#Domoreofwhatmakesyouhappy

One of my friends bought me this journal two years ago.  Turns out that the title has more significance for me, than I initially expected.

I thought there was an abrupt sea change in my blog, because I jumped from telling you about my hot season funk to the delightfully delicious best hot cross buns I’d baked in Phnom Penh and then offered a poem about love rejected.  Perhaps you thought that was for the best.  But it has been grating on me because it reads like I suddenly got all better again, when that is far from the truth.  Of course there was the year long gap of blank nothing…

So, this blog post is about how I’ve been putting one foot in front of the other, in restoring my mental well-being.  Quite literally in fact, because running is one of the things that I took up again to make myself happy.

First, I recorded in my journal my hot season depression and the thoughts I had begun to believe about myself or had resurfaced, so that one day when I was better I could go back to it and unpick what I’d thought into truth and lies.

Secondly, I was reminded of a verse in the Bible which says, ‘whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things’¹.  In light of this, I made up my mind to go back to doing the things that make me happy.   Read cookery books, bake, cook up new recipes, exercise, write, sit out on my balcony, look out for faces in places, have a facial…

But believe me, when it’s 44°C (or even 36°C) and you’re a 10kg heavier than what you’d like to be, it’s hard to do any of those things.

Who wants to put the oven on and make the room even hotter than it is?

Anyone want to go swimming when the water is warm enough to bathe in?

Nobody wants to go outside and run, specially in a culture where running outdoors in not the norm.

It’s so easy, isn’t it, to slump back into the same negative thought patterns, to think that change and recovery will never come about.  Refusing to believe I was stuck in the rut of depression in those first few months in July and August was such an effort.  I cut out as much refined sugar that I could live without.  No more khmer coffee with condensed milk for me.  I mean I’m a baker, so I wasn’t ever going to cut it out completely if I could help it.  But instead of baking sweet things, I baked and started selling my seeded wholemeal loaf.  I convinced myself to shell out a bit more on ingredients that I liked and cooking with and tried out a new recipe every week.  It took a wee while longer to get into a rhythm of exercising.  Eventually, I asked exercise buddy, Miri to help me by arranging to run or bike with her at certain days during the week.  It kept me accountable.  And I did something that I hadn’t done in over 15 years.  I got on the weighing scales every week to motivate myself to keep at it.

I also began to be deliberate about posting #domoreofwhatmakesyouhappy.  Willing myself to do all those things in the heat.  The more I did them, the more I realised that I needed to keep on doing things to keep me happy.  And changing my routine so that I could do them in relative cool of the morning to the scorching heat of the midday sun or the sticky mugginess in the evenings, just made sense.

As a young history student, specialising in the social and cultural history of the British Empire, I had researched the hill stations in India and judged those colonials for escaping to those cooler climes.²  Oh the joke was on me now.  Obviously I had never lived in a hot climate before!  My sympathy and empathy extended in historical retrospect.  Then I realised that I was also allowed to escape to cooler climes.  My nearest and dearest were not going to judge me for escaping the suffocating heat of hot season to the bracing, brisk breeze of the British Isle, to restore my well-being.  Consequently, in January, I made plans for a UK break and also to receive some professional help to sift through the fact and fiction.

It wasn’t until I lived through hot season again this year, I was able to see that I had done it.  I was okay.  In fact, more than okay.  As hot season approached, I realised that I was happy and thriving.  Yes, there was baggage still to unload. Back in the UK, I would have what felt like open-heart surgery to remove and heal what had caused so much pain and was affecting me.  But all that mental and physical discipline, putting one foot in front another, was paying off.  The Han-Na that went back to the UK, was excited about running a half-marathon in Phnom Penh and reflecting on the two things that she really liked about hot season and she was going to miss whilst back in the UK:

  • There is no distinction between khmers and foreigners in that we all feel that it is too HOT.
  • No mosquitoes.  It’s too hot, even for them!

¹Philippians 4:8 ESV translation
²Dane Kennedy’s, The Magic Mountains: Hill Stations and the British Raj provides an overview of the role of hill stations in the British Raj.

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I ran it! The Phnom Penh half marathon, 21km complete.

And for fun, I’ve included an instagram feed (if it works) of what people are posting about #domoreofwhatmakesyouhappy.

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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.

Allinson’s Banana Cake: my marathon training cake

I’m training to run a marathon that is in May – EEEEeeeekK! It’s my first one and to say that I’m terrified is an understatement. So, I try not to think too much of the distance or the number of hours that I’ll be running. However, I can’t seem to stop myself thinking about what food to feed myself towards the end of a long run. I am ravenous. It’s a different kind of hunger to when I was training for my first half marathon. Then, I found myself craving melons towards the 10 mile mark. So far, I can’t seem to eat enough of this one cake.

Allinsons Banana Cake with Chocolate
I know that my latest posts have been about buttermilk, but bear with me whilst I share one more buttermilk cake recipe and then I’ll move onto something else. This is the one that started it all. It began a few years ago when I found this gem of a recipe on the back of Allinson’s Wholemeal Self-raising Flour packet. I wasn’t entirely convinced at how it would turn out. But I thought, ‘why not? I’ve got the ingredients at hand. What do I have to lose but maybe some bananas that are going off anyway, some sugar, butter and flour?’ So, I made it for an English Tea Party for Study Abroad/Erasmus students at Leicester University as part of their Welcome Programme. And then I had to make it again for my colleagues because it all disappeared before they got a taste.

And..?

3 years on and a couple of banana cake recipes later, this has turned out to be one of my favourite banana cake recipes and I bake it frequently. It’s also one of the few cakes that I get a craving for. So, I’ll buy bananas deliberately in order to bake this cake, rather than eat the bananas as they are. I know that’s not the common practice with bananas. A further confession. Sometimes I see how long I can leave the bananas ripening before they become unusable. (Answer – black and mouldy.) I’ve proved to myself that the banana in its various shades of mottled brown to very black is edible… in a cake… and will last a bit longer if you pop them in the fridge.

One of the nice things about this cake is that you can make variations of it, which is handy when you’re baking it frequently. I’ve experimented by adding 100g of milk or dark chocolate chunks successfully, tried white chocolate chunks (doesn’t work because they don’t have enough flavour to come into their own in this cake), decorated the top with dried apricots soaked in apricot brandy. My preference? I like it as just a plain banana cake.

I’m sure that you can find even more variations. I’d love to know them so please share 🙂

Ingredients for Allinson’s Banana Cake, adapted by yours truly.

  • 100g/3½oz softened unsalted butter, cubed or as I recently discovered, you can subsitute it with 80ml sunflower or vegetable oil. I think that the oil makes the sponge a bit lighter.
  • 140g/4½oz caster sugar (I halved the sugar, so add some more, if you’d like it a bit sweeter)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 350g/12½oz wholemeal self-raising flour (feel like I should say Allinson’s, since its their recipe… and I’ve only ever used their flour)
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 bananas, mashed
  • 75ml/3 fl.oz buttermilk (how to make your own buttermilk)
  • optional extra ingredient – 100g chocolate chunks; chopped walnuts or pecans…

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line a deep cake tin. I find that anything between 18-23cm works. Just vary the baking a time a bit. A 23cm cake tin needs a bit less time in the oven than a 18cm one.

2. Cream the butter and the sugar together until light and fluffy. Then gradually add in the egg. Or, if you’re using oil, then beat the sugar and egg together first, then add the oil.

3. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. The sifting helps to create lightness which is important when using wholemeal flour. Remember to add the bran that remains in your sieve back into the mixing bowl. I tried using the bran to decorate the cake last time but it just went everywhere so I wouldn’t recommend doing that.

4. Add 3. to the butter and sugar and mix well. It will resemble bread crumbs if you’re using an electric mixer, or feel very stiff if you’re doing it by hand.

breadcrumbs banana cake mixture
5. Add in the mashed bananas and the buttermilk and mix well. If you want to pop in an optional ingredient, such as chocolate chunks or nuts or dried fruit, then do so at this stage

Top Tip: Coat your chocolate chunks lightly with flour before adding them to the cake mixture. This will help them not to sink to the bottom of your cake during the baking process.

6. Transfer the cake mixture into the prepared baking tin, smooth and pop it into the oven for 40-45 minutes, or until the cake tester comes out clean.

banana cake mixture
I think that it’s the combination of the wholemeal flour and banana that gives the cake its wholesome and moreish character. The top of the cake crisps up slightly and lends a wonderful slightly crunchy, sweet flavour. The flavour of the banana isn’t too overpowering, for those of you who aren’t overly keen on it and leaves you wanting to nibble on some more. Mmmmm Mmmmm MMmmmm.

Incidentally, I do recommend the back of flour packets as a good place to find yummy baking recipes. Flour companies should know these things, since flour is normally the primary ingredient. Now, I should listen to my own advice more often and make those chocolate thins that are on the back of the plain wholemeal flour one…