For all that I'm really messy, inside and out, and will spend long stretches of time putting my nailpolish bottles into order by colour spectrum while ignoring, say, the dishes, every now and then I can really Get It Together and Be Organised.
Every year, commencing 2006, I've held a big dinner party for flatmates and friends, which started as a way to toast ourselves and do something nice together before we all part ways for the summer. And that's how it continued, because it's a pretty decent concept that doesn't require messing with. Last year Tim and I couldn't have one because we'd just moved house and everything felt too difficult, but I feel like a good tradition should be malleable and flourish, rather than rigid and immoveable.
And then, because why be merely fancy when you could be fancy in italics, Kate helped embiggen everything with her beauteous hand-made menus and table-setting ideas. It was dreamy, which is my favourite way for things to be or have been or have potential to be.
I was proud of myself at how it all worked out - it was a very last-minute fandango, but I managed to cook everything myself (including FOUR KILOS of pork belly, I mean really) and have it all appear ready to eat at a reasonable hour. Which may not sound like rocket science, but y'know, my oven is small while my ambitions are sky-high.
Speaking of, every year I use this as an opportunity to make a significant pudding. Like the year I made Baked Alaska. This year's concept was not as impressive as I'd have liked, but luckily my concept of "not as impressive as I'd liked" is a bit like my concept of "corporate, office-friendly clothes" - quite, quite different to most other people's.
So: berry ice cream pavlova layer cake! Two hastily thwacked-together discs of meringue, some insta-ice cream, and some preturnaturally glossy red pomegranate seeds, and you have yourself a rather fascinatingly-textured and terrifically-flavoured and most crucial of all, monumentally instagrammable pudding.
I know, pavlova is not necessarily that simple, but the good thing about this is that you can be a lot more confident about the making and baking, since it's going to be buffered up with ice cream and covered in icing sugar and it doesn't matter in the slightest if it cracks or deflates or, heck, breaks in two, because everything can be squished back together.
While my patriotism at the level of "New Zealand, it's okay I GUESS" it is nice to graciously nod to the classic pavlova and time of year that xmas falls upon - high summer! - with this cold, fruity confection. You can use an electric beater, obviously, but all I have is a whisk and I managed just fine, and there's nothing like standing in your underwear on a humid day furiously whisking egg whites to a stiff meringue to make you feel tantamount to Xena, Warrior Princess.
berry ice cream pavlova layer cake
a recipe by myself. It looks complicated but that's just because I'm the hand-holding type (hand-holding sounds much nicer than micro-management, yeah?) You could use cream or yoghurt instead of coconut milk but now it's entirely dairy-free, which seems to suit a lot of people I know, so hurrah!
4 egg whites
1 teaspoon cornflour
2 teaspoons lemon juice or white vinegar
2 cups frozen berries (I used a packet of frozen mixed berries since they were cheapest, but plain frozen strawberries would be rad)
1/2 a can (although possibly more) coconut milk
Set your oven to 160 C/320 F and line a baking tray with baking paper. Using a 20cm caketin, or your own circle-drawing prowess, trace two circles on this sheet of baking paper. It doesn't matter if they're very close together.
In a very clean, non-plastic bowl, whisk the egg whites briskly with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form. This means that the egg whites will be foamy and thickened, but not shiny, and when you lift the whisk up some mixture rises up with it but sinks back down into the bowl - if that makes sense.
Continue whisking, despite your sore arms, and as you do this, slowly add the sugar a tablespoon or so at a time. The mixture will thicken and get shiny and bright white, continue whisking in the sugar and as hard as you can until the mixture is stiff and when you lift up the whisk, the mixture follows but stays quite still. Spread the mixture evenly between the two circles you've drawn on the baking paper, piling up the meringue mix and then smoothing it out so that they're fairly evenly flat on top. You can be pretty aggressive with the mixture by this stage, so don't worry.
Place this in the oven and bake for around an hour, although check at 40 minutes - it should look firm and dry and a little browned. Turn the oven off and allow the pavlovas to slowly cool in there, although I admit, I got impatient and took them out after half an hour of cooling.
To serve, place one pavlova half on a pretty plate. Blast the frozen berries and coconut milk together in a food processor till they turn into a magical purple ice cream. Spoon/spread this immediately on top of the pavlova on the plate, and top with the other pavlova. Dust with icing sugar to cover any inevitable cracks and pile on some pomegranate seeds if you've got 'em, although fresh strawberries, raspberries, or simply more icing sugar would also be rad.
It may just be all the Poinsettia (fizzy white wine, cranberry juice, Cointreau) that I'd allowed myself to consume by this point, but this was damn spectacular. There's something deliciously fun about the soft, dissolvingly sugary crispness of room temperature pavlova against creamy, freezing, tart berry ice cream. The juicy crunch of pomegranate seeds on top provides further antidote to all the sweetness, while still being friendly with the berry flavours in the ice cream. And they look SO pretty. The pavlova layers are a little bit of a pain to slice through, but by the time people get to pudding they're not going to mind a hasty scoop of this in a paper bowl.
It was a wonderful, happy, lovely night. We listened to old xmas records and ate candy canes and talked good talk and also amassed a large pile of food brought by everyone to drop off at the foodbank. Even though I was a little oddly apprehensive that I was being pushy and annoying at trying to make this happen, perhaps mostly because everyone's so busy this time of year and frankly a lot of my reasons for doing this are highly selfish, it was just a dreamy, excellent night and I'm so glad it happened.
And then on Saturday I went on a wedding dress shopping montage! Mostly with Kate, although I was joined by Kim later, with a cameo from Sarah-Rose, and man it was a strange but amazing day. Something about trying on dresses to get married in - I mean, I could marry Tim in the next five minutes very casually and not think twice about it, yet I could hardly look at myself in the mirror while trying on these beautiful dresses and when asked what occasion I was shopping for, I was all "a wedding...mine...pretty much..."
I did dally with the idea of a black wedding dress but ultimately what I was really wanting is just EVERY glorious dress I tried on. You'd think I'd get used to vicarious thrills sometime since there are so many in my life, but nope. There's a particular ache at trying on a perfect garment then sadly putting it back on the rack.
I've narrowed it down to two and a half potential definites, and if you're curious, I don't care if Tim or indeed all of the internet sees the dress before the wedding, but I do - now - want something very pale or white. Basically, it was a weekend as swoony as swoony can be, and I'm very pleased with that, even though now that it's Monday it all feels like a million half-remembered dreams ago...
title via: Placebo's moodily terrific Taste In Men.
Planet Z, Idina Menzel. Admittedly my love for her and my fondness for her early music is perhaps more boundless than most, but if there's a song more bonkersly endearing and mid-nineties than this then I'll probably listen to that too.
Frosty the Snowman, Fiona Apple. Have I said the word dreamy too many times in this post? I care not. This is the dreamiest.
Next time: I'm gonna make a list of every recipe I know that is good for xmas presents and so on and so forth and it will be ever so much fun!