21 August 2015

i should tell you: laura lee

Well hello there and welcome to volume eighteen of I Should Tell You, where I ask cool musicians questions about food, pretty much to see if they'll answer me, really, but also because the results are usually interesting as. The same three questions every time, with the likes of Anika Moa, Coco Solid and The Phoenix Foundation giving me their food thoughts - and this time I'm talking to the boo Laura Lee.

Laura Lee is one of those charming babes you might come across in life where you're all like, "hey babydoll, hey bae, hey honeybee" even though you barely know them, because you just end up falling into that kind of familiarity with them right away. We originally bonded over a bunch of stuff (including using the adjective "dreamburgers" to describe a young Leonardo DiCaprio) and I have been a huge fan of her music in all its iterations. She was part of O'Lovely, whose album Constellations had me swooning from the first moment I heard the single Bright Lights - but now she's on her own as Laura Lee.

Little Too Late is her first single which she recently released and it's gorgeous, with that dreamy, sad-yet-upbeat pop vibe that I love. Can't wait to see what she comes out with next...

Thanks Laura! The interview will start...now.

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

I can't think of anywhere that I like to brag about but there is someone.. When I've got some spare time in the day I head down to my local cafe called Sam Barnes, there's a baker there who I've now become friends with (not just for her cakes.)

I went in there one day and asked about their birthday cake options, I explained to her that I don't have a sweet tooth and she made me a mixed berry cheese cake. It's one of the best things I've ever tasted. I don't usually get excited about cakes but she's changed me! She's truly an artist. Ever since she made me my birthday cake I brag about her to anyone that is needing cakes or catering because her cakes are like nothing I've ever tasted. 

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

I'm obsessed with popcorn. I started making it everyday after school when I was about 13, at first I think my mum was hoping it was a fad as I'd get home and stink the house out every day, I also like to cook it to the point where it almost starts to burn, at first I didn't know what I was doing so I burnt a couple of pots.... 

These days I don't cook it daily but any excuse to make it and I'll do it. I like to experiment with different flavours. When I was in Melbourne I went through a faze of cooking it in coconut oil with Turmeric and Salt and Pepper. Tonight I made it with honey and salt... I also have to say I'm obsessed with dates, they're right up there with popcorn!! 

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

When ever I see hundreds and thousands it reminds me of being a child, I have flashbacks of going to birthday parties and eating fairy bread. Hundreds and Thousands biscuits have the same affect. They were my favourite  biscuits as a child and probably still are.

The smell of dill is my other strong food-related memories, mum used to put it in rice as it cooked and the whole house would smell amazing. I do it now and then, it's also tasty cooled with a squeeze of lemon juice mixed though. It makes the rice taste just lovely!

18 August 2015

let's go dip it low then you bring it up slow

looky looky I got cookie 

Oh man, I started writing this blog post the other day and concluded that one of the good things about the past week or so is that I haven't been sick for once, and then I woke up this morning feeling all woolly-headed and tender-eyeballed and sniffly and grubby and generally like a pile of dirt with a sad face drawn on it. This has been the sickliest winter, and I'm so unimpressed - can someone with a better sense of authority than I please tell my immune system that it's grounded for the next month with no TV? Am crossing all fingers that it's a shortlived burst of grime-lung as opposed to the return of the flu.

Other than my frustratingly delicate health, things have been thoroughly quite good of late: some working, some cooking, some hanging with friends and their beautiful dog while watching Buffy, a ludicrously late night out dancing, a day spent dozing in bed without - miraculously - getting angry at myself for not achieving anything with my time, and some whisky and movies and pizza and the batty latest season of America's Next Top Model with my girlfriend. The only real thing making me frown (prior to feeling sick again) has been processing my feelings about the mid-season finale of Pretty Little Liars, (if you have feelings about that then friend: I am your girl to discuss it with), plus some unfairly painful cramps. Which were probably brought on by Pretty Little Liars, to be honest.

Importantly, there were also cookies! I made these about a week ago, simply because I felt this wiggly need to bake something. Overwhelmed by the internet when I went looking for inspiration (y'know, it's all either triple backflip oreo stuffed red velvet bla bla bla cookies or raw high-protein dust cookies) I attempted to narrow down what it was I had in mind, which was: just something nice, okay? After some ineffectual writhing I eventually came up with this non-threateningly simple yet wonderful recipe, where they're fairly plain but made with lots of brown sugar and dipped in milk chocolate. The where the end result is a little chewy, a little crunchy, and a little meltingly shortbread-like. And a lot smug-inducing.

zoomed in slightly: still good 

I took some to work to share because I am a literal earth-angel, and gave some to my girlfriend to say "yay it's our six month anniversary but here is a low-key token of my affection or whatever it's no biggie jk jk it's really amazing I am the sincerest"; and ate the rest in bed by myself, and by all accounts, especially my own, they were utterly delicious. It's always promising when the uncooked dough tastes so good that you consider retiring to your boudoir to eat the lot and pretend you can't hear when people ask you where the cookies are that you said you'd make.

chocolate dipped brown sugar cookies

a recipe by myself

250g soft butter
one cup brown sugar
one egg
two cups flour
half a teaspoon baking powder

Set your oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4 and line a baking tray with baking paper. 

Okay so all you need to do is: mix stuff together, roll into balls, bake it until it's cookies, but I am a talky lass and like to hold your hand through the process. What I'm saying is, the long recipe below might make it look like this is hellaciously complicated but it's not, promise. 

Beat the butter and sugar together with a wooden spoon (or whatever! a rudimentary stick you found in the garden! A 30cm ruler! Don't let me put you in a box) until it's all light and creamy and fluffy and tastes incredibly delicious. Crack in the egg and continue to beat the mixture till it's even lighter, then carefully fold in the flour and baking powder - at this point it's very easy to fling stuff everywhere if you stir too vigorously. My dough looked a little dry and crumbly and like there was far too much flour but if you keep working it and clump it together with your hands it should form a pliant, stiff dough.

Refrigerate for half an hour- which is boring, yes, but this step helps the cookies to not spread too far when they bake. 

Roll the cookies into small balls, maybe around the size of an unshelled walnut, and flatten them slightly using the back of a teaspoon. Bake them for around 12-16 minutes until they're lightly browned. I got a little distracted on the internet while they were baking and so some of mine are more browned than they oughta be, but they still tasted good. However, they will firm up and continue to cook a bit as they cool, so trust your instincts and remove them to a rack to cool when you feel they're ready. Repeat this with the remaining dough.

Melt 250g milk chocolate in the microwave, or however you do it, and dip half of each cooled cookie into it. Sit them on a sheet of baking paper till they're set, then they're finally ready to be eaten. 

bite me 

These would be just lovely on their own but dipping them in chocolate makes them spectacular spectacular - milk chocolate is gently sweet with a creamy, slightly caramel vibe which works so well with these cookies. I know dark chocolate is considered to be the best kind but it's honestly just not that fun to hoof into, all bitter and miserable and throat-coatingly cocoa-dark, and that kind of distraction is not what I want for these beauties. The way your teeth sink through the thin yet lightly crisp layer of chocolate into the crumbling, buttery cookie below generates a feeling that I can only explain by pointing you towards the hearts-for-eyes emoji.

So there you have it, these are easy to make, delicious at all stages, good to give away and perfect to eat in bed as your day's food intake in its entirety. While not eating cookies or galumphing about complaining about how sick I am, I'm working hard on trying to get a million deadline-esque things done - including another crush cake for The Toast, more stuff for The Spinoff, and an interview with the babe Laura Lee for the I Should Tell You segment of this very blog. I'm drinking an aperol spritz as I write though and I can feel it helping me.
title from: Rihanna's still killer debut single Pon De Replay. Who could've known back in 2005 that Rihanna would become Rihanna? Well, we all should've, because this song is so good.  
music lately:

Lana Del Rey, High By The BeachI love this woman so much and am loving the unimpressed vibe her lyrics have taken in this dreamy new song of hers.

Men Without HatsThe Safety Dance. What care I that this song is literally the most dorky thing on earth? I love it so much, it's so earnestly jaunty and happy and also strongly echoes my own feelings about dancing. It's on the work playlist and it's honestly quite dangerous: the first time I heard it I was so excited that I hurled a hot chocolate to the ground, making the title of the song a dark omen brought to fruition, really.
Next time: Another I Should Tell You interview, wheeeeeeeee!

12 August 2015

fancy plans and pants to match: portlander's visa wellington on a plate menu


Well hello there, and welcome to another instalment of Fancy Plans and Pants to Match, where I acknowledge that sometimes nice things happen to me and then try to write about it in a way that's not tooooo teeth-grindingly irritating to read. No point being coy, but also I don't want to sound as though I'm totally used to this kind of thing, because it's super exciting every time. Anyway! Now that I have the requisite self-deprecation out of the way, I can actually get on with telling you what happened. Two things though: first, if you're wondering, this segment is named for a quote from Jimmy James, an abundantly excellent character from the highly slept-on 90s sitcom NewsRadio. And secondly, I've managed to lose both my stupid SD cards and so my camera is now little more than an expensive sculpture, meaning that I have to use my phone to take photos instead. As such these images aren't the highest quality they could be, but I've decided to lean into this by running them through some distractingly dreamy filters. 

I now have the theme song from the tv show Lamb Chop's Play-Along stuck in my head and I also have no regrets...except that this is happening 

so here's the thing: I was invited along to Portlander to preview their menu for Visa Wellington on a Plate Festival.

the pitch: Visa Wellington on a Plate is approaching super fast, and despite all the cool events promised I have to say for me the most interesting bit is seeing what set menus all the restaurants come up with for the Dine Wellington side of things. Portlander is the restaurant connected to the Rydges Hotel, both elegant and yet burger-ly chill and a rare example of a hotel restaurant that really excels in its own right as a stand-alone eatery. Last year Portlander's menu did incredibly well for them and they wanted to run this year's offerings past a few of us before the festival launches - and if there's one thing I love more than food, it's sneaky food. Once the festival starts you can get two courses or three courses plus a beverage for a set price at lunchtime and dinner respectively, but we got to try the whole damn lot.

what happened: myself and another foodwriter were given a special table to ourselves with the lovely Sales and Marketing Coordinator; where we were brought all the various courses that would be available on the set menu and given the chance to share them, wallow in the deliciousness, and then provide any feedback we had.

salmon! some mega deliciousness with your omega-3 

The food went as follows -

Starters: Palliser Bay lamb cutlets with Mediterranean Food Warehouse dried figs, toasted pistachio, cranberries and Prana Greens pea shoots (verdict: an excellent mix of meatily sweet lamb, deeply sweet figs and sour-sweet cranberries.)
Grilled scallops with Zany Zeus smoked yoghurt and Greytown Gold saffron essence with parmesan chips, Prana Greens micro herbs and avocado oil (verdict: scallops feel like such a rare treat for me, they're not something I would encounter more than like, once a year at best, and these were glorious - mellow and tender and bouncy and excellent with the playful pairing of smoked yoghurt.)

Mains: Char-grilled wild venison fillet with Farm Fresh wild mushroom polenta and light truffle jus (verdict: I am a right sucker for polenta in any form so was easily pleased by this gorgeously wintry combination of flavours. The venison was dense and rich and the mushrooms intensely savoury; it was wonderful)
Yellow Brick Road Ōra King Salmon cold smoked with Elaia Gourmet Olives leaf tea and manuka wood chips, crushed potato, housepreserved lemon and Koroneiki extra virgin Greytown Gold olive oil (verdict: the salmon was amazing, with an intriguing, gently smoky flavour that complemented the richness of the coral pink flesh stunningly. Sour salty stabs of lemon and olive flavour, while almost overwhelming, helped keep it balanced. And to literally top it all off the salmon skin, silver like a disco ball, was perfectly crunchy.)

Dessert:Apple Sourz sorbet and RJ’s liquorice individual baked cheesecakes (verdict: I was tickled by the inclusion of the Sourz, which made for a luscious, zingy sorbet. Liquorice is one of the few flavours I avoid in this life, it does absolutely nothing for me, but this cheesecake was spectacular - the flavour was more like the darkest molasses toffee giving way to the barest tickle of liquorice, and the texture was satiny-smooth.)
Housemade shortbread sandwich with Zelati Freezeria peanut butter ice cream and blonde Beer Belly Jellies (verdict: while a little difficult to get into with one's cutlery, the shortbread was buttery and properly homemade-tasting, while the ice cream shone with pure peanut butter flavour that worked well with the creamy texture, and, oddly, the blonde beer flavoured jelly that accompanied it. On its own the jelly was a bit evocative of a country pub's carpet, but as long as it wasn't the only thing on your spoon it was ultimately a daring choice that paid off.)

ice cream sandwich: yes. 

the best bit: our hosts were hugely charming and gregarious, and the Johner Estate wine was plentiful and glorious - admittedly my wine knowledge is like...mostly bluffing, guesswork, and fixed eye contact while confidently telling you adjectives, but this really is delicious wine. However that incredible liquorice cheesecake was the standout for me - such incredible, subtle, deep-toned flavour and swoony texture that got me enthusiastically eating something I professed to dislike. (Outside of this cheesecake though I'm still staunchly not a fan. There's these photos of me on my first birthday, one of me moving stealthily towards my birthday cake to steal a black jellybean, and then one of my horrified and perplexed face when I actually ate it. Not much has changed.)

on a scale of 'one' to 'is this the real life, is this just fantasy': I mean - the very point of these Dine Wellington menus is that they're highly accessible, and it's lovely to know I could have aspects of this meal all over again during the Visa Wellington on a Plate festival. It was thoroughly fun to be dining at our own special table though, and a delightfully fancy evening, so I give it a solid five. (To reiterate, this is rating it for how outlandish and unattainable it is, not how good it is.)

earnest thanks for helping me feel fancy to: Portlander at the Rydges Hotel, corner of Whitmore and Featherston Street, Wellington. For more information call 04 498 3762 or email info@portlander.co.nz.

Read the Fancy Plans and Pants to Match archives here, and giz a yell at laura@hungryandfrozen.com if you want to invite me to your own fancy times. 

5 August 2015

i'm not sick but i'm not well, and it's a sin to live so well

there is a Maori proverb: the kumara does not speak of its own sweetness. I love this proverb, but I do not resemble it, let's face it.

After all my deep-lunging insistence in my last blog post that I want to be quadruply productive, the final week of July was a monumental write-off, as I was dramatically burdened with the literal flu. All I could do was lie in bed all flushed of cheek and starry of eye like some breathily consumptive side character from an LM Montgomery novel who gets struck down with illness as a cosmic punishment for being too "high-spirited". Honestly it was absolute agony, I couldn't even fill the time by watching movies or TV on my darling laptop because looking at screens cruelly made me feel queasy, and aside from hallucinating my way through several shifts at work all I did was sleep or doze fretfully while cursing this good-for-nothing flesh vessel of a body that had failed me so spectacularly and turned me into actual garbage. (I couldn't even watch Pretty Little Liars. It was wretched, I can tell you.)

Needless to say I didn't do any cooking. It's 100% possible that I would've got better sooner if I hadn't expended thousands of watts of energy on being angry and frustrated at how much time I was wasting by being sick - there has never been a more petulant and frowny invalid than I! - but here I finally am, maybe not entirely perfectly better but so improved and ready to exist again.

the blogger never stops speaking of their own sweetness

After spending that week living like my brain had been unceremoniously thrown into a ravine with me left behind to flail helplessly, I also felt like I'd forgotten what it was like to just up and make myself food like it was no big deal. I was, as such, writhing around indecisively being all "what shall I cooooook" yesterday when my flatmate and dear friend Charlotte mentioned that she'd made kumara chips with major success the night before. This suggestion inspired me to make something similar, and my brain finally made itself useful and presented me with the idea of roasting kumara and then covering it with some kind of feta-studded crumble.

It was an absolute, rapturous success - roastily sweet kumara with the crunch of lightly toasted walnuts and breadcrumbs roughly torn from a bread roll, bulgingly soft, tangy feta, and rich fragrant thyme. And not just to eat, but to look at, with the bright-white feta against the sunset orange of the kumara and jaunty pinpoints of herbal green. A damn masterpiece all round, and to make it even more endearing, it's incredibly easy and fast to make.

roasted kumara with feta, walnuts, thyme and breadcrumbs

a recipe by myself

one good-sized orange kumara
olive oil
about 100g soft feta
about half a cup fresh breadcrumbs (I just tore a bread roll into tiny/not so tiny pieces) 
a third of a cup of walnuts
about one tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves
one tablespoon pumpkin seeds

Set your oven to 200 C. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Slice the kumara fairly finely into slices of about half a centimetre - accuracy and uniformity is not particularly important here. Lay them on the baking tray and drizzle over some olive oil, using a pastry brush to spread it out evenly. Sprinkle over a little salt and roast them - I put the tray pretty close to the top of the oven - for fifteen to twenty minutes, turning over once halfway through, till they're tender. 

While the kumara is in the oven, combine the breadcrumbs, thyme leaves, walnuts and pumpkin seeds in a small bowl, then crumble in the feta and gently mix it all together. Sprinkle this evenly over the kumara and return to the oven for another five to ten minutes just to toast the bread and soften the feta a little. Eat. 

If you don't live within reach of a kumara, those gourd-shaped orange butternut squashes would be perfect instead, and you could always leave out the feta to make this completely vegan. 

I did do one other thing last week: I spatula'd myself out of bed long enough to go get a haircut, my first since I chopped my long hair off last year. It was nothing dramatic, just cleaning up the layers a bit so I didn't look quite so much like I'd brushed my hair with a cheese grater; and I do believe the results are very cute.

Everything else, all my plans I'd had for Doing Things and Being Productive and Aggressively Achieving had to be put off, but on the upside I did insist on learning absolutely nothing from the experience about letting things go and putting one's own wellbeing before one's own expectations of, uh, one. 

Included in my plans for the upcoming unspecified period of time is reading The Sex Myth by Rachel Hills. I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of it, but unfortunate enough for that to coincide with me being all busy and sick, but it's nice to know it's there, at least. Look at that sprightly cover art! Oh man I want to write another book. 

But let us be irritatingly positive and upbeat: I did feed myself, and it was wonderful. Go me. And if you're feeling ill or been sick too in this bleak midwinter, my sincerest, like, so sincere it almost sounds like I'm making fun of you, sympathies. Get well soon! 
title from: Harvey Danger, Flagpole Sitta. This song absolutely encapsulates for me that back-in-my-day thing of hearing a song on the radio and having to wait weeks to hear it again and having no idea what it was called or even what the lyrics were, in fact not even having heard it enough to satisfactorily hum it to yourself in your own head. It wasn't until late 2000 that I learned what its name was and who wrote it, on some kind of song lyrics forum: yes, I'm kinda elderly. Also this song remains completely brilliant, if you don't feel like springing about the room and singing lustily along with the chorus then I'm not sure we can be friends. (Also: I only just noticed how funny it is that they rhyme "well" with "well" in the chorus. How daring!) 
music lately:

I remain on such a Faith No More kick and am playing the very heck out of their Live in London album on youtube; We Care A Lot is still so so so good. 

Demi Lovato, Cool For The Summer. I am so pro-Lovato, and love how we get all these summer bangers right in the middle of winter when they're most needed. 
next time: I refuse to be sick again, okay? I just refuse. So hopefully you'll be hearing from me sooner rather than later.