22 September 2013

fancy plans and pants to match: soda jerk night at six barrel soda

Yikes, so this happened ages ago, and because I am the worst kid in school I only just remembered it. So with an awkward flourish, welcome to another installment of Fancy Plans and Pants To Match, where I acknowledge that sometimes cool things happen to me, with the aim of doing it in a way that makes you not hate me as you read it. Vicarious thrills ahoy. This segment is named for a quote by Jimmy James, a character in the wonderful 90s sitcom NewsRadio. 

So here's the thing: I got invited to Six Barrel Soda's Visa Wellington on a Plate event, Soda Jerk Diner Night. Yes, the same Wellington on a Plate which finished back in August. 

The pitch: As if Six Barrel Soda wasn't a fun enough place to spend your time, for several nights they transformed themselves into a classic American diner and served up four courses of comfort food, each with a drinks match. 

New Zealand needs more American biscuits. Biscuits > all of us.

What happened: It really had been an unusual day. In the afternoon there was an earthquake large enough for both Tim's and my workplace to tell us to go home, the kind of earthquake where no-one gets hurt but it's big enough to make you cry in public. After we'd found each other and got home and sat there for a bit, the pub instantly seemed like the next logical step. Later on, aftershocks still happening regularly, Tim and I went to Six Barrel Soda where they were admirably sticking to their schedule and continuing with the scheduled diner night. Lucky for us, because the menu went like so:

Round 1:
Biscuits and Island Bay Sausage Gravy with a Mulberry Street, which is Aperol with house-made raspberry and lemon soda.
Round 2:
Mac'n'cheese, served with parmesan and bacon wafers and a Maria La Blanca, made with house chilli vodka, house celery tonic, celery, salt, pepper and hot sauce.
Round 3:
Little Pulled Pork Burger with a kola float, made with house-made Kola Nut soda and Gelissimo gelato.
Round 4:
Pie a la Mode, pumpkin pie with Gelissimo vanilla bean gelato and a filter coffee.

So what we're talking about here is food that's intensely comforting, like the meal equivalent of putting on an old jersey that's recently emerged, cosy and soft, from the drier. But also food that's beautifully, perfectly made, like an expensive jersey that you really shouldn't put in the drier because it will shrink the fabric and ruin it.

mac and cheese, in a cute lil coffee cup. 

Maria la Blanca. Super delicious.

Pulled pork marinated in kola and lime. Could hardly process how good it was. 

The house-made tomato sauce was fantastic too, all sweet and smoky. 

The best bit: Every course was more excellent than the one before, but I particularly loved that they served us American biscuits, those scone-like delights which I firmly believe should be more popular here in New Zealand. And on a practical note, it really was lovely that they continued with the event despite the quakes, because there was no better place to be during nervewracking aftershocks than in the noisy, busy, familiar, wonderful Six Barrel Soda, eating the kind of food that pats your soul on its head reassuringly. Creamy mac and cheese with crisp, salty bacon and parmesan wafers. Rich, dark gravy to dip pieces of buttery, tender biscuit into. Saucy falling-to-pieces pork with crisp slaw. Sweetly spicy pumpkin pie. Their own sodas, hand made with seasonal ingredients. It was just a really brilliant evening. 

pie: not their first rodeo. I do enjoy implying that things might not be someone's first rodeo. 

On a scale of 1 to Is This A Dream: Around a five. This isn't a bad thing: recreating an American diner for the evening means it's going to be relaxed and casual by necessity, but it was still a pleasingly fancy way to spend some time. The whole earthquake context plus the fact that we'd just been to the pub for three hours made it a little surreal, to be fair.

Would I do this for not-free? Indubitably. Six Barrel Soda is one of my very favourite places in Wellington, a home away from home, and it was only that this event sold out so quickly that I didn't spend my own money to go along. They just have an excellent thing going - all convivial, and open, and instagrammable, and if you're in the mood to not just take one person's word for it, let me direct you to my friend Jason's beauteous photos of the place. (He was also one of the photographers for my cookbook. Lucky me.)

Earnest thanks for making me feel fancy to: The nice kids at Six Barrel Soda Co, and the good sorts at Visa Wellington on a Plate. The cafe itself is upstairs on Eva Street - just look out for the sparkly-cool sign - and you can find their marvelous soda at lots of different places, so there's a good chance you can have some vicarious thrills of your own. Thus making them not so vicarious, I guess.

16 September 2013

what kind of girl is she? (are you gonna eat that pickle)

I keep things honest on here. Panic attacks, bad habits, coming out, failed pastry, engagement announcements (not that I've had plural engagements, but it didn't flow so well syntactically in the singular), tattoos, book deals (again, not plural but flows nicer in the plural, as would not explaining the flow of my sentence in the middle of my sentence.) Thus: if it has happened to me and is my story to tell, then there's a high likelihood I won't be able to stop myself telling you about it. But these past few of weeks - or even longer than that, really - some things that have been happening are a bit hard to describe, which is frustrating for a dictionary-nuzzling person as myself, because...I've just been feeling vaguely weird. Not every day, and not every minute, but enough, too much: bad brains, I call it. So many things in my life are so, so good, really, and yet my brain is not catching up with all of this. Bodies! They're so confusing. Life! So odd. No-one prepares you for just the sheer difficult weirdness that is existence. For not being able to sleep, for losing your appetite, for being closely focussed on strange things, for suddenly hyperventilating in the middle of the supermarket after a really good day and then having to lie down for two hours once you get home. But what is easier to explain is how I'm trying to fix it, which is with doctors and medication and counseling and talking to Tim and to friends, many of whom know what it's like anyway, and by trying to be a little kinder to myself. Being even just a little bit kind to yourself is a surprisingly easy thing to forget to do.  

So, um, food blogging, yeah, alright! Actually for those of you who read this a lot, and read between the lines, all this probably will hardly be a surprise. But it's still a thing that's happening to me, and that is mine to tell, so here we are. Luckily, here are some other things that have happened:

It was Tim's birthday on Wednesday. We both took that day and Thursday off work, and it was terrifically fun to just hang out and sleep in and read and watch things and drink coffee and eat brunch and just exist quietly but excitingly so. Except when we went to the Fishhead magazine third birthday party and existed loudly. On Thursday I made Tim his favourite food - lasagne - which, despite trying to bust out of its tin as you can see in the above photo, was amazing. Just straight up amazing.

On the day of Tim's birthday we caught a bus into Newtown and went record shopping and had lunchtime beers, and bought this excellently cheap cabinet, all the better to see our trinkets with. There are now even more things in it, and yet curiously, no noticeable space has been made by moving things in there.

Aaaand, I got some new eyebrows, a shape and tint, something I've never done before. Felt like stronger brows might equal a stronger me, or something, plus the ones my face came with were so pale that they might as well have not existed.

And - I guess you're wondering why I've brought you here - I made some tiny fried pickles! Tiny, tiny deep-fried pickles in puffy, light batter. Like popcorn chicken, but with pickles, and minus the magically delicious herbs and spices (these are really good, but they're no popcorn chicken. Really, what could be? I'm sorry. I should've chosen a better analogy.) They're really easy to make, and for all that deep-frying stuff is a little intimidating in theory, you only need an inch or so of oil in a wide pan, not whole vats of the stuff. And these pickles cook up really, really quick. Drain them, throw them in some smoked paprika and a little more salt because hurrah for sodium, and that's it. 

tiny fried pickles

A recipe by myself. Dairy-free! 

1 jar pickles
1 egg
1/2 cup soda water/sparkling water/whatever you call it in your neighbourhood
1 cup flour
pinch salt
pinch sugar
plain oil for frying

Drain the jar of pickles and slice into rounds. Don't even think about measuring them, but roughly a centimetre wide is a good size to aim for. On the other hand, I'm horrendously fussy and discarded all the ends like some kind of wastrel. Sit the slices on a couple of paper towels. This helps absorb some of the pickle-vinegar, which will help the batter stick and stop it spluttering like whoa in the hot oil.

Then, mix the egg and soda water together, then add the salt, sugar, and - slowly - the flour, and stir to a thick batter. Doing it in this order stops it getting lumpy. 

Heat up about 1.5 inches of plain oil in a wide pan. It has to be properly hot, so try dropping a little batter in it to test once you think it's ready, and it should bubble up and you know, fry. 

Now, it's possible there's a better/more logical way of doing this, but this worked for me: tip all the slices of pickle into the bowl of batter. Take a large spoonful of the pickle-y batter, and with a smaller spoon, push slices off into the hot oil. Some batter may fall into the oil too. This is cool. The lil pickles should take a minute or two to get brown and puffy, if they need it use a pair of tongs to carefully turn them over in the oil, then remove them - still using the tongs - to another plate lined with paper towels and spoon some more slices in. Finally, dust the fried, puffy pickles with smoked paprika and more salt and serve immediately. 

"Are they good?" I asked Tim, and the people he was playing the Game of Thrones board game with, on the afternoon I made these. "Are you kidding? They're like crack!" he replied. "Crack? That's great!" said I.

More specifically, if 'crack' doesn't make any particular flavours spring to mind, and also if deep frying something that you're used to ignoring on a cheese plate at best is your current view on pickles...let me elaborate. Salty, sharp slices encased in batter that's crisply browned on the outside while fluffy and light on the inside, the sweet smokiness of the paprika and the doughy batter tempering the vinegar bite of the pickles. They're really, really good.

Back on the cookbook front, since that still exists and is still the most improbably wonderful thing: I found out today that my book is currently at 6th place on the Independent Booksellers List! Cool, hey? I'm currently trying to plan an Auckland launch party for it (despite having no money, no time, and no brain space) because that seems like...fun! Oh and I have literally had people come up to me and say that they are fans, which is one of the top ten excellent feelings in the world. Yeah excellent feelings! They don't make the weird ones disappear, but they do help balance them out some.
title via: What Kind of Girl is She from the important musical [title of show]. This particular song isn't on youtube, but uh, Die, Vampire, Die from the same musical is, and it's pretty perfect.
Music lately:

The National, the Thanksgiving Song. They did a cover of a song that Lynn Belcher from the wondrous Bob's Burgers sings. It's odd and sinister and not even as good as the cartoon original, but I admire their commitment.

Miley Cyrus, Wrecking Ball. Yeah. This song is so, so good.

Frank Ocean, Super Rich Kids. Dreaminess.
Next time: I did this cool thing with blueberries and chili and lime and stuff and I have no idea what it is, but it's addictively good. If I work out what it is...salsa? I might blog about it. 

9 September 2013

we'd roll and fall in the green

Today has been a bit of a dick, between one thing and another. I took a sleeping pill last night in the hopes that I'd force myself into actually sleeping. It worked, but then I was like a forlorn jellyfish the rest of the day, somnambulant and dopey and fractious and essentially undoing all the good work I had done by having a good night's sleep. And I currently feel queasy, although I can't tell if it's because of the dinner I just made or something else. 

But, as Dave from Happy Endings would say, let's back up. (PS: Max and Jane are my favourites. Also Brad and Alex. And Penny. Just in case you thought Dave was my favourite.)

Yesterday was pretty wonderful. I woke up just before 6am, lightly hungover from a gathering the night before for dear friend Kate's birthday. This early start was for a skype date with Ange, erstwhile flatmate and forever friend, who now lives in London. Also because I can't help waking up hilariously early on the weekend. It all started because Ange and I were emotionally snapchatting about our feelings about Top of the Lake and wanted to discuss them in a less rudimentary fashion, and ended with a "huh, we should probably Skype more often since it's really convenient and stuff."

We had brunch with Kate and Jason, which included an excellently bitter Campari and grapefruit juice. This turned into coffee where we ran into other friends, which turned into record shopping, which turned into ice cream sundaes with fixings leftover from the party the night before, which turned into beers at the pub around the corner. We saw a cute dog, we parted ways, and Tim and I went home to play candy crush and knit (respectively) and watch West Wing. And all I really felt like was eating greens, so I made us this.

Just greens on greens on greens, with some butter and lime juice and sesame seeds to make it more of a meal and less of a pile of stuff that happens to be technically edible. I am a firm believer in just eating what you feel like eating at any given moment, without guiltily focussing on whatever the properties of the food are (admittedly it was only roughly last year that I reached this calm conclusion) and so if I feel like eating a dinner composed largely of bits of plant, then that's what I do. Of course, I could take a hell of a lot better care of myself on a day-to-day basis (my lunch today was basically just coffee and fruit burst lollies, which was down to apathy and stuff rather than actually wanting it) but it's nice when what you feel like, and what you have, and what you're able to make, are all the same thing. In this case, I happened to have a few vegetable-y bits and pieces getting wearily limp in the fridge, and they all benefited from this stirfry-steam-cover-in-butter method. 

greens with sesame lime butter

A recipe by myself. This mix of greens is a good one, but use what you have - beans, courgettes, etc - in the quantities of your choosing. 

broccoli, about half a head thereof
bok choi or pak choi, a bunch
a large handful of baby spinach leaves, or larger spinach leaves, chopped
2 teaspoons sesame oil
25g butter
1 teaspoon kecap manis or soy sauce
1 lime
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1/3 cup cashew nuts

Wash the broccoli and bok choi leaves. Heat up a teaspoon of the sesame oil in a large pan, then throw in the broccoli and bok choi and stir around for a little bit to coat in the oil, then tip in 1/4 cup water and put a lid on the pan, so the water can bubble up and quickly steam everything. Once the water is evaporated, or thereabouts, and the vegetables have softened a little but are still bright green, remove the lid and stir in the spinach. Then remove all of that to a serving dish. Finally, melt the butter in the same pan, stir in the kecap manis, juice and zest of the lime, sesame seeds and cashew nuts. Allow to bubble away until the sesame seeds have browned slightly, then remove from the heat and tip onto the vegetables. Either stir through or take it to the dining table and make everyone wait while you photograph it, because you're a highly strung food blogger.

Broccoli is already a little nutty and sweet, so adding sesame oil and sweet kecap manis only but embiggens everything good about it already. Astringent pak choi and fast-wilting, metallic spinach are helped by the rich butter and crunchy seeds and cashews, and the lime simply brightens everything up with its citrus intensity. It's very simple and plain, but not to the point of nondescript, where you forget that you've eaten immediately after you put your fork down. Nope, this is delicious stuff. And a terrific end to my Sunday.

And then today happened and undid all the good work of yesterday. But I have high hopes for tomorrow, even if Tuesdays are often the worst. If nothing else, there is more knitting (my current project: a black hooded cape) and reading (have finished NW by Zadie Smith, am halfway through Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, am upping my weights at the gym so I can pick up The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton) and more Orphan Black to watch, and I have a list of recommendations of other sleeping pills that won't make me feel like a baffled sock the next day.

PS...I still have a cookbook! It's still strange and exciting and amazing and a lot to take on! If you like, you can listen to a very fun interview I did with Charlotte Ryan at Kiwi FM, where I got to pick some songs as well. I started off making a consciously careful, everything-rests-on-this list of tunes to play, but luckily ended up going with whatever I felt like at the time. What were the songs? You'll have to listen to the interview! Or just ask me, I'm a total pushover.
Title via: Wuthering Heights, a very important song by Kate Bush. If I had a dollar for every high kick I've done to this song, I wouldn't have to worry about getting a good night's sleep for work tomorrow, that's for sure.
Music lately: 

Dear Time's Waste, These Words Stick Me To You. Dreamy.

ASAP Rocky, Problems. Effective, and effectively stuck in my brain.

Had the house to myself for most of Saturday, so naturally played some crowd-unpleasing Broadway and danced out my feelings, or at least some of them. Did some particularly bold pirouettes and leaps to Age of Aquarius from Hair and Heaven Help My Heart from Chess. (musicals with an arbitrary noun for a name, huh?)
Next time: Whatever I feel like, evidently. 

3 September 2013

we like lovin' yeah, and the wine we share

A week and a bit into the cookbook author life, and I'm still very, very much at the pinch-me stage. If you're new to this blog, hello! Get ready to co-wallow in all my feelings and cake batter.

Margaret Atwood probably has absolutely no knowledge of this. But still! But still. But still!

As Tim will tell you (or "my partner Tim" as it rather hilariously refers to him in my cookbook every single time, a bit like how the Baby-sitters Club books would tell you about all sitters' family histories in chapter two of every last book on the offchance you were picking one up for the first time and just had to know whose stepmom was whose) and in fact as I will tell you right now, and not for the first time, I am a cool mix of wildly insecure and wildly over-secure. So I veer between reading my cookbook and saying "Tim, I'm such an amazing writer, how do you cope with it?" and being numb of brain and in a crumply heap in bed and requiring constant bolstering just to lift my head up for reasons I can't even quite work out. Or simply feeling like this will in fact all be like the bit in the Princess Bride where - spoiler - Princess Buttercup is presented to the people but then the old woman comes out yelling "Boooooooo" and saying she's princess of nothing. Luckily nothing specifically like that has happened. Or even vaguely similar to that. Yet?

But seriously, seeing my name there with Margaret Atwood's on a whiteboard ("above her!" said someone. "Near her whatsoever!" I replied) filled me with so many feelings that I hardly knew what to do with myself. On the one hand: of course. On the other hand: how did I manage to fool everyone into letting that happen?

Speaking of such moments, the book launch party at Unity Books was completely wonderful, almost unbearably so - I wanted to claw back the time as it was racing past, just to make the whole thing not move so quickly. It felt almost sick, I was so happy, which is a strange way of putting it but it's like all the emotions in me created a power surge that left me a bit light-headed. There was a great big crowd and so many lovely friends and cool people and Julie Clark of Floriditas launched it with a speech full of nice things about me. And then they announced my name and I stepped up to the mic and everyone cheered! Which is of course, fairly obvious at my own book launch, but wow, as Irene Cara sang: what a feeling. I am a cookbook author. A real one. And I can tell you one thing I'm certain and entirely secure of: I gave a terrific speech. Look, I just really love giving speeches.

A long line of people genuinely wanted their book signed, which was incomprehensibly exciting. Also, I was reminded of how changeable and hopeless my handwriting is. It's...creative?

Being the heedless neophyte that I am, I forgot to organise any photos to be taken and didn't get one single damn selfie the entire night. Despite my careful "I'm an auuuthorrr" outfit of dramatic black Kowtow sack dress and enormous witch hair. (Admittedly, my hair was in a very strange headspace - ha - that night, insisting on being fluffier than a Persian cat, but in the end I think it worked. Not sure why I'm compelled to point this out.) I also forgot to enlist Tim or anyone to video my speech for posterity/family/etc and feel a bit foolish about that. Now all I have are these stupid awesome memories. Unity Books did, however, take a few snaps on the night for their sweet write-up. Unity Books is one of my favourite places in Wellington, nay, the earth, and it was marvelous to be able to get all launched there.

So, the cookbook, huh? Last night I made my Chocolate Red Wine Cake from it, which - and maybe I am just saying this because it's my own recipe from my own book, but I'm pretty sure it's also the truth - is a simple, amazing, reliable chocolate cake that tastes brilliant. Comfortingly slabby in size, dense without being too rich, cocoa-dark without being dry, and the warm rush of red wine helps emphasise everything good about the chocolate without tasting too much of sediment or tannin.

Still getting used to the stove at our flat. But I also rather like the ominous, craggy slash that appeared in the top of this cake, most likely because the heat was up too high (it's really hard to tell on the dials of this unfriendly oven.)

I probably said it best in the book itself, so while I usually rewrite all recipes in my own words, it would be a bit pointless to do it here, yes? So, in my own words:

red wine chocolate cake

recipe from my own cookbook, Hungry and Frozen.

Red wine and chocolate always make sense together, never more so in this sophisticated, yet very plain cake - tall, proud, gleaming with glossy ganache. The red wine is absolutely present, though not overpowering - its oaky darkness going beautifully with the bitterness of the chocolate and cocoa. You don’t have to use your best red here – the sugar and butter rounds out any rough, tannin-heavy aspects that might not be so pleasant by the glassful. Nevertheless, make sure it’s actually drinkable. It doesn’t have to be pinot noir, either – really, as long as it’s red, it should do the trick. 

200g dark chocolate
200g butter
1 cup pinot noir
70g good cocoa
250g sugar
3 eggs
250g flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

200g dark chocolate, chopped roughly
½ cup cream

Set your oven to 180 C, and line the base of a 23cm springform caketin.

Roughly chop the chocolate and butter and slowly melt them together with the red wine in a pan over a medium heat. It'll look like an unholy mess but it will come together. Allow to cool slightly, then whisk in the rest of the ingredients.

Scrape this liquidy batter into the caketin and bake for an hour, but check after 45 minutes. Once it has cooled, pour the cream into a pan and heat till just below boiling point. Remove from the heat, and stir in the chocolate till it melts to form a thick ganache. Pour over the cake. 

Speaking of things that are better in the book, the photo of the cake in there is so much better than mine that it's laughable. Not least because the cake in the book was photographed in natural light, whereas mine above was photographed at night in a dimly lit room because two of our bulbs have blown and both of them are annoyingly particular and require hunting round a shop inevitably called "Mr Light Bulb" while you wonder how a shop can survive solely dedicated to said light bulbs, then see the price on the ones you need to replace. Also my cookbook photographers (and friends) Kim and Jason are spectacular.

My friend Kim, who took many of the photos in the cookbook, did a gorgeous blog post of some of the photoshoot outtakes (which are themselves gorgeous, despite not making it into the book), in case you're a little curious about this cookbook but unconvinced by this blog post alone (which would be...slightly worrying, truth be told.)

I have to admit, I'm looking forward to things returning to normal now. Lies. I want things to get less and less normal. And I was woefully insufferable the day after the launch party because I hate things being over and get bad post-thing comedown. The publicity for the cookbook has been a lot of fun (and if you feel like you've been left out from hearing my schtick then get in touch, I love publicity) and yesterday I got to appear on Radio New Zealand with the excellent Kathryn Ryan, which was a real trip. Of course, in a practical sense, radio does need nonstop content. But I love RNZ and it felt like I'd really hit the big time, being able to appear on there. If you want to listen to my interview, why, you can do that here!

Finally it inevitably behooves me to say the following: if you want to buy my book, and your local shop doesn't stock it (and I would like to add: hurrah for supporting local bookshops) there are some options for you. Unity Books, the wondrous shop where I had my launch, can ship the book anywhere in New Zealand or worldwide if you ask them nicely. It's also available at Fishpond and Mighty Ape, so: choices ahoy!

Title via: Gomez, Whipping Piccadilly. As a commenter on songmeanings.com said...actually you should just read the whole comment, it's a bit unintentionally hilarious. Which is better than being intentionally hilarious and failing at it. Oh, and I really like this song.

Music lately:

David Dallas, Runnin'. oh damn this song is good. Also it was fun to then listen to New World In My View by King Britt, which it samples, and then Sister Gertrude Morgan's I Got The New World In My View, which that samples. Amazing beats, all.

Wu-Tang Clan, I Can't Go To Sleep. The title speaks the truth.

The time has come, the walrus said, to lie on the floor and listen to Rockin' Back Inside My Heart by Julee Cruise over and over and over again. Twin Peaks always gets me with its dreaminess.
Next time: whatever it ends up being, one of these days I will make and photograph something during the day on the weekend so I don't have to be so balefully apologetic about these badly-lit shots.