Monday, October 16, 2017

Thoughts During a Half Marathon

I have a feeling that the majority of people who read this blog are my close friends and family so you probably already saw this because I emailed it to you in thanks for support my recent half marathon for Cancer Research UK. But in case I'm pleasantly surprised (or you didn't donate but are still a friend), I recently ran a half marathon for Cancer Research UK! And it was tough!! It was my third half so maybe I thought I had this down and went into it a little too prepared to kick butt and less mentally prepared to get through it. Either way, here is a summary of what it feels like as told by the stages of grief:
  1. Denial- Miles 1-4 when you're in denial about how difficult this is going to be. When you're still surrounded by people chatting and wearing bells and tutus, excitedly starting this journey. Crushing your pace and feeling on top of the world like "I've so got this, acing it, it's going to be so easy".
  2. Anger- Miles 5-7 when you're mad at your past denying self for running too fast and now you have to conquer the one hill on the course. Or was that the hill back there? Is there another hill?? Why didn't you take the snacks they were handing out? Why didn't you go to the bathroom one last time? Why did you even sign up for this?? You crazy fool. 
  3. Bargaining- Mile 8-10 when you're just trying to get from one mile marker to the next. If you make it to the mile 9 sign, then you can take another snack. If you make it to the mile 10 marker, your mind will shut down and your body will just take over and you will wake up at the finish line. If you finish this race, you never have to run again.
  4. Depression- Mile 11-12 when you know you aren't going to make it, you're going to be on this course for hours and hours and your spectators will wonder where you are. When you regret sharing your bib number and tracking link with anyone. When you have the thought "I'm never running again. Period". When you ask part way through mile 12 how much further and are told "you're not far". Lies. So far. 
  5. Acceptance- Mile 13 when you realize you are going to make it after all and it doesn't matter if it's not your best time, you made it and someone still gets a video of you actually running as proof. When you realize you can have a burger, sweet potato fries, a beer, cookie, hot chocolate, macaroni and cheese and STILL not make up the calories you just burned. When you accept this race wasn't for you anyways and that's something to be proud of. 
So while I am currently still in the "I'm never running again" mindset, I'm sure that will pass soon enough. And after that comes "okay, I'll run again but I'm never running a half marathon again" which I'm sure will also pass. We shall see....

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Great British Bake-Off Week 4: Millionaire Shortbread

We'll get back to Week 3, the terrifying bread week, at a later date. My efforts to make bread have not been very successful, fail proving! So I'm taking it to the pros, more to come.

Something I do know and enjoy, unlike Prue, are sweet things! I'm not sure you should confess to not liking sweet things when you're the judge on a BAKING show. Just sayin'.

Anyways, a friend of mine makes something similar to this shortbread but it uses crackers and some peanut butter chips instead. So it's a low maintenance version of this and it's amazing. But I'm also sworn to secrecy so I'll do the British version instead. This isn't really a common thing in the US but shortbread is a known, as are caramel and chocolate, just as separate entities.

I've made caramel once before and learned the hard way, don't poke the hot caramel. Like for real, even when it's out of the pan and is spilled on your counter, it's not safe. Blistering will happen. Much pain and sorrow WILL HAPPEN. Just don't do it, okay? Okay.

In theory, this is a simple recipe. The shortbread consists of cubed butter (no softening required!), flour and sugar which is mixed together by hand and then pressed into a square baking tin. Once it is browned, you can add the caramel which is just melted butter, golden syrup and condensed milk. And once the caramel is set and cooled, you just add melted chocolate. Simple.

But when the caramel ingredients are melting and you take a moment to enjoy the sunset and then realize you've left the caramel unattended and even though it's supposed to boil, it's somehow burnt a bit and you can tell from stirring that you've burnt the pan as well--well, then it becomes more complicated.

Never fear though, the caramel was salvaged. If there's one thing I learned from Bake Off, you don't throw the whole baked Alaska out with the soft ice cream, ammiright? True fans know what I'm talking about. So I used the caramel anyways which had the nice flavor of toasted marshmallow. The only problem was it never fully set, it stayed as a thick goo. So when I cut the squares, it became a caramel sandwich which oozed out.

They were still tasty and they were still mass consumed by my colleagues as well. I brought them in to raise funds for a charity half marathon I'm running in less than 2 weeks! So maybe they ate them out of charity, twice over.

Recipe
Crust

  • 225g plain flour
  • 175g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  • 75g sugar
  1. In a food processor, pulse together the flour and cubed butter until crumbly. Alternatively, mix by hand in a medium bowl until the butter is well incorporated and the mixture is crumbly.
  2. Add the sugar and mix to combine.
  3. In a parchment lined square baking tin, dump the dough and press evenly to fill the pan.
  4. Bake in the oven at 150C (300F) for 15-30 minutes until slightly browned.
  5. Allow to cool before adding the caramel.

Caramel

  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 379g condensed milk
  • 100g golden syrup
  1. In a saucepan, melt the butter, milk and golden syrup together.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently, until it is a golden brown and has thickened.
  3. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  4. Once cooled, pour the caramel over the shortbread, still in the baking tin. Allow the caramel to cool and set completely before adding the chocolate layer.

Chocolate

  • 350g dark chocolate
  1. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate.
  2. Pour on top of the caramel.
  3. Allow to set before cutting into squares. The easiest way to do this is to lift the mass out of the tin by the parchment paper edges and cut on a cutting board (rather than cutting in the tin).



Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Great British Bake Off - Week 2: Biscuits

Here in good ole England, biscuits are cookies and cookies are not a thing. But biscuits are not the exact same thing as cookies in the US, they tend to be harder and crispier, ideal for tea dunking. Everything I've learned about biscuits, I've learned from Great British Bake Off. For example:

  1. Biscuits must not be soft, they are meant to be softened by a cupper (that's what the local kids call cup of tea). 
  2. Two is the number of thine dunking, no more, no less. Three dunkings is right out! And also catastrophic as the biscuit will pull a Titanic, break in half and be lost to the deep depths of your tea.
  3. Biscotti means twice-baked. 10 points to Gryffindor (the name of my next pub quiz team, for sure)! But actually, that did win my trivia team points in a food-themed quiz. 
  4. I'll never be able to make biscuits as pretty as Biscuiteers (unless I take their icing course where I assume I will become an icing wizard) so I'll just take pictures and stalk them on Instagram instead. 
    1. I think gingerbread houses could really take some lessons from the biscuit show stoppers from last week's episode, like for real. Those were masterful and I can barely get a ready-made kit to frost together long enough to be the centrepiece of a Christmas spread.
    Anyone have a strong biscuit recipe? I may just stick to gingersnaps until then! 

    Tuesday, September 5, 2017

    Great British Bake Off - Week 1: Swiss Rolls

    It was at the end of the Great British Bake Off last year that I thought it would be cool to go along with their weekly themes and I realized I'd have to wait a full year to implement this idea. But here we are; GBBO may be on a new channel and I don't know anyone's name except Paul Hollywood but we're moving forward with this weekly challenge.

    The first week's theme was cake. I've learned a bit more about the preparation for the different rounds and I think I could maaaaybe get through the first two challenges but holy guacamole, show stoppers. Definite weak spot. Initially I was going to just make a cake and be all sorted. But instead, I opted to go for the technical challenge.



    I made a yule log a couple years ago (I shudder as I link you to that ancient post with terrible photography and lighting...not that I've improved much) and this seemed very similar, just smaller. The commercialized version of this is a ho ho in the US so there's that too.

    These would definitely not pass the criticism of the bake off judges as they are definitely not symmetrical although they do have a nice swirl, in my amateur opinion. I also just couldn't bring myself to make more dirty dishes and melt white chocolate for the drizzle. We'll live.

    Other things to keep in mind:
    • Yes, you need parchment paper even if it means going back into the store and waiting in line again
    • Yes, the egg whites will eventually become stiff peaks even if you've been beating them for 10 minutes already and think it will never happen
    • Yes, you need a bigger bowl
    • Yes, you can lose some of the crunchy edges to make the cake easier to roll
    • No, the world won't end if there's no white chocolate drizzle

    Recipe 
    from GBBO website

    Cake
    • 30g butter, melted (keep the wrapper for greasing)
    • 60g cocoa powder
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 4 Tablespoon boiling water
    • 6 large eggs, separated
    • 150g sugar (divided into 100g and 50g)
    Filling
    • 150g butter, softened
    • 300g icing sugar (powdered sugar)
    • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract (or not if you think it will taste like toothpaste)
    Topping
    • 200g plain chocolate
    • 200g milk chocolate
    • 100g white chocolate (optional)
    1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a deep baking dish (or jelly pan or brownie pan, just don't fill it all the way up) with butter and parchment paper. Also grease the parchment paper.
    2. In a small bowl, mix the melted butter with the cocoa powder, boiling water and vanilla.
    3. In a medium bowl, beat together the egg yolks and 100g of sugar until smooth. Add the chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and beat until incorporated.
    4. In a large bowl, beat the egg whites for eternity until stiff peaks form. The egg whites need room to expand and become fluffy. Add the 50g of sugar after the peaks form, whisking until combined.
    5. Mix 1/3 of the egg white mixture into the chocolate mixture to increase the volume and loosen the cake mix. Fold in the remaining egg whites until incorporated.
    6. Pour the cake mix into the prepared pans (if you only had one pan, use half the mixture and then repeat for the second round). The cake mix shouldn't spread too much on its own so spread it evenly in the pan. The mix will rise during baking but then settle back in so will be relatively thin and as deep as you pour it.
    7. Bake until firm, 15-20 minutes.
    8. Allow the cake to cool completely before doing the filling and rolling.
    9. For the filling, beat together the butter, icing sugar and peppermint until fluffy.
    10. Once cooled, place the cakes on a cutting board or other clean surface. Carefully peel back the parchment paper and discard.
    11. Spread the filling evenly across the cakes. 
    12. Gently roll the cake from the short end 2-3 times, until you reach the middle. Repeat on the other side of the cake so one sheet makes two rolls.
    13. Cut the cake rolls where the two sides meet. Cut the rolls into even sections so you have 6 mini rolls per pan.
    14. Allow the rolls to set while you prepare the chocolate topping by melting the plain and milk chocolate together in a double boiler.
    15. Pour the chocolate over the rolls to coat. It's neatest to do this on a cooling rack with a tray beneath to catch the excess chocolate.
    16. Lastly, melt the white chocolate on its own and pour into a piping bag (or ziploc bag with the corner cut off). Drizzle each roll with the white chocolate.
    17. Enjoy! And put your feet up because this is a lot of steps. 




    Monday, September 4, 2017

    Summer Reading List

    Do you remember when you were a kid how you would get a suggested summer reading list? And then you would get back to school and be like 'look how many books I read this summer! Give me extra credit'. No? Just me? Cool story, bro.

    Typically people release summer reading lists at the start of the summer but doesn't a book in any other season prove to be as enjoyable? I have a running list of books on my phone so when I'm in a store, I usually add to it or when I'm done reading something I know what to pick up. But my list never seems to get shorter and often I'll finish a book and find it wasn't on my list after all. Always reading. Here's what I read this summer:

    1. Notes from a Blue Bike (Tsh Oxenreider) - This sounded very promising and was recommended by a blogger I follow. Former expat moves back to the US with her family and then realizes 'hey, travelling/living abroad and a family are not mutually exclusive'. This was more an autobiography of moving around and providing tips on how to pursue living abroad, homeschooling, sustainable food sources etc. when you have a family. So not entirely relatable for my stage of life but the big take-away for me was you make what works for you work for you, there's no 'right' way which is a strong message. She also has a blog and other books which I might read at some point.

    2. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood) - Like everyone else, I heard about this after the Hulu series launched. Knowing nothing about it, I thought it was a historical drama because of the picture I saw of Elizabeth Moss from the show where she had on a bonnet and long dress. False. This is one of those 'not too distant futures' of a dystopian society. Couldn't put it down, it's SO GOOD.

    3. Commonwealth (Ann Patchett) - This book and the next two were impulse purchases. I'd heard of this book and was waiting for a friend in a book shop (danger zone!). I wasn't intending on buying anything but they had a sale shelf and I picked up a book, read the back and as soon as I could smell that new book smell, I was hooked. And going home with three books. This one follows a mish-mash of siblings (two families broken up by an affair and divorce then smushed together by remarriage and 6 step-siblings between them) from childhood into adulthood. Lots of changes in perspective and jumps in time which I quite enjoy. I also realized I'd read State of Wonder by the same author which was similarly amazing.

    4. Proud to Be a Mammal (Czeslaw Milosz) - One of the sale books, this one was selected solely because it's by a Polish author. Turns out that he is like THE Polish author, well done. After my trip to Poland a couple months ago, I've felt like I should support my heritage more, starting by being able to name one Polish author. This is actually a collection of his short stories and essays so I've been reading it in conjunction with other books.

    5. All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)- This is one of those books eeeeeveryone was reading last year but I just now picked it up at a friend's moving sale. In the same vein as Sarah's Key and The Nightingale (both excellent options, btw), this follows multiple characters during the lead up to and duration of World War II, primarily in France but also in Germany. The main character is a young French girl who is blind and living in Paris when the war breaks out. Similarly, her counterpart in Germany is a young orphan boy with big dreams about being an inventor before getting swept up in the war. Needless to say, I couldn't put this down and read all 500+ pages in about 3 days. It was fantastic.

    6. The Sellout (Paul Beatty) - There was a guy I worked with who would spend his lunch break happily reading. Also was happy for us to interrupt him and chat over lunch so that was nice. I used to read at lunch in school but got made fun of for it sooo then I stopped. Now I've started again so take that middle school bullies! Anyways, aforementioned coworker was reading this once and so I thought I would give it a go. Currently in progress, it's definitely different from other book formats and subjects I've read before.

    7. Thank You for Being Late (Tom Friedman) - My dad gave me this book for my birthday (which is great because books!). The last Friedman book I read was The World Is Flat back when the internet was still ramping up to flatten the world. I think it's thoroughly and officially a plane again. To be read in the near future (sorry, dad).

    What book recommendations do you have? Do you read different kinds of books in the summer versus fall versus winter? Is winter a more serious book reading season while summer is more beach reads that keep things light and carefree? Thoughts. Words. Feels.