31 December 2009

another year, it'll be the best year ever


Last post for 2009! Might as well end the year with something horrendously bad for you. There is not one single particle of nutrients in the recipe I've got for you today. But isn't that what half-hearted New Year's resolutions are exist for? Hope everyone had a smashing Christmas. Even though it can be a time where looming tensions rub up against each other, I was spared most of that - the closest we got was a bit of stress over getting lunch out all at the same temperature on Christmas Day. As our life is not an episode of Mad Men, there was no social failure involved with having to wait for the gravy to heat. It was wonderful to spend a whole week with my family doing not much in particular, especially since I've barely been home at all this past year. We did quizzes, drank tea, ate leftovers, went through cupboards and looked at old trinkets and schoolbooks, and my parents even indulged me by letting me watch Chess on the big TV with surround sound. Woke up the next morning to hear Don't Rain On My Parade - Dad was looking up Idina Menzel on Youtube. Felt as though it was some kind of small achievement.

New Year's will be a low-key one for me - lots of food, some drink, and Tim, myself and our friend and ex-flatmate Ange eating and drinking the lot over the course of the evening. The weather is looking typically dubious, so my fantasies of swanning about on the rooftop deck in a flowing dress while eating prawns (I don't know, I've clearly read one too many Australian Women's Weeklys or something) are fading but with good company, good food and no agenda I think we're quite safe from the evening descending into some kind of awkward Rupert-and-Hubert Mr Bean situation. I'm perfectly happy (she says defensively) being low-key this time of year.

Part of the evening's feastings is that artery-solidifying stalwart of the birthday party, Calf Club and school gala days, Lolly Cake. Also known in some circles as lolly log, quickly googling it would suggest that it is a concept more or less exclusive to New Zealand. Once you've tried it I'm sure you'll agree that whoever the bright spark that invented it was should surely have their face on the back of a coin or at the very least, have a commemorative stamp made in their honour.

Lolly Cake

Recipe from the back of the fruit puffs packet. Nigella would get a kick out of this I'm sure, in a "slumming-it" kind of way - look at all those packets in the ingredients!

100g butter
200g (1/2 a tin) sweetened condensed milk
250g (1 packet) malt biscuits, crushed
150g (1 packed) fruit puffs, roughly chopped
Dessicated coconut

Melt butter, stir in condensed milk, biscuits and lollies. Shape mixture into a log, roll in coconut, and refrigerate till solid, whereupon you cut it into slices.

For those of you not in New Zealand, fruit puffs are like a solid, ovoid fruit flavoured marshmallow. Marshmallows themselves would be too soft, but what with America being the leaders of the free world or something surely you must have something similar to this in the sweets aisle of your supermarket? When Tim and I were in the UK we made this for a charity bake sale at the school we were working at (they'd never had lolly cake before) and used Dolly mixture quite successfully (picking out and eating the jellies first, though).

As you can imagine, Lolly Cake is the most delicious thing upon this earth.

It tastes a little like the base of a cheesecake, and is surprisingly sophisticated texturally - dense, cool biscuit crumbs nestled around almost sherbetty fruit puffs with the occasional damp, fibrous burst of coconut. Even though I completely avoids shop-bought biscuits (hey, 'hydrogenated palm oil' freaks me out a little) here the ingredients just make sense. Oh, how they make sense.

What with it being the end of a year and the end of a whole decade, everyone's suddenly getting all list-happy and attempting to define the finest output of the last ten years. I certainly haven't the inclination to do anything too exhaustive, and because this is a food blog, I'm sure no-one is expecting me to (as if that is a reason to stop me). I already talk about music plenty, but in terms of films I feel like a lot of lists aren't reflecting the real best of the decade. The following could only be considered indicative of this insomuch as I feel like my opinion is correct, but...

Films That Happened In The Last Ten Years That I Truly Liked

Only six. I looked at Wikipedia's list of all films released this decade and came to the conclusion that I don't feel very strongly passionate about many of them. The following, however...

1: A Mighty Wind. (2002)
This film is perfect. I love it more each time I see it. It features a trifecta of the most incredible actresses in existence - I'd use the word girl-crush but I don't like it - Catherine O'Hara, Parker Posey, and Jane Lynch. The acting is devastatingly good, the music is joyfully sharp and despite it being a mockumentary, dammit if the clever lot of them don't make you care for their characters. (Trailer)

2: Hamlet 2 (2008)
This film is very close to A Mighty Wind for me in terms of brilliance. In fact I don't know how it isn't the top of all these best-of lists being released. It stars Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener (another incredible actress, she's often the best thing in whatever she stars in), Spring Awakening's Phoebe Strole and Skylar Astin, Elisabeth Shue, and the eye-wideningly gorgeous Joseph Julian Soria. It's about a sequel to Hamlet. I mean...really. (the glorious trailer)

3: Moulin Rouge (2001)
I know this one will never make a best-of list, but I think Baz Luhrmann is brilliant. This movie and its music was hugely important to me in my teens. I'm truly not kidding, just keeping the songs in my mind (we didn't have iPods back then) helped me psychologically get through the pain of one of those awful school camps where they force you to climb mountains and cross wire bridges and so on. It's beautiful, it's dramatic, it's dark, it's sumptuous, and truly, were Ewan MacGregor's talents ever better put to use than in this film? (Trailer)

4: RENT (2005)
Oh alright, it's not exactly Woody Allen or Sam Mendes or anything, it cuts out several important songs from the stage show and features a montage sequence in Santa Fe that may or may not be identical to every Bon Jovi music video ever made. But for employing all available original Broadway cast members to reprise their roles, for recognising the joy that is Tracie Thoms and Rosario Dawson, for having Idina Menzel sing Over The Moon live, for the gorgeous slow pan across at the screen end of La Vie Boheme, and most of all for making this musical accessible for people like myself on the other side of the world in New Zealand who would have struggled to find out about RENT any other way, it should be on this list. And all lists. (Youtube is a bit useless on the trailer front, so here's Seasons of Love)

5: The Wackness (2008)
Aha! A film that would be considered cool by discerning folk! It's a gorgeous, sad, funny little film that combines unrequited love, early nineties hip hop, and a stunning cast. (Trailer.)

6: Taking Woodstock (2009)
This film with its mellow but affecting storyline with one of the more important social and cultural events of the century as a backdrop is so good! And yet I read so many negative reviews. Many complained about how a movie with a music festival in its title didn't really feature any performances. This I felt was a bit simplistic, as the film was centred on a person's journey and experiences leading up to and during Woodstock. It was about people coming together for the music, not the music itself. There's already wonderful footage of the actual performances on that day, I don't see why this film was supposed to recreate that. Convincing, compassionate performances from all involved (including - yay! - Broadway's Jonathan Groff, who looks like he was born to wear sandals and ride a white horse) made this film hit me where films should. (Trailer)

(Honourable mention to Moon, an incredible film directed by Duncan Jones...the fact that it's not in the top six is more a reflection on my memory than its merit as a film. It belongs!)

There have been a lot of other films this decade that I've really enjoyed, (Ponyo, Billy Elliot, Revolutionary Road, Memento, Orange County, Every Little Step if that counts), plenty that I've disliked, and there are, admittedly, plenty that are on a lot of best-of lists that I've never even seen. You'd think having done two years of film studies I could muster up something a little more intellectual and film-festival-ish, but here we are. The list is slim, but sound.


Title almost came atcha via Led Zep but I switched at the last minute to Amanda Palmer, quoting her beautiful beautiful song Another Year (The Point of It All) from her album Who Killed Amanda Palmer. She's touring New Zealand in March and I absolutely can't wait.

On Shuffle while I type:

I would be completely lying if I didn't own up to the fact that I've been singing along very loudly to the revival cast recording of Hair. Prosaic choice, and nothing new, but it's just so fantastic.

2009 has been as packed with events as any other year - there was Otaua Village's David triumphing over the Goliath that was the Pukekohe WPC oil company wanting to more or less cripple my hometown (okay, Otaua isn't exactly Fern Gully but it was a no less worthy cause and a long and difficult battle from the people of the village. I couldn't have been happier that we more or less 'won'.) There was also graduation, a new existence on Cuba Street, the wonderful Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin at the Aotea Centre... In November I had completed a year's full time work and had my contract extended for another year. A few weeks ago this very blog got me on the front cover of a magazine - the Sunday Star-Time's Sunday magazine (I still haven't worked out a non-time-consuming way of saying that). I'm ready I think, I hope, for whatever 2010 has got in store for me. Happy New Year, everyone! Stay safe and happy and try the lolly cake - it's ridiculously good. Any New Year's resolutions?

22 December 2009

"super funk christmas"


It's rapidly zooming towards 1am. I still haven't packed my bag for my flight home tomorrow afternoon. I do know that my overweight luggage fines will be such that they will probably be able to build and name a new wing of the domestic airport in my honour. The kitchen is covered in food. Oh yeah, and I've got work till 1pm tomorrow. Eek. Gotta say, Tim is being quite Florence Nightingale-esque amongst all this. Like a human cold compress. He's rationalising all the Christmas presents into my bag while I type out this self-absorbed piece, and he's got to be up at 5am tomorrow for work. Christmas can take you to some strange places. With all of that in mind, you know, be nice. I may not be lucid. But gosh darnit I will get this blog post done. My public needs me... I think.

In a salute to the season I made something bordering on ridiculously Christmassy today. It's a simple but very clever idea that I discovered on the food forum I go on and would make a rather cute little gift, yes? Just looking at them makes me glad it is this time of year so that this sort of carry-on is allowed to even happen.

Even the hasty photo can't disguise how cute these are. Simply face two candy canes together nose to tail (I trimmed the bases to make them more heart-y). Melt a little white chocolate, and carefully pour it into the recess till the two halves are somewhat poetically bound as one whole, and let it set firm. Can't say I don't recommend eating any leftover white chocolate either.

Dinner has been a bit all over the place lately, as both of us are going away to our respective homes for Christmas and therefore don't want to be having a whole lot of perishables sitting around wilting glumly. Last night's dinner was the result of several ingredients bought spontaneously at Moore Wilson's while on a last-minute mercy dash for ingredients. So spontaneous that we ended up doing a dizzying circuit between Moore Wilson's three adjoining stores, starting at Grocery, moving to Fresh, then to Alcohol, then back to Fresh and finishing in Grocery. Lists, and over-the-counter painkillers, were quite possibly invented for times like these.

But it ended up being a perfect pre-Christmas dinner.

Bodacious Hot Dogs (as opposed to the normal, watery ones) (that would also make a good band name)

It's the ingredients that give it the edge over the usual stuff. Long, tapering sausages, a crunchy, doughy, seed-studded sourdough baguette, tomato sauce, Colman's mustard, a tangle of caramelly fried onions. I chose these locally made sausages called Acme, and while I can't find a website, if you see them it's definitely worth dealing with the price they go for. They are expensive but completely free of additives and filler, and sweet fancy Moses do they taste good. Like a pig in tubular form. (Apologies to any vegetarian readers...you know I don't eat a lot of meat). The onions I fried in butter and added a splash of balsamic vinegar, which evaporated in a whoosh of eye-blinking acidity and gave them an intensely savoury, honey-dark flavour. You could also try sprinkling over Worcestor Sauce for a similar effect. The hot, hot mustard against the sweet tomato sauce and rich pork, all sitting inside some really good bread was spectacular. Except I was so full afterwards - hotdog shock perhaps - that I basically had to sit there in a state of complete inactivity for an hour.

I recommend it sincerely. Italics are the most sincere of all the typefaces.

This may well be the last post I do before the New Year, and I'm going to quietly ignore the fact that it is written while half-asleep and neglecting all other tasks at hand. For all that I stress about it, Christmas means a lot to me - we've spent it with the same people, give or take a few variations, my entire life. To me, Christmas is about family. Tomorrow afternoon I'll be flying home to spend it with them. (And to cook a giant, Nigella-heavy Christmas lunch for them.) Whatever this time of year means to you, I truly, truly hope that the time is spent with people you love and in a mellow, chilled out way. With lots and lots of good food.


Title brought to you by the late Marc Bolan of T-Rex, whose murmered message of glad tidings was the reason I even considered making my "Hark!" playlist in the first place. Plus I realised I'd barely referenced Christmas in any of my post titles this year. Plus I just like saying "super funk Christmas"....Super funk Christmas!

Whatever music I'm listening to right now, it's probably brilliant. Okay I'll do this semi-properly. I've been listening to Kristin Chenoweth singing anything but particularly Christmas songs (reading her autobiography will make you want to do that), Neil Young's Tonight's The Night and the 2009 revival cast recording of Hair quite a lot lately.

Next time: Will deal with itself. In the meantime, I'm curious - what do you want for Christmas? It's completely okay to say a diamond ring, instead of world peace (although of course I want world peace, whatever that even is). Me? I don't even know - I don't need much. Food and ingredient-type things are always my favourite things to give and recieve. I've had coconut scented shower gel on my mind, more blusher, I'd like to get a grip of Te Reo Maori as a language, love anything second hand or pre-loved in terms of kitchenware or really anything - like some hideous 70s dinner plates - an iPhone would be fun even though I only text about three people and call even less, and to be honest having a couple of pet cats would be great (none of this is a hint in the slightest by the way Santa, but it is if you can get a faster metabolism and perfect skin under the Christmas tree). But when I think about it I'd be quite happy with nothing much at all, the best thing will be just getting together with family who I haven't seen in ages and having a big feed. Don't let this somewhat sanctimonious, 'end-of-It's-A-Wonderful-Life' statement hold you back from sharing your heart's desire though, no matter how frivolous. And while you're at it, what's your favourite Christmas song? I'm so indecisive I have a whole playlist (not to mention Christmas tapes from when I was a kid that still get brought out every year) because in Spice Girls as in life, I can never pick favourites.

And till next time, in the words of Marc Bolan I hope you have a super funk Christmas and a golden New Year. Yeah.

16 December 2009

here i go again on my own


According to Nigella Lawson, asparagus with a fried egg on top is "Asparagus Holstein." A hamburger with the top half of the bun removed and a fried egg laid on top is a "Hamburger Holstein." Riddle me this, Nigella. If I were to wear a fried egg as a protein-enriched hat, would that make me a Laura Holstein? Sorry everyone...Tim has gone to Palmerston North for the rest of the week and so this blog is basically the only outlet I have for my countless inanities. Countless.

I will not lie: yesterday at work was pretty stressful. It didn't even start off well, what with me getting a particle of something unidentifiable stuck in my eye for about an hour first thing in the morning. The shining respite in the middle of it all was a client lunch - specifically, bringing themselves and an enormous feast over to our office - which culminated in some really bloody good blue cheese and perky chocolate topped eclairs. Between eating three helpings of everything there, and then the unexpectedly hot weather, I wasn't all that hungry when I got home from work. Not that a lack of committed hunger would normally, unfortunately, stop me from eating large. I actually respected my appetite though, and made a serene meal of lightly steamed asparagus and soft boiled egg, as per a suggestion in Nigella's seminal text How To Eat. I'm pretty hopeless at boiling and poaching eggs, normally Tim's job, so it was lucky that Nigella had a recipe for boiled egg in Feast...otherwise it would have been asparagus Holstein for me.

It might sound a bit poncy and not like actual eating, but it's truly delicious and a perfect solo meal if you can get the boiled egg just perfectly soft and then dip the asparagus spears into it before eating them. Plenty of salt, naturally - I used sparkly and flavoursome pink Himalayan salt, a Christmas gift last year.

To recreate it for yourself, should you find yourself coming home after a hot and stressful day interrupted by overeating, completely alone and in need of something calming, light and not too taxing on the arteries:

Asparagus and Boiled Egg

Inspired by a suggestion in How To Eat

One or two good, free range eggs. Every time you eat a caged egg, a tiny kitten cries. This is an actual fact. Kittens...they care.
A handful of slim asparagus spears.
Salt, and while we're at it, might as well not be that bitter table salt but sea salt or rock salt in a grinder at least.

Steam or boil your asparagus till tender, but not floppy and losing its colour.

While this is happening, bring a small pan of water to the boil. If your eggs are fridge cold, put them in with the cold water and allow them to come to the boil with it. If they're at room temperature, simply lower them into the boiling water once it's started. Nigella recommend putting a match in with the water because her great-aunt always did, others recommend a splash of vinegar or sprinkling of salt in the water. Let it bubble for about four minutes, maybe a little less. Have another pan of cold water handy so that you can plunge the eggs into it once you think they're done, this will stop them cooking further. Lay your asparagus on a plate, sprinkle with salt, put the egg into an eggcup and whack the top off with a spoon.

And that's all you need for dinner, really. If you've got someone else around who hasn't taken off to Palmerston North just before Christmas to work on his parents' farm because the job situation in Wellington is so hopeless right now (ahoy cool media people!) then I would double the proportions, get someone who really knows how to boil eggs in charge, and add some bread and butter.

The first egg was successful - soft, golden and yolky within. For some reason the second one I did was a bit more solid, but not bad considering it's a job I always delegate out.

We watched the final of Glee the other day - it was intense, and intensely wonderful stuff. I was disappointed to see in the Dominion Post today that the music reviewers would like to see less of Glee in 2010, I was even more disappointed to see that they lumped it in with High School Musical. Yes, the HSM comparison is a quick and easy way to basically illustrate the tropes used in Glee to readers but it's also flawed and lazy, in the same way that it feels as though the "barbeque reggae" tag is a box certain albums are unable to break out of because reviewers keep putting them in that box before they've even listened to their review copy. (That said, if you ever want to do a spotlight on my blog, Dominion Post...call me!)

Now that Glee is riding the tidal wave of Twitter trending topics, glossy magazine spreads, and young-person love, it's highly likely there'll be some kind of anti-hype backlash. To which I say: eh. I know I go on about this show a lot, but I've been excited about it since July and it's so, I don't know, emotionally fulfilling to see Broadway stars, Broadway tunes, and in fact the idea of breaking out into any tune altogether being legitimised on mainstream TV and in such deliciously sharp fashion. I remember when the film Centre Stage was released (there was also Billy Elliot but obviously it's a bit of a different kettle) and hopelessly bad as the dialogue was - although Peter Gallagher's eyebrows speak eloquent volumes with one silent, bristly twitch - I was elated to see ballet and dance brought to the big screen in a way that would, I hoped, make people see what it was that I loved about it and how ridiculously wonderful it was. Not that I need any of this. Indeed there's always something nice about knowing that 99% of the world is missing out on this particular song or whatever that you love, but it's just...really nice to see it get out there on people's radars.

Speaking of things that you insist you liked long before the film adaptation of it ever came out: we also saw Where the Wild Things Are on Tuesday night. I really liked it, I liked how the Wild Things were slightly human but mostly monster and everything that happened in their own world seemed right. Max Records, the kid playing Max, was gorgeous, and it was notably, but not surprisingly, pretty dark. The only thing I was a little frowny over in hindsight was that - spoilers - Max runs away and sails off to an island of monsters, rather than having the forest grow up around him in his room. Maybe they had to spin it out more, I don't know. Apart from that I thought it was fantastic so if the line "please don't go, we'll eat you up we love you so" makes you a little tearily nostalgic for something you can't even quite remember and you've got a DVD compilation of cool music videos by cool directors then you're probably the right audience for this.

Eight more days till Christmas! Good grief! And six more days till my last day at work for the year. I'm flying home on the evening of the 23rd. This means, once more, my annual and highly dramatic attempt to pack my bags and get them weighing under the requisite amount you need to get from A to B in New Zealand. I'm looking forward to bonding with the cats again, and family members, and the kitchen. Still trying to finalise a Christmas Day menu in my head...


Title brought to you by: Yes, I quoted Whitesnake in the title. Did I do it ironically? I don't even know anymore. The musical Rock of Ages will do that to ya. I do know what it means to walk along that lonely street of dreams. Check out the original Broadway cast's exuberant take on it here, and just be thankful I didn't call this thing "here I go egg-ain."

On Shuffle these days:

The Reading of the Story of The Magi/Silent Night by The White Stripes. It's strange but I love it. To you it may be just...strange. But I love it.

Don't Rain On My Parade by Barbra Streisand from Funny Girl. After the final of Glee, and being gently reminded that this song has perhaps the jauntiest, most purposeful opening notes in the history of all song, Tim and I ended up comparing, unfairly but predictably, Idina Menzel's live'n'mesmerising take on the song with Lea Michele's also brilliant but super clean version. Which naturally, brought me back to the fantastic original again. And the notion that Glee is taking us to some strange places.

Watching The Planets by the Flaming Lips from their latest album Embryonic. It's all heavy and fuzzy and amaaaazing.

Next time: Hopefully by the time "next time" rolls around I'll be miraculously organised. Apparently a colleague and I are going halvesies in a wheel of goat's cheese from Moore Wilsons - so that may appear a lot. I'm pretty sure, organisation or not, that I can manage to wrangle one more blog post into existence before I leave for Christmas. It may mean completely alienating all people who aren't whisks or bags of sugar though.

12 December 2009

california tuber alles


On Friday we had our Office Christmas Party. Capital letters because it feels like some kind of social institution...articles, columns and entire pull-out sections of glossy women's magazines emerge at this time of year offering advice on office parties and how to organise/survive/acquit yourself with dignity/deflect awkward photographic evidence from said shindig. Ours was largely without incident and I had a marvelously pleasant time. I only mention it because I bonded particularly with a colleague while eating our lunch about how much we loved leftovers, in particular barbequed sausages, eaten cold for breakfast early the next morning while standing at the open-doored fridge. That moment of connection achieved more than a thousand team-building activities involving blindfolds and 'trust' games, I promise you.

And no, I'm not just saying how much I love leftovers because Nigella goes on about them too. Although I will allow that she kind of makes it easier to admit to such activities...like picking at a chilled roast chicken while standing at the fridge, perhaps alternating with a spoonful of raspberry jelly or trifle from its bowl that you've surruptitiously peeled the clingfilm back on...

As you can imagine we definitely had leftovers after last Sunday's flat Christmas dinner. Some things got demolished, like the ham in Coca Cola. But it turns out that I made enough potatoes to service another three Christmas dinners. Not that this is any kind of problem...On Monday night I used some of those potatoes in a Spanish Omelette, from Nigella Lawson's Nigella Express.

A golden, eggy crust containing hot chunks of new potatoes and juicy capsicums. It's quick and it's fabulous. We don't eat potatoes that much and I forget how good they taste. There's a simple evolutionary reason - Tim is usually working when I go to the vege market on a Sunday, and there's really only so much I can deal with toting back to the flat. Having a glut of leftover potatoes this week has been no burden whatsoever - cold with gherkins, sauteed with coriander and cumin seeds and cinnamon, simmered in a vegetable curry - delicious. I love them.

Spanish Omelette

From Nigella Express

225g boiled new potatoes
4 eggs
75g chopped roasted capsicums
3 spring onions, finely chopped
75g grated Manchego or Cheddar Cheese
1 teaspoon butter
drop of oil

Turn on the grill and let it heat up. If the potatoes aren't already cooked, halve and boil them until tender then drain. Whisk the eggs in a bowl, then add the capsicums, spring onions, cheese, and potatoes. Heat the butter and oil in a small, oven-proof frying pan and when hot, tip in the omelette mix and cook gently for five minutes. Eventually, the base of the omelette should begin to feel 'set' and rather than trying to flip it, instead sit the pan under the grill for a few minutes to set the top. Turn the omelette out onto a plate to cool. Even if it's slightly wobbly it should carry on cooking as it cools. Slice into wedges. Note - I left out the cheese and used a lot more potatoes.

I'm not sure if this a great photo to display the merits of this dish, but it really does taste good. My omelette kind of fell apart as I attempted to slide it onto the chopping board and a bit of it stuck to the pan because SOMEONE had a huge fry-up one weekend when I wasn't there and damaged the nonstick finish. The fact that it was non free-range eggs and those permanently soggy supermarket hash browns made it not so much insult to injury as an offense worthy of a punch to the face. (Don't worry, Tim only got a verbal facepunch. I am pretty anti-violence, even when it is involving the nonstick finish of my good pan.)

A week has now passed since I was in the Sunday Star-Times Sunday magazine. So far, no movie deals or cookbook offers but I have had some interesting, and often completely lovely, correspondence. I don't mean to keep going on about it, but be nice, this is the first time anything like this has happened. I was once in an ad for Camera House when I was three years old, but at the time I didn't have a food blog to promote and thus it was just a one-off opportunity. These days, who knows? A three year old blogger could well be my biggest competition, and they've probably got more Twitter followers than me too.

Speaking of the passage of time, it's now ten days till I go home for Christmas. To which I say: aaaaargh. It feels like I have a lot to achieve and not much time to achieve it in, which would be...accurate. However, I Skyped with Mum yesterday and managed to get some thoughts in order (my thoughts previously were: Christmassdkfhsdfwph). I've spent today serenely making edible Christmas presents for people which has been great fun. All will be revealed recipe-wise after Christmas to make it fair on those actually receiving these gifts. Tim is hunting for our little $2 shop Christmas tree and I've been playing my traditional Christmas playlist, (entitled "Hark! Merry Christmas from Laura!"), where I've gathered together seasonal tunes by artists I love (you can hardly claim to have lived till you've heard Johnny Cash and Neil Young duetting on The Little Drummer Boy) and artists that I'm dubious about at all other times but Christmas (you can hardly claim to have lived till you've heard Twisted Sister's aggressively upbeat take on O Come All Ye Faithful.) Every year I scour the internet for more tunes to add to this increasingly ridiculous list and I look forward to doing it again this year. All that and I'm going to tape some tinsel to our bookcase. Fa la la la la. Bring it on.


Title comes to you via: The Dead Kennedys song California Uber Alles. I know it's barely significant but I really find it very hard to pass up something that amuses me like this. I like to think the title tranlates to "Potatoes above all". Or something.

On Shuffle lately:

Obviously some Hark! selections, including...

O Holy Night, sung by the ever-ridiculously-astounding Julia Murney and also Max von Essen, who I don't feel quite so strongly about. I do like how it remains gently but firmly secular in its delivery. And how Julia Murney sounds incredible.

And then...The Avenue by Roll Deep, from their album In at the Deep End. Rediscovered it recently - takes me back to the summer of 2005 when I was in England and it still holds up as an ideal happy summer tune.

Out of the Blue by Julian Casablancas (if you thought I was going to say Julia Murney again, then ten points to you) from his solo debut, Phrazes for the Young. I like his album but it does have a lot of awkward song titles...Though really, as I'm a Pink Floyd fan I can hardly judge him. Anyway, this song chugs along merrily and has a joyfully sing-along chorus. And every time you listen you can think of Mr Casablancas and his lovely eyes and floppy hair which is no bad thing at all.


Next time: I may cook even more potatoes, since Tim miraculously had the day off today and was thus able to be my pack-mule at the vege market. I may also provide even more Christmas music ridiculousity...

7 December 2009

hot lunch jam


Disclaimer: this particular post is photo-heavy, so if your internet browser has all the thrust of an electric toothbrush you may want to consider coming back another time. Although, these photos were all hastily snapped on the Automatic setting so they probably aren't that big, pixel-wise. You should also know that I'm still in a stumbling haze of fullness and am quite, quite sleepy on top of that. Who knows where this heady combination could lead us. But - tonight's post will be - hopefully - a kind of recap of the day that was the Flat Christmas Party. I'll return to what you could call regular programming with the next post. I guess now is as good a time as any to be a new reader - if you can handle all this then we're going to get along just fine!

My assessment is that yesterday's lunch was our best Christmas dinner yet - although each year has its fond memories. (Like the rugelach of 2007....that's all I can think about right now actually)


Nigella's Soft and Sharp Involtini from Nigella Bites, minus the feta but with many toasted macadamias, pecans, almonds and hazelnuts added. In my experience, involtini is basically stuff wrapped around other stuff, in this case slices of seared eggplant (one of the more boring jobs of the weekend) rolled around spoonfuls of herbed, nutty bulghur wheat and baked in tomato sauce. I was smugly eating it cold for lunch today at work - it's even better after a day or so.

The roasted chooks. I love the way they're sitting here in the same roasting dish as if they were buddies. It's also partly necessity - our oven isn't very big. We got two plump Rangitikei Free Range Corn Fed chickens, and according to the Rangitikei website the chickens are lovingly raised and are able to safely roam in the grass. The site is certainly convincing and I have no reason to believe these chickens weren't raised in a safe, humane way - I find it very difficult to buy meat these days that hasn't been.

Stuffing for said lucky chickens. On the left, Cornbread and Cranberry Stuffing from Nigella's Feast, and on the right, the (dairy-free!) Pear and Cranberry Stuffing from Nigella Christmas. Both divine - the butteryness of the cornbread stuffing would be bordering on ludicrous if it wasn't for the sharp berries interrupting each mouthful. The pear stuffing is moist and lusciously rich without being overwhelming, because it's basically just fruit and nuts.


Silky, slippery roasted Capsicums with Pomegranate from Nigella Christmas - I bought about five packs of past-their-best capsicums from the market yesterday morning, then completely forgot that the recipe needed pomegranates. Never mind - we also needed coffee, ice and a loaf of bread so we picked up the pomegranate from Moore Wilson's straight afterwards. (Where we are now Silver Customers on their loyalty programme!) Pomegranates really are excitingly Christmassy. But to be fair, before I got into Nigella pomegranates were linked in my mind, for some reason, with other mythical things like unicorns and reindeer (okay, reindeer actually exist, but they sound like they shouldn't). How things change. Avocados were also cheap and perfectly ripe at the market - so they were added spontaneously to the feasting. Avocados are never not a treat.

Above: The gorgeous Scotty! Not only visual proof that we actually have friends, Scotty is modelling the Poinsettia cocktail, or at least my simplification of Nigella's recipe for it in Nigella Christmas. I upended a bottle of dry bubbles and a bottle of cranberry juice into a large bowl, and topped it up with Cointreau and ice. The bubbles were kindly provided by Ange, the cranberry juice by Megha and Ruvin, and the Cointreau...well, we've been nursing that bottle since Ange's sister left it at our old flat a few years back. The Poinsettia is intensely drinkable but not overwhelming - ideal whether the sun is over the yard-arm or not. If you're wondering where his natty headwear is from, Anna and Paul brought along some gorgeous Christmas crackers which, once pulled to shreds, produced silver hats of such crisp quality and hatmanship that Tim and I decided to hold on to them for next year's party. The jokes were woeful though. "Q: What do you get if you cross a skeleton and a detective? A: Sherlock Bones." So wholesome and inoffensive it's bordering on sinister.

As well as this there was a vat of boiled new potatoes with mint from our garden (which is where the only near-disaster of the day happened - I turned the gas on under said vat of potatoes without realising there was no water in the pot yet. Luckily an angry sizzle alerted me to this fact; apart from the occasional scorch mark the potatoes were unharmed) the Ham in Coca Cola from How To Eat (which was from the butcher in Waiuku, gifted to be by Mum and flown back to Wellington with me and frozen last time I went up home.) It was perfect pork - not weighed down with fat and gristle but utterly pink and deeply flavoursome from the Coca Cola. Also there were salad greens, roasted root vegetables, and a loaf of Heidelburg bread.

After all this eating we all kind of staggered round in a dazed stupor, bodies weighted to chairs by all the food. Blinking slowed down, just breathing in and out became unhurried and meditative. We chose that moment to have dessert.

Chocolate Pavlova from Nigella's Forever Summer. As I complained about on Twitter, I did something wrong and while enormous, the pav wasn't very high. However, whatever I did made it taste amazing. I wish I knew! I drizzled it in dark chocolate, covered it in cheap strawberries from the market, and served the whipped cream on the side for those who wanted it. The plate that the pav is sitting on was a present from Emma, a Dunedin-based former flatmate who was also at the very first Christmas Dinner we had in 2006.

Chocolate Pavlova

Forever Summer

6 egg whites
300g caster sugar
50g good cocoa
1 tsp balsamic or red wine vinegar
50g dark chocolate, chopped roughly

Set oven to 180 C. Do the usual pavlova thing: Whip up the egg whites till satiny peaks form, then continue to beat them while adding the sugar a tiny bit at a time. Once the sugar is all added the mixture should be thick, shiny and stiff. Sift in the cocoa and sprinkle over the vinegar, folding in carefully along with the chocolate. Spread mixture into a 23cm circle on a baking paper lined tray. Immediately turn down oven to 150 C and leave for about an hour. Once done, turn oven off and leave pav to cool completely.

If I don't tell you, no-one will - I made this entire pav just using a whisk. You, however, are more than welcome to use electric beaters or a cake mixer. It doesn't make you a bad person, just a person who can, unlike myself, locate their electric beaters.

Neither of the ice creams let me down - the chocolate coconut version was rich, intense and bounty bar-esque, while the ginger ice cream was described as "ridiculous" by Ricky - call me when you find yourself offered a better compliment for your ice cream.

Despite nearly everyone saying they don't like candy canes (and fair enough, it's like eating toothpaste) we somehow all ended up chewing thoughfully on one by the end of the day. Also bolstering the pudding table were some amaretti that we bought on sale from the Meditteranean Warehouse in Newtown (on sale because their best-before date was ages ago but I don't believe in worrying about that sort of thing) and some dark chunks of Whittaker's Chocolate. Eventually people started to leave until it was just Tim, myself, Scotty and Ange playing spirited and politically charged card games. Our flatmate Jason arrived home from doing film work at the cricket in the rain and we chilled with him for a bit (and had already saved him a plate of food from before). While it was a shame he couldn't be there during the day, as the Christmas Dinner is about flat solidarity, but there was no way around it - Sunday was the only day the majority of us were free to make it happen.

Tim and I after the stragglers left at around 5.30pm. Please bear in mind that I was up till 1am the night before somewhat manically stuffing slices of eggplant with bulghur wheat. I'd like to think I own my inability to take a decent spontaneous photo. By the way, the eyepatch came in one of the Christmas crackers, it's not a regular accessory for Tim. Although, what with his diabetes and all that ice cream, he might as well get used to the feel of it. Kidding! We spent the evening watching Glee, nibbling at leftovers, and reading over all the lovely comments I'd got on my blog since I was fortunate enough to be on the front cover of the Sunday Star-Times Sunday magazine.

So, like I said, the Christmas dinner (even though it was actually a lunch, I'm just affectatious that way) was a roaring success, with people already locking in their availability for 2010. I didn't intend it to become a giant homage to Nigella Lawson, although in hindsight...I probably did. An enormous thank you to everyone who came, who contributed with their fantastic presence and also with actual things that I asked to be brought along. Again, if there are any new readers drawn here after reading the article in the Sunday Star-Times, welcome welcome welcome and hope you see something in this madness worth sticking round for.


Title of this post comin' atcha via the great Irene Cara and the hyper-percussive Hot Lunch Jam from one of my favourite films of everrrr, Fame. Also known as "that film that really didn't need remaking at ALL."

Music that's happening to me these days:

My Doorbell and Passive Manipulation from the White Stripes' wonderful wonderful 2005 album Get Behind Me Satan. We had a DVD of them playing live on while I was writing this, Jack and Meg White are both mesmerisingly compelling (LOVE it when Meg sings) and if there are any spelling mistakes in this post I blame them entirely.

The entire Time Is Not Much album, the seriously stunning debut from local MC, the soultastic Ladi6. Every time it finishes it feels like it should just...be started again. It's that good.

Shout Out by the Honey Claws. Just try to listen to this song without jiggling. It can nay be done. ________________________________________________

Till next time: I'll be doing a bit of dedicated basking in the truly nice feedback I've received about the article/cover story in the Sunday Star-Times Sunday magazine. Lest any astute readers notice that Nigella Express was the only book of Lawson's that didn't get a look-in this Christmas and start to suspect something (I'm not sure what, just...something) I made a Spanish omelette using a recipe from said book and leftover potatoes this very evening. If the photos turn out okay you'll probably be seeing it up here before long.

5 December 2009

chain of yules


I am currently waist-deep in Christmas Dinner preparation, and the cranberry levels are rising...

Let's not analyze my handwriting too closely...does the fact that I can't seem to commit to one particular way of writing the letter 'f' mean that I'm really, really deep and creative?

So, every year I host a Christmas dinner for our flatmates, (plus any significant others, hangers-on and plus ones) partly to celebrate my ability to insist upon cooking for large numbers of people but also to have some quality togetherness during this busy time. The day before is always a little full-on, but enjoyable, with the anticipation of feeding people and cooking vast quantities of stuff mixed in with the confusion of trying to follow my hopelessly non-linear list.

This is what the menu is shaping up like this time:


2 Roast Chickens
Pear and Cranberry Stuffing
Cornbread and Cranberry Stuffing
Ham in Coca Cola
Roast Potatoes
Roast Capsicums
Roast Kumara
Green Salad

Chocolate Pavlova with Raspberries (or maybe strawberries...whatever's cheaper at the markets tomorrow morning really)
Ginger Crunch Ice Cream
Chocolate Coconut Ice Cream
Maybe some sugar-free jelly if we can find any packets kicking round the place. I had plantain ice cream planned but the plantains I had must have been a little old and tired, because it doesn't quite taste right. I may panic at the last minute and make another pudding...it happens.

If you're a long-time reader, you'll see that I've repeated a couple of recipes from last year - for example, both the stuffings and the involtini. The involtini, a recipe from Nigella Bites of seared eggplant slices wrapped around nutty, herbed bulghur wheat and baked in a tomato sauce, is also a repeat from last year, minus the feta this time as a friend of ours is a dairy-free vegetarian. Nigella's Ham in Coca Cola is already a proven winner but I've never done it at Christmas before. But the Coca Cola that the ham is simmered in is cheap as and if nothing else will provide a talking point should conversation run awkwardly dry.

Even though my list specified otherwise, I got started today with the cornbread stuffing. I had to hustle to get this shot - you can see that some of the cranberries have already released their juices in the heat of the pan while others are still clinging to their dusting of ice particles.

Sometimes I wonder if I have heritage arching back to the American south. Or at least, some storybook version of it. I've never actually been there but the cuisine considered generally to be from that region seriously appeals to me. I can eat cornbread till the cows come home. Despite having to actually make the cornbread and then humbly crumble it, this stuffing really doesn't take long to make at all. While it's mighty fine roasted in the cavity of a chicken, the excess is more than wonderful baked separately in a loaf tin.

You're taking already golden, buttery cornbread, and then stirring it into cranberries and another 125g of melted butter. This is a concept that either makes sense to you or it doesn't. Me, everything makes sense with more butter added. If it appeals to you also, please find the recipe HERE. It comes from Nigella Lawson's book Feast. Like the Spice Girls, all five of whom I was fiercely loyal to as a youngster, I cannot and would not want to choose a favourite Nigella book. But if you fancy an introduction to La Lawson you could do worse than start here with this magnificent, all-encompassing cookbook.

Not quite as visually appealing but still excellent is the Pear and Cranberry stuffing from Nigella Christmas, a book that naturally comes into its own at this time of year. Its combination of fudgey, gritty dried pears, sharp cranberries, and rich pecans (I substituted almonds because that's what I had) is particularly fantastic, with salt and chopped onion stopping the whole thing from becoming like another pudding.

Pear and Cranberry Stuffing

Nigella Christmas

500g dried pears
175g fresh or defrosted frozen cranberries
100g breadcrumbs (preferably from bread that has gone stale than the dusty packet stuff)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
zest and juice of 1 mandarin
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons maple syrup
125g pecans
1 tablespoon maldon sea salt or a light sprinkling of table salt.

Either soak the pears overnight or cover them with boiling water and leave for a couple of hours. Drain once the water is cool. Place all the ingredients together in a bowl and mix thoroughly - even though it may feel a little spooky, just wading in with your hands is probably the easiest way. Either stuff your bird and bake accordingly or place in a loaf tin and bake at 200 C for about 25 minutes or until golden. Note - dried pears are pretty expensive. I tend to half the pears and up the breadcrumbs, but you could also make up half the weight of the pears in dried apricots.

The chocolate pavlova comes via Forever Summer (with whipped cream on the side, instead of smothered over it this time). I've made it before about 2 years ago, and loved it. However something was working against me today because while it rose up promisingly in the oven, it deflated completely once cooled. But what it lacks in height it makes up for in enormity - it spread out heaps. So I'm staying chilled out on that front.

Speaking of chilled, you know I love my ice cream. I'm particularly proud of this one because it's completely dairy free but also staggeringly good. I'm not implying the two are mutually exclusive, but it's not always the most straightforward path to deliciousness when you're restricting particular ingredients.

Chocolate Coconut Ice Cream

6 egg yolks
50g brown sugar
2 tins coconut milk (not low fat)
2 tablespoons good cocoa
200g dark, dark chocolate, chopped

Gently heat the coconut milk in a wide pan, while mixing the egg yolks and sugar together. Once the coconut milk is good and hot, but not in any danger of boiling, pour it over the bowl of egg yolks and sugar, stirring all the while. Wipe out the pan with a paper towel, then pour the egg-coconut milk mixture back into it and keep it on a gentle heat, stirring constantly. It takes a while - at least 10 to 20 minutes - and you need to keep stirring - but it will thicken up into a custard of sorts. Once it is sufficiently thickened, remove from the heat and stir in the cocoa and chocolate, allowing it to melt into the mixture. Let this cool then freeze. Makes around a litre, maybe a little more.

The unfrozen mixture is amazing - the thickest, lightest, softest chocolatey custard ever. Once frozen, it's even more sublime. The coconut flavour isn't actually overly noticeable to if you want to amp it up a bit, stir in some toasted dessicated coconut before freezing. This is magical stuff - don't let the fact that you have to make a custard put you off. I've made custard-based ice creams a billion times before without them turning into scrambled eggs, and if laughably clumsy I can do it, trust me, so can you.

I was actually really dithery over this particular post as I am going to be in an article about this blog in the Sunday Star-Times on Sunday, and I had this feeling that whatever I write today might be kind of important. This is the first time this blog has got any proper media attention, and I'm pretty nervous about seeing myself in a national newspaper. What if I look awful? (I had to maintain this half-smile thing, I'm really more of a big-toothed grin person, probably from my years of having to smile convincingly at ballet examiners while trying not to cry at that failed pas de chat.) What if I come across as horribly self-absorbed? (I mean, I am a bit, but still). What if someone, fuelled by Tall Poppy Syndrome, punches me in the street? Although I should mention (did someone say self-absorbed?) that the lovely lovely food blogger Linda is also being featured in this article tomorrow. I've never actually met Linda properly but you don't always need to be face to face with someone to know they're a fantastic person - I look forward to sharing a page with her. I also must say, massive kudos to the Sunday Star-Times for picking up on the idea of food blogging as a viable story option. I'm not saying that my blog is the most important issue happening to the nation right now, but seriously. I've been waiting for this.

If you are new to this blog, led here by your own curiousity after reading the article - cheers! Hopefully this is something you want to read more of - if not, I'm afraid I'm basically like this all the time. Maybe check out this post where I made my own butter which should quickly give you a good idea of whether or not you're going to want to come back here.


Title comes via: the resplendent Aretha Franklin and her absolutely stonking 1967 single Chain of Fools. If you're new here: I tend to cut off straightforwardness to spite my own face when it comes to titles. But I'll always explain them to you happily.

On Shuffle while I'm cooking:

- The Deal (No Deal) from the concert recording of Chess, featuring such luminous talent as Idina Menzel, Josh Groban, Adam Pascal, Kerry Ellis, and the marvelous Clarke Peters of The Wire. Maybe something about the mathmatical precision of the game they're singing about helped me keep focussed today.
- Speaking of Idina and Adam...while I may have allowed one or two Christmas songs to infiltrate my listening, Christmas Bells from RENT is the seasonal song that works all year long, but is obviously particularly nice at this time of year. The million different storylines being moved forward in this song makes for a listening experience that's little short of astonishing. You can hear it here but if it all makes no sense then this visual might help unpack that somewhat. I care about this stuff.
- Mis-shapes from Pulp's obviously amazing Different Class. Tim and I were lucky enough to see ex-Pulper Jarvis Cocker live at the Town Hall on Thursday night, he was utterly utterly wonderful, running through the cream of his solo material before blasting out an unexpectedly perfect cover of Black Sabbath's Paranoid in honour of Ozzy's birthday. But after all that I felt a bit of a need to hear some Pulp tunes, like this particularly urgent track.

Next time: Well, if I haven't made it onto the Listener's list of the most influential and powerful New Zealanders for 2009, then it has been a failure of a week. Oh my gosh, I'm just kidding...and that list has already been published. Next time there may well be a recap of the Christmas Dinner and everything that happened. Look out for it - there's nothing like an exhausted person who has eaten too much trying to make a sparkling, witty blog post.

1 December 2009

riding on the avo-lanche


Gotta admit, I wasn't feeling entirely joyful about it being the 1st of December today. At all. But after watching the 30 Rock season 3 Christmas special with Elaine Stritch and Alec Baldwin singing together I'm starting to feel a bit more welcoming towards this whole yuletide thing. I get a little panicky every year about things like presents, and finding time to buy them, but on the whole I like Christmas - how could I not? So much eating and cooking, so many songs to sing lustily, and a good time to connect with the whanau or whoever has come to represent family in your life.

This Sunday the official traditional flat Christmas Dinner will be happening once more - it's something I've put on at my flat every year for whoever lives there and any plus-ones since 2006, and as I said in the invitation, just because we've moved into a nicer place with a better kitchen there's no reason it can't happen again. I'm really excited about getting all the food organised, not so much about the logistics...It's partly an excuse for me to feed a lot of people but also for everyone we like to get together and enjoy each other's company before everyone takes off home. Not that I'm going home any time soon - I'm working up until noon on the 23rd. That said I'm very glad to have a job at all these days, unlike Tim who isn't exactly rolling in shifts at Starbucks. If there's any Wellington-based media-type folk out there reading this, give him a job! I like him, so he must be worth taking on. Isn't that reference enough?

Anyway, with all the intense food pending, I'm trying to keep the dinners a little light and chilled out here this week. Hence this quick, vegan-as-anything but also seriously flavoursome and hearty Thai salad of rice stick noodles, tofu and green vegetables. It's not perfect (tahini is eye-wideningly fat-laden, like, avoid reading the nutritional information if you don't want to cry) and I'm not even sure if it's actually Thai at all, more like "a dish with fish sauce in it" but let's not get hung up on semantics. What would Nigella say? "It's authentically good." There is a lot of avocado in this which makes it much sexier than it would be otherwise, so don't be tempted to leave it out. Avocados are getting cheaper and cheaper here in New Zealand which is a mitzvah as you can buy lots of them and luxuriate in spreading it on toast, adding them to salads, placing slices alongside dinner, or simply sprinkling a cut half with good salt and maybe a little vinegar and eating the lot with a teaspoon.

Thai Rice Stick, Tofu and Green Vegetable Salad

From a little cookbook I like to call "Laura's Mind".

100g rice stick noodles
2 'fillets' of firm tofu, diced (those 8cm-ish square blocks that come in packs of four at the vege market is what I'm talking about)
1/3 cup natural peanuts
8-10 spears asparagus, chopped into 2cm lengths
Small bunch bok choi, washed and chopped roughly
1-2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons tahini
Handful sugar snap peas
1 perfectly ripe avocado
Small bunch fresh mint

Boil the rice stick noodles in salted water till they're opaque and slippery. I'm not sure if this is the accurate way to get them cooked, please let me know if you have a better method. While they're cooking away, heat a nonstick pan to good and sizzling, and add the tofu, stirring with a spatula to let it turn golden but not burn. Next tip in the peanuts and asparagus, stirring as you go. Sprinkle over the fish sauce and drizzle over the tahini, mixing thoroughly. Add the bok choi and a tiny splash of water, allowing it to quickly wilt in the heat. Turn off the heat - it doesn't matter if the asparagus isn't totally cooked, some crunch is good here.

When the noodles are done, drain them under running cold water for about 10 seconds. Finally, chop up the avocado, sugar snap peas and mint. Divide the lukewarm noodles between two plates, top with the tofu-asparagus-peanut-bokchoi mix and finally cover them with green chunks of avocado and crisp sugar snaps, adding a sprinkling of mint to each plate.

The mix of textures makes this salad amazingly enjoyable to tuck into, plus the creaminess of the avocado with the protein-rich peanuts and densely grained tofu means you're hardly going to go hungry. The fresh, cool mint and the pungent saltiness of the fish sauce see off any over-richness that all that texture could cause when partying together on the plate. As you can see it's pretty seasonal in nature, but as long as you keep the avocado in you could substitute other green vegetables - brocolli, beans, edamame - and you could of course use cashews or sesame seeds instead of the peanuts and peanut butter instead of tahini. As this is a little something I've made up, I'd completely love to know if anyone has actually tried it themselves. Let me know what you think!

So, another reason to be thankful that it's December already, instead of going into shock because your mind still secretly thinks it's mid-August, is that Tim and I are going to see Mr Jarvis Cocker on Thursday night, supported by lovely lovely Wellingtonians The Phoenix Foundation. If you don't know who Jarvis Cocker is, he's the erstwhile frontman of the band Pulp, maker of pop songs that sound amazingly upbeat but are actually yearningly painful, and rather gorgeous in his own elbowy way. I'm really excited. I love his solo work which is good as I don't think he's known for performing songs from his Pulp heyday. Not that I was overly caught up in the whole 90s thing, being a year or so too young and deeply occupied being solemnly and obstinately passionate about the Spice Girls. But for what it's worth I do remember disdainfully ignoring all boy bands and having an unrequited crush on Blur's Damon Albarn, writing in my diary that I hated his then girlfriend Justine Frischman of Elastica even though I really had no idea who she was. Rock'n'Roll!


Title of this show brought to you by: Sufjan Stevens' ridiculously pretty, light-as-a-macaron song Avalanche. Listen and love, even if you think you don't like modern music. Fun facts: 1) I actually kinda hate when people call avocados "avos" but what can you do? and 2) For about a year I genuinely thought Sufjan's name was 'Surfjan'.

On Shuffle these days:

No Intention by Dirty Projectors from their album Bitte Orca. This song winkles its way into your consciousness so gently that if it hadn't been completely thrashed on one of the radio stations I occasionally stream I almost could have missed it altogether. Unusual and entirely engaging stuff.

Don't Let Him Waste Your Time from Jarvis Cocker's eponymous solo album, a song featuring horns pleasantly reminiscent of that other Cocker from Sheffield and typically fantastic lyrics. Fingers crossed he sings this one on Thursday.

I had a fantastic weekend going up north for Tim's cousin's wedding, but after many hours in a van with non-stop inoffensive crowd-pleasing music, I've had the urge to listen to something slightly more - although relatively - polarising. Therefore plenty of Richard Hell, Tourettes, early White Stripes, and, um, Alice Ripley (whose solo stuff is near-impossible to find on youtube, that's how underground she is) have also been featuring heavily on my iPod this week. Also memorable was the discussion Tim and I had in the van on the way home about how we should buy a bouncy castle and put it on the roof, although I think I can pinpoint the epicentre of my overtiredness to the conversation we had about whether you could domesticate a calf and get it to fetch things and curl up at your feet while you watch TV. I said yes, Tim wasn't so sure. I was all, "Tim, I grew up next door to a farm. I think I'd know."

Next time: this week will be largely given over to preparing for the mighty Christmas Dinner. Menu to be confirmed along with a progress report next time and you can bet that with our biggest guest list yet, it's going to be a feast of health-compromising proportions. Bring it on!