24 July 2015

you want it all but you can't have it, it's in your face but you can't grab it

My highly wonderful girlfriend recently linked me to a story online that she thought I'd relate to - an interview with Canadian writer Fariha Roisin - and while reading it I was nodding so emphatically in agreement that I probably kicked off some kind of like, Butterfly Effect. I mean, look at this:

"I really struggle with the idea of productivity. I hate the fact that I value myself on my own creative produce, and I enact so much frustration and hate onto myself when I can’t, or won’t (due to emotional blockages, etc) create. Recently I’ve felt a great big void in the center of my being. I want to let myself have days off, but I don’t necessarily think I deserve them."

It's oddly calming to read Roisin articulate that storminess just as I would. Like I said in my last blog post, I'm trying to manage my expectations of myself (which are, some might say, a little ludicrously high) in relation to the actual time available to achieve them all, and not getting a particularly satisfactory outcome.

All of this dark-eye-circled self-centredness has really only increased because I have a lot of projects happening where the time to do them seems just out of reach, but I'm not sure if it's the lack of time or if it's just me, you know? And as I blurted on twitter the other day, I really want to make a food show web series, the sort that you watch and think "oh yeah that will definitely end up on TV at some stage", and I want it to be hilarious and excellent and different and not simply pleasant and straightforward like 99% of the existing food-related content out there. The world does not need another pleasant cooking show, but I feel like one that's fun and stupid and properly funny and irreverent without being too laboured and studied is...well, just as unnecessary in the greater scheme of things, but still, I want it to happen and that's reason enough for me. And I don't know how to do this and whenever I've had time to think about it, I've had to sleep, because there's only so many hours in the day. Part of me wonders if I'm letting myself use my busy schedule as an excuse to not have to actually do anything, and part of me is literally asleep right now as I write this, so.

But! I did achieve potatoes! Take that, The Passage of Time! It also happens to be the one single thing I've cooked in the time since the caramel slice in my last blog post, so thank goodness it's monumentally incredibly delicious.

Say what you will about microwaves, but I realised recently if you briefly zap potatoes in one, you can then fry or roast them with extreme haste, and have yourself some kind of carbohydrate-rich dish in significantly less time than it would normally take! And that time always feels endless when you're waiting for potatoes. With this recipe you can have a lusciously wonderful dish of crisply fried potatoes in a not-overly unbearable time. It's not exactly instant, but it's instant-er than you're gonna get otherwise.

I made this up the other day as a pre-work snack, just based on ingredients I had to hand, and it's really as quite-fast as I claim. The time it took for the potato pieces to sizzle into golden crispness was just the right amount of time to go look for my camera's SD card, be entirely unable to find it in the nourishing vegetable soup of possessions that is my bedroom, also realise I couldn't find the bowl I wanted to photograph the potatoes in, declare everything to be literal garbage and I, the luckless raccoon atop it all, then pull myself together and decide to find a different bowl and to use my phone to take photos instead.

Importantly, it tastes incredible.

quite fast garlic and parmesan potatoes

a recipe by myself

three medium-sized floury potatoes, or potatoes that are labelled suitable for frying/roasting
30g butter, or more to taste (obviously I added more) 
a teaspoon or so of olive oil (it stops the butter from burning) 
four fat cloves of garlic, or thereabouts
parmesan cheese for grating over 

Stab the potatoes a couple of times with a fork, and then throw them in the microwave - no need to even put them on a plate or anything, but I guess you can - and cook on high for about three minutes. 

Meanwhile, peel the garlic cloves and very roughly chop them - you're looking for good-sized bits here, not crushed garlic - and put them into a wide saucepan along with the butter and oil. Place the pan on a medium heat, stirring occasionally while the butter melts and the garlic starts to gently sizzle.

Remove the potatoes from the microwave - you might want oven mitts or tongs for this - and very roughly chop them into smallish pieces. If the edges get roughed up and some bits get a little crushed, so much the better. Turn up the heat on the butter and tip in the potatoes, stirring around so they're all evenly sitting in the pan. Let them fry until wonderfully golden, stirring occasionally so all surface areas are against the heat of the pan. This will take about ten minutes. 

Once you're satisfied with the done-ness of the potatoes, tip them onto a plate or bowl and grate over as much parmesan as you see fit. 

Stickily rich garlic, golden crunchy potatoes which are fluffily tender inside, barely melting sharp parmesan, blanketed as thickly as you can be bothered grating it - this is both comforting and beautiful. The quantities of ingredients listed are a little vague, because you can make this as garlicky and buttery and parmesan-y as you please really, and because apparently I like to overexplain things. What I'm saying is, trust yourself and what you want, but what I've given you here is a good starting point.

I ate the entire bowlful and licked the plate (some might say that's an uncouth habit but I say the tongue is nature's spatula) and was utterly pleased with myself, which, given my aforementioned tendency towards sternly growling at myself all the time, was...nice. Of course you can have these as part of a table of brunch food or to accompany steak or a roasted thing or whatever you want, but eaten on their own they're pretty perfect.

Speaking of what is and isn't perfect, I leave you - and myself- with these wise words from Fariha Roisin:
I’m learning to not have conditions attached to myself. I’m unbuckling the belt and loosening the idea tied up to what it means to be a person, or what it means to be me. 
title from: Epic, a song by Faith No More that I may have listened to roughly twelve thousand times in the last few days. This live version is amaaaazing. I just love this song so much. I am okay with this. I am not okay with how great the song is though. How dare it!
music lately: 

Sick, an EP from Allison Stone. She is wonderful and it is wonderful, okay?

Shades, I'll Be Around. This is from...1996? And still goes off.
next time: hopefully I will cook something in the next like, six months - whatever it is, it's all yours. 

20 July 2015

you could have my heart or we could share it like the last slice

so delicious that Pony by Ginuwine starts to play non-diegetically when you take a bite

There's a scene in the important film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, where Dewey Cox is starting his rapid trajectory towards being a famous rock'n'roll star. He tells his wife Edith, "I'm gonna miss some things, okay? I'm gonna miss some birthdays and some christenings. I'm gonna miss some births, period. It's just unrealistic to expect that I'm gonna be here for every time you have a baby." I'm currently relating heavily to this, apart from, tragically, the bit with the ascension to fame, because I'm week three into working roughly five thousand times more hours than I normally do. Luckily, I adore my job and doing so many hours does make payday fun, but all I've been doing is sleeping and working which doesn't bode well for getting blog posts done, or indeed anything. In fact, I've been trying to write this very one here that you're reading for about seven days now, but every time I went to write I would instead just stare into space and then wake up three hours later, gently spooning my laptop like it was some kind of ergonomically disappointing teddy bear.

Yet finally here I am! With a really wilfully stupid peanut butter chocolate caramel slice! It was in a brief moment of lucidity that I concocted it, taking a base made largely of peanut butter and actual butter, a centre made of condensed milk and more butter and a handful of roasted salted nuts, and a top of melted milk chocolate. Seriously, that's really all there is to it. You pretty much know the recipe now.

hey baby, I think I wanna marry you 

It sounds like it would be stupidly, almost uncomfortably sweet and rich, and while admittedly I have literal syrup running through my veins instead of blood and therefore my bar for the overly sweet is set quite high, I assert to you that it's honestly very manageable to eat. In that you could easily manage to eat three quarters of it before you even realise the knife is in your hand and you're standing at the fridge slicing off thick squares of it.

Oddly enough it's the caramel centre that keeps it in check - you blast the hell out of the condensed milk and butter in the microwave before spreading it across the base, and all that heat reduces it down and brings out the ocean-deep dark toffee flavours present in the sugars. Then the roasted nuts, crunchy as popcorn and covered in salt, add to this. Just in case it starts to sound all too sensible I then cover it in the plainest sweetest mellowest milk chocolate, but with good reason, because dark chocolate would be too punishingly intense and make it a chore to eat.

it isn't too hard to see, we're in heaven

Speaking of important movies and delicious things that make people flustered, my one other accomplishment of recent time is, last night I went to the movies and watched Magic Mike XXL with my girlfriend and her flatmates. But Laura! I said to myself. Aren't you really like...gay? How could a movie about male strippers possibly hold your precious attention? My people, this movie is one of the best pieces of filmmaking I've ever encountered, one of the most joyful, kind-hearted, generous movies, and honestly, a rare film where women of all shapes and skin colours and faces have fun and are celebrated and support their friends and are in charge and are never, ever the joke, even though you keep thinking that's where the movie's gonna go. A film where men are emotional and express their love for each other without once adding "no homo", but also a bisexual character is not seen as a curiosity to be analysed and picked apart. A film where guys listen to women and help them, not in a "you frail stupid woman let me do this better than you" kind of way, but a "I'd like to make things better so you can be happy because that'd be nice" kind of way. Just when you think it's gonna zig, it zags. Honestly I'm getting emotional just trying to write about it.

Oh and if you're into the sight of men and stuff, there's...a lot of abdominal muscles being flung around. But truly, this movie is so very good, in the way that an old dog tied up on the street waiting patiently for their owner is good. Take your mother, take your 300 year old grandmother, take your husband, take your nine year old child, take everyone to see this movie! Put it this way: I came out of it saying that I'd actually love to read think-pieces on it, and normally my attitude towards think-pieces is that they should be thrown into the ocean. So. While I've been berating myself frowningly for not being outstanding in the field of achievement lately, getting this movie under my belt (hey-oh!) makes me feel like I've used my time very wisely.

just imagine another song from the Magic Mike XXL soundtrack here okay

Okay, one more thing about this movie before I get back to that other ridiculously sexy caramel confection: I love that there was more or less zero conflict. The characters were just happy and chill and overcame small hurdles and that was it! I have come to realise that I hate when movies, especially movies about an existing entity are like, what shall we do with these characters that the audience knows and loves - better make them fight and be isolated from each other until about ten minutes before the end. (For some reason A Goofy Movie is what sprang to mind here: hot take, A Goofy Movie was a bit disappointing.) Up with niceness! Okay that's quite the end of my breathless and shrieking thoughts on Magic Mike XXL. On here at least.

peanut butter chocolate caramel nut slice

a recipe that I made by smashing several Nigella recipes together and adding bits of my own thoughts so yeah

200g smooth peanut butter
50g soft butter
half a cup brown sugar
one and a half cups icing sugar

one tin sweetened condensed milk
200g butter
two tablespoons golden syrup
half a cup (or so) salted roasted mixed nuts 

200g milk chocolate

Line a brownie tin - either a 23cm square one or a regular sized rectangular one - with a large piece of baking paper. Use a wooden spoon to beat the peanut butter and butter together, then carefully stir in the sugars (I say carefully, because icing sugar tends to fly everywhere in dusty white clouds at the slightest provocation) until you have a sandy, crumbly mixture. Press it into the base of the baking tin, using the back of a spoon (it helps if you dust it with icing sugar first) to flatten it out fairly evenly. Refrigerate while you get on with the filling.

To make the filling, melt the butter in a decent-sized china bowl (or something else microwave-proof) and then stir in the condensed milk and golden syrup. Microwave for five to seven minutes, stirring every minute or so - it will bubble up angrily but shouldn't overflow, it's better to stir it too much than to let it burn or overflow though - by which stage it should be thickened, and darkened into a rich, but still fairly light, golden colour. Let it sit for a bit to cool slightly, and then stir in the nuts. Pour this over the peanut butter base, using a spatula to get every last bit out and to smooth it out on top, then refrigerate till set and firm. 

Finally, microwave the chocolate in short bursts till it's collapsing, and stir till it's totally melted and smooth. Gently spread across the caramel layer, and allow to set either in the fridge or a cool place. 

Wait, I've achieved two other things lately: I zoomed to a party after one of my shifts and danced my face off with friends and had my sister-from-another-species vibe with Percy the corgi reconfirmed. 

And, I dyed my hair purple. Well, more specifically, I stuck my hands in the pot of purple dye and kind of mussed up my hair (which was at the time a fading blue colour) in a haphazard manner just to see what would happen. It turned out pretty well, I think. In fact there's probably also a metaphor for my life in there (or at least I'm self-centred enough to think that pretty much everything could be a metaphor for my life and indeed, that my life is fascinating enough to warrant multiple metaphors to represent it.) (I'm not sure if that made any sense but in my defense: oh man I'm tired.) 
title from: Drake, Best I Ever Had, which is just...so Drake. "Sweat pants, hair tied, chillin' with no make-up on/That's when you're the prettiest, I hope that you don't take it wrong."
music lately:

Carly Rae Jepsen, Run Away With Me. It's like the best eighties song you don't remember. 

Janet Jackson, No Sleep. It's so dreamy. She's back and she never even left. 
next time: I'm still working a ton more than usual but I'm gonna try so hard to cook for myself one time and blog about it before, I don't know, the next financial year end rolls around. 

9 July 2015

swallow it down, what a jagged little pill

that cactus is a visual metaphor for how my throat felt, also, juxtaposition! The word that saved me in Art History 101 

Next time you're just hanging about, you know, existing within your corporeal form or whatever, take note of how many times you unconsciously swallow. Turns out humans do it a ton which is super fun when out of nowhere you have a sore throat and it feels like a serrated knife has lodged itself horizontally within your larynx. Every time you swallow. Which, as we've established, is unfairly often! Anyway so I've had a miserable bunch of days (the sore throat came with the free gift of an earache!) to the point where I couldn't even eat soothing stuff like ice cream or soup because it was agony to swallow anything. Even cool, clear water might as well have been a nutritious bowl of sand, because they both would've felt the same to my poor tender throat.

In wonderful news I am now thoroughly improved, mostly due to ibuprofen, rest, and gargling so much salt water and apple cider vinegar that I'm surprised I haven't turned into a pickle. However, I choose to attribute my entire recovery to the incredible bowl of porridge that I fixed for myself yesterday. I'd taken enough painkillers that my throat was tentatively amenable to food, and I wanted to have something aggressively nutritious and filling, but also soft and warm as the underbelly of a rabbit. Oatmeal covers all these bases, as well as allowing me to be irritatingly cute by using the portmanteau of Sore Throatmeal, and I do love to be irritatingly cute.

 rock the oat

I mean, everyone has their own way of making porridge and you can feel free to ignore my method or write it off as garbage (but if so, honestly, why are you still reading this far?) but mine has much going for it - the oats are toasted first, a step that only adds a minute to the cooking time but turns what could be gluey flavourless glue into a richly flavoured, warmly nutty concoction. I also stir in ground almonds, which add a gentle sweetness and swollen softness and richness and also, y'know, almonds put a shine on your coat. You could use any dried fruit you like but cranberries are full of anti-inflammatory and hella-vitamin properties, they also look incredibly pretty, all ruby red against the white cream and pale oats. Similarly, you could use coconut milk or almond milk or ginger instead of cinnamon and so on and so forth; but this is the recipe I made and it is so damn good.

Also I know this recipe looks really long and complicated, it's because I'm talky and like to hold your hand throughout the process just in case there's any small detail that confounds you. Once you sift through all my added nonsense it's really, really straightforward, I promise.

the softest porridge, or, sore throatmeal

a recipe by myself

a handful of dried cranberries 
half a cup oatmeal or finely rolled oats
quarter of a cup of whole oats 
half a cup of water
half a cup of milk
a pinch of salt
quarter of a cup of ground almonds
brown sugar
cream, and lots of it

Place the cranberries in a small bowl and cover with water from a just-boiled kettle. 

Place a smallish saucepan over a medium and throw the oats in, stirring them frequently to allow them to toast - they'll start to smell incredibly, well, toasty, and when this happens remove them from the heat and allow them to sit for a minute just to cool slightly. 

Stir in the water, milk, and salt, and return to a low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent it from sticking as it heats up and thickens. You want to get it to the stage where it's starting to have big bubbles rise to the surface and burst, like some kind of geothermic mudpool (I think, I mean I have very little knowledge of geothermic...stuff) and at this point stir in the ground almonds and decide whether or not you think it needs a splash more milk or water - I like my porridge a little on the softer, creamier side, but you might like yours thicker. So, either it's ready, or you need to stir it a bit longer with more liquid. 

Once you're done, remove it from the heat, drain the cranberries (I just used a spoon to hold them back while tipping the water into the sink) and stir them in along with a hearty pinch of cinnamon. Spatula all this into a deep bowl (a deep bowl helps it stay warm for longer!) and spoon over as much brown sugar and cream as your mouth desires. 

I took one bite and was literally cured 

On account of this peskily sore throat I've done more or less nothing lately, I've either been in bed or at work; when in bed I've been on a Nigella-watching spree - I mean this in the nicest way, but I don't have to think at all when I'm watching her show, and it doesn't matter if I fall asleep halfway through, and all the stirring and gentle clattering and plummy vocals are utterly soothing to someone like me who adores background noise while I sleep. So you can see how I'm so Hallelujah-chorus rapturous over this porridge, it's pretty much the most exciting thing to happen to me in the last few days. It was so delicious though, that I'm very sure it would still provide some kind of thrill even if you're in full health.
title from: Alanis Morrisette, You Learn. Remember when this album was the hugest thing in the world? This song has such a strange, meandering, conversational vibe to it that you don't get a lot now, and I remember thinking how subversive and rad it was that her voice was kinda screechy and drawly (I was ten, okay.) 
music lately:

Fiona Apple, Sleep to Dream. So dark and moody and intense, "this mind, this body and this voice cannot be stifled by your deviant ways,  so don't forget what I told you, don't come around, I got my own hell to raise" - ooof. 

Kendrick Lamar, Alright. I mean the song itself was already amazing but the video is just... *falls over sideways*
next time: it is SO FREEZING in Wellington right now, so I'll probably be cooking something to try and warm myself up, which at this stage is going to be a bowlful of the earth's molten core. 

6 July 2015

you think it's easy, when you don't know better

*Kanye voice* what she order, fish filet? 

So it has come to this: ya girl has been a combination of too busy, overcommitted, otherwise engaged, and pretty much any synonym for busy that you can think of, to even think of cooking. I haven't blogged for over a week, which, considering my insistence on overachieving, means that I may as well just delete the whole blog and throw my laptop in a river because I have clearly failed and everything is pointless. However, instead of that mildly hyperbolic behaviour, I've decided to just accept the past week as a write-off, and write on the few things I did make myself this week, even though those things are: fish finger butties and marmite-and-chip sandwiches.

I'm not trying to pretend like I invented either of these concepts, or that you need a recipe for them, or that they're high art as far as food goes, but - both were really, really delicious and made me happy, and even if they're embarrassingly easy and simple, to be honest that's good enough for me to blog about. Especially since I have zero other options, but still. Also stupid as it may seem for me to be telling you how to put prepackaged stuff in bread; I feel like if nothing else this blog post can serve as a reminder that these concepts exist. I mean, it had been forever since I'd had a marmite-and-chip sandwich and having revived that combination for myself I am now wanting them at least daily.

I think in some countries fish fingers are called fish sticks, either way they honestly sound terrible

The inspiration for the fish finger butties (ps, buttie is another word for sandwich, and you could just call it that but the word buttie just sounds more celebratory) came when my amazing girlfriend and I needed some sustenance after striding around the zoo in the bracing cold and beholding cute animals. It went like this: we were in the supermarket, she pointed at fish fingers and was all, "we could make sandwiches out of these maybe" and I squawked "you genius!" in total wonderment, because I have a very low bar for being impressed and in awe, to be honest. (I was then like "better get this pack of forty fish fingers just to be on the safe side.")

Whether you prefer to use mayo or butter - and I actually prefer mayo here - the bread has to be the softest, whitest, and thickest you can find. The fewer minerals and vitamins and general health-giving content the better. Similarly, if you can find those fish fingers that are crumbed and have maybe 4% actual fish content in the ingredients, you're on to a winner.

With the marmite-and-chip sandwiches, the chips in question are the crisps that come in a packet, not fries (I don't know why we have such confusing language around potato products, it's very troubling!) and obviously you can use whatever sodium-delivery-spread you like - Vegemite, Promite, English Marmite. I grew up on Marmite and adore it, whereas Vegemite to me tastes like salty dirt and misery. Many of you probably feel the reverse. Whatever, as long as the chips are crinkle cut and the plain salted flavour, you're all good. I ate marmite sandwiches roughly a billion times when I was a kid, but a marmite and chip sandwich - and I have no idea who first came up with the idea - was such an exciting upgrade. And there's nothing like casually eating the food that was thrilling to you as a kid, when you're an adult who can do what they want when they want.

marmite and chips on white bread: you can clearly see how I got my book deal and I should definitely get another

So, the reason either of these sandwiches are worth your time is the magical, transcendently good textural contrast between soft, soft white bread and crunchy filling. It's as simple as that. Bursts of crispness, salty savouriness, and comfortingly pillowy blandness.

fish finger butty

four fish fingers (three for the sandwich, one for snacking on) 
two slices of the thickest, softest white bread you can find

Bake or fry the fish fingers till crisp and golden. My cunning trick is to put them in the sandwich press, but do whatever is most convenient for you.

Generously spread mayo on both pieces of bread, lay the fish fingers across one slice and top with the other slice, eat the remaining fish finger so you don't fade away between now and eating your sandwich, and then eat your sandwich. 

marmite and chip sandwich

a packet of ready salted chips, ideally crinkle cut
plenty of soft butter
two slices of white bread, as soft and thick as you can find

Spread both pieces of bread thickly with butter and then thinly with marmite. Pile up potato chips evenly on top of one slice, then gently top with the other slice. Eat. 

                       *Peter in Jesus Christ Superstar voice* I think you've made your point now 

It's kind of hard to photograph these sandwiches in a way that makes them look majorly alluring, I feel like sticking one next to a vase of flowers was not my best work, I guess I'm also pointing this out so that you know that I know. Like I said, I haven't cooked a thing this week and so this is what I'm working with. But honestly, I'm so convinced of the excellence of both these combinations that I'm not even bashful about having blogged about them now, because if you didn't know about them, you've been missing out on a world of deliciousness. I'm not saying I'm a hero, I'm just saying...nope that actually is what I'm saying. 

befriending everyone's dogs and cats is time-consuming okay

So just what have I been doing with myself if not devoting myself to blogging? Working; partying; helping a friend choreograph a tap dance routine for a drag competition; going on cute outings with people from work; loitering with birthday pals; seeing a friend's band perform; recovering from watching Pretty Little Liars; taking up lots of time being amazed at how time has gone so fast and it's July already; dancing wildly; working; berating myself for having achieved nothing this month; that sort of thing. Ya girl is determined to get cooking again though, what with it being my favourite pastime and incredibly dear to my heart and all.
title from: The White Stripes, Hardest Button To Button. I love these guys so much, that is all.
music lately: 

Carly Rae Jepsen, Emotion. TUNE. Pop music that is really upbeat but sounds kinda sad is my kryptonite.

Chelsea Jade, Lowbrow. This honey just keeps making songs that are amazing. It's amazing.

Nicki Minaj, Anaconda. Every time I listen to this or watch the video it just gets more and more spectacular and excellent, tbh.
next time: literal recipes, I promise