Wellington’s recycling conspiracy?

After being irritated for the millionth time that Wellington doesn’t recycle plastic bags, and how much stuff goes into the yellow council rubbish bags, rather than the recycling bin, I decided to do some investigating.

I discovered that the contractor with whom the city contracts all of its recycling does have the capability of recycling grades 1 -7 plastics (excluding 6… which as we know from Food Inc, is nearly impossible to recycle.  Don’t buy anything that comes in or is made of grade 6 plastic!).  Despite the fact that these materials can be recycled, in Wellington, we just send them all to the landfill.


The city doesn’t think it’s an economically worthwhile investment.

Please see below:

From:     Info.atWCC@wcc.govt.nz
Subject:     Recycling
Date:     21 June, 2010 4:37:15 PM GMT+12:00
To:     nicole marie gaston

Dear Nicole,

Thank you for your email received today, Monday 21 June, regarding plastic recycling in Wellington.

We do hope to be able to offer a similar service to our residents, but for the mean time please bear in mind recycling is a commodity, and is thus driven by the economics of the resources. There are increased separating, process and storage costs associated with increasing the number of plastic grades collected.

Having said that, Porirua is currently doing a trial on grades 1-7 with the local processor, AllBrite. Hopefully as a result, the way will be paved and all Wellington residents region-wide can contribute to the increase in landfill diversion.

You may also be interested in our website links to information about recycling, including tips on composting, energy efficiency and water conservation:


For more information on Wellington City Council and our services, please click on the following link to our website:


Your input is valued by us and we thank you for helping to make this city a better place. If we can be of further assistance, Nicole, or you have any questions about the Wellington City Council and our services please call our 24 hour Customer Contact Centre on (04) 499 4444 or email: info@wcc.govt.nz.

Kind regards,

Adrian Rogers
Online Information Co-ordinator
Customer Contact Centre
Citizen Engagement Directorate
Wellington City Council
101 Wakefield St
New Zealand

I think that Sarah Jane Barnett has some really great tips on regarding what we can do to reduce the amount of shit that goes into landfills.  Her ideas of creating a “Packaging Diary” is brilliant.  We all need to be aware of our consumption.  What else can we do?

  1. E-mail the Wellington city council and demand that they divert more plastics from the landfill to the recycling centre!
  2. STOP buying stuff that comes in non-recyclable containers
  3. Bring a re-usable shopping bag with you everywhere you go!

Of course, there is so much more we can call do, but these are just some ways of getting started.

Here is a pattern for making your own fold-up-shopping-bag that fits neatly into your handbag or backpack.  The fancy trimmings and bias tape are totally optional.

I never leave home without the bag I picked up for free from the ALA conference last year.  It’s made of grey nylon and says “University of Chicago Press”, and folds up to be smaller than my wallet!

Another life to be jealous of.

I totally have the most boring life of anyone I know.

My friends Amanda and Dain are building an Earthship in the middle of the New Mexico desert.  Look at where they live, and what they have done.


Umm… I woke up this morning… made tea, some toast, and vacuumed.  It’s grey outside.  I don’t have any friends in this country.  The love of my life is 15,000 kms away.  OH MY GOD WHY DOES MY LIFE SUCK SO MUCH!??!

Oh, and by the way, if you live in the Wellington (New Zealand) region and are looking for a kombucha mother, or scooby, or whatever you want to call it, contact me.  I will have spares every few weeks.

kombucha, the health elixr

The yeasties

Lately I have been into yeast breads.  As previously mentioned, I made bagels a few weeks ago.  Last weekend I made sticky buns, which turned out terrible, otherwise I would have posted about them.  Yes, even old pros can have kitchen failures.  Mostly I blame the oven, or the cat, when something turns out bad.

Yesterday I decided to try to make cinnamon raisin bread. It’s something I have eaten and loved in the past, and my interested was piqued by the recipe in “Joy”.

Cinnamon raisin bread is a common breakfast-bread that is eaten toasted with butter in North America.  It’s a little sweet – but nothing like a banana bread or breakfast cake.  The whole recipe only called for 5 tbs of sugar.

My recipe called for:

1 cup warm milk

1/4 cup water

1 tbs yeast

1 egg

3 tbs sugar

5 tbs butter

3 1/2 cups of flour (I used 1/2 plain, 1/2 whole meal)

You mix your yeast, warm water, and a little sugar, until the mixture gets frothy.  Then the yeast has been activated.

Throw this all in a bread mixer… or knead by hand until elastic.  Then let it rise in a warm place for about 3 or 4 hours. (Sorry these pictures are so dark!)

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, then roll into a 8 x 18 inch rectangle.

Sprinkle with 1 tbs of butter, 2 tbs of sugar mixed with 1 tbs of cinnamon.

As you can see, my rectangle was a little mishapen.

Bring 1/2 cup of raisins in 1 inch of water to a boil, then drain and dry.  Spread them evenly over your rectangle.

Starting with one of the 8 inch sides, roll up the dough tightly.

Place the rolled-up dough, seam-down in a baking dish.  Cover with greased plastic wrap, let rise in a warm place 1 hour.

Heat the oven to 375 F, sprinkle some more sugar & cinnamon on top, and bake for 40 minutes.

Slice, toast, cover in butter, and enjoy!

sometimes my life feels like a sitcom

So, today, I was intending to go to the “Staff Circuit Training” class at the VUW gym at noon.  For some reason at 11:00 I decided to start baking some bread, and sewing a shirt.  Needless to say, I was running out the door, late for class, as per usual.

When I arrived at the gym (at 12’02!) I realised I had forgotten my water bottle on my desk.  I also forgot my water bottle the night before, and felt like a total moron, but whatever, it’s not the end of the world.  I have water and a cupboard full of glasses next to my office.

I went into the class, I began unbuttoning my coat… and then realized that I was actually wearing a bra over my t-shirt and sport-bra.  There was a reason for this.  Since I had been doing some sewing before I left my house, I intentionally put the bra on over my shirt so that I could get an accurate measurement of the size of my bust when wearing a regular bra, for the shirt I was making.  I guess I forgot to take it off in my rush to get out the door.  I debated leaving my coat on… and then somehow managed to unsnap my bra, and wriggle out of it under my coat, and take them both off at the same time, while the 4 men in the room looked at me, waiting for the teacher to arrive.

Then, I went to put on what I call “gym shoes” having grown up in the mid-west USA, but may also be referred to as trainers, runners, etc.  I looked in my bag, and guess what?  Oh, yeah, I forgot those too.  So I had to do burpees in high heels!  Ok, just kidding, I had some slip-on black flats… which were not good for exercising, but at least they weren’t high heels.  I already feel like a wuss because I can barely lift the 15 kg “strength training sack”, while the dudes are all tossing it around like a tennis ball.

Hopefully that is the end of my mishaps for today.  Though I am making dinner tonight… a number of things could go wrong.  I’m sure there are hundreds of sitcom episodes that centre around some kind of kitchen mix-up.  “I thought that jar of cayenne pepper was cinnamon!”

Last week I went to the gym, and after I took my tights off I realized I’d forgotten my shorts.  I was wearing a pencil skirt and tights… I couldn’t work out  in just tights, or just my undies, or the skirt.  I debated just going home and giving up for the evening.  Then, on top of the lockers, I spotted what looked like a pair of board shorts that had been left behind.  They were covered in dust, 2 sizes too small, and really really ugly, but I figured no one would mind, since it seemed like they had been there for ages, I decided they were the “community shorts”.  So, I put them on, and did my 30 minute jog on the treadmill.  After I was done… ok, I’ll admit it, I just threw them back up on top of the lockers! (And they’re still there.)

Anyway, if only the gym had communal showers.  Then I could get caught peeing in the shower, and my life really would be like a Seinfeld episode.  Alas, Vic’s gym has individual showers, so I will have to seek out different ways of emulating television situation comedies.

Mid-winter in Wellington

So, yesterday was June 21st.  In my previous 29 years, this would be the day with the most hours of sunlight.  Here in Wellington it was the shortest day of the year.  I suppose if I look on the bright-side, it means the days will start getting longer now.  And seriously – it’s not that cold.  It’s 9°C today.  It’s gotten down to 0°C once.  People keep moaning and groaning about how absolutely freezing it is… but people in Wellington are a bunch of wimps.  They’ve never experienced a winter in Canada.  People are still wearing flip-flops.

Admittedly, most homes here are not insulated, or not well insulated, so it tends to be almost as cold in people’s homes as it is outside, but really, it’s not that bad.  I’m lucky to live in a well insulated house, and have a warm office.  Otherwise I would probably kill myself because the sun disappears from Holloway Road at about noon.

At our house, we heat the living room, kitchen, and upstairs with a wood fireplace.  In the front of the house, where my room is, and the bathroom, the heat from the fireplace doesn’t penetrate.  So, I have a little electric heater in my room, which does a great job of keeping me warm.

In New Zealand much of the electricity comes from coal.  There are a number of competing electric companies and you don’t have to stick with any one provider.  Which means we get our electricity from a company who are “committed to renewable energy”, and it comes from hydro power and wind-farms around the country.  I don’t know how I feel about the wood-burning fireplace.  Is it environmentally friendly?  Well, I don’t even know how to light the fire in the fireplace, and I never touch it, so it’s not really my concern.  I tried to use it once and it nearly exploded.  Also, I never use the dishwasher.   I’m old sk00l like that.

Anyway, it’s mid-winter here, luckily the sun is shining and it’s not raining.  I still hate it.  I appreciate everyone’s concern for my happiness, but I think I’m committed to not liking Wellington.  At least until September or something.  The first 6 months I spent in Montreal I hated it.  I wanted to quit school and leave.  So, this is totally normal.  Don’t try to change my mind – Wellington sucks and I hate New Zealand.  It’s just not as good as anywhere I’ve ever lived.  Well… it’s maybe on par with Schaumburg… and I spent 18 years there!

When cats attack

Those of you reading who know me well, know that I have no love for cats.  I have never met a cat I liked.  I met a few cats I could tolerate, but mostly I hate them all.

I especially hate the official cat resident of our home on Holloway Road, and its evil friend.  Oliver spends most of his time outside, only coming in to bellow and meow when he is hungry.  Once he has been fed, and our backs turned, Domino, or “Dommy” as the lady next door calls him, will sneak in through the cat door, helping himself to all of Oliver’s food.  Even people who like cats (like Lotte & Louis) don’t like Oliver, and actively dislike Domino.

When we returned home yesterday evening, a chicken carcass was found on the ground next to the stove snatched from the pot of chicken soup that had been cooling.  I didn’t throw it there.  Lotte didn’t throw it there.  Louis didn’t throw it there.  Rata can’t reach the stove.  How did it get there?  There are two possible suspects, though unfortunately we shall never know who the real culprit is.

I am hoping both of them contract feline leukemia or die of natural causes sometime soon.  I hate those cats.

My New Zealand Rant.

Ok, I was just looking at my lovely friend Laurie-Anne’s pictures of her trip to Bali. She is living and working in Badung, Indonesia.  I’m not sure exactly what she is doing, but it probably has something to do with French.  Anyway, wow.  I am so jealous.

New Zealand is so boring.

Why didn’t anyone warn me about how boring trying to do a PhD would be?  Yeah, I knew it would be hard work, but at first moving to New Zealand seemed exciting.  But seriously, it’s not.  It’s like Canada, but without the snow.  And without all the amazing people I knew in Canada (you know who you are!).  And without my superduperspecial lover of sweetness.

What a place to live.  Talk about a cultural void.  In fact, in my opinion, I think all this talk of NZ European/Maori “bi-culturism” is just an excuse for white people to appropriate Maori culture – which I see happening everywhere.  Probably because their own culture is non-existant and, completely monolingual! They need to steal some one else’s cultural identity.  Or rather, the dominant culture is a mixture of all the most boring elements of WASP cultures from Anglophone countries with an emphasis on being politically correct and “culturally sensitive”, to anyone with a REAL culture. Which equals totally boring.  Kind of like Canada with regards to being politically correct, but without any national identity, a totally lame flag, and rugby instead of ice hockey.

I was watching TV (for the first time in this country) a few weeks ago when I was at my Lao friend’s house, and on the music news show, at the end the guy actually said “Stay classy New Zealand!”.  How pathetic is it that a national music news program host has to rip-off a shitty American Will Farrel movie to try to make their program more interesting?

Don’t be fooled, this country is neither interesting nor environmentally friendly!  The “green” New Zealand image is totally false!  They don’t even recycle plastic bags here!  Yet, despite that, hardly anyone brings re-usable shopping bags with them.  As previously mentioned, public transportation is shit and people drive everywhere.

Maybe if you get a chance to get out into the countryside and wilderness and away from all the well-meaning, friendly banal people you can actually experience something worthwhile.  But I certainly haven’t yet.  Unless I get some seriously awesome job offer after I finish my thesis, I don’t intend on staying in this country.

Ok, I have released my anger and frustration.  I will continue to post positive, happy blog entries now.

(p.s. I used Rollip to enhance the photograph above)

(p.p.s. (disclaimer) New Zealanders, please don’t take any offense by any my above statements.  They merely reflect my present state of mind, and are emotionally charged and certainly not objective, therefore irrelevant in a legitimate discourse.  Just give me an opportunity to rant about my own country, or Canada for that matter, I would have far too much to say than could be contained on a single blog posting.)

Bagels with some Schmear

Before I begin writing about yesterdays culinary adventures, I just want to call attention to my pal Cameron’s blog, where he describes his attempts to reproduce Lotte’s Afghans.  It’s true that I find it quite a pain to have to weigh ingredients, as is often required by metric recipes. I don’t intend to start a debate about the merits of imperial recipes where everything is nicely pre-measured for you, and how counter-intuitive weighing every ingredient is (how much butter is 100 grams?!), I just find having to get out the kitchen scale, if you own one, a tedious and bothersome task.

So, for now, I proudly proclaim my American, and apropos to this post, Jewish heritage!  While I do think in terms of kilometers, liters, kilos, and Celsius nowadays, the oven will always be Fahrenheit to me, and I will always make a cake with 1/3 cup of butter, 2/3rd a cup of milk, 1 1/2 cups of flour, and 1 cup of sugar (plus 1 egg, baking powder, salt, and almond extract).

So, bagels.

I love bagels.  I love fresh-out-of-the-oven sesame bagels from St. Viateur at 2 am.  I love them with cream cheese, smoked salmon, and capers.  I love garlic and onion bagels, despite the price my friends will pay when I speak to them after eating one.

Bagels are expensive here in New Zealand, and from my experiences, mostly the mass-produced pre-packaged kind available in super markets.

I have tried making bagels once before, when I lived in West Africa and bagels did not exist in the country.  I had a lot of free time and a dog-eared, paperback copy of my bible, “The Joy of Cooking”. It was really in this period when I discovered “The Joy”.  I suppose one of these days I will have to write a post entirely dedicated to this book which I love.  Anyway, I knew bagels could be done.

On Saturday morning I decided I wanted to make rye bread (another eastern-european favorite I haven’t found meeting my expectations in this country!) so I threw some rye flour, yeast, and water into the bread machine, and then ran out to do stuff while it was rising.  I then totally forgot about it until the following morning, when a sudden hunger for bagels with the smoked salmon cream cheese I had bought overcame me.

I took out my bible and looked up the recipe.  With a few modifications, and really, not too much effort, I had a dozen rye & whole meal bagels hot out of the oven, ready to be smeared with some schmear!

The Joy tells us to make bagels as following (slightly modified version):

  • 1 cup + 2 tbs warm water
  • 2 tsp dry active yeast
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • Let sit until the yeast gets frothy.

Combine in a bread mixer, or knead by hand for 10 minutes:

  • 1 tbs butter or vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup bread flour

Gradually stir in

  • 3 more cups of bread flour (feel free to mix it up with other flours, like wholemeal, spelt, rye, etc., but make sure you use at least 1/2 white flour, and be aware the consistency, texture, dryness, gluten content etc. will be different.  You can also mix extras into the dough at this point, or wait until the end)

Let the mixer do its work, or work up a sweat yourself on that.  I hate kneading bread, so moving into a house with a bread machine was certainly exciting.  I found my dough to be really dry and dense (perhaps because of the rye flour?), so I had to add another 1/2 cup of water.  But I tend to eyeball stuff rather than actually measure, so I may have been wildly off in my initial flour/water ratio.

After it’s been kneaded, form the bagel by rolling a handful of the dough between your hands until it’s about 4 cms or 1.5 inches thick and 20 cms or 7 inches long, then forming it into a ring and sealing the ends together with a little water if they don’t stick.  Try to make about 10 or 12.  Let them rise on a floured surface covered with a towel for about 15 minutes.

Bring a pot of water to a boil, then drop the bagels into the boiling water once they have puffed up.  Let them boil about 1 minute on each side.  Have an oven pre-heated to 425 F, and then pull the boiled bagels out of the water and place them onto an un-greased baking sheet.  Cover them in sesame seeds, chopped garlic or onion, throw in raisins and cinnamon or other stuff, experiment!  Bake them for 15 minutes, flip them over, and give em another 5 or 10 minutes.  I found they were done after 20 at about 415 F, but our oven is a little crazy.  I recommend an oven thermometer for anyone who does a lot of baking.  Anyway, keep your eye on them so they don’t burn.

Once done, allow your flatmates to eat them but they must slice them and then toast them if not eaten immediately (I’m talking to you, Louis).  The dozen I made yesterday are half gone already!

Driving in NZ

the road warrior

Yesterday I had my first experience driving a car in New Zealand.  There is one adjective to describe this experience for both myself and my passenger: terrifying.

People in Wellington drive extremely fast.  The roads are extremely narrow, twisting, and hilly.  Louis’s car (pictured above), is huge, wide, does not have power steering, and is manual transmission (and billows out toxic fumes upon start-up).  This combined with the fact that for the past 15 years of my driving experience I have done things completely opposite to what I should be doing now made the experience quite challenging.

50 km/hr + narrow twisty roads + hills + driving on the left + enormous car = LORD SAVE ME

In my opinion, most of the logistical factors in driving a car are of the muscle-memory, instinctive variety.  Especially for some one like myself, who learned to drive 15 years ago, in suburban Chicago, and have driven infrequently in the past 10 years, mostly in North America, I am used to a particular style of driving.  Other than awareness and alertness, the physical act of driving is like riding a bicycle, my body just instinctively knows what to do.  Well, imagine if some one just turned your entire world up-side down.  Shifting gears with your left hand, signaling with your right, turning right into the left-hand lane of traffic… it’s all so counter-intuitive!

Beyond even the quite obvious principle that most people are right-handed, therefore it makes sense that the driver should be on the left side of the car, with the clutch on the right side of the driver, everything just felt wrong about driving on the other side of the road. I was constantly afraid that I would turn into the wrong lane of traffic, where I would be crushed by a huge oncoming truck.  Having a bicycle for the past 2 months has certainly helped acclimatise me to the rules of the road and general flow of traffic, but I still do find myself cycling along the right-hand side of the road occasionally on an empty street, and at an intersection, looking left then right before crossing.

Another thing – there are NO STOP SIGNS in this city!  It’s all yield and “right of way” signs, which means people never stop!  You get to an intersection, and just roll right through.  Now I know why people drive so fast here – they never have to stop!

To be honest, I don’t really care to learn to drive in this country.  I hope to never be in a situation where I have to drive on a regular basis, or own a car.  However, due to increased pressure from my flatmates, I have been made to feel quite guilty for attempting to get out of any driving-related tasks, without any valid reason for doing so, simply because I don’t like cars or driving. Especially when I have a valid driver’s license.

But really, is it wrong of me?  I am vehemently opposed to non-communal or public-transportation motor-vehicles.  I would be totally happy to never have to drive a car again.   There are circumstances when driving is essential, for example, when I wanted to visit Lascaux in France, in which case, you have to take a taxi, which can be prohibitively expensive, or rent a car.  There were no buses that went there, 40 kms from the nearest town, so I had to rent a car and drive alone through the French countryside, when I could barley drive a stick-shift.  That was stressful!  But worth it to see that amazing cave.

My flatmates like to do a weekly trip to the super-market, where we spend approximately $100 on food, and then on Sundays, we spend $50 at the vegetable market.  It has been the habit for Louis to drive his car and I to accompany him.  Lotte cannot drive, and generally stays home with the baby.  This is a lot of food, and would be difficult to transport without a car.  I understand that there may be a situation where Louis cannot go to the store or the market, in which case it would probably fall on me to do the shopping on my own.  Luckily, this hasn’t happened yet.  If I were able to drive the car, it would be a lot easier.  However, in my current state of hating-driving, I would have to either ride my bicycle to Kilbirnie and back, lugging 20 kgs of groceries with me uphill, or, walk 15 minutes to catch a bus, and then catch it back to town before walking home, uphill, with 20 kgs of groceries.  Neither of these options sound attractive.  Due to the irritating and completely fucked up nature of Wellington, the nearest grocery store to my house is at least a 30 minute walk, and overpriced.  The more reasonably priced grocery store is about 7 kms away.   Today I went to Moore Wilsons (about 2.5 kms distance), on my bike and bought 20kgs of things, and it was exhausting lugging it all back.  Did I mention it’s uphill? BOTH WAYS?  And usually raining?

WHY? Why did I come to this godforsaken place?  How long for the days when I lived on St. Dominique, 100 meters from “Epicerie Segal”, alternatively “The Push N’ Shove”, or “The Third World Market”, the cheapest grocery store in Montreal! Or on du Parc and St. Joseph, upstairs  from the PA!!!  Or even when I lived by the IGA in St-Henri.  How I long for the Aldi on Cermak ave in Chicago, dream about the Fairplay (just don’t go at the end of the month, when the food stamp benefits come in!), and fantasize about Pete’s Fresh Market.  Even Si-Muang City-Mart in Vientiane was more convenient than the offerings of this town!  Wellington, people have to eat for Christs’s sake!!  Why make it so difficult?

Oh, North America, I know I have expressed disdain for you in the past, but how I miss your courteous, moderately-paced motorists, grid-like traffic patterns, stop signs, bicycle lanes, and conveniently located amenities.  You don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone.

Because of all of these circumstances, I must admit, driving is a useful skill.  I’m sure that there will be an occasion when all this will seem well worth it, despite my current reluctance.

It’s certainly true that driving offers convenience.  However, I would argue that this is due to the layout and geography of our cities and towns, which is in part due to oil and car manufacturers lobbying for zoning regulations that encourage dependency on non-renewable resources, and fosters isolation.  If people actually challenged the perception that cars are a necessary evil, and refused to live in neighborhoods where a car was needed, we could build stronger communities with more efficient and effective public transportation.   We should demand this from our public officials.  So, yeah, what can we do?  Well, we can start by not driving, which is what I’m doing.  OK, now I have a valid excuse for not learning – I’m ideologically opposed to it!