my anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hon

Well, ya girl is finally not completely sick, which I’m taking as a victory. Considering I’ve spent the last month battling both the flu and a cold, while they in turn both battled each other for fealty to my body, simply being able to get through the night without coughing with metronome-like regularity is pretty wonderful. 
Somewhat more unwonderful is that I had a book proposal turned down. You all know I want little more than to write another cookbook and start an incredibly hilarious TV cooking show and live out my days as a gloriously rich happy wee celesbian. So in the spirit of doing stuff instead of just talking about it endlessly, last month I approached a publisher with my idea for my next book. And…it wasn’t picked up. It’s so weird because half of me is unusually pragmatic about it – telling myself that book proposals get rejected constantly and this is entirely normal and also my proposal was probably very badly formatted since I’ve never done one before; while the other half of me is all dramatically clutching at my heart and wailing “whyyyyyyy but I’m so good why am I not good enough please hold all my calls because I need to take to my bed for a week” and so on. 
So while I’m wrestling between the burning embarrassment of rejection and also the cool, calm acknowledgement that this happens to pretty much everyone who approaches publishers, in telling you all this I’m hoping it lets the cool-calm side win. I like to be stupidly open about myself On Here and just the act of relaying this situation helps it not seem like the worst thing in the world, (I know, there are a lot of worse-er things in the world but I’m incredibly self-centred, okay) and that’s a start. Firstly, I was so lucky to be approached by the publishers for my first book rather than me having to go approaching people, and after what happened with my book last year it took a long time for me to even get to this point where I can put myself out there like this, so it’s all progress and stuff.  Related: my tarot card for September is all about emotional stability and being highly chill. Look at me go! 
look upon my works ye mighty and despair (I care not that this is probably completely the wrong use of this phrase) 

Meanwhile, in an act that reassured me that I still have something to offer the world, I thought up this bread roll recipe the other day and I’m incredibly pleased with how well it all turned out. I had some cream cheese left over from making another thing and wondered if it might be good worked into bread dough in the same way that you work butter into dough when making brioche. As they smugly tend to do, my idea worked. The buns were impossibly tender and fluffy, with a slight, slight hint of tanginess from the cream cheese. I know I make it look incredibly complicated in the recipe below, but really this is very easy – you just mix some stuff together with a spoon, let it rise, knead in the cream cheese and shape it into buns, let it rise again, then bake it. And then, several hours later, tearful, covered in flour and utterly starving, you have yourself some freshly baked buns for very little effort.

I acknowledge that making your own bread might seem like little more than a way to wilfully make your life more difficult, but it really is weirdly fun – watching the dough rise, feeling the change in texture as you knead it, and most of all when you get to hold up the finished product and be all “I created life! With my own two hands! These hands!” The smell of bread baking in the oven is actual heaven, and busting them open and spreading them with butter, which swiftly melts into every puffy crevice, before rapturously biting through the crisp exterior feels like a reward for living. And frankly we all deserve more rewards for living.

cream cheese buns

a recipe by myself

three cups strong bread flour
one sachet instant dried yeast
one teaspoon salt
25g melted butter (plus a little extra for brushing)
one and a half cups of warm water
150g cream cheese

Firstly, take the cream cheese out of the fridge so that it is soft enough to work into the dough later on. Then: put the flour, yeast and salt together in a good sized bowl, then tip in the melted butter and warm water and give it a rough stir so it forms a shaggy, loose mixture. You may need a tiny bit more water, it all depends on your flour and sea level and the curve of the earth and so on. Cover the bowl in plastic wrap or a tea towel and leave in a warmish place – a room with the heater on, in a sunny spot on a table, in a hot water cupboard, on top of an aging and overheated laptop, that kind of thing – for an hour or so, until it has expanded in size somewhat. 

At this point, use your fist to push it down and deflate it, and now you’re going to start kneading the cream cheese into it. If you’ve got the kind of cream cheese that comes in a block, then cut it into thin slices, otherwise just get small spoonfuls of it. Either leave the dough in the bowl and knead it there (my usual choice for saving on mess) or transfer it to a clean, lightly floured surface, and work the cream cheese in while kneading it by putting the cream cheese on top of the dough then pushing it away from you with the heel of your palm and then folding it back towards you, then pushing it away from you again, adding more cream cheese every time. Does that make sense? Push away, bring back towards you, push away, and with every push and fold you should be able to work the cream cheese further into the dough. Ideally you want to be able to actually get it to become part of the dough itself, but it doesn’t matter if there’s a few bits here and there. Just keep working it till it forms a springy, smooth ball of dough. 

Pull off bits of this dough and roll them into small buns, sitting them close together on a paper-lined baking tray. Set your oven to 200C/400F and let the buns sit for about 20 minutes to get a final rise, brush with some extra melted butter, and then bake them for around 15-20 minutes until golden brown on top.  

I ate four of these immediately after taking them out of the oven, and then I delivered some to my friend Jen in a pleasingly neighbourly manner, and the remaining ones I ate at around 3am after getting home from work the next night. They are so good. And frankly, I’m pretty alright myself.
title from: the wonderful and important Nicki Minaj and her amazing song Anaconda (although obviously this bit is sampled from Baby Got Back.) If you don’t mind ending up on a downward spiral of watching choreography videos on youtube and lamenting your own lack of skills, you should definitely get stuck in a downward spiral of watching choreography videos on youtube because the Tricia Miranda choreo for Anaconda is incredible.
music lately: 

Carly Rae Jepsen, Emotion. I’m SO into her right now. Perfect pop.

If Mama Was Married, with Leigh-Ann Larkin and Laura Benanti from the 2009 Broadway revival of Gypsy. You have to scroll few to several minutes in to get to the song but the harmonies get me right in the heart every time. I watched the Bette Midler version of this recently with my excellent girlfriend and it’s just such the musical to end all musicals.

Breeders, Cannonball. Gah this song is so good and there was no one cuter than Kim and Kelley Deal.
next time: I’ve been making lots of little bits and pieces and instagramming them lately, maybe I’ll do a big post about all of them? Also you wouldn’t know it from the weather but it is the first day of spring so maybe something….springy. 

rise up wise up say it loud

greet the new year with arms and bread wide open

On New Year’s Day, my best girls Kim and Kate and I crawled into a small tent, away from the angry heat of the sun, and did tarot card readings for the year ahead. The tent was already up and we were at a barbeque/picnic thing, we didn’t just go into a field and purposefully erect a Tent of Mystery, although that would’ve been pretty neat. Next year? The cards were from The Wild Unknown and each design was so utterly beautiful that I want the whole lot of them tattooed all over my body. The card that I ended up picking as my overall theme for 2015 was not the funnest but when I found out the meaning, I was like UGH you accurate damn tarot cards. It is all about not deceiving myself or being deceived, seeing reality instead of what I want to see, and not being sucked in by wishful thinking or being stuck inside my own head (two things that like, define me currently.) So it’s not quite “a thousand riches shall befall you instantly and you can chill out indefinitely” but it’s very wise and for someone who needs to take such advice on board, I’m sorta impressed with myself for instinctively being drawn to this particular card when I was choosing from the pack, instead of gravitating towards something nicer but less direct.

Another thing I did on New Year’s Day was get up early and bake bread with my own two hands, despite being out verrrry late the night before dancing wildly to Beyonce (the only way to end the year since she was my soundtrack for the entirety of it.) Am I a hero? Yes. Although, as far as they go this is a nice, unthreateningly simple bread recipe, which requires no difficult ingredients, very little kneading, and the deep characteristic slashes in the dough make it eye-catchingly gorgeous. Which means that you can loudly and obnoxiously announce “Oh, just some simple rustic artisinal exquisite Italianate bread” when you place it at the table in front of people.

This particular bread, with its leafy, sliced-open facade, is known as Fougasse. When I was a youth I used to claim that fougasse bread was my favourite food – if I was ever asked – because I tried it once from a bakery in Titirangi with my family, and was deeply impressed with it, and I guess, also with myself. I think my train of thought was that it made me sound loftily sophisticated, which when you grow up in tiny rural farmland with big city dreams and a hearty respect for Stacey McGill, is apparently very important. No-one actually cared about fougasse being my favourite food and the only impression it gave off was (an accurate) one of insufferableness. But at least my tastes weren’t misguided! I wasn’t wrong! Because fougasse bread is highly delicious.

This recipe produces two loaves (one of mine was much larger than the other because when I divided the ball of dough in half I didn’t really get the ‘half’ bit right) of chewy, airy, crisp, wonderful bread. While it would be a fine accompaniment to literally anything (including another loaf of bread) probably my ideal way of eating it would be like this: just myself, sitting at a table with an entire loaf of fougasse, a bowl of very good olive oil, and maybe some balsamic vinegar and sea salt. And some wine.

fougasse bread

recipe by myself, mashed together from a bunch of different recipes I read online. The instructions look scarily lengthy but I just like to hand-hold you through anything that might be slightly unfamiliar or confusing.

500g bread/hi-grade flour
one sachet dried yeast
two teaspoons sea salt or some similarly fancy sodium product (or one teaspoon regular salt)
one teaspoon sugar
one and a half cups water
one tablespoon olive oil, plus more for brushing
dried herbs of your choice for sprinkling over – I used za’atar, a mix of dried thyme, sumac, and sesame seeds. Some grated parmesan would be rad here.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, salt and sugar. Slowly pour in the water – just cold tap water is fine – and the oil, and stir together to make a sticky mass. Knead the dough either in the bowl or on a floured surface, pushing it away with your knuckles and folding it over and repeating, decisively, adding a little more flour or water if it seems to require it. However, it should come together on its own. When it’s ready, the dough should be a smoothish, slightly springy ball. Put the dough back into the bowl (you might want to wash and dry it first) and cover with gladwrap/clingfilm.

Allow the dough to rise in a warmish spot – a sunny windowsill, a hot water cupboard, something like that, but don’t stress too much about temperature, just on the bench is fine – and in an hour’s time it should be puffy and doubled in size.

At this point, set your oven to 250 C/480 F and put an oven tray in there to heat up with it. Place a large sheet of baking paper on the bench, cut the dough in half, and carefully transfer half of this dough onto the baking paper. Use your fingers to gently push it out into a large, rough oval shape – the idea is to retain lots of air, which is why you aren’t using a rolling pin – and when you’re satisfied, use a sharp knife to make cuts in it to form a kind of leafy pattern like I have done in the pictures here. Spread the slices apart with your fingers (otherwise they’ll merge back together when you bake them) and then brush the loaf with a little olive oil and sprinkle over your sprinklings of choice – as I said in the ingredients, I went with za’atar. Cover loosely with gladwrap/clingfilm and allow to sit for fifteen minutes, which will help it puff up a little. Finally, open the oven, being careful not to blast yourself with the heat of it like I did, and carefully pick up the piece of baking paper with the dough on it (it’s not that hard to transfer it, but like, don’t wave it around or anything.) Place the baking paper and dough straight onto the oven tray and bake the loaf for ten to fifteen minutes, until deep golden and bready-looking. While it’s baking, get another sheet of baking paper and shape the second half of the dough as per the instructions above, and once it has rested for fifteen minutes, bake that one. Yayyy, two loaves of bread!

slash fiction

I truly hope that all of you reading this (and also basically everyone, even people who don’t read my blog deserve love) have exciting goals, thrilling plans, and a lot of love for yourself as you start this year. And if you don’t, that’s incredibly normal and fine and tomorrow’s another day. 2014 was a seriously weird year and very uneasy in places, but 2015 seems to be tentatively full of promise. Good and bad and strange and surprising things will always happen though, and I’m just going to do my very best to do my very best.

title from: those twin cuties Tegan and Sara with their scrappily heartfelt song Missing You.

music lately:

Nicki Minaj, Pills’n’Potions and Azealia Banks, Soda. I feel like these two sad, sweet, dreamy songs go together well. Also, both these women have new albums out and they are killer, go listen, go listen.

Scarlett Johansen, Anywhere I Lay My Head. Her album of the same name is SO great, and this is my favourite from it. It’s just glorious. (Yeah, she made an album.)

next time: gosh! I don’t know. Something summery and dreamy, hopefully.


all i wanna do is cook your bread, just to make sure you’re well fed

literal banana bread 

Me oh my, guess who has been busy lately? Me of course, who else do I talk about on here. I mean, this blog post opens with two sentences both starting with the word “me”. And then a sentence beginning with “I”. Well, that’s why it’s called “a blog” and not “a Place of Altruistic Humility”, I guess. Pop psychology aside, I have been one busy kitten recently, and happily, it’s all stuff that I enjoy doing. Like freelance writing and starting a small yet successful chocolate cookie dough pretzel thing delivery business. The latter of which was a clever idea by my clever friend Kate, which I kind of dismissed at first – not because I thought it was a bad idea, but because I thought no-one would care. Turns out people care hard about my cookie dough pretzel things. I have been striding all over town, getting way more exercise than I care for, dropping off parcels of chocolatey salty-sugary glory to both suspecting and unsuspecting people. The unsuspecting ones are fun – when people order them as a surprise for a friend, and then I get to appear at their work saying “hello, you don’t know me, but I’m Laura and I started a small cookie delivery business and your friend ordered some for you.” Cookie dough is sweet, but so is being the recipient of a human being’s surprised joy, I’ve come to learn.

I’m still drifting around in a “what am I doing with my life what’s to become of me I’m still not a famous cookbook empire-wielding squillionaire with many tumblr fansites dedicated to me yet I have clearly failed wait chill out Laura it’s only Tuesday” kind of haze, but am definitely feeling more productive now that I’m making it rain cookie dough. And it also means that this week I’m paying my rent with money that exists, instead of doing it with my credit card!

Speaking of being super-unemployed, I am feeling very reproachful towards myself for not using the time I had being all jobless to make like, make falling-to-pieces-tender casseroles and brisket and hummus from scratch using soaked dried chickpeas and brioche and rich broth and so on and such. Time flies when you’re not making the most of it to make exquisite slow-cooked food, I tell you. However, I did make one thing that befits the time on my hands: literal banana bread, from my cookbook. My underground, rare collector’s item, soon-to-be-out-of-print, definitely-have-come-to-terms-with-this-lololol cookbook.

This is the photo that appears in my cookbook. Kim and Jason did all the beauteous photos for it, but neither could remember who took this one, so I’m going to praise them both just to be diplomatic. All I know for sure is that my nails were painted this way because I dressed up as a Gold Lion for a party the previous night. 

This is a really easy recipe, because you don’t have to do any kneading. Just stir and wait and bake. It’s charmingly simple. The bananas take the place of any fat and sugar that you might add normally, not because I don’t adore both those things, but because I wanted to see if bananas had it in them to be used in a yeasted bread recipe as the major source of flavour and sweetness. Also I really like the idea of using the word “literal” in a recipe title. Y’know, because banana cake baked in a loaf tin is called banana bread, but this is actual bread made with bananas, so the title is literally justified.

literal banana bread

a recipe by myself, from my soon-to-be rare cult hit collector’s item cookbook Hungry and Frozen. Makes one large loaf.

500g flour
one sachet dried instant yeast
one teaspoon salt
two ripe bananas
300ml warm water
two tablespoons raw sugar

Mix the flour, yeast and salt together in a large bowl. Mash the bananas, and mix them into the flour with the water. It’ll look a bit gross. 

Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave in a gently warmish place for two hours.

At this point it should be risen and puffy and frankly even more gross looking – a bit greyish and unpromising. Scrape it into a well greased (or baking paper lined) loaf tin, and leave to sit for twenty minutes while you heat the oven to 180 C. 

Sprinkle over the sugar, and bake for 45 minutes. Allow to sit for a minute or two before tipping it out of the tin. You might need to run a knife around the sides to loosen it. 

You end up with this piping hot loaf of gently banana-scented bread, crusty and doughy and really wonderful when thickly sliced and spread with butter and honey, or even better, butter and cream cheese and brown sugar. It’s a good one to try if you’re unsure about breadmaking, since all you need is a little time, a bowl, and a spoon. And all the ingredients I listed. And, um, an oven. And I’ll stop there, because you probably don’t need me to elaborate further (although I always am concerned that people do, and never quite know when to stop over-explaining things.) I actually don’t love bananas just on their own – something about the texture and the sickly scent and the freakish little nubbin bits at each end of the fruit put me off, but they suddenly become appealing again when they’re baked into something. The banana flavour isn’t overwhelming here – just a sweet, promising hint of it with every bite.

literally delicious
So if you’re in Wellington CBD and you want chocolate cookie dough pretzel things delivered to your door with what will most likely be a smile, giz a yell. If you’re not in Wellington CBD, here’s what you’re missing, sorry.
dark chocolate, white chocolate, bounty thing. I eat a lot of cookie dough, I am highly authorised to assure you these are majorly delicious.
just a reminder that I’m literally cute. Hey, I said this is a blog, not a Place of Altruistic Humility!

title from: the truly excellent Etta James singing I Just Wanna Make Love To You. 
music lately:

the aquadolls. I really love all their music, it’s kind of foul-mouthed surfy pop and it’s so much fun.

Dillon, Texture of My Blood. Dreamy and feelingsy.

FKA Twigs, Two Weeks. Almost too dreamy to bear, tbh.

Jesse Thomas, Say Hello. Lovely, happy, country-ish music, so naturally it makes me feel sad.
next time: not sure, yeah? something delicious written about in a charming manner, no doubt. 

we’re up all night to get lucky

It seems very unfair to have both insomnia and writer’s block, not that I like the phrase writer’s block because it seems so self-fulfilling, but these are the words that rolled around my head like a marble on a wooden floor this entire night (not like the regular marbles that we used to play with in school, or even the double-sized ones we called bonkers, but the rare prize known as the grandaddy, triple the size of a normal marble and like holding a planet in your own hand. Until you inevitably lost them all. I have no idea what the point of playing marbles was when you could spend all your time gazing deeply into them – needless to say I was much better at looking at them than playing with them competitively. Man, I guess I have a lot of feelings about marbles.) I paused only to have a brief but elaborate dream about being unable to go to sleep, which was, I don’t know, a little bit on the nose even for my brain. 
But: I have a doctor’s appointment today (which will basically be me pleading “make me slee-hee-heeeeeep”) so hopefully that will start to take care of it. It being a complete state of somnambulance, of being unable to sleep more than two or three hours a night, of being unable to keep my eyelids from flying open and staying that way. Uncool! Sleeping should be one of those things you don’t have to try too hard at, like being funny and paying attention to letters from the IRD.  

Also a bit unfair: I’m not sure that today’s recipe is as good/irrefutably perfection as it could be, but I also think I know how to make it better, so I’m sharing it with you anyway. Every time I went to sweepingly refuse to write about it, I had to admit that it did taste really, really good. I’m talking about cinnamon date rolls, by the way.

But first, I’m talking about my Auckland cookbook launch last week. Wow. 
hard twee.
MC Rose Matafeo and I. She was super amazing. Also this is her instagram. Hope that’s okay, Rose. Rose?

 I choo-choo-choose you.
It was such a fun, incredible night. My mum, dad, and little brother were able to be there, outlandishly stunning Sacha McNeil from Nightline came along; I invited Anna Coddington (who I’ve interviewed on this blog before) and she brought Anika Moa and I was like “HI ANIKA MOA THIS IS SO IMPORTANT”; I got to see so many friends and meet so many gorgeously terrific and terrifically gorgeous new people that I’ve previously only talked to online, like Amanda, Lani and Jilly, I got given a corsage (!!) and there were so many nice people and they were all so nice to me and it ruled. Seriously, do yourself a favour and have a cookbook launch party. 
Feverish and fervent thanks to Delaney Mes who helped in a million different ways to get the party happening, to Unity Books who supplied copies of my book and a friendly person to sell them on the night, to the people at the beauteous Bread and Butter Letter boutique for being charming and kind and having such a fun place for my party, and to fizzy sherbet lollies and pretzels for helping get me through the night. So many nights, in fact.
And, if you want, you can watch MC Rose’s delightful intro and my own speech, which, like all public speaking, I ADORED. If you were at the Wellington launch party, yeah, I recycled most of my jokes. I’m not good at letting go. 

So finally, these cinnamon date rolls that I’m quite, but not intensely enthused about. Here’s the deal. They are easy. Amazingly delicious. And other such adjectives. But…don’t do what I did and use regular flour. It’s tiresome, but if you specifically buy hi-grade/bread flour, these buns will have the extra gluten they deserve to become puffier and lighter and easier to knead and even more wonderful than they already are. So – if you only have regular flour, they’re pretty much great, but go on. Learn from my stumbles. Since there are so many and all.

What I’ve done here is take two rectangles of dough and roll them, sushi-ly, around chopped dates, butter, cinnamon, and a gritty sprinkling of brown sugar. They’re then scored, garlic-bread-style, and baked so they have a kind of pull-apart quality, while leaving the sticky, caramelly filling thoroughly cocooned in soft dough so it doesn’t burn. Cinnamon is such a warm, comforting scent and for what it’s worth, these will make your house smell incredible. Kneading the dough isn’t so hard, it’s just some patient, rather satisfying pushing and flattening, and the yeast comes in sachets so you don’t have to worry about getting scientific with it. Just throw it in to the flour and go. There isn’t actually that much sugar sprinkled into these, but what’s there melts into the butter and creates sticky, syrupy toffee wonderfulness. That will burn your DNA off if you eat them straight from the oven, so try to let them cool a little.

cinnamon date rolls

A recipe by myself

500g plain flour
50g sugar
1 sachet instant dried yeast
1 teaspoon salt
50g melted butter
3 tablespoons greek yoghurt
1 cup milk
1/2 cup dates
2 tablespoons brown sugar
50g butter, extra, cubed

Place the flour, sugar, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Tip in the butter, yoghurt, and milk, and mix to make a rough, sticky dough. Knead repeatedly by pushing the dough with the palm of your hand and back into a ball repeatedly, until it forms a solidly cohesive-enough lump, which springs back quickly when you prod it. Cover with gladwrap and allow to rise in a warmish (or at least, not freezing, it doesn’t actually have to be that warm) place for an hour or so, then get back in the kitchen with it. Push it down again with your fist and divide it into two even pieces. 

Roll them out into rectangles about fifteen centimetres wide and 25 centimetres long – although really, so long as they’re similarly sized rectangles it doesn’t matter about measurements. You may need to let the dough sit for ten minutes to allow it to relax a bit before rolling it further. Roughly chop the dates, and sprinkle them, along with the brown sugar, plenty of cinnamon, and the and cubed remaining butter, over the two rectangles. Roll them up from one of the long sides so you have two long tubular tubes of dough. 

Set your oven to 180 C/350 F and sit the two dough rolls in a baking dish lined with baking paper, as I’ve done in these pictures. Using a serrated knife, make some decent slashes across the top of each roll of dough, which will allow you to be able to pull the whole thing apart into segments easier once it’s coked. Allow to sit for a further fifteen minutes while the oven warms up – this stage is called proving, I guess because you have to prove your commitment to breadmaking by waiting again – and finally bake for around 40 minutes. 

Homemade bready things don’t last like ones from a packet, but you and I both know (now that I’ve told you) that pulled apart pieces of this come back to life easily in the microwave.
Oh, okay, I guess I didn’t have writer’s block after all.

One more from the launch party –
Here I am signing a book for someone. Clearly my years and years of ballet training have reaped dividends, as far as my impeccable sitting posture goes.
title via: the assuredly ubiquitous Daft Punk song with the splendidly handsome Pharrell, Get Lucky. You’ll probably like it.
Music lately: 

Bastille, Laura Palmer. I do like a good Twin Peaks reference. And a good song. This, luckily, is both.

Tim and I hosted a dear friend’s birthday party on Saturday night. We danced till three am. In the morning. I particularly enjoyed flinging myself recklessly to Marina and the Diamonds’ heart-searing song Shampain.
Next time: Sleep. If I have to stay awake and think about all the ways that I should be sleeping in order to make it happen. Also: a recipe that I believe in to some exaggerated percentage, like 799% or 100% or something.

i’d be so happy i could melt

Before getting into why you might or might not win friends with salad, guess what I did on Monday? Okay, apart from arguing with the internet about how slow it was being, in the hopes that my yelling would motivate it to change its attitude? That aside, I spent significant time learning the dance moves from various music videos. The slowness of the internet didn’t allow for too much but I managed to suss out a decent amount of Gossip Folks, Creep, and uh, the swimming-like arm movements in this Marina and the Diamonds song I’m obsessed with. I haven’t done it in years, it was SO FUN and I’m open to suggestions for further music videos you think would be fun to absorb knowledge from. 
I also made this beautiful salad.

Roxette once sang, in a tune of theirs that I’m really not that fond of but which illustrates my point nicely: “Listen to your heart, there’s nothing else that you can do”. On Monday my heart realised I hadn’t really eaten any vegetables all weekend. My heart’s voice was muffled, as it was coming at me through a thick mantle of sodium build-up. Which, you know, whatever: I eat what I like, when I feel like it. And over the weekend, while working at an event in Auckland for about nine hours on Friday and fifteen hours on Saturday, never sitting, lifting huge boxes, et cetera, my body craved twisties and lollies shaped like snakes with real fruit flavour in order to keep going. And funnel cakes with strawberry sauce. And fruit-dense otai. All of which worked. But once returned to my usual slow-moving non-lifting pace, I noticed a leafy green voice whispering “Spinach. You want it.

I then had this idea that salad dressing made with melted butter instead of oil would taste impressive, and decided to act on it. After all, melted butter and oil are pretty much the same thing structurally. Except melted butter has that salty, nutty, rush-of-blood-to-the-head flavour which can only serve to embiggen a bowl of leaves.

Also able to embiggen leaves are roasted beetroot, croutons, feta, and sweet, round New Zealand grapes. While the Simpsons may have said, nay, conga’d that you don’t win friends with salad, well I at least won myself over with this.

I even swooped in on Tim’s plate and cried “haha! You abandoned this crouton, it’s mine”. To which he replied, “it fell on the floor”. Said crouton was already in my mouth. “Erm…okay. I guess I’ll be fine. Hey, you left this bit of feta, it’s mine!” was my reply. That piece of feta had also fallen on the floor. Was there anything left on his plate that hadn’t fallen on the floor? That wasn’t now being eaten by me? Sadly no. The lesson here is, people generally don’t leave croutons and feta behind, so if they do, be suspicious, or be prepared for some extra germs. Just pretend like you’re eating that yoghurt that’s full of “good bacteria” and you’ll be alright, psychologically anyway.

Roast Beetroot and Spinach Salad with Croutons, Feta, Grapes, and Melted Butter Dressing.

A recipe by me. It’s simpler than my talkative instructions would have you believe.

3 medium beetroot
1 large bunch of spinach
2 large slices of fresh bread from a loaf, or three bits of regular bread from a packet
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup green grapes (the round, beautiful NZ ones if possible)
100g feta
25g butter
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon wasabi
1 lemon

Set your oven to 180 C. Trim the tops and tails off the beetroots, wrap each firmly in tinfoil, and roast on an oven tray for about an hour to an hour and a half – or until a cake tester or skewer will plunge into them unyieldingly. Once they’re done, remove them from the oven and allow to cool slightly. While the beetroot is doing that, spread a sheet of tinfoil across an oven tray – the same one as the beetroot were on, perhaps – and roughly slice the bread into 2cm cubes. Place the bread on the tinfoil, sprinkle over the oil, mix with your hands to make sure everything’s good and oily, then place in the oven for about 5 minutes. At this point you can just turn the oven off and let the residual heat continue to toast the croutons.

Tear up your spinach leaves and rinse them if they look gritty. Throw into your serving bowl. Remove the tinfoil from the beetroot and carefully push/rub the skin off – it should come away easily, revealing smooth, shiny beetroot underneath. Do this for all three then chop them roughly and add to the spinach. 

Finely chop the garlic cloves. Melt the butter in a pan with the garlic and wasabi, stirring it all together as it melts. It’s fine if the butter bubbles a little or starts to brown, this will add to the flavour. Remove from the heat and squeeze in the juice of the lemon (plus its zest if you’re feeling it) and tip over the spinach and beetroot, stirring well. Finally, roughly slice the feta and add 3/4 of it to the salad, along with the grapes and the croutons. Carefully mix so everything’s dispersed, and top with the remaining feta. 

My photos get steadily worse by the way – darkness had fully set in by the time we got round to eating this, and as we creep further into Autumn it’s only going to get darker earlier. Hence why I positioned the good one first to hook you in! Sorry. But a girl’s gotta eat.

Croutons and feta are unsurprisingly exactly the sort of thing you want to find on your fork, but both of them work well with the more austere ingredients. There’s a lot of natural sweetness – from the grapes and the beetroot, and strangely enough the wasabi, and also a lot of delicious nutty flavours from the butter and the beetroot again and even the fresh spinach – reminded me how good fresh spinach actually tastes. Everything works together fantastically. Melted butter as a salad dressing is downright amazing – especially with the mustard-hot wasabi (indeed, use mustard if you don’t have wasabi) and the sweet, sharp lemon stopping it from becoming too throat-cloggingly rich. There’s not even that much there – it was tempting to double the quantities – but this amount neatly coats the salad and lets you know it’s there, without dominating anything else or pooling in the base of the bowl. Although, when I put it like that…

Sunday got off to a non-advantageous start – on the way back from the airport to our place I txt Tim to ask him to come meet me on the streets to help carry my bags home or I might cry from exhaustion. I get a txt from him saying he can’t because our ute has been towed. Oh dear. Seriously, unless you’re rich enough to light your $200 scented candles with $100 notes, don’t go getting your car towed. However things started to look up from there – car achievement unlocked, we squired my in-town-for-the-weekend mum and two of her best friends to brunch and had many laughs and cakes. Went back to our place and had people over for a dual activity day of Drawing Club and the Game of Thrones Board Game. I was still tired and the fresh sting of the towing bill was like lemon juice to a papercut, but nothing like niche activities and plentiful snacks to improve things! There was sangria and cider and pink lemonade and homemade bread rolls and pretzels and mini-donuts (going stale so $3 a dozen! That’s not false economy!) and Polish cookies and chips and onion dip. And friends, dear dear friends.

But no vegetables. Everything else was glorious while it was there, but if I felt like spinach all of a sudden who was I to argue with myself?

It’s impossible to avoid getting pink beetroot stains on the feta, so just go with it. Anyone who tells you they can is a bounder and a cad.

I meant it about the music video suggestions by the way, I’m all ears. Or all face or whatever the internet equivalent of that saying is. Seriously, next time you’re the slightest bit grumpy or uninspired or burdened down by a giant “MEH”, try learning a dance from a music video.

Title via: the always-amazing and inspirational and beautiful but not afraid to get ugly and generally reliably liable to make me drop all pretense of dignity person that is Idina Menzel with her opening song from Wicked: The Wizard and I.
Music lately:

Somehow the whole 90s passed me by without my ever hearing a song from Jan Hellreigel. I knew she existed, her albums were always in those weird catalogues which would get mailed out occasionally and try to rope you into buying CDs monthly for triple the price or something. Discovered her music properly on the 5000 Ways blog the other day, and well, colour me obsessed. Pure Pleasure is pure pleasure.

Lloyd feat Andre 3000, Dedication To My Ex (I Miss That). This has to be the catchiest thing I’ve heard since ever. I don’t know how you describe that kind of stairstep, upwards leaning sound that the chorus has, but I am a sucker for that kind of thing. Regardless of whether I know what it was I’m trying to talk about, this is one snappy tune.
Next time: I really want to try recreating the funnel cakes I had up in Auckland – they seem easy enough, it’s just getting over the fear of hanging out with burning hot oil – but in the meantime I’m going to be hanging out with my friend Kate tomorrow and will likely bake something dreamy to take with…with the sneaky ultierior motive of getting to photograph it for the blog at her sweet house. I do want to hang out with you just as you are though Kate, baking or not!

everybody rise, rise, rise, rise, rise…

I know I’m always trying to work more ice cream into my life, but bread-making is well up there on the continuum of my favourite things to cook. Plunging your hands into soft dough, their warmth kicking it into life, watching it rise like you’re David Attenborough narrating the time-lapsed life cycle of a rare tree, the intoxicating scent of it as it bakes, the impressed gasps of those around you when you tell them that today, you achieved bread. Bread is wonderful enough as it is, but brioche is like the Baby-Sitters Club Super Special edition of the leavened dough family: richer and sweeter and far more exciting. It tastes just like a croissant but is more solid and grippable. Don’t you hate with croissants how all the best bits crumble off upon impact and end up caught in the fibres of your wooly jumper and worked into your ponytail and embedded in the seams of your jeans? (Just one of the reasons I no longer wear jeans.) No danger of this with brioche. All of the butter and none of the disintegration.

I was recently musing upon the great cafe combinations of the nineties. Now I don’t want to come across as a snob. I mean, I eat cold spaghetti from the tin for fun, and I didn’t try couscous for the first time till well into the new millenium. I am no human barometer of what is good. And yet. When I see a chicken, cranberry and camembert panini or apricot and brie panini or whatever being sold for $8.95, I can’t help but shake my head wearily. Do people really like them? Still? Spinach and feta is slightly later on the timeline, if I remember right, but it was the combination of a certain time. And while eating a spinach and feta scone I got to pondering: What’s the deal? What does the spinach even do? It works in spanakopita: surrounded by crunchy pastry and generations of existence, the spinach shines. But sliced up and baked into limp submission inside a scone, it provides green stripes, at best. At worst, it’s bitter, every last particle of it gets caught in your teeth, and it takes up valuable space where more feta could be.
Now mint, on the other hand. Mint provides that toothpaste-cool hit which works beautifully with feta, giving it that summery light-hearted vibe, lifting the saltiness and butteriness with its pure, sweet flavour. And mint is about a twelfth as likely to get in your teeth, since there’s so much less of it.  
As I said, I love bread baking, but I haven’t done it in ages – and really, late afternoon after flying home from my brother’s 21st birthday up home might not have been the most prudent time to embark upon an invented yeast-based recipe. But my instincts were convincing enough that I went ahead with it anyway. And it worked! Thank goodness, because we only buy feta about once every three months and I didn’t want to waste it on a failed project. Brioche is not that scary – the only annoying thing about it is all the time it needs to rise. Three times it rises! Three! But please persevere. It can have varying degrees of butteriness: I only used 90 grams since…that’s what we had in the fridge. Don’t worry about needing any special tins – I spied the muffin tray and thought (okay, maybe I said it aloud) “You there! You’ll do!” I was right.
Feta and Mint Brioches

Makes 8. An idea by me.

500g flour (plain is fine)
1 sachet active dry yeast
3 tablespoons sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup lukewarm water
80g soft butter
pinch salt
100g feta, chopped roughly and mixed with 2 tablespoons chopped mint

In a large bowl mix the flour, sugar, salt and yeast. Crack in the three eggs, pour in the water, and mix to a sticky dough. Knead till soft and bouncy, then massage in the butter, small pieces at a time. This might take a while. But it’s really fun. Leave covered with clingfilm to let it it rise, for about an hour. Punch it down, right square in the middle, then form into a ball and let it rise again for an hour or two in the fridge. Finally, cut it into eight pieces, force a little pocket in the middle of each piece with your finger, then stuff with a little mint-feta mix. Pinch the edges closed, then sit each one in a buttered muffin tin, pinch side down. Leave again – I’m sorry! – for an hour before baking at 200 C for 25 minutes. Carefully lift a brioche up and tap its base – if it sounds hollow, should be all good.

If at any stage you feel you need a little more liquid or flour, trust your instincts, as different ingredients/temperatures/metres above sea level will produce different results. But only go a tiny bit at a time.

The movie A Mighty Wind is one of my very favourites, and it stands up easily to many a re-watch. I’d say I watched it more times last year than I ate feta, for one thing. Since watching it, I’ve latched on to the phrase “it can’t be overstated”, which is used to describe the kiss between Mitch and Micky in their song (okay, you had to be there.) I might overuse it the way some overuse the word “literally” (am looking at you, Chris Traegar, but it’s literally adorable on you) but I like it, and it’s so applicable: the deliciousness of these brioches frankly just can’t be overstated. See?

The crust is crisp and yet with all the buttery promise of a flaky croissant, without the crumbliness.  Inside is soft, golden-tinted and warm with the sharply salty feta dissolving creamily on the tongue. The mint is not there in large quantities, but absolutely present, cooling and contrasting with everything else. Altogether flipping brilliant.

And, as I said, I managed to make it after flying home from my brother’s 21st in the late afternoon, so you can surely do it anytime. We had such an awesome time up home – the party was music-themed (I don’t know about you but my family has a thing with dress-up 21st parties) and Tim and I dressed up as the White Stripes. My Mum and her best friend were Agnetha and Anni-Frid from ABBA, Dad was a Seargeant Peppers-era Beatle, and my brother made a commendable Billy Corgan from the Smashing Pumpkins. It was just one of the best parties I’ve been to. There were streamers, a live band – which Dad used to play with, and which played good music to dance to – not even the sort of music where inside you’re like “Oh my gosh I hate this so much but there are people around that I care about so I’ll pretend to enjoy dancing to it”. Dad – whose birthday it was also, since he’s born on the same day as my brother – got up at one point to do a fairly wild keyboard solo. Later in the evening he and my brother played a rollicking rendition of Saw Her Standing There by the Beatles.

There were alsatians that ran up and down the road and inside the hall. Two giant alsatians! They didn’t seem to be looking for trouble, they could probably just smell the many kilos of ham. Nonetheless, I’d forgotten that that sort of thing just happens at home. And I secretly wanted to confiscate them and make them my pets.

There was a cake that I made and iced to look like a record, at my brother’s request. I may never get the black food colouring off my hands, but with some logistical supervision from Tim and my 9 year old cousin, I think it turned out pretty snazz-tastic.

And there was kilo after kilo of ham. Which we all got to eat the next day after people had arisen from where they fell. I also got to see my long-missed Australian-based Aunty, got to nick the gorgeous – well I think so – bit of fabric that the brioches are sitting on, and…while looking for old schoolbooks of my brothers to festoon the party with, Mum found this that I’d made many years ago:

After the laughter subsided, I realised how little I’ve changed. Obsessive about things and in a super-righteous way; full of dubious ideas that seem great in my head but are a bit awkward on paper; misguidedly entrepreneurial; liable to mix up simple things like AM and PM. But I think I turned out alright in spite of, nay because of it. (Also: if you look closely you’ll see that my signature then did not in anyway resemble my name, but rather a small figure surfing on the back of a swan. This was because I didn’t want to be shackled by the conformity of your signature actually having to look like your name when it could be an artistic expression instead, or SOMETHING. My uncoolness cannot, as they say in A Mighty Wind, be overstated.)
Title via: The Ladies Who Lunch, a song more salty and sharp than feta from Company, one of my favourite musicals. Sung perfectly by the wonderful Elaine Stritch. Please watch. I’m pretty sure even if you don’t like musicals, there might be something in this for you.
Music lately:

Radar Love, Golden Earring. This got played at the party. Mum and Dad both like this song – it has some significance, I can’t remember what exactly – Mum? – and there’s something about watching one’s parents dancing away dressed up as pop stars to a song that makes one like it too.

Wings of a Dragon by the equally glorious husband and wife Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally. Treat yo’self and watch it. As well as being internet-breakingly hilarious, it’s surprisingly catchy.
Next time: Hmm, well it is February, but no love hearts here (Shmalentines! I say.) Might be something sensible and dinner-related, might be a towering cake or something. 

rise up, rise in the morning

Aunt Daisy’s Favourite Cookery Book might appear fairly unpromising at first – a narrow, yellowing fliptop book with no pictures apart from the occasional persuasively worded ad. But it’s an absolute diamond, a paragon of everything you’d hope a cookbook from 1956 to be. Zillions of recipes, roughly 140 of which are for jam, and several of which come with the word “Mock” before or “(Good)” afterwards. It’s funny, there’s this idealisation of your grandma’s era as being so natural and the way to be, but in this book there’s plenty of urging you to set things in gelatine and to add synthetic flavourings to your food. There’s one chapter on vegetables, half of which is devoted to salads made of egg, cheese and potato, while baking and puddings are luxuriated in across several lengthy chapters. It’s fun.

It’s hard to tell if the hilarity is intentional or just of the time. I suspect the latter. It’s partly because of Aunt Daisy’s blunt delivery (“bake in the usual way”) partly because of the things we don’t tend to eat these days – salads set in gelatine, boiled offal as recuperation food for the unfortunate convalescent, and partly her delicious titles – “Matrimony Jam” made of marrow and gooseberries, pudding “(from a man)” and “Lady Windemere Salad”.

My dad’s mother Zelda died in 2002 and I ended up with her Aunt Daisy cookbook in the above photo, as well as a notebook of handwritten recipes and clippings. As far as I know she wasn’t much of a cook (I remember Dad looking doubtfully through the notebook saying “well she never made that“) and to be honest the only food-related memories I have from staying with her are 2-minute noodles and marmite on toasted North’s wheatmeal bread – one of the most hole-prone and flavourless slices around, although I always thought of her when I saw it and was sad when they gussied up their branding recently. Mini kit-kats, and orange juice mixed with lemonade was a very special treat. I really did love 2-minute noodles and Marmite on toast, so these are good memories, by the way.

The fact that she may not have used this Aunt Daisy book doesn’t bother me, the fact that I actually have it is enough. And I’d like to think that since she held onto it at all, for all those years, it must have had some value to her. Over Christmas Mum had the book beautifully rebound for me by this woman in Waiuku and in its new, hardcover, less fragile incarnation I’ve been moved to not just read through it in wonder, but actually cook something from it for the first time in ages.

As soon as I discovered the following recipe I knew that it and I were meant to be in each other’s lives. Because it’s a recipe for bread with condensed milk in it, and that kind of idea and the concept that I could bake it is what gets me out of bed in the morning. It distills into a paragraph everything that was good about the time it was written. I’d been thinking about that soft, sweet bakery bread recently thanks to this conversation, and I wondered if this ingredient would kinda replicate that – it didn’t – but it was still wildly good stuff. And easy as to make – stir, rise, stir-knead-rise, shape, rise, bake. Apart from the kneading – because of the hefty amount of dough the mixture will seem all shaggy and reluctant at first, but it does eventually come together.

White Bread (or “condensed milk bread” as I’ve been referring to it as)

Adapted from Aunt Daisy’s Favourite Cookery Book, 1956 edition

  • 4 dessertspoons sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 1/2 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 sachet dried yeast
  • 7 cups high grade/bread flour
  • salt

Mix together the condensed milk, water and yeast till a little frothy, then stir in 1 cup of the flour and leave, covered, for 15 minutes till somewhat puffy and bubbly.

Stir in the remaining 6 cups flour and a generous amount of salt – Aunt Daisy reckons a dessertspoon – and knead till springy and supple.

Cover and leave to rise for 3/4 of an hour.

At this point, Aunt Daisy says to roll it out to around an inch thick, quarter it squares, then shape and place two pieces each into two loaf tins. I found this slightly confusing, but figured she knew what she was doing, so rolled each piece up and tucked them in pairs into two loaf tins.

Set your oven to 220 C/440 F and leave the loaves for about 15 minutes to become puffy and further risen. I brushed them with melted butter at this point. Bake at this temperature for around 8 minutes and then lower it to 180 to bake them for 45 minutes.

You end up with two brown, somewhat gloriously buttock-like swelling loaves of soft white bread, which are – for all that there are those saucy dessertspoons of sticky-sweet condensed milk – barely sugary. In fact this recipe is pretty austere, with no quantities of milk, no butter, no oil, none of the usual things I’m used to massaging into dough. It has a tense, tight texture which makes it perfect for slicing into adorably small sandwiches and toasts up beautifully, with the slight, fluttery caramel taste of the condensed milk just making itself known. I actually reckon you could comfortably double or even triple the amount of condensed milk in this – but for now I’m extremely happy with these loaves as they are.

I love making bread so much. I realise it comes across as a total mission and it kinda is, but if you’ve never made bread before and you’re curious as to what the fuss is about then this isn’t a bad place to start. I took some slices to work today for lunch, toasted them and spread em with butter and Marmite – still one of my favourite things to eat.

Question + Preamble: Tim and I are stepping up the pace on the glacial path to our trip overseas in March/April and have booked a few important things…we still have a ton more things to book but we wanted some advice: who here has travelled overseas and bought vinyl? What’s the best way to pack it so that you don’t get to your local airport, pick up your bags and discover that your precious records have been smashed into jigsaw puzzle pieces stored in an attractive sleeve?

Title via: The extremely excellent Idina Menzel and her song Rise Up, she’s never actually recorded it but for a while it was an integral part of her live shows and eventually came to have the title it does. Dedicated to her sister, for a few years there was one version which she updated around 2008 to include a punchy chorus. Of course I recommend you listen to both the emotion-soaked original, and the slicker, but still beautiful recent rewrite.

Music lately:

Tim and I went to see the play Diamond Dogs at Bats tonight – apart from the fact that we totally recommend it because it’s fantastic, it also does a decent job of getting Bowie in your head. While I’m not sure it’s really his finest moment, Modern Love is easily one of our favourite Bowie songs and the recurrent nature of its chorus allows it to all the more easily be stuck in your mind.

By the Throat from the (late) Eyedea and Abilities. Amazingly good.

Next time: Possibly Brian O’Brian’s Bran Biscuits, from the same book, if I’m up for it…I have so many things to blog about, just no time to do it in so it depends what I feel like on the day I guess.