I’ve read a good deal about ‘runners’ high’ but I have to confess over the last couple of weeks or so I have been experiencing what I can only describe as ‘runners’ low.’ It’s a strange and horrid thing which is quite difficult to define but ever since running 16k (10 miles) in France, I seem to have lost all sense of rhythm, energy, stamina, motivation and self-belief. Of course, I’m still training – with just under five weeks to go, I have to – but I’m finding it incredibly difficult and I’m backsliding into my old ‘resistance’ ways. I’m not moaning: after all, I wanted a personal challenge and there’s a clue in the definition. If it were all plain sailing, there would be no challenge: I just have to find a way of overcoming it and getting back on a happier track. Roger often reminds me to lift my head and look up when running and it’s great advice; focusing on the beauty of the landscape and wonders of nature around me help me to forget I’m running at all. So, with that in mind, I decided that perhaps it was time to stand back, forget running for a while, and spend a little time reflecting on some of the things that have made me smile this week.
🙂 A wonderful abundance of vegetables from the garden. Wandering around with my trusty trug each day and gathering colourful and delicious ingredients for our meals never fails to please me. Even after all these years of growing veg, happy harvesting still thrills me no end!
🙂 The start of peach season. What an amazing luxury to have such a glut of these gorgeous fruits. So beautiful, sweet and juicy, they are as good as a drink.
🙂 Peaches are not the only fruit . . .
🙂 A new roof (well, almost!). It’s the last week of building work: we are finally tarpless rather than topless, and waterproof; suddenly, it’s all starting to look a bit smart.
🙂 A riot of red in the garden.
🙂 A parade of purple in the woodland.
🙂 A little beauty softening the new fence we made earlier in the year . . . this is surely better than those rusty old bedsteads?
🙂 Some quiet tea and crochet moments.
🙂 A rather large escapee heading off across the lane (Guatemalan Blue banana squash)
🙂 Noticing that one of our neighbours has an even worse squash situation than us!
🙂 A new freezer. Mmm, this is a good one. We used our move here last year as an opportunity to downsize; in a few short years we had gone from being a family of five with several pets and livestock to only the two of us with . . . well, just each other. One of the pieces of equipment we decided to leave behind was a large chest freezer which had done sterling service over the years; when we were both working full time, feeding three growing teenagers and running a little smallholding it was an essential piece of kit. In latter years, though, it had been half empty much of the time – inefficient, uneconomical and taking up too much space – so we put it on Freecycle and off it went in a jiffy to start a new life elsewhere. Since then we have been coping with a small three-drawer upright which is fine for basics but leaves no room for us to freeze anything from the garden, so this week we finally got round to investing in a new small chest freezer. Yay! It hasn’t taken me long to start filling it. First to go in were bags and bags of peaches for jam (which we eat as marmalade), relish and generally fruity things. Next, the first row of borlotti beans which yes, we could dry, but freezing them is more useful (we don’t have to remember to do the whole soaking the night before thing).
We have the best basil for years, so I’ve been picking, chopping and freezing it in ice cubes which will be perfect for tossing into sauces, soups and stews. This is such a great way of preserving soft summer herbs; coriander is another top candidate, although it carried on growing outside here all winter last year. Simply pick and wash the leaves, then chop finely and pack into ice cube trays – it’s amazing what a huge amount goes in when packed down. Top up with cold water and freeze. The cubes can then be turned out and kept in a labelled bag in the freezer until needed.
How I love this squirrel behaviour . . . but the greatest joy is the fact that there is room once again for making ice cream. We very rarely eat desserts but there is something so good about homemade ice cream made from wholesome ingredients. It’s a habit I started when we had an abundance of fresh free-range eggs from our own hens and although I know ingredients like yogurt make great healthy alternatives, I have to admit I just love a decadent creamy, custardy base to work with. It seemed to me that peach ice cream just had to be tried so here’s my recipe which – as always – comes with fairly vague quantities . . .
Peel and stone several ripe peaches and whizz the flesh into a puree. Take 4 yolks from the freshest eggs possible and mix to a paste with a tablespoon of cornflour and 2-3 tablespoons of caster sugar. (Two notes here. 1. I keep a kilner jar of sugar with a few vanilla pods in it specially for making ice cream – I just add a few extra vanilla seeds or extract if I want to make plain vanilla ice cream. 2. We don’t have a sweet tooth so other people might prefer to add more sugar.) In a pan, bring 250ml of milk to the boil and pour carefully onto the egg mixture, whisking thoroughly until blended. Return to the pan and heat very gently, stirring all the time, until the mixture thickens into a custard. The cornflour helps to stabilize the mixture so it won’t curdle, I promise! Remove from the heat, allow to cool (stir occasionally to stop a skin forming) then fold in 250ml double cream (as it comes or lightly whipped). This is my basic custard – great as hot custard, by the way – which can be frozen plain like this as vanilla ice cream. Stir in as much peach puree as you want, depending on taste (and capacity, if you are using a machine – ours holds 800ml). Allow to cool, then churn in an ice cream machine or freeze in a container, breaking down the crystals several times during the freezing process. Like most homemade ice creams, it freezes pretty solid so needs to be removed from the freezer and allowed to soften a little before serving. Any remaining peach puree makes a good sauce for the ice cream and is also great with oats and yogurt for breakfast. So simple, so delicious . . . and obviously, the peaches can be replaced with all sorts of other fruits depending what’s good and seasonal.
🙂 Sam and Adrienne announcing their engagement. Ah, that’s the biggest smile of all. Congratulations, Monkeys! 🙂 🙂 🙂
So back to the running and if I’m still struggling physically, then at least I’m feeling a bit more positive about things now. On reflection, I didn’t do too badly in July: I ran 119k (74 miles) in 14 runs, with an average run of 8.5 k (5.2 miles) and a total climb of 2440 metres (8005ft). I learned to cope with running on consecutive days. I ran my furthest ever distance and took part in my first Spanish race. I also – totally unbelievably and probably never to be repeated – ran all the way up Christa’s Hill. Now, I don’t look for any running rewards – just seeing the donations on my JustGiving page is enough, each new one makes me smile all day – but Roger had promised me a bottle of bubbly if I ever ran all the way up that hill, and although I’m having a ‘reduced wine’ month ahead of the race, I was happy to accept my prize graciously. I have so many wonderful things in my life to be grateful for, so many reasons to be cheerful . . . so let’s raise a glass. Here’s to the ups and downs of crazy personal challenges. To a new roof. To a lovely garden and great fresh food. To the simple joy of cooking. To the beauty of flowers. To Sam and Adrienne and a sparkly ring. To health and happiness. To life and love. Cheers, everyone! 🙂