Featured

Running tales from Ealing – and beyond!

This morning the weather was a lot cooler than it has been for the last few days – much more conducive to a long run than a few days ago, when it took me nearly an hour and a half to run 10km! My intention was to do between 11 and 16 km, depending on how my legs felt ( I had a late night last night, and there might have been a little alcohol involved!). But it was really such a beautiful morning I ended up in Richmond! So the round trip was about 20km. Nice and slow though, and including a couple of chat stops along the way.

The Thames at Isleworth

The canal was busy with bird life today. The baby moorhens and cygnets are getting bigger and more independent. It’s lovely to see a swan family of 5 swimming along sedately. At the river there were a lot of geese, ducks and swans napping along the slipway while the tide was in.

Richmond Lock and Footbridge

The towpath was busy with humans – walking, running, cycling, scooting and wheeling, next to a river where the activity continued in rowing boats, skiffs, paddle boards and canoes. I didn’t see anyone swimming today!

One of the things I really noticed today was the smell of summer. The linden (lime) trees have been smelling amazing this past week, and this mixed and flowed along with the scent of roses, jasmine and philadelphus.

Of course the sight of all these flowers was also wonderful, and stopping to look at them, to really notice them, was a lovely way to slow down, and give my legs a bit of a break!

I was wearing my new Ealing half marathon running t shirt today, which prompted a chat at Richmond with another runner! She’s also training for the Ealing half which happens at the end of September. It’s the 10 year anniversary this year – it started in 2012, inspired by the London Olympics. I’ve done them all except one (☹️) and can honestly say it’s one of the friendliest, most fun and best organised half marathons you can ever do. It’s always more fun when there’s lots of people – so if you haven’t already then sign up! Even if you have never done one before there’s plenty of time to start training! Click the link above to go the website. Go on – you know you really want to!

View up river towards Twickenham bridge and Richmond

I bumped into a friend on the way back, and stopped for a quick chat – and was able to suggest a visit to an amazing bread/bakery stall outside Syon Park. If only I hadn’t been running with no bag or back pack! I think it might worth a special trip on a another day!

Boats at Richmond bridge

By the time I got back I was quite tired, and hungry. I really need to get myself sorted out better as far as food/ hydration goes on long runs. But after a substantial brunch of omelette and toast, and plenty of water and kefir I felt a lot better! And very satisfied that I managed to run 20km without total collapse!

Beautiful flowers at Syon Park
Featured

Tracy’s Carrot Cake

This is a classic carrot cake recipe from my very dear friend Tracy. My family and I have been making this for literally decades, and I think it’s the best one ever. It always works, and it’s always loved by everyone.

As written out by Tracy. I learned recently that ‘soft cheese’ ie Philadelphia, is not really cream cheese, and proper cream cheese will make a a thicker icing. I will try to get hold of some next time.

It’s easy to make too. The dry flour mixture goes in the bowl, and then the sugar, oil and eggs are mixed in to make a smooth, thick batter. At this point it doesn’t look like a cake batter, but do not worry! Once the carrots, pineapple, walnuts and coconut are mixed in the batter loosens up.

Nowadays it seems to be very difficult to get tinned crushed pineapple, so I use pineapple chunks and then chop them after they’re drained.

I’ve always made this in a 13” x 9” tin but my sister makes it in 2 x 8” round tins and sandwiches them with the cream cheese frosting.

As you can see I don’t grease and flour the tin, but line it with baking parchment.

It’s so full of carrots, pineapple and walnuts that you can kid yourself it is healthy. Of course it’s also full of sugar… but hey – it’s a special occasion.

We didn’t manage to get all the candles lit! They kept blowing out. Next time I’ll get those candles that re-light themselves.
It didn’t last long!
Featured

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.

Featured

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.
Featured

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

Featured

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.

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.

Let’s go for a walk – in Cornwall

Featured

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

Featured

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.

Featured

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.