Food, Stories

Spiced Plum & Chocolate Yogurt Cake

A while ago, the Ninja Turtle decided to make the most of her countryside life by dragging GodzillaPin blackberry harvesting with her. Not long after, while out on another one of her countryside strolls, she chanced upon a fallen damson plum tree in the next village, Bethelainville. The weather in France has been very bizarre this summer, and in this part of Lorraine, most of August had been dreary, with cloudy mornings, storms and high winds, and lots of rain.

Any chance of wearing summer clothes and getting a tan were out of the question, and even the local flora succumbed to the wild weather, hence the poor fallen tree. Of course, the Ninja Turtle isn’t one to pass up any chance of sampling what Mother Nature has to offer, and since the tree was already done for, she figured it’d be a real shame to leave those luscious fruits to perish in the elements.

Walking the 2 hilly miles home with her pockets loaded with as many plums as she could possibly stuff in them was cumbersome, to say the least. Trying not to squish them made the job even harder, but her heart was bursting with excitement at the thought of what she could do with those.

quetsche

Gorgeous damson plums boasting a deep, rich, luscious shade of violet, bursting with flavour and flavonoids.

What’s most peculiar to the Ninja Turtle was that Lorraine is generally known for another variety of plum, a small yellow spherical ball of sweet juiciness known as the mirabelle. In fact, the mirabelle is so popular here that in Metz, there is an annual festival in Metz known as the Fête de la Mirabelle, where the fruit is celebrated to the fullest for 2 whole weeks, with concerts, food and wine tastings, exhibitions, activities for the children, a parade, fireworks, and even a beauty pageant that finishes with the crowning of a Queen Mirabelle!

The Damson plum, in comparison, seems to silently fade into the background.

So the Ninja Turtle decided to do it some justice, and celebrate it in her own way – by turning it into a cake, with a recipe which has proven to be wildly popular among friends and family this summer. Enter: the lazy baker’s guide to making scrumptious desserts with minimal washing up.

gateaux en moules

In fact, these cakes are so popular that she has resorted to making double batches each time because they get devoured in a couple of days.

The Ninja Turtle has received a few requests for the recipe, so without further ado…

Ingredients for basic cake

4 pots (125g) plain yogurt of choice (works with Greek, soy, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, normal milk, low-fat, non-fat… but this one was with soy yogurt)
4 pots sugar
4 eggs
2 pots olive oil
6 pots flour of choice (this version was a mix of rice flour and buckwheat flour)
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 sachet (11g) baking powder

For this spiced plum and chocolate cake, add:

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
200g dark chocolate, chopped in large chunks
300g Damson plums, chopped in chunks

Instructions

  1. Empty the yogurt into a giant mixing bowl. Use one of the pots to measure out all the rest of your ingredients. Mix in the oil, sugar and eggs. Stir vigorously.
  2. Add in the next three ingredients of the basic cake mix – the flour, the baking soda and baking powder. Most recipes will warn against over-mixing the flour if you want to avoid dense cakes because over-mixing wheat flour creates gluten, but the Ninja Turtle has figured out TWO key points – gluten-free flours don’t have this problem, and this is a very moist cake batter, so you can mix to your heart’s content without worrying. Even if you use normal wheat flour, the quantity of baking powder and baking soda ensures a beautiful rise so you’ll end up with a soft, fluffy, moist and light cake.
  3. For this version of cake, add in all the rest of the ingredients and give it a good stir.
  4. Pour into your cake or muffin moulds, about 3/4 full.
  5. Pop them in the oven at 180°C (350°F). The Ninja Turtle used deep loaf cake moulds, and these cakes took an hour to be done. However, if you’re using a shallower cake mould, about 40 to 45 minutes will do. If you’re making muffins, adjust to about 20 to 25 minutes. If in doubt, stick a skewer in the largest part of your cake and see if it comes out clean.

The Ninja Turtle has played with various versions of yogurt cake, using those aforementioned blackberries in one, making a chocolate buckwheat streusel in another (that one was a crowd favourite), and even experimenting with a bottle of dark beer in another. The cakes never last, so she’s concluded it’s a recipe worth keeping (and sharing!)

Best of all? Aside from a teaspoon, you’re only using that one little yogurt pot to do all your measuring. How easy is that?

dessert

The Ninja Turtle ate her cake tonight for dessert with a dollop of yogurt and some blueberries.

How do you make the most of summer fruits?

What’s your favourite easy dessert recipe?

Advertisements
Standard
Arts and Culture, Travel

The Search

O lonesome voyager, you are so very far from home
You’ve seen many faces, but still you walk alone
Each day your path unfolds in directions quite unknown
Leading you to everywhere, it seems, except back home

Your rucksack carries little yet your weary shoulders sag
Forever burdened by your thoughts, from all that you’ve seen
Or worse! thing that you’ve heard, of places you’ve not yet been
The weight of faint hope and dashed dreams can’t fit in your bag

Know what it is you truly seek? O lonesome voyager
Some vague definition – a roughly-shaped idea
A glimmer of an outline to your indescribable desire
Without a clue to what drives you, you’re condemned to aimless wander

Pose your belongings for a while, sit and have a rest
Let the stillness engulf you, as time melts and slips by
In this silence your heart speaks – to you it will not lie
So trust the little voice inside, for it truly knows what’s best

O lonesome voyager, though you be far from home
As you journey onward, know that you’re not alone
Your guardian angels keep watch and the North Star it has shone
And when you’ve found that which you seek, the winds shall blow you home.

Standard
Arts and Culture, Food, Running, Stories, Travel

The ALESIA Trail

A long time ago, when the Roman civilization was flourishing and France was still known as Celtic Gallia (Gaul), there lived a chap who dared defy Julius Caesar. He was known as Vercingetorix, and you may have come across his name, which is strewn liberally all through pop culture, most notably in the Asterix comic book series or film. Wikipedia says his name meant Great Warrior King, and  as a chieftain of the Arverni tribe, he attempted to unite the Gauls to rebel against the Roman legions. When Caesar built not one, but two fortifications to cut off both the city, as well as the Gallic allies who came as relief, the Gauls lost the Battle of Alesia and the Roman Empire was created. Vercingetorix was held captive, brought back to Rome, marched the streets and finally executed.

A statue of Vercingetorix in Alise-Sainte-Reine, commissioned by Napoleon III.

A statue of Vercingetorix in Alise-Sainte-Reine, commissioned by Napoleon III.

It’s a sorry end, but the man went down as a hero. So widely celebrated is this part of Gallo-Roman/French history, that the running community has decided to celebrate it with the Alesia Trail, a trail race that takes runners through the forests and villages of Burgundy, in the ancient battle site of the Battle of Alesia (52BC). It offered four distances – 16km, 25km, 34km and 51km. The Ninja Turtle won her bib on RunningHeroes, which included the post-race meal, and she was absolutely stoked.

After fourteen races since the end of February 2015, this was to be the Ninja Turtle’s fifteenth and last race of the year, and as luck would have it, a final hurrah to summer.

The duo rolled into town a day in advance and took a moment to enjoy the landscape of the Burgundy countryside during the bib collection. Alise-Sainte-Reine sits atop a huge hill, and the view was magnificent, but it did mean that the race will finish with a climb back uphill, and what a mother of a hill it was.

The race commences and finishes at the statue of Vercingetorix, which sits atop a huge hill.

The race commences and finishes at the statue of Vercingetorix, which sits atop a huge hill.

GodzillaPin decided to calm the Turtle’s anxiety by taking her sightseeing, so they drove to Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, where their B&B accommodation was, and popped by the lolly factory and the medieval crypt. By the time they checked into their B&B, the Ninja Turtle was tired enough to sleep. They were greeted by their host, who was very friendly, but when she inquired who was running the race and what distance, the Ninja Turtle was met with a rather impressed and skeptical look.

But first, a pre-race meal at the Cheval Blanc.

The next morning, the duo woke up bright and early, and their host served up a lovely breakfast of fresh fruit salad, yogurt, breads and spreads. The Ninja Turtle also got a whole flask of coffee to herself, which came to 4 cups! They were joined by the other two guests in the B&B, a couple from Paris who were also in town for the race. The husband was running the 16km, and the same look of disbelief crossed their faces when GodzillaPin announced proudly that the Turtle was doing the 34km.

Some fun facts from the organisers:

1600 runners across the four distances. 26% of all runners were women, and 74% men. 15% (240 runners) were doing the 34km distance, and the average age of all runners was 41. There were to be 160 volunteers, which meant 1 volunteer to 10 runners. The runners will run a combined distance of 41138km in 8 hours!

A map of the 34.2km route.

A map of the 34.2km route, with a climb of 1200m (3937ft) and a total elevation profile of 2393m (7851ft).

While driving to the starting line, the Ninja Turtle decided to err on the side of over-dressing, with the option to remove layers, than to risk freezing through the race. Although the forecast was a nice sunny day, it was 9°C (48°F) at the starting line with cold winds. She made it to the starting line with barely a few minutes to spare. The duo hadn’t counted on a traffic jam to happen, but with the road closures on narrow streets, it was inevitable. GodzillaPin dropped the Turtle off, and she hiked uphill to the starting line. The queue for the toilets were too long, so she found a bush close by. GodzillaPin joined her a few short minutes later for a good luck kiss, and off the runners went.

Ready... steady... GO! (The Ninja Turtle in white cap, lagging close to the back of the pack once more.)

9am flag-off for the 34km race. Ready… steady… GO! (The Ninja Turtle in white cap, lagging close to the back of the pack once more.)

After a long and hard season that culmulated in a half marathon PR just two weeks ago, the Ninja Turtle had just one simple objective: to simply finish the race and enjoy herself while at it. There are some runners out there who snub this absolute lack of competitive spirit; perhaps you believe that if one ain’t pushing hard, there’s no difference from doing just a training run, so why pay the money to join a race? Well, that may be the case for road races, but as far as the Turtle is concerned, there is no way her training would take her through the forests and hills of ancient battlefields, and she runs her trail races as experiences to be lived. Besides the faster one runs, the sooner the experience is over, which makes it terrible value for money. That’s not to say the Turtle doesn’t make an effort, she still runs in these events, because everyone else is doing it and it’s a great sensation to be flying through the landscape. Also, this race had 2 time limit checkpoints.

Landscape like this.

Landscapes like this. Lovely Charolais cows soaking in the sun, staring at the nutters running by.

The race had four water stations,three of which offered up food, and one of them with a time-check. The first of which these was in Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, where GodzillaPin waited to capture some photos of the Turtle.

The villages offered up a picturesque change from the countryside and the forest landscapes.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It was truly a fantastic experience, as most of the race took the runners along soft forest soil, which was an absolute pleasure compared to some of her previous races. That said, the Ninja Turtle does not wish to downplay the difficulty of the race, as there were moments where runners still had to deal with sharp rocks, and at two points, the course became very technical, and runners were obliged to use cords to descend and to climb up the impossibly steep trail. To get an idea of what the Ninja Turtle lived, one of the participants from the previous edition made a video of the race.

The Ninja Turtle passed the mid-point time check and clocked in at 2h 13m 29s, ranking 164 overall. By the time she’d crossed the finish line, she’d finished the race in 4h 11m 3s, and moved up to 134 of 211 finishers. It was a pleasant surprise too, to discover that she ranked 10th among the women (29 finished), and 4th in her age group category (11 finished). Perhaps they’re not terribly impressive results to some, given the size of the competition, and frankly, the Turtle didn’t care. She was simply glad to receive some post-race TLC from a couple of amazing volunteer physiotherapists. She also enjoyed the chance to socialise with some of the other runners (they saw Asterix, a Roman soldier, and here the Turtle poses with Getafix), and quite possibly the reincarnation of Vercingetorix himself! Guilhem had run the race twice before, and this hardcore young man is the face of Alesia Trail. That’s him on the poster! He also did spectacularly well, coming in 10th overall in the 51km. And he’s only 22…

Overall, it’s been a great race season, filled with extreme experiences, new PRs, personal growth and above all, the chance to celebrate the love of running.

The Turtle has no doubt that 2016 will bring more racing fun and adventure, but for the moment, she is ready to hang up her running shoes for a few weeks, for she has earned a much deserved rest.

The happy end to a chapter.

The happy end to a chapter.

Standard