ImageNew Zealanders LOVE their potluck dinners. When I first came here 16 years ago, I was puzzled and disturbed in equal measure by this cultural staple. Of course I get it. I get it’s No.8 wire thinking, it’s hangi wannabe-ness, it’s diehard democracy and the fact that it gets the women’s vote. But it still drives me a little bit crazy.  For anybody not born into this great tradition, here is my attempt to clear up the conundrums, relieve the doubt and of course, take the piss like any civilized society does of it’s most embedded rituals.

Potluck Dinner v Bring a Plate

I quickly worked out that a Potluck Dinner is the slightly more formal and substantial version of ‘Bring a Plate’, which may be the instruction with an invitation to a shared lunch or morning tea. Anytime before the ‘I don’t have to pretend I don’t want a drink’ hour. That will vary.  Baby showers, work leaving-do’s-at-work, small charitable fundraisers, school fundraisers, and local community events of all persuasions can be accompanied by the instruction to ‘bring a plate’. This means covering a plate or platter with anything from cheese and biscuits to homebaked muffins or cakes and everything inbetween. Size is up to you – just how generous do you need to appear? Save your good serving plate and platter for the occasions when you won’t lose it if you leave it. Otherwise, plastic if you aren’t the colour of Kermit, or edible potato starch if you are. Tongs are the Kiwi serving implement of choice. Even for soup.

There are stories of expats like myself arriving for such an occasion literally with nothing more than an empty plate and a bottle of wine. Fears for crockery supply shortages duly allayed, the culprit will proceed to drink themselves into a stupour, not wanting to eat the feast to which they have made no contribution.

The Rules – Bring a Plate

There are no rules. EXCEPT

  1. It will be duly noted if you merely buy cheese slices and crackers at the dairy on the way – because you couldn’t be arsed to put any effort in.
  2. Packets of chips and dips are regarded as above, or that you have no culinary skills but perversely will be gratefully tolerated because everybody loves chips and dips. Especially if children are present.
  3. Nut and/or bhuja mixes are more suited to an adult-only gathering where those stressing about hip and gut expansion can tell themselves it’s the healthy alternative to 2.
  4. Muffins, while a national obsession, are VERY hard to get right and unless straight out of the oven will probably be stodgy and quite compromised in the flavour department. Nothing says Edmonds Cookbook (a Kiwi religious publication) like the taste of baking powder in whatever flavour muffin you were aiming for.
  5. Bought muffins look super and provide that cakey lovliness better than homemade.
  6. Ditto cakes EXCEPT bought cakes or cakes out a packet which NEVER live up to their temptress allure.
  7. Bought chocolate dips provided with strawberries should disappear off the plate and be secretly stashed away for when the host is re-decorating and it’s time to strip the paint.
  8. Celery/carrot/cucumber/capsicum cut into strips for dipping – what were you thinking? Never able to satisfy enough dip on one strip for their needs, guests will run the risk of a substantial let-down or be forced to commit the unsanitary crime of double dipping, thus contaminating accompanying dip with their saliva. Therefore – at FAMILY ONLY – or swingers – parties.
  9. Lollies provided by childfree attendees at a gathering of big and smalls. We hate you.

The Rules – Potluck Dinner

  1. If your inner voice is screaming ‘What is a potluck dinner?’ – ask. You will avoid the above scenario.
  2. If your inner voice is asking ‘entrée, mains or dessert?’ – ask. Or if, like me, you see an opportunity to be lazy, take pre-dinner nibbles. (See 2 & 3 in ‘The Rules – Bring a Plate’)
  3. Don’t go to any effort in the display department, chances are your dish will be superfluous and left on the bench in the corner above the dog’s bowl. In sniffing distance of the dog.
  4. Unless you have a signature smash hit,an offering of the main kiwi foodgroup – meat – doesn’t mean stressing about how to cook it. A contribution for charring on the barbie is fine.
  5. The other kiwi foodgroup – carbs – can include an homage to the glory of comfort food. Potatoes, diced and fried, kumara of all colours, tossed with vermicelli, pasta AND noodles, baked under a coating of béchamel sauce with extra cheese will rock out of it’s pot. Sprinkle with sesame/sunflower/pumpkin seeds and it will be included in the health food section of the table.
  6. If you’re instructed, or you’ve opted for dessert, whipped cream made exotic with marshmallows, M&M’s and grapes is easy and a surefire success. As is the one with melted Mars Bars, bananas, extra caramel sauce and, um, whipped cream.
  7. If hosting, consider whether you have included a fully trained current holder of a first aid certificate on your guest list. If a guest, bring one with you incase this has been overlooked.
  8. The potluck dinner suits bulimics down to the ground upon which they chunder.

Above all, remember that flouting of any or all of the rules at either of these occasions will be made possible with the addition of alcohol. However, whether it’s a 6-pack of boutique beers, a couple of bottles of organic red – or even a cask of cardonnay and a tray of Lion Red – it is NEVER ok to take your un-imbibed contribution home, as used to be the case with the terribly tight middle class dinner party tradition of the Home Counties.  So to be sure, drink it all yourself. It is the Kiwi way. As you leave, kiss the hosts, (once, not on both cheeks, this is not meterosexual Europe), pat the children on the head and cuddle the dog… cuddle the children, pat the hosts, kiss the dog…, oh I don’t know. Maybe that marshmallow, Mars Bar dessert needs a glug of the brandy I saw by the stove…….

I will providing a searing review of the said TT middle class DPT of the Home Counties in my next blog. One to watch.


ImageSo, two and a half years without breasts and I’m ready to concede that I might have another decade or three claiming a place on this rather overloaded planet and thinking that’s a long time to be without the orbs of feminity. Too bad that my hair won’t grow back like it used to be and I have opted for the punk staccato meant for the woman of my age who has either given up or wants to roar -visually. Or just be cooler – literally. I need something to make me feel gracious again.

Everyone jokes about what happens to our milkbags after they have done service. A man once wrote that women over 50  ‘do that terrible thing (sic) and cut their hair short’. Well fuck off dude, what do you know? Take you nazi follicularism (er….) and fuck off. Hope you go bald – that ‘terrible’ affliction of men over 50 and often much younger. And man-boobs can droop too.

Anyway, I meant to control my tongue and my hot temper for this blog and muse on the subject of women judging women. Last week, I had my appointment with the plastic surgeon who will, if I am brave enough, cut open my well-healed scar all over again and place small plastic bags where my breasts used to be.  For the next 2 months after that, I will visit the nurse who will use a magnetically attracted syringe to find the hole through which to pump a little more saline solution each time, to stretch my skin. I don’t have enough body fat to use my own tissue, which is the only time I will be disappointed about that fact. Then, when the optimum size is reached, I will have silicon implants. Followed 3 months later by reconstructed nipples. Then have them tattooed.

I force myself to write this. I am embarrassed, disgusted, intrigued, excited, terrified, anxious. Desperate to be ‘normal’ again.

While I was waiting to go in, a girl of maybe 18-20 appeared with her mother. She got up on the scales that stand at the side of the waiting room. I look up, distracted and do a double take as I notice her shorts, which barely skim her buttocks. Honestly, my knickers were larger than those shorts. She sits down and loudly proclaims her weight. Her mother reaches out and tucks a strand of blonded hair behind her daughter’s ear and murmers encouragingly. I wonder why they are here?

I have my face time with the lovely man who radiates clarity and makes me feel very confident. I cry a little when he shows me faceless pictures of his work on a woman of my body type. I can’t believe it looks so good! I tell him I didn’t want to be a bride of Frankenstein.  OMG, I’m on the waiting list. 3-6 months and I could get a call anytime telling me they have a space next week. And I don’t have to pay a cent. I am so lucky.

As I am getting weighed (out the back) and blood pressured, the young girl and her mother enter the same room I have just left. Whoa! Either she or her mother have been unfortunate to have had breast cancer – or the young girl wants implants. To make her perfectly healthy breasts as large as her shorts are short? The thought appalls me, embarrasses me, disgusts me etc. etc. I remember how proud I was back in the day when I had a fair pair of homegrown tits, all my own work.

But how many women haven’t fantasized about fuller, rejuvenated boobs? Age and service history doesn’t really have anything to do with it anymore. I believe there are girls out there who haven’t even developed yet, who have the promise of breast enhancements when they are legally old enough! I marvel at their confidence, at their determination, at the fact they don’t care whether they look as good as they can naturally or not. I feel like a macramé making garlic stinky 70’s hippy feminist. Who gives a shit if your body is au naturale or hand crafted these days? Did anyone ever care much?

Well I’m now straddling the two camps. Allowed as I am now to take the plastic option, I can embark on something I ‘knew’ I would never do. And yet I will always mourn the loss of what nature gave me. You just never know do you, the decisions you may be asked to make? You never know until it is happening to you.  Who the fuck am I to judge Ms Shorts? Go for your life.