Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Grim 2012

An amazing race through thigh-deep water and the squidgiest mud.

That's me in red, taking the path of least resistance !

I last did the race in 2008 and I recall that I enjoyed it immensely. Saturday was no different. I loved it ! It was freezing cold though, and often those puddles were also full of pieces of ice.

Race stats were as follows. Distance is 8 miles over varied terrain.

Time: 1:20:55
Position 863/ 2900 (or so)
Age group position (35-40) 17\198

I was approximately 4-5 minutes quicker than when I completed the race in 2008, which equates to about 400 places higher up. That's quite a lot huh ?

If you fancy checking it out, here's the web site:

Now, on to my next challenge... did I hear someone say BallBuster ????
Check out this link:

I think that first photo on the web page says it all... The BallBuster dualthon is not for the faint-hearted.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Breast Calcifications - One year on.

In July 2011, I wrote about my breast calcifications, and my biopsy to have them removed, see the full story here: My Recovery

More than twelve months later, and I was due for another check up.. Basically to check that no calcifications had come back, I suppose and also to check that there were no new 'suspect' ones.. etc.etc. I was considering whether to go or not.. It's not exactly a pleasant process, and I didn't for a minute think that there would be new calcifications, and I had no lumps that I was aware of...

However, at the moment there is a lot in the press about Breast Cancer awareness, so I thought what the hell, go for the follow up and be done with it. I booked an appointment, and went along.

I was right, no new calcifications. Mammogram was fine. The ultrasound also did not show any new calcifications. We moved on to the right side, and saw what can only be described as a 'black hole' appear.. Ew ! 'It doesn't look suspect' said the consultant radiographer, as she measured the 'dimensions' of the hole '. We discussed the fact that this was 'new', it was not on the scan last year. 'You can leave it, or if you prefer we can do a biopsy', the radiographer said.

'What now ?' I asked. My little CC was outside in the waiting room doing her maths homework. I guess at a private hospital they can do this sort of thing straight away. 'Yes please' I said. Based on my family history of the disease, I prefer to err on the side of caution.

'Scalpel, please' said the radiographer. Actually, it was the same lady that had carried out my wire biopsy last year, so I am getting used to hearing her say those words... We discussed grammar schools too.. like you do. Anyway, the 'incision' was all of 2mm. She injected what looked like a bucketful of anaesthetic before she took a couple of chunks, with what sounded like a stapler. A few steri strips over the top, and that was that. I saw my consultant immediately afterwards and he reaffirmed what the radiographer had said.

I arranged to see my consultant with the biopsy results on Friday 19th October. It was a long four days, but finally the day came. The 'mass' was not malignant. It also was not a cyst this time.. The size of it is 8.4mm. And what next ? My consultant said that I should have a follow-up ultra sound in three months. The consultant said that some women have cysts or masses that are the size of a small fist, and some choose to have them removed for aesthetic reasons. Fair enough.

The main reason for the next ultrasound is to assess the 'rate of growth'. If it has doubled in size within three months, he said they would probably do another biopsy... I don't know what happens if it is the same size. Maybe I will go back six months later for another check... Who knows ?

It just goes to show that you never can tell what these tests will bring up, and the importance of going for regular health checks.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Grammar School Homework

It's easy, as a parent, to get into the Year 5 and Year 6 grammar school frenzy... with the tutors, the mock tests, the real tests, the bribery and sympathy... You know your child is doing well at school and you want them to get the best secondary school education possible.
          'It's only until the tests are over', 'You can relax all summer, let's just focus on the tests ...'
That was me, and many of the other parents that I knew at the time, and rightly so ! For every place at a grammar school an average of ten children will apply per place. There were over 2000 applicants in my child's year for 210 places. That translates to an on average 90%+ pass mark in the tests, and that's the scores we aimed at.
          This year, the school had an 'overflow' test day too, in order to accommodate all of the applicants.
          Of course we were absolutely thrilled when we got a place. The hard work had paid off. It was poetry in motion. The summer was spent on a high, with much, well deserved, relaxing
          Most grammar school students are used to being top of the class at their primary school. For most children at grammar school, that will no longer be the case. They will be in the middle of the group, they may be at the bottom of the group, they may be top of the group. 
           This manifests itself also in the new subjects at school; they are exposed to a new way of thinking, as they begin their KS3 courses and start to study languages, science, graphics in much greater detail than ever before. Your child may have a talent for Graphics and struggle with English, with the corresponding grades.
           Moving on to homework, let it be said, there is a lot, or certainly more than my daughter was used to. Her primary school was particularly homework-lite. It makes sense though, homework in Junior school was nightly reading, maths, sometimes comprehension,  a little writing, no science or languages. My daughter, having started this September, and we are not yet through a half term, now brings homework in the following subjects: Music, Art, Geography, History, Maths, English, German, Spanish, Science, Religious Studies, Citizenship, Graphics.
           I'm pleased to report, that it's a case of so far, so good for us. I think this is for a couple of reasons. Firstly, she has established a good routine for herself. She arrives home, gets changed, has a snack and then starts her homework. She does not watch TV beforehand, although she might if she doesn't have much homework. 
            A couple of nights a week, she plays sport after school, so does not arrive home until later,so the homework is started later... She aims to complete all homework on the evening it is set, however, as she also swims twice a week ( as well as the after school sport), this is not always possible. 
            However, aiming to complete all of the homework, means that firstly the homework does not pile up, thus providing added pressure, and also weekends are then free in which to spend time relaxing with friends. She has a 'To Do' folder and two 'Completed' folder, and she strives to keep the 'To do' one empty. With this system, she always knows what she has 'to do'.
            I'm all for allowing my child to have some fun - it's not all work, work, work,,, but if you put in the work first, then you can have the fun, knowing the work is done too. 
            After-school teas with a friend, at your home or the friend's home, are a part of this, but I have found that of the couple we have participated in the last five weeks, both children settle down when they arrive home, and get the homework done together. They work at their own pace, and help each other out. I think this is a great idea. It gives the child a sense of responsibility and gets them used to working outside of their normal environment. 
             Don't be surprised to see a massive change in your child as they start Year 7.  They will have a few wobbles, but make sure they have all the bits and pieces they need, and the bumps will even themselves out after a couple of weeks. 
             If you are having homework woes with your child, make sure you get all of the KS3 Study guides for the various subjects (available from Amazon), then you can point them in the right direction when they have a question. Trawling the 'Interweb'  all evening is fine too, if you have all night to do that, the KS3 books are directly targeted at Year 7 and will contain the material your child is studying. Most of all establish a loose routine, and plug the advantages of free time and an empty plate.
             I hope this helps someone out, if you have any questions, please leave me a comment. 

DD helping CC with her homework .....

Monday, September 24, 2012

Blog Standard

I was reading The Times on Saturday, as I usually do, and I was reading Giles Coren's food review. No, actually, it wasn't the food review, it was his wry and witty 'Opinion' column in the newspaper proper in which he, to be frank, rips the piss, out of whomever messed up in the public eye, during the previous week.

This week it was the turn of Nick Clegg, who had made a rash promise before the coalition, and has now been forced to backtrack and apologise for not keeping that promise. Click the link above, and you'll see that his apology has been auto-tuned and made into a track (which has been released). Apparently he penned the words to the apology whilst on holiday in Spain. And there's the rub, I too like to make a few jottings whilst on holiday in France, or more often on the 12 hour car journey back along the autoroute to Blighty.

It's become a bit of a standing joke these days, when the jotter comes out, and 'the list' begins. Usually, it's a 'to do' list. Things like: worm the dog, buy school uniform.. Sometimes, it's more aspirational things like, run a(nother) marathon, or actually go to yoga. Most times, the to-do part of the list gets done, and the rest wavers between September and December... For example, this year's list contained 'Go blackberry picking'. And I went. It also said 'Join Gym'. And I didn't.

As for Giles Coren he unfurls his holiday list, laughs, and tosses it aside.. Should Nick Clegg have done this with his penned apology as Giles Coren implies ? I think not. Why not ? OK, I'm no politician. However, if 'Cleggers' can show that he can 'take' being the butt of a joke, and also raise some money for charity at the same time. That is a good thing. Not just for his reputation, but also for the charity benefiting from the funds raised.. but, I guess, more for his reputation. It couldn't really be any worse, let's face it...

The moral here I guess is, if we want to live a 'blog standard' life, then the list wouldn't get written at all would it ? When we're on holiday, we're living in the image of who we would like to continue to be when we get home. Carefree, warm, relaxed, happy, having fun. No better a time to pen an apology if you ask me, or to write a list of your aspirations, whether you will achieve them or not isn't really the point. You are at least writing from a position of comfort, when you are at your most 'real', and it's the action of being bothered to write at all that counts.

Friday, July 27, 2012

London Olympics 2012 - My plan!

I'm excited. I admit it. I really love my sport, so it's no surprise that I love watching the Olympics.

The opening ceremony is starting in just over an hour and I'm at home poised to start watching it.

My support is of course, firstly for Team GB, then Team USA and finally team France. Today we were lucky enough to go to USA House, where we visited the shop and bought a few pieces of memorabilia.

Here is CC with top US athlete Darvis "Doc" Patton. He's a top sprinter, and I hope he inspired little CC today.

Unfortunately we were not able to secure tickets for any events. The lottery system meant that you could sign up for tickets, without knowing what you were going to get. I didn't see the point of that.. This means then that we did try to get tickets for athletics and cycling. And failed. So, tomorrow morning we will travel to the Surrey countryside where we plan to get a roadside spot to see the cyclists go past. It should be good.

Other than that, I also plan to go to Hyde park to watch the men's triathlon, and I also plan to watch some athletics on the big screen in Hyde Park so I can revel in the atmosphere and seeing the sport on the big screen.

I walked through Hyde Park at about 3.30pm and I have to say the atmosphere was electric. I'm looking forward to being part of that over the next few weeks.

Less than an hour to the opening ceremony now - Bring it on ! How are you planning to enjoy the Olympics in London ??

Monday, July 16, 2012

Getting A Rescue Dog - My little DD

Believe me when I say that I'm no dog expert, but I'm slowly getting there. Little CC had wanted a dog forever-and-a-day, or at least five years, which is a long time for a child. We had already indulged her 'need' for a pet when we bought Sandy and Pebbles, our beautiful guinea pigs, back in April 2011. They are a delight. But, I wasn't quite ready for the commitment of a dog.

People said to me 'You can't have a dog, you work!' and 'How will you cope?', 'What will happen when you go to France..?' whilst all around me, on the school run, and on holiday I saw working people, with families and dogs, damn well getting on with it. Why not us too, I thought ?

So we got a dog. I wanted a rescue dog. I knew we couldn't get a puppy, they really are too much work if you are at work. Although, saying that, I did find a place that will come and see your puppy during the day if you need it. I tell you, if you have the money, you really can get anything done for you and your pet.

I also wanted a dog that would fit in with our lifestyle of running and activity. A relatively youngish dog then.. hopefully with not too many 'problems'. We registered with some rescue centres, we never heard anything back. We called rescue centres, having fallen in love with a dog we had seen on-line, only to be told that said Pooch was in Spain, or had already gone to another family, or just anything really. I started to feel fobbed off... We looked at a lovely greyhound, but he was too big and powerful for little CC and would never be able to be let off a lead and would probably need a muzzle. I knew it wouldn't work.

At out local rescue centre's open day, where we had seen the greyhound, we saw a cute little white terrier and registered our interest. 'We will consider you..' said the staff at the centre. For two days we held our breath, and then the call came 'We're really sorry but the terrier has gone to someone else as they were at home all day ..' I think I cried when I got off the phone. 'I'm going to bloody well get  a puppy!' I said to BB feeling forlorn, overspilling with mummy-doggy-love.. I looked into the place that would come and check your pup during the day. I knew it could be done. But I knew I didn't really want a puppy, I wanted a dog that needed a good, loving home. And then the call came.

'We've got a dog that we think would suit you'. He's a lakeland terrier called 'Dusty'.' His previous owner was working long hours and couldn't give him the time and exercise he needed. He doesn't know his name, so you can rename him if you choose. Oh, and he loves running.'. I paused, was this really the right thing to do, the right time to get a dog ? He was gorgeous and just the dog for us, but I was still apprehensive. Then CC met him, and BB met him, and I went for a run with him and all was perfect. The nice lady from the rescue centre came and did a house check, all was fine.. Fences secure, places for doggy to sleep etc;

We all saw him for a final time on Saturday morning, and as there was an  open day the next day, so we arranged to collect him the following Wednesday. I had made my mind up, this little doggy was going to be ours! We carried on with our usual Saturday, CC went off to her dance class, and we were headed for the supermarket. We went via Pets At Home as I wanted to see what I needed to get for doggy's arrival .. We were back in the car when my phone rang. 'It was the centre, if it's OK with you, we don't see any reason why you can't pick up Dusty today'. Well, I could have cried, we arranged to go back at 1630, and we dashed into Pets At Home and got a bed, toys, a blanket, food and water bowl, food etc. I already had a lead I had bought the previous weekend.

CC was still at her dance class. She knew nothing of this. All of the items were at home ready and we went to collect her from dancing. 'Why are we going this way home Mummy?' I fobbed her off,  'I need to quickly pop to the supermarket ..' 'Why are we turning in here then?' she asked as we approached the centre. 'CC, I said, guess what? We're getting your little doggy today, right now'. We were both so thrilled.

We got our little man and brought him home...

That was four months ago. Dusty, aka Dusty Dog, or DD on the blog here, is a clever boy, who totally knew his own name, when given a little time and attention. He sits for treats, is perfect at night and loves to run. He also pulls on the lead (we're working on it..), and bites holes in the fence if he gets a sniff of fox from the other side, but you can't have everything right ?

This is him in my arms on Sunday with one of his home-made treats. He's a beautiful dog, but animals are expensive. His insurance is £30 a month, annual check up and vaccine is another £50 approximately. Our trips to France incur another vet visit both before we leave and before we return which is about another £60. That is before he has eaten any food, or been groomed, wormed or de-flead. (is that a word?) I was and am prepared for those costs, but I can imagine it could come as a shock if you hadn't counted it all up. That's one of the reasons that the family pet is the first to go when a family's financial situation changes...

All in all, although there are advantages to training a dog from a pup, I'm glad we went with DD, our beautiful  little rescue pooch. Dusty Dog, we are your forever family, and we love you.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

My Week

I've just taken this photo, so you get the idea of how I'm writing this. Yes, I'm tired, it's Saturday evening, 8pm to be precise, and I'm slumped on the sofa with my laptop, well, on top of my lap. Clue's in the name as we say in this house.. and I'm typing ...

So, what have I been doing all week? Nothing really out of the ordinary to be honest.. So, I worked five days, I ran with little DD to collect little CC from school on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. I took CC to her disco last night.. We got up bright and early and cycled a loop of Boxhill, which incidentally, is where the male Olympic cycling race is happening next month. We cycle there every weekend, but do you think we could get a ticket to see the road race there? Not a chance. Since we signed up to the Olympics website, we keep receiving what I can only describe as 'teaser' emails saying 'More tickets for sale now', so you log on to the site, agree that you'll spend £200 odd quid on a ticket, and then try and 'Check out' and it then comes back with a message saying, 'Tickets not found' or  'No such tickets for sale'. It's happened about three times, and it's really starting to hack me off now.. I mean really, really, really hack me off.. Therefore, we will go and watch the non-ticketed part of the cycling, to which we will cycle, as the roads will be all but blocked to normal traffic, and I would also like to see some triathlon in Hyde Park which is also a non-ticketed event, but that will depend on the day/time and whether I am working or not...but I digress.. where was I?

Ah yes, what else this week ? I didn't do much cooking. I did make the chocolate and berries cake that I saw on the Foodbuz Top 9, and I even have some still hanging about, but I've not time to talk about that now.. I have a back log at the moment of recipes to post or try.. here they are:

Lemon and Lime curd (from  site)
Jubilee Chicken Pasties ( a recipe from TGBBO book)
Chocolate Berry cake (a recipe from Food buzz top 9)

I'm embarrassed to admit that I also have photos of other 'Mystery Meals' but I can't for the love of God remember what the recipe was... such a waste!

Tomorrow we will entertain friends, I am going to cook Leg of lamb. Actually, I don't like this meat much, it taste too 'animally' for me, but Chinese Ruth and my BB like it.. so there you go. I will tuck into Yorkshire Pudding, and Roast Potatoes and asparagus and sage and onion stuffing and carrots and green beans. All topped off with Apple Strudel and Custard. To start, I am going to make some tiny crostini with smoked salmon and philly. To drink I bought some Tsing-Tsao beer, if you haven't tried it, I would definitely recommend it.

Before that, I am going to take my little DD on nice long run with me. It's rained all day, so I think we will be getting nice and muddy, which is good ! Oh yes, CC got her school report - it was excellent - of course. :o)

A couple of last notes, since South End half marathon I don't have any races on my 'to do' list, so if anyone 'out there' has any recommendations, please leave me a comment.

I know some of my UK readers read  The Saturday Times, today in 'The Magazine', Robert Crampton was talking about booze and having 'dry' days. I was wondering how you control your alcohol consumption? I am currently drinking a glass of rose (cheers!) but I don't really drink that much these days.. I drink more when in France at my Labour of Love (or LoL). I definitely don't drink before a race, and abstained for about 3 weeks before my first marathon. I found that it made a big difference to how I felt and I seemed to have more vitality. In the same magazine they talk about coffee and our addiction to it, and how much we spend on it.. I think I'll have to leave talking about that for another post.



Monday, July 9, 2012

Peanut Butter Dog Biscuits

I had nearly run out of shop-bought dog treats, and little DD (Dusty Dog) so enjoyed his first batch of treats that I had to make him some more.

I was looking for a simple, quick, non-meat recipe and found a recipe that completely fitted the bill on-line here and it was just SO simple.

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour (or a different flour..)
  • 1 cup rolled oats  (I used oats with added bran)
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter, chunky or smooth (I used chunky)
  • 1 1/4 cups hot water

Additional flour for rolling
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F
  2. Mix dry ingredients together.

  3. Mix in the peanut butter and hot water. You may need to add more flour if the dough is too sticky.

  4. Knead the dough well.
  5. Roll out the dough into 1/4" thickness and cut into shapes with dog cookie cutters - or in my case a man cutter.
  6. Note - This recipe doesn't call for it, but you can brush the biscuits with egg or egg-wash to give them a sheen. I didn't brush mine.

  7. Bake on a lightly greased cookie sheet for 40 minutes. You can leave them in the oven to get harder over night, but I didn't and they were plenty hard enough for my DD.
Cool them on a wire rack before serving.

As you can see this recipe makes a good few biscuits for your little pooch.

Look at the anticipation on his face! I hope your dog enjoys these if you make them.

As soon as he had his biscuit he ran off to his blanket to eat him in peace. He's already devoured a head and an arm ! Bless him.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

My Photography

I love taking photos. The one below is my most recent favourite. I took this in Limoux, France at Easter whilst on holiday at our Labour of Love. CC is walking DD (Dusty Dog) her little lakeland terrier. This picture captures the moment perfectly. There's no touching up, cropping or brightening, this is exactly how it came out, and I'm very happy with it.

This next one is an 'action shot' of a friend of ours doing the 'Kamikaze' race back in 2009. This was one of those point-and-click moments to try and get as many shots as possible, and hoping for a good one. ST is a good sport and chucked himself down the hill, I think I would have been a little more tentative. I know he was really pleased with the photo, as was I.

This last one is of my BB at the same race - the kamikaze race. It's taken at the end, when he was starving hungry. I think you can tell that it was a crazy race, and he looks pleased that it's over.

The top one is still my favourite. I've yet to find my all time best photo though which was taken in Oaks Park.

What's your favoutite ?

Any photographic hints and tips gratefully received !

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

South End Half Marathon - A review

Well, that was an interesting race. Flat as a pancake, so perfect if you're hoping for a 'pb'. I was hoping for a personal best, I was hoping for around two hours, or maybe less than two hours. It was not to be.

'What went wrong this time?', I can hear you muttering under your breath.. Two things, firstly it was blinking boiling hot again, oh how I hate running in the sun, and I didn't have my water carrier, so every time I needed a drink, I had to stop and walk. I reckon that costs me about 10 seconds a stop, of which I made six in total. That's sixty seconds lost.

Muck up number two, oh how poignant those very words are, basically, just for a change I had a dodgy tum. I ate late the night before, I had breakfast, and I had tummy ache before I even left the house to start the 90min car journey to the race start. At mile 4, I was lucky enough to spot a loo. Another 2-odd minutes lost.

I continued to have a dicky tum for the rest of the day, although I did manage to get to the end of the race, without rushing to the loo again.

So, what was my final time ? A heart-wrenching 2:00:04  - yes, 2 hours and 4 seconds. Based on all the above I was OK with that. I was 36th female in my age group. And something like 786th out of 1485 runners, so that's OK as well.

Yet again, I have no future races on the horizon, so there's everything to go for.. If you want to recommend a race, please do leave me a comment and let me know.

To end on a highlight, I did the Nonsuch Bank Holiday Park Run on Monday and did the 5km in a personal best time of 24:55 - yippeee!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Dog Biscuits

Cupcake and I bought a lovely little recipe book (for our growing collection.. ) called 'Doggie Biscuits' the other day, and from it we made a recipe called 'Bonnie's Banana Biscuits'. They are from the 'Healthy Bites' section of the book, and unlike the other recipes, do not contain any meat. My dog (Dd-Dusty Dog) eats meat, of course, but I didn't like the thought of smelly fish-based, or liver-based biscuits  hanging around the kitchen for three weeks..

Here's the recipe, it's mega easy and Dd loves them.

2 carrots
1 banana
200g all-purpose flour (I used plain flour)
100g fine rolled oats (I used an oat/bran mix)
50ml sunflower oil
Water as needed

Preheat the oven to 180 deg.

1. Grate the carrots and mash the banana.
2. Add the flour, rolled oats and oil to the above and mix to make a dough.
3. Roll out the dough to about 1cm thick. We then got out the various cutters and made all sorts of fun shapes - see the photo. The recipe states to cut them into squares of 4cm in size.
4. Whatever shape you make, bake them in the oven for 25 minutes approximately.
5. After this time, turn off the heat and let them cool overnight in the oven.
6. Store in a paper or linen bag - mine are in a glass jar.

The biscuits will last for about three weeks.

I hope your pampered pooch enjoys them!
Here's my little Dd ready for bed.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Vegetable Tagine

A colleague at work made a wonderful vegetable curry this week and brought it to work for lunch, so my Columbian friend was the inspiration I needed to go home and do something with vegetables.

If I had taken curry into work, it would have seemed like I was competing, although I wasn't, OK maybe just a little bit, but I didn't want to make curry anyway. Who wants to eat the same things two days running ? Certainly not me. So, I remembered I had some sumac in the cupboard that I bought a while ago and came across the other day unopened, and I had already made a mental note to use it; Here was the opportunity. I could make a vegetable tagine!

I didn't have the time to go searching a recipe, so I googled one and found a great recipe here: When I looked closer at the blog, it seems that the writer of this blog is UK-based, and is just an hour away from me. Small world huh ?

The recipe made an amazing tagine: here 's a piccie to whet your appetite.
My modifications are next to the original in italics


  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped I used one red and one white and they weren't that finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped - I used 2 large ones, 1 small
  • 1/2 a large butternut squash, peeled and diced - I used a whole small one
  • 1 red pepper, large dice - I didn't have any, so I left it out
  • 2 medium carrots, large dice
  • substitute other vegetables as desired, eg spinach, chard, courgette, etc - I used some kale- about a handful; one parsnip; a handful of green beans;; half an aubergine.
  • 1 can plum tomatoes
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 250ml vegetable stock
  • 50g (1/2 cup) dried apricot, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon each: cumin, paprika, cinnamon, cayenne/chilli powder, chilli flakes and harissa (North African chilli sauce – optional)
  • 2 teaspoons each: ras el hanout and za’atar or sumac (If you don’t have any of these North African spices in your cupboards, a teaspoon each of thyme and oregano would imitate za’atar, a squeeze of lemon juice will give a sourness like sumac and a teaspoon of mixed spice gives some of the flavours of ras el hanout. Or add 1 tsp of each if you have them all.)  I was out of ras el hanout, I had had some, but it was out of date, so I had thrown it away. Instead I used a little bit of nutmeg as I had no mixed spice.
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Mix the dry spices together and divide in half. Mix half the spices with the diced squash and a bit of olive oil, place on a tray in the oven and cook until softened and starting to brown, about 20-30 minutes.
  2. While the squash is cooking, soften the onion in a bit of butter or olive oil over medium-high heat.
  3. Add the rest of the spices, the other chopped vegetables and garlic, stir and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the canned tomatoes, honey, dried apricots and stock, heat until boiling.
  5. Reduce the heat and cover. Cook for about 20 minutes until the vegetables have cooked and the sauce has reduced slightly.
  6. Add the roasted squash and chickpeas, stir to combine and heat through for another 3-5 minutes. 
The veggie website recommends that you serve this with couscous, but I was taking this to work so I had it with some bread on the side to dip into the lovely juices. This was an amazing, spicy and healthy dish. The roasted squash which is added at the end, means the squash retains its texture and it's strong spicing. The chickpeas give you  plenty of protein, so no need to add meat. Also, you can use any vegetables that you have to hand.

I hope you like it - I will definitely be making this again very soon.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Sports Nutrition

Well here's a lovely picture of some sports nutrition that I've eaten recently... I'll be honest here, I'm not over keen on the mass-produced sports drinks and food. I'd rather have a banana and an orange juice/water mix with a dash of salt. However, this also is not that palatable and not very practical either. Gatorade is very tasty though!

Getting your nutrition right is a matter of trial and error, with the banana thing I find that after running for about 30 minutes the banana starts to repeat and stays with me for the rest of my run. Nice it ain't. I like the idea of malt loaf, which I know a lot of people use. However, I have discovered that I'm not very good at chewing and running at the same time.

So, what do I use? The answer? Gels. Gels are revolting, some are as thick as jam and make you want to retch as soon as you put them in your mouth from the texture and the over-sweetness, so two tips to get round this:

1) Take them with 2 or 3 large mouthfuls of water
2) Don't try and 'eat' or 'taste' them. This isn't your dinner. Just wash it straight down.

It is possible to find some gels that have a more watery texture, and whilst these are more palatable, for my last two marathons (makes me sound dead good that does, no?) I used GU gels. They look like this:

You can buy them from: They come in various flavours: lime, berry, strawberry. The chocolate one above is surprisingly nice, although lime is my favourite as it tastes slightly 'fresher', and therefore stops me feeling nauseous which for me kicks in at about three hours in a marathon.

I took one of these every forty minutes - so for a 4hr marathon time that's about 6 gels. Nice.

Try it in your training and see how it goes. This is a rather important part of your race plan, so to quote a cliché, Fail to Plan=Plan to Fail. Enough said, and the very best of success to you in your sporting adventures.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

My top ten Condiments

One of my favourite things to do over the weekend is read The Saturday Times, today I actually got chance to read it. Right at the back of the magazine Robert (Bob) Crampton gave his list of top ten condiments, which got me to thinking what mine would be... which led me straight to here to share them with my lovely readers. What d'you mean I don't have any readers.. ? Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked.

The best way to focus my mind on which condiment is most 'important' to me, is to consider the one that I miss most when in France. The answer? Number 1: Mustard.. whether the multi-grained French style or the sinus-clearing Coleman's  it has a veritable plethora of uses. Firstly, it is an essential ingredient in your salad dressing - just mix a teaspoon of it with olive oil, a little honey, a squeeze of lemon and salt and pepper. Then adjust to taste. It is divine. I make an awesome salad with the tomatoes in France, which are so much more juicy than the ones you can buy in the UK, I mix the tomatoes in a 60:40 ratio with just blanched green beans (so they're still 'squeaky'), toss the roughly sliced tomatoes in with the green beans and then toss them with coarse grain mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper. The heat from the green beans, along with the juice from the tomatoes melds wonderfully with the mustard and makes a fantastic warm salad with cold meats or with roast sausages and a hunk of bread. Delish ! Not to mention a mild American mustard on a hotdog with ketchup. How lovely is that ?

On to a close Number Two and that has to be Mayonnaise, I'm never really very far from a jar. I love a splodge with pizza, with chips eg french fries, in a tuna sandwich, with new potatoes... it livens up everything. I only ever eat the low-fat variety, and I never, ever make it myself as I find the homemade version a little greasy.

Number Three has to be Tomato Ketchup aka red sauce or tomato sauce. Of course I love it with french fries, but really I use it mostly as an ingredient in cooking. I add it to spaghetti bolognese sauce, chilli, cottage pie, anything with a tomatoey base and it tastes all the better for it. I nearly forgot, it's excellent with sausages too!

Number Four - Wasabi and Horseradish cream I'm lumping these two together as they're both made with horseradish root. Wasabi is a must-have with sushi, horseradish with my roast beef. I love that sinus-clearing sting and the taste. Nothing beats it. I cannot eat beef or sushi without this accompaniment.

Number Five - Brown Sauce - I cannot eat a bacon sandwich with tomato sauce, for me bacon has to be paired with brown sauce. I love it. I also really like it with scrambled eggs. Which might sound like an odd combo but I love it.

Number 6 - Sweet chilli sauce  - Perfect with nachos, added to salsa, with gammon steak and mashed potatoes. I guess I could probably eat chilli sauce with anything.

Number 7 - Tartare sauce Another must-have, but this time with fish. I love this with scampi or battered cod. It's basically mayo with tangy capers. Delicious.

Number 8 - Burger Relish There's something about burger relish that just adds a little something to a burger. I will eat a burger without it, but really I would rather not...

Number 9 - Salad Cream It's made my top ten, but the truth is that salad cream has gone quite out of fashion. I love it on new potatoes, on a cheese sandwich, and on a fishfinger sandwich. I eat such classy things don't I  ??

Number 10 - Mango Chutney Delicious with poppadoms with an Indian curry, but equally lovely mixed with yoghurt or added to a spicky chicken dish.

That's my top ten - and I haven't even mentioned picalilly, branston pickle, vinegar. I love all of them, but they're not my top ten. What's your favourite condiment ?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The School Run

Dusty Dog (DD) and I have been doing the school run together.

When we arrive at school he puts his little feet on mine, and stands between my legs. Finally got a photo of this today - see below. How cute is that ??

Sunday, April 1, 2012

East Sussex Marathon 2012

I did it - I completed my second marathon today. I'm sad to say, it was hellish. The hills, the hills, oh the blasted hills.

It all went wrong, my race strategy that is. I did exactly what they tell you not to do, and started out too fast. I'd done the half marathon in 2:06 - not that mega quick, but the pounding of the roads, and the seemingly relentless up and down hills, meant that my thighs were 'gone'. Gone in that, with every footstep, I felt a major pain up both thighs. What to do ?? Well, carry on in great pain, obviously. And so I did. I even had to call my BB after 24.5 miles and get him to join me at mile 25 for the last mile. I needed him to give me a boost. Bless him, he turned up, and did his best to get me moving but the downhills were excruciating.

To cut a long story short, I finally crossed the line in about 4:45, I say about as the official results are not out yet. I was lucky enough to be joined by my little cousin Libby this time, she's ten years my junior and about half my size. She did the half in about 1:50, and at that point was fourth woman, but she blew up on the second half too, and when BB left to meet me she was about 800m from the finish. She finished in 4:19.

Yes, can you believe it took me 25 minutes to run a mile and a half. I've run three miles quicker than that..
To reach the finish, you had to run up a majorly steep hill. I was nearly crying at this point. Without my BB, I'm sure I would have walked that last bit.

So, lessons learned today:
1) Choose blinking flat marathons - not ones with hills!
2) Don't try and beat your half marathon time when running a marathon, or you will have a rubbish marathon time.
3) Move everything downstairs ready for when you arrive home to save yourself the agony of the stairs. The stairs, the stairs! I currently have everything on the stairs as I cannot face the ascent and descent.
4) Take a towel with you -just in case there are (warm) showers. Today's were cold and I had no towel ...
5) Yoga - before my last marathon I took up yoga twice a week, for the four weeks before race day. Was that why I was able to run just 3 days later ? I've had a really busy couple of weeks, and had a really tense neck before today's race. I didn't have that last time.. True, I wasn't quite as busy, but no doubt, the yoga works. Next time (??), or before an important race I will definitely be doing some yoga. Nameste.

Things that went right:
1) Nutrition - a gel every 40 minutes, washed down with two gulps of water, works. It just does. If after 3.5 hours of running, eating a gel makes you gag, don't worry, just wash it down with lots of water. The gag reflex goes as the water washes down.. Well, it did today. Never rely on a race having sufficient nutrition for your needs. Always take your water and gels with you.

2) Kit - All the kit worked today. No chaffing, no blistering, no black toe nails. All kit tested pre-race day. So, plenty of vaseline on my feet, and also some on my tum, anti-blister socks bought for me by my BB for mother's day. I got those tested out about twice before race day. Trainers, I now run in a size 7 (40), I used to run in a size 6(39) or 6.5 (39.5).  Your feet swell after running a long distance, so you need the extra length at the toe. Believe me, I've had the nails to prove it - Ew! Not good. I also had a lighter water bag thingy than the one I used in my last marathon, it holds 1.5 l, and that worked well too.

So, what next ? Of course I need a new challenge, but purlease not another marathon. I am done with running anything further than a half marathon for now. You know the best part of today was the first half.. I'd like to mix it up a little, so maybe a duathlon next, or a shorter cross country run.

And I'd still recommend a marathon if you've never done one. It certainly is character-building stuff.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Dusty Dog

Just for a change have had no time to blog of late, lots been happening, but not much cooking!

The marathon training is going well. The race instructions came out about ten days ago, so I had a little breeze through, and guess what? No MP3 players or i-pads allowed. Cripes! So, Sunday saw me pounding the streets for 17 miles sans musique! It wasn't too bad, as it happens, so I'm not too worried about it. The nutrition has been going well too. The gels provided at the race are of the 'GU' variety, so I am using them in training too, and they are going down well with a little water. I also got a new water hydro backpack thingy, it's a really little one which holds up to 1.5 litres, so it will be perfect for the marathon on April 1 (not long now!)

Other news, CC got her school results! She has a place in a really good, local grammar school. It's ranked in the top 20 in the UK, so I can breathe easy now. All of the hard work was worth it.

The biggest change though, is the addition to our family in the form of DD - Dusty Dog. Our little 18 month old lakeland terrier. He's from a rescue center, his previous owner couldn't give him lots of exercise, and I think he was home alone a lot, so now he's part of our family. He's a wonderful 'runner', today we ran up to school. It's about 3km and all flat. He has run 8km with me before and took it in his stride. I shall build him up gently to longer distances...

So, you know we have guinea pigs, right? Well DD has a big problem with the guineas, so they have to have a split-shift in the garden. Right now DD's sleeping off his run and walk in the lounge, while Sandy and Pebbles are in their run on the grass having a munch. I can't quite believe we've gone from being pet-free to having 2 guinea pigs and a dog..

Here's a little piccie of DD. Cute huh ?

Will add more photos in due course.

Friday, February 24, 2012

So it the marathon training?

I'm fed up of me moaning that I'm tired, so hell knows how fed up those around me must be with it... Coincidentally, the marathon training has reached a plateau, which means I sailed (well, not quite) through fifteen miles last weekend, or rather wasn't in knee-cruching agony and simultaneous exhaustion as I had been a couple of weeks ago when running only twelve miles.  Today was a fast session, one mile warm up, four miles fast, and one mile cool down. All in fifty five minutes. Excellent!

Now I'm tired. When I got back from the run it was 3.20pm so I just had time to change my clothes and jump in the car to collect little CC and her friend from the netball tournament. Friend dropped home, CC and I went and bought a dog lead and toy for the dog that we may be getting. It's a lakeland terrier, male (neutered), 18 months old. Cute as a button. But, am I bighting off more than I can chew ? Already feeling stretched to my limit, will this be a burden. This little terrier is a fantastic runner and I can see me and him having some fantastic times together. Of course CC has wanted a dog for about five years. So, one thing is for sure, is that he will be loved to bits...

Tonight I'm off to the cinema to see the new 'Marigold hotel' film thingy... starring Dame Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel amongst others. I'm looking forward to it, if I can keep my eyes open...

The good news is that I have kept tomorrow free. CC and I are taking BB to see the DD, as he hasn't met him yet. How exciting! Other than that I plan to conserve energy for my run on Sunday.

What are your remedies when you're feeling really tired ? And don't be all clever and say sleep, because really that's not going to help. Who has time for that??

Monday, February 13, 2012

Maple Syrup and Pecan Tart

I've been wanting to make a pecan pie for some time now, but I haven't had a great deal of spare time lately. Also, I am trying to watch my weight and pecan pie is not exactly a diet-friendly dessert. The fact that BB and CC don't like it that much also meant that basically I was going to be making a pecan pie - for me. Oh, the greed.

I finally got the maple syrup and was lazy and bought a ready-made all-butter pie crust from the supermarket.  I had a copy of Jamie's Dinners to hand and was looking through it and came across this wonderful recipe for Maple Syrup and Pecan tart. I have traditionally made pecan pie by whisking eggs, maple syrup and pecan nuts together and then baking it in a pastry crust. But you will see, dear reader, that Jamie's recipe contains no eggs, but even better than that this is a lovely pie made lighter than the usual pecan pie with the addition of apple, orange rind, breadcrumbs and wait for it, ginger ! It certainly makes for a rather different pecan pie, but you know what - it made a nice, welcoming change.

Here's a picture of the dry ingredients before being added to the syrup and butter. You can see the breadcrumbs, pecan nuts, grated apple and orange zest. Yum!

I have been eating it all weekend, so tomorrow the rest of it will be taken to work to be shared amongst the boys. If you fancy a change from the heavier, traditional pecan pie I would definitely recommend this.

Maple syrup and pecan tart
This is Jamie's picture not mine - mine is at the end and is definitely not as good as this one - Dammit!

Serves 6-8 (or one in my case - Ha!)
Shortcrust pastry 55g/2oz butter
340g/12oz maple syrup
3 tablespoons golden syrup
170g/6oz breadcrumbs, half fine, half coarse
zest of 2 oranges
2 Cox's apples, grated
a thumb-size piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
2 handfuls of shelled pecan nuts
optional: crème fraiche or vanilla ice cream
optional: a handful of thyme flowers

First of all, make your pastry, then line a 28cm/11in loose-bottomed tart tin with it and place in the freezer for an hour. Preheat the over to 180C/350F/gas 4. Take the pastry case out of the freezer and bake in the oven for around 15 minutes, until lightly golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Heat the butter, maple syrup and golden syrup together in a pan, then mix in the breadcrumbs, orange zest, apples, ginger and half the pecan nuts. Spoon into the pastry case and sprinkle over the remaining pecans. Put back in the oven and bake for around 20 minutes. Lovely served with some crème fraiche or vanilla ice cream and sprinkled with thyme flowers.

NOTE: My pre-made, shop-bought pastry crust was quite small and I could tell by looking at it that I would not use all of the filling stated above, so I did actually use half the ingredients indicated above, so one apple, one orange, a small amount of ginger, half the breadcrumbs and syrup(s) and it completely filled the pastry case. So, if you get a shop-bought one you may need to do the same....

My picture - not as good as Jamie's is it ??

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Ultimate Fudge

Cupcake has been asking for ages and ages to make fudge, another one of the recipes from her book that she is working her way through. First, she measured out the ingredients, and we realised we had no sugar, then when we finally got the sugar, we had no time...

So, finally today we found the time. I had thought it would turn out like the fudge I had made in my youth. I was wrong. It is the scrummiest, buttery'est' (is that a word?), yummiest thing I have eaten in a while. Considering I just made a pecan pie the other day, that is saying something..

Here's the recipe..

450gr caster sugar
50gr unsalted butter
150ml milk
170g (6fl oz) can evaporated milk
2.5 ml (half a teaspoon) of vanilla extract

1.Grease your tin.
2.Heat the sugar, butter, milk in a saucepan and stir with a wooden spoon, until the sugar dissolves.
3.Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 20 - 25 mins. CC did the first fifteen, and me the remaining ten.. she was getting bored...
4.Eventually the mixture should reach 116deg c. or 240deg f. on a sugar thermometer. At this point, I too was getting bored and whacked the heat up to try and reach the elusive 240 on the thermometer, I was at 220. Oops! then, suddently brown bits started to appear in the mix. It would seem I was heating it too quickly, so don't do that. I never did see 240 on the thermometer, but those brown bits did seem to disappear. I digress...
5.Take it off the heat and add the vanilla extract. Beat until the mixture is thick and pale in colour. Basically, you will know when it is ready as the mix really thickens and at this point it will be like liquid fudge.
6. Pour into the tin and leave to cool. It should look like this.

7. Once it is cool, cut into squares and y voila - Fudge! Perfect for a little gift, or if you've been for a nice long run today, settle down with a movie and scoff a load y'self!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cirque du Soleil - Totem

This afternoon BB and I went to see Cirque du Soleil's Totem. See more about it here:

 We have been talking about going for the last couple of Christmases, so when  I saw the tickets for sale back in November, I jumped all over them, thinking it would be a perfect birthday birthday treat for my BB. And it was.

The Royal Albert hall is a beautiful venue. We had cheaper seats in the circle area, and they were just fine. Maybe a touch of vertigo right at the top there, but a good enough view. The set is amazing, as are the performers. The story line is, in my opinion, a little loose, but most circus-type productions, have a looser story line and excellent performers. And so it was today.

Would I go again? Probably not to see Totem, as I'm not a 'do the same thing twice' kinda gal. That said, I would definitely go and see another Cirque du Soleil performance.

I should mention that we went to the matinee performance, and looking around, it was obvious that not all of the more expensive seats were full. After the interval, many of the seats that we were in were empty. The occupants did not return. So, either they had had enough and gone home, or they had gone and 'helped themselves' to the more expensive seats. Is this allowed ? I wondered... Is this socially acceptable...? Would anyone really care if a person moved seats half way through the performance.... ??

We preceded the event with a lovely lunch in an ASK restaurant in Gloucester Road, there was only one poor girl waiting the whole restaurant, so the service was rubbish. The girl was practically sweating - poor thing.. They missed the croutons out of my Caesar salad - how is that possible ??

This was followed by a 90 minute commute back home with all the other commuters, two of which decided to start a fracas ten minutes into the journey. Nice. Always fun and never a dull moment on public transport.

We collected our little CC from Ruth's house and had a little glass of wine and a slice of Chinese birthday cake to celebrate Ruth's YH's birthday. The cake was lovely, so I am off now to search for a recipe of Chinese birthday cake.

What a (practically) perfect day!

Monday, January 23, 2012

I'm in Magazines! Outdoor Fitness

When we were at Kielder marathon, back in October, they gave away copies of Outdoor Fitness magazine. We managed to snarfle a copy the day before the race and were having a flick through as we sat and looked at the beautiful lake and enjoyed a coffee. If I'm honest, I was reading The Times Magazine, it was Saturday after all, and BB was reading Outdoor Fitness. Suddenly, he leaned forward and passed me the mag and said 'D'you recognise anyone on that page?' I, of course, was expecting to see a friend of ours, or a famous runner or athlete, or something like that. So, I was gobsmacked to see that it was BB and myself and BB's brother-in-law in a race that we did some four years ago.

I've circled us in red, there's bro-in-law leaning back. Me in the middle with one hand in the water, and BB with his arms in the water. The advert is promotinga race called 'Cannock Chase Calling'. The photo below isn't actually in Cannock Chase. The race we did was down at Weaver's Down and is part of the military training area, called Longmoor camp near Hampshire. I can say though, that if you are after a challenge it was the most difficult or should I say tiring race I have ever done. We had to run first, to the kayaks, the 'surprise' when we got there, was that they made us kayak without a paddle (kind), then we had to run back to our bikes, do 2 laps of the most horrendous bike course I have ever experienced in my whole life. I think I fell off about 5 times... and then I think we had to run about 5K, all topped of with an assault course, in which BB and BIL had to drag me over one of those tall A-frame climbing thingies, and we had to scramble under a net on the floor. Enough said?

If you fancy doing an extreme race challenge I would definitely recommend this. To say, it was a challenge is an understatement. It was excellent though.

We also ended up taking out a subscription to Outdoor Fitness magazine and I have to say it's a really good read and a break from Runner's World and the triathlon magazines that I'm used to of late...

Coming next: Me (well, the back of me in Runner's World Magazine (Feb 2012 issue) at the 'On Track On Target' training day  in Birmingham where I was lucky enough to be one of the shortlisted 40 out of some 1600 applicants to attend the training day with the chance of gaining one of five coveted VIP places in the 2012 Paris Marathon.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Boxhill - Cycling In Cold Weather

The 11 mile run went well yesterday - actually I was aching at the end, but we still went on our bike ride which we had arranged to do on our day off today. I took CC to breakfast club and then returned home where BB was preparing the bikes.

It's a nice road route for us up to Boxhill, so it's an opportunity to dig out the the racing bikes. The route is undulating so some steep up hills followed by some steep down hills and a little bit of fast flat parts, so there's plenty of time to recover from the hills. There was a frost this morning, so plenty of layers and 2 pairs of gloves for me, as well as my Compresssport calf guards, long running leggings, and a pair of cycling shorts. On 'top' was a warm base layer, a long sleeved running top and a windcheater jacket. Then there's the 'buffy' and my cycling helmet - so I was nice and warm. My only cold part was my feet, which felt like absolute blocks of ice, that's because I was wearing only one pair of (running) socks and a pair of trainers which have a meshed top...

When we reached Boxhill (which is a National Trust are of outstanding beauty) we stuffed our faces with cake and coffee - like you do, before heading back.

In total we cycled 44km - not bad for a Monday morning. :o)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Wish List 2012

Other than wishing for health and happiness for my loved ones and, of course, world peace, here follows a list of items that I am covetting this year....

Smeg Fridge Freezer

I would particularly like the pale blue model, as this will go nicely in My French Kitchen in Labour of Love. I had originally thought I wanted a large American style fridger-freezer, you know the type, the ones that have two full length metal doors and an ice-cooler/water-chiller. Anyway, I realised that a huge American style fridge was not the way to go, and that it would look too bulky in the room. Also, as long as I can freeze some ice creams, rapidly chill champagne (or blanquette), and store the odd box of fish fingers, why else would I need a huge freezer when on holiday ?? Exactly.

Which leads me nicely on to ...

A Wine Cooler

It would be totally decadent to have a wine cooler fridge thingy in Labour of Love in France. It's never going to happen as it's over £400, you can get cheaper models for about £150, but as this is my wish list, I am going to put the one I would really like if I was willing to spend that amount of money...

Of course the wine could go in that lovely Smeg fridge above, you are thinking, but wait,  the fridge will be located on a different level to the terrace (where I plan to be sitting and drinking cooled wine), and if I had the wine cooler I could step from the terrace to the den/bottom layer where the wine fridge would be positioned right near the door, and quickly be back under the umbrella and reading my book. No ?

(Here's a link to the above btw, in case you are feeling decadent (and rich):

OK, maybe in another life, which therefore means I must 'need' this instead:

Champagne bucket

This would be lovely, and would mean I wouldn't even need to move from my seat to fill my glass. Ha!
You can get this from Amazon for less than fifteen quid! What a bargain!

This of course means that the Smeg freezer will need to be packed full of ice !

OK, thinking about home for a little while ...

Kitchen Aid Ice Cream Attachment

It's not that I want to start eating load of ice cream (hardly!), but I would quite like to experiment with the lighter side of frozen desserts, in terms of sorbets and frozen yoghurts. It's a shame to have invested such a lot in a Kitchen Aid and not take full of advantage of it.. The attachment from the site below is £77.00.

What else ? There is sure to be many more items, but it's tea time so I'm off to cook!

I had a great time in Wing Yip my local chinese supermarket earlier today, so I am going to go and try out my new steamer (thank you bro) which I received for Christmas, and make Chinese steamed sea bass with noodles, oyster mushroom and pak choi. You never know, I might even take a photo or two..

Monday, January 9, 2012

New Year's Eve Menu

I forgot to do a post about the awesome food that we had on New Years Eve in France. Well, I didn't forget exactly, I just haven't had time til now.. So, here goes

Food: Smoked salmon blinis some served on blinis, others served on little rounds of wholemeal bread. I love that in France they do whole loaves of little bread specifically designed for making your little savouries. Shame we can't get those here... Where was I? Oh yes, some of those were served with 'fake' caviar, others with a dab of creme fraiche, and all with a squeeze of lemon - Yum!

As if that wasn't enough one of our friends, who is from India, had made a chick pea spice mix, which he piled into little vol au vent cases and topped with a little creme fraiche too. Yum!

To drink: Blanquette - this is a sparkling white 'wine', but it is more like champagne than wine.. it's lovely.

Starter no. 1
This one is not really my cup of tea ... foie gras. It is typically a goose, that is overfed until its' liver is engorged, and the liver is then used to make this pate. You can literally translate 'foie gras' as 'greasy/fatty liver'.  However, my French friend was unable to find the goose variety, and so went for the duck version instead. When she questioned the availability of the goose variety she was (rightly) told that it is no longer available, as it is no longer acceptable to produce it, but she was told that she could have the duck variety... I can only assume, and hope, that it is not produced in the same way..

This was served with what can only be described as fig jam with whole great figs in sugary syrup. This also came with the little toasts which also had figs studded through them.

To drink: A specific sweet wine that is matched to the foie gras. Cannot remember the name, didn't even see the bottle. Just slurped and munched. It was good but not as good as the Aperitif nibbles, nor what was to come.

Starter no. 2
Huge, massive langoustines which I ordered from E.LeClerc (French Supermarket) and collected on New Year's Eve, thus skipping all the queues. Result!

When I got them home, I tossed them in garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper, and left them to their own devices in the fridge. Later they were grilled on an open fire with more lemon on the side and finger wipes. Yum.

To drink: I'm not sure what this was called, but I know it had 'Oceanique' in the title, e.g. 'of the ocean' so once again my friend has bought a wine to match the food. As I recall this was a delicious, crisp white.

Another neighbour was making the lamb which was barbecued and served with roast potatoes, brocolli and cauliflower cheese bake and roast potatoes. The lamb was cooked to perfection!

To drink: What else, but a classic red ? I have a bottle here actually I believe we drank 'Chateau de la Riviere' 2005 from Fronsac. Find out more about it here:

Cheese course

A selection of typical French and English cheese - a stinky stilton, a soft Goat's cheese, a Brie and others, all served with crackers.

To drink: I took along a bottle of port. I think it was Croft's, myself and a Scottish friend enjoyed a hearty glug of the port along with the stilton. This was all served with some lovely iceberg lettuce on the side in a tasty dressing. The salad was probably the best bit looking back. Although, it was all good.

and on to ... Dessert

CC and I made a lovely chocolate mousse and also my famous Black Forest trifle, which one of these days is going to get a blog post all of it's own. I keep mentioning it here and there, but it's always the bridesmaid and never the bride. Even after all that food, we still managed to shovel down a small portion of each.

To drink:  Nothing super-duper to go with the desserts, but a glass of cold Muscat would  have gone down nicely..

Although this sounds like a lot of food, the trick was keeping the portion sizes small, although I could have just eaten the aperitif and starter 2 and been done with the rest, although that port and stilton was rather good.

Fond memories of good food and even better company. Bonne Annee everyone.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Griddle Pan Waffles with Chocolate Sauce

When Cupcake and I were watching the Jamie Oliver's Family Christmas cooking show ( at home in the UK, we were totally drooling over the waffles that Jamie made and servied with chocolate sauce.

Here is the the recipe here:
Ingredients:2 eggs
300ml milk
100g butter, melted
2.5 tablespoons baking powder
225g self-raising flour
1/4 tsp salt

1. Whisk the eggs and the milk together, then add the salt and the baking powder. Sieve in the flour and whisk. Expect the mixture to be thick. Dribble in the butter in stages. Rest for 30 minutes, or overnight.

2. Heat the griddle pan until very hot and melt some butter in the pan. You don't need lots of butter as thre is already butter in the batter. ('Butter in the batter', I like that ...) Pour in the batter, then turn the heat down to medium and cook for 8 to 10 minutes. Yes, really for 8-10 minutes.  Cook the other side for about another eight minutes. Otherwise, the middle will be raw ! You might need to chop the thing in half to be able to flip it. It's a beast ! See below for more on this.

Our house in France is in a small village, we have a stone wall that we had restored in the living area. The living area is on the first floor, rather than the ground floor and so it has a great vista over the village and the church. Actually, I bought the house for the view out of the window. At the time, if I had looked behind me into the house, I doubt we would have bought it! Pretty, it was not. I could just see us eating these waffles from the grill in our pretty little room on New Year's day. The image in my head totally matched how it was. Perfect.

Like most people, we enjoy a little tipple on New Year's Eve, so I thought the waffle/pancake would also be some great stodge for New Year's day.

Instead of the chocolate sauce that Jamie uses, we did a basic chocolate and double cream mix, using some cream that I had left over from a trifle I had made for the evening before..

Here's the recipe for it:

Quick Chocolate sauce
Serves 4
100gr chocolate
200ml double cream
2 tsp (vanilla) sugar

1. Stir the sugar into the cream.
2. Melt the chocolate
3. Add the cream to the chocolate and heat gently and stir until it is mixed into a lovely sauce.
4. If you wanted to add a dash of something, you could add Cointreau for an orangey element, or Tia Maria for a coffee element. With the rich pancake we didn't add any liqueur.

The batter recipe is a standard batter recipe. It has no sugar in it, which is good as you don't need the added sugar with the rich chocolate sauce. I did prepare a plate of sugar to roll the griddled pancake in, a little like a doughnut. We also had a dash of lemon on the side to cut through the richness. I'm not sure if I enjoyed the lemon and sugar more, or the chocolate. Being the glutton I am, I can say I really like both.

Making the waffle in a griddle pan, makes it impossible to toss - for me anyway. So, I chopped the thing in half and tossed one half first, and then the other and it worked great. Once cooked, I cut it into strips, following the grooves made by the griddle.And we dipped and munched.

See the picture below. I love the marks made by the griddle pan.

This was the first time I have used the griddle pan shown above - I've since silently and secretly decided that I am going to use this pan for nothing except this recipe. Imagine that ! How decadent and indulgent am I ??
And then feeling rather full, we went for a three hour walk in the hills. Happy New Year!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Do Me a Favour

My little CC, aka Little Muchkin, has started a new blog and would like all my readers and followers to also read/follow her. I didn't have the heart to tell her that barely anyone reads me (sob!), and promised that I would add a link to her blog here.

So, just for my little CC/Munchkin - here is the link.

In all honesty, this is the best dessert I've had all year. ;o)

Please excuse the spelling mistakes on her page, I am trying not to helicopter-mother her on this one, but have just reminded her that she could  perhaps use the spellchecker! I've also just asked her to go and make my last serving of this. It really is delicious. Well done to my little CC-Munchkin-Baby-Lady.

Mommy loves you!

Exercise update: Today I did the school run - 4.06km I think it was today, I'm easing myself back in gently - especially after those French hills. I'm signing up for Sussex marathon tomorrow (!) it's on April 1  - so to all my running buddies out there - won't anyone join me ??

I have some great Garmin gps routes to upload from my recent trip to France. I know I keep going on about it, but those hills were so steep, I seriously had to walk them, which should set me up well for Sussex, because apparently it's a beast (or some other word(s) beginning with b) Tee hee. :o)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Happy New Year !!

Wow! It's 2012 !! That jumped up and hit me out of the blue, or so it seems...

Still no time for bloggy blog, so just a quickie..

Had a(n) horrendous pit-of-tummy feeling earlier today when I realised I will turn 40 next year - eek!

Also, am on cereal and soup thang to drop a few pounds - yikes!

Am about to sign up for Sussex marathon on April 1 - anyone wanna join me ???

More on that, and much more... coming SOON! :o)