What’s Been Cooking? Maternity leave, weeks 3-4

Swedish cardamom buns

In Germany, expecting and new mothers have the advantage of a legally protected, essentially “no work allowed” time for 6 weeks before and 8 weeks after their due dates. So now I am on Mutterschutz (maternity leave) and working my way through some cooking and baking projects to keep me from getting too stir-crazy at home and to try and stock the freezer with easy winter meals to reheat when our tiny human arrives.

You can catch up on what I made in my first two weeks off here. Below, see what I’ve gotten up to in my second fortnight off:

Week 3 – bread week, with a bit of soup

By chance, I seemed to settle on a few bread-making projects this week, so in the spirit of The Great British Bake Off, I dubbed Week 3 my personal “bread week.”

On Monday, I made traditional challah from the Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook. It didn’t go quite to plan but was a fun process anyway. Read all about it here.

After the challah failure, F requested that I try my hand at a classic sandwich bread. After some sleuthing, I settled on smitten kitchen’s oat and wheat sandwich bread – it looked tasty, straightforward, and we happened to have all the ingredients at home. So on Wednesday, I put my bread-head back on and got to work. We only have one loaf pan (make that had – I just bought another one!), so I halved Deb’s recipe. The dough came together quickly with some whisking, dumping, and stand mixing (or hand-kneading, but to be honest I’m glad not to have to do that anymore thanks to investing in a stand mixer). I added two extra tablespoons of flour, as the dough was quite wet, then turned it out, plumped it into a ball, and popped it in a bowl for its first rise.

The first rise went a bit longer than Deb’s recommended 60-70 minutes, but I trusted her when she said this was a forgiving recipe. It proved nicely and shaping it into a log roll for the loaf pan was not difficult, although I should have made it a bit shorter, as I think the second rise might have been impeded by the crinkle in the middle (see picture above). Despite the crinkle, the bread baked up wonderfully and, if a bit low-to-the-ground, tasted great. If you don’t believe me, ask F, who said: “It could be a bit bigger but I actually like how dense it is and it tastes really good.”

On Thursday, I took a break from bread and made F’s delicious Hokkaido (aka “red kuri/kari”) squash soup with ginger and coconut. We’ve made it three or four times this fall, which I thought definitely merited its own blog post, so head over here for the newly posted recipe!

On Friday, I went back to bread – this time sweet, in the form of Swedish cardamom buns from NYT Cooking. The whole process took 4-5 hours, but most of that was hands-off time. I think I managed to roll and knot the buns kind of correctly, but some of them split apart in the oven. They also turned out a bit dark (and dry on the second day); I wonder if mine were actually smaller than the recipe intended them to be, although I made 16 as recommended. The cardamom buns did taste good, though! Quite sweet, but countered nicely by the cardamom. Friends professed their enjoyment after dinner on Friday, and a (flexible-ish) vegan friend even ate an entire bun! I’d make these again, perhaps with a shorter baking time and/or slightly lower temperature.

Week 4

I wasn’t feeling super inspired this week, but I ended up doing a bit of baking and cooking anyway.

oat & wheat bread, take 2

On Tuesday, I made smitten kitchen’s oat and wheat sandwich bread again, this time the full recipe. I used the rest of my bag of whole wheat/wholemeal flour, which was 540g, then topped up to the required 635g with spelt flour. I also used olive oil rather than sunflower oil in the dough (Deb says you can use either). The first rise was good again, and instead of dividing the dough I shaped and plopped it all into our new, very large, loaf pan. The bread turned out well – taller than last time – and tasted just as good as the previous loaf, with a nice crust. I froze it in two halves and we thawed it later in the week. The only unfortunate outcome of the freeze-thaw is that the bread dried out a bit and the slices were very crumbly. I wonder if adding a little more water to the dough would also help?

tofu noodles

For Tuesday lunch, I cracked open Anita Bean’s The Vegetarian Athlete’s Cookbook, one of our favorites for easy, vegetable-forward, pantry-based meals. I made her tofu noodles: a tofu, noodle, and vegetable stir fry, simply seasoned with ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and lime. It was quick to put together and tasted great, with enough leftovers to cover us for dinner on the same day.

For Friday lunch, I made baked potatoes (aka jacket potatoes for UK readers) using this method (brine then bake at a high temperature), as recommended by The Kitchn. I can’t say the potatoes turned out differently from usual (I usually smear them with oil and salt, then bake for about an hour at 400F/200C), but they were certainly delicious with nice crispy skin. I topped mine with butter, sour cream, baked beans, and cheddar. F made a tuna-sweetcorn mixture for his. We devoured them too quickly to get a picture!

The autumn apple crop continues to put in a strong showing at our favorite fruit and veg stand at the Wochenmarkt around the corner from us. So for a Friday treat, I made these oatmeal brown sugar baked apples from The Kitchn. The apples split a bit towards the end of baking, but that didn’t put us off. Oats and walnuts added nice additional textures, and F proclaimed, “I love this!”

I’ve discovered Junior Bake Off (it’s quite sweet! And some impressive young bakers) and watched an episode this week where they had to make Viennese Whirls. I was inspired (and by “inspired” I mainly mean “developed a strong craving”…blame it on late pregnancy?), and on Saturday tried my hand at Mary Berry’s recipe via The Candid Appetite. Let’s just say that piping was attempted and quickly abandoned, so these became “buttery sandwich cookies” instead. Delicious, although almost too sweet, even for my taste.

Stay tuned for my next edition of “What’s Been Cooking” in a couple of weeks…


Recipe: Hokkaido Squash Soup with Ginger & Coconut

Hokkaido squash soup

One of the reasons I love fall/autumn cooking is the abundance of squash. I love squash’s versatility: you can roast it, stuff it, boil and mash it, add it to curries, and puree it into soups. We’ve already done all of the above this fall, mainly with vibrant Hokkaido (aka “red kari/kuri”) squash, a relatively new discovery for F and me but a squash variety that is readily available here in Germany, and often cheaper than Butternut squash. Hokkaido has another advantage in that it doesn’t need peeling: the skin is thin enough to eat once cooked.

We often oven-roast slices of squash (season with salt, pepper, and fennel seeds) as a staple side dish, but F has also made this delicious Hokkaido squash soup three or four times in the past couple of months. We love it, and it has already become one of our go-to easy lunches or dinners.

This Hokkaido soup with ginger and coconut has a short ingredient list and lots of vitamins to keep you healthy through the winter (although you should also get a flu shot – herd immunity, people!). The recipe can be as flexible as you want: use more ginger, leave out the turmeric, use water instead of stock, add celery root – or not! I wouldn’t recommend leaving out the coconut milk, though; one can gives the soup just the right amount of coconut flavor and enhances its silky-smooth texture.

Hokkaido Squash Soup with Ginger & Coconut (F’s original recipe; makes 4-6 portions)

Ingredients

  • olive oil, or neutral oil of your choice
  • 1-2 medium onions, roughly chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • “a hefty amount” (2in/4-5cm) fresh ginger root, peeled & roughly chopped
  • 1-2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 small-medium Hokkaido squash, washed, de-seeded, & cut into medium-large chunks (you could use Butternut squash instead if that’s easier to find where you live)
  • optional: 1/4 – 1/2 celery root, peeled & cut into medium-large chunks
  • 1L vegetable stock
  • 1 can (400mL) coconut milk
  • to taste: salt & pepper

Procedure

  1. Prep onions, garlic, ginger, and stock. Cut up your squash and celery root.
  2. Heat a few generous glugs of olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, garlic, and ginger and sauté, stirring occasionally, until they soften and start to brown.
  3. Add turmeric and stir for a minute or so.
  4. Add squash and celery to the pot. Pour in enough stock that it just covers the vegetables (or use more liquid for a thinner soup).
  5. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to an active simmer. Put the lid on and cook until the vegetables are soft enough to puree, about 15-20 minutes.
  6. Take the pot off the heat and use an immersion blender (or transfer carefully to a standard blender) to puree the soup until smooth.
  7. Stir in the coconut milk. Do not return the pot to the heat – the coconut milk may split.
  8. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve with crusty bread.

Enjoy!


Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: Traditional Challah

Welcome back to my (very) casual series, “Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen.” Maternity leave (pre-baby, of course) is allowing me more time to explore breads of the world in the Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook. Last time, I made paratha, a rich, buttery flatbread from South Asia. This week, I delved into Jewish cuisine to try my hand at an enriched, yeasted bread: challah. Read on for the experience…

Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen #10: Traditional Challah

This recipe comes from The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook‘s section titled “Challah and Beyond: Enriched Breads, Rolls and Buns”; my first attempt at a bread from this chapter. The section’s introduction explains challah‘s significance in Jewish history, cuisine and culture, as well as enumerating the different types of challah made around the world. The book also mentions the importance of challah’s braided shape: “A braid, with all of its arms intertwined, is said to represent love” (p171). I can get on board with that!

Hallo, challah!

I decided to start my enriched bread adventures (“breadventures,” if you will) with the chapter’s first recipe, for traditional (Ashkenazi) challah. This required a bit of planning ahead, as I had to make pâte fermentée the day before. That done, on Monday morning I fired up the stand mixer to combine/knead the pâte fermentée with the rest of the dough ingredients: flour (I didn’t have bread flour so used all purpose/plain), sugar, salt, yeast, egg yolks, honey, and water.

After an hour’s rise, I wasn’t sure if the dough had actually risen enough – I feared our kitchen’s “room temperature” may have been lower than Hot Bread Kitchen’s – but went ahead with the rolling and braiding anyway.

The dough was relatively easy to work with, although it took me a while to create ropes that were long enough to make into two-strand braided loaves. Even so, the loaves looked pretty small. But I continued with the steps and let the braided and egg-washed loaves proof/prove for another hour. I gave them a second egg wash then popped them into the oven, where after 45 minutes they had developed a beautiful, shiny, mahogany crust.

Upon handling and tasting the cooled challah, it became clear that they weren’t quite right: too dense (under-proved, I think, and/or maybe because of using plain rather than bread flour) and too salty, even though I reduced the amount of salt because kosher salt is hard to find here. Despite the less-than-stellar outcome, the challah-making process was fun and straightforward, and I’ve learned a few lessons for next time.

Would I make this again? Yes, but with proper bread flour, less salt, and longer proving times.

Have you ever made challah? What are your tips and tricks for getting a light, fluffy loaf?

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What’s Been Cooking? Maternity leave, weeks 1-2

I love apple season

In Germany, expecting and new mothers have the advantage of a legally protected, essentially “no work allowed” time for 6 weeks before and 8 weeks after their due dates. If I were fully employed I would not legally have been allowed to keep working. As a freelancer, I think I could have continued working into the 6 weeks pre-due date, but I decided not to because by 33-34 weeks it was already tiring to cycle back and forth for my teaching commitments.

So yes – now I am on Mutterschutz (maternity leave) and working my way through some cooking and baking projects to keep me from getting too stir-crazy at home and to try and stock the freezer a bit for easy winter meals once our tiny human arrives. Here’s what I’ve gotten up to in my first two weeks off:

Week 1

On Monday, we ate leftover meatloaf and mashed potatoes for lunch, then I froze the rest of the meatloaf and decided to use the mash for a project that had been on my list for a while: potato varenyky using this smitten kitchen recipe. I have fond memories of eating varenyky in Ukraine, usually with sautéed onions, butter, and sour cream. A great cheap, cold-weather, stick-to-your-ribs, carbs-on-carbs kind of meal!

Varenyky!

The varenyky dough was simple to make and had a nice stretch to it, which made it easier to envelope the mashed potatoes and seal the dumplings. We sampled some for dinner – tasty, although the dough was maybe a tad thick – and I froze the rest of them.

Paratha

On Tuesday, I delved back into my Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook and posted about that here: Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: Paratha.

Superbly chocolaty cookies

On Friday, I wanted to bake something sweet for the weekend, so went for Melissa Clark’s tiny, salty, chocolaty cookies from NYT Cooking. My goodness were they good! Chewy and with crispy edges, gluten free (in case you care! I don’t), and very rich (thanks to cocoa powder and dark chocolate). G came over for boardgames on Saturday and devoured quite a few of them, and other friends also professed their enjoyment. Will make again!

Week 2

It wasn’t specifically on my cooking project list, but we had leftover vegetables on Tuesday so I threw them into these Korean scallion pancakes from NYT Cooking. It was a great use of the veg and made for a nice, lightish dinner, although I wish the pancakes had turned out a bit crispier.

On Wednesday we were hosting friends for the group’s weekly vegetarian dinner. F made spinach lasagne and I contributed dessert in the form of smitten kitchen’s Versunkener Apfelkuchen (sunken apple (& honey) cake), which was based on a German recipe. Delicious! The honey flavor came through really nicely and the apples were cooked but not mushy. I didn’t include the salted honey glaze because we thought the cake was sweet enough without it. Friends enjoyed it and, when I asked how traditional the recipe was, a couple people said their mothers/grandmothers had made similar cakes. Score for cultural integration through Kuchen!

On Friday (a public holiday in Germany – thanks, Catholics!) we had friends over for brunch: pancakes, of course. Later, I made a big pot of these chickpeas from Bon Appétit. For dinner, I turned some into a spiced chickpea stew with coconut and turmeric, NYT Cooking’s Alison Roman creation that became its own hashtag on social media. I’ve made #thestew three times now and it is so warming and delicious. It’s also quick and easy to throw together, quite forgiving, and flexible: add any greens that you happen to have; enjoy with pita, rice, or sweet potato; add yogurt and garnish, or not.

With the rest of the chickpeas I’ll make some hummus and this creamy chickpea pasta. That should get us through the start of next week!

Stay tuned for my next edition of “What’s Been Cooking” in a couple of weeks…


Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: Paratha

Welcome back to my (very) casual series, “Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen.” It has been exactly two years since my last post in this series, but I’m on maternity leave now and hope to delve further into the Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook before our mini human arrives. Last time in this series, I made tortillas de tiesto, feta-filled flatbreads from Latin America. Today I also went for a flatbread: paratha, a classic from South Asia. Read on for the experience…

Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen #9: Paratha

This recipe comes from The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook‘s section titled “Primordial Breads: Unleavened Flatbreads”. From this section, we’re already explored m’smen and chapati. Paratha is a rich, layered flatbread from the Indian subcontinent that Wikipedia tells us is traditionally served with breakfast. The cookbook says that “depending on the region, shapes and fillings can vary greatly.” These are a basic, layered-but-not-stuffed version of paratha.

Paratha

The paratha recipe has a short ingredients list; I decided to make half a recipe (8 instead of 16 flatbreads) for just F and me. Rice flour was the most out-of-the-ordinary ingredient but was easy to find at our local BioMarkt (organic supermarket). I wasn’t bothered to look for ghee in the international supermarket (full disclosure: I only thought of that just now, while writing!), so I used regular unsalted butter, which seemed to work fine.

The paratha dough came together quickly in our newly-acquired stand mixer and, thanks to the addition of butter, it was soft, pliable, and easy to work with. After a couple of 30-minute resting periods, I commenced rolling, buttering, and folding each individual dough ball to build up the layers. (If anyone can advise me on how to roll a triangular piece of dough into a circle, I’d be much obliged. My paratha shapes were not particularly round or consistent.)

Grilling the paratha in a non-stick skillet – with more butter, of course! – was time consuming but not difficult. F and I tried a fresh one and declared them delicious. I loved the nutty flavor imparted by the whole wheat (wholemeal, for UK readers) flour. They tasted like a less dense but richer chapati. When asked to describe the paratha using three adjectives, F summed them up as “buttery, succulent, crisp.” I’d call that a success! The paratha are best eaten warm, although they developed a nice crispiness by the time we had them alongside chicken korma and roasted cauliflower for lunch.

Would I make these again? Absolutely.

Have you ever made paratha? What’s your favorite way to stuff and/or eat them?

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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!


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, orange

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.

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Radicchio, fennel, apple, celery, walnut, parsley

Ingredient ideas:

  • Carrots
  • Chicory
  • Kohlrabi
  • Radicchio
  • Fennel
  • Apples (Granny Smith or other tart ones best)
  • 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…