Archive for May, 2016

Leeds Half Marathon

Saturday, May 21st, 2016 | Sport

leeds-half-marathon

I have considered doing a half marathon on and off for a couple of years. There are lots of good reasons not to do it though: for example it’s really hard, hurts a lot and requires a lot of training. And all you get out of it is the feeling that you have done, which isn’t that amazing, because it’s only half a full marathon.

However, with a less intense flag football season this year, being on a fitness drive, and this being my last chance before a tiny human started cutting into my free time, it seemed like a good year to go for it.

Half marathons are a whole new level from 10ks. 10k is pretty easy. If you run regularly, which I do, you don’t really need to do that much training. When I’m going through a good period, a 5k and a 10k is my weekly programme. Half marathons are a step up. After 10k my knees start to go. I get back pain. Things start to chafe and bladder control is put to the test.

Being on the 8th of May, this meant I was doing most of my training in March and April. If you will remember, April was really cold. I did most of my training in the early morning or evening, in not much above freezing.

april-weather

Roll on May, and a week before the marathon it suddenly becomes incredibly hot (for Britain) and everyone is scrabbling around for barbecues. Including me. On the day in question, it was 23 degrees. I had done all my training with my leggings on, to help support my knees, so I didn’t want to change it for the day. Which made for a warm experience.

marathon-weather

I had put my target time down as 2:15:00, but quickly had to re-evaluate this when I realised I had not factor in all the hills (I run up the canal in training, which is relatively flat). Then again when it suddenly hit 23 degrees. In the end I ran a 2:28:00. I think I would have been disappointed to slip over 2:30:00, so this was fine. And sure, there were people who ran it in less than half of that time. But how many children did they high-five? I mean, anyone can win the slalom if they don’t go round the flags.

I was so tired by the time I finished. I found a patch of ground in the shade and sat down to take a drink. After a few minutes I got up to go find Elina, only to realise I was going to have to sit down again and eat some snacks from the goodie bag before I was going to be in a position to walk anywhere.

chris-dying

Luckily, once I had regained the use of my legs, my beautiful support crew was there to greet me with more drinks and snacks. We took 17 photos, the one below was the best we could get.

chris-at-end

The advantage of living in town is that I could go home, have a quick shower, and then go back out for lunch. As we walked out again I passed a number of other runners who were very confused by my combination of jeans and finisher’s t-shirt. We ended up at Blackhouse, where I highly recommend the t-bone as recovery steak, and the rib eye if your pregnant wife needs a well-done piece of beef.

One thing I like about the Run For All series is how well organised they are. I’ve only run the Leeds 10 and Abbey Dash, so I don’t have a huge range of comparisons, but Run For All seem to do a good job: clearly-marked pacers, easy to access water stations, starts on time and you get your result within seconds of crossing the line.

Has this experience inspired me to run a full-length marathon? Dear god no.

The Time Machine

Friday, May 20th, 2016 | Books

The Time Machine is a science fiction novel written by H. G. Wells. It was published in 1895 and tells the story of a man who travels into the distance future to find that humanity has split into two separate species.

It feels more modern than it should. The ideas are rich and relevant. I had to keep reminding myself that it was not merely a piece that attempted to invoke Victorian society as a backdrop: it was genuinely written in these times.

It was quite a short read; about half the length of a typical novel. Very much enjoyable.

the-time-machine

The Expectant Dad’s Survival Guide

Thursday, May 19th, 2016 | Books

The Expectant Dad’s Survival Guide is a pregnancy book by Rom Kemp.

It cuts a nice channel between the super-factual but not very engaging What To Expect, and the highly engaging but far less informative Fatherhood: The Truth.

It covers the practical stuff that you need, what to expect during labour and the first few months after the birth. As with other books, he has surveyed his friends to back each point up with a range of anecdotes. More interestingly, there is also advice from a midwife (who is also a father himself), The book does a far-better-than-average job of not patronising (no “oh wow, you want to be involved with your baby – but you’re a man!” that is common with pregnancy books).

expectant-dads-survival-guide

Who are the best national ice hockey teams?

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016 | Sport

ice-hockey

The ice hockey world championships are currently taking place in Moscow. No prizes for guessing who the Worfolk household is supporting. Finland won gold in 2011, and took a silver in 2014, but failed to score any medal last year.

To predict our chances, I took the medal data from the past ten years and graphed it.

ice-hockey-national-teams

The competition has been going for almost a hundred years now. In comparison to the early days, it is a pretty open contest. In the first 26 years, Canada took gold in 18 of them. Great Britain also took a gold in 1936! From 1963 onwards, the Soviets were unbeatable. Until 1987, when Sweden took gold, the only other team to beat the Russians were Czechoslovakia: the Soviet Union took the other 18 golds.

Today, Russia remain the dominant force in ice hockey. In the past decade they have taken as many golds as their nearest rivals, Sweden and Canada, put together. They are far from unbeatable though. In three of those years, they failed to bring home a medal. Sad as I am to admit it, Sweden has the edge over Finland at the moment. Though a gold at this year’s event would put them clear ahead.

The “big five”: Russia, Sweden, Canada, Finland and Czech Republic win basically everything. This is a suprise to many people, who assume that because the United States’s NHL is the biggest ice hockey league in the world, their national team must be really good. But they’re not. Two bronzes, and a silver each for Slovakia and Switzerland are the only medals to go elsewhere.

Eurovision 2016 wrap-up

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016 | Distractions

eurovision-2016

So, Eurovision 2016 is over and Ukraine have won the day. Now that Russia haven’t won, I can start enjoying Sergey Lazarev’s “You Are The Only One” for the quite good song that it really is. There were no obviously rubbish songs this year. I think that is the problem with the semi-final system: it filters out all of the really crazy stuff.

Sweden rocked our world

I thought Sweden did a brilliant job of hosting. It was a little different, and definitely for the better. I am pleased Justin Timberlake performed. Not because I am a big Timberlake fan, but I hope that it will lend a note of legitimacy to the contest that will encourage bigger names to take part, which can only benefit the UK (with our massive stock of big artists).

They also stole the show with the best song of the night…

The UK did not do very well

Alas. It was looking quite good for Joe & Jake when the judges’ votes came in, but the public did not feel the same way. It’s a shame because I think it is one of the better songs we have put up recently.

The new voting system is odd

I think I prefer the old system. The new system does keep the surprise until right at the very end, but then it also makes the rest feel a bit pointless. They have to rush round the other countries, with only one score announcement each and the tedious reminder to get on wit hit. Do they not brief the people giving the scores beforehand so they know to just get on with it?

I was hoping we could make some FiveThirtyEight-style paths to victory which showed how a country was doing compared to how it should have been doing. For example, if Belarus gives us two points and Russia eight points, on the face of it, that would seem to put Russia ahead. But it doesn’t of course, because they would normally give Russia 12 points and us nothing. It would be interesting to model, but the new system makes it impossible (it would have been difficult before anyway).

The public have very different opinions

Poland, who you will remember entered a rubbish song, were rightly at the bottom when the judges’ scores had been set up. Yet when the public vote came in, they were third from top. This happened to them a few years ago when their churning milkmaids were shunned by the British jury but very popular with the British public. This time, on a European-wide scale.

I’ve come round to songs

I initially shunned Laura Tesoro’s “What’s The Pressure” when listening beforehand. However, seeing it in the contest brought it to life.

It’s a fun, upbeat song and I like the retro disco theme. Even more impressive, that girl has moves! Have you tried doing a dance that choreographed while belting out a song like that? It is damn hard to sing and play an instrument at the same time, and I imagine singing and dancing is harder.

Also, Jamie-Lee’s “Ghost” was so bizarre that I can’t get it out of my head.

As Graham Norton pointed out, they clearly had a lot of costume ideas: and liked them all.

Nordic Cookbook

Monday, May 16th, 2016 | Books, Food

the-nordic-cookbook

The Nordic Cookbook is a book on Nordic cooking by Magnus Nilsson. The first thing you notice about it, is it’s size. It’s not quite A4, but it’s not far off. The depth of it is even more impressive. It weights in at over 750 pages. It’s so heavy: a real struggle to lift with one hand.

It covers Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands.

It is well presented. Being so big, it does not have great structural integrity. The spine moves around a lot. It stays open really well though. It also comes with two ribbons for saving your place.

The chapters, organised by food type, are broken up with full-page photographs from across the Nordics. Many of which are very beautiful. It’s printed in quite a dull matte.

The recipes themselves are poor. Nilsson starts the book by explaining that you won’t be able to make a lot of the recipes because you will not be able to get the ingredients or do the cooking methods. He’s right. There are maybe five recipes to a spread, so there are probably somewhere in the region of 800 recipes in this book. How many did I manage to make? 19.

This is in-part by design. He explains that is a guide to Nordic food, rather than a recipe book. Some of the stuff is just boring. Everything is served with boiled potatoes. Some stuff you have to cook for six hours.

You also need some local knowledge. There is typically a paragraph or two for each recipe, one explaining where the dish comes from and a brief one explaining what to do. Other than that though, you are pretty much on your own. Photos are few and far between. Occasionally you get a full-page photo with six dishes on it, each one labelled. So there is sometimes a pictorial guide, sometimes not.

If you are after a book that captures the essence of Nordic cuisine, tells you how to make authentic recipes and contains some beautiful photography, this is a good book to get. As a straight-up cookbook, it’s less useful.

Related posts

Monday, May 16th, 2016 | News

I have added a related posts feature to my blog. If you click through to the full page for the post (by clicking the title), you will now see a list of up to four related posts at the bottom. Unfortunately WordPress is not picking up the images correctly on all posts, so some are missing thumbnails. The content seems to work quite well though.

related-posts

Barbecue

Sunday, May 15th, 2016 | Food

barbecue

After Elina was given a book in barbecuing as a Secret Santa present (as you do) I was determined we were going to make some use out of it. So I put in my calendar that on the first of April, we would buy a barbecue. Basically none of that happened. We never cracked the book, my dad gave me a small barbecue, so I didn’t have to buy one, and then the weather went back to winter for a month.

Now it is May though, and the warmth has returned. So, armed with a sea bream and a red mullet I assembled the barbecue, filled it with briquettes and lighting gel, and set the thing in fire. It went out. I added more paper and tried it again. It went out again. Determined to prove my manliness I tried a third time with loads of paper. Still no luck. I stormed off angrily.

I took five minutes to calm down, and then back to sort it out and clear it away. It was packing out heat. Turns out that even though the flames had died down really quickly, the thing was in fact lit. Victory! My manliness in fact I put the fish into my fish-holder-thing and began to barbecue.

In the mean time I started cooking a soup, so I spent the next twenty minutes running between the balcony and the cooker trying to keep both of them going at once.

The red mullet was not a big winner on the dinner table. It’s firm flesh did not come off the bone easily. However, the sea bass cooked beautifully. The flesh tore away, the skin was crispy and the meat was tasty. Further research comparing it to sea bass and mackerel is needed.

Nordic baking

Saturday, May 14th, 2016 | Food

Last month, I wrote about my experiments with Nordic cooking. Having worked my way through the recipes, I then moved onto the second half of the book: the desserts and baking chapters. Excitingly, this opens Nordic cuisine to a whole range of colours, rather than just brown.

Ginger cake

Okay, I’ll give you, this one is still brown. But a ginger cake in any other colour might look a little strange. Those biscuits at the side of the tin are actually…

Shortbread

Shortbread. Made to Douglas’s recipe. I don’t know who Douglas is, but he worked in a Swedish restaurant. You hollow out the middle, fill it with jam, and then bake.

Blueberry tart

Blueberry tart. Of all the Nordic baking I have done, I think this probably looks the most Nordic. The filling is made with sour cream, and then you scatter the blueberries over (and inevitably into) it.

Glazed rasperry fingers

Danish glazed raspberry squares. You bake it as a full sheet of pastry and end up with a 30cm by 40cm single pastry that you then cut up. I found it easier to slice into fingers (finger shaped biscuits, rather than my own fingers) than squares. It’s simple to put together as you bake the two layers, leave to cool a little, then add the jam. You can add the icing later. Make sure you slice it up while still warm though, or it will become very brittle.

Gooey chocolate cake

Gooey chocolate cake. Oh my god this was so good. It comes out as a really thin layer in my 18cm tin, so I might try a smaller one. Or, more likely, the same tin with several times the amount of ingredients. You bake it until not quite set, then leave it to cool before eating. It is amazing warm as well.

Eurovision 2016: 24 hours to go

Friday, May 13th, 2016 | Distractions

eurovision-2016

Last weekend I published a preview of some of the songs to watch. Well, that’s all changed. I’ve been listening to the songs on Spotify all week and have some new favourites.

Russia

Not a song I want to win. In fact, I’m starting the hashtag #AnyoneButRussia. They are now heavy favourites though. Paddy Power are offering 1.57 on them. 2.0 would be evens (50% shot at winning), so they’re running away with it. The nearest rival is Australia at 11/2.

Australia

They have moved up to second favourite. It’s a good song.

Ukraine

Third favourites. They must be counting on a lot of political sympathy though. The song just isn’t that good. Bold topic, but not great music.

Poland

Poland are having a nightmare! The song I have been singing along to most this week has been Margaret’s Cool Me Down. It’s super-addictive. Great song. The bookies were loving it too.

Then I find out that they picked another song to compete in Eurovision. And it’s shit.

Norway

I’m disappointed Norway did not make it through. Agnete’s Icebreaker is a nice tune.

Malta

Another slower but nice song is Malta. It’s got that nice kick-up.

Conclusion

Obviously I hope Joe and Jake nail it for the UK. However, as I can’t vote for them, my favourite so far is Amir, representing France. It’s the only song I have been singing as much as Margaret.