Sunday, 25 September 2016

Life lately - September

A little early this month as we go on holiday on Thursday (yasss!) and we're not back til 9th October, and I thought that might be a bit late to be looking back on September.
However, it feels very weird to be writing one of these already. Didn't I just do one of these?

As I did last month, I've been keeping a list in my phone of things I wanted to cover this month. I'm not sure it will be quite as long as August's update but September has been rather lovely and I'm excited to tell you all about it!

What I've been doing
Ooh I've done lots of nice things this month! 

A few weekends ago my auntie and cousin had a spare ticket to seee Sister Act at the Palace, so they took me out for dinner and then to the theatre. I had the most lovely, girly evening and was completely spoiled! I hadn't seen the film of Sister Act so I had no idea what to expect, but it was so much fun and Alexandra Burke was fab!
Then a week later, we went to the theatre to see A Streetcar Named Desire with Maxine Peake. This was Phil's birthday present to my Mum for her 60th, but we were a bit nervous about whether my Dad would enjoy it (he's not really into the theatre), especially when we saw a sign saying it finished at 11 (it started at 7.30), but we were all completely enthralled! Maxine Peake was unbelievable. I love the Royal Exchange Theatre (soppy fact, it's where Phil asked me to be his girlfriend nearly 3 years ago so it has special meaning to us!) and both Phil and I think this was the best thing we'd ever seen at the theatre.
The 10th September is two of my all-time favourite people's birthdays - my Dad and my former work wife, Riven. My Mum was taking my Dad out for the day, so I made sure I spoiled Riven! I decorated my house with balloons and stuck some to the door, baked her some coffee and walnut cupcakes, wrapped her presents, opened a bottle of prosecco and after a dinner of paneer curry, I lit some candles and sang Happy Birthday to her. We had a really lovely evening and I hope I gave her the birthday she deserves!

We've done a lot of visiting family this month which has been lovely. We don't live far from our parents or extended family at all, but we can feel quite far away in the city centre. A few weeks ago we had lunch with my Nan, went to visit Phil's Granny and popped in to see my Dad to give him his presents. Then today we've been to Phil's parents to see them and his Grandparents.

Oh and last weekend we did a 10K! Remember three years ago when I'd just started running and I signed up for my first 10K three days before the race? Thanks to injuries and training commitments I haven't been able to do the Stockport 10K the last few years so I was so happy to be able to run it this year! It's a really challenging course (they've changed the course and it's much harder than it was 3 years ago!) but I ran a PB of under 54 minutes so I'm incredibly chuffed about that! Plus the New Balance finisher's tshirt is one of the nicest I've ever had!
Then we finished up the day with a bitter shandy in the sunshine outside Home (one of my favourite places in Manchester) and an ice cream from MilkJam (more on that later!).
Where I've been
I mentioned in my On uni mates blog post that I spent last weekend in Liverpool with my girls from uni and I had such a great weekend! We went out for dinner and to a few bars on Friday, and on Saturday had lunch and spent a couple of hours in the Cavern Club! I absolutely love Liverpool because I feel like it's a mini-Manchester. I always say there's no city I love as much as Manchester, but Liverpool is pretty close!

What I've been loving
I'm already a little bit obsessed with podcasts, but I loved Michelle's post on her favourites, and downloaded Lore earlier in the week. I tend to prefer longer podcasts for running, but Lore is perfect for round the house and I already love it!
I also went full-on Pinterest dream the other week and bought loads of jars for my kitchen to organise my pulses, grains and nuts and I am obsessed with them. They make me way more happy than I should admit.

On a practical note though, they look nice and they've cleared so much cupboard space. Plus now I know exactly how much of everything I have left so I don't panic-buy green lentils "just in case" and then find 3 bags at home (you'd be shocked to know how often this happens...). Also if you want to do this, I got nearly all my jars from Wilko - the largest jars are £3 and the smaller ones are £2. Edited to add: THEY'RE IN THE SALE! Large ones are only £2 now and smaller ones are £1.50!

What I've been eating
I've already reviewed Vegan Bowls, but if you haven't read the post yet, just know that Vegan Bowls is an awesome book and you should just buy it right away.

I've added three Ottolenghi books to my Chirstmas list because I like to believe when we buy a house I'll become the kind of person who will spend Saturday afternoons cooking from Ottolenghi books. So in preparation (and to justify needing three of his books), I've been trying recipes of his that I've found online. So far we've had the grilled ziti (yum) and the ah-mazing puy lentils with tahini and cumin (or "posh houmous" as we call it) which we had with lots of nice bread (and I had the leftovers a few days later on toast with a fried egg). Really excited to try more of his recipes, and hopefully get Plenty, Plenty More and Jerusalem for Christmas.
Bake Off is back which means I have to make something to eat during Bake Off each week. I made a last-minute lemon cake (using this recipe) a few weeks ago because I was bored and had all the ingredients in. It was unbelievable and ridiculously easy (and I'm rubbish at baking!).
I mentioned our trip to MilkJam earlier, but I really need to tell you more about it. MilkJam is a DESSERT CAFE that is dangerously close to my flat (T- 5 minutes max). So what's a girl to do on a sunny day after running a 10K? I went for the malted soft serve with raspberry sauce and OH MY GOD IT WAS SO GOOD. The raspberry sauce is actually compote. God my mouth is watering thinking about it.
THEN on Friday they tweeted saying "the next person to come in and show us this tweet gets a free brownie", and Phil has to walk past Milk Jam on his way home. He wasn't home from work yet so...
#boyfriendgoals

What I've been reading
I was a bit disappointed to realise I haven't read much this month! I did read
The truth about the Harry Quebert Affair which I really enjoyed (and at over 600 pages, was the bulk of my month's reading), and We have always lived in the castle which was a quick, creepy read which I enjoyed a lot. 

I talked about my holiday books in this post, and how I was going to start reading them, shock horror, before holiday. So I've started my first Bukowski with Post Office. For holiday I've downloaded 7 books - Post Office, Ham on Rye, Burial Rites, The Shipping News, The Possibilities, His Bloody Project and Eileen.

(I'm super active on Goodreads if you want to follow me over there.)

What I've been watching
Obviously Bake Off, but we've also restarted Friday Night Lights after starting it two years ago (Phil is on his second watch) as we need something to fill the Game of Thrones-shaped gap in our lives.
I've only been to the cinema once (!!) this month, but Hell or High Water was one of the best films I've seen in months, so I think my Cineworld Unlimited card monthly membership was worth it just for that.

Last night we watched Gone Baby Gone which I hadn't seen before, and wow, just wow. Ben Affleck is such a brilliant director! Haven't stopped thinking about it all day.

Working on
This week we launched the Stagecoach Bus app, which I've been heavily involved with since joining Stagecoach in April and it's probably the biggest project I've worked on of my career so far! It's still so weird seeing it in real life and thinking "I wrote that app store description! I built that landing page! I worked on that creative!". If you live in an area with Stagecoach buses, please download it!
And obviously my next half marathon is looming ever closer! Today was my last Sunday run before the race, as when we get back from holiday there's only a week to go! I did 12 good miles and I'm feeling nervous but excited for the big day!

What I've been excited for
In case I didn't have enough going on, I've enrolled to start my Chartered Institute of Marketing Diploma in Professional Marketing next month! My start date is actually the day after my half marathon! It's going to be weird to going back to full-on studying, especially as it's distance learning, and I'll need to be spending 4-6 hours per week to get through the course. I'm planning on cutting my running down a bit and trying to simply my life so I don't drive myself too crazy, but let's see how that goes!

I'm so ready for the weather to cool down! Summer just isn't my thing, so I'm totally ready for snuggly jumpers and boots. I've got my eye on a couple of new pairs of boots that are smart enough for work, and I'm hoping to get a new coat at some point. We always go to Spain this time of year and I always see it as my "goodbye!" to summer, because it's usually just touching autumn when we get back.

And obviously, I'm excited for Spain. I've written before about how it's my happy place and I love having my internet off on my phone and totally disconnecting for a few days away. I'm looking forward to lots of time with my family and Phil, long walks, Fanta orange, endless patatas bravas and lots of time to read!

What I've written
On resetting your goals
Cookbook review: Peace and Parsnips
On uni mates
How using my Garmin less is making me a better runner
Life is too short to read books you don't enjoy
The Myth of the 10 minute mile
Cookbook review: Vegan bowls

What I've been reading online
I wrote last month about how much I love Vix Meldrew's blog, and this month I loved her 30 things I've learned by 30, and 30 things I hope for in my 30s. She's so wonderfully honest and relatable - I've been trawling through her archives the last few months!

I also loved my friend Michelle's blogging story, especially as I remember her journey from almost the beginning! I've loved each of her blogs, but I think her current one is my favourite. She's been a real inspiration for the direction my blog has moved into.

And finally, one that hit home for me a bit this month. From The Pool, why women should stop saying "I don't know" at work. I am absolutely terrible for this - I'm always saying "I'll just check that" or "let me ask" even when I know the answer. This was a real wake up call on being more authoritative at work.

And that's all from me til next month! I've got a super-busy week this week and I'm not actually home now properly til we go away, but I'm so ready for a long break!
See you when I get back!

Charlotte x

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Cookbook Review: Vegan Bowls

Vegan bowls.
It doesn't sound like an exciting book, does it?
Bowls of vegan stuff.
Visions of brown rice and mung bean stew and green stuff.

I'm pretty sure this was what Phil had in mind when I told him we'd be eating from this book for the next few weeks.

But if you're on Instagram, well, ever, you'll know that bowls are a thing.
(I mean, tbh, I've been eating my dinner out of a bowl since I was as uni and I've always been a fan of maximum gravy with minimum spillage).
The clean eating crowd seem to enjoy that it makes it look like they have "omg SO MUCH food" when they've literally just filled a bowl with 7 different kinds of zero-calorie vegetables, but in a lot of cases a "bowl meal" is a great way to make a complete meal of different veg, carb and protein components. I also like a bowl meal because it's a great way to throw together random bits of leftovers out of my fridge and make it into a meal ("Roasted veg? Avocado? Feta? Eggs? Ah I'll just make a bowl"). 

The beauty of a bowl is that there are no rules, but if you're like me, you need a bit of structure in your life. Enter Vegan Bowls.

First impressions
To be honest, I thought the structure of this book would be very much protein - veg - grain - sauce, but it goes so far beyond that. To the point that at first I was a bit disappointed as some recipes made me think "that's not really a bowl!" but because of that it's actually really innovative! Of course there are the classic protein-veg-grain combos, but also curries, soups, stews, pasta dishes and even breakfast bowls. I loved the variety of dishes in this book. Hungarian, Mexican, Spanish, Indian, British, Greek, Italian - there's something for everyone in this book!

I found about 25 recipes that I was excited to make from this book. First impressions of the book were that most recipes seemed relatively accessible - not too many strange ingredients, but my biggest concern was timings. I like to have dinner on the table about an hour after getting home from work (I usually get home about 6 so dinner is usually around 7) and there are quite a lot of moving parts in this book, so I wanted to be confident everything was do-able midweek so I didn't have to relegate this book to the "only for weekends" pile. There didn't seem to be many complicated cooking methods - the only challenge would be to be to stay on top of everything when there are multiple components on the go. There are "quick tips" for every recipe which give you help on how to get everything done more quickly. She reckons about 30 minutes for each recipe, but I tend to find recipe book authors can chop much quicker than I can, so I thought giving myself an hour each time would be about right.

Here's what I tried...

Sweet spicy eggplant zucchini bowl
Oooh this was good, but definitely spicy! I'd reduce the amount of hot sauce next time, and maybe swap the veg (aubergine and courgette aren't Phil's favourites) but the sauce itself was amazing. With this being my first recipe from Vegan Bowls I don't think I was ready for how intense it was keeping on top of everything - rice, nuts, vegetables, sauce - and I got a bit overwhelmed. It took about 45 minutes though, so now I've got the hang of this style of cooking a bit more I couldn't definitely make this again midweek. Absolutely delicious and can't wait to make it again!

Tex Mex risotto bowl
Until quite recently (as in, until I made the mint and pea risotto from Keep it Vegan), I'd never been a big fan of risotto, and I've never made it before. However I adore that pea and mint risotto (maybe I just really like vegan risotto as it's not as creamy as regular risotto? I hate cream and creamy sauces) and Mexican flavours are my favourite, so I had to give this a try.
This was another recipe that involved some juggling (spoiler alert: they all do, so I'm gonna stop saying it now), but came together relatively quickly with mostly store cupboard ingredients. I halved the recipe for two of us (instant regrets) and swapped out some of the veg, but this was one of the nicest things I've ever made! Phil said this was "up there" with the best things I've ever cooked. My only criticism is it was a bit salty, but I think that's my fault for making my broth too strong. Amazing, amazing, amazing - perfect for midweek but I'd even give it the biggest honour in my house and serve it to guests. I can't believe I haven't made this again yet!

Chickpea brasoi bowl
I'm going to Budapest with my Mum in November (it was my gift to her for her 60th Birthday in July!) so I was quite excited to try some of the Hungarian recipes in this book. This was my first example of "well that's not really a bowl" as it's a stew with a pickled veg side, but I realised more and more as I worked through the book that it's great to have so much variety in one book, not just traditional bowls. This is very garlicky (10 cloves!) and smokey (lots of smoked paprika - however I learned after that Hungarian paprika, which is called for in the book, isn't as smokey as smokey paprika, so this was stronger flavoured than I think it was meant to be!). I loved the pickled salad as a bit of a palette-cleanser - it was so perfect with the stew! I did find with this one there wasn't quite enough for four with it only really being a stew and salad without having any other veg or grain to bulk it out. It came together in about 40 minutes. Would I make it again? Yeah maybe! It wasn't my favourite but it was very tasty and easy.

Thai Panang curry bowl
This was a good way to use up random bits of veg in the bottom of the fridge. The sauce was absolutely delicious - even without the kaffir lime leaves. I added chickpeas for some protein as that was the one thing this seemed to be lacking. Really delicious and will probably make again.

Spicy ginger polenta bowl
I felt myself coming down with a cold the night I made this, so I definitely appreciated a bowl full of garlic, ginger and chilli! I don't eat much polenta but I'd had a bag in my cupboard for a while so I was interested in trying it. This wasn't my favourite, but it was still pretty tasty.

Sizzling Southwestern fajita salad bowl
Anything that involved tortilla chips is a winner in my book! I didn't realise this was a salad and ran out of lettuce before I could make it, so I substituted spinach instead. This was a big success and I would definitely make it again with a few changes. Phil isn't the biggest fan of lentils so next time I'd make this with black beans.

Everyday dal with potato cakes
I'm pretty sure every veggie recipe book in the world has a recipe for dal. As with the chana masala in the last book I reviewed, I already have a favourite dal recipe. This was quite involved - I needed 2 frying pans and 2 saucepans, and I thought the result was a little bit bland. However, I loved the potato cakes and will definitely be making them again, but I wouldn't make the dal again.

Seitan gyro bowl
I've never bought pre-packaged seitan, but I do make a big log every now and again (this recipe is my all-time favourite) and use it as an opportunity to work through the seitan recipes in my books! There were a couple of seitan recipes I wanted to try in Vegan Bowls, so I started with this gyro bowl. This was a gorgeous mix of Greek flavours - a garlicky marinade, cucumbers, red onion, yoghurt and pitta (I admit I didn't use vegan yoghurt) over quinoa with a mix of veg. I liked that this was another "clean the fridge out" dinner - we had courgettes, green beans and cauliflower to use up - and would definitely make it again.

Philly cheesesteak bowl
Yum yum yum. I used up the last of my seitan for this bowl of deliciousness, and made roasted breakfast-style potatoes in place of the tater tots (I don't really know what tater tots are...). I tried to make the sauce in my food processor at first, but the cashews were still a bit grainy, and I'm so glad I used my Nutribullet instead! I'm rarely convinced my vegan cheese-style sauces but this one was just like cinema nacho cheese! This took about an hour and like everything else so far, was very intense and hands on, but like nearly everything else, it was totally worth it.

Miso-cajun grilled sweet potato bowl
This was a bit more faffy than the other recipes, which is saying something! My grill is part of my oven, so I couldn't grill the sweet potato and roast the broccoli at the same time, so I just steamed the broccoli, but it would definitely have been lovely roasted. However it didn't matter once we tried the red pepper miso sauce - I want to smother this on everything! The only downside was I forgot the kidney beans! I remember thinking "this would be nice with some protein!". I am definitely, definitely making this again! Or even just the sauce!

Southern beans and grits bowl
I've never really had grits so I don't know how authentic this was! I used veggie sausages instead of carrots because if you're going to suggest veggie sausages as an alternative to carrots, I'm going to choose veggie sausages. This was nice but not my absolute favourite and I probably wouldn't make it again.

Conclusion
So of the 11 recipes I made from this book, there are 7 that I would 100% make again, and there are at least another dozen recipes that I want to try. I've been incredibly impressed with this book - in fact, I would say it's one of my absolutely favourites. Nearly everything I made was absolutely delicious but not only that, so many of the recipes were innovative and exciting and inspiring. 
I would recommend this book to anyone who likes to cook - vegan or otherwise. For me, 45 minutes to cook dinner is absolutely fine for midweek, but it is intense hands-on time. There are loads of recipes I would make for guests too, which is always a good sign.

Overall, this was a huge success and instantly one of my new favourite recipe books. I can't wait to cook more from this!

Charlotte x

Friday, 23 September 2016

The Myth of the 10 minute mile

I heard it this weekend at the start line of my 10K.
"My first 10K, I was so disappointed. I ran it in 1 hour 35 seconds - I really wanted to be under an hour."
"Here we go, off for an hour of running."

The myth of the 10 minute mile is everywhere. The assumption that a 10 minute mile is an average, or standard pace, particularly for a beginner.

"Got 20 minutes? You can run 2 miles." 
"I just want to be able to run this 10K in under an hour." 
"I'm slow - I can't run a 5K in under 30 minutes."

Hell, even Couch to 5K - which I swear by - only gets you to run for 30 minutes, which is not, by most beginner standards, enough time to run a 5K.

It took me over 18 months of running to be able to run a 10 minute mile.

It took even longer - almost two years - to be able to run a 30 minute 5K and then, a few weeks later, a 60 minute 10K. Which, let's not forget, is actually a 9:39 minute mile.

A 10 minute mile is decent, and 60 minute 10K is very good. It's not average. In fact, the average female finish time of a 10K is 1:04:47 according to this research. Plus a 5K at a 9:39 minute mile pace is completely different to a 10K - twice the distance - at the same pace.

I get it, we like round numbers, but this myth is setting runners up for disappointment, and I've been there.

The myth of the 10 minute mile was so ingrained in me when I first started running that I thought I was running half a mile if I ran for 5 minutes. The reality is, when I first started running, I was running about a 13 minute mile. And that's okay, but it's hard to not feel disappointed when everything suggests a 10 minute mile is a standard beginner pace.

But I had no point of reference except the myth of the 10 minute mile. You don't hear about people running 11, 12, 13 minute miles. I learned this even more when I got a Runners' World subscription. I love the magazine, but it doesn't cater very fairly for those that run anywhere below average.

The myth of the 10 minute mile made me feel bad about myself for a really long time. It made me feel like I wasn't a "real" runner. It made me preface every race time with "I'm really slow, but...". It made me feel guilty every single time I went for a run and saw 11s and 12s on my mile times.

So let's reject the 10 minute mile as the standard beginner pace. Let's embrace 11 and 12 and 13 minute miles. Let's encourage running at all paces. Let's stop calling ourselves slow and let's stop assuming that one pace fits all. Let's celebrate when we hit that 10 minute mile pace, not expect it. 

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Life is too short to read books you don't enjoy

I've spent the last week not-reading a book I'm just not feeling.
I've flicked through it on my commute, read a few pages and then resigned myself to staring out of the window/at my phone/listening to a podcast/dozing.
All because I'm "not allowed" to read my holiday books until I go on holiday.

And I feel like I do this every year.
Holidays are the only time I really treat myself to new books. I give myself a budget of about £25 and get myself 4 or 5 books, but I'm not allowed to read them til holiday.
So every year, I end up with this dead week, when I've finished my most recent book, but I'm not allowed to start my holiday books, so I root through my shelf and undoubtedly start something I'm not that into and then abandon it before I leave for the airport, never to be finished.

And sometimes I'm not sure where the line is between being self-disciplined and just being plain old mean to myself.

I do a lot of things I don't want to do.
I don't always want to get up at 5.30am to go for a run.
I don't always want to come home from work a cook a healthy meal from scratch.
I don't always want to turn down social activities for running or choir practice.

But I'm committed, I'm dedicated and I'm disciplined. 
And sometimes I don't know if it's always a good thing.

I'm not saying I'm always disciplined.
I'll often eat the last cookie or go to bed early but actually spend half an hour scrolling through Facebook.
But believe me, I'll feel bad about it.

I'll feel bad if I "waste" my bus journey to or from work by not reading at least 20 or 30 pages each way.
I'll feel bad if I "cheat" with something pre-made when making dinner.
I'll feel bad if I miss a run, even if I'm exhausted.

I spend an awful lot of my life feeling guilty.

I love being disciplined. Without my self-discipline I wouldn't have been able to train for a marathon, or have run this blog for nearly 7 years, or cook healthy meals every evening, or run a home on top of everything else.

But sometimes I'm just a little bit too hard on myself.

I've cried because I've been 5 minutes late out for a run, I've beat myself up when I was too exhausted to cook after a 15 mile run, I've panicked when I've spent money unexpectedly because I keep a running total of my monthly expenditure and budget for everything.

But maybe life is too short to read books you don't enjoy, or to go for runs when you need a rest, or to feel like you're missing out on life sometimes because you're so focused on your end goals.

Being dedicated and disciplined is good, but maybe it's not everything.

Maybe we need to strive towards our goals, but perhaps we need to be a little kinder to ourselves along the way.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

How using my Garmin less is making me a better runner

I'm a bit of a stats nerd.
The thing I was most excited about when I got my Garmin 220 was the multiple data screens, the ability to have 3 sets of data on at a time, and to show lap pace on the main screen.
But I'm also very aware that I'm a slave to my watch.
I find it hard to switch off from my pace on my long runs or easy runs, and always end up chasing my time down when I'm supposed to be taking it easy.
I listen to my watch and not my body.

I think it was when I was researching my "Runners - stop calling yourself slow" post that I stumbled over Tina Muir's blog, and her post "5 reasons why running slow is so hard". Anyone who is experienced in running knows the importance of slow running, but the majority of people who are experienced in running suck at running slow.

And I'm as guilty as anyone. I'm obsessed with my pace and my stats and my mile times, and even on my morning runs I instantly get nervous when a lap time over 11 minutes flashes on my screen. And even on my long runs I often feel I'm pushing a little bit too hard and instead of slowing down, my ego kicks in and starts wondering how fast I can run this long run. Even though I know that's not the point!

So I started doing two things. 

The first was that I started to wear my Garmin inside my wrist on my long runs. This way, I couldn't see the pace I was running at easily, but I could still see my watch if I needed to to check my turn-around point or to pause my watch at traffic lights.

And it totally worked. I could just run by feel. I didn't speed up if a lap was slower than I expected. I didn't feel disappointed if I didn't hit a certain pace for each mile. I was thinking of the whole run, not just living in each mile. On long runs in particular it really helped me to switch off, relax and enjoy the run at whatever pace I felt like.

So I started doing it on my easy runs too. 

In the morning when I wake up to run before 5.30am, I'm always tired and it takes me a mile or so to get going, and I usually feel disappointed with a slower first mile, even though I know this is meant to be an easy recovery run! This way, it doesn't matter. I can run easy without accidentally pushing myself when my ego gets in the way.

Then the next thing I did was turn off my auto-lap.

In the three years I've been running I have always had some kind of alert every mile, whether it was an audio alert back when I solely used Endomondo, or flashing up on my Garmin screen. 

But a few weeks ago I found it was interfering with the manual-lap I was using for a tempo run so I decided to turn it off just for that run.
But when I mentioned it in passing to Phil, he was really surprised I used the autolap as he never uses it. So I decided to give it a go.

One thing I checked early on, thankfully, was that my lap times per mile would still be recorded on my Garmin app, even if there weren't alerts on my watch, so I could still be a stats nerd, only retrospectively after a run. 

So now for easy runs and long runs, I just run. I run by feel, I don't let myself get distracted by the odd slower mile or beat myself up if my pace isn't what I expected. It's made me a more confident and conscientious runner who appreciates that not every run is going to be my best.

Plus, it's resulted in a few PBs.

Last weekend I went to my old parkrun, and instead of focusing on my lap pace, I focused on my overall pace (for races, I still have my watch visible, but autolap off). This kept me focused all the way through the 5K, not just on each mile, and I took 30 seconds off my past PB.

And this weekend I did the Stockport 10K, and using the same method of focusing on my overall pace, got a 10K PB of nearly a minute (53:50) on an exceptionally hard course. When I checked my laps later I saw a couple of 9+ minute miles that I know would have totally thrown me off if I'd seen them during the race, but instead I could identify when those difficult, hilly parts were afterwards, instead of letting them throw me off during the race. I let myself focus more on recovering from the difficult bits and making back time throughout the course, rather than seeing the race mile by mile.

It's 4 weeks til my half marathon, and the 10K was kind of a test on whether I want to have my autolap off during the race, and right now I think I do. I have a goal pace in mind for this race and I don't want to be distracted by the odd slower mile and wear myself out catching up.

I'll always love my Garmin, and I'll always love my data, but I don't want to be a slave to the numbers.

Charlotte x

Sunday, 18 September 2016

On uni mates

Two events this weekend triggered this blog post. I spent a wonderful weekend in Liverpool with my uni mates, and Phil's little sister, Suzie, moved into her halls, coincidentally in Liverpool, to start her university life...
They probably won't happen right away. 
Or at least, not completely.
It probably won't be your housemates, or the people who live across the way, or the people on your course.
It probably won't happen in freshers' week. Or even at all in your first year.
Maybe it will take a year, or even more.

They'll be odds and ends of friends of friends and people you meet. 
Maybe you'll meet one on Facebook weeks before you start uni, but will be too nervous to say Hi in real life until Christmas.
Maybe you'll meet another in a seminar that was actually their third choice and you'll bond over fish finger sandwiches and Glamour magazine and instantly become best friends.
Maybe you'll find out that one of them was on the same My Chemical Romance forum as you in 2006 and they recognised your pink hair in freshers' week.
Maybe you'll meet two best friends at a joint birthday party part way through your second year.
You won't know when it will happen, but soon you'll be inseparable.
Every night out will be planned together. Every predrinks. Every getting ready. Every pre-night-out shopping trip. Every library date and coffee shop break and lecture and essay hand in.

You'll be from all over the country. You'll argue about how to pronounce "grass" and "bath" and what you call a bread roll.
You'll all be completely different but you'll have more in common than any friends you'e ever known before.
These are your soul mates. And you're in it for the long haul.

These are your friends for life. And it won't matter when you all disperse across the country when you graduate. You'll send epic texts to catch up and arrange meet ups as often as you can. 
You'll worry you're growing apart. You'll worry it will feel different. You'll feel sad when you can't make a catch up, or when you're the furthest away and you miss out on being nearby.

But you'll figure it out. You'll make it work. You'll arrive and nothing will be different.
Just instead of talking about boys and essays and exams and studying, you'll talk about mortgages and careers and live-in partners and holidays.

You'll reminisce about your days at uni, but you won't miss them in the same way.

And you'll go out to celebrate 27th birthdays and party like it's 2008 again.
And everything will change but nothing will change and even five years after graduation, when you realise you've been friends after uni longer than you were ever at uni together.

And you'll be sad when you say goodbye. You'll miss seeing each other every day and the constant night outs and intense friendships at university. You'll miss talking every day. 

But dates will go in diaries and weekends will be kept free and whether it's in two months or three months or six, you'll be there again, with new stories and news and everything is the same again. Except you can't wear your high heels all night like you did when you were 20 and now you drink prosecco instead of £2 double vodkas and you just can't hack it like you used to.

And everything will change, but nothing will have changed at all. 

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Cookbook review: Peace and Parsnips

I first started hearing about Peace and Parsnips early in the year. I was on a recipe book buying ban, so I added it to my Birthday list (I got about 7 recipe books for my birthday this year) and waited and waited and waited til 30th March.

I'd heard such good things about this book, and one of my all-time favourite food bloggers, Jack Monroe, claimed she "evangelised" about this book on Twitter. I was so, so, so excited for it to arrive.
And when it did arrive, it's gorgeous. A huge hard-back tome I couldn't wait to get into.
But.

But but but.
I don't know where to start.
Did I secretly love this book but wanted to hate it? Did I hate this book and want to love it?
The latter I think.

I really, really, really wanted to love this book.
But I didn't.
In fact, I've given up on it, because I'm tired of spending upwards of 2 hours on a recipe, scouring the health food shop and Asian markets and the World Food Supermarket and still not being able to find ingredients, only to write in my notes "not worth the effort."

Let's start at the beginning.

First impressions

My first impression of this book was good... but then quickly turned sour.
Do you want to know how many photos of the author there are in this book?
Go on, guess.
20, 30?
SIXTY TWO.
THERE ARE SIXTY TWO PHOTOS OF HIS FACE IN THIS BOOK.
YES. I COUNTED.

It's like an autobiography with a few recipes in. Every recipe has a 6-7 sentence paragraph about his travels. "Oh I eat this at my holiday home in Spain" "When I was visiting India" "I travel a lot in France" which just not my cup of tea at all. I know some people like that, but for me, I want the recipe, and some photos of the finished product, I don't want your life story.

Then there are the recipes.
Loads of them sound good, in fact there were at least 20 or so recipes that I was excited to try.
But once you start reading the recipes, a few things become clear.
There are lot of steps to these recipes - there's no way you'd manage them in an hour, and an hour is my maximum cooking time for after work.
There are a lot of unusual ingredients - seriously, I live in Manchester city centre, round the corner from one of the biggest Chinatowns in Europe and there were some Asian ingredients I couldn't find.
There's a lot of thinking ahead - soak the cashews for 4 hours, soak the raisins, let this sit in the fridge for 4 hours - and the recipes don't have a preparation time, so you can end up halfway through making something, starving hungry, only to find it needs another hour.
And as a result of this, I personally think he makes veganism seem unnecessarily complicated.

I have a lot of vegan books. At least a dozen. And I could live in Minimalist Baker or Aine Carlin or any of my Isa books. I'm used to cooking vegan. We eat vegan a few times a week. But this was making everything so ingredient-heavy and time-consuming and complicated. 

One recipe that declared "this is a quick recipe" took over 2 hours!

So first impressions are... I already had a strong impression this book wasn't for me. It's a bit too "hippie vegan", too pretentious, very complicated, way too hyperbolic, and the way he writes is jarringly floral and over the top (I've written in my notes '"happy mouth tingle" - what are you on about?'). 

But I was determined to give it a go. I mean this is the book with Amazon reviews that say "potentially life-changing", and "best recipe book I own", and "if I had the money I'd buy this for everyone I know" and most shocking, "plenty for week day suppers."

So here's my attempt at giving Peace and Parsnips a go (spoiler alert: it didn't go well).

Edited to add: Because most of the recipes in this book are "weekend" recipes, I've actually been cooking from this book since April, so my memory is pretty fuzzy so I'm relying 90% on the notes in my phone for reference, which aren't always that detailed...

Roast aubergine and tomato nut roast
Well, it didn't get off to a good start. I didn't read the recipe properly and didn't see that my nuts had to be "soaked for at least 4 hours" as there are no guidelines on times, but luckily I spotted this in time and managed to get some soaking in, but I really didn't like that there is absolutely no indication of how long a recipe takes!
Speaking of the nuts, the quantities were in "handfuls" which is far too vague for me (especially as I have really small hands!).
But once I got going this was relatively easy - not labour-intensive but definitely time-intensive with soaking the nuts, cooking the aubergines and quite a few steps along the way. I loved the spice combination - coriander, cumin, mint, cinnamon and thyme - and when I tasted the mix of a spoon before cooking it was delicious!
I didn't make the accompanying sauce (which was probably a mistake, as I'll explain later) but this was really, really delicious, I ever said I would happily eat this for Christmas dinner! It was wonderfully rich and filling and made plenty (which it a nice change from my other recipe books!).

This was probably the best recipe I made from this book, and set the bar very high...

Layered filo pie with roast cauliflower mash and carrot puree
I'd had some filo pastry lurking in the freezer for absolutely ages so I thought this would be a good way to use it up.
Again, there was no guideline on how long it would take to cook, and quite a bit of cooking knowledge was assumed, which was how I ended up burning my almonds (it didn't say how to roast almonds!). There was very little detail in some sections on how hot a pan had to be.
I didn't have the right kind of pan, so my pastry went everywhere (admittedly, not his fault), and mine ended up tasty, but a bit dry. Not one I'd make again.

Spinach bhaji burgers
I swear to you, I scoured the Asian markets for anchor powder, and if I can't get it in Manchester's Chinatown, I'd consider that a pretty hard to obtain ingredient.
I had to buy silken tofu for this even though it only used a tiny amount, and I'm not a fan of the silken kind (I did turn it into a decent tofu scramble the next day, though).
This took 1.5 hours in total, nearly every pan in my house and I didn't even like them.
I can't pinpoint what it was I didn't like. They were too oily and too bland and flavourless. I didn't make my own mango chutney and I drew the line at frying my chips in 2.5cm of oil. I think as bhajis they might have been nice, but they didn't really work as burgers, at least not for me. Phil actually really enjoyed them, though.

Mexican pastor pie
I love Mexican food and I love sweet potatoes so I was excited for this! I don't have a lot of notes from when I made this, except "cool patterns (?!)" and "tasty but not quite worth all the effort" which is a theme you're going to see quite a lot through this post...

Potato, aubergine and basil gratin

Past-Charlotte has just written here "took a really long time" and "not really worth the effort", and seeing as I made this a few months ago, I'm afraid I have no more information than that!

Portobello pecan burgers
Hmmm. So, the burgers themselves have 16 ingredients. SIXTEEN. Luckily I managed to get miso from Holland and Barrett and I live down the round from a Japanese supermarket for the seaweed, but this seemed excessive.
The burgers called for pre-cooked rice, which I had to make, and I had to make a few substitutions - walnuts instead of pecans, cannelini beans instead of flagelot beans, panko instead of breadcrumbs.
The prep alone took over an hour, and I had to process the mix in 3 batches - how big is his food processor?!
I got 8 big burgers in total and they firmed up nicely in the fridge, but they still fell apart in the pan (as all veggie burgers tend to do!).
These were actually pretty good - I'm really glad I made the alioli as they really made the dish - but I'm not sure I'd go to the effort to make them again. There was also a LOT of washing up for poor Phil due to lots of "put this to one side in a bowl." Tasty, but I've had better veggie burgers that haven't involved spending £3 on seaweed.

Spiced chana masala with brown chickpeas, tamarind and kale
I don't know why I always feel compelled to make chana masala seeing as I already have a recipe for it that I LOVE. This needed two hours of soaking, and that's not even using dried chickpeas, however after the soaking this came together quite quickly. Well, for him, at least. By "quite quickly" I mean, an hour. Huge portions and it was tasty enough, but I have other chana masala recipes that I prefer.

Parsnip and walnut rumblethumps with homemade baked beans
Past-Charlotte has written "takes a while, duh", so I think by this point she was totally done with Peace and Parsnips and his sass. The rumbledethumps take an hour to firm up in the fridge, and you use this time to make the beans, which actually works out quite well, and the whole thing took about an hour and a half in total. I used a mix of brown sugar and water to substitute the molasses, and used butter beans instead of haricot. I nearly didn't bother with the mustard and walnut topping but I'm so so glad I did! As much as I criticise this book, he does have a way with sauces and toppings and accompaniments that really bring out the flavour of the dish.
I really loved the beans and glad I made extra to have on toast through the week, and with the topping it's really tasty, but it doesn't look that impressive for all the work. It's basically over-complicated baked beans and mash.
Would I make it again? Maybe the beans but I'm sure there are quicker ways of making them!

Green pea, rose and cauliflower pulao with coconut and mint chutney
Okay so I'm an idiot and kind of misread this recipe and didn't realise it wasn't actually a curry, but a pilau. If you exclude the 2 hours soaking the coconut, this came together relatively quickly. I've put in my notes "tasty but not mind blowing" and again "not worth the effort", plus I couldn't taste the rosewater so that probably wasn't worth the money...

Braised cauliflower and puy lentil tabbouleh
I braved cooking this midweek as it seemed easy enough to throw together after work! The apricots needed 2 hours of soaking, so I threw them in with some water in the morning before my run and took them out before work, and that seemed to be enough. This was actually really delicious, but I had some chickpeas in the fridge so I made a quick houmous and wow, that makes it another level! I would definitely consider making this again as a bit of a mezze platter with houmous and pitta. Plus it makes loads and it's unexpectedly super filling. A success!

So that's 10 recipes from Peace and Parsnips. I'd consider two of them to be enough of a success for me to make them again. I do have a list of another 5 or 6 recipes I was planning to make, in my desperate attempt to find the holy-grail recipe that redeems this book, but honestly, I'd rather spend my time and money making recipes that I know I will enjoy and won't take hours of my life but ultimately disappoint me.

Maybe it's just me. This book has some absolute rave reviews from vegans and non-vegans alike, but for me, the narrative and photos rubbed me the complete wrong way from the start, and while the recipes inspired me, the final result was nearly always a let down, and never correlative to the amount of time involved.

I thought this book made vegan cooking seem incredibly time-consuming, overly complicated and expensive, involved some ingredients I hadn't even heard of!

If you're an adventurous cook who likes a challenge with plenty of time on your hands, maybe this is for you, but this book isn't for me. I've said before, I like recipes that I can easily make after work and where I can get most of the ingredients from Aldi. However, I'm sure I'll still turn to this from time to time to try to make those last few recipes I fancied, and who knows, maybe when I've got more time I'll give this another go, but right now, this was a fail, as much as I tried to justify it.

If I'm going to spend hours in the kitchen, I want something absolutely mind-blowing to come out of it, and with the exception of the nut roast, I just didn't find that with this book.

Charlotte x