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!

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. 😊

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!

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!

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!

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!

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.

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!

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!

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 😂