My 30 for 30


birthday cake

Happy Birthday.

I turned 30 today yesterday.

(It was today when I started writing this entry.)

For a few months now, I’ve been putting together a list of 30 things that I can do when I’m 30. When I was putting the list together, I invited my friends and family to contribute their ideas to the list. I had one rule: in the spirit of openness, I couldn’t say “No” to any of their suggestions until my power of veto kicked in on my birthday. I had about 50 items that I’ve whittled down. Thank you for all your ideas.

The items on the list can be modified, as long as it keeps within the spirit of it. E.g. I’m scared of heights and the deep sea, so item #20 is doing something that I’m scared to do.

So here’s my list of 30 for 30:

  1. Go on a helicopter ride.
  2. Give money away towards something GREAT.
  3. Learn a new language to hold a simple 10 minute conversation with a native speaker.
  4. Learn to dance – ballroom, latin etc.
  5. Go to a ball.
  6. Learn how to make tasty Vietnamese cuisine.
  7. Run a cupcake workshop.
  8. Take a photo that captures the moment/day/theme, every day for a year.
  9. Watch Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
  10. Eat at a Michelin starred restaurant.
  11. Watch a Shakespearean play at the Globe Theatre in London.
  12. Go to a friend’s wedding in a foreign country.
  13. Drive 2.5 hours to Huddersfield for dinner with my sister and her husband. That’s where they live.
  14. Go to the Opera. As in properly going to an Opera House and seeing an opera. Failing that, go to a musical in London.
  15. Start reading the Bible in chronological order.
  16. Visit somewhere that is mentioned in the Bible.
  17. Swim in open water.
  18. Do an adventurous water based activity, such as coasteering, canyoning etc.
  19. Enter a TV show.
  20. Wing walking or sky-diving or learning to scuba-dive (or at least have planned a scuba diving holiday by the end of the year).
  21. Do a tough-girl/wolf run sort of obstacle run thing.
  22. Go to a classical concert an international sporting event.
  23. Be part of a play reading.
  24. Create a scrapbook of 30 for 30.
  25. Bake macarons.
  26. Learn how to solve the Rubrik’s cube.
  27. Learn the words of Auld Lang Syne.
  28. Do a Freedom in Christ, or similar, course.
  29. Go on the eurostar, or go and see the northern lights in the artic circle.
  30. Fly business class.

(At some point in January, Stefan pointed out that I had only had 29 things on the list. So, I’ve been excitedly waiting for a happy happenstance. Flying business class on Singapore Airlines is exactly that!)

Oh, and I’m not planning on doing any of these by myself. “So, diaries people!”

And finally I baked… Dorie Greenspan’s Banana Bundt Cake


Dorie Greenspan

Saturday, Week 1:

I’ve indulged myself with a lie-in this morning and at midday, I’m lounging in my pj’s with my dressing gown wrapped around me for warmth on this rather chilly October day. I have a to-do list as long as my arm, and I should have been out and about at least an hour ago… However, yesterday my legs were shaking as I got out of bed. The fresh intake of students, the start of the academic year, all that energy and effort, lack of sleep, adrenalin are taking their toll on me. Somewhat sheepishly, I also admit that some of it is my own fault for staying up and baking a cake.

I confess that I am a baking addict. When I have been putting off baking for some time, there comes a point when I just have to bake something. The urge starts in my stomach and emanates out to the rest of my limbs. My fingers drum nervously on the desk, my legs crisscross, and I keep fidgeting in my seat. I am physically twitching to just get on and bake something. I don’t get this about cooking food. This is purely related to baking, baking, baking. And so this is how I realised that I am a baking addict.

Earlier this week, 4 sad, brown bananas on top of my fridge kept asking me to bake them in Dorie Greenspan’s Banana Bundt Cake. (I’ve been wanting to bake this cake since I saw it here as a Secret Agent Cakein Ari’s blog six months ago.)

“No brown bananas,” I said, “I don’t have time to do anything about you now.”

“But you must, you must.” They sang back, “In a day, we will be too far gone for even a cake to rescue us.”

So, I made a date with them for Wednesday evening. Which is how, after walking around my block and talking about freshers stuff with students, at 11pm on Wednesday evening, I eventually started baking Dorie Greenspan’s Banana Bundt Cake (from Baking: From My Home to Yours).

By the way, I noticed that every blog post about this cake only uses cup measures, which rather irritates me as a UK baker, used to measuring things out in grams or ounzes. So, I’ve measured it out in grammes in this version of the recipe. Instead of plain flour, I substituted self-raising flour for all-purpose flour. I know that all-purpose flour is the US equivalent of plain flour. However, I read on some forum that the results are better with self-raising when baking cakes.

Ingredients

  • 4 very ripe bananas, mashed up in a bowl
  • 225g butter, cubed and softened
  • 300g golden caster sugar (I decided on golden caster sugar for a richer flavour, but 3/4 of the specified amount.)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 450g self-raising flour, sifted
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 225ml sour cream or yoghurt (in the absence of sour cream, but wanting the richness, I had some leftover double cream which I mixed with yoghurt)

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 and generously grease a 12 cup/23-25cm bundt tin. I used a pampered chef oil spray to coat it liberally with oil.

2. Mash up the bananas in a bowl and put them to one side. In another bowl, sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt.

3. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter for about 5 minutes, until the colour is pale and it looks fluffy. Then add the sugar and cream again for a few minutes. I used my Sainsbury Basic electric mixer but I had total KitchenAid Mixer envy because it would have come into its element with this cake. Indeed, Dorie recommends using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.

four sad bananasbanana bundt cake batter

4. Add in the vanilla extract. One by one, add in the eggs and give it a good whizz with the mixer after each egg. Add in the bananas. Give it another whizz with the mixer.

5. Next, add in half of the dry ingredients (flour, salt and bicarb of soda) and mix well. Then pour in the sour cream or yoghurt and mix it in. Finally, beat in the remainder of the dry ingredients and finish it off with a good whizz with the mixer to make sure that everything is beaten in.

6. Pour the cake batter into the bundt tin and spread it out evenly on top. Firmly bang it on a work surface to release any trapped air bubbles.

banana bundt cake batter poured inbanana bundt cake batter 1banana bundt cake in the tinbanana bundt cake and tin

7. Bake in the oven for 65-75 minutes, or until the cake tester comes out clean. However, check on it around the 35 minute mark and cover with foil if it looks like it is browning too quickly on top, so that the bottom doesn’t burn.

8. Let it cool in the bundt tin for 10 minutes, then carefully invert it onto a wirerack to reveal a beautifully turned out bundt cake and allow it to cool completely.

I made the suggested lemon drizzle icingwhich perfectly complements the cake and is simple to make.

Ingredients

  • 150g icing sugar, sifted
  • lemon juice. Start with 2 teaspoons. I ended up using juice of half a lemon.

Method

1. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl. Add in the lemon juice, starting with 2 teaspoons. Mix. Keep adding the lemon juice, one teaspoon at a time, until the icing reaches the consistency you desire for a drizzle.

2. Drizzle the icing over the cake. Ta Da.

banana bundt cake

my sliver of bundt cake for breakfast

The verdict? Oh, I need to be careful to make sure that I hold myself back and don’t come across as OTT at this point because this cake tastes even better than the reviews promised it would be.

Can a cake be described as soft and velvety? Because that’s how I would describe the texture of this cake. Each mouthful is an utter joy and delight to eat. The flavour is rich and deep. The lemon drizzle lends a subtle sharpness to the richness of the cake. My colleagues had some the next day and they loved it.

Top Tip: I’ll let you into a secret. This is one of those cakes that gets even better if you leave it a day (at least!) if you can resist it. I dare you. Sure, the icing will become more opaque over time, but you can store it in an airtight container for at least a week. The flavours mature and become even softer. MMmmmmmm…..

Post–Marathon Fatigue and Blood tests

blood test
On one of my longer training runs before my marathon, I had started mentally compiling a list of things that I was looking forward to doing once I had run the darn thing!

  1. Give blood – I really like giving blood but had once naively made the mistake, giving blood 4 days (4 DAYS!!!!) before running a half-marathon. Of course, I didn’t think that I was being stupid at the time. The guidance said that you shouldn’t give blood then do intense exercise in the 24 hours following, so I thought that it would be fine. Are you laughing/rolling your eyes at me? If not, then how about when I tell you that… I almost fell asleep at mile 7. Honestly honestly. I closed my eyes to sleep, while I was running.
  2. Eat icecream
  3. Learn to longboard
  4. Go snowboarding in Tamworth snowdome
  5. Take up surfing again
  6. Go on holiday to Morocco
  7. Not having to be so strict about my diet
  8. Think about doing a triathlon

I like having things to look forward to. Besides, I’d read somewhere that a post marathon slump is common after running your first marathon. I empathised. I used to get the blues after coming back from a short term missions trip. The anticipation as everything gears up around this BIG experience, which is in itself pretty intense. And following that, there’s a nothingness… a vacuum. I’d keep asking, What’s the point?

So, I’m trying out an idea that scheduling things to look forward to once it’s over is KEY to combatting the slump. Even if it is lying in front of the TV for a few days.

I’ve done everything on the list, apart from 1 and 5. (Surfing is in the pipeline for September.)

I gave blood today… for a blood test. It really doesn’t count. Turns out that my ‘I can’t be bothered‘ fatigue may be related to a low iron count or something, as a result of the marathon. One of my friends from the triathlon club suggested that I could be anaemic, which could explain why I am so weary all the time. At that point, I felt pretty happy to accept her explanation. Although, now, the more I consider that I might be anaemic, I’m not sure that I want to be dependent on iron supplements my whole life. Ay-yah, needless worry!

So, I toddle off the the GP to talk about this and my poorly ankle. She’s quite thorough and asks me about my general wellbeing, my periods and do I take naps during the day?

‘Well, I’d like to’, I reply, ‘But it’s a bit difficult because I’m at work.’

She surmises that I probably just need to rest more. And it’s obvious she’s not into running because she suggests that I leave bigger gaps (like I don’t already!) between each run. However, she still prints off the form which I need to take with me to have the blood test done. I wonder, when the results come back, it will be her proof that she’s right. In one sense, that would be really nice. When I’m at the pharmacy, I feel really honoured because they squeeze me in without an appointment. ‘We’re here to help,’ she explains, as I show my appreciation. What I didn’t realise was that there’d be three vials of my blood taken. The blood person in the pharmacy explains to that each vial would check things like my glucose levels, blood count, iron levels… and everything else. Is this what my car, Haribo, feels like when he goes in for his MOT? I have a little chuckle to myself that I’m trying to empathise with a car!

The results are back in 48 hours. Three days from now, my GP can either confirm her opinion about self-diagnosing patients who exercise excessively, or something else. As I’ve said already, it would be really nice if she’s right… but only if my energy picks up.

A Blogger Missing in Action

Sorry. It has been months since I last blogged a recipe. The thing is, I’ve not stopped cooking or baking and I still enjoy trying new recipes and flavours. So, what’s my excuse? Um, time and motivation. Oh gosh was that too blunt? Perhaps I should soften that by saying that the marathon training also changed my tastebuds? (It really did.) But, I’ll be honest with you. Really I stopped blogging because I’ve lacked time and motivation.

I had too many moments thinking, ‘does anyone read this blog anyway? and ‘is it worth it?‘.

Do all bloggers get that?

I think, for me, part of it is because I can’t see the immediate, face-to-face feedback, or people don’t leave comments. It makes it a bit harder to keep pushing yourself when you can’t be bothered to anyway. Some recent visitors left comments and that’s helping me out of that state of inertia.

And the time? After the end of a busy term, the students left halls and I immediately flew off to Chambery to experience a week of snowboarding. When I came back with a very bruised bottom, it was April. And not only did April feel like it had crept up on me but it also felt like it just tiptoed past me too, unplanned.

Then with three weeks to go, I started panicking about running a marathon.

My pre-marathon jitters transferred over to my food. I was worried that I’d ‘hit the wall’ once I got to mile 20 because I hadn’t fed myself properly. So, when my sister and brother-in-law came to stay, I asked my sister to make up some wholemeal pizza dough as an acknowledgement to my panic. We set out to make three different kinds of pizza toppings: courgettes with parma ham, mozzarella and basil, yellow cherry tomato sauce. The gender stereotype hit us in a funny moment in the supermarket, when Ola picked up the one packet of parma ham and very seriously asked ‘are we sure that there is enough meat going on these pizza?’ I made up a special sloppy joe style pizza just for him with minced beef, fresh chillis, onions and cayenne pepper. His favourite meat dish, however, was when I made Nigella’s buttermilk chicken from the Nigella Express cookbook for a Royal Wedding party. Ee-Reh had already made it before the week was out, when they returned home.

May had some awesome food moments. My mum cooked me her korean chicken casserole on the weekend of my marathon. However, May was really chocka, so no blogging from me.

I ran my first ever marathon at the start of May. I didn’t hit the wall and ran it all in 4 hours, 17 minutes and 47 seconds! My empty stomach woke me up at 2am the morning after and I finished off my mum’s casserole and gleefully indulged in a Magnum. I think that I deserved it.

stratfordmarathon

My mum had a major operation in the middle of May so I spent a week in Aberdeen looking after my mum. There’s not a photo to illustrate this one, more for your benefit 🙂

Then, just as the ash cloud was descending upon the British Isles, once again, I flew out to Morocco to visit a friend of mine in Casablanca. There, I learned how to prepare sardines for cooking, and went to the market to buy a few spices.

everydaylifeinthemedinaspiceshopping

And then… it was June.

What gets in our way between the recipes in the cookbook and making them?

recipescookbooks

I don’t know about you, but I have cookbooks that I have yet to make a recipe from after years of having them. Don’t get me wrong. I love receiving the books as presents: I pore over the pages of recipes and I’d like to make something. But then I seem to put the book away on my bookshelf, with a rather wistful sigh.

I was thinking about what gets in the way between the recipe in the book and the making of it? We salivate over the food photos and we love to ‘oooh’ and ‘aaaahhh’ over recipes in a magazine. But what is it that stops us from making the dish? Is it the long list of ingredients? The lack of self-confidence that one could make it look as good as the one in the photo? The assumptions that are in the methods section, such ‘whip the eggs until they form soft peaks’ – what do soft peaks look like, before they’re stiff?

I’m sure that we can identify deeper reasons within ourselves. When I give some of my issues a wee bit longer thought time, I can easily trace their origins back to my parent’s cooking habits or my fear of failure… and that’s only two of a long list. I could go on. So, without further ado, here is my list of things that act as a barrier between the recipe in the book and the making of it. The list is not finite by any means:

  • a long list of ingredients
  • an unfamiliar ingredient
  • a piece of cookware/bakeware that I haven’t got
  • too many steps in the method section
  • patronising language
  • rubbish index
  • complicated techniques
  • the lack of occasion
  • lenghty preparation or cooking times
  • using yeast
  • no photo of the finished dish
  • too much of something that I don’t like, such as cream or cheese, or …. as the americans call it, ‘frosting’

This next reason, however, is the primary one for why I don’t make a recipe:

I can’t be bothered to.

I think that it looks pretty good in the photo and I’d try eating it in a restaurant. But I can’t be bothered with the effort of trying out a new recipe. Reading a step, doing it, re-reading it to check that I’ve not missed something etc., requires a lot of mental energy. I don’t think that I’m alone in not wanting to try out a recipe because I think it is going to be tricky and complex. And then on top of that, there’s nothing more disappointing than putting a lot of effort into a dish and it tasting… alright… but not awesome. I’ve had plenty of those experiences before. So, I’d prefer to potter around inside my comfort zone and serve up dishes that I know are tasty.

But then, how do we expand our repertoire as cooks, bakers, chefs, if we aren’t trying new techniques? How do we become adventurous in our cooking, if we don’t experiment with new ingredients? How can we just gaze on cookbooks that groan heavily on our bookshelves, when there are so many new dishes hidden in them?

Therefore, I made a new year’s resolution to try 12 recipes this year that you can’t describe as ‘simple and easy’. Recipes that I’d class as complex or tricky, but will force me to face up to and press on, past the mental obstacles between the paper and the plate. This is my way of pushing myself to attempt recipes that I would previously look at and dismiss as way too difficult for me. Or to put it simply. Get over the faff and effort.

Why 12? Well, there are 12 months in the year and I thought that I could make a recipe that stretched me each month, so that it was a continuous thing. But it’s only a number and what’s in a number? What’s more significant is that I want it to be a lasting change in attitude, so that I am more adventurous with my cooking and bother with all the faff and effort.

Which also means one more thing. Because there is one thing that moves me to cook and bake and create. Much more than a new cookbook or a new year’s resolution. Being with people who love food and use recipes and cookbooks. I’m always inspired by these people.