Saturday, 27 August 2011

Musical flash mobs

I love the delight that a highly orchestrated music or dance flash mob imposes upon an unsuspecting audience. Flash mobs are all the rage at the moment. This clip of Do Re Mi from The Sound of Music at Antwerp Station in Belgium looks likes so much fun. I'd have been right in the middle of it, that's for sure! Watch it on full screen for best results.

I’d love to try organising something similar to this ukulele flash mob and I hear there are plans for a dance flash mob in Wellington sometime in October (although you didn’t hear it from me). I also recall hearing about a Christmas carol flash mob at a mall in Christchurch last year but haven't yet managed to confirm whether it actually happened or was simply a figment of my overactive musical imagination.

Flash mobs aside, there is something about music and dance that has the power to touch everyone in a crowd, friends and strangers, even for just a brief moment in time. I was reminded of this on my ski trip this week. At the end of a tiring day on the slopes, there were probably 50 or so people returning ski gear they had hired. Boots were being unlatched, skis stacked and aching feet and legs being relieved of their loads. The radio was playing and suddenly a few dozen people join in with the chorus to Daniel Boone’s Beautiful Sunday. I looked up; the staff were also singing along with everyone around me. The grins on people’s faces was magic and I had that song in my head all the way back home.

Years ago, after a Christmas gig at a flash hotel in town, my band packed up the last of our gear and headed to a less than classy joint for a 3 am snack: McDonald’s in Manners Mall. I realised that now it was after midnight, it was our bass player, Aaron’s, birthday. Aaron’s a quiet, shy guy. Tim, our singer, was the opposite. “Oh, it’s your birthday!” Tim announced and started singing the first line of 16 Candles by The Crests. We’d created a birthday flash mob at McDonald's at 3 am! Here’s how it went:
Tim [singing]: Happy birthday …
A rather large woman with a falsetto voice à la operatic style [singing]: Happy birthday baby, oh …
Some random guy from over the window [singing]: I love you so
And then, the clincher … a guy with a deep voice [crooning]: Ooh …
It was AMAZING! Aaron turned the deepest shade of red I’d ever seen on a human being, Tim was in his element, and the rest of McDonald’s looked around in a drunken, confused delight.


Have you ever come across musical moments like these, or been lucky enough to experience an actual flash mobs in the flesh?

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Holiday mode

We are away on a much-anticipated holiday this week. A whole week off to relax, recharge our batteries, breathe in some mountain air, drink lots of coffee, read a few books and spend some quality time together. Oh, and ski. (That’s more for my sweetie; I gave it a go and have the bruises to prove it, but that makes for another blog post.)

I can’t help but observe how our behaviour changes as we leave the vicinity of home and take up temporary residence elsewhere.

Random holiday musings:
  • Our usual, and comfortable, state of disorganisation evolves into military precision when planning supplies. For example, x number of days away equals x + 1 pairs of socks or underwear and our rations of drinks and snacks is calculated to ensure we could supply a small village should a disaster occur.
  • If travelling by car, we’ll practically pack everything except the kitchen sink but still forget ‘essentials’ such as spare keys and snow chains, remembering them just as we are heading out of town but too far away to bother going back home to get them.
  • Watching or reading the news might as well be considered researching a different planet, so little relevance do issues of the day have on our temporary state of being.
  • A week without a telephone and limited mobile reception is absolute bliss. A week without internet, however, is a different story.
  • Time and distance become relaxingly fuzzy. We talk about places being ‘just up the road’ from where we’re staying, when really Turoa is 30 mins away, it’s 45 mins to Whakapapa and the hot pools at Tokaanu are at least an hour’s drive away.
  • We refer to our accommodation as a lodge simply because it’s close to where skiing happens, even though it is just an old boarding house with no insulation, fridge, microwave, or tv and you can see your breath in the hallway as a result of the draught coming up through the floorboards.
  • The ratio of books in my bag (or downloaded onto my iPod touch) vs books actually read is roughly 1:3.
  • Every cat’s meow sounds like the kitten we left at home in the capable hands of a flatmate.
  • Whereas I would never venture further than the supermarket in my baggy track pants and non-matching polar fleece (and even then only in an emergency), this becomes my uniform when holidaying in a cold climate.
  • No matter how cold it is or how many layers I am wrapped up in, I will always see one of the locals walking around in shorts.
  • While we usually need to haul ourselves out of bed for work each morning, and sleep ins are craved and duly savoured, our body clocks can resemble that of birds while on holiday. We’ll be up early to catch the first lifts on the mountain then retreat to the cosiness of home or bed as soon as the sun goes down.
  • Even though it takes just 5-10 minutes (3 songs on my iPod) to walk around the boarded up ghost town we’re staying in, I’ll still go out for a walk to ‘have a look around’.
  • Whereas I may resent the intrusion of study into my precious hours off at night or during the weekend, I will embrace a day of solitude sans distractions to work on an assignment and complete a course during my ‘time off’. Go figure.
  • A fan heater becomes your most essential accessory.
  • A caffettiera and fresh beans are my best protection against small town coffee.
  • It is impossible to pack too many plastic bags.
  • There’s no place (or shower) like home.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

#DailyBitch digest

We're off to the snow for a week. I guess it's ironic going to the snow after it came to us in such spectacular fashion earlier this week, but we've been looking forward to going away for quite a while now. We've packed up the car with far more stuff than we'll need but are bound to have forgotten some essentials. It will be good to have a change of scenery, time to catch up on some reading, drink lots of coffee (I've stocked up on fresh coffee beans) and catch up with a couple of friends during the week. Oh, and take some (more) skiing lessons. *gulp*

I don't have a fancy/smart phone that can get online so can't guarantee internet access during the week. How will I cope with a week offline? Well, I've managed it before (kind of - just) but hope to be able to check things on my laptop or iPod touch occasionally ... hopefully.

Just in case I can't get online every day, I'm going to post a digest of my #DailyBitch tweets in advance, because I know the Twitterverse will be hanging out for them each day. ;-) Really.

#DailyBitch digest
  • Saturday 20 August: "I want a man who is rich, sensitive and neutered." #DailyBitch
  • Monday 22 August: "I've stopped blaming my parents and started blaming my children." #DailyBitch
  • Tuesday 23 August: "Life is so much less stressful if you ignore." #DailyBitch
  • Wednesday 24 August: "I never hate myself in the morning; I sleep past noon." #DailyBitch
  • Thursday 25 August: "Nice outfit, girl. Skank convention in town?" #DailyBitch
  • Friday 26 August: "Some of my deepest insights are based on a lifetime of not giving a crap." #DailyBitch
  • Saturday 27 August: "The more men change, the less their underwear stinks." #DailyBitch
See you on the other side!

Friday, 19 August 2011


Goodness knows I don't need another online time waster. I chew away at enough spare time maintaining three Twitter accounts, 2.5 blogs, Facebook, Google+ (ok, not completely into this one), delicious and Diigo online bookmarking, various online forums and numerous other web 2.0 goodies. That's in addition to far too many emails from 1 day deal sites and entering competitions from anywhere that entices the competition junkie in me. Oh, and I teach online, too.

So why, oh why, am I intrigued by Pinterest when apps like my Flickr account bit the dust barely after I got them off the ground? Is it because I can collect up pretty things to look at when I need a boost? Or because it's going to fulfill a fundamental need in my life? (I don't expect it will.) I suspect that, like other personalised web 2.0 tools, it's because it's all about me - and why wouldn't I want to see all of my favourite things all in one place? (Actually, Facebook and Google+ pretty much do the same ... oh, and Flickr, or maybe even my blog? Hmmm.)

If you want to follow my Pinterest boards, or think I should check out yours for inspiration, come on over or grab a cup of coffee and leave me a note pointing me in the right direction. I'm still getting the hang of things but am sure that I'll quickly become addicted. I suspect my Pinterest boards will grow and evolve exponentially in the next few weeks before I eventually cull everything and go back to basics, just like I did with Facebook.

As I get going, does anyone have any words from the wise re Pinterest?

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

On being prepared

OK, so last night turned out to be the acid test and we failed it abysmally. My sweetie thinks we did just fine and that I'm just being grumpy and negative; I beg to differ. Let me explain ...

I have been really enjoying the cold snap we've been experiencing these past two days, mostly because it is uncharacteristic but also because I know it is short lived and we're safe, warm and dry at home. I drove home from work through hail and squealed with delight at the white state around me, which was punctuated by some pretty impressive thunder. Cool!

The power was off when I got home but there was enough fading light left in the day to see things. The power came back on shortly afterwards and normality resumed. Apparently the outage lasted around 30 minutes. We warmed up by the heater (which is gas powered) and put off doing the supermarket shopping in the hail.

The streets were literally white as we drove to the supermarket; believe me, this just doesn't happen when you live so close to the sea. Thankfully, the weather conditions left the supermarket relatively empty during what is traditionally a very busy time of the day. All good. We unpacked our groceries and put dinner in the oven.

The power surged a few times as we watched the weather forecast, and we thought about reconnecting the UPS to protect our electronics, then it cut complete. The gas heater was still going strong and between us we managed to get some light from the torches on our keyrings and mobile phones. One good torch was sitting in pieces on the coffee table, waiting for fresh batteries. I'm a candle lover and I knew I had a bag of tea lights in the bedroom, but we weren't sure where a lighter was and had few containers to sit them on once lit. Another torch was sitting by the mirror and also waiting for new batteries. Dinner had stopped cooking. The kitten thought it was time to play ...

After everything that had been said about being prepared for an emergency, and despite my best intentions, I still hadn't got around to preparing an emergency kit at home. There had been a recent drive at work to assemble personal survival bags, and I'd got mine started by adding a few basic items, but only got as far as bringing the list of what we'd need home.

We soon found candles and a lighter and thankfully the gas heater was going strong, but a one hour power cut on a cold, stormy night left us twiddling our thumbs in the dark and running on battery power. (I drafted this blog post on my iPod touch.) It was a timely wakeup call that things wouldn't be so cosy after a disaster, when we'd likely be without any facilities like power, water, gas or sewerage.

Mark my words, I am going to sort out our emergency kit THIS WEEK and I urge you to do the same. (Yes, this is the pot calling the kettle black.) We're lucky to have been safe, warm and out of any danger; this won't be the case if disaster strikes. I'm probably more annoyed with myself for not being prepared than worried about how things could have been. Either way, the time to sort things is NOW.

Emergency survival kit

Here's what you need (from Get Thru):
  • torch with spare batteries or a self-charging torch
  • radio with spare batteries (and know which radio station/s to tune into)
  • wind and waterproof clothing, sun hats and strong outdoor shoes
  • first aid kit and essential medicines
  • blankets or sleeping bags
  • pet supplies
  • toilet paper and large rubbish bags for your emergency toilet
  • face and dust masks
Check all batteries every three months. Battery powered lighting is the safest and easiest. Do not use candles as they can tip over in earthquake aftershocks or in a gust of wind. Do not use kerosene lamps, which require a great deal of ventilation and are not designed for indoor use.

Food and water for at least three days:
  • non-perishable food (canned or dried food)
  • food, formula and drinks for babies and small children
  • water for drinking - at least 3 litres per person, per day
  • water for washing and cooking
  • a primus or gas barbeque to cook on
  • a can opener
Check and replace food and water every twelve months. Consider stocking a two-week supply of food and water for prolonged emergencies such as a pandemic or earthquake.

Monday, 15 August 2011

That time it snowed in Wellington

Yesterday, 14 August, shall forever be referred to as That Time it Snowed in Wellington. There's even a Facebook page set up to commemorate the event. Living half a block from the beach, I could see snow flurries in amongst the falling rain but nothing that could settle on the ground so I didn't feel qualified to join it. Today, however, is a different story. It actually snowed at work - and not just up in the hills! I might join that group after all. ;-)

Let me explain. Wellington has its hills but, being nestled around a harbour, snow is about a once in a decade occurrence - and even then we're just talking about light flurries and a chill in the air. It is extremely rare for us to see this icon on the weather report and snow days are simply unheard of. Not today, though. We have real snow today.

I was having a serious meeting with an external delegate this morning discussing exciting things like financial obligations, contracts and senior management sign off when suddenly my guest looked past me out the window and said, "is that pollen falling or is it snowing?" We jumped up to check out the icy bits falling, our faces a picture of glee. Snow - real snow! Later, back in my office, we noticed the snow flakes getting heavier and starting to settle. The three of us found another window with a better view and were pressed up against it just like kids. True, we weren't exactly making snow angels on our cars, but the excitement of snow practically at sea level is enough to bring out the inner six year old in all of us.

The snow got heavier this afternoon and staff members were advised to leave early and drive safely if they thought there was any risk involved in leaving work later in the day. Daycare centres were closed and parents were called to pick up their children so everyone could get home safely. It's all terribly exciting for those of us used to life at sea level.

A Russian colleague is simply laughing at us carrying on like a bunch of over-hyped children; she maintains that what we are experiencing barely resembles snow at all and that it quickly becomes a nuisance rather than a novelty when you experience it every day for several years. Spoil sport.

Are you snowed in? Or even close to it? (Go on, indulge us. We're loving it!)

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Chocolate festival 2011

I have long been a believer that chocolate could quite possibly be the world's most perfect food. It seems I am not alone in my thinking, as this weekend the InterContintal was hosting the New Zealand Chocolate Festival, a Wellington on a Plate festival event. Chocolate heaven!

We had tickets to this morning's session. When it is too early to start eating chocolate? Never, it turns out; a large crowd of mostly women joined me in chocolate for breakfast. We tasted our way through a multitude of samples by chocolatiers from all around the country. Chili and sea salt based chocolates seemed to be flavour of the month, although more unusual varieties were also available.

Shoc Chocolates proudly had the 'weirdest' flavours (they said it themselves!), offering curry and pappadam white chocolate, chilli and lime, pink peppercorn and lemongrass chocolate - a bit much for me but others seemed keen. She's Chocolat bus from Christchurch looks like it would be an interesting ride. Other highlights for us came from Bull Rush Chocolate; we liked their 72% dark and dark chocolate hokey pokey truffles. Bohemian were offering full sized samples (yay!) and the truffles we liked were dark (hard) nougat, Cointreau ganache, milk vanilla cream and dark praline cream. De Spa also had a very delicious hazelnut cream truffle. The most unusual 'find' for us today was the discovery of chocolate stout from Renaissance Brewing Company.

We learned stuff about chocolate, too. I knew that chocolate is best eaten fresh and De Spa confirmed this by saying their filled chocolates should be eaten within two months, or three months if they contain alcohol, as the filling seeps into the chocolate and actually dries it out from the inside. Just as you wouldn't eat stale bread, you also shouldn't eat stale chocolate, so check your pantry and if there's chocolate hiding there, deal to it quickly!

We were then taught how to use all our senses to savour chocolate during a tasting session held by Swiss chocolatier Rene Fellmann. This man certainly knows his stuff and we learned about the best types of couverture chocolate. Our sampling cups contained a dark sweet chocolate (yum!), a stronger dark, a single origin bitter dark from Ghana, a pleasant white, and 36% milk chocolate with a hint of caramel. *drool*

Overall, it was a great day for sampling and buying chocolate. Personally, I would have enjoyed learning more about how chocolate was made and seeing more of it being moulded. The demonstration sessions had queues forming outside the room at least 20 minutes beforehand and could only seat 50 people so they could probably have done with a bigger room (or more frequent sessions). The most 'popular' stalls were those with friendly staff who interacted with the public; we wondered why some had nobody visiting them and quickly realised it was because the person behind the table was standing there silently guarding their samples - a missed opportunity, in our view.

Here are some photos to make you drool:

Chocolate towers
Le Cordon Bleu cooking school cupcakes -
what a neat promotional idea!
marshmallows provided

Friday, 12 August 2011

Scrumptious treats at Bordeaux Bakery

Last night, my baking buddy and I attended our first Wellington on a Plate festival event for this year. We met a year ago at the Welly on a Plate patisserie class at WelTec and have met up since then for regular coffee sessions to talk about baking. (It helps that we also work at the same place, something we discovered at the patisserie course!) We drooled over this year's programme and signed up as quickly as we could for some events, but despite being promised pride of place at the top of one event's waiting list, only managed to get into one together. Luckily, it was a goodie!

Hosted by Feast and Vine, Bordeaux Bakery was the setting for an event called Scrumptious Treats. As a café, Bordeaux has seen better times. However, there is no denying what they are best at: baking (and, in particular, pastry).

This is the first time the kitchen at Bordeaux has been open to the public and owner/pâtissier Jean Louis gave us a tour looking at the amazing kitchen equipment imported from France. Everything starts cranking up from 1 am each day and most of the baking is finished by 2-3 am (or 5 am at the latest), leaving the bread enough time to cool so it isn't too hot when it is picked up by the other Bordeaux bakeries at 5.30 am. We felt like miniature cartoon characters wandering among the huge ovens, fridges and mixers that would put my little Kenwood cake mixer to shame.

Now THAT'S a mixer!
Jean Louis showing us one of the fridges
We headed back into the café for a demonstration on making Bordeaux's most popular dessert, duchess cake. It looked so simple when Jean Louis whipped up some chocolate mousse then piped it onto a frozen merinque before coating it in more chocolate mousse and dipped it into grated chocolate. Mind you, he certainly had all the right tools and the best ingredients imported from France. Check out this chocolate grater!
Chocolate grater
Sauterne and a blueberry tart -
the perfect wine and food match
We then had a lesson on wine and food matching; it's quite a science. Basically, acidity is king and it's all about balancing acidity and the flavours in the wine with whatever you are eating. A common myth is that you should drink similar flavours to what you are eating; this will cancel out the taste and you'll just be left with acidity. To cut a long story short, we were told that this 2007 sauterne (dessert wine) was the perfect match for the acidity of blueberries in this tart, and I'd have to agree. The sauterne was very pleasant on the palette, infused with apricot, cinnamon and cloves and is quite honestly the first dessert wine I have actually enjoyed drinking.

Advertised as a two-hour event, we were finished after 1 hour and 10 minutes, which is a bit cheeky but we got to take home a duchess cake each, so that (kind of) makes up for it.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Musical sacrilege

Being female and of a certain generation, there are a few musical movies that, as soon as their titles are mentioned, will garner a uniform reaction from my peers. (Females, that is; the guys just roll their eyes.) I wouldn’t go as far as saying they form the soundtrack to my childhood, but they were significant at the time and therefore eternally timeless.

Footloose (1984) was incredibly memorable for me, but not because it was a particularly great movie (it wasn't) nor because it spawned a few pop hits that you’ll hear on high rotate at certain Courtenay Place establishments on a Saturday night. Footloose was the first movie I was allowed to see at the cinema without parental supervision. A friend and I went with her elder sister and her friend; this was pretty radical back in those days. I remembered very little about the movie itself except for one girl trying to get out of one car window (while it was still moving) and into another moving car. Racy!

Then there was Grease (1977). This is my ultimate favourite movie and one of just four I own on DVD. There’s nothing that this movie doesn’t have: sassy characters, great music, fast cars, and fabulous 50s style cool. I know every line and lyric by heart but didn’t particular enjoy the stage show. I shudder at the thought of this movie ever being remade; Grease 2 (1982) was bad enough. Here's the cool opening theme:

I grew up watching the TV series Fame on Saturday afternoons. Admittedly, there wasn’t much on TV back in those days, but Leroy and the gang with their leotards and legwarmers were the ultimate in cool. I still get a bit choky when I hear Starmaker by Kids from Fame. Go on - indulge yourself:

However, while nostalgia is a fine thing, tampering with something that should have simply been left alone is disastrous. Even the trailer for the 'new' Fame (2009) movie leaves me cold. What do you think?

And then I read yesterday that Dirty Dancing (1987) is to be remade. I am outraged! Doesn’t anyone remember Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004)? No, of course they don’t, and those that do simply grimace at the memory. Poor Patrick Swayze will be turning in his grave; no other actor could say, "nobody puts Baby in a corner" as cheesily as he did. Sure, they might cast a female lead who can actually act (or dance) this time, but it won't be the same. Here's the original trailer. Just hearing the soundtrack brings it all back.

Personally, I blame the truly puzzlesome Glee phenomenon for all this. So what do you think about remaking classic movies – special or sacrilege?

Friday, 5 August 2011

Condensed milk icing

I have it on good authority that espresso with decadent chocolate cake is an exceptionally well balanced breakfast for one day a year. ;-)
Decadent chocolate cake
This cake turned out incredibly well but I wasn't sure what I'd use to ice it. @UpsideBackwards suggested I make condensed milk icing instead of plain buttercream frosting and pointed me to this link. (Scroll down and you'll find it.) Brilliant! I added cocoa to go with my chocolate cake and, needless to say, it really was the icing on the cake. The texture was light and fluffy and I'll probably used condensed milk more often when decorating cakes and cupcakes from now on.

Condensed milk icing

  • 150 g butter
  • 350 g icing sugar
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 2/3 cup condensed milk
  1. Soften butter or remove from fridge at least 30 minutes before making icing.
  2. Place butter in a large mixing bowl and beat on high with an electric mixer until fluffy.
  3. Add sifted icing sugar, cocoa and condensed milk and beat until smooth and fluffy.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Decadent chocolate cake

It is coming up to birthday time and that means one thing: birthday cake. I have made decadent chocolate cake once before and it turned out beautifully so decided to give it another go. The recipe I used came from the Food Lovers website and was simple to follow. I used Whittaker's 50% Cocoa Dark Block but would also happily use Whittaker's 72% Cocoa Dark Ghana for those who particularly dark chocolate with a bite.

Decadent chocolate cake

  • 1 tablespoon coffee powder
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 250 g butter
  • 200 g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 2 cups caster sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 140ºC.
  2. Place coffee, water and butter in pot and melt. Add chocolate and stir gently. Once smooth, add the caster sugar and stir until dissolved.
  3. Pour mixture into a large bowl and beat in dry ingredients. Add eggs and vanilla extract. Beat well with electric beater.
  4. Bake for 1 1/2 hours on a regular bake setting (not fan) in a well greased and lined 23 cm cake tin. Check progress after 1 hour.
The cake is in the oven as we speak (so no photo yet) and smells simply divine. Depending on how much time I have before the birthday dinner tomorrow night, I'll either ice it with chocolate buttercream frosting or serve it slightly warm with whipped cream. Mmmmmm.