well I see you there with the rose in your teeth

I have some fascinating developing news for you: firstly, did you know you can get sparkling rosé by the can at the supermarket for like $4? Secondly, I’m leaving my job and devoting my life to my writing! Seriously! $4!

Vegan Rose Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream

But first. You don’t come to Wellington, the city I’ve lived in for 13 years now, for the weather, you just don’t. You come here for, I don’t know, the coffee and “vibrant Cuba Street” and to behold the moustache-to-face ratio with appalled disdain and reluctant respect in equal measure. But in summer 2019, with the chickens of global warming coming home to roost, Wellington is hot as BALLS. And so I felt it would be timely to make some ice cream, not only because it’s my favourite food but also to try and bring down my general temperature and perhaps yours by proxy. The heat has homogenised us and it’s all anyone can talk about now.

Rosé raspberry ripple ice cream sounds, I grant you, like it belongs on those Facebook videos with a wine glass that can hold an entire bottle of wine yet not an ounce of personality, but! The rosé has merit here outside of its pastel-coloured populism. This ice cream is distinctly lush, heavily swirled with blisteringly pink, sherbety, sour-sweet raspberry rosé sorbet. The rosé gives it a kind of biscuity, dry finish while dovetailing beautifully in both blushy colour and blushy flavour, and the oat milk is the perfect inobtrusive yet creamy backdrop for everything.

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The recipe is moderately fiddly, but not in a taxing way, and the only really annoying thing about it is that there is an undeniable quantity of dishes (I don’t know why or what moralistic properties I’ve assigned to individual kitchenware items subconsciously but for example, a bowl? I can calmly wash that. The blade of a food processor? I must lie down with a cold compress over my eyes now.) I like to be relaxed about people swapping ingredients to account for availability and affordability, but I do think oat milk is the best option here, it has a real fulsome mildness similar to actual milk in flavour. Probably soymilk would be the next best thing. If you don’t have custard powder then cornflour is a near-perfect dupe, and I would definitely consider using frozen strawberries instead of raspberries. The use of chickpea brine will either be old news to you or absolutely horrifying but here’s the thing: it acts exactly like egg whites, I don’t know why, it just does, so when you whisk it up it goes thick and creamy and holds its shape and is just an absolute blessing for vegan cooking. And having the actual chickpeas to use is no great burden – blend them into hummus, roast them with some spices, or just coat them with olive oil, salt and pepper, and stir through some rocket.

(And I’ll be honest with you, I’m not saying the rosé was entirely an aesthetic conceit, but if you left it out for whatever reason – financial, non-alcohol-consumption – the ice cream will still be both absolutely fine and delicious. But at $4 a can, can you afford to not buy it?)

Vegan Rose Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream

This really just tastes like summer, the fruity sourness tap-dancing up the side of your face and your skull hurting from the cold, the fragrant, juicy, lipstick-smeared-on-the-side-of-a-glass pink blast of the berries and the creamy, softening properties of the vanilla.

Rosé Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream

a recipe by myself

  • 2 cups (500ml) oat milk
  • 3 heaped tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons custard powder
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) aquafaba (liquid from a can of chickpeas in brine)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 1 vanilla bean (or one teaspoon vanilla paste/two teaspoons vanilla extract)
  • a heaped 1/2 cup frozen raspberries
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) sparkling rosé (or unsparkling will do)

Heat one cup (250ml) of the oat milk gently with the coconut oil and custard powder, plus about half the sugar. Don’t let it get to the point of boiling, but just to where the coconut oil has melted and the sugar has dissolved and the custard powder has thickened it somewhat. Run a sharp knife down the centre of the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the oat milk mixture, whisk in the second cup of oat milk, and then set it aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, start whisking the aquafaba briskly so it becomes thick and airy. Slowly add the remainder of the 3/4 cup of sugar, a little at a time, as you continue whisking. Once the sugar is all whisked in and the aquafaba is thick and meringue-like, add the sea salt and then gently fold it into the oat milk mixture. Spatula all this into a container of just over a litre capacity and freeze for about four hours.

At this point, take the ice cream out of the freezer, scrape it all into a blender or food processor, and process till creamy and smooth. Before you do this there’s a good chance that it will have separated somewhat in the freezer and appear all ice-crystal-y, but a quick go in a blender will make it come together again easily so fear not. Spatula it back into the container and return it to the freezer while you get on with the ripple.

Give the blender or food processor a half-hearted rinse, then process the raspberries, icing sugar and lemon juice to form a thick, bright pink frozen paste. You may need to add a couple of teaspoons of water if the raspberries are very frozen solid. Carefully stir in the rosé. Take the vanilla base back out of the freezer and dollop the raspberry mixture into it large spoonful by large spoonful. Give it the most cursory stir to move the separate parts around a little – you don’t need to mix it in too much and it will naturally form layers and ripples as you scoop it out. Return to the freezer for about six hours or overnight, then it’s all yours.

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Now that we’ve all got our vicarious chills, let’s talk about me. So: every now and then I like to get all irrevocable just to see what happens. This particular shake-up takes the form of two things happening in the near future: I’m leaving my apartment and moving in with my dear friends Kate and Jason for a while and leaving my job as a bartender, with the distinct aim of (a) avoiding burnout and (b) focussing on my writing and (c) yes, working out how I’m going to support myself as a writer but also (d) not burning out!

Though it may sound like a madcap lark, an imprudent caper, I am in fact acting upon what I talked about at the start of the year – I really really wanted to throw myself into my writing this time around the sun and I had this convergence of a ton of writing ideas crystallising at once, my lease coming to an end, and just desperately needing a break from hospitality, intoxicating though it is. I mean I’m genuinely fairly spooked at the contemplation of not being a bartender, it’s been my life round the clock and a large chunk of my personality for the last five years! This is not a decision I came to lightly or suddenly but man, there’s something incredible in a sandblastingly intense kind of way way about actually making a decision with clarity instead of letting life wash over you, isn’t there?

And I know, I can’t just not work, like, mate, I don’t think I’m above capitalism, if anything, I am capitalism. By which I mean, with my life upheaval in mind I’ve updated my Patreon to tell you about the exciting writing projects I’m going to be working on soon and how you could directly be supporting them. So if the notion of contributing to the existence of, for example, a novel that is (very reductively, but for the sake of brevity!) Dazed and Confused meets Kitchen Confidential or a cookbook about what to cook when you’re too depressed to cook sounds like something you’d like to claim early adoption of, then consider becoming a Patron of mine!

(Benefits to being a patron include exclusive monthly content made just for you, like, this month I reviewed every book I read and film I watched in January. Sample text: “Rachel Weisz could kick me in the head and I would thank her for it.”)

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You in turn can comfortably expect not only more blog posts from me but also more energy expressed therein, as opposed to me complaining about how tired and lacking-in-time I constantly am. On top of which I will be using my newfound spare time to get back into freelancing and pitching ideas at people so if anyone has any leads, please! Get in touch. Sometimes you have to lose money to make money, as the saying goes!

title from: Famous Blue Raincoat, Leonard Cohen. “It’s four in the morning, the end of December“, is such a captured mood, isn’t it? This song is so utterly miserable and downbeat but just when it seems too much to bear, it gently but firmly unfolds into this incredibly optimistic major key for what I guess you could call the chorus but then! Just as quickly! Retreats in fear and the second verse is somehow even more unhappy. Cohen, you maven of misery, moving tears from duct to cheek like an efficient shepherdess.

music lately:

1080p, by Sammus, a rapper, producer and PhD student from Ithaca, this is beautiful, I love the cadence of her voice, how it has a slight break to it, and there’s so many sharp lines (“we never talk yet we still share a f**ing Netflix”…”glad I took my ass to some therapy/Now I’m seeing the world in 1080p“)

I Woke Up In A F**ked Up America, Lonnie Holley. This is about as intense as you’d expect from the title, I love the record-skip repetition and layered horns and the vibrato of his voice and yeah, the intensity. Holley has had quite a life, I recommend looking him up on Wikipedia.

On My Own, Frances Ruffelle, from the Original Cast Recording of Les Miserables. There’s such a Bernadette Peters-esque porcelain-and-steel quality to her voice and I love the angle of her vowels and the way she leans into her consonants – see also the way she says “HMmbut he never saw me there” in One Day More – but also consider listening to Kaho Shimada, singing the same song from the 1988 Complete Symphonic Recording of Les Miserables, I will never stop telling anyone who will listen about how Kaho Shimada didn’t speak any English and learned her lines phonetically for this recording and her voice SOARS on the big bit near the end (you know the bit, “all my life, I’ve only been pretending” it’s the bit you came for.) I think there’s some kind of echo effect that’s been layered on it as well which makes it sound particularly as though it’s being carried on eagles wings and I don’t know what it is about high summer but it seems to compel me to devote my life to playing the same seven to nineteen Les Miserables clips on YouTube.

Next time: Something extremely from my storecupboard as I’m trying to avoid spending as much as possible between now and my last shift.

forever green, I know she’s here

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Wednesday was so momentous in a way that I’m not sure I can accurately convey other than to hope that as you’re reading this you’re trying to understand what it means to me: I met Nigella Lawson. I was always into food in an opportunistic way but it was seeing her TV show in 2001 that showed me for the first time that food could be a cause of real happiness for not just the eater but also the cook. Without a doubt I would not have started food blogging if not for her, I probably would not have achieved much of anything in fact. If you’ve been reading this blog for even a minute you’ll already know this, but again, it’s just so big for me! This has got magnitude! It needs big mise-en-scène!

How it came together, and I still can scarcely believe that it did, was that Nigella has been on a tour where she will sit in front of an audience and be cushily interviewed and receive questions (not, as I kept accidentally calling it, “in concert”) and Mum and Dad (it was Dad’s idea) displayed the most absolute incredible parenting skills in getting me a ticket to her Wellington date for Christmas.

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Ever since I was a child I’ve always been comfortably and righteously convinced that whatever I’m obsessed with, there is none more so than I in possession of said obsession, and I am afraid to say that I was in this same frame of mind when I sat in the audience, selfishly feeling that my very presence there was so tightly packed with intensity that there should be a secondary audience watching me being in the audience in a Marina Ambracoviç-esque performance art piece. I’m not afraid to admit that I genuinely started crying when Nigella Lawson walked out on stage, before she’d even said a word. And once she did, she was – of course – wonderful. So generous, so clever, so good at making the least of the questions appear to inspire these witty and expansive answers, so warm and lovely and confident and just everything a person could hope for in someone so long idolised.

A couple of days ago I took a plate of food to a potluck dinner at a friend’s house and we spent much of the night staring off their thirteenth-floor balcony, beholding the Super Blood Wolf Moon scooting across the night sky. Now, I love the moon (I have no less than three tattoos of the moon on me and at one point was like “I hope the moon is impressed by this” and didn’t even stop to qualify that I was being humorous or whatever because honestly I think was being sincere) and without wanting to sound like a dick it genuinely felt quite momentous to be in its presence on this night, the moon so swollen and golden and we so relatively insignificant.

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I had this same feeling in the presence of Nigella Lawson, like I was somehow gaining power and energy from her, and while it was probably a combination of hype and restless energy and also lack of sleep – does it make sense to you though? Do you ever see someone and suddenly think “I could achieve anything I want, I need never stand for anything less than what I deserve, and what I deserve is good things, and I could kick a hole in the sky?” If not, have you ever tried standing in front of Nigella Lawson? Is it a coincidence that I saw her in the same week that I saw the Super Blood Wolf Moon? Do coincidences even exist? Will I ever sleep? (I should’ve probably mentioned this sooner but, I wrote this in middle of the night so please bear with me, or continue to at this point.)

Just in case I threaten to float away like a vainglorious novelty balloon, I share with you the following photo which cracks me up but at the time was just seconds away from ruining everything: so, when you line up to get your book signed by Nigella Lawson (as you can see below, that I did), there was a guy standing there to take your phone so he could photograph the moment. But the guy in charge of this important yet straightforward job, somehow thought that the person standing in front of me was my friend, and started to take a photo on their phone. And I was like no, wait, here is my phone, but also don’t you dare distract me from my brief moment with Nigella Lawson don’t you understand my entire life has been mere prelude to this point you actual imbecile – but I didn’t say any of this verbally, not wanting to cause a scene, instead, as you can see below, it was just kind of written on my face instead.

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A beautiful moment.

Luckily I managed to put my own phone in his hands and captured a more sanguine shot of Nigella Lawson and I talking, and for all this talk of being charged with power I was honestly so overwhelmed by being face to face with her that all I managed to do was murmur “you’ll never know how much you mean to me” which to her credit, probably from years and years and years of this sort of carry-on, she received cheerfully, before being hustled away from her glowing, tide-pulling presence.

I brought this week’s recipe with me to the aforementioned potluck dinner; the green beans are but a delicious conduit and the sauce is the real point of the exercise here: you could use said sauce on noodles (udon, I reckon), you could pour it over roast vegetables, you could employ it as a dip, you could mix it with rice, you could use it in a potato salad – but before we get too carried away with its potential, what actually is it? Well, it’s a sauce, that’s green, hence the name Green Sauce. I initially considered it to be both a coriander and peanut pesto and a green satay sauce but also surmised quickly that that would be simultaneously wildly insulting to both Italian and Malaysian cuisine. So: Green Sauce. It does hinge entirely upon your feelings towards coriander, admittedly – I love the stuff, its fragrance somehow earthy yet citrussy at the same time with so much grassy flavour from the stalks. Blitzed into a puree with nutty (of course) peanuts; plenty of rich olive oil, and the caramelly saltiness of miso, this makes for a compellingly punchy and near-instant sauce.

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Green Beans in Green Sauce

a recipe by myself

Green Sauce

  • leaves and stalks from one of those supermarket coriander plants, or from a large bunch of coriander
  • half a cup, ish, baby spinach leaves
  • 1 cup unsalted peanuts
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (though be prepared to add more)
  • 1 heaped teaspoon white miso paste
  • 1 heaped teaspoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice (or lemon if you don’t have lime)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon maple syrup or similar
  • 1 tablespoon cold water
  • Plenty of salt and pepper to taste

To serve

  • 2 cups frozen shelled edamame beans
  • 1 cup long green beans, topped and tailed and halved

Place all the sauce ingredients in a blender and blitz till it forms a thick green paste. Add a little extra olive oil or water (or both) and blend again if it needs to be more liquid. Taste and see if it needs more salt or lime juice.

Steam the edamame and green beans (I put them in a colander balanced on some chopsticks over a pan of boiling water but in fact feel free to simply simmer them in the water itself) – and don’t worry about defrosting the edamame. Once the beans are lightly tender, remove from the heat and run briefly under cold water, allowing them to drain thoroughly.

Tip the beans into a serving bowl, stir through the sauce, and that’s it really. Garnish with a few extra peanuts or reserved coriander leaves if you wish.

As discussed it has plenty of applications but the way I used it – with a double-billing of edamame and long green beans – is delicious, not only do you get the pleasing dovetailing of colour, but the bright, buttery soft crunch of the beans against the fulsomeness of the sauce is wonderful.

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So long in the making, so important.

title from: Velouria by Pixies, not my favourite of theirs but! What a lovely song.

music lately:

I Wanna Sleep In Your Arms by Modern Lovers. Title says it all, really.

The Angel of Death by Hank Williams, its calming waltz time signature belied by the lyrics’ gentle yet sinister persistence.

The Look, by Roxette, a song that is deeply silly and that I also find intoxicating. I remember first hearing it when I was really young and something in the minor key progression and harmonies in the chorus made me feel almost queasy but in a very good way? You know how music does that to you sometimes? (I can’t quite put my finger on why, other than maybe the minor key just genuinely messes with me, but like, for example, Shampain by Marina and the Diamonds has a similar buzz for me.)

Next time: two cocktails!

PS as I mentioned in my last post I have started a Patreon page where you can have the distinct honour of supporting this blog in as small or as large a capacity as you feel like and in return I will create even more content just for you and you’ll be genuinely helping me get by!

New Mexico ain’t bad Lord, and the people there, they treat you kind

Vegan Carne Adovada

Despite having lived a substantial quantity of my life before social media ever wrapped its tentacles around me in a way that felt like love, no one could deny that I’ve thrown myself quite whole-heartedly into it since. Nevertheless I was like, how do I explain the premise of this week’s recipe? Inspired by a tweet I saw? That wasn’t even directed at me? But I guess it’s pretty simple, really, because social media is EVERYWHERE. When I went home for Christmas Mum and Dad were talking about a local Facebook group that is like Craigslist, community noticeboard, judge-jury-and-executioner and then some all in one that started off as a simple meme page. And I was like yeah, there’s one of those where I live but it’s the reverse, initially for students to offload their Psych 101 textbooks and now it’s kind of a Wellington meme page YET also the only conduit I could or indeed would fathom of for like, getting rid of a mattress. And I’m pretty sure every town has one now!

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I count myself lucky to follow so many people on Twitter who seem genuinely incredible, most of them women, and who will so casually drop the kind of powerful or powerfully hilarious tweets that entire teams of television writers would weep hot tears of jealousy over. And while Minka, the person who wrote the tweet that inspired this week’s recipe, is 100% in this category, the tweet itself was highly innocuous. It was December 4th, it was Minka tweeting to someone else the simple words “IMAGINE VEGAN CARNE ADOVADA” – that’s all! I’ll be honest, I was not feeling particularly wonderful that day and definitely not feeling imaginative. But the tweet stuck in my head, to the point where I would literally hear it as if it were a song’s lyric, and at last I decided to actually, well, imagine it. Am I saying Minka’s tweet cured my depression? I’m not not saying it?

Vegan Carne Adovada

Vegan Carne Adovada

a recipe by myself but inspired directly by this recipe of J.Kenji López-Alt and this recipe from I Am New Mexico.

  • 4 dried ancho or poblano chiles (I used 5 large dried Anaheim chiles as this was alas all I could find), seeds and stems removed
  • 4 whole chipotle chiles, canned in adobo (I used the La Morena brand)
  • Zest and juice of a large orange
  • 5 prunes
  • 3 cups vegetable stock (by which I mean, use your preferred stock powder to make this) plus 1 cup extra
  • 1 heaped tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or similar
  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1 can of jackfruit in brine
  • 1/2 cup of flour or cornflour (use the latter to make this gluten-free)
  • plenty of olive oil, for frying
  • 1 large onion, peeled and roughly diced
  • 6 large garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup or date syrup
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Plenty of salt and pepper to taste
  • Warmed tortillas, coriander, rice, to serve

Step 1: The Sauce

Heat up the dried chiles in a large frying pan, till they are aromatic but not smoking. Add the prunes, the zest and juice of the orange, the canned chipotles (don’t rinse them), the vinegar, the nutritional yeast and three cups of the vegetable stock, and bring to the boil. Let it bubble away for ten minutes, and then remove from the heat. Carefully blitz the lot in a blender to form a thick red sauce, and then transfer this to a large mixing bowl. You might find it easier to scoop out all the solids and blend them with a small quantity of the liquid before adding the rest, either way just be careful about blending hot stuff. Stir in the cumin, oregano, maple syrup, bay leaves, and a good pinch of salt and pepper, and set aside.

Step 2: The Stuff in the Sauce

Wash and dry the saucepan and heat up about three tablespoons of olive oil in it. Trim off the stem and then cut the eggplant into rough cubes and chunks, and fry them in the hot oil till dark golden brown on all sides. Tip them into the bowl of red chile sauce and return the pan to the heat.

Now, gently fry the onion and garlic in the same pan, perhaps adding some more oil if it needs it, stirring occasionally and allowing it to soften and turn golden.

While this is happening, thoroughly drain the can of jackfruit and using your hands, pull the pieces of jackfruit into smaller segments. Don’t throw away any seeds or whatever, it’s all good stuff.

Transfer the onion and garlic into the bowl of red chile sauce with the eggplant and get on to frying the jackfruit. You want to heat up another few tablespoons of olive oil in the same pan, and dip each piece of jackfruit into the flour before throwing it into the pan. Your aim here is to leave the jackfruit for long enough that it caramelises and turns golden on all sides – this will take some patience and the flour will go a bit scungy in the oil but it’s worth it for the end result. When the jackfruit pieces are golden brown and the fibrous edges look good and crisp, throw the whole lot, including whatever flour-oil gunk is in the pan – into the bowl of red chile sauce.

Step 3: Marinating, cooking, actually eating

Cover the bowl of red chile sauce and refrigerate for a couple of hours or overnight. When you’re ready to cook it, set your oven to 150C/300F and transfer the carne adovada into a baking dish. Give it a taste to see if it wants any more salt or anything. Use the extra cup of vegetable stock (or honestly just tap water is fine by this point) to sluice around the bowl that you’ve been marinating everything in, to catch any remaining sauce, and tip this over the contents of the roasting dish.

Bake for around an hour, or until everything looks rich and saucy and a little caramelised from the oven’s heat. Serve however you like – heated up tortillas, coriander, and rice is a good start.

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Without exaggeration, I honestly think this is one of the greatest recipes I’ve ever tasted and were it not for Minka’s tweet I’d have missed this opportunity completely. I’ve never been to New Mexico (where the dish originates) and am by no means familiar with New Mexico cuisine; I had in fact only hirtherto heard of Carne Adovada via Minka’s other tweets about it. With this in mind, I strenuously emphasise, that while I created the recipe that you see above, it is completely and directly based on the recipes that I linked to – one quite complex, one very simple – and I’m just a culinary tourist from a far-away land, rather than any kind of expert in this particular field. Nevertheless, allow me to respectfully explain myself.

In order to emulate the pork that is normally used in Carne Adovada (and I know carne means meat but I’m not about to do something gross like calling the recipe “car-nay”) I went for a double-pronged approach: darkly fried cubes of eggplant, oily and melting and rich; and then jackfruit, coated in flour and fried till golden and crisp: this provides that mild sweetness and, for want of better words, meaty fibrousness. Jackfruit is (a) a revelation and (b) really inexpensive and pretty easy to find these days, however on its own it felt a little un-luscious, hence the pairing. Both of these were marinated overnight in a ketchup-thick sauce made hot with papery, blood-dark dried chiles and smoky little canned chipotles and aromatic with cumin and oregano. I used prunes to sweeten the sauce because it’s what I had and I also felt they had a kind of meatiness to them, but you do what suits – one of the recipes I referenced used raisins, while the other recipe didn’t include any sweetening agent at all.

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The final slow bake in the oven makes the sauce so, well, saucy, and it’s all smoky and hot in this complex-yet-straightforward way and the eggplant and jackfruit melt and pull apart in your mouth and it’s all full-bodied and lush and while there’s a few steps involved it’s unbelievably rewarding and almost meditative to prepare each part of it. Now, when I try to make an existing recipe vegan my aim is more to evoke the abundance that meat or animal products provides rather than “this tastes like meat”, but…it doesn’t not taste meaty, you know? By which I mean I think this would and should be happily received by absolutely anyone. Thank you, Minka!

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Speaking of social media and providing spectacular content for free; this seems as good a time as any to tell you that I’ve started a Patreon page for my writing. Patreon allows you to be a modern day Patron of the Arts, magnanimously bestowing your literal money upon those of us who create in return for (a) a certain glow that I can merely assume only comes from having money and (b) the promise of exclusive content for your trouble. There is no sense of obligation or expectation placed upon any of you individually, it’s just sheer opportunism – like, if I can get money off someone then I might as well get money off someone, you know? And it’s a whole lot easier to be inspired, by tweets or otherwise, when you can comfortably pay rent. So, I entreat you to consider joining this exclusive band of money-havers, but if you don’t I’m not going to like, stop blogging, I would however like to stop talking about money just one time.

title from: White Freight Liner Blues, by Townes Van Zandt, whose despondence is to my ears like electrolytes are to, well, wherever they go – the blood?

music lately:

Last Week in HTx by Megan Thee Stallion, look her up!! She has so many good tracks but I love the way the “bitch I’m from Texas” line in the hook anchors everything in this song.

Thursday Girl, by Mitski, this song literally ruins me and YET I’ve also made a playlist on Spotify that only has this song on it and no one has stopped me, so. I’m obsessed with the nineties singer-songwriter Natalie Merchant buzz on the fourth refrain of “tell me no” in the chorus.

Venus in Furs, Velvet Underground. So throbbing and hypnotic! I’ll never forget the look on my boss’s face when I was playing it really loudly at the tiny German bakery that I worked at in 2006 and they walked in and without saying a word turned it off and then left and got in their car and drove away.

Dues, by Ronee Blakley, from the amazing Robert Altman film Nashville. Blakley performed this in the film as her character Barbara Jean but she actually wrote it herself in real life, and while several of the songs from the film are meant to be satirical of the country genre, this is just a beautiful and achy waltz and very, very real.

Next time: possibly a cocktail but also it’s been too long since I’ve made ice cream, right?

and I can start a book, I can make some mac and cheese, I can sleep twelve hours

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Last Saturday I had the good fortune to appear on Radio New Zealand to talk about recipes for a tight yet manifestly fruitful eleven minutes and three seconds; as a result I had a whole lot of new people sign up to get my blog posts emailed to them. And I was like maaaan I hope I impress those who signed up in all innocence who don’t know that I’m constantly talking about my mental health and even worse, how I use the word “like” as verbal filler even though I’m writing and not like, talking out loud and therefore in need of said fillers, like, how is it that my written words somehow manage to have vocal fry?

I was also hoping to get this blog post done sooner in order to impress said new kids and indeed, literally anyone, but I’ve been SO TIRED which you either know or shall come to learn is like 67% of what I talk about, but in my defence, this week feels next level, as though all I’ve done is work or try to sleep and infuriatingly be unable to do so; you know that particular tired where the skin under your eyes feels like hot scratchy lace and there’s an egg-shaped queasiness in the centre of your ribs?

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(Speaking of eggs I last appeared on this same segment of the Radio NZ show a few years ago and at the time confessed to host Charlotte Graham-McLay that I did not know how to poach an egg, or more specifically: I knew how, but I was never successful at it. Before my appearance on the show again last Saturday, sitting outside the studio, she asked me if I was still unable to poach an egg and I was like “well yeah nah, yeah but I’m vegan now so I don’t have to worry about it.” And then I paused and was like “that’s not why I became a vegan.”)

Despite my frantic-making tiredness I’ve been productive in a gritted-teeth kind of way; I’ve somehow managed to read three books (and am halfway through another), I’ve watched twelve films (insomnia is good for something at least), I’m halfway through a knitting project and I made myself food. Specifically, this recipe for Roasted Carrot Mac n Cheese!

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Roasted Carrot Mac n Cheese

a recipe by myself

  • 7 (or so) carrots from a bunch, the kind that are smallish and have lots of green on the end and look like something from a Beatrix Potter book; or about three regular big normal carrots
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup roasted salted cashews
  • 1/3 cup oat milk, almond milk, or similar
  • 2 heaped tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon dijon or American mustard
  • a pinch of garlic powder or one clove of garlic
  • a pinch of ground cumin
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • a pinch of paprika, preferably the nice smoky kind
  • a very small pinch of turmeric
  • salt and pepper to taste (I prefer sea salt and really dusty cheap ready-ground black pepper, personally.)

To serve

  • 100-200g small dried pasta for example, but not exclusively, macaroni (I used something called Cavatelli)

Optional:

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Set your oven to 220C/430F. Slice or pull the leafy tops off the carrots and place them (the carrots, that is, not the leafy tops) in a shallow roasting dish. If you’re using regular carrots, slice them in half across the middle and then slice each half lengthwise in half, if that makes sense. Drizzle liberally with olive oil (just regular stuff is fine) and sprinkle over a little salt. Put them in the oven for around twenty minutes, or until they’re thoroughly roasted, you know, all soft and caramelised and a little shrivelled (I can’t think of a better word for it, sorry.)

Allow them to cool, then place them in a high speed blender with the oat milk, olive oil (plus tip in any olive oil that is left in the baking dish), the cashews, the nutritional yeast, mustard, lemon juice, the spices, garlic, and a little salt and pepper. Blend it thoroughly until it’s thick and creamy and there’s no trace of actual carrot or carrot remaining, then taste to see if it needs anything more – perhaps some more salt (don’t be shy) or a little more milk, just trust your tastebuds, basically. At this point, you can either spatula it into an airtight container and refrigerate it for up to a week for further use, or set to with stirring it into some pasta. In which case…

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil (I always boil the kettle first and then tip that into the pan, which saves a ton of time) and cook your pasta for around ten to twelve minutes, or until it’s tender. Drain thoroughly, then mix through the sauce. If you want, you can at this point blitz up the slice of bread with the sunflower seeds and nutritional yeast in a food processor or blender, sprinkle it on top, drizzle it with olive oil and grill till the top is browned and crunchy, but serving it just with the sauce is completely fine too.

Serves 2, or 1 with leftovers.

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I feel that a lot of vegan cooking is like playing that game where you have to describe a noun like “pencil” or “John McEnroe” or something without actually naming it, which is not a dig, I excel at such games. So here I use the words “mac n cheese” to evoke a mood rather than to convey anything literal (which to be fair you could like, reasonably expect from a recipe title, but) and everything that goes into it has its own specific purpose in the game to get you closer to imagining that which the title suggests. The spices – earthy cumin, nutmeg brings sweetness and also tricks you with its cheese-sauce familiarity; the mustard and lemon give tang and the turmeric and paprika give colour and a little back-of-throat smokiness and the high speed of the blender’s blades force salty, buttery cashews and rich, nutty, oily almost-sweet roast carrots to relinquish any commitment to their current cellular structure in order to become creamy and thickly, billowingly pureed. And of course nutritional yeast, which really does taste pretty similar to cheese and is therefore a completely obvious addition and there’s no need to get weirdly poetic about it.

The carrots are the real heroes of the piece here and I’m delighted that my idea for using them thusly worked so well. I urge you to find those cartoon-like bunches of smaller carrots bound together by their almost fluffy, leafy green tops: they simply have a ton more character and flavour than a regular-ass carrot, but if that’s all you can find then don’t let that stop you by any means. If I had my time again I’d honestly probably make double the quantity of sauce so that the pasta could get really truly submerged but as it was, modestly coated and with the crunchy sunflower-seed-breadcrumb topping (and you could just use breadcrumbs, I just decided to really lean into this whole, you know, thing), it was completely delicious.

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Through appearing on the radio (which I adore doing by the way, not much makes me happier than having a microphone in my face especially if I’m talking about myself and I encourage anyone else who’s looking for such a person to consider me) there was another pleasing side-effect: my Frasier food blog got unprecedented (by which I mean like, seven) views and I received three separate notifications that literally essentially just said “wow someone is actually reading this, end of notification!” Even my blog platform, inanimate though it is, is excited! All of which – talking into a microphone, new readers, the whole thing – makes me feel optimistic and excited! I’m admittedly approaching a somewhat anxiety-inducing fork in the road as my apartment lease comes to an end in February and I don’t know what I’m going to do about it yet and I feel like I’m never going to stop reeling with exhaustion but, with such tangible achievements already achieved in this young year, I’m okay to rest briefly on my laurels. And hopefully even sleep on them at some point.

PS new readers, one final thing I’d like to have noted for posterity is that the photo of me on the Radio New Zealand page is really old.

title from: The Frug by Rilo Kiley. A quiet and slightly odd but sweet little song from way back in their back catalogue, it does feel very of its time, by which I mean a song written in 1998 that appears on the soundtrack of a Christina Ricci film, yes it’s a genre.

music lately:

It Takes a Muscle To Fall In Love, by Spectral Display, it’s so calm and yet so beautifully momentous at the same time. It bears some of that same hypnotic energy as Scritti Pollitti’s Sweetest Girl but is less sinister. I adore them both.

Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime, by The Field, it’s one of those songs that’s so bordering on ambient that it almost blends into the background but suddenly the minor key cracks open into a major key and it feels like the sun is rising in your face.

Legend of Pat Brown, by Vandals. There’s an appealing matter-of-factness to the singer’s voice, and it’s just a great song, okay.

Oh, and some time after I published my eleventh anniversary blog post I thought it would be funny or fun something to make annual Spotify playlists of every song (that I was able to find on Spotify, that is) that I mentioned in this bit of the blog. I started doing this bit two years in which is why the playlists for each year’s songs start from 2009; anyway it’s just kind of nice and occasionally horrifying, potentially for me and me alone, seeing what I was listening to in any given year, like a little time capsule. If you want to check them out, and indeed, any of my other playlists of varying quality (by which I mean, from good quality to really good quality), I’m here on Spotify.

Next time: I intend to be (a) less tired and (b) that’s it really that’s as far as I’ve got.

i am the new year, i’m the way home

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Well well well, if it isn’t 2019, waltzing in bang on time. To start the year off with perhaps unearned but nevertheless ebullient ebullience I have two recipes for you, one via my mother and one via my father.

But first: I have a suspicion about the momentousness of the New Year that I also carry for weddings – everyone’s all, “we’ve got to have the time of our life! It’s New Year’s Eve! The party of the year! New Year New Me! This year will be different!” But where is that energy on like, March 3rd? Where is that energy every time someone complains about Monday looming unwelcomely on the horizon? Why are we so pressed about this one particular day that we otherwise would regard with indifference at best? That’s right, the New Year is but another calendar day. (How, if you’re wondering, this relates to weddings is: at said weddings we are all “love’s purest incarnation stands before us! I can’t believe these two love each other! I’ve never experienced anything like this! Not since the last wedding I attended!” And then two years down the line, if we see the same couple doing their groceries or whatever, well, what then of the flower petals and glad tidings? Why do we not cry and do poetry readings right there in the cat food aisle? How is it that their love is super interesting on the day of the wedding and then super mundane for the foreseeable future?)

THAT SAID! Any nudge in the direction of reflection and self-improvement is not the entire worst, and if you can use the turning of the year as motivation to do literally anything slightly better then well done, you. Indeed, as I shall demonstrate, I myself am not above such nudging! Despite my strong yet wilfully simplistic feelings about weddings, I am not anti-New Years sentiment at all. It’s just, something I have learned in this rich and storied life of mine is that every day can be a fresh start, a tiny new year, and relentless self-pressure once a year is not, in fact, the same as clear-headed motivation.

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With all that in mind I have some cautious yet hope-filled intentions for the year, about which I’m just going to see what happens but also, y’know, put in some effort, and they are as follows: I’d like to save money so I can go somewhere, perhaps on holiday, as befits an adult of my age yet eludes me entirely; I like the idea of getting kind of jacked upper arms; I wish to resume knitting again but for real; I intend to maintain a bullet journal and use it to help me in turn maintain healthy choices (it’s working so far, I’ve already cleaned my teeth every single day this year); I’d simply love, come December, to look back on the year and not regret any time wasted although that’s obviously fairly abstract and difficult to control, but most specifically and above all: I will prioritise my writing this year. I spent a lot of 2018 feeling paralysed by various factors but in 2019 I want to create more recipes, plan a cookbook, pitch more things, do fiction or fiction-ish writing, work out if I’m any good at poetry, I’m sure I am, get literally anyone to read my excellent Frasier food blog, make this blog absolutely shine, embark on projects with confidence and just really sincerely believe in myself and to not let any bad mood or sad mood or person or rejection or fear or tiredness stop me from that. (When I went home for Christmas, Mum was like “when your lease ends in February you could always just move back here and pretend it’s a writers retreat” and I was like “honestly, you know, that like, for real, could like, you know?”)

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Speaking of, going home for Christmas was the inspiration for the double-feature of recipes that you get today! First of all, on Christmas Eve while I was drinking port and enthusiastically re-watching The Crown with Dad, Mum whipped up this batch of immensely wholesome crackers held together only with goodwill and the gluey properties of chia seeds. It’s a recipe she absorbed, chia-like, from her best friend Vivienne (hence the name: Viv’s Crackers) and I honestly could not get enough of them. Because they’re comprised entirely of seeds, cooked long and slow, there’s this incredible toasty crunch yet utter lightness to them, and they’re just fantastically addictive as well as undoubtedly putting a shine on your coat with each one consumed. Mum and Viv drove me up to the airport on the day I flew back to Wellington to go to work and I pressed them for the recipe and their response was pretty vague – it’s just one of those recipes where you squint at the mixing bowl and make choices in the moment, the sort of thing that Aunt Daisy with all her instinctive wisdom and lively brevity would cook if she were around today. What I’ve written above is a kind of amalgam of what they told me, and obviously you can add many other things – Mum’s batch had cashews and pistachios in it, and Viv recommends adding a little chilli to the mixture. Either way, you’re only minimal effort and admittedly several hours’ slow baking away from nutty, softly crunchy deliciousness.

The Pkhali, which is a Georgian spinach and walnut dip, comes from a recipe in a cookbook that I got from Dad for Christmas, called Eat Your Greens. Thanks Dad! I adapted the recipe a little to suit my own tastes but it’s pretty close to what’s in the book, and what you end up with is this intensely leafy, herbal mixture, nubbly with walnuts and fragrant with spices, with juicy sour crunchy bursts of light-catching pomegranate seeds scattered over. Upon initial tasting it was a little worrisomely spinachy and spinachy alone, but after it sat in the fridge for a while it mellowed and developed and was in fact extremely compulsive stuff. Far be it from me to say what you can and can’t do to a Georgian recipe but I imagine you can play around with the components of this somewhat, based on what you have to hand. The spices all worked beautifully though and I wouldn’t personally change a thing, and the difference between the taste of the mixture before and after I added the citrus was astonishing – I know we’re all watching Salt Fat Acid Heat on Netflix but like, it really livened it up immensely. I find that packaged pomegranate seeds tend to taste a little like nail-polish remover, so if you can’t get a real pomegranate to deseed, I would consider perhaps some lemon or lime zest over the top or maybe some chopped up cherry tomatoes? Anything that makes you be all “damn, that’s fresh.”

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Viv’s Crackers

  • 1/3 cup chia seeds
  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/3 cup flaxseeds
  • a pinch of ground cumin (optional)
  • sea salt

Set your oven to 130C/260F and line a baking tray with baking paper.

Place the chia seeds in a mixing bowl and cover, by about a centimetre, with water. Use a spatula to scrape any seeds that have scooted up the side of the bowl to make sure as much of the chia is submerged as possible. Set the bowl aside for ten or so minutes until the chia seeds have absorbed most of the water and the mixture is all gluey and almost gelatinous.

Stir in the sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and flaxseeds, which should transform it into a thickly seeded paste. Add a splash more water if it seems not paste-y enough, and add more seeds if it seems to need that instead. Tip this unlikely looking mixture onto the baking tray and using your spatula or the back of a spoon, press it down evenly to a thickness of about just under a centimetre. It doesn’t matter what shape you make, as you’re just going to break it all up into pieces anyway, but a uniform thickness is pretty important. Sprinkle with sea salt and the cumin.

Bake for 1 – 2 hours – I know it’s vague, but it all depends on your oven and the curve of the earth and so on. It’s ready when the mixture is dry all the way into the centre and underneath when you lift it up, and the edges are raised slightly. If you can’t seem to be able to get the centre to dry out after an hour or so, try carefully flipping it over (it should be solid enough to do so at this point, by which I mean, I did it) so that the underside gets more heat.

Allow to cool completely, then break into pieces and store in an airtight container.

Pkhali (Georgian Spinach and Walnut Dip)

Adapted from a recipe from Eat Your Greens by Pete Evans

  • 1 large bunch of young spinach leaves or 2 bags of baby spinach leaves
  • a handful of coriander leaves, stalks attached is fine
  • a handful of parsley, stalks attached is also fine
  • 80g walnuts
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper or chilli powder
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice (or lemon juice)
  • sea salt and pepper, lots, to taste
  • pomegranate seeds, to serve

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. While this is happening, thoroughly wash your spinach (if it’s from a supermarket packet you should be fine but the fresh stuff in bunches is full of crevices for dirt to hide in) and then throw it into the pan of water, along with the coriander and parsley, for thirty seconds. Then, remove it from the heat, drain it, and run it under lots of cold water. Put all these wet leaves into a food processor and blend into a thoroughly chopped grassy mulch, then scrape into a bowl and set aside. You’re going to be putting it back in though, so you don’t have to like clean the processor or anything.

Now place the walnuts, garlic, spices, vinegar, lime juice, olive oil, and a decent amount of salt and pepper into the processor and give it a few good blitzes, so that the walnuts are moderately obliterated but not rendered into nut butter or anything. Tip the spinach and herb mixture back in and pulse to combine the lot, then spatula – with some effort this time – the whole lot into a serving bowl. Taste to see if it needs more salt – and it probably will – and consider adding another good drizzle of olive oil. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, which will allow the flavours to develop, and sprinkle generously with freshly shucked pomegranate seeds when you’re ready to serve.

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On January 1st I had a picnic with my two best friends Kim and Kate and we revelled in the glorious nothing-to-do-ness of it all. There’s something quite beautiful about the first day of the year, not knowing what’s up ahead, none of the events that will inevitably tarnish your view of the year have happened yet, all your intentions sing of potential and not of cowardice or time lost or avoidance, it’s like a safe little bubble. We ate these crackers and this dip and some other treats and talked each other up and it was really lovely. (New Years Eve itself I was just working, by the way, which is fine with me as it neatly solves any anxiety about what to do in order to have the time of one’s life, but I also managed cunningly to sign off at midnight and so did what anyone in my shoes – by which I mean me – might do: I danced for three hours. And then got my leg sliced by the contents of the glass bin which I’m choosing magnanimously to not see as a bad sign or anything.)

So, happy new year everyone! This is, I say with all the unearned ebullience of someone who has only yet experienced two and a half days’ worth of it: definitely our year.

title from: New Year by The Breeders. Dreamy yet purposeful, just like me.

music lately:

Clubbed to Death by Rob Dougan, notably used on the Matrix soundtrack. It just really feels like something important is about to happen when you listen to it!

Your Dog, by Soccer Mommy. Starts deceptively low-key and breezily meandering and then the lyrics are just like…wow.

Whilst I have listened to the song a squillion times I hadn’t actually seen the video for Mitski’s frantically lonely song Nobody and though I can guarantee every person has already said this, may I just say – it’s so Bjork-y! (By which I guess I mean, it’s so Michele Gondry-y!) In a wonderful way!

Next time: I made some “cheese” sauce with roasted carrots and other stuff and plan to turn it into mac and cheese at some point, however the weather is SO HOT at the moment that I might have to postpone that in order to favour something colder.

PS if you wish, you can sign up here to receive a version of these blog posts sent to your inbox before anyone else gets to read them, but like, I’m just going to put them up here anyway so you’re in no danger of missing anything if you don’t. Just an option!

daylight, see the dew on the sunflower

I admit, I held some concerns that this recipe was a little insubstantial, especially after the (a) pomp and (b) circumstance of the last blog post’s layer cake, but in a long long work week this felt, and was, manageable. On top of which, as I reasoned with myself: people always need dip. A pile of various crunch-adjacent foods and a bowl of something pliant into which to plunge them is 100% an ideal meal for me, there’s just something so abundant and yet casual, organised yet constraint-free about it.

And in case you were worried that it was all going to be too effortless, be assured that there are no less than two time-consuming steps involved in this, firstly the soaking of the sunflower seeds and then the roasting of the garlic. But nothing is required of you while both these things are happening!

I found this recipe while scooting around online and as you can see, if you click through, my recipe here is quite directly influenced by it. I made some distinct changes though based on interest and availability: the two main ones being I toasted the sunflower seeds before soaking to intensify their flavour, and because I couldn’t find the required black garlic I used regular stuff instead. Naturally I was all, “I feel like this calls for an entire bulb of garlic” – I’m at the point where my perception of garlic has shifted so much that I’m probably going to start treating bulbs of garlic as though they’re individual cloves, but we’ll cross that pungent bridge when we come to it. Honestly though once you roast the hell out of garlic like I did here the flavour is so sweetly mellow, if anything I wanted more of it but appreciate that it would be somewhat ridiculous.

(I also appreciate that it’s wantonly wasteful to turn an oven on for half an hour just for one lone garlic bulb, indeed, with guilt in my heart I also made a loaf of Irish Soda Bread to bake at the same time. It turned out to be absolutely disgusting somehow, completely inedible and I had to remorsefully throw the entire thing in the bin, with the best of intentions creating even more waste. Lesson learned: blameless garlic deserves to take up space.)

This dip (I cannot bring myself to call it hummus as per the recipe it’s based on since it doesn’t contain chickpeas but I grant you: the texture is similar) is just wonderful, buttery and fulsome with an intense nuttiness, with the earthy cumin and sharp lime keeping it from being too formless. Using sunflower seeds as the base was a bit of a revelation for me – they give gorgeous creamy texture and substance and incredible flavour, and delightfully, they cost hardly anything. I happily and willingly ate a whole plateful of vegetables simply because I had this dip to drag them through: against the sweetness of carrots the lime and cumin really sang, while the richness of the olive oil was a magnificent pairing with the surprisingly buttery baby turnips.

Toasted Sunflower Seed and Garlic Dip

A recipe inspired by this one

  • 1 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 whole garlic bulb
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon tahini (I only had black tahini leftover from this salted caramel ice cream recipe hence the murky colour of the finished dip btw)
  • salt and ground pepper, to taste

Toast the sunflower seeds in a dry saucepan (that is, no oil in it or anything) over a medium heat, stirring and keeping an eye on them till they’re all more or less lightly browned. Tip them into a bowl or small jug, cover with water and refrigerate for around six hours, or overnight if that’s easier.

At this point, set your oven to 180C/350F, wrap the garlic bulb loosely in tinfoil and pop it in the oven for about half an hour.

Now it can all come together: Drain the sunflower seeds and tip them into a high speed blender (or a regular food processor, the finished result won’t be quite as smooth though.) Remove the garlic from the tinfoil and carefully disrobe each clove from its papery casing and add them to the blender. The garlic will (obviously) be very hot, but the softened cloves should pop out easily enough. Add the cumin, oil, lime juice, tahini, and plenty of salt and pepper, and blitz the lot together till it has become a smooth, slightly nubbly paste.

Add a little fresh water to thin it if need be, and taste for whether it needs anything more – whether it needs the sharpness of more lime, a little extra body from the oil, depth from the cumin or the old fashioned helping hand of more salt and pepper. Spatula into a bowl or container and refrigerate till you need it, and festoon with mint leaves, more olive oil, and sesame seeds (or of course: more sunflower seeds) to serve, if you wish.

And finally, its salinity helped replenish my depleted vital electrolytes after watching the remake of A Star Is Born, that monumentally melodramatic movie that I consumed with predictable breathlessness. I have many thoughts about it which I wrote and then deleted (on the one hand, there’s a lot of “I see you, Brunette Girl” as a trope, on the other hand, at last: a movie where Bradley Cooper is handsome) and literally whenever I even think about the bit in the trailer where Lady Gaga walks towards the mic and starts howling I get tearful and frantic like a fretful infant, but I also can’t stop rewatching the trailer just so I can see that bit again.

If you agree, enthusiastically, with my claim that people always need dip, then may I also recommend the following recipes on here: Tarator (somehow basically just bread and water but also incredible) pomegranate-laden Hummus, or lush Cambodian Wedding Day Dip.

title from: Memory, the ubiquitous torch song from the musical Cats. For me there is but one person who I acknowledge in the role of Grizabella, and that is the late Laurie Beechman. I thought I’d heard this song so many times that its power was entirely diluted but her singing it makes me cry every time including right now. The emphatic h’s that she throws in at the start of words (“all alone h-with h-my memory”); the gentle vibrato rumbling on “enter innnnnn”; the slight youthful creak to her voice that’s just so appealing, (reminiscent of Glynis Johns or perhaps even Alma Cogan); the way she belts so hard while looking like she’s barely getting started yet and you’re looking around like where did that voice come from? Just watch her.

music lately:

The Sacred Harp Singers, Soar Away. Yeah, I don’t know, I’ve just been listening to a lot of this particular kind of old-timey church music. This one though: a stern and ominous banger, I have played it back easily 100 times in the last week without exaggeration. There are stirring enough versions of modern sacred harp groups performing it on youtube but to my ears, the definitive rendition (on spotify only unfortunately) is this, a decades-old recording which has a kind of shouty, nasal, rough-and-ready vibe that renders modern interpretations too soft and polished and frankly unfearsome.

Wedding Bell Blues, by Laura Nyro. Man, she was just not afraid to be sad and haunting, even, if not especially, in the middle of what sounds deceptively like just a classic sixties-girl-group song.

Will You Smile Again For Me, by …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. It’s very good!

Next time: well, not that damn Irish Soda Bread, that’s for sure.

PS: if you wish to receive these blog posts newsletter-style in your inbox before everyone else sees them, you can, should, and may sign up here.

soy un perdador

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Over on my Frasier food blog I talk about tropes a lot – a trope is, loosely, a recurring theme or motif – and I feel like I’ve hit a vegan trope with this week’s recipe: tofu. Let us face it, there’s no food more generically symbolising the vegan life as a whole than tofu, (perhaps other than lentils) the implication being that in its meatless blandness it represents not only all that you are missing out on and have left behind but also the miserable and sepia-flavoured journey ahead that you’ve chosen. (There are those who say “how do you know someone is a vegan? Because they’ll tell you at any opportunity” and there are those who say that people pre-emptively berating vegans outweighs any levels of militance from the vegan camp, and then there’s me, and I say guess what: everyone has the capacity to be really annoying.)

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Rest assured, no one is forcing anyone to eat tofu. You can quite happily live your entire life without touching the stuff. I myself actually really like the taste of it – which is admittedly fortunate – and always have. It’s often said of tofu that peoples’ main mistake is not giving it enough flavour – but like, why would you want to make anything that doesn’t have flavour to it? If you cook something blandly, it’s going to be bland. A plainly-cooked chicken breast has no liveliness, it is at best tantamount to a dry flannel.

Anyway, if you are going to consume tofu, you might consider doing so in the form of this week’s recipe, since it’s monumentally delicious. I actually had the idea for the sauce first and worked backwards from there to fill in the blanks for how I could use it (other than just drinking the sauce in its entirety, I suppose) but it all worked so well that both the tofu and the sauce are the double-billing stars of the show.

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The golden crust on the tofu is made from a glorious mixture of coconut, sunflower seeds and breadcrumbs – light, nutty, buttery, crunchy, with anything that doesn’t stick to the tofu toasted in the oven and scattered over your salad leaves. I’m all about contrast in texture and the intensely crisp exterior giving way to bouncingly tender interior is marvellous. And the sauce! How it shines! Wasabi has this particular, sharp, mustardy, sinus-scritching heat to it, which is balanced perfectly against the cool hit of mint, the sour, fresh lime, and the richness of the oil. All of which is then further tied together by the power of an entire bulb of garlic, roasted into mellow sweetness. The resolute mildness of the tofu is the ideal backdrop for all this action, but this sauce would be wonderful on pretty much anything, I imagine. If you don’t have wasabi or can’t find it then horseradish or indeed mustard would surely be a fine substitute, since all three are part of the same family.

Coconut-Crusted Tofu with Wasabi, Mint and Roasted Garlic Sauce

A recipe by myself

1 block of firm or extra firm tofu
2 tablespoons shredded coconut
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs (leave them out to make this gluten-free and up the coconut and sunflower seeds)
Salt and black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon of cornflour
salad leaves, to serve

Wasabi, Mint and Roasted Garlic Sauce

1 bulb garlic
2 teaspoons wasabi paste, or add more to taste
3 tablespoons water
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lime juice
4 mint leaves
A pinch each of salt and pepper
Set your oven to 180C/350F.

Slice the very base off the garlic bulb – the knotty bit holding it all together – and wrap the garlic itself loosely in tinfoil and roast it for twenty minutes in a small dish that you’ve drizzled the two tablespoons of olive oil into.

While this is happening, slice the tofu in half horizontally so that you’ve got two flatter rectangles, and either reserve one of them for later or add some more coconut and sunflower seeds to your coating and make two.

Blitz the coconut and sunflower seeds in a blender till they resemble breadcrumbs, and tip into a small bowl. Stir in the panko breadcrumbs, and a pinch of salt and pepper.

In another small bowl, mix the cornflour with a tablespoon of cold water.

Spoon some of the cornflour mixture over the tofu and then sit it, cornflour-spooned side down, in the bowl of coconut breadcrumbs. Spoon more cornflour mixture over the side facing you and turn it over. Continue spooning more cornflour over and pressing more breadcrumbs into it so it’s as thickly coated as possible.

Remove the roasting dish from the oven and carefully lift the coated tofu into it, sitting it beside the garlic. Return to the oven for another ten minutes. Reserve any remaining breadcrumb mixture.

Once the ten minutes is up, turn the tofu over and remove the garlic. Put the tofu back in for another five to ten minutes.

Unwrap the garlic and carefully – it will be hot as hell – squeeze the garlic cloves from their paper casings into a small blender or food processor. Add the remaining sauce ingredients and blend it into a lime green sauce.

At this point – you’re almost there – remove the tofu to a serving plate, sitting it on a bed of salad leaves or kale or something and tip any remaining breadcrumbs into the roasting dish. Put the dish back into the oven for a minute or two until the breadcrumb mixture starts to brown and the scatter them over the salad, then pour over as much of the sauce as you want. Finally, eat.

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So my usual plan is to send these blog posts out on a Sunday night to all the email subscribers (and sign up here if you want this to be you) but instead on Sunday gone I was too hyped up watching the Khabib vs McGregor fight before work to write (reacting to my livestream cutting in and out alone provided ample adrenaline) and then after work I accidentally got on the go from having several birthday shots given to me (not my birthday, I might add, I was merely collateral damage.) Not drunk, but precisely enough consumed to immediately and heavily fall asleep when I got home instead of diligently writing as planned.

I don’t know if it was my addle-headedness either just in general or post-shots but no matter how hard I revised, this recipe came out sounding monstrously complicated. It’s literally just sticking some stuff in an oven and then sticking some stuff into other stuff and then sticking that in an oven and blending yet further stuff but trying to explain it was oddly difficult; should you have glanced over the recipe and felt a quickening in your heart at how many steps are involved rest assured it’s just 1000% me talking myself into a corner. This is easy as. And so cheerfully resigned to a life of tofu am I, that the next day I made myself some tofu scramble, for the express purpose of (a) writing about it on my next Frasier food blog post and (b) eating. For, you see, the only thing I’m even more cheerfully resigned to is a life of self-promotion.

title from: Loser, by Beck. This is one of those songs where it’s like wow, he really just…wrote those lyrics down….didn’t he…but then that recurring guitar lick is so good and the chorus so singalong-friendly that I’m like you know what, who cares, sing on about rabbits shaving their legs or whatever, sweet Beck. Also because I’m always worried that people won’t get the joke – on account of I often need stuff explained to me – tofu is…made of soy…hence this title.

music lately:

Edwin Starr, 25 Miles He’s better known for the song War but I maintain that the “ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah” bit in this song is honestly one of the greatest contributions ever bestowed upon the musical canon.

Fiona Apple, Hot Knife. “If I’m butter then he’s a hot knife” is such a perfect and simple metaphor to build this light, chatty and intoxicating song around.

Alice Coltrane, Om Rama. This song just drops you head-first into it and keeps it frenetically high-paced until the middle section where it dramatically changes tempo and gets all woozy and dreamy and just when you start to relax it speeds up again. I love this song so much.

Next time: GUESS WHAT, next time you read this my blog will have officially turned eleven years old, I don’t know quite what to cook to acknowledge this level of momentousness and indeed, welcome any thoughts and feelings you might have.