22 September 2014

i still love you, girl from mars

crunch time

Well. Gosh. I hung out with friends on Saturday night and as we watched the election results unfold we all started to feel increasingly bleak and baffled and like getting very drunk. As I said in my last post, pre-election, everyone's politics are personal and you're entitled to them, but it should come as no surprise whatsoever that I'm not so much "left-leaning" as "riding through your town on a sustainably farmed unicorn brandishing a rainbow flag and leaving a fearsome trail of blood from my liberal bleeding heart". And so, the results were not what I was hoping for and voting for. But here we are, and all that can be done is that we try to support the vulnerable and the needy and the children and so on and make the best of things, yeah? Which is what we should all be doing no matter who is in power, and ultimately what I'd hope anyone in power would be aiming for in some form. Also, said friends had adopted a cat that day and other friends brought their pet corgi along to the party so there was much comforting snuggling and patting to be had. 

I made this Mars Bar Cornflake Slice to bring along, thinking rightly that something sticky-sweet and deliciously immature would be ideal on such an intense night. It is adapted from a recipe in my queen Nigella Lawson's book Feast, and you're actually supposed to spoon the mixture into little cupcake papers. I thought I had tons of them but could only find like, seven, so panicked and threw it all into a flan dish and hoped for the best. And joyfully, it's so damn excellent in slice form. I was worried it might be a little plain - I considered putting caramelised peanuts on it, or drizzling over melted dark chocolate - but it was stupidly perfect as is. 

If you haven't had a Mars bar in a while (and why not, when their ad insists that a Mars a day helps you work, rest AND play, all things I could use some help with) they are a layer of soft squishy chocolate nougat, with a layer of caramel sauce, all covered in chocolate. The breakfasty-comforting taste of cornflakes - slightly malty, slightly nutty - along with all that caramel and sugar is wonderful. It's crunchy, it's chewy, it involves melting chocolate bars with butter, and it's so, so easy. I liked it so much that I made another trayful this morning just to have them around (and it allowed me to feel like a good flatmate and leave a note on the fridge telling everyone else to help themselves to it.)

mars bar cornflake slice

Adapted from a recipe from Nigella Lawson's important book Feast

three 75g Mars Bars (or similar weight made up of whatever size bars you can find)
70g butter 
four cups of cornflakes
a pinch of sea salt (optional)

Break the mars bars into pieces and melt together slowly over a low heat with the butter. The nougat filling will take the longest to break down and probably won't incorporate entirely, so don't worry if the mixture isn't completely smooth. Stir in the cornflakes and spatula the lot into a baking paper lined baking dish. Use the spatula to flatten it out evenly, sprinkle over a little salt if you like, then refrigerate till solid - around half an hour. Cut into thick slices with a large knife. 

You can use whatever kind of baking tray you like, but I used a round metal flan dish. I think I chose it subconsciously because I have this thing where if I'm cutting up a slice from a round dish it feels like all the rounded-edged pieces are mere offcuts and I get to eat them all. Even though I'm going to eat it all anyway? Gotta get your thrills somehow, I suppose.

a cat showed me the vaguest hint of non-indifference and so I was eternally joyful

I enjoyed being up home, trying to get the cats to bond with me, talking about knitting with nanna, making dinner for Dad and a birthday cake for Mum and generally having swell family times. Roger, pictured above, has been with the family since 2007 and my weekend at home was pretty much the first time he's ever shown an interest in me. I am a pushover who will gladly accept this. 

I have been selling heaps of my cookbooks which is exciting - let me remind you that if you want to buy a copy, going directly through me is your only chance while my stocks last. If reading my words isn't enough for you, and how could it possibly be, you can also listen to this super cool interview I did with Harry Evans for his radio show Common Ground. We discussed libraries and halloumi and the election and the writing process and social media and I got to pick two songs to play and it was just really, really fun and lovely. You can either listen on iTunes or on Harry's site. Yay interviews! 

At least no matter what happens in life you know you're never going to have a fight with a corgi over politics. 
title from: 90s cuties Ash and their song Girl From Mars. 
music lately: 

Underworld, Rez. Listening to this song honestly makes me feel like I'm a flower petal adrift on late summer evening breeze. Literally.

Street Chant, Salad Daze. It's so so dark and shadowy and hypnotic and good.

Charli XCX, How Can I. Sad pop sad pop, whatcha gonna do when it comes for you.

Buzzcocks, Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't). Oh, this song!
Next time: I was given a ton of grapefruit from someone's tree which is pretty exciting, therefore maybe it will be something grapefruitly?

14 September 2014

like peaches 'n cream, she's gonna wish on stars and touch the sky, you know what I mean

Laura please don't knock this off the ledge onto the walkway below Laura please don't knock thi

It was a full moon in Pisces this week, so I don't need to tell you that this particular horoscope stirred up some intense emotions. Luckily for me I was coolly prepared by already maintaining a lifestyle of nonstop emotional intensity! Also luckily there were lots of nice things going on, like eating a giant pretzel Momofuku cake for my girl Kate's birthday, dressing up as Columbia for a special screening of Rocky Horror at work, more pats with Percy the corgi, and discovering and then watching the entirety of in one evening, the truly heart-wrenchingly delightful TV show Faking It. It was also the excellent Tim's birthday, and I made him this peach balsamic barbecue sauce as a present (what is our friendship if it cannot withstand my coming out and breaking our engagement?) I had a half tin of peaches in the fridge and many spices and condiments in the pantry and a budget that stretched to one small red onion. This recipe that I found appealed to me because of all these reasons, but also there's something oddly pleasing about making your own preserves and sauces and such, and I thought the peachiness might add a sweet, summery Americana vibe to something already so very American. (Also...I had half a can of peaches in the fridge.)

Apologies for including a fiddly specialty ingredient like liquid smoke, but it's not that hard to get hold of a bottle of it in fancy food shops or online, and if you like things to taste smokey then you can either find some or sigh perpetually about how nothing tastes smokey. (That's as much tough love as I can possibly muster: buy this thing if you like, but only maybe, and either way I'm sorry.) If you can't find it you'll still have a deliciously peachy sweet-sour sauce, but as soon as the liquid smoke is stirred in it suddenly becomes like sunshine on your shoulders and protein seared on magma-hot metal (said protein could be tofu, I'm easy) and your hair being scented like woodchips for days and being ravenous and everything taking so, so long to be cooked through so you have to drink a lot of beer while you wait. So like, you might want to get some.

peach balsamic barbecue sauce

adapted from this recipe on damndelicious.net, makes around 250ml

one tablespoon olive oil 
one red onion, diced
one tablespoon chilli sauce (or to taste, I used sriracha which is kinda mild, hence a tablespoon)
one teaspoon cumin seeds
two large ripe peaches, diced, or the equivalent of canned peaches
two tablespoons maple syrup (or golden syrup or honey - maple is smokier though) 
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
one tablespoon dijon mustard
one tablespoon tomato sauce/paste/similar
about half a teaspoon of liquid smoke
salt and brown sugar to taste - it definitely needs salt, sugar though? Depends on you.

Heat the oil in a pan and gently fry the red onion till it's soft but not browned. Throw everything else in, except the liquid smoke, and allow to come to the boil while stirring constantly. Simmer for about ten minutes, then either blend it till smooth in a food processor or use one of those stick things that you use for pureeing soup (they're genius! So little washing up to do!) (my new flat has one, I've never used them before) (anyway) and pour it into a small jar/small jars or directly into a bowl to serve alongside/on top of your dinner. 

(red and white twine to evoke The White Stripes)

This sauce is so delicious. And I'm not entirely a heathen, I didn't go eating Tim's birthday present, there was in fact enough to fill a jar for him and a small ramekin leftover for me. I intended to pour it over rice or something but I just ended up eating the lot with a spoon. The aggressive throat-pinching sourness of the vinegar and heat of the chilli sauce is mellowed by the sweet, sweet peaches, and the spices give it depth and, well, spice. And as I've already iterated at feverish length, liquid smoke is also good. It doesn't make an awful lot but then at least you don't have to stress about desperately pressing bottles of it onto visitors forevermore, and if it's really not to your tastes then at least all you wasted was a couple of tablespoons of this and that. Conversely, if you really love it, the recipe is very easy to double or triple. Barbecue sauce for all! I always thought I hated barbecue sauce actually, but it just turns out that I dislike the particular overly sweet nothingness-paste that gets swirled onto certain takeaway pizzas, which tastes like neither barbecue nor sauce. And it certainly doesn't taste like going on for paragraph after paragraph about sunshine on one's shoulders, etc.

I'm flying up home this afternoon for the first time since Christmas, so that's something. Am looking forward to seeing my family and the cats (the cats are family but you might not pick up on my implications unless I spell it out for you) and spending time knitting and reading the next Harry Potter. I'm so obsessed with Harry Potter, a chill seventeen years after the first book was published.

Okay so now some time has passed and I actually am at my parents' place, which is testament to my disorganisation, but also the passing of time, I guess.
Poppy the cat and I both feel the same way about Harry Potter: nuzzly. 

Finally: It's election time in New Zealand! Can't wait for it to be over so that I don't have to see billboards everywhere, but am looking forward to voting. It's completely appalling that prisoners can't vote, but hopefully my own small vote and my right to do it can help be a snowflake in an ever-rolling snowball of good change. Your politics are your own business, but what you do with them can affect everyone, you know? 

But also: you can now buy my cookbook directly from me! Which is exciting because ya girl remains flat broke, and unlike when it was sold in stores, every dollar from books sold through me goes straight to me. Yay though, right? My cookbook isn't so easy to get hold of anymore so if you're wanting a copy you better get moving as my stocks are limited...
title via: Britney Spears' important song Brave New Girl. It's easily one of my very favourite songs of hers, that kind of headrush-pop that fills my heart with glitter. 
music lately: 

Dum Dum Girls, Coming Down. Six minutes and thirty-two seconds of dreamy sad perfection. 

Sarah Jaffe, Lover Girl. Was listening to my favourites Dark Dark Dark on Spotify and looked at related artists and was like, "Spotify, show me something new!" So I tried listening to this woman and I immediately loved every single song I listened to, starting with this. 

Rita Ora, I Will Never Let You Down. Adorable and hopeful and happy.
Next time: seems like all I have in my pantry right now is pasta, which I'm happy about because I love pasta, so...yeah. We'll see?  

2 September 2014

when we walked through little italy i saw my reflection come right off your face

Ya girl is back. Or at least, ya girl is trying her best to be back. I'm still nowhere near being unpacked (my room somehow gets more embarrassingly messy the harder I try to clean? I dropped out of science early in high school but I'm pretty sure there's nothing in all academic teachings that could explain this phenomenon) but I'm cooking more and attempting to get back on the freelancing stallion and am generally determined to recapture my ambition. For something. I mean, I never lost my ambition of being outstanding in the field of excellence, I just lost my drive due to Extenuating Circumstances and if I'm being scrutinisingly harsh, which I don't enjoy, I probably got a bit exhaustedly complacent in that position of, well, not even trying to try. I'm not sure I'm quite approaching my old burn-all-candles-at-all-ends level, but I am rewatching a lot of Parks and Recreation to re-absorb all of Leslie Knope's power ("there's nothing we can't do if we work hard, never sleep, and shirk all other responsibilities") and I am trying to write more and I am going to start doing my chocolate cookie dough pretzel thing deliveries again!

Because ya girl is also somewhat broke. Moving house and being too busy/tired to maintain several sources of incoming cash is an expensive pastime. But also I miss scooting around town and dropping off parcels of deliciousness, like some kind of no-strings-attached moderately profitable fairy godmother. So if you're in the Wellington CBD region and want some of the good stuff for yourself or for your secret admiree, all the information you need is here.

As I said in my last post, I have started watching The Sopranos, and despite my immediate misgivings at the violence and boring wife-is-a-thankless-harpy outlawish-schlub-husband-is-horrible-and-also-the-beloved-hero tropes, it's so compelling. And it makes me crave Italian food something fierce. Initially I wanted to make meatballs but mine tend to fall apart and I didn't have it in me on this particular day to bounce back from that kind of failure, so instead I went for something very easy - pasta all'amatriciana. I was hoping that it would translate to something to do with matriarchy, but it gets its name from being a dish from the region of Amatrice. Which is nice in its own way - this is just pasta with bacon and tomatoes, but calling it by its proper name gives it a more official, elegant vibe, like, oh I'm just casually making myself this traditional recipe from a beautiful town in the Lazio region of Italy, how bout you?

It really is very simple though, and therein lies its charm - gloriously saucy enough to feel like you're doing yourself a favour, fast enough to not be stressful, familiar enough to serve up to fusspots. I feel like I've had several bad versions of this in my time at cafes that weren't trying very hard, but home made it's highly glorious. Thick tomato sauce, salty-sweet bacon, barely-melting parmesan - all twirled around ribbons of thick, comforting pasta. (Well, I for one find pasta comforting, it's probably my favourite food.)

I slightly adapted a recipe from the Scotto Family, whose book Italian Comfort Food I own and adore. Half a cup of olive oil may sound terrifying in these austere times, but it becomes part of the sauce, making it rich and deeply flavoured and delicious and more than otherwise just a can of tomatoes. However, I understand you using less. Olive oil is expensive. Their recipe called for bucatini pasta but I am a heathen and adore pappardelle, and it was on special at the supermarket - however if you can't find it, my sneaky and ingenious trick is to get sheets of fresh lasagne and slice them into wide lengths. Or use whatever pasta you fancy.

pasta all'amatriciana  

adapted slightly from a recipe by the Scotto family, serves two (or one with leftovers for lunch the next day, aw yeah) 

half a cup olive oil (or less, whatever)
100g pancetta or streaky bacon, diced (I used bacon but pancetta is superior if you can get it)
one onion, diced
one can chopped tomatoes
150g pappardelle pasta (or other pasta)
parmesan cheese, grated

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta according to the packet instructions, or until preeetty tender. 

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a saucepan, and fry the bacon in it till crisp and sizzling. Remove the bacon and set aside - I just put it on the plate I served the pasta on - and tip the onions into the still-hot pan, stirring them and allowing to cook until softened, but not browned. Basically until that harsh onion taste has been cooked out. At this stage, tip in the tomatoes and stir over a high heat till the sauce is thickened somewhat - maybe ten minutes - then tip in the bacon and stir again for another five minutes or so. Drain the pasta and stir it into the sauce, still over a high heat, and then remove from the heat, add as much parmesan as your heart desires, and serve. 

I haven't bought parmesan in forever, because every time I pass it in the supermarket I passively-aggressively sigh at myself like some kind of lazily-written thankless shrew wife in nearly any TV show and say "oh...no, no I shouldn't, that's expensive" even though the price is never going to change and I could pay a lot more for something else and have a lot less fun. I really should've bought some sooner, a fresh grating of it makes so many pastas and risottos more wonderful, and a little bit goes a long way. As I said a lot when I learned the phrase false economy: that's not false economy!

and it feels like home

There are a lot of things I don't do that cause varying degrees of incredulity in people - can't drive, can't ride a bike, have never changed a lightbulb in my life - but what seems to cause the most gasps is the fact that Harry Potter completely passed me by. I never read any of the books and at most I have half-watched the first movie. But I know several people who are majorly passionate about this series, and I have been wanting to read something that is charming but which I can gallop through for some time now, and so I just...started reading Harry Potter. Three days later I am up to book three, and can say with some authority that I now understand the resilient hype. It's so good! Hermione is so relatable, that overachieving, keen-to-inform-you-of-her-overachieving hero! Minerva is so icily awesome! Dobby sucks! A lot more of things referenced frequently on the internet make sense to me now! Hurrah for reading. Between Hermione and Leslie Knope, I'm at least surrounded by good influences. Now to allow myself to be aggressively influenced...
title from: PJ Harvey, My Good Fortune. I've loved this song since I first heard it in 2000, with its jangling chevron-like melody and satisfyingly ridiculous drawing out of words at the end of each refrain. And PJ Harvey is obviously a goddess. 
music lately

Beyonce's performance of a medley of her entire self-titled album at the VMA awards. This is so important. I cried, I got the chills, I cried again. I'm getting chills just typing about it, thinking about her face when she sings Jealous or the sight of her standing in front of the word FEMINIST in enormous lit up letters or when Blue says "good job mommy", I mean, just watch it. 

Liane La Havas, Hey That's No Way To Say Goodbye. This wistful, dreamy Leonard Cohen song is made even more dreamy by her voice. 

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Maps. Wait. 
next time: reading Harry Potter just makes me want to eat enormous feasts with hearty puddings and lashings of whipped cream, even though that's actually more of an Enid Blyton thing, there is a natural echo of her words in JK Rowlings' descriptions of food. Will see if I can make floating candles and a ceiling that looks like the night sky happen too.