29 August 2010

you say stop, i sago, go go

Even though I'm pretty sure I never got fed sago or tapioca when I was a kid, I always assumed I didn't like it. It just sounded like one of those things I should resist. I don't remember reading, as an impressionable kid, any Malory Towers books where the girls in lower 6th are all "oh golly, not that sago again." In fact my main food impressions that I took from those kind of books was that a) there is romance in the tinned peach b) kippers are apparently a Good Thing and c) I want biscuits and butter, right now.

There are many, many things in this world you don't have to experience to know you don't want them, but sago...? It really falls more into the category of "broaden your horizons and don't be so narrow-minded, fool". And to be fair, I can't really hate on something that reminds me of Thoroughly Modern Millie (one of the best films ever).

I don't tend to research heavily before launching into a blog post but hit up Wikipedia after looking at the back of my packet of Budget Sago Pearls, (ingredients list: "Sago". The nutritional information - not much more than a few long-lasting carbohydrates and a little sodium) and thinking "what even is this stuff?" Turns out sago comes from a sago palm - of course! - and is not only the food staple of many countries, the sago plant rivals the awesome soybean for intense versatility in that it can be a key ingredient in (according to Wikipedia) adhesives, paper, ethanol, high fructose glucose syrup and MSG. I mean, that is some wide-ranging output. The starch of the sago palm is also made into sago pearls and the larger tapioca pearls, which can be turned into a whole lot of different puddings.

I used a recipe in Jill Dupleix's book Lighten Up which looks like it's based on the Malaysian Sago Gula Melaka pudding - sago coated in a palm sugar syrup and coconut milk. It's fairly straightforward to make and the end result is so incredibly good that I consider myself a full convert. Not to mention, this is a seriously cheap-but-pretty-fancy-looking pudding to be serving up. The bag of sago cost me less than $2, and none of the other ingredients cost much, but the results are gorgeous. I realise it's not as immediate as, say, chocolate pudding, but if anyone you serve this to tries to tell you they don't think they'll like sago, kindly direct them to the above category that it sits within.

Sago Pudding with Palm Sugar and Coconut Milk

From Jill Dupleix's Lighten Up

150g pearl sago
80g brown sugar or palm sugar
100ml coconut milk
pinch of salt

Bring a pan of water to the boil. Add the sago slowly and stir, leaving it to simmer away for another 15 minutes or so, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, gently heat the sugar and 100mls water in a pan, allowing it to dissolve and reduce slightly to a syrup (don't let it overheat though!) Drain the sago - this was a bit of a mission, the sago sticks to things, then rinse under cold water and drain well.

Tip it into a bowl and add half the sugar syrup, half the coconut milk and the pinch of salt. Mix well, pour into four ramekins or bowls or whatever and refrigerate them for a couple of hours. Run a knife around the inside of the ramekins and turn out into a bowl, pouring over the rest of the sugar syrup and coconut milk. Jill suggests mango on the side, this would be perfect but I didn't have any so sprinkled over some coconut threads instead. Serves 4.

Each grain of sago is so perfectly round and gleamingly opague, it's like a mass of tiny bubbles clinging together on your plate. Its texture is weirdly addictive - I guess "cold and slippery" isn't the most alluring description but give it a chance - the sago absorbs the light, caramelly syrup and the richness of the coconut milk and is seriously, seriously delicious.

I stupidly tried to strain the cooked sago into a regular colander...which has sago-sized holes in it. Luckily I managed to quickly chuck it into a fine-meshed sieve. The bits that landed in the sink and stuck to everything though were kind of magic looking - like solid water droplets, tiny shining orbs, like something David Bowie's character in Labyrinth (first crush!) would eat...or twirl craftily on his hands.


Title via: The Beatles...fertile ground for blog post titles, hey.

Music lately:

Tim and I had a fairly full on weekend, catching The Newtown Rocksteady (twice!) and Street Chant, who came down from Auckland for an album release gig. I love Wellington but sometimes I see advertisements for gigs happening in Auckland and think "wahh", I guess because it's where the majority of people live it's where a lot of the stuff happens, so it was cool that Street Chant made the effort to get down here. It was a bit late in the day when we got to their gig, but we had a very good time. Check out Yr Philosophy if you like.

There are two musicals called The Wild Party, both based on the same Joseph Moncure March poem, and both hit the stage around ten years ago. I tend to go on about the Andrew Lippa version (we-hell, Idina Menzel and Julia Murney, as well as Taye Diggs and Brian D'arcy James) BUT the LaChiusa version is also, naturally, seriously awesome. And had an even heavier-weight cast, with the likes of Eartha Kitt, Toni Collette, Mandy Patinkin and Marc Kudisch. I seriously love Toni Collette's song from this musical - The Lowdown-down, and how her sultry voice draws out the lyrics. When we saw Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin in Auckland last year I got him to sign my copy of the cast recording afterwards at the stage door - yusss!

Next time: I made some stuff from the Edmonds cookbook, but I also made brisket...you'll read it all eventually, and knowing me, I'm picking the baking will probably be next up to the plate.

22 August 2010

better yet oatmeal cookies, y'all just rookies to me

Please note: y'all are most definitely not just rookies to me. I always have plenty to learn. Just couldn't deny myself a good cookie-related lyric from one of my favourite songs.

Oatmeal cookies, and the Chocolate Chip Cookies that they overlap with on the Venn Diagram of Cookie Genres (it might exist...) are nothing new, and there are roughly a million recipes out there for them, but still, even if you didn't grow up with tins full of baking, there's something old-fashionedly comforting about biting into a half-crisp, half-chewy biscuit, buttery and caramelly and a little nutty with rolled oats, maybe with some chunks of dark chocolate to luxe things up deliciously. They're fast to make and relatively inexpensive and keep for as long as you can hold out from eating them.

They also, a lot of the time, involve creaming butter and sugar together. We don't have a microwave and the butter conditioner in the fridge just sits there stubbornly making the butter colder, so anything with softened butter either requires wrapping it up in tinfoil and sitting it near the heater, on the coffee maker, whichever's on, or back when we had our PC, on top of the hard drive. Or leaving the butter out overnight and hoping the kitchen is be warm enough to soften it into cream-able submission. Which means there's generally a bit of a distance between myself and oatmeal cookies. Or at least there was, until I saw this recipe that I'm going to share with you...

I found this recipe on a blog called The Hungry Engineer. It awesomely uses oil which I could then take the liberty of switching with melted butter. Not that I have anything against oil. I just want butter in my life and I figure that they're similar enough to not get fussed over. That said, if you stick to the original recipe, you've got yourself a mighty good dairy-free cookie. And I've got something that I don't have to enter into a MacGyver-style assault to be able to actually make it.

And yes, there's absolutely nothing wrong with the melted-butter based Anzac biscuits, but I didn't want to go adulterating them with chocolate and brown sugar and stuff. Leave well alone I reckon, and this recipe below is a more than worthy solution.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies

150g butter, melted and cooled slightly, OR 3/4 cup plain oil (like Rice Bran)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 cup flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup - or as much as you like - dark chocolate, roughly chopped into chunks (I use Whittakers)

Set your oven to 180 C/375 F, and get out a couple of trays and line them with baking paper. Whisk together the butter (or oil) with the sugars and egg. Mix in the flour, baking powder, oats and chocolate. Scoop out spoonfuls of this (magically delicious) mixture and drop them onto the trays. You don't really need to flatten them out - the heat of the oven takes care of that. Bake them for 9-12 minutes, swapping the trays halfway through if you like.

Let them cool a little before eating, because burning hot chocolate on the tongue is no fun at all.

These cookies are so good, for the reasons outlined earlier (as well as the obvious - it's a chocolate chunk cookie, title speaks for itself, right?) The timer buzzer on our oven decided to join our butter conditioner and refuse to work, so these cookies were overcooked by about five minutes - this is the difference between chewy and crisp. They're still really good, but next time I make them I'm going to be paying more attention, as I lean towards a chewy preference.

It's a man with a cookie for a head!

FYI, that's a jumper of mine under that gleefully ugly plate, and it occurs to me now that hopefully I don't find any crumbs down my sleeves because that's one of my least favourite things. And yeah, I do get crumbs somehow stuck in my sleeves enough to know I don't like it (cookie crumbs hang around like sand once they get in your clothes, trust me.)

Yesterday Tim and I went to the extremely awesome Bookfair, put on by the Downtown Community Ministry who do heaps of good work in providing support to those in Wellington who need it. The Bookfair happens every year and it is so exciting. If you like books. Which I do. Tim and I scored some amazing finds this year. Like an ancient edition of Leonard Cohen's The Favourite Game, the adorable 1952 edition of This Thing Called Ballet ("makes a plea for balletosanity as against balletomania" according to Daily Sketch), and a 1953 edition of Maori Grammar and Conversation, written with the Hon. Sir Apirana Ngata. Sure I can learn phrases and grammar from it, but as a slice of New Zealand history - for better or for worse - it's a fascinating read. I also got a juicy stack of Cuisine magazines and am slowly filling the gaps in my collection from the past ten years. Feels so good.


Title via: De La Soul with Redman, Oooh, from their album Art Official Intelligence. I loved this song right away when I first heard it ten years ago - its mellow melody, awesome beat, and more-ish chorus. I managed to more or less memorise the lyrics after taping it off the radio, but then had to go to Google because I had no idea what stuff like "Brick City" meant...

Music lately:

Leonard Cohen's So Long, Marianne from Songs of Leonard Cohen. It's relatively lengthy at six verses, and also relatively upbeat as far as Cohen songs go. But by the time you get to the "I see you've gone and changed your name again" line, you start to feel all desolate because the song's nearly over. Devastating from the lapping strum to quiet finish.

Sleepy Man, sung by the amazing Idina Menzel in 1990, when she would have been around 19. It's a side we don't often see from her vocals, and while the lyrics to this song from The Robber Bridegroom are pretty painful I do love it, so it was a total treat to find the link to this performance - especially as she was from well before she was on Broadway.

Next time: On the one hand, I've got all these Cuisine magazines to plough through and be inspired by, on the other hand it could be time to crack out that quince brandy I've had chilling in the cupboard...

17 August 2010

blaze a blaze galangalangalang

I've been feeling sorta dispirited the last couple of months, a bit "mehhhh", like time is sliding by so fast and I haven't been able to get a grip on the days and suddenly it's August and, I don't know, maybe this strikes a chord or maybe it makes no sense whatsoever.

I think, hypothesizingingly, this could have something to do with the fact that I have made almost no stews or casseroles or soups this winter. Nigella's Slow Food chapter in that seminal text How To Eat has been unstained with ingredients, there's been no brisket becoming meltingly soft as it cooks in stock over time, forcing you to wait for it, or kumara simmering with spices and all those other romantic things that you think about when you are, well, hungry and frozen. I guess I've just been busier lately, had more going on...anyway I'm trying. I made Nigella's Beef with Stout and Prunes for the first time in more than a year over the weekend and it was SO good. Luckily in Wellington it's winter for about 85% of the year anyway so even though it's nearly September, there's still plenty of scope for making up for lost time foodwise.

Me: I'm going to make Penang Beef Shin Curry for dinner tonight.
Tim: Woohoo!


Me: I've decided to use tofu instead of beef.
Tim: Woohoo..?

Luckily, Tim does like tofu. Actually, I take back that 'luckily'. It's not some great magnanimous concession to like tofu, the sort of thing you discuss later with starry eyes ("he doesn't complain when I cook tofu and he puts the toilet seat down! What a catch!") It ain't luck. Tofu just tastes good. At least, when I cook it. Witness: tofu balls!

This not-beef Penang Curry was a recipe I found in an old Cuisine magazine - July 2004 - and while using tofu makes it significantly faster, it still has that involved, pestle-and-mortar, simmer-till-tender vibe going on. The list of ingredients might look a bit stressful, and I guess I'm lucky I live in Wellington where stuff is a bit nearer to my fingertips, but it's not so bad -suss out your local markets, check out the local Asian Supermarkets, explore your neighbourhood or even the next 'hood over...or just improvise with what you have. Shallots can become spring onions, dried chillis can be fresh glossy ones, and the gently fragrant galangal of my blog post title could just be plain ginger...but you might want to call it "Penang-ish" curry instead, I guess I should, too considering how much I've changed it up already.

Penang Tofu Curry

Adapted from Cuisine, July 2004

Penang Curry Paste

4 long dried chillies, deseeded and soaked in hot water for 20 minutes
Pinch salt
3 shallots, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons chopped coriander root and stalk
1 tablespoon chopped galangal
1 tablespoon chopped lemongrass stalk
A little grated fresh nutmeg
3 tablespoons natural peanuts, boiled for 25 mins, drained and cooled (I have to admit...I didn't boil them for 25 minutes. Maybe five. And I didn't let them sit round and cool either.)

Either blitz everything in a food processor, adding the peanuts last and pulsing to a roughly textured mixture, or go hands-on with a pestle and mortar. I did the latter, not because I'm all superior but because sometimes in my backwards mind, bashing away at herbs with a ceramic thingy is easier on my nerves than washing the food processor after using it. Either way, refrigerate until you need it.

2 square 'fillets' of fresh, firm tofu, sliced (or as much as you want, really)
1 can coconut milk
2 tablespoons grated palm sugar
3 tablespoons fish sauce (I used soy sauce instead - you could too, to make it vegan)
2 cups loosely packed spinach leaves
4 kaffir lime leaves, torn in half
1 small, hot chilli, cut in half
2 tablespoons Thai basil leaves (didn't have any of this)
5cm fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin batons (I just used more galangal)
1/4 cup coriander leaves

Bring half the coconut milk to the boil in a heavy saucepan. Reduce heat and add the curry paste, stirring as it cooks. Add the palm sugar, the fish sauce, and the tofu slices. Simmer for a few minutes, then stir in the spinach, lime leaves, galangal, chilli and basil. Serve in bowls with the coriander on top, over hot rice. This served two, but all you'd need is more tofu and more coconut milk to feed four.

Soul-restoring stuff - the gentle coconut flavour harshed up by the roundhouse kicky of the chilli, fragrant with the delicately gingery galangal, the incredibly good-smelling lemongrass and lime leaves and the coriander, all of which is absorbed into the fresh, delicious tofu. If you like what you see, maybe try making triple the curry paste, covering it with some oil and refrigerating it for the next time you need some midwinter zing.

Okay, I'd just like to point out that I initially typed "zingage" instead of just 'zing', and it didn't get a little red spellcheck underline...weird. Sitting here typing, I can tell you that "flavour", "harshed", and "chilli" all are spelled wrong according to the red lines underneath them, but "zingage", as in what I imagine to be "possesses zing" is apparently a legit word? Weirdage!

Title via: M.I.A's very cool song Galang from her album Arular...gah I love this woman's music. And also her dancing. Even if you start listening to Galang and feel like this scoop of spluttery, slangy excellence is not your thing, the constant dancing, graphic art, and colourful jackets in her music video are awesome (as is the harmonising towards the end).

Music lately:

I bought Liz Callaway's Passage of Time online recently and it took soooo long to arrive, finally landing on my desk last week. Have been thrashing it ever since. Youtube is painfully lacking in Liz Callaway tracks but here's a recording of her singing Make Someone Happy/Something Wonderful from this album - devastatingly good stuff.

Speaking of devastatingly good, Neil Young's Tonight's The Night from the album of the same name. I heard a song from this album on the radio over the weekend and it reminded me how much I love this collection of songs. My favourite album of his, hands-down.

Still speaking of devastatingly good, check out the late, wonderful Lena Horne's take on Rocky Racoon with the musical assistance of Gabor Szabo. Over on our blog 100s and 1000s, Tim and I shared our thoughts on some of the good Beatles covers out there, and Mum commented asking if anyone had every covered Rocky Racoon. Well here it is. And I only wish we'd found it sooner. Cheers Mum!
Next time: Apart from wanting to slow down and make more old-timey casseroles, I've also had the urge to make some cookies but haven't had the time or energy. When you don't have the energy for cookies you know it's time for some stern self-talk. Find the energy, Laura! Make the time!

10 August 2010

in cyberland we only drink diet coke

When I tweeted on the Twitter recently that I was making Chocolate Coca Cola Cake, there was a massive flurry of like, two or three people tweeting back at me that they wanted the recipe. Never one to offend my constitchency, I obediently bring you...Chocolate Coca Cola Cake. Check out all those curvaceous C's lined up like that. Nigella, you alliterative minx.

I've already told the story of how this was the first recipe I made from How To Be A Domestic Goddess in 2006, but the tl:dr version is that Tim bought it for me, even though we didn't have any expensive-book-money kicking round, to cheer me up after some clothes I was pretty invested in got stolen off our washing line. What a nice fulla he is.

This recipe is fantastic - very reassuringly cake-like, nothing fancy here, but also like no other chocolate cake you've ever tasted. Yeah, the Coca-Cola might be a bit of an awkward-sounding ingredient, but it works I promise you. The flavour isn't strident, but gives a slight lick of damp cinnamony fizziness. It's easy as to make too - just melt and beat thoroughly till smooth. When I was a kid we never really had fizzy drink around (except on my birthdays when Mum made ice cream sodas) and I never buy it or drink it now but - there's something SO good about the taste of a cold Coca-Cola. Which is exactly what Coca-Cola would like me to think, but there it is.

Chocolate Coca-Cola Cake

From Nigella Lawson's amazing, amazing, How To Be A Domestic Goddess

200g plain flour
250g sugar (brown sugar is good)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg
125 mls buttermilk (or 125 mls half yoghurt half millk)
125g butter
2 T cocoa powder
175mls Coca-Cola

Preheat oven to 180 C/375 F and put in a baking sheet/biscuit tray to heat up. Butter and paper-line a 22-23cm springform tin.

In a large pan, gently heat the Coca-Cola, cocoa and butter together till the butter melts. In another bowl sift together the dry ingredients and pour in the buttery cola. Whisk in the yoghurt and egg, mixing everything really well. Pour into the tin and bake for 40 minutes or until cooked through.

Nigella has a recipe for icing that goes with it but it makes a way huge amount. What I did was mix together 1/3 cup Coca-cola, 2 tablespoons cocoa, and enough icing sugar to make a smooth, pourable icing. Even so this made way too much and it flowed over the plate and pooled all over the benchtop. It took so long to clean it up.

I made this cake to eat with the band Alex The Kid during Tim's and my interview with them for our blog 100s and 1000s. It was a fun afternoon, and as soon as they left I grabbed my photo and took a couple of snaps. But I waited till they were done. You don't want to hinder people's ability to eat this stuff.

So good.

Check out, if you will, out the sweet coasters Tim and I made! Neither of us tend to go in for crafty cute stuff but something about this project we found in the latest issue - finding old coasters, cutting up pages of old books, glueing them together and spraying with fix-y stuff - appealed. To be honest Tim ended up doing most of it but I spotted the book about the galaxy, and the end result is pretty sassy, hey?


Title via: The incomparable (I think my heart beats faster just thinking about her) Idina Menzel who originated the role of Maureen in RENT on Broadway in 1996 and reprised it nearly ten years later in the film version of RENT. The audience's first sight of her is when she does her fairly astonishing 'performance art' piece, Over The Moon, which the title of this post quotes. I kindly but firmly direct you to consult both the original Broadway and film version.

Music lately:

Voom, King Kong - apparently this song only came out in 2006 but you hear it and get this feeling like you swear you were listening to it when you were 12. (Depending on where '12' was for you). This song (like Ash's Burn Baby Burn) is made of so many hooks that a more cautious band might have made a whole album from the material crammed into King Kong's 3-ish minutes. It is fantastic stuff. We managed to see them on Saturday night at Mighty Mighty, so much fun although we missed half their set (including Beth, sniffle) because we were at another gig at Bodega, for Amnesty, where we saw the outstandingly awesome local band Nudge who, for a three-piece, churned out the kind of sound that you'd expect from twelve people.

Dead Prez, Hip Hop...love the beat, the chant-along chorus, and how they tip their hat to Trenchtown Rock. I was working at Big Day Out when they came to New Zealand this year but managed to catch the tail end of their set on my shaved ice break. Even from where I was at the back of the field with a tired brain, a mouthful of syrup, and minutes to go before they left the stage, they were pretty electrifying.

Next time: 99% sure it will involve tofu.

7 August 2010

it's that orange blossom special

I try to keep things relatively practical and user-friendly on here, but every now and then a recipe comes along which, even though I can't really work out what I'd do with it, sounds so pretty that I just go ahead and make it anyway. Like them marshmallows. Really, if I want to cook something badly it's pretty easy come up with some kind of justification, however dubious.

I found this recipe for Orange and Saffron Confit in the latest Dish magazine. I always thought confit was something submerged in fat for purposes of preservation and deliciousness, but this is basically slices of orange simmered in syrup. I guess it's for the best, although you know I wouldn't turn my back on orange slices in a jar of melted butter. It sounded like so much fun, and even though I didn't really have any need for it in my life I really wanted to try it.

It's pretty cheap to make, and even if you never, ever use them, the jar looks unbelievably pretty with its tangerine-bright layers of orange spooning in their glossy liquid.

Saffron is admittedly really expensive, and the reason I'm relaxed about using it is because I've received it as a Christmas or birthday present so many times (I looooove getting food as presents FYI) that I've got plenty I can use. If you don't have saffron to hand I reckon this would be amazing with a vanilla pod or a couple of cinnamon sticks (for a very cheap option) as a replacement.

Orange and Saffron Confit

From Dish Magazine (the current one with the pumpkin on the cover)

2 large seedless oranges (I used 3)
3 1/2 cups water (just under a litre)
Pinch of saffron threads, or whatever substitution you're using
2 1/2 cups caster sugar (I used regular)

Trim the ends off the oranges. Cut into 1/2 cm thick slices and place in a wide saucepan with the water and saffron threads. Bring to just below boiling point, let it simmer away gently for about 20 minutes. Then sprinkle over your sugar and continue to cook gently for about 30 minutes, until the liquid has reduced a bit. Occasionally you could spoon some of the liquid over the oranges but don't try stirring them or they'll fall apart.

Let them cool in their syrup, then carefully transfer the slices to a clean jar or two and pour over the remaining syrup.

Warning: You and your benchtop will get covered in sugary syrup. There is no way of avoiding this. This is what I've learned in my travels around the kitchen, anyway.

It smells so good while it's simmering away, and for very little effort you end up with soft, gleaming slices of intensely flavoured orange and a gorgeously golden syrup flecked with red saffron strands and fragrant with that grassy, saffron-y perfume.

In case you're thinking "yeah nice, but now what?", well apart from loudly admiring your handicraft whenever someone walks past, Dish suggests a few options for using this confit. These include decorating cakes, accompanying chocolate mousse, or serving over ice cream. For a while there I was thinking it would be fun to give someone you were only pretending to like a jar of this as a present, so you could imagine them fumbling round trying to (a) come up with a use for it and (b) act like they're sophisticated and orange confit is something they understand and deal with on a daily basis. However there's actually plenty of uses for this stuff. Today I decided to chop up a few slices to use in a fruit cake of Nigella Lawson's - but this cake is amazing on its own so don't feel that the first recipe here has to happen before you can do the following one.

And if you can't be bothered making the orange slices to go with this, take comfort in the fact that even though they look pretty, they make slicing the loaf a total pain.

Fruit Tea Loaf

From Nigella Lawson's very amazing Feast

1 x 250ml cup black tea
375g dried fruit (I used half dates, half sultanas)
125g brown sugar
250g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch ground cloves (I used cinnamon)
1 egg
Optional: 3 slices of orange from the above confit recipe, roughly diced, plus extra slices for decorating.

Make the cup of black tea (I used English Breakfast) and pour it into a bowl with the dried fruit and sugar, stir well, then leave sitting overnight. I know, I've just told you that you can't have this cake until tomorrow. If you've got a microwave, you can try blasting it in there for a little bit to speed up the absorption process, letting the fruit cool a little before doing the rest of the recipe.

Set your oven to 170 C, and line a loaf tin with baking paper. Beat the rest of the ingredients into the dried fruit (retaining the liquid) and then spoon the mixture into the loaf tin. Bake for around an hour or so. If you've got some orange confit kicking round, drape a few slices over the cake and spoon over a little syrup.

I can't even emphasise with words (only by gesturing wildly with my hands) how easy and delicious this cake is. If you haven't got much in the bank for baking fancy things, this is the cake for you - dried fruit like sultanas, dates and apricots are always cheap. There's no butter in it and only one egg. But it comes out of the oven tasting like one of those special Christmas cakes which have had days of effort and paychecks going into them. It's really moist and fruity and rich, and the orange slices lend a sunny zestiness. For all that people get up in arms about Nigella's recipes which have lots of expensive ingredients in them, if you take the time to properly read her books there's a complete goldmine of practical, cheap things to fill your stomach with. And come to think of it, this cake would make a genuinely lovely gift to someone, at any time of year.

I really hadn't thought about what I'd do with the slices of orange as I start cutting into the loaf. Guess I'll just have to try hacking them up as I go? Or maybe I could push them further and further back as I slice more off the loaf...but it looks pretty. Speaking of pretty, I am a bit in love with that plate of ours which (you can't see because there's a slice of cake on it) has a guy and a girl earnestly playing tennis. Picked it up for a dollar from an op shop in town. The joy I feel whenever I see it is dampened a bit by how old it makes me feel that I get worked up about really ugly plates.

Last night Tim and I went to an evening of Rogers and Hammerstein with the always-awesome NZ Symphony Orchestra and West End conductor Martin Yates, with songs performed by West End soloists Jacqui Scott and Andrew Halliday. It was a fantastic evening - Tim and I probably lowered the average age of punters by about forty years - but I will point out that the Michael Fowler centre is awful, with its semi-circular seating arrangement meaning that 40% of the audience can't see a thing, and for the price they were making people pay, you'd think Kerry Ellis or even Elaine Paige herself were going to be there.

The NZSO were in good form, providing a lush, expansive amble through some of Rogers and Hammersteins best-loved musicals, and songs like Shall We Dance, Some Enchanted Evening, Oklahoma, Climb Every Mountain, and Soliloquy were performed through the evening. The two singers were fantastic - Halliday had a rich and smooth Gavin Creel-esque sound and Scott was blessed with a powerful soprano voice. Gotta say even as a hardcore musical theatre person the Oklahoma can sometimes be a bit much for me - all that talk of how "birds and frogs'll sing altogether and the frogs'll hop". The darkness of Carousel is more my scene, and to their credit, without any costumes or scenery and only marginal context, the two singers were great at switching characters between songs. If anyone's listening, an evening of Sondheim would be seriously awesome. I probably wouldn't even complain about the price of seats.

Title via: Johnny Cash, who sung Orange Blossom Special at Folsom Prison and San Quentin prisons. There is some incredibly good footage on Youtube of him performing, if you're ever sitting round wondering what to do with your time you could definitely do worse than entering his name into the search bar.
Music lately:

King Kapisi feat Mint Chicks, Superhuman - a seriously meaty collaboration between two of Aotearoa's finest acts. I've been lucky enough to see both of them live (Mint Chicks at SFBH in 2006 and earlier this year, and King Kapisi at Pasifika Festival at Western Springs in 2000 or 2001, my memory fails me - anyone else remember?), hopefully there's the opportunity for people to see them perform this song together at some stage.

Speaking of collaborations, we're still loving Nas and Damian 'Jr Gong' Marley's diamond of an album, Distant Relatives. Truly. Find it.
Next time: I made Nigella's Coca Cola chocolate cake today for an interview we did with Alex The Kid for 100sand1000s...will be blogging about it soon.