24 May 2010

now let me welcome everybody to the wild wild west

So, the novelty of a Monday at home is less novelty-ish when I'm coughing like a beast. Typing is a nice distraction from my chapped throat, but I'd sooner just get better. I've been downing tea made from lemon and ginger slices, crunching on vitamin C and echinacea, and sippin' on gees linctus and juice. I'd had plenty of gees linctus when I was younger, but it turns out these days you have to state your intentions and hand over photo ID to get it, and it no longer comes in a pretty flask with a fancy label, but instead a tiny prescription bottle with one of those child-proof lids that are really difficult to remove.

I also have a whole mess of lozenges which are pretty good for noise control when I start coughing heaps. They were definitely useful at Tim's graduation on Thursday. There were about forty thousand people (well, it felt like at least that many) getting graduated that night and I'm pretty sure not one of them wanted some lady spluttering during their moment of glory. In case you're wondering, Tim was graduating with Honours in Media Studies which makes him super-qualified to do all sort of interesting things that no-one out there seems to need people to do right now, but fingers crossed that market opens up soon...Either way I'm pretty proud.

Tim's family came down to be there for the graduation as well and his mum gifted us some bananas. There's nothing I like more than a little unpremeditated push towards baking. Muffins felt a too obvious, but I couldn't be bothered with anything too high-concept either. What a quandary. Then I remembered this eye-catchingly named recipe that I found while hopping from blog to blog like a frog on a lily-pad. It's called Ponderosa Cake. According to the friendly person whose blog I found it on, the cake is named after some regional pine trees. Secretly I hope it was so named because someone wanted to immortalise their passion for Bonanza in baked form.

Ponderosa Cake

Recipe inspired by a recipe found on Chocolate & Chakra. I say inspired because I completely mucked things up as I went along - didn't have enough butter, added 2 eggs by mistake instead of one, forgot the yoghurt till it was about to go in the oven - so the end result was almost a completely different cake...

100g soft butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
2-3 large, ripe bananas, mashed
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon each of baking powder and baking soda
1/2 cup plain yoghurt or sour cream

125g good chocolate, chopped roughly
1 -2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 cup brown sugar

Set your oven to 180 C/350 F and line a square or rectangular cake tin with baking paper. Cream the butter and sugar together till fluffy, then beat in the eggs. Add the bananas, then fold in the flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Finally mix in the yoghurt, plus half the chopped chocolate and cinnamon. Spread it into the cake tin, then sprinkle over the rest of the chocolate and cinnamon, plus the brown sugar. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

I'd rather have a thousand coughs than a blocked nose and lose my sense of taste, because Ponderosa Cake is incredibly good. It's very light and tender and keeps well. The blast of heat in the oven caramelises the spiced, sugary chocolate topping slightly, providing depth of flavour and a pleasing gritty crunch to the moist, banana-y base. Happily, it used some of the treats I picked up at the recent food show - like The Collective yoghurt and Whittakers chocolate. Despite the fact that I somehow managed to get things wrong every step of the way, this is really a very straightforward cake. It's ideal for those times where you want something a little out of the ordinary but not so far out of the ordinary that you're up at 6am measuring the temperature and viscosity of sugar syrups.

I'm not sure if Hoss and Little Joe ever bonded over banana cake, but it's a nice thought, right? I understand when my mum and her brothers and sisters were growing up, Bonanza was appointment viewing on TV... You know you want to hear that theme song again!


Title via: 2Pac featuring Dr Dre, California Love. I know, it's one state over from the Ponderosa. There couldn't be a more obvious song that springs to mind for the sadly late Tupac Shakur, but no matter how often it's thrashed it's still a goodie, and one of those songs I knew all the words to (except for an embarrassingly long time I thought it was "city of corn chips" instead of "Compton", what can I say, there was no Google back then.)

Music lately:

The Music and the Mirror from A Chorus Line. This song is actually mostly dancing but the singing that's there is so gorgeous - the line "I'll do you proud" slays me a bit. It's a song about a woman who needs a job, so she's auditioning for the chorus even though she is good enough to be a star. Well, it seems a bit more dramatic when set to music anyway, and the original Donna McKechnie is pretty incomparable but there's plenty of fun to be found on youtube of that amazing dance in the red skirt. If you've only seen the film version of A Chorus Line, they cut this song - criminal!

The Ali and Toumani album, a recently-released collaboration between the late Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate. It's...an absolute beauty.


Next time: well, hopefully I my immune system and I become friends again. I'm down in Christchurch on Friday for Chartfest then Dunedin on Saturday for Smokefreerockquest so I can't afford to be this germtastic.

18 May 2010

there's no business like show business


The time has come once more for me to assume the authority (authority that I don't really have, hence "assume" instead of, say, "gather") of writing up the Wellington Food Show. You know how some people really get into things like the Superbowl? The Food Show is my Superbowl. And it comes but once a year. Between working full time and growing older the year sweeps by alarmingly quick, the upshot of which is that this year the Food Show approached a lot sooner than I thought it would.

The following is a selection of the foodstuffs we sampled on Sunday. (And the drinkstuffs. At one point I remember telling Tim "I like margaritas. They help me make decisions.") There are some points you should bear in mind as you scroll purposefully through them.

1) I'm mad useless at composition on the fly. Sorry, companies (and readers).
2) While I only talk about the good stuff, it's not the definitive list. There were 185 stands, so out of practicality not all of them will be mentioned below.
3) I may or may not be half asleep while I'm writing this. Apologies for any inaccuracies or metaphors that go nowhere.

Firstly a massive "cheers" to The Wright Sprouts who actually sent me a pass to the show, which was both unexpected and very cool. It is entirely without agenda that I reiterate my genuine love for The Wright Sprouts' products (their sproutput, if you, um, will). A wide range of nutty, crunchy, juicy organic sprouts that you can easily polish off by the handful straight from the bag or use in actual recipes. I know sprouts don't necessarily spring to mind when you contemplate awesomely delicious food, but friend, let them spring.

The Wright Sprouts
Contact: (the lovely) katrina@wrightsprouts.co.nz

One of the hugely exciting highlights of the day was seeing Ray McVinnie's cooking demonstration. He's become a lot more well-known lately as a judge on NZ Masterchef but I was there in the front row simply as a long-time fan of his writing for Cuisine magazine. His Quick Smart column has always been a favourite of mine and it was nice to see he's every bit as excellent in person as he is in paragraph form.

Total rockstar. Seriously. He made these two stunningly excellent sounding dishes, one a chicken dish sweetened and soured with damson jam, red wine and moscatel vinegar, and the other a chorizo and prawn dish. He was engaging, thorough, sensible of advice and humorous of anecdote. He even quoted Nigella Lawson. I know. He even kind of gestured at Tim and I at one point and asked if we could smell cinnamon, I seriously couldn't but nodded eagerly all the same, not one to let the truth stand in the way of a good story.

To the food!

Freedom Farms
Sunset Free Range

We were so happy to see the SPCA stand back once more to raise awareness of the importance of free range eggs and meat with their mighty omelets. I made the decision a while back to only purchase free range eggs and meat, for all those obvious reasons (like feminism - gotta look out for our feathered sisters and their wellbeing) and the deliciousness of the bacon and omelets we tried at this stand only further backed up my happiness in this decision. I realise it would be even more humane and actually just much better to just not eat eggs or meat at all but...not yet. Just love them too much really, and I'm happy to support people striving to get me those eggs and that meat in the best way possible.

Contact: gregor@freedomfarms.co.nz
Contact: orders@harmony.co.nz

Essential Cuisine

There ain't nothing wrong with a little getting someone else to make your stock. Essential Cuisine has the goods, light years away from the murky, salty, 2-minute noodle sachet type stuff donning a mask and calling itself stock these days. They make mighty fine pesto too and all their products come in these alluringly prod-able, jewel-coloured pouches.

St Andrews Limes

These guys have been around for a year or two now, so it was more of a perfunctory visit to their stand that I made. However I shouldn't have been so presumptuous as their "Just a Dressing" - the stuff in the ramekin on the right - was so deliciously mustardy and sharp that I wanted to devise an elaborate plan to distract the people in charge of the stall so I could quickly swipe the bottle and drink the lot.

Contact: limes@limes.co.nz


Lisa's is another company that has been around for a while, but still shaking up the hummus scene with her ridiculously delicious new range. The above was roast kumara and chickpea hummus topped with glossy pumpkin seeds. It was lusciously silky and nutty, an amazingly good combination. We spent some serious quality time with it.

Contact: info@lhf.net

The Collective Dairy

I LOVE this yoghurt.

What to say. It was wonderful stuff - cold, thick, creamy and swirled with fruit. Their halloumi was so delicious - salty, squeaky, soft but solid. Actually that makes it sound kind of awful, but trust me it was genuinely heavenly. Top ranking stuff all round.

Contact: ilya@epicdairy.com

Sweet Smart

These guys did sugar-free sour cola bottles that tasted real. Well, as real as actual sour cola bottles could get. They have an awesomely comprehensive range of sugar-free products online and were really friendly. Considering it was day three of the Food Show and all.

Contact: erika@sweetsmart.co.nz

Lindt Chocolate

One of their reps was strangely cold-mannered, they didn't seem to have any business cards to hand and there's not even an NZ website to speak of. From this cavalierness I would assume Lindt clearly don't need me to promote them on my blog. Still, I kind of liked this picture. And their chocolate is just so knee-bucklingy delicious, particularly those legendary Lindor balls which are solid on the outside and meltingly truffly on the inside. It sells itself. You can find it in most supermarkets. I ended up buying a bar of 85% dark chocolate which I look forward to eating eventually - I've never had chocolate quite that dark before, maybe if it gets any darker it just turns into a charcoal briquette.

Loaf Handcrafted Breads

One of the perils of going to the Food Show on the last day is that some people might run out of food. Like these jammy dodgers from Loaf, whose shelves were nude but for what you see in the photo above when we got there first thing in the morning. While I love to make my own ginger slice, their take on it was pretty darn exquisite - soft, fudgey, and dark with gingery heat. Between the quality of their product and the disarming friendliness of the guys at the stand I'm not surprised at all that they were completely fleeced and ready to go home after our first lap of the stadium.

Contact: daniel@loaf.co.nz

Orcona Chillis'n'Pepper

Just the perfect thing to awaken the tastebuds mid-afternoon. Orcona has a fabulous range of chillis and chilli-related products. We were particularly taken with their harissa and their chilli feijoa relish - strangely sweet and hot at the same time and very moreish. I haven't got tastebuds that can really stand up to the bullying heat of chillis but if yours can then look these guys up for sure.

Orcona Chillis'n'Peppers
Contact: orcona@xtra.co.nz

Moana Park of Hawkes Bay

This was the wine used in the aforementioned Ray McVinnie cooking demonstration and I felt obliged to show them how their advertising dollars had paid off handsomely in brand recognition. While I drink wine here and there I can't say I know an awful lot about it in the technical sense, apart from what you pick up from listening to other people and reading and so on, but I really did like their Malbec - it had a good, robust, confident flavour. I then tried something called a "sticky" which frankly isn't the name I'd choose to classify a wine but again, what know I? It was very good but awfully sweet, the sort of thing that would be nice with stone fruit or perhaps poured over a cake of some kind. The man at the stall was very nice, which is always appreciated when bumbling your way through this sort of thing.

Contact: dan@moanapark.co.nz

Lemon-Z Limoncello

Lemon-Z is first an foremost a fabulous locally made limoncello, smooth, resiny and incredibly lemony. They also make a brilliant ice cream out of such reassuringly familiar things as cream and egg yolks. I felt a bit bad as I made a massive hash of all my photos of their drink, but not toooo bad as they're doing alright for themselves without my awful photos - their international awards are many and prestigious.

Contact: info@lemon-z.co.nz

Soprano Limoncello

The Soprano limoncello was rich and fragrant, deliciously sour and with a sprightly liqueur-y kick. They're relatively new to the limoncello party but clearly know exactly what they are doing. I liked it a lot.

Contact: sopranolimoncello@xtra.co.nz


I love it when people do the dinky shot-glass lineup thing, because it looks so pretty in photos. Look at them twinkle! Rejuva's aloe juice is so strangely delicious that you won't even think about how scarily spiky the actual aloe vera plant is, or how strangely gluey the sap encased within its spikes. Rejuva's range of juices include Pomegranate with Aloe and Green Tea with Aloe. The flavour is a little hard to pinpoint - a little cucumbery, a little grapey, but overall light-textured, refreshing and delicious. And really, really good for you.

Contact: aloe@rejuva.co.nz

Lighthouse Gin

There's a really long and complicated distillation process that makes Lighthouse gin a cut apart from the rest of the gin-peddlers out there, but the one thing I can remember is that they use hand-cut orange rind to flavour their gin, instead of the rather more pith-bitter dried stuff that most other makers use. Which appealed to me, as did their robustly delicious product, full of the evidence of that hand-zested fruit and whole spices.

Contact: james@lighthousegin.co.nz

Honourable mention to the following -

Martinborough's Coney Wines, from whom I sampled two incredibly good Reislings. Their wines are named after music references and the people at the stand were incredibly friendly. I took advantage of their deliciousness and good value and bought myself a bottle. It was pouring with rain and the endless walk out of the stadium is completely unsheltered. The paper bag that the wine was in grew soggy, broke, and the wine smashed onto the ground. Aaaaaargh. Began to hate whoever designed the walkway out of the stadium (seriously, this walkway it's about forty kilometres long, no roof at all, in Wellington of all places). Nevertheless, I'll still be looking out for them in shops, only if it's not raining.

Coney Wines - contact info@coneywines.co.nz

Las Margarita Restaurante Y Cantina from Lower Hutt, who were serving icy margaritas and wonderful hot-sauce doused, cheese-filled rolls called flautas, and the girl serving margaritas complimented me on my hair.

Contact: 04) 566 2646/bookings@lasmargaritas.co.nz

Piako Gourmet Yoghurt - another incredible NZ dairy product, unfortunately by the time I got round to them I was completely over taking photos. Wonderfully thick, delicious yoghurt in such alluring flavours as coffee walnut and lemon curd. Really, really gorgeous stuff.

Contact: logan@piakoyoghurt.co.nz

Oxfam, who were collecting signatures to petition supermarkets to stock more Fairtrade products. Fair deuce, said I, and signed up happily. Then he gave us a whole block of Whittakers chocolate to say thanks. I could not have been more filled with love for the Food Show at that moment.

And that, good people, is it, more or less. Less, rather than more, as I really only captured a bare sprinkle of the goods on display, but there you go.

Title via: the formidable, deeply talented Ethel Merman (they don't name 'em like they used to).

Music lately:

Notorious B.I.G feat Method Man - The What from Ready To Die You sure don't need me to tell you why this is good but one day when I'm more awake I might just do it anyway.

Best Coast, When I'm With You. I don't know much at all about these people but I love this song - its lethargic, foot-dragging guitars and Hole-ish vocals are very appealing.


Next time: Cheers for reading, everyone, I realise it's a bit of a hike. So much new food to eat now - can't wait. Maybe by the time the next one rolls round I'll have my own cooking demonstration or something. Am secretly tempted to look at flights to Auckland for their leg of the Food Show...

11 May 2010

pumpkin, you're hollow within

Tonight I was obliged to cook dinner for myself and no one else, because Tim's in Palmerston North for his mother's graduation (I understand it's this new qualification two stages after PhD that they had to hastily invent to accomodate her smartness). Luckily, in case I was thinking of just having toast after lazy piece of toast, spread with fistfuls of butter, there's Nigella Lawson. In the "One and Two" chapter of that seminal text, How To Eat, she luxuriates in the solitary dinner to the point where it seems alluringly rakish to be so exhausted that all you can do is make yourself pasta, gloss it with olive oil, sprinkle with garlic and chilli, and eat it in bed. I like eating in bed as much as the next person who likes eating in bed but she really makes it rock'n'roll.

Hidden in this One and Two chapter is Butternut and Pasta Soup, a recipe that will never be a calling card for Nigella like the Ham in Coca Cola or Chocolate Guinness Cake, but is certainly no less fantastically worthy of your time. There was a tick beside the recipe in my copy of How To Eat but I can't remember when I actually last made it. Maybe because it's not the flashiest combination of flavours on the block. However it's warm, it's cheap, it's easy to make and it's easy to eat. I had half a butternut pumpkin aging in the fridge (and not aging in the socially applauded way, like Helen Mirren) and an open bag of risoni pasta in the cupboard just waiting to be spilled on the floor, so I thought I'd give this another try.

Butternut and Pasta Soup

Serves 2 (I halved the liquid, pasta and pumpkin)

From Nigella Lawson's seminal text How To Eat

1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 small onion, chopped very finely
250g butternut pumpkin, or any old pumpkin really, chopped into 1cm dice
60mls vermouth or white wine
600mls stock - chicken or porcini stock would be good here
1 bay leaf
60g small soup pasta, like stelline, ditalini or risoni

Heat the oil in a heavy-based pot and add the onion, stirring till soft, then add the cubes of butternut. Cook for around 2 minutes, stirring often, letting the orange cubes soften slightly. Tip in the wine (it will bubble up) and then the stock and bayleaf. Bring to a simmer and leave for about ten minutes.

Nigella then says to remove a ladleful and puree it before returning to the pan, but I said no, because I wasn't in the mood to clean the food processor. It was fine. Add the pasta, cook for another 10 minutes till the pasta is tender. Ladle into bowls, serve with parmesan to grate over if you like.

The fact that it's cheap and no hassle to make shouldn't be the only thing that draws you to this recipe. Even though I didn't have any stock cubes to hand and so had to use plain water, it was still flavoursome, filling, comfortingly soft and warm. A little sweet from the pumpkin and savoury from the bay leaf. You could gussy it up with a spoon of pesto, or harissa, or whatever. It was a delicious and serene solo meal on a chilly night. And a good reminder that it's well worth properly re-reading Nigella's cookbooks for hidden jewels like this.

On Saturday Tim and I went to Bodega to the launch of local musician Grayson Gilmour's new album, No Constellation. It's now a well-documented fact, but Gilmour is the first artist to be signed to the newly minted Flying Nun label, which must be pretty exciting for all parties involved - he's enormously talented, and Flying Nun carries with it decades of respect. We've seen Gilmour perform with band So So Modern about a billion times but none of his elusive solo performances so we were really looking forward to it. We got there in time to see Vaults, who, despite getting a bit Deep Forest in places, were overall enjoyable, good music to wallow in. Gilmour's music translated beautifully live with the help of the musicians backing him (including So So Modern's Aidan Leong) particularly one of my favourites from the new album, the sparkling, sprinty Loose Change. He deserves to do well, and I hope it all works out for him so...he can perform this solo material a bit more often.
Title via: Tricky's Pumpkin from Maxinquaye, assisted ably by the glorious Goldfrapp. It's woozy, it's mellow, listening to it is actually like being a grain of pasta, floating around slowly in a large bowl of warm butternut soup.
Music lately:

New Dead Weather album! Called Sea of Cowards, it continues, rather than showing strong progress, from their debut Horehound. But, it is still an exciting listen with its dark dark imagery and sizzling instrumentation. And Jack White.

Odessa, by Caribou from the album Swim. I don't know anything at all about Caribou so I won't patronise you with reconstituted Wikipedia factlets. But this song has been on the radio an awful lot lately and...I like it. I might even look up Caribou on Wikipedia.

The great Lena Horne passed away recently. I salute her and all her achievements with the obvious but always beautiful Stormy Weather.
Next time: Hopefully I'll get a post in before then, but this weekend is OH MY GOSH the Wellington Food Show. I'm so excited. It will be my fifth year attending and my third year blogging it, you'd think by now I'd have my own segment or something. At the least I plan on eating my own body weight (or even a larger person's body weight) in 'free' samples.

4 May 2010

going back to canada on a journey through the past

I had this pair of Chuck Taylors that lasted me four years, not bad since I wore them a lot and lived up a hill in Wellington, which wears out a shoe swift-fast. Towards the end of their existence, one had a large hole in the bottom and the tread had been buffed down to the thickness of a wonton wrapper, except for the bits where holes had emerged in the sole. So...I cut out some bubble wrap and slid it inside the shoes. And wore them for at least another 6 months. At the same time, I was also buying, like...gelatine leaves and shallots and cloth-aged cheddar. Priorities?

And yet there were things that even with this food-first shoes-later mindset, that still seemed out of my reach. Like maple syrup. That Canadian elixir. I'm pretty sure that if you look at it in the supermarket, then look away, then look back again, the price tag magically becomes more expensive. In all these years I've only ever bought one bottle of it, then been too nervous to even take off the lid in case I wasted a droplet (what with its street value rivalling that of most hard drugs).

Then I was given a bottle of maple syrup for my birthday by my late grandad's wife, and it was an exciting new opportunity for me. To have some maple syrup. Simple as that. I should have known that someone whose chocolate eclairs I always admired as a child would give such an astute gift.

Ice cream is basically always on my mind so it was an easy decision to showcase the incredible flavour of maple syrup in that format. Nigella Lawson has a whole chapter about ice cream in her book Forever Summer (one day I will too! But it will be an even bigger chapter than hers) and within its pages is a recipe for Honey Semifreddo. It's a quickly whipped up mixture of egg yolks, cream and honey, frozen once and then cut into slices. Amazingly good as that sounds, I thought I'd switch the honey for maple syrup and go forward from there.

Even though it's pretty common, I've never made ice cream like this before - I tend to take the frozen custard path instead. This semifreddo however, was so exquisitely light-textured and quick to make that I might have to reconsider my methods.

Maple Syrup Semifreddo

Adapted from Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer

1 egg
4 egg yolks (nice, free range eggs please)
100g real maple syrup
300 mls cream

Place the egg, yolks, and maple syrup in a good-sized bowl, and sit that bowl over a small pot of simmering water. Whisk the mixture thoroughly and constantly until it is thick, creamy and aerated - this won't take a hugely long time. Set it aside, then in another bowl whisk the cream till thick and floppy but not completely whipped. Carefully fold it into the maple syrup mixture, and pour it into a 1-litre loaf tin, either lined with glad-wrap or plain if it's a silicon one, and freeze till solid. Dip in hot water before turning out (for some reason it took a while to dislodge) and cut into slices.

The only problem with ice cream is that it's hard to photograph - it's all melting in front of you which makes composition and focussing a bit of a non-event. Eating it however is ridiculously easy. As I said, the texture of this is wonderful - light, creamy and not really rich at all. The maple syrup whisked through provides the most incredible flavour - elegantly sweet and smoky. A few walnuts folded through wouldn't have gone amiss but its uninterrupted cold creaminess was perfect as is with nothing more than an extra drizzle of sticky maple syrup.

Maybe one day, when I've gotten all awesomely rich from writing a cookbook, I'll be able to live like the Canadians on the "Canucks Amuck" episode of Angry Beavers, who crack open cans of cool refreshing maple syrup to quench their thirst. One day!

Title via: Canada's other fine export, Neil Young and his song Journey Through the Past. I was fortunate enough to see him live at Big Day Out in January 2009, wild Canadian beavers could not have kept me from that performance.

Music lately:

Dam Native, Behold My Koolstyle from Kaupapa Driven Rhymes Uplifted...Aotearoa music for the ages. I love mellow melodies like this in hiphop, and I like that it's so clearly about this place, not of course that all NZ music should be - imagine the awkwardness of every local act trying to create the kiwi equivalent of, say, Down In Albion.

Remote Control, Beastie Boys, from Hello Nasty. I like the Beastie Boys and all, really like some of their songs but this song is in a fantasy baseball league of its own. The bombastic beats, the fuzzyiness, the ambiguity of the chorus, it just slays me. This was one of those songs I heard on the radio late at night and I had no idea how to find out who sung it or where to find it...

Next time: Dubious. Might crack out the slow cooker, it's definitely cold enough...on the other hand I really want to make more maple syrupy stuff while I have the chance...

2 May 2010

20th century soy

After all those feijoa brownies - which on one particular day served as both my breakfast and dinner, all I can say is that the heart wants what the heart wants - I thought I'd rekindle my relationship with tofu, get some soy back in my bloodstream. The stuff I like to get comes from the vege market on Dixon/Willis Street and is $4 for a generous block of four squares, or fillets if you like, of firm tofu.

We went to see Alice in Wonderland in 3D that night and I wanted a fast-moving dinner planned for when we returned home. It all worked out fantastically - crisp slices of matzoh-crumbed tofu resting on a bed, no, a beanbag of chickpea and golden sultana-studded couscous, and a garlicky tahini sauce on top. It was all made very quickly - such is the joy of couscous, instantly puffing itself up into a meal, and tofu, which has no bacteria squatting within its meatless walls to be smoked out in the cooking process, cutting down on pan-time.

Yes, the photos aren't great but 1) I was tired and hungry and 2) all that beige. What would you do? There's only so much coriander in my fridge.

Tofu with Garlic Tahini, Couscous and Chickpeas

Half a block of firm tofu
3 fat cloves garlic
2 Tablespoons tahini
Pinch smoked paprika

1/2 cup couscous
Boiling water
1 tin chickpeas
1/3 cup golden sultanas (you could use normal sultanas, or currants, or dried cranberries etc)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Handful almonds (or other nuts)

Tip the couscous into a bowl, pour over boiling water to cover and sit a plate on top while you get on with the tofu. When you return to it, remove the plate and fluff up the couscous with a fork. Stir in the drained can of chickpeas and the sultanas (or whatever you're using instead), the spices plus salt to taste.

Wrap the tofu in a couple of paper towels and press on it to let some of the moisture absorb away. Bin the paper and slice up the tofu. Put your breadcrumbs (I used matzoh meal) onto a plate and press the tofu slices into them, covering both sides of each slice. Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil till good and hot, and fry the slices till golden, a couple of minutes each side.

Finally, crush or finely chop the garlic cloves, and fry gently (in the same pan that you did the tofu in is fine). Stir in the tahini and a tablespoon of water and adding as much water as you like till you have a smoothish pale sauce. Add the paprika. Serve the tofu slices on top of the couscous with the sauce drizzled over. Sprinkle with the almonds, chopped, and a handful of torn coriander.

The couscous thing was adapted from a Nigella Lawson recipe and was delicious- buttery chickpeas, tender couscous grains and chewy, sweet golden sultanas. I'm always happy to be eating tofu but pressing the crumbs into it provided a bit more texture and welcome crunch. The sauce tied it all together with its garlic smoothness, although undeniably it was a really ugly colour...even with the 'sprinkle-the-coriander-over' routine I still couldn't disguise its utter beige-ity.

We ate this for dinner, as I said, after seeing Alice in Wonderland in 3D. It was my first 3D movie (yeah, so I still haven't seen Avatar) and once I'd stopped jumping every time a leaf swirled out in front of me off the screen it was really fun. Because I loved the Alice books so much as a youngster I was a bit suspicious about what a film version could offer me, especially since the trailer made it look pretty rubbish but...I absolutely loved it. Not since Step Up 2: The Streets have I been so pleasantly surprised by a film. It was visually gorgeous for a start, but the acting and the fleshed-out characters really made it a wonderful experience. Mia Waisakowska's Alice is powerful, at first simply reacting to what's around her then gradually becoming more powerful, overall a highly compelling character. Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter are stunning queens. Apparently Bonham-Carter drew inspiration from Nigella for her role, and yeah, I could see it. And Johnny Depp is as captivating as, you know, he ALWAYS is. It drooped occasionally but the only thing I really didn't like about it was the Avril Lavigne song that blasts immediately over the ending credits. It's so bad that it's like a parody of an awful song rather than just a simply awful song. Disney kindly showed us several fancy trailers for upcoming 3D films prior to Alice in Wonderland starting, including Toy Story 3, something about owls, and yet another Shrek sequel. I wonder if 3D is proving to be an exciting platform for companies to re-thrash already thrashed franchises...

Title via: That other mad hatter, Marc Bolan, and T-Rex's 20th Century Boy.

Music lately:

Martha by Rufus Wainwright from his new album All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu. I love Wainwright's music, his theatrical imagery and endless voice, so a new album is always a bit of a treat. This is just him and a piano, not sparse in the slightest, I'm not sure he could do 'sparse' but utterly beautiful and stripped of any real excess. Martha, presumably named for his sister, is one particularly affecting track on this album, the first he's put out there since his mother's death earlier this year.

Night Hawkes from Wellingtonian Red Steer's latest EP, The Fever Fold. It's an exciting track with an enviable beat that sneaks in partway through and makes me want to choreograph something. Tim reviewed it at The Corner, an NZ website so awesome that we both write for it, and you can even download the EP for free once you're done reading up on it (and my review of MGMT's Congratulations, there's no free download but I do reference Hair, almost as exciting...)

Sleigh Bells' Tell Em, crunchier than sandpaper and very fun. Their relentless fuzzity could be hard on the ears but as someone who grew up rural, ears pressed to the radio at night with one finger slowly inching the tuner round to pick up any kind of signal, it all makes sense to me.

Do you know what I'm emphatically not listening to? Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate's Ali and Toumani, the collaboration that has recently been released, five year's on from Toure's death. We walked from the top of Cuba Street to the bottom of Lambton Quay at the other end of town, entering every single music shop we found and not one place had it. I know, I should have bought it sooner...
Next time: Oh sure we ate tofu but...I also made a pudding of the ice-creamy variety. So you'll find out about the all sharp change in direction when I next get time to update this.