Thursday, June 29, 2006
Another oddity is the New Zealand chocolate fish, which is a term for a generic, trivial prize for getting a task done, or figuring out a problem. It's been said in casual situations, but also in meetings and even in some courses I've taken. "A chocolate fish to the first person to figure out this complicated mathematical proof!" (Sadly, though, that proof was so scary that I would have needed a lot more incentive than even chocolate to try wrestling with it.) :-/
Indeed, there are actual chocolate fish, and whether the saying or the product came first, one can only guess. These are usually pink-marshmallow fishes covered in chocolate, and are frequently served with hot, sweet beverages of either the caffeinated or non-caffeinated variety. (And allow me to say, nobody does mochaccinos like the Kiwis! It's like mega-chocolate overload in a cup, with a faint but distinct coffee undertone.)
But all of this is background, so that I might tell you about one of Wellington's most famous cafés -- The Chocolate Fish. It is on a secluded peninsula, inhabited by incomprehensibly rich Kiwis on one side. On the other side is the hub of Wellington's film industry, where much of Lord of the Rings, King Kong, Narnia, and a number of other films were based out of. Needless to say, The Chocolate Fish gained extra panache when all those movies' stars would frequent there during filming, and even rave about it in interviews. Liv Tyler is the restaurants' most vociferous fan... personally, I'm shocked to discover that she eats at all. ;-)
Surely all this publicity and popularity has ruined what might have been originally a hip and obscure gem of New Zealand. Coupon book in hand, Dave and I set forth to find out for ourselves.
The only way to get there is by car, and luckily enough, we were able to borrow one from a friend of Dave's. Of the two routes to get there, we took the shorter, but far more harrowing option that involves all kinds of hairpin turns, blind corners, and sheer cliff-like drops gnawing at the sides of the road. (Next time I'll push for the lengthy but ultra-scenic around-two-bays-and-the-whole-peninsula route!) We finally arrive nearby and park, but I had underestimated the amount of walking to the address of the restaurant. Luckily, it is a beautiful walk. One one side is a secluded beach with big rocks that look more like movie props imitating what beach rocks should look like. On the other side of the one-lane road are stunning houses with well-kept gardens and expensive cars in the driveways. Apparently Peter Jackson, who is considered with all the same nearly-irrational level of awe and reverence by Kiwis as Wayne Gretzky is by Canucks, lives in this district. It's pretty obvious why. ^_^
Having only an address to work with, we had no idea what kind of building to be looking for. We did know we were getting closer upon seeing an unusual road sign, "Waiters Crossing". After chuckling a bit, we found our destination.
The Chocolate Fish is noticeable first for its colour -- the whole building is painted a vivid greenish turquoise, which contrasts with the grey winter day, and most definitely clashes with its stately neighbours.
Despite the cold day the place was still a flurry of customers, and Dave and I were lucky to get a table right away. The first thing I noticed were the chairs, which were individually hand-painted according to zany themes. Dave's favourite was the Cookie Monster chair, whereas I was particularly bemused by another seat -- the Austin Powers chair. Equal parts comic and disturbing, the backrest has a groovy ultra-60's paint job of his catchphrase, "Yeah, Baby!", while the seat itself sported a stylized caricature of Austin Powers'... face. I can just see it now... some couple on a date, getting seated, and her looking down and exclaiming,
HER: "Honey, I seem to be sitting on Austin Powers' face!"
HIM: "Better you than me!"
Yes, while there are plenty more witty responses possible, we were far too hungry to dwell on them. I went to the counter to order, as is usually done here, and dealt with an extraordinarily jovial waiter. He wanted to hear all about Canada, how we were finding NZ, whether this was our first time at The Chocolate Fish, etc, and then upon taking my coupon, slyly informed me of their lesser-known sister cafe, The Chocolate Frog, which is positively wonderful, I really should go, and did I know that there's a coupon for that in the same book? I walked away from that encounter feeling energized, overwhelmed, and with a curious need to go visit The Chocolate Frog... (I never have been able to resist shamless plugs from restauranteurs -- they almost invariably have such good taste.)
The food was delicious. Dave had some sort of Ultra-Breakfast sandwich, and I had pancakes with seasonal berry coulis. The coffee was great, and they even have little amaretti cookies to go with them. Mmmm...
Then I recognized the decor... the bright, hand-painted menu signs, local artists' works of all styles and colours, a large, stylized mirror so everyone could enjoy the view of the water, and crazy chairs scattered throughout. The Chocolate Fish is precisely the New Zealand version of The Glass Onion! (Point of info: The Glass Onion is the cafe where I worked during uni summers, from which I gained an inordinate number of fun and zany stories.) Something tells me that if Fokke and Cathie had started a restaurant here, it would have been The Chocolate Fish.
Sunday, June 25, 2006
For most folks (including me, before we moved here), the idea of winter in the South Pacific conjures up ideas of palm trees, sunshine and pleasantly warm temperatures.
Here in New Zealand, however, winter is winter. It does not mess around. And here's the proof. Below are three shots taken of roads in the North Island just this week. It is on what's called the Desert Road, which comes from Wellington and takes you to places like
Taupo (scroll down to April 4th on this one), which Karla and I visited back in April. Honestly, it is a desert there--a sort of sagebrush grassland that looks a lot like the Okanagan back in BC.
Anyway, I'll let the pictures speak for themselves:
Here in Wellington, things are just plain rainy rather than snowy (thank the Lord!). But New Zealanders are tough to get through all this. Remember, there is no insulation in the houses here, hardly any central heating, and power outages have been happening all around the country as a result of the bad weather.
Down on the even colder South Island, there are still a few hundred people without power. Either you've got a wood fire, or you're frozen out, basically. So there's quite a few people living in motels down there at the moment.
Not Canada cold, that's for sure. But pretty bloody cold nonetheless.
UPDATE: The NZ Herald says there are more snow storms on the way... :' (
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
For anyone who might be interested in trying it for themselves, here it is:
1.5 cups flour (unbleached, or even whole grain if possible)
heaping teaspoon of baking soda
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon each of vanilla extract and almond extract
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
1.5 cups chopped apple (peel can be left on)
3/4 cups each of shredded (coarsely grated) carrot and zucchini
heaping tablespoon of orange zest (for the non-culinary among us, this means grating the peel of an orange with the fine side of your cheese-grater)
Also, feel free to add nuts or raisins to your liking.
Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Combine the first four (dry) ingredients into a large bowl. Combine the next three (wet) into a different bowl, and beat together until the sugared egg mix is fluffy. Next, add the third set of ingredients (butter and fruit, veg) to the egg mixture, and stir. Lastly, put the fruity, eggy mixture into the flour mixture and stir until mostly even. Pour mixture into pre-greased muffin tin, and bake for about 20 minutes. The tops should be brown, and a knife should come out clean from the muffin centre. This should make about 8 regular-sized muffins.
If you want an extra treat, try sprinkling a hearty amount of cinnamon and brown sugar over the tops BEFORE putting the muffins in the oven. This will slightly caramelize the tops, which is very yummy.
Let me know if you try this!
Also, unlike Christchurch and Auckland, Wellington feels the least like a Canadian city. (Which is kind of the whole point of moving away, no?)
My experience in Auckland gave me the approximate visual of being stuck in an endless Toronto suburb punctuated occasionally with chain-store strip-malls. The roads were large, crowded, and very wide; at one point, on the main intra-city highway, I looked about to notice that the scene was not a bit different from that of the Ottawa Queensway. It was quite disorienting, to see something so familiar in a place so far away.
Christchurch, on the other hand, is small, new, and picturesque in a way that would be best compared to Saskatoon. In fact, I have since met several Saskatchewanites living in Christchurch; they love the city because "most days, we don't even know we're not in Saskatchewan!"
Aside from all that, however, I was not entirely sure of how I might convey the "True Wellington Experience" to you. But then Dave was emailed this list, and I figured it was as good a way as any.
(For those of you unfamiliar with this kind of list, there are similar ones for cities all over the world, such as "You know you live in Winnipeg when you know better than to drive down Lanark st, and everyone you know makes fun of Transcona.")
So, here goes the Wellington equivalent, with my explanations in (*)'s:
You know you live in Wellington when...
1. You can wake up during an earthquake and think that it's just the wind that's shaking your house. (*this has actually happened to Dave and I) ^_^
2. You can say "Wellington is full of ferries" and not be considered homophobic.
3. You can recognise half the city's population when walking down the street.
4. You can afford a $1000 suit but still flat in a house that requires 3 sets of clothing and two dehumidifiers to stay warm. (*...even then, the term "staying warm" is being used in its loosest sense!)
5. You see someone travelling 100kph on the motorway and you complain how fast people travel these days. (*especially on our street, which is a main feeder for the main highway)
6. You walk from the Railway Station to Willis Street without ever checking for traffic. (*that's about 10 blocks through main downtown)
7. "Just turn left at the first StarMart (*NZ equivalent of 7-11s), walk down the street till you get to the third StarMart, turn right, go 3 StarMarts up and you're there."
8. Seeing the Brooklyn Wind Turbine not turning is a newsworthy event.
9. It takes you 20 minutes to drive around the block in peak traffic due to the 'one way system'.
10. Boarding a Stagecoach bus is a hazardous activity. (*especially when there's umbrellas involved!)
11. You take a bodyguard down Courtenay Place in case you bump into a drunk politician. (*kinda sounds like Ottawa...)
12. The centre line is negotiable, especially on the Brooklyn & Hataitai hills where parked cars can take up 80% of the road.
13. You get altitude sickness going from your car to your front door.
14. You have to leave the city to do your shopping.
15. Any wind that doesn't threaten to take your roof off is just a 'bit of a breeze.'
16. You can detect 27 different shades of black suit. (*...and 19 different shades of red shoe worn with said black suit)
17. When an earthquake hits, instead of hiding under your desk, you hold a bet with your workmates on the force, focus and epicentre.
18. When giving directions to tourists, you point up.
19. You go out for your $5 coffee with friends and complain how expensive Auckland is.
Monday, June 19, 2006
Nevertheless, a neat thing happened today that I thought I'd share.
I went over to the Parliament buildings today for a meeting with some people to talk about the project I'm working on, which has to do with MPs making better use of technology. Heading up the elevator I had a brief chat with a woman who got on with me, apparently just finishing a visit with some school kids touring the building.
She made quite an impression--she was expensively dressed, had these neat designer glasses that seemed to incorporate the New Zealand fern, and just had a lot of 'presence'. I figured she was probably one of the MPs, maybe even a Minister. We chatted heading up the elevator about the kids she had just met, and how she enjoyed doing those sorts of things.
Anyway, I came out of the elvevator to meet my appointment, and the person I was meeting said: "Oh! Did you meet Jenny, David? Jenny Shipley, our former Prime Minister. She must be in the buildings today for some sort of event."
So how cool is that? I made chitchat with one of New Zealand's Prime Ministers without even knowing it!
Sunday, June 11, 2006
The good news of my game Saturday was that I was in the starting fifteen, playing number six, or blindside flanker. The bad news of the game was that I didn't play very well. The worst of it came when I fell over into a crowd of guys pushing the ball forward in a group (called a maul). Imagine roughly 10 big guys all pushing like hell, wearing spikes, and barely noticing that you're there as they try to get the advantage. Honest to God, being stuck in that crowd, these guys blocked out the sun. I tried to crawl out, but they kept following me!
Anyway, I wound up looking like a draw by numbers game with all the spike marks on me. Am resolved to go out next week and really kick some butt.
After the game came the ritual meet up at the pub, and we settled in to watch the All Blacks take on the Irish. The game was great--really tight with the Irish leading at half-time, but with the ABs coming back to win in the end.
Possibly the coolest thing was seeing the Haka on live TV. Imagine 50 000 rabid Kiwis bellowing a Maori war chant at the visiting team, led by their most favored players who accompany the chant with really intense, agressive actions. If you've never seen it, check out some video here, or for a more souped up version, here. It's incredibly stirring, projects power, aggression and sheer 'Ahmacummintagitcha' like nothing else. It's certain to leave you with goosebumps.
Friday, June 09, 2006
...welcome to New Zealand winter.
Don't be fooled, though -- it's only this nice when you're in the sun. And also, as houses are both unheated and uninsulated, butter at room temperature is completely solid, and at nights one can often see one's own breath while watching TV. So, it's not paradise.
But it sure beats snow! ;-)
Thursday, June 08, 2006
In Picton, the day was cloudy, and by that I mean cloudy in a specifically New Zealand fashion; the clouds gather, then descend upon the cities so that everything is stuck in mist. It does not necessarily rain, exactly, but a stroll outside will fast render you drenched. We did some boat rides around the sounds, which were stunning, and learned of some boat-access-only hotels of all price ranges that Dave and I vowed to stay at next time. In addition, a mere 2-hour drive away is New Zealand's most famous sanctuary of wild seals, dolphins, and all types of whales, surrounded by eco-tourism companies offering the opportunities to watch and swim with them. We did not make it that far this time, but to think, this is all so close to Wellington!
We ended the day with dinner at one of the town's few restaurants open past dark, and during our post-meal drinks we were joined by a group of the town's rugby hooligans. It took no time whatsoever for the evening to go from quiet to insane, and we somehow ended up at a bar with very few women there. To be honest, the only aspect of it I remember with total certainty is that "mixing" is gastrointestinally wrong, and I vow to never do it again. (Let us ignore however many other times I have made that same vow...) ;-)
On a similar note of gastrointestinal wrongness, I must tell the story of an astoundingly wretched burger we encountered in our misguided attempt to find onion rings in a small town after dark. Stupidly running astray of the main street, where respectable people eat, we finally found an open greasy spoon where we could get onion rings, and a burger each. All was well, until we got the burgers home and looked at them.
The deceptively normal bun concealed two grey patties, undercooked ham, wilted lettuce, an unidentifiable array of sauces all in aggressively unappetizing colours, and a rubbery egg. Best of all was the melted cheese, which was a putrid, rotting yellow which pulled apart in a way that suggested that it had been a prop in a gory science fiction movie. We dubbed this, "Death Burger".
Death Burger and mixing aside, it was a very fun trip, and we intend to do it again now that we know about all the hidden gems of accomodation hidden in the Malborough Sounds near Picton. Though hopefully next time, the Cook Strait will be calm-ish both ways. ;-)