start spreading the news, I’m leaving today


It is tough out there at the moment, you know? I mean it’s always tough out there – it’s slightly reassuring but mostly terrifying to consider the fact that not a single year has gone by without something awful happening – but specifically, the burning Amazon rainforest is really making my brain glitch and my already-mounting anxiety about environmental stuff and the fragility of what time we have within that environmental stuff, ramp up significantly. To get a grip on it, this piece in The Guardian outlines clearly and calmly what’s going on and gives some ways to help – although the forests’ fate appears largely in the hands of like, three tyrannical despots and a handful of abysmally slow-moving world leaders as opposed to one individual not using a plastic bag one time. Which is not to discount the power of that plastic bag. I grant you, it’s a drop in a bucket of water that’s coming to a boil. But still. Do what you can, anything good: plant a lil native tree, write to whichever politician seems most likely to actually read your email, donate to a local shelter or women’s refuge, contribute to the kaupapa of Ihumātao, smile at a dog, ask someone how they feel and then listen to what they say.


I recently ordered Rachel Ama’s cookbook Rachel Ama’s Vegan Eats as a baseless reward to myself, the warranting of which I assume will become apparent eventually. I mean, someone’s gotta self-indulge me! I was spurred on by a recommendation of Nigella Lawson’s on instagram – Lawson and I already have a kind of jump/how high relationship as far as her opinion and me heeding her opinion goes, but I figured that a vegan recommendation from someone so wholeheartedly meaty held particular weight. Turns out Nigella and I were both correct! This book is wonderful – not least because Ama also has listed songs in it that she listens to while making the food – it’s full of the kind of food I want to eat, and I can’t wait to cook my way through it. I decided to break it in by making something swift and chill, this Chive Tofu Spread, which takes a bare minute to come together and tastes fantastically delicious.


Rachel Ama’s Chive Tofu Spread

A recipe from the cookbook Rachel Ama’s Vegan Eats

  • 40g raw cashew nuts (about 1/3 cup)
  • 280g extra firm tofu
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil (the refined, flavourless type is best here)
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon garlic granules or powder
  • a handful of fresh chives, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cover the cashew nuts with water and leave to soak for about two hours, then drain.

Drain the tofu and gently press down on it with a paper towel to try remove as much of the moisture as possible. Blend everything except for the chives in a food processor – although I used a stick/immersion blender to make it extra creamy, because I wasn’t sure that I trusted the food processor. Fold in the chives, and serve.

Can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for about three days.


You might potentially not be immediately drawn to the notion of a bowl of cold blended tofu, but this is so much greater than the sum of its bits: creamily smooth, with a flavour almost approaching soft goat’s cheese, plus a pleasing sour-cream-and-chives vibe from, obviously, the chives. The tofu gives it body and tang and the cashews and coconut oil give it lushness, and I confidently urge you to try making it for yourself. I threw it together earlier this afternoon and it’s already gone: on toast, as you can see above, in vegetable wraps, and the rest taken care of spread on crackers. I would happily double or even triple this quantity in future, and am imagining it spooned into baked potatoes, spread on bagels, stirred through pasta salad, with different herbs like basil and mint; dill and parsley; rosemary and roasted garlic, thyme and roasted garlic; back to chives again but with roasted garlic.


I want to make it super clear that by talking about both the Amazon and this recipe, I’m not trying to be flippant or imply that cooking makes everything better – although cooking is great – I just tend to think about twelve different thoughts in tandem at any given time and these are but two of them: 1) yikes, the environment and 2) wow, this recipe is great.

If you, like me, are an eager consumer of dips and spreads, I thoroughly recommend these other recipes that I’ve written about hitherto in the last six months alone: Caramelised Onion Butter; Olive Tapenade; Muhammara; Roast Cauliflower Miso Butter, and Butternut Dip.

And if you, like, me, enjoy my writing, you have the option of channeling this enjoyment by supporting me directly on Patreon. A dollar a month gets you an exclusive blog post, two dollars a month gets you that plus further exclusive monthly content and access to everything I’ve already written this year. It’s easy and it’s appreciated!

title from: New York, New York, specifically the smoky, downbeat Cat Power cover. Frank Sinatra’s bombastic original is great, just the kind of song you’d want sung about you if you were a city, but it was the closing time song for a bar I used to go to like four years ago and I’m only just managing to dis-associate it from that “now what, oh no it’s tomorrow” feeling. 

music lately:

Cripple Creek, by Buffy Sainte-Marie, a sweetly exuberant song where she accompanies herself with the water-droplet sounds of the mouth bow. I definitely recommend you watch this video of her performing it on Sesame Street, it’s just gorgeous, and a reminder of her ground-breaking presence on that show. She was the first person to breastfeed on television!

Cheree, by Suicide. You know those songs that you can feel changing you molecule by molecule, note by note? This stunningly fizzy song is somehow wildly exhilarating yet slow moving, like an iron-rich Berocca dissolving in a glass of water.

Next time: I’m still keen to try making my own seitan and am no closer to finding a definitive recipe so please, seitan hive come through!

soy un perdador


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.)


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.


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.


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.

choked up on the smoke and the charcoal

I’m not one for the long game, I like a shortcut, me. This is an attitude that makes me highly susceptible to pyramid schemes and not susceptible to actually achieving anything, so apropos of this, I was having an idle wander around Yan’s supermarket the other day and saw a packet of charcoal noodles, upon which the only words that I understood other than “charcoal noodles” were “health benefits”, and I was like, these noodles are going to solve all my problems right now, I just know it. And so I bought them.

As I said in my last blog post I’ve been having incredibly strong cravings for sugar lately – my chocolate bar budget is through the roof – so I was determined to make myself at least one aggressively savoury thing to eat before, I don’t know, the year is out. These noodle presented themselves at precisely the right moment. To go with them I made edamame beans, lightly coated in spiced cornflour and deeply fried in oil till crispy, a salty-sweet-sour dressing, and some chopped roasted nuts. While I have no idea what the health benefits of these noodles are because I couldn’t read the language on the package, I trust implicitly the fact that there were health benefits, but if all you can find is regular noodles then there’s no harm done, I’m sure.

This is honestly barely a recipe and definitely doesn’t lean towards any particular region or have any claim to authenticity, but it is really, really nice: slippery noodles, crunchy, nutty fried beans, the balanced dressing with its salty, sour, hot and sweet notes in equal measure, and then the further crunch of the roasted nuts. I am such a huge fan of edamame beans, with their gorgeous emerald color, and when you fry them up they get this almost pistachio-like nuttiness going on. This recipe is incredibly easy to throw together, even with some semi-deep frying, and surprisingly filling. And it’s savoury as hell.

charcoal noodles with ginger, chili, and crispy edamame  

  • half a packet of charcoal rice noodles
  • one cup shelled edamame beans
  • three tablespoons cornflour
  • one teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
  • salt and pepper
  • two tablespoons sesame oil
  • one tablespoon rice vinegar
  • one tablespoon soy sauce
  • one tablespoon chili sauce eg sriracha
  • one tablespoon sugar
  • one inch fresh ginger, roughly chopped
  • a handful each of roast almonds and cashews
  • oil, for frying
  • Chili flakes, to serve (optional) 

First, get your noodles sorted: place them in a bowl, and cover with water from a freshly boiled kettle. Once they’re fully softened, drain them in a sieve and set aside.  

To make the dressing, whisk together the sesame oil, vinegar, soy sauce, chili sauce and sugar, then stir in the ginger. Pour over the drained noodles.

Run the edamame beans under cold water in a sieve if they’re super frozen, just to remove any extraneous ice crystals. Mix the cornflour, five spice powder, and a pinch each of salt and pepper in a bowl and throw the beans in. Heat about an inch of oil in a pan. Toss the beans in the cornflour mix and once the oil is hot, carefully spoon the beans into the oil in batches and fry till crisp and slightly browned. 

To serve, put the dressed noodles into a bowl, and pile on the edamame. Roughly chop the roasted nuts and sprinkle them over along with the chili flakes, if you wish. 

Meanwhile, I cannot believe it’s April already; who let this happen? It’s less than ten days till my birthday which means I’m extremely trying to not have some kind of where-am-I-what-am-I-doing-what-am-I-like existential breakdown, but also I’m like Laura, you’ve had several birthdays now, there’s no need to be surprised by the fact that another one is rolling around. Either way it’s definitely Aries season, which means watch out; I’m more powerful and at least twice as annoying than I would be at any other time.

If you’re on a noodle buzz, may I recommend some further reading: soba noodles with steamed vegetables and hot and sour dressing; Ottolenghi’s glass noodles with edamame beans; or pepper-crusted tuna with soba noodles and peanut sauce.

title from:  Limp Bizkit and Method Man, N2Gether. Yes, Limp Bizkit are objectively terrible, but for a good decent while there I absolutely loved them and honestly, this song still bangs. Is it mostly because of Method Man’s presence? Yeah, probably. But can you deny your nu-metal roots? No you cannot. 

music lately:

Marty Robinson, Big Iron. There’s something about Marty Robinson and his gunfire ballads, I find them so comforting!

Wildchild, Renegade Master, the Fatboy Slim remix. I am SUCH a fan of big beat, like the bigger and stupider the better. This song pops up quite often at work when we’ve got DJs on and no matter how tired I am it always makes me rise up from my grave and jump around.

Laurie Beechman, Memory  I know Memory from Cats is like the ultimate overdone overworked musical theatre song in existence but damn it, it’s beautiful, and the late Laurie Beechman singing it absolutely RUINS me, like, don’t click through and listen to this if you have to do literally anything at all of import afterwards, you’ll need a lie down, I assure you.

Next time:  I intend to have like, slightly more energy this time, promise!!


and the story’s brand new, i can take it from here, i can find my own bravado

My friends and I would sometimes joke about the exaggerated length we’d go to in avoiding compliments. “Nice dress!” someone would say. “Oh this? I found it in a ditch somewhere. It’s covered in spaghetti”, we’d reply. “Love your hair today!” says a colleage. “Oh god, I’m so sweaty!” I inevitably and truthfully insist. And amidst a world that currently appears to be doing little more than kickflipping into a pile of garbage on a daily basis, I feel like something of a dingus implying that my blog having a fresh look is an event. Oh this new site? I found it down the back of the washing machine, covered in lint. A small rat was guarding it. I gained the rat’s trust. We are to have an Autumn wedding. It’s nothing really. I’m so sweaty. 

But it is exciting! Come October I’ll have been nine years in the damn food blogging game. I have learned and unlearned things along the way, I’ve had a cookbook published, I’ve moved house and across the spectrum a million times, I haven’t got any worse at photography, and I am ready for my blog to have a new pair of pants. I’ll always be fond of my previous and truly stupid header image, of Noilly Prat jostling for position on the shelf above the stove with a can of Double Brown beer, (made by screenshotting a photo, sticking it in Microsoft Word, typing over it and then screenshotting that) but I want something new and pretty – something that still contains elements of my goofy self but thrusts the photos in your face, has text that’s deliciously easy to read, and – sorry Blogspot, it’s me, not you – is more elegant and intuitive for me to use. So here I am!

As a full-time bartender I don’t have all the time in the world to cook, so when I have a new idea for a recipe, I need it to work first time round, otherwise like, that’s my cooking window for the week dashed, ya know? It’s happened before (most recently, involving dropping a spoon into boiling sugar and burning my arm) but I had a good feeling about this idea: what if I make crispy orange beef, the kind you might get at a Chinese restaurant, but using Fanta in the sauce? I was inspired by this when drinking Fanta while at Mrs Kim’s Korean restaurant down the road; the walls are bright orange so it was rather like being in a sensory deprivation tank where the theme was Fizzy Drink Propaganda. 

Anyway not only did this idea merely work, I feel confident that it’s one of the best things I’ve ever made or eaten or thought up ever in my entire history of having ideas. The beef is almost laughably crispy, and the sauce is remarkably balanced in flavour – aggressively salty, with sesame depth and the sweet, intense orange flavour of Fanta. The Fanta is indeed the secret ingredient but the secondary secret ingredient is the tapioca starch – it gives the sauce a syrupy, thick, almost gluey texture which is entirely desirable here. It also fries up with a quickness to form, as I’ve said, a fabulously crunchy crust on the strips of beef. The Fanta itself acts as the sugar component of the sauce as well as the flavouring, and the cartoonish orange tang is honestly perfect.  I’ve named it 211 Orange Beef after the E-number present in Fanta – so as well as giving you protein this dish will also give you the hyperactivity you need to get through a busy day! 

211 orange beef

a recipe by myself. 

  • 125ml/half a cup of fanta
  • 400g sliced steak, usually labelled as for stir-fry – otherwise if it’s cheaper, slice your own
  • three tablespoons tapioca starch
  • three tablespoons soy sauce (or Tamari, to make it gluten free)
  • one tablespoon sesame oil
  • three cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • plain oil for frying, I used rice bran
  • one spring onion, for garnish

Sprinkle the soy sauce over the beef, and then toss the strips of beef in two tablespoons of the tapioca starch. With pathological attention to cutting down on things I have to clean up, I did this by pouring the soy sauce directly onto the beef in the styrofoam tray it came packaged in, and then tipped it into the plastic grocery bag that I carried it home in with the tapioca starch and shook it a few times to coat the beef. It sounds stupid but as well as cutting down on several bowls to wash, it was also incredibly effective. 

Put the bag of starch-dusted beef in the fridge while you make the sauce. This is very straightforward – place the roughly chopped garlic, remaining two tablespoons of soy sauce, remaining tablespoon of tapioca starch, sesame oil and fanta in a large pan and heat gently, stirring often. It will look very nothing-y, but as soon as it starts to come to the boil it will spring to life, forming a thick, dark, syrupy sauce as you stir. Immediately remove it from the heat and spatula it into a bowl, or better yet, into the dish you plan to serve the beef in. 

Give the pan a quick wash and dry and then heat up a few tablespoons of the oil. Fry the beef strips a small quantity at a time – this will not take long. Turn them over frequently till the starch has turned crisp and golden and any red meat has been browned. That said, this is beef: you can’t really undercook it. 

As soon as the strips of beef are cooked, transfer them to the bowl of sauce and fry the next lot of beef, continuing like this – frying and transferring into the sauce – until it’s all done. Slice up some spring onions and sprinkle them across the top of the serving bowl and eat with the rest of the fanta alongside. 

Ostensibly this should serve two, especially if you make some rice to serve it over, but I ate the lot in bed in about four minutes. 

I’ve still got a lot to work out here – it was a painstaking process just transferring everything over (importing nine years of content took like seven minutes, but trying to work out how to get the domain name over here took, without a word of a lie, about seven hours nonstop and increasingly tearful work) and I am slowly working on the recipe index, which is already looking super beautiful. It’s all pretty exciting. Anyway I could go on and on but I just wanna press publish on this damn thing and present it to the world, holding it aloft to the sky like Rafiki holding up baby Simba at the start of Lion King, or like a rugby player gently grabbing another rugby player by the butt and lifting them closer to the warm sunlight during a lineout. Because then I can relax back into my usual heavily unrelaxed state. So: welcome to the new-ish! As Waldo Lydecker said in the 1944 noir film Laura, which I only watched because it had my name in the title but it turns out it’s really good – “It’s lavish, but I call it home”.

title from: the greatest living New Zealander, Lorde, and her highly rad song Bravado

music lately: 

Spiller feat Sophie Ellis Bextor, Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love) what a jam from a time we can never get back, the year 2000. This song is so dreamy, as is SEB’s face and plummy voice.

Panic! At the Disco, Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time. They’re back and as reassuringly hysterical as ever and I love it. 

next time: well I made this organic cocoa and olive oil sorbet but I haven’t tasted it yet. I am obviously hoping it doesn’t suck; if this is the case you’ll probably see it here. 

to loving tension, no pension, to more than one dimension

So I watched this video on quantum physics dimensions (yes, times are strange lately) and it explained how humans live in the third dimension, as in, we are 3D, and basically each following dimension eats up the previous dimension like The Very Hungry Caterpillar until you’re at this stage where you’ve got all possible timelines and outcomes to the point of infinity but even that can be shrunk down to a small dot containing all the previous dimensions. The last week has been kind of like this. Things just kept happening that would absorb what had happened the previous day – David Bowie died, Alan Rickman died, I was a bridesmaid in a wedding, Pretty Little Liars returned…and that’s just the stuff I feel like going into. I’m not sure if I’m explaining any of this very well, least of all the dimensions of quantum physics which I begrudgingly concede might take more than a quick youtube video to properly understand. Basically: wow, lots of stuff, every day.

I hadn’t been a bridesmaid since 2004 and this time around I was there to support a dear friend from high school. It was such a long, surreal day, but really genuinely beautiful and lovely and all the good adjectives and it was an honour to be part of it. I was away from Wellington for three and a half days; during which time my main achievement was discovering that for some reason during this visit Poppy the cat was outraged at how much she likes hanging out with me.

the face of a cat who has just realised they’ve given too much information away

such begrudgement


waves of disapproval emanating

I made myself this noodle-y thing the day before I left for the wedding, but I was thoroughly naive in believing I would have time to write about it before then. This recipe was born from me running round the supermarket and being all “I crave garlic” but also “I really don’t feel like trying very hard at anything right now”. All this comprises is noodles and a series of things all fried briefly in the same pan. Calling the tahini sauce “satay” is a bit of a stretch, and indeed, feel free to use peanut butter instead if you want, but you get the idea.

Green tea soba noodles have the barest hint of grassy bitterness to them which keeps things lively, tahini is all sesame-nutty, and the bursts of golden, sticky garlic are frankly the universe rewarding you for existing.

This is one of those recipes that you can add a million different things to – a seared salmon steak laid across it would be wonderful – but is also extremely satisfying in its simplicity. I enjoy recipes like this, where it looks like there’s not much going on but you get whammed in the tastebuds with flavour and texture. PS: fresh garlic is a little different from the usual stuff, it is all youthful and mellow and usually has a trimmed green stalk at the top; regular garlic is of course still good. And if you want to use different noodles, it’s not going to ruin anything.

green tea soba noodles with fried garlic and edamame beans, and tahini satay sauce

a recipe by myself

  • 45g/a handful of dried green tea soba noodles
  • three large cloves of fresh garlic, or four of regular garlic
  • a handful of frozen podded edamame beans
  • olive oil
  • two tablespoons of tahini
  • one tablespoon soy sauce
  • one teaspoon sesame oil
  • a pinch of brown sugar
  • a dash of chilli sauce
  • sesame seeds, to garnish

Bring a large pan of water to the boil, drop the noodles in and allow them to boil away till the noodles are soft and cooked through. Drain them in a colander or sieve and run some cold water over them. Set aside.

While the noodles are cooking, slice the garlic cloves into thin slivers and gently fry them in a few tablespoons of olive oil. Carefully remove them from the pan and set aside and then tip the edamame beans into the same pan. Let them fry briskly till they’re heated through and a little scorched in places from the heat. Finally, remove the beans and set aside, and proceed to make the sauce – throw the tahini, the soy sauce, the brown sugar and the chilli sauce into the pan and stir over a low heat. Add water about half a cup at a time and continue stirring – it will be all weird at first but it should thicken fairly quickly. Continue to add water till you’re pleased with the consistency, and taste to see if it needs more salt, sugar or heat.

Arrange the noodles between two plates, pile some sauce on top, then scatter over the fried beans and garlic pieces. Spoon over more sauce if you like, and then blanket with sesame seeds.

Noodles! So good. This whole thing is kind of at its best at room temperature, eaten immediately, otherwise the tahini gets all thick and solid. If you have to eat it cold the next day from the fridge in a giant gluey mass it’ll probably still be more or less excellent though.

Going back a few dimensions, the whole David Bowie thing hit me really hard, he was one of those artists that was present and meaningful throughout my entire life, you know? Labyrinth was the first movie that really had a proper impact on me at around three or four (and I maintain that Bowie in that was my first crush) and from then on he was just everywhere. I’m barely exaggerating when I say he gave off immortal vibes, like if he’d been all “yes I’ve low-key been an immortal alien this entire time and I will never die” I’d be like, yeah that checks out. But there he went. I have nothing particularly intelligent to add to the obituarial chorusing but through his personas he explored and played with ideas of gender presentation while being one of the coolest people on earth because of it, not in spite of it – we were lucky to have him.

found another cat at the wedding to befriend, in your face Poppy (love you Poppy)


If you need me, I’ll be over here lying down while trying to process how every possible outfit I could choose to wear tomorrow morning counts as the start of its own potential timeline. I told you I understand quantum physics.
title from: La Vie Boheme, Act 1 closer to the indefatigably ebullient and important-to-me musical RENT (from which this blog gets its name)
music lately:

Craig David covering Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself. Welcome back to the singer so smooth he’s basically a human creme brulee. Actually that implies crunchiness, but the bit under that is really smooth, okay? And this cover is amazing.

Scritti Politti, The Sweetest Girl. Such an unnerving and stunning song, the sort that I will listen to on a loop five times in a row quite happily, even though not a lot happens in it.

Sia, Chandelier. It’s not new but I’ve been listening to it a bunch lately, if you haven’t seen the video but watching unsettlingly incredible dancing and choreography raises your heartbeat then I strenuously recommend you watch it.

Cold War Kids, First. It is just so, so, so good.
next time: I’m way overdue something sweet, tbh


soy un perdador

tofu is made of soy, and soy is Spanish for I AM, as in “I am being so deep right now.”  

Right, well I intended for this blog post to be about the meal I cooked on Valentine’s Day, but what transpired was this: I had an elaborate dinner planned, then my reason for the season came down with a brutal case of tonsilitis, and then I mysteriously also ended up with a sore throat myself, and so postponed said elaborate dinner to instead make us the world’s most nourishing broth which I then took terrible photos of, so the whole thing was a flop, really. (That is, it was a very pleasant evening, mutual ailments aside, and the soup was also very pleasant, it was a flop only in terms of being bloggable. Let me be clear lest I sound more obnoxious than usual!)

With that option unavailable to write about, it took me a while to get my act together, but to paraphrase Beyonce the god, I woke up like this: craving tofu. And so I made myself this rather incredibly good tofu and cucumber salad for lunch today and now here we are!

those flowers were just sitting there on the table when I walked in but nevertheless I’m gonna assert that coordinating your flowers to your lunch is a clear sign of success in life

I know tofu gets regularly maligned for being flavourless or unfun or the epitome of dull vegetarian eating, but in the words of Harvey Danger, if you’re bored then you’re boring. Let the record state that I think tofu is amazing. Fresh, chilled tofu is an actual joy, all cashew-mild and milky of flavour with a softly firm (yes, both those things) protein-rich texture and the world’s most absorbent surface for whatever flavour you should choose to throw at it. Also deep-fried tofu is a revelation, but so is everything – I mean, probably even deep-fried socks would be palatable, so that’s not necessarily an impressive fact.

This recipe mostly came out of my head, although it’s inspired by a bunch of different things I’ve had at restaurants over the years. It’s so cold and crisp and refreshing and even though the dressing is all salty and oily and sour, somehow the cool juicy cucumber and dense cubes of tofu keep everything very mellow and calm. Both sesame and miso paste have this mysterious, magical savoury taste which help spruce up the ingredients that frankly do need some sprucing, and it’s all just very satisfying and nourishing and good. You could leave out the spring onion (by the way I think they’re called green onions in America, for my readers in that neck of the woods) but the flavour is so gentle and a million miles removed from actual raw onion.

tofu, cucumber and spring onion salad with sesame miso dressing

a recipe by myself. I know using olive oil in the dressing is a bit out of place with the rest of the ingredients but it’s all I had and honestly it tasted amazing so…yeah. 

100g firm tofu
half a cucumber
one spring onion
one tablespoon rice vinegar
one tablespoon soy sauce
one or two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
two heaped teaspoons white miso paste
a pinch of caster sugar
one tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

Make sure your tofu and cucumber are well-chilled. Dice them both into small squares, about 1.5cm but, y’know, this is not a time for measurement accuracy. Just something smallish and squareish. Finely slice the spring onion, reserving some of the green for garnish.

In a bowl, whisk together the vinegar, soy, olive oil, miso, and most of the sesame seeds until it comes together as a smooth dressing. Tip in the tofu, cucumber, and spring onion, stir to cover, then transfer to whatever bowl you’re going to be eating it from (if it’s a different bowl, that is) and garnish with the remaining sesame seeds and green spring onion slices. 

this serves one, but if you can’t work out how to increase it to feed more then…actually I cannot judge, my maths is hopeless, but seriously, it’s pretty easy to increase the properties to feed more people here.  

my new flat is a bit cute, yeah?

The other thing to note about tofu is that it’s aggressively filling. So even though this salad may not look like much, it is indeed…much. We’ve just ticked over into March here so it’s officially autumn, but Wellington is so whimsically changeable as far as weather goes and today I’m disgustingly overheated so this was a perfect meal for the temperature my body is currently burdened with, however I feel like this salad would be perfect any time alongside roast chicken and rice; to take to some kind of potluck thing, or with noodles that you’ve maybe also sprinkled with soy sauce and sesame oil. On its own though: a perfect little meal. 
I just realised this is pretty much my first blog post that include photos of my new flat, which is fitting, since I moved in just under a month ago and yet still am not entirely unpacked. I’ve decided to see the glass half full and congratulate myself on being amazing at progressing very slowly and being incredibly disorganised. My new room is so dreamy though, and will only get dreamier as I firmly take myself by the hand and make myself continue to tidy it up and unpack fully. 
fairy light grotto (they’re solar powered so hopefully I get to actually enjoy them, oh Wellington weather you’re easy to poke fun at! But really. I hope I get to enjoy them.)

make up n stuff nook! Also there’s nothing like the haunted eyes of Judy Garland greeting you as you wake up, if that’s wrong I don’t want to be right.

But really, it’s now March 2015, holy wow. From February last year to February last month it was basically nonstop turbulent difficult times, and even though I’m very much in this quagmire of “what the heck am I doing with my writing and am I making my own opportunities and why won’t endless flailing about wanting to write another cookbook afford me the ability to do just that” I am also feeling rather cloyingly serene and delightful about many things in life right, so watch out. Ya girl is quite happy. I mean, look how rapturous I’m getting about tofu.
title from: Beck’s shufflingly and charmingly dour song Loser. Check me out, making truly awful Spanish puns all over the place. Obvs Beyonce shoulda won that Grammy but this is a damn nice song and the opening guitar riffs are truly excellent. Nice work, Beck. 
music lately: 
Let Me Be Him, Hot Chip. The chorus (or whatever it is, this song just kind of drifts) is so uplifting and pretty and dreamy and full of “Oh-ohhh” bits and it’s just a lovely, lovely thing to listen to. Definite mood upswing stuff.
Eternal Flame, Joan As Policewoman. I’ve loved this song for years and years but have been listening to it over and over lately, it flickers like a candle and swoons and sways and the lyrics are so, so excellent. I love how soft and whispery and then deep and rich her voice goes. Oh yeah and also this is not a cover of the Bangles song which was later covered by Atomic Kitten, they just share a title, ya know?
The Killing Moon, Echo and the Bunnymen. Love a bit of tremolo, I do. 
next time: I’ve made two batches of this Nigella coffee ice cream but I keep eating it all before I can take photos of it. If this trajectory is anything to go by though, there will probably be at least one more outing of the recipe in my near future so maybe that’s what I’ll blog about next! 

they go to a lake of fire and fry, won’t see ’em again till the fourth of july

After all my harping on about being unemployed making it a lot easier for me to blog more often, it has definitely been a minute since my last post. I had my reasons, some of which were fun (Auckland mini-break with my friend Kate!) some of which were less fun (a vague sense of not being able to get my act together! Other personal stuff!) but here I am, ready to type, resplendent in my $10 floral leggings and $4 wooly jumper sitting in the north wing of my office (aka the couch. The south wing is my bed. There is no west wing because my apartment is kind of L-shaped. So to go hard west would defy the laws of physics and sensible-ness.)
it was an honour to briefly gallivant round Auckland with this stone cold fox

While in Auckland I finally got to go to Barilla, where you can eat incredible dumplings and drink green tea under fluorescent lighting. We got this side dish of fried beans with spicy salt, and they were honestly one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, crisp and piled high on this huge plate with dried chillis, cumin and coriander seeds, a slight crunch of sugar, and a ton of salty wondrousness. I got home and really wanted to recreate them, but had no idea how and also lacked most of the ingredients that I’d detected. Except, shamefully, dried chillis: I have a bag of them but they’re right at the back of a tall cupboard and laziness overtook all things, including, quite shockingly for me, aesthetics. So I made up a sort of tribute to what Kate and I had, and while it didn’t turn out like Barilla’s elusively salty-hot dish, these beans are still super cool by their own damn selves. 

fried green beans with chilli and garlic

a recipe by myself, inspired by the beans at Barilla, but if you’re in proximity of that place just ignore this entire blog post and run down there to order plateful after plateful of the real thing, seriously

many green beans (just…many, okay?)
two tablespoons olive oil
two tablespoon sesame oil
three cloves garlic, roughly diced
two teaspoons sugar
one tablespoon soy sauce
one tablespoon white vinegar
two tablespoons sriracha or other chilli sauce of your choosing
tiny pinch of ground cinnamon

Top and tail the beans and slice in half. If you’ve rinsed them in water before doing this, dry them thoroughly on a paper towel, because if even a droplet of moisture gets into the hot oil it will spit aggressively everywhere. 

In a saucepan heat the oils until you’re quite sure they’re stupidly hot. Throw in the beans and allow them to fry, stirring very occasionally, until they’re uniformly blistered and browned and a little crisp.

While this is happening, mix the garlic, sugar, vinegar, sriracha and cinnamon in a small bowl. Remove the beans and sit them on a paper towel, and tip out most of the oil into your sink – carefully, it might spit a bit – and return the pan to the heat. Tip in the remaining ingredients and fry them for a couple of minutes before returning the beans to the pan, stirring them till everything’s all sticky and wonderful-looking. Remove from the heat, spatula into a bowl, eat the lot. 

You weren’t born yesterday, you haven’t been living under a rock and this most definitely isn’t your first rodeo, so I appreciate that it’s a bit obvious when I say fried things generally taste better than when they’re cooked any other way. But nevertheless, did you know that frying makes beans taste amazing? They go all wrinkly and crisp and a little smoky, with that grassy burst of flavour still present when you bite into them. The sauce goes all sticky and excellent, the sugars caramelising a little and the hint of cinnamon giving subtle depth, while the vinegar and chilli distract from, yet elevate, the oiliness. And it’s really simple. The hardest thing is slicing the ends off the beans. Like, I can’t stress enough what a burden this is. If you can lure someone else into doing it for you, perhaps with the promise of fried beans as a reward, then do so (bonus hilarity: they’ll need to chop twice as many beans so that there’s enough for them to be rewarded with.) 
Hey, so I know I talked a lot about Swonderful in my last blog post, but I would like to charmingly draw your attention to the rest of my amazing sponsors. Go check out their websites, do it for your own good, discover some delightfulness, or in fact ignore them completely, because it is a free country (despite many laws and discrepancies that conclusively suggest otherwise.) I love these guys, and you may well end up feeling the same way. 
Skinny Love: tiny, easy weddings, for if you don’t want fuss and stress but still want maximum dreaminess and delight. I know I like, recently cancelled my own wedding, but that doesn’t mean I can’t celebrate cool people running the show and helping other people with their declarations of love. Dreamy weddings are not a zero sum game. Oh and even if you’re not getting married they have a sweet blog with lots of lovely photos and inspiration and such. 
Holland Road Yarn Company: I have talked so much about how obsessed with knitting I am, and without this shop my life would be singularly bereft of all that woolly joy. If you’re in Wellington there are often classes and events, or you can just walk into one of the two shops to politely nuzzle the yarn. If you’re over yonder or overseas you can still purchase all the gorgeous stuff on offer, including the owner Tash’s hand-dyed skeins of glorious Knitsch yarn. 
Six Barrel Soda Co: aside from the fact that I could and have spend entire hours at their eponymous cafe in Wellington, I gotta say, it is so wonderful having incredibly delicious non-alcoholic options for drinks now that they have started stocking their syrups more and more widely around town. With flavours like Vanilla Cream, Orange Dandy, Raspberry and Lemon, Cherry and Pomegranate, all hand-made and bottled in small batches, like, I can’t even remember how I was planning to finish this sentence because I’m suddenly feeling really parched and in need of a fizzy drink. Anyway, you can order them online and they’re soon going to be selling ready-made sodas too. Hurrah! 
Yay sponsors! Keeping the wolves from this unemployed blogger’s door. Although I’d really like to befriend some wolves and have them as my loyal yet adorable companions, so…looks like someone needs a better metaphor. 
This chronic overheater and lover of burrowing into duvets also says: yay winter! 
title from: Lake of Fire, Nirvana’s Meat Puppets cover from their majorly excellent MTV Unplugged album. Kurt Cobain’s pretty face plus his raspy voice and the pleasingly old-timey stride of this song are a fairly amazing combination. 
music lately
Beyonce feat Drake, Mine. “Let’s get carried away”…Kind of like when you look into a Viewmaster and click around the different scenes, songs from Beyonce’s last album move forward and backward into significance for me. Currently it’s this one on my mind. And while the music video is reliably stunning the album cut has the important line “been about you and I’m still about you” so I dunno, settle in and absorb both I guess.
Janine and the Mixtape, Little Bit. Love this woman and her new single is, as per usual, silky-smooth gorgeous R’n’B. 

Next time: I made a really cute chocolate cake. 

umami said knock you out

Birthdays are a very important and special time for me.
Because I’m self-absorbed and love attention. No, I mean, yes, but there’s more to it than that. And not just the promise of neatly wrapped consumer items, either. But honestly, so many people said incredibly nice things to me on my birthday. I felt very loved and liked and lucky and a little bit tearful. 

Birthday me. Twenty seven. This was one of about fifty photos that a drunk Tim snapped of me. I hated them all so willfully went for two particularly awkward shots. Can someone please get me some photogenic-ness for a late birthday present?
Like being my own hype man, I’d indulged in some deep pre-birthday buildup. The day itself though, was quiet but pretty ideal. It was raining, which made me so very happy. Tim made me fresh coffee and rice bubbles with canned peaches for breakfast. I did yoga. I had a long bath in which I drank whisky and read Joan Didion, since I enjoy doing things that let me use the words “sybaritic lotus-eater”. I met Tim for lunch at the very beautiful Nikau cafe, and had an Aperol spritzer (Aperol is like Campari, which I adore, only with more lunchtime-friendly levels of alcohol) and a quince and raspberry donut. I cried twice while watching Nashville. And later I watched while the NZ government passed the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill, meaning marriage equality was indeed A Thing. 
Let’s just say: best birthday present ever. To try and articulate it further…I don’t know. I kept leaving this page and procrastinating on other pages because I couldn’t work out to say. I guess I’m just utterly happy with the result. It’s not a magic solution to all the ills and hate of the world, but it will not only do no harm, it will be super amazing. It was just so damn delightful to see politicians from all across the political spectrum – or rainbow, if you will – giving speeches that were eloquent and beautiful and impassioned, or at least vaguely sensible. To hear the vote results announced, and feeling like this was one more step in the right direction of affirming that we’re all okay. It made me feel really pretty okay. And proud of all those who had gone before so that we could be watching this debate unfold now in 2013.  And while I should stay positive, I mean, I said in my last blog post that I’d never heard an anti-gay argument that made any sense whatsoever. So it’s just really vindicating and hopeful that the law, in this case at least, sides with those of us who do make sense. 
You know how you can pop a balloon, so it explodes with a bang, or just carefully pierce the surface so it deflates slowly, almost imperceptibly, over time? I thought I was going to erupt in scream-tears like a popped balloon when it was finally, finally clear that we’d won. But I didn’t, instead just wiping away quiet tears and not even realising how much I’d been crying till later when my eyeliner had rendered my face panda-esque. 
“No take-backs!” I yelled at Tim. Guess we’re really-really getting married now! 

Umami is one of those words that gets evoked a lot in the food writing of yonder present times. Unlike many popular and overused words (“om”, “nom”, “nom”, and variations thereof), umami is a perfect and quite irreplaceable term from Japan which refers to the mysteriously savoury. That unmistakeable but pretty elusive quality that makes fried mushrooms and miso soup and soy sauce and gruyere cheese and worcestershire sauce particularly fascinating, and fascinatingly particular. Also can I just step back and point out from this short distance and say that I’ve made, and will make recipes that illustrate the concept of umami SO MUCH BETTER than these two but I liked the title that I came up with and so insisted on making this all fit.    

Make these noodles once and then commit the concept to memory and ignore the recipe because they’re a perfect go-to, fallback meal when you feel like something resembling this end result, and you really don’t need to live or die by the below quantities. As it is, what I’ve written below is not Nigella’s original recipe – she was a little more restrained with the sesame oil than I, but it’s such an incredible flavour that I just wanted more. They’re cold and slippery and nutty and salty and delicious and many other positive adjectives besides.

Sesame Soba Noodles

Adapted just barely from Nigella Lawson’s excellent book Forever Summer

200g soba noodles (although they sometimes come in 90g packs, so y’know, two of those is fine.)
2 teaspoons rice vinegar 
5 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
75g sesame seeds, or sunflower seeds like I did. Or peanuts. Or nothing.
Chives or spring onions to serve.

If you’ve got sesame seeds or whatever, toast them in a dry pan over a low heat, shaking or stirring often to prevent them burning. It will seem to take forever and then they’ll burn all of a sudden, so stay patient and you’ll be rewarded with a rich golden brown colour.

Cook the soba noodles according to packet instructions in boiling water. This probably won’t take long. Drain, running under cold water while you do so. Mix together the remaining ingredients and stir them into the slightly cooled, drained noodles. Finely slice the chives or green onions, and sprinkle over the top. Serves two. 

Apologies that my photos are so weak this week, I adore winter but am in denial about the bad lighting it brings. Will try to do something about it so you can return to the kinda-decent photos you deserve.

Surprise second recipe, it’s something I just thought into existence all casual-like, with the hopes that it would work. Oh, how it worked. The butter sizzles in the oven emphasising its – all together now – umami properties, deepening and darkening its already amply pleasing taste. The rum is sweet and sticky and rich but not overpowering, matching the sweetness of the pumpkin and parsnip and making them taste like the best vegetables on earth. Mustard helps it not all taste like pudding, and thyme is my favourite herb (well, that and mint) and I’ve managed not to kill my potplant of it yet and so I thought I’d throw some in as well.

Pumpkin and Parsnips roasted in Butter and Rum

A recipe by myself. Serves 3-4, or two of us with leftovers. 

1 small pumpkin (or butternut, or a couple of kumara)
2 medium parsnips
100g butter
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon golden rum
Half a handful of thyme leaves (or one handful if your hands are tiny-tiny like mine.)

Set the oven to 190 C. Remove the skin from the pumpkin if you like, and slice it into thick chunks. Slice the parsnips into thick sticks. Place in a large roasting dish. Cube the butter and dot it over, then spoon over the mustard. Sprinkle with salt and roast for about 40 minutes, until the vegetables are a little browned and very tender. Pour over the rum and a little more salt, and return to the oven for another ten minutes. Serve. 

Pumpkin and Rum: friendly. (Rumpkin? No, wait, I didn’t say that.)

Another thing I did on my birthday was – okay, after the whiskey and Aperol – only drink a tiny bit of cider while watching the marriage equality vote, because I had a tattoo booked the next day. Do you want to see it? Well, you can’t. It’s currently not fit to be seen, as a result of the long, fascinating, but ultimately sorta gross healing process. As Led Zeppelin and Johnny Cash played on the stereo I went through three solid hours of absurd pain, pausing only to have a fizzy drink or inhale deeply on a small bottle of pepperminty essential oils (which didn’t necessarily do that much, but did put my brain squarely back where it should be and made me feel all medieval) while Tim held my hand, and later, hands plural, which also didn’t seem to do anything as far as pain-assuaging and yet made me feel better. I was with Gill at Tattoo Machine, and he was brilliant. Super brilliant. And I mean, of course it’s going to hurt. I found it very interesting identifying the different kinds of pain – sometimes slicing, sometimes like a small yet mightily-toothed animal was chewing on me, sometimes an odd sensation like a tiny flaming vacuum was moving over my leg, and sometimes more straightforward: like a needle plunging deep into me. I felt weirdly powerful while I was lying there, thinking look what I can do, look what I’m capable of withstanding just because I want to. It’s also possible these are things that the brain tells itself while something like this is happening. At not one point, even during the most intense pain, did I think oh no this was the wrong choice. And now: I love it. I’m completely enraptured with it. Also probably 85 billion percent of people in New Zealand have a tattoo so maybe I’m rambling away on something that’s not particularly ground-breaking. But I’m very, very happy with mine.

Post-tattoo, while I lay on the couch with stabbed leg aloft, Tim trudged round town in the still-there rain and returned home with Voltarin, Bepanthen, a pie and a bunch of roses. He then made this platter of cheese (oh hey, umami), grapes and crackers to eat while we waited for the pies to heat up and poured me a whisky and patiently waited while I hobbled over to the table and took several goes to instagram the moment to my sufficient liking. Frankly, I’m surprised someone else didn’t try to marry him already with behaviour like that, but I’m glad it’s going to be, and can be, me.
Title via that gleaming beacon of handsomeness, LL Cool J with Mama Said Knock You Out. Don’t call it a comeback! 
Music lately:

Gavin Creel must’ve bought his voice at the good voice shop or something, because damn son, he renders me unable to write a decent sentence about how great he sounds while singing Going Down from the musical Hair. I love this song anyway, he embiggens it like wo.

Garbage, Push It. Not sure how I missed how utterly terrifying this video was during the 90s. As far as those 90s-scary-subversive music videos go, this one has aged well. The song is brilliant, I bet there’s a version with just a static image if you’re reading this alone and in the dark. (PS thanks Kate for reminding me how excellent this is.)
Next time: something photographed in better lighting, if I can. Got a yearning to make cookies, and also basically everything, so we’ll see.

“your wife is sighing, crying, and your olive tree is dying”

As I say every year, I don’t dig Valentine’s Day (val-meh-ntines?) partly as a “whatever” to corporate pushers of expensive heteronormative cards and presents, but also as a fist bump of solidarity to the Dolly magazine reading full o’ sighs younger me. Waitangi Day is a much more important date to circle on the calendar for me.
However, should you want to impress someone in a woo-ing manner, say it with tofu! If they reply with “NONE OF THAT EXOTIC FOREIGN RABBIT FOOD MUCK FOR ME”, then they’ll be really surprised and impressed with the deliciousness of this and they’ve handily let you know how small-minded they are so you don’t have to hang out with them anymore. If they’re a nice person who’s either “I love tofu!” or “huh, tofu, haven’t tried that before but this sounds nice” then you’re good to go. A further option: I just made this for myself, and it was wonderful. Indubitably!

Would I ever shut up about the price of dairy in this country? Not till its price ceases to make me wince like lemon juice swiftly applied to a papercut. With this in mind, I recently got this strange idea – what if I could make tofu taste like haloumi? They’re the same shape, for a start. I was trying to analyze exactly what flavour haloumi is closest to, and settled upon black olives. Think about it. Oily, salty, intense…Then it turned out so delicious I decided to just call it what it is. Tofu pride!

Black Olive Marinated Fried Tofu Salad

Recipe by me.

1 block of firm tofu (250g-ish)
1/2 cup black olives, stones in
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 big cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 heaped tablespoon fine cornmeal 
1 tablespoon sherry
1 big handful green beans
1 big handful clean spinach leaves

Sometimes I suggest substitutions but please don’t undermine your own tastebuds by getting those pre-sliced olives – they’re so gross and vinegary and bland. Olives with the stones in them are a bit more work, but the oily fullness of flavour will reward you tenfold. Also, if you don’t have sherry, try sake, Marsala, or a little white wine. 

Squeeze the stones out of the olives (seriously, just squeezing them is the easiest way) and mash the olive flesh with a fork in a bowl with the oil and garlic cloves. Slice the tofu into cubes and mix with the olives – pour over a little more olive oil if it looks like it needs it. Leave it while you slice the ends off the beans and simmer them in a pan of water. Once you’ve got that sorted, add the cornmeal to the olive mixture and stir it round so every bit of tofu has some grains clinging to it.

Heat a frying pan up, and lift out all the tofu cubes (sorry, also fiddly) and drop them in it. Fry over a decent heat on all sides, till excellently crisp. Tip into a bowl. By this time the beans’ll be where you need them to be – drain and add them to the tofu. Roughly slice the spinach and add that to the bowl. Finally, heat up the frying pan again, tip in the remaining marinade, including all the squashed olives, add the sherry and fry for about ten seconds. Mix into the tofu and serve! 

It is wildly good. The olives have this soft, mellow intensity and a rich saltiness, which absorbs quickly into the tofu’s usefully porous surface. The cornmeal is subtly sweet yet unsubtly crunchy, and the flavour from the sherry hitting the hot pan is basically indescribably good, but generally adds to the whole savoury, buttery, lusciousness of it all. The juicy crunch of the beans are improved by a slick of oily marinade, and the spinach is…present. And makes the salad go further. Thanks spinach!

I am proud of my brain. It did right by me with this. And I can tell you it’s very, very good the next day too. Tofu doesn’t always last so well once it has seen the light of day, but if anything, this got even nicer. It almost tastes like cold fried chicken. Indubitably! (I like that word.)

The weekend was a full and busy one, where the hobnobbing was non-stopping. Caught up with my wise and awesome aunty who has been living in Australia for years, plus her son (my cousin) and his son (who I’m also calling my cousin…I don’t need it to be more complicated than that.) We visited our dear friend Ange at her tiny, tidy flat which is really close to ours (so we can be the Kimmie Gibbler to her Tannerino!) We also went to superlovely cafe Arthur’s with Kim and Brendan and met up with Perth-based blogger Emma of Lick My Cupcakes, whose blog I just love. She was really sweet and I love that her photos of Wellington show the city in different way how I usually see it. Finally, Tim and I reflected upon Waitangi Day, shook our heads sadly at a few people and nodded them agree-antly with other, and watched some more of Season 2 of Twin Peaks. SO CREEPY. So important. “Mares eat oats and does eat oats…”
Title via: All For The Best, a song from just one in a very long list of musicals with which I’m well obsessed: Godspell. I learned a tap dance to this song once, but muscle memory didn’t see fit to hold on to that one. Even if musicals aren’t your thing, a young Victor Garber was surprisingly babein‘ as Jesus. 
Music lately: 

Ten seconds in, all I could think was ‘this is a bit weak and makes no sense’ but as it goes on it becomes an intoxicatingly catchy song and I love it, indubitably. M.I.A Bad Girls.

Eclipsed only in catchy goodness by Kei Konei Ra by Ahomairangi. They’re young, they’re talented, they’ll make you want to press repeat over and over on this song.

Next time: Aforementioned aunty got me some ceramic pastry weights for baking blind. If that makes no sense at all: it has to do with making pie. PIE! So I might do that. Or it might be something slightly simpler but still cake-tatious. 

since folks here to an absurd degree seem fixated on your verdigris

After a brief survey of four people (one of which was myself) I’d like to make the sweeping generalisation that Brussels sprouts are a bit like Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West: green, and misunderstood. So misunderstood. None of us could remember ever eating them in our childhood, but there was definitely the feeling that it was not a vegetable to welcome with open arms. Yes, plenty of people here in New Zealand must’ve eaten them, overboiled and sulphuric balls of punishment on the dinnerplate, but I can only hypothesise, or whatever comes at this stage of a scientific study, that pop culture has influenced a lot of my suspicion. Same reason I made my own earrings out of shells and beads and then wore them, sincerely. The Baby Sitters Club. I’m not saying that series of books is everyone’s reason for disliking on impact the Brussels Sprout, but I’m pretty sure it’s my reason. (Not that I can, admittedly, name a specific example, but I know it’s there.)

Anyway, I saw this recipe in Plenty, my Yotam Ottolenghi cookbook, called “Brussels Sprouts and Tofu”. And I thought, oh really? A plucky move, pitting two generally disliked ingredients against each other in one dish and working to stop the competition between them to see which can make the eater unhappy first. Now I love tofu, but this is not a sexy recipe title. Yet its bold simplicity appealed to me, as did the fact that brussels sprouts were very, very cheap at the vege market.
And if anyone knows how to de-misunderstand brussels sprouts, it’s Yotam Ottolenghi. He who pairs eggs with yoghurt and chilli and garlic with more garlic.
Interestingly the ingredients are very simple – the three main givers of flavour are chilli, sesame oil and soy sauce. For me, what seems important is the cooking methods: for the sprouts, you fry them till they’re browned and scorched in places. For the tofu, you marinate it while you’re getting everything else ready, then fry it up till the marinade is caramelised. You could probably do this to any kind of food and it would taste good, but here the ingredients really open up, come alive, I want to say snuggle into the flavour but that feels wrong…anyway, the sprouts become crunchy and juicy, their peppery flavour amplified by the smoky scorching. The tofu is salty and dense, with a crisp edge, its mildness subverted by the chilli.
This isn’t just ‘not bad…for Brussels sprouts and tofu’, any food would hope to taste this good! I served it on soba noodles, but it would be great on rice or alongside something else, or just as is. If tofu is nay your thing, the sprouts on their own would also make a fantastic side dish to a bigger meal. Seriously, I had to stop myself eating them all before returning them to the saucepan with the tofu. They’re good. At last.
Brussels Sprouts and Tofu

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty. There are mushrooms in the original recipe but as Tim’s unfortunately not a fan I thought it’d be a bit harsh to leave them in along with everything else.

2 tablespoons sweet chilli sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sesame oil (I reduced this to 1…sesame oil is expensive!)
1 teaspoon rice vinegar (I didn’t have any, used balsamic vinegar, worked a treat)
1 tablespoon maple syrup (I only had golden syrup, likewise was great)
150g firm tofu
500g Brussel sprouts
Mint, coriander, sesame seeds and (optional) toasted pumpkin seeds to serve

Whisk together the chilli sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar and syrup, then chop the tofu into cubes and add them to the bowl. Set aside while you get on with the next step.

Trim the bases off the brussel sprouts and remove any flappy excess leaves. This’ll probably take a while. I slightly misunderstood the instructions on how to slice them but I don’t think it matters – Ottolenghi requests thick slices from top to bottom but I just sliced them roughly into quarters.

Heat about 2 tablespoons plain oil in a pan, and once it’s properly hot, add half the sprouts and a little salt. It’s good to turn them round so that a flat surface is touching the bottom of the pan, but it’s no biggie. Leave them for a couple of minutes – don’t stir them if you can help it, but they won’t take long to cook through. When the sides touching the pan are a deep brown, set them aside and repeat with the rest of the sprouts. Remove them all from the pan, and carefully – using tongs is good – transfer the pieces of tofu from the bowl of marinade to a single layer in the hot pan. The marinade may splutter and sizzle a little at this point. Reduce the heat, cook the tofu for about two minutes a side till caramelised and crisp.

Remove the pan from the heat and immediately throw in the rest of the marinade, plus the sprouts. You’re supposed to garnish it with coriander, but I had none, and only a tiny bit of mint – so in the interest of visual interest, I toasted some pumpkin seeds and scattered them across – pretty and delicious.
By the way, my parents got a kitten. A tiny, tiny, outrageously cute kitten who they’ve named Poppy. Looook at her with her enormous blue eyes and tiny tail. As you may remember, the recently late Rupert left my parents a one-cat family, and the remaining cat Roger isn’t as impressed by newcomer Poppy as everyone else seems to be. Look, is it morally dubious that I’m suddenly filled with motivation to plan a trip home? I’m narrowing my eyes suspiciously even as I type the question; I think the answer’s yes…but Poppy’s so cute that I can’t feel that bad about it.
Title via: The aforementioned misunderstood character Elphaba, as played by the amazing Idina Menzel in the musical Wicked, singing The Wizard and I. Sigh.
Music lately:
Karaoke, by the Good Fun – it is both good, and fun. I heard this song a long time ago but this official recording has scrubbed it up well. Like the Brussel sprouts recipe, this can rest on its own laurels…it isn’t just ‘not bad, for young guys.’

Marvin Gaye, How Sweet It Is. It’s always a good time.
Next time: I found an amazing recipe for black sesame brownies, but I’m not entiiiirely happy with how they turned out – may have to re-try and then report back.