, in case there’s the slightest bit of unclarity over what my star sign is) and somehow I just instinctively knew which order to make everything in and when to take everything out of the fridge and what could be dovetailed and how to make everything appear on the table at once and how to fix one tricky situation without it having a domino effect on the rest of the food (food can smell fear.) (It just can!)

The menu was as follows:

  • Viv’s Crackers (Make these! They’re so good!)
  • Olive Tapenade (recipe below)
  • Lentil Dip (It’s like. Hummus but with brown lentils and sumac. I just made it up as I went along.)
  • Muhammara (recipe below)
  • Pesto (I just made this up but used my mum’s trick of adding some tahini to it which makes it wonderfully rich, you almost wouldn’t know it was vegan)
  • Caramelised Onion Butter (recipe below)
  • Dukkah (from a recipe of mine from 2018 but I used cashews instead of walnuts)
  • Zucchini, Walnut and Thyme Salad (from Ottolenghi’s book Simple)
  • Marinated Mushrooms (my own recipe from 2012)
  • Cauliflower Tabbouleh (also from Simple)
  • Broccoli Slaw with Wasabi Lime Dressing (I made this up but it’s pretty much exactly how it sounds)
  • Rice Paper Rolls with Peanut Dipping sauce (made them up but again, pretty standard)
  • Roasted Butternut and Parsnip with Cardamom Seeds (I made this up but the title is pretty self-explanatory)
  • Couscous with Fried Eggplants, Olives, Sunflower and Pumpkin Seeds (I made this up but it’s just one of those couscous things where you stir lots of bits into it, you know what I mean?)
  • Blackened Corn and Rice Salad with Pecans, Almonds, and Nasturtium Leaves (based loosely on a recipe of mine from 2012, I added pecans and Chinese Five-Spice and nasturtium leaves from the garden and so on)
  • Fried Zucchini Orzo with Pine Nuts, Mint, Spinach, and Kale (This is just something I made up but it’s definitely based on some Ottolenghi recipe)

57490301_2025763994384806_8660769391668887552_n

For precisely one minute I was worried I hadn’t made enough and for one wavering semiquaver I was like “what if it’s all bad, just real bad food” but then I laughed at both notions and carried on blithely like I was neurotypically non-avolitional. Nothing actually went wrong but there was definitely plenty of calm yet sudden improvisation required, like when there was no bulgur wheat in the entire suburb of Newtown or when half the vegetables I originally planned for were out of season (it seems the only thing confidently in season in April is meat.)

It’s funny, the psychology of cooking for increasing quantities of people. Supposing I was like, okay, everyone’s getting roast beef and potatoes and salad, you’d be like yeah, three things per person, that’s a normal reasonable meal, all you need to do is make those three things. But the MINUTE you start thinking you’ll have a cosy, low-key, unstructured banquet where everyone just helps themselves to what’s on the table, you suddenly have to provide SO MANY COMPONENTS. Three bowls of salad is NOTHING. But then conversely, the more food there is, the LESS people eat. So a bowl of couscous stuff that normally would in no way stretch to twelve, will not only serve everyone when it’s part of a big table of food, but you’ll also inexplicably have leftovers for a week.

In The Wire, Bunk tells Kima that the one thing you need at a crime scene is “soft eyes…if you’ve got soft eyes you can see the whole thing.” I don’t even know how I came up with the menu in relation to the number of people, it wasn’t based on any actual calculation, I was just like, I’m at one with the food, looking at my proposed menu list with soft eyes, and I’ll just know when I’ve planned enough. And I did! Would I suggest this as advice for anyone else hosting a dinner party? Probably not. Would I suggest watching The Wire? Sure!

58462707_422324771895603_7544876582532284416_n

The three recipes I’ve provided for you today were from the dips and sauces – my idea was to have, as well as big bowls of things, just a ton of stuff that could be stirred in to make everything even more interesting. The first recipe, Caramelised Onion Butter, was something I thought up, but let’s be clear: it’s just caramelised onions that have been put in the blender. Nevertheless they were immensely delicious, with that bordering-on-frustratingly slow cooking process slowly breaking down the onions and making them sweet and mellow and lush and somehow even more so once pureed into a creamy mush. Make it and have it on hand to stir into soups, stews, anything that needs an absolute fistful of flavour. The muhammara was something that I adapted from Ottolenghi, not because I thought I could do better than him but because capsicums are ferociously expensive at the moment and so I reduced the quantity a little and subbed in some tomato paste. I think it worked, and the finished result, this rambunctiously flavoured smoky spicy sauce, all nubbly from the walnuts and rich from the roasting process, is highly gorgeous. And as with the caramelised onion butter, I imagine it would be useful to have on hand to embiggen any other food you’ve made. Finally the olive tapenade, which I decided to rakishly make with prunes to boost its dark richness, is so fast to make – have it with bread, stir it through pasta, eat it with a spoon, whatever. If you’re uncertain about the prunes then maybe try blending them in one at a time to see how you go but their robustness complements the equally strident olives and rosemary and the sweetness gives depth rather than unbridled prune-ishness. All three of these recipes are so easy to make (although there’s nothing easy about how much chopping onions makes me cry) I’m sorry, however, that they all involve a food processor. I’m afraid that’s just how it goes when you’re vegan: you give up meat, you inexplicably start blending everything, no almond left unpulverised.

58419370_2224370391158791_1696407709919739904_n

Caramelised Onion Butter

A recipe by myself

  • 6 large brown onions
  • olive oil (regular, not extra virgin)
  • salt (ideally sea salt or other non-iodised salt)
  • 2 heaped tablespoons soft brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Peel and slice the onions, in half and then into fine-ish half-circles. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil over a low heat in a large saucepan and tip the onions in. Sprinkle over a pinch of salt. Let the onions fry, stirring fairly often, letting them soften and soften and become lightly golden. This is not like frying onions normally, you don’t want them to catch and become brown, the idea is to just slowly, slowly, melt them down. It will seem at first like they’re never going to cook and collapse but they will! It just takes about twenty solid minutes.

Once the onions have really softened and turned into a golden tangle, tip in the brown sugar and the balsamic vinegar, turn the heat up to medium, and cook for another five or so minutes. This is the point where caramelisation is ideal so don’t stir them too much, and that way the sugar can really do its thing.

At this point, remove from the heat and allow to cool, tasting for more salt if it needs it. Spatula the onions into the bowl of a food processor and drizzle in another two tablespoons of olive oil. Blitz into a thick, creamy mush. If you use a high-speed blender it will become even more creamy but the chunkier texture from the food processor’s blades is also entirely desirable. Decant to a bowl and refrigerate. It’s best closer to room temperature so take it out of the fridge a while before you need it.

Muhamarra

Adapted slightly from a recipe in Ottolenghi’s book Simple

  • 4 red capsicums (peppers)
  • 6 fat cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (plus more for roasting the capsicum)
  • 50g walnuts
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) tomato paste
  • 3/4 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • a pinch of chilli flakes
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • salt, to taste

Set your oven to 220C/450F. Half the capsicums and remove the cores, stems and seeds. Place them cut side down in a roasting dish along with the peeled garlic cloves and drizzle liberally with olive oil. Place in the oven for 20 or so minutes, until the garlic cloves are golden brown and the capsicums are soft and their skin is starting to blacken a little.

Allow the capsicums and garlic to cool a little, then throw them into a food processor along with the remaining ingredients. Try to spatula/pour any oil and roasting juices from the pan into the processor as well. And just to clarify, “the rest of the ingredients” includes the two tablespoons of olive oil. Blitz to form a rough puree, taste for anything it might need – probably more salt – and then spatula it into a serving bowl or an airtight container and refrigerate till needed. Again, best at room temperature or gently warmed, so take it out of the fridge well before you need it.

Olive Tapenade

A recipe by myself

  • 250g (or so) black pitted olives
  • 4 prunes
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil (extra virgin is good, but whatever you’ve got)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon capers (rinsed if salt-packed)
  • a small pinch of cayenne or chilli pepper
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Place everything in a food processor and blitz to form a thick, rough-textured paste. You may need to spatula down the sides a couple of times and then blitz again. Taste to see if it needs more of anything then spatula into a serving bowl or an airtight container, and as with all these recipes, it’s best at room temperature. Just get the cheapest pitted black olives you can find – they’re getting blasted together with all these other ingredients and you don’t want to be dicking around de-stoning them. On the other hand if you do buy proper olives make sure you get more to account for the weight of the stones.

57459266_2248620392020331_4953268985136152576_n

Let me tell you, there was no greater birthday present than just sitting there watching everyone I love happily eating food I made. I wasn’t even hungry myself, I just wanted to behold everyone consuming what I’d made for them and now that I’ve said that it sounds a bit psychologically suspicious but I assure you, it’s mostly that if I’ve been cooking all day I’ve definitely been generously tasting everything as I go. For dessert I did a tray of homemade butterfingers, dried fruit and dark chocolate and didn’t click till the next day that I’d completely forgotten about a birthday cake, but the entire night was perfect just as it was: by the time it devolved into an elaborate roasting of me, from the story of how I’d never changed a lightbulb to the story of how I dropped my phone down an eight-story lift shaft and pressed the emergency button because it was an emergency, well, I think it’s truly the most content I’ve been all year.

58377105_371467633497638_103228495282307072_n

The Ghost with the most.

And I’m still eating the leftovers: thirty-three feels good. Thank you to Jason and Charlotte who took photos of the food on their phones and sent them to me because I forgot to get my camera ready or to learn how to take photos at night (yes, I can organise a dinner party, yes, it will be at the expense of ALL OTHER THINGS that I might possibly need my brain for.)

title from: Planet Z from my broadway idol Idina Menzel’s beautiful and occasionally bizarre 1997 debut album Still I Can’t Be Still. This boisterously energetic song is groaning under the weight of its production but it all works somehow, I listen to it and couldn’t imagine how it could possibly sound any other way. I love (and miss) her rough-yet-treacly five-zillion-miles-from-Let-It-Go voice.

music lately:

Kate and Jason and I watched Homecoming by Beyoncé last night and it’s absolutely gobsmackingly astounding viewing. Just trying to get my head around her vision, organisation, talent and monumental discipline, as well as the phenomenal production and execution in the stage show. The precision, the work, the drum line, the horn section, the fact that she was the first black woman to headline Coachella and she went okay, then I’m gonna bring hundreds of black women up there with me. Naturally I’ve got her on the brain now and she obviously has nonstop hits but I especially adore Bow Down/I Been On, which she released online in 2013 and would later rework into ***Flawless for her self-titled album. The first part with its discordant Nintendo-sounding sample is so exciting and sinister and off the wall, she sounds so in charge and has these amazing growls in her voice, and then suddenly it slows down and she’s doing operatic soprano and then she starts rapping and her vocals all chopped and screwed now sound like a man’s deep voice, and it becomes this sludgy, slow-moving salute to her hometown and past and she sounds so great. Because she dropped this in such a low-key way online I was not expecting it to pop up on the setlist of Homecoming but she did it! Honestly, even if you’re not a fan, if you generally appreciate live performance, culture, musicianship, or simply a job well done, watch Homecoming.

Invitation to Love, TB. It takes a minute to warm up but once it gets going it’s an extremely lush track that samples Laura Palmer’s Theme from Twin Peaks – that most lush of tracks – that I had a very lovely time dancing to on Sunday night thanks to TV Disko’s DJ set at the Laundry staff party (what, just because I stop working at a place, I’m no longer staff? That’s not how jobs work.)

Today’s Your Day (Whatchagonedo), Fat Lip feat Chali 2na. Deliciously languid, the sound of sunshine refracting through golden syrup, and that chorus is so good.

Next time: It’s been cold and rainy ever since my birthday so I’m thinking, you know, something cold-and-rain friendly.

PS as always thank you to my Patreon patrons, especially the new folks who joined in a birthday-related gestural fashion. It is by no means too late to still join my Patreon and have me think it’s something to do with my birthday, or to just join it because supporting me and my writing is – or could be – its own reward. Plus you get access to exclusive content from me, which is more literally its own reward.