30 July 2013

if i was a movie star, i'd sip honey from a pickle jar

Sunday started off so productive. I did some deadline-y writing, I made a cake, Tim and I went to the vege market and I made these taco pickles with the fruits thereof (well, with the vegetables). Then a dark case of Sunday night bleakness set in, which I managed to largely see off with some West Wing and yoga. And then I lay awake for ages, as I do, but must have fallen asleep because at 1am I was zapped awake by another earthquake. Nothing huge, just a big rocking jolt that was over quickly, but every single one feels like it's going to be the biggest thing ever. And then another largely sleepless night continued. But really: everything's pretty okay. Sure, last Sunday's big scary under-the-table-for-three-hours quake, and the aftershocks marching resolutely like the broomsticks in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, really sucked. But I keep reminding myself that nothing broke, no-one broke, and I don't want to expend all my resilience on this when I might need it for another time. Take it easy. Everything is cool.

Chose the leafy bunch of cute tiny carrots for reasons threefold: to be annoying, they look cool in photos, and the tiny carrots are sweeter and less bitter than the bigger ones, so ha! Vindicated.  

Despite convincing myself I'm so relaxed and not uptight anymore about these silly earthquakes, while typing this very paragraph two small-but significant aftershocks shook the house. The resolve I pretended to have disintegrated a little. Honestly though, who am I kidding. Relaxed, me, ever? Don't make me laugh. (oh, John Travolta in Grease, specifically. Such a babe.) So I guess what I'm actually saying is, everything is cool until it's not, but I'll worry about it then, and also probably during all the inbetween times, but also acknowledge always that things could be a lot worse and have been a lot worse for other parts of New Zealand and so on and so forth. And also just live in the now, or something.

Luckily these super fast pickles haven't disintegrated! Nice segue, yes? If not, just pretend it was, that might help. I discovered this recipe on evakolenko.com, a photographer's website so stunningly beautiful that I don't know why I even tried to recreate the recipe here, except that that I am audacious and incorrigible. These taco pickles immediately attracted me, with their swiftness of execution appealing to my ever-shrinking attention span, their translucent pink and orange discs of colour appealing to my sense of "hey that's pretty", and their vinegar-sugar-salt content appealing to my tastebuds, which are always craving sourness and sodium. Not to mention the very phrase "taco pickles" is kind of adorable.

I would cautiously assume that any firm-textured or root vegetable could be used here, but the mild sugary-nutty flavour of carrots along with the cool peppery radishes is quite perfect. The only thing I did to change the recipe was add a few coriander seeds, which point up the lemony, herbal fragrance of the leaves and add to the crunch. The brilliant thing about these is that they are so quick and easy to make, and so very versatile. Heap them on top of rice, throw them in a massive sandwich, eat them with cheese and crackers, stand in the kitchen absentmindedly eating them straight from the jar with a spoon.

taco pickles

adapted a tiny bit from a recipe by Eva Kolenko.

Carrots - about 10 small (the smaller the better, for flavour)
1 bunch radishes (or about six? seven? twelve? Just not like, two, okay.)
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 handful coriander leaves
Generous pinch of salt, to taste

Get yourself an airtight jar - everyone loves them these days, so they shouldn't be too hard to find. Scrub, but don't peel your vegetables, and slice them as thinly as you can muster. I find a kind of rocking motion with a large knife against a chopping board is good, but as I went on I got lazier and the slices got thicker. Just do the best you can.

Once you're happy with how full the jar is - it doesn't matter if it's not full, as long as it's not overflowing - tip the vegetables out of the jar into a bowl. Bring the vinegars and sugar just to the boil, allow to cool slightly, tip over the vegetables and stir in, along with the coriander seeds and leaves, and as much salt as you like. I like a lot. Spoon all this back into the jar, pouring the liquid that remains in last of all. You don't actually have to use this order of proceedings, I just found it useful so I could make sure I wasn't overfilling the jar, and also it's easier to mix everything in a bowl rather than the jar. Refrigerate, and eat within three weeks. 

As I said, these can be used many different ways, but the power of suggestion prompted Tim and I to make actual tacos, using some masa flour we got from La Boca Loca. It was all stupidly delicious. Warm, pliantly soft tacos, spicy tomato-rich beef, feta, crunchy vinegary vegetables, sriracha (we were, um, making do with what we found in the fridge, as opposed to being strictly traditional.) Our stupid stovetop kept turning off (it's one of those weird newfangled flat-top touchscreen ones and it is a paaaaaain) so it took about an hour and much swearing to actually fry all the tacos, but even the slightly flabby undercooked ones tasted amazing.

Some other good things that happened recently, to distract me from my distractedness (and also that our car broke down for good, sigh.)

I got to hang out with this kitten and Tim's aunt and uncle's place. Unfortunately I got all cat-needingly wailingly hormonal afterwards, but at the time it was so fun. This little friend had the most satiny-soft fur.


Coffee // 80c packets of off-brand poprocks // knitting, knitting, knitting // the aggressive joyfulness that is On The Town // beer with friends // more tattoo planning and txt conversations with Kate about all the ideas I have // tipsily plaiting my hair with that of two other friends into one witchy braid, just for fun // expending all the feelings I have left on Orange is the New Black // yoga // wedding planning // all the wine leftover from Tim's and my engagement party // seeing talented friends playing live music // buying tickets for NZ Film Festival films // realising it's less than a month till my cookbook, my cookbook is published for real.

And I still adore this formica table.
title via: look, this song Delicious Surprise by Beth Hart isn't the coolest - I mean, that title. But, it is gloriously 90s with those guitars and Americana-aspirational lyrics and also I learned a dance to it at a workshop back in 2000 which I can still remember a tiny bit of, and there's no better way to endear a song to me than for that to happen.
music lately: 

Kate Bush, Running Up That Hill. There's not much dreamier than this. There is thunder in our hearts? Swoon. Also it's her birthday today. HBD, Kate Bush!

Princess Chelsea, Monkey Eats Bananas. I love how sinister but playful this is. Also the rapid xylophone playing. Also the video rules. RULES.

You've Got Time, Regina Spektor. Aka the intro music for Orange is the New Black. It has been in my head at least once an hour every hour every day. Watch out.
Next time: the cake I mentioned that I productively made on Sunday is a lemon cake with white chocolate buttercream, and really delicious, so you bet your butts I'll be blogging about it here next time.

26 July 2013

fancy plans and pants to match: medieval banquet at cq hotel

I'm starting to run out of ways to defensively begin this segment, so perhaps you should just read all the previous ones I've done for the full picture. In short: I sometimes get invited to things, and instead of bashfully pretending nothing happened in case everyone hated me for bragging, I decided I'd challenge myself to write about them instead. In a way that doesn't make people hate me, but instead find out more about cool events or happenings or developments in the world of the food world. I named this segment after a quote from Jimmy James of the utterly excellent 90s sitcom NewsRadio. Because I love him, and also, it would seem, oblique titles. 

So, here the thing: I was invited to CQ Hotel's Midwinter Medieval Banquet. Tim was happy as ever to be squired along also.

The pitch: CQ Hotel was holding (the first of what they hope becomes their annual) a medieval banquet, the ruse being that everyone had to wear costumes and no-one was allowed cutlery. I do enjoy a good ruse, and also the chance to dress up. Tim and I went to this last week, but between earthquake-sleeplessness and after-work busy times, it's only now - on a sick day, of all days - that I've found myself with enough time to recount the evening.

What happened: Tim and I (he in this draped black creation that made him look awesomely sinister, I in this long gold dress I found in my closet that seemed suitable enough) were listed on the seating plan as The Minstrels of Vincent, which pleased me greatly. On account of his being referred to as Mr Vincent at another dinner we once went to, in front of a large crowd. The banquet was held in one of CQ's conference rooms, and the table was wonderfully impressive - covered in sackcloth, dotted with wax and stains, with candles grouped on slabs of wood with fruit and leaves. Soup was brought out to us, but the accompanying spoon was the last time we got cutlery - after that, generous piles of food appeared and we simply had to reach for it and eat it. The menu ran like so:

Leek and potato soup baked in a cob loaf
Beer-braised ham hocks
Roast chicken with garlic and herbs
Pot-roast beef rump with Yorkshire puddings
Roasted beetroot, carrot, parsnip and apple with honey and rosemary
Baked potatoes with cottage cheese
Lemon tarts, nut tarts, pumpkin pie, bread, fruit and cheese.

Impressive, yes? I admit, less impressive are my photos of the evening, due to the authentically low lighting - imagine how hard it must have been to be a food blogger in actual medieval times, though! (Not to patronise you, but in case you emitted a horrified gasp, I do know they didn't have food bloggers back then. Why, it wasn't mainstream till Edwardian times! Okay, I don't even know where I'm going with this joke.)

The coolest bits: Look, dressing up and waxing medieval requires some suspension of sensibilities, which luckily comes very easily to me. Maybe we've been watching a lot of Game of Thrones, but it really was hugely fun to be wearing ridiculous clothes and tearing apart meat with our bare hands (thank goodness for the finger bowls.) And the food, dumped unceremoniously on the table by our servers - in keeping with the theme, not because they're actually bad at their job, I hasten to note - was just excellent. So good that I was almost thinking I could've handled living in Ye Olde medieval times, until I reminded myself about things like stretchy fabric and feminism and Instagram and penicillin. The meat in particular was perfection. Enormous ham hocks, stickily salty and ridiculously tender, beef that fell to pieces, richly garlicky chicken. The vegetables, tender and caramelised, were studded with caraway seeds and provided necessary cut-through to all that rich protein. It was all just so, so good.

Probably the only thing that didn't sit right with me was how the staff serving us were referred to as 'serving wenches' - something like 'minion' would've sounded medieval but not been so awkward? But that aside, the staff themselves were great, throwing themselves into the theme with varying levels of aplomb, and kept everything moving along calmly.

I am terrified of audience participation, so didn't take part in the dancing that ended the night, but it was certainly a nice way to wrap it up, watching people do-si-do-ing to Greensleeves while I nibbled on wonderful spiced pumpkin pie, pleasingly sharp lemon tarts, and welcomely clean, crisp melon slices.

On a scale of 1 to Is This A Dream: This edges towards a 7. Not that it wasn't a wonderful and extravant experience, but more because it was really quite surreal and literally dream-like, wearing flowing robes and tucking into food with one's hands and drinking wine from metal flagons and so on.

Would I do this for not-free? We had a really fun time at this dinner. I do suspect though, and I'm not just saying this to try make myself feel more relevant, that it's the sort of thing that might have flown under my radar if I'd simply seen it on a list of upcoming events. However, if I'd read someone's account of it - oh, say, like the one I'm writing right now - I'd be a lot more interested. I certainly recommend keeping an eye on the CQ Facebook page for any upcoming events though.

Earnest thanks for making me feel fancy to: CQ Hotel, 233 Cuba Street, Wellington. See also CQ Restaurant, Cafe and Bar.

22 July 2013

everything i love is on the table, everything i love is out to sea

Here are some things that happened over the weekend.

Tim and I drank a lot of coffee and started planning our wedding. We went to see Unknown Mortal Orchestra live at Bodega. They were amazing. A guy collapsed in front of me while we were there, which sent a shot of adrenaline to my heart like the "a shot of adrenaline to the heart" scene in Pulp Fiction, but by the time I ran to tell the bar staff his friend had taken him outside. I made burnt butter madeleines for friends Kate and Jason as a small token of my gratitude for giving us this beautiful formica table that they no longer needed. I've always loved formica, but it's near-impossible to get hold of in Wellington, since every cafe and their mother seems to love it, too. 

And I spent three hours - three whole hours to the minute - huddled under the dining table, with Tim, and our friends Kim and Brendan, during a big earthquake, and through aftershock-after-aftershock. So, uh, yeah. The aftershocks continued throughout the night, when Tim and I (I dazedly, Tim pragmatically) gathered medication and a jacket and bottled water and then went to bed. I slept somewhere between midnight and 3.00am, and that was...it. There have been aftershocks all morning. The table that this laptop is sitting on wobbled just before, and it probably will again. Right now my legs and hands are shaking and my head is sort of spacey and my butt and heart are twitching in a syncopated motion and I sincerely can't tell what is tiny aftershock and what is me. 

I'd like to acknowledge a ton of things: everything rattled fearsomely but nothing broke, we weren't hurt, and Christchurch has dealt with this kind of thing x a million. Three hours is a long time to spend under a table, and admittedly we probably could've come out after an hour? Maybe even twenty minutes. But not only did it feel marginally safe under there, it was distracting. We had an instant world to focus our energies in. After the first big, terrifying quake finally subsided, we grabbed a bottle of whisky. Incidentally, the bottle Kim and Brendan gave us for an engagement present, and which we promised we'd drink with them sometime. This wasn't what we'd pictured.

a whole new world.

Soon it acquired chips, pretzels, diet lift, dried fruit, knitting, the laptop that I'm typing this on, soothing music, cushions and blankets, and, as I joked weakly on Twitter, "a French Quarter". While we were all varying degrees of scared, there was some bleak comedy happening under the table as well - like the shrieks of people excitedly playing Candy Crush on their phones jolting the rest of us, or when I elected to play Walk the Line instead of God's Gonna Cut You Down (even if I don't believe, Johnny Cash sounds like he means it), or our various Tetris-like attempts to fit comfortably under there. And just the fact that this was our house, and we had invited our friends there, gave me this unusual ability to channel general we-can-get-through-this Julie Andrews levels of brisk practicality. I mean, I was still kind of a mess, but honestly, relatively Andrews-esque. No one can brisk like her. After we'd dropped Kim and Brendan off at their house, I ended up having to ask Tim to pull over because I was having a small panic attack, I think my brain finally exhaled and stopped putting on a show. Later that night, after trying to lull myself into a false sense of security with Parks and Recreation, which is a surefire way to make myself feel like the world is a better place, I lay in bed absolutely awake, every particle of my body alert and unwilling to sleep. Tim, meanwhile, happy-go-lucky bastard that he is, was clearly half asleep already. And then he was all "we could just talk about stuff if you want, like the wedding" and so we did, even though I knew both of us were only trying to distract me. And it was so damn sweet I nearly cried. Oh no, wait, I did.

We're both home today, partly because of my barely-slept NOPE in response to the world, but mostly legitimately - lots of CBD workers have been sent home or advised not to come in at all - trying to stay calm and ride out the aftershocks. My nerves are coming to pieces like the frayed end of a ribbon and everything feels very weird. A mix of "is this even that bad?" and "is this our life now? Waiting for earthquakes?" 

In the middle of all that, I found a madeleine that didn't make it to the container for Kate and Jason, and ate it. Still good. 

Sweetly ruffled surface and palm-friendly shape aside,  these madeleines may look a little dryly unpromising from the outside. However each bite rewards your mouth with dense, buttery sponge, made rich with almonds and the purposeful, necessary burning of the butter. Madeleine tins aren't the hardest thing to come by, or else I wouldn't have one, but I'm sure you could try making this in cupcake liners and something delicious would still happen. These do take a bit of effort and musclework, but sheesh, your friends just gave you a whole table! 

burnt butter madeleines

recipe from issue 148 of that favourite magazine of mine, Cuisine. I doubled this, and used a whole 70g packet of ground almonds, because I just did.

150g butter
75g sugar
2 eggs
30g ground almonds
75g flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Firstly, get your madeleine tin ready and set your oven to 180C/350F. In a small pot, melt the butter over a high heat, and then let it continue to bubble away scarily until it goes from a bright yellow frothy mixture to a darker, more burnished gold. Sit it in a sink of cold water, or tip into a cold bowl, so it quickly cools down. Whisk the eggs and sugar together for about five minutes, till pale and thick, then continue to whisk in the ground almonds. Sift in the flour and baking powder, alternating with pouring in the butter, and fold it all together gently. Let it sit for fifteen minutes, by which stage it should have thickened up quite a bit. Brush the madeleine tin with melted butter or a neutral oil (or some of the residual burned butter in the pan) and spoon small dollops of the mixture into the tin. Bake for ten minutes, then repeat with remaining mixture, allowing the cooked madeleines to cool on a rack as you go. 

Am fresh out of adjectives, to the point of narrow-eyedly using the Thesaurus app on this laptop for the word 'good'. I can advise, therefore, that these are outstanding, sterling, and simply ace. Like many foodstuffs I like, these are a pleasing melange (that was the thesaurus too) of fancy and plain, soft and spongy and sweet and yet calmly straightforward of flavour - despite the burned butter's richness that I mentioned, they really just taste like sublime (that adjective was mine!) cake.

And I'd like to just mention again that I love the table. Formica is a little nostalgic, a lot practical, and looks damn sweet in photos. 

Today, despite my nerves, brittle and fragile like a crisp meringue, I am enjoying just spending time with Tim and consuming more Orange is the New Black and knitting. It's a bummer we're here under these strange, nerve-wracking circumstances, but we might as well try to enjoy it while we're here and be thankful for what we've got. It's so odd going from being anxious about vague nothingness, to suddenly having that plus anxiety about potential reality, but on the other hand this affliction means I'm pretty much always fight-or-flight ready anyway? It's not right, but it's okay, as the great Whitney Houston once sang. I'm also super grateful for Twitter - the importance of that instant feeling of not being alone can't be overstated. Stay safe everyone, pals, suspicious non-pals, the indifferent. And if someone works out how to, I don't know, throw an earthquake in jail, I'd be open to listening. Especially if there's a robust rehabilitation programme and preventative societal change involved. 
title via: Don't Swallow the Cap, from The National's marvelously dour new album, Trouble Will Find Me.
music lately:

UMO's song So Good At Being In Trouble. Bliss. And what a title.

Frank Sinatra, New York, New York. Rat Pack = soothing to me.

This isn't music, but Tim and I listen to Bob Ducca's list of ailments at least weekly, and did again on purpose last night. Makes me helpless with laughter every time.
Next time: Um. No more quakes, please. Seriously.

19 July 2013

the day the sun turns black and there's a money tree

Here's the thing. (I enjoy saying "here's the thing" before whatever follows, because it makes me feel cavalierly authoritative.) Tim txts me yesterday afternoon to say that he won a $50 bar tab at a nice place in town. This being New Zealand, that buys us two and a half drinks and one snack, but still - drinks are drinks. I suddenly realise two things: time is passing by quickly, and my motivation for making dinner is waning slightly. Also, I'm wearing high heels that are tormenting my feet with the kind of blisters I haven't seen since my days en pointe, also I'm trying to ignore the fact that Tim and I still urgently need to wash a lot of teatowels and dishes after our engagement party on Saturday. Also I really just want to get home, eat some good food, and settle in to watching Luther and Orange is the New Black. 

Rather than us spending money on take-out, I thought we could instead go to the supermarket on the way home and pick up some ingredients for fancy pasta, something that was almost more assembly than cooking. It's Thursday, there has been a smallish protuberance in our bank balance, and we've just had some very free liquor. We can afford some packets of stuff. And really, that's all this is: buying packets of cool things and arranging them on a plate. I call it payday pasta since the ingredients are kind of treats - pistachios, ricotta, and pancetta, oh that Terpsichore of the smallgoods. It has a bonus subtext of being the sort of manageable thing you can make for yourself near-instantly should you have gone out for a drink of an evening. I couldn't actually find pappardelle, which is my favourite of the pastas, but after some feverish deliberation, I improvised by buying fresh lasagne sheets and slicing them up. 

"Pinenuts! They're the definitive payday nut!" and "why can't I bring myself to buy this pancetta even though I set out to buy pancetta...okay we will eat it really reverently" and "why is this dog roll called Wound Dog? No wait, it's Hound Dog. No wait, why does it have a picture of a cat on it?" and "okay, what's the second-fanciest nut?" I exclaimed, as we barreled from aisle to aisle, pallid under the fluorescent lights. And once home, I managed to get out of my high heels and dress and into trackpants and a soft old jersey and make this pasta and get it on the table within twenty minutes. 

It goes without saying, except that I'm saying it now, that you don't have to actually buy pancetta and ricotta and pistachios. You could really sub in 'most any gaspingly expensive protein and as long as you kept the butter-wine-mustard reduction (or gosh, just drizzle over some olive oil) it'll be something. Pasta is very forgiving like that.

payday pasta

(apart from the pasta, I measured everything by handfuls or how much felt right, but in the hopes of being more helpful than that, the below measurements are roughly what happened. Don't feel you have to stick to them to the very last milliliter, though.)

25g butter
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1/2 cup dry white wine
200g pappardelle or fresh lasagne sheets
5 very thin slices pancetta
5 tablespoons ricotta
3 tablespoons raw pistachios
1 tablespoon capers
thyme leaves

In the same pot that you'll later cook the pasta in, bring the butter, mustard and wine to a rapid boil, stirring occasionally, till golden, bubbly, and reduced by half. Meanwhile, bring a kettle full of water to the boil, and, if you got lasagne sheets, carefully cut them into slices about 2 1/2 cm wide. Lasagne sheets tend to come folded up, so it's only a few incisions that you'll have to make.

Tip the butter-wine mix into a small bowl, then fill up the pot with the freshly boiled water, add plenty of salt, and bring to the boil on the stove top. Add the pasta once it's bubbling, and cook according to packet instructions. Fresh pasta only takes a couple of minutes.

Drain the pasta, and divide between two plates. Quickly tear up the pancetta and arrange evenly between the two plates, spoon over the ricotta, the pistachios, the capers, and the thyme leaves. Pour the butter-wine sauce over the two plates of pasta, and serve immediately.

For all that this is mostly assembly, the moving parts of which were very hastily acquired, it's still a coherent and, in case you think I'm damning it with faint praise, a gratifyingly delicious dinner. Pappardelle is enormously fun to eat. So wide and cumbersomely floppy, all the cool, milkily plain ricotta cheese pressing into it as you twirl it round your fork, with elegantly salty, tissue-soft pancetta. I will here point out that you mercifully taste every penny of the pancetta. It's not just overpriced ham. Pistachios add soft crunch, plus pink goes good with green, and the intensely flavoured butter-wine sauce somehow bundles it all together without overshadowing any of the other ingredients on the plate. It's damn good, and worth waiting till payday for.

Sometimes it's fun to spend a little money on something you're just going to make disappear into your mouth as soon as possible. Sometimes that's not an option. In case this all seems too chest-thumpingly pro-capitalism (to which I say please don't ask me about capitalism, it's good, it's bad, etc, and also ouch, chest-thumping) a couple of payday-eve, or indeed anyday pastas you could consider include spaghetti with chili, lemon and olive oil, macaroni peas, and these two guys

What a week, huh. Tim and I finally had our engagement party. Families converging, some of whom hadn't really converged themselves in a while, friends, us, all in one room - I was nervous. In fact for the first half of the evening I distinctly felt like my head was floating about two feet above my body. But it all went really well. And as Tim and I kept reminding ourselves, we're not the only nervous ones, this is our house, and this is a happy occasion. In fact, here's what happened - everyone appeared, there was nonstop talking and laughing and bonding, everyone got a massive laugh at Tim's and my photoboard of us from 2005 till now, the food was excellent and all appeared on time, and it was just a very happy, fun night. I just wish I'd specifically organised a photo of Tim and myself, not least because my hair was ballin' and I had an amazing new black velvet jumpsuit with a short floaty skirt (well...skorts) and enormous bow in the back, but because while making the photoboard we realised we didn't have many recent photos of ourselves together. D'oh. Oh, and I made a FANTASTIC speech. I just did, it's true, don't be shocked by my un-New Zealand lack of modesty! Tim was also there to contribute to the speech once I'd had my ten minutes of ad-libbing (including a musical number fake-out which I'm quite proud of inventing on the spot) in case you're wondering whether I'm getting married to myself, or something. Also, speaking of wondering, we fed everyone (yeah, I like to cater for forty people for kicks) like so:

snacks, chips, hummus-y dips

cornbread-topped chili, vegetarian cornbread-topped chili, paprika-fried tofu, ham in coca-cola, slaw, buns

vegan lemon-raspberry cake, spongebob squarepants candy, nerds, and jelly dinosaurs, dried fruit, grapes and cheeses.

And now we have leftovers upon leftovers (including maybe three thousand bottles of wine) which is the best way to ease yourself out of the inevitable post-event-planning slump. Nervous though entertaining them makes me, because I want everything to be just right, and slightly resentful though I was that they didn't make good on my request to bring the cats down to visit too, it was really lovely to see my family and to show them a fun time in Wellington. And now that Tim and I have got this stressful thing out of the way, honestly, I'm feeling so casual about the wedding itself. For now.

In light of what a week it has been outside of my small world, I recommend you read this piece by the wonderful Questlove of The Roots, who wrote a response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin. I also recommend what David Simon (the person behind The Wire and Treme and have you seen The Wire) wrote in response to it. You could also, counter to what I'd usually say, try reading the comments - there is some fascinating stuff coming out in them. I'd also like to acknowledge what Rob Delaney wrote after the sad, sad news that Glee actor Cory Monteith was found dead. All of them write with far more insight on these subjects than I could, and so I'm happy to just link to them and leave it there.

Finally, let's all reflect upon my knitting progress. After some almost comically prolonged unpicking, I am onto the final square of my blanket. Ready to tackle a hooded cape next, to give me that mysterious-yet-snug demeanour I'm always going for in the winter.
title via: The Money Tree, a gorgeously mournful Kander and Ebb song made all the more so when syncopated with Cabaret's Maybe This Time and sung by the wondrous Julia Murney and Heidi Blickenstaff.
Music lately:

On Sunday afternoon, after spending all Saturday evening there, our friends came back to watch Rock of Ages. I know it is, um, imperfect, but I love it, I just love it. And it is entirely perfect for watching after organising a large stressful party. ANYWAY, wow, anyone else feel uncomfortably red-faced while watching a disarmingly sexy Tom Cruise, who has never appealed to me before, singing Dead or Alive? Don't even get me started on Pour Some Sugar On Me. 

Tim and I went to see local musician Watercolours (who I've talked to on here before!) at Puppies bar. Talk about disarming. I may have blurted out to her that her song Pazzida is in my walk-up-the-aisle-song shortlist. She took it well.
Next time: I had a sudden urge to make a clafoutis on Tuesday. Still haven't made good on said urge, but maybe this weekend?

15 July 2013

fancy plans and pants to match: Boulcott Street Bistro

The story behind this occasional segment on my blog goes a little something like this: though I'm not actually terribly fancy (as I type I am wearing disintegrating trackpants, a jumper of Tim's, socks stained with the red wine I just kicked over) occasionally fanciness is thrust upon me. For I...am a food blogger.

As I've said before, I initially felt like I never wanted to talk about the nice things that happen to me on account of this blog, in case I came across as a self-congratulatory dick (or at least, more so) and in case people were entirely put off by such stories of good times for free. But eventually I decided it might be an even better use of my time if I tried to write about them anyway, in spite of my awkwardness. It's a good challenge to do so and not sound awful, plus I'm not entirely ungracious, plus there's the chance that people are interested in what ideas and events are happening at restaurants and so on. And really, it doesn't happen that often, so the occasional diversion from my usual recipes adds crucial novelty value! Or so I like to think. Finally, I named this segment for a quote from the shrewd and endearing Jimmy James of the wonderful and underwatched 90s sitcom NewsRadio.

With that overwritten and defensive prelude concluded, here's the thing: I got invited to Boulcott Street Bistro to try their T-Rex Burger. Tim, my ever-affable plus-one, was delighted to come along too.

The pitch: Boulcott Street Bistro know a thing or two about the fancy life. Not least because this T-Rex burger won the Visa Wellington on a Plate Burger Wellington competition last year. Chef Rex Morgan is on top of his game, or at least this is what Tim tells me. Tim has been to this restaurant about three times already with his work, whereas I've never once walked through its adorable heritage doors. Not that Tim works in the Long Lunch 80s, but let's just say his employers aren't at the mercy of the scrutiny of the spending of taxpayer's dollars like mine are. Not that either of us couldn't have gone there under our own steam either, had we put our mind to it. But anyway: Boulcott Street Bistro are proud of this burger's big win, and so are offering it for $20 every lunchtime for the whole of July.

What happened: I know weather is so boring to talk about, and yet it also unites us in conversation quite safely in a way that politics or religion can't. So, confidently shall I disclose that it was raining wildly on the Friday that Tim and I went to BSB, absolutely gale-force-bucketing down. Fortunately the restaurant itself provides warm, glowing sanctuary from the outside world, and I was instantly drawn in, like a death's head moth to a light source. Tim and I were presented quite quickly with our burgers, resplendently stacked upon the clean, smooth shoulder bone of an erstwhile cow. A neat pile of fries and a small dish of tomato sauce completed the meal.  Despite burgers being relatively modern it really has a rather prehistoric look to it, hence the name - although its earthy decadence wouldn't feel entirely out of place on Game of Thrones, either. (Tim: um, did it occur to you that the T-Rex name might also be to do with Chef Rex Morgan? Me: omg...no. For shame.)

My dapper date. We were recommended the Tuatara APA (Aotearoa Pale Ale!) and the Emerson's Bookbinder to go with. They're both great beers, although we felt the clean maltiness of the Bookbinder went slightly better with the burger. Wine bar though it may be, the range of beers available at BSB is brilliant. 

The coolest bits: I, for one, was impressed by the imposingly large bone-as-plate conceit.  It just looks reeeeally cool. But that aside, the burger was disarmingly good. Beef upon beef, in the form of a chuck steak patty with BBQ short rib on top, celery mayo, lettuce, tomato all in the clasp of a substantive sesame seed bun. The beef was...sublime. The patty thick and rare, tasting properly of steak, undiluted real steak. The short rib - which I initially thought was brisket, since it had that shredded, falling-apart consistency - was ridiculous. Almost, I want to say, creamy? Just soft and tender and hinting at smoke and tomato sauce and vinegar without distracting from the pure beef flavour at hand. The pile of hand-cut fries didn't look enormous, but were happily the ideal quantity. I like my fries a little crisper, but they were certainly the hot, goldenly salty accompaniment you want with this kind of food. The eye for detail extended to the tomato sauce, cooling, tangy and thick, and tasting of very recent construction. It was a spectacularly hearty thing to be eating on such a bleakly cold day, and it was quite clear how it managed to win last year's competition.

I really wanted to lick my knife, as is my wont, but this place was not only fancy, but in public. 

On a scale of 1 to I Don't Belong Here: 6. On the one hand, this is a relatively tidily priced lunch. On the other hand, I'd never been to Boulcott Street Bistro in my life before because I had this feeling it was slightly out of my reach, and made only for Rich People and Tim on his occasional 80s-style long lunches. So, it was exciting to be able to get through the doors finally, but I wouldn't call this lunch unachievable in real life. Which is super!

Would I do this for not-free? I definitely would. I mean, I couldn't quite insouciantly drop $20 on a lunch casually every day of the week (especially not Payday Eve), but if I framed it as a weekday-improving treat yo'self treat: sure! Achievable as. Last month they had a $20 T-Bone steak lunch, so keep an eye on them for what fun will unfold in future months. And you really do taste every last penny. In fact I'd pay a million bucks to just get that swoony short rib recipe.

Earnest thanks for making me feel fancy to: Boulcott Street Bistro, 99 Boulcott Street, Wellington. Ph 04 499 4199.

13 July 2013

i should tell you: The Phoenix Foundation

Well hello there, and welcome to volume fifteen of I Should Tell You, the segment on this blog where I interview cool musicians from that particular genre of 'those who will reply to my earnest emails'. The same three questions about food every time, just to see what happens. 

Today I am greatly pleased to be talking to nearly every last damn member of The Phoenix Foundation

The Phoenix Foundation are a sparklingly brilliant band from Wellington, whose mellow-yet-stompy music has been delighting ears all over the world since years ago. Should you know nothing of the Phoe-Fou and want in, their jaunty and endearing song Buffalo is a good place to start. I also recommend the dreamy 40 Years with its video directed by local babe Taika Waititi. The fact that the entire band obligingly answered my questions surely demonstrates, if nothing else, how nice they are. Not that niceness is a reason to buy anyone's records: luckily they back up all this niceness by being bloody great musicians too. I've seen them live several times now ("see" being relative. The last time was when they were at Slowboat Records in Wellington and short little me saw naught but the flanks of the man in front of me. And, if I leaned carefully, the top of Luke Buda's head) and it's always a swell time with Grade A banter. Should you be overdue to see them again, or feel like the time has come to see them for the first time, why! Today's your lucky day. They're back from traversing Europe on the back of their grand new record Fandango and are touring the major centres of this fair (or at least, fair enough) country this month. 

19 July The Bedford @ CPSU, Christchurch
20 July Queens, Dunedin
21 July Chicks Hotel, Dunedin
26 July The Cabana, Napier
27 July James Cabaret, Wellington

Tickets can be sought and bought in Wellington at Rough Peel Music & Slowboat, both around the corner from each other, so you might as well make a small shopping spree of it, and in Christchurch and Dunedin from Cosmic.

Thanks again, Sam Scott, Conrad Wedde, Luke Buda, Will Ricketts, and Chris O'Connor! The interview starts...now. 

Sam Scott:

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

It's Chez Panisse in Berkley. Me and my wife were staying with friends in Oakland and a few people had suggested we check it out. Every single thing we ate blew our minds. It was the best service I have ever experienced. We got so carried away by the ambience and perfection of everything that I ended up proposing to my wife half way through the meal, completely unplanned. What I didn't know at the time was that Chez Panisse was a the forefront of the local food movement. They have their own farms, vineyard etc. They brought us a complementary plate of stone fruit to eat while we finished our wine before desert and it was unquestionably the best I have eaten anywhere. 

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

If I'm cooking for anyone I will always make an effort. I love to cook for other people. My wife pleads with me to stop being so fancy and make something simple for once (as I tend to make a lot of dishes). If I'm cooking for myself I make no effort at all. Maybe plain spag with olive oil, lots of pepper and cheddar cheese. 

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

My grandfather lived in Spain and we only got to visit him there once (he came to NZ quite a few times in childhood, he was a cool dude). Pretty much everything we ate in Spain was a revelation, but what stands out to me was the churros sold in the big open air market in Javea. The markets themselves were like a magical kingdom. We certainly didn't have anything like that in Newtown in 1991, but the churros were just unbelievable. Cooked in a huge cauldron of fat over open flame. I pretty much found every churro since these ones to be nothing but a disappointment. 

Conrad Wedde:

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

I dont really like to brag about where i've eaten and havent been anywhere all that flash. but the food in vietnam is pretty amazing...soup on the street or epic banquets washed down with large bottles of beer, theres a place called cha ca la vong(i think) in Hanoi that does beautiful charcoal tumeric fish, I think the street it's on is actually named after the restaurant.

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

rice or soba noodle soup with whatever bits I can find

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

brown rice with grated cheddar cheese and corn fritters with home made tomato relish

Luke Buda:

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

St John's in London probably, because of its lauded "nose to tail eating". Though if I'm truly honest with myself I found my food there mildly disappointing.  I had the Bone Marrow which is one of their signature dishes (found it a bit boring) and some duck thing which was a bit dry… Ha! Damning report. But some of the other guys had awesome stuff.  Tom had braised Ox heart. It was AMAZING. Also my dessert was great. Cheesecake with raisins that had been soaked in marsala for over 3 months.

The one that I am a total fan of however, is MORO (also in London). It's probably as much to do with the fact that I have one of their cookbooks and it's taught me heaps.  But I also like the fact it's unpretentious. It's not really fine dining as such, it's just amazingly tasty food.  Like the Mansaf, their version of it is:  Saffron yoghurt soup with Lamb meatballs and pine nuts.  Simple.  Delicious.  All the meats are wood roasted or charcoal grilled.  Lot's of nuts and yoghurt and all spice and cinnamon and sumac blah blah blah etc etc Your plate comes out COVERED in food. Very very good. Highest recommendation from me.

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

I will almost always head to the Fisherman's Plate in Bond St, Wellington, for their absolutely excellent Pho. Don't be fooled by the way the place pretends to be a mere Fish'n'Chip shop!  The noodle soup is world class (this, of course is an absurd thing for me to say as I have never been to Vietnam BUT it's better than any I had on London's Kingsland Rd, and I had many, at highly regarded Vietnamese joints, well the Fisherman's Plate Pho is superior!).

If i'm cooking for myself… well this hardly ever happens anyway, as I have 2 kids. Or at least, not for dinner. I probably make myself a flash brunch or lunch.  Probably crushed roasted new potatoes with a poached egg, or Shakshuka (a current have, from the Ottolenghi book Jerusalem) or just a nice frittata.

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

Eating an entire giant can of halva. Poland (where I lived until I was 8) is mad on halva! You can buy halva bars in any corner store.  Just as popular as chocolate bars.  Also, whenever my mum would bring home some "serek" (kind of translates as: "cute little cheese") which is basically fromage frais. It was only occasionally in the shops.  ALSO my uncle going to pick little red berries in the forest and then mushing them up with polish cottage cheese (quite different from the NZ variety, totally dry.  You can slice a slice, it's crumbly.  Almost like not salty feta, or dry ricotta) then having that on very thinly sliced rye bread in the morning.

Will Ricketts:

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

i like to brag about a dinner in morocco with ritchie singleton, we ate a whole leg of slow cooked lamb in a sitting. it was unbelievably delicious.

i know that is not a restaurant but cant help despite myself, casually throwing that in when someone mentions a tagine or anything of the morrocan culinary experience.

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

i love to make myself pasta. if i eat out alone in wellington, i am strongly drawn to vietnamese food. my favourites being mekong on vivian st or phong vu in the left bank, to have a rare beef pho.

3. What's one of your favourite food-related memories from your childhood?

hasn't changed thankfully! when i go to stay at mums and i get up in the morning to a freshly cleaned kitchen, the sound of choral music and the smell of fresh bread cooling down on the kitchen table. spoilt i know!

Chris O’Connor:

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

Jesus Maria in Cordoba province, Argentina. Castrating young bulls and frying up their testes for afternoon tea. During asado for dinner that evening there was a cut - saliva glands I think, that seemed to melt in my mouth...

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

Honey smeared roast vegetables with couscous.

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

realizing my thumb tasted rather like chips, and thats why enjoyed sucking it so much.

9 July 2013

excuse my french but i'm in france

I've said before that I obstinately love winter. But I feel that above all, what really connects me to the nose-freezingly, spine-snappingly cold weather more than soft knee socks and duvets and watching dramatic, critically-acclaimed TV shows, and sitting by the heater, is the long and slow cooking of food. Casseroles, soups, stews, they're the kind of thing that make me feel uncomfortably sweaty to consider in summer. But come winter, by putting some time into making meat fall from bones or dried beans swell and tenderise or, I don't know, for other stuff to gradually turn into other stuff, I really feel at one with it all, like this is what I'm supposed to be eating and doing with my time. Despite these recipes usually being quite straightforward, making a casserole or soup from scratch over a matter of hours can feel like one hell of an achievement, and is the kind of food I can only properly enjoy this time of year.

The French, I posit sweepingly, know a thing or two about slow-cooked food. Coq au vin - which basically means chicken a la lots of wine - is excellently fancy but very old-world and rustic at the same time, and really quite easy. Or at least it is when I make it, more an homage than a strictly traditional method.

This recipe comes by way of Nigella Lawson's important book How to Eat. Speaking of important...and a slight trigger warning here...I went back and forth and wrote and deleted things about what has happened to Nigella Lawson recently. I don't want to write clumsily about domestic violence, but I don't want to take her recipe then skate over other things brightly, politely. Much as I adore Nigella from afar, I don't know her. But I do know that what happened to her, what happens to so many people, is not right. If you don't know what I'm talking about, google carefully. If you're about to pick up a newspaper or magazine that looks even vaguely victim-blaming or rationalising of this, or any similar story...maybe take that money and donate it to your local women's refuge instead.

So. Nigella already went and made an easy recipe for this, adorably calling it half-coq au vin. Then I went and made hers even easier, lazy creature that I am.  I suppose I could call it quarter-coq, but I think it's more like two-thirds-coq. Wait, but that's more than half, right? Ugh, maths! I didn't quit it in sixth form for nothing, so let's just get back to the food. You still end up with this intensely savoury, rich, meaty stew with plenty of wine-heavy sauce for spooning over rice or mashed potato, dissolvingly tender chicken thighs, salty bacon, and densely earthy mushrooms. Fry it up, shunt it in the oven, and some time later you have dinner so comforting you could just cry, except there's already enough sodium in there to crystallise all the cartilage in your body, and it probably doesn't need any more. I say this as someone who loves sodium...and doesn't really know much of anything about cartilage. Except that it's creepily fascinating. I'm talking about sharks, yo. Deep-sea creature made entirely of cartilage. Nope, okay, definitely back to the food now.

Note: you could happily, depending on the size of your oven dish, double or triple this and then freeze portions for future good times. Also, there are supposed to be baby onions in this, but I forgot to buy some. Then I figured lots of people are allergic to onions, and I could just tell myself I was one of those people on this day. Note: you can also use 500ml red wine instead of half wine half water.

half-coq au vin

Adapted from Nigella Lawson's seminal text How To Eat

250ml red wine
250ml water 
a sprig of thyme 
2 garlic cloves
75-100g (I kind of grabbed a handful, but my hands are tiny) streaky bacon rashers
6 chicken thighs, boneless and skinless. Although skinless is the bit that matters really.
1 heaped tablespoon flour
12 or so button mushrooms

Set your oven to 150 C/300 F. I used the enamel dish above, which can go on the stovetop and then into the oven. It's joyous! But if you don't have one, just cook everything in a pot and then transfer it to an oven dish before baking. OR you can simmer it in the pot slowly, but I think the oven does a better job of taking care of it - no need to stand around nervously hoping it won't boil over or get burnt.

In a small pot, bring the wine and water to the boil with the garlic cloves and thyme floating around in it, then continue to let it bubble away till it looks like it's reduced by about half. Fish out the garlic and thyme, throwing away or eating curiously, and remove the wine from the heat.

Meanwhile, roughly dice the bacon and fry it in your dish or pot till lightly browned and sizzling. Push the bacon to the side slightly with your wooden spoon or chosen implement, and place the chicken thighs in, allowing them to really sit there and brown on one side. It'll take a while, but it will happen. Halve or quarter, depending on size, your button mushrooms and tumble them in once the chicken's browned. Finally, stir in the flour - it will turn all rough and sticky at this point - allowing it to fry a little, then tip in the wine mixture and another 250ml water. Cover the oven dish firmly with tinfoil and place in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Uncover and serve, as you wish. 

I had the grand idea that, there being six thighs, and this being two-meat levels of extravagant, this could provide dinner for Tim and I on night one, and then lunch for us on day two and three. But then two of the thighs thwarted me by simply falling to small pieces in the sauce. Damn thwarting thighs! But still, two perfect meals out of this is not bad. While we enjoyed it served over rice, I get the feeling it would be sublimely good stirred into pappardelle pasta with some cream. Or spooned over creamy soft polenta. Or served with really crisp fries to dip into the gravy. This is just such superlative stuff.

The thyme really does make a difference, flavour-wise (okay, I will make a laboured joke about time making the difference here) but I don't recommend fronds of it as a garnish like I did here. It got all tangled up sinisterly in the spoon every time I went in for more, like seaweed lazily but determinedly knotting itself round your ankles.

After an idyllically mellow weekend - Friday night drinks and living room dancing, Saturday brunch and knitting and the truly bizarre Mad Max 3, and Sunday morning coffee, afternoon scrambled eggs, and lounging with Luther and West Wing - this half-coq au vin was an wonderfully slow, methodical way to end the week. And after a fairly stupid Monday morning of forgotten things and spilled, badly-made coffee and bitten hangnails, it made for a wondrous lunch reheated in the microwave at work. 

Finally - if you like, but especially if you don't like, you should definitely read my contribution to new site First Comes Love about my top five wedding locations, and my guest post for Holland Road Yarn about being a new knitter. What can I say, it's a good time to ask me to talk to you about stuff! 

Okay, finally-finally: yeah, in case you're wondering, I did make some deeply immature homonym-type jokes about coq the entire time I was making this dinner, and every time I referred to it thereafter. Cracking yourself up with utterly stupid wordplay is the highest form of wit.
title via: the spiky, brilliant, Kanye and Jay Z collaboration ...Paris. Ball quite hard.  
Music lately:

Miley Cyrus, We Can't Stop. Amazingly catchy-fuzzy pop. I do think it's worth reading and acknowledging what Wilbert Cooper has written about this video also.

Metric, Help I'm Alive. Well, that's a great song title. For a great song. I love how sinister yet low-key this is.
Next time: More slow cooking? More cake? Will see where my whims take me, I don't have anything specific planned yet.