Sunday, 27 May 2012

Second swimming race of the season

What a change in the weather to last week. At the start of the week, having heard that the water was hovering around 12C, I ordered swim socks and gloves to swim in this weekend.  By the end of the week, with warm weather over the last few days, the temperature rocketed, and this morning the lake was a toasty 19.2.  Almost too warm for my wetsuit.

It was back to Dorney Lake, near Eton, for another attempt at the 10k that I did last year (in 3h 32m).  Having had the training camp in February and got myself a better wetsuit, I was hoping to get around in 3 hours.  And what perfect conditions to attempt it in.  Even if the sign below seemed to suggest that actually we shouldn't be swimming in the lake.

We got there nice and early to enable the application of much suncream and consumption of extra water, and here I am wearing the race t-shirt which had arrived in the post on Friday.

Here I am again, just about ready to go, although still with my sunglasses on at this stage.  Unfortunately, having got fully into my wetsuit, we were told of a 15 minute delay to the start, so I took the top bit off again, far too hot to wait around in a wetsuit. 

Finally it was into the water for a quick briefing, and then off.  There were about 450 swimmers so the start was quite difficult as the course was quite narrow.  But about 500m in, there was a bit more space and I was able to focus on swimming.  And swimming.  And swimming.

5 laps in total, 2km each, stopped for a couple of Veggie Jelly Teddy bears after the 3rd lap, and some water, whereupon Mr W told me that I was 8 minutes up on the splits that I needed to achieve to get around in 3 hours.  He thought I'd misheard him as I didn't take the planned rest stop and restarted swimming again, with my mouthful of Jelly Teddy Bears getting mainly lost to the bottom of the lake :(  I was keen to consolidate the gains and maybe get an even better time than 3 hours.

Swimming swimming swimming, and eventually I was on the last km, tried to swim as fast as I could, got to the end of the lake, and fell over as I tried to get out.  Very ungainly climb up the bank to get to the gate where the timing chips were being registered.  Not sure of the exact time yet, but Mr W had his stopwatch on (and I believe has measured the splits of each lap) and told me it was about 2:47.  I wish he had shouted at me on the last bit and I might have got in at 2:45.  We'll wait and see what the exact result is tonight.

Very dazed afterwards.  Straight off for some food, but bizarrely was not hungry so had some soup and a bit of Mr W's veggie breakfast before stopping for strawberries from the farm shop.  Still hasn't sunk in quite how fast I swum, and there's still plenty of potential for improvement as I certainly waasn't in the top 50 finishers.  The almost perfect conditions certainly helped.

Day off work tomorrow to recover, although if the weather stays as nice, I'l definitely be heading to the outdoor pool to stretch my arms out.  No races next weekend, instead a visiting blogger and a father's birthday, but there are two the weekend after - eek!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Nice things

Been a bit busy for blogging this week, but here's some pictures from this week so far:

The plants are growing and looking very green. This weekend may be the one where I can plant out the second attempt at courgettes.

An orange cake has been made along with smarties cookies as a thank you for a friend who picked me up some Cornish Rattler cider this week. Not available in Oxon and rather good for hot weather.

Reading lots of brownie books, remembering them from my childhood, good to reread.

Outdoor swimming

Saturday, 19 May 2012

First swimming race of the season

First swimming race of the season this morning, and the first time my Mum has ever come along to watch me.  I had a really bad case of nerves last night, I think because this season is the first time that I have been trying to get round as fast as I can, rather than merely finish, having had the training camp this year and been working really hard on both fitness and technique.

It actually went pretty well.  The distance was 1500m which is actually 100m shorter than any swimming race I've ever done before, two laps of a 750m loop.  There was a 750m race and a 5k race happening at the same time, so the water was quite busy at the start,  but the 5kers had to go down to the end of the lake so they soon split out.  I found it hard swimming at my fastest, and nearly threw up a couple of times; I'm used to longer distances and thus slower and steadier swimming, but I pushed on, and eventually was climbing out (that is the hardest bit, a finish up the bank).  I had been hoping for a time of under 25 minutes, and was secretly hoping for a time for about 23 minutes, so I should have been pleased with my time of 22 minutes 3 seconds.  However, I had asked my Mum and husband to count the number of female 1500m swimmers out before me, and they thought that I was the third female out.  I was really excited as this would have meant that I would have won a prize, but unfortunately I was 4th, and came in 13 seconds off a podium place.  Disappointing as comparing with last year's results, my time would have placed.  Anyway, this is the first of a four series race, so I now have the time to beat, and fingers crossed maybe for a podium place at some point in this season.

Have been taking it easy for the rest of the day, as tomorrow I want to get my last cold water long swim in before I attempt to swim 10k at Eton's Dorney Lake next Sunday.  I'm not nervous about the distance, but I am nervous about the cold.  With the weather we've had this year so far, the lake is about 5 degrees colder than it was last year, and I am nervous that the cold may defeat me.  We'll see.

In other news, obviously I am avidly following the start of the Torch Relay to try and get an idea of what I'll be doing on the 9th July.  Not long to go!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Cooking with Oranges

So last night saw the great Steamed Pudding experiment using this recipe to use up some of our remaining oranges from the previous week's veg box (Mr W finds them a bit difficult to eat at work). My Mum used to regularly make steamed puddings, but it's not something I've ever attempted. I was concerned that I didn't have a big enough saucepan (so just made a mini one in the end!), and that the pudding basin would just melt (I stood it on a saucer and kept checking that it didn't boil dry). But it seems to have come out ok!

One orange left, and a chance for me to make the Orange and Mincemeat Flapjacks from the Go Faster Food book that I mentioned last week. First swimming race of the season on Saturday, and as it's a 1.5km swim which is considerably shorter distance than I usually swim (3.8k or 10k), so requires faster swimming overall. Good speed session in the pool yesterday, and a longer gentle swim today, so now it's time for rest and some carbohydrates. Fingers crossed that these do the trick.

Verity's Veg Box Part 6

This week’s veg box caught me a bit by surprise. We still had 1.5 courgettes left from the previous box, as well as an avocado which was only just ripe, 4 oranges, 2 bananas and 2 apples left. I had also said no to three of the vegetables in this week’s list so I had 3 wild card vegetables to account for. It’s meant that both last night and tonight I have spent quite a bit of time in the kitchen cooking up a storm (or something), and I have further cooking to look forward to at the weekend (yay – slightly sarcastic yay as I’m suffering from a lack of downtime at the moment!).

What did we get this week? We got two large beef tomatoes, mushrooms (wild card), red pepper, chicory (eek – never seen or tasted let alone cooked that one!), leeks (wild card…), salad leaves (wild card but that’s fine, I can cope with salad!), two slightly knobbly cucumbers and radishes.

I’d already been planning to make a veggie chilli with the red pepper so just put the mushrooms in as well. A 4 portion yield which will do for a packed tea for Mr W tomorrow night, a dinner on Friday night and two portions for the third hungry member of our family, the freezer.

With the leeks, I whipped up a macaroni and leek cheese, using milk that had been in the freezer, and for the first time making a white sauce in the microwave. It’s a lot easier I promise you!! I sliced beef tomato on top, and Mr W ate half before I had got my camera out.

Using up the courgettes and some asparagus and incorporating leftover spinach and one of the beef tomatoes, I made myself this wonderful looking risotto.

Cucumbers and radishes will go with Mr W’s lunches, so it’s just the chicory left to deal with. Have sought advice on this one too, and have come up with a chicory gratin (to which I’ll add the remaining leek) which we’ll have with jacket potatoes (and a tuna steak for Mr W) at the weekend. Fingers crossed it works!

And tonight I’m making my first attempt at a steamed pudding. I saw this recipe and thought I’d give it a go with my oranges, though for the sake of our waistlines I’m not making the Orange cream. I’m a bit nervous but have sought advice from my Mum and a colleague about steaming puddings and fingers crossed it’ll be ok! I’ll post about it tomorrow as I have another bake in mind for using up the last orange.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Books about brownie guides

Onto more book purchase confessions.  These books have all arrived in the last week or so.  I was browsing through Juxtabook's blog the other day and was reminded about the author Verily Anderson by this post here which links to a biographical article about her.  I decided that I was in the mood to reread her Brownie books and ordered a host of 1p copies from Amazon (ok, I know it's £2.81 by the time you factor in the postage but never mind).  I am really looking forward to reading them, they are the perfect follow up to school stories for a wet and miserable May.

I am SURE that I read more books from this genre when I was a child.  I was only ever a brownie for about a year as our local pack wasn't terribly exciting, but like boarding school I was always fascinated by the idea.  I've had a google but I can't think of any more titles or even find some sort of fan page.  Can anyone help me out here?

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Cake eating for sport

Well, cake eating could easily be a sport.  It certainly seemed that way when I hosted the Oxford Free Cakes for Kids volunteers meeting last weekend.  I made four sorts of sweet treats in the end: carrot cake, gluten free marmalade slice, smartie cookies and mini Victoria sponges.  I had hoped for the beautiful pictures, but people turned up early and I didn't get a chance!  Much cake eating was done, but there was still a huge amount of cake leftover which Mr W and I have been ploughing our way through over the last week.  I've put on 2lb I kid you not which is not great so close to the start of the open water swimming season.  So no cake for me now, need to try to focus a bit more on starchy carbohydrates rather than sugars at least 6 days a week! 

But onto what I really meant when I wrote the title of this post "Cake eating for sport".  I borrowed a book from the library recently called "Go faster food".  It's written by a marathon runner married to another marathon runner who wanted to come up with recipes to sustain them during busy working lives training for marathons.  It gave me a good recap of good nutritional advice but obviously the recipes were quite interesting too.  I wasn't especially inspired by the savoury options so much but more by the cake (surprise surprise), and since Mr W is embarking on a 400k cycle ride this weekend (yes, that'll be through the night - I think he will be starting at 6am and then completing it about 2am; fortunately the organisers are supplying a hall for people to sleep in so he can have a rest before he drives home (thus preserving my night's sleep!!) I thought I'd make something from it to help with the carb-loading beforehand and post race recovery.  I offered him the choice of two recipes that caught my eye (will probably make the other one next week as I happen to have both sets of ingredients to hand), he chose the honey, lime and ginger oaties.  They are described as a bit more cakey than a flapjack, but are very similar to flapjack in construction - melted butter mixed with sugar, honey, lime juice and zest, and ginger syrup mixed with raisins, oats, flour and stem ginger.  Fingers crossed that they do the trick!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

I don’t know what it is about this time of year; maybe it is the anticipation of summer being met with miserable weather (SURELY by May we should be sitting out in the garden?), maybe it is the Bank Holidays which fall in term time and thus have to be worked, deserving some sort of treat, but always around this time of year I find myself buying books. It was worse of all the year that I started this blog when I bought about 10 Persephone books and numerous Viragos in the space of a few days.

This year has been no exception; I mentioned on Saturday my delightful jaunt to Woodstock where I picked up two books. Prior to that I had a little bit of a splurge getting some Girls Gone By books. I don’t feel in the mood for anything very literary at the moment, and school stories seem A Good Thing. I’ve finally dipped my toe into the waters of Chalet School fill-in fiction. I have read all of the Chalet School books so many times that I am desperate for some new stories featuring my favourite characters, and despite having previously been very dismissive of this “fan fiction”, I enjoyed the Antonia Forest fill in so much that I thought I would give it a go. A number of authors have written fill-ins, but I feel that being published by Girls Gone By is probably a good seal of approval, so I randomly chose a few. I also bought The scholarship girl by Josephine Elder having enjoyed some of her other books for both girls and adults.

These books have all arrived in the last week and I am looking forward to some fairly easy reading and escapism into the world of school (how is it that school stories become escapist? I’m sure when I was a child school was anything but, but now that I work full time I hearken back to the days where I got to spend time with my friends every day and go home at 4pm).

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

I have to say it's rather nice to get home to boxes of fresh fruit and vegetabkes.  Look at my lovely apples, bananas and oranges!  Oranges and bananas do particularly put one in mind of warmer and sunnier climes.  I saw a recipe for a mincemeat and orange flapjack so that may get made this week.

Onto the veg.  This week we have jersey potatoes (covered in mud, necessitated scrubbing - I don't think I've ever scrubbed a potato free of mud in my life!), lambs lettuce, cherry tomatoes on the vine, radishes, courgettes, avocado, broccoli, and beetroot.  It's nice to have some salad stuff this week as we didn't get any last week, and I have a quiche in the oven which will do for the next three nights with the lovely salad veg and jersey royals.
As for the beetroot, my heart sank a bit.  It's the third time we've had them now, possibly even the fourth, and I'm a bit beetrooted out.  Last time I made sweet potato and beetroot curry, but I haven't really got much else to use them with this time.  Another risotto perhaps; roasting has also been recommended I think previously.  The beetroot also need a good scrub as well...

Saturday, 5 May 2012

It's been a bit of a miserable week.  In the scheme of things a cancelled swimming race, more perpetual rain and yet more dental issues (suspected gum infection this time, necessitating mouth temperature food and exceptionally nasty antibiotics) are frustrating/annoying/painful and only grim in lowercase.  But it seems like GRIM things are happening to so many people who I know and are close to at the moment that they are by far outnumbering the GOOD things.  And even though there are good things happening, such as tomatoes continuing to grow and getting to the end of the week, it feels like they are so small that they can't possibly counteract the grim things.  It's a balancing dilemma that has really been on my mind.

So today, I tried to think about things a bit differently.  I'm not going to be able to do anything necessarily to counteract the GRIM things.  And I can't stop the little grim things from getting me down.  But perhaps I can try to achieve some small good things and eventually they will start to add together and make things feel a bit better...  A culmulative effect perhaps, I hope it will work a little.

So, with a cancelled swimming race, I decided that I could still swim outside, but that I would prefer to swim somewhere nice and warm given that it was cold.  About 6km from where I live is the little town of Woodstock which has a small 25m outdoor pool which is usually too warm to swim in, but today it was just the job.  It takes about half an hour to cycle there as it's uphill and invariably into the wind, but the cycle ride back (it's a circular route) takes you through Woodstock, and gives you glimpses of Blenheim Palace and Oxford airport, and through some country lanes.  It's only the second time I've made this outing, but it is a perfect Saturday trip.  The pool was practically empty, and swimming backstroke looking up at the sky made me feel very small and insignificant but strangely grounded.

The other reason for going to Woodstock was the rather wonderful Woodstock Bookshop.  It's an independent, few of which seem to exist these days, and always stocked with lovely books that I want to take home.  Mother-in-law gave me a book token for my birthday which I discovered last night was far more generous than I had expected, and I'd asked the WB to get in a copy of the Slightly Foxed edition of Look Back with Love by Dodie Smith. It is a mark of the sort of bookshop that WB is that they already had a copy on hand.  Browsing idly, I also picked up The JM Barrie Ladies Swimming Society.  Given that I smelt of chlorine and had wet hair and had been cheated of my openwater swim this weekend it seemed like a good thing to get.  I had been offered a lend of a copy, but a book token is a good excuse to buy a book to read right now.

Oh, and if any of you have had anything significantly more GOOD than GRIM happen recently, please share it.  I'd genuinely love to know that good things are currently happening to the people that I know and care about.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Verity's Veg Box part 4

I am always excited to get home from work on a Tuesday and see what the veg box man has brought me!  Well, I usually have a good idea from the website but it's so exciting to see it in the flesh so to speak (can you say flesh about vegetables?).  Having made a super beetroot and sweet potato curry last week, I am all set for the arrival of this little beast.  Do you recognise it? 
 It's a Kohlrabi!  Research tells me that it is a root vegetable, a bit like turnip.  Feeling a little unadventurous this week, and wanting to make use of a swede I picked up "reduced for quick sale" to 19p the other day, I've got a casserole in the oven, which also utilises a potato and an onion which have been languishing in the larder, as well as some of the carrots, and some chestnuts.

What else did we get?

Carrots, I've mentioned, the remainder of which will be made into a carrot cake when I host the Free Cakes for Kids volunteers meeting on Saturday
Broccoli, flat beans (discovered that I LOVE these after last week - have never seen them in a supermarket although I'm reliably assured that you can get them in Waitrose), courgette; these will all be made into risotto or rice and pesto with vegetables which is one of my fall back meals for myself.  Easy and gluten free.
Two large beef tomatoes, one of which has found its way into tonights risotto, and the other of which is adorning Mr W's cheese sandwiches for tomorrow and Thursday.
A red pepper which will be made into a veg chilli possibly with some courgette/carrot (memo - must buy more kidney beans)
A butternut squash which this time I shall make into a prawn, butternut squash, tomato and chilli risotto.  This is based on a pasta dish I had at Zizzi's in pre-gluten-free days (although I think they now do GF pasta) which I love.