Race Recap: Sunday League XC – Trent Park

In cross country, sometimes the biggest hazard is other runners.

That’s the thought that went through my mind in the second kilometer of today’s Sunday League XC race at Trent Park, as I weaved through a number of runners slip-sliding down a muddy descent. Stay in your own space and don’t run too close to anyone else, I reminded myself.

Just two weeks after an undulating run at Cheshunt, the Sunday League XC was back in action, this time at Trent Park, a massive park and woodlands in north London. While Heathside has a regular Saturday hill/trail workout at Trent Park, it’s far enough from where we live that I ran there for the first time this past summer, at the Triffic Trail 10k.

Autumnal Trent Park. Beautiful.

As do many XC races, this Sunday League course covered varying terrain: muddy grass (“grud?” “murass?”), firm and a little bit gravelly trails through the woods, and an extra muddy uphill at the end, for good measure.

The weather, while sunny, was brisk (around 6C/43F) and windy, especially in the open field where we started. I was glad to have opted for capris, and ended up wearing arm warmers and gloves with my Heathside vest. I know this violates all of the cross country purist rules, but I’d rather be a comfortable temperature than freezing! I did take my gloves off around 5km but was very glad to have my arm warmers and my new trail shoes, which were brilliantly grippy on the sticky, slippery course.

Heathsiders pre-race. Photo credit: Steve Woolf.

As with the last Sunday League, I didn’t have any particular expectations or goals so decided to run by feel and see how it went. I also had no idea what the course would be like. After a couple of kilometers weaving around a muddy field, we entered the woods, where we climbed gradually until the terrain leveled off. There were even a few gentle descents in the woods that helped make up time lost on the uphills. I was pulled through kilometers 2-4 or so by fellow Heathsider E. I passed her on a descent but knew she wasn’t far behind me. She flew by me at 5km and I tried my best to keep her within reach. It’s always helpful to have a teammate to flip-flop with on a tough course.

Early on, tucked behind Caroline. Photo credit: Marco M.

We ended up running the woods loop twice. After a quick fifth kilometer, I slowed a bit for the sixth but then dug in to try and keep E in my sights and push towards the finish, which I knew should be around 8km. I used the downhill out of the woods and tried to lift my knees and just keep running. One steep, muddy descent later, and we were in the home straight with a headwind, trying to kick on an uneven, grassy surface. It worked well for Alun, who sped by me towards the finish, but all I could do was hold on and try not get passed. Luckily, the course was short at 7.8km (4.85 miles). Not sure I could’ve held on for much longer!

Not a flattering shot at all, but this is what (XC) running really looks like! Photo credit: Steve Woolf.

I don’t have the official time yet, but my Garmin has me at 38:55 for the 4.85 miles (8:01/mi or  4:59/km average pace). Not particularly fast, but I’m happy with it, given the challenging course (one of our coaches rates it as a 6/10 on his XC difficulty scale, with Parliament Hill being a 9/10). Trent Park is beautiful, and when the race got tough, I kept reminding myself to look around at what a glorious piece of nature we were running in.


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Race Recap: Sunday League Cross Country – Cheshunt

It’s autumn, which to many a runner might be synonymous with cross country season! It has certainly become so for me over the past few years. I’ve traditionally taken part in the competitive Met League Cross Country (XC) series with my club: men and women run separately (and the men’s race is longer than the women’s – grr), runners score points so the faster you are the better, and there’s an enthusiastic rabbling atmosphere.

Heathsiders getting ready to run XC at Chestnut. Bobble hats at the ready!

Today I ran in another XC league that my club participates in: the slightly lower-key Sunday League. Here, men and women run a 5-mile course together (gasp!), there’s significantly less rabbling, and you don’t even need a race number.

This was my first Sunday League XC race and I loved it. While I do enjoy the raucous, hyped-up Met League, the Sunday League – at least this particular race around some fields in Cheshunt (don’t ask me where that is) – felt much more like a “regular” trail race. Everyone runs together, and there’s good marshaling but not so much spectator action on the course, making some sections quite peaceful.

Pre-race Heathside contingent. Photo credit: Marco M.

I’ve always heard that the Sunday League is more inclusive than the Met League, and now that I can compare the two, I’d tend to agree. That said, I’ve never felt too slow for the Met League, just a bit more pressure to really race.

I had no such expectations today and decided to run by feel and enjoy myself. J and I set off together and used the first kilometer to warm up and try to settle into a rhythm on the crowded trails. Once the pack of runners thinned out, we were able to pick up the pace and run the next couple of kilometers under 5:00/km pace. I was surprised how comfortable the faster pace felt – I think the long runs and semi-regular hill workouts have helped my fitness – but reminded myself that we still had a ways to go.

The course was three undulating laps on grassy trails. Luckily, it was dry so I was fine running in my regular trainers (I ordered trail shoes to arrive on the Friday before, but they never came!). There were a couple of spots where we had to run over rounded furrows – we dubbed them “moguls,” and they were quite tricky to navigate while maintaining a rhythm.

J and I caught up with C towards the end of the second lap and C and I ran together for a few kilometers. I was pleased to go through 5km in under 25:00, although C passed me and stayed ahead for the rest of the race (no hard feelings! She’s an incredible runner). I started to feel my legs and concentration waning in the past couple of kilometers, but tried to stay steady and push to the finish. As the finish line came into view, I dug in and was able to sprint past two or three runners to finish just two spots behind C, who had a great race. I don’t have the official time yet, but my watch read 40:14 for the 5.08 miles (7:55/mi or 4:55/km average pace). Very pleased with that.

There was plenty of cake to go around after the race, and I contributed these salted chocolate chunk cookies (thanks, smitten kitchen!), which another runner joked were good for refueling because the salt would help replenish electrolytes. But of course!

I thoroughly enjoyed my first Sunday XC League outing and am already looking forward to the next one at Trent Park in a couple of weeks. Maybe my trail shoes will have arrived by then… I’ve really enjoyed doing more trail races in the past few months, at Trent Park and on the Ridgeway trails. It’s remarkable how much opportunity there is for trail racing in and around such a metropolis as London. We are fortunate to live in north London, with Hampstead Heath just a couple of miles away.


Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: Tortillas de Tiesto

Welcome back to my casual series, “Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen.” It has been a while and I have no good excuses other than “life”. Last time, it was Easter and we made cardamom-laced hot cross buns.. Today I ventured back into the flatbreads of Latin America and made tortillas de tiesto. Read on for the experience…

Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen #8: Tortillas de Tiesto

This recipe comes from The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook‘s section titled “Filled Doughs from Around the World”. The last time we were in this territory, I made baked Albanian cheese triangles (those were good!). There are many mouth-watering recipes in this section: knishes, empanadas, Tibetan momos, and more (but no Cornish pasties! Too bad). Honestly, who doesn’t love filled dough? It’s basically dumplings on steroids, and I love how most cultures seem to have their own version(s) of filled dough or dumpling-like creations. Anyway, we are told that tortillas de tiesto are an Ecuadorean street food, traditionally cooked in a tiesto, “a flat clay put traditionally used in Ecuadorean cooking” (225). Well, I don’t have one of those but a heavy-bottomed skillet seemed to do the trick for my feta-stuffed tortillas.

The tortillas de tiesto recipe looked quick and straightforward: it uses an enriched dough with egg, milk, and butter and a 2:1 whole wheat to white flour ratio. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough whole wheat flour so my ratio ended up being reversed…oops! The traditional recipe would probably use queso fresco, but that’s hard to find in London so I stuck with feta cheese, which the book said would work well.

As you may know, I am a fan of making flatbreads (see naanchapati, etc.), as they’re generally not too time consuming and don’t require any crazy tools. They do, however, require a close eye and some patience while cooking them in a hot skillet.

The tortillas de tiesto dough, once mixed and rested, is soft and pliable yet strong. It was not difficult to flatten them (I used my newly-acquired mini rolling pin – such fun!), add feta, pinch into a ball, then flatten and roll out again. It took a few tries to get the skillet’s heat right so the tortillas would cook through without charring too much, but they turned out well, if a bit darker than the picture in the book. The salty feta complements the slightly sweet dough well, and the tortillas de tiesto make for a hearty snack.

Have you ever made a stuffed flatbread like this? what’s your favorite hand-held street food nibble?

———

Bits of Bulgaria

My good friend Hannah has been living in Bulgaria this year, teaching English in a secondary school. Since I never got around to visiting Hannah while she was doing Peace Corps in Georgia, I decided it was high time I visit her in Bulgaria. She’s finishing up her first year and will stay on next year to work with the BEST (Bulgarian English Speech and Debate Tournaments) Foundation, which organizes speech and debate tournaments — modeled on the American format that some of you may have taken part in during high school — around Bulgaria. Anyway, I spent a lovely few days with Hannah both in Sofia, the capital, and in Pravets, the town she’s been living in. What follows are a few cultural observations and a number of photos of my trip.

I didn’t know much about Bulgaria before traveling, other than a few tidbits I gleaned from reading the Wikipedia page and that I have a Bulgarian learner at work. My expectations were based mainly on my experiences living in Ukraine; I wondered how Bulgaria would feel in comparison, especially as it has been part of the EU for 10 years (and Ukraine has not).

Firstly, language: Bulgarian, like Ukrainian, is a Slavic language and written in the Cyrillic alphabet. I felt strangely at home wandering the streets of Sofia and being able to read signs both in Cyrillic and Latin script. I picked up a number of Bulgarian phrases in my few days there and could understand some, too, thanks to my background in Ukrainian. Hannah’s Bulgarian sounds really good after only ten months there.

Sofia felt both like a Ukrainian city — corner shops selling a random assortment of snacks and alcohol, a good deal of chunky Soviet-style architecture — and much more western — an Asian noodle restaurant, many signs in English, and most cafe/restaurant staff speaking English. It was a fascinating contrast for me.

In terms of food, there’s a good deal of international cuisine in Sofia. Bulgarian cuisine features banitsa, a tasty cheese-stuffed filo pastry snack; lots of yogurt; ayran (a salty kefir-like drink); and fresh, colorful salads (that are not covered in mayonnaise!).

Pravets, the town Hannah lives in, is about 60km north of Sofia and has a cozy population of 4,500. Hannah teaches at the language high school, which draws students from around the region. There’s also a big hotel and golf course that bring in some tourism. It’s in a valley and is surrounded by beautiful green mountains. A peaceful spot.


Spas & Skylines: Exploring Bath

It was the week after Easter, and in addition to enjoying the 4-day weekend (thanks to two Bank Holidays), F and I took a couple of extra days off so that we could get out of London for a short refresher. We chose to visit Bath, as it’s not too far away and had been on my list of places to see, perhaps due to my fond memories of reading/studying Jane Austen in university. Also, one of my colleagues comes from Bath and gave us some recommendations for what to see/do/eat.

Bath didn’t disappoint. It’s a lovely small city with the prettiest Georgian architecture in Bath Stone (a type of limestone) — simple and grand, yet elegant:

Bath is very walkable and lovely to stroll around. The weather was glorious, so we did a lot of walking — and some cafe sitting/tea and coffee drinking/scone and cake sampling to rest our legs, of course. We also spent a lovely couple of hours relaxing in the Thermae Bath Spa, which takes advantage of the city’s natural hot springs and apparently is Britain’s only natural thermal spa. It felt wonderful to relax in the warm pools, steam rooms, and sauna… Our skin was so soft afterwards!

However nice the spa was, the highlight for F and me was doing the Bath Skyline walk after a good night’s sleep at Abbey Rise B&B (lovely proprietress, comfortable bed, and good food). The National Trust-curated Bath Skyline walk is a 6-mile (9.6-kilometer) loop around the river basin that Bath lies in. After about a mile of exposed uphill clamber, the terrain flattens out and the trail travels across meadows and through woods, parallel to old stone fences, and alongside cows and sheep in their pastures. You also get some great glimpses of the walk’s namesake, the Bath skyline.

The Bath Skyline walk was reminiscent of the walking trip we did with my parents in the Cotswolds two years ago (not surprising, as Bath is actually at the very end of the Cotswold Way). We got nerdy and recorded the walk on Strava, in case you’re interested in having a look. I’d highly recommend doing the Bath Skyline walk if you find yourself in the city for a day or two. It was so nice to get away from civilization and into nature for a few hours. We both came back to London refreshed and ready for the rest of the spring — but also ready for the next opportunity to escape the city!


Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: Hot Cross Buns

Welcome back to my casual series, “Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen.” Last time we got sticky making pita bread. Today, we’re making cardamom-laced hot cross buns in celebration of springtime and a four-day weekend over Easter. 

Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen #7: Hot Cross Buns

This recipe comes from The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook‘s section titled “Short and Sweet: Quick Breads and Holiday Breads”. This includes classics like banana bread but also special occasion breads like Stollen, a bread for Día de los Muertos, and these hot cross buns. The chapter’s introduction notes that the holiday breads are “recipes passed from generation to generation, often scribbled on note cards…rooted in old traditions and sure to inspire new ones)” (232). Well, I didn’t grow up eating hot cross buns, but they are abundant in UK shops around Easter-time and F and I both enjoy them as an afternoon treat with coffee or tea, so I decided to try my hand at homemade ones.

Hello, my beauties!

The hot cross bun recipe looked pretty straightforward: it uses an enriched dough with egg and milk, as well as some sugar and both raisins and currants. The bonus ingredient is cardamom, which adds a lovely scent and flavor to the buns. You could leave the cardamom out if you’re not a fan, but I would recommend keeping it in.

You don’t need to know much about bread-making to create these hot cross buns. The dough gets mixed until the gluten is developed — this always gives me a good arm workout, as we don’t have a stand mixer — and then rested for an hour. To form the little round buns, you’ll need to practice your boule-making technique of folding, pinching, and tension-building. I found this less fussy than making sourdough bread: the dense hot cross bun dough is easier to work with than looser sourdough bread dough.

After lining up the little buns on a baking tray, you rest them for another hour before you brush them with egg wash (I could’ve been more generous with my egg washing) and bake them for 30 minutes. (Use the non-convection setting on your oven.) Unfortunately, I thought I’d started my timer when the buns went in the oven, but realized after perhaps 10-15 minutes that my timer had been inadvertently paused! I therefore had to estimate how long the buns had been in and may have overdone them by a few minutes. Despite that, the hot cross buns turned out really well, sweetened just a bit by the icing crosses (I left out the cardamom — pure laziness) and delicious with salted butter. The whole process took about four hours (not including cooling time). F approved and we were both happy!

How do you like your hot cross buns – with butter? Jam? Marmalade?Have you ever made them yourself?

———

Dim Sum Class at London Cookery School

Early this year, I came across a Time Out London discount for two people to attend a dim sum cooking class at London Cookery School*. Excited (who doesn’t love dim sum?), F and I jumped at the opportunity. Neither one of us had ever done a cooking class before, despite (or maybe because of) how much we both enjoy cooking. But dim sum is not something either of us would have attempted to make at home without some prior knowledge, so the class was the perfect opportunity for us to learn some new cooking techniques. By chance, we ended up booking the class on our first wedding anniversary — what better way to celebrate than that? (And how have we already been married a year?!)

Our dim sum class taught us how to make three of the most popular steamed dumplings that might grace a dim sum table:

  • Har Gow  蝦餃 (crystal prawn dumplings)
  • Chiu Chow Fun Gwor  潮州粉果 (chiu chow steamed dumplings)
  • Sui Mai  燒賣 (open top steamed pork and prawn dumplings)

I won’t share the recipes, as you should probably do the class to learn how to make the dumplings, but I’ll provide some pictures and commentary/observations on the class and techniques that we learned.

First up, tea (yum cha): the instructor Will explained that tea is an integral part of the dim sum experience. In Hong Kong and southern China, people will often say, “Do you want to go for some yum cha?”, meaning “Let’s go have dim sum (but of course there will also be tea).” The first page of our class booklet included explanations of some common teas (wulong/oolong was served during our class) as well as some key dim sum etiquette:

Once everyone had washed hands and poured tea, the class got going. We started by making three different fillings for our dumplings: a prawn-based mix for the har gow; a pork-based combination for the chiu chow fun gwor; and a pork-and-prawn mixture for the sui mai. Here are some things we learned while making the fillings:

  • Corn flour (cornstarch, to any Americans reading this) is used as a binding agent.
  • It’s best to use fattier minced pork (~20%) for dumplings.
  • Baking powder is often added to Chinese meat dishes as it gives the meat a lighter, springier feel and helps tenderize the meat, too.
  • Salted radish adds a depth of flavor (umami, if you will).

Fillings at the ready!

Next, we prepared the dough for the har gow and chiu chow fun gwor. This was quite fun and similar to making chapati dough: add hot water to starchy mixture, bring it loosely together, then let it sit and hydrate for a few minutes before the final kneading and rolling. The dumpling dough did require a couple of specialty ingredients like wheat starch (regular flour won’t cut it) and tapioca flour, but overall the technique wasn’t too difficult and the dough turned out a beautiful alabaster white with a smooth, silky feel.

Will demonstrated how to roll, cut, stuff, and fold the dough into dumplings. The har gow were difficult, as it took some dexterity to make the neat pleats for the classic shape. You can see that my first couple of attempts (top of the picture below) were not successful, but it got easier with practice. The chiu chow fun gwor were easier to form into a simple crescent shape.

The first batch of dumplings then went into the steamer while we formed the sui mai (with pre-made dough, as it’s a trickier dough to make and get thin enough). Those went into the steamer, too, and we were ready to eat!

The class lasted about three hours, and it was a great experience to learn how to make an entirely new sort of cuisine. If you’ve never done a cooking class before, I’d recommend it. Take a friend/partner along and get cooking!

*All opinions are my own and I was not compensated in any way for this post. It was just so enjoyable that I couldn’t help sharing with you, dear readers!


Recipe: Herbed Israeli Couscous Salad with Dried Apricots & Preserved Lemon

F was away for work this week and I don’t usually feel like cooking when he’s not around, tending to gravitate towards salads, grains, and other quick-prep dishes. Melissa Clark’s recipe for couscous salad with dried apricots and preserved lemon had caught my eye recently and sounded like the perfect thing for a healthy weeknight dinner. I read the recipe to get a general idea of flavors and then improvised from there, using lemon juice rather than white wine vinegar, parsley instead of dill, and adding almonds for protein and crunch.

Health in a bowl

The salad turned out really well: I’ve fallen in love with the combination of sour-salty preserved lemon and sweet, chewy dried apricots. Finely chopped herbs make a great green base for salads and a nice alternative to lettuce.

This dish is light, fresh, and healthy. I enjoyed it so much that I made it again when F got home, adding some grated carrot and diced cucumber for extra veggie points. Feel free to add or subtract ingredients as you’d like — it would work equally well with small couscous or a grain like barley, buckwheat, bulgur, or quinoa.

Herbed Israeli Couscous Salad with Dried Apricots & Preserved Lemon (inspired by Melissa Clark at NYT Cooking)

Ingredients

  • 1 dry cup Israeli couscous
  • olive oil, to taste
  • Juice of 1-2 lemons (to taste)
  • 2-3 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh mint, finely chopped
  • 3 preserved lemons, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots, diced small
  • 1/2 cup almonds (roasted & salted are best), roughly chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Optional additions: 1-2 carrots (grated), 1/2 cucumber (diced)

Procedure

  • Cook the couscous by bringing salted water to boil, adding the couscous, and letting it simmer for 8-10 minutes. Drain.
  • While the couscous is cooking, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, and cumin in the bottom of a large bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Chop/dice the parsley, mint, preserved lemons, apricots, and almonds. Grate the carrot and dice the cucumber, if using. Add everything to the bowl with the dressing and mix well.
  • Add the couscous to the bowl and mix until everything is combined. Enjoy warm or cold!

Recipe: Beetroot & Carrot Salad with Raisins, Walnuts, & Goat Cheese

Hello again! It has been ages since I posted a recipe. Despite this salad being a staple in F’s and my dinner rotation, I realized when we had it last week that I’ve never actually posted the recipe for it. Allow me to make up for that below.

Colorful and delicious

Colorful and delicious

F introduced me to this juicy combination of grated beet(root) and carrot with raisins and walnuts, all doused in a generous glug of vinegar — sometimes balsamic, sometimes white wine — and olive oil. Goat cheese was my addition, for creaminess and extra protein. Add a bit of nice bread and butter and you have yourself a meal.

This salad is the picture of health and is quick and easy to put together on a weeknight. We usually use pre-cooked beet(root)s — lazy, I know — but you are welcome to roast or boil fresh beet(root)s for this salad. We never measure the ingredients: sometimes we use more carrots, sometimes more beet(root)s. Go for whatever you prefer and whatever you have around. Goat cheese is optional but highly recommended. Feta would work well, too.

Also, do take the time to finely grate the vegetables — it’s worth it for the juiciness and denseness that you get. We’ve taken a shortcut by using the larger/standard grater size, but it’s not quite as good.

Beetroot & Carrot Salad with Raisins, Walnuts, & Goat Cheese (original recipe from the wonderful F)

Ingredients

  • 4 small or 2 large beet(root)s (pre-cooked, roasted, or boiled), finely grated
  • 3-4 medium carrots, finely grated
  • ~1/4 cup raisins
  • ~1/4 cup walnut pieces
  • optional: 100-200g goat cheese
  • to taste: balsamic or white wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, & pepper

Procedure

  • Wash and finely grate the beet(root) and carrots into a large salad bowl.
  • Add the raisins and walnuts to the bowl.
  • Dress the salad with olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Toss thoroughly.
  • Serve and add the goat cheese to individual portions.

Enjoy!


Race Recap: Perivale 5, for the fourth time

It’s the first weekend of December, and you know what that means? Time for the annual Perivale 5 — a flat, suburban race that is always well-organized by Ealing Southall and Middlesex AC (water, banana, a t-shirt, and a Twix bar after the race? Yes, please!).

It was a glorious day for a road race: a chilly 3-4 degrees C, but bright and sunny with little wind. Some of us were hemming and hawing about what to wear given the cold, but once we warmed up I was glad of my wardrobe choice: thicker capris, a t-shirt under my vest, and gloves (which I even pulled off in the last mile). I hadn’t really run since the previous weekend, as I had a bit of a stomach virus during the week. It didn’t keep me from work but definitely kept me from doing any extra physical activity. I thought I still might be able to manage finishing in 38 minutes but felt quite nervous so decided to see how it went and listen to my body.

The start was slowish, with lots of runners bunched up on a narrow sidewalk, but I managed a 4:54 first kilometer and once it thinned out was able to settle into a pace of just under 5:00/km. I knew I wasn’t on pace for 38 minutes so readjusted my goal to aim for under 39.

My second and third kilometers were 4:49 and 4:51 and I was starting to warm up and get into a good rhythm while steadily passing a runner here and there. I faded a little in the fourth kilometer — my slowest, as you can see from my Strava race analysis below — but was buoyed by making it to the halfway point. You can do it. Just 2 miles to go, I thought as I passed the 3-mile marker.

It helped to pass another Heathsider just after 3 miles — he told me that Gabi was just up ahead, so I made it my goal to try and catch up with her before the end of the race (thanks/sorry, Gabi!). That was enough motivation to make my sixth kilometer my fastest, at 4:37, as I caught up to Gabi near the 4-mile marker and pushed on towards the finish. Once on the track for the last 350 meters, I tried to quicken my pace as much as my legs would let me, and had a good last lap to finish in 38:37 (7:43/mi, 4:49/km pace) — not brilliant (and nowhere close to my PB from three years ago), but a bit faster than I’ve run Perivale for the past two years, and a negative split! I’ll take that as an achievement. I was knackered at the end and glad to share these cookies and H&S’s delicious banana cake with the rest of the Heathside contingent.

In case any nerds are interested in my race analysis, courtesy of Strava.

In case any nerds are interested in my race analysis, courtesy of Strava.


Thanksgiving (in London) 2016 – what we cooked

F and I hosted our second (or third? I can’t remember) Thanksgiving celebration in London on the Saturday following the real holiday (a bit hard to take a random Thursday off when it’s not a public holiday where you live). F’s parents were visiting, too, so they got to experience their first Thanksgiving, and a few friends joined us as well. Here’s what we cooked for 8 people (plus a 10-month-old) — recipe links below the pictures:

  • Turkey! We ordered a 5.2kg bird from one of the local butchers in Crouch End. F stuffed it with apples and thyme, generously salted, peppered, and buttered the skin, and roasted it for 3.5 hours. It came out super moist and delicious.
  • Gravy: F made this one from Serious Eats, using the neck and innards from the turkey but not using soy sauce.
  • Stuffing: I made this classic sage and onion bread dressing from The Kitchn; same as last year. It turned out well and got a number of compliments
  • Sweet potato casserole: my mom’s/grandma’s recipe that’s been a staple at our family Thanksgivings since I can remember.
  • Brussels sprout and tomato salad: another family recipe
  • Cranberry sauce: this is my favorite recipe. It’s super easy and always turns out well.
  • My (American) friend S brought a lovely green bean dish and a pumpkin pie.
  • Our friends H&S brought a nice apple crumble.
  • Cranberry cake: in my mind, it’s not Thanksgiving without this cranberry upside-down cake, another one that my mom/grandma always make. It’s one of my top 3 favorite cakes ever.
  • Freshly whipped cream. Need I say more?

It was a lovely and relaxing evening all around, with plenty of entertainment provided by 10-month-old H. And despite the horrific political year it’s been, there is still plenty to be thankful for.

Race Recap: XC Met League – Stevenage 2016

Last time I ran a cross country race was almost exactly a year ago, at the Start Fitness Met League Stevenage race — same time, same place. I looked forward to lacing up my spikes again for this season, having missed last month’s Met League race due to illness. The weather report for Saturday looked grim all week, and it didn’t disappoint: cool, grey, and raining. Now that’s proper cross country weather! Fortunately, the morning’s downpour had slowed to a steady, misty drizzle by the time J, C, L, and I arrived at the Stevenage field for the 1:55pm race.

Uphill. Photo credit: Noëlle O'R.

Uphill. Photo credit: Noëlle O’R.

The course was similar to last year’s, without the woods we used to enjoy but with one mini-lap added before the two larger laps. I like half of the Stevenage course: the undulating, curvy first part is enjoyable, but the flat backside of the route is long, straight, and dull. I didn’t have many expectations for my own race, it being my first XC outing of the year and my not having done much speedwork recently. My goal was to enjoy it and embrace the wet weather and possibility of mud.

The mud ended up being less prevalent than we thought, which meant the grassy terrain was actually quite grippy and nice to run on. The start was quick, and I got swept up in it to tick off my first two kilometers in 4:34 and 4:31, respectively. Slow down a bit and stay steady — you still have almost 2 laps to go, I reminded myself. You can pick people off in the second lap if you feel good.

I felt really strong down and up the hills; I don’t chalk that up to my running mileage, but rather to the 20-minute core class that F and I have been doing at the gym twice a week for the past month or so. I felt like I had a lot more body control and could hold my form better on the hills.

Around the final bend. Photo credit: Noëlle O'R.

Around the final bend. Arms out for balance! Photo credit: Noëlle O’R.

As I settled into my rhythm and warmed up a bit, I occasionally overtook other runners as I made my way towards the finish. I couldn’t quite catch two women in front of me on the final straight, but I finished with a much quicker average pace than any recent race I’ve run, so was quite pleased about that. The fitness is somewhere inside me! To compare, my pace was 4:48/km for last month’s Regent’s Park 10k, and I finished this 6.25km race with an average pace of 4:39/km. Not bad! My final time was 29:12 (7:32/mi pace), good for 120th of 182 in the women’s race and 22nd Heathsider of 29 ladies running — just outside of scoring. No matter! I like to think I helped our faster runners to better finishes by beating people from other clubs.

We capped off a damp afternoon of XC the only proper way: with tea and banana bread at the car:

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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.