Tag Archives: life

Year in Review: 2017

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

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

Running and fitness in 2017:

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

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

Favorite books read in 2017:

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

Other highlights & achievements, in no particular order:

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

Cotswolds walking

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

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

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and successful 2018

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Festive Cookie Party!

This year, Thanksgiving crept up on us before we were able to organize a friendly get-together, as we have done for the past couple of years. So instead, partly inspired by this NY Times feature and partly by remembering that my mom has hosted cookie decorating parties, F and I decided to host a festive afternoon Plätzchenbackparty (“cookie-bake-party”) in early December.

A bit of festive decor

So we chose a date, sent out WhatsApp invites to friends, searched for cookie recipes, and calculated how much mulled wine to make. I got my upper body strength training by using our handheld mixer to make loads of cookie dough the night before, and we stocked up on icing (powdered) sugar and food coloring.

On Saturday, friends came and went throughout the afternoon. Many cookies were baked: I made basic sugar cookies and chocolate cookies, and others contributed Scottish caraway biscuits, Lebkuchen, and shortbread. Once the icings were made – simple powdered sugar + milk, and F made this royal icing – people got down to some serious decorating business. There were plenty of drinks to go around, holiday tunes played in the background, and the atmosphere was warm, cozy, and festive. Highlights included Shana’s Shakespeare cookie cutter (and the creativity that those cookies engendered) and the ever-elusive Christmas jellyfish…photos below!

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.


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.


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:

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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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Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: Pita

Welcome back to my casual series, “Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen.” Just over a week ago we had a first go at making New Yorker Rye. This time, we’re off to the Middle East to make some homemade pita to go along with this deconstructed baba ganouj

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Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen #6: Pita

This recipe comes from The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook‘s section titled “Slightly Elevated: Leavened Flatbreads”. The breads in this section still count as flatbreads — think naan, injera, focaccia — but use some sort of fermentation (time, yeast, yogurt) to create a bit of rise. Since I wanted to make this deconstructed baba ganouj, it seemed like the right time to try my hand at homemade pita, called khubz (“bread”) in Arabic, according to the recipe’s introduction. 

Pita stack! Some puffed, some didn't.

Pita stack! Some puffed, some didn’t.

Pita requires the basic bread-making ingredients of yeast, white and whole wheat water, flour, salt, and olive oil. I dutifully followed the instructions to combine ingredients and mix them for a while, but even after I mixed the dough for 10 minutes until my hands started cramping up (a stand mixer is on my wish list!), the pita dough was still very wet and sticky. I wasn’t sure if the gluten was fully developed, by my hands were tired so I started the rise. And wow, does this pita dough rise! After just an hour, the dough almost reached the top of the bowl it was rising in.

After rising, I had to pull the dough out of the bowl and divide it into 16 pieces, rolling each into a ball. The dough was still very sticky at this point, so I used my bench knife to cut it and generously floured my hands to roll the dough into balls. After a ten-minute rest, it was time to bake. Baking pita is definitely a two-person job: I was glad F could help take the baking tray in and out of the oven and flip the baking pitas while I rolled/flattened each dough ball into a flat, oblong.

From what I’ve read previously and from what this recipe says, pitas should puff in the oven to form that classic pocket you can stuff fillings into. Suffice it to say the minority of our pitas puffed in the oven. I’m not sure if that was because I flattened them too vigorously or what, but some ended up with pockets and some didn’t. The pitas tasted great: soft and tender, and delicious with the baba ganouj I made. However, I can’t say that homemade pita will enter my regular bread-making rotation, due to the stickiness of the dough and requirement of two people during the baking portion of the process (I could’ve done it on my own, but it would’ve taken twice as long). It was a fun and tasty adventure, nonetheless!

Have you ever made your own pita before? How did it go? Leave a comment below!

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Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: New Yorker Rye

Welcome back to my casual series, “Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen.” Last time we had some fun pressing tortillas and making refried beans from the cookbook. This time, we’re headed to New York City to make some classic New Yorker Rye bread. Here’s how it went.

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Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen #5: New Yorker Rye

This recipe comes from The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook‘s section titled “The Dark, Crusty Loaf: Lean Breads and Rolls”. These include some classic breads made using pâte fermentée, a pre-fermented dough that, according to the book, “provides a simple way to use less yeast, give fermentation more time, and achieve consistent and delicious results” (119). All you have to do is remember to mix up the pâte fermentée the night before you want to bake. Oh, and also make the right amount of it, which I failed to do since the New Yorker Rye recipe called for doubling it…

Pate fermente & beginnings of dough

Pâte fermentée & beginnings of dough

My pâte fermentée mistake meant I had to settle for making one loaf and halve the amounts in the recipe, which ideally should work but is not always as reliable as people think. I crossed my fingers. The recipe called for baking the rye loaf free-form on a pizza stone (don’t have one) with a pan of water in the oven to create steam. But since F and I started making sourdough bread in January, we’ve been using our Römertopf (clay pot with a lid) to steam the bread for half the oven time and then uncover it so it can develop a crust. I decided I’d try that technique with Hot Bread Kitchen’s rye, knowing I might be taking a gamble.

Overall, making the New Yorker Rye went pretty well. My left forearm and wrist got a good workout mixing the dough in a bowl, since I don’t have a stand mixer to do the work for me. The dough didn’t rise a huge amount, even after I gave it an extra half hour, but I decided to press on with the shaping. Rye flour is much denser than white flour, so I figured the rise would not be as dramatic as breads with a majority of white flour (this bread is about 50-50 bread flour and rye flour). Folding the dough into a boule shape was my favorite part. After forming the boule into a batard shape (aka a log), I tipped it into our proving basket for the final rise.

The loaf might have been a bit too long, as it smushed up a bit in the Römertopf, which may have led to the cracking you can see in the picture. I baked the bread for 15 minutes with the lid on and then 23 minutes with the lid off — it came out a nice color with a nice crust, but too salty. F and I both loved the taste, but next time I’ll use less salt and remember to double the pâte fermentée so we can have two loaves! I’ll also try baking it freeform as the book suggests, since the rye flour is dense enough that the dough holds its shape quite well.

What’s your preferred bread-making technique? Closed pot? Baking dish with water to make steam in the oven? SOURDOUGh? Leave a comment below!

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Race Recap: 2016 YMCA North London / Crouch End 10k

My running has not been spectacular for the past 6-8 months. After a 5k PR/PB in September, life got busy and stressful. Rather than enjoying running as a stress reliever, as I always have, running became a struggle. Burnout? I don’t think so. Doing too much in all aspects of my life? Possibly. Anyway, I backed off the running for a while. Only in the past few months have I become consistent again, trying to get out for three runs a week without the pressure of track workouts or races. I wanted to start enjoying running again — and I am getting there! It helps to have supportive and understanding running friends. Here’s a recap of my first race since December.

Post race. Photo credit: Tom Hosking Photography (https://www.facebook.com/TomHoskingPhotography/)

Post race group of friendly Heathsiders. Photo credit: Tom Hosking Photography (https://www.facebook.com/TomHoskingPhotography/)

I last ran the YMCA North London / Crouch End 10k two years ago, on a miserably hot day, and marshaled last year on another hot day. Today’s weather was sunny but not too warm (~50F/10C) — much more pleasant for tackling the infamous hills around Ally Pally that make up part of the 2-lap course. Since I have not been doing any speedwork or long runs, my approach to today’s race was very much about using it as a training run and getting back into slightly longer distances. I set myself an achievable goal of finishing this year’s race under 1 hour. And it would’ve been silly not to take up the opportunity of running an organized race that starts less than a mile from home!

As always, the Crouch End 10k has a fantastic atmosphere. I loved arriving to see the crowd being led in the traditional aerobics warm up by an enthusiastic instructor. I found some fellow Heathsiders, congratulated them on recent marathon and half marathon times, and lined up for the start. In a way this is Heathside’s home race, so lots of club members were out running, marshaling, and supporting.

Aerobics warm up for the Crouch End 10k

Aerobics warm up for the Crouch End 10k

I’ll spare you the details of each kilometer, but it was fun to navigate the twists and turns of Crouch End neighborhoods with over 1,000 other runners. There is always so much support along the course, and this year was no different. I loved seeing lots of young people and families outside to cheer on the runners. It was great to be recognized by many of the marshals (most of them being fellow Heathside runners) and being egged on by shouts of, “Come on, Heathside!”, thanks to my club vest (“vest” is UK-speak for singlet or sleeveless top). The highlights for me were running across Ally Pally park — although there’s that sneaky gradual uphill section partway along — and running past the house blaring “YMCA” just before the 5k mark.

I went through 5k in a comfortable 27:33, so knew I could finish under an hour. My pace wasn’t fast but it was maintainable, so I kept chugging along and reminding myself that this was a training run and there was no pressure to race. It can be hard to hold back in a race situation, as the atmosphere and other runners can have you chomping at the bit, but I was happy to run along at my own pace and smile at the crowds, other runners, and beautiful weather. It was just great to be out celebrating fitness and life in the springtime!

I finished in 56:06, probably my slowest recorded 10k race, but I am okay with that. I am glad to have done it and gained the confidence that I can still run longer distances (I know, a 10k is no marathon, but distance is relative to the runner and his/her baseline). Now I can focus on getting some speed back and building up my long runs. Great job to all runners and especially Heathsiders! The race organisation was great and the marshaling was top notch.


What’s Been Cooking? Late Summer Edition

Gosh, the summer has flown by. Was it the same for you?

This blog has fallen a little by the wayside… I’m still here, just less frequently and with fewer of my “own” recipes, especially now that I can save all my favorites to NYT Cooking. Even though I’m posting fewer recipes doesn’t mean I’ve stopped cooking…on the contrary, our kitchen remains an exciting and comforting place amidst the stresses of daily life.

Here’s a peek into what F and I have been cooking over the past few months, in no particular order.

IMG_1421Ottolenghi’s “Chickpea Saute with Greek Yogurt” — light and bright summer flavors went beautifully over rice with a rich and creamy Greek yogurt sauce on the side. Highly recommended and very easy to throw together on a weeknight.
IMG_1163Pasta with Zucchini, Ricotta and Basil, courtesy of David Tanis at NYT Cooking. Creamy and rich yet summery, thanks to lemon zest and basil.

IMG_1407Smitten kitchen’s takeout-style sesame noodles with cucumber. Simple and delicious — I made them when F was away at a conference and managed not to get too tired of them despite having them over the course of 4 meals in two days…
IMG_1455The Woks of Life’s Shanghai-Style Braised Pork Belly — it took 3 hours but was totally worth it for the melt-in-your-mouth texture of the pork belly in rich, sticky sauce. So so good. We will definitely make it again on our next leisurely weekend.

Non-photographed but just as tasty dishes:

  • Melissa Clark’s Lunchbox Harvest Muffins (NYT Cooking) are moist and not dense at all, despite using only whole wheat flour. They’re packed with grated apple, carrot, and zucchini and made great afternoon snacks for F and me during the workweek.
  • We made Martha Rose Shulman’s Spicy South Indian Cauliflower for the second time. F browned some cubes of paneer cheese to add in and I made naan bread to go on the side.
  • I had always wanted to try making bircher muesli and finally did this summer. I used Nigella’s “basic bircher muesli” recipe and it turned out exactly like I’d hoped. Last week I made a double batch, which got us both through two weekday breakfasts.
  • These blueberry pancakes are SO FLUFFY, thanks to whipping the egg whites before folding them into the batter.
  • Rather have blueberry muffins? I made some of those, too: Call Me Cupcake’s blueberry lemon muffins were just right and didn’t even need the cardamom topping, in my opinion.

What have you been cooking?

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(Belated) Birthday Wisdom 2015

A recent picture of me, sunning in the Cotswolds

A recent picture of me, sunning in the Cotswolds

Last week was my “golden birthday” of turning 27 on the 27th — only happens once! Things have been busy around here so I haven’t had a chance to sit down and reflect on my 27th year until now.

Last year I wrote about settling into London life; this past year has brought more of that but from a different perspective.

After finishing my MA in English in September, I started my first “real” (i.e., full-time) job as an ESOL teacher at the Women’s Project of a charity in London’s Borough of Tower Hamlets. Perhaps stupidly, at the same time I embarked upon four months of DELTA training; the “part-time” course plus a 9-5 job brought my working hours per week up to about 60. Somehow I got through (and passed), but I wouldn’t recommend doing a DELTA while working full time. Over the year I have grown and developed as a teacher, drawing on my training and past experience while sometimes resorting to good ol’ trial-and-error.

This year there were also a stressful couple of weeks in January when the UK Border Agency almost deported me (for unfounded reasons)… Luckily, a lawyer and my workplace intervened in time to secure me a work visa.

I haven’t run many road races — and no cross-country races — since June 2014 but I have run two PR/PBs, at the 10k and 10 mile distances. My commute to work is almost 8 miles each way on the bike, which is great for maintenance and base fitness.

If I were to offer a brief word of wisdom this year, it would be this:

Prioritize the important things/people/activities in your life — the things that make you the happiest and best person you can be — and use those priorities to find balance.

With that, I wish you all a balanced and peaceful year.

Walking the Cotswold Way

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My parents visited F and me in the UK a couple weeks ago and took us northwest of London for a glorious five days of walking in the Cotswolds. The Cotswold Way consists of 102 miles of trails, starting at Chipping Campden in the north and finishing at Bath in the south. We spent four and a half days traversing half of the Cotswold Way north-to-south, from Chipping Campden to just above Stroud.

While we could’ve carried our stuff with us, my parents booked through a company that provided us with maps and route descriptions for each day’s walk and transported our luggage to a new B&B or guest house every night. The route descriptions also included lunch and dinner recommendations, so all we needed to take with us each day on the trail were the maps and small day packs. Very civilized.

I’ve written a short recap of each day below, but to save repetition let me just say that the Cotswold Way winds through many fields, pastures, meadows, and wooded trails. There were lots of sheep — some shorn, some wooly — along with the occasional herd of cows or horses. Bucolic England at its best.

Day 1: Chipping Campden to Stanton
  • 8:00am: Breakfast at the Lygon Arms, our hotel in Chipping Campden. Delicious porridge, fruit, and yogurt for me; home-boiled ham and eggs for F; smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for my dad (T); poached eggs and toast for my mom (D).
  • 9:35am: Let the walking commence! Over hill and dale…well, through field and meadow and over stile. It took us just over 3 hours to walk the 5.5-6 miles to the town of Broadway; a leisurely, conversational pace of about 2 miles per hour.
  • 1:00pm: Best lunch of the week at the Market Pantry in Broadway. Goat cheese and caramelized onion tarts and a chicken, bacon, and leek pot pie. Fresh salads all around and a few bites of a lovely lemon curd cake to finish it off and fuel us for the rest of the day.
  • 2:00pm: Walking up across a ridge and down into a vale to the tiny village of Stanton. We racked up a little extra mileage trying to find our B&B but it took us just over 2 hours for the last 4-5 miles.
  • We stayed in The Old Post House — a large, old house with a gorgeous garden owned by a friendly (and very well-off) couple.

Highlights of the day: Lunch at the Market Pantry and our B&B’s flat-faced cats that enjoyed licking F’s hand and sneaking into our rooms.

Day 2: Stanton to Cleeve Hill

The walking distance for this day had been advertised as 15 miles but ended up as “only” 12.2. It was quite a hilly day through lots of lovely meadows, fields, and farm roads, and past a manor house. Lunch was jacket potatoes with various toppings in Winchcombe followed by coffee/tea and lemon polenta cake. We  skipped Sudeley Castle & Gardens in favor of getting back on the Cotswold Way after lunch.

The day’s walking ended with a trek across Cleeve Hill Golf Course: knobby, rugged, windy, and sheep-filled! We unpacked at Cleeve Hill House Hotel near Cheltenham (famous for its horse racing and steeplechasing) for the first of two nights there.

Highlights of the day: F petted a pony and my mom was butted by a sheep… F also impressed us with his flower and plant identification skills (hooray for biologists). I took a lovely hot bath before bed.

Day 3: Cleeve Hill to Seven Springs

Lovely trails on this part of the route: up and along Cleeve Hill Common/Golf Course, quite a few wooded trails, lots of ascending! We finished our walk at Seven Springs were driven back to Cleeve Hill.

8.3 miles on the Cotswold Way (with a tasty Indian lunch) plus a little strolling in Cheltenham brought us to around 5 hours of walking and 9.65 miles in total. F returned to London in the evening, leaving my parents and me to do one and a half more days of walking together.

Highlights of the day: Walking along the ridge of Cleeve Hill Common/Golf Course in the morning for some amazing views.

Day 4: Crickley Hill to Painswick

Our second-biggest walking day: 12 miles in total, mostly through forests on lovely wooded paths. It was nice to be less exposed — expect for the first bit, up on a hill in the wind — and to walk on some soft and peaceful paths. I even ran for 25 minutes/2.6 miles in the morning. We walked across another blustery golf course near Painswick and had some great views throughout the day.

Walking 8 miles before a late lunch at the Royal William Pub certainly worked up our appetites: pie and chips was the only logical choice! We spent our last night in the quirky Cardynham House Hotel in the village of Painswick.

Highlights of the day: Great views from Crickley Hill. Running in the woods and walking on forest paths. I even spotted a young buck at one point, but he bounded away before I could get a picture.

Day 5: Painswick to (Almost) Stroud

After four days of perfect walking weather — partial sun and cool enough not to sweat — the weather gods of course sent us rain on our last morning. D, T, and I had a wet morning: drizzle starting out turned into steady, medium-hard rain. Walking in the rain builds character, right? The trail consisted of some meadows from Painswick and more lovely woodland trails around Haresfield Beacon. I think we walked about 6 miles on this last morning before catching the train back to London.

Highlights of the day: Feeling hardy while walking through meadows in the rain — the grayness certainly brightened up all the colors around us.

In sum, I’d highly recommend walking the Cotswold Way. It is well-signed, towns and villages are well-fortified with food and lodging options, and it is wonderful to have nothing to do but walk every day. F and I particularly enjoyed getting out of London for a few days to disconnect and appreciate the glorious English countryside. Thanks to D&T for taking us on a great trip.

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A Moroccan Feast

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

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

Here is how the meal turned out:

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

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

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

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