Friday, 29 November 2013

6th birthday bash

You say it's your birthday
It's my birthday, too, yeah
They say it's your birthday
We're gonna have a good time

It's time for a virtual party because Café Chick is 6 years old today! It seems like a veeeerrryyy long time since this first hesitant post six years ago, but at the same time it almost feels like just the other day. How does time play tricks like that? Join me in a song.

Six years of blogging about everything and nothing has been tremendous fun. There have been busy times and quiet times, ups and downs, excitement and everyday goings on. Undoubtedly the biggest bonus for me has been what I've learned from the online community over the years: recipes to try, music to listen to, books to read, movies and tv programmes to watch, places and events to go to ... and a million and one practical tips about almost every topic imaginable, as well as those I would never have otherwise dreamed about. Gosh, what a ride!

Thinking about things, I wonder how old I can become and still credibly tote a name like Café Chick; she is definitely a lot younger and far more fun than I am in real life. I have been ruminating on a new name for a while now but am not sure about making the transition to a new persona, or whether it's even worth bothering. The spelling could be a little confusing. I'd need new themes and art work and it would take a while to update all my social media accounts, but a change of name may better see me through more years online - or not. Time will tell.

Of course, it wouldn't be a blog birthday without an obligatory screen shot of my pretty red Clustr map. This is two years worth of dots, as it didn't reset last year. The map represents more than 46,000 coffee breaks from all around the world - 192 countries, in fact. Wow! Blogging activity feels quieter during the last couple of years but I realise that my online community has merely shifted into other spaces and Twitter is where most of my interaction and relationship building takes place now. I'm fine with that. :-)
Thanks for dropping by!
So join me with coffee and a cheese scone (it is Cheese Scone Friday, after all) and help me celebrate six years in the blogosphere. Thank you to each and every one of you for visiting, commenting, posting links, chatting and coming along for the ride. Cin cin!

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Dyeing inside

I like a good curry. The aroma, the flavour, the colour ... ahhh. Oh, the colour. Have you ever noticed what colour your kitchen utensils become when you cook a curry at home? If yellowy-orange is your thing, then you're probably not too worried. If you prefer items to remain the same colour as when you bought them, then there are some cautions to be aware of. I remind myself time after time that I'll mix the spices in a glass or Pyrex bowl next time instead of a plastic one so it's easier to scrub the colour off. (I sometimes remember.) I then look at how quickly my new scrubbing brush bristles have turned yellow. Oops, I forgot to wipe down the chopping board right away! Hopefully the dishwasher will deal to that ... but what about the beetroot juice that spilled onto the kitchen cloth? And so it goes on.

Turmeric, with its rustic, earthy tones is actually a great natural dye. So is coffee, beetroot and spinach. Actually, there's quite a list and you can find plenty of tips about how to make natural dyes from plants and foods. That's all good and fine when you want to colour something, but people rarely need to dye cream carpet the colour of pasta sauce or white tops with splotches of red wine. Pale clothing and furnishings are a magnet for intensely coloured food.

It's not all bad news, though. Teenagers of my generation were well skilled in the ability to use lemon juice to add highlights to your hair. I went to a school where hair dye was strictly prohibited. It was a matter for suspension! Hair had to be of one natural colour (ie, yours!) and even highlights were banned. However, it's amazing how many girls came back from the summer holidays with 'natural highlights' from the sun. It didn't work so well for brunettes, though.

I can't help thinking that if the foods we regularly eat can permanently stain everyday items, then what colours are we becoming on the inside??

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Early birds

It's generally known that there are two types of people in the world: larks and night owls. Apparently it's all to do with our Circadian rhythm, which is a fancy way of saying "body clock" and controls a multitude of things that we do. I'm most definitely a night owl by nature, which is handy when you are a musician. It's not so handy when you are also a teacher, as the school bell waits for no-one. Over the years, I have had to work really hard to regulate my sleep pattern so that I can get to sleep at a reasonable hour (before midnight, but more like 11 pm these days) in order to get up at an unreasonable hour (anything before ... well, we don't need to be too specific).

There's a lot that's good about mornings. Beautiful sunrises, quiet streets with hardly anybody about, cheerful birdsong and all the excitement and promise of a new day.

I admire people whose jobs require very early mornings and don't know how they do it day after day, sometimes for years. As I race to the bus each morning, the driver has probably already been working for an hour or more. Couriers have VERY early starts and very long days. How about those people who check you in for overseas flights at 4.30 am? I look at fellow red eyed travellers, already weary without having gone anywhere yet, and wonder if there are hidden cameras set up to film a running joke among airline staff who make passengers arrive several hours before they are required to. Then there are bakers, breakfast presenters and, of course, parents of young children. However, I truly don't understand people who simply get up at 5 am each day to do ... well, I'm not entirely sure what they do but their hair usually looks great when they arrive at work, they wear full make up and they are annoyingly cheerful.

Don't get me wrong - I like mornings, but would prefer them to start a bit later in the day. I can do early mornings when required (occasionally). However, I usually end up looking and feeling more like this harassed bird instead of the ridiculously chirpy one above.

Take this morning, for example. It was an early start in our household and while I technically could have gone back to sleep when my partner got up at 5.30 am, it didn't happen. And so I got up and did stuff. Lots of stuff. I started out with breakfast while watching a few episodes of The Muppet Show, as you do. I dealt to my inbox and caught up on news and other online happenings. I put washing on (and out). And it was still early. I folded some of yesterday's washing. I went for a 1 hour walk. I even went to a dreaded shopping mall, where the car park was blissfully empty because hardly anybody else was up and shopping. Shoe shopping mission accomplished and a few more errands later and I decided to reward myself with coffee, which is when I realised it was only lunch time. How could I have been so productive on a single Sunday morning? I then had to resist the urge for a nana nap at 2.30 pm. How do people do this every day??

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Vanilla Shott

Sipping a latte this morning, I looked into my pantry and made a shock discovery: my little bottle of magical vanilla Shott coffee syrup was almost finished. Eep! How did it go down so fast? I quickly added it to both my shopping list and the list of my favourite things.

Vanilla is no longer a code word for "plain" or "flavourless" like I remember it growing up. True aromatic vanilla bean with its full flavour is seeing a resurgence in cooking and baking. When added to coffee (either black or white), it takes on a whole new form. Use vanilla Shott in place of sugar for a sweet, full flavour. Just 10 ml is enough for me but the sweeter teethed may prefer to opt for the full 25 ml recommended serving.

You'll see the Shott range in cafés and various food stores. In my humble opinion, caramel Shott is great in hot chocolate drinks but vanilla reins supreme in coffee. I also love that Shott is a local company.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Too early for diamonds

A friend and I have been training to become ladies who lunch. The training is intense but we're pretty dedicated. It mostly consists of drinking coffee and sampling high tea in various Wellington establishments. I'm pleased to report that it is going well and we are making good progress. However, a recent experience has made me realise that we need to step up our game.

A while ago, I was staying with a friend in Auckland when she mentioned that there was a jewellery sale "at someone's house" that day. Was I interested in going with her? I guess so; it doesn't hurt to look. We drove up to a semi-mansion in Castor Bay and I got a glimpse of how the other half live.

The jewellery for sale was Sensational Silver as the owner was selling her business and clearing stock. We enjoyed perusing a table covered with earrings, rings, bracelets and necklaces in a whole range of styles. We tried on some items, all the while thinking ahead and trying to match various upcoming birthdays to the jewellery on the table. Three other women were at the sale and we soon noticed that their shopping style was markedly different to ours.

Our conversations went something like this:
"Do you think [12-year-old] would like this for Christmas?"
"Is this necklace too big to go with my red top? It's probably a bit OTT if I'm wearing long earrings at the same time."
"These earrings are cute, but I've already spent $15 on those studs so I shouldn't really buy two pairs."
"Ouch! $50 is still quite expensive, even with the discount ..."
Their conversations went like this:
"Oh, that's nice! I already have it in gold and one with an onyx inset. I might get the bracelet to match and it will also go with my rings and that chain over there."
"Only $190 for a sterling silver choker? You'll never find something so cheap in the shops!"
"I want this for my next wedding ring. I tell husband that I'm a big woman and so I need big jewellery. He says no, so I tell him my next husband will buy me big jewellery."
As they were chatting, they were gathering up and putting aside pieces to buy, much like we were. However, their piles were overflowing to the point where the seller went into her kitchen to find plastic containers for each of them to fill so they didn't get mixed up or lost. (I had no such problem with my three tiny pairs of earrings for $45.)

Their chatter went on and these women suddenly had our full attention with their next conversation. "My husband tells me, 'I buy you gold jewellery. Why are you wearing silver now?' I told him, 'it's too early for diamonds during the day - I'll wear them with gold at night but it's now quite acceptable to wear silver during the day.' He just doesn't get it." And here's where I learned a life lesson. We've always been told that diamonds are a girl's best friend, even in this day and age, but I never knew that sometimes it's too early for diamonds.

I flew home realising that I may never become a lady who lunches, nor am I likely to own different sets of jewellery for different times of the day, but some days I coffee like a princess and dine like a queen. Surely that counts?

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Welcome to the Happiness Hotel

I'm generally a cheap and cheerful kind of traveller. The old adage of "just a bed and a clean room is enough for me" usually applies – and it's just as well. Most of my personal travel has been on a backpacker's budget as I prefer to spend my money on getting out and doing things rather than paying for somewhere to store my bags during the day.

There's a common perception that you get what you pay for, and it's largely accurate. But sometimes cheap is not always that cheerful. We can all tell horror stories about places we've stayed at – and mine won't be anywhere near as drastic as some, but I'm sure some common themes would emerge. While rude (or non-existent service) has long been romanticised in a Fawlty Towers kind of way, some things just aren't funny.

A while ago, my partner had an overnight stay in Auckland. He found a deal at a budget hotel chain in a central city location close to where he needed to be. It looked fine. He checked in to find an untidy room and someone already asleep in bed – Goldilocks, perhaps? After reporting his finding to reception, they simply asked him who was in the room and did he want a late checkout tomorrow. Really?? The room he ended up in wasn't fantastic but at least there was no-one else in it.

I've stayed in a place with rooms that are so small that there was no room for luggage once we shut the door. (Luckily our large group had booked out the whole place so we could keep our bags outside in the hallway.) Multi-storey buildings with broken or non-existent lifts were commonplace when backpacking in Italy, making the Hotel California in Milazzo not so pleasant.

A South Island motel I stayed for a work trip was so cold that you could see the damp dripping down the walls. The heater was broken and so we opted for an early night, but I was still frozen even while wearing all of my clothes in bed and laying my coat on top of the covers. Then there was the congregation of cockroaches and silverfish hanging out on the wall ... I think this place takes out top prize for the worst ever work accommodation. I guess you just have to put up with what you've got when you stay in small towns with limited (or singular) accommodation options.

But apparently bed bugs also like luxurious hotels and are no longer content to just hang out in cheap dives. And why wouldn't they? If the conditions are basically the same everywhere, you'd may as well take an upgrade if it's on offer. (By the way, how do you get upgrades to better rooms, or even half-decent ones?)

I once complained about being given a tiny room in Auckland that looked nothing like the photo yet was called (and cost) an 'executive' room. It didn't even have an external window (as shown in the photo), apart from a tiny one above head height in the bathroom. The response? "Most hotels have a broad variety of rooms and will naturally display a photo of one of their better ones in a brochure or website." So apparently it's perfectly acceptable to show photos of just one room and customers have to accept that theirs will look nothing like the one they've paid for.

Then there was a place where the extractor fan in the ensuite wouldn't turn off ... until 6 am, when it finally decided to get some sleep. (We'd given up trying long ago.) Also, a hostel opposite a night club in central Auckland where I got a grand total of zero minutes sleep and ended up leaving at 4.30 am to catch the early airport bus, figuring that airport noise is preferable to thumping music and street fights outside my window.

A song comes to mind ...

Friday, 1 November 2013

Pravda cheese scones

What day is it? Cheese Scone Friday! :-D

By now, everyone who knows me (and plenty who don't) know that Cheese Scone Friday is one of my favourite things. The fact it happens on most people's favourite working day is an added bonus. However, for those of us who are scone challenged and not confident enough to make our own cheese scones, it pays to know where to find the best ones in town. There was a scone hunt in the Wellington CBD earlier this year that sought to uncover the secret. How I would have loved to been the food detective on this project! But, for me, nothing beats Dom's world famous cheese scones.

On Friday mornings, I get off the bus and head straight to Pravda to nab a takeaway cheese scone before they run out. Demand is red hot and I've been caught out before by thinking there would be some left by coffee time. Now, I don't take the risk. I had a close call this morning when my bus was late and the cheese scone cabinet was empty. The lovely lady at the counter must have noted my panic-stricken face and said the magic words: "We have some more cheese scones, if that's what you're after." Whew!

I was gutted to miss out on Dom's Cheese Scone classes during Wellington on a Plate and hope (with fingers and toes crossed) that he will agree to hold some more breakfast sessions for us cheese scone aficionados.
Cheese Scone Friday
A good backup for Cheese Scone Friday is Legato Cafe, with their light and fluffy cheese puffs, or Pandoro Panetteria, which has just opened up another cafe nearby. What better way to make Fridays even more enjoyable?