Monday, 31 December 2007

Pavlova

Pavlova is one of the ultimate Kiwiana icons. But we're not talking about one of those oversweet, fluffy store-bought meringue thingies with no decent crust, oh no! With the summer bbq season in full-swing, I've had to suffer my way through far too many of these in recent times, so decided to end 2007 with my ultimate home-made pavlova.

Pavlova

Ingredients
  • 4 large egg whites (preferably at room temperature)
  • pinch of cream of tartar
  • 200g of caster sugar, split into two quantities
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • 1 tsp water
  • 1 heaped dessertspoon of cornflour
Method
  1. Beat egg whites with pinch of cream of tartar until very stiff.
  2. Gradually stir in 100g of caster sugar.
  3. Gently fold in second 100g of caster sugar. Mix well.
  4. Stir vanilla essence, vinegar and water. Add to mixture.
  5. Fold in cornflour.
  6. Pour mixture onto a plate or flat dish and shape into a circle.
  7. Cook in a preheated oven at at 140 degrees Celsius for 10 mins.
  8. Cook at 100 degrees Celsius for 45 mins.
  9. Cook at 80 degrees Celsius for 15 mins.
  10. When finished cooking, turn off heat and leave in oven until cool. This will dry up the meringue mixture and prevent it from going all runny and sticky on the bottom.
  11. Cover with unsweetened cream and fresh fruit when cool.
Make sure the oven door is firmly closed throughout the whole cooking process, including the temperature changes. Opening the door even a tiny crack will result in a flat pavlova! Enjoy. :-)

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Moonstruck

I'm at home watching one of my favourite movies, Moonstruck (1987). (I wonder if it's a sign of my age that I now spend more time watching MGM movies than the other Sky channels?) Moonstruck is sooooo Italian. I'm sure I know every character personally, and those that I don't are bound to be family members from Brooklyn, New York, that I just haven't met yet. The accents, the mannerisms, the family businesses, the arguments, the interior decorating, the Sicilian nonna 'miraculously' recovering from her death bed once she hears that her golden boy son is getting married ... I almost wonder whether or how non-Italians can enjoy the nuances of this movie as much as we do.

The soundtrack is amazing, with Dick Hyman doing a great job capturing the southern Italian spirit and including some music popular with Italians in the 1960s (I love Vikki Carr's tortured tones in It Must Be Him). So join me in singing Dean Martin's That's Amore ... you know you want to!

In Napoli where love is king
When boy meets girl here's what they say

When the moon hits you eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore
When the world seems to shine like you've had too much wine, that's amore
Bells will ring ting-a-ling-a-ling, ting-a-ling-a-ling, and you'll sing "Vita bella"
Hearts will play tippy-tippy-tay, tippy-tippy-tay like a gay tarantella

When the stars make you drool just like a pasta fasula, that's amore
When you dance down the street with a cloud at your feet, you're in love
When you walk down in a dream but you know you're not dreaming, signore
Scuzza me, but you see, back in old Napoli, that's amore

Saturday, 29 December 2007

The Hollies

A few weeks ago, I realised in horror that I didn't have any of The Hollies' songs on my iPod, and neither did my other major source of music (Dad, the muso). Something had to be done about it. The Hollies Greatest Hits arrived from TradeMe a short time later and has been playing continuously in my car ever since. Here's my verdict:

Songs I am newly in love with:
Too Young To Be Married: cheesy, dated lyrics which originally put me off the song, but an absolutely brilliant dual acoustic guitar solo.
Sorry Suzanne: a very cute little song, one that I've never really taken notice of before.

Songs I've renewed my love for:
Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress: utter perfection, first note to last. The only Hollies song without backing vocals - very interesting.
Magic Woman Touch: different to their usual sound; refreshing.
The Air That I Breathe: more than just another soppy love song; well crafted, beautiful phrasing.

Songs I'm warming to:
Jennifer Eccles: cheesy, but not as bad as I first thought.
I'm Alive: again, much more finely crafted than I originally thought.
Carrie Anne: similar in concept to The Beach Boys' Barbara Ann, but better.
Bus Stop: once again, a great acoustic guitar solo.

Song I just don't understand why they released at all:
Stop Stop Stop: always hated it, always will. A waste of talent.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Chocolate truffles

I always make chocolate truffles at Christmas, and this year I was running seriously late, but just couldn't leave it ... so I got up early this morning and got busy. I use an old recipe given to my mother by a family friend many years ago. It makes about 60 truffles, and you can freeze them if you find you've made too many.

Chocolate truffles

Ingredients
  • 28 wine (plain) biscuits (approx one pack)
  • 4 tbsp cocoa
  • 4 tbsp coconut
  • 570g icing sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence or rum
  • 350g melted butter
Method
  1. Crush the biscuits using a blender until it makes a fine almost-powder. Mix with dry ingredients.
  2. Add melted butter and vanilla essence. Mix well.
  3. Roll into small balls and roll in extra coconut.
  4. Place on a flat dish then refrigerate to set for at least an hour before serving.


Merry Christmas!

Natural highs

It's now half past midnight on Christmas morning and I still have presents to wrap, chocolate truffles to make, music to organise, and one or two promissory notes for last-minute presents that I just couldn't find in time. I have made a short To Do list for the morning, but in reality, it's just not going to get done in time.

A friend sent me this list of natural highs. The list has done the email rounds many times, but it's even more applicable when the commercial nature of the Christmas retail machine threatens the real meaning of Christmas. I can quite happily say that I'd rather have anything from this list over something bought in a rush just because the giver felt compelled to give something at Christmas.
  1. Being in love.
  2. Laughing so hard your face hurts.
  3. A hot shower.
  4. No queues at the supermarket.
  5. Taking a drive on a pretty road.
  6. Hearing your favourite song on the radio.
  7. Lying in bed listening to the rain outside.
  8. Hot towels fresh out of the dryer.
  9. Chocolate milkshake ... (or vanilla ... or strawberry!)
  10. A bubble bath.
  11. Giggling.
  12. A good conversation.
  13. Finding a $20 note in your coat from last winter.
  14. Running through sprinklers.
  15. Laughing for absolutely no reason at all.
  16. Having someone tell you that you're beautiful.
  17. Accidentally overhearing someone say something nice about you.
  18. Waking up and realising you still have a few hours left to sleep.
  19. Making new friends or spending time with old ones.
  20. Having someone play with your hair.
  21. Sweet dreams.
  22. Making eye contact with a cute stranger.
  23. Holding hands with someone you care about.
  24. Running into an old friend and realising that some things (good or bad) never change.
  25. Watching the expression on someone's face as they open a much-desired present from you.
  26. Getting out of bed every morning and being grateful for another beautiful day.
  27. Knowing that somebody misses you.
  28. Getting a hug from someone you care about deeply.
  29. Knowing you've done the right thing, no matter what other people think.
Buon Natale a tutti!

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Maranui

This morning, I had Sunday brunch in heaven. I know I'm a Sunday brunch addict, but today was different to other days. Today, I hadn't been to bed at all from last night's Naughty or Nice Christmas party (but that's another story). We ended up at one of my absolute favourite haunts, Maranui Café, which has breathtaking views over Lyall Bay and Wellington airport.

Maranui has been a surf life saving club since 1911, and I've remembered going past their club rooms on the beach since I was a little girl going to Lyall Bay for ice cream. They now have a members' only café (just sign your name in the book the first time you go, and bang! you're a member), which has quickly become the funkiest cafe in town. The décor is off-beat retro, with surf memorabilia and treasures to be found all around the place. The brunch/lunch menu is really hearty; they also have a great counter selection and the coffee is Havana. Mmmmmm.

My Maranui coffee card is nearly full. I've become another 'regular'. As a friend of mine said after we made a brunch date for later this week, "sounds good ... although I've been eating there so much lately, I'm starting to look like Eggs Benedict!".

Friday, 21 December 2007

Online radio

I am a musician. Most of my friends are not. Many of them want to be. Some realise it takes a bit more than just learning an instrument. One plays a bit of guitar and wants to make his musical debut on Christmas Day by performing two duets with me. I'm thinking about how best to do this.

He has selected two Bob Dylan songs to play. I'm not entirely sure this will do a lot for Christmas cheer, but am willing to chart them for him and have a practise, accompanying his guitar playing and singing on a keyboard and maybe some backing vocals. I pretty much know Mr Tambourine Man, courtesy of that awful Byrds version, but was at sea on The Times, They Are A-Changing. So what are the options for me to learn it? Download a copy, buy a CD with it on, or bluff my way through it on the day, having heard it only once or twice many years ago? A solution was at hand ...

Someone told me about Radio Blog Club. You can search for, stream, and listen to music directly online, without needing to download any applications or files. It's totally free to use, and you don't even need to create a user account, unless you want to use the site to create playlists and organise the music you listen to. (It's still free, though!) The playlist is reasonable and easy to access with a good Internet connection. I think it's going to be a great way to sample songs before buying CDs - or even to practise a Bob Dylan song or two.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Fine dining in Hamilton

Tonight, we had a fine dining experience. En Q Restaurant & Wine Bar in Hamilton was last week voted best restaurant in the 2007 Tempo Readers Choice Awards, and I can see why.

En Q has had mixed reviews in the past, and apparently has had a change of ownership which has seen the restaurant revamped and the food and service totally revitalised. The table settings were superb and the service was immaculate - friendly, efficient, and very polite. The meal started with a small creamy potato and watercress soup to prepare the palate and some delicious tomato and basil bread. (All complimentary - even better!) Our main courses were delicious beyond belief. I can highly recommend the honey & orange marinated chicken with mild chilli & apricot sauce while my two friends enjoyed the pan cooked pork fillet on creamed leeks & oyster. We topped it off with dessert (of course), decadent chocolate & hazelnut pot and banoffee pie En Q. Absolutely delicious! Belissimo!!

Monday, 17 December 2007

Little Miss Naughty - my hero

Here's to Little Miss Naughty. She's my hero. This girl has it all. She's cute, she's cheeky, she has great friends, she's always smiling, she has so much fun ... and she's purple! We could all learn from adopting a bit of Little Miss Naughty's philosophy in life.

I loved the Mr Men books when I was four. I owned Mr Lazy (although he was pink with a big tummy in those days, and not green and skinny like on the official website now). I remember reading the book to my kindy teacher and saying "Mr Lazy", as in mrrrr. She explained that it was actually "Mister". "What?!" I thought. "But it's M-R!" And so began my introduction to the world of abbreviations.

I was thrilled to hear that the Mr Men books were being reprinted a number of years ago. I was even more thrilled when someone bought me Little Miss Naughty jamies - summer boxers and a top. So now I can relive a little bit of my childhood every night. Now I just need to buy my own copy of the book. Little Miss Naughty, you rock!

Sunday, 16 December 2007

On the town

The silly season is in full swing. Last night, 20 of us went to dinner at The Lanes on Wakefield Street, a bowling alley for grownups. The meal was great. (I can highly recommend the pan-fried chicken breast on a creamy bacon and mushroom risotto.) Unfortunately, there was a muck-up with bookings which meant we wouldn't be able to bowl until at least 10:30 pm, so Plan B saw us all traipse around the corner to a pool hall.

Which brings me to my next point: playing pool. I quite openly admit that I suck at pool. I'm so bad it's embarrassing, not just for me, but also for all those around me, and especially for whichever poor person gets stuck as my partner. So, with that in mind, and hoping to slink off behind a shadowy table and not be noticed, I thought I'd get away with not playing. No such luck. I was paired with the loveliest guy ever, who truly didn't know what he was letting himself in for, yet always made me felt he was laughing with me (and not at me) every time I failed to hit the ball I was aiming for, and truly celebrated any time I hit one of our balls - even if it didn't go far or in the direction it was supposed to. (You must remember that I was playing a certain strategy: hit a ball, any ball, as long as it is ours and not black.) So, when I managed to sink one ... well, there were cheers all round!

After that traumatic experience, I needed something to help me recover. Thankfully, we danced the night away to endless cheesy 80s music at the Sports Café . Now there's something I'm good at! :-D

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

Here is our family's Chwistmas twee ... isn't it pwetty?


My new sis-in-law took her role as official tree-decorator very seriously and laboured over putting the Christmas lights at the best angle and getting the silver disco ball chains in just the right place ... Christmas spirit might finally be arriving in our family, even if the tree did come out of a box this year!

There's a very obvious lack of Christmas presents under the tree, so I've agreed to take her shopping and solve that problem this afternoon. :-)

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Cocktails at Chow

On Wednesday nights, Chow in Tory St has a special 1+1=1 offer, ie when you order a cocktail from their drinks menu, you'll get two for the price of one. Perfect for a summer's night! A round of rosebuds was duly ordered and the night began in style out on the deck. Round 2 was when the entertainment started.

Our group had grown, so rather than send a few unfortunate individuals (guys) to traipse up to the bar, we looked for a passing waitress to come and take our orders outside. The waitress who arrived was absolutely delightful, and more than a little tipsy herself. She informed us that she had been doing shots all night, and didn't realise she was still going to be working, but as long as we didn't mind, she'll take our order and join in. After all, she highly recommended the shots. So, cocktails, wines, and a solitary summer ale was ordered along with some food and, as she wouldn't take no for an answer, one guy ordered the obligatory shot.

We waited. And waited. Then saw our lovely waitress approaching. With an explanation that, as she had been doing shots, she couldn't read her own writing, and did we remember what we had ordered? True to her word, her piece of paper looked like something a chicken had scratched over, although we managed to make out the odd word for her. We eventually got there, and she came back with our drinks (most of them) and joined our gullible friend for his shot. (She seemed to cope with it better than he did, going by their facial expressions.)

Of all the Chow venues, I think Tory St is the best for ambiance, and generally as a great hangout with friends. Now I can add 'free entertainment' to its list of features.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

McCormack Studio Gallery

Michael McCormack is an Irish artist (from Cork) who paints and exhibits his art works at The McCormack Studio Gallery in Island Bay, Wellington. Although Michael has only lived in Wellington since 2000, I’ve been long amazed at how he has managed to capture the true spirit of the landscapes he paints. You’d think he was a local (that’s a compliment!) with the feeling and passion he manages to portray in his paintings, and I’ve long been a fan of his work.

Tonight, Michael opened his new exhibit, Coastline, featuring paintings of Wellington’s coast. Born and bred in Island Bay (and remembering when his gallery used to be a fruit shop), I’ve always said that when I had enough money and enough walls to put them on, I’d buy a piece of Michael’s artwork. Tonight I found the perfect piece. It’s a morning scene of Island Bay, looking across the bay with the island to the left, past the bait shed, and across the rock pools. I was totally blown away by it. Michael, just let me work on my budget, and I’ll do my best to come back and buy it! (Might take a while before I have $3900 to spare, but let me dream …)

So I instead settled on buying two of his amazing calendars on behalf of a friend and a diary for my sister-in-law, who is new to Wellington. (Yay – it means that I’ve started my Christmas shopping!) I’ll give it to her on Christmas Day with a promise to take her to all of the sites featured in his paintings.

Images © 2007 Michael McCormack

Christmas dinner Moroccan style

Last night, 20+ friends went for Christmas dinner with a difference. We had Medina, a Moroccan restaurant in Courtenay Place, all to ourselves. The owners are friends of the organisers, so they put on a set menu which turned into a huge feast.

I don’t know much about Moroccan cuisine apart from having a go at adding some pre-made flavouring to lamb on a couple of occasions (yum, but too easy – I think I’m getting off lightly and doing a total disservice to Morocco). The taste sensation we enjoyed was out of this world. I need to find out more about the combinations of spices used and have a go cooking with them myself. Even relatively simple ingredients (pumpkin, carrots, potatoes) tasted amazing with a tiny bit of seasoning. We identified cumin, cinnamon, coriander, and saffron, but there’s got to be more to it than that. I’ll definitely be back to Medina in the new year!

A couple of us popped over the road to The Tasting Room for a drink after dinner. I’ve never been a fan of this place, having experienced a couple of unfortunate dining incidents there (on separate occasions, but, I digress). However, it was pleasant enough on a warm Monday night to sit at their outside tables and share a pre-Christmas drink, but I don’t think I’ll make it a regular habit. I have too many other regular habits (and haunts) I'd rather indulge in. ;-)

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Sunday brunch Part 2

OK, I admit it: I'm addicted to Sunday brunch. I know, that's not really news. I fell into bed around 3am after a dance party last night and looked forward to a sleep in. (Yes, I'm getting older ... it never used to be a problem dancing the night away and getting up early the next morning!) BUT, a txt arrived around 9am inviting me to brunch ... so how could I resist? After all, I'm not Café Chick for nothing. :-)

Today's venue is another favourite of mine. (Another? Yes, another.) The Parade Café is in Oriental Bay, across from the beach and nestled among apartments with great views of the harbour. Just up the road, you can pick up a home for a cool $10 mil. Get the picture? Actually, you'd expect a really pretentious place with tiny portions of food on huge white plates, and what you get is the exact opposite. There are three indoor eating areas and a cool courtyard.

We sat outside in the courtyard, as the weather was overcast but really warm and muggy. As usual, the food was excellent. Alright, so I might have ordered eggs again, but they were beautifully poached with bacon, yummy hash browns, and chunky toast. Perfection!

Now I need to start thinking about next week's Sunday brunch. :-) Either that, or stop the addiction. Yeah, right!

Saturday, 8 December 2007

White Christmas


Salute! Buon Natale a tutti!

Friday, 7 December 2007

Making choices

I’ve been at a team meeting in Tauranga these past two days. Last night, 10 of us went out to dinner at the Harbourside Brasserie and Bar at the south end of The Strand. Dinner was incredibly delicious, but the entertainment started as we ordered dessert.

One of our team members (I’ll call him William) had been hanging out for dessert. Now, William is not exactly an adventurous sort when it comes to food. A couple of months ago, I managed to drag him into a Thai restaurant, with anecdotes worthy of another blog posting sometime in the future. As he says, “I don’t like surprises with my food” ... and he means it.

William perused the menu and settled on the ice cream sundae “with your choice of topping”. He chose strawberry topping. The waitress informed him there were only three choices of topping: chocolate, caramel and wild berry. A very confused William consulted the menu again to see if he was right, because he thought it said a topping of your choice, not a topping from someone else’s limited selection.

We pointed out that wild berry was actually better than strawberry, as it contained more berries, of which one was possibly strawberry anyway. No, argued William. It wasn’t better, and that was entirely missing the point; he wanted his choice of topping, and his choice was being compromised. After much laughter and hysterics from the rest of our group, William made his final choice: he chose not to have ice cream at all if he couldn’t have his own choice of strawberry topping. Men!

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Forrest Gump

One of my favourite movies of all time is Forrest Gump (1994). When I discovered that someone had taped over my VHS copy(!), I decided to upgrade to DVD. (Yes, I’ve finally arrived in the 21st century.) I had a rare night at home earlier this week so decided to give Forrest an outing.

This movie gives me hope. It shows how that, despite whatever we encounter, life is what we make it, and the problems of the world don’t need to weigh us down for too long if we don’t let them. Forrest’s bumbling through life and ending up on top can be attributed to a combination of good luck and good nature. However, it also highlights for me that there are few basic fundamentals that are world guarding with your life: family, friends, love, and health. (Or maybe I’ve just watched it too many times and think too much about things that I don’t need to? Your call.)

I was really disappointed to read the original novel, Forrest Gump (1986) by Winston Groom. It’s unusual for me to read a novel after seeing a movie. Usually, there is a lot more detail and character development in a novel than what can be contained in a movie, and I wondered what the differences would have been here. It turns out that the movie gave far more depth and development than either the original novel or its sequel (Gump & Co).

I remember hearing about a combined interview with Michael Connor Humphreys, who played the young Forrest Gump, and Tom Hanks. Hanks had said that he imitated Humphreys' voice when developing an Alabama accent for the role. The interview went on to ask Humphreys what the effect of playing this role has had on his life. He said that there wasn't much difference, but kids would yell at him 'run, Forrest, run!' - "even when I'm not runnin'"!

Some of my favourite Forrest Gump quotes:
  • “Your mama sure does care about your education, son.”
  • “Me and Jenny goes together like peas and carrots. “
  • “I’m not a smart man, but I know what love is.”
  • “Sometimes there just aren’t enough rocks.” (When Jenny was throwing rocks at her father’s house)
  • “I just felt like running.”
  • “And ’cos I was a gozillionaire, and I liked doin’ it so much, I cut that grass for free.”
  • “Lieutenant Dan got me invested in some kind of fruit company [Apple Mac]. So then I got a call from him, saying we don't have to worry about money no more. And I said, that's good! One less thing.”
  • “That’s all I have to say about that.”

Monday, 3 December 2007

Joe Jackson's Jumpin' Jive

I’ll let you in on a secret. I’ve been in a covers band almost constantly since I was 17. (That’s not the secret.) We played for corporate functions and other private and public events over the years in Wellington. (Still not the secret.) We played a whole range of popular music for people to dance to; everything from rock and roll to Top 40 chart stuff. Here’s the secret: what people don’t realise is that we don’t play the music we like, we play the music you like. In fact, often we play songs we hate, and the songs that we start out liking … well, if we can still listen to them for pleasure after playing them for a couple of years, they must be structurally superb – a rare gem. The trick is to make you, the audience, feel that we enjoy these songs as much as you do, even if we’re totally over them and could happily never listen to them again.

For a couple of years, we played the Christmas season at a particular dine and dance venue in Wellington. This involved playing most Thursday-Sunday nights from mid-November until late December, by which time we’d had enough of our song list, drunken revellers, over-excitable dancers, and Christmas in general. To survive so many nights on top of full-time jobs, you form a routine with your performances. The set list remains similar (with a few changes depending on the function, timing etc), and there are usually 3-4 CDs you play in between your set breaks. By the time the season is finished, I just want to stay home for the next few Saturday nights and curl up in front of the TV; the last thing I want is to party with my friends or, even worse, listen to other bands or DJs play the songs I’ve had to play for years while entertaining others. Sometimes it takes several years after having finished playing a song for me to be even be able to tolerate hearing it on the radio again!

Why am I telling you this? Well, today I decided to listen to one of the backing CDs we used to play before gigs started. Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive (1981) is a collection of covers of classic 1940s swing and jump blues songs. I’ve been going through a bit of a jazz and swing renaissance recently, so thought it might be time try it out again. Two tracks in particular always take me back to those gigs: "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby" and "What's the Use of Getting Sober (When You're Gonna Get Drunk Again)". Would you believe I actually enjoyed it? Yay – I’m over that one! I wonder how long it will take to get ‘over’ the other hundreds of songs I’ve played to death. What will be next? How exciting! So, for old time’s sake … “"You Run Your Mouth (and I'll Run My Business)".

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Sunday brunch

I love Sunday brunch. There is something incredibly decadent, yet civilised, about staying in your jamies until late on a Sunday morning, then indulging in good food and coffee with friends. One of my favourite brunch venues is Brooklyn Bread & Bagels in College St, Wellington. So why is it known at the Brooklyn Café when it's not actually in Brooklyn? Well, the bakery originally grew out of the kitchen of the Dixon St Deli, a venue in central Wellington whose name has been synonymous with fine food and gourmet delights for many years. The bakery moved to an industrial site in Brooklyn and supplied cafés and restaurants with a range of speciality breads and bagels. In 2001, they moved into town and started selling directly to the public.

Today, I met up with a friend for a late brunch and brought along my new sister-in-law, who moved to Wellington two weeks ago from Ireland via her home in Finland. She describes the café culture in Cork as virtually non-existent, lamenting in the Irish's inability to make good coffee or even to bake! We are sooooo spoilt for choice and quality in Wellington.

Everything about the Brooklyn Café reeks quality. The coffee (Coffee Supreme) is great and always really well made. Their menu includes breakfast/brunch, lunch and a kiddies menu. There is always an interesting and varied selection of counter food, both sweet and savoury, which is also reasonably priced. I enjoyed a chicken, bacon and mushroom filo with a tasty relish, and also sampled some of my sister-in-law's chicken, chili, lime and corriander filo. We topped them off with sweet treats (chocolate brownie, and a double chocolate muffin). She was most impressed, and I was glad to be able to introduce her to a slice of café heaven in her new home. Yum!

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Book party

Tonight, I am going to a book party. Two former workmates have birthdays around this time, and of course Christmas is coming, so rather than have the usual dinner and drinks party, they've decided to do something a little bit different. The theme is bring a book, take a book with the idea you bring along a book (or several) you have really enjoyed, or one that you haven’t enjoyed but know someone else would. This way, everyone will be set for a good read over the Christmas break.

The book I've just finished reading, and will be taking to the book party tonight, is Coastliners (2002), by Joanne Harris. Having enjoyed another novel of hers, Chocolat (1999), and a book of short stories, Jigs and Reels (2004), I was looking forward to a really good read.

I found Coastliners really hard to get into; lots of scene setting and endless descriptions of locations and an ongoing feud between two rival communities on a tiny French island, but very little development beyond that for the first half of the novel. At about the half-way point, I was almost ready to concede defeat, but I have this strange trait of having to finish every book I start reading, regardless of how bad it is. Yes, I know there are too many bad books in the world to do this with, and there is not enough time to read all the good books out there, but I just can't help myself!

Coastliners was an easy read, but just didn't really do it for me. I was told that it picked up about three-quarters of the way through, and the action did get moderately better, but the ongoing historical tension between the two rival communities became tedious, with only some of the questions in my mind resolved. I also found myself not really caring about what happened to the characters - something that is unusual for me when I get into a novel I really enjoy.

Still, I'm sure someone else will enjoy Coastliners (it's a number one bestseller with rave reviews, after all), so I'll look to see who takes it home tonight and look forward to picking up a little gem for myself for the Christmas break.

Friday, 30 November 2007

A double-header

The silly season is well and truly upon us. Tonight saw two great get-togethers with friends.

First stop was the Vespa Lounge. This is a favourite haunt for our main drinks organiser, who loves the fact that we can get together after work in a place that's not too crowded and actually talk to each other without having to shout. Sure, it's pretty quiet in the early evening, and we often start out by having the place to ourselves, but that soon changes as this very stylish bar fills up for the night and parties on until the wee small hours of the morning. (By the way, am I the only one who has been in Wellington long enough to remember Vespa's famous cocktail shakers? Those were the days!) Complete with Italian Vespas outside the front door, an extensive wine list, and great DJs playing through the night, this is a very cool place to hang out with friends. The food is a scaled-down menu ordered in from Hummingbird, but somehow it still manages to stay hot even after a quick stroll around the corner to Blair St.

Next stop for dinner was One Red Dog on Allen St. I run hot and cold with this place; the food is usually good, but the service has its ups and downs. As a group of 12, we ordered the set Christmas-type menu for $30 per head. This got us a couple of yummy antipasto platters to share, along with the cheesy, yet essential, Christmas crackers. Of course, these came complete with useless plastic toys, terrible jokes, and hideous paper hats that we had to wear until dessert. The main course consisted of a selection of five of their gourmet pizzas, including two Christmas varieties (turkey, cranberry and brie; and an interesting ham off the bone, kumara, asparagus and mustard sauce creation) and a mixed green salad. Topping it all off was a decadent chocolate fondue, with marshmallows (the firm ones that don't fall off your fork), kiwifruit, bananas and pineapple pieces.

I'm still not completely sold on the service here (what does it take to get some water bottles filled?), but the food tonight was generally pretty good. Just make sure you leave plenty of room for dessert... yum!

Thursday, 29 November 2007

La Vie En Rose

Today I saw La Vie En Rose (2007), a French movie (with subtitles) about the life of singer Edith Piaf which had been highly recommended from various friends. Be prepared: this movie is good, but very long (2:30) and certainly feels it. (I could have chopped out about half an hour quite comfortably.)

Also known as La Môme (2007), the movie documents the life of Edith Piaf, born on the streets of Paris in 1915, and her rise (and fall) from fame through her singing career. This 'little sparrow' (a tiny 4'8" woman) started out living on the streets with her mother before her father picked her up and dropped her off to live with her grandmother, a brothel madam. Edith was loved and cared for by Titine, a brothel worker, before her father returned and took her away to a life in the circus, where he was an acrobat/contortionist. Life goes on for poor, sickly Edith, who follows in her mother's footsteps and becomes a singer herself. The tale of her tragic career and personal life unfolds through a series of flashbacks and flashforwards - sometimes a bit confusing to follow, but generally very well portrayed.

A bit about the Empire Cinema in Island Bay ... I grew up knowing this building to be a hardware store, but heard my grandmother talking about the 'picture shows' she would see there as a little girl growing up in the bay. In 2005, it was restored and transformed into a gorgeous Lighthouse-style cinema with three boutique theatres and luxurious couches to recline on as you enjoy your cinema experience. If your movie starts before 6pm on a weekday, it only costs $10. They make great gelato and have heaps of free parking. (They're also literally two minutes down the road from me - really handy.) To top it off, I managed to get the whole cinema to myself today. Go, the Empire! :-)

Café Chick says hi

After ages slogging over a 'serious' blog, and even longer recovering from blogging overload, I'm now tempted to dip my toe in the water and try again. BUT, no more of this serious stuff for me. Oh no, this blog is going to be occasional, totally self-indulgent, and simply a collection of stuff I like, don't like, have seen/done recently, have not seen/done ... get the picture?

I live in Wellington, New Zealand, and enjoy this city's vibrant café culture, hence my name (Café Chick). Other than that, I'm into reading, music, dance, family, good coffee (I'm an unashamed coffee snob), eating out with friends, travel, and sunshine, so that's what you'll hear about, along with whatever else takes my fancy.

So, I'll get posting and see where we end up. I have no idea who might read this (or if anyone will - oh well!). Drop me a line and let me know what you think ...