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

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

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

dukkah 

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

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

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

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

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

music lately:  

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

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

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

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

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

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.

you got a velvet mouth, you’re so succulent and beautiful

I feel like every time I come here with a soup recipe I preface it by being all like ughhh soup is the worst and so boring and I’m not even into it but THIS one is okay. Because really, soup is not terribly interesting to me. Why consume a warm vegetal puddle when I could be eating something deep fried or roasted or just generally bringing to the table a more engaging texture than mushy and boiled to death? And yet. You know in the middle of the night when you wake up utterly parched, your throat a sun-baked desert and your tongue a dry, brittle leaf, and yet you’re just, just too sleepy to rouse yourself to get water, so you lie there uncomfortably for minutes shaped like hours fantasising about Fanta? A thirst trap, if you will. Well in the midst of one such lively session of dehydration, I found myself craving chilled soup, soft and cool and quenching and, importantly, with a velvety texture that you can only achieve by borrowing your flatmate’s high speed blender. And so, this recipe was born, in spite of my soup-related misgivings.

I was hoping that the mixture of red beetroot and white cauliflower would turn into my favourite colour, millennial pink, but instead the cooking process rendered it a kind of muted burnt scarlet. The taste however: genuinely incredible. Beetroot can be super earthy (to the point of tasting like literal dirt if you’re not careful) but caramelising it in the pan first before simmering in barely any water retains all its nuttiness and gentle sweetness. Cauliflower’s flavour is less pronounced but it gives a mellow butteriness as well as general body.

I initially didn’t want to add the coconut milk but I cannot deny that its subtle sweetness brings the whole damn lot together beautifully as well as adding an extra creaminess. It really just tastes spectacular and is an absolute pleasure to consume on a hot day, sliding coolly down your throat and making you forget you ever knew what thirst felt like. We’ve been experiencing some genuine unadulterated sunshine in Wellington lately, so, as Rihanna said in response to why she is braless all the time, you might as well make hay while the sun shines.

velvety chilled beetroot and cauliflower soup

a recipe by myself

  • two large beetroot, scrubbed and ends trimmed, roughly cubed
  • half a cauliflower, including stems, roughly chopped into small florets and pieces
  • two garlic cloves
  • sea salt
  • a generous pinch of cumin
  • half a tin of coconut milk
  • olive oil, an indiscriminate amount
  • water, an even more indiscriminate amount

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan, then add the cauliflower, beetroot, and garlic. Stir them for a few minutes over a medium heat; once they have a nice tan, add just enough water to cover them. Let this simmer away, topping up with water as need be (keep an eye on it as it will evaporate quicker than you think) until the vegetables are extremely tender. This will take around 25 minutes. It will feel like forever.

Remove the pan from the heat. Scoop the vegetables out of the pan into a blender along with the cumin and salt. Blend the hell out of them, then slowly add the remaining liquid from the pan (up to half a cup/125ml) and the coconut milk and blend again till extremely smooth. Taste – does it need more salt? More cumin? More olive oil? If you’re all good with it then all you have to do now is refrigerate it till it’s cold, then pour into bowls and decorate however you please – I drizzled over some more olive oil and coconut milk, chopped up some of the leaves from the beetroot, and sprinkled over some sesame seeds and more cumin and salt. 

If I remember rightly this made like, two generous bowlfuls, but if you want more just add more of the beetroot and cauliflower and coconut milk. It’s a very easy formula and the whole thing is not going to fall apart if you decide to add three beetroot or a whole cauliflower or something. The important thing is to not be scared of how much olive oil you put in there – it’s crucial for that smooth, unctuous viscosity and stops it tasting entirely like merely like pulverised dampened vegetables.

But what of my life, you ask? What the heck have I been up to since I last blogged nineteen months ago? Literally not much really, just making cocktails and yelling “knuckle tatts voice: admin life!” whenever anyone asks what I’ve done with my day; being aghast at the speedy passage of time which continuously pushes more space between my last blog post and that which you’re reading; continuing to bumble along on that ADHD-anxiety life; and metaphorically, for now at least, snorting episodes of Frasier during every free moment.

If you are on a wholehearted soup buzz, then may I kindly but firmly direct your attention to these other recipes I’ve blogged about, such as butternut and pasta soup, cherry tomato gazpacho (another chilled one!) and velveteen parsnip soup, a blog post more notable for how BLATANTLY I’m describing the symptoms of having ADHD years before I’d get diagnosed, than for the recipe itself.

title from: the evergreen banger Born Slippy by Underworld, one of those songs of the genre that I call “this makes me want to head-butt Liam Gallagher”.

music lately:

I saw a production of the Broadway musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson in New Orleans a few years ago, a show about the founding fathers of America that did not capture the world in the way that Hamilton has, but is nevertheless extremely enjoyable, not least because it basically sounds like Green Day wrote the entire libretto (not to be confused with Green Day’s actual Broadway musical, American Idiot.) The song Rock Star could pretty much hold its own with any pop punk tune of the last 25 years and is extremely good to walk down the street to if you need to feel like you could kick a hole in the sky. And The Saddest Song is extremely good to listen to if you want to walk down the street feeling like no one understands what it’s like to be president. It’s SO GOOD.

Bright Eyes, It’s Cool We Can Still Be Friends. Looooooooooool.

The Schuyler Sisters from Hamilton the musical. I mean, it’s taken the world by storm for a reason.

next time: I haven’t cooked anything of consequence lately so I guess it’s time to get consequential. 

you need to understand there’s nothing fake about this

I’m highly impulsive, all things considered. If asked to come rob a bank, I’d probably shrug and say “well i haven’t got much on this afternoon, so yeah, why not.” Commitment however, is harder. I start ideas and forget them or leave them dangling, half-formed. Creative side-projects, rituals, routines, I can’t even begin to count how many I’ve gotten excited about and then just as quickly dropped. (This blog is one of the few things in my life I’ve managed to maintain, it’s turning ten years old in October.) I don’t know what I want, all I know is that I want it all, and sometimes I worry so much about not knowing what I want that it turns into a weird argument in my head over nothing. On that note, I’ve been thinking heaps lately about whether I want to become vegetarian or even vegan. I feel better when I’m eating lots of vegetables and cook mostly vegetarian anyway. My lifelong hyper-tolerance to dairy seems to be waning somewhat. The environment is like, a dystopian nightmare and we should do what we can to help it. But I can’t quite make the leap to committing. 

So I’ve decided to leave that question for now and just carry on as per usual, because I’m working on this thing at the moment called “not creating non-existent problems to get anxious over because you’re going to be anxious over IRL stuff anyway so seriously, get out of your own way”. 

To that end, here’s a vegan recipe for you, presented without any further overthinking. Jackfruit is being widely celebrated on the internet as a miraculous meat substitute; its cooked texture is incredibly juicy and fibrous like actual animal flesh, and it absorbs flavour beautifully. However, I’m not out here looking for meat substitutes. I’m just looking for good food, which this extremely is. Without being all, “this is vegan food that even meat-eaters can enjoy!”, this recipe for pulled jackfruit is like…unreal levels of delicious. No matter what your primary food source is. 

This unassuming fruit, which has been cooked prolifically in South and Southeast Asia for centuries but is just starting to hit the nation of White Moms on Pinterest (which is, I freely admit, where I come in) offers an incredible textural experience that’s hard to achieve in vegetables – a real chewy, fibrous (that word again, it’s kind of gross sounding but you know what I mean), cellular density, with heft, and richness, and, well, meatiness. On top of which, cans of it are way inexpensive and it has a wealth of vitamins and minerals and other stuff necessary to keep your body from crumbling into a pile of dust. I saw one of those Buzzfeed cooking videos that everyone shares on Facebook showing how to cook this fruit into “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” levels of submission, and it looked easy enough, so I thought I’d give it a go. 

The prevailing wisdom is to smother your cooked jackfruit in barbecue sauce before roasting it, however I have a weird quirk whereby I enjoy all the components of barbecue sauce, but actual commercial stuff makes me feel queasy (it’s something to do with bad associations from a drunkenly consumed Hell Pizza, I believe). Hardcore American barbecue sauce is all good – you know, the kind that has a picture of a horse holding a gun on the bottle and is called something like “Sweet Sammy Applebuttock’s Family Favourite”. That’s kind of hard to come by here in New Zealand though. With that in mind, I mix together a collection of things to make a flavour approaching barbecue sauce, but if you’re less delicate than me you could just tip in half a bottle of supermarket stuff and be done with it. 

And again, again, I can’t emphasise how amazingly delicious this is. Once you remove it from under the grill, half of it is all juicy and sauce-smothered and then the parts that have been scorched and caramelised are crunchy and crispy and oily and it’s all just kind of heavenly. I bought some plain steamed buns from the same supermarket I got the jackfruit from (Yan’s, if you’re in Wellington like me) microwaved and halved and stuffed the pulled jackfruit into them and it was a transcendent experience. I’m pretty obsessed, I can tell you. 

pulled jackfruit

a recipe by myself, the cooking technique is by no means my discovery though

  • two cans of green jackfruit in brine
  • olive oil
  • six cloves of garlic
  • one cup (250ml) vegetable stock (literally just water and stock powder) 
  • two tablespoons American or Dijon mustard
  • two tablespoons tomato sauce
  • three tablespoons maple syrup (or brown sugar, or honey if you don’t mind it)
  • one tablespoon soy sauce
  • one teaspoon ground cumin
  • a dash of ground cinnamon

Set your oven to 240C/450F. Put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a shallow roasting dish and pop it in the oven to heat up while you get on with the jackfruit itself. 

Drain the two cans of jackfruit and slice each wedge into thinner segments. Roughly chop the garlic cloves and cook them in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan over a low heat until they’ve softened a little. Tip in the jackfruit and stir briefly, then add the vegetable stock and raise the heat. Let the jackfruit simmer for about ten minutes, then remove it from the heat and using a wooden spoon or whatever implement you feel, mash the jackfruit roughly so that you have lots of fibrous bits and some still-solid bits. 

In a small bowl, mix together the mustard, tomato sauce, maple syrup, soy sauce and spices. Tip all of this into the pan of mashed up jackfruit and mix it together thoroughly. Remove the tray from the oven and (carefully, because it might spit) transfer the jackfruit from the pan onto the tray in an even layer. Pop it in the oven for about fifteen minutes, then change the oven setting to grill and leave the jackfruit for another ten minutes or until you have lots of caramelised browned crispy bits. You could move the tray up a level so it’s closer to the grill, but keep a close eye on it so it doesn’t burn. 

Eat however you like. 

It’s a while since I’ve been so damn jazzed by something, and I’m probably going to make myself sick of it before long, but I’m enjoying being obsessed at the moment and can’t stop thinking up different ways of using this magical fruit. 

My other obsession currently is almost equally as wholesome: I’ve got back into reading books. I’ve always been an alarmingly fast reader and would get out up to forty books at a time from the library as a child, but then, I had a lot more time on my hands. Between a full time job, the entire internet at my fingertips, and the attention span of a goldfish that’s accidentally taken some Class A drugs, I kind of fell off the whole books thing. So there’s a lot of concentration involved. But I feel like it’s doing me some good – using my brain for something that’s not a screen for once, escaping into another world and being far away from myself, absorbing other peoples’ ideas, that kind of thing. I’m averaging a book a day: The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes by Chris Tse, The Abbey Girls Again by Elsie J Oxenham, Iceland by Dominic Hoey, Les Enfants Terribles by Jean Cocteau, and Anastasia Ask Your Analyst by Lois Lowry. I’m pretty pleased with myself. 

Meanwhile, I have more cans of jackfruit at the ready in my pantry because this is all I feel like eating for the foreseeable future. At least I can commit to something.

title from: Our Lady Peace with their song Clumsy. Of this song, the band says “you can be destructive without being malicious by being clumsy” and I’m like, metaphorically tagging myself on Facebook under this sentence because it’s so relatable. 

music lately: 

In further relatable news, I’ve been enjoying Cheer Up Try Hard Tear Up Cry Hard by Wellington artist Alexa Casino. You can listen to more songs if you click on that link, which I highly recommend you do with your time.

The Look by Roxette, ugh this song is so perfect.  

next time: SAFE TO SAY probably more jackfruit? 

we’re gift-wrapped kitty cats

I’ve talked a whole lot on here about how unskilled I am at sleeping. In a pink hardback baby book charting my first few months of existence, there’s a passage in my mother’s neat handwriting that tells – from my freshly birthed point of view – about how “I seem to require less sleep than everyone else” and “have already cried a lifetime’s worth of tears”. How completely prescient! Not that I have a ruthlessly raging case of colic as an excuse these days!

As I’ve also recounted here, my ADHD superpowers (having good ideas, absolutely sucking at every other aspect of life) came into play one night when I had trouble sleeping, and blessed me with this concept: what if I took thinly peeled slices of potato and wrapped them around other food and then roasted it so that the potato went all crisp and golden? (Thus neatly encapsulating three of the overarching themes of this blog: I never sleep, I was a small jerk of a child, with great mental health issues comes tiny, tiny kickbacks in the field of creativity.)

I figured this simply had to work, and wanted to try it with the new season’s asparagus. Being extremely pre-payday I had pretty much no money in my bank account, but after fossicking like a tenacious raccoon in all my pockets and the dark corners of my tote bag, I found enough coins to go down to the Cuba Street Fruit Mart. I purchased 1 (one) potato, and a handful of green beans, since asparagus isn’t actually out yet, handed over my pile of carefully counted out twenty cent coins, and went home to make my sleepless dreams a reality.

Guys, this was like...unreal. SO delicious. I could not be more enraptured with myself. Getting on a roll with achieving satisfactory lengths of peeled potato strips takes some work, but any extra bits can be roasted alongside the beans to be snacked upon leisurely (I recommend one of those peelers that’s kind of V shaped as opposed to a regular one.) What you end up with is slightly scorched beans, the oven’s heat giving them a kind of caramelised nutty juiciness (which is the worst thing I’ve ever written) encased in, essentially, a big kettle chip. The fried golden crunchiness of the potato against the beans is superb. I smashed some basil leaves into rock salt with a pestle and mortar just to point up the green taste of the beans, but just regular sea salt with chopped up basil or just salt on its own would be absolutely fine.

I feel like this would make an ideal starter for a dinner party, or you could make heaps and serve them with drinks. I guess they could also act as a fancy side for some kind of larger dish. They’re also vegan AF which is like, nice!

potato-wrapped green beans with basil salt

a recipe by myself

  • one floury potato
  • a handful of green beans
  • olive oil
  • one teaspoon of rock salt (or sea salt flakes)
  • three basil leaves

Set your oven to about as high as it will go – this is usually around 240C/480F. Pour some olive oil into a shallow roasting tray – the shallower the tray, the less oil you need to use, but whatever – so that it’s generously slicked. This is not a time to hold back. Place the tray in the oven so the oil heats up while you get on with preparing the ingredients themselves. 

Peel the skin from the potato (keep it to make vegetable stock or something if you’re virtuous) and then carefully peel long strips of potato from it. I found it easier to go lengthwise, and it took a few goes, but it gets easier, and any scraps can be thrown in with the beans and roasted till crisp for a delightful snack, so no harm done. Wrap the beans, in little bundles of three, with a long strip of potato (as per the picture) and sit them with the tail end tucked underneath. Generally potatoes have their own natural glueyness so you don’t have to worry about them unravelling wildly and flying about the room like a pulled out tape measure.

Place them carefully in the tray of hot oil, and roast for roughly twenty minutes, turning halfway through. However, you mostly want to go by eye here – when the beans look scorched and the potato wrapping is getting golden is when you want to turn them. At this point, add any other peelings and scraps of the remaining potato to the tray – seriously, they’ll turn into kettle chips and taste amazing, plus what else are you going to do with that remaining potato? 

In a pestle and mortar, bash the salt and basil leaves till they form a deeply green dust. If you don’t have this implement, just roughly chop the basil and sprinkle it and some salt over the finished beans. 

Remove the wrapped beans to a plate when you’re quite satisfied with their done-ness, sprinkle over some salt, and eat em. The remaining scraps are particularly good with some smoked paprika and the remaining basil salt.  

I roasted strips and scraps of the remaining potato and then sprinkled them with the remaining basil salt and some smoked paprika which was also ravishingly good. From one potato, sprang forth so much joy. I’m keen as to try this potato wrapped method on other foods – the asparagus of my initial intentions, halloumi, already-roasted beetroot, big red chiles stuffed with feta, maybe some kind of beef…thing…and I was even like, could I wrap potato in potato? Would that work? Am I the greatest genius whomst ever lived?

Well, no: another insomnia-idea was that I thought it’d be cool to roast pears stuffed with chocolate and then dip them in cake batter and bake them, so that they’d be encased in a layer of cake. The cake batter slid off and I ended up with two pears stuck in a large biscuit, which still tasted essentially fine, but was not something I’d recreate in a massive hurry. You can’t win em all, most of the time you can’t even win anything and in fact end up losing dramatically, so I’m quite content with this progression of events.

Back to the lack of sleep thing, before you all start a letter-writing campaign of great concern to your local government about my wellbeing or something, it’s not like I’m not working on it, and I do have naps during the day. I have a prescription for these amazing sleeping pills, I just keep forgetting to go get it filled out. I’ve got all the meditation and rain sounds in the world on YouTube, magnesium tablets, chamomile tea, yoga, you name it. Actually nothing makes me want to drop into a stupor like a gigantic meal of carbohydrates, so maybe potatoes are the way forward. Whether I’m sleepless and thinking about them or sleeping because of them: they are so good.

 any colour you like

any colour you like

A callback for the fans; in my last post I went on a rose-coloured rant about Millennial Pink, and I decided to make a cocktail embodying the colour as well. Plantation Barbados 2000 rum, Peychaud’s bitters, Aperol, thyme bitters, sugar and cream, makes for an alluringly-hued and impressively tasty drink. Just in case you thought I was anything less than totally exhaustingly all-or-nothing.

Finally, if you like Things With Potatoes, you might consider reading some of my other blog posts, including recipes for Halloumi and Hash Brown Potatoes; Potato Dominoes; or a Fried Potato Toastie.

title from: one of the greatest pop songs of all time, Love Machine by Girls Aloud. Also worth listening to is the ebullient Arctic Monkeys cover.

music lately:

Old mate Chelsea Jade released a woozily sweet video for her stonkingly good tune Ride or Cry. Yay!

City and Colour, Northern Wind. Feeeeheeeeelings.

Harry Styles, Sign of the Times. Feeeeeeeeee *sobs* eeeeeeee *literally throws up* eeelings!

next time: I made pulled jackfruit and I’m effing obsessed with it.