Zucchini cake…

It seems like every time I start a new blog post, I have to say ‘Hello! Yes, I’m back! I know I haven’t posted for ages!’ I seriously doubt whether anyone is actually reading my blog anymore, but never mind!

I hope you’ve had a lovely summer. I have – we actually had some decent weather in June and July, I went on a lovely family holiday, I managed to run a half-marathon around Wimbledon Common (yes, we did get Womble medals at the end) despite it featuring all my running pet hates – laps, hills and warm weather – and my mum and I made lots of jam. Cherry (using cherries from the farm near my parents’ house) and spiced plum (using last year’s plums from the freezer). If I can get my act together, blog posts about those will appear at some point!

Anyway, here we are in September, and although the weather is nice today, the nights are starting to draw in (my running club has switched to its winter routes as it’s too dark for us to run around the parks now) and the autumn veg are making an appearance. A friend gave me a giant courgette the other day, and there was only one thing for it – I had to make my mum’s zucchini cake. A quick search of this blog revealed that I haven’t actually ever posted the recipe, and that is a serious oversight as it’s one of my family’s classic favourites. We lived in America for four years when I was small (which is why we call it ‘zucchini cake’ rather than ‘courgette cake’) and my mum picked the recipe up from a friend, and it became a regular feature of my childhood. It’s quite a plain, unassuming cake – the sort of thing you’d make so you have something in the cake tin for the weekend, rather than for a celebration – but it’s seriously yummy. Lightly spiced with cinnamon, lovely and moist, and perfect eaten just as it is with a cup of tea or coffee, or warmed and served with vanilla ice cream for a Sunday pudding treat.

If you’re turning up your nose in horror at the idea of putting courgettes in a cake, just think of carrot cake – that’s perfectly fine and delicious, isn’t it, and trust me when I say that zucchini cake is just as good. The white part of the courgette almost melts into the cake and adds to the lovely light texture, so you’re left with tiny dark green flecks of courgette running through each slice. We don’t put icing on ours, but it would be lovely with a lemon glacé icing or a vanilla buttercream. This recipe makes two cakes and works equally well with loaf tins or round 8″ tins – make sure your tin is nice and deep, though. It also freezes really well. You could even make two shallower 8″ cakes and sandwich them together with buttercream! The measurements are in cups, I’m afraid, but it’s very easy to get cup measurements from kitchenware shops these days and they are very useful for American recipes.


Zucchini Cake

Makes two 8″ cakes or two loaf cakes

3 eggs
1 cup sunflower oil
2 cups sugar
2 cups grated courgette (zucchini)
3 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking powder

Beat the eggs in a very large bowl. Add the oil, sugar, courgette and vanilla and mix well. Add the flour and other dry ingredients, mix well until fully combined.

Fill your greased and lined cake/loaf tins half full and bake at 190C/375F for 50-60 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.


Banana, spelt and oat muffins…

Hello! Yes, I’m back again. I went and ran a marathon in Manchester – 4:28.27, in case you were wondering. It was a bloody hard run and I pretty much loathed miles 16-23, but I’m proud of the fact that I eventually managed to pull myself together and leg it for the last three miles! During my seven-mile pity party the 4:30 pacer overtook me, which led to another round of ‘This is all pointless, I am rubbish, I’ve buggered it all up’ wailing, but with a mile and a half to go to the finish on Sir Matt Busby Way I overtook them again and ended up with mile 26 being the fastest mile of my entire race (a habit that drives my running coach friend absolutely crazy as I do it all the time in training as well. And I do all my training runs at or faster than marathon pace…). Before the marathon, my goals were a) to run faster than I did in London last year (4:32) and b) to come in under four and a half hours. So on paper, I achieved everything I set out to achieve. I just need to come to terms with that and stop thinking that if I’d paced it a bit better and not had a complete meltdown with ten miles to go, I might have come in nearer the 4:20 pace I set out doing.

But enough of that! Muffins. This is the second time I’ve made this recipe, which I originally adapted from this BBC recipe when I was in Somerset over Easter. My mum had some seriously manky bananas in the fruit bowl, so I turned them into muffins. And then this week my housemate also had some blackening bananas, so she told me to feel free to make muffins with them as well!

I wanted my muffins to be a bit healthier than the original recipe, so I added oats, used coconut oil instead of butter, reduced the amount of sugar, and this time I used spelt flour instead of ordinary flour. It worked really well – they’re nutty, not too sweet and nicely oaty. I’m going to give you the full recipe that I used here, because it’s changed so much from the one that inspired me that it’s pretty much a new recipe in its own right!


Banana, spelt and oat muffins

Makes 10 muffins


75g coconut oil

200g spelt flour

75g oats (any oats will do – this time I used M&S five grain and seed porridge which was awesome)

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

pinch of salt

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

50g caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 large, ripe bananas

2 medium eggs

125ml milk (I used Koko coconut milk)


1. Preheat the oven to 190C.

2. Melt the coconut oil in a small pan and allow to cool slightly. In a medium-sized bowl, mash the bananas well and beat in the eggs, vanilla extract, melted coconut oil and milk.

3. In a separate bowl, add the spelt flour, oats, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, sugar, salt and spices and mix together.

4. Add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and give it a quick mix until just combined (it’s OK if it’s still a little lumpy).

5. Spoon into a muffin tin lined with paper cases and bake for 20-25 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

6. Allow to cool in the tin for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool thoroughly.


A lovely day…

The weather has been gorgeous this week. On Sunday I spent most of the afternoon (after my 15-mile run, of course – yes, I’m marathon training again!) in a pub beer garden with friends, wearing a short-sleeved dress and sunglasses! And it’s been gorgeously sunny all week.

I think all the sunshine must have inspired my latest papercut – I’d been wanting to experiment with adding words to my papercuts, which is a bit more fiddly than an ordinary design because everything is drawn and cut on the back of the paper, so your words need to be cut out backwards so they’ll be the right way round on the finished design. It’s fairly straightforward thanks to the wonder of tracing paper, though, and I’m quite pleased with my first attempt! I’m learning as I go – I’ve discovered that the coloured paper I have, while cheerful and bright, is a bit too thin and that means it’s difficult to control the craft knife. My 150gsm art paper is much better – and I can always use the coloured paper as gorgeous backgrounds to show off the designs!

IMG_20140314_135458I’ve also set up a Facebook page for my work, so if you fancy having a closer look just go to Allie in Wonderland on Facebook and ‘like’ the page to receive all of my updates and whatnot. And do get in touch if you’d like to buy a personalised design – I can do any name or short message, with whatever background colour you’d like, and papercuts like the one in this post, which are 21x21cm, are £18 unframed or £20 with a frame.

Adventures in papercutting…

I’ve been having a go at being a bit crafty lately (well, I’ve got to do something with that Art A-level I took 14 years ago…) and I fancied seeing if I could learn how to make something like the lovely papercuts I’d seen on Pinterest and on other craft blogs.

So I got myself a craft knife, a cutting mat and some paper, and off I went…


Not bad for a beginner, eh? I framed a few in nice bright frames – as you can see, I quite like trees and birds!

IMG_20140301_143939 IMG_20140301_143752 IMG_20140301_143653

Pullat, not pancakes…

ImageI know. I KNOW. It’s been nearly ten months since I last blogged. What can I say? Life sort of got in the way for a bit, with a new house, new job, holidays and all sorts of other bits and pieces. But here I am, back again, and I’m going to attempt to stick around!

It being Shrove Tuesday today, it’d be traditional to make pancakes. But a couple of friends of mine had a pancake party, so I’m a bit pancaked out (I didn’t believe that was possible, but there you go!) Then a post from Scandi Home popped up on my blog reader, and I decided to have a go at the laskiaispullat – Finnish Shrove Tuesday buns – mentioned in the post. My sister (who’s still living in Finland) was very impressed when I told her I was making them!

The recipe is really easy, using baking powder as a straightforward raising agent rather than fiddling about with yeast, and they’re packed with cardamom which is a really traditional Finnish flavour. I made mine in a silicone muffin tin and got six buns out of the batter. They puffed up like muffins, and they have a muffin-like texture too. I had mine with some caramel apple jam – although I think they’re usually served with jam or marzipan and whipped cream.

ImageThey were absolutely delicious – and yes, that is a Moomin mug with coffee in the background! You can’t get more Nordic than that.

Lentil, artichoke, mushroom and asparagus salad…

I am all about the asparagus at the moment. I’m not totally obsessive about where my food comes from, but I do try to avoid buying fruit and veg that has been shipped from far-flung countries – especially when, if you just wait for the right season, the British version is a million times better. That’s not to say I don’t buy foreign raspberries in January, but when it comes to two things – strawberries and asparagus – I really do try to only buy British and only buy in season. Apparently strawberries are a little late this year (but that just means that when they do arrive, in the next week or so, they’ll be super sweet and juicy as they’ve had a longer, slower ripening time) but British asparagus has now appeared in the shops and on the market near where I work. I think there’s something nice about only eating British asparagus – it makes it into a real treat for those few weeks that it’s available.

Anyway, I wanted something healthy involving asparagus, and I also had some portobello mushrooms from last week’s veg box, and so this idea came about. It’s not exactly rocket science, and it’s not really a recipe, but it was delicious (if I do say so myself!)
IMG_20130521_190453Lentil, artichoke, mushroom and asparagus salad

Serves 2


3 portobello mushrooms, sliced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tin green lentils, drained

1 bunch asparagus, chopped into 1″ pieces

1 tin artichoke hearts, drained and halved

Juice of half a lemon

Salt and pepper to taste


1. Heat a little oil in a pan and gently fry the mushrooms until they’ve released their juice and soaked it all back up again. Add the garlic and fry for another minute or so (be careful not to burn it).

2. Put the mushrooms in a bowl with the lentils. Add the asparagus to the frying pan with a little water and cook until tender.

3. Add the asparagus, artichoke hearts, lemon juice and seasoning to the bowl and stir to mix everything together.

4. Serve warm, topped with a fried or poached egg.


Apple, honey and polenta cake. And a new oven…

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve just moved house. And I do mean house – for the last four and a half years I’ve been in a flat by myself, but now I’m sharing a whole house with one of my ‘honorary sisters’. It’s just up the road from my old flat and it’s totally gorgeous. There’s a garden and a bath and a kitchen big enough to swing at least three cats in (don’t try this at home) and the neighbours put their bins out on the right day and there are no mice (although there was a fox in the garden the other day, who leapt out from the bushes while my friend and I were sitting out there having a chat!)

We moved in just before the Bank Holiday weekend and then promptly buggered off to Somerset for a family christening, but the boxes are mostly unpacked now and I’ve pretty much finished sorting out my bedroom. I’ve put my pictures up on the walls and bought a new lamp and it’s all looking lovely.

On Friday night, my friend brought her three-week-old baby round for supper, and I decided to try out the oven in the new house. I made a really easy puff pastry tart thing with some of my homemade onion marmalade, Brie and purple sprouting broccoli, and then pudding was this (delicious, if I do say so myself) apple, honey and polenta cake which I’d spotted on Domestic Sluttery. I’d discovered a bag of polenta during the move that I’d completely forgotten I had, and I already had apples and honey, so it seemed perfect. The recipe says it will take 50-60 minutes to cook, but mine took more like an hour and a half because using my 8″ tin resulted in a very deep cake.

IMG_20130510_202935I really liked the fact that you line the bottom of the tin with apples and cinnamon and then pour the batter onto that, and then turn it out like an upside-down cake. I wasn’t even particularly precious about how I put the apple slices into the tin, but it came out looking really pretty! It’s a gorgeously rich and buttery cake (well, it does have an entire 250g pack of butter in it…) and it went seriously well with a blob of Greek yogurt. It also stays wonderfully moist and because it’s quite dense it tastes just as good the next day or even the day after that (if there’s any left by that point…)

Veg Box Day: 30/04/13


Hoorah for Veg Box Day! And for the first purple sprouting broccoli of the year! I’m very excited (yes, I know, sad or what!)

As well as my PSB I got courgettes, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, spring carrots with their tops and cherry tomatoes. I’m not sure when I’ll have time to actually cook with any of it as I’m moving house in the next few days, but I’m sure I’ll find something to do with it all!

London Marathon 2013…

A little late with my report on my marathon efforts, but here we are!

After one of the craziest weeks of my life, which involved not sleeping for 36 hours but ended with a friend having an amazing baby so it was all OK in the end, I had about a day to get my head around the fact that I’d be running the London Marathon on Sunday 21st April. Thankfully a lovely friend of mine lives just a few minutes’ walk from Blackheath, where my start was, and she kindly put me up on the Saturday night which meant I didn’t have to worry about getting over to the start from Ealing. There are three starts for the marathon – Red is for charity runners, Blue is for runners with ballot places and Green is for celebrity/media runners and those with good for age places (runners who have met a particular qualifying time in a previous marathon). Having been lucky enough to get a place via the hugely oversubscribed public ballot that takes place every year, I was in the Blue start – and you line up based on your predicted time so I was quite near the back, in pen 7 of the 9 pens! Chatting to the runners around me, we were all aiming for around the 4:30 mark, and we were all worried about the warm weather. Yes, I know to most people a forecast 14 degrees might not seem warm, but given the fact that we’d all spent six months training in sub-zero conditions, the sunny weather on marathon day was a bit of a concern!

So we all set off, and I was amazed at how quickly we got to the start. I’d been warned it could take 10 or 15 minutes – or even half an hour – to get to the start but in fact before I knew it I turned the corner and the start was there in front of me! I think I was only about seven minutes behind the runners in the front pens. And the first few miles breezed by. I had a whale of a time running around bits of London I’d never seen before, past the Cutty Sark, and through Rotherhithe, where I lived as a student. The crowds were incredible and it seemed like every time I looked up, I was approaching another mile marker. My plan had been to set off at 10-minute miles and see how long I could keep that up, but of course I got a bit swept up in the atmosphere and ended up averaging more like 9:45/mile for the first 10 miles or so. I made a conscious effort to slow down, but until mile 18 I was still having a brilliant time, breezing along without too much to trouble me except the fact that I was extremely warm. They have ‘showers’ – mists of water to run through – en route, so I made full use of those, and the fire brigade helped out by hosing the runners down at a couple of points! At mile 17 I saw my friends who live on the Isle of Dogs, and I’d already seen a few Ealing Eagles out and about on the course cheering the 25 runners who represented the club. Then I knew my parents would be at mile 20, by which point I – mainly mentally – was struggling a bit. The sun really started to affect me from about mile 18 onwards, and my mental state wasn’t helped by the fact that every time I went through a tunnel or under a big bridge, my Garmin watch lost its satellite signal and started telling me I was doing 12-minute miles. I knew I’d slowed down but I didn’t think I’d slowed down that much, and even though realistically I knew I was still doing OK, I started to believe that I’d messed up my race. I had a bit of a self-pitying moment when I saw my parents – who couldn’t understand what I was on about because I’d told them I’d probably be passing mile 20 at about 1.30pm and it was bang on 1.30pm when I arrived – but still I was saying ‘I can’t keep it up, I can’t do it, it’s all gone wrong’. Nevertheless, I knew I only had another three miles to go before I’d see the incredible Eagles cheering squad, who had set up camp at mile 23. So I soldiered on and tried to ignore the voice in my head that was telling me I’d be lucky to come in under five hours, let alone hit the 4:30 target I was aiming for. Seeing the Eagles was amazing and it gave me a huge boost – around 100 friends and supporters from my running club all screaming my name! That got me through the euphemistically-named ‘Lucozade Tunnel of Yes’ at mile 24, which was more like the Lucozade Tunnel of Wee as all the men took the opportunity to have a quick wazz while out of sight of the crowds.


And then I was on the Embankment and I could see the Houses of Parliament – and across the river, St Thomas’ Hospital where my friend had assured me that she and her brand new baby would be waving from the window overlooking the Thames! At this point I ‘only’ had a mile to go…but of course it felt like the longest mile of my life. At the ‘600m to go’ point I saw a man who had collapsed and was receiving treatment, and the thought of how awful it would be to have to give up having come so far spurred me on to what in my mind was a ‘sprint finish’ but what actually was just ‘lumbering along a bit faster than I had been before’. When I saw the official race clock was at 4:39 I knew I was OK – I hadn’t managed sub-4:30 but I was there or thereabouts. And as it turned out, my official finish time was 4:32.40 – not bad for a first attempt at a marathon! Talking to people afterwards the consensus was that everyone had been affected by the warm day and everyone had found the last 10 miles really tough, which made me feel a lot better! And actually when I looked at my official splits, I was extremely consistent until mile 18 and even after that my pace didn’t drop as dramatically as I’d thought at the time!

All in all, it was an amazing day – I couldn’t believe the crowds, the atmosphere and the noise all the way around the course! People who have run London in previous years said that this year’s support was the best ever, and it certainly felt like that. And I’m happy with my time…although I’ve put my name in the ballot for next year so I can try to get that 4:29!


Onion marmalade…

I haven’t posted about Veg Box Day for a while, but I’ve still been getting my Riverford box every two weeks! And I realised the other day that while I’ve been worrying about the Great Potato Mountain and things to do with Jerusalem artichokes, I’ve also been collecting a quite impressive pile of onions. So I had a look through the recipe cards that come with each veg box, and found a simple-looking onion marmalade recipe. It called for 1kg of onions and when I weighed mine they were about 980g, so I thought brilliant, let’s give it a go.

IMG_20130413_163409I can’t actually find the exact recipe on the Riverford website, but here it is with my little tweaks (I added mixed spice and chilli flakes because I didn’t have the suggested thyme)

Onion marmalade

2tbsp olive oil

1kg onions, peeled, halved and finely sliced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 tsp mixed spice

1/4 tsp red chilli flakes

125-150g brown sugar

150-175ml balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper

1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, add the onions and garlic and cook on a medium heat until the onions are starting to soften.

2. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft and starting to caramelise (about 45 minutes).

3. Add the mixed spice and chilli.

4. Turn the heat up briefly, add the brown sugar and balsamic vinegar, and bubble for a couple of minutes.

5. Turn the heat back down to low and cook until almost all the liquid is absorbed and the onions have turned into a sticky marmalade. Season with salt and pepper.

6. Pour into sterilised jars (I got one normal-sized jam jar and one slightly smaller one) while hot and screw the lids on tightly. The safety buttons on the jar lids should pop down as the marmalade cools, and then you should be able to keep it for months like any other jam. Otherwise keep it in the fridge – it probably won’t be very long before it all gets eaten, but it should last a good few days!

Of course I had to try a bit, with some oozy Brie and wholemeal soda bread…