Monday, December 9, 2013

Merry Christmas

I love Christmas. Here are my top ten reasons:

1. Family - it's a time for getting together and spending time with loved ones. Or not. As I usually go to France at some point over the Festive season I invariably 'do Christmas' with my folks in early December, and then off I go guilt-free. I have to say, that I love my early-December Christmas.

2. Parties - My BB has got into the habit of buying me a lovely new dress for Christmas. How sweet is that ! He never buys anything in a style that I would buy, and so much the better for it,  I always love it ! In the drudge of work and the day-to-day, it's nice to get dressed up and go and party!

3. Christmas cards - I love Christmas cards. I love sending and receiving them. I love e-cards too. I recycle cards and make gift tags for the following year too. I did take a 'year off' from cards last year, but I'm back with a vengeance this year.

4. Christmas Decorations - The decorations are not yet up at home. I have decorated the office, with snowflakes on the office windows, poinsettias on the windows sill, snowflakes hanging from the ceiling, some tinsel and a little tree. Who needs to do home with an office like that?? Home will get done at some point.

5. Gifts - I love shopping for gifts. I do a lot of shopping on-line these days, but I still like going to my local shopping centre too, even if there are crowds, and stopping off for a warming coffee en route.

6. Children - It's all about the children isn't it ? Isn't it ? My CC will soon be a teenager and I'm detetermined for Christmas to be as Christmassy as ever ...

7. Christmas Lunch- I'm very specific about my Christmas lunch. I have an actual aversion to not cooking it myself, as I know what I like. My Christmas lunch is very important, and can be totally ruined by a dodgy piece of broccoli or squash. I know, I know that sounds ungrateful, like I said, I'll happily cook Christmas lunch...

8. Christmas Food - I must be the only person that loses weight in the run up to Christmas. As much as I love a Christmas lunch (my stylee), I can only eat it once. I absolutely cannot eat three roast dinners a week for every week in December. No way. In fact, I really don't like that everything is over-embellished at Christmas. Carrots in honey and orange and sprinkled with sesame seeds ? No thanks, just steamed carrots will be fine thank you. Brussel sprouts with chestnuts and bacon. No. Just brussel sprouts please. etc. etc...  So, if there's an invitation for a Christmas lunch, I will wish you well and go off for a jog.

9. The weather - If it snows, great! If it's cold, that's great too. If it's warm ? That's just plain wrong.

10. Christmas Carols - I'm not a religous person. I don't go to church. I do believe in being a good person, being kind to others, being thoughtful and polite, and being a good citizen. I don't feel I need to go to church to live that kind of life, nor to feel that there is some 'thing' that guides me and drives me. I never feel more connected then when I am singing a Christmas carol. This year I will actually be singing carols myself as I have joined a Christmas choir. Bring it on !!

That's my top ten - what's your favourite, or least favourite things about the festive season ?

Monday, November 4, 2013

To Do or Not To Do

I am so obsessed with To-do lists that I looked for a piece of software that I could use to keep a rolling to-do list on my computer for my work to-do list. Of course, I installed it here on my laptop first where I am writing this, to test it out. It's an amazing piece of software, it's called Desktop iCalendar lite, so search for it on the Internet and download it.

I don't just have one To-do list, but several and as I have mentioned before I often update my lists on my mamouth 12-hour car journey across France. I will write list of things to do at work, list of things to do at home, lists of things to do in my life. If I don't write it down, I will forget about it. I seem to have a lot of things to remember these days. My daily commute was a perfect time to write a list, but since I don't do that now, an electronic to-do list serves me much better. That one in the image above, 'CC-dentist' is to remind me to book a dental appointment for my daughter.. this is something that I remembered the other day and thought I must write down before I forget. It's funny that a to-do list is never actually finished, but a rolling document. Although, I think the best thing I ever ticked off was completing my MBA.
What about the really big things ? Like Life Insurance ? I don't suppose I have really thought about that, have you ? Sure, I know that if I die the mortgage gets paid, I *think* there's something in one of my pensions that pays out something to my family members.. that's rather vague isn't it ! But I see those advertisements and I think, based on that do I need additional life insurance, or not ? Would it be worth the investment ? What about you ? Do you have a to do list, did it, or does it include sorting out life insurance ? Answers on a postcard to the usual address, which is just below this post, in the form of a comment.

Toffee Ginger Cakes with Fudgy Icing

I posted a picture of Toffee Ginger Cakes with Fudgy Icing in my last post, and promised a recipe for them, so here it is.

I can take no credit for the recipe at all as I found it in Waitrose Weekend when I was in Waitrose recently. Of course, I made some changes, but then if you read this blog you would know that I can never follow a recipe to the letter.

100g soft butter I used PURE Soy margarine, as usual..
100g light brown soft sugar
1tsp ground ginger I used fresh ginger, about a thumb sized piece (recipes always say that don't they)
1tsp vanilla extract
25g golden syrup
100g self raising flour, sifted Sift ? Me ? No sifting..
2 eggs

For the Fudgy Icing
25g butter I used PURE Soy margarine, as usual..
50g light brown soft sugar
2tbsp single cream oops, I think I used skimmed milk, still tasted lovely.. I never, just never have cream lying about as I try to restrict  the amount of animal dairy produce that I use and eat..
100g icing sugar

To decorate
Fudge pieces  I didn't have those either, the cakes were perfectly lovely without them.


1. Preheat the oven to 200 deg c, gas mark 6. Place paper cupcakes cases in a 12-hole cake tin. Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and creamy.

2. Beat in the ginger, vanilla and golden syrup until combined. Gradually add a little flower and some of the egg, beating well after each addition. Repeat until all the egg and flour has been added.

3. Spoon into the cases and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden and well risen. Place on a wire rack to cool.

4. For the icing, melt the butter (or PURE Soy margarine), and light brown sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, add the cream (or milk) and simmer for 5 minutes. (I don't think I simmered for 5 minutes, actually).

5. Remove from the heat and beat in the icing sugar. Spread the icing over the cakes and decorate with fudge (if you have any).

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Cabbage Patch 2013 - The Results

If I could write on the 'speech bubble' on this cake, I would write 'Well Done GG and Kooky Girl on fantastic results in the Cabbage Patch 2013'. GG managed an impressive 1:13:00 and I managed 1:25:07. Considering, I had thought that I would finish in 1:40:00 I was very pleased with the result.

What can I tell you about the race ? Well, we were running quite late and earlier in the morning it was pouring with rain, so it was a quick comfort break in Costa Coffee and straight to the race 'holding area'. We did feel a little like cattle as we were quite tightly squashed into the street, and all too soon, we were off. I waved GG off as she is faster than me.

The course is very flat, I recall going over several bridges, I completely missed the mile 8 marker, and it would have been useful to see it, as I was flagging at that point... There were 2 water stations and I took 2 cups at each, one for me, and one for my hot head. 

The earlier rain had been replaced by a nice, warm day, and when running it was a little too warm. During the whole route there were plenty of runners, and spectators. I have to say that I was glad to be finished, and pleased that I recovered very quickly. I put that down to the race being a relatively flat route. I met up with BB and CC, and we made our way to the area to collect the nice long-sleeved wicking t-shirt and some more, much needed, water.

Later, we met GG and her family in the infamous Cabbage Patch Pub. It's a lovely traditional pub and we gathered in a booth. GG and her family ordered some food, the kiddie burger and chips, macaroni cheese, and caesar salad. They all looked delicious. I was still experiencing post-race nausea at this point ... The atmosphere in the pub was warm and friendly and, as it is race HQ, it was packed with runners. Service was still great though.

I could have stayed there all afternoon, but it was off home for a long, hot soak in the bath and some Maths revision for CC.. Later, I raked the leaves in the garden and made the cupcakes above. Tomorrow I will post the recipe and you can make them, if you wish.

So, will I be doing Cabbage Patch next year ? No such luck. BB and GG's husband have already put dibs on that one, but I can't say I'm that disappointed as I can go to the Cabbage Patch pub and have a lovely lunch. That's what I call a Win-win. 

If you are looking for a popular, flat and fast race with lots of competitors and a great atmosphere then I can highly recommend  the Cabbage Patch 10 and it's HQ Cabbage Patch pub. Cabbage Patch: I look forward to seeing you next year.  

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Cabbage Patch 10 2013

I haven't blogged for quite some time now. I've just started a new job, which has changed my life, in that I no longer commute for 2 hours a day, but I still haven't found much spare time for blogging..

I've still been running,  and it's great that many of my new colleagues are into running, and fitness in general. This weekend will see GG, (a new friend) and I taking part in the Cabbage Patch 10.

Cabbage Patch 10 is one of those races that I've heard of for years, but I've never raced it. It's already a favoured route, because it's one 10 mile loop and not a 'there-and-back', or a 'loop-the-loop a gsquillion times' route, which drives me crazy.

I already know that I won't be breaking any records on the day. If I finish in 1:40 I'll be happy enough with that. On Saturday, I did park run in 25:30 or so. This was a few seconds longer than 2 weeks ago, and that was a PB, so that wasn't a bad result..

Wish me luck - I will post a full report and photos on Sunday.

Oh, and remember, if all of this rain is putting you off running outside, then grab a running top with a hood and get out there, even if just for a short run. It's quite exhilarating !

Happy running !

Monday, September 9, 2013

Veganism - week 1

It has been a good week, and I did manage a whole week of a vegan diet, and then I lapsed. Don't get me wrong, I haven't eaten any meat, fish, or an actual egg, but I did have some biscuits and a piece of cake (that probably contained eggs and milk), and  I also had some cheese in my mushroom risotto, but no side of chicken fillet like BB and CC.

I guess I've realised just how hard it is.. I definitely don't miss meat, but it's pretty frustrating to go in the supermarket and look at seemingly innocent products and see 'contains milk' or 'may contain milk'. I also looked for some vegan / non-dairy cheese in a large supermarket and found not even one variety..

Here are some products or meals that you can eat and I did:

Japanese Rice Crackers
Sweet chilli sauce
Peanut butter
Brown Rice
Mushroom Risotto (hold the cheese)
Vegetable Curry
Falafel in wholewheat pitta with salad and humous
Spaghetti with olive oil, black olives, garlic and a squeeze of lemon
Rice noodles with beansprouts, and a sauce of sweet chilli sauce, soy sauce, lime juice served with mange tout
Stuffed vine leaves
Alpro almond milk
Blue diamond almond milk (less creamy than the Alpro variety, and definitely my preferred brand)
All sorts of nuts.
Houmous and cucumber sandwich

Alpro soy yoghurt
Alpro soy yoghurt - Vanilla flavour - great alternative to custard.
Apple and blackberry crumble (crumble made with PURE dairy free spread) served with vanilla Alpro
Alpro chocolate dessert

I also managed  a PB in Saturday's park run, so the lack of meat and dairy did not seem to effect my energy levels. This week I would guess that I will eat a little dairy, no actual eggs as I don't like them anyway. I would definitely recommend a vegan week. It definitely focuses the mind on your food intake and your overall diet.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Vegan September

I know just a few 'vegetarians'. I'm sorry about the quotes, but one of them eats fish and chicken, but never pork, beef or lamb. Another eats fish, but no meat. Another is a total vegan..

I'l be honest, I like eating some meat, some fish and I also like vegetarian food. However, one thing I've never understood is how some people can refer to themselves as vegetarian yet still eat meat and fish.

I have more of a problem with the ethics of milk and egg production than meat production, and don't even get me started on the blinding of prawn mothers. That said, I think we (I), get removed from the reality of meat that is shrink-wrapped in plastic on the supermarket shelf, and the animal in the field, or most often the animal that is not in the field. I struggle to relate the two. I am sure though that I would find it too squeamish to be able to slaughter or prepare my own meat. If that is the case, how can I take it from the supermarket shelf and cook and eat it ?

I've been thinking about vegetarianism and veganism more and more and of one thing I am sure, and that is, for me it's an all or nothing choice. I may be wrong, and I may look back in months or years to come and think I will eat chicken and fish, and no other animal. I have also become squeamish about animal bones and animal fat lately which reinforces my feelings towards meat...

I have therefore decided to go vegan for September, BB thought I should start with a gentler option, and I do understand that, but I do feel the need to go 'cold turkey' (pardon the pun.). I will be eating no meat, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, gelatine, honey or any other animal derived product.

I went shopping today, and I was most surprised to see just how animal-based a lot of products are. Although, I did manage to buy plenty of food that  was suitable for vegans.

Wish me luck, I will report back on how it goes !!!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Cycling with Evans Cycles at the National Trust's Polesden Lacey

BB, CC and I love a bike ride, which is why most Saturday mornings we can be found at the National Trust's Boxhill.

Last year we also did an Evans cycles bike ride around Biggin Hill and loved it. So when the opportunity came to combine Evans Cycle and the National Trust, we jumped at it.

It was an early start, finally leaving the house at 7.30 this morning. Fortunately, Polesden Lacey is just a 45 minute drive for us, so practically on our door step.

Like last year, the whole event was very well organised. We took our cycling helmets to register and were given a sticker with a barcode that would be read before starting the ride, and when we returned. It is emphasised that the event is not a race. Indeed some of our fellow cyclists were even cycling a different distance.

This is no easy ride. We chose the shorter 27 mile loop, but in parts the hills were so steep that CC and I got off and walked. Even the more experienced cyclists found those hills hard. It made Boxhill's Zig-Zag look like a walk in the park.

Evans cycles provide a great service with a well-marked route, a map and aid stations along the route, we stopped at around mile 17 and were glad to see flapjacks, jelly babies and other high-energy products. Then we hopped back on the bike and completed the remaining 8 miles, getting off the bike once this time for another killer hill.

We arrived back jubilant, it was CC's longest ride to date. She did really, really well. We walked over to Polesden Lacey's National Trust cafe where we had our usual post-race snack of sausage rolls and pasties. Definitely a post-cycling snack only. Polesden Lacey was very busy, there is live jazz on Sunday afternoons at the moment, a great restaurant and a lovely gift shop. I can't wait to go back and see the house and gardens.

Thank you to Evans' Cycles and the National Trust for hosting the event. This family certainly had an excellent time.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Chicken and Chorizo Summer Stew

It's boiling hot outside, but tonight I was fed up of eating summer food, e.g. salad,  that's probably because I've been eating salad since the end of March, willing summer to be here through my food choices...

Whilst it wasn't really the weather for this dish, this is what I cooked. This stew is somewhat of a Spanish-Indian fusion. It was delicious, by the way, and we had it with naan bread and Total Greek Yoghurt. A meal for the United Nations.

Serves 3

200gr chorizo sausage, peeled and chopped
4 small chicken fillets, sliced into strips
1 courgette, chopped into coin shapes
2 small brown onions, roughly chopped
1 carton chopped tomatoes
1tsp turmeric
1tsp cumin
1tsp gharam masala


1. Fry the chorizo sausage over a medium-high heat until the oil runs. Drain off excess oil.
2. Add chicken strips and spices and fry until mostly cooked.
3. Add onion and courgettes shortly after chicken and spices
4. When all is looking brown and cooked tip over the carton of chopped tomatoes
5. I added water to thin out the sauce.
6. Leave to simmer over the lowest heat, so there is just a slight bubble, for 30 minutes
7. Serve with naan and yoghurt and definitely fresh coriander if you have it.

To drink I had tonic water with a squeeze of lime juice and plenty of ice.

I would wait for the weather to cool a little before trying this one.

What are you eating and drinking to keep you cool ?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Strawberry Smoothie

I'm four weeks into my new job now, one of the many benefits of which, is that I no longer have to get up at 5:20 am for the 5:59  am train to London. Now ? Well, now I can drive to work in 20 minutes, and I can drop little CC off at school on the way, and I don't start work until 8am.
This has made a massive difference to our morings, instead of arriving in London at 6:30 am, I'm just getting up. After a quick walk with little DD it's time to think about breakast. I have never breakfasted at home before, so I now find I have a whole world of breakfast oppurtunities at my fingertips.

I have already made a green juice yesterday, but I didn't take a photo... CC didn't like it, BB did. So I promised CC that this morning we would have Strawberry Smoothies. And We Did. We used Total Greek yoghurt, which gives the smoothie a great protein boost. If you don't have yoghurt, you could use banana instead.

 I dug out the Kenwood Smoothie  maker from the top of the kitchen cupboard, and gave it a good rinse... I'm now seriously running out of worktop space since I have the huge juicer, the smoothie maker, the kettle, the toaster, the microwave and the coffee maker all in very close proximity competing for space on  the worktop, but that's the way it is...

Here's the ingredients:

Strawberries I used the rest of the carton shown below and didn't open the new one...I think there were about 14..
Total Greek Yoghurt 1 small pot
Skimmed milk  - We filled it up to 700ml on the Kenwood mixer
Vanilla extract - About half a teaspoon
Sugar - to taste - we used a tablespoon. BB thought it was too sweet - I didn't !


1. Hull the strawberries and place them in the blender
2. Top with skimmed milk - up to 700ml
3. Add yoghurt
4. Add sugar
5. Add vanilla
6. Whizz!!! (Don't forget to put the lid on first.)

7. Spend half an hour washing up! BUT it's well worth it.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

My Bucket List 2013 - An update

Back in 2011 I wrote my Bucket List, and now two years later I thought it was prime time to give it an update, and let you know what's been done and what new items I want to add.

9) Run a marathon Booked for this October but if BB gets a place in his Ironman that same weekend - guess who has to defer ?? Er, ponder, ponder ... it's not going to be BB is it.. ?

So, BB didn't do the Ironman, and since then, I have done not one marathon, but two! Kielder was great, South End not so great. The training was tiring, but I loved it ! I ran 8 miles today, so I'm still running. I guess on this updated Bucket list I should add a Half Ironman, before I can do that I need to improve my swimming. So, first on the new list:

1.  Improve my swimming and complete a Half Ironman

11) Use my MBA for something other than thinking 'Well ! If I were the boss, I would be doing A, followed by B, with a little dose of C, and a sprinkle of D. That WOULD work'.

I finally decided to take the plunge and find a new job. After 17.5 years in my previous position, it has to be said that I am still pinching myself... I still can't quite believe that I did it ! I am now Clinical Trials IT Manager. If it's related to clinical trials, and in the realm of IT, then I'm all over it.. It's early days, and I have lots to learn, but then that's what I love doing.

12) Leading nicely on to ... giving it another try with the cake/food idea. Everyone that eats my food loves it - well, except for that time that I made some sort of BBQ'd chops for a couple I barely knew and well, they were slightly overdone and maybe dry(ish), and little did I know that she had just had a gastric band fitted. Ten visits to the bathroom later.. was it the food ? Was it the gastric band ? You know what ? I don't even want to think about it.

Other than that, everyone loves my food and thinks I should be a professional cook on some level. When the Chef job came up at work (in the work canteen, well more like a posh canteen ..), more than one person said to me 'Chef's job's up - that's your dream job'. Funny. Defintely a scratch that needs another little itch.

I haven't really given this a scratch, more of a tickle really. I got into using Twitter a lot more, and being more active online generally. Through this, I became friends with Total Greek yoghurt and got invited to some of their food blogger events, and blogged about their great products. I finally felt like a real food blogger. It made it all worthwhile.

2. Do more food blogging, and sport blogging and well, blogging in general...

13) Change job. There I've said it. I've worked at the same place for fifteen years this year... The problem is that it's a great job with great people - why would I leave ??

The above hasn't changed. It was a great job with great people. I left because I changed. I asked myself: 'Is this the only job you want to have ever done ?' The answer was a definite 'No'. I wanted to do something else, somewhere else. As it is, the position also has some major benefits my commute has gone from more than fifteen hours a week to five hours. I no longer travel on public transport, I can drive myself to work. The best part on a non-work level, I can now spend every morning with my little CC and I can take her to school on my way to work. Having never spent mornings with her, this is a major change for all of us. On a professional level, I have more responsibility, it's a senior role, it's still technical and it's in an area that I wanted to make a contribution to: Cancer Research. It's a Win-Win-Win. I feel blessed to have the opportunity, and I'm determined to make the most of it.

3. Develop professionally in my new role

Well I could go on, I haven't mentioned visiting Australia, or spending more time with my mom and sis, or finally finishing Labour of Love, or having a massive party very, very soon .. but I won't.

I have spent some time with my mom and sis. Me and Mom had a great shopping trip in Brum at Christmas, just the two of us and it was really special. We are definitely going to be having more of those. For my 40th, I did have a massive party. It was really great, with lots of friends and family. I therefore must add the following to the Bucket List:

4) Throw more parties

Well, that's all from me for now - have you updated your Bucket List lately ??

Saturday, May 18, 2013

New Technologies

New technologies ?? Well, new for me anyway, some of them have been out for a while. Here are a few of my favourites:

Prezi: Use Prezi to create funky presentations easily. I created one about Disaster Recovery for SQL Databases. You can see it here, it's really simple and took about two minutes to create.

Survey Monkey An online Survey Builder. I have not created any, only used them. Mumsnet use Survey Monkey when they are seeking bloggers to test a certain product. Sharepoint also has a Survey tool. Try it out !

Pingg I created some electronic inviations for my recent 'Not-Insignificant' birthday. If you're fed up with paper invitations and want to do something a little more modern, then try this. You can also use it for 'Save the Dates' and to send Thank You messages after the event.

Voki Use voki to create an avatar with voice. The image at the top of this page is created using an avatar site without voice - I think it was Doppel Me It's a pretty good avatar, but I really wanted an Avatar with voice.  I added this one to my facebook profile instead..

About Me A great web page to fill with information all about yourself ! Add your facebook account, twitter account, an email address, work details etc. If you click the link you will go to one that I created in just a few minutes.

QR Codes are those odd-looking squares with lots of dots and squares that you see on products, in newspapers, and out and about. To be able to read these codes you need a QR-code reader on your phone, tablet or other electronic device.

I just created a QR code really quickly at the QR Codes site using the  samelink in the About Me above. Please see ir below, try and read it with your phone and see that it takes you to the same link.

Well, have fun trying some of these out.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Turning Forty

Just a matter of days ago, I turned 40..

I had already had a legacy moment a few years ago, when I started to question what my footprint on the world might be.. and, whilst keeping this on a quiet simmer, as I approached this milestone birthday, this feeling burned even more..

As it happens, this coincided nicely with CC finishing her first year at grammar school. CC has shown such amazing independence this year, which has given me the confidence to be able to branch out.

I must just mention, by the way, that CC has just been selected to represent her borough at the London Youth Games 2013 taking place in July. I'm so pleased for her. She will be competing in the Aquathon event - swimming 200m and running 1km. Good luck CC!

But more about my life decisions later, I ran a great half marathon a couple of weeks ago, but it has to be said that the less I am running, the less I feel like running. Even though I know I feel great after it ! That's not good is it. So, what to do ? Well, I need to find a new focus, in terms of a new race, so if you know of a good running event coming up, please leave me a comment.

Another aside, I must say 'Well done' (understatement!) to my cousin, who just ran an absolutely amazing time of 3:36 in Milton Keynes marathon a couple of weeks ago. That really is a fantastic result, and I'll be honest, I'm jealous, but only because, at the moment at least, that seems like a time that will never, ever be possible for me. (I'm crying into my hankie... regretting mispent youth, and all that...) That really is an excellent, excellent time and, dare I say it, particularly for a female runner.

I've been having some fun online lately extending my social profile. So, you can now find a little page about me here: http://About.Me/Carolyn.McNamara or you can connect with me on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is such a fantastic networking tool. Also, don't forget to follow me on Twitter, my twitter name is @KookyGirlBlog

Returning to the original post title, just exactly how did I celebrate my birthday? Well, firstly BB and CC took me to Sardinia for the Easter break. We flew there, and had the most fabulous time, the sun shone and the Italian food was amazing, and the people so friendly. I want to go back !!

Then, on the eve of my birthday, I had a huge party, with all my family and friends. We built a marquee in the garden. BB was very popular with the music as he had pre-compiled a play list of music videos from my 'formative' years, we then connected the PC to the TV monitor, and we got an extra long HDMI cable and had another TV monitor in the marquee. So, we had five hours of classic music videos.. 'Ice, Ice Baby' at 3am anyone ?

To be honest, I don't like to be the focus of too much attention..therefore I didn't have an 18th, a 21st, a 30th or  a big wedding.. I decided that this was therefore a time to celebrate.

I would love to hear how you are extending your social profile, or celebrating your special days this year. You know what to do...leave me a comment !!

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Job Lot

The Job Lot is a brand new ITV comedy, which has it's first episode broadcast TONIGHT on ITV1 at 2130.

So, why am I so interested in this new comedy ?? Two big reasons: Claire Downes and Stuart Lane. They co-wrote the series with Ian Jarvis. Claire is my best friend, and Stuart is her partner. I've known Claire since we were 11 and we became close friends from the age of 15. That's twenty-five years ago.

Claire is an amazing, successful woman. I am in awe of her staying power, enthusiasm, energy and talent. Stuart is equally amazing. What he doesn't know about films isn't worth knowing.

If  I know Claire and Stu, their comedy is going to be an amazing success. This is their time and they, and their fellow writer, Ian, deserve to bask in the limelight. Well done guys !

How to find out more about Claire, Stuart and Ian, and specifically The Job Lot.

Follow The Job Lot on Twitter - @joblottv

Follow Claire on twitter - @iamClaireDownes

Follow Stuart on twitter - @itsStuartLane

Most of all watch The Job Lot tonight ! I'll be watching!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Selsdon Half Marathon 2013 - A Review

I was only a little disappointed when the Selsdon half marathon was cancelled three weeks ago, it was raining and cold, which isn't much fun over 13 miles.

The organiser emailed offering a choice: run in 3 weeks, or defer to 2014. I procrastinated. I haven't been running as much as usual - was I fit enough ? I did the Trail man Human Race event last weekend. That 8 mile slog through the mud left me exhausted.  I did a little local loop through the park with DD earlier in the week, and that was the whole of my prep.

Still, last night I dug out the kit, the trainers, the Garmin watch, the CompressSport supports, the gels, I even dug out my i-Pod thinking I was going to need every available prop, and had it all set up and ready to go. And so we went.

And what a day it was, firstly it was dry. Yippee! Also, ever so slightly sunny, but cool enough for a good run. The event is organised by the Church of the Latter Day Saints, and the Start and Finish is in their beautiful premises. Since many runners had deferred to next year, I think there were more marshalls than actual runners. One of the marshalls came up and spoke to us, and was really very, very friendly. As was the man who gave me my race number.

The course was varied some hills, followed by nice down hills, but mostly flat and mainly through the streets of South Croydon. Although, sometimes we went through some dirt/mud tracks. I started well, with the first 6 miles under my belt in about 55 mins.

I took a gel whenever there was a water stop - so that was at 4.5 miles, 9 miles and 11 miles. That strategy worked well today. I overtook some runners on the second half and had a few 'battles' with some runners too. You know how it is when someone runs at almost exactly the same speed as you, and you take it in turns to try and outrun each other. In the end I focussed on my own race, which is all that really matters.

I crossed the line in 2:01:58 and that '58' is really important as I've already run a 2:02 half marathon, although the poor girl next to me thought that I was going for a sprint finish. Nah, it was all about me getting a PB.

BB and CC were there to support me and said I was about 6th woman, but I'll have to see what the final results say. Actually, I was 9th woman - results are out already!!. Still.. pretty happy with that ! I was 45th out of 71 runners, which includes males and females. Counting up the numbers, it seems that out of that, there were another 11 females and 15 males that finished after me.

The goodie bag was pretty good too - with a medal, banana, water, little chocolate bar and non-wicking, cotton t-shirt. Everything you need, really !

All in all an excellent, well organised race. Well done Selsdon half marathon. BB has already pledged to run it next year!

Here's a photo of me at the end - utterly exhausted.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

To do an MBA, or not to do an MBA, that is the question..

I don't often talk about my professional life here on the bliggy-bloggy, but if you want to know a little more about me check out my About Me link.

A few years ago now, I had set myself a personal life goal of completing my MBA by the time I reached 30. So, when my little CC was no more than 6 months old, and I had already gone back to work full-time. I started a part-time, distance-learning MBA.

I completed the course in 2 years, each module was studied over three days and then an assignment and project were set, I also did a final dissertation. It's true to say that I couldn't have completed it without my BB, as there was many a night that I was doing the night shift in the front of the laptop, whilst BB was sleeping and, of course, he looked after little CC whislt I was at university studying.

Graduating was a defining moment, I really felt complete and I was SO looking forward to not studying any more... Ha, ha since then I have completed the Foundation exam in IT Project management, an A+ Hardware exam and just this month I became a Microsoft Certified Professional in SQL Server 2008.

But that's by the by, so what does an MBA give you ? Well, if you're not a manager already, it enables you to see the bigger picture and really understand where your managers are coming from, you now understand their priorities. If you are a manager already, it gives you expertise on all facets of management. Here's the subjects I studied as part of my MBA: Marketing, Financial Management, Finance, Human Resources, Corporate Strategy, Marketing, Project Management, Entrepreneurship, Research and Statistics. My dissertation was about Corporate Social Responsibility Policies in FTSE-250 companies, and whether having such a policy has an impact on share price.

If you are thinking about starting your own business, an MBA will give you everything you need to make it a success, except the idea, of course.

I enjoyed the MBA, I met really interesting people whilst attending the course, and whilst I'm in a job where an MBA is not required, it has to be said that in my current role right now, I use the skills that the MBA gave me every day.

If you are thinking of doing an MBA, my advice would be to go for it !

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Yak ? Kids ?

I took this photo last month in Dusseldorf - he really was a greedy little yak. Cute, huh ?
On a completely different subject, I'm just watching '16 kids and counting' on tv. That is not so cute.
Animals ? Children ? I have one daughter, two guinea pigs and a dog - I think that sums it up !

Are you a Yak-Person ? Or a Kid-Person.. ? Answers on a postcard...

Either way, you have to agree that theYak looks pretty happy.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Chilling Lounge Clothes

I had an amazing run today in Hyde Park, with a work pal. It was nice and fast, and I felt strong - which is just as well since I have a half marathon in about ten days. The only down side of today is that it was, and still is, freezing cold, with a biting wind. By the time I had finished, my ears and head were really quite painful.

Today being a work day, after my run I was back at my desk for another couple of hours, that was followed by a really crappy train ride home, which meant another walk this time, across a park in the freezing wind.

So, what to do ? When I got home, once I had fed the dog, fed CC, put washing in and out (and shook it all about), I got out of my stuffy work clothes. I'm just feeling so comfy right now that, and this is a blogging first for me, (a fashionista I am not) -  I had to share my outfit.

So, here goes:

Superdry t-shirt: What to say? Mine is cream with a dark-red logo and it's nice and soft cotton. The link to the left goes to a pink Superdry t-shirt with white writing. Little CC has that one.

Jack Wills lounge trousers The link shows the Spring equivalent of the above in a pink and blue colour. They are very pretty and I can vouch for them that they are very comfortable and slouchy.

Dean & White Cashmere cardigan in black. It's like wearing feathers.

Faux Fur Boot Slippers from Marks and Spencers. Mine are in a Dark Stone colour and have a little bow on the side (aw...). And guess what, they're comfortable and WARM.

So, this is me for the rest of the evening - BB and CC are off swimming, so DD will snuggle under my feet, whilst I get on with learning all about administering SQL Server, and keeping warm!

Happy Monday!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Happy Mother's Day

CC designed me this lovely Mother's Day Wrapping paper for today, in which she had wrapped a copy of the DVD called 'The Lucky One'. This movie stars Zac Efron, of High School Musical fame, and he's also in other movies that I have probably seen with CC. Surprise, surprise she like Zac Efron.

I also received a beautiful bunch of flowers, and BB has ordered me a new pair of trainers for my forthcoming half marathon. There are my usual Mizuno's and I'm looking forward to having a run in them.

I had already sent a card to my Mommy, and we dropped a card and some flowers at BB's Mum's house. For my Mum, who I won't see til next month, I have framed the original poem that her own mother wrote about her father back in the 1940s. It's a sweet frame, and I know she'll love that she can display the poem in her own home. This is my Mother's first Mother's Day without her own mother..

This morning BB and I went for an 8-mile run, DD and  BB dropped out after about 5 miles, and I carried on... the rest of the day has been relaxed and BB and CC are cooking me a nice dinner. Yum!

Back to work tomorrow.

How did you spend your Mother's Day ?

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Things you can know about me...

1. I  don't like going to the hairdressers.. 'What shall we do today?' they ask. 'Er... ' I reply.. thinking, you're the hairdresser, You tell me !  Of course, I don't actually say that, I timidly say ... 'just take an inch off all over.. and don't bother to blow dry it..' Knowing that I can get out of there as quickly as possible, and avoid the hairdresser for another year...

2. I'm not keen on fireworks - I quite like them, but the brightness hurts my eyes. I have this thing where one of my pupils does not react as quickly to light as it should. Consequently, sometimes one pupil is larger than the other, so sometimes bright lights are hard to look at.

3. I quite like a dictionary - as a reading book, I mean. A little odd maybe, but the thrill of all that knowledge enclosed in those pages.. That makes me happy.

4. Sometimes I think in colour - how to explain that one .. ? I can't really explain, something will just feel particularly 'blue' or 'green' or well, any colour really.. It doesn't really effect anything, and doesn't happen very often.

4. I did a degree in Computer Science.. without a computer Seriously ??? I guess in my defence I can say that the computer labs were open 'til 11pm, most of the home stuff was learning theory, and my really good mate Matt let me use his PC to write up my final year project.  Result.

5. The real reason I like exercise ? Basically it give my brain a rest, and when I'm running, I'm not really thinking...

6.  I love learning ..  I thought that once I had done my MBA that I wouldn't want to really learn any more, that I would have fulfilled all of my academic dreams. Ten years on, and I now know myself a little better. I will always want to learn, and push myself to acquire more knowledge.. it's like a unquenchable thirst..

7. I love having a pedicure.. You would have thought I wouldn't since I don't like hairdressers, but since I have  ugly runner's feet, after a pedicure my feet feel heavenly. I love sitting there and coming out a little while later with beautiful twinkly toes and smooth feet.

8.  I question everything - It's not a surprise to me that I'm a Computer Analyst, where I'm required to questions things, evaluate things and fix things. It's what I'm good at. If you say anything to me 99.99999% of the time, I will answer with a question.

9. I'm a good friend If I'm your friend, I will be a good friend,the best you ever had. If you ever let me down, or don't act like a friend should (in my eyes), you will have broken my heart to it's absolute core. But I will never tell you.

10. I like fur and patterns and symmetry - Fur for it's smoothness, patterns for the texture and symmetry for it's reflective perfection.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Human Race Events

I gave a pretty rough review here the other day after a tedious 10km race in NonSuch Park. So, credit where credit's due, it's time to big up a race that I did today (that I've done before..) by Human Race Events.

Me - with a cup of iced water
Human Race have been around for a number of years now, and BB and I have done most of their events. There's Kingston Breakfast Run, Windsor triathlon, Bananaman triathlon in Dorney, and the Tuff Man, Wild Man, Ice Man etc; events to name but a few. Today I did the Tuff Man event, and it was, well, the clue's in the name - tough !

First of all when we arrived it was snowing.. ew ! But, for once, I was organised and had taken alternative clothes so instead of the black, wicking, ASICS top that I had planned to wear, I switched it for a wicking, fleece-lined top which I knew was a lot warmer. I also started off with a hat on (well, a Buffy actually), which I took off half way round, but it stopped my ears freezing during the first half.) I clued for the loo, and chatted with a guy that was doing a sponsored event every month for the whole year with a team of friends. What a hero! It's really nice to be inspired and share race stories with fellow runners.

The race was only 8km, but it felt a lot longer due to the terrain down at Pippingford Park Estates. Thankfully, there were no loops, it was a circular course, so you never trod the same steps twice. That's my kind of race! There were hills, and at times the route led past a small stream/river.. During the race briefing the organiser mentioned that last year, some competitors had actually fallen in the water ! How on earth would they do that  .. ? I found myself wondering,  and thinking you'd have to be really, really silly to do that, no ??

Fast-forward 30-odd minutes, that terrain was serious fun, but even in my Salomon trail shoes at times I was like Bambi out there, and that's when I too ended up in the river ! I didn't actually fall in hands first, or head first, or even land on my bottom, I just misjudged where to put my foot next, and instead of standing on the mud, ended up in the water, and then I was in the mud, and then a guy was offering to 'pull' me out, and then a girl overtook me, and then I managed to scramble back onto the mud. Phew! It made me chuckle.. well I'm chuckling now, at the time I was wondering about how my frozen feet were ever going to come back to life enough for me to complete the race. I promise, races like this, make you feel *alive*.

We were pretty alone out there, there weren't very many races marshalls, although as it was a short route, and circular, you were never that far away from help. Most of those that I did see offered an encouraging word as you passed, which is most appreciated.

At the end, the kind ladymarshall asked me if I was OK and leaned down and chopped off my race tag. I think she could see that I felt a bit sick.. and a bit cold.. which I did. BB was there waiting for me, having finished the race 5 minutes before me. I was offered coconut water in a carton, and little sweatbands branded with the Coconut water logo, and there was also Iced water (hadn't I had enough ice ??) and Power Bars to choose from. The guy who served the water shared a word with me, which, again, was really nice.

I queued for my t-shirt. BB had registered us for the race, and at sign-up you specify the size that you would like, so the person looked up my number and handed me my t-shirt. How perfect is that ! After the last race that I did, I was seriously impressed. Although not totally surprised as Human Race are very good at the details, which does make a difference to the overall race experience.

We went back to the car and changed into dry clothes. Then BB said, you know you can go and get your time right now, if you want. Yes, in a tent, there is an area, where you can enter your race number into a key pad and get your race stats, your time, your Gender position, and your Overall position. Fantastic !

My stats were as follows: Time: 47:09 Overall Position: 89/130 Gender Position: 18/40 Cat position: 4 / 10

I was pleased with my time. Overall the race was a Win! Win! Win! If you feel like having a go, there's one more race left in the '... Man' series. April 6th is the TrailMan race. Check out the web site for more details.

You can also follow Human Race on twitter - @HumanRaceEvents

Friday, February 22, 2013

Half Term in Dusseldorf

I don't usually get half term off with my little CC, so when I worked a whole load of overtime at work in November and December, I asked the powers-that-be if, in return, I could take off February half term week, and they said 'Yes'.

CC and I flew off on Saturday with easyJet from London Gatwick to Dusseldorf. We checked in and ate pancakes at a rather extortionate £9.00 for three pancakes at one of the airport eateries, which I thought was rather expensive... We didn't even eat three between us. They did not taste good.We waited an age for the gate to be announced, which was no bad thing as it meant we were able to buy Twilight Breaking Dawn Part II - the book which CC has wanted to get for the longest time.

The fllight was uneventful. We landed and caught the Skytrain to Dusseldorf main train station (Dusseldorf Hauptbahnhof) and from there we caught a train direct to Gutersloh. The journey was about 2 hours long and the train was busy as there was a football match at Dortmund.

The next few days we spent relaxing, we also went to the museum in Munster, which is next to the 'All weather' (Alles Wetter) zoo, I'm sure it would have been more fun in the sunshine though, rather than the freezing February temperatures.

On our last day CC and I caught the train back to Dusseldorf main train station and having paid 4 euros to leave our bags at the station, we hopped on the underground (U-bahn) 3 stops  to the AltStadt, we walked along to the Rhine and took a photo and then walked along to Konig Strasse, with all the lovely designer stores. It was lots of fun. Unfortunately, we couldn't buy anything as we were already at our baggage limit, but we had fun all the same.

I saw that the station was signposted just a kilometer away, so I knew we could walk there rather than take the tube. Typically though, like most main train stations it was surrounded by an active red-light district. Not the best place to walk through with your 11 yr old.. so if you read this, don't walk to the station, jump back on the U-bahn instead.. save yourself having to explain what a 'sex shop' is...

Soon enough we were in the Duty free store, stocking up on Milka chocolate to take back for friends and family. We arrived back at Gatwick, caught the Gatwick Express to East Croydon and jumped in a cab home.

All in all, it was such an easy journey. The people were friendly enough. If you are contemplating travelling alone in Europe with your child, I would highly recommend it. I'm very much looking forward to my next European trip with my little CC. We're already eyeing up Rome and Prague !

Have you travelled alone abroad with your child ?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A day in the life of a Total Greek Yoghurt

When the lovely people at Total Greek Yoghurt kindly sent me some yoghurts to try out for my blog, I didn't just want to say that they tasted 'nice', blah, blah, blah... I thought it would be better to explain their 'journey', and see how they really fit into a 'standard', active family's lifestyle.

So, here we go.. they were delivered on Wednesday evening - 6th Feb - which incidentally is exactly a week ago, practically to the hour! Here are my family's yoghurty discoveries, listed in order of consumption.

Yoghurt 1 - Award-winnning Blueberry 0% Fat Free Total Greek Yoghurt - 10;00pm (6th Feb)

BB and CC swim three times per week, and  they always come back hungry. 'Can I have one of those yoghurts ?', asked BB. 'Sure, you can' was my reply .. ' ....but you have to tell me what you think of it'. The next time I looked up it was gone. 'Well ?' I asked.. 'Niiiiiiiiice' was his reply. So that wasn't a very good start was it !! I just grilled him again and he whispered... '...actually I prefer the Raspberry and Pomegranate.' I have to admit he's very much a Raspberry lover. Fair enough..

The Blueberry yoghurt is so lovely, it actually won this award!
Yoghurt 2 -Strawberry 0% Fat Free Total Greek Yoghurt - 07:00 (7th Feb)

I have an early start in central London. I'm on the train at 0600, and in the office by 0700. Breakfast is at my desk, or not at all. As BB arrived back from swimming, he found me chopping apricots and walnuts and pouring oats into little plastic boxes. I knew exactly what I would be having for breakfast. The Times' Robert Crampton calls it an 'ugly' breakfast, and yes, it doesn't look too pretty, but oh my, it was delicious.

I up-ended my yoghurt and strawberry mix into a bowl and sprinkled with oats, apricots, walnuts and seeds.
All I can say is, try it. You won't be disappointed and it kept me feeling full all morning. This is great because it meant I wasn't reaching for the Office 'cookie stash'. Well, not until a little later than usual anyway... tee hee.

Yoghurt 3 - Honey 0% Fat Free Total Greek Yoghurt - 1600 (Thursday 7th)

CC comes home from school and seeing the yoghurts arrive the previous evening, asks 'Mum, do those yoghurts come in honey ?' 'Yes', was my reply. Why? I asked. 'Because they're the only flavour I like .... can I have one ?' CC just will NOT eat a yoghurt with pureed fruit in it. Her yoghurt has to be smooth, or she's not having yoghurt. 'Have you had anything else to eat yet?' I questioned. 'No', she said ..'OK then, you can have one'. Later, I asked her what she thought.. 'It was a little bit sickly'...Yoghurt and honey are a lovely combination, but personally, I, like CC,  usually need to 'dilute' the sweetness with some fruit or nuts, or something.

If you have two children, you could add fruit and easily split one pot between them. I should mention at this point, that infants under 12 months old should not eat honey. For your toddler or school age children, this would be a perfect, healthy post-school snack.

Yoghurt 4 - Award-winning Blueberry 0% Fat Free Total Greek Yoghurt - 0700 -  Me (Friday 8th)

I wondered how the blueberry would go with the 'ugly' mix, so I was determined to give it a go.
The blueberries were quite sweet and had a nice perfumed taste - I liked it ! It reminded me of the perfumed taste from homemade blueberry muffins - yum! Of course, this is better, because there's 0% fat, (which is a very good thing), and 100% flavour.

This lucky little yoghurt also had it's own photo shoot this morning. Just how good does the life of an award-winning Total Greek Yoghurt get ?

Yoghurt 5 - Raspberry and Pomegranate (BB - Friday 8th - 2200)

BB and CC returned from swimming with fish and chips from the local take away. We don't eat fish and chips very often, because it can be quite flavourless and quite unhealthy, in fact I can't remember the last time  we ate it - usually we eat it on the beach in Brighton. It just seems to taste nicer eaten outside, next to the sea. However, last night, the batter on the fish was crisp and thin. Lovely!

After this feast, there was no way I could eat anything else, although I did eat a tiny bit of dark chocolate. BB decided to have a 0% fat Total Greek Raspberry and Pomegranate yoghurt, and he actually dipped dark chocolate into it. Now, to me, that just sounds gross, but CC tried it, and she liked it too. It just goes to show that you never can quite tell what your Total Greek yoghurt will go with next !

Yoghurts 6,7, and 8 (Raspberry and Pomegranate (me!), Honey (CC) and Strawberry (BB) - Sunday 10 Feb - 5.30

BB and I ran 8 miles in the rain and mud on Sunday, it was really hard going and afterwards we changed and went to our favourite place for brunch: Woodcote Green Nurseries. We both had warm flatbread sandwiches, I had the ham, cheese and tomato chutney and BB, the chicken, bacon and cheese. Both served with winter coleslaw, and chunky crisps. It was just what we both needed. That saw us through to about 5pm, when I came downstairs and said I was going to have a yoghurt. I asked BB if he had eaten anything since lunch. 'Yes, I just had one of those yoghurts, the strawberry one....' 'And?' I said. 'How was it ?' Lovely and jammy he said. The jammy is a little bit like jelly.

I tipped mine into a bowl, added walnuts and mixed it until it looked like thick, glossy pink paint. 'Umm...' said CC,  'Can I try some ?'. 'Of course !' I said, albeit reluctantly. 'That's really nice, can I have one .. ?' CC asked. Was CC really going to eat a yoghurt with Strawberries in it ? Alas, no.. 'I'm going to have a honey one', she added.

And there we have it, a lovely little filling afternoon snack and another three lovely yoghurts.. gone !

The last one - boo-hoo ! - One lovely Total Greek Yoghurt 0% Fat with Honey - Feb 13 (TBD)

As I'm writing about these yoghurts, I've decided that I am going to snarfle and savour the last one later tonight ! And I am quite looking forward to it!

As you can see, we have eaten these yoghurts for breakfast, for dessert, as an afternoon pick-me-up, an after school snack, and a post-workout protein fix. It's the perfect, no-fat (0%) dairy product for the whole family. Next time you're out shopping give them a try, I don't think you'll be disappointed !

A special thank you to the folks at Total Greek Yoghurt for providing these products for us to try out here.

Disclaimer: All opinions provided are my own. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Non Such 10K - Sunday Feb 3 2013 - A review

A nice medal
BB and I had signed up for the Non Such 10km race after I decided I needed an incentive, e.g. a race, to get me out of the house on a cold weekend morning. It's just as well that we had a race booked, as I would never have ventured out of the house that day. The weather was freezing.

I signed up for the race without paying too much attention to the route, (I hate loops!), and without looking at who was organising the race (not that it's usually a big deal). Luckily (or not, as the case may be...) BB does check out all of that stuff, so he cheerfully informed me that a) The race consisted of 4 loops, and that yes, they were indeedy, those same loops that I do two of when I participate in the Non Such Parkrun event. And b) that the race was organised by the same organisation that received some stick for getting the distance wrong on a similar event last year - apparently..

So how did it go ?? I hated, hated, hated the loops. The park is massive, why just run around one small part of it - four times ! I could have stopped in pure anger.. I was so bored after the first two.. Just. Plain. Annoying. When I did some of the Running With David events that were held in the same park, we never looped.

I don't know if the distance was accurate. I do know that right at the end my BB was there cheering me on and I was right outside the mansion house, and I turned back to him and said 'Where's the finish ?' 'It's right there !!' he said. What was my problem ? The problem was, that the person recording the times with the stopwatch was stood in front of the miniscule sign that said 'Finish', so I couldn't actually see it. Great.

Then I walked back to the water station and grabbed some water, and walked back to the tent to queue to get my medal. BB was carrying a clear bag with a leaflet and an apple in it. 'Where's the bag from ?' I asked him. 'Oh, I got that earlier, it was given to me at the end of the race - there's no more left'. 'Oh', I said.. Not that I'm desperate for an apple and a leaflet in a bag, but I don't understand why they didn't have enough for all competitors.. Why give any out at all if you don't have enough to go round ??

I queued for the medal  and t-shirt. Both BB and I asked for a 'Medium' sized t-shirt. BB had already told me not to bother asking for 'Small' as they didn't have any. 'Medium' was fine with me. Incidentally, when BB got home and looked a little closer, he saw that he had been given 'Large'. Again, it's not a big deal. It's a free t-shirt, it's not like we're planning to wear them.

Finally, my biggest whinge about the day, is the way my medal was practically thrown at me without a second glance, a smile, or a well-done, by a man who looked like he would rather be somewhere, anywhere else, rather than handing out medals to people in the cold.  The medals are so lovely too, but it's delivery was just, plain rubbish.

Would I do this race again ? No. There are too many other better organised, better laid out and planned out races, run by friendlier people that I do not need to waste my time and money on this kind of event. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Cherry and Almond Cake

One of my BB's favourite things is cake. If that's a Cherry and Almond cake, then so much the better.

It didn't take me long to find a recipe here at this excellent blog site, The English Kitchen blog.

Typically, being a 'bit' (understatement) of a food hoarder, I had all of the ingredients to hand, including marzipan and ground almonds that I had not used when making the Christmas cakes back in November. It's hard to know what to do with marzipan after Christmas, so this recipe is perfect. Actually, I lie, I didn't have the almond extract - mainly because I find the taste quite false and artificial. I don't think the cake lacked anything for not having it added..

Although we had it as a birthday cake, it would be a perfect cake for teatime. The cherries and the marzipan do make it a little sweet. Next time, I think I would use less sugar in the recipe.

Here'e the recipe reproduced from The English Kitchen blog.

8 ounces butter, at room temperature (1 cup)
8 ounces golden caster sugar (1 cup plus 2 TBS)
4 large free range eggs, beaten
8 ounces self raising flour (2 cups)
8 ounces glace cherries, chopped (1 cup)
4 ounces ground almonds (1 scant cup)
2 to 3 drops of almond extract
9 ounces marzipan (a generous 1/2 pound)
2 ounces flaked almonds (1/2 cup)
sifted icing sugar to serve (optional)


Preheat the oven to 160*C/325*F. Butter a deep 8-inch round baking tin and line the base and sides with parchment paper.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour in the eggs, a bit at a time, beating well after each addition. Fold in the flour one third at a time. Fold in the cherries, ground almonds and almond extract, mixing all in until evenly combined.

Spoon half of the batter into the prepared tin.

Roll the marzipan into a 7 1/2 inch round. Lay this on top of the batter in the tin. Spoon the remainder of the batter over top.

Smooth over the top of the cake with the back of a spoon and then sprinkle the flaked almonds evenly over top.

Bake in the preheated oven for 1 1/2 hours, covering with foil after the first hour if it appears to be getting too dark. The cake is done when it shrinks away from the sides of the tin and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Leave to cool in the tin for 20 minutes, before turning out onto a wire rack to finish cooling completely.


OK, back over to me ...

Here's the cake with the marzipan layer rolled out and put over half of the cake mixture:. You can see that I used a little icing sugar to roll out the marzipan.

This is the next half of the cake mixture going on top of the marzipan.

Once I smoothed over the cake mixture, I sprinkled over flaked almonds - and moved to a clean surface!

And so to the oven !

This is the finished cake. If you look close enough, you can see the marzipan layer under the yellow candle.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Lemon, Almond and Yoghurt Cake

Last week ir was BB's birthday. I still had some Total Greek yoghurt to use, so after the success of my Chocolate Yoghurt cake, I thought I would make my next favourite flavour: lemon.

Despite having a shelf heavy with cookbooks, I searched online and found an excellent recipe here

This link will take you to the Woman and Home website and this wonderful recipe for Lemon, Almond and Yoghurt Cake. The great thing about this recipe, is that is makes for a really light cake. Firstly, because all of the fat is replaced with yoghurt and secondly, some of the flour is replaced with almonds. So, if you are trying to lighten the carb and fat load - this is your cake.

Incidentally, I separated my cake mix between 2 sponge tins, rather than making a large cake. I then  sandwiched the cake with a layer of lemon curd and a layer of yoghurt.

 I sweetened the yoghurt with a little icing sugar and a little vanilla.

 I also drizzled a little lemon icing over the top. However, the lemon icing was very tart, and probably not to everybody's taste. If you use lemon icing, proceed with caution ! The recipe below calls for five lemons, I used two and I found it plenty lemony.


  • 2 large free-range eggs
  • 225g (8oz) caster sugar225g (8oz) Greek yoghurt                  (I also used Total)zest 3 lemons
  • 100g (4oz) blanched almonds                                                (I used ground almonds)
  • 150g (5oz) self-raising flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
for the syrup and topping
  • juice 5 lemons                                                                        (I used 1 lemon with sugar to taste)
  • 150g (5oz) granulated sugar
  • raspberries, to decorate (optional - I used lemon juice and icing sugar to make lemon icing)
you will need
  • 20cm (8in) round cake tin, oiled and bottom lined with baking parchment OR 2 sponge tins, which is what I used.


  1. Heat the oven to 170C. To make the cake, whisk the eggs and caster sugar with an electric beater for about 5 minutes in a large bowl, until the mixture is very pale and thick. In a second bowl, combine the yogurt, lemon zest and a pinch of salt.
  2. In a food processor, whizz the blanched almonds until fairly finely ground but still with some texture. In a third bowl, add the flour, baking powder and almonds, and stir until well combined.
  3. Gently stir the yogurt mixture into the eggs. Finally fold the dry flour and almond mixture in and carefully pour into the tin. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the cake is golden and a skewer comes out clean. Cover with a square of foil 30 minutes into baking to stop it from going too brown. 
  4. Prick the cake all over with a skewer. To make the syrup, heat the lemon juice in a small pan then stir the granulated sugar into the juice. Immediately pour the syrup over the cake so the juice sinks into it and the sugar forms a crunchy layer. To decorate, place the fresh raspberries on top of the cake.

    Or sandwich your cakes together with lemon curd and vanilla flavoured yoghurt - Yum!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Parkrun - 10 Good Reasons To Join up !

I am always extolling the virtues of Parkrun and here's why:

1) It keeps you fit.

2) It's free.

3) There will be one near you, so you won't have far to travel. (Although, I understand that there aren't currently any in Lincolnshire, which is a shame.)

4) Once you've taken part, you won't get bombarded with emails about not going. Go or don't go - your choice.

5) You can make new friends - either by joining the group for coffee afterwards or by volunteering to help out.

6) It's as competitive as you want it to be. You will get emailed a time for your race but it does not matter if you are at the front of the pack or the back of the pack. Some time one fancies a sprint, and others a pootle...I can usually be found somewhere in the middle.

7) You can take your dog. Best check with your parkrun organiser on that one though. Some parkruns allow dogs and their owners to run at the back of the pack.

8) You can take the kid(s). Little CC first ran one lap of the 5K with us when she was 8.

9) If you are competitive, you can register your details on Run Britain Rankings . Your parkrun results will be automatically updated, and this will allow you to compare your sporting prowess with other athletes of the same age group.

10) Photos of the event are taken and posted on the site, which means you can get great sporting 'action' photos like the one above that was taken of me on Saturday.

See? It's a Win-Win-Win-Win-Win- ( Well, I'm just copying and pasting there, so you catch my drift.)

As Nike say. Just. Do. It.

Post script

Here are my Run Britain Rankings: My handicap (out of 36 is currently 19.9 - elite athletes would have a ranking of '0' or maybe slightly negative

If we look at the bottom figure below, basically there are 3927 female runners faster than me in the UK, in my age group (currently 35-39). I will move up an age group in April (40-45) so it will be interesting to see how my UK ranking changes. Although, oddly I am faster now than when I was 35...
UK Overall109674
Women 26609
W35 3928

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Total Greek Yoghurt Cookery Master Class with Paul Merrett


Last week in the midst of the snow and a SQL server 2010 training course, I was most pleased to be invited along by Total Greek Yoghurt to their latest cookery master class. The master class was run by Paul Merrett at L'Atelier des Chefs and consisted of chef Paul Merrett, myself and other foodies cooking a three course meal, and savouring a few glasses of vino. It certainly sounded like my perfect night !

Having sorted out last-minute childcare, (thank you Valeria, I owe you one!) along I went in my footwear of choice for the snow, my silver moon boots. I was introduced to the Total Greek yoghurt team, handed a much appreciated glass of champagne and I started chatting with the other people at my table.

I have never cooked in public before, so I guess I was a little apprehensive, particularly in the presence of greatness, in the form of Paul Merrett. Having said that, I am a confident cook and if I haven't experienced preparing a particular ingredient, I have, usually, at least seen the process either in one of  my cook books, or on TV. Incidentally, the TV show called The Best, which starred Paul Merrett was a particular favourite of myself and BB - I truly wish it was still on ! (Oh, and of course, I do have the book from the series.)

On with the food, to start we prepared Squid & Chorizo on a Chickpea Puree with Coriander Yoghurt
Once we had been shown how to do it properly by Paul Merrett, we were divided into teams of four. I was teamed with LizzeB, Heidi  and Karen,  and I started by prepping the squid.

Close up of my hands, trying to 'prep' squid.

Whilst writing this, I was wondering how on earth I would remember all of the ingredients, but fortunately for me, the great folks at Total Greek Yoghurt have the recipes on their site.

Heidi  prepped the chorizo, LizzeB supped wine and, as a drinks rather than food writer, Karen  coodinated the recipe. Finally, we sat down to dine. The food was awesome. I cannot recommend this recipe enough. The photos totally (sorry, couldn't resist..) do it justice. It tasted just as good as it looks.

I am not a huge eater and by this point I was nicely full, but I was very much looking forward to the main of Herb-crusted Lamb with Baba ganouche and sweet potato salad and also to getting back into the kitchen. I have never made Baba ganoush, but I'd read about it and I really wanted to get my hands on those aubergines. Paul Merrett had blackened the aubergines before we arrived, directly over the hob until the skins were blackened. and they were then left to sit. So, when they finally made it into my hands, the skin was literally falling off them and the flesh was sweet and smoked. Heidi  and LizzeB did an excellent job of the lamb and the sweet potatoes, and I had fun getting the seeds out of the pomegranate and chopping garlic. Karen  ensured we were clearing down and had had everything to hand. We were a really excellent team, considering we had only just met. Looking back, by this point I was just SO happy, I didn't want to leave this place, ever.

Completely in my element

We 'plated up', (I love that term), and went back into the little eating area and enjoyed our main meal. It was delicious. The sweet potatoes with the garlic and cumin were amazing. The sweetness of the pomegranates. It all worked together wonderfully. However, the star of the show for me was, incidentally the part containing the yoghurt, the Baba ganoush. I will be making this again, without a doubt.

Smoky aubergine with yoghurt

For the dessert we prepared Rhubarb & Greek Yoghurt Syllabub. The yorkshire rhubarb with the sweet, creamy Greek yoghurt was one of the best desserts I have had for a long time. And I eat quite a lot of desserts. 

At the end of the evening, we were presented with a scrummy Total Greek Yoghurt goodie cool bag with a selection of their current range as a thank you for attending. When I returned home BB and CC 'reserved' their choices. Blueberry for BB and Honey for CC.

Many more photos of the event can be found on  Total Greek Yoghurt's facebook page and if you fancy getting hold of some more Total Greek Yoghurt recipes you can get their eBook here - Every Day Eating by Total Greek Yoghurt (the profits of which go to Action for Children).  I bought my copy earlier today!

I can proudly say that I finally feel like a REAL food blogger.

Many thanks to Total Greek Yoghurt for inviting me to this masterclass, and Paul Merrett for his fantastic tuition.

All photos courtesy of satureyes

Disclaimer: All opinions are my own, and were not influenced by the sponsor of this event .