26 March 2013

i add two and two, the most simple addition

It's fascinating how faltering memory is. My best friend from high school was in town last night and came to visit Tim and I ahead of a one-way trip to South America in June (we never ever see each other so even though that sounds far away, this is, as they say, it.) I lamented how I could go for six months without making a cup of tea but still know how to make one, while remembering language is like trying to grasp the details of a vivid dream. Unless you're in amongst it, it just slips out from between your fingers the harder you try to grasp onto what you know.

I was also recounting to Tim recently a vague yet arresting memory from my early years: being at the house of a friend of my parents, a supercool sophisticated older girl (probably...nine?) being really nice to me, bawling my eyes out when we had to leave because I liked her so much, and then the girl showing me all her Barbie accessories and saying I could choose any one to take home. Even then at age, oh, six? I was floored by her generosity. In hindsight, it could've been a number of things - she'd outgrown the dolls and could afford to be magnanimous, her mother had stage-whispered at her behind my back to give me something to stop me crying, genuine generosity, who knows? All I know is I ended up with a laughably impressive pink Barbie Corvette convertible. I never saw those people again. Or maybe I did, and maybe I remembered this all wrong, y'know? I'm so sure that's how it went, but memory is tricksy and mercurial like that.

Where am I going with this? Literally nowhere. It's just this recipe is quicker than a sneeze and I wanted to indulge in some vignette-ery. Wanna make something of it?

This is my blog, and I will have my clunky segue and eat it too. I recently got to have the spoils of this roasted butternut recipe, invented by my friend Brendan and made by my also-friend Kim, and it was so good that I was determined to make it myself as soon as the opportunity presented itself. It's also so very simple that words haven't been invented yet to describe how little you have to do to achieve the finished result.

Cinnamon-Golden Syrup Roasted Butternut Squash

Full credit to my friend Brendan for inventing this and letting me blog about it, full credit to Kim for txting me the premise of the recipe after already telling me twice, and for just being great. 

1 butternut squash
2 tablespoons olive oil, or a blasting of cooking oil spray (I didn't have the latter) 
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons golden syrup or brown sugar

Note: did I actually use these measurements? Nooo. I just enthusiastically shook the bottle of olive oil over the cut halves, gave it enough of a crop-dusting of cinnamon so that the surface was speckled and brown, and lightly drizzled over golden syrup from a squeezy bottle. But on the other hand, I appreciate that sometimes actual quantities can be useful when you've never made a thing before, or if you don't cook all the time. 

Slice the butternut in half lengthways, sprinkle over all the remaining ingredients - don't hold back on anything - and roast on a baking paper lined oven tray at about 200 C/400 F (or 180 if your oven is particularly blasty) for about 40 minutes, until it is soft and darkened and almost collapsing in on itself. That is it.

It might sound too simple, it might sound like it's going to turn into pudding, but butternut's dense, firm texture can handle a lot of what you're throwing at it, quietly absorbing all that cinnamon and syrup without turning into creme brulee. The oil and salt are what keep it in check, making it more fulsomely luscious and counteracting the blush of sweetness on the surface, and it smells incredible. Butternut is already a little sweet and rich, and the tickle of cinnamon and stab of salt just points up everything good about it, while slowly roasting it makes it soft and pliant enough that you can plunge a spoon into it. I just dropped a large spoonful of it onto a plate and stirred in butter and more salt, Tim spread his on a slice of baguette and topped it with tomato. The next night I stirred the leftovers into cooked spaghetti with lemon juice, burned butter, capers, toasted almonds and lemon zest. It's versatile stuff. Thanks, Brendan!

Making something so perfect, and perfectly simple was the ideal activity on Sunday night after throwing our friend Ange a Twin Peaks themed birthday/farewell one-two punch party (I just like saying one-two punch, this party had no pugilism subtheme) and also after attempting to make Ange a birthday cake that was far too ambitious in its scope and doomed to failure. A triple-layer bundt cake, make particularly enormous by being layered up on top of a ring cake. It had no structure, it was sliding sideways, bits of bundt were chipping off, it was not the sophisticated elegant thing I'd vainly pictured. Tim returned home from picking up ice to find me recklessly slinging the top layers of bundt into a bowl while Ange laughed, possibly nervously. The blackberry custard I'd made to sandwich together the layers gave the remaining ring cake a kind of blood-smeared look that we decided we really liked, and so I studded it with cornflake chocolate (melted dark chocolate poured over cornflakes, frozen, broken into irregular pieces) and pierced it with long, thin beeswax candles which make anything look dramatic, and suddenly...it worked. But oh damn. It might be a while before I attempt to make a foot-tall, triple layer vegan bundt cake again. On the other hand I did get to refer to myself as Special Agent Fail Cooper.

Photo by the aforementioned Kim. Whose photos from early in the night you should most definitely check out, because they are stunning and my friends are all such babes that I have no more swoons to give.

Fortunately the party itself went off without a hitch, in fact describing it like that does it a disservice. It went off amazingly. Our clever friends Kate and Jason had sent us a rasterbated image of the waterfall used in the opening credits - rasterbation is when you blow up an image across as many pieces of paper as you want and it's all pixellated and it looks amazing - and yes, I cannot even deal with the fact that rasterbating is a word - and we all put it up on one of our walls on Thursday night.

As Saturday went on, the place acquired a black and white chevron rug; a red curtain (actually an old duvet cover, but who can tell in the dark?) red and black balloons; the stunning Welcome to Twin Peaks sign painted by Kate pictured above; a slightly crappy RR Diner sign painted by me; a table full of donuts; a cherry pie (made by me and it was so great, in case you're thinking I'm being self-effacing for the sake of it); lots of coffee; a Wanted sign for BOB; red light bulbs; owls; candles; brie and butter baguettes, and finally: a framed picture of Laura Palmer whose eyes follow you round the room. Even when you uneasily sit it face down on the shelf. 

I went as secret-video-footage Laura Palmer, wearing a turtleneck for the first time since, oh, 2003, a dark green sweater, a tweed skirt, peachy ballet tights and brogues. I sweated myself into a stupor, but it was fun. I had planned to get progressively deader and plastic-wrapped as the night went on, but a guest arrived already wrapped in plastic looking so committed and excellent that I decided - with some small relief - to just stay put. 

Tim was special agent Dale Cooper because who else could he be? We also had a David Lynch, a Bobby Briggs, a swoonful Audrey Horne (that was Ange) a Nadine, a Lucy Moran, a cousin Maddy, a veritable creepy suburb of characters in fact. And because it was a party thrown for someone else, I only knew about half the people in the room and so got to live out my somewhat pitiable fantasy of introducing myself to people and saying one or all of the following: "It's a little lavish, but we call it home"; "We're very informal here, as you can see" or "we're tres liberal". If you hear a faint whooshing sound, it's probably the breeze caused from the collective shaking of heads of people reading this. But I care not.

It was an incomprehensibly fun night, although all the frantic dancing and fun-having and so on merely clouded the fact that I'm going to miss Ange so much when she moves to London. She was the very first person Tim and I met when we moved to Wellington, and while it was no meet-cute ("I guess we're living together...okay bye") we nevertheless have stayed firm friends, getting firmer and firmer as the years go on, our friendship near-on calcifying by this point in fact. Sigh. Partying is such sweet sorrow.

(I also love saying that.)
Title via: The Music That Makes Me Dance, from the musical Funny Girl. I kinda tear up even just typing the name Laurie Beechman, but it's worth the inevitable sniffles to see her sing this gorgeous song. 
Music lately:

I liked it just fine at the time, and I wouldn't necessarily play it for fun on a day-to-day basis, but put R Kelly's Remix to Ignition on and suddenly there's ain't no mountain high enough to keep me from the dancefloor. Verily, this was proven on Saturday night.

I've already mentioned it a zillion times on this blog but in case you've been hiding under a bushel like some self-effacing person's light: Rockin' Back Inside My Heart, from Twin Peaks, sung by Julee Cruise. It gets better with every listen, and not a week goes by that I don't play it about five times over. So.

Bobby Womack, The Bravest Man In The Universe from the record of the same name. A record that I can keep flipping over and over and not get sick of.
Next time: Something slightly more complicated, but...not triple layer bundt complicated. 

22 March 2013

i should tell you: Watercolours

Well hello there, and welcome to volume nine of I Should Tell You, where I interview musicians who comfortably straddle the venn diagram of being both cool and answering my earnest emails. The same three questions about food every time. Why? Just to see what happens. 

This week I'm talking to the super swell Chelsea Jade, aka Watercolours. Every time I go to write something elegant and encapsulating, all my brain can come up with is "swoon". But I'll write something further than that, for the sake of not being unhelpful.  

Watercolours' music is way dreamy, summoning that moment just before I wake up and I'm trying to grasp onto the dream that I'm having but the effort of fighting off waking up overpowers that. (Side note: depending on the dream, isn't that such a let-down?) It's also dreamy in a more general, reviewer-pulling-a-nice-word-out-of-the-air-or-thesaurus sense as well. Dreamy squared. I'm significantly infatuated with her single Pazzida, not least because the music video features a tap dance break (my favourite instance of a music video with tap dancing in it since Mya's important 2003 song My Love Is Like...Wo) but also good to listen to is Over and Under, a remix E.P of some of her older tracks by cool people like Haz'Beats and Jeremy Toy. I saw Watercolours in concert recently when she opened for Cat Power and she was excellent, and that night she tweeted me a photo of an ugly donut which, if those aren't the actions of a person whose music you should be listening to I don't know what is.

Finally, if you're one of those lucky Auckland types living in the city where most of the stuff happens, Watercolours is having an album presale event on April 3 at Alleluya Cafe in St Kevin's Arcade on K Road. Which sounds like fun, although the precise nature of the fun to be had will likely unfold on her Facebook page, so go like it if you like.

Thanks Watercolours! The interview will start...now. 

Where's somewhere you've eaten that you kinda like to brag about or drop into conversation? 

Last night, with mostly strangers in my periphery, I bellowed at a television because I had dined on honey-laden pizza at a Girls season 2 finale location - Roberta's in Bushwick, NYC. Which could qualify as a less than elegant brag. Another awkward brag would be that once I was in Brooklyn looking after Carlen Altman's demon bunny in her bunny palace/apartment and every night I would buy a tub of Ben & Jerry's and eat it alone in her bed while the rabbit ran rampant, gnawing on any dipped limb. I mean, have YOU ever been terrorized by a rabbit whilst eating Ben & Jerry's? Did I mention I'm a self-diagnosed lactose intolerant?

What do you fix for yourself, or where do you go to eat, when it's just you on your own?

I've aleviated my diet of meat recently and will now exclusively cook spinach, coconut cream, paneer curry until it is absolutely vital that I learn a new thing (I get bored of the flavour/there is a world paneer shortage/I have an altercation with a coconut)

What's one of your favourite food memories from your childhood?

Once my well-meaning aunt prepared fish-fingers and placed me alone in a room with them. Somehow I percieved that they were meant to be hidden around the room? They were discovered days later and everyone was pretty disturbed. It's a good memory because it still makes me feel really bad and I suspect I'm some kind of masochist. Later in life, I yelled at a fish stick over a chicken nugget that had fallen on the floor: "IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN YOU!!" So I think there are still some underlying issues there.

I Should Tell You archives:

Jeremy Toy, She's So Rad (March 14)
Hera and Jed (March 7)
Eva Prowse (March 1)
Jan Hellriegel (February 21)
Dear Time's Waste (February 14)
Flip Grater (February 7)
Tourettes (January 31)
Anna Coddington (January 24)

20 March 2013

is this the comfort of being afraid

I believe comfort food is subjective, and what brings solace to me might leave others completely unmoved. Also, all food is comforting in some way, really. But I do love curling up with a significant quantity of the food which warms my soul - generally anything yielding and hot and salty, like very buttery mashed potatoes, or spaghetti with lots of butter and nutmeg, or cheese on toast, or really creamy risotto. Or this thing: pasta, covered in sauce made from minced beef and canned tomatoes, covered in white sauce made with milk and cream, covered in cheese. (PS: I deleted this way enormous preamble about anxiety and the difference between comfort food we seek in times of crisis compared to just eating it because we feel like it and wow are you lucky I edited it out, it because it went on for miles.)

Something I got to thinking about recently is comfort food for the mind: feel-better, everything's-going-to-be-alright pop culture. Food can only do so much, and sometimes you want to take your nervous brain and transport it somewhere else for a while. If your brain is processing something soothing while your stomach is eating something particularly heartwarming? So much the better. In that way that similarities occasionally cluster in your life to make it feel like you're in a TV show with an overarching theme in each week's episode, I'd ended up explaining on several different occasions why I loved a particular thing so much: because when I watched/listened/read etc it, it felt like everything was going to be okay. Since that's not a feeling any of us can take for granted, I decided to investigate it further. (Weirdly, I also had FOUR separate occasions last week of getting frustrated at not being able to find something because it was written on paper rather than being in my inbox. Bet Ray Bradbury's out there somewhere smugly nodding.)

Here's my (whim-based, non-exhaustive, non-alphabetical) list of comfort food pop culture.

- Pop Culture Happy Hour, the nicest, happiest, snappiest podcast I've ever, ever heard. And it's about pop culture, which I evidently have a general thing for.
- The Hour
- Nashville (Connie Britton's mere existence is weirdly comforting, I don't know how she does it.)
- Parks and Recreation (I want to say "you don't understand" but that's unfair. It's just that it's possibly bordering on concerning how much this show means to me.)
- NewsRadio (Caveat: Actor Phil Hartman was murdered between the fourth and fifth season and I cannot physically bring myself to watch anything past the penultimate episode of season four. Just can't do it. Luckily the previous episodes all stand up to being rewatched a million times.)
- Maeve Binchy's book Circle of Friends. (I've never been moved by anything else written by The Binch, but I reread this book every summer and couldn't be happier while it's happening.) 
- Marty Robbins' record Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs. Mmmhmm. Also more or less anything by the Rat Pack. Frankly, if it's from a time where singers were likely to have praised the rich smooth tar of their cigarette company sponsors for keeping their crooning voices shipshape (lookin' at you, Nat King Cole), I'll probably be hugging myself while listening to it.
- Wet Hot American Summer (Or as I call it, "Nothing bad can happen when Wet Hot American Summer is on.")
- The Big Chill (obvious choices are sometimes obvious for a reason)
- Audra McDonald singing more or less anything. 
- Nina Simone singing more or less anything except the sinister Everyone's Gone To The Moon
- Pride and Prejudice, the 1995 adaptation (Although Colin Firth's smoldering and Jennifer Ehle's heavily loaded politeness are almost too hot)
- Much Ado About Nothing, the Kenneth Branagh adaptation (There was a point in my life where I was watching this...literally...daily. I may have also had a small notebook filled with my favourite quotes from it which I carried everywhere)
- Baby-sitters Club books (I regret nothing) 
- Leonard Cohen, the youthful-voice years.
- Wikipedia. Okay. I mean, it can be a little bleak (especially if you're aimlessly searching along the lines of "whatever happened to...") but there's not much I love more than reading about the minutia of various TV shows or one-hit wonders or people's lives or finding out how many towns are called Taft, or just looking up things like "kissing".

There'll be more that I haven't mentioned, there'll indubitably be things that look really good on paper that I've completely forgotten, but if you're feeling all tense and twisty and in need of something to take your mind off bad things and zoom it to a land of delightful, I recommend all and any of the above. The list may look long, but it's carefully chosen - it's not just a case of something being really, really good. I predictably exult The Wire, I do not find it comforting. I am obsessed with many musicals, but listening to, say, Wicked or Grey Gardens will usually leave me more emotionally drained than at ease with life. No, to fall within the soft, inflatable bouncy castle walls of comforting pop culture it has to really make my heart kind of clench and release with happiness at the very thought of consuming it, and give you that rain-on-the-roof, snuggled in a blanket feeling that everything's okay, even if the material itself isn't that uplifting (I see you, Leonard Cohen.) (Admittedly, wikipedia is more what I read when I can't sleep rather than like, a joyous occasion, but I stand by my inclusion.)

On Monday night I made this layered up, just-bordering-on lasagne dish for dinner and Tim and I ate it while sitting on the couch watching The Hour. Comfort food plus comfort pop culture? I nearly dissolved from contentedness. Even if it's only a relatively quick fix, it's a delicious one on all levels while it lasts. I'm not saying this recipe is particularly impressive, or even original - in the same way that various brands will assure you that one of their product is sold every seven seconds worldwide, I'm pretty sure recipes resembling this one are made every single night somewhere. But still, that doesn't mean it's not worth your time.

To clarify some things about the recipe: Yeah, I like my white sauce that buttery, although I can't even tell anymore what is a reasonable amount of butter to the average person, since I eat so much of it. I didn't specify any particular herbs because something about this reminded me of when I was first learning to cook, and adding any dried herbs at all - including those generic Dried Mixed Herbs packets - felt really knowledgeable and sophisticated. Plus, after a certain point on your shelf, most dried herbs start to lose their flavour anyway, so marjoram is just as friendly as basil or oregano or whatever. Finally, I really like adding a little cream or milk to a tomato-beef pasta sauce. It just rounds it out and lusciouses it up stops it just being a recently-frozen lump of mince and an ancient can of tomatoes.

Demi-lasagne (Aw c'mon, let me have that cute name. I know it's still fairly inaccurate. But I hate any recipe that sounds like "pasta bake" and listing the main components fancy cafe-style - Pasta, Mince, Cheese Sauce - won't do this any favours. And it is kinda lasagna-y.)

A recipe by myself. Serves two with leftovers for at least one lucky person the next day. The recipe looks long and complicated but it's just me being talky, promise. 

250g short pasta of some kind. Penne would look better in photos, but spirals is what I had.
1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
300g beef mince
1 tin of tomatoes
2 teaspoons dried herbs of some kind (I went for dried oregano, so old you had to actually plunge your nose inside the package to detect any scent!
2 tablespoons cream
50g butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1/2 cup cream, extra
As much cheese as you can deal with grating in whatever state you're in while making this

Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta according to packet instructions - usually 10-12 minutes makes it edible. Tip the cooked, drained pasta into the base of an oven dish, you know the kind, like big enough that a cat would attempt to fall asleep in it but small enough to stack neatly in your cupboard. Just a typical oven dish. 

While the pasta is boiling, heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the beef mince. Once it's getting to the more-brown-than-pink stage, tip in the canned tomatoes (breaking them up with your wooden spoon if they're the whole variety) and sprinkle over your herbs of choice. Allow it to bubble away merrily over a medium heat till the tomato liquid is reduced slightly, then tip in the cream, allow it to come to the boil again, and spatula the lot evenly over the pasta in the oven dish. 

At this point, set your oven to 200 C. Finally, in the same pan (don't bother washing it out, but at least make sure you gave it a decent spatula-ing) melt the butter, tip in the flour, and continue to stir constantly till it forms a thick, magically delicious paste. Once very thick, and a little darkened, slowly tip in half the milk, stirring continuously. Don't worry about lumps - the milk will absorb into the flour and butter eventually. Slowly add the remaining milk, and then the cream, continuing to stir. Stir the lot for a bit longer over a low heat till thick and smooth, then pour this evenly over the tomato-beef mixture in the oven dish. Then, sprinkle grated cheese over evenly, and bake the lot for ten minutes. If you like, flick the oven over to grill for a few minutes to allow the cheese to get all bubbling and amazing. 

It's almost willfully unimpressive, but also tastes so good and needs nothing more. The joy of eating it is twofold - first of all the texture, in that you barely have to exert yourself, hardly need move your jaw, to eat this layering of the soft and the minced, and secondly in the unthreatening, familiar-to-me, sustaining and rich flavours of the beef and tomatoes with the melted cheese and bubbling sauce. Plus it's all - well, some - of the fun of lasagne without most of the faffing around.

Last Wednesday night the Marriage Equality Bill passed its second reading. By a sound, impressive, prouder-than-I-thought-I'd-be majority. I had a good feeling about it but I also tend to quietly expect the worst as a kind of emotional safeguard. Perhaps related, I occasionally unhelpfully troll myself by reading the letters to the editor of local nationwide newspapers, and gee, will they ever give you a sad outlook on the world. But I won't give any further time to such odium, because it did get voted to the next stage, and there were some incredible, hope-spurring speeches from all sides of the political spectrum.

Which means, amongst so many things, that Tim and I are one step closer to being able to marry! This isn't the only reason this is incredibly important to us, but immediately after getting engaged we gave ourselves this goal - of not marrying unless Marriage Equality went through - and it's pretty thrillsy to be a little nearer to it happening. I'm not quite sure when the next, possibly final reading is. But am cautiously allowing myself to continue to have good feelings about it.
Title via: I love those moments when you hear a song for the first time and it pushes aside everything else you've heard before then because you can't believe music can sound like that. And I don't think having that feeling when you're relatively young makes it any less valid. Aaaand I still love the song One Armed Scissor by At the Drive-In as much as I did when I heard it thirteen years ago.
Music lately:

Metallica, Whisky In The Jar. St Patrick's day did not pass us by unobserved this year.

A few of us went to see Rodriguez on Saturday night. I most definitely recommend Searching for Sugarman, the beautiful documentary about him (although, spoiler alert: reports of his death were greatly exaggerated.) Seeing him in person was astounding. Seventy years old, being helped up to the stage, and yet playing with all the vigor in the world and his voice sounding just as it does on his 1970 record. This Is Not a Song, It's an Outburst, or: Establishment Blues sounded like it could've been written yesterday.
Next time: Another I Should Tell You interview. Whoop!

15 March 2013

i should tell you: she's so rad

Well hello there, and welcome to chapter eight of I Should Tell You, where I interview cool musicians who will answer my emails. The same three questions about food every time, just to see what kicks we can kick up. This week it's Jeremy Toy from the band whose name is also a lovely compliment: She's So Rad.

I'm not even going near the hornet nest that is trying to write a bio, since I've seen them described as a four-piece and a duo but She's So Rad definitely does contain Jeremy Toy and Anji Sami, and I definitely adore their music. You can listen to their album In Circles in its entirety on bandcamp, and you can even buy a copy of it on vinyl, which I totally intend to do soon. The whole thing is effing dreamy, although I do favour the track called Ice Block. Posssibly because I just really like ice blocks. Their single Confetti is all gorgeous too, all swishy and light-reflecting like taffeta. Just listen to everything, okay? But perhaps most of all I recommend losing yourself several million times over in their cover of that pinnacle of utter dreaminess, Rockin' Back Inside My Heart. (From Twin Peaks, so important.)

They also have a new video coming soon and a fresh EP out on Japanese label Wonderful Noise ere long. What! Heard it here first. If you heard it here first. But till then...the interview starts now. Thanks, Jeremy!

Where's somewhere you've eaten that you kinda like to brag about or drop into conversation? 

I took a trip to LA with a couple of mates and one lunch they were on a mission to find this place I knew nothing about. What  we ended up trawling backstreets for (pre-iphone) was Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles. This place is an institution and has fed many a celebrity (Kanye, Alicia, Biggie, Snoop). I foolishly ordered the chicken salad thinking it would be the healthy option however when it came out from the kitchen my initiation to Roscoe's began as before me lay 2 deep fried chicken breasts sitting on a humongous bowl of lettuce and topped off with so much processed cheese that you could barely see the lettuce. My mate did a much better job of ordering and got the classic Chicken and Waffles, 2 pieces of fried chicken, whipped butter, maple syrup and 2 waffles. Amazing. I usually don't like to entertain myself with the trash aspect of Los Angeles as there is so much more to the place than Hollywood and Disneyland but Roscoe's is the one place I recommend to everyone going to LA as it is totally extreme food.

What do you fix for yourself, or where do you go to eat, when it's just you on your own?

Bian at 183 Symonds St in Auckland is my go to place. They do a real good half serve of salmon and rice that gets the job done every time.

What's one of your favourite food memories from your childhood? 

My old man used to do these amazing charcoal barbies. More often than not everything would come out looking like charcoal itself. After one night of brutal inedible sausage charring he took us on a mission with one of his charcoaled sausages and we posted it in his mate's letterbox. 

12 March 2013

you're bleeding syrup, amour

I really like this photo.

I did not specifically bake this cake with aesthetics in mind. I baked it because I thought Earl Grey tea and maple syrup would be a swoon-makingly good pair when in cake form. But I also had the secret hope that I'd be able to ice it all cool and it would look like an Internet Cake. Just wanted to impress you guys, is all. And maybe enjoy the rush that comes with a flood of one-off hits to my blog from people who will probably never read it again or even make the cake via Pinterest, as I am but human and not saint. 

It ended up being a bit more Glittery Nipple than anything else, but no-one ever said glittery nipples were a bad thing - I'm not sure anyone ever said glittery nipple three times in one sentence even. (It's edible glitter by the way, in case you thought my aesthetics really had got the better of me.)

It's a layer cake, even though I could only find one of my 20cm caketins, which meant I had to bake half the mixture, then put that cake on a rack, then bake the rest of the mixture in the same tin. It's not the greatest hardship recorded, but it is a pain. The two cakes were all mountainous, so I had to level one off with a serrated knife. And finally a rogue air bubble appeared in one of them, and I kept getting thumbprints in the icing, but the cake itself just tastes so good, and I told myself that it would be reassuring to the public or something. I also told myself if I was constantly reassuring the public that I'm not all that good at stuff they might not trust me to do anything, like write a cookbook. And then I was like "nope! It's reassuring!" in a strained voice. Besides, Radiohead were singing "try the best you can, the best you can is good enough" through my computer speakers so I took it as a sign. And it's not like it looks terrible. You have to get quite close to see all the flaws, and if you're that close to cake, you might as well be eating it. 

Hack icing job and air bubbles aside, it tastes super excellent. The pillowy buttercream, sweet but darkly so, the cake all tender and awash with fragrant flavour. The buttercream is unsurprisingly all you can taste initially when you plunge your teeth into the cake, but the Earl Grey makes itself known at the end, with a pinprick of orange from the bergamot, and the palest suggestion of tea's clean bitterness.

I haven't even addressed yet that maple syrup is hellish expensive. I probably only buy it once a year, and what can you do with such an ingredient but send it to the cupboard like you're Henry the Eighth, too wracked with guilt over price to actually use it, until eventually you forget you have it or it goes past its best-by date and coagulates. My solution to stop turning delicious maple syrup into Tincture of Financial Self-Reproach, is to use small amounts of it in really good recipes where its flavour can shine. So: this cake. Also, I don't even drink Earl Grey, I'm more of an English Breakfast person, or whatever plain tea is available, consumed black. Well, that was the case until I forgot to have breakfast the other day and so subsisted at work on black tea with spoonfuls of sugar in it till I could meet Tim for lunch. As a result...I think I prefer it sweetened now. It just tastes good. At least, this preference is hardly spurred on by remembrance of the good times I had with it.

Earl Grey tea and maple syrup both have what you could call a complexity of flavour and scent. Earl Grey is all rounded and fragrant with bergamot, while maple is smoky, almost savoury. They are a perfect pair. It's a dick move, but if I didn't have real maple syrup I'm not entirely sure I'd use fake - at least, unless I could find a brand that doesn't put 'synthetic bouquet' at the top of its priorities when taste-testing it. Golden syrup is what I'd use itself as intensely flavoured as maple. But seriously, just ignore me and use maple flavoured syrup if you dig the taste and you have it and you want this cake. I don't want to stand between a person and their hypothetical cake.

Earl Grey and Maple Syrup Cake

A recipe by myself.

Speaking of not a big deal, all you have to do is half-heartedly mix this cake and you're done. Faint-makingly good though the buttercream is, the cake recipe itself is dairy-free, and if that's what you're after you could try baking it in a 22cm tin for about 40 minutes. 

300g flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch salt
175g brown sugar
3 eggs
250ml very strong earl grey tea
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 cup (125ml) plain oil, like sunflower

Set your oven to 180 C, and line the base of two 20cm caketins with baking paper. Or, if you only have one, just do one, but bake two cakes in a row. This is what I did, and it's annoying, but the price is right. Place the flour in a large bowl, then sift in the baking soda and baking powder (sifting is boring but I'm terrified of lumps of baking soda) and stir in the salt and the sugar. Tip in the cooled tea, the eggs, the maple syrup and the oil, and stir thoroughly till it forms a thick, smooth batter. Either divide between the two caketins and bake for about 35 minutes, or tip half into one of the caketins and bake for 25 minutes, then remove it and scrape in the remaining batter and bake for another 25 minutes. Once cooled, slice off the top if you need to, to make a more flat surface for icing, then...ice it.

Maple Syrup Buttercream

180g very soft butter
300g icing sugar
4 tablespoons maple syrup

This may or may not sound like large quantities of ingredients. This is because you need a lot of icing. So. Carefully beat the butter and icing sugar together (icing sugar is wont to fly everywhere) till light and very thick and fluffy. Tip in the maple syrup, and continue to beat to form a thick, gorgeously coloured icing. Spread a large dollop on top of one of the cakes, sit the other cake on top, then carefully spread the rest of the icing over the top and side of the cake. 

Edible glitter entirely optional. I almost covered it in hundreds and thousands, but thought a glint of silver against the pale, buff-coloured buttercream would look devastatingly sophisticated. I...should've known better. But I stand by my cake.

Speaking of standing by stuff, while we wait, fingers ever crossed for marriage equality laws to pass in New Zealand, Tim and I were thinking of having an engagement party. Strangely it was Tim gunning for it more than me, even though I love having parties. I was all "but can't I just hide in bed and ignore everything, like how we're going to get family all in one place and make sure everyone enjoys themselves and that we don't get stressed out by people and vice versa." We also realised, having pooled our life experience, that neither of us really knows what to do at one. The one engagement party I've been to was practically a wedding in itself - tears, speeches, large piles of presents, waiting forever to eat. And ones that I've seen on TV have been either debutante cotillion-esque, or (*spoiler alert but really*) Leslie and Ben's awkward meeting of families on the so important Parks and Recreation. Thus, any advice and thoughts and experiences would be appreciated. Especially if it's given in a friendly way, not in a "if you don't do this exactly you will be naught but the Bride of Failure-stein." I mean, I will ask my married friends what they did, I just thought this would get me more comments on my blog. I mean, would engage with my audience. I mean. Honestly: I just want to hear some opinions from people who have done it, is all, and I bet you have a good one.

Finally: here's something I noticed recently that made me...smile.

At my christening: Before I even grew eyebrows I was furrowing them.

Family photo: I can almost physically feel myself overthinking in this one.

Earlier this year: a relaxed photo I quickly took after getting a fringe trim I was really happy with. 

I recently realised I had all three of these photos on my phone, and had a bit of an "oh, you!" moment at myself. I suspect many of you have been in this situation, where someone - okay, it has never not been an older man - has said something like "smile, love!" or "cheer up!" or the weirdly specific "it might never happen!" All of which seems relatively innocuous to most, but is also so very creepy and imposing, and maybe I want to not smile right now, and stop trying to control my body you YOU FOOTSOLDIER OF THE PATRIARCHY*.

* heard this from a cool friend recently, noted it down for inevitable future need of it. 

I concede that I look grumpy often, but without defensiveness or apology, because frankly there's a lot to be grumpy at in this world. And this is just what my face does sometimes. For what it's worth though, and in typically extreme fashion, I also had the most bared-teeth enormous smile as a child. Total strangers would approach me after ballet recitals to tell me, age eight or so, that I had such a wonderful, huge smile. (This really did happen. Nothing I say on this blog is fictional flourish.) So...yeah. To my original point: Those three photos together made me feel happy inside. 

So did, to bring it full circle, this cake. It's utterly delicious and it's easier to make than it looks and it's fancy and it looks like a glittery nipple. What a coup!
title via: Lana Del Rey's Velvet Crowbar. I almost literally have to limit my listening of her music to very rare occasions because it makes me feel all weird and feelingsy inside. I know what you're thinking: so brave of me to quote it here, then. 
Music lately: 

PJ Harvey, Good Fortune. As freshly obsessed with this song as when I first heard it on the radio. 

Connie Converse, How Sad How Lovely. Connie Converse disappeared in 1974. She left behind a small body of work. Haunting seems to be a dully obvious word to use, but it's hard not to listen to these tunes without that context over the top. This song lives up to its name, is all. 
Next time: New I Should Tell You interview. Woop, there it is! 

8 March 2013

i should tell you: hera and jed

Well hello there. Welcome to the seventh I Should Tell You, where I interview musicians who are both cool and answer my emails. Same three questions about food every time, just to see what happens. This week - in lieu of the so rad She's So Rad who will now be next week - it's Hera and Jed! I first saw Hera a million years ago in Christchurch in 2008 when I was working at the Southern Amp festival (it's 6.30am, don't make me do maths or logic please). She was making music long before then and has continued to work away making music ever since.

A fun fact about Iceland: sometimes, when things are all too much, Tim and I will say to each other (sometimes adorably/really grossly in unison) "let's make a new life in Iceland". Where no-one can call us on the phone and no-one can bother us and we won't be able to read the horrible letters to the editor and everything will be wonderful. Another fun fact about Iceland: it's where Hera is from originally. However Christchurch has become her home, as with Jed, who also plays with the band House of Mountain, and it's from there that they've been making music together since 2011.

Their song Issues, which I adore, is out now. It's sweet and spiky like a friendly cactus and the video is very endearing. I'm not just saying this so you watch to the end, but the end is my very favourite part.

Find 'em at Fledge.co.nz | herasings.com | facebook.com/JedParsonsMusic

Thanks Hera and Jed! The interview starts...now.

Where's somewhere you've eaten that you kinda like to brag about or drop into conversation? 

HERA: There are lots of really special places around Iceland that I love, Hotel Framtíð - in Djúpivogur (a little seaside village, about an 8 hour drive from Reykjavik) has the most amazing langoustine soup.. all garlicky and buttery and comforting.. 
I also had the most perfect meals while touring in Italy - not at restaurants, but backstage in the kitchens of a few of the venues I played, there would be a really big table and everyone would gather for a late dinner, amazing pizzas, salads and yummy cheeses...

JED: There’s a really lovely local restaurant called McDo Nalds, they serve delicious gourmet burgers. You have the choice to upgrade your burger to a “combo” (I think that’s Italian for “even yummier” or something) where you can get a bunch of thinly sliced potatoes and a freshly poured beverage of your choice. 

What do you fix for yourself, or where do you go to eat, when it's just you on your own?

HERA: I can be absolutely useless when I’m on my own, I forget to eat until I don’t function properly, then I eat badly.. but I do love to make pizza, and I have a few favorite salads (lentil and beetroot salads) and I really enjoy baking (much better at baking than cooking..)

JED: Luckily I still live at home and my mummy is the best cook in the world. However, If I’m home alone and I’ve managed to get over the tears and the fear of baddies coming to get me, I can usually nail a meal of 2-minute noodles. I prefer to put as much tomato sauce as possible over top, and then I like to grate half a block of cheese (edam if I’m feeling healthy - I find it is the lowest in fat out of all your standard cheeses) on top of that. 

What's one of your favourite food memories from your childhood? 

HERA: I’m from Iceland, where the traditional food is a little ‘’different’’ We eat dried fish and rotten shark (traditionally served with ‘’Black death’’ an Icelandic liquor) When I was very young, I’d prefer rotten shark over chocolate..  (it’s a pretty amazing thing, think strong smelly cheese but with the texture of squid.. sort-of) 
Also, summer trips to the swimming pool in Iceland were sometimes followed by Ice cream, dipped in licorice sauce and rolled in candy... 

JED: Alphabet spaghetti. That was only on very special occasions. I also ate 25 weetbix in one sitting once (with 2 litres of milk). That’s not really a favorite memory because I felt pretty sick, but I thought I should brag about it anyway. OH, one more... Santa used to bring my brothers and I a tube of condensed milk each and put them in our stockings, that was yummy! He doesn’t come anymore though because one of my brothers swore once. 

(HungryandFrozen's note: omg me too with the noodles and the tomato sauce and the ton of cheese. And I mean like, tomato sauce that you put on a pie or a sausage roll or something, not even pasta sauce.)

6 March 2013

a cottage on cape cod for two, please - two peas in a pod

Me, snugging it up yesterday.

I kind of adore it when I get sick because it means I get to drop responsibilities, and be all snug, and watch TV (I love TV so much) and lie down (I love that too) both things I don't get to do enough of while I'm out there earning money to pay rent. Could you say I look forward to getting sick? As long as it's something manageable, then yeah I do. However, it also probably affected the snappishly creative part of my brain, because I spent last night undoing all the delightfulness of my day off by just staring at this very screen that you read, getting angrier and angrier at my inability to put fingertips to keyboard and write something. Quietly seething frustration didn't prove a reliable model for getting stuff done, and in the end I went to bed. So here I am the following morning at 6.24am having spent 24 minutes slowly, lumpenly writing the second half of this opening paragraph. Maybe I'm still sick? Maybe my brain has given me all it can give ever? Are food blog paragraphs a finite resource? Best not be.

Macaroni Peas

I was very young - maybe five, maybe younger? I was an advanced reader - when I discovered the concept of meta, breaking-the-fourth-wall humour. Of course, smart as I was, I would not have used the word meta then. Why, I didn't even eat couscous for the first time till I was seventeen! "Meta" I probably only used confidently for the first time in 2009. The conduit for this knowledge was important text, The Monster At The End of This Book, featuring Sesame Street's Grover. When he flails and dramatically cries "You turned the page!" after I'd just turned the page? Well. There was a particular deliciousness, a certain "oh wow this is the height of wit and I just feel so clever", which is something the Sesame Street/Muppets empire was very good at - not talking down to children, but building them up. So it was something of a disappointment to be told later in primary school by a teacher that writing a story in class about how hard it was to write a story in class was in fact not the height of wit: just lazy and unfunny. Meanwhile I was all "you know who broke the fourth wall? Shakespeare. In fact I still can't shake that oh-so-in-on-the-joke satisfaction of the wink to camera. You should've seen me laugh in the 2011 Muppets Movie when they're all "oh, okay we'll pick up the rest of the Muppets via montage" and "we'll travel by map!" Even though it was kind of heavy handed, it still just feels like the damn funniest thing for a character to acknowledge that they can see you seeing them.

But using it on this blog, when there isn't even a fourth wall anyway? Okay, pretty blah. But look: here I am! Vaulted paragraphs ahead, and I didn't even (quite) write a blog post about writing a blog post.

I'm not going to try and turn this recipe into some kind of theme-reflecting metaphor: it's just macaroni and peas. It's a recipe I saw in a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingsall cookbook, River Cottage Veg Every Day, and while I loved it I believed I could make it simpler. Some measures I took were practical: his recipe used about seven different saucepans whereas I managed to pare it back to one. Some were just circumstantial: the macaroni was surprisingly fast-moving and I ended up accidentally tipping 3/4 of the bag into the pan of boiling water - to which I responded, well I guess that's how much pasta we're having.

It really is just that simple though - macaroni, boiled peas blitzed in the food processor with my good friend butter and a little cheese, stirred back through the pasta - and while what I'm describing sounds tantamount to upmarket baby food - suddenly it tastes incredible. I think it's the fact that it's blended up - instead of being all these separate ingredients bumping round uncomfortably in your bowl, peas sliding off your fork as they are wont to do, it's instead all amalgamated and bound together and ever so slightly sophisticated. But still very much not so. Ultimately as long as you like peas and pasta in the first place, it's wackily delicious. And so, so easy.

It's also not the prettiest. But it's going to get all chewed up anyway?

Macaroni Peas

Adapted lazily from a recipe in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingsall's book River Cottage Veg Every Day. I apologise if you don't have a food processor - this recipe really needs it. You could try one of those blender sticks for soup, or a blender itself, otherwise maybe go hang with a friend who has one and offer to cook them dinner.

200g macaroni
2 1/2 cups frozen peas (or thereabouts)
75g butter
50g cheese, cubed. Like parmesan or colby or something, whatever you can manage.

You have two options. You can either boil the pasta and peas in two separate pans, or you can cook them one after the other in the same pan. It all depends on your dishwashing capabilities. Either way, cook the pasta in boiling salted water till tender, then drain and place in a large bowl with about 25g of the butter. Cook the peas in boiling water, then remove about 3/4 of them (really, don't worry about the measurements here) and blitz in a food processor with the remaining butter and the cheese, till smooth-ish but still a bit nubbly from the peas. Mix this into the pasta with the remaining whole peas and divide between two bowls. 

Pasta and butter is one of my fallback, can't-hardly-think self-feeding options anyway, and this is barely more effort. The processed peas still have their bright green flavour, but the cheese and butter, swiftly encorporated into them by their heat, bring luxe richness and savoury depth. If you don't have cheese, frankly just double the butter. And vice versa, I guess. It's also weirdly good cold the next day, but I think I might've just been convincing myself that because I couldn't be bothered microwaving it. Which might make me the worst person in the world.

I don't know if you have them overseas, but here in New Zealand, every bunch of years or so we fill out what is called the Census, which is supposed to provide super-accurate data and a snapshot of the nation at a certain point and so on. I was really excited to fill mine out, since I irrationally love filling out forms about myself, and also because several details about myself have changed since I last filled one out. But it ended up being a little vague, and over quickly, and in the end I wasn't sure that I'd really contributed much of a picture of who I am. Apart from the religion-related question, there didn't seem to be anything particularly specific or illuminating in most of the questions. For example, it asked if you were living in a same sex relationship but not if you were actually gay. It gave "walked/jogged" as an example of how you got to work on a particular day - when I would do the former all the time, but never the latter. It did, I concede, ask if you have a fax machine. So we will have some very specific knowledge about faxing capabilities in New Zealand. But still: Tim and I are in there, skewing up the data with our facts. A tiny bit like voting in an election, I feel like a granule of sugar in the sugar bowl, but still satisfied that I've made a small difference.

Oh and speaking of doing stuff about doing stuff: Tim and I recently went to see a local production of [title of show] a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical. We both wrote a review about it on the Wellingtonista. Mine unsurprisingly had a lot of feelings.

And finally...I submitted a video to Hannah Hart's Pitchin' Kitchen thing for her My Drunk Kitchen tour to New Zealand. Because I really, really want her to come cook at our house. I think it would be so great. Oh wow, every time I try to talk about it I come over all inarticulate. I'm not actually quite sure what I'm supposed to do now but wait for inevitable disappointment (or....joy? But probably disappointment. But maybe joy? Shut up, heart of mine) but in the meantime feel free to watch the video if you like. Better yet, ignore my video and go straight to the My Drunk Kitchen channel, because good times ahoy!
title via: Two Peas In A Pod from the terrifyingly good musical Grey Gardens. Or, Grey Gahhhhhdens as I can't help but call it. This song, like several songs in the musical, is like an old-timey song you're sure you've heard before but you actually haven't. True story.
Music lately:

Solange, Losing You. My friend Kate got me on to this song. It is allllll too dreamy. Just how I like it.

I'm Alive, Aaron Tveit, from the musical Next To Normal. I know he's the totally obvious, don't even have to go looking for it kind of handsome, but oh wow. And how. Some might say too babein'.
Next time: got it in my head that an Earl Grey and Maple Syrup cake would be fun (possibly because it was the last day of summer recently and now I'm ready to go FULL AUTUMN.) 

2 March 2013

i should tell you: Eva Prowse

Well hello there, and welcome to the sixth (what!) edition of I Should Tell You, where I briefly interview musicians who are both cool and will answer my emails, about food. Same three questions every time, but what will the answers be? Therein lie the mild thrills. So far I've been lucky enough to talk to Anna Coddington, Tourettes, Flip Grater, Dear Time's Waste, and Jan Hellriegel. This week...well.

This week there was a total kerfuffle, which I guess I could blame on tiredness except I feel I should stop talking about how tired I am because it's like, we're all tired Laura, stop trying to replace your lack of zany personality with talking about your lack of sleep (NB: am so zany.) I usually post this on a Friday, and was planning an interview with Jeremy Toy of She's So Rad, but totally forgot, and then they've got some delicious news which meant I'd be better off posting their interview next week anyway, so I brought next week's interview with Eva Prowse forward a week. At which point I feel like I should link to a picture of Jesus with his thumbs up saying "cool story, bro".

Instead, a picture of Eva Prowse! Wait, did I just imply she was better than Jesus? We'll never find out, because I'm so not going there. Even though - nah, actually not going there. Will inevitably offend.

Apart from being friendly and obliging about me moving round her interview suddenly, what else can I tell you about Eva Prowse? Well, I love her music. Her album, the excellently titled I Can't Keep Secrets, was released in 2010, filled with pretty, folky songs sung in a self-assured, gorgeous voice. You can listen to, and purchase, the entire album on Bandcamp, but if you're looking for just one to start with, the lead single Youngest Child is instantly charming. Eva Prowse has been living in London for a while but is back and working on an album to be released later this year. And she has also been absorbed into the Fly My Pretties family, which is pretty fancy.

Also fancy: Eva drinking a coconut in South East Asia.

Thanks Eva! The interview will start...now.

Where's somewhere you've eaten that you kinda like to brag about or drop into conversation? 

Currently that'd be Vietnam - just the whole country really - although we did have some delicious vegetarian Pho (traditional Vietnamese noodle soup) at a place called 'Pho Real'... 

Everywhere we ate the food was delicious and cheap - we mainly ate with the locals sitting on tiny plastic chairs on the side of the road. Noodles of any kind are always a winner for me, and the street vendors would sell an array of deep fried delights that I probably ate too many of. 

The bonus brag here would be that even though I ate a lot of food off the streets/local street vendors and had ice in my beers, I never once got a sicky tummy situation on the whole trip (I was in SE Asia for a month)! 

What do you fix for yourself, or where do you go to eat, when it's just you on your own?

For cooking it'd be anything that's a one-pot wonder, i.e. one pot to cook/make, same pot to eat. A vegetarian something or whatever with lots of chilli, spices, and salt.

Failing to cook (often the case) then it'd have to be toast - the best food platform of all time, with cucumber, tomato, avocado, and/or vegemite on top.

Oh and cereal for those hungry in between times...or anytime really...

What's one of your favourite food memories from your childhood?

Fairy Bread - it was so pretty, had a magical name, and was full of refined carbs and food colouring - perfect.

When I was living in London last year, I told my workmate all about fairy bread (and other NZ whitebread party treats e.g. asparagus rolls) - she'd never heard of it, no one had over there had in fact. So when it was my last day of work, she made it for my leaving do. Only a handful of workmates tried it, and they all thought it was just weird and the texture was uncomfortable. I thought it tasted like a blissful memory, so I basically polished off the plate and was on some crazy sugar trip for my last few hours of work. 

I've just now realised that reading this interview a couple of weeks ago when Eva sent it to me was probably-definitely what influenced my subconscious to want Fairy Bread myself last week. So, double thanks, Eva! Also, thanks to Jeremy Toy from She's So Rad for being understanding about my forgetfulness. His interview will be next week, hooray!