25 July 2014

i've seen the world done it all had my cake now

I individually plucked and arranged each leaf, it signifies the passing of time
(you know I'm kidding, I just kind of plonked the cake down by these wilting flowers and liked the look)

Baking isn't necessarily what I turn to if I'm in a moody bad mood, despite the obvious benefits - you get to eat something very sweet and channel your energy into creating beauty out of raw ingredients - but there's also a lot of room for error and the amount of times I've magnified a bad mood by completely ruining a cake that I've made to cheer myself up would make you think twice about letting me call myself a food blogger. But anyway, I had a conversation with one of my best girls Kate over coffee yesterday which essentially went along the lines of "I'm so mooooody, today is not good" "bake a cake?" "oh yeah I like cake." "something with fruit in it maybe?" "yeah! Like, a plum cake. A cake with canned plums and peaches in it and...and cinnamon buttercream!" "alriiight!" 

(instagram made the icing way purple-er than it really is) (never stop doing your thing, instagram)

This heat-of-the-moment cake got downgraded to a more simple plum cake with a drizzle of icing sugar mixed with juice from the can of plums, but still. It did improve my mood. For what it's worth, I also freestyled an amazingly compelling potential subplot for Hanna Marin from Pretty Little Liars over that same coffee with Kate, which I then downgraded to "I am not a writer for the show so I guess I'll just like, carry on watching it." I do enjoy scheming, even if it's just a cake or a new life for a fictional character. 

One thing that's always a good idea no matter what mood I'm in is re-reading my Nigella cookbooks. I picked up her important book How To Be A Domestic Goddess from my cookbook stack and it actually fell open right upon the perfect recipe for what I was thinking of - a very simple brown sugar cake with canned plums and ground almonds in it. I fiddled with it a very small amount, mostly by adding some cinnamon and plum juice to the icing because I'm obsessed with making everything smell like cinnamon at the moment, and the cake worked perfectly.

I discovered some electric beaters at the back of a cupboard in my apartment and tried using them to make the batter, and holy wow do they make a difference. I mean, every single cake that you've seen on this blog or in my book has been made with a wooden spoon or a whisk (including the pavlovas) and I can't belieeeeve how much lighter and volumised the beaters make the batter. It's kind of embarrassing, this cake turned out one and a half as big as mine usually do. I really like making cakes by hand but yeah, the results are, if nothing else, making me want to do some push ups or something so I can try and beat the machine.

winter plum cake with cinnamon plum icing

adapted a bit from a recipe in Nigella Lawson's important book How To Be A Domestic Goddess

125g soft butter
one cup brown sugar
two eggs
one cup flour
one 70g packet of ground almonds
one and a half teaspoons baking powder
six plums from a tin of black doris plums, roughly chopped (and stones removed, obvs)

half a cup or so icing sugar
a tablespoon or so of the juice from the can of plums
ground cinnamon

Set your oven to 170 C and line the base of a 20cm springform tin with baking paper. Beat the butter and brown sugar together till it's all light and fluffy and delicious. Continue, beating in the eggs till they're completely incorporated. Fold in the almonds, flour, baking powder and plums. By the way, the canned plums are so soft that I just lift them out one at a time with a spoon, and use another spoon to carve off chunks into the cake batter. But by all means chop them on a chopping board. 

Spatula all this into the caketin and bake for an hour and a quarter, although check it out at after an hour has gone by, all ovens are unique and special snowflakes.  

Let the cake cool for a while in the tin, then run a knife around the inside of the tin and carefully transfer the cake to a plate to cool completely. Although, I could not be bothered and put the icing on the still-warm cake and it was totally fine, but general wisdom would suggest that you shouldn't do this. Either way, mix the icing sugar and a good dash of ground cinnamon with a little of the plum juice - a teaspoon at a time - until it forms something you can drizzle roughly over the cake with a teaspoon. You may get to a point where you've been so liberal with the drizzling that you actually have to give up and cover the whole thing, but whatever, it will be fine. 

The almonds make it all moist and springy and tender, the plums taste so rich and dark and liqueur-ious that it seems bizarre that they're not actually in season right now, and the cinnamon in the dusky pink icing gives it a blast of warmth, that feeling you get when you rush inside from the cold and turn on the heater and feel your bones relax. It's just a very delicious cake and a good reason to stock up on canned fruit, just in case. You could ice this with something more involved, you could add more fruit, you could leave it plain, but the brief kick of pure sweetness from the icing brings it all together and also makes it look prettier. As for the rest of the plums, either eat them from the can, stir them into yoghurt, serve them with porridge, leave them to fester in the fridge and then shame-facedly dispose of them when you're quite sure no-one's home...Seriously though, I cannot get over how the cake was so much lighter and fluffier from being mixed up with the beaters. I shouldn't be surprised I guess, but nevertheless: sigh!

So uh, I guess the plot and subtext of today's blog post is that I am whiny and inobservant, but if you were observant yourself this would not be a surprise. I still love my job but currently while this particular film festival is on I'm working a zillion hours and so with it goes my ability to articulate myself, like flour slowly disappearing through a sieve. It's just two and a bit weeks though, and then I'll be back to my whiny and inobservant self!

Till then, prescribing myself many cups of tea and about 90% of this cake.

title from: this is a Lana Del Rey appreciation blog, apparently, and her song Young and Beautiful from the Great Gatsby soundtrack is typically haunting and exquisite.
music lately:

Courtney Barnett, Avant Gardener. Another of my best girls Hannah introduced me to this song and I knew I'd love it from the title alone but it reeeeally is good.

Janine and the Mixtape, Hold Me. I've talked about this a bunch before but it always gets me.

Sugababes, Freak Like Me. Did you know this is one of the best songs in the world? Especially when it's very late at night and you're trying to close the bar at work and feel like you have zero upper body strength all of a sudden.
next time: Probably more cinnamon, to be honest, I can't get enough. 

21 July 2014

late night, come home, work sucks, i know

I want to be happy, but I'm also always just a little suspicious of it. Just...it seems that so many times lately I've been all "I am confidently happy about this particular thing in my life and it is good and wonderful" and then it all immediately falls apart, as if I broke a spell simply by acknowledging it. This is also a suuuper immature way of looking at things because you have to enjoy life and there are always a ton of factors that could make something nice fall to pieces and if you look for patterns you'll find them and so on. In my defense, I am very immature. Also I guess what I'm describing here is the phrase "pride goes before a fall" but I hate that phrase, like, are we supposed to not take pride in good things? As the queen Cordelia Chase says in Buffy when told she has no shame, "...like shame is something to be proud of?"

So I'll say it carefully but definitely (am almost tempted to make the font three sizes smaller as if that would make the universe not notice it) thus far, I really love my new job. It's so fun. I love being charming with lots of people and meeting all the nice staff and making fancy cocktails with increasing competency and damn, there's even a weird satisfaction to be had from clearing a ton of dishes. Now that I've said something nice about washing dishes it's definitely going to fall apart (okay, admittedly closing up the bar is a bit of a nightmare but even that I'm getting the hang of), but till then: yeah, me!

Now that I'm doing so many late nights (got out at 2.30am on Saturday night, wheeeee) I need to make myself food that can be hoofed down in a hurry on my short break, that will give me energy but also be delicious enough that it makes me happy, stores easily, is filling but without making me immediately fall asleep afterwards...I have no idea if this pasta salad really fulfils any of those ideals because I just liked the thought of it and so decided to make it, but it is seriously delicious. Of course, most anything might seem seriously delicious at 10pm after being on your feet for ages. But trust me. As if I would put a less-than-dazzlingly-spectacular recipe on this blog for you.

pasta salad with broccoli-pumpkin seed pesto, feta, mint and olive oil

oh yeah so it's not even pesto, it's just munched up broccoli and pumpkin seeds, but what, you want to make a recipe called 'broccoli paste'? Nope, pesto it is. 

a recipe by myself

two heads of broccoli 
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
olive oil

100g short pasta like penne, bow ties, rigatoni, that kinda thing
50g feta (or as much as you want) 
a handful of mint leaves
olive oil

Chop the broccoli into small florets. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and gently cook the broccoli in it - stirring a bit, you just want to soften it a little and lose that total rawness, you know? However if it gets a little browned in places that's great too. Tip the broccoli into a food processor, and then briefly toast the pumpkin seeds in the same pan till fragrant and browned slightly. Add them to the food processor too with a pinch of salt, and blitz the heck out of it, scraping down the sides with a spatula occasionally. Continue to process as you pour in olive oil - as much as you like, I probably used about three or four tablespoons. You'll end up with a kind of nubbly, rubbly green substance which you can then spatula into a container and put in the fridge till you need it next. 

To make the pasta salad - cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to the packet instructions (although cooking it in boiling salted water is all there is to it, really) and then drain it under cold water for a little bit, just to take the immediate heat off. Mix together with two tablespoons - or much more - of the broccoli pumpkin seed pesto, the crumbled feta, and the mint leaves, and then drizzle over some more olive oil. 

Bursts of sharp, creamy feta and sweet, icy mint; life-giving carbs and rich pesto - it's brilliant stuff to inhale during a brief sit (who doesn't enjoy a good sit?) but also obviously you can eat this any day, any time, and on a proper plate instead of an old take-out container. The broccoli, pumpkin seeds and olive oil are brilliantly complementary, all the nutty, oily, grassy flavours being smashed together in the food processor. Now that I look at them, "grassy" and "oily" aren't necessarily the most appealing words but they are the most accurate ones I could find in my tired brain today. It is filling but light and keeps for a while in the fridge but honestly the most defining feature of this pasta salad is that it will get green stuff stuck in your teeth in a major way, so totally clean your teeth afterwards if you have to talk to people and sell them consumable items.

it worked! Here's me eating the pasta salad for dinner on my break. It literally saved my life. 

Use the leftover pesto in more pasta salad if you like, or...use it wherever else you might use pesto, I guess. It isn't as liquid as the pesto you buy from the supermarket but it would be terrific stirred through couscous or added to a salad dressing or, you know, whatever.

me before starting my shift, feeling like a ghost. There is no after photo because I was working too diligently to pause for selfies, ha! Actually this could be argued for taking selfies just before work, but...my point stands.

As well as remaining employed for a whole week, another cool thing that I've done recently is have another Crush Cake published on monstrously wonderful website The Toast. This crush cake is for the decidedly late but decidedly great Clara Bow and I'm very proud of it. In your face, pride-going-before-a-fall. 
title from: Blink 182's still-rad song All The Small Things. Back in 1999 before I was all "nope, definitely a lesbian" I had such a crush on Tom DeLong and this was my favourite song of theirs. Also I really strongly hated boy bands and so loved the music video for this song where they send up lots of famous-at-the-time dudes. I don't think I could, like, listen to a whole Blink 182 album but damn if they didn't have some great singles. Oh also disclaimer, my use of this title is ironic. Or sarcastic. Or whatever I have to say to not get in trouble with anyone. 
music lately:

Kate Nash, She Rules. This song is so sweet and simple and scrappy and I love it.

City Oh Sigh, My Love Has Gone. It's...just...too dreamy, I guess.

Pixies, Where Is My Mind. This song stays amazing.
next time: freezing though it is, I've been craving ice cream...

11 July 2014

i'm taking the knife to the books that i own and i'm chopping and chopping and boiling soup from stone

mushroom and lentil soup with sage leaves fried in butter. Thank goodness for garnish huh, imagine how gross this would look without those sage leaves. 

So, I got a job! I am employed, so hard! I'm working at a massively swanky cinema in town at their massively swanky bar, shaky-handedly pretending I know how to make lattes, being sassy with customers, and recommending wines with minor self-confidence. It's rad. It's also pretty tiring, which doesn't necessarily explain why I woke up this morning an hour and a half before my alarm was due to go off, craving some kind of intense, hearty soup. 

But yeah, I got a job! I know it's a tough market out there but I was getting a bit downtrodden there for a while at my perpetual cycle of applying for jobs and getting rejected. Makes you feel like you're at your first school disco getting turned down by all the popular kids when you ask them to dance. Actually I take it back, that scenario is way worse than unemployment. 

While I was lying in bed, and in the time when I wasn't thinking about how I'd regret this careless awakeness later on when my next shift starts at work, I was thinking about soup. Which is unusual for me, soup doesn't hold a ton of interest and I don't eat it very often - I tend to like things that are crunchy, crispy, fried, just generally textural, and so a bowl of liquid has to work hard to appeal to me. Lentils are unlikely to be anyone's definition of "devastatingly sexy as far as food goes" let alone delightful texture-wise, but this recipe just appeared in my head, fully formed, as they often do, and I decided to trust myself and go with it. By the time I went out and got the mushrooms and then came home I wasn't actually hungry any more, but did have some, and can most definitely confirm that it is worth your reading this blog post further (well, it's always worth reading my blog posts, but y'know.)

mushroom and lentil soup with sage leaves fried in butter

a recipe by myself. You could fry the sage leaves in olive oil to make this vegan/dairy free if you wish. 

3/4 cup brown lentils
ten button mushrooms
one carrot
one large clove of garlic
olive oil
one teaspoon or so of vegetable stock powder
25g butter
four or five fresh sage leaves

If you can, pour boiling water over the lentils at least an hour before you start making the soup - it'll help them cook way faster. 

Slice the mushrooms and dice the carrot and garlic. Gently fry them in plenty of olive oil in a medium-sized pot. You want the mushrooms to brown and sizzle slightly, and the carrot to soften. Tip in the lentils and the stock powder and pour over four cups of water. Bring to the boil and then simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the lentils are completely tender. Add more water if it has absorbed/evaporated too much. Remove from the heat and carefully spoon/tip half the soup into a food processor, and blend till it's fairly smooth. Tip it back into the rest of the soup.

Heat the butter in a small pan and throw in the sage leaves, allowing it all to sizzle and bubble until the leaves are crisp. Divide the soup between two bowls (well, that's how much it makes, I had some from the bowl you see pictured here and then the rest will be for another time) (if you care about such semantics) and scatter over the sage leaves. Spoon over a little of the butter if you like, and I do, and then serve. 

I always do this when I talk about lentil recipes - go on and on about how unlikeable they are before trying to convince you that this one recipe I've made is actually good. Sorry, lentils. Sorry you're so unlikeable! Ha. But when I'm not being all Mean Girls up on it, this soup is delicious - simple, robust, the rough earthy flavours of the mushrooms and lentils shot through with nuttish browned butter and aromatic sage. Blending half the mixture gives it some body and textural contrast but you could just leave it as is, or pour cream in, or whatever, really. It's simple, it's very cheap, it's fast, and it tastes rather excellent. The crisp sage leaves cater to my love of crisp things, and as always with soup, I am reminded as I eat it that eating something hot and non-threateningly liquefied in the middle of winter is actually wonderful.

Even more important than my getting a job, my friends got a cat from the SPCA! Her name is Minerva and she is beautiful and I'm smitten with her, both vicariously and in person.

I love her so much that we started to morph into one half-human half-cat creature, it was quite awkward to explain it to my friends who own her. 

So yeah, things will be interesting from now on - well, they always are, sometimes too interesting - as I hold down my job and this blog and my side hustle cookies. Proud of myself though.
title from: Regina Spektor's song The Flowers. Her voice is magic.
music lately: 

One Direction, I Would. These loveable scruffs and their music just makes me so happy! And this is probably my favourite one of theirs. It's just, so...right.

Icona Pop/Charli XCX, I Love It. This song always makes me feel reckless and free, and never more so when it came on the other night when I was out dancing, just when I needed to hear it most. Seriously just turn off the lights and jump and thrash around to this and everything will be good.

Saycon Sengbloh, Young Gifted and Black. Those harmonies, oof.
next time: ummmm...I know not. But it will be good. 

4 July 2014

all i wanna do is cook your bread, just to make sure you're well fed

literal banana bread 

Me oh my, guess who has been busy lately? Me of course, who else do I talk about on here. I mean, this blog post opens with two sentences both starting with the word "me". And then a sentence beginning with "I". Well, that's why it's called "a blog" and not "a Place of Altruistic Humility", I guess. Pop psychology aside, I have been one busy kitten recently, and happily, it's all stuff that I enjoy doing. Like freelance writing and starting a small yet successful chocolate cookie dough pretzel thing delivery business. The latter of which was a clever idea by my clever friend Kate, which I kind of dismissed at first - not because I thought it was a bad idea, but because I thought no-one would care. Turns out people care hard about my cookie dough pretzel things. I have been striding all over town, getting way more exercise than I care for, dropping off parcels of chocolatey salty-sugary glory to both suspecting and unsuspecting people. The unsuspecting ones are fun - when people order them as a surprise for a friend, and then I get to appear at their work saying "hello, you don't know me, but I'm Laura and I started a small cookie delivery business and your friend ordered some for you." Cookie dough is sweet, but so is being the recipient of a human being's surprised joy, I've come to learn.

I'm still drifting around in a "what am I doing with my life what's to become of me I'm still not a famous cookbook empire-wielding squillionaire with many tumblr fansites dedicated to me yet I have clearly failed wait chill out Laura it's only Tuesday" kind of haze, but am definitely feeling more productive now that I'm making it rain cookie dough. And it also means that this week I'm paying my rent with money that exists, instead of doing it with my credit card!

Speaking of being super-unemployed, I am feeling very reproachful towards myself for not using the time I had being all jobless to make like, make falling-to-pieces-tender casseroles and brisket and hummus from scratch using soaked dried chickpeas and brioche and rich broth and so on and such. Time flies when you're not making the most of it to make exquisite slow-cooked food, I tell you. However, I did make one thing that befits the time on my hands: literal banana bread, from my cookbook. My underground, rare collector's item, soon-to-be-out-of-print, definitely-have-come-to-terms-with-this-lololol cookbook.

This is the photo that appears in my cookbook. Kim and Jason did all the beauteous photos for it, but neither could remember who took this one, so I'm going to praise them both just to be diplomatic. All I know for sure is that my nails were painted this way because I dressed up as a Gold Lion for a party the previous night. 

This is a really easy recipe, because you don't have to do any kneading. Just stir and wait and bake. It's charmingly simple. The bananas take the place of any fat and sugar that you might add normally, not because I don't adore both those things, but because I wanted to see if bananas had it in them to be used in a yeasted bread recipe as the major source of flavour and sweetness. Also I really like the idea of using the word "literal" in a recipe title. Y'know, because banana cake baked in a loaf tin is called banana bread, but this is actual bread made with bananas, so the title is literally justified.

literal banana bread

a recipe by myself, from my soon-to-be rare cult hit collector's item cookbook Hungry and Frozen. Makes one large loaf.

500g flour
one sachet dried instant yeast
one teaspoon salt
two ripe bananas
300ml warm water
two tablespoons raw sugar

Mix the flour, yeast and salt together in a large bowl. Mash the bananas, and mix them into the flour with the water. It'll look a bit gross. 

Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave in a gently warmish place for two hours.

At this point it should be risen and puffy and frankly even more gross looking - a bit greyish and unpromising. Scrape it into a well greased (or baking paper lined) loaf tin, and leave to sit for twenty minutes while you heat the oven to 180 C. 

Sprinkle over the sugar, and bake for 45 minutes. Allow to sit for a minute or two before tipping it out of the tin. You might need to run a knife around the sides to loosen it. 

You end up with this piping hot loaf of gently banana-scented bread, crusty and doughy and really wonderful when thickly sliced and spread with butter and honey, or even better, butter and cream cheese and brown sugar. It's a good one to try if you're unsure about breadmaking, since all you need is a little time, a bowl, and a spoon. And all the ingredients I listed. And, um, an oven. And I'll stop there, because you probably don't need me to elaborate further (although I always am concerned that people do, and never quite know when to stop over-explaining things.) I actually don't love bananas just on their own - something about the texture and the sickly scent and the freakish little nubbin bits at each end of the fruit put me off, but they suddenly become appealing again when they're baked into something. The banana flavour isn't overwhelming here - just a sweet, promising hint of it with every bite.

literally delicious

So if you're in Wellington CBD and you want chocolate cookie dough pretzel things delivered to your door with what will most likely be a smile, giz a yell. If you're not in Wellington CBD, here's what you're missing, sorry.

dark chocolate, white chocolate, bounty thing. I eat a lot of cookie dough, I am highly authorised to assure you these are majorly delicious.

just a reminder that I'm literally cute. Hey, I said this is a blog, not a Place of Altruistic Humility!
title from: the truly excellent Etta James singing I Just Wanna Make Love To You. 
music lately:

the aquadolls. I really love all their music, it's kind of foul-mouthed surfy pop and it's so much fun.

Dillon, Texture of My Blood. Dreamy and feelingsy.

FKA Twigs, Two Weeks. Almost too dreamy to bear, tbh.

Jesse Thomas, Say Hello. Lovely, happy, country-ish music, so naturally it makes me feel sad.
next time: not sure, yeah? something delicious written about in a charming manner, no doubt.