Craig Box's journeys, stories and notes...

Posts Tagged ‘canada’

Can't eat chups, bro!

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

The recipe for the perfect dip is not so much handed down between Kiwis, it's a genetic memory - you're born with it.  And why not, it's so easy to remember.  One tin of reduced cream, one packet of dried onion soup mix, a squirt of lemon juice (or white vinegar).  And in case you can't remember it, you can buy a bowl with it on.

Reduced cream is so much associated with the "original Kiwi dip" that the dip designation is plastered all over Nestlé's cans and their product web site (incidentally, first hit for the term on The Google,  unless you're in Canada, in which case the first hit is Homesick Kiwi, who are willing to gouge you on the price of some).  It doesn't even have to be Nestlé - I used to buy Pam's reduced cream from the Pak, and mix it with bacon and onion soup.

We were in the supermarket the other day and Fern picked up some chips.  The subject of dip came up, and even though I'd not seen it before, a package of dried onion soup mix was easily found.  "Perfect for dips!", it claimed.  "Just add sour cream".

Now, I don't know about you, but avoiding pre-made sour cream dips is the general reason for making the reduced cream dip in the first place.  And I was born a guardian of The Recipe. So off to reduced-cream-ville it was.  I knew where I'd find the stuff, and wandered down the aisle.  Where do they keep the reduced cream?  Right by the condensed milk, of course.  I knew where to find that.  And sure enough, right next to it, a half dozen varieties of evaporated milk, but no reduced cream.

Dilemma.  Whipping out my iPhone G1 lame piece of corporate RIM crap, I soon found out that the only mentions of reduced cream on the Internet were from NZ.  I'd never thought about it that way, but it's kiwiana.  I am forced to believe it only exists in order to one day become dip.  It therefore goes in the pile of Things I Can't Have, right next to correct-recipe Creme Eggs and Twisties. Seems that reduced cream was in vogue for making white sauces "in the era of nouvelle cuisine", but now only really used in Nouvelle-Zélande.

Never one to shy away from improvising though!  I grabbed a can of evaporated milk - how different could it be? - and headed home.

Well, it wasn't thick and creamy, for starters.  It had about the consistency of regular milk. And it didn't look like dip when mixed with the soup packet. So I did what any good cook would do - I reduced it, in a pot on the stove, and I added cream.

I don't think it's actually the milk's fault.  I think the milk was OK.  I suspect it was the soup mix that really needs to evaluate its place on the shelf.  Eventually, I got something which tastes quite edible, but Fern wouldn't touch. See if you can figure out why.

Canadian dip

Welcome to 2009

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

Hi, everybody.

New Year's Day in the park New Year's Day - Fern in the snow

2008 was a year full of adventures that felt like they required large amounts of writing to do them justice, and then further adventures that it seemed silly to document when I hadn't finished the first set, and so on and so forth.  Our 10 days in New York became 8 days of blog posts and then writer's block.  I wrote on Day 8 that the next band on my "must see before I they die" list was Pink Floyd, and what do you know, there goes that idea.  I tried not to feel responsible!

Behind finishing those two days, I've been on a number of trips (some with Fern, some for work), and seen a number of great bands (two nights of Crowded House, Liam Finn, R.E.M., James, Nine Inch Nails, Barenaked Ladies and Oasis).  Many of those links lead to Flickr galleries with much better photos than I could ever hope to take at a gig, so these days I don't even bother taking my camera.  Although you can't beat up-close-and-personal like this.

So, in the spirit of e-mail bankruptcy, I'm starting fresh.  This is 2009.  I'll write about it as I see fit.  Mum will be happy.  Anyone who enjoys my little technical tidbits will be happy, as they will probably resume again.  And I'll just write stuff down for the sake of it being written, rather than feeling beholden to the immense responsibility of summarizing every event.

Which leads to my first Crowdsourced Question of 2009: I currently use Gallery (1) for photos, and I'm starting to think someone like Picasa Web or Flickr would be a better choice.  To anyone who has or had their own Gallery - what do you recommend?  Facebook integration would be nice, as would being able to caption/edit everything locally and then push them out to the 'web.

And who authorized moving the Bit In The Middle party?

The view from my window

Monday, September 22nd, 2008


Don't worry, it should look like snow in two months.

Tim Finn, The Courthouse, Toronto: 7 Feb 2008

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

While Tim Finn shows are a dime a dozen in New Zealand, they're somewhat rarer here. Finn hasn't played solo in Toronto since the early 1990s.

Disagreement between the tickets and the venue about door opening time led to us arriving just on 9pm, which was either just right, or one hour later, missing the support act. Turns out neither of these was true: the venue wasn't even open at 9, for reasons unknown, so we all queued in the cold until everyone was rushed in and not 15 minutes later the support act was rushed onto stage.

Acoustic in front of the stageGlad we didn't miss it, either, because we were treated to a great set by Irish-Italian-American singer-songwriter-guitarist Eileen Rose, supported ably by her nephew Nicholas Ward on guitar and piano (I believe I used up my allocation of hyphens for the day on that sentence). A passionate set was unfortunately a little hampered by technical problems. Playing the final song caused bandsaw-esque feedback after about 20 seconds, so after three false starts (and numerous pleas to the unprepared soundman) Rose and Ward came down off their step and delivered the song unplugged.

The venue is a lovely old building with high ceilings and a good feeling of heritage. Their website has some nice pictures. A nice touch, something I've never seen before, was an LCD TV screen either side of the bar, displaying the output of a camera pointed at the stage. This neatly solved the problem of having to turn your back to the show in order to buy drinks.

Finn travels light: the prohibitive distance between New Zealand and North America has reduced his band The Dirty Creatures to guitarist Brett Adams and his foot-operated drum setup. A show in Milwaukee had to be canceled the night before due to bad weather, which he said was the first in 36 years.

The set was a good mix of songs from his latest album, Imaginary Kingdom; previous solo hits, Woodface and Split Enz numbers, and even a couple of new songs. Adams really adds colour to the performance and with drums from Finn's feet, a surprising full sound rang through the room. After a rough period in the 90s, Finn has been in great voice of late and this show was no exception.

I don't really like the new lower arrangement of How Will You Go that is being toured, but it's different.

Interesting to hear the requests called for after coming back for an encore - Hello Sandy Allen, Time For a Change and I Don't Wanna Dance were called for Tim claiming he could only remember how to play one, and not telling us what it was! (It was Time For A Change, but he didn't play it. "Not like Neil, he remembers everything!") Charley and What You've Done were considered, but we were eventually treated to a stripped bare version of I See Red. This was very unexpected, but karmic payoff after years of Ewan and I chanting "RED! RED! RED!" at encores. Sometimes even at The Feelers and Dave Dobbyn, because it's what you do.

A new album was promised, featuring Eddie Rayner and Miles Golding of Split Enz, along with Adams. It was said to have an acoustic, laid-back vibe, and could have an interesting sound as Golding has been a professional concert violinist since he left the Enz in 1973. He signed off with the obligatory "see you in November", but Counting Crows did that to me once and I'm still waiting.

There were a couple of audience members wearing merchandise from the 2006 Australian Split Enz tour and we overheard a discussion on the way out about Woodface this and Crowded House that. These people should move to New Zealand, where Geoff and Jamie get better seats than Eddie at Crowded House shows.

Bootleg fans may be interested in a copy of the show for themselves. I recorded a couple of videos of the new songs, one of which (entitled Making a Mockery) can be seen here:

Or, check out more Tim Finn and Eileen Rose photos on my gallery.

Small treats

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

Split EnzGeoff points out to me that Split Enz are playing in Auckland, a week from today. I'm not immeasurably jealous, having seen them with Ewan in 1999 (help - that's almost 10 years ago!), but with any band formed in the 70s there's always the chance that it's the last time you could ever see them regroup. Unless it's Elton John, of course. He's bionic, and there's less of him to try and get in one place at once.

One of the good things about living in New Zealand is that occasionally you can see a little private gig from a Finn brother that fans in the US would kill for. In September, I traded that for the land of Celine Dion and apologies. But the treats do sometimes come.

Dan AykroydI took a train downtown for a job interview last September, and was reading the Metro1 when I was alerted to the fact that Steven Page from Barenaked Ladies (another of my all-time favourite bands) was playing a free show, in a concourse2 downtown, that lunchtime. Wow.

The show was organised by the LCBO, the Ontario liquor control agency3, who were launching a campaign for Ontario wine. The attractions were Page and Dan Aykroyd, one-time Blues Brother and now winery investor.

Steven PageAykroyd gave a little talk before Page came out, accompanied by his guitar. He played a five-song set, including starting Old Apartment twice (it was meant to be Brian Wilson, but you know, musicians like to write the same song over and over again, and sometimes get confused). He was then joined by Aykroyd on harmonica and vocal for some 12-bar blues.

Press took pictures, wine was imbibed (including free samples for the audience) and Aykroyd was on hand to sign bottles. I didn't care much for his unfortunately, but I believe there were more varieties on the way. Living in NZ, our standards for wine and food are pretty high!

(See photos of Steven Page and Dan Aykroyd at the LCBO VQA launch.)

Later on I learned from the same paper that Slash would be at a book signing in a week's time but unfortunately I couldn't make it to that.

  1. A giveaway paper targeted primarily at commuters. 
  2. Fancy word for "indoor shopping mall" 
  3. Government controlled: think West Auckland's Portage and Waitakere Trusts. That bureaucracy once ID'd Jamie when he, at age 28 (and lets face it, just a little bald) went in to buy a bag of ice. 

New/Nouveau Part Deux

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

New car

Ontario drivers licenseWell, actually, no on this one.  I want to buy a car, but to do that, you need to get car insurance, and to get car insurance, you need to have an Ontario drivers license.  You can exchange one - hand in your New Zealand license and proof of over 2 years of experience, and go straight to doing the G2 (full license) test.  However, once you've done the written test, you're a G1 (learner) driver - so that means I could drive to the writing test, and not be able to drive home without my Mum in the passenger seat.  And it's possibly a two month wait on getting a G2 booking.  The system sucks, and I'm going to put it off as long as possible. Which means lots of driving a rental car, unfortunately with nowhere to park it as the underground garage in our building is being resurfaced.  The jackhammers start at 8.10am without fail.

I've received two parking tickets (two more than my entire driving history in New Zealand) and backed into one parked car.

Driving on the wrong side of the road is something you adjust to in stages - if you're a passenger first, you get used to sitting in the "drivers spot" and not having a steering wheel, and you get used to what side of the car to walk to.  Then you adjust to what side road signs are on.

When you start driving yourself, what side of the road you use is actually easy, assuming there's other traffic around. It's the other little things - the gearstick and handbrake being on the wrong side, the seatbelt being pulled down from the other side, and having to look over the other shoulder while reversing.  It's that final thing that lead to the parked car incident in the dark parking lot last Monday.

Eventually it all comes together, and you don't stress any more.  Except, of course, when you are changing sides again in six weeks, for three weeks...


Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

New job

I've been at my new job for just on a month now, so it would make sense to tell you what I do and who I do it for.

I work for the imaginatively-named Software Innovation, who develop software for the engineering industry. The suite is called Coreworx and it is a web-based project collaboration system targeted at what is called EPC - engineering, procurement & construction. (Feel free to rewrite the crap Wikipedia article. In fact, because anything you write on the Internet is archived forever, if the article is good when you read this, assume that it was my request that caused someone to make it good.) It handles document management and workflow, and automates what previously was the time-consuming process of managing reams of paper from suppliers, consultants, designers, engineers, and people who just like wasting paper.

Our website has a cute elevator pitch which explains things in just the right amount of detail.

The recruiter who told me about the job had me hooked when he said they were looking for "a developer with a personality". My role is in the Professional Services team, so I'll be going out to our customers, all around the world, consulting on requirements, planning, installing, configuring, documenting and troubleshooting our software. To date it's mostly been learning, but I've already thrown myself in the deep end with some programming and am starting to look at planning a new deployment.

It's great working at a company that not only has a pool ladder, but often has the CEO at the top of it. He's got his own cue in a case. That's bad-ass.

New city

Software Innovation are based in Kitchener, which as you can see, isn't Toronto. It's a 60 minute highway drive in light traffic to get to the edge of Toronto, and then it's another 20 mins on the subway to get there.

Kitchener was known as Berlin until that pesky First World War thing. There's still a lot of German influence, from the yearly Oktoberfest and the schnitzel houses to New Hamburg just down the road.

The city is often referred to as Kitchener/Waterloo, because the city of Waterloo, literally 5 mins up the road, grew into Kitchener, and reciprocally Kitchener grew into Waterloo.  It's one big area with two local governments.  Kitchener had lots of factories and now has lots of homeless ex-factory workers.  Waterloo has two universities and RIM, the people who make Crackberries.

It has snowed twice since I got here, but only small flurries. It's going to get cold. Bring it on!

New apartment

When Fern and I moved out here, we stayed in a hotel for a couple of weeks and looked for an apartment. A lot of people didn't have room for a couple, or weren't interested in living with one - their loss, we're great roommates!

As life often goes, we went from a week of nothing to two great choices. We ended up moving into an apartment block called the Conestoga Towers, living with a guy named Chris. He has the Wii, we have the TV (see below). It's a good combination. He's finishing a PhD in urban planning and is here till April.

As the job will take me on the road a lot, it's possible that I could work from home for the rest of the time. Depending on what happens with Fern's job search, we're thinking of moving back to Toronto when that option becomes available. (She's currently temping while waiting to hear back on a bunch of PR and marketing jobs.)

New hobbies

I've been going to weekly improv classes at the Bad Dog Theatre in Toronto. It's been a bit harder since moving to Kitchener, which makes a 3 hour class into a 7 hour round trip, but the classes are great fun.  More to come.

New toys

I bought a 37" LCD TV. 1080p, oh, yeah.  To fuel it, we upgraded cable to Rogers HDTV and rented a PVR.  It's nice to not have to download TV to catch up on Prison Break and House that I miss by going to improv.

I also bought a guitar. I was going to buy a cheap guitar and then buy a nice Maton acoustic when I'm in the Southern Hemisphere next, but this one is nice enough that I might not bother. Not only does it have XLR and 1/4" output, it has a built-in digital tuner.  How cool is that?

We haven't named it yet.

Things to know about Toronto

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

So, I'm in Canada now. Truth be told, I've been here for three weeks, but have been a little behind on the blogging! Here's what you will need to know when you come and visit me.

Toronto Pearson International Airport

Terminal 1 is great, very new, but miles away from anything. It's 60 mins to downtown by the public transport system.

The public transport system

The more things change, the more they stay the sameThe public transport system is good, but confusing. To generalise, the fare between any two points around central Toronto (the TTC system) is $2.75 - but you can start out on a bus, switch to a train at a subway station, get out at another and then get onto a streetcar (also known as "tram"). You do this by way of 'transfers', paper tickets you pick up either when you pay on the streetcar/bus or at a machine when you've entered the turnstile at a train station.

You can't use a transfer at the station you picked it up at - i.e. to go from Station A to Station B and change to a bus, pick up your transfer at Station A.

After a 2 and a half hour wait...GO commuter trains take you from Toronto to the surrounding cities. Avoid them. They're double-decker, air-conditioned and have their own TV station, but I'm pretty sure I can cycle, and possibly walk, faster, than the Lakeshore East service. That, and a fire last week left our train waiting a kilometre outside Danforth Station for two and a half hours, before being told we'd be turned around. We weren't - they eventually moved forward to the station (why didn't they take us there to start with?) and kicked everyone out, with little fanfare or explanation of what to do next. Thankfully a lady sitting near me had her husband come pick her up, and she offered me and another guy on the train a ride home.


Ontario has an 8% sales tax, which is not included in prices. (There's also a federal 6% GST here, but whether or not that is included varies). So, your $4 Baskin-Robbins milkshake, as well as bringing all the boys to the yard, will cost you $4.24. Please have exact change ready.


Money wise, everything costs about the same as it does in NZ dollars, so if you were to start earning locally as soon as you arrived, you'd feel like nothing changed. Much better than the USA, the money is multi-coloured, and $1 and $2 are coins - but the 5c coin is still larger than the 10c.

Fern arrived later on the same day that I did and we stayed at a hotel by the airport for a couple of days before her friend Kim picked us up and took us out to Pickering, the next town east on the lakeshore.