24 November 2009
It is SO sunny outside. Sure, anyone can talk about the weather, but as Wellington spends 97% of its time shrouded in gale force winds and grey skies, good weather always comes with the element of surprise. This afternoon Tim and I are unfortunately going to be spending several hours of said sunshine on a train to Palmerston North to see his family (the stuck-in-a-train bit is unfortunate, not catching up with whanau which will be awesome). We're going to be away most of the rest of the week so don't be alarmed and hold candlelit vigils while singing We Shall Overcome if there's not a lot going on here or on my Twitter.
While I'm talking about obvious stuff, how about the fact that it's less than a month till Christmas!? In the words of Mike LaFontaine, "Wha' happen?"
So, there are cookbooks and then there are, you know, seminal texts that you live your life by. By this I mean any words committed to paper from the pen of (or should that be committed to pixel by the typing hands of?) Nigella Lawson. It has been a little while since I've made any specific recipe of hers and I had this real urge to reconnect with her recently. But then at the last minute I had my head turned by this recipe in last weekend's edition of the Dominion Post. A bit like that flaneur-ish painting where the wife thinks her husband is paying attention to her but doesn't realise that his eyes are focussed instead on another comely lass. (I'm only describing it in such detail because I couldn't find the actual painting after a quick Google Image search, if someone knows the name of this painting feel free to speak up.) Actually it wasn't such a degrading act as that - I just liked the sound of this cake - Nigella remains there for the reconnecting some other time. But what use was that Art History paper I did in 2006 if I can't make dubious metaphorical connections between Nigella and paintings that I can't remember the name of?)
It's a truly simple cake and doesn't seem to be in any way flouncy or exciting but its uncomplicatednicity is what drew me to it. It's ideal with a cup of tea, ages well and is a delight to eat - a cake of the old school, buttery and solid.
adapted from a recipe by David Burton, found in the Indulgence section of the Dominion Post
145g raw sugar
145g white sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
170g standard flour
170g wholemeal flour
Set the oven to 160 C, and line a square-ish tin of around 20cm square. The size isn't a deal breaker though so don't go weeping over your tape measure.
In a saucepan, cover the sultanas with cold water and bring to the boil. Drain off the water and while the sultanas are still hot, cut the butter into pieces over them and allow it to melt.
Whisk the eggs and sugars till thick and creamy, then fold in the baking powder and flours. Finally stir in the sultana-d butter, pour mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Slice when a little cooled.
See? It's not particularly glamourous, but still rather perfect in its own way. I added a little Boyajian orange oil to the sultanas in the saucepan, which didn't overpower the cake in any way but added a little heady fragrance to its otherwise matronly aesthetic. I also didn't use 450g sultanas because I only had about 200g but to be honest it was plenty. I'm not one of life's gaugers, but 450g does seem like a lot.
As I mentioned last time, we got ourselves tickets to see the Wailers out in Porirua last Friday. It was a brilliant night, with the journey almost as memorable as the gig itself. While heading out to the Te Rauparaha Arena we found $20 which we thought was a good sign. Not so cool was the fact that in our haste to get to the train station, I didn't bring any ID with me and the gig was strictly R18. There's something about my face that brings out the skeptic in any bouncer (plus apparently Tim and myself collectively skew very young in the looks factor) and despite pawing through my purse desperately I didn't have anything on me that identified my age. In the end one of the trawling security police came over, asked me a few questions and radio-d someone who was able to look me up on some kind of citizen database and confirm that I am in fact, 23. Despite the mellow, sunny sounds of Katchafire surrounding us once we finally got inside, it took me a while to chill out.
Katchafire were fantastic though - delivering warm, dynamic sounds and generating an awesome energy. We were under no illusion that the band headlining wasn't the exact original Wailers but they were still more or less the real deal, featuring original members in their line up, and it was an amazing opportunity for us. Despite seeming to be a bit disjointed - not quite possessing the soul that Katchafire had -they played a fantastic set. Buffalo Soldier was my particular favourite of the night, but the Exodus that they finished with was also an amazing moment. If they'd played Trenchtown Rock or No Woman No Cry I would have also been happy (I don't know if that's a really obvious choice of favourite) but there was so much gold in there that it wasn't until the train ride home, (where a Danish tourist was deeply sick to the point that the train actually stopped and let him out for a bit to alleviate himself) and everyone started singing along together to even more Bob Marley songs that I noticed their absence.
Massive apologies for lacking in lustre (and a proper title) this time round - it has been a busy, busy time and I've been completely exhausted! My brain can't seem to come up with the goods this week. I hate the idea of blogging just for the sake of it but there is also something to be said for discipline and sticking to a schedule. Hopefully next week the blogging part of my brain will have limbered up. Total apologies if you're a first time reader. This basically happens to me every November - I get tired and panicky. Look forward to it. But be comforted by the fact that no matter how terrible my writing is in this post, the sultana cake is really, really good.
Title of this post brought to you by: I'm tired and I've got a train to catch. I haven't got time to dither around thinking up cute food-related puns. And I'm sorry. But even in my uselessness, you bet I'm referring to Elton John's song from Yellow Brick Road, This Song Has No Title. I don't care how particularly unhip Elton John may be, this album is amazingly good. Not just relatively good compared to other albums of its time, or compared to other Elton John albums - it's just singularly brilliant.
On Shuffle these days:
There was a guy at Duke Carvell's last night with a Marc Kudisch-y mustache going on which inspired me to listen to the amazing Central Park from the also amazing See What I Wanna See. (click the link to listen to it)
To counteract this Broadway fruitiness, I've also been listening to Shapeshifter's new album The System Is A Vampire - they're back with a vengeance and went to the #1 spot with blinding speed which is a bit of an achievement in this CD-eschewing day and age.
Next time: It'll be December! And I'll be planning the great traditional flat Christmas Dinner which is trucking on again this year. Just because we've moved house doesn't mean I still don't want to force Christmas food onto people. Check out here for 2008's offering. Equal madness and then some will surely ensue.
19 November 2009
Was a little tempted to up the saturation on Picassa to make this more of a "velvet theatre curtain" colour.
The pasta takes on a rich pinkish tint and holds a deliciously winey flavour. The steak in Marsala and buttery zucchini slices worked excellently with the pasta's savoury richness while the salty capers and icy mint provided clean, fresh contrast. It's pretty glam, but not scary or overwhelming to make for your next dinner party.
Tonight Tim and I, along with our flatmate and several other usual suspects, are heading out to Porirua to see The Wailers perform, (as in what were once Bob Marley and The Wailers, yes) supported by Hikoikoi and Katchafire. It's sure to be a amazing night with all that stunning musical talent, plus the legendary-ness of the Wailers - we're both seriously looking forward to it. Speaking of things we're excited about: Jack White's latest outburst of prolific activity, The Dead Weather, is coming to New Zealand in March! Why they're playing all the way out of town in the Logan Campbell Centre I can't fathom but we've got our tickets and we'll get there from Wellington somehow. It's not the same as a White Stripes tour (soon, please? We love you too Meg) but still very, very exciting stuff. Look them up on Youtube or something if you want to know more.
15 November 2009
My point is, Tim and I went to a fantastic Latin restaurant/bar called Amigos for dinner the other night, and while I was there I couldn't help but think it could quite easily be the new Sweet Mother's Kitchen (another eaterie in Wellington, and enormously popular) if only more people knew about it. And then I felt bad, because Amigos was amazing in its own right and was created completely independently of anything else. But it has a similar vibe going on - funky surroundings, food that's authentic, inexpensive, and fun, plus delightful staff. Tim and I both wanted this dish that involved french fries covered in four different kinds of meat with egg and cheese (I know, and it was amazingly good, and yes, they do lighter/vegetarian food too) and the waitress said that we could share one dish between the two of us as they're huge servings. Nice, right? I'm sure most places would try and make you pay the extra money for two dishes without warning you on the size. The food was incredibly good - I'd love to go back and try some of their other dishes. Also on Fridays (and other nights) they apparently have parties and clear the tables and play music and have lots of drink specials. So, lazy writing and all, if you like Sweet Mother's Kitchen, you'll probably love Amigos too. It's right near Moore Wilsons and above Happy at 118 Tory Street (phone 04 385 1222), and open for lunch and dinner all week long. And now you know!
If I ever end up getting offered some kind of mega-million-dollar cookbook deal for this blogging lark, I think I'll definitely have to have a chapter devoted to ice cream. I love it and I love coming up with new recipes for it. Clicking on the "Ice Cream" tag for this blog will back up that statement with cold, sugary fact. With this in mind, remember that time I made Ginger Crunch Slice? Me too! I can't stop thinking about it! In fact I've made about five more batches since that first one I blogged about. Then I thought how the fudge-like ginger icing would make fantastic...ice cream. Yes. The more brain-space I devoted to it, the more utterly genius it sounded. With a little time up my sleeve today I made a small test batch to see if it would actually work. And it really did.
You know what didn't work though? Okay, so I made the ice cream, photo-ing as I went, put it in the freezer to freeze, took it out to take a photo, dropped the container on the floor, and it broke. And all of a sudden we're out of appropriately sized Tupperwear or old takeaway containers. Argh! Fortunately the plantain ice cream from last week had just got finished and so I was able to rinse out its container and transfer the Ginger Crunch Ice Cream into it. By which stage it had softened considerably and I was also considerably covered in it and thus I couldn't really be bothered trying to get a cute finished product photo - but at least there's last week's post with its cute spoonful of plantain ice cream to keep you happy should this gaping hole in my photo essay offend.
It's not a scary recipe at all, despite having the word "ice cream" in its title. Ice cream, like bread and pastry and chicken stock is one of those things that sound so much harder to make at home than they really are. But this particular ice cream took barely 10 minutes. It's the easiest of the hard-sounding stuff.
Spillages are unavoidable. Really.
Ginger Crunch Ice Cream
Makes about a pint. I think. Wikipedia's stance on the pint is a little confusing.
2 heaped tablespoons golden syrup
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 cup icing sugar
In a heavy based pan, melt the butter and golden syrup together gently. Once you have a deliciously buttery, caramelly liquid pool, take it off the heat and stir in the icing sugar and ground ginger. Then whisk the cream till it's significantly thickened but not actually whipped into peaks - it should still have a bit of movement and formlessness to it. Using a spoon, scrape the gingery mixture into the cream and mix it in relatively forcefully, to break up any larger pieces of ginger icing. Pour into a container and freeze. You don't need to churn this - just let it soften slightly before serving. And don't drop the container. If you want more of this, as well you might, just use more cream. If you're getting to the stage where you're whipping up say, a litre of cream, you might look at doubling the ginger mix ingredients.
This stuff is extremely good. The gingery mixture seeps into the softly whipped cream, countering its richness with a zingy warmth. Larger pieces of the ginger mixture become all chewy and incredibly delicious once frozen. It just works so well. I can imagine this being a really good accompaniment to fruitcake or Christmas pudding, especially in places (like New Zealand!) where Christmas falls in the middle of summer.
This container no longer exists, and to be honest the ice cream isn't going to stick round for long either.
That said, if I ever do get offered a squillion-dollar cookbook deal, all my ice cream recipes are here for free on this blog, thus rendering the ice cream chapter kind of pointless. Although I guess there's no point stressing over something that hasn't even been in any danger of occurring yet.
Last night Tim and I were fortunate enough to witness the All Whites qualify for the FIFA world cup by winning their game against Bahrain. What's this? I hear you say. Laura, I thought you hated all sports with a fiery passion that shall smoulder eternally! Well, I kind of do. I appreciate that it makes a lot of people happy, that on the whole it keeps you healthy and that it provides a safe environment for young people to connect with each other and learn skills. I think specifically I dislike how sports are forced upon young people throughout their schooling. Sure, some youngsters can appreciate the joy of chasing a ball with a hockey stick or running from one side of a field to the other, but let them come to it naturally in their own good time. Don't force them into PE classes when it clearly makes them sick with misery, and what kind of sick minded teachers still get students to pick people for their teams? If my children - should I ever have them - ever want to get out of doing sports at school, you bet I'll write them notes. ("Yes, young Sebastian does have cramps.")
All that darkness aside, I don't mind soccer, and indeed it can be quite exciting, if a little long at 45 minutes a side. I think it was the romance of the situation that I got caught up in - the last time we've qualified to have a punt at the World Cup was 1982. Ricki Herbert (I love that deliciously flamboyant "i" on the end of his name) was a member of that soccer team and now he's come back to coach the Wellington Phoenix, several of whom also play for the All Whites. We were total underdogs, having been not wildly outstanding in the first qualifier in Bahrain, and not exactly being world leaders in this particular sport. Suddenly every single ticket had sold out - there was barely a visible seat in the stadium, which never ever happens - not even when David Beckham came to town. All things that made for a ridiculously exciting game.
It was an amazing night of intense happiness and togetherness from the crowd and there were a lot of people I knew in the audience - like my cousin Paul who flatted with us last year - who had been following this forever and who were deeply invested in the outcome. Like I said, I'm not into sports but blind passion does make sense to me. I'm not actually a very good sports viewer, partially because I get incredibly bored, but also because no matter which side I'm supporting, I always feel bad for the team that loses. The audience occasionally booed Bahrain which I thought was a shame, given that they were trying to achieve exactly what we were but on the other side of the world and with only a handful of supporters in the audience. It's never fun watching people lose, but all that was quickly forgotten at the sight of the normally deadly calm Ricki Herbert jumping round hugging his team jubilantly. Look him up on Google images - don't you think Will Ferrell should play him in the movie of his life? Apart from the booing and the sadness of seeing the losing team lose, the only other thing that really annoyed me was the presence of streakers at the end. Firstly, it wasn't their moment, and secondly, they weren't even properly nude. At least be committed.
On Shuffle while I'm typing away:
Tim and I were watching Dazed and Confused the other night (oh hi, young Anthony Rapp, Parker Posey, Adam Goldberg and half of Hollywood) and found myself listening to Peter Frampton's Do You Feel Like We Do from Frampton Comes Alive! the next day. I'm not even a fan or anything, but there's something about this song...it's so slinky and groovy.
The entire cast recording of the 2008 revival of Gypsy, which is one of the most sharp, polished performances I've ever heard commited to a compact disc. I hope a good production of this comes to New Zealand sometime soon. Seriously, isn't Patti thrilling?
Finally - Charlotte Gainsbourg's new song IRM from her album of the same name is as super-listenable as anything else she's ever done. I like how it takes its time commiting to a particular direction, and you can really hear Beck's sound on the production which is no bad thing. Plus she's gorgeous.
Title of this post comes to you via the amazingly good Primal Scream album Screamadelica; I've said it before but there is never a bad time for this album, incidentally it is particularly good in summer and therefore would also make an ideal accompaniment for ice cream. Find it if you don't have it!
Next time: I found more plantains at Moore Wilsons! Rejoice! Not sure how I'm planning to act on this but I think...more ice cream.
5 November 2009
I don't know why, or what it says about me, but I go through these intense, whirlwind infatuations with foodstuffs, consume vast amounts of them, and then move on, breaking it off as fast as it started. There was lentils, then oats...later tofu followed by soy products in general...then plantains. At the moment it's tahini. Make of this what you will. The only good thing we can take from this is that my eating patterns usually settle into something more normal afterwards. Like, not soy products six times a day. This post will outline my brief but heady flirtation with plantains.
As far as food goes - as far as any old thing goes, in fact - plantains are pretty special. They look like bananas, but clenched and stumpy. Like a banana that has tensed up in anticipation of getting a punch to the face. They're infomercial-tastic in their multipurposeness. They start off green, tight-skinned, firm and savoury, with a flavour echoing kumara (or sweet potato.) Then they progress into a yellow shade, becoming sweeter - but wait there's more! They finally blacken, becoming even softer and more sweet in the process. Something particularly cool about the plantain is that they have similar complex carbohydrates that you'd find in a potato, but they cook in about ten seconds flat. If you have the deep misfortune to be a coeliac type-one diabetic, you could do well to look these up.
I grabbed them on a whim from our local supermarket because they were cheap and intriguing, like all good things in life. Unfortunately they don't seem to be stocking them any more. The lesson is - I should have updated this blog sooner. However bear in mind that a lot of the time, bananas can be readily substituted for plantains - even in savoury dishes. The following though, is something you'll have to get the actual article for. I first dipped my toe in the water by taking firm green plantains, peeling them, slicing them thickly and frying them in a sizzling dab of butter and drop of rice bran oil till they were golden and crisp on the outside.
And there you have it. Looks like banana, tastes like potato. Truly. They cook up in about five minutes, but have that same solid, fluffy bite of a baked potato. With a banana's potassium! This made a fantastically sunny side dish to something - I can't even remember what it was now - and was repeated several times over in the following days.
Following an idea from Simon Rimmer's The Accidental Vegetarian, I tried stirring some fried, sliced plantains through dahl made with red lentils. Amazingly, surprisingly good. The graininess of the lentils and the fried plantains worked excellently together. However the photos I took were kinda heinous and I won't subject you to them. You're better off without them.
Realising I'd enthusiastically brought far more plantains than I could really deal with, and that they were ripening with alarming speed, I decided to use them for sweeter pursuits, and turned them into Plantain Ice Cream. A cursory Google search didn't throw forward any recipes so I made up my own. I threw about 6 ripe, soft plantains into the food processor and blended them till smooth. I then added 2 crumbly tablespoons muscovado sugar and 2 tablespoons of juice from a can of pineapples and continued to process till it was light, fluffy and moussy. I considered adding some coconut milk but decided to leave well alone and not be so damn obvious with my flavour pairings. When I say moussy - the blended plantains really were curiously aerated and could actually have been chilled and served as some kind intensely natural alternative to those powdery, whizzed up instant puddings of my youth.
And then I froze it.
Having made virtuous ice creams before of fruit and not much else, I remembered how utterly rock-hard they set, and had intended to give this a cursory second blitz in the food processor before tasting it. Well there must be some enzyme in plantains which makes them awesomer than other fruit because it was perfectly spoonable straight from the freezer. Curiouser and curiouser!And completely, amazingly delicious. The fun thing about it is that you're more or less eating just fruit, which is quite the exciting concept to grasp when your brain is sending "ICE CREAM, OOH BABY BABY" messages around your body. It tastes sugary, but it's pretty damn healthy. In terms of taste, sure it's banana-y, but the plantain is somehow zestier, zippier, (apologies for the supercilious vagueness of my description there) almost citrussy compared to the banana. Which is not to say that you couldn't get perfectly fine ice cream out of a banana, I've done it myself and you may substitute freely if plantains aren't available. Just make sure you process it again after it has frozen, to break up the ice crystals it will form.
I just realised that I've purposefully not included a photo of the dhal that I snapped just before it was eaten because it was terrible, whereas these carefully styled photos of ice cream are here on display. In the past I might have obstinately included the terrible photo of the lentils simply because I have this feeling that blogging about what you're cooking and eating should show what you're eating as it exists in real life, not how it looks in a studio set-up, painstakingly lit and strewn with vanilla beans or...autumn leaves or something. And yet here I am, choosing the created over the real. I mean, I can assure you that I stood there leaning on the windowsill, eating the ice cream while I was taking photos of it, but it was in my bedroom, on my chest of drawers, and that blue fabric is a scarf of mine. Eh. I'm not quite sure where I'm going with this. I'd like to think I'm relatively principled in my aims for this blog. But ice cream is prettier than under-exposed, grainy CCTV-esque footage of lentils, let's face it.
I guess I shouldn't get so wound up about stuff I can't really explain adequately. All that aside, the ice cream is an ideal use of this beguiling fruit and worth letting them sit around to ripen for. Cooling, refreshing, not at all heavy and arrestingly delicious. Thus...if you see plantains at your local market or whatever, don't be afraid of them. They're cool. Take a walk on the wild side.
Tim and I just got back from seeing Elaine Paige live in concert. What a night. She was so dynamic, so engaged, so sparklingly classy and in such good voice. I know I joked a while back that I'm surprised she didn't play Elphaba in the London transfer of Wicked, but truly - she has been in so many shows, and it was amazing to hear a kind of retrospective of many of these. As she was singing Don't Cry For Me Argentina, I reflected on how astounding it is that I have been able to see the original London and the original Broadway stars of Evita sing this song in less than six months, in New Zealand - Patti LuPone back in July, and now Elaine Paige. She didn't sing Nobody's Side, as I'd hoped, suspecting a live version would have more passion and soul than her strangely (or not so strangely, really) sterile pop version. Instead she came out and sang Someone Else's Story, and then I Know Him So Well, with the orchestra filling in on the other part. Well, I guess she had to do that one. There were so many classic songs she gave us that it was hard to keep track but a highlight was when she poured herself into the character of Edith Piaf and gave a stunning rendition of Je Ne Regrette Rien. It was an incredible night and...we were easily the youngest there. I felt lucky to be a part of it all.
If you get the chance, check out Glee on TV3 on Friday nights at 7.30pm (with repeats on C4TV at the same time on Wednesdays). It's a bit strange to me to see all these Broadway stars plastered across New Zealand media channels and hearing people talk about them. Not in a snobby way, like I don't want anyone to know about them - but literally in a strange, blinky kind of way. I double-take every time I see a picture of Lea Michelle or Matthew Morrison in a local magazine. I'm just used to a large chunk of the pop-culture stuff I like being completely obscure to the general population. If it means that things like choirs and singing and musical theatre and dancing are made to seem okay and 'cool' to young people, then bring it on. All that aside, I've seen most of season one already and it is sharp as a tack and great fun. Find it!
On Shuffle while I type
Smart Women by Stephanie J Block, from her debut album This Place I Know. While I admire SJB and think she's a fantastic singer, actress, and surely person too, I really didn't click with her album. But this song from it, oh my. I'm obsessed with it. Don't even try to listen to it or you will be too. It's beautiful.
Dominoes by The Big Pink from their album A Brief History Of Love. Okay, the lyrics to the verses are kind of useless, and it is maybe derivative and will probably get ridiculously overplayed, and normally the only music from Big Pink I'm interested in is the one coming from The Band but all that aside...WHAT a chorus.
Title comes to you via...The Clash, Train In Vain. Why? Because...I like The Clash almost as much as I like inserting rhyming words awkwardly into places they don't belong.
Next time: I predict that next time I will be deeply, deeply in denial that it's November already and a good chunk of it has passed at that.