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Blueberry muffins for a Sunday breakfast

The best thing about baking at home is that you can change things around to suit your own taste. You know exactly what’s gone into your creation, and there’s no hidden chemical nasties. Back in 2019 I wrote a post about blueberry muffins which you can read here.

Today’s blueberry muffin recipe is basically the same one, but different because I used fresh blueberries (instead of frozen) and rapeseed oil instead of butter. I also halved the sugar, and didn’t top with anything (in the last post I topped with cinnamon and Demerara sugar).

Here is the basic muffin recipe that makes 12 ( it is from Joy of Cooking):

Put 12 paper muffin cups in the muffin tin and pre heat the oven to Mark 6 or 200* C.

In one bowl whisk/combine the dry ingredients:

2 cups flour; 1 tbsp baking powder; 1/2 tsp salt

In another bowl whisk/combine the wet ingredients:

2 large eggs; 1 cup milk; 1/3 cup sugar (the recipe was twice that – this is how much I used); 4 tbsp rapeseed oil; 1 tsp vanilla

Add the wet ingredients to the dry, combining lightly, there should still be a few lumps. Add 1 1/2 cups of blueberries. Put the batter in the muffin cups, and bake in the middle of the oven for about 15 minutes until the cake tester comes out clean. Today it took a bit longer than 15 minutes. Without fruit it might be quicker. Let stand in the tin for 3 minutes before removing and cooling a on a rack. Best eaten fresh, but can be frozen, or warmed for a few seconds in the microwave the next day.

They are quick to make, and very tasty to eat!

Juicy blueberries!

Running update: I am trying to increase the distance I am running as it has slipped a bit in the last few months. In 2019 I ran a half marathon every month – give or take – sometimes it was 10 miles, and sometimes 16. So on Friday I ran 19.5 km, going along quite a long section of the canal towpath in Greenford – where I came upon a barrier across the path. I really didn’t want to go the long way round so I tried to squeeze past. Definitely NOT a good idea as I managed to poke a hole in my leg on a piece of wire. As it was bleeding quite a lot I had to squeeze back again and make an even longer detour to the pharmacy to get some plasters! Anyway – lesson learned – follow the signs.

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Waste not want not! Buttermilk Scones

If you look closely as the photo of the ingredients you may notice that the best before date on the buttermilk pot was 27/12 – in the year 2021! Yes that’s right – 18 weeks ago. I am a great believer in the look, smell and taste test, and when I opened this pot of buttermilk, lurking in the fridge behind a jar of pickle, it looked all right, smelled all right and tasted all right! Scones are so easy and quick, and can be frozen very successfully so I made a batch.

I used a recipe from the BBC Good Food site which you can find by clicking here. I didn’t use a food processor, I rubbed the butter in by hand because I prefer it and it’s easier to wash up.

Before they went in the oven!

Scones are so delicious. Although it’s traditional to have them with cream and jam in the classic ‘cream tea’ they are also very nice with butter, or even just jam. In 2019 I wrote a post about a proper cream tea, complete with homemade jam – you can read it here. I used a different recipe this time, but they are all very similar really. Today’s recipe used quite a bit more sugar – recipes can be adapted so feel free to reduce the amount of sugar. Next time I would use less sugar as I found these quite sweet.

First batch out of the oven – a little pale. The next lot stayed in a couple of minutes more.

Don’t forget that the ‘best before’ date is just an indicator. It does NOT mean that the food is unusable after this date! Use your taste buds and common sense my friends!

Beautifully risen and fluffy.

Frozen scones should be defrosted, and then warmed gently in the oven to recreate that ‘just baked’ taste.

Too eager, too warm! Collapsed under the knife. But still delicious with home made strawberry and gooseberry jam.

What’s your favourite scone recipe? Perhaps a cheese or other savoury scone is more your thing? Cheese scones go really well with a bowl of soup for a very satisfying lunch. Maybe I’ll try them next!

Fluffy and soft.
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Lemon-almond-olive oil buns

I’ve made these buns before, and I wrote about them here. Today I made them with Portuguese olive oil instead of Spanish. I think they came out a little heavier than last time, although it’s hard to remember!

The Portuguese olive oil was special, extra virgin and unfiltered, from the harvest of 2021. Full of flavour, you can almost just drink it neat.

Before
And after!
I glazed the buns with a lemon water icing.

The recipe can be found on this lovely Spanish recipe website. The recipe is for one cake – it was my idea to make it into small buns. I have just had another look through the site, and it has some yummy sounding recipes that I’d like to try.

The original post (2019) was full of photos from our holiday in Majorca. This time I’m going to show you some recent photos that showcase Spring!

Fresh new water lilies in the WaterLily House at Kew. Every year the pond is emptied and cleaned, and then restocked with new plants.
Lilac – the scent is so amazing
Tulips at Kew
Hanwell locks on a bright spring morning

PS. I am still running! Just not quite as much as usual – I seem to be doing a lot of walking lately. You can read about some of my walks on my other blog: Walking the London Loop. I also have a little plan up my sleeve for my running journey – and hope to write about it soon!

Let’s go for a walk – along the Cleveland Way

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This week I have been walking along the coastal section of the Cleveland Way in Yorkshire. The whole Way is 109 miles, and starts in Helmsley. The first part of the route crosses the North Yorkshire moors, and my walking friends Steve and Michelle had already completed that part by the time I joined them in Whitby for the second section – 53 miles along the coast to Filey.

Based in Whitby, in a comfortable self catering cottage with stunning views across the river Esk to the famous Whitby Abbey, we have used the very reliable coastal bus service to get to and from the start or finish of each day’s walk.

Day One: Saltburn-by-the-Sea to Staithes (walked approximately 18km/ 11 miles)

Perfect walking weather – sunny, blue skies, and only a moderate breeze!

This sculpture Charm Bracelet is part of a series by artist Richard Farrington.
The scenery is really beautiful, and the weather was pretty much perfect.
This interesting sculpture was at the site of the Boulby potash mine, and represents a miner sitting at the ‘bait’ table which could be moved around to different parts of the mine. Bait is a local word for a miner’s packed meal.
Descending into the very picturesque village of Staithes, where we had a very good coffee and delicious cake by the harbour wall.

Day Two: Staithes to Whitby (walked approximately 21km/13 miles)

We got the bus back to Staithes, and then walked home! It was quite a bit further than we thought! It was very windy, but blowing from the west so not too cold. There were a lot of steep hills – up and down – something we were going to encounter quite a bit on the Cleveland Way.

Looking down at Staithes.
Runswick Bay. Luckily the tide was out so we could walk along the beach. At the hotel here we had the most disgusting ‘coffee’ I have had for a long time – a sachet of sweetened ‘latte’. You couldn’t really call it coffee! But we did meet a lovely lady running to Robin Hoods Bay as part of her training to run a 100 mile ultra!
Fields of rapeseed – the yellow contrast so wonderfully with the sky and the grass.
Walking into Whitby – two miles along the beach from Sandsend. The wind was strong!
The whalebone arch at Whitby – the lower jaw of a bowhead whale commemorates the history of whaling in Whitby.

Day Three: Whitby to Robin Hoods Bay (walked approximately 15km/ 9 miles)

I think everyone knows about coastal erosion, and periodically we all read about this or that dramatic cliff fall, but when you are walking along the cliffs and see the fences literally hanging over fresh air it is quite sobering. And just a little scary.

199 steps out of Whitby to the famous Abbey. Whitby Abbey was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The town makes the most of this link as you can imagine.
The dark clouds made a perfect backdrop.
Yikes!
Slogging up and down the steep paths is so much easier when these beautiful spring flowers are peeking out at you! And taking a photo is a chance to catch your breath.
Robin Hoods Bay was famous for its smugglers back in the day. Now it is a very pretty village with steep streets and alley ways going every which way (but mostly up it seems). It is also the final point of the Coast to Coast long distance path (293km/ 190 miles) which starts at St Bees in Cumbria. Normally this is a walking route, but over the last few days some 150 very determined people have run it. The first person made it in just over 44 hours!

Day Four: Robin Hoods Bay to Scarborough (walked approximately 26 km/ 16miles)

Well if we thought the ‘ups and downs’ couldn’t get any steeper we certainly had to think again today! It was a tough day, with some rain in the afternoon. But you can’t have rainbows without rain and we were lucky enough to see some beautiful rainbows over the sea. Coming into Scarborough the tide was out, and we walked along the North Sands into town.

We saw (or heard) many birds today including buzzards, curlews, lapwings and oystercatchers. And then caught a glimpse of an adder before it shot away into the undergrowth!

Leaving Robin Hoods Bay in the distance.
It’s a long way down.
And what goes down has to then come up again!
Not such great weather in the afternoon, but by this time we could just see Scarborough castle in the distance.
A photo cannot capture the effect of this shimmering rainbow on the horizon.
And then another!
North Sands beach at Scarborough
Rows and rows of jewel coloured beach huts!

Day Five: REST DAY! (Walked approximately 6km/ 3.7 miles)

We had a welcome rest for our legs today and caught a steam train to Pickering. The weather had turned, and was a lot colder and wetter, so it was nice not to be up on the cliff tops. The steam train passes through Goathland station, the location for Hogsmeade station in the first Harry Potter film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. It was also used as a location in the video for Simply Red’s Holding Back the Years. Once in Pickering we visited the Beck Isle Museum, which is an interesting local museum. Then through the powers of the internet I found the blue plaque on 3 Hungate for Francis Nicholson, an artist who developed the art of watercolour landscape painting in the 19th century. He was also my four times great grandfather! I also visited the church of St. Peter and St. Paul where there are amazing medieval wall paintings, covered up in the Reformation and restored in the 19th century.

Steaming into Pickering station
St. George slaying the dragon
It was quite exciting to find this blue plaque for one of my ancestors

Day Six: Scarborough to Filey (walked approximately 18km/ 11miles)

The day started with an hour’s bus ride from Whitby to Scarborough. It was freezing cold, but nobody told the locals this, and there were plenty of people young and old breezing about in shorts and t shirts. Meanwhile we were wrapped up in at least 4 layers, hats and gloves! (Soft southerners – you could almost hear them saying this out loud 😉).

Scarborough is a big town and we walked from the north beach round the headland to the south beach along Marine Drive which gave fantastic views of the crashing waves. Scarborough was the first seaside resort of the 19thC, and its popularity increased with the coming of the railways, and the introduction of Bank Holidays in 1871.

Scarborough – photo from this website
Leaving Scarborough

The walk was, for the most part, easier than some of the previous days because there was less ascent and descent. But there were still spectacular views across the bays and cliffs. There are some really beautiful beaches along this coast.

A lovely woodland section with the sea in the distance.
Wide sandy beaches are a feature of this part of the coast
And so are very precipitous cliff edges!
Filey beach. We walked all along the beach from almost the end of the headland in the far distance. There was a brisk north west wind blowing!

Arriving in Filey along the sandy beach felt like a fitting end to a coast walk. Michelle and Steve have walked the whole of the Cleveland Way (109 miles) and I have done the coastal section. Sixty miles altogether, which is a bit more than the official distance. This takes into account walking to and from the bus stops!

Ice cream to celebrate!

I will miss the sound of the sea in my left ear, and the sound of the larks in the right; the sight of the blue sky, and the white (or sometimes grey) clouds. I will miss the cheery primroses and daffodils everywhere, and the friendly greetings of fellow walkers. I will even miss the climbs up and paths down! Most of all I will miss the very fact of the walk itself.

Let’s go for a walk – in Cornwall

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I have been lucky enough to spend the last few days in Cornwall, and I have done a bit of walking. As today is St Pirin’s day (the patron saint of Cornwall) I though it would be nice to share some photos of the beautiful countryside and coastline around Port Isaac and nearby places.

Herringbone slate walls with liverwort growing from them. Liverworts are very ancient simple plants that have their origins 400 million years ago.

On Wednesday I walked from Wadebridge along the Camel estuary before turning inland to the church of St Breock which dates from the 13th century. The weather in the days before had been very rainy and the ground was muddy. But luckily for me the rain mainly held off.

The Camel estuary. You can cycle along the old railway path all the way to Padstow.
The lichens on the trees were beautiful. Because the leaves aren’t out yet the eye is drawn to these ancient plants.
St Breock’s nestled in the valley. A stream ran past the church at the bottom of the steps.
Mud!

On Thursday I walked from Polzeath to St Enodoc church. This church dates from the 12th century and is now located in the middle of a golf course. It is close to the sea, and over the centuries became almost buried in sand. In order to collect tithes, and remain effectively ‘open for business’ it had to hold at least one service a year. The vicar and congregation entered through a hole in the roof until in the 19th century the church was restored. The church spire is not quite straight. Sir John Betjeman is buried in the churchyard.

It was a bit grey, but again – no rain!
Look at these amazing stripy rocks! For more information about slate you can follow this link. Slate was produced in great quantities in Cornwall, especially nearby Delabole.
Betjeman’s slate headstone in the churchyard at St Enodoc.
The crooked spire of St Enodoc’s; buried in sand for 300 years!

On Friday I walked from Port Isaac to Polzeath (and then got the bus back). I have done the first bit of this walk before – to Port Quin – so I was aware of the reason behind the nickname the ‘rollercoaster’. However I had forgotten just how tough this part of the coast path is. My goodness me the ascents and descents are tough on your legs! There was a quite a wind blowing but no rain.

Looking over Port Isaac
Pasty for lunch at Port Quin
The Rumps

On Saturday I walked from Boscastle to Minster (St Merthiana’s) Church. This church dates back to 1150, although it is on a site which has been there since Celtic times, and there is a Holy Well in the churchyard which was likely a sacred Celtic spring.

Daffodils in ancient woodland along the river Valency
The river Valency. In 2004 terrible flash floods swept through Boscastle causing huge amounts of damage.
The pretty church of St Merthiana, also called St Materiana, Madryn or Madrun. She was from Wales originally, as many Cornish saints were.
Spot the scissors! Nobody seems to know why they are there…
The little harbour at Boscastle (photo by Simon Bishop)
Another Cornish speciality – saffron cake.

Apart from the walk to Polzeath from Port Isaac all the walks were circular. I downloaded a brilliant app called I-walk Cornwall which I can thoroughly recommend. It meant that I felt quite secure walking without a map, which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend for all terrain, but here felt perfectly ok. Most of these walks I just wouldn’t have done without this app. If you are thinking of a holiday in Cornwall definitely consider getting it!

So – happy St Piran’s Day to all Cornish people! Maybe my next baking post will be about making pasties – or saffron buns!

Nadiya’s Banana Thyme Loaf Cake

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Here is another recipe for banana bread/cake! This time it is from the lovely Nadiya Hussain, who won the 2015 series of Great British Bake Off. I was really intrigued by the addition of thyme, and also the fact that the ingredients include olive oil, and no eggs.

Mmm caramel, yum

So I set to. The cake was not a total success. But not an unmitigated failure either. And I know where I went wrong, and it’s totally my fault, not the recipe!

All the ingredients for the loaf cake.
Mixing in the milk and olive oil.

Gathering everything together before I started I was pleased that I already had a half a pot of double cream for the caramel. And exactly 4 small bananas, at the perfect level of ripeness for banana bread. However. I did not have any self raising flour. Oh well, I thought, not a disaster, I will use baking powder. But. No baking powder.

Before it went in the oven

At this point it was 8.30 on a Sunday morning, pouring with rain and blowing a hooley. And I was still in my pyjamas! I did not feel like going down to the shop just to get some baking powder. So – I will make my own baking powder. I looked up the proportions of bicarbonate of soda to cream of tartar (1:2 if you’re wondering). I calculated how much I would need for 300g of flour. All good. Oh but, no but, no. Somehow I managed to put in a little too much raising agent, which meant that the the cake rose and rose far too quickly and then sank like a soggy stone!

Before the caramel
With a nice thick caramel ‘drizzle’

The outcome was a loaf cake with a deep well along the middle. But the caramel needs a place to settle, right?! And the caramel is good! So, although it definitely didn’t come out as the handsomest cake ever, which is a shame as the sliced banana on top does look pretty cool, it was very tasty. We decided it tasted a bit like those yummy toffee bananas you get as pudding in Chinese restaurants.

With an extra dollop of caramel!

And the thyme? It’s very subtle, but there is a hint of herbal tang and aroma which lifts this cake from the ordinary. I will have to make it again, with a proper flour/ raising agent mix.

You can find the recipe on the BBC website by clicking this link. (You really need to click on it to see what it is supposed to look like!) I didn’t change anything much (except the crucial specified flour 😂). You could make this without the caramel – but don’t. The salted caramel lifts it to another level.

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Irish Barmbrack – a tasty fruit loaf

I have made a very similar loaf to this before – Welsh Bara Brith, which I wrote about in this post here. This version was in the Guardian Food section on Saturday and you can find it online next week, unless you happen to have bought a hard copy today, or subscribe. (As soon as I can I will add the link.) The article discussed different versions, and then came up with a ‘classic-best-recipe’. In Ireland this fruit loaf was traditionally made at Halloween, but nowadays is popular all year round. Like bara brith it was originally a yeasted bread, and some recipes still use this method. However it’s usually made as a quick bread now with baking powder.

Chock full of fruit

Ingredients

200g currants

200g sultanas

300ml strong tea

50ml whisky – or an extra 50ml tea

25g mixed peel – roughly chopped if it’s not already

25g glacé cherries – quartered

25g chopped blanched almonds (texture) – or I used ground almonds

150g light muscovado sugar (I used 130g of a mix of dark brown and golden caster sugar because that’s what I had)

210g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp mixed spice

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (freshly grated if possible)

1/4 tsp salt

1 egg, beaten

Method

Soak the sultanas and currants in the tea (and whisky) for at least 6 hours.

Preheat the oven to 180 deg C (160 fan) Gas 4. Grease and line a 13cm x 20cm loaf tin. Stir the peel, cherries and almonds into the soaked fruit.

In another bowl which together the sugar, flour, baking powder, spices and salt. The stir into the fruit with the beaten egg. Tip the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 90 minutes, covering the top after an hour if it’s getting too brown. A skewer or cake tester should come out clean.

Leave for 15 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely.

In the recipe as written there is an optional sugar glaze but I really don’t think it needs it. The main difference between this recipe and the Welsh one is the amount of fruit, which is way more in the Irish version. It comes out really squishy and damp. And yummy! The spice is just right, and with a little bit of butter it makes a very delicious tea time treat.

I’ve also been thinking it would make a good snack when on a long walk. Which brings me to my new venture – I’ve started a new blog called Walking the London Loop, which is all about – well you can guess! If you have the time and inclination take a look.

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Race Report! New Year Revolutions – here comes 2022

So – yesterday afternoon around 4 o’clock I decided to run a half marathon! Today! As you do. I have run this event before. In fact this event started my year of half marathons in 2019, and then I just had to do it again in 2020. It didn’t happen in 2021, so why not again in 2022?!

Before it started.

Run at Hillingdon Cycle Circuit it’s a timed run which means you can run any distance you can manage within 6 hours. Some people do marathons, some people ultras. Some run, some walk, some run/walk. One person today was in a wheelchair. It’s out and back loops – seven for a half marathon.

Ready to go!

Even though it’s the exact opposite type of run that I normally like (I.e. countryside trail runs) it’s curiously compelling. Meditative and mindless almost. The atmosphere is one of camaraderie, although there were a lot fewer people today than in previous years. There’s no sense of competition because everyone is running their own race in terms of time and distance. The cycle circuit is in a green space within a highly industrial and commercial area. Today there were two kites hovering for about half an hour overhead, and lots of other birds singing away. Ever changing skies remind me of the skies in Suffolk, which is really quite extraordinary when we are in deepest Hayes just a couple of miles from Heathrow!

So that’s the first half marathon of 2022. Done and dusted in 2 hours and 11 minutes! When’s the next one?!

Great medal and superb goody bag!
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Happy New Year!

So it’s 2022. Yay! And traditionally it’s the time to look back on the last year. I do wish I had managed to write a few more blog posts, but I have been so busy, and at times quite unmotivated if I am honest. But there have been many good things this year. I managed two trail runs which were a lot of fun. And I also did the wonderful Ealing half marathon, as well as the Ealing parks challenge which was wonderful – getting into all the corners of Ealing borough that I would never normally go to.

A corner of Acton I probably won’t ever visit again! 🤣 (shame about the graffiti…)

As always I feel grateful to live in an area where there are so many nice places to run that are in green spaces – right on the doorstep!

Sunrise over the river Brent and the allotments

I was very lucky to be able to get away to the beautiful Isle of Arran in July for a walking holiday. I feel so grateful that my friend and I were able to do that, given the horrible winter we seem to be having lately. Thinking about all the lovely things that happened in 2021 certainly picks me up when things feel hard.

Lochranza on the Isle of Arran.

I also had a holiday in Suffolk, and ran some familiar routes there. The weather was good, and it was lovely to be by the sea with good friends for a few days.

The old lifeboat station in Aldeburgh

I have not done so much baking this year, or perhaps I just haven’t written about it as much! I’ve made some nice things and some not so nice (!). Highlights were the apple buns and the magic custard cakes!

My husband’s (the love of my life) 60th birthday cake – a truly scrumptious chocolate layer cake – the filling is like a chocolate mousse.

In May all the family managed a few days near Buxton in Derbyshire when the babies – my beautiful grandsons – met for the first time since being born on the same day in 2020!

They’re walking and talking now! (And they have hair.) Love them so much.

Today was the first day of a new year, so time to start as you mean to go on – a nice easy 6km run around one of my favourite parks – Pitshanger Park. It was so warm I went out in shorts and a t-shirt and was still too hot!

On my run today – a photo of one of my favourite oak trees, that lost a major branch in a storm a couple of years ago.

I haven’t yet decided on any ‘challenges’ for 2022… right now there’s enough going in my life without any more challenge thank you very much!

The medal haul from 2021 – plus that ridiculously massive one that hangs from a hook out in the garden!

I am hoping to write a bit more regularly – I’ve been sharpening the pencils and filling the inkwells in readiness.

Happy New Year to all my readers! Wishing you all good health and happiness. 😊

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7 Runs in 7 Days – Christmas Week!

At the beginning of December I was feeling quite unmotivated when it came to running – it’s hard to get out there on a dark, cold and sometimes wet morning/evening. So what better incentive than a virtual challenge set by the inimitable Phoenix Running. I have done this challenge before – you can read about it here – but it was in the summer, when it’s easier to feel that motivation to go out.

But there’s something about signing up and committing yourself to something that’s really highly motivating. Why should that be? Usually I am intrinsically motivated to go out for a run, knowing that I will always feel better for doing it. But sometimes I need a little nudge to keep me going in the right direction. Real in person runs/races are probably the best kind of extrinsic motivation, but it’s not always possible to find a convenient race to enter. So the next best thing is a virtual run or challenge. Here’s a link to an article about motivation that explains a bit more.

So in the week up to Christmas I ran every day (7 days) plus an extra run on Christmas Day itself just for good measure. All the following photos were taken during or at the end of the seven runs.

Winter tree silhouettes
Front door wreath
Early morning mist on the canal

The next photos were taken in Olde Hanwell of the Advent Windows. Local residents decorate their windows for each day of Advent. Last year was impressive and this year did not disappoint!

This is my friends Tim and Elaine – who have a very furry cat!

And then I ran a 5km on Christmas Day just because why not?!

And finally – in case you think it’s all running and no baking – there have been plenty of these Best Ever Mince Pies coming out of the oven!

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Nigella’s Banana Bread

I make no apology for writing yet again about banana bread. Since 2019, when I started writing this blog, I have tried out several different banana bread recipes: a classic banana bread from the Little Red Barn Baking Book, another classic banana bread by Felicity Cloake, a marbled chocolate- banana bread, a spiced banana bread (using garam masala to spice it up) and a blackcurrant banana bread.

Three of these recipes were baked during the 2020 lockdown baking mania that seized people across the nation. Banana bread was a popular choice for many – but why?! I asked the oracle known as Google. It gave me some answers, which I am sure you would be able to give yourself if you thought about it for just a few minutes. Banana bread is easy. It is delicious. It is relatively cheap to make. Everyone always seems to have a few bananas going black in the bowl that nobody wants to eat. It is versatile – just look at the versions I have already tried – and now I’m going to give you another!

An article in The Grocer about baking in 2020 has some fascinating statistics about who baked what in lockdown. For example banana bread (or similar loaf cake) was baked by far more people in London and the south east – 45% of bakers – compared to just 24% of bakers in the north west of England! And there’s a great article here about the psychology of baking things like banana bread, especially in times of national and personal stress.

21 years old and still a constant go-to recipe book
Can you see that left over rum in the little bowl top left? Cook’s perks!

So – let’s get to this iteration of the wonderful thing that is banana bread. Nigella Lawton’s How to be a Domestic Goddess is 21 years old now, but the recipes still feel up to date, and like modern classics. This banana bread has rum soaked sultanas and walnuts. I made a tropical variation of this a week or so ago, with chopped flaked coconut and soft dried pineapple. It was good. But the original is even better! It’s really just delicious. That’s the reason banana bread is so popular.

Here’s the recipe. I grease the tin and line with a strip of baking parchment. And don’t throw out the drained rum! Drink it!
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Race report – Maverick Suffolk trail

I entered this race way back in 2019, and it was supposed to be in April 2020. Postponed to April 2021, and then again to November I almost didn’t do it. A couple of weeks ago it just felt like too much – a 2 hour drive, possible overnight stay, 24 km, cold and wet November… I had definitely decided not to do it.

But, then I got an email from Maverick – looking forward to seeing everyone – etc etc. I had a think. Maybe it was possible. My lovely kind husband said he would drive. I could switch to the middle route – 16km (more doable), the weather looked fair. So at the last minute I changed my mind, and went!

Race village – there were lots of dogs around getting very excited and barking a lot!

And I was very glad I did, because it was so wonderful to be out running in proper countryside, with mud, and trees, and dogs, and pigs, and other people! As a city dweller running trails is something difficult to just go out and do without a lot of planning. And something I wouldn’t feel confident about doing on my own. But it is the sort of running that I really prefer. So thank you Maverick Race for organising such a fab run.

This was still quite near the beginning. Everyone naturally gets spaced apart after a bit.
Suffolk pigs. They really enjoy their outside life in the mud. (And I had a very nice bacon sandwich later… thank you piggies!)

The run started at 10am (another reason why I decided to do it, as it meant I didn’t have to get up too early, even though we were driving there on the day). It was just outside the lovely Suffolk town of Woodbridge, which is on the river Deben. The run went through fields, along the edge of (former) RAF Bentwaters, and through Tunstall Forest. The forest was the best bit for me, I just love running through the trees. I was a bit sad not to be doing the long route which went all the way up to the River Alde. There’s always next year!

Suffolk is known for being flat, and truly there was nothing that could be called a hill. A couple of gentle slopes and some mud, but no real hazards. The dogs on the course were all very well behaved, running along with their owners, and having a great time splashing in the muddy puddles. On the way back, about a mile from the finish, I passed one runner standing next to his dog, who was lying on the ground on strike! What can you do?! That dog was not going anywhere soon, and the poor runner just had to wait until he felt like carrying on.

Photo courtesy of the photographer on the course Jake Baggaley
16km in 1 hour 42 mins. Happy with that!
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Cherry and walnut cake

What do you do when you’re awake at 4am (again…)? Well why not make a cake! Recently I have started following a great blog called Eating with the Ancestors where the writer is gradually unearthing her great grandmothers’ recipe books, researching their lives, and cooking some of the recipes. The latest recipe was for a pound cake. Pound cake was traditionally made with a pound of flour, butter, eggs and sugar – plus any flavourings you like. It’s a versatile recipe and can be used as a blueprint for many different cakes. A couple of weeks ago I made a seed cake which was basically a version of pound cake with caraway seeds. Caraway is quite an old fashioned flavour, and took me right back to childhood, as seed cake was something my grandmother made.

Seed cake – flavoured with caraway seeds

Nowadays a cake made with a pound of flour (about 450g) would be pretty enormous (or perhaps they made two?) and it’s more usual to find a recipe based around half a pound, or 200-220g. Looking in the cupboard I found some glacé cherries and some mixed peel, plus some walnuts. I used this recipe as the inspiration and tweaked it a bit. I added chopped peel, a few more cherries than stated (might as well use up the pot!) and also a couple of tablespoons of ground almonds for texture as well as flavour. And I used butter not margarine – again for flavour.

Top tips: if your eggs are straight from the fridge it’s a good idea to bring them to room temperature – they beat up better. If you don’t have time for that then put them in a bowl of tap hot water (you don’t want to cook them) for a few minutes – while you get everything else ready. The texture of the cake batter should be quite soft but not runny. To see if you have to add a bit more liquid – milk in this recipe – get a good dollop of mixture on your wooden spoon and tap sharply on the side of the bowl. If the mixture plops off nicely then you are good to go. If it’s stubborn then add a little more milk. Just a little or it will turn into pancake batter!

I’ve made cherry cake before – see the post and recipe here – and sometimes just cherries is what you want. Today I thought it would be nice to have some walnuts too. One of the advantages of a pound cake, compared to a sponge, is that they tend to keep moist for longer. They’re also denser than a sponge because they contain more flour proportionally. They’re ‘store cupboard’ cakes, and in my mind a good every day sort of cake. Not that I eat cake every day!

This type of cake is good with a cup of tea or coffee. Madeira cake, which again is based on a pound cake flavoured with lemon, was enjoyed with a glass of Madeira wine and was popular in the nineteenth century.

I think the cherries may have sunk to the bottom.

Once you’ve got the hang of the basic recipe it is easy to make it your own with whatever you like, or whatever is to hand. And it is such an easy recipe there’s no reason not to try it this very weekend!

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Race Report – Ealing Half Marathon 2021

After a break due to global circumstances in 2020 the best half marathon in the world (yes, honestly) came back for 2021! And it did not disappoint.

Last year I ran it ‘virtually’ all by myself in Suffolk in the pouring rain. This year we were all back together in our thousands to run through the welcoming streets of Ealing on a warm autumn day with not a spot of rain.

I cycled to Lammas Park for the start and excitement grew as I went past the barriers all in place, and the runners walking and cycling in one direction – to the park!

Once I had left my bike securely parked I dropped off my bag at the tent and met some friends from Quit the Gym and waited for the warm up. I was feeling surprisingly nervous at this point, but I think it was mainly excitement really. I haven’t actually run 21km for quite a while, as the last half marathon I did in July was so hot that I walked most of it! And since then the longest run I have done is 18km.

However nowadays I run with no particular time goal in mind. I just like to get round and enjoy myself. And it was really fantastic to be running a proper half marathon with lots of people all around, and amazing support from the community. Because this is a run in my local area I always see lots of people I know which is great. It really is inspiring and motivating to have so many people out on the course cheering on the runners. The marshals are fab (one of my sons and several friends were volunteering as marshals this year) and always ready to encourage and help runners in trouble. It was warm today and quite a few people were overcome by the unexpected heat and humidity – I sincerely hope all are recovered.

I finished in 2 hours 5 minutes which I was very happy with. My best time on this course is just over 1 hour 58 minutes – but that was 5 years ago! I don’t think that’s going to happen again somehow.

The Ealing half marathon has a very special place in my heart – I have done almost all of them – just missed one. The atmosphere is amazing, and I think this is because it truly is a community event. The Saturday afternoon before the half marathon is devoted to children – there’s a family mile for under 5’s and a parent/carer, and then mile races for age groups up to 16. It’s become more and more popular each year, and places sell out quickly. I’m hoping to enter next year with my grandson (maybe even both of them!) who will be 26 months by then!

A lovely medal as usual.
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Hello! I’m back with spiced apple and rum buns!

Dear loyal readers, it’s been 2 months since the last post. Where does the time go?! I have been running, and I have been baking – just not writing much (anything). There have been a few apple crumbles, a very simple apple pie with shop puff pastry, some disastrous Polish cheese buns that were almost inedible (I think I just rushed the rising bits) and now continuing the September apple season baking theme I’ve made Benjamina Ebuehi’s spiced apple and rum buns from the Guardian.

Helen and Emily’s very own apple and raisin plait. So easy – stewed apple and shop puff pastry!
Epic fail. Inedible. Look lovely – went in the bin!

I love apples, especially English apples. Sadly only about 31% of apples sold in the UK are grown in the UK. Such a shame because English apples (in my opinion) have the best taste, and we used to have a huge range of cooking apples and eaters. Modern tastes and long shelf requirements have reduced the range available. For my buns I used two apples from my garden (unknown variety) and two Worcester apples grown in the garden of England – Kent.

I was feeling a bit apprehensive about making these buns since my last attempt at yeasted buns ended up in the bin. And while making them the filling seemed like a lot for the amount of dough – wouldn’t it all end up really soggy?! But I already had the spiced rum in the cupboard so – nothing ventured, nothing gained – this recipe was a must for today.

Before baking
And after

And – it’s officially carb loading day today as the Ealing half marathon is less than 24 hours away now! Can’t wait! Look out for the race report..

I try and learn from my mistakes so these buns have taken me several hours today on and off. Started with the dough at 8.30 – let it rise until I got back from a (gentle) session with Quit the Gym in Lammas Park. So exciting to see all the prep for the Half Marathon as we did our lunges and squats, bicep curls and burpees, right by the finish line! The wonderful Sandra and Christina (race directors) were right there raising the actual finish arch.

Then back home to make the fillings. Then time to empty the dishwasher and tidy up a bit while they cool. Then assemble the buns – oh my goodness, sticky! And a quick FaceTime in the middle of it all with my beautiful grandson!

Finally into the oven while I make the rum syrup for drenching the amazing-smelling gorgeous-looking (yes yes I know I made them and I should be modest but really..) buns!

So how did those buns turn out? Well – they were great!

The secret with yeast baking is not to rush it. Pick a day when there’s time to really let them rise properly, take time with filling, rolling and twisting. It’s worth it!

It’s a winner Benjamina Ebuehi! Thanks for the recipe!
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Cherry-berry pie

Two years ago I wrote about a cherry pie I made with morello cherries from my friend Margaret’s garden. I can’t believe it’s 2 years ago! This week Margaret kindly gave me some cherries again, and I made another pie. What is it about pie? Even the word pie is a good word, it feels warm to say. It conjures images of wholesomeness, of something that is more than just pastry and filling, more than just good to eat. Pie is going to make you happy, always.

Mmm cherries 🍒

I made a bigger pie this time, and augmented the cherries with strawberries and a few blackcurrants. I made the same quick flaky pastry using a mix of vegetarian fats this time – butter, Stork and Cookeen – what I had in the fridge really. No lard! Because I dislike overly sweetened food I didn’t add too much sugar, and the filling was pleasingly tart.

It was a good combination!
The pie says “eat me – and you will be happy!” Believe the pie – what it says is true.

Served with vanilla ice cream pie is one of life’s small joys. Homemade pie is even better. Fresh pie, just still warm, crispy pastry and juicy filling. Anything better?!

Thank you Margaret for the cherries, they always seem to inspire a pie!

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Run report – The World’s Largest Medal!

First let me say that I am using the word ‘run’ as applied to yesterday’s race very loosely. I don’t think I have ever walked as much in a race/run as I did at Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking with Phoenix Running. Why? The heat! It was so hot, already 17 deg C at 7.30am when I started, and rapidly rising to about 28 deg. In the baking heat of the sun – very welcome on a vineyard I am sure, but not so great if you’re running – a couple of hundred foolhardy/ brave/ plain crazy people ran laps to earn the biggest medal of all time!

I managed four laps, a half marathon, and by the last lap I was pretty much walking the whole time. In spite of drinking over a litre of fluids my legs were cramping so much I could hardly even walk, and I decided that no medal and no run was worth collapsing for. So ended the slowest 13.1 miles ever – my official time was 2 hours and 57 minutes!

Where’s the shade?!

The great thing about the Phoenix events is the friendliness of everyone, from Rik Vercoe the organiser, to the volunteers helping at the aid station, to Paul handing out the enormous medals from the back of a truck, to every participant. Absolutely everyone is there to offer encouragement and support, and try and make sure that a good time is had by all.

Race village. I found out later that the lady in the red hat just completed her 100th half marathon!

When I finally finished I practically inhaled an ice lolly from the tuck shop/ aid station and then got an iced coffee and a panini to refuel. And then it was time to take advantage of the vineyard shop to buy some sparkling wine, before heading home.

English sparkling wine is really very good!
Seriously bonkers medal 😂
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Let’s go for a walk – Isle of Arran Coastal Way

Arriving in Brodick from Ardrossan to start our walk

Two weeks ago I was on holiday! A holiday that was booked way back in 2019 and should have happened in 2020 except we all know what happened then.

It was organised by the brilliant people at Mickledore who I can highly recommend having been on four of their walks now. My friend Michelle and I walked 65 miles (102km) around the Arran Coastal Way.

Ready to go!
Walking through shoulder high grass and bracken. We had to be on the lookout for deer ticks.

The weather was good, the scenery was amazing. The people were lovely and we stayed in some very comfortable hotels and B and B’s.

The walking was quite tough on some days, clambering over the rocks, and climbing up steep hills. One day we walked 18 miles, which is a lot for us, and the final kilometre was on soft sand. Wow, that was a killer.

Harebells in the rain.

Another day I slightly misunderstood the tide times, and we almost didn’t make it round the southernmost headland Bennan Head. That made for a scary scramble clinging to the rocks above the incoming tide. To be honest if I’d slipped and gone in I would have got very wet, but I wouldn’t have drowned!

One of the highlights of the holiday was learning about the geology of the island. The Isle of Arran is known throughout Europe for its geological diversity. We happened upon a QR code on a post on the second evening of our holiday and were introduced to the brilliant Arran Geopark website. It was a fascinating introduction to the geology of this small island. We saw fossil footprints of a giant millipede which we would never have seen otherwise. And I began to get my head around just how the earth has changed over millions of years. It’s a bit mind boggling to think that at one time the Isle of Arran was 30’ south of the equator…. And that we can see the sand dunes from that time… 😳

Red sandstone ‘dunes’
Hutton’s Unconformity – the different angles of the rocks led Hutton in the 18th century to understand that the world was a lot older than 6000 years, which is what people believed.
Can you see the footprints of the giant millipede?

Another highlight was the wildlife and we were lucky enough to see plenty of birds, deer and a few seals. Michelle’s camera is far better than my phone so the wildlife shots are thanks to her!

I love oystercatchers- they’re very funny birds. We also saw (and heard) curlews, another fabulous bird. Sadly we didn’t see a golden eagle although they are on the island.
The deer were just outside our hotel up in Lochranza.
Seals basking in the sun

We walked for 6 days, and then sadly had to come home, so we didn’t really get to see the interior of the island except from a distance. There are so many more walks to do, and more to see, so I think we may very well be back!

The weather was sunny and hot – yes actually hot! For a couple of days anyway!
Final view from the ferry of Goat Fell

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Yay! Finally! Race report! Wendover 21km

Hello everyone! Yes I am back. It’s been a while, hope you’ve all been well. All good here in Ealing, and I’m glad to be back running and writing again. And you never know I might do a bit of baking too.

Yesterday I ran my first proper hilly trail run in ages. So long ago I can’t remember when. Probably back in 2019 I think. I did a race in the Chilterns, Buckinghamshire, UK, and for anyone who knows the area – it’s hilly. That is certainly part of the charm (the views) but also part of the challenge (the pain).

Views from the top

In 2019, when I ran a half marathon (or near enough) every month throughout the year, I ran a wonderful race with race organiser Maverick. It was also in the Chiltern hills, a different bit, and it was amazing! Doing that run in 2019 made me realise that running out in proper countryside is what I really love. So I signed up for the same run in March 2020. And then it was postponed (of course) until March 2021. And then it was postponed again until July 2021 – but a date I couldn’t do. I changed my entry and ta-da – a run up hill and down dale for which I was not fully prepared – hahaha!

This run started at the civilised time of 10 o’clock. The weather was warm but not too hot, and a fresh breeze when out in the open was very welcome. We set off in waves of 5 or 6 people at a time to maintain social distancing. The route was well signed, and the marshals were all helpful and encouraging. At times in the woods I was running alone which was peaceful and calm. At other times runners were in front or behind, and all were friendly and supportive.

We ran through woods and fields, past pretty houses and farms. We ran up hills – well, no – we walked up the hills, and some of us also walked down the hills to avoid slipping on the chalky paths, or tripping on a tree root and flying down.

We ran past Chequers, the country home of the Prime Minister. We ran past a lot of HS2 works – the controversial high speed train line between London and the North. I saw many kites (the birds) hovering overhead, and heard larks singing their heads off.

That’s Chequers in the middle of the picture.

The flowers were beautiful – carpets of wild flowers on the open hillsides and tall foxgloves in the woods. One churchyard we ran through had roses all long the wall, which smelled fantastic.

The rather fab aid station

Now one thing you can guarantee when running along the Ridgeway, which is a long distance path that was part of our route, is amazing views. That is certainly the case at Coombe Hill, where the views across the countryside are expansive. There is a tall monument at the top of the hill, built in 1904 to remember the dead of the Boer War. As I approached the monument I saw a woman sitting on a bench looking upset. A fellow runner, it turned out she was almost frozen to the spot with vertigo and dizziness, from the huge views from such a height across Buckinghamshire. Eventually I persuaded her to come with me, and we slowly made our way parallel to the main path for a bit, the views shielded by trees. Then we ran along, with me on the right blocking the view as she carefully avoided looking anywhere but the ground in front of her. Finally we reached the woodland where she felt ok again. It was her first trail run – I hope it won’t be the last!

It seems cruel to plan a route where in the last 5 km there are 6 stiles to cross. My poor legs.

I made it to the finish in 2 hours 51 minutes, and my legs were killing me! The welcome at the end, plus a medal and an iced coffee, as well as a lager for later made it all worth it. And my lovely husband was there to drive me home. Which was a good thing because my left leg cramped up half way home, and still feels sore!

After months of running in familiar places it was so good to be out exploring a different area. My experience of Maverick events is that they are friendly, well organised, welcoming and fun. Bring on the next one!

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Run for a bun!

Yesterday afternoon when I got home from running I decided I fancied a bun..I found a recipe for Norwegian Cinnamon Buns in Nigella’s How to be a Domestic Goddess. Now I usually don’t have any problems with recipes from this book, but although I followed the recipe exactly (unusual for me!) the dough was extremely liquid at the beginning. Not just sticky, I can deal with that, but actually so sloppy I had to resort to adding flour. I noticed today that on the website someone has commented on this, and said they use half the amount of milk.. I think I would try with less milk next time too.

How the ones in the recipe book look…
How mine looked..

However, that said – once I had got the dough to the right consistency they worked brilliantly! They did however take longer to bake fully than the recipe said. Perhaps this was because of the larger quantity of dough, or perhaps my dish was a bit smaller than hers, or perhaps it was because I used a glass dish instead of metal because I was too lazy to delve in the cupboard and the glass one was to hand…

Before..

And I forgot to line the dish with baking paper too – although I did grease it thank goodness. I don’t think the buns would have been easy to remove if I hadn’t done at least that bit!

There is something very comforting about the aroma of cinnamon, even more so when intertwined with the amazing smell of baking yeasted dough. Another comment on the website mentions cardamom, which is a very Scandinavian flavour, and would be very good here I think.

And after. Not quite as pretty as the picture in the book… but very tasty and that’s what matters right?

Baking with yeast is very satisfying and is honestly so easy. Yeasted dough is much more forgiving than pastry I think, as you can’t really overwork it. And can there be anything more yummy than a warm, fresh bun and a cup of coffee/tea? No.

Give it a go and let us know how it turns out!

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Sunday Long Runs

Last weekend I was in Suffolk. I stayed in my sister in law’s static caravan which she very generously shares with the family, for a couple of nights so that I could do a trail run nearby which was then postponed until November! Oh well I thought, I will just do a half marathon by myself on routes that I know well around Aldeburgh. A plan. Then I remembered another run postponed from last year happening today (May 2nd), and not relishing the thought of two half marathons on consecutive weekends I decided to shorten the Suffolk run to around 12km.

Last September I ran a half marathon in this area which I wrote about here. It is an area I know quite well by now, and a lovely place to walk or run.

Pathways:

And the sea!

What a beautiful run it was. So peaceful.

And then today I ran the first half marathon I’ve done since last September, and that weather dominated half in Suffolk when I ended up soaked through and frozen!

The run today was organised by Phoenix Running and was a repeat of the route I did last year in August (blog post here). Four laps out and back along the towpath at Walton-on-Thames equals a half marathon. I did wonder about doing another lap as it’s an event where you can do as much as you like in 7 hours. However after 21.1 km my legs said No! It was a another beautiful spring morning and there’s always lots to see along the river. People on paddle boards, rowing boats, motor boats and narrow boats. And of course lots of people cycling and walking.

I didn’t take a lot photos today but it was a really beautiful day as you can see.

Double the Force! Or two medals for the price of one!
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Running Tales from Ealing: Queen of the Suburbs, the final parks

Thirteen parks and 70.6km (43.8 miles) later I have completed the challenge set by Ealing Half Marathon to run to every corner of the borough!

Today the last two parks were right over in Acton. I thought it would be a lot of running on streets, and I did end up on more pavement than last week running to Northolt. However I still managed to run through several green spaces including Ealing Common and Acton Park.

Acton Park was looking particularly beautiful yesterday.

Trinity Way Open Space is a nice little park with lots of trees and a playground. On my way out I met two runners on their way in. We had a little chat and went on our way. Taking a selfie by the park sign is a dead giveaway that someone else is doing the Challenge!

The next bit was quite slow as I worked out a way along back streets to Acton Green Common. If I had been organised I could have worked out a route and downloaded it to my phone/watch. That would have involved forethought, foresight and a technical skill that I’m not sure I have at my fingertips. It was actually straightforward and went through an area called Bedford Park.

Bedford Park was the first Garden Suburb, housing planned deliberately to maintain a semi rural feel, with green spaces and trees along the residential roads. It is based around the straight Roman road that ran from London to Bath, and was developed after 1875, when the railways increasingly provided fast transport into the city.

The District Line train going towards town

Acton Green Common is all that’s left of a much bigger area of open space. It is the site of the Battle of Turnham Green in 1642, which followed the Battle of Brentford, a major conflict of the English Civil War. The Parliamentarians managed to get together an army of 24,000 to face only 13,000 Royalists. (Guess who won.)

The run back home was a bit more straightforward as I knew where I was going!

Isn’t this topiary hedge wonderful?! I just had stop and take a photo.

While at Acton Green I met the same couple I’d seen earlier in Trinity Way! And I was to meet them yet again back in Ealing, at Haven Green. It turned out they were driving to all the parks on the same day, and running a mile in each one. Great idea! I love the way the challenge inspires people to complete it in many different ways. Some people walk, some run, some bike. Some do it solo, others in groups. Some do all the parks in one go, others take their time and do one or two at a time. One woman went to every park in a day, and walked and skipped in each!

One of my favourite oak trees in Ealing, on the common

And today my week was made when I won a prize from Ealing Half Marathon from posting my Instagram photos from the challenge! I am absolutely thrilled to bits to have won such an amazing prize – or prizes I should say, as there’s a Camelbak (hydration thingy), voucher for Sunday carvery at one my favourite Ealing pubs The Forester, an Ealing half marathon sweatshirt AND a mug! Thank you so much Sandra and Christina at Ealing Half Marathon.

My next proper challenge is an actual real life race down at Walton on Thames in a couple of weeks. I am aiming to run at least a half marathon, but maybe, just maybe, I might run a bit more. I’ll let you know!

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Nigella’s Rhubarb Cornmeal Cake

My rhubarb plant is sprouting crazily as usual. It seems to be an early version as other members of my family are still waiting for their rhubarb to get big enough to pick. Nigella is right when she says that the early ‘forced’ rhubarb makes for a prettier cake, studded with pink chunks. One day I will get round to buying a rhubarb forcer and giving it a go myself. In the meantime I like the ordinary stuff, even it isn’t as pink and sweet!

Nigella’s recipe comes from How to be a Domestic Goddess. I am too lazy I’m afraid to write it out. Here is a photo of the page:

A less lazy blogger than me has written the recipe out here

The cornmeal gives a pleasing texture to this cake, contrasting with the soft and juicy rhubarb chunks. I added a little ginger as well as the cinnamon, and I think I would emphasise this flavour a bit more next time. In fact, while searching for the cake online I found a very nice sounding version at this website. Added almonds and spices such as cardamom, plus little chunks of crystallised ginger sound delicious! Another flavour that goes well with rhubarb is orange – which is also very much in season as the moment. I think I’m going to have try another iteration next weekend!

Even as it stands, plain and simple, this cake is very good. As Nigella points out it is a versatile cake, good for pudding, teatime and all other occasions in between and beyond. Plain and unadorned, or accompanied by cream (muscat-mascarpone cream if you are Nigella) or custard, rhubarb cake is moist and delicious served any way.

My cake took quite a bit longer to cook than recipe stated – I would advise testing regularly so that you don’t take it out of the oven too early.

Do you have a favourite rhubarb recipe? I’d love to know! Or perhaps you can’t stand it?! Give it a chance and try this cake 😊.

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Running Tales from Ealing: Queen of the Suburbs Take 2

Last September I took part in a virtual running challenge organised by Ealing Half Marathon, to run in or to 13 of the lovely parks we have here in the borough of Ealing. It was a lot of fun, visiting new parks as well as those I know well.

It was so popular that it’s being run again in April, with 13 different parks to visit. And this time there’s an option to do 13 parks in your local area if you don’t live in Ealing!

RUN ONE

Perivale Park

I started off on 1st April after work, with one of the nearest parks to me – Perivale Park, which I have run in many many times, and have written about here.

RUN TWO

Beautiful blossom in Hanger Hill Park

Run 2 happened on a bank holiday so I had more time in hand. I worked out a little route that took in four parks/ green spaces. First was Drayton Green, which was purchased by the council in 1866 when the area started to be developed. For centuries it had been farmland. There has been a running track on the green since 1932, and a children’s playground since the 1950’s (hopefully not the same one, haha! Remember the infamous witch’s hat roundabout thing? So dangerous but so fun!).

Next stop Haven Green, right outside Ealing Broadway station which is having a huge makeover for the Elizabeth Line – Crossrail. Haven Green has its roots far back in Anglo Saxon times. It was at the crossroads of some major routes east to west, and north to south. Farmers would drive their cattle and sheep to market in London along the Uxbridge road, resting them on the green, while they went for refreshments at The Feathers Inn. This later became the Townhouse, and is now a bank and apartments.

Then off along the Uxbridge Road just a short way up to Ealing Common, a big open space that is used for all sorts. Nowadays football and dog walking are major activities. In the past cricket was popular, and the pub that is now called the Grange was originally called The Cricketer. It’s used for funfairs and circuses too (in ‘normal times’).

Then I made my way up to Hanger Hill Park, up the infamous Park View Road, which is the first proper hill on the Ealing half marathon route. There are lots of trees here and natural springs that run across some of the paths. There are views from the top across to Wembley and the stadium.

Altogether this run was shorter than I had anticipated – under 10km. Apart from some busy roads in some places it was a nice route.

RUN THREE

More blossom in Elthorne Park

I did run 3 on Easter Day – just a quick local run to Elthorne Park, which I’ve written about here. I saw a few people also running or cycling through the parks and along the canal for the Queen of the Suburbs Challenge! It’s nice to say hi!

RUN FOUR

In Southall Recreation Ground

On Easter Monday I did a longer run along the canal towards Southall to tick off two parks there. Wolf Fields was a bit uninspiring, although I am sure it’s lovely to have that space if you live locally. And maybe I was a bit underwhelmed because it was a very grey and chilly day. Southall Recreation Ground is nice, with a big children’s playground and some beautiful mature trees. And it’s right next to the canal.

RUN FIVE

This beautiful oak is in a field just near Horsenden Hill.

And this weekend I did run 5, which took in three parks in the north/northwest of the borough. I actually went through Perivale Park again, and Northala Fields (which I’ve written about here!) to get to Lime Tree Park. Apparently this was originally a featureless flat space, which lent itself to antisocial behaviour such as joy riding and traveller encampments. But the council, in conjunction with residents and an environmental company, developed the landscape to discourage such activities. It now has undulating grounds, with trees and pond area. There is also a children’s centre at one side. This whole area was developed from farmland in the 1950’s, and I have met many residents who have lived here from that time, moving from crowded and dilapidated housing in places like Notting Hill, Shepherd’s Bush and Hammersmith after the 2nd world war. It really was the countryside then, with farms and stables.

After this it was a short run to Belvue Park and the lovely ancient St. Mary’s church. This area has a connections to the Iron Age and the Romans, and there are informative signs around the park. (This is why some of my runs take so long – reading the info and taking photos!).

I managed to find my way easily to the canal and ran back towards Perivale and Horsenden Hill. I have often run along this way, but funnily enough I almost always run east to west, not the other way round. Everything looks different going the other way! Even though I was pretty tired by now I just had to go and find the Gruffalo before I headed back home for a second breakfast/brunch!

A selfie with the Gruffalo is compulsory!

I just have two more parks to tick off the list now, and that will most likely happen next weekend. I did make a cake today – but that will wait for a separate post.

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A little bit of this and a little bit of that

Is everyone feeling a bit ‘meh’ at the moment? I think a year in to this mess most of us are feeling a bit unmotivated, and basically down in the dumps at least some of the time. Me: “How are you feeling?” Person: “Oh well, ok, you know, [pause] ok.” That is – not really ok.

I haven’t written anything for the last three weeks, because sometimes I’m too busy, and sometimes, if I am honest, I’m just lacking the motivation. However I know that if I don’t get started again it will get harder. So today is a bit of an update, random bits and pieces of the last couple of weeks.

Lemon meringue pie instead of birthday cake! Not made by me but my talented son Jack. It was so good, sharp lemon and sweet meringue – perfect combo.
Spring time! Sunday run a couple of weeks ago down to the Town Wharf pub in Isleworth, by the river Thames. Can’t wait for the pubs to re-open…
Blackthorn blossom. Down by the river Brent in Greenford.
Before and after proper rice pudding. Goodness me this was truly special.
This was a mincemeat pie, with thin orange slices on top of the filling, and then topped with orange blossom flavoured meringue. Personally I thought it was too rich and a bit sickly – but it didn’t last long in this house!
The pond scrapes in Perivale Park early evening 14th March.
#nofilter – after work run this week. It really was glowing like this!
Today I ran 16km (10 miles) along the Thames path. This is the view towards Richmond bridge.

The last few weeks I have been trying to increase the distance of my long runs as I was due to do a real life actual 24km trail run in Suffolk at the end of April. Sadly this has been postponed until November.

Things to look forward to:

* Getting back outside for the wonderful Quit the Gym! After 29th March look out for us in Lammas Park, Ealing. Zoom gym just ain’t the same..

* Going to Suffolk (end of April) and running a half marathon, by myself…

*Running in the thirteen parks chosen by Ealing Half Marathon for the Queen of the Suburbs in April. This was such a lot of fun last September and I am so glad they’ve done it again!

*Final thing (for the moment – and the best thing) fingers crossed – end of May we get to see our eldest son, his partner and the baby who we haven’t seen since the beginning of September.

And of course, in between, lots more lovely runs watching spring springing. Keep on keeping on people!

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New shoes and chocolate magic cake!

So – first. The chocolate magic cake. It seems I was definitely not the only person to have the idea that magic cake would be pretty good in chocolate, because when I searched the internet there were loads of versions! I found a lovely one at this website, with the amazing name of Unicorns in the Kitchen. And let me tell you – it is GOOD! If you haven’t tried a magic cake yet you really must soon. Like this week. Actually I’m really glad I found that website because it turns out that: “Unicorns in the Kitchen is your one-stop source for all of the best Persian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean recipes.” Which is brilliant because I absolutely love this type of food. And now I’ve found another source of great recipes! Like this one for green lentil soup. Did you know that lentils and pulses are great at regulating blood glucose, keeping it balanced and level. Those glucose highs (and subsequent lows and crashes) are kept at bay by eating these complex carbs, which are also really good sources of protein.

Just look at those chocolatey layers. Yum.

Second subject – new shoes! Not too long ago I posted about my many running shoes. Well, I have had a major clear out since then, and got rid of several pairs of old shoes, and a couple of pairs that were actually not that worn out, but just didn’t fit or feel right. They all got recycled so it’s ok. Then I realised that I didn’t buy a single pair of new running shoes in 2020. And then I found out that I could get 30% off Adidas shoes with a code. Nothing to stop me. A few days later: I’m running in the lovely new bouncy shoes that are Adidas Solar Glide, and trying to avoid the muddy puddles because I don’t want to get them dirty! And I have another pair of Adidas Supernovas, but these are more summer shoes because they have mesh uppers which will keep my feet cool in hot weather.

Lovely new shoes!

Although I’ve worn other makes of shoes in the past, and do still have a great pair from Decathlon, I find that generally Adidas seem to fit my feet well. The best advice I ever heard, and what I advise people who ask, is that your shoes (any, not just running) should feel comfortable right from the start. There shouldn’t be any need to ‘wear’ or ‘break’ them in. If they don’t feel good when you first put them on then I would suggest think very carefully whether they’re the right ones before handing over your money.

Here are the Supernovas, ready for some warmer weather.

My new shoes took me on a 14km (8.6 miles) run this morning down to the River Thames and back. I have been trying to increase the distance on my long runs, because in a couple of months I have an actual real life run in Suffolk that was postponed last year. It looks as though it may be able to happen (fingers crossed) at the end of April. I entered for the long route which is 24km – yikes! It is possible however to change your mind before the day, or even on the day, so I may end up doing a shorter distance.

Half way at the river. It was quite cold today and a bit grey, as you can see.

I have also entered the Queen of the Suburbs challenge again! You may remember that this was a definite highlight of 2020, and I wrote about it here. This time there are 13 different parks to visit, in April. I can’t wait, and have already printed off the map and begun to think about how I’ll get to them all.

The days are getting noticeably longer now which is great. It’s nice to be able to run after work before it gets dark. Just a little warmer would be nice too! Although we’re not quite out of the woods yet it feels like a positive step having a real race in the diary.

Have a great week, and let me know if you try the magic cake!

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Magic Custard Cake

One day recently I was pottering around the internet, as you do, clicking semi randomly and following links from place to place, when this recipe from Anne McDonald in Australia caught my eye. Unusual, and yet also familiar as it reminded me of an old school pudding from Delia Smith: Lemon surprise pudding. Delia’s recipe is in her Complete Cookery Course, originally published in 1978. I found a similar one (same name too) on the BBC site by Jane Grigson here. It’s not quite the same as the Delia one and I haven’t tried it. Anyway the idea of a cake mixture that separates while cooking into a sauce or a custard is not totally new to me. I’ve never thought of it as a cake before though, just as a hot pudding. It’s really good as a hot pudding by the way!

So the magic of the cake is that the mixture separates itself into layers – sponge on top and custard below. Since cake and custard is a classic combo (think of all those school dinners with their delicious puddings!) I just had to give it a go. You need 500ml (or a pint) of milk, and since there was a bit of a milk lake in the fridge it seemed the time was right.

It’s a straightforward process making the batter, although I would recommend an electric whisk for the egg yolks and sugar, and the egg whites. Don’t be put off by the very liquid state of the cake batter – it does literally pour into the tin. It is supposed to do that and it will bake into a proper cake.

Gentle whisking of the egg whites into the mixture helps keep it fluffy.
Before trimming
Edges trimmed off (yes I ate the other edge 😂)
You can see the 3 layers here; sponge, soft custard and a slightly firmer layer at the bottom.

While I was mixing I thought about making a version based on that other school dinner classic – chocolate sponge and chocolate custard… Do you think it would work? I think it probably would, so I might have a go at trying that and see what happens!

Magic custard cake – I’m pretty pleased with the results!
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Running Tales from Ealing – Perivale Park

Perivale Park is not far from where I live now, but it used to be practically my back garden for ten years until the mid 1990’s. At that time it was quite boring – a big, flat expanse of mainly playing fields, bordered by a golf course and a bowling green where nobody seemed to play anymore. There was a children’s playground however, so we went there a lot as it was so close.

Feb 2021: This oak tree was the view from my bedroom for ten years!

In the past few years however a transformation has slowly taken place and Perivale Park is much more interesting visually and ecologically. It is also far more accessible, with new footpaths that take you all round the field area. There are wild flower meadows, newly planted tree areas (including an orchard), and ponds. These ponds are man made scrapes designed to hold rainwater, and dry out in the summer. They are shallow, and are ideal in Perivale Park because the area is a flood plain for the River Brent. The ponds help stop the grass fields becoming totally sodden.

April 2019

The unused bowling green has become a lovely mini community allotment area with benches to sit and rest, or admire the industry of others. Next to this area is a newly planted area of trees, a mix of all kinds of specimens including acers, rowan (mountain ash), oak, linden (lime), and tulip trees. I’m not sure, because I can’t find any information about this, but it seems to me that the trees are possibly not in their final positions. They are planted in rows and quite close together. Perhaps they will be moved at some point somewhere else in the park?

Feb 2021: Here are the young trees in what I suspect is a sort of tree nursery.

There is an unusual bench in the park dedicated to the memory of Nicky Hopkins, famous pop/rock pianist , who was born and brought up in Perivale. He played with practically every rock band you can think of including The Who, The Rolling Stones and The Kinks.

Annoyingly I forgot to take a photo today and thought I already had one. But couldn’t find it. So this photo is from the very informative blog of The Friends of Perivale Park.

Sport and fitness is definitely a strong theme of the park. There are pitches for football, rugby and cricket, and tennis courts. There are also new fitness equipment stations at different places in the park, some of which are still not quite ready for use, as work was stopped on the surfaces due to the lockdown. When it’s all open they will be a great addition. At the east aspect of the park, next to the golf clubhouse, is the athletics track, home to the Ealing, Southall and Middlesex Athletics Club. It’s a proper eight lane running track, with throwing facilities, indoor gym and spectator seating. All closed at the moment of course.

Feb 2021: the athletics track – sadly empty at the moment.
March 2020: one of the ‘scrape’ ponds

The park is well used by local people for walking, running, playing sport, cycling and just playing. I have several regular routes I run that take me through Perivale Park. I used to just run straight through it as there really wasn’t much to see. However now I am much more likely to run round it a couple of times – at any time of year the views and wildlife are interesting and always different.

October 2020: another of the ponds; it’s hard to believe this is in London.
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Chocolate babka – mmm yum!

Babka is a rich yeasted cross between a cake and a pastry and a sweet bread traditionally filled with sweet fillings such as cinnamon and sugar, fruit, nuts, or more lately chocolate. It originated in the Jewish communities of Poland and the Ukraine, and was often made and baked along with challah, which was the base dough. Originally made in tall fluted round pans, it is now commonly shaped in a loaf tin.

There are recipes all over everywhere for babka, with every kind of filling you can possibly imagine from traditional dried fruit to savoury. When I looked up ‘traditional Polish babka’ I found a very different recipe from those of more UK and USA traditions. This one from A Family Feast is more of a sweet dough with a fruit filling. It looks very different, but equally as delicious, as Paul Hollywood’s version of chocolate babka which I found here on the Great British Bake Off website.

Although it says ‘needs skill’ under the difficulty rating I honestly feel that anyone who has made even a basic yeasted loaf, and can read a recipe carefully could do this. The recipe is very well written so no guesswork is required, and I even managed it without a stand mixer! I used the dough hooks on my hand mixer until they couldn’t cope, and then I mixed and kneaded the old fashioned way – with my hands!

Making the chocolate filling- butter, sugar and chocolate with cocoa powder mixed in once it’s all melted.
A shiny ball of dough. It’s quite sticky at the beginning but don’t get disheartened and add more flour – as you knead the dough pulls itself together.
Chocolate mixture and nuts spread on the rolled out dough before rolling up. I didn’t have any hazelnuts so I used toasted chopped walnuts.
Rolled up and cut lengthways ready to twist together.
In the tin ready to rise.
Waste not want not – these are the cut off ends of the rolls!
Cook’s perks

The hardest part of making yeasted dough things is the waiting – for the dough to rise. Especially as it can take longer then you think because the eggs and butter slow down the process. But hey. It’s a very cold Sunday and there is nothing much else to do. I’ve even finished watching The Serpent, which was excellent. Luckily and handily there was a 6 month old baby to play with! That makes the time go quickly.

My attempt at running every day in February (see previous posts) went out of the window yesterday – following my Covid vaccination on Friday, I felt pretty awful for most of Saturday and running was out of the question. However I feel fine today, and managed 11km along the Grand Union Canal, which was great (but very cold).

The warming smells of chocolate babka floated round the house and were very cheering. Even better was the sweet, but not too sweet, yummy deliciousness of the finished thing! So, so worth the wait.

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Running every day in January – NOT!

My January challenge was to run every day, even if it was a just a short run. I started off really well, and managed a run for the first 8 days. And then I got Covid. And then my husband got Covid. So I was in self isolation for a large part of January. That means that I could not go out at all for more than half the days of January. Luckily we are both fully recovered and back at work. And in spite of sitting on the sofa for a lot of that time, and eating a lot of chocolate biscuits, I seem to still fit in most of my clothes! Amazing! I am so thankful that I seem to have got away with relatively minor symptoms. And I am also very thankful that I will get my vaccine this week.

Snowdrops at Kew Gardens.

I did try and run as much as I could in the month, although I have been very careful not to overdo it, and take some walk breaks. I am definitely slower, but that could just be because I’m out of practice. I ran for 14 days and 84.5 km ( 52.5 miles) which isn’t bad I think, all things considering.

It rained a lot in January.

As February is a short month I am going to try and run every day for the 28 days. I think some runs will be very short, but that’s ok. I am just so grateful to be going out of the front door and down the road again!

Perivale Park

It is getting noticeably lighter in the evenings and mornings now, and spring flowers are just beginning to poke their heads above ground. My next door neighbour even has daffodils in flower! And snowdrops are blooming in my garden.

Osterley Park – one of the few days out I was allowed in January!

I hope everyone out there is well, and able to find joy and lightness of heart in the little things: a good gin and tonic, a squidgy brownie, a jay flying though the trees, or sploshing through an icy puddle(!).

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Nigella’s Emergency Brownies

Emergency! SOS! Brownies required! It was a Saturday night in January – cold, dark, wet and mid-lockdown. What better time for an emergency brownie? I saw Nigella making these last week on her tv show, and immediately looked up the recipe which you can find by clicking this link. Sometimes it’s good to have a normal sized cake or pan of brownies, enough to keep you going for a few days (well, a couple anyway) or give away. But sometimes it’s better to have ‘just enough’, which is what this recipe provides perfectly.

It’s easy, quick and yummy. I can think of plenty of other ‘emergency’ occasions when this recipe will be exactly what is needed.

All ingredients are likely to be at hand. Important for emergencies.

We served it with vanilla ice cream which was exactly right.

The recipe serves 2-4.

Emergency over. Chocolate fix sorted. Another Saturday night with nowhere to go but the sofa and the television (The Masked Singer is a bit addictive) feels quite a bit better with a proper dessert.

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Marmalade sandwiches – with a twist

The most famous marmalade sandwiches are those of the renowned Paddington Bear whose Aunt Lucy introduced them to him in Darkest Peru before he came to London to live with the Browns. Paddington almost always had an emergency marmalade sandwich under his hat. This seems like a good idea to me, although I imagine it might make your hair (or fur) a bit sticky.

Here in London it is the height of marmalade making season. Which is great when you are in a second period of self isolation. Plenty of time for making marmalade with those bitter Seville oranges that have such a short season. There is really nothing like a pot of homemade marmalade. It is ALWAYS better than shop bought. And everyone’s marmalade is different, so swaps are a voyage of discovery. This year I have so far made some traditional chunky marmalade, and some which is finer cut with the addition of bergamot. Bergamot is a yellow-green citrus fruit with a distinctive flavour. It’s quite a strong flavour so I only used one per kilo of fruit. For my final batch I intend to make a dark whisky flavoured version.

A friend and fellow marmalade maker told me last week about the Marmalade Awards, a truly wonderful institution, and as eccentrically English as it is possible to be. There are categories for all sorts, including a special category for marmalade makers who also happen to be bellringers! Entries are open until the beginning of February, so there’s still time to send in your pot. The entry fee goes directly to a local hospice and they have raised over £250,000 so far which is wonderful.

Today I revisited a marmalade sandwich I invented when I was about 15. I can’t remember the circumstances of the invention but it has remained a culinary highlight of my life. You need a good bread – this is true of any sandwich of course – and today I had a white sourdough (not homemade I’m afraid). Spread one slice with chunky peanut butter. Spread the other with butter and marmalade, preferably chunky cut and homemade, but any really good marmalade will suffice – and do not skimp on either! Finally lay on slices of top quality well cooked bacon. It has to be proper dry cured bacon, smoked or unsmoked, whatever you prefer. Today I had smoked streaky from the most amazing butcher The Ginger Pig. Carefully put the slices together, eat and enjoy! It’s a Taste Sensation as we like to say here in Hanwell.

While googling marmalade sandwiches I found a rather intriguing recipe for a marmalade sandwich cocktail here. It needs a particular gin, and also Aperol. I don’t have either in the house at the moment, but I will certainly bookmark that page for when I’m allowed out of the house again. I love the fact it’s finished off with finely ground toast crumbs! Although my sandwich was accompanied today by a cup of coffee I rather fancy trying it with this cocktail one day.

Last year I wrote a blog post about marmalade which featured Nigella’s chocolate orange cake, containing marmalade. This has proved one of my most looked at posts. It is one of the best cake recipes I know, and so easy. I think it may have to be made again this weekend. Who knows? I may even use a pot of homemade this time!

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A loaf of bread

It occurred to me that although this blog is all about baking, (and yes, mainly about cake), I have never written about baking bread. Over the years I’ve made a lot of bread. It seems to be something that goes in phases for me; I get very enthusiastic and then go off it again until the next time. I’ve made bread in a breadmaker, bread by hand, light loaves and heavy (sometimes by design!) loaves, proper sourdough loaves and general everyday loaves.

Soda bread

In the last month or so I have made a few loaves. I found my copy of Dough by Richard Bertinet and made a couple of different loaves from there. First I made a caraway rye loaf, and then a classic white pain de mie or everyday loaf. Bread making is honestly nowhere near as difficult or complicated as it is sometimes made out to be. And it is very satisfying too.

Rye and caraway
White bread

This week I made an easy loaf – non yeasted soda bread. This was inspired by two things/ people: first, my son Tom who makes pretty much all his own bread. He had a problem in the first lockdown when there was a major shortage of yeast, and then flour. He turned to making soda bread, with any flour he could get. Second, the butcher near us sells proper Irish coarse wholemeal flour for the authentic flavour. I learned today that soft wheat (as opposed to the hard stuff that is used for yeasted breads) is the only kind that really grows in Ireland and that is one reason why soda bread is a big thing there.

There are lots of recipes for soda bread but I like this one from Delia Smith, which has just five ingredients: flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, buttermilk and water. It takes literally minutes to mix, and is easy to bake. You don’t even need a loaf tin, because it’s shaped by hand into a round. Straight out of the oven it has a great crust, which softens a little overnight. Soda bread is delicious as it is, or buttered. It is also really good toasted with marmalade. Talking of marmalade – tis the season! Hurray! I have some oranges boiling away right now..

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Running every day in January 2021

I’ve done 9 runs so far in 2021, a total of 27.9 miles (45km) and nearly 5 hours. It was going well, and although slightly tough getting up every morning to run before work it was actually very doable.

There’s really nobody about at 6.30am. It’s peaceful and somewhat meditative running pretty much the same route most mornings in the dark. The first 3 days were lovely, and I was really looking forward to this weekend, and running in the daylight.

New Years Day
2nd January
Back to work and running in the dark. Tuesday 5th – I didn’t take many photos this week, because it was basically dark.. and looked like this!

However that’s all changed because yesterday I received the news that I tested positive for the coronavirus – OH NO!! That means I have to isolate for 10 days – right up to next weekend. Although I felt unwell on Thursday evening and Friday morning, by Friday afternoon I was feeling a lot better. So today I though I would try a run in my garden.

Garden run.. It’s about 15m to the end. I had to go up and down quite a lot of times.

During the major lockdown last spring I read lots of reports of people doing marathons in their back gardens, and even on their balconies. Well, hats off to them! It is not easy – unless you live on a country estate I suppose. In the average town garden (and I think our garden is probably fairly average, or perhaps a bit bigger than average) there’s a lot of turning round. That really slowed me down. I managed about a mile in 22 minutes!

It was such a lovely bright day, it was so nice to be out in the sunshine. But by the end I was quite wheezy, and tired. So maybe I will give the running a miss tomorrow… Maybe!

I don’t think I will get a lot of mileage in this week however. Maybe some baking will get done instead..

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Look back – look forward – here comes 2021!

It’s come around again – the end of the year, and a time to reflect.

This time last year I was celebrating having achieved 12 half marathons (or the equivalent averaged out..) one per month. This year I am amazed that I have in fact done 2 actual real life, real time races! The first was in January, and I was hoping to do it again in 2021 to start the new year as I mean to go on, but it ain’t happening.

I have done quite a lot of running in 2020 even though I haven’t been able to take part in events with other runners as planned. I’m especially disappointed that two trail runs were cancelled, but hey, we all know why that was don’t we?

According to my Garmin stats I’ve run 1,171 km (727.6 miles). I think it’s a bit more than that as there were a few times when either I couldn’t locate my watch or it wasn’t charged! On Strava it’s 1,228 km but that includes a couple of bike rides. Whatever it is it’s quite a lot and I’m happy!

These 2 medals were the only ones for actual races. Both half marathons, one in January and one in August.
Two virtual runs. The first completed in January – 26.2 miles (42km) in January in aid of refugees. And another in June – running 50km in 7 days. That was tough.
Two more virtual runs, organised by the fabulous Phoenix Running. I did a half marathon on the day that would have been the London Marathon in April. And the other one was running every day for 7 days in July, which is not something I would usually do!
Three virtual runs with the truly wonderful Ealing Half marathon crew. I really loved all of these runs especially the parks one (Queen of the Suburbs) when I got to visit new places and wave at fellow participants!
And finally – a virtual Christmas Day run.

So what next for 2021? The two cancelled trail runs with Maverick have been postponed until spring, and we’ll see what happens. But next on the horizon – in fact starting tomorrow – is a whole month of Running Every Day (RED)!! Yes I decided that a week of running every day in the height of summer was not enough, and I must do it for 31 days straight. And for extra punishment 😉 I must do it in the coldest, darkest month. Hahaha, I hear you laughing!

I will be documenting this as an incentive to actually do it. I may not (almost certainly won’t) write a post every day but I will of course take lots of photos and let you know how it’s all going.

In the meantime – Happy New Year to all my lovely readers around the world. May 2021 bring us all peace and health. I shall continue to run and bake, and maybe occasionally post about some of the other things I like doing in my spare time.

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The best mince pies ever!

Mince pies are a peculiarly British thing. Traditionally (and by that I mean literally hundreds of years ago) they included meat along with the dried fruit and spices. Post-reformation they were associated with idolatry and Catholicism and fell massively out of favour with the authorities who seemed to think that a humble pie would corrupt the very souls of those who ate them. By Victorian times they were back on the plate, this time without the meat for the most part, and baked as individual pies instead of the larger pie of earlier times. Now they are an integral part of Christmas fare and shops start selling them months before December.

I confess I am not a fan of commercial mince pies on the whole. This year I did buy a box of the Marks and Spencer ‘superior’ ones which were more than acceptable. Others in my family were partial to the Wenzels ones, which were ok but not great in my opinion. But homemade mince pies are another matter.

I didn’t get round to making any until Boxing Day (another British thing – 26th Dec). I usually use a recipe from a 1992 Sainsbury’s cookbook Traditional Christmas Cooking by Glynn Christian. According to this Amazon link it’s worth almost £100! What?! I couldn’t find my copy at the weekend – it is quite a thin book and had got squashed on the bookshelf and I only just found it. Anyway. Faced with no recipe, social media and google are your friends folks (of course by no recipe I don’t actually mean no recipe because I have a lot of cook books…). On Instagram I happened to see a post of some yummy looking mince pies which the author said were from a recipe by Josceline Dimbleby – also in a Sainsbury’s cook book. A few minutes of thorough searching and I found the recipe written on this website/blog. Hurray!

Don’t roll the pastry too thin or it will just shatter and crumble as you get the pies out of the tins

The pastry is made with orange zest and orange juice, and loads of butter, and is really delicious. The addition of a blob of cream cheese on top of the mincemeat is inspired. I didn’t add any more sugar to it, there is plenty already in the pastry and the mincemeat if you ask me. I also found that for my oven 17 minutes at Gas Mark 6 was perfect for a fully baked pie with a nice dark golden colour.

These mince pies went down very well with all who tasted them, and will be definitely added to my Christmas repertoire. In fact I might just have to make some more today as they’ve all gone now.

Just out of the tins
Ready to go!

Recipe for 24 pies. Thanks to Josceline Dimbleby! And also to Antonia for writing it out on her blog.

You will need 1 or 2 shallow 12 hole tart tins, a 3″ (or 8 cm) cutter and a 2″ or (5cm) cutter.

When you start rolling the pastry heat the oven to Mark 6; 400 F or 200 C.

For orange pastry –
500g plain flour
175g icing or caster sugar (I used icing sugar – I think it contributes to a beautiful texture, but maybe that’s in my imagination).
375g butter or equivalent weight of butter and lard or white vegetable fat if you prefer – but make sure that most of it is butter!
finely grated rind and juice of one large orange

For filling –
250g full fat cream cheese
50g caster sugar – I skipped this
500-625g mincemeat
milk, to glaze

And caster sugar or icing sugar to finish

1. Sift flour and sugar into a mixing bowl. Cut the butter into small cubes and rub these into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

2. Stir in the grated orange rind and finally the juice, a little at a time, until the mixture sticks together and you can form a ball.

3. Divide into 2, and pat into a flattish discs, wrap in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes. It’s much easier to handle half the quantity at a time.

4. Mix together cream cheese and sugar. (I didn’t bother with the sugar). Set to one side.

5. On a lightly floured surface, and roll out to about 3-5mm.

6. Cut out rounds with a 3 inch pastry cutter and line greased mince pie tins with these discs.

7. Fill to half depth with mincemeat and then top with a teaspoonful of cream cheese.

8. Roll out the remaining pastry and cut out tops with a 2-inch cutter. Moisten the edges with water and place on top of filled bases, pressing lightly to seal.

9. Brush tops with milk and bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly golden.

10. As the pastry is so crumbly, allow these to cool in the tin before very gently easing from the tin with a rounded knife.

11. Serve warmed in the oven and sprinkled with icing sugar.

And for more inspiration for mince pies take a look at Stuart Heritage’s article about modern takes on the traditional mince pie.

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Bara brith and some sparkly windows!

I made this loaf of bara brith after a particularly tiresome day at work, when I just wanted something sweet and tasty and easy to make. Bara brith is Welsh for speckled bread and was traditionally a yeasted bread. This is a quick version with baking powder as the raising agent.

The recipe comes from the recipe book that accompanied the very first series of the Great British Bake Off in 2010. I bought a second hand copy recently and it is full of classic recipes like this. It’s not just sweet baking either, there are recipes for raised pies and savoury tarts.

Bara brith is very good sliced and spread with some butter, and maybe a nice chunk of English cheese. It was so good a couple of weeks ago that this morning I made another loaf. It has to be the quickest bake ever to mix up. The night before I soaked the fruit in hot black tea, and weighed out the flour. I also prepared the tin with baking parchment. In the morning it took literally 5 minutes to stir it up and get it in the oven.

Recipe for Welsh Bara Brith

Ingredients:

250g mixed dried fruit

100g dark brown muscovado sugar

225ml strong hot tea (no milk!)

A good pinch of salt

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1 large egg, beaten

250g self raising flour (or plain with 3 level tsp baking powder)

Method

Put the dried fruit and sugar in a large heatproof bowl and pour over the hot tea. Stir well. Cover the bowl with a clean dry tea towel and leave to soak for at least 6 hours, or overnight.

When ready to bake heat the oven to 160 deg C / 325deg F / Gas Mark 3. Add the salt, spices and beaten egg to the dried fruit mixture and stir well. Then add the flour and mix well. Transfer the mixture to the prepared tin and bake for about an hour until a skewer or cake tester comes out clean. Leave to stand on a wire rack for 15 minutes to firm up before turning out. Leave to cool completely before slicing.

My modifications! I used mixed spice instead of just cinnamon, and increased the amount to half a teaspoon. The second time around I used a mixture of flours: half white, quarter white rye and quarter spelt. The second loaf was even better than the first. I think this maybe because I soaked the fruit overnight rather than for just an hour or so the first time.

I think bara brith makes a very good substitute for Christmas cake – and it’s much easier to make!

And now for the Christmas sparkle! A local neighbourhood has organised a Christmas advent window display and around 200 households joined in. So one evening I went for a little run round what is known (by the estate agents!) as ‘Olde Hanwell’ and looked at the lights. I really need to go again as there will be more now!

This was so clever – the sleigh moved to and fro across the window!
This window was full of seasonal jokes!
The photo does not do justice to this really pretty display
And finally … this house never disappoints! A 5k run took a very long time – so many beautiful windows and gardens!

There seem to be a lot more lights everywhere this year. I think people have felt that we all need cheering up. I certainly had a lovely time looking at these beautiful window and garden displays. My next running plan is Christmas morning – a quick 5k perhaps round the park. And another evening run to see all the lights again at the weekend!

I hope your Christmas is happy as it can be, given the circumstances we all find ourselves in.

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Buttered popcorn cookies – and Sunday run day

WordPress is the blog platform I use, and while it’s only one of many of course, the variety of blogs on it is vast. Sometimes I like to browse around them, and occasionally I find one that seems interesting, and then I follow it! Just like many of my lovely readers have done with my little blog – thank you!

This recipe came from one such blog, GreatEightFriends. As the name suggests it’s a blog written by a group of friends who entertain amongst themselves and share their recipes. This recipe sounded so straightforward I thought I had to try it. I’ve never thought of popcorn as a cookie ingredient before, but it really works! You can find the recipe by clicking here.

I did make a little adjustment- as usual! I added about half a cup of chopped toasted pecans. I think it was definitely an enhancement, but I’m sure the cookies are also delicious without them.

When I added the four cups of popcorn to the cookie mixture, plus the chopped nuts, I did wonder whether I’d overdone it and the mixture would actually hold together. But a determined bit of spatula work and it did all stick together. Using a scoop (like an ice cream scoop) made it easy to get the cookies the same size, and also helped to keep them in a round shape.

Dough mixture – crammed with popcorn and nuts!

The salty sweet flavour traditionally associated with popcorn is really yummy, and the soft cookie with the crunchy texture of the popcorn and nuts is a fab combination. They look attractive too with the bits of popcorn poking through the tops.

Altogether a very easy recipe with great results.

As today is Sunday I went out for a longer run this morning as I usually do. My run today was a virtual 10k for the Osterley 10k (organised by Ealing Half marathon) which would normally have been yesterday at Osterley Park. Of course that was cancelled for 2020 which is sad, but we seem to be getting used to all that now. For me the Osterley 10k has been the real start to the Christmas season in the last few years. I’ve done the run with friends from Quit the Gym in the morning – and then rushed home to get changed for a Questors choir dress rehearsal for our Christmas concert in the evening. Both events cancelled for this year. Let’s hope that things are back closer to normal in 2021.

This year the virtual run is raising money for the Ealing Food Bank. More and more families and individuals in the UK are living with food insecurity, or food poverty. I am thankful that my family have enough to eat, and I don’t have to worry about whether I can afford the heating and the food bills. Especially at this time of year, when everyone is thinking about spending money on special food and gifts, it is very hard for those families on the brink. If you can maybe try and support your local food bank if you don’t already?

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Running in the woods at Burnham Beeches

Just lately I’ve got a bit bored with running the same local routes, much as I love them. Today I decided to go a little further afield and run in the woods at Burnham Beeches in Buckinghamshire. Last year I ran a half marathon here which you can read about in this post. It was one of the loveliest runs of 2019.

Glowing beech leaves – I promise this photo is not edited in any way!

It’s a different time of year now but running in the woods is special in all seasons. The weather was perfect for running today, with blue skies and almost no wind. Although beech trees are very dominant there are in fact many species, including oaks and ash, and silver birch, as well as evergreens such as holly and firs.

The hollowed out trunk of an ancient pollarded tree

The woods are a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) due to the range of habitats and numbers of different species, both animal and plant. One of the more noticeable habitats is the pollarded trees, mainly beech and oak. Pollarding took place every 10-15 years until the beginning of the 20th century; the branches were cut back at head height for firewood (and possibly furniture making?) which allowed trees to live longer than they would otherwise, and animals could not reach the new shoots. Some of the trees are now hundreds of years old. Many of them are hollow and semi rotten, and it is this habitat that supports a range of wild life, including fungi, mosses and invertebrates.

It was good to run on the soft surfaces of the woodland – fallen leaves and leaf mould, mud and grass. At this time of year when it’s dark in the mornings and evenings I end up running on the unforgiving pavements locally. I have already noticed the effect that impact is having on my feet, even in my most cushioned shoes. So today was a treat, to be running in the sunshine, in amongst the beautiful trees, and on a squishy soft surface. Even if I did almost twist my ankle on a tree root hidden under the leaves.

But it’s not just all the above that makes running in the woods a fab thing to do. Many studies have shown that being outside in green spaces, and especially among trees is good for mental as well as physical health. And of course you don’t have to run, walking in the woods works too! This is an interesting article with lots of links to research on the health benefits of being outside in nature.

I didn’t do a very long run today – just 8km (5 miles), although it took me a while as I kept stopping to take photos and just ‘be’ in the woods. And I came home feeling great!

This week I’m going to make a massive effort to get into a green space every single day during daylight!

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Sunday catch up – two bakes in one post!

One thing about writing this blog is that it is a great way to procrastinate and put off the boring jobs that really need to be done. Conversely it can also be difficult to find the time to write sometimes because of all those jobs – and work, and other life things…

So here is a quick update on two baking projects I’ve done over the last ten days or so.

First I took part in a little lockdown mini bake off via Zoom and WhatsApp with my niece L. (in north London) and not-niece G. (in Paris). We decided to make something not too complicated, but not too straightforward either. A Battenberg cake was a good choice. We all used the same recipe from the BBC website here. I made an orange version, adding the zest of an orange, and a little juice. I coloured one half of the mixture orange. We managed to have a chat, and get the mixture into the oven in the allotted 40 minutes of a free Zoom session! The we carried on via WhatsApp and photos. For some strange reason L.’s cake – which was the most beautiful pink – collapsed as it cooled, and she decided to abandon the marzipan coating altogether. G. and I continued with the trimming of the cakes and covering with marzipan. I stuck my cakes together with a very fine cut marmalade to continue the orange theme. If you are a fan of marzipan then you should definitely try a Battenberg!

Here’s the ingredients. I couldn’t get the lid off the food colouring bottle and ended up stabbing a hole in the cap with a sharp pointed knife!
I used baking paper to create a barrier so that both mixtures could be baked in one tin.
Trimmings are cook’s perks!
Slightly wonky but I was really pleased with the way it turned out, and the way it tasted.
Here is G.’s Battenberg – looks yummy!

Second bake of the week was the following Friday evening. I decided that lemon cake was what I wanted. I was actually googling blondies and found a recipe that was called Lemon Brownies. Now to me that sounds a bit strange, because a brownie is brown because it’s made of chocolate. So how can it be lemon? The recipe looked like a fairly basic lemon sponge, so I thought I can’t really go wrong here. And I was absolutely right! It came out light and fluffy with a lovely lemon flavour. Really great recipe which you can find on this website. It’s very straightforward and the result was dee-lish-us!

And just in case you think that I only make cake – this week I’ve also made some kimchi, and I’m slowly perfecting my favourite dal – makhani dal, which I made in honour of Diwali this weekend.

I am a big fan of naturally fermented food and kimchi is so good! On so many levels…
This is really the Queen of dals (just don’t think about how much butter it contains 😂)

And – I’m still running. Today I ran 10 miles (16km) between Isleworth and Kingston along the river Thames. The weather wasn’t that great, but who cares? The trees were beautiful, and there was lots to see, including several people going for a swim in the river!

Beautiful autumn colours and quite a lot of muddy puddles!

Another week of lockdown is over. Sometimes it doesn’t really feel like a lockdown at all, when there are so many people out and about. A friend sent a photo of a line of people waiting 20 minutes to get out of Richmond Park! Mad.

I hope you are all well, and finding things to do at home, or outside.

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A classic Victoria sponge

After recent shenanigans with vegan chia eggs I thought I would go back to a classic sponge. No strange or fancy ingredients here, just straightforward flour, sugar, eggs and butter. Plus a little vanilla.

My husband’s grandmother used to make a jam sponge pretty much every Saturday. It was wonderful! She also used to make the best rice pudding I have ever eaten almost every Sunday. I think I can match the cake, but I will never be able to match the rice pudding.

In case you hadn’t worked it out the Victoria sponge (also known as a Victoria sandwich cake) was an invention of the 19th century. In fact it wasn’t a thing at all until Alfred Bird (famous for Bird’s custard powder) invented baking powder in 1843 – a combination of bicarbonate of soda (alkali) and a weak acid – in the case of the baking powder I used this was sodium pyrophosphate. Together they cause a reaction that makes the cake rise.

Of course there was yeast before baking powder, and there was sponge cake before baking powder. But those sponge cakes were made from eggs, flour and sugar – no fat. The rising effect was the result of beating the eggs to incorporate air. What is known as a Victoria sponge is in fact a variation of a pound cake; the use of baking powder lightens it to a sponge texture.

Food writer Felicity Cloake has, of course, written about the Victoria sponge here. It’s an interesting overview of technique. I used to follow Delia Smith’s one bowl method, and use a soft margarine like Flora. It was very successful. But I do think that the best texture comes from creaming the butter (yes I used butter today) and the sugar together until soft and light in colour.

Today I used Nigella’s recipe from Domestic Goddess, but didn’t do it in the food processor. I used an electric hand whisk. The secret is in the creaming, and then whisking those eggs in really really thoroughly. Nigella’s recipe also adds in a small amount of cornflour. I have done this in other recipes and like the texture it gives; Felicity Cloake on the other hand doesn’t!

Once baked and cooled I sandwiched the two cakes together with raspberry jam. I used up the last of the homemade (by Viv) jam that she gave me when we met at the Circus last year. Remember those days? When people could sit squashed together in a big tent? Laughing and breathing all over each other?! They’ll come again folks…

It is definitely worth using a good quality jam here as it is one of the main ingredients. Some people also add whipped cream, or even a buttercream. I prefer just plain jam.

Caster sugar or icing sugar to sprinkle on the top? Caster sugar got my vote, and also my husband’s. Cake for breakfast? Well it was closer to brunch – almost lunch – really. And anyway why not?! Cake can cheer a wet Saturday like nothing else can.

This cake did not disappoint. ‘Like walking down memory lane’ said Simon.

It was a classic, plain cake – enhanced to more-than-everyday status by the delicious jam. And not a chia egg in sight..

(If you want the recipe let me know in the comments and I can write it up.)

UPDATE – THE RECIPE

Prepare 2 x 21 cm sandwich tins – grease and flour, or line with baking parchment. Heat the oven to Mark 4 or 180 deg C.

Cream together 225g softened butter with 225g caster sugar.

Beat in 4 large eggs one by one, and also mix in 1 tsp vanilla. If the mixture starts to curdle add a little of the flour mixture between eggs. Sift together 200g self raising flour, 25g cornflour and an extra tsp of baking powder if doing it as a one bowl method. Fold in the flour mixture carefully to the egg/sugar/ butter mixture. If the mixture is stiff add a little milk (2-4tbsp).

Divide the mixture evenly between the two tins, and bake for about 25 minutes. The cake should be coming away from the sides of the tin, and if you put your ear close you shouldn’t be able to hear the cake ‘singing’ too much. Just a little whisper..

Cool on a rack for about 10-12 minutes, then remove from the tins and let cool properly.

Sandwich the two cakes with plenty of jam.

Enjoy with a cup of tea!

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Not running – walking!

Long before I started running I walked; I think that’s what you’re supposed to do isn’t it?!

So many berries!
And some mushrooms..

On Sunday I met a friend for a walk, since we now can’t meet inside anymore, and she lives two hours drive away. So we met half way between our homes which happens to be in Bedfordshire. We started in a town called Sandy – which is sandy! Millions of years ago it was under water, an ocean full of prehistoric sea creatures. The surrounding plains were carved and flattened by slow moving glaciers, leaving the river Ivel to wind its way north to join the Great River Ouse.

Wide landscapes of Bedfordshire

As this area is not one that either of us know we followed a walk in a book. We have often done this, and almost always we go wrong somewhere and end up walking further than planned. We’ve been lost on Exmoor (thank goodness it was a sunny day), lost in the Quantocks ( it was raining and we got quite wet), and Sunday in Sandy was no exception. I wouldn’t say we were exactly lost, just that we missed a path somewhere and ended up doing 10 miles rather than 8 in the book-walk!

This area was an airfield (Tempsfield) in WW2, used by the Special Operations Executive

However it didn’t matter at all because it was such a beautiful day. It was a joyous walk really, with blue skies, fluffy clouds, sunshine, green fields, autumn colours in the hedgerows, muddy puddles, grand houses, horses and of course a great friend to share it all with.

It rained a lot on Saturday, but such fabulous weather on Sunday!
Tetworth Hall, built in 1710. If we had followed the route properly we would never have seen this lovely Queen Anne style house.
Looking down from Greensand Ridge
At the top of the Pinnacle, an Iron Age fort, also used by the Romans. It was so sandy it was like being at the seaside!

I would never have really thought about walking in this area if it wasn’t for the situation we find ourselves in this year. So out of every cloud there are some silver linings – we must just remember to look for them.

Some very sour wild crab apples. Cooked and puréed with a little sugar they were delicious.

Blondies with almond butter, jam and chocolate

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This recipe was published about a year ago in the Guardian, originally with peanut butter. The author, Meera Sodha, specialises in vegan cooking. The link for these blondies can be found by clicking here. I feel a bit bad because I changed the recipe very slightly. Although recipes are definitely there to be tweaked I do feel a bit sorry for the recipe writer and developer who has probably taken a considerable amount of time to get the recipe just the way they want, and more importantly to ‘work’.

They came out a bit darker and less ‘swirly’ than the ones Meera Sodha made!

Anyway, I did tweak it a bit. First I changed the peanut butter to almond butter because I prefer almond butter and I have a big tub of it right now. This week I have been enjoying my breakfast porridge with a teaspoon of almond butter stirred in and topped with figs or blueberries (or both). Really delicious. I wondered about using a different flavour jam, but I have a little pot of homemade raspberry jam given to me by a friend just waiting to be used.

I was a bit negative about the chia ‘eggs’ in the last post, so I thought I would give them another try in this recipe. This time I ground them in a coffee grinder so that they would be less gritty in the final product. And as another segue from the last post I used half regular sugar (soft brown) and half erythritol (sugar sub) to see how that worked out.

That big grey splodge in the middle is the chia gel.
Clean up time!

The result? Well I think they tasted better than they looked. In fact the taste was pretty amazing, and the texture was a cross between a squidgy brownie/blondie and bread pudding. (Mmm bread pudding – now there’s something I haven’t made for a long while!). The texture of the chia seeds was much less evident because they had been blitzed in the coffee grinder thing. For me that was a plus. Everyone who tried them said they liked them which is good in my book. And they are completely vegan!

Tasty and squidgy!

There have been quite a lot of baking posts lately but don’t think I haven’t been out running. This time of year can be a little tricky as it gets darker in the mornings, so this week I switched to after work runs. What a beautiful time of year to go outside for a walk or a run. The trees seem especially fabulous this year, the colours so rich and vibrant, positively glowing like beacons in the fading light of the afternoon. The red berries and haws stud the hedges like little jewels or lights thrown in among the leaves.

Perivale Park

In Perivale Park the wildflower meadows sown by the council are still looking wonderful, and the man made ponds have really filled up after all the rain lately.

Bunny Park
Warren Farm
Hanwell flight of locks

Thank you for reading! I hope you are all having some little mini adventures in the kitchen, and outdoors too. That’s what’s keeping me sane right now!

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Low carb chocolate brownies

This recipe is by a fab blogger I really respect – Kellie Anderson on Food to Glow. Click here for the recipe. It was right out of my baking comfort zone. Low carb is not something I have much experience of. Basically that’s because I love carbs. I love bread, cake, iced buns, squidgy cookies, pasta, potatoes, etc etc insert your fave carb here…

However I am always up for trying something new, so here goes! I decided to make these for our staff meeting at work. The original recipe contains eggs, but someone at work doesn’t eat eggs so – something new again – find an egg substitute.

The sugar substitute was easy enough to find but I was slightly taken aback at the price. The pecans are from Lidl – I highly recommend all the nuts from there. They are always fresh and good quality. Plus a good price. Toasted and ground in the blender the smell was amazing.

The egg substitute – I decided to use ‘chia eggs’ – you mix a 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water for each egg you need, and then leave to ‘gel’ for 5-10 minutes. I’ve never tried this before, but it seems quite standard in vegan cookery. I didn’t make the recipe entirely vegan though because I did use butter.

Far right – chia seed ‘eggs’. Top left – Xylitol – it looks just like ordinary sugar.

How did the bake go? It was very straightforward to mix. The baking time was slightly longer than 21 minutes – it looked decidedly not cooked after that time, but a couple of minutes later it was – probably. It did set as it cooled, but was very squishy. It did work, and the chia seeds added a certain texture that some people liked. The flavour was really good – dark chocolate. The fudginess was nice. I wasn’t so keen on the very greasy feel.

The first batch, eggless and super squidgy. But also quite oily..

So I had another go! This time I used proper eggs. And because I had just about used the whole packet of Xylitol I had to use a mixture of that plus erythritol. I have to say that this worked better. The texture was better, and overall the flavour seemed more rounded too. Verdict? Chia eggs don’t cut it. Sorry! You can get other egg substitutes so maybe I could try something different next time.

The second batch – more like the texture of a traditional brownie, and not as oily. It was difficult to get a good photo because they are very dark.

I think low carb baking recipes are interesting. But not necessarily for everyone. The sugar substitutes are something I will continue to experiment with, although I have to say the price does somewhat put me off.

NB my brownies weren’t quite as low carb as the original recipe because my dark chocolate chips were only 68% cocoa solids and to get really low carb you need to be at the 85-90% mark.

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Carrot cupcakes with a cheesecake topping

I’ve been away the last few days in a self catering place with a pretty well equipped kitchen. That is always a good thing, and at the moment when a lot of us don’t much feel like eating out, it’s essential.

Earlier this week episode two of the new season of The Great British Bake Off was aired. So far I’m a little bit lukewarm, although I like the presenter combo of Matt Lucas and Noel Fielding. I am not so much a fan of the extended time. However it was suggested to me that cake would be an ideal accompaniment to viewing. I’m certainly not going to argue about that! For a short while I toyed with buying cake… but not for long – eating commercial fondant fancies, as lovely as they are, doesn’t seem right while watching Bake Off!

So. What to make, when the not-at-home kitchen was somewhat short on tins etc? As it happened I had brought my muffin tin. And some basic supplies like flour, sugar and eggs. Carrot cake was suggested, and I immediately though of a lovely recipe I know from a book called The Best of Betterbaking.com. It has the cream cheese topping that is traditional with carrot cakes baked in rather than as a frosting. I really prefer this, as the baked in cream cheese is much less sickly. BUT! I didn’t have the recipe! I couldn’t find the recipe on the website, as it was behind a paywall. What shall I do?! Son to the rescue – he managed to find a great recipe on YouTube: Carrot Cake Bars with Cream Cheese Swirl by Everyday Gourmet Blakely. The recipe looked very similar to what I could remember and had straightforward ingredients.

Blakely makes the recipe in a 9” x 9” tin, which was not available. So I made 12 cakes in the muffin tin. At home I have a gas oven, and this oven was an electric fan oven, which does work in a slightly different way. It also had a glass door so I could watch them as they cooked! I really did feel like the Bake Off contestants, anxiously watching the cakes get very close to spilling out all over the tin! (Although at least I didn’t have to lie on the floor like they do.)

With all due modesty, and credit to the recipe, these cakes were an absolute hit! The cream cheese baked in topping was delicious. And the cakes were very light. Deceivingly light, it was easy to eat more than one.

RECIPE (makes 12 or a 9” x 9” pan)

Prepare the pan or put cupcake/muffin liners in the tin. Put the oven on at 350 deg or Mark 4.

Mix together the following dry ingredients:

1cup flour; 1 tsp baking soda; 1/2 tsp baking powder; 1/4 tsp salt; 1 & 1/2 tsp cinnamon – I used pumpkin spice which is mixed spice.

In another bowl whisk together the following:

2 eggs; 1 cup sugar; 1/2 cup veg oil; 1 tsp vanilla extract.

You also need 1 & 1/2 cups of grated carrot at the ready. And if you like you can also add some walnuts and/or sultanas or raisins.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well. Then mix in the carrot and nuts etc. Put the mixture in the pan/ muffin cups.

Make the topping. Mix together:

8 oz (225g) of cream cheese (I used quite a fancy French cream cheese with salt, but any cream cheese would be fine); 1 egg; 1/3 cup of sugar; a little vanilla and/or grated lemon zest. ( I actually didn’t do this and the flavour was still yum.)

Put a dollop on the cake mix and very gently swirl it in a bit, using a a skewer or a thin knife. Bake for about 20-30 mins – I think this depends quite a bit on the oven!

I’ve written out this recipe mainly so that I can easily refer to it again myself, but I hope you try it too, because it’s definitely worth it!

Virtual race report – (not) the Ealing Half Marathon!

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The second September challenge organised by Ealing Half Marathon was a virtual half marathon. Usually the Ealing half marathon takes place on the last Sunday of September. But as that cannot happen this year the challenge was to run or walk the distance in the week running up to 28th September. The distance did not have to be completed in one go, but I decided that I would do it as one run. It is four weeks since the last time I ran this distance, and the conditions today were a far cry from that day!

I’m back in Suffolk this week, a week in Thorpeness postponed from summer. I love it here, I love the big skies and sea, the old fashioned feel of the houses and the peacefulness of the countryside. What better place to run the not-in-Ealing half marathon? And it was a wonderful run, even if the weather could have been kinder, and by the end I could hardly move my frozen soaked feet, and my hands were so cold I could hardly take off my shoes and socks!

This morning it was all about water. Rain, sea, puddles, river, lake, boating pond. Water, and wind. Yes the weather was a prominent feature of today’s running adventure.

It was all about the weather today.

I started out at about 7.30 before the worst of the forecasted rain and wind. The relatively light rain became heavier quite quickly however, and then it was just non stop heavy rain with accompanying wind whenever I was out in the open. After a while my fingers were so cold and wet I could no longer operate my phone, and so photos were nigh on impossible. And anyway it would be yet another picture of endless East Anglian grey skies and rain.

My run started from the Airbnb house where we are staying and I headed towards Aldeburgh. Just before the town on the shingle beach is Maggi Hambling’s (controversial) sculpture of a scallop shell called A conversation with the sea, dedicated to Benjamin Britten. The words are from his opera Peter Grimes:

I hear those voices that will not be drowned.

It’s an interesting sentence to reflect upon.

Personally I love this sculpture, and find it hard to believe that some people still want it removed…

In Aldeburgh there’s a boating pond where, in good weather, lots of children (and a few adults) love to spend a happy hour sailing toy boats looked over by the faithful dog Snooks.

Snooks – kitted out for Covid-19 🙁

I headed through town in back streets to avoid the wind, and then got blasted at the estuary, with its wide open space. Past the allotments, now looking very autumnal, with dahlias and chrysanthemums, sodden in the rain but still bright and cheerful.

The river Alde estuary. Bleak today.

Next was the railway path. The railway was dismantled in the 1960’s. During ‘lockdown’ I came across a beautiful soundscape of the railway path by sound recordist Chris Watson which you can listen to by clicking here. Put your headphones on, shut your eyes and relax. It really is wonderful.

I’ve run along this path so many times! I think this has to be the wettest though. I wasn’t even half way through yet… 😂

I did a loop off the railway path that took me round the marshy area and through the woods. Seriously wet now and long past trying to avoid any puddles, my feet were completely soaked. In fact everything was soaked. I cheered myself up by thinking that at least it wasn’t hail. (When training for the London marathon in 2016 my longest training run ended with rain that turned to hail about a mile and half from home. Never forgotten.)

I was then back in Thorpeness, but still had about 7 km to go before the distance was complete, so I headed for the coast path. An obstacle lay in the way – flood alert! It really was beginning to feel like Britten’s Noye’s Fludde!

I did manage to find a relatively dry way round this the first time round, but when I came across it a second time just metres from the ‘finish line’ I couldn’t be bothered and just sploshed through ankle deep in icy water.

On I went along the coast path, past the place where the sandy cliff has recently collapsed onto the beach, and then down onto the beach itself running towards Sizewell. Everywhere seemed deserted. Sensible people staying indoors.

Finally, after another little lap of Thorpeness to complete the 21 km, I got back 2 hours 15 minutes later – drenched. To be honest I did not feel good at that point! Pleased, but not exactly happy! However after a warm shower, bacon and egg sandwich and a cup of coffee I felt a great deal better!

Not exactly smiling am I?!

Thank you Sandra and Christine at Ealing Half Marathon for organising two fab events. I have loved these September challenges. Even though it was a completely different experience from previous Ealing half marathons I still got that #ealingfeeling here in rainy Suffolk!

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Chocolate rye cookies

This recipe is from Guardian food writer Annalisa Barbieri on her blog.

It sounded intriguing and very rich! It seems a while since I made something this indulgent, but hey, I think everyone needs a bit of this kind of thing at the moment..

I didn’t have any dark rye flour so I used white rye, and I’m sure the flavour is less intense because of that. I didn’t want to buy any more flour until I’ve used what I have, but once I have dark rye I’ll try it again!

The chocolate was the inspiration – and that inspiration also came from an article by Annalisa last weekend. I learned that cooking chocolate is cheaper than regular chocolate because it doesn’t have VAT on it, not because it’s inferior quality, which is what I always vaguely believed.

So off to the shops to stock up! A bag of Guittard dark (63%) chocolate drops and a couple of bars of Green and Blacks dark (70%) chocolate later and I was ready to go. Quite apart from the taste (and cost) the great thing about both of these chocolates is the fact that there is no soya in them. I’m always on the lookout for soya free food as someone in the family is allergic to soya. It’s amazing how many everyday food has soya in it. Anyway enough of that, and onto the cookies.

For me one of the best things about home baking is the fact that there are no weird ingredients. No chemicals. And this recipe has no soya in it either!

There was nearly a disaster at the beginning of the process when I put the gas on under an empty frying pan instead of a pan of water and the bowl of butter and chocolate. I couldn’t understand why the butter and chocolate wasn’t even beginning to melt after a few minutes… and then realised the frying pan was almost red hot and the water in the saucepan was still stone cold! Luckily I haven’t ruined the frying pan. 😀

It’s a great recipe, straightforward and easy to do. And it totally worked! The timing of the baking was a little tricky. The time in the recipe said 8-10 minutes. I have 2 ovens so used both for quicker results. What I’ve realised is that one of those ovens is slightly hotter than the other. So some cookies came out more squishy than others. But that’s ok! Because they are Yummy and Delicious!

Mixing the melted chocolate/butter into the eggs/sugar.

Annalisa writes that her recipe made ‘about 20 cookies’ – I managed to squeeze out 31, which according to an online nutrition calculator, means each one was 13g carbs and 178 kcal. Well that’s not so bad is it?! (As long as you can stick to one. Which I have so far today.)

Before – scooped out with an ice cream scoop
And after! A little sprinkle of salt to enhance the visual appeal and the taste.

Overall – this recipe is definitely a keeper, and I will be printing it out as well as bookmarking it online.

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Real Race Report – Party Train!

Today was my first foray into a post-lockdown organised running event with Phoenix Running. It was an interesting experience. Instead of lots of runners all congregating together before the run, registering in the leisure centre, gathering on the towpath and setting off together as it was when I was last down here in December, there was a very different system.

Base camp

The first big difference is that the event started much earlier than usual time of 9 or 9.30. Because runners started at staggered times in groups of six the first group set off at 6.45am today, and then subsequent groups at 10 minute intervals. My start time was 7.45, which was a bit more acceptable than 6.45 to my mind! To avoid contact as much as possible we did not register in the usual way but as we arrived just told Rik who we were. Then we had to stand 2m in front of an infrared camera set at 37.5 deg C. As long our temperature showed less than that we were ok to run. Then we stood on yellow discs spaced 2m apart to wait for our start time.

It’s a private house now, but I’m guessing this was the lock keepers house once.

As you may know I have a ‘thing’ about race toilet facilities 😉 and was very concerned because in the very detailed email we received a few days ago NO mention was made of toilets! Yikes! However it was ok because the pub The Weir, which is right next to where Rik sets up his base, had opened its doors really early to allow us to use the toilet! (But not to have a drink..)

On the first lap I was in a bit of a dream and managed to miss the turning point – luckily I realised after about 25m! So that’s an extra 50m!
Sunbury lock

Although I have not run 21km since 7th June I decided that a half marathon distance would be my goal. That’s four laps, out and back. Of course I started out way too quickly! The first 10km I did in 57 minutes. It was all downhill from there (figuratively speaking – the towpath is totally flat!). The second half was really hard work, and I ended up walking bits, and stopping to take photos just to give my legs a rest. Final official time was 2:16:40. That’s ok!

Sunbury lock
Wouldn’t it be lovely to live over there?

It was perfect weather, and so lovely to run along the riverside, especially a part that I don’t know. The lap went east along the river from Walton on Thames towards Hampton Court, past Sunbury Lock. There is always lots to look at when running along a river, and this morning was no exception: several boats went through the lock, lots of scullers and rowers, and even some paddle boarders. I also like to look at all the beautiful houses whose gardens run down to the river, and imagine myself living there!

The main reason I did this run. Such a cool medal. There’s another Party Train run in Sept 13th – I could pick up a carriage to link onto the engine.. tempting!

Thank you to everyone who has read my previous post about Joseph, and thank you so much for donating. I will get an update next week on how much has been raised to help with Joseph’s health costs.

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Update on Joseph

When I started writing this blog in January 2019 one of the aims was to raise awareness of Type 1 diabetes, and also to raise funds for research into an autoimmune condition that is often (very often) misunderstood. In 2019, with your help, I raised more than £2000 for JDRF, a charity based in the UK* that funds research into finding a cure for Type 1 diabetes, and improving the lives of those living with it.

I’m afraid to say that I have been somewhat neglectful of this particular aspect of the blog over the last few months. I started this post four months ago, and it remained in draft form until this week. Cake and running took over. Sadly I have been kicked into action by some bad news.

Last year friends in Kenya brought a young man to our attention. This young man, Joseph, has Type 1 diabetes. His life is very different to a young person’s life here in the UK. He goes to school, he plays football with his friends, so far much the same. But – he does not have access to health care in the way that we in the UK have access to our wonderful National Health Service. At 14 years old he has to pay for his medication, his test strips, his insulin. It is not affordable. He relies on donations to help. You can read more about Joseph by clicking here.

Everyone is all too aware of the terrible global pandemic of COVID-19. It has been devastating for so many. The direct and indirect effects of the pandemic have had far reaching and long lasting consequences for physical and mental health; for economic stability on an individual level as well as national and international levels; for climate change; for political stability. Joseph’s story started long before COVID-19, but his situation right now is partly a result of the pandemic, albeit indirectly.

Because of the pandemic Joseph has not been able to attend school, like millions of children across the globe. This means Joseph has not only missed out on education, but also on the health care and food he receives at school. His school nurse plays a very active role in monitoring Joseph’s blood sugars, and everyone at the school makes sure that he has a good diet suitable for his needs. But what happens when you are not at school? What happens if you live in a poor household, with a family not educated about Type 1 diabetes? What happens when you are 14 and left to your own devices in relation to your health? You end up sick.

A couple of weeks ago Joseph was very sick. (All photos are used with permission.)

Joseph got malaria. This made him ill, probably more ill than usual because his blood glucose was very high. When people with Type 1 get ill it’s often even harder to regulate blood glucose than normal. The delicate balance of hormones is easily upset – even on the best days, when everything seems to be ok, blood glucose levels can go up or down dramatically for no apparent reason. It is one thing if this happens only rarely, but quite another if it is a daily occurrence. High levels of blood glucose (hyperglycaemia) cause long term damage to nerves, arteries, kidneys, eyes. Hyperglycaemia impairs the immune system. It makes you feel sluggish and unwell. Add that to a disease like malaria … well, it’s not good.

Joseph’s kidneys began to fail. Your kidneys are responsible for removing waste products from your body. If they aren’t working properly then those waste products build up in the body and make you feel even worse.

In the first hospital Joseph went to conditions were pretty basic.

Joseph is having dialysis in hospital right now. Dialysis is a procedure where the blood is ‘cleaned’ by a machine linked to your body. Usually it is done every other day, and in hospital. It is not pleasant but it saves lives.

Joseph has had several sessions of dialysis, but needs more as he recovers, and doctors try and stabilise his glucose levels.

Joseph has been in hospital for a couple of weeks now, and is slowly getting better. First he was in a local hospital before being moved to a bigger hospital that could look after him better. We are all hoping he will be out of hospital soon.

My friends Tim and Carol are part of a charity that runs the school Joseph attends. Vipingo Village Fund support the Future Hope Montessori School, as well as supporting local projects that benefit all the community. Donations go directly to the charity, and are used directly with and for the local people in Vipingo.

In Kenya there is a national health insurance system – the monthly cost of the insurance averages a day’s pay for local residents. That might not sound like a lot – but when one person’s wages may be supporting a large extended family people often don’t sign up for it. Joseph was not signed up for it at the time of his illness (he soon will be hopefully!). What this means is that the charity is paying all the costs of Joseph’s healthcare. Each session of dialysis costs £55, and the estimated cost of treatment is between £1000-£1500. So far the charity have raised £600 – mainly through appeals on their Facebook page.

I have not been focussing on charity fund raising this year because I don’t want to be a pain! But please, if you possibly can, consider donating what you can afford to help with Joseph’s care. Every penny will go directly to helping pay his medical costs, if you note ‘Joseph’ in the message section of the donation page. If the charity raise more than they need for hospital costs right now the money will be saved in a separate account for future costs associated with Joseph’s medical care. You can be sure that there will be plenty of future costs, even with insurance. You can donate on the website HERE!!!

Tomorrow I will be running my first actual event of the year since January – the Phoenix Party Train. Because of COVID-19 there are security measures in place which mean that instead of everybody running together at 9.30am the much smaller field of 45 runners are starting in groups of 6 at 6.45am!! Luckily for me I am in a slightly later group – at 7.45! It will still mean a very early start. The event is a 6 hour timed run, which means that you can do as many laps (up and down the towpath from Walton on Thames) as you can or want in 6 hours. I am aiming for a minimum of 10 miles, and hoping that I may be able to do 13.1!

To encourage me in this effort please donate towards Joseph’s care – it will make me very happy to know that at least one disadvantaged young person with Type 1 diabetes is getting the care they need to live a healthy and happy life. I am sure it will also give Joseph, his family and everyone at Vipingo Village a huge lift to know that people are wishing him well, and contributing to his welfare. You can donate HERE!! Don’t forget to mention Joseph’s name when you make your donation, and the money will be diverted directly to his care. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

*There is also a JDRF in the USA.

Bake for Ukraine – Sochniki

I am sure that many many people around the world are shocked and horrified at the invasion of Ukraine and subsequent devastation of people’s lives, and the tearing apart of families. It is easy to feel helpless faced with such an enormous tragedy.

Living in London with neighbours from all over the world, it is hard for me to see people at work, in the local shops, friends and family upset, sad, angry and quite frankly heartbroken by what is happening.

As well as donating money to charities such as the Red Cross or Unicef I can bake. For this post I decided I would bake a typical Ukrainian pastry: sochniki. Simple ingredients, an easy technique and a delicious pastry to enjoy with a cup of coffee or tea. The recipe is from this website, check it out for more authentic Ukrainian recipes. There’s a hashtag doing the rounds on social media – #cookforukraine, and a related JustGiving page raising money for Ukraine. Here is the link to the page.

All the ingredients – except some icing sugar which I forgot to put in the shot.
Before they went in the oven
And after they came out!
Sweet pastry filled with a not too sweet cheese filling. Ypou could add a little grated lemon rind for extra flavour. Or maybe some rum soaked sultanas?
Field of sunflowers (photo from this website) Sunflower seeds and oil are a major export from Ukraine
Beautiful sunflowers – the national flower of Ukraine

Let’s hope that this awful time is over soon.