Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel: Day time TV in Kiwi-land

Instead of spending the Fourth of July foisting American barbecue standbys on my Kiwi and other ex-pat friends (in the middle of winter, no less), I’ve spent the last two days in bed with a horrible case of the flu.

Today was the first day that I felt human, so I migrated to the couch and turned on the TV.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  But here is what I do know: daytime TV is terrible, no mater what country you live in.

Here are my musings on daytime TV, Kiwistyle.

First of all, from what I can tell, there is no Kiwi daytime programming (aside from the news).  Instead, it’s mostly American and British programs, with a few Aussie shows thrown in.  This is sad, because I’ve really fallen for Kiwi programming.  “Outrageous Fortune” is an absolute gem.  It tells the story of a West Auckland family (wrong side of the tracks, location wise) trying to rise above their low-level crime roots and make an honest go in the world.  Well, at least that’s what the matriarch of the family would like.   It was raw, foul-mouthed, racy, and not something that would have ever flown on American TV (from the naked body parts and preference for dropping the F-bomb at least 10 times per episode).  But it was full of the real stuff that people—all people—grapple with: love, redemption, grief, mercy, and greed.

I watched all six seasons over the course of several weekends a few months ago.  Too bad it finished its run last year.  It really was an amazingly good show.

Then there’s the hysterical “7 Days” comedy show on Friday nights.  Two teams of irreverent, politically incorrect comics commenting on the last seven days of Kiwi news through a series of challenges.  These guys (and gals) are sharp, smart, and seriously funny.  There’s a unique brand of Kiwi humor that is hard to describe.  Dry and incisive, like the Brits, but broad, like the Americans.  Well, if you’ve seen “Flight of the Concords”, you probably know what I’m talking about.  It’s an intriguing mix and one that I really like. If you can youtube Ben Hurley, do so.  At his best, he will have you in absolute hysterics.

I’ve even gotten hooked on a show called “Go Girls”, a show (from what I can tell) about five 30-somethings trying to make meaningful lives in Auckland. (Apparently, the only people who live in New Zealand live in Auckland.  We Wellington folk—the capital of the country, by the way—merit little more than the Parliament channel.)  Again, while some of the women are just so beyond my reality, I know women like them.  Mostly, though—like a good, forgettable pop song—it has a good beat, and I can dance to it.  Kiwi comfort TV at it’s finest.

I even find the curious and somewhat provincial “Country Calendar” enjoyable.  I’ve learned a lot about organic, sustainable farming and bee keeping.  You know, essential skills for my day job.

But back to daytime TV.

Where are my Frasier reruns?  Friends?  No.  No, instead, I get some show called Emmerdale, which is apparently a British soap opera set in the Yorkshire Dales. There’s really nothing more I can say about that.  Mostly because I didn’t understand anything that was going on, or what anyone was saying.

Then there’s The Fashion Show, a terrible knock-off of the far superior Project Runway. I’m sorry, Kelly Rowland, I love your music, but you cannot match the power of Heidi Klum’s austere frown and her definitive “You’re Out!”  And Isaac Mizrahi?  I love your designs, but you’re no Tim Gunn, either.

T and I are addicted to Project Runway.  Admittedly, we’re about a year behind from when the current series originally aired, but if Mondo doesn’t win, we’re both going to be screaming: “He was robbed!”  (The utterance of this phrase usually only occurs when we watch the rugby).  The final is this Thursday.  I’m away for work, but we’ve vowed to internet chat with each other throughout the episode.  We’ve only ever done that once before–the “Outrageous Fortune” finale.

Switching back to the daytime TV issue (sorry, I’m easily sidetracked.  I blame it on the flu). Mildly enjoyable from the accident-on-the-highway perspective is a show called the Jeremy Kyle show.  Imagine Jerry Springer with bad British accents and in which every story involves a DNA test.  However, after too many of the “Is he or isn’t he the daddy” stories, you start making a game of it.  Yes-yes-no-yes-no-no-yes.

One show I actually liked was a British show called “Come Dine with Me.”  The premise was a group of 5 people who eat at each other’s homes every night, scoring each host as they go.  Catty!  Fraught with kitchen disaster!  Terrible décor!  What more could you want?  This was like the prime rib of daytime TV. So of course, it was nowhere to be found today.

Rachel Ray rounds out the day.  I didn’t like her at home, I don’t like her here. Like The Fashion Show, she ain’t no Oprah.

Fortunately, the day is almost over and watchable TV will soon be on.  In fact, I should go.  Coronation Street starts in an hour.

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Excuse me, Madam, but there’s a pumpkin in my soup.

Kumara.  Feijoa.  Silverbeet.  Courgette.  Capsicum.  Pumpkin.

Moving to New Zealand meant learning a new food vocabulary.  Some of the vegetables were the same, but I encountered many that I’d never heard of. Worse, there were some that simply went by different names. It took an embarrassingly long period of time for me to figure out that coriander was cilantro and the courgettes are zucchinis.

 

Red kumara

But there are entirely new things that I’ve encountered as well.  Kumara, for instance, is sort of like a sweet potato, but not.  It’s far more fibrous and starchy than a sweet potato and it has a very distinctive “kumara” taste.  The same for feijoas, an incredibly aromatic fruit that defies description.  Honestly, I just can’t explain what a feijoa tastes like, except to say that it tastes like a feijoa.

 

Feljoa

The most interesting vegetable I’ve worked with though, is the simple, unassuming pumpkin.  At home, the only time I ever ate pumpkin was in a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.  Even then, the pumpkin came in a little convenient can, ready for the nutmeg and brown sugar.  Generally speaking, though, pumpkin is not used for dessert in New Zealand.  When I made pumpkin trifle as the dessert for my Thanksgiving dinner last year, the conversation with T went something like this:

T:  “What is that?”

Me: “Pumpkin trifle, for the dessert.”

T (Looking slightly green): “Uh, dessert?  Pumpkin?  Won’t that taste …”

Me: “Taste, like what?”

T:  “Uh, gross? It’s pumpkin.  It would be like having broccoli trifle. Oh, God, I think I’m going to be sick.”

(He loved the trifle in the end, by the way.  He said something like, “Sweetened pumpkin.  Who knew?”)

Poor T.  He is constantly subjected to my “experimenting.”  He’d like to forget the beetroot crisps of November 2010, and he’s not seeking a return of the chicken and prunes (my unfortunate foray into Turkish cuisine) anytime soon, either.

But once I got my head around the idea of pumpkin as both a savory vegetable (though it’s still inherently sweet) and as a main dish, my experimenting turned the corner.  The best result has been my pumpkin pesto pasta.  My good friend LA really likes pumpkin as well, so I figured I’d share this recipe with her and anyone else who might like to try pumpkin in something other than a delicious pie.

Jenn’s Pumpkin Pesto Pasta (serves 2)

 Ingredients:

One medium onion, coarsely chopped

5 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped

3 cups diced crown (whangaparoa) pumpkin (acorn or butternut squash will also work if you can’t find a “sugar” pumpkin in the States)

1 tablespoon of olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

your choice of pasta (I used shells)

4-6 tablespoons of commercially prepared pesto sauce

Feta cheese to taste, reserving a small amount for garnish

Torn basil leaves for garnish

A word about pumpkin.  For my friends at home, the crown pumpkin looks like this:

 

crown pumpkin

It has a nice grey/green skin and is about the size of a two large cantaloupes. Again, if you can’t find this, the summer squashes will work as well.  You may need to adjust your roasting times, however.

In terms of working with  uncooked pumpkin, I have found that the best thing you can do is to cut the skin away first and then dice.  Otherwise, I find it too hard to cut.

 

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 180 degrees (C)/375 degrees (F).

 

Toss the pumpkin, onion, and garlic in the olive oil. Spread evenly on baking paper (parchment paper) on a large baking sheet.  Sprinkle salt and pepper over the mixture.  Bake until the pumpkin is nicely roasted and the onions are turning slightly caramel in color (about 20 minutes).

 

While the pumpkin is roasting, boil water and cook your pasta.  Drain and put back into pot.

 

Once the pumpkin is out, add it to the cooked pasta.  Then add the feta cheese and pesto sauce.  Toss lightly to combine.

 

Serve immediately with the reserved feta and torn basil leaves on top.

 

It looks a little something like this:

 

Jenn's Pumpkin Pesto Pasta

It really does taste better than it looks.  I promise.  And it’s very simple.  The tang of the feta is a perfect match for the sweetness of the pumpkin and the pesto brings it all together.

Yummy as.  (As they say in Aotearoa.)

Lovely Bones


My partner, T, and I are renting this fabulous house in fabulous Wellington with fabulous views of one of the bays. In fact, it’s so fabulous, that we had an entire conversation about it when chatting with one of T’s work mates (Kiwi lingo. Right there. Beware, more is to follow.) about its aforementioned fabulousness. It went something like this.

The scene: A small conference room in an unidentified building on an unidentified street in downtown Wellington (otherwise known as the CBD). T and I eat our sandwiches while T’s unidentified colleague eats his unidentifiable casserole.

Unidentified Colleague (“UC”): So, how’s the house?

T and J: (simultaneously, ad lib) The views are fabulous. Stunning. Yeah, really stunning.

UC: So it’s a great house, then?

T: Yeah. Great. Perfect.

UC: Good as. Must be nice and warm, too.

J: (hesitating) Well …

T: There are some, uh, heating issues.

UC: I thought there was a heat pump?

J: Well, yes, there is, but it’s downstairs. In the kitchen. So …

UC: Ah. So, not too warm upstairs, then.

J: Uh, no. Not too warm.

T: We found all of those wool blankets, though. That’s good.

J: Oh, yes. The wool blankets. Very good. And I have all of my sweaters. And gloves, and hats and things … And the view really is fabulous.

T: That’s right. A fabulous view.

J: Well, when the windows aren’t all fogged up. (laughing)

UC: Condensation problem, then? No ventilation system in the house?

T: (clears throat) No. It’s an older place. Character —

J: –And with fabulous views.

UC: Yes. You’ve mentioned the views. Well, at least you can enjoy Welly’s famed water pressure with unlimited hot showers. That will warm you right up.

J: Well …

T: What J means is, we’ve discovered the house is, uh, a bit quirky. You can take a shower in the morning, but if you then do any laundry, you can’t take another hot shower until the next day.

UC: Oh. Uh … (uncomfortable silence. UC eats some of his unidentifiable casserole)

J: But it really is a great house. The views … Oh! And the kitchen is great. Big.

T: (jumping in excitedly) Yeah, the kitchen is fabulous. Really big. Easy for two people to get around in and make dinner together.

UC: Well there’s a bright spot. Did it come with all of the whiteware? Is the fridge small or one of those large ones?

T: It’s a big one. Lot’s of storage space.

J: Well …

UC: I sense a problem with the fridge …

T: (clears throat) It, uh, seems to freeze everything. Regardless of whether you have it in the freezer compartment or not.

J: But the landlord is supposed to be getting us a new one. Uh … soon …

UC: Anything else?

J: (shoots T a questioning look) Well …

UC: Of course there is (mutters under breath)

J: It’s not a big deal. We just … uh, well … there’s no phone line at the moment, and no internet, and it’s quite a hike from the road up to the house, but other than that, it’s a great place.

UC: Yeah. Sounds cracking.

J: Oh, there’s nothing structurally wrong, nothing like that. (turns to T) But there is that beam that seems to be cracking, isn’t there?

T: (pained expression–cross between constipation and mortification) She’s American. She’s not used to the lingo yet. Or the subtlety of our sarcasm.

J: Hey! What’s that supposed to mean?

T: Nothing, honey, just that cracking doesn’t mean that something’s broken. It means good. Like, “I had a cracking good time at the seminar.”

J: But you hated that seminar.

T: Yes, but that’s not the point. It means–oh, never mind. Just trust me.

J: I’m just trying to figure out what all of this stuff means. Just because I’m American doesn’t mean–

UC: (interrupting) But the views are sweet as. That counts for a lot.

J: Oh!! I know this one!! (self-satisfied smile) Yes, the views are most excellent, thank you.

UC: Right …

T: Well, it is confusing, UC. I can’t always understand what Georgians are saying. For instance, they have a phrase along the lines of “rode hard and put up wet.” (chuckles at the memory. J joins in.)

UC: (choking on his unidentifiable casserole.) Excuse me??

T: (expression of understanding about how that phrase may come across to a Kiwi) No! Not like that! It doesn’t mean that!

J: Doesn’t mean what?? It’s about a horse being ridden hard and then put away without being brushed. You know, he looks rough. Sometimes people look rough–like they’ve been ridden hard … and … um … not brushed before being put away … you know, put up wet. Like a horse …

(uncomfortable pause)

T: Back to the house, the views are great. Really fabulous.

J: Yes, fabulous views. And most importantly, it’s ours.

T: (squeezing J’s hand sweetly) At least until September.

End scene.

UPDATE: We now have a working phone, internet, dehumidifier, a fridge that cools and freezes appropriately, and have worked out an ideal shower/laundry schedule. Plus, you get a mini-workout just walking to the front door. A health and fitness bonus! And yes, the views are still fabulous. 🙂

Rocking the Unconventional (or at least the asymmetrical hemline)

For almost a week, I didn’t have my conservative three-button suits. They decided to take an extended va-cay in the LA sun; it was too soon to join their brethren in “Windy Wellington”. In winter. I can understand that, actually.

I felt asea. Adrift. Unclothed. Now before you get too excited, when I say “unclothed,” I mean in the suited sense. There were plenty of jeans and sweaters to go around. However, scruffy jeans and sweaters that really did just come from the L.L. Bean catalog are hardly appropriate interview attire.

You see, the day after I arrived in New Zealand, I had a job interview. An important one, because it was with a company that I had been courting for months. It’s not overstating it to say that I really, really wanted to work there. So you can see why I needed my conservative three-button “nothing-to-see-here” suit. It’s what I wore when I went into court. When I had Very Big And Important Meetings. When I had to have those horribly staged professional pictures taken (you know the ones–the waxy smile, the blinding white lights, the “action” poses where you’re meant to look as though your thinking about the implications of the recent Supreme Court decision on handgun control). To be without “The Suit” made me feel unprepared, out of my element. If a suit makes the man, then perhaps, (in a small way) it defines the woman.

Now at this point, I could diverge into such weighty things as women in the workplace, how far we’ve come, how far we still have to go; how we define ourselves by our jobs (and by extension) our preferred “uniforms.” I could even wax poetic on gender roles vis a vis attire. But instead, it’s better just to tell you how I wound up with a woolly skirt with an asymmetrical hem.

There are no conservative three-button suits to be found in Wellington. Not ones I could afford, at any rate. No one seems to wear suits, really. There are lots of boots–leopard print with stiletto heels, and leggings that are meant to pass as trousers (for the younger generation), shortish skirts over some of the leggings (for my generation), and mismatched sweaters and cardigans and jackets, but not conservative three-button suits. Had I not been in such a state, on such a mission to find a suit exactly like one I already had, I would have stopped and marvelled at the beauty, the whimsy, the functionality of what I was seeing. There’s a real sense of creativity here. An experimental and edgy spirit. The clothing is as beautiful as it is practical (in some cases), but it definitely has a “New Zealand” aesthetic. I can’t describe it, necessarily, but as was said in another landmark Supreme Court decision, “I know it when I see it.” And it makes me smile.

And so, I ditched the idea of finding a suit like I used to have, and instead embraced a new aesthetic. Which led me to a lovely gray skirt with an asymmetrical hem and ribbon flowers. Along with an unstructured boiled wool black jacket and a red blouse. My shoes, my beautiful necklace from Zia, and in the end, the ensemble was a little Kiwi, a little Jenn, and a whole new kind of three-button suit. Definitely the kind that says, “Why yes, there IS something to see here.” It felt unconventional at the time–still does, really–but hey, it’s a whole new world, right? Part of the journey is finding your place in the world. Which requires you to go with it (or “rock it” as I’d like to pretend I’m hip enough to say).

(And of course, when one rocks the unconventional, one aces the interview, as well.)

Adapt and Overcome

I have been an honorary Kiwi for exactly one week.  As I take stock and reflect on my Kiwi status thus far, I am left with but one revelation.

Pak n Save is scary.

I admit to being naive about this adventure.  Somehow, I was sure that visiting New Zealand a handful of times had given me all of the knowledge I needed to slip seamlessly into the Kiwi culture.  But as I have quickly discovered, it’s much different to embrace the charming idiosyncrasies of a country as a visitor, than it is to realize you will never, ever have an unlimited data plan in NZ.

And that grocery shopping can be classed as a contact sport.  You feel a bit like Mike Tyson bobbing and weaving between the grabby hands and bumping carts as you legitimately weigh the merits of organic ketchup (or tomato sauce, as I have been corrected) versus regular.  Ponder too long, and your cart will magically move away from you, down the aisle, to the left.  Grocery shopping should be a leisurely, calm pursuit.  The aisles should be wide, and the atmosphere nearly anesthetic as Nirvana’s “Never Mind” is turned into tinny elevator music.  And above all else, There.  Should.  Be.  Personal.  Space.

Then there are the battles for acquiring internet at home where the view is stunning but I’m actually too high up to get wireless internet and therefore, special equipment has be to ordered.  The words I should understand (because they’re English) but which make no sense to me at all.  The skirmish over yellow or black trash (rubbish) bags.  Foods I cannot even begin to puzzle out or pronounce.  A bizarre penchant for asymmetrical hemlines (strangely enough, the subject of my next blog entry–Rocking the Unconventional– a droll little tale of one woman’s vain attempt to find a conventional, conservative three-button suit while her luggage decided to take an extended vacation in LA.).  The sheer cliff I have to scale in order to get to a bus stop that only runs on the hour and only between the hours of 7:30 am and 5:30 pm.

Personal space, abundance of instantaneous transportation options, and other things I find myself missing are uniquely American notions.  But, to heavily paraphrase a line from the Wizard of Oz, “Toto, I’m not in America anymore.”  So the dilemma becomes one of holding onto the past–whether old ideas, or old history–or letting it go and adapting.  Embracing.  Overcoming.

To it all, to every trial, tribulation, and test, I say–confidently, defiantly–Bring.  It.  On.  I will figure this out.  I’ll come to love it.  I’ll even learn to live with a 250MB data plan.