A trip to the seaside

Dunes at Gullane
Fish & chips
North Berwick
North Berwick

Back in August, with the sun shining and Edinburgh full to bursting, it seemed like a good day for a trip to the coast.

East Lothian beaches were always a favourite destination for a weekend outing or a Scottish style picnic when our girls were younger.

We took a bus to Gullane then walked to North Berwick – a leisurely six mile stroll along the beach with the promise of a fish supper and a cold beer at the finish.

A grand day out.

 


Accidental Edinburgh Fringe ‘Greek’ yogurt

Last week I took a notion to make yogurt.

I was prompted in part by reading Tom Hunt’s Waste not column in Feast in the Saturday Guardian.

Each week in the Feast food supplement, Tom Hunt highlights various ways to reduce waste in the kitchen focusing on a different ingredient each week. This week it was chillies.

To make the most of chilli waste, you can save discarded seeds and dry them to season other dishes, and in something of a revelation to me, it turns out that the green stalks of chillies contain the beneficial bacteria lactobacillus and can be used instead of a starter to make yogurt.

I had chillies that I was using to make Menemen ( Turkish egg dish) for brunch and lots of milk – so was looking forward to trying out this eco tip.

So far so good – except I had not read to the end of the recipe – where I noticed it asks for 10-15 chilli stalks.

While I do like my Turkish style eggs spicy – 10 chillies is a bit too spicy !

Having decided to make yogurt I did a quick trawl of the internet for yogurt recipes – more by way of a reminder of quantities, as I have made yogurt in the past.

In my teenage years, I went through a phase of making soft cheese ( crowdie) and yogurt. I would like to say I was ahead of the artisan foodie curve but probably closer to the truth is that I lived on a farm in a small Highland village & was just a bit of an oddball.

Making yogurt is not complicated – and sometimes can happen by accident as I found out when I left a carton of milk on the windowsill of a Premier Inn hotel room on a business trip a while back. Reader – I ate it.

So back to my yogurt making – having gleaned the essential facts from the internet and reminded myself of the steps and quantities – this is what I did.

1. Gently heated up a pint of full-fat milk.

2. Left milk to cool to the temperature of a hot bath ( 45 degrees C )

3. I then took a couple of tablespoonfuls of Greek yogurt – from an existing tub, to use as the starter.

4. To warm the starter, I mixed a couple of tablespoons of the warmed milk into the Greek yogurt to make it runny and less cold before adding it back into the rest of the warmed milk.

5. I used my slow cooker to heat up the stoneware container so that the mixture went into something warm. If you don’t have a slow cooker – the important thing is to put the mixture into something that can retain heat – a thermos or just a sealed container than will keep the temperature even.

6. Having warmed the container – I put the yogurt ( that I had warmed a bit) into the warm milk then put the starter + milk mixture into the warmed slow cooker pot.

7. I switched the slow cooker off and took the stoneware container up to a warm room where I covered it in a thick blanket and left it for a few hours.

About 5 hours later it was well on the way to becoming yogurt but I decided to leave it overnight.

The next morning TA DA !

Yogurt

It tasted ok – quite mild, but I thought it was a bit runny and as I eat a lot of Greek yogurt I thought I would try straining it to see how it turned out.

I put the yogurt into a muslin lined sieve over a bowl and left it to drip in its own time.

I was heading out to a show at the Edinburgh book festival so I just left it dripping.

We ended up staying out later than planned and going to some more stuff at the Fringe so the yogurt had been doing its dripping thing for about 9 hours by the time we got back.

The result was a small ball of thick yogurt – maybe closer to fromage blanc than Greek yogurt in texture – but with a lovely mild flavour.

As I don’t have any pigs I drank the leftover whey – the strained liquid. No idea if it’s good for you but it was a refreshing slightly tart drink.

To make the yogurt a bit creamier I added back in a couple of spoons of full fat milk and the end result was quite close to the shop bought varieties.

It’s a fairly easy thing to do. I don’t think it gives any better result than buying a tub, but it’s quite satisfying making your own.

I might experiment with different types of milk ( e.g. Jersey or unhomogenised ) and also the length of time I strain it to see if that makes a difference to the end result.

Meanwhile, I have started saving my chilli tops in the freezer ( which I hope does not destroy the lactobacillus) and when I reach 15 I will give the chilli yogurt a whirl.

Sundogs, samplers and serendipity.

sundog parhelion
sundog

In between the mostly grey January days, there has been the odd bright interlude – a winter gem of crisp, eye-watering cold – blue skies, glistening pavements and low winter sun that almost blinds you.

Just as my summer memory is filled with long soft sunny days of peachy light ( yes, even though I grew up in the north of Scotland), the winter I remember is always frost filled with steamy breath clouds and icy air that catches in your throat.

When I first moved from Inverness to Glasgow to study, I was surprised at how warm it was in winter and wet. It took me a while to adjust – and I missed the easterly cold.

Last week I was out in Edinburgh on a proper east coast winter’s day and looking up saw what seemed to be a circular rainbow around the sun.  I took a pic with my phone and thought it might just be sun flare but on checking with Google I found out my half rainbow was a parhelion or sundog. 

The name parhelion comes from the Greek ‘parelion’ meaning beside the sun and sundogs so called because they follow the sun like a dog follows its master. How sweet is that? The rainbow effect is caused by sunlight being refracted through ice crystals.

I took a few more pictures and added this to my encyclopedia of meteorological facts, then spent quite a bit of time looking upwards for a better example – or as I had understood might just be visible on these cold icy days – nacreous clouds.

It was a bit low level for proper cloud investigation and I did not have the time or if I am honest the footwear and knees to climb Arthur’s seat – so I stopped off at the Museum of Scotland on Chambers street and headed to the rooftop.

On my way, I came across an exhibition on  Scottish embroidered samplers – framed samples of stitches cross stitch, french knots etc. creating alphabets, motifs, and family pictures.  It was serendipitous that I came across this exhibition, as I had opted for a quiet side stair to quickly reach the roof. I imagine the museum building was designed in this way to encourage accidental discovery.

What incredible skill was evident in the samplers produced by girls as young as six. The craftswomanship and patience in evidence was a reminder of how young women often had to channel their skills and intellect in different ways when not included in formal education.

Well, that’s one thing I took from it – but mostly I was in awe of the dexterity and neatness of the handiwork. My own attempts at embroidery or any sewing being rather slap dash.

No more sundogs spotted when I reached the roof but the views across Edinburgh and the skyscape from the building were worth the trip to the top.

The running book club

 

Every now and again I do one of those geeky calculations around how many hours I have spent commuting or sleeping or running.

According to my Nike+ app, my total miles run since 2009 is 6697 miles and based on my average pace, it means I have spent 1116 hours running and of those, I imagine that for around 80% of that time I will have been running alongside my good friend Alison.  That’s over a month of talking.

Fast and slow runners ask how we can run and chat – but that’s the main ‘raison d’ être’ of our running. It is a social occasion and mutual therapy rolled up with exercise and fresh air.

Someone should bottle it and make a fortune!

Given all these minutes we have spent in a moving conversation, we have covered quite a few topics even though there are recurring themes. We have shared and supported each other through some tricky times but mostly we have had a lot of laughs and the comforting ear that friendship brings.

Recently we have been talking quite a bit about the books we are reading and sharing recommendations. We are both fans of crime fiction and have now read the Lin Anderson Rhona Macleod series of novels. I would love to say we have made an insightful critique of the literary merits of the genre – but the truth is we are much more absorbed by the two main characters than the writing or the plot – appreciating their believable and familiar flaws and wondering about the ‘will they /won’t they’? chemistry between them.

Alison belongs to a real book club, but I think our running book club could catch on as it nicely ticks off two life-affirming habits in the space of an hour or so.

Front cover image Lin Anderson novel
Lin Anderson book

uplifting autumn days

Some days it’s just so good to be outside and yesterday was one of those days.

I did a short lunchtime run – or more accurately half run /half walk – in the hills close to where I live. Autumn is such a beautiful season, the light was perfect and after a weekend of blustery rain, it was lovely to run without a breath of wind and alongside mirror flat waters.

These are the days when anything seems possible and being outside is a joy.

art on a Monday

 

Unusually for a Monday morning at 9am, I was queueing to get into BBC’s big tent in Edinburgh to watch the recording of Janice Forsyth’s Radio Scotland show. Was a last minute thing to do when a friend asked me to join her.

Each day the magazine showcases a tiny but eclectic mix of what’s on at Edinburgh Festival and Fringe,  and I had no idea who we might see. As it turned out – this ‘chaos of delights’ as described by Janice had a loose theme around ‘finding your voice’ featuring – impressionist Jon Culshaw, a Capella singer Kate Dimbleby, all-round Renaissance man and ball of energy Robin Ince, each providing small snapshot of their shows with a  light touch and laughter to start the week.

While I knew both Jon Culshaw and Robin Ince – the beauty of this format is discovering something unheard of. Today for me from the official festival Geoff Sobelle’s theatre piece – Home- described as ‘a spectacle and illusion, choreography, storytelling and music’.  Geoff and his musical partner Elvis Perkins talked us through the idea behind Home and shared short musical taster.

More music came from the contrasting styles of Super Furry Animals lead singer Gruff Rhys, and blues band ensemble Blueswater – providing toe-tapping playing, stellar singing and a  harmonica virtuoso.

A smorgasbord, an amuse bouche, a carefully portioned taster of just a few of the shows on in  Edinburgh at the moment.

Janice Forsyth holds it all together with an easy grace and humour. Would be nice if all Mondays could start this way.

 

 

Absence makes the heart grow fonder – how to rekindle my running love ?

bit of a story follows so maybe get a cup of tea first 🙂 

tea bag slogan

It is 9 years since I started running – by that I mean it was in 2009 that I started running regularly and called it my hobby – in May of that year I ran my first race. In the ensuing 9 years my relationship with running has been a good one – and through running, I have found great friendships both in real life and online. Over the years,  me and my running pastime have had our ups and downs but largely my love of everything to do with running has been an enduring one.

Throughout this time – running for me has been first and foremost a social activity with an exercise bonus. I do enter races – but usually with a level of ambivalence and a love/hate relationship with the training regime. I enjoy having a goal to focus on or a challenge to complete and have done a few run streaks.

Following a few years of running 10ks and half marathons – last year I trained for and completed a marathon and found the experience of training for the distance and the race itself quite a watershed in how I felt about running.

Devon sunset picture
Devon sunset

During the months leading up to the race, I realised that running could no longer be mainly a social thing – 26.2 miles is a long way for anyone to run and for someone of average fitness and the wrong side of 50, I knew I had to take it seriously and respect the distance.

I had to selfishly focus on my training schedule and sideline the running I enjoyed the most – so I put my social runs on the back burner or when I could I weaved them into my training schedule.

While this was a bit of a blow,  as the weeks passed I did start to appreciate the feeling of gaining in strength and confidence as I followed a progressive training plan and listened to my coach. Over time I saw that I could run distances of 15, 17, 19, 20 miles and feel OK the next day. I started to see it as fairly normal to train 4 or 5 days a week – and to rattle off a 9 mile session with some speed work ( YUK ) or a hill rep sesh.  I loved how when I went to a Body pump class or Pilates I felt a strength and confidence in my body I had not experienced before.

While adhering to my training schedule was mostly motivated by fear of failure – as the weeks passed it felt good to feel strong. This was a first for me – up till then –  I would describe myself as a reluctant sportsperson, and one lacking in any competitive edge. In May of last year –  marathon day – I am pleased to report I had a largely storybook ending – completing the 26.2 mile distance in a decent time of 4 hrs 40 minutes and joining the club of marathon runners.

marathon tee shirt
in my finishers tee shirt

After the months of marathon training – it was lovely to return to running without a purpose and to be back running with friends and without goals.

Freedom to run or freedom to not run – how joyous !

Post marathon – I got back into my regular weekend run routine – but had no desire to enter any races, despite the voices saying – run a half marathon after a marathon and you will get a PB – but the thought of having to push myself to run at pace just held no appeal.

And so it continued – the longer I was from the marathon the less inclined I was to set any goals, and my mileage dropped.

I think there are runners who on completing one challenge immediately look for the next one – whether that be to improve on a time or increase the distance – but not me. Others find the time post marathon to be a tough one, feeling a bit directionless and struggle with motivation and this has been my experience. Not only have I have lost the motivation sometimes to go out for a run but I have no inclination to put myself through any racing challenge or test.

Trying to shake this off, earlier this year I entered the Edinburgh half marathon thinking it would give me the incentive needed to reignite running love – only to bail out the week before.

So a bit late in the day, I am declaring 2018 the year of not racing – and perhaps acknowledging that I am going through something of a 9-year itch with my running relationship.

I do run – just not very far and not nearly as often.

Then about a month ago when on holiday I was out for a  hot, slow run on a stony path and twisted my ankle, spraining it badly enough to mean that running was off the menu for a full 2 weeks.

Well of course when I was not able to run due to injury –  I felt bereft and missed my dear old friend. I  wondered what I would do if I could no longer run, and of course, there seemed to be runners everywhere and I had a massive dose of runner’s envy and FOMO all rolled into one.

It seems that absence makes the heart grow fonder – even where running is concerned.

Have you experienced a loss of running motivation – and any tips for getting through it ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hair raising tales of sub zero running

Excuse my feeble attempt at a clickbait headline, I must be spending way too much time reading Buzzfeed quizzes and letting those  ‘lose belly fat now’ Facebook messages seep into my consciousness.

In the interests of accuracy, this tale is short on drama and is mostly an excuse to share some pictures taken during a beautiful cold day on Sunday, when my hair froze when I was out running.

Nothing alarming really, and although chilly at minus 5 degrees C the air was dry and the paths easy to run on.

Give me frozen hair over a slippery path any day.

That’s it for another year – screeching into 2018

Got the last day of the year off to a great start by completing my last run of the month and year with my best running chums. Has been a big year for me on the running front and a few other areas.

So to be brief – very pleased to have ticked off goals of:

1. running a full marathon and 2. running a half in sub 2 hours, and 3. once more running every day in December.

But as always my favourite running memories were had running with friends.

Happy New Year !

Christmas cake baking – and running of course. Day 3

IMG_2451Today I decided to bake a Christmas cake. I used to get a bit hung up about baking the Christmas cake on a set day in November, but I decided it does not make any difference to the flavour so I just bake it a few weeks before Christmas whenever I can find some spare hours.

Making the cake is pretty straightforward – especially since I have started using a recipe recommended to me by my friend Sally at fitnaturally. Sally got this recipe from her neighbour and friend – Mrs Williams – sadly no longer around – and it is both the easiest and nicest Christmas cake recipe I have tried. I also like the thought of Mrs Williams skills in baking being shared far and wide, and enduring. That’s the lovely thing about baking and passing on recipes.

So Mrs Williams Christmas cake recipe is kind of an ‘all in one’ method – where you put the fruit, sugar, butter and spices into a pot then heat them up.

Then you add all the other ingredients to the cooled fruit mixture, give it a good mix and that’s it!

I find the hardest part of baking a Christmas cake is lining the tin, and with the long slow cooking, it is important to line it properly.  But though it is a fiddly job – it is an enjoyable ritual of sorts – wrapping the cake in its jacket of brown paper and string. And there is something very comforting about the gathering of ingredients, the preparation and then the aroma of Christmas cake baking that gets me in the festive mood.

Before baking the cake – I went on my day 3 run with Alison. Today we went on another of our weekend routes where we run from Colinton to Stockbridge. It is around 6 miles and pretty much downhill all the way following the water of Leith – so lots of running through woodland. We then get the bus or a lift back, so it’s an easy 6 miles.

IMG_2455

We could run there and back and many runners would do this by way of a longer Sunday run, but I am not training for any race at the moment and one thing I have realised over the years of doing run streaks- is that there is no point adding in extra mileage if you don’t have to.

IMG_2453

As it was, we had a very enjoyable social run rounded up nicely by a breakfast of fried egg roll and coffee at the Water of Leith bistro.

IMG_2591

Day 3: 6.01 miles

December total : 14.32 miles

Weather : fresh and sunny 4 degrees