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

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

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

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

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

Butternut Dip

A recipe by myself

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

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

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

Roast Cauliflower Miso Butter

A recipe by myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

music lately:

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

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

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

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

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

i set out to disappear and out there i found a new home

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Since we last talked a lot has happened, so let’s recap! I loved many things about my job as a bartender but I was also like, I could accidentally carry on working round the clock for another year and a half and not actually confront myself with any real life decisions, and so my final shift was last Sunday; as for the moving house bit, well my lease was coming up for renewal and the rent was hiked upwards to a height so dizzying even in this current economic climate that it would give you a nosebleed just to countenance it, and I was like honestly I can’t condone this behaviour from the landlords so I bowed out and am now temporarily but delightedly mucking in at the house of my lovely friends Kate and Jason.

I spent roughly five days in the lead up to moving house entirely consumed by fretting about packing, and doing packing (in that order), aided considerably by my stalwart pal Charlotte who managed to briskly pare my enormous wardrobe down to the point where the pile of clothes I was getting rid of was bigger than that which I kept (and to her credit sat gamely through such dialogue from me as “it’s, you know, just an everyday classic practical see through top, a real wardrobe staple” and “this coat-hanger has been in my family for generations.”) This is the first time I’ve moved house since acquiring an ADHD diagnosis, by which I really mean, this is the first time I’ve moved house with the aid of Ritalin and months of hard work on being slightly less of a liability, and I must say while it was a novelty being so relatively organised in advance I was also hit like a fleet of bicycles by anxiety about how disorganised I’d been in every single moving-of-house hitherto. But – I managed to send the movers that I’d booked to the wrong address in case you were concerned that I’d made too much progress.

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So now I live in Newtown! I made dinner for Kate and Jason and also our friend Jen on Wednesday night – cooking dinner is something I can easily do in order to be a good houseguest, but also something I haven’t done with any great sense of routine in absolute years; on top of which I’ve been feeling a bit detached and weird and nonplussed and whiplashed since leaving my job and moving house and getting rid of 2/3 of my precious, practical, see-through clothes which is of course totally normal for such circumstances but I’m trying to get a grip on myself and on my sleep cycle and on my use of time and on, well, everything really, and just when I was feeling like none of this was going to happen, I was flicking through one of Kate and Jason’s Ottolenghi cookbooks and saw this recipe and felt filled with inspiration to make it and I was like, well, this is a start.

Ottolenghi is so talented at making any old pile of vegetables feel exciting and exuberant, this is because his recipes are really good as opposed to any deeper level of witchcraft than that; but I mean he’s just such a great read if you’re feeling a bit culinarily blank and it’s also the middle of summer and you want the kind of meal that holds at least two components that are in danger of getting stuck in between your two front teeth, by which I mean, greens.

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The salad recipe I present to you is a lazy version of the original one in his book, Plenty More. The key components all have their place: the dense granular mildness of the chickpeas, the oily and caramelised fried cauliflower, the sweet summer brightness of the mango, and it’s all just very delicious and simple and straightforward. The curry powder has such a nostalgic quality to it, and its sweet earthiness against both the vibrant and the calmer ingredients is so good, don’t overlook it. Mangoes just sing of summertime, don’t they? I urge you to seek out a pertly bulging specimen, ripe but not fermentingly soft, you want it to be al dente for want of a better word. (Also? I love mangoes but their flavour is so elusive, like trying to move towards a rainbow, that I feel as though I need to eat twelve mangoes in order to experience the power of one actual mango’s flavour? But also matching them with all these savoury elements really makes them come to life?)

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Ottolenghi’s Chickpea, Mango, and Fried Cauliflower Salad

adapted slightly from a recipe in Plenty More

  • 2 cans of chickpeas in brine
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • indiscriminate quantities of olive oil (not extra virgin) or other neutral oil for frying
  • 1 small cauliflower, broken and sliced into small(er) florets
  • 2 large, firm, ripe mangoes
  • sea salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 50g baby spinach leaves
  • a handful coriander leaves, roughly chopped 

Drain the chickpeas and place them in a large serving bowl with the cumin, curry powder, mustard seeds, and sugar, and stir well.

Heat up a tablespoon of oil in a saucepan and fry the onion till softened and golden, then stir into the chickpeas.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to the boil and cook the cauliflower in it for one minute, then drain thoroughly.

Heat more oil in the same saucepan that the onion was fried in – a couple of tablespoons will do – and once it’s really hot, fry the cauliflower in it in small batches. Don’t overcrowd the pan, and let the cauliflower sit for a few minutes before turning it over, to allow it to get golden and brown. Transfer the browned cauliflower to the bowl of chickpeas and continue till all the cauliflower is done.

Chop the mango into chunks and stir into the chickpeas along with the lime juice, the spinach, the coriander, a good drizzle of olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

I liked this even better the next day when the spices and lime juice had soaked into everything, it didn’t look as good but it tasted more intense.

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In case you didn’t see my last blog post, my reason for making all these drastic life changes at the expense of all involved is that I am going to write, just like, so much stuff, with this in mind and also my unemployedness – not that it’s anyone else’s responsibility but my own, but it could be yours if you wanted! – I direct you confidently towards my Patreon where you could get in at the ground floor on supporting what I do and receive exclusive content in return. And that really is my plan, to recover from the whiplash of this all-change and to write, well, that and to be as good a house guest as I can possibly be. (I just realised as I type that there’s a double meaning to “write, well” – wow I’m doing great already.)

title from: Baltimore Blues No. 1, Deer Tick. Moody.

music lately:

Walk Away, Sisters of Mercy, they sound, as I described to the long-suffering Charlotte, as though someone is trying to convey jauntiness while trapped underwater (by which I mean, obviously, I love it)

Morning Terrors and Nights of Dread, Shilpa Ray, it starts off surfy (good) and ends up surfy and howl-y (very good!)

Blue by Rico Nasty, she is incredible!

Next time: I tried making some macarons with the leftover aquafaba from the canned chickpeas in this salad and they were delicious but super fragile, but I presumably have the energy now to nail the recipe properly.

don’t have a cow, man

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I’m warning you right now, this blog post is long as HELL due to the fact that I was tinkering around with ideas for Christmas Dinner recipes and somehow ended up making three recipes at once in an absolute fugue state of proficiency and perspicacity: Brined and Roasted Whole Cauliflower with Pesto Glaze; Roasted Whole Pumpkin with Herb and Onion Stuffing, and Eggplant Roulade, AND Mushroom, Walnut and Red Wine Gravy. It’s suddenly less than a month till Christmas and whether or not you observe the holiday in an official capacity there’s no denying that this time of year calls for an excess of abundance and an abundance of excess so I was like why not just … write about this all this at once. So whether you’re the kind to settle in with a glass of port to scrutinise this from top to bottom or you’re already flexing your scrolling finger (or indeed, whichever body part you use to scroll downwards through large swathes of text), here we go.

I’m not one to not boast, but I just want the record to state that I made every single one of the below recipes all at once in just under two and a half hours. Why? You know and I know, because I bring it up a lot, because it happens a lot: I’m quite all or nothing. At times an inert snake lying in bed unable to finish, well, even this sentence; at times I’m like “Uh I wrote an entire violin symphony in twelve minutes” (to everything, turn turn, there is a season, turn turn) and while the presence of Ritalin in my life has helped to both enable activity on the inert-snake days and to moderate the high energy hyper-focus, that’s still just how I am. And I guess this week’s blog is precisely an example of that hyperfocus in action: I had all these ideas for recipes that might be cool for Christmas dinner, or indeed, any celebratory food-eating time, and I just put my head down and made the whole lot at once without really thinking through what I was doing and suddenly two and a half hours later there was an enormous meal just sitting there. (This is how I know I’ve made personal growth/consumed some Ritalin though: I actually wrote down the recipes as I was making them. Yes, this is what counts as personal growth for me.)

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Somewhat hilariously, none of the friends that I messaged to come help me eat it were available, leaving me alone at the table with this massive feast and wondering ruefully whether perhaps you really cannot, in fact, win friends with salad. I’m not saying I like, threw it all in the bin or anything, I had a delicious plateful of everything and have been eating leftovers gleefully ever since, but what I am saying is that you’ll just have to take my word for it that these recipes are good.

My aim for these recipes was to create a sense of lavishness, intense deliciousness and layers of texture and flavour, so that there was no sense of being without, that you would feel and indeed taste the effort and care taken. I wanted food that was somehow inherently Christmassy – which is a little weird, I grant you, because in New Zealand Christmas falls in the middle of summer but so many people still have a very traditional English style full roast meal. By which I mean, even though we’re all sweating uncomfortably, the food is resolutely winter wonderland because that’s just how it is. So that’s what I was going for.

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1: Brined and Roasted Whole Cauliflower with Pesto Glaze

A recipe by myself, but inspired by the title of this one on Food52.

  • 1 whole cauliflower
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Brine:

  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cinnamon stick, snapped in half/into bits
  • 1 inch or so slice of fresh ginger (or 1 teaspoon ground ginger)
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced in half (no need to peel)
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup

Pesto:

  • The leaves from 1 of those supermarket basil plants (roughly two cups loosely packed basil leaves)
  • 1 cup loosely packed rocket leaves
  • 1 cup cashews
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice (can be from a bottle)
  • Plenty of salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup water, optional

Remove the leaves from the cauliflower and trim off as much of the stem as you can manage, so that the cauliflower is able to sit on its haunches, so to speak, without anything protruding from the base.

Place all the brine ingredients in a large mixing bowl, fill partway with cold water, and give it a stir just to dissolve the maple syrup and salt somewhat. Sit the cauliflower in this and top with water till the cauliflower is more or less submerged. Cover – either with plastic wrap or simply by sitting a plate on top – and set aside away from any heat for an hour, although if it’s like an hour and fifteen minutes because you forgot or something came up that’s honestly fine.

Get on with the pesto while the cauliflower is brining – throw all the ingredients into a food processor and blitz to form a rough green paste. Add a little water to loosen it up a bit, it can absorb it without making it watery. Taste for salt, pepper, or more lime juice, and set aside.

Set your oven to 200C/400F and get an oven dish ready. Once the oven is hot and the brining time is up, remove the cauliflower from the brine, shaking off any bits that have stuck to it, and place it in the roasting dish. Drizzle with the two tablespoons of olive oil and roast, uncovered, for about 40 minutes, or until it’s evenly golden on the surface. At this point, spoon some of the pesto over the cauliflower, using a pastry brush to spread it down over the florets, and return to the oven for another ten minutes. Serve with the remaining pesto in a dish beside for those who (rightly) want more.

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2: Roasted Whole Pumpkin with Herb and Onion Stuffing

A recipe by myself

  • 1 good-sized buttercup pumpkin (roughly 900g I guess? But I personally relate more to “good sized” than weight for accuracy)
  • 1 can white beans, often sold as haricot beans
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1 small ciabatta or similarly hearty bread roll
  • 1 tablespoon English Mustard or wholegrain mustard
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • A pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
  • Plenty of salt and pepper, to taste

Set your oven to 200C/400F. Cut the ciabatta in half and sit it in the oven while it’s heating up for about five minutes, the aim being to lightly toast it and dry it out (just don’t forget that it’s there.)

Using a small, sharp knife, make incisions in a circular fashion around the stem of the pumpkin so you can wiggle it out and reveal the insides. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon – set aside to roast them if you like but this level of sustainability was unfortunately too much for me, and I simply binned them. (This might be a good time to check on the state of your ciabatta in the oven.)

Dice the onion and gently fry it in the olive oil till it’s softened and golden. Add the pumpkin seeds and give them a stir for a minute just to toast them a little, then set the pan aside off the heat.

Drain the can of beans and roughly mash them with a fork, it doesn’t matter if some are left whole. Roughly slice the ciabatta into small cubes and add this to the mashed beans along with the thyme, rosemary, mustard, maple syrup, cider vinegar, nutmeg, plenty of salt and pepper, and the onion/pumpkin seed mixture.

Carefully spoon all of this into the waiting and emptied pumpkin, pushing down with the spoon to fill every crevice and cavity. Place the stem on top like a lid. Sit the pumpkin on a large piece of tinfoil and bring the tinfoil up the sides of the pumpkin so it’s mostly wrapped but with the stem still exposed (did I explain this right?) and then sit this in a roasting dish. Roast for an hour and a half or until a knife can easily pierce through the side of the pumpkin, thus meaning the inside is good and tender. Serve by cutting the pumpkin into large wedges.

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3: Eggplant Roulade

A recipe by myself

  • 2 sheets flaky puff pastry (check the ingredients to make sure they’re dairy free, if this is of concern)
  • 1 large eggplant
  • olive oil, for frying
  • 1 cup bulghur wheat
  • 70g walnuts
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 teaspoons dried rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • plenty of salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons almond butter

Set your oven to 200C/400F. Place the bulghur wheat in a large bowl and pour over water from a just-boiled kettle to cover it by about 1cm. Cover with plastic wrap or similar and set aside for about ten minutes for it to absorb.

Meanwhile, slice the eggplant as thinly as you can lengthwise. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large saucepan and fry the eggplant slices a few at a time on both sides till softened and browned, adding more olive oil as you (inevitably) need it. Set aside.

Fluff the cooked bulghur wheat with a fork and stir in the walnuts, cranberries, rosemary, cumin, cinnamon, and plenty of salt and pepper.

Set the two sheets of pastry side by side with one inch overlap on a large piece of baking paper, and press down where they overlap to kind of glue them together into one large piece of pastry. Using a pastry brush, gently brush the almond butter over the pastry – soften it with a little olive oil if you need to. Place the eggplant slices on top of this in one layer starting from the left side, with the long side of the eggplant parallel to the long side of the pastry – I had six slices of eggplant so there was two sets of three laid horizontally, if that makes sense. If it doesn’t, let me know and I’ll try to explain further. Now take the bulghur wheat and spoon it in a thick column on top of the eggplant, roughly an inch in from the short side on the left. Carefully but confidently roll the pastry from the short side over the bulghur wheat and continue rolling, sushi-like, till you have a fat cylinder of pastry coiled around the eggplant and bulghur. Tuck the edges down and pinch them together, and carefully place the pastry into a baking dish. Make a couple of slashes in the top with a sharp knife and brush the surface with olive oil, then bake for 30 – 40 minutes until the pastry is puffy and golden brown. Serve in thick slices.

(There’ll be heaps of bulghur wheat leftover but it’s delicious reheated and drizzled with lots of olive oil the next day, however reduce the quantity if you don’t want leftovers.)

4: Mushroom, Walnut and Red Wine Gravy

A (vague, I admit) recipe by myself

  • 1 onion
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 7 brown mushrooms (if you have like 9 this is not a problem)
  • olive oil, for frying
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 70g walnuts
  • A pinch each of ground nutmeg and cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce

Roughly chop the onion and garlic. Make sure the mushrooms have any dirt brushed off and roughly chop them as well. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan and fry all of this over a low heat until the onions and mushrooms are softened. Sprinkle over the flour and stir for a couple of minutes, before raising the heat and tipping in the red wine. Stir till the wine is absorbed into the floury oniony mushrooms, then tip in the walnuts, the nutritional yeast, and the cinnamon and nutmeg. Slowly add water – around 250ml/1 cup – and allow it to come to the boil, stirring continuously till it’s looking a little thick. You’re going to be blending this up so all the ingredients will naturally thicken it, so it doesn’t have to be too reduced down. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before blitzing it carefully in a high speed blender. I tipped it straight back into the pan to reheat it, but by all means strain it if you want it to be super smooth. It may need more water added at this point if it’s too thick, but up to you. Finally add the soy sauce to taste, and serve hot over EVERYTHING.

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With all that in mind, let’s assess them individually.

1: The concept of roasting a whole cauliflower is, as I noted, an idea I got from Food52, and the idea of brining it first is something I got from a Nigella turkey recipe. I love the idea of treating a vegetable in the same way that you’d treat meat and while cauliflower is more or less going to look after itself in the oven this does come out sweet and tender with its crisp pesto-crusted exterior. It also looks rather wonderful in the roasting dish because it’s so big and whole. On the other hand, because one must be critical: even with the brining and the pesto, this is still just like, a cauliflower alone on a plate. My verdict: this is delicious but I would want it as well as something else, as opposed to being the only thing, otherwise it’s like “wow cool thanks for my slice of damp vegetable really appreciate this.” You of course personally might be more than satisfied by this! But this is how I feel.

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2: The whole pumpkin looks really cool, somehow splendid yet storybook-adorable at the same time. The stuffing has, somehow, and I mean this in an entirely positive and non-innuendo way: a certain sausagey-ness to it. Something in the way the vinegar and mustard play off the rich thyme and the mashed beans and the texture of the bread, it’s all very cured-smallgoodsy and hearty and traditional tasting. My verdict: I am super pleased with this, however I would recommend leaning further into the luxuriousness by making the pesto anyway to have alongside, and perhaps consider adding some pistachios or something else treat-y to the stuffing so that the vegan in your close proximity feels particularly loved.

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3: The eggplant roulade was my favourite! There’s something about pastry that makes anything feel like an enormous effort was made (which, if you managed to make it through my attempts at instructing how to roll the pastry up, is entirely true) and also tastes of true opulence. Happily, it’s very easy to find ready-rolled sheets of puff pastry at the supermarket which are incidentally vegan because they use baker’s margarine or whatever they call it; and it still somehow tastes exactly like it should, probably because it’s what’s used in all commercially made pies and pastries and so our tastebuds are used to it (depending on how many times you’ve fallen asleep with a half-eaten gas station pie nestled beside you on your pillow, I guess.) The eggplant is rich and fulsome and the cinnamon and cranberries in the bulghur wheat are merrily Christmassy. Again, you could consider adding more to make this more, well, more: pistachios, almonds, that ubiquitous pesto, but as it is this is just wonderful. My verdict: Yes.

4: Gravy is so important and I refuse to miss out! This is pretty straightforward, layering savoury upon savoury upon savoury. My verdict: absolutely necessary.

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Because this is already sprawlingly enormous I’m going to wrap it up but overall I’m delighted with everything and with myself. I mentioned last time that I was sick with something flu-like, I thought it had gone away but then halfway through Friday night at work my voice started to disappear, unfortunately I skipped right over sexy-husky and went straight to useless (whispering “hello…welcome” in a strangled modulation as customers blithely walked by, not hearing a single thing I’d said) and seemed to be regressing back into glum sickness. Fortunately I managed to harness the one burst of high-octane energy that I’ve had all week to hoon through making these recipes; I also managed to update my Frasier food blog (Niles and Daphne, sitting in a Gothic mansion!) and have spent the rest of the time when not at work in bed irritably lacking in voice, which is possibly why I’m luxuriating in talking so much on here. Whether it’s residual sickness or just sheer effort I now feel like I need a nap after writing down all those recipes and you may well too if you’ve managed to read this far: napping is the most seasonally-appropriate activity there is, let’s be honest.

title from: Initially I was going to make it “you don’t win friends with salad” from that Simpsons bit but then I thought the “don’t have a cow, man” Simpsons quote was even funnier, all things considered.

music lately:

Blackberry Molasses, Mista This was one of my favourite songs in 1996 and it’s still super sweet, but I am also so sure that the version we got on the radio was faster than this? Can anyone verify?

Laugh It Off, Chelsea Jade. I actually did 1 (one) other activity this week: I went to see local angel Chelsea Jade live at Meow. Her music is just incredible, floaty and dreamy but pinprick-sharp as well and it was so cool to see her again.

Two Dots on a Map, Russian Futurists. This song is so swoony and expansive and pretty much undeniable Laura-bait. While I’m here may I also recommend their aggressively enthusiastic song Paul Simon.

Next time: less is more, I promise.

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you’re lying with your gold chain on, cigar hanging from your lips

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I’ve been pretty committedly vegan for a few months now, but it felt like the one insurmountable hurdle I truly had to surmount was the issue of butter. And that’s because I’ve really made butter my thing over the years. Why, in 2009, when this blog was but two years old, I wrote the following:

“Maybe in years to come, when my blog has changed lives, and gets turned into a beautiful book, and then the movie of the book of the blog changes peoples’ lives (oh wait, that’s Julie and Julia that I’m thinking of, and somewhat more feasibly, I’ll probably slide quietly into further obscurity), and a naive child asks their grandparents what the ultimate blog post that would describe Hungry and Frozen would be, what the very distilled essence of this whole strange business is, the ur-text, the definitive piece of writing, their grandparents might lean down and utter with a wise, earthy croak: The one where she made her own butter.

(the blog post was about me making my own butter.)

I actually did of course, some years later but also some years ago, get my blog turned into a beautiful cookbook (such are my powers of manifestation) although it didn’t quite take the path that I so breathlessly imagined back then. The point is, I was extremely about butter and it’s scary backing down from anything you’ve been vocally definite about, right? When I first started this blog in 2007 the subheading was a quote from Nigella Lawson herself about butter and in all honesty, the very thought of butter alternatives (alright, margarine, the butter alternative that dare not speak its name) made me genuinely quite panicky. Like my reputation – whatever it may have been or currently be – would be utterly tarnished if one single person wasn’t wholly aware of my commitment to butter.

When you are as righteous and strident as I have been about ever so many things, it becomes extremely stressful to change that, because there’s this heavily-weighted sense that people will judge you for subverting the expectations that you’ve built up so thoroughly for them. That you’re letting people down somehow by stepping sideways into slightly newer versions of the person they usually recognise you as.

It’s chilling in every sense of the word (that is, it’s horrifying but also relaxing) that actually people never are thinking about you as much as you think they are; I’m also learning ever so slowly that being low-key instead of super righteous makes for much less stress in the long run, and reminding myself what people expect from me and what I owe people are pretty equally minimal. This is a good thing to remind yourself of, and while it’s easy to just say don’t worry about what people will think of you for your various life choices, just like…on the whole, none of us have to worry as much as we think we do.

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So with ALL this in mind, I handed over New Zealand Dollars in exchange for a butter alternative for the first literal time in my life the other day, and not only did the sky not fall in, not for want of me waiting for it to; the stuff I bought also tasted pretty decent. I do genuinely still believe there’s no better flavour on earth than actual butter but I’m also okay, currently, with just not having it. I suppose in the same way that any commitment you make has its compromises. Nuttelex Buttery is what I went for and it tastes quite similar to Lurpak, that pale European butter that I used to spread on my toast when I lived in England.

And I used it in this recipe (yes finally, the recipe!) comprising cauliflower roasted with miso and mustard, wrapped in sheets of filo pastry, each layer of pastry brushed with a mixture of the melted vegan butter and nutritional yeast. I purchased the former and the latter together and really felt like I’d levelled up in my veganism. If you haven’t had it before, nutritional yeast is this truly magical dust, it makes everything taste intensely savoury and savourily intense. If I were to describe the flavour it would be somewhere between parmesan, Marmite and roasted mushrooms, and it’s absolutely perfect with the cauliflower’s mildness and the papery-thin crispness of the pastry.

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I made these filo cigars very much on the fly, one of those recipes that is a reaction to whatever one happens to have on hand as opposed to the result of actual planning. But I was, as is often the case with such recipes, completely delighted with them and ended up eating five out of the six pictured in one go as opposed to having them sitting about for future snacking purposes. The whole thing is an exercise in savouriness – the sharp, salty miso mustard coating the cauliflower, the nuttiness of the sunflower seeds and the, yes, vegan butter, the crunch of the pastry with the aforementioned absolute magic of the nutritional yeast between each fragile layer.

Miso Cauliflower Filo Cigars

A recipe by myself

  • 9 sheets of filo pastry
  • 4 tablespoons vegan butter (or actual butter, or olive oil)
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (Bragg’s is the brand I got)
  • half a head of cauliflower
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons miso paste
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • Black pepper, to taste

Set your oven to 200C/400F.

Chop the cauliflower roughly into small pieces. Place on a baking tray, drizzle with the two tablespoons of olive oil and roast for fifteen minutes or until softened and browned at the edges.

Mix the miso paste, mustard, and black pepper together and spoon or brush it over the cauliflower, and return to the oven for another five minutes. Throw the sunflower seeds over the top at this point as well so they can get toasted by the oven’s heat, if you wish (I, for one, recommend it.)

Melt the butter in a small bowl in the microwave and stir in the nutritional yeast.

Three layers of filo pastry will yield you two cigars, so brush one sheet of pastry with the melted butter/nutritional yeast mix, then lay another sheet of filo on top and brush that with butter, and then finally another sheet. Cut it down the middle so you’ve got two layered rectangles.

Mix the breadcrumbs and dried rosemary in another small bowl (sorry about all the dishes involved.)

Spoon a small quantity of the cauliflower and sunflower seeds into roughly the middle of one of the pastry rectangles, followed by a heaped spoonful of the breadcrumbs. The simplest way to fashion these cigars, I find, is to tuck the sides in over the top of the cauliflower and then roll the whole thing away from yourself so you’ve got a thick parcel. Set aside onto a baking tray lined with baking paper, and repeat with the other rectangle of pastry.

Brush more sets of three sheets of filo with the butter and then cut, fill, and roll into cigars in the same manner. Brush the cigars with any remaining butter and bake for ten to fifteen minutes or until crisp and golden. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and more rosemary if you like. And then eat them.

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You could be as reactionary as I’ve been and make these based on what you have to hand or can easily access – broccoli would surely be just as good as the cauliflower, literally any nut would be fine instead of sunflower seeds, obviously you could use real butter or olive oil instead of a butter alternative, and if you wanted to bulk it out with couscous or bulghur wheat instead of breadcrumbs I suspect it would be fantastic. But as they are, as I made them, these tasted incredibly incredible, and even the one remaining cigar, consumed cold and moderately soggy after work sometime around 5am, was unexpectedly delicious. Maybe even more so.

title from: Off to the Races, by Lana Del Rey. The very distillation of a Lana Del Rey song, to be honest, and I love her for it.

music lately:

INXS, Don’t Change. As far as INXS songs go this one from 1982 is not nearly as well-known as their main hits but it’s so, so good! It has this drive and energy and sounds so ahead of its time, like a song from 2004 written by a band trying to sound like they were from 1982!

Felt, Primitive Painters. This already lovely song is sent into the stratosphere by the presence of Elizabeth Fraser, “the voice of god” – she sounds like cold falling water, like a feather being run across the back of your neck, like a casual angel (to corroborate this, should you have your doubts, may I direct you to where you’ve probably heard her already: Teardrop by Massive Attack.)

Tim Buckley, Song to the Siren. SO sad and pretty, a real exemplary example of this genre. (The genre being, sad and pretty.)

Next time: CAN YOU BELIEVE it’s technically, and worse, literally, October; I’m super excited to eat some asparagus, should I manage to ever not sleep through the Sunday markets, or indeed, Spring itself.

PS: if you want to receive these blog posts ahead of the crowd like the bon vivant you are, you may consider signing up here which will allow you to get these posts sent to your inbox every Sunday, which, if you’ve done it already, means you already read this post three days ago, in which case congratulations on your excellent taste for making it through this far upon second reading. 

her legs are chafed by sticky wings

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One week in to the return of Hungry and Frozen and I was already a day late, a buck short, on my self-appointed schedule that is; however I am undeterred and gaspingly but enthusiastically dragged myself over the finish line. Much like episode two of Frasier which was essentially a retread of the pilot; you may notice some common themes between this and the last blog post because to be honest I’m still finding my feet with this whole operating-on-a-routine thing, but I can tell you something for free: the recipe this week is absolutely BANGING.

I cannot wait to write one of these posts where I’ve comfortably settled into a routine and don’t feel like I’m racing against the clock like I’m trying to defuse a bomb in the manner of a character in Mission Impossible, or, say, Mission Impossible 2 (I more or less just woke up and have to go to work again soon and my battery on my laptop was ticking downwards rapidly in direct proportion to my heartbeat racing faster before I remembered that I was sitting in bed and could in fact lean over and plug it in to the charger.) But nevertheless, I’m pleased with myself for actually making a recipe more or less on time which is not only delicious, it also tastes incredible.

Related to this mood, I downloaded this horoscope app called costar which told me the following: “Exhaustion is not always a bad thing, sometimes it is the good result of hard work. Keep asserting yourself, you’re doing fine.” Sometimes the specificity is bordering on Black Mirror-level what-if-phones-are-bad horrifying (it literally told me to consider studying attachment theory) but I was like yes! I am tired and adequate! Thank you algorithm for truly seeing me.

Unlike me, cauliflower is really having its day in the sun, and has found itself mangled and extruded into all kinds of carb and meat replacements and dupes in the last few years. I’m not going to lie to you, while this recipe is something I devised myself, the concept of it stems from much scrolling through Pinterest and having people brightly insist that cauliflower can be made to taste exactly like chicken wings. Whatever, I love the taste of cauliflower as it is, particularly when massive amounts of heat are applied to it: its aggressive mildness becomes caramelised and nutty and just generally wonderful.

This recipe is all about texture – the crunch of peanuts and sesame seeds against the stickily crispy batter, which gives way to a creamily soft cauliflower interior. The combination of salty, sweet, oily and a touch of chilli heat makes it kind of addictively good, the eating equivalent of finding yourself scrolling through the same social media app on your phone and your computer at the same time. The method is not exactly fiddly, but there are a few steps and a lot of ingredients involved – the really important thing is to make sure the oven and the tray are really, really hot before you put the cauliflower in. And eat it right away: when left to sit for too long they go kind of soggy and soft, which is itself strangely beguiling, but not the real desired result.

But I happily ate the remainder of these sometime around 4.30am when I got in from work and in the way that cold leftovers eaten in the middle of the night often are, whether through actual merit or that Mallory Towers midnight feast illicit thrill elicited: they were still really good.

Sticky Sesame Peanut Cauliflower

A recipe by myself, serves two as a snack but just, to state the obvious, make more if you want to feed more people.

half a head of cauliflower
olive oil

Batter:
1/2 cup plain flour
a pinch of ground cumin
a pinch of ground chilli powder
a pinch of ground cinnamon
a pinch of ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold water
1 cup panko bread crumbs

Saucy stuff
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar or cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons toasted peanuts, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

Firstly, set your oven to 240C/450F. Pour enough olive oil onto a large roasting dish to just coat the surface and put it in the oven to heat up too while you prepare the cauliflower.

Break the cauliflower into florets and cut them into smaller pieces, slicing through so you get decent surface area on each piece for the batter to cling to. Don’t stress about this step too much, you just need everything to be fairly small so it will cook quickly and evenly in the oven.

Mix the flour, spices, and water together in a small bowl to make an unappealing batter that if you’re anything like me you’ll be unable to stop yourself tasting anyway. Place the panko breadcrumbs in a bowl and dunk the cauliflower pieces first into the batter, then into the breadcrumbs. I find it easiest, cleaning-wise, to put a piece of baking paper down to sit the dunked cauliflower on until you’ve finished it all.

Transfer the cauliflower to the heated oven tray, in a single layer, and roast for ten to fifteen minutes. While they’re cooking, mix the hoisin sauce, vinegar, mustard and sesame oil together in a small bowl.

Once the time is up, remove the tray from the oven and carefully turn the cauliflower pieces over. Use a pastry brush to liberally dab the hoisin-sesame sauce onto the cauliflower pieces and sprinkle the roasted chopped peanuts and sesame seeds over everything.

Return the tray to the oven for another five to ten minutes – keep an eye on it because you definitely want it a little scorched and browned but not burnt. At this point, remove from the oven and you finally get to eat it.

If this has stirred you aflame with a potent desire to like, cook more cauliflower, may I also suggest my other recipes such as Velvety Chilled Beetroot and Cauliflower Soup, Roasted Cauliflower with Almonds and Whole Spices, or, entirely demonstrably, Double Cauliflower Salad.

title from: The Birthday Party, Release the Bats. “My baby is alright, she doesn’t mind a bit of dirt.”

music lately:

Linda Eder singing Man of La Mancha, from the 1965 Broadway musical of the same name, a song that was written for a male character but which was actually surely written and waiting for her to perform it. There’s this bit two minutes in where she starts just going off in flawless whistle register and she does this little eyebrow raise to show how easy it is and honestly, I didn’t think an expositional song about Don Quixote was going to floor me like this but here we find ourselves.

Skeeter Davis, The End of the World. This is just a perfect sad song.

Next time: I’m going away this weekend for best friend Kate’s birthday so I’m hopefully going to make at least contribute to at least one cute thing during that time! 

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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. 

i don’t need the cheese or the car keys boy i like you just the way you are

*Ring of Keys from the musical Fun Home starts to play as I gaze upon my lunch*

I adore my job as a bartender (indeed, a “prestigious bartender” as my former flatmate’s TradeMe ad for her room charmingly described it) – making drinks is the funnest, I like the nonstop stream of strangers to talk to, the team is wonderful, I’m always awake all night anyway, and honestly I dig the attention – being behind the bar is kind of like being on stage. And I love being on stage. However. I really miss making dinner for myself. Scrounging through the pantry, making something out of nothing, bashing flavours and textures together, making pasta or pancakes or slow-cooked-chickpea-bla-bla-bla or some kind of elaborate salad or whatever. And then either a voice in my head or a human nearby (I forget which) was like, “what about lunch”. I mean, easier said than done; I’ll usually wake up brutally early but not see fit to exit the bed until well after noon. But as it looks like lunchtime is my only chance to make myself dinner these days, I’m willing to throw some energy into it at least once or twice a week. (The rest of the time I’m fervently rewatching The OC like some kind of hypnotised baby seal until I dazedly realise that it’s time for me to go to work and/or generally not be sedentary.)

This week I managed to get my act together and make myself a thoroughly fantastic lunch of wasabi cauliflower cheese, the sort of thing that’s usually a side dish but is very fun to eat as a meal in its entirety. In an unprecedented fit of activity, I also bleached my hair at the same time. In an even more unprecedented fit of competency, I somehow managed to not eat poison while lovingly massaging wasabi into my scalp. Everything was in its right place: not least, a small vat of cauliflower cheese inside my face.

This recipe was inspired by Katrina Meynink‘s excellent wasabi mac and cheese, and is a wondrous mix of blanketingly comforting and throat-punchingly zingy. The horseradish heat of the wasabi gets you right in the back of the nose while your lungs fill with the gloriously mellow, thick cheese sauce. The cauliflower, roasted and browned, is nuttily mild enough to carry both these elements with ease. Truth be told you could probably put melted cheese on a tree stump and it would taste good, but it’s amazing how the simple act of browning said cheese under the grill elevates this simple dish into heights so good that I’ve run out of adjectives with which to describe it all. Seriously, this is one hyperbolic paragraph. Luckily for you, what sounds like hyperbole on most people is me just being calmly sincere. You don’t even want to know what it’s like when I hulk out and actually employ hyperbole.

wasabi cauliflower cheese

a recipe by myself; serves one-ish. Two at best. If you can’t figure out how to increase it to feed more people though, then I ruefully cannot help you. 

half a head of cauliflower
40g butter
two heaped tablespoons flour
milk, around 250ml give or take
a heaped teaspoon of wasabi paste
grated cheese, around two handfuls

Set your oven to 220 C/450 F. Slice the cauliflower into florets, and then for good measure, you might as well slice up any remaining stalks and stems since it’s all still cauliflower. Throw it all into a small oven dish which will hold the lot snugly, and then put it in the oven to roast for around 20 minutes while you make the sauce. 

Stir the butter and flour together in a smallish pan over a medium heat, till the butter melts into the flour and forms a thick paste. Stir this for a bit longer, then tip in around 1/4 cup of milk, continuing to stir – this first measure will most likely hiss as it hits the hot pan and be absorbed fairly instantly into the flour-butter. Continue slowly adding milk and stirring till you have something that looks like sauce – the amount of milk may vary, but you want to end up with enough to comfortably coat the roasted cauliflower while still being quite thick. Throw in a handful of cheese and the wasabi paste and stir until the cheese has melted into it and the wasabi is thoroughly incorporated. Taste to see if it needs more of anything – some salt, more wasabi, a little more milk, whatever. 

Remove the cauliflower from the oven, spatula the cheese sauce evenly over it, allowing it to sink into the crevices between each floret. Sprinkle over another handful of cheese, and put it back into the oven for another five minutes – at this point you can turn the oven onto grill to brown the cheese on top, although keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn. Eat. 



Obviously I’ve ranted at length about how good this is already, but just know that I intended to eat half of this and retain the leftovers for the following day; instead I went into a kind of fugue state and galloped through the lot in one sitting, sinuses stinging from the wasabi and eyes damp with the particular joy that melted cheese bestows.

Spring has sprung and it’s filling me with this weird sense of optimism – I do love a good solid wallow in icy wintery weather but damn it if the sunshine doesn’t manipulate me into feeling beatifically happy. Nevertheless it has been dark and cold for so long that I’ve forgotten what one even does in nice weather, and I have been spending (some might say squandering) almost all of the sunshiny hours on watching The OC and sighing over how truly good Sandy Cohen is and how literally perfect the character of Summer is, while knitting my way through an enormous Lenny Kravitz-inspired scarf. Thank goodness Sandy Cohen’s constant prattling on about bagels left me with such an enormous craving for them that I had to leave the house in search of them eventually, thus not entirely missing the beautiful blue-skied weather: thanks, TV! 
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title from: The Way I Are, Timbaland and Keri Hilson’s banger from 2007 that I once danced so hard to that I fell onto a bed, bounced off it onto a dresser, and broke my fall with my incisor tooth. Was miraculously fine though: ain’t nothing gonna break my stride or my teeth. 
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music lately: 

be your own PET, Damn Damn Leash. Their entire self-titled album is bratty gold, the kind of music that makes you want to go kick a letterbox or something, but this early track was the first of theirs that I ever heard and I was instantly hellaciously smitten. 
Faith No More, Epic. Ugh I can’t quit this song. It’s also gloriously bratty and I love how Mike Patton sounds kinda congested and it makes me wanna dance SO hard.  

My Bloody Valentine, the Loveless album. It’s the kind of thing you have to put headphones on and lie on the floor to listen to but gosh damn it’s lush and crunchy and dreamy and all good things. It really suits being listened to all at once but I guess if you want an entry point, When You Sleep or I Only Said are wonderful.  
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next time: if Sandy Cohen has his way, it will be some kind of bagel stuffed with bagels served upon a bed of bagels. 

alone, listless, breakfast table in an otherwise empty room

The box in the background is where all my kitchen accoutrements will go, including this bowl and fork. Once I’ve washed them, don’t worry.

This is the last blog post I’ll be writing from my not-quite-my-home-anymore-home, before I move house next Wednesday. The new place is like…fine, but I’m going to miss where I am now so much: the celestial light, the concrete floors, the bathroom that looks like it’s from a nice hotel, waking up in the night to see the moon hovering protectively outside my window, how stupidly instagrammable it all is, how enormous my room is, and so on and (self-indulgently wallowing) so forth. But, as I say to myself sternly, a change could be good for me, and whether or not it is, it’s still happening, and I can do my best to turn my new room into a beautiful haven too. I have a recurring bad dream where it’s suddenly Christmas Day and I have five minutes to get to my plane home and forgot to buy any presents and am generally very lost and confused as to how it all happened so fast, and that’s a decent description of how I feel right now, but…yeah. It’s happening. And I’m sure I’m gonna love this new place too.

All I’ve been doing with my spare time is looking for a flat, visiting flats, and packing my things up, so not much time to cook, but I wanted to minimise the amount of things I had to transfer between houses and so decided to make some kind of all-inclusive salad from the various nubbins of food in the pantry and fridge. Which means this is kind of ridiculous and bitsy and piecey and not really anything at all, but since it’s the last thing I’m likely to cook here and I don’t want to sacrifice writing this blog just because I am so busy making all signs of myself slowly reduce as the place becomes more and more empty…I thought I’d share it here anyway.

Also gosh, sorry for being so maudlin and overwrought, in my defence, I’m maudlin and overwrought. I am being relatively practical and calm in comparison to my own self, if that makes sense. As I said in my last blog post, a lot of things just kinda suck right now, but I’m working on what I can control (ha! very little) and getting through the rest somehow. Just like everyone else is.

brown rice, wheat berry, fried bean salad

a recipe by myself; makes quite a lot.

half a cup wheatberries 
half a cup brown rice
one cup frozen green beans (or fresh ones trimmed and sliced, you fancy thing you)
half a cauliflower, sliced into florets
two cloves garlic
a couple of tablespoons of capers
50g butter, at least
a handful of almonds, sliced 
olive oil
white wine vinegar
a tablespoon harissa
pinch salt

Soak the wheatberries and rice in boiling water for a couple of hours – this will speed up the cooking process, which will still take kind of ages. There is a reason that they’ve been sitting untouched in my cupboard for so long. 

Cook them together in boiling water in a good sized pot for around 25 minutes or until both the rice and the wheat are tender. Drain, and set aside. Melt the butter in a saucepan till it’s sizzling, then throw in the beans, cauliflower, capers and garlic and allow to fry aggressively till everything is quite browned and cooked through. Add the almonds at this stage and allow them to brown a little too, then remove from the heat. Stir all this into the rice/wheat mixture, then in a small bowl, stir together about three tablespoons of olive oil, one and a half tablespoons of the vinegar, and the harissa and salt. Stir this through the salad then serve. 

The important thing here is lots of olive oil and lots of texture. There are a zillion ways you could change this to suit your own needs – use barley instead of wheat berries (infinitely easier to find/cook anyhow) use just one type of grain, fry different vegetables like broccoli or courgette, use different nuts, use something other than harissa to flavour the dressing, make so many changes that it’s essentially an entirely different recipe, that kind of thing. The soft bite of the grains with the crisp, oily vegetables and crunchy nuts is excellent though, and adding plenty of salt and oil and chilli-rich harissa makes sure it’s delicious and elegant, rather than the punishing and dour.

It keeps well – I ate about a third for lunch on the day that I made it, then ate another third in spoonfuls taken from the bowl while standing in front of the fridge at various hours of the day, and then had the remainder for dinner at work last night. The fridge and pantry are now significantly denuded of things, and I looked up wheatberries on wikipedia and damn they are a good-for-you foodstuff! Satisfaction all round. Except for the photos, it was high afternoon sun and I only decided at the last minute to actually snap this dish, so… Not the best final view of the place, but what can ya do? (Not a lot.)

Just a short blog post today because yeah, got to carry on packing my belongings into boxes until infinity – isn’t it weird how physics is literally a thing and yet if I spend an hour piling books and trinkets into boxes I will have created no extra space and my pile of said books/trinkets will not appear to have diminished whatsoever? Pretty suspicious.

(FC = Fancy Clothes. Please be assured that this is but one bag of clothing that fits this description.)

Okay, lies: have also been rewatching Twin Peaks and knitting myself a blanket from my yarn scraps. Isn’t it too dreamy? Yes it is, Audrey Horne. 

So, next time you see me here it’ll be in my new place. Weird…but hopefully good. 
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title from: I do enjoy Ye Olde Pearl Jam (anything after about 1995 am not interested in whatsoever) and if you haven’t tried ever had a go at singing along while studiously imitating Eddie Vedder’s voice, you’re missing out on some good clean fun, I can tell ya. I had Deep Feelings about the song Daughter in my teens but now just think it’s pretty rad.  
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music lately:  

Joanna Newsom, Sawdust and Diamonds. Um. I have always enjoyed Newsom’s music but am properly close-readingly appreciating it heaps right now. Her lyrics are so spectacular and literary and full of the elements and fragments of stories, I love it. Also her harp is like wo. 

Beyonce, XO. This song makes me feel rapturous. 

Patti Smith, Gloria. I like putting this one on when I’m closing the bar at work, it’s all snarly and good to bounce along to while washing dishes and mopping and inevitably knocking over literally everything and so adding many, many minutes to your closing process. I will never ever tire of the bit where she’s all “Ah, uh, make her mine”.
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next time: I know not, but it’ll be from my new place! So! New things for you all to look at! So there’s that! 

heartbeat drumming double time, i need one more chance to be with you

I’m not saying I don’t have a tonne of feelings as I write this blog post – some might say I’ve got more than ever (“some” being my resentful self side-eyeing every last feeling involved in their unwelcome gentrification of my brain.) But you know, sometimes there’s nothing new to say and sometimes it’s too hard to articulate, and sometimes the food can just jolly well speak for itself. I mean, this is a food blog, not America’s Next Top Best Friend. (I think it has the potential to be that, though.) Besides, if you are hanging out for my feelings like they’re some kind of pizza delivery boy well overdue to knock on your door, well there’s all the other blog posts I’ve written leading up to this point. With extra cheese.

So fried cauliflower is excellent, and roast cauliflower is excellent, but it occurred to me while mindfully spreading butter upon slices of raw cauliflower and consuming them, that…I don’t know, I’ve got a lot of love for this vegetable. Let’s not forget cauliflower cheese, which I don’t see a lot of talk of lately but is still one of the best, most comfort-food foods there is. (Actually you know what else would probably be amazing? Cauliflower mac and cheese.) I thought it would be cool to double up on them as an ingredient, and combine the snappish crunch of raw florets, with their delicate, ever so slightly peppery-butter flavour, with some aggressively fried florets, oily and crisp and charred. It was so good that I pretty much ate an entire head of cauliflower in the process. I’m not sure if that’s impressive or horrifying or really, really…unexciting. The point is, it happened, and only because the salad was so delicious.

double cauliflower salad

a recipe by myself

one large cauliflower
olive oil
a couple of tablespoons of capers
one lemon
a handful or two of walnuts

Slice and break the cauliflower into small florets. Place half in the bowl you intend to serve all this in. Squeeze over the juice of a lemon, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle over the capers. Heat more olive oil – a couple of tablespoons – in a wide saucepan and fry the remaining cauliflower. Don’t stir it too much, you want to let it sit and properly brown and scorch in places. Once they look like they’re nearly done, throw in the walnuts and let them toast for a bit. Remove it all from the heat, stir into the raw cauliflower in the serving bowl, and then…serve. 

(I also considered calling this Cauliflower, Fried and Raw because it reminded me of the title of the book Sarah, Plain and Tall – which I didn’t even like – or calling it Raw Cauliflower and Fried Cauliflower Salad because I can be a bit too literal at times, but double cauliflower salad seemed both the most accurate and the easiest to fit in a tweet. Isn’t food blogging just so fascinating and intellectually stimulating?)

As I said, the texture going on here is incredible, the buttery fresh crunch of the raw and the charred crisp crunch of the fried and then the soft, toasted walnuts echoing the flavours of both. This is surprisingly filling on its own, but could be something of a meal with bread and butter, or as a side dish to go with roasted chicken or some kind of pie, or could happily be stirred through cooled orzo pasta to make a salad, or served on top of soft, bursting-with-cream polenta. Or just eat the lot yourself. It’s probably best made quite close to when you want to serve it, as the fried stuff will start to flop and absorb the lemon juice if left for too long, but I’m not saying that wouldn’t have its own charms as far as eating goes.

Currently life is full of the following: taking myself and my laptop out for coffee dates so I can write and not end up turning my bed into my office, applying for jobs (hi!), getting rejected from job applications (hi!), having head pats and solace and general glorious friendship administered by Kim and Kate, saying “what the actual – oh my – what in the Rupert Campbell-Black was that?” at Orphan Black, and furiously knitting myself a jumper the colour of very rich dark red wine that is being drunk in a darkened room while you’re wearing dark sunglasses. That colour. One other exciting thing: it’s finally cold enough to spend evenings sitting by the heater while not actually wearing that much clothing, which is one of my favourite things to do in winter. Sure, not overly practical, but as Beyonce says: I’m a grown woman, I can do whatever I want. It’s not a bad rule to have in your head as you stumble and strut through life.
 
title from: Ladyhawke, My Delirium. Swoon! 

music lately:

Lit, My Own Worst Enemy. Sometimes I really like listening to bratty music from fifteen years ago.

Frank Ocean, Bad Religion. Oof. Words fail me, y’know?

Kacie Sheik, Air, from the 2009 Broadway Cast Recording of Hair. This song is bonkers but she has got one of the damn cutest voices I’ve ever heard and she makes it all sound lovely. Just watch me spark, I glow in the dark.

next time: who knows, maybe it’ll be truffles on truffles on truffles because I’ll have a job? 

girls girls get that cash, if it’s nine to five or shaking that ass

Every winter I forget how to take photos when it’s dark outside, but decided I liked the mysterious moody what’s-her-story vibe that I ended up getting from these ones.

Tomorrow is my last day of work. The day after that is my birthday. Let’s face it, I am both commanding and exuding some serious special snowflake-ness right now.

With that in mind – the sentence could actually end there, like, just always keep in mind that I am a special snowflake, but actually I did have more to say than that – I have installed a donate button, just on the offchance that anyone feels like supporting me fiscally. Then, after Easter, I’m going to start featuring sponsors. Sponsors being the elegant blogger word for advertising.

This may make my blog seem less authentic or more cluttered to you or something, but honestly, everything is advertising. Why, I’m advertising myself right now just by getting you to read these words. Furthermore, money is useful and nice, and I’m sure you can relate to that.

Don’t for one second feel like you’re obliged to click the donate button, it’s mostly there in case some opportunistic rich person looking to burn through some cash just to feel something real happens to wander past and like what they see. It simply doesn’t hurt to have it there. I adore this blog and while I’d love it to be my primary source of income…somehow…I’ve been more than happy thus far to throw myself at it with every resource I have. But considering I’ve been writing it since 2007, and again, I’m going to be unemployed from 5pm tomorrow, I am entirely chill with my new gimme-the-loot attitude. Plus I’m only going to be collaborating with lovely, cool sponsors, in case you’re worried that you’ll start seeing ads for margarine.

And so, to the food. I made up this recipe in my head as I wandered around the vege market on Sunday. Considering I’d been kept up till 3am on both Friday and Saturday night by fun and good times, I feel I definitely deserve a bouquet of flowers for just being able to put on pants and make decisions like this. But honestly, it’s barely a recipe, it’s just vegetable A on vegetable B on vegetable C, and what motivated it was the freezing weather and the thought of having the oven on for a long time to warm up both the house and the soul.

I tend to blast eggplant with as high a heat as possible, but figured that slow-cooking might break it down in an equally appealing way. And, forever keeping texture in mind, I decided that it needed some kind of contrast, which is where the fried cauliflower comes in. It was all very easy, it worked, and it tasted wonderful. By the way, you can arrange the eggplant and butternut however you feel. My alternating slices felt more pleasing than typical lasagne-style layers, but it all gets covered in cauliflower and falls apart when you spoon it onto your plate. If you still need to arrange them really specifically even with this in mind, I can most definitely respect that.

slow roasted eggplant and butternut with fried cauliflower

recipe by myself.

1 large butternut
2 medium eggplants, or one large one, or literally whatever
1/3 cup cream
1/2 cup vegetable stock
olive oil
butter
half a cauliflower
thyme leaves

Set your oven to 160 C. Slice the eggplant and butternut into rounds. This will be harder with the butternut, just do what you can. I had lots of half-moon scraps that I just tucked underneath everything else. Layer them up how you please, pour over the cream, the stock, and plenty of olive oil – a good couple of tablespoons – and roast for two hours, although check at one and a half if you’re impatient.

Melt at least 25g butter in a pan till it’s sizzling. Roughly slice the cauliflower florets into tiny pieces and fry in the butter, not stirring too much, till they are all dark brown and crisp and crunchy. Remove the dish from the oven, sprinkle the cauliflower over evenly and scatter with thyme leaves. Serve immediately, because the cauliflower will lose its crunch if you leave it sitting too long. Oh and PS, you could replace the cream with more stock and the butter with more olive oil if you want to make this vegan/dairy-free.

I was nervous before I started eating it that I’d somehow failed at putting vegetables in the oven. The liquid hadn’t reduced down much and some of the eggplant looked unpromisingly undercooked. But I was wrong. Which means I was actually right in the first place. The bottom layers slowly absorb the stock, and it was all excellent: butternut softer than the plush underside of an expensive persian cat, yieldingly silky eggplant, buttery nutty popcorn-crisp cauliflower. You can add a zillion more things to this – mustard, nuts, more cream, more herbs, spices, bla bla bla, but I felt like being lazy and letting the flavour of the vegetables shine. Plus there’s butter, and sometimes that’s all you need.

As I said, the liquid doesn’t reduce down very much, so ideally you’d serve this over rice or couscous, or just something that can absorb it all and which you can squash the butternut into with the prongs of your fork. But just as is: super cool.

I feel like I say this a lot lately, but thanks for the kindness following my mega-bleak post last week. While I’d like for you to not have to worry about me (apart from in the “is Laura famous enough yet? Whatever can I do to make this happen? Let’s talk about our top 25 favourite instagrams of hers” kind of way) it also doesn’t sit right with me to be falsely perky simply to attempt to reassure you. It’s not like I’m the only person going through stuff here, I just happen to be very open about it on the internet.

Who could possibly be falsely perky while eating pizza while wearing pizza socks? Admittedly I always get some existential angst going on around my birthday – about how I have this one day, and I have to make it the best it can be and not waste a second and have the time of my life and have I achieved anything lately and so on, but am hoping I can trick this one into being low-key yet excellent. Could also go for dramatically excellent, as long as there’s some excellence involved.
title via: feminist icon, rap icon, general icon Missy Elliot dispensing sound financial advice in her song Work It. “Ain’t no shame ladies do your thing, just make sure you’re ahead of the game.”music lately:

PJ Harvey, My Good Fortune. This song has been with me a long time and remains so, so good with that zig-zag guitar riff and the ey-ey-ey-ey stretching out of the words that is so perfect for dancing to.

Patsy Cline, Walkin’ After Midnight. This song is everything.

Trip Pony featuring Jaykin, Daze. Dreamy dreamy dreamy.
 
next time: hopefully things will be looking even further upwards, and I can get some cool baking done over the easter break.