Recipe: Best Bircher Muesli / Overnight Oats

Have I really not posted a standalone recipe in over two years? It’s not like I stopped cooking; we have just developed a good rotation of favorites and I haven’t done as much improvisational/original cooking or baking. I’ve also spent some time updating older recipes as I refine them and take better pictures of the end results.

That said, when I make a recipe regularly enough that I’ve almost memorized it, I think that’s a sign it should go up here on the blog. That’s what has happened with this bircher muesli (aka “overnight oats” to the youngsters), which I’ve been making on and off for a couple of years now. It’s a nice change from the usual dry muesli, granola, or oatmeal/porridge that are my usual breakfast staples.

F also likes this bircher muesli, even though he isn’t normally a porridge/muesli/cereal person. It’s neither too sweet nor too gloopy, which I find can sometimes be the case with bircher mueslis. Texture comes from the oats and grated apple, and I usually add almonds or walnuts on top right before serving.

It may not be the prettiest dish, but it’s what I like in a recipe: delicious, nutritious, and flexible/forgiving if you don’t feel like measuring exactly or don’t quite have the same ingredients on hand. The recipe below makes enough for two people for two to three days; if you don’t want that much, just halve or quarter the amounts below,

Best Bircher Muesli (adapted from here; makes 4 generous or 6 smaller portions – enough for 2-3 mornings of breakfast)

Ingredients

  • 3.5-4 cups plain yogurt (I use either full-fat or low-fat, or a combination)
  • 2 cups oats (I’ve used both porridge/quick-cooking and whole rolled oats – both work well and it’s up to you)
  • juice of 4 oranges
  • 4 Granny Smith apples, grated (peeling optional – I like to leave the skin on for fiber and texture)
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • optional: 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Procedure

  • The night before you want to eat the muesli: Combine all ingredients together in a large bowl or Tupperware. Mix well to distribute everything evenly.
  • Cover tightly and store in the fridge (it keeps well for 2-3 days).
  • To serve, portion into bowl(s) and top with your choice of nuts and/or additional fruit.

Enjoy!


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What’s Been Cooking? “First month in Münster” edition

Hello there! Long time no blog, I know. My excuse is that F and I were moving countries. After a wonderful 6.5 years in London, we decided it was time for new adventures in a smaller place with a less hectic pace of life, so we moved to Münster, Germany at the end of May. It was hard to leave our friends and communities in London but we are glad to be in Münster, where we already have a good network thanks to F’s friends from his university days.

Part of moving into a new flat in Germany required buying and installing a kitchen. No, not just the appliances – an entire kitchen. Apparently it’s a thing in Germany. Kitchens are seen as “furniture,” and most flats come unfurnished, so…no kitchens! (Or at least they aren’t a guarantee.) Once a kitchen is installed in a flat or house, if those tenants move out they can either take the kitchen with them (yes, people do that) or they can sell it to the new people moving in.

Anyway, designing and buying a kitchen was a new experience for both of us. They are not cheap, but ideally we’ll be in this flat for the next 5-10 years so it’s a worthy investment and we both enjoy cooking and baking. We ended up at KüchenTreff Münster and had a great experience from designing through installation. I’d recommend them if you’re in the Münster area and in the market for a kitchen.

All that was a long-winded way of getting to the point of this post: what F and I have been cooking (and baking) in our new kitchen over the past month! Here goes, in no particular order:

I made our favorite Käsekuchen (German cheesecake) for F’s birthday in mid-June. He returned the favor for my birthday two weeks later by making our now go-to cherry pie from Stella Parks at Serious Eats.

June was Spargel-Saison in northwestern Germany. Spargel is white asparagus, which I never came across until visiting western Germany and Belgium in May/June. It’s a thing, and for many – like F – it’s something to be enjoyed in multitudes for a short time every year. It tastes completely different from green asparagus – milder and sweeter, to me. Peel it, then wrap it in a foil packet with butter and salt and roast it in a 200C/400F oven for 45-60 minutes. Yum.

Back to baking, the first thing I made in our new oven was a batch of my go-to granola. Needless to say, more batches have followed.

Anita Bean’s lentil-stuffed peppers from her Vegetarian Athlete’s Cookbook made for a tasty and light dinner on a warm summery evening.

We don’t usually celebrate the Fourth of July (American Independence Day), but F wanted to have friends over for a barbecue and he asked if flag cakes are actually a thing. I wasn’t sure, but I checked smitten kitchen and – lo and behold – she had a recipe for one. A classic yellow cake base (it stayed quite moist, maybe thanks to buttermilk) is slathered with cream cheese frosting and topped with berries in the shape of the American flag. I think it’s one of the most patriotic things I’ve ever done or made… It was a hit with our German friends and I’d definitely make the cake again, with or without the flag design.

What have you been cooking recently?

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Race Recap: Crouch End 10k (2019)

Two of the best London running friends I could ask for

Background: It’s May again, which means time for the annual YMCA North London Fun Run & Festival featuring the Crouch End 10k (with a detour this year, bringing the course to a slightly longer 10.268km). It’s the closest thing Heathside gets to a home race, and I love the combination of local and club support around the course. My running volume hasn’t been very high over the past few months – I haven’t run over 10k since mid-March and speedwork has been limited – so I wasn’t looking for any spectacular times. This would also be a somewhat special race for me, though: my last London race before moving to Germany at the end of the month (surprise!).

Goal: No major time goal, no pressure.

Race strategy: Run steadily with Jo and see how we feel. Enjoy it!

Weather & outfit: A coolish but muggy 12C/55F at the start and mainly overcast with hints of sun peeking through. Good running weather, although a bit humid. I wore shorts, my club vest, and my Saucony Kinvara 8s, my standard racing shoes. I decided to carry a running water bottle, which I’m glad I had.

Runners warming up for the race

The race: Jo and I started in the middle of the first wave and set off at a steady pace. We weren’t too bothered about streaking off at the start, so we settled into a rhythm and waved at Heathside marshals as we ran by.

The detour that lengthened the course this year actually missed out the steepest part of the hill on Station Road. Fine with me! We were warm by the time we descended into Ally Pally for the first time and opted to pour cups of water over our heads – that was a good choice and something we repeated at the next two water stations.

I wasn’t paying too much attention to my splits and was instead enjoying the atmosphere and chatting with Jo as we ran along. I did notice that we came through 5k in just about 27:00 – not super fast but a good, steady pace. Heathside marshals continued to shout their support (thanks Eilidh, Amy, Satu and others!) as we entered the second lap. The hill was hard the second time, but coming down into Ally Pally felt like we were almost there.

With 1km to go, we picked it up a bit down the long straight on Priory Road, before dipping back into Priory Park for some final twists and turns. Jo pushed me in that last kilometer (a 4:51) and we came through the line pretty much together.

Tom & Alice masquerading as Dunns runners

The result: I finished the 10km race in 53:45 (5:22/km = 8:40/mi)I came 357th/869 and was the 58th woman of the 341 who finished. I’m pleased with my time given recent (lack of) training and other life things taking up my energy. Plus, it was not actually my slowest CE10k time so I’m happy with that!

Post-race: Jo and I picked up our Dunns jelly donuts (probably the only time in the year when I eat a donut – yum). We chatted with Tom and Alice, who were sneakily running for “Team Dunns,” then found Caroline to exchange race stories and snap a few photos before I wandered home. It was a lovely way to say a sort of goodbye to the north London running community that has been such a big part of my life for the past six and a half years. Who knows – maybe I’ll fly in next year just for this race!

Next up: Stay tuned, but it may well be a July 10k in our new home of Münster.


International Women’s Day 2019

Happy International Women’s Day (IWD)! If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that IWD is one of my favorite holidays, and one I first became aware of while living in Ukraine as a Peace Corps Volunteer. In short, IWD is a global celebration of women’s achievements but also a day to raise awareness and campaign for change around the continuing lack of gender equality in many countries and societies.

On this International Women’s Day, I did the following: sent messages to the inspirational women in my life; listened to “The Guilty Feminist” podcast on my journeys to/from work; had my ESOL and Functional Skills English learners do an IWD quiz and talk about things like the gender pay gap and paid maternity leave (or the lack thereof) in different countries; and lifted weights at the gym! See below for more tidbits that caught my eye for IWD this year:

In true Guilty Feminist fashion, here is my ‘I’m a feminist, but…’ for IWD, something my fellow RPCVs from Ukraine and other eastern European countries will appreciate:

I’m a feminist, but part of me misses being given flowers and chocolates and wished a good women’s day, love, happiness & luck in a short speech given by Ukrainian schoolchildren. 

So many inspiring quotes in the IWD Google Doodle.

Nicholas Kristof, on point as usual:

Some astonishing facts here:

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Supporting gender equality in athletics. There’s a big push in the UK for women and men to finally run the same distance in cross country races – it’s ridiculous that this is not yet the standard!

I’ll leave you with this from UNESCO:

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How did you celebrate International Women’s Day 2019? Let me know in the comments!

Race Recap: Heathside Club 5-miler, Finsbury Park

Photo by Lenny Martin

Background: My running club, London Heathside, hasn’t had its own road race for a number of years. (It used to be the Hampstead 10k, the final iteration of which I ran as my first race with the club back in 2013.) A few of the club committee have been pushing for a while to revive a Heathside-run road race in our local area. The club plays a large part in the Crouch End 10k, but that’s actually the YMCA’s race. We also have an intra-club 5km handicap race in Highgate Woods in the summer, but that’s a different sort of event. This intra-club 5-miler in Finsbury Park was a good start to hopefully bringing back an annual Heathside-run road race.

Goal: I ran an unexpectedly fast Finsbury parkrun two weeks ago so thought I could run a pretty good time in this 5-miler, although grappling with “the hill” three times would not be easy. I didn’t think I could improve on last year’s 5-mile PB but wanted to run under 37:00.

Race strategy: I was feeling pretty sluggish in the morning so, on Gabi’s advice, decided to take it steadier on the first lap (of three), then try to pick up the pace if I felt good.

Weather & outfit: A warmish 9C/49F and cloudy with a bit of drizzle. Good running weather, actually. I wore shorts, a technical t-shirt (some people wore their club vests but it was a casual event so I opted for a regular tee), and my Saucony Kinvara 8s, which I usually race in.

Photo by Lenny Martin

The race: The course was a variation on the Finsbury parkrun course, which I know very well, having run it over 30 times. We started with one lap of the track, which helped me clock a swift 4:21 first kilometre. I know I can run strongly down the long descent and up the long, gradual incline on the far side of the park, so I tried to use the terrain to my advantage and ran the second kilometre in 4:24. Somewhere in there, I passed the 1-mile marker at just 7:00. Keep this up if you can, I thought to myself, you could be on track to run under 36′.

Then came the first time up the notorious parkrun hill. I’ve learned that I do better when I take it slow and steady up the hill, then come off it fast onto the flatter ground. This means I usually get passed up the hill but I try not to let it bother me.

A slower third kilometre, as expected: 4:51. I tried to use the downhill again on the second lap, but the headwind didn’t make it easy. Jessica and I were trading off leading each other at this point, and I made it my mission not to let her get too far ahead of me. My splits were slowing but I was still on pace to run under 37′.

Up the steep hill a second time, and my legs were starting to feel it. I didn’t have much fuel in the tank, either, but Jessica’s presence helped keep me going through the last lap. My 6th kilometre was the slowest of the race, but on the other side of it I gritted my teeth and calculated that I could run just over 36′ if I kept it up. J and I kept pace up the long back straight. My hamstrings and ankles were feeling it at this point. Come on, you’re almost there. Tackling the hill for the last time, I surged onto the track for the last 200m and tried to muster some sort of kick down to the finish line.

The result: I finished the 5 mile race in 36:15 (4:31/km = 7:15/mi)I came 17th in the small field of 33 and was the 4th woman of the 13 who ran.

This was a hard race, but as Eilidh pointed out, it was a nice way to mix things up: 5 miles instead of the 5k of a parkrun, and doing a hard effort instead of a long slow run on a Sunday (although a bunch of Heathsiders that are marathon training added many miles onto this club race).

Post-race: An easy jog down Parkland Walk with Eilidh, catching up on the latest and shaking out our legs a bit. By the time I got home, I had clocked up almost 8 miles, so could count it as a race and a longish run.

Next up: I’m entered for the Victoria Park Open 5 Mile race next month. Today’s race helped me see where I am in terms of 5-mile fitness, so I know what I should work on before VP5 (more speed & tempo!).


Recipe: Winter Salad Variations

It’s nice to spend the cold, dark months of the year cooking and eating hearty comfort foods like stews, soups and roasted vegetables. But sometimes I am in the mood for something fresh and crunchy to lighten things up: enter the winter salad!

Fennel, green apple, kohlrabi salad

There are number of robust winter vegetables that, when paired with a zesty dressing, make for a delicious salad. Adding something sweet and something salty to the bowl brings the flavors together and balances things out. I’ll list some of my favorite ingredients below, followed by my lemon-dijon dressing recipe and a few suggested salad combinations.

Ingredient ideas:

  • Carrots
  • Chicory
  • Kohlrabi
  • Radicchio
  • Granny Smith apples
  • Oranges
  • Dried cranberries
  • Feta cheese
  • Goat cheese
  • Lentils (green and brown hold up best in salads)
  • Chickpeas
  • White beans
  • Walnuts or other nut of choice

Lemon-Dijon Dressing (a classic I learned from my mom)

  • Whisk together (I usually do it straight into the bottom of the salad bowl) the following ingredients, to taste: freshly squeezed lemon juiceolive oildijon mustardsalt/pepper. You can add some white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar for extra zing, or if you don’t have enough lemons around.

Salad Variation 1: Fennel, green apple, & kohlrabi with orange

  • Thinly slice 1 fennel bulb, 1 green apple, and 1 kohlrabi bulb. Peel and cut an orange into bite-sized chunks. Add some white beans (butter/cannelloni) for protein. Don’t forget the dressing!

Salad Variation 2: Chicory & radicchio with dried cranberries & green lentils

  • Cook some green lentils in salted water with 1 bayleaf. Drain and set aside.
  • Thinly slice 1 chicory head (bulb?) and 1 radicchio. Add to the salad bowl with dressing, then add in lentils and a handful of dried cranberries.

Salad Variation 3: Grated kohlrabi, carrot, & apple

  • Instead of thinly slicing, you can grate kohlrabi, carrots, and apple straight into the salad bowl. Toss with dressing and enjoy!

Or make up your own combination. Happy salad making!


Race Recap: Met League XC – Ally Pally 2019

Photo Credit: Tom Hosking Photography

Background: It’s the tail end of the cross country season here in the UK. I joined in a few times back in November and December but took break from XC in January to focus on longer road stuff: the Fred Hughes 10 and the Watford Half Marathon. The former went well and the latter got cancelled, so I was excited to lace up my spikes again for a very local cross country race just up the road at Ally Pally!

Goal: Is it really possible to set a time goal for a cross country race? Not for an average runner like me. Every course is different, and the same course varies year to year depending on the weather the week before the race. My glutes were sore on Saturday from the many 1-leg squat variations prescribed by the physio, but I made a couple of general goals for myself: 1) Don’t turn an ankle/trip/fall/get spiked, and 2) Expect mud, embrace the mud, and enjoy it.

Race strategy: None, really (see above), but I did decide to treat it like a very muddy parkrun, have some fun, and try to save some energy for the finish.

Weather & outfit: A warmish 9C/49F but very windy. It rained a lot in the week leading up to the race, so mud would definitely be on the agenda. I wore shorts, Heathside vest, and my cross country spikes (15mm for the expected mud levels). No need for any extra layers, even with the wind.

Terrifyingly long spikes. Worth it!

The race: I’m glad I had reread my race recap from the last time I ran this course, two years ago. According to that, the course was quite a bit short of 6km. That said, the start this year seemed further back than I remembered, so I mentally prepared for the race to be at least 6k (there’s nothing like assuming a course will be short and then having to run further than anticipated!).

I knew the first long straight would be gradually uphill and into the wind, so as we set off I went with the flow and used the time to test the terrain and warm up my calves and ankles. I found myself in touch with Jen and Alice, so breathed encouragement to them and pushed on. Short strides up the hill. Use your arms, I reminded myself as we were tested by the first short rise. Alice and I rounded a corner and had a brief respite from running uphill.

Lap 1. Photo credit: F

Then we crossed the paved path, hurdled a ditch, and dug in up the long, steep hill for the first time. This three-stage hill is killer: a longish steep section, a turn left onto a slightly more gradual (but still very much uphill) section, then a right up a short, sharp bit to the top. This hill alone made me really glad I’d put 15mm spikes in my shoes. The long spikes gave me enough traction to maintain control while clawing my way slowly up and up and up…

Photo Credit: Tom Hosking Photography

Then the descent started. The course wound around some trees until plunging back down the first section that we’d run up. Another ditch and paved path later, we were back on firmer, slightly downhill terrain. Behind the cricket pitch, it got sloppy: thick, soupy mud with a few more ditches to cross. I enjoyed hurdling the ditches – it reminded me of my track days from university and distracted me from the exertion.

Photo Credit: Tom Hosking Photography

Soon it was back out to the long straight for the second and final lap. I was tiring, but the cheers from the Heathside supporters as we ran between the club camps – Come on, Heathside! Go Tammela! – were amazing and helped me summon some extra energy. A fellow Heathsider kept passing me on the uphills (impressive!) but I tried to keep her within range. Tackling the long, staged hill for the second time slowed me a lot, but I reminded myself to raise my knees and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Back down the hill and over the ditch, I knew it was only 1-2km to the finish and the course would, indeed, be shorter than 6km. I passed a few runners in the boggy section behind the cricket pitch, including a couple of fellow Heathsiders. Come on, we’re almost there, I encouraged them. Surprised to catch one of our speedy vets, S, I knew she’d probably respond to my challenge and stick with me.

A marshal called out that we had 800m to go. You can do this! Just a few more minutes, I said to myself. My legs felt so heavy and I felt a bit sick. S caught me up and we pushed each other through the final 500m, passing a couple of other runners along the way. A yell from F, who had come to watch, helped me find a tiny kick to the finish, just in front of S.

Heathside women. Met League Champs for the 2nd year in a row!

The result: I finished the 5.37km/3.34mi race in an official time of 25:33 (4:45/km = 7:39/mi)I came 78th of 244 women finishers and ran my fastest time on this particular cross country course.

And by coming 16th of 35 Heathside women finishers, I actually scored for the C team!

Cross country scoring can be baffling, so here’s how one of our club coaches explains it:

The first 6 women to finish score for the A team, the next 6 for the B team and the 5 after that for the C team.  Additional finishers count towards the C team: although they don’t score, they can push back members of other teams, making the points for the team more valuable.

I don’t think I’ve scored for Heathside in a Met League XC race in over five years, so I am chuffed to have squeaked into the C team! I felt strong and was mentally in the mood to race.

As an added bonus, the Heathside women’s A team were crowned the Met League Champions for the second year in a row. Amazing running, ladies!

Post-race: A women’s team photo, catching up with Gabi, Caroline, Jo & co, then walking back home with F to de-mud my spikes and take a hot shower.

Next up: I think I’ll go back to some shorter, sharper running now that my long goal races are out of the way. I’ll try to keep doing a longish run most weekends, but I want to make sure my knee/ITBS pain settles before ramping up the distance again


Race Recap: Fred Hughes 10 (2019)

Background: Back in September, J persuaded me to enter the Fred Hughes 10 in mid-January as a goal for us to work towards. Having run this race once before, then entering in subsequent years but bailing due to illness or injury, I was keen to get it back on my racing calendar and hoped to actually make it to the start this time! So I signed up and have been dutifully ticking off Sunday long runs with my clubmates. I did a number of 10-11 mile training runs in November and December so I could finish the distance for Fred Hughes. It was the speed I was concerned about!

Goal: Given my lack of speedwork in recent months, I set a goal to finish under 1:20:00. I ran this race five years ago in 1:16:17 but wasn’t sure I would have the speed for that kind of time. This was also my longest race since 2015 – and my first 10-mile race since then. I wanted to finish without too much right knee pain (it has been bothering me on my longer runs).

Race strategy: Start steady and try to average around 5:00/km until the halfway point (5mi/8km). Don’t panic if my pace ends up being a bit slower or faster – listen to my body. Slowly increase my pace from 5-8mi/8-13km. Take a gel after 55-60 minutes. Start pushing towards home with 2mi/3km to go. Use the downhills and think about my form on the uphills. Also, enjoy it!

Weather & outfit: A brisk 0C/32F or so in the morning, with a promise to ‘warm up’ to about 3C/38F by the time the race started. I went back and forth on what to wear, but settled on the following: capri leggings (quite thin), my Craft thermal long-sleeve baselayer under my Heathside vest, light gloves, and a fleece running headband. It was cold at the start, but the sun was out and I warmed up quickly once we started running. The outfit choice worked. I even shed my headband at 5km and my gloves at 8km.

Mile 5. Photo by New Pixels Photography

The race: A narrow first half kilometre meant keeping the pace steady until the road widened and the runners spread out. My watch read 5:01 for the first kilometre – right on track. The next two kilometres had some nice downhills, which I used to gain some time early on: 4:41, 4:42. That’s okay – it’s quick but you feel good. Stay steady.

M, a runner I know through J, caught up to me around 3km and chattered away, pulling me along at a good clip for the next 2.5km (thanks, M – that helped a lot!). We went through 3 miles at 22:30, and 5km at just over 23:00. (Yes, I think in both miles and kilometres when training and racing. Maybe it’s a waste of brain energy but I like doing both!) If I can keep this up, I’ll definitely run under 1:20:00, I thought. But we still have a ways to go. Be patient.

M pulled away around 5.5km and I let her go, preferring to stick to my game plan. My next few kilometres were all under 5:00. I enjoyed the dappled sunlight and quiet country lanes, focusing on my surroundings to distract myself from how hard I was working. A woman in a St Albans Striders vest complimented my running form and ran alongside me for a little while; it was nice to have some company/motivation.

I hit the halfway mark at 37:53. I can run the second half in 40 minutes and still beat my goal for today. That gave me a confidence boost, especially when the 10th kilometre ended up being a long slog uphill. It was one of those hills where you don’t really feel like you’re running uphill until you look at your watch and realize your pace has slowed massively. It was by far my slowest split of the race (5:27), but I still went through 10km in around 48 minutes.

Running through the countryside. Glorious!

Just 6km to go. You can do this. Two kilometres and then you can have your gel. I picked up the pace for kilometres 11 and 12, to shake off the long climb and to inject my legs with a bit of energy. 4:20, 4:30. I ripped open my gel and started focusing on runners to pick off up ahead.

Between the gel and an uphill, kilometre 13 was not swift – 5:08 – but I kept my eyes on clubmate Holly and the guy in orange and red who had passed me earlier on. You can catch them. Just 3km to go. Despite feeling a bit sick at this point, I pressed on and focused on my form up the hills. The orange-and-red guy kept passing me, then slowing down enough for me to pass him back. I think I finally dropped him with less than a mile to go. Looking at my watch, I calculated that I could probably make it home in under 1:16:00 – it wouldn’t be a PB, but it could be a best time for this course. With 400m to go, I picked up my legs, pumped my arms, used the downhill and pushed up the rise to the finish.

The result: I finished the race in a 1:15:33 chip time (7:33/mi = 4:42/km). I came 230th of 840 finishers and was the 43rd woman of 412. I was the 11th of 17 Heathsiders running, and the 3rd of our 7 women who finished.

This was also a course PB for me. Sure, I’ve only run this race twice, but still – I ran it faster than 5 years ago! I’m also really pleased to have run almost 5 minutes faster than my goal time of 1:20:00, and to have run a small negative split. Guess I do have a bit of speed in these legs, despite the lack of speedwork. The crisp, sunny weather was glorious and the country lanes were peaceful. I was really happy I ran.

Post-race: Picking up my t-shirt (I love how Fred Hughes does a women’s specific technical top), gathering for a Heathside photo, jogging back to the race HQ for a quick change, sharing these brownies that I made, then getting in the car for the drive home.

Next up: The Watford Half Marathon in two weeks. My longest training run has only been 11 miles, so I will definitely be treating the half as more of a training run than a race. Plus, I’ve heard it is very hilly…


At the National Theatre: “Hadestown”

Back in November, my parents flew over to London for the long Thanksgiving weekend. They were keen to go see a show while in town, and Monday night was the most convenient for going out. A musical called Hadestown was on at the National Theatre and it sounded quirky: jazz-folk music, based on two Greek myths, written and directed by women. As both shows F and I have seen at the National Theatre were excellent, I thought we’d give it a go!

“Hadestown” set at the National Theatre

And we were glad we did.

Intertwining the Orpheus/Eurydice and Hades/Persephone myths, Hadestown brings us to the modern-day industrial in what could be a southern railway town / New Orleans piano bar. In addition to the four protagonists, other characters from Greek myth are in attendance: Hermes, messenger god, narrates much of the story; and the Fates ever weave around the characters, cajoling and tempting them.

Speaking of the Fates, I think they get some of the best music in the show, with hints of Bossa Nova and tight, edgy but round harmonies. Check this one out:

In other music, the song “Why We Build The Wall,” set as a kind of call-and-response reminiscent of the Old South, is powerful and chillingly relevant to today’s politics. Eva Noblezada, as Eurydice, has a great voice. I was less impressed by Orpheus’ solos, but I think that’s because the character’s musical style is quite different from the rest of the show. It’s more folksy, and reminds me of the music from Once, contrasting – probably on purpose – with the jazzier ensemble pieces.

Final verdict: Hadestown, while sometimes jumpy in narrative, is a fantastic show. The music is jazzy, bluesy, folksy, and above all, catchy. Some tunes and themes resonate heavily with today’s political environment. It was also great to see such a diverse cast, with plenty of talent to go around. Highly recommended!

Of course, an evening out on the Southbank isn’t complete without taking in the London lights from Waterloo Bridge. London really is a magical place.

 


Year in Review: 2018

Happy New Year! Frohes neues Jahr! З Новим Роком!

It’s hard to believe another year has gone by. Time flies. As we enter 2019, here are some reflections on my 2018.

Running and fitness in 2018:

  • Distance run: Strava tells me that in 2018 I ran 1,271.3km =  789.95mi, which is 298.2km/185.29mi more than in 2017 – I’m really pleased with that!
  • Overall, it was a good running year. I refocused on building my endurance base with Sunday long runs, did a lot of Saturday morning parkruns, and even got in a smattering of speedwork in the warmer, lighter months. I also did some run-commuting to or from work.
  • I ran my 50th parkrun in March 2018! This had been a major goal of mine and I was excited to achieve it (the t-shirt is great, too). My parkrun total currently stands at 63, with more to come in 2019.
  • Racing (running):
  • Distance cycled: 2,054.6km = 1,276.67mi of commuting to/from work in London. Fewer than 2017 because my commute is now shorter. More energy for running!

Favorite books read in 2018:

  • In 2018 I read about 22 books. There were quite a few that I didn’t particularly enjoy, but to balance those out there were some gems:
  • Jennifer Egan, Manhattan Beach. I really liked Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, and Manhattan Beach was a very different sort of novel but did not disappoint. I loved the 1930s-40s dockside setting as well as the strong female protagonist and a bit of intrigue. Great writing, too.
  • I don’t usually read much non-fiction, but Dave Eggers’ narrative non-fiction book The Monk of Mokha reads like a story, which makes its reality all the more interesting. I learned a lot about coffee and Yemen – apt, given the current situation there.
  • I am a sucker for historical fiction, and Ken Follett is one of my favorites. In 2018, I read A Column of Fire, the third book in Follett’s “Kingsbridge series” that starts with Pillars of the Earth. Just so good.
  • One of my best friends recommended Tamora Pierce‘s Song of the Lioness quartet, which I raced through. Nothing like a good young adult series with a strong female lead and a bit of magic and mystery!
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is brilliant, and I read her first novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, last year. It was not quite what I expected but I couldn’t put it down and her writing is excellent.

Other highlights of 2018, in no particular order:

  • F and I wanted to travel more in 2018, and we certainly achieved that goal. Here’s where we went:
    • A snap weekend in Zürich with my parents. What a nice city!
    • A lovely trip to Provence in early spring (that post has somehow been lost! Sad. If you go, stay at the La Bastide Perchée guest house in Venelles).
    • A few days in the Ardennes at C’s family farmhouse, with both sets of parents.
    • An amazing two-week holiday in California in August, plus a couple of days in NYC (including seeing Emma!).
    • A long weekend with friends in Münster in October, followed closely by a weekend in Düsseldorf with friends and F’s sister.
    • Almost two weeks in Germany over Christmas/New Year, with the in-laws and friends. Good food, good running, great people, and relaxation.
  • Seeing friends regularly over the year for lunches, dinners, drinks, coffees, and board gaming (game highlights: Seven Wonders, Quacksalber von Quedlinburg, Schnapp die Robbe!).
  • Having my parents and five friends with us for our Thanksgiving-in-London celebration.
  • Continuing to enjoy cooking and baking, both new recipes and old favorites. F and I have become more mindful with how much meat we eat and where we get it, plus we’ve been focusing on fuelling ourselves well for our respective cycling and running.

I’m not big on resolutions but my main intention for 2019 is, as usual, to find a healthy balance between work, exercise, time with F, and other things.

In some blog-related reflecting, here is a listicle of of my top posts via views in 2018:

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and successful 2019.

Race Recap: XC “Dirty Double”

Background: I was supposed to run the Perivale 5 road race this Sunday – it has been an annual sojourn for my group of running friends for the past five years. However, this year not many Heathsiders signed up, and I didn’t fancy spending three hours on public transport to get to and from the race. So I decided on option 2: the arguably more challenging “dirty double” of Met League cross country on Saturday afternoon, and Sunday League cross country on Sunday morning. After a long week with minimal exercise due to evening work commitments, I was keen to try my hand at the double, and decided to combine my race reports for a bumper post! Read on to see if I regretted my decision…

Heathside ladies after Met League XC. Some missing. Photo from Emma W.

Race 1 – Saturday: Met League Cross Country in Uxbridge

Why pay £50 for a Tough Mudder when you can do this for free?

Goal: It was my first Met League XC race since February 2017, and I’d never run the Uxbridge course before, so I settled on my usual “under 30 minutes” goal for the 6km race. Also, after seeing the juniors tanking it in the river crossing (check this out if you don’t believe me!), I decided to focus on not falling over in the river, and generally not turning an ankle or getting spiked.

Race strategy: Run by feel and use the downhills. Be smart but not overly cautious in the river crossing. Breathe!

Weather & outfit: It had rained all night and morning and was grey and misting at the start of the race. At least it wasn’t too cold – probably about 12C/54F. I wore shorts, Heathside vest, and cross country spikes (9mm, but 12s might have been better).

The race: We set off on a flat, muddy grass field. This isn’t too bad, I thought. It’s not as wet as the Ridgeway Run was! Pretty soon we started up a long, gradual slope. There were two of those in this race, and we ran two laps so faced the long hills four times. At least they were followed by long descents. I particularly enjoyed making up time on the descent after the short, steep “ski slope” hill.

Yes, this course had a ski slope and a river crossing that we had to contend with. Twice.

First time through the river crossing…

But back to the running. It passed in a bit of a blur. I felt anxious about the river crossing the first time, but managed not to fall over and got out of it well. As we neared the river again on the second lap, I estimated the course would be longer than 6km, especially as coach J called out around 5k that I had six more minutes to run. I’d been keeping half an eye on my splits but didn’t pay them too much attention since the course undulated so much. I did want to keep my average pace under 5:00/km, so that kept me going on tired legs.

I got through the river the second time and was soaked to the waist but I didn’t face-plant! After a few more twists and turns, the finish line was finally in sight and I gave the best kick I could. Unfortunately for me, a long-legged Ealing runner responded to my challenge and just nipped me at the line.

The result: I finished the longer-than-6km (my Garmin showed 6.67km/4.14mi) in 32:09 (7:46/mi, 4:49/km). I was 102nd of 215 female finishers – pleased to be in the top half of the field – and the 21st of 27 Heathside women.

Most Heathsiders before Sunday League in Trent Park

Race 2 – Sunday: Sunday League Cross Country in Trent Park

Back in action less than 24 hours later…

Goal: 1) Finish this race and complete the “dirty double”! 2) Run faster than I did last year on this course, which would mean mean averaging under 5:00/km and beating 39:09 total. After the Met League, I wasn’t so sure, but thought I could probably manage it.

Race strategy: Go out hard and try to keep going. Use the downhills to make up time. Try to pick people off one by one.

Weather & outfit: Even warmer than Saturday, at about 57F/14C. A hint of sun peeking through the clouds, but also some lightly misting rain during the race. I wore shorts, Heathside vest (yes I washed it in between races!), compression socks (placebo or real effect to support tired calves?), and my XC spikes. A lot of people wore trail shoes but I remembered slippery, sticky mud from last year so opted for the spikes.

Sunday League, Trent Park. Photo credit: Andrew W.

The race: I set off well and was glad to have spikes on for the first two kilometers, as we looped up and down a grassy, muddy field. 4:26 and 4:45 for the first 2k – not bad. Entering the woods, I was less satisfied with my footwear choice: my spikes grated on the gravelly paths. I tried to stay near the edges on softer, leafier ground.

The third, uphill kilometer was my slowest at 5:14, but I tried to make the most of the downhills in the next 2k to pick it up. I set a goal to keep clubmate Sif in range, and caught up to her around the 5k mark. I didn’t have enough in the tank to pass her or stay with her, though, as we started climbing again on the second lap and my legs complained about yesterday’s Met League race.

With less than 2km to go, I managed to pick my legs up and surge down the descent, although the final steep, muddy (spikes were useless at this point) hill nearly defeated me. My glutes screamed and it was all I could do to hold my position. I did somehow find a mini kick to pass one man just before the finish.

Last hill. Shattered legs. Photo credit: Andrew W.

The result: My Garmin had me at 36:47 for the 4.75mi/7.65km course (7:44/mi, 4:48/km). Somehow slightly faster than the previous day’s Met League race, even though the Sunday League course was longer! Either I didn’t run hard enough yesterday, or the river crossing really slowed me down. In any case, I was pleased to run this Trent Park course much faster than last year, and with a small negative split despite my tired legs. I was 169th out of 445 finishers, 23rd woman out of 171, 23rd/37 Heathsiders, and 7th of 14 Heathside women who finished.

Post-race: Cakes all around! A Sunday League tradition. I enjoyed one of Emilia’s delicious peanut butter swirl brownies. A latte and some yoga upon arriving home helped jumpstart my recovery.

Next up: I must get in a long run next weekend, then I’ll probably run the next Sunday League in two weeks’ time.


Thanksgiving in London, 2018

After skipping Thanksgiving last year (and hosting a festive cookie party instead), F and I were keen to put on a Thanksgiving celebration this year. As a bonus, my parents flew over to London for the long weekend! We planned the usual feasting on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, but this time we added a twist: F and I reversed the traditional Thanksgiving order! Around 3pm we enjoyed all the desserts with coffee/tea — German Kaffee und Kuchen style. A few hours later, we devoured the savory feast. Everyone agreed that the reverse order worked really well, because we had time to socialise in between while the turkey roasted, and we weren’t too full after dinner. Here’s what we cooked for 9 people, and what we did with the leftover turkey:

  • Dessert:
    • Our favorite family cranberry upside-down cake.
    • Smitten Kitchen’s pumpkin pie with pecan praline sauce. I made the crust, F made the pie, S made the sauce and it was very nice.
    • J&C brought a lovely apple crumble to complete the trio of desserts.
    • Plenty of freshly whipped cream and custard (do you like yours hot or cold?).
  • Dinner:
    • Turkey! We ordered an 11-pound turkey from our favorite local butcher in Crouch End. F stuffed it with apples and thyme, generously salted, peppered, and buttered the skin, and roasted it for a few hours. It tasted great.
    • Gravy: F made a meaty gravy and a vegetarian gravy, and both were silky smooth and delicious.
    • Stuffing: I made the same stuffing/dressing (what is the difference?) that I have for the past few Thanksgivings: this classic sage and onion bread dressing from The Kitchn. I think it turned out the best this year because I used enough broth to keep it moist.
    • Sweet potato casserolemy mom’s/grandma’s recipe that’s been a staple at our family Thanksgivings since I can remember.
    • Brussels sprout and tomato salad: another family recipe.
    • C&W brought some very nice garlicky green beans.
    • Don’t forget the cranberry sauce!
  • Leftovers:
    • There weren’t very many! What we made fed the 9 of us comfortably, and could have fed 10 people. We mostly had turkey leftover, so on Sunday I made a turkey version of my chicken and dumplings, minus the dumplings (we had bread).

We had quite an international group this year: four Brits (all hailing from different regions), two Germans (S was down from Liverpool for a few days), and three Americans. It was the first Thanksgiving for a few people, and I always enjoy introducing my favorite holiday to others. It was also so nice to have my parents around and to share our style of Thanksgiving with them – and how many of my mom’s family recipes we use!


Race Recap: 2018 London Cross Country Championships, Parliament Hill

Photo credit: Andrew W

Background: When planning my autumn racing calendar, I knew I’d miss the first Met League and Sunday League cross country races (let’s call it XC to save words) in October and November due to travel. So I impulsively signed up to run the London Cross Country Championships on Parliament Hill as part of Heathside’s women’s team. It’s hard to say “no” to such a local race, but it would also be my first XC race in a year, and in a fast field – I was one of the slowest Heathside women on the roster. Upon perusing my blog archives, I also realized that I hadn’t run this particular race since 2013! It was high time to rectify that.

Goal: Not having run cross country in a year, I set modest expectations for myself: not to be the last Heathsider to finish, and to run under 30 minutes (I did this race in 28:08 five years ago).

Race strategy: Run by feel and use the downhills. Don’t trip or fall and don’t worry too much about time. Try to enjoy it!

Weather & outfit: It was a sunny autumn day and relatively warm for the season. The temperature was about 12C/54F – maybe warmer in the sun. I wore shorts, Heathside vest, and dusted off my cross country spikes for the occasion.

The start. Photo by Andrew W.

The race: It had been pretty dry in London so the course consisted of “very firm ground with lots of holes,” as fellow Heathsider D put it on his Strava description of the race. That’s not to say the lack of mud made it easier. If anything, the hard ground was less forgiving on my thinly shod feet – I could feel every hump and bump in the terrain and had to work hard to balance myself and not turn an ankle. I definitely wobbled a number of times. But that’s the challenge of cross country for you! Time to do some more core work…

The Parliament Hill XC course famously starts by running straight up the long, south-facing slope of – you guessed it – Parliament Hill. The first kilometer felt endless, although I was pleased to go through it in 5:01. It doesn’t get any easier after the long hill: the course undulates up and down grassy fields, through pockets of woods and across some paved paths. There is never a step on perfectly flat ground. It is relentless.

Nevertheless, I had committed to it, so I kept running. My second and third kilometers were faster than the first. Clubmate A passed me at 3.5km as I was struggling up a steep hill for the second time. We’re over halfway, I breathed to her. That fourth kilometer was the hardest. I felt a bit sick – it’s hard to fuel properly for midday/afternoon races – and my legs had lost the spring they had in the first lap. Just relax, keep breathing, be patient, I told myself.

Knowing the last kilometer was mostly downhill, I resolved to save my energy until then for the final push to the finish. I picked it up for a swift final kilometer – 3:55 – but didn’t quite have the kick to catch anyone at the end.

Heathside women post-race. Photo from Emily R.

The result: I finished the race in 28:04 (7:31/mi = 4:41/kmand came 123rd of 311 women finishers. I was the 15th of 20 Heathside women running, and ran this course 4 seconds faster than I did five years ago. Not much, but I’ll take it. The best news is that our leading quartet of women combined to win and become the London XC champs 2018! Brilliant running, Heathsiders.

This was a hard race. I struggled to get in a racing mindset and didn’t respond well to challenges from other runners. I forgot how hard cross country running is on your feet, ankles, and calves. Time for some stretching and rolling! But I’m glad I did it and now know I need to do some more hilly trail training.

Post-race: Women’s team photo the home to a hot shower and F’s freshly-baked sausage rolls. Yum!

Next up: Probably Perivale 5 in a couple of weeks, although I may trade it in for a Sunday League XC race. I’ll see how I feel.