Thursday, 28 July 2011

Vampires, zombies and other creatures of the night

A couple of weeks ago, my sweetie starting watching the new series of True Blood. I'll be the first to admit that I don't get what the big deal is with vampires (or zombies, or werewolves, or any other creatures to that effect). Apart from enjoying the tv series Being Human and the irrepressible Count von Count from Sesame Street, I've never understood the appeal of brooding, teenage blood suckers and things that go bump in the night. Can't everyone see how fake it all is? I tweeted as much and went to bed with a non-vampire book.

Imagine my surprise the next morning to find these posts in my Twitter stream:

It would seem that creatures of the night do in fact polarise people; as one person pointed out, you either love or hate them. (I'd argue that I'm indifferent to them, but that's probably just semantics.)

And now there is something called The Walking Dead, eagerly anticipated by zombie fanciers and horror connoisseurs all around the world. My Facebook and Twitter streams were full of it yesterday. For me, Wednesday nights will now mean an early night with a good book.

So, who can enlighten me on the appeal of such characters and stories? What have I missed?

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Amy Winehouse qualifies for the 27 Club

I woke this morning to the news that musician Amy Winehouse had been found dead at her London home. I can't say I'm at all surprised but I am more than a little saddened at the loss of a great talent well before she should have hit her prime.

Amy Winehouse's lifestyle was truly a train wreck in progress; no-one really wanted to see the chaos she was creating, yet they also couldn't look away. Her battles with drug and alcohol addiction, along with those ridiculous eyelashes, were parodied by many, including our own Beatgirls. It's a real shame, as it totally overshadowed her musical talent while supplying the tabloids with endless fodder.

Right from the start, I could tell that Amy Winehouse was something different. She wasn't merely a singer; she was a very talented musician who acknowledged her musical influences by giving them a a contemporary twist. I eagerly awaited the follow-up album to Back to Black that never came.

So it looks like that 27 Club may have a new member. The 'Club' comprises a group of influential rock musicians who died at the age of 27 and its current members include Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. Later, Kurt Cobain was added. I'm sure Amy will make it onto the list sometime soon; she would certainly qualify.

RIP Amy Winehouse. Hopefully you will find the peace in death that eluded you in life.

Amy Winehouse (1983-2011)

Image source:
Used without permission

Saturday, 23 July 2011


I've been known to go out of my way and in some pretty wretched conditions when a good coffee is called for. However, I have been beaten today by the weather gods who have dished up a howling southerly sprinkled with icy rain. I briefly ventured out to a local café for a latte; a couple of my usual warm, cosy haunts were full ... so I changed my plans and stocked up on some java beans from Coffee Creation to make myself an espresso in the comfort (and shelter) of my own home. But, of course, I needed something to go with it.

Not my pikelets,
but you get the picture.
I can whip up a batch of pikelets in practically no time at all;  I have been making them using my mother's recipe since I was about 8 years old so have had plenty of practice. They go extremely well with coffee on a wintry afternoon, or at a tea party, or as a snack, or ... almost any time!


  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup milk
  1. Beat together the egg and sugar.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. Alternately add flour and milk to the egg and mix well until you have a smooth, slightly runny mixture. Add more milk if required.
  4. Cook dessertspoonfuls of mixture in a non-stick frypan over a medium-low heat. (I spray the pan first with canola spray but you could also melt a little butter.) Flip when air bubbles start to appear on top and cook the other side.

Thursday, 21 July 2011


Just like the Mastercard ads say, there are some things that money can't buy; they are priceless. I've seen first hand the joy that a young child can get from playing with a cardboard box or wrapping paper in preference to the expensive gift contained inside. In the midst of a crappy day yesterday, a one-minute phone call from a gorgeous 3-year-old instantly made everything feel better. Yes, totally priceless.

Not for our princess
Our kitten seems to be from the same school of thought. We bought her a scratching post - not one of those big elaborate ones with several platforms for climbing up and into to, but a simple post that we had hoped would entice her away from scratching our furniture (or carpet). She is terrified of it. It seems to be the fuzzy carpet-type base that she's afraid of most; she'll do anything to avoid touching it but can sometimes be convinced to play with the post part if we lay it on its side and show her what to do. She has gone through stages playing with squishy rugby balls, ping pong balls and a laser pointer, but her preferred recreation materials are those we haven't paid for - and I'm all good with that. Currently, her favourite 'toys' are screwed up pieces of paper or envelopes, various leaves she has brought inside and a boot lace tied to a stick. Endless fun!

The pet shop gave us a cat tunnel when we stocked up on kitten pellets this weekend. We thought we'd give it a go but, given her previous track record with purchased cat toys, weren't sure how she'd react. Turns out she loves it and immediately started running through the tunnel and rolling around inside it. She must have known it was free; if we had bought her something similar, she'd probably turn up her pretty little nose and walk away.

I love this Mastercard ad. Money bought the essentials, but the resulting feelgood factor was truly priceless.

What is priceless for you?

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Ukulele flash mob

How's this for something cool?

A colleague sent me a link this morning to an article in the Manawatu Standard about a ukulele flash mob that appeared at a shopping mall food court in Palmerston North on Saturday. Starting off with a single ukulele player strumming and singing The Beatles' classic song "Let It Be", 25 ukuleles (smuggled inside shopping bags), 50 singers and various members of the public progressively joined in, much to the surprise and delight of the crowd. Wow!

You know what I'm thinking, right? Yes, I know it's already been done elsewhere so the idea wouldn't be entirely original, but surely somebody would be brave enough to join me in a local ukulele flash mob?

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Citrus tart

I'm quite partial to citrus tart but am a very amateur pastry maker. Last year, a friend and I learned how to make a pear and almond tart at a patisserie course for Wellington on a Plate. This year, we have already signed up for Scrumptious Treats at Bordeaux Bakery and are on a waiting list for Hands On Pastry Making at Floriditas. The art of pastry shall evade us no more!

The Chelsea Sugar website has lots of simple baking recipes available including this one for citrus tart. It is super easy to mix in a food processor. I'd imagine a cake mixer would do a similar job for the filling but the pastry base might not be quite so fine. I might try using a mixer next time at my peril. Also, I found that my flan tin didn't seem to need lining with paper, so I'll so what happens without baking paper.

Citrus tart

  • 125 g butter, softened
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • grated rind of 2 lemons
  • 2 tablespoons custard powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 eggs
  • icing sugar to dust

  1. Base: Place the butter, flour and icing sugar in a food processor and run the machine until the pastry clumps together in a ball around the blade. With floured hands, press this mixture into the base and up the sides of a lined 21 cm loose-bottomed flan tin. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (The pastry will set quite firm but bakes best from cold.)
  2. Preheat the oven to 180º C.
  3. Place all the filling ingredients in the cleaned food processor and run the machine until well combined. Pour into the chilled base. Bake for 25 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden and the filling set. Dust with icing sugar to serve.
Citrus tart

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Good morning

Yes, I know it's the afternoon but good morning kind of gives the flavour for this blog post. I was looking back through some unpublished draft posts and came across one with what seemed like a few random words but, upon closer inspection, made more sense.

Let me explain the title. To me, good morning is an oxymoron - you know, a phrase or figure of speech which combines contradictory terms. I have no objection to mornings; I just wish they wouldn't start so early in the day. Fun run is another oxymoron. Seriously, whoever looks like they are having fun while they are running? There is a list of funny oxymorons (or oxymora) which include examples such as adult male and clear as mud.

I looked at the words on my list and realised I'd written down some examples of personal food oxymorons. Yes, they're technically not oxymorons at all, but the principle remains: for me, they are examples of two things I like coming together to make something I intensely dislike. (There are some examples of actual food oxymorons here, but I like my definition better.)

How can it be possible that the sum of all the ingredients turns into something so contradictory? Here are some examples:
  • I love coffee. I love cake. I love coffee and cake together. But, coffee cake? No thanks!
  • I love cheese. (Mmmm, cheese.) And we already know that I love cake. So cheesecake would make perfect sense, right? Nope. Not for me!
  • I especially love chocolate. I also love hot cross buns - it's a heaven food for me. However, chocolate hot cross buns don't appeal to me at all.
  • Fruit jam. This one is slightly different. I love fruit and berries and I love sweet, sugary things. So why don't I like jam of any flavour?
What is an example of a food oxymoron for you, ie two ingredients you really like to eat coming together to make something you dislike?

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Empathy quotient

I read an article in today's Sunday Star-Times entitled Despicable me. It had nothing at all to do with the movie of the same name; instead, the article was referring to the author, Adam Dudding, and his apparently low score on the Empathy Quotient (EQ) test. Created by psychology professor Simon Baron-Cohen, the Empathy Quotient is intended to measure how easily you pick up on other people's feelings and how strongly you are affected by other people's feelings. There are sixty questions resulting in a score out of 80.

I thought I'd score somewhere slightly above average. You can take the test here. (Beware questions with double negatives; I had to read a few through several times to select the answer I wanted.) My score was 53, which is just above average and a little above the average score for women. The descriptor for this score is: "You have an above average ability for understanding how other people feel and responding appropriately. You know how to treat people with care and sensitivity." I'd say that's about right for me most of the time.

So how did others score? Infamous broadcaster Paul Henry proudly scored 24/80, which is considered low. This kind of score is also common among people with Asperger Syndrome or high-functioning autism. Children's author Joy Cowley scored 62/80, which is above average. Although synergies between some scores and professions might seem obvious, this is not always the case. Former finance minister Ruth Richardson, with a score of 55/80 (above average) is an example of someone whose personal empathy differs to that requierd by her professional persona.

What's your EQ? Is it an accurate reflection of your personal empathy?

Friday, 8 July 2011

Meet the Churchills

Once again, we were the guests of the wonderful folk at Circa Theatre last night. Meet the Churchills is a new play by Paul Baker. Set in the drawing room of Randolph Churchill's 18th century house at Stour, Suffolk, we meet four members the Churchill family on the occasion of Winston Churchill's 88th birthday. What would for many be a joyous occasion was instead described as a 'mending' day, and it became apparent as the drama unfolded just what was to be mended: the family dynamics. Not quite putting the 'fun' into dysfunctional, there were clearly many issues influencing the Churchill family and their relationships.

Rather than celebrating his 88th birthday, Churchill simply wanted to die, a fact he stated boldly several times during the day along with other lamentations about his family and current state of being. While his physical body was weak and wheelchair-bound, Churchill's tongue remained flexed and razor-sharp, throwing out many toxic one-liners which transparently illustrated what he was thinking. However, his wife, Clementine Churchill, kept up line for line, which was clearly no mean feat.

The play is very well performed, if a little drawn out at times. Light entertainment was provided by the somewhat troubled character of Lady Audley, Sarah Churchill, and the narrative is woven together by a fictitious historian, Dr Stephen Jenkins. Meet the Churchills is currently showing at Circa One until 16 July.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Country charm

I've driven around various parts of rural New Zealand countless times over the years, gradually increasing the surface area of the terrain I cover while also retracing the main arterial routes, particularly in the lower North Island. As we were driving back from our ski trip on Sunday night, I was reminded of events or things I'd seen when searching for food or drinks at particular locations.

In some towns, there is a little more evidence of successful urban crawl. In others ... well, let's just say that the effort is appreciated and could even be considered delightful, but I'd say they're better off sticking to specialising in country charm. I've come across several of these places over the years.

Coffee fix
One morning, after several late nights in a row, I had an early start and needed to be in Marton (about 2 1/4 hours north of Wellington) by 9 am. We left home around 6 am and were looking to be early so decided to stop off at a little cafe in Bulls that we could see was just opening for the day. Coffee time! We were offered fruit muffins straight from the oven and I asked for a long black to go with it. The owner proceeded to make me a short black (espresso), then boiled the kitchen jug and topped it up with boiling water - right in front of me and all the while still chatting animatedly. I was so shocked, yet in such desperate need of sleep, that I couldn't simply give it back. I don't think I finished that cup.

Speaking of coffee, the Chatham Islands are not exactly known for their café culture so I was interested to see that a new café had opened up not far from us. I didn't expect the earth but was looking forward to some 'real' coffee, after stretching my ground beans to last for nearly a week when using my stovetop espresso maker. I decided to check the café out the first day they were open after the Christmas holidays. Unfortunately, the plane from Wellington that morning hadn't brought coffee beans as promised, but I was offered instant coffee instead if I wanted it. Thank you, but no.

Another time, while staying with a group of friends at Himatangi Beach one summer, a few of us decided to visit the local cafe for a morning coffee. One tea-drinking friend ordered English breakfast tea, instead. However, she was served with Earl Grey tea, something she describes as 'tasting like dishwater', which she'd drink if she liked dishwater, but unfortunately she doesn't like dishwater. She endearingly pointed out her dilemma to the manager and he happily replaced her dishwater with English breakfast tea, but remarked that he knew nothing about tea and that "it all tastes the same to me - horrible". Actually, I agree with him on that one! ;-)

Eat (and drink) much
Driving from Wellington to Auckland (about 8 hours) after work on a Friday night, we were starting to get hungry. The further north we drove, and the later the hour, the fewer food places were open for business. Not too keen on the usual takeaways, we came across a Chinese smorgasboard in Taihape which looked promising. The sign on by the door still makes me laugh all these years later; it simply said, "Eat much you like". Well, I guess the description was accurate. ;-)

Finally, travelling through Lyttelton, we had caught the bus across town from Christchurch city (very much pre-earthquakes) and were waiting for a ferry to take us to Diamond Harbour for a wedding. It was an incredibly hot day and we were sweating in our wedding clothes while carrying our overnight bags. We spotted a corner pub and decided to pop in for a cold drink. Someone ordered a refreshing Red Bull and vodka. The publican looked disgusted. His response: "We don't serve any of that fancy stuff here." Ouch! We'd been suitably told off!

Have you encountered country charm that, despite the best of intentions, has not quite got it right?

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Ski trip

We have just got back from our annual snow weekend. It was a wonderful weekend out of town with about forty of us staying close to Mt Ruapehu and spending a couple of days skiing and relaxing. I had my first ever skiing lesson along with a few others from our group. I won't pretend I enjoyed it; not only was it incredibly hard, but our instructor seemed to omit many of the fundamentals, like how we should be standing/leaning, how to stop sliding sideways down the mountain, what to do with our arms, and, most importantly, how to get up every time we fell down. I have a ski pass for two more lessons before the end of the season but will have to psyche myself up to try again. I'll give it a month or so and then see.

Here's a run down of our weekend away.
  • The public toilets in Levin are positively weird. Not only do they talk to you, but the voice informs you have you have a ten minute time limit!
  • The Whanganui River looks deceptively beautiful as it reflects the street lights on a clear, dark night.
  • Penny Arcade is an unusual, but not unpleasant, earworm to have on a night time road trip.
  • Driving up a mountain with three passengers and into sunstrike is kind of freaky.
  • Apparently there is a ski boot for everyone. I'm not sure mine was up the mountain on Saturday but apparently we were 'getting closer'.
  • Make sure your merino top tucks all the way into your ski pants. Gaps = cold.
  • Get up the mountain early. It took about 1 1/2 hours to get everybody's passes and ski gear sorted.
  • Ski staff are incredibly helpful. It also seems compulsory for them all to have a deliciously exotic accent.
  • Wearing too many layers is just as bad as wearing not enough when skiing. I never thought I'd be sweating on a snowy mountain.
  • Ski instructors are an endlessly patient and encouraging breed of person. Even when I fell over just by standing still, I was assured just how well I was doing. Bless.
  • Despite trying really hard to not be paranoid about reinjuring the ankle which boasts a reconstructed ligament, I couldn't relax on the mountain and really struggle during the lesson. :-(
  • Skis are not a natural extension of my feet.
  • Bruises are unfortunately inevitable.
  • Trying to put a baby goat into someone's room after midnight is not a good idea. Oh wait - that sounds dodgier than it actually was, but I'll explain another time.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Bei Mir Vist Du Schon

Every now and then, the musician in me falls in love with a particular song or artist. I’m enjoying rediscovering Stray Cats at the moment. Adele has caught my interest. But I had my iPod on shuffle this morning and it threw up a couple of gems I hadn’t listened to in a while. The first was Song For Guy, a song I need to be absolutely in the mood for as it has the ability to instantly transport me back to a funeral from many years ago that I really don’t wish to relive.

And then I was rewarded for my efforts with The Andrews SistersBei Mir Vist Du Schon. Wow – talk about a beautiful blast from the past. I first heard a version of the song at a dance class a few years ago and was fascinated by the sound, the instrumentation and the changes in tempo. Asking around, I learned it was by Janis Siegel and came from the Swing Kids (1993) soundtrack. I had to have it. I searched for other versions and listened over and over, analysing every detail – pure bliss for a musician. I’m not too fussed about The Puppini Sisters’ version but can appreciate their arrangement of the song nevertheless.

Here is a musical interlude for you to enjoy on your Friday.