Category Archives: food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What have you been cooking recently?

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Recipe: Winter Salad Variations

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

Fennel, green apple, kohlrabi salad

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

Ingredient ideas:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salad Variation 3: Grated kohlrabi, carrot, & apple

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

Or make up your own combination. Happy salad making!


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.

Thanksgiving in London, 2018

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

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

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


Race Recap: Ridgeway Run 2018

…in which I traverse the trails of Tring for 15 kilometers in the pouring rain.

Some Heathsiders, pre-race. Still dry at this point. Photo credit: Louise C.

Background: The Ridgeway Run 15km trail race has been my goal race for a few months. I ran it last year as a training run and decided that this year, I wanted to be fit enough to race it. So I dutifully built up up my long run distance with Sunday club runs in August and September, and I’ve raced regularly over the past month and a half (maybe too regularly?). I’ve tried to incorporate hill/interval/speed workouts into my training and get in the gym for strength sessions. Two weeks ago, I ran my second-fastest 10k ever in Victoria Park. That gave me some confidence going into this race.

Goal: After the Middlesex 10k, I thought I could push for 1:15:00. As the elation of a fast (road) 10k wore off, I revised my goal to a time range: 1h15m to 1h20m should be realistic. On the day before the race, I was feeling tired and sluggish, not really in the mood for a long race in the forecast rain. So I revised my goal again, to: “faster than last year” (1:25:07).

Race strategy: It’s almost impossible to evenly pace a hilly trail race, so I decided to run by feel and use the flat stretches and downhills to make up time lost on the climbs.

Weather & outfit: The forecast was for 13C/55F and rain. Not just a chance of rain, but 99%-guaranteed autumnal British rain. I wasn’t sure how to dress but remembered it being cool up on the ridge last year and really didn’t want to get chilled due to the rain. I wore shorts, a t-shirt under my Heathside vest, thin arm warmers, and my trail shoes (Salomon Speedcross 4, in case anyone’s wondering. I love how cushiony they are, although they’re a tad narrow in the forefoot for me). The arm warmers were a last-minute addition and definitely the right choice. I’m also really glad I wore my trail shoes, as some people raced in regular running shoes and struggled on the slippery ups and downs.

The race: The rain seemed to be letting up as we walk-jogged to the start. Just kidding, the weather gods seemed to say, as it started raining harder as we were briefed and sent off up the lane promptly at 10:00. The first 1.5km are on paved lanes and I was pleased to tick off a 4:54 first kilometer. I tried to leap around the big, deep puddles for a few minutes, but eventually they were hard to avoid and I was pretty much soaked through already, so what difference would wet feet really make?

We entered the woods after crossing a road and that’s where the trails started. An ascent in the third kilometer meant I slowed right down to 5:42 pace (see elevation profile below). We emerged onto the edge of a golf course and it started raining harder: all I could do was laugh joyously and think of the scene in the rain from Pride and Prejudice. I’m not sure how that popped into my mind, but maybe being out in the countryside put me in a Jane Austen frame of mind.

But back to the race: I had a swift fourth kilometer, net downhill in the pouring rain. A man passed me at some point and warned of a steep hill coming up. I had forgotten how long and painful that fourth-kilometer hill was last year, but ouch. 6:36. I was pleased to run the first 5km in 27:15, though, about two minutes faster than last year.

Kilometers 5-9 are my favorite part of the Ridgeway Run. They go through the woods on wide trails, and it’s relatively flat all along. I had a Serpentine runner and two Leighton Fun Runners pushing me along on this section. The motivation helped, especially as we passed the halfway point: kilometers 8 and 9 in 4:52 and 4:59.

Emerging onto the exposed ridge (think sideways driving rain), the 10th kilometer felt so hard. I took a gel around this time but my legs felt leaden slogging up the steep, grassy hill and into the mist on top. My energy flagged until we entered the woods, when I had to refocus in order to avoid tripping over roots and slipping on leaves. My 13th kilometer was the fastest of the race – 4:33 – in part because a heavily-treading man was right on my heels for the entire narrow descent. It was somewhat annoying, but it did push me to keep going!

The last section of the race is a seemingly endless two kilometers back to the clubhouse on paved roads. My glutes and lower back were not happy, and it was all I could do to stay under 5:00/km pace. Come on, you can make it under 1:20:00. Use your arms. Breathe. You’re almost there. I had to pause briefly before crossing the road, then picked it up for the final grassy stretch of 100m or so to the finish.

Not an easy elevation profile!

The result: I finished the 15k trail race in a chip time of 1:19:04 (8:28/mi, 5:19/km), coming 23rd woman of 209 and 128th overall of 473 finishers. I’m really pleased with my time: it was faster than last year and within my goal time range despite the conditions. As a bonus, I was part of the first three Heathside women (after Emily and Louisa) that won first women’s team prize! Two other women also bagged age group prizes. Overall, not a bad performance for the Heathside contingent.

The Ridgeway Run reminded me that there is something magical about trail running. It was absolutely glorious to be out in the middle of nature, not a house in sight, with intrepid, like-minded people running the race or out walking their dogs in spite of the weather. During the race, I reflected on how remarkable it is that we can travel so far on our two feet. We are fortunate, indeed.

Post-race: I collected my race shirt then headed to the changing rooms to peel off my soaked running clothes, wash the mud off my legs, and attempt to dry off enough to put clean clothes on. Caroline and I got tea and I shared these flapjacks (without chocolate this time) around before we headed home.

Next up: I’m not actually sure! This was my goal race for this training cycle. I think I’ll take it easy for a few weeks then think about what’s next…maybe some cross-country?


Race Recap: Middlesex 10k, 2018 edition

…in which I run my second-swiftest 10k ever!

Photo credit: Bea V.

Background: I ran a good 10k in the Olympic Park last month. Training has been going well since then, with a handful of solid long runs (13-16km) and a smattering of tempo/hill/speed sessions. I thought I was in good enough shape to run faster than I did in the Olympic Park. Unfortunately, I came down with a head cold on the Wednesday/Thursday before the race… I promptly took two days off of exercise in the hopes that my cold would clear, and luckily by Saturday I was feeling better. Sunday morning, I woke up slightly congested and with a small cough, but physically felt okay.

Goal: Given my cold and a stressful week at work, I wasn’t sure how I’d perform. I thus set myself a series of goals for this race (is that a cheeky way of making sure not to disappoint myself?): 1) Under 46:00, 2) Under 46:18 (my fastest time this year), 3) Under 47:30.

Race strategy: Run by feel, not look at my watch too often, and not put too much pressure on myself. I wanted to average under 4:45/km but decided to keep my watch on the timer-only screen to allow myself to focus on how my body felt rather than be a slave to my splits.

Weather & outfit: Sunny and cool – around 10C/50F, maybe a tad warmer in the sun – with a slight breeze. Near-perfect racing conditions. I wore shorts, Heathside vest, and sunglasses.

Heathsiders pre-race. Photo credit: Jim C’s phone

The race: After an 11-minute warmup job, some leg swings, and a Heathside photo, we bunched up at the start and were sent off promptly at 10:30am. As usual, I let the flow of runners carry me along for the first kilometer: 4:22, swift. Andrew and I exchanged greetings and race goals – we both planned to run by feel rather than goal time.

Alun came up alongside me soon after and then pulled ahead. My second and third kilometers were 4:43 and 4:44. Not bad, but can you run faster?, I challenged myself. I think Andrew passed me somewhere in here and ran alongside Alun up ahead. That motivated me to surge to keep in touch with them. I caught Nilesh around 4km and he pulled me through to the 5km mark: 23:16. It might be a stretch to run 46:00 now, but let’s see what you can do. You know how to run a negative split.

Kilometers 6 and 7 are often my slowest in a 10k: my mind wanders as I get tired and my pace often dips as a consequence.

Not so today! With Andrew and Alun up ahead, I knew I had to try and catch them soon, otherwise they would be out of my sights by 8km. So I picked my knees up and reminded myself to use my arms. I can’t remember when I caught up with A&A but they certainly helped me pick up the pace: 4:36 and 4:34 for kilometers 6 and 7.

One lap to go, I breathed to myself, you can do this. With 2km to go, I gave a push over the very slight downhill section and around the tight corner for the last long straightaway. A 4:28 ninth kilometer at 41:35 on my watch: It’s going to be tight, but maybe you can just squeak under 46:00. Come on! I gave it my all in the final 400 meters, nipping along at 4:10/km pace, and almost caught clubmate Emilia on the line.

The result: I finished the 10k in 45:06 (7:16/mi or 4:31/km) and came 35th woman of 90 in this competitive club race. This was my second fastest 10k ever, and 21 seconds off my PR/PB from back in 2015. I am really pleased and wasn’t quite sure I had it in me, especially having a bit of a cold. But the morning was beautiful and I was fortunate to have clubmates of similar speed to pull/push me along during the race (thanks, Nilesh, Alun, and Andrew!). It all came together.

Post-race: Staggering around for a few minutes to catch my breath, acquiring a delicious apple-cinnamon energy ball from Tom, sharing my flapjacks, and trading race stories.

Next up: My goal race for this training cycle: the Ridgeway Run 15k. I ran it last year as an easy training run but hope to be in good enough form to give it a proper go this year.


Vegetarian Month

After enjoying many a burger on our USA trip this summer, F suggested we eat vegetarian for a month after getting home. We didn’t eat much meat to begin with, and I rarely cook meat for myself when F isn’t around. In the past couple of years we’ve been thinking more about the ethics and environmental impact of eating meat. We thought a vegetarian month would expand our recipe repertoire and be a fun challenge. Read on to see what dinners we made…

Anita Bean stir fry with tofu

Week 1

  • A variation of this baked ziti for two
  • Salad Niçoise without tuna: lettuce, green beans, boiled eggs, random other veg
  • Three recipes from Anita Bean’s The Vegetarian Athlete’s Cookbook (a newish favorite)
    • Potatoes with spinach & chickpeas
    • Dhal with almonds, plus rice: this has entered the semi-regular dinner rotation
    • Tofu & veg stir fry (photo above)
  • Sweet potato & black bean tacos: a lazy variation of my enchiladas. Anything with sweet potatoes and black beans is okay by me!

Week 2

Kimchi soup

  • Cauliflower fettuccine Alfredo (adapted from this Serious Eats recipe): this was already in the regular rotation. It’s delicious, especially if you like cauliflower, pasta, and creamy foods.
  • Vegetarian kimchi soup with tofu (adapted from Bon Appétit): pictured above. Not the most photogenic, but still quite tasty.
  • Store-bought veggie burgers on Dunn’s brioche buns with roast potatoes
  • My soba noodle salad with peanut sauce and Quorn pieces
  • Vegetarian bolognese with Quorn mince: F made this from scratch. Didn’t miss the meat!

Week 3

Colorful salad + gruyere-melted-baguette

  • Homemade falafel with yogurt sauce, tomatoes, and pita
  • Pan-fried halloumi-portobello-zucchini “burgers” on Dunn’s brioche buns (man, those buns are good!)
  • Colorful salad with boiled eggs and gruyère-melted toast (pictured above)
  • Tofu, greens, beans, and rice bowls from The Full Helping: hearty and healthy but a bit bland, even after I doubled the spice amounts.
  • Takeaway (vegetarian) pizza from Sacro Cuore, our favorite place across the street

Week 4

Veg, beautiful veg!

  • Roast tomato and garlic pasta, à la Joy the Baker: we’ve made this a number of times before and it’s always nice.
  • Pie and mash! Vegetarian Pieminister pies, homemade mash, peas, gravy.
  • Baked sweet potatoes (1 hour in the oven, 400F/200C) with baked beans (Heinz) and peas. There was probably some grated cheese action, too.
  • A BBC Good Food lentil bolognese at Joe and Ciara’s
  • Pancakes & Pflaumenkuchen on the weekend!

Bonus Recipes (I can’t remember when we made these)

The verdict

Our vegetarian month went well and neither of us craved meat. The most difficult part, I found, was finding good veggie options while out and about: Tesco has limited vegetarian options in their lunchtime meal deals… We tried a bunch of new recipes and some will definitely become part of our regular rotation.

We like a bit of meat in our diets for the iron and protein (and taste), but ethically and environmentally it makes sense to cut down quite a bit on our meat consumption. So we’ve decided to keep eating mostly vegetarian but allow up to two dinners per week to be cooked with some kind of animal protein (chicken, fish, pork, beef, etc) that we buy from our local butcher (much happier chickens!). We can also be flexible when eating out.

What has your experience been with eating vegetarian (or not)? If you are a vegetarian, I applaud you!


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!


Race Recap: Jubilee Hall Trust 5k Trail Race

Ready to run

Background: In retrospect, I’m not really sure why I entered this 5k trail race in the Parliament Hill area of Hampstead Heath. I could have just run Hampstead Heath parkrun…for free. But I had pleasant memories of running the Jubilee Hall Trust 10k a couple of years ago, and the entry fee went towards the British Heart Foundation and the Jubilee Hall Trust‘s work to help people improve their heart health, so why not? I also thought this race would be good hill training and preparation for cross country season (although again, I could’ve just done HH parkrun).

Goal: I had a full-on workweek leading up to the Saturday morning race, so didn’t have high expectations for my run. However, based on my 10k a couple of weeks ago, I thought I could aim for 23:00 or under. My stretch goal was to aim for close to 22:00, but knowing how hilly the course was, I knew it would be difficult.

Race strategy: Run by feel and use the downhills. See what happens.

Weather & outfit: A beautiful late summer/early autumn morning: warm in the sun and cool in the shade. Around 20C/68F. I wore shorts, Heathside vest, and sunglasses. Although this was a trail race, the weather has been dry and part of the race was on paved paths, so I didn’t wear my trail shoes but instead went for my new Brooks Ghost 11 trainers (I’m a fan!).

Photo by Phil Rumbelow

Photo credit: Phil Rumbelow

The race: F and I jogged the 2 miles down to Parliament Hill together but of course were mega-early so I collected my number and hung around for longer than ideal. I was not warm anymore by the time the race started. I was one of the only people in a club vest; this was very much a local charity race, which gave it a low-key feel. The small field of 31 5k runners lined up first, and off we went up and over the grassy knoll and down to the paved paths by the ponds.

Only one other woman was in front of me but she was way ahead so I tried to settle into my own rhythm. My legs felt heavy and I was disappointed when the first kilometer went by in 4:34. There goes my 22:00 goal, I thought. Oh well, just do your best. These hills are killer. Around past the Ladies’ Pond and into the wooded part of the course. Mostly uphill. Second kilometer: 5:12. Ugh. Just keep running. Use the downhills in the second half of the course. With two kilometers to go, we finally had some reprieve from climbing. I pumped my arms and tried to work my legs as fast as they could go. My fourth kilometer was 4:11 and I brought it home in 4:06 pace, glad to finish and not have to run another lap like the 10k runners. I ended up running the entire race pretty much on my own, which didn’t make it any easier.

Photo by Phil Rumbelow

Finishing. Photo credit: Phil Rumbelow.

The result: I finished the race in a 21:46 chip time (7:29/mi = 4:39/kmand came 6th of 31 5k finishers and 2nd woman of 18. Although my time looks fast, the course was actually 4.68km rather than 5k, so I was actually on track for about a 23:15 finish time.

This was not a particularly fun race. I was happy that the course was short. My legs felt sluggish and the hills were hard. I’m glad I did it, though, and it definitely counts as a good hill/XC training run if nothing else!

Post-race: Slow jog home with goody bag, including a decent technical t-shirt in navy – a color I didn’t have yet!

Next up: The annual Middlesex 10k in two weeks. It’s flat, so hopefully I can run a good time. I think I need to incorporate more speedwork, though, as I’ve struggled to average under 4:38/km in recent races and workouts. I need a bit of a boost to get under that threshold.


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.


Race Recap: Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park 10k

…in which I run my second-swiftest 10k of this year.

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Heathsiders post-race. Photo credit: Nilesh G.

Background: I must have been feeling ambitious earlier this summer, because I entered four races falling every other weekend from September to mid-October. The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (QEOP) 10k was the first of those, and one of two counting towards my club’s “club champs” road race series. I hadn’t raced since June (except for the club handicap 5k) so wanted to use this 10k as a test of my current fitness. In August, I was away on vacation (holiday, for you UK readers) for two weeks. Although F and I were pretty active on our trip, I didn’t rack up much training volume in August. As I said to Gavin before the start of the race, “That either means I’ve lost fitness or am very well-rested!”

Goal: The usual “under 48:00” that I use as a benchmark for my fitness. In my mind, I actually had ambitions to run close to 47:00.

Race strategy: Run by feel, not look at my watch too often, and not put too much pressure on myself. I had rough time goals in my mind – 16:00 or under for each of the three laps – but decided to relax and enjoy racing in a new place. (I had never run in the Olympic Park before, except for a duathlon in the VeloPark a few years ago.) The course looked to be three skinny figure-eight laps, mainly on the narrow-ish river paths, so I had to get myself in a good starting position so as not to get stuck in a funnel.

Weather & outfit: Brightly sunny but not too warm – around 18C/64F. Pretty good racing weather, although the sun was strong. I wore my new navy shorts, the usual Heathside vest, and sunglasses.

TP QE10k Sep18 a

Photo credit: Basil Thornton Photography

The race: After a warmup with some fellow Heathsiders, we lined up and were sent off promptly at 9:30am. I set off with the pack and let the flow of the start take me through the first kilometer, a swift 4:28. Settling down, my next three kilometers were between 4:30 and 4:40. Not bad, I thought. Let’s see where I am at 5k.

22:55 at the halfway mark. Wow, I didn’t expect to be under 23:00. Keep up this pace and you can run under 47:00. Just get through this lap and then you can think about picking up the pace.

As usual, my middle kilometers were the slowest, but I tried to maintain a steady rhythm and didn’t allow myself to take panicked looks at my watch every two minutes. Through the second lap, most of the water cup I grabbed went down my front (I’ve never gotten the hang of drinking from a cup while running…but I also didn’t mind the cooling splash on my chest and legs).

With two kilometers to go, I could see that I was slowly closing my gap with Nilesh up ahead. Stay steady, you can probably catch him. Be patient. At 9km, I said “hi” to Nilesh and kept on pushing. Pick your knees up on the gradual inclines, come on. The finish line in sight, I gave a final kick to pass two other club-mates and cross the line.

TP QE10k Sep18 b

Homestretch! Photo credit: Basil Thornton Photography

The result: I finished the 10k in a 46:32 chip time (7:30/mi or 4:39/km) and came 7th woman of 158. I was the 75th of 374 overall finishers. This was my second fastest 10k this year, just 14 seconds off my Crouch End 10k time in May.

I enjoyed this race! I got into a good rhythm. The slight undulations, occasional bollard, cute bridge, and twists and turns kept the course interesting and kept me focused. What also helped me in this race was not panicking at my pace and not looking too often at my watch. Instead, I tried to pay close attention to my body and focused on keeping my breathing even and my legs moving in a good rhythm.

Some days, everything comes together more easily, and this was one of those races: I felt calm and relaxed while still running hard. I’m really pleased with the time and with my pacing, which wasn’t not perfectly even but was pretty good for me (my lap times were 15:19, 15:47, 15:30).

Post-race: Water, meeting some newer Heathsiders, and group photos. Then home to a cool shower!

Next up: A 5km trail race in the Parliament Hill area of Hampstead Heath. I didn’t enter the 10k because I’d like to run to/from the race so will rack up a few extra miles on top of the race itself.


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!


USA Trip 2018: New York City

Greetings! This is the first in a mini series of posts about the two-week USA trip that F and I took this August. I’m writing one post for each short ‘stage’ of the trip we had. While we spent the majority of the time in California (stay tuned for these posts!), we started off with a weekend in Manhattan, NYC. 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!)

Although I grew up in New York State, this was only my fourth time ever in New York City (yes – believe it or not, New York State is about a lot more than NYC). I’ve never loved NYC but was open to my opinion changing after 5.5 years living in London.

Day 1: Saturday

The stars aligned and Emma was in NYC this week with her sister! They generously stayed a couple of extra days so that we could have brunch together on Saturday morning. We darted through the summer downpour to Supper (yes, brunch at Supper) on the Lower East Side. The French toast was delicious, and it was wonderful to spend a couple of hours catching up with Emma and meeting her sister. A good start to the trip!

Brief Emma reunion! Photo credit: Dea

Later, we procured some bagels with cream cheese – had to have a bagel in New York! – and took them up to Central Park, where we munched while people-watching in the sunshine. Then we strolled up to the Guggenheim Museum (F had never been) to see an interesting Giacometti exhibition.

Did I mention it was HOT in New York? Ah, the East Coast summers: 90F/32C+ with 90% humidity…I do not miss this.

Day 2: Sunday

After a good sleep, F and I got up early to go for a run in Central Park. It was already hot and humid, but the park was beautiful and we managed 10.4km. I was glad there were so many drinking fountains throughout the park – that is something the US does well that Europe could do a better job with. Afterwards we treated ourselves to a delicious diner brunch at John’s Coffee Shop (2nd Ave). (Diners are a must while in the US! We tried a few over the course of our trip.)

In the afternoon, we took the metro down to the Brooklyn Bridge to see the 9/11 memorial and 1 World Trade Center. The outdoor memorial is quite moving. We then walked up through Chinatown and Little Italy to find Rice to Riches, a brilliant concept cafe that serves rice pudding in various flavors. My manager at work had recommended it, and it was a tasty afternoon pick-me-up.

Dinner was at Raku, a cozy udon noodle spot in the East Village recommended by one of F’s colleagues. It was outstanding. The menu was simple, the service was good, and the udon noodles were so fresh. F was in foodie heaven. It was also one of our most inexpensive dinners of the trip. Highly recommended!

Udon noodles at Raku. Wow. Photo by F.

And that was our weekend in NYC. While I enjoyed exploring Manhattan with F, I was not overwhelmed with love for the city. I much prefer London, and our next stop: San Francisco!