Monthly Archives of: August 2010

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Become an Italian food maestro #1: PIZZA!

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As part of my To Do in 2010 list, I’m on a quest to become a master chef of Italian goodness. Earlier in the year I made the WORLD’S MOST AMAZING CIABATTA (as rated by independent sources that are totally not me), but didn’t get any photos. So, I set out to make proper-like, authentic-style pizza, and document the process for the betterment of the internet.

Things started well. I used this recipe here for the dough. Due to a fiasco we do not speak of, I don’t have access to a mixer right now, but working the dough with a metal spoon turned out just fine. Also, a superb workout!

Dough. Kinda sexy, right?

In a compromise between authenticity and my Kiwi consumers, I made two different pizzas:

Pepperoni

This tomato sauce recipe is AMAZING. And so freaking easy! A can of crushed tomatoes, olive oil, chilli flakes, garlic and lemon zest. Done.

(I baked the leftovers with pasta and a bunch of spinach and pine nuts the next day and, in all honesty, it rocked my world. This sauce is going in everything I eat until I die or am cryogenically frozen for transport to a space colony, should that happen first.)

Then I took a trip to the Mediterranean Food Warehouse (aka Playland for foodies) and bought a bunch of delicious fancy-pants pepperoni, and a big heap of Italian mozzarella.

Chicken, spinach and cherry tomato

I think this pizza had too many flavours going on to make pizza purists happy. However, it was OH MY LORD IN HEAVEN KILL ME NOW delicious, so fie to you, purists. Fie, I say. What would you know anyway, with your history and your culture and your superior lifestyles?

I used this alfredo sauce recipe for the base, but pumped up the cream cheese to thicken it up a bit. It was DELICIOUS, and totally passed under the radar as being (kinda sorta semi-)healthy. Sneaky AND tasty — that’s good sauce!

Grilled chicken and fresh spinach and cherry tomatoes went on top of that, to construct what I like to refer to as an orgy of deliciousness.

(I almost said oral orgy there. Thank me for not doing so at your leisure.)

But then it all went slightly pear-shaped…

Ingredients and dough prepared, I moved the entire operation to Rach’s house. The dough needed to sit for two hours before baking, so we settled in with a cheeky beverage.

And then this happened:

Yep. That’s four empty bottles of wine.

FIVE hours later, I remembered to cook the pizza. I forgot to take photos, but the extra three hours of chillaxing and relaxing did the dough no favours anyway.

The only photo I got was of the last odds-and-ends pizza, which was constructed in a drunken fiesta of overkill, and involved ALL the ingredients discussed above. I would make a bad Italian — but an excellent guest at parties.

Oh well. Jake-pants thought it was pretty cool.

The verdict

This needs to happen again, with approximately one-eighth the alcohol consumed in the middle. But, collapsed dough and impaired judgement aside, it really was a DAMN FINE PIZZA.

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In which I go to some very awkward yoga.

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Last night, as I am prone to do on Wednesdays, I went to yoga. As I am also prone to do, I immediately dumped a pile of my stuff in my favourite place on the floor and went to ditch my shoes in a corner. When I returned, there was a woman in my spot. A woman wearing SLACKS and LOAFERS. AND A TURTLENECK UNDER A GAILY-STRIPED WOOLLEN SWEATER.

“Okay,” I thought, rather charitably. “Maybe she’s not staying. Can you audit yoga?”

No, my friends, you cannot audit yoga.

This lady, in her slacks and her pink-and-blue sweater (I’m sounding SO American right now. Kiwis, what are my culturally-preferred terms here? Her jersey and Nana-casual Kumfs? Her trousers and skivvy?), spent the whole class alternately clambering around on all fours and crouched at my ankle, talking to herself. “Oooh,” she’d mutter, as she staggered around behind me. “Hard! Now, where do I–?”

I’m in down dog, thinking BREATHE THROUGH THE RAGE. SWAN THE SHIT OUT OF THIS POSE AND MAYBE SHE’LL GO AWAY! PRETEND THIS IS NOT HAPPENING! And then I’d hear, from somewhere under my left knee, “OOF!” and my be-sweatered friend would hit the floor, roll onto her back, and wave her Nana-casual feet in the air.

In case I need to clarify, THIS IS SOMEWHAT OFF-PUTTING.

Yoga is for several things, but primarily the preservation of my mental health. As I am secretly morphing into a massive tree-hugging, meditating, cling film-washing, anti sodium lauryl sulphate-using earth mother-type, I’m all about the mood when it comes to my yoga. I’m all over connection and energy and feeling the room. Thinking about face-punching is therefore counter to the vibe I’m trying to cultivate.

I attempted to rise above, you guys. I tried with all of my shrivelled heart to let her go about her business (Oof! “Oh no, I don’t think… no, no, that will never work. Silly.” Unffffff, stomp. Sigh. “Now, up we get…”) while I went about mine. After all, yoga is supposed to be about intention and breathing as much as, like, actually doing things, right? Maybe her intention was to arbitrarily stand up and sit down again for an hour. Maybe she was breathing from her ribs and energising from her core as she stood, immobile, breathing heavily on my neck IN MOTHERFUCKING LOAFERS AND A TURTLENECK.

After the four-hundredth time she ended up hunched on all fours under my pose like I was about to give her a pony ride, I decided that she obviously wasn’t all there mentally, and I should just accept that her nose was poking me in the butt and move on. She was interpreting the spirit of the class in her own way, and I was being an asshole in judging her for it.

So I sucked it up as she crept ever closer to my prone form, amiably peppering me with staccato half-sentences. And I got progressively more and more annoyed, and more and more upset at my own annoyance. I couldn’t let this poor disabled lady do yoga in her own way? Was I that much of a bitch? By the time we got to the relaxation track, it was all I could think about. I lay there, vibrating like a high-tension wire with every cough or rustle of slacks, un-relaxed. Convinced of my own awfulness. Utterly and completely miserable.

Class finally finished, and I staggered off to lace up my sneakers and cry myself to sleep. My new friend, in her sensible leather shoes and her heavy winter jersey, headed across the room to the instructor… where she proceeded to hold a PERFECTLY NORMAL CONVERSATION WITH HIM, like spending an hour dressed for Sunday lunch while conversing with thin air is everyday exercise etiquette. Like she hadn’t, at various points, been trying to use my poses as a tent. Like her face and my butt weren’t now intimately acquainted and I wasn’t quivering, wrecked, in the corner, hating myself and jumping at shadows.

You guys, I have a Keep Cup and a monthly donation to WSPA. I cry during Disney movies and episodes of One Tree Hill. I try really hard to be open-minded and live positively. I like to think I’m a relatively good person.

But if I see that lady again, I’m going to PUNCH HER IN THE LIVER. Fair warning.

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Afterverse!

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So, Buffy and Supernatural are both shows in which good-looking people fight monsters. The same themes and scenarios (and actors) turn up in both of them, but the Winchesters’ universe is dark and damp and vaguely 70s; all blue-collar bars and classic rock. Sunnydale is bright and quirky and compact — the people there go to the mall and watch TV and wear colours. Even though Supernatural is the newer show, an iPod feels out of place there in a way it wouldn’t on Buffy… and on Buffy, the Impala would be a joke.

As much as I need Faith and Dean to hook up (and, believe me, I do), they don’t inhabit the same world.

I have the outline for After, the this-then-that. The characters are up and moving. Coco has a delightfully foul mouth. Lucas always has his foot in his. I thought Jamie was going to be cool because Jamie thinks he’s cool, but it turns out no one else is buying what he’s selling.

I’m writing, but mostly in circles. I still don’t know how their world feels.

(Tense, POV and style are all facets of this, but I’m not talking about voice here. Voice — although obviously influenced by what you like and steal and are motivated by — isn’t something I think you can engineer. It develops as you do, but you can’t consciously affect it without sounding like a stunted douchebag. The tense I’m writing in changes the atmosphere of the story, but I can’t decide to write like Elmore Leonard or Meg Cabot any more than I can grow a tail.)

I know it’s hot there. Dry and barren and broken-down. There’s crows and sun-bleached bones and carcasses by the side of the road. People ride horses and carry guns on their hips. There are tattoos and long-fingered trees and rusted-out cars. I know those things, but I can’t feel them yet. I’ve built their world, but I don’t inhabit it.

I went back and read some of Sparks the other night, just to remind myself that although the story may not have worked, I can, historically, write coherent English. The setting — the feeling — of that book centres it. Grounds it. Whitaker is an island that only exists in my mind, but I know how it feels to walk around there.

It helps that I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest. Whitaker is equal parts Deep Cove and Bowen Island, and it feels like the top of North Vancouver in October. It’s crows and firs and constant, half-hearted rain. The mist sits on the ground at night and gets tangled in the tops of the trees in the morning. Raspberry canes crowd out over the sidewalks and houses perch over streams or back into cliffs. In that world, everything is damp and heavy and lush. Everyone has an agenda. It’s seedy and unruly and slightly claustrophobic.

I wrote Sparks here, in New Zealand, mostly in summer. I don’t need to stand in a desert to write dry heat in cold rain, but I’m not comfortable in After’s world yet. I haven’t got the mood, the feel, the weight of it in my head. I wrote a whole sequence in a deserted suburban house before I realised that the house didn’t belong. I moved it outside and changed the tense and it started to click, but I’m still pushing the pieces around, looking for a way in.

It isn’t enough to build the architecture of a world — to know the rules and logic and history. You have to build an atmosphere. The setting and the characters should build on and inform each other, creating something bigger than the sum of the story’s parts. Creating a universe.

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Five things that make me happy.

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Things I Like, a list by Katie A. Johnston, age 27 and three-quarters.

(Holy bearded carpenter, how did that ‘and three-quarters’ happen? Where have I BEEN? Did I miss Eat Pray Love? Who’s Prime Minister? Are we hover-skating yet?)

1. Alyson Hannigan’s family

Just looking at them makes my uterus hurt.

2. Stephanie Perkins’ blog

Related sub-likes: winning things; Paris; fictional kissing; author-crushes.

Stephanie Perkins is a YA author and hot dude connoisseur. She has pretty hair. I like reading her blog so much that thinking about reading her book makes me feel a little bit sick. What if it’s not as good as her blog? What if it is? I already have such a writer-crush on her that sometimes, when work is quiet and I can’t be bothered having a one-way conversation about my neuroses with you guys, I’ll go back and read her archives and think about how we should totally be friends.

(Wait, is that one of those things we don’t admit to? Like kissing your cats on the mouth or having a Google alert for your name? BECAUSE I DON’T DO THOSE THINGS EITHER.)

Except if we were friends, it would be kind of weird since I’d always be like HEY STEPHANIE PERKINS! REMEMBER THAT TIME YOUR CAT DID THAT THING? And she’d be like, dude. That’s not fifty feet. Back it up.

Speaking of cats, this is Willow.
She doesn’t live with me since that time I moved to Canada, but we still visit all the time.
Much to her disgust, since she’d also prefer I backed it up. Bless!

Steph’s book is called Anna and the French Kiss, and it’s about a bunch of stuff I like a lot (Paris; boarding schools; the kissing of hot boys). There are no vampires, but I trust her to deliver delicious mortal men. Her blog — much like mine, only with considerably more panache and maturity — is full of the dudes. I approve.

Anna doesn’t come out for ages:

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but she’s giving a copy away. You can win it by doing stuff like tweeting about it or sending her pictures of hot British guys.

Oh hey, Charlie Hunnam! What are you doing here?

But — and this will not surprise you, folks — I can’t get my feelings about her book and her hair into 140 characters. (She has VERY pretty hair.)

So, there’s this. And I apologise for it. BUT I REALLY WANT TO READ THIS BOOK.

And I really like her blog.

3. You Are Not So Smart

This site is so great. JUST GO READ IT.

(But come back after.)

4. Discussing my personal business on the radio

Just kidding! But I do it anyway.

5. Oh yeah, and this guy:

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In which I hump the universe’s leg.

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I am having one of those days. It’s Friday! I’m photoshopping pictures of bedridden elderly ladies for a scare-tactics hand hygiene campaign! I just ordered new jeans ON THE INTERNET, because that’s how I like to roll, folks. Rebelliously. A little bit dangerously. I probably cannot be trusted with your children or stemware. WATCH OUT.

—–

Dear running: let’s never break up again.

Last night, I got home from a quiz night with my mama around nine (NB: we won! Also, told you I was edgy!), clambered into bed to finish my bizarre bargain-bin book about magic pirates, and the next thing I knew it was 6am and I was cosily awaiting the arrival of my alarm feeling all well-rested and bushy-tailed. How often does that happen, you guys? Let me answer for you: THAT HAPPENS NEVER.

Here is a short summary of my usual sleeping habits, 1982-present:

10pm: I’m tired. Maybe I will go to bed soon.
11pm: Okay! In bed! Sleepy! This shit is going OFF!
12am: SO TIRED. What should I do tomorrow? LET ME JUST WRITE A LIST.
12:30am: GOD I AM SO TIRED. I wonder what would happen if character A did X instead of Y? Better write it down! Oh wait, gotta pee. That dog has been barking for ages. Maybe there’s an intruder! Maybe its owners are dead and no one has found their bodies!!
12:45am: Or maybe there’s about to be an earthquake. What would I DO if there was an earthquake?
1:15am: Five year earthquake-recovery plan complete! Better decorate my post-tragedy mansion…
1:45am: Okay, TIME TO SLEEP! Wait, I need a beach house! OTHERWISE WHERE WILL WE HOLIDAY?
2am: I’m sailing a boat! On the lake outside my completed beach house (I guess technically it’s a LAKE house now. Does that change the décor?). Ian Somerhalder is also in the boat! Mmm, sailing.
2:15am: Wait, I hate sailing. All your clothes get all wet and chafe-y and the boom of your tiny boat hits you in the face when you lose concentra…
2:30am: WAIT, WHAT IF CHARACTER A DID Y INSTEAD OF X?! I HAVE TO WRITE THIS DOWN! Oops, I wrote this down yesterday. Also, it makes no sense. MAN I WISH I WAS ASLEEP. But I can’t sleep because Ian Somerhalder wants to picnic outside the beach house and I need an outfit to picnic in. WHAT IS APPROPRIATE ATTIRE FOR PICNICKING LAKESIDE WITH IAN SOMERHALDER?
[…]
6am: I HATE EVERYTHING.

Here is the same summary, with hard cardio applied to it:

10pm: I’m tired. Maybe I will… ZONK.
[…]
6am: YAY, A DAY! MY FAVOURITE! WHEN DOES MY ALARM GO OFF? WHEN DO I GET TO GO TO WORK? WHY DON’T IAN SOMERHALDER AND I TALK ANYMORE?

—–

Dear Stephen King: I can’t believe I’m about to declare my love for another one of your books before I get to the end. Or, as you usually like to call it, the ‘I’m bored now. Magic trick!’-bit.

I’m listening to the audio book of Under the Dome. This is kind of a foolish book to listen to, since it’s four hundred thousand pages long, but I’m enjoying it so very much I hope it never ends! Ever! And not just because Stephen King is bound to ruin it in the last ten pages like he always does.

(Hand of freaking God my ass.)

That aside, Stevie K is amazing. He is probably my hero. I still haven’t read a lot of his horror books but when that dude is on, he is pretty much the king of everything. The dude is a master class in storytelling AND in writing: the best writing gets the fuck out of its own way. He writes SUCH solid prose, and I don’t think he gets nearly the credit he deserves for it.

I LOVE the way his worlds unfold on their own, tangling into these complicated, fantastic sprawls of ideas and images and characters that all feel like real people making bad decisions, even when there are aliens. That sense of discovery and exploration is also why he can’t end a book to save his life, but the ride is so goddamn good I can almost forgive him.

(Except for the Dark Tower books. We don’t mention the war.)

Under the Dome is Stevie K on top form — sprawling cast, rich world, so freaking readable you could chew on the pages. I’m only halfway through it, but I’m going to go WAY out on a limb and declare it better than The Stand.

Wait, what just happened?

—–

Dear After: be mine. xo, Katie.

I don’t want to jinx it by putting it in print, but OH MY GOD YOU GUYS, AFTER IS GOING SO WELL! I AM SO EXCITED!

YESTERDAY ONE CHARACTER SAID SOMETHING TO ANOTHER AND THEN EVENTS TRANSPIRED AND OMG, OMG, OMG, IT IS ALL SO AWESOME. JUST YOU WAIT.

I am on a STREAK with this thing. It is bound to end with me face-planting in a mountain of French fries and taking to my bed for several days when I realise I’ve written myself into a corner and the only way out is to start over or have everyone discover it was all a dream, but until then I am SO VERY HAPPY.

Words! Nine months of constant work and I finally get to play with ACTUAL WORDS!

YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW EXCITING THIS IS TO ME. More exciting than sailing with pretend Ian Somerhalder. More exciting than internet-jeans. MORE EXCITING THAN YOUR MOM.

Basically, the most exciting thing ever. The peak oil of excitement.

(Except hopefully my future writing career holds more than rising sea levels and economic collapse. That would be depressing.)

And anyway, if I get really stuck, there’s always THE HAND OF GOD.

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Adventures!

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Kelly and Daniel and I spent last weekend with my brother and his girlfriend up in Northland. It looked like this outside:

But we had their bunny Murray to keep us entertained.

He is extra adorable. He likes to eat his poo and then lick your face.

I like to let him. It’s SO CUTE, you guys!

My brother celebrated his 27th birthday while we were up there. What’s cooler to a 27-year-old than Batman?

Batman in night vision.

 Um, Hayley. Don’t look now, but…

We went to the local lion park, known throughout New Zealand for sex scandals, financial crisis, and that time a tiger ate his trainer.

This is Zion. You may know him as the face of Aslan.

But then this happened:

I love the tongue action.

Little girl: Daddy, what are the lions doing?
Daddy: They’re wrestling, honey. Gentle wrestling.

Daniel grew rakish facial hair, which made him look at least old enough to drive.

And Kelly was like, “I’d hit that.”

“Oh wait, I AM hitting that. BOOM!”

Outside still looked like this:

So we bused it down to Auckland to meet up with my friend Alison and pay Jared Leto a visit. And drink way, WAY too much wine.

I forgot to take photos (Kelly and I were occupied being the weird old people who still throw horns and ask kids to sit down), but here is the progression of texts I sent Alison during the show:

— Never been to something so much like a Hanson concert that isn’t one. The kids are losing their minds up here.
— Dude, I already threw my bra. It’s on.
— [On the band calling for requests] Sweet! Tell him I want to hear him finish a sentence.

Because there’s crowd participation, and then there’s enforced karaoke.

Also, kids better stay off my lawn.

—–

And, for good measure, here’s a few pics from the weekend I spent in Akaroa last month.

THE END.

—–

Photos of me, white tigers and rakish facial hair were taken by Kelly.