Monday, 31 August 2009

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

The adorable Jane Yee is on holiday this week and has lined up a series of guest bloggers to populate The Girls' Guide in her absence. The first one, posted Louisa Eades, has got off to a roaring start. The dreadful 80s photo on The ghost of twentysomething's future sucked me in much the same way as watching the proverbial car crash: you can't bear to look at it directly, but somehow you can't resist sneaking another peak. This photo is the real thing, and not some 'retro' 80s dress-up imitated a decade or two later.

The questions were asked: Where do you see yourself in 20 years? What outfit will you look back upon one day and wince? And what are your three essential items?

Gosh, sometimes I don't know where I will be in 20 days or even 20 minutes! Despite the best laid plans in my teens and twenties, I never saw myself where I am today, or even where I will be tomorrow. My career and personal life are vastly different to what I would ever have imagined. That's not necessarily a bad thing; it's just how things are. I still can't see what's around the next corner of this rollercoaster track that is my life and am learning to tolerate this. Sometimes it bothers me more than others (today, very much so).

I "grew up" very young and was incredibly focused during my twenties, working long and hard on developing my career, undertaking further education, and building long-term financial independence. My personal life, hopes and dreams went on hold (or out the window entirely) as a result and I realised a couple of years ago that I needed so make some big changes; things looked good for me from the outside looking in, but I certainly was neither happy nor fulfilled. However, I never saw myself developing Peter Pan syndrome once I hit my thirties; I really don't know what I want to do when I grow up! This article is great: Want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans.

As for a wince-worthy outfit from my past ... well, I was an 80s kid, but thankfully young enough to escape the biggest of those fashion crimes. We had to sew a skirt of some sort in 3rd form clothing; I made an incredibly stylish (for 1988!) red corduroy bubble skirt, which never saw the light of day outside the clothing classroom.

And my three essential items? Sadly, it's my keys, wallet, and mobile phone (although this one is out of necessity; by choice, it would be my iPod or my MacBook Pro).

So, where do you see yourself in 20 years? Are you brave enough to confess a cringe-worthy outfit? And what three items can you not do without at this stage in your life?

Friday, 28 August 2009

Supermarket screamers

I'm guessing that it's every parent's nightmare: the moment when your seemingly adorable and rather sociable toddler becomes a supermarket screamer. At the supermarket this afternoon, a father walks in with two pre-school boys. They do a wonderful job of helping select produce, carrying small grocery items and chatting happily along the way. We moved to different aisles and the pleasant, animated chatter rose above the muzak.

And then, in a flash, things changed. A tiny voice begins to ascend, with volume to match. What starts as occasional squeals erupts into full-scale chaos. Every backward glance from Dad, who continues going about his business with his second son in tow, only seems to increase the fuel-efficiency of a lungful of air; the decibels steadily rise and the child becomes lower to the ground. I wander into his aisle and step around him; he quietens for a moment (no audience here!) before taking another deep breath and starting afresh. I quietly admire Dad's resolve as he occasionally calls out, "come on, we're leaving now" etc, all the while keeping his cool.

Dad, second son and I arrive at the checkouts. First son joins us, somewhat subdued, in the arms of a female shopper. Checkout operator comments, "ohhh, he just wanted Mum". Dad continues paying for his groceries and cheerily calls out, "oh no, that's not Mum". Nervous laughter all round as first son is returned to Dad and every other parent in the supermarket either recalls a time when this has happened to them, or dreads the moment it could happen again. I quickly make my escape. ;-)

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Clothing prize pool

Today's post is brought to you by ... Export Gold. I'm not a beer drinker or even an alcohol drinker generally. My brother brews beer for a boutique brewery and is at New Zealand's Brewnz Awards as I post this. However, today I'm happy to sing the praises of Export Gold because I've scooped another prize pool. My sweetie suggested I join their online database like he had, and somehow my membership came up trumps. Again. ;-)

I've won a range of winter clothing, including a jacket, puffer vest, hoodie, beanie, and t-shirt. The clothing is predominantly black with small, stylish insignia - not cringe-worthy at all. Thanks, Export Gold - and cheers!

Monday, 24 August 2009

Little Daughter - Zoya Phan

I have been reading Little Daughter (2009) by Zoya Phan. It is her memoir of growing up and surviving as a Karen refugee in Burma, a country overrun by civil war and fuelled by government corruption and arms.

There's something about the writing style of this memoir which made it hard to concentrate on the events unfolding. I found it difficult to come away with a sense of time and pace, and it was only towards the end of the book that I could truly comprehend that all this was happening in the 1980s and 1990s, rather than seemingly decades ago. It is an epic story to tell, yet the narrative does not do it justice. It's hard to even know where to begin in describing Zoya Phan's life, escaping into the jungle while her home town was under attack, seeking asylum in refugee camps, and watching hope appear and disappear in rapid succession. I won't give away any more of the story, but suffice to say that Zoya and her siblings have gone on to fight the Burmese regime on an international scale.

The war, poverty, and devastation in Burma is still happening today; a few weeks ago, I became aware of the story of Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and has been under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years. An American man swam uninvited across the lake to her house, where she is not allowed visitors or any communication with the outside world, causing her to breach her house arrest conditions and resulting in her being sentenced to three years' imprisonment with hard labour. The sentence has now been commuted to a further 18 months' house arrest, almost 20 years since she was first sentenced.

The Phan family (Zoya, her sister, and two brothers) have established the Phan Foundation with aims to alleviate poverty, provide education, promote human rights and to protect Karen culture for the Karen people of Burma.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Apple loaf

We had a few apples which are starting to go soft - perfect excuse to bake! (Not that I generally need any excuse to bake.) I was given the recipe book 500 cakes a couple of weeks ago and this recipe was a variation of one using apples in place of cherries and marzipan. It takes a surprisingly long time to cook and the centre of the loaf fell out of the crust when I turned it upside to cool (that was weird), even though it was cooked through. Still, it tasted fine and we had it for dessert, warm with ice cream.

Apple loaf

  • 170 g butter, at room temperature
  • 140 g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 140 g self-raising flour
  • 320 g apples, finely chopped or grated
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice or finely grated zest of one lemon
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C.
  2. Beat together butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Beat in eggs one at a time.
  3. Sift in flour and fold into the mixture.
  4. Add lemon juice/zest and fold in apples.
  5. Pour mixture into a greased 22 x 12 cm loaf tin. Bake for about 45 minutes. Cover the top of the cake with tin foil, then bake for an additional 25 minutes until oaf is risen and golden and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  6. Leave cake to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then lift onto a wire rack to cool.
  7. Serve slightly warm from the oven and dusted with icing sugar.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Cadbury eats humble pie

Cadbury has been forced to eat humble pie this week and backtrack on their decision to replace a percentage of the cocoa butter in their Dairy Milk recipe with palm oil. New Zealand was made aware of the change when Auckland Zoo first banned Cadbury products from its kiosk a couple of months ago and also stopped buying other products containing palm oil.

Producing palm oil requires the clearing of rainforests in South East Asia, the natural habitat of the orang-utan. While Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate is not the only product containing palm oil, it was judged as a very backwards decision to start using palm oil in place of cocoa butter and labelling it as "vegetable oil". Would anyone like to explain that decision to this happy family?

And so the boycott began. Cadbury received hundreds of letters and emails of complaint. Opinion pieces were written and published. Various Facebook protest groups were formed, including Take palm oil out of Cadbury chocolate bars!, which attracted nearly 3500 members. Consumers voted with their wallets, and Whittaker's was the winner on the day, reporting that demand for their chocolate products had significantly increased.

Cadbury managing director, Matthew Oldham, said the decision to go back to using only cocoa butter in Cadbury Dairy Milk was in direct response to consumer feedback.

While Cadbury might not make the best quality chocolate, the number of products it makes each year is significant. I grew up with Cadbury chocolate but mostly buy (bought) it to use in baking. I have chocolate purist friends who won't even use it to bake with! Whether consumers will now forgive Cadbury and go back to buying their chocolate remains to be seen, but there's no doubt that some major market damage has been done. As for me? The jury is still out; I may eventually go back to baking with Cadbury chocolate, but will continue to shop around for better options.

I love it when the little guy wins and a multi-national conglomerate is forced to listen to its customers. After all, without customers, where would any company be?

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Clutter and world peace

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test I took ten years ago with my teaching staff. My test came out to be ISTP, with S/N and T/F giving very borderline results. (Confused? This might help. But, then again, it might not.)
I took an abridged version of the MBTI test on Facebook tonight. While I take every Facebook quiz application with a grain of salt, and initially resisted taking the test altogether, I wondered how close it would be to my original result. As it turned out: pretty darn close.

This time, my result was INFP - almost exactly the same as I was ten years ago. I wondered what had changed; MBTIs are usually stable as they refer to a natural preference or tendency, rather than learned behaviours. However, being borderline S/N and T/F, I was aware that these could fluctuate either way. I'm still very much introverted and perceiving (and actually quite like it that way). I think age has contributed somewhat; I'm much more inclined to trust my intuition and feelings now than I was in my twenties.

A friend came out with the same result and found a series of posters to describe INFP personality types. Some of them are so accurate that they're almost scary! For those of you who know me, please stop laughing.

Source of images unknown

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Berry nice muffins

I came across this recipe for berry muffins on the back of a box of Weet-Bix this week. It interested me because it seems like a back-to-front recipe for muffins; the wet mix is added to the dry mix, instead of the other way around. I modified it (of course), using half the amount of berries and adding white chocolate chips which, I figured, would be balanced out by using Weet-Bix and wholemeal flour. I also didn't see the point in sifting wholemeal flour; the best bits are left behind in the sieve, so I just threw it all in. The final product was smaller than I expected, and quite heavy ... but oh so delicious with coffee.

Berry nice muffins

  • 1 cup white flour
  • ¼ cup wholemeal flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ cup caster sugar
  • 6 Weet-Bix, finely crushed
  • 1 cup frozen raspberries
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  1. Pre-heat oven to 190°C.
  2. Combine flours, baking powder and cinnamon in a large bowl.
  3. Stir through sugar, crushed Weet-Bix, berries and white chocolate chips.
  4. Combine egg, milk and butter.
  5. Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients, stirring gently until just combined.
  6. Spoon mixture into lightly greased muffin tins.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes. Makes 12.
Berry nice muffins

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Thai Chef's Restaurant

In the early days of this blog, I wrote about cafes and restaurants that I'd been to and tales about what I encountered along the way. It wasn't quite reviewing; it was more about impressions and happenings, and I now use two online forums for reviewing food, service, presentation, etc. We've always been quite cautious about what we spend on eating out, and tougher economic times sees us frequenting more cheap and cheerfuls; the Entertainment Book helps, too.

On Friday night, we tried a new Thai restaurant that we had spotted in the Entertainment Book. Thai Chef's Restaurant came to Wellington about a year ago and replaced Zing! Café, which had been in that location for a number of years. From start to finish, this was a superb meal.

Perhaps what really struck us about Thai Chef's was the creative, and often cheeky, menu. Along with your standard descriptions, a few really caught our attention and made us smile. Here were some of our favourite names for dishes:
C U later noodles
Duck in love
Spicy girl
3 alcoholics
No moon tonight, honey ...
Sleepy pig in bed
Naughty pig
The alcoholic's noodles
So what did we order? A mixed appetiser, then good old red penang curry with beef and chicken with cashew nuts. Absolutely delicious and superbly presented, this is the best Thai meal we have had in a long time. We are keen to try one of the banquet menus sometime and will definitely be back. Oh, and not an alcoholic in sight at our table. ;-)

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Completely Lost for Words

I met a good friend and work colleague for lunch today and a long overdue catch up. She told me that she had thought of me while she was browsing through a book sale and found the perfect book for me: Completely Lost for Words, by Australian authors Kathy Schmidt and Louise Jourdan. She also bought a copy for herself at the same time. I guess it's ironic that neither of us are usually lost for words; in fact, some would argue that our problem is the opposite!

The book is full of creative quotes and messages for all occasions: weddings, babies, anniversaries, birthdays, Christmas, sympathy, retirement, get well, bon voyage, apologies ... if you have ever been stuck for just the right thing to write inside a greeting card, then help is at hand.

Here is a random selection of a few quotes and phrases from my initial skim of the book:
One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar. Helen Keller
When you cease to dream, you cease to live. Malcolm Forbes
A human life is a story told by God. Hans Christian Andersen
A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words. Unknown
You don't marry someone you can live with - you marry the person you cannot live without. Unknown
The best of birthdays of all are those that haven't arrived yet. Robert Orben
Wisdom doesn't necessarily come with age. Sometimes age just shows up all by itself. Tom Wilson
Do you have any favourite quotes you dig out and use on certain occasions?

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Birthday flowers

Aren't I lucky?
Thank you, sweetie!

Monday, 3 August 2009

Formula One exhibition

After the New Zealand Affordable Art Show on Saturday, we went to the Formula One exhibition at Te Papa. This is a paid exhibition charting the history of Formula One racing from the 1950s to today and runs until 1 November 2009.

Even for someone who does not know much (anything!) about cars or motorsport, I still managed to learn quite a bit from the exhibition. While many (most!) of the technical terms went straight over my head, I was interested to learn about developments in Formula One technology, and updates to rules.

The exhibition is made up of a giant time line which is posted all around the walls. Along the time line is information about the companies involved in Formula One design, innovations and development, and drivers from the day. It makes for a lot of reading; I had thought there would have been more video footage, excerpts from interviews, and generally more interactivity.

It seems that Formula One is all about pushing limits: in speed, in distance, but mostly in design. The tiniest changes can have an incredibly profound impact. Over the years, as soon as a company and/or driver developed a new innovation, it was almost as quickly banned and the playing field levelled once more. Also, the chronology of deaths while racing ... and still my sweetie assures me that motorsport is safe!

It was a bonus to be allowed to take non-flash photographs of the cars (this is unusual for Te Papa - cameras are usually banned completely). There were several cars from the 1950s to about 2004; I shudder to think of their individual or collective worth.

Brabham BT20, 1966
McLaren M7A, 1968
Cooper T51, 1969
Williams F14B, 1982
McLaren-Honda MP4/4, 1988
Ferrari F2004

Sunday, 2 August 2009

New Zealand Affordable Art Show

Did I mention that I love winning stuff? Maybe just once or twice? This week, I won tickets to two shows: the Auckland Food Show (which my best friend and her family enjoyed on my behalf) and the New Zealand Affordable Art Show in Wellington.

The Affordable Art Show is an exhibition of original artworks by New Zealand artists. It is a great way to discover new and emerging artists and everything is priced to sell, with artworks ranging in price from $50 to $5000.

The show was well curated and attractively presented. There was plenty of room to wander around and get a good look at all of the pieces on display. Some of the artists were there on site near their displays to provide additional contact details or show portfolios of their work. I'd say both the artists and purchasers would enjoy chatting about the piece just about to change hands.

Although there was a really wide range of artists and artworks (and thankfully nothing too weird or Gothic), I didn't see anything that I felt I just had to buy. That's probably a good thing, and my bank account will thank me for it. As soon as an artwork sells, it is replaced by another, so there's no risk of the art "running out" or all the good stuff going on the first day. We noticed changeovers happening a few times; it's great to see that people were buying as soon as they saw something they liked.

If you're in Wellington today, it's well worth checking out the final day of this year's show.