24 April 2012

just twist your hip and do the dip

You know how you learn something and then find you see it everywhere? Like you'll learn a new word and then hear it in a song and read it in an article and hear someone say it in passing. I recently read a book - The Sense of an Ending - which has a whammy moment when you realise one character had been repressing, or at least not divulging, a particularly significant memory. No sooner had I read this book, when I'm flipping aimlessly, and I do mean aimlessly, through a weekly magazine. And I am confronted with an advertisement bearing the blankly content face of a commemorative Kate Middleton porcelain doll in a wedding dress. And it reminded me of something I haven't thought about in years and years: that I used to be a little obsessed with those Franklin Mint porcelain dolls and would rip the advertisements out of aunties' and nanna's magazines and catalogue them in a folder in alphabetical order (well they all had names, Heather and Rosa and so on) and dream of the day I could own them all. Luckily for my now utter horror at the idea of walking into a room full of expressionless doll eyes staring back at you, I had no disposable income at the age of eight or so, and as such the folder was as far as it went. But isn't it strange what you forget and remember again - not the traumatic things - but these vivid little slices of your life that remind you exactly who you were and are?

Leaving behind the "I Was an Awkward Awkward" chapters for now, I'd like to bring your attention to hummus. I know, hummus, that ubiquitous beige lotion which has gone from Moosewood territory to the sort of thing we get charged $5.50 for and purchase more per head of population than we ever did of pesto. How can it have still more surprises up its sleeve? Well who more reliable to elicit such surprises than my idol Nigella Lawson, who only goes and replaces the tahini (sesame seed paste) in homemade hummus with Peanut Butter. So important. And so importantly, so delicious. Peanut butter has a somewhat brash flavour, but against the mild chickpeas and smoothing yoghurt it mellows out and provides this sweet, nutty, oleaginously compulsive edge to your hummus. I really love tahini - sesame being one of my favourite flavours - but the tastebuds grow weary, and peanut butter doesn't so much deliver the goods as urgent courier them while wearing appealingly fitted shorts and saying in a warm voice, "I've got a big package for you".

Peanut Butter Hummus

Recipe from Nigella Lawson's book Kitchen, I've simplified it slightly. Really, just play with quantities of the ingredients as they please you. If you're not able to eat dairy, I'd add an extra tablespoon of water and lemon juice and peanut butter and it'll be all good.

1 can chickpeas, drained
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons Greek yoghurt
1 teaspoon cumin

Blend all together thoroughly till smooth. Add a little more yoghurt or water if it's not spreadable enough.

Because I feel that hummus alone isn't quite enough to bolster this blog post, a second recipe for you. I'm really sorry that both of these require a blender/food processor - I hate when recipes give directions for making cake batter in a cake mixer when said cake mixers cost many hundred dollars, or when an ice cream recipe finishes with "and then put it in your ice cream maker and follow their instructions" or whatever. I'm sorry. You could effectively crush up the chickpeas with a fork or a potato masher, but the strawberries really need the swift action that only an electric rotating blade can provide. 

What, you don't have a dedicated hummus knife commemorating the Parahaki War Memorial in Whangarei? Look I'm not saying your party is "ruined" as such...

If you do have a blender though, there aren't many happier foodstuffs in this world than pink lemonade. I first tried making it with raspberries, and that was great, but strawberries are even more delicious, which is brilliant because they're also half the price.

Pink Lemonade

A recipe by myself

2 1/2 cups frozen strawberries (bully for you if you've got real ones, but it's winter in NZ right now. And frozen strawberries are really pretty cheap any time of year)

2 1/2 litres of lemonade
Optional: passionfruit syrup, mint leaves

Place the strawberries in a blender and allow them to defrost somewhat. Add 1/2 cup of water and blend till smooth and gloriously pink, adding more water if your blender can't deal with it. Spatula into a jug and slowly top up with lemonade. The bubbles and the strawberry puree will form scuzzy bubbles on top, just stir it with a wooden spoon to break it up.

And lo, a joyful jugful of deeply pink, wondrously delicious lemonade shot through with the fresh taste of strawberry. A little passionfruit syrup helps sharpen up this berry flavour, and mint leaves are just delicious with nearly anything, but simply strawberries and lemonade on their own are more than fine.

I served both these delights over the weekend at my inaugural Ice Cream Demonstration Party (that's not necessarily what it's called but the capital letters make it seem official) where in front of a small group of lovely people I demonstrated and imparted pretty much every particle of knowledge I have about ice cream, taking them through recipes for said ice cream and sauces to go on top, then we all built our own ice cream sundaes and then they went home with a goodie bag. It was super fun and you can check out photos from the night (one of the guests was also a great photographer) on my Facebook page, if you please.
Title via Rock the House by Gorillaz. Tim and I were lucky enough to see them in 2010 and it was so brilliant that my brain starts melting every time I think about it. Like, there's Damon Albarn, one of the first people who got me realising that I could have a crush on another person. Also present: Bobby freaking Womack.
Music lately:
Lee Fields, Faithful Man. Tim insisted we buy this record. He insisted accurately. Fields is just really, really good.

Madeline Kahn, Getting Married Today. Mixing my obsession for the musical Company with my new fascination for the hilarious, babely, and sadly late Kahn, she does well with this horrendously challenging song.
Next time: Still have some quinces lying there looking at me reproachfully. The time has come to do more than just sniff them rapturously, any suggestions?

19 April 2012

like a week that's only mondays, only ice creams never sundaes

Look, when you've been 26 as long as I have, which is about 48 hours now, you learn some things, okay? Like...I may get older, but it looks like I'll never grow out of being deeply clumsy (spilled lemonade all over a Settlers of Catan game.) Or being forgetful (I forgot something, I forget what.) Or being unable to follow a list of tasks I set myself. (Probably don't need to provide an example for that one.) Or overthinking things. (I really overthought some things.) But also I was reminded of the greatness that is real friends, the loyalty of family, and how singularly and strangely well Tim and I get on. Yes, all of that in 48 hours.

Me on my birthday, in some of my favourite clothes. (Apparently I turned 26 in 1991.)

It wouldn't be much of a celebration without ice cream, that foodstuff that I have so much love for.

As well as my birthday happening (and being absolutely over now, so I should really probably let it go already) another joyous time is upon us: feijoa season. There are those who say it's like a reward for the cold weather but I'm the weirdo who actually loves the snappy chill of autumn and winter - slow-cooked stews; hearty warming soups; soft cosy woolly jumpers and socks; wrapping yourself in blankets; watching entire seasons of important TV shows; scarves; old-timey puddings; rain on the roof; the unbeatable unity of complaining about bad weather with strangers or those you struggle to make small talk with any other time of year. And there's feijoas.

These edible jewels are well known in New Zealand but if you're not from round these parts: imagine an egg-shaped, rough-skinned green fruit which you cut in half to scoop the insides out with a teaspoon - like a passionfruit. The texture is like that of canned pears and the flavour is intoxicatingly elusive. Like pear and old-fashioned grape and maybe a hint of elderflower or strawberry? It's fizzingly tart yet fragrantly sweet. It's so beautiful.

And it works brilliantly in ice cream, as I found out this week. As always with my recipes, you don't need an ice cream maker to do this. In fact this is one of my simplest ice cream methods yet. Only a couple of ingredients, a bit of a blast in the food processor, and you're done. Yet my reasons for making it this way are highly purposeful. Feijoas have a slightly gritty texture and I didn't want to add to that with granulated sugar. Condensed milk smooths it all out and gives the ice cream itself a fantastic texture. To that I added lime juice to point up the feijoa's own flavour, in the way you'd add salt to a tomato. To counteract all the sweetness of the condensed milk, and to reflect the tartness of the fruit, I used thick, creamy Greek yoghurt. And that's it.

Feijoa Ice Cream

A recipe by myself.

15 or so ripe feijoas
1 tin condensed milk
2 tablespoons lime juice
250ml/1 cup thick plain Greek yoghurt

Halve the feijoas and scoop out the flesh, tipping it all into the bowl of a food processor. Blend it thoroughly with the condensed milk and lime juice till well pureed. Then add the yoghurt and continue to blend till it is, uh, blended. Scrape into a freezer-proof container and put it in the freezer. Don't worry about stirring it as it freezes, just let it do its thing. Allow to soften out of the fridge for about ten minutes before you serve it.


- If you don't have a food processor, don't feel like you can't make this. Either use one of those stick blenders for soup or a just fork and some extra effort to mash up the fruit - the texture will be a bit different but it's all good.
- I know it asks for a lot of feijoas, but who goes looking for feijoa recipes to just use up one or two? This is for my people with plastic bags heaving with fruit from their aunty/kindly neighbour/roadside stall! 
-I try not to be fussy about ingredients but I am about the yoghurt here - if you use anything other than thick Greek yoghurt the texture will be compromised significantly and it just won't taste as good. If you can't find that yoghurt I'd use the same amount of regular cream instead.

I think this is made even more delicious because of how little effort you have to put into it. The tiny burst of lime brightens and emboldens the fragrant feijoa flavour and the condensed milk gives it this incredible texture, interrupted by the ever-so-slight grit of the feijoa seeds. The only thing is that it has a slightly weird colour - beige-ish, I'd say? But the flavour is so shiningly, adamantly feijoa-esque that you can either overlook it or dump a ton of food colouring in there to suit yourself. 

Just know: it's wildly delicious. If you can't access feijoas for whatever reason, I'd substitute two tins of drained canned pears. In fact I might try that myself as well, because it sounds so good in its own right.

Tim and I went to The Ambeli for my birthday, which is this swanky award-winning restaurant  that I've been longing to go to. I don't mean to sound like a naive rube, but the prices - admittedly more the wine than the food - were fairly faint-making and I sat there in my seat suddenly feeling like I didn't belong there at all. However, emboldened by a few things ("Birthday!" "We haven't gone to dinner in forever!" "it IS legal to charge this much!" "Be cool!") I settled down and we ended up having a completely splendid time. If you're rich or at least feeling that way, I can't recommend it highly enough. Every element of the food was intensely exquisite, so that you wanted to eat it very slowly and taste every ingredient in every mouthful and then write an essay on your feelings about it. The wait staff were astute, lively and knowledgeable. The wine made us super talkative, you know, where you're nodding along heartily because everything is so important and meaningful (I'd like to think we can be that without the wine.) We left with the sadness that a birthday comes but once a year, and also happily full and tipsy and analysing the food like it was some kind of intelligent movie we'd just been to see.

The next morning I had ice cream for breakfast. And it was good.
Title via: Without Love, featuring a young - well, younger - Aaron Tveit, from the musical Hairspray. The local musical theatre company is going to be putting on a production of it later this year, I am so very excited.
Music via: 

Lianne Las Halvas, Forget. I love the scratchy strumming that loops round it and the equally looping chorus - it's kind of understated and wacky at the same time. And Lianne has amazing clothes. So.

SWV, Co-Sign. New SWV! Which I couldn't find on YouTube for ages because I kept searching for SVW by mistake. It's never easy to capture prior magic, especially from a land as long ago as the 90s, but I like what they've done here.
Next time: I still haven't made anything from my Little and Friday cookbook - for shame! Need to change this soon, since I love baking and it is full of baking and all.

17 April 2012

little lamb, little lamb, a birthday goes by so fast...

A big thanks to everyone's cool responses to my last post. Made me glad I'd shared it.

When I made this dinner last night my camera battery went flat and before it obstinately shut down entirely, I hastily snapped some mediocre photos. The battery in my brain went a little flat too, which is really not the best timing considering after my last post I wanted something more sprightly and upbeat. As always though honesty is what I aim for here. When tired...I write like a tired person.

Surprise! It is my birthday today! Twenty-six. (I know. So old or so young, depending on how you look at it) For the last few years, my birthday has really snuck up on me, and today followed that pattern again. I don't know exactly what kind of build up I was expecting - perhaps an ad campaign indicating that the nation of New Zealand are all meeting on a hilltop with candles and torches and counting down from 10 while a soft-rock song that got to #3 in the downloads charts plays in the background - but seriously, it properly snuck. I'm both a night owl and an early riser (it's so great) (it's really not) and so not only was I awake to see my birthday from the moment the clock ticked over, I'm also here at 6-something AM to greet it again before most other people will. But do you know what I woke up to? A kind and lovely email from the kind and lovely Kate who Tim and I stayed with, sight unseen, along with her husband, in Oxford last year.

I wonder if Redman, Victoria Beckham, Liz Phair and/or Sean Bean, bless his sword and sandals, are also going through this same thought process? Since Wikipedia confirms they too are born on April 17? Back in my day (ooh, just caught myself aging), I wore it as a badge of honour that Victoria had the same birthday as me, but depending on which unauthorised magazine or book you read - you know, the sort that referred to "the Fab Five!" or "Get Spicy with the Girls!" - she was also listed as being born on the 7th. Wikipedia, my eleven-year-old self thanks you for restoring the equilibrium.

This is a very simple recipe that I thought up earlier yesterday. It's nothing revolutionary - just marinate some chicken and fry it and serve it on rice - but the combination of spices will definitely use up some of the spices just sitting there on your spice rack. They will also imbue the meat with warmth and depth and heat and, of course, spice. Chicken breasts are so boring - thighs all the way! - but Tim and I saw some Waitoa ones on special and so the decision was made. Spices like this embiggen the relatively less flavoursome and tender chicken breast, although if you've actually got some thighs to hand then you're golden. You could always use this marinade for tofu or steak or lamb or whatever, depending on which end of the protein spectrum you're feeling most like eating. The Coconut Spinach Rice you could always eat by its comforting self, the chicken could be turned into a salad, and so on and so forth, you know how to eat food.

Fried Chicken with Many Spices and Coconut Spinach Rice

A recipe by myself.

350g (or as much as you like) boneless chicken breast
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 tablespoon sambal oelek (or some other form of chilli sauce)
Juice and zest of a lime (about 2 tablespoons juice)
2 tablespoons sesame oil

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup long grain rice  
1/2 cup dessicated coconut
Handful spinach leaves

Slice up the chicken into small pieces, mix together the the spices and oil and marinate the chicken in it for about an hour, although you could cook it right away if you like. Fry the chicken pieces, scraping in the leftover marinade, till crisp and slightly darkened. And, of course, fully cooked through. Serve with the rice.

To make the rice - I recommend getting it going before you start frying the chicken - heat up the oil in a pan and tip in the uncooked grains of rice. Stir them around for a minute or two on their own, then add the coconut and mix well. As soon as the coconut starts to brown - it'll happen fast - tip in 3 cups of water, a decent grind/pinch of salt, and clamp a lid on top of the pan. Allow to simmer for about 10 minutes or until the water is all absorbed and the rice grains cooked. At this point, finely slice up a handful of spinach leaves and stir them into the rice.

(Instagram played the role of my camera in this performance. Next time, more proactive battery charging, I promise.)

This is so easy but so exuberantly and uncompromisingly flavoured - the earthy cinnamon and cumin, the compelling heats of the mustard, ginger and chilli and the necessary sweetness and light of the lime against the calm, simple rice is pretty perfect as far as dinner on a cold Monday night goes.

This is my bedroom. Kidding! It's at La Boca Loca, where Tim and Jo and I went for the muy rico experience that was tequila tasting and tortilla-making demonstration to celebrate their first birthday. Jo herself wrote about it better than I just did at Wellingtonista.

On Friday we (Tim, myself, all our friends) went to an amazing under the sea themed party (specifically, it was named Atlantis to Interzone - not Alanis to Interzone as I initially misread) I was a jellyfish and Tim was a dashing Titanic zombie. I danced wildly with friends and then danced some more. I did wake up with that "oh no, I danced like that" feeling but have decided that there's no changing who I am and people are going to have to deal with the fact that I'm either standing still or dancing for my life, taking my passion and making it happen, etc. Speaking of aging, the bouncer didn't believe I was of age, but let me in anyway, probably based on shrewdness and the fact that everyone else in our group was mid to late 20s. "You don't look 25" he said. "But I do look like a jellyfish," I coolly replied. I know you're supposed to love having to pull out ID all the time by this point in life but Tim and I, in the eyes of every gatekeeper in the nation, would seem to resemble a couple of cherubic toddlers dressed humourously in grown-ups' clothing. So I wouldn't mind eventually visually growing into my age. I also wouldn't mind dressing up as a jellyfish again, it was so much fun.

Round of applause to Jo, Jo and Thomas for not so much throwing the party as hurtling it into space to watch it gently fall to earth showering everyone with meteors (I'm trying to say 'it was good fun'); thanks to Kate who took the above photo.

On Saturday Tim and I paid a near-insurmountable sum ($25! For a movie! But I wanted to see it five times!) to see the filmed production of Company, one of my very favourite Broadway shows. Its cast had so many ridiculously great people in it that I was nearly crying the whole time, even though it was just a movie. Christina Hendricks as self-confessed dullard April had this kind of Marilyn Monroe quality, playing a ditzy character with intimidatingly good comic timing and realness. Anika Noni Rose was glorious and delivered one of my favourite lines in the show better than I've ever seen it done (which is once on YouTube and once in a student production of Company, so.) Stephen Colbert and Martha Plimpton had incredible chemistry and Colbert was plain cheek-pinchingly adorable in his turtleneck. Kate Finneran was perfect as Amy. Patti LuPone - who I've actually seen in concert - won me over as Joanne with her final flourish in Ladies Who Lunch. And I was so happy they kept the complicated Donna McKechnie dance in it from the original Broadway production, with the neatly full-circle move of casting Chryssie Whitehead who starred in the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line. If none of that made any sense, this movie trailer might help.

And now, to get used to how very twenty-six I'm going to be.
Title via: Little Lamb from the musical Gypsy. Initially this was a song I always skipped for the more thrilling If Mama Was Married, or Rose's Turn, but Laura Benanti's thrilling soprano made me actually listen to it. It's slow, but rewarding (especially the last bit.)
Music lately:

Janine and the Mixtape, Bullets. This is a new song - the debut single, I think? - from local singer Janine, whose voice is super prowess-ful and whose enviable cheekbones deserve a round of applause of their own. The video's an equal match for the song.

The Kills' cover of Crazy. While part of me is all "Patsy Cline forever!" It'd be remiss of me to deny how deliciously cover-able this song it and how fantastically Alison Mosshart does it.

Next time: Fejoa. Ice. Cream. 

10 April 2012

shedding a tear, lending a shoulder

On Wednesday night I had a panic attack. Wait, don't click another tab. I know, food bloggers are supposed to drift round in a content haze of aspirational recipes, instagrammed photos of coffee and noodles, and bacon cupcake-flavoured macaron whoopie pies. Yet here I am. I was going to sort of pass it off with an "enough of that, here's the food" kind of segue since this may not be what you want to read, but since the only criteria I keep for this blog is, did I cook it and/or did it happen to me...I'm talking about it.

I'm no stranger to panic attacks but it has been a while, and just in case anyone else had had a similar experience recently I share mine, in the spirit of you-are-not-alone-ness, of not-being-ashamed-ness, and other such forcibly portmanteau-ed words. So. I went from standing there aimlessly to sweating, heart thumping, knees buckling, having to support myself by leaning on a wall, weird thoughts flying round my brain, a massive sense of unease, gulping for shallow breath. It went for about five minutes. And then it just subsided, and all I was left with were shaking hands and confusion. The thing I found weird was that nothing in particular had happened that day. On the other hand, I tend towards being highly anxious pretty easily, and have had some fairly clenched-knuckled moments over the last year - possibly this was a reaction to a long build up of tension. It's not ideal, and life would doubtless be much easier if I was more happy-go-lucky, but I'm not, and at least I know that...right?

You know what helps panic attacks? I don't know, and pulled pork isn't the answer, but it is what I was making when it happened. And the thing with making pulled pork is that it just sits there for hours and hours, but bully for me, the attack came on just at the point where it was in the middle of the basting/resting/pulling/making accompanying cornbread stage. If nothing else, it was good to have something to focus on, but my hands continued to shake for at least an hour after the attack, which is not so condusive to taking elegant blogworthy photos of my dinner. Earlier that week I'd spied some belly-cut pork shoulder that was both free range and on special, and without having ever considered making pulled pork before, suddenly it was on my mind. Pulled Pork is a classic American treatment for a side of pig, and generally one that requires a smoker or barbeque. Neither of which I have. There seemed to be so many differing methods, that I decided to gather knowledge from everywhere and make something that works for me. I'd like to lend particular gratitude however to Michelle at Thursday Night Smackdown whose recipe was the only one who advised me to sit the pork fat side up, and had the simplest method to emulate.

One does not simply walk into Pulled Pork. Although...I kind of did. At 10am I decided I wanted to make it, at 6pm we were eating it. That is not, I emphasise, a very long time for it to be in the oven. And, I didn't marinate the pork for 12 hours in the way that every recipe recommended, either. This is a highly important step to audaciously leave out, but it was still the nicest thing I've ever eaten. My theory was that it's in the oven for such a long time, on such a low heat, that the spices just marinate it as it goes along. It's not right, but it's okay. That is, it's not deeply authentic, but it's inauthentic with the greatest respect.

I literally did not require this pestle and mortar to make the rub, but gosh it made me feel like I knew what I was doing. (Further confession: I just put that cinnamon stick there for artistic effect and used ground cinnamon in the rub. If the panic attack didn't get rid of you, hopefully that isn't the final straw.)

Pulled Pork, HungryandFrozen-style. 

With thanks to Thursday Night Smackdown's recipe for guidance.

2 kg or more - basically a goodly slab - of belly cut pork shoulder. Or just pork belly.


1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp mustard powder 
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cumin seeds
A grating of nutmeg (or 1/2 a teaspoon ground nutmeg)
1/2 cup brown sugar, darker the better but plain brown's fine
Decent pinch of salt

Mop (What you use to baste it, to ensure it'll have not a skerrick of dryness about it)

1 cup cola

1/2 cup cold strong coffee (I used Carlos Imbachi from Supreme, but instant'll honestly do the trick)
1 tablespoon chilli sauce (I used sambal oelek)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (or malt vinegar)
1 tablespoon golden syrup
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
Another decent pinch of salt

Set your oven to low - around 140 C/ 300 F. Put your pork in a decent sized roasting dish. Mix together all the rub ingredients and rub into the surface of the pork, all over, leaving it fat-side-up and sprinkling over any leftover rub. Place in the oven and leave there for several hours - at least four. At this point, mix together the mop ingredients and pour 1/2 a cup of it over the pork every hour till it's gone, then continue to cook for about another 1/2 hour after that to help the fat crisp up some.

Finally, remove it from the oven, cover with tinfoil and leave to sit for an hour to rest and cool slightly, before shredding the heck out of it with two forks. Bust up any bits of crackling that have formed and add them to the pulled pork too, and should you still have any porky-mop-spicy liquid in the bottom of the roasting dish, tip that in too. Ey, why not?

If you're wondering what could motivate you to funnel that much of your time into a briquette of meat, the answer is pure, headrushy deliciousness. The pork basically melts down gradually over time till it falls apart unexpectedly when prodded (like me! This pork is both allegorical and delicious!) The spices, warm cinnamon and ginger and so on, and the sticky dirty coffee-cola mix just imbue the meat with mysterious savoury-sweetness, or umami if you will, laquering the fat as it crisps up and soaking the fibres with dark smoky flavour. 

It's so wonderful.

I served it with this cornbread, which I've made roughly a squillion times, only this go around, as if it knew how much I needed it, the same old recipe produced the most beautiful, soft, tender cornbread of my life. Thanks, cornbread.

I wish it was Easter Weekend every week. This one just gone was amazing, the delightful times unfolding with increasing fantasticness, activities within activities (drinking wine while watching Flashdance while at Princess Camp; eating roast lamb while decorating cookies; busting one hell of a move to dubious music videos on YouTube while uh, drinking wine; watching Veronica Mars while tweeting about how happy I was to be watching Veronica Mars.) I flew too close to the sun though and the price for all that fun was getting absolutely nothing whatsoever done, and achieving a really sore neck from dancing so hard. But a sore neck was worth it for how great it was hanging out with the best people all weekend (and, presumably, worth it for everyone to witness my sweet dance moves.)

And thanks, not just to cornbread, but to anyone who did keep reading. Panic attacks aren't the very worst thing in the world, but they're also not the greatest - that is, I'm not seeking out Elizabeth Wakefield-type shoulder squeezes here, but I'm not trying to brush it off as nothing - it just is what it is.
Title via: Company, one of my favourite musicals ever, and its mid-point showstopper Side By Side By Side. 
Music lately:

Grimes, Oblivion. Really pretty obsess-over-able.

Chic Gamine, Closer. I'm not a fan of their actual name but I'm such a sucker for growly vocal riffs and harmonies like these.
Next time: Apropos of nothing, it's my birthday next week! Whoa! Still working out what to do, but I'm hoping it involves more outrageous dancing to YouTube videos. This month is wildly busy though, might just have to have a very merry unbirthday later in the year...

4 April 2012

i've got caviar for breakfast, champagne every night

I was never excited by breakfast as a kid. Breakfast meant having to go to school, inevitably sitting round all day with wet shoes because there was this puddle right by the steps to my first classroom which never dried up, not even in the middle of summer (as far as my dramatic memory goes, anyway.) Later at boarding school, it meant not knowing where to sit, day after day of dry loveless cereals dampened with milk and choked down or eyeing up masses of pale, bulky margarine to be spread over pale, barely warmed toast. But: I appreciate that I've been lucky that whatever the financial situation was around me, not one single day has gone by that I haven't been assured breakfast. Even when Tim and I were first living together there was always bread for toast (a diabetic needs their carbs! And hey, thank goodness Tim isn't kept alive by like, caviar or truffle oil. Just simple, cheap carbs.)

There's good memories of breakfast too. Dad suggesting and then making canned corn on toast on a Saturday morning. Nana guiding me from the white sugar to over to the more thrillingly caramelly brown sugar to pour over my porridge when I was staying with her. And now I love it - going out for brunch with Tim (well, we have to as cafe reviewers, so bully for us) or slouching round together in the kitchen in the early hours with a cup of tea or coffee pretending for a while we don't actually have to leave the house and earn money. With this in mind, if you've got some time handy, nothing makes breakfast nicer than - of course - actually having something good to eat. Granola is an elegant solution. Robust and filling, but importantly delicious - depending on what you put in it - and the recipe's flexible. And best of all, once you've made it, you've got breakfast in five seconds, and all you have to wash up is a bowl and a spoon. No dishes at all if you just curl up with the jar and eat it by the handful till you're ready to carry on with your day.

I'd been meaning to make granola literally forever. Okay, just a month or two, but whatever, sometimes I find it fun to use words that make people huffy about correct usage. I don't mean harmful words that you say while also yelling "PC gone mad! PC gone mad!" as if it's some kind of shield that lets you be an awful person...I just mean acting the fool. Also contributing to this might be the Parks and Recreation character Chris Traegar who reminded me how satisfyingly useless the word "literally" is.

That said, this might not literally be granola. It's more muesli with granola aspirations. But aren't we all? Allegories aside, what I mean is: it's a little more free-flowing and not quite as tooth-challengingly clumpy as proper granola, but on the other hand it's nicer and cheaper than the stuff at the supermarket. If your cupboard is bare you'll need to spend a bit of money to get the ingredients, but fortunately most of them are fairly cheap and this batch will last you for ages.

This one has a one-two punch of grated apple and apple juice to impart crisp juicy flavour, cinnamon to make you feel warm and safe inside with every mouthful, and cashew butter for a bit of much-needed lusciousness. Ugh, I know, who has cashew butter? Well, I do - a Christmas present from my brother - and I wanted to use it in something specific. If you're given to making your own granola maybe it's not so difficult a pantry item after all, but if you don't have it within reach, you could use tahini of course, or even peanut butter, which will affect the flavour a little but only in a "made on a production line that also processes peanuts" kind of way, I presume. Or just leave it out!

Apple Cinnamon Granola

This makes HEAPS. Initially I just had to leave it in the roasting dish until I'd eaten some, because we didn't have a container big enough for it. Even now, several meals down, it's divided between two big containers.

3 cups rolled oats
2 cups wholegrain or "whole" oats
1 cup quinoa flakes
1 cup linseeds
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 1/2 cups dessicated coconut
1 cup brown sugar
2 large apples, grated (including skin)
2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon (to taste)
Pinch salt

2 heaped tablespoons cashew butter
2 heaped tablespoons golden syrup
1/2 cup apple juice

Set your oven to 100 C. Line your biggest roasting dish with a big sheet of baking paper. Mix together all the ingredients from rolled oats to salt directly in the mixing bowl itself, then place in the oven, stopping to stir about every ten minutes or so, for thirty to forty minutes.
Then, just when you think you've got away with not having to do any dishes, mix together the cashew butter, golden syrup, and apple juice till relatively smooth, and drizzle it over the roasting dish of oats. Don't worry about covering it all - just mix it through. This is going to create some cluster action. Return to the oven for ten minutes, then turn the oven off and leave it in there to cool. If this isn't an option - flatmate wants to roast a chicken or something - then just carrying on baking for another ten minutes after stirring it again.

The apple flavour is surprisingly subtle after all that, but the harmonious pairing with cinnamon brings it out further than it would be on its own. This has crunch and warmth and sweetness and is generally a beautiful way to start the day. Or have it for dinner. And use what you can find - add sesame seeds or pumpkin seeds if you have them, use demerara or white sugar, leave out the quinoa and add wheatgerm, whatever. It won't fail. It'll give you sunshine on a cloudy day.

We had a charming weekend away in Greytown, which I won't tell you much about since I'm going to be writing about it for the newspaper, but for now - just look at this kokako. All I knew about these glossy birds was gleaned from educational videos in school, where the main take-home message was: they are monumentally endangered. So to actually be able to see one at Pukaha Mt Bruce was pretty wonderful. We're gazing at this rare, precious bird quietly and respectfully through the mesh fence that protected it from the outside world, taking in the moment. Then it starts flirting with Tim. Yes. Tim got openly hit on by an endangered native bird. It shadowed him as he walked the perimeter of the enclosure, continually jumping up to cling onto the mesh by Tim's face and squawk at him plaintively. I was ignored entirely apart from this brief moment of eye contact between us in the photo above. Recognising a rival? Can't blame the kokako, really.

Oh yeah, and if you've got it, enjoy the Easter break! May I non-coyly recommend these Hot Cross Buns if you're in the market for making them this year?
Title via: Aretha Franklin's Evil Gal Blues, a cautionary tale where she not only belts it out, but also accompanies herself on piano. Formidable.

Music lately:

Under by Watercolours. Warming and chilling at the same time. Beautiful.

Sherie Rene Scott, the Broadway star who is on my list of "people who have made me cry even though they're only on a grainy YouTube video". One of my favourites is of her singing I Miss The Mountains in a very early workshop of what would become the musical Next To Normal. Maybe quite specifically because of her vibrato on "mountains" at 1:54 and the way she says "meeeeeeh-iss" at 2:25.

I've also been listening to a TON of podcasts (yeah, those things, I know, I only just got into Google Reader this year too) lately, if anyone has any they can recommend me then please go right ahead.

Next time: I am right in the middle of making pulled pork for the first time, and if it tastes even one tenth as good as it smells, I'll be one happy person. And therefore more likely to blog about it.