Sunday, 27 October 2013

Love/hate lasagne

I have a love/hate relationship with lasagne. With making it, anyway (the eating part is all love.) I find it hugely satisfying to pull a huge dish full of food out of the oven, I love that it easily makes so many portions, and it's perfect for serving to lots of people at once. But honestly, any recipe that uses more than three pans will try my patience. I made a beef lasagne a few months ago for a party and although it was really delicious, constructing it kept me up until almost midnight. 

But a few weeks ago, I came across a Spinach and Tomato Lasagne recipe that looked so good I was tempted to relax my lasagne ban. I'm glad I did; It kept us going through an incredibly tense Great British Bake Off final. Unlike the finalists' wedding cakes, it didn't take me six hours to make, and actually it's a breeze compared to a classic lasagne. 

It looked so fresh before it went in the oven!

And it didn't look too bad when it came out, either. Excuse my feet. (Scroll right down for the recipe.)

My long run this week is planned for tomorrow, although judging by the forecast it might be a very soggy one. The autumn colours in Acton Park are stunning:

I have been trying to make the most of London lately. This seems to have coincided with more hungover Sunday mornings ... Saturday night by St. Paul's - I love the way the dome looms up at you gleaming when you turn every corner:

My friend Ellie has been drawing up a West London bucket list. First on the agenda was Sunday lunch at The Dove in Hammersmith which I cannot recommend enough. Get there early, though; it fills up fast and it's tiny. We all had the roast which arrived almost instantly and reminded me of how wonderful red cabbage is. We sat inside but they had the big patio doors open and the autumn light was flooding in - there are vines in the roof and it has a lovely indoors-outdoors feeling. 

When we finished lunch it looked like this so we decided to walk along the tow path to Barnes:

Half an hour later it no longer looked like this. "Drowned rats" doesn't even come close - we got caught in a torrential, never-ending downpour and got absolutely soaked to the skin. Harry Potter and hot chocolate saved the day. Any more suggestions for West London fun?

Spinach & Tomato Lasagne

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Autumn running and a 10k

Autumn arrived and I almost didn't notice. Is it possible to sleep-walk through a whole month? My last post was about summer holidays and ice cream and now here we are in October. September passed me by entirely (too much overtime) and it took a long run in Gunnersbury Park last week to wake me up. All of a sudden - conkers glossy as chocolate icing and leaves underfoot. It felt so good to see something real that wasn't the four walls of the office or the inside of my car. 

Autumn requires subtle shifts. Overnight oats are being gradually ousted by proper porridge. I can't quite get away with bare legs any more but now have to add a clean pair of tights to my morning laundry crisis. I am running in long sleeves again, although I am a long way off from my full winter running regalia (thank God - running in gloves, what a palaver.) 

Good morning: porridge with roasted apples, almond and maple syrup.

Life is quite complicated at the moment and that run last week was just what I needed. What could be simpler than the leaves falling, Autumn coming round again - that sense of resignation and inevitability. 

The sky this morning was beautiful, fragile and somehow apologetic - a real wintry sky, streaked with contrails. One of the best things running has given me is a reason to get up and seize the day. Let's face it, why else would I be up at 7am on a Sunday morning? Today I took part in the Blenheim Palace 10k. It was a hugely nostalgic drive - five years ago exactly my parents dropped me off for the start of my first term at Oxford. (Writing that makes me feel unbelievably old. You can't step in the same river twice, but you can drive down the same stretch of the M40 realising how much has changed in the space of a few years). To all my Oxford friends reading this, hello - we have known each other for FIVE YEARS! I am still such a sucker for anything Oxford-related, hence me signing up for a 10k in another city when there are so many I could have run in London. Any excuse. It was misty as I drove into Woodstock and it was actually freezing when I got out of my car. Despite loads of warnings about congestion trying to get into Blenheim Palace, and then a long walk from the car park to the start line, it actually took no time at all, which meant two hours of hanging around agonising over pre-race nutrition and how to time my trip to the very long queue for the portaloos. The sun came out just before the race started and we were treated to views like this one:

I have had a few pretty poor weeks of running so I wasn’t feeling overly optimistic about this race. Work has barely left time for anything beyond sleeping and eating, and I was battling a rotten cold for a while, too. I haven’t actually run a 10k since my holiday in France and that was over a month ago. But I was pleasantly surprised by my running today. Despite a “gently undulating” course (read: hill start, hill finish, and a killer hill section in the middle) I actually managed to pick up a personal best! I ran 10k in just under one hour. This race felt so different to the Race for Life (the only other organised run I have done) – here were “serious runners” stretching and eating protein bars and doing lunges around the start line. Proud to say I managed to overtake a fair few of them, though, especially on the hilly sections (thanks Languedoc!). I don’t know whose idea it was to finish the race on a hill but it was a pretty spectacular sight:

Someone clearly had fun while planning this route – it was organised by the British Heart Foundation – this really tickled me when I was looking at my account later:

Nice one.

The whole event was really well organised and I would definitely take part again. Maybe next year I will tackle the Half Marathon instead, though, with the “really serious runners”. Running a race is strange to me because I normally experience running as an intensely solitary activity – suddenly there are all these other people all around you, all equally focussed on the same goal. The sound of many runners’ feet on tarmac is like rain falling.

Nothing beats the feeling of stretching with a medal round your neck – except maybe getting to eat a post-race meal of fish and chips.