she ran with me

We had some of our favouritest friends coming over yesterday afternoon. They’ve got three children too, so, with a total of six children to consider, you sort of want to have all of the food prep in hand before they arrive; even if the kids don’t require your undivided attention, it’s nice to just be able swig on a drink and chat, without wielding a chopping knife in one of your hands.

So. I’d made Nigel Slater’s chocolate & beetroot cake the previous day, thus using up some beetroots that were languishing, near death, in the fridge, before we go away on holiday (I am fanatical about ‘using up before going away’, perhaps the more so because of the time that we returned from France to discover the aftermath of a power cut in the fridge. Mon Dieu, the smell…) Since preparation is everything, I was also canny enough to make the cake exactly as Mr Slater decrees, ie no paleo tweaks to make it even vaguely edible for me. Like I said, we are going on holiday. There will be the wearing of swimming costumes.

pureed beetroot, ready to be folded into the chocolatey mixture

pureed beetroot, ready to be folded into the chocolatey mixture

We decided on pulled pork on soft floury baps with coleslaw: again, all easy to do before anyone arrived (and all stuff that I’d not even countenance eating. Do I need to I remind you? Holiday. Sun. Fewer clothes.) So, once the pork was doused in cider and slow cooking in the oven, and the cabbage and carrot were shredded and resting, there was little to do except deal with the children asking “When will they be here? When are they coming?!”

Annoying. So: bikes in the back of the car and off to the park we went. I run pretty much every day: it’s vital to my state of mind. But when you have a family, you have to tailor your runs to whatever else is going on; I can’t, in all fairness, be off on a long run on a weekend when my husband’s been working all week and the kids are desperate for us to ‘all be together’ – even less so when there’s a shoulder of pork on the go in the oven.

I wore my running kit anyway; what the heck, the kids are bike-competent enough now that I’d be able to at least jog, if not run, as they rode. It was better than nothing. And, you know, there’s that holiday thing next week.

We got to Dulwich Park and whaddaya know, a fair was in residence. As fairs go, it didn’t look too bad; certainly not along the lines of the ones that my poor friend Steph was subjected to this weekend but, FFS, I did not go to the park so that my kids could spunk their college funds on rides and hot dogs: I went so that they could get fresh air and exercise, goddamit. I went so that they could bike-ride and I could run! I went so that they’d stop bugging me (When will they be here?) – not bug me more! (Can we go on a ride? can we? can we? CAN WE???!!)

Pushy mother, moi? Well, yes. But I am Australian. So it’s okay, right? Besides, it’s an Ashes year. My competitive juices are already rising.

Compromise: once around the park on bikes and then Daddy will take you to the fair while Mummy runs.

When I got back to them, there was dissatisfaction in the ranks (of course!) They wanted another ride (of course!!) on the Ferris Wheel but it was 3 people per carriage and at least one adult to accompany children required. So they couldn’t go on it without me.

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But then my husband discovered that he’d already pretty much ploughed through the college fund spare change already, and could only afford three of the £2.50 (!!) seats.

Suddenly, my daughter piped up. “I don’t want to go on the ride. I want to run with Mummy.”

Truly, I know it’s a fine line: inflicting my own issues surrounding food, physique and exercise on my daughter on the one hand, and guiding her, joyfully, in the love of health, nutrition and exercise on the other. I am not about to buy her running kit or get her out of bed to do sixty sit-ups before school. She is beautiful and perfect, but I shy away from harping on this because I don’t ever want her to feel that she’ll be unloved when her beauty and perfection starts, as it inevitably will, to change. I tell her she is healthy, she is strong, she is lovely. I tell her she sparkles. She does.

But I was delighted that she wanted to run with me; and that she wanted to do so more than she wanted to ride on the sodding poxy Ferris Wheel.

So, we ran. Or jogged. Whatever. It was a peach of a day, and there was no need to hurry: just me and my girl sucking up the sunshine and the blazing rhododendrons and wondering whether the boys and Daddy could see us from the top of the Ferris Wheel? And still the joy and expectation of friends, and pork, and cake, to look forward to in the afternoon.

Dulwich Park rhododendrons

Dulwich Park rhododendrons

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I imparted some useful information

I know. Amazing, huh?

Trust me, it doesn’t happen often.

But yesterday, I bought some rhubarb. So pretty. I used to think that it was pink celery when I was younger, but liking how it looked didn’t bring me anywhere near to liking how it tasted. Yech.

Things are different now. I still have the same sweet tooth that I had as a child but it’s under pretty strict control. Sugars are out, including most fruits, although I do break ranks for berries. But since rhubarb is actually a vegetable, it’s low-carb and low in sugar. Which is why, I guess, you usually need to add so much sugar to it to make it more palatable!

But guess what: if you soak it in cold water for about 20 minutes with a tablespoon of baking powder, it neutralises some of the acidity, meaning that you can use far less sweetening agent when you cook it. The water turns greyish: just drain, rinse and add fresh water to stew. I use Nature’s Garden Stevia from Holland & Barrett since sugar is the very devil itself, but I reckon that a vanilla pod and a touch of cinnamon would work well too.

Anyway, I Instagrammed my rhubarb soaking pinkly and prettily in its pot, noting the baking powder tip, and was oddly thrilled when Facebook friends commented on its usefulness. Like I say, it’s not often that I say anything informative or handy, although I’m a little ripper at trivial nonsense.

Truthfully, though, I can’t take credit for the tip, having read it on theKitchn. I also can’t take credit for the photo of the finished-product, stewed rhubarb, which is from the lovely Thousand Threads blog. Mine came out much looking far less rosy; does the baking soda leach out some of the colour, perhaps? If I made this for guests, I might be tempted to add some berry or beetroot juice, just to amp up the hue. As it was, though, I was pretty happy just eating it, pale though it was, with yoghurt and a huge mug of Higher Living’s cinnamon tea. A couple of friends thinking that I’d said something vaguely clever and my sweet tooth satisfied: good feeling.

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I went to bed against a lightening sky

4am. Can’t remember the last time that happened.

4am sky

4am sky

It was a brilliant night. We had a Eurovision party at our place, and although we had the contest showing on two screens, I’m not convinced that anyone actually watched it.

The children had drawn a country for each person from a hat a few weeks ago, and the idea was that you had to bring some food that was vaguely representative of that country. There were waffles from Belgium, Serbian squid salad, Italian tiramisu, Irish soda bread, German meats and French cheeses. There was Hungarian apple cake, Icelandic prawns, Armenian Turlu, Norwegian gravadlax, Greek dolmades and an Ottolenghi cake for Israel. There was so much food that there were scarcely enough surfaces on which to put it; the effort everyone had gone to was sensational.

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The 26 finalists were written on slips of paper and placed inside a Babushka doll for drawing, but no one had brought money for a sweepstake so we decided to make it that the winner – Denmark, as it happened – had to sing the Bonnie Tyler entry on the Playstation Singstar karaoke; an event that spiralled into full Back-to-the-80s silliness with Human League and Spandau Ballet renditions.

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At the very end of the night there were just a handful of us left in our kitchen, surrounded by loads of empties but just enough full ones, picking olives out of the Greek salad and laughing raucously about inappropriate things. There was, I think, an incident involving the donning of wigs and the ‘theft’ of a piece of wood from a neighbourhood skip; something to do with building a shelf. I feel rough today, but it’s the best kind of rough, and it gave my daughter the chance to play her own version of Freaky Friday with me; as I lay, half-dozing on a beanbag in the garden today, she adopted the role of my mummy and covered me lightly in a blanket, spoon fed my feels-like-the-inside-of-a-birdcage mouth sips of water from a cup and – this bit wasn’t so good – tested me on my spellings. I will hold up my hands – I got 2 wrong – but I swear it was nothing to do with my fuggy head. I mean honestly, since when was finnico a word??!!

I bought a veg bag

It was suggested, recently, that I get involved with the PTA at school, and I was pretty open to the idea. I like organising stuff and am the type of annoying person who looks on admiringly at things whilst mentally totting up the ways in which I’d have done it differently. It was also going to be a chance to work with a friend of mine who is brilliant at all things fun, themed and innovative; having been to a few parties at her house and been privy to her boundless energy for pretty much everything, I knew she’d be great to team up with.

But eventually I thought better of the whole endeavour. I hate to commit to things and then not be able to deliver, and the amount of work put in by the current PTA team was awe-inspiring and off-putting in almost equal measures. With three children at the young-ish end of the scale, a husband whose work hours are erratic and a freelancing job to factor in to the mix, I had visions of not being on hand to set up the very tombolas and cake stalls that I’d helped to organise- and the thought did not thrill me at all.

So I pulled out of the running and felt relieved, yes, but also a bit crap about ‘not doing my bit.’

Shameful that it has taken me nearly two years and pulling out of a potential PTA role to get in on the Abel & Cole fundraising scheme, but better late than never. I felt properly good this afternoon, collecting my veg bag, from which 25% of the profits will go to the school. I’m looking forward, too, to stretching my cooking muscles to make use of what we actually have, rather than buying the same stuff week after week (regardless of provenance),  just because it fits in with an already-well-established dinner repertoire.

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I’m not entirely sure that I’ll sell the kids on the leeks but hey, it’s not all about them is it? And since the boys hate fish anyway, well, I’m off to rustle up a Leek, Mackerel & Avocado salad – served up with the glow of parental participation on the side. Yummers!

Leek, Mackerel & Avocado salad from british-leeks.co.uk

Leek, Mackerel & Avocado salad from british-leeks.co.uk

I ran in the sunshine

I had a bit of a disastrous run a few weeks ago: reached about the 4 mile mark and then, whump! my iffy knee totally gave out. Couldn’t bear my weight at all; tried to keep running through it (“Think of Joe Simpson” I told myself sternly) but to no avail. I hobbled all the way home. Via Brockley Market and a Dark Fluid coffee, mind you, so it wasn’t all bad news.

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Anyway, I’ve been wary of running outdoors since then: at least if I’m at the gym on the treadmill and my knee starts to play up, I’ve got low-impact options on hand so that I can get some form of a workout. Man alive, it’s dull though! Not so bad on the short runs, which are done and dusted within 30 minutes or so, but on the longer ones of 90-100 minutes it’s boooring. Which is why they have TV screens that you can plug your headphones into on the machines, I guess. So again, not all bad news: I’ve been introduced to the larger-than-life engagingness of Guy Fieri, salivated over (and subsequently made – I’ve included the recipe and a photo at the end of this post) his Ahi Poke and have chortled over a re-run of Ugly Betty (Wilhemina: “Well, of course I’m worried, Marc. But when someone gives you chintz, you can do two things: A) whine about the fact that it’s an upholstery fabric, or B) turn it into a fabulous bolero jacket.”)

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My knee has been pretty well-behaved on my last few runs and, having done a long one yesterday, it was only a shortish one on the agenda for today anyway. Plus, need I even mention it, the sun, the sun, the glorious sun! Gym, grim. So I ran in one of my favourite parks. It was ace. Golden light, blossoming trees, dappy dogs, happy people. And my knee didn’t bother me once.

 

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That’s a photo of my Ahi Poke, and below is the recipe that I used. I upped the amounts on the macadamias and chilli, and served it over rocket/ arugula and ribboned zucchini/ courgette to make it into more of a ‘meal.’ I’m not sure where you’d get Maui onions from in the UK but I gather they are a sweet onion so I used a red onion instead. Ask your fishmonger (I went to the wonderful F.C Soper in Nunhead) for sashimi-grade tuna.

Ingredients
1 pound fresh ahi (yellowfin tuna)
1 teaspoon finely chopped macadamia nuts
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes, optional
Salt
1/4 cup shaved Maui onion
2 tablespoons finely sliced green onions
Freshly cracked black pepper
1/8 cup finely julienned, toasted dried seaweed

Directions
Cut the ahi into 3/4-inch cubes and put in a large mixing bowl. Add the nuts, sesame oil, soy sauce, chili flakes and salt to taste. Lightly toss together. Then add the Maui onions and green onions and lightly toss to combine. Season with additional salt if needed and black pepper to taste. Garnish with the seaweed.

there’s an abundance of berries

Oh, how I love berries. Raspberries and strawberries are my absolute faves, but I’ll never turn my nose up at a blueberry or a blackberry either. They were the one food I craved in all of my pregnancies and the one dessert that I’d struggle to give up.

Luckily, I don’t have to, since they’re one of the more acceptable fruits in paleo terms and, as one of the lowest-of-the-low when it comes to sugar content, they’re also fine for the carb conscious among us. I did give them up for a bit when I was doing the Balanced Bites sugar detox but they’re back on the menu now, albeit not with the honey and Greek yoghurt with which I used to smother them in pregnancy.

Anyway, the weather is still a bit iffy considering that it’s supposed to be Springtime but there are at least loads of berries around, and that always gladdens my heart. Today I’ve eaten them for breakfast, baked them into a cake (you can find the recipe here on this mouthwatering blog, The Italian Dish) ready for when we have guests tomorrow and given them to the children as an afternoon snack. I love the way they look in my new favourite blue bowls, which we bought for 50p each from Shiver Me Timbers in Penzance, a reclamation yard that we visit unfailingly on our annual Cornish holiday. I love the way they look, en masse, on a Central London fruit barrow. But best of all, I love the news that I got when I posted this photo on Facebook & Instagram.

Tiffany, one of my oldest and bestest friends from home (Australia), has a pathological fear and hatred of bananas. So her response to the photo was to express distaste for their presence on the barrow. But also to tell me that she is looking forward to some berry scoffage when she comes over to visit. In July!!!

Wooooooooo hoooooooo! So excited!!

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I baked

It’s an odd thing – or maybe it’s not, I don’t know – but I love to bake, although I don’t, or rarely, eat what I make (I used to follow a gluten free diet, but now it’s completely grain-free; not that this makes cakes impossible – almond flour and coconut flour and sweeteners like maple and honey are ‘allowed’, but I just tend not to bother)

Back to baking though. I generally love cooking anyway but baking, there’s something about baking, some kind of alchemy. A cake is always so much more than the sum of its parts: such unprepossessing, odourless, colourless ingredients combining to create that smell, that texture, that taste. Not to mention those delighted smiles. “I sell happiness,” a market stallholder, presiding over a delectable array of cakes and confections, once told me. He did, too.

So anyway, it’s a double whammy at school tomorrow: PTA coffee thing in the morning, followed by a fundraising cake stall thing in the afternoon. I know, I’m rock’n’roll aren’t I? I’m also too lazy to make different things on the basis of catering for the palates of parents at one and kids at the other and besides, my stash of overripe bananas in the freezer was in need of a whittle. So I just prepared a double batch of the banana cake recipe, which I’ve included below, and made the concession of doing one lot in Spiderman cake cases with chocolate icing and sprinkles, and the other half in a tin with dark brown sugar sprinkled over it, to melt crustily in to the top.

bananas going black can be put in the freezer and saved until needed for baking or smoothies; the flesh will still be fine.

bananas going black can be put in the freezer and saved until needed for baking or smoothies; the flesh will still be fine.

 

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Oh la, the smell! So good. And – because, as I mentioned, I am lazy – all the more enjoyable since this was the only cooking I did tonight; the children and I went out after school this afternoon, so I gave them dinner at a cafe. To have made nothing but breakfast and cake today feels rather indulgent, somehow. Like I said, I’m rock’n’roll, me.

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EASY BANANA CAKE RECIPE

125g butter

150g caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg, beaten

2 overripe, mashed bananas

190g self-raising flour

60ml milk

Melt the butter, sugar and vanilla over a medium heat in a pan. If your bananas are frozen, defrost them for about a minute in the microwave to make the skins easier to remove, and then put the frozen fruit in the pan to soften with melting butter mixture. If using straight from the fruit bowl, mash well and add to the butter mixture once it’s melted and has been removed from the heat. Add the beaten egg, mix well. Mix in the flour and the milk. Pour into a lined tin or individual cases and bake at 170C for about 35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Individual cases will take less time, around 20-25 minutes.