Friday, 30 October 2009

Ten commandments of Twitter

I tweet occasionally both for business and personal use. My professional Twitter account doesn't get a lot of use; I'm more of a voyeur looking out for useful links or tips related to my line of work. Café Chick tweets a few times a day. I don't profess to say much that is profound. To be honest, I'm still not entirely sold on the whole Twitter idea, but continue to dip my toe in the lukewarm waters of what is known as the Twittersphere, along with all the other twits out there.

While I find Twitter to be mostly harmless, there are some aspects of it which quickly drive me up the wall, or towards the 'block' button. I block somewhere around 1 in 3 new followers. No, I don't wish to see photos of you naked or in suggestive poses. I carefully check out someone's profile before choosing to follow them, and very occasionally hit the 'unfollow' button. I know it doesn't do me any harm to have people following me, and accept that I choose to keep my tweets unprotected, but there are some accounts that I'd rather not have associated with mine. Here's how to make it onto my blocked list, in no particular order:

Café Chick's ten commandments of Twitter

Thou shalt not tweet entire television shows
Or movies. Or documentaries. Or concerts. I don't need/want a minute-by-minute update on Shortland Street, Fringe, or American Idol. I also don't need to know how long it is until each of these shows start in your time zone, ie a minute-by-minute countdown. Thank you.

Thou shalt not tweet entire blog posts
Instead of tweeting a novel in several 140-character chunks, please just tweet a link to your new blog post. I'd be happy to read it in one space, and prefer not to see it interspersed with other tweets along the way.

Thou shalt not synchronise Facebook and Twitter
If I am your Facebook friend, I'm interested in what you have to say on Facebook. If I choose to follow you on Twitter, ditto. I'd expect you to update your status on Facebook less frequently than Twitter. Please don't hit me with a double-whammy.

Thou shalt not tweet from iTunes
I don't need a notification every three minutes of what song you're now listening to, or that you have accidentally left iTunes playing while you have gone out shopping.

Thou shalt not use Twitter in place of instant messaging
In the age of Skype, MSN, iChat, and multitudes of other instant messaging applications (including direct messaging via Twitter), ongoing 1-1 messages between two individuals no longer need to be broadcast publicly. Private conversations should remain just that.

Thou shalt not tweet spam or advertising
Just because I say I've been to lunch in Lower Hutt, that's not an invitation for real estate agents to follow me and spam me with property for sale in the area. No thank you.

Thou shalt not tweet more than 5-10 times an hour
I'm interested in what you have to say, otherwise I wouldn't follow you at all, but do I need to hear from you more than 100 times in a single day?

Thou shalt not bribe followers
I have just one word for people who advertise via their blogs, newsletters, or other forums by saying "everyone who follows me is in to win a prize". The word is: sad. Surely this is not what Twitter is about?

Thou shalt not retweet more than they tweet themselves
Retweet occasionally if you feel a comment is worthy of it, but I'd rather read your original comments than have you report a whole screed of copies from other people. If I want to hear from others, I'll follow them directly.

Thou shalt not add me to your Mafia family
I don't actually know what you are talking about, so sending repeated invitations via Twitter is not going to get you (or me) very far.

Care to add any more commandments to my list?

Monday, 26 October 2009

Cinderella syndrome

I've had a bit of Cinderella syndrome this week. We were planning to go to a ball last night but, since I've been seeing an osteopath to treat a damaged disc in my back for the past four months, I finally conceded about ten days ago that the ball wasn't going to happen. It would have meant buying another ball dress. (I've worn last year's dress to a couple of balls now - time for a change.) Not being able to dance, and watching all our friends dance the night away (like we did last year) isn't my idea of fun and, ultimately, the ball would end up just being a waste of money and a disappointing experience for my sweetie and I. Woe is me!

So, what to do instead? Staying at home doing chores is not for this Cinderella! Friends of ours were in a similar situation; she is recovering from a hip operation and, along with her partner, was feeling that the ball just wasn't going to work for them. We decided to get our tickets refunded and go out to dinner together instead. We chose a fancy restaurant (which doesn't take bookings, but we figured would be easier to get a table at on a Sunday night) and planned to meet after they had been to the Wellington Phoenix football game. (And what a game it was - the Phoenix ended their drought to beat top-of-the-table team 6-0! Our friends arrived super-hyped.) The only problem was that, upon arriving at the restaurant, we discovered that they don't open Sundays! Our next choice was closed for two weeks (reason unknown), and so it was third time lucky.

We dined at Plate Restaurant, slightly out of our usual range. We perused the menu over a bottle of Spy Valley 2008 sauvignon blanc - a lovely, passionfruity taste to it. I settled on an entree of seared salmon with a tomato and mozzarella salad with basil lemon pesto. This was a delicious taste combination and the mozzarella was real, ie not of the over-yellow variety synonymous with pizza toppings. My main dish was a minted lamb rack, cooked medium rare (unusual, but still tasty). The waiter tried to tempt us mandioca fries. However, his description of it being a vegetable which was a cross between potato and celery couldn't convince us. Still, we learned something new tonight!

The entertainment for the evening came in the form of our friends spotting the referees from the game at a table near us. They felt the need to apologise (but didn't) for the comments they'd yelled at the ref during the game, and much giggling followed. On our way out of the restaurant, they came across members of the (losing) Gold Coast football team in the foyer, including star player Shane Smeltz, who had formerly played for the Phoenix before defecting to the opposition. Says friend to the Gold Coast goalie: "that was a great game". Replies goalie: "not for us, it wasn't". Friend takes foot out of mouth, but she can't help flashing a cheeky grin back at him. For us non-football people, it was more than a little amusing to see our friends disintegrate into star-struck fans before our eyes.

And maybe next year Cinderella will go to the ball!

Friday, 23 October 2009

TBR list

Reading is, and always has been, one of my favourite pastimes. I was introduced to the concept of a TBR (to be read) list by The Well Read Kitty. She informed readers quite some time ago that her TBR pile is almost as tall as she is! I have a list of books and authors on my phone that have caught my eye, or books that I think "I'd like to read that" but promptly forget as soon as I enter a library. The list is made up of books I've seen in airport bookshops, read reviews about, or had recommended by friends. It works; I peruse shelf after shelf, being enticed and distracted by the endless titles, then pull out my phone and start searching for what I really want. The list constantly expands and contracts.

Here's what's left of my TBR list, in no particular order:

Books to read:
  • Enduring Love - Ian McEwan
  • The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - John Boyne
  • The Color Purple - Alice Walker
  • The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The Loop - Nicholas Evans
  • To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
  • The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
  • About a Boy - Nick Hornby
  • The Cure for Death by Lightning - Gail Anderson-Dargatz
  • The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
  • The Vintner's Luck - Elizabeth Knox
  • Look Me in the Eye - John Elder Robinson
  • The Life of Pi - Yann Martel
  • The Namesake - Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - F Scott Fitzgerald
  • Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë
  • The 19th Wife - David Ebershoff
  • The White Masai - Corinne Hoffman
  • The Notebook - Nicholas Sparks
  • Novel About My Wife - Emily Perkins
  • After the Fall - Kylie Ladd
  • I Know This Much is True - Wally Lamb
  • Atonement - Ian McEwan
  • Shanghai Girls - Lisa See
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver
  • The Cider House Rules - John Irving (actually, I'm reading this at the moment)
Authors to read (or read more of):
  • Malachy McCourt
  • Joanna Trolloppe
  • Jodi Picoult
  • Jeremy Clarkson
  • Tony Parsons
  • Kathe Lette
  • Patricia Scanlan
  • Alexander McCall Smith
  • Douglas Kennedy
  • Lionel Shriver
  • Life's Too F***ing Short - Janet Street-Porter
  • Things I've Been Silent About - Azar Nafisi
  • Things I Want my Daughters to Know - Elizabeth Noble
  • Almost French - Sarah Turnbull
  • There Was a Time - Dorothy Butler
  • All This and a Bookshop Too - Dorothy Butler
  • Any and all music biographies
I also have a TBF (to be finished) list, but that's a different blog post. ;-)

Do you have a TBR list? What's on it? Have you read anything on mine? What would you recommend I add (remembering that I'm not into sci-fi, fantasy, or really gory stuff)?

Thursday, 22 October 2009

A Perfectly Good Family - Lionel Shriver

A Perfectly Good Family (2007) is a novel by Lionel Shriver, a writer who has received much acclaim for her novels We Need to Talk About Kevin and The Post-Birthday World, both of which are on my TBR (to be read) list.

I guess that, at the heart of things, this novel is about families and the many and various dysfunctions that can exist between members, even among those which outwardly appear "perfect". Families have individual and collective personalities, histories, and a whole host of "issues", which ultimately affect their relationships with each other and those around them. I just wish it were put this simply in A Perfectly Good Family.

Sheer perseverance is what helped me finish this book. I began having my doubts around page 40. Page 90 saw me searching online for reviews and commentaries to either encourage me to continue or decide to stop reading. I questioned my resolve around page 180, and today was determined to knock off the final 50 or so pages, but I'll freely admit that, even at only 277 pages long, I've been dancing dangerous close to #BookFAIL territory.

The tension was laid on thickly, yet the story never really went anywhere. The scene is set, reset, and embellished, with endless explorations into the main characters' psyches, yet I ended up still not really knowing them, and not feeling empathy for any of them. They certainly weren't likable, either individually or collectively, and even their redeeming characteristics did little to help the reader make a connection with them. Grudges and bad moods were seemingly endless; the resolution was rather "too good to be true", or perhaps too convenient, to be believable.

There's no doubt that Shriver is an intelligent author, and my vocabulary has been challenged somewhat, but to what purpose? I was reminded of how I felt when reading A Painted House by John Grisham; the atmosphere was supercharged, yet nothing came of it.

Lionel Shriver will remain on my TBR list. Perhaps it's a good thing that I read this novel before the "big" ones so as to avoid disappointment further down the track?

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Chocolate Fish Café

I admire creative people, especially those who take an idea or concept and develop it into a business. Various challenges are presented along the way, and many find creative ways around them.

I have just been to the Chocolate Fish Café in Shelly Bay. The popular café closed down on its original Scorching Bay site at the end of 2007 amid much fuss about rising rental costs, effectively forcing them out of business. Chocolate Fish closed its doors, and Scorchorama took its place. The story polarised the café-going public: many were sympathetic to the plight of Chocolate Fish, and Facebook groups popped up around the place, while others saw it as a case of sour grapes.

Now, Chocolate Fish is back. Approached by the Wellington City Council to open a café on the site that has until recently been owned by the New Zealand Defence Force, some serious problem solving was required. First of all, there were a number of restrictions to get around. In particular, there could be no dishwasher, there was to be no kitchen on site, and no preparation area. The solution? Coffee is served in biodegradable takeaway cups, counter food is prepared at their sister business, Chocolate Frog Café in the Miramar Palmers Garden Centre, and an outdoor gas barbeque area allows fresh seafood to be cooked without the need for a kitchen. Patrons are encouraged to "bring your own coffee vessel", and can even take home used coffee grinds for their compost bins free of charge!

It's this kind of creativity that I especially admire. The Shelly Bay community is growing as an artsy/creative-type destination for up and coming businesses. Various art studios dot the area. The guys I met for coffee have set up a printing and sign writing business in a nearby garage. They introduced me to Chocolate Fish's co-owner; they helped out with his sign writing and printing, and he returns the favour by providing endless coffees and a "meeting room" for them. Across the road is a company which creates props and floats for parades and regional events. Apparently they are going to build a castle to create a children's play area for the café.

I will watch Chocolate Fish's moves with interest. Apparently in their first four days of trading they generated the amount of business they had hoped for in a week, so things look promising. As I continue to contemplate my next career move in tough financial times, I'm inspired to see others taking an idea, expanding it and developing it into their own business.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Girls' weekend away

Tis the season for birthdays. After last Sunday's pamper session for a friend's 40th, this has been a girls' weekend away to celebrate another friend's birthday. Having had quite. a. week., I was really looking forward to a change of scenery with friends. Martinborough was the chosen destination for nine of us to enjoy a weekend of relaxation and fun. Following on from our fun weekend away touring the wineries in Marlborough last December, another wine trail was planned.

The beautiful Tirohana Estate was our first stop and lunch venue. It began with a wine tasting.
  • 2009 sauvignon blanc - this had quite a soft, sweet taste. The sav was my pick from the wines we tasted at Tirohana.
  • 2008 pinot noir - described as "dangerous", the incredibly strong flavour was a bit to much for me. Aptly named!
  • 2007 pinot noir - this was the remains of a heavily frosted crop, resulting in its only being sold in half-bottles. While still having quite a strong, intense flavour, I found it more drinkable than the 2008 vintage.
  • 2008 dessert wine - described as a "non-sticky sticky". (Apparently dessert wines are referred to as "stickies" - my useless fact for the weekend!) Far too sweet and sickly for me, I'm afraid, sticky or otherwise.
Tirohana Estate
Tirohana Estate wine selection
A two-course lunch menu was served. I had a delicious cranberry and brie salad, followed by lamb shanks which practically fell off the bone. Only a couple of our group had room for dessert after that!

Entrance to the beautiful Tirohana Estate dining room
An elegant lunch setting
Martinborough is home to many boutique vineyards and wineries, many of which are situated next to each other along Puruatanga Road. They are within moderate walking distance, and even easier to bike to. We each tried out our hired bicycles of various sizes and descriptions and eventually settled on suitable matches ... all except one person who is somewhat "vertically challenged". After discovering that she couldn't reach the ground on any of the eight bikes we'd hired, we found some children's cycles in the garage of our accommodation. The sight of her zooming along to each vineyard on a child's BMX bike kept us laughing all afternoon!

It was interesting to discover that most of the Martinborough wineries charged a service fee ranging from $2 to $6 for wine tastings. Some, but not all, would waive this fee if a bottle of wine was purchased from their cellar door. I was quite surprised, as we had not encountered charges during our tour of the Marlborough wineries last year. As someone who does not usually drink alcohol, and only ever samples a tiny taste of wine each time, I didn't feel it worth my while to pay $5 for what would equate to 4-5 sips. I sat out of the tasting at the first winery we cycled to, Schubert Wines.

Ata Rangi was just along the road. Their small tasting room was crowded; we were the first of three groups of eight to arrive at the same time, so our timing was just right. At $2 a tasting, I gave it a go.
  • 2009 summer rosé - this merlot rosé was supposed to have a strawberry aftertaste. My friends really liked it; I was reminded of drinking vinegar.
  • 2008 sauvignon blanc - a light, delicate wine which I enjoyed sampling.
  • 2008 Petrie chardonnay - the lighter variety of two chardonnays produced in 2008. This was very easy to drink.
  • 2008 crimson pinot noir - produced in support of Project Crimson, which aims to protect the native pohutukawa and rata trees (whose flowers are crimson), this pinot noir was a perfect crimson colour. I found the oak flavour a bit overbearing.
  • 2007 Celebre - this red wine is a blend of 40% merlot, 30% syrah, 30% cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, producing a very strong taste.
  • 2008 Kahu Botrytis riesling - an incredibly sweet dessert wine. Once again, I just couldn't do it, but the birthday girl bought a bottle!
Ata Rangi tasting room

Vynfields is a boutique vineyard which produces organic certified wines. The setting is absolutely idyllic. The rain that had been threatening all afternoon started to fall as we left Ata Rangi, and by the time we reached Vynfields it was raining quite heavily. We took refuge inside their beautiful stately homestead, which they had transported from Lyall Bay in Wellington and restored on its current site. Vynfields is home of the Mad Rooster, a certified organic wine of an unknown big red grape variety. We were told that there are around 3500 unknown grape varieties in the world, and wine or grapes cannot be exported without a name. However, the costs involved in naming a grape are apparently quite exorbitant, so Vynfields settled on Mad Rooster and enjoy producing wine that is unknown to almost every other vineyard in the world.

There was a $6 charge for tasting here, so I sat out of the rain and enjoyed the scenery instead.

Vynfields gardens
A wind turbine in the garden
Front entrance to Vynfields
A majestic entrance
... leading to a majestic tasting room
Nestled behind Vynfields is another tiny boutique winery, Haythornywaite, our final vineyard before the rain finally got the better of us. All their wines are named after the female members of their family, and apparently there were quite some "discussions" during the decision-making process about which wines were best suited to certain personalities! Wine tastings here cost $5. While I was waiting outside for the girls, who should randomly turn up but a cousin of mine whom I hadn't seen for a couple of years! We had a great, impromptu catchup. :-)

Gosh, this is getting long. So, quickly now ...

Our accommodation was nothing short of exquisite. Nine of us stayed in a brand new four-bedroom house which was finished only a month ago and we were their first guests! De Vine Martinborough has four luxury holiday houses available for rent right in the centre of town. The facilities are nothing short of amazing and the colour scheme, a series of deep reds, silver/grey and black, is simply stunning. Nine of us relaxed in the big outdoor spa pool while the rain drove down, and miraculously there was endless hot water available for nine females to have showers afterwards - no arguments about using up all the hot water! We cooked dinner in their brand new kitchen and enjoyed a relaxing evening. Oh, and I had made cupcakes with blue flowers for the birthday girl.

Birthday cupcakes
After such an exerting day on Saturday, Sunday was understandably slower and more low key. We had brunch at a local café, spent a minute or two browsing through the cutest little craft market next to a local bar, then lounged in front of their fireplace (yes, in October!) for an hour or so before finally heading back over the hill and home to Wellington.

There is something utterly refreshing about a change in scenery and spending time with friends, even overnight. I arrived home tired after a full-on weekend, yet with my batteries slightly recharged and a little more ready to face whatever this week throws at me.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Quite. a. day.

It has been quite. a. day. Do you ever have them? Actually, I've have quite. a. week. but it has certainly culminated today. I don't want to go as far as saying it's been quite. a. year.; after all, there are still a couple more months left. I've been handed a few more lemons recently and am finding it harder to get on and make lemonade. It will pass.

Without wanting to sound too much like Pascalle West, I need to continue to "focus on the beautiful positive". (Outrageous Fortune fans will know what I mean.) Some days I'm pretty good at it, but I think I can (un)successfully write today off. I'll try again tomorrow.

Coincidentally, I had booked in a relaxation massage at nourishe for this afternoon. As I have mentioned before, Deborah is a miracle worker and her massage skills were certainly put to good use today. She kneaded and rubbed out the tension that has been building in my body and sent me on my way feeling just that much better. But I think may be still a while yet before we chill the Pelorus and throw that lemonade party.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Pampering and high tea

Today is my friend's 40th birthday. Her partner organised a whole weekend of surprises for her, including a romantic weekend away in Martinborough, a six course meal with wine matching, and various other treats along the way. He asked myself and another friend if we could 'help' him by doing a "girlfriend girly girly soft and fluffy girlish thingie for her" today. Would we mind doing this to celebrate our friend's birthday? We were happy to oblige, especially when he said he had booked and paid for the three of us to have a two hour spa treatment, consisting of a massage, facial and foot bath "with wonderful luxurious copper foot baths and water jugs". While we conceded that this would require a lot of effort on our part, how could we refuse such a good friend? ;-)

And so we arrived in secret at Bodyhaven in the James Cook Hotel. The birthday girl was delivered to the door, very surprised to see us, and with no idea of what was ahead of her. We began with a relaxation massage, the three of us side by side and serenaded by the sound of rainforests. Under strict instructions from my osteopath to change positions every 15 minutes to prevent further damage to a disc in my back, this appeared to interfere with the masseuse's planned routine, so I found myself squirming and wriggling for the best part of an hour or so while she worked around my body. I hesitantly anticipated the facial, my first. I'm not sure what was in the face mask, or what was used to cleanse and exfoliate, but my face and neck is now super-smooth. However, I'm still slightly worried that my hypersensitive skin might start burning at some stage, as I've been known to have this reaction to even the most gentle of products (especially those containing sunblock). Time will tell!

The copper foot bath was ... interesting. Not being someone who is partial to having their feet (or legs) touched in the best of times, I found the temperature of the water almost unbearably hot and had to ask (beg?) for some cooler water to be added to the mix, even though we were assured that "the temperature is correct". Gulp. However, having Earl Grey tea leaves (which supposedly are good for softening skin) floating in the bowl ... well, I don't think I'll be repeating that experience in a hurry.

Then it was on to high tea. I had been particularly looking forward to this as I haven't had high tea before but am hoping to hold an outdoor tea party this summer and I need ideas for what to bake. We were offered a choice of teas or coffee to accompany our food. Starting on the bottom tier, we enjoyed mince savouries and delicate crustless club sandwiches skewered with stuffed olives. The middle tier held sweet treats: miniature cheesecake and brownie pieces and tiny cups of chocolate mousse. On top were small scones with jam and clotted cream, chocolate cookies and strawberries dipped in chocolate.

High tea at James Cook
What an amazing afternoon of pampering with girlfriends! I'd like it known that I'm happy to volunteer my services if anyone else needs 'help' of this kind for future events.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Biography of My Skin

There is something entirely irresistible about delving into other people's lives. We all do it, through movies, tv and books - even newspapers offer us a brief escape from our own lives and a glimpse into someone else's. Biography of My Skin gives us the opportunity to do exactly that. This new show by Stuart McKenzie, and starring Miranda Harcourt, premiered at Downstage last night and I was fortunate enough to win tickets to the preview.

Biography of My Skin is the story of Miranda Harcourt, as told by her husband, Stuart McKenzie. It's hard to comprehend at times that every word uttered was written by McKenzie, although we are reminded on several occasions in the dialogue. He has even scripted some pretty heated arguments between them!

A mixture of live theatre and video segments, also featuring various cameo appearances from various people in Harcourt's life, Biography of My Skin is carefully articulated and well-timed. Non-chronological events from her life are explored to varying depths, and there is something for everyone to identify with. A few are touched on very briefly, others are expanded further, many with humour, and all with raw honesty. I almost expected to see Forrest Gump sitting at a bus stop telling us, "that's all I have to say about that" after the scene where Miranda faces her attacker in prison.

The show opens tonight and runs until the end of October. It's well worth going to see if you are interested in character-driven performances, especially those that allow you a little more insight into your own life.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Sushi for Beginners - Marian Keyes

Marian Keyes burst onto my literary scene a number of years ago, when she was touted among my friends and colleagues as a hot "new" writer. Although it was a while before I finally read one of her novels (Angels - perhaps not the best one to start with), I have long enjoyed Keyes' writing style and her ability to build identifiable characters which inevitably become part of the furniture. Sushi for Beginners (2000) was the first Keyes title I'd heard of, and I have finally read it!

Sushi for Beginners is set in Dublin and the plot centres around the establishment of a new glossy women's magazine, Colleen. We get to know some of the staff and their friends: Lisa, the magazine's "hard and shiny" editor from London, Little Miss Fix-it Ashling, and her beautiful yet spoiled friend Clodagh. The cast expands and a multitude of characters are introduced, yet they quickly become familiar. Romances come and go, and each character finds out more about themselves along the way, some receiving their come-uppance and others finally receiving their due. We almost even come to like the heartless Lisa. Almost. As usual, there are a couple of 'issues' thrown in to the mix, and this time it's depression and homelessness, but they're not the main focus for the plot.

I'm glad I finally got to read Sushi after all these years. Although it becomes increasingly predictable, Sushi is a comfortable, yet satisfying, read for both Keyes fans and newbies alike.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

One hundred trillion dollars

100 trillion dollar note
Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe
Our pub quiz team won a special round on last night and were awarded a whole collection of junk and joke prizes. I got to take home the purple fairy wings. :-) We divided up the toffees, someone grabbed the magnetic snakes and ladders game, but we all had our eyes on the money: a 100 trillion dollar note from Zimbabwe. (Count the zeros - there are 14!) We speculated what the note might be worth; guesses ranged from $NZ5, $NZ10, a can of Coke, or even a negative value. I took a quick photo of it with my phone camera before one lucky team member finally claimed it as hers.

This morning, she emailed the rest of our team with the results of her investigations: "I thought I'd let you know that one hundred trillion Zimbabwe dollars is worth about 40 cents NZD, and that's only if you convert the old ZWD to the new ZWD (conversion rate 1 trillion to one) and then exchange those dollars for your NZD dollars." Did she strike the jackpot or what??

Sunday, 4 October 2009

The "new" Vegemite

The Vegemite publicity machine is in top gear this week. For years, the question has simply been "Vegemite or Marmite?", followed by lengthy and often heated debate, much like Coke vs Pepsi. For me it's Vegemite all the way and, yes, I can tell the difference. For those of you who reply "neither" ... *sigh*.

This week, the debate has a new dimension added. A few months ago, a new Vegemite product was tentatively launched to complement (not replace) the original Vegemite. Adding cream cheese to the original recipe was meant to make it easier to spread and more convenient to snack on. Taste tests showed that the product wasn't too bad. I haven't tasted it yet myself but am curious about the outcome. An international campaign to find a name for the new product (which most people haven't tasted) was launched, and the winning name was declared iSnack 2.0. What on earth does that have to do with Vegemite? And how was this the best suggestion from a pool of more than 48,000 entries??

The name was eventually given a huge thumbs down ... after several hundred thousand jars rolled off the production line. With these labels now destined to become collectors' items, the public are, once again, being asked to vote on a new name. The timeframe is tight; voting finishes at midday on Monday 5 October. But haven't we already done that?

This time, six suggestions are given and voters are asked to rank them in order of preference. To be honest, they're all incredibly boring and some of them are as random as iSnack 2.0 was. At most, the voting process is probably an attempt by Kraft to milk every last bit of publicity from a campaign that didn't exactly set the yeast spread world on fire to begin with. I have a feeling that, no matter what winning name is announced on Wednesday 7 October, the product will forever be known as the "new" Vegemite.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Apple muffins

Here is a simple way to use apples which are past their best but still good to bake with. Easy variations can include adding 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts, 3/4 cup of finely chopped dates, 1/4 cup chopped crystalised ginger and one teaspoon of treacle, or substituting the flours with one cup of flaky bran and 1 1/2 cups of self-raising flour.

Apple muffins

Wet mix
  • 2 cups grated raw apples (I left the skin on)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
Dry mix
  • 1 cup wholemeal self-raising flour (or 1 cup wholemeal flour and 1 teaspoon baking powder)
  • 1 cup self-raising flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  1. Preheat oven to 200°C and grease a 12 hole muffin tin.
  2. Thoroughly combine the wet mix ingredients.
  3. Combine the dry mix ingredients and mix thoroughly into the wet mix.
  4. Place the mixture into prepared pans and bake for 20 minutes.
Apple muffins