On running

This is something I’ve not mentioned on this blog before. Let me start at the beginning. I’ve always had problems with my joints – Achilles tendinitis, sore hips, sore knees, and during my student years especially, sore fingers and thumbs. Eventually a name was given to this: hypermobility. My joints move too much due to super-stretchy tendons and ligaments, leading to pain in those tissues and in the surrounding muscle. One slight problem can have a flow-on effect and end up throwing my whole body out of whack.

Over the years I’ve learned self-management – for example, I never knew when I started dancing that it would be really helpful, so I ended up doing it for nearly a decade and becoming a dance teacher.

Two and a half years ago I found myself doing a lot of walking for work, and the old problems came back again. I got to a point where walking anywhere, even the mile down the road to work, was very painful. I got referred to physio and started doing the prescribed exercises religiously. I learned that physio can’t fix you but it can give you the tools you need to fix yourself.

So about six months after my injury I got peer pressured into joining my work running group. My physio said “you can run if you want to”. I’d always thought it was a prohibited activity for people with my propensity towards joint pain. But it turned out that with the right training I could do it. It was also 2012, that wonderful year of celebration and inspiration here in London and I caught the bug. I ran my first 5k in September 2012 in 37:30. A year later I ran the same 5k in 28:18 and won the “most improved” prize.

On top of my work running group I joined the GoodGym and the Lazy Girl Running 10k group. After completing the group I ran my first 10k, the London 10,000, in under an hour. I had a ball.

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Yesterday I ran my first half marathon, Run Hackney. It was tough. It took me 2:22:37 to run, but it was a hard slog. The last three miles were particularly hellish, with hills, no shade, and hairpin bends. I had no adrenaline buzz, and no runner’s high after it finished, I was just tired. And hot. Today I found out I wasn’t the only one to think so, and that my time was perfectly respectable for a first half. I’m already planning the next one… I don’t know where it will be yet, but it won’t be in summer!

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Next week I’m winding down with a 5k on Hampstead Heath – the Race for Life to be precise. I have very personal reasons for doing this race, which raises money for Cancer Research. It’s my only charity run this year. If you’d like to donate, the link is here: https://www.justgiving.com/sarahmoore60/

And if you didn’t think you could, have a go at running. Two years ago I thought I couldn’t run 5k and now I’ve run 21. If I can do it, I think pretty much anyone can!

Cooking with yoghurt*

Last week I took part in a cooking event at L’atelier des Chefs organised by Onken, the yoghurt company. Given that yoghurt is in my blog name and I eat it every day on my granola, I don’t think I write about it nearly enough. At least twice I’ve prepared a post on how to actually “knit” (make) your own yoghurt, but the pictures turned out terribly and I abandoned the attempt. I promise to give it another go.

At any rate Onken, together with Celebrity MasterChef winner Lisa Faulkner and nutritionist and journalist Angela Dowden, have some great suggestions for how to use their yoghurt. Lisa showed us how to make three different recipes – banana bran muffins, French onion dip, and Chicken Tikka kebabs.

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The banana muffins and French onion dip both took me right back to my childhood. Mum used to put her bran muffins in our lunchboxes, usually with apple in them but she would never tell us if they did – so we had to eat them to find out! And onion dip is a New Zealand staple, although there it is made with packet soup mix. Lisa glammed it up by using caramelised onions – yum! Lisa said we must have had very similar upbringings, which makes me want to check out the book she wrote, inspired by her mother’s cooking.

The recipes aren’t up on their website yet so I’ve typed up the banana muffin and dip recipes below.

Banana muffins

Makes 6 large muffins (actually I think this makes 12 – we had mixture left over)
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 20-25 minutes

Ingredients
- 1 pot of Onken Natural Yoghurt
- 100g Bakers bran
- 260g wholewheat flour
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
- pinch of salt
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 100g soft brown sugar
- 304 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2/3 ripe bananas mashed

Method
1. Preheat oven to 200 C.
2. Mix together all of the dry ingredients except for the sugar.
3. Add yoghurt, eggs, sugar, vegetable oil and vanilla extract, then add the banana and mix together, taking care not to over-mix.
4. Pour into muffin tins and bake for 20-25 minutes at 200 C. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

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I love the finishing touch of a slice of banana on top, sprinkled with a bit of demerara sugar. I put one pointy side up so I knew which muffins were mine!

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Just like Mum’s! I sent this picture to her and she stuck it on the fridge.

French Onion dip

Serves: 6
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes

Ingredients
- 1/2 pot Onken Fat Free Natural Yoghurt
- 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- 25g unsalted butter
- 2-3 large onions, peeled and finely sliced
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tsp celery salt
- Black pepper
- 2 sprigs of thyme
- 150g cream cheese

Method
1. In a large heavy based saucepan heat the oil and butter together over a medium heat.
2. Add the onions and cook for around 20 minutes until caramelised, keep stirring so they don’t stick.
3. Add garlic, celery salt, a good grind of pepper, the Worcestershire sauce and thyme sprigs.
4. Meanwhile mix together the yoghurt and cream cheese in a bowl until smooth.
5. When the onions are browned and cooked, discard the thyme sprigs and mix the onions into the yoghurt.
6. Adjust seasoning and serve with crackers or crisps (I highly recommend crudités)

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I took the leftovers of both the muffins and dip to work, where they went down very well.

Onken recipe cards

* how do you spell it? I’ve always spelled it yoghurt, Onken spell it yogurt. According to this article, “yoghurt” is used in NZ where I grew up, but in the UK “yoghurt” and “yogurt” are used interchangeably.

How to make supermarket herb pots last forever

Lean in, I’m about to tell you something you didn’t know. Or if you did, you can feel really smug about it. Either way, let me know in the comments below.

Do you ever buy those herb pots from the supermarket, use some of the herbs, and have the rest flop and die within days?

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Say you’re making a caprese salad. This trick works particularly well with basil, but I’ll let you know some tips for other herbs further down.

Your first instinct is to pull off all of the biggest leaves, right? Then you can wait for the smaller ones to grow larger.

WRONG!

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See the way the leaves are arranged here? There are pairs of leaves going up the stem. The two biggest leaves are near the bottom. You can also see some tiny leaves growing near the base of the big leaves. Then there is a cluster of smaller leaves further up the stem.

You are going to pinch off that cluster of leaves near the top.

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If you want, you can go ahead and pull off those two larger leaves now. The stem suddenly looks a bit bare, but pinching out the tips gives the tiny leaves light, space and energy to grow. With basil, water it generously every few days and then wait until it is completely dry before watering it again. Put it in a sunny spot and it can last a good couple of months. Come back in June and tell me how you got on.

Other herbs like parsley, thyme, oregano: pick, pick, pick. Parsley, you can pick the lot right down near the bottom of the stems, and wait for it to come away again. It’s best to plant these herbs out in a window box if you have one. Parsley can last a long time if you do this and keep picking. Mint, I would again grow it in your window boxes (give it plenty of water though) or just buy it in bunches rather than pots and keep it in a jar of water on a ledge or table. Rosemary and sage, buy it from the supermarket as it’s cheaper than the garden centre (London garden centres at least – and wait until they’re on offer at the supermarket), and plant it out in a well-drained spot.

But for now, just enjoy your caprese salad.

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Tomatoes, mozarella, plenty of basil, a generous amount of salt, and a few good glugs of olive oil.

Three-cornered leek pesto

I received a tip-off last a couple of weeks ago about a patch of wild garlic near my office. So one day I grabbed a colleague and we went for a “walking meeting”. We’re right into that sort of thing where I work. It was a good chance to catch up about his current workload, and the side benefit was picking up some free food on the way.

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When we got there, we discovered it wasn’t actually wild garlic but three-cornered leek. Three-cornered leek is a type of wild onion, which grows in abundance from early to late spring here in North London. I grabbed armloads of the stuff, while a bemused resident looked on from his balcony three floors above.

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Running group that evening gave me a great excuse to carbo-load on my return, so I whipped up some pesto and cooked some tagliatelle.

I used a stick blender to whizz up a few handfuls of the (washed) onions with a generous amount of olive oil, some pine nuts, and plenty of Parmesan cheese. I stirred the cooked pasta into a pan of wilted onions, added a spoonful of pesto, and stirred in a handful of peas.

I finished it with a little lemon zest.

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Easter-time birthday picnic

My young friend Baby Loves Cake, daughter of Lady Loves Cake turns one over Easter weekend. We celebrated her birthday today, with a lovely picnic in Regent’s Park.

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R and I got their early to set up. Waitrose kindly supplied the decor – there are a lot of Easter-themed decorations and party gear at the moment, all very gorgeous and perfect for a little one’s Easter birthday.

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What a glorious day it was.

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The birthday girl ate far too many raspberries.

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And the guests ate far too many cupcakes. These are strawberry cheesecake cupcakes, from the Hummingbird cookbook. Lady Loves Cake and I got together to make them yesterday – though I must admit she did most of the work! I really liked them. With the cream cheese icing they weren’t over-sweet.

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The birthday girl and her lovely mum.

Compost!

I got back from New Zealand to find that Spring had arrived in the UK. Time to start working on my soil.

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I might be moving at some point in the next few months (the above photo was taken on the way to a viewing), and a vegetable plot feels like a big commitment right now. So this year I’m focusing on the salad veg – quick-growing, money-saving and the salad mixes I make are better than any you can get in the supermarket.

I started digging my plot a couple of weekends ago. Last year I tried the “no-dig” method, covered my plot with cardboard over the winter and covered the cardboard with compost come spring. This worked quite well, but since spring was so late there was a bit more time for the cardboard to break down and the worms to mix everything together. This year spring is here early. I decided to dig again.

I’ve been a bit physically run down lately, so the digging led to a bad back. Two weeks and £90 spent on massages later, the back is better and I’m digging again. This time I got around to getting the compost out of my compost bin.

I have one of those Dalek compost bins that sits at one end of my plot, next to the mint and comfrey patch.

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This is a picture from the first growing season showing the Dalek in situ – the paths are much better than that now!

I don’t turn my compost – this is not really by choice, but more because the compost aerator I bought doesn’t actually fit in the bin. So I layer it up instead. Mostly it is fed with the contents of my bokashi bin, layered up with plenty of corrugated cardboard (I have a steady supply, thanks to my internet shopping habit) and nettles weeded from neighbouring plots.

In case you haven’t heard of a bokashi bin, it is a bin for food waste that you keep in the kitchen. You can put any type of food waste in, cooked or uncooked, including meat. I chose this because I wanted to make it as easy as possible for my flatmates. You need to sprinkle a little special bokashi bran over the food waste, about a handful or so a day, and also keep air out as much as possible. The bran is treated with bacteria, which help to “pickle” the vegetable waste. When the bin is full you leave it for two weeks, and then dig it in or put it in the compost bin, whereupon it breaks down very quickly.

The compost bin has a hatch in the front but the easiest way to get the compost out is to lift the whole thing off the base. There were three distinct layers in the bin:

1. The uncomposted bokashi layer. This bokashi has only been in the bin for two weeks.

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But look at all the worms getting to work! There’s an argument that worms aren’t necessarily a good thing, as they won’t appear in the compost bin running hot enough, but I produce compostable waste as such a slow rate that a hot bin is not the best way for me to go.

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2. A very fibrous middle layer.

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3. And finally, the crumbly dark stuff beneath. I got two wheelbarrows full. I’m really quite proud of my efforts! Now to wait for some things to grow…

For more on compost, I can highly recommend my friend Barbara’s site, Clever Composting. Check it out! My composting setup also includes a wormery – I’ll write about that at some future date.

Postcard from New Zealand

I spent a couple of weeks in New Zealand at the start of the month. It was a sad, special time in a beautiful country. I thought I would share some of the photos with you.

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Black Estate Wines. The wind blew hot through the open dining room.

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Sunbathing seals

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Grapefruit for breakfast

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View from the breakfast table

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View from above the house

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Lemons from the lemon tree were pressed into service for a Shrove Tuesday brunch. Those are wild passionfruit on the left. Also a shiso leaf – I found a plant in the garden.

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Passionfruit for dessert

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Beach at low tide…

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… which happened to be the right time to collect oysters. These are Pacific oysters and were the tastiest I have ever eaten (they taste better if you shuck them yourself)

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Christchurch was a very different place from the last time I saw it. $2 per hour to park your car here.

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The “pallet pavilion”, a temporary event space.

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Some great public art around the place

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Queen Victoria gets a visit from a construction worker

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This is an iced chocolate. London, you need to learn this.

Made in Hackney

I hinted at exciting posts to come after Christmas. Perhaps I tempted fate – the plan had been to go to Barcelona for Christmas and come back with lots of stories to tell. Unfortunately, rain happened, and Gatwick North flooded, and I made it back to Euston M&S just in time to scoop some salmon en croute and roast veg off the shelves. My solo, ready-meal Christmas was surprisingly tasty, but I’m not lining up to repeat the experience! The one good thing was I managed to get three strangers to Kings Cross and Euston in time to catch trains to their Christmas destinations. I’ve been reading lately about how generosity can make us happier, and I can attest to that. I really love that peculiarity of Britishness that means we don’t speak to or even acknowledge each other unless something goes wrong, but then the Blitz spirit kicks in and we pull together.

Roll on the new year then. January was full of good intentions and empty of alcohol. I made it through the month but I’m rather glad to be back off the wagon. Wine has never tasted so good. Food, on the other hand, has been super healthy.

On that note, a few weeks ago I went to a workshop at the Made in Hackney Local Food Kitchen. The kitchen is downstairs from health food shop Food for All in Stoke Newington. I’ll let the video describe the rest:

The workshop I attended was one of the “pay what you want” Sunday workshops, on making packed lunches for work, with Portuguese cook Filipa. Over the course of a couple of hours we made several different recipes, before devouring them all together. We had been asked to bring a lunchbox along for leftovers, but no chance!

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Stirring the pot

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This was my allocated recipe – spicy black bean burgers

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Curried chickpeas – 15 minutes to make. I’ve already made this one for a packed work lunch.

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A great group of people to cook (and eat) with.

When I arrived at the workshop I was feeling a little harried due to a late bus. I left feeling deeply contented. The brilliant thing is I can bottle that feeling – or at least box it up – and carry it to work with me every day. It just takes a little planning and creativity.

Filipa has kindly let me share one of the recipes from the course. I can highly recommend checking out their other courses – and whatever you pay helps subsidise their work with low-income and vulnerable groups.

BLACK BEANS SPICY BURGER

Prep and Cook Time: 60 min
Yields: 8/10 burgers
Good for freezing.

Ingredients

1 small yellow onion, chopped (could use any kind)
2 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil (better if you use coconut oil)
3 cups (or 2 cans) cooked black beans, divided
½ teaspoon cumin powder

½ teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
Black pepper or red pepper flakes, to taste
2/3 cups oats
¾ cups fresh, frozen or canned sweet corn

Method

Preheat your oven to 180°C.

In a skillet, sauté onion and garlic in the oil for eight to ten minutes, or until golden, soft, and fragrant. Add 2 cups of the beans, the cumin, the paprika, the chili powder, the sea salt, and pepper to taste. Stir until all is warm.

Add the oats to the bowl of a food processor and pulse them a few times. Add the onion, garlic, and bean mixture. Process everything together, until it’s well combined but still has texture.
If you don’t have a food processor, just add everything to a bowl and mash with a potato masher, that’s what I did, because it’s faster and involves less washing up.

Transfer mixture to a mixing bowl. Add the last cup of black beans and the corn and mix well with your hands. Check for seasoning and season to taste. If the mixture is too mushy to form into patties, add a little more oats. Shape mixture into 8 large or 10 smaller burgers. Transfer burgers to a baking sheet and bake for 30 to 35 minutes (or until golden), flipping once through. Alternately, you can chill them for twenty minutes before transferring them to a grill and cooking through. You can also pan fry them in coconut oil until golden on each side.

This is a great recipe to make ahead and freeze, for those days you have no time to cook. I usually defrost the night before and then just get a side salad from the supermarket to have in my lunch break.

Giving Extra to Someone Special

Giving Extra to Someone Special is a campaign being run at the moment by Halifax.  They asked me to take part by sponsoring a gift for a person close to me.

I chose my friend Penny.  This evening we celebrated a year since she completed treatment for breast cancer. What better occasion for a gift?  Throughout Penny has coped with it so well.  She was just so brave and an absolute inspiration.  It’s not been easy of course, and she still lives with the changes it has brought,  but she is truly amazing.

I bought her a purple felt hat and matching leather gloves.  The hat has a touch of the flapper about it and suits her beautifully:

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We drank celebratory cocktails in the Gilbert Scott.  It was too dim to get any photos unfortunately, but the drinks were fantastic.  I also fell in love with the popcorn they brought with our drinks – in smoky butter flavour, yum!

Thanks Halifax, but most of all thank you Penny, for being amazing.

Christmas food and wine matching

To round off my trio of Waitrose Christmas posts, Waitrose sent me a handy list of wine matching suggestions for all of their Christmas food.

We decided to give the tool a go, and tried a selection of their canapés with the suggested Christmassy twist on a Bellini – adding sloe gin to Prosecco, which I’d never thought of before.  It worked very well.  I made the sloe gin in September 2011.  I made three bottles, and have drunk one each year since.  The flavour has become more complex and mellow over time.  I opened the third bottle to make the Christmas Bellini and oh! It’s heavenly.  I intended to make more every year so I’d have a constant supply of aged sloe gin, but unfortunately it hasn’t happened – I must rectify this in the future.  The canapés were also lovely – I picked a selection from those available at the Finchley Road branch including crostini, filo tartlets, and we particularly liked the mini cheese soufflés.

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There are plenty of other suggestions in the guide, which you can find here.  I really want to try the nut roast Wellington now, they don’t stock it at Finchley Road so I’ll have to track it down.  While browsing the Waitrose website I also found these vegetarian Christmas recipes, which I must try some time.

However, I have a different plan in store for this Christmas – stay tuned!