31 December 2008

It's Gonna Be A Happy New Year...


I've been joyfully camping in the great outdoors
for the past few days and will return soon, this being just a brief respite for those modern wonders - high pressure showers, the sound of a flushing loo, the internets. The camping I do is nothing too taxing though - I've never drunk so many gin and tonics nor eaten so much blue cheese in my life and yesterday I read one and a half books in the space of a sunny afternoon. The only footwear I brought with me are jandals and ugg boots, so there's no fear I might have to go hiking anywhere. Yes, that sort of camping. My whanau have been going to this particular beach yearly since I was but a wee baby and in coldest, rainiest July (remember, New Zealand's seasons are opposite to the Northern Hemisphere) I think of camping with longing. I'm certainly not going to reveal where it is that we go however, it's already far too crowded. (Anyone who has seen the Outrageous Fortune Christmas special episode will understand - "This is our spot!")

Christmas itself was a jolly affair, with several dishes from Nigella Christmas making their debut successfully. It is this time that I really love though, when it's neither this-year-nor-last-year and all I have to do is lie about in the shade - being pale as I am - and re-read beloved novels. I have also been reading lots of newspapers and magazines as they appear and have noticed that they all seem to have a round up of the years events. I was planning on doing my own recap of the year, and I typed it all out, but got to November (I know, so close) and suddenly got bored and did an abrupt volte-face on my idea. However who could forget this moment:

Just before the faint-makingly good Rufus Wainwright concert in February, Tim and I met Siobhan Marshall and Antonia Prebble, who play Pascelle and Lorette West respectively on Outrageous Fortune, the best New Zealand TV show there is (and I mean that in a straight up way, not a damning-with-faint-praise way).

Another exciting moment- in April, my first ever photo accepted to Tastespotting.com, that wonderfully inspiring website that can be something of a necessary evil to food bloggers. I wish I could say that my blog would have been as successful without it but frankly I don't think it would have. Either way, this shot of a spoonful home made creme fraiche made it on there which was a huge boost to my confidence as a blogger.

And of course, Oscar the kitty and his death-defying faceplanting skills was there to boost morale at regular intervals.

There are a million other things I could have included here (these are just the photos I have handy) but the point is, it has been a long, varied and at times arduous year. As all years are in their own way, I suppose. I'll be back in Wellington and cooking up a storm soon enough, and this place will once again resemble a fully-functioning food blog. I tend not to go in for wild revelry at this time of year, in fact sometimes I wish I could skip New Years altogether because that whole, desperate, "we must have FUN" thing can be all too stressful, and I prefer to have fun on my own terms rather than at the dictation of the calendar. All that Scrooge-ness aside, I sincerely hope all my readers have a fantastic time wherever you end up, and that 2009 heralds a vaguely more optimistic time for us all. Anyone have any New Years resolutions they plan on actually sticking to? At this stage nothing has really occurred to me personally, but I'd be interested to hear any - especially the more obscure. Has anyone here resolved to put on weight? To speak in an affected French accent for at least a month? To dye their hair a different colour each week? To take up carpentry? Do tell, and do have a safe start to the coming year.

PS - title quoted from RENT...what else?

23 December 2008

Seasons of Love


Because it seems to be the done thing in blog-land these days: Merry Christmas y'all. Or happy Hanukkah, Kwanzaa...or even just happy nonstop-cheesy-movies-on-TV-season. Whatever you may or may not be celebrating right now I hope everyone has a grand old time and I'll see you again soon.

17 December 2008

Fruit 'Em Up

Christmas shopping: 3 Laura: -100,000,000,003.
I've attempted to Christmas shop every weekend for the last month and have ended up with very little to show for myself. I know it's not all about the gifts, but after a lifetime of getting presents for my family, I can't just stop now because I can't find much of anything. I have one weekend left to scour Wellington for trinkets. Wish me luck. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one in this sorry boat.

Melodrama aside, we have been eating remarkably well lately because, to my endless happiness, summer fruit and vegetables are finally getting cheap, properly cheap, at the local market. I've eaten more fresh fruit in the last two weeks than I have all year and I am loving it. Strawberries for $2 a punnet, and three mangoes for a dollar more than makes up for six months eating uncrisp apples and canned peaches. Not that canned peaches don't have a special place reserved in my heart, but there is something so exciting about summer fruit.

Vegetables too - I finally got my hands on some of those sugar snap peas that everyone talks about, $1.50 for a big bag (but they cost $4.95 for about 6 beans in the supermarket), a whole bag of red, swollen tomatoes for a dollar, bunches of asparagus for a song, and the top story in my world this week, beetroot has gotten really really cheap again.

Inspired vaguely by an orzotto in Nigella Christmas, I wrapped two large beetroot in tinfoil and roasted them at 200 C for about 45 minutes. While that was happening, I did the usual risotto thing - sauteed onion and garlic in butter, added vermouth, let the arborio rice sizzle (I know, arborio is the least culinarily desirable of the risotto rices but it's also the cheapest), and ladled in vegetable stock, stirring all the while. I diced up the now soft and roasty beetroot and folded it into the risotto, which promptly turned the whole thing a garish (but pleasing!) pink and made the frozen peas which I'd added seem particularly green in contrast. I've said it before but I'll say it again: pink goes good with green. A spoonful of sour cream and a sprinkling of basil from the garden finished off this almost ridiculously colourful dinner. Bright? It's phosphorescent! And delicious too, but any reader of this blog will already know that I am a fan of the beetroot from way back.

We always seem to have a swag of overripe bananas kicking round. And, I'd found myself a very cheap ring cake tin at the Newtown Salvation Army store and was amped to make something in it. I'm not going to even try and present this cake to you as if it's anything new and revolutionary, but who could possibly turn up their nose at a slice? I based the recipe on the Banana Breakfast Ring in Feast by Nigella Lawson. It's a little more spongy and springy than your trad banana cake, but still moist and delicious and very simple to make. And is it just me being irrational, or are ring cakes way easier to slice up than normal ones?

Banana Cake

60g butter, melted
3-4 ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs
150g brown sugar
50g white sugar
250g flour (I actually used 200g flour and 50g cornflour, but whatevs)
1 t each baking soda and baking powder
2 heaped tablespoons sour cream

Mix everything together gently, bake in a buttered and floured ring tin for about 45 minutes at 180 C. I iced it with a mix of butter, icing sugar and cocoa and it was perfect. Some kind of lemony icing would be equally marvelous, I'm sure. The cake may or may not keep well, it didn't really sit round long enough for me to find out.

Well, well, well. Wellity wellity wellity. I hope to get another post in before Christmas, it has been quite slow here lately but my excuse about the slow computer still stands. Conversely, time is going so fast. I finish work for the year on the 23rd and then shall commence the annual war with my luggage in that (a) I have to cram everything in and (b) I have to pay exorbitant excess baggage fees on my flight home because they weigh too much, apparently saying bitterly, "Hey lady, it's Christmas!" doesn't really help the situation. Even though I'm only just getting home this side of the big day I hope to fit in a ridiculous amount of goodie-baking. New Years will be very quiet for me, and Tim will be in Wellington working through at Starbucks, but we will be hitting the ground running come 2009. In a matter of weeks -admittedly, several weeks- we will be seeing Neil Young and goodness knows who else at the Big Day Out, Arctic Monkeys (that's right, we bought tickets to their Wellington gig even though they'll be at Big Day Out), Kings of Leon AND The Who. Oh yes.

I haven't been on Twitter for a while, once again the slowness of the computer prevents such frivolousities, but here are some random thoughts:

- I heard my neighbour singing the other day. Does this mean they heard me singing Defying Gravity while no-one else was home?

- What did we use for the saying "recharge your batteries" before the advent of electricity? Did people take mini-breaks or book facials because they needed to "stoke their coalrange" or somesuch?

- I wonder if Leonard Cohen ever got called Leotard as a child. Admit it. Now you're wondering too.

9 December 2008

Macaroon-age Daydream


Apologies for the long gap between posts but I'm sure everyone else is just as busy as me if not wildly more so, what with the approaching Christmas and economy and global warming to worry about. Not helping is the fact that my computer has been monstrously slow of late. It took about five goes to upload my photos without the entire thing having a nervous breakdown, and you don't even want to know how many frustrating minutes it took to even get to the point where I can type here. Using that same excuse, I apologise deeply if I haven't been reading as many blogs as I should - I wish I could keep up with them all but my computer would require smelling salts and a cold compress. Now, seeing how this is the time of year that office parties and such become more prevalent, why not gaze upon this bowl of antioxidants as inspiration for what to do should you wish to engage in a little, um, oxidanting?

Above: You know that fruit that you get at markets sometimes that they sell for reeeally cheap because it needed to be eated ten minutes ago? Well I bought myself a bushel of the stuff on Sunday and using Nigella's Antioxidant Fruit Salad from Nigella Christmas as a starting point, made myself an incredibly gorgeous breakfast. A slightly wilting mango was sliced into a bowl - the whole thing - followed by some strawberries, sliced and tumbled over, chopped mint from the garden and a handful of pomegranate seeds, lovingly harvested from a tupperware container in the freezer. Not pictured, but unbelievably essential, is a sprinkling of pistachio nuts, which gave the most fabulous contrast in textures and tastes, their waxy, almost chocolatey creaminess next to the zingy acidity of all that fruit. I added them at the last minute as an afterthought, but they completely made the salad.

Such are my mad domestic goddess skillz that I managed to whip up these chocolate macaroons while making the Christmas Dinner last week, obviously they aren't the echt article from Pierre Hermes, you know, faint-makingly light, requires 19 egg whites, only 3 people worldwide know the recipe - these are rather unchic, stumpy little biscuits, but no less delicious.

I guess it's fitting that such a quick and untaxing recipe comes from Nigella Express. I took them into the office the next day for a colleague's birthday morning tea and they were, I'm immodestly proud to say, enormously popular. Of course, maybe people were just saying they like them because I was sitting right there. Who knows, they're certainly easy enough to make so why not find out for yourself (although rigorous quality control in my kitchen proved that they were in fact fantastically good.)

Chocolate Macaroons

2 egg whites
200g ground almonds
30g cocoa powder
175g icing sugar

Heat oven to 200g C, and line a baking tray with paper or a silicone sheet. Mix the egg whites in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients till you have a sticky chocolatey mixture. As I said, this is very easy - no intrepid egg-white beating here. Roll the mixture into small balls and arrange on the baking tray. Bake for about 11 minutes although I took them straight out of the oven at about 8 or 9 minutes, that's just because I get a bit nervous around biscuits - they always carry on cooking even when removed from the heat. They will be solidly chewy and densely chocolatey once cool, if you can wait that long, and are marvelous with coffee, ice cream, anything at all really.

On Monday, Tim and I went to the local Italian restaurant, Red Tomatoes, because with us both working full time and travelling round the place we've hardly seen each other. Red Tomatoes was recently on a New Zealand version of that Gordon Ramsey TV show where he goes into restaurants and swears a lot and then sorts out their problems. I've been to this place before a couple of times and it has definitely improved, in terms of decor, clarity of menu and staff attentiveness. The menu itself is not terribly adventurous, but this is not a bad thing, what is there is familiar and done well. The meals are still a little on the slow side, so don't go there on an awkward first date. With Tim and I nattering away we barely noticed.
And the pizza is divine.

Thin, crisp, slightly chewy base...generous, piping hot toppings...lots of cheese...brilliant. Tim got the Meditteranean chicken and I got the Puttanesca and we swapped pieces as we went.

Can't bond and connect emotionally, too busy eating own body weight in cheese.

As if cheese wasn't exciting enough in its own right, the current economical crisis which had resulted in astronomically high prices for dairy means that eating cheese is now a hedonistic, decadently luxurious experience. They do say absense makes the heart grow fonder (and probably less clogged too, in this case.)
Next time: Who knows. Christmas is hot on my heels and I've barely done the dreaded but necessary shopping at all. I need a buffer month between November and December - who do you go to see about getting this sort of thing organised? And what could we call it - Lauratober?

2 December 2008

Christmas Bells Are Ringing...

So with all the feasting that ensued on the night of The Christmas Dinner, I entirely forgot to take a photo of the actual roast chickens. However, as the following photo essay demonstrates, there's still plenty to see. I'm seriously exhausted, and it's pretty late so I'm going to be dialogue-lite and let the pictures largely speak for themselves.

Above: I whipped up some pomegranate ice cream on Sunday morning, after I returned from the vege market. Literally - get it - Whipped? Cream? Okay, I told you I was tired, which is a perfectly legitimate excuse for dodgy puns.

Nigella keeps her pomegranates close and her cranberries closer. It's a great thing that these berries are so expensive because she puts them in everything. Oh, I can't be snide though because they really are rather Christmassy, the frozen ones looking like holly berries in thawing snow, and their fresh sourness can perk up otherwise heavy fare quite effectively.

Cornbread, Cranberry and Orange Stuffing (adapted from Feast)

This mixture is so delicious it almost didn't make it into the chicken. Don't for goodness sake be put off because you have to make cornbread first, it's the easiest thing in the world and the recipe can be found here.

In a large pot, simmer 300g cranberries with the juice and zest of an orange. Add 125g butter slowly till it turns into a glossy, pinky-orange sauce, then crumble in the cornbread and stir to combine. When you're ready to bake it, stir in 2 eggs and stuff your bird and roast, or spread it into a loaf tin and bake it at 180 for about 25 minutes.

Above: In front, Pear and Cranberry stuffing, and in the back, the cornbread stuffing. I may have made a bit extra so that they could stand in as another vegetarian dish. Inexplicably, I never liked stuffing as a child so you can see I am making up for lost time here.

I bought a brace of peppers at the market on Sunday morning and roasted them as soon as I got back. They seemed to just get silkier and more delicious as the day went on and were perfect served at room temperature, so the rich olive oil, clean fresh pomegranate, and salty caper flavours shone through vibrantly.

Chargrilled Peppers with Pomegranate (Nigella Christmas)

6 red and/or yellow peppers (although I got 7 to allow for muck-ups and nibbling-while-cooking)
Seeds from 2 pomegranates (although one is more than fine, Nigella)
2 T fresh pomegranate juice (just give the fruit a squeeze while seeding)
2 t lime or lemon juice
60ml extra virgin olive oil
15ml garlic olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Maldon sea salt
3 T drained capers

Set your oven to very, very hot - like 250 C. Cut the peppers in half, removing seeds and stalks, and place cut-side down on a baking tray. Roast in the oven till they blister - about 15 mins. Remove and carefully chuck them all into a bowl, quickly covering it with gladwrap till the peppers cool down considerably. From here it will be very easy to remove the skins - just pull them off. Tear the peppers into strips and place them in a serving bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Serve at room temperature. I made mine at about 11am and served it at 8pm, so it benefits from a bit of a sit. I just kept it covered and on the bench, although it won't come to any harm in the fridge.

The involtini is another one that tastes best when it's not piping hot. This turned out to be an amazing combination of flavours and textures, so much more than just a token vegetarian dish. There was hardly any left afterwards but what was there made for a luxe lunch the next day, microwaved for a bit and served with salad and leftover roast veges.

Above: The marvelously summery Sangria (and yes, we used those tacky plastic ice cube things...well, they're practical! And this was hardly a classy joint to begin with.)

Poinsettia, a mix of cranberry juice, cointreau, and sparkling white wine (1 litre, 125 mls, and 750mls respectively) is an enchanting combination that completely owns Buck's Fizz in terms of festive drinkability. Tip of the cap to Nigella, for all that she half-heartedly protests that she's not much of a drinker, she can certainly navigate her way round a liquor cabinet.

The table! We managed to fit eight of us around it, not entirely comfortably though...

Above: The roasted pepper salad and boiled new potatoes with mint from our herb patch. Notice the gorgeous yellow bowl which was a Christmas present from the parents last year, and the beautiful Christmas crackers which were really way too classy for us. They contained real presents, like pens, corkscrews and measuring tapes. Nifty or what? True to form, as well as forgetting to photograph the chicken, I forgot to bring the parsnips out of the oven at all until after we finished the main course. They instead became a refreshing palate cleanser between meals, something to consider for your next dinner party perhaps...After dinner we played charming parlour games (well, we played Scattergories, is there a more satisfying game for bookish, wordy BA students to tackle?)

Drama! Tim is the only one in our flat capable of turning jelly out of a mould. He may be the only person in the world who can do it...perhaps we can never know.

The white chocolate almond cake was utterly gorgeous, although the problem with cakes that have white chocolate in them is that you quite often can't actually taste the white chocolate as much as you'd like (who am I kidding, as much as I'd like.) So I upped the ante by drizzling over a melted milky bar, Jackson Pollock-styles (hey, I got an A in an essay about him in first year, I feel sufficiently qualified to pay homage to him via the medium of baked goods.) This is a fantastic cake for entertaining as you can make it in advance and it keeps beautifully, but looks rather impressive as far as puddings go. I'm not sure if it was supposed to rise much - or whether it has something to do with our oven - but the cake rose hugely then sunk, leaving a crevice that I filled with chopped pistachios (it was going to be silver cachous but they were $5.50 for a small cannister at New World - um, no thanks - and besides, the still-festive pistachios are actually pleasant to eat.)

Above: The official pudding table: the white chocolate almond cake, the "tortova", pomegranate ice cream, red and green jelly, and strawberries, also virtuously purchased from the market. The chocolate torte turned out to be marvelous, somehow crisp and chewy at the same time and punctuated by welcome chunks of dark, dark chocolate.

It was altogether a fantastic meal shared with fantastic people, although it was such a shame that Emma couldn't be there. She was however present in our minds and hopefully gets back to New Zealand asap safe and sound!
In other news: I'm reading To Kill A Mockingbird. Tim found an old copy somewhere while dropping some stuff off at the Salvation Army, and I do love old books, (not those horrible shiny reissues with conceptual cover art) so he grabbed it for me. It was one of those that I knew I should have a look at one day, but the curmudgeon in me has this thing where the more a book is recommended to me, the more I stubbornly refuse to read it. I don't know why, perhaps hype annoys me, but that's certainly the reason I've never read The Kite Runner. Anyway, To Kill A Mockingbird is really very good, (she says condescendingly - didn't it win the Pulitzer or somesuch?) I'm thoroughly enjoying it. I've also recently read Nigella Lawson's unofficial biography, forwarded to me by the ever-thoughtful Linda. It is a cracking read, I think I devoured it in a day or two on my lunchbreaks at work but...it's really not very well written. It quotes her cookbooks as though they were interviews - as though I don't know them all word for word anyway - but it's worth it for the luscious pictures of Nigella. What a beauty. I must say, it's not a good book for the self esteem, as it constantly reiterates how goddess-like and creamy and striking she is and it can leave the reader feeling somewhat homely. I definitely recommend it for a bit of light reading though. Okay, this suddenly turned into Laura's book corner, so I'd better get going...
Next time: I attempt chocolate macaroons (the quick, chewy kind, not the faint-making Hermes kind) and make Ed Victor's Turkey Hash with the scant leftover roasted chicken from the Christmas dinner.

29 November 2008

Under Pressure

A brief progress report on my last-minute preparations for the Christmas Dinner - which is tomorrow! - with no proper recipes yet because I don't have time to type them out. Why? Tim and I are on our way to a seventies party. He's dressing up as David Bowie, and after much pondering I'm going to be glam-rocking it up myself. I say pondering because it was surprisingly difficult to figure out what to dress up as (after Tim beat me to being Bowie that is). I mean, if I go as Charlie's Angels-era Farrah, I look like Laura in trousers. If I go as Debbie Harry, I look like Laura in a dress. It goes on. I'd probably make a convincing Stevie Nicks, but I'm not a Fleetwood Mac fan and I have this feeling that you should be somehow committed to what you're dressing up as. Stevie Nicks certainly seemed to be.

Anyway, that's not what you came here for - you came for the close-up photos of foodstuffs! But before I get into that, we've had some slightly unsettling news that Emma - the gluten-free flatmate - is stuck in Bankok due to the shootings at the airport that you have probably heard about in the news. She's on holiday there and was supposed to come back a few days ago - and then she was supposed to come back today - and now she's not going to be back till next Wednesday. We're all a bit nonplussed, and it's not going to be the same without her, but the point is that she is completely safe where she is and that the show goes on.

Have I mentioned this before? You could get rapidly and dangerously inebriated if you played a little game called "Have a drink every time Nigella mentions the word 'pomegranate' in her latest book." Pomegranate farmers the world over must fall on their knees and weep gratefully for Nigella because without her, the market would crumble. I know I myself, at her insistence, bought two of the oft-mentioned fruit from last week, and bashed out the seeds to freeze for later use. I couldn't resist taking a photo of the shiny, ruby-like seeds first because they really are every bit as pretty as Nigella says. Tomorrow they will be sprinkled, with capers, onto roasted capsicum following a recipe from the aforementioned Nigella Christmas.

Today I made the involtini from Nigella Bites, and it is now stashed in the fridge ready for baking tomorrow afternoon. Although it's quite an involved recipe - frying the eggplant slices, making the filling, rolling them up, saucing everything - it's nothing too difficult. I adapted the recipe somewhat, only in the name of laziness - instead of making a simmered tomato sauce for these eggplant parcels, I just upended a couple of tins of chopped tomatoes over them. I'm sure Nigella would approve.

The filling, by the way, is a nubbly mix of bulghur wheat (although I substituted quinoa), feta cheese, pistachios, garlic, cinnamon and oregano. It's bound with an egg, but I daresay without that it would make a lovely salad.

Above: Speaking of things Nigella would approve of, once it has the sauce poured over and is sprinkled with more feta and pistachios, the colours of this dish are entirely appropriate to Christmas. Doesn't it look pretty?

Above: And of course, there's pudding. I didn't end up taking many photos of the making process of these because both puddings involve stressful beating of egg whites (I know, I am my own worst enemy) and I didn't want to mess around taking photos and risk the whole lot going disastrously wrong. So all we have as proof of the White Chocolate Almond Torte - well, so far - is this picture of partially melted white chocolate. Due to my well-documented love of white chocolate it will come as no surprise that I had great difficulty refraining from burying my face in this bowl.

There's chocolate in the other pudding - the Other Torte infact - although someone did suggest "tortova" which I think is rather sweet. This is one that you need to prep in advance for, because there's a lot of chopped things involved - dark chocolate, walnuts, biscuits (luckily gluten-free biscuits crumble like, well, gluten-free biscuits) and dried apricots. All these are folded into a glossy meringue made from four egg whites, spread carefully into a lined 23cm caketin and baked at 180 C for about half an hour, then left to cool in the oven. I haven't actually tasted it yet obviously so I can't vouch for its deliciousness but it certainly smelled marvelous as it crisped up.

I did snag a quick photo of the mix though - the things I do for you! Meringue can be a fickle beast to deal with and I certainly didn't want to tempt fate by setting up several shots here. It waits for no one and needs to get into the oven without delay.

Next time you hear from me, the Christmas Dinner for 2008 will be over and - *faints* - it will be December already. With any luck there will also be amusing photos of Tim and I dressed up as glam rock scallywags "getting ziggy with it" (Tim's pun, not mine.) Actually, the nature of his multicoloured spandex jumpsuit ensures that all photos will be amusing.

24 November 2008

Visions Of Sugarplums


Occasionally, in the middle of the night, I'll lie awake possessed by such thoughts as: If the year 2006 was two years ago, and I started uni in that year, how can I have finished my three year BA course this year? Don't even try to work that one out or your brain will dissolve like baking soda in milk. But wait, there's more. I possess an extensively vivid imagination, which is lovely if I want to write an allegorical children's tale about a rabbit that falls in love with a whale, but it's not so merry when I'm losing the battle with my brain which is thinking all sorts of things when I'm supposed to be asleep: New Zealand's worst earthquake being moments away, Tim being hit by a bus, never seeing Wicked, killer pelicans enforcing their fascist regime upon us all.

At times like these, the only thing that really soothes - nay, distracts the mind, is thinking about baking. During a particularly awake moment recently, I came up with making the Breakfast Bars from Nigella Express. I had a tin of condensed milk kicking round and wasn't sure what to do with it - caramel slice seemed too arbitrary, and for me there's something rather seductive (culinarily speaking that is) about rolled oats, which the breakfast bars have by the truckload. And before you conclude that I'm totally batty, trust me. We've all been there, you know, watched the late night news, bogged down by everything going wrong in the world, unable to sleep in case you should be bottling your own urine because of the inevitable global shortage of water...just think about making cupcakes, or indeed any kind of sweet thing. It's a bit like saying "happy place" over and over but more practical...and with cake at the end.

Breakfast Bars

1 can of sweetened condensed milk (roughly 400g)
250g rolled oats
75g shredded coconut
100g dried cranberries
125g mixed seeds (sunflower, linseed, pumpkin, etc)
125g unsalted peanuts

Preheat oven to 130 C, and oil a 23x33cm baking tin or throwaway foil tin. Warm the condensed milk gently in a pan till it is more liquid than solid. Remove from heat and then add the rest of the ingredients, stirring carefully with a spatula so everything is covered. Even out the surface, then bake for about an hour. Let cool for about 15 minutes then slice up. You should probably know that I left out the nuts, swapped the expensive cranberries for a cheaper mix of chopped dates and dried apricots, and that these do indeed make a brilliant breakfast on the run.

Above: They get better the longer they sit too. So if you can, try and hold off for a bit.

Something else keeping me up at night - but with happy anticipation - is the annual flat Christmas dinner which is going to be this Sunday. I cook the whole thing, the flat gets together with a few other usual suspects and we have a jolly meal before inevitably going our separate ways. It is always fun coming up with the menu, which this year needs to be both gluten free and vegetarian friendly as keeping with the needs of various people who will be attending. This isn't a problem, you'd be amazed at how diverse Nigella's recipes are...Here's my menu concept so far:

2 roasted free range chickens
Cornbread stuffing (from Feast, with flour omitted to make it gluten-free)
Pear and Cranberry stuffing (from Nigella Christmas)
Roast pepper and pomegranate salad (from Nigella Christmas)
Involtini (eggplant dish from Nigella Bites as vegetarian main)
Honey Roasted Parsnips (from How To Eat)
Steamed new potatoes with mint from the garden
A big lettuce salad (ie, buy bag of salad leaves, upend into bowl)
Bread rolls (So Tim can have his requisite amount of carbs)

White Chocolate Almond Torte (Forever Summer)
Dark Chocolate, Walnut and Fruit Torte (basically a pavlova with all manner of good things stirred into it before baking...I've adapted the recipe from a few different places)
Sugar Free red and green jellies (which Tim will be in charge of)
Fresh fruit

I'm also going to try my hand at Poinsettia, a mix of white sparkling wine, Cointreau, and cranberry juice...the recipe is from Nigella Christmas and sounds completely drinkable...But you'll hear more about all this later on in the week. It's a lot more simplified than last year's menu - just one meat course, veges which don't need roasting (the fact that EVERYTHING needed oven space last year was a logistical nightmare) puddings that can be made in advance, and stuffings which are both vegetarian so I can roast whatever doesn't fit inside the chickens and serve to everyone. We rarely eat chicken - probably once every 6-8 weeks, if that - well, I want to get the proper stuff when I do eat it but it's soooo expensive - so I'm pretty excited about that.

I can't believe it has been a whole year since the last Christmas dinner. I can't believe it is a month till Christmas. Time to think of cupcakes again...

18 November 2008

Banana O'Rily

I've started full-time work this week, so you'll have to forgive me if I get a little drunk on my own power and come over all megalomaniacal at you. I'll try to keep it in check. Leonard Cohen tickets were selling on Trademe today (NZ's Ebay-lite) for over $600, so as yet it looks like I'm really not going, and thus my dream of seeing my Canadian triumverate (Leonard, Neil, Rufus) is not quite going to come to fruition. No need to go listening to "Who By Fire" on constant loop just yet however, because I found out on the weekend - care of a certain lovely father of mine - that I'm going to be seeing The Who in March, and I am just ridiculously excited. For those of you who have been so unfortunate not to have had your ears blessed by their music...think of the CSI theme tunes. The original and the Miami and New York spin-off themes are all Who songs (who? I hear you say...)
We went to visit Tim's parents over the weekend and they sent us back to Wellington with a large bag of ripe bananas, with which I decided to do the obvious thing and use them in some kind of cake. I made banana bread using a much-repeated recipe from Nigella Lawson's How To Be A Domestic Goddess, a book so imbued with the spirit of baking that its very pages, were you to lick them, taste of cinnamon and nutmeg. Although that could well be because I'm so messy and schmeer batter everywhere.

It's a non-threatening but diverting recipe, the batter spiked with luscious, rum-soaked sultanas (although I use Marsala al'uovo for preference, it's flavour is impossible to better) and irregularly sized chunks of chopped chocolate folded through at the end. Rustic but elegant, easy to make but looks like you put in lots of effort...

Banana Bread

100g sultanas
75ml bourbon or dark rum (or Marsala, which makes it smell heavenly)
175g plain flour
2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
125g melted butter
150g sugar
2 large eggs
4 small, very ripe mashed bananas (about 300g when peeled)
Optional - about 60g dark chocolate, chopped roughly

Put the sultanas and chosen alcohol in a small saucepan and bring to the boil, then let cool. Or, if you're lazy like me, just zap them in the microwave. Mix the butter, sugar, eggs and bananas together, then fold in the dry ingredients. Finally, fold in the drained sultanas and chocolate and pour into a well greased and floured loaf tin. Bake at 170 C for about an hour, although it may need longer. I reserved the remaining dribble of Marsala that the sultanas had been warmed in and poured it over the cake as soon as it emerged from the oven.

Eat by the generous slabful. Not that I'd know or anything, but even if you overcook it slightly so it's a bit too dark on top, it doesn't seem to do any harm. In fact this cake stays serviceably moist for a couple of days after baking.

Surprise! A short, succinct post. It's so short and lacking in banter that I don't quite know what to do with myself, but since I'm not feeling overwhelmingly zany right now I might as well not try and force it. To be honest I'm pretty exhausted from travelling two weekends in a row and then starting full-time has been taking a lot of my brain-space. ("just because I get around") I haven't had any time to cook from the gorgeous Nigella Christmas yet - have hardly had time to cook at all to be honest - but I can't wait to start chutneying it up - her chapter on homemade gifts is seriously inspiring!

12 November 2008

Festival Medley


I've been back from Christchurch for a day now, and although a little tired from travelling, I was absolutely going to update but...

I have been a trifle distracted...


Nigella Christmas.

Look at her go. Did you know she's nearly fifty?

It arrived in the mail yesterday from home - an entirely unexpected present to say congratulations for finishing university. I've barely been able to tear my eyes away from this book since I first opened it - it's truly gorgeous and very Nigella - in the first few pages alone she is urging me to purchase lychee liqueur. Economic downturn - what economic downturn? It doesn't bother me in the slightest, but there will be those who peevishly gripe at her lavish tendencies...completely ignoring the fact that, if you look beyond the blue cheese and pistachios and the pricey, difficult-to-find unguents, she has many practical, healthy and cost-effective recipes that are also very easy to execute. How else could a mere serf like me afford to cook from her books so regularly? Defensiveness aside, it is a beautiful book and I really thrilling at the thought of what I might make first from it.

I had a lovely time down south, even though Christchurch itself was not as immediately charming as Wellington. And it's alarmingly flat compared to my hillocky adopted home. I don't know why this bothered me...Anyway, I was working - yes, working - at the Southern Amp music festival, putting up anti-smoking signage and monitoring it throughout the event. This was a bit more full-on than it sounds, I wasn't just swanning about watching music all day (again, excuse my defensiveness), and those posters and voluminous adshels don't just erect themselves. Happily, I did get to see some brilliant bands, including Weta, a New Zealand band that I loved back in 2000 but sadly never got to experience much of since they broke up. For some reason they decided this was the place to get back together, and they were absolutely marvelous - all the songs sounded as cracking as they did when I was 13.

I also got to see the Charlatans...

Although whether the lead singer saw us is a whole other story. His hair was fascinating, a thick, homogenous bowl cut that clung over his eyes as though by suction. They played an all-too-brief set...perhaps they were miffed that their description in the brochure for the event described the pinacle of their achievements as a supporting slot for Oasis.

The Dandy Warhols were there, an intensely languid lot who bore the mild insult of being billed below The Living End. The Dandy's slot was excellent as I'd forgotten how many of their songs I knew and liked, and because they played one of my favourite songs ever, the cumbersomely titled "Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth." Jordan Luck, a New Zealand musical legend - and yes, the word is bandied about a lot these days - was brilliant live, and is looking alarmingly like Rod Stewart in his later years. You better believe I warbled tunelessly along to "Victoria", "Who Loves Who The Most", "I'll Say Goodbye" and "Why Does Love Do This To Me?" Helping me at the event was a Scottish guy from work who has been in the country for a month, it was an interesting juxtaposition considering I can't remember ever not knowing those Jordan Luck/Exponents songs whereas it was his very first time hearing them. We also managed to catch the end of Fur Patrol's set - lead singer Julia was in fine voice and had gorgeous hair which I coveted on the spot - and finished off by seeing Dimmer, a band who have had enormous critical acclaim but who I've never really heard anything of. They were pretty darn brilliant, playing these enigmatic, hypnotically droning songs, while intriguing frontman Shane Carter gyrated lovingly with his guitar. And got us all joining in on a rousing, spontaneous chant of "John Key...*silence*...yeah..."

The above paragraph will possibly make little sense if you aren't actually in New Zealand. However, as a gal who grew up in the pre-Google age, reading Baby Sitters' Club books and wondering what on earth a Twinkie or a barrette or a Ring-Ding was, vindication I say! I do however apologise for the fact that the title will only make sense if you have some knowledge of [title of show], that much cannot be helped.

We also saw this guy: Lindon Puffin. He described himself as visually reminiscent of Morrissey...um? I can't say his music was entirely gripping, but sweet mercy the man is funny. If you see his name at any event, try and catch him because the laughs come at you thick and fast like soft-serve ice cream. I'm from the North Island so I can only imagine how funny his jokes about Oamaru and Picton are if you've actually been there.

I did, I really did have a whole lot of food stuff planned for this post, seeing as it is an actual food blog and all, but frankly the photos weren't that great - and in this bloodthirsty and friend-against-friend age of blogging, you need decent photos just to keep your head above water - and it was so long ago that I've forgotten what I was going to talk about. Here's a snippet though...

So, last week sometime - or was it two neglectful weeks ago now - I roasted a large slab of piggy, following a lovely recipe in Cuisine magazine using sherry and fennel seeds. I had a prowl through my Wagamama Noodle cookbook for inspiration to use up the leftover cold pork, and following a recommendation, checked out the gyoza recipe. I ended up veering shamelessly off-course of the recipe (not least because I didn't have any wonton wrappers) but ended up making baked spring rolls, flavoured with all kind of good things - fish sauce, ginger, sesame...If you've ever made rice paper rolls before - and if you haven't, they're not as scary as they look - you should totally try popping them in a hot oven for a while. They crisp up wonderfully but, because there's no oil involved, are still incredibly healthy. Since the concepts of "deliciously crispy" and "virtuously healthy" hardly ever meet to shake hands, this is quite an exciting breakthrough for me.

Above: These crisp little parcels, while a little time consuming to roll up, can also be assembled well ahead of time and baked at the last minute. Did I mention that they're good? They're sooooo good.

Unfortunately it looks as though my dreams of seeing Leonard Cohen are not to be. The old so-and-so sold out within moments and as I was flying back from Christchurch on the day they went on sale, I completely missed out.

Next time: I promise to try and do something that actually resembles a food blog post.

7 November 2008



I'm flying down to Christchurch on business early tomorrow morning, and won't be back till Monday afternoon. I was hoping to get a post out about the roast pork I made earlier this week (I even had a punny title ready, but I'll not reveal all my cards at once) However, Tim and I went to see the ballet Don Quixote tonight and so real life is getting in the way of blogging, as it should. I actually took ballet lessons for about thirteen or so years - long after the point where my childbearing knees and womanly shoulders and inability to reeeally pirouette made it painfully clear that I would never have a career in it. But even when it was causing my self-esteem to plummet it was still the thing that made me happiest, and I was highly excited to be immersing myself in ballet again. Don Quixote was one of the few big ballets I've never seen before... and it was utterly fantastic. It has been a while since I've seen a Royal New Zealand Ballet production, I used to go all the time in the nineties, so there was only one name I really recognised in the company - Sir Jon Trimmer. If you're not from New Zealand you may not know who he is, but he's not just a ballet legend, he's just...a legend. He has been dancing with the RNZB forever and got awarded an MBE before most of you were even born. It was such a treat to see him again, playing the titular Don with great aplomb. I didn't know the story of the ballet and for some reason was expecting it to be really dark, but it couldn't have been a perkier time. Stunning sets, constant hilarity, the classic happy ending with multiple fouettes...I highly recommend it.

So, how ridiculously exciting was the American election? I realise that I'm probably the squillionth blogger to comment on it now, but let it be said once more: "WOOHOO!" I couldn't be happier that Obama won. But so confusing was their system of feeding through information (ie, "this just in: Obama takes the state!.....we predict") that I thought actually McCain had it. During Obama's speech I was literally standing on the couch, I couldn't remain seated. I can't imagine what it must have been like to actually be American at that moment. It was enthralling...amazing...wonderful. Disappointing though, was that Prop 8 passed...who are these people that vote for it - that think it's right to suppress and take rights from people for no good reason? Baffles me beyond belief.

Today I voted for New Zealand's upcoming election. It was my first time voting - last time I was in England and had a meltdown trying to do it over the interweb - and I must admit I got a unique thrill being there in the booth. I already knew which party I wasn't voting for - unfortunately I suspect they'll end up being the party in power - but I read up diligently on everyone's policies prior to making my final decision. It was exciting to think that my voice is worth something, and that whatever happens, I've done my part. And I felt soooo deliciously grown up.

Above: Pistachios - the loveliest nut in The Pantry...Yesterday I recieved the sad news that one of the founding members of a tight-knit online cooking forum I am part of had died. She went by the name of Pistachio and will be dearly missed by many. I never met her - she lived in Spain - and didn't actually "know" her as well as some but I know that her presence online - and now lack thereof - will not be forgotten soon.

3 November 2008

Pineapple Express

A very, very swift post from me - I know my exam is tomorrow, but Tim and I have studied ourselves into a brick wall and can nay do more. We've been watching some audio commentaries on The Mighty Boosh DVD (yes, we are earnest commentary-watching folk) and giving our brains a well-needed airing before everything we've crammed in there floats lightly out our ears.

Saturday's weather was beyond awful - gale force winds and pelting rain. Sunday, however, in typical Wellington fashion, was the complete opposite - an unutterably beautiful day. I purchased a pineapple at the vege market for a dollar and imagined I would sprinkle it with chopped mint and fresh ginger and serve it for a sparklingly healthy dinner. Then Tim said "or we could dip it in chocolate?" Brilliant. I was sold.

In fact I went one better, and used a recipe of the blessed Nigella Lawson's from her gorgeous book Forever Summer .

Caramelised Pineapple with Hot Chocolate Sauce
1 ripe pineapple
demarara sugar (Nigella specifies 250g)
200g dark chocolate
125ml Malibu
125ml cream

Preheat the grill to very hot (or the barbeque!) Slice the skin off the pineapple then chop it into wedges. If you like, thread them onto soaked wooden bamboo skewers or just leave them plain like I did. Lay the pineapple on a layer of tinfoil and sprinkle with the sugar. Pop under the grill till caramelised and deep golden in colour. For the sauce, simply melt the chocolate and stir in the Malibu and cream. Pour into a bowl for people to dip the pineapple in. I resolutely sprinkled the pineapple with mint though and it added its pleasant, reliably perky flavour to the whole thing.

You should probably know that we lowly (soon-to-be-ex) students don't carry anything as highfalutin' as actual Malibu. Instead I used a harsh splash of this Malibu doppelganger stuff of Katie's called - charmingly - "Wipeout." The look of Malibu in the same white bottle, minus the smooth rumminess.

Above: Cool mirror effect on the shiny dipping sauce. It's probably the aluminium in the Wipeout liquor that makes the chocolate so reflecty.

We ate dinner (a quick feast of steamed red potatoes, proper beef sausages, roasted capsicum and carrot sticks) outside because it was so glorious, and at 7.30pm we were still able to be comfortably al fresco with our pineapple. It is a wonderful pudding - the taste of scorched fructose and smooth, smooth chocolate mingling very pleasantly with each other, people leaning over each other sociably to access the fruit and sauce - heck, I'd go for two pineapples next time.

I haven't mentioned this so far because I've been so busy promoting the Otaua video (and in case you're wondering, the case is going on hiatus for three weeks so no proper conclusion yet) but if you like, clickety click HERE to witness a rather amazing thing. You may remember that I went on a plugging spree for the late Broadway musical [title of show]. Well it's over now, but some spry fans organised - and just let me try to explain this properly - a music video to '9 Peoples' Favourite Things', one of the songs from [title of show], using fans of the show holding up pictures of the lyrics. As in, one word per person. If all this makes no sense, watch the video anyway because Tim and I are both in it! Yayyy! Participation from miles afar! But actually, don't even try to look out for us because we zoom by in a flash and your retinae will chaff with the strain of it all. But there's still something for everyone. For Broadway fans, there's Jonathan Groff *swoons*, Patti LuPone, Shoshana Bean, Amy Spanger, Seth Rudetsky, Betty Buckley and Cheyenne Jackson *swoons again* amongst others. For the average punter, have fun trying to spot America Ferrera, Sarah Silverman, Jimmy Kimmel, TR Knight from Grey's Anatomy and for those who like to dip your toe on either side of the fence, check out the spunky Bebe "Lillith" Neuwirth. Follow the link in the grey box for stills and names, and you'll actually get to see me.

See, there was no need to flinch, I didn't even try and make you watch the Otaua video again. But if you're on youtube anyway with nothing else to do...As it is we are on a rollicking 1900 views, which is flipping amazing. Hopefully in three weeks we can make the change we want. In fantastic news, Otaua and the video itself were on the TV1 national news show here in New Zealand, they gave us a good two minutes and showed lots of clips of Otaua looking clean and lovely and untainted by oil plants. Hilariously though, they showed a clip of the mayor of Franklin, Mark Ball, and said that it was my dad. Not sure what the mayor thinks of this...

Speaking of change, in a day or two I'm guessing things are going to go absolutely nuts in America. I try to stay relatively nonpartisan - well, except when I don't - but even a bare plot summary of my beloved RENT which this blog is named for should indicate that I'm pretty left leaning. (Hint: transvestites and lesbians ahoy!) I couldn't be more hopeful that Barack Obama gets in as president, and that Sarah Palin fades quietly into obscurity (I know, I know, I'm not American, but let's put it this way, I've heard many, many women say that she in no way speaks for them by virtue of her gender). It's times like these that I get a particular song stuck in my head...'Louder Than Words',a stunning ditty from one of Jonathan Larson's earlier works, Tick, Tick...Boom! If the words look a little cheesy on paper, click here for a somewhat poor quality vid of the final Broadway cast singing it to get the full effect.

Why should we
Blaze a trail
When the well worn path
Seems safe and so inviting?

How, as we travel
Can we see the dismay
And keep from fighting?

Cages or wings
Which do you prefer? Ask the birds
Fear or love, baby
Don't say the answer
Actions speak louder than words!

What does it take
To wake up a generation?
How can you make someone
Take off and fly?

If we don't wake up
And shake up the nation
We'll leave the dust
Of the world wondering why

Why do we stay with lovers
Who we know, down deep
Just aren't right?
Why would we rather
Put ourselves through hell
Than sleep alone at night?

Why do we follow leaders who never lead?
Why does it take catastrophe to start a revolution
If we're so free? Tell me why - someone tell me why
So many people bleed

Cages or wings
Which do you prefer? Ask the birds
Fear or love, baby
Don't say the answer
Actions speak louder than words!

29 October 2008

Gelatine-age Kicks

What a kerfuffle. I apologise heartily for neglecting the blogs I normally peruse loyally. If it's any consolation, between studying for my exam next Tuesday, stressing about WPC Ltd's attempt to bring their 'environmentally friendly' waste oil treatment plant to my hometown, vigorously promoting the protest video on youtube, and working, I've barely managed to attend to this blog. What can I say, it's rather difficult to type when you're shaking your fist at people. It makes me so furious that the WPC and members of the Franklin District Council that support them can go to bed at night, placidly untroubled about what they're doing to an entire community, while I find myself reading the same page of Kerouac's On The Road seven times because I'm so distracted with worry (perhaps also due to this book not being nearly as good as everyone claims it to be, perhaps not.) The hearing to decide the fate of Otaua is happening today and tomorrow, so you understand that I'm a little jittery. I'd like to say now that it was four years to the day on the 29th that my maternal grandfather died. He spent most of his final years living just up the road from us, and I imagine him watching over the proceedings, perhaps also with a fist held angrily aloft.

To the food: There is something about recipes involving gelatine that fills me with trepidation, I think it stems back to an incident involving Neenish Tarts when I was a child. The recipe called for the filling to be set with the dreaded stuff, which formed stringy, gummy strands the moment it hit the mixture. As people politely bit into the finished tarts, their teeth would meet with clumps of it, the texture of chopped up erasers marring the otherwise smooth and creamy filling. My gelatine experiences since then have been few and far between. Earlier this year though I spontaneously purchased some gelatine leaves from Kirkcaldie and Staines and decided to use them the other day to make Apple Tea Jelly, a recipe from the September 2005 Cuisine magazine that has held my attention ever since I read it. The weather is finally warming the shoulders enough to make this sort of thing even worth thinking about.

Above: Gelatine leaves. Nigella Lawson raves about them, which is enough to get me to hand over significant amounts of coin for something. But don't they look like some kind of ethereally golden church window? Hold them towards the sun and the Hallelujah chorus practically starts playing. Of course, those with a delicate constition may want to ignore the sole ingredient in these fairy-like sheets: pig skin. Moving along!

Powdered Turkish apple tea can be found in most supermarkets, but I happened to acquire a half-full box from my aunt after a comprehensive cleanout of her well-stocked pantry (which, up until said cleanout, was always something of a mystical haven for me, my version of Narnia). I never knew what to do with the stuff - it's too sugary to actually drink (I prefer a stiff black tea or something a bit more minty and natural, thankyou), and although the powder is intensely delicious eaten by the spoonful - like the best sour apple sweets you've ever tasted, dissolving ascerbically on the tongue - the idea of eating the whole lot makes me wince. So when I found this recipe, which uses a good amount of the stuff, I verily leapt with joy.

Above: The apple tea powder. Seriously, if you have some kicking around, try eating it with a spoon. It's intensely yummy, especially if you have what Nigella refers to as a sour tooth, rather than a sweet one. I have what I call a "fat tooth."

The recipe is very simple and specifies six 100ml dariole moulds, but since I was only feeding Tim and myself, I poured the whole lot into a little 600ml, old-fashioned Tala tin - also from that same aunt come to think of it. (Cheers, Lynn!)

Apple Tea Jelly

600mls boiling water
6 leaves gelatine
6 Tablespoons powdered apple tea

I funked it up a little by adding an apple-friendly chamomile teabag to the boiling water for a spell, and strewing some finely-chopped mint through the mixture once it was nearly set. But first: dissolve the apple tea in the boiling water. While that's happening, soak the gelatine leaves in a large lasagne-style dish filled with cold water for about a minute. They will soften slightly, and then, one at a time, pick them out of the water, squeeze them - which is rather squelchily pleasurable - and stir into the boiling apple tea, whereupon they will dissolve instantly. Pour the gelatined apple tea into your chosen receptacle, and then refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.

Above: The unminted jelly, ready for refrigeration.

When you're ready to eat it, find a likely looking person (in my case, Tim) to dip the tin briefly in hot water and turn it out onto a plate. I refuse to do such things myself, I know it will only result in tears - not necessarily mine - and jelly in my ears.

And what a beauty it is! Shivery, diaphanous, and with a subtle, fragrant apple flavour that is a million miles from whatever lurid, food-colouring flavoured stuff you can get out of a packet. I love packet jelly, but this is just absolutely gorgeous stuff, alluringly wobbly and very impressive to the casual passer-by ("you made jelly? Not out of a packet? Ooooh.") I imagine it would be wonderful on a hot summer night, after some kind of spice-heavy dinner.

Like I said, I have been attempting to study for my English exam next Tuesday. In fairness to WPC Ltd, there has been one other thing distracting me from my books: The Mighty Boosh. I've been a fan for a while now but Tim and I got ourselves a DVD of Season Two and watched all six episodes in one sitting. I laughed so much I nearly pulled a muscle. It's sheer brilliance, a little like Flight of The Conchords only British and surreal and even funnier (I realise I seem to compare everything to FOTC but that's because people are generally afraid to try new things unless they can relate it to something they already know. Gelatine - it's like Flight of the Conchords, only it dissolves in hot water!) More loveable than Little Britain, more endearing than Mr Bean, more surreal than Green Wing, and almost as sharp as Blackadder. Actually I'd put it on a par with Black Books. Hath there existed greater praise for comedy?

The other exciting thing going on - okay, so you already know about Neil Young coming to town, but guess who else is going to be here in January. You'll never guess. Okay: Leonard Cohen. The gravel-and-maple-syrup voiced lothario himself. Since Tim and I were lucky enough to witness Rufus Wainwright earlier this year, that will be my entire Canadian Music Tripartite that I've managed to see in concert and I'm only 22! I honestly never thought I'd get to see Mr Cohen, at least not in New Zealand of all places. I couldn't be more excited than if Idina Menzel herself decided "what the heck" and booked a tour of New Zealand even though you can't actually buy her albums in shops here (are you listening, Warner Brothers Records?) Although there have been whispers over the ether that Morrissey himself *faints* might be paying a trip to New Zealand in January. As you can imagine, what with one thing and another, I've been having a lot of mood swings lately. Thanks awfully for sticking it out with me.

Finally, further proof that the cat is secretly on quaaludes:

Above: "I'm under your bed, befriending your dust bunnies..." He just sat there, with enough of him sticking out so we could see him. A desperate cry for attention (as if he doesn't rule our lives already) or something more sinister?

Wait, what's that you say, Oscar?

If the above makes no sense, visit I Can Has Cheezburger? for further info (it still may not make sense, but you should get a laugh out of it.)

Next time: Not sure, though I'll try to keep it coherent. I did buy myself (with the aid of a voucher) the Wagamama Noodle cookbook which I've been getting lots of use out of, so mayhaps something from that. The video on youtube has hit a mighty 1800 views, words can't express my gratitude to those of you who have been watching it. For further information, keep checking the Otaua Village Blog for updates.

22 October 2008

Do You Hear The People Sing?


I know I've plugged the Otaua video incessantly, in fact you are perhaps thinking "Gee, I know already Laura, you might get a waste oil refinery right by your house, I've watched the video three times, what more do you want from me?!" Firstly, a massive thankyou to those who have watched the video and especially to those who have commented with words of support. The thing is, the Franklin District Council actually...doesn't care. They think that right in the middle of residential Otaua village is a fine home for this oily oil plant. I'm guessing that if it was their home and hometown poised to be ruined forever it would be a wee bit different. Basically, it's not looking terribly positive for us, but the more support we have the more likely it is that the council will wake up to the fact that it can't happen. If nothing else, knowing the eyes of the world are upon them will annoy the council and the WPC Ltd. If you're wondering what else you can do apart from watch the video, well...there's not a lot. But you can visit the brand, spanking new Otaua Village blog, read an article and look at the lyrics to the song on the video. Hopefully there will be more to read soon. I know I keep talking about it but it's all I can offer in the way of help for the cause. Frankly I'm scared about what's going to happen. And angry.

So, Tim bought a barbeque yesterday. A $40 barbeque. It's pretty flimsy, and has all the power of an electric toothbrush, but he and Paul were monumentally excited in a primal, alpha-male kind of way. What is it about barbeques? (Or is that barbequi?) I look at them and think "oooh, griddled eggplant and Japanese marinades and stone-fruit kebabs!" while Tim and Paul de-evolve back to Cro-Magnon Man.

Above: Cro-Magnon Man is, however, modern enough to buy free-range organic chicken nibbles rather than woolly mammoth steaks.

Above: Fell in love with a grill...

The chicken nibbles were pre-marinated (*clutches pearls*) but still delicious, because there's little better than that smoky, outdoorsy, slightly charred taste that comes from barbeque-ing. It wasn't even particularly sunny yesterday (and it's downright icy today) but sitting round "Big Red" as it has been dubbed, with a glass of wine and the smell of protein coagulating over a hot flame, well it felt as though we were in the middle of some endless summer. I can't wait to think of things to cook on it...

Above: Beef - (a) the meat from an adult bovine (b) inf. gripe, objection, grudge. We got both.

Last time I went up home, Mum bought a healthy slab of corned beef for Tim and I which flew back to Wellington with me (much to the chortles of the guy scanning my backpack at the airport). It was sufficiently chilly over the weekend for me to defrost it and shunning the normal slow-cook way of cooking it, submerged in liquid, I instead adapted a recipe from the Best of Cooking for New Zealanders by Lynn Bedford Hall. I made several incisions in the flesh and pushed in a mixture of butter, white miso paste, garlic and parsely. I know, miso and corned beef, sounds hideously fusion-y, but think of it as a slightly more mysterious version of worcester sauce or marmite. Its mild, complex saltiness makes it good for more than just straightforward soup. The beef was then braised slowly on the stovetop with onions, Stones Green Ginger Wine (also courtesy of Mum), a little stock, some tomato puree, a squeeze of golden syrup and a dried bay leaf. This created a marvelously flavoursome, surprisingly moist corned beef, which we ate with mashed potatoes on day one...

Above: And on day 2, cold and sliced with soup.

I made a version of Nigella's South Beach Black Bean Soup - by that I mean I was too lazy to actually find the book with the recipe in it for fear that I'd be mising half the necessary ingredients and just souped it on the fly. First of all you need to simmer your black beans, I think I did about a cupful but I don't actually remember, I don't think it really matters though. Bring them to the boil in a large pot then turn it down to a simmer for about half an hour or until you can bite into a bean without breaking a tooth. Drain them, and (in the same pot if you like) slowly fry an onion, a diced capsicum, a teaspoon of cumin seeds, a diced, seeded red chilli if desired, and a a teaspoon of ground coriander. Then I added a slosh of dry sherry, the black beans, and plenty of chicken stock, and let it simmer away. It's so simple but also something a little out of the ordinary to add interest to cold leftovers.

The flavours are perfectly complemented by the earthy-yet-perky taste of coriander. And...the feathery green leaves prevent your soup looking like a bowl of swamp water. I mean, let's not lie here.

A few months ago I installed Google Analytics on my blog, which allows me to find out how people are accessing my blog. For high-powered business websites it's an asset, for the casual blogger it's merely a source of occasional interest. It comes into its own, however, when it lets you see how people have found you through Google. I haven't checked it in a while, and there are some intriguing paths being trekked to my kitchen door.

Firstly, I must be a veritable guru, nay, a shaman of burghal wheat because there is a staggering number of searches for it that resulted in people viewing my blog.

To the people who googled "Otaua WPC" and found my blog, well now you know to visit the Otaua Village site. If it was anyone from the council or indeed, WPC Ltd, I hope you were intimidated by my special brand of intimidation. Many food bloggers across the world now have contempt for your policies! Be uneasy!

To the person who googled "Bit on the side roast pork Allison Gofton Watties", you won't find any of that Food-In-A-Minute, cover-it-all-in-Watties-Sauce-and-potato-pompoms business here. I said good day!

To the person who googled "oat fritters" - oh dear. Even I, patron of the oat, wouldn't go that far.

To the many, many people who googled "the brain, the brain, the centre of the chain" from the Baby Sitters Club movie and ended up here - you are not alone. Re-reading your old BSC books is kitschy nostalgia, not worrying behaviour.

To the person who googled "Idina Menzel" and ended up here, I salute your dedication. Out of curiosity, I went and googled "Idina Menzel" and, thirty pages in, still had no sign of my blog. Clearly, our paths were destined to cross. But to the person who googled "Ina Menzel" and found me - I hope I set you on the right track. It's Idina. And it's not pronounced "eye-dina" because you strike me as the type. Also googled was "how many units of Idina Menzel's 'I Stand' have sold". Because a food blog is the obvious place to find out. But it's a nice thought that such queries would lead a person here.

To those who googled quotes pertaining to Rent, Wicked, Spring Awakening, The White Stripes, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Billy Bragg, Flight of The Conchords, and Neil Young and ended up reading my blog, it proves that quoting pop culture is nothing if not beneficial to your hit count.

And finally, to the person or people (please don't let there be more than one of you) who asked "why can't we eat polar bear liver" and inquired after the "polar bear liver iron count" - what you do in your own time is your business, but don't go dragging me into it. (also - Sarah Palin, is that you?)

To finish on a mildly amusing note, I found this carton of buttermilk in the fridge. I bought it a while ago, but haven't found the right use for it yet. Turns out I can take my sweet little time about deciding what to do with it.

Above: hey, if we can have adorable lolcats, why not lolkitchns also? According to this audacious little carton of buttermilk, I have till the year 2023 to use it. Now, I'm no dairy maven, but that strikes me as a little...optimistic. You better believe though, that if in ten years time I go to make a batch of muffins and this very buttermilk has disintegrated into dangerous spores, I will be complaining. 'Disgruntled of Wellington' demands a year's supply of buttermilk...or at least a voucher.