Thursday, January 07, 2016

The fluffy dilemma. Or how I started worrying and learned to dislike [some] Christchurch baristas.

As one who has spent many thousands of man hours in Christchurch's chocolate and coffee-based drinks establishments, giving my weakly-earned coin in exchange for these drinks, I am now faced with a conundrum, a frustration, a level of gob-smackedness whereby my gob is fairly red and raw.

Since I've become a father with considerable responsibility for a young human's diet, I occasionally treat my son to small cups of steamed milk – widely known as a fluffy – at various cafes around town. I try to spread my love between cafes and do my bit to help the inner city revive. However, I'm now discovering multiple places around Christchurch that are unable or unwilling to facilitate my son's burgeoning fluffy habit. From the downright rude, to the surprisingly thoughtless, to the excessively gimmicky, a number of institutions are forcing me to take my business elsewhere.

C1 Espresso – A Glass of Cold Milk

I asked for a fluffy and was refused. I offered to pay a full coffee price and they keep all the chocolate syrup and things and still nothing. We were forced to take their gimmicky milk foaming device which is fancy foamed cold milk. This doesn't work very well as the foam doesn't last very long so I'm essentially paying $3.90 for a glass of boring cold milk. In addition, as my son's expecting lovely, firm steamed foam, he makes more of a mess as it slops over the edges. Once you take into account the time it took to fill the gimmicky device, perform the table service, clean the device, and clean up the table after my son's cold milk mess-making, I'm sure foaming some milk into a tulip cup would've been more time and cost effective. On top of that, it was the middle of winter and I had been looking for a warm drink for my son.

While I have applauded some of C1's innovations and gimmicks to provide a different experience, this one really sticks in my craw.

Mitchelli's Cafe Rinato – A Glass of HOT LAVA MILK

Burning hot fluffy. My fault for not testing it, but it had never occurred to me that a barista would be so thoughtless as to produce an incredibly hot drink for a toddler. Use a thermometer, dude! The kick in the teeth was the terrible flat white that I could not possibly finish.  Fittingly, the cafe's own website only promises great food so I guess I should've expected awful drinks. 

Margaret Mahy Playground* – Customer Service Black Hole

I'll start with the latest episode in fluffy misery: the one that prompted me to write this entry. Another cafe that point-blank refuses to do fluffies. At a playground. The mind boggles! The young man at the till wanted me to buy a hot chocolate – however steamed milk is sweet enough on its own for a toddler. I suggested paying the $3.50 for a full hot chocolate and asked them to leave the chocolatey bits out, but they simply refused to do it by dogmatically chanting "We don't do fluffies".

Let's review. I'm asking for a drink; and asking you to leave some components out. Logically increasing your profits. You refuse. I probably need to talk to a barista about how the economics and business sense of that works. If not the economics of it, how about a bit of common sense? I vaguely regret my verbal reaction to the barista, but the epithet of "fucking moron" makes a lot of sense in this instance and is 99% likely to be correct**.

Special mention for pretty much all cafes – Marshmallows

Special mention to pretty much all cafes: stop putting marshmallows on fluffies. They're choking hazards for toddlers.

I love you C1, but I'm not paying a premium for a pointless dramatic act to give my son a cup of cold milk. As for the other cafes, they are both doing extremely well and don't need my business anyway.

* It isn't part of the playground but adjacent. Apologies for attaching the name of one of Christchurch's greatest authors with this cesspit of caffeinated filth. Fortunately it's the sole coffee provider by the park.
** I thoroughly recommend Rob Delaney's book Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage. My interaction with humans is now based on his comedy though much more crass in practice.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Apricot chicken lasagne/pasta bake

For lack of a square dish and the patience to snap sheets of lasagne, I boiled up some orecchiette and made it into a pasta bake. Also, I was utterly lame and used a jar of pasta sauce.

I made this when I was a student and my flatmates made me cook it as much as possible!


250 g of pasta, cooked.

Pasta sauce

3 tbsp olive oil
1 chicken breast
2 onions, diced.
2 tsp minced garlic
1 small head of broccoli, chopped up
1 capsicum, diced. (Tonight I used 1/2 red, 1/2 yellow)
1 jar of Leggo's "Mushroom bolognese" pasta sauce (or make your own!)

Apricot sauce

25 g butter
Approximately 2 tbsp flour
1 150g pottle of apricot yoghurt.
freshly cracked pepper


  1. Cook the pasta: In a large pan, boil a lot of water, add olive oil and salt, and cook the pasta, a couple of minutes shy of the cooking instructions. (It'll cook in the oven later). Drain and set aside.
  2. Make the pasta sauce: Heat the olive oil in a heavy pan on medium heat. Toss in the onions until soft (4-5 minutes).
  3. Add the chicken and garlic and brown. Toss in the vegetables and stir fry for a couple more minutes.
  4. Turn on the oven to bake mode at 160ยบ C
  5. Reduce the heat to low and pour in the pasta sauce. Stir occasionally, and leave to simmer while you make the apricot sauce.
  6. Melt the butter in a saucepan in an element on a medium heat until bubbling slowly.
  7. Add the flour a bit at a time and mix it into the butter. Add flour until thickened into a paste.
  8. Add a couple of tbsp of milk, and the yoghurt. Add another 100 mL of milk and stir vigorously.
  9. Keep adding milk and stirring until it is a smooth, pourable sauce, but not too runny! Add some cracked pepper for good measure
  10. Layer the pasta, the pasta sauce, the apricot sauce into a pasta dish. Top with cheese and more cracked pepper.
  11. Bake it in the oven for 35-40 minutes.
  12. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a couple of minutes!
  13. Eat.


Tonight's edition was a bit more subtle than I planned. The apricot sauce was rich and creamy and delicious but lacked the apricot oomph. Perhaps needed a brand of yoghurt with more apricot bits, or added a couple of finely chopped dried apricots. Something to try next time.

It always tastes better the second night (if it lasts that long!).

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Passport Drama

Wednesday 19th January, 20:15 Tahiti time.

Right, so I’m off on a FIFA FUTURO III course and I’m not really 100% sure what that means. It’s an advanced course in fitness instruction so I need to be at a certain level before I go. I think I’m there. Anyway, this isn’t about the course, or where I am… Actually, it’s vaguely about my whereabouts. In fact, it’s about how I nearly didn’t make it to Tahiti. Well I guess I shouldn’t count my chickens until we’ve landed… still a couple of hours away from touching ground. I guess if someone retrieves this essay from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, then perhaps we didn’t make it.

This morning, well tomorrow morning now we’ve shifted time zones (yes, Isaac, I am obsessed), I flew to Auckland from my lovely hometown, Christchurch. Best town in the universe and definitely the South Island. Anyway, It was all well and good. I checked in, Twitter, and Facebook, had a coffee, and sent an odd text message or two to Moata (definitely odd). I revelled in wonderful feelings of anticipation, of excitement, of I-can’t-wait-to-get-my-arse-to-Tahitiness.  I embarked the plane to Auckland and had a rather uneventful flight where I reviewed the presentation I’m giving in Tahiti tomorrow morning, flipped flippantly through the Kia Ora magazine, and did all the other acceptably lazy things one does on domestic flights. Then it came time to land.

All fine.

Then it struck me. Where is my passport? The horrible, horrible sinking feeling deep in your guts that you get when you realise something is incredibly wrong.  So deep and gut-wrenching you feel like your bowels are about to make an acquaintance with your feet. How I imagine poor Moata felt in Spain. And they say imitation is the best compliment you can pay someone. I paid it. But double since I imagined being stranded in Auckland is a whole lot worse than a detention centre in Spain.

My passport was sitting on my desk back in Christchurch. Unbelievable. I swore under my breath a few times, Enough for the young girl with the abominably-written essay on art history (seriously, she needs to take a writing course, and maybe a basic English course or three) in the seat next to me started twitching a little uncomfortably. I got a grip. The moment the pilot said it was OK to use our cellular telephones (I love that term) I called my mum to get the passport and take it to the airport.  Which she did. She is so awesome!

Timing was of the essence. Already it was midday and my flight to Tahiti departed at 3:35 PM. 3.5 hours, less check-in for international flights… 2 hours… less flight time from Christchurch to Auckland… Uh oh. It looked pretty bleak. I went to the Air New Zealand desk in Auckland to find out what could possibly go right or wrong, if it could actually happen at all, and what my chances were. I had a little cry. This course has been fully paid for by FIFA and Oceania Football Confederation so I’d feel like a complete arse if I screwed it up at step one! I was referred to the Air New Zealand cargo guy in Auckland, who referred me to the Christchurch staff. They now expected my mum and had a vague description of a 50-something woman with long grey hair (sorry mum, I could’ve said “silver”, but that’s been consumed by my media title and to use it for you would be a little Oedipal).

Anyway, at 12:27 PM I received a call from Christchurch saying Jackie on the Air New Zealand flight NZ526 was carrying my passport, and I was to meet her at the lounge. Unfortunately, I missed the detail of the meeting place. The flight was due to land at 2:10 PM. Over at the international terminal, I talked to Heidi, who then discussed my dilemma further with other Air Tahiti Nui staff. They checked me in using a photo of my passport I was carrying on my laptop. This partially saved my bottom, as they were able to give me a seat and check me in.

Tip #1: Always conceal a paper and/or electronic copy of your passport somewhere easily accessible without requiring an internet connection. And don’t keep it with your passport.

This was only a partial solution. Now I had to get my passport at the domestic terminal and haul my ass back to the international terminal before 2:35. At that point they were closing check-ins and I would not be able to get my boarding pass. Heidi gave me her phone number in case I was cutting it fine.

Tip #2: If possible, get phone numbers so you can call ahead to get a precious minute or two of leeway.

So I went back to the domestic terminal. At this point, dehydration and a lack of lunch started kicking in. It was 12:45. I should’ve stopped and had a sandwich or something. Instead I had a bottle of water, another flat white and a Belgian biscuit.  But not before I changed. Protocol for New Zealand Football referees travelling is to wear a polo shirt, dress pants and a polo. In my suitcase, I was carrying running shoes and socks, and running shorts.

Tip #3: Always be able to run a reasonable distance carrying your luggage. In this case, reasonable for me was between Auckland’s domestic and international terminals carrying a 10 kg suitcase. (It may have been slightly over 10 kg but I won’t confess if you don’t tell.) In the past I’ve had to run for trains, make dashes across busy roads.

The nerves started kicking in. I sat there looking at the arrivals board going “Ooooh” whenever the arrival time became 14:05, and “Argh!!!” when it reverted back to 14:10. That arrivals board was screwing with my head. I’m sure it was possessed by a demon of some sort possibly the same demon that hid Moata’s passport. Then it occurred to me to make a sign to attract the attention of the passport carrier.

Tip #4: always carry a marker pen and adequate paper for making a sign. It could be for hitchhiking, it could be a thing/food/place in a foreign language that you can’t pronounce but can write out of a guidebook, it could be for locating someone you don’t know.

It was an artistic sign. It said “PASSPORT” in big fat letters that people leaving the plane could see. I waited, on the advice of the Auckland staff, at the Arrival gate where all the fantastic people who would be disembarking NZ526 were passing through. So it hit 14:10.

14:10: Plane still in the air according to the devilishly fiendish arrivals board (DFAB)
14:13: Another arrivals board says LANDED. DFAB does not.
14:15: DFAB says the plane has landed.
14:20: no sign of any passengers. 15 minutes until check-in cut-off at International. Nerves building.
14:21: Passengers start coming out.
14:29: The pilot comes out. He sees the sign. This saved my bacon. Remember how I missed the detail of the meeting place? Suddenly he remembers where the meeting place was. He takes off to the lounge to get my passport. See folks., Tip #4 worked! I rang Heidi to let her know the passport had arrived and it was within 5 minutes of being in my hot little hands. (Tip #2)
14:32: The pilot appears with my passport. It seems like an eternity! I give him a big hug (think he was a little embarrassed). I take off, but, like any good referee, I pause momentarily to start my stopwatch. Sick, I know.

It took me 3 minutes and 27 seconds. A new personal best! I’m sure a lot of people out there could’ve run it a lot faster, and it’s also a run I never want to have to make again! There was a nod and a “Know what you’re going through!” shared with a man running the other way with a trolley full of luggage. I hope that man made his flight! Air Tahiti Nui further displayed its awesomeness. I got escorted through security and customs, skipping the horrible lines, and made the boarding gate with adequate time that enabled me to change back into my polo, dress pants and dress shoes. Got to keep that good impression up, right?!

Ran into the New Zealand FIFA lady who organised all my travel and told her an expurgated version of this story. And that provoked me to write it up as yet another awesome travel story. Why can’t I have an international trip without a major drama?! That’s 4 in a row now. At least this one is entirely my fault. Sweden, Australia, Thailand, Tahiti... where shall I go for my next misadventure?

Monday, September 20, 2010

30 Days of Me. Um. Yay? Day 9... Something I'm proud of in the past few days

I was kind of stuck on what to write about in this slot for the last few days. It had been a largely uneventful week, discounting my latest romantic interest that I'm not prepared to blog about just yet. Fortunately, Saturday night gave me some pretty good material!

On Saturday night, the Canterbury Sunday Soccer League held their annual awards night and dinner. I was dutifully invited by the President of the League, Shannon Gilmore to attend because I had been nominated for an award. I was pretty stoked about this because I've trained extremely hard in the last eighteen months. I've worked hard on my foul recognition, I've trained hard to get fitter and faster.

So I got dressed up: I put on my finest threads in order to impress my New Love Interest (NLI), the players and generally feel good about myself! I enjoy putting on cufflinks and a tie. And, in holding with the refereeing theme, I put on my favourite tie:
The referee is the Boss!

Once NLI and I had arrived at the glorious venue, the Prebbleton Tavern, we realised a couple of things:
  1. The dress code was much, much more casual than I had expected. Jeans were de rigeur, t-shirts topped dress shirts and I dare say that I was the only one wearing cuff links on the night.
  2. I was the only referee who had been invited. This lead me to believe that I might well have be the winner of the trophy...
Wayne Stapley, the Mainland Referee Development Officer, and his wife turned up. We chatted for a while leaning over a covered pool table - mainly discussing the earthquake; it had been a while since we had last talked. The whistles were wetted by pleasant, heavily-discounted (which made them even more pleasant) drinks, and the conversation flowed merrily between the four of us. This was interrupted by the dinner gong, and our ravenous party queued up for a remarkably delicious roast dinner with salads. Remarkable because it was just so darned tasty! I had to refrain from filling up the plate like some of the younger players did; Wayne assumed these ones were students. Good to see the old stereotypes are lasting well! Pavlova and fruit salad ensued. We dug into our desserts with vigour. Clearly the Sunday League was trying to bribe us with these offerings. I nearly fell for it, but I am more cunning than a pavlova. More cunning than all the tins of fruit salad in Lichtenstein. Then the awards started.

I forgot there were five divisions of Sunday League. Five listings of the final tables for each division. Five captain's speeches. Five teams that went up to the front and were awarded medals one-by-one as the captain read out their names. Five trophies to be handed out. It was a little laborious. Maybe it was just me with my nerves building? But then the moment came: the announcement of Referee of the Year. I was quite chuffed with myself, it's always a buzz hearing your name read out when you win a prize of any sorts, and this one was especially awesome because the teams had voted for me. So I went up and they asked me to speak... so I did!

I hadn't really thought about it, but I was determined to make a point about the treatment of referees. I said I really admired the work Sunday League had put in to improve the treatment of referees but there remained a wee bit to be done. I said that I hoped the teams there give referees with as much respect as they give me. Yes, the ego had to come out some time, huh?
Sweet smell of success!

There you go, folks. Something I'm proud of. Another form of recognition for my refereeing in a year that has been pretty bloody good!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

30 Days of Me. Um. Yay? Day 8... Short term goals for this month and why

I have one goal this month. It's short, sharp and sweet and I'm already working on it.

My goal is to pass the FIFA AR fitness test that we're expected to do for the ASB National Youth League. A few sprints, 20 x 150 m runs. Piece of cake, right? Well there's a bit of bodily repair that needs to take place first. I've currently got a bad case of iliotibial band syndrome and it's going to require a lot of physio and massage to fix up. I've also got issues with my hamstrings, my right glute, and need to do a bucketload of core strengthening to get back to where I was at the beginning of the year. It's so frustrating!

Fortunately, I'm getting treatment for it already. Physio, massage therapy, and a specific programme from my personal trainer are all focussed on getting me back on the track running as soon as possible.

Here's hoping it runs smoothly!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

30 Days of Me. Um. Yay? Day 7... A picture of someone/something that has the biggest impact on me

Late November, 1995, when I was 15 years old, I was listening to Christchurch's precursor to The Rock. Every Sunday night they played a blues show and I happened to be recording this one on tape. A tape that had massive repercussions for the next decade or so!

Anyway, the focus of that fateful show was the impending release of a Greatest Hits album by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. Sadly, this quartet of musicians was reduced to Double Trouble on August 27th, 1990 by a skifield that clumsily interacted with the helicopter Mr. Vaughan was riding in. By clumsy, I mean this reprobate skifield reduced the helicopter to a charred, consumed-by-a-fireball wreck that left body identification largely in the hands of dental records enthusiasts. A tragedy for blues enthusiasts the world over. A career truncated far too prematurely, as are many other blues legends such as Janis Joplin, Rory Gallagher, and Jimi Hendrix.

Alas, I never knew of SRV while he was alive, though I would have been too young to appreciate him. But, as an angry young teenager brought up on a diet of The Beatles and Queen, the Blues Show that night opened my eyes to a genre of music I had never realised was out there. Two songs off the new album stuck in my head and I played them time-and-time-and-time again.

First of all was the cover of Jimi Hendrix's legendary blues classic in pentatonic E minor, Voodoo Chile. The iconic (I hate that word, but it belongs in this sentence) track featuring the wah pedal, positive feedback, distortion, and every fret on a guitar drove Hendrix's original 5 minutes song to an awe-inspiring eight minutes of delicious blues infused with rock, jazz and that instantly-recognisable, gravelly Texan voice some of us have come to know and love. The rippling power, the intensity of the chords, the vibrato, the hammers, pulls, and liquid playing style captivated me there and then. It still gets me to this day. I love nothing better than cranking this track up as loudly as is possible and swaying to the rhythm, playing along on air guitar, or a real guitar, or sitting in a meditative pose savouring the overflowing passion I feel from this music. Bliss.

The second track was a slightly more sedentary original track by Stevie. From the last album he recorded with Double Trouble before his death, In Step, Tightrope is a track about his recovery from his days of excessive whisky and cocaine consumption that nearly killed him (ironic helicopter is ironic, you might say). It struck a chord with me and has remained one of my favourite songs since then. A few years later, I had a bit of a disastrous first year at university with alcohol that eventually landed me in hospital. About then I finally understood the meaning behind the lyrics and have been eternally thankful to my family for their support ever since.

But why has this man had such a massive influence on my life? That story starts less than a month after that radio show. In December, 1995, I stayed with my aunt and uncle in Blenheim to go cherry picking, something I lacked the coordination and cut-throatedness to pick cherries at a fast enough pace, and only picked the very best cherries for weighing, rather than any old garbage as the others would to get their volumes, and hence pay, up. This was my very first job and I bought two things with some of this money: my first Sony Walkman, and the tape of SRV's Greatest Hits album. This Walkman and tape lasted until they were stolen in a burglary a few years later, but I pretty much wore both into the ground anyway. One afternoon after a hard day's work, I was playing the cassette loudly on my aunt's stereo when she came home. She heard it and immediately recognised the blues. She gave me a John Lee Hooker tape that had been gifted to them a number of years ago which they didn't like. I loved it. It featured a number of other blues artists that started me on a journey of discovery that is still going. My blues collection has expanded upwards and outwards; SRV's influences, Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery, kicked off my enthusiasm for jazz culminating in discovery of artists like John McLaughlin.

Then came university. As I mentioned before, I got a little carried away with alcohol at university. Once I got over that though, I then found myself delving deeper and deeper into my passion for blues. I got my first guitar and taught myself how to play that. As I got better and better, I neglected my studies. Which is perhaps how SRV ended up being a big influence on my life. In retrospect, I didn't enjoy what I was studying and now recognise how important it is to be doing something I really, truly love. I take that approach with sports, life, love, friends, and the workplace. Earlier this year I made a decision to forgo money to make myself happier as my workplace back then was not what I wanted.

I think that explains why he has been such a great influence on my life. What a man. May he Rest In Peace.

30 Days of Me. Um. Yay? Day 6... Favourite super hero and why

This is an easy one for me. A superhero I've always held in high esteem is the 1989 New England Comics character, The Tick.
The cover of the DVD, available from Amazon
 His wild popularity as a piss-take of the DC & Marvel superheroes eventually earnt him three animated series and a live-action series, each with their own cult following. I can't claim to have seen more than a few snippets of the live series, but the animated episodes have more than fulfilled the need for the superhero or superheroine in my life. These three series of animated buffoonery in the name of superherodom have been truly tremendous and rank up there as one of my favourite animated series, alongside other firm favourites Animaniacs, Danger Mouse and Pinky & The Brain.

So why is he my favourite superhero? His superhuman strength, his blue antennae, his unnerving love of Santa, his love of the world "where I keep all my stuff", his gloriously tubby and cowardly sidekick, Arthur the accountant, Little Wooden Boy, the ludicrously evil Chairface Chippendale (who has a chair for a face), and even his wondrous battlecry of "Spoon" all endear him to me. He is the superhero I would want to be like. His bumbling, stupid attempts to save The City from disaster still end up in success, albeit with a few buildings damaged by his large, leaping mass.

He also has a strong appeal for the continuity shown over the episodes. When viewed in order, you can track the destruction of the moon. Laser tracks and bitemarks from large planet-eating individuals. The character development, the exposition of the origin of Arthur's moth suit. It gives this cartoon a lot of appeal to this "adult" (a title I rarely use and even less frequently earn).