Gotta admit, I wasn't feeling entirely joyful about it being the 1st of December today. At all. But after watching the 30 Rock season 3 Christmas special with Elaine Stritch and Alec Baldwin singing together I'm starting to feel a bit more welcoming towards this whole yuletide thing. I get a little panicky every year about things like presents, and finding time to buy them, but on the whole I like Christmas - how could I not? So much eating and cooking, so many songs to sing lustily, and a good time to connect with the whanau or whoever has come to represent family in your life.
This Sunday the official traditional flat Christmas Dinner will be happening once more - it's something I've put on at my flat every year for whoever lives there and any plus-ones since 2006, and as I said in the invitation, just because we've moved into a nicer place with a better kitchen there's no reason it can't happen again. I'm really excited about getting all the food organised, not so much about the logistics...It's partly an excuse for me to feed a lot of people but also for everyone we like to get together and enjoy each other's company before everyone takes off home. Not that I'm going home any time soon - I'm working up until noon on the 23rd. That said I'm very glad to have a job at all these days, unlike Tim who isn't exactly rolling in shifts at Starbucks. If there's any Wellington-based media-type folk out there reading this, give him a job! I like him, so he must be worth taking on. Isn't that reference enough?
Anyway, with all the intense food pending, I'm trying to keep the dinners a little light and chilled out here this week. Hence this quick, vegan-as-anything but also seriously flavoursome and hearty Thai salad of rice stick noodles, tofu and green vegetables. It's not perfect (tahini is eye-wideningly fat-laden, like, avoid reading the nutritional information if you don't want to cry) and I'm not even sure if it's actually Thai at all, more like "a dish with fish sauce in it" but let's not get hung up on semantics. What would Nigella say? "It's authentically good." There is a lot of avocado in this which makes it much sexier than it would be otherwise, so don't be tempted to leave it out. Avocados are getting cheaper and cheaper here in New Zealand which is a mitzvah as you can buy lots of them and luxuriate in spreading it on toast, adding them to salads, placing slices alongside dinner, or simply sprinkling a cut half with good salt and maybe a little vinegar and eating the lot with a teaspoon.
Thai Rice Stick, Tofu and Green Vegetable Salad
From a little cookbook I like to call "Laura's Mind".
100g rice stick noodles
2 'fillets' of firm tofu, diced (those 8cm-ish square blocks that come in packs of four at the vege market is what I'm talking about)
1/3 cup natural peanuts
8-10 spears asparagus, chopped into 2cm lengths
Small bunch bok choi, washed and chopped roughly
1-2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons tahini
Handful sugar snap peas
1 perfectly ripe avocado
Small bunch fresh mint
Boil the rice stick noodles in salted water till they're opaque and slippery. I'm not sure if this is the accurate way to get them cooked, please let me know if you have a better method. While they're cooking away, heat a nonstick pan to good and sizzling, and add the tofu, stirring with a spatula to let it turn golden but not burn. Next tip in the peanuts and asparagus, stirring as you go. Sprinkle over the fish sauce and drizzle over the tahini, mixing thoroughly. Add the bok choi and a tiny splash of water, allowing it to quickly wilt in the heat. Turn off the heat - it doesn't matter if the asparagus isn't totally cooked, some crunch is good here.
When the noodles are done, drain them under running cold water for about 10 seconds. Finally, chop up the avocado, sugar snap peas and mint. Divide the lukewarm noodles between two plates, top with the tofu-asparagus-peanut-bokchoi mix and finally cover them with green chunks of avocado and crisp sugar snaps, adding a sprinkling of mint to each plate.
The mix of textures makes this salad amazingly enjoyable to tuck into, plus the creaminess of the avocado with the protein-rich peanuts and densely grained tofu means you're hardly going to go hungry. The fresh, cool mint and the pungent saltiness of the fish sauce see off any over-richness that all that texture could cause when partying together on the plate. As you can see it's pretty seasonal in nature, but as long as you keep the avocado in you could substitute other green vegetables - brocolli, beans, edamame - and you could of course use cashews or sesame seeds instead of the peanuts and peanut butter instead of tahini. As this is a little something I've made up, I'd completely love to know if anyone has actually tried it themselves. Let me know what you think!
So, another reason to be thankful that it's December already, instead of going into shock because your mind still secretly thinks it's mid-August, is that Tim and I are going to see Mr Jarvis Cocker on Thursday night, supported by lovely lovely Wellingtonians The Phoenix Foundation. If you don't know who Jarvis Cocker is, he's the erstwhile frontman of the band Pulp, maker of pop songs that sound amazingly upbeat but are actually yearningly painful, and rather gorgeous in his own elbowy way. I'm really excited. I love his solo work which is good as I don't think he's known for performing songs from his Pulp heyday. Not that I was overly caught up in the whole 90s thing, being a year or so too young and deeply occupied being solemnly and obstinately passionate about the Spice Girls. But for what it's worth I do remember disdainfully ignoring all boy bands and having an unrequited crush on Blur's Damon Albarn, writing in my diary that I hated his then girlfriend Justine Frischman of Elastica even though I really had no idea who she was. Rock'n'Roll!
Title of this show brought to you by: Sufjan Stevens' ridiculously pretty, light-as-a-macaron song Avalanche. Listen and love, even if you think you don't like modern music. Fun facts: 1) I actually kinda hate when people call avocados "avos" but what can you do? and 2) For about a year I genuinely thought Sufjan's name was 'Surfjan'.
On Shuffle these days:
No Intention by Dirty Projectors from their album Bitte Orca. This song winkles its way into your consciousness so gently that if it hadn't been completely thrashed on one of the radio stations I occasionally stream I almost could have missed it altogether. Unusual and entirely engaging stuff.
Don't Let Him Waste Your Time from Jarvis Cocker's eponymous solo album, a song featuring horns pleasantly reminiscent of that other Cocker from Sheffield and typically fantastic lyrics. Fingers crossed he sings this one on Thursday.
I had a fantastic weekend going up north for Tim's cousin's wedding, but after many hours in a van with non-stop inoffensive crowd-pleasing music, I've had the urge to listen to something slightly more - although relatively - polarising. Therefore plenty of Richard Hell, Tourettes, early White Stripes, and, um, Alice Ripley (whose solo stuff is near-impossible to find on youtube, that's how underground she is) have also been featuring heavily on my iPod this week. Also memorable was the discussion Tim and I had in the van on the way home about how we should buy a bouncy castle and put it on the roof, although I think I can pinpoint the epicentre of my overtiredness to the conversation we had about whether you could domesticate a calf and get it to fetch things and curl up at your feet while you watch TV. I said yes, Tim wasn't so sure. I was all, "Tim, I grew up next door to a farm. I think I'd know."
Next time: this week will be largely given over to preparing for the mighty Christmas Dinner. Menu to be confirmed along with a progress report next time and you can bet that with our biggest guest list yet, it's going to be a feast of health-compromising proportions. Bring it on!