17 February 2015

fancy plans and pants to match: the library

Well hello there, and welcome to another installment of Fancy Plans and Pants to Match, where I'm all, "hey pals, sometimes nice things happen to me because I'm a cool food blogger but in my defense I'm going to be juuust self-deprecating enough about it to make you feel comfortable and relaxed".

I used to avoid talking about it in case I came across as an unrelatable prig who was excited by nothing and filled with ennui by everything, but it turns out that while I can never be that unexcited person I probably should worry about pushing people away by using the word "prig". Anyway! The name Fancy Plans and Pants to Match is a quote from the wondrous Jimmy James, a character in the woefully slept-on 90s sitcom NewsRadio. And in case all this wasn't quite enough of a thrilling ride for you, I have a giveaway, whaaaat (imagine me sounding an airhorn right now, if you would be so kind) for a $100 voucher for The Library. You could scroll right to the end for the instructions on how to enter and ignore this post, but just know that I'll know. Oh, I'll know. I always know. But also there's nothing I can do about it, so yeah, really, scroll by merrily if you wish!


so here's the thing: I was invited to eat and drink up large at The Library, a baller bar and live music venue in town. This kind of sybaritic activity is exactly how I'd like to live my life but so rarely get to, so it was some kind of wonderful to have this opportunity.

the pitch: The Library has long been known for their excellent cocktails and desserts, but they have very recently updated their food menu, and so there's no better time to do some investigating into these developments with one's mouth.  

what happened: In the interests of clutching at any brief opportunity to look cool and like a hell of a swell about town, being all rakish and debonaire and decadent, I brought my girlfriend along as my plus one. We were given a number of options for seating, and decided upon the secret dining room, a pleasingly sneaky nook hidden behind a curtain, with a window looking over Courtenay Place, The Library's signature ceiling-high shelves piled with books, and, the most important thing: perfect light for taking selfies. 

this is the prawn cocktail salad, not a selfie. But how cute would a prawn taking a selfie be! Anyway.

The new menu is positively rippling with flavours and playful, interesting takes on established combinations. For the indecisive amongst us (hi!) this could be fraught-making, but the size of the plates lends them well to ordering many and sharing amongst a few. We started with a cocktail each - the Mrs Peacock (blueberries, raspberry gin, sparkling wine) and Roses Are Red (rose wine, raspberries, cranberry juice, rosewater, rose petals), both the colour of velvety theatre curtains and both a glorious way to start the meal. I believe my words to the impressively mellow person serving us were "I would like to take a bath in this stuff". After much deliberation, we chose the following:

Prawn Cocktail Salad, with prawns, smoked salmon, bloody mary mayonnaise (verdict: punchy, crunchy, retro-fun...chy)
Honey Marinated Salmon, with cauliflower puree, avocado mousse, and pickled vegetables (verdict: how'd they get the salmon so utterly tender and pink, how, also the pickled vegetables were the perfect textural contrast to all that satiny puree)
Fresh Buffalo Mozzarella with basil gremolata, 12 hour tomatoes and olive oil caviar (verdict: milky soft cheese, basil and slowly-cooked tomatoes made sweet and intense will always be an ideal combination. The olive oil caviar was very cute, but maybe didn't add much other than cool visuals - this may be my heathenish self being unappreciative of subtlety, though.)
Beef Carpaccio, with wine barrel smoked mushrooms, shaved parmesan and micro greens (verdict: Wow. How dare you. This is frankly too, too good. I'm outraged.)
Tempura Tuna, with soba noodle salad and wasabi mayonnaise (verdict: the feather-light tempura, super-rich rare tuna, and cold, slippery, sesame-tinged noodles were wonderful together.)
Smoked Brioche Bruschetta, with wild mushrooms and sage butter (Verdict: okay, how did something so simple, which we almost overlooked, taste like wandering through the forest after the rain, like jumping into a pile of autumn leaves, like...sturdy boots - oh wait that last one is kind of insulting. This was just really, really excellent.)

honey marinated salmon: a veritable symphony of textures, if you ask me

tempura tuna with soba noodle salad: my hair is so shiny after all this omega action

We finished with two mighty fine Old Fashioned cocktails (that's one each, but I do like the thought of clutching one in each hand and not leaving till the Angostura bitter end) and we shared Organic Pineapple and Raspberry Sorbets which were so damn fresh and smooth and the only way they could've been bursting with more real fruit flavour would've been if they were one of those suspiciously fake-tasting fruit lollies which tend to insist in their advertising campaigns that they are, in fact, bursting with real fruit flavour. If that makes sense.

even in the face of unutterable fullness, there's always room for sorbet.

beef carpaccio, I shall now tell you how I feel about it through the medium of passionate interpretive dance

the best bit: Everything was straight up brilliant. Service, the place itself, the food, the drinks, everything. However, the standout dishes were the beef carpaccio and the smoked brioche. Carpaccio is one of those dishes I only want to pay for, because, like hair cuts, it's better done by other people. If I tried to do it myself there would just be roughly-hewn chunks of steak everywhere (same goes for trying to do haircuts to be honest.) This was silky layer upon silky layer of cool, rich beef, with thin slivers of parmesan and juicy mushrooms and every time I think about it I feel like I'm clenching my fists and standing in the rain in a dramatic music video, that's how good it was. Perfect ingredients, presented very simply. Perfect. The brioche arrived in a smoke filled dome, which I loved, and despite being something we picked offhand from the menu it was indubitably a favourite. Buttery bread, buttery actual butter, lushly savoury mushrooms tumbled over, everything kissed with smoke. You know a meal is good when you find yourself shouting metaphors and richly detailed imagery at it to illustrate how it makes you feel, rather than just eating it.


it's what's on the inside that counts

on a scale of one to is this the real life, is this just fantasy: While The Library is somewhere I'd happily wander into for a drink and a snack of an evening, this particular all-bets-are-off evening was like an actual don't-pinch-yourself-because-you-don't-want-to-wake-up lucid dream. I give it a nine.

would I do it for not-free: Okay, so I literally cannot afford to recreate the exact quantities that we ate and drank anytime soon, but I am so enamoured with the food that I will most definitely be back to revisit some of the brilliant things we had and to try some more. The coconut coated smoked halloumi, hand-cut potato skins with pecorino and proscuitto, and rare beef fillet with parsnip whip, beetroot tartar and kumara crisps could not be calling my name any harder right now.

more cocktails! The Fresh Prince (gin, elderflower, cucumber, apple juice, celery bitters, lemon, mint) and the Pin Up Fizz (gin, strawberry, lemon, lavender bitters, egg white, cream, sparkling water) one elegant and crisp and one cute and frothy, both way delicious. 

earnest thanks for making me feel fancy to: The Library, upstairs at 53 Courtenay Place, Wellington. 04 382 8593 / bookings@thelibrary.co.nz. Cheers the the wondrous team there for finding us such a fun table, for being so knowledgeable about everything, and for being entirely chill about catching us taking selfies pretty much every time they walked in.

so you want to win a $100 voucher: Well done, you made it to the end of this long post so I'm gonna finally tell you how. The extremely good people at The Library have given me a voucher for one hundred damn dollars to give away to one of you.

All you have to do is the following.

1) Be in New Zealand (better yet, Wellington, for obvious reasons, but as long as you can feasibly get to Wellington at some point I guess you're all good)
2) Leave a comment on this blog post recommending me a song you've been loving lately. It doesn't have to be anything brand new, just something that has been making you feel some things in your heart whenever you play it. Seriously, whatever song you like (there are three acts that I truly detest in this life: Fleetwood Mac, Dire Straits and Phil Collins, but like, in the interest of "fairness" and "ethics" I won't discount you if you mention something by any of them.)
3) Around midday Sunday February 22 I will select a winner at random, and will announce it on my blog's Facebook Page. I'll attempt to get in touch with you via email or whatever if I can work out how, but otherwise you've got around 24 hours or so to get back to me, otherwise I'll have to pick someone else, okay?

PS: The Fancy Plans and Pants to Match archive is here, and feel free to get in touch with me anytime if you're a haver of fanciness out there who wants me to check out your goods.

3 February 2015

fallin' madly in love with the pop

pop, pop, pop that thing

Kinda considered opening with an apology for both (a) popcorn being barely a recipe and (b) not having blogged for a lil while now, but have you considered this: Popcorn? It's so great! Also I've been really busy and have only just had time to sit down and blog and even then I don't actually have time to sit down and blog which is why I'm propped up in bed at 6am trying to make this happen. If you're after an apology, I'm sorry, really truly sorry, but it's not going to happen. 

Mate, what a week though. I flew up to Auckland last Sunday to go to the Laneway music festival the following day, staying with my little brother in the spare room in his impressively central apartment (seriously, I was like, I cannot reciprocate this generosity. I have a patch of floor in the hallway for you, at best.) I caught up with some friends on Sunday night, filling an hour or so wait for a table at the Federal Deli with a drink at the casino across the road - I'd never been to one before and it was kinda weird, I couldn't tell whether I was going to be sucked into a new life sitting at a slot machine or if George Clooney was going to leap out from behind a croupier to impel me to commit a heist - in the end all that happened was I drank a house pinot gris. The company was rad though and it was fun being all Out And About In Auckland which I generally get to do about one and a half times per year. 

bright lights big city

Laneway though! As soon as I got there I was hit with feelings of wait, I don't like crowds unless they're in front of me and I have a microphone and carte blanche to ad-lib; I immediately fry in the sun like a kernel of popcorn over a skillet; I am cranky and short and what am I doing here...Fortunately the universe smiled benevolently and it was to be a singularly perfect day full of good fortune and friendly vibes and beautiful gal pals and incredible music. Let me just briefly say, FKA Twigs separating every molecule of her body while she danced and St Vincent snarling and yelping while dancing with brittle angularity and Angel Olsen and Courtney Barnett and Jungle and heck, even Belle and Sebastian, whose audience we were adjacent to while waiting for FKA Twigs. I'm only really a fan of one or two of their songs but they were so affable and we were so full of anticipation that it was all wonderful, in a very 'getting there is part of the journey' kind of way.

good current snacks in front of evidence of good previous snacks 

I'm not even there yet, there being the point where I ate this popcorn. Because the day following Laneway, I went and stayed with my parents for a few days, which, having not been home since September, it would've been way remiss of me not to do. I had a very good time hanging with Roger the cat, who had had an operation on his leg and needed constant head pats; seeing family that it had Been Too Long since I'd last seen; being with Dad on his birthday for the first time in ages and getting to make him a birthday cake; picking up some treasures from the Waiuku op shop; watching well made British period dramas with Mum, running into wonderful ex-teachers of mine, and all those other being-home type activities.

And then I came back to Wellington and Kate and Jason and I threw a truly excellent housewarming party (okay, they own the house and I just parasitically lodge there! But it was also something of a 'bye Laura' party since I'm moving around the corner soon.) There was dancing, there was glamorous rum punch, there was raucousness, there was gazing at the (truculently hidden by clouds, but still) stars on a blanket on the lawn; there were so many glorious friends there and amazing snacks and ugh, I just love having parties so much. The next day there was an abundance of $5 Pizza Hut pizza (I typed in Pizza Hug by mistake into Google and could've almost cried with how appropriate that was and also I was a bit hungover) and coffee and Broad City and sluggishly snuggling.

gonna talk about how amazing this popcorn is, any second now 

So finally, this brings me to this popcorn. Getting there is part of the journey! Instead of, you know, feeding myself on a regular basis with a variety of produce, I tend to go through brief flurries of obsession with a particular foodstuff, followed by a long period of completely forgetting about it. Popcorn is one such foodstuff. For a while I was eating it nonstop, and then suddenly I was a person who went eleven months in possession of three tupperware containers of popcorn kernels and also a half-filled plastic bag of kernels held closed with a twist-tie.

The other day out of nowhere, with absolutely no cool story or provenance, it just happened, I said unto Kate: "I bet fried sage popcorn would be really good". And then yesterday, I made myself some. And it was amazing. See, aren't you glad I did all this gallivanting around the country with activities, otherwise this tiny paragraph is all that the blog post would've been! I...can also see how that might be preferable to some. If it is, I'm not sure why you're persisting with my writing though, because this is fairly standard behaviour for me. I can be succinct when I'm dead! But also right now, because this recipe could not be more succinct. A small reward for you after all this rambling, I guess.


crispy fried sage popcorn

a recipe by myself. 

a handful - around half a cup - of freshly plucked sage leaves
20g butter
one tablespoon olive oil
a third of a cup of popcorn kernels

Melt the butter in a heavy-based frying pan. Add the sage leaves in a single layer and let them cook in the sizzling butter, till they darken and curl at the edges a little. Remove from the heat while you make the popcorn. Place the olive oil and popcorn kernels in a large saucepan, and put the lid on top. Let it sit over a low heat, till the corn starts to pop - keep an eye on it, shaking the pan occasionally, till as much as possible has popped. Remove from the heat (it might continue to pop for a little longer) and spatula the sage leaves and butter into said popcorn, stirring gently to disperse the crisp leaves throughout. This serves two as a snack. 

So this is magnificently delicious, people. Crisp, buttery sage leaves with their resinously herbal flavour and wafer-thin crunch work perfectly with the puffy, porous, pleasingly alliterative popcorn. The flavour of the sage works its way into the butter, and it's just a salty, textural, vaguely sophisticated yet childish-party-food-like joy to eat. I can't recommend fried sage leaves enough, frankly. Just fry a pile of them and eat them unadorned on their own, you're still in for a good time. 

PS my hair is now lavender and silver-grey! I feel like it's my favourite incarnation yet.

I look perturbed, but it's only because I'm trying to come to grips with how bowl-cut my hair has become. I'm talking large practical mixing bowl here. I can't afford a trim, okay! But will continue to distract myself and us all from this with strange colours. 

PS once more, I can't believe I forgot to mention this in the last blog post, since I love being interviewed so much - I'm in the February issue of Next magazine! I was interviewed as part of a story about teenage ambition and where you actually ended up and how you feel about your life (it's more positive than it might sound), and it was so fun to participate in. And Angelina Jolie is on the cover! Highly decent company to be keeping.

This is my last week in this adorable house with my adorable friends Kate and Jason and Ariel the cat - I'm not actually quite sure when I am moving as I won't get my roster for this week until today, but can rest unassured that it's gonna happen soon. My approach to packing could charitably be described as "limp", but I'm sure it'll alllll come together. I mean, considering it'll be my fifth address in less than a year, I should really know how to move house by now.
title from: Oh Land, Heavy Eyes. I am suuuuch an Oh Land fan. 
music lately:

Marina and the Diamonds' brand new track, I'm a Ruin. I love this woman, she just keeps on doing her.

Drake and Nicki Minaj, Make Me ProudOH, DRAKE. Of course I will. I love when these two work together, and also Nicki Minaj talking about how great her life is going is highly inspiring stuff.

Courtney Barnett, Pickles From The Jar. It's laconically exuberant and I love it. She was so great at Laneway.

Dawn Richard, Tide: The Paradox Effect. Juuuust listen. (If you have feelings about FKA Twigs you'll probably enjoy this, to employ some lazy shorthand to make you more likely to juuuust listen.)
next time: maybe something in my new kitchen? Wooooo!