30 December 2015

but i tell ya, it's gonna be a champagne year

the kale gaze

How do I know I'm getting old? I'm delighted that I get asked for ID when buying alcohol, instead of being righteously indignant, and you can barely make eye contact with me without me leaning in conspiratorially and saying "this year has gone so fast, hasn't it!" Luckily I have immaturity of spirit and a confusingly youthful face on my side should things get all too ancient up in here (people tend to think I'm 21 or 22, I am in fact staring down the barrel of thirty entire years old.) And how do I know it's nearly a new year? Because the talk of how fast the year has gone increases alarmingly, and one's thoughts turn to things like self-improvement and goals and horrifically hi-def introspection. 

2015 has been a year of surprises and changes; of staying broke, of things not going how I wanted them and things going better than I ever thought possible in ways that I still have and in ways that are now gone to me. But I have managed to finish it sleeping well for pretty much the first time, in the best job I've ever had, and somehow closer than ever with my two best friends Kim and Kate.  

The next year though, is going to be the year of the following for me - just a few low-key easily achieved resolutions, because I love to make things easy for myself, don't I: 
  • eat a vegetable but for real this year
  • drink a ton of water, stay hydrated 2K16
  • hustle more and blog harder and really do things with this blog because it's so great and generally just shine really bright
  • go to more fancy dinners
  • save money so that living paycheck to paycheck isn't the norm, and eventually so that I can actually save money to travel again
  • stay on top of the anxiety 
  • get buffer arms so that I am better at lifting the glass bins at work and also look powerful
  • give the illusion of being bordering-on-terrifyingly hot without making too much effort really 
  • move to a nice apartment in town that feels like a haven and then damn well make it a haven
  • try to not ruin good things or get stuck in bad things
  • know who I am and be peaceful about it
  • cook as much as possible since I know what kind of hours I work so can't use that as an excuse really even thought I looooove using things as an excuse
  • get a good liquor collection finally, like, seriously 
  • drink more Real Champagne
  • read more books
  • dance heaps
  • pay off my credit card debt (loooooool! But y'know, go big or go home)
  • keeping some form of planner/diary so I remember things more often
  • probably more things that I've forgotten about 
So it should surprise no-one, with this in mind, that my head start on the goals comes in the form of eating some kale. Which itself comes in the form of this very pretty salad.

I read about massaging kale in the Little Bird Unbakery raw vegan cookbook, which is where you put sea salt and a olive oil on your leaves and give them a good rub to soften them somewhat, I'm guessing because they absorb the oil as the salt draws out the moisture. Kale is combatively healthy and does have a fantastic flavour but tends towards a kind of off-puttingly hostile toughness of leaf; doing this process - despite making me feel like I should've asked my salad "was that good for you?" - does in fact help make everything more delicious and approachable. And it's not like you have to make eye contact with it, or indeed anyone, while you're doing it. 

And then, in case you're all, "just one noted superfood in this recipe? Why don't I just go eat literal garbage?" I've also included pomegranate seeds. These beautiful red jewels look incredible against the green leaves, and they provide a sourness that both melds with and uplifts the potential heaviness of the oil and salt. They're also crunchy! Which is fun!  

 not entirely convinced that pomegranate is real. What are thoooooose.

Quantities in the recipe are vague as, since this is summer (or at least, it is in New Zealand, where I am) and I don't want your brain to overheat, and also because you can increase or decrease things depending on your needs. While this would be delightful with some avocado, fried halloumi or crumbled feta added, as a complete salad on its own it's very excellent. I ate the lot for a late lunch yesterday (I know it's just salad but it was soooo hot outside and I could only face food that was 90% water) and upon consuming it I could practically feel my red blood cells smiling beatifically as they scooted around my in my veins.

baby kale and pomegranate salad

a recipe by myself

two or three handfuls of baby kale leaves
seeds from half a pomegranate (or a whole one! live your truth) 
five or six cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
quarter of a cup sunflower seeds or small nuttish thing of your choice
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt
mint leaves
basil leaves
a tiny pinch of cinnamon

Put the kale leaves into a good-sized bowl, sprinkle over a pinch of sea salt and drizzle over a generous quantity of olive oil (but okay, about a tablespoon or so) and massage the leaves, like, just do it, all you have to do is rub them between your fingers and thumbs till they soften a little and change to a darker green. When you can no longer deal with this, stir in the pomegranate seeds, sunflower seeds, tomatoes, cinnamon, and as many mint and basil leaves, roughly chopped, as you like. 

Give it a taste and if you think it needs more olive oil and more sea salt then go hard. I feel like there's not a salad in the land that doesn't benefit from being oilier and saltier. 

I had a distinctly wonderful Christmas, spent largely with rad work people eating lush barbecue food and brining myself in generous quantities of Real Champagne. The weather was searingly hot and yet I managed to not really get sunburned, and both Santa and family members charmingly got some parcels sent to me in time so I had presents to open on the day. I'm also looking after a friend's adorable cat which means waking up to a curled up wee ball of fluff beside me every morning! It's all I've ever wanted! He's also fearsomely bloodlusty though, which made Christmas Eve a little interesting. The cat seemed to want to recreate the Gifts of the Magi story for me, presenting first an enormous dead rat, and then the world's vastest cockroach. I was like, what's next? Frankincense? Me? Is it me? But luckily a Christmas miracle occurred and the third gift was the gift of no more corpses.

I hope your Christmas and/or general holiday December times have been equally charming and way less rat-filled. I am going to be working New Year's Eve and New Year's Day and am quite chill with that, since there are worse ways to spend an evening than making drinks and earning money. I'm also going to try and eat more kale between now and the end of the year (tomorrow!) since I am the actual greatest hero this world has ever known.
title is from: St Vincent's achingly slow and gorgeously gorgeous song Champagne Year. It feels appropriate and even if it didn't it's still (threefold!) gorgeous. 
music lately:

Say Anything, I Want To Know Your Plans. This band which has been around forever has been one of this year's very very best discoveries for me.

Dark Dark Dark, Patsy Cline the lyrics to this are so sad that you should put a helmet on your heart before listening. Like, do yourself a favour and don't listen to it. (But do! But don't.)

Primal Scream, Movin' On Up. In summary, it's so summery!
next time: it'll be 2016! Laura's time to shine!  

16 December 2015

i see christmas lights reflect in your eyes

chocolate candy cane bark the herald angels sing

It's less than ten days to Christmas and it's times like these that one's thoughts turn to...how it's less than ten days till Christmas. There has been so much going on in my life and also in the lives of others that are plaited into mine and as such it has been a bit hard to blog with my usual aggression; or at least that's what I assume it is that's slowing me down? - every time I've sat down with my laptop and been all "hello old friend, we meet again, let's tango" I've instead got really lethargic and rapidly blacked out with tiredness and woken up an hour later drooling lavishly into my own cleavage. Oh sure, it's funny the first like, seven times! But now it's nearly literal Christmas and I still haven't got this blog post out. However, you are reading this, which I suspect means I have finally done it. 

So anyway, every year with charming self-absorption I present you with a list of recipes I've blogged about over the years which would also make excellent Christmas presents. And it's that time of that time of year again! Oh sure, material goods are an unmitigated delight, but unless you're surrounded by brats I am supremely confident that there is an impressive number of people in your life who want nothing more than to be presented with something completely delicious that they can tuck into with impunity, rather than, say, a small cow figurine or an earnestly hideous vase which they then have to pretend to feel joy about when in fact it is an insult to their carefully curated personal aesthetic.  

cornbread cookie squares with maple buttercream: aka found footage of heaven

Honestly though, say it with eat-y stuff. Whether or not Christmas is a thing that affects you or that you pay attention to, there's no harm in having a delicious arsenal of ideas for things you can make for people at any old time to express your gratitude and selflessness. This is just a time of year where gift-giving is impressed upon us as being really important. And so, here I am to help. Okay, yes, the rise of the dawn of the planet of the Buzzfeed has rendered this entirely superfluous but what my list has that buzzfeed doesn't is...me! So much me! It has actually been fairly unusual compiling all these old blog posts and reading through the million different people I have been, but the recipes still absolutely hold up (as does the writing, obviously) and there's not one thing in this list that I wouldn't love to be presented with, before presenting it directly into my own mouth. 

So here goes: the hungryandfrozen edible gift idea round-up.

Category One: Things in Jars.

We are no longer quite at Peak Mason Jar, and thank goodness tbh, but: jars will never die. Jars are gonna save you this Christmas. 
  1. orange confit (This is basically just slices of orange in syrup, but is surprisingly applicable to a variety of cake surfaces. And it's so pretty. And so cheap.) (vg, gf)
  2. cranberry sauce (this is stupidly easy and you should make it to go with your main meal anyway) (vg, gf)
  3. bacon jam (Best made at the last minute, because it needs refrigerating) (gf)
  4. cashew butter (vg, gf) (just don't drop your wooden spoon into the food processor) 
  5. red chilli nahm jim (gf)
  6. cranberry (or any-berry) curd (it involves a lot of effort but it's so pretty. Just like me.) (gf)
  7. rhubarb-fig jam (gf)
  8. salted caramel sauce (gf, has a vegan variant) (Salted caramel is kind of the cockroach of food trends, in that it could still be popular in a post-apocalyptic landscape where we all eat dust that has been milled into varying levels of granularity. Salted caramel in a jar is a double whammy.) 
  9. apple cinnamon granola (vg)
  10. strawberry jam granola (vg) 
  11. Marinated Tamarillos (vg, gf)
  12. taco pickles (vg, gf)
  13. pickled blueberries (vg, gf)
  14. peach balsamic barbecue sauce (vg, gf)
  15. berry chia seed jam (vg, gf) 

berry chia seed jam: this is my jam

Peach Balsamic Barbecue Sauce: give a fusspot a pot of fussy stuff. 

chocolate dipped brown sugar cookies: oooh

Category Two: Baked Goods.

Make your house smell glorious, eat some cake batter, wrap the baked things you haven't eaten in rustic-looking brown paper and tie it all up with string, then toast to your own productivity and excellence.

Also first of all, my Christmas Cake is amazing. It just is: deal with my lack of coyness. Even if you decide at the last minute to make it on Christmas Day itself, it will still taste so great. 
  1. christmas-spiced chocolate cake (Also a good xmas-day pudding) (gf)
  2. chocolate orange loaf cake
  3. vegan chocolate cake (It's good! It's easy!) (vg)
  4. chocolate chunk oatmeal cookies
  5. cheese stars (make twelve times the amount you think you need because these are addictive and also great to serve as blotting paper for the inevitable copious liquor that happens this time of year)
  6. coconut macaroons (gf)
  7. chocolate macaroons (gf)
  8. gingerbread cut-out cookies (vg)
  9. coconut condensed milk brownies
  10. salted caramel slice (hello again Salted Caramel! Your persistence is as admirable as your deliciousness!)
  11. fancy tea cookies
  12. chocolate olive oil cake
  13. cinnamon bars
  14. coffee caramel slice
  15. everyday chocolate brownies
  16. cornbread cookie squares with maple buttercream
  17. cranberry white chocolate cookies
  18. peanut butter cookies
  19. secret centre mini-pavlovas
  20. avocado chocolate brownies (gf, df)
  21. bobby dazzler cake
  22. chocolate-dipped brown sugar cookies
Also, if you click on the link to the Orange Confit above, you'll see a recipe for the easiest, fastest fruitcake loaf. It makes an excellent present, for the sort of person who'd like to receive fruitcake. And it's dairy free.

secret centre mini-pavlovas

peanut butter chocolate caramel nut caramel chocolate peanut butter slice caramel

Category Three: Novelty!

This is mostly either homemade recreations of things you can buy from the corner dairy for fifty cents, or sticky-sweet things where you melt one ready-made thing into another. It's frankly the best category and you know it
  1. moonshine biffs (like homemade Milk Bottles!) (gf)
  2. raw vegan chocolate cookie dough truffles (vg, gf)
  3. lolly cake
  4. peppermint schnapps (vg, gf) (this is some harsh moonshine but also SO FUN. Weirdly, more fun the more you drink of it?)
  5. candy cane chocolate bark (No effort, vegan - well, I think candy canes are vegan - gluten free, amazingly delicious, just store it carefully so it doesn't melt)
  6. white chocolate coco pops slice 
  7. homemade cherry ripe
  8. mars bar cornflake slice 
  9. chocolate cookie dough pretzel things  
  10. brown sugar malteaser cardamom fudge
  11. peanut butter chocolate caramel nut slice
Delightful Bonus Category: Stuff to bring! 

A brief list of things you could consider making and taking to the next seasonal party in which there are heavy implications that you need to bring a plate and that it should be something amazing that people will actually enjoy. 
  1. roasted kumara with feta, walnuts, thyme and breadcrumbs
  2. very easy coffee ice cream
  3. fried tomatoes with garlic
  4. double cauliflower salad
  5. fried green beans with chilli and garlic
  6. pasta salad with broccoli pesto, mint, feta and olive oil
  7. fougasse bread
  8. earl grey and maple syrup cake
  9. cinnamon-golden syrup roasted butternut squash
  10. fried potato burghal wheat with walnuts and rocket
  11. wasabi cauliflower cheese
  12. peaches and cream
Whether or not this list is helpful, I'm honestly just so glad that I got this damn blog post done finally so I really am beyond caring. (Kidding, I care ever so much, like, in a completely uncool lacking-in-chill kind of way.) I'm working as much as I physically can over Christmas and new years, and will be spending the day with work family eating and drinking and eating and drinking and so on in that fashion. I can't wait, and while it would be lovely to be going up home to my family, spending my one spare day with people I adore and cooking a ton of nice food for them is something I am super looking forward to. However! Were money something I felt irritatingly mellow about, my Christmas list would look a little like the following: 

- a new leather bomber jacket (my current one is falling to pieces 100% literally)
- timberland boots (2003 called, and I'm ignoring it because I don't care if they're outdated) 
- Marc Jacobs Lola perfume (am never not cursing myself for using up all my supplies last year by calling it "baller deodorant" when I could've just used nivea roll-on) 
- a watch: either something very heavily masculine or something plasticky and stupid looking
- a set of pots and pans, preferably the kind that looks stupidly good in photos; I currently have very little in the way of anything 
- a handbag: my last one basically dissolved into the air within less than a month and I've since been lugging my earthly possessions about in a grubby tote 
- a candle that smells like cinnamon
- several bottles of fancy liquor so I can finally start my liquor cabinet: some nice gin, some sweet and dry vermouth, some fernet (it rhymes with cliche!), a campari and a bourbon...y'know, no biggie.
- A record player - nothing fancy, just something that I can literally play all my records on. 

Whatever it is you want for Christmas, especially if it's world peace, I hope you get it. I'm definitely going to be blogging again before Christmas and that all sounded a bit final, but nevertheless: get what you want! Get it! Go on, now!
title from: 2005's plaintive Athlete song, Wires. It's plaintive but it's still got legs, I reckon. 
music lately: 

Mariah Carey, Oh Holy Night, from her Merry Christmas II You album. That's right, she has other Christmas songs, and this one is classic Mimi. She sounds so good. 

The Wombats, Greek Tragedy. Pop! So poppy! 

Idina Menzel's Christmas album. She is my idol, and I am a completist.

Also: my dreamy summer playlist on spotify. Look, I could either list every song here or I could just link you directly to the playlist, but either way it's very very good and feels like sunshine on your shoulders. 
next time: no sleep allowed! I made some roasted asparagus with burned butter hollandaise which was amazing, however I also haven't made ice cream in ages and am feeling the need. 

3 December 2015

and morning soup can be avoided If you take a route straight through what is known as parklife

It has been a bit of a time for ya girl of late, what with - she says vaguely - one thing and another. Notably I spent the weekend firmly swaddled in illness due to kidney problems, which came with bonus excruciating back ache and the admittedly interesting conundrum of being both hellaciously feverish and shiveringly cold simultaneously. I have no idea what it is or what caused it or what its deal is, but something very similar happened to me back in 2007 so I guess it's just that my kidneys like to act the fool once every decade. Also, when it happened in 2007 it was misdiagnosed as a sprained rib, to which I was like "um, do you even know how unlikely that is and how sedentary I am", to which the doctor was like "nope definitely a sprain", henceforth giving me a lifelong suspicion of diagnoses.

Anyway, I read online that tomatoes are really good for your kidneys - on one of those websites that's all "make a tincture of parsley and sorrel and then when that's ready six weeks later make a rudimentary poultice and apply it to the hurty bit of you" (I had to spend an amount at the after-hours clinic that was so huge it almost made me cry in order to get a prescription for antibiotics, so you see why I was initially trying to cure it on my own using dirt and leaves and stuff.) The antibiotics have more or less swept away all the pain but I figured it couldn't hurt to up the tomato quotient in my life, in an attempt to appease my truculent kidneys.

This Ottolenghi recipe for burnt aubergine soup had caught my eye, but I really wasn't sure when I was going to make it, on account of my opportunities to cook for myself are few and rare. Luckily the hand of fate intervened! I had some appallingly bad nightmares which woke me up at 4.30am the other day, and could not go back to sleep no matter how firmly I squeezed my eyes shut and listened to soothing meditation videos telling me I'm a good person who's definitely relaxed and sleepy. By 8am I realised I really wasn't going back to sleep, and in the feverish grips of all that, decided I might as well be productive with all this time. Making soup suddenly felt like a really good use of my morning, so I hurtled to the supermarket, bought the ingredients (hurrah for having spontaneous cooking whims post-payday) and started making it, all before 9am.

I think I say this in every single post about soup that I've ever done, but...soup usually really doesn't appeal to me that much. It's just a bowl of wet stuff! There's not nearly enough crispness and crunchiness! You can't deep-fry soup! And so on. This soup is super excellent though; the smoky grilled eggplant against a backdrop of rich tomato; the fried cubes of eggplant on top providing proper texture and silky oiliness with every bite, the feta being delicious feta.

The recipe below looks horrifyingly long, and I shan't candy-coat it for you: this recipe does take up quite a lot of time. But it's so easy! And I just wanted to talk you through all the steps to make sure I had explained it all properly. Really all the instructions you need for this soup are grill, fry, heat, stir, blend, eat.

burnt aubergine soup with fried aubergine, tomato and feta

adapted from a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi. I know we call them eggplants here in New Zealand but the recipe itself calls them aubergines and it sounds more poetic. So. 

three large eggplants
plenty of olive oil
one large onion, finely diced
one and a half teaspoons ground cumin
a teaspoon of sugar
a tablespoon of lemon juice
one can of crushed tomatoes
a stock cube of your chosen persuasion
feta cheese

First, deal with your eggplants. Turn the grill on your oven to as high as it will go, stab two of the eggplants a few times with a knife, and then put them on a baking tray preeettty close to the grill. Leave them there for what will feel like hours, but is probably an hour maximum, turning them occasionally. Don't worry if they're all blistered and deflated looking, it's what we're going for here. Remove them from the oven, allow them to cool a little - or don't, if you're impatient like me - and remove the skin, which should be crunchy and fall away with a little encouragement. I ate the lot, discard it if you like. Place the frankly weird looking eggplant flesh into a sieve set over a bowl, and allow it to sit there weirdly while you get on with everything else. 

Take the remaining eggplant, dice it into small squares, and then in a saucepan that you'll later make the rest of the soup in, heat up about an inch of olive oil till it's sizzling. Fry the cubes of eggplant, in batches if necessary, letting them really just sit there in the hot oil so they get properly browned, before carefully turning them over so they darken on the other side. Add more oil before tipping the next batch of eggplant in if need be. Just deal with how much oil this uses. Carefully remove the browned crispy pieces to a sieve over a bowl and sprinkle with salt (this bit is honestly probably not that necessary? Unlike the earlier sieving bit.) And try really, really hard to not eat the lot. 

Okay now you're finally done with all the damn prep stuff, and you can actually make soup. With the remaining oil in the pan (there should be around a tablespoon or so) gently fry the onion for five to ten minutes till it's very soft. Add the cumin, the lemon juice, sugar, can of tomatoes, stock cube and then fill up the tomato can with water from the tap and tip that in. Add another can full of water if you like and want the soup to go further. Let all this simmer briskly till it has thickened and reduced a little and, you know, looks like the makings of some literal soup.

Finally! Add the eggplant flesh to the pan (the burnt stuff, not the fried stuff) and either puree it with a hand-held stick blender thingy, if you have one, or do the stressful thing and transfer it perilously to a food processor and blitz thoroughly. I did the latter, and it doesn't make it entirely velvety but any texture is pleasing, so, whatever. It's just so much more of a pain to clean and also it might fly everywhere and you might spill it while getting it in and out of the processor bowl, but anyway. You now have your soup. Ladle into bowls, top generously with the fried eggplant cubes and crumble over plenty of feta. 

Serves two-ish. You could add another can of tomatoes if you want it to go further. 

As well as changing some details I reduced the original recipe's quantities, but if I were you making this I'd increase the quantities of the liquid and the eggplant just because if you're going to that much damn time-consuming effort you might as well get a ton of soup out of it and feed an appreciatively gasping crowd. Is it worth it just to do all that for yourself though? Of course! There's no one more important than me. Is what you should be saying to yourself. I know I hear it enough to occasionally believe it. For real though, this soup has such excellent depth of flavour and the fried eggplant bits are so compulsively good: it is so much more than just a bowl full of wet stuff.

A bright firework of light through all this is that today is the five year anniversary of my friend Kate and I meeting each other at Mighty Mighty in a breathless, hand-clasping fashion, and ALSO Lucy Liu's birthday. We both love Lucy Liu with the fire of a thousand fires so let's just say it is feeling auspicious up in here. I can't believe my life has been this blessed for five years now and I also can't believe I didn't meet Kim, the third prong in our equilateral triangle of friendship, till halfway through the following year.

one of my favourite photos of Kate and I, this is pretty much how our initial meeting went too. 

All of everything else aside, I know it's a dull take but I CANNOT BELIEVE it's literally December now. I'm not ready! Also December always makes me super introspective and I'm already feeling introspective so it's all just a double helix of feelings. On the upside, the smell of pine sends me into catnip-esque conniptions and we have erected an enormous, splendidly bushy real Christmas tree at work, every time I pass it by I feel more and more seasons greetings-y. Thanks, Pavlov's Christmas tree!
title via: Parklife! Man I used to have the crushiest crush on Blur's Damon Albarn. I literally wrote angrily in my diary in 1996 about him dating Justine Frischmann from Elastica; as if their being together somehow made him less accessible to me than he already was.  
music lately:

Turkey Lurkey Time from the 1969 musical Promises, Promises. It's my own personal Christmas tradition that every time the first of December comes around, then and only then will I rewatch this video of this utterly ludicrous song being performed. Honestly the song is ridiculous but I'm in it for the incredible dancing, especially from Donna McKechnie who blatantly has elastic where her bones should be. It's hard to explain, but this is just weirdly important to me. The video, not the consistency of her bones, I mean.

One Direction, Hey Angel. I had very low expectations for these guys post-Zayn, but UGH this is such a good song. It is just so big and manipulative and I love it heartily.
next time: hopefully some exponentially increasing xmas spirit and exponentially decreasing introspection. And chilled out kidneys. 

26 November 2015

let's propose a toast to the thing that hurts the most

I'd already idly bitten into it when I thought I'd better photograph it because who knows when I'd next be making actual food. If you're wondering about the bite mark. 

In late June 2012, twitter user Horse_ebooks tweeted the following: "Everything happens so much". Well. Currently everything is indeed happening so much - so so much! - and as such one's thoughts turn to this tweet. By which I mean, there's a lot going on right now in my life that needs to be processed and taken stock of and other administrative-like task words. During this time I've been far too busy to cook for myself, which is not something I'm particularly happy about, but such is life. I mean, I'm eating, I'm just not cooking. Till I get my act together, what else can I do but blog about what I've actually made myself lately? So...here's some cinnamon and sugar on toast.

This is such a stupidly simple non-recipe that it seems almost embarrassing when written down, except I'm not embarrassed at all because it tastes so wondrous. Also I am she who ebulliently blogged about marmite and crisp sandwiches, so whatever.

cinnamon sugar toast

lots of the following: 
white sugar

Toast the bread. Mix a couple of tablespoons of sugar and a teaspoon or two of cinnamon together in a small bowl. Butter the toast wayyyy thoroughly. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the top. Also thoroughly. Eat in bed. 

food in bed: excellent life choice

To me, cinnamon is the flavour that most evokes the feeling of a warm hug. I used to eat cinnamon sugar on toast all the time as a child (and I turned out okay?) but I was recently reminded of its existence and suddenly it was the only foodstuff upon this earth that I wanted to consume. My nostalgic taste-memories did not exaggerate at me - this is such a wonderful thing to eat. The softly crunchy bread full of calming carbohydrates, the lashings of salty butter, the doughnut vibes and comforting scent of the cinnamon sugar. It's simple, it's perfect, it costs roughly nothing.

Well. If you were outraged at me blogging about sugar on toast, wait till you finish this sentence and get onto the next paragraph.

Because I'm about to talk about McDonalds. But, you cannot even make try to me feel bad or selling out-y about mentioning them on this blog, because frankly I don't care, I find McDonalds food to be delightful and if you're above eating it for no other reason than you're above eating it then that's super boring. I mean, truth be told, I prefer Burger King (the words "ride or die" are usually used by me in relation to it.) However, I was sent some vouchers by a lovely PR company so I could try the new Create Your Taste range at McDonalds and if there's one thing I love, it's being sent things by PR companies. It's ludicrously good for the ego and it gets me stuff. Recently, not hungover but definitely physically cognisant of the previous nights' events; I found myself in the McDonalds by the basin in Newtown. How Create Your Taste works is very simple - there are screens available and you just pick from what feels like thousands of different options to create the hamburger of your dreams.

It's completely simple and it's weirdly fun scrolling through the options and being like "that one!" "that one" and feeling maniacally powerful. Once you've submitted the final burger you want and decided whether you want to turn it into a combo with fries and a drink (the answer to that: obviously you do) they then make it for you on the spot and there you have it, your own customised burger. Which is all very well and good, but like, why should I go to this trouble? I could just get a cheeseburger and some chicken nuggets at 3am and stuff the former with the latter and be on my merry way.

delicious, juicy capitalism 

Except these burgers are SO amazingly good. I got way too overexcited at the options and combined a brioche bun and angus burger with fried mushrooms, swiss cheese, aioli, guacamole, lettuce, and grilled onion. It still tasted incredible. All the ingredients taste aggressively good quality and the sweetness of the brioche was charming. I got it to take away and ate it in bed while emotionally rewatching the final episode of The OC, and all was well.

And so that's what I've made for myself recently. Sorry-not-sorry that it's just toast and McDonalds. Because from all of this, we can conclude that whatever it is you have going on in life, carbohydrates eaten in bed are really helpful and excellent and good. And you probably are, too.
title via: Faith No More's Last Cup of Sorrow, a song worth wrenching myself away from listening to Epic on repeat for. 
music lately: 

I'm really into choreography tutorial videos on youtube right now and there's this one incredible routine to Beyonce's incredible song 7/11 that is soooo great. So I've heard this song a ton lately, and yet: still sounds fresh. 

That Girl, by Maxi Priest and Shaggy - I made a spotify playlist of songs I was listening to around the year 1996 and maaaaan they hold up well. This one is smooth like a freshly shaven leg. 

Imogen Heap, Hide and Seek. It's just...such a song.   
next time: I promise I'll literally cook. Promise! 

18 November 2015

i want blood, guts and chocolate cake

It's really something huh, how you can simultaneously absorb constantly unfurling news of how monumentally disastrous and rubbish the world is right now, and yet have your own relatively small, inconsequential issues selfishly jostle for position at the forefront of things you have to try and process...yeah? Author Roxane Gay said "I have never considered compassion a finite resource" and important singer Lana Del Rey once tweeted "um, I like it tha best when you're nice to me" and I think they're both good thoughts to keep in mind. No one needs my hot take on world events, especially not on a damn food blog, but man, stuff is happening so hard, right? And it's just going to keep happening and keep happening and keep happening and all we can do is try to be human beings and be compassionate. And nice. In our own small ways and to our own capacities. That's all I've got.

In what I'd like to emphasise is unrelated news, It feels like utterly forever since I've updated this blog. I also suspect I'm the only one exuding major stress over it, so I'll just get to talking about what it is I've finally got around to cooking and deeming blog-worthy. And that thing is: avocado brownies. I'm not usually prone to faffing around with replacing the butter content of anything (indeed, I usually replace the existing butter specified in a recipe with even more butter) but I'm also easily seduced by a novelty ingredient. Moreover, I wanted to make something nice to take to work for a very lovely manager's final shift, and this requires accommodating some gluten and dairy-related issues. A bit of excavation online brought this recipe for avocado-based chocolate brownies to the surface, and as I've had an abundance of said fruits lately anyway, all signs pointed to yes.

These whole process is reassuringly normal; the avocado is mixed in with the sugar and eggs at the start and it all looks and tastes very much like regular brownie batter (not as good, but on the other hand it does stop me eating my usual half to three quarters of the uncooked batter followed by some sustained writhing on the floor in sugar-related agony.) They get better and better the longer they're left in the fridge, becoming more dense and richly fudge-ish with almost swampy levels of dark chocolatey depth. Like, believe me, these brownies are real and stand their ground and are delicious at a level bordering on magical. Make 'em out of curiosity, whether or not the gluten/dairy-free thing applies to you, because they're just that good.

avocado chocolate brownies

recipe pretty well unchanged from this recipe on Sprouted Fig

two large, perfectly ripe avocados
one cup of brown sugar
two eggs
one cup of cocoa
150g dark chocolate
half a teaspoon baking soda
one tablespoon water

Set your oven to 170 C/350 F. Scoop the avocado flesh into a bowl, and use a whisk to whip it till it's all smooth. Add the eggs and the sugar and continue to whisk briskly, then carefully whisk in the cocoa - cocoa tends to fly everywhere in clouds at the slightest agitation, hence why you need to slow down for this bit. Chop the chocolate roughly but finely, so that it's all rubbly and in shards, and fold it into the batter. Finally, mix the baking soda and water together in a small measuring cup or similar, and vigorously stir it into the chocolate mixture. Spatula the lot into a paper-lined brownie pan, and bake for about 25 minutes - as soon as it's firm on top it's ready to be taken out. Refrigerate the brownie for at least an hour but really the longer the better - it just gets more dense and fudgy the longer it sits. Slice it into smallish squares and fling at your face. 

I liked these so much that I immediately made another batch for my flatmates, although I concede that this was partly if not mostly motivated by the fact that I never actually got any photos of the original brownies that I took to work. And this blog's needs are important!

Honestly not much else exciting has happened to me lately; I dyed my hair a darker shade of red, I hooned through the excellent TV series Master of None (and I recommend it so hard), I finally tidied my room up after being a stressfully messy slattern for, well, my entire life, and during so I inexplicably found my notecards from a speech I gave in primary school in 1997 about the Spice Girls.

"practically every girl's fantasy" 

That's...all I've got. Stay nice if you can.
title from: that magical woman Marina and the Diamonds and her song Teen Idle. 
music lately: 

Uffie, Hot Chick so bratty! So 2006! 

Robbie Williams, Freedom so good! So 1996! I don't even care!

Misterwives, Hurricane. Perfect pop perfection.
next time: I promise I will neither take this damn long to update! I will make a thing more than once a week! 

4 November 2015

no more flipping burgers putting on my silly hat you know I don't want that no more

Sunday morning saw a hitherto unprecedented event: I willingly went to watch the rugby world cup finals*. I have spent my whole life hating rugby as some kind of praxis and indeed pretty much all sports except rhythmic gymnastics (so many cool flips! My brief childhood obsession with Nadia Comaneci!) This stemmed from two things: being forced to do sport all the time throughout my school years, and also it's boring to me and I suck at it and don't want anything to do with it. As my school days grew further into the distance behind me I softened my righteous stance and basically settled upon the attitude of, well, sports is fine for other people and I'm happy for them to do it, I just don't want to have it rubbed in my face. Anyway, all of this is to say that I ended up willingly watching the rugby with a billion people from work and it was SO FUN and we WON and I don't really fancy being in front of sports again for a good long time but I'm glad I went. My smart girlfriend explained it to me in a way that made me finally care: that people feel about sports teams the way I feel about will-they-won't-they couples on TV. Will they achieve the thing? Oh my god the delicious tension! Oh no here comes an interloper to ruin everything! Wait, last minute scramble, victory just out of reach! And then it's either all, oh my gosh they finally kissed I'm so elated; or oh my gosh we lost the game and now we are the noble underdogs until the next episode. 

It was fun because I was surrounded by lots of people whom I love and bouncing off their energy; because there was lots of running and leaping and getting-of-tries during the game as opposed to those ones where they just constantly regroup and blow the whistle and stand around looking agitated; because it was fun to objectify all these burly men lifting each other towards the sun and leaping on top of each other; because it was 5am and I was slightly delirious; and because it was just so nice that we won. The opposing team was Australia, and I feel as a nation Australia is so breezily good at so many things whereas we really only have rugby in terms of things deemed important, so they can totally take this on the chin. So yes, I freely admit that I've gone from Rugby: Not Even Once, to Rugby: Once, Even. 

All of which is to bury the lede; because obviously the most important thing here is that I made myself an avocado-stuffed burger today. I found the recipe on some website for paleo or something and was like, this seems outlandish and unnecessary, and therefore I must make it. Having ordered and received a bountiful influx of avocados from theavotree.co.nz I found myself in the unusual situation of having more than I know what to do with - normally a ripe avocado is a precious jewel to be hyperventilated over before finally opening it up and realising that you've left it too long and it's now overripe and you are destined for misery, only misery. 

I miraculously had more or less enough ingredients to cobble together a respectable burger (aside from the fact that I had to use a bagel instead of an actual bun, but I welcome any opportunity to remind myself of Sandy Cohen's greatness.) It was all marvelously easy and fast to throw together, although in the spirit of rigorous honesty: I feel like putting the remaining avocado mix on top of the burger kind of defeated the purpose of hiding it inside the burger as well, I mean, it was delicious, but it was also just layers of meat and avocado everywhere. Also, I'd throw some more stuff in: I'm thinking a smattering of cinnamon and salt in the meat, and maybe a spoonful of pesto or something in the avocado mix - it can certainly handle a lot of flavours and textures being thrown at it. But as is, it was very wonderful, with juicy, craggily seared meat giving way to soft, creamy avocado. 

avocado stuffed burgers

a recipe adapted from this recipe

one charmingly ripe avocado
about one teaspoon of lemon juice
a little hot sauce of some persuasion
any other condiments that you fancy
around 250g - 300g minced beef
liquid smoke (optional)
butter for frying
burger buns and other fillings - mayo, lettuce, cheese, etc

Scoop the avocado flesh into a bowl and mash it with a fork, adding the salt, lemon juice, and a dash of hot sauce. Add a little liquid smoke to the mince if you like, and then divide the mince into four equal balls. Using your hands, shape two of them into circles, a little flatter than you normally would for burgers, as you're going to be clamping them together as one soon. Spoon some avocado mixture into the centre of one, and lay the second circle over the top. Gently pinch the edges together - it should all sort of wodge into itself easily enough. Repeat with the remaining mince.

Heat some butter - 20g or so - in a small pan. I like to put the burger in the pan as it's warming up, just to let it gently cook through a bit, and then flip it over once it's sizzling so it gets a seared, browned crust, and then finally flip it over again to further brown the first side. But like, just fry them till they look done, okay. 

Layer them up on your burger buns with lettuce, cheese, mayo, more avocado, and whatever other sauces and spreads and bits and pieces you fancy. 

I uh, also feel like I've said the word avocado so many times now that it has lost all meaning and substance. Especially because I can't help but pronounce them like Kristin Wiig does in The Californians sketch from SNL (it's like..."ava-kya-duhs".) But it's worth taking a minute to collect yourself and then make this recipe because it is, like all recipes I put forth to you, so so super good.

*I uh, also acknowledge that in 2003 I was infatuated with Doug Howlett (first of all, it was 2003, what else was there to do? Also, he was beautiful) however the All Blacks really didn't do very well and didn't end up making it to the finals, which I subsequently did not watch.
title from: Reel Big Fish, Sell Out. Oh what, like you didn't have a ska phase? 
music lately: 

Kate Nash, We Get On. The whole Made of Bricks album is bonkers and spectacular and this song always makes me the very, very flailiest.

Justin Bieber, Sorry. Okay first of all this song is amazing, and if you refuse to listen to it simply because it's by Bieber then you're so boring. But also he released a dance video choreographed and directed by Parris Goebel from New Zealand and while the team of girls dancing all carefree and happy would be cool enough on its own, it adds a certain piquancy - maybe even patriotism - knowing that they're all from here. And honestly the song is so good.

Drake, Hotline Bling. I mean, obviously the video is incredibly special. But I've heard this easily seven thousand times since it was released and still it calls to me. Oh, Drake!
next time: I mean, I still have a zillion avocados. Ava-kya-duh. Oh no. 

28 October 2015

fancy plans and pants to match: hanging ditch

Benji! Hanging bottles! Photo courtesy of my charming and talented coworker Matthew McArthur.

Well hello there, and welcome to another installment of Fancy Plans and Pants To Match. As a glamorous food blogger and author who can definitely pay their rent without feeling piteously tearful, why, it's no wonder that lots of cool things happen to me! This is where I acknowledge the niceness that is occasionally bestowed upon my willing self, while trying to do it in a non-smug way so it's actually enjoyable to read instead of supremely irritating. Don't hate, self-deprecate! Oh and if you're wondering, and especially if you're not wondering, this segment is named for a quote from the redoubtable Jimmy James from the woefully underrated 90s sitcom NewsRadio.  

So here's the thing: Benji Irvine and Andy Gray, who between them have an impressive bartending history including Motel, Matterhorn, and The Library (oh hey!), have opened their very own bar. It's called Hanging Ditch and it joins the Hannah's Laneway precinct to make it even more glorious, as if it wasn't fun enough already with Goldings, Pizza Pomodoro, the Leeds Street Bakery and the Wellington Chocolate Factory. 

The pitch: Hanging Ditch had its hard open on Sunday night and I was invited to try some of the cocktails from the fledgling menu. I mean, is that an enchanting proposition or what. 

La Rosita: tequila, sweet and dry vermouth, campari. 

fernet in staggeringly cool shot glasses  

What happened: So as well as being brought into existence by thoroughly good guys, Hanging Ditch has a particularly idiosyncratic approach to its backbar: all the bottles are suspended from the ceiling, twinkling in the soft light like ethically-sourced diamonds. It's honestly a stunning effect, and I suddenly understood why small babies can be so entranced by dangly items on a mobile.  As well as looking glorious it's also remarkably practical, by which I mean, all bottles appear to be easily grabbed for drinks making and no one seemed to hit their head.

The drinks I tried included....

La Rosita (pictured above): a spectacular mix of tequila, sweet and dry vermouth and campari, all of which I bloody adore and together they form a lushly layered drink with a hint of stickiness from the campari and resiny depth from everything else. I love it. It's served down, in a glass as thick and sturdy as an aeroplane window, which adds to the general satisfyingness of it all.

Resperation: Vodka, lemon, elderflower, marmalade and peach: I mean. Obviously you've got some soft floral stuff happening here plus some distinct zinginess but honestly the only way I can describe it is that it tastes like that feeling you get when a couple on a TV show that you love finally, finally, finally kiss after you've been wanting them to for ages.

Gunpowder Blood and Sand: A drink I love on account of how deadly the name is, this classic is given new legs with Gunpowder, a smoky and aggressive local rum which pleasingly fogs up the varying layers of sweetness provided by the Cherry Heering and orange juice. I would've liked to have drank this out of a more sturdy glass, but it was so delicious that you could've poured it into my cupped hands and I would've been chill.

Daiquiris, plural: obviously they are very capable of making whatever classics you so desire as well as their own concoctions; and with a special on they were slinging excellent daiquiris all evening - all of which were a viciously well-balanced mix of sweet and sour and effortlessly drinkable.

Fernet: because I am a bartender and I accept my fate that fernet is now obligatory and inescapable.

twinkle twinkle little bar

The best bit: The cocktails are honestly so good and Benji and Andy are affable, knowledgeable hosts. While I'm incredibly easily impressed, I'm also pretty discerning when it comes to flavour combinations and ingredients and such, and it's clear that these guys know exactly what they're doing and have done a ton of planning. It's a joy to watch them make cocktails with their own style and panache and the place has an elegant yet unintimidating vibe which means whether you're the only person sitting there or you're part of a crowd it's amazingly easy for the hours to dissolve, like Peychaud's bitters into a sugar cube. I mean, that could also have been the cocktails that helped make time go really fast, but whatever. Oh and I know I said I'd have liked a solid-er vessel for my Blood and Sand but on the whole the glassware and frankly every tiny detail is so impressive and cool. Like, I want to own all their glassware. 

oh wow it's me it's so awkward (how great this photo is) (photo courtesy of the lovely Matthew McArthur)

I spy with my little eye, several babes that I know IRL, but let's also appreciate the cool fit-out and also how much emptier that bottle of fernet is (photo courtesy of the swell Matthew McArthur)

Benji doing the damn thing (photo courtesy of Matthew McArthur who has had quite enough adjectives by now and I'm cutting him off)

On a scale of 1 to Is This The Real Life, Is It Just Fantasy: It's a 1. So, quite often the stuff I get invited to that makes it to this blog is not stuff I can necessarily recreate on a regular basis but like, I will so be back here. This bar is DOPE. I am quite happy to spend money here and in fact spent several moneys there later on Sunday night. So saying that this is a 1 on the scale of 1 to bla bla bla is in fact a very good thing. Sure, the quantities and swank-ness of the drinks may have been at a higher level than I can normally back myself for, but this is absolutely not the last time I'll be having them.

Would I do this again for not-free: See the above paragraph, but: obviously.

Earnest thanks for making me feel fancy to: Hanging Ditch, which can be found at 14 Leeds Street, just next to Goldings and the Wellington Chocolate Factory. Opening a bar in Wellington is not the surest and most straightforward path to success and/or a good night's sleep, but I have a good feeling about this one. And - feel free to read the Fancy Plans and Pants To Match archive while you're here.

23 October 2015

and sugar, we're going down swinging

In this, the year of grace 2015, mere non-plural months away from turning thirty, ya girl played beer pong for the first time in her life on a Sunday evening and also finally completed watching The OC in its entirety, finishing the last ever episode by literally crying into a bagel at 3.40am on a Wednesday night. I also finished Buffy the Vampire Slayer last week and may have listened to Say Anything's 2004 album Is A Real Boy around seven times in one day, so all in all I'm partying like it's the early-to-mid-to-late 2000s. It may be that pop culture is getting the better of me though: yesterday I walked away from the self-checkout counter at the supermarket without paying (immediately turning around and going "oh my god I'm so sorry I didn't mean to it's just that I was listening to Spike's song from Once More With Feeling, the musical episode of Buffy, and got all flustered, you must get this all the time, right, here I'm paying right now") and then later that evening while rewatching Pretty Little Liars I was so flaily at a particularly potent moment that I accidentally kicked myself really hard.

But though I'm about ready to throw my heart in a ravine if, say, Sandy Cohen so much as dares to enter my thoughts (he's just so good) I have also been taking rather excellent care of myself; ramping up my vegetable intake and removing my makeup before I go to bed and remembering that I love yoga, especially the kind on youtube where you essentially just lie down and sway gently and someone tells you that you're a good person. And then yesterday I made fudge, which I'm not going to pretend is like, nutritious, but I'm also not going to pretend that I, like, care. I'm more into adding extra good things to my life than subtracting anything that other people might consider "bad" (and here please picture me elaborately doing air quotes with a disdainful look upon my face) because basically I want to have my cake and eat it too in literally every sense of the word.

I found a particularly simple yet wonderful sounding brown sugar fudge recipe in this amazing American cake and pudding cookbook of mine; and then tinkered with it some, as is my wont. I have been thinking lots about cardamom lately and liked the idea of adding some to the fudge, but that seemed a bit worthy and earnest; I then thought about texture and crunch and considered adding some kind of candy to the recipe, but that seemed a bit basic and obvious. Then I was like, why not both? The combination of ready-made packet candy and sophisticated, nuanced spice pleased me and I was also quite sure that the flavours would be complementary enough to make my resolute commitment to a silly idea worth it.

I am so smug about how correct I was: sweet fancy Moses this fudge is good. First of all can we just take a moment to hold our palms to the sky reverently and just consider how amazing the texture of fudge is? It's firm yet yielding, like a really pert butt; it's somehow buttery and soft yet has the slightest hint of grit from the boiled sugar, it melts on impact in your mouth, it's magical, when you add in the intermittent crunch from the malteasers it's actual sorcery, in fact I have to draw this moment to a close before I flail so hard that I kick myself again. So yeah, the texture is great, but the flavours here are rather perfect too - the warm gingery elements of the cardamom nuzzle into the throat-burningly dark caramelly flavours of the brown sugar and give it depth beyond mere sweetness. The spikes of crunch provided by the malteasers on the other hand stop it being all too intense, and the chocolate coating unsurprisingly goes well with everything.

brown sugar, cardamom and malteaser fudge

one cup brown sugar 
one cup white sugar
one cup milk
25g butter
a pinch of salt
a pinch of ground cardamom
one packet of malteasers

Place the sugars and milk into a good sized saucepan, and bring to the boil. Allow it to continue boiling, stirring occasionally and watching carefully so it doesn't bubble over, until it reaches what is known as the soft-ball stage - what you want to do is get a bowl of cold water, and periodically take small spoonfuls of the boiling sugar and lower them slowly into the cold water. Initially it should just dissipate and dissolve into the water (and you may want to change the water occasionally if it gets too sugary) but once you can lower a spoonful of sugary stuff into the water and it solidifies into a soft, pliant kinda substance, you know you're ready. I hope that makes sense. This should take about ten minutes. 

At this point, remove it from the heat and sit the pan in a sink partly filled with cold water - this is optional but helps, obviously, to cool it down faster - and stir in the butter, the salt, and the cardamom. Stir vigorously until it is thick and seems to have lost most of its glossiness.  I use a whisk for this, as I figure the aeration helps cool it and thicken it faster, but any old spoon will do the trick. At this point, stir in half the malteasers - some of them will melt a bit, which is totally ideal - and transfer the fudge onto a buttered tray/dish. Use the back of a spoon to gently push it out into an even square, then tip the remaining malteasers over the top and push them into the fudge a little to ballast them. Allow it to cool in the fridge for a bit and then slice into irregular squares. I say irregular because you have no option, the malteasers make it a bit hard to get straight lines. 

I think I've definitely hit this home by now, but wow this is so good. Even if you're wary of playing with sugar and/or fire, if you follow the instructions that I give in the recipe to gauge when the fudge is ready, you can't go wrong. Because even if you do go wrong you can still do ever so many things - pour the ineffectual fudge onto ice cream, stir it into softened ice cream, just eat an ice cream and throw the fudge at the wall - either way, there's enough serendipity to go around.

PS: if you're wondering, I was honestly pretty good at beer pong and it was a taut and thrilling game for all involved. However I think I generally prefer to drink my drinks in a more straightforward way rather than having to leap through elaborate hoops to get to them.
title from:  here I am keeping it real, real era-specific that is, with one of my favourite Fall Out Boy songs.
music lately:

Tori Amos, Little Earthquakes. I have listened to precisely zero Tori Amos in my life but wanted to take a chance on her so picked this song at random, and mercy me it's beautiful. So, so beautiful. Except now I'm stuck being unable to choose a follow-up because what if it's not as good as this one, and she has so many songs! Love to overthink! 

Say Anything, the Is A Real Boy/Was A Real Boy album. Frankly: listening to it seven times is actually not enough for me. 

Hailee Steinfeld, Love Myself. It's so good!
next time: I am about to come into possession of a treasure far higher in worth than rubies: avocados. So, expect avocados.