Adventures in the kitchen: Potato cakes with salmon and eggs

When your attempts to recreate that wonderful, simple, smoked salmon pasta you enjoyed in Italy fall flat, the next step – naturally – is to panic and wonder what you’re going to do with the other half packet of salmon sitting in your fridge. That shit is EXPENSIVE.

The answer, as always, comes from Jamie Oliver. Click here for his recipe, or wing it with my loose guidelines below:

  • Cut potatoes into halves and boil. Let them cool (I chucked mine in the fridge for a bit to speed up things) and then grate into a bowl.
  • Add some cut up spring onions, a little bit of flour, a dash of butter or margarine, and mix in. You want the mixture to have some body – enough to come together to make patties. If you have time, put this back in the fridge to cool (Jamie suggests overnight, but my mixture was already somewhat cool and I was starving).
  • Form patties, then fry until golden brown on each side. Remove to a plate and top with smoked salmon slices.
  • Soft boil two eggs, which then go over the whole shebang. Season and devour.

NZMUSE potato cakes salmon eggs

Yours, of course, will look far superior to mine, because you no doubt know to soft boil an egg.

Frugal factor: High. The salmon is a bit of a splurge ingredient, but you don’t have to use a ton of it, and you can always wait for a sale. Or maybe you’re lucky to live somewhere where smoked salmon is cheap…

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 I really love my work. As with any job, a certain amount of repetition is involved – that’s necessary to actually build expertise. I write about the same subjects every day, but the specifics of each piece, the details, vary. 

Creating content is awesome. But really, what am I contributing to the world by sitting at a computer all day?

By first world standards, life in NZ can be tough. The cost of living is so high, the property market is insane, it’s a struggle to get ahead. Yet compared to some in the world we have so much.

The part about travel that depressed me the most – and really started to grind on me towards the end – was visiting countries and realising, every time, just how their civilisation was built upon slavery, oppression, war. The same was true the world over.

I’ve been working my way through this book on Somalia - very slowly, because it’s not an emotionally easy read. It enrages me and depresses me in equal parts. It’s just unfathomable what some of our fellow human beings have to endure simply for being born in the wrong country.

Like Her Every Cent Counts, right now I’m struggling to reconcile those feelings with my own desire to get ahead in the society I live in. I feel like a terrible person for not wanting to read more books like this (despite the fact that I can’t resist memoirs like Escape from Camp 14) for that reason. 

I realise this is all sort of pointless. Even if I was to go work at a nonprofit, my job would still consist of sitting at a computer because that’s where my skills lie. 

/end ramble

This week’s links


Besudesu Abroad interviewed me for her weekly blogger series – head over to read about our travel budget, favourite destinations and my love/hate relationship with the beach

Ashley sums up all my feelings about the Grand Canyon (like her, I heard mixed things about it but was blown away) and astutely observes that “we romanticise travel when so much of it is completely unromantic” (um, see this post on all the unglamorous stuff we don’t like to write about)

Beverley is missing Auckland badly – a post I never expected to read anywhere online (people do NOT write yearningly about my city!)

Yes and Yes shares a few things you probably didn’t know about Alaska


Her Every Cent Counts argues that most stock options are BS 

Hilarious ways to quit your job and life working on on a cruise ship, via Budgets are Sexy

Alicia ponders the reality of being a solitary woman in a sea of men at work


Frugal Portland ponders the phenomenon of celebrity

Newlyweds on a Budget are in the same boat as us when it comes to house buying

Fun date ideas from Well Heeled (2013 was a year of limerence for us, but even so we still need to shake things up once in a while)

The problem with the stories we tell ourselves, from Minimal Millennial

And my post on surviving a layoff was in the carnival of personal finance 

Happy weekends! Looks like I’m going to be cooped up inside – there’s a bit of a rainstorm going on out there.

What do you eat for breakfast?

Breakfast is one meal in which I just cannot embrace the healthy option.

I can do muesli / oats for a while but eventually get sick of it after a few days/weeks and need to change it up.

I love cereal – but it’s expensive, as is milk. And too often I wake up at the end of the week, only to find we’re out of milk because T drinks the stuff like it’s the elixir of life.

Toast doesn’t fill me up.

My main problem with breakfast is I get hungry an hour or two later, so I guess I need protein. Now I’m back at work focusing and using my brain 8-plus hours a day, I’m also back to being constantly hungry, unlike while we were travelling.

Maybe eggs are the solution? The big trays are reasonably cost effective, and while I refuse to cook on weekday mornings, eggs are fast.

What do you eat for breakfast?

How to deal with a layoff gracefully: Advice for couples

how to deal with a layoff gracefully
Like I blogged just last week, sometimes I feel like we’re never going to get ahead financially.  Still, things are what they are and whinging never got anyone anywhere.

That said, I’m big on honesty and I’m not going to lie, being forced back into one-income land sucks. Of course, it’s even worse for T, but I’m not particularly enjoying things either. Selfish? Yes. True? Abso-frickin-lutely.

Rather than subject you all to a wave of self-pity, I thought I’d consult some other smart bloggers about coping in the aftermath of a layoff and dealing with all the feelings that follow – gracefully. Here is our collective wisdom.

Be mad, but then shake it off

You will resent being the only one bringing in an income (particularly if your partner is not a good housekeeper, on top of it all). Acknowledge it, but remember that nobody is winning in this situation and try to move past the anger. Definitely do not lash out!

As Gina Marie Rose sagely observes: “I know it’s hard not to feel resentful toward your partner when you’re the only one bringing in money, but do your best not to make them feel guilty about it. Trust me, your partner does not want to be unemployed, broke, and having someone else support them financially.

“But sometimes, shit happens and we have to face circumstances that are out of our control, like layoffs. Being unemployed and broke is one of the worst predicaments in the world; the last thing your partner needs is for the one person they love most to make them feel even worse about it.”

Michelle from Fit is the New Poor says: “I often reminded myself how much I loved him and how he was there for me financially and emotionally in the past. He did his part by understanding when I needed space or to blow off steam.”

Sally from Tiny Apartment Design, for one, has left several jobs during her relationship. “It’s tough when you feel like you are carrying the weight of two people, but I find it helps to talk about it, uncomfortable as it is,” she says.

Vent to someone else

Let it all out … but not just to your partner.

Gina suggests venting to people you trust and who you know won’t change their opinion of your partner as a result.

And find some stress relievers that work for you.

“During the whole time Chris was unemployed, I practiced yoga 3-4 times a week. Probably one of the best decisions I made during that time!”

Lend an ear

And of course, let your partner vent too.

Says Gina: “Listen to them vent about their recent job rejection. Ask how that networking event was that they recently attended. Let them cry on your shoulder when they feel hopeless and like they’ll never get a job. Being unemployed and broke sucks big time, so be supportive. You’d want the same from your partner if you were in their shoes.”

Focus on the silver linings

No job is perfect. So take the opportunity to remember all the downsides of that old job, and thank your lucky stars that you guys no longer have to deal with them!

According to  Michelle: “I would be mad at him for losing his job, but then I would remember all the times he would complain about his boss making him stay late or emotionally abusing him, and I would go back to thinking that this may be a better way!”

Be supportive on the job-hunting front

Not that this really needs stating, since you BOTH want to get back to the full-employment bandwagon…

Check your partner’s resume, edit cover letters, trawl your list of contacts for anyone who might be helpful to him, keep an eye out for interesting job listings, rehearse answers for interviews.

“I remember the first time Chris did an interview role play with me: it helped me memorise my answers better and feel more confident when it came to saying them out loud,” Gina says.

Michelle suggests asking the hard questions your partner might not consider, be it in regard to interviewing or to choosing jobs.

Keep a tight lid on your finances

Now, more than ever, is the time to keep on top of your money. I revisited our 2014 budget but the key is tracking our spending, especially with T’s habits.

“Since you’re now providing for two people, it’s probably a good idea to keep a close eye on your finances so you can save money where possible,” Gina says. “I didn’t do this while I supported Chris, and I regret it! I feel like my money went so fast during that time because I wasn’t keeping track of what was going in and what was going out, and I didn’t change my spending habits even when money got tight.”

Budget in little treats

Much as I would like to forbid T from spending a single dollar until he finds a job, that’s pretty cruel and also insanely unrealistic. We’ve settled on $20 a week, although in reality that’s creeping higher.

Gina’s advice? Treat your partner once in awhile.

“While I was unemployed, I was depressed because not only did it seem like no one would hire me, but I didn’t have any money to go out and do things or treat myself. Chris saw how depressed I was and decided to take me out to lunch/dinner/a movie every so often to help get my mind off my job search. He also spoiled me rotten for Christmas. (Being unemployed during the holidays is the worse because it’s a season of spending buy you have nothing to spend!)

“When Chris was unemployed, I treated us to a little getaway to Santa Cruz for a couple days. Do what you can afford and know that your partner REALLY appreciates the distraction.”

Michelle encouraged her husband to be active outside of the home while unemployed. “He was depressed, obviously, but we would still go out with friends or on (cheaper) dates. I would also put him in charge of dinner so he felt like he had a purpose and was “paying me back.” Our house was spotless for the time he was unemployed!”

And plan to celebrate when your partner finally lands that job.

“We ended up going on vacation with our travel miles. I think all of that kept a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ feeling going for us when we felt like our situation would never change.”

I’ll wrap up with this succinct summary from Michelle:

“Celebrate the good because there won’t be much of it, remind yourself that you love him despite his situation, give him tasks and jobs to do to keep him active, and try to think of an awesome celebration for when he does get a job!”

Do you have any pearls to add?

The single most defining food experience of my life…

was not an expensive meal out at a fancy restaurant or some outlandish delicacy in an exotic country.

No, it was a span of three weeks at a country farmhouse just north of Rome.

I loved almost all the meals we had in Italy. Dining out in Italy is a delight. One to be savoured.

But  more impactful than all those amazing restaurant meals was the Italian home cooking we enjoyed while volunteering through HelpX. In that way, volunteering was priceless – truly an experience not to be bought. There, we had some of the best food we had in all of Italy – homemade, simple and free (well, in exchange for our labour, I suppose. If you want to get all technical about it).

fresh pasta lunch in italy

My tastebuds were introduced to the joy of tomatoes and string beans plucked straight from the vine only hours before. The simple indulgence afforded by a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a squirt of balsamic vinegar – a sunshower of cheese, on occasion. Baked eggplant. Grilled courgettes. Salmon swirled through spaghetti. Slippery cushions of ravioli, slick with flavourful goodness. Fresh bread to mop up the remaining oils and sauces. The wonder of burrata.

fresh pasta lunch in italy nzmuse

Italian food alone would have been worth the entire price tag of our trip. I’m only partly kidding.


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I like to think that overall I do a good job of playing the role of functioning adult, the kind who contributes to society and all that kind of thing. I was pleased to find that as I read through Adulting last month, I had a lot more ‘yes, I know! Wish I’d had this book five years ago’ moments than ‘damn, how have I made it this far without knowing this?’ moments.

But now I must confess to some things I do not understand and probably never will.

People (particularly renters) who wish to paint their walls. I dunno, I guess I’m not into decor at all, and I grew up with soulless white walls and never gave it a second thought.

People who actually clean baseboards, corners, and under/behind the deep dark depths of large furniture (beds, couches, whiteware). How do I become one of you? (Never mind – it’s never going to happen)

People who eat raw vegetables. Ick.

People who instinctively know what flavours go together and how to fix mediocre/bad dishes. I think it was Eddie van Halen (correct me if I’m wrong, anyone who knows!) who once said that he did not see the frets on his guitar, but rather, musical notes and scales. That, to me, is witchery. Or mastery. I don’t know. Either way, I don’t have it, either in music or in cooking. That said, I’ve learned that salt fixes a LOT of things. I recall ‘tasting’ food for my mum as a kid; she’d always ask if it was salty enough. My immature tastebuds never really knew. Nowadays, I’m a little more sophisticated.

This week’s links

Things I wish someone had told me before I turned 20 - This is so much better than anything you’ll read on Thought Catalog (so by now they may well have republished it)

I personally think the ‘live every day as if it’s your last’ mantra is total crap, so loved Wandering Earl’s thoughtful post: Is it really possible to live life to the fullest? Comments are great too)

“Because I have grown children who aren’t doing time and a car that runs, I am often asked for advice” – An excellent and often amusing piece on our general reluctance to accept others’ advice

Paying off debt is sexy and saving is safe but both are essential, says Girl Meets Debt

Little Miss Moneybags talks work/life balance: These are seasons of my life, and that’s what balance looks like to me – focusing on one aspect of my life at a time. I like that and think it’s very true – you can’t have everything all at once. Balance is a long term thing that ebbs and flows over time, rather.

Thought provoking - are backpackers destroying the world? 

Eyes on the Dollar asks how far we should go in pursuit of impossible dreams

Love the sentiment in this post about how much we should earn in our 20s

12 ways to overcome cost objections from clients, at Make a Living Writing

A Yes and Yes true story starring someone who decided to legally change her name

Leo Baubata on what he’s learned about writing

Some things you should never say to an Asian woman

Finally, I ADORE this post about one woman’s journey to deciding whether or not to change her name. I hate that we feel we have to justify our decision to ourselves and others, either way. I hated that after my wedding, a coworker asked me what my married name was, and when I responded that it was the same name I’d always had, that she kept bugging me about what it *would* have been if I’d changed it. I know she was just curious, but I found that irritating and intrusive, especially since we were right next to my (male) boss at his desk. And in all fairness, I also felt bad for her that she then went on to explain why she changed her name – I hate that she felt she needed to ratify her choice.


Women’s Money Week: Overcoming impostor syndrome – how a virtual stranger opened my eyes to my real worth

overcoming impostor syndrome One of my fears about taking half of 2013 off to travel was that my fill-in at work would totally outshine me.

Fortunately it did the opposite – highlighting how much I juggle every day and how well I do it. It wasn’t just the people I work with every day who noticed but people externally who noticed the difference. That really struck home for me when I was chatting to someone – a person I don’t have much personal, frequent contact with but really respect – who went as far as to say our team had been obviously “screwed” in my absence.

His validation, as an outsider, was the key to altering how I see myself. That marked a real turning point for me.

I’ve always had a strange thing about self-confidence.  I love what I write, at least until I hand it over, at which point I immediately start to hate it. Until very recently, I couldn’t ever stand to read my own work once published. I’ve always gotten good feedback about my work, but my own self-belief has always been patchy. There has never been a solid foundation underpinning it. Hello impostor syndrome!

This is only my second full-time job (although I have learned so very, very much over the past couple years) and I’ve basically always been the most junior on the team. I’m  naturally reserved, I’m quiet in meetings not just because of shyness but because I don’t feel I have anything to contribute.

But I’m firmly mid-20s now. I’m not necessarily always the junior person, or even if I am, I now do increasingly have things to contribute. It’s expected of me – and I shouldn’t hold myself back because of how I feel inside. It’s time to adjust this mental perception I hold about who I am. I’m not 18 and clueless anymore.

I look older than I am, which I think has helped people take me seriously up till now. And I need to take myself seriously too, and not sell myself short.

At what point did you realise you had outgrown the ‘junior’ card and couldn’t play it anymore? Have you ever had a random incident change how you perceived yourself and your professional worth?

Women’s Money Week: Career progression and climbing the ladder

This post is part of Women’s Money Week 2014.

There are companies that reward talent, and there are some where it’s more or less impossible to move up.

Companies where feedback is given and an active interest taken in career progression, and companies where people wake up one day and realise they’ve been doing the same thing for 5 or 10 years.

It can also depend on structure. In some places, the number and type of roles is more or less fixed. Creating new positions is unheard of within the hierarchy and the kinds of titles and duties available are strictly limited, unless somebody vacates their spot and a specific post opens up.

A few years ago, T found himself in one of these. It started off well; he had a good relationship with the boss, who promised opportunities for advancement. (Sponsors, not mentors, are your champions within an organisation – I now realise my boss at my first job was essentially a sponsor for me and was key to my moving up.) Initially, he was being groomed to fill a position that the incumbent was retiring from. However, when it came up eventually, it was made clear they’d rather he remain where he was.

It was probably a mix of factors: he was too good at what he did, and too valuable to lose there; the fact that he’s a bit rough around the edges, so not necessarily preferred management material; and that the company just wasn’t big on promoting – most workers stayed where they were and other top performers went elsewhere in order to advance.

In the end, we decided to go travelling for awhile and that was the impetus for him to hang on until we left. If we hadn’t, I imagine he would have started job hunting a lot earlier.

What, in your opinion, are the characteristics of a company that encourages growth and promotes talent? How do you spot them?

What we spent: February 2014

Click here for more info on my monthly spending roundups – your question will probably be answered there.

what we spent feb 2014 nzmuse  

So, some big medical expenses last month!

Financially speaking, it was not the smartest to have my wisdom teeth out right now. But the pain was getting bad, and T being off work meant he could help look after me while I recovered.

Physically speaking, it really wasn’t anywhere near as awful as I’d imagined – details here. And financially, it wasn’t as bad as I’d worried, either – only $1050 for all four out, the rest of it being for the initial checkup, clean and x-rays, plus the meds I had to get afterwards. (White Cross Dental New Lynn, highly recommended!)

I’ve considered applying for health insurance a few times over the years; Southern Cross has a partnership of some sort with many workplaces, including my current and previous employers. But the numbers just don’t make sense. We are pretty healthy - our  issues are generally accidents/emergencies on T’s part (the ER is free; the time off work not so much) and optical for me. Basic health insurance plans in NZ don’t tend to cover optical and dental; those add-ons cost more and aren’t worth it, and none of them ever cover the cost of wisdom teeth extraction.

In other less wise moves, we also went out to a late Valentine’s dinner after the layoff – we’d been putting it off until the week after the day because of work, which turned out to be … interesting timing. But I’m pretty happy with our dining out spending, and totally stoked with our grocery spending (we’ve definitely been spending less since we returned to NZ, thanks to our new eating habits and smaller appetites).

Seeing as T was laid off halfway through the month, his spending is definitely on the high side (that’s more like a full working month allowance…) But there’s no point going on and on about it. It’s always going to be a point of contention, which is the whole reason for a don’t-ask-don’t-tell allowance.

Thinking about the future … I veer between extreme optimism and hopelessness. Right now, it’s definitely skewed towards the latter. I keep thinking we’ll never be able to save for a down payment (previously, there were moments where I was thinking that given the money some of T’s colleagues make in a year, it might actually be within reach in a couple years! So much for that).

I honestly see no way for house prices here to fall unless something is done to stop both investors and nonresidents/citizens buying property, which isn’t going to happen. So I guess we wait until the next recession – and hope we don’t lose our jobs in it.

Women’s Money Week: Kids. Who’d have ‘em?

This post is part of Women’s Money Week 2014.

They say you tend to most regret the things you don’t do, rather the things you did. (That’s one of the things that convinced me I had to take time off to travel in 2013.)

Does that apply to having children?

(Potential TMI ahead in next paragraph)

I freaked myself out a while ago when I noticed I had unusually sore, full boobs (by my standards. I have NO idea how women with actual chests exercise comfortably. Going running that week was frickin’ agonising). It was coming up to that time of month, but not quite. Naturally, I was half-convinced I must be knocked up and went into minor panic mode.

That made me realise – with a jolt – that if I was, we would most probably have it. I guess you’d say I’m at the stage in life now where having a kid would only be slightly disastrous (say, 8/10) as opposed to deliriously disastrous (10/10). Two of my friends are apparently already in debate about who is going to be the better uncle to my future offspring. Bless their wacky little hearts.

But the one thing I really, truly want to accomplish before having kids is buying a house. I want the stability, I want the quality (if it’s a damp house, at least we can insulate it), and I know if we have a kid first it’s going to be virtually impossible to save what we need for a deposit.

And then there’s all the finances around actually having one – I’m not fussed about THINGS for a baby as such, like clothes and car seats and cots … but rather leave from work, childcare, etc. I’d really like for T to have a more established career. We can live off my income for now while he job hunts, but it’s certainly not the ideal, and neither of us earns enough that it would be easy for one of us to stay home with a kid.

Unlike a lot of people who grew up in a family where money was tight, who as adults are determined to be financially secure before they have a family, T thinks I’m overly conservative on this front. (It may also have something to do with the fact that he has worked with/socialised with so many less well off people who’ve had kids in their teens/early 20s – who certainly don’t have it easy, but get by nonetheless. His younger brother, for one, is about to join that club.)

Financial stress SUCKS. Been there, done that, with T right there alongside. And adding a tiny human being into that kind of toxic mix is one hot mess I never want any part of. Money buys peace of mind, and a LOT of things that bring happiness.

No, he’s generally more concerned with being too old to ‘enjoy’ our kids rather than being able to comfortably provide. I sympathise with this sentiment on the surface but try as I may, I just can’t empathise with it. My parents had me in their 30s, and their age never had any impact on my upbringing, which no doubt plays a large part in that.

As with a lot of things, there’s never a perfect time. There sure are some better and some worse times, though, and we haven’t gotten into the territory of the former yet.

How do you think your childhood/family environment shaped your thoughts and feelings about having kids of your own? Would you be ready to have one right now (if you found yourself in that situation?)