27 September 2009

I'd be surprisingly good for you

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First lovingly assemble your ingredients on a wooden board

I've had the weekend to myself, as Tim has been away in the South Island touring with his choir. I haven't taken advantage of this absense to cook anything particularly idiosyncratic for myself (ie, mushroom-heavy). It's all too easy these days to be tempted by grabbing cheap take-out from the squillion eateries dotting the landscape and twinkling in my peripheral vision. I tell myself it's all in the name of keeping the economy alive. For lunch on Saturday I simmered some elderly tofu in half a jar of spaghetti sauce that had also seen better days as some way of counteracting the excessive time spent not in the kitchen.



Yesterday morning I bussed out to Brooklyn, one of the 'burbs that huddle round the central city of Wellington, to see Every Little Step at the Penthouse Cinema. Every Little Step weaves two stories together - the inception of ground-breaking musical A Chorus Line in 1974, and the audition process for the revival of the same musical in 2006. A documentary about people auditioning for a musical about people auditioning for a musical. It was fascinating to see some more established Broadway names (oh hi, Amy Spanger, Yuka Takara, Charlotte D'Amboise, etc) learning choreography, waiting for phone calls, pacing back and forward, being told to repeat songs...The dancing was eye-popping and I was actually tearful in one audition scene where this beautiful young guy just nailed a 'difficult' monologue to the wall with his intensity. If you get a chance to see this, please do - I don't think you need to be versed in musical theatre or dance to get a (ha!) kick out of it.

Seeing it really, really made me want to dance again. As I mentioned on Twitter, I was once told by some grand dame in a pashmina at a ballet workshop, that all passion and no talent can only get you so far - and all talent and no passion will get you even less. Unfortch I always erred on the side of "all passion". That said, after ballet productions and recitals I would often get told by complete strangers that they loved watching me dance, perhaps because I looked so utterly happy to be twirling round on stage or something. It's unlikely that there is an audience out there for an enthusiastic, past-a-prime-she-never-really-had dancer but I'll keep my ear to the ground (which I can do surprisingly deftly, having maintained my dancer's flexibility if nothing else).



With Tim's impending return and the cake tin empty I thought a lazy Sunday afternoon would be as good a time as any to do some baking. Not that I'm some kind of 1950s housewifely type. No ma'am. To pluck an example from the air, I still can't work a washing machine (just this evening my red sheets dyed yet another white tshirt pink) and Tim does 99% of the cleaning and dishes. But I'll be damned if he ever has to cook himself a meal in his life. I guess it kind of balances out into something healthy-ish.

Speaking of healthy-ish, what I ended up making was a recipe that caught my eye from this Australian Women's Weekly chocolate cookbook that I've had for a year or two now. I've been pretty good lately at not eating half the cake mix as I go but for this I really couldn't stop myself. Cast your eyes over the ingredient list and nod in agreement with me. It's marvelous stuff. It's full of oats which I'm not even going to try and brightly joke makes it good for you, but it certainly can't hurt. And chocolate is healthy in that spiritual way, so.



Chocolate Oat Slice

Adapted from Sweet and Simple: Chocolate, an Australian Women's Weekly book.


90g butter
2 tablespoons golden syrup or condensed milk
100g milk chocolate
2 tablespoons good cocoa
2 cups rolled oats, lightly toasted
1/2 cup pistachios, toasted and chopped (I used walnuts)
1/2 cup dessicated coconut





Resist where I couldn't, my children!

In a good sized, heavy based pan, melt together the butter, chocolate and golden syrup/condensed milk. Resist the urge to grab a spatula and chaperone it directly into your mouth. Stir in the cocoa, oats, nuts and coconut. Spread this mixture into a lined 20cm springform tin and refrigerate. It should set fairly quickly, and once it has, ice with chocolate buttercream if you want (and I did, as the song goes) and slice into triangles or whatever takes your fancy.






Might sound a bit strange, all those uncooked rolled oats just sitting there. But the oats soften up with all that butter and chocolate, and provide a fantastic chewy bite that makes it difficult to stop at one 'test' piece. The oats also soften up the sweetness somewhat. It's not overwhelming, but this slice would be really good with a cup of thick black tea or strong black coffee to temper all the sugar. The Australian Women's Weekly is renowned for triple-testing all their recipes, I can only imagine the sublime happiness emanating from the test kitchen during the writing of this particular book.


Did you know I've been asked three times in the last week if I'm still in high school? For fear of making myself sound even younger I'll try not to rant about it too much, but really. I'm 23. I have a degree. I have a job where I make important decisions for the greater good of the nation. I've traveled. I'm legitimately grown-up. (Except I can't drive or operate a washing machine.) Yes, I am generally more 'clunky pun-dropper' than 'intimidating sophisticate' but the idea that I carry myself like a high school student, that I don't exude worldly-traveledy-employedyness...is not so fun. But enough personality dialysis! Let us focus on the positive: living in New Zealand under a gaping ozone hole has not left me a withered crone older than my years. Also, in a few years I'll no doubt look back on myself with and dismissively think "Oh, 23 year olds. So annoying," as I overheard someone on the bus once saying. I thought 23 was a pretty decent age to achieve, but the lesson is there's always someone older than you who will greet your every action with disdain. Unless you're 90, in which case you can drink whisky and eat cake and talk disdainfully about anyone you like.


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On Shuffle whilst I type: (the other day, Tim said "I'm sure you just put whatever song you feel like talking about on here, not actually what's on Shuffle. To which I sigh and say, "Oh 23 year olds. So annoying.")


You Got The Love by Chaka Khan and Rufus, from Rags To Rufus. Chaka Khan. It's always the right time.


Connection by Elastica from their eponymous album. This song is...very cool.


Something 4 the Weekend by Super Furry Animals from their album Fuzzy Logic. It's a great song, I like that they're connected to the Welsh language so strongly and their name always makes me think of bunnies and kittens and such. What a package.

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Title brought to you by: I'd Be Surprisingly Good For You from Evita, by the exquisite Patti LuPone. If you've got the time, you must check out this promotional TV ad for Evita. The voiceover! The fervour! The sass! Patti's eyes at the end!
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Next time: Signs of Spring are popping up everywhere but I'm still yet to see asparagus at a satisfactory price. When I do you can be sure this blog will be overflowing with the stuff.

22 September 2009

lava you should have come over


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We've all been there. Quietly eating your wet polenta, but secretly thinking "Alas! If only this polenta was glutinous and significantly higher in fat and lower in nutritional value. Then I'd know real happiness." Or maybe not. I have this yearly dalliance with gnocchi where just enough time has passed since I was last traumatised by it that I delude myself into thinking I can make it successfully. But every year, I fail.


For 2009's attempt my head was turned by a recipe in a magazine for gnocchi which sounded delicious - a basic choux pastry mixture with cottage cheese added. It seemed pretty non-terrifying and so I gave it a go. The gnocchi was pillowy and light and slowly rose to the top of the pan of water. I pinched one out of the pan and tasted it - argh, so good. Smooth and creamy and yet gratifyingly unstodgy.


Then came disaster. I tipped the pan into a large colander and...the gnocchi broke. All completely flattened. Nary a solid pasta nugget to be found. After putting all this effort into it I was determined that the show would go on but seriously...





...that's not gnocchi. The squashed gnocchi was kind of delicious, with the exact soft, grainy texture of polenta, just, you know, now with a higher GI rating and all the goodness of no cornmeal! After many years of failure, I've decided that gnocchi is like haircuts and half-marathons: best done for you by other people.


Let us distract ourselves from this ugliness with a ridiculously flamboyant cake - Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Coffee Volcano.


To mark the occasion of Tim's birthday we threw a small shindig at our place on Sunday afternoon, inviting all of our closest friends (a very small, but mighty bunch, minus a few exceptions not based in Wellington naturally). I'd only been back in Wellington for an hour, since I spent the weekend up in Auckland for business meetings and the Smokefreerockquest finals (all of which went smooth as failed gnocchi). Instead of my usual post-travel mode, which is to put on my $6 grey trackpants and stare at the TV, I got stuck into making homemade custard and stuffing softened rice paper sheets like some pearl-wearing housewife from Bonfire of the Vanities.


The whole evening was very relaxed once this was out of the way. Let's face it, no matter how many times you make custard there is still always the nagging fear that you'll end up with sugary scrambled eggs. Luckily no disasters this time, particularly fortunate considering I'd substituted coconut milk for the stipulated cream, in a bid to make the pudding dairy-free for one of our friends who swings that way. (By the way, the cake uses oil, not butter. Do not consider for a SECOND that I'd stoop to margarine.)


So yeah, marvelous evening all round, good company, good nibbles, and particularly excellent cheese provided by Dr Scotty. Having it on a Sunday evening gave it a chilled out vibe wonderfully conducive to sitting round eating enormous quantities of food and light quantities of alcohol. Tim took over in the kitchen when the sausage rolls needed baking and the pork buns needed steaming (yeah, there was no real unifying theme to our nibbles) and they were pretty exciting, but the cake was the real star. Probably because I would not shut up about it and about how awesome it was that it was dairy free.





Let me describe it for you: a large, deep, undulating chocolate bundt cake (which, thank all that is good in the world, turned out of the tin neatly this time). The hole in the middle is filled with walnuts. Into said hole, over the walnuts, you pour rich custard, caramel brown with espresso (I actually forgot to add the coffee in the heat of the moment but no harm done as there was still plenty going on). Finally you sprinkle over brown sugar and using some kind of fire-producing implement, torch the sugar till it forms a caramelised, speckly creme-brulee surface on top of all the madness, all of which flows like magma once you slice into the cake to share it round.


It should probably be mentioned here that Nigella uses the words "infant-school easy" and "pa-dah!" to describe this cake. She uses these words...slightly carelessly. I wouldn't be the first to volunteer a two-year old's services in making a bundt cake which requires separated egg whites beaten to a meringue. Just sayin' is all. But, if you have a few years' experience behind you this cake is not impossible, as demonstrated by the fact that I could actually get it happening at all. It just requires a little focus and forward thinking. A kitchen blowtorch helps, I was given one for my birthday this year and was really excited about using it on something so worthy expending a little butane.





It does resemble a volcano, right? Eating it was an intense experience, and the reason the photos look so hastily snapped is because...they were. The cake is light in texture but very dark with cocoa. The caramelised sugar and hidden walnuts provide a crunchy respite against the rich, flowing custard. It's just...marvelous. It's the sort of thing that you have one bite of and decide that you want on a weekly basis. I realise it looks and sounds like there's far too much going on. But it works.


Chocolate Coffee Volcano

Adapted from Nigella Lawson's How To Be A Domestic Goddess


CAKE

300g caster sugar
140g plain flour
80g cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 large eggs, separated, plus 2 more egg yolks (this is where it gets confusing if, like me, you have trouble counting to ten)
125ml vegetable oil (I used rice bran)
125ml water


Preheat oven to 180 C and lightly oil a 25cm Bundt tin.


In a large bowl mix together 200g of the sugar, all the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and baking soda. In another bowl, beat together the water, oil and 6 egg yolks. Pour over the dry ingredients gradually, whisking to combine.


Take yet another bowl and whisk the 4 egg whites till stiff. Keep whisking and slowly add the sugar spoonful by spoonful. Gently fold this into the chocolate mixture a third at a time. Pour mixture into the oiled Bundt tin and bake for 40 minutes, although it may need a little longer and covering with tinfoil.


CUSTARD

6 egg yolks
225mls double cream
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder.


Note: I used four egg yolks and 1 tin coconut milk, using the same method. Whisk egg yolks, sugar and espresso powder together lightly. Heat up the cream in a pan but don't let it boil. Slowly whisk it into the egg yolks. Wipe out the pan and transfer the mixture back into it, cooking over a low heat till it thickens significantly into custard.


Finally, sprinkle Tia Maria over the cake if you'd like to (another thing I forgot), fill the hole with walnuts, pour in the custard, allowing it to overflow and run down the creases of the cake. Sprinkle over about three tablespoons of brown sugar and torch it till it resembles the top of a creme brulee.


See? Infant-school easy! Pa-dah!


To go with I made another coconut milk custard into which I stirred melted dark chocolate and cocoa and froze into ice cream. As guests peeled off we were left with a few hangers on. There was a joyfully primal moment when we all stood round a kitchen countertop digging spoons greedily into the container of ice cream. Things got a little strange after that and, (poor Tim, was it ever even about him?) as some kind of signifier of this, Defying Gravity was played at great volume for Dr Scotty who had hitherto been living half a life and had never heard it before...

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The title of this blog is brought to you by: Jeff Buckley, singing Lover You Should've Come Over, okay sure, but maybe a little Eden Espinosa too...Yes, Jeff Buckley was special and all but I'm more of a Tim Buckley gal myself. And let us never forget who was the author of Hallelujah...
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On Shuffle whilst I type:


1: Like a Pen by excellent Swedes The Knife from their album Silent Shout. This song was regularly thrashed chez nous circa 2006/2007 but I heard it again yesterday while streaming George FM and was immediately taken back to those damper times. Had a nostalgic flashback to Alicia the Canadian teasing us for calling it was called "like a pin" with our New Zealand accents.
2: Cars by Gary Numan from The Pleasure Principle. Spurred on by marathon sessions of watching and listening to The Mighty Boosh I really had an urge to listen to this again. It's blindingly glorious and swirly.
3: Cornerstone from the Arctic Monkeys' latest, Humbug. It's really good. Who would have thought back in 2005 that they'd be here now?

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Next time: Well, hopefully the next post will (a) arrive sooner and (2) have better photos. Like I said I've been travelling round the place, hence the yawning chasm between the last post and this one, but I got to touch base at home and catch up with all sorts of lovely and important relatives and get lots of important meetings done in the city AND act as sponsor representative at the fantastic finals for Smokefreerockquest. Plus make dairy-free custard after being back in Wellington for nary an hour. You try blogging after all that. Also, hopefully I make something that really succeeds. Either that or it's time to get a 'fail' tag to add to my list.

14 September 2009

freecurd!

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Not everything has to have a story. Some things are begotten, not created. This cake is somewhere in the middle. The flat that Tim and I currently live in used to be home to an ex-colleague of mine, from my program team at work. On the night of her farewell party, another colleague in the heat of the moment gave me two sample sachets of Barkers lemon curd. I don't know where she got them from or why they were bestowed upon me. She didn't say. We certainly haven't mentioned it since. Lemon curd is hardly an illicit substance, but I don't expect to have it conspiratorially pressed into my hand late at night and I could never quite figure out a way to bring it up again without sounding strange. Or at least stranger than usual.


The sachets sat undisturbed in my handbag for a while - a good month and a half after the farewell party of the person whose house we now live in. This is just how I roll. Things sit around forever. But while the sachets began to irritate me with their presence I couldn't quite work out what to do with them. It was around this time that another Wellington-based gal I know began a blog and posted a recipe for, of all things, lemon curd cake. I made it. I tasted it. Everything suddenly made sense.






Seriously, this is a really nice cake. Just thinking about it is making me wish people thrust preserves upon me more often of an evening. I have to be really frankly honest here - Barkers lemon curd isn't my first lemon curd of choice. I think there isn't anything nicer than homemade stuff, and Barkers can be a little too sweet and viscous. However it was absolutely perfect stirred into this cake batter. This might also be nice if the lemon curd was replaced with jam, or marmalade...


Lemon Curd Cake


Thanks to Olivia at Berry Bliss

  • 170g butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • zest of one lemon
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1½ cups flour
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • 100g lemon curd
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add each egg one at a time, beating between additions. Add the zest and juice of the lemon. I didn't have a lemon on me but instead I added 2 teaspoons of Boyajian orange oil just for kicks. It added a subtle fragrant intensity to the finished cake. Sift the flour and baking powder into the mixture and fold together. Add the lemon curd and mix. I mixed it in quited well but not completely incorporating it. Pop into a 22cm lined and floured cake tin and into the oven at 180ÂșC for about 1 hour or until a knife comes away clean.






I overcooked it slightly and was a little worried by the look of the brown exterior, but it was gloriously sunshine yellow within and still tasted fantastic. All cakey and tangy on the inside but with this sugary-chewy crust which was so good. I'll definitely be making this again.

Bonus cake!





It was Tim's birthday on Friday night and at his request I made him Nigella Lawson's chocolate Guinness cake. I suspect this cake has magical properties. Recipe here.


We went out for breakfast first thing the morning of his birthday (before I scooted to work) and I presented him with tickets for ex-Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker. Who is not related to Joe Cocker, but they're both from Sheffield! That night we had dinner at Sweet Mother's Kitchen -(where the slab of cornbread comes with a slice of butter the same size - I'm home!) and played card games in the corner while eating pecan pie. Then we went to see The Soloist using some vouchers we had. It was pretty lovely - Jamie Foxx did a great job and Robert Downey Jr, my latter-day crush, is doing well for himself these days - although it did feel a bit heavy handed in places and a bit "trying really hard to be Oscar worthy". We then hung out all night at various classy bars and people watched (and on a Friday night, there were most definitely people putting on a show for the watchin') and finally came home at 4am. Easily the first time we've done so all year. It was an excellent night.


It's Mum's birthday today, (Feliz cumpleanos!) and I couriered up some of Nigella's gingerbread muffins for her afternoon tea party she was having yesterday. It's quite fun sending food through the mail, I felt like some benevolent far-off mother from What Katy Did or a jolly Enid Blyton novel.

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The title of this post is brought to you by: Lynyrd Skynyrd's FREEBIRD. It's a beauty. For those of you who have been living inside a cockerel's boot, they also do Sweet Home Alabama. You know, that song from the Forrest Gump soundtrack.
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On Shuffle Whilst I Type

Yellow House by Grizzly Bear. Ange came round and gave it to us to listen to, am liking what I hear but suspect I would be stupid not to.

Llewellyn from the album Straight Answer Machine by local bearded gem Samuel Flynn Scott and the B.O.P. Any song which includes lyrics about being "a custard pirate lost at sea" is clearly golden.

Diamond Dogs by Beck, from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. Obviously there's the David Bowie original which is fabulous, but this is quite the cover. Plus this soundtrack was my LIFE a few years back and that is not to be sneezed at. Is it bad that this is basically the only Timbaland-produced track that I like? (Yes, there is Come Around from M.I.A's Kala which is all well and good until his verse starts and it just gets awkward.) Well so be it.

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Next time: I fail at gnocchi. I strain to remember ever making successful gnocchi. But still, at least once a year, I try it. This is me ticking the box for 2009.

7 September 2009

you can't stop the beet

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Do you know what you were doing 525,600 minutes ago? This time one year ago, RENT closed on Broadway after 12 years running. I won't carry on too much about that though, this blog can be confusing enough as it is, but if you want to relive that tear-stained day then by all means read my blog post from September 7th 2008. Or watch THIS. Okay, am now feeling slightly wibbly so will press on.


I guess if there are any other food bloggers out there you too may well be familiar with the regular tango that is attempting to get photos accepted on such blog-sharing galleries as Tastespotting and Foodgawker. It won't be any surprise that they've turned down my dance card many a time for the more shinier blogs out there. No criticism, I mean, it's what they do. They accept really nice photos. But oh my, it can be twofold disillusioning - when you get rejected yet again, and then when you take a peek at what's been accepted and realise that because your kitchen is not a photo studio with giant reflectors and diffusers and you need to get dinner out now, there's little chance you can compete. Anyway, from this it's easy to become a little peevish. It's not really not right to take it out on Tastespotting or Foodgawker for not accepting me when my photo probably wasn't that great in the first place and, more tellingly, if (and occasionally when) I did get accepted I'd bear no such vocal ill-will.



Anyway with all this in mind it's easy to forget that they can actually provide inspiration and lead you to some fantastic new blogs. This serves as a reminder that one can't slag off everyone for one's own uselessness and that it is possible to take lovely photos without compromising reality. So, I somewhat sheepishly relinquish my hard-nosed opinion. For now. Because, while browsing Tastespotting I found this rather smashing blog which has a recipe for Beetroot Bread - combining two of my favourite things, roasted beetroot and homemade bread. How could I hate Tastespotting after that? (Does anyone remember that dark time after Tastespotting crashed but before Foodgawker was set up? Me too!)






Important things to note in this recipe:


-Americans call them beets, we in New Zealand call them beetroot. Either way it's an ugly word so neither of us need feel any more special than the other.
-You can probably substitute the beetroot for other veges. I imagine roasted carrot would work, as would kumara.
-You have to start the night before. But it takes all of three seconds so don't for goodness sake let this get you down and prevent you from making this.

With that in mind...


Beetroot Bread

The night before - make like Mickey from In The Night Kitchen...

In a large bowl, mix together 1 cup bread flour, 1/4 teaspoon active dried yeast, and 1 cup lukewarm water. Cover in plastic wrap, or indeed just pop the whole bowl into a plastic grocery bag, and leave overnight. While you do whatever it is you do at night it will grow spongy and puffy in a slow, sinister, but ultimately delicious way.




But sinister.


The next day:

Set your oven to 200 C/400 F and wrap four small or two large trimmed beetroot in tinfoil and roast for about an hour or until soft - when a cake tester can be plunged into them without any resistance. Allow them to cool slightly and then puree in a food processor.

Uncover your spongy night-before mixture and stir in the following.
  • Pureed beetroot
  • 1/2 cup wholewheat flour
  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 3/4 teaspoon instant dried yeast.
  • 1 teaspoon good salt

Leave it to sit, uncovered for 10 minutes. Then massage some olive oil into your hands (helps prevent the flour from sticking, a little trick that I can't remember who I picked it up from but thank you, forgotten benefactor) and slowly knead in 2 and 3/4 cups plain bread flour. It will take a litte time but the mixture should eventually sproing together to form a cohesive dough.



Like this one!

Put the dough in an oiled bowl and cover it in plastic wrap, or indeed pop the bowl back into a plastic bag. Leave somewhere to rise for about an hour and a half.

At which point it should look like this, all puffy and giant and pink. I just typed 'piffy' instead of puffy. Hee. I think I've invented another word (remember Nigellevangelism?)

Grab the dough and divide it into two loaves, and sit them on a baking paper lined tray. Sprinkle with flour or cornmeal or some such if you like (I didn't), cover in a sheet of plastic wrap and let them sit for another hour (I know. This bread actually sits round forever. It refuses to get out of bed for less than $10,000.) While they're sitting round, set your oven to 200 C/400 F.

Finally, remove the plastic wrap and bake your loaves for half an hour.




Then EAT.





This bread is fantastic. The blog that I got the recipe from asserts that it doesn't actually taste like beetroot at all but I disagree. It's downright beet-y. It's Warren Beattie. It's Beattie Johnson. It's Beethoven. It's...that's exhausted my list of people with the word 'beet' in their name. The sweet and earthy beetroot definitely lends its enigmatic flavour to the bread, as well as its garish colour. With that in mind, the soft breadiness softens any overriding unusualness of the flavour combination, and the texture is superb - a soft, dense crumb (I think? That's what you're supposed to say about bread anyway) with a toothsomely crisp crust. Make this.

Many thanks to Kirby Von Scrumptious for the recipe.

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On Shuffle whilst I type:

Slip Inside This House by Primal Scream from their album Screamadelica. People, there is never a bad time for this album

Dogs from erstwhile Pink Floyd founder and silver fox Roger Water's live album In The Flesh. It's 16 minutes and 27 seconds of dark, strange goodness.

Seasons of Love from both the OBC recording and the film soundtrack of RENT. Ah, what did you expect.

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The title of this post is brought to you by: The Broadway musical Hairspray! With its ridiculously gorgeous talent-dense original cast!
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Next time: It's Tim's birthday on Friday - he's turning 23 (finally! Took him long enough!) At his request there will be Guinness Cake. Which means you'll probably get to check it out also.

1 September 2009

ginger baker


How To Be A Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson is possibly the only baking book you'll ever need, supposing some fascist authority figure imposed a rule of only one baking book per person (and would they really be all that fascist if they at least allowed you to bake brownies?). How To Be A Domestic Goddess is not one of those compendiums that you can buy for $10 at Borders - you know, big illustrations, no obvious author, step-by-step recipes for the same old same old banana cake and sticky date pudding and double chocolate muffins. Practical but no soul. No ma'am. HTBADG is so intensely baking-y that its pages practically come pre-glued together with buttercream.

I received How To Be A Domestic Goddess in 2006 under fairly auspicious circumstances - it was a gift from Tim. We were living in our first place together, this bloody awful flat in Kelburn which was not so much damp as ankle-deep in water, presided over by a horrible landlord who lived on the same property. It was our first year at uni. Tim was working graveyard shifts at McDonalds and I was struggling to be employed full stop. We weren't flush, to say the least.

I had excitedly bought my first pair of skinny-leg jeans for a significant sum (remembering this was early 2006 before you could get them everywhere) only to have them promptly stolen unceremoniously off our washing line, along with a pair of vintage white and red Adidas shorts that I'd bought at Camden market in London and worn to the Greenday concert at Milton Keynes in 2005. In one fell swoop I'd lost something excitingly materialistic and something pricelessly sentimental. As if I could afford another pair of jeans - as if I could replace the shorts and everything they represented. It was a pretty miserable time (rejected by supermarkets, unable to deal with the mathmatics section of the KFC employment sheet.)

Tim gets home from work one day soon after - miraculously in the middle of the day and not 4am - and hands me How To Be A Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson, a present to make me feel better about the stolen clothes and life in general. If ever a book could comfort the soul, if ever a woman could make you wonder why you even care about jeans in the first place, this book is the one.

Remember, this is years before we would go out casually purchasing DVD box sets and espresso machines. This is back when the minimum wage was $10.20. Nigella Lawson is not a cheap idol. The first recipe I made from it was the Chocolate Coca Cola Cake, not for any particular reason other than we had most of the ingredients to hand and coke is cheap. It's a complete joy of a cake, (better than it sounds) and was ideal for scaring away the last remnants of misery at the missing clothing and unemployment.

For some reason I've never returned to it, but the other day a thought tickled my brain, that by replacing the Coca Cola with ginger beer it could turn out really quite nifty. I was right. And then I got to thinking about how I ended up with the book in the first place. And now I realise that I'm still really annoyed about those shorts. I want them back. I don't like the idea of wishing actual ill upon people (in a public forum like this anyway) but I hope whoever stole them...always catches every red traffic light. And get constant phone calls from telemarketers. And their CDs always skip. Lots of papercuts. I could go on.




Ginger Beer Cake

Adapted from How To Be A Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson

200g plain flour
100g caster sugar
150g brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg
125mls buttermilk (or 1/4 cup plain yoghurt, 1/4 cup milk)
125g butter
175mls ginger beer (I used Phoenix Organic, a light and gingery drop)

Preheat oven to 180 C.

In a good-sized pan, gently melt the butter and ginger beer together. Remove from heat, and sift in the dry ingredients, then mix in everything else. Pour into a lined 22cm springform tin, and bake for 40 minutes. This is a very liquid batter so it might pay to slide some foil under the cake tin.


Leave to stand in the tin 15 mins before turning out. If you like, you could make a buttercream by beating together soft butter, icing sugar, a little ground ginger and a tablespoon or two of the remaining ginger beer. Or I imagine a cream cheese icing would be wonderful here. We left it plain because I thought we were out of icing sugar (we weren't but never mind). And it was absolutely excellent plain so no need to go to any great lengths to drape it in further sugary concoctions if you don't want to.



This cake has the most beautiful texture - maybe it's something in the bubbles? It's both light but dense, squishy but solid, gingery but flirtatiously so. It's not one of those cakes that needs 12 eggs or a large amount of butter to get by, making it ideal for when you don't think you have much in the pantry. By the way to make the original version, replace the ginger beer with coca cola and the ground ginger with 2 tablespoons of cocoa.

Speaking of originals, they're remaking Fame. WHAT. Wikipedia can't explain why this is happening which in this day and age means there's not much hope for it. I do love musicals - and did not Hugh Jackman claim 'the musical is back' at the Oscars this year? But this just seems pointedly unnecessary. No Gene Anthony Ray and his pelvic thrusts that will drive you insane! No Red Light! No Anne Meara who 20 years later went on to play Steve's mother in Sex and The City! No I Sing The Body Electric! And I very much doubt that there will be a Garfunkel-esque ginger 'fro as sported by Montgomery MacNeil in the original. Travesty! Travestyyy!

On a more serious note, ie this actually matters in the grand scheme of things more than shorts and movies, Tim has been staying with his family for the last week because his paternal great grandmother died, and they were travelling across the country yesterday for her funeral. While I never met this lady I hear from Tim she was pretty awesome and could farm harder than most men back in her day, and is also the line through which Tim gets his Maori heritage. It is sad news for his family indeed though I do think he's fantastically lucky to have known his great-grandparents, not something I can lay claim to... In his absense I've been eating nonstop tofu and soybeans, business as usual really.

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On Shuffle whilst I type:

Never Alone by the Contemporary Gospel Chorus from the Fame soundtrack. That's the 1980 film by the way, kids. Listen to this song once and see if you don't want to recruit your own choir just so you can get them to perform this track.

I'm Alive In The World by L.A Mitchell, from the Fly My Pretties latest release, A Story. Pretty, pretty, pretty stuff. And there is a giant portrait of Ms Mitchell on my lounge wall which gives the listening esperience an extra something.

Alone Again Or by Love from the album Forever Changes. Those mariachis! This song is hauntingly fabulous. Arthur Lee, RIP. (Also doesn't the fact that one user review on fishpond.co.nz says "There is only really one way to describe this album - hippie crap" actually make you want it even more?)

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The title of this post is brought to you by: A cheeky salute to a member of Cream. See them here performing White Room, introduced by the delightful John Peel...
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Next time: Nothing specific on the cards yet, but I'll get to it all in my own mystical time. The latest issue of Cuisine Magazine arrived in the mail though so I look forward to spending some quality time with it.