Can you believe the final day of March is upon us already? My body clock is still ticking along as though it is late February, when in fact a whole quarter of 2008 has passed.
Because this is Wellington, and not say, Connecticut, we have no discernible Autumn to speak of - no crunch of fallen leaves underfoot, no crispening of the evening air - instead, Winter seems to have launched with a whoosh, and before you know it the drains are blocked with mulchy leaves and your shoes get soaked when you merely leave to check the mail. The upside of this grey, damp onslaught?
Above: Tim and I bought the biggest pumpkin we (*cough* he *cough*) could carry at the vegetable market, and I used it to make soup last night. I have actually never made pumpkin soup before - I guess I am too busy faffing with lentils - but it has always been a favourite. I wanted to roast the pumpkin though, rather than do the usual method of simmering it in stock. I developed this recipe after making the Pumpkin Puree from Nigella's How To Eat, and...I think it is pretty awesome. It is intensely creamy without the addition of any milk or cream, plus, you don't need a blender to make it. I love my blender but dragging it out from under our computer table in our bedroom (hey, our flat has almost no storage space) and cleaning it after can seem like way too much effort sometimes.
Roast Pumpkin Soup
Preheat oven to 200 C. Take half a large pumpkin, and chop that half into eight chunks (or just four, if your pumpkin is not that big.) Encase each pumpkin chunk loosely in tinfoil, pinching the edges together. If you want to add a teaspoonful of butter with each piece, feel free (I certainly did.) Place in a roasting dish and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size. Test the pieces with a skewer after this time has passed - you want it very soft, with no resistance.
Carefully open the tinfoil parcels and one by one, scoop the orange flesh into a pot. This is a tiny bit messy. The flesh should be highly yielding, but give it a go with the potato masher to get rid of any lumps anyway, adding more butter if you wish. At this stage you have yourself a perfectly serviceable bowl of pumpkin puree, which you can place with pride at your dinner table. For soup however, pour in four cups of stock (I used porcini), stirring with a wooden spoon after every cup of liquid. If you need more liquid, by all means add more. It should be thick and not too watery. Now, merely heat it over a low flame - don't let it bubble - and before you want to serve, grate over some fresh nutmeg and add a tiny pinch of ground cumin.
You could make this Thai, by adding curry paste, fish sauce and coriander, or serve it Morrocan-style by upping the cumin and adding cinnamon, tumeric and tomato paste. Just don't try and take a photo of it because the camera lens steam up something crazy, as you can tell by the above picture. This soup won't be quite as velvet-textured as something blended, so knock yourself out, but even in its rough and ready state it still looks like distilled sunshine and tastes warm and fabulous.
On Saturday night, Emma, Ange, Paul, Tim and I went to the Relay For Life. I have to say I have very mixed feelings about the night. Because Emma works with the ANZ Bank, we were signed up with their team and given the 10 till midnight slot. The fact that it was raining very heavily didn't help with the enthusiasm, but when we got to the event and the ANZ tent was absolutely soaked through, with no lighting but for some glowsticks and rapidly-fading police-style blue revolving lights, with some frozen hash browns that Paul was asked to cook, and some bowls of (admittedly pleasant) salad lying on the ground with dripping people stepping over them...I wondered what the heck we'd gotten ourselves into. Since ANZ is apparently one of the most wealthy corporations in New Zealand, I expected at least a table to put our gear on and some slightly more welcoming digs. And some light. On top of all that, the woman in charge of the tent was incredibly unpleasant to us, even though we had volunteered our time and money to help out her business. She seriously made us feel uncomfortable and unwanted and frankly, I am glad I don't hold any accounts with ANZ if this is their representation. Paul had to leave early to go to a party, and the rain made Emma's elbow sore, so it fell upon Ange, Tim and I to keep the alarmingly phallic ANZ baton aloft.
I am very proud to say that I didn't stop moving for our entire 2 hour segment, even though my shoes were filled with water and the persistent showers meant that I was beyond saturated. I walked most of the time, but I did manage to run a whole lap, which I was pleased with. And yes, that is Iron Maiden that I quoted in the title, the song was running, if you will, through my head as I circumnavigated the track! I truly am no runner - I have actually never in my life owned a pair of running shoes and spent Saturday night in an old pair of Converse - so this was quite an achievement. To be frank though, the ANZ tent was so hostile and dank and horrible that it was something of an incentive to stay on the track.
At 8.30pm there was a candle ceremony, which was very moving despite the fact that it was held in an underground carpark. It made me realise how many people - and a few cats - I know that have died from cancer. I also thought briefly of Nigella Lawson, who lost her mother, her sister, and her first husband to cancer. Even though walking for hours round and round a circuit in the rain is not my first idea of fun, it was a surprisingly contemplative time for me. Tim ran for a bit, and Ange, who has amazing stamina, managed to get ANZ's fastest lap. We live in a time of such incredible leaps and bounds in knowledge, technology, science, everything - who knows that one day we won't have a cancer-free world. I certainly hope so.
We got given a goodie bag beforehand, and in said bag was an RFL tshirt, a blue ANZ hat which leaked its dye onto my forehead, and a few other bits and pieces, including these small bags of rather classy scroggin (or scrottage, as it is forever called to me). I decided to use this yesterday to make some muffins, slightly adapting Nigella's Muesli Muffin recipe from Feast.
Above: After removing the vile dried banana pieces, I chopped this all with my mezzaluna, and added some rolled oats and bran to make up the 250g required for the recipe. I am so in love with these positively healthy muffins that once our ex-microwave gets replaced, I plan on making lots and freezing them, to be nuked as required throughout Winter.
- 225g plain flour
- 1 t baking soda
- 250mls buttermilk *I had none so used plain milk with some lemon juice added
- 1 egg
- 175g brown sugar
- 80 mls vegetable oil
- 250g good muesli
If you don't actually have muesli, I recommend a mixture of rolled oats, bran, and whatever seeds, nuts and dried fruit you like. This is very simple: Heat the oven to 200 Celcius, and grease or line a muffin tray. Combine the flour, baking soda and sugar in a large bowl, then stir through the muesli. Pour in your egg, buttermilk and oil, and using a wooden spoon, mix gently till barely combined. As with all muffins, you do not want to overstir this, so go easy. Divide the mixture between the twelve holes in the muffin tin and bake for 25 minutes.
Above: The muffins. They are so full of goodness and health that I didn't feel too bad about smothering them with butter before eating...
April is going to be a busy month. I have about forty squillion assignments due, I am flying up home for my best friend's 21st, going with Tim's family to his grandparents' wedding anniversary party, hopefully taking in a performance of Rent in Levin, and turning 22 somewhere in the middle there. I'm exhausted just thinking about it...