three, that’s the magic number

For the last week or so I’ve been sick with a really rough cold that I’m juuuust coming out the other side of, mostly due to a drinking game that I call “take lemon honey ginger every time you cough”, a game with a sub-rule of “strawpedo Robitussin at any and all opportunities” which is curiously followed by “the floor is now lava.” I’m well aware that my last blog post was essentially a bowl of nuts and the blog post prior to that was pasta and now, what is this blog post about but a bowl of PASTA AND NUTS but as I said – I was sick! An unfailingly watertight excuse! I’m sorry I bailed on you, I was sick! I’m sorry I stole your car in the middle of the conversation we were having and then drove it into your other car, I was sick!

My tastebuds have been woefully muffled from having a blocked nose, but I woke up this morning not only feeling a lot better, but also thinking, “what if pesto, but with three different kinds of nut instead of just one” and decided, as I do with most of my thoughts regardless of content or consequence, to act upon it immediately. I feel that pesto was to 2003 what halloumi was to like, 2013, I remember being absolutely obsessed with it and having it feel hugely unattainable, and so I’d try and incorporate it into as many of my cooking class modules in high school as I could get away with (I really didn’t do well in cooking in high school but I think that’s because being a freewheeling spoon-licking pre-ADHD diagnosed idiot didn’t mesh well with teachers trying to get to grips with the assessment regime and a minimal budget that didn’t allow for just like, snorting mounds of pesto.)

But wait, who am I to think I can improve upon pesto? Well I’m me, but this isn’t a one-up so much as a side-step; I’ve subtracted the cheese and instead added knotty, sinuous walnuts and buttery pistachios to the original pine nuts. Which means yes, this fairly plain dish of pasta will cost you roughly $90 dollars, on top of which, even though the quantities of the recipe look huge it really doesn’t make that much pesto because it all reduces down to nothing in the blender, but in spite of all of these red flags may I offer you this one counterpoint! Here it is: it’s really, really delicious.

Walnuts give the mixture body and a bitter smokiness, pistachios give creamy richness and added green, the pine nuts are all…you know, they’re pine-nutty? And when thrown through glassy olive oil and basil leaves at great speed it produces the most incredibly wonderful-tasting freshly-mown-grass-looking paste to stir through pasta or to be consumed however feels right.

pasta with three nut pesto  

a recipe by myself

  • one third of a cup of shelled pistachios
  • one heaped half cup of walnuts
  • one third of a cup of pine nuts
  • one garlic clove
  • a squeeze of lemon juice (roughly a tablespoon) 
  • sea salt
  • the leaves from one of those supermarket basil plants, roughly three loose handfuls of leaves I guess? But seriously, use all the leaves, you know that no matter how diligently you try to water the plant the it’s gonna die immediately and like, how is it that they can stay alive in the supermarket but die so fast once you take them home? What’s going on there?)
  • three quarters of a cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 100g dried spaghetti or similar

Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add plenty of salt, then cook the pasta for about ten minutes or until it’s like, cooked, then drain the pasta and set aside. I always use the water from a freshly boiled kettle in the pan because it goes way faster than just boiling it on the stovetop. 

In a large frying pan, gently toast the nuts over a high heat, stirring often, until the pine nuts are lightly browned (they’re the easiest to see the color on.) Tip the nuts into a food processor or high speed blender along with the garlic clove, lemon juice, a large pinch of salt, the basil leaves and the oil, and process until it’s a thick, dark green paste. Stir a couple of spoonfuls through the drained pasta and put the rest in an airtight container in the fridge.

Honestly, this stuff is just spectacularly good and makes the simplest pile of pasta feel like a monumental treat. You can do millions of things with pesto though – stir it through roasted vegetables, spread it on toast, thin it with olive oil and drizzle it over fried halloumi for a real galaxy-brain type combination, add a spoonful as a garnish to brighten up almost any soup, whatever your tastebuds decide, follow them in the direction they’re heading.

And if you’re on a permanent pasta buzz as I seem to be, may I direct your attention gently but firmly from me, back to me, by way of these old blog posts if you want some further recipes, eg something I called Sexy Pasta; Nigella’s Pasta with Marmite; or turmeric pappardelle with brioche crumbs.

title via:  De La Soul’s The Magic Number, I love how shambling and lo fi and almost big beat the production is on this old school (I mean old school, not like “here’s one from back in the day in 2009”) track. 

music lately:

Mogwai, Take Me Somewhere Nice. Just shut your eyes and listen.

Gaslight Anthem, Here’s Looking At You, Kid. This band was recommended to me and I now in turn recommend them to you because I love them, and you will too if you like heart-on-your-sleeve, Bruce-Springsteen-influence-on-top-of-your-heart-on-your-sleeve vibes.

Bizet’s Pearl Fishers Duet, sung by Jussi Bjorling and Robert Merrill. It was probably the Robitussin in my system but as the sun streamed through my window this morning I swear this song was literally playing and I don’t know, it’s just kind of magical and soaring and you too should listen to it really loud while lying down in a dark room where the light is starting to creep in.

next time: my friend Jen gave me a bunch of limes from her tree so I’m gonna do something with them. I don’t know what yet though but having that many limes, in this economy, is very exciting! 

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

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

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

dukkah 

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

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

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

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

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

music lately:  

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

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

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

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

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

it was ice cream headaches and sweet avalanche

On the one hand, I absolutely hate tough love and would much rather live in some kind of constructed reality where I’m relentlessly coddled and never need face up to hard truths, on the other hand if I was on top of my game at any given areas of my life, tough love and hard truths wouldn’t need to be a constant burden to be avoided, yeah? Anyway to my great aggrievement, I had to tough-love myself and acknowledge that there is just no feasible way that the ticket to Lana Del Rey’s concert in Melbourne at the end of this month that I bought for myself in a burst of hopefulness earlier this year is going to get used by me, not in this economy. (Although I have best friend and economy expert Kim to thank for getting me to this point, she was essentially like “have you decided what you’re doing” and I was like “I’ve decided to flail endlessly” and she was like “what are your incoming and outgoing funds” and I was like “lol as if I’m supposed to know that kind of thing” and then I kind of investigated and she was like “well there’s your answer.”)

Part of the reason that it was so hard to give up the idea that some eleventh-hour miracle might happen is that I haven’t left the country in six entire years, partly because of life getting in the way of life, mostly because of the old incoming-outgoing paradox, and while traveling for the purpose of pleasure in no way makes you a more interesting or worthy person, I was like, I’m an adult, aren’t I? Why can I not perform this small display of adulthood in the manner of so many other adults? But also being kind to myself in the face of defeat but also not pinning my entire hopes and worth upon one single star when there’s a whole galaxy out there waiting, is also something of a display of adulthood, I GUESS.  (Related: if someone wants to purchase one GA ticket to Lana Del Rey’s concert in Melbourne on 31 March kindly get in touch.)

Meanwhile, I made some ice cream. I would regard ice cream as easily one of my favourite foods; as I’ve said before there’s something about its creamy frozen-ness that is a perfect blank canvas upon which to paint flavour, I love its billowing softness, its glacial richness, its melting sweetness, its, um…I just really like ice cream. My love for ice cream possibly exceeds my ability to talk about ice cream reverently, and you know I store vast reserves of reverence within my brain, like a camel of overexcitement.

Initially when I started making ice cream, well over ten years ago now, I would either do the traditional method – gently cooking egg yolks and cream into a rich custard – or Nigella’s swift method, literally just sugared whipped cream – but my current favourite base recipe that I find it impossible to extricate myself from because it’s so easy and makes perfect ice cream every time, is a mixture of condensed milk and cream. So this time around my idea was tahini and honey – tahini is a thick, rich paste of ground sesame seeds, with a really wonderful toasty nutty flavour and the texture of peanut butter. Even if you’ve never bought any you’ve probably had it before as it’s an ingredient in hummus.

This makes for a really lovely, slightly unusual flavoured ice cream – there’s an almost savoury quality to all that sesame, but its toasty nuttiness, and I’m sorry to re-use adjectives but there’s only so many bloody ways to say it – is just wonderful against the thick, soft, creamy backdrop of the ice cream. The honey adds gentle sweetness and all in all it’s a very mellow, mild ice cream, the sort that would be ideal under lots of toppings – some toasted pine nuts or walnuts, a further drizzle of sticky, slow-moving honey, some dark, dark melted chocolate, or as I did, a scattering of sesame seeds, for obvious reasons.

tahini honey ice cream

  • 50g butter
  • three heaped tablespoons tahini
  • thre heaped tablespoons honey
  • one can sweetened condensed milk
  • 600ml cream  
  • sea salt  

Stir the butter, honey, and tahini together in a saucepan over a low heat until the butter is melted and it’s juuuust at the ghost of a simmer, like, remove it from the heat just when bubbles start to form on the surface. Stir in the condensed milk and a decent pinch of sea salt. Whisk the cream in a large bowl till it’s just thickened but not whipped – thick enough to be kind of billowy and bordering-on-solid but not actually in stiff peaks, you know? Mix the cream into the tahini honey mixture any way you like – I poured half the cream into the tahini and whisked it and then poured that into the remaining whisked cream and folded it together but honestly literally, whatever.  

Spatula all this into a container of roughly 1 litre and freeze overnight or until solid. 

For me the most difficult part making of ice cream is probably waiting around for it to freeze solid enough to be eaten, other than that hardship I assure you that this recipe, as I hope for all my ice cream recipes to be, is really pretty easy and requires nothing more than a spoon, a pan, and a freezer-safe container. Something about the density of the sweetened condensed milk (or it could be any other scientific reason beyond my comprehension, the point is, it works) prevents any ice crystals from forming, meaning all you have to do is bung the mixture in the freezer and leave it alone, without any stirring or blending or further agitation until the blissful moment of actually eating it.

Gloomily accepting my lot in life aside, I did have a high-achieving week: I flew up home to Waiuku to spend two nights with my parents, catch up with an awful lot of family all at once, be roundly ignored by the cats, and pick up some total clothing gems at the local op shop, before scooting briefly up to Auckland to see Fall Out Boy in concert, the result of a ticket I purchased a long time ago and completely forgot about until quite recently. It was lovely to go home and see everyone, and the concert itself was just wonderful, such naked earnestness (luckily the nudity remained metaphorical only), such whoa-oh-ohs, such specificity of lyrics that it’s like, how dare you.  Just in case you thought I was exaggerating about well, literally anything earlier, the only way I was able to spatula myself on a mere visit to Auckland was with financial assistance from my parents for the flights, but one out of two concerts in one month isn’t bad, I guess. And if nothing else there’s no better music to listen to when you’re feeling sad about Lana Del Rey than Lana Del Rey, she is to sad moods what like, salt is to tomatoes.

And if nothing else, I did manage to finally get my application for my passport sent off, including an injurously bad photo that I refuse to acknowledge is an accurate representation of me in the slightest, considering my current passport expired in 2014 (I’m literally grinning in the photo inside it, can’t do that anymore) I’m mildly proud of myself.

While we’re talking ice cream I have any number of other recipes to recommend to you if you’re interested, but instead I offer you some recipes with which to use the rest of the jar of tahini – such as Green Tea Soba Noodles with Tahini Satay Sauce; Ottolenghi’s Roasted Butternut with Lime, Yoghurt Tahini Sauce, and Chilli; or this truly incredible Halvah Shortbread.

title from: Carpal Tunnel of Love, by Fall Out Boy, as I am nothing if not topical.

music lately:

A nice thing about working at Laundry bar is that there’s regularly DJ sets to bop to, and the very last song on Saturday night just got me right in the heart, it was a remix of Beth Orton’s song Central Reservation and it just filled me with euphoria, which, at the tail end of a long shift is like, a cool feeling. I haven’t been able to find the exact version that I heard but this one will do in the meantime.

Another song that stopped me in my tracks at work was when one of the DJ’s just casually dared to drop Rez by Underworld, like, did they not realize that when this song is playing I am capable of naught but standing with my eyes closed and waving my arms around in what I hope is roughly a graceful fashion, interrupted only by some jumping up and down with little regard for objects or people around me? This song is just magical.

Deftones, My Own Summer. Respectfully, shove it.

next time: Well, I still have half a jar of tahini left.

rye whiskey makes the band sound better, makes your baby cuter, makes itself taste sweeter, oh boy

I would be filled with consternation and a rage as hot as the fire of a thousand French fries about the monogamous relationship I’ve drifted into with my concussion if doing so didn’t require so much energy. Previously, on the TV show that I self-absorbedly regard my life to be (and please read this in the solemn tone of the “Previously, on” voice over artist of your choice) I relayed the tale of how I fainted and whacked my head and as such have not been up to much at all other than sleeping and going to work, well guess what, I have nothing new to report!

But I refuse to let this slow me down, achieving such (topically!) Olympian feats as walking two blocks to the chemist to get my passport photos taken before having to go back home for a nap.

Even previously-er, I mentioned that I was the proud recipient of a place in the finals of the Perfect Blend cocktail competition, held by Beam Suntory; this week I’ve had my cocktail available at work and it’s like…really fun! I mean I love anything where I get the opportunity to draw attention to myself, it’s not often that the opportunity is fairly legitimate and not just me being all, with neither context nor requisition, “look at me!”

 (Look at me!) (also lol I screencapped this from instagram and there’s still the scroll left dots at the bottom) (also my massively talented friend  Ryan Dominico  took this photo!)   (Look at me!) (also lol I screencapped this from instagram and there’s still the scroll left dots at the bottom) (also my massively talented friend Ryan Dominico took this photo!)

Anyway I’ve cooked precisely one (1) thing this week and that was a coffee cake for my Frasier food blog, and yeah you should definitely go read it, but delicious as it was I couldn’t exactly double up on the recipe here, that would be a move lazier than even I could countenance (I was not so lazy that I didn’t end up looking up “the shortest distance between two points is called what” to illustrate this, uh, point, and found an Archimedes quote being all “it’s a straight line”, like COOL STORY Archimedes, of course it’s a straight line, this is not a compelling quote, stick to excitedly getting in the bath, mate.)

As such I thought I would, since I occasionally foray into drink recipes on here, cocktails being one of my true loves in this life (unlike my frosty and passionless relationship with my concussion!) share the recipe for my competition cocktail – the Wry Aside – with you all. You can now, should you choose, make it yourself at home or indeed, in any location. Yes, it involves some significant legwork and the procurement of several alcohols, but if nothing else I’m hoping this will give a little insight into the building of a cocktail and the process I took to achieve this drink of mine. Plus, having a recipe with multiple sub-recipes nestled within it makes me feel extremely Dominique Crenn-esque, a feeling that can’t be had enough, quite frankly.

Wry Aside

a recipe by myself

Beetroot purée: 

  • three large, fresh beetroot
  • a dash of olive oil
  • roughly a quarter cup of lime juice 

Set your oven to 180C/350F. Trim the tops and tails off the beetroot, slice them roughly into quarters, and place in a roasting dish. Drizzle with the scantest amount of olive oil and bake for around 40 minutes, although check them occasionally, until they are slightly crisp and wrinkled without and extremely tender within. Using a high speed blender or whatever similar appliance you have on your person, blitz the beetroot with the lime juice (mostly there so that the motor doesn’t stress out completely. Transfer this into a jar and refrigerate till needed. 

 Blackberry and Pink Peppercorn Liqueur 

This is really more of a highly alcoholic syrup, if you want to actually drink it on its own I would add sugar to taste, rather than to my specs.  

  • Two cups frozen blackberries (I mean, I assume this is how you’re going to get them, fresh is A-ok) 
  • Two tablespoons pink peppercorns
  • 600ml overproof Jamaican rum  
  • white sugar 
  • two tablespoons citric acid

Put the blackberries, pink peppercorns, and rum in a non-reactive mixing bowl or jug. Cover and leave for at least six hours or overnight. At this point, give it a good stir, mashing up some of the berries to release as much juice and color as possible; then strain it into another jug. Weigh this liquid and add the same weight of white sugar, plus the citric acid, stirring to dissolve it. Refrigerate till needed.

 Beetroot Garnish

  • one small, fresh beetroot

Slice the beetroot into thin discs. Roast slowly in a hot oven or better yet, place them in a dehydrator until crisp enough to hold their shape. If you’re going to dehydrate them, cut a slit halfway through each slice, if you’re roasting the slices you can cut them when you need them. Either way, this slit then slots onto the coupe glass that you serve the drink in, a bit like a lime wheel or something, y’know?  

To make the cocktail: 

  • 50ml Jim Beam Rye
  • 15ml sweet vermouth (not one that’s too sweet, mind) 
  • 30ml blackberry and pink peppercorn liqueur
  • two heaped barspoons of beetroot purée  
  • 25ml freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 5ml lime juice

Shake everything hard in an ice-filled cocktail shaker or jam jar or whatever sealable vessel you have to hand (I’ve used a biscuit tin once when things were really desperate) and double strain (that is, use a small sieve held over the serving glass to make the texture silky smooth and to remove any bits of beetroot and such) into a coupe glass. Stick a wheel of dehydrated beetroot on the lip of the glass by way of garnish.

That’s ALL you have to do!

  (photo again, by  Ryan Dominico ) (Thanks, Ryan!)   (photo again, by Ryan Dominico ) (Thanks, Ryan!)

So yeah, there’s a lot of prep involved to get to the moment where you actually get to drink the damn thing, but I wanted a drink that was thoughtful and that didn’t have any chance of being replicated previously, as opposed to pedantry for the sake of it. I adore rye – the Sazerac is my favourite cocktail of all time – and I wanted the dry, slight spiciness of the Jim Beam Rye to be met with sweetness and earthiness: the beetroot thing was more about trying to capture the nutty caramelised flavour of roasted beetroot rather than just willfully flinging vegetables at random into a cocktail shaker. I love the gentle warmth of pink peppercorns and the juicy tartness of blackberries, I also liked the dovetailing of similar colours even though obviously the peppercorns don’t actually lend any tint to the liqueur. But anyway! You can read more about the story behind this drink at the World Bartender Day website (you have to enter your date of birth, then click on the Perfect Blend button, then the NZ button, then scroll down to find me but IT’S THERE) as well as checking out the other dazzling finalists and their drinks. There’s a mighty decent number of finalists from Wellington, I’m super proud to be part of it all alongside so many friends. Oh and non-negotiably but only if you want, come get the drink off me at my place-of-employ, Laundry Bar.

The finals themselves are on April 16th, and yes, I hear you gasp, that is the day before my birthday! Whilst I’m like, deeply competitive and winning stuff is definitely a hobby of mine, I also really extremely love public speaking and so like, getting a microphone and an audience? Best birthday ever already.

Oh and if you are all, I can’t believe this blog post is over! What next for my life? Then may I direct your attention to my blog post about the time I made vegan gin sours with aquafaba; the time I made Fernet-Branca ice cream; or the time I went to Hanging Ditch and tried a ton of their cocktails.

title from:  Rye Whiskey by the Punch Brothers, a rambunctious and foot-stomping and admittedly cautionary tale via the medium of bluegrass. 

music lately: 

After mentioning that I was going up to Auckland to see Fall Out Boy this March, a customer at work gave me a list of bands I should listen to and like, they were all such good recommendations! To pluck but one from this list I’m going to recommend in turn that you listen to American Football and their song I’ll See You When We’re Both Not So Emotional, which like…lol.

It was Rihanna’s birthday recently and on social media at least it felt like the whole world was celebrating, as well they might be! Love on the Brain is just one of the most beautiful songs on earth.

next time:  If I’m not feeling more energetic and recovered from this concussion I’m going to do absolutely nothing about it, aren’t I!!! 

 

came to my senses and i chilled for a bit

Well I for one went from being aggressively employed on December 31 2017 to aggressively unemployed on January 1 2018, giving the whole “New Year New Me” ethos an unsettling spin. There’s no such thing as long story short with me, but to bring you quickly up to speed in a “previously, on Laura’s Life” kind of fashion, the bar that I ran – Motel – closed for good and I, as such, am now a bartender without a bar. There’s this scene in an episode of Parks and Recreation where Leslie Knope has been suspended from work and nevertheless scurries in to grab folders with the aim of running the entire faculty from home; I myself am wary of the fact that I might break into my friends’ houses and start furiously polishing their glasses and attempting to sell their own cups of tea back to them at any minute. If a shark stops swimming it dies; and I don’t know how to stop swimming. However, unlike the shark, I’m going to be fine. I am blessed, dubiously, with idiotic serendipity – like I’ll get hit by a bus but I’ll find $2 on the ground as I lie there bleeding out, that kind of thing. As such I have faith that I’ll land on my feet, even if I bounce around for a bit first.

It’s hard though! The 11th hour number of the Broadway musical A Chorus Line is called Music and the MIrror, where the character Cassie is at her wits end because she just wants a part in the show, to be allowed to dance, and instead she keeps getting told that she’s overqualified, she’s too old, whatever. Her monologue is heartbreaking. “God I’m a dancer, a dancer dances” is where I’m at right now (and her insisting of “I’ll do you proud” makes me tear up every time) but also I’m trying really hard to actually genuinely relax since I know I need it. I’m not interested in playing Burn Out Olympics, but I definitely was running on empty for a while there and this enforced break surely must be good for me. Basically I’ve decided to see this whole thing as the universe handing me a new chapter, unasked for though it was, and to embrace the excitement of the fact that anything could happen. Anything at all!

In the meantime, there is no reason, other than the jet lag levels of lethargy I’ve been experiencing since halting production suddenly, why I can’t devote a whole lot more time to this blog. The weather has been just staggeringly sunny and warm and so cooking is not a massively come-hither activity, but I made myself a chilled soup for lunch and can envisage this recipe making several encores should the weather continue thusly. At this point I acknowledge that every time I talk about soup on this blog I always have a preamble about how boring soup is and none but THIS recipe has ever turned my head, maybe I need to come to terms with the fact that I do kind of like soup.

The recipe comes from the glorious 1954 Alice B Toklas cookbook. Probably best known as the partner of repetition-inclined poet Gertrude Stein (who wrote a poem for her called Tender Buttons, hello) Toklas is an engaging writer in her own right and collected a wonderful range of recipes with the most fabulous names. Sheharezade’s Melon. Pink Pompadour Bass. Chicken In Half Mourning. A Fine Fat Pullet. A Hen With Golden Eggs. Raspberry Flummery. Roast Beef For A Rainy Day. A hilariously un-coy recipe for “Haschich Fudge” (“It might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies’ Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the D.A.R”) (“two pieces are quite sufficient.”) The anecdotes are marvelously glamorous. Of soup itself, Toklas gets to this recipe by way of explaining the different regional soups that bear relation to each other – “surely the calle de las Sierpes, the liveliest, most seductive of streets, would produce the cookbook that would answer the burning consuming question of how to prepare a gazpacho.” Heavens!

Chilled soup though, what a revelation! In this weather any extraneous movements will overheat you, so free yourself from the punishing labour of chewing and instead just drink in this bowl of iced silk. Eggplant has a total lusciousness already, purée it and it somehow becomes even more satiny and lush. Thick Greek yoghurt adds body and tangy lightness, and I like to eat it with a river of olive oil gouging its way through the surface and plenty of sea salt. Plus, I admit, I added some toasted sunflower seeds for texture so there actually is some chewing involved, but for the most part you can consume this with your eyes closed. More importantly, you can make it in an equally closed-eyed fashion as well.

Tarata (chilled eggplant and Greek yoghurt soup)

Adapted from a recipe in the Alice B Toklas cookbook. 

  • one eggplant
  • one red or yellow capsicum
  • two tablespoons of olive oil
  • two garlic cloves (or more, I ain’t stopping you)
  • 250ml/one cup thick plain Greek yoghurt
  • sea salt
  • extra virgin olive oil, chopped fresh mint, etc (to serve, optional) 

Peel the eggplant (easiest to do this lengthwise) and remove the stem and core from the capsicum, roughly chop both. You could just bin the purple ribbons of eggplant skin, but I fried them till crunchy and ate them sprinkled with salt, it was pretty good. 

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and gently fry the eggplant, capsicum, and the garlic cloves (no need to chop them or anything) until all softened and just barely browned. 

Allow this to cool a little, then purée it in a blender. Add a fat pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil, plus the yoghurt, and blend again to combine. You could actually eat it now at room temperature and have a good time of it, but otherwise refrigerate it till it’s ice cold and then consume at your nearest convenience, adding more olive oil, salt, and anything else you fancy.

This makes enough for two servings. Alice B Toklas makes six times the amount of this, if that’s how much you fancy then by all means go ahead. I kept the garlic proportions the same as her original six-person recipe, but that’s just how I feel about garlic. If it thickens up too much from its time in the fridge just add more yoghurt.

So what am I going to do next? Continue with this relaxing lark while attempting to hustle a fresh new bartending job are my two main objectives. With any luck, I’ll be able to have the headspace to do more on this blog while I’m at it.

I just realised that the first thing I blogged about in January 2017 was cold soup too (cherry tomato gazpacho) which makes sense from a seasonal point of view, but like….cute. Looking back over that blog post I am just in SUCH a better place than I was. Case in point, this time last year I posted an article about my struggle with the NZ mental health system, and this year I published an impassioned essay about the film adaptation of the musical RENT. (It’s niche, but it’s really well written!) Oh sure, I’m still not entirely brilliant and the things I need to resolve within myself could melt steel beams but I’m still genuine light years ahead of this-time-last-year me, I feel more full of potential and capable of good things and aware of myself and I’ve learned so much, lots of which wasn’t fun to learn, but I’m…yeah. Potential is the word that I keep alighting upon. Anything could happen.

title from: Salt’n’Pepa, ShoopA classic! 

music lately:

I’ve been listening to a lot of Alice Coltrane, who was prolific and immensely talented. Spiritual Eternal from 1976 is so shamblingly joyous and uplifting, and then Om Rama, recorded in the early eighties but released just this year, is hypnotic, electrifying, stunning.

I cannot stop consuming Les Miserables. I’ve been jamming a lot of Who Am I – Colm Wilkinson, who created the role of Valjean, has the most chewy, rich voice, like his mouth is full of artisinal sourdough. The stirring build to that ludicrous note at the end of the song is just wonderful to have blasting when you’re walking down the street. I’m also obsessed with Kaho Shimada’s performance of On My Own on the Complete Symphonic Recording. Skip to 3 minutes in and just try to not faint.

Deadflowers, Might As Well Get Used To It. The power of suggestion…

next time: If the weather stays like this it’s gonna be a recipe for ice cubes, I swear.

you wanna play, let’s run away, we won’t be back before it’s christmas day

Tis the season to flop dramatically facedown onto your pie-crumb scattered bed, yeah?

Every year around this time I do a blog post rounding up links back to my own blog posts of recipes that make ideal edible Christmas presents, or indeed edible presents to be consumed for any occasion. This year I am making a small concession towards my own medication-induced exhaustion and simply linking to last year’s blog post rather than doing a whole ‘nother one. This is also due to the fact that I re-read last year’s post and was like…wow. this is so well-written and I’m not sure I could manage to be more entertaining about the same content than I was at that precise moment? Could anyone else be this damnably self-congratulatory while admitting extreme shortcomings?

It’s true though, as I covered in my last blog post my new medication is making life a lot easier but the mental wading-through-treacle vibes are still yet to level out and as such it’s been a lot harder to sit and write without genuinely needing a lie down. I’m annoyed that I can’t quiiite rise above the fog yet, but I am amused in a small way at linking to a blog post that is itself a list of links to my own blog posts, like an artisinal mille-feuille of self-absorption (putting the “me” in mille-feuille, amiright?)

I’m not leaving you entirely in the lurch you didn’t even know that you were in, though, as I’ve got another recipe to add to the list: a wonderfully easy one, at that. For me it’s just not Christmas without consuming a vast quantity of Nigella Lawson content (I mean, it’s also not like, a Tuesday without consuming a vast quantity of Nigella Lawson content either, but your experiences may vary.)

Putting some stuff in a jar is the universe’s gift to gift-giving. It’s simple, it looks pretty, it’s practical. I’m not talking about the modern nightmarish extrapolation-via-pinterest of overnight doughnut paleo ramen in a M*son J*r. All I’m saying here is like, if you’re in the mood to cook stuff in the first place anyway, making some easy jam or a simple chutney or sauce or Pickled Thing makes a lovely heartfelt gift that’s just as applicable to give to a colleage whom you had a frosty yet professional working relationship with as it is to give to your crush, your kindly neighbour, or your grandma. You can talk it down – oh, I made five kilos of this chutney and thought you might like a jar, it’s great with turkey – or you can talk it up, like, I heard you liked cherries so I macerated them in this liqueur which evokes the perfume you were wearing on the night that we first met – and here you reeeeally wanna make sure you read the room before launching into such talk or indeed, actions – OR you can just keep it all for yourself and have twinkling jars of pastes and emulsions ready to enliven your leftovers, embiggen your sandwiches, and en-sauce your un-sauced.

 please note we did not eat the cactus  please note we did not eat the cactus

I, myself, brought the peaches to the table for a Christmas Dinner (which was actually consumed as a late lunch but for some reason no matter what time of day Christmas-related food is eaten I call it dinner) with my two very best friends and twin lights of my life, Kim and Kate. We ate roasted chicken with herbed Greek yoghurt, cornbread and cranberry stuffing, potato-wrapped roasted asparagus, Potato Dish (you know the one) and roasted beetroot and feta spiced filo tart. We watched Imagine Me And You (“you’re a wanker number niiiiiiiine!”) and drank wine and negronis and just had a really beautiful lovely day. The peaches in all honesty would not have been missed if I hadn’t brought them along, but because the day itself was so wonderful they are inextricably associated in my head now with Good Times.

nigella lawson’s spiced peaches

a recipe by myself. Lol no it’s from her book Nigella Express. It’s my wording of her recipe though? Let’s just back away from this whole hornet’s nest and proceed with the recipe. 

  • 800g canned peach halves in syrup
  • one tablespoon rice wine vinegar, or similar
  • two cinnamon sticks
  • an inch or so of fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced into coins
  • half a teaspoon dried chilli flakes
  • half a teaspoon sea salt flakes
  • half a teaspoon black peppercorns
  • three whole cloves

Get a couple of jars ready to store the peaches in, and sterilise them using your chosen method (which may or may not include “giving them a quick rinse and hoping for the best”.) 

Empty the peaches and their syrup into a saucepan with the rest of the ingredients. Bring to the boil, let simmer for a few minutes, remove from the heat, and tip into the jars. Refrigerate till you need them. That’s IT. 

These peaches are excellent, truly excellent, with cold meat and/or cheese, and they look absolutely super on the table with all your other dishes. I also have a suspicion that the spiced syrup would be amazing as a shot alongside a shot of nice tequila, like a kind of peachy pickleback.

Oh yeah, and here’s the link to last year’s blog post.  It’s quite frankly a really good read even if you have no reason nor intention of making gifts for any single human being now or at any time.

title from: RENT is the musical from which this entire blog gets its name, and the whole musical is actually extreeemely christmassy (especially the original stage version, damn you Christopher Columbus, movie director, for removing the Christmas Bells number from the film adaptation.) It’s the song Out Tonight by the scrunchy-throaty voiced Daphne Rubin-Vega from said original version from whence we get our title (I adore Rosario Dawson as Mimi in the movie adaptation but the lyrics are changed to “New Year’s Day”). 

music lately: 

I’ve been aggressively feeling 80s indie lately. Whisper to a Scream by Icicle Works is so, so good, like, makes you want to run down the street in a directionless yet purposefully-coming-of-age-film type way. The massive drums and “we are, we are, we are” refrain give it a kind of early pop-punk vibe which is naturally very pleasing. Listen to it!

I have a personal tradition whereby every year I make myself wait until December 1 to rewatch the spine-chillingly ludicrous performance of Turkey Lurkey Time from the musical Promises, Promises, at the 1969 Tony Awards. It’s SO STUPID and yet a geniuine feat of physical engineering and the perfect marriage of choreographer and medium, the medium being Donna McKechnie’s illegally rubber-jointed limbs. If none of this makes any sense, watching the video is really…not going to enlighten you any further, but you either get it or you don’t.

Not Empty, Garageland. This song always gets to me just the tiniest bit!

next time: IDK but here’s the link to last year’s blog post round up again just! in case! you missed it! 

oh i wish i had a pizza and a bottle of wine

There’s this movie called Wet Hot America Summer, released in the summer of 2001 to very little attention or acclaim. It’s become notable in the ensuing years for how immensely high profile most of the ensemble cast has gone on to become (Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks) and the deliciousness of seeing them in their career infancy. People also finally started to appreciate how stupidly funny it is, and it gathered a lot of steam in a cult-hit kind of way. Anyway, I really love it and it’s one of those movies where whatever is happening in your life, it feels like nothing bad can happen when you’re watching it. I have similar feelings about the One Direction movie.

There’s also this bit in the movie where one of the characters tells the girl that he has a crush on, “I’ve really grown up a lot since before dinner when we last talked”. Due to my live-life-ten-seconds-at-a-time haphazardly whimsical and exhausting persona I have always related to this moment since I first encountered it, but I am like, really feeling it currently.

 actual footage of me actual footage of me

As I said in my last blog post, I’ve started on some new medication for my anxiety and whatnot. It’s been a trip. My doctor was all, there might be some weird side effects, and I was all, ma’am, respectfully, my whole LIFE is a side effect, I’m just keen to try something new. There’s some massively positive stuff, the most of which is that I’m now so UNNERVINGLY calm in comparison to the spiky, nervous tumbleweed of buzzing wires and thorny branches and barbed wire that I was hitherto rolling along in the guise of. I mean, I’m still me, that can’t be helped, but I feel much more able to process information quietly, make decisions, and anticipate things without a constant sound of wasps in my ears and sirens in my stomach.  I feel more able to stand my ground whereas previously I would’ve just panicked. It’s not perfect, but it’s really something observing myself being this person. So yeah, I’ve really grown up a lot since before dinner when we last talked.

Bad side effects are some morning sluggishness and some nighttime head-spins, but in the middle I’m afforded at least a few hours of intense, clear-eyed activity. Which is how, on Monday morning, I found myself making this entire damn pizza from scratch and then eating it within the space of an hour and a half.

I’ve had potato pizza on my culinary to-do list after having it at brunch at Loretta with a friend a while back; theirs had darkly beautiful purple potato slices and I could only find, at best, red-skinned potatoes, but no harm done. On a whim I decided to use fresh yeast instead of the usual instant dried stuff, and I’m a fan! Having not tried this particular recipe, which I made up on the spot, with anything other than fresh yeast, I couldn’t tell you precisely how it’s different to the dried kind but you should know that it’s very little effort, requires barely any kneading or rising time and tastes magical.

Potatoes on pizza is a classic Italian combination, and there’s nothing quite so comforting as carb on carb. The dough is tender and puffy, the potatoes are sliced so thin that they’re almost translucent and so they crisp up quickly under the oven’s heat. I draped slices of nutty, sweet Emmentaler over the pizza, but you could definitely use Gruyere if you can stomach the price. A schmeer of rich, creamy mascarpone with mustard, chilli, and cider vinegar spikes the bland calmness of the other ingredients and the resiny pungency of thyme is just, I don’t know, I really love thyme and like putting it on everything.

Scared though you may be of tackling any kind of yeasted dough from scratch, this one comes together with a few brief stirs, prods, and a rise time so fast you don’t even have to have a TV show cued up to watch while you wait. I suppose there’s more olive oil in it than you might normally expect but I feel that it adds to the soft, puffy texture and the flavour. Plus, you make enough dough for some pizza now, and some pizza for future-you. Planning for the future? ME? Whomst even am I?

 yoink yoink

potato pizza

a recipe by myself

dough:

  • one heaped teaspoon fresh yeast
  • one tablespoon golden syrup (or honey, or maple syrup) 
  • 500ml (two cups) lukewarm water
  • 80ml (1/3 cup) olive oil
  • six cups high grade/strong/bread flour
  • two teaspoons sea salt

the on top stuff:

  • one medium red potato
  • 150g mascarpone
  • one tablespoon chilli oil
  • one teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • one teaspoon dijon, english, or similar mustard
  • 150g emmentaler, thinly sliced
  • fresh thyme leaves

Set your oven to 250C/480F and put an oven tray (or if you have it, a pizza stone) in to heat up. 

Place the yeast, golden syrup and warm water in a large bowl and leave it for fifteen minutes till it’s a little frothy on top. Tip in the salt, oil, and flour, and stir together till it forms a rough, sticky dough. Give it a really quick knead, adding just a little extra flour if you need to, till it’s a smoothish coherent ball. Cover with a tea towel and leave it for fifteen minutes till it’s puffy. 

While this is happening, mix the mascarpone, mustard, chilli oil, and cider vinegar in a small bowl. Use a vegetable peeler to make thin, thin slices out of the potato. You won’t need the whole thing, but just throw the remaining potato in with the pizza as it’s cooking and then eat it or something. Sit the potato slices in a bowl of cold water. This will bring out some of the starches and make it roast quicker. 

Cut the dough in half and place the remaining dough in an airtight container in the fridge to use another time. Place the dough on either a nonstick silicon baking mat or a sheet of baking paper and using your hands, gently push the dough out into a rough rectangle shape. If it seems like it won’t stretch as far as you want, let it rest for a few minutes and continue to shape it. 

Spread the mascarpone across the pizza base. Drain the potato slices and pat them dry with a clean tea towel. Layer the potato and cheese over the mascarpone and finally sprinkle with a little more sea salt. Leave to sit for ten minutes. 

Carefully lift the baking sheet or piece of paper and place it on the hot oven tray or pizza stone. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, or until the cheese is golden brown and the edges are crisp. Scatter with thyme leaves before eating. 

Pizza is so unfathomable, in that if you cut this rectangle into eight large squares then you could give that to eight people, but you could also QUITE comfortably eat at least half of this yourself and then reheat the other half later, or share it between two people but still be kind of hungry? It’s this strange loaves-and-fishes alchemy that I’ll never understand. Unsurprisingly though, I was in the half-now-for-me, half-now-for-later category of consumers. However you slice it, this pizza is stupidly delicious.

If you’re on a DIY dough buzz, may I suggest some further reading from my archives, such as no-knead Challah, Fougasse Bread, or Nigella’s Maple Walnut Bread.

Till next time…I guess this is growing up.

title from: this surfy punky bratty band (I LOVE surfy punky bratty bands) called Girls, and their song Lust for Life. 

music lately:

SO another weird side effect of the medication is that I’m feeling music on a hellaciously deep level, like I was listening to Meadowlark as sung by Liz Calloway the other day while walking down the street and nearly threw up and fell over sideways from the intensity of it all. I’ve always had the proclivity to y’know, cry at songs and feel like they were written for me and me alone, but this is next level.

I’ve been hitting the Les Mis pretty hard and folks, I’ve never felt more pumped for 1800s Frenchy War Stuff in my life. To pluck but one example from the air, literally every time I watch this clip from the 2014 Tony awards I genuinely cry and get full body shivers (particularly at the revoltingly beautiful face of Ramin Karimloo and Kyle Scatliffe’s monumental voice and Will Swenson’s appealingly nasal Javert) and I’ve been watching it a LOT.

Also been seriously feeling the Meat Puppets lately. Lake of Fire, famously covered by Nirvana, is so sludgy and about to topple over with its own heaviness, but then you’ve got like, Up On The Sun or Aurora Borealis which are just really, really nice grunge.

next time: IT’S DECEMBER! What? Whomst? How? That’s all I have to say about THAT.