Sunday, 20 November 2016

What would you take?

What a week! It started with a long, sharp series of jolts in the form of a severe 7.8 magnitude earthquake. It has been a long, unsettled week for those of us navigating the aftermath of this quake and the several thousand that have followed. I can barely begin to imagine how the poor folk near the quakes' epicentre are feeling, let alone contemplate how Cantabrians have lived with this state of uncertainty for so many years.

The quake that woke us up just after midnight was actually two major quakes near each other but with different actions. I was convinced it was Wellington's long overdue 'big one', but it wasn't even on our faultline. And then the aftershocks began and a heightened sense of what we might be in for set it.

A lot has been said about the quality of information available in the critical minutes and hours following the initial earthquake. So many mixed messages from various sources. The radio said one thing but contradicted itself shortly after. Various well-intended emergency sites were interpreting information in different ways. It's hard to know where some of these offices are located and what exact local knowledge they have. WREMO (Wellington Regional Emergency Management Office) posts excellent updates on Facebook and Twitter. I was glued to them both. Social media was having a field day, but ended up being my deciding factor.

Stay or go?

Long term Wellingtonions are well versed in the risk of a major earthquake. In reality, most (myself included) are quite complacent about it and as a result are less prepared than they should be. But the very real risk of a tsunami is another thing. There are blue tsunami lines painted on some roads in tsunami-prone suburbs. They were little more than talking points when they were first painted many years ago and are probably best taken with a grain of salt today.

But this earthquake was different. Even though it was inland, there was talk of a 2m tsunami forming and sea levels pulling out along Wellington's south coast. Or was it the east coast? (Southern suburbs were named - so confusing.) What is the real risk? Do we stay? Should we go? When? Where: higher ground or inland? Walk or drive? If we head for the hills, won't everybody else be doing the same thing and cause a traffic jam which will be worse when there are more quakes?

Firstly, let's look at the criteria for evacuating your property if there is a tsunami risk.
  1. There has been a long or strong earthquake. [Heck, yes! 7.8 and lasting a couple of minutes]
  2. You are unable to stand up during the earthquake. [Yes. Very hard to keep balance.]
  3. You live in a coastal area or tsunami red zone. [Just 100m up the road.] 
I have since learned that our region does not usually activate sirens for locally (NZ) generated tsunami, so it's even more important to know the evacuation criteria and make an informed choice.

We were extremely lucky - for so many reasons. We didn't sustain any major damage. All our utilities (power, water, gas, internet, etc) were still running. We had somewhere safe to go. We had two easily accessible vehicles with a reasonably clear path to our destination. And the pussy cat walked back into the house at just the right moment to seal our decision: we'd shove her into her cat carrier and evacuate. The tsunami sirens rang out through the Hutt Valley just as we arrived at our destination.

What to take?

After being caught short a number of years ago, we purchased a pre-packed emergency survival backpack for our home and also bought a number of smaller first aid kits for our cars and work. We don't have everything we need but are in a better position than we have been in the past. If you can't work out what should be in your kit, these packs are invaluable and a great place to start.

Years of navel gazing quizzes and memes make you think you're prepared. They ask what you would rescue if there was a fire/flood/emergency and you only have moments to decide what you value most. Of course, everybody is safe in these scenarios so you only need to think of worldy possessions. Your survival packs are ready to go. It's easy to speculate.
"I'd collect up my (conveniently located and easy to pack) photo albums and wedding dress/children's christening gown/baby foot bronze statue/priceless piece of art/Olympic gold medal/[insert other sentimental value here]."
Sure you would.

Newspaper reports busily collated their own lists. Everyone has their own theory.

What we took

Here's what we took when we evacuated our home at 2.30am last Monday morning. Remember that we were leaving in a car so had the luxury of throwing more things in than we would if evacuating on foot. We also had somewhere to go where we were 99.5% certain they had enough food, water and amenities for us (unless they sustained damage in subsequent quakes).
  • Grab bag, pre-purchased and ready to go. It includes a torch, dynamo radio, first aid kit and various other essential items.
  • Laptops, phones, back up hard drive, camera, Kindle and chargers for everything. We already carry portable chargers for our phones and there is also one in my emergency kit at work.
  • Backpacks with some basic warm clothes (underwear, hats, change of t-shirt, thermals, pants) and good walking shoes.
  • Toilet bag and toothbrushes.
  • Raincoats, polar fleece jackets.
  • Yowling, moaning cat in a cat carrier and a bag of cat food (pellets).
  • My grandmother's rings and my whānau taonga. That's it. I realised that everything else was just stuff.
What I should have taken:
  • Passports and other important documents, although I should also scan copies of these and save them in various locations (portable hard drive and cloud).
What I should have left behind:
  • My work coat and swipe card. I was stupidly thinking about what I'd wear if I had to go to work directly from my new location, although hadn't thought about dress clothes. Seriously, why/how would that happen if I couldn't even return home?
  • Fitbit. It's not even a particularly valuable piece of equipment. Why did I bother? 
So, now you've had time to think about it, what would you take?

Monday, 24 October 2016

October snapshot

The year is speeding along. We've arrived at our final public holiday until the silly season. I don't know about you, but this single Monday off has been a long time coming for me. Everyone is so busy being busy lately. In fact, it's a great conversational starter. But what exactly is everybody doing?

Here's some of what I've been up to this month.

October snapshot

These shoes were made for walking
  • My blacklist of shops I'm boycotting until my Christmas watershed is officially lifted on 1 December is growing daily. Seriously, it's not Christmas in October!!
  • I'm loving the second series of Grand Designs NZ. I was so worried that a massive dose of cultural cringe would overpower my enjoyment of the show, but it's been really well made and local architect Chris Moller is a great presenter.
  • My musical renaissance artists this month are Elvis Costello and Van Morrison. Irish goodness all the way.
  • Everyone I know loves curly fries except for one particular 3 year old boy with curly hair. Co-relation?
Curly fries are the best

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Pineapple lump cupcakes

Pineapple lumps are some of my favourite lollies. The chocolate pineapple combination makes it scarily easy to polish off a pack before you know it. Remember this ad? It's not just me who thinks they are good.

With pineapple lumps in the pantry and baking to do today, I thought about how I could combine these two things and modified a recipe for pineapple and coconut cupcakes. The result was 24 delicious pineapple cupcakes topped with chocolate frosting and, of course, crowned with a heavenly pineapple lump.

Pineapple lump cupcakes

  • 240 g plain flour
  • 280 g sugar
  • 3 t baking powder
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 80 g butter, softened
  • 240 ml milk
  • 1 t vanilla essence
  • 2 eggs
  • 300 g crushed pineapple, drained (1 x 440 g tin)
  1. Preheat oven to 170°C.
  2. Line two 12-hole muffin tins with cupcake papers.
  3. Using the paddle attachment of your mixer, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and butter on slow speed until reaching a sandy consistency and everything is combined.
  4. Mix the milk and vanilla together in a measuring cup. Pour into the flour mixture on medium speed until well combined.
  5. Add eggs one at a time and mix well, scraping down the side of the bowl with a spatula in between additions.
  6. Fold in the crushed pineapple with a spatula. The mixture will be wet and sloppy.
  7. Fill the cupcake cases until two-thirds full. Using an ice cream scoops helps spread the mixture evenly.
  8. Bake for 25 minutes or until the cupcakes bounce back when touched and an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tray for five minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Chocolate buttercream

  • 250 g unsalted butter, softened
  • 250 g icing sugar, sifted
  • 30 ml tepid water
  • 20 g cocoa, sifted to remove lumps
  1. Beat the butter and sugar on high speed using the paddle attachment until smooth and creamy.
  2. Add water and mix to combine.
  3. Add cocoa and mix until smooth.
Pipe or frost the cupcakes when cool, then top with a pineapple lump.

Pineapple lump cupcakes

Piña colada cupcakes

You can vary this recipe to make piña colada cupcakes.
  • Replace milk with coconut milk.
  • Replace vanilla essence with rum.
  • Frost with vanilla buttercream and sprinkle with desiccated coconut to decorate.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

September snapshot

So blogging hasn't been happening much for me lately. I exceed my daily word limit at work most days and don't have any left for reading or writing at night. I guess I don't have to blog; there are no kick backs or consequences if I do or don't, but blogging has been something I've done for nearly nine years now. Sometimes the words just aren't there, or the subject matter isn't anything worthy of a blog post. And nine years feels like a very long time to be playing this gig.

I'm going to try something different every now and then. It might tide me over while I experience blogger's block or lead me somewhere else entirely. Here's a snapshot of where I'm at right now. I'd love to hear what you're up to, too.

September snapshot

  • I've walked up five flights of stairs several times a day this month for Steptember - for every day I've been in the office. The first three flights are fine. The fourth and fifth flights aren't getting any easier.
  • I'm loving the beginning of spring, my favourite season, and can even forgive its tempestuous weather. I also can't wait for daylight saving to start tonight.
  • I'm revisiting an artist I hate to love: the incorrigible Terence Trent D'Arby. It annoys me to no end that he is as talented as he tells everybody. 
  • I don't mind emptying the bottom rack of the dishwasher (plates, cutlery and big stuff) but I HATE emptying the top rack. It's mostly filled with coffee mugs that don't stack neatly, none of which I use but Mr Weka manages to churn through with his endless cups of tea.
  • I've made a lot of potato bread lately. It's great comfort food.
  • This hummingbird cake recipe is great. It uses coconut instead of nuts and I've made it twice in the past fortnight, including for Good Bitches Baking tomorrow.
  • I'm half-watching Deadpool (2016) as I write this. Parts of it are quite funny but I'm not concentrating enough to work out if there's a plot. There probably isn't, but there's Ryan Reynolds and that's enough for me.
  • I've just polished off half a packet of soft Italian pistachio nougat for dessert. I'll be joyfully licking the bits that are still stuck in my teeth all night.
  • I still don't trust blue toothpaste. Striped is fine. White is best.

Sunday, 11 September 2016


It's September. It's spring. The days are getting ever so slightly longer and summer is on the way. This means leaving behind the comforts of winter (after the storms pass), getting lots of fresh air while the sun shines and, most of all, getting active.

Motivation is here to help. They call it Steptember. (I had to check that it really is a thing!) But instead of just aiming for 10,000 steps per day, my workplace has decided to step things up a level or four by making Steptember about walking up the stairs at work instead of taking the lift. That's five flights, or 120 vertical steps each time!

We were pointed towards StepJockey to sell tell us the health benefits of stair climbing, of which there are many. Apparently your body will burn roughly one calorie for every 10 upward step and one calorie for every 20 steps down. Even when climbing stairs at a normal pace, you will burn two to three times more energy than walking on the flat at a brisk pace or jogging. It's free, can be done indoors, doesn't require any special equipment and promises improved cardiovascular health, toned thighs and tight buns. Just two minutes extra stair climbing a day is enough to stop average middle age weight gain! (Yeah, right ...)

It makes sense, really. 10,000 steps isn't a big stretch on a normal day. I've always walked down the stairs at work, but up? I tried it once or twice before taking easier option with everybody else - but not any more. I have to say that the first three flights are pretty easy. I start to puff at around level 4 before feeling every other muscle kicking in as I approach level 5. Let's see how long my enthusiasm lasts.

Who's joining me for Steptember?

Sunday, 4 September 2016

How to throw a tapas party

I love entertaining and usually cater events I host myself, often with the help of a few keen volunteer kitchen hand guests. A long, relaxed event serving continuous finger food from start to finish is my preferred menu and it means I can usually cater for a wide range of palettes. I aim to prepare most of the food in advance and it takes away the pressure of needing to have everything ready at once. Even better is avoiding the inevitable mountain of dishes that comes after a dinner party, as most courses can be served on paper napkins and without cutlery.

Tapas are great for parties and they come in many forms. We learnt How to throw a tapas party at the Ruth Pretty cooking school yesterday. My interest was already piqued during last year's winter tapas demonstration. This weekend's class turned into an all day affair with a wonderful demonstration of how to create eleven different tapas dishes. We then got to enjoy them all before taking home the recipes to try for ourselves. Just look at the beautiful table setting!
The table is set
Every course was served on delicate crockery and accompanied with wine and coffee. It was hard to choose a favourite dish with so much on offer but I'm keen to try making the lamb cutlets, garlic prawns and chicken croquettes at home. Maybe it's a good excuse to throw another party sometime soon?

I'll let the photos do the talking.
Chicken croquettes with aioli
Coca with rainbow chard, garlic and almonds
Garlic prawns with chorizo
Lamb cutlets with orange and almond salad
Quesadillas with mushroom, rainbow chard stalks and cheese
Chocolate dipped brandy prunes with brandy crème anglaise