Hello lovely readers – I hope you are all well. It’s been a strange few weeks hasn’t it? I have had a little break from writing, although not a break from baking and running. I just couldn’t seem to put pen to paper (as it were). But today I am back with cake I didn’t make myself.
Very close to where I live there is a little cake shop run by a lovely man called Pan. So his shop is called Pan’s Bake Shop. Of course. At the start of lock down he shut up shop. But this week he opened, albeit with reduced hours. Pan sells classic style gateaux and custom birthday/celebration cakes. He also makes amazing what I call ‘proper’ cheesecake – i.e a baked cheesecake. As it happened to be my husband’s birthday this week we thought we would support a local business and buy his birthday cake here.
The cakes was layers of soft and light vanilla sponge, sandwiched and covered with fresh cream and decorated with fresh fruit. It wasn’t sickly and overly rich because it’s cream not icing. Perfect for a hot sunny day!
The previous picture is as pretty as a cake could possibly be, but in fact it is not a cake. And I also didn’t make it! It is a Russian salad called Herring under a Fur Coat. My son’s girlfriend’s family are Russian, and her mum very kindly made this for my husband because she knows we all love it. It is layers of potato, carrot and beetroot over the bottom layer of herring, and covered with mayonnaise. The mayo turns a beautiful pink from the beetroot. It is decorated with chopped egg and spring onion. It is really delicious and so lovely to look at too. Thank you Elena!
So what I did I do to help with the celebrations? Well, a couple of days later I made some doughnuts… More of that in another post.
Afterthought Number One: I have recently got back in to making home fermented food. In the past I have made sourdough bread, water kefir and various fermented vegetables. But I have just made my second batch of kimchi – and wow! It is so delicious! Click on this link for Felicity Cloake’s masterclass in kimchi making and give it a go.
And Afterthought Number Two: Today on my run I listened to two episodes of Frank Skinner’s Poetry Podcast – if you like poetry, and especially if you think you don’t like poetry, it is worth a listen I think.
And finally – according to the WordPress stats this is my 100th post!! Wow! See you back soon for number 101!
So. Today should have been the day of the London marathon, which I would NOT have been running. However I always like to watch bits of it on television, and this year I knew a couple of people running it, so I might have even travelled into town to cheer them on. But of course none of that happened.
Back in December I ran the final run of my 12 half marathons of 2019 with a running organisation called Phoenix Running. It was such a lot of fun, and everyone was so friendly that I entered another half marathon with the same company in May. That’s been postponed until next year. Then up popped a virtual NOT the London marathon – or half! Something that we can all do with careful social distancing and some planning. So I entered. Now it might seem a bit strange to pay money for a medal and a Freddo and then run by yourself… but it actually it was just what I needed to get myself going again. The last few weeks of running have sometimes felt a little bit aimless. Last year I was very focussed on a race every month. This year I didn’t want to do so many, but I already had three booked in, and they were all abruptly cancelled. I do love running simply for its own sake, but I also like to have something to aim for. So this virtual run came at just the right time!
Last week I started planning the route. I didn’t want to go too far from home, and I wanted to do a route I knew well, so there wouldn’t be any stopping to check a map! I decided on two local laps of a route I’ve done many times and know is almost exactly 10km. I added a loop on the first lap to bring the total up to 21.1km. I knew I would have to start early to miss as many walkers and runners as possible.
I wanted to make it as much like a proper race as possible. I designed a bib with a number – 2.6 for the #twopointsixchallenge. I added the JDRF logo.
I packed a goodie bag! First in went the Freddo from Rik at Phoenix. Then a banana because you have to have a banana. Then a packet of crisps – salt replacement. Then a beer – fluid replacement;-) Although I didn’t actually drink that at 8.45 am! And of course the medal itself.
I planned to start at around 6.30. Up early to eat some toast and almond butter for breakfast. The race village (aka My Street) was very quiet – nobody about at all in fact. Except my loyal supporter/sister Charlotte! By now regular readers will know that I am a bit fussy about race village toilets.. well no need to be concerned today – spotless, no queue and very close to the start line!
The first 11km were very quiet, just a few dog walkers and other up-with-the-lark runners around. It was easy to keep away from people. The birds were singing and the air was fresh and cool, the sun shining low through the trees. In a few sheltered places there was frost on the ground. I heard a cockerel crowing – quite incongruous as I was barely a quarter of a mile from the A40 and could also hear the hum of traffic from what is usually a busy road.
As I approached home at the end of the first lap I could hear the merry sound of a cowbell – my sister ringing it as I ran up the road. Goodness knows what my neighbours were thinking – it was only just gone 7.30!
After a quick drink of water I was off again for the second, slightly shorter lap. This time there were a few more people around, but it was still easy to avoid them by stepping off the path and into the grass. I imagined I was doing a proper trail run (which I should have been doing yesterday in Suffolk 😦 ) as I tried not to twist my ankle or step in something horrible. It really was perfect conditions for a run, sunny but not yet hot, and beautiful blue skies with a very light breeze. Back up the road home I could hear the cowbells again (!) and my cheering team of supporters! Post run breakfast was bacon/egg/black pudding roll and a coffee. Perfect!
All in all it was a great run, with a fab medal at the end. The Phoenix Facebook page has had plenty of stories on today of other people doing the same challenge – it has been a lot of fun reading them. A couple of people have done marathons up and down their streets! 400 plus laps! That is some determination. I would like to give a big shout out to my friend David, who was supposed to be running the Real Thing today and instead ran a marathon locally in just over 3.5 hours! And he wasn’t even going all out!
Doing a ‘virtual run’ isn’t the same as doing it with everyone around, and getting the encouragement and motivation from runners and spectators. However it really is the next best thing. I would definitely consider another, just to give myself the motivation.
The wisteria is blooming! A mild winter with plenty of rain, and a lovely sunny spring means that this pretty climbing plant is flowering earlier than usual. Like my earlier tulip post this one is mostly photos! Some of them I have taken myself on runs and walks, and even a cycle ride. Some of them have been kindly donated by my friends who have taken some stunning pictures while out on their daily walks or bike rides.
We have all been trying to find routes that avoid busy places, like parks. Luckily there are some beautiful front gardens where we live. It makes walking round the streets a pleasure, and I am very grateful to all those green-fingered residents who share these uplifting sights with us!
Perhaps the current restrictions on where we can go have made people realise that being outdoors and looking at plants and living things is not only good for us physically but mentally too. I’ve been saying this for a while of course, in this earlier post for example. I have been wondering if some of the people walking in the parks now are the same people who just a few weeks ago were walking round an indoor shopping mall? Maybe when life is different again walking outdoors will be a positive choice for more people…
Wisteria is one of the most impressive and showy flowers around right now. The yellows and reds of the tulips and daffodils are fading into the blues and lilacs of wisteria, ceanothus, lilac, and bluebells. Wisteria is a climbing plant in the legume family; laburnum is in the same family, and both plants have highly poisonous seeds. There are two main types – Japanese wisteria or W. floribunda, and Chinese wisteria or W. sinensis. Although it is most often seen in lilac shades there is also a white version.
Interesting fact – you can tell them apart by looking at the way the stems twine: Japanese wisteria twines clockwise, and Chinese wisteria twines anti-clockwise when viewed from above.
It’s not just the beautiful vision of wisteria that is so compelling, it also smells lovely. Wisteria grows quickly, but needs some careful cultivation to look its best. It requires pruning twice a year to get the best shape and most prolific flowering. It will clamber up any support, so frameworks and arches need to be strong.
The National Trust has several gardens with amazing wisteria, some are more than 100 years old. Sadly for everyone we are limited in where we can go, so visits to these gardens are not an option at the moment. But thanks to amateur horticulturalists in our neighbourhoods we can enjoy this wonderful plant for a few weeks every year – for free!
Thank you to my friends who have shared their photos, and thanks to all the fantastic gardeners who help make daily life a bit more bearable at the moment. Today is Earth Day 2020. It’s the 50th Earth Day. Take some time today to appreciate our wonderful world. Stay safe everyone!
It may surprise and amaze you that I actually I have some other interests outside baking and running! All my life I have made things, and lately one of the things that has come out of the cupboard is my sewing machine. This post is about the things that I have been sewing in the last two weeks.
First I made a patchwork rainbow to go in the window. It was a lot of fun looking through my fairly extensive vast stash of fabric. I found a piece of blue gingham today that I honestly believe has been in my collection since I was a teenager! Hoarder? Me?!
The rainbow has symbolic significance throughout the world, and in all major religions and mythologies. Here and now it is being used as a symbol of hope. All around the neighbourhood locally, and I’m sure where you live too, there are painted rainbows in windows. I saw one yesterday that had a lovely message on it written by a small child – “to all my friends – I hope you are ok”. I hope they are too.
After making the rainbow I was inspired to add a message for key workers. Although I work in the NHS, and it is lovely that people in the UK are recognising the work of the NHS in a way that is almost unprecedented, we must remember all the other essential workers that keep the country going. People who do not have the option of working from home. I would personally like to thank all shop workers, transport workers, rubbish collectors and everyone else who make an enormous difference to our daily lives.
After getting my beautiful sewing machine warmed up it seemed a shame to put it away. Side note – my sewing machine was inherited from grandmother. It is a Frister and Rossman, probably from a round the late 60’s/ early 70’s. I love that machine. It doesn’t let me down, and although basic it does everything I need. The only very minor problem is that because it’s so old it is in imperial measurements. That means when I am sewing I have to revert to inches (from the usual centimetres) as the presser foot is 1/4” wide for seam allowances. And it also means that when I tried to get a new walking foot for quilting a couple of years ago it didn’t quite fit! (I ‘made’ it fit!)
Anyway. After making things for the window, and finding two dollies that I made a while ago to add some fun, I did some more rooting about in my big craft cupboard. I found a dolly pattern that I had torn out of a Mollie Makes magazine back in 2012!
It looked fairly straightforward. So I plunged straight in. Rookie error! Always read the whole thing first people! I assumed that the pattern pieces had a seam allowance built in – but no! Too late, I’d already cut everything out – twice. Uh-oh! In the end it turned out fine, just a little more tricky to turn right side out…
The two dollies are just so cute! I am going to make another the correct way soon. Maybe orange hair next?
And then this week I read an interesting article about face masks in the Guardian. This article referenced Dr Trisha Greenhalgh who is someone I have lot of time for. She is the queen of evidence based medicine (in my opinion!). I looked up her original article which you can find here. I have changed my mind several times in the last few weeks about face masks for the general public. Mainly because I have seen people wearing them badly, and therefore offering no protection. Also, there is a huge difference between proper PPE face masks, which have to adhere to stringent standards, and a homemade version that will offer very little protection compared to the medical one. HOWEVER – perhaps little protection is better than no protection in these times? So today I made four face masks from this pattern which is really good. It is shaped for the face, and has a pocket that you can add a filter if you want/ if available. There is great debate about the filters – I’m not getting involved in that.
Next Sunday I am running a half marathon (hopefully!) in a virtual race. The amazing Phoenix Running have organised a virtual run to mark the (not happening) London Marathon. You don’t even have to run a marathon! I am planning 2 loops locally, going past my house half way through. As I haven’t run anywhere near half marathon distance since January it will be interesting, and slow..
I am still fundraising for JDRF, raising money for research to find a cure for Type 1 diabetes. Until April 30th your donation will be doubled if you donate via their site HERE!! So don’t hold back folks, every penny really will count! Thank you! And stay safe!
In my life I have made a lot of banana bread/ banana cake/ banana muffins etc. I’ve tried many recipes, many tweaks, many additions and substitutions. This recipe by Smitten Kitchen has to rank up in the top three all time BEST banana cake/ bread recipes. Incredibly easy and seriously good. Moist and delicious with deep banana and chocolate flavours.
I read a recipe blog somewhere that described chocolate and banana as a strange taste combo – really??!!! To me chocolate and banana are an absolute classic combination of flavours, and this recipe maxes out both. Other places where this taste combo can be found include: Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream and Chocolate Bananas. The latter look a little less than appetising I have to say, and since Ben and Jerry’s got bought out by the giant Unilever it doesn’t taste quite the same… So – for a taste sensation, try this recipe – you will not be disappointed!
I did not really sub anything this time – except the chocolate chips. I didn’t have any actual baking chips but I did have 3/4 of a bar of good dark chocolate- so I cut that up into biggish chunks instead.
Not only does this cake taste amazing it also looks great. And the marble effect is very easy to achieve too. It is really good on its own, or take it to the next level and serve slightly warm with vanilla ice cream.
Happy Easter everyone! Despite these discombobulating times we can still do some relatively normal things like run and bake, so I am happy. This week when out for early runs I have noticed lots of striking tulips in gardens and parks.
My own garden has a pretty decent display too. From my bathroom window I can see my neighbour’s garden table, and on it she has a pot stuffed with beautiful tulips of many different colours.
This post will mainly be pictures and I make no apology. Five years ago I was lucky enough to visit the Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands. My mother and I had a very special day walking round these beautiful gardens. The sun shone, and the flowers glowed and sparkled. Even though nobody can visit this year the Gardens are doing virtual tours via their website – take a look, it really is stunning.
Tulips originated in Persia and are native to a region stretching from Southern Europe to Central Asia. They were cultivated in Istanbul as far back as 1055, and came to the attention of western diplomats travelling in the Ottoman Empire in the sixteenth century. They began importing them to northern European countries. Tulips are now particularly associated with the Netherlands.
It wasn’t until the seventeenth century that Tulip Mania gripped the Netherlands and the price of tulip bulbs sky rocketed. This was partly a result of the ‘tulip breaking virus’ (don’t mention the virus!) which caused the solid colours to break. Beautiful streaky patterns emerged, and became highly sought after.
The saturated colour of tulips is one of the key attractions of the flower. The vivid colours and shiny petals that reflect the early spring light, the variety of shades and shapes, and the proud way they stand tall, make tulips an eye catching addition to gardens and flower beds everywhere.
Thank you to everyone – friends and strangers – who have shared their tulips with me, either in real life or through photos.
Wishing you all a happy Easter, Passover or Ramadan (starting soon…) Keep safe and stay home!
Under the current semi lockdown situation we have been avoiding going to the supermarket and trying to use local shops and deliveries as much as possible. Some businesses have been very creative and enterprising in adapting to what’s happening. A fruit and veg company in New Covent Garden, which in normal times supplies hotels and restaurants, has turned to delivering great quality fresh products, including milk, bread and eggs if required. It’s a random selection, and it’s actually quite fun planning meals around 4 giant onions and a swede! We got lots of apples this week, plus pears and bananas. I decided to use some of the apples to make muffins.
Yesterday I made muffins using this recipe from the BBC GoodFood website. The recipe is quite good, although not brilliantly written as it fails to mention in the method the topping (sugar) that is supposed to go on before you bake them. I probably wouldn’t have used any anyway. I adapted the recipe to use what I had in the cupboard. So instead of sultanas I used a mixture of raisins and dates. I used half the quantity of sugar. They were very good. Softening the apples by cooking them a bit first with the dried fruit, sugar and spices is definitely a good idea.
I like recipes like this because they are very versatile and can be tweaked quite a lot depending on what you have in the cupboard. Whole meal flour could be substituted for part of the plain. You could use different fruits or spices, and light brown sugar, or white, instead of golden caster sugar. You could use firm pears too I should think, with a little ginger as flavouring.
In other news (in other words Running News) – I have still been going out early (6-7am) to walk or run. It is very peaceful at that time in the morning, with few people around. I am hoping that the government will still allow us to exercise outdoors, although I wouldn’t be surprised if sometime soon restrictions become tighter.
Today I ran 10km locally. I do seem to be getting slower and slower, which is slightly concerning! I think it’s because I’m not particularly training for anything so I am just jogging along. And I do stop quite frequently to look at things. Today I saw: a pair of jays in the trees by the river; a heron sitting high up in a very tall tree surveying the landscape; a rat darting into the undergrowth by the path; a blackbird singing in a ash tree; several robins defending their territory. Sadly I also saw a lot of litter. Why oh why are some people so lazy that they cannot just take their crisp packets and plastic drinks bottles home with them, or find a bin? And why are they sitting on a bench socialising and having a mini picnic right now anyway? But I did also see a lovely man in Pitshanger Park picking litter as he went for a walk. Hurray! The helpful people always outnumber the antisocial ones.
I hope that wherever you are you are staying safe, and managing to do some kind of exercise whether that’s inside or out. The weather in the UK today has been beautifully warm and sunny, and we are very lucky to have a garden.
My sister told me about this wonderful recipe from Anna Jones in the Guardian. Our rhubarb is doing amazingly, and although I have never ‘forced’ it to make it pink and tender, I think it is still fab! Last week I made a crumble with it, this week it is cookies.
The store cupboard offered all the other ingredients which was lucky really, as who wants to go out shopping when they don’t have to in these strange times. The white chocolate was lurking from way back Christmas time when I was going to make some kind of white chocolate fudge, and then never got time to do it. And the ginger was from a recent spate of ginger cakes! I managed to get some flour and oats a couple of weeks ago. Hurray!
The mixture was very hard to handle as it became very wet when the rhubarb was added to it. I had to wash my hands several times – in addition to the many times my hands were being washed anyway for hygiene purposes. For that reason I made the cookies quite big. (Part of the reason – I also think that this type of moist chewy cookie is nicer when bigger!) Second time around I used spoons – a bit easier.
The result? I can only say they were DELICIOUS! If you like rhubarb you will love these. And actually even if you are a bit meh about rhubarb I think you will love these!
Running news this week in relative lockdown: I am still going into work. So twice this week I went out very early – 5.30 ish – to run about 6km in peace and quiet before work. After work it has been too busy in the parks for me to feel comfortable. I’ve done a couple of home workouts in the garden, which is fun. Yesterday my lovely outdoor gym club Quit the Gym got together on Zoom for 30 minutes of fun fitness! I think the explosion in home exercise programmes on Instagram, YouTube etc is perhaps one of the more positive things to come out of this awful pandemic situation. I’m always an optimist. The UK seems to have taken to Joe Wicks as the nation’s #PEteacher! Maybe people will realise that getting moving makes them feel good, and carry on after all this is over…as I say – ever an optimist!
This morning I woke early again and went out for an early run. There was almost nobody about. It was 7am (6 before the clocks changed..) and quite a cold wind. Maybe that was a factor. Whatever – it was easy to stay away from people! I did a nice easy 10km, stopping every now and again to appreciate the signs of spring that are everywhere (and have a rest).
While running I listened to a podcast that I’ve meaning to listen to since Wednesday. It was about the physiological effects of kindness on your brain and immune system. If you are interested in how your mind can influence your body I highly recommend this podcast. Dr Rangan Chatterjee talks to Dr David Hamilton about the science of kindness. More and more scientists and doctors are beginning to realise that medicine is so much more than pills and surgery, it’s about emotions and how you feel.
Right now I am thinking about all my readers, wherever you are in the world. Please stay safe, look after yourselves and your friends and family. Even if you cannot go out of your home at the moment try to open the window and look at the sky, listen to the birds and perhaps see a tree or two. I am grateful to be able to go out for a run or walk, to see my family – in person or on the phone, to chat to my friends. Thankfully I can still bake too!
Recent events have somewhat taken over normal life for everyone around the world. I haven’t written anything for a few days because it has been hard to know what to write. Everyone I know has had a fair old whack of disappointing cancellations of all kinds of events. Last Saturday was supposed to be the busiest of the year so far for me. Then my 22km trail run in the Chilterns was cancelled. And then the concert that my choir has been preparing for months and months was cancelled. Suddenly I was not doing anything on Saturday.
It was Mother’s Day on Sunday here in the UK. I met up with one of my sons in a local park – keeping at least 2m away from him. We did a high intensity interval workout (HIIT) together for 30 minutes. It was fun! But also quite disconcerting to see so many people NOT following social distancing advice. So I’m not at all surprised to hear Boris Johnson announce this evening that from now on this will be more strictly enforced.
For Sunday dinner I made a rhubarb crumble. I have a flourishing rhubarb plant in the garden, and I love rhubarb.
The crumble mix was approximately 100g flour and 75g oats, 100g butter rubbed in and about 3 tbsp sugar added, along with a tsp ground ginger. I sprinkled this over 4 sticks of rhubarb (quite chunky sticks) chopped up and put in a buttered dish. Then I baked it in a moderate oven (Mk 4) for about 40 minutes until the topping was brown and the rhubarb was cooked.
Served up with hot custard! Delicious!
Plan for the next few weeks: more crumbles; more home workouts. I am so grateful to have a garden. I am also grateful to have a job in the NHS. It is a bit scary working in clinic still, but at the same time it is very humbling to be playing a small part in the whole global thing that is totally overtaking our lives right now.
More plans: jigsaws, knitting, meditation and reading. And trying to keep in touch with friends and family who are social distancing, or actually unwell and having to quarantine. Also getting to grips with Zoom and having virtual social events instead of real ones! What plans do you have? Please keep safe, and only go out if you really have to!
Time to stay calm, and eat cake. Baking can take my mind off anxiety inducing situations, such as the one we find ourselves in right now. I’ve been taking a look in the freezer and found a bag of frozen blackcurrants given to me by a lovely friend who grew them on her allotment last year.
Blackcurrants are widely cultivated in northern Europe and northern Asia. They used to be grown in the USA too, but were banned in the early 1900’s because of a certain pest that was deemed a threat to the logging industry. Although this ban has been lifted in some states the blackcurrant is still quite unknown in many parts of the USA.
Rich in vitamin C and polyphenols blackcurrants were an important crop in the UK during World War 2 when fruits such as oranges were hard to come by. Blackcurrant juice was issued free to children under 2, and is still a very popular drink and flavouring. Ribena, a blackcurrant cordial which derives its name from the Latin name ribes nigrum, has been made in the UK since 1938 and was heavily marketed as being a healthy drink, full of vitamin C. In recent years sugary drinks like this have become somewhat demonised, and lower sugar versions have been developed.
Blackcurrants are one of my favourite fruits. Even the smell is beautiful. I’m planning on making a bottle (or two!) of blackcurrant vodka. But meanwhile it’s a cake, because you get a quicker result!
I used this recipe from Irish food blogger Caroline Hennessy, just tweaking it very slightly to add a hint of lemony sharpness. I added the finely grated rind of one lemon, and a little juice. The recipe was very good, although it took an hour to bake, not 35-40 minutes as stated.
The end result was very tasty and moist. I served it with a scoop of vanilla icecream. If you don’t have blackcurrants in your part of the world then blueberries could be substituted but you won’t get that fruity sharpness that only blackcurrants can give!
I hope you all keeping safe and sane wherever you are. We have all seen some wonderful neighbourly activities as well as some less acceptable behaviours. Let’s focus on the good stuff. At least I can still make a cake, and at the moment I am still going to work, and even more importantly – I am still going out RUNNING! (More on that soon.)