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.

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.

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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!

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It’s been a long time…!

Over a month since my last post. Whoops!

Good old marathon training has truly taken over my life in the last few weeks. 20-mile runs, interval sessions, 10 miles every Wednesday…it doesn’t leave a lot of time for anything else! Add to that the fact that I’ve had the dreaded IT band issues (a phrase to strike fear into the heart of any runner and something that affects lots of people when they start marathon training) and I really have been eating, sleeping and breathing running. Thankfully my running club is sponsored by an excellent physio clinic, and they’ve certainly been doing well out of us recently – just about all of my training buddies have suffered some sort of injury or niggle! I’ve been having weekly physio appointments since my leg started hurting (and after a truly terrifying experience when what was meant to be a 22-mile run ended up with me stopping after 8 miles with stabbing pains in my knee…) and I’ve noticed a massive difference. My legs are stronger and I’m pretty much pain-free (apart from the obvious post-run aches!)

Before Easter training really ramped up an extra notch as I did 20 miles on the Sunday, 10 on the Wednesday and then 22.5 on Good Friday. Ouch! Last Friday saw me complete my last long run before the big day – a nice 16 miles along the river to Chiswick – and now I’m doing what’s called ‘tapering’, where you reduce your mileage in order to conserve energy for the marathon. I am having the classic ‘But surely I’m not running far enough? What if I suddenly lose all my fitness and forget how to run 20 miles?’ freakout, but I’m assured that’s perfectly normal, as is worrying about every single twinge and ache! But we’re less than two weeks away from the big day, and I’ve followed my training plan and worked my way up to some serious distances, and I’ve got three 20+ runs under my belt, so now I just have to trust that everything will be OK!

I will leave you with a photo of the amazing hazelnut meringue cake that my mum made for Easter Sunday lunch – and I’ll be back with the recipe!

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Snow!

After a thoroughly wet and mild Christmas, winter has finally arrived! It’s been 0 degrees or colder all this week (lots of fun for those of us who are marathon training…I know I like running in cold weather but -2 is pushing it even for me!) and today the snow came. It’s eased off a bit now but we’ve got a couple of inches on the ground with more snow showers forecast for the weekend.

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My excellent Finnish wellies really have come into their own!

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My parents have had even more snow in Somerset – six inches or so, I think. Here’s my dad walking across the fields to feed the horse this morning…

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…amazing to think that very same view looked like this just a few months ago…!

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Hope you all keep warm and enjoy the snow if it comes your way!

Leek and potato soup for a depressing day!

The weather has been AWFUL lately. We’ve escaped any actual flooding here in London, but the rest of the country seems to be largely underwater and there have been all sorts of problems down in the south-west, where my parents live.

Yesterday was actually quite a nice bright day, but today is grey and wet again, so I was very glad that I’d decided to make some leek and potato soup last night. Not only did it use up some of the Great Potato Mountain, but it also used the two leeks that formed the remnants of my last veg box (very excited about tomorrow’s box, by the way – brussels sprouts!)

I based it on the recipe from my good old copy of the Dairy Book of Home Cookery, which coincidentally called for two leeks and 350g of potatoes. It’s actually a recipe for Vichyssoise (with an instruction afterwards saying that you can also serve it hot as leek and potato soup, because obviously Vichyssoise would be one’s first thought…) but it’s as easy as any other soup recipe – I just cooked the leeks with a little bit of oil, added some garlic and nutmeg and black pepper, threw in the diced potatoes with a pint of veg stock, and simmered it for half an hour until the potatoes were really nice and soft. Then I put in half a cup of almond milk and blended it all to a nice smooth soup.

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I got exactly enough for three 300ml portions, and it was the perfect comfort food for a wet Monday lunchtime!

Carrot cake…

My first post on the new-look blog! Hope everyone has found me without too many problems…does anyone know how to display one’s followers on WordPress? I think I’ve got a lot to learn!

Anyway, here’s a post about carrot cake. Along with the never-ending Potato Mountain, my veg box often leaves me with rather a lot of carrots. For some reason I can never think of things to do with carrots! But on Saturday I was going to a party and I fancied doing a bit of baking, so I decided to make a carrot cake. I actually used my mum’s zucchini cake recipe (courgette cake to us Brits, but we call it zucchini cake because the recipe’s American) and it worked really well. I wanted to halve it, because the original amounts make two cakes, and as the recipe calls for three eggs I decided to use a mashed ripe banana as well as an egg, and I reduced the amount of oil.

Here’s the recipe itself…

Carrot cake

1 large egg
1 medium-sized really ripe banana
1/4 cup sunflower oil
1/2 cup light muscovado sugar
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 cup grated carrot
Large handful chopped walnuts
1 1/2 cups plain flour
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1/8 tsp baking powder

Mash the banana in a bowl, add the egg and beat together. Add the oil, sugar, carrot and walnuts and mix well.

Add the dry ingredients, mix well, pour into a lined cake tin (I used one that I think is 8″…), sprinkle with sugar and bake at 190C for about 50 minutes.

And here’s what it looked like shortly before it was demolished by a horde of hungry runners!

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Fireworks!

Bonfire Night isn’t until tomorrow, but this weekend has been full of organised fireworks displays all over the place. I’m lucky enough to have a particularly fantastic one right on my doorstep at my local cricket club – people come from miles around and there’s a huge crowd, mulled wine, an enormous bonfire and a brilliant half-hour fireworks extravaganza. Apart from one shower, the weather was crisp and cold and perfect for fireworks!

I went with a gang of running club people, and of course rather than attempt to cram ourselves into one of the local pubs afterwards, we sent a couple of the boys down to the corner shop and crammed ourselves into my flat instead for dodgy wine (apparently the only white on offer was Black Tower…!) and a ton of crisps and pizza. Thankfully I’d done my 12-mile run in the morning!

I also went to the V&A’s Hollywood Costume exhibition yesterday, which was fab. I really don’t know a lot about films (it’s always best to assume I haven’t seen things, because I probably haven’t…) but even I could recognise the iconic costumes from films through the ages. My favourites were a perfectly 60s green skirt and jumper combo from Mildred Pierce, and a navy sparkly number from Chicago. And of course there were Dorothy’s iconic ruby red slippers – although they’re more than a little shabby and faded these days! I’d definitely recommend going if you can get a ticket!

 And finally, this week I discovered this…

Ooh yeah. Can’t wait to make a butternut squash risotto and stir a bit of that in! In other news, I’ve started my Christmas shopping…

London 2012 Paralympics!

Having completely failed to get any Olympic tickets, I thought I was going to be disappointed with Paralympic tickets as well, as everyone got swept up in the amazing London 2012 fever and snapped up more tickets than have ever been sold for a Paralympics. I’ll admit, to begin with I wanted a ticket as an opportunity to visit the Olympic Park and see the stadium, but as the Paralympics began I became more and more excited about the idea of seeing the events themselves, especially the athletics.

And eventually, thanks to some amazing people at my fabulous running club, I got to go to the stadium not once but twice! I took far too many photos to put into one post, so I’ve made this collage thing which I hope will give a bit of an idea of the brilliant time I had!

First, last Sunday, we wandered around the park for a bit (it’s lovely, with wildflower meadows and incredible buildings and fantastic Games Maker volunteers) and then we saw an incredible night of athletics, including seeing the Duchess of Cambridge present British Paralympian Aled Davies with his discus gold medal and then watching the T44 200m final where Oscar Pistorius was beaten by Alan Oliveira. The atmosphere inside the stadium was totally electric all night, but after Pistorius’s defeat there was just a stunned silence. Thankfully along came David Weir to win a stunning gold for Paralympics GB in the T54 5000m! I’d never heard noise like it in a stadium!

And if that wasn’t enough, I then nabbed a spare ticket for Thursday’s session. Hannah Cockroft won gold, Dan Greaves bagged a silver in the F44 discus, we saw a couple of other GB bronze medals…and then it was time for the big one. The T44 100m final. Pistorius, Oliveira, GB’s Jonnie Peacock and a whole host of top athletes. And Jonnie Peacock pulled off an incredible run to take the gold! I thought the noise on Sunday was deafening but it was nothing compared to that moment…and then everyone went completely ape just moments later as David Weir won the 800m! If there had been a roof on the Olympic Stadium, it would have come off. We were also lucky enough to see Peacock and Weir collecting their gold medals!

I feel so fortunate to have been able to see two incredible nights of athletics, and I’m so glad I got to see the Olympic Park and the stadium in use. I can’t believe the whole thing will be over tomorrow night – what are we going to do with ourselves? People were cynical before the Olympics but I’m so happy that everyone seems to have got right behind it – and behind our Olympic and Paralympic athletes. I hope London can carry on the Olympic feeling far into the future!

A very vintage hen…

My lovely friend Sarah is getting married, and so yesterday a big group of us went out for the day to celebrate. We started off at Drink, Shop & Do near King’s Cross – I’d heard loads about it but had never been, and it was brilliant! We had tea and cakes and we made fascinators with ribbons and buttons and netting. It was great fun and a really good hen do activity as it got everyone talking and it meant we all left with our fascinators on, looking like a hen party, but a fairly classy hen party! 


The tea and cakes were lovely and they were really generous, and the Bellini cocktails were fab.

And here’s the fascinator I made!

Then we headed to the park for a picnic – yep, yet more cake and fizz! We also managed a fab celeb spot, as Kate Moss and Jamie Hince walked past with their dog! 

And finally, after a bit of glamming up, we went into town to the Firefly bar, which hosts the Saturday Night Swing Club every week. The bar is spread over three floors and in the middle is a room dedicated to dance lessons – every hour you can just show up and they’ll teach you the basics, and then you can go off and dance away to your heart’s content! Everyone dresses up in 50s gear and members of the London Swing Dance Society show up every week – which is brilliant because you’ll be dancing away and suddenly a proper bona fide swing-dancing man will grab you and twirl you around the floor and make you feel like you can dance really well! It was so much fun.

Jubilee eating!

As you might expect, I’ve done rather a lot of cooking, baking and eating over the holiday weekend!

First off, I made coconut meringues on Saturday, to take to yesterday’s barbecue. The thought of throwing away a load of egg yolks always puts me off making meringues, but now some genius people have come up with the idea of selling cartons of egg whites! Fabulous. I used this recipe by Miss Igs and it was perfect…

Then I was inspired to make some scones by a conversation I saw on Facebook! I used Delia’s classic recipe, but having read on the egg white carton that you can use three tablespoons of that to replace a whole egg, I decided to give that a go, and I didn’t have buttermilk so I just used almond milk instead. And the scones were lovely! I had one as a cheeky afternoon tea, with some caramel apple jam, and froze the rest (I got eight scones out of my dough rather than the 10 Delia suggests).

And then there was the barbecue itself! We had salads, beetroot and carrot slaw, grilled halloumi, veg kebabs (and some lamb bits and sausages) and I made baked falafel. Everything was totally delicious and we even had red, white and blue crisps!