cold comfort for change

I used to have a much, much sweeter tooth than I do currently. My idea of a good time tastebud-wise is generally on the savoury-salty-oily-sour side of things, but the me who used to have a thousand-dollar-a-day candy necklace habit (a moderate exaggeration) and think nothing of hooning through love hearts or boxes of Nerds as a modest snack, will apparently always be there below the surface. I say that because I recently found myself having actual dreams, as in while I was asleep, of tables laden with chocolate and cookies and caramelly things and cakes. Naturally, I would then wake up feeling kind of empty, because when you eat in a dream – whatever it signifies – it’s always blurred and hard to get a grip on and leaves you wanting. Because you’re not actually eating, you’re just thinking about it with your eyes closed, duh.

I also recently found myself strongly requiring some kind of soul-soothing comfort food, and so naturally turned to Nigella Lawson. Her book Simply Nigella yielded a recipe for these cookie dough pots – literally just chocolate-studded dough that you bake in ramekins instead of in cookie form, so you get a pleasing combination of slightly crisp top and gooey middle into which to greedily plunge your spoon.

They take about three minutes to throw together and twelve-ish minutes to bake so comfort is really not that far away, however I had like two spoonfuls of the finished product and immediately needed a lie down from the spike in blood sugar. However the second: the actual act of baking something for myself was actually pretty calming in itself, which I guess is worth keeping in mind – sometimes you just need to spend some time doing something that’s for you and you alone, to remind yourself that you are okay. Part of my immediate reaction was possibly also due to the fact that like, Nigella specifies that this makes six ramekins’ worth of cookie dough and I divided the entire mixture between two larger ramekins, so proportionately and with the curve of the earth and whatnot I’d probably actually eaten more than I thought I had. I don’t know, but what I do know is that I bravely soldiered on and consumed the rest of the first, plundered cookie dough pot (pouring some milk into the crevice left by the spoon) and was highly pleased with myself, and was even more pleased with myself when I returned from work many hours later to see the second cookie dough pot waiting for me beside my bed.

cookie dough pots

From Nigella Lawson’s book Simply Nigella, but changed to use cup measures because that’s all I’ve got and much as baking is all specific and stuff, it’s definitely easier this way.

  • 110g soft butter
  • half a cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • one egg
  • one teaspoon vanilla extract
  • one cup plain flour
  • half a teaspoon baking soda
  • one teaspoon sea salt flakes, or half a teaspoon table salt
  • as many and whatever kind of chocolate chips/chunks/pieces as you fancy, really, but like roughly 75g is a good place to start  

Set your oven to 180C/350F and prepare as many ramekins as suits you, but up to six of roughly 200ml capacity. Again, I used only two, so.  

Beat the butter and sugar together, then add the egg and the vanilla and give a further vigorous stirring. Fold in the flour, salt, baking soda, and chocolate, and divide the dough between your ramekins. Bake for 12-15 minutes, at which point the dough should be firm and cookie-like on top, but gooey not much further below. That’s all you have to do.

These are really delicious, which is hardly surprising considering the ingredients, but the just-cooked and barely-barely-cooked dough in tandem feels ludicrously gratuitous and gratuitously ludicrous at the same time, which, I assure you, is a very good thing. I used good milk chocolate because I’m the kind of heathen who can’t really handle just up and eating dark dark chocolate for like, joy and pleasure, but as with pretty much all recipes that I put on here, you do as you please.

Anyway I had a monumentally enormous weekend at work and so any brain capacity that I might have even had the ghost of a chance of possessing beforehand has hitherto been drained, but if comfort food is what your soul also needs right now, may I, by way of further reading, recommend these other hug-like recipes I’ve blogged about: Instant Coconut Custard Semolina (which is also vegan!), Nigella’s Butternut Pasta Soup (also also vegan) and something I that at the time of making I called Demi-lasagne. 

title from:  Pink Floyd’s song Wish You Were Here, I’m all galaxy-brain-meme on Pink Floyd in that I used to be desperately into them at about 18 and then felt like it was uncool to be into them and now I’m all, I think it’s…okay…..to enjoy….things….that I enjoy. Anyway, it’s a good song, you know it is, and a masterpiece in making you wait and wait and wait for the chorus before only playing it ONCE, you spry mavericks.   

music lately:

Speaking of enjoying things that I enjoy, I decided to branch out from just relentlessly thrashing various cast recordings of Les Miserables and also lean into the troubled and patchy musical Chess, which is a musical, about chess, like, how did they not realize this was going to be trouble. Anyway MATE the premise aside – and since when have musicals burdened themselves with worrying about the legitimacy of premise anyway – the music absolutely BANGS. You might know, so well, the song I Know Him So Well or One Night In Bangkok, but Nobody’s Side is the lost ABBA song that gets much less attention than it deserves: try my queen Idina Menzel’s rendition of it at the 2008 concert performance that I remember discussing on message boards and LiveJournal like it was yesterday.

The glassie at work put on Bad Karma by Axel Thesleff while we were closing the other night and I was like what IS this I LOVE it, it’s all hypnotic and mellow which, despite the previous breathless paragraph about no less than two bombastic musicals from the 80s, is a vibe that I really enjoy.

 Vul’Indlela by Brenda Fassie. Just do yourself a favour and listen to this soaring and upbeat and happy pop song.

next time: something aggressively savoury, I imagine  

it was ice cream headaches and sweet avalanche

On the one hand, I absolutely hate tough love and would much rather live in some kind of constructed reality where I’m relentlessly coddled and never need face up to hard truths, on the other hand if I was on top of my game at any given areas of my life, tough love and hard truths wouldn’t need to be a constant burden to be avoided, yeah? Anyway to my great aggrievement, I had to tough-love myself and acknowledge that there is just no feasible way that the ticket to Lana Del Rey’s concert in Melbourne at the end of this month that I bought for myself in a burst of hopefulness earlier this year is going to get used by me, not in this economy. (Although I have best friend and economy expert Kim to thank for getting me to this point, she was essentially like “have you decided what you’re doing” and I was like “I’ve decided to flail endlessly” and she was like “what are your incoming and outgoing funds” and I was like “lol as if I’m supposed to know that kind of thing” and then I kind of investigated and she was like “well there’s your answer.”)

Part of the reason that it was so hard to give up the idea that some eleventh-hour miracle might happen is that I haven’t left the country in six entire years, partly because of life getting in the way of life, mostly because of the old incoming-outgoing paradox, and while traveling for the purpose of pleasure in no way makes you a more interesting or worthy person, I was like, I’m an adult, aren’t I? Why can I not perform this small display of adulthood in the manner of so many other adults? But also being kind to myself in the face of defeat but also not pinning my entire hopes and worth upon one single star when there’s a whole galaxy out there waiting, is also something of a display of adulthood, I GUESS.  (Related: if someone wants to purchase one GA ticket to Lana Del Rey’s concert in Melbourne on 31 March kindly get in touch.)

Meanwhile, I made some ice cream. I would regard ice cream as easily one of my favourite foods; as I’ve said before there’s something about its creamy frozen-ness that is a perfect blank canvas upon which to paint flavour, I love its billowing softness, its glacial richness, its melting sweetness, its, um…I just really like ice cream. My love for ice cream possibly exceeds my ability to talk about ice cream reverently, and you know I store vast reserves of reverence within my brain, like a camel of overexcitement.

Initially when I started making ice cream, well over ten years ago now, I would either do the traditional method – gently cooking egg yolks and cream into a rich custard – or Nigella’s swift method, literally just sugared whipped cream – but my current favourite base recipe that I find it impossible to extricate myself from because it’s so easy and makes perfect ice cream every time, is a mixture of condensed milk and cream. So this time around my idea was tahini and honey – tahini is a thick, rich paste of ground sesame seeds, with a really wonderful toasty nutty flavour and the texture of peanut butter. Even if you’ve never bought any you’ve probably had it before as it’s an ingredient in hummus.

This makes for a really lovely, slightly unusual flavoured ice cream – there’s an almost savoury quality to all that sesame, but its toasty nuttiness, and I’m sorry to re-use adjectives but there’s only so many bloody ways to say it – is just wonderful against the thick, soft, creamy backdrop of the ice cream. The honey adds gentle sweetness and all in all it’s a very mellow, mild ice cream, the sort that would be ideal under lots of toppings – some toasted pine nuts or walnuts, a further drizzle of sticky, slow-moving honey, some dark, dark melted chocolate, or as I did, a scattering of sesame seeds, for obvious reasons.

tahini honey ice cream

  • 50g butter
  • three heaped tablespoons tahini
  • thre heaped tablespoons honey
  • one can sweetened condensed milk
  • 600ml cream  
  • sea salt  

Stir the butter, honey, and tahini together in a saucepan over a low heat until the butter is melted and it’s juuuust at the ghost of a simmer, like, remove it from the heat just when bubbles start to form on the surface. Stir in the condensed milk and a decent pinch of sea salt. Whisk the cream in a large bowl till it’s just thickened but not whipped – thick enough to be kind of billowy and bordering-on-solid but not actually in stiff peaks, you know? Mix the cream into the tahini honey mixture any way you like – I poured half the cream into the tahini and whisked it and then poured that into the remaining whisked cream and folded it together but honestly literally, whatever.  

Spatula all this into a container of roughly 1 litre and freeze overnight or until solid. 

For me the most difficult part making of ice cream is probably waiting around for it to freeze solid enough to be eaten, other than that hardship I assure you that this recipe, as I hope for all my ice cream recipes to be, is really pretty easy and requires nothing more than a spoon, a pan, and a freezer-safe container. Something about the density of the sweetened condensed milk (or it could be any other scientific reason beyond my comprehension, the point is, it works) prevents any ice crystals from forming, meaning all you have to do is bung the mixture in the freezer and leave it alone, without any stirring or blending or further agitation until the blissful moment of actually eating it.

Gloomily accepting my lot in life aside, I did have a high-achieving week: I flew up home to Waiuku to spend two nights with my parents, catch up with an awful lot of family all at once, be roundly ignored by the cats, and pick up some total clothing gems at the local op shop, before scooting briefly up to Auckland to see Fall Out Boy in concert, the result of a ticket I purchased a long time ago and completely forgot about until quite recently. It was lovely to go home and see everyone, and the concert itself was just wonderful, such naked earnestness (luckily the nudity remained metaphorical only), such whoa-oh-ohs, such specificity of lyrics that it’s like, how dare you.  Just in case you thought I was exaggerating about well, literally anything earlier, the only way I was able to spatula myself on a mere visit to Auckland was with financial assistance from my parents for the flights, but one out of two concerts in one month isn’t bad, I guess. And if nothing else there’s no better music to listen to when you’re feeling sad about Lana Del Rey than Lana Del Rey, she is to sad moods what like, salt is to tomatoes.

And if nothing else, I did manage to finally get my application for my passport sent off, including an injurously bad photo that I refuse to acknowledge is an accurate representation of me in the slightest, considering my current passport expired in 2014 (I’m literally grinning in the photo inside it, can’t do that anymore) I’m mildly proud of myself.

While we’re talking ice cream I have any number of other recipes to recommend to you if you’re interested, but instead I offer you some recipes with which to use the rest of the jar of tahini – such as Green Tea Soba Noodles with Tahini Satay Sauce; Ottolenghi’s Roasted Butternut with Lime, Yoghurt Tahini Sauce, and Chilli; or this truly incredible Halvah Shortbread.

title from: Carpal Tunnel of Love, by Fall Out Boy, as I am nothing if not topical.

music lately:

A nice thing about working at Laundry bar is that there’s regularly DJ sets to bop to, and the very last song on Saturday night just got me right in the heart, it was a remix of Beth Orton’s song Central Reservation and it just filled me with euphoria, which, at the tail end of a long shift is like, a cool feeling. I haven’t been able to find the exact version that I heard but this one will do in the meantime.

Another song that stopped me in my tracks at work was when one of the DJ’s just casually dared to drop Rez by Underworld, like, did they not realize that when this song is playing I am capable of naught but standing with my eyes closed and waving my arms around in what I hope is roughly a graceful fashion, interrupted only by some jumping up and down with little regard for objects or people around me? This song is just magical.

Deftones, My Own Summer. Respectfully, shove it.

next time: Well, I still have half a jar of tahini left.

rye whiskey makes the band sound better, makes your baby cuter, makes itself taste sweeter, oh boy

I would be filled with consternation and a rage as hot as the fire of a thousand French fries about the monogamous relationship I’ve drifted into with my concussion if doing so didn’t require so much energy. Previously, on the TV show that I self-absorbedly regard my life to be (and please read this in the solemn tone of the “Previously, on” voice over artist of your choice) I relayed the tale of how I fainted and whacked my head and as such have not been up to much at all other than sleeping and going to work, well guess what, I have nothing new to report!

But I refuse to let this slow me down, achieving such (topically!) Olympian feats as walking two blocks to the chemist to get my passport photos taken before having to go back home for a nap.

Even previously-er, I mentioned that I was the proud recipient of a place in the finals of the Perfect Blend cocktail competition, held by Beam Suntory; this week I’ve had my cocktail available at work and it’s like…really fun! I mean I love anything where I get the opportunity to draw attention to myself, it’s not often that the opportunity is fairly legitimate and not just me being all, with neither context nor requisition, “look at me!”

 (Look at me!) (also lol I screencapped this from instagram and there’s still the scroll left dots at the bottom) (also my massively talented friend  Ryan Dominico  took this photo!)   (Look at me!) (also lol I screencapped this from instagram and there’s still the scroll left dots at the bottom) (also my massively talented friend Ryan Dominico took this photo!)

Anyway I’ve cooked precisely one (1) thing this week and that was a coffee cake for my Frasier food blog, and yeah you should definitely go read it, but delicious as it was I couldn’t exactly double up on the recipe here, that would be a move lazier than even I could countenance (I was not so lazy that I didn’t end up looking up “the shortest distance between two points is called what” to illustrate this, uh, point, and found an Archimedes quote being all “it’s a straight line”, like COOL STORY Archimedes, of course it’s a straight line, this is not a compelling quote, stick to excitedly getting in the bath, mate.)

As such I thought I would, since I occasionally foray into drink recipes on here, cocktails being one of my true loves in this life (unlike my frosty and passionless relationship with my concussion!) share the recipe for my competition cocktail – the Wry Aside – with you all. You can now, should you choose, make it yourself at home or indeed, in any location. Yes, it involves some significant legwork and the procurement of several alcohols, but if nothing else I’m hoping this will give a little insight into the building of a cocktail and the process I took to achieve this drink of mine. Plus, having a recipe with multiple sub-recipes nestled within it makes me feel extremely Dominique Crenn-esque, a feeling that can’t be had enough, quite frankly.

Wry Aside

a recipe by myself

Beetroot purée: 

  • three large, fresh beetroot
  • a dash of olive oil
  • roughly a quarter cup of lime juice 

Set your oven to 180C/350F. Trim the tops and tails off the beetroot, slice them roughly into quarters, and place in a roasting dish. Drizzle with the scantest amount of olive oil and bake for around 40 minutes, although check them occasionally, until they are slightly crisp and wrinkled without and extremely tender within. Using a high speed blender or whatever similar appliance you have on your person, blitz the beetroot with the lime juice (mostly there so that the motor doesn’t stress out completely. Transfer this into a jar and refrigerate till needed. 

 Blackberry and Pink Peppercorn Liqueur 

This is really more of a highly alcoholic syrup, if you want to actually drink it on its own I would add sugar to taste, rather than to my specs.  

  • Two cups frozen blackberries (I mean, I assume this is how you’re going to get them, fresh is A-ok) 
  • Two tablespoons pink peppercorns
  • 600ml overproof Jamaican rum  
  • white sugar 
  • two tablespoons citric acid

Put the blackberries, pink peppercorns, and rum in a non-reactive mixing bowl or jug. Cover and leave for at least six hours or overnight. At this point, give it a good stir, mashing up some of the berries to release as much juice and color as possible; then strain it into another jug. Weigh this liquid and add the same weight of white sugar, plus the citric acid, stirring to dissolve it. Refrigerate till needed.

 Beetroot Garnish

  • one small, fresh beetroot

Slice the beetroot into thin discs. Roast slowly in a hot oven or better yet, place them in a dehydrator until crisp enough to hold their shape. If you’re going to dehydrate them, cut a slit halfway through each slice, if you’re roasting the slices you can cut them when you need them. Either way, this slit then slots onto the coupe glass that you serve the drink in, a bit like a lime wheel or something, y’know?  

To make the cocktail: 

  • 50ml Jim Beam Rye
  • 15ml sweet vermouth (not one that’s too sweet, mind) 
  • 30ml blackberry and pink peppercorn liqueur
  • two heaped barspoons of beetroot purée  
  • 25ml freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 5ml lime juice

Shake everything hard in an ice-filled cocktail shaker or jam jar or whatever sealable vessel you have to hand (I’ve used a biscuit tin once when things were really desperate) and double strain (that is, use a small sieve held over the serving glass to make the texture silky smooth and to remove any bits of beetroot and such) into a coupe glass. Stick a wheel of dehydrated beetroot on the lip of the glass by way of garnish.

That’s ALL you have to do!

  (photo again, by  Ryan Dominico ) (Thanks, Ryan!)   (photo again, by Ryan Dominico ) (Thanks, Ryan!)

So yeah, there’s a lot of prep involved to get to the moment where you actually get to drink the damn thing, but I wanted a drink that was thoughtful and that didn’t have any chance of being replicated previously, as opposed to pedantry for the sake of it. I adore rye – the Sazerac is my favourite cocktail of all time – and I wanted the dry, slight spiciness of the Jim Beam Rye to be met with sweetness and earthiness: the beetroot thing was more about trying to capture the nutty caramelised flavour of roasted beetroot rather than just willfully flinging vegetables at random into a cocktail shaker. I love the gentle warmth of pink peppercorns and the juicy tartness of blackberries, I also liked the dovetailing of similar colours even though obviously the peppercorns don’t actually lend any tint to the liqueur. But anyway! You can read more about the story behind this drink at the World Bartender Day website (you have to enter your date of birth, then click on the Perfect Blend button, then the NZ button, then scroll down to find me but IT’S THERE) as well as checking out the other dazzling finalists and their drinks. There’s a mighty decent number of finalists from Wellington, I’m super proud to be part of it all alongside so many friends. Oh and non-negotiably but only if you want, come get the drink off me at my place-of-employ, Laundry Bar.

The finals themselves are on April 16th, and yes, I hear you gasp, that is the day before my birthday! Whilst I’m like, deeply competitive and winning stuff is definitely a hobby of mine, I also really extremely love public speaking and so like, getting a microphone and an audience? Best birthday ever already.

Oh and if you are all, I can’t believe this blog post is over! What next for my life? Then may I direct your attention to my blog post about the time I made vegan gin sours with aquafaba; the time I made Fernet-Branca ice cream; or the time I went to Hanging Ditch and tried a ton of their cocktails.

title from:  Rye Whiskey by the Punch Brothers, a rambunctious and foot-stomping and admittedly cautionary tale via the medium of bluegrass. 

music lately: 

After mentioning that I was going up to Auckland to see Fall Out Boy this March, a customer at work gave me a list of bands I should listen to and like, they were all such good recommendations! To pluck but one from this list I’m going to recommend in turn that you listen to American Football and their song I’ll See You When We’re Both Not So Emotional, which like…lol.

It was Rihanna’s birthday recently and on social media at least it felt like the whole world was celebrating, as well they might be! Love on the Brain is just one of the most beautiful songs on earth.

next time:  If I’m not feeling more energetic and recovered from this concussion I’m going to do absolutely nothing about it, aren’t I!!! 

 

you gorgeous stack of pancakes you, you’re going nowhere till I’m through

I’m sure I’ve said it before but do you ever like, stop and think to yourself, “it’s as if life is a series of unrelated events that are by and large out of our control?” No sooner had I landed myself a plummy new job and started to enjoy the unsought but distinct pleasure of bartending as a non-General Manager with absolutely zero wider responsibility, no sooner did all that come to fruition than I bloody went and fainted while trying to procure a ticket to a film (Call Me By Your Name, and no, I still haven’t seen it), falling straight over backwards in some kind of misguided trust fall, landing on my head and achieving what I’m quite certain is a concussion that’s really keen to overstay its welcome. As a result I’m aggressively lethargic with bursts of low-key nausea and just a general inability to do much of anything, and it’s SO annoying. Like, I didn’t put in all that effort to come out the other side of depressionfest 2016/17 just to land in the middle of this faux-depression bedridden state. Like, why don’t I just contract mono while I’m at it, who would even know the difference! Might as well develop anemia! What’s the point in anything! I would drop kick something at the wall in contempt to prove my point right now but I don’t have the energy (does anything prove a point as much as drop kicking something contemptuously though? I think not.)

I mean I’m like, totally fine, I just require a lot more resting than usual and it is a hope devoutly to be wished that I bounce back to my usual self soon. Pretty much all I’ve been doing is resting and drinking a metric butt ton of water, neither of which can be doing me any harm, all things considered. But just as Whitney Houston was saving all her love for you, I save all my energy for work, and then have been up to absolutely SQUAT of consequence in between, hence why it’s taken me a while to get my act together to write another blog post already.

Luckily I made these coconut pancakes a while back and then forgot to write about them, so the photos have been sitting patiently and serenely waiting for me to remember they exist, allowing me to produce a blog post all of a sudden with very little prior effort.

This recipe comes from my own cookbook, which was published roughly three lifetimes ago by Penguin (when I say three lifetimes ago, like, my old flatmate looked at it and asked if my sister wrote it because she didn’t think the person in the photos was me.) The excellent thing about these pancakes is that you can make them when you’ve got barely any ingredients in the house, and even if you must dash down to the corner shop to pick something up there’s nothing of great expense involved. In turn, they are also vegan, if that’s of interest to you: I chose to smother them in butter because I really like the stuff, but obviously if you’re already not into dairy then you can put what you like on them.

It takes barely a minute to whisk together the ingredients and even less time for them to fry merrily in a pan, yielding you a fat stack of thick, fluffy pancakes, the sort that might appear on the breakfast table in a Disney cartoon or a TV show where they’re inexplicably constantly eating lavish brunches that they continuously and wastefully abandon (okay I’m talking about Gossip Girl and I’m still mad about it, why are they always sitting at these groaningly laden tables if they’re just going to eat like, one strawberry and then stride off in a huff about the cotillion ball?)

coconut pancakes

a recipe from my literal cookbook

  • one can coconut milk (the standard size kind, I think they’re like…330ml? 400?)
  • 250g plain flour (roughly one and a half cups)
  • half a teaspoon baking powder
  • 50g sugar
  • quarter of a teaspoon baking soda
  • two teaspoons vanilla extract

Sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda together and stir in the sugar. Tip in the can of coconut milk and the vanilla and whisk to form a smooth, pale batter.

Heat up a large nonstick pan and cook heaped spoonfuls of the batter on it, flipping them over carefully when small holes form on the surface. Stack em up and eat them at your leisure.

I chose to make these more diminuitive, pikelet style, but big, small, Mickey Mouse ears, whatever you like works. They’re not actually particularly coconutty in flavour – it’s more a mellow sweetness, helped by the generous addition of vanilla. I don’t know how they’re so softly light and fluffy when there’s no eggs, I believe some magical alchemy occurs when baking soda interacts with pretty much anything, but they taste so good that I’m happy to not really question it too much and instead congratulate myself on my eyes-closed-head-first-can’t-lose instincts that helped me formulate this recipe in the first place. It’s also worth knowing, perhaps, that they reheat well in the microwave should you not be able to snarf them all in one sitting.

For all the dramatics (and I maintain that I’m never actually dramatic, I’m just responding at the precise level that a situation requires and that just often happens to require HIGH DRAMA) I have actually achieved 1 (one) thing recently: I started a Frasier food blog. I know, I struggle enough to keep this one updated! But! I also do what I want and I wanted to do this! It’s called La Cigar Volant and basically what I do is make a recipe inspired by every episode of Season 1 of the show, it’s very very low key because I didn’t want to make it into too much hard work but I’m also really quite pleased with it. It’s something that’s been in my head for a while now and I just watch SO much Frasier and hearing the immensely sad news that John Mahoney, who played Martin Crane on the show, had died, kinda spurred me on.  So if you’re even one finely-shaven sliver as obsessed with Frasier as I am, kindly give it a hoon.

And if you’re particularly on a pancake buzz right now, may I also draw attention to other blog posts of mine, such as Halloumi Pancakes with Fried Sage, Butter and Walnuts;  Lemonade Pancakes with Strawberry Sauce; or Cornbread Pancakes.

title from: PJ Harvey’s snarly and deliciously named song Primed and Ticking, a relative rarity from a John Peel session.  

music lately: 

Kate Nash’s new song Drink About You, like…shut up Kate Nash! I don’t need this right now!!!! (It’s perfect.)

Stabbing Westward, Save Yourself. I made a Spotify playlist called “songs to pierce ur eyebrow to” and you know this was the first thing I put on there. (There’s also like, Filter, Linkin Park, Hed PE, that song about the bodies and letting them hit the floor, you know the vibe I mean!!)

Scritti Politti, The Sweetest Girl. I love this odd, otherworldly, strange song so much.

next time: Mate! I went to the vege market today for the first time in forever and bought some perfect peaches, I’m thinking maybe peach crumble or some kind of rustic (read: messy as hell) tart. 

cold as ice cream but still as sweet, dry your eyes sunday girl

My current response to “how are you” is that my one personality is being overheated and that’s how I’m doing, thanks very much (and honestly, how am I? What kind of a question is that in this economy?) As such, the only thing to do is make ice cream, put it in the freezer, and then eat it, in lieu of being able to stash myself in said freezer. Oh sure, one shouldn’t complain, this is Wellington, city of a thousand winters, but as a pale vampire nursing a thriving vitamin D deficiency living in a bedroom with a microclimate that’s increasingly not unlike a dense rainforest, it’s all a bit much! (An alternate response to “how are you” is to coolly inform them that you’re coming out of your cage and you’re doing just fine.)

This is not just any old ice cream – although it never is. I suppose we could generously concede that I have one other personality trait, that I’m a bartender, and as such concocting cocktails and imagining various combinations of x and y poison regularly occupy my thoughts. In this case, I thought it would be fun to take Fernet-Branca, the “bartender’s handshake”, an ancient and storied Italian bitters that we doggedly take pride in necking shots of at every opportunity, and incorporate it into my favourite food.

I first became aware of Fernet-Branca when it was mentioned in Jilly Cooper’s rollicking and bonk-heavy novel Rivals; (side note: it’s really the only book of hers I can stomach and it’s heavily problematic but on the whole I adore Declan and Caitlin and Taggie and Rupert and Lizzie like they’re old friends and basically she was never more winning than in this particular book and I like to reread it every summer.) The character Rupert Campbell-Black has had the memoirs of his ludicrously prolific sex life published in the local paper in an attempt to Campbell-Blacken his name ahead of a bid for a television franchise (idk, it’s the plot) and his friend Basil Baddingham (really) offers him a Fernet-Branca as fortification before he reads it. If it’s the sort of thing offered on that level of apocalyptic magnitude, you can see why it’s a bolstering shot for bartenders to drink at any occasion, like a wine match but for your emotions. All of them.

When I was at Motel bar we would have shots of it at midnight, as an oh-we’re-halfway-there-living-on-a-prayer type reinforcement. Like sailors with their rations of rum, we had our Fernet, and we kind of revelled in the romanticism of it all, from hosting a tasting with the (wonderful, lovely, raucously good fun) brand supplier to making a fidget spinner in the shape of the logo (never thought I’d use the words romanticism and fidget spinner together in a sentence, but it is 2018.) On the final night of Motel’s existence – New Year’s Eve – my contribution to the cocktail list naturally had Fernet Branca in it.

Not everyone likes it, and nor should they, but I am not particularly sorry for taking joy in the shared experience of it because honestly, bartending is a hard, often thankless, mop-bucket-water covered, underpaid, underslept occupation and you’ve got to derive joy from stuff where you can! Don’t get me wrong: the flavour is challenging. Some would say appalling. As my brand t-shirt says, it contains 27 herbs and all of them legal, and it’s literally medicinal (or so we insist), so if you get “mouthwash but harsher” or “jaeger but without the sugar” vibes then that’s, like, more or less accurate. But I figured that against a backdrop of soft, mellowly rich cream and sugar its aggressiveness would be mollified into gentle tones of mint, and I was delighted to be proven right. In all honesty sometimes I swear I taste actual dirt when I drink the stuff, but any rough edges are muffled and calmed by all that dairy. Before it gets all too easy though I also folded in paper-thin, irregularly shaped shards of dark, dark chocolate (made by melting it on a sheet of baking paper and then letting it set before breaking it up.) The bitterness of the chocolate is a natural pair for the Fernet and interrupts the smoothness of the ice cream with its fragile crunch.

It’s also, as is so often my aim, really easy to make. I’ve no capacity for making a yolk-heavy anglaise in this heat, so instead I just bung together some cream and some sweetened condensed milk, which come together to make an ice cream of rapturously soft velveteen-ness. Oh and you don’t need an ice cream machine to make this, or any of my ice cream recipes.

fernet-branca stracciatella ice cream

a recipe by myself

  • two shots (60ml or quarter of a cup) Fernet-Branca
  • one tin of sweetened condensed milk 
  • 800ml cream
  • 100g dark chocolate

Firstly sort out the chocolate: rip a large sheet of baking paper and lay it on the bench, then gently melt the chocolate (I do it in short bursts in the microwave, once the squares start to look like they’re about to collapse and lose their shape you can give it a stir and it should just turn into liquid.) Spatula it out in an even, thin layer onto the sheet of baking paper and leave to harden. If your house is super warm, pop it in the fridge instead. 

Whisk the cream with moderate enthusiasm until it’s thickened and lightly aerated but not whipped, which should only take thirty seconds or so. Tip in the tin of condensed milk, scraping out every last sticky vestige from inside, and add the Fernet. Whisk again to combine.

Tip it into a container of about 1.5L capacity and put it in the freezer for a few hours. At this point, crumble up the sheet of chocolate – the easiest way to do this is to just fold up and scrunch the baking paper so it all breaks up into uneven pieces – and fold it into the slightly-solidified ice cream. Return it to the freezer and leave until it’s, well, ice cream. 

 Yes, I did take home quite a bit of merch when the bar closed.  Yes, I did take home quite a bit of merch when the bar closed.

                  I considered calling it Mint Choc Chip for Grown Ups but that felt a bit elitist, although possibly it’s even more elitist to call it Stracciatella, which refers to the thin, shard style of chocolate stirred in. Since Fernet itself is Italian I figured, might as well go full immersion. But all you need to know is that it’s just extremely delicious stuff, an icy herbal minty kick blanketed in sweet frozen cream with the welcome interruption of chocolate, what’s not to love? Don’t be tempted to add more Fernet to the ice cream itself, or the alcohol content will act as aggressive anti-freeze, I suggest instead eating it affogato style with a further shot upended over a scoop of the stuff.   

Oh and speaking of conviviality and bartending and stuff I’m now working at Laundry Bar, and having an excellent time of it, thank you. It’s so good to be bartending again! There’s a bit in the aforementioned book Rivals where Cameron Cook is all “I only feel alive when I see my name in the credits of shows I’ve produced” and while I don’t want to be that codependent on my job I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being immensely fulfilled by something that also happens to pay your rent, and in my case making cocktails is what makes me super happy, it just is what it is.

Should all this talk of ice cream get your fancy tickled, I’d also like to recommend some other supremely easy recipes of mine that I’ve blogged about:  apple cinnamon ice cream; cocoa and olive oil sorbet; or grapefruit ripple ice cream are a fine place to start.

title from: Blondie’s upbeat yet wistful (best genre) song Sunday Girl. 

music lately:

I’ve been listening to a LOT of Teenage Fanclub. Their song Norman 3 is just like, so bloody nice, don’t let the suspiciously drab title fool you. The chorus is repeated so many times that you think your brain is short-circuiting but then you just never want it to end.

I have also been fiending Less Than Jake, to pluck one from the air, History of a Boring Town is v good.

Don’t even think for a second that I’m not still on my Les Miserables buzz. Let’s hear it for Philip Quast, whose surname sounds like a Harry Potter in-universe curse word, generally accepted to be the definitive Javert, just flawlessly delivering on his big number, Stars. I adore his enunciation (“this I swehhhhh by the stars”).

next time: I made some vegan coconut pikelets the other day but it was too hot to talk about anything but ice cream so this recipe took precedence. So; next time! 

we can make it if we try, for the sake of you and i

Me: new year, new me! Anything could happEn!!

Also me: sets my alarm really early in the morning to make a birthday cake for someone dear to me, goes and buys ingredients, makes a ton of buttercream, puts the cake layers in the oven, realises the oven is broken, because OF COURSE, eats a not insignificant quantity of the buttercream, accepts own fate of being inescapably unable to escape own fate.

Luckily the birthday person in question found this hugely amusing.

Despite largely failing without fail, one thing I did without failing this week was make myself a small, serene jar of pickled radishes. There’s something about preserving things that’s so soothing and self-care-y; I guess maybe because you’re literally investing in your own future? The world cannot end if you have to allow for some vinegar-soaked thing quietly maturing in the fridge for not-quite-yet consumption, yeah? It’s also an act of resourcefulness (would it be more resourceful to not spend my scarce money on radishes in the first place, probably, but whatever) which feels good, and things twinkling away in jars are pleasing to the eye, and therefore, the soul.

Plus, these pickled radishes taste completely fantastic. I used Nigella’s easy recipe for quick-pickled carrots in her book Simply Nigella as a starting point. Indeed, I used Nigella’s enthusiasm for pickling things altogether as even more of a starting point, even though the tone of Simply seems a little more muted and subdued compared to her previous entries, her delight in this particular area of cooking cannot help but be infectious. On the other hand, I’ve always been all “how high” to her “jump”, so who really knows, the point is: I made some pickled radishes and it was easy and good.

I decided it might be fun to replace the water in the pickling liquid with sake, as in, Japanese rice wine, feeling that its clean, granular flavour would complement the clean, icy-peppery flavour of the radishes. I used plain old apple cider vinegar because that’s what I had, but next time around – and there will be a next time – I reckon I’d also spring for rice vinegar. The sake itself is not expensive stuff, I literally just was like, which one is cheapest and good for cooking and got pointed in the direction of a modest bottle for a mere $9.

sake pickled radishes

a recipe by myself, inspired by a recipe of Nigella’s. 

  • Like…six? radishes? Enough to fill a small jar once sliced? How is anyone supposed to know this
  • 125ml/half a cup of apple cider vinegar
  • 125ml/half a cup of sake
  • two teaspoons sea salt flakes
  • two teaspoons honey
  • one bay leaf
  • a few coriander seeds

Thinly slice the radishes into coins, and pack them into a small, clean jar of about 300ml. Put the rest of the ingredients into a small pan and heat till just boiling. Remove the bay leaf from the pan and then carefully tip the liquid over the radishes in the jar, put the lid on, and refrigerate them till cold. 

The fuchsia-coloured skin of the radishes merges into their icy white flesh once they’ve been sitting in the jar for a while, giving you sour-sweet crunchy disks of breathtaking millennial pink. Use them to adorn sandwiches, salads, tacos, bowls of rice (my preference), as part of a cheeseboard or charcuterie platter, whatever you fancy. The bright pink pickling liquid is nice used in a dressing with some soy sauce and sesame oil, nothing need go to waste.

It’s obnoxiously humid currently in Wellington and honestly I wish I could submerge myself in liquid and store myself in the fridge; till the technology comes to make that viable I’m stuck eating cold things instead to try and regulate my soaring temperature, for which these pickles will do quite, quite nicely.

If you are feeling exceptionally pickled-minded (ha) then may I also interest you in some other blog posts I’ve done on this very subject: like this recipe for taco pickles, this recipe for pickled blueberries, and this recipe for lime pickle, that is, limes done in the same way as preserved lemons.

title from: a slight reach here with this…I want to say heteronym? But nevertheless I’m never sorry about drawing your attention to Don’t Let Go (Love), an absolutely impeccable song by En Vogue.

music lately:

Green Grow the Rushes O, an earnest English folk song that dates back at least to the mid-1800s, mentioned frequently, (and inspiration for the title of) Jilly Cooper’s novel Rivals. I first read this book well over ten years ago but only just decided to actually look up the song. My verdict: it’s a banger!

So Alive, a 1989 song by Love and Rockets that is far more sultry than it has any business to be.

Nobody Needs To Know, sung by Norbert Leo Butz from the cast recording for 2002 off-Broadway musical The Last Five Years, filed under “songs I can only listen to occasionally due to the ensuing feelings!” The slow build and the squalling violins (or whatever it is) and the mood of what I once read somewhere described as “regret bordering on horror” makes for intense listening, and Norbert and his hard “r” pronunciation are right there to carry you through it all.

next time: well I have a LOT of buttercream, still. 

came to my senses and i chilled for a bit

Well I for one went from being aggressively employed on December 31 2017 to aggressively unemployed on January 1 2018, giving the whole “New Year New Me” ethos an unsettling spin. There’s no such thing as long story short with me, but to bring you quickly up to speed in a “previously, on Laura’s Life” kind of fashion, the bar that I ran – Motel – closed for good and I, as such, am now a bartender without a bar. There’s this scene in an episode of Parks and Recreation where Leslie Knope has been suspended from work and nevertheless scurries in to grab folders with the aim of running the entire faculty from home; I myself am wary of the fact that I might break into my friends’ houses and start furiously polishing their glasses and attempting to sell their own cups of tea back to them at any minute. If a shark stops swimming it dies; and I don’t know how to stop swimming. However, unlike the shark, I’m going to be fine. I am blessed, dubiously, with idiotic serendipity – like I’ll get hit by a bus but I’ll find $2 on the ground as I lie there bleeding out, that kind of thing. As such I have faith that I’ll land on my feet, even if I bounce around for a bit first.

It’s hard though! The 11th hour number of the Broadway musical A Chorus Line is called Music and the MIrror, where the character Cassie is at her wits end because she just wants a part in the show, to be allowed to dance, and instead she keeps getting told that she’s overqualified, she’s too old, whatever. Her monologue is heartbreaking. “God I’m a dancer, a dancer dances” is where I’m at right now (and her insisting of “I’ll do you proud” makes me tear up every time) but also I’m trying really hard to actually genuinely relax since I know I need it. I’m not interested in playing Burn Out Olympics, but I definitely was running on empty for a while there and this enforced break surely must be good for me. Basically I’ve decided to see this whole thing as the universe handing me a new chapter, unasked for though it was, and to embrace the excitement of the fact that anything could happen. Anything at all!

In the meantime, there is no reason, other than the jet lag levels of lethargy I’ve been experiencing since halting production suddenly, why I can’t devote a whole lot more time to this blog. The weather has been just staggeringly sunny and warm and so cooking is not a massively come-hither activity, but I made myself a chilled soup for lunch and can envisage this recipe making several encores should the weather continue thusly. At this point I acknowledge that every time I talk about soup on this blog I always have a preamble about how boring soup is and none but THIS recipe has ever turned my head, maybe I need to come to terms with the fact that I do kind of like soup.

The recipe comes from the glorious 1954 Alice B Toklas cookbook. Probably best known as the partner of repetition-inclined poet Gertrude Stein (who wrote a poem for her called Tender Buttons, hello) Toklas is an engaging writer in her own right and collected a wonderful range of recipes with the most fabulous names. Sheharezade’s Melon. Pink Pompadour Bass. Chicken In Half Mourning. A Fine Fat Pullet. A Hen With Golden Eggs. Raspberry Flummery. Roast Beef For A Rainy Day. A hilariously un-coy recipe for “Haschich Fudge” (“It might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies’ Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the D.A.R”) (“two pieces are quite sufficient.”) The anecdotes are marvelously glamorous. Of soup itself, Toklas gets to this recipe by way of explaining the different regional soups that bear relation to each other – “surely the calle de las Sierpes, the liveliest, most seductive of streets, would produce the cookbook that would answer the burning consuming question of how to prepare a gazpacho.” Heavens!

Chilled soup though, what a revelation! In this weather any extraneous movements will overheat you, so free yourself from the punishing labour of chewing and instead just drink in this bowl of iced silk. Eggplant has a total lusciousness already, purée it and it somehow becomes even more satiny and lush. Thick Greek yoghurt adds body and tangy lightness, and I like to eat it with a river of olive oil gouging its way through the surface and plenty of sea salt. Plus, I admit, I added some toasted sunflower seeds for texture so there actually is some chewing involved, but for the most part you can consume this with your eyes closed. More importantly, you can make it in an equally closed-eyed fashion as well.

Tarata (chilled eggplant and Greek yoghurt soup)

Adapted from a recipe in the Alice B Toklas cookbook. 

  • one eggplant
  • one red or yellow capsicum
  • two tablespoons of olive oil
  • two garlic cloves (or more, I ain’t stopping you)
  • 250ml/one cup thick plain Greek yoghurt
  • sea salt
  • extra virgin olive oil, chopped fresh mint, etc (to serve, optional) 

Peel the eggplant (easiest to do this lengthwise) and remove the stem and core from the capsicum, roughly chop both. You could just bin the purple ribbons of eggplant skin, but I fried them till crunchy and ate them sprinkled with salt, it was pretty good. 

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and gently fry the eggplant, capsicum, and the garlic cloves (no need to chop them or anything) until all softened and just barely browned. 

Allow this to cool a little, then purée it in a blender. Add a fat pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil, plus the yoghurt, and blend again to combine. You could actually eat it now at room temperature and have a good time of it, but otherwise refrigerate it till it’s ice cold and then consume at your nearest convenience, adding more olive oil, salt, and anything else you fancy.

This makes enough for two servings. Alice B Toklas makes six times the amount of this, if that’s how much you fancy then by all means go ahead. I kept the garlic proportions the same as her original six-person recipe, but that’s just how I feel about garlic. If it thickens up too much from its time in the fridge just add more yoghurt.

So what am I going to do next? Continue with this relaxing lark while attempting to hustle a fresh new bartending job are my two main objectives. With any luck, I’ll be able to have the headspace to do more on this blog while I’m at it.

I just realised that the first thing I blogged about in January 2017 was cold soup too (cherry tomato gazpacho) which makes sense from a seasonal point of view, but like….cute. Looking back over that blog post I am just in SUCH a better place than I was. Case in point, this time last year I posted an article about my struggle with the NZ mental health system, and this year I published an impassioned essay about the film adaptation of the musical RENT. (It’s niche, but it’s really well written!) Oh sure, I’m still not entirely brilliant and the things I need to resolve within myself could melt steel beams but I’m still genuine light years ahead of this-time-last-year me, I feel more full of potential and capable of good things and aware of myself and I’ve learned so much, lots of which wasn’t fun to learn, but I’m…yeah. Potential is the word that I keep alighting upon. Anything could happen.

title from: Salt’n’Pepa, ShoopA classic! 

music lately:

I’ve been listening to a lot of Alice Coltrane, who was prolific and immensely talented. Spiritual Eternal from 1976 is so shamblingly joyous and uplifting, and then Om Rama, recorded in the early eighties but released just this year, is hypnotic, electrifying, stunning.

I cannot stop consuming Les Miserables. I’ve been jamming a lot of Who Am I – Colm Wilkinson, who created the role of Valjean, has the most chewy, rich voice, like his mouth is full of artisinal sourdough. The stirring build to that ludicrous note at the end of the song is just wonderful to have blasting when you’re walking down the street. I’m also obsessed with Kaho Shimada’s performance of On My Own on the Complete Symphonic Recording. Skip to 3 minutes in and just try to not faint.

Deadflowers, Might As Well Get Used To It. The power of suggestion…

next time: If the weather stays like this it’s gonna be a recipe for ice cubes, I swear.