super generic girl

the awesomely average life of a girl like all others


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easiest apple tart ever

Yes, this is another post about food – more specifically, it’s a post about cake (my favourite of all food groups – and what do you mean ‘cake isn’t a food group?’).

A few days ago, I baked my first ever apple tart (tart, not pie – take it easy!). Why, you ask? Well, because I remembered I had found what looked like the easiest recipe ever, even for a noob like me.

Anyway, in the absence of anything smart to say here, I thought I’d share another recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 250g butter (soft but not melted)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • grated rind of one orange
  • 2 1/2 cups flour (self-raising)
  • diced apple (I used a tin of apples I had at home, not sure how many apples to use, perhaps 4 or 5)
  • icing sugar to dust on top
Mix together butter, sugar, egg, vanilla essence and orange rind until nice and creamy. Add flour and mix well. Spread 2/3 of the mix in a cake tin (make sure it’s greased and floured). Spread the diced apple over it and dot the remaining mixture over the top. Bake at 190ºC for about 40 minutes. Let it cool down and dust with icing sugar.

I can’t remember where I got the recipe from, as I wrote it down a while ago and it has been sitting in the “to try” queue.

The result was very positive, even though the bottom was a wee bit burnt (less time in the oven next time, I guess). I’m looking forward to giving it another go, perhaps adding blueberries to it.


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queijadas de laranja

I went a wee bit baking-mad this weekend and, among other things, made these delicious queijadas de laranja, which I had been craving for a while. Queijadas are a Portuguese treat that can have different flavours. These are orange. I saw someone online describe queijadas as cheesecakes but I don’t think that’s quite right. They’re sort of halfway between a cheesecake and a muffin – cakey but really moist inside. Read: delicious!

Anyway, thought I’d leave the recipe I used here because they are so easy to make everyone should give it a go! Awesome with a hot cup of coffee!

***

Queijadas de laranja

  • 1/2L milk
  • 175g flour (self-raising)
  • 40g butter (softened)
  • 300g sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • juice and rind of 1 orange
  • optional: icing sugar and/or cinnamon

Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC. Heat up the milk in a saucepan and, once it starts to boil, add the butter.

Separately, mix flour and sugar and then add the eggs. Mix it all, then add the orange juice and rind and slowly add the milk, always beating well.

Pour the mixture into a muffin tray and cook it in the oven for 25 minutes.

You can choose to dust some icing sugar or cinnamon on top, once they’ve cooled down.

NB: these measurements were enough to make 23 queijadas so, all in all, a very inexpensive little treat!

***


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I’m a grandma (and other thoughts on using a kindle)

So… ebooks, eh? I’ve seen a number of articles recently talking about how ebooks are outselling print books on amazon.com. At first i thought ‘pff, no biggie. they’re probably including ebooks in that number’. But apparently not. So that’s quite substantial.

I spent about one year (I kid you not!) contemplating buying a Kindle but I couldn’t make my mind up about it. So Chris bought me one, mainly to shut me up about it, I think.

I struggled with the idea for so long because I’ve always been a real bookie and have always spent quite a bit of money on books and I felt like getting a Kindle would be like giving in and joining the dark side.

I have now been a Kindle user for a couple of months and my idea of it has somewhat changed. What I’ve come to realise is that my fear of the Kindle completely replacing print books was unfounded. The fact is that they can co-exist and I don’t actually feel like I must buy the kindle version of books rather than the print version, if I do want to have the print version.

All in all, I am a true convert. I’ve read a few books on the Kindle and the user experience is fantastic. That screen is perfect for reading (please spare me your comparisons to tablets – they are completely different devices), the battery life is amazing and the device is so light that it is a real relief, especially if you carry all your worldly possessions in your handbag like I do.

However, there are a few things that need to improve:

  • I can buy any print book I like from a number of different websites and have it shipped to NZ (in some cases, at no extra cost – win!). However, some kindle ebooks are not “available in my region”. This is as stupid as the DVD regions and the publishing industry really needs to sort its shit out and get rid of this region bullshit. If an ebook is not available in my region, I’ll buy the print book.
  • I can only buy books from amazon.com, not from amazon.co.uk. I found an ebook that was cheaper on the UK site than the US version but, being in the Asia Pacific region, I have to pay more if I want to get that ebook delivered to my Kindle, since it has to be downloaded from the US Amazon site. Seriously, people, that is not the point of the internet. So if a kindle ebook is more expensive in the .com site than the .co.uk one, I head to Book Depository and order the print version with *free shipping worldwide*.
  • Some kindle ebooks are more expensive than the print version of the book (even the hardcover). What is this I don’t even! I mean… why? Why? Once again, when that happens, off to Book Depository I go, to add the print version to my shopping cart.
  • Kindle ebooks seem to take longer to be released. This isn’t normally much of an issue for me, except with a handful of authors whose books I’m always exciting to get my hands on.

In spite of all this, a couple of days ago, I gave in and bought my first non-99c kindle book. Up until now, I had only read free ebooks or 99c ones because I still have a giant pile of print books to read (and therefore couldn’t justify investing in any others). But the real reason is that I have a big issue with paying for something that I can’t hold in my hands. It’s a generational think, I guess. Maybe younger generations (oh dear lord!) are probably okay with this, having grown up with iTunes and all that.

I still find it hard to accept paying for something that used to be an object but now won’t materialise into anything in my living room. Chris thinks this is just another sign that I am an 80-year old lady trapped inside a 26-year old body and maybe he is right – at least in the sense that it’s part of my mentality and something that takes time to adapt to.

So, yes, yesterday the grandma caved in and gave Amazon US$9.90 for He Died with a Felafel in His Hand. I told myself it was okay to spend double digits (in NZ currency) on something I wouldn’t get to hold just because the print version, for once, was more expensive. To me, this purchase marks the beginning of a change of mindset. Maybe I will get used to paying for books I can’t hold. But I know, for sure, that will not stop me from buying print books. Not until the publishing world gets their shit together about prices, release dates, regions and assorted crap. And I’m not even sure I want them to.


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cheeseburger cupcakes

We had a cupcake competition at work a while ago and I used it as an excuse to finally try to make the cheeseburger cupcakes I had found numerous tutorials for online. I didn’t take any photos of the process because, well, I forgot. But probably also because I was convinced this first attempt was going to be a massive failure. They turned out quite cute and, even though I haven’t tried making them again since then, I still think I’ll give them another go for a special occasion.

Anyway, here’s a step-by-step tutorial, with no photos. I’ll try to remember to take some next time I make them.

1. Bake a batch of chocolate cupcakes.

2. Bake a batch of vanilla cupcakes.

3. Wait for them to cool down and then cut the top and the bottom of the chocolate cupcakes so you get a flat(ish) slice from the middle. Set that aside.

4. Cut the vanilla cupcakes in half.

5. Squeeze some orange juice on top of the vanilla cupcakes and then sprinkle some sesame seeds on top (the juice will make them stick).

6. For the icing, you can use whatever flavour you want. I used lemon juice for all of them mainly because I was a bit sick of being in the kitchen when it got to that stage and just wanted to get it done. Get some lemon juice and icing sugar together and make a fair amount of icing (I know this isn’t very specific but I really don’t know how much icing I ended up having to make). Then divide the icing into 3 separate bowls. Add some yellow food colouring to one of them (this will be your cheese), some red food colouring to another one (your ketchup) and some green food colouring to the third one (which will be your lettuce).

7. To keep it easy, I used two different piping bags instead of my fancy icing syringe (which I would have to keep washing otherwise). I put the yellow icing on the bottom of the chocolate cake, to help it stick to the bottom of the vanilla cupcake. I then squeezed the ‘lettuce’ on top of the chocolate, using a bigger nozzle to give it a bit of a leafy look. Then I squeezed the ketchup, using the smaller nozzle.

yum!

p.s.: if you’re looking for a video tutorial, this is a great one.


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yes, this is another post about running

Half-marathon training has officially started.

Well, kind of.

The half-marathon is 12 weeks away and the training scheduled I’ve created (kind of mashed-up from a bunch of different schedules I found online) happens to be a 12-week one so I guess I have no choice but to get into it.

Having to get into it, however, doesn’t stop me from trying to get out of it.

Yesterday, my friend Stacey gave me a metaphorical kick in the butt when I emailed her to let her know that our post-work run would have to be a quick one because I was meeting some friends for dinner. Her answer was short and not all that sweet. She said we’d do the initially planned 8.5km run because, as I’d told her myself just a couple of days before, running would have to become a priority from now on. She passed the friend test with that one and so I did as I was told and went to dinner with friends a little later.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m okay with the general idea of making running a priority. The problem is putting that idea into action when you have all sorts of day-to-day activities and last-minute plans to work around. The training schedule is extremely demanding compared to what we had been doing up until now. My only rest days are Mondays and Fridays and, with swimming lessons on Tuesdays, fitting in work and running becomes kind of a challenge, especially when you want to have some sort of social life on the side as well.

On the other hand, I’m actually really looking forward to turning running into more of a habit. I have a bunch of deadlines to meet before I leave work today (writing this post is just a way of forcing myself to take a break from it all) and the thing I keep thinking about is how much I can’t wait to leave the office at 5pm and go for a run. Stress-relief, here I come.


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48 hours and counting

that is roughly how long I’ve had this song stuck in my head (along with a couple of others). Somebody! Please! Make! It! Stop!

on a related note, this year was strangely the first time I ever watched the full coverage of the Eurovision final. I’m not entirely sure why but I never really cared about it before, in all my years living in Europe. Can’t say I truly care now but I have a friend who does care and his enthusiasm kind of ended up rubbing on us.

Last night, we got together in New Zealand to watch the full final (a few hours after it had actually happened, since that was early on a sunday morning for us), ate delicious food and sang along to some of the songs. A group of Europeans and a Samoan guy who had never heard about the Eurovision and was deeply intrigued about why we’d sit through the transmission of 24 (was it 24?) unknown songs, some of them in languages we don’t understand.


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on running

It’s not often that I’m entirely sure about whether a decision I make is a good or bad idea. Deciding to stick to my new year’s resolution of running whenever possible, however, has proven to be the best idea I’ve had in quite some time.

I guess I started running a couple of years ago but never took it seriously and was only doing it every now and then, if I really, really felt like it and there was absolutely nothing else to do. A few months ago, however, I started doing it more often and, by the end of last year, I made the decision to make it my main hobby.

I mean, running has everything going for it, especially as a summer activity: it’s free, it can take you to gorgeous locations (if you don’t stick to running around your neighbourhood), it keeps you (well, me at least) away from malls, it’s healthy… Also, the fact that I had a running partner helped incredibly as I knew exactly how easy it was to be lazy and just choose to stay home if I was to go by myself. But when my friend Stacey told me, last year, that she wanted to start taking running seriously as well, our lives really changed (I know it sounds cheesy but they really did).

In the beginning of the year, Stacey and I decided to start entering running events, to give ourselves the necessary motivation to keep on running. We knew it would be easy to do in summer but were already anticipating a tough winter (which we’re only just starting now).

These official running events – that we pay to enter – mean that we feel forced to train for them whenever we can and they work as the incentive we need to get off our lazy bums and put the running shoes on.

We’ll be running on fifth official event of this year this coming sunday – the 10km run which is part of the Hobsonville Point Runway Challenge. We started the list of official running events with an amazing run on Waiheke Island back in January and, other than the over-crowded and overall annoying Round the Bays (Never. Again.), we’ve been doing some excellent runs – the Coatesville Classic in March was an example of a really beautiful run.

We have also just signed up for the Taupo Half Marathon, which will happen on August 7. At this stage, I’m nowhere near close to being ready to run a half-marathon. My longest run so far was a 16km one and I can’t tell you how bored I was. I guess the only way to solve that is to work on improving my times – the assumption being that the faster I run, the less bored I’ll get.

With winter fast approaching and with the half-marathon happening at the height of the cold season, in the centre of the North Island (where it’s really freaking cold!), we’re really going to have to harden up.

I know I have to prepare for a lot of running sessions in the cold and rain but I can’t tell you how excited I am about it. I’m not sure I’ll ever run a full marathon (I mean, really, who has the time?!) but one can dream…


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5 things I learnt in my first swimming lesson for adults

(and no, swimming wasn’t one of them)

I’m 26 years old and I can’t swim. Yep, that’s right. You might ask me why I didn’t learn as a kid like everyone else did but I have no answer for that… I was busy with other stuff and didn’t really have any interest in learning to swim.

I’ve been on quite a lot of boat trips over the last year and found myself wondering whether I’d get any enjoyment out of them if I could stop panicking about being far from dry land (which is all I can think about when I’m on a boat).

Over Easter, during a boat trip to White Island (which I really should write about here), we had to do the final bit of the trip in a little inflatable boat from the bigger boat onto the island. With no life-jacket. Apparently the crew told us we could request life-jackets if we wanted but I was too busy dealing with my seasickness to hear them and got on the inflatable boat without one, like everyone else. The short trip on the little boat must have only taken about 3 or 4 minutes but felt like a lifetime and I had to make a massive effort to keep myself together and avoid screaming in panic. Oh yes. *That* bad.

I came back from that trip determined to learn to swim and looked up adult swimming lessons. It turns out that the place I signed up for at first has a waiting list of nearly one year (which does make me wonder about all those people saying “how can you not know how to swim, living in New Zealand?” since apparently there are lots of adults trying to learn now). I quickly found another place near home, though, and am now on week 1 of a 10 week swimming course for beginners.

On my first ever swimming lesson, last Tuesday, I didn’t learn to swim. But I learnt a few other things:

1. It’s not about the technique

Well, it is a little bit about the technique. But it’s mostly about feeling confident in the water. Like everything else, it takes time, practice and a lot of patience.

2. Fear is a bitch

It’s not the lack of skills that holds you back – it’s the fear and the notion of risk. Adults have a harder time learning to swim than kids do because we are aware of the risk and we fear. It sucks and it takes a while to get over it. I still haven’t, obviously.

3. It’s not as embarrassing as you think

Sure, you get to the swimming pool and there are people doing laps faster than you can say “holy michael phelps!” but it’s okay. They’re not going to be staring and making fun of you, trust me. Plus, the people in your group class know as much about swimming as you do. It’s okay.

4. It’s way more exhausting than you think

I went into my first class thinking “what? only 30 minutes per lesson? that’s nothing!”. Five minutes later, I was ready to get out of the water and have a little nap. It’s damn tiring when you don’t really know how to breathe underwater.

5. It’s an important skill to have

Ok, I’m lying, I didn’t learn this *in* the swimming pool. I learnt this over the years and it led me to enroll for the lessons.

I have my second lesson next week and won’t have a little yellow board to hold onto, apparently. Pretty scary stuff for a risk-aware adult but I shall try to live to tell the tale.


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how full-time writing work nearly killed my writing buzz

I think I started failing as a blogger the day I took on my first job as a journalist. Prior to that, writing was my absolute favourite thing to do (right after devouring bowls of breakfast cereal while reading comic books) and then, slowly and steadily, my will to write outside of my full-time writing job started decreasing.

Looking back, I don’t think that’s surprising. What I find surprising is the amount of time that it took me to realise the correlation between the two. In my current job (and basically all the jobs I’ve had since leaving uni in 2006), I write full-time. Over the years, the only things that have changed about my jobs have been the office locations and the topics. The main task has remained the same: writing.

It’s kind of understandable, then, that I get home after work and writing is often the last thing I want to be doing with my spare time.

But what I’ve come to realise lately is that being “understandable” doesn’t make it okay. I studied journalism because I have always loved writing and thought that would be the closest to a proper job involving what I loved doing the most.

I now wonder if my writing skills/love would profit from me having decided to take on a completely different career choice. If I had been a butcher, a plumber or an accountant, I would at least be able to get home from work and maybe feel like some writing would be the ideal way to get my mind off the rest of the day.

I realise a lot of people manage to coordinate a writing career (working for someone else) with writing for pleasure (working for yourself, basically…) but I’m not sure I’m ever going to be able to become one of them.

I’ve also come to realise that I’m not alone in this whole not wanting to do for a hobby what you do for a living thing. Due to the nature of my job, I interview a lot of technology and business people. I often ask them what they do when they’re not working and I can’t think of a single one who has ever answered me with something IT-related. In fact, they’re usually not crazy about gadgets or technology or anything like that, favouring other non-geeky activities such as sports or hikes. I guess it’s natural for one to choose hobbies that have little to do with their full-time jobs as hobbies are so often an escapism from that nine to five life.

Anyway, this is just a really roundabout way of saying that I’m making an active effort to write more outside of my full-time job and am now being reminded of what a great therapy writing is.

P.s.: I’ve just written a whole post about writing. yes, I do realise how incredibly meta that is. I’ll try to be better.

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