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. 

17 October 2015

eight years later you won me over

you say potato, I say potato, you say this is confusing without vocal cues for context

Historically speaking, more than a few auspicious things have happened on October 14: in 1964 Martin Luther King Jr received the Nobel Peace Prize; the first gay rights march was held in Washington DC in '79; Katherine Mansfield, Usher, Ben Whishaw and the All Saints' Shaznay all were born, and in 2007, I started this blog. I mean. Wow. I may not be on the Wikipedia page for "On This Day In History Yet", but I stand by my Wow.

I went back and read through some blog posts from that time eight years ago and was struck by two things: firstly, I was vigorously earnest. In a way that I'm going to insist upon thinking of as endearing, for self-care purposes. Secondly, I'm kind of impressed at how hard I threw myself into this blog. In October 2007 alone I wrote 22 posts. That's almost as many as I've written this entire damn year. And I was so adventurous - every single post is all like, "Well, I got home from uni so I thought I'd make three pavlovas for my flatmates" or "just marinating two kilos of pork" or "I made this steamed pudding and this loaf of bread and this tray of brownies for while we caught up on Outrageous Fortune which is basically like studying for uni since the title is a Shakespeare quote, zing!"

But here I am, many addresses, story arcs, jobs, sub-plots, identities, hair colours, recipes and one cookbook later. And this blog is still one of the most important things in my life, and it's still going. I think that's impressive, yeah? Much as I feel vaguely cringey occasionally looking back at my old blog posts, I mean, it's not like I'm that amazing now at being not-cringey. If anything, it wouldn't hurt to try and harness that fresh-faced 2007-level of energy.

But, today is not that day. Earlier this week I thought it would be cool to make myself an enormous birthday cake to be all "yay hungryandfrozen!" but instead I went to work and then went out dancing and then slept for most of the next day in an embarrassingly unproductive off-brand manner and suddenly it was several days later, so instead all you're getting is my introspective introspection and this potato salad.

Fortunately, it's an incredible potato salad.

For all that Nigella gets framed as someone who is wantonly extravagant (and frankly I would be too if I had her millions) if you dig around she has so many recipes that are extremely accessible to the average living-paycheck-to-paycheck human. Which is why I was able to throw myself into her cookbooks as a ludicrously broke student many years ago - although admittedly it's because I would often buy, say, pomegranates or dried porcini while sticking bits of cardboard in the bottom of my shoes to block the holes in the soles and tying the broken shoelaces together instead of buying more - and in hindsight, I frankly don't know why on earth buying new shoelaces seemed like such a personal sacrifice but I guess it explains something about who I am as a person.

Within her excellent and fairly underrated book Forever Summer, I found a recipe that perfectly straddled my particular needs on a particular day: cheap enough to make on Payday Eve, and fulfilling my bid to eat a vegetable occasionally.

baked potato salad 

this is how I made Nigella Lawson's recipe from her book Forever Summer. 

three medium-to-large floury potatoes
extra virgin olive oil
flat-leaf parsley 
lemon juice

Set your oven to 200C/400F and give the potatoes a quick stab with a fork or other stabbing implement. Wrap them snugly in tinfoil and throw them in the oven for an hour or so until a sharp knife slides right into them without the slightest hint of resistance. 

Carefully unwrap the potatoes and half them lengthwise, and allow them to cool just enough that they're not entirely resembling the surface of the sun. Use a spoon to scrape out the soft baked potato flesh from the skins, and pile it all onto a large flat plate. That is all the hard work done: now just drizzle over as much olive oil as you please, squeeze lemon juice over, scatter with salt and sumac and finally adorn it all with parsley leaves. This is nicest when it's right at room temperature but eat it how and when you choose. 

Meanwhile, because the universe is occasionally bountiful, you can also turn the oven to grill, put grated cheese in the cavities of the remaining scraped-out potato skins, and grill them till it's all bubblingly melted and the skins are crunchy and everything is good.  

Sumac is a spice that is similar to pomegranate and tamarind in that it imparts a fresh, punchy sourness along with gorgeous colour - so if you don't have any on you and are unlikely to find some anytime soon, consider just blanketing this with tendrils of lemon zest. Sometimes recipes can seem almost too simple, as though you have to explain them contritely to whoever you're serving them to in case they're like "wait so is this just a potato on a plate or what" but simplicity of this salad is what makes it so perfect. The olive oil sinks into the crumbled, tender potato, the parsley gives a slight stab of peppery leafiness, the sumac and lemon juice subtly yet tartly liven everything up, and it really doesn't matter how much of any particular ingredient you add. I guess this technically serves a few people but I ate the entire thing all at once; if you want more just add more ingredients, silly.

Aside from achieving eight years of being in a relationship with this blog, the only other real significant things that have happened recently are: I finally finished watching every last episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with Kate and became an emotional unfilled brandy snap as a result (that is; hollow and fragile and fairly outdated); and I dyed my hair bright red. My parents also visited Wellington for the first time in ages and I was able to show them around my stomping grounds (that is, work) and it was lovely to spend time with them. Unfortunately they didn't bring the cats along on the visit, but I won't hold it against them.

I'm a lot happier about the dye job than I let on

So I didn't manage to get my act together to celebrate my blog's birthday in a suitably jaunty manner, but I think it will be okay. I mean, look how far I've come since this photo I posted here eight years ago. I still have that plate, and for some reason that year our flat got sent a LOT of Scientology literature and pamphlets, which is what it's sitting next to. Thanks to all of you who have been reading this though, whether for years and years or merely for regretful minutes - I appreciate every set of eyeballs, every kind email I've got, everyone who has lived through my life along with me. As I said in my very first blog post, "what I've been cooking and what I've been up to lately are often the same thing". Bring on six seasons and a movie.
title from: The Veronicas' mercilessly sad song In Another Life. There's actually a bit where you hear an audible sniffle (followed by me audibly breaking down)
music lately: 

Millencolin, Penguins and Polar Bears. I heard this song for the first time in forever at Kim's goth-themed birthday party recently and have been listening to it nonstop ever since. It contains many of my kryptonites: a gratuitously adorable song title, angst, and a lead singer who sounds like they've got a blocked nose. 

Roxette, She's Got The Look. Oh my gosh, this SONG. It came on the other day when I was out dancing and I hadn't heard it in actual years and it slays me, all that 80s-ness and minor keys and frantic-ness. 

Tom Cruise, Dead or Alive. I mean. I rewatched Rock of Ages with Kim recently and was so irritated at how hot he is in this. Also Bon Jovi is another of my many kryptonites, so. But seriously, just watch this and then deal with your feelings. 
next time: maybe a better-late-than-never cake? 

8 October 2015

fancy plans and pants to match: high tea degustation at hippopotamus

Well hello there, and welcome to another instalment of Fancy Plans and Pants to Match, where I acknowledge that okay, sometimes nice things happen to me because I am a food blogger and author, and I try to write about them in a way that's cool and not too irritating. This segment is named for a quote by the wry and spry Jimmy James from cruelly overlooked 90s sitcom NewsRadio. And now that I've done some self-deprecation and explained some things; I shall actually tell you about the nice thing that happened.

So here's the thing: I was invited to Hippopotamus, the Museum Hotel restaurant, to attend a six-course degustation-style High Tea. Centred around literal tea.

The pitch: Hippopotamus executive head chef Laurent Loudeac and Cocktail/tea maker Camille Furminieux competed against 20 teams from 13 countries in the Dilmah Real High Tea Global Challenge and only went and won the whole thing! Their six course menu both paired and incorporated Dilmah teas and had the theme of 'The Meeting of the Senses'. Once back in New Zealand, they did a one-time recreation of the entire thing for us at Hippopotamus. Turns out, victory is delicious.  

What happened: Dry ice, tea and gin cocktails, crepes suzettes flamed on the spot in front of us...I really had no idea what to expect going in but should have known that since Hippopotamus is all effortlessly spectacular on a daily basis, that it would've been impressive. It was so impressive. 

The food included...

Confit duck leg tortellini in Silver Jubilee Ceylon Ginger, Honey and Mint tea consomme The broth was crystal clear and so delicately flavoured while the duck was so meaty and tender. The sweetness of the duck was brought out by the tea, but also the slight breath of mint and absolute lightness of the dish kept it all in check. Basically: so lush.

Clevedon Buffalo milk Feta Espuma, macadamia nougatine and cucumber with a Vivid Gentle Minty Green Lady cocktail The espuma was a kind of aerated feta mousse that I could've comfortably hoofed down buckets of - so creamy and yet feather-light, tangy from the feta but sweetly crunchy from the macadamias - it was incredibly dreamy stuff. The cocktail was glorious - love a bit of mid-morning gin - using Lighthouse gin, tea, and a little Ch'i fizzy water to create something so delicious I wanted to dive into it and swim around. (It seems this course in particular provoked some hyperbole within me.)

Poire Belle-Helene with Medda Watte Single Region Ceylon Mulled Tea the weather was reliably awful on this particular day and so the genius idea of using tea in a mulled mocktail was incredibly well-received by my bedraggled self. The drink included black doris plum juice, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, blackcurrant syrup and of course, this particularly fancy tea. It was glorious. The food itself was both delicious and adorable which is one of my top five food genres - diminutive baby pears poached till tender and snugly blanketed in chocolate sauce. A classic and classically beautiful dessert.   

the best bit: each course was stunning, both in terms of taste and presentation, and it was fun to hear the affable and extremely talented Laurent and Melanie talk about their time in Sri Lanka and their decisions around each dish and drink. Honestly the coolest bit though, was when our tables were flooded with dry ice. I am never not impressed by dry ice, it seems, but it did also tie into the whole theme of The Meeting of the Senses. And looked so cool. Also, the whole thing really did make me appreciate the complexities of tea and made me want to use it a lot more in my cooking.

on a scale of 1 to "is this the real life, is this just fantasy": it was so unlike anything I'd experienced before and am unlikely to be surrounded by that much tea-related excitement ever again. On top of that the food was utterly wondrous and the staff were confidently capable and charming. So yeah, it's up there close to ten.   

Would I do this again for not-free: I mean, this was a one-off event and I am constantly piteously broke so I literally couldn't do this if I wasn't invited along, but if I was more flush I would be at Hippopotamus all the time.

Earnest thanks for making me feel fancy to: Hippopotamus, at the Museum Hotel, 90 Cable Street, Wellington 04 802 8935/ hippo@museumhotel.co.nz. Also thanks hugely to the photographer on the day whose wonderful photos you see here. And here's the Fancy Plans and Pants to Match archive if you wish to read more things like this (it's really good, okay.)