The travels on my plate.

There are some advantages to the Doctor in the house being away. Which he is, a lot.

Mealtimes are just for me. Fishfinger sandwiches were one of the first things I ever wrote about on here.

Last night however, was a bit more elaborate. I enjoy my food, relish strong flavours and sometimes a meal can take me somewhere else completely in my head. Yesterday evening had me eating tofu with ginger, pak choi and jasmine rice. It was delicious. The recipe called for Sake, and the heady scent of plums, or is it cherries, took me straight to a Japanese snow covered mountainside.

Somewhere like this...

Somewhere like this…

I have never been to Japan and one day I would love to go. When the silence closes in around me, when the children have gone to bed and the quietness of the house hangs around me like a cloak, I think of places I have been to or might go to in the future. Those ‘glamorous getaways’ that I am sent emails about and that I can only sigh at before pressing the delete button.

Cooking has never been quite the same for me since I had children. My eldest son, at nine, is convinced that most food is actually poisonous. Black bits, green bits, fatty bits, lumpy bits? All qualify food for instant rejection. Don’t even mention fruit. Don’t even talk about it.

Then there is my daughter, who will gnaw on bits of meat like some kind of warrior queen. Provide her with a piece of steak that looks so rare that it is possible that the cow only just walked past the frying pan before ending up on the plate, and you will be greeted with a beatific smile. The little one is somewhere in between the two of them. I can never, ever, make them all happy at once.

Sometimes I like to forget the need to take a deep breath before putting a family meal on the table. Instead of waiting for a vote out of ten, or a thumbs up or down, I will eat a Thai curry with creamy coconut and the twang of kaffir lime leaves, remembering the time I spent in Bangkok in my twenties.

I will smell the rich enveloping fragrance of a lemony, buttery roast chicken and recall Sunday lunches for fourteen at my Grandma’s house, getting slightly tipsy on homemade ginger beer, and being allowed whipped cream from a can on my ice-cream for pudding.

Hand me a paper parcel of fat golden chips and freshly battered cod and I will be instantly transported to a pebbly Suffolk beach, on holiday, the sea so far away from where I am now.

I can’t wait until my children really start to love their food all the time, as sometimes they show me they do. They are missing out. In a world full of diet shakes, calorie counting and low fat, low taste, are you?

Smiling while running?

Yes, despite the unsmiling runners, this proves others do love it too...

Yes, despite the unsmiling runners, others do love it too…

Until recently, I didn’t understand why a lot of other runners wouldn’t smile back at me as I was limbering up to full speed on the country roads leading out of the village I live in.

Running makes me unbelievably happy. I was a pretty good long distance runner at school but didn’t rediscover it until my late thirties. Now I’m a regular. I will run in wind, rain, hail, snow, heat (in England ‘heat’ is anything over 20C) – balking only when I think I might break my ankle on ice. I once ran 9 miles in pouring rain. If anyone else had been out, which they weren’t as they were clearly saner than me, they’d have seen someone so wet you could have wrung me out and filled the nearest reservoir.

After my initial rediscovery of running, I felt like I’d had some sort of epiphany. I wanted to go up to total strangers, poke them and explain what they were missing. I was like some sort of running evangelist, leaping about, hands in the air, trying to spread the word. I’ve calmed down since then, although if no-one is looking I have been known to start waving my hands in the air for other reasons, generally because of whatever is on my iPod. I really do hope no-one ever does see that, as the blue lights and sirens might end up not being far behind.

I have to be honest and say that initially I took it up as I was working from home and needed some exercise to lose weight. However, unless you’re really going to get the miles in, this doesn’t really stack up. For example, two days ago, I ran almost 5 miles and according to my beloved Garmin, I burnt off something in the region of 550 calories. Basically if you went into Starbucks and ordered a Grande wholemilk hot chocolate with whipped cream, you’d have wiped out the whole run in the course of the ten minutes it took you to drink it. Fortunately buckets of hot chocolate don’t do it for me, so I’m relatively safe. Puts it into perspective doesn’t it?

You’re ok if you’re an ultra runner though. For those 40, 50 mile or longer (try this one?) runs, which are a whole other level of craziness addiction, you are allowed to eat cake on the way round.

So I don’t run to lose weight or even to maintain my weight. In reality, I run to let go of stress. There are very few things that have the same effect on me and now I understand why some other runners don’t smile. It is because they are focusing on being alone. When a slightly sweaty woman in skin tight pink and black neon flashes them a broad grin from the other side of the road, this is interfering with their production of Alpha waves. These are the ‘smooth, regular, electrical oscillations in the brain that occur when a person is awake but relaxed’ source. Even that definition makes me feel relaxed. When I run, I can go out feeling like a bag of knotted rope and come back feeling like a bunch of little white flowers have opened out in my brain. I’m happy when I come home and the rest of my family get the benefit.

One of the other things that seems to do this for me, is writing. So despite the fact that I have a million things to do today, this is why I’m here, writing about running.

What does the same for you?

The Greenhouse

One of the things I love in life, and won’t scrimp on, is food. My theory is that since you never know what is going to happen next, there’s no point in wasting the time you have and it’s the smallest things that often make the difference. For example, if you can afford it, why eat what my mum used to call ‘plastic bread’ (the sliced white kind that weirdly lasts about two weeks before it goes off), when you can pay a little bit more and really enjoy eating an amazing piece of sourdough, a slice of kalamata olive loaf or a freshly torn off wedge of baguette. As you can tell, I’m clearly never going to survive on the Atkins diet. In fact diets in general upset me. You are never going to persuade me to eat fat free yoghurt, diet Coke, margarine, or any other fake food; especially when it doesn’t even taste good.

I am fussy about restaurants. If I could cook something perfectly well at home, I don’t understand why I should pay someone three times the price to make it for me when I’m out. I dutifully attended my husband’s aunt’s 70th birthday party at the weekend. It was a happy occasion but the hotel where we ate was stuck somewhere in the 1970s. As I scanned the menu, I almost spat out my Chardonnay at the mention of an orange juice option. There is no reason why ‘natural fruit juice’ should appear on the menu as a starter, anywhere, ever, in the year 2013. I suppose we should have been grateful it was natural though, as I wouldn’t have liked to try the unnatural sort.  The meal was fine, my children ate it (mostly) but it was equivalent to eating a British school dinner. Boring, a bit heavy, it smacked of mass catering. There was no joy evident in the making of it and yes I could have cooked something better myself.

I contrast this with The Greenhouse, which I had the very rare opportunity of eating in two days ago. This is not a restaurant you would find by chance. Hidden down a little Mews street in an exclusive area of London, you suddenly come across a path bordered by clumps of bamboo, their tall green leaves waving in the breeze. The feeling is as though you are about to enter a spa not a restaurant. As you wander in, already feeling relaxed, you are met by waiting staff who seem to have been born in charm school. They are knowledgeable, polite, friendly and warm but not overbearing. They seem to love their jobs. It is waiting staff as waiting staff are meant to be. I want to bring their trainer home and get him to educate my children. Are you sensing my rapture about this place yet? 

Then there’s the food. I took a few pictures but since I only had my phone, most didn’t come out very well. So you will have to imagine the the tandoori Highland scallops with green asparagus, ginger and lemon. However, I’ll allow you a glimpse of the line caught sea bass with yuzu, chlorophyll herbs and polenta.20130416_132636 (2) 
One picture my friend took really does show what I am talking about.

 What came with coffee

Like something out of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory,  this is more than food, it’s art. The chef who made this has passion for what he does. Every dish is beautiful, every mouthful a flavour bomb. I don’t believe in doing things without putting in 100%. Clearly he doesn’t either. I’m not one of those people lucky enough to be able to afford to eat in this kind of place very often but maybe I don’t want to as I don’t ever want to take this kind of opportunity for granted.  The memory will keep me happy for weeks.