Friday, 29 April 2011

Carbs for Keswick

Oh dear, I've been meaning to share this amazing pasta recipe on here for weeks - please excuse the delay!

I currently have carbs on the brain! It's the Keswick Half Marathon on Sunday, and I'm getting more and more excited, and more and more nervous, by the day! I'm slowly upping my carb intake throughout this week - I'll need all the power I can get to manage some of those hills, and I can't help thinking that my ignorace as a first time half marathon runner last year was what powered me through! I can now run 13 miles quite easily, without too many aches and pains afterwards. 13 miles around York makes for a rather enjoyable morning, but 13 miles around one of the hilliest races in the UK might be somewhat tougher!

I've been training H A R D. Much harder than last year (when I couldn't train thanks to a bad knee injury), and much harder than I thought I'd manage in the very limited free time I have. I've been running at work in my lunch hour, occasionally running after work when I can muster the energy, and, without fail, running a long long run almost every Saturday morning of 2011 so far.

And I confess now, to the world, that I am a PARTY POOPER on Friday nights! I go to bed at 9:30. I don't drink a drop of alcohol. I don't eat cheese. I don't eat spicy food.

I really needed to add some crazy Friday night joy to my Friday evenings, so we started cooking this recipe. And ok, it has cheese in it. You could even say that it's cheese-loaded, in fact. I confess, every time we make this I decide beforehand that I won't put cheddar on top, but I always do - we just don't eat it the night before a 13 mile run (it works for 10.5 miles, I can vouch for that!). Alongside this, I use low fat cream cheese rather than full fat - I definitely don't want to still be digesting last night's tea on my Saturday run: yet another compromise.

Cream cheese and butternut pasta bake
Serves 3 or 4

400g wholemeal pasta (we use Penne)
Half a butternut squash, cubed (secret: we buy it frozen!)
1 broccoli, cut into florets and stalky chunks (mmm I love the stalk!)
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small tub of cream cheese
1/2 tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper
grated cheddar cheese
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds

1. Heat the oven to 200C. Spread the squash onto an oiled baking tray and sprinkle with nutmeg. Roast for about 30 mins until soft.
2. Meanwhile, cook the pasta and stir fry the onion, garlic and broccoli in a large wok or pan. Drain the pasta and add to the vegetable pan, then add the roasted squash. Mix together and season with salt and pepper.
3. Spoon out the cream cheese into the pasta and vegetable mix. Stir well so it all melts properly into the veg. Spoon into a large baking dish, sprinkle with the grated cheese and top with the pumpkin seeds. Bake in the oven for half an hour until the top is crispy and everything is bubbling.

Here I used spinach instead of broccoli, and breadcrumbs instead of seeds - just as amazing!

Favourite pasta dish ever!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

A Few Things That Currently Rock My Socks...

1. Phil's marathon minestrone.  I've had it three times in three days and I've got to say, it's one of my favourite ever soups! Borlotti beans are officially my new favourite bean :-)

2. Freckles. My freckles have appeared! Or Sommersprossen ("summer flecks") as the Germans so delightfully name them! I can never understand why some people try so hard to cover freckles up - they're so cute in a rustic, country-bumpkin kind of way. They make me want to wear a long flowing dress and a straw hat, and wander lustfully through cornfields.

3. My garden yard. I'll let you in to a secret: we have started referring to our plants as if they were our babies. I think I actually addressed them as 'the children' outloud earlier. But I feel a pride that I imagine is akin to that of a mother at a school play; our strawberry plans has flowers, our tomato plant has flowers, our lemon thyme has flowers! Everything is thriving, they all look so glorious! I am actually living the dream (or part of it, at least), visiting the yard every now and then for a sprig of mint to go in my bulgur wheat salad.

4. Short shorts and long cardis. Now the jumpers are (hopefully) hidden away for the summer, I'm loving wearing my big knitted vintage cardi over real summer outfits. I know it's only April, but the short shorts were out on Monday, and the cardi wasn't even required until the early evening.

5. Virginia Woolf. I thought the stream of consciousness thing had been taken to its limit with To The Lighthouse, but I started reading The Waves over the bank holiday, and this is a new level of reading that I'm not sure I'll ever succeed in. Still, I love to imagine how Virginia Woolf thought when she wrote - how on earth she ever imagined that seven different streams of consciousness on one single page throughout a 200-page novel could ever come to be a 200-page novel. She intruiges me, and though I am utterly confused, I must keep reading. [if anyone has succeeded in completing this book, feedback would be much appreciated!]

Monday, 25 April 2011

Extended Easter Weekend Moments

Wow - four whole days to myself! Who would have thought it would be such a luxury? I thought it would speed past quicker than I could say 'Creme Egg', but it's been a long and very thorough four days, which I have enjoyed immensely. Hooray for another four day weekend next week, too! (Suddenly I'm all for religion and the Royals...hypocrite - me?)

The festivities began on Thursday evening, when the weather was still so amazing at 7pm that I changed from my work clothes in to a sun top (in Northern England, in April - this can't be good!). We'd committed to a slovenly pizza, beer and film evening, and so we set to work preparing the dough and simmering down the tomato sauce. I love homemade pizza! I love sipping gin and nibbling pretzels in the garden while the dough rises, I love decorating it with my favourite veggies, and I love gobbling it up, with or without ketchup! It was late by the time everything was ready, so we curled up in our PJs on the sofa and munched our offerings, washed down with a couple of pints and accompanied by a Woody Allen comedy.

I spent Friday with a friend, showing her around York in true 'I've lived here for 6 years and I know the best secret bits' style! We walked the walls, admired the views, took photos of the Minster from a snickleway and bustled our way around the boutiques and markets. Exhausted from sun and miles of walking, we flopped in a busy park for hours, eating ice cream and watching the world go by. It felt so incredible to be out, wild and free, on a Friday! In celebration of this liberty, Daniel and I hit the pub in the early afternoon, perched on a bench in a shady courtyard with a large glass of wine. Heaven!

I rose super early on Saturday for an early morning run. The air was crisp but hazy, as if the morning were still to rise. Everything was covered in dew, as if untouched by the daytime, and the birds were singing incredibly loudly, in that way that only British birds seem to do. I had a lovely run, and was pleased to find myself running a comfortable 10km before I'd even had breakfast (must have been all the pasta I had the night before). We then headed off to Skipton - a long train journey from York, where we were cramped into old rickety train carriages and bumped uncomfortably across Yorkshire. We wandered around the market town and admired the amazing views, stopping for lunch in a gorgeous vegetarian cafe-cum-wholefoods store before taking a walk around the heavenly Skipton Woods. The trees provided a world of their own in which we could wander, as if the sky were green and golden rather than blue. Ducklings were tottering around after their Mothers and echoes of various wildlife filled the air. I love woodland - the sounds and smells make it seem so foreign and strange, and the shade is always so welcome on such a hot day. We finished the day with my parents, who came over to York in the evening. We sipped gin in the yard (I may be slightly fond of gin) before heading out for an Indian, and talked and talked about future plans, talking with eachother like friends rather than parents and child.

On Sunday we treated ourselves to an amazing bike ride, and Monday was spent in recovery - sleeping, eating, drinking tea in the garden, a bit of gardening and baking some amazing Easter cookies. I could do these four-day weekends every week, really I could!

Cycling 100 Miles

You might have seen me mention a certain cycling challange that Daniel and I will be undertaking in August.

Well, we've started training, and set up a blog to document this exciting journey!

Rather than write about it on my own blog, I thought it would be better this way - then we'll have a little keepsake from our 3 months of hard effort to look back on whenever we please!

To keep up-to-date with our exploits click here!

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Perfect Easter Breakfast

On grey Easter Sunday mornings, when you're tired after a wonderful Saturday adventure and a lot of red wine, what better way to celebrate than with a special breakfast?
Hot cross buns, soaking in egg and milk while you enjoy a huge bowl of fruit. Once nice and eggy, fry then gently in melted butter, until soft and crispy.

Delicious with butter, drizzled with honey, or spread with jam. Or maybe all three.

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Thinking Back

Recently I've regularly found myself looking back a couple of years, back to when I was 21 and in my final six months of my BA. I'm struck by the changes that must have taken place between now and then - all of them completely unnoticeable, yet combined they have created a life, and in some ways even a person, that is completely different only two years later.

I look back on that time with immense joy, because it was a period that I never would have planned for myself, and a period that I know will only happen that once in my whole lifetime. Living in absolute freedom, recklessly, passionately; learning and loving and living like I never had before. It was a summer of camping trips, romantic weekends by the sea, picnics in the garden and cocktails in fancy riverside bars - so much time was spent enjoying that amazing amount of free time that we are given as students.

It was a period of falling in love - with Daniel, with myself, with life. As if my eyes had been closed for a while, or at least that my vision was blurred, and suddenly, with the help of a strange, blue-eyed man who I inconveniently couldn't stop thinking about day-in, day-out (final exams and intense love affairs are not a good combination, but it worked out ok, thank goodness), I was slowly realizing that life wasn't going to plan, and thank heavens that it wasn't!

Life not going to plan ended up being the making of who I am now. I suppose that's true for all of us, however things might turn out. But I was so set in my ways, so ready for what was set out ahead of me that I didn't even consider looking around me. I don't know what it was that changed all of this, what it was that made me question my own comfortable circumstances and instead choose a thoroughly uncomfortable path for myself. But this uncomfortable path lead me directly into the world I am in now. Suddenly the blossoms bloomed brighter and the world started beckoning to be explored. I started running further, I started walking just for pleasure, I started drinking fresh sour lemonade on sunny park benches and staying out late to watch the sun set. I laid awake half the night listening to my favourite bands and spent half my wages on interesting and exotic vegetables. I got horribly drunk shamefully often and still dragged myself to university the next morning to learn all I could. I cut all my hair off and wrote articles for the University Women's Society magazine, I learned to knit and started sewing again.

It seems a little arrogant to be reeling off these things like that, but only two years later I am in awe of myself back then, of this period of my life that seems so foreign from where I am right now. I can see how I have got here from there, how the life I lived then is still soundly manifested in how I live now. Who I was back then might have turned her nose up at me ironing Daniel's shirts, or lounging in the shade on a sunny day. She might be disappointed that I'm no longer quite so passionate about philosophy, and that I still haven't read my book of essays by Sartre. She'd probably be horrified that I've gained a stone, that I only practise yoga once a week, and that I'm dreaming with increasing regularity of the days when I might settle down and have a family.

I guess I'm coming round to the fact that I'm growing up; that the adventures have to come down a notch or two and that real life isn't actually a constant party, or a constant holiday. I'll probably never get back into my tiny jeans again, I'll probably never get to my yoga mat five days a week again, I'll probably never stay up all night listening to Midlake and kissing someone I was sure was just a friend again. But that's ok. The blossoms still bloom just as brightly as they did back then, and the world is still begging me to get out and explore. As it happens, I quite like ironing Daniel's shirts, yoga when I do it feels all the more amazing, and I rather like the idea of planning for more than just us two. It sort of feels like a new adventure is taking shape right here under my feet.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Post-Run Peach Smoothie

 A perfect post-run tummy soother:

Half a tin of peaches in juice
Vanilla yoghurt

Whizz together in a blender and slurp delightedly.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Moments, IX.

A quiet Friday evening, with a carb-loaded tea ready for the next day. An incredibly early night and an amazingly heavy slumber - it had been a very long, very hard week.
Up early on Saturday for more swimming, more running. The sun was bright, incredibly hot for an April morning in Northern England. Still, running through fields was a dream, the dew dampening my feet and ankles, freshening my struggling limbs. Two weeks until race day and I'm excited and impatient.
Purple flowers on the windowsill, and fresh basil looking fit to burst from the sunshine. Tasting the summer with the first homemade houmous of the year, enjoying a slow Saturday lunch together.
The radio sounded through the house while we cleaned and tidied, ready for some overnight visitors. The house glistened proudly in the sunshine, ready to welcome our guests.
Spicy chilli, brown rice, garlic bread. We all cramped around our little table, enjoying our food and conversation. For me it was getting to know new people, for Daniel it was getting them to know him how he is now, moved so far away from childhood friendships. Exciting for both of us.
Evening drinks in the pub, lots of new names and faces. A gently cool evening, almost like summer. The moon so bright in the sky there was almost no need for street lights.

Awake this morning with a thumping head, subdued with painkillers for a couple more hours' sleep. Waking my senses to the smell of bacon and eggs, too sleepy to do much but nibble toast and sip tea. Once the house was empty again, we scuttled guiltily back to bed, hidden away from the glorious morning sunshine for a couple more hours.
Cycling by the river in the afternoon, barbecue and blossom teasing my nose. The world was alive with people enjoying the sun - on foot, by bike, by boat - everywhere was buzzing with activity.
Lounging in the sun doing not much at all, simply admiring the blueness of the sky and the flowers standing so upright towards the sun. A slow, lazy Sunday, almost one-of-a-kind; confused with tiredness and brightness, hunger and nausea, busyness and solitude.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

A Little Thanks

I started writing this post and deleted it all, and now I begin again. I want to say thank you for the kind words you've left lately, but I don't really know how - what would be the typed equivalent of a hug?

If this land to which I write were the real, solid earth, I would possibly bake some scones and invite you over for a cup of tea. We could even sit in the park in the sun and have a picnic, or maybe have a drink in my favourite pub in the world, crowded around the tiny tables sipping Yorkshire ale (or ginger beer, for those who are driving).

Sometimes I really wish this were the case. I can write anything I like in this space in the ether, and people respond with their thoughts, their comments, their kind words. I can write about heartbreak and sadness; words which I would never be able to express to those around me, words which are too hard to say outloud. Yet here I write it in all its honesty, and there is a response - someone is listening. I never started this blog for people to listen - I merely wanted a space to exercise my thoughts in written word, but some people do listen, and I often find myself referring to those people as friends. Not friends who I sit in the pub with or hurry out on a Saturday afternoon to drink coffee with, but friends in a different sphere, a different part of my life - different but utterly important.

How many of us truly speak our minds in the real world? Not only would it be overbearing to hear friends pouring out their thoughts in monologue all the time, but it would be impossible to articulate those thoughts quickly enough to say them aloud. Writing things allows us to consider exactly how we feel, exactly how we think, exactly what we want to say - it allows us to be completely honest to the 'listener', and to ourselves.

So, I'll say it again - thank you for the words you left me, and for your thoughts. I wrote because I had to, because writing makes sense of things that simply don't make sense. I think you know what I'm saying here, but right now I can't find exactly the words I need to say it. This little sphere where I write my thoughts and read the thoughts of others is sometimes the only place to go when I am lonely or down. Sometimes I just sit quietly and 'listen', but I'm here, sipping tea or wine or nasty cheapo hot chocolate with you and enjoying your company and friendship. Thanks for that, it means so much.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Moments, VIII.

The house lit up by Friday evening sunshine, me singing to Bob Dylan, Daniel cooking his special veggie chilli. Our shoulders felt so much lighter, so relieved for a weekend all to ourselves.

Saturday alarms woke us up too soon - he set off to swim while I took myself for an early morning run. Cross country running in the morning sun, mind and body both effortlessly free - geese, endless blossoms, a stoat, and two goths enjoying a spring ramble. I felt better than I have in weeks; so alive, so full of relief for everything. Thirteen miles later I could have gone on, my joints crunched with gratitude as I warmed down in the street. I felt swept away with nausea and headache, something I still can't avoid, though I rather like this lasting physical reminder of my efforts.

Shading from the afternoon sun at an underground vintage fair; treating myself to a pretty top and a wonderfully-cut dress (oops). A G&T and a bowl of strawberries in the garden, catching up after what felt like weeks apart. Tipsy from the sun and the gin, holding on to Saturday night which always seems to last forever.

Finally a lazy morning in bed, with no excuse to get out into the day just yet. Potting plants in the garden - tomatoes and strawberries, mint, thyme and rosemary, lavendar by the back door to welcome us home every night. Digging, sweeping and raking in the sunshine, headscarf on but shoulders bare. After hard graft came our reward in the shape of sausage sandwiches, oozing with tomato sauce, eaten al fresco as we admired our efforts. Shirts blustered on the washing line while I baked wholemeal scones, radio singing out into the street. A pedicure and an Ovaltine, letting my heart ache through Automatic for the People, ready for another week of smiling through it all, hard work and lots of learning, another week further into this whirlwind.

Emotions are coming in waves and bumps. Today I am knocked back again after a good handful of better days. There has been a shift and we're all trying to get used to it, bumping unhelpfully off eachother just as much as we're supporting eachother. I feel overwhelmed by love, and overwhelmed by sadness; so painfully aware of the significance of everyone around me, yet unable to put into words exactly what it is I want to tell them.

Friday, 8 April 2011

A Few Things

Normal blogging will resume shortly. For now, a few updates, a few plans, a few blanks.

A Few Updates:

- I have finally been published!!!

- We are planning a holiday! Finally! More on this when we've got certain plans (clue: bikes, ale and long coastlines will be involved. And no air travel)

- I've been addicted to the BBC4 adaptation of The Rainbow/Women in Love over the past few days. I almost insist that you watch this if you can!

- I am so touched by the messages left after my last post - thank you from the bottom of my heart. Things are getting easier to bear, and we are making big plans to act on the situation when we do the 100 mile bike ride - more on that soon, too.

A Few Weekend Plans:

- This weekend I intend to make a few dreams come true - we have tomato and strawberry plants lined up in our back yard, all ready for a summer of homegrown fruits, and a lifetime of homegrown nourishment (optimism is always key).

- I think this recipe would make a perfect Saturday tea. With wine, of course.

- I can't wait to snuggle up tonight in my pyjamas on the couch. I feel like I haven't stopped, haven't spent time being lazy with Daniel, haven't really indulged in tea and biscuits, for far far too long.

- Having been away for the past two weekends, we now have a stream of friends to catch up with. There's nothing I love more than sitting around a table late into the night, thriving on the laughter and conversation that people bring when they're together.

- In all I plan to take some time for myself, to rest and rejuvenate after two very difficult and tiring weeks. Sunshine, fresh air and rest is probably everything I need.

A few blanks:

1. Something that makes me a great friend is
my fine-tuned ear and my (usually) good advice. I know I'm a good listener, and I'm pretty good at delivering un-biased advice and opinion when it is needed. I'm not at all sensitive or unjudgemental, but hopefully my friends already know that!

2. I am
an optimist, in every sense. But it's not unfounded or naive; I feel I have thoroughly earned it.

3. I am not patient or shy. And I rarely give money to charity.

4. If I had to describe myself in three words, they would be
energetic, adventurous and enthusiastic.

5. Something I'm really cheap about is
tights. I only realize this today as I wear a pair of completely un-tight tights, hanging in an unladylike fashion around my knees, and bunching around my ankles. It's probably worth paying more than £2 for 10 pairs...

6. Something I'm willing to splurge on is
food. I spend such a heavy proportion of my money on organic or interesting foodstuffs, and it's worth every penny!

7. I would trade
my pretty dainty feet for pretty dainty hands in a heartbeat.

Sunday, 3 April 2011


Apologies for my silence over the past week, and thank you for the lovely messages about my new job - I will indeed be sticking with the 4 hours of commuting each day (I got a new job in the same place), but as I've said to many people who've asked "But why?!" when I say I'm staying, it's because it really is worth it. I never thought I'd find a job that I could love so much!

But, I've been 'on leave' for the past five days. On leave, tucked away at home with my family. Hiding away from the reality that is life, because sometimes life throws things at you that you just can't handle. Normally there is no 'pause' button; we have to get up and go to work whatever our moods, whatever the weather, and we have to be brave and smile and just forget that life hurts a bit sometimes. Tough luck if you're tired, tough luck if you're too busy or your boyfriend dumped you or you've got really, really bad period pains - I am not one to 'grin and bear it' at the best of times, but that's the biggest slap in the face that the Real World has given me - yes, you really do have to grin and bear it. Tough luck.

Anyway, I digress. I haven't had to grin and bear it over the past few days, instead I've been thoroughly not grinning and, as far as possible, not bearing it. Grief is something that, when it appears like it does, seemingly out of nowhere, you have no choice but to not bear it, to let it overtake your whole mind and body for a short while. It's one of those inconsistent but absolutely thorough emotions - when it appears all of a sudden, while you're getting ready for bed or folding the laundry, everything suddenly shuts down and your mind points in only one direction, and a strange wailing appears from your lungs which you cannot recognise as a sound you are capable of making. Ten, twenty or even thirty minutes later you suddenly break from the trance, exhausted, nauseous and red-faced, face stinging and lungs hiccupping for the next few hours.

When it comes to bearing it, well, I can't say I've been altogether impressive. Faced with crowds of amazing family members, all willing to be strong and hold themselves up with good humour and healthy food, I've been craving time on my own on the sofa, and had circumstances allowed it, I would have quickly resorted to a pizza menu and an awful film. Instead, the days have passed slowly and lathargically, doing what I can to make the effort and ride out the situation with the least possible melodrama. There's been evening walks through peaceful vegetable fields, shortbread-baking in time for Mother's Day, hilly running and a 10km race with my Dad (new PB to go with that!), period dramas, pub evenings where the whole family strolled home drunk, and garden centre fun at great expense (watch this space for tales of tomato plants and strawberry patches!). It's all felt incredibly normal, maybe a little too normal, excepting the slight oddity of not being at work.

Now I'm back in York, unpacked and settled in. The house is warming through again and the smell of over-ripe bananas is fading. Tomorrow normality has to resume, and I'm scared that it will be more difficult than the last very difficult few days have been. I want that 'pause' button, just for a few more days. I don't really want life to 'go on', as life, quite frankly, will never be quite the same as it was ever again. The world is now, to a good few of us at least, a worse place to be, and there is always going to be a gap that can't ever be filled. Sitting at home in my pyjamas eating cereal and drinking sugary tea is a good way of avoiding the heavy truth, and right now this cowardly option would be my preferred way to act. But there are those who do actually grin and bear it beyond all expectation, so I have no choice but to hit normality with a bump at 5:15 tomorrow morning. For now, we have my Mum's apple pie and the second episode of Women in Love to help us through. One day at a time.