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My “Cancelled” First Half Marathon

I had completed my first ten mile run. I had walked some of it but a half marathon was only a couple of extra miles, I’d give it a go.

I wanted to support one of the run’s charities, a local Multiple Sclerosis rehab cent017re – I work with a friend that has it.

I had three weeks to prepare. I ran, cycled or swam a couple of times a week anyway, but I spent a week before it running every day, starting at 5k and working up to 16k, mostly on the treadmill. I prefer exercising outdoors because it gives you a sense of freedom, you actually go somewhere and you can enjoy nature.

My brother asked what time I was aiming for. I reckoned 2 hours and a half. It had taken me an hour to run 10 miles. He did his first full marathon last year in Copenhagen. We have a photo of him finishing, looking pale and ill. He reckons you need at least 8 weeks training.

He also cycled from Lands End to John O’Groats (the length of England) in 10 days (doing about 100 miles a day) when he was in sixth form and this year he canoed round all the major lochs in Scotland (52km).

Race Day

On race day I had some porridge with bananas for breakfast, great for slow energy release. I wore trainers I’d bought the week before, ones to stop pronation, or your foot rolling in towards your ankle when you run. They were specially fitted from “gait analysis” – I was filmed on a treadmill and action snapshots documented how my feet fell. I have used the same pronation trainers for years and never had any injury – I think because of the way they are made.

When I got to the stadium I had a cereal bar and picked up my charity t-shirt from where the finish was. Announcements were blaring out about the location of key areas. There was quite a queue for the toilets and I worried I’d miss the race. There was no indication of where the start was and quite a few people were asking around. Nothing was signed, but then I spotted the crowd and the time markers. I was surprised that I couldn’t hear any announcements. I wondered why I could hear them at the finish area but not at the start. When I did a 10k last year there were loudspeakers covering the whole of the start line and a guy with a megaphone on a platform getting everyone warming up.

Chaos and Confusion

The communication in this case was someone yelling repeatedly: “The race is delayed by 30 minutes”. He wasn’t wearing anything identifying him as an official so not everybody listened. Most people passed the message on, via chains of Chinese whispers.

About 15 minutes later the man returned, yelling “police are removing obstacles from the course“. I wondered what sort of obstacles and why.

My brother had recommended that I start ahead of the time I thought I’d run it in. The markers were all set out the same distance apart. This meant that there wasn’t enough space for the time the majority of runners were aiming for. I queued to enter the 2 hour section, which was only possible when runners left to warm up. I went back until I found a bit of space so that I wouldn’t be crushed when the crowd started to move. The earlier markers then went round a corner ahead of two hours, so we couldn’t see or hear what was happening at the start.

“Cancelled”

We waited to start for about an hour. At least it was warm in the crowd, but we had no idea what was happening as during that time we heard no announcements and there was not one official in sight. Eventually there was slow clapping from the 2 hour 15 section which rippled forward, followed about 15 minutes later by booing.

Then a rumour went back that the race was cancelled. Everyone stood there in disbelief. There had been no announcements, it must be some kind of joke, I said. Luckily a lady next to me, Sue, had an in-law who was one of the race volunteers. She had discovered by text that the water had not arrived for the race and that they were dashing round supermarkets buying more. I thought that wouldn’t happen somewhere like London.

We waited another 15 minutes or so and then someone in front showed us breaking BBC news on his phone – it was official. There was anger and disbelief. A lot of us were sponsored. Family, friends and colleagues had been generous. I didn’t want to let them down and besides, this was supposed to be my first half marathon. But in that moment, the whole crowd of over 4,000 just set off.

I saw Sue and we settled into a nice pace where we could just about chat. She was running for Macmillan and lived nearby. We passed two water stations, one after about 5 miles and one at about 7.

Superhero Spectators

The supporters were fantastic, there were people lining the route almost everywhere, with one group blowing whistles and horns. They were almost all holding out bottles. Runners passed these among themselves. I was moved by the kindness of strangers and the community spirit. Others had bowls of sweets, which helped keep sugar levels up at the half-way point. I saw people I knew and the cheers from them and the rest of the crowd gave me bursts of energy.

With the first sugar hit wearing off, I suddenly felt a bit tired and had the rest of the sweets I’d been carrying for this point. There had been spectators until about 6 miles. I hadn’t drunk more than a bottle of water as I hadn’t wanted to get the stitch. At 8 miles there were no more as we were in the inner city industrial area. This meant there was no more water.

Casualties

When I hit 10 miles my legs decided they wanted to stop running and went heavy. A grey-haired runner had just collapsed at the side of the road and an official was bringing him round. Then I passed a young runner who was unconscious with blood on his mouth, paramedics around him. I felt like I was running in a war zone. I could be next I thought, with my parched mouth and heavy legs.

All I could think about was finishing. I remembered my brother’s advice that when you’re tired you shouldn’t run as if you’re tired, as that makes it worse. So I lightened my pace and managed to keep going, but exhaustion made it a massive effort. It was time for sheer willpower to keep my legs moving.

I finally came into the stadium and saw a sign “800m to go”. I sped up a little, not realising how far 800m feels when you’ve been running for 13 miles.

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Overtaken

Then I saw the “400m to go” and remembered how I felt in a school sports day race. I had no energy and was flagging but then someone cheered “it’s now or never!”.  I looked at my watch. I had to do it in under two hours. There wouldn’t be a repeat of this, this was my one chance. I accelerated and sprinted the last 400m.

I collected my race pack and looked for a water bottle. There had been one in my 10k race pack. Nothing.

Someone at the finish line had pointed out a water table further down so I went there. A lady looked helplessly at me “sorry”, she said. To the left of the table were four empty 2 litre water bottles.

As I finished I saw someone being attended to on a stretcher in the middle of the stadium, who was then rushed off in an ambulance.

The Long Walk Home

I was dehydrated but managed to get public transport to town. Then the bus didn’t turn up as the roads were still closed from the delayed race. So I took it on myself to walk the 3 miles home. It would be a challenge but I could do it. It was worth it, as on the way I met and chatted to a neighbour, who kindly sponsored me.

After walking uphill for the last two miles I was exhausted and had a migraine the rest of the day, but when I woke the next morning I was fine. A bit of a tender hip and left leg but the day after that I was fine.

Outrage

The event made the national news. Our local MP, Nick Clegg, said that lessons needed to be learnt. The winner said that it was the “first and last race” he would run in Sheffield.

 

We were still timed and knew that without sufficient water, we ran the race at our own risk, but I think the organisers should learn from those that arranged the BUPA 10k race, which was flawless in every detail.

Thank you to everyone who sponsored me. The page is:

https://www.justgiving.com/firsthalfmarathon2014

Finally, a big thank you to all those who handed out water and saved the day.

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My First Blood Donation

Why don’t you start the year by saving lives regularly? Not just those of others but perhaps even your own.

January is the most popular month for donations but continuing to give blood is important.

Not only does blood improve the health of the patient, it also helps the donor – a study from Finland indicated that those aged 43 to 61 had an 88% reduced risk of heart attacks donating six months than those who didn’t. What’s more, it burns hundreds of calories.

As I previously struggled with a needle phobia I was quite anxious about my appointment. I usually saw stars and had clammy hands, so I wasn’t going alone. This is one of the biggest barriers to donation – with 58% of recipients saying this was a factor in my questionnaire.

My friend, who donates for the Interval Study every eight weeks, told me he was going and said I was welcome to join him. I’d had a few in the pub and said alright then, I’d give it a go.

In 2012 Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS medical director, talked of the need to “reduce blood use in hospitals” so that blood demand could be met in the future. We are an essential part in ensuring that people receive the life-saving treatment they need.

The Interval Study is research being carried out to see whether people can donate sooner than is currently allowed in England. In Europe people can already donate at 8 weeks. I was previously working on the phone line booking people in for these appointments. Currently 7,500 more donors are needed to participate. Here women can donate every 12 weeks if you are male and every 16 weeks if you are female. This is because women do not have the same levels of stored iron as men. From experience working on the Interval Study booking line I found that the majority of donors were retired and  research shows there has been a drop in young people donating. I think this is due to time – we lead increasingly busy lives and I am surprised that our city’s main blood centre is not open on weekends or very late in the evenings. I think the other main factor to donating is also convenience and with the number of blood vans vastly diminished many people don’t have the opportunity or time to make a special trip.

An Australian statistic on their blood service website.

Only 5% of eligible England donate, although almost all of my friends do. British hospitals use an average of 7,000 units of blood a day. I asked everyone I knew and the only reason people didn’t  were for medical reasons, except one gay friend – I noticed on the questionnaire that same sex intercourse in a period of less than 12 months was one of the “red” yes questions where they would enquire further. He told me he doesn’t mind at all as he is also quite squeamish. In the U.S donation is banned entirely for homosexuals but there is much protest and perhaps this will change in the near future, especially as researchers have pointed out that this standing is scientifically unsound.

When I called I was surprised to find that there weren’t any appointments available for a month. There had clearly been a surge in goodwill over the festive period. But I may be able to get an appointment on the day. So I rang up, expecting it to be full. I was told to book online.

This was quick and easy. I called again, half hoping it would be full now, so I’d have a valid excuse. No there was one slot free, just at the time my friend was going. Must be fate.

I grudgingly booked. Maybe something else would disqualify me. I couldn’t believe I was going through with it. I saw people lying serenely on the donor chairs but I still wanted to run a mile. Every inch of me wanted to escape but I wasn’t going to let fear win. I just wouldn’t look at the needle, it would be fine, I told myself.

I was assigned a motherly lady in a navy uniform. She was one as well, complaining about her daughter calling throughout her assessment.

Did I have this? Did I have that? Where had I been in Turkey and when and for how long? Not many questions really, she just checked the main ones and asked for a little more detail in some areas. The interview was in a closed room with a window to the donor area. I didn’t really want to see what was going to happen to me next. But maybe that helped me to face it better. She had two small bottles filled with florescent blue and green liquid. She pricked my finger with a needle, but I didn’t see the needle as it was hidden in white plastic tubing. I explained that I was trying to confront a phobia of them so she explained everything she was doing with a smile and a calming manner. She said that if my haemoglobin was at an acceptable level, my blood from the pin prick would sink. I willed it not too. It did, leaving a little red vapour trail through the green liquid.

Australian statistics again – I will try to get a picture for the English ones, which are quite similar. Thank you to blonde ambition at http://blondeambition.com.au/2012/11/19/today-i-saved-three-lives/ for this.

I had assumed local anaesthetic was given as standard and asked about that.

“Oh no”, she said,

“we only give a local if you ask for it. Would you like to request a local? It’s not problem”

I’d passed the 10 minute chat now. I didn’t want to be the only one not tough enough to do it without anaesthetic. The boys would almost certainly not ask for that. I asked her how much it would hurt “well it depends how sensitive you are” she said. That didn’t really help. I panicked but then I saw my friend Tom in one of the chairs. It was too late to run out. I’d lose face with my boyfriend too, who had come for moral support. There were no appointments but they managed to squeeze him in too.

Image URL copied from sptimes.com – cancer patient receiving blood donation

I deep breathed to prepare myself for the worst and the lady laughed. “Try to remember to do the exercises” she said and handed me a card detailing slowly clenching and unclenching the buttocks and crossing and uncrossing my legs as good ways of ensuring you didn’t faint at the end of the donation.

“It’s not that bad” she said. I wondered how much they’d take and how I’d feel afterwards. Had I drunk enough water? Would I remember to do the exercises? Maybe I should have eaten healthier, maybe my blood wasn’t healthy enough? Would it hurt all the way through? Would I feel the blood being sucked out of my veins by the vampire machine?

My friend had already finished. Well at least it wouldn’t take long.

I got quite comfy in the ergonomic chair and the lady adjusted it until I was lying back comfortably. I looked away as she rubbed my arm briskly and I tensed as I felt a sharp prick and small stab of pain in my arm for a matter of seconds and that was it. I couldn’t feel the blood leaving my body. When I looked back down there was a bit of blue plastic tubing around the needle edge so all I could see was a little bit of the metal going in before a long bit of tubing. There was just the one needle. All the same, I have Raynauds so my hands went cold with the anxiety. I told a kind technician and she held my hand in her warm ones. That made the experience more relaxing.

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I was still feeling a little on edge and was grimacing at my friend taking pictures until I saw my boyfriend appear on the chair opposite. Seeing him more nervous than me (and it was his ninth time) made me relax and was quite amusing. He drew breath sharply when it went in and then twitched about, smiling but looking a bit frenetic. Looking at me didn’t seem to calm him down either. He explained later that he was just trying to keep his blood pressure up.

I followed the tubing down to the blood bag. It was underneath a little table. I was fascinated by watching the blood run into the bag. It was so dark, and looked quite thick as it ran slowly and steadily into it. The contraption holding the bag was interesting – it was moving it about up, swinging slightly from left to right, so it looked like it was moving with the blood going into it. There were one or two technicians around and I asked them why it was moving. It was apparently a bag that weighed the donation and cut off when the bag had the required mass. I crossed and uncrossed my legs once and did the buttock exercise once. After about 15 minutes the machine beeped we were done. My boyfriend was done just before me – apparently guys give blood faster due to their physical structure.

After it they put a plaster on and then a small cotton wad for pressure and some medical tape. Two days later my boyfriend went for a 10k run (they recommend rest for 48 hours) and said although he went a little slower it was fine. They brought me upright gradually and asked me how I was. I felt a bit light-headed so I told them. They immediately put the chair back so I was lying with my feet in the air. I was kept like this for about five minutes until they lowered me and asked me if I was OK repeatedly until I was allowed to sit at the treat table (all the biscuits, chocolate and orange juice you want).

I was so triumphant I said “I wanna do platelet donation!“. There is even greater need for platelet donors as these only have a shelf life of seven days and like blood donors, there are not enough. In 2012 they made up a mere 0.03% of the English population. But the technician looked at my veins and said sympathetically “no…I think you should stick to whole donations love”.

I didn’t suffer any bruising as I avoided using my donor arm for a day or so and kept the pressure wad on for a full day. All I could see was a milimetre red dot. I had joined the 12% of donors who were doing it for the first time.

I don’t intend to stop going, although sadly statistics indicate that of those who have donated, 72% haven’t done so for two years or more. Today I went in to find out what blood type I was. You can find out after two days and it appears online. I wanted to find out my haemoglobin level was as well, but apparently they don’t take statistics for that. I had to present photo ID and then I was told I was O positive. This was a bit of a disappointment to me as O positive is the most common blood type (37% of us are this) and I could see from the National Blood Service website stats that their stocks of that were plentiful. It was the rare types they really needed, AB and suchlike. They told me O negative was really useful, as anyone (except someone who is O positive) can receive O negative blood. But the plus side of being O positive is that anyone who is O positive or even just “Rhesus positive” can receive my blood, and that’s a massive 83% of people. I got a little key-ring with it on which will surely help if I have an accident.

Of course, some people will not be eligible to give blood but if you can I think you should. Around 1 in 3 of us will need it in our lifetime. As my medic student sister said “we all expect to receive blood if we needed it, and I think if we expect it we should give it as well.”

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A Cheer-ful Community Race – My First City 10K

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Yesterday I did my third 10k and my first out of the countryside. There were over 3,300 entrants and the atmosphere in the city was electric.

My friends had told me they were doing it only a few days before the event and I was lucky that there were still places.

I had not done any training whatsoever. In fact the last time I had run was a month ago. However, before that I routinely did a couple of miles once a week. I also cycle to work regularly but that is a different sort of workout. It is about the race’s distance for the two journeys.

On race day I woke up at 5am excited and had some more carbs before going back to bed. Later, when I had put on my lucky running accessories and psyched up with some power ballads I set off. I had to leave my bag in the city hall and I hoped it wouldn’t get stolen as it was a free-for-all. I was almost late for the race queuing for the toilets – outside were a mere 20 to service thousands. I felt queasy and, worrying that I might be getting hungry and would then not be able to run, I dashed into the now empty bag area for my cereal bar. This was a bad move as I later got a double stitch for about 4k. But it’s true, if it’s not too bad you can get through it, and I did, gripping my fingers into the pain source to dull it.

runningecard05Crowds had gathered all along the route, filling every space near the starting funnel. I stood in the road, packed with competitors, most wearing charity shirts. There was an upbeat, excited tension in the air as we shifted and stretched. The starting horn went off periodically as we surged slowly forward. There were so many runners that I couldn’t start in my heat and had to start last.

It took so long that my boyfriend thought he’d missed me. The starting horn blared and I was held back by a wall of joggers until I found a gap. Then I was off, carried away with the enthusiasm and good spirit I clapped and waved to those running past on the other side, to their bewilderment. That was the lovely part of the race, the paths were parallel to each other so you could see the athletes and aspire to be that the next year and see your fitter friends. I was too in-the-zone to notice much but the occasional group of supporters. All the kids wanted to high five you like a hero and I was especially grateful to the sweet Grandma sitting on a fold-out chair whose face crinkled into a smile as I waved at her and  she clapped me on both ways.

With my terrific playlist and the blended sound of cheering pushing me forward I completely missed my boyfriend on the way up. Another advantage of the track going straight back down was that he didn’t lose me. It was helpful having kilometre markers so you knew when you were nearly halfway. As I hit the 6k mark I spotted my boyfriend. He’s waited almost an hour for a few seconds of support and managed to take a photo or two.

A highlight was a sprinkler tunnel, adding welcome relief to my pounding heart and burning body. The second wind I had somehow experienced in the last race didn’t quite kick in and going uphill on the way back really separated the wheat from the chaff as those who had not paced themselves fell back gasping for breath.

I managed a short sprint to the finish line, bringing me into the top third at 55 minutes 53 seconds. This was a personal best and I was delighted. WinHill_0051

I then foolishly decided to do do a 462m hill-climb walk with my boyfriend in the afternoon. At one point the path reached up almost vertically into the sky as I scrabbled on the rocks. But no challenge was too much for me now and I soon reached the top, although when I did my legs made a silent protest and went weak. Luckily I found a stick on the way up and supported myself on that. The view in the golden evening sunlight with a fine mist in the valley was incredible and I wish I had taken my camera.

The run was a wonderful experience and I want to do it again. I felt relaxed, triumphant and high on endorphins afterwards.

I didn’t do it for charity this year as I am already doing my first fundraising event – a 40 mile bicycle ride. If you can spare even just a little for my British Heart Foundation cycle please help the cause by clicking on the link here.

I think if I have energy to do a hill climb 6 hours after a 10k I should probably run a greater distance. Maybe my 2014 goal will be a half-marathon. Now that will require training. Are you a (female) runner? Read this post to find out!

So go on, compete in a city 10k next year. Be part of a an event uniting those of all ages and backgrounds in a thrilling uplifting and challenging race. It will be tiring and you may be a bit achy the next day but trust me, it’s worth it.

 

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A Decent Dessert and Drink in one

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Something I have just discovered is the beauty of stewed fruit. Peaches, nectarines and plums are in season in England right now so it is a great time to do this.

It is healthy, easy, cheap, tasty and uses up leftover fruit. The plums I had were hard for ages and then went mushy before I got a chance to eat them all. But luckily with this recipe you don’t need to throw them away.

You simply put a plum per person in a pot with a tablespoon of water per plum. Add a sprinkling of brown sugar (well apart from that it’s healthy!) and then for a treat halve a vanilla pod, slice it finely and pop it in. Add a sprinkling of ground cinnamon too.

Simmer until soft and enjoy the sweet fruity aroma. When it’s done, you can drain the fruit juice off into a mug and enjoy it with the plums, which you can add to yoghurt. I’d recommend enjoying it with vanilla or plain yoghurt. It also goes well on toast, on muesli or on pancakes. Delicious!

  

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The Driver vs Cyclist Dispute

This picture is not of the subjects referred to below

This picture is not of the driver or cyclist referred to below.

It seems the two-wheeler versus four-wheeler “war” has erupted once more. This time it’s a motorist bragging about hitting a cyclist. 

It appears that Emma Way boasted on Twitter “Definitely knocked a cyclist emma way_bloody cyclistsoff his bike earlier. I have right of way – he doesn’t even pay road tax! #Bloodycyclists.” It went viral and Twitterers were quick to alert Norwich police, who tweeted back: “We have had tweets ref an RTC with a bike. We suggest you report it at a police station ASAP if not done already & then dm us”.

This was especially affecting today as I did my second cycle commute. Why should we pay tax on this when potholes in bike lanes force us to dodge round them onto the road? When many roads still do not have red lanes? When we can’t use them as cars park in them? When they end without warning? When there is glass on them?

As blogger Reid of ipayroadtax.com points out, the reality is that there is no “road tax”. Road construction and maintenance is paid for by everyone through taxes. The Vehicle Excise Duty that motorists pay is levied according to engine size or CO2 emissions.

The negative sentiments of motorists towards two-wheelers was apparent when a friend said “sorry but if a bike even grazes my wing mirror I will go bat sh** crazy”. She didn’t relent even when I pointed out that this would probably happen because she hadn’t left the cyclist enough space.

As for the claim that two-wheelers should have lessons on rules of the road, I actually agree with this. I learnt from asking others, but there needs to be compulsory training in schools. Some in my city already run courses. This would encourage more people to use this green method of transport, as they would feel more prepared and confident.
I only had one problem today – a flashy hatchback wouldn’t let me get past him to the front of the lights. This meant I had to work a lot harder to cycle up a slight hill before they changed again. Let a bike get ahead of you to the front of the queue. They need the extra time.
On the plus side though, I have found red lanes that run through town! It takes me down quieter roads, I just have to be careful of the numerous side roads leading on to it. This time buses left me more space, and I took care to look behind me when coming out from bus lanes or parked cars.
Yes, both sides flout the Highway Code. But I believe the majority do not. Isn’t it about time we put share the roadaside our differences? Lets share the road and make both our commutes less stressful.
Most people admire my preferred method of transport, dicing with death and attacking hills deters them. Yet it is not as risky as they think – I have had no trouble. In fact, these challenges are the very reason I get a thrill from pedal power. Once you have conquered the gradient and potential danger you know that nothing at work can hold you back.
Cycling-to-work

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This year’s English Spring…

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I opened the back door today to this, the coldest spring since 1962. I saw some great snow photographs in The Metro, which I still enjoy on my way to work. Most seem to be outraged by the relentless wintry onslaught, especially when the calendar says that we should have daffodils not bare branches. Others however are using it as an opportunity to showcase their creations or fashion-sense. It didn’t stop my boyfriend going on a “10.62” km run last night!

I was glad to hear that The Duchess of Cambridge managed to get up to Windermere in the Lake District to spend time with Beaver and Cub Scout groups. Some of the footage for which was shot by my boyfriend’s housemate! He is one of the leaders of a group that attended. Luckily the Duchess went back early by train (Virgin of course), whereas the cameraman had to endure a 6 hour journey home. Although Kate looks down to earth in the photographs, the Telegraph is quick to point out that she is wearing £300 wellies.

The weather is in stark contrast to last March.

Meanwhile in New Zealand my relatives have been enjoying their best summer for years.

This is our fourth snow dump of 2013. I must really love this country to be 037putting up with this

But it gives me the perfect opportunity to make the most of the time indoors with a curry weekend. I intend to cook a korma tonight (ok I admit this one’s with a ready-made jar of sauce) and tomorrow a proper home-made dahl with red lentils and mushrooms. I had an M & S microwave one last night which was fantastic, but nothing beats healthier home-cooked food.

It was certainly better than the lamb tikka bhuna I had when I last went out to an Indian restaurant, which consisted of a couple of pieces in a watery thin sauce. With all the other meat on the menu being chicken it was clear to see that meal quality had been sacrificed in favour of cost-cutting. This could be another case where trusting reviews let my boyfriend and I down, or perhaps I just ordered the wrong dish, his was delicious.

Red Lentils

With heating costs rising it’s even more important to save money, and at around £1 per kilo these are great value. You only need 1/4 cup per person! I 027usually do 250g each time so I have plenty for leftovers and to freeze. Simply wash through like you do with rice and cover with boiling beef stock in water and add a tin or two of chopped tomatoes (one tin is enough for two servings). Boil for 5 mins, then simmer for 15 mins with a teaspoon each of various herbs and spices (I added mustard seeds, cumin seeds, cinammon, garam masala, coriander seeds and frozen coriander. You should also add tumeric or curry powder) and any vegetables you want, I used pretty much everything I had!  Fresh coriander on serving was great too. I’d recommend about 200g of spinach added just before you take it off the heat. If it needs sweetening up add more cinammon.

I chose to slow cook mine for a more intense flavour burst – it really made a difference! Overall it’s a cheap, healthy, high in fibre and filling meal. I have only recently discovered this and felt the need to share. I cooked the above dish from this recipe. If you try it do let me know how it goes.

As for the bizarre weather, there is some debate about whether this is due to climate change or the arrival of another Ice Age…what do you think?

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