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Race Recap: Regent’s Park 10k – June 2018

…in which I go out too fast and gradually crash and burn on a sunny morning in Regent’s Park.

Some Heathsiders post-race.

Background: I ran a strong Crouch End 10k two weeks ago – my fastest 10k since 2015. I haven’t run much since then, due to recovery and travel, and most of that running has been quite easy and slow. I did have a couple of days off work this week so thought my legs might be fresher than usual. However, it has been warm and humid and I felt quite sluggish in the few days before the race. Part of that sluggishness could have been from the sports massage I had on Thursday evening, but generally I felt well-rested, well-hydrated, and well-fueled in the couple of days before the race.

Goal: Given my Crouch End 10k time of 46:18 on a hilly course, I thought I could definitely run under 46:00 in flattish Regent’s Park. I set myself a stretch goal of 45:00.

Race strategy: Try to run 15 minutes per lap on the convenient 3-lap course. Reach 5km in 23:00 or less and then push to the end.

Weather & outfit: Warmish – at least 20C/68F – with strong sun (hello, June!) that made it feel at least 2-4C warmer than it was. I wore shorts, vest, and sunglasses with a good slathering of sunscreen.

Awkward photo just after finishing. Credit: The Race Organiser Facebook

The race: I positioned myself close to the front of the narrow start and went out quite fast, coming through the first lap in about 15:00 – on target for my goal time of under 46 minutes. My fourth kilometer was a swift 4:34 but then I started to feel the effects of the heat and speed. Seeing runners dropping to a walk and receiving medical attention on the side of the course did not give me a confidence boost and reminded me how warm it was in the sun. Perhaps I got a bit too anxious, but my legs and lungs were working hard and I didn’t have the mental strength to keep pushing as hard as I’d gone out.

Thus started a downward spiral of splits… Andrew passed my between 4 and 5km, looking strong. We kept each other going at the VP5 a couple of months ago, but today was not my day. I let him go and reached 5km in 23:17. For the second half of the race, I tried to stay steady and keep running. I even took a very brief walk break at the water stop after lap two…unusual for me.

Nilesh passed me on the third lap and I just didn’t have the mental grit to try and stay with him. Kilometers 7, 8, and 9 got gradually slower (5:04, 5:09. 5:15). With 1km to go, I gritted my teeth, picked up my knees, and pushed to the finish. Shouts of ‘come on, Heathside’ and ‘go, Tammela’ got me down the last couple hundred meters with a mini-kick.

NOT the way to pace a 10k…

The result: This was one of the poorest race performances I have had in a while. I never really settled into a rhythm – Nilesh said he had the same experience – and mentally I was not up for pushing. I was pleased to run my last kilometer in 4:35, but overall it was not a great race. My net time was 48:04 (4:48/km, 7:45/mi average pace). My pacing was in the “how not to run a 10k” category: Lap 1 – 14:56, lap 2 – 16:16, lap 3 – 16:50. Oops! I was 131st out of 760 finishers and the 19th woman overall out of 388, so in the grand scheme of things, this is not so bad.

This was a tough race and I did not particularly enjoy it. It was hot, I had no rhythm, and I felt a bit off. I have had quite a good past 6 months of racing, so I’m not particularly bothered by my poor race today. I’ve got a few more coming up! What I need to do is get back to the track and in the gym with some heavier weights to build my leg strength, speed, and stamina.

Post-race: Coconut water and the traditional RP10k flapjack. Chatted with fellow Heathsiders and shared around the chocolate raspberry cake that I made from our newly-acquired Vegetarian Athlete’s Cookbook(The recipe is called “brownies” but it is definitely more cake-like. It’s still tasty, though, and relatively healthy with a protein boost from ground almonds.)

Next up: A different kind of challenge with the Adidas City Run 1 hour in two weeks. It’s a timed 1-hour race on a 1-mile loop. I’m not quite sure how to pace it but it will be fun to do something a little out-of-the-ordinary!


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Race Recap: Victoria Park Open 5 – an unexpected PB

Sunshine in Victoria Park. Photo credit: Neil Cook

Background: I hadn’t run the Victoria Park Open 5 (VP5), a flat and fast 5-mile race in east London, since 2014. I think the race was cancelled in 2015 and I’m not sure why I missed the 2016 and 2017 editions of the race. Maybe it was the weekend of my wedding in 2016, and maybe F and I were away in Bath last year. Anyway, I didn’t want to miss this year’s cheap-to-enter, quick race with a slightly random 2:30pm start time, and luckily Gabi was going, too.

Goal: Last week I pushed myself at parkrun and ran 22:29 for 5km at Ally Pally, a relatively hilly course. Given that average pace of 7:15/mile, I thought I was in shape to run VP5 in 7:30/mi pace, which would bring me in at 37:30 for 5 miles. Looking back at this race in 2014, I finished in 37:00, which I thought I might be able to manage this year, but I didn’t think I’d be close to my 5-mile PB of 35:41 from this past December’s Perivale 5.

Race strategy: 5 miles is quite a bit longer than 5k, so my main strategy was not to go out too fast and keep my kilometer splits under 4:39 – but also not panic if I found myself running faster. (It’s surprisingly easy to freak out a bit if you find yourself running faster than planned and it takes practice to be comfortable with that.) On race day, club-mate Andrew said he was aiming to run 37:00 or faster, so I decided to try and stick with him while still running my own race and saving some energy for the last mile.

Weather & outfit: Warm – around 20C (68F) – and partly sunny, partly hazy. It was the warmest day we’ve had this spring after a long, cold, grey London winter. The afternoon start time meant the sun and temperature would be at their highest – no morning chill to keep things cool. This was definitely shorts and vest weather, and I’m glad I wore my sunglasses, too.

Heathsiders post-race. Photo from Sue.

The race: Gabi and I arrived nice and early, with time for a banana, a chat with fellow Heathsiders, and a 10-minute warmup to acclimate. After a few leg swings, we were ushered into a rather narrow starting chute and the race started bang-on at 2:30pm. Andrew and I set out together and ran side by side for the first mile, which was of course a bit too fast at 6:53. I let Andrew surge ahead for the second mile as I tried to settle into a comfortably fast pace. There were four more miles, after all! I wanted to stay steady through 5km and then push if I had anything left. I was pleased to see my first two kilometer splits under 4:30/km and reminded myself not to panic – I felt pretty good.

Around 2.5km, we swung around to the far side of the two-lap figure-eight course, and I glanced at my watch to see that my pace had slowed to 4:50/km. Oops! Come on, pick it up, I said to myself after this mental blip. (There was a sneaky little uphill on that far side of the course – I blame the blip on that.) Two miles went by in 14:08 or so; I did some mental math to calculate that if I could keep that pace up, I’d run well under 37:00. Keep pushing. Stay steady. Still three miles to go.

We came back towards the start for our second lap of the figure-eight. At this point I wished there was a proper water station – my lips were dry and I was parched! You’ll be fine, it’s only 5 miles, just keep running, I told myself. I can’t remember where Andrew was at this point – we traded the lead a few times throughout the race, and having him around really helped me keep going as I knew he was keeping up a good pace.

My watched buzzed at 5km around 22:17 – my fastest 5k since November – and my kilometer splits had been pretty consistently under 4:30. I did some more mental math and thought that by this point I could even aim for sub-36:00. Should I try for a PB? There are still two miles to go, but I could be close. Just keep running.

My tank felt almost empty as we turned left into the uphill bit on the final loop of the figure-eight. The 4-mile marker came up: 28:53 on my watch. The rest of the race took a lot of mental strength. My feet hurt, my legs were tingling, my face was boiling in the sunshine. Can I run the last mile in under 7 minutes? I’m not sure. This feels really hard. What if I just stopped pushing right now? I could just stop. Okay, but I probably wouldn’t be happy with myself if I did that. Come on, dig deep! Remember Marie’s piece on mental toughness and the marathon that you read this morning. You can do it. 

Those thoughts and more went through my mind in the last mile. I set myself mini goals to keep chipping away: Stay steady until that final turn, then push with all you have. You will be really close to a PB. Come on! Having to weave in and out of pedestrian traffic – all of London comes out when the sun shines – helped keep my mind from dwelling on the exhaustion.

I didn’t have much of kick but gave it my all and managed a swifter last kilometer at 4:13. A lovely club-mate was there at the finish to hand me a much-needed cup of water (thanks, Leigh!).

Nice coaster as race swag!

The result: Chip net time of 35:33 (4:25/km, 7:07/mi average pace): this is a new 5-mile PB by 8 seconds! I was 66th out of 133 finishers and the 9th woman. I surprised myself with my performance – guess I am in pretty good shape, after all, and my mental toughness is improving. I was pleased to run remarkably even splits and have just enough left to pick it up for the last kilometer.

A good number of Heathsiders raced VP5, with some good results including a win from Tom. Well done to all!

Post-race: Heathsiders swapped race experiences, I passed around this banana bread, and some people bought generous slices of cake from the post-race spread. We got a “Team Heathside” photo and that was that!


Race Recap: Regent’s Park 10k, Feb 2018

I’m trying a new race recap format below – let me know what you think!

Post-race Heathsiders

Background: Jo, Gabi and I were supposed to run last month’s Regent’s Park 10k but illness & other things struck so we all deferred our entries to the February edition of the monthly race series. I had a cold/cough over Christmas, which meant two to three weeks of much less exercise and thus a decline in fitness, so I’m not anywhere near PB shape. I have, however, started going back to Heathside’s Tuesday track workouts (“started going back” translates to having done two workouts in January) to regain some speed and fitness.

Goal: Given my current fitness (and not having run over about 9km in a month or more), I set a modest goal of running under 50:00 and an ambitious goal of around 48:00. That meant averaging 5:00/km or faster. As the race is 3 laps, I needed to run between 16 and 17 minutes for each lap to be on target.

Race strategy: Run a conservative first 5k and then try to negative split. Get to 8 or 9km and then push.

Weather & outfit: Overcast and quite cold at about 3C (37F), with light wind. As usual, I hemmed and hawed about what to wear but decided on long tights and a thinnish long-sleeved merino base layer under my Heathside vest. I was on the fence about gloves and ended up starting with them but took them off halfway around. Post-race note: I didn’t need the gloves but the rest of the outfit was spot-on.

Post-race with J

The race: Jo and I didn’t really warm up, as we were staying cozy inside (and queuing for the loo). We dropped our bags at 8:55am and then walk-jogged to the start, where we huddled together with Gabi and Emilia before the gun went off. As the start is always congested at this race – those narrow Regent’s Park paths – we positioned ourselves relatively close to the front. Gabi and I set off more or less together and I went through the first kilometer in 4:39; we traded off pulling each other along for the next kilometer or two.

I was pleased to go through the first lap in just under 16:00, so knew if I could hold that pace I’d be able to run 48 minutes. However, I told myself not to get too eager as we still had more than half the race left. There was a woman in a grey jacket who flip-flopped with me for a good chunk of the race; it was helpful to know she was of a similar pace and, whether or not she knows it, she helped keep me going.

My fifth kilometer was the slowest – be patient, I told myself – but I went through 5k in 24:13. I can still negative split, I thought, but wait until the last lap to start pushing. I always enjoy running by part of the Regent’s Park Zoo, and the dromedaries were out munching their breakfast, so I sent them a mental “hello” to distract myself.

My second lap was about 30 seconds slower than the first – 16:19 – so I wasn’t sure I could hold on for 48 minutes but just kept running to see what I had left. As I went towards the little switchback loop around 8.5km, Emilia was running back the other way and shouted encouragement to me. That helped a lot, and I picked the pace up. At 9km I dug in and pushed to the finish, squeezing out a little kick and even pipping someone at the line!

The result: Official time of 47:43 (4:46/km, 7:42/mi average pace)! Really pleased to be under 48:00 and wasn’t sure I had it in me. I was 112th of 331 finishers and 18th of 147 women. I think my fitness is in a good place and I am signed up for about a race a month going into spring, so it will be nice to have regular fitness markers as I continue getting back into track workouts and hopefully doing some longer runs.

Post-race: Tea in the Hub cafe with Karina, Gabi, Jo and a tri clubber. I’d made this chocolate beetroot cake – F’s self-professed “favorite chocolate cake” – and shared it around for refueling purposes. Yum!


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.


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.


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!


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.

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.

Recipe: Lemon Cornmeal Cake with Lemon Glaze

At some point last year, I slowed down on the recipe blogging because I felt like I was just trying someone else’s recipe once and then posting it (with a few small tweaks of my own) for the sake of posting it. But there have been some recipes that I’ve made over and over again and decided are worth sharing — if for no other reason then so I can access them again!

 

This lemon cornmeal cake is one of those. It comes from  Bon Appétit and I’ve made it 3-4 times in the past year or so; I recall it getting high praise from T and C during last year’s Game of Thrones season premiere. F loves lemon desserts and for his birthday this year he requested a lemon cake. I immediately thought of this one and also decided it was high time to share it with all of you. It’s quick to whip up and turns out light, moist, lemony, and delicious. Not a showstopper by its looks but just a really delicious cake. I hope you’ll come back to it as often as I have.

Lemon Cornmeal Cake with Lemon Glaze (adapted from Bon Appétit; makes 1 cake)

Ingredients

  • Cake:
    • 1.5 cups (210g) plain/AP flour
    • 1/3 cup (65g) yellow cornmeal
    • 3/4 cup (160g) granulated sugar
    • 3.5 tsp baking powder
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1 cup (280 mL) buttermilk
    • 2 eggs
    • Zest of 2 lemons
    • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1/2 cup (125g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • Glaze:
    • 1.5 cups powdered sugar
    • Juice of 2 lemons

Procedure

  • Preheat the oven to 350F/175C (top-bottom heat is best for cakes). Butter a 9″ cake pan and place a piece of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla extract.
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and pour in the melted butter. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry until just blended.
  • Scrape the batter into the cake pan, spread evenly, and bake 35-40 minutes, until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  • While the cake is baking, make the glaze: stir together the powdered sugar and lemon juice to make a thick but spreadable glaze. Set aside.
  • As soon as the cake is done baking, run a butter knife around the edges. Invert it onto a large plate and remove the pan. Peel the parchment paper off the bottom of the cake. Invert the cake again onto a rack. Stir the glaze and pour it onto the cake, letting it run across the top and down the sides. Let cool before serving.

Enjoy!

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What’s Been Cooking?

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

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

parmesan, kale, & white bean soup + tortellini

parmesan, kale, & white bean soup + tortellini

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

lemon poppy seed muffins

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

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

What have you been cooking up recently?

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Recipe: Dianne’s Cranberry Cake

For me, Thanksgiving is not complete without something cranberry-ey, and all the better if cranberries appear in multiple guises: in my family, they usually appear in cranberry sauce, a surprisingly delicious jello “salad,” and this incredible cranberry upside-down cake.

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Ever since I can remember, my mom has made this cranberry cake for Thanksgiving — and often for Christmas, too, on my request. For me, it is an inseparable part of Thanksgiving and of the wintry holiday season in general. There’s something about that combination of whole cranberries baked into an orangey cake batter and topped with homemade whipped cream that puts a smile on everyone’s face.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and it’s one of the things I miss most about not living closer to home. Since Thanksgiving’s not celebrated in the UK, it’s hard to take off that random week in November. Last year, we had a lovely Thanksgiving celebration with Sarah and Joe, but alas they’re back in the US of A now (miss you guys!). F and I were going to try and host our own Thanksgiving this year, but my all-consuming DELTA course and various other scheduling conflicts mean it probably won’t happen.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t make some of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes! With the holiday coming up on Thursday and the DELTA course starting to taper off (less than 2 weeks & 3 assignments to go…), I decided to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon in the warm kitchen making cranberry cake.

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The cake is pretty easy to put together: pour some cranberries into a well-buttered cake pan, whip up the thick batter, spread it over the cranberries and bake! With luck, you’ll be able to invert your cake without incident and spread it with some warm jam for a finishing touch. Mine turned out a bit on the rustic side, as I used a springform cake pan which is a little bigger than your standard round cake tin — the cake was thus a bit thinner and stickier. I probably could’ve baked it for a little less time, but it still turned out deliciously and tasted exactly like it should. Go make it and you’ll know what I mean.

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Dianne’s Cranberry (Upside-Down) Cake (my mom’s recipe, adapted years ago from a Gourmet magazine; makes 1 cake)

Ingredients

  • Cranberries:
    • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 1lb/16oz/500g fresh (or frozen) whole cranberries, rinsed, picked over & dried
  • Cake batter:
    • 1.25 cups all purpose (plain) flour
    • 1.5 tsp baking powder
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 1 egg
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • zest of 1 orange
    • 1/2 cup milk (I used semi-skimmed)
  • Topping (optional):
    • 1/3 cup currant or other closely-related jam/jelly (I used F’s mom’s black currant jam, as that’s what we had)

Procedure

  • Preheat the oven to 350F (175C).
  • Butter a round cake pan with the 3 tbsp butter. Sprinkle the 1/2 cup of sugar evenly over the butter, and pour in the rinsed and dried cranberries.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, egg, vanilla, and orange until well-combined.
  • Alternate adding the 1/2 cup milk and flour mixture to the butter-egg mixture, beating until well-combined. The batter will be quite thick.
  • Spread the batter over the cranberries, sealing the edges and smoothing the top.
  • Bake for 1 hour, until the top is well-browned. Let cool for 20 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the cake and invert onto a platter.
  • Heat the jam (if using) in a saucepan, then brush it over the top of the cake. Top with homemade whipped cream, if desired (plain yogurt is also nice, for the more health-conscious out there), and enjoy warm or at room temperature.

Enjoy!

Recipe: Scandinavian Almond Cake

 

Holy moly is this cake good. It’s moist (F said “mega-moist!”), buttery, not too dense, and just sweet enough. Cardamom adds a pleasing depth of flavor. It gets half a point for health, too, because there’s no flour — just ground almonds. I’d been wanting to make an almond cake for a while, and my birthday provided a good excuse to get in touch with my Scandinavian roots and make this delectable cake. I cut mine into squares and passed it around the office at work — it sure disappeared quickly! Guess I better make another one…

Update, 1 Oct 2017: I’ve made this cake repeatedly over the past few years, and it has gotten rave reviews from colleagues, friends, and fellow runners. I’ll definitely keep it in my rotation.

Scandinavian Almond Cake (adapted from Outside Oslo; makes 8 generous wedges or 12-16 squares)

Ingredients

  • 115g unsalted butter, softened
  • just under 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 250g (~2.5 cups) ground almonds
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp ground cardamom, or 5-6 pods’ worth of seeds, ground with a mortar & pestle
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Optional: powdered/icing sugar for sprinkling

Procedure

  • Preheat the oven to 175C (350F) and grease a springform cake pan.
  • In a large bowl, cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the almonds, baking powder, ground cardamom, and salt.
  • Fold the dry into the wet ingredients and stir until combined.
  • Spread the batter (it will be quite thick) into the cake pan and bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown and an inserted knife comes out clean. Let cool and, if you want, sprinkle powdered sugar (icing sugar) over the top.

Enjoy!