When I was little, we lived in a pretty nice area of Tauranga, New Zealand (shut up, yes, there is such a thing). Our area was comprised of subdivisions full of snobby middle-class people, all sure to stress the second half of the suburb. “Yes, I am from Cambridge HEIGHTS. HEIGHTS. Oh, we have a decent acre of land, a double garage, a microwave, but it’s really no big deal. Please, please, there is no need to avert your gaze.”

The letterboxes in our street were either white or wooden, adorned with the fancy numbers. You know the sort, the gold or brass ones, the ones you need to screw in, definitely not the stick-on kind. Folks may have had personalities inside their homes, but on the outside? No. The outsides were kept uniform. Tidy. Orderly. Vaguely, um, Germanic, if you catch my drift.

Same same, only, not different.

Same same, only, not different.

After a few years, a new family moved in down the street, in a house that was set back from the road. Obviously missing the pattern laid down by their double-denim-clad neighbours, they installed a sickly-yellow-green letterbox. Against the white and wooden parade this was garish and ugly, a horrifying pimple on our street’s perfect face. To express our discomfort with the bile-toned box, my family would make vomit noises every time we drove past, punctuating our retching with emphatic hand gestures to show the path that our upchuck would take. Splash on the back of the seat. Slosh out the window. Oops, ha ha, there’s some on Mum’s head.

This was my first taste of tradition, and I loved it.

For years I tried to force traditions to catch on, a practice that makes everyone feel slightly affronted and thus uncooperative. I found that my parents were more agreeable around the holidays, as they were filled with an overwhelming sense of fatigue.

I managed to get a Christmas Eve reading of The Night Before Christmas to stick, my poor mother shuffling up the stairs to my room to sleepily read aloud every year, even though I don’t think anyone actually enjoyed it. I mean, it starts off great, everyone’s pumped for that first verse. I didn’t know what a sugarplum WAS, but it definitely piqued my interest, as did the slumbering mice. But after that it’s all downhill, petering off into an absurd fantasy. I don’t think it helped that Mum’s delivery was tinged with the weariness of knowing she’s going to have to get up at 4am to put stockings out and then let some fictional bearded bastard take all the credit.

When I was a teenager I saw It’s a Wonderful Life, deciding before it had even begun that it would be a perfect Christmas tradition. I felt a strong sense of nostalgia for phrases like “hot dog!”, wind-up telephones and small towns – a strange emotion, given that these were things I’d never really experienced. Looking back, I am almost positive that the nostalgia was actually just a mutation of a strangely intense sexual crush on Jimmy Stewart, an emotion my mother and stepfather did not share, as they would consistently manage to find excuses to avoid the TV. Sitting alone in the lounge weeping at the Baileys singing Auld Lang Syne – it was a tradition, sure, but probably not one I should take pride in.

I am not lying when I say that just looking at this picture makes me misty eyed.

I am not lying when I say that just looking at this picture makes me misty eyed.

A few years ago I packed three Christmas movies in my luggage to watch with my Dad & stepmother, figuring that one would catch on. They politely sat through – and promptly fell asleep in – It’s a Wonderful Life, leading me to finally retire it from family viewing. The next night I made what some might consider a slight error in judgement… given that my father’s favourite tradition is to hold hands when giving thanks to Our Lord before dinner, I probably should have reconsidered the recommendation of Bad Santa. Then again, sitting between my parents, watching Billy Bob Thornton have sex with Lorelai Gilmore in a car while she screams “fuck me Santa” – these are memories you can’t pay for.

The next night I redeemed myself with Love Actually, and now every year I get thanked for introducing them to it. If you’ve ever watched this movie with your family your traditions are probably the same as mine – chortle at Hugh Grant dancing, titter at Colin Firth attempting to speak Portuguese, and sit rigidly and unblinking during all of the simulated sex scenes. Seriously, so many nipple shots in that movie. Maybe I’m overthinking (certain people in my life will not be surprised to hear this) but watching Love Actually with your family is to acknowledge that oral sex exists, and this is not something I need on Christmas.

Those who read my Fiji blogs will be unsurprised to hear there is one Christmas tradition I never had to force, and one that stuck immediately. Every year it changes slightly, but it always centres around the same two things. One, sort of media consumption. Two, a competitive eating contest: where the competitors are “myself” and “my pride”. I vividly remember the first year I did this, lying on my bed with a new Babysitter’s Club book and a box of Roses chocolates (first digging out the strawberry ones, ending with a deep stomach-expanding breath and the classic fudge). Later years had me sitting on an inflatable chair, watching the South Park musical and groaning through bowls of salted cashews.

What could be more festive than this?

What could be more festive than this?

Before Christmas this year I had been focused on two food items: declaring the two-punch combo of ham and scorched almonds to be my Christmas “goal”, to anyone who would listen. I was thrilled when Annie bought me a box of those little chocolate-enveloped-nuts, despite our multiple agreements that we wouldn’t “do” presents this year. I was then delirious with delight when my stepmother needed both hands to lift the ham from the back fridge, as the thick slices of pork had been dancing in my mind since, well… about July.

Sadly, I am not the best at quote unquote self-discipline, and I accidentally ended up overdosing on yellow-bag Doritos and bubbles while watching The Sound of Music. I woke up at 5pm, face stuck to the leather couch, Captain von Trapp’s heart now as full as my distended belly. An hour later dinner was served. I was definitely still full, but managed to fit in two more glasses of bubbles and a plate of turkey and ham and potatoes and mayo-soaked salad.

Sure, I had to arch my back to fit it all in. But I was hardly going to say no to Christmas dinner.

It’s tradition!

Refined Tastes


My phone buzzes, ripping me from sleep. It’s a text message from Annie, that simply reads “being awake is so not legit.”

It’s a Sunday. It’s 6.30am. Normally my Sunday routine is to rise around 11am, making whimpering noises until I have a cup of coffee. I then spend the next half hour slumped in a café booth, alternating between checking twitter, pretending to read the paper, and wincing at loud noises.

Annie’s right. 6.30am is so not legit.


I prepare a bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee. Annie pops the lid open on her second beer of the day.

Today we have tickets to Toast Martinborough, a wine/food/music festival held amongst the wineries of the Wairarapa. It’s my third year attending, which means it’s the second time I’ve ignored my own advice from the year prior to never, ever, ever return. Each year I’ve arrived home with no money left, sunburnt skin, and mascara-stained cheeks after the inevitable fight with a close friend.

Unfortunately, I’m not very good at saying no. So once again, I have agreed to part ways with my money and sense.


We walk to the bus stop in dresses and jandals. A car passes. Without explanation, Annie screams, “stop judging me, dicks! My life choices are legit!”

Two breakfast beers on an empty stomach have obviously left their mark.


The queue at the train station coffee cart is lengthy, which justifies my decision to buy two cups.

In Canada, I believe they call this "double fisting". Those Canucks are so innocent.

In Canada, I believe they call this “double fisting”. Those Canucks are so innocent.

Meanwhile, Annie buys two huge cans of beer from the supermarket. It comes to a grand total of $5.98, and it’s clear from her first sneaky taste that the beer’s cost-effectiveness is definitely its only selling point.

She doesn’t want to get caught drinking in public, so her surreptitious sips are accompanied with suspicious stares around the station. I gulp down the rest of my coffee, handing her the cup so she can refill it with her cheap ale, which she does under the table.

She peers inside the cup, frowning.

The foam at the top is half beer, half coffee-froth, and it quickly separates from the rest of the beverage into a single floating mass. She hooks her finger and scoops the pond scum onto a napkin. The spume starts evaporating, wobbly gas pockets popping open with little lactose farts.

She continues to drink from the coffee cup, her eyes wary.

“I should have brought a goon sack” she laments, sighing about her poor planning.


We meet our friend Michelle on the train. As it leaves the station, Annie fills her coffee cup with beer for the third time. Meanwhile, Michelle paints her fingernails, a bottle of candy-floss pink squeezed between her knees.


The rest of the carriage is filled with husbands and wives, passing sections of newspapers back and forth wordlessly. Annie leans in and nods her appreciation. “I like when like, old people come to these things. And wear like, pants. With a shirt. It’s legit.”

This guy is "legit". You heard it here first.

This guy is “legit”. You heard it here first.


Annie stops mid-conversation to say, “oh, hold on, I need to take my anti-babies”.

As she rummages in her bag for her contraception, she announces she texted Becky.

“Who’s Becky?” I ask.
“Oh, that girl we met that one time at Public, remember? She showed us that penis picture on her phone?”
“What did you say to her?”
“I said, remember that one time we met at Public? And you showed us that penis picture on your phone?”


“Ooh ooh, she replied!” Annie shouts.

I try to shield my eyes from Annie’s phone as she waves it in my face. Unfortunately, Annie does not give up easy, and so I once again find myself looking at an image of a man’s genitals photographed next to a bottle of Tui (for scale). I’m impressed with his ingenuity but the image still leaves me feeling dismayed. He couldn’t have picked a classier beverage?


There are mandatory bag checks in place at the train station, to stop people sneaking in their own alcohol or food. Annie & I are waiting outside the tent when Michelle storms up. “Well, I’ve already had my first fight. Shall we go?”

“So he found my croissants, and said I had to throw them away. And I said well, excuse me sir, but is this encouraging responsible behaviour, with the binge drinking culture we have in this country?” Michelle furiously spits out.

You may be able to tell that it is not Michelle’s first fight. She even made a guy cry once. To be fair, he started it, by introducing himself as “Hey ladies, do you know where Helen Clark lives? I want to give her a piece of my mind”.


We huddle under a marquee tent, rain pouring outside. I hop from foot to foot and complain that I’m cold and that straightening my hair was a waste of time. Annie scoffs at the people smart enough to bring rainwear, muttering “golf umbrellas? Fuckers. Who do they think they are?”

A group of girls scuttle past, clad in floral mini-dresses and wearing candy coloured heels. Annie derides them too, saying “Heels? Idiots. Why would you wear heels?”

She then launches into a story about how she met a woman in a pub and told her to wear jandals. In the time it takes her to tell the story, I’ve finished a glass of wine and caught up on the last three hours of my twitter feed. This is because the drunker Annie is, the more context she includes in a story. Given by how far she rewinds in this one—starting with “I was having lunch, and”—the train beer has obviously left a mark.


We sip our second glasses of Riesling and agree that, whatever happens, at the end of the day we will definitely split up and leave every man for himself. Annie suggests a motto of, “we are friends, with no responsibility”.

I make a note of it, as I am dedicated to blog accuracy.

I make a note of it, as I am dedicated to blog accuracy.


The sun comes out and everyone in the area cheers, throwing hats and ponchos onto piles of handbags and flocking out of the marquee.


The rain comes back. We all awkwardly crowd back back in, embarrassed of the fuss we’d made moments earlier. This process repeats itself three or four times.


We arrive at another winery. I’ve eaten an entire bag of macaroons before we’ve even sat down, washing them down with a glass of sparkling rose. The combination leaving me feeling like my teeth are coated with moss. I quietly hope that Mum forgets to ask how quitting sugar is going.


Annie waves the camera around, hissing at me to pretend to smile so she can zoom past my face to take surreptitious photos of some guy in a white shirt.


I listen to the band, who seem to be working their way through the Pretty Woman soundtrack. The nineties numbers are broken up with the singer’s attempt at audience banter. “Who, is, um, from Wellington?” he booms. “Who, um, took the train?” His questions are met with polite “woos” from a few people who take pity on him, but mostly the audience is indifferent.


Annie gets too excited telling a story and flings her arm in the air, spilling wine all over her dress. We head towards the bathroom: a caravan atop a flight of stairs, which wobbles with each door slam. The toilets inside are filled with blue water and the floor is dotted with clods of grass, making it feel like a mix between a barn and a hospital. On wheels.

As I wait outside for Annie, a woman sidles up next to me. She stands close enough that for a second I assume we must know each other, but she’s unfamiliar. “Yo”, she says, as she reaches up under her skirt, digging for a moment, before snapping her knickers back into place. As fast as she arrived, she’s gone. I feel used.

An approaching girl is weeping, wiping her tears away from under her glasses. As she gets closer, I catch snippets of her conversation. “She got cash out (hiccup hiccup) and I was like, but this is (hiccup hiccup) NOT what we agreed on”.

Annie emerges from the toilet caravan, her dress still splattered with the wine stain. We find Michelle and decide to move on.

En route to the bus, Annie declares “by the way, this is NOT jizz on my dress, Michelle”, answering a question that no one was asking.


As we exit the bus, Michelle throws a “thanks, driver” over her shoulder. He replies, and she stops abruptly, turning and screeching, “did you just say thanks WOMAN?”

Bewildered and shocked, the driver replies, “no, I said you’re welcome?”

“Oh”, Michelle says, pausing for a moment to consider if she should still be offended. She shrugs off the potential squabble and skips across the road to the winery.


I make peace with the fact that I’m not going to be able to decide between the pulled pork ficelle and the lemon cake, so I get both.

No regrets.

No regrets.

Meanwhile, Annie’s telling Michelle about two of our friends that ended up in bed together recently. Michelle doesn’t approve, and I try to ignore her gagging noises while I eat. “If I go out, and I need to vom but can’t, even after I touch that little dangly bit, I am going to think about her and that guy” Michelle announces.


Michelle flops back in her chair, her nose scrunched into her face. “Is it still an abortion if you find out you’re pregnant and then you kill yourself? Or is it just suicide?”

An elderly couple shuffle up to our table and gesture to the two empty seats.

“Do you mind if we sit down? You can continue your young people’s conversation!” the man says.


“Well, back in the ‘50s, if a woman didn’t get married, she was an outcast! What a load of crap!” he says. His wife nods in agreement. “You don’t want to marry a crapper, you’d get stuck with him for the rest of your days”.

Emboldened by their use of language and their progressive message, Michelle jumps at the chance to tell them about her divorce.

Annie’s not here. I’m not sure what it is about the older couple that frightened her off, but my theory is that it was the dawdling pace at which the woman ate her salmon pie. Each mouthful was tiny yet she chewed it like a cow might – deliberately, using her whole jaw, and frustratingly slowly.


“Just with her vadge?” Michelle hisses across the table at Annie. “Or with her mouth?”

She gets no response, so increases her volume.


Annie is not paying attention, as she is texting a boy. It’s easy to spot. She only smirks at her phone if a boy is involved.

Michelle loses patience trying to get her attention and turns to me.

“KATE” she barks. “Do you know? With her vadge? Or mouth?”

I glance over at the four strangers who graciously allowed us to sit at their table. All four are in wide-brimmed hats with shirts buttoned up to their necks. They haven’t spoken since we sat down, and are currently staring straight ahead, actively ignoring this exchange.

“I don’t know” I hiss back, to Michelle’s question about what part of our friend touched our other friend’s genitals. “Stop talking about it. It’s gross”.


Michelle heads to the dance floor to aggressively shrug her shoulders, and Annie jumps up to join her. I’m full of pork and bread and cake and macaroons and poutine – not to mention the wine and the diet cokes and breakfast. Shaking my overstuffed and distended belly seems like a downright dangerous activity.

I choose an activity that’s risky in other ways, and head off to join the long queue for the portaloos.

I passed this couple on the way. Clearly a bigger day for some than others.

I passed this couple on the way. Clearly a bigger day for some than others.


Two girls approach and stop suddenly. “No fucking way am I standing in that line” the blonde says, and the brunette concurs. They stumble over to the urinal, pulling up the back of their skirts and backing in slowly. The 50-somethings in front of me are horrified. “Are those girls going to use the… the urinal?” one asks, her eyes wide behind her bifocals.

The girls emerge frowning and traipse off into the vineyard, their attempt obviously unsuccessful. I’m still in the queue when they lurch back, untucking their skirts from their tights.


“Katie! They swirled me! They touched me! They are in the army! What should I say to them? I’m thinking about saying, touch me again!” Michelle says, giggling, and pointing to two men dressed in sexed up fatigues, clearly not in the army.

She hops up and grabs my hand, leading me to the dance floor. We try to get into a waltz position but run into problems as we both try to lead. “Who is dom and who is sub?” Michelle asks, having learnt a thing or two from Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s revealed that she’s more of a Christian than an Ana, when she forcefully pulls me into her arms then spanks me.

After a lot of twirling, Annie cuts in, and I leave them to it.


At last year’s festival, we brought a houseplant with us, insisting that people pose for photos with it.

With great success, I might add.

With great success, I might add.

While she’d speculated that this year she’d try to collect snaps of “penis or female nip”, this year Annie’s been taking pictures of us in the reflection of other people’s sunglasses. It has produced some great shots – super-close ups of the nostril hairs of strangers, with our faces blue and fuzzy in the corner.

It was hard to explain the process to tipsy girls at noon, so it feels like a losing battle when Annie grabs the arm of a stumbling drunk and asks him to help. “What… whaddo I get outta it?” he slurs, talking to her cleavage.

“Nothing, just shut up and stand still” she barks with irritation.

“Can you buy me a drink?” he asks.

“Yes, yes, fine fine” she replies, waving her hand impatiently .

“Here, try-themmon” he says, dangling them from a finger. She looks through them and snorts.

“Bullshit!” she says, shoving them back onto his nose.

Annie then tries to employ logic to get him to stand still.

It does not work.


It’s definitely past the time we need to leave, but trying to round up Michelle & Annie is not an easy task. Annie wants to “smash another sav”, and Michelle keeps telling me to chill out, waving her arm around, saying my eyebrows look too angry.

I realise I’ve made a mistake in staying almost-sober, but it’s too late now, and so I resign myself to the role of mother hen.

“Nope, we’re leaving now. Too bad. Chop chop” I say, ushering the girls to the roadside. The buses going past are already overstuffed, with people crowding the aisles and tired-looking girls squished in, buttocks pressed against the glass.


I’m getting worried; gnawing on fingernails out of stress.

A ute approaches with two men in the front, honking their horn and woohooing out of the window.

“HEY BOYS GIVE US A LIFT?” Annie shouts, and they ask what she’ll do for them.

“Bit of nip?” she replies, reaching into her dress, untucking her right breast and waggling it at them.

“She just did that” a girl says, behind me, dumbfounded. “I just saw her nipple”.


By some miracle we’re at the train station. A school group is manning a BBQ, and I buy us all sausages wrapped in bread, no onions, lots of sauce please. Annie takes hers and then stumbles off towards the portaloos, and Michelle just looks at it, confused.

“Where did this come from?” she asks.

“I bought it for you?” I reply.

“Oh, Katie, you’re the bestest person the whole world” she says, leaning in to nap on my shoulder.


A group of girls stands near us, going over the events of the day with frantic intensity. One is so into her story that she doesn’t notice that she’s tipped her glass of wine upside down, and with each arm gesture she spills more down the front of her apricot dress. One of her friends touches her arm and tells her. She looks down at her saturated frock, shrugs, and goes back to her story.


Exhausted, I made the decision to fall asleep as soon as we got onto the train. Unfortunately, Annie’s volume made actual sleep impossible, so I’m faking it by leaning against the window with my eyes closed.

Annie rummages in her bag, pulling out two cans of tuna. She opens one and bends the lid into a shovel, scooping meat into her mouth before passing it to Michelle. They eat both cans this way, never stopping their discussion about the smell of spew on the train.

They also amuse themselves by taking pictures of me.

They also amuse themselves by taking pictures of me.


“I fucking hate tunnels!” Annie declares, for the fifth time.

“FUCK FUCK FUCK!”, she yells, her voice reverberating throughout the carriage.

I’m not sure if she’s always had claustrophobia or if it’s a recent development, but it seems to be at a level of intensity that would usually necessitate some sort of medication.


Annie’s claustrophobia has the welcome side-effect of shutting up the rest of the train, as forty drunk people all pretend to go to sleep to avoid having to ask if she’s ok.


We’re on the couch. My grey trackpants have a racing stripe, whereas Annie’s are black and flecked with paint. I shovel fries into my mouth after swiping them over the sides of my McChicken, tidying up surplus mayo. Annie smashes another beer.

I’ve spent all my money, have sunburnt my back, and have probably picked up a variety of diseases from the portaloos. Am definitely never ever going back.

Well, probably not.

Kate’s Food Photography Guide

It’s the new big thing, in case you haven’t heard. You get an app on your phone, and then you take pictures of your food, and then do some post production trickery, and then upload it, and then all your friends say ‘nom’. Given that I take photos of everything before it goes in my mouth (that’s what she said) I feel like I should probably jump on board this new craze. I don’t want this to be another YouTube debacle, where I hear about it from my Nana who heard about it on talkback radio and I have to pretend I understand what she’s talking about. So here we go. Before yet another bandwagon leaves without me: Kate’s Food Photography Guide.

I would like my steak medium rare, with some edam and some tomato sauce, if you got it.

I would like my steak medium rare, with some edam and some tomato sauce, if you got it.

Adjust Settings
There are hundreds of iPhone apps with photographic-faffery-features – add borders, adjust contrast, change light levels… all it takes is a few swipes of the finger. Before you post any pictures, you should always adjust settings to improve your image. However, you shouldn’t go overboard. Just make slight adjustments to make the colours pop and the cheese look even cheesier. After all, you want it to still look like food.

Scrambled eggs on toast.

Scrambled eggs on toast.

Include Captions
People don’t want to have to guess what kind of dressing is on your salad. They want you to tell them. Now, some people will tell you that food language is special. They will claim you’re not allowed to say “I chucked some ranch on it from a bottle I found in the fridge”, that instead you have to use words like “drizzled” and “infused”, and say things are “on beds of” other things, and just randomly translate things into French or Spanish for an exotic twist. I personally disagree, and think that people are most impressed if you keep it simple with clear captions. Go for “rump steak and some mashed potato”, instead of “amigos, view my pan-seared beef upon a bed of pomme de terre”.

Pureed apricots of the meadow served alongside une bouteille d'eau.

Pureed apricots of the meadow served alongside une bouteille d’eau.

Go Out
Go places. Wear dresses. Take friends. Tell stories. Laugh heartily. Take pictures of it all. The tablecloths. Silverware. Carefully manicured nails. Wine glasses. Definitely don’t put yourself on a restrictive budget. If you make something that smells like a foot and looks like something you’d scrape off your shoe, throw it out. Don’t just add liberal amounts of salt and more garam masala in an attempt to make it edible and suffer through it for six more meals of leftovers, the mess getting progressively drier, until you are pretty sure you’ve just reinvented the coaster.

Slowcooked dehydrated lentil dhal with superfluous spice levels.

Slowcooked dehydrated lentil dhal with superfluous spice levels.

Consider Presentation
People are visual creatures, and will appreciate the effort you go to when plating your food. You want a balance of colours. Add a side salad for a burst of green, or some ripe tomatoes for a splash of red. Arrange the items in a clever shape. Use the third dimension to your advantage, and make some of it vertical. Serve the food on your best Italian crockery. Use a clean tablecloth and polished silverware. In the world of food photography, presentation is paramount.

Vintage bread slices with olive-infused spread a la mesa, served on matured pizza box.

Vintage bread slices with olive-infused spread a la mesa, served on matured pizza box.

Make It Elaborate
Always make sure your meals are a complex mosaic of convolution. Before you go to make a recipe, check the number of ingredients and steps involved. Both should be sitting comfortably in the double digits. Feel free to borrow this rhyme to remember: “nine or less? what a mess.” Marinades, seasonings, side sauces: every part of the meal should have its own flavour profile. Turn up your nose at bottled sauces. Enjoy the tactile sensations of slicing locally-purchased vegetables into non-uniform lengths. Never just ‘boil’ anything. Never, ever, boil frozen vegetables. Never, ever, ever boil frozen vegetables then reheat them for lunch the next day. Never, ever, ever, ever do this three times a week because you can’t be bothered going to the supermarket.

Winter vegetable and brussel sprouts a la McCain: snap frozen, then snap boiled, then slow refrigerated, then snap microwaved.

Winter vegetable and brussel sprouts a la McCain: snap frozen, then snap boiled, then slow refrigerated, then snap microwaved.

Buy Exotic
Let me be the one to say what we all already know: your friends are going to judge you on these pictures. If you post a picture of your lasagne, it better be constructed from handmade pasta that you bought from an artisan shop for some exorbitant amount of money. Real food photographers wouldn’t be seen dead at a supermarket. No, no, you should be spending time at the local butcher’s getting halal chicken, at the farmer’s market haggling over eggplant, at the bakery inhaling the aroma of the laugenbrezeln. Fill your pantry with fresh ingredients that have a story and history attached. Never ever buy anything in a can.

Sundried tomato chicken from aluminium receptacle, served upon a bed of baked grains.

Sundried tomato chicken from aluminium receptacle, served upon a bed of baked grains.

There you have it. With these tips you’ll be wowing your friends in no time. With any luck you’ll even make them do that ‘oooh’ face with their eyebrows up. That one’s a sign you really know what you’re doing.