Race Recap: Thames Towpath 10

About 10 of us non-marathoning Heathsiders ventured down to Chiswick this morning for a brisk run along the river in the aptly named Thames Towpath 10. Conditions were good: partly cloudy and around 7C with a bit of a breeze.

This was only my second 10-miler and I had to beat last year’s Fred Hughes time of 1:16:17. I knew that was possible, as Fred Hughes is hilly and this race was really flat. My goal was 1:15:00, which meant averaging 7:30 minutes/mile. I chunked that together in my head to aim to be under/around 30:00 at 4 miles and under an hour at 8 miles. Strategy-wise, I decided to go out at (rather than under) pace so as not to burn out in the last few miles.

The TT10 is advertised as a ‘multi-terrain’ 10-mile race, and it certainly is. Almost half the race is along the gravelly Thames towpath (who’d have thought?!) — this made it hard to get into a good rhythm but did keep me on my toes. It was also nice to see rowers gliding along the river down below and others out enjoying the morning.

Once out of the start (an awkward lap-and-a-half of a grassy football/soccer field), J and I tried to settle into a pace together. It’s great to race with training partner whose style you are familiar with. Our Garmins showed different average paces, but time-wise we were on target: just under 15:00 at 2 miles and just under 30:00 at 4 miles.

Shortly past halfway, we turned off the gravelly towpath and onto…a grassy field! ‘Just pretend it’s cross country’, I said to J as we ran across the thankfully-not-muddy field. A few miles on pavement helped the legs move along as the middle miles took a mental toll. J pulled ahead of me at 6 miles as I fell a bit off the pace, but I gritted my teeth, popped a couple of gummies, and caught up with her around 7 miles.

Come on, you have to make it to 8 miles in under an hour, I told myself. Pushing on, it was back to the towpath for a brief jaunt, where I finally seemed to get into a rhythm and hit 8 miles in 59:59 — right on target! Two miles to go. Fellow Heathsider R was not far ahead and I made it my goal to try and close the gap between us.

We turned off the towpath and back to pavement for the final mile or so. My Garmin chirped at 15km: let’s go, only about 1km to the finish. I shouted encouragement to R as we went up and over the bridge and I stuck right behind him as we turned the corner for the last 200 meters around the grassy field. Kick, legs — catch him! But I couldn’t quite and R crossed the line just 1 second ahead of me (although our chip times are identical according to the results).

My final time1:14:37 (average pace 7:27/mile) for a PR/PB! I came 6th woman of 214 and was the 100th finisher of 524. Plus, J finished right behind me and another Heathsider, S, came in 10th woman — combined, our finishes won us the 1st ladies’ team prize. Can’t complain about that!

Photo credit: West 4 Harriers

Photo credit: West 4 Harriers

The Thames Towpath 10 was a very well-organised race with fantastic marshals and a pretty nice haul of goodies: everyone got a Fuller’s (they sponsored) pint glass, many of us scored colourful buffs/snoods, and winners got a coffee mug and a case of Fuller’s London Pride beer (F was quite pleased about that!).

Race Recap: Regent’s Park Summer 10k Series #1

It’s still bank holiday weekend. We’ve already ventured to central London for the National Gallery, ramen and amazing cinnamon buns; made Moroccan food and enjoyed it with friends; and done a bunch of nothing. Another great way to enjoy a long weekend is to get in some quality exercise — this time in the form of a race. There is a “summer” 10k series in Regent’s Park on the first Sunday of every month from April to September. I missed the races last summer but thought this weekend would be the perfect time to test my speed on the relatively flat and peaceful paths of Regent’s Park. Here’s my recap of the race:

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Going into this race, I knew I had a good chance of running a 10k PR/PB for the following reasons:

  1. My previous PR/PB was not actually that fast: 45:41 from 2013’s Middlesex 10k in flat Victoria Park. And that was really only my second 10k, so I knew I could improve on that time.
  2. Training has been going well. I haven’t been running crazy mileage, but I have finally been getting to the track consistently for Tuesday and the occasional Thursday speed workouts. Also, my recent long runs have all been over 10k, which gave me some confidence for running the distance.

I knew if I felt good I could pull off a PR/PB. Breaking 45:00 was my rough goal, with the more specific aim of 44:30. A 3-lap course meant that to break 45:00 I’d need to be under 15:00 for each lap.

I also changed my race strategy. In the past year or two, I’ve been going out a bit conservatively in races, building over the course of the distance and finishing faster. I think that was partly due to lack of confidence in my ability to hold a quick pace; the lack of confidence probably came from not doing as much speed work. But since getting my track legs back, I feel more confident at a faster pace, so I decided to go out pretty hard for this race and try to maintain it through to the end.

Generally, the strategy worked. My first kilometer was a quick 4:17 to wake me up before settling into a just-maintainable pace of slightly under 4:30/km. Of course, each kilometer fluctuated a bit. I was slightly slower through 5km — 22:15 — than I’d hoped to be, but I still knew I could run a PR/PB with that. I went through the second lap in 30:00 so had to pick it up to finish under 45:00.

My 5th and 8th kilometers were the slowest (4:37 and 4:39, respectively), but I dug in at 8km and gritted my teeth to 9km (4:29) before really pushing home in a 4:11 final kilometer. Man, that last kilometer felt long! An emerging side cramp didn’t help either; I hardly had any kick to the finish, but I did pass a guy just 10-15 meters before the line.

Final chip time: 44:44 for a new 10k (6.2mi) PR/PB! (Average pace: 4:28/km or 7:13/mile). I came 12th lady out of 165 and 80th overall of 381 finishers, so not too shabby there. I’m pleased to have run under 45:00 and know that I can — or should be able to — further improve on the time I ran today. It felt good to run a PR/PB for the first time in over a year.

The addition of a “new” (i.e., Gabi’s old) Garmin helped a lot with pacing. I made more little surges than I used to while racing, but that ultimately helped me hold a pretty consistent pace throughout and made sure I didn’t become too complacent:

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The race was well-organized and had a nice, low-key atmosphere with a reasonable but not too late start time of 9:30am. Not to mention that Regent’s Park is just lovely to run through. There were a handful of other Heathsiders racing — well done, all!

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A Moroccan Feast

Thank you, Easter, for providing us with a long weekend (Friday and Monday are Bank Holidays here in the UK). F and I wanted to enjoy some lamb as an ode to spring, so we invited friends to join us for a pre-Easter dinner on Friday. We could’ve done a traditional roast with the usual carrots and new potatoes, but in a fit of experimentation (and knowing we’d have the whole day to prepare — thank you again, Bank Holiday), F suggested we make Moroccan-style lamb. I suggested that we might as well go all-out and make Moroccan sides, too.

Needless to say, Googling commenced. I went straight to NYT Cooking, the New York Times‘ great hub for all the recipes they publish in their Food and other sections. I searched “Moroccan” and loads of vibrant, delicious looking dishes appeared. I was drawn to the Moroccan Cooked Carrot Salad; Spicy Orange Salad, Moroccan Style; and this couscous. Meanwhile, F found a recipe for Moroccan Lamp with Apricots, Almonds & Mint from BBC Good Food; it is a stew rather than a roast, which made it more attractive as it required less cooking time.

Here is how the meal turned out:

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Perhaps it is a bit monochrome, but boy was it delicious. The stew had such depth of flavor, thanks to cinnamon, apricots, and orange, and the ground almonds gave it a deceptively “creamy” texture. The carrot salad — dressed with lemon juice, spiced with cumin and garlic, and balanced with olives — turned out beautifully. We really liked the pearl couscous laced with cumin, golden raisins, and sautéed onions. The orange salad packed a bit of heat from cayenne, although I left out the garlic, parsley, and olives, as those were already present in the carrot salad.

All in all, a great and delicious success. Will we make these recipes again? Definitely. I’m already looking forward to enjoying the leftovers for lunch.

Do you like Moroccan food? Ever cooked any of it? Post your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

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Recipe: Cranberry-Apple Pie with Nutty Crumble Topping

We cleaned out and defrosted our freezer this weekend, in a moment of spring cleaning and to increase the freezer’s efficiency. We had done a pretty good job of eating all the meat, stews, and vegetables we had stored in it, but there were a few things left, including a pie crust and a container of cranberries. And what does one do when “forced” to remove a pie crust and cranberries from the freezer? Make pie, of course!

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This cranberry-apple pie was inspired by Joy the Baker’s apple cranberry crumble pie and smitten kitchen’s cranberry pie with thick pecan crumble. It is more heavily adapted from the latter recipe, but I made a few adjustments — whole oats and whole wheat flour for the crumble, an apple to bulk up the fruit, lemon instead of orange zest — based on my instincts and what ingredients I had around.

The pie is lovely: a nice, tart filling is nestled between a sweet and crunchy topping (I’d use less sugar in the crumble next time) and a flaky crust. F deemed it delicious and so did I. Serve it with a dollop of yogurt and you’ve got a perfectly acceptable breakfast or brunch!

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Cranberry-Apple Pie with Nutty Crumble Topping (adapted from smitten kitchen; makes 1 pie)

Ingredients

  • Crust:
    • 1 1/4 cups (155g) plain/AP flour
    • 1 1/2 tsp (6g) granulated sugar
    • 1/2 tsp (3g) salt
    • 115g cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
    • 1/4 cup (60mL) very cold water, plus an additional tablespoon if needed
  • Filling:
    • 3 cups (300g) fresh or frozen cranberries
    • 1-2 apples, cut into small chunks
    • just under 1 cup granulated sugar
    • zest of 1/2 lemon
    • pinch of salt
    • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • Crumble Topping:
    • 3/4 cup rolled or quick oats
    • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
    • 1/4 – 1/3 cup granulated sugar (I might even cut this out next time)
    • 1/3 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
    • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
    • 1/4 tsp sea salt
    • 1/2 cup finely chopped nuts (I used half walnuts and half almonds because that’s that I had around)
    • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Procedure

  • Make the crust: In a mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Use your fingertips or a pastry blender to work the butter into the dry mixture until it makes a coarse meal. Add the cold water and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together in large clumps. Knead the dough together with your hands until it forms a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill for at least an hour (or freeze it for 15 minutes if you’re in a hurry).
  • Once your dough has chilled, flour a countertop and roll the dough out into a large circle. Transfer it carefully into a pie dish or other round baking vessel (I used a round cake pan). Press the dough gently into the dish and fold over the edges, crimping if you like. Put the dish into the fridge while you make the filling and topping.
  • Preheat the oven to 190C (375F).
  • Make the filling: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine all of the filing ingredients. Let warm for 5 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Take the filling off the heat while you make the topping.
  • Make the crumble topping: If you haven’t already, chop your nuts finely with a knife or by pulsing in a food processor. Combine the nuts, oats, flour, sugars, and spices in a mixing bowl. Stir to combine, then add the melted butter and stir until the mixture is coated evenly.
  • Take the crust out of the fridge and pour the filling into it, then sprinkle the topping evenly over it. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the topping is lightly browned and the filling is bubbling (you may have to cover the pie with foil halfway through so the topping doesn’t burn). Let cool and serve with yogurt, whipped cream, or ice cream.

Enjoy!

International Women’s Day 2015

“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights” -Gloria Steinem

Happy International Women’s Day (IWD)! Today is the day to celebrate the achievements of women around the world but also to recognize barriers that many women continue to face and emphasize the need to keep pushing for greater gender equality.

Source: internationalwomensday.com

I wasn’t really aware of IWD until my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in Ukraine, where IWD is a national holiday. (I’ve written a bit about how IWD is celebrated in Ukraine here and here.) The holiday isn’t really celebrated in the US — I was talking about this strangeness recently with Hannah, who is currently a PCV in Georgia. Perhaps because it started in Europe, it has never really been adopted by the US (correct me if I’m wrong — I haven’t lived in the US for a while!). It’s only an official holiday in a handful of countries, but today the United Nations recognizes and issues remarks about it.

Anyway, Women’s Day is one of my favorite holidays because it does have a two-pronged effect of celebrating women’s achievements and also drawing attention to the still-rampant inequality across the world and what work still needs to be done to ensure that women have the same rights and opportunities as men.

Along those lines, there are two great initiatives worth learning about and supporting: Emma Watson’s HeForShe campaign, “a solidarity movement for gender equality,” echoing Steinem’s quote above that gender equality is a human rights issue, “not only a women’s issue.”*

The second initiative is Let Girls Learn, a US government initiative “to ensure adolescent girls get the education they deserve.”** The even cooler part of this is that Michelle Obama just announced that The Peace Corps is partnering with Let Girls Learn to continue expanding the areas and ways that girls are encouraged and educated around the world. There will be more targeted trainings for PCVs,  grants for gender-related projects, and more PCVs trained to focus specifically on “advancing girls’ education and empowerment.”*** So good.

Women’s Day also holds a special place in my heart because the work I currently do is exclusively with women. I work at a charity in one of the most deprived boroughs in London; we provide settled migrant women with the opportunity to learn English (my role), learn new skills, gain confidence, and train for future study and work. My students inspire me every day and I am proud to be making even a small difference in the lives of other women.

How do you feel about IWD? What are you doing to make a difference in the lives of women and girls?

*http://www.heforshe.org
*http://www.usaid.gov/letgirlslearn
***https://letgirlslearn.peacecorps.gov

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What’s Been Cooking?

Hello, everyone — long time no blog. Apologies for my blogosphere absence; I have been lacking in motivation recently, still a bit burnt out from last fall’s DELTA course (I passed all three modules on the first go, thank goodness). I’ve also been wondering what the point is of re-blogging recipes that I haven’t changed all that much. And, if I do continue blogging, in which direction I’d like this blog to go. More musical? More sporty? More education-related? I’d love to hear what you enjoy most about my blog, so please leave a comment and let me know what you’d like to see more of.

Now to today’s topic: what’s been cooking in my kitchen? I’ve tried some great new recipes lately (okay, in the past six months…) but haven’t modified them much, so I’ll just link to the original recipes below. Here are some highlights:

parmesan, kale, & white bean soup + tortellini

parmesan, kale, & white bean soup + tortellini

  • Parmesan Broth with Kale, White Beans, & Tortellini (smitten kitchen). F and I collected parmesan rinds in the freezer for an entire year before we had enough to make Deb’s soup. It was worth the wait — umami-salty, warming, and satisfying. We added tortellini for some extra heft.
  • Miso-Coconut Chicken Soup (i am a food blog). I made this one way back in September. Unfortunately, F was sick that weekend so I ended up eating most of it myself, but I loved it and look forward to making it again at a time when we can both enjoy it. Creamy but not too rich, great over rice.
  • The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies (i am a food blog). These. are. SO. good. Crispy edges, moist and chewy insides. F dubbed them “maybe the best cookies I’ve ever had.” Now that’s saying something! Use whatever chocolate you want (I used extra dark) and don’t leave off the sprinkling of sea salt on top. I passed this recipe onto J, whose family devoured them in no time.
lemon poppy seed muffins

lemon poppy seed muffins

  • Double Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins (Cookie +  Kate). In my mind, it is hard to beat the combination of lemon and poppy seeds. Let’s be honest, lemonanything is pretty great. I had combined lemon and poppy seeds before in pancakes but not in muffins. This recipe presented great flavors, although the muffins were a teensy bit dry for me.
  • Lemon Cornmeal Cake with Lemon Glaze (Bon Appétit). F was away last weekend and I wanted to surprise him with something tasty upon his return home. He loves lemon cake, so I tried out this one, which had been sitting in my “make this” bookmarks for ages. It was fantastic, remaining moist for a couple of days. I took a bunch to work and four of us devoured it pretty quickly. F’s only comment was that it could be even more lemony, so next time I’ll use the zest of 2 lemons in the cake batter.

Of course, those aren’t the only things I’ve been cooking. We’ve done many of the usual dinner rotations, like pizza and roasted root vegetables and various stir fries. I reprised chocolate beet cake for dinner with friends last month — this time adding a tasty pink cream cheese frosting — and whipped up an apple dutch baby pancake for a Sunday brunch.

What have you been cooking up recently?

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Go for Baroque: Singing Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610

I’ve come to realize that chorus concert days are sort of like track meets: it takes a lot of endurance, focus, and conservation of energy to get through a long afternoon and evening. We have a 3-hour afternoon rehearsal, an hour-ish break, and then the concert. Like track meets, it’s tricky to figure out how and when to eat on concert days. I usually have to leave the house around lunchtime, travel an hour or so to the venue, sing for a couple hours, take a short break, sing more, take a longer break, and perform. I’ve finally discovered that frequent ingestion of high-energy food is the key to keeping me going on concert day: nibbles of oatcakes and cheese, a peanut butter and banana sandwich, apples, even sports drink.

Anyway, all that goes on in the background of rehearsing and performing incredible music in gorgeous venues, as I was fortunate enough to do as part of the Crouch End Festival Chorus this weekend. We performed Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610, accompanied by the period-instrument English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble and fronted by a fantastic group of soloists. The venue was also beautiful: 300-year-old St. John’s Smith Square, a large church just south of Westminster Abbey that is now used primarily as a music venue (not surprisingly, as the acoustics are wonderful).

Gosh, where to begin? Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 is a remarkable 90-minute piece, full of florid early Baroque runs, trills, and invitations for improvisation for the soloists and musicians. The chorus is split into two choirs for most of the piece, as the various movements demand up to 10 different vocal parts. Traditionally, the choir would have been all men and boys, but in today’s modern age the top 3-4 parts are sung by women. It’s also really meant for a chamber choir, with just a few voices per part, but our director (DT) decided to go for the challenge of getting 140 of us to sound like a small choir. Here’s the masterful John Eliot Gardiner leading his professional Monteverdi Choir in a performance of the Vespers:

Intonation and blend are key in a piece like this, which requires a pure sound and Italianate Latin vowels. Diction is tough to coordinate and execute well — especially Latin, as these Brits speak with so many diphthongs! — with so many singers. And the standards were high, as we were accompanied by the well-known English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble, who could probably play the Vespers in their sleep! (side note: cornetts are really cool and the theorbo was likened to a “Renaissance banjo” by DT.) Not to mention the incredible soloists, all clearly trained in the unique early Baroque style, which requires so much vocal control to sing all those 16th and 32nd notes. Highlights include the two sopranos singing “Pulchra es” (24:15 in the above video) and the tenor duet/trio with baritone, “Duo seraphim” (36:24, above).

Although I may be biased, I think we pulled it off. Even if not, it was certainly challenging and great fun to sing. Despite the Vespers being a religious piece, DT kept emphasizing that, in fact, Monteverdi’s music is incredibly sensual and erotic (ever seen/listened to his operas? I can still remember seeing Oberlin Opera Theatre perform Poppea back in 2008 and being struck by the sensuality of the 17th-century music). I completely agree. Part of what I enjoyed about singing the Vespers of 1610 is the variety of moods and styles in the piece: in some sections we had to sound like a children’s choir, while in others we broadened our sound to that of a symphonic choir. It was a real treat to sing this 400-year-old piece of music and start to get inside its complexities. Well done all!

Recipe: Whole Wheat Focaccia

I’m new to bread-making from scratch. Although I make pizza dough pretty regularly, that has generally been the extent of my yeast-dough endeavors. But last fall I decided to take the leap and try my hand at some “real” homemade bread. Focaccia turned out to be a good choice, as it’s straightforward and not too tricky to get the right texture or crust. I followed Martha Rose Shulman’s directions over on her NY Times Recipes for Health space — do what she does, and you’ll get a lovely olive-oil scented, rosemary-studded focaccia, great for dipping into soups or munching on its own.

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I don’t have a stand mixer so I’m only including directions for how to do this by hand. Head to Shulman’s original recipe for instructions on how to make the focaccia using a stand mixer.

Whole Wheat Focaccia (adapted from Martha Rose Shulman; makes 1 large focaccia)

Ingredients

  • 8g (2 tsp) active dry yeast
  • 5g (1 tsp) sugar
  • 340g (1.5 cups) lukewarm water
  • 25g (2 tbsp) olive oil + 25g for drizzling
  • 250g (2 cups) whole wheat flour
  • 200-220g (~1.75 cups) all-purpose (plain) flour + more for kneading
  • 13g (1.75 tsp) salt
  • optional: handful fresh rosemary, roughly chopped; sea salt

Procedure

  • In a large bowl, combine the yeast, sugar, and water and stir until the yeast and sugar dissolve.
  • Add 25g olive oil along with the whole wheat flour, 200g of the plain flour, and salt. Mix briefly with a wooden spoon. Tip the dough out onto a floured surface, set a timer for 8-10 minutes and knead continuously with your hands. Add plain flour as needed during the kneading; by the end of 10 minutes, the dough should form a sticky ball. Shape it into a ball.
  • Lightly oil a large bowl with olive oil. Put the dough ball into it and cover both sides of the ball with oil. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place for 1.5-2 hours (or in the fridge for 4-8 hours), until it has doubled.
  • After the first rising, punch down the dough, cover it with oiled plastic wrap, and let it rest for 15 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 215C (425F) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Oil the paper generously. Press out (or roll) the dough into the rectangular sheet pan until it reaches all sides and corners. It’s easier to do this by rolling or pressing a bit, then waiting 5 minutes, then rolling or pressing again — repeat until the dough reaches the pan’s edges.
  • Cover the dough with a damp towel and let it rest for 30 minutes.
  • Before baking, dimple the dough with your fingertips, drizzle some olive oil over it, and sprinkle on some rosemary and sea salt.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a deep golden brown. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Enjoy!

Recipe: Roasted Carrot Hummus with a Kick

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At work I organize weekly drop-in workshops for our learners on various aspects of mental and physical health. This involves liaising with local organizations to bring in speakers to share their expertise. Last month, we were able to take eight of our learners to the Shoreditch Trust’s Healthy Living Centre for a healthy cooking workshop. Among the sugar-less and salt-less dishes we made was this delicious roasted carrot hummus. So easy, so vibrant, so healthy.

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I’ve made this multiple times at home since the workshop, and it has received high praise from F. You don’t even need anything to dip in it or spread it on — just grab a spoon and dig in.

Roasted Carrot Hummus with a Kick (adapted from The Shoreditch Trust Food Programme; makes 1.5-2 cups of hummus)

Ingredients

  • 8 carrots, peeled & cut into thick coins
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • to taste: ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp tahini
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • juice of 1/2 orange (add more to taste)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • handful of chopped parsley or coriander

Procedure

  • Preheat the oven to 180C.
  • Toss the chopped carrots with olive oil, red pepper flakes, whole garlic cloves, & black pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 30 minutes, stirring once halfway through.
  • When the carrots are roasted, put them in a large bowl or food processor and add the tahini, cumin, orange juice, lemon juice, & parsley/coriander. Blend with an immersion blender or in the food processor until smooth.

Enjoy!

Year in Review: 2014

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

I can hardly believe it’s already 2015, can you? 2014 was quite a year, I hardly know how to sum it up. For brevity’s sake, let’s go with some good ol’ bullet points.

2014 by the numbers:

  • blog posts published: 92 or so
  • books read: too many to count — some for fun and lots for my MA course
  • miles run: 549 (quite a lot less than last year, due to hip/knee issues)
  • miles cycled: 2,028.65 (mostly commuting in London, but a decent amount of road cycling in the first half of the year)
  • courses completed: 2 (1 MA in English & 1 DELTA course)
  • countries been in: England, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, Germany, USA
  • weddings attended: 2

Looking back on my intentions for 2014, I more or less achieved most of them, although things like improving my German and staying in better touch with friends and family could always be worked on. My main intention for 2015 is to find a healthy balance between work, exercise, time with F, and my other hobbies like cooking. That comes with some sub-intentions, like building up my running mileage and speed without getting injured.

In some blog-related reflecting, here are two listicles of my top posts — via views and via my opinion — from 2014:

The 10 most popular posts in 2014 (your favorites?):

My 10 favorite posts/moments in 2014 (in no particular order):

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and successful 2015

Recipe: Maple Pecan Bars

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There’s something about the combination of maple and pecan that is extremely delicious and satisfying. Around Thanksgiving last month, I thought about trying my hand at a pecan pie. But then I saw this recipe from The Kitchn and knew I had to make pecan bars instead. And really, they combine the best parts of pecan pie — crunchy-sweet topping and crust — while disposing of that weird, gooey middle layer that often forms in the pie.

And oh were these a success. F said they are one of the best things I’ve ever baked — and that’s saying something, given the amount of baking I’ve done in the past few years. A few co-workers also got nibbles and gave the bars high praise. Honestly, these are almost too good to share.

**Update, New Year’s Day 2015: I made these for NY Eve dessert for friends in Germany, with walnuts instead of pecans — the latter are hard to find in Germany — and they got more rave reviews. More of a reason to make them now.**

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The pecan bars do take some time to put together, but they’re quite straightforward if you patiently follow the steps (you can speed things up by chilling in the freezer). Take some time to make them this weekend as an addition to your holiday baking — share if you dare! You will not be disappointed.

Maple Pecan Bars (adapted from The Kitchn; makes 16 large bars or 24-32 small bars — enough for a crowd)

Ingredients

  • Crust:
    • 2.25 cups plain/AP flour
    • 6 tbsp brown sugar (I used dark; feel free to use light)
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 16 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Topping/Filling:
    • 8 tbsp unsalted butter
    • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar (I used dark; feel free to use light)
    • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup (feel free to sub in some honey, but it won’t taste as good)
    • 2 tbsp heavy cream OR creme fraiche
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • pinch of salt
    • 3 cups chopped pecans (OR walnuts)

Procedure

  • Preheat the oven to 175C (350F) and line a 9×13-inch (23×33-cm) baking dish with parchment paper (leave an overhang on all sides so you can get the bars out later).
  • Make the crust: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, and salt. Pour in the melted butter and vanilla. Stir with a fork until the mixture turns thick and sandy — it will be moist and a bit greasy. Use a rubber spatula to press the mixture evenly into the baking dish. Put the dish in the freezer for 10 minutes (or fridge for 30 minutes) to let the dough firm up. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until the crust is set and dry but not yet golden.
  • Let crust cool for 20-30 minutes before adding the filling (you can speed this up in the fridge or freezer).
  • Make the topping/filling: In a medium saucepan, heat the butter, brown sugar, and maple syrup over medium heat until the butter is melted and the sugar has dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the cream/creme fraiche, vanilla, and salt. Fold in the pecans.
  • Add the topping/filling to the crust: Pour the nut mixture over the crust and use a spatula to spread it evenly over the shortbread. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until the filling is hot and very bubbly at the edges.
  • Take the bars out of the oven and let cool and set overnight so the bars can firm up. You can speed this up by putting the bars in the fridge.
  • When you’re ready to slice the bars, lift them out of the pan using the parchment paper and cut them into squares. They’ll keep covered at room temperature for up to 5 days (but probably won’t last that long!).

Enjoy!

Recipe: Cranberry-Orange Buns

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The first time I saw the recipe, I knew I had to make them. As may be apparent from previous recipes, I have a soft spot for cranberries…obviously I was excited to add these to my arsenal. These are like cinnamon buns but with cranberries and orange.

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And oh man are they good. They certainly lived up to expectations. A rich, moist, orangey dough binds together tart-sweet cranberries for a mouthful of deliciousness. Although I know smitten kitchen recipes turn out perfectly if made as written, I took a risk and doubled the amount of cranberries while cutting down a bit on the brown sugar for the filling. It worked — and they don’t even need frosting (although feel free to prepare some if you want).

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These may become a holiday staple, great for a weekend brunch as you can prepare them the day before and bake them from the fridge in the morning (or at noon, as it was by the time I got back from my long run). Don’t be daunted by the prep time — it’s really quite a simple process, and you won’t regret the results.

ready to roll

ready to roll

Cranberry-Orange Buns (adapted from smitten kitchen; makes 12 buns — just halve the recipe for fewer)

Ingredients

  • Dough:
    • 4 egg yolks
    • 1 whole egg
    • 50g (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
    • 85g (6 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted (+ a little more, to grease pan)
    • 175mL (3/4 cup) buttermilk
    • zest of 3/4 orange
    • 470g (3.75 cups) plain/AP flour (+ more for dusting counter)
    • 7g (2.25 tsp) instant dry yeast
    • 1.25 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp sunflower oil (for bowl)
  • Filling:
    • 20g (1.5 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted
    • 175g (3/4 cup) brown sugar, packed (I used dark; feel free to use light)
    • ~250g (2-2.5 cups) fresh cranberries
    • zest of 1/4 orange

Procedure

  • Make the dough: In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, whole egg, sugar, melted butter, buttermilk, & 3/4 orange zest (you can do this in a stand mixer if you have one — I don’t). Add the yeast, salt, & 2 cups of the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon until just combined. Add the rest of the flour & mix until the dough comes together, then turn the dough out onto a floured counter and knead (or run the mixer with a dough hook) for 5 minutes . Don’t add more flour, as it will toughen the dough. Oil a large bowl and place the dough in it — cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 2-2.5 hours or until the dough has doubled.
  • Once the dough has risen, prepare the filling: Melt the butter and set aside. Put the cranberries in a food processor and pulse until they’re in quite small chunks but not totally pureed. Set aside.
  • Butter a 9×13-inch (23×33-cm) baking dish.
  • Assemble the buns: Flour a countertop and turn the dough out onto it. Roll the dough into a rectangle that’s about 18×12 inches (45×30.5 cm), with the long side closest to you. Brush the dough with the melted butter, then sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over it — go as close to the edges as you dare. Scatter the ground cranberries evenly over the sugar, then sprinkle the rest of the orange zest over everything.
  • Gently roll the dough into a long log, keeping it as tight as you can. Use a serrated knife to very gently saw the log into 12 sections, each of about 1.5 inches (3.8 cm). Arrange the buns in the baking dish, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to 16 hours.
  • In the morning, bake the buns: take the dish out of the fridge about half an hour before you want to bake the buns. Heat the oven to 175C (350F), then bake the buns for 25-30 minutes, until they’re golden and puffed up, with an internal temperature of about 85C (190F). (You may have to cover them with foil for the last 10 minutes so they don’t burn on top) Serve warm.

Enjoy!

Recipe: Zucchini & Millet Salad with Lemon-Coriander Dressing

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As the holiday season descends and the sweet treats mount up, I sometimes find myself craving a colorful, wholesome salad. This zucchini and millet salad ought to do the trick. Succulent, olive oil-sautéed zucchini complements earthy toasted pumpkin seeds and fluffy millet. The lemon-coriander dressing zings it all together, and pan-fried halloumi adds extra protein and a salty punch.

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Zucchini & Millet Salad with Lemon-Coriander Dressing (adapted from my darling lemon thyme; serves 3-4 generously)

Ingredients

  • Salad:
    • 1.5 cups cooked millet
    • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
    • 2 medium-large zucchini, sliced into thin rounds
  • Lemon-Coriander Dressing:
    • 1 bunch fresh coriander (cilantro), roughly chopped
    • juice of 2 lemons
    • 1/4 cup (60mL) olive oil
    • 1 garlic clove
    • 1/2 tsp cumin
    • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
    • to taste: salt
  • optional: 1-2 blocks halloumi cheese, sliced medium-thick

Procedure

  • If you haven’t already done it, cook the millet (see link above).
  • While the millet is cooking, prepare the zucchini by sautéing rounds in olive oil over medium-high heat, stirring often. When the zucchini rounds are golden-brown and soft, remove them from the heat and put into a large bowl.
  • While you’re cooking the zucchini, you can toast the pumpkin seeds over medium heat in a small skillet.
  • Fry the halloumi in a little bit of oil over medium-high heat until nicely browned on each side.
  • Make the dressing: combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor (or use an immersion blender), processing until smooth. Add a little cold water if the dressing is too thick.
  • Combine the millet, zucchini, pumpkin seeds, and dressing in the large bowl and toss. Serve the halloumi on the side.

Enjoy!