24 May 2016

garlic springs up where you walk, bells ring out baby when you talk

a pile of battered, fried garlic cloves

I started this blog nine years ago and - five thousand percent understatement - it was a very different landscape. No Pinterest, no Instagram, the barest hint of twitter and facebook, all that obvious stuff. However, comments were everything. Everything! I used to be all like "oh nooo this blog post only has thirty/fourteen/ten etc comments on it, what can I do?" And mate, you could absolutely tell when bloggers didn't care a wit about you and were just trying to get clicks through to their own page, because you'd write a long post about how your only goldfish, who had also raised you like a parent through childhood and worked so hard to put you through medical school, had just died, and they'd be all "great post! Looks delicious! Check out my chocolate malteaser cupcakes photographed sterilely against a baby blue background!" It was 2007, okay. We'd just discovered cupcakes and polka dots. Bacon was as yet a distant fever dream. We commented, it was what we had. 

These days, I don't need blog comments to know people are reading - I get most of my feedback on Twitter and Instagram and occasionally Facebook and sometimes by holding my palms towards the sunset and closing my eyes intently and whispering my URL backwards three times. The comments I do get are usually something nice from a dear friend or a generally lovely message from a reader. The lack of volume means I really pay attention to them whenever they happen. 

And last week I received a comment that really got to me. Before I go any further, I hear what you're saying - be the bigger person! Be a literal grown up! Ignore it and move on! Well you don't need to worry, I did that. For five days. And now having got that out of the way, I'm allowing myself a brief foray into being petty. 

Dear Anonymous: 

I do have life happenings that have distracted me from this blog. It's called a job. It's called duh. I work around a billion hours and have a hilariously big rent and bills to pay, as do many people. To my great disgust I have to sleep at some point of each day so that doesn't leave me a lot of time or energy to buy food and cook for myself and photograph it and then write thoughtfully about it. And yet still I manage to get a blog post out every week. Because this blog means so much to me. You think I'm better than scone dough pizza? Do you know how delicious that pizza was? Do you know how exhausted and unhappy I was when I made it because I'd slept through my entire day off and hadn't blogged yet and felt worthless because I tie my up my value in the work I do for some reason and how pleased I was that I managed to accomplish that one small thing? Do you know how much I think about this blog and worry about what I'm achieving with it? Did you read the bit where the recipe was adapted from one I wrote for my literal published cookbook? Which should thus validate it somewhat for you? Did you read the bit where my goldfish toiled day and night to put me through medical school? Did you appreciate me trying to lighten the mood a bit here? 

Anyway, my main question for you, Anonymous, is: when are you going to get your act together? By giving me money? If you give me money then I'll be able to have more time to cook and write for this blog and pitch writing to other sites and finally redesign the hilariously outdated yet hopefully loveable look of this thing. I don't know who you are and thanks for saying that I have a lovely way with words. But ya hurt my damn feelings, Anonymous. I try really, really, really hard here, okay. That's all. If you're that worried about my priorities then maybe you should prioritise funding my life so I can write the blog you want from me. This is all I've got right now. 

Wow, awkward! Now that I've done railing misguidedly against late capitalism, let me caveat that (a) I adore my job and have never been happier than I am now in a position of employment except I wish I had more money but so does everyone so that's not a controversial stance, (b) I'M SO SICK right now with some kind of queasy-making, energy-sapping coughing-fit head cold so while I'm totally accountable for my actions, I'm not like, that accountable. 

Which is why I ate two whole bulbs of garlic yesterday for lunch. That may sound like a lot, even by a garlic lover's standard! But once you've individually battered and deep fried each clove, it suddenly becomes the most insurmountable task and you're all, why didn't I do this with five bulbs of garlic. I guess it's the same as potato crisps: if you said "I just ate forty slices of potato" you might raise some eyebrows but if you said "I just hooned a can of Pringles, salt and vinegar flavour" you'll receive nothing but envious sighs and sage nods of understanding.

It's hard to explain exactly but I'm always trying to undo layers when when I think up recipes: with this one I didn't have the appetite for a big meal and simply wanted a ton of garlic, rather than having to eat something else that had been annointed with garlic, if that makes sense. What if I fried the garlic cloves themselves so they became crunchy little morsels, like fries? This proved to be surprisingly easy. And monumentally delicious. A quick simmer in water to soften the garlic and remove its harsh, burning edge, a very quickly made batter, and a quick fry in a little oil. That's it! And in a charming piece of serendipity, the leftover batter itself, when fried, makes delicious little garlic-tinted pancakes, so you don't have to waste anything if you don't want.

But the garlic is the star: bite through the hot, crisp exterior and the centre is pure, soft, sweet dissolving garlic. You could argue that they're kind of pointless (you could do a number of things) but you could increase the number of bulbs and make a bowlful as a Netflix-and-chill type snack or scatter them through a salad or pasta or combine them with some other small fried thing like halloumi, or indeed, just use them to ward off your own sickness. I'm not going to lie: I totally drank the water that the bulbs had simmered in, in the vain hope of gaining every last bit of garlicky goodness. It was honestly delicious in a broth-y type way and there's no reason you can't save it for a risotto or soup or similar. The turmeric isn't exactly crucial but it gives a gorgeous golden colour and is also full of cold-fighting skills so you might as well include it, yeah?

crunchy golden fried garlic cloves and crispy garlic pancakes

a recipe by myself. 

two garlic bulbs (or more! You won't regret it.)
three tablespoons of tapioca flour (or regular flour) 
three tablespoons of fine cornmeal
one heaped teaspoon of turmeric
three tablespoons or so of cold water
salt and pepper
plain oil, such as rice bran, for frying

Place the whole garlic bulbs in a good-sized saucepan and cover, just, with water. Bring to the boil, and place a lid on top slightly askew so you let out some steam. Let them briskly simmer away for about ten minutes or until a knife stabbed at them suggests they're pretty soft. Remove from the water and put them in a sieve under cold running water for a bit so they're cool enough to handle. Slice the base off - it should come off fairly easily. 

In a bowl, mix together the tapioca flour, cornmeal, turmeric, salt, pepper, and water, to form a thickish batter. Add a little more water or a little more cornmeal if it needs thinning or thickening. 

Heat about a centimetre of oil in a wide pan over a high heat. Gently coax the garlic cloves out of their casings - this shouldn't be too hard although allow for the occasional delicious casualty - and drop them in the batter. Once coated, drop them in the oil and allow them to fry for roughly a minute each side or until golden brown and crisp. Repeat with the remaining garlic. If some cloves bust into pieces while you're trying to extract them from their casings just throw them in the batter and fry them anyway, it's all good. Remove the fried cloves to a paper towel or similar till you've done all of them, then, if you wish, fry spoonfuls of the remaining batter until crisp and dark golden. EAT THE LOT. 

It's like fried chicken, but it's garlic. It's like those mozarella sticks you can sometimes get from BK, but it's garlic. I wish there was another word instead of garlic that I could use to describe these but, uh, it's garlic. Garlic is so good. 


I'm so sick that I had to actually have a lie down after walking twenty metres to the fruit and vege mart around the corner from my apartment to get this garlic, so hopefully that is some indicator of the relative ease of this recipe that I was able to make it at all.

Okay, I do feel a tiny bit weird about that rant that I went on - I usually respond to that sort of thing a lot more privately by complaining about it to friends in real life or something. And I'm really lucky that the amount of bother I encounter online is relatively small compared to the tremendous amount that many people, including several friends of mine, put up with. But if you're supposed to be the bigger person and ignore everything that hurts you, does that mean people get to just hurt your feelings forever and ever and that's it? Seriously? You can't sell me on that. And I'm very easily sold on stuff. So you know it's a bad concept. You know what's a great concept? Individually battering and frying every last clove in a bulb of garlic, twice, and then eating the lot, and then lying down and binge-watching Miss Fisher's Charming Murder Mysteries on Netflix. Period procedural dramas are the paracetamol of television, and television is the paracetamol of life, and garlic is nature's paracetamol. Then have some actual paracetamol, which is the real paracetamol of life, and you're momentarily set, until the next coughing fit at least.

PS Some other recipes that I've done that I feel convey this unpacking of layers of flavour and texture that I'm really into but not good at explaining are: Garnish Salad and Browned Butter Ice Cream. Basically I just lie there and I'm like "yes but what do I want?" until the idea simplifies down to its purest form. Being massively sick clouds that vision somewhat but I came through!
title from: Thee Oh Sees and their charmingly scuzzy song Grease. 
music lately: 

Laura Lee, Dreamers. The bae Laura Lee is back at it again with her moody, swoony style of music and I'm so happy about it.

Craig Mack, Flava In Ya Ear. One of the most perfect songs ever, indubitably.
next time: More scone pizza? I'm kidding Anonymous, we're good? Either way, if I'm still sick I'll be so mad! 

16 May 2016

turn the music up way too loud, charge the pizza to the house

I have kind of a weird relationship with time, in that I'm never particularly relaxed and I always feel like whatever time I have is running out on me and that's all I can focus on. I think a lot of this has to do with my writing and trying to make enough space to do that and freaking out when I fall asleep instead, but I was like this before I was writing and even if I abandoned this blog today I'd probably still end up feeling the same way. Does anyone else get that? Like if you wake up at 9am you're all like "well it's 9am, the day is practically over and I have achieved nothing" (don't even get me started on the horror of waking up at 11am.) I mean, I remember thinking this as a child. There wasn't even any internet then, what was I worried about not being on top of? Anyway, on Monday - one of my days off - I slept till 3pm because I physically could not stop going to sleep, and uh, this was kind of horrifying to me. It's like...it's not just writing I have to do. I can't remember when I last did laundry! My room has not been tidied in forever which is in itself a source of stress! Six weeks ago I was supposed to start doing twenty minutes of yoga per day! I need to cook myself something so I actually have something to blog about even though I'm too tired to write! And it's 3pm which means it's basically tomorrow! Compounding to all this horror is the fact that it's suddenly the following Monday and I'm in the exact same position. 

Last Monday, upon waking, I somehow managed to briefly get my act together in a "I suspect there are worse problems out there than this you dingus" kind of way to make myself this scone pizza as a calming snack. One week later I'm finally spatula-ing together the time to write about it. This recipe is so easy and has a pleasing mix of so many comforting foods - not just the obvious two, scone and pizza, it also gives off cheese toastie and pie vibes. It is all good things. It is scone pizza. 

I adapted it from a recipe in my OWN COOKBOOK (yes, I know, and no, you can't buy a copy because every last one was sold and Penguin never republished it which means it's a cult underground collectors item, not a failure) because why not be inspired by yourself? The recipe in my cookbook involves a simmered zucchini and tomato sauce to go on top, from a book of recipe clippings belonging to my paternal grandmother. But this time around I had a couple of tomatoes in the fridge and half a block of cheese and immediately knew I wanted both in my mouth together at an elevated temperature. Melted cheese is 100% my idea of a good time. 

What you end up with is a thick, slightly crunchy and soft base, with the scorched sweetness of the magma-hot tomatoes and a hefty layer of melted cheese made moderately more elegant in a cacio-e-pepe kind of way by a grind of fresh pepper. I have until extremely recently hated black pepper, as it tasted like mouth-burning dust and nothing more, but I've come to appreciate its subtle sweetness and what it adds to a dish. Either that or my tastebuds are dying as I'm aging and this is my attempt at trying to feel something real. Little from column A, little from column B? 

scone pizza

adapted from a recipe from my cookbook, Hungry and Frozen: The Cookbook. 

200g plain flour (this is roughly two hastily-scooped cups full, if you don't have scales) (which I don't currently)
one teaspoon baking powder

25g melted butter
125g (half a cup) thick, plain yoghurt 
pinch of salt
two tomatoes
as much grated cheese as you like
cracked pepper

Set your oven to 200C/400F and place a sheet of baking paper on a baking tray. 

Briefly mix the flour, baking powder, butter, yoghurt and salt together in a bowl. Add a little bit more yoghurt if it's way too floury. Squish it together gently with your hands to form a soft ball. Tip it onto the baking tray and softly roll it out to form a rough circle of a couple of centimetres. Brush it with a little extra melted butter if you like - I didn't do this myself but it has just occurred to me now that it would be a good idea, probably.

Thickly slice the tomatoes and arrange them on top of the scone base. Grate over as much cheese as you like, and then some. Bake for around 20 minutes, till the cheese is bubbling and the tomatoes are a bit scorched and softened. Grind over some pepper. 

Allow it to cool for a minute and then slice into four and hoon the lot. 

Note: I, for some reason, had like two tablespoons of yoghurt left in the bottom of a container so just made up the remaining amount with milk and this worked perfectly. Consider yourself permitted to do something similar if you find yourself in this position. 

As with all food, it tastes excellent in bed. It's one thing to hang out in bed heaps and consume your main meal of the day in there, but sleep? In your bed? How troublingly self-indulgent.

By the way, I am trying to work on this strange thing I have with time, because it benefits absolutely no-one if I'm stressing constantly about it. I just don't know how to. So far my only technique is being frustrated at myself for being stressed, followed by frustration at myself for my frustration at myself. Also trying to actually let myself sleep if I need it without being too angry about it.

Without being too on the nose, I have, uh, bought myself some thyme. This was inspired by my Stargrazing horoscope for May in Lucky Peach magazine: 

"This season, for you, is about translating jittery emotions into healthy, productive action. Yer an original, Aries, so I’m into forking over an idea you can truly make your own: This is a completely excellent time to plant yourself a little herb garden with whatever you like in it (...) That dualism—embarking on a project that’s all yours and has tangible, visible rewards (LI’L PLANTS!), while also slow ride, taking it easy—is perfect for you, jitterbug. Pick up a few cheapo herb plants of your choosing. Care for them diligently, as a way of transmuting the care you’re unsure of giving yourself right now. See this attention and love as the same thing."

I mean, does that resonate or what. Thyme is one of my very favourite herbs and is also very pretty, with its gently tangled mass of tiny leaves, and I am so going to nurture this lil plant, and I guess myself as well. My first order of business: acknowledging that I'm actually asleep right now as I type this, and to let myself have a nap.
title from: Blink 182, Reckless Abandonment
music lately: 

I Will Never Leave You, from the very short-lived 1996 musical Side Show. This showcases the spectacular voices of Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner, and is one of those songs that's all like, ugh we have to get this stupid first verse out of the way so we can get to the AMAZING BELTING IN THE CODA and the payoff is thoroughly worth it.

Digital Versicolour, Glass Candy. This song is on the playlist at work and every time it comes on I'm like "woooooo!" I know, what fascinating provenance. It's just very mellow and hypnotic and good.

Sean Paul, Like Glue. I heard this song on loop five times in a row the other day and it was honestly the ideal way to consume this song. It's the sound of a warm evening in summer, without any of the hassle of having to be overheated.
next time: my friend Rose gave me some old Seventeen magazines that used to belong to her mum and the recipes in them are so great and I seriously want to try one. 

6 May 2016

you can start by having a chat and then a glass of brandy then I will start playing mind games

I'll often insist that I don't like change and that what I do like is, in fact, a good status quo to settle into, but I think what I really mean by that is that it's a bit sad when nice people go far away. I'm honestly always trying to change things, most of the time incredibly rapidly without considering any consequences. Or at least, I will have thoroughly overthought the consequences, and then I'll just be like "uhhhh what if I leap head-first into this and whatever happens after, that's ten-minutes-from-now-Laura's problem." This could be anything from spontaneously bleaching my hair to the entire state of my life at any given time. It's certainly not the most advisable way to live out your days, but it does kinda get stuff happening. 

Anyway I got to thinking about this (with some self-awareness but no real emotional growth or change) following two events: I recently bleached my hair in almost panicky haste, and also some super nice people who I work with went far away to travel the world for a bit. I have no idea what to do with a status quo except frantically push in the opposite direction of it, but when people are about to leave, I know exactly what to do: make delicious sweet things for them. That's how I ended up making this gorgeously dense fudge, bejewelled with brandy-soaked sultanas. I had, in a nice piece of symbiosis, nicked the sultanas themselves from work prior to this, where they had been lending their flavour to brandy for a cocktail we were doing over Easter. One of the people who was leaving - Brooke, a gem of a lady - suggested that I turn them into fudge at some point, and so it seemed like a nice way to sweeten up the last shift we all worked together. 

I don't expect you to have sultanas sitting around in brandy for the opportunistic thieving, but they can be very easily recreated by quickly making your own (leaving you, joyfully, with leftover infused alcohol.) You don't even have to use brandy, rum is an obvious contender here, or you could use some other dried-grape-friendly liqueur, or - honestly - leave the fruit aspect out altogether and simply make yourself a slab of creamy, gloriously plain fudge.

This fudge has the silkiest bite to it, like your teeth are sliding through cool water. It dissolves on the tongue with rolling caramel flavours punctured by bursts of eyewateringly boozy sultanas. The sweetness of all the sugar and the heat of the alcohol plus the generally deliciousness of the butter come together to make something astonishingly balanced considering it's, y'know, a rectangle of sugar.  And while it's not as comfortingly crumbly as super-traditional fudge but the incredible satin texture more than makes up for this.

brandy butter sultana fudge 

adapted from this recipe. It's really easy to make, I just do a lot of explaining in the method below, in case you're freaking out at how long it looks.  

one cup of sultanas 
brandy - something not horrifically cheap but don't use anything expensive either 
100g butter
one can of sweetened condensed milk (the kind that's roughly 395g in size) 
two firmly packed cups of brown sugar

Put the sultanas in a bowl and pour in juuuust enough brandy that they all get a go at being in it. You don't have to swamp them, but it's all up to you - after all, you can use the soaking brandy however you please later, so if you want more of it then cover them in more. If you're like "noooo my precious brandy" then use a smaller amount. Leave it to sit, covered, at least overnight, but to be honest you could probably get away with like, an hour, if you're incredibly impatient. There's probably some way you could speed up the process by gently microwaving it all, but I don't have one and have completely forgotten what to do with one so couldn't really advise there. 

Put the butter, condensed milk, and brown sugar in a large saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring pretty much constantly, and let it all bubble away like there's no tomorrow until it reaches the soft-ball stage. What is this? Get a bowl of cold water. If you drop a small spoonful of the fudge into the cold water and it forms a soft ball of like, fudgey stuff, then it's ready. If it simply dissolves into the water or collapses into nothing, it needs to keep boiling. 

Once it's ready, remove from the heat - I like to stick it in a sink that I've partially filled with cold water - and stir aggressively for honestly ages until it thickens and you can see it starting to crystalise and set around the edges. Halfway through, stir in the drained sultanas. Reserve the brandy for your own good times. Usually fudge will lose its gloss and become rather crumbly as you stir but this one was a little different - it just thickened up considerably. When you feel chill about it, spatula the lot into a baking paper-lined brownie tin (or similar regularly sized baking dish) and refrigerate till super firm. Cut into slices of whatever size you like, and eat. 

The fudge went down very well with the crew when I brought it in and achieved lavish praise (oh my god, do I only do this for attention and lavish praise, not just to be nice? Does it even matter if we all still get fudge as a result?) Literally all I've been doing otherwise is trying to stay awake long enough to write this post, and listening to Judy Garland (I was going to say "through tear-filled ears" but not only is that anatomically inaccurate it's also troubling to consider, but what I'm trying to say is that she makes me majorly emotional.) However! One exciting thing has occurred lately: I had another crush cake published on The Toast. This one is for glorious Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda, currently crushing it in the gasp-makingly successful musical Hamilton.  Go me! (Really, go me. Back to bed. Go back to bed, me.) 

small cake, big crush

title from: Roll Deep, The Avenue - only one of the best songs to come out of the year 2005 ever.
music lately:

My Shot, from the musical Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan, Leslie Odom Jr and Anthony Ramos performing live at the White House - I honestly get aggressive shivers the minute this starts and can't stop watching this. 

Judy Garland, The Man That Got Away. Is there a duststorm happening inches from my face in this room? Oh wait no I'm sobbing uncontrollably at this. 

Soulja Boy Tell'em, Crank That (Soulja Boy) I dunno, I just really felt like listening to this. 
next time: I reallllllly feel like making bread, so maybe that will have happened by the time I next am here?