Saturday, 27 February 2010


Tiramisu: this northern Italian dessert is quite possibly the world's most exquisite sweet treat. Being from southern Italy, our sweet foods are rarely creme based due to an historical dearth of dairy products available. However, Mum added tiramisu to her repertoire a number of years ago and it has long since become an oft-requested favourite for birthdays and other special occasions.

I've tasted amazing (in Venice) and not so good (at local cafés, mostly) tiramisu around the world over the years but never actually tried making it for myself. I suspect that some of the lesser-quality samples I have tasted were less than liberal with the marscapone, which is expensive but an essential component for this dish. I also know that it takes a swift hand to dip the ladyfingers quickly enough to not let them get soggy before adding them to the dish, and that there's a fine line between a liberal dose of alcohol and too much; we are, after all, aiming for dessert, not sloshy pudding. That's how it came to have its own entry in my 101 in 1001 project: #16 - Learn how to make tiramisu.

We are having my sweetie's family over for a barbeque tonight. The crayfish and pipis are defrosting as we speak and I am going to try and work out how to barbeque a chicken with half a can of beer up its butt (I didn't just make that up - we were given a contraption and a recipe to help us do this, and apparently it tastes great). So, armed with Mum's recipe, I had a go at making tiramisu for dessert.


  • 2 egg yolks 
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla essence
  • 500 g marscapone cheese
  • 250 ml strong black coffee
  • 2 tablespoons brandy or kahlua
  • 24 lady sponge fingers
  • cocoa powder to sprinkle
  1. Gently mix egg yolks, sugar and vanilla essence in a bowl until a creamy consistency.
  2. Add cheese and fold to obtain a cream.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix coffee and brandy/kahlua together. Gently dip fingers into liquid one at a time.
  4. Layer biscuits, cream, biscuits, cream in a dish, ending with cream mixture on top.
  5. Sprinkle with cocoa and chill to set. Serves 6-8 people.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Ever decreasing circles

Although I remember the name of this 80s tv show, and none of the detail, I'm starting to wonder if the title is aimed at me. You see, my work and study life has taken place over the past 20+ years in two parts of Wellington but largely within a very small radius. I don't know how it has worked out this way, but here I am again at the start of another job and within a stone's throw of where I have previously spent more than eleven years of my life already.

I went to college (high school) at a school close to Parliament, on the city fringe. Spending five teenage years in the area was just fine even if the bus ride home in winter wasn't so much fun. I then started teacher training in a suburb across town notorious for its fog when the rest of the city was basking in sunshine, or at least enjoyed decent visibility. After four years there, my friends and I were looking forward to getting teaching jobs elsewhere and avoiding the constant bad weather. Except, I got a job at a school merely three blocks away. Four more years in the fog; on some mornings, I couldn't see from one end of the playground to the other while my class were playing outside for fitness!

And then the time came for another career step. My new workplace was on the city fringe ... half a block away from my old high school. My friends thought that moving into town was a great idea, especially after spending eight years in the suburbs. I cautiously agreed before pointing out the location. "You haven't gone far!" I was teased.

A little more than six years later and I left to work for a company based in Christchurch, which essentially means working from home. The biggest advantage of working from home? There are many, but avoiding the twice-daily commute into town is probably the one I appreciate most. Also, the ability to throw a load of washing out onto the line on a sunny day, as well as the comfort (and convenience) of working in your jamies in winter. Bliss!

I started a new short-term contract this week. It involves working on site, which is a bit of a shock to the system but not unpleasant. The thing is that, once again, I am within two blocks from where I started more than twenty years ago. Yes, I have come full circle once again.

How about you? Have you managed to expand your circles, or are they ever-decreasing, like mine?

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The people in your neighbourhood

Who are the people in your neighbourhood?

We have a new neighbour. He started dropping by shortly after he moved in, but we don't actually know his name. We've deduced that he lives next door. We don't particularly like the look of him. We also have a name and a song for him. But, unlike the song from Sesame Street, neither are very complimentary.

When we first caught a glimpse of our new neighbour skulking around in our backyard, we, naturally, chased him away and thought it would be the last we saw of him. He returned. Repeatedly. We wondered whether we needed to call an aid agency, as he seemed to have nowhere to go and is incredibly skinny and unhealthy-looking. We came to realise that he probably lives right next door, and this is how he is supposed to look! And so the name Mangy Cat came about, and a version of this song from Friends, sung by Phoebe Buffay, has become his theme song. Mangy Cat, Mangy Cat ...

However, Zed is quite taken with our new neighbour. He's usually quite a good guard cat, determinedly chasing away others as fast as his 11-year-old legs can carry him, yet he will happily let Mangy Cat come inside and eat his own (expensive) food, barely raising a paw! Mangy Cat knows he's not supposed to be in the backyard and tries to hide under bushes where he thinks we can't see him, but comes back, defiantly, within minutes. Squirting him with water doesn't do much; he just stares straight back at you with contempt. Zed also had fleas recently; I'm pretty sure I know where they've come from.

We've tried to sit down with Zed and talk to him about making suitable friend choices. We've offered him a range of alternative, yet more suitable, cat friends in the area, like the beautiful white one he seems insistent on chasing away, or the fluffy grey one who wanders past occasionally, but with no success. Mangy Cat seems to be a fixture in the neighbourhood for the time being.

There's obviously no accounting for taste.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

The Last Lecture

I first came across The Last Lecture some time ago. It was given by Randy Pausch (1960-2008), a former professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, and became a YouTube hit with more than 11 million views. In it, Pausch, who knew he had terminal pancreatic cancer, talked about achieving your childhood dreams. This positive, upbeat lecture was his swansong at Carnegie Mellon University as he bowed out of academia and the workforce in order to prepare his young family for a life without him. I have watched it on a few of occasions and never fail to feel both inspired and amazed afterwards. There are new gems and pearls of wisdom that I pick up with each viewing, but the overarching message is the same: life is for living, now.

Yesterday, I finished reading The Last Lecture (2008), the follow-up book to Pausch's lecture. It encapsulates everything from the lecture and pads out some of the details, including the reasons why Pausch wanted to leave this particular legacy to his wife and young family. It's a very easy read, and you will find yourself nodding your head on more than one occasion. The advice is neither new nor preaching, and there's something for everyone.

Here is the video of The Last Lecture for you to watch. It is one of the most valuable things you can do for yourself in 1 hour and 16 minutes.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Making A Start

Today, I Made A Start. Let me explain. There are a few goals on my 101 in 1001 list which are there because they need to be done, rather than being things that I simply want to do or try. They're not hard to pick: anything that involves sorting out, purging, organising, or clearing out is going to take several attempts and many have been ongoing since this project started.

According to the ever wise FlyLady, I may be experiencing a form of Scarlett O'Hara syndrome. In a Facebook note about clutter the other day, FlyLady reminded us of this famous quote from Gone With The Wind, showing Scarlett's resolve to prosper once more after suffering one of her many setbacks: "As God is my witness, they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again." OK, so I'm not hungry, but FlyLady reworded the quote to talk about clutter. I'm rather good at accumulating stuff, despite occasionally attempting decluttering binges, or even ongoing pruning. It would appear that my professional life is not much different to my personal life, in this regard.

But, today I Made A Start on two tasks which I technically want to do, but am somewhat daunted (and more than a little bored) by: #44 and #45 - Sort out/purge/organise my teaching/MEd resources. I love this post from Blogger in Middle-earth about where to start on a major project. His advice: start anywhere, but do start. I've put this off for long enough!

I've ended up grouping these tasks together as I have discovered that they are more interlinked than I first thought. Spurred on by a close friend and colleague finishing her MEd yesterday (whose 25 000 word dissertation I spent several weeks editing for her - twice!), I decided that all the readings and materials I've been holding onto in hard copy since I finished my own degree in 2005 were now largely redundant. As she handed my dissertation back to me yesterday, which she had been using as a style guide for her own project but I personally had not picked up in the years since it was submitted, I realised that everything I might 'need' is in that single brick of a document. I have references to help me find specific articles or readings if I require them again at some stage in the future, and my ever-trusty notebook contains detailed notes about content. It was time to go through my boxes of paperwork and begin the process of purging.

So how did I do? Well, I dived into the first box and found a music programme I'd come across when I was teaching juniors in 2000, a few folders of maths problem solving activities from 1999, science unit plans from 1997 ... get the picture? It's unlikely I'll return to teaching again any time soon, and even more unlikely that I'll need to refer to material that is now up to 14 years old. Interspersed were assorted course readings, which were culled and put into a bag for my two-year-old nephew to draw on the back of; hopefully that will stop him trying to grab paper out of my brother's printer to play with. It's going to take a while to finish both these tasks, but at least I've Made A Start.

Friday, 12 February 2010

A Special Relationship - Douglas Kennedy

Having read State of the Union (2005) last year, I promptly added Douglas Kennedy to my TBR list. His writing style intrigues me and I am fascinated by the fact that he can narrate so aptly as a female. I know it's been done before, but Kennedy somehow manages to have an inside perspective which I don't understand how he came to hold.

A Special Relationship (2003) is the story of Sally Goodchild, a fiercely independent woman and experienced journalist from Boston who has been posted to various different countries as a foreign correspondent. Upon meeting Tony Hobbs when they are both posted to Cairo, he being at a similar stage in his own journalistic career, a whirlwind romance occurs and results in Sally's pregnancy. The couple hastily marry and move to Tony's hometown, London, to begin their new life together.

Sally goes about settling into her marriage and adjusting to life in another new place before the birth of her son. Kennedy's portrayal of a woman experiencing severe postnatal depression is terrifyingly insightful. It is then that Sally faces the consequences of marrying a virtual stranger in a foreign land and a relationship that is anything but special.

The novel starts slowly and builds laboriously, following Sally's movements in excruciating detail for the first couple hundred pages, before it experiences a drastic gear change. From then on, the action is fast-paced and emotionally packed as the courtroom drama unfolds. As with State of the Union, my criticism is that the resolution is all a bit too convenient; not necessarily easy, but another short chapter would perhaps have resolved the what next? questions the reader will ultimately ask.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Donate to a food bank

We rearranged the kitchen cupboards the other night. Make no mistake: this is a big job. Some of the items in this kitchen arrived on the scene well before I did and, considering that my sweetie's mantra is "It would be a shame to waste it", not so easy to remove. There were a few casualties along the way: expired food items (ie with 'best before' dates 1-4 years old) were swiftly disposed of; others went after a bit of a struggle. There were a few pleasant surprises (eg, sauce sachets we'd forgotten we'd bought) and a few items which have survived repeated culls, namely some soup which we'd stocked up on before discovering that neither of us liked the flavour, even though it's still fine to eat. This time, though, I was determined that this soup wouldn't find its way back to the black hole inside the cupboard; it was going to be put to good use.

One of my 101 in 1001 activities is #72 - Donate to a food bank. I sometimes donate when food banks hold their annual appeals at supermarkets but, admittedly, it's only because their collection points at the supermarket entrance serve as a reminder for me. Food banks need donations all year round, not just at Christmas or on special occasions. I decided that today would be the day that I removed our unwanted cans to the food bank donation box at the supermarket and top it up by adding a few other non-perishable items to my grocery list. Although money has not been particularly forthcoming for me lately, it was easy to do and not particularly exorbitant on my part. I'm guessing that every little bit helps.

So that was my day of mini-philanthropy. It sure feels good!

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Sevens madness

People are strange, weird, wonderful, and fascinating creatures. I love people watching. What are those people doing? Where are they from? What do they do for a job? Where are they going? What are they thinking? What made them dress like that today? (What were they thinking, lol?) As part of my 101 in 1001, I wanted to find a busy street corner or centrally located café and achieve #66 - Spend an hour people watching. Instead, we spent the weekend at the 2010 Wellington Sevens, the ultimate people watching experience.

The international rugby sevens tournament hits Wellington in the first weekend of February (although Auckland and Dunedin think they might have a shot for themselves - whatever!). Of all legs of this international tournament, the focus for Wellington is throwing the year's biggest costume party, and maybe watching the occasional game in the background. Anyone not dressed up sticks out like a sore thumb. Spending copious amounts of money on greasy stadium food and watery beer in plastic cups is par for the cause, especially on Saturday (Waitangi Day) when patrons were slapped with an additional 15% surcharge on top of the existing outrageous prices.

Think about a costume party you have been to, then multiply it by at least one thousand times. Ply those 35 000 people with copious amounts of alcohol, body paint, wigs, accessories, whistles and loud horns, then let them loose for two sunny days within a radius of just a few kilometres ... it is nothing short of madness. We saw costumes of every variety, including groups of Buzz Lightyears, Twister boards, traffic lights, Cookie Monsters, various members of the Munch Bunch, packets of Raro and Juicy Fruit ... check out some of the costumes here. Our theme was Jem and the Holograms. For everyone of a certain generation (ie, aged 28-35), this should hopefully sound familiar. The 23-year-old in our group had to watch some episodes on You Tube to know what we were talking about - she quickly got the idea.

Jem and the Holograms hit the town! "Truly outrageous!"
These friendly lions knew our theme song!
These Hannibal Lecters were quite taken with Jem and the Holograms
Some of the crowd along the waterfront
There were a couple dozen naughty oompa loompas running around. They were taller than I'd imagined!
As a non-drinker, the sevens makes for the ultimate in extreme people watching. Here's what I observed during my weekend of people watching at the sevens:
  • Cross-dressing is par for the course; at the sevens, it barely raises an eyebrow. This is probably the biggest event where you can expect to see hundreds of men dressed in women's lingerie and clothing. ;-)
  • What may seem like an outrageous idea at home will fit in perfectly (or possibly even look understated) amongst a crowd of 35 000 people.
  • Extreme is the name of the game: most people will either show lots of skin or none.
  • Beware walking past anyone covered in body paint; it will quickly become part of your costume if you get too close.
  • Costumes with a tail, fur, body paint, big masks, or big items to carry might seem like a good idea at the time, but think about doing it for two full days in the sun ...
  • The simplest costume ideas are sometimes the most effective, especially if there are a group of people following the same theme.
  • Anything goes. Just don't expect to be congratulated (or noticed) if you turn up in a Hawaiian shirt and lei.
  • At the sevens you can be anything or anyone you want to be, just as long as you're not yourself.