27 April 2011

like eating glass

I was supposed to have this blog post sorted last night, but by 7.30pm I was a loose-jawed, slumpy mess and didn't really have what it took to stage a decent blog-comeback. However, I managed to at least get dinner done - the following recipe for Glass Noodles and Edamame - whilst bearing the increasingly shackle-like load of jetlag that I can't seem to shake. I don't want to complain about it as such, (oh poor me, I travelled so much and now I'm just too fatigued for words), I just want to draw your attention to the fact that I did make it at all despite wearing a heavy cloak of semi-somnolence, and therefore you should be able to make it on any given day. That said, I understand if exhaustion and unmotivation of the non-travel variety is part of your day-to-day routine. I'm not the only person ever to feel sleepy, or worse, sleepy in the middle of cooking something involving a little concentration, causing you to collapse to your knees into a bowl of soaking noodles and cry ceilingward, What have I doooooooooone?

But this is do-able. Plus, it comes from the Ottolenghi cookbook Plenty, which Tim got me for my birthday. We'd actually also reserved ourselves a table for an evening at Ottolenghi the restaurant on the day after my birthday. (The day of was all booked out. A month in advance.) It was such a cool night. They made a huge fuss of us having come all the way from New Zealand, gave us prime seats, our waiter was genuinely friendly, our food was genuinely amazing. It was also wildly expensive but it's not the kind of place we go often...or ever. So we put the price in the back of our minds while we feasted on tender shredded brisket, cheese-stuffed zucchini flowers (the first time either of us had tried them), barley with asparagus and radicchio, so many beautiful flavours, followed by a plain but perfect vanilla cheese cake carrying crunchy, sugary, caramelised macadamias. I'd been a fan of Yotam Ottolenghi's for a while now, and I found it hard not to grin throughout our meal.

Plenty allows me to recreate those beautiful flavours and combinations at home. It's a completely vegetarian cookbook, with no pudding recipes (yet I love it still) and when I saw the following recipe for Glass Noodles with Edamame Beans, I could see it was one of those dishes that largely relies on your cupboard being stocked up, as opposed to any skill, and therefore is ideal for the first meal after a month away. There's a little heating and chopping involved, and then suddenly you've got this gorgeous piled-up pile of salty-sweet noodles and edamame beans that taste so nutty and creamy they betray the fact that they are actually a vegetable.

I know glass noodles as vermicelli or rice noodles, but kept the name because it sounds kinda pretty. However I removed the "Warm" from the start of the title - maybe I read too many Baby-Sitter's Club book scenes of Kristy Thomas describing the SMS cafeteria lunch offerings - but whenever I see the word "Warm" in a title (and it does appear a bit, you know, "Warm Salad of Lamb and bla bla bla" etc) I always mentally add the word "socks" afterwards. Warm...socks. Not cool, but there it is. I get frozen edamame beans - soybeans - at the supermarket up on Torrens Terrace or in Moore Wilson (if you're in Wellington) but if they're too hard to find, this would still rule with frozen peas as a substitute. That said, my ancient Aunt Daisy cookbook has a recipe for "Soya Bean Rissoles" (easily digestible seems to be their selling point) so they can't be that obscure, right?

Glass Noodles and Edamame Beans

From Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty

200g glass (rice, vermicelli) noodles
2 T sunflower, rice bran or other plain oil
3 garlic cloves, finely diced
300g podded, cooked edamame beans
3 spring onions
1 fresh red chilli, chopped finely
3 T chopped coriander, plus more to serve
3 T shredded mint leaves
3 T toasted sesame seeds


2 T grated galangal or fresh root ginger
Juice of 4 limes or 1 - 2 big lemons
3 T peanut or rice bran oil
2 T palm sugar, crushed or 1 T dark brown sugar
2 tsp tamarind pulp or paste
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp fine sea salt

Soak the noodles in a bowl of hot water for five minutes, or until soft. If, like mine, they don't soften up right away, tip them into a pot with a bit more water and simmer for a bit. Don't let them get too soft and collapsing though. Drain.

Whisk together the sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

Heat the sunflower or rice bran oil in a large frying pan or wok, and add the garlic. When it starts to go lightly golden and smell amazing, remove the pan from the heat and add the sauce and the noodles. Gently stir together, so that you incorporate the sauce but don't crush the noodles, then add the edamame beans, plus the spring onion, chilli, coriander and mint.

Divide between plates or pile onto a platter and scatter over the remaining beans, sesame seeds and coriander.

Notes: I used sambal oelek instead of chilli, lemon instead of lime, and brown sugar instead of palm - and I just didn't have any coriander or tamarind. My cupboard is pretty well stocked but I've been away for a month and wasn't going to spend heaps on a few ingredients when I could wait till the vege market this Sunday and get them for cheap. I also didn't use mint because it grows up on the roof at my place and it was raining and freezing and windy and I just didn't want to go outside to get it.

Please scuse the photos by the way - now that the late-afternoon darkness is a daily occurrence, I really need to remember how to take decent night-time photos.

Even though I wish we were still traveling and doing things like this:

...on a cold and rain-soaked evening I'm so happy to be back in the kitchen, and this is just the recipe to welcome me back to it. The flavours of chilli, ginger, garlic and soy lift the bland, slippery noodles into something substantial and the beans not only look gorgeous, their pistachio-like taste makes this fairly cheap dinner taste luxurious as. As Ottolenghi suggests, you could double the soy content by adding tofu to make it more of a meal, but I loved it as is.

Actually this isn't even my greatest jet lag achievement. I did manage - somehow - to make caramel ice cream at Mum and Dad's place on our first day back in the country, and I helped with the feijoa and apple crumble that went with it. Have you ever separated 6 eggs on 2 hours' sleep? I don't recommend it, but my drive to make everyone ice cream overrode my drive to be sensible. We did have a great weekend at home, landing at 5.30am only to be whisked up to the Manukau Heads to see Dad's band Apostrophe play at a school fundraiser. Despite calling to mind something that Coco Solid once mentioned about the particular awkwardness of performing in the daytime, it was my first time seeing the band play and it was very cool. I don't think it was just the jetlag that made the songs sound so good - between absorbing all those Dad-penned tunes and seeing Mum make up a bread and butter pudding on the spot with bits of leftover hot cross bun and bread rolls, I left for Wellington with a bit of a "my parents are awesome" glow. We managed to see heaps of family on our short time at home which was so great, even if the later it got in the afternoon the less sense we made.

Just checked the clock and it's 9.20pm which is the latest night I've had yet since we got back on Saturday morning - yuss.

Title via: Bloc Party's Like Eating Glass from Silent Alarm. I remember when they were all new and exciting and now they're just...a bit old and exciting. When Kele Okerere sings "it's so cold in this house" it's like you can see the puff of air coming from his mouth.

Music lately:

I haven't had time to listen to much since I've been back but of course there's Apostrophe, my dad's band - they have so many good songs but to be fair, I really can't judge 'em unbiasedly, anyway the only thing of theirs online is their single The Skeptic, check it out.
Next time: I've got a day off on Friday and I'm going to be baking SO many things. Or at least, more than one thing. I've missed baking. There might also be a moment-by-moment recount of how I felt during Wicked. I will also be catching up on all the food blogs on Friday, looking forward to all the pending inspiration.

25 April 2011

reach out your hand, and I'll be flying home


I'm back!

We're back, more specifically (that is, I didn't lose Tim in a bin somewhere in Warsaw or anything.)

Tim and I were really, really lucky. Our trip was amazing. We ate so much ridiculously delicious food. We felt real California sunshine in Santa Monica and spoke broken Polish in Warsaw and went to this reggae gig in Brixton and drank good whisky for cheap in Berlin and climbed a church tower in Oxford...and we were shown massive amounts of hospitality (manaakitanga, the word I try and keep in mind whenever people show up at home) by complete strangers and we managed to lose neither our expensive camera nor my expensive phone. There were some stupid times, like when we got stuck on a bus at 4am in London with three guys that seemed paralytically drunk at best and needing only the fleetingest of eye contact to start a fight. We escaped greatfully from the increasingly claustrophobic bus completely unharmed but it felt like a long, long time between stops. There was a dire moment at the Berlin zoo when the capybaras refused to show their faces. We did a fair bit of hiking round in pursuit of something very particular only to find it closed, or long gone, or actually twelve blocks in the other direction, but that kind of thing can be smoothed over like a flat-bladed palate knife by the all-applicable phrase "it's an adventure". And it was. We spent most of the time floating on a bubble-strewn bubble of happiness. Apart from that afternoon with the no-capybaras. But still.

We were picked up by mum and my godmum Viv at 5:30am from Auckland International Airport having thankfully made it safely through NZ's prickly border control with our duty free liquor and food-related purchases intact (though it's a little hard to take the entry card seriously when foreign visitors are asked to tick a box if they're going to the Rugby World Cup this year...I mean really?) and had an amazing weekend at home catching up with family and the cats (although the cats are, of course, family) and sleep. We're still completely dozy though so I'll leave it here while we still have a fine smattering of motivation to unpack our bags, and I'll be back tomorrow to resume blogging proper.

While I'll miss traveling I'm seriously looking forward to bonding with my kitchen, reacquainting myself with my favourite spatulas and mixing bowls and and ingredients and then talking about them on here, while also exploiting any opportunity to talk about the trip. I missed cooking and I missed blogging (not to the extent that I was miserable or anything, just a bit of a twinge every now and then) and hopefully I remember how to actually do it and you all retain some enjoyment from this place after my lengthy absence. Cheers for your patience!

Title via: the wildly talented and prolifically excellent Jason Robert Brown with the penultimate song from the beautiful musical Songs For A New World, called Flying Home.

Next time: a real blog post with an actual recipe. It was my birthday on the 17th and Tim gave me the beautiful Ottolenghi Plenty cookbook, it's hard not to want to cook everything in it at once...but I'm sure I'll be able to settle on one thing.