Monthly Archives: July 2010

What qualifies someone to write about food?

When the Shore’s most famous restaurant The Engine Room refused a request from Canvas (a food shot to accompany a review), the magazine responded by vowing never to return.

Initially, I sided with the mag. What a diva, I thought. But then I watched this Campbell Live piece on restaurant reviewers and I started to doubt myself.

If you don’t have the time to watch it, the story was pretty scathing of reviewers. Too many publications are just sending out staff writers with the company credit card; and hard-done-by restauranteurs putting their heart, soul and life savings into their business can be undone with one bad write-up. Reviewers need to know what they’re talking about in order to gain credibility (although it sounded as though the credibility was more among industry peeps than readers). Another gripe was that writers basically retold the story of their one visit, from the moment they arrived and struggled to find parking until they pushed back their chairs and left, and put too much emphasis on factors like decor and fellow customers … rather than spotlighting the food.

Now, I couldn’t agree more with several of the points brought up. In this line of work, there can’t be anything more important than a) keeping your cover (I’ve always wondered how and when they get photos) and keeping your distance personally from chefs and owners b) dining at one place multiple times to get a fair picture. But, at least in NZ, this isn’t happening.

I am still not sure refusing to cooperate is the best move. No doubt restauranteurs are sincere in merely wanting to check that the facts are right (and let’s be honest, journalists and writers can’t and don’t always get it right). But it’s a fine line. It’s hard to be objective about your own work, and what others may see as constructive or justified criticism may not be taken as such. The last thing we need is reviews being censored by restaurant owners and chefs before they go to print.

Personally, I would not make the greatest of food reviewers. I like what I like and I am wary of strange new combinations (I really don’t get excited about top-end, innovative cuisine). I’m not a vegetarian, but am certainly picky about meat. And though I’ve waitressed in cafes, I don’t really know very much about the industry at all.

But how much is fair to ask of a food reviewer? We can’t expect them all to be ex-chefs, realistically. (I guess you might get better hours in journalism but I doubt the money is better.) It would be great if all writers had a background in their industry – be it sport, science, entertainment, politics – but that is never going to happen.

Personally, I’m of the thinking that restaurant reviews are just as much for the average person on the street as they are for those in the food industry. What about you?

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Pulling a sickie

Getting sick was one of my worst fears during my uni days. I didn’t have time for it! I had classes to go to, essays to write, oh, and work to go to. As a casual at one job, I didn’t get paid if I was sick and didn’t go in. At my other, I built up sick leave at a verrrrrrry slow rate – so much so that I ran out of it after a solid bout of flu or two.

Now, I get paid when I’m reduced to spending the day in bed coughing my lungs out and tearing through copious boxes of tissues. But most of all, I think what I really hate is the actual process of calling in sick. I feel guilty. I usually phrase it as a request – “I might take the day off sick, if that’s okay?” – although what kind of demonic boss says no to an ailing staff member?

One time I was so incapacitated that I merely sent a one-word text to my boss. (“Sick.”) I was so weak I almost asked BF to write it for me. The next day I roused myself and picked up the phone. Upon hearing my voice, the boss wished me a speedy recovery and said he’d see me next week. I still don’t know what came over me. It was the height of summer, but it felt like the death flu.

Usually, though, I text or email in to say that I’m poorly and don’t think I’ll be in that day. And when I do return to the office, my sick leave is already entered into the system and approved. If only the entire organisation could be so efficient.

How do you feel about calling in sick? What’s your workplace protocol for doing it?

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Some of my favourite, frugal lunches

Lunches are always a struggle. Even after I sat down and made up a master list of grocery items (lunch ideas, dinner ideas, and a list of all ingredients that we usually buy), I sometimes still find it difficult to plan what I’m going to take to work in that week.

T and I are ridiculously big eaters, and days where we have leftovers are very much the exception rather than the norm. For me, there are three main criteria when it comes to lunch: Preparation, cost and how much it will fill me up.

Potatoes – In a salad, with chickpeas in a curry, in a hash with spring onions and cornbeef

Eggs – Frittatas, omelette sandwiches

Pasta – Carbonara, or tomato-based sauces with beans/chickpeas/capsicum

Rice  – with soy and veggies, or fried rice – vegetarian/chicken/ham/mince, with or without eggs – the combinations are endless

Chili – With or without meat

I guess I’m just not very much of a sandwich person. Though I’m quite partial to the odd Subway, or Vietnamese sub from Banh Mi Bale.

What about you?

[Photos - Click on each image for source]

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Review: Piko

It’s long been a goal of mine to dine at the Four Seasons – the restaurant run by AUT hospitality majors – and I’m proud to say, I can finally tick that off my list!

To be precise, we visited Piko, which serves exactly the same menu and is right next door to the Four Seasons, but is a separate establishment in itself. I’m not sure what, if any, the point of having two identical-yet-not restaurants is, but it seemed to me like the Four Seasons offered a slightly more upmarket dining experience with lusher décor and more seating. Eating at Piko, on the other hand, made us feel a little like goldfish in a bowl. The lighting was very bright, without actually being harsh, and the stereo system that night was broken – the silence made us feel like we were constantly being watched by the staff.

Add to this the fact that there was one waitperson PER TABLE, ready to leap to our assistance at the twitch of a finger. – and did I mention that our waitress initially told us we were in the wrong place and should be next door at the Four Seasons? Luckily, instead of complying right away, I asked if she could check with them directly – after all, isn’t that kind of their job? Turns out we were definitely booked in at Piko and another couple were ushered away. To her credit, though, she did apologise profusely.

My prawn entrée was beautifully presented, although removal of the tails would have been nice. The boy enjoyed the smoked duck breast and his main (the pork belly) was accompanied, among other things, by two delightfully soft, pillowy steamed buns – he described the plate as essentially being a deconstructed pork bun. Meanwhile, the crab croquette which accompanied my pan-roasted fish was divine – bursting with flavour inside a crispy skin. Our portions were generous without being overwhelming, and we left with both stomachs and wallets satisfied.

On the dessert and beverage front, Piko didn’t quite deliver. The drinks menu was fairly limited, even more so on that particular night as the beer tap was broken. Although the mousse hit just the right balance of chocolate and coffee, the strudel was small and anaemic and we both failed to taste any hint of coconut in the coconut cream.

But on the whole, Piko held its own, with attentive service and appetising food. At $30 per person, it’s great value for money, and you’ll be supporting AUT students to boot. But make sure you book – we were lucky to get a table on a Monday, of all nights.

(Yes, I know there are no photos! I can’t for the life of me get them off my phone – it has no USB cord and the only way to retrieve them is to send them to an email account. But despite my best efforts, it’s refusing to cooperate on that front.)

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Purchase in haste? No way

I have a slight obsession with money. I’m also very nosey. So when Well-Heeled brought CNN’s Super Savers series to my attention, I immediately clicked over. Seeing how others spend (or don’t spend) their dosh? Paradise.

Some of those featured managed to sock away some serious dough, whether it was 35 per cent or a whopping 60 per cent. But Nicole’s story was the one which really resonated with me.

Nicole is a master of the long wait. She regularly holds off for three to six months before buying anything that costs more than $100, and she never spends more than $30 without first checking with Mitch (he does the same). She once put off buying a $3.99 ringtone for her cell phone for weeks to see if she really wanted it. And when she saw a $195 pair of earrings she liked, she trimmed the grocery budget for five months to find the cash. “I usually mentally buy something before I actually do it.”

That one sentence pretty much sums up my entire money philosophy. Aside from, obviously, rent, bills and food, I don’t spend on very much else. (In my humble opinion. Yours may differ. I don’t usually go out to bars, movies or on shopping sprees. I have spent a ludicrous amount on concert tickets in the last three months, but a) I’ve never been to one before; b) I’m selling two of them, since I managed to snag better passes; and c) another two were purchased as birthday gifts for friends.

It’s very rare that I ever buy something I see in the stores the first time I see it. I browse other shops and check all my options, and think about whether I can picture the item fitting into my wardrobe/lifestyle. I think it all comes down to two things: I’m a planner, and a control freak. And to me, there’s not a lot that’s worse than buyer’s regret.

Thanks to Beating Broke for including me in the latest Carnival of Personal Finance! Check out Carnival #267 at Beating Broke.

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Things that grind my gears: the cost of feeding a household

Something that constantly grinds my gears is the cost of food. And since British writer Peter Bills’ op-ed on the astronomical prices of, well, just about everything in NZ was published  (read his followup column here) everyone has been weighing in on the debate. Whether you wholeheartedly agree, or are simply resigned to the downside of living in a tiny country at the bottom of the globe, everyone has an opinion either way.

But it seems that of all people, All Black Justin Marshall apparently agrees, after a stint in the UK. It’s good to know he spends $400 to 500 to feed a family of five. $130 for us two sounds like we’re doing okay!

It’s hard for me to compare; most everyone I know still lives at home. Others spent similar amounts, or less – but living the two-minute noodle lifestyle. Sense (one of the few NZ bloggers I know who writes about personal finance) spends more…but she’ll eventually move back to the US and a wayyyyy lower cost of living, damn her.

But all the bitching and moaning in the world isn’t going to do any good. I like living in Auckland, and although I have big travel dreams, don’t see myself settling down anywhere else at this stage. Yes, it’s ridiculous that our lamb costs less in the UK than it does here. But I’m not a fan of lamb anyway. I don’t care how much a latte costs; I don’t drink coffee. And short of everyone in the country starting to grow their own food…I don’t see how prices are going to ever come down, even ignoring the impending GST rise.

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Children may be expensive, but so are cars

(This is far nicer than our real car)

In my experience, there is no bigger budget buster than the car.

Our little Mazda Familia, bought  for under $2000, is nearly as old as me. It’s 20 years old, and although mechanically, seems to be going okay *touch wood*, physically it’s starting to show its age.

There’s the dampness problem – apparently the passenger door has a little leak. The driver’s window is stubborn. Both doors sometimes stick. The boot no longer holds itself up.  And recently, it has, on occasion, been reluctant to start up.

But it’s paid for. That alone is pretty awesome.

So although we have a reeeeeeally big expense coming up, I’m okay with that. There’s something wrong with one of the wheels, which is also causing it to chew gas like you wouldn’t believe. So although this isn’t essential RIGHT THIS SECOND, it’s certainly going to be cheaper to act sooner rather than later.

Our options: Replace the two front wheels, or all four. Obviously, it’d be preferable to do all of them so we don’t end up with a crazy Frankenstein vehicle. We may be able to get all four for under $100 on TradeMe; the big cost is replacing the actual tyres, sadly. The tyres on this thing are some really wacky type which are hard to find, and not all that cheap. We have never bought brand new tyres, EVER, but even secondhand ones are going to set us back a few hundy.

When I set up our budget, I decided on an arbitrary amount of around $500 a year on maintenance and repairs (not including the close to $280 in registration – that’s extra). I had no idea what was realistic, and it looks like this is going to blow that number right out of the water. Grrr.

How much do you spend on car expenses?

[Photo]

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Link love (Powered by the audacity to hope)

MONEY

Budgeting for Happiness? Working Girl on her money matrix and how she decides to spend her top, bottom and inbetween dollars.

Rae has some tips for budget-conscious beauty junkies.

Little Miss Moneybags explains how she saves on groceries in NYC.

Red ponders the possibility of getting a second job to pay down her debt faster – perhaps not a decision that’s as easy as it sounds.

Mindy wonders if going to grad school is worth going into debt for.

Debt Hater on tithing and why she saves to give away.

LIFE

Hannah Katy reminds us not to judge others – not the homeless man who sits by my bus stop, or the cleaners I pass on my way out of work. (Am I the only person who gets incredibly depressed sometimes, seeing people doing those jobs? I hate to think of them slaving for minimum wage; but I suppose if those jobs became automated, they might be even worse off if they can’t work.)

Meg spends a week detoxing her budget, body and self.

Not That Kind of Girl tries to help out some hobos, and gets rejected.

Neurotic Workaholic blogs on the competitiveness of, well, blogging, and the quest for followers.

The NonStudent explains why you shouldn’t let, er, an 80-something hobag make you cry. (Kinda reminds me of when a friend’s friend blatantly called me on my lack of a chest at their pool.)

Kevin shares some divine looking Cuban burgers and recipe.

WORK

New Grad Life suggests a new approach to resume writing (hint: it involves acronyms!)

Finally, Social Diary delves into the art of the canape and other catering tips for planning an event.

Happy weekends, everyone!

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Out of control

I knew July was gonna be a big fat financial fail from day one. There was my birthday. My brother’s birthday. My buying my own present, as T still hadn’t found work. Our visit to the farmer’s market, which required getting out cash (THE DEVIL), from which I gave in and told him to just buy some damn Coronas already (This whole one-income thing is fraught with minefields. Why should he get to buy a $20 box of beers when I don’t even spend that much on myself in a regular week? On the other hand, it’s not fair to expect him to live without any luxuries).

ANYWAY. Then I bought tickets to Paramore – which were a steal at less than $100 – one for me and two for friends who I hadn’t been able to find birthday presents for to date. That will basically even out come September when I get my Metallica tickets and can onsell my spare two.

Then T’s clothing crisis came to a head – luckily, we found the perfect jacket for him, at $50 off ($150). His tax refund should just about cover that. And at the risk of sounding rude, please don’t lecture me about giving the government a loan – this isn’t the US, and our tax system is nothing like yours.

It’s all very well saving 20 per cent and more of my income, but not when I keep spending. Especially this month, when I’m certainly not going to make that threshold – at least it’s the first time I can say that since I set that goal.

We still desperately need to buy a couple of things for the house, the most expensive of which will be a new frying pan/wok. I’ve already pretty much written off this month in terms of savings – I’m still hoping to hit maybe $600.

Worst of all, I haven’t been keeping a close eye on the accounts. I have a vague idea of how much is on the Visa (and it won’t be anything unmanageable by any means; I am still budgeting) but it’s going to stay rough until all the transactions clear. I may have to go back to jotting down notes everytime I use it, because there’s nothing I hate more than feeling like I don’t have a grip on my money.

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Why I went back to glasses

Once upon a time, there was a little girl with a secret. For years, she walked around in a blur, and eventually grew to think it was normal. She did horribly in maths, because she couldn’t see the equations on the board. And when she was finally told she needed glasses, her mother said she wouldn’t be pretty anymore.

Now, for a reasonably cute kid – who had haircuts done by her mum and wore lots of secondhand stuff – being forced to wear huge round frames filled with thick, heavy glass lenses pretty much marked the end of her life.

The day she got contacts just after graduating high school was the biggest confidence boost she’d ever had. For two years, she wore them religiously, and let her poor, scratched, abused glasses languish in a dark corner somewhere.

Then her eyes rebelled. They dried out, they scratched, and refused to move with the lenses. She found a wicked funky pair of frames, shelled out nearly $500 for them (okay, mostly subsidised by her employer, thank goodness).

Switching back to glasses meant an end to so many costs: contact solution, lens cases, eyedrops, and of course the lenses themselves. It meant less time getting ready in the morning. And it meant no need to wear eye makeup – another bonus.

Anyway! I would like your opinion: Glasses, or contacts? (This feels a bit scary. Not so much the swing away from the quasi-anonymous thing – I’ve posted a face pics in the past around graduation/February’s wardrobe challenge – but the fact that I am, essentially asking for your opinion on how I look. So…Be nice.)