28 September 2012

and we walked off, to look for america

As the late, always-makes-me-cry-so-I-can-only-listen-to-her-occasionally, great Laurie Beechman sang in the original Broadway production of Annie: "NYC, I give you fair warning: up there, in lights, I'll be."

I also give YOU fair warning: Tim and I have a plane to catch in less than two hours. All the tasks and jobs and endless succession of things that needed doing pushed this necessary blog post further, and further, and further back, till suddenly I'm typing really fast and realising that I haven't had breakfast but I have had two coffees and I still need to finish packing.

With that, please allow me some self-indulgently breathless bullet points. I'll try to make them wordily eloquent bullet points though. 

- I handed in my cookbook manuscript. It made me feel a bit like this:

This cookbook has been my life for the last three months. Frankly, it has been my life since I got the email from my publisher back in January asking if I was interested. Franklier than that, it has been my life for a much longer time, it just didn't realise it yet. Or something. It's so strange not to be working on it - a little bittersweet and empty, a watermark left from a glass of campari on a table - but my flipping gosh it's good to have achieved it. I feel like I climbed a huge mountain, only way better, because there was no actual mountain-climbing involved. My creative team of Jason, Kim and Kate (plus project-manager Tim) were utterly brilliant to the last. I'll be full of more details about the book itself as the process goes along, but for now: I'm just going to enjoy not thinking about it quite so hard.

- Here is some pasta I made. It's a very specific recipe, based on there being almost no food left in the house because we're leaving for a month, but also some foods that really need eating. I like bowtie pasta because of its rakish, eyebrow-wagglingly charming shape, but use whatever, of course.

Bowties with Smoked Paprika Burnt Butter and Almonds

A recipe by me. Serves one.

100g bowtie pasta
30g butter
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
50g almonds
Green stuff for garnish. Parsley is good here.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water till al dente. Drain. 

While the pasta's cooking, melt the butter in a pan and allow it to properly sizzle and burn. This will give you marvelous depth of flavour. Tip in the paprika, and stir, followed by the almonds. Continue to cook a little longer till the almonds are coated and lightly browned. Remove from the heat, tip on top of the drained pasta, and blanket with any kind of garnishy greens.

This is simple, yet highly delicious. Nutty, saltily fulsome butter. Smoky, intense paprika. Crunchy, lightly scorched almonds. The greens aren't really that necessary but the paprika tints the butter dark orange and it does have connotations of engine grease. If I wasn't photographing it I probably wouldn't have bothered, really.

More bullet points ahoy!

- Dearest Jo made me this amazing and delicious cake to say congratulations for finishing the book. It's appropriate because I have SO MANY feelings. We ate it, along with waffles and other important breakfast foods, while watching the new season of Parks and Recreation. Did I say feelings? FEELINGS.

- Speaking of Parks and Rec, a pie recipe of mine is featuring in the new edition of BUST magazine, which has the clever and hilarious and stunning Aubrey Plaza on the cover. BUST is an American magazine, even, so just try to calculate how blown my mind is right now.

- I guess I'll leave it there, since I really, really, really do have to carry on packing and cleaning and such before we go. These beyond-dreamy prints by Colette St Yves arrived in the mail today though: I may just quietly swoon over them instead of doing anything productive. 

Tim and I threw ourselves a little going-away party on Wednesday night and afterwards I fully started sobbing. Tim, ever the logical person, said "it's only a month". To which I, ever the logical-in-my-head person, replied "yes but we always do so much every month". A self-indulgent cry out of the way, I am now more or less full of excitement about America. There might be a tiny, tiny bit of maudlin pillow-hugging before we leave though, what can I say. Feelings. 

I promise real, proper blogging will resume when we get back at the end of October. But - oh what a but - I have two thoroughly awesome guest bloggers to house-sit this blog for me while I'm away. Guest blogger the first is Kate, stylist queen of my cookbook and all round purveyor of excellence. Guest blogger the second is cooler-than-ice cream artist-in-every-sense-of-the-word Coco Solid. You're in mighty good hands.

However, while I'm gone Tim and I are upkeeping a travel blog, which we've called USA! USA! USA! (it was so hard not to try to make some kind of Babysitters Club or Broadway-related title, a Homer Simpson quote is a good compromise.) You're welcome to read it and keep abreast with our traveling times.

Thanks for all the good words as I felt my way through this cookbook-writing process - if it's not too disconcerting, imagine me hugging my laptop right now by way of metaphorical gratitude. I mean the gratitude is real, me hugging the laptop is a metaphor for me hugging you all. Actually I'm not sure if it is a correct metaphor, maybe more of a - well, anyway. You get what I mean. 

And so: au revoir. Ka kite. See you soon.
Title via: Simon and Garfunkel's America. Dreamy. 
Music Lately: The All-American Edition

Azealia Banks released her new video for Luxury last night. What a talented babe is she.

Lana Del Rey, Jump. Del Rey always makes me feel a bit moody, but I love her songs so much, so what can you do? I feel like I'm building up an immunity though, this is one of her more bewitching songs that's juuuuuust upbeat enough.

Seasons of Love, from the movie soundtrack (though the original cast recording is also beautiful and I unsurprisingly recommend both) of RENT. We're going to New York. Where RENT is from. What is life? 
Next time: well I'll certainly have plenty to talk about, won't I?

18 September 2012

could be, who knows, there's something due any day

That's all, folks.

Well, that's almost all, folks. The very last photoshoot happened on Saturday, meaning this cookbook-writing montage is whirling to a close and the inspirational eighties song accompanying it is in the coda stage. I still have to edit the heck out of it - to make sure that I don't use the word 'buttery' or 'bodacious' on every single page, which is...of concerningly high likelihood.

I also still have to test a bulging handful of recipes, which means, and has meant, that I have made more or less nothing in the last couple of weeks that isn't specifically for this cookbook.

Apart from these nuts. They seem an even less worthy offering for you than the raspberry smoothie I blogged about last time but what can I do? We are overrun with food that I just can't talk about.

I made these for a birthday party that we had for Tim on Saturday night, along with a cake that I iced to look like Jack White. I was particularly proud of managing to ice some sweaty strands of hair to Cake-Jack's forehead. We drank some excellent whisky and danced and talked and sang "Happy Birthday" to the tune of the Game of Thrones theme song and everyone wrote nice things about Tim in a giant birthday card which was supposed to be a surprise but I forgot about it till an hour before the party started and had to tell Tim, then run out and buy it while he cleaned the house and the only big cards that were in the shop were either hideous or for a specific age (or both) so I got a card which said "good luck" in glittery letters because at that point it felt like the right sentiment.

The uber-dapper and somewhat long-suffering birthday man. 

Maple Horseradish Cashews

A recipe by myself.

700g cashews
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon horseradish sauce
2 tablespoons maple syrup
Salt, in abundance

Tip the cashews with a clatter into a large saucepan. Toast them, stirring constantly, over a low heat till they start to become fragrant and lightly browned in places. Stir in the oil, the horseradish, the syrup, and plenty of salt, and continue to stir till any liquid is evaporated and the cashews are varying stages of stickily scorched and shiny. You don't want them actually burnt, as they'll turn acrid and bitter, but try to get them as close to it as you can.

These nuts, with their burnished, sticky coating combine horseradish's compellingly back-of-the-throat mustard flavour with the smokily sweet taste of maple. Cashews have their own mild sweetness which complements both but use what you have, I just happened to be hosting more than I knew what to do with in my pantry. If you don't have horseradish sauce, try a tablespoon of dijon or American mustard, or as much wasabi as you dare - both will provide that hot-mouthed zing.

What else has been happening lately besides all that?

Well, I went to a lovely friend's place on Sunday with a bevy of other lovely friends for a day we called Princess Camp. There was snuggling and Olympic gymnastics and dance movies and bubbles and cake and gossip and this beautiful cat who can do forward rolls (if only I'd got a video and she could've been an internet sensation).

I don't see cats very often so this was rather thrilling. I should also point out that we watched the Spice Girls part of the Olympics closing ceremony, and I was recounting how ridiculous it was that I started crying when I watched it the first time, and then - I started crying again. I just couldn't help it, it was all so momentous and the Spice Girls were together again at last, and seemed to be such good friends, and they all looked so happy and beautiful and...there's really no good way to explain this, so perhaps just gaze upon the adorable cat in the photo.

I also helped start a trending topic on twitter with the highly excellent Sarah-Rose. Here's what happened: I'd been thinking about the Baby-sitters Club, as is my wont. I spied Sarah-Rose tweeting about what she was wearing to someone else. It occurred to me, and so I tweeteth, that it'd be really cool if people described what they were wearing on Twitter in the manner of Claudia Kishi, who was the total queen of the BSC and always had the most incredible outfits. Sarah-Rose declared that it should definitely be a thing. Emboldened, we both tweeted our outfits with the hashtag #kishi. And then more people did. And more and more and more. 

On day two it trended and then continued to trend. Isn't that the most, to say the least? I understand entirely if Twitter is a concept that eludes you, and now's not the place for social media 101, but I LOVE IT. And managing to hoist a fairly niche-interest topic into the realms of trending was immensely thrilling. And it's such a fun hashtag. Just as I loved reading outfit descriptions in the Baby-sitters Club books, so I do in real life. I love describing my trackpants, should I be wearing them, as lavishly and breathlessly as I would a dress. In short: FUN!

Finally, I made this short video on why I'm proud to support marriage equality.

Finally-finally, Tim and I have somehow been planning our trip to America. Which starts next Friday. We booked tickets to see Wicked on Broadway. What is life. But till that day comes: all the editing and all the feelings! And hopefully all of the blogging, too. I am sorry for not blogging more, and then for barely even coming correct when I do - next time it'll be something more significant than Johnny-Come-Lately fried cashews, I promise. 
Title via: Something's Coming, from the beautiful musical West Side Story. I rather enjoy limber-voiced adorable gem Gavin Creel's take on this stunning song. 
Music lately:

Rodriguez, Crucify Your Mind: I don't normally say things like this, but this man should be a billion times bigger than Dylan. He just should. 
Sky Ferreira, Everything Is Embarrassing. Terribly relatable.
O'Lovely, Bright Lights. I've been listening to this a lot lately, it's so twinkly and dreamy so of course I adore it. 
Next time: As I said: Sooner! Better than nuts!

7 September 2012

i'll drink to that, and one for mahler!

Back when I first left my job and strode purposefully into the warm, sugary waters of cookbook-writing (before immediately getting sick for three weeks) I had it in my head that I'd be able to blog more than ever. Well, ha! I certainly learned a thing or two since then. Like I wouldn't really have the time, at all. So, sorry to leave it so long between blog posts. Basically, if I am awake I am working on the cookbook. It leaves very little time for blogging. But as this blog is so deeply important to me, it does not behoove me to neglect it. So here I am, and I will attempt to keep this relatively snappish (a) so I can get onto preparing for today's cookbook photoshoot and (b) because there is only so much one can say about a smoothie. 

It has been one heck of a week. If my last blog post indicated that it was crunch time and time was crunchy, well, time has since become ever more textured. Barbed. Studded. Clawed. Gritty. It's grit time. Hopefully all this grit will bring forth a pearl of a cookbook though.

At book group the other day (which escalated with delightful predictability to into-the-night discussions on feminism, politics, and HBO television) I had an amazing Ottolenghi salad that the host, my longtime friend Ange had made. I then realised how long it had been since I'd cooked anything that wasn't something being tested for the cookbook. Much as I'll miss the montage that is my life currently, I am definitely looking forward to opening up someone else's cookbook and making their recipes.

But I am still fair sparkling with excitement, every particle of me alive and tense with the knowledge that I am going to be a published author, that my ideas have actually taken me somewhere. Luckily the universe reminds me often enough of this, so that when I'm all grumpypants and don't want to look at food, the amazing ridiculousness of this all sets in again, I remember that any problems I have are AMAZING PROBLEMS TO HAVE and I find energy to keep going. I mean, I physically cannot bring myself to complain about any of the more stressful elements of this whole process (please ignore any times I actually complained about it) because it's all so...incredible.

Yesterday, pale with the knowledge that I'd hardly eaten anything vitamin-rich lately, I made myself a smoothie for breakfast. It was perfect - eye-wideningly zingy, not troublingly filling, and gloriously pink. Who am I to tell you how to make a smoothie? It's just blended up stuff. When I was a child and my grandma gave me her old blender, which had a three-cup capacity and all the grunt of an electric toothbrush, my favourite thing to do was blend up a can of peaches in its syrup and drink that like the fancy lady I thought I was. What I'm saying is: smoothies, they're not long division, but they are delicious. Here's an idea for you.

Raspberry, Pear and Basil Smoothie

The secret ingredient is a sneaky, sour teaspoon of apple tea powder. Which in itself is a perfect snack. If you don't have any, this is still more than fine of course. Consider a tiny pinch of citric acid instead, if you like.

1 heaped cup frozen raspberries
2 pears
1 lemon
1 tablespoon apple tea powder
A few basil leaves

Tip the raspberries into a blender (pausing to ostentatiously instagram them first, if you're anything like me.) Peel the pears and roughly chop them, and add them to the blender too. Eat the peel to assuage any wastefulness-guilt. Squeeze the juice from the lemon into the cup measure, then top up with water. Pour this into the blender, add the apple tea powder and the basil leaves, then process thoroughly till smooth. 

I say use frozen raspberries, because who has heaps of fresh raspberries kicking around to be diluted into smoothies? Do you? Who are you, Marie Antoinette? You could use any berry you like - frozen strawberries are rather pleasing as their seeds aren't so obvious between the teeth. On the other hand, the seeds kind of make you feel like you've got something to do as your teeth grind them down, so there is a case for both sides. The pears give a similar kind of bodily smoothness to the drink that bananas might, also their mild, fragrant juiciness is a good backdrop for the more boldly acerbic berries. Basil's smokiness provides a little depth and warmth. And the finished smoothie is a really pretty colour. Really, really pretty. Let us not overlook its aesthetic value for the sake of pretending we're overlooking its aesthetic value.

Last time I blogged I was urging anyone local to come along to the rally for Marriage Equality. Well, I went, with all my friends, and it was the most intense, happy, emotional day. I wore my big gold dress as it was the most celebratory thing I owned and also because it made me think of Edie Beale's 'Revolutionary Costume For Today' from Grey Gardens. ("The full-length velvet glove hides the fist".) We marched together, all the way to parliament in the hot sun, to hear speeches from many different sides of the story, from the most recent of accepters to those who had been working longer than I've been alive to fight for equality, for people to just be who they are. It was incredibly moving. Later that evening, over lots of ice cream (I needed to test a ton of ice cream recipes, so I did just that, and then invited people round to eat it all) we huddled round a livestream of Parliament TV to watch, with lip-biting nervousness and then heart-soaring joy, as Louisa Wall's bill was voted to go ahead to a select committee by a surprisingly generous majority. This isn't the final hurdle - there are still so many steps to be taken for the bill to become law - but still, it was such an exciting, wonderful achievement. Watching it all unfold with people dear to me was even better. I'm really not expressing myself here, but it was all...just...so important.

If my paragraph hasn't moved you in the slightest, perhaps this video of Mitt Romney being incredibly disrespectful will show just one reason I feel so strongly about this issue - I've watched this video three times and my eyes well up each time by the end.

Another exciting thing that has happened, on a much smaller scale - and yet no less large-scale in its way - I received an email from Julie Clark of Floriditas cafe, saying their bakery always has plenty of ingredients and she'd read about some of my recipe testing mishaps and she'd like to help me out. How kind, thought I, perhaps she has a spare bag of sugar for me! The next day she emails again to say she's just down the road and has something for me.

That something was 20 blocks of butter and 60 eggs. I'd never even met Julie, and to receive so much kindness from a stranger near-on floored me. She didn't know it at the time, but Floriditas was where Tim and I went for a celebratory dinner on the night I found out my book deal was confirmed, and also we often buy their loaves of bread to add to the snacks table at photoshoots for everyone to eat. So...synergy? Anyway, damn, sometimes these moments come out of nowhere and all you can do is say thank you. All my recipe testing since then has been monumentally less stressful, since, if something doesn't work out quite right, there is still another remaining tonne of butter for me to use. Thank you, Julie!

Next time I blog, we may well have wrapped up the photography process and I'll be very nearly finished the manuscript. The team - Kim and Jason the photographers, Tim the handsome project manager and Kate the stylist, are continuing to do such a brilliant job and putting so much energy into this and I am SO so excited for you all (I mean, no pressure, if you don't want to buy the book that's totally up to you) to see their amazing work.

Till then, I'll be carving that butter sculpture of myself that I've always dreamed of.

Title via: I've used this before but it's so utterly plunder-able that I don't care. And if you haven't listened to it yet, please do yourself a favour and click here for the shivers-inducingly magnificent Elaine Stritch singing  Ladies Who Lunch from Sondheim's Company.

Music lately:

Thanks to a tip-off from Martyn Pepperell I've been streaming Alice Cohen's album Pink Stream - so twinkly! And if there's one thing I enjoy in music, it's twinkliness. 

TLC, Creep. Always.

Liza Minnelli and Pet Shop Boys, Losing My Mind. I didn't think Sondheim's fragile, terribly sad original could be improved upon by dramatic eighties drums and synths, but...it can! And how! 

Next time: I'll be twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom. Not sure what that will bring, foodwise - Marmite on toast?