27 February 2011

i've got strength and endurance, so i count my blessings

So. After Tuesday's horrific earthquake in Christchurch, from which the sad news continues to eclipse any good, I couldn't consider much of anything, let alone blogging. Which is fine.

Tim and I and my whole family are so lucky. Removed physically from the horror, although not emotionally. My cousin and his partner down in Christchurch were fine, despite being in the city centre at the time, and we were able to hear this news pretty quickly. Any other friends and family we had down there have been accounted for. But the number of fatalities climb with sorrowful speed. We had two people staying in our lounge last night, friends of our flatmate's who were in Christchurch when it happened. Their stories were a further reminder to be thankful for what I've got.

Thankful or not (and it's not proper gratitude, how can you be truly thankful that something awful happened to someone else and not you?) I've been changed by this earthquake. Wellington, where I live, is supposed to be earthquake central, not Christchurch. I used to be such a daydreamer, floating down the street in my own world. Now I dart from block to block, each shop front a potential missile that I pass like a small victory. I take my phone everywhere. I feel nervous when Tim and I go our separate ways for work in the morning. I lie awake, mentally assessing what might fall on me in the night, the useless-in-an-earthquake concrete walls staring back at me, every twitch of my muscles or distant slamming door feeling like the opening bars of an earthquake's crescendo. One good thing about staying up so late to listen to the news and refresh Twitter is that my eyes shut that much faster when I do get to bed.

Worth pointing out here that this specific fear of earthquakes and feeling like every creak of a building is nature getting angry isn't anything new. It's been this way ever since a well-intentioned but excessively heavy school assignment on disasters when I was about 10. Just now it's a lot more...near.

As with when I was 10, I try to comfort myself with the thought that my grandma Zelda, who died when she was about 75 (would've been so much longer if emphysema hadn't set in) once told me that she'd never once been in an earthquake. She might've been lying to an overly nervous kid (that said, she did live in Tuakau, not known for its tremors.) But then and still now, I tell myself like a mantra that if Grandma could be that age and never be in an earthquake, then maybe I could be that person too. Then there's practical things to help soothe the mind too: we refreshed our bottled water supply, located a torch, that kind of thing.

Of course there's food. On Tuesday night I came home and made us a risotto with extra butter and frozen peas, remembering Nigella's philosophy of the mindless stirring being good for the soul. It wasn't half bad, just focussing on that wooden spoon spiralling through the slowly expanding grains of rice. We ate it out of bowls on the couch and listened to Radio New Zealand till well after midnight.

With some renewed sense of purpose, I baked some stuff for the bring-and-buy sale happening at Grow From Here up the road. In a sort-of humorous twist, the friends from Christchurch who I mentioned earlier were asleep on our lounge floor while I was trying to quietly, quietly ice a cake and wrap up cookies without waking them. At Grow From Here we met up with another local food blogger, Mika of Millie Mirepoix. I'd made Chocolate Guinness Cake, gluten-free peanut butter cookies, and a couple of fruit tea loaves. Mika had made lemon-iced gingerbread (as in the dense sticky cake, not the biscuit), lemon shortbread, and mini cinnamon-raisin-walnut pinwheels. Other people had bought clothes, shoes, a stack of (mostly amusement-causing, MOR-tastic) vinyl thanks to Real Groovy, homemade candles, jigsaws, even a TV. I'm glad Tim and I were there - it felt extremely self-helpful to do something positive for others. There were so many nice people that came and bought things, often giving extremely generous donations, and it was so cool to hang with Mika and with Kaye who is one of the people who runs Grow From Here. FYI if you're near Wellington and longing for some plant-life, totally go see Kaye at Grow From Here, she's lovely and full of good advice and their range of fruit and vegetable plants is amazing. Massive respect to them for getting this organised.

With our powers combined, about $200 was raised by the afternoon. All going to Christchurch. I went back and visited again this afternoon and at that point $700 had been raised. Kaye said that about five minutes after Tim, myself and Mika left, someone turned up asking if they could volunteer. For all the the universe gets it really twisted sometimes, it also provides. I'm going to be dropping some more baking off tomorrow morning and while I can't hang around, please come to the top of Cuba Street if you can - just a donation of any kind and you can take what you like. And there's plenty of deliciousness for the taking.

Before Tuesday, this blog post was going to be a salute to vegetables, but not only do I not have the energy to talk about them in detail, I have even less energy to write recipes out. But in the interest of not being entirely lazy and self-pitying...

...if you roast a halved eggplant, a few good halved tomatoes, and a halved red onion and some garlic cloves with some salt and olive oil, then simmer them (as is) with stock or water, then peel the garlic cloves and puree everything (carefully...maybe fish out the vegetables and puree them then pour them back into the stock in the pan) with some chilli then you'll have yourself a delicious, thick and darkly savoury soup. Vegan too. I got this recipe from the latest issue of Cuisine magazine.

And if you slice a cucumber into sticks, mix it with some sliced red onion (sit the onion in water for a while to make it less tongue-harsh) mint leaves, finely chopped roast peanuts and some crisply fried garlic, and then pour over a dressing of white vinegar, fish sauce, a little sugar and sliced red chilli (I just used a spoon of sambal oelek as that's what I had) then you have Vatcharin Bhumichtr's gorgeously contradictorial Yoam Droksok, a Cambodian salad which heats and cools on impact and is strangely addictive.

So the baking has helped some. We went to see friends in Ngaio for book group on Wedneday night and played with/coveted deeply their kitten and ate their mini lemon meringue pies and laughed so much, which also helped. Every time I pause from any activity though, my mind goes immediately to Christchurch. Which I guess is just fine. It's not over for them just because a little time has passed. It's probably never going to be 'over' in fact, just...different.

I'm sure you've seen this information in a million other places but in the interest of being part of the solution:

  • Red Cross seems to be one of the most reputable ways to donate. Anything helps, but if you haven't got anything to give, then maybe pass the link on through your networks.

  • If you're on Vodafone (in New Zealand) you can txt Quake to 333 or 555 which will send $3 or $5 respectively to the Red Cross. Telecom users txt 4419 - a simple way of doing the above option.

  • MusicHype has an enormous 'mixtape' where you can download roughly a metric ton of music for a donation which goes to Red Cross. Very cool idea, and it's also awesome that they got it set up so quickly. Artists include Salmonella Dub, Mel Parsons, King Kapisi, 1995, DJ Sticky Fingas and literally quite a few more. Click here for more info.
Finally: as a blogger it has been so heart-swellingingly good to know that all the Christchurch people whose blogs I read and who I follow on Twitter are more or less okay.

Stay safe.

Title via: Nas and Damian Marley's Count Your Blessings from Distant Relatives. It feels like ages ago since anything, let alone when I saw them live earlier this month, but their lyrics feel as important now as they did then.

Music lately:

Well...I've spent a good long time listening to what I consider Mariah Carey's Early 90s Trifecta of Emphatic Reliability: Anytime You Need A Friend, I'll Be There, and Hero. In times of high stress comes both comfort food and comfort listening. And all those songs with the simple theme of "I'll be there", just listen to these songs enough and you do get some sense that yeah, you can get through this. Temporary it may be, but it does help. It might help more if you have songs of some kind of equivalence to this. Maybe listening to Mariah Carey really, really wouldn't help some of you right now.
Next time: Each day as it comes so... Who knows. Promise I'll write the recipes out proper though.

20 February 2011

see these ice cubes, see these ice creams

More ice cream! Am I obsessed with this stuff or what? Look: I had a can of lychees stashed in the freezer in the hopes of recreating this drink I had a Thai restaurant in Panmure. Without warning, in the middle of the day, the idea of lychee and cucumber sorbet manifested in my mind, eclipsed the previous idea, got the jump on anything else I'd been planning to blog about, and left me more or less unable to concentrate from then on till I could make it happen.

Saturday was spent catching up with close friends and family in fast succession (amazingly fun and good for the soul) but today, Sunday, stretched ahead with no real agenda. It was one of those monumentally rare, still blue-skied days in Wellington and rather than nuking myself in the afternoon heat, the cool shade of indoors was the ideal environment to make this fragrant, juicy sorbet. Because of the high water content it's icier than most which is why - sorry - I recommend the double-blitzing in the food processor. That said it's barely hard work to make, and if you do it all on one day, you can get away with washing the processor just the once. (We don't have a dishwasher so most decisions that don't revolve around how I can work more ice cream into my life tend to revolve around how I can minimise potential dishwashing.) All you're doing is freezing then blending then freezing then blending. Then eating.

Yes, you're putting a salad vegetable into your pudding, but something about cucumber's chilled, melon-ish texture and the lychee's perfumed slippery softness makes them ideal buddies to share a loving and iced existence together.

Lychee and Cucumber Sorbet

1 can lychees in syrup (they only seem to come in syrup, so that's what I used)
1 decent-sized cucumber

Now, I'm guessing you don't actually have to freeze the lychees beforehand, it really doesn't add anything to the recipe, but as I said I started off thinking this was going to be something else.

So: freeze the can of lychees overnight, or longer if you're like me and forget about it. Peel your cucumber, then halve it lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon (I just ate them, felt a bit wasteful otherwise) before chopping into chunks.

Open up your frozen can of lychees and tip into a food processor (it'll probably take some gouging and digging with a knife like mine, but it's possible it could come out clean) along with the cucumber chunks. Process the heck out of it, pausing to spatula down the sides occasionally - this will take a while to get rid of any errant solid bits.

Pour into a container and freeze for a couple of hours before - I'm sorry - processing again till very smooth. You can leave out this step but it'll be all chunky and icy and rough. Refreeze and then serve as and when you wish.

Making up new ice cream is one of my favourite ways to use my brain (and I know this is a sorbet, but I give the umbrella heading because "iced dessert" sounds way too corporate) and luckily for everyone around who has to deal with me, this worked out exactly as I'd hoped. There's only so many ways of saying fragrant without sounding weird/awkward, so to be straightforward, this stuff smells sooo good and tastes just as wonderful: juicy and hydrating and sweet. The second blitzing gives it more of a frozen coke consistency, rather than a granular, tooth-fissuring grittiness.

Scraped by the frosty spoonful, its diaphanous minty green colour barely hints at the strength of summery flavour it brings. These photos were totally taken on my bed by the way. I try to keep my food photography as real-life as possible without too much tutu-ing round but that's where the light was, and it's really not implausible that I'd eat ice cream in bed.

Title via: That exercise in then-exciting minimalism, Drop It Like It's Hot by Snoop Dogg and my then-crush Pharrell (the song's still good and of course he's still good looking, but I don't have a poster of him on the wall or anything).

Music lately:

We had such an amazing time at Nas and Damian Marley's Distant Relatives concert on Wednesday night. Might've just been the atmosphere but every song felt really important and significant...like this one.

The sadly gone-early Patsy Cline with Stop the World - this is a gorgeous live recording of her singing this song. She was what I guess you'd call a consummate performer, filling every word with genuine but not excessive emotion.


Next time: I feel like it has basically been nonstop pudding lately so I'm hoping the next one will involve vegetables a-plenty, and not by putting them into a sorbet, either.

14 February 2011

rise up, rise in the morning

Aunt Daisy's Favourite Cookery Book might appear fairly unpromising at first - a narrow, yellowing fliptop book with no pictures apart from the occasional persuasively worded ad. But it's an absolute diamond, a paragon of everything you'd hope a cookbook from 1956 to be. Zillions of recipes, roughly 140 of which are for jam, and several of which come with the word "Mock" before or "(Good)" afterwards. It's funny, there's this idealisation of your grandma's era as being so natural and the way to be, but in this book there's plenty of urging you to set things in gelatine and to add synthetic flavourings to your food. There's one chapter on vegetables, half of which is devoted to salads made of egg, cheese and potato, while baking and puddings are luxuriated in across several lengthy chapters. It's fun.

It's hard to tell if the hilarity is intentional or just of the time. I suspect the latter. It's partly because of Aunt Daisy's blunt delivery ("bake in the usual way") partly because of the things we don't tend to eat these days - salads set in gelatine, boiled offal as recuperation food for the unfortunate convalescent, and partly her delicious titles - "Matrimony Jam" made of marrow and gooseberries, pudding "(from a man)" and "Lady Windemere Salad".

My dad's mother Zelda died in 2002 and I ended up with her Aunt Daisy cookbook in the above photo, as well as a notebook of handwritten recipes and clippings. As far as I know she wasn't much of a cook (I remember Dad looking doubtfully through the notebook saying "well she never made that") and to be honest the only food-related memories I have from staying with her are 2-minute noodles and marmite on toasted North's wheatmeal bread - one of the most hole-prone and flavourless slices around, although I always thought of her when I saw it and was sad when they gussied up their branding recently. Mini kit-kats, and orange juice mixed with lemonade was a very special treat. I really did love 2-minute noodles and Marmite on toast, so these are good memories, by the way.

The fact that she may not have used this Aunt Daisy book doesn't bother me, the fact that I actually have it is enough. And I'd like to think that since she held onto it at all, for all those years, it must have had some value to her. Over Christmas Mum had the book beautifully rebound for me by this woman in Waiuku and in its new, hardcover, less fragile incarnation I've been moved to not just read through it in wonder, but actually cook something from it for the first time in ages.

As soon as I discovered the following recipe I knew that it and I were meant to be in each other's lives. Because it's a recipe for bread with condensed milk in it, and that kind of idea and the concept that I could bake it is what gets me out of bed in the morning. It distills into a paragraph everything that was good about the time it was written. I'd been thinking about that soft, sweet bakery bread recently thanks to this conversation, and I wondered if this ingredient would kinda replicate that - it didn't - but it was still wildly good stuff. And easy as to make - stir, rise, stir-knead-rise, shape, rise, bake. Apart from the kneading - because of the hefty amount of dough the mixture will seem all shaggy and reluctant at first, but it does eventually come together.

White Bread (or "condensed milk bread" as I've been referring to it as)

Adapted from Aunt Daisy's Favourite Cookery Book, 1956 edition

4 dessertspoons sweetened condensed milk
2 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 sachet dried yeast
7 cups high grade/bread flour

Mix together the condensed milk, water and yeast till a little frothy, then stir in 1 cup of the flour and leave, covered, for 15 minutes till somewhat puffy and bubbly.

Stir in the remaining 6 cups flour and a generous amount of salt - Aunt Daisy reckons a dessertspoon - and knead till springy and supple.

Cover and leave to rise for 3/4 of an hour.

At this point, Aunt Daisy says to roll it out to around an inch thick, quarter it squares, then shape and place two pieces each into two loaf tins. I found this slightly confusing, but figured she knew what she was doing, so rolled each piece up and tucked them in pairs into two loaf tins.

Set your oven to 220 C/440 F and leave the loaves for about 15 minutes to become puffy and further risen. I brushed them with melted butter at this point. Bake at this temperature for around 8 minutes and then lower it to 180 to bake them for 45 minutes.

You end up with two brown, somewhat gloriously buttock-like swelling loaves of soft white bread, which are - for all that there are those saucy dessertspoons of sticky-sweet condensed milk - barely sugary. In fact this recipe is pretty austere, with no quantities of milk, no butter, no oil, none of the usual things I'm used to massaging into dough. It has a tense, tight texture which makes it perfect for slicing into adorably small sandwiches and toasts up beautifully, with the slight, fluttery caramel taste of the condensed milk just making itself known. I actually reckon you could comfortably double or even triple the amount of condensed milk in this - but for now I'm extremely happy with these loaves as they are.

I love making bread so much. I realise it comes across as a total mission and it kinda is, but if you've never made bread before and you're curious as to what the fuss is about then this isn't a bad place to start. I took some slices to work today for lunch, toasted them and spread em with butter and Marmite - still one of my favourite things to eat.

Question + Preamble: Tim and I are stepping up the pace on the glacial path to our trip overseas in March/April and have booked a few important things...we still have a ton more things to book but we wanted some advice: who here has travelled overseas and bought vinyl? What's the best way to pack it so that you don't get to your local airport, pick up your bags and discover that your precious records have been smashed into jigsaw puzzle pieces stored in an attractive sleeve?


Title via: The extremely excellent Idina Menzel and her song Rise Up, she's never actually recorded it but for a while it was an integral part of her live shows and eventually came to have the title it does. Dedicated to her sister, for a few years there was one version which she updated around 2008 to include a punchy chorus. Of course I recommend you listen to both the emotion-soaked original, and the slicker, but still beautiful recent rewrite.

Music lately:

Tim and I went to see the play Diamond Dogs at Bats tonight - apart from the fact that we totally recommend it because it's fantastic, it also does a decent job of getting Bowie in your head. While I'm not sure it's really his finest moment, Modern Love is easily one of our favourite Bowie songs and the recurrent nature of its chorus allows it to all the more easily be stuck in your mind.

By the Throat from the (late) Eyedea and Abilities. Amazingly good.

Next time: Possibly Brian O'Brian's Bran Biscuits, from the same book, if I'm up for it...I have so many things to blog about, just no time to do it in so it depends what I feel like on the day I guess.

10 February 2011

i look like a woman but i cut like a buffalo

I kinda love it when celebrities that I already like turn out to be really into their food, I guess because it makes them more relatable to me - why else do we want to find out about what they do in their spare time? Little did I know that Alicia Silverstone of important film Clueless is now a website-wielding vegan, letting recipes and tips and stories fall for whoever wants to catch them. The recipe on her site The Kind Life which caught my eyes wasn't actually from her, but a site member. However, Silverstone herself is evidently no slump in the kitchen. Her recipes are not only extremely legit and delicious looking, some also appear hastily flash-photographed in a kind of charming, regular-people way.

I'd been looking for a decent cut-out cookie recipe since I got some seriously awesome tiny cutters from my godfamily for Christmas, including a tiny star, a tiny ace of spades, and a tiny teardrop. Tim and I actually got my little brother some excellent cookie cutters for that same Christmas - now he can make ninjabread men. We also got him Street Chant's album Means. I'm a good sis. So Julian, if you're reading this...then keep reading.

The recipe I found was from Madeline Tuthill and because it's vegan, as per Silverstone's ethos, you don't have to stress about the fact that butter is now upwards of $5 a block (whyyyyyy) or anything like that. All the ingredients are of the comfortingly within-reach variety - some oil, some flour, some syrup - and all you have to do is mix and roll. ("Rolling with the homies"...oh Brittany Murphy. So amazing in Clueless.) The dough is pliant and stands up to many a re-roll, lifting easily from its cut-out indentations to leave behind your shapes. However, I had to add more flour because it was initially too soft to cut properly - this could be due to anything, ingredients, height above sea level, the weather - so if you're making these, pay attention to your dough and see if you need to add more flour or if it's all good as is. And though it asks for wholemeal flour, you could just use all plain. I did, with some quinoa flakes added because they were sitting round, looking awkwardly unused.

Gingerbread Cut-Out Cookies

1 and 1/2 cups wholemeal flour
1 and 1/2 cups regular flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon each cinnamon and nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 cup golden syrup, maple syrup, or honey, or agave nectar, or cough syrup (kidding!) or a mix of whatever you've got.
1/2 cup oil, I use rice bran oil because it doesn't taste too oily.

Set your oven to 190 C/375 F and lay some baking paper on an oven tray.

Mix together all the dry ingredients, making sure the baking soda and baking powder are well incorporated. Make a well in the centre, pour in the syrup and oil and whisk together before mixing the lot together. Or you could whisk the wet ingredients separately, but this saves on dishes.

If it looks too soft and sticky to roll and cut out, then add a little more flour. I had to, so you might too. Grab a chunk and roll it out, I used two bits of greaseproof paper and rolled it between them, because that saves washing the bench and the rolling pin. If you don't have a rolling pin, a bottle of wine or something similar shaped will do just fine.

Cut out however you like - if you don't have any cookie cutters, just use a glass with the rim dipped in flour, or just cut them into squares with a knife. Lay the shapes onto the tray and reroll the scraps, before grabbing another chunk of dough and repeating. Once the tray's full, bake for 10 minutes only - then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool, and continue like this till you run out of dough.

Makes plenty - depends on how big your cutters are.

I love how these cookies turned out - a little chewy from the syrup but still crisp and biscuity. I used golden syrup because I have a massive tin of it, and it makes an ideal carrier for spicy flavours with its caramelly depth and darkness. All that syrup means these keep for ages as well, to be eaten by the contemplative handful as and when you desire.

I did consider icing them but their small surface area would've made it a complete mission. However bigger cookies lend themselves to all kind of sugary artistic notions. Especially if you're making this with kids (or, not to be narrow-minded, yourself) - make faces or swirls or squiggles or Jackson Pollock drips with different colours, sandwich 'em together, stick lollies to them, whatever makes you happy. Plain, they were still perfect - the gingery intensity of flavour was all the embellishment these tiny shapes needed.

Not to sound flippant or anything, but how amazing has it been watching the situation in Egypt unfold? There are so many more places for news to try and reach you these days but I've loved the commentary and links to information and photos on Twitter. Now that Mubarak's will-he-won't-he dance of Electric Slide proportions is over I hope Egypt's people are able to move towards being, in the words of Audra McDonald, "prosperous, peaceful and free".

Title via: Dead Weather's I Cut Like A Buffalo from their album Horehound. It's a total pity that buffalo mozzarella is so expensive, because there are heaps of good songs with the word buffalo in their title for me to exploit. Shuffle off to Buffalo, Buffalo Gals, Buffalo by the Phoenix Foundation, Buffalo Soldier, Buffalo Stance...what's the deal?

Music lately:

Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson's Winter In America, bluesy and beautiful. Love the of-the-timely H20gate Blues.

PJ Harvey's new, extremely magnificent song The Words That Maketh Murder. New PJ Harvey!!

Next time: I've reconnected with my Aunt Daisy cookbook and it feels like every page throws up something I really, really want to make. So you can expect something from her next time for sure.

7 February 2011

give ya some some some of this cinnabon

These Norwegian cinnamon buns went straight to my head.

Not like I wore one of them as a dapper, yeasted fascinator. I mean that for a short time I got really up myself, alarmingly egotistical from my own excellence at having brought something of this level of deliciousness into the world. However, I have to acknowledge that in fact I was just conduit, a mere flume for someone else's excellence. It was Nigella Lawson who actually provided me with this recipe (via her book How To Be A Domestic Goddess, not via her own velveteen voice during a cheery, injokes-aplenty tea drinking date, alas). Should probably also acknowledge Tim for not sneering when I'd say things like "I can't believe how delicious these are. Why aren't you showing more outward amazement? Do you feel about me like I feel about myself right now?" If you think you can handle this potential vaingloriousness, plus a little light kneading and rolling, then please feel free to give them a go yourself, too.

It's just that the smell of them baking was so intoxicating, and then on top of that they absolutely delivered on flavour, providing a heady one-two punch of buttery crumb and sweet, spiced centre which left me almost woozy with happiness after eating one, still warm from the oven. Hence the spiralling vanity to match the spiralling dough.

I really love making bread and have worked my way through most of Nigella's yeast-related recipes, but this one was new to me. Something about creating cinnamon buns en masse like this pleases me and despite having a few steps, the recipe itself is actually surprisingly straightforward - there's no long rising time, the dough comes together quickly and all the yeast makes it stretchy and pliable - and the rolling and cutting can't be that difficult otherwise I would've mucked it up somehow. Important to note is that you'll probably need more than 600g flour, and also that I've lowered the baking heat a little and cooked them for slightly longer instead.

Norwegian Cinnamon Buns

From Nigella Lawson's floury tome of essential-ness, How To Be A Domestic Goddess


600g flour (you'll need more, so bring more)
100g sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
21g - as in three, yes three sachets - of dried yeast
100g butter
400mls milk
2 eggs


150g soft butter
150g sugar - I used a mix of white and dark brown
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 roasting tin approx 33cm x 24cm, lined with a big piece of baking paper that extends over both ends of the tin.

Place your flour, salt, sugar and yeast in a large bowl. Melt the butter and whisk into it the milk and eggs, and then stir this into the flour. However, you can save on dishes by melting the butter in one large bowl (either in the microwave or set over a small pan of simmering water), stirring in the eggs and milk, and then measuring in the flour-etc ingredients. Mix to combine, and then knead until smooth. I found that I needed to add quite a bit more flour at this point - the dough was just far too soft to knead successfully otherwise. Just sprinkle and push as you go till the dough feels springy and soft, but with solidness to it.

Cover with clingfilm and leave to rise for 25 minutes. Which it will do with gusto, having so much yeast within it. Then: take 1/3 of the dough and stretch/roll it to fit the base of your tin, which will in turn become the base of each bun. It will fit, but if you're having trouble, let it rest for a bit before continuing to stretch it.

Above: Like this.

Roll the rest of the dough across your bench till it's roughly 50cm x 25cm. Beat together the filling ingredients - oh deliciousness - and then paint this across the top of this dough, trying to get it even and right to the edges. I used a spatula, it was great fun. Roll this up carefully from the longest end, so you get a very long, thinnish coiled of dough. Carefully slice this roll into 2cm slices, and sit them on top of the dough in the tin. They will rise, so don't worry if it's not quite full.

Above: I considerably overestimated what 50cm was, hence the fold in the dough above. A measuring tape is pretty handy here.

Above: arghdelicious

Above: rolled up, ready for slicing.

Above: proving.

Nigella uses egg but I just brushed them with a little milk, and then while your oven heats to 220 C/430 F, allow the buns to sit there and prove for 15 minutes. Pop them in the oven for 25-30 minutes, keeping an eye on them as they can burn easily with all that sugar. Cover loosely with tinfoil if necessary. Allow to cool slightly before eating by tearing off each bun as you need it.

They are seriously, so extremely good. The dough is buttery with a soft, flaky crust and smells like croissants. Its filling retains a little pleasing sugar-grit, without being tooth-dissolvingly sweet. They remain tenderly delicious days later, and as I said, smell absolutely incredible. When I was a kid one of my favourite meals was buttered toast with cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on it, and this is, in a way, like a much fancier version of that, the comforting heat of the cinnamon dispersed through every bun.

Seriously. Smug-ity justified. In my mind at least.

If you're in Wellington this week, on Thursday and Saturday Tim's going to be in this opera called Mozart's School For Lovers at Mighty Mighty, it's like a cool, funky reworking of Cosi Fan Tutte (just click the link, I always make it sound awful when I try and explain it) and it's only $5 a ticket, yay! Opera for all!

Title via: inspiring brilliance-generator Missy Elliot and her 2002 song Work It from Under Construction.

Music lately:

Mayer Hawthorne, Just Ain't Gonna Work Out, as well as being a modern soul man with a gorgeous voice (whose Wellington show we're unfortunately missing because we're saving for our trip, but still: bigger picture) he is also apparently also something of a food blogger, logging videos of his adventures with/during food - swoon.

Tony Award winner Alice Ripley's song of praise to mysterious Suburbia from her album Everything's Fine. This woman is amazing.

Next time: the ginger cut-out cookies get their day in the sun.

3 February 2011

when tomatoes are flying, duck, but smile

First: Happy Waitangi Day, everyone. As I said on this day last year, it is important to me for many reasons. Firstly, the reason it exists at all: in 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi was signed at Waitangi, near Paihia in the Bay of Islands, a place where my ancestors on both sides have strong links to. Read up on the treaty if you like, it's one of the more interesting and game-changing events in New Zealand history. Secondly: It marks the date that I had my first ballet lesson, 21 years ago. Evidently ballet waits for no public holiday. A tough business, had I lingered till the next day I could've been considered "past my prime" (FYI: this probably isn't true, and also, I was three years old)

Anyway, yikes, February already, so there's only one month left of summer. And in Wellington it feels like winter's cutting ahead of autumn in the tuckshop line. One month ago it was all sand and sunscreen and deliciously dizzying heat, now it's all sporadic sun, pushy gale-force wind, greying clouds and woolly jumpers. Either that or knuckle-dragging humidity. What gives?

One way to remind myself that it is still in fact summer is to immerse myself culinarily in seasonal food, which - bonus - is generally cheaper, easier to get hold of, and tasting its best. Like the tomato, currently at its richest red of colour, fullest of cheek and glut-est of availability.

I read a recipe of the much-googled and widely lauded Martin Bosley's in his food column for The Listener magazine recently which completely took my fancy: a sauce of raw, chopped tomatoes, steeped in good things and tumbled over pasta. I stupidly didn't actually copy it down anywhere, and unfortunately The Listener doesn't seem to have an up-to-date online recipe database in the same way that, say, Cuisine magazine does. (Not that they're obliged to provide me recipes for free. But gee, if the internet hasn't half conditioned my brain to expect it!)

I knew there was something particularly impact-y about this recipe which made me want to recreate it, but I just couldn't remember what. So, with a bowl of rapidly deflating, perfectly ripe tomatoes bought on the cheap, I decided to just be inspired, and improvise.

Raw Tomato Pasta Sauce with Avocado Oil and Cinnamon

Inspired by a recipe of Martin Bosley's

3 ripe tomatoes
Avocado oil (but of course, olive oil is so welcome here instead)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt, flaky sea salt if possible - tastes nicer, and you need less.
1 T Balsamic Vinegar and/or the juice of a lemon
1 clove garlic, crushed
Around 180g to 200g spaghetti or other long pasta, to serve

Roughly chop the tomatoes, fairly small, and pile them into a non-metallic bowl (apparently metal does very bad things when it reacts to the acidic tomatoes.) Pour over as much avocado or olive oil as you like, but around 2 tablespoons is what I used.

Sprinkle over the salt and sugar, the vinegar, and the garlic, and mix thoroughly. Leave for as long as you like at room temperature, but at least do it before you get started on the pasta, so it gets a decent sit.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil, salt it, and cook the pasta in it, till it's done to your liking. Drain and divide between two plates. Spoon over the chopped tomato 'sauce', pouring over any juices that have collected, and drizzle over more avocado or olive oil if you like.

Serves 2.

Great as this is, I had a massive head-desk when I eventually located the original recipe of Bosley's - it had almonds and chilli in it. How could I not have remembered something that deliciously significant? My invention was cool, but almonds and chilli. I want that in a sauce.

Still, mine had its own cinnamony charm, with the tomatoes soft and cool and luscious on the hot pasta, the avocado oil's mellow nuttiness against the sweetly sharp balsamic vinegar and almost lemony-fragrant tomato juices dripping into the depths of the tangle of pasta. Because of how I chopped my tomatoes it was less a sauce and more of a...pile of stuff. But I liked it.

To go with I boiled some peas and edamame and once they were cool sprinkled over a little sesame oil, and chopped in what I could salvage from a disappointing avocado. It was delicious, and pleasingly reflective of the avocado oil with the tomatoes. The reason I used avocado oil is because I got some for Christmas (cheers Dad!) and it's really delicious, furthermore I've run out of olive oil and every time I go to buy some more it just feels too expensive. However if you're the other way round, as I said in the recipe, of course olive oil is great to use here too.

Poor Tim had to pause here for a minute because I looked across the table and suddenly felt like what I saw (alas, minus his pleasant above-shoulder region) needed to be photographed. It wasn't posed, he was about to feed himself and I wailed "don't move!" and grabbed the camera. But still, nice to shake up the usual one-aerial one-closeup-fuzzy shot routine.

So: as long as you can handle, or at least sell to the people you're feeding, the idea of pasta and a chopped up vegetable being your dinner, then this is one truly summery and seriously unpricey recipe which not only requires hardly any effort, it's also extremely delicious and not so heavy and stodgy that you need to lie down immediately with a cold compress after eating it. Cheers, Martin Bosley for the inspiration. As I said, he's heralded wide and far but I've never actually tried a recipe of his, and I guess...this doesn't really count. While some of his recipes, though delicious, seem a bit inaccessible to my time, skills, and cupboard contents, I can't fault the blueprint which inspired this blog post - a simple, sexy and delicious-sounding tomato sauce. And he also gets a free pass for life because when I approached him to say hi at the City Markets one time, he said "Oh, you're Hungry and Frozen" which, let's face it, is a fast way into my heart.

Title via: the King Lear of Broadway musicals, Sondheim's Gypsy - you'd think that Smile, Girls could at least be found on youtube. But no. So...smugness from those who have cast recordings. Although I think you can listen to its sage advice - or at least some of it - here (click on "girls".)

Music lately:

Beach House, Walk In The Park from Teen Dream - gosh this is a pretty song, like the catchiest bits of Where Is My Mind and, um, Eyes Without A Face combined...at last. We were lucky enough to see Beach House at Laneway Presents: Wellington on Tuesday night, and this song was an early and beautifully delivered highlight of the evening, distracting Tim and I entirely from the fact that our camera frustratingly wasn't allowed in, and there was no coatcheck so Tim had to run it home. I whinged about it at length, more quizzical than aggrieved by that point, on 100s and 1000s. That, and perhaps-uninformed comparisons aside, I do like this song a lot and it was lovely to see it performed live.

Mum sent my iPod back along with a whole bunch of other goodies (lentils, pasta, Whittaker's Chocolate and so on) and having been without it for three weeks, it's quite the sensory overload to have music and so much of it again while I walk around. I've been reconnecting seriously with the cast recording of Hair (Original Broadway and 2009 Revival Broadway cast recording, thank you).

Lively Up Yourself - Happy birthday, Bob (the other important thing about February 6)

Next time: It was going to be ginger cut-out cookies, and lovely as they are, I made this morning a batch of Nigella's Norwegian cinnamon buns and they were so astoundingly good that they're overtaking the cookies...

*speaking of disappointing avocados, feel free to read the guest post I did for the blog about Diamond Dogs, a play that's going to occur in Wellington on the 15th, 16th and 17th of February.