Friday 26 March 2021

This week...

Marked a year of morning walks, of no commuting, of both the opportunity to learn so much more about our local area, and also the time to get slightly fed up with being limited, so much of the time, to walking around the same old streets...

This week was also the one where I realised I really did have to listen to my body and take a step back on the fitness stuff, particularly strength workouts. Last weekend everything ached - not unusual, but usually something that has retreated again after a couple of light activity days over the weekend. I got up on Monday after a rotten nights sleep -  I woke in the night and struggled to get comfortable. My knees hurt, my back ached. After a minor internal battle I decided that it was not going to be a good day to do a strength workout - “I’ll do this weeks’s on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, instead...” Tuesday morning dawned - better, but still not great. Time to re-evaluate. I do get periods of time like this anyway - it comes with the perimenopausal territory. The knees aren’t helped by not being able to run either, and each time I think that interlude is drawing to a close, my foot starts hurting again and tells me otherwise. Frustrating. 

I’ve stepped back entirely from my usual strength stuff this week, just done one lower intensity style one this morning.Walks have also generally been a bit shorter. Yoga, stretching and foam rolling are all ongoing - that stuff is all good. It’s taken much of the week but I am now finally starting to feel as though I’m getting back to normal. 

 This week has also seen the first day this year where it was *just* warm enough to sit outside for my breakfast. We got the balcony deck tiles and furniture out of the garage again a couple of weeks ago, but it’s not been warm enough any day until now to make full use of it. My hour sitting in the sunshine yesterday morning was an absolute joy, though! 


Tuesday 23 March 2021

One year on...

23rd March 2020 - Blue skies and new growth...

This time last year I was at work, in the office, in East London, as I would usually have been 4 days per week for the previous few years. Things were definitely a little strange though - from the note on the door asking for people to respect distancing if they needed to come in, to the fact that the pub across the road was closed in the middle of the day, to the fact that buses passing by were distinctly emptier than would be usual, and to the fact that ALL that was being talked about was Coronovirus, Covid-19 as it was beginning to  be known. 

I commuted in to London that morning in the car as usual, but alone, rather than with MrEH - he was working from home as the underground was by then being seen as simply too high-risk unless people actually had to use it. It was a strange commute too - very little traffic on the motorway, I travelled in in pretty much record time, and looking back my Fitbit records tell me that I had time for a 40 minute walk before heading to the office for my 9am start! Already many people had switched to home working, or at the least commuting earlier or later than the standard "rush hour" times. 

It was announced during the day that the regular Government news briefing with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Sir Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty - those last two having already gone from unheard of by most to household names in the space of the previous week or so - would be held later than the previous 5pm times - it was obvious that it was going to be a significant one. Speculation around it varied between those claiming it was going to be "you're not allowed to leave home at all" through to "we'll be allowed to go to work but that will be all" and just about everything in between - but I think most people realised that some form of lockdown was coming, it was just a case of when...

I'd been bringing files home to work on if it became necessary for a while - for the benefit of those who know the environment I work in, I should explain that these were old files ready for destruction, not current client files! At 5pm on that Monday I filled the car boot with the latest batch, said "see you tomorrow" to D, and drove home. Again - a super-quiet commute, it felt more like a Sunday morning than a Monday rush-hour! 

I suspect most of the UK population were sitting in front of TV's or radios at 8pm that evening, and honestly, by that stage, the announcement of Lockdown from the beginning of the following day came as no surprise. "If you can work from home, you must" didn't seem quite clear - although I had *some* work I could do at home, realistically it wasn't enough that I could fill my usual working day doing it. The partners can deal with most things remotely - phone calls are diverted and our phone system means that they can each have their own calls directed straight to their usual telephone wherever they plug it in. I usually answer the "switchboard" calls, but they automatically divert from the switchboard phone if it's not answered inside 3 rings anyway, to account for lunchbreaks, and Fridays. Some of the online form filling was easy enough to do remotely on the laptop, but other things really needed access to current files, which obviously I couldn’t have other than in the office. Was I covered by "can work from home" in real terms? D and I texted back and forth, unsure at first. Then it was announced that a list of businesses which were deemed as allowed to be open would be published, and expanded on with more details over the following 24 hours - a look at the list confirmed that indeed our business type did not feature, and that was that, we agreed that working from home commenced for us from the Tuesday morning. 

I remember sitting there that evening feeling entirely terrified at the idea of not being allowed to go out. It felt like being imprisoned every bit as much as if someone had come along and put bars over the windows and doors. In "normal" times I get at least a short walk before work, even if only a slightly longer loop than the straight-line path from car to office. I walk at least a mile, usually a bit more, each lunchtime. after work I would either walk or run locally to the office, or walk to the gym, while waiting for MrEH to come and meet me for our journey home. At weekends we would be out and about all over the place. In short, it was a rare day when I would leave the house to get out in the fresh air only once, or not at all. I need activity, fresh air and movement for my mental health - I have known this for years now, so the thought of having that restricted was extremely difficult to get my head around. In some ways one consolation was that there were plenty of others feeling the same, that did feel supportive and "we're all in this together" even in the face of others either making it clear they planned to ignore the new rules, or lecturing those struggling with the concept of what impact the rules would have on them personally with "well we have to protect people"..!


Monday 22 March 2021

This weekend, we were mostly...

 ...making haggis. Or at least, a variation of it, as sheep’s stomachs aren’t the easiest things to come by, even when you HAVE just bought a whole, butchered lamb, as we have. You might recall that we have done this before - this time round it came from Highbury Farm who we regularly buy from at the farmer’s market, meaning that the food miles involved were extremely low! 

So - what made us decide that it might be fun to have a go at haggis? Well, first off, it tastes REALLY good. Secondly, we’re big fans of the idea that if you’re going to eat meat, then you should eat the best quality meat you can afford. It should have been well raised and looked after, treated with respect,  and you should look to make use of as much of the creature as possible, too. We’d routinely eat liver anyway, but when you buy the full animal you also get offered the heart and kidneys too, which is great except there is a limited amount you can do with 1 lambs heart and it’s (pretty small) we decided to go one step further and ask for the lungs too, and experiment with haggis making. 

Jumping ahead for a moment - this is what we ended up with:

The jumping ahead bit is because the first photo you use in a blog post becomes it’s “snapshot” photo, and the REAL starting point photo possibly isn’t ideal as the snapshot photo, because it’s this... (squeamish types might need to scroll on by, while those of a sturdier and more curious disposition may wish to click on the photo for a slightly larger version)

The “full pluck” as it is known - lungs at the top, kidneys in the bag to the left, heart in the middle and the liver peeking out in the bottom right. Stage one is to rinse this lot in cold water, then pop them into a large pan, cover them in water and bring to the boil. 

(“Cover with water” by the way is not as simple as it sounds - lungs, by their nature, float. No need to worry too much though - the pan is covered during the cooking and in the 45 minutes of simmering everything cooks through just fine). Once the simmer is complete, the pluck was removed from the hot stock to a bowl to fully cool overnight.

Next step is to get everything chopped up - half the liver into dice, the rest, plus everything else gets chopped very finely or you can mince it coarsely. We couldn’t be bothered to get the mincer out, but have lethally sharp knives that did a decent job...

Meanwhile MrEH set to grinding the spices - plenty of black peppercorns, mace, nutmeg and, to add a personal touch to the whole thing, allspice, my favourite of all spices. 

Time to assemble all the dry ingredients - so into the bowl with the chopped offal go finely chopped onion, oatmeal, suet, the spices, salt and some chopped herbs too - savoury and sage, along with a little dried thyme as we have no fresh. 

Everything gets thoroughly mixed together, and then stock from the cooking of the pluck added to give a moist but not sloppy consistency. 

Now, this is where things start diverging from the traditional. If making a fully authentic haggis, this is the point at which the cleaned sheep’s stomach comes into play, with the rich, spicy mix being packed in, and the whole thing then tied tightly at make sure everything is retained. As I said at the start, we didn’t have access to the stomach, nor did we want to end up with as big a Haggis as that or any of the usually suggested alternatives would give. Instead we researched possibilities for baking it in the oven, first lining our large square cake tin with foil, then piling the mixture in, well packed down into every nook and cranny. 

We then wrapped more foil tightly around the whole thing, trying to ensure a seal that would mean the haggis would partly steam slightly, and also retain some of the moisture from that stock we’d stirred in. Once it was well wrapped, we popped a dish full of baking beans on the top to weight it down a bit - otherwise there was a risk it would rise and expand in the baking and give a less solid texture than we were hoping for...

Then into the oven - gas 4, for initially 1 hour 30 minutes. At that stage we removed the foil to allow it to dry out and the top to crisp just a little, and put it back in for a further 20 minutes. The picture at the top of the post was taken when it came out of the oven - at this stage still feeling quite soft, but we trusted that it would firm up as it cooled, so set it aside and then once cold, into the fridge overnight. 

This morning it was turned out of the tin - a wonderful solid lump smelling of spices and a rich fact, exactly like haggis! Carefully cut into six pieces - each one will provide a meal for the two of us...

Even a small shop bought haggis is often really larger than needed for two people - don’t get me wrong, none gets wasted, but it usually feels like truly there is more on the plate than we actually need in one meal - so we were aiming for a size for each piece slightly smaller than that which we would usually buy. 
The texture is pretty much spot on - ideally it would be slightly more “oatmeally” - although we used the quantity suggested by the recipe ours was fine oatmeal where tradition would use coarse. 

The whole experiment was really interesting - from the initial wondering whether it was really possible to produce something that would even come close to replicating the usual haggis flavour and texture, to researching recipes and finding a combination of methods that would work. For any Scots reading and shaking your heads - please bear in mind we are absolutely not viewing this as a “proper” haggis, but the initial tasters we’ve had (yes, of course we have!) suggest that in flavour it’s pretty close to the real thing, and realistically, as close as we can get allowing for limitations in the ability to cook it authentically. In terms of ingredients it is pretty authentic, plenty of high street supermarket haggis these days doesn’t contain the lungs, for example, using ground lamb or even pork instead. It’s also proved a great way of making use of some of the bits of the beast which would often be discarded, and will give us several tasty and economical meals too. A success then, and something we’d certainly consider doing again! To add to the economy, the remainder of the stock that the pluck was poached in has been frozen ready for use in a future stew or casserole.


With thanks to the “Caroline’s Cooking” website for inspiration on the baking method, Tim Hayward writing for Guardian Food for recipe inspiration and plentiful photos, and the Oakden Cookware website for the recipe with quantities. For our own future reference we used 750ml stock not the 850ml suggested. 

Saturday 20 March 2021

One year on...

 Friday 20th March 2020. By now things were escalating fast. Schools had mostly switched to remote learning for as many pupils as possible - and the gym I use, attached to a school, had been closed for several days - had it not been I don’t think I would have felt comfortable using it, by that stage. Our office was open but along with many others in the area we had a notice on the door asking people to phone for assistance if possible, and if not, to come in but keep distance from D and myself, inside. The other partner in the firm, R, had already switched to working remotely and it now seemed inevitable that some form of official “work from home” instruction would be issued before too long. D and I were preparing for this - there is a limited amount of my work that I can do remotely but I was working frantically to gather together as much as I could, indeed, working on a Friday when usually I would be off. MrEH who has no choice but to travel into central London on the Underground to his office had already begun WFH - telling his employers the day before that he wasn’t willing to take that risk any more, they agreed. Over the four days of the week that he did travel in the morning trains had got progressively less busy, but the evening commutes still features full to bursting carriages, prompting his decision. 

By now the Government had started holding daily televised press briefings at 5pm - these began on 16th March and at the time were by far the best way of getting an accurate picture of how things were unfolding. Frustratingly though - and this frustration continued throughout the year - on almost every occasion things were leaked in advance. On this Friday, the hot-take during the day was that pubs, bars and restaurants were to be told that they were to close from 9pm that day, with no date set when they might be allowed to reopen. MrEH exchanged notes with a few rugby club pals and it was agreed that we’d meet at the club that evening, to help them with drinking the stock they had in, and also to get what was feeling as though it might be our last chance for a while for some socialising... 

At the club, people were being respectful of distancing - there weren’t the usual hugs and handshakes being exchanged which felt a little odd, but I think everyone realised it was necessary by then. It felt strange not knowing when we’d be back there again but at that point I think it was fair to say that nobody really expected it would be more than a few months at the most, time to get the “pesky virus” under control and then back to normal, surely? As 9pm approached Di, behind the bar, called last orders - which definitely felt significant! 


Friday 19 March 2021

Was #BeKind ever more than a trendy hashtag?

 After the death of Caroline Flack, it was everywhere - social media influencers, celebrities, and the (wo)man in the street, you name it, all exhorting us to “be kind” along with - of course - the trending ever higher hashtag to ensure maximum exposure. I’m absolutely certain that some of those who talked at length about Flack’s sad story genuinely were devastated by it, meant every word of what they said and have learned from it and lived by it since - but equally, there were a lot of folk who jumped on that bandwagon purely for the hashtag. It was trendy - everyone wanted to use it. That it was for a while at least the most trending tag on social media inevitably means that people actively look for a reason to use it - hot topics equal more followers, and that, for some folk, is the holy grail. 

Shortly after Flack’s death, the Covid pandemic hit, and for a while, it felt as though we were “all in it together” - pretty much everyone was immersed in their own fears about the virus, rumours of lockdowns and preparing for what was rapidly starting to feel like the world sliding out of our control. The kindness held - party politics, usually such a hotbed of vitriol, was even effectively suspended for a while as everyone focused on what we could ALL do, together, to try to defeat this insidious foe that was running rampant through our communities. That side of things was never going to be a permanent state of affairs, indeed, politics can’t operate effectively without a degree of animosity at least, but the suspension of hostilities was exactly what we needed at the time...

 Since then, the kindness seems to have seeped away. Perhaps the most recent example of quite how much - at a public level at least - was the fallout from the Oprah Winfrey interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, when Meghan’s discussion of her mental health issues lead to a torrent of  abuse and suggestions that she was lying.  As someone subsequently pointed out, the Duchess won’t see all those people on social media claiming she was “attention seeking” - but any friends of theirs who may have had suicidal thoughts in the past, will. Closer to home, a few weeks ago I found myself on the fringes of a conversation about the wording people are using about their feelings towards the ending of lockdown restrictions. One person ventured the view that they really disliked people saying “I won’t be rushing to go out!” - suggesting that instead they should simply admit that they are scared of the virus, scared to emerge from behind their front doors. My first reaction was that it’s far from that straightforward - I for one am looking forward to meeting up with friends,  going to the rugby club or a pub for beers again, but after a year of relative solitude, the thought of going back into bigger gatherings or crowds currently fills me with panic. Nothing to do with the virus, everything to do with social anxiety, made worse by a year of not having to put myself in positions which challenge that. Much as I probably should have challenged the broad-brush assumption that everyone feeling apprehensive about a return to the old normal is a covid-paranoid coward, I bit my tongue and stepped away - this person has “form” for turning on people who disagree with their often strong views on particular subjects, and turning in them in an underhand way at that, while still aiming to maintain their facade to others. Quite honestly at the moment I don’t feel mentally resilient enough to risk that - much as I feel slightly ashamed for not having been prepared to make the point. 

Both the examples there indicate to me quite how far we as a society have to go with discussion and acceptance around mental health issues, too. While things like Mental Health Awareness Week have gained traction with much coverage on social media (back to that question of the trendy hashtag again, perhaps!) when it comes to real life confronting us, people are much more cynical and reductive. Fine for depression and anxiety to exist, fine to say “people should talk about it” but suddenly not fine when people DO talk about it, or when it doesn’t fit the comfortable mould that they feel it should. If people really want to be kind, rather than extending their unsympathetic opinion, they could simply keep quiet. And rather than generalising and passing judgement on the way someone chooses to phrase things, they could just accept that there are all sorts of reasons people might be feeling a bit phased by things at the moment. And if #BeKind was more than a way of making yourself look good on social media, that’s exactly what would happen... 


Wednesday 17 March 2021

One year on...

 We’re now into that odd territory of “this time last year...” - past the point when we’re looking back at things being normal, that had to all intents ceased by early March - and now into the area where things had begun to close down. Most schools had already begun to discuss a possible switch to remote learning, shops and offices in the area I work in had begun to take precautions after it became apparent that the virus was starting to take hold. Pubs and bars had mostly switched to asking customers to use contactless payments rather than cash, and it was rapidly becoming apparent that they would in turn be instructed to close sooner rather than later. 

Greathead Shield - Moorgate Station.

On 1st March last year we did a Hidden London visit to Moorgate in the morning, followed by another of our “underground-overground” walks - from Liverpool Street to Leyton, ending up with the traditional pint in a handy pub. Lunch was grabbed en-route from Brick Lane market - which was busy, and I can’t recall feeling particularly uneasy about being in the crowds at that stage. There was never any suggestion that the  Moorgate tour would be cancelled either, although I do have a feeling that may have been the last weekend that the tours went ahead.  From that weekend things really did start to ramp up though - CAMRA announced soon after that all meetings and social events would either be cancelled or would take place “virtually”, and the likelihood of other social plans being cancelled had also started being discussed. Premier league football had announced that it was suspending its season, and the Rugby 6-nations was abandoned part way through the tournament with the remaining games to be played “in due course” - they were eventually completed in October.

This day a year ago was notable for two reasons - firstly it was the day that NHS England announced it was cancelling all non urgent operations to free up beds for tackling the virus. Hindsight now suggests that as much as anything else it was the staff that they wanted to free up, as by that time they were likely aware that the beds that would be required would not be standard hospital beds, but rather ICU and high dependency ones. The second was that it was the last time I went to the gym! I remember it being really quiet, and also making a point of washing my hands thoroughly on arrival and before leaving, but not feeling particularly wary or uncomfortable about being there - possibly because it WAS so quiet. 

I think even at this stage last year it was impossible to truly envisage what was ahead, and certainly I don’t believe any of us could have imagined that we’d still be dealing with it a full 12 months on! 


Friday 12 March 2021

This week...


...has been fairly emotionally heavy. The unfolding news about Sarah Everard since her disappearance last week, culminating in the awful news that remains were found that have been confirmed to prove that she was murdered. The arrest of a serving Metropolitan Police officer in connection with first her disappearance and subsequently her murder**. The standard reaction of countless men, lower lips hanging petulantly out, reminding us that “#NotAllMen”... 

For the majority of my 40-something (c’mon - a girl has to have SOME secrets!) years, I’ve lived with the usual warnings that women simply accept. Don’t walk alone at night. Don’t wear the wrong clothes. Don’t walk in really secluded places. Tell someone where you’re going, tell someone when you get home. I’ve altered my hair to make it less grabbable from behind, I’ve changed shoes to some I can run in, should I need to. I’ve walked home with my keys clutched between two fingers “just in case”. I’ve switched to listening to podcasts when running or walking because it means I can hear more of the sounds around me. I’ve doubled back on myself when walking in the dark, and got around a corner and run full tilt until my lungs have said enough, and sped up because I’ve heard the footsteps behind me doing the same... If you’re a man, reading this, pretty much all of your female friends and relatives have done all or most of here things at some stage. Does that surprise you? Shock you? I bloody hope so - because if you consider that to be nothing to be shocked about, you can leave, right now, and never come back. (And give your head a wobble - we’re talking about pretty much EVERY woman being scared, and it’s entirely down to the behaviour of some men.) 

Sarah Everard was walking home. Simply walking from one location, to another. It was a walk she’d likely done before. She did all the “right things” - bright clothing, a well lit route...the things we’re reminded, as women, that we “need to do” for our own safety. Our own safety from men. If you’re a man, reading this, I hope that makes you ashamed. I hope that also makes you spark a conversation with your male friends. That’s what’s needed now. Ridiculous, I know, that men won’t listen to women, on the issue of women’s safety, but they will listen to other men. Sigh. 

If you are one of the “good guys” - there are things you can do routinely, to make us feel safer, more comfortable :

- if you’re walking behind someone else at night, cross the road, give that person space. If it’s a woman this will make her feel safer. 
- if you are aware you’re walking behind  woman, pull your hood down if you’re wearing one. Being recognisable makes us feel that you’re less likely to do anything we might need to recognise you for, later.
- don’t speed up to get past us faster. That simply takes the situation from “there’s a man behind me, and he’s catching me up” to “there’s a man behind me, and it sounds like he’s chasing me”. If you’re naturally gaining on us, maintain that pace, and cross over. If you’re simply keeping pace, drop back a little.
- if you do need to pass us on the same side of the road, consider how we might feel safest. Try not to trap us between a building and you, and of we’re clearly following the pools of light from street lamps, respect that’s what we need to do. 
- if you’re standing with a group of mates, maybe having a smoke or a vape outside a pub, don’t split into two groups to force us to walk between you, instead move back to the wall or fence behind you - let us have the clear space to take as much room as we want to pass. 
- if you decide to approach a woman in a pub, or bar, read the body language. If she’s uncommunicative, or monosyllabic, that probably means she isn’t interested in your attention. If she responds to your overtures with “no” - or anything approaching that, this is a rejection - not an invitation to negotiate. Retain your dignity, say “nice meeting you” and walk away. 

We KNOW it’s “Not All Men” - we KNOW it’s a small minority that deliberately make women uncomfortable, and an even smaller number that are actively aggressive or violent towards us. The problem is, those men don’t carry that information around on neon signs over their heads, so we have no way of knowing whether you’re one of them, or not.  This means you’re all a threat. However, consider this - if you are a man who has ever walked down a road, at night, behind a woman, without even considering that she is petrified wondering whether that is going to be the moment that her luck will run out, then you HAVE- even without meaning to - been guilty of frightening a woman. It’s time to take responsibility for that, listen to the women in your life, learn from what they have to say, and then take up the cudgels on their behalf. 


** During the time I was writing this it has been confirmed that the Police Officer arrested for her abduction and murder has now been charged with those offences. **

Monday 8 March 2021

Long walk Sunday...

 Well, long-ISH anyway - at just over 8 miles this one was far from our longest effort, but definitely racks up as one of the nicest, I think! 

Like so many people, we’re starting to find it a bit of a challenge to come up with anywhere different to walk now - having spent very nearly a year all bar the 4 weeks we’ve spent in the Hebrides having a LOT of time to walk locally, we had rather begun to feel that we’d explored just about everywhere we could around the area, and quite a lot of it many times, too!  With another month at least before we’re going to be going anywhere new, we turned to the trusty OS Maps app for inspiration again, and MrEH suggested that we headed out on a path that I’d found on one of my solo walks a few weeks ago. 

Out through Old Harlow and into Harlowbury - that’s the Harlowbury Chapel above, a scheduled ancient monument no less, and dating back to 1180 it is, by some way, Harlow’s oldest building. There’s no access to the chapel now sadly, other than on occasional open days, but it’s quite nice just to walk past. 

On then and initially through a new housing development which sadly has played havoc with the footpaths  - the developers having seemingly closed quite a lot of them with no signage and no diversions, we had to backtrack and eventually resort to following a road to a completely different to the one we had planned to use, but thankfully did find that one had been restored and were soon alongside the wonderful Gibberd Garden - the former home of our inspired Town Planner and home of rather a lot of his extensive sculpture collection some of which is in plain sight as you walk by - it’s most entertaining to be walking along a lovely lane and suddenly spot a huge pair of stone columns rising up to your right, or a 20th Century polished steel effort of wonderful sweeping curves... The garden is also the home of our local beer festival in normal times - an event which also gives you admission to the gardens themselves, a lovely treat! 

The path then continues down towards the railway line - and gets quite muddy in places - but amusingly continues straight under this fallen tree (there’s plenty of room to pass beneath!) before getting to the bridge - where for a moment we thought flooding was going to cause a problem, but nope, someone had a solution to that...

Yes, that is a sort of causeway of fallen branches and lengths of old tubing, and yes, back beyond it that is a line of blocks that have been placed as sort of stepping stones to enable you to pass through without getting your feet wet! 

By this stage the sun had largely retreated in exchange for these gorgeous clouds, and it was starting to feel quite chilly, but not enough so that when we realised a little diversion across a field using an obvious and well trodden path would bring us to the river and the option to use the towpath for part of our return towards home. 

And once there we were rewarded with first the reflection of those clouds on the water, and second a nice chat with a couple litterpicking alongside the path - they’d already got three bags pretty much full and sadly this is just one of many times they’ve been out and gathered a similar amount. 

Back through Old Harlow and this lovely yarn bombing had appeared since we passed by earlier! I’ll be keeping my eye out for any more of these appearing now - SO bright and cheerful! Maybe that’s something I could use my elementary crochet skills for? 


Sunday 7 March 2021

Sunday dinner...

 You may remember that we’re big fans around here of buying good meat, but the cheaper cuts, and then cooking them carefully to get a really tasty result. Today’s dinner was an example of his - a lamb breast bought from the farmers market a couple of months ago - defrosted through the day yesterday ready to be popped in the oven this morning. A lot of people view a lamb breast as being rather a fatty cut - and indeed it is, but cooked nice and slowly much of that fat renders down and runs out, while helping to keep the meat wonderfully juicy and succulent. It’s also a brilliant cut to add masses of flavour to. 

First job when I got up this morning was to get the oven on - set to gas 5 at first I left it to heat while I prepped the lamb, bringing it out of the fridge and unrolling to let it begin to warm up a little, I set it aside and started to get ready the flavourings I wanted. The pared-off rind of a lemon. Some rosemary, and parsley. Some garlic. Those were all chopped finely. Plentiful salt and pepper, and a good slug of rapeseed oil and the lot was mixed together and rubbed over the meat before it was tightly rolled up and again, wrapped equally tightly in foil (which saves the need to tie it with string) and then the whole lot popped into a pan and into the oven. 20 minutes later the heat was turned down to 3.

Next thing to be done was the root vegetable bake that I’d decided to serve alongside the meat. An absolute winner of a recipe this one, and brilliant for using up any stray root veggies that you might have left. Today ours used half a small swede, the final sweet potato and several regular tattles as well. Finely slice all your veg - I use a mandolin as that’s the easiest way of getting really thin even slices - then assemble.

 If you add a bit of bacon, ham, or chopped chorizo you can almost turn this into a meal on its own in fact. Just layer up the slices of your chosen veg - season with salt and pepper every few layers - and you can add some cheese in the middle for a nice gooey surprise too - I used some sliced Raclette today, but a handful of good strong grated cheddar works really well too. Then pour over a mixture of veg stock and double cream with a bit of cornflour beaten in for thickening, cover with foil and shove in the oven - today I just popped it in at the same low temperature the meat was at. 

The bake takes longer to cook right through than you might expect - a good 2 hours at that heat, but you want it to cook slowly so you get the soft melting texture of the veg and cheese combining as you eat it - there’s nothing more disappointing than a half cooked slice of potato! I uncovered it for the last 30 minutes and added a bit of grated cheddar across the top for a crunchy topping. 

This is what the meat looked like when it came out of the oven - although you can make an effort at carving it basically it IS going to fall apart, but it was every bit as tender as it looked. 

And that’s the final plateful - the meal also used up the last of the broccoli from last week’s veg box - Yep, that’s the stalks as well there, exactly the same flavour as the florets and absolutely not being wasted!  There’s enough of the veg bake left to accompany a meal another day - and also enough lamb to do another meal albeit quite well stretched out with other ingredients. The lamb breast was £3 - so economic is pretty much it’s middle name! The whole meal was delicious, and aside from a bit of prep utterly undemanding as once it’s in the oven the long cooking time means you can get on with other things. (Drinking tea and jigsawing here, mostly!)

There you go, another angle. You’re welcome...! 


Wednesday 3 March 2021

That didn’t last long...

Yesterday I typed that I wanted to do slightly less walking overall in March. So obviously I then walked 4 miles with MrEH in the morning, then another 7 in the afternoon going to collect my car from its MoT test. (Successful - a clean pass, no advisories). This combined with Monday’s 6 miles means I’ve walked 10% of my monthly target in just two days. Hmmm! 

In spite of meaning I walked rather further than was planned, it was a lovely walk up to just north of Sawbridgeworth, the next town north of us. Partly on footpaths, partly on quiet country lanes - the sun even eventually peeped through too! 

This was pretty much my perfect walk  really - not another soul around for most of it - just me, my thoughts, the podcasts playing in my ears, and one foot in front of the other for as long as it took. And as I kept stopping to look at things - birds, the view (pretty glorious for some of it - see below!) and even some Commonwealth War Graves in a churchyard at High Wych, it took just over 2 hours. I could have stepped it out a bit and got there a bit faster, but I wouldn’t have enjoyed it even half was much! 

To add to the walking, I also did the first workout from Alice Liveing’s March challenge - deciding to ditch the remainder of the February one for the time being so I could do the March one in at least close to real time. Oh, and a yoga practise too - quite a leg-focused one. It shouldn’t surprise me much that most of my movements today are accompanied with the soundtrack of “ouch”, should it?! Maybe today I’ll clock up one of my planned rest days? 


Tuesday 2 March 2021



Well that was quite a varied month! From freezing temperatures and even a bit of snow, to glorious spring-like days of sunshine, thank goodness! The focus for February was on keeping up the strength work and the yoga, as well as lots more walking. I finished my “Walk The Thames” challenge well ahead of the cut-off, and got my nice shiny medal through the post in the middle of the month - and then promptly signed up to another distance challenge in the shape of the RAF Museum Lancaster challenge - which requires me to walk or run 500km between the point ai registered and mid May. 

I finally managed to track down and order some heavier dumbbells - 5kg ones - as well as a proper yoga/exercise mat which has proved to be a bit of a game-changer. Turns out poses like downward dog are a lot easier when your hands and feet aren’t slipping away from you! I managed 11 strength workouts in the month which I was really pleased with, and nearly 11 hours of yoga - finishing the first Adriene 30 day challenge I’d started in January and starting on another. I also managed 179.2 miles of tracked walking - beating last month by just a fraction in spite of it being a short month, averaging 6.4 miles walked each day. 

So - what is in store for March? Well first and foremost I’m desperately keen to be able to get back to running again now. The issue with my left foot is better, but still not better *enough* I don’t think - while I do have days when it gives me no problems at all, there are also still others when it’s really still quite painful.  So - more strength work, still plenty of stretching, but probably slightly less walking overall - I plan to keep my monthly target at 170 miles but not aim to exceed it. I also want to focus on sleep - I’ve been making efforts to get to bed a little earlier and try to get at least 7 hours a night, and it really does make a difference. Listening to my body and what it needs is key here - goi g to bed slightly earlier and dropping off the sleep almost right away is better than going slightly later and then taking a while to settle.  A good bedtime routine helps here - something I’ve been working on. 

I’d like to end the month with:
8 strength workouts minimum
11 hours of yoga
170 miles walked
4 proper rest days - just a short walk plus yoga, at most.
An average of 7hrs 25 minutes sleep per night across the month. 

Bring it on! 


Monday 1 March 2021

That’s Odd...

 Quite a few years ago we had a brilliant local veg box scheme - a small company run by a nice chap who really cared about the produce he sourced. Sadly his attention to detail and fresh, high quality produce actually made him too successful in some ways - he built up a sizeable customer base at which point he got an offer he couldn’t refuse from another established box scheme company, and sold to them. Rapidly from our perspective prices went up, and quality down, and we stopped ordering boxes soon after.  

We’ve said for a long while that we’re not in the least fussed about our veg being organic - we don’t buy that normally, and so there’s no reason for us to pay for a box of organic veg either, but pretty much all the schemes running currently trade in the basis of being organic. The exception to that is London based Oddbox - and I’ve been keeping a regular eye on them for the last little while in the hope that they would start covering our area, two weeks ago I popped our postcode into the box on the website and voila! “We delivery to your area on a Saturday” - hurrah! 

Oddbox work on the premise of “rescuing” fruit and veg which would otherwise go to landfill - items that don’t look right for the mainstream stores - or are the wrong size, or are just surplus to requirements. They buy it up, then sell it on to people like us who don’t care that the peppers have a few blemishes, or that I’m getting potatoes because there were more of them than the supermarkets wanted this week. 

You get your box of veg - ours was the medium Veg only box - they also do a fruit and veg combined and a fruit only box. It comes with a leaflet with some recipe ideas for some of the items in the box, and a list (above) confirming why all the items you’ve been sent are there. From my perspective the delivery time (Oddbox deliver overnight to save on emissions) plus the fact that you can see what is expected to be in your box ahead of time means that I can always be sure of fresh veg for Sunday lunch. Just getting the box means we’ll increase the amount of veg in our diet - and we were no slouches on that front in the first place.  Although this week’s offerings were fairly “usual” for us, I’m also hoping that we get some different stuff here and there to shake our meals up a bit. As for this week, there will be a stew,  a stir fry, and some salad with an omelette, as well as some spinach thrown into tonight’s risotto, and I’m looking forward to planning to use up every last scrap!