24 December 2013

one more dawn, one more day, one day more

I don't know who even has time to read blogs at the moment (indeed, I hardly have time to write this) with Christmas insisting on being closer and closer every minute. And it's not just Christmas - there are other festive high days and holy days, people have birthdays, people have work, things still need to happen. So I'll keep this as succinct as I can manage, which for me means a quick nine paragraph dissertation on my feelings followed by another six paragraphs on my feelings for today's recipe, followed by an essay on why a particular song I've been listening to this week accurately and devastatingly reflects all this. Brevity! It's the soul of wit. Or the lowest form of wit? Whatever, I guess it's too late to carry on pretending I'm gonna provide it for you, but I honestly am trying, for what it's worth. 

So, I've mentioned a few times on here about my steady diet of two-minute noodles, microwaved pies, and microwaved marmite and cheese sandwiches as I grew up. But, after getting out a thrillingly American cookbook from the library at the age of, oh, nine or so, I was struck by a rather chic and unusual sandiwich combination: apple and cheese, which it turned out, I loved. So, if I really felt like putting in some effort, like making myself a baller snack, like putting the glam in glamwich (which also puts the glam in sandwich. Portmanteaux! Talk about classy) youthful me would forego the marmite and instead make an apple and cheese microwaved sandwich. I know. You can see how I got a cookbook deal.

(PS: I've never actually said the word "glamwich" before and my christmas gift to you is that I'm never going to say it again.)

Nigella, that moon of my life, has an excellently fast recipe in her book Kitchen for something she calls Crustless Pizza. It's kind of a cross between a yorkshire pudding and cheese on toast, hence its enormous appeal to me. While the original recipe of Nigella's is perfectly brilliant, I suspected that an apple and cheese variation, spattered with mouth-heating mustard so you know for sure it's not pudding, would be...equally brilliant.

Apple and cheese together have this bizarrely pleasing salty-sweet, crunchy-melting symbiosis, which isn't so odd really. I mean, fruit appears in all forms on cheeseboards, and there's something lovely about the clean, crisp, delicate freshness of the apple slices subverted by the golden, buttery, bubbling cheese. Oh wait, I was supposed to be succinct. It's just really good, okay?

apple, cheese and mustard pie

Adapted from a recipe from Nigella Lawson's important book Kitchen. Serves two. Or four, I guess, but I am terribly whiny and reluctant about sharing anything with melted cheese on it. 

1 cup flour
1 egg
1 cup milk
pinch salt
150g cheese, something cheddar-esque, grated
1 apple, I liked Granny Smith here
Dijon mustard

This is very simple. Set your oven to 200 C. Butter a 21cm pie plate or similarly shaped dish. Mix together the flour, egg, milk, salt, and about half the grated cheese. Bake for ten minutes. Meanwhile, slice the apple thinly. Remove the pie from the oven, arrange the apple slices howsoever you please on top, and sprinkle over the remaining cheese. Bake for another ten or so minutes, then drizzle over the mustard. Slice into four, and use a spatula or something to wiggle the slices out - they've never stuck once for me, so hopefully they don't for you either.

And that's it, really. It would be quite nice with a kind of peppery, crunchy salad of rocket and stuff like that, but there's no need to play up the sophisticated side of this. It's just as good eaten with your hands while staring glaze-eyed into space because you're very tired and just want to deliver carbs to the outstretched, clasping hands of your blood cells with zero distraction.

So, Christmas, huh? It has arrived. Considering it's Christmas Eve today, I really shouldn't be too surprised about this. Were I much more flush with cash than I currently am, I would shower myself with the following gifts:

Vogue Knitting magazine
A deposit on another tattoo
At least one really pretty, out-of-my-reach sundress from twenty-seven names
A copy of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Nigella's book Nigellisima
A supermarket pallet of San Pellegrino Limonata (when I get famous, this is going to be on all my riders. It's tooth-zappingly lemony and my best friend while mildly hungover. But also I like to drink it other times.)
A bottle of Campari
An intense hand and nail cream
Candles, for lighting and feeling deep and purposeful (and flatteringly lit)
More Devon Smith artwork
A meadowlark trinket of some kind. So out of my reach currently that I'm not even at the stage of choosing one or two to sigh over.
A landlord who will let me have a pet cat. (I don't know quite how, but I figure being rich makes everything simple.)
A pet cat.

What about you?

Whether or not you celebrate Christmas (even "celebrate" might be a little too enthusiastic, occasionally my mood is more like... "accept stoically" or "admit defeat in the face of") I of course hope that times are good and people are nice and social situations are fairly stress-free and that your tables are laden with good food. Because stuff like that should be for life, not just for Christmas. (Like a pet cat. Hmph.) I'm flying home today to my parents' house, and I can't wait to see them, and the rest of my family, and the cats, who are of course family, but oh man I should really stop talking about cats. I'm planning on knitting myself a beanie, reading books, and taking lots of selfies with the cats.

Also, uh, I suppose it behooves me one last time to remind you that my cookbook Hungry and Frozen is super amazing and makes a majorly excellent present idea. Also if you already have it, there's a fairly simple Christmas Cake recipe in there which you can make quite last minute and still feel good about.

May the rest of your December be dreamy.
title from: facing the season with bared teeth and dizzyingly contrapuntal arrangement, One Day More from Les Miserables. The version I've linked to is the 25th anniversary concert. Featuring the bafflingly handsome Ramin Karimloo as Enjolras (look him up on Google images if you're so inclined, I thoroughly recommend it.) I also like Key and Peele's highly apt take on it
Music lately:

I know I've linked to it twelve million times, but this is the only time of year I watch Turkey Lurkey Time from Promises Promises, and marvel at Donna McKechnie's loose-limbed perfection and the sublimely bonkers choreography leading to a rather shivers-making ending.

Speaking of people worth looking up on google images to marvel at, Zooey Deschanel's band She and Him made a thoroughly endearing Christmas album. As if Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree wasn't already massively endearing to begin with, too.

Sleater-Kinney, One Beat. It's not allllll carols round here.
Next time: I might be reunited with this blog before the year is out, and then it really just depends on what I can excavate from my fridge....

15 December 2013

cry into your christmas cake, don't know what else to do

When I was a child, and Christmas inched towards me in the distance like an achingly slow-moving but manifestly mighty steam-roller, I loved the season, hard. Now that I'm older and busier, Christmas emerges with a hiss through the cracks and fissures in the pavement like a sinister steam - suddenly everywhere without warning, and prone to fogging up one's glasses and making one's fringe get sweaty. My feelings about Christmas these days are more than just "I'm sweaty" - I love it. I do. I do! I'm not just convincing myself here, honest. I love the sparkle and hustle and bustle and food, all the food, and there's little more gratifying (to me and me alone) than lustily singing the alto descant to Joy To The World or Hark the Herald Angels Sing, to fill me with pine-needle scented exuberance

But: it's also stressful. I mean, money. Where's that stuff hiding lately? How does one go about getting really rich without much effort? Why is so much effort required to get rich and even then it's not guaranteed? Answer me that, Santa! Also just the sense of wanting to spend lovely, important time with family but then that being high-stakes and needing to go just right, and also trying to get everything done while still working and feeling tired-er and tired-er with every day that passes. But then sniffing a christmas tree, or running your hands idly through a plush, cool pile of tinsel, or staying up late to bake something really special for someone just as special, and Christmas specials of TV shows and Mariah Carey and candy canes... 

So yeah: Christmas. I have now made the ground-breaking observation that it is happening and stirs up some feelings across the spectrum of what feelings feel like.

Even though buzzfeed and pinterest have rendered trying to list anything slightly superfluous, still I heedlessly present my annual round-up of anything I've ever made on this blog that might make a decent-enough edible gift for someone. Give the gift of food, yo. People want things - or at least, I want things, ever so badly - but people LOVE food. And you know it's going to get used, not consigned to a Shelf of Guilt because you visit quite a lot and will absolutely know if your gift is not on display. 

Also - sorry if you're getting sick of seeing Christmas everywhere and you don't participate in it for any number of reasons. It'll soon be over. And also you can make these things at any time, not just during this particularly pervasive and dominating seasonal landmark. 

Things In Jars. 

Note: We may have reached Peak Mason Jar Awareness but there's no reason why you can't ignore this, because...jars are cute! And you can't put a price on that. 

Orange Confit (This is just slices of orange in syrup, but is surprisingly applicable to a variety of cake surfaces. And pretty. And cheap.) (vg, gf)
Cranberry Sauce (Impossibly easy.) (vg, gf)
Bacon Jam (Best made at the last minute, because it needs refrigerating) (gf)
Cashew Butter (vg, gf)
Red Chilli Nahm Jim (gf)
Cranberry (or any-berry) Curd (some effort involved, so make sure you're awake, but very, very pretty.) (gf)
Rhubarb-Fig Jam (gf)
Salted Caramel Sauce (gf, has a vegan variant) (also: don't even try fighting it, salted caramel is not going anywhere.) 
Apple Cinnamon Granola (vg)
Marinated Tamarillos (vg, gf)
Taco Pickles (vg, gf)
Pickled Blueberries

Baked Stuff: the classic choice. Or: The Person Who Actually Likes Doing Baking's choice. 
Look, my Christmas Cake is amazing. It just is: deal with my lack of coyness. Make it on the day, it'll still be great. 
Christmas-Spiced Chocolate Cake (Also a good xmas-day pudding) (gf)
Chocolate Orange Loaf Cake (y'know, wrap it in brown paper and tie with string, ba-da-bing, ba-da-cute.)
Vegan Chocolate Cake (It's good! It's easy!) (vg)
Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies
Also, if you click on the link to the Orange Confit above, you'll see a recipe for the easiest, fastest fruitcake loaf. It makes an excellent present, for the sort of person who'd like to receive fruitcake. And 'tis dairy free.

Novelty! Novelty? Novelty! 

If all you have energy to do is melt some stuff and sprinkle some other stuff over it, the bulk of this list is for you, oh head-pat-needing-friend.
Moonshine Biffs (like homemade Milk Bottles!) (gf)
Raw Vegan Chocolate Cookie Dough Truffles Candy (vg, gf)
Lolly Cake
Peppermint Schnapps (vg, gf) (Pictured above)
Candy Cane Chocolate Bark (No effort, vegan - well, I think candy canes are vegan - gluten free, amazingly delicious, just store it carefully so it doesn't melt)
White Chocolate Coco Pops Slice 

And there you have it. If nothing else, a prompt to lose a pleasurably hungry hour or two on something like Pinterest, looking up endless variations on The One Cookie That Will Affirm Your Belief In Humanity or something. 

It has been a dreamy and mellow weekend - pizza eating and head-pats; wedding dress shopping and quietly reading in a cafe and swooning; watching Pretty Little Liars and drinking beer (more swooning here); book group and snacks and knitting. 

Many, many, thrice many candy canes. I love them so much and they only come into season in December! So if I'm fixing to eat five in one sitting, no-one's going to stop me. 

Oh yeah, that's right, more wedding dress shopping. I found the one. The two, in fact. Which sounds diva-ish, to which I say, don't use diva as a negative term to devalue powerful women, and also that the two dresses together cost half the price of some other dresses I tried on, and also they're both intensely beautiful and I really like the idea of having a dramatic costume change halfway through the ceremony. 
And for one fervent blogger, christmas came early this year: I got to hang out with this hund friend! Called Bruce! With a very soft, fluffy head and a huggably squat body. Like me!
Title via: Rilo Kiley, Xmas Cake. Putting the aaaagh into fa-la-la-la-la.
Music lately:

Sheep Dog and Wolf, Egospect. Blimmin' rad, is my indepth description of it for you.

Janine and the Mixtape, Hold Me (acoustic). Could this babe be any more talented or amazing? Possibly, I mean that kind of thing in terms of measurability to - anyway. Here she is singing an acoustic version of a dreamy song that I already loved, somehow making it more gentle and delicate and yet saltily searing. 

Um, also Beyonce did the staggeringly amazing move of dropping an entire album with a video for each song in the middle of the night without any fanfare. Do yourself a favour and try to find them - they're brilliant. ***Flawless and Grown Woman are pretty much perfection, but it's impossible this early to choose favourites: it's just the most excellent, saucy, in charge R'n'B I've heard since Frank Ocean's Channel Orange. (Not that he was thaaaat saucy.) I am just so inspired by her control and confidence and complete difference-from-everything-else in releasing her album like this. Makes me want to write an even better cookbook. And also dance lots. 
Next time: I made an apple and cheese pie, but who knows, eh? Christmas! What a time. Be as nice to yourselves as you can muster.

9 December 2013

it's been this way, since christmas day, dazzled, doused in gin

For all that I'm really messy, inside and out, and will spend long stretches of time putting my nailpolish bottles into order by colour spectrum while ignoring, say, the dishes, every now and then I can really Get It Together and Be Organised. 

Every year, commencing 2006, I've held a big dinner party for flatmates and friends, which started as a way to toast ourselves and do something nice together before we all part ways for the summer. And that's how it continued, because it's a pretty decent concept that doesn't require messing with. Last year Tim and I couldn't have one because we'd just moved house and everything felt too difficult, but I feel like a good tradition should be malleable and flourish, rather than rigid and immoveable. 

And then, because why be merely fancy when you could be fancy in italics, Kate helped embiggen everything with her beauteous hand-made menus and table-setting ideas. It was dreamy, which is my favourite way for things to be or have been or have potential to be.

I was proud of myself at how it all worked out - it was a very last-minute fandango, but I managed to cook everything myself (including FOUR KILOS of pork belly, I mean really) and have it all appear ready to eat at a reasonable hour. Which may not sound like rocket science, but y'know, my oven is small while my ambitions are sky-high.

Speaking of, every year I use this as an opportunity to make a significant pudding. Like the year I made Baked Alaska. This year's concept was not as impressive as I'd have liked, but luckily my concept of "not as impressive as I'd liked" is a bit like my concept of "corporate, office-friendly clothes" - quite, quite different to most other people's.

So: berry ice cream pavlova layer cake! Two hastily thwacked-together discs of meringue, some insta-ice cream, and some preturnaturally glossy red pomegranate seeds, and you have yourself a rather fascinatingly-textured and terrifically-flavoured and most crucial of all, monumentally instagrammable pudding.

I know, pavlova is not necessarily that simple, but the good thing about this is that you can be a lot more confident about the making and baking, since it's going to be buffered up with ice cream and covered in icing sugar and it doesn't matter in the slightest if it cracks or deflates or, heck, breaks in two, because everything can be squished back together.

While my patriotism at the level of "New Zealand, it's okay I GUESS" it is nice to graciously nod to the classic pavlova and time of year that xmas falls upon - high summer! - with this cold, fruity confection. You can use an electric beater, obviously, but all I have is a whisk and I managed just fine, and there's nothing like standing in your underwear on a humid day furiously whisking egg whites to a stiff meringue to make you feel tantamount to Xena, Warrior Princess.

berry ice cream pavlova layer cake 

a recipe by myself. It looks complicated but that's just because I'm the hand-holding type (hand-holding sounds much nicer than micro-management, yeah?) You could use cream or yoghurt instead of coconut milk but now it's entirely dairy-free, which seems to suit a lot of people I know, so hurrah!

4 egg whites
200g sugar
1 teaspoon cornflour
2 teaspoons lemon juice or white vinegar

2 cups frozen berries (I used a packet of frozen mixed berries since they were cheapest, but plain frozen strawberries would be rad)
1/2 a can (although possibly more) coconut milk

Set your oven to 160 C/320 F and line a baking tray with baking paper. Using a 20cm caketin, or your own circle-drawing prowess, trace two circles on this sheet of baking paper. It doesn't matter if they're very close together. 

In a very clean, non-plastic bowl, whisk the egg whites briskly with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form. This means that the egg whites will be foamy and thickened, but not shiny, and when you lift the whisk up some mixture rises up with it but sinks back down into the bowl - if that makes sense. 

Continue whisking, despite your sore arms, and as you do this, slowly add the sugar a tablespoon or so at a time. The mixture will thicken and get shiny and bright white, continue whisking in the sugar and as hard as you can until the mixture is stiff and when you lift up the whisk, the mixture follows but stays quite still. Spread the mixture evenly between the two circles you've drawn on the baking paper, piling up the meringue mix and then smoothing it out so that they're fairly evenly flat on top. You can be pretty aggressive with the mixture by this stage, so don't worry.

Place this in the oven and bake for around an hour, although check at 40 minutes - it should look firm and dry and a little browned. Turn the oven off and allow the pavlovas to slowly cool in there, although I admit, I got impatient and took them out after half an hour of cooling. 

To serve, place one pavlova half on a pretty plate. Blast the frozen berries and coconut milk together in a food processor till they turn into a magical purple ice cream. Spoon/spread this immediately on top of the pavlova on the plate, and top with the other pavlova. Dust with icing sugar to cover any inevitable cracks and pile on some pomegranate seeds if you've got 'em, although fresh strawberries, raspberries, or simply more icing sugar would also be rad.

It may just be all the Poinsettia (fizzy white wine, cranberry juice, Cointreau) that I'd allowed myself to consume by this point, but this was damn spectacular. There's something deliciously fun about the soft, dissolvingly sugary crispness of room temperature pavlova against creamy, freezing, tart berry ice cream. The juicy crunch of pomegranate seeds on top provides further antidote to all the sweetness, while still being friendly with the berry flavours in the ice cream. And they look SO pretty. The pavlova layers are a little bit of a pain to slice through, but by the time people get to pudding they're not going to mind a hasty scoop of this in a paper bowl.

It was a wonderful, happy, lovely night. We listened to old xmas records and ate candy canes and talked good talk and also amassed a large pile of food brought by everyone to drop off at the foodbank. Even though I was a little oddly apprehensive that I was being pushy and annoying at trying to make this happen, perhaps mostly because everyone's so busy this time of year and frankly a lot of my reasons for doing this are highly selfish, it was just a dreamy, excellent night and I'm so glad it happened.

And then on Saturday I went on a wedding dress shopping montage! Mostly with Kate, although I was joined by Kim later, with a cameo from Sarah-Rose, and man it was a strange but amazing day. Something about trying on dresses to get married in - I mean, I could marry Tim in the next five minutes very casually and not think twice about it, yet I could hardly look at myself in the mirror while trying on these beautiful dresses and when asked what occasion I was shopping for, I was all "a wedding...mine...pretty much..."

I did dally with the idea of a black wedding dress but ultimately what I was really wanting is just EVERY glorious dress I tried on. You'd think I'd get used to vicarious thrills sometime since there are so many in my life, but nope. There's a particular ache at trying on a perfect garment then sadly putting it back on the rack.

I just love material possessions so much, okay. 

I've narrowed it down to two and a half potential definites, and if you're curious, I don't care if Tim or indeed all of the internet sees the dress before the wedding, but I do - now - want something very pale or white. Basically, it was a weekend as swoony as swoony can be, and I'm very pleased with that, even though now that it's Monday it all feels like a million half-remembered dreams ago...
title via: Placebo's moodily terrific Taste In Men.
Music lately:

Planet Z, Idina Menzel. Admittedly my love for her and my fondness for her early music is perhaps more boundless than most, but if there's a song more bonkersly endearing and mid-nineties than this then I'll probably listen to that too.

Frosty the Snowman, Fiona Apple. Have I said the word dreamy too many times in this post? I care not. This is the dreamiest.
Next time: I'm gonna make a list of every recipe I know that is good for xmas presents and so on and so forth and it will be ever so much fun! 

5 December 2013

there are marshmallow clouds being friendly, in the arms of the evergreen trees

s'mores pie

I made this over the weekend to take to a Thanksgiving-y housewarming barbeque that some American friends were having. Thanksgiving isn't my holiday (and let's not forget that it has a troubling background of colonisation and oppression) but I love the food of America and so figured I'd try to improvise something fittingly flaming-eagle-on-a-clifftop-as-old-glory-waves to bring along. So: s'mores pie. There were some giant marshmallows left in the cupboard from the hallowe'en party, I have this amazing cookie-pie dough recipe that comes together out of almost nothing at all, and I had half a block of Whittaker's dark dark chocolate to counteract the sugar-pillows of marshmallow with its bitterness. That's it. cookie, marshmallows, chocolate. I had planned a whole lot more - custardy filling, that sort of thing - but in the end, s'mores really ought to only have those three main components. I've seen enough American TV to know that!

By the way, I've had no time to blog lately, which is why this has taken a while to get here. But today I woke up feeling horrendous, and inevitably/concerningly thought to myself, "ooh, a sick day! This is my one opportunity to finish that blog post!" So here I finally am, pie in hand, hand on heart, and head in hands, because there's now pie all over me and in my hair. 

If you don't like marshmallows, well, this really isn't going to change anything for you. Since that's mostly what it is. But I myself, am strange and unusual, and don't like them that much either. However, when they get gooey and puffy and sticky and smokily browned from the heat of the oven - excellent. Especially with the bursts of dark cocoa-embittered chocolate and the warm cinnamon from the cookie dough. Just don't overthink it. (As if being told not to overthink something helps you not overthink things! Wouldn't life be simple if that were the case.)

s'mores pie

a recipe by myself

175g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup golden syrup or honey (or a mix of the two)
1/2 cup plain oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt

4 large marshmallows or about 12-15 regular sized ones
100g dark, dark chocolate

Stir together the flour, baking soda and powder, the cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Tip in the syrup and oil and stir together to form a rough, crumbly cookie dough (the texture may vary depending on your flour, the humidity, bla bla bla, so add a little more flour if it looks unmanageably damp, otherwise it'll probably be fine.) 

Set your oven to 180 C/350 F.

Reserving a couple of tablespoons of dough to sprinkle over the marshmallows, roll it out to a circle just larger than your pie plate (use one of around 21cm) and transfer it to said pie plate. I tend to roll out the dough between two sheets of baking paper, and then lift the entire thing up, place it in the pie plate, then remove the top layer of baking paper and press down the dough. That way there's much less cleaning involved - of both the pie plate and your rolling pin.  

Jab the pastry a few times with a fork, which will help stop it puffing up in the oven, and bake for around ten minutes, till golden and a little crisp. 

If you have giant marshmallows, halve them and arrange evenly within the pie shell - otherwise just cram it with regular marshmallows. Roughly chop or break up the chocolate and tuck pieces of it evenly amongst the marshmallows. Grind over a little salt, and scatter with the reserved crumbs of dough. Bake until the marshmallows are puffy and a little browned  - about ten minutes. 

Surprisingly easy. It was dubbed "s'morestravaganza" at the party, and then "s'morepocalypse" and then I yelled out "s'mored of the rings!" and everyone laughed because you can always count on Lord of the Rings humour to be topical in New Zealand, since they have been making those films here for the last thirty years and will continue to do so for the following thirty years. Or at least that's how it feels.

Pie aside, I was thinking those "where am I going with my life" thoughts, as I am wont to do every time my heart beats, and I have also been thinking a lot about my girl Nigella Lawson. Because she is so important to me and was one of the key people who shaped how I think about cooking, it seems right that she gets mentioned often when I have interviews about my cookbook and so on. I often bring her up myself, as an influence - but I was also thinking...

While I adore Nigella, I don't want to be the next Nigella of cooking. There's only her, and I could only be a diluted, carob-replacement version if that's what I was trying to be. Nope. I want to be the Kanye West of cookbooks. The One Direction. The Mariah Carey. The Lorde. Kanye - he says some ridiculous things but makes so much sense and is all about his art and believing in his worth and generally being so brilliant that he can shoot down anyone who thinks he should keep quiet or be more humble. One Direction are so connected to their fans and recognise the ridiculousness of their situation and seem to just radiate fun and genuineness and also have a million gifs of themselves on tumblr, which I would love to have happen to me one day. Mariah Carey is flawless. But also very flawed. But also flawless. And Lorde - she's such a young woman, and her words are different, and she's not afraid to be clever yet simple, and she has amazing hair. So. Sounds maybe like I'm being toooooo ambitious, but I strongly believe in holding on to your instincts and flinging yourself at big ideas when they are kind enough to appear to you.

I'm sure you all feel so much richer for having read these musings I had about myself while like, washing my hair or painting my nails, but y'know. Look! Pie!

Try though I might, there's no use fighting how far into December we are already. I'm having my annual flat xmas dinner tomorrow night with some friends so dear I'd make some kind of Rudolph The Red Nosed Rein-dear pun regarding them but I'm too tired to make it work. I'm really excited about it though, especially now that I've had my sick day and am feeling more like a human again. So that's what I'll be blogging about next time, as well as my annual list of food-related xmas gift ideas. I like saying phrases like "my annual xyz" as it makes me feel very established, like people will say "well if LAURA said that salted caramel bla bla bla this xmas then I will too!"
title via: Dean Martin, that old so-and-so, singing Marshmallow World. Whether he phones it in or not, I could listen to him sing about the stupidest things, like fornicating trees and candy, for a very long time.
music lately:

Angel Haze, No Bueno. I adore this person.

Turkey Lurkey Time, from the musical Promises Promises. The best thing ever about this time of year: it's Turkey Lurkey Time time! Donna McKechnie is literally a goddess.
Next time: My annual xyz!

29 November 2013

i found my freedom on blueberry hill

Blueberry muffins may seem kinda basic, in every mean sense of the word. But there's no need to frown at yourself for making life as easy as possible. And sometimes all I want is something simple. I want a decent blueberry muffin recipe that's going to be fast to make, while being so much nicer than tough old cafe versions, yet reminding me how they became such a ubiquitous comestible. I have had no time or energy over the last ten days to blog - which makes me so frustrated but also there's not much I can do about it - so these muffins kinda fit where I'm at currently. Also, I should've known from the start that my queen Nigella Lawson would have a perfect recipe in her important book How To Be A Domestic Goddess.

While most of my tiredness and inability to blog is because of work, I did have a rather distracting and tiring weekend away with friends in New Plymouth. It's a five hour drive, which, in the burning summery heat that everyone but me loves, felt like ninety hours, and either way takes it out of you. Admittedly I was a passenger, knitting and drinking cider with a friend who was also a passenger, while Tim was doing allllll the driving, but the point is, I'm the hero here.

We were in New Plymouth for the annual NZ Tattoo and Art Festival, which was so much fun - okay, if there had been more food and air-con and more places to sit that would've been good, but apart from that: lovely. Everyone was friendly, there were older people and younger people and families with toddlers and children, really old people with tattoos and couples with no visible tattoos and people with full Ta Moko and people wearing head to toe leather or fancy dresses or whatever, really, and so many amazing tattoos and stunning artworks. It was all just rather non-judgemental and nice. There were artists from all over the world there, including the talented and babein' Lauren Winzer, whom I was highly thrilled to have booked for a beautiful tattoo. It was interesting lying there on a bench as hundreds of people walked past, but also oddly relaxed - the occasional thumbs up or smile from interested passers-by broke through the general blur and hum that they all melted into as I zoned out.

I could go on about tattoos, but all you really need to know about our weekend is that we saw a person walking two llamas, who were wearing leis, just casually down the street. As if walking a llama through town isn't whimsy enough, let's give them some flower garlands. And also that we spent our Saturday night knitting, laughing at the increasingly ridiculous mash-ups on the one terrible radio station we could find, wincing at our fresh stabs, and eating pizza. 

But blueberry muffins though: don't dismiss them. I forgot how tender homemade muffins are, like a cake but with none of the potential toughness of crumb that you can get - not to sound like the start of an infomercial, where some person in a black and white video is crying elaborately because their cake is too firm to eat easily - just buttery, soft, barely containing the juicy bursts of blueberry. And also ideal for freezing and taking to work and microwaving back to life as a day-embiggening snack.

Also...I'm not sure if you can work this out on your own or not, but don't feel like you have to use blueberries here. I mean, if you don't have them, you could always replace them with raspberries or diced apple or chocolate chips or even just leave everything out and add lots of cinnamon and vanilla. Don't be held back by your lack of blueberries.

blueberry muffins

from Nigella Lawson's important book How To Be A Domestic Goddess

75g melted butter
200g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
75g sugar
pinch salt
200ml buttermilk (or plain yoghurt, or milk and a teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar)
1 egg
200g blueberries (or thereabouts)

Set your oven to 200 C/400 F. Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases, or grease them confidently. 

In a mixing bowl, stir together all the dry ingredients. Tip in the buttermilk, the egg, and the blueberries, and carefully mix together as briefly as you can - I recommend using a spatula, to really dig everything together with the minimum of agitation. Equally, don't get nervous and just gently pat it or something, I mean, it needs to be mixed together. Just not beaten or whisked, you know? 

Spoon even quantities into each muffin hole and bake for around 15-20 minutes. These are perfect after about ten minutes of cooling, split and spread thickly with butter. 

They're gonna be all unevenly shaped, due to them being homemade and all, but the only problem this poses is "what's your strategy to grab the biggest one without looking too uncouth in front of your guests".

So wow, huh, thirty days hath November and all of a sudden we're at day thirty. Did you know that I have a cookbook? And that it would make a really great xmas present (or other seasonal holiday present, or indeed, just a "hi I think you're pretty excellent" present) for pretty much everyone you know? Including babies, who might as well get learning about pop culture references and halloumi early, and who can strengthen their gums by chewing on the softly embossed hardcover?

I'm not going to try and push it to the point of alienating you all, but it would be pretty foolish not to do it a little, right? I know this cookbook is amazing and I want it to be a ridiculous, life-changing success, and 'tis the season for buying stuff heedlessly.

(PS: in case you're wondering, my tattoo is at the bafflingly glamorous healing stage, where it's scabbed and itchy, but once it's healed you'll probably get to see it, if you like. I adore it, and while it's just one of many ways to express yourself, I rather love the feeling of being in control of my own skin and of it being a canvas - might as well, since there's so much of it, not going anywhere - and seeing little flashes of colour and beauty out of the corners of my eyes every day.)
title via: Fats Domino's Blueberry Hill, both mellow and sorrowful at the same time. And generally excellent. 
music lately:

Idina Menzel, Let it Go, from the new Disney movie Frozen. OH WOW. I mean, I'm never-not obsessed with her, but this song is amazing, and I feel like it could be - okay, not a new Defying Gravity. But it's really something. Just get through the first verse, which admittedly could just sound like any other things-are-about-to-get-heartfelt-here song. And then the chorus! Oh, the chorus.

Kanye West, Bound 2. Kimye 4 life! 
next time: hopefully it won't be another ten days till the next blog post. In fact, it definitely won't, if I have to wear my laptop like a jaunty hat. So that it's always there to take the opportunity to write on, I mean, not because I think that wearing my laptop on my head is the solution or anything.

17 November 2013

it's silly when we get into these crazy hypotheticals, you really want some bread then go ahead, create a set of goals

What's really nice is making friends with people to the point where, when you hang out with them, you can just as easily talk and talk and talk about everything there is as the minutes rush by, or sit in companionable, untroubling silence, just being in each other's presence. I haven't always had this in my life, so I'm never-not grateful that I now (and for quite a long time now)...do have this. If you've got such friendship, give yourself a triumphant high five, or better yet, high kick. If you don't, I don't know, don't try to force it on anyone but do your best to spend as much time with the people who make you feel most like yourself. Not that you guys need me to tell you that (did you also know that drinking water is good for you?) just didn't want to, you know, make anyone feel bad. In case I sounded way too smug, don't worry, there's a squillion things I could complain about, it's just interesting to be positive sometimes. Even in this particularly clunky way.

If you've noticed that the photos seem to be in a different place to my house, it means you're a diligent reader and there will be a tasteful sports car as a prize under your seat. But really, it's because I spent all day sprawling at my friend Kate's, where we talked about everything and sat in calm silence on our laptops and - in the ultimate friends-forever-with-hearts-dotting-the-i move, we had a nap together. It was pretty blissful. We also ate this coconut, raspberry and almond bread and butter pudding for brunch. Unfortunately you can't all have a friend that is Kate specifically, (it might be tiring for her) but hopefully you have some equally good friendly people in your life. If nothing else, you can definitely get this pudding with relative ease and certainly none of the potential fraughtness of human interaction.

It bakes into a rather impressive sight, all puffed and golden and studded with lipstick-pink raspberries but is truly simple - all you're doing is taking bread, pouring some stuff over, and half-assedly baking it for a while. It's like falling off a log (and not like "falling off a log...and into a ravine filled with ravenous hyenas and circling vultures," which was my super professional response when my manager asked how a particular task was going at work the other day. It's cool, we get on.)

raspberry, coconut and almond bread and butter pudding

Serves plenty. Ideal for breakfast. A recipe by myself. PS: dairy-free. 

1 french bread stick
1/2 cup frozen raspberries
5 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 can coconut cream
2 teaspoons cornflour
generous shake of cinnamon
pinch of salt
handful of almonds, roughly sliced

Slice the bread into rounds a couple of cm thick - mine fluctuated between 1.5 and 3cm - and arrange in a baking dish where they will fit snugly. Scatter the raspberries over the top, pushing some of them inbetween the slices of bread with your finger.

Mix together the eggs, sugar, coconut cream and cornflour, not particularly thoroughly, just till it's all incorporated. Evenly pour this over the bread slices, and allow to sit for half an hour. Sprinkle the almond slices over the top, and bake at 180 C/350 F for around 40 minutes or until puffy and golden. 

The rich, sweet coconut cream and sour little raspberries are excellent together, and at filling each slice of bread with their deliciousness. Don't be tempted to leave off the almonds, as their toasty crunch is pretty sublime, but you could use another nut instead if that's all you've got. It needs to sit for a while to allow the custard to sink into the bread, but the longer you leave it the less saucy it will be - whatever you do will be the right choice though.

Also leftovers are really wonderful fried in butter. Learned that one from Kate.

It was a rather quiet week, which was really nice - I need a lot of downtime doing nothing to counteract all the times I have to, you know, do things, and I enjoyed doing plenty of knitting and sitting and inhaling TV shows and such. In fact the most exciting thing that happened up until today was -

I got to hang out with a cat!

This cat! Suzie!

I'm at the stage now where cats are basically unicorns to me. (Quick summary: I love cats, landlord won't allow cats despite my very persuasive and brilliantly worded emails, a thousand times sigh.) So rarely do I see one, that every occurrence of cat in my life is thrilling to the point of overstimulation. The cat in the above picture belongs to my friend, who I hate-watched Glee with on Friday night (oh, Glee, you're doing more harm than good) and sadly scratched me after sitting on me for half an hour (the cat, not the friend) but it was still so fun! So cat! 

head boops!

Oh, and it would be remiss of me to not acknowledge how exciting it was that I also finally watched Fast and the Furious 6, which I've been calling 6 Fast 6 Furious for so long now that I had to google it to verify what the proper title is. It was bananas and hilariously fun and miraculously featured several cool women characters. And I will not be talked out of my theory that Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson's and Vin Diesel's characters are secretly in love with each other. 

Quiet though this week was, I still wish, increasingly more so every day, that I had more time to write and focus on this blog and my cookbook and everything I love. Sometimes I forget I even have the cookbook because I have no time to think about it or how I can get more people reading it, and it takes all my energy just to get one blog post a week happening. There are so many projects and ideas and shenanigans I'd love to work on but there is just no time. But - at least there's leftover bread and butter pudding to take to work for lunch tomorrow. 
title via 96,000, from the musical In The Heights, by literal genius Lin-Manuel Miranda. Long title today, but that rhyme pleased me. 
music lately:

Rilo Kiley, I Never. This song is really special. You should listen to it. Obviously, otherwise I wouldn't be talking about it here.

Salt'n'Pepa, Shoop. Few better songs for both dancing to and also driving round town on a hot afternoon to. Okay, there's heaps of songs to fit that description, but this is working for me currently.
Next time: Sounds a bit dull, but I made some blueberry muffins and they were really good. So...maybe them?

13 November 2013

feet don't fail me now, take me to the finish line

Pride (hey there, purple-socked-feet of mine)

Pride goes before a fall. It's not a saying I like, firstly because why can't we just wallow in being proud of stuff sometimes, and secondly because I fall over plenty without the help, nay, the luxury of pride (just yesterday I fell up some stairs.) It's a biblical quote anyhow, and as I'm fascinated by religion but not religious, I guess I can use the old "you're not my real mom!" comeback here too.

the fall (this was supposed to be...cookies.)

In case none of that made sense what I'm saying is that I not only screwed up these amazing pretzel chocolate chunk cookies that I'd planned to make, blog about smugly, and then take to work to make snacking under fluorescent lighting in front of a spreadsheet less bleak...I also, after I had been so pleased with my sleeping progress last time, had a terrible night's sleep, then this entire week have been far too drowsy to blog. It's a little harsh knowing that the world actually isn't going to fall off its axis if I don't update this blog as immediately as I'd like, but I have so little time and try really hard to keep this ticking over while having a full-time job and it frustrates me to my core if I can't do that. So. Plenty of pride going before falling this week.  

But you can't catch me, mere idiom, because here I am, just awake enough to put my hands on the keyboard and make words and with teeth probably about to float away like the fairy-light seeds of a dandelion from eating almost all of the failed cookie dough which, when frantically spatula'd into a pie dish and baked, made at first a huge puffy mess, but after some healing time and investigative forking, the most delicious, fudgy, crisp, caramelly cookie pie thing.

Also I made some dinner that night and that worked, even though it's really just putting some vegetables into the oven for a bit I would not have been surprised by that point if they'd turned out rubbish, too. Not only did dinner merely not fail, it in fact tasted excellent.

I don't know precisely which element of this recipe made the eggplant so meltingly delicious - was it the marinating? The slow cooking? Witchcraft? Either way, I got thinking that it might be fun to marinate slices of eggplant before putting them in the oven, so that their spongy interiors could soak up as much flavour and olive oil as possible, which would then intensify in a slow, warm oven, and then get a little caramelised and crisp-edged with a final blast of heat. Whatever: it worked. While this would certainly make a pleasing side (and you can obviously increase quantities based on numbers that you're feeding) Tim and I had it on its own, on top of some couscous. It was terrific.

kinda-marinated eggplant with lemon, paprika, cumin, olive oil and asparagus

A recipe by myself. It's not cookies, but the price is right. Also, serves two. 

1 eggplant
juice of half a lemon (or all the lemon, if it's a pain to just use half)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
three or so tablespoons olive oil
a handful of asparagus
more olive oil

Slice the eggplant into rounds, about 1cm thick. Layer them in the base of a roasting dish and squeeze the lemon juice over them evenly, then sprinkle the spices on top and pour on the olive oil. Leave to sit for ten minutes. Bake at 160 C for half an hour, then lay the asparagus on top, pour over some more olive oil if you like, and turn up the heat to 200 C. Roast for another 20 or so minutes, till the asparagus looks a little wizened and the eggplant is a toasty brown colour. 

If you can stand the wait, the eggplant is spectacular when just merely warm, not hot. All salty and dissolving and shot through with the gentle heat of paprika and cumin and just so good.

This is not exactly a useful photo of the eggplant dish, but my house was looking really cute in the background so I indulged it. Houses can't take selfie photos so I was just being a good tenant. 

Some other nice, non-failure-y things that have happened lately:

So important. If you haven't read Hyperbole and a Half, the blog from which this book emerged, be kind to yourself and spend all day reading it from front to back. It's everything.

Tim went up to visit his mum and bring home the car we bought off TradeMe (yes, we bought a car, no, the nausea-inducing credit card debt is definitely, definitely worth it, oh yes definitely?) and apparently his mum had some wool she no longer needed and thought I might enjoy. This was my reaction. Snug life! He also brought me back some peonies from her garden after I shrieked at him via txt message that they were the rarest unicorn of them all and like seventeen dollars each in a shop. They've mostly stayed alive, which is a small triumph against nature and capitalism and also really pretty. 

And even though I had a bad night's sleep, while it was happening I felt a lot more calm and relaxed than I used to, and have managed to get myself back on track so that I am, you know, sleeping at night like a human again. And I even managed to finish this blog post. There is a good chance I'll fall over today, but it sure won't stop me being proud of these things (or taking things very literally it seems, I know 'fall' has a broader meaning in this context but...I literally fall over a lot.)
title via: might as well get a case of the morbs with Lana Del Rey's Born To Die. I love this song so much.  
music lately: 

Rick Ross ft Lil Wayne, 9 Piece. I really enjoy a shouty chorus.

Aaliyah, If Your Girl Only Knew. Sigh. Oh, Aaliyah.

Good Morning, from Singin' in the Rain: my desire to watch re-re-rewatch this movie burns with the heat of a thousand french fries.
next time: might even try playing with that failed cookie recipe to see if I can turn it into the caramelly pie it almost became. 

5 November 2013

honey you are my shining star, don't you go away

Guess who has been sleeping through the night for the last couple of days? Actually, that question deserves an interrobang to imply the high stakes at, um, stake here: ME. I know. The universe even rewarded me with a really, really good dream about Pretty Little Liars (hello, obsessed, get in touch if you want to talk about it indepth) but then took that back with a dream about being ignored by friends, but the point is, both of these things were entirely fictional dreams, which took place in my head, while I was asleep. In case you haven't caught up, or are wondering why I'm about to stage a medal ceremony to myself in honour of doing something that most people manage to get on with calmly and without ceremony...Insomnia. I have been in the thick of it for the last month, and it's such an immense relief to get back to my usual six hours. I was starting to not feel like myself. It was scary. 

In an entirely more delightful form of scary, Tim and I had a Hallowe'en party at our house on Saturday night. (I feel compelled to tell you that those are his old Goosebumps books in the above picture, not mine: strictly serialised fiction about Teen Girls Making Their Way In The World for me, thank you. I only read Goosebumps when I was at the reading-the-side-of-the-cereal-box stage of being desperate to consume words. Yep, glad we got that straight.) There was an excellent amount of candy, there was popcorn, and there were other foods that fell into the crispy/salty/crunchy/alcohol absorbing venn diagram, like chips and pretzels and these cheese stars that I made.

Despite being all, hello I'm a cookbook author, I tend to keep this kind of party food low-key. People need feeding, they're not necessarily going to remember everything that was there unless it was awful, now's not the time to be stuffing grape halves with tender figs and goat cheese. Lots of candy, lots of carbs. Make like, one thing from scratch so you look like a good person who cares. Me, I not only made these cheese stars, I also made hokey pokey. Because I'm an awesome person who really cares (yes, your level of greatness/compassion grows exponentially like that with each dish.)


If anyone knows about party food, or in fact anything at all (I'd certainly like to hear her opinion on Pretty Little Liars) it's Nigella Lawson. I knew I could trust her recipe for cheese stars to be calmly simple, and exactly the sort of thing that people want to eat while clutching a plastic cup of homebrew. 

I'm going to say something very serious now: do not eat the dough. You might want to, and I understand that, I live this, but truly, the baked goods are a zillion times more delicious, and you're going to be resentful of yourself for smiting a morsel of dough that could have become another star. 

Cheese Stars

A recipe from Nigella Lawson's seminal text How To Eat. They can of course be any shape, and I did intend to use all my cookie cutters on this pliant dough. But the thought of all those strange shapes mixed up displeased me, whereas a dish full of little golden stars was endlessly pleasing. 

You really, absolutely need a food processor for this one. I'm sorry. 

200g grated cheese (Nigella says cheddar, I used the one on special)
50g softish butter
100g flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Set your oven to 180 C/350 F and put a sheet of baking paper on an oven tray.

Place all the ingredients in the food processor and blitz till they come together. This will take a while, and it will look like they're just going to be fine little crumbs forever, but it will suddenly sieze up and spring together in more of a solid mass. Remove the dough, form into a thick, roughly disc-like shape, wrap in glad wrap and refrigerate for fifteen minutes. 

Roll it out to a couple of millimeters thick - I find it useful to do this with half the dough at a time - and cut into stars or however you like. The dough will get more and more easy to roll the more you do it, and can be re-rolled plenty. Bake the stars for around ten minutes. Carefully transfer to a rack of some kind - they'll get crisper as they cool.

They taste like pastry, like the flakiest golden buttery shards of pastry from a croissants underbelly, like the spatters of cheese that bubble and go hard on the toasted sandwich maker and which are almost more delicious than the sandwich itself, and, after a few drinks, like the most rapturously sublime foodstuff in the world, basically. Thanks, Nigella.

I dressed as Myrtha, Queen of the Willis, from the ballet Giselle. Google her, she's wonderful. But the short explanation is that she's kind of a misandry ghost queen ballerina. Tim's costume was split down the middle - a man in a suit on one half, a woman in a dress on the other. It was impressively committed. And spurred on a lot of impassioned conversations about how ridiculous it is that men don't wear dresses and have makeup marketed to them and so on and so forth. It was a riotously fun party, and it was so great having the house full of excellent people laughing and dancing and mingling with varying levels of aplomb and swapping costumes and everything, really.

A couple of nights of actual sleep hasn't made up for weeks and weeks of near-sleeplessness, but I'm starting to feel more and more like myself. And as I more or less think myself is amazing (self-doubt and self-importance make strange bedfellows) this is a good thing.
title via: supreme slow jam Shining Star, by The Manhattans. 
music lately:

Terribly, terribly sad about Lou Reed now being the late Lou Reed. When I worked in a German bakery when I was 19, I used to play Venus In Furs over and over, very loudly. To the perhaps justifiable concern of my employers whenever they dropped in.

Demi Lovato, Give Your Heart A Break. I love her so much and this song is perfection. So.
Next time: something that doesn't need a food processor, I promise.