29 April 2014

shorty get down, good lord

Whether or not I want it - and I think I do - I am definitely more of a "why on earth did I do that" person than a "what if, why didn't I do that" person. Hamlet, in the movie Hamlet (and also the play: Hamlet) goes on a lot about thought vs action and much as I'm like "goddamn Hamlet be nicer to Ophelia, she knows cool facts about flowers and doesn't need your bad attitude", I do get why thought vs action is such a huge theme of the play. As I discussed with dear-dear-dear Kate yesterday, it's hard to reconcile long-term planning vs short-term dirtbag heedlessness. I love planning things, having lofty goals to look towards, building anticipation and hope and excitement and so on. But sometimes it seems like I just make plans so huge and lofty simply so it won't be considered unreasonable if I never actually achieve them. I also am hugely impulsive and really enjoy being talked into things in the moment, act now and see what happens and worry about it later. I guess I approach life like it's a window, that I've spent a long time learning how to open carefully and slowly so it doesn't break, but then at the last minute, impatiently refusing to wait, I punch a hole in it and leap through to whatever might be on the other side, fragments and splinters of glass twinkling in my hair like diamonds (it's my metaphor and I'll twinkle if I want to.) 

By which I more or less mean: I got impatient halfway through making these shortcakes and kind of screwed them up. 

They still taste excellent, and there's every chance they'll succeed for you, and they look fairly cute, so I figured I'd blog about them anyway. Also as a sort of penance, as if making myself blog about this will teach me for not paying attention, maybe this time. 

In my defense, the recipe is from my Momofuku cookbook, and those recipes can be straight up fussy. Like, make an enormous cake, take a tablespoon of it and throw the rest away, then layer it with five other different cake batters and baste it for thirty hours and then store in an ice bath and then grill briefly before throwing it all away and serving the remaining crumbs or something. They are also recipes deeply ingrained with amazing technique, respect for tradition, playfulness, inventiveness, and deliciousness. I just often find that like haircuts, they're better done by someone else. These shortcakes are one of the more simple recipes in the book, and I know exactly where I went wrong - I got impatient and added too much liquid, when I should've just let it be and allow the dough to absorb all it needed while it was resting. The result being, the shortcakes spread out hugely, making one large nebulous mass. At first I wanted to fling kitchen appliances into a ravine with frustration, but then I looked at them again and figured I could salvage them easily enough. So here we are.

By the way, my limited understanding is that shortcakes are supposed to be sort-of cakelike and sort-of scone-shaped, small and puffy, and delicately smooshed around whatever filling you like. Comparatively, my shortcakes are kind of longcakes, but they still taste good when sandwiched around thick plain yoghurt and strawberries that have been saucily sitting in icing sugar. And I have no doubt that if you just pay more attention than me, they'll turn out perfectly. But isn't it comforting to know that even hastily screwing them up still more or less works? To the point where I maybe haven't learned a lesson about the importance of methodically thinking things through at all?

strawberry shortcakes, potentially not-so-short though.

Adapted just barely from the Momofuku cookbook.

1 large egg
just under 1/2 cup cream
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch salt
125g butter, cold, cubed
3 tablespoons vegetable shortening (I used coconut oil) 
1/2 cup icing sugar, for dusting

Okay, bear with me: crack the egg into a half cup measuring cup. Stir it so that the white and yolk are thoroughly incorporated, then remove about a tablespoon of this egg, throw it in the sink or whatever, and pour cream into this measuring cup till it's full. It just is what it is, okay?

Luckily the next bit is easy. Stir together all the dry ingredients, then add the butter and shortening and use your fingers to rub it all into the flour, or alternatively pulse it in a food processor for a bit or use a cake mixer if you've got one. Going by hand is simple enough, as you only need to get the fat more or less into the flour and sugar - you can stop once it's looking gravelly and rubbly with lots of pea-sized bits of butter and shortening. Tip in the egg-cream mixture and stir to bring it together, mixing it as briefly and as little as possible. Leave to sit for ten minutes. Don't be tempted to add more liquid, it will all come together as it sits.

Use a spoon to scoop out dough and form into rough ball shapes - about two tablespoons or so per shortcake - which should make around eight to ten, then refrigerate them for at least half an hour but you could leave them overnight if you like. Then, bake at 180 C/350 F for about 15 minutes on two different trays or in batches, because they need room to spread. 

Allow to cool, then do what you like with them. I sandwiched pairs together with really thick plain yoghurt and frozen strawberries that had been defrosting in a pile of icing sugar. 

Buttery, tender, cakey yet cookie-esque, crumbling into cold yoghurt and absorbing sweet red strawberries. These are amazing. Who knows, maybe they would've been too good if they'd actually worked out how they were supposed to? I know it's pretty much winter now and strawberries are completely out of season, but I wanted Strawberry Shortcake and frozen berries are pretty cheap and there's just something about that lemonade-sweet berry against the tender shortcakes that is rather magic.

I mean, you could use any fruit you want, and whipped cream instead of yoghurt, but this particular combination is a plateful of sunshine on a cold rainy day. (Side note: it has been very cold and rainy lately.)

to be or not to be? Thanks darlin' Sarah-Rose for the birthday banner.

Last time I wrote here, it was the day before my birthday and also my final day at my then-job. I had a more wonderful and happy birthday than I dared hope, to be honest, it was just nonstop lovely. I am still looking for a job (hi!) but cannot fling my arms wide open enough to express how much more mellow and unstressed and happy I am to be wilfully unemployed right now. I spent the last week doing some Hard Relaxing, and am now ready to actually blog as much as I initially insisted I would.

Other than that, I have been knitting, getting a small crescent moon tattoo on my shin, home-dying my eyebrows, working on being businesslike with my new freedom, organising sponsors for this blog, trying to be as kind and full of love to myself as possible, inventing new recipes, and getting used to being 28 (especially considering last year for about six months I thought I already was 28? Maths, hey!)
title from: Blackstreet, No Diggity. I'm cool that Pitch Perfect got people saying "oh wow that's right that song was amazing" because for the first time since 1996 I hear this song allllll the time and couldn't be happier. 
music lately:

Uffie, Hot Chick. Obnoxious as hell stuff that I was really into in 2006/2007 and damn it, I still am. But also she released this truly amazing song called Difficult a few years later that I've been listening to a lot too.

Eartha Kitt, I Wanna Be Evil. Was there ever a better title? Her voice is so fascinating and gorgeous and every fraction of every movement she did, every flicker of her face or flourish of her hands was so full of power too.

Janine and the Mixtape, Hold Me. Have been pretty obsessed with this dreamy song since I first heard it, but especially right now, and there's a new music video for it, so...yay!
next time: a recipe that I can actually make, what with me being a food blogger and cookbook author and all, yeah? 

15 April 2014

girls girls get that cash, if it's nine to five or shaking that ass

Every winter I forget how to take photos when it's dark outside, but decided I liked the mysterious moody what's-her-story vibe that I ended up getting from these ones. 

Tomorrow is my last day of work. The day after that is my birthday. Let's face it, I am both commanding and exuding some serious special snowflake-ness right now. 

With that in mind - the sentence could actually end there, like, just always keep in mind that I am a special snowflake, but actually I did have more to say than that - I have installed a donate button, just on the offchance that anyone feels like supporting me fiscally. Then, after Easter, I'm going to start featuring sponsors. Sponsors being the elegant blogger word for advertising.

This may make my blog seem less authentic or more cluttered to you or something, but honestly, everything is advertising. Why, I'm advertising myself right now just by getting you to read these words. Furthermore, money is useful and nice, and I'm sure you can relate to that.

Don't for one second feel like you're obliged to click the donate button, it's mostly there in case some opportunistic rich person looking to burn through some cash just to feel something real happens to wander past and like what they see. It simply doesn't hurt to have it there. I adore this blog and while I'd love it to be my primary source of income...somehow...I've been more than happy thus far to throw myself at it with every resource I have. But considering I've been writing it since 2007, and again, I'm going to be unemployed from 5pm tomorrow, I am entirely chill with my new gimme-the-loot attitude. Plus I'm only going to be collaborating with lovely, cool sponsors, in case you're worried that you'll start seeing ads for margarine.

And so, to the food. I made up this recipe in my head as I wandered around the vege market on Sunday. Considering I'd been kept up till 3am on both Friday and Saturday night by fun and good times, I feel I definitely deserve a bouquet of flowers for just being able to put on pants and make decisions like this. But honestly, it's barely a recipe, it's just vegetable A on vegetable B on vegetable C, and what motivated it was the freezing weather and the thought of having the oven on for a long time to warm up both the house and the soul. 

I tend to blast eggplant with as high a heat as possible, but figured that slow-cooking might break it down in an equally appealing way. And, forever keeping texture in mind, I decided that it needed some kind of contrast, which is where the fried cauliflower comes in. It was all very easy, it worked, and it tasted wonderful. By the way, you can arrange the eggplant and butternut however you feel. My alternating slices felt more pleasing than typical lasagne-style layers, but it all gets covered in cauliflower and falls apart when you spoon it onto your plate.  If you still need to arrange them really specifically even with this in mind, I can most definitely respect that. 

slow roasted eggplant and butternut with fried cauliflower 

recipe by myself. 

1 large butternut
2 medium eggplants, or one large one, or literally whatever
1/3 cup cream
1/2 cup vegetable stock
olive oil
half a cauliflower
thyme leaves

Set your oven to 160 C. Slice the eggplant and butternut into rounds. This will be harder with the butternut, just do what you can. I had lots of half-moon scraps that I just tucked underneath everything else. Layer them up how you please, pour over the cream, the stock, and plenty of olive oil - a good couple of tablespoons - and roast for two hours, although check at one and a half if you're impatient. 

Melt at least 25g butter in a pan till it's sizzling. Roughly slice the cauliflower florets into tiny pieces and fry in the butter, not stirring too much, till they are all dark brown and crisp and crunchy. Remove the dish from the oven, sprinkle the cauliflower over evenly and scatter with thyme leaves. Serve immediately, because the cauliflower will lose its crunch if you leave it sitting too long. Oh and PS, you could replace the cream with more stock and the butter with more olive oil if you want to make this vegan/dairy-free.

I was nervous before I started eating it that I'd somehow failed at putting vegetables in the oven. The liquid hadn't reduced down much and some of the eggplant looked unpromisingly undercooked. But I was wrong. Which means I was actually right in the first place. The bottom layers slowly absorb the stock, and it was all excellent: butternut softer than the plush underside of an expensive persian cat, yieldingly silky eggplant, buttery nutty popcorn-crisp cauliflower. You can add a zillion more things to this - mustard, nuts, more cream, more herbs, spices, bla bla bla, but I felt like being lazy and letting the flavour of the vegetables shine. Plus there's butter, and sometimes that's all you need.

As I said, the liquid doesn't reduce down very much, so ideally you'd serve this over rice or couscous, or just something that can absorb it all and which you can squash the butternut into with the prongs of your fork. But just as is: super cool.

I feel like I say this a lot lately, but thanks for the kindness following my mega-bleak post last week. While I'd like for you to not have to worry about me (apart from in the "is Laura famous enough yet? Whatever can I do to make this happen? Let's talk about our top 25 favourite instagrams of hers" kind of way) it also doesn't sit right with me to be falsely perky simply to attempt to reassure you. It's not like I'm the only person going through stuff here, I just happen to be very open about it on the internet.

Who could possibly be falsely perky while eating pizza while wearing pizza socks? Admittedly I always get some existential angst going on around my birthday - about how I have this one day, and I have to make it the best it can be and not waste a second and have the time of my life and have I achieved anything lately and so on, but am hoping I can trick this one into being low-key yet excellent. Could also go for dramatically excellent, as long as there's some excellence involved.
title via: feminist icon, rap icon, general icon Missy Elliot dispensing sound financial advice in her song Work It. "Ain't no shame ladies do your thing, just make sure you're ahead of the game."
music lately: 

PJ Harvey, My Good Fortune. This song has been with me a long time and remains so, so good with that zig-zag guitar riff and the ey-ey-ey-ey stretching out of the words that is so perfect for dancing to.

Patsy Cline, Walkin' After Midnight. This song is everything.

Trip Pony featuring Jaykin, Daze. Dreamy dreamy dreamy.
next time: hopefully things will be looking even further upwards, and I can get some cool baking done over the easter break. 

10 April 2014

memory falling like cream in my bones

Barbados Cream and coffee for breakfast. 

Sometimes there's ups, sometimes there's downs. Sometimes this happens all within one day, but this week is undeniably down. I'm learning very, very reluctantly that life is not like a movie where you get like, one shopping montage where everything's fun and one sad montage where you learn your lesson and then everything's fine afterwards. Nor does processing the stuff happening in your life move in an upwards diagonal line, sometimes it's more like a hexagon shape with a star in the middle and flames shooting out one side.

Sorry to be bleak, but I feel like I've been pretty admirably lively for someone whose life has just changed in a million different ways, so, y'know. It's okay to not be okay. It's that weird thing where I'm like - this is my blog and I want to be honest! But don't worry about me! But I want some people to be concerned but I don't want to burden others! But I'm still getting out of bed! But things really are tough! And so on into infinity, by which time most people have stopped paying attention anyway because despite my suspicions, I know I'm not the only person on this earth with Stuff Going On.

I find old-school Nigella Lawson very, very comforting - I'd still protectively defend her and celebrate her till my feet bleed (I imagine there's impassioned dancing involved to prove my point) but like Mariah Carey, she was at her absolute perfect best in the early years. Reading How To Eat, that seminal text, that important book, makes me feel like everything will be okay. And also, quite importantly, like cooking. This Barbados Cream isn't actually cooking in the slightest, but I had the tail-end of a container of yoghurt to use, and so I bought a bottle of cream (sooo financially sound right now) to make this small, intriguing recipe.

It's just yoghurt and cream mixed together, lightly blanketed in brown sugar, and left overnight in the fridge. It's a recipe of Nigella's grandmother, which explains a lot about it - a recipe from back when you could serve someone a bowl of formless cream for pudding and give it an uneasily "exotic" name and have people applaud you as an exemplary and sophisticated hostess. Personally, I think it makes a better breakfast.

barbados cream 

This is my slight adaptation of Nigella's recipe from How To Eat, all I've done is have a tutu with the proportions to make it suitable for just one person. 

1/2 cup (125ml) really thick plain yoghurt, Greek or Greek-style or otherwise. I don't like being stern, but this will be nasty if you use anything less tensile than a memory foam pillow. 
1/2 a cup (125ml) cream (just cream, no yoghurt-style rants here)
1 tablespoon or so of brown sugar

Whisk together the cream and yoghurt in a bowl till thickened enough that you can trail said whisk through the mixture and it will leave lines in the cream behind it. If that makes sense? This will happen quite quickly, after a minute or so. Spatula all this into a 250ml capacity ramekin or pretty trinket-y bowl, evenly sprinkle over the brown sugar, cover in gladwrap and refrigerate overnight. 

The next day, or after a suitably, unfairly long waiting time: eat. 

The sugar melts into the creamy yoghurt, getting fudgily crystallised but also saucily absorbed, giving a smoky swirl of butterscotch with every mouthful. Cream and thick yoghurt are both delicious, no further elaboration needed there. In fact the aggressive simplicity of these ingredients is what makes this so damn good. Especially first thing in the morning with an equally selfish plunger of coffee for one.

Seriously, the butterscotch-toffee-caramel family of flavours is the best thing on earth, yes?

Here's what's been happening in my life lately:

New stabs! Brooke at Tattoo Machine is incredible. And it has healed up with such amazing speed that I've been going round conspiratorially asking "am I a vampire though?" every time I show it to someone.

Been watching lots of ballet on youtube. Swan Lake is excellently bleak and beautiful and the music gets to me right in my heart and my temples. And, as they sing in A Chorus Line, "everything was beautiful at the ballet, raise your arms and someone's always there..."

These amazing sunglasses arrived with terrible timing, not least because it has continuously rained all week.

And, I baked a seven-layer rainbow cake for a wonderful friend's birthday. It was fun, and it looked spectacular, but uh, no-one else gets to ask me to do that for a long, long time. 

Speaking of birthdays, it's mine in one week's time. I wouldn't mind if I could put it off for a month, since I always overthink birthdays with this whole "it has to be a really good wonderful perfect day" stressful attitude that I'm bringing to the table, but it is going to happen, and if nothing else - it will also be my first day after leaving my current job. So far I've been turned down from two jobs that I've applied for (it's the strangest thing, like, it happens to everyone but it's still so you-didn't-want-me? demoralising) but am keeping my fingers crossed that I land on my feet. I'm also applying for more jobs, in case just keeping my fingers crossed doesn't sound like a very sensible strategy.

That said, I really am just keeping my fingers crossed that everything works out okay. Hope is a powerful thing, and if you've got it, you've got to hold it tight. Oh my gosh, not to sound inspirational or anything, but seriously: hope is nice, right?
title comes from: Elegie, by Patti Smith. It sounds like it's from a musical, and also it's so upfrontedly miserable and sad. So, naturally, I like it. (Also I can dance frantically and joyfully to Horses/Land of a Thousand Dances from this same album in case you're like "okay Laura I get it. Bleak.") 
music lately: 

Lennon and Maisy, Love. These two girls are so talented and happy and this song is so sweet and happy and adorable and wise and yeah.

Ellie Goulding, Anything Could Happen. It makes me feel happy and like the title is...something true.
Next time: still getting to know the kitchen at my new house, so...anything could happen.

5 April 2014

i should tell you: anika moa

Well hello there, and welcome to volume sixteen of I Should Tell You. Where I ask cool musicians some questions about food, just to see if they'll answer, really. That's literally how this segment started: I was like, I wonder if I just ask some people to do this...if they might say yes. And then I did lots and lots of fun interviews and then somehow it zoomed from July 2013 to April 2014, like some kind of stretch of time passing where both large eventful things happen but also I low-key procrastinate and am disorganised. Life!

But, I am so pleased to be bringing it back by talking to the talented, comely, and excellent Anika Moa.

I have loved Anika Moa's music ever since hearing her debut song Youthful in 2001 in the car on the way to a family reunion in Ngaruawahia, and thinking "ugh I relate to this so much" without even really quite knowing what I was listening to. She just keeps getting better and better and if you're completely unfamiliar with her back catalogue I recommend jumping round like you're playing elastics on your lunch break at primary school, with gorgeous songs like Mother and Running Through The Fire and Blame It On The Rain and also the song Be Mine that she does as part of AnikaBohHollie which I am so, so obsessed with.

PS: If you're in the South Island of New Zealand later this month Anika Moa and the rad Julia Deans are doing a lil tourette. Check it out for sure.

Thanks Anika Moa! The interview begins...now.

1. Where's somewhere you've eaten that you kinda like to brag about or drop into conversation?

I have recently moved back to christchurch so I'm making an effort to go out and make myself known in the restaurant scene. My indulgence is fine dining and a good big fat glass of red! My friends and I had a gorgeous meal out in lyttelton last week. A beautiful little place called Tommy Changs. A space of creativity, a bit of rough and tumble and an intimate setting. Very down on the farm but local beer drinking Russian sailors and what nots. You wouldn't expect their food to be so.. Well, so good! Pork ribs done in a sticky sauce, chicken laksa so tasty and well seasoned and the wine match is just as good. I enjoyed myself and so did my friends. We all went out and partied like we were 20 again so it must have given us a reason to live. Loved it. 5/5

2 What do you fix for yourself, or where do you go to eat, when it's just you on your own?

I'm a cheese toastie kind of girl! Or cheese on toast or cheese rolls or cheesy pizza. I love cheese (you can tell from my fat ass) If I'm feeling flash I make a gorgeous chicken salad with quinoa and anything I have in my fridge seasoned with salt pepper and soya sauce and lemon. LOVE it.  

3 What's one of your favourite food-related memories from your childhood?

My mum, sister and nana all used to make the best macaroni cheese I've ever tasted. They still do so it's good to be back home. I love the crunchy onions and the crisp bacon. Also fish n chip Friday was pretty neat too.