28 February 2010

it's all so sugarless

I once read that Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys went through a troubled stage where he ate half a birthday cake every day. With all due respect to Wilson, I'd happily eat a whole birthday cake every day and I'm fortunate enough to not even be feeling particularly troubled at the moment. If only cake had any nutritional value. I know - want, want, want. A solution of sorts - there's this recipe for vegan banana bread on the gorgeous Savvy Soybean blog which turned my head. Last week, with bananas rapidly browning in my fruitbowl, I got round to making it. Oh yes. It's another post where I semi-patronisingly assure you that a vegan recipe tastes pretty good, even though it contains no butter.

But really. This banana bread is delicious stuff and you expend hardly any energy while making it. The finished product is really quite good for you especially if you can get your hands on the agave nectar, which somehow manages to be sweeter than sugar but with a much lower glycemic index. What an overachiever. Most important: it tastes so good.

Vegan Banana Bread

Recipe adapted from The Savvy Soybean

3 ripe bananas
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2/3 cup agave nectar or runny honey
2 cups flour
2/3 cup coconut (optional) (but nice)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Set the oven to 180 C and line a loaf tin with baking paper. Then, very simply, mix together the bananas, applesauce and honey, then fold in the dry ingredients. Don't overmix. Turn the batter into the tin and bake for one hour. Pa-dah! Applesauce can easily be made by simmering one large, diced apple in 1/2 - 1 cup water for about fifteen minutes (keep an eye on it, it may need more water added) before roughly mashing with a fork. The original recipe included 1 cup chocolate chips which I didn't have, I'm sure they'd be an amazing addition but it was delicious without all the same.

The bananas, applesauce and agave nectar or honey keep this moist and light. Combined with the cinnamon, this will fill your kitchen with a proper, comforting, wish-I-could-bottle-it baking fragrance. It keeps for ages and is very easy to slice. While it's lovely as is - okay, a little chewy as opposed to straightforwardly cakey - it really comes into its own when toasted in a sandwich press. These warm, crisp slices of banana bread are brilliant with sliced plums and maple syrup any time of day, or with any other fruit really, plums is just what I got right now. It is, in fact, so very good toasted that next time I make this I might just slice it, bag it up and freeze it for whenever I require a slightly puddingy snack (which is often...really often).

I've been feeling a bit lethargic and brain-heavy lately - like I need to take a whole day out and just sleep before I can get on with everything properly. At any rate, I'm definitely going to need my energy this month - I'm seeing the wonderful Amanda Palmer at Bodega on the 12th (tickets here!) and then on the 17th Tim and I will be getting up close and personal with Jack White at the Dead Weather concert at Powerstation in Auckland. It's been five years since we saw the White Stripes at Alexander Palace in London and while both of us are all "make new music together already, Jack and Meg" the Dead Weather is still a very, very anticipation-worthy engagement. Maybe eating more vegan banana bread will help perk me up?

Title comes to you via: Hole's Celebrity Skin ("it's all so sugarless, hooker-waitress-model-actress, oh just go nameless," I mean really.) Although the Spice Girls had my heart, I wanted to be Courtney Love so badly after MTV Europe came to New Zealand TV for a few brief but heady months. If I'd had a disposable income in 1998, there was not much I'd have wanted more (apart from a Spice Girls polaroid) than to lunge around the place wearing floaty dresses, with flowers in my hair and sparkles stuck on my face, holding a guitar. Actually I still do, let's be honest. 

Music to cook to:

I found Miss World while trawling through Hole music videos. Forgot how much I love this song. I think I'm going to be buying some Hole albums.

Going to DC from Gavin Creel's album Goodtimenation. I love love love Gavin Creel but to be honest this album doesn't get played an awful lot, I just haven't really connected with it. This song is the exception...I love how it's all bouncy and adorable and ska-ish. And involves Gavin Creel.

I'm Waiting For the Day by the aforementioned Beach Boys from the incredible Pet Sounds. The drums! The fake ending! I didn't actually think I even liked the Beach Boys until I heard this album. It's breathtaking stuff.

Next time: I made this 'tofu balls' recipe of Nana's which was wackily delicious, and even though it sounds dubious I'm pretty sure I'm going to share it with all of you too. It will either be that or the coffee ice cream that I made this weekend with rapturously good results. Or I'll be too busy eating cake to post again...

21 February 2010

Peaches En Regalia

Sometimes when recipes are as simple as Nigella's directions for Peaches in Muscat, I get suspicious. It almost sounds like Nigella is having a laugh, waiting to see if her legions of yes-people will follow along unquestioningly till some bright young thing says "Hey, she just cut up fruit and put wine on top of it! Is that even a thing?" Admittedly Nigella does claim that it's a classic example of Italian culinary genius, but, with all due respect to the wonderful cuisine of these people, sometimes it seems like saying The Italians Do It is an excuse for any old combination of foodstuffs to qualify as untouchable.

That said, I am so one of those yes-people. Surprise!

I was all, "I have peaches cheap from the market going nowhere! I have muscat now that I've gone specially to Moore Wilson's to buy muscat so I can have it sitting round for the express purpose of making this ridiculously simple dessert! I think it's meant to be!"

Peaches In Muscat

From Nigella Express. Serves 2.

1 large ripe peaches
1 bottle sweet muscat

Slice up your peaches and sit them in pretty glasses. I found that one peach did two smallish glasses, but have more ready. Pour over the muscat. Chill for a couple of hours. Nigella says to serve with some pouring cream or vanilla ice cream on the side which would have been lovely but we had neither. Ate the peaches with a fork then drank the muscat. Wonderful.

It's almost aggressively simple. Yet it works, and I clearly should never have doubted Nigella. The glossy fruitiness of the wine seeps into the grainy peachiness of the peaches most pleasingly. The chilliness plays its part too, the iciness crispening the already crisp flavours, a bit like using the "sharpen" function in photo-editing software.

It was actually gorgeous. We ate this while watching Season 5 of The Wire. Finally. It was a hot city evening with the breeze, for once, going nowhere so this chilly pudding was the perfect end to the evening's eating. That said, you'd want to be sure of your company that you serve this to. You just know that if you plonk this triumphantly on the table and cry "La dolce!" that at least one person is going to go home and write on Facebook "Where was my chocolate mousse? My cheesecake? That wasn't pudding, that was wet peaches in a cup!"
Muscat wine always makes me think of Wellington Phoenix player Manny Muscat, a fellow whose name surely cries out for him to abandon A-league football to pursue a career as a drag queen. Manny Muscat has a special place in my heart because of all the chants that we shout from the stands (some witty, some utterly dreary and gender-maligning) my favourite is his, which goes "Manny Manny Manny, MUSCAT!" to the tune of The Apprentice theme (Money money money money...Money!) After working 12 billion hours at Homegrown this weekend I was utterly munted but duty called and I found myself at the Phoenix match on Sunday evening where they played against Perth.

Even though lots of it went like this...

Me: Why is everyone angry?
Tim: Linesman called us offside.
Me: Yeah, is this whole "offside" thing even real? I'm pretty sure they just make it up as they go along for something to do.
Tim: Er, no, it's real.

...it was still rather thrilling, once we got through the arduous 30 minutes extra time due to a 1-all draw and went to penalty shootouts, where we utterly trounced Perth with our complete diamond of a goalkeeper. The ending was almost poetic when Durante, the captain, who has played every minute of the last 83 games without scoring a goal kicked the winning point for us.
Title coming at you via: Frank Zappa, whose big loud music has always found a way to wind in and out of my life, and whose tune Peaches In Regalia seems made for this recipe - they're both surprisingly palatable!

Music lately:
Dark Brown by Ladi6 from her gorgeous, much-thrashed album Time Is Not Much. One of the nice things about working at Homegrown was that our tent gave us an incredible view of her set at the Dub and Roots stage, plus I got to hang with her for a bit in said tent prior to her going on stage. Not only is she incredible behind the microphone she's amazing in person...and she completely renewed my interest in finding a pair of Doc Martens.

Keeping it local, I am also much enamoured with/of (shouldn't use words in sentences that I don't know how to finish) Bad Buzz, the new sounds from The Mint Chicks. It's got this eerie, fuzzy, sixties feel to it and I love the graduated melody, like they're walking down a staircase while singing. It's really, really good and so exciting to hear new music from these guys. I haven't seen them live since 2006 (closest I got at Homegrown was hearing their soundcheck at 10am while I was putting up posters) but they're coming back to Wellington in March so I know I'd better grab my tickets because they will fly.

Next time: I finally made that vegan banana bread over the weekend and it was really, really good. I guess between that description and the fact that I'm linking to the recipe I don't really need to tell you any more but this is my blog and I'll spin it out into an entire post if I want to!

14 February 2010

what's that in the bread it's gone to my head

That's right I'm quoting Jesus Christ Superstar at you.

Sometimes I get really behind with what's hot in food blogging. I mean this sincerely, not in some kind of "oh, aren't I above it all" manner. I'm really just a bit useless. I've completely missed the waka with matcha-flavoured-everything, have never been brave enough to make macarons, I may never get an SLR lens, and I've only once used the word "umami" with any confidence. And only this weekend did I get around to paying any attention to the no-knead bread trend care of the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day crew. Seriously, people have been going nuts about this posse since about 2007 which is tantamount to forever in blog years. For whatever I lack though, I bet there's not many food bloggers who could keep you abreast of both the local music scene and the non-local musical scene, even if you have no interest in either!

Witness my incredibly complicated bread plaiting skills. I'm not sure if it's even really challah if there's only three strands to your braid. Like mine.

So, the credo of these breadmakers is that you can easily incorporate breadmaking into your everyday life, using their relatively revolutionary no-knead method. It seems so simple that one wonders why we're always told to knead bread in the first place, an almost wilfully difficult move. I came across them while hunting for a recipe for challah, that soft, sweet Jewish bread. Let it be known that I generally ignore Valentine's Day - apart from the fact that it's a bit nauseating and awkward, it seems disloyal to my aggrieved, unvalentined younger self to pretend like I'm accustomed to it now. But I do enjoy surprising Tim with a bit of dramatic baking now and then and blaming Valentine's Day for covering the kitchen and myself in flour seems reasonable. I also anticipated that we could have any leftovers as French Toast for dinner on Monday night. Challah - the non-gift that keeps on giving.

Nigella Lawson, the person I usually turn to like a flower leaning towards the sun, despite repeatedly exclaiming her love of challah has never included a recipe in her books for it. For shame, Nidge. A quick search through Foodgawker and Tastespotting revealed how many, many bloggers were raving about the no-knead method. Now, I actually like kneading. I like the entire bread process. But I also am all for innovation and was curious to see if all this talk was justified. Plus this recipe included a hearty amount of butter, so my trust increased.

Isn't it mountainous? Don't you just want to climb it?

The no-knead method removes the very part of the process that most people aren't keen on. All you do is stir together ingredients, leave them for two hours, shape, leave, and bake. No kneading whatsoever. It felt a little bizarre not plunging my hands into the soft dough but it rose rapidly, was very easy to shape into traditional-ish plaits, and rose almost alarmingly on its second sitting.

No-Knead Challah

Recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, via Mise en Place

To be fair, recipe probably chosen because of the high butter content, not the no-knead concept.

1 1/2 tablespoons (or sachets) instant yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
125g melted butter
1/2 cup honey
4 eggs
7 cups all-purpose flour

In a large bowl, mix together everything except the flour. Then add the flour and stir to make a stiff, soft dough. Cover loosely (don't seal it off) and leave for 2 hours at room temperature till risen and flattened on top. At this point, divide the dough in half and divide each of these halves into three balls. With one set of three dough balls, roll them between your hands to make longer strands and plait them together on a tray lined with a sheet of baking paper. Repeat with the other three doughballs. Cover loosely with foil and leave to rise for a further hour and a half. Brush your loaves with a beaten egg and sprinkle with poppyseeds or sesame seeds if you wish, and bake at 180 C/350 F for 40 minutes.

Seriously, I think I've made breakfast cereal more complex than this. It's every bit as simple as they claim. In terms of deliciousness this bread is off the chain. No mere sweetness pervades this flaky, moist bread - it has a honeyed, layered flavour that somehow cries out for even more butter to be spread across its feathery-soft cut slices. It's just unbelievably good, especially considering the complete lack of effort that went into it.

Oh, baby do you know what that's worth? Ooh heaven is a place on earth.

So, despite the fact that this bread already basically tastes like French Toast, I decided to do the whole breakfast-for-dinner thing again tonight. Slices of challah were dipped into cinnamon-warm, whisked eggs. A couple of precious rashers of bacon were fried in butter and set aside. Into that resiny, salty butter went the eggy bread. Once that was done, the whole lot was drizzled with the tiniest capful of actual maple syrup. It's not something we could afford to eat every day, on too many levels, but it makes for one heck of a special dinner. We hardly ever have bacon (having lofty ideals of purchasing only "happy pig" products is also very expensive) and this is the first time I've ever bought real maple syrup. It was certainly a heady experience - salty, darkly sweet, bacony, eggy, buttery...pretty magical stuff.

The only problem with this bread is that it makes me incredibly drowsy. I can actually feel my body growing heavy and tired after eating it. While growing sleepier I imagine baking a giant challah so I can just slumber on top of it, chewing pinched handfuls when I require sustainance...


Title brought to you by: The Last Supper from Jesus Christ Superstar. I saw this musical in 1994 with all manner of well-known New Zealanders in it - Jay Laga'ia, Margaret Urlich, Frankie Stevens, Tim Beveridge... It affected me greatly - I was into fashion design at the time and can still remember drawing countless, perhaps slightly misguided pictures of Mary Magdalene sitting on a donkey, wearing a plunging burgundy velvet dress, multicoloured shawl, and Janet Jackson-style microphone. if you ever hunt down the cast recording it's so rewarding. By which I mean it's like crack for the ears.

Music these days:

Electric Wire Hustle, They Don't Want. We saw this super smooth local trio at San Francisco Bath House on Saturday night, and they were very cool. Like, they launched into their encore with a five minute drum solo. Mesmerising stuff.

Lullaby of Broadway from the original cast recording of 42nd Street, which I found at Slow Boat Records this weekend - I think this might have been the first musical I ever saw, in about 1991 with most the fabulous Australian cast - Nancye Hayes, Leonie Page (who I'd go on to see in West Side Story and Me and My Girl), and so on. I distinctly remember Mum saying she wouldn't buy the cast recording it if it didn't have the tap dance sounds on it, luckily for me it did. That cassette got absolutely thrashed, but I can't imagine how they recorded it all. Listening to it again, in all its old-Broadway pomp and circumstance reminds me why I loved this so much in the first place - revival, anyone?


Next time: This week is very busy as we're gearing up for Homegrown this weekend, it's likely to be pretty enormous. I'm going to be working there all day till it's done and it will be exhausting but hopefully pretty rewarding and enjoyable also. But exhausting. So I'd better steer clear of the challah if I don't want to end up fast asleep, snoring softly in a guitar case somewhere. And I will make that vegan banana cake!

10 February 2010

to yoga, to yoghurt, to rice and beans and cheese


Today I spilled boiling hot tea on myself three times (and once on my office chair). I burnt my left hand on a hot pan while cooking dinner and whacked the other hand on the corner of the bench as I walked into it instead of past it. Finally I dropped beetroot on our telephone. Truly. It's like I'm in a Florence & The Machine song or something. I'm not sure if clumsiness begets more clumsiness - I know from experience that it's really, really easy to have one thing go wrong in the morning and then not even give the rest of the day a chance to do right by you, when that happens there's no doubt you're going to walk into doorframes. But today I woke up feeling relatively optimistic. I guess it just shows...I'm plain clumsy.

Such clumsiness is partially the reason why you're more likely to see recipes on this blog that don't involve sugar thermometers or weighing egg whites or...you know, that sort of thing. Rice and Beans involves - at least the way I make it - none of the above. It's stress-free, one-pan, traditional comfort food. Not traditional to me personally, but sometimes just knowing it's comfort food to someone is in itself comforting...right? And I always have room for adopting new traditions.

Rice and Beans

I kind of made this up on the fly, inspired by a dish I had at the amazingly good Amigos on Tory Street.

Heat a wide, non-stick pan and toss in a finely chopped onion and plenty of finely chopped garlic. The first time I made this I added a diced carrot, the second time I added a diced zucchini. Once this has softened a little, without browning too much, add a pinch of smoked paprika, a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard, a teaspoon of coriander seeds and 2/3 cup of long grain rice and stir through. Pour in 250mls water, cover, and simmer for five minutes. Add more water, stir, cover - the kind of rice you use affects the amount of water you need and basmati seems to need more water than other kinds. Add a splash of beer, a drained tin of corn kernels and a drained tin of red beans. Add more liquid if the rice still needs it, partially cover and let it simmer over a low heat for a further ten minutes. Serves 2 generously. Maybe cover with feathery, torn coriander leaves or stir grated cheese through if you like.

This is one of the cheapest, nicest, heartiest dinners you can make for yourself. It's quicker if you use canned beans but cheaper if you take the time to cook up dried - up to you. The savoury warmth of the spices and the beer against the soft, grainy beans and rice is simple but incredible. And, as you will know once I'm done telling you, rice and beans are quoted in La Vie Boheme which put the idea in my head in the first place. (Truly. Was listening to it, thought, "huh, am now hungry for rice and beans". Power of suggestion, right there.)

Sunny Santa Fe would be...nice

While you're buying red beans for the above recipe, you might as well stock up good and proper for this Santa Fe Ceasar Salad. The recipe comes from Simon Rimmer's The Accidental Vegetarian, and the first hundred times I flicked past it I was all "hmm, bit random" but all of a sudden on flick-through #101 it seemed like a something I wanted to try. Allow me to fast-track this process for you and just tell you to make it already.

Santa Fe Ceasar Salad

I didn't use any chillies. I had some pita bread that I used instead of tortillas, and I didn't have any parmesan to hand so just left it out. Still so good.

1 Cos lettuce, trimmed
2 soft corn tortillas
1 tin pinto or kidney beans, drained
2 red chillies, deseeded and chopped
1 ripe avocado, chopped
fresh coriander leaves


125mls good mayonnaise
125mls plain unsweetened yoghurt
1 garlic clove, crushed
Juice of 1 lime or lemon
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
100g freshly grated parmesan cheese

Whisk dressing ingredients together, set aside. Break up the corn tortillas, dry-fry in a hot pan till a little charred. Tear up the lettuce leaves, place in a bowl with the cooked tortillas, drained beans, avocado and chillies. Fold through the dressing, top with coriander leaves and sprinkle with parmesan to serve.

Clearly, the dressing is sublime, what with the eggy, oily mayonnaise, rich garlic and sharp vinegar coming together. The crunch of tortilla croutons against those grainy red beans and the crisp lettuce is marvelous. It's surprisingly filling and while not entirely healthy, you could certainly do worse. You could have an actual ceasar salad.


Title comes to you via: Surprise! La Vie Boheme from RENT, the musical that inspired the title of this blog and also inspired me to go to both Levin and Palmerston North to see local productions of it. I love this bit of the musical so much that I'm going to direct lucky you to both a stealthy clip of the Original Broadway Cast in 1996 and the altogether shinier 2005 film version where most of the still-stunning original cast reprised their roles. Oh sure, you could be snide about a bunch of self-titled bohemians prancing about shouting out their carefully chosen influences, I say this is laziness and it's much better to look beyond that and actually love it for the joyfulness, the inclusiveness, the catchiness, and the awesomeness of rhyming "German wine, turpentine, Gertrude Stein"...

Music while I type:

Laurie Anderson's O Superman which you can find on the album Big Science. Breathy but direct, strangely meditative, this song made itself known to me via a few different channels - a John Peel compilation, an American Lit paper with a delightfully passionate teacher ("Language! It's a virus!") and RENT (as in, all roads lead to) with Idina Menzel's character Maureen being clearly something of an homage to Anderson as witnessed in the sublime Over The Moon. Seeing The Groove Guide twitter about this song today, plus hearing another of her songs on Radio Active this evening made it feel like I'd be lying if I didn't put it down here.

Bucky Done Gun by M.I.A from her album Arular. I first saw the music video to this song in a hotel room in Germany in 2005, it's as acid-bright as her hand-penned album artwork. It was about the most exciting thing I'd heard in a year clogged with Razorlight et al. Five years on it still thrills and I still wish I could handle a jumpsuit like her.

Matthew and Son. It's my absolute favourite Cat Stevens song. You know I could tell you why, but I'll let Mr Cat Steven's snake hips in this video do the talking for me.


Next time: I found this highly do-able recipe for vegan banana cake on the Savvy Soybean's blog and long to try it. I appreciate both savviness and soybeans in a person so have no doubt this recipe will be good.

7 February 2010

stick with me honey and we'll go far

Saturday, February 6th was Waitangi Day here in New Zealand. This is a day that means different things to different people but 170 years have passed since the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, for better or for worse. It means a lot to me as my ancestors on mum's side kicked things off around that very time when a woman named Pourewa and a man named Charles Cossill were married in Mangonui by the pragmatically named Bishop William Williams. February 6th also marked twenty years since my first ballet lesson. Talk about significant times for the nation. I was a rotund three year old who couldn't skip and didn't have a pushy mother with misguided ambitions for me - and even at that age you register differences in ability and atmosphere like that - but I was the only kid in that class who could touch my head with my toes.

Potstickers are perhaps the - or at least, a - culinary equivalent of getting your feet and your head to do a high-five. The process sounds a little painful. A lot of people don't even try it in the first place. But the finished result elicits "oohs" and "aahs" at those who attempt it successfully. Actually this metaphor is a bit useless as you really need a decent set of hamstrings to do anything flexible while potstickers just require patience...but I needed a segue into the recipe and I'm damned if I'll retreat now.

I saw this recipe in Ray McVinnie's column in Sunday magazine a while back (the very magazine which put me on the cover! What, like I wasn't going to mention it?) and even though I've seen recipes around for potstickers for years now for some reason it was this one that prompted me into action. I have to say, the Sunday magazine this week was ridiculously intuitive - it had a "Whatever happened to JTT?" piece which answered the very question I wondered as Tim and I watched a Home Improvement omnibus at 3am after getting home from Fubar last Sunday. There's not much in this world that comforts like this - we didn't watch a lot of TV when I was young but Home Improvement was family time). There was also an article about the man who wrote most of the jingles on the radio, when I'd just been explaining to Tim about the nostalgia I feel when I hear the ancient Auckland radio jingles ("Giltrap city, Toyota - we're the one!") on 1ZB after being in Wellington for so long.

I don't love McVinnie's column in Sunday as much as I adore his regular Quick Smart feature in Cuisine magazine but it's still pretty engaging reading. The way he described potstickers made them seem not just do-able but necessary. I found myself lingering by the open freezers at the Asian grocery up the road, hoping wonton wrappers would be cheap - and they were. That, and the fact that there was a rapidly aging block of tofu in the fridge poured cement over the foundations of the idea in my mind. I didn't follow his actual recipe so much as the directions but I have a feeling that as long as you keep to the method the filling is really up to you.

Potstickers (recipe via Ray McVinnie's column in Sunday magazine)
If you want, you can take out the beef and up the tofu and cabbage a bit.
  • 150-200g beef mince
  • 200g firm tofu, diced
  • 1/4 white cabbage, finely sliced
  • Fresh ginger - about an inch, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese cooking wine, or sake if you prefer
  • Wonton wrappers
  • Rice bran oil, for frying
Stir fry the mince, tofu, and cabbage together with the seasonings until the mince is browned, the cabbage is reduced, and everything is good and fragrant. There's no real artfulness to this - you just need it all cooked up.

This is great if you can get a friend to help you, if not it will just take a lot longer. Get your stack of wonton wrappers, a small bowl of water, a couple of plates and a couple of teaspoons. Grab a wonton wrapper, dip your fingers in the water and wet the edges of the wrapper. Get a teaspoonful of mince and tofu, place it in the centre of the wonton wrapper, fold it over to make a parcel and press the edges together. I folded the edges over each other and pressed down firmly. Put it onto a plate and start again, till you have as many as you think you'll want.

Then! Heat a little rice bran oil in a good, wide pan which has a lid. Once it's sizzling, fill the pan with your potstickers, all facing the same way. Don't overcrowd the pan. Let them fry for a minute or two on that side, then flip them over and fry them for a minute or two on the other side. Pour over about a centimetre of water, clamp on the lid, and let them steam away till the water is evaporated. You want them over a good solid heat to aid the evaporation. Once the water is gone they should unstick themselves from the pan. Quickly use a silicon spatula or fish slice to lever the finished potstickers onto a plate, and eat them while the next batch is cooking.

One or two potstickers may well fall apart or stick obstinately while you try and remove them from the pan. This is not cause to get dramatic and throw the pan across the room screaming "Enough! I tried and I failed!" It's just par for the course. They're called potstickers for a reason. Eat them and move on to the next batch.

One bite, and you'll likely forget the extensive effort it takes to bring these potstickers into existence. The frying-then-steaming method, while fiddly, makes the wonton wrappers crisp but silkily tender, encasing juicy savouryness. I made a quick dipping sauce out of soy, lemon juice, sesame oil, chilli oil and a little sugar which was an excellently zingy foil to the rich filling. Make plenty of these - we ate forty between the two of us - not comfortably, to be fair, but we did it. Maybe bank on about 10 to 15 per person, as they are so, so good. I heard from a relatively reliable source just this evening that if you leave the lid off the pan they get super-crispy - I may have to try this way of doing things next time. Because there will be a next time.

February 6th was also the date that the late Bob Marley was born in 1945. It seems fitting that someone who is loved by so many New Zealanders was born on the closest thing we have to a national day. Leaving Tim to make coffee on yet another public holiday, Ange and I went out to Hataitai velodrome to RadioActive One Love, the long-running event that commemorates Marley's birthday while acknowledging Waitangi Day in a peaceful, musical fashion. The day was unnaturally warm - we really don't get a lot of sun here in Wellington - and it was the perfect antithesis to the crowds of costumed people staggering drunkenly through town for the NZ International rugby Sevens tournament.

There was constant music, there were people everywhere of all ages and stages, there were amazing food and merchandise stalls, and in an act that seemed to sum up the happiness of the day, Liptons were giving out free iced tea. We saw Don McGlashan, The Midnights, Sola Rosa, Art Official and MC Silva (who gave my peanut butter cookies the thumbs up that very morning, to which I say look out for her album dropping later this year), watched people skanking merrily, ate glorious vegetarian curry, nodded approvingly at the host responsibility announcements, enviously gazed at children on the bouncy castle, bought insence-scented scarves, thought nice things about Bob Marley...magic. I didn't love all the bottles littering the path on the way out, but other than that it was a seriously ideal way to spend the day. However, I think I'll be airing out my scarves as I don't feel quite so positive about the smell of incence as I did when I was 12. Tim and I headed to the Southern Cross later that night for an excellent time watching the Newtown Rocksteady also paying homage to Bob Marley through polished but joyful interpretations of his music, rounding off Waitangi day most satisfactorily.
Title brought to you by: Freshmint! the charmingly fey song from Brisbane's Regurgitator. "Stick with me honey and we'll go far" feels like a line spoken over and over but slides rather nicely into the celebrity-weary lyrics of this song. I don't like this band's name and to be honest this is one of two songs of their I love. I remember hearing this for the first time on Channel Z, being deeply intrigued, but not knowing for months what it was called or who sang it, until the magic of lyrics websites threw me a bone.

On Shuffle while I type:

While pondering Regurgitator my thoughts wandered to another elusive Australian song that I used to wait round for, never actually knowing what it was called till years later - Shazam by Spiderbait. It's all fuzzy and whingy and sounds like a collection of chorusses - great fun, even if the band's name is also bit gross.

Buffalo Soldier by Bob Marley - just such a great tune. I do enjoy a good bridge and this song enjoys one of the coolest out there.

The Juggernaut, from Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party, featuring Julia Murney, Taye Diggs, and the teeth-grittingly good use of Idina Menzel's singing ability towards the end. This musical never made it to Broadway and could perhaps - who knows? - benefit from some tweaks. But it remains special to me for a number of reasons, and the original cast recording ten years on shines with jaw-dropping, brutal talent.
Next time: It's clearly been far too long since I've dealt you a heavy-handed reference to RENT in a food-related way, so look out for that next time when, inspired by a culinary lyric in La Vie Boheme, I make rice and beans...

2 February 2010

masters of raw



So, when I'm not making butter-and-golden-syrup sandwiches or having pancakes for dinner I enjoy the occasional dog-paddle through the chilled, unsalted waters of raw cooking. This isn't something I'd want to make a lifestyle of but it's fun to try new recipes. It can hardly be a secret that the less you do to vegetables, the better they are for you and I'm all for including more of them on my plate. I'm not so convinced by recipes that require half a bottle of agave nectar and a kilo of cashews sitting in a dehydrating machine for nine hours till it turns into some kind of cheesecake-esque creation - that doesn't seem quite right to me.

These raw 'cookies' are a particularly lovely example of this sort of carry-on - the ingredients are likely to be in your cupboard already and they're cheap if you don't have them. It's quick but involved enough to make you feel like you're doing something, and you can eat them as soon as you've made them. They're practical - energy dense and hardy - and also really, really delicious which is, I guess, a requirement rather than an eye-brow raising bonus with healthier recipes these days. I found this fantastic recipe on Gourmeted, but changed it up a tiny bit. The original was composed of dates and raisins but I swapped the altogether sexier dried apricots for the sad pinched little raisins. I added a tiny bit of liquid and included linseeds. You do as you wish.

Date and Apricot 'Cookies'.

1 cup oats of some form - wholegrain, rolled, raw (I used the big wholegrain ones)
2 tablespoons linseeds, whole or ground
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup dates, pitted, packed
1/2 cup dried apricots

Combine oats, linseeds and cinnamon in food processor and pulse until you get small pieces. Add dates and pulse well. You should have a thick/dense paste, but don't fear if it is still crumbly. Add a tablespoon of water if it's really not coming together at all, but the apricots will help. Add apricots and whizz to blend them through. I then just wet my hands, rolled small tablespoonfuls of 'dough' and pressed/squeezed them flat into 'cookies'. I say squeezed for a reason - the texture of this is a little different but they will work, trust me.

As I said, these 'cookies' are delicious - in their own right, not just in a "not bad for something without butter in it" kind of way. In fact they really deserve to just be called cookies, rather than being encased in patronising apostrophes. Be free from my sneering punctuation, cookies! They are figgily dense in texture, fragrant with apricot, and fantastically chewy. They make a perfect hurried breakfast, and probably would be brilliant with some roughly chopped dark chocolate included in the mixture. On top of all that they're a really cheap way of filling the biscuit tin.

Had been feeling a bit grumpy while writing this - waited for a phone call today that never arrived which meant I put off other things, wrangling with all manner of other things in the meantime, and finally ruining dinner - I somehow managed to oversalt the cooking water for the pasta despite every cookbook seeming to imply that no amount of salt can be too much. I persisted in eating it all the same so there wasn't any waste but feel a bit like a preserved lemon now. Coupled with the inevitable post-Laneways-blahs, it'd be easy to feel sorry for myself and snap at people for the sake of it. Let us instead relive the happiness of Monday's shenanigans...

Monday was Auckland Anniversary Day, which unfortunately isn't recognised as an official holiday in Wellington. So it was with a day's annual leave clutched tightly in my hands that Tim and I attended the inaugural Laneways music Festival at Britomart. The day was exceptionally relaxed, with the intentionally small audience moving like schools of fish between and around the two stages. The brilliance of the lineup became more and more apparent as the day went on. Highlights included...

- the mellow, be-caped stompiness of the Phoenix Foundation.
- seeing Chris Knox emerge from behind a fence to watch the Black Lips with the rest of the audience.
- Daniel Johnston's entire set, punctuated by a rather joyfully sung-along rendition of You've Got To Hide Your Love Away. Nearly had wobbly tears in my eyes till I recognised someone with a similar look on their face and checked myself for being an unnecessarily sentimental git.
- Realising I knew more Echo and the Bunnymen songs than I initially thought.
- Florence Welch. She was almost a lowlight - so gorgeous and long-legged, must she have this gloriously swirling voice tucked in her throat as well? I've never, ever been into acrobatic female vocalists (Well, I did and still do have a soft spot for Mariah Carey but she's different) - have always been resolutely unmoved by Beyonce or Christina Aguilira, and any of those dime-a-dozen introspective bores that appear on Grey's Anatomy - but listening to Florence live made me realise how thrilling seeing someone belt their face off could be. To any of you out there who have seen Idina Menzel or Julia Murney singing live - my envy grew tenfold after Florence.

Above: Chris Knox flanked by the always elegant Shayne Carter. They performed a swift but crunchily powerful set which was, not forgetting the fact that Knox suffered a stroke last year, pretty marvelous.

The day was made easier by the fact that the "Friends and Family" area had much nicer toilets, chairs and shade, plus no queues to get a bottle of water or beer. The only real frown-inducing thing about the day was my uncanny but unfortunate ability to get stuck behind the person in the audience who insists on smoking. I can't even understand why someone would think everyone directly around them wants to breathe in poisonous smoke as well. All I could think the whole time was "there's no safe level of exposure to cigarette smoke." But on the whole the day was utterly smashing and not much apart from that troubled me. Oh wait. There was the crowd of girls behind me who insisted on shriekily singing along with Florence at great volume. Sounds simple enough, even curmudgeonly on my part, but it's the sort of thing that after a long day makes you want to push someone into a swimming pool. A bit like the smoking thing - what made them think I paid to hear them sing? That aside, am already anticipating what untold joys next year's lineup could bring. Laneways - I think you really need a round of applause.

The night before Tim and I went relatively spontaneously to "Dig Deep" at Fubar, the proceeds of which went to aid Haiti. It was a very good night, in particular Tourettes' set; but between that and Laneways I'm now feeling like the pasta we struggled at dinner - limp and overly saline.


Title brought to you by: Bob Dylan's Masters of War from The Freewheeling Bob Dylan. The lyrics really bear little resemblence to quietly making cookies, or maybe they do - he's pretty deep, that Bob Dylan.


On Shuffle lately:

Dance My Pain Away by Rod Lee from The Wire:...And All The Pieces Matter. There are few soundtracks I'll seek out (cast recordings, different story) but this is such a perfectly structured gem. We are inordinately excited about the approaching release of Season 5 on DVD. The tourism guide books will tell you that New Zealand is a fabulous place to live and raise a family and it may well be; it's a terrible place to wait for a DVD to be released. We are always woefully behind.

You Got The Love by Florence and The Machine from her aptly titled album Lungs. When you first hear this cover you might think "hmmm, prosaic enough" but then it gets all swirly and wonderful. Less swirly but no less special is the XX remix which was put over the loudspeakers once the XX finished their set - was great fun watching everyone who'd diligently waited for Daniel Johnston on the other stage getting panicky that Florence was making an unexpected early cameo.


Next time: I bought some wonton wrappers! They're much easier to get your hands on than they sound, and made some potstickers which miraculously turned out perfectly and were ridiculously good. It's Waitangi Day this Saturday, and because it's a Saturday PLUS a public holiday it's like, quadruple guaranteed that Tim will be making coffees for people but I'll probably traipse out to One Love anyway, sounds like it's going to be an excellent day...