Cake decorating and new straps

It was Andy’s birthday last week, and we have a bit of a tradition now for me to make an extra Christmas cake and keep that for his birthday.

This year I decided on a Totoro design, as I am having a bit of a Studio Ghibli phase.

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I saw loads of amazing cakes on the internet, but they were all rather tricky! It took me a while but I finally found a nice simple one to copy.

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Plus, as a bonus, what I thought was a pack of icing, turned out to be white marzipan, so the decorations are going to be tasty too!

Onto the new strap. My Garmin vivofit has a little “keeper” to go around the strap and make sure it doesn’t accidentally come undone. I didn’t think it needed it, but wore it anyway. But then when I fell over in the half marathon, the keeper broke, and I have missed it- a couple of times the strap has come undone- only when I have been taking my coat off or something. I knew you could get coloured straps, so I spent ages on ebay and amazon, trying to find the keepers. In the end I found a set of 3 straps, and emailed the seller asking if they included the keepers (as some reviews said they did, and some didn’t). He said they didn’t but as he had some spares he would include them with my order, which was very kind.

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They came in the week so I just added the keeper to my strap, but at the weekend decided to try out a different colour.

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It was so easy to un-clip the main part and clip it into a new strap- not sure why I didn’t try it sooner! A world of colour awaits (well, of three colours anyway).

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After my cake decorating I fancied a walk so drove near to town and walked the mile in, got a Starbucks and walked back, listening to some podcasts for some lovely “me” time.

This week I have been on holiday still, and so have been trying to get my two portions of fresh air each day, either with a couple of walks, or a run and a walk. As I have been report writing it has been very nice to have a break and stretch my legs- I do not know how people work at computers all day for their jobs! Running has been going OK- I feel very paranoid about falling, and have been going at a very gentle pace, but I have been fine afterwards and have been stretching once I get home too. After our parkrun tourism on Saturday I had a rest day on Sunday, then on Monday morning had a nice longer run (7 miles) which was enjoyable, although I pottered around for ages first, so despite being awake at 8am, didn’t leave until about 9.30 so I was rather hungry by the time I got home for breakfast.

Part of my route is through this field, and it took me by surprise that there were horses in the field, one right by the gate. You can miss the field out, but it’s a much longer route, and the horses seemed more interested in the grass than me so I decided to go through. If it had been the cows with big horns I would have gone the long way around I think!

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Taken once safely through the field!

Yesterday I had a lovely run with the club- I have not been out with them for ages, but we found a route that was just under 4 miles and completed it while catching up with each other. It was really enjoyable, and so good to finish in daylight.

Aldenham Country Park parkrun- another bit of tourism

So my dad has been quite keen on doing a bit of parkrun tourism (visiting other parkruns). We have our two local ones (St Albans and Panshanger, although we favour Panshanger now and rarely do St Albans) which we visit together, and have all been to Gadebridge in Hemel separately. He has been to a few different ones to me; Wimbledon Common, Cannon Hill in Birmingham- both when he was at the tennis tournaments, and Lloyd parkrun in Croydon, which he and my brother visited before a football match a few weeks ago, whereas I have been to Hove Promenade and Crissy Field (San Fran). For the last few weeks they have either had to head off soon after, or I have been volunteering so we have been tied to Panshanger. This week we realised that as I was not volunteering and they had no plans we could go somewhere new.

We spent a while looking at the local ones, but Dad was not keen on the idea of 3 lap courses- so many of them are, and we were losing hope. Then we came across Aldenham County Park parkrun, which is only 2 laps, so decided to give it a go.

I picked them up at 8.15 to give us plenty of time to get there- we arrived at about 8.45 so plenty of time. I am awful at directions so had spent a while on their course page, and on google maps, trying to work out where it was (it didn’t help that I went to uni at the Aldenham Herts campus, which it turns out is not the same place as the country park!), but the postcode on their course page took us right there so there was no need for me to worry. As we drove up the little road to the car park, some sheep wandered across the road (no lambs though). You do have to pay to park (well, you pay on exit) and it’s normally £4.50 (most people would visit for the day, there’s a little farm, nice walks, a Winnie the Pooh trail…) but now if you show your parkrun barcode it’s only £2, which isn’t so bad.  It turned out that I parked right by the finish straight, so I think next time I would park a bit further back. When we got there, we were the first runners to arrive!

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(The view of the final turn from the boot of my car- after we had finished).

It was a bit chilly at the start- I had worn a long sleeved top under my t-shirt and had thought I might be warm, but that was fine for me in the end.

The lady that did the new runners briefing was so lovely and welcoming- she asked where the tourists were from and wrote our home parkruns down, and there was one first timer so she made him feel very welcome too.

From their facebook page- I think we are cheering the new parkrunner here!

Almost as soon as that was finished, she then gave the main briefing (again giving everyone a reminder about the car park token system), mentioned that there was a pacer who could run between 25 and 30 minutes (one man took him up on his offer), welcomed the new runner and tourists (and mentioned each of our home parkruns which was a lovely touch), thanked the volunteers and then we were off! There were only 25 runners so I was conscious of not going off too fast. I ended up chatting to a lady who had come from Milton Keynes, and that was perfect as the chatting speed meant I was keeping a steady pace.

The route itself is lovely- it was two laps, the first lap being slightly longer, going around the lake and then through some woods. They had warned that it was muddy (and I had worn my newer trainers, not my trail shoes) but the first section of each lap was fine- mainly concrete type paths with a thin covering of mud and a few puddles to skirt around. But then the second section of each lap through the woods was far muddier- I took plenty of detours to avoid the biggest muddy sections. I really enjoyed it though- as there were so few runners at times I had the woods to myself. I saw bluebells, plenty of ducks and coots, a few dog walkers and just generally enjoyed the change of scenery. At one point I noticed an amazing carving of some acorns in a fallen tree trunk- it would be a lovely place for a walk too. The marshals were lovely- one was indicating which way you went towards the end of each lap (right for the first lap left for the second). I was just behind the first timer, and she told him “remember, you don’t have to run the whole way, walk if you want”.  On my second lap she congratulated me on my 50 parkruns (I was wearing my 50 t-shirt)- really friendly.

From their facebook page- the half way point (ish)

The finish was back into the car park, and I could see everyone standing by the finish line which is always motivating. I did get told off for being so clean! I think I had one splat of mud on one leg, whereas my dad had mud all the way up his trousers! I really was avoiding the mud because of my newish trainers!

I ended up as number 16, 4th lady and second in my age category, with a time of 30.41. It’s a good flat course though so once I am feeling more confident I am sure I will be back to try and get myself a nice pb. One thing I loved was looking through the photos on their facebook page- pretty much every runner was smiling.

Then we headed home and Mum made us all pancakes- a pretty good start to the weekend!

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I had to be careful not to run any ducks over on my way out of the car park!

It did get me thinking though, why some parkruns have such low attendance. This parkrun is 12 miles from where I live, so not at all far. Our two closest, St Albans and Panshanger are regularly getting 200- 300 + runners each week, and St Albans particularly is so congested now which puts me off, whereas close by there is Barclay (in Hoddeston) which seems to have 40ish. Gadebridge in Hemel seems to get around 100. Does the car park charge put people off? But then in St Albans the parking charges start at 9.30 so unless you are very speedy now you are unlikely to get your chip scanned in time. Do people just tend to go to their local one and not explore other options? Do people prefer ones based in towns as opposed to out in the country somewhere? It would be hard to get to Aldenham by public transport I think, and it does seem a bit far from the nearby towns to be able to run there and back. Do ones linked to local running clubs do better? On the results the only clubs were from tourists (this week), and I wonder if having that base of runners helps with word of mouth, volunteers and generally upping runner numbers.

On a side note, a while back (using some EarthMiles points as a discount) I bought myself a Stnky bag for my sports kit- I have used it a couple of times- it unzips on both sides, one side has a net (I use that for my trainers) and the other side is for clothes- it keeps all the smelly kit confined, plus the bag can go in the wash after. (I got the normal sized one and it is fine for my trainers plus running kit, but they do a bigger size too). Worth a look if you travel to races or training (and worth a look on Earthmiles as the discount code will save you a bit too).

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The bag filled with my kit today before I put it all into the wash.

How many parkrunners do you tend to get at your local one? Do you prefer the smaller or larger events? How many ones have you visited?

Hooray! Finally a run!

So after the weekend I was feeling much better- I could walk fine and was not having pain or stiffness- I could put on my socks easily again (before it was a challenge to get my hands anywhere near my left foot) so I was hoping to try a run. On Monday I was visiting a friend, and when I got home we had to walk up to the shops, so that was my fresh air fix for the day. I also tried the yoga for hips video that was recommended to me- I really liked it (it was from Yoga in the Big Smoke) because they had 3 people showing the moves in different ways which meant I could still do the poses even though I am very inflexible.

On Tuesday I woke up feeling fine, so I went for a very gentle run. I felt really paranoid, and kept stopping to walk. I kept thinking that my calves were aching a lot, and I felt like I was running in a slightly weird style, but I was OK.

2016-04-05 09.18.51It was a lovely day so I headed out to the fields and enjoyed being out in the sunshine- I even had on capris which I think is the first time this year.

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Andy commented that I should wear sunglasses as the capris are so bright. I don’t think they are that bad!

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And argh! Look at the sign I found on my run!

When I got home I found a yoga for runners cool-down video on you-tube. I have actually been organised and saved a few to my page (I think? I am not 100% sure it worked) so hopefully I’ll be able to do the same one after each run.

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As it’s the holidays I decided to make the most of being in no hurry- I had an orange before my shower, and then later made some pancakes- I found some coconut flour at the back of the cupboard so have started to use it up- this was just an egg, a little almond milk and some coconut flour. Once cooked I used the same pan to briefly cook the banana slices in (and topped the pancakes with a little maple butter- so good).

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I’ve been enjoying Bluebird Tea Co matcha powder- through the Earth Miles app (you earn point through exercise, and then can redeem point for money or % off certain goods) I had a voucher for money off Bluebird matcha, so I decided to try the one mixed with acai and blueberry. It’s still green (I thought it would be purple) but really smells of blueberries. I have discovered that if I put a little milk in the bottom of the glass first, then add the powder, it mixes so much better than when I put the powder into the bottom first. Not sure why this never occurred to me before.

After my run I felt very conscious of not sitting still for too long in case I stiffened up so I spent a lot of the day pottering around at home, and in the afternoon popped to town for a while for another walk- but it was all good. I got very tempted by a long sleeved thermal running top for sale in John Lewis, but the size I tried on was possibly a bit snug. I wanted to try the next one up but it was not in store, and when looking on-line later I ended up buying some new running trainers instead (and not even from John Lewis- how did that happen?). They are the new version of my beloved old Asics DS 19, and they were on offer so I thought I would give them a go and rotate my trainers instead of wearing one pair all of the time. I used to find it easier to have one pair, to keep an eye on when they need to be replaced, but now with Strava keeping track of the miles for me I think it might be better to swap between a couple- I do this with my trail shoes already.

This morning I went to the doctors- I did ask about a physio referral but the wait time is around 8-10 weeks, and as the stiffness and pain is gone she didn’t think there was much point. She did examine me and thought it was most probably sciatica, and advised painkillers if it happens again (but fingers crossed it won’t- I did manage the whole of 2015 without it happening- she thought that falling over would have been the trigger). So anyway, generally good news and it means that I will continue to run then have a day off on alternate days so I am easing back to it gently. I had a nice walk of a couple of miles before lunch (and before the heavy rain luckily) and I am sure we will pop out later at some point too, so I am making sure I keep moving.

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On an unrelated matter, this stuff popped up on Ocado and so I ordered a jar to try it- cashew butter with honey and cinnamon (and a little coconut in there too)- I had some on a crumpet and it was delicious! One to keep an eye out for if you like that sort of thing.

Finally, has anyone been watching the new Bake Off, Creme de la Creme? Because I have, and it is just no-where near as good. (This is a bit of a rant I am afraid). First of all, the guy that is narrating it has the worst French accent ever! Honestly he is not even trying, and seeing as most of the things they are making are French, you would think they would choose someone (how about Mel? She can actually speak French too) who would at least attempt a good pronunciation. Secondly, the things they are baking look like such a faff. For me the appeal of the Bake Off is that I could generally imagine attempting most of the recipes, and they would give me ideas of things to make, and seeing people try them would help me see hints or tricks to use in my own baking. This is just not like that at all- I would not attempt to build a tree from chocolate or make 100 mini fancy cake slice things. Finally, although Paul Hollywood gets a bit of a bad reputation and can be a bit intimidating, on the whole the judges on Bake Off are encouraging, and honest, but also fair. I think Mel and Sue help here too as if there is a bit of a disaster they will pick up the broken/ burnt bits and eat them too, but I really think that the judging is more honest and less for effect. With this new show, it just seems that they are being harsh and picky to make the show more dramatic. Which really is the opposite point of Bake Off. It should be a relaxing hour watching people bake, and yes some people have disasters, but that’s not why people watch it. I do get that the people on this are professionals, whereas Bake Off have amateurs, but I still don’t want to see people being nasty just for effect.  It seems like they see that Bake Off is a hit, see shows like Top Chef (which I love) and have tried to combine them, making some sort of terrible hybrid.

Are you a matcha fan? Do you get easily annoyed by spelling mistakes (or the wrong homonym being used)? Do you keep one pair of running shoes or do you rotate through several pairs at once? Are you a fan of Bake Off or the new one?

Banana cake with peanut butter frosting

So, we are still rather inundated with bananas. Last weekend I was flicking through my new CCC book, A Year of Cake, and came across Peanut Butter and Caramelised Banana cake. It sounded good, but the ingredients list was long, and despite trying a few recipes I always go back to the banana bread from the original CCC book. So I made a bit of a recipe mash up (get it?).

For the cake:

100g butter

200g caster sugar

3 eggs

250g self raising flour

80ml milk

1 tsp lemon juice

1 tsp vanilla

4 medium bananas, mashed

1 tsp bicarb

3 tbs peanut butter (I used smooth, but crunchy would work too)

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line two 20cm cake tins with baking paper (I buy the circles now as that is so much easier). If making the icing you may want to leave out the butter so that it has plenty of time to come to room temperature before you need it.

Mash the bananas. Put the milk in a jug and add the lemon juice. Leave while you make the batter.

Beat together the butter and sugar, then add in the peanut butter and beat.

Add the eggs once at a time, then add the vanilla.

Pour in the milk (the lemon makes it curdle slightly, so it might be a bit lumpy) and bananas, and mix well. Finally fold in the flour and bicarb.

Pour into the two pans, and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre of each cake comes out clean.

Leave to cool in the pan for a few minutes, before removing from the tin (leave in the paper) and placing on a rack to cool.


80g butter (room temperature)

250g peanut butter

150g icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla

Possibly a tbs milk to thin

Beat together the butter and peanut butter until creamy. Slowly add in the icing sugar and finally add the vanilla. If it is really thick, add a tbs of milk to thin it out.

The recipe for the cake with the frosting also had bananas on top, caramelised with a blow torch, but I felt like it had enough banana flavour in there already. I had some of that lovely marshmallow deli vegan butterscotch sauce, so when I put the cake together I spread a bit of the sauce on the bottom cake, then half the frosting, put the other cake on top, and repeated with more sauce and more frosting.

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We had some on Sunday for tea and it was so good! The peanut butter frosting is just amazing, and luckily the banana bread-style cake is not too rich, so they go together perfectly. I normally add dark chocolate chips to the banana bread, but I think I might be converted to peanut butter instead. There was some left over so we took it home and are saving it.

To continue the peanut butter love I made some peanut butter cookies- I was visiting a friend and one of my friends does not eat gluten, so I had a quick google and found a recipe here on the Wholefoods site. I made half with white chocolate chips, and half without as I didn’t think they were gluten free. They were so easy to make- I just whisked the egg in a jug, added the vanilla and sugar, whisked again, then finally added the peanut butter. Some reviews on similar recipes said they were too crumbly, but these were perfect- nice and soft with a very strong peanut butter flavour.

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A slightly quicker recipe than the cake!

Do you go for smooth or crunchy peanut butter? I always used to prefer crunchy but because smooth is easier to use in baking I tend to go for that now.

Two visits to parkrun in one weekend, and no running

I had already signed up to do the new runner briefing at parkrun on Saturday, and usually it’s a great role to do if you are running. I was walking so much better, and could actually lace up my shoes (that is progress- my lower back had been so tight that putting a sock on my left foot was a challenge and I could not even zip up my boot), but I knew that going from resting to a run was a bad idea. Maybe I did learn something last week! Anyway, Dad and my brother were still running, so they picked me up as per usual. There was a big bunch of volunteers, including some from the new (coming soon) Hatfield parkrun, so after the tail runner (and about 10 late runners) headed off we chatted for a bit.

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The field of sheep was closed as they were close to giving birth. Sadly several sheep had been mauled by a dog (they had some horrible photos on the notice board)- usually they ask for dogs to be on leads but because of the attack they have closed it. It was a gorgeous day, and it wasn’t long before the lead runner headed back up the hill.

Later we had to collect a parcel and spent a bit of time walking around town (including buying some bargain 59p 4-packs of PB cups- for some sort of baking I think)- I know I am walking more slowly but I think partly that is me being cautious now. I did some baking (banana peanut butter cake) ready for Sunday, and some general pottering, before we had another walk in the evening.

Today was another beautiful day, and we fancied a walk somewhere, but could not make up our minds. Andy suggested Panshanger park, so we drove there for a walk.

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We walked along the parkrun course. Bluebells were starting to flower, and there were so many birds in the trees.

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At about 3.5km along the parkrun course, there is a new (ish) path up to an old oak tree, so we decided to walk up there and have a look. There were leaflets in a box on the gate (which you returned at the end) and the walk was marked with oak leaves.

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The walk went beside one of the lakes, past a little weir and an old water wheel, and up through a field, eventually into some woods.

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The oak was circled in fence with an information board- it’s around 500 years old.

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The walk then took us past where the old house used to be- it was sold and demolished in the 50’s which is weird- the photos make it look like a National Trust house and it had quite a bit of history including some royal visitors (Queen Victoria I think), and it was strange to think it was just sold and knocked down.

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Then we re-joined the parkrun route and headed back to the car park. Why does this never look steep in photos? Someone was running up it so I thought that might show how steep it is!

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Still no lambs in the field. Anyway, it clouded over a bit as we neared the car, but it was so lovely to be outside in the fresh air. My hip held up well which is a good sign as that was around a 7km walk, and it’s really my back which is worse now- my lower back is still so tight and so bending down to untie my trail shoes was a bit uncomfortable at the end. But I have saved a yoga for hips video to my laptop (thanks to Steph the magpie for that) so I will try that either later this evening or tomorrow.

This sort of park is my favourite- it’s not very busy, there are no toilets or cafe (parkrun has a coffee van there on a Saturday morning) but there are plenty of different walks and loops that you could do.

How have you enjoyed the spring weather? What shall I bake with the pb cups?