15 August 2014

alone, listless, breakfast table in an otherwise empty room

The box in the background is where all my kitchen accoutrements will go, including this bowl and fork. Once I've washed them, don't worry.

This is the last blog post I'll be writing from my not-quite-my-home-anymore-home, before I move house next Wednesday. The new place is like...fine, but I'm going to miss where I am now so much: the celestial light, the concrete floors, the bathroom that looks like it's from a nice hotel, waking up in the night to see the moon hovering protectively outside my window, how stupidly instagrammable it all is, how enormous my room is, and so on and (self-indulgently wallowing) so forth. But, as I say to myself sternly, a change could be good for me, and whether or not it is, it's still happening, and I can do my best to turn my new room into a beautiful haven too. I have a recurring bad dream where it's suddenly Christmas Day and I have five minutes to get to my plane home and forgot to buy any presents and am generally very lost and confused as to how it all happened so fast, and that's a decent description of how I feel right now, but...yeah. It's happening. And I'm sure I'm gonna love this new place too.

All I've been doing with my spare time is looking for a flat, visiting flats, and packing my things up, so not much time to cook, but I wanted to minimise the amount of things I had to transfer between houses and so decided to make some kind of all-inclusive salad from the various nubbins of food in the pantry and fridge. Which means this is kind of ridiculous and bitsy and piecey and not really anything at all, but since it's the last thing I'm likely to cook here and I don't want to sacrifice writing this blog just because I am so busy making all signs of myself slowly reduce as the place becomes more and more empty...I thought I'd share it here anyway.

Also gosh, sorry for being so maudlin and overwrought, in my defence, I'm maudlin and overwrought. I am being relatively practical and calm in comparison to my own self, if that makes sense. As I said in my last blog post, a lot of things just kinda suck right now, but I'm working on what I can control (ha! very little) and getting through the rest somehow. Just like everyone else is.

brown rice, wheat berry, fried bean salad

a recipe by myself; makes quite a lot.

half a cup wheatberries 
half a cup brown rice
one cup frozen green beans (or fresh ones trimmed and sliced, you fancy thing you)
half a cauliflower, sliced into florets
two cloves garlic
a couple of tablespoons of capers
50g butter, at least
a handful of almonds, sliced 
olive oil
white wine vinegar
a tablespoon harissa
pinch salt

Soak the wheatberries and rice in boiling water for a couple of hours - this will speed up the cooking process, which will still take kind of ages. There is a reason that they've been sitting untouched in my cupboard for so long. 

Cook them together in boiling water in a good sized pot for around 25 minutes or until both the rice and the wheat are tender. Drain, and set aside. Melt the butter in a saucepan till it's sizzling, then throw in the beans, cauliflower, capers and garlic and allow to fry aggressively till everything is quite browned and cooked through. Add the almonds at this stage and allow them to brown a little too, then remove from the heat. Stir all this into the rice/wheat mixture, then in a small bowl, stir together about three tablespoons of olive oil, one and a half tablespoons of the vinegar, and the harissa and salt. Stir this through the salad then serve. 

The important thing here is lots of olive oil and lots of texture. There are a zillion ways you could change this to suit your own needs - use barley instead of wheat berries (infinitely easier to find/cook anyhow) use just one type of grain, fry different vegetables like broccoli or courgette, use different nuts, use something other than harissa to flavour the dressing, make so many changes that it's essentially an entirely different recipe, that kind of thing. The soft bite of the grains with the crisp, oily vegetables and crunchy nuts is excellent though, and adding plenty of salt and oil and chilli-rich harissa makes sure it's delicious and elegant, rather than the punishing and dour.

It keeps well - I ate about a third for lunch on the day that I made it, then ate another third in spoonfuls taken from the bowl while standing in front of the fridge at various hours of the day, and then had the remainder for dinner at work last night. The fridge and pantry are now significantly denuded of things, and I looked up wheatberries on wikipedia and damn they are a good-for-you foodstuff! Satisfaction all round. Except for the photos, it was high afternoon sun and I only decided at the last minute to actually snap this dish, so... Not the best final view of the place, but what can ya do? (Not a lot.)

Just a short blog post today because yeah, got to carry on packing my belongings into boxes until infinity - isn't it weird how physics is literally a thing and yet if I spend an hour piling books and trinkets into boxes I will have created no extra space and my pile of said books/trinkets will not appear to have diminished whatsoever? Pretty suspicious.

(FC = Fancy Clothes. Please be assured that this is but one bag of clothing that fits this description.)

Okay, lies: have also been rewatching Twin Peaks and knitting myself a blanket from my yarn scraps. Isn't it too dreamy? Yes it is, Audrey Horne. 

So, next time you see me here it'll be in my new place. Weird...but hopefully good. 
title from: I do enjoy Ye Olde Pearl Jam (anything after about 1995 am not interested in whatsoever) and if you haven't tried ever had a go at singing along while studiously imitating Eddie Vedder's voice, you're missing out on some good clean fun, I can tell ya. I had Deep Feelings about the song Daughter in my teens but now just think it's pretty rad.  
music lately:  

Joanna Newsom, Sawdust and Diamonds. Um. I have always enjoyed Newsom's music but am properly close-readingly appreciating it heaps right now. Her lyrics are so spectacular and literary and full of the elements and fragments of stories, I love it. Also her harp is like wo. 

Beyonce, XO. This song makes me feel rapturous. 

Patti Smith, Gloria. I like putting this one on when I'm closing the bar at work, it's all snarly and good to bounce along to while washing dishes and mopping and inevitably knocking over literally everything and so adding many, many minutes to your closing process. I will never ever tire of the bit where she's all "Ah, uh, make her mine".
next time: I know not, but it'll be from my new place! So! New things for you all to look at! So there's that! 

6 August 2014

eating soft ice cream, coney island queen

photographed this ice cream with an antique ice cream scoop but then used a regular spoon to actually scoop ice cream into my bowl because the antique one is cute but a pain to use and also I now have zero morals when it comes to photographing things as props but not actually using them.

I'm not going to sugar coat it for you, there are a lot of things in my life right now that range from "this kinda sucks" to "oh wow this majorly sucks". But now that I've said that I'm going to hand you a snug coat made of pure cane sugar, because I'm keeping things on a rare need-to-know basis at the moment, and anyone who needs to know what's happening already knows. I might as well not burden you all with it too if I don't have to. Also: I have a recipe for apple cinnamon ice cream, so am kind of literally sugar-coating things here too.

So instead, some good things right now are:

I have amazing friends who are so very there for me // despite these last couple of weeks being very tiring, I still love my job. Although I do realise I'm not the first person in the world to ever do hospo so no it's not actually a revelation to a lot of people that there is some arduous work involved. I didn't realise I was so entitled! // I knitted a hot water bottle cosy for my nanna and it involved doing cabling for the first time and while it's a tiny bit wonky it turned out rather beautiful // I drank an entire pot of tea today from a teapot shaped like an elephant // I recently discovered that my queen Lucy Liu has an instagram // I started a fun project called bathroomselfiehunter.tumblr.com // my tarot card for August is amazing and promises creative vision and being powerful and great and so I am determined to make that all come true // I saw a beautiful film called Reaching For The Moon at the film festival // I have seen a LOT of cute cats and dogs recently // I have a lot of parties to go to this month // I discovered the truly good Ask Andrew WK column for the Village Voice // I have a lot of homemade ice cream in the freezer.

Ice cream and pasta are probably my two favourite foods, but while I eat pasta all the time it has been a shamefully forever-long time since I've made ice cream. I'm on a massive cinnamon kick at the moment and am determined to scent my life with it (can tell you for free that putting cinnamon sticks in your oil burner does absolutely nothing apart from make your oil burner look like a very small dumpster) and like the idea of the cosy, warm flavour of said cinnamon being trapped in such a chilly context. I know it's winter in New Zealand right now and ice cream is probably one of the last things you want to eat, but consider this: ice cream is really, really delicious. Also, apples are one of the few fruits that seem to be happily in season right now, as opposed to gasping for mere existence, and the method couldn't be simpler - some stirring, some whisking, some waiting, and then you have ice cream.

An excellent thing about ice cream is that the frozen-ness somehow mutes any overload of sweetness, so while it may seem like there's a lot of sugar in this, it's all necessary and good. Something about the sticky texture of the sweetened condensed milk and the light, airy cream comes together to make something amazingly creamy and dense yet soft and spoonable. The simmered apples provide chewy bursts of sweet-sharp fragrant juiciness, and it's altogether just pretty wonderful.

apple cinnamon ice cream

a recipe by myself

two apples, Granny Smith are good for this one
three tablespoons brown sugar
one can sweetened condensed milk
500ml cream
plenty of ground cinnamon

Finely dice the apples, but don't worry about peeling them. Simmer them in a pan over a low heat with the brown sugar, until the sugar is bubbling and sticky and the apple pieces are very soft. 

Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little, then stir in the condensed milk. In another bowl, whisk the cream till thickened to roughly the texture of a good thickshake - you want it solid, but not actually whipped. Fold in the apple and condensed milk, then shake in plenty of cinnamon and stir again. Spatula this mixture into a freezer-proof container (I like loaf tins for this, hence...why I did that) and freeze for a bunch of hours or overnight. 

I just went and ate some more now from the freezer to see if anything new to say about it sprang to mind, and all I can say is wow it's amazing, go me for making up such a great recipe. If you've ever felt like ice cream is something you want to tackle but it seems way too nervous-making, this simple, caramel-tinged winter wonderland of a thing is for you. 

One thing I will tell you is that for reasons bewilderingly out of my control, I am in the market for a new place to live. My dealbreakers are: it has to be right in the city, an apartment, a big bedroom, lots of good light for food photography, and have an elevator. As you can imagine, finding such a place has been a total breeze. Truth is, I've got nothing, so if you are a Wellingtonianite and know of such a place that fits my needs, please let me know!

In the meantime, there's not many things that ice cream can't make slightly-to-very-much better.

PS I lost my camera's SD card so took all this week's photos on my phone, apologies for any drop in quality, but also I take back those apologies, because isn't it amazing how my mere cellphone takes better photos than a lot of digital cameras did, say, four years ago? We're living in the future!
title from: Lana Del Rey's song Carmen. I <3 her so much. 
music lately:

Dark Dark Dark, Hear Me. I hadn't listened to this band in a while and now cannot stop, not sure how I forgot how dreamy and moody and perfect they are.

Drake feat Lil Wayne, Miss Me, his verse about Nicki Minaj is like...wonderful.

Speaking of: Nicki Minaj and Beyonce's Flawless remix is So Important. Shivers every time I hear it.
next time: I don't knowwww as I may not have a kitchen to call my own by the time I get round to the next blog post. We'll see!  

25 July 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

winter plum cake with cinnamon plum icing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

21 July 2014

late night, come home, work sucks, i know

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

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

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

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

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

a recipe by myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11 July 2014

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

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

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

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

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

mushroom and lentil soup with sage leaves fried in butter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 July 2014

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

literal banana bread 

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

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

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

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

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

literal banana bread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

literally delicious

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

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

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

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

Dillon, Texture of My Blood. Dreamy and feelingsy.

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

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

20 June 2014

fancy plans and pants to match: nautilus estate wines, part two

Bread and Butter Chicken

Well hello there, and welcome to another installment of Fancy Plans and Pants to Match, where I overexplain somewhat apologetically about how sometimes I get cool free stuff because I'm an amazing blogger and cookbook author, and try to write about said free stuff in a way that makes me seem charming and only minimally insufferable. The name of this segment comes from a quote by Jimmy James, a character in the brilliant 90s sitcom NewsRadio.

This is part two of a series of recipes I created for Nautilus Estate wines. Last time I wrote about lemonade pancakes with strawberry sauce and pasta with chorizo and feta and chilli butter, and this time I've got more deliciousness for you. I hate to repeat text I've already written verbatim but I'm gonna power through the pain anyway, because...everything I said last time is still relevant and I'm not going to try and think of a synonym for every single word I wrote when the original will do fine. But consider yourself warned that (just) the following two paragraphs appeared when I previously wrote about this stuff.

So here's the thing: Nautilus Estate got in touch with me and asked if I'd like to develop some recipes for them to go with their fancy fancy wines. Oh my gosh yes, said I. I love wine, I love thinking up recipes, I love receiving a butt-tonne of wine in the mail, and honestly it's just nice to be thought of as someone who could do this, right? And then a whole lot of stuff happened in my life. Finally though, I got around to actually completing my original task. So thanks Nautilus, not only for the wine itself, but for your infinite patience and your "hey it's cool we can wait the wine will probably be kind of useful right now anyway" attitude.

The pitch: Nautilus Vintage Rose 2011 and Cuvee Marlborough NV Brut. Both fizzy and fizzing with deliciousness. All I have to do is come up with some recipes to complement what they've already got going on. Important note: I cannot format a swishy little accent on the 'e' in rose/cuvee for some reason so when you read it please pronounce it "rose-ayyyyy" and "coo-vayyyy" in your head

fancy pudding with a fancy wine for a fancy lady who needs a synonym for fancy

What happened: somehow these recipes to match the wines came to me pretty immediately and fully-formed, perhaps because that's something I am very good at doing (in the interest of being a self-deprecating New Zealander I feel like I should match this boastfulness with one of my failings: I can't ride a bicycle. Self-deprecation, the wine matching of personal self-esteem!) The rose's delicate but definite berry sweetness could handle something rich and buttery, and I liked the idea of pairing such an elegant drink with something so hearty and cosy. Not that I wouldn't serve this bread and butter chicken to people I was trying to impress - it's still at that level, but also really very easy and plain and comforting. Chicken, butter, bread: all as wondrous as it sounds, and ideal with a sparklingly ripe-flavoured wine like the rose.

butter is really delicious: I'm highly qualified to tell you this

bread and butter chicken

a recipe by myself
recommended wine pairing: Nautilus Estate Vintage Rose 2011

four chicken thighs, skin on, organic and free range if possible because I don't like to be prescriptive but oh damn they taste so much better
100g butter
three thick slices stale white bread, eg white sourdough, those Vienna loaves, that kinda thing 
½ cup walnuts
fresh thyme leaves, around a tablespoon.

Set oven to 200 C, and place the chicken thighs snugly in a roasting dish. Cube the butter and scatter evenly on top of the chicken thighs. Put the dish in the oven and leave for around 40 minutes. 

Meanwhile, tear the bread into very small pieces, allowing some of it to crumble into breadcrumb dust and some of the pieces to be more crouton-esque. Basically just rip it up and whatever you do will be correct. Either roughly chop the walnuts and tip them in, or just break them up in your hands - they don't need to be too small. Stir in the thyme leaves. 

Remove the chicken from the oven - it should be very crisp and golden and the juice should run clear when you puncture the thicker end of the thigh with a skewer. Scatter the breadcrumb-walnut mixture evenly over the top, and spoon over plenty of the buttery pan juices (there will be plenty!) so they can absorb it all. Some of the breadcrumbs will stay on top of the chicken, some will fall down into the spaces between the thighs, but it will all taste incredible. Return to the oven for around ten minutes or until the breadcrumbs look crisp and golden. 

I'd serve it with lemon wedges and a salad that has lots of peppery rocket leaves and flat leaf parsley in it, but to be honest I just ate one of the thighs with my bare hands straight from the oven with a glass of wine and it was quite perfect. 

I thought the more crisp, full flavour of the cuvee could happily lift the bittersweet and majorly-sweet grapefruit and white chocolate curds. On that note, I thought making a lemon curd thing but with white chocolate instead would be super fun, and oh, how right I was. I use a particular technique that perhaps in time they'll call HungryandFrozen's Unclassic Method, where I just throw all the ingredients in at once and stir over a low heat till the butter melts and it somehow comes together. The white chocolate curd has a rich vanilla-custard flavour and the grapefruit curd has a gentle sharpness, which, with the thick, tart yoghurt, is all so good you'll want to say "OH SHUT UP" to no one in particular after having a mouthful because you don't know what to do with yourself. As well as tasting excellent, the texture of the cool, bubbly brut goes well with the thick, saucy sweetness of this pudding.

grapefruit curd, white chocolate curd, greek yoghurt

a recipe by myself. Serves two - four, depending on the size of your serving glasses, I recommend going on the smaller side all the same and eating the remaining ones yourself at another happy time if you've only got two people to feed.
recommended wine pairing: Nautilus Estate Cuvee Marlborough NV Brut

two grapefruit
four eggs
three quarters of a cup of sugar
150g butter
100g white chocolate chopped as fine as you can be bothered to
several tablespoons of thick, plain Greek yoghurt

In a smallish pan, mix two eggs and half a cup of the sugar. Squeeze in the grapefruit juice and stir again. Dice half the butter into small cubes and tip them into the pan. Over a very low heat, patiently, stir this mixture constantly till the butter melts and it all thickens. Once it has all come together and is looking thick and saucy, but not necessarily too thick - better safe than sorry - remove from the heat and stick the pan into a sink which has a couple of inches of cold water in it, stirring constantly to lower the heat of the pan's contents. Spatula this into a bowl and refrigerate while you get on with the white chocolate: whisk together the remaining two eggs and the remaining quarter cup of sugar, then add the cubed butter and chopped white chocolate. Again, over a very low heat, stir it constantly till the butter and chocolate have just melted and it becomes thick and smooth. Stick this pan in a sink of cold water too, just to make sure it doesn’t carry on cooking in the hot pan. Transfer this into a bowl and also refrigerate - ideally for at least an hour, but you can make the two curds a whole day ahead. 

Layer up generous spoonfuls of the grapefruit and white chocolate curd and Greek yoghurt in small serving bowls (125ml or so but larger is fine) and serve. Some mint leaves or chopped pistachios might be nice here, but there's plenty going on already. 

silkier than a silkworm in fetching silk stockings descending gently to the earth from a silk parachute

bread and butter chicken: still delicious, don't forget

from a scale of 1 to the entire verse of Once In A Lifetime by Talking Heads: As with last time, still a solid eight - this is so much nicer than the wine I usually drink, and it was sincerely thrilling having so much of it, with my only task ahead something I already adore: developing recipes.

would I do this for not-free? again, as with last time, I mean, I'm not just going to give people content for nothing - wait, I write a food blog - oh you know what I mean - but I would definitely buy this wine off the shelf now if it was on special or I was feeling, oh I don't know, employed. It tastes excellent and the people behind it are blatantly pretty cool, so go forth and seek it, I say.

earnest thanks for making me feel fancy to: ...Nautilus Estate! You rule.

finally, some slightly unrelated blog admin: my rent is not your problem, but I can so feel in my bones that there's at least one eccentric millionaire who reads this blog and is fond of me in a monetary way. What I'm saying is, hi, this is a periodic reminder that you can totally donate to hungryandfrozen.com to help me continue to exist and to remain on the fringes of that fancy life. But also I shall not be fussed if you don't. I'm kind of just trying to trick super rich people into Robin Hooding themselves to me. But also trying to pay rent and buy food and such. Anyway: consider it, if you like!

17 June 2014

this is jam hot, this is jam hot

It's gonna look so pretty: well established by now as a large part of my motivation for making food, ever

I think I've mentioned this before, but I was mightily spiritual as a kid. Obsessed with Linda Goodman, attempting to cast spells with limited resources (where is a twelve year old going to obtain tincture of nettle, honestly), loitering by the 100 bit of the nonfiction section of the library, seeing how many significant words I could make from the letters of my name (AURA, OMG) placing great faith in rose quartz, jasper, hematite and whatever other semi-precious stones I could buy with my pocket money, burning essential oils, lighting incense, moonlighting as a palm-reader during my primary school lunchtimes after reading a book and thinking I knew what I was doing (the teachers did not approve of that one), making tea from herbs, fervently interpreting my dreams. Huh, I even surprised myself just now as I wrote that. Examples kept springing to mind. Anyway, I've retained some of that - a kind of fondness for what I got up to in my witchy youth, and a still-fascinated respect for it all. Which is why I was totally chill with having my tarot cards read on the first day of 2014. Where I'm going with this is, my tarot card for May was essentially "lol everything will go wrong and you'll have no money" which, alas, was almost too on the nose. But June: this month the cards suggest I'm battle-weary but I'm gonna win. Exhausted but determined. Setback-y but resilient-y. Etc. And...I'm kinda feeling it. That's me right now. 

(I'd like to add here that I don't simply allow things to happen because a particular card says so, but consider it more of a snapshot of how things might be and where I can go from there. Humans are just generally always looking for meaning and direction, right? Whether it's religion or reading your horoscopes or txting a friend a picture of yourself and asking if they think this dress seems really "you.") 

So yeah. Despite setbacks and rejection emails and uh, still being unemployed, I'm feeling curiously better about my future as a human who does stuff. I'm actually not quite sure what I want to do specifically with my cooking and writing to become incredibly famous and celebrated for my cooking and writing, but I feel like an idea is just out of reach, just around the corner, on the tip of my dreams, that kind of thing. As per usual though, if you want to employ me to be wonderful and write freelance but in a paid capacity for you, I would oblige so hard. 

Possibly this uncharacteristically bullish outlook is nothing to do with the suggestions of the tarot cards and everything to do with the vitamins and minerals my system has been waterblasted with after eating heaps of this berry chia seed jam I made. It's just chia seeds and berries, you can't help but feel good after eating that. Chia seeds are a rather fashionable superfood, but don't hold that against them. They look unassuming at first but when mixed with liquid they swell up, soften, and thicken gelatinously in a way that admittedly sounds horrifying, but can be very applicable in the kitchen. Here, they absorb the juice of the berries, holding it all together in a rudimentarily jammy fashion. It's not spreadable like the usual jam, but hot damn it tastes wonderful. And involves very little effort. I used a mixture of frozen strawberries and raspberries, mostly because it's what I had in the freezer, but also because I liked the idea of the chia seeds echoing the texture of the raspberries, and of the balance between sweet and sharp that the two berries would give each other. I imagine this would be excellent with blackberries or boysenberries - anything with seeds, particularly - but try whatever you like. 

berry chia seed jam

with thanks to sans ceuticals for this recipe

two cups of berries, frozen or fresh. I used one cup frozen strawberries, one cup frozen raspberries, and I most definitely recommend it.
half a cup of water
juice of a lemon
three to five tablespoons of chia seeds
one tablespoon honey, maple syrup, sugar, whatever really

If your berries are frozen allow them to defrost, otherwise place the berries in two bowls, roughly half in each, although I went for more of a two thirds/third kinda thing. Add the water to whichever bowl looks more full, along with the lemon juice and honey/whatever sugar you're adding. Mash thoroughly with a fork till it's roughly pureed and liquidish. Stir in the whole berries and the chia seeds, and then spatula it all into a jar and refrigerate overnight. Try to make sure all the chia seeds are actually in amongst the berries, if they ride up onto the insides of the jar they will stick like glue. Other than that: now you've got jam, honey. 

It's delicious. It's beautiful. It's easy. And chia seeds are stuuuupidly good for you, so that's something to bask in. 

It's not proper jam but actually I like it better. For someone who eats so much sugar that I probably have pure syrup running through my veins instead of your regular human-blood, I've never been alllll that big on jam. I tend to find that any fruit flavour is overpowered by sickly sugariness. Whereas this stuff is pure, intense, sun-bursting-through-the-clouds berry flavour, barely altered and instantly accessible to your lucky, lucky mouth.

jam, yoghurt, movie stars 

Some things you could do with this jam (I mostly went for the first two options, so you know)

eat 90% of it from the jar while leaning on your kitchen bench // spoon it into thick delicious yoghurt for a dessert-like snack, or snack-like dessert // add it to your porridge // eat spoonfuls of it alternated with generous pumps of canned whipped cream (wish I'd done this, what am I doing with my life) // spoon it over ice cream // smear it on your face, go out and terrify the neighbourhood children, rinse it off and notice that your skin has benefited from the high vitamin content of the berries // irritate a strict jam traditionalist by talking loudly about how wonderful it is // give a jar of it to a cool person // fill tartlets with it and top with lemon curd // google "things to do with jam" // spread it on buttery toast // employ me as a glamorous and thrilling food writer for your excellent media outlet (would also consider: having own TV show; being paid to do nothing for some reason I haven't yet worked out.)
title from: Beats International, Dub Be Good To Me. I was just a nipper in the early nineties but this gives me nostalgia for it all the same. Which is the most impressive type of nostalgia: the kind for a place you ain't even been. And Lindi Layton's vocals are stunner. 
music lately:

Lana Del Rey, Brooklyn Baby. I'll always love Lana Del Rey, even though her music puts me through an emotional wringer. This new single is jam hot, but if you want to feel entranced yet chilled to your bones, you better listen to her covering Once Upon A Dream from Sleeping Beauty.

Gossling, Never Expire. My favourite genre: dreamy.
next time: probs some more fancy plans and pants to match with recipes to go with Nautilus Wine! That's right, I've still got some fancy left in me.  

11 June 2014

the burgers are two for one but i'm not having any fun

 Halloumi and hashbrown burgers. Pictured: one serving. At best. Maybe more like quarter of a serving. Okay, this fed two of us, but now that I've said it I would probably eat four of them to stubbornly prove a point. A delicious point.

Post-confessional blog post confession: While I am glad I was open about being dropped by my publishers and having my cookbook slowly fade towards being out of print, I'm not necessarily doing any better now that this blog post has rolled around. But that's understandable, right? You can have all the facts and logic and numbers and tough love (ugh, tough love, give me indulgence any day!) and still just stare blankly at them and feel downtrodden and sullen nonetheless. I mean this applies to anything. Relationships, jobs, talents, plans...pants...

But, I made halloumi and hash brown burgers, and for that simple, selfless act I think I deserve an internationally recognised award for Persistent Services To Deliciousness, or another book deal, or something. (That's right: I can be aggressively hard on myself and aggressively self-believing at the same time. It's...charming.) On the other hand, I hardly needed to write a blog post about these - it's mostly just assembly, if I say the words "halloumi and hash brown burgers" that is kind of the whole recipe and information that you need right there. But while this may be simple, it's still something you might not have thought of making before, and those are my favourite kind of recipes - the sort that make you say "oh damn!" in a low, appreciative voice, and make you watch the clock till you can next rush into the kitchen to lovingly cook for yourself.

Halloumi is essentially the flavour of butter suspended in the form of a captivating cheese that you can fry goldenly without melting entirely. Hash browns combine soft potato insides with magically crunchy exteriors. These two things just make sense together. The bulging cheese with the crisp hash brown, the salty, oily bliss of it all against the peppery rocket leaves and soft, chewy ciabatta - it's burger brilliance, and it can be yours within minutes.

halloumi and hash brown burgers

a recipe by myself, although inspired by meeting someone who works at a cafe describing what they like to make themselves on their breaks.

two ciabatta buns
one 200g or so block of halloumi
four triangular frozen hash browns or two rectangular ones
a handful of rocket leaves
mayonnaise, lots of mayonnaise (or aioli if you like) 

Heat up a large frying pan. Cut four thick slices from the block of halloumi, and split the ciabatta buns in half. Fry the hash browns for about five minutes on each side, till golden and crisp and y'know, blatantly not frozen. Set them aside on a plate and fry the halloumi slices. If you have space in the pan, add the ciabatta bun slices cut side down to warm/toast them slightly, but it's not essential. Once the halloumi slices are deep golden on both sides, turn the heat off and, if you like, return the hash browns to the pan to let them stay warm in the residual heat. 

Meanwhile, spoon mayonnaise generously onto both the top and bottom halves of the bun, then layer up your burger like so - bottom half bun, handful of rocket leaves, hash browns, two halloumi slices, top half bun. Eat immediately, pausing only to take instagrams because you suspect people will lose it over the sight of these on their dashboard. 

The cheese and potato together are almost...meaty? Cheeseburger-esque? I can't quite pinpoint it but the whole thing is breathtakingly good and you should make this for yourself and anyone else you care for. I guarantee it will make you unbelievably happy.

As I said at the start, I am not feeling terribly outstanding in the field of excellence lately - still deeply unemployed, although I have been applying for lots of things and pitching my writing to lots of great places and have had some flickers of interest, so there's that. I've come to realise that I am not necessarily looking for a steady office job. I'm a people person when I'm not being sullen and a night owl and am hoping to find something that uses that side of me. And as I said in my last blog post, I refuse to let it occur to me that I might not achieve massive success and fame from my writing and cooking. It's not so much that failure is not an option, it's more that triumph is the only option. Failure, well, it only gets you closer to winning, right? (And other things we tell ourselves.)

(Olive, where the brioche is caramelly and buttery and the coffee is excellent and swift and the wifi is in existence and exists)

Till then, I'll continue setting up camp at cafes around town with my laptop, drinking coffee and feeling like a Sophisticated Writer About Town (look the part, be the part, as Prop Joe said) sending hustle-atious emails and writing blog posts and making lists and looking thoughtfully into the middle distance in the kind of way that makes passers-by say, "how mysterious, what's her story." (And other things we tell ourselves.)
title from: OMYGOD! by Kate Nash, if you like your heart-stabbing poignance served via upbeat pop music, which I often do. 
music lately:

Right Beside You by Sophie B Hawkins. Just because this song is from 1994 I don't know why it isn't constantly top of the charts, it's so, so good.

Brave, Sara Bareilles. Wise words for me, still.

Always Starting Over by Idina Menzel at the recent Tony Awards. Still the queen.
next time: raw chia seed berry jam. I think I like it better than usual jam? 

5 June 2014

leave me with some kind of proof it's not a dream

I'm not a particularly good sleeper, but I am very, very good at dreaming. Sometimes too good - waking up and realising oh, Lea Seydoux definitely didn't txt me, oh, I don't actually get to go to a private dress rehearsal of Wicked, oh, I didn't find masses of two dollar coins in the grass and clawingly scoop them up into my handbag, oh, I wasn't in an episode of Bob's Burgers where we hung out with people who hadn't quiiiiite realised their 1960s heyday was over and drove a Kombi van to go shooting paint at trees in rapidly changing layers of colour. (Am not too fussed about that last one not being true: experiencing it in my mind once was quite enough.)

Anyway, dreams are generally only of interest to the person whose subconscious they materialise from, but in this case I woke up and was like, woohoo! I'm a sugary prophet! Because I dreamed I was making a cake without checking if I had all the necessary ingredients (so far, so realistic) and upon realising I was out of cocoa, I used chocolate milk instead. I didn't get so far as baking it, but the dream-mixture definitely tasted good.

Dreams can come true, ya know. But when I first tried making a cake like the one in my dream, it failed completely - brickishly solid, without having the good grace to turn into a giant cookie, dry and sandy, a miserable waste of ingredients, to be honest. (And then I was like: hey, could make cake pops with this in the future! Not wasteful after all! And then I neglectfully left it on the bench for a week before guiltily binning it.)

Not one to be deterred by my dreams not coming true immediately, I decided to try again and to be a bit more thoughtful - I had a look around at cake recipes that had a larger proportion of liquid in them, I added some baking soda, and so on. And it worked! As if a chocolate milk cake wasn't cute enough on its own I decided that adding a milk chocolate ganache on top would both amplify the flavour and more importantly, make the cake's name reeeeally adorable.

chocolate milk milk chocolate cake

recipe by myself

170g soft butter
one cup sugar
two eggs
one and a half cups flour
half a teaspoon baking soda
one teaspoon baking powder
three quarters of a cup of chocolate milk

150g milk chocolate
quarter of a cup of cream

Set your oven to 180 C/350 F. Line a 21cm springform caketin with baking paper and grease the sides. This is a simple cake -  beat the butter and sugar together in a large bowl till all creamy and delicious, beat in the eggs, sift in the flour and baking soda/baking powder (if you're not going to be bothered sifting, which I totally get by the way, at least make sure there are no baking soda lumps. They will taste disgusting.) Mix altogether, stir in the chocolate milk, spatula it all into the caketin and bake for around 40 minutes, or until the top feels firm and springy. 

Allow the cake to cool. Break the chocolate into squares and gently melt it together with the cream, stirring plenty so it doesn't catch and burn. Tip the lot onto the cake, spread it around with the flat side of a knife, and festoon with sprinkles or in whichever manner you find pleasing-est. I used rainbow sugar that I bought in San Francisco. 

Dreamy as this cake undeniably is, I'd have to describe the actual chocolate flavour as...aggressively mild. It's like the slightest, barest hint of cocoa warmth against the comfortingly plain, buttery cake. It's really good though, and seriously, potential cuteness is a good reason to do something, okay? But if you don't have chocolate milk in your fridge or the energy to obtain some, regular milk is fine, especially with the soft sweet flavour of the cream-rich milk chocolate ganache tying it all together. It's delicious. Oh, I really did make a good cake. 

Is it worse to never have a particular dream come true, or to have it come true and then thoroughly un-materialise itself? As I've said before, I'm more of a do-it-then-worry-about-regretting-it type than a don't-do-it-and-wonder-forevermore type, but. Look. Okay. May was a difficult month for a ton of reasons, some within my control and some of them dizzyingly, confusingly, out of my control. This one thing though, I really can't tell whether or not I could've changed it: once the last copy of my cookbook is sold from the last bookstore...it will be out of print. And my publishers, Penguin, won't be publishing another one with me.

I'm not telling you this to garner sympathy (note, I love attention but hate pity, there is a difference - pity is mortifying, attention is wonderful) and I'm not telling you so I can vent unprofessionally about Penguin, because that would be really stupid of me, and I'm so grateful for the start they gave me. I'm just telling you because I really can't hide much and it's my nature to be all "hello there perfect stranger, let me tell you about my childhood triumphs, tragedies, and grass-related rashes" and because my cookbook sprang from this food blog, it would feel fake and strange to be carrying on writing to you as if nothing had happened. This is a big deal. This cookbook has been my life, years before Penguin even approached me to write it. I just knew it had to happen.

Whenever anything else was getting me down, I had this cookbook to comfort me: I'm a real published author, like Nigella Lawson and Ann M Martin and Virginia Woolf, my words can be bought, my recipes are on paper in peoples' homes, becoming part of their lives, my name is on a cover page, I'm real. And so when I received this news, I felt like an utter, embarrassed failure. Like the fabled Emperor upon having his lack of New Clothes pointed out. Like maybe if my book had sold better, if I'd done more, if I'd quit my job sooner, if I'd not been so honest on here, if I'd been in Auckland, if I'd been richer with more resources, if I'd been better...then things might be different.

So uh, luckily for you all I held off from writing this blog post while I was entrenched in that particular swamp of miserable self-pity (I'm the only one allowed to pity me, thank you very much.)

This is where I'm at now: still really very unhappy, which I think is quite understandable, yeah? But pragmatic. Dignified. I'm not actually a failure. A major publishing house approached me, I wrote a book, a team of wonderful talented friends helped give it life, it was published, I can still go into bookstores and find myself immortalised alongside authors who have had a massive impact on my life (okay, alongside Nigella) and it's still a really, really brilliant book. I mean, it has references to Homer Simpson and Ron Swanson and The Big Chill, but also to classic French sauce techniques and traditional hand-made ice cream and what I imagined to be Americana. It has a chapter of recipes you can make when you might be kinda tipsy. It has halloumi cheesecake and apple crumble for breakfast and a cake with sachet juice powder in it and a vegan chocolate cake that I've been making since I was about eight years old. It's so excellent and I'm still so proud of it and of myself. It was not an overnight success (okay, some might say it was not at all a success, but some can go stand on a piece of Lego) and I will not be an overnight success, but I'm gonna get there.

At times like this I like to think of one of my idols, Broadway star Idina Menzel. She got a record deal off the back of her being in the cult-hit/actual-hit Broadway show RENT. She made the most amazing, confessional stream-of-consciousness overproduced album, the record company didn't know what to do with her, and after a vaguely successful lead single, they dropped her. Now she's got a Tony award for being Elphaba in Wicked, she's the voice of a lead character in Frozen, one of the most successful Disney movies yet, and she's performing in Radio City Hall in New York this month. Original copies of her debut album now sell for hundreds of dollars on eBay. And look at another idol of mine, TV character Leslie Knope. In the face of adversity, budget cuts, uncooperative gatekeepers and incompetency, she Did A Lot Of Stuff (I'm getting tired here and don't want this blog post to go on forever, so just watch Parks and Recreation, okay? Start from season 2.)

Also - I mean - at least I had my dream come true at all, for a little bit. It's not like everyone who did buy my book has to throw it in the bin by law now. The recipes are still great. And to be fair, this is ultimately something that just affects me. It's not like I have a failed charity or...other failed good thing. It's just one person's cookbook. You don't even need to care that this has happened to me. It's one of those "You are Lisa Simpson" moments and there will be other publishers and other opportunities and other huge, spectacular things. I'm so unsure and yet so sure of that at the same time.

My ambition to be a Lorde-Kanye-One-Direction level famous cookbook author has not wavered in the slightest, in fact it still hasn't occurred to me that I might have any other path in life. (There's an upside to studiously ignoring logic! Strident self-belief!) But if nothing else, it's good to know I can still make small, chocolate cake-sized dreams come true, all by myself.

And I am now what you might call "professionally single". Which is my spin doctor way of saying "deeply unemployed and set adrift upon a cruel river of uncertainty". But yeah, I am still full of words and ideas and recipes and ice cold brilliance and if anyone important is reading this and wants to make something of it, you know who to call. (Call me. Just in case you're so important that you've forgotten how to pick up on subtle hints.)

And uh, speaking of framing things so they suit you, I guess I could call my book a cult hit now? An underground sensation? A huge, important point on my timeline, but not the last one. With that in mind, there's no better time to rush into shops or online to buy this book, if you haven't already. It's so good, and nothing will ever change that.

PS: a terrific radiant humble thing that happened to me lately is that I had writing published on The Toast! Which I correctly believe is one of the very best websites on the whole internet. 
title from: Paramore, The Only Exception. I love song, with its mix of learned doubt yet unwavering hope. 
music lately: 

Ida Maria, Oh My God. Her voice is all husky and aggressive and gorgeous and so is this song. 

Spice Girls, Too Much. Viva forever! 

Frank Ocean, Bad Religion. His Channel Orange album remains perfect and this song remains burningly, achingly, hurts-to-listen-to-it good. 
next time: hopefully some really cool news or even slightly cool news. Or just news that is neutral but not sad and involving a long drawn-out blog post about my many feelings regarding it. Also: I made halloumi and hash brown burgers AND jam so it will likely be a recipe for one of those cool things.