30 March 2012

ain't it a shame that at the top they serve peanut butter and jam

Lessons I was reminded about this week: just because you refresh and refresh your inbox it doesn't mean a particular person is going to email you. And then a little (1) will appear but it's just a newsletter that you've signed up to and now suddenly feel particularly hateful towards. Learn that one well. Another thing: respect deeply those people that can make a room look good. I tried sticking a bunch of images to one of our bedroom walls yesterday. Stood back to survey my room-embiggening skills - a picture fell off the wall, breaking the frame. Everything else was on at least a 45 degree angle. It looked so good in the pictures of other people's houses! However, Tim and I gave our room a much overdue, much procrastinated clean on Monday - needed since January - and the unfamiliar feeling of just being able to walk in a straight line across the floor makes me feel like we should be featured on an interior design blog or something.

What else was I re-reminded of? That you should never read the comments (or, increasingly, the opinion columns, ammiright?) on news websites unless you feel like playing fast and loose with your blood pressure; that we LOVE Sam Cooke; that other people have actually heard of musicals and I shouldn't be so surprised every time someone says they *gasp* like one; that people can be surprisingly generous and being generous can be fun; the simple joy of finding 20 cents on the ground; how supersonically fast I get anxious; how I can't turn my brain off even when I'm having an amazing, wonderful, delicious massage from a professional. And importantly (or at least, relevantly) how much I LOVE making ice cream. I know I didn't invent peanut butter chocolate ice cream, why it's as old as the hills themselves, but the recent release of Whittaker's new peanut butter chocolate block inspired me quickly to tackle this mighty combination for the first time. And it had been a significant while since I'd made ice cream - like our bedroom being tidy, the last occurence was back in January. Not sure how I got through, but I'm pretty brave.

I appreciate that your local supermarket might have gleefully marked up the price of the chocolate, which is why I didn't use the whole block in the recipe - instead I made sure to leave some for judicious nibbling. I also completely appreciate that you might not be able to get hold of such chocolate at all, which is why I provided a more analogue alternative. I also wanted the making of this to be as easy as possible - this is an ideal one for a newcomer to ice cream to try. It practically makes itself. Whatever effort you have to put in though, will reward you at least tenfold in pure deliciousness.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream

Recipe by me.

200g Peanut Butter Chocolate, such as Whittakers OR 1/2 cup peanut butter and 150g milk or dark chocolate, depending on your preference, plus about 1/2 cup sugar.
250mls (1 cup) milk
300ml cream

In a pan over a low heat, melt the chocolate (or other things), milk, and a generous pinch of salt together, stirring occasionally until smooth. Chill till thickened significantly - might help to put it in the freezer for a while. Taste some. It's wonderful. Once it has the texture of whipped cream, whip up your actual cream till fairly firm and thickened, but not verging on changing into butter, and then whisk the two together to form a soft, airy pale chocolatey mixture. Transfer into a freezerproof container then freeze. Allow to sit out of the freezer for about ten minutes before you want to eat it so you can scoop it easier.

The unfrozen mixture is like the best peanut butter smoothie of your life in the whole world, so with that in mind I'm not quite sure on the quantities this makes, but I'd say just under a litre, which I wouldn't want to feed any more than four people with. As I said, the method is winningly uncomplicated, so it wouldn't be too taxing to double all quantities. The salt is important - it really helps intensify the flavour and make everything taste more of itself. Don't worry about stirring this as it freezes - the useful fat content keeps the texture hovering round the 'perfection' level even when completely untampered with. The ice cream itself is pale but the chocolate presence is definite, shot through with the cream's light butteriness. Being ice cold softens any of peanut butter's rougher flavour undertones and hanging out with chocolate brings out its earthy sweetness. It's wackily delicious stuff.

Still other lessons present themselves to me: that whole "you can't go back" thing, which I was reminded of when I realised it had been a whole year since Tim and I went on our first ever holiday, the holiday that we'd been saving six years for. Naturally, I re-read our entire travel blog and got a bit weirdly sniffly, not that the writing on our blog was particularly geared towards heartstring-pluckery, but I guess because we were so happy and optimistic and overseas and the whole thing is such a nice memory, but also as far away and untouchable as the first time we were over there in 2005. Anyway, we've got our trip to The America in just over six months to anticipate hotly and save frantically for, so no use looking backwards too much. A bit of backwards-wallowing every now and then though is pretty harmless.

Your lesson: make this ice cream, it's truly not difficult, and even if you're all "Aagh! Ice cream! The second-most intimidating foodstuff! (After souffles of course)" then be happily reassured that your opinion is wrong. As far as this recipe is concerned, at least.

But seriously, when I said I couldn't turn my brain off during the massage, I did decide that I love what was happening to me and I want to have another one at some point this year. So I ask of you, other overthinkers out there (I see you!) if I accept that my brain won't turn off no matter what fragrant oils and unguents are applied with firm capable hands to my less-firm exterior, what should I think about which will at least be calming? I suspect brainstorming new recipes will be too involving, planning the week ahead too counterproductive, remembering every regretful thing you've ever said and done too intuitively obvious...As a former dancer, I could just imagine someone dancing to the twinkly piano music that constantly plays in the room. Ideas?
Title via: Rufus Wainwright's California, so breezy and fun but he couldn't have known that peanut butter used this way is exactly what you'd want to be served at the top. Or at any stage...
Music lately:

Like I said, Sam Cooke. Ain't That Good News subverts the usual "I got a letter this morning and my baby is dead/run off with someone else/etc and is simply a snappily fantastic song.

Ultravox, Vienna. I am easily manipulated by music, this is one such song that does it so well.
Next time: I still have a couple of quinces staring at me as they get all saggy and old. But I also bought on special some pork shoulder. PULLED PORK TIME. Unless there's some ye-olde style pork and quince slow-cooked thing out there that can tempt me with its magical deliciousness, that is.

25 March 2012

raspberry beret, i think i love her

There are so many things I'm no good at. I'll be the first to tell you. But no false modesty about one thing: I can speed read. When I was a kid with no income (I lived in the country! There was no such thing as a paper run) my skills would be particularly useful - if we ever went to town, I could absorb a Babysitters Club book in around 15 minutes in the bookshop, thus saving my family a cool $5.95 each time. 

Further to this, it seems everyone I know has been reading the Hunger Games books recently. This week Tim and I planned to meet up with a group of friends for a BYO dinner on Friday night, after all of them had seen the Hunger Games movie. On Wednesday night Tim started reading the book itself out of curiosity and finished it the next day. On Thursday I realised I was going to be the only person at the dinner table on Friday night who wouldn't have read it or seen the movie. So I thought to myself: Can I read it by the time we get to the movie? Could I what.

I finished it in less than three hours, that very night. Including checking Twitter constantly, and making dinner (which was toast, but still. Dinner.) While the book itself is easy enough to gallop through, I clearly still have the speedreading magic. At lunch on Friday it took little more than some significant eye contact for Tim and I to know exactly what the other person was thinking: we should book tickets to see the movie with everyone else that night. After the movie I nearly floated out of the cinema and analysed it so hard I almost lost my voice. Roughly 24 hours previous I was opening the book for the first time, knowing nothing about it other than the lead character was called Katniss and it was really, really popular. The only thing faster than my reading, was the material I was reading's ability to win me over. It won me over so fast it deserves an ironically slow clap from a crowded room.

However, back when I made this Coconut Raspberry Loaf on Wednesday to eat during an afternoon with my friend Kate, I was none the wiser. I strode purposefully up to her house in Mt Vic with the cake only partially cooked, because I was already late and it was taking forever to cook and I was starting to feel like I was in one of those dreams where you're trying so hard to get to your destination but things keep slowing you down and you never actually make it. Irrationally, I grabbed the wobbly loaf cake from the oven, wrapped the tin in several teatowels, put it in a bag and left (of course the wind dropped and the humidity rose at this point, directly in relation to the gradient of hill I was climbing) and continued baking it for a further 15 minutes at Kate's. Still turned out fine, which bodes well for your baking it in uninterrupted circumstances.

My entire motivation in these photographs was getting the cool couch in the background.

Raspberry Coconut Loaf with Raspberry Icing

Adapted liberally from a recipe in the Best of Cooking for New Zealanders Book. 

150g butter, melted
250g sugar
2 eggs
250g flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup dessicated coconut
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup frozen raspberries
1/2 a cup extra raspberries
1 - 2 cups icing sugar

Set your oven to 180 C, find a loaf tin and line it with baking paper. My way of doing this is to just get a large rectangle of baking paper, squash it down into the inner corners, and then throw in the batter to hold it down. Your finished loaf cake will have some inconsistent lumps and bumps but don't we all?

Whisk together the melted butter and sugar to combine, and then beat in the eggs till the mixture is a little lighter in colour. Sift in the flour and baking powder, tip in the coconut and milk, and stir vigorously - you may need to move to a wooden spoon or spatula if it's too much for the whisk. Finally fold in the raspberries, tip the mixture into the tin, and bake for about an hour and a half, although start checking it for done-ness at about an hour - give the top a prod and if it's wobbly, it's not done yet.

For the icing, simmer the raspberries in a tablespoon or two of water till soft, then push through a sieve to remove the seeds - I know, horrible job - then stir in icing sugar to the juice that remains below till you have a smooth electric pink icing. Thickly spread across the somewhat cooled cake. 

Not one drop of food colouring went into that icing. Who knew raspberries with their natural muted-garnet hue, had it in them to deliver electro spilled-nailpolish pink like this? Not I. I was expecting a kind of dull, uncooked steak colour at best, not this bodacious fuchsia, the stuff of $2 Shop lipgloss.

Coconut's mild sweetness and the sharp juiciness of raspberries work beautifully together. While you could leave the icing off if you're in a hurry or don't have enough raspberries, the fast-dissolving nature of the icing sugar and retained sourness from the fruit adds marvelously to the overall deliciousness, more than your usual, potentially oversweet icing might. This cake is easy to make, slices beautifully, and the coconut and fruit makes sure it'll be okay the next day too. Frozen raspberries are cruelly costly,  but I wanted them for a few different reasons and so stuck to my guns. But you could use the cheaper blackberries or boysenberries happily here. Or even just leave them out altogether and you've got yourself a rather choice plain coconut loaf recipe.

Basically it's amazing, plus it easily stands up to a cross-town dash in the middle of the cooking process.

And the cake batter tastes brilliant. Bada bing.

Tim and I spent last night at the Wellington Zoo - with most of the people that we went to see the Hunger Games movie with. Yes. They run sleepovers during the warmer months, and usually schoolkids are their main market, but about 28 adults instead were there last night. Getting up close to the animals without any of the usual crowds? So cool. Sleeping on the floor, separated only from its unyielding flatness by a couple of thin sleeping mats? Do-able as. Discovering the Mighty Boosh-esque lizard lounge for various reptiles, decorated with records by Julio Iglesias? Delightful. Realising there was a pelican, one of the things I fear most in this world, living on Monkey Island where we gathered for 20 minutes to feed its simian inhabitants? Blood-chilling. Apart from that ugliness though (and thanks to everyone who helped by saying "it's gone! Oh wait it's back" while I hid my face in Tim's shoulder) it was a fantatically awesome time.

Especially when this sunbear stood on her hind legs and waved to us.

So gorgeous. Partially because we'd all just seen it, and partially because of the heightened silliness you feel when a little underslept and in an unfamiliar place, but there was a lot of raised eyebrows-ing and "this is SO Hunger Games" and so on. What, I enjoy wallowing in the obsession of pop culture, okay? Also, does anyone else get young Catherine O'Hara vibes from Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Katniss in the film? That is not-given-lightly high praise, by the way.
Title via: Raspberry Beret, that jaunty classic by the jaunty Prince.
Music lately: 

Althea and Donna, Uptown Top Ranking. So very good, I was led to this track by a way inferior but admittedly clever sampling of it in a mainstream track. So, really, thank you inferior but admittedly clever mainstream track. 

Bic Runga, Tiny Little Piece of My Heart. As beauteous as she ever was at this sort of thing.

Bernadette Peters, Being Alive. Never not obsessed with this song! Or her.
Next time: I have a couple of quinces that I need some, uh, quincepiration for (sorry...not!) but I also am very set on turning Whittakers' new peanut butter chocolate into ice cream. First, to get my hands on some...

20 March 2012

i'd be so happy i could melt

Before getting into why you might or might not win friends with salad, guess what I did on Monday? Okay, apart from arguing with the internet about how slow it was being, in the hopes that my yelling would motivate it to change its attitude? That aside, I spent significant time learning the dance moves from various music videos. The slowness of the internet didn't allow for too much but I managed to suss out a decent amount of Gossip Folks, Creep, and uh, the swimming-like arm movements in this Marina and the Diamonds song I'm obsessed with. I haven't done it in years, it was SO FUN and I'm open to suggestions for further music videos you think would be fun to absorb knowledge from. 

I also made this beautiful salad.

Roxette once sang, in a tune of theirs that I'm really not that fond of but which illustrates my point nicely: "Listen to your heart, there's nothing else that you can do". On Monday my heart realised I hadn't really eaten any vegetables all weekend. My heart's voice was muffled, as it was coming at me through a thick mantle of sodium build-up. Which, you know, whatever: I eat what I like, when I feel like it. And over the weekend, while working at an event in Auckland for about nine hours on Friday and fifteen hours on Saturday, never sitting, lifting huge boxes, et cetera, my body craved twisties and lollies shaped like snakes with real fruit flavour in order to keep going. And funnel cakes with strawberry sauce. And fruit-dense otai. All of which worked. But once returned to my usual slow-moving non-lifting pace, I noticed a leafy green voice whispering "Spinach. You want it."

I then had this idea that salad dressing made with melted butter instead of oil would taste impressive, and decided to act on it. After all, melted butter and oil are pretty much the same thing structurally. Except melted butter has that salty, nutty, rush-of-blood-to-the-head flavour which can only serve to embiggen a bowl of leaves.

Also able to embiggen leaves are roasted beetroot, croutons, feta, and sweet, round New Zealand grapes. While the Simpsons may have said, nay, conga'd that you don't win friends with salad, well I at least won myself over with this.

I even swooped in on Tim's plate and cried "haha! You abandoned this crouton, it's mine". To which he replied, "it fell on the floor". Said crouton was already in my mouth. "Erm...okay. I guess I'll be fine. Hey, you left this bit of feta, it's mine!" was my reply. That piece of feta had also fallen on the floor. Was there anything left on his plate that hadn't fallen on the floor? That wasn't now being eaten by me? Sadly no. The lesson here is, people generally don't leave croutons and feta behind, so if they do, be suspicious, or be prepared for some extra germs. Just pretend like you're eating that yoghurt that's full of "good bacteria" and you'll be alright, psychologically anyway.

Roast Beetroot and Spinach Salad with Croutons, Feta, Grapes, and Melted Butter Dressing.

A recipe by me. It's simpler than my talkative instructions would have you believe.

3 medium beetroot
1 large bunch of spinach
2 large slices of fresh bread from a loaf, or three bits of regular bread from a packet
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup green grapes (the round, beautiful NZ ones if possible)
100g feta
25g butter
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon wasabi
1 lemon

Set your oven to 180 C. Trim the tops and tails off the beetroots, wrap each firmly in tinfoil, and roast on an oven tray for about an hour to an hour and a half - or until a cake tester or skewer will plunge into them unyieldingly. Once they're done, remove them from the oven and allow to cool slightly. While the beetroot is doing that, spread a sheet of tinfoil across an oven tray - the same one as the beetroot were on, perhaps - and roughly slice the bread into 2cm cubes. Place the bread on the tinfoil, sprinkle over the oil, mix with your hands to make sure everything's good and oily, then place in the oven for about 5 minutes. At this point you can just turn the oven off and let the residual heat continue to toast the croutons.

Tear up your spinach leaves and rinse them if they look gritty. Throw into your serving bowl. Remove the tinfoil from the beetroot and carefully push/rub the skin off - it should come away easily, revealing smooth, shiny beetroot underneath. Do this for all three then chop them roughly and add to the spinach. 

Finely chop the garlic cloves. Melt the butter in a pan with the garlic and wasabi, stirring it all together as it melts. It's fine if the butter bubbles a little or starts to brown, this will add to the flavour. Remove from the heat and squeeze in the juice of the lemon (plus its zest if you're feeling it) and tip over the spinach and beetroot, stirring well. Finally, roughly slice the feta and add 3/4 of it to the salad, along with the grapes and the croutons. Carefully mix so everything's dispersed, and top with the remaining feta. 

My photos get steadily worse by the way - darkness had fully set in by the time we got round to eating this, and as we creep further into Autumn it's only going to get darker earlier. Hence why I positioned the good one first to hook you in! Sorry. But a girl's gotta eat.

Croutons and feta are unsurprisingly exactly the sort of thing you want to find on your fork, but both of them work well with the more austere ingredients. There's a lot of natural sweetness - from the grapes and the beetroot, and strangely enough the wasabi, and also a lot of delicious nutty flavours from the butter and the beetroot again and even the fresh spinach - reminded me how good fresh spinach actually tastes. Everything works together fantastically. Melted butter as a salad dressing is downright amazing - especially with the mustard-hot wasabi (indeed, use mustard if you don't have wasabi) and the sweet, sharp lemon stopping it from becoming too throat-cloggingly rich. There's not even that much there - it was tempting to double the quantities - but this amount neatly coats the salad and lets you know it's there, without dominating anything else or pooling in the base of the bowl. Although, when I put it like that...

Sunday got off to a non-advantageous start - on the way back from the airport to our place I txt Tim to ask him to come meet me on the streets to help carry my bags home or I might cry from exhaustion. I get a txt from him saying he can't because our ute has been towed. Oh dear. Seriously, unless you're rich enough to light your $200 scented candles with $100 notes, don't go getting your car towed. However things started to look up from there - car achievement unlocked, we squired my in-town-for-the-weekend mum and two of her best friends to brunch and had many laughs and cakes. Went back to our place and had people over for a dual activity day of Drawing Club and the Game of Thrones Board Game. I was still tired and the fresh sting of the towing bill was like lemon juice to a papercut, but nothing like niche activities and plentiful snacks to improve things! There was sangria and cider and pink lemonade and homemade bread rolls and pretzels and mini-donuts (going stale so $3 a dozen! That's not false economy!) and Polish cookies and chips and onion dip. And friends, dear dear friends.

But no vegetables. Everything else was glorious while it was there, but if I felt like spinach all of a sudden who was I to argue with myself?

It's impossible to avoid getting pink beetroot stains on the feta, so just go with it. Anyone who tells you they can is a bounder and a cad.

I meant it about the music video suggestions by the way, I'm all ears. Or all face or whatever the internet equivalent of that saying is. Seriously, next time you're the slightest bit grumpy or uninspired or burdened down by a giant "MEH", try learning a dance from a music video.

Title via: the always-amazing and inspirational and beautiful but not afraid to get ugly and generally reliably liable to make me drop all pretense of dignity person that is Idina Menzel with her opening song from Wicked: The Wizard and I.
Music lately:

Somehow the whole 90s passed me by without my ever hearing a song from Jan Hellreigel. I knew she existed, her albums were always in those weird catalogues which would get mailed out occasionally and try to rope you into buying CDs monthly for triple the price or something. Discovered her music properly on the 5000 Ways blog the other day, and well, colour me obsessed. Pure Pleasure is pure pleasure.

Lloyd feat Andre 3000, Dedication To My Ex (I Miss That). This has to be the catchiest thing I've heard since ever. I don't know how you describe that kind of stairstep, upwards leaning sound that the chorus has, but I am a sucker for that kind of thing. Regardless of whether I know what it was I'm trying to talk about, this is one snappy tune.
Next time: I really want to try recreating the funnel cakes I had up in Auckland - they seem easy enough, it's just getting over the fear of hanging out with burning hot oil - but in the meantime I'm going to be hanging out with my friend Kate tomorrow and will likely bake something dreamy to take with...with the sneaky ultierior motive of getting to photograph it for the blog at her sweet house. I do want to hang out with you just as you are though Kate, baking or not!

14 March 2012

ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb

When I was a kid I thought Robin Hood: Men In Tights was the last word in genius filmmaking. The very last. I rewatched it a few years ago and boo-urns, it really wasn't that hilarious to me anymore. I guess when I was an impressionable youth, all it took was a few anachronisms and the merry men rapping their exposition and I was happy. I find it interesting what pop culture from my youth holds up to me - inexplicably Babysitters Club books yes, The Wedding Singer sadly no, despite how bodacious I thought Billy Idol was. Princess Bride, better with every watch, whereas time has not been kind to Aqua's sound production. All 90s R'n'B without exception yes, Limp Bizkit...no. A thousand times nay. This is just me, what say you?  

I ask, because when eating a Cherry Ripe chocolate bar on the weekend (Americans: they're like an Almond Joy with cherries instead of almonds) it became clear that it was unfairly undelicious. Weak chocolate. Nosebleed-inducing sweetness. Flavour more meh-ry than cherry. I was really, really hungry and I'd been lifting heavy things all afternoon so I ate the lot anyway. But I was sure they used to be nicer. Not that I had Scarface-level piles of cherry ripes around me as a kid. They're only a relatively recent love of mine from the last decade or two. And yet. At first I thought it was my tastebuds evolving, and with all this "Mmm, tapenade and crackers" and "I love hummus!" and so on it had pushed out all the space available for enjoying the process of having your mouth waterblasted with sugar. But would a person who makes a pavlova and covers it in smarties say that? (I'm talking about myself, if you didn't click that link.) I think not. So maybe it's the fault chocolate bars? I do know a lot of people I've talked to are convinced Creme Eggs used to be better when they were kids. So.

Anyway I thought, to quote Jason Robert Brown: I can do better than that.

I had half a can of cherries in the fridge leftover from making Purple Jesus for Tim's birthday last year. Coconut doesn't cost much and I suspected condensed milk would be excellent glue to hold it all together. Finally I selected the kind of dark chocolate whose pure intensity of flavour and excellence of texture is matched only by its accessibility and reasonable price: Whittaker's Dark Ghana. Bonus: sometimes if you're lucky and the humidity is just so, this block of chocolate honestly sounds like a maraca when you snap it.

It worked. OH HOW IT WORKED! 

I'm not implying that if you do like Cherry Ripes we can't hang out or anything, never! None of that. All I'm saying is: In my personal opinion I don't like them anymore, and this is my attempt at recreating the Cherry Ripe so I do like it. So no need for hand-wringing.

Cherry-Coconut Chocolate Bars (Ah, c'mon, couldn't use the registered brand name thingy, could I? I did consider Shmerry Shmipes, so feel free to use that.)

2 1/2 cups dessicated coconut
1 tin sweetened condensed milk
1 cup drained cherries from a jar
1 x 250g block very dark chocolate (I used Whittaker's Dark Ghana)

In a large pan, over a low heat, lightly toast the coconut until slightly nut-brown in parts. At this point, tip in the entire can of condensed milk and continue to stir, doing your best, over a low heat. Add the cherries - it will turn a ridiculous purple-grey, just go with it - and continue stirring till it forms a solid paste-like texture.

Remove from the heat, and tip the mixture onto a large sheet of baking paper on a bench, or onto a silicon baking sheet. Use the spatula to prod and spread and shape this forgiving mixture into a rough square, then use either a dough cutter or a knife and a fish slice to divide them into squares and shift them apart from each other.

Break the chocolate into pieces and place in a metal or china bowl that's big enough to rest on top of a small pot of water. Bring said pot of water to the boil, which will gently melt the chocolate. Or you could microwave it, if you've got one. Use a teaspoon to transfer melted chocolate on top of each square of coconut, spreading it across and down the sides as per the above photo. Once they're set, use the fish slice or a spatula or whatever to carefully flip them over, then using the remaining chocolate - which you might have to carefully re-melt, drizzle chocolate over (I use a kind of loose-wristed flinging movement which isn't overly successful, to be honest.) If you feel like you've got enough chocolate you could just spread the chocolate over the bases so the coconut is entirely concealed. Store in a cool place.

All that writing makes it look like the most painfully complex recipe in history but I'm just trying to be elaborate with the instructions. This is honestly easy. There's nothing fiddly involved, just a bit of time. 

Just a bit of stirring and spreading and slicing and melting and spreading and Jackson Pollock drizzling and verily you end up with a whole flipping jar full of delicious, chewy-sweet chocolate bars. Not too sweet, weirdly enough, despite the entire can of condensed milk (minus whatever stuck to the underside of the top of the can, which I carefully removed with my tongue). I think this comes from the toasting of the coconut, the relative sourness of the cherries, and the cocoa onslaught of the dark, dark chocolate. These morsels are best kept in the fridge, which means when you bite into them you get the full texture ruckus of cold, firm chocolate snapping into softly coarse coconut and pliant condensed milk. It's truly splendid.

Seriously now. Try before you buy.

Nothing overly wacky to report from the weekend, as I was up in Auckland toiling away for work. Hence the post-toil cherry ripe bar which inspired all this. The time away toiling has rendered me completely useless which is why this blog post took forever to get to you. And even with all this time simmering away, it hasn't necessarily improved. Did however have a "drawing club" at Kate and Jason's house with what little time was left of my weekend, which was as gloriously old-timily fun as it sounds (or as awful as it sounds, depending on your opinion I guess). I got a rush of happiness from doing something I haven't done since probably 1994 - just lying on the floor at a friend's place drawing all afternoon. Finished the day with Jo and Laura (another one!) seeing out the first season of Veronica Mars. Leslie Knope has a hot contender for being my Favourite Fictional Hero Whose Fictionality Doesn't Hinder Their Influence Upon Me...I can tell you.

Wait! Something a bit exciting: at our last book group, you know, the one with literary karaoke to three different versions of Wuthering Heights, I got a call from Australia's edition of Vice magazine because they were wanting to talk to some people in Wellington about what they were up to of a weekend. Despite being genuinely excited about book club I wasn't sure if the concept would translate particularly well, but lo: here I am in Vice! FYI, they asked me to send in a photo and I didn't realise it'd be that big. Has my face always been that crooked? And ruddy-nosed? And, let's face it, was my hair always that awesomely huge?
Title via: Runaways, Cherry Bomb. I love the threatening way Cherie Curry spits out "HELLO" in the chorus. 
Music lately:

Tim made me listen to this song by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, 99 and a Half Won't Do. Now I'm trying to make you listen to it. It's a beauty.

Who Are You, by Julien Dyne feat Ladi6 and Parks. Brill. Complicated and straightforward at the same time. I love the twinkly triangles and swirly piano notes. 
Next time: I'm heading back up to Auckland this week for yet more toiling, but hopefully it won't be quite so long before I bounce back this time round. 

9 March 2012

heaven help my heart the day that i find suddenly i've run out of secrets...

"And you may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful house..." 

Shrewd readers will note that these photos haven't been taken at my place. Less shrewd readers will note that these photos haven't been taken at my place after I tell you that they haven't. Hey, we can't all be shrewd.

I made these Pineapple Secrets to take round to Kate, Jason, Kim and Brendan's flat, which is Tim's and my home away from home these days, to accompany a wild game of Settlers of Catan. For about 15 minutes it looked like I was going to out-strategise everyone and be queen of all I surveyed, but then I unsurprisingly slid back into last place. Fortunately there were Pineapple Secrets to sweeten the deal. I chanced upon them in by beloved Favourite Puddings of America cookbook, a book that keeps astounding me with its amazing recipe titles - like Perfect Divinity, don't you just want to make that immediately? (It's some kind of toffee-meringue confection, by the way.) Pineapple Secrets are part of your basic slice genus, being the kind which have half the mixture pressed into a tin, a filling spread across, and the rest of the mixture toppled over before baking the lot.   

That's not baked beans in the yellow chequered bowl, by the way. Tim thought it was. It's canned pineapple, simmered with a little cornflour and sugar.

Speaking of achingly cool things like playing Catan, on Friday night a party spontaneously formed at Tim's and my place and - get you this - I managed to dupe everyone into listening to my Chess record, and if memory serves me correctly, it went down a treat. There is no better way to spend a Friday night than rapping to One Night In Bankok for a doubtless un-alarmed crowd, I promise you. I also remember Wuthering Heights being danced to, which feels hardly surprising - our capacity for that song has been tested but never met.

Still on the cooler-than-everyone* thing, on Saturday night we had book group at our place and attempted Literary Karaoke (where you look up songs on YouTube that reference books and then sing along!) Wuthering Heights got played again. Three separate versions. Told you we hadn't reached capacity. (*When I say 'cool' I'm not being ironic*) (*I wasn't being ironic there either.)

So while this cookbook can be heavy on recipes containing packaged cake mix or "marshmallow creme" whatever that is, when it's good it's brilliant, and these Pineapple Secrets are near-on spectacular. Even with all the cake mix I love the naive adventurousness of recipes from that 50s/60s era. Once I'd gotten over the adorable name (wait, that's never going to happen) I appreciated how the ingredients were all in my cupboard or fridge at a time when both were feeling a little empty. This is just chance of course, but so delicious are the Pineapple Secrets that if you've got what it takes, I thoroughly advocate that you try making them yourself.

This slice is crumble-topping-esqe and sturdy, with a sweet, summery pineapple filling. While I love biscuits and cookies, the slice gets the jump on them any day with how easy it is to bring it into existence - no rolling out, or cutting, or cooking in batches. Not much of anything in fact, as this is not in any way a difficult recipe. Indeed what it lacks in difficulty it makes up for in deliciousness. Hooray!

Pineapple Secrets

Adapted slightly from America's Favourite Puddings cookbook.

1 can crushed or sliced pineapple in juice
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons cornflour

2 cups flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
170g butter

Set the oven to 190 C/400 F. Simmer the pineapple and its juice, 1/4 cup brown sugar and cornflour together till thick and syrupy, stirring often. This shouldn't take too long. Then, mix together the dry ingredients and rub in the cubed butter till thoroughly incorporated and resembling damp sand.

Take half the butter/flour mixture and tip into a greased, square baking tin. Wet the back of a spoon and use it to press down carefully on the mixture. Tip the pineapple and sauce over the top and spread across. Tip the rest of the flour mixture evenly over the top and use the back of the spoon again to very carefully smooth and press this down again. Bake for 30-40 minutes and allow to cool considerably before slicing.

It's very simple but deceptively so - all that brown sugar bringing caramel intensity to the otherwise dull oats, the pineapple juicy and sweet and fragrant. I'm not sure how secret it is, since the title of the recipe completely gives it away, but it's not unwelcome, even if you do see it coming. (Photo taken strategically to include their couch which I love. Alas, this is not my beautiful couch, although lucky for me I get to sit on it at least once a week usually.)
Title via: Heaven Help My Heart from - how timely - the musical Chess. It's a beautiful song, but when sung by Idina Menzel? Oh, the devastating. 

Music Lately: 

Matthew Pickering: Your Beauty Transforms Every Space. Our friend Brendan was playing in a band with Pickering on Tuesday night at the ASB Gardens Magic series - all for free and featuring some very cool artists, like Ria Hall who was on before Pickering. It was all pretty lovely. Ria Hall's I Am A Child is so stunning - would love to hear it a capella one day, her voice is just wild.

Audra McDonald: Summertime, from Porgy and Bess. Tim sent me this link the other day. It's Audra McDonald, so you know it's going to be special. And also it's the Colbert Report, so you know it's going to be...special.
Next time: I'm away for the weekend so alas it'll be a while before I can cook something again. Whatever that something is, depends on my exhaustion levels, which depends on a lot of things this weekend...anyone up for a recipe for heavily buttered toast?

5 March 2012

banana by the bunch, a box of captain crunch would taste so good

While there are large-scale diseases with varying degrees of manageability, on the day-to-day level the human body can still be pretty unfair to its inhabitant. I say this with full acknowledgement of my privilege - that is, I am sound enough of body. I mean your intentions going one way and your body going another. Like when I wet my pants on the first day of school. My teacher didn't exactly give off kindly, benign vibes, and while I'd asked where the toilet was, I didn't understand the answer. Also didn't have the life skills at five years old to ask her to clarify her response, so...yeah. On the upside, I'd like to think I showed an early propensity for quick-wittedness when I offhandedly advised that it had been raining the night before, hence the puddle.

But what's got me thinking about this, is that it's currently 5.30am. Not that shocking an hour really. But I've been absolutely, no-turning-back awake since 3.45am. Not for want of trying to sleep. My brain started getting stupid anyway. Like I'd be imagining rain on the roof and being all nice and calm, drifting away on a floating bed - suddenly my brain would insert into this lovely scene an enormous insect, a particular insect that terrifies the heck out of me and whose name I'm not even going to utter on this page. My brain did this about five times while I lay there in cold-then-hot discomfort, my normally reliable pillow becoming flat and concrete-like...when I checked my phone and over an hour had passed, I accepted there was not much I could do about it. So here I am. 

Alas, this is quite typical. I'm not the best sleeper. Normally it manifests in my taking hours to fall asleep after turning off the light, but this time I had sleeplessness working its way to the middle from both ends of the night. As I sit here typing in the dark, Tim, the minxy hellion, is sleeping like he always does, deeply, unflappably, and with enviable briskness. Meanwhile I've been lying thinking "I'm going to be so fragile tomorrow. Does thinking I'm going to be fragile mean I'm going to be more fragile? Aagh, it's that insect that I hate!"

Luckily I had the foresight yesterday to bake some banana bread, a warm pillowy slice of which I am confident will provide untold comfort. 

Especially when that banana bread was spontaneously studded with the roughly chopped remainder of a vanilla-fluttery, buttery block of Whittaker's white chocolate. (Please scuse the pink stains on my chopping board. Either everything is stained permanently or you never eat beetroot, there is no middle ground in life.)

Banana bread always seems like a rather lovely thing to me, perhaps because I associate it with the banana bread that shy, lonely Charlotte Johanssen brought over for her the Ramsey family in Babysitters Club #13: Hello Mallory, while the majority of Stoneybrook ignored the newcomers, quite racistly. While I didn't exactly know what banana bread was at the time - we would've likely called it loaf cake in New Zealand - something about its compact, sliceable practicality all wrapped in tinfoil and carried over by Charlotte conveyed the sense of neighbourly friendliness better than any other food could've.

This is, kinda bafflingly, the FOURTH time I've blogged about Banana bread (Nigella's beautiful recipe in 2008, and then in 2010 a vegan recipe and a highly recommendable Banana-lime Palm Sugar Loaf) and yet this new recipe still has its rightful place. Oh and I say 'bafflingly' because I can't believe I've only just now brought up the Babysitters Club connection. Four banana bread recipes itself is not baffling. What's this one bringing to the table though? It's simple, it's strewn with white chocolate, and it has the snuggly scent of cinnamon. It's also gluten-free, if you want it to be.

Cinnamon White Chocolate Banana Cake

Adapted somewhatish from a recipe in Meat-free Mondays. That book just won't quit!

125g soft butter
125g sugar (optional - half brown, half white sugar)
2 eggs
3 medium, ripe bananas (or 2 large)
50g roughly chopped white chocolate
170g rice flour, or plain flour 
50g cornflour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch salt

Set your oven to 180 C/350 F and beat the butter and sugar together till creamy and light. Beat in the eggs, then fold in the bananas and white chocolate. Finally, sift in all the dry ingredients and fold them in gently. Tip the batter into a paper-lined loaf tin, and bake for about 1 1/4 hours.

Something about the magical properties of cornflour make this light, puffy, and with a crisp yet mouth-meltingly tender crust. There might be more to it than that, but I'm pretty sure it's the cornflour. While I'll stand up for white chocolate's deliciousness any day, sometimes being paired with a spice only makes it more delightful, and this is verily the case with the cinnamon. Its warm mellow fragranced-ness against the shards of creamy sweetness is brilliant, and makes me want to pair white chocolate and cinnamon together again in other baking. And soon.

Um, yes, that is a glass bottle with a stripey straw in it. Guess what's in the bottle? Iced coffee. Part of me is all "but it's so pretty" and the other half is saying "Ugghh this is so blogger-y". As always, to prove to myself that form over function could still provide a function, and I wasn't just using props in my photos for the sake of it, I drank that coffee through the straw. It gave the already fruity, complex brew distinct notes of warm cardboard. But, as Leslie Knope said when she married off two male penguins to each other at the zoo: "I firmly believed it would be cute".  I think I need to stop guilting myself out over this.

Speaking of cute, no sooner had I expressed a stunted desire to start drawing again in a recent blog post, than did appear a 31-day drawing challenge on the internet. Yay for the internet! Specifically I saw it on Instagram, the photo-sharing app, and so that's where I'm posting all my daily drawings. You're welcome to check them out here (just look for the photos that are of drawings), but to lure you in, here's my keenly sensitive and profoundly artistic rendering of Day 3's challenge - an internal organ.

Speaking of bodies turning on you... (that'd be a diabetic pancreas, if you're new here.)

And look, here I am at 6.45am! A blog post under my belt, and the day's hardly begun. I think I'd still take the sleep though. Fingers crossed for tonight. Which is feeling a long, long way away - oh, did I mention it's Monday? Cruel, cold Monday? Thank goodness for banana bread, hey?
Title via: I feel like there should be like, an airhorn going off or a balloon drop every time I use a song from RENT (which this blog's named for) in the title of a blog post too. If I keep making banana bread I'm going to run out of title options, but for now kindly revel in the unspeakably glorious joy that is Angel's big number, Today 4 U, performed with alacrity by Wilson Jermaine Heredia. 
Music lately:

My capacity for being obsessed with songs is boundless. Boundless, I tell you. So the fact that I listened to Marina and the Diamonds' Shampain almost literally a million times this week shouldn't surprise you.

Monkees, Last Train to Clarksville. RIP Davy Jones, heartthrob.
Next time: whatever it is, let's hope I'm telling you about it on more than three hours of sleep.