New year, same me and the search for jam perfection.

I do see the start of a new year as a time to review and reflect. I don’t make resolutions as such but I usually think of a few ‘goals’ or things the old me might like to achieve in the next 12 months.
This loose collection of paths to self-improvement might include some new activities to try in the coming year and will always include an optimistic commitment to trying to get better at some of the things I do already.

Practice makes perfect and all that.

Getting back into writing regularly is on my list, having pretty much kicked this blog into the long grass in the past year. I have got out of the habit, and now my writing is reduced to social media posts, work emails, and the odd business report.

Union canal Edinburgh in afternoon light

Aside from an intention to keep writing, following on from a recent batch of marmalade making – next on my list is a quest to get better at making jam- not with a view to becoming a professional preserver, but more to crack the elusive nut of getting my jam to set.

On paper, making jam and marmalade is an easy process – you combine the right ratio of fruit, sugar and sometimes water, heat it to the temperature of jam setting point then Ta Da! It sounds simple, but while my jams and marmalade usually taste good, they are often very runny and the process of knowing when it has reached setting point is a bit of a mystery. 

sunset through the trees

Some of this is a fear of the pan boiling over – and so to avoid this, I  don’t have the temperature high enough – or when it is boiling a fear of letting it boil too long in case it overcooks,( having once made blackberry jam that was like industrial strength glue).

Recipe books offer instructions and guidance, but rarely give much detail around timings. I suppose it is because as with most cooking, there are unknown variables relating to your own kitchen and equipment so success comes through trial and error and accumulated knowledge.

Apparently, there is a magical knack of knowing when the bubbles in the pan have changed – and recognising this I imagine only comes with practice.
As I only tend to make jam or marmalade once or twice a year – reading the jam bubble runes is a skill not yet mastered. This year I had to reboil marmalade when after cooling it still looked more like orange soup than a breakfast conserve. So after that near disaster, I bought myself a jam pan and a thermometer.

Today I gave my new pan and thermometer combo a test drive – making scarlet chilli and red pepper jam, a recipe from Diana Henry’s book Salt, Sugar Smoke.  Intrigued by the prospect of making the evocatively named scarlet jam, I set forth on a new path in my preserving journey – as I have never made jam with peppers or attempted any kind of savoury relish before.

It was an easy recipe to follow, with only a few ingredients and it looked beautiful bubbling in the pan as the peppers and chilli transformed from raw ingredients to jam.
As always it took longer than I expected for it to reach setting point, but this time I persevered, even letting it rise above the mystical 104.5 C.  Using both my thermometer and the wrinkle test as guidance I studied the bubbles, stared into the glossy pot and followed my instinct 😉 

I don’t imagine I will ever win any jam making contests – but it tastes good and looks like it will set.
Bravo to me !

oatcake , cheese and chilli jam

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 !

Got to get in the groove …

Stevie Wonder

I think I have been mourning the loss of my daily running, now December marcothon is behind me for another year. January seems to be littered with good intentions, but it is hard to keep motivated when the days are still dark and reality of work and the everyday looms large.


running picture
New Year’s Day Run- Tim Cockburn picture

There is something quite effortless about the simplicity of running every day- knowing that as long as I completed 3 miles my target was met. Now to keep a level of fitness and with a Half Marathon looming I am bamboozled thinking about the myriad of possibilities and the need to have a balanced training regime.

It is great to have the base of a month’s daily running to build on  but should I now add in swimming, Pilates or strength training- speed work and longer runs ? It all seems a bit complicated by comparison.


This year I have not yet written any goals – ( I gave up on resolutions when I realised looking back that I had churned out the same meaningless guff year after year around trying to be a better person but had pretty much failed to achieve said ‘betterness’ ).

For 2013 I did commit to some goals, many with a running flavour, and looking back this is my 2013 scorecard. Goals in black results in RED

  1. Run a half marathon without feeling I want to kill someone/myself after mile 9 –  partially achieved at Inverness half, it was mile 11 before the death wish set in
  2. Get over my Parkrun bogey and do a minimum of 5 in 2013 FAIL – carried forward to 2014 
  3. If I fall back in love with Parkrun, try to get PB below 27 minutes AS ABOVE FAIL 
  4. Run some different places ( very vague I know, but I must have one goal that I know is pretty much achievable) SUCCESS – Amsterdam, Montpellier, Utrecht, Devon, Cologne etc
  5. Start reading books again and read a minimum of 10 by the end of the year moderate success – think I managed 6, but I read every issue of Runners World from cover to cover and sampled a LOT of cook books ! 
  6. Go to see one film a month 50 % SUCCESS definitely saw more than in 2012
  7. Tidy the ridiculous pile of papers, books etc at the side of my bed (see number 5 ) MASSIVE FAIL – see number 5 hahaha ! 

I think I will give myself a credible pass with a ‘could try harder’ rejoinder, and see what I can come up with for 2014.

red sky morning

Dunfermline Abbey
Dunfermline Abbey

Beyond navel gazing and thinking what challenges I might set, by way of immediate running targets the Inverness Half Marathon is on March 9th, and just over 7 weeks to go.The big challenge for me will be to increase my mileage without injury, and get myself to a place where I feel confident I can keep running for the two hours or so I will need.

Screen Shot 2014-01-12 at 19.17.39

My December running total of 106 miles equals 4 marathons or 8 half marathons, but it is one thing to run an average of 3 miles a day, and quite another to get fit enough to run 13.1 miles in one go.

Tall tree

But this will be the third time I have run this race, and although I might be running solo, Inverness is my home town and  I enjoy going back there and being looked after by family. It is a well organised race with a  good atmosphere and it is a nice course.

Today with Lil and Alison, I managed just over 6 miles and did not feel too creaky afterwards.The weather this weekend has not been ideal for running as it has been icy underfoot in some places, but even though we had a couple of stops we managed a pace of around 10 min mile, so lets hope the omens are good.

6.44 miles