Smokey the Magnificent

Failing the Turing Test since 1986

Fenugreek and White Chocolate

The fenugreek was OK, if anyone was wondering. I did a pretty heavy pre-wash oiling and didn’t use any kind of cleanser, so I’m not sure how much of the moisture and ensuing greasiness was due to the fenugreek and how much was because of the jojoba. It did give my hair some initial slip which ACV notably lacks, but that was mostly gone by morning. Since then I’ve stocked up on catnip, marshmallow root, shikakai and amla and will perform some experiments, which will hopefully make my head smell less curryish.

That paragraph actually makes sense if you’re into natural haircare, by the way. If not, pay it no heed.

Know what I’m doing right now? Caramelising white chocolate. It had never occurred to me one could do this thing until I found David Lebovitz’s blog – he’s the guy who wrote The Perfect Scoop. Incidentally, he has this whole blog post about how he likes his caramel to taste slightly burned, otherwise (according to him) it is sickly and cloying. Which explains a lot. I was hard pressed to restrain myself from leaving a nasty comment. Anyway his caramelised white chocolate ice cream looked so delicious that I had to give it a go: also I am babysitting my little sistren tomorrow night and need to make something to quiet their gaping maws. I am also planning to make his Candied Bacon Ice Cream – it could be divine or repellent, but I don’t want to live my life not knowing. (His butterscotch pudding is entirely underwhelming, though. I find him a bit hit and miss all round, but the success of butterscotch and white chocolate flavours make me tolerant of a few flops.)

Anyway, the white chocolate has been in the oven for 30 minutes and, as promised, has become chalky and cloggy and generally unappealing. Apparently this is a good sign, heralding the transformation to caramelly deliciousness. We shall see.

Olives and methi and ice cream, oh my

Guess what I’m nomming off a fork out of an artily tiny dish? Olives. This is something of a triumph. I never used to like ’em. Neither did Helpdesk Man. This was once a relevant point in a Christmas gift episode which continues to puzzle me. Two years ago, Helpdesk Man’s sister rang me a few weeks before Christmas and asked “Do you like olives?”. “Not really”, quoth I. “Does Helpdesk Man?” she asked. “Nope”, I said. And what did she give us for Christmas? A big honking jar of olives. We get along pretty well, so occasionally in the stilly watches of the night this incident still haunts me. Anyway. A few weeks ago Helpdesk Man inexplicably developed a taste for the little blighters, and with the proselytising enthusiasm of the novice began berating me about my plebeian palate, lack of class and general unworthiness to consider myself any kind of a foodie. “Is it”, I said with a steely sneer, and not to be outdone by a man who spent his entire pre-married life unaware of the existence of non-packet custard, started nibbling at tiny slivers of olive in an effort to acclimatise myself to their taste.

Fascinatingly enough, it worked. I still can’t pop them whole into my mouth without my eyes watering, but eaten in ladylike (well, rodentlike) nibbles off a fork I can schlp them down with the best of them. Take that, Helpdesk Man.

And in order to give you a complete picture of the urbane sophisticatedness of a Smokey, I should probably add that I have a plastic bag over my head. It houses goo. Specifically, fenugreek. I’m fond of fenugreek in curries, but – call me a square if you will – it had not until today occurred to me to soak the seeds in hot water, grind them to a paste and smear them on my hair. Now it has. Mucilage, people. Fenugreek contains mucilage, which gives hair shine and slip and acts more like a commercial conditioner than most herbal conditioning agents such as apple cider vinegar and oils. Good stuff, no? And even if it doesn’t work, I’ll smell… exotic.

Oh, the party? We had it. Eleven people… slightly fewer chairs. Wouldn’t that make a great movie tagline? But we coped. I ended up making five kinds of ice cream: raspberry and white chocolate (schlp!), strawberry ripple (meh), mint chocolate chip (hmm), butterscotch caramel ripple with straciatella (ooo!) and double chocolate ripple (Helpdesk Man insisted). They were enjoyed, but I’ve been trying to palm the leftovers on unsuspecting family members ever since. Something about having five kinds of ice cream in one’s freezer is demoralising to one’s squish.

A Question

Say a cleaver was going to fall on thy foot, wouldst thou rather it chopped off all thy toes individually – plip plip plip plip plop – or the whole toe area in one big chunk – thud?


Well, I did my taxes. It was ‘orrible. We will not speak of it. Then today I trundled the snortlepig into town and handed the form to the lady behind the desk, prepared to offer whatever explanations and apologies for my incompetence were deemed necessary, as well as a largeish wodge of money. Fortunately (I guess) both were put on hold, as it turns out they need to go through my form and check it before they officially charge me. In which case, if they’re gonna do it anyway, why did I have to do them??? I beamed at the lady and left before she could discover that the snortlepig had drawn in pencil all over Page 3.

While in town we did a few errands and ended up at the library, where I had a moment of bliss as I discovered both The Joy of Cooking and The Perfect Scoop were available. The latter is considered to be THE ice cream recipe book, containing such dubiously chic items as Red Bean Granita and Olive Oil Ice Cream. Inspired, I read through the whole thing and decided to make butterscotch caramel ripple stracciatella trufitos. Unfortunately my enthusiasm took a downturn when I made the Creamy Caramel Sauce and Helpdesk Man said “It tastes like cough mixture. Ew.” If anything, I undercooked it according to the directions, but it managed to acquire a burned taste nonetheless, and burned caramel is one of the unpleasanter things in life. (It was also one of the few exciting things we did in science class, but what principle it was meant to illuminate I cannot recall. Nothing ice cream related.) I might try again: the texture was gorgeous, anyway.

The next day, back at the ranch:

Ha! Success. Third time lucky. I tried making the sauce again last night – basically, you melt sugar into caramel and then whisk cream in while wearing an oven mitt to protect yourself from searing burns. Unfortunately I got a bit excited trying to get the sugar to melt before the snortlepig woke up, and stirred the caramel more than one is supposed to, thus causing it to clump up and take far longer to melt. And then the baby woke up. So I tipped the toffee onto a greased plate and will make it into praline instead… except it seems to have adhered permanently to the plate. But that’s another challenge for another time.

Anyway, this morning I rose with fire in my eyes and murder in my heart, determined to make said sauce or perish in the attempt. I succeeded. The sauce is velvety, creamy and not at all reminiscent of cough mixture. A large lump of toffee did get stuck to the whisk and refuse to melt back in, but I discarded it rather than risk scorching the batch and all was well.

I have half a mind to write to the author, though. “Wait until the caramel starts to smoke”, forsooth! Who thought that was a bright idea? The kind of guy who considers the acrid tongue-shrivelling taste of burned caramel complex and sophisticated, probably. Like those weedy menus that proudly proclaim “Burned Orange Souffle on a Bed of Wilted Greens and Aged Mushrooms”, trusting your snobbishness will lead you to breathe “How avant-garde!” rather than making pointed remarks about the pig bin.

Harry Potter

So Helpdesk Man and I are watching our way through the Harry Potter films. Hermione’s eyebrows notwithstanding, I’m enjoying them more than I expected. The Order of the Phoenix, which we watched last night, was positively arty in a few spots. That bit where Fred and George were consoling Nigel after he’d been using Dolores’ torture quill was actually moving. Also, I’d never before considered the awesomeness of the name Dolores Umbridge. She’s good with names, is JK Rowling.

Here’s the thing, though. The Triwizard Cup. Now, clearly it didn’t matter how the contestants got to the cup through the maze: they were being judged on results, not the wizarding prowess they showed during the process. (Which made their previous accrual of points kinda redundant, which was silly, but never mind.) So if Harry proved himself a one-note wonder, it wouldn’t affect his win. That being the case… why didn’t he go with “Accio Firebolt” again? He could have zoomed over the maze looking for the cup found it in seconds. Better yet… why not “Accio Triwizard Cup“? I can buy that the Cup was maybe enchanted to keep it in place, but the broomstick thing should have worked. Silly Harry.

Also, I like that they didn’t tart Hermione up too much. They de-bushified her hair movies before they were supposed to, and put her in civvies when she still should have been wearing robes: but she wasn’t in crop tops and miniskirts, and that is something. There are Standards left in the world. And hoodies, apparently.


Much to my surprise my one-hour-of-housework-a-day resolution has left me eager and sprightly, so my added challenge for this week is to tie up loose ends. Which sounds like killing my ex-bosses, but it isn’t. I’m fairly fond of most of my ex-bosses, with the exception of Simon the evil manager from Rialto who once spent five minutes castigating me for stealing a piece of company scrap paper to write an amoosing story on to pin up by the freezer. Oddly it wasn’t the story he objected to: it was the stealing. Of the scrap paper. Which never actually left the premises, so technically it would be what, vandalism? Graffiti? Anyway he ended up filching $400 from petty cash, so ha.

Most of said loose ends are fairly routine – I have to fix a few flagged articles at Suite, complete my shopping tote bags and mend a few clothes. Sadly, I also feel morally compelled to do my taxes. Yes, those taxes. The ones that should have been done last March, or whenever it is one traditionally does taxes. Helpdesk Man and I have made a date to stare them in the face tonight, and I am hoping to contract fulminating lupus before then in order to gracefully back out. It’s not the money – I’m pretty sure I owe a paltry amount, plus of course the late fee – it’s the psychology of the thing. Ever watch Black Books? Exactly.

Things That Have Scarred Me

  1. When I was in high school, for the four months that I was in high school, I took a Typing elective. This was only the second year my school had had a high school class: it was initially a primary school and when the class above me got to Form Three age, they instituted a Form Three and the next year a Form Four and so on, until the oldest class had graduated. All three of them. My class was the second Form Three the school had ever had, and they hadn’t yet figured out the kinks of, like… education. So our Typing elective consisted of Mavis Beacon on a bunch of enormous clunky computers. The scarring part? The computers didn’t have enough memory or graphics card ability or whatever it is they need (that Typing class was as far as I got in computer studies) to render colours effectively. So instead of being tastefully African-American in skin tone, Mavis was purple. Bright purple. I’m pretty sure this is why I didn’t learn to type for another three years.
  2. When I was of a relatively tender age, I was in an antique shop perusing a cabinet full of smeggy old brooches and necklaces. My sister, who has evil and sadistic tendencies, hissed at me “Look up”. And I did. And there was an enormous moosehead directly above me…. looming. I would pinpoint the origin of my moosehead phobia on this day, but I think there was a moosehead at Uncle John and Aunty Betty’s house on the landing when I was even smaller, and I had to creep past it in terror at night to get to bed. And there was another incident at a museum one time with a stuffed elephant that didn’t help either. And another one at school camp with a case full of mounted insects and a stuffed shark. And that time at Te Papa with the reconstructed moa. The point is, I have had a remarkably troubled youth.
  3. I mispronounced sachet as “satchet” for years, and for further years after that thought a satchet was still a thing, although it turned out I was thinking of satchels. Which are sort of similar to sachets, kind of.
  4. Free Willy.
  5. Seeing Mandy Patinkin in Dead Like Me, twenty-off years on from when he was in The Princess Bride.
  6. Childbirth. ‘Orrible.
  7. Being called a brunette for the first time, after having thought of myself (although with decreasing justification as the years rolled by) as a blonde. Even after two years of hennaing I occasionally identify as blonde and then get a fright when I look in the mirror. Sometimes I get a fright for other reasons, of course. I had a large dab of tinted moisturiser on my nose the other day that I’d forgotten to rub in, and spotted it after I had been entertaining guests for half an hour. They were kind enough not to comment, but haven’t been back.
  8. Your face.


Today my dear mother and I went on a mish to find op-shop furniture for the homestay student. We didn’t find any, but we did come across a rather lovely hospice shop which had piles of fabric. Piles and piles! I fossicked through it with embarrassing thoroughness and very nearly bought about eight lengths of crepe and floral cotton and the like; but in the end I restrained myself and only got some white and cream cotton. One can never have too much white and cream cotton.

Anyway it reminded me of my plan to colour-code the snortlepig’s wardrobe for fall and winter. So I started looking at colour palettes.

It is harder than one thinks.

One does not wish to age the snortlepig with overly sedate colours. She is only tiny, and one should wear clear cheerful colours while one can.

One also wishes to choose colours that suit her, naturally.

And they need to blend with each other, that being the point of the whole exercise; but they can’t all be neutrals, because if one uses up all one’s neutrals in the first season what will she wear in the second? Also, I do not wish her to look drab. People might sneer.

And it being winter, one feels one should choose warm and cheery colours to counteract the effects of the damp.

But one is currently partial to pale blue and grey, which are not warm and cheery.

And one should not go too pale in the winter, because nobody wants to wear dark clothes in the summer and again, variety.

And a lot of colours don’t go well with pale blue.

And I didn’t get much sleep last night, and the colours are beginning to blur before my eyes. And I have to make chocolate ripple ice cream and do an hour of housework. And requires you to log in before you can make your own palette.

So… you tell me. Too cockatoid? Too nautical? Too drab? Too cheesy? Too girly? Too pretentious? Too… no, I think not. Too dull?

Bah. You do it. I’m just her mother.


On January 1, Helpdesk Man launched his new web design business, Information Highwayman. Since that day his site has been featured on a vasty number of design blogs, cooed at by people cooler than us and generally caused Helpdesk Man to oose about with an extra prance in his gambol. One lady even sent him a bar of soap after he gave her free consultancy for her soap-making site. And he’s in negotiations with a few other chappies to be paid large wodges of cash, which we like even better than soap.

So, anyway. Yay for Helpdesk Man. And because I am docile and lovely, instead of gloomily comparing our comparative net worths and drawing cartoons of myself as a ball and chain and imagining us at swanky design parties with leggy brunettes arching their eyebrows at me and saying “What’s THAT?” and Helpdesk Man saying apologetically “That’s my wife, she makes tote bags” and discreetly turning them to face the other way as I pick at my elbow…

…because I wouldn’t do that, because I’m normal and well-adjusted…

…I will join in on the adulation and shill for him. So. If any of you want a website and have consummate dollars, go to Information Highwayman. He knows a lot about typefaces, and is pretty good at doing the dishes.

Information Highwayman

I’m gonna go explode with joy now, k?


Last night I dreamed that I was sitting with my dear friend April in a shopping mall, chatting about hair, when I remembered I had ordered an apple danish from a cafe far across the mall and had abandoned my table by mistake. Without offering an explanation I sprinted up to retrieve it just as a largeish man was viewing it with pleased surprise, and dashed back with it poised on a paper plate. Halfway across the mall it shot off the plate and slid for miles, landing underneath a bench, and I had to fossick around to retrieve it and drop it casually in a bin, before sauntering back to my dear friend April as if nothing out of the ordinary had transpired.

Apparently even my subconscious thinks I’m a bit of a doofus.

Tonight my dear mother is coming over for dinner. Helpdesk Man is abandoning us for a start-of-year barbecue hosted by his marvy young vocal collective, at which they will probably sit in a circle holding hands and talk about their Direction and Branding and Vibe. Mother and I will watch Pieces of April, a short but pleasing film which combines hideous depressingness with uplifting cheer and charm. I like that sort of film. Plus, Patricia Clarkson is amazing. Even with no chest, for which attribute she is justly famous. But we shall not dwell on this.

In preparation for Mother’s arrival I must now head to the groggery and buy some rum. It’s not what you think: I like my mother; but she likes rum and raisin ice cream, and I thought, why not? Normally I would go with a caramelly or butterscotchy ice cream, but I found out recently that Mother doesn’t like caramel. Or, get this, vanilla. I must have been switched at birth. (Wasn’t, though. Scoliosis.)

Ooh! I bought a top yesterday, a thing I never do. $12 from the Red Cross thrift shop. A bit steep for a thrift shop, but it’s one of those arty ones in which they have tasteful headless mannequins instead of freaky carnival ones with fake eyelashes, and change them every day into clothes that match each other so as to create an aura of visual continuity in the window, offsetting the unavoidable hodge-podgeness of the goods within, which they do attempt to arrange by colour. And it doesn’t have that op-shop smell, which is a phenomenon I must investigate more closely. Anyway. The top is sort of brownish and vaguely military with lots of hardware and pockets, and yet looks a leetle bit like that steampunk coat dress Lizzie likes on Clockwork Couture, only vaguely more dieselpunk and trench-coaty and less frilly and, let’s face it, skungier, but come on, people, twelve dollars. Plus, Clockwork Couture makes their stuff in China. I’ve been meaning to write them an email about that. They’re all anti-leather and everything, so you’d think… ach well. Rum. Yus. Bye.


Question: What book, movie, TV show, comic strip, life story, poster, toilet stall graffiti etc would you most love to see done as a Broadway musical?

I kinda fancy the idea of The Grapes of Wrath, but I’m not sure how well the plot would translate. A Pride and Prejudice musical could be rather awesome too, in theory. Don’t you think? I can see some sparkling recitative during those many dances.

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