Monday, 30 January 2012

Grey area

Hannah Skyped from the lounge in Hong Kong airport, full of stories of hot towels, unlimited cocktails, and cooked-to-order meals.  This is apparently what she got to enjoy, and she is (like I said) now convinced it's the only way to travel.  I say that getting your seat back constantly kicked by a screaming child is part of the charm of air travel, and I'll continue to enjoy that while she sits up at the front.

To entertain myself, because I'd been on my own for almost 20 hours, I had a trip to WC cinema to watch The Grey.  It's about a group of men trapped in the Alaskan wilderness, on their own, cold, searching for food and attempting to survive.  It seemed a good choice, and it also had Liam Neeson punching a wolf.  It didn't disappoint.

I know how they feel.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Corporate punishment

The trouble with having a jet-setting wife is that sometimes she has to jet-set.  And so it is today, as she's off to the Philippines to tell them how to take their oil and gas out of the ground nicely, and I'm left to fend for myself for (almost) five days!  There's nothing corporately responsible about a starving man, Chevron.

A few management grades higher and Hannah assures me that I'll get full expenses to accompany her as a trophy husband.  In the meantime I've just waved her off in her limo, on the way to the Cathay Pacific lounge at SFO where, she tells me, they have a hot noodle bar.  I've never even seen a hot noodle bar.  From there it will be straight into fully reclinable business class for her, and our return trips to the UK will probably forever go up in price substantially.

As you can tell, only one of us had any misgivings about being apart for five (did I mention that?) days.  Please send food packages and sympathy cards to the usual address.  Now I'm off to...I don't know!  I've never had to make a decision on my own before!!

Off on an extremely bon voyage (don't worry - the limo driver made sure she didn't actually have to carry these...)

Friday, 20 January 2012

Imported beer

When Dan headed back to New Zealand he admitted that the one thing he would miss from California (apart from us) was Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.  It's true that a bottle of the stuff has been his constant companion since arriving, but until the company gets its export business in order it is sadly lacking from liquor stores in the land of the long white cloud.

So what are friends for if not to find and send a book on how to brew your own Sierra Nevada clone?  Yes, Amazon offers a few volumes from people who have concocted recipes to create commercial tasting beers in the comfort of your own home.  Perhaps this will become illegal under those pesky anti-piracy bills.

Anyway, in a fantastic piece of global symmetry, Dan managed to import a couple of bottles back into America, via friends Sean and Els (and via Fiji - the air miles on these things would make an organic foodie faint!)  So at a neighbourhood gathering last night, in the apartment of Eavan who brews his own beer too, I decided to give everyone an exotic treat.  To make it a proper experience of NZ-made-US-clone-imported-to-California I employed our 2011 "New Zealand Wild Landscapes" calendar.

The results?  Apparently cascade hops are they key, and the connoisseurs agreed that Dan had got the grassy, hoppy freshness just right.  I had a bottle each from batches one and two, and the development of the brew and Dan's confidence as a brewer shone through.  All he needs now, according to the experts, is to develop a little more of the malty sweetness and Sierra Nevada might as well give up on any plans for the South-West Pacific market.

The bottles pose in front of the Cook River mouth in South Westland.

Fellow brewer Eavan assesses the structure and carbonation in Beech forest, Kahurangi National Park.

Hannah polishes off a glass looking down at Queen Charlotte Sound from Mt Stokes near Marlborough.

Pam takes a draught at the coast near Whitecliffs, North Taranaki.

Sylvia finishes off by Kitekite Falls, Waitakere Regional Park, Auckland.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

No uniform provided

Wow, our favourite NorCal eco-organic ethical clothing-optional hot spring is looking for a new employee!  While I was initially excited about the opportunity to live and work in the buff (no more laundry!), I stopped reading as soon as they asked for "an aptitude for details" and "multi-tasking".

Live and Work at Wilbur Hot Springs!
Are you a friendly, nature-lover with an aptitude for details and multi-tasking? 

Live and work at Wilbur Hot Springs, eco-hotel and resort, off grid and on solar power. We reside on an 1800 acre nature preserve. Our volcanic hot mineral springs are world renowned! Learn more about Wilbur at

We are looking for people with hospitality/customer service experience and with basic computer skills for a Desk/Reception position (4 days per week) to join us here as Wilbur residents. 

Job includes full use of Wilbur facilities and grounds, plus wages, board and health benefits. 

Please note that this live-in position provides housing for one person. We are unable to accommodate other family members or pets.

Please send resume to 

Spread the word - Thanks!

Wilbur Hot Springs 3375 Wilbur Springs Rd, Wilbur Springs, CA 94987

Sunday, 15 January 2012

When I were a lad...

...we used to listen to music on shiny silver discs.

One of the most helpful things about moving to California has been sorting through all our accumulated stuff.  The local charity shop has benefited from this immensely, as have we by getting rid of all the things that we kept because they "might come in useful one day".  The purple fish bath pillow is still with us, it's true, but you should have seen the things that did go.

Two boxes of our British stuff have, however, remained undisturbed since they arrived.  These were packed top-to-bottom with CDs, the now archaic way that we used to enjoy music.  What are we meant to do with them?  Now that we have our library stored on several computers, mp3 players, and at least one phone, when's the next time I'm going to pull a disc off the shelf and throw it in the stereo to enjoy the latest sounds from my favourite popular beat combos?

I was further inspired by reading this week that burglars have stopped taking CDs and DVDs when they clean out a place.  "Stolen digital media on little plastic discs just doesn't have the same commercial potential it once did" as the article succinctly notes.  So, leaving aside thorny questions of whether you're allowed to own the music digitally if you no longer own it physically, it was time for another trip to the Discovery Thrift Store.

But first I had to check we had everything.  There are a number of CDs (Hannah's Pretty Woman soundtrack, for example) that I had incredibly, somehow failed to add to our digital library.  So, attempting not to drown in plastic, I cross-referenced everything with what was on the computer.  How could I live with myself if I'd given away Aled Jones's  Walking in the Air before recording it?

There were, of course, a few albums that I just couldn't bring myself to part with; the first album I'd bought, the song that was playing when I first kissed a girl (actually, I was always far too interested in the music playing to bother with kissing...)  When I met Hannah the only sound I can remember is the angels singing.  Anyway, our CD collection has dropped from a sizable several hundred to six.  And now all I need is a bigger iPod.

The format of the future!  Back then.

The only six albums you will ever need.

I warned you!

Look what's happening in Target!  It's a disaster, and something must be done.  Although I had hoped to make some money on my stock pile.  So much for that plan.

Temporary, because soon there will be no more!

Friday, 13 January 2012

Pavlovian conditioning

Whether it be rugby, cricket, possums, or fishing rights in the Tasman sea, there's plenty that keeps our antipodean cousins at odds with each other.  But nothing is more guaranteed to start a fight between a sheep farmer and a convict than the age old question: who invented the pavlova?

This heady combination of meringue, cream and fruit (all the major food groups) was invented in the 1920s when Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova took a tour down under.  Both New Zealand and Australia claim to have made the delicious dessert in her honour, further complicated by a recipe appearing in a book called Home Cooking for New Zealand that was actually written by an Aussie.  A tangled web indeed!

What is far less complicated is the fantastic pavlova making kit that Dan and Fiona sent over from NZ.  It's a Christmas tradition there.  And it's an egg!  Inside are instructions and a little packet of magic powder.  You measure the water in the top of the egg and the sugar in the bottom, mix it all up, bake it...a perfect pavlova then appears from your oven!  Just add cream and fruit, which I did - golden raspberry and kiwi (of course).

Getting a perfect, light meringue is notoriously hard, but even I was able to follow the instructions and get results Anna Pavlova herself would have been happy with.  The structural integrity of the meringue dome did suffer under the combined weight of the toppings, but none of our neighbours who came round for one of our infrequent apartment block gatherings seemed to mind.  And they were very impressed with the egg, which I will keep forever.

So that kind of ends the debate for me.  NZ obviously invented, cooked, and served the first pavlova, and have now perfected it to foolproof convenience.  All they need to do now is find a way to weaponize it and those pesky trans-Tasman quarrels will be over.

Here is the miracle ovum.  Actual size(-ish).

What's inside?  Could this really make meringue cooking easy?

Action shot.

It's in the oven.  The instructions give dire warnings against opening the door at any stage of the process.

And it's out!  Look at that.

I wasn't quick enough to get a completed photo before people started on it.

Maintenance manager Florin is very impressed.  And he's from Romania, which is near Russia, and his fiance is Russian, and Anna Pavlova was Russian, so he should know.

And that was that.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Something must be done!

Terrible news from the USA today, although actually spotted and sent to me by Ben on the other side of the Atlantic (why, Ben? Why?)

Hostess Brands, the maker of Twinkies, has filed for bankruptcy!  It's all here in this article from The Telegraph.

What does it all mean?  These golden sponge, cream-filled snacks are the only reason I agreed to come to California with Hannah.  They are my go-to snack, excellent for replenishing lost electrolytes after a gym session, perfect for a pre-dinner amuse bouche, invaluable as emergency rations when mountain climbing.

The Twinkie's influence on popular culture is incalculable, with its confectionery delights featuring in many films and inspiring science projects and office pranks.  Twinkies were invented in 1930 and their inventor, James A. Dewar, lived to 88 and claimed the secret of his longevity was "eat Twinkies every day."  They never seem to go off, so he may have a point.

In an America that is happy to bail out large corrupt financial institutions, surely Hostess cannot be allowed to go under ("too tasty to fail"?).  Although it would certainly boost the value of my massive Twinkie hoard.

No consoling.

Saturday, 7 January 2012


It has been a quiet week for me - editing my new erotic sci-fi vampire thriller - but luckily John and Laura have been doing fun things down south.  They took the coastal road and then cut across to the deserts, doing a trip not completely unlike our RV epic of a couple of weeks back.  And I've stolen their best photos, which I present to you below:

This is actually before they left.

Satisfied, and a few pounds heavier.

Down the coast.

Sunset over the Pacific.

More sunset.

Even more.

This was actually taken in Cephalonia, but it's such a nice one I thought I'd put it on a blog of their California trip.  I'm stealing and lying!

Another photo of John eating.  Shocking.

Crystal blue waters.  They even saw some dolphins!

John risks damp feet to capture the perfect shot.

An elephant seals drags himself from the waves.

The familiar road to the Mojave.

A familiar hike too.

And now over to Joshua Tree!

Mountain climbing.

A panorama from the top.

Rock arch.

A final, famous tree.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Happy New Year!

Celebrated at the correct time of 00:00 GMT, of course.  Why can't we just standardise on these things?  Anyway, John and Laura have popped over from the UK for a couple of weeks to celebrate with us.

Despite the jetlag, they did admirably.