Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Health | Parkrun

Anyone can be a runner.

I firmly believe the sentence I've just written. And I hope, that given time, you too will come to believe it.
About 18 months a go I discovered a community organised event that has dramatically changed what my Saturday's look like and also changed my life. That event was called parkrun. Parkrun is a free, weekly, timed 5km run that takes place all around the UK and now also around the world. Started by a group of friends just outside London it's become the pinnacle of grassroots sport for adults in the UK in my opinion. Built on the philosophy that anyone can take part and that the event is a run not a race, it is an incredible community of like minded people who get together and run life together.

18 months a go when I rocked up for the first time at Milton Country Park, just north of Cambridge, I had no idea that I would have racked up 60 runs by the end of January 2016, have volunteered 40 times and made a wonderful group of friends. 

Parkrun is run by its volunteering community so when I started volunteering I don't think I really knew what I was letting myself in for! The core volunteer team at Cambridge are friendly, welcoming, let me in to their homes and lives, bring me flasks of tea and drive me to parkrun tourism opportunities. They've baked for me, cried with me, celebrated with me, eaten a lot of cake with me and mostly just done life with me. And the best thing is: they're from all walks of life and they're all kinds of ages - from the sassy under 16 year old who is my co-results processing champion to the 70+ sub-20 minute runner who volunteers every week without fail. They're incredible, inspirational, real people who find running at times as tough, and awesome, and frustrating and brilliant as I do.

So this week as Cambridge parkrun hits its 6th birthday I urge you to grab your trainers and find your nearest parkrun. Because you too have the chance to discover an incredible, vibrant community of people passionate about life who happen to run. Some of us badly, some of slowly, some of us competitively and some of us enthusiastically. But all of us are passionate. And dedicated to our Saturday morning fix.

Happy Parkrunning.

You can sign up to participate in parkrun at www.parkrun.org.uk

Friday, 8 January 2016

Food | Halva Bakery, Fulham

As the nights draw in and daylight hours shrink, surely there is no greater indulgence than a great coffee shared with good company? I'm no great fan of winter in England, between the jarring Christmas colours spotted everywhere and the torrential rain, it's hard to sustain a feeling of merriment in London between November and February.
So when I was invited to the Halva Bakery in Fulham, newly opened in 2015, I was looking forward to breaking out of rainy London and being transported to Parisian dreams of patisseries and romance. On a bright, blustery morning I find the quaint, neatly decorated bakery with windows filled with tempting treats and decorated inside in a cross between chic dining room and a first class train waiting room.

Here, in Parsons Green, we are deep in the land of the mothers who munch - a different generation to the ladies who lunch they wander in and out of Halva with their bugaboo strollers, designer handbags and Breton striped babies. In the hour I sit nursing my pastry, eight wander in ordering buttery pastries and flat whites. And that's part of the joy of Halva - there is a sense of freedom to use it as your own - takeaway coffee, weekly bread orders, exceptional tarts, good value lunch options or quiet retreat space - all vie for attention and yet somehow the offering isn't diminished by so many voices.
At the helm of this bakery, the young head chef is just 26 - passionate and enthusiastic she blends contemporary flavours with traditional techniques making for a magically eclectic bakery. I order the delicate and intricate lemon tart beautifully topped with alternating piped lemon curd and meringue and topped with fine slivers of grated lime peel. It's as delicious as it is pretty. The meringues quivers that top the delicate lemon tart are divine: powdery soft yet still firm enough to maintain their prowess; their sweetness is the perfect match for the sharp creamy lemon curd.
My friend orders the Valrhona chocolate tart a cacophony of chocolate, pastry, cream and some silver leaf for added pizzazz. The more hardcore foodies amongst you may know that Valrhona is a premium French chocolate company founded in 1922. However, if like me your chocolate knowledge isn't quite up to scratch, a quick google on the free WiFi can help translate the slightly more obscure descriptions of the decadent delights on display.

Too often we use pretty as a descriptive word akin to a slightly lacklustre younger sibling of beautiful. In some circles pretty is nigh on insulting. However, the pastry and deserts on display at Halva are the pure definition of the word pretty. They are sugar and spice and all things nice. A little girls idea of heaven. And to be honest; most adults would tend to agree. Heavenly Halva and the pretty pastries. The perfect remedy to beat the Winter blues.