vegan penne alla vodka

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The subject of vodka raises ire within me, frankly I turn into a real killjoy when I talk about it. Then I feel bad and overcompensate, which extrapolates into me just yelling “It’s STUPID! And that’s VALID!” while people rapidly vacate the room. I say this with a former bartender’s hubris, and the absolute humility of someone who – on this very blog! – once sincerely referred to a vodka soda as a “sneeringly dry drink.” In my defence, 2009 was a simpler time and being exposed to fewer ideas meant you could garner unearned braggadocio alarmingly easily.

My issue with vodka? Its purpose is to not exist; a vodka soda might as well just be a soda. There is nothing else it can possibly taste like. If you sincerely want to make your juice alcoholic without the burden of experiencing flavour then that’s fine, go right ahead and add vodka, but I don’t understand the appeal of prestige brands – there is bad vodka, there is competent vodka, and beyond that, there’s not a lot to discern them. My one exception is Zubrowka, but that’s because the bison grass flavouring makes it delicious and actually recognisable, as opposed to the base spirit itself.

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However. Where I begrudgingly – no, blatantly! – acknowledge this otherwise dullard spirit coming into its own, is in the Italian-American dish, Penne Alla Vodka. Everything about this recipe is pleasing: its drawly, Appenine-via-the-Baltics title, the simple joy of tomato sauce spliced with cream, and, yes, the vodka, which provides sinewy, vigorous richness. Pouring vodka into your pasta might suggest novelty, but a splash of white wine in a hot pan will improve any sauce, so switch out a far higher ABV in the form of vodka and you’re rewarded with even more intensity.

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My version is vegan, so there’s obviously no cream involved. The richness instead comes from coconut yoghurt – the sort that’s so thick you can genuinely stand your spoon up in it – and a little pasta cooking water. Unlike Penne Alla Vodka, which first emerged – unsurprisingly – in the 1970s, the notion of using the starchy water from your pasta as an emulsifier dates back to the Roman Empire. Don’t leave it out, it somehow thins and silkily thickens the sauce simultaneously. The yoghurt lends tangy luxury, and yeah, you can taste the coconut to a certain extent, but coconut becomes your zero point when you’re vegan for a while. And anyway, its unique mellow sweetness works beautifully with the acidic tomatoes.

More than just the same old pasta with tomatoes you think you know, Penne Alla Vodka has a dishevelled sexiness to it, a dish you could make for someone you’re trying to impress while also doing your best to appear artless and nonchalant. And if you don’t have the titular vodka in your liquor annexe? You can always use instead that most gratifying of flavoured vodkas – gin.

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Vegan Penne Alla Vodka

A recipe by myself.

  • 100g dried penne pasta
  • 4 ripe tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 spring onion
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vodka
  • 2 tablespoons unflavoured coconut yoghurt
  • salt and pepper
  • Olive oil, to fry and serve
  • chopped parsley, to serve

1: Cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling, well-salted water. This should take around twelve minutes, give or take.

2: Halve the tomatoes, cut off the green stalky part, and scoop out the seeds. It doesn’t matter if some are left, and you can just eat them if you’re aghast at the wastefulness, I did. Roughly chop the remaining tomato flesh. Finely chop the spring onion and garlic cloves.

3: Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a saucepan, and cook the onion, garlic and tomato – all together at once – over a medium heat till the tomato has broken down a little. Add salt and pepper to taste, plus a small pinch of sugar. If you’re using crushed garlic from a jar, leave the sugar out.

4: Add the vodka and let the sauce bubble away on medium for another minute, stirring constantly.

5: Once your pasta is nearly tender and cooked, scoop out two tablespoons of the pasta cooking water and mix it into the coconut yoghurt. Stir this into the tomato sauce, and turn up the heat a little to get it bubbling. Stir until the sauce has thickened, then remove from the heat.

6: Fold the cooked, drained pasta into the sauce. Drizzle with more olive oil if you like, and sprinkle over chopped parsley.

Serves 1. If you want to make this for two I’d double the pasta but you can probably just add half the ingredients – like, another two tomatoes and another tablespoon of vodka.

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music lately:

Brand New Love by Sebadoh. Oh, what a song! You think it’s going to be fast and then it’s slow, you think it’s going to be slow and then it’s GINORMOUS. And I will never ever get over how 53 seconds in it sounds exactly like the Defying Gravity coda, like, Stephen Schwartz should be paying them royalties (seriously, please indulge me, the coda starts at 4:28 in Defying Gravity. It’s also, incidentally, my ringtone, and receiving phone calls makes me anxious, which has now made my relationship with this song super weird, although I guess my relationship with it was demonstrably already kind of weird for a grown woman.)

Wimp, by The Zeros, the A-side to their better-known 1976 song Don’t Push Me Around. It’s a great track, but I prefer Wimp’s sludgy, Stooges-y, fulsome brattiness.

Next time: As you can see from the photo above – a small sample! – we are overrun with tomatoes, so they will probably feature.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon.

we don’t talk about love, we only want to get drunk

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I had intended to make these Drunken Noodles because I thought they’d be delicious, and not because of the reason for their cute name – which supposedly came about because they’re a good hangover cure. But then I got a bit of a hangover! Not a huge one, but just a certain dull-edged self-indulgent seediness that made me crave salt and heat. As I said in my last blog post, there’s not much else to do in the countryside other than drink tea; now that I’m back visiting Wellington there are significantly more bars per capita and people to catch up with, in said bars, also per capita. You start off with a ferrous, silt-thick craft beer while using a bar’s WiFi, then move to a second location to meet your dear friend Kate for a Prosecco, then another dear friend Kim joins and it’s like, would it be morally wrong not to split a bottle of wine now? And then you have more wine with dinner, and then whisky afterwards, and before you know it’s 9pm and you’ve been drinking since noon.

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The next day I made these noodles for Kate and myself and I do think they had some kind of positive effect, but they were so delicious that I’d very much like to eat them on a weekly basis whether or not there’s a hangover involved. Drunken Noodles are a Thai dish that you might see on menus as Pad Kee Mao, and it’s not traditionally vegan. My recipe is obviously absolutely not authentic because it’s something I came up with from trawling other recipes and trying to suss out how I could make it work for me – but it’s straightforward, and it tastes fantastic, and as you can see from the ingredients list there’s plenty of room to move. You could fry some mushrooms or tofu to bulk it out, you can toy with the seasoning and sweetness, and you can make it as chilli-hot as your tastebuds can withstand.

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Drunken Noodles

A recipe by myself

  • 200g (or as many as you want) rice noodles
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Thai seasoning sauce, Maggi sauce, liquid amino sauce, or similar (or just more soy sauce if you’re stuck)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons oil (peanut oil is great, otherwise use vegetable)
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar (Zhenjiang/Chingkiang vinegar is amazingly delicious, otherwise just apple cider or malt would work)
  • 2 teaspoons sriracha, or to taste
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • a handful (roughly) of fresh basil leaves, plus extra for serving
  • 2 spring onions
  • a handful of cherry tomatoes
  • chilli flakes, to serve 

(Note: if you can get hold of Thai basil then use that instead, I could not find any but regular basil seems to be a serviceable substitute. Similarly, if you can get hold of some vegan oyster sauce then definitely add a spoonful of that to the sauce.)

Place the noodles in a heatproof dish and cover in boiling water. Let them sit for a couple of minutes to soften, then drain and set aside.

Stir together the soy sauce, seasoning sauce, sugar, oil, vinegar, sriracha, and finely chopped garlic cloves. Finely chop most of the basil, reserving some for garnish, and stir it into the sauce. Finely slice the spring onions, and halve the cherry tomatoes.

Heat a little extra oil in a frying pan and tip in the spring onions, stirring until they’re softened and a little browned. Add the cherry tomatoes, the drained noodles, and the sauce, stirring for a couple of minutes to let the noodles absorb everything and the cherry tomatoes collapse a little.

Remove from the heat, and divide between two bowls. Sprinkle over as much of the chilli flakes as you want, and a little extra basil.

Serves 2, although one person could probably handle this quantity, that person being me.

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For something that comes together in a minute this gives so much depth of flavour – layers of dark saltiness, bursts of heat, slippery tender noodles, the sweet juiciness of the tomatoes, and the almost cinnamon-like warmth of the basil. Tomatoes and basil are always presented as an Italian cuisine thing, but I think this pairing of them here is even more iconic.

I’m in Wellington for another week or so and am not going to be operating at this high level of activity for the entire time but I absolutely will be making these noodles again. And there’s nothing quite like the pure creamery quadruple-distilled corn-fed joy of seeing old friends again – I am hugely enjoying myself.

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(Friends like…Ghost the dog!!!)

title from: A Design For Life by Manic Street Preachers, I really don’t like their music on the whole but I extremely love this one song – the dramatic strings and the way the chorus thunders into your ears and the structure of the lyrics, it’s so good.

music lately:

Spindrift by Colin Stetson. This is an incredible piece of noise, like a cavalcade of uplifting fluttery sounds coming from the saxophone of all things, it’s like a shower of cold water running over your ears but also you’re floating?

Beautiful Baby, by Elizabeth. Kate introduced me to this artist, and I was instantly in love! This song holds that particular kind of melancholy where it feels like it should be playing while you watch a person that you’re in love with slow-dancing purposefully with with someone else.

Next time: All I want to make is these noodles, it seems kind of unfair that I have to plan other recipes? But I guess that’s how food blogs work? What if I just talked about this recipe till the end of time?

PS: if you enjoy my writing and would like to support me directly, you can do so by joining my Patreon. It’s like a cordoned-off VIP area where you can access content written just for you: recipes, updates, etc – this month I reviewed 41 films and 20 books, last month I revealed the opening sentences of the novel I wrote.

to play for peanuts in a dive and blow his lungs out

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You might have noticed that this has been a quieter month as far as receiving blog posts from me goes, obviously I was in Wellington for two weeks at the start of September, but – immediately upon arriving back on the bucolic scene with my parents, my laptop started having fainting spells and gasping urgently for its smelling salts with all the purposeful hysteria of Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Considering I’ve had this laptop since 2011, considering I’ve dropped it from a great height onto concrete, considering I don’t think I’ve turned it off manually once in nine years, I feel it had a good innings – but even in light of this noble service it was nevertheless an enormous financial and emotional (because of the financial) outlay getting a new one. I was in fact quite petulantly distressed because I’d just for the first time in absolute years managed to get together a semblance of a savings account and was planning to do things with that money and now instead I had to make a large quantity of it disappear and start from scratch again. I know it’s like, literally how life goes that you have to spend money on stuff you wish was free and then you die, but does this mean I can’t be grumpy about it?

In an unprecedented fit of maturity, once I’d acknowledged and held space for that petulance, I decided to reframe the situation in a positive way. My laptop is my livelihood so there’s no question of not getting a new one. It just is what it is. And furthermore, it’s great that when something goes wrong I have the means to fix it myself! This time last year I would not have been able to afford a new laptop, I would’ve had to resort to writing these blog posts in my own blood on a wall and then inviting you all one by one to read it while I solemnly ate a biscuit in the corner, saying “this is a statement…about my bank statement” or something, and tried to remain conscious. Instead, here I proudly am with a new laptop that weighs as much as a tic tac, ready to write until its keys are worn away to a smooth nub. I mean they’re already pretty smooth due to the ergonomic design but…you know what I mean.

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Cooking when my parents aren’t home means an opportunity to put a lot of chilli in everything – not that I actually have an enormous tolerance for heat, but my tastes are exponentially more spicy than my parents, many of you out there can handle exponentially more than me, and so on. I made the African Peanut Stew from Rachel Ama’s Vegan Eats – I’d been thinking about it since I first got this cookbook. It’s a recipe from Sierra Leone and a favourite of Rachel’s mother, whose father is from there, and Rachel made this vegan version for her. Sometimes when you’re anticipating making a recipe you end up accidentally over-hyping it, but this one exceeded all internal excitement from the tastebuds of my brain’s imagination.

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Rachel Ama’s African Peanut Stew

A recipe from her book Rachel Ama’s Vegan Eats.

Paste

  • 2 onions
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek
  • 1/2 – 1 fresh red Scotch Bonnet, deseeded
  • pinch salt

For the stew

  • 1-2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 500g sweet potato, peeled and cubed (I used orange kumara)
  • 1 x 400g tin black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 fresh red Scotch bonnet chilli, whole but deseeded (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste or puree
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 500ml (2 cups) vegetable stock)
  • 125g natural peanut butter
  • 200g spinach, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Coriander, chopped spring onions, extra chilli, to serve

Note: my local supermarket is not terribly well appointed; in place of black-eyed peas I used canned black beans, in place of fenugreek I used a teaspoon of curry powder, since it contains fenugreek and overlaps with some of the other spices, and in place of the chillis I just used plenty of chilli sauce.

First, place all the paste ingredients in a good processor and blitz into a coarse paste.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or frying pan. Spatula all of the paste mixture into the pan and stir it over a medium heat for about ten minutes. It should looks a little thickened and caramelised.

Add the sweet potato, canned peas or beans, the extra chilli if using, and the tomato puree and stir it all together. Then pour in the canned tomatoes, vegetable stock, and peanut butter, season with salt and pepper and stir to combine it all thoroughly. Cover with a lid and bring to the boil, then lower the heat and let it simmer for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. I found that it spluttered quite a bit over the high heat and one of those mesh guard lids was ideal for letting it cook away but without bubbling over.

Remove from the heat and stir in the spinach, letting it wilt in the stew’s heat. To serve, stir in the lemon juice and any extra seasoning you think it needs, and sprinkle over coriander and sliced spring onions and chillis. As you can see from the photos I only used coriander, you can of course suit yourself.

Rachel recommends serving the stew with a salad, or with slaw and plantains, I had it just on its own and it was perfect but I absolutely co-sign her suggestions.

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This stew is so delicious, it’s substantial and rich with rambunctious flavour from the spices and chilli and ginger but also this mellow, sweet earthy creaminess from the peanut butter, and fresh sprightliness from the coriander and lemon. It’s so easy to make – all in one pan – though there is a food processor to clean – and fast, but it tastes like you’ve spent days slowly creating it. Naturally, it tastes even better the next day, in fact I ate some cold with a teaspoon while standing in front of the open fridge just now (you know when you kind of zone out and then come to in front of an open fridge with a mouth full of food?) and it still tastes incredible in that state. If you don’t have the spices already there is definitely a bit of shopping involved, and it uses a lot of peanut butter, but once you’ve got all those things stashed in your pantry this is a fairly straightforward and relatively inexpensive way to make an enormous hearty meal that feels – and tastes – like a feast.

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If you’d hitherto been on the fence there has now literally never been a better time to directly support me and my writing through my Patreon; joining allows you access to exclusive monthly content written just for you including the archives of what I’d been writing before you joined up, being responsible for me being responsible for myself, could there be a more responsible choice than that?

title from: Cornet Man by Barbra Streisand from the Funny Girl stage musical (the number was rudely cut from the film adaptation.) There was an Idina Menzel version that she did at a live show that was removed from YouTube but which I listened to so many times I can still hear it in full in my mind, but Barbra’s original is wonderful, a real showcase of her showstopping voice in its prime, with all her best quirks – a conversational self-deprecating tone, her incredible growl on “can’t take the place of a horn,” her silky vowels stretching like melted mozzarella and her effortless belting.

music lately:

Some Things Last A Long Time, by Daniel Johnston. RIP ❤

Let Me Be Him, by Hot Chip. Do you remember in the 90s when you heard Tell Me When by Human League for the first time on the radio and you were like “wow,” well this soaring and lush song has similar exhilarating energy but without the nineties production that to our discerning current-day ears now sounds a bit like music from an educational video game for children. Also if you hated Human League in the 90s that is also valid and you should still listen to Let Me Be Him. I myself have no real feelings towards Human League and didn’t even know that Tell Me When was by them until like a year ago when I googled it after remembering that I really enjoyed listening to it on the radio in my cousins’ car literally one time because they lived in Auckland and could actually get radio reception and that is the true 90s experience!

We Care A Lot by Faith No More, the earlier Chuck Mosley version – Mike Patton is good but Mosley’s sludgy congested vocals go straight to my veins and I love that messy guitar riff and surly drum beat, this is just such a fantastic song, somehow hostile and rude yet welcomingly dance-able at the same time.

Next time: I also have all the ingredients recipe to make Rachel Ama’s Jerk Mushrooms and Caramelised Onions, you might well be seeing them here.

I make spaghetti with tomato sauce because that’s all I can make

Vegan tomato spaghetti

Every now and then I get jolted by the fact that 90% of the recipes in my cookbook (yes, my cookbook, Hungry and Frozen: The Cookbook, 2013, Penguin, a highly underground cult item by which I mean it was aggressively discontinued less than a year later) were only tested once, which was entirely due to financial reasons (I didn’t anticipate the responsibility of paying for ingredients and resources for testing 150+ recipes falling to me) coupled with a certain clinging need to make it seem as though everything was fine and this is definitely what I expected from the process, and nothing to do with my lack of dedication to recipes that are proven to work.

Indeed, if looking up the word “science” on Wikipedia, ctrl-F searching for the word “test” and then immediately closing the tab without reading any of its content is anything to go by, making something once isn’t even technically testing it, you’re just, you know….making it once. I’m fortunate in that I can usually trust my oddly innate recipe-creating abilities but I nevertheless keep a place in my brain solely dedicated to housing the fear that someone will email me all like “I made that cake in your book and it wouldn’t rise and the centre was all gluey and undercooked and the flavour had little to recommend it and my wife cited it as grounds for our subsequent divorce proceedings which were fast-tracked with shoddy paperwork and little emotional closure.

Vegan tomato spaghetti

But this recipe, this recipe I made three times and am thus immensely satisfied that it’s neither fluke nor failure – no seasoning with plausible deniability here, confidence is my condiments. Yes, I’m genuinely embarrassed at myself for writing that out, and yes, no, I’m not deleting it.

The reason I made it so many times was the reason for its existence in the first place: it’s a very, very cheap recipe, a real something-from-nothing, flying by the seat of your pants that are currently being worn by the rabbit you pulled out of a hat type thing. The sum is greater than the whole of your pants: a mere onion, a lone tomato, a charmless can of tomato puree, the most off-brand dried spaghetti the supermarket can procure, it all comes together under the heat of the oven to evoke the taste of hours of toil and multitudes of ingredients. It somehow suggests the flavour of tomatoes that have been plucked in most reverent silence in the holiest of Roma’s hills while also hinting at the thickly-sauced comforting promise of canned spaghetti, I’m talking old school canned spaghetti that exists in my memory and not anymore on the supermarket shelf because I know they’ve changed the recipe to make the sauce cheap and watery and the noodles structurally unsound but in the early nineties when, you have to bear in mind, there were only like four different things that had been invented to eat, canned spaghetti was genuinely ultimate and tasted of abundance.

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The key thing here is that you roast the absolute living daylights out of the ingredients. That’s all there is to it. Without that level of heat the tomato puree will taste like expired iron tablets and the onion will be bitter, but under the oven’s blaze it all melts and bubbles and gets sticky and crunchy and charred around the edges, hence the word caramelised in the title since that’s precisely what you’re aiming to do.

It’s incredibly delicious, which is the other reason I’ve returned to it repeatedly, just so immensely full-throatedly rich and intensively tomato-ish and hearty and messy and somehow really buttery and it’s even amazing cold – but then I always did favour the spaghetti unheated, straight from the can – so your opinion of this habit may colour the value that you place on that last opinion.

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Now generally I like to give many options and segues of other ingredients you could include but honestly this is perfect as it is, and because there’s so little going on each ingredient is proportionately crucial. The only leeway I would offer is that if you can’t get hold of a whole tomato for whatever reason it’s not the end of the world, but it really does add texture and body and I assure you, even the most anemic-looking middle-of-winter tomato can be transformed by this recipe. The canned tomato puree must ideally be puree – not canned chopped tomatoes, not passata, not paste – for it alone hits that absolute sweet spot of thick texture and liquid sauciness. If you’re considering reducing the olive oil, first of all, grow up, and second of all, if anything, add more. The olive oil is central to the caramelisation and the richness and the texture and the flavour. While I’m being a fusspot I really feel like this sauce lends itself directly to actions like dramatically twirling pasta round your fork and then dramatically lifting the fork higher than your head before dropping the pasta into your open mouth getting sauce on your chin and laughing heartily yet attractively like a free-spirited character in an arthouse film or a prestige drama about a family of tension and tradition in equal measure and you can really only get that with spaghetti but if all you’ve got to hand is penne it’ll be like, literally fine.

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Spaghetti with Caramelised Tomato Sauce

A recipe by myself. (It’s much simpler than the length of the recipe makes it look, I’m just explain-y.)

  • 1 onion
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 tin tomato puree
  • 100g dried spaghetti or other long pasta of your choice
  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil, but allow for more
  • salt and pepper
  • very optional but nice: herbs (eg thyme, basil) and chopped almonds to garnish

Set your oven to 220C/430F. Peel and thinly slice the onion into half-moons, and roughly chop the tomato. Get a small roasting dish – for example, the sort that you might bake brownies or a slice in but also would make yourself a small quantity of roast vegetables, you know, those standard smallish rectangular tins – and place the onions and tomato on one side/half of the roasting dish and tip the can of puree onto the other half. Drizzle everything liberally with the olive oil – like a full four tablespoons is entirely ideal here – and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Don’t stir it yet.

Roast it for about thirty minutes, stirring one or two times during this time only once the onions and the tomato have collapsed and got a little browned/crisp around the edges. If it looks like it needs more – and it well might – return it to the oven for another ten to twenty minutes, but continue to keep an eye on it as there’s a fine line between crispy and straight up burnt. With this in mind I usually start the roasting dish on the top shelf and move it to the bottom shelf towards then end.

While all this is happening bring a large pan of salted water to the boil (which I always do by boiling the jug first and then pouring that into the pan rather than heating up the water on the stove top, it’s much faster) and cook the spaghetti until it’s tender – twelve minutes or so should do it.

When you’re satisfied with the done-ness of both the sauce and the spaghetti, remove the roasting dish from the oven and use a pair of tongs to transfer the spaghetti from its pan into the roasting dish, and to mix it all together. You could drain the spaghetti in a sieve or a colander and then dump it into the roasting dish but using tongs helps retain a little of the cooking water on the spaghetti strands which in turn helps the sauce to cohere better.

Spatula everything onto a plate, scraping as much of the sauce and any crunchy almost-burnt bits as you can from the roasting dish (I sprinkle a tablespoon or so more pasta cooking water into the dish and swirl it round to pick up every last bit of sauce) and then garnish, if you like, with fresh thyme or basil (or both!) and chopped almonds, and perhaps, one last drizzle of olive oil.

Serves 1, although I think you could quite comfortably get away with making this serve two by using 200g pasta but keeping everything else the same.

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I asked Ghost what he thought about pasta and first he was just like “PASTA” over and over again but then he was all, “as August de LaCroix said in 1842, ‘the flâneur is to le badaud what the gourmet is to the glutton,”‘ and “the badaud was later defined as “curious, astonished by everything he sees, he believes everything he hears, and he shows his contentment or his surprise by his open, gaping mouth.”‘ And I was like “Ghost, that’s exactly what I would’ve said, in that order!” (As you can see from the photo, Ghost and I are often of one mind. One…at best.)

As always, thank you to my important Patreon patrons for supporting my writing. If you have made it through this genuine nonsense and you’re like, this gal’s really going places and I want to ride those coat-tails to the top then you too, should become a patron! A mere handful of your dollars per month directly influences my ability to write and live and I might be able to create a cookbook with recipes tested more than once. You receive exclusive content in return, like book and film reviews or recipes or what star sign I believe each character from Gavin and Stacey is. Signing up is easy and my gratitude is real.

title from: Brimstone and Fire, by Cyndi Lauper. Is this one of her best songs? Honestly, I think no. But it is fine, and she does talk about spaghetti in an alarmingly relevant way.

music lately:

Falling, by Xiu Xiu, from a commissioned series they did of covers of music from Twin Peaks. This is atmospheric and foreboding, with powerful momentum dripping in slow motion like honey from a spoon, I love it. (This album was described as one of their most listenable and you know you’re really on a level when using material by David Lynch makes you more accessible.)

The Sweetest Girl, by Scritti Politti, I just adore this song, all woozy and dreamy and sinister and lovely and highly amenable to listening to on a loop about twelve times before it even registers that the song hasn’t ended yet.

Next time: If you absolutely cannot tell I had a terrible night’s sleep before writing this and perhaps it’s that lack of sleep talking but I might be ready to try making ice cream again, actually.

I won’t remember your birthday, I won’t remember your name, just keep talking to me I’m not listening

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Something that I realised one second after I was told it by someone else, is that in most of life’s arenas my brain will melt down when faced with a task before I’ve even been told what the task is; then should I actually undertake the task (for example, getting on a bus to an appointment) I would often end up doing it wrong (getting on the wrong bus, going to the wrong place) and be afflicted with such brain-paralysis that I would not be able to work out a way to solve it, and worse, the only thing I’d feel capable of is messaging the group chat to drag them down with me on my panicked spiral about something entirely preventable. In all arenas of life! Except in the kitchen.

Like last week’s ice cream atrocity triad: not only was I diplomatically, breezily able to keep going in the face of persistent failure, but I also didn’t see it as a morally-weighted type thing that reflected upon me personally, I was all, I know I’m a good cook, regardless of this garbage. Whereas I still feel a quaking within my nether organs when I have to get on a bus to go like, honestly, anywhere.

(It was Kate that pointed this out to me after I’d been trying to use the oven in her and Jason’s kitchen, the heat/function markings of which are all rubbed off, and instead of lying on the floor and crying I just googled the oven model and found a picture of what the un-rubbed function and heat dials looked like and proceeded accordingly. Upon reflection I was like yeah, that was off-brandingly level-headed of me.)

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With that in mind it was simply no big deal to cook dinner for twelve people last week in honour of my birthday (which was on Wednesday the 17th, in case there’s the slightest bit of unclarity over what my star sign is) and somehow I just instinctively knew which order to make everything in and when to take everything out of the fridge and what could be dovetailed and how to make everything appear on the table at once and how to fix one tricky situation without it having a domino effect on the rest of the food (food can smell fear.) (It just can!)

The menu was as follows:

  • Viv’s Crackers (Make these! They’re so good!)
  • Olive Tapenade (recipe below)
  • Lentil Dip (It’s like. Hummus but with brown lentils and sumac. I just made it up as I went along.)
  • Muhammara (recipe below)
  • Pesto (I just made this up but used my mum’s trick of adding some tahini to it which makes it wonderfully rich, you almost wouldn’t know it was vegan)
  • Caramelised Onion Butter (recipe below)
  • Dukkah (from a recipe of mine from 2018 but I used cashews instead of walnuts)
  • Zucchini, Walnut and Thyme Salad (from Ottolenghi’s book Simple)
  • Marinated Mushrooms (my own recipe from 2012)
  • Cauliflower Tabbouleh (also from Simple)
  • Broccoli Slaw with Wasabi Lime Dressing (I made this up but it’s pretty much exactly how it sounds)
  • Rice Paper Rolls with Peanut Dipping sauce (made them up but again, pretty standard)
  • Roasted Butternut and Parsnip with Cardamom Seeds (I made this up but the title is pretty self-explanatory)
  • Couscous with Fried Eggplants, Olives, Sunflower and Pumpkin Seeds (I made this up but it’s just one of those couscous things where you stir lots of bits into it, you know what I mean?)
  • Blackened Corn and Rice Salad with Pecans, Almonds, and Nasturtium Leaves (based loosely on a recipe of mine from 2012, I added pecans and Chinese Five-Spice and nasturtium leaves from the garden and so on)
  • Fried Zucchini Orzo with Pine Nuts, Mint, Spinach, and Kale (This is just something I made up but it’s definitely based on some Ottolenghi recipe)

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For precisely one minute I was worried I hadn’t made enough and for one wavering semiquaver I was like “what if it’s all bad, just real bad food” but then I laughed at both notions and carried on blithely like I was neurotypically non-avolitional. Nothing actually went wrong but there was definitely plenty of calm yet sudden improvisation required, like when there was no bulgur wheat in the entire suburb of Newtown or when half the vegetables I originally planned for were out of season (it seems the only thing confidently in season in April is meat.)

It’s funny, the psychology of cooking for increasing quantities of people. Supposing I was like, okay, everyone’s getting roast beef and potatoes and salad, you’d be like yeah, three things per person, that’s a normal reasonable meal, all you need to do is make those three things. But the MINUTE you start thinking you’ll have a cosy, low-key, unstructured banquet where everyone just helps themselves to what’s on the table, you suddenly have to provide SO MANY COMPONENTS. Three bowls of salad is NOTHING. But then conversely, the more food there is, the LESS people eat. So a bowl of couscous stuff that normally would in no way stretch to twelve, will not only serve everyone when it’s part of a big table of food, but you’ll also inexplicably have leftovers for a week.

In The Wire, Bunk tells Kima that the one thing you need at a crime scene is “soft eyes…if you’ve got soft eyes you can see the whole thing.” I don’t even know how I came up with the menu in relation to the number of people, it wasn’t based on any actual calculation, I was just like, I’m at one with the food, looking at my proposed menu list with soft eyes, and I’ll just know when I’ve planned enough. And I did! Would I suggest this as advice for anyone else hosting a dinner party? Probably not. Would I suggest watching The Wire? Sure!

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The three recipes I’ve provided for you today were from the dips and sauces – my idea was to have, as well as big bowls of things, just a ton of stuff that could be stirred in to make everything even more interesting. The first recipe, Caramelised Onion Butter, was something I thought up, but let’s be clear: it’s just caramelised onions that have been put in the blender. Nevertheless they were immensely delicious, with that bordering-on-frustratingly slow cooking process slowly breaking down the onions and making them sweet and mellow and lush and somehow even more so once pureed into a creamy mush. Make it and have it on hand to stir into soups, stews, anything that needs an absolute fistful of flavour. The muhammara was something that I adapted from Ottolenghi, not because I thought I could do better than him but because capsicums are ferociously expensive at the moment and so I reduced the quantity a little and subbed in some tomato paste. I think it worked, and the finished result, this rambunctiously flavoured smoky spicy sauce, all nubbly from the walnuts and rich from the roasting process, is highly gorgeous. And as with the caramelised onion butter, I imagine it would be useful to have on hand to embiggen any other food you’ve made. Finally the olive tapenade, which I decided to rakishly make with prunes to boost its dark richness, is so fast to make – have it with bread, stir it through pasta, eat it with a spoon, whatever. If you’re uncertain about the prunes then maybe try blending them in one at a time to see how you go but their robustness complements the equally strident olives and rosemary and the sweetness gives depth rather than unbridled prune-ishness. All three of these recipes are so easy to make (although there’s nothing easy about how much chopping onions makes me cry) I’m sorry, however, that they all involve a food processor. I’m afraid that’s just how it goes when you’re vegan: you give up meat, you inexplicably start blending everything, no almond left unpulverised.

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Caramelised Onion Butter

A recipe by myself

  • 6 large brown onions
  • olive oil (regular, not extra virgin)
  • salt (ideally sea salt or other non-iodised salt)
  • 2 heaped tablespoons soft brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Peel and slice the onions, in half and then into fine-ish half-circles. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil over a low heat in a large saucepan and tip the onions in. Sprinkle over a pinch of salt. Let the onions fry, stirring fairly often, letting them soften and soften and become lightly golden. This is not like frying onions normally, you don’t want them to catch and become brown, the idea is to just slowly, slowly, melt them down. It will seem at first like they’re never going to cook and collapse but they will! It just takes about twenty solid minutes.

Once the onions have really softened and turned into a golden tangle, tip in the brown sugar and the balsamic vinegar, turn the heat up to medium, and cook for another five or so minutes. This is the point where caramelisation is ideal so don’t stir them too much, and that way the sugar can really do its thing.

At this point, remove from the heat and allow to cool, tasting for more salt if it needs it. Spatula the onions into the bowl of a food processor and drizzle in another two tablespoons of olive oil. Blitz into a thick, creamy mush. If you use a high-speed blender it will become even more creamy but the chunkier texture from the food processor’s blades is also entirely desirable. Decant to a bowl and refrigerate. It’s best closer to room temperature so take it out of the fridge a while before you need it.

Muhamarra

Adapted slightly from a recipe in Ottolenghi’s book Simple

  • 4 red capsicums (peppers)
  • 6 fat cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (plus more for roasting the capsicum)
  • 50g walnuts
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) tomato paste
  • 3/4 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • a pinch of chilli flakes
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • salt, to taste

Set your oven to 220C/450F. Half the capsicums and remove the cores, stems and seeds. Place them cut side down in a roasting dish along with the peeled garlic cloves and drizzle liberally with olive oil. Place in the oven for 20 or so minutes, until the garlic cloves are golden brown and the capsicums are soft and their skin is starting to blacken a little.

Allow the capsicums and garlic to cool a little, then throw them into a food processor along with the remaining ingredients. Try to spatula/pour any oil and roasting juices from the pan into the processor as well. And just to clarify, “the rest of the ingredients” includes the two tablespoons of olive oil. Blitz to form a rough puree, taste for anything it might need – probably more salt – and then spatula it into a serving bowl or an airtight container and refrigerate till needed. Again, best at room temperature or gently warmed, so take it out of the fridge well before you need it.

Olive Tapenade

A recipe by myself

  • 250g (or so) black pitted olives
  • 4 prunes
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil (extra virgin is good, but whatever you’ve got)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon capers (rinsed if salt-packed)
  • a small pinch of cayenne or chilli pepper
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Place everything in a food processor and blitz to form a thick, rough-textured paste. You may need to spatula down the sides a couple of times and then blitz again. Taste to see if it needs more of anything then spatula into a serving bowl or an airtight container, and as with all these recipes, it’s best at room temperature. Just get the cheapest pitted black olives you can find – they’re getting blasted together with all these other ingredients and you don’t want to be dicking around de-stoning them. On the other hand if you do buy proper olives make sure you get more to account for the weight of the stones.

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Let me tell you, there was no greater birthday present than just sitting there watching everyone I love happily eating food I made. I wasn’t even hungry myself, I just wanted to behold everyone consuming what I’d made for them and now that I’ve said that it sounds a bit psychologically suspicious but I assure you, it’s mostly that if I’ve been cooking all day I’ve definitely been generously tasting everything as I go. For dessert I did a tray of homemade butterfingers, dried fruit and dark chocolate and didn’t click till the next day that I’d completely forgotten about a birthday cake, but the entire night was perfect just as it was: by the time it devolved into an elaborate roasting of me, from the story of how I’d never changed a lightbulb to the story of how I dropped my phone down an eight-story lift shaft and pressed the emergency button because it was an emergency, well, I think it’s truly the most content I’ve been all year.

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The Ghost with the most.

And I’m still eating the leftovers: thirty-three feels good. Thank you to Jason and Charlotte who took photos of the food on their phones and sent them to me because I forgot to get my camera ready or to learn how to take photos at night (yes, I can organise a dinner party, yes, it will be at the expense of ALL OTHER THINGS that I might possibly need my brain for.)

title from: Planet Z from my broadway idol Idina Menzel’s beautiful and occasionally bizarre 1997 debut album Still I Can’t Be Still. This boisterously energetic song is groaning under the weight of its production but it all works somehow, I listen to it and couldn’t imagine how it could possibly sound any other way. I love (and miss) her rough-yet-treacly five-zillion-miles-from-Let-It-Go voice.

music lately:

Kate and Jason and I watched Homecoming by Beyoncé last night and it’s absolutely gobsmackingly astounding viewing. Just trying to get my head around her vision, organisation, talent and monumental discipline, as well as the phenomenal production and execution in the stage show. The precision, the work, the drum line, the horn section, the fact that she was the first black woman to headline Coachella and she went okay, then I’m gonna bring hundreds of black women up there with me. Naturally I’ve got her on the brain now and she obviously has nonstop hits but I especially adore Bow Down/I Been On, which she released online in 2013 and would later rework into ***Flawless for her self-titled album. The first part with its discordant Nintendo-sounding sample is so exciting and sinister and off the wall, she sounds so in charge and has these amazing growls in her voice, and then suddenly it slows down and she’s doing operatic soprano and then she starts rapping and her vocals all chopped and screwed now sound like a man’s deep voice, and it becomes this sludgy, slow-moving salute to her hometown and past and she sounds so great. Because she dropped this in such a low-key way online I was not expecting it to pop up on the setlist of Homecoming but she did it! Honestly, even if you’re not a fan, if you generally appreciate live performance, culture, musicianship, or simply a job well done, watch Homecoming.

Invitation to Love, TB. It takes a minute to warm up but once it gets going it’s an extremely lush track that samples Laura Palmer’s Theme from Twin Peaks – that most lush of tracks – that I had a very lovely time dancing to on Sunday night thanks to TV Disko’s DJ set at the Laundry staff party (what, just because I stop working at a place, I’m no longer staff? That’s not how jobs work.)

Today’s Your Day (Whatchagonedo), Fat Lip feat Chali 2na. Deliciously languid, the sound of sunshine refracting through golden syrup, and that chorus is so good.

Next time: It’s been cold and rainy ever since my birthday so I’m thinking, you know, something cold-and-rain friendly.

PS as always thank you to my Patreon patrons, especially the new folks who joined in a birthday-related gestural fashion. It is by no means too late to still join my Patreon and have me think it’s something to do with my birthday, or to just join it because supporting me and my writing is – or could be – its own reward. Plus you get access to exclusive content from me, which is more literally its own reward.

you know that i liked you, jack

Vegan Jackfruit and Chickpea Curry

This week’s blog post got completely sucked into the vortex that was, well, this week, on account of my working on Saturday and Sunday at Laundry bar in a cameo role (since I no longer work there for real) during the CubaDupa festival. I couldn’t tell you with any real certainty what CubaDupa actually is but I do know for sure that it means Laundry becomes about as crowded as a mid-level Balkan EDM festival except in a small licensed Wellington premises and as such my brief return was both required and, I hope, welcomed. I was also cat-sitting for a friend at the time and am now cat-and-dog-sitting for another friend, it’s all just been comings and goings and that’s why I completely missed writing a blog post, although to be fair it’s somehow already halfway through Friday and yet! I still have traces of a heat rash on my neck from dancing for many hours after my shift finished on Sunday while wearing a $2 shop choker? So I’m really no clearer on how linear time works at all.

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I made this curry for Jason and I – Jason, who also has a dog and cat but who is simply allowing me to stay at his house between other pet-sittings and heat-rash-gatherings, just to be clear – on Tuesday night. I’ve been finding myself drawn, of all things, to idle scrolling across the ebbing and flowing tides of Pinterest, I’ve also been oddly transfixed by sped-up faceless cake decorating videos on Facebook, even though the results all look inedibly dry and packed with fondant, there’s something strangely soothing in their anonymous competence. I think it’s a bit simplistic to surmise that in difficult times we seek the reassuring – true though it may be – I think it’s really just that I’m a bit weird and get obsessively hyper-focussed upon the most pointless things, and it’s the intense focus itself that’s calming, the subject doesn’t matter. But it just so happens that I found a recipe for a butter chicken-esque vegan curry while I was in one such state of tunnel vision, and while what I ended up making was different, I appreciate the jump-off point that it provided. Much as I feel like Stacey in that scene from Gavin and Stacey where she’s like “Gav, will you laugh at me if I get a korma”, I freely admit that butter chicken sauce is like…completely delicious. It just is. And I was genuinely delighted at how much this recipe evoked it.

Vegan Jackfruit and Chickpea Curry

Jackfruit and Chickpea Curry

Inspired by this recipe from earthchick.com.au.

  • 1 can young jackfruit in brine
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1 can coconut cream
  • 1 can tomato puree (or tomato passatta)
  • 1 large onion, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 2 tablespoons rice bran oil (or similar)
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1cm thick slice of fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced
  • 2 teaspoons ground fenugreek
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons mustard (wholegrain or dijon or American or whatever)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons ground almonds
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (or lemon juice)
  • salt, to taste, but like, plenty
  • cooked long grain rice, fresh coriander, and cashews to serve

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and gently fry the onion till lightly browned, then add the garlic, ginger, and all the spices. Drain the can of jackfruit and – cutting up any larger pieces if need be – tip the entire thing into the pan. Follow this with the drained chickpeas and the tomato puree. Let it simmer away for fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally. Finally, stir in the vinegar, mustard, and sugar, followed by the coconut cream and ground almonds. Allow it to come to a simmer, taste to see if it needs anything more – salt? sugar? cumin? fenugreek? – then serve over bowls of rice, sprinkled with cashews and coriander leaves.

Feeds 2-3.

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I think the most important things in this recipe are as follows: firstly, if you don’t have fenugreek then go out and buy some, because it has this beautifully sweet-savoury flavour that is difficult to replace. Secondly, don’t leave out the sugar. If anything, add more. The sweetness gives balance and depth and ties all the spices together. Thirdly, try to let the tomato puree really caramelise in the saucepan, this will give you intensity and richness of flavour. Next, just keep tasting. Maybe it needs more salt, maybe more sugar, maybe more cumin, maybe just rakishly empty some more fenugreek into it. Finally, if you can’t find canned jackfruit then I would add an extra can of chickpeas but I love their textures together – the gentle fibrousness of the jackfruit with the grainy nuttiness of the chickpeas. Jackfruit is often incorporated into vegan recipes as a meat substitute because of that texture but here I’m not too fussed about whether or not you think it’s chicken, it just tastes really good smothered in sauce. Finally-finally, you may notice that there’s not a lick of chilli in this – I was pleased by the notion of an aggressively mellow curry with warmth from the spices but that otherwise did not put up a fight: feel free to add chilli of your choosing at any and all stages of cooking it. As it is, it’s so creamy and full-bodied and richly sweetly flavoured and comforting and I think I’m going to be making this a lot over the coming winter. And leftovers are, I assure you, fantastic cold, from the fridge, eaten standing up, out of whatever container you stored them in.

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(Since Ghost the dog has had such a presence in the last few blog posts, I thought it was Ariel the cat’s time to shine.)

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(Come back, Ariel!)

title from: JC, by Sonic Youth. I love its crunchy chewy droning guitars and the sullen urgency in the delivery of its poetic lyrics.

music lately:

Secondo Coro Delle Lavandaie by Roberto De Simone, I heard this during TV Disko’s set at CubaDupa and I have been obsessed ever since, it’s so pulsating and makes me feel like I’m running through a jungle, like, you can feel the pupils of your eyes expanding as you listen to it.

Everything Old Is New Again, by Peter Allen but specifically as it’s used in the film All That Jazz. I read an extraordinary article about Bob Fosse today which got me onto watching this, I’d always known – of course! – how influential he was, but I really wasn’t across how he was a real piece of work. In his film extremely thinly fictionalising his own life, Ann Reinking, his real life partner at the time, plays the thinly-veiled-Fosse character’s girlfriend and performs with his character’s daughter in this sweetly touching yet expansively leggy piece of classic Fosse choreography. It’s so meta it almost leaves a bad taste in the mouth but nevertheless Reinking was just born to dance, wasn’t she? (Also this film is amazing! Jessica Lange as an angel of death? Leland Palmer? A young John Lithgow? Wallace Shawn? Cliff Gorman playing a thinly-veiled version of Lenny Bruce in a film-within-a-film based on a film that Bob Fosse really did work on starring Dustin Hoffman based on the Broadway play that starred Cliff Gorman? Ben Vereen?!)

30 Century Man, Scott Walker. I already talked about this extensively last week but I’ve nevertheless listened to this song specifically so many times. His Sinatra via, I want to say, Dean Jones voice just slides right into my amygdala like a missing jigsaw piece.

Next time: I’ve already got another recipe up my sleeve so no matter how much pet-sitting or dancing or working I do this weekend I won’t end up losing half a week again, or at least that’s how I presume it will pan out.

PS: Thank you to those who have been supporting me via Patreon! If you like what I do and want me to be able to do it more, then indeed please consider signing up. A couple of dollars per month from you not only stokes the fires of my ability to write but also gets you exclusive content in return, such as a review of every book and movie that I consumed in January or an essay about what star sign I believe each character from Gavin and Stacey is.

autumn leaves drift by like angels

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Bad things are always happening and we absorb them into our perception of reality without even realising it. Yesterday you were X, today you are X+N(N=new bad thing) and next week you might be X+N+N+N or you might get away with not being this at all, for now. On Friday March 15 a white supremacist terrorist attack happened in Christchurch, where 50 Muslim people who were praying at mosques were murdered by a man with a gun, and now this is the new reality and I can’t remember what it was like to not know this.

This blog post is not going to be about this or about how it’s affected me – that’s not what anyone needs! – but I need to acknowledge that it happened and that it’s added an extra layer on top of us all, like a coating of poison-laced buttercream on an old, stale cake. I will say: everything feels kind of urgent and pointless at the same time, however I am focussing on direct, concrete actions that I can take, because I want to be contributing positively in whatever ways possible. I believe strongly that this is the most important thing that those of us who aren’t part of the Muslim community can do: actual, concrete things. If you don’t have money, it could be time, energy and mental effort. Volunteering, supporting, writing letters to politicians to endorse new gun control measures and to the media to condemn those they employ who contribute to white supremacist ideology. Have uncomfortable conversations, challenge your racist uncle, don’t pretend you can’t see weird posts from your long-ignored acquaintances or workmates on Facebook. Read Muslim writers’ articles and stories. Acknowledge your rising anxiety and be kind to yourself, but examine where you stand in proximity to this tragedy. There’s a good article on The Spinoff that links to where you can contribute money for the victims and their families and places you can volunteer. I want New Zealand as a whole to scrutinise itself, to do better and do more for the Muslim community and in turn for all those who need it. That’s what I have to say.

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This week’s recipe is full of elements that I find comforting but I would like to establish real quick that I’m not equating it with what’s happened in a greater context, this is just what I happened to cook for Kate and Jason for dinner the other night. It’s not like, self-care pasta or anything! Let’s not do that.

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I’m kind of obsessed with roasted butternut squash (indeed, see my recent recipe for sticky roast balsamic sumac butternut and cashews), I love its mellow sweetness and how when you roast it the edges are all crisp and crunchy and the insides are all soft and oily and I really love how it’s about a thousand times easier to slice up than regular pumpkin and cooks quicker too. Parsnips have a similar vibe, only even more mellow and creamy, and together they taste like a welcome payoff for the fast-retreating summer. (Summer actually ended like a month ago but global warming has blurred the edges of that framework and anyway I live in a city with a climate that seems to consider itself cavalierly above the concept of seasons.)

Nutmeg has this soft woodsy scent that merges beautifully with the fresh-cedar-cabinet vibes of the toasted walnuts and then when you add the warmth of black pepper and the smoky sweetness of maple syrup it’s that feeling of winding a long scarf around your neck and over your chin several times and then pulling a beanie low down over your forehead so basically only your nose is visible to the biting cold; but in food form. The garlicky crumbs are a cheap way of adding opulence and richness and the sage – as woody as nutmeg and almost eucalyptus-y – adds to the overall depth of flavour.

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Autumn Spaghetti (Spaghetti with roasted butternut, parsnip and broccoli, maple nutmeg black pepper walnuts and pumpkin seeds, garlicky crumbs, and fried sage.)

A recipe by myself

  • olive oil, plenty, and just regular, not extra virgin
  • 400g dried spaghetti
  • 1/2 a large butternut squash
  • 2 medium parsnips
  • 1/2 a head of broccoli
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons maple syrup
  • a good pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (or a pinch of dried, ground nutmeg from a package)
  • 2 soft white bread rolls (or similar)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (or one finely chopped garlic clove or a teaspoon of garlic from a jar)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato relish
  • 2 teaspoons mustard – Dijon, English, or wholegrain
  • 6 fresh sage leaves
  • lots of salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons or so freshly chopped chives, to serve

Set your oven to 200C/400F. Pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a good-sized roasting dish and put it in the oven to heat up while you prepare the vegetables.

Carefully slice the skin from the butternut and cut the flesh into cubes of roughly 1-2cm, then do the same with the parsnips. No need to peel them though. Carefully tip both of these into the hot roasting dish, spread them out into one single layer, and roast for around twenty minutes. Chop the broccoli up into small pieces – stem and all – and add it to the roasting dish, then return it to the oven for another ten minutes. Pour over more olive oil if it looks like it needs it.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil (I always boil the kettle first and then pour that in, it’s a lot faster), add plenty of salt, and then cook the spaghetti for as long as the package instructions require (around ten to twelve minutes usually does it.) Drain, and stir through the tomato relish and mustard.

While the pasta is cooking, toast the pumpkin seeds and walnuts over a low heat in a frying pan, keeping a close eye on them to make sure they don’t scorch. Transfer them to a bowl and stir in the maple syrup, the nutmeg, and plenty of salt and black pepper. Set aside.

Tear the bread rolls into small pieces and crumbs. Heat three tablespoons of olive oil in the same pan, and tip in the breadcrumbs. Stir over a medium heat till they’re golden brown and crisp. Stir in the garlic powder, then tip the crumbs into a bowl and set aside.

Heat another tablespoon of olive oil in the same pan and fry the sage leaves till they’re very dark, then remove them from the pan and set aside on a chopping board or something. This will only take a few seconds per leaf, I recommend using a pair of tongs to get the leaves out.

Pile the spaghetti onto three plates, then spoon over the roasted vegetables, followed by the garlic crumbs, then the toasted maple walnuts and pumpkin seeds, then crumble over the sage leaves, then finally sprinkle over the chives. Drizzle a little extra olive oil over it if you like, then serve. If the garlic crumbs have got too cold they can quickly be reheated in the pan before you tip them over.

Serves 3 although could maybe stretch to four, just up the quantities a little.

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every good boy deserves pasta

I’m back in Wellington for a couple of weeks which means I’m back staying with the eternally kind and generous Kate and Jason; I cooked this for us for dinner and then – having not taken any photos of it but being quite pleased with myself – made it again the next day for lunch just for me, and made some adjustments to improve it, and that’s the recipe that I’ve written up today. (“oh” – Kate and Jason reading this, probably. Sorry, Kate and Jason, that you got the first draft.) As with all my recipes I encourage you to work with what you have to hand. If you don’t have sage or chives, plenty of freshly chopped (not fried) parsley would be good, fresh thyme leaves also are delicious and evocative of autumn. You could try hazelnuts or almonds instead of walnuts, cauliflower instead of broccoli, and use penne or some other short pasta instead of spaghetti. If you’re using short pasta, you could also let it get to room temperature and serve it as a salad – in which case perhaps consider stirring through some rocket and slices of crisp pear. And honestly, if you’re not avoiding dairy for whatever reason, I freely and slightly gloomily concede that any iteration of this recipe would probably be amazing with some parmesan shaved over.

I’ve been out of work for about a month now and even though I’m still kind of buffeting about on the wind like a balloon, with no fixed abode and no real deadlines to tie myself to; I nevertheless feel like the amount of space in my brain available to being creative has grown tangibly and as a result so has the creative work that I’ve done. Every day that passes seems to make things ever more sharper-focussed which is honestly an amazing feeling. I spent a lot of last year with the low-level hum of panic in my ears about my lack of direction, now I have SO much direction and it’s such a relief. I don’t have any advice on how to make that direction appear any faster than it has, if I did, I wouldn’t have spent so much time panicking, but I suspect…panicking does not help? Do I advise you to stop panicking? I mean sure, and while you’re at it why not turn back the incoming tide by like, kicking it lightly.

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(I was all, Blankets! Candles! Books! Pasta! Autumn! And Ghost was all, “I agree!”)

title from: Park Song, by Laura Nyro. Her voice is so beautifully melancholic, it’s the sound of grey clouds making it dark at 4pm but not so dark that you can turn a light on so you just sit there in the semi-gloom getting increasingly existential.

music lately:

30 Century Man, by the recently-late Scott Walker, it opens with those guitar chords that I can’t describe in a technical sense but where you just immediately know this song’s going to be sad but uplifting and feel like you’ve heard it before and like you’ve never heard it before all at the same time and like it should play over the one happy scene in an unhappy arthouse film where people stare out of windows a whole lot (for example, So Long Marianne by Leonard Cohen and Alone Again Or by Love also have these guitar chords, you know what I mean?)

Poe, by The Shirts. I like that it’s kind of punky and proggy at the same time, by which I guess I mean that it’s punky but goes for over five minutes. Notable for the presence of a young Annie Golden!

Zadok the Priest, by Handel. I’ll be honest with you, this is a good song and all but I’m really here for the first minute and fifty seconds of it which goes SO HARD, with the teetering anticipatory climb of its building chords which, when it finally drops, gives us the choir singing with this incredible anxious urgency of sound. After that it starts to sound more straightforwardly celebratory, all “rejoice, rejoice” but for that first stretch it’s brilliantly tense and exciting.

Next time: I will aim to cook Kate and Jason dinner that’s not a first draft.

PS: If you would like to support what I do and receive exclusive content (such as a review of every book and movie that I consumed in January or what star sign I believe each character from Gavin and Stacey is) then I encourage you to sign up to my Patreon.