19 June 2013

On running - part 1 - kitting yourself out

A strange thing happened to me at the start of this year - I fell back in love with running. It's been a surprisingly fun journey, albeit with a few bumps along the way.

When I was at school, I loved long distance running. Then I left, went to university and took some strange pride in the fact that the only exercise I took was a weekly or bi-weekly drunken dancing session at my favourite club.

Fast forward 10 years and some intermittent running spells in between that never lasted as long as they should, if I was going to remain the size I liked being and carry on eating all my favourite foods, I needed to throw the running shoes back on and re-learn to love the burn. So, here's some things I learned along the way:

Buy the right kit. This doesn't mean "splash out on loads of expensive gear" as it's really not necessary. With the exception of spending what you need to on running shoes, socks and bras if you're female, running is a pretty inexpensive sport. I found Karrimor kit to be just as good as some of the more specialist brands. It's still the same lightweight fabric and costs a lot less than some of the bigger brands!

I started off running wearing an old vest-top, a pair of particularly pendulous tracksuit bottoms (which made me feel like a rather fetlock-y shire horse going for a gallop), and some 15 year old trainers dating back to my schooldays, so it's easy to make do with what you have. However if you're going to take running that bit more seriously, it's worth spending a little bit of money on kitting yourself out.

Here's what works for me:
  1. Karrimor capri run tights - great, lightweight tights that fit like a dream and don't rub. They even have a handy zip pocket at the back for your keys! The full length version are great for winter too.
  2. Karrimor long/short sleeved tees - super comfortable and quick-drying running tops. I don't like clingy tops when running, so these are perfect for me.
  3. Nike running jacket - lightweight, water resistant and the perfect weight for winter runs when teamed with my Karrimor long-sleeved tee. It even has a handy stowaway hood in case you get caught in a shower!
  4. Shock Absorber Run Bra - aside from shoes, the only bit of kit I really spent any money on. I have an E-cup chest, so good scaffolding is worth its money in gold. These are the best I've tried! I love the security of the double-clasp at the back.
  5. Leukoplast zinc oxide tape - the best protection against blisters I have used. I shredded my feet breaking in some new heels, and this meant that I could still run without aggrevating the raw spots.
  6. Band Aid Friction Block - again, reduces friction on any spots which are particularly prone to rubbing. Great for breaking in running shoes and killer heels alike, and I've also discovered that it's brilliant too on areas like underarms that can sometimes chafe when running, .
  7. Karrimor D30 trainers - not a bad purchase per se: they support my feet well and are brilliantly comfortable up to about 6km. However, beyond that distance, my pair seem to rub where the sole meets the sides, and not even two pairs of socks will solve the problem. I guess this is where the Leukoplast comes in handy!

It is well worth investing in a gait analysis when buying new trainers, as not all running shoes are created equal. Karrimor shoes unfortuately do not fare particularly well when reviewed (though they've been great for getting me back into running), and I'd recommend spending the extra £££ and going with a tried and tested brand such as Asics or Nike.

I've got high arches, so I need a shoe that supports these and means that I don't overpronate. I've also found that I prefer to wear a pair a size bigger than my normal shoe size to accomodate two pairs of socks and fat feet from pounding the pavements!

I've yet to mind myself getting picky about socks - I have several pairs of super-cheap Morrisons slightly padded sports socks, and these are fantastic. Doubled up, they reduce the worst of the rubbing from my shoes. However, I suspect that when I start running more than 10k at a time, I may well find I want something a little lighter and moisture-wicking. Who knows?

Next time: getting back into the groove (aka "How I learned to stop wheezing and love the burn)

9 April 2013

Travel: By the sea in Wicklow

Easter saw a well-earned break across the Irish sea with my R to visit the father-in-law. We didn't do an awful lot as we were both pretty shattered from a particularly hectic work schedule, but we did find the time to cook, sleep and go on lots of long walks (and in my case, a couple of runs too as I'm currently training for a 10k).

Wicklow is a pretty little town about 40 minutes south of Dublin and is a small commercial port, which appealed enormously to me as I love the juxtaposition of beautiful old buildings, water and machinery. The Wicklow Mountains are also well worth a visit. We didn't visit these this time, settling for lots of sea front and cliffside walks, but the views from the top are phenomenal.

We were spoilt with the weather too - while London was cold and rainy, we had six days of beautiful sunshine.

Wicklow Port

Wicklow beach and coastline

24 March 2013

Review: Smitten Kitchen by Deb Perelman

I'm off to New York in May for the husband's and my first wedding anniversary, so this arrived at the perfect time. We're staying in a gorgeous little West Village apartment which we booked  through AirBnB, and I'm really excited about having our own little corner of New York for the week, complete with its own teeny, tiny kitchen. Who knows, I might rise to the challenge and try some of the recipes while there.

 I'm a longtime fan of the Smitten Kitchen blog. Deb started her blog four years ago, cooking from her own tiny New York kitchen. In my flat in London, the kitchen is small, but at least the kitchen/living room is open plan so it feels a little less cramped and I can spread out onto the kitchen table as extra chopping space. Even so, I get shouty if people get in a 2 metre radius of the stove when I'm trying to cook. The space isn't big enough for two with a control freak like me in the kitchen, so I appreciate the challenges that a small kitchen can create, not least where workspace is at something of a premium.

Like me, she is a former vegetarian  so the recipes fit very well with the way I tend to eat on a day to day basis - the vegetables are clearly the main feature, with meat seemingly more of an aside. There's a fantastic array of vegetarian main dishes, though Deb has taken one step further down the path to omnivorous eating than I have as there's also some delicious looking pork, beef and lamb dishes too. Sadly, I am not yet brave enough to branch out further myself and try these but the chicken and fish dishes look to be such thing as foodie dreams are made.

 Sesame-spiced turkey meatballs with smashed chickpea salad

Deb is an obsessive cook - something which I cannot claim to be - always looking how to better and improve a recipe she has stumbled upon. She knows which ingredients shouldn't be scrimped on, and the ones where any old brand will do. And she knows that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well which is something I definitely adhere to.

Red wine velvet cake with whipped mascarpone

This copy landed on my doorstep with fortuitous good timing - it pulled me out of a creative rut when trying to dream up a birthday cake to make for the husband's birthday as there was the most fantastic red wine velvet cake featured in its pages. And even better, there's not a drop of food colouring in it!

wild mushroom tart

Similarly, a slightly quieter spell at work allowed me to indulge in a few post-work cooking sessions, which always helps me relax. Fabulous spiced turkey meatballs, wild mushroom tart and seared halibut were all perfect (if not a little indulgent) weekday dinner treats. I can see the meatballs rivalling my favourite Ottolenghi ones and going into regular rotation.

seared halibut and gazpacho salsa with tomato vinaigrette

This is a fantastic book which I think will become a firm favourite in my household. Deb's passion for food and ingredients is clear to see, and the book itself is both a love letter to New York and a compendium of immensely cookable recipes. In the time I've had it, I've had as much fun curled up on the sofa, absorbing its every word as I have cooking from the recipes. It really is home cooking at its best, with nothing so taxing that you can't make it when tired on a Thursday night. Every recipe has a lovely story behind it, and Deb's photography is similarly sumptuous, which is something as a food blogger that I am still trying to master. I can't recommend it enough.

I was sent a copy of Smitten Kitchen for review, however all views are my own.

3 March 2013

A present to myself

I have been contemplating getting a new camera for some time. While I still adore my SLR, it is getting a little aged (coming up to seven years old). I also wanted something that was a little more portable, and after months of research and deliberating, the Fuji X100 seemed to be the clear winner. My good friend Sarah has one, and used it to take a number of my wedding photos. I was blown away by the quality of something so small. If, like me, you also have a bit of a thing for vintage film cameras then you'll agree that it also looks pretty amazing.

I'm not about to give up on my SLR for good - it has its own very definite set of merits, and I absolutely love using it. However, with lots of little mini-breaks planned for this year, it seemed like as good a time as any to take a leap into the semi-compact market. 

First impressions of the X100 are good though - it takes fabulous photos in low light (which was one of my main reasons for buying it). It's not as responsive as my SLR: I have to press and hold the shutter if I want a focal point which isn't bang on centre, and the autofocus is a little slow, especially when taking macro shots. However, the macro range is excellent, and I can see myself using it a lot more for food blogging.

It's not a camera for people unused to handling an SLR as it does require a read of the manual if you're going to use it to its best advantage, but it does have some lovely benefits. I'm a particular fan of the film simulation setting, which allows you to choose whether you'd rather use Fuji Velvia, Astia or Provia (alongside of numerous black and white and sepia settings) and I'm looking forward to playing around with these a bit more.

Sadly, it being a particularly grey and dull time of year I haven't yet had the opportunity to use it to its full potential for outdoor shots yet, but from my experience so far I think we're going to get along extremely well.

The X100 is quite expensive - it retails for between £500 and £850 usually. I got lucky - I bought mine 2nd hand on eBay off someone who I don't think really knew what they were selling so was significantly less than £500. However, if you want a neat little camera which takes fantastic quality photos then this one is for you.

For me, the only real downsides are that it is a little slower in handling than an SLR, but I'm unlikely to use this for action shots. The fixed range lens might also annoy some, but even when shooting on my SLR I rarely switch from my trusty f1.8 lens so this isn't so much of an issue for me.

All in all, it's a lovely little camera which takes fantastic photos and is so much more portable than an SLR. I can't wait to take it out on many more expeditions and think it will fast become a vital part of my kit.

9 December 2012

Screen printing at The Make Lounge

Let me start by saying: I have a habit of biting off more than I can chew. This class was no exception. However, this is not in any way due to it being too complex or anything like that. Sadly, it seems I just like to set myself one hell of a task.

Screen printing in its most basic form involves a simple stencil, some fabric (or paper), printing inks and some silk screen equipment - a frame and a squeegee. Having done a fair bit of screen printing at university, I clearly had much bigger ideas. However, an advanced course, this isn't. It is back to basics and brilliantly so. Helen, our teacher for the evening, explained how it works and how you created both negative and positive images. We then set about designing our stencils. Having been advised to have an idea in mind, I brought in a pair fully mocked up designs. Not so much ideas as "I want this please":

These were the simpler of my original ideas too - I was originally going to do a Dia De Los Muertes sugar skull design, but that would have been impossibly fiddly.I settled for the four bird design once I realised that lining up the overlaps on the six bird design was going to be a rather large bird-shaped headache. As screen printing is quite time-consuming (and as my printing partner had also gone for a rather complex design) I decided to go from three colours to two.

The process itself is fun and messy - you set up your frame, sealing off any areas you don't want ink to seap through, then add the ink and pull the squeegee across the image. The result though, is a simple and very eye-catching design.

the finished result

The Make Lounge will provide you with a tote bag (large or small), a tea towel or a pencil case (of which you get to pick two items). If you want any more, you have to buy them or you can do what I did and bring your own items to print. I wanted to make cushion covers, so I ordered them from here a few days ahead of the class.

The screen printing class at The Make Lounge costs £57 and includes two items to screen print, snacks and wine.

The Make Lounge

5 December 2012

Hidden London - Aldwych Station

I've always been a bit of a London Underground geek - from the history of the lines themselves and the disused stations to the iconic logo, maps and typography, it's proved to be a minor obsession. So when the London Transport Museum announced that they were throwing open the doors of Aldwych station for a number of days over the Christmas period, I leapt at the chance. I've always thought Leslie Green's Underground stations with their distinctive red glazed brickwork, Edwardian styling and bottle green tilework were beautiful, so couldn't wait for a snoop around.

Which is how I came to find myself shivering in a queue in a quiet side street of London near the Thames. We had our bags checked by a museum volunteer, who also checked that our shoes were both flat and practical should we need to be evacuated down the tracks to Holborn. After a 15 minute wait, my husband and I found ourselves inside and I couldn't resist but photograph everything in sight, and this was before the tour had even started.

Aldwych station facade

entrance to booking hall


 book here

We were given a potted history of Aldwych station  (you can read more here if you're interested) before being taken below ground to see the platforms. The westbound platform is the one most people are familiar with - Aldwych only had one "functional" platform for the vast majority of its working life as the Eastbound one was closed in 1917. The westbound platform is the one that was open up until 1994 and has been used as a film set for films like Atonement, V for Vendetta, 28 Weeks Later and various music videos alongside of being an air raid shelter in both world wars. The posters on this platform tend to change with each filming project and as such are reproduction posters.

 tunnel to the westbound platform

posters on the westbound platform - the two on the right are reproductions

train on the westbound platform

front of train - actually a 1970's Northern Line train!


The eastbound platform in some ways is far more interesting - it ceased to be used after WW1 and was used to store treasures from the V&A and British Museum during the second world war. The posters here are original as this platform was often used as a test platform - from testing the glue to put up posters (still going strong after 40 years in some cases -it must be good!) to experimental tiles eventually used at Piccadilly Circus.

original posters on the eastbound platform

experimental tiles eventually used at Piccadilly Circus

more posters - all dating from around the 1970's

and a view of the Eastbound platform

When we finally returned to the surface, we were greeted up glasses of mulled wine and the TfL choir serenading us with a combination of old-time popular songs (Daisy Bell and Let's All Go Down To The Strand) and well known Christmas carols.

 R humoured me as I wanted to recreate the Anton Corbin Joy Division photograph. Also, a mysterion Bakerloo Line sign...

This current run of Aldwych visits is sold out, but LTM seem to open its doors about once or twice a year, so it's well worth keeping your eyes peeled for another set of visits.

way out

London Transport Museum

4 November 2012

Chronicles of Yarnia

It's been quite a while since I flexed my more creative side. Having tried and failed and tried and failed at bribing a knitting-savvy friend into knitting me a nice, chunky winter snood I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. After all, there are times when a normal scarf just simply won't cut it.

Following a trip to the shops for supplies (wool, knitting needles) and as I had the founder of
Yarnia in Leeds staying with me, there really was no excuse: I was going to have to learn to knit my own darn snood.

It turns out, knitting is easy. It also turns out, I am an angry knitter. I was so determined to finish before I'd even begun that I knitted with such ferocity that my houseguests were left cowering in the corner, lest I stab them with a needle. I have since learned to calm down, not least because Angry Knitting inevitably means that you accidentally put several extra stitches into the scarf and make it rather... interesting.

If you live in Leeds, I'd highly recommend paying a visit to Yarnia - it's held in a bar that serves teapot cocktails, and Georgie is an excellent (and extremely patient) teacher. 

If you want to make your own snood, you'll need a set of 12mm needles and some chunky yarn. My snood had 24 stitches ,was about 5' long and used 5 balls of yarn. I'm not about to start doing knitting tutorials, but there are plenty to be had through an internet search. Try it - it's fun, relaxing (if you're like me - once you get past the angry, determined stage) and you might even learn a new skill.

I guess I should really learn how to make something other than scarves now. Anyone for a tea cosy?