Saturday, 30 April 2011

Race Pace, er, Saturday? Tears for Fears - Shout

I've been terribly lazy this last week and haven't run since Tuesday.

I tried to do 3 miles at my race pace of 8 min/mile and failed miserably. I got a mile before I had to drop my speed. By the end I was gasping for breath, that horribly raspy breathing when I can't open my throat up enough to get the oxygen my body needs. I ran 3 miles in 25:26, which is slightly slower than my 5k PR of 25:31, but not shabby considering. I'm worried that with 11 weeks until my 10K race I won't be able to run it in under 50 minutes. I'm beginning to wonder if under 50 minutes, considering I can't run a 5k in under 25, would be too ambitious and that I should aim for under 55 minutes. I don't think I can do it under 50 minutes, but I'm going to try some hated and dreaded interval training to help me get quicker. 1 minute at 6mph (10min/mile) jog followed by one minute at 8.1mph (quickermin/mile)

Either way. Driving home tonight 'Shout' was on the radio and I spent a while wondering what I could do without. These include:

  • Me being lazy.
  • Worrying so much about running I avoid running. It doesn't matter, despite having told friends, family, colleagues etc I want to run the 10K under 50 minutes, if I don't. No-one apart from me will actually give a monkeys if I fail.
  • An incompetent colleague being promoted despite failing quite hard as they were shunted from team to team because no-one wanted them.
  • An irritating colleague who barely works on my team, hates the work, and want to stop helping us out anyway taking accolades my team earned, without us finding out until afterwards.
  • Open season being declared on Pippa Middleton by some sections of the media. Presumably Kate's off limits since she's married now and there's that uncomfortable legacy from her husband's mother's relationship with the media.
  • Me not being bothered to eat healthily for over a week now.
  • Dresses you can't wear proper bras under (sleeveless dresses, dresses whose backs go too low to wear a bra underneath, strappy dresses whose straps don't cover bra straps I'm looking at you)

Anything you could do without?

Monday, 25 April 2011

Parklife - Easter Run, Simnel Cake.

You should cut down on your pork life mate get some exercise!

I drove home to see the family on Friday, this song came on the radio and I was transported to being a teenager again. Awesome. 

In the boot I had a slowly cooling simnel cake that I'd spent the morning cooking. I managed to forget to buy light muscovado sugar despite it being the first ingredient in the list so had to substitute dark muscovado sugar and golden caster sugar, which left the cake rather richer than it should have been. I also forgot to buy more ground ginger, but since you use stem ginger that wasn't so much of a problem. There is a lot of chopping involved, but the cake was delicious. 

Oh, and finish off the unused marzipan in the Estonian way - chopped into slim strips to be dunked in strong black coffee and eaten while hot.

It's just as well I took my running gear with me and did a 3.88mile run on Saturday morning. When I got back home my dad immediately asked me if I wanted a glass of cold water. Thanks, Dad.

Friday, 22 April 2011


Yesterday was supposed to be Race Pace Thursday running 5k at 7.5mph at the gym, but as I got to there I was feeling all kinds of stressed out and just couldn't do it. I wasn't in the right place mentally, I wasn't breathing well enough, I was worrying about my stiff left calf, worrying about getting a stitch, worrying about the traffic home, and the traffic on the way to the gym. After about 2k I packed it in and cycled instead.

I'm beginning to wonder if I can hit my goal of 10k in 50 minutes, considering I could barely run 2k yesterday. Maybe I should give myself a break and aim for 55 minutes instead. Maybe I should give myself a break and remind myself I have about 13 weeks until the race which is plenty of time to improve my fitness.

Anyway, the song is a very cute song with a very cute video that always cheers me up and energizes me.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011


My partner, Mr Scientist, made a chilli to go with the polenta I made. I would blog a recipe and picture of the delicious chilli but apparently it's 'not good enough' and 'just like a student chilli' so you don't get to see the masterpiece that was his chilli.

It was darned tasty though.

World Vegetarian : Soft Polenta Mixed with Cheese and Spring Greens with Garlic

Imagine silky soft polenta with a hint of cheese underneath gently blanched spring greens that were then sauted with garlic, mustard seeds, and onions. Mmm.

The spring greens should have been broccoli di rape, but Tescos didn't have any of that, and a quick google showed that broccoli di rape looks a bit like spring greens so I thought eh, close enough. This would also work with curly kale, and I think the curly kale would mimic the slightly bitter taste of broccoli di rape that Jaffrey mentions in her introduction to the recipe. At least it would if I liked curly kale. Oh another thing - halve the amount of oil/butter that Jaffrey lists in recipes. I didn't, and that's why the greens are so shiny.

I used the oven method of cooking cheesy polenta - you mix polenta with water, bring a pan of water to a boil, add the polenta mix and grated cheese, bring to a boil until it starts to thicken, then bung in a pre-heated 200C oven in a greased baking dish for 50 minutes. Jaffrey recommends 60g of parmesan, but since that's not vegetarian I swapped it for Northumberland oak smoked cow's milk cheese, which is made with vegetarian rennet and has a lovely delicate smokey flavour. The recipe made a lot of polenta and it only had a slight taste of cheese, which is due to me swapping the cheese as the oak smoked isn't as strong a cheese as parmesan. However I 'tidied up' the leftovers to make a neater line in the baking dish (ahem) this afternoon and it tasted a bit stronger, so it's one of those recipes that improves with a little age.

We're eating the leftover polenta with a kidney bean and quorn mince chilli tonight, yum!

Adagio for Strings

Today's cross-training and my left calf was feeling a little tight so I decided to go to my local pool for a swim. Over the speakers they played all sorts of thumping techno music, which made the pensioners grumble a bit. One of the tunes was this drum-thumping mix of Adagio for Strings which copies what William Orbit did, but overpowers the melody with a generic drum beat. Listen to it, it's awful.

I find Barber's original movement difficult to listen to while sitting still, but the languorous chords makes it very difficult to settle into a rhythm while running, unsurprisingly since the piece is supposed to be played slowly.

Some may find this sacrilege, but I like William Orbit's remix perfectly well, and the added beat makes it easier to find a rhythm when running. He speeds up the tempo a tad and uses a basic trick of splitting the longer notes into repeated shorter ones. It's a simple trick used to great effect to create movement in the remix while avoiding making it farcical by increasing the tempo too much.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Starry Eyed

Well I was planning a 3 mile run this afternoon. Not owning a GPS thing I'd plotted a simple out and back run along a disused railway line on Walkjogrun but turned back too early and ran only 2.88 miles. I don't own a watch and also forgot to check the time before I went out so the run took somewhere between 30 and 26 minutes, I think. Gosh durn it!

I also had to abort my first attempt because I'd put on some thigh-length running shorts that tried to creep up my legs to be bum-length shorts as soon as I started running. So I had to turn back and put on some knee-length leggings that are a bit tighter.

There's enough pain and suffering in this world without exposing it to my upper thighs.

Either way it was a glorious run with bright green grass, bright blue sky, bright yellow oilseed rape in the fields.

World Vegetarian - Sri Lankan Cashew Curry

Looks a bit like vom though doesn't it?

Another meal another recipe fro  Madhur Jaffrey. I'm trying to use up the curry powder I made a few days ago so I made the other World Vegetarian recipe that uses it - Sri Lankan Cashew Curry. I also wanted to use up some cashew nuts that had been hanging around for months.

You start by soaking the unroasted cashew nuts over night, or if you're me you forget to do this and bung them in a bowl of water as soon as you get up in the morning. I used unroasted cashew nuts in a stir fry once before and the result was a tad tough and rubbery so I was a little skeptical about how these cashews would fare.

May I now apologise to MJ for ever doubting her. Soaking them made them soft but not squishy and they practically melted in the mouth, giving little bursts of cashew-y goodness. I will definitely be using this tip in other curries.

Since Sunday's curry was overpowered by the chilli and a touch bland this time I used 2 tsp of the curry powder, twice the recommended amount in the recipe, doubled the amount of lime juice recommended and halved the amount of green chilli. I also threw in a bit more salt and half a vegetable stock cube. I bulked the curry up with a sad-looking leek that was in the fridge and the rest of the green beans (not cut diagonally into 5mm lengths this time).

The result was delicious - piquant but not too hot, creamy coconut milk, bursts of cashew, the warm taste of curry leaves and ginger, all heightened by a hint of lime juice.

I am definitely throwing off my sloth and going for a run later, mainly due to there being none left!

Monday, 18 April 2011

World Vegetarian - Green Pepper and Cucumber Salad

I wanted to try a nice, simple salad for my lunch today to show that World Vegetarian doesn't just include curries that take hours to prepare. The green pepper and cucumber salad is a your bog-standard common-or-garden salad and has all the ingredients you can see in the picture above as well as a bit of olive oil and a rather precise 4 tsp of lemon juice. I juiced half a lemon and after using this there was a fair bit of juice left, which is annoying because I hate waste, so I popped the rest in some hot water and drank it while blogging. I can understand why you're only supposed to use 4 tsp because it would have been too lemony and acidic if I'd used all of it. However next time I may throw caution to the wind and use 5 tsp of juice.

It was very tasty eaten with a toasted brown pitta bread filled with halloumi cheese (when I lived in Syria we called this squeaky cheese) and home-made pickled beetroot on the side.

World Vegetarian - Green Bean and Potato Curry

Green bean and potato curry

This curry took ages to make. I had the whole evening, but it took two people good 40 minutes to chop the shallots and green beans needed. Apparently in Sri Lanka they cut green beans 'at a steep diagonal into 5mm wide pieces' - wanting to do this properly I tried to do just that. I didn't include the full amount of beans and it still took ages. When I make it again I won't bother and just chop them roughly. The crunchy green beans and smooth potato did work together very well.

Either way it was tasty, but not delicious. The recipe calls for the juice of 1 lime and 3 chillies. I couldn't taste the lime much and the chillies' heat overpowered the curry powder somewhat, which is something I referred to in my post about making the curry powder, and made it taste a touch bland. The coconut milk did make it lovely and creamy. When I make it again I'll include the juice of 2 limes, only 2 chillies and more salt or a bit of vegetable stock to emphasis these flavours.

World Vegetarian - Sri Lankan Raw Curry Powder and Green Bean and Potato Curry.

This dish was good, but time-consuming and rather expensive to make. We already had most of the spices, but there were quite a few in the curry powder we didn't already have.

Sri Lankan Raw Curry Powder

I'm not sure why it's 'raw', maybe because it's only warmed at 60 degrees C rather than being toasted. It was easy to make - pre-heat oven to 60C, bung ingredients on a tray, leave for an hour, allow to cool, and grind. I ground it in the food processor, and it came out well. It filled half a washed-out old 250g salsa jar.

Warmed spices

Ground curry powder surrounded by a halo of its own foodie yumminess!
The powder has a mild, delicate flavour of coconut, curry leaves, coriander and fennel so you have to be very careful not to overpower it with other flavours. It can be used in any vegetable curry and although World Vegetarian only uses it in 2 curries this isn't really problem because the recipe only makes around 120ml. The recipe I used it in required 4 tsp and this used up about half of the powder so you won't have loads left sitting in the cupboard. It still took an hour to make though. It's going to be a staple in my kitchen, but only on special occasions.

Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian

I turned vegetarian a few months ago and, getting bored of trawling the BBC Good Food website for veggie recipes, bought two vegetarian cooking bibles  Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian, and Rose Elliot's New Complete Vegetarian. I'm going to be trying them out over the next few months and giving my verdict.

I had a flick through World Vegetarian yesterday.

First Impression
At first I felt a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of recipes in the book as there a quite possibly thousands of them. I bit my lip and worried it would be relegated to my bookcase shelf and never be used. But then as I flipped through the pages I began to make a mental note of all the recipes I wanted to try and it grew and grew and grew and grew. These recipes sound delicious, and Jaffrey's introductions are charming and personable without being whimisical or irritating - Sophie Dahl I'm looking at you - and it sounds like she's stood in the kitchen with a cup of tea chatting about where she first heard about this or that, or giving tidbits of advice about presentation.
It's well laid-out. There aren't any mouthwatering pictures to pour over, which is a shame. It would have been nice to have seen the beautiful cover design mirrored in the book's contents.

It's fairly well organised. The chapters are Vegetables; Dried Beans, Dried Peas, Lentils and Nuts; Grains; Dairy Foods; Added Flavourings (by which she means chutneys, sauces, and spice mixes etc); and Soups Salads and Drinks.

The recipes are then organised alphabetically by the main ingredient and at the beginning of each section there's a short introduction to the vegetable touching on Jaffrey's experiences and how to prepare them, where a picture or two of a dish would be nice. Each recipe has a short introduction as well for example giving advice on how to chop the ingredients, or what kind of an effect the spices will have.

There is a list of special ingredients that the reader may be unfamiliar with information on how to prepare it, where it comes from or what effect the ingredient will have on the dish. There's also a list of necessary equipment and of suppliers of hard-to-find ingredients.

Finally at the end is the index. It's comprehensive but could be organised better. The recipes are listed by the main ingredients and often duplicated in both sections if there is more than one main ingredient - so asparagus with pine nuts comes under Asparagus, pine nuts with and Pine nuts, asparagus with. Recipes are also listed under the type of food and also again by what part of the world they're from. So for example, Turkish bread appears under breads and later on under Turkish-style recipes. The index, unsurprisingly, is a little hard to navigate at first because everything's in a tiny font size and the only difference between entries is that non-English words are in italics. It would be easier to navigate if different types of entries were differentiated somehow.


I've tried a few recipes and will blog them. I must say I'm impressed. The recipes vary from curries that require you soaking ingredients over night or toasting and grinding a special spice blend to simple salads that can be chucked together in seconds. So far they seem to work, although it's hard to go wrong with a curry and I haven't tried to make any of the breads yet.

Some are very simple and economic to make from readily-available ingredients or store-cupboard staples. Some require pricey, specialist ingredients and Jaffrey occasionally notes good substitutions. Generally the recipes are fairly healthy, but there are exceptions with lashings of coconut milk and oil or cheese. Some recipes have 3 or 4 ingredients, some have a whole shopping list's worth.

There is incredible variation in where recipes are from. From what I've seen there are recipes from China, Japan, India (including Gujarati, Kashmiri, and Rajasthani recipes), Sri Lanka, Trinidad, Tunisia, Morocco, Iran, Ethiopia, Italy, Macedonia, Bangladesh, Australia, Latin America, Mexico, Spain, Lebanon, Cyprus, Greece, the Ukraine and the list goes on...

The recipes could be written a bit better, however. How many servings it makes comes right at the end, which is mildly annoying. The recipes don't explicitly state how long it will take to prepare and cook, which is fairly aggravating. Word of warning - if it is a curry it will take ages regardless.


The sheer variety of ways to prepare common and rarer ingredients means it's not going to languish unused. There is something for whatever mood you are in and for whatever your tastes. It's great for when you're in a food rut, or need to eat something up and aren't feeling inspired by that very full bag of polenta skulking in the cupboard.

Dubai, Baby.

Old Souq, Deira, Dubai

I've posted once this past week because I've been visiting people in Dubai. I took some gym stuff in order to do some running, but only managed one session of that as well.

I find Dubai fascinating. It's an improbable place, essentially. Despite making headlines for all the wrong reasons (Poor treatment of economic migrants, especially those working in construction! Economic crash despite crowing that they were immune from the credit crunch! House price crash! Luxury cars abandoned at the airport! You can go to prison for bouncing a cheque! Alleged police brutality! No proper freedom of speech! Outrageous construction projects! Blatant disregard for these construction projects' environmental impact! Etc etc) I can't help but feel grudging admiration for its leaders' vision. They've worked out a way to provide for this tiny country and its population with little resources other than trade and imported labour.

It's easy when the population is so small, but many other politicians and leaders in other countries with massive reserves of lucrative resources have turned the places into kleptocracies and sold their peoples down the river. It's not that simple by any stretch of the imagination, but it is what could have happened. Dubai has been badly affected by the economic crisis and is not out of danger yet - that small matter of all of its debt - but it is resilient and is bouncing back. The hotels were packed, at least.

When we arrived back in the UK the cherry trees and hawthorn bushes were beginning to bloom. I wouldn't like to live in Dubai.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Rule No. 1: Cardio

I'm not just improving my fitness, toning my body, and increasing my confidence. I'm also preparing for the zombie apocalypse.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

La Ritournelle

I first heard La Ritournelle in a Cath Kidston shop in York and yes it is just a bit twee. Not that there's anything wrong with Cath Kidston (I have a very nice red bookbag with white stars from there, thank you very much) but I haven't worked out how I feel about the fetishisation of feminine domesticity the brand seems to push yet. Plus the clothes look pretty but hang on me like a bin-bag and make me look twice as big and twice as old. They're just so mumsy...

It's a very laid back song, but the driving drums and piano just make me want to stretch my legs out and sprint. Today's run was a gentle 3.5 miler.

Anyway, talking of feminine domesticity I did an olive oil-sugar body scrub today. I have dry skin that seems to mummify at the slightest hint of cold weather, hot weather, wet weather, wind, dust... so I do these as often as I can. It's simple and cheap. Do it in an empty bathtub or shower because it does tend to fall off and you don't want sugary olive oil staining your carpet and you need to be able to wash it off when you're done.

Anyway, pour granulated white sugar into a bowl, pour on enough olive oil so the sugar is translucent and no longer white but is not drowning either, stir, scrape bit into your palm, rub your hands to coat your palms and slap on to your feet, legs, or elbows and give it a good rub. Don't use too much or spread it too thickly it will all just fall off into the bath or shower however some will fall off anyway. Shower it off when you're done, and slip on some old jammies or jogging bottoms before making yourself a cup of tea and putting your feet up. :D

I've never used it on my face, and if I'm honest I wouldn't recommend using granulated sugar as an exfoliator on your face as it's probably too abrasive and harsh. Don't use it if your allergic to olive oil or sugar, obv.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Strict Machine

Today was Race Pace Thursday, so I ran for 2.5 miles at 7.5mph on the treadmill set at level 1. This is an 8 minute mile and the speed I should aim at to do 10K in 50 minutes. I managed the 2.5 miles and was a bit out of breath at the end but not gasping, so hopefully should be able to achieve it. When I started the run some serious doubts set in - would I ever be able to do this? I told myself I shouldn't forget  that I'm lazy, fat, a rubbish runner and that my flat-footed body would never be able to run 10K in 50 minutes. After all, I've never been one of those sporty girls. In cross-country I've was the chubby, wide one puffing along at the back, gamely trying to keep going despite needing to walk frequently.

But I didn't listen to this, I snapped back to 2011 and the gym with its AC on overdrive and sports on the TV and kept on running.

I'm reading Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters by Courtney E. Martin. Martin wanted to explore why eating disorders are so prevalent, endemic even, among American women. Through extensive research and in-depth interviews across America she comes to the conclusion that society plants the seed of self-doubt and anxiety in women around puberty that they should be perfect, and that this perfection is embodied, literally, in being thin. Thin equals control, respect, beauty. Thin is right, fat is wrong. A woman is split into the hypercritical perfect girl and the starving daughter trying to please her, goes Martin's theory.

Yet at every turn on the road toward being perfect women are faced by the obstacle of their very own bodies rebelling against them. Their bodies get curves, wobbly bits and they themselves have to battle their own hunger and desires.  Their bodies are their own enemies.

Part of me just shrugs off the toxic desire to be a willowy size 8 with tiny feet because I will never be a 5'2" slip of a thing, nor will I be a 5'10" giraffe. I try to be realistic about my body. I have to admit weight loss is the main reason I started exercising, although now I do it to burn calories and because I enjoy it. I'm trying to focus on the enjoyment, although I still obsess about the calorie counter on the treadmill.

So why am I so terrified that I'm just kidding myself and reading this book to simply justify rejecting striving for being a perfect size 8 because I will never be 'good' enough to obtain it? Why am I beginning to feel that a 'perfect 10' is too fat? Why am I terrified that the rest of the world would never accept it if I weighed 10 stones and was pretty much happy with that ta very much because they think I should weigh 9 stones to be happy? Why, indeed, do I give a flying fuck about any of this?

I don't have any answers to this. I just hope one day I will find serenity.

I can't imagine not running. Guess what my strict machine is. ;)

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Time 2... Get serious?

After a few years of tramping on treadmills I've gotten serious and entered a 10k in mid-July. It'll be my first 10k and the longest race I've ever entered. I've done a couple of 5ks, a 4.46 miler (was supposed to be 8k, but it wasn't), and have run 5 miles on the treadmill before but 10k will definitely be the furthest I've ever run at once. I could run a 10k tomorrow, but am training to run it within a time I can be proud of. I'm not a fast runner, and if I'm honest I hate pushing myself really hard so I'm never going to be a speedy fifi, but I'm aiming at 50 minutes or so because it dovetails with my goal of a 5k PR under 25 minutes.

So, on to the workout. Today was cross-train day. I ellipted? for 30 minutes at level 10 on the elliptical trainer covering 4.3 miles, then I cycled for around 25 minutes at level 6 covering 7.78 miles or thereabouts.

This song is by a amazingly talented guitarist called Ewan Dobson. A colleague passed it on to me a few days ago and I knew it had to go on my gym playlist as soon as I had heard the first few notes. Whenever I listen to it while running I feel energized and when it's over I'm like, 'It's over? Was that really 3 minutes? Already? I want it to go on for at least another few minutes...'

Which is how I feel after a really good run.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Grounds for a Divorce

Today I did a hill run at level 8 speed 6.5mph for 30 minutes.

I got this song almost as soon as it came out. I didn't add this song to my gym playlist for a long time, even though I felt it could be a good addition. Sort of a story, lots of guitar, lots of drums, good contrast between the singer and that guitar riff - everything I like in a song. However I felt at first it wasn't fast enough. I wasn't sure if the slow speed would irritate me while running. I generally need something a little more upbeat tempo-wise.

I added it the other day. I was running, my mind drifting, but when the guitar riff kicked in and it got to the bit where in the video everyone starts banging drumsticks and glasses down I wanted to kick of my shoes, turn to the road and zoom run with my chest out and my arms pumping gasping for air until I reach Scotland like I felt when I was a child.

This is why I run.