29 November 2013

i found my freedom on blueberry hill

Blueberry muffins may seem kinda basic, in every mean sense of the word. But there's no need to frown at yourself for making life as easy as possible. And sometimes all I want is something simple. I want a decent blueberry muffin recipe that's going to be fast to make, while being so much nicer than tough old cafe versions, yet reminding me how they became such a ubiquitous comestible. I have had no time or energy over the last ten days to blog - which makes me so frustrated but also there's not much I can do about it - so these muffins kinda fit where I'm at currently. Also, I should've known from the start that my queen Nigella Lawson would have a perfect recipe in her important book How To Be A Domestic Goddess.

While most of my tiredness and inability to blog is because of work, I did have a rather distracting and tiring weekend away with friends in New Plymouth. It's a five hour drive, which, in the burning summery heat that everyone but me loves, felt like ninety hours, and either way takes it out of you. Admittedly I was a passenger, knitting and drinking cider with a friend who was also a passenger, while Tim was doing allllll the driving, but the point is, I'm the hero here.

We were in New Plymouth for the annual NZ Tattoo and Art Festival, which was so much fun - okay, if there had been more food and air-con and more places to sit that would've been good, but apart from that: lovely. Everyone was friendly, there were older people and younger people and families with toddlers and children, really old people with tattoos and couples with no visible tattoos and people with full Ta Moko and people wearing head to toe leather or fancy dresses or whatever, really, and so many amazing tattoos and stunning artworks. It was all just rather non-judgemental and nice. There were artists from all over the world there, including the talented and babein' Lauren Winzer, whom I was highly thrilled to have booked for a beautiful tattoo. It was interesting lying there on a bench as hundreds of people walked past, but also oddly relaxed - the occasional thumbs up or smile from interested passers-by broke through the general blur and hum that they all melted into as I zoned out.

I could go on about tattoos, but all you really need to know about our weekend is that we saw a person walking two llamas, who were wearing leis, just casually down the street. As if walking a llama through town isn't whimsy enough, let's give them some flower garlands. And also that we spent our Saturday night knitting, laughing at the increasingly ridiculous mash-ups on the one terrible radio station we could find, wincing at our fresh stabs, and eating pizza. 

But blueberry muffins though: don't dismiss them. I forgot how tender homemade muffins are, like a cake but with none of the potential toughness of crumb that you can get - not to sound like the start of an infomercial, where some person in a black and white video is crying elaborately because their cake is too firm to eat easily - just buttery, soft, barely containing the juicy bursts of blueberry. And also ideal for freezing and taking to work and microwaving back to life as a day-embiggening snack.

Also...I'm not sure if you can work this out on your own or not, but don't feel like you have to use blueberries here. I mean, if you don't have them, you could always replace them with raspberries or diced apple or chocolate chips or even just leave everything out and add lots of cinnamon and vanilla. Don't be held back by your lack of blueberries.

blueberry muffins

from Nigella Lawson's important book How To Be A Domestic Goddess

75g melted butter
200g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
75g sugar
pinch salt
200ml buttermilk (or plain yoghurt, or milk and a teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar)
1 egg
200g blueberries (or thereabouts)

Set your oven to 200 C/400 F. Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases, or grease them confidently. 

In a mixing bowl, stir together all the dry ingredients. Tip in the buttermilk, the egg, and the blueberries, and carefully mix together as briefly as you can - I recommend using a spatula, to really dig everything together with the minimum of agitation. Equally, don't get nervous and just gently pat it or something, I mean, it needs to be mixed together. Just not beaten or whisked, you know? 

Spoon even quantities into each muffin hole and bake for around 15-20 minutes. These are perfect after about ten minutes of cooling, split and spread thickly with butter. 

They're gonna be all unevenly shaped, due to them being homemade and all, but the only problem this poses is "what's your strategy to grab the biggest one without looking too uncouth in front of your guests".

So wow, huh, thirty days hath November and all of a sudden we're at day thirty. Did you know that I have a cookbook? And that it would make a really great xmas present (or other seasonal holiday present, or indeed, just a "hi I think you're pretty excellent" present) for pretty much everyone you know? Including babies, who might as well get learning about pop culture references and halloumi early, and who can strengthen their gums by chewing on the softly embossed hardcover?

I'm not going to try and push it to the point of alienating you all, but it would be pretty foolish not to do it a little, right? I know this cookbook is amazing and I want it to be a ridiculous, life-changing success, and 'tis the season for buying stuff heedlessly.

(PS: in case you're wondering, my tattoo is at the bafflingly glamorous healing stage, where it's scabbed and itchy, but once it's healed you'll probably get to see it, if you like. I adore it, and while it's just one of many ways to express yourself, I rather love the feeling of being in control of my own skin and of it being a canvas - might as well, since there's so much of it, not going anywhere - and seeing little flashes of colour and beauty out of the corners of my eyes every day.)
title via: Fats Domino's Blueberry Hill, both mellow and sorrowful at the same time. And generally excellent. 
music lately:

Idina Menzel, Let it Go, from the new Disney movie Frozen. OH WOW. I mean, I'm never-not obsessed with her, but this song is amazing, and I feel like it could be - okay, not a new Defying Gravity. But it's really something. Just get through the first verse, which admittedly could just sound like any other things-are-about-to-get-heartfelt-here song. And then the chorus! Oh, the chorus.

Kanye West, Bound 2. Kimye 4 life! 
next time: hopefully it won't be another ten days till the next blog post. In fact, it definitely won't, if I have to wear my laptop like a jaunty hat. So that it's always there to take the opportunity to write on, I mean, not because I think that wearing my laptop on my head is the solution or anything.

17 November 2013

it's silly when we get into these crazy hypotheticals, you really want some bread then go ahead, create a set of goals

What's really nice is making friends with people to the point where, when you hang out with them, you can just as easily talk and talk and talk about everything there is as the minutes rush by, or sit in companionable, untroubling silence, just being in each other's presence. I haven't always had this in my life, so I'm never-not grateful that I now (and for quite a long time now)...do have this. If you've got such friendship, give yourself a triumphant high five, or better yet, high kick. If you don't, I don't know, don't try to force it on anyone but do your best to spend as much time with the people who make you feel most like yourself. Not that you guys need me to tell you that (did you also know that drinking water is good for you?) just didn't want to, you know, make anyone feel bad. In case I sounded way too smug, don't worry, there's a squillion things I could complain about, it's just interesting to be positive sometimes. Even in this particularly clunky way.

If you've noticed that the photos seem to be in a different place to my house, it means you're a diligent reader and there will be a tasteful sports car as a prize under your seat. But really, it's because I spent all day sprawling at my friend Kate's, where we talked about everything and sat in calm silence on our laptops and - in the ultimate friends-forever-with-hearts-dotting-the-i move, we had a nap together. It was pretty blissful. We also ate this coconut, raspberry and almond bread and butter pudding for brunch. Unfortunately you can't all have a friend that is Kate specifically, (it might be tiring for her) but hopefully you have some equally good friendly people in your life. If nothing else, you can definitely get this pudding with relative ease and certainly none of the potential fraughtness of human interaction.

It bakes into a rather impressive sight, all puffed and golden and studded with lipstick-pink raspberries but is truly simple - all you're doing is taking bread, pouring some stuff over, and half-assedly baking it for a while. It's like falling off a log (and not like "falling off a log...and into a ravine filled with ravenous hyenas and circling vultures," which was my super professional response when my manager asked how a particular task was going at work the other day. It's cool, we get on.)

raspberry, coconut and almond bread and butter pudding

Serves plenty. Ideal for breakfast. A recipe by myself. PS: dairy-free. 

1 french bread stick
1/2 cup frozen raspberries
5 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 can coconut cream
2 teaspoons cornflour
generous shake of cinnamon
pinch of salt
handful of almonds, roughly sliced

Slice the bread into rounds a couple of cm thick - mine fluctuated between 1.5 and 3cm - and arrange in a baking dish where they will fit snugly. Scatter the raspberries over the top, pushing some of them inbetween the slices of bread with your finger.

Mix together the eggs, sugar, coconut cream and cornflour, not particularly thoroughly, just till it's all incorporated. Evenly pour this over the bread slices, and allow to sit for half an hour. Sprinkle the almond slices over the top, and bake at 180 C/350 F for around 40 minutes or until puffy and golden. 

The rich, sweet coconut cream and sour little raspberries are excellent together, and at filling each slice of bread with their deliciousness. Don't be tempted to leave off the almonds, as their toasty crunch is pretty sublime, but you could use another nut instead if that's all you've got. It needs to sit for a while to allow the custard to sink into the bread, but the longer you leave it the less saucy it will be - whatever you do will be the right choice though.

Also leftovers are really wonderful fried in butter. Learned that one from Kate.

It was a rather quiet week, which was really nice - I need a lot of downtime doing nothing to counteract all the times I have to, you know, do things, and I enjoyed doing plenty of knitting and sitting and inhaling TV shows and such. In fact the most exciting thing that happened up until today was -

I got to hang out with a cat!

This cat! Suzie!

I'm at the stage now where cats are basically unicorns to me. (Quick summary: I love cats, landlord won't allow cats despite my very persuasive and brilliantly worded emails, a thousand times sigh.) So rarely do I see one, that every occurrence of cat in my life is thrilling to the point of overstimulation. The cat in the above picture belongs to my friend, who I hate-watched Glee with on Friday night (oh, Glee, you're doing more harm than good) and sadly scratched me after sitting on me for half an hour (the cat, not the friend) but it was still so fun! So cat! 

head boops!

Oh, and it would be remiss of me to not acknowledge how exciting it was that I also finally watched Fast and the Furious 6, which I've been calling 6 Fast 6 Furious for so long now that I had to google it to verify what the proper title is. It was bananas and hilariously fun and miraculously featured several cool women characters. And I will not be talked out of my theory that Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson's and Vin Diesel's characters are secretly in love with each other. 

Quiet though this week was, I still wish, increasingly more so every day, that I had more time to write and focus on this blog and my cookbook and everything I love. Sometimes I forget I even have the cookbook because I have no time to think about it or how I can get more people reading it, and it takes all my energy just to get one blog post a week happening. There are so many projects and ideas and shenanigans I'd love to work on but there is just no time. But - at least there's leftover bread and butter pudding to take to work for lunch tomorrow. 
title via 96,000, from the musical In The Heights, by literal genius Lin-Manuel Miranda. Long title today, but that rhyme pleased me. 
music lately:

Rilo Kiley, I Never. This song is really special. You should listen to it. Obviously, otherwise I wouldn't be talking about it here.

Salt'n'Pepa, Shoop. Few better songs for both dancing to and also driving round town on a hot afternoon to. Okay, there's heaps of songs to fit that description, but this is working for me currently.
Next time: Sounds a bit dull, but I made some blueberry muffins and they were really good. So...maybe them?

13 November 2013

feet don't fail me now, take me to the finish line

Pride (hey there, purple-socked-feet of mine)

Pride goes before a fall. It's not a saying I like, firstly because why can't we just wallow in being proud of stuff sometimes, and secondly because I fall over plenty without the help, nay, the luxury of pride (just yesterday I fell up some stairs.) It's a biblical quote anyhow, and as I'm fascinated by religion but not religious, I guess I can use the old "you're not my real mom!" comeback here too.

the fall (this was supposed to be...cookies.)

In case none of that made sense what I'm saying is that I not only screwed up these amazing pretzel chocolate chunk cookies that I'd planned to make, blog about smugly, and then take to work to make snacking under fluorescent lighting in front of a spreadsheet less bleak...I also, after I had been so pleased with my sleeping progress last time, had a terrible night's sleep, then this entire week have been far too drowsy to blog. It's a little harsh knowing that the world actually isn't going to fall off its axis if I don't update this blog as immediately as I'd like, but I have so little time and try really hard to keep this ticking over while having a full-time job and it frustrates me to my core if I can't do that. So. Plenty of pride going before falling this week.  

But you can't catch me, mere idiom, because here I am, just awake enough to put my hands on the keyboard and make words and with teeth probably about to float away like the fairy-light seeds of a dandelion from eating almost all of the failed cookie dough which, when frantically spatula'd into a pie dish and baked, made at first a huge puffy mess, but after some healing time and investigative forking, the most delicious, fudgy, crisp, caramelly cookie pie thing.

Also I made some dinner that night and that worked, even though it's really just putting some vegetables into the oven for a bit I would not have been surprised by that point if they'd turned out rubbish, too. Not only did dinner merely not fail, it in fact tasted excellent.

I don't know precisely which element of this recipe made the eggplant so meltingly delicious - was it the marinating? The slow cooking? Witchcraft? Either way, I got thinking that it might be fun to marinate slices of eggplant before putting them in the oven, so that their spongy interiors could soak up as much flavour and olive oil as possible, which would then intensify in a slow, warm oven, and then get a little caramelised and crisp-edged with a final blast of heat. Whatever: it worked. While this would certainly make a pleasing side (and you can obviously increase quantities based on numbers that you're feeding) Tim and I had it on its own, on top of some couscous. It was terrific.

kinda-marinated eggplant with lemon, paprika, cumin, olive oil and asparagus

A recipe by myself. It's not cookies, but the price is right. Also, serves two. 

1 eggplant
juice of half a lemon (or all the lemon, if it's a pain to just use half)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
three or so tablespoons olive oil
a handful of asparagus
more olive oil

Slice the eggplant into rounds, about 1cm thick. Layer them in the base of a roasting dish and squeeze the lemon juice over them evenly, then sprinkle the spices on top and pour on the olive oil. Leave to sit for ten minutes. Bake at 160 C for half an hour, then lay the asparagus on top, pour over some more olive oil if you like, and turn up the heat to 200 C. Roast for another 20 or so minutes, till the asparagus looks a little wizened and the eggplant is a toasty brown colour. 

If you can stand the wait, the eggplant is spectacular when just merely warm, not hot. All salty and dissolving and shot through with the gentle heat of paprika and cumin and just so good.

This is not exactly a useful photo of the eggplant dish, but my house was looking really cute in the background so I indulged it. Houses can't take selfie photos so I was just being a good tenant. 

Some other nice, non-failure-y things that have happened lately:

So important. If you haven't read Hyperbole and a Half, the blog from which this book emerged, be kind to yourself and spend all day reading it from front to back. It's everything.

Tim went up to visit his mum and bring home the car we bought off TradeMe (yes, we bought a car, no, the nausea-inducing credit card debt is definitely, definitely worth it, oh yes definitely?) and apparently his mum had some wool she no longer needed and thought I might enjoy. This was my reaction. Snug life! He also brought me back some peonies from her garden after I shrieked at him via txt message that they were the rarest unicorn of them all and like seventeen dollars each in a shop. They've mostly stayed alive, which is a small triumph against nature and capitalism and also really pretty. 

And even though I had a bad night's sleep, while it was happening I felt a lot more calm and relaxed than I used to, and have managed to get myself back on track so that I am, you know, sleeping at night like a human again. And I even managed to finish this blog post. There is a good chance I'll fall over today, but it sure won't stop me being proud of these things (or taking things very literally it seems, I know 'fall' has a broader meaning in this context but...I literally fall over a lot.)
title via: might as well get a case of the morbs with Lana Del Rey's Born To Die. I love this song so much.  
music lately: 

Rick Ross ft Lil Wayne, 9 Piece. I really enjoy a shouty chorus.

Aaliyah, If Your Girl Only Knew. Sigh. Oh, Aaliyah.

Good Morning, from Singin' in the Rain: my desire to watch re-re-rewatch this movie burns with the heat of a thousand french fries.
next time: might even try playing with that failed cookie recipe to see if I can turn it into the caramelly pie it almost became. 

5 November 2013

honey you are my shining star, don't you go away

Guess who has been sleeping through the night for the last couple of days? Actually, that question deserves an interrobang to imply the high stakes at, um, stake here: ME. I know. The universe even rewarded me with a really, really good dream about Pretty Little Liars (hello, obsessed, get in touch if you want to talk about it indepth) but then took that back with a dream about being ignored by friends, but the point is, both of these things were entirely fictional dreams, which took place in my head, while I was asleep. In case you haven't caught up, or are wondering why I'm about to stage a medal ceremony to myself in honour of doing something that most people manage to get on with calmly and without ceremony...Insomnia. I have been in the thick of it for the last month, and it's such an immense relief to get back to my usual six hours. I was starting to not feel like myself. It was scary. 

In an entirely more delightful form of scary, Tim and I had a Hallowe'en party at our house on Saturday night. (I feel compelled to tell you that those are his old Goosebumps books in the above picture, not mine: strictly serialised fiction about Teen Girls Making Their Way In The World for me, thank you. I only read Goosebumps when I was at the reading-the-side-of-the-cereal-box stage of being desperate to consume words. Yep, glad we got that straight.) There was an excellent amount of candy, there was popcorn, and there were other foods that fell into the crispy/salty/crunchy/alcohol absorbing venn diagram, like chips and pretzels and these cheese stars that I made.

Despite being all, hello I'm a cookbook author, I tend to keep this kind of party food low-key. People need feeding, they're not necessarily going to remember everything that was there unless it was awful, now's not the time to be stuffing grape halves with tender figs and goat cheese. Lots of candy, lots of carbs. Make like, one thing from scratch so you look like a good person who cares. Me, I not only made these cheese stars, I also made hokey pokey. Because I'm an awesome person who really cares (yes, your level of greatness/compassion grows exponentially like that with each dish.)


If anyone knows about party food, or in fact anything at all (I'd certainly like to hear her opinion on Pretty Little Liars) it's Nigella Lawson. I knew I could trust her recipe for cheese stars to be calmly simple, and exactly the sort of thing that people want to eat while clutching a plastic cup of homebrew. 

I'm going to say something very serious now: do not eat the dough. You might want to, and I understand that, I live this, but truly, the baked goods are a zillion times more delicious, and you're going to be resentful of yourself for smiting a morsel of dough that could have become another star. 

Cheese Stars

A recipe from Nigella Lawson's seminal text How To Eat. They can of course be any shape, and I did intend to use all my cookie cutters on this pliant dough. But the thought of all those strange shapes mixed up displeased me, whereas a dish full of little golden stars was endlessly pleasing. 

You really, absolutely need a food processor for this one. I'm sorry. 

200g grated cheese (Nigella says cheddar, I used the one on special)
50g softish butter
100g flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Set your oven to 180 C/350 F and put a sheet of baking paper on an oven tray.

Place all the ingredients in the food processor and blitz till they come together. This will take a while, and it will look like they're just going to be fine little crumbs forever, but it will suddenly sieze up and spring together in more of a solid mass. Remove the dough, form into a thick, roughly disc-like shape, wrap in glad wrap and refrigerate for fifteen minutes. 

Roll it out to a couple of millimeters thick - I find it useful to do this with half the dough at a time - and cut into stars or however you like. The dough will get more and more easy to roll the more you do it, and can be re-rolled plenty. Bake the stars for around ten minutes. Carefully transfer to a rack of some kind - they'll get crisper as they cool.

They taste like pastry, like the flakiest golden buttery shards of pastry from a croissants underbelly, like the spatters of cheese that bubble and go hard on the toasted sandwich maker and which are almost more delicious than the sandwich itself, and, after a few drinks, like the most rapturously sublime foodstuff in the world, basically. Thanks, Nigella.

I dressed as Myrtha, Queen of the Willis, from the ballet Giselle. Google her, she's wonderful. But the short explanation is that she's kind of a misandry ghost queen ballerina. Tim's costume was split down the middle - a man in a suit on one half, a woman in a dress on the other. It was impressively committed. And spurred on a lot of impassioned conversations about how ridiculous it is that men don't wear dresses and have makeup marketed to them and so on and so forth. It was a riotously fun party, and it was so great having the house full of excellent people laughing and dancing and mingling with varying levels of aplomb and swapping costumes and everything, really.

A couple of nights of actual sleep hasn't made up for weeks and weeks of near-sleeplessness, but I'm starting to feel more and more like myself. And as I more or less think myself is amazing (self-doubt and self-importance make strange bedfellows) this is a good thing.
title via: supreme slow jam Shining Star, by The Manhattans. 
music lately:

Terribly, terribly sad about Lou Reed now being the late Lou Reed. When I worked in a German bakery when I was 19, I used to play Venus In Furs over and over, very loudly. To the perhaps justifiable concern of my employers whenever they dropped in.

Demi Lovato, Give Your Heart A Break. I love her so much and this song is perfection. So.
Next time: something that doesn't need a food processor, I promise.