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 got a velvet mouth, you’re so succulent and beautiful

I feel like every time I come here with a soup recipe I preface it by being all like ughhh soup is the worst and so boring and I’m not even into it but THIS one is okay. Because really, soup is not terribly interesting to me. Why consume a warm vegetal puddle when I could be eating something deep fried or roasted or just generally bringing to the table a more engaging texture than mushy and boiled to death? And yet. You know in the middle of the night when you wake up utterly parched, your throat a sun-baked desert and your tongue a dry, brittle leaf, and yet you’re just, just too sleepy to rouse yourself to get water, so you lie there uncomfortably for minutes shaped like hours fantasising about Fanta? A thirst trap, if you will. Well in the midst of one such lively session of dehydration, I found myself craving chilled soup, soft and cool and quenching and, importantly, with a velvety texture that you can only achieve by borrowing your flatmate’s high speed blender. And so, this recipe was born, in spite of my soup-related misgivings.

I was hoping that the mixture of red beetroot and white cauliflower would turn into my favourite colour, millennial pink, but instead the cooking process rendered it a kind of muted burnt scarlet. The taste however: genuinely incredible. Beetroot can be super earthy (to the point of tasting like literal dirt if you’re not careful) but caramelising it in the pan first before simmering in barely any water retains all its nuttiness and gentle sweetness. Cauliflower’s flavour is less pronounced but it gives a mellow butteriness as well as general body.

I initially didn’t want to add the coconut milk but I cannot deny that its subtle sweetness brings the whole damn lot together beautifully as well as adding an extra creaminess. It really just tastes spectacular and is an absolute pleasure to consume on a hot day, sliding coolly down your throat and making you forget you ever knew what thirst felt like. We’ve been experiencing some genuine unadulterated sunshine in Wellington lately, so, as Rihanna said in response to why she is braless all the time, you might as well make hay while the sun shines.

velvety chilled beetroot and cauliflower soup

a recipe by myself

  • two large beetroot, scrubbed and ends trimmed, roughly cubed
  • half a cauliflower, including stems, roughly chopped into small florets and pieces
  • two garlic cloves
  • sea salt
  • a generous pinch of cumin
  • half a tin of coconut milk
  • olive oil, an indiscriminate amount
  • water, an even more indiscriminate amount

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan, then add the cauliflower, beetroot, and garlic. Stir them for a few minutes over a medium heat; once they have a nice tan, add just enough water to cover them. Let this simmer away, topping up with water as need be (keep an eye on it as it will evaporate quicker than you think) until the vegetables are extremely tender. This will take around 25 minutes. It will feel like forever.

Remove the pan from the heat. Scoop the vegetables out of the pan into a blender along with the cumin and salt. Blend the hell out of them, then slowly add the remaining liquid from the pan (up to half a cup/125ml) and the coconut milk and blend again till extremely smooth. Taste – does it need more salt? More cumin? More olive oil? If you’re all good with it then all you have to do now is refrigerate it till it’s cold, then pour into bowls and decorate however you please – I drizzled over some more olive oil and coconut milk, chopped up some of the leaves from the beetroot, and sprinkled over some sesame seeds and more cumin and salt. 

If I remember rightly this made like, two generous bowlfuls, but if you want more just add more of the beetroot and cauliflower and coconut milk. It’s a very easy formula and the whole thing is not going to fall apart if you decide to add three beetroot or a whole cauliflower or something. The important thing is to not be scared of how much olive oil you put in there – it’s crucial for that smooth, unctuous viscosity and stops it tasting entirely like merely like pulverised dampened vegetables.

But what of my life, you ask? What the heck have I been up to since I last blogged nineteen months ago? Literally not much really, just making cocktails and yelling “knuckle tatts voice: admin life!” whenever anyone asks what I’ve done with my day; being aghast at the speedy passage of time which continuously pushes more space between my last blog post and that which you’re reading; continuing to bumble along on that ADHD-anxiety life; and metaphorically, for now at least, snorting episodes of Frasier during every free moment.

If you are on a wholehearted soup buzz, then may I kindly but firmly direct your attention to these other recipes I’ve blogged about, such as butternut and pasta soup, cherry tomato gazpacho (another chilled one!) and velveteen parsnip soup, a blog post more notable for how BLATANTLY I’m describing the symptoms of having ADHD years before I’d get diagnosed, than for the recipe itself.

title from: the evergreen banger Born Slippy by Underworld, one of those songs of the genre that I call “this makes me want to head-butt Liam Gallagher”.

music lately:

I saw a production of the Broadway musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson in New Orleans a few years ago, a show about the founding fathers of America that did not capture the world in the way that Hamilton has, but is nevertheless extremely enjoyable, not least because it basically sounds like Green Day wrote the entire libretto (not to be confused with Green Day’s actual Broadway musical, American Idiot.) The song Rock Star could pretty much hold its own with any pop punk tune of the last 25 years and is extremely good to walk down the street to if you need to feel like you could kick a hole in the sky. And The Saddest Song is extremely good to listen to if you want to walk down the street feeling like no one understands what it’s like to be president. It’s SO GOOD.

Bright Eyes, It’s Cool We Can Still Be Friends. Looooooooooool.

The Schuyler Sisters from Hamilton the musical. I mean, it’s taken the world by storm for a reason.

next time: I haven’t cooked anything of consequence lately so I guess it’s time to get consequential. 

so this is the new year and I don’t feel any different

At ten seconds to midnight on the last day of December I led the countdown from behind the bar where I was working. At midnight we yelled Happy New Year and hugged and clinked our glasses of house sparkling wine. Then I yelled an expletive in the direction of 2016. And then, I immediately blasted Careless Whisper over the loudspeaker. (That’s right, “an expletive.” I’ve never sworn before on this blog and for some reason cannot bring myself to do it now after all these years out of some vague fear of being sent to the principal’s office or something even though swearing is harmless and a pretty delightful way to add texture and colour – or is that off-colour – to your words, generally? Why am I so hung up on this?) Anyway there’s no great conclusion to this anecdote, but the crowd went wild and no matter what happens this year I shall at least treasure the memory of standing in front of a lot of people – one of my favourite activities! – and seeing their faces as the glorious and iconic sax riff started playing. Started with a banger, if not a bang. 

Earlier that same day I made myself gazpacho, acting upon a strong craving. I never crave soup. I have barely been feeling passionate about any kind of food lately in fact. But, not wanting to let these rare positive thoughts about liquidised vegetables get skittish and run away, I decided I might as well try and do something about it.

This soup is really, really simple. The only difficult thing is that it’s best made in a blender, if you don’t have one then like…I don’t know. Make something else. You could use a food processor, but a blender is better, something about the centrifugal motion and slicey knifey stuff. The point is, it’s really delicious, which, thank goodness, since I hardly ever have massive soup-adjacent desires in the first place. Soup always has to do everything backwards and in heels in order to impress me at the same level that other food does dancing forward in regular shoes (that’s a Fred and Ginger reference in case I briefly lost you there.) I use cherry tomatoes which, with their youthful sweetness, give a slightly bouncier tomato flavour but very ripe regular tomatoes would be absolutely fine. I also use only red capsicum instead of the usually prescribed red and green, because green ones tend to be unluscious and bitter, whereas the red ones, mellow and riper, echo the sweetness of the little tomatoes. The only other way in which I stray from the traditional is adding a pinch of cumin to lend a little earthy depth. 

  aw man, just realised that drizzle of olive oil kind of looks like a dick

aw man, just realised that drizzle of olive oil kind of looks like a dick

This really does get better the next day so if you can forward-plan your cravings, so much the better, but immediately poured from the blender it’s wonderful, all thick and cold and tasting of sunshine, of soft grass under your bare feet, of cloudless skies, endless and blue, of other summer-adjacent imagery designed to inspire a vague sense of nostalgia and longing within you. 

cherry tomato gazpacho

a recipe by myself

  • two punnets of ripe cherry tomatoes
  • one red capsicum (or pepper, if you’re American)
  • one small, soft white bread roll
  • two tablespoons of red wine vinegar, or sherry vinegar if you have it
  • three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, or more to taste (I did more) 
  • a decent pinch of ground cumin
  • salt (ideally sea salt or something fancy) and freshly ground pepper to taste

Tumble the cherry tomatoes into the blender, reserving a couple for garnish if you like, and a couple to just eat for fun because they’re so delicious. Remove the core from the pepper and slice into rough chunks (in all honesty, I just tore it up with my bare hands). Run the bread roll under a cold tap – an unusual and counterintuitive-feeling activity, I grant you – and rip it into soggy pieces, and put all of this in the blender with the tomatoes. Tip two cups of cold water in, followed by the vinegar, olive oil, and cumin. Blend thoroughly till it forms a thickish, uniform looking puree. Taste for salt, and indeed, whether or not you think it needs more cumin, olive oil, vinegar, whatever – and blend again. Let it sit for an hour if you can, which will thicken it up, but you could just eat it right away.

I served it drizzled with more olive oil, scattered with freshly ground black pepper, and strewn with chunks of very ripe avocado and fresh thyme, since it’s what I had and I figured I might as well lean into the untraditional nature of it. I also halved one of the reserved cherry tomatoes and floated them on top, cutely. This makes enough for two servings. 

The weather is actually resolutely unsummery at the moment but this soup nevertheless does its best to make you feel like its sunny, and is an ideal way to use seasonal produce if that’s what you’re into. 

I have no doubt that you absolutely noticed, amongst the hustle and bustle of Christmas, New Years, public holidays, disrupted routines, taking stock of the year’s happenings and mourning celebrity deaths, that it’s been a while since I’ve blogged. This was because my laptop sulkily kept turning off mid-use, eventually giving up on the whole being-a-laptop thing altogether. I’ve also been monstrously depressed and anxious and unable to muster up the slightest inclination to cook for myself. Luckily, it’s all fixed now!

The laptop that is. Haha. 

While I was waiting for it to be fixed, Kate very very kindly lent me hers. And rapidly, I decided to write about some things that were going on inside and outside of my head. The words came easily, pressing publish did not, but well, I’ve gone and bloody done it now. I’m not going to say too much more about it since you might as well read it – if you want. My whole thing was not wanting so much to be like, making a dramatic point about how I’m – gasp – going through some stuff, but more to highlight how sucky the system in New Zealand is if you’re trying to ask for help, while also just being like, I’m a human going through some stuff and the more people who talk about it the more it is normalised and I feel like I can do that, I can take a chance on talking about it where maybe other people can’t since I appear to not worry ever about the consequences of what will happen if I write about things going on in my life. On the other hand, it’s something I’d hidden with varying degrees of success for a few months now, so, sometimes acts of what could be called bravery take time to get into.

With all that in mind, my wanting to make myself something, and for that something to be vegetable-based soup, feels like a small victory. Super small, I mean. I still haven’t put sheets on my bed. I got drunk last night and lost my phone and then found it and then immediately lost it again and was like well, fair enough, I guess I’ve lost it. (I was at work, so I’m going to go pick it up, although it occurs to me today that being in a familiar place does not necessarily mean I didn’t somehow drop it in the bin or lose it inside a large glass of water or something.) 

 What he said. 

What he said. 

But I’m trying. Well, I’m trying to try. Which is legit another victory.

Happy New Year. Fuck 2016. 

title from: Death Cab For Cutie, The New Year. I am a sucker for an achy-breaky song about this time of year. Amongst other things.  

music lately:

Breezeblocks, alt-j. Wowwwwwwww I like this song a lot. Also wowwww I am late to the party on alt-j. 

Zayn Malik/Taylor Swift, I Don’t Wanna Live Forever. PREDICTABLY GOOD, WHOM COULD HAVE PREDICTED THIS, I FEEL LIKE I SHOULD SAY A VARIATION ON THE WORD PREDICTABLE AGAIN NOW 

next time: well hopefully I want to cook for myself more. So I’ll see you in June. JK, I’ll get there somehow. It helps when there are other people to cook for, and luckily there’s a lot of love-to-cook-for-them type people in my life.