Category Archives: food

5k A Day you say? Oh go on then…!

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One of my favourite 5ks…with my bike-mad big boy as pace maker

Lately I’ve been distracted and drained by negative things. I’ve let everything that winds me up, stresses me out and generally saps my positivity dominate my waking day and my sleepless night. So with the summer holidays just around the corner, I decided I needed to re-focus and re-energise myself with a new happy project to drag me out of the doldrums.

My 100 Happy Days phase phased out after an amazing week in NYC and after Day 48, I stalled. It was almost too tough to top such a steady succession of happy days. That’s not to say I haven’t had a fair few since though! Some particular favourites have included running the Hackney half marathon in a PB time; enjoying the great outdoors and plenty of giggles at Center Parcs; performing live on stage at the 02 Arena with Take That; and watching Federer and Murray on Centre Court at Wimbledon…but I digress (purely to brag!)

So on a quest for a daily endorphin high, and in a bid to get beach-ready, I decided to set myself the goal of running 5k a day in July. This challenge required a certain amount of logistical planning given our family’s weekly routines and limited childcare options. But I reasoned that surely it wouldn’t be that difficult to find half an hour in every day to devote to pavement pounding when I frequently find myself wasting hours of my life Facebook-stalking and Instagramming my lunch.

The first few days felt easy, fun even. My usual running routine is limited to three runs a week; one 5k, one longer pace run (7-8k) and a distance run (10k or more). So not having to run more than 5k at any one time felt a bit like a luxury. I also soon discovered that I could multi-task whilst running short distances. Dog walking can be easily incorporated into daily runs if I plan my route around the local park. My energy-infused puppy then bolts about my legs as I do laps of the playing field panting far harder than he ever does. Childcare can also be managed during short distance runs. By plonking the boys in the playground (with strict instructions not to leave the fenced area), I can run rings around them which is ironic really as they usually do that to me! I’ve yet to work out how to do the ironing and reply to emails whilst running but with a few days left to go to until the end of the month, there’s still time.

In a bid to be sensible and kinder to myself I’ve allowed myself one rest day per week. There have been some days when squeezing in a 5k simply wasn’t going to happen. Last Wednesday for example; after leaving early to drive to Surrey for work, I then had to rush home to walk the dog before legging it to school to watch the Year 3 Folk Dance Festival, whereafter I collected the boys from school, the toddler from nursery and the tea from the pizza aisle in Tesco, before heading straight off to watch an open air performance of Mr Stink as soon Dave walked through the door. When I finally flopped on the the sofa that evening, I’d have rather boiled by own head than gone for a 5k run.

But has it been worth it, this pig headed and fairly pointless goal of mine? To be truthful, I’m not really sure yet. Physically I am exhausted. My body just isn’t used to running every day. My shins are sore, my legs are stiff and I’m fairly sure my muscle fibres are refusing to refuse just to spite me. Some days I’ve run so slowly that when I’ve caught sight of myself in a shop window or car door, I’ve looked like I’m jogging on the spot! And when I’ve reluctantly laced up my trainers simply to stick to my schedule, my NMA (negative mental attitude) has added seconds to my split times. I’ve also noticed how much my diet effects my daily runs. I’ve often used my running routine as a way to legitimise my bad eating habits. Chips for tea or biscuits before bedtime can be justified when I tell myself, it’s ok, I’ll run it off tomorrow (which BTW really isn’t ever the case as a half hour run only ever burns about 300 calories which is barely a bag of crisps!). So this challenge has taught me that I really need to learn more about how to better fuel and condition my body for exercise, instead of using exercise as an excuse to pig out and binge drink.

I’ve also learnt that I run faster first thing. And getting up early to clock my 5k before the kids are awake is hugely satisfying. I can then enjoy the endorphin rush and smile smugly to myself for the rest of the day, happy in the knowledge that I can put on my slippers not my running shoes once the little ones are in bed. Conversely, on those tough and tiring days, the thought of having to do a run when Dave gets home from work is almost as physically painful as the run itself!

So with the figurative finishing line in sight, it’s safe to say that I’m looking forward to going back to my less demanding ‘as and when’ weekly running routine. In fact, I plan to take large chunks of August off as a reward for my efforts this month! Assuming I make it to Friday without injury or apathy, I’ll have run 130 kilometres in one month which is considerably more mileage than I’ve ever achieved before. And maybe my legs do look a teeny bit more sculpted than they did in June, so my beach ready remit has in some small part been addressed. But give me a week in the Med and on the prosecco and I’ll no doubt be back to where I started…but hopefully with a clearer idea of how to chase my thirties with a bit more direction and dignity.

  

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#100happydays – day 48

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Thursday was our chance to take one last bite out of the Big Apple before heading home. But we began the day with some hasty last minute packing. The concierge at our hotel helped me to weigh my bulging suitcase at which point I realised I’d probably bought one (or six) Gap jumpers too many and was dangerously close to my baggage weight allowance. With a remit to buy more luggage for our NYC loot, as well as some last minute souvenirs, we headed to Times Square. We’d previously found a brilliant comic book store in the Financial District that had a sister shop in Mid-Town, so we happily spent a few more dollars there. We then braved the flagship Disney Store and bought bags from the brilliantly cheap Forever 21.After walking around in the sunshine with our shopping bags, we caught the subway to the Lower East Side for lunch in what was purported to be New York City’s best deli, Katz; and it was! This is the place where Harry met Sally, where a pastrami on rye will fill you up for a week (and cost almost $30!) and where you can ‘lunch’ alongside every stereotypical New Yorker imaginable. We both ordered the pastrami along with pints of the rich and delicious Katz Dark Ale. It was a heavy meal but our visit to such a quintessential New York eatery was well worth the stomach ache. With a sense of reluctance (and a little bit of relief, after days of exhaustive sightseeing and carb loading away from our families), we finally caught a cab to the airport. There we flopped in uncomfortable bucket seats in the departure lounge and pondered exactly how aeroplanes stay in the sky and whether or not we could squeeze in one more glass of wine before takeoff.  Our trip was a fantastic break from the routines and responsibilities of every day life and I arrived home with the feeling that we’d taken full advantage of the opportunity to eat, sleep and breath this brilliant city. Since then I’ve avidly been watching Manhattan-based TV dramas hoping to spot a familiar landmark or recognise a street name or two, and I’ve been overusing the phrase “totally awesome” much to the amusement of my children. It actually all seems a little bit like a dream that never really happened. But thankfully I have a photo-stream full of pics, a wardrobe full of bargains and a hundred happy memories to keep forever from our New York City adventure.    

#100happydays – day 47

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By Wednesday we’d spent three days straight exploring Lower Manhattan and had begun to feel like downtown locals, so we decided to focus our sightseeing efforts further north with renewed determination to find the uptown bus stop. It was a sunny morning so I made the optimistic decision to wear my thinner Laura Ashley wrap jacket instead of my more ample winter coat. Mistake number 1. 

Our joy at finally finding the goddam bus stop was short lived when the heated open-top tour bus was too full to take on more passengers so we instead boarded an unheated open-top bus where we were greeted by an energetic Japanese lady dressed in a mountaineering jacket and waving a microphone. Mistake number 2.

For the next hour we sat tightly huddled in our top deck seats, ducking to avoid low hanging tree branches and straining to understand the commentary. As Antonia noted, it was like having intermittent telephone reception….”something, something, something….Central Park…something, something…Woody Allen, something, condominium apartment…” And as my body temperature plummeted, I began to daydream about thick jumpers and wooly hats, rendering it impossible to concentrate on our enigmatic tour guide. By the time we reached Harlem, Antonia had turned blue and I’d lost all feeling in my bum cheeks. Our survival instinct finally kicked in (not at all inspired by the large Banana Republic Outlet store on the corner) and we hastily disembarked to buy jumpers (along with one or two other bargains). One Starbucks later and we were finally feeling thawed enough to venture back outside.

Harlem felt like a world away from the skyscrapers and designer stores of Mid Town. Groups of people were gathered on street corners and ladies pushed shopping trolleys piled high with clothes, plastic bags and cool boxes, presumably full of food (??). The further we walked away from the main stretch of shops, the more backwards glances we got from passers by. And the idea of using a selfie stick or even a map in Harlem felt a tad foolhardy. We bought Cap’tn Crunch cereal and squeezey cheese from a local supermarket and Antonia came to the aid of a fairly scary woman with a nose bleed, before we felt it best to catch the subway downtown to a more central spot on the Upper West Side. There we stopped for pizza slices and sodas in Famiglia (a favourite hangout of Sarah Palin’s, if the pictures on the wall were to be believed) before walking through Central Park and along Museum Mile. The park, as with the High Line, felt a little unloved. Overgrown pathways, unruly hedges and brown grass did little for its idolised image but the dramatic backdrop of the New York City skyline and the impressive architecture of the Guggenheim and Met museums were photo-worthy sights to see.   By this point, our shopping bags were cutting off the blood circulation to our hands so after a whistle stop to buy the kids candy from the far too sweet-scented and psychedelic Dylan’s Candy Store, we checked our bags into the Bloomingdales’ cloak room. We then spent the next hour exploring the retail Mecca of Manhattan and sipping prosecco in the Flip bar.

Later on, after a shower and short recharge at the hotel, we hailed a taxi to a restaurant in the Meatpacking District, recommended by Antonia’s New York-savvy spouse. We finished the day with an overpriced bottle of red (why is it so hard to find affordable wine in New York??) and burgers held together with toothpicks. Too many Manhattan happy moments to count!  

#100happydays – day 46

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(Writing retrospectively as bubbles replaced blogging for the remainder of our trip…)

Day 3 in the big city began with birthday cards and a bit of a lie-in. We were finally on New York time and Antonia was catching up with me in birthday candle quotas (Happy Birthday darling gal!)

We started the day by walking (since we were so good at it!) through Gramercy and the Garment District to the fabulously authentic Empire Diner in Chelsea. There we ordered our own body weight in carbs and revelled in the company of purple-clad ‘Ray Charles’ who sat sipping cwoffee at the counter. The granola parfait was delish, the buttermilk pancakes purely sinful and the Hungry Bear breakfast was a heart attack waiting to happen, but we committed to the cause and ploughed our way through one of the the best breakfasts I’ve ever had. 

Continuing our week long theme of walking, we then explored the much hyped High Line park, built on a disused train track running north through Chelsea to the Garment District. Underwhelmed by all of the concrete and barren trees, we did however enjoy the birds’ eye street views and the pop art print stalls along the route. As Londoners used to picnicking in palatial greenery all year round, our visit to the High Line forced us to concede that we are in fact ‘park snobs’.

Our walking tour continued with a trip to Carrie Bradshaw’s stoop (it was mostly under tarpaulin with all the glam gone!) and the Friends’ apartment building (where we joined a mini queue of European tourists all vying for the same photo). The rain then made its debut appearance in our New York adventure and forced us to seek shelter (and more carbs) in the Magnolia Bakery. 

Having exhausted our enthusiasm for the West Village we then hailed a taxi to Pier 78 (much to the confusion of our taxi driver…I’m guessing very few of his fares take a boat ride in the rain) and boarded the City Sights Boat Tour. Feeling soggy, we did most of our sightseeing from the lower deck but did brave the choppy winds and downpour when we passed under the Brooklyn Bridge and circled the Statue of Liberty. Iconic landmarks with wind swept hairdos do NOT for good selfies make, but we tried our best nonetheless!  Back on dry land (but not feeling particularly dry!) we caught the shuttle bus to Times Square with the intention of doing the Upper Manhattan bus tour. But, as was typical of our experience of navigating our way around the city, the lack of clear signage and the blank expressions on New Yorkers’ faces when quizzed for directions, made finding the right bus stop impossible. So once again, despite protests from our swollen feet, we ended up walking to the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side. There we snapped shots of the most significant filming locations from the Ben Stiller movie franchise, all the while looking for our next cup of tea. 

After an exhausting day out west, we decided to head back to the twinkling lights and trendy bars of the Financial District. It took a while (and the help of a friendly local) for us to buy the correct subway fare but sparing our blisters and avoiding the Manhattan traffic felt like mini victories. After a quick detour down Wall Street to rub the bull’s balls for luck (as is customary!) we found an inviting bar that served appetising appetisers and good quality Kiwi wine. Sorted! There we got quite tipsy; tipsy enough to later think that limboing under the subway barrier was acceptable behaviour. 

Back in Mid Town and in a bid to maximise full value from our NYC sightseeing pass, we headed (lightheaded!) to the Empire State Building’s 86th floor observation deck. By this time it was almost midnight and the alcohol coursing through our veins did very little to warm us up at that height. But even with the low cloud cover, the views were spectacular. Another huge tick in the box for us and for NYC! 

 


#100happydays – day 45

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 Another day, another dollar. We began our morning with brewed teas in Starbucks. Turns out, brewed tea is not tea as we know it (and thankfully the lovely Starbucks staff swapped our green herb infused cups of hot water for English breakfast tea when we realised our mistake). We then walked to the Flatiron district to admire one of the most beautiful buildings we’ve seen yet, the Flatiron. It was, like, tooooootally awesome!

On the recommendation of a friend back home, we headed to a quaint little eatery in a quiet corner of Gramercy when we enjoyed the real deal NYC brekkie, Eggs Benedict. “You want house fries with that?“, the waiter asked. Chips for breakfast, surely not! But it worked and was delicious.

In a bid to explore as much of the city on foot as possibles (and to burn off the Eggs Benedict!) we then walked the length of Lower Manhattan. Through Greenwich, Soho and Tribeca we marvelled at the incredible high rises and the beautiful brown stones as we inched closer and closer to One World Trade Center.  

In the Financial District we were surprised to find that you can actually loose sight of New York’s tallest skyscraper with so many others blocking the view. We walked the entire perimeter of One World Trade Center with our heads bent upwards before joining the queue for the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Once inside, we lost almost three hours of the day. The Museum is beautifully designed and utterly huge. Around every corner is another new exhibit, each one slightly different from the last but no less interesting or moving. We hadn’t planned to spend so long in the Memorial Museum but I’m glad that we did. It felt like an important part of my New York experience.

To lift our somber mood after leaving the museum, we stopped for tea and cake before walking down Wall Street and ticking another ‘must do’ off our New York itinerary. We then found ourselves on the waterfront and realising that we were a little late to catch the last sightseeing cruise of the day, we opted instead to ride the Staten Island Ferry. We then spent the next hour happily snapping photos of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty as we rode back and forth across the Hudson.

Back on dry land, and after acknowledging our dry throats, we found a cozy bar that was celebrating Happy Hour where we rested our weary legs and enjoyed a much needed stiff drink.

Our plans to then walk across the Brooklyn Bridge were put on hold when we found a branch of Abercrombie & Fitch advertising their 50% off sale. Yes please and thank you very much! Thereafter we discovered that the combination of beer drinking and shopping did our bladders no favours so we spent a frantic 15 minutes looking for a loo (Starbucks and 7 Eleven were both having plumbing problems…”sorry ma’am“…aaaaaaargh!). So in our collective desperation we dived into a dive bar and bought more beers (the irony!) just so we use the ‘restroom’. There we enjoyed a hilarious half hour of people watching in what felt like a true New Yorker’s hangout. There was a moose head on the wall, a ballgame on the TV and a small group of regulars sat at the bar (as well as signed bras stapled to every inch of the ceiling!)

By the time we finally found the footpath to the Brooklyn Bridge walkway, it was dusk and the New York skyline was twinkling with a million lights. We could not have timed it any better! The views were spectacular and despite our best efforts to catch them on film, we had to stop ourselves from trying and simply soak up the moment instead.

In Brooklyn we found ourselves a little lost as to where to go next. But after a short walk and quick scout about, we found a sports bar (yay!) where we met a friendly young bartender who was happy to tell us why Brooklyn is now so up and coming. After our 12 hour walking tour of Manhattan and Brooklyn, we felt we’d earned a taxi cab ride back to the hotel. The drive in itself was an interesting addition to our day. Crossing the bridge at night and zipping around the freeway around the edge of the island gave us a new perspective on the size and scale of this incredible city.  

Back on East 31st Street we found the cute little pizzeria we’d earmarked for dinner the night before. There we enjoyed the perfect ‘pizza pie’ and a generous glass of red before collapsing exhaustedly into our boudoir-chic sheets for some much needed beauty sleep. Goodnight y’all!

#100happydays – day 43

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My favourite Holloway hangout where sandwiches and service are second to none

I enjoyed a little but lovely happy moment today whilst waiting in line for my lunch. There’s a small and fairly unremarkable looking Turkish cafe on the Caledonian Road that, in my humble opinion, makes some of the best fresh sandwiches in North London. The cafe’s friendly and flirty manager seems to know everyone, if not by name by sandwich filling. And as I’m only ever in the area on a Tuesday (and because I don’t buy my lunch there every week) I’m always impressed by his ability to remember my order with perfect accuracy; chicken tikka with mint yoghurt on a poppyseed baguette with extra cucumber. Today the lunch queue was a long one and I found myself towards the back, sandwiched (chortle, chortle!) between an impatient man with a list that suggested he was ordering lunch for his entire office, and a trio of giggling, shrieking girls talking loudly to each other as they teetered on their heals. In the midst of my ‘should I stay or should I go?’ thoughts, my lovely Turkish ‘sandwichier’ caught my eye, gave me a wink and placed my freshly-made order on the counter, gesturing for me to step forward to claim my lunch. No one seemed to notice my unintentional queue jumping and I was in and out of the cafe in less than 3 minutes, thus arriving at work early and smugly satisfied, both nutritionally and logistically. How’s that for service!  

#100happydays – day 25

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IMG_6760Much as I’d like to, I really can’t pretend to be much of a baker. Despite my best efforts (and hours spent watching The Great British Bake Off), I always end up with dry sponges and soggy bottoms. But after spending a rainy Sunday afternoon in the kitchen with a cookbook, my peanut butter and chocolate chunk cookies turned out rather well (by my standards at least). So, there may be hope for me yet. I’ve always fancied myself as a bit of a Bree Van de Kamp, without the twin sets and pearls.