Category Archives: family

What’s Been Cooking? Pandemic edition

 

Life has certainly changed a bit since my last “What’s Been Cooking?” update. Social distancing is the new norm, so the three of us have been holed up at home (when we’re not out for our daily walk(s)) doing lots of cooking. This won’t be an exhaustive list of everything we’ve cooked since the stay-at-home recommendations started a month ago in Germany; rather, I’ll try to highlight some of our shopping strategies and follow that with cooking/baking highlights and projects. So without further ado…

Shopping & stocking the pantry:

F had good foresight regarding the quick global spread of the Coronavirus, so we started stocking up our pantry early with rice, lentils, dried beans, and canned goods. The only thing we forgot was flour, which sold out of the shops and supermarkets really quickly! Apparently when the going gets tough, the Germans get baking… We finally found some Type 1050 (high gluten) flour, which worked great for pizza dough but probably isn’t great for sweet baking; I finally caved and bought 2.5kg of Type 550 (all-purpose) flour online. It was not cheap but I’m glad to have it now.

We have been planning our meals weekly and doing a big shop once a week for a few years. It was simpler to shop less in London because our commutes were so long, and here in Münster we find it easier to save money when we’re not popping out to the shops every other day and inevitably impulse-buying things we don’t really need. So COVID-19 hasn’t really changed our shopping habits, except for trying to go when it’s least busy: for supermarkets, that has been around 8:30am on a weekday, and before 8am on Wednesdays for our weekly outdoor market.

What’s been cooking:

  • F discovered Serious Eats’ J. Kenji López-Alt’s YouTube channel and we watched his video on pan pizza. Needless to say, we were inspired to try it ourselves! F made a sauce like Kenji’s, and I made NYT’s Roberta’s pizza dough, which is one of the two I usually make. We used our stainless steel pans and topped the pizzas with cheese, basil, and salami. After 10-12 minutes in the oven, we quickly finished browning the bottoms on the stove, and voilà! Super delicious crispy pan pizza; we both agreed they were perhaps the best pizzas we’ve ever made. Richtig geil. We might never go back to the sheet pan style…
  • Our favorite buttermilk pancakes for weekend brunch! Always in the rotation.
  • Michaela’s chewy chocolate brownies – devoured just by the two of us over the course of a few days. It’s not great for the waistline when social distancing prevents you from sharing goodies with friends, but it is delicious.
  • F made a delicious Bärlauch (wild garlic) pesto, and we even had enough to freeze for future meals.
  • Pretty regular batches dal and rice, often from Priya Krishna’s Indian-ish cookbook.
  • One of our main meals for the week is always a big, hearty salad. Sometimes we do a Niçoise-style, sometimes beet(root) and carrot, sometimes just a mass of chopped veggies. At the moment we are loving cooking dried butter beans to add to our salads: soak them overnight, then add a generous pinch of salt and a couple of bay leaves and cook at a strong simmer for 45 minutes.
  • I made my whole wheat sweet potato quick bread, since we had more whole wheat than white flour. Great for breakfast and/or afternoon snacks.
  • For our fourth wedding anniversary this month, I made Melissa Clark’s one bowl cornmeal poundcake; it came together really quickly and made a great snacking cake, toasted and spread with butter and honey. I used lemon zest, half butter and half rapeseed oil, and split the flour between spelt and all purpose/plain.
  • For Easter weekend, hot cross buns from the Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook. They are actually not hard to make, and I doubled the recipe to produce 24 buns so we could gift some (at a distance) to our local friends in lieu of meeting in person. Yum!
  • This crispy potato kugel from NYT Cooking: definitely for potato lovers! It could’ve used another onion and a tad more salt, but overall was quite nice with applesauce and sour cream. It was a bit too much work to make regularly but it was a fun project.

What have you been cooking while sheltering at home?


What’s Been Cooking? Early 2020 edition

I was hoping to publish this earlier and now it’s almost March…where have the first two months of the year gone?! The time is flying scarily fast, especially as Baby E grows and develops just as swiftly. In the kitchen, F and I are focusing on more vegetarian dishes (not that we ate a lot of meat beforehand, but we’re now really only buying meat from the market every other week or so. We do regularly eat canned tuna) and thus have tried some great new recipes this winter to add to our already pretty good arsenal of vegetarian meals. Here’s what’s been cooking:

What have you been cooking so far this year?


Year in Review: 2019

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

I know I’m a bit late with this, but give me a break – I had a baby less than eight weeks ago! As we settle into 2020 and a new decade (!), here are some reflections on my 2019.

Running and fitness in 2019:

  • Distance run: Strava tells me that in 2019 I ran 530.4km =  329.58mi, which is less than half of my 2018 distance, but considering I was pregnant for 9.5 months of 2019, I think that’s not too bad.
  • I had a really good start to the running year, with a solid Fred Hughes 10 Mile time and one of my best XC races in recent years. I snuck in a casual but swift-ish 5-mile intra-club race in March in Finsbury Park. Due to pregnancy, I consciously slowed down and cut out speedwork by April-May, so ran a steady Crouch End 10k with Jo (at around 11 weeks pregnant) in May. That was also a bittersweet final road race in London before moving to Germany.
  • I ran 12 parkruns from January through May, including a course PB at Finsbury parkrun in February.
  • Distance cycled: 1,527.9km = 949.39mi of commuting in London and then Münster, with a few fitness rides thrown in on Cape Cod. I was happy to be able to cycle (in flat Münster on an upright, Dutch-style bike) throughout my entire pregnancy.

Favorite books read in 2019:

  • In 2019 I read 24 books. Here are some I enjoyed the most:
  • Deborah Frances-White, The Guilty Feminist. I discovered DFW’s “The Guilty Feminist” podcast in late 2018 or early 2019. It’s a hilarious comedy podcast with appropriate serious moments covering a range of topics relevant to feminism and broader equality today. The podcast let me to DFW’s book of the same name, which was fun and insightful to read. Highly recommended for anyone who calls themselves a feminist or believes in gender/person equality.
  • Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind is a fun bit of fantasy; I read the first two books in this trilogy and then ran out of steam, as the second book got a little repetitive. Some good unrequited love and magic, though!
  • Speaking of magic, F, my parents, and I all read the first trilogy of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series (first book: The Final Empire). They feature a fascinating and unique magic system as well as a strong female lead and a good amount of political and philosophical musing. Would recommend.
  • Yes, I was an English major. No, I hadn’t read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale until late last year. I was finally motivated to pick it up by the press and awards Atwood got around the publication of its sequel, The Testaments. I read both and they were equal parts fascinating and terrifying. The writing is also much more accessible than I anticipated it would be.
  • Jo recommended I read Mark Sullivan’s Beneath a Scarlet Sky and it was excellent. I love historical fiction, as you may know, and I also learned a lot about World War II in Italy.

Other highlights of 2019, in no particular order:

  • If you know me and/or follow this blog, you’ll know that 2019 was a big year for F and me:
    • We decided to move to Münster, Germany after 6.5 years in London.
    • We got pregnant (March) and had a baby (December)!
    • The above events included a new job for F – working remotely – and me going freelance as an English teacher in Münster. New work arrangements for both of us and so far going well (although I’m currently on a break from work given the second point above).
  • I passed a German exam to gain my B2 Goethe-Zertifikat. Next up: C1!
  • We spent a lovely two weeks with my parents in August on Cape Cod.
  • We celebrated Thanksgiving in Münster by sharing all the best desserts with friends here and making a two-person feast for ourselves.
  • I’ve continued to cook and bake loads, which is fun in our new larger kitchen in Münster. I had 6 weeks (that turned into almost 8 weeks) off before baby E was born, so I filled my time with many projects in the kitchen. F and I are still being mindful of how much meat we eat and where we get it. We’re eating a lot more vegetarian now and have added some new recipes to our rotation from Bon Appétit magazine and Priya Krishna’s Indian-ish cookbook as well as the ever-present NYT Cooking website/app.

I’m not big on resolutions but my main intentions for 2020 are to live as much in the moment as possible, enjoy baby E’s growth and development, get back into decent running shape, and figure out how I want to work as a freelancer going forward.

In some blog-related reflecting, here is a listicle of of my top posts via views in 2019:

  1. Lemon, Ginger, & Turmeric Infusion with Cloves & Honey – still my number-one viewed post! A delicious, warming, healing infusion
  2. A New Favorite (& possibly the BEST) Pancake Recipe – this remains our go-to pancake recipe and we’ve made it for and passed the recipe on to multiple friends in Germany
  3. Baked Scallops in White Wine Cream Sauce – a creamy, slightly fancy scallop bake nice on a cold winter’s day
  4. Issues in Modern Culture – overview of my MA program(me). Already 6-7 years ago!
  5. Smitten Kitchen’s Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies – just the best classic oatmeal-raisin cookies
  6. Kale Sautéed in Olive Oil and Garlic – my favorite way to cook and eat kale. Works well with chard, too
  7. Käsekuchen (German cheesecake) – F’s favorite. Takes a bit of work but is totally worth it
  8. English Grammar Workshop: Prepositions – should I write more English teaching content?Comment if yes!
  9. Roasted Eggplant with Crispy Chickpeas, Lamb Meatballs, & Yogurt-Tahini Sauce – 4 recipes in one! Choose a couple or make them all
  10. Rhabarberkuchen mit Quarkcreme und Streuseln (Rhubarb Cake) – another classic German cake of many layered components. Make it in spring/early summer when the rhubarb is fresh!

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and successful 2020.

Recipe: Mama K’s Winter Rotkohl

Rotkohl, ready to cook

F and I have visited his parents’ house in western Germany for, I think, five of the six last Christmasses. A highlight is always Christmas (Eve) dinner: a feast of Sauerbraten (literally “sour roast” – not as weird as it sounds and actually very delicious!), gravy, Rosenkohl (Brussels sprouts), Semmelknödel (bread dumplings), and my mother-in-law’s delicious Rotkohl (red cabbage) dish. Last year, I helped “Mama K” make the Rotkohl and jotted down a few notes so I could share the recipe with you. Maybe you’ll be inspired to try it out for your own holiday feast this year!

Mama K’s winter Rotkohl is a silky-smooth, hearty side dish with a lovely balance of spices and sweetness. Warning: it’s not vegetarian! You could leave out the bacon fat, but the dish might lose some depth. The great thing about this Rotkohl is that it cooks up really quickly in a pressure cooker (you could also simmer it for a long time in a regular pot; I’d guess a slow cooker would also do a great job). If I remember correctly, we actually made it the day before and then reheated it for Christmas (Eve) dinner; that gave the flavors a chance to meld together in their glorious richness.

Anyway, to the recipe! This is a family recipe from K’s mother and I’d highly recommend it as a side dish to any festive (or even not-so-festive) winter meal. It’d probably make a great accompaniment to a Sunday roast.

Rotkohl prep

Mama K’s Winter Rotkohl (my mother-in-law’s recipe; serves 4-6 generously)

Ingredients

  • 4 small heads of red cabbage, chopped medium-fine (see picture at top of post)
  • 4 apples, peeled, halved, & cored
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup Speck (lardons/bacon cubes/salo), or any amount you prefer
  • to taste: red wine vinegar & sugar

Procedure

  1. Wash and chop the cabbage, then toss it into the pressure cooker.
  2. Wash, peel, halve, and core the apples and place them on top of the cabbage in the pressure cooker.
  3. Stick the cloves carefully through the bay leaves (so as not to lose them in the pot! No one likes to accidentally chomp on a whole clove) and then arrange them on top of the cabbage with the apples.
  4. Add a few cups of water to the pot, and salt to taste.
  5. Seal the pressure cooker, bring to a boil, and cook on medium-high pressure for about 10 minutes.
  6. While the cabbage is cooking, fry the Speck/lardons in a hot pan, draining regularly, until the pieces are small and crispy.
  7. When the cabbage is ready, stir in the Speck pieces as well as sugar and red wine vinegar to taste.
  8. Enjoy immediately or heat up the next day for an even richer treat!

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.

USA Trip 2018: Nevada City & Sacramento Valley

Greetings! This is the fourth and final post in my mini “USA Trip 2018” series, documenting the two-week vacation (holiday, in UK-speak) that F and I took this August. After a weekend in NYCa few days in San Francisco, and time exploring the Point Reyes National Seashore, we journeyed to the foothills of the Sierras then into the Sacramento Valley for the remainder of our trip. Read on to see what we got up to. (NB: none of this is sponsored – all of the following are my personal opinions and I write for fun!)

Day 1: Sunday

Out of the fog and into the heat: that sums up the drive from Point Reyes across the Sacramento Valley and into the Sierra foothills. Not complete without a stop at California institution In-N-Out Burger, of course!

Upon arrival in Nevada City, we strolled through the cute, hippie, old west town center before splashing in the Outside Inn pool and relaxing in the heat with the New York Times. We had a delicious dinner at the New Moon Cafe (recommended by J&E) then called it an early night.

Day 2: Monday

I knew nothing about Nevada City before this trip. Why did we choose it? Well, we had originally considered Lake Tahoe but then realized it would be jammed with tourists and vacationers in August. As an alternative, a number of friends had recommended a stop in Nevada City, one of the first Gold Rush towns in the Sierra foothills.

Monday was a kind of rest day for us. We slept in then had a delicious brunch at Ike’s Quarter Cafe (thanks for the recommendation, Liv!) and lounged around in the 90F+ heat. Later, we roused ourselves enough to drive to Edward’s Crossing and take a dip in the Yuba River (another spot-on recommendation from Liv). The sun was hot, the water was cool, all was well. And luckily we didn’t come across any rattlesnakes. Smoothies and wraps from Fudenjüce (good tip from B) rounded off the day.

Day 3: Tuesday

We spent a leisurely morning writing postcards, then made our way out of the foothills and into the Sacramento Valley. First stop: Folsom, home of the eponymous Folsom Prison made famous by a Johnny Cash song, but also home to family friends (and avid athletes) J&E, who generously hosted us for two nights. After we arrived and admired their fleet of bikes and rowing shells, E took F and me on an easy 8-mile cycle on the paved “Johnny Cash Trail” to stretch our legs before dinner. It was also a test-ride on their “guest fleet” bikes for the next day’s adventure…

Day 4: Wednesday

…a 30-mile cycle from Folsom to Old Sacramento, almost all on paved paths along the American River and including a mini pace line to help the miles pass. It was fantastic to ride so far and not encounter any cars. We enjoyed lunch on the classic Delta King riverboat and then strolled through Old Sac before taking the light rail back to Folsom.

Cycling to Old Sac. Photo by E.

Day 5: Thursday

E took F out for a final cycle – faster this time, since I wasn’t there to hold them back – while I went for a run. We all met at Karen’s Bakery for a post-workout coffee. It was a nice end our stay with J&E – they treated us well and E was an excellent cycle tour guide! In the early afternoon we drove to my grandmother’s house in Roseville, where we caught up on the family news, showed off our holiday photos, and met Uncle K for dinner.

Day 6: Friday

F and I got up early with Grandma; she did her regular 2-mile walk and we went for a short run. After breakfast, we drove back to San Francisco, returned the rental car, and flew back to London and reality. We had an amazing trip. I enjoyed introducing F to the west coast while revisiting some of my favorite places and sharing many new experiences with him. We’ll be back, California!


USA Trip 2018: Point Reyes National Seashore

Greetings! This is the third post in my mini “USA Trip 2018” series, documenting the two-week vacation (holiday, in UK-speak) that F and I took this August. After a weekend in NYC and a few days in San Francisco, we drove across the foggy Golden Gate Bridge to the Point Reyes National Seashore. Read on to see what we got up to. (NB: none of this is sponsored – all of the following are my personal opinions and I write for fun!)

Do you associate smells with places? I have two strong smell-place associations: the damp sea air of Cape Cod, and the dry, earthy, eucalyptus-tinged smell of golden northern California. The latter is what Point Reyes smelled like and it was glorious.

Smells aside, you’ve probably gathered that the next stage of our USA trip was on the Point Reyes National Seashore. We had found a cute-looking AirBnB in Point Reyes Station to set up our base for the next few days and planned to see some big trees, walk/hike, and relax. (The “tiny house” AirBnB was perfect: comfortable bed, great outdoor shower, porch, fridge, and coffee maker. I’d stay there again.)

Day 1: Thursday

After renting a car from SFO, we drove back up through the city and across the Golden Gate Bridge, stopping at the vista point for some great views of the fog rolling over the San Francisco Bay. Another hour or so in the car brought us to the cute little town of Point Reyes Station. We spent part of the afternoon exploring the town and bought two delicious cheeses from the Cowgirl Creamery, which at least four people had recommended to us! I wanted to go for a run, so F suggested we drive 10 minutes to the Bear Valley Trail parking area and get in a short jog before dinner. We ran a 5km out-and-back on a sneakily uphill trail to the Divide Valley. It was beautiful and peaceful.

Day 2: Friday

Muir Woods was a non-negotiable activity on this trip; it’s one of my favorite places from childhood and F loves trees, so I knew he’d enjoy it. Luckily, a few people had tipped us off to the fact that you now have to book tickets and parking in advance, so we reserved the earliest possible parking spot for Friday morning. We rolled out of bed at 6:20am, made coffee and PB&Js in our tiny house, and drove down to Muir Woods via foggy Highway 1. We got there at 8:20am and it was really peaceful in the woods until about 9:45, at which point we were on the way out anyway. It was totally worth going early to beat the crowds and enjoy the redwoods in their natural, peaceful magnificence.

On the way back to Point Reyes Station, we stopped at Stinson Beach; it was still a grayish day but there were plenty of people out. We cooled – more like chilled! – our toes in the Pacific waters and enjoyed a beach walk before grabbing hot dogs for lunch. Back in town, we browsed in Point Reyes Books and then drove up the road to Inverness for a delicious dinner of fish tacos and sweet potato fries at The Tap Room. Fast and fresh!

Day 3: Saturday

Our main activity for this day was to hike the Tomales Point Trail, a 10-mile out-and-back hike to the end of Tomales Point, promising to feature Tule Elk and other wildlife. We made a leisurely start and got to the trailhead around 10am. It was cool and breezy when we set off, but we warmed up fast in the bright sunshine. The hike was 2/3 easy walking on well-trodden dirt trails, and 1/3 on loose sand. It was a beautiful hike, with the Pacific Ocean on one side and Tomales Bay on the other. The Tule Elk were out in force and many California Condors were circling overhead. Stunning.

Day 4: Sunday

Before checking out of our AirBnB, we drove to the Bear Valley Trail area again and did the same out-and-back run that we did the first night. It was good to shake out the legs before we got in the car to drive to our next stop: Nevada City.


USA Trip 2018: San Francisco

Greetings! This is the second post in my mini ‘USA Trip 2018’ series, documenting the two-week vacation (holiday, in UK-speak) that F and I took this August. After a weekend in NYC, we spent the rest of our time in California. San Francisco was our first stop. Read on to see what we got up to. (NB: none of this is sponsored – all of the following are my personal opinions and I write for fun!)

California feels a bit like home to me: my mom grew up in the Sacramento area, so my childhood was punctuated by regular visits to see family on the west coast. My family also lived in Berkeley for a year when I was 9 (ah, the memories of collecting Beanie Babies and seeing Spiceworld in the cinema!). I hadn’t been to San Francisco since 2010, so was excited to get reacquainted with the city and introduce it to F.

Flying over the Sierras

Day 1: Monday evening

We landed at SFO in the late afternoon and made our way into the city via BART. After settling into our hotel near Union Square, we went out in search of dinner. Hungry and thus somewhat indecisive, we eventually settled on Tacorea, a clever Mexican-Korean hybrid featuring burritos in various flavors. F had the kimchi burrito and I had a more classic California-style burrito. It hit the spot! After eating, we went for a long wander up and down the nearby hills until falling jet-lagged into bed.

Day 2: Tuesday

I convinced F to get up early for a run down along the Embarcadero. It was a grayish, foggy morning – typical San Francisco summer – and we got a good calf workout running up and over the ridge to the Embarcadero. Once on flat ground, we settled into a nice pace and stopped for the occasional photo. The best part of our run was the 15-minute break to watch the sea lions at Pier 39! It was shortly after 8am so hardly anyone was out: I told F that if we had tried to see the sea lions during the middle of the day, the area would be packed with tourists. After our run, we found the nearest Blue Bottle Coffee to rehydrate and fuel up for the day. Very nice coffee and delicious oatmeal.

Post-coffee, we spent a great 2.5 hours at SFMOMA, one of my favorite museums. They had a fantastic Magritte exhibition on. We had seen a Magritte exhibition in Brussels a few years ago and the art had not really spoken to me; SFMOMA’s show changed my mind. The exhibition focused on Magritte’s “Fifth Season” – his late works – and displayed how varied his style was: much more than just pipes and hats. After Magritte, we covered most of the rest of the museum. Saturated with art, we stopped for a BLT lunch at The Grove nearby. A spot of Levi’s shopping brought us to dinnertime, when we met my cousins K and A for a Burmese feast at B Star.

Day 3: Wednesday

Another nice day in San Francisco! Breakfast and coffee at Sculleryfancy PB&J and tasty coffee (do you sense a trend? Much coffee was sampled throughout our trip…America does do a good drip (aka filter) coffee).

We then met one of my aunts, a cousin, one of my uncles, and my grandma at the Legion of Honor Museum for lunch and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood exhibition. It was great to catch up with some of my family, who I hadn’t seen since my grandma’s 80th birthday celebration/reunion four years ago.

Dinner was delicious quinoa-lentil and roasted cauliflower tacos with watermelon-feta-mint salad at Liv and Iain’s place! They were wonderful hosts and we had a lovely, relaxing evening with them. They also gave us a lot of suggestions for the next two stops of our trip: Point Reyes and Nevada City. Stay tuned!


Year in Review: 2017

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

I haven’t written a “year in review” since the end of 2014, but this year I felt the desire to do so as 2017 becomes 2018. While there are plenty of awful things that happened globally in 2017 – politically, environmentally, etc. – I would like to focus on the more personal positives in this post.

Running and fitness in 2017:

On the way to a 5-mile PB at the Perivale 5, Dec 2017. Photo credit: Bespoke Photos.

  • Distance run: Strava tells me that in 2017 I ran 973.1km =  604.66mi. This is about 39 more miles than in 2016, so I’ll take that as a slight improvement.
  • The first half of the running year wasn’t great, as I had a really nasty virus over the Christmas holidays so had a slow return to fitness in early 2017. I had a brief return to the track in the summer before developing some plantar fasciitis. Since then, I’ve focused on building up my fitness base with tempo work and longer runs. That has seemed to work, as in fall/winter I ran my fastest 10k since 2015 and a 5-mile PR/PB!
  • In 2017 I discovered how much I love trail running/racing. Now that I have invested in trail shoes, I hope to do more trail running in 2018. I ran in Trent Park for the first time and loved it.
  • Racing (running):
  • Distance cycled: 2,760.3km = 1,715.17mi of commuting to/from work in London. About 200km/124mi more than in 2016.

Favorite books read in 2017:

  • In 2017 I read about 21 books. I didn’t love everything I read but here are some books that have stuck with me after finishing them:
  • Tracy Chevalier, At the Edge of the Orchard. I’ve loved Chevalier’s writing ever since reading Girl with a Pearl Earring as a teenager. Chevalier also happens to be an Oberlin graduate and I was fortunate to see her speak when I was in college. At the Edge of the Orchard is a historical novel of migration to the American West during the Gold Rush in the 1840s and ’50s. The human characters are interesting but much of the novel is actually about trees: apple orchards and then California’s redwoods and giant sequoias. It has really stuck with me and I’ve recommended it to a number of people.
    • I also read Chevalier’s newest novel, New Boy, this year. It’s a chilling retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello set on a school playground and I’d recommend it to any English teachers for their students to read alongside the original play.
  • Somehow in all my study of English literature, I had never read Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. My parents recommended it to me after reading it for their book club a couple of years ago, and I was impressed with this early detective novel. It has all the good stuff – missed messages, mistaken identities, charming villains – while remaining accessible even for those who aren’t used to reading 19th-century novels.
  • I absolutely love Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes series (the first one is called The Beekeeper’s Apprentice) and this year I read the seventh and eighth books back to back. Every time I open a Russell-Holmes novel, it feels like coming home. Something about King’s writing style just sits well with me. The novels are at once historically dense, character-driven, and detailed but not slow-moving. My dad first got hooked on the series years ago, and I would recommend it to anyone who, to use Netflix-speak, enjoys “historical novels with a strong female lead”. There’s also plenty of mystery and detective work involved!
  • I loved Robin Hobb’s 4-book series, The Rain Wild Chronicles, recommended by a fellow choir singer. Hobb creates a fascinating and robust fantasy world – realist but with touches of the magic and mythical – and tells a good story.
  • Rachel Sieffert, A Boy in Winter. A poignant WWII novel set in a small Ukrainian town. Sad but beautifully written and worth reading for a slightly different perspective.
  • Darragh McKeon, All that is Solid Melts into Air. Wow was this good. A close family friend – my Belgian “aunt” – recommended it and I loved it. It’s set in Soviet Ukraine/Russia/Belarus in the late 1980s around the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The shifting perspectives never felt jarring and it’s quite timely, despite being a historical novel. Highly recommended.
  • F and I finished reading Walter Moers’ Die 13 1/2 Leben des Käpt’n Blaubär, an epic fantasy-type novel that we took turns reading aloud. It helped my German a lot and was good fun! I also finished a book of short stories in German – Karen Köhler’s Wir Haben Raketen Geangelt – that were almost all depressing but I loved the writing style and it was accessible enough for me to understand most of what was going on.

Other highlights & achievements, in no particular order:

  • Singing Bach’s St John Passion in English with the Crouch End Festival Chorus and Bach Camerata at St John Smith’s Square in central London.
  • Visiting my close friend Hannah in Bulgaria, where she’s working as a Fulbright ETA.
  • Spending a lovely long weekend with F in Bath.
  • Family and friends descending on London for our post-wedding celebration in July. It was lovely to have a casual party in a local pub and that so many people made the effort to come from near and far.
  • Spending a week walking in the Cotswolds with F. We stayed in a little AirBnB in the village of Longborough and spent each day walking a different loop, stopping for pub lunches and enjoying our escape from big city life.
  • After three years teaching ESOL to migrant women at a charity in Tower Hamlets, I got a new job at a charity in Hackney. I’m still teaching ESOL mainly in Tower Hamlets but also learning about and sharpening my skills in project management and partnerships. It was hard to leave my old team – a close-knit group of amazing women – but it was the right move to make and I’m enjoying my new role. It’s also interesting to see how two charities in the same sector operate quite differently.

Cotswolds walking

I’m not big on resolutions but my main intention for 2018 is, as usual, to find a healthy balance between work, exercise, time with F, and other things. We hope to travel a bit more this year and I’d like to build up my running mileage to 10-mile or even half marathon fitness.

In some blog-related reflecting, here is a listicle of of my top posts via views in 2017:

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and successful 2018

Out & About in London – October 2016

My parents visited F and me in London for five days this month. Luckily, their visit coincided with both a chorus concert and Half Term, which meant no teaching duties for me and so the ability to take a few days off work. It was fun to be a bit of a tourist around London for a few days — I hadn’t done that in a while. Here’s what we got up to, including pictures.

Bletchley Park

A co-worker of mine recommended visiting Bletchley Park as a nice day trip outside of London. My parents wanted to get out of the city for a day, and it turned out that Bletchley Park was an easy train ride away from Euston Station. In case you don’t know, Bletchley Park is where the British Government Code and Cipher School (CG&CS) set up their codebreaking endeavors during World War II. CG&CS recruited bright young minds from Oxford and Cambridge to work machines, translate, and cipher/encipher/decipher enemy codes, the most famous of which being the Enigma code. Alan Turing, perhaps made better known recently by the movie The Imitation Game, led a team in developing the Bombe Machine to help crack the Enigma code.

Bletchley Park is centered around a mansion on lovely grounds surrounded by lots of “huts,” where various teams were set up to work on codebreaking projects. It was a lovely day when we went, which made for pleasant wandering in and out of huts and learning about what went on at Bletchley Park. There’s also a very detailed museum, which we didn’t spend much time in, having already become saturated by the information in the mansion and huts. It was a nice and informative day out and I’d recommend it.

Dinner at Ottolenghi Islington

Eating at Ottolenghi has been near the top of my “to eat in London” list for a while. We’ve got one of Ottolenghi’s cookbooks — Plenty, or Genussvoll vegetarisch in our German version — that I’ve enjoyed using at times. A few friends recommended the Islington restaurant, and my parents, who love trying new restaurants, were game!

Ottolenghi Islington has cold salads and desserts in the front window and operates a bustling (upscale) takeaway business. The restaurant consists of two long, communal tables and a handful of small two-person tables. The decor is more modern than I expected, but I quite liked the simplicity with splashes of color. The menu consists of small plates that are conducive to sharing — I love this kind of eating, because I get to try a few bites of a lot of dishes! We ordered eight dishes for the four of us, which was plenty and allowed us to save room for the delicious desserts. Dinner highlights for me were: the beetroot and cumin mash, the cauliflower, the braised artichoke and fennel, the pork belly, and the octopus. The almond financier cake for dessert was incredible.

National Portrait Gallery

Looking for something to do before afternoon tea (see below), I suggested to my parents that we pop into the National Portrait Gallery for an hour or so. I had never been there before, and to be honest was not sure I’d like it — how interesting can it be to look at a bunch of dead people’s painted portraits? Turns out, it’s fascinating! We stuck to the 19th and 20th century displays, and they did not disappoint. It was cool to see painted portraits of famous historical figures, from statesmen to the first woman admitted to the British Medical Association to authors like Dickens and Hardy. There was a small but powerful photograph of Virginia Woolf’s husband (or maybe father? I can’t remember) in the foreground with an out-of-focus but so obviously Virginia Woolf in the background. Wow.

My favorite part of the Portrait Gallery was a temporary exhibition, “Black Chronicles: Photographic Portraits 1862-1948.” It was incredibly moving to see such dignified, soulful photographs from the early-ish days of photography. There is something much deeper about photographic portraits from 100+ years ago: carefully composed poses and backdrops, and no cheesy smiles, as people had to hold poses for a long time for the exposure. It is a stunning exhibition and highly recommended.

Afternoon Tea at The Delaunay

My mom suggested that we go out for a proper afternoon tea, like we did a couple of years ago when my parents spent time in London. And who am I to refuse afternoon tea? I had The Delaunay on my list as a well-reviewed (but I can’t remember by whom!) and affordable afternoon tea spot. We each ordered the full Afternoon Tea — my dad and I with scones, and my mom with Gugelhupf (remember that from Bake Off last year?).

Two tea towers (what are they actually called?) arrived, chock full with sweets and savories. The tea also came with brilliant straining devices that had solid bottoms to catch drips when you put them back on the table. It’s the little things! I have a big sweet tooth, but surprisingly I ended up preferring the savories at The Delaunay. The smoked duck sandwich had a great blend of flavors, and I could have eaten five of the cheese puff/choux flatbread-like things sandwiched with cream cheese. The fruit scones were deliciously light and balanced. I found most of the cakes a bit too sweet, although the pistachio financier with poppy seeds and orange cream was really nice. The Delaunay’s afternoon tea selection was very generous, and the three of us agreed that next time we’d only get two full tea menus plus a couple of extra scones.

Wicked

In addition to afternoon tea and a day out of London, my parents wanted to see at least one theatre show. We settled on Wicked, the music of which I knew thanks to my Oberlin housemate Claire, who introduced me to the soundtrack in college. But I didn’t know the story that links the songs together (other than that it’s about the Wicked Witch of the West). 

Well, the musical was brilliant. Along with the hits like “Defying Gravity,” “No Good Deed,” and “For Good,” Wicked actually has a relatively complex plot with a good deal of character development and many messages about trust, friendship, love, and self-regard. The cast was great, with Suzie Mathers and Rachel Tucker more than living up to my expectations as Glinda and Elphaba, respectively. They had personality, depth, and great singing voices — I got chills more than a couple of times.


Race Recap: Jubilee Hall Trust 10k, Hampstead Heath

Ah, Hampstead Heath, you are one of my absolute favorite places in London. Being on the Heath is like being in a different world; you can forget that you live in a metropolis of 8 million+ people. Sheer bliss.

View from Parliament Hill in July 2016.

View from Parliament Hill in July 2016.

And in this case, a bit of healthy pain to go with that bliss. F and I tromped over to Parliament Hill on a gray and windy Saturday morning for the Jubilee Hall Trust “Run for your life” 10k trail race. J ran it last year and convinced me to sign up, then had to miss it due to another commitment, so F was able to run in her place. The group of 100-odd 10k runners had a low-key feel, with only a handful of us wearing club jerseys. It’s nice to run a race with a lot of “normal” runners from the community sometimes — a bit like the Crouch End 10k.

Pre-race

Pre-race

The course started at the bottom of Parliament Hill, near the athletics track. One of the race marshals led a remarkably effective 5-minute warmup just before the start; it did more to warm us up than the slow 4-minute jog F and I took. Then we were off for two 5km laps of Parliament Hill. (Side note: a few of us only had 9.3km on our Garmins after the race, so we’re not sure it was a full 10km long.) Distance discrepancies aside, it was a tough course: undulating, uneven terrain — mostly trails — up and around the Heath. Luckily the ground was dry, and the cool, breezy weather was actually welcome once we got going.

jubileehalltrust10k-pace

As you can see from my splits, the hills definitely affected the pace. F and I had agreed to run the first 7-8km together — it’s great to have a partner you can be active with! — and then if one of us was feeling good towards the end, (s)he could pick it up. That ended up being F, as I felt pretty knackered after about 7km; I managed to pick my pace up for the last kilometer or so, but it wasn’t quite enough to catch him!

Overall, I’m pleased with my run (50:18) and was happy to treat the race as: 1) a way to spend time with F after a busy week, 2) my “long” run for the week, 3) good general training, and 4) a preview to cross country season! Running on the Heath is one of the great joys of living in north London, and it was F’s first time doing so, which made it extra special to look around and take in the woodland beauty.


 

Birthday Wisdom 2016

Another year older, another birthday reflection post! I turned 28 this week and F baked me the best cake anyone has ever made me:

IMG_2976

Last year I wrote about completing an MA and DELTA and starting a new full-time job. I offered a word of wisdom on prioritizing and finding balance. This past year has tested those words of wisdom on more than one occasion, but I like to think I tried my best to stick to them.

Looking back on this year, I’m coming up on two years as an ESOL and Functional Skills English teacher to migrant women in a deprived area of east London. I’ve taken on responsibility as a line manager and am completing a leadership and management course through work to help me develop in those areas. Teaching continues to bring its joys and challenges; switching to a new exam board for our ESOL courses has helped our students’ achievement rates, but there are still kinks to work out. I have an incredible set of colleagues, inspirational women all.

Ready to get married! 8 April 2016. Photo credit: Fotomanufaktur Wessel (www.fotomanufaktur-wessel.de)

Ready to get married! 8 April 2016. Photo credit: Fotomanufaktur Wessel (www.fotomanufaktur-wessel.de)

This year was big because F and I got married! It felt like the right time. He proposed last summer on Cape Cod, a memorable and meaningful spot for my family and for us, with fond memories of cycling, swimming, running, pastry eating, and relaxing. We got married in Germany this April, in a small civil ceremony with parents by our sides.

This past year has also seen a good deal of choral singing, with highlights being Rachmaninov’s Vespers at St. John’s College Chapel, Cambridge; Mozart’s Mass in C minor; Bach’s Mass in B minor; and even recording a Christmas CD. F and I saw Steven Isserlis in a solo recital and we attended a few other concerts, theatre and musical theatre productions. We must take advantage of London cultural life while we can!

Running and sport(s) have been up and down. I did run a 5k PR/PB last September  but slowed down after that, due to busyness and stress in other aspects of life. I’m currently focusing on rebuilding my running fitness base and starting to incorporate speedwork again. I also did my first multisport event this past year: a team duathlon! It was a blast and I could see myself doing more run-bike-run events in the future.

Recent political events in the UK/EU and the USA made me gravitate towards the following quote as my word of wisdom for this year:

We all have a responsibility to now seek to heal the divisions that have emerged throughout this campaign – and to focus on what unites us, rather than that which divides us.

-Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, after the ‘Brexit’ vote

With that, I wish you all a tolerant year of unity.