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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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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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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.

Chocolate-malt birthday cupcakes

It is lovely Georgia-in-Paris’s birthday very soon. Today her Dad and her Not-Dad are travelling to France to deliver her cake! Really! 😉 Well not exactly. That’s not the actual reason for the journey to be honest. But it seemed a good opportunity/excuse to make cake. I did in fact make this recipe a couple of years ago for Georgia so I hope she still likes it. It is an adaptation of a great recipe in The Best of Better Baking.com.

The original recipe is called Moist and Mellow Yellow Birthday Cake or Cupcakes, and I have made it as is and it was very good. This version was inspired by Maltesers. Apparently in the US they are called Whoppers. The flavour is malted chocolate. I really love this flavour. Last time I was in New York we went to a great luncheonette – Lexington Candy Shop – and I had a chocolate malted milk shake which was The Best! If you are ever in this neighbourhood make sure you check this place out – it is so cool!

I love Maltesers in a box. It reminds me of going to the cinema or the theatre. Anyone else?

The recipe turns out a moist cake with a good texture, light but not too fluffy. I think this is partly the milk, and partly the addition of cornflour.

I made 6 giant cupcakes and 8 smaller regular sized ones. You could get 24 cupcakes or one 20cm (8 inch) cake. A cake for any occasion really.
The original version

Recipe (my version):

Ingredients

1 3/4 cups caster sugar

3/4 cup (6 oz or 170g) softened butter

3 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup (125 ml) warm water

1/2 cup (125 ml) warm milk

2 tbsp malt extract, stirred into the milk/water mixture

2 1/4 cups plain flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

2 tbsp cornflour

1 tbsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

Method (my way!)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees or Gas Mark 4. Get your tins ready – 2 x 8” or 9” pans; or a 9” x 13” pan; or 2 dozen muffin cups; or a combination. Grease or line with baking parchment or paper muffin liners, or whatever you usually do to stop the cake sticking in the pan.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each.

In a jug combine the milk, water, malt extract and vanilla.

Mix the wet ingredients into the creamed mixture.

In another bowl sieve together all the dry ingredients.

Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet, stirring until mixed together really well.

Put the cake batter into whatever tins and pans etc you are using.

Bake for: round cakes 25-35 minutes; large cake 35-45 minutes; cupcakes for 18-25 minutes. The tops should spring back when gently pressed.

Cool in the pans on a wire rack for 15 minutes. When cool ice with your chosen icing/ frosting. For these cupcakes I used a simple chocolate ganache – a bar of dark chocolate (180g) chopped and melted into 3/4 cup or about 200ml of double cream brought to a simmer and removed from the heat. Stir until melted, leave to cool then whisk. When it’s spreading consistency use to cover the tops of the cakes. And finally – decorate with Maltesers!

These are the giant cupcakes that went over to Paris.
Happy Early Birthday Georgia!
These are the regular size cupcakes that stayed in London. 🙂
I sprinkled these with a few gold flakes.

If you try this recipe I would love to know how it turned out. Either the original vanilla or the chocolate or maybe something else! It’s going to be another stormy weekend in the UK – stay in and bake!

Nigella’s Chocolate Orange Cake

It’s marmalade time of year! The bitter Seville oranges for authentic marmalade are only in the shops for a few weeks in January and February. I have been busy making marmalade, around 18 pots so far. While browsing through How to be a Domestic Goddess (Nigella Lawson, 2000) I came across this recipe which I haven’t made for a while. I needed a cake for a busy weekend of entertaining, and this is quick and easy. It uses marmalade for flavour and moistness. Confession: I didn’t use my own marmalade! Why? Because home made marmalade is too precious for baking, and must be preserved (geddit?!) for toast and croissants, muffins and crumpets. Also because I happened to see marmalade with ginger in the supermarket, and I’m carrying on my recent theme of ginger. Chocolate, orange and ginger – a good combination I think.

Bubbling oranges
In the pots
And on the toast!

I really like this book, the recipes are great, and Nigella’s style of writing is readable and informative. I especially like her suggestions for variations. I haven’t tried her recommendations of substituting the marmalade for raspberry or apricot jam, but they do sound good. I also read a version online that used dark chocolate with orange instead of plain dark chocolate.

Dark chocolate and ginger-orange marmalade – key ingredients!

It’s an easy cake to make, most ingredients are melted together and then the eggs, and finally the flour mixed in. It makes a moist cake full of flavour. The ginger taste was quite subtle.

Made in honour of a visit from Georgia, our not-really-related-daughter-niece-?😂, who lives in Paris now
I really love this plate that belonged to my grandmother. This pattern was produced around 1930, so I am guessing it was maybe a wedding present.

So, I would highly recommend this cake if you are looking for a proper chocolate cake with a little extra something (ie flavour!). Have a great weekend everyone and thanks for reading!

Vegan chocolate cake version 2

Vegan chocolate birthday cake

Today we celebrated another family birthday. I decided to make another vegan chocolate cake, and tried a different recipe, by blogger Kate Hackworthy. This one looked more like a normal recipe (albeit no eggs) with a more normal amount of sugar. It said it wouldn’t be dry and crumbly…read on and find out if the claims were justified.

The ingredients were straightforward. I had to buy some vegan margarine specially but otherwise everything was in the store cupboard. Even the agave syrup ( I’m on trend like that!). I even still had some oat milk from another recipe – a vegan lasagne. Can’t write about that here because it’s not cake though.

It all mixed up easily and looked like ordinary cake. So far so good. I followed the recipe closely – weighed and measured everything. I baked it for precisely 30 minutes. I rested it in the tin for the exact time stated. And then I turned the cakes out of the tins – and near disaster. One cake cracked in 3 pieces. One cake split in 2.

See that top crack? It went all the way through!

That was yesterday. I let them cool overnight and today I sandwiched them together and iced them. When I say sandwiched them together – I glued them together. I didn’t use the ‘butter’cream as suggested in the recipe. I made a ganache as for the first vegan chocolate cake I did (see previous post a while back) by melting 250g of dark vegan chocolate (from Lidl – the best ever chocolate) and mixing some oat milk in.

Just before serving I decorated the cake with totally out of season strawberries and raspberries, and a sprinkle of edible gold glitter. Then we had 2 photo opportunities – one with a candle and one with little star sparklers. Couldn’t light them all together though so it wasn’t the effect I was looking for really!

Out of focus – I was trying to get a picture before the silly sparklers went out!

Verdict? Lovely flavour. Fairly moist. Crumbly. Definitely crumbly. Not sure I would do this one again. But – fear not – I have another recipe sent to me by my sister to try. There will be a vegan chocolate cake version 3 at some point. I am now determined to crack this before the end of the year.

See the crumbly bits?!

Vegan chocolate cake

There’s a lot of chatter about vegan lifestyle choices right now. More and more people are choosing not to eat any animal products. I think even more are choosing to eat less meat, and more vegetarian or vegan foods. Eating out if you are vegan or vegetarian is certainly easier now. Personally I think I am more in the ‘eat more veg, eat less meat’ camp. I really like dairy products – yogurt, cheese and milk. The vegan alternatives I have tried just don’t really compare I’m afraid. However there are vegetarians and vegans in the family and I love vegetables so I do often cook vegetarian or vegan meals.

I bought this book recently, and it’s great! It has some very interesting and delicious meals that don’t require outlandish ingredients ( well one or two have things that you might be pushed to find in your average supermarket). Kellie Anderson aka Food to Glow is my favourite food/ recipe blogger. There are lots of vegetarian and vegan recipes on her website.

I wanted to make a birthday cake for my son’s girlfriend – they are mainly vegan. I have never made a vegan cake, but I have looked at other recipes which involved fake egg replacements and other weird stuff that you can only get at health food shops! But the one in the book above was all things you would find in your store cupboard or a supermarket.

Having said that I did end up at two different supermarkets – Lidl for the chocolate – the best dark chocolate ever, and an amazing price. And Waitrose for the oat milk, because I couldn’t find that in Lidl.

I made the recipe exactly as stated. Even that enormous amount of sugar (400g). And 450ml water. Weird! But the cakes worked perfectly. However. The ganache. I think there is a mistake in the quantities, because 300ml oat milk is a lot, and when I mixed it with the melted chocolate is was like a sauce not an icing. Even after an hour in the fridge it was still pouring out over the cake, not spreadable.

It tasted fantastic however, and I would definitely make it again. It had a good fudgy texture (400g sugar 😉) and a lovely chocolatey flavour. Everyone liked it, and my son said it was a better recipe than the one he had used in the past. Next time I would add only a little milk to the melted chocolate for the ganache – perhaps it was supposed to be 30ml?! I’m looking forward to cooking more recipes from the book, spiced aubergine linguine sounds good…