27 April 2010

to fruits, to no absolutes

I had a wonderful weekend at home, but I feel a bit talked out on the subject of RENT. All the way up to Auckland in the car my family and Tim politely listened while I talked about it anticipationally, and all the way through dinner afterwards and on the drive home I was generously tolerated during my frame-by-frame debrief of the entire production. But - oh my gosh thank goodness I imagine that I hear you say - I'm not entirely out of steam. For the sake of all involved though, and because I'm probably the only person who cares what I think about this particular production, I'll keep my review to the following thoughts: (I have more thoughts though! So many more!)
  • I was very, very happy to be given the opportunity to see the songs I love so much performed live, and the Auckland Music Theatre did a great job.
  • The vocal sound was a bit restrained which didn't do them any favours, because in RENT if you miss one throwaway line, well there goes an entire subplot.
  • The choreography for Out Tonight wasn't overly satisfying, and I was a little disappointed Mimi wasn't wearing blue tights, but this seems typical of all local productions I've seen.
  • Some of the songs - including the difficult Contact ("Mum, there's this giant, metaphorical...sex scene") in which Cameron Clayton as Angel just stunned and La Vie Boheme were staged and choreographed absolutely brilliantly.
  • I didn't like what they did with Over The Moon - while it was clever to have it more dynamic with the cast-as-audience it lost the actual audience participation. And the cowbell.
  • While the cast was overall brilliant, and it's not fair to compare them to the original Broadway stars, occasionally a singer's range didn't stack up to what you expected to hear.
  • I really liked Kristian Lavercombe as Mark, he brought this narrow-hipped Buddy Holly feel to the role and led the show well.
  • The much-publicised Annie Crummer (let's face it, there are no real main characters but if there were, Joanne wouldn't be one) looked stunning and sounded great but her distinct vocals coupled with the slightly quiet mic made most of her lines hard to hear. If you didn't know them off by heart already that is.
  • Go see it if you can - it's running till May the 7th and frankly, I'd go back again if I could. We saw the Saturday matinee and I would have happily stuck around and seen the night show. I don't say that lightly.
Oh yeah... and it was fun hearing the name of my blog in the title song.

We're so countrified that we spent five traffic light cycles taking a photo of me in front of the Civic theatre on Queen Street. I guess since our community is now shunted into the Waikato we can officially qualify as tourists in Auckland supercity. Imagine if I ever made it to New York - but then there are probably thousands of people who take photos of the "look at me standing by this distinctive structure" variety over there.

I was also home for Anzac Day and after watching the amazing and moving coverage on Maori TV (I could have done with someone a little drier in delivery than Judy Bailey, that said, I wish I had her legs), we went to the local wreath-laying ceremony, catching up with plenty of whanau in the process. A large bag of feijoas was pressed upon us by old family friends and I managed to carefully transport them back on the plane to Wellington. Feijoas are a fairly localised fruit, I think they mostly pop up in NZ and Australian cooking but not necessarily many other places in the world. I would describe them as being similar to passionfruit in fragrance, a little like a strawberry mixed with pineapple in flavour and not unlike guava in texture. They're basically the greatest thing on earth.

Unfortunately their relative rarity and short season (they're one of the best things about the colder autumn days) means that recipes are few and far between. So I decided to improvise, and made Feijoa Coconut Brownies. If you aren't within reaching distance of a feijoa I'd substitute equal weight of banana or applesauce.

Improvised on the spot though these may be, they tasted like they'd been prophesied about to come and save the world by some holy sage a thousand years ago. I'm trying to say they were really good.

Feijoa Coconut Brownies

200g butter
100g good dark chocolate
150-200g feijoa flesh (just cut them in half, scoop out the flesh with a teaspoon and mash with a fork. The weight here refers to the flesh only, not the whole fruit)
100g sugar
3 eggs
2 tablespoons good cocoa (like the Fairtrade stuff Mum gave me! Yay!)
50g thread coconut (or dessicated, the longer thread stuff gives good texture)
200g flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
100g good dark chocolate, chopped (optional)

Set oven to 180 C/350 F. Melt the chocolate and butter together gently, either in the microwave or in a bowl over a pot of simmering water. Stir to combine. Tip in the rest of the ingredients apart from the flour and baking powder, and mix thoroughly. Fold in the flour, baking powder and chopped chocolate if using, and spread the mixture into a baking paper lined 20x30cm-ish tin. Bake for 20-25 minutes (no less - this is a supermoist mixture, it can handle the slightly longer oven time). Allow to cool a bit, then slice into bars.

Notice my new favourite toy - a cakestand from my godmother and family. I love how clean and elegant it is - makes me feel very Scandinavian. Or at least what I think being Scandinavian might feel like. (Other characteristics: writing excellent electro-pop and sprinkling dill on everything)

These brownies were, and I don't care that I'm saying so myself because look at them, gorgeous. The feijoa gave an acidy kick to the chocolate's embroidered velvet pants, while the softly textured coconut buffered against the feijoa's grittiness and provided a delicate richness of its own. They are super moist, cocoa-y and dense. They're damn good brownies.

I had one for breakfast this morning and it felt good.
Title coming your way via: surprise! RENT! I'm confident that feijoas aren't the kind of fruits that Mark sings about in La Vie Boheme...and yet feijoas are undeniably one of the fruitier brothers in existence, so it all kind of works out.
Music lately:

Just one more - Santa Fe from RENT. I don't have a favourite, but this mellow beauty still thrills with every listen despite not being one of the huge showstoppers. I was a bit let down by the staging/arrangement of this song in the production we saw, but funnily enough Mum thought it was going to be the end of Act I, like Act II would be all about this group of bohemians and their attempt to start a restaurant out west. Looking back to when I first heard this song, I have to admit I didn't quiiiiite pick up on the hypothetical nature right away either.

The amazing M.I.A's new Suicide-sampling song Born Free. Watch the video if you dare (if you can find it) it's definitely...an eye-widener.
Next time: I've been given so many cool food-related things for my birthday (cake tins, maple syrup, limoncello, etc) that I'm going to have fun working out how to use them all, hopefully managing to incorporate my new cakestand in the process...

22 April 2010

crouton, crouton, crunchy friend in a liquid broth

We had a power outage this afternoon in Wellington. I'm glad I wasn't stuck in an elevator when it struck, or halfway through roasting a chicken, because that would not have been fun at all. No drama for me though - all it meant was sitting round in the foyer at work reading up on policies and then scooting home early. When I got there the new Cuisine magazine had arrived in the mail, like a warm gamma ray of electricity in an otherwise dimly lit afternoon. We're heading up to Auckland tomorrow so I didn't want to make anything huge for dinner that would leave us with piles of leftovers. I found this soup recipe within the pages of Cuisine - and yes, it has been cold enough lately in Wellington to start getting all soupy again - and something about the complete simplicity of the ingredients appealed to me.

The recipe was a bit oddly vague in places so the following is slightly adapted. This recipe is boxfresh - only Cuisine subscribers will have seen it so far so...scoop!

Roast Garlic, White Bean, and Bread Soup

From the May issue of Cuisine (one day they'll interview me, one day!)

20 cloves garlic (try to get really good stuff that will actually taste like garlic)
2 large onions
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
1 litre chicken, vegetable, or (my favourite) porcini stock
400g tin butter beans or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Parsely and chervil to serve (I used basil, it's what I had)
1 cup sourdough croutons

Peel the garlic cloves and roast them in a little olive oil at 180 C/350 F for about half an hour till soft. I did this by wrapping them into a pouch of tinfoil and then wrapping that in another layer of tinfoil - keeps them soft and saves on dishes.

Once this is on its way, slice the onions into half-moons and gently fry in a little olive oil till soft and golden. This will take a while, so by the time they're good and soft the garlic should be ready. Mash the cloves with a fork (including the oil they were roasted in) and add them to the pan along with the thyme and the paprika. Pour in the stock, bring to a simmer, and tip in the beans. Simmer till the beans are well heated through and season well. Serve with the parsley, chervil and croutons (I didn't have sourdough so just used some regular bread, cut into cubes and tossed with a little olive oil, and chucked them in the oven which I'd just turned off, the remaining heat turned them into croutons.)

Serves about 6. Nice with a bread roll or scone on the side.

This made for a seriously perfect chilly-evening dinner, the ingredients coming together to make a hearty but still elegant soup that seemed awesomely European, even though I have no real clue if this has any actual continental background or if the author just made it up on the spot. Sometimes just feeling European is enough. The softly flavoured beans, the fantastically garlicky broth, and the still-crisp croutons sinking into it were a rather stunning combination. Worth mucking round with bits of garlic for. This recipe reminded me why soup is so brilliant, even if it's not as sexy as some other dinner options.

So, like I said, we're heading up to Auckland tomorrow. I can't wait to catch up with the whanau - I haven't been home since Laneways and it's really not very often that I get to go up to Auckland just to see family without any work agenda. We're going to see the Auckland Music Theatre production of RENT - and when I say we, I mean my whole family and Tim - and I am so excited about seeing it on a big stage by such a renowned company. I don't need to outline how much I love RENT here, you know I've done it enough before, and I don't need anyone to outline its shortcomings to me - I'm well aware of them too. I'm a little trepidatious about how this cast is going to work out but I think overall it will be a very, very good time. And I'm just really happy to see RENT being performed on such a visible scale in New Zealand. Between this, and Idina Menzel appearing on Glee, it feels like it's all starting to come together...

Title coming your way via: The Mighty Boosh's small but very excellent soup song.

Music lately:

I've actually been avoiding RENT for a little while now so it can be particularly impacty when I see it on Saturday. Other than that...

Love of My Life by Erykah Badu featuring Common from the Brown Sugar soundtrack...a sweet ode to hip hop music, this video is just as gold as the song itself (not least because of the clips of Idina Menzel's husband, the lovely Taye Diggs). Watching Erykah Badu makes me never want to cut my hair ever again. Found out today that Common is doing a couple of shows in Auckland in June, quiiite keen to go along...

Superboy and the Invisible Girl from the Broadway cast recording of Next To Normal. This was the very first song from this musical that I ever heard, and it had been a long time since I'd heard lyrics this beautiful and innovative and poetic in any genre of music, not to mention a guitar riff as alluring. OH how I'd love to see this show, Alice Ripley and the rest of the stunning cast will have to amaze me from afar till such time as I do...
Next time: You can safely bet that I'll be quoting RENT at you.

18 April 2010

a girl has to celebrate what passes by


I had a seriously nice 24th birthday on Saturday - my aunty visited with my very awesome young cousin (I recognise my own ardent admiration for Nigella Lawson reflected in his deep commitment to various superheroes), Dr Scotty dropped by with jaw-droppingly real champagne, Himalayan pink salt and vanilla pods, (I love how Scotty comes to our house and quotes my blog back to me, if that's wrong I don't want to be right) and I got more txt messages than I usually get in a whole month.

Tim was all, "I could make you a birthday cake if you want" and I was like, "the cuss you will! Don't do me out of an opportunity to bake!" but what I made wasn't a birthday cake, just a cake that happened to be hanging round on my birthday. Like a girl that's just a friend, not a girlfriend...you know.

I know it seems like I say this about every cake here, and let's be honest, I do know a lot of awesome cakes, but this cake was truly incredibly delicious. I say "was", not "is", because 24 hours after it was first sliced into, only a slender wedge remains.

I found this recipe for Torta Caprese on a blog called A Forkful of Spaghetti a while back, and my birthday seemed like as good a time as any to try it out. It's one of those Italian cakes which manages to be terrifyingly elegant and artlessly down-home at the same time, but delicious either way you see it.

Sophie Grigson's Torta Caprese

200g butter, melted and cooled a little (do this before you get anything else ready to give it time to cool down)
200g dark chocolate, in pieces
4 large eggs
170g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g ground almonds

Line the base of a 24cm cake tin (although I used 22cm just fine) with baking paper and grease the sides. Preheat oven to 180 C/350 F.

Either blitz the chocolate pieces in the food processor or chop them roughly with a large knife till you have a rubbly pile of chocolate shards and dust.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar
and vanilla extract until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has expanded a little. Mix in the chocolate, ground almonds, and tepid melted butter until evenly combined. Spatula the mixture into your caketin.

Bake for 50-60 mins, until the cake is just firm to the touch. If it gets too dark towards the end, cover with tinfoil. I found it was quite perfect after 50 minutes. Leave it to cool in the tin, then turn it out and dust with icing sugar if you like.

I love how no-nonsense the method is - no separating of eggs, no whisking till your arms ache, just a bit of chopping and mixing but you end up with this incredibly good-looking cake as a result. It's solid but light and amazingly buttery. Some of the chocolate melts into the cake as it cooks and the rest remain whole, as darkly rich chunks that contrast with the soft grittiness of the almonds. It's amazing, and a bit like a really, really sophisticated chocolate chip cookie. And it's gluten free for those of you who swing that way.

Yesterday after our visitors left Tim and I went to engage in Independent Record Store Day. By the time we left the house most of the shenanigans were over but we still enjoyed perusing the wares at Real Groovy. I was pretty rapturous to find the original Broadway Cast recordings of A Chorus Line and Hair, as well as the Original West End cast recording of Chess (ie the one everyone knows) on vinyl for an enchantingly cheap price. Mercifully the guy behind the counter didn't ask us about what kind of turntable we have, because at this stage the answer would be "a hypothetical one". Hoping to change that to an actual one in the near future. We browsed at Slow Boat Records but didn't find anything in particular to commit to. There's also the enticing Samurai Store on Willis Street but by that stage, probably desperate for more cake, we were starting to flag and headed back home.

That night we went to see the Wellington Musical Theatre production of Miss Saigon. It's a cleverly staged production with a very talented cast, I recommend it if you're in the capital. I'd never seen Miss Saigon before and only had a basic understanding of the story. The music isn't necessarily super-catchy, and sometimes it feels like it could do with a couple more high-energy numbers, but on the whole I really loved it and there were plenty of those moments where your heart jumps around the place. It made me realise how few musicals I've seen in the last couple of years, for all that I go on about them, and it really made me want to see more. Unfortunately, that involves overseas travel...I swear I see well-known New Zealanders sent across the world all the time in the name of travel writing for various publications, if anyone out there wants to pay for me (and Tim!) to do the same, don't hold back...

Before the show we had some curly fries at Sweet Mother's Kitchen, that stalwart of Courtney Place, and afterwards we went to Matterhorn for some late night snacks (I don't know why, but I feel really cool ordering food late at night). The place was full of people who had a "oh, it's so great to be back at Matterhorn, I'm such a regular here" look about them but I think we acquitted ourselves okay, ordering a bunch of tapas and a couple of drinks without any awkwardness. It's a very expensive place, but the food is perfectly executed, the service excellent and the setting rather gorgeous...maybe I'll go back for dinner for my next birthday.


Title via: The Miller's Son from Sondheim's A Little Night Music, currently revived on Broadway with the supremely wonderful Angela Lansbury. This song is a stunner, all womanly and bolshy, and musically complex. One of my favourite versions is performed by Sara Ramirez, most people know her as Callie from Grey's Anatomy, but hi there, the lady has a Tony Award too and can sing her face off.

Music lately:

It's not a tradition or anything, and it's a completely obvious thing to do, but two songs in particular always get bandied about if one of us is aging another year...

Birthday by The Sugarcubes, ie the rock band that Bjork used to be in. It's most famous in English but the original Icelandic sounds so beautiful. And really it doesn't matter what language it's in when the chorus is as wordlessly spectacular as this. I have to admit, after hearing Defying Gravity for the first time I thought "ooh, I'd love to hear Idina Menzel sing Birthday". Maybe that's what Stephen Schwartz was listening to when he wrote the ending?

Happy Birthday by Altered Images from their EP of the same name. It's sweeter than birthday cake icing but I love the way it flits along noncommittally before launching into those guitars....


Next time: I've been given so many exciting food-related birthday presents, including...a bottle of real maple syrup from my step-grandmother, two loaf tins from ex-flatmate Ange, a beauty of a cake stand from my godmother and family, a recipe collection from the Ashburton Fuchsia Society from Nana, and more fruit puffs from Mum...for starters. So you'll be seeing these things all used and blogged about in the near future, no doubt.

13 April 2010

puttin' on the grits

Straightforward question: what's your favourite food?

Me: ice cream and cornbread.

A while back if you'd asked this I would have frozen up and said "ummm chocolate?" but today I was sitting around daydreaming about how I might answer various questions on the offchance that some cool magazine wanted to interview me, and I managed to narrow it down to those two. Like Kenneth Parcell ("There are only two things I love in this world. Everybody and television") I am a throw-my-arms-around-the-world kind of foodlover, but where "most edible things" is an adequate answer, cornbread and ice cream is more specific. That said, I'm also happy to call Nigella's Chocolate Guinness Cake one of my favourite things to make. You would be too.

All this daydreaming about cornbread made me crave a slice of it like crazy. It's just another cold, dark, early winter Wellington evening and I've got a sore throat. Who ya gonna call? Nigella, fool!

On Sunday night I bought a healthy, happy Waitoa Free Range chicken and roasted her up with white wine, lemons, butter and breadcrumbs. The cold leftovers in the fridge got turned into pasta last night with the roasting pan juices and golden sultanas soaked in sherry. Tonight I'm finishing off the chicken by going vaguely Mexican, inspired by a salad recipe from Nigella Express, with her cornbread on the side. Just saying it almost makes my sore throat better.

Mexican Chicken Salad

Adapted from Nigella Express


1 ripe avocado
1/2 cup sour cream (or good mayonnaise, to make this dairy-free)
juice of a lime
1 garlic clove, crushed
salt and pepper to taste

Either whisk the dressing ingredients together or blitz them in a food processor.


300g shredded, cooked chicken
1 crisp apple, diced
2 spring onions, chopped
handful chopped coriander
125g shredded cos lettuce (I used cabbage)

Put all the salad ingredients in a bowl, spoon the dressing over the top.

Like a warm, buttery yellow mattress. I could actually lie down on top of it and fall asleep quite happily. Tim and I sat on either side of this, slicing off pieces and buttering them. What remains is kind of a wonky Z shaped bit of cornbread


175g cornmeal (or polenta, same diff so look for either)
125g plain flour
45g caster sugar
2 t baking powder
250ml full fat milk
1 egg
45g butter, melted
Set oven to 200 C. Grease whatever you're using - a muffin tin, a 20cm-ish brownie tin, etc. Melt the butter. Stir in the milk and egg with a fork. Then tip in all the dry ingredients, mix till just combined - don't worry about lumps - then pour into your tin and bake, for 20-25 minutes. I have made this with superfine cornmeal and the more granular stuff, and a mix of the two, anything is fine really although the granular stuff gives slightly more bite to your finished product.

It was such a good dinner. Even with all the crispness and coolness of the salad it worked in this colder weather, fresh flavours to wake you up on a dark evening. It's amazingly rewarding to eat for the little effort you need to put in. You could replace the chicken with anything else - beef, tofu, chickpeas...you could leave the sour cream out of the dressing, use mayonnaise or yoghurt, double the quantities and drink it like a savoury green smoothie, whatever, really. The sour cream suits the avocado, their tanginess and richness going head to head like it's Tekken 2 but instead of a nubile catsuited woman and the panda bear (my favourite character) engaging in combat, the flavours skip off hand in hand towards the sunset, singing in perfect harmony. I have a feeling, having just re-read that, that I gotta lay off the cough syrup before trying to blog, as it messes with my ability to throw down a decent metaphor.


Title coming atcha via: Puttin' On The Ritz, a song that I did a choreographed and performed a tap dance to at the 1997 (1996?) Combined Schools Choir Festival. While I may not have been up to the great Fred Astaire I'm sure in my own mind, at the time, I was well on my way.

Music lately:

What You Know About Baltimore by Ogun feat Phathead from The Wire: "...and all the pieces matter" What do I know about Baltimore? Not much more than I know about, say, Fielding I guess. This song is awesome, the delivery of the titular interrogative somehow both menacing and blase at the same time. First time I heard this song I kept swivelling my head to look out the window - I swear it sounds like someone's yelling "Laura!" in the background of the song at various points.

Buffalo Gals by the recently late Malcolm McLaren. A prosaic choice, but to be fair, I was never exactly a walking catalogue of his work. This song is sprinkled with all kinds of good things laid over a minimalist beat that was ahead of its time - thinking about how in the mid 2000s there was that trend for songs that were almost not even there at all. It must have been an exciting life he led, and while I can't say I thought about him on a daily basis, it was sad news - he was in many ways a drop of bright red food colouring in the plain white icing of recent music history.


Next time: I have some tofu in the fridge that needs using...although if this sore throat doesn't sort itself out it might be a steady diet of chicken soup and Canadiol expectorant. Hopefully I get better soon because it's my birthday on Saturday. Any suggestions about what I could do? As always, April appears suddenly and I'm caught short without any cool ideas. I'll be 24. Hopefully still young enough to be interesting, goodness knows there is probably some seven year old out there who's writing a blog about making cupcakes while interweaving Clay Davis quotes and referencing some obscure early draft of Evita...any suggestions about how a good birthday is spent are more than welcome.

11 April 2010

open sesame

I'm blogging on a full stomach. Food is so strange. I really, really want it, visualise creating it, feeding people, feeding myself, that sort of thing. But if I have slightly too much, suddenly even just thinking about food feels like an awkward way to pass the time. I start to question how a person could ever possibly want to eat anything but cool, bland lettuce. I never force myself to blog, but on the other hand I've started this and want to get it done so...hopefully it doesn't read like I'm averting my eyes while typing.

My aimless flicking through recipe books recently while shopping stopped being aimless once my eyes settled upon a recipe for shortbread made with tahini, in Jewish Cooking, Jewish Cooks by Ramona Koval. The book was pricey but my curiosity was prodded, and, figuring it was absolutely the same as hitting up Google, without taking the chance that this recipe hadn't been documented online, I hastily scrawled the instructions on my arm. Luckily I found a pen in my purse, my only other option being a black eyeliner. Much as I like the idea of turning my body into a walking cookbook, googling would have been easier - trying to transcribe the scribbled, condensed and sideways version of the recipe from my arm to paper was not a fast task. The things we do for our craft, hey?

Tahini is seriously cool - a thick, rich, throat-binding paste of ground sesame seeds. Like peanut butter it'll stick to the roof of your mouth and refuse to let go so be careful about wading in and eating it by the spoonful. With that in mind this recipe might sound pretty Schafer-tastic, like the sort of grainy snack the characters of Hair would eat to give them energy to sing about their hair. Wrong. This recipe contains a lot of butter. Watch out. I've never used tahini in anything sweet before but making these inspired me to get into all kinds of experimentation, I'm thinking toasted sesame ice cream...

The shortbread is stunningly good stuff and on the back of its excellence I may well end up buying this cookbook. I love that you press it into a tin and slice it up later. So, there's none of that biscuit-fatigue where you've eaten way too much mixture and want to lie down on the floor and sleep it off but you still have to keep rolling and cutting circles of dough and waiting for the tray of cookies in the oven to finish baking so you can swap it with the next batch. Nope, none of that at all. Refreshing.

Halvah Shortbread

Adapted from Ramona Koval's Jewish Cooking, Jewish Cooks

170g soft butter
1/2 cup tahini
2 1/4 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup ground almonds
2 cups flour

Set oven to 180 C. Either - whizz the butter, sugar and tahini together in the food processor, pulsing in the rest of the ingredients till combined. Or - cream butter, tahini and sugar together with a wooden spoon till well incorporated, then beat in the almonds and flour till smooth. Press into a baking dish - I used a round silicon flan dish - and bake for about 15 minutes till golden on top. Allow to cool, then slice into pieces.

Makes as many as you like - about 20 decent sized slices, or, you know, 400 wafer-thin shavings...

This shortbread is incredible - thick, golden slabs of buttery biscuit softened but deepened by the intense and complex nuttiness of the tahini. It's literally one of the most delicious things I've eaten in a long time. I want to eat the whole trayful. Well, I wanted to eat the whole trayful but now - as previously mentioned - I am too full for such dreams. It is worth buying a jar of tahini just to make these - don't think it will loiter sadly at the back of the fridge like a kid whose parents forgot to pick them up from school - I go through about a jar a month. Drizzle it over Meditteranean style food, spread it across flatbread when you do make kebabs or wraps, thicken up homemade hummus, or make this satay sauce.

On Saturday night Tim and I found ourselves at Watusi for Auckland-based rapper David Dallas. Based on the fact that Watusi is tiny and the Facebook event page had well over 350 confirmed guests, we thought we'd better err on the side of early. We were at the back for opener Percieve, and when the Homebrew crew came on it clicked that we had seen them before in Auckland. They could, judging by the lyric chanting, dancing, and basic sheer elation from most of the males around me, have probably filled the venue in their own right. Props to Homebrew Crew for this, considering how many times they reminded us about their underground nature. Maybe they hadn't reckoned on how Wellington thrives on unearthing the underground.

We got hustled to the front by an enthusiastic friend for David Dallas' set, which was not a bad place to be, if a little confronting. His explanation for Big Time - wanting to do something big but not knowing what made me prod Tim on the shoulder and say "me too!" It was a pretty bare set-up - just Dallas plus backing tracks - but it still sounded good, the mellower songs given more punch when blasted through speakers. The music spanned from older Frontline stuff, touching acapella material, (where being close enough to hear the voice before it hits the mic is pretty nice), singles from Something Awesome, and a throwback to his verse on Scribe's rather famous Not Many. The last time I'd seen this song live was at the 2004 Pasifika Festival so it was a pleasant blast from the past. This guy was nominated for the inaugural Taite Music Prize and was just overseas performing at SXSW so to see him perform in such a laughably tiny setting was definitely...um, sorry, how else am I supposed to wind this up...something awesome.

Title coming atcha via: Kool and The Gang - according to Wikipedia Open Sesame was described by critics as their "least funky" album. I don't know what level of funk said critics were dealing with but I mean...I liked it.

Music lately:

Ms Dynamite's Wile Out, a track I swear plays every time I flick on the radio. It was only tonight that I managed to hear the announcer mention who sang it, nice to see Ms Dynamite back in such fine form. A straightforwardly excellent tune, to me Wile Out wouldn't have been out of place in late 2004-2005 which makes it comfort listening in a way - that was the time I went over to work in England and really, all music sounded pretty exciting in that context.

I Need A Dollar by Aloe Blacc, which is what seems to get played on the radio if the above isn't on rotation. It's being used as the theme to a new HBO show called How To Make It In America, which I don't have an overwhelming interest in seeing just yet, (is it just me or does their theme sequence attempt to do what The Wire's did?) but this trudging melody is certainly engaging, like a modern Brother Can You Spare A Dime - not that this song hasn't ever been relevant itself.

Next time: Today Tim and I bought a new camera, a DSLR - the piece of equipment I, until very recently, never really thought I'd own. Our current camera has done noble service, seeing me through many situations and undoubtedly improving the look of this blog but a quick look at, say, the girdlebuster pie post should indicate why a new camera isn't a bad idea. I'm really looking forward to getting to know this gorgeous new creature that we own, and getting to grips with such interesting features as manual focussing. What this means for you is (hopefully) cooler photos on here, since lo-fi food photography is never going to win anyone any friends!

5 April 2010

all aboard for bun time

On the offchance that you don't have Easter-fatigue already, the hamster on the treadmill in your pancreas pulling muscles from scampering double-time to produce insulin to deal with the spike in sugar consumption...

I love baking with yeast and what with hot cross buns being a legit excuse to get things fermenting, I tend to make my own and have done for a while now. I repeated the hot cross buns I made last year, from Alison Holst's Dollars and Sense cookbook. While I admire Holst and what she's done for cooking in New Zealand, I'm not a great fan of her writing. Cannot fault her hot cross buns at all though - they're very straightforward to make, generously buttery, smell incredible while baking and taste brilliant. They don't keep like shop-bought ones but in the likely event of having stale leftovers you can make a completely life-changing bread and butter pudding out of them. Recipe: here!

Seriously. So good. All spicy and soft and full of the rich, yeasty scent of achievement at having kneaded the dough by hand. They come out a little flatter than their bought counterparts (all the more surface area for smearing butter over) and are lighter in colour, but truly far nicer than anything out of a plastic bag. You could use this recipe any old time of year minus the crosses to make spiced fruit buns. As making the crosses was really the most difficult thing about the process, I'd be happy to leave them off and enjoy these long after Easter has gone.

Last night - Easter Sunday - Tim and I went to So So Modern's launch for their new album Crude Futures at San Fransisco Bath House, one of the few places lit up along a quiet Cuba Street. They were supported by a whole mess of local talent, including the fantastically happy Alphabethead who we saw supporting Tourettes the other week (and whose mixtape I finally bought), Tommy Ill, who we disapointingly arrived too late for, and a bit of Diana Rozz, who I haven't formed an opinion on yet but...I liked the lighting during their set. For a while there in 2006 it seemed like we were going to So So Modern gigs every weekend, so there was a weirdly nostalgic feel seeing them again live. They gratifyingly mixed tunes old and new and seemed to be enjoying themselves. I bought a wooden laser-cut "Modern" badge (there were also "So", "Crude" and "Futures" badges for sale) which is rather sweet - a bit like something Millie Dillmount might wear to a job interview if she were alive and well in 2010 to signify her societal position to all who see it.

Title brought to you by: Iggy Pop's droning yet strangely upbeat Funtime, from his Bowie-collaborating solo album The Idiot. "I don't need no heavy trips" insists Iggy. Of course, who would when there's hot cross buns fresh from the oven?

Music while I type:
Speaking of 2006 - Fire Department by from Be Your Own Pet's eponymous debut album. I used to love this band back when I first moved to Wellington, but absolutely everyone I knew really hated them. Luckily for absolutely everyone, BYOP broke up. Their music is - was - all big and scrappy and not that clever but in that really clever way that makes a lot of other music sound comparitively laboured and overwrought. This is underwrought brilliance. So much so that heck, they get two songs on this list and you can have Take That Walk, from their Summer Sensation EP while you're at it.

Valentine by Delays from their album You See Colours. While revisiting 2006's self-conscious tunes I also stumbled across this which we used to thrash heartily. None of their further output really did anything for me but this song is such a delirious mess that nothing else is necessary.
Next time: I got myself all hyped up about making hot cross buns and now with Easter behind me I'm not sure what direction I'll be heading in foodwise. You'll be the first to know though...

2 April 2010

like a vegan (hey!)

Firstly: HOORAY for Easter. It's one of my favourite times of year. Four no-strings days off, plenty of chocolate, a little religious reflection if that's your thing, lots of opportunities to bake, and it's not long till my birthday. I've definitely got hot cross buns on the brain, but before that there's this seriously good vegan apple cake recipe which I want to share. By the way, I hope it doesn't annoy any people who genuinely shun meat, eggs and dairy when I go into vegan mode and semi-patronisingly claim, like I'm the first person to ever work it out, how good a particular recipe is. I couldn't go full vegan any more than I could commit to eating nothing but hot buttered toast. I just like finding fun new recipes. Like this one.

I discovered this recipe on Palachinka's blog. Her version uses grated quince, which sounds mighty alluring, but I decided to go with apples instead to make it an option all year round. It's the work of minutes (although grating stuff is never fun) and makes a small-ish but really, really good cake.

Apple Cake

Adapted from Palachinka's Old Fashioned Quince Cake

200g grated unpeeled apple (roughly 2 medium apples)
90mls rice bran oil (or other similar plain oil)
50g sugar
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract or cinnamon
220mls apple juice or similar
200g flour
2 tsps baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder

Set your oven to 180 C/350 F. Oil a bundt caketin, sprinkle flour over it, shake it round to coat the inside and then tap out the excess. Mix together the grated apple, oil, sugar, juice and vanilla or cinnamon. Sift in the baking powder, soda and baking powder, mix everything together. Spread into the caketin and bake for about 40 minutes.

That's all there is to it really - a bit of grating, a bit of stirring, a bit of waiting. I have a pretty large bundt cake tin so the cake was only the size of the top bit of it (as you might be able to see from the photos) but it still worked totally fine. Make sure the baking soda is really well sifted, as it gives the cake the push it needs to rise and you don't want nasty lumps of it amongst the finished product.

This cake is seriously beautiful - soft, superlight, and keeps for days. The grated apple kind of dissolves once it's baked but still provides a bit of body and texture. I first made this cake using water instead of juice as the liquid component but trust me, trust me, you need the juice - the cake is okay but a bit weirdly bland without it. The second time, with juice, it was perfect - fragrant and deeply apple-y without being the slightest bit too sweet. I added a spoonful of vanilla paste to add even more flavour but the obvious addition of cinnamon would also be just right. Next time I make this - because there will definitely be a next time - I'm going to try adding a handful of shredded coconut for a bit more texture and flavour. I also have a feeling that grated carrot instead of - or indeed, with - the apple could be really cool. In the meantime, it's gorgeous just as it is, great with a cup of tea and full of enough good stuff that you could probably eat it for breakfast.

I don't have much of an agenda this Easter - which is actually really nice - it just feels so ridiculously good having four days to relax. Especially since, O Easter Miracle, Tim got three of the four days off. We've watched lots of DVDs and have nearly finished Season 5 of The Wire, which, without wanting to sound like our lives are pitifully narrow, is a pretty momentous occasion. We bussed out to Lyall Bay today and attempted to walk along the beach, getting exfoliated by the sand whipped along by the brutal wind. That said, the feeling of sand underfoot and the sight of giant seagulls flying sideways is never wrong. We had an amazing late lunch (Tim: salami, cheese, tomato and gherkin sandwich, Me: brocolli, blue cheese and walnut pie) at Queen Sally's Diamond Deli, and bought cut-price yoghurt from the Reduced to Clear shop. Finished up back on Cuba Street sharing a hokey-pokey flavoured thickshake and playing Go Fish at Offbeat Originals. Tonight I'm making hot cross buns, which will rise overnight in the fridge and go into the oven first thing tomorrow morning. I wish it could be Easter every weekend!

Title brought to you by: Madonna's Like A Virgin from her album of the same name, and while there's nothing wrong with this bouncy classic my favourite version involves Jim Broadbent and Richard Roxburgh getting vampy and campy in Moulin Rouge...can't be unseen.

Music lately:

On and On by Erykah Badu from Baduism. Her youthful, liquidy voice and spirituality-infused lyrics make anything she does a total joy but if you've never heard anything before this beautiful song is a fine place to start.

Rocky Racoon from The Beatles' White Album, which is my favourite of theirs...one of my favourites, anyway. It was playing in some shop today and I couldn't seem to shake it out of my mind (mostly because Tim wouldn't stop whistling it.) I like how it's so bizarre yet so old-fashioned sounding, like something you might have heard as a Sunday morning kids' radio show and yet also rather sinister. And I like songs where animals are the main character.

I just watched an amazing film called The Wrestler - that is, I was blogging while Tim was watching, I don't know that I could really deal with this film without having something else to look at while the violent stuff is happening - and Guns N'Roses' Sweet Child Of Mine plays during a fairly pivotal scene. I hadn't heard this song in a while and it was refreshing to hear it in a new context, removed from its usual setting, straight after Living On A Prayer on the Music to Binge Drink To compilation. Is there a more joyful opening guitar riff than that which this song possesses?

Next time: Hot cross buns, friend. That said, by the time I get round to blogging about them, Easter will likely have passed, the need the recipe will have gone, and you'll probably be sick of the sight of them on every single food blog. Well I, for one, am excited.