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 DomesticGoddess. 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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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:
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 😊.
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!
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 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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 Feastis 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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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(!).
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.
We served it with vanilla ice cream which was exactly right.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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..
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.
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.
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..
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
Long before I started running I walked; I think that’s what you’re supposed to do isn’t it?!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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!
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.
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!
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.)
Overall – this recipe is definitely a keeper, and I will be printing it out as well as bookmarking it online.
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.
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.
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..)
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!
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!
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.
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.
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 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 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!