Friday, 11 July 2008

Tour de France

How fantastic to see Mark Cavendish win a stage of the Tour de France. I must admit to feeling sorry for Vogondy, the French champion, who had been in the lead breakaway for about 200km and got swallowed less than 20m from the line. Apparently there is no place for sentimentality in bike (or any) racing.

I love the colours and the patterns the bikes make as they snake through the beautiful scenery and ancient villages. I love the etiquette and the customs that temper the competitiveness; the way a rider is allowed to lead through his village or on his birthday; the way it is considered unsporting to attack a leading rider delayed by mechanical breakdown or other misfortune, one who is eating in the feed zone or satisfying un besoin naturel.

The language of the tour is another highlight - yes, I know, it's French. I love the Kraftwerk song with it's completely mad lyrics. I love the terminology: flamme rouge; prologue; lanterne rouge; voiture balai; domestique; peloton; danseuse; musettes; etapes; grupetto; hors categorie - I could go on - it's all music to my ears And then there's the hum of the slick tyres on well-sealed roads; a sound I miss in New Zealand.

Him indoors, watches the tactics and notes who is cycling which gears. It's fun for everyone, and something to watch until the football season starts again.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Flash mobs: my newest favourite thing

Last month I participated in a flash mob. This sounds somewhat risqué, but it really wasn’t.

To support World Environment Day, hundreds of people gathered in Wellington to join in the Big Freeze. Some bloke played a saxophone and we all stood motionless for five minutes, until at the signal (another blast on the saxophone) we all melted back to life and went on our merry little way.

It was harmless, it was fun and it felt strangely subversive. It is performance art with a political connotation, with random strangers coming together for a common purpose, to make a point.

As bemused people, not in the know, scurried past us on the streets I heard several ask what was going on. I have never been part of the ‘it’ crowd – not thin enough; pretty enough; bitchy enough at school – but this really felt like I was part of something – a subset of society who cared enough about something to do something.

Actions that flash mobs undertake aren’t particularly extreme – they don’t scale buildings, block traffic, or attempt to board ships. Their deeds are simple; they may be pillow fights, silently head banging, wearing a particular colour, or doing literally nothing. Organised through text message and emails or Internet postings, it brings a virtual community to a real space.

It’s something that ordinary people of all ages do – not just the young trendy hippies. You don’t have to pontificate or make yourself more important than your cause. You don’t even talk about it – you just do it and then go, taking five minutes out of your life to contribute to something greater than the individual.

It feels semi-anarchic, but with some direction. It is an ad hoc activity beyond the reach of the gigantic corporate and governmental powers that dominate life. It makes you feel like part of a community again – something that is lacking from society these days. It feels good. Does it do any good? It would be nice to think so, but I don’t think it’s going to change the world. Anyway, who cares; it doesn’t do any harm.

Monday, 7 July 2008


What is it about Kiwis and marshmallows? They have them in their hot chocolates - kids have them in 'fluffies' and they coat them in chocolate at every opportunity. They eat things called chocolate fish - basically, just chocolate in the shape of a fish, covering a big marshmallow. They even have them in their Easter eggs, which is just wrong frankly. It's even worse than putting beetroot in your burger - they do that too.

They have these things called Mallow Puffs, which are a treat apparently. The advert asks, 'Have you done enough for a Mallow Puff?' and I sincerely hope not. They also have a thing called a Pinky bar that is strawberry marshmallow wrapped in chocolate and purporting to be 90% fat free. What's the point? It's chocolate! If you don't want to eat fat, there's always carrots!

Don't even get me started on Pineapple Lumps. Strictly speaking, these are not marshmallows, but they have that soft jawish consistency and are coated in inferior chocolate. Supposedly they are made with fruit juice (4.5%) and are one of the things Kiwis most miss about their homeland when they go overseas. Why? They're revolting!

So anyway, back to the marshmallow. It has one purpose as far as I can see, and that's for toasting around a driftwood fire on a beach when you're 13 and you're desperately trying to pretend that you haven't got your eye on that simply gorgeous bloke opposite and you're too shy to make actual conversation, so you just squint at the flames instead until the thing on the end of the stick goes all gooey and mushy and then you pull it apart with your fingers, stringing it out and attempting (and failing) to look seductive while nonchalantly acting like you haven't just burnt your fingerprints off. No one expects you to actually eat the thing!

I once made 'fruit kebabs' for my nephew's birthday party. This involves stabbing yourself repeatedly with a skewer while trying to thread slices of apple, segments of satsuma, halves of strawberries and grapes, and pink and white marshmallows into a pastel rainbow of semi-goodness.

Never mind that my palms were bleeding like sticky stigmata; never mind that my Libran anal-retentive nature would not allow me to break the pattern I had set myself; never mind that I spent hours arraying them in frivolous fan formations; the little monsters just picked off all the fruit and went straight for the sugar - much like we used to discard the cheese from the stick that also featured pineapple and cocktail onions. Except, I actually preferred the cheese, but then I was frequently described as a 'slightly odd child'.

So, it came as a shock to discover something involving marshmallows that was actually palatable. More than that, I really like it! It's got a crunchy texture from nuts that melds perfectly with the soft chewy consistency of the marshmallows and fruit jubes. And it's studded with unexpected colour like an ancient stained glass window. It's very rich and you only need one tiny square at a time. I found this recipe particularly tasty.

30g fruit jubes
50g walnuts
30g Brazil nuts
30g glace cherries
50g marshmallows
10g butter
350g dark cooking chocolate
30g whole almonds

1. Lightly toast all nuts in the oven on fan bake at 180 degrees C.
2. Cut cherries and marshmallows into quarters.
3. Melt chocolate slowly in double boiler (microwaving kills chocolate).
4. Mix all dry ingredients together.
5. Line a tray with grease-proof paper.
6. Mix 2/3 of the melted chocolate with the rest of the ingredients. Mix by hand until well-combined.
7. Spread evenly on the tray and then top with the remaining chocolate. Ensure the mix is even in height, and allow to set. Do not refrigerate, otherwise the chocolate will set very hard and become difficult to cut into portions.