Thursday, 30 December 2010

Gift vouchers

So, Christmas has well and truly come and gone and some people are back at work before the New Year holiday weekend. I briefly found myself in a shopping mall this morning. It’s not like I set out to buy anything, but I still have Farmers vouchers burning a hole in my handbag that I got for Christmas last year (or was it two birthdays ago?). Looking back through my blog, I see I was trying to spend these same vouchers a year ago. Poor me. :-/

They say that vouchers are the perfect gift if you don’t know what to buy for someone. Just choose a shop they like, or a store with several departments, or even a mall and voila, your gift buying problems are solved! For me, that works very well in theory. The reality is somewhat different because here we are more than a year later with vouchers still in my handbag and very little to show for the ones I've spent. My sweetie is the opposite; vouchers burn a hole in his pocket and are disposed of almost immediately or very quickly after he receives them. I know others who are like that, too.

Thankfully, I didn’t receive any gift vouchers this Christmas. Actually, I begged and pleaded with my family to not give me any. I suspect they think I’m kidding when I say I simply can’t spend them. Even I don't explain it very well.

I’ve heard every form of ‘sympathy’. “You can give them to me if you don’t want to spend them.” Yeah, right. “You should go shopping with someone who likes to shop and then you’ll spend them easily.” Nope, hasn’t worked. “Wait for a big sale – then you’ll find something.” Wrong again; there are sales almost every weekend and I still have $50 left to spend. “You don’t have to buy clothes. Go to another department and spend it there.” Still not working. I just end up winding myself up, getting extremely stressed then going home grumpy at having not bought anything again. Stop laughing - it's true!

This morning's brief foray into Westfield mall ended ok. I still have vouchers to spend but am proud to report no tantrums, whining or tears (so far). It seems a shame to have not bought discounted items during this week's big sale, but there will be another one, right?

Oh, and don't get me started on what I do once I've actually bought something - you'd be amazed at how long it takes me to use new items, but that is another blog post!

What are your thoughts about giving and receiving vouchers?

Monday, 27 December 2010

Post-Christmas post

Another Christmas is done and dusted and the madness that was Christmas shopping has now turned into Boxing Day and summer sales. We overindulged on food and festivity as we juggled Christmas between both of our immediate families and my extended whanau. Wellington turned on a pearler of a day with warm, calm and sunny weather.

We started off with breakfast at my parents' place and opening presents with my almost-3-year-old nephew. Isn't Christmas so much more fun when there are little ones around? He was beside himself with the excitement of opening presents but, just like the cliché goes, was literally more interested in the packaging for one present than what was inside it. A trip to the beach after breakfast to play with his new bucket and spade ended at high tide. Thankfully there was a park across the road with a red swing (like he requested) and slides to play on in the sun before going home again and watching him chase bubbles around the back yard. A sunny Christmas Day was the perfect opportunity for this 101 in 1001 activity, #34 - Blow bubbles on a sunny day.

The rest of the day saw us work slowly but surely through mountains of food and presents, some of which we are still trying to polish off now. It's amazing how we can still be eating chocolate pie, pavlova, tiramisu and chocolate truffles two days after Christmas. Lots of bubbly and a backyard pétanque tournament finished the day off nicely and Boxing Day was spent eating even more ... long lazy days!

How was your day? And how are you recovering now? I hope your Christmas was as wonderful and fortunate as ours.

Friday, 24 December 2010


A beautiful evening + my sweetie + Christmas Eve + beach + sunset = 101 in 1001 #36 - Watch the sun set with someone special.

Working on Christmas Eve

Today is only the second time I have worked through until Christmas Eve. It is the strangest feeling. We need to hang in here until midday when the gates will be opened (they were literally locked this morning), then we'll be allowed to escape into whatever form of Christmas madness we have planned. Let's just say that none of us are doing any work today!

Here's how our team are passing the time this morning:
  • Ferrero Rocher for breakfast.
  • The Absolute Best Christmas Album in the World ... Ever! is playing on my laptop through external speakers. Too bad if anybody doesn't want Christmas cheer - they're stuck with it! :-D
  • Farewell morning tea for a colleague in a few minutes.
  • Some guys are running around with nerf guns. Makes me wish I'd bought my water pistol now instead of waiting until after Christmas.
  • I'm replying to texts from my brother asking what to get my partner for Christmas. Yep, the big day is tomorrow (on the same day as it is every year) and he's only thought to ask about it today.
  • Someone has just come around with a basket of scorched almonds. Ooh, and here comes someone with rum ganache truffles. And fruit tarts!
  • Blogging, reading Stuff, chatting, watching Christmas videos on YouTube and generally laying about.
Happy Christmas Eve, everyone!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Getting to know you meme

It's been a while since I've done one of these. I saw this meme doing the rounds on Facebook yesterday, had a few minutes free, so copied and pasted here.

Getting to know Café Chick:
  1. What time did you get up this morning? The alarm went off at 6:40 am, the usual time for a work day.
  2. How do you like your steak? Medium-rare. Don't bring it to me if it's overcooked!
  3. What was the last film you saw at the cinema? Inception (2010). Loved it.
  4. What is your favourite TV show? It was Outrageous Fortune but I'll have to find another one now that the Wests have packed up for good.
  5. If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be? Probably still New Zealand.
  6. What did you have for breakfast? Breakfast?
  7. What is your favourite cuisine? Italian.
  8. What foods do you dislike? Capsicums. Euw!
  9. Favourite place to eat? I don't have one in particular, but I'm pretty fussy ... if it starts with 'food' and ends with 'court', you won't find me there (except to buy sushi).
  10. Favourite dressing? Does chocolate sauce count as a dressing?
  11. What kind of vehicle do you drive? A silver one. (Ford Laser sedan.)
  12. What are your favourite clothes? Pretty summer dresses. I don't wear them much these days.
  13. Where would you visit if you had the chance? Europe.
  14. Cup 1/2 empty or 1/2 full? I try to make it half full but some days are easier than others ...
  15. Where would you want to retire? Somewhere by the sea.
  16. Favourite time of day? It used to be after midnight but now I'd say mid-afternoon on a sunny day.
  17. Where were you born? Wellington.
  18. What is your favourite sport to watch? I don't really have one ...
  19. Who do you think will not tag you back? Well, I haven't actually 'tagged' anyone to do this meme but somebody might pick it up and put it on their own blog.
  20. Person you expect to tag you back first? See above.
  21. Who are you most curious about their responses to this? Anyone. :-)
  22. Bird watcher? Yep, I love them!
  23. Do you consider yourself attractive? I used to ...
  24. Pets? None of my own but my sweetie has a cat called Zed.
  25. Any new and exciting news that you'd like to share? Umm, watch this space.
  26. What did you want to be when you were little? A teacher. (And I was.)
  27. What is your best childhood memory? Long summer evenings.
  28. Are you a cat or dog person? Neither - I love birds.
  29. Are you married? Nope.
  30. Always wear your seat belt? Absolutely.
  31. Been in a car accident? A couple of minor dings but nothing that would qualify as a crash.
  32. Any pet peeves? Soooo many! For starters, see this post. Add to that: supermarket or retail staff who greet you by asking "are you ok?". Yes, I'm fine, thanks. However, you could help me ... oh, and don't call me "ma'am" - I'm not as old as you seem to think.
  33. Favourite pizza topping? Cheese, tomato and basil.
  34. Favourite flower? Giant daisy.
  35. Favourite ice cream? Bon bon rocher gelato from Kaffee Eis.
  36. Favourite fast food? Sushi.
  37. How many times did you fail your driver's test? Never.
  38. From whom did you get your last email? Lotsa junk email and advertising at this time of the year.
  39. Which store would you choose to max out your credit card? Oh dear, I'm a dreadful shopper - this would be a nightmare for me!
  40. Do anything spontaneous lately? Walking in the rain.
  41. Like your job? Technically, yes ...
  42. What was your favourite vacation? One month backpacking around Italy back in 2002.
  43. Who's your favourite actor/actress? Probably Morgan Freeman. (I don't feel particularly strongly about this one.)
  44. Last person you went out to dinner with? My sweetie.
  45. What are you listening to right now? Just Walking In The Rain by Johnnie Ray - but in my head. How sad is that? (In my defence, I posted it on my blog earlier today.)
  46. What is your favourite colour? Purple.
  47. How many tattoos do you have? None.
  48. Coffee drinker? Oh yes!
  49. How many children do you have? None.
  50. What was the last book you read? Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I currently have three more books on the go.
Does anyone else want to have a go?

    Sunday, 19 December 2010

    Just walking in the rain

    The Christmas madness continues but there is light on the horizon. We are pretty much done with our Christmas shopping and most of the presents are wrapped and ready. Despite promises that this would be the busiest day for shopping, being the last weekend before Christmas, things weren't too crazy out there and we even managed to survive a dash around the supermarket relatively unscathed.

    Maybe the rain had something to do with it? It's raining pretty hard today but still warm, if a little humid - the perfect opportunity for a 101 in 1001 activity: #54 - Walk/dance in the rain. The experience wasn't quite as luxurious or carefree as I'd imagined it to be (and I didn't dance - it was a supermarket carpark the week before Christmas, after all!) but is probably my only chance to walk in warm rain and not have to care about getting wet.

    To mark the occasion, here is a musical interlude:

    Saturday, 18 December 2010

    Christmas madness

    It's a crazy time of the year, this thing we call Christmas. I'd be quite happy to bypass all the hype and commercialism. I have mostly managed to avoid getting sucked by it all this year but, nevertheless, can't withdraw entirely. This time last year we were getting ready to go away for a week and face another kind of madness: Christmas with the rellies on a remote island. It's hard to believe that it was a year ago already!

    In among all the madness, here are some things that make me smile at Christmas time.
    • A Christmas Story (1983). We tried to find this on Fatso but it's not in their catalogue. For years, our family used to laugh about the ugly leg lamp that arrived and Ralphie's dad's comment when reading the sticker on the box: "fra-gee-lee - must be Italian". (I guess you have to have seen the movie to know what I'm talking about.)
    • Looking forward to an almost-3-year-old opening his presents.
    • Fairy lights. They're everywhere at the time of year!
    • Snoopy's Christmas. Love it or hate it (obviously I love it!), this was the one Christmas song my band played every year and I never got sick of.
    • Cherries and strawberries.
    • This gorgeous Wellington advent calendar.
     How are you surviving this Christmas season?

        Monday, 13 December 2010

        When the going gets tough

        I've had a crappy day. I won't go into detail other than to say that my workload doubled last week after the colleague I work closest with resigned and I'm worried about what type of person she will be replaced by.

        When the going gets tough, certain things can always be relied upon to make things better for me:
        • Chocolate. Enough said.
        • Skoshes and cuddles from my nephew.
        • This song:

        Every Night by Phoebe Snow
        • Going for a walk and visiting duckies.
        What makes everything better for you?

          Friday, 10 December 2010

          Ukulele party

          You may have noticed I've had an ongoing affair with playing the ukulele this year. A colleague and I set up a ukulele orchestra at work a few months ago. We were essentially a group of beginners with one or two people who had some guitar or ukulele experience. Those of us who lacked said experience made up for it in enthusiasm. It was up to me to make the rest happen. We got started with some simple C and D-redemption songs (if you get lost, you can just play C or D at the right time and redeem yourself) and moved on from there. Since then, my purple ukulele has been running red hot and I've been playing several times a week.

          This has been an open-ended goal on my 101 in 1001 list - a bit naughty, really. After all, how do you actually measure something like #92 - Learn how to play the ukulele? (Or maybe that's the teacher in me being far too fussy with defining learning outcomes?) So, here's how I'm qualifying success in having achieved this goal:
          • I have steadily progressed in my playing. I'm now strong enough to start songs and lead a group.
          • I have developed some mighty fine callouses on my left fingertips. (Actually, I'm less than thrilled with that.)
          • I'm now strumming correctly with the tips of my fingers instead of my thumb (most of the time).
          • My chord progressions are much smoother. In the early days, I was ok at playing some individual chords but struggled to change to another. That's so much better now.
          • I no longer need to look at the chords I am playing most of the time. (OK, they're still pretty basic chords, but that's good enough for me!)
          • I have led a ukulele orchestra for nearly six months now and will continue next year. In fact, we totally rocked our staff Christmas party today by playing a 20 minute set! I'm hoping to gather more ukulele enthusiasts for when we start up again in the new year.

          Woo hoo!

            Friday, 3 December 2010

            The week's roundup

            It's Friday, folks! Time for a quick roundup of the week as I wait to go into town tonight for a Christmas harbour cruise. The weather is perfect and the harbour is looking beautiful and glassy - should be a perfect night out on the water.
            • Summer has arrived in Wellington! Let's hope it stays until March.
            • The baby duckies around work have grown up and are now teenagers.
            • My sweetie's cat had an operation on Monday to remove a cancerous growth from his ear. He now hates us passionately and repaid us by peeing on our bed on Tuesday night. :-(
            • Coffee Creation in Petone is still the absolute best place to stock up on fresh coffee for the weekend.
            • I tried to book for high tea at Mojo for this weekend. Turns out they're fully booked until at least 9 January 2011!
            • We had a yummy dinner out at Public last night.
            • It took three attempts to get our workplace Secret Santa sorted. I'm convinced some team members were sabotaging the process. ;-)
            • Wellington has launched a cool advent calendar with discounts and deals from Wellington businesses as prizes.
            • Tui has got their own advent calendar for the boys.
            Have a good weekend. :-)

            Monday, 29 November 2010

            Third birthday

            Whose third birthday? Mine! Well, Café Chick's. Three years ago today, I set up this blog and started the journey of Café Chick. She and I have had a lot of fun both blogging and on Twitter. At the start, I had no idea where  either of us would end up. I still don't know where we're going but am loving the ride.

            My 101 in 1001 project is in its final few months and I'm trying to wrap up as many activities as practical before 29 March 2011. I have completed 19 activities in 2010 and made progress with several ongoing goals. I did a bit of a roundup of progress when I reached the one year to go mark back in March and am pleased to report that it's still ticking along nicely.

            Look at the state of my Clustr map! That's over 21,000 visits during the past twelve months from 145 different countries. It's been lovely to have your company. Alas, as with each birthday/anniversary, the map will archive tomorrow and all my lovely red dots will disappear. Hopefully they will be repopulated in a different combination during the upcoming year - I'll need your help with that.

            Café Chick's visitors
            Once again, a huge thank you to everyone in the blogosphere for joining me on my journey. I'll be around for a long time to come so hope you'll continue to pop in regularly for good coffee and fresh baking.

            Sunday, 21 November 2010

            The Gangsters Ball

            Last night, we went to the ball. The Gangsters Ball, that is. The Gangsters Ball took place at the St James Theatre and was billed as a feast of burlesque, cabaret, circus, singing, dining and dancing. In 1920s style, the scene was set for gangsters and flapper fashion to come out and play. It has been a while since we went to a good costume party so we decided to go all out and see what Jesters had to offer. I wore a maroon flapper outfit complete with feather boa and a stylish feathered headband. So glamourous!

            There was plenty of entertainment  of varying quality throughout the night. The evening started with a drag-style lip-synching performance, followed by an overly long 'warm up' by the very average DJ and MC, El Jaguar. Various dances and performances added to the cabaret atmosphere and there were some great costumes to go along with it.

            The gambling den consisted of just one roulette and blackjack table each, which meant that you needed to be quick to find a spot at either of them. We eventually made it into blackjack, alternately winning and losing a fortune in funny money before eventually going all in at the end of the night - good times.

            I got to go home with the Best Dressed Man - my sweetie took out the prize with his white pinstriped suit! The reaction from revellers at as we walked along Courtenay Place at 1 am was hilarious, with one group asking us to pose in a photo with them. It's always fun to wander around town in costume. The photos from the ball will eventually end up on this website but I think you need to log in to see anything more than thumbnails.

            Friday, 19 November 2010

            Friday funnies

            Here are some random funnies for Friday.

            I've been desperate to include this image in a presentation or workshop recently. I haven't yet found the perfect vehicle for it but, when I do, I'm sure I won't be the only one laughing.

            You can't keep a prolific blogger down ...

            Ever come out of a meeting feeling like this?

            An oldie but a goodie. I'm sure that everyone who has ever worked in the areas of IT, professional learning or corporate training can relate to this.

            I'd love to do something like this! The film quality is dreadful but the final effect is awesome.

            Happy Friday, folks!

            Tuesday, 16 November 2010

            Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

            Harry Potter and I first got to know each other back in 1998. I was in my second year of teaching and vividly recall one of my students telling me in animated tones about a book his mother was reading to him at night. It was about a boy and his friends who went to a school specially for wizards and witches and they had all these adventures and ... I'm not exaggerating when I say that this boy determinedly never showed excitement about anything; he was one of the most 'in control' students I have ever come across, and so his manner immediately got my attention. Anything that could get him talking animatedly had to be good.

            Fast forward a few months and we held a Book Week at our school, involving an exciting week with stacks of book-related activities and culminating in a big event on the Friday when staff and students all came to school dressed as book characters. We invited notable Wellingtonions and New Zealanders to read stories to our classes. I was thrilled when Sir Michael Hardie Boys (who was Governor General at the time) asked if he could read The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate by Margaret Mahy to a class! Another guest, Mark Blumsky (Wellington mayor at the time) arrived with a book he had bought at Los Angeles airport and excitedly read all the way back to Wellington. The book? Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, which we were already reading together in class.

            We raced through the first three novels in the series and even my most reluctant readers fell in love with the world of Hogwarts. The children (and teachers) couldn't get enough of the books and we eagerly anticipated the fourth installment in the series being released: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Unfortunately for my younger readers, the length of the novels doubled at that stage and the reading level rose considerably. The most determined continued with support. I couldn't help myself and raced ahead of my class. (There has to be some advantage to being an adult reader among a bunch of 8-year-olds.)

            And then the movies started to be released. We keenly anticipated the first. Would it be any good? What would the characters look like? And Hogwarts itself? For me, the ultimate test would be the enchanted ceiling in the great dining hall. It passed, but I haven't been overly enthralled with any of the movies since then, preferring to get back to the books.

            I really struggled to get through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final installment in a series I thoroughly enjoyed. After repeatedly hearing that it was the best of them all, albeit a bit slow to start, I finally finished reading it in three stages. Admittedly, this didn't help me much with continuity but I preferred to pick up where I left off rather than re-read some chapters. For me, the story just went on and on with endless chases for horcruxes and hallows, resulting in some huge battles and an extensive body count; I lose interest when things get like that. Things did manage to resolve in the last fifty or so pages, so we got there in the end. For me, none of the books was quite as 'magical' (no pun intended) as the first in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, which set the scene for everything else to come.

            I can't help but wonder if the characters of the novel evolved more into the actors who played them in the movies, rather than the other way around. For example, Hermione. She was initially portrayed as being a girlie-swot mudblood, born of Muggle parents who were dentists. This led to her ironcally having huge front teeth. However, once the movies got going and Hermione assumed a glamour-puss look à la Emma Watson, all mention of her oversized teeth disappeared.

            And so, here we are at the end of a twelve-year relationship. I'm a little sad but ready to say goodbye. 101 in 1001 activity #67 - Read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was about far more than reading a single book; it was finding closure with a literary tale that started in the early days of my career and followed me ever since. Love or hate the books, there's no doubting that J K Rowling's greatest achievement has been inspiring a generation of children to love reading - I've seen it first hand and will always admire her for that. Potter fever is once again about to sweep the movie world. I'll probably see the final two movies in time, but it's the series of books that will hold my memories and loyalty.

            Friday, 12 November 2010

            It's Friday

            It's Friday! It has been a long week but filled with lots of little things that are good. Here's a quick roundup:
            • Today was cheese scone day at work. Yay!
            • The sun is shining and it was a glorious almost-summer's day today.
            • A mother duck and her family of five baby duckies came for a wander around work yesterday.
            • Tomorrow, I am going to go costume hunting for the Gangsters' Ball next weekend. I'm looking for a flapper dress.
            • It just might be a hammock weekend - the first for this summer.
            • I have stocked up on coffee for the weekend. Coffee Creation in Petone is an awesome place to buy fresh coffee beans.
            • I baked a yummy banana loaf last night and there's still some left.
            • My cough is finally dying down and I'm slowly getting my energy back.
            • I'm feeling a little bit smug about having just bought
            • I have a voucher for chocolate truffles to spend at Butlers - this could be the weekend that I spend them.
            • I'm making progress with finishing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Just 100ish pages to go!
            • I'm in the mood to bake (again) this weekend.
            What's good for you as we head into the weekend?

            Sunday, 7 November 2010

            Scarecrows' big day out

            This afternoon we drove over to the Wairarapa to check out the roadside scarecrows, part of the Scarecrows' Big Day Out happening yesterday. This 101 in 1001 activity only comes around once a year, so I was glad we had a sunny day and some time spare in order to complete #49 - Go to the Scarecrow Festival in Gladstone. Although we'd missed the Gladstone School fair and scarecrow scamper yesterday, we had lots of fun driving around the area to see the roadside scarecrows at people's gates.

            The design for the roadside scarecrows are left to the imagination of each household. They are a combination of funny, clever and creative and we enjoyed driving along the country roads, slowing down as we neared another driveway, then jumping out of the car to take photos of the folk we encountered. Even the local pub got into the act with a very unfortunate incident involving Santa Claus and too much of the sponsors' product!

            Here are some photo highlights from our day:
            Chilled out

            Shearer's quarters

            Taking a breather

            Too much beer in the sun for Santa!


            Not fast enough

            Thursday, 4 November 2010

            An abbreviated post

            I've been sick at home for three days now with a chest infection and a nasty cough to match. Tomorrow looks like it will be my fourth day off work. (Let's hope they'll advance me some sick leave, or my next pay packet will be looking just as ill as me!) You would think that with all this 'spare' time on my hands that I'd be able to achieve something, anything, but my energy levels haven't come to the party, so here's an abbreviated blog post about what's going on for me at the moment.
            • Tomorrow is Guy Fawkes Day. There is going to be a great fireworks display in Wellington. We'll have to find a great viewpoint and hope that the weather plays nicely so we get to appreciate all the pretty fireworks.
            • Tomorrow is also my dad's birthday. When I was little, we would always have a birthday dinner at home, light some firecrackers in the back yard, then go and watch the fire at the empty section at the end of the street. Back in the days when skyrockets could be legally let off from anywhere, this was a great source of annual entertainment. I used to think that all the fireworks and bonfires were for Dad's birthday - lucky him!
            • I am going to attempt to make Tim Tam truffles as a birthday present for Dad, along with ciabatta and chocolate cake. (Once I stop coughing, that is.)
            • I thought I'd make the most of my sick days at home by tackling the last 200 pages of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I have only made the tiniest bit of progress and can't really remember what much of the previous 430 pages were about. Doh!
            • I'm hoping to drive over to the Wairarapa on Sunday and check out the Gladstone Scarecrow Festival - something I've been meaning to go to for years.
            • A friend asked if I'd like to see Eat Pray Love with her. I (think I) politely explained that it (and especially Julia Roberts) is not my thing. I haven't heard back from her since, lol - maybe the chest infection has made me more blunt than I'd usually be.
            • I am onto my second bottle of Irish Moss. (Ok, the first one wasn't entirely full, but I'm practically drinking the second one straight!)
            • There are lots of blog posts I'd like to write, if only I could start developing my ideas into a single coherent thought.
            How has your week been?

            Saturday, 30 October 2010

            Three-course meal

            It's no secret that I love to bake. However, I cook because we have to eat. It doesn't give me anywhere near as much pleasure as baking does and is far more of a chore for me. I've been intending to work on another one of my 101 in 1001 activities for a long time: #75 - Cook a three-course meal for someone. It required both time and inclination, neither of which has seemed to happen concurrently until recently. Last weekend, I finally had the inclination and started planning my menu. Tonight, I made it happen.

            In typical Café Chick style, I decided not to do anything by halves and make everything from scratch. Make no mistake: I'm not cut out for Masterchef. For one thing, I'm a slow cook. I'm not good at working out how long it will take something to do and the guidelines given in recipes are totally random when it comes to me. I can whip up a quick basic meal at night but take little satisfaction from it. Also, I have varying levels of success when cooking something for the first time. Tonight, for my three-course meal, I tried four new recipes. What was I thinking?!

            So, what was on the menu? I was keen to try making something with prawns and our entrée ended up being a version of grilled prawns marinated in olive oil, lemon juice and minced garlic. For our main course, I made gnocchi with a tomato-based sauce.They were not small and elegant like you'd expect but the taste and texture were right. As always, this is an incredibly filling dish. The ciabatta I made to go with it unfortunately ended up being grilled, rather than baked (mental note: don't cook two courses in one oven at the same time!) but luckily I had made three loaves and we managed to resurrect one enough to enjoy with dinner. (By the way, I loved using the dough hook on my lovely new Kenwood mixer for the first time - it worked perfectly!) Then, for dessert, I made chocolate banana crepes with chocolate and kahlua sauce.

            Most of the recipes came courtesy of my iPod touch and I haven't found the same sites on the web so unfortunately can't link to them directly. However, they have now been saved as favourites, which I can add to my ongoing recipe book.

            I'd be keen to try making each of these recipes again, but perhaps not all on the same day. Besides, I'm sure it will be easier next time ...!

            Tuesday, 26 October 2010

            Banana cake

            Ever since I bought my lovely new Kenwood cake mixer, I've wanted to bake things that involve mixing - and not by hand. Over-ripe bananas meant that banana cake was the logical choice. I looked for a quick and easy recipe. The idea was to ice it with lemon icing when finished. That requires one vital, but missing, ingredient: icing sugar. Plan B: serve warm with ice cream. Yum!

            Banana cake

            • 125 g butter, softened
            • 175 g sugar
            • 2 eggs
            • 2-3 mashed bananas
            • 2 T boiling milk
            • 1 t baking soda
            • 225 g flour
            • 1 t baking powder
            1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 22 cm round cake tin.
            2. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and mashed bananas.
            3. Mix the boiling milk and baking soda together and then add to the mixture. Sieve flour and baking powder together and add to mixture.
            4. Pour mixture into tin and bake for 45 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Ice with lemon icing when cold.

              Monday, 25 October 2010

              Labour weekend

              It's been a long weekend (in the best possible way). Today is a holiday in New Zealand for Labour Day, celebrating a 40-hour working week. The irony of working through this day is long lost on me and I no longer let myself do it. This year, I took a day's leave on Friday and made it a loooooong weekend, leaving me with two short working weeks. This truly is food for the soul. Here's a quick roundup of what I've been up to lately.
              • I had a town day on Friday. Although I love my job and where I work, I sometimes miss the buzz of working in town and being able to do all the little jobs that I used to fit into my lunch break. I got my hair cut, met up with former colleagues for coffee, had lunch with a friend, and had one more thwarted attempt to spend thwarted Farmers gift vouchers I have been carrying around for more than a year now. (Thankfully, they are valid for two years.) I say 'thwarted' because, after finally choosing some clothes to buy, I got to the counter to discover that their system was down nationwide and they couldn't accept gift vouchers on Friday. Unbelievable! Murphy's law was at it again.
              • Friday night was spent enjoying drinks and dinner with some work colleagues before heading into a weekend alternating between informal socialising, casual bargain hunting, and domestic bliss.
              • I started a new blog a couple of weeks ago, focusing on work-related topics. It may or may not result in this blog becoming 'quieter', and I still aim to blog a few times each week, but at the moment I've been spending more time getting into writing in a more 'professional' style.
              • The shopping malls are still scarily busy, but not as many are as festooned with Christmas spirit (yet) as I had expected. Instead, it's all Halloween crazy, something which seems to be gaining in popularity each year.
              • We had pancakes for breakfast today. Aren't sleep ins and lazy brunches the best part of long weekends?

              Sunday, 17 October 2010

              Procrastination is ...

              I'd been meaning to write a blog post about procrastination for quite some time, but just never got around to it.

              (That's not entirely true, but I thought it would make a good opening.)

              Actually, I started this post a few weeks ago, made some notes, wrote a few sentences, saved the draft, published a few other posts, and have only just come back to it now. There's a theory that procrastination and perfectionism are closely linked; I'm a little like that.

              Edward Young, an English poet, said that "procrastination is the thief of time". That may be true sometimes. However, I've had several occasions lately where procrastination has actually saved me a lot of money. On all three occasions, I have made considerable savings on items I was planning to purchase anyway.

              I have been looking around for a cupcake carousel for quite a while. When I bake large batches of cupcakes to take to parties, it can be challenging finding enough containers that are suitable for carrying 24 cupcakes at a time. I found one on a cake supply website for $80. It looked great but there's no way I could justify spending $80 to carry cupcakes around. I found a similar model at a gift shop for $60. I decided to splurge. However, on the day I was due to go shopping, the weather packed in and I decided to stay at home where it was warm and cosy. Just as well, because the very next day the shop had a half-price sale and I got my carousel for just $30. They have now sold out completely, but not before a couple of workmates also went out and bought discounted stock. I saved $50 just by staying at home!

              Then there was my laptop. I've needed to buy one for a while and eventually started shopping around for a basic model at a good price. I chose one, a clearance model that was reduced from around $1100 to $777, but put off the moment of purchase. (I'm a terrible shopper and useless at spending money.) Just as well; my laptop went down the next day a further $32, costing just $745 all up. Once again, procrastination saved me some money.

              At Zumba the other week, I noticed they had started offering 10-trip concession cards for $40, bringing the cost of each session down from $5 to $4. I thought it would be a good idea to buy one but didn't have enough cash on me; never mind, I could get one another time. This morning,  today's 1-dayout deal was 10 Zumba sessions at the same place that I go to for just $25 - half price! Once again, procrastination saved me some cash.

              Has procrastination ever paid off for you?

              Friday, 15 October 2010

              Tis the season

              ... or is it? Christmas seems to be creeping up earlier and earlier each year. I hadn't given it any thought until I heard a radio announcer say this morning that he was at a shopping mall which was already playing Christmas carols and peddling Christmas merchandise. I was momentarily taken aback but quickly pushed this scary concept out of my mind; it's not Christmas for ages.

              Upon arriving at work, I was horrified to see a box next to a colleague's desk. It was filled with Christmas decorations. What?!? It's only mid-October, for goodness sake! But it didn't stop there. She eagerly showed me a photo of her Christmas tree from last year, immaculately decorated; it’s already set as her laptop wallpaper. She's desperate to start decorating the office as, apparently, her husband won't let her start at home for a long time yet. (He sounds very wise.) Someone heard Snoopy's Christmas on the radio this morning. And it's only just beginning.

              When I first started at my current workplace, one of my new colleagues mentioned how much she loved Christmas and couldn't wait to decorate the office this year. I asked her when she planned to do this. She correctly replied, "December". Whew! However, in light of what I saw this morning, I'm now worried that these two will get together and spur each other on to create a super sparkly Christmas before anyone else has time to object!

              Now, don't get me wrong: although I live with The Grinch, I own a Christmas CD or two. I'm not entirely averse to Christmas decorations. I've accepted an invitation for our ukulele orchestra to play at the staff Christmas lunch. I might start thinking about annual leave. I'll do some obligatory Christmas shopping, but I'll do it in December, the month that we celebrate Christmas. Not October. Not even November. There is a website which answers the question, "is it Christmas?" perfectly. Check it out.

              Although I suppose it's commercialism gone mad or a sign of the times, I accept that I'm probably alone in my crusade to hold off the Christmas madness until the season is at least genuinely approaching. I figure there's another couple more months before it can legitimately start. So, until then, "bah, humbug!".

              Sunday, 10 October 2010

              New toys

              I have bought a couple of new toys lately. The first is the laptop that I'm writing this post on. It's a Compaq Presario CQ60-212, a cute little notebook to tide me over until I can afford and justify the expense of a gorgeous MacBook Pro. It's basic and functional; we're bonding slowly.

              My second toy purchase excites me more. I am now the proud owner of my very first 'real' cake mixer - a Kenwood KM270W Patisser (sounds impressive, doesn't it?)! After much research, and despite lusting over a purple KitchenAid, this is the model I settled on. People tell me that they bought a Kenwood years and years ago and it's still going strong; I'm hoping this will last me a lifetime of baking. It makes me feel very grown up!

              So, I needed to test my brand new Kenwood. Yesterday, I made black forest cake for my brother's birthday. It was the first time I'd tried making one and I looked around for recipes and variations. I settled on baking a normal chocolate cake and filling it with layers of chopped black doris plums and whipped cream. I diluted the syrup mix by boiling the plum juice with a splash of brandy. I topped it with whipped cream and grated dark chocolate over the top. The coloured lettering on top of white chocolate melts didn't exactly look classy but was another experiment. Anyway, it was the taste that mattered.
              Black Forest birthday cake
              I have just taken a yummy banana loaf out of the oven. I plan to give my new mixer plenty of practice!

              Thursday, 7 October 2010

              Blogger or Wordpress?

              I have been blogging in Blogger for several years now, with this blog, my Project 365 blog, and another early professional blog which I stopped updating a few years ago. I've decided to kick-start professional blogging once again, as it complements my new job perfectly and is something I've been itching to get back into. Given my history with Blogger, I'm tempted to just start another one here and get going within the hour. However, I thought I'd explore Wordpress and experience blogging on another platform.

              It hasn't been easy. I'm fairly web 2.0 savvy but am almost at the stage of giving up and going back to what I'm familiar with. I have spent far too long trying to upload a new template (apparently you could do this on in the past, but this option seems to be disabled now, unless you upgrade and pay for the service). I've become incredibly frustrated just trying to do basic stuff, even with a lot of planning and preparation done beforehand.

              Bear in mind that I am talking about here - not, which involves private hosting. I want to use the free service but be able to upload and personalise a different template, as well as host some third party widgets.

              So, blogosphere, I need your help. Have you blogged with How doees it compare with Blogger (if you've blogged with both)? What are the biggest advantages and drawbacks? I still need convincing ...

              Monday, 4 October 2010

              Queen of the ivories

              When my father asked if I wanted see Jan Preston's Life and Music of Winifred Atwell with him this weekend, I wasn't sure how to answer. The ticket would be free; all we had to do was turn up. Ok, it sounded simple enough.

              Jan Preston is a classically-trained pianist with a love for boogie woogie – and she’s good at it. Right from the first number, her enthusiasm and vibrant energy for playing was obvious. Jan and her backing bass player and drummer started out with some crowd-pleasers, including the Harry Lime theme and Baby Elephant Walk. It's obvious that she loves what she does. Although we had great seats (we were in the front row) and I could see Jan's hands flying up and down the piano, we were on the wrong side and I couldn't see a single key of the keyboard - a shame, as I love watching good pianists in action.

              Jan introduced us to Winifred Atwell, a renowned 1950s boogie woogie pianist originally from Trinidad. During her career, she became Queen of the Ivories and performed all around the world, especially in the UK and Australia, to packed audiences. She also wrote a number of boogie and ragtime-style pieces, resulting in eleven Top 10 hits. Jan's presentation was made up of dozens of photos from Winnie's career and accompanied by a running piano commentary in ragtime, boogie woogie and honky tonk style.

              This type of music is not for everyone and the age range of the audience reflected this. At one stage, I asked Dad if I could lean across the aisle and slap the old biddies across from me who talked incessantly for most of the show. Dad's hearing has paid the price of a lifetime as a musician so I couldn't tell if he genuinely couldn't hear me or was just ignoring me; probably a bit of both. Instead, I focused my best teacher stare on the offenders, but they were so wrapped up in their conversation that they didn't even notice. The most embarrassing part was that we were sitting in the front row and the performers would have been able to hear every word. How rude!

              There were a few singalong numbers which were painfully embarrassing. I was not impressed when the concert threatened to finish with the dreadful Goodnight, Irene. Thankfully, the band redeemed themselves and ended with Bumble Boogie in true boogie style. A classic Sunday matinee show.

              Friday, 1 October 2010

              Overheard in a café

              Her: How are you?
              Him: Oh, not feeling too good. Got a headcold.
              Her: You had one last week, too.
              Him: Yeah, it's the same one. Still trying to get rid of it.
              Her: Have you taken anything for it?
              Him: Nah, I'm too hard for that.
              *Café Chick shakes head in disbelief at typical Kiwi male*
              What funny things have you overheard lately?

              Thursday, 30 September 2010

              Ukulele days

              It's time for an update on my 101 in 1001 project. After all, time is ticking away and it's only another five or so months until I'm due to finish. Following on from my 1 year to go roundup, I've made some progress. Two goals that go hand-in-hand are my modified goals: #17 - Start a ukulele orchestra and #18 - Create ukulele orchestra wiki. I can assure you these have been lots of fun.

              A couple of months ago, a colleague and I set up a ukulele orchestra at work. We tentatively asked for an expression of interest and, once we had six responses, started getting together for weekly lunchtime practices. It has really taken off! We now average 10-12 people coming each time and have more than 20 people in the group, including our CEO who went out and bought a ukulele specially. Wow!

              To communicate, share music, and keep everybody up-to-date with what's going on, I have set up a simple wiki. For privacy reasons, I won't post the link to it. It's basic but functional and I have really enjoyed putting it together, adding and updating content when I get a chance to.

              My ukulele playing has really come along, especially in recent weeks during which time I've been playing almost every day. After having so much fun at the Wellington Ukulele Summer Fiesta earlier this year, a group of us are going to join in with the Ukulele Spring Spectacular at the Botanic Gardens Sound Shell this Sunday. Yep, lots of ukulele madness going on lately!

              I realise that my third ukulele activity, #92 - Learn to play the ukulele, is open-ended. I'll keep it 'open' for now and perhaps tick it off later in the year once I have improved a bit more. I'm getting there. :-)

              Tuesday, 28 September 2010


              Yesterday's lighthearted  flurry about OCD on Twitter opened a can of worms. Check out the #OCD hashtag and you will see what I mean. We're not talking about superstitions or actual disorders, here. It's more like things that someone has to do in a particular way or a certain number of times. The Twitterverse disclosed everything imaginable, from ironing clothes and underwear before travelling, not celebrating a birthday until the minute of your birth, walking on cracks evenly in the concrete (or avoiding them), or opening computer programmes in a specific order so they line up correctly on your task bar. (I can empathise with this one.)

              There's a great joke that goes something along the lines of, "I have CDO, which is OCD but spelt in alphabetical order like it should be". I love it. (Check out the title for this post.) There are certain things that bother me, but I also enjoy poking fun or annoying people who fuss over silly things. For example, an ex used to insist that the openings of pillowcases on the bed pointed away from the door. (Apparently it is an old Scottish tradition - ha!) Guess which way I put the pillows now? ;-)

              I know someone who arranges her wardrobe according to skirts, shirts, tops, dresses, coats etc (and it won't be in the order I've just described), then each category is shaded from dark to light. I know there was something to do with seasons in her order but can't remember exactly what. Incidentally, she's an accountant.

              Here are some of my particular OCD tendancies. I'm sure there would be dozens more to add if I gave it some more thought.
              • Clocks and calendars: they have to be correct. Each month, I am the one who changes the calendar to show the new month. We changed to daylight savings time this weekend. All our clocks at home and in the car seem to be ok and I quickly changed the time on the clock in my office, but I've noticed several other clocks in high places that are still an hour behind and that really bugs me. The funny thing is, I can't stand to wear a watch.
              • Picture frames: they have to be straight unless the display is designed to be otherwise. The same goes for posters. Someone thought I was taking down a new poster at work the other day; no, I was just straightening it. I'm still relatively new so my colleagues don't quite know how to take me yet. They'll find out.
              • Coathangers: mine have to all be hanging over the wardrobe rail (not hooking under) and skirts, tops and dresses have to face to the left. My sweetie is the opposite (although he insists it doesn't bother him); his shirts all face to the right. I try not to let it drive me nuts.
              • Numbers: when I have a group of something, I like them to be even numbers or multiples of 5. 10 is good, 11 not, 12 is fine, 13 not, 14-15-16 are all ok ... get it? I don't know why.
              • Clothes pegs: their colours have to match. I used to be really fussy with this, even to the extent that all socks had to be hung with the same colour, or tops etc. I'm a lot better now but still like to hang each item with matching clothes pegs.
              What are your #OCD tendancies?

              Friday, 24 September 2010

              Savoury or sweet?

              It really is the small things in life that make things good. Sunshine, duckies, coffee, cupcakes, new laptops (ok, that's not so small – I'll tell you about it later). I buy a daily coffee at our work cafeteria. As soon as our barista sees my takeaway coffee cup entering the room, she knows that my order will be a trim latte. It always tastes good and is a little treat I can look forward to each day.

              And then there is Friday. Apart from the obvious, general jubilation associated with Fridays, Friday is cheese scone day at work. It is the only day of the week when I will buy food to go with my coffee treat – kind of a reward for making it through another week without causing too much mayhem and destruction to everyone around me.

              As I sat down to enjoy my latte and scone today, a colleague, Claire, noted that I should be drinking tea instead. Apparently savoury foods, such as cheese scones, go with tea and sweet treats, like chocolate and cake, go with coffee. What?? I quickly educated her in my aversion to tea and my love for coffee; this was not going to wash with Claire. Another colleague, Henry, wandered past. "Mmm, is that a cheese scone?" he asked. "I might get one."

              The question was quickly put to him: should cheese scones (being a savoury food) be eaten with tea or coffee? What was he going to have with it? Henry, like me, replied that he’d never really thought about it. Once again, Claire remained unconvinced. She gave us an extreme example of a coffee-tea crime; apparently she knows someone who adds kahlua (coffee flavoured) to his tea. Yuck. (I'd agree – tea is yuck.) Henry went off to buy a cheese scone; I don't know what drink he settled on. I'm guessing it was tea, as I haven't heard Claire tell him off yet for mixing savoury with coffee.

              So, what do you think? I agree that there are certain food and drink matches that work perfectly, and others that probably aren't good combinations, but how about the whole savoury/sweet/tea/coffee thing?

              (I remain unconvinced; almost anything can complement either coffee. The same goes for chocolate. Mmm, chocolate.)

              Tuesday, 21 September 2010

              What wine are you?

              Apparently this quick quiz from New World supermarkets can tell you what wine you are. After going on a few wine trails in Blenheim and Martinborough, I have a fair idea of what I like, but this has come after trying about 100 different wines of various varieties and from numerous vineyards. Would a simple quiz be able to reach the same conclusions as our wine tastings? We'll see.

              Pinot noir. Really? Hmmm. Obviously not.

              I have tried the #1 recommendation in question, Russian Jack Pinot Noir 2009, at a cheese tasting event I went to recently. It was ok and a good match for the bruschetta we were eating, but not something I'd buy a bottle (or glass) of.

              What's your wine match? Did the quiz work for you?

              Friday, 17 September 2010

              Stormy weather

              For a couple of days, we have been warned that the biggest storm on the planet is making its way towards New Zealand. The size of Australia, this storm has promised severe wind and weather conditions up and down the country - bad even for Wellingtonians, who are used to being blown around a bit.

              We waited. We got a bit of rain. The sun came out. It was fine. And then the storm hit at lunch time. Cool!

              I seemed to be the only one in my office actually excited by the storm. I counted the seconds between the lightning and thunderbolts (the storm was practically right above us at one point!) and looked out the window at the hail pelting the cars in the car park. I jumped out of my chair and whooped in delight at one particularly long flash of lightning but looked around the office to see everybody else with their heads down, hunched over their computers and pounding away at 'important' work. Is nobody else excited by thunder and lightning?

              I realise that storms aren't everybody's idea of a fun day. Let me qualify my love of thunderstorms by saying that they are great when I'm safely inside, warm and dry, and in no risk of damage. Today's storm (I'm not sure if it's finished yet) is a great example.

              As a teacher, I spent more than my fair share of time in a classroom with around 30 youngsters during wet and stormy weather. I remember one particularly bad storm. Most of my class of 7-8 year olds had their noses pressed up against the window watching the rain drive down and counting the seconds between the lightning flashes and thunder bolts. Some were less interested and a few were a little scared.

              One 8-year-old boy was absolutely terrified. Having spent the first six years of his life in a Russian orphanage after being abandoned by his gypsy mother in the snow one night, wrapped only in a blanket, he had experienced horrors beyond what most of us could ever imagine. The sound of thunder conjured up memories of army tanks for him; I don't know why, and he couldn't explain it to me. I just knew that his terror was real, even in the safety of his school on the other side of the world. He and I spent many storms huddled on the floor while he shook, sobbing in my arms.

              And now the skies are blue and the wind has died down, although the temperature has noticeably dropped and I can see the clouds regathering. Did the weather bomb hit you, or is it still on its way? Does that scare or excite you (or neither)?

              Tuesday, 14 September 2010

              Spring roundup

              So, where did the past week or so go? The days are whizzing by like The Flash at the moment. I'm loving how our days are getting longer after a long, wet and dreary winter and look forward to daylight saving in a couple of weeks' time. I'm noticing that even in busy times there sometimes seems more hours in the day to do things if it's light when I get home from work.
              • Spring is here. We're still getting our fair share of rain, but I'm seeing apple blossom everywhere and little families of duckies along the riverbank beside work.
              • Some of my 'in between' clothes have started making it out of the wardrobe - not quite summer clothes yet, but no longer several winter layers, either. I can't wait until the day I can put my big winter coat in for dry cleaning and pack it away for another year.
              • I'm going through a ukulele feast at the moment, where almost every day at work offers another opportunity to play. While Tuesday is our regular ukulele orchestra day, there have been many other occasions when a ukulele is called for. Strange but fun.
              • I started my dream job last week. While a couple of days have almost entirely been written off due to an office shift and some big network outages, it's is such a buzz to be working back in a field that I love and have years of experience in. Full speed ahead!
              • While I never go far without my trust iPod, I'm finding it an absolute necessity at work during the day. I seem to be part of a pod of plugged-in colleagues, each with their heads down and their ears plugged in. It's good as I get to listen to some of my favourite music that I haven't heard in a long time. Someone next to me must have quite similar taste in music to me; I've wondered a couple of times if I've left my iPod going by accident. It turns out I can just hear it through his headphones.
              • I won tickets to see Shipwrecked! at Circa Theatre last week. While I usually review shows or events I've been to, I found it hard coming up with enough to say about the play. It was ok, if you're into that style of storytelling.
              • I went laptop shopping and cake mixer shopping this weekend. Yes, I'm planning to buy two toys for myself, hoping to make the most of the current prices before GST rises on 1 October. I've nearly made a decision on both items ...
              • I've found another local Zumba class on Sundays and it's absolutely free! I might even go next weekend. ;-)
              How are things with you? What have you been up to lately?

              Sunday, 5 September 2010

              How old is your baby?

              Babies are curious creatures. They elicit polarised reactions from other human beings; some turn to mush at the sight of a gurgling miniature human being and start cooing appreciatively, while others couldn't be more eager to get away from the squirming/slurping/sleeping bundle placed before them.

              There are certain protocols that are expected from baby admirers (that is, anyone in the immediate vicinity of their parents or grandparents), regardless of which camp they belong to. It seems easy to get it right: throw out a generic compliment (which the parent always accepts as their own achievement, eg 'he's cute', followed by 'thank you', as though it was something they have done themselves!) and you're off the hook. So long as you get it right, that is.

              A few years ago, I was staying at family-run beach accommodation in Samoa. They would serve up communal meals each night and sometimes join us for dinner. One night, a burly baby dressed in a blue stretch-n-grow crawled among the guests, under the watchful eye of an aunt. Someone picked the baby up and asked, 'what's his name?'. 'Felicity,' was the reply. Oops. It was left to another guest to break the embarrassed silence.

              A former colleague of mine, Jenefer, had a great strategy for avoiding potential minefields like this. When faced with a pram containing a baby of indiscriminate sex and being expected to front up with a suitable comment, she would ask, 'how old is your baby?'. She figured that the parent would gush, 'oh, she's 11 weeks on Tuesday', or something similar, giving a further clue to go on with. Jenefer insisted her strategy was fail-safe; it was hard to find fault with her logic. I stored it away for future use.

              We spent last week near the mountain, where my sweetie grabbed various opportunities to ski during breaks in the weather. One afternoon, I sat in a sunny spot in an upstairs bar at Turoa along with various other non-skiers similarly huddled over books, puzzles and other time-filling activities. A young father with a tiny bundle dressed up in a white bear snow suit, complete with little ears, sat near me. I couldn't tell if the baby was a boy or a girl, and briefly contemplated using Jenefer's strategy before going back to my book, deciding that I didn't really need to know either way. Another guy ambled over to him. Here's what they said to each other:
              Observer: How old?
              Father: 12 weeks.
              [End of conversation]
              And that was it. A grand total of four words exchanged and possibly a tiny nod or similar gesture to round off their conversation. No other questions, no politely interested or admiring comments about 12 weeks being very young for a baby's first experience skiing, and absolutely no clues about gender. Nothing at all. Maybe it's different for guys and they're somehow exempt from the obligatory gushing required of women? How can they cut to the chase so quickly and easily and get away with it? Or does this peculiar piece of societal convention just not matter to men?

              Saturday, 28 August 2010

              Boomrock Spanish Fiesta

              View from Boomrock
              I have really enjoyed all the Wellington on a Plate events I have attended this year. (To quickly recap, Discovering artisan cheese, Cupcakes and cocktails, and Making great patisserie at WelTec.) There were many other appealing festival events on the list but, after careful deliberation, these were the ones I'd chosen and managed to book into. That's where the Twitterverse is so amazing; I was the lucky winner of two tickets to the Boomrock Spanish Fiesta.

              My sweetie and I spent an amazing half-day experiencing Boomrock in Spanish-style. After being picked up from the centre of town, we were bused out to Boomrock Lodge, featuring a beautiful view of the west coast of Wellington. Greeted with a glass of Freixenet Cordón Negro, we were handed five more drinks tokens for the rest of the afternoon. (Let's just say that several of our tokens were 'spent' on this bubbly, described as a medium bodied, dry sparkling wine with apple, pear and dry citrus - yum!) The tapas started doing the rounds; they literally melted in our mouths - real taste sensations.

              As part of our prize package, we were able to try claybird shooting. I hadn't done this since I was about 7 years old and went with my father to the Chatham Islands gun club. I don't think I hit anything (I probably didn't even shoot by myself), but I'm proud to say that I hit two claybirds yesterday - one with help and the other entirely on my own. Woo hoo!

              Our entrées were ready. We took our places at the beautifully set tables and started on a seafood feast. The steamed mussels and Cloudy Bay cockles were absolutely delicious, cooked with tomatoes, sherry, onions and fennel bulb. The other entrée included grilled sardines; I'm not a huge fan of these salty, bony fish so switched back to the mussel dish.

              An elegant table setting
              The feature dish of the day was our main course, a gigantic seafood paella made by guest chef Ian Hornblow. While we were out shooting claybirds and drinking on the deck, he worked on mixing up the ingredients to create a tasty masterpiece. Cooked to perfection, this was a stunning way to feed a large group.

              Making a giant seafood paella
              A seafood paella masterpiece
              It seemed a shame to break up such a beautiful creation in order to feed the masses.

              The recommended accompaniment for the paella was a glass of Torres Gran Vina Sol Chardonnay. Served with lemon, mussels and a king prawn, the flavour was subtle enough to appreciate all of the types of seafood (including crayfish) in the paella. As you can see, the serving size was very generous; regrettably, I couldn't quite finish all of mine. After all, I wanted to leave some room for dessert: churros with a rich chocolate sauce.

              Seafood paella is served
              We concluded our afternoon of feasting with shots of Baileys on ice then tea and coffee. We had a fantastic afternoon at Boomrock. It is a stunning venue and I see from their website that they host various corporate functions and events. I wonder if I'll be lucky enough to be part of one of these in the future?