Mutterings of a Fool

Man, Dad, Runner, Chief dog walker

Page 3 of 78

Why I’m running the Quadzilla

My mother in law passed away almost a year ago having fought ovarian cancer for 4 years and this challenge is for her. By coincidence I started running regularly just under 4 years ago in an effort to lose some weight and get fit after having serious back problems from sitting in an office all day. I can remember her concern every time she came to visit me that ‘I was getting too thin’ and that I needed to be careful, she never did quite understand why I ran but that didn’t stop her coming along to races and cheering me on. It is for her that I’m taking on this challenge, the Quadzilla, 4 marathons on 4 consecutive days. In the space of 4 days I’m going to double the amount of marathons I’ve done and find out what it’s like to run a marathon with the DOMS from 3 marathons. I’m also hoping to try and raise some money for 2 great causes.

Maureen was an amazing woman, mother, daughter, wife and nanna whose passing has left a very big hole in the lives of her family and friends. In the last few weeks and months when things got tough the support her and Nick received from her Macmillan nurse made such a difference. Care that the NHS simply can’t provide but that helps people in the darkest times navigate their way through and help them make decisions. That’s why I’ve chosen to support Macmillan with this challenge and hopefully raise some money in Maureen’s memory to help other people in the same situation.

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Reflections

This is the first time I’ve logged into my blog in almost 2 months let alone written anything, the first time I’ve had both the time and the head space to be able to get some thoughts down in a remotely articulate way. It’s been a busy time; work has been tough, a busy time of the year and I’ve been trying to secure a job change that I’ve been working towards for a while, family life with 3 children and the daily school run routine is always hectic and I’ve been trying to build up my running before my first race of 2016. Combine all that with the festive season and everything that it entails it’s probably no surprise blogging hasn’t been on my radar.

But I do want to take a moment to mark the passing from one year into the next, New Years day is such an arbitrary moment in time, not really different to any other day yet still feeling like a great big reinforced oak door has shut on the prior year consigning to history everything that happened. I don’t do resolutions but I do like to take the time to reflect and remember rather than just hurry into the next year on the conveyor belt of life.

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Boys are disgusting

As both a man and a dad to sons I feel I am extremely qualified to say this; boys are disgusting. Disgusting and willy obsessed. I feel like I should know this already given that I was a boy myself at some point in the distant past but it still comes as a surprise seeing your 1 year old laughing as he plays with his willy.

I seem to remember Henry being a similar age when he realised that he could grab his willy whenever his nappy was off and it felt quite nice/funny to play with. Now we’re regularly find Rupert sat in the bath taking a break from attempting to cover the whole floor with water and instead having a little play. Clearly there is some basic male human instinct that tells us playing with our willies is a good thing, I’d love to know if boys 100 or 200 years ago were the same, or were they too busy working in factories or helping fight wars?

I had assumed boys and their willies would be an issue in the teenage years but it seems not. Last week I found Henry stood in the kitchen with his hands down his trousers. I told him to stop playing with his willy and his response was ‘I’m not playing with my willy I’m playing with my testes’, not really much you can say to that is there? (we’ve gone with a formal term because quite honestly ‘balls’ just sounds a bit disgusting).

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5 words of wisdom for 5 years of blogging

Two amazing things have happened today; first I’ve remembered it’s my blog anniversary and second I’ve actually found enough time to write a post about it. 5 years ago today I published my first ever post on this blog which feels like an awfully long time ago, a time where I was yet to experience the whirlwind life that is being a parent. I’m not sure I can even remember what it was like to be that person, I wasn’t even a runner at that point which seems weird on its own. Just look how much our family photos have changed (spot the teeny tiny Bracken).

Family photo at Padstow

Family photo at Dyrham park

What I do know is that I started this blog to document life as a dad and to find a more creative outlet, something a career in Finance really didn’t offer. I’d never been a writer, I always thought English wasn’t the subject for me and my strengths lay with maths and science. Maybe they did but I’m glad that I took the plunge to start this blog because I absolutely love the process of writing and expressing myself now. If you could have told my 15 year old self that I would receive an award for writing and it that it would be presented by Katy Hill I’d have told you to piss off. But somehow I did, even if the competition were required to have the same anatomy as me.

The life cycle you go through as a blogger has many phases, none ‘better’ than the others but very different. I loved the early days where parent blogging was growing all of a sudden and there was such energy in the community. In those first months as a blogger you could probably write everyday and not get stuck for ideas, you join in every Linky and meme going and spend as much time reading blogs as writing them. There was also lots of commenting on blogs, oh how I miss commenting. Doesn’t seem to be the done thing now, or at least people comment by tweeting you instead which is more instant of course but doesn’t quite feel the same. In my day…..

After that first frantic phase I think you settle down a bit and focus on the things you’re really interested in, still active but more focused. The only Linky I kept doing regularly was the Gallery I think, not least because I love the challenge and process of either taking or finding a photo that fits a one word brief. But it was as much fun seeing how others had interpreted it as posting your own, plus the lovely Tara is one of the good un’s in this parent blogging world.

The third phase is the ‘I don’t know what I want or what I’m interested so I’m not going to write anything’ phase, the soul searching period where you contemplate stopping. I think I might have hit that around this time last year. You feel a bit lost, many of the bloggers you used to chat with and read their posts have stopped, you’re not keeping up with the latest ‘trends’ (or want to for that matter) and it all feels a bit pointless.

But you come out of it and the other side smells like fresh cut grass, there’s a BBQ cooking in the corner and cold beer being opened. You’ve realised that the meaning of blogging life is writing about what you’re passionate about, whatever that is and by doing that people will read it because passion makes things interesting. You write at whatever pace suits you, you’re in charge of your blog rather than it being in charge of you. I think this is about where I am now, I still love writing I just don’t have much time for it. So when I do write I want it to be about things I love and am passionate about not things I think I ‘should’ be writing about. Family, the outdoors, good food, the National Trust, adventure, in fact all things that were probably in my original about me page when I first started capturing my mutterings.

The National Trust, outdoors, adventure. Perfect day out.

The National Trust, outdoors, adventure. Perfect day out.

Which brings me to my words of wisdom, things I think are important if you’re a blogger. But, here’s some wisdom for free, they’re precisely that, my thoughts, read them or ignore them it’s your choice.

  1. Your readers are the best support network you’ll ever find; for me this applies to parenting but no matter what your topic your readers are the best support and therapy group going. The number of times I’ve blasted a post out when struggling with one of the daily parenting challenges and immediately had constructive and support suggestions. The same goes for the happy moments, readers are there to enjoy them with you, so much so that if you do meet them in real life it feels like you know everything about them already.
  2. Don’t forget to capture the milestones; I love being able to search back through old posts and find little insights into the lives of Matilda and Henry. Things I’d forgotten even happened or when they happened. So much better than a baby book stuck on a bookshelf and forgotten about.
  3. Writing is therapy; I’ve written many posts that have never been published, ones where just the process of writing has got out of my system whatever stress was occupying my brain. Despite my first word of wisdom above sometimes you don’t need to press publish to find the answer.
  4. Blogging can bring some amazing experiences; if you want it to blogging can get you ‘things’, physical things or experiences. Not everyone wants this and I certainly don’t chase after it but along the way we’ve done some pretty cool things as a result of me being a blogger. We’ve been to Bluestone in Wale for a weeks holiday and had fab family days out at London zoo and the Sealife Centre, I’ve been to the Weber BBQ school and enjoyed pizza and beer with some other dad bloggers while testing out gadgets.
  5. The best thing about blogging is bloggers; I have met (in the physical real world sense) some fabulous people as the result of blogging. People who inspire me, make me laugh, wow me, challenge me and most of all bring me happiness. I love that some times people can go from being little faces in your phone to real live faces sharing a drink with you. People like Gemma (who it turns out starting blogging just a few weeks before me), Chris, Corinne, Ella, Sarah and Tom.

If you’re a reader either old or new then thank you, you guys rock. If you’re not a blogger and are thinking it about it then do it, you really won’t regret it.

Change

Change, always with us, right under our noses, but most of the time unnoticed. Our children growing and learning before our eyes but so gradual that we don’t realise until BAM! They’re walking, or writing their name, or colouring within the lines and you’re wondering when the hell they learnt to do that. In the whirlwind that is life with small children it can be easy not to stop and acknowledge these changes, but one of the main reasons I started this blog was have a record of the changes and the milestones. So I’m taking the chance of this rare moment of peace on a Sunday night to put another entry into this families history.

Matilda writing

The past of month or so has been crazy as we settle into life as a family dictated by the schedule of the school day, it feels like a stricter life full of deadlines, to do lists and most of all rushing. But it’s also been a big month of change. Matilda unsurprisingly leads the way, I find it absolutely fascinating watching her learn to read and write. We didn’t push either at all before she went to school, preferring to let her choose if she was interested, after all they have enough years of school ahead of them to learn those types of skills. But in the space of this first half term she’s already picking up a bunch of letter sounds, has started to read simple words (in the ever so dull) books she brings home and can write her name. She’s so excited and interested in learning it’s great, most mornings after breakfast she will sit down and tell me that she needs to practise her writing.

Henry on the lady of the manors shoulders

Rupert seems to spend most his time trying to keep up with his big brother and sister, crawling around the house after them like a crazy thing and climbing on them when he does catch them. But yesterday we had the big moment, the first steps, aside from birth this is hands down my favourite moment of being a parent. I love the look on their faces when they realise they can move around standing up and no longer have to crawl everywhere. He did 4 giant steps from me to the lady of the manor, only the once though of course, every time I’ve tried to stand him up since he either bounces up and down laughing or tries to sit down and crawl away. I’m trying desperately not to be a pushy dad but I can’t wait to seem in tottering around the house even if it inevitably means he spends half his time being knocked over by one of the other 2 not looking where they’re going.

Henry smiling

Finally Henry, my little dude, who is becoming this very confident, chatty and kind little boy. Not that he wasn’t chatty or kind before he was just more of a baby than a boy. I think he’s actually enjoying Matilda being at school now because it means he gets some time at home and preschool when she isn’t there telling him what to do. As there is only 13 months between them this is really the first time he’s ever been without her. A new girl joined preschool recently and on her first day they were doing music, Henry made room for her to sit down and then shared his musical instrument with her. I love that he is so thoughtful and kind, trying to care for others. He also loves exploring, we had a day at Dyrham park today and he was climbing trees, look in holes, digging and jumping in leaves. He likes nothing better than to be outside and preferably getting dirty.

They may be exhausting most of the time and drive me to say ‘for gods sake’ most days (incidentally I don’t think anything they do is for gods sake, it’s mostly to wind me up) but they really are awesome little people. Now if I could just perhaps have a quiet evening occasionally and maybe 6 hours sleep every so often that would be great.

Aldi Special buys – Cycle crazy

Ok people listen up, if you like cycling and you like a bargain then you need to get down to Aldi pronto. Last Thursday their cycling Special buys launched and it’s well worth a look. I’ve bought one of their cycling jackets in the past and have a bunch of their running clothes, they’re great value and quality. Sure they’re not the latest in Italian styling but when you’re on a budget I don’t think you can go wrong, the range includes jackets, tops, trousers, shorts, shoes and even lights.

Now you need to be quick because once it’s gone it’s gone but Aldi set me a bunch of samples so I thought I’d give you a little taster of what you could be missing out on. I think I have a career in modelling ahead of me right?

Aldi blue cycling top

Winter cycling shirt – £9.99

Aldi hi viz cycling clothing

Ultra bright cycling jacket – £9.99

Aldi hi viz cycling jacket

Hi viz rain jacket – £19.99

 

Grana Padano competition – round 1

One of my bucket list goals is one day to buy a whole wheel of Parmesan and keep it in my cheese store at home (obviously I’d be in my dream country house that has a cheese store) so I can shave a bit off whenever I have the urge for some cheese. So it is perhaps no surprise that I was quick to accept an invite to take part in a cooking competition featuring the king of cheeses. The premise for this first challenge is simple; create 2 courses of my choosing that capture the taste of Italy and where Grana Padano is the star ingredient using the selection of food sent to me plus any store cupboard items I wanted. The competition is being judged by Francesco Mazzei and the second round takes place in London where we get to spend a day with the man himself.

With a pizza oven in my garden and the forecast for a weekend of glorious September sunshine I of course opted for pizza for one of my courses, plus parmesan is a key ingredient in the greatest of all pizzas; Prosciutto Crudo. I love this pizza because it’s the perfect combination of flavours, you have the rich tomato and mozzarella base which is then offset by the peppery rocket and the salty parmesan. I actually prefer it with English ham because I think prosciutto adds too much salt to the mix but either way it’s delicious.

I’m not sure there are any deserts that feature Grana Padano so for my second course I decided on a starter and something that would be perfect before quite a rich pizza. Butternut squash soup in my mind perfectly captures the Autumnal feeling in the air now in an Italian dish, it’s light and full of flavour and can be easily made in the time it takes to get the pizza oven up to temperature.

Butternut squash soup

Butternut squash soup

Ingredients

Large butternut squash, skinned, deseeded and chopped into chunks

Couple of sticks of celery, roughly chopped

Large onion, diced

Chopping veg for soup2 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

1 litre of chicken or vegetable stock

A large pile of grated Grana Padano

Method

  1. Put a good chunk of butter into a large saucepan and melt, once melted add all the vegetables and slowly sauté until the onions are beginning to soften.
  2. Add the stock to the pan and simmer for 60 minutes with the lid on.
  3. After an hour the vegetables should be really soft, pop the mixture into a blender or food processor and give it a blitz until the vegetables are broken up but not so it’s completely smooth. I like to have a bit of substance to a soup rather than something completely smooth.
  4. Serve piping hot with a big pile of Grana Padano in the middle, the cheese slowly melts into the soup as you eat it and is delicious!

Butternut squash soup close up

Prosciutto Crudo pizza

Ingredients

For the dough;

250g Strong white bread flour

250g 00 grade pasta flour

6g dried yeast

5g salt

2 tablespoons rapeseed oil

325ml warm water

For the topping;

Passata

Mozzarella

Rocket

Ham or prosciutto

Grana Padana shavings

Pizza oven fired up

Method

  1. If you happen to have a pizza oven then the first job is to get that going, light a small fire with newspaper and twigs before adding some thicker sticks and small logs. My oven takes about 2.5 hours to get up to pizza cooking temperature so needs to be lit nice and early.
  2. Red Kitchenaid mixing pizza doughThen it’s time to make the dough, my recipe is based on a River Cottage one, but I’ve started using half fine pasta flour on the recommendation of a guy at a food festival who was cooking and selling pizzas. It gives the base a really delicate, thin crust which makes all the difference. For the dough I use our KitchenAid; simply mix the water, yeast and oil together and leave for 5 minutes for the yeast to get going, mix the dry ingredients together in the mixer then slowly add the yeast mixture. Once all combined you just leave it to mix for 10 minutes on a medium speed.
  3. Leave the dough to prove for an hour somewhere warm. Keep feeding the fire with logs so the temperature gradually builds up.
  4. After an hour knock the dough back and separate into 4 equal sized balls. If you’re using a conventional oven now’s the time to turn it on at the highest temperature it will go to.
  5. My oven was now up to temperature so I pushed the fire to the back and threw some smaller logs on to keep it burning.
  6. Now it’s time to make the pizzas, I prefer using a passata on the base rather than tomato puree and if I have time I make my own so I can cram a load of vegetables (courgette, onion, carrot, tomato, mushroom) into it without the kids knowing. Roll out the base until nice a thin, I use semolina flour to roll onto as it seems to really help stop the pizza sticking to the worktop or the pizza peel.
  7. Spread a layer of passata on the top, sprinkle with chunks of ham and then break up a ball of mozzarella and spread all over the pizza. Cook the pizza like this until the base is crispy (2-3 mins in my oven. 5-6 in a hot conventional oven).
  8. Take the pizza out of the oven, sprinkle the top with the rocket and a healthy covering of Grana Padano shavings.

The perfect ham parmesan and rocket pizza

There you have it, my idea of the perfect afternoons cooking and eating. All 3 children loved the soup, particularly having the melted cheese stirred through it, but the pizza was less successful ‘I don’t like this green stuff daddy’. They had a salami pizza instead plus my famous garlic pizza which is always the first pizza to go in the oven. I’ve really enjoyed taking part in this challenge, a great excuse to fire the pizza oven up for perhaps the last time this summer, now I just have to wait and see if the amazing Francesco Mazzei agrees with my menu choices.

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