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
Running

How To Participate In Your Hometown Marathon As A Non-Running Runner

As most runners know, it’s incredibly frustrating to be “out of action”, be it self-imposed, or circumstantially determined (i.e. injury). It becomes doubly frustrating when one sees everyone else having all the fun, and leaving one out of it. This was the case for the Ninja Turtle, who had flirted for a moment with the idea of finishing her year with the Marathon Metz Mirabelle, a fall race in the town where the duo live. However, she very sensibly decided to call it a day after the Alesia Trail, as she was beginning to fatigue from her string of summer races, and it’s always smart to finish on a high, before the injuries and burn out set in.

So what’s a runner to do if she wants to participate in a marathon, without actually running in it? Why, volunteer, of course.

It was the first time the Ninja Turtle played the part of a volunteer at a race, and she highly recommends it. It’s a great way to give back to a sport you love, while still playing an active role in the event. Race organisers are always looking for people to lend a hand, as a LOT of work is involved in putting a race together, things that runners may take for granted while they grumble about the cost of registration.

The Ninja Turtle also roped GodzillaPin and Mickey Mouse into lending a hand, of course.

Starting early, before the sun even rises.

Starting early, before the sun even rises.

On race day, around the time when runners were having their pre-race breakfast, getting dressed and ready, the volunteers were already out in the freezing cold and dark, setting up barricades and closing off the streets. They even had the pleasure of turning a police car around (vive la France, eh?).

Setting up the signs at the corrals. Carrying heavy loads make for great cross-training workout.

Setting up the signs at the corrals. Carrying heavy loads make for great cross-training workout.

As dawn broke and the departure area was all good to go, the runners started arriving, first in trickles, and then en masse. Along with them came family members, including many excited children. When one thinks about all the sacrifice involved in preparing to run a marathon – the hours spent in solitary self-flagellation in pursuit of a bizarre goal, runners have a lot to be grateful for, especially loving spouses and family who despite months of living with a cranky stats-obsessed, carb-guzzling, occasionally-irrational I-can’t-walk-to-the-grocery-store-I-have-a-long-run-planned-for-tomorrow nutter, show up anyway to cheer, encourage and support said nutter.

And of course, the volunteers who're always ready on standby to tie your shoelaces, throw your rubbish, hand you a drink, point you to the toilets and tell you how awesome you're doing at Mile 18.

And of course, the volunteers who’re always ready on standby to tie your shoelaces, throw your rubbish, hand you a drink, point you to the toilets, argue with angry drivers to keep the roads safe while you run, and tell you how awesome you’re doing at Mile 18.

GodzillaPin and the Ninja Turtle were in charge of ensuring the separation of the marathon relay runners from the full marathon runners, so they only got to see the departure of the race from the back.

Break a leg, guys!

Break a leg, guys!

But as soon as the marathoners were off, it was time to flag-off the relay runners, and finally the participants of the 7km dash. By that stage, the duo have been running around for 3 hours, but the job’s far from done. They grabbed a black coffee and pastry (given free to the volunteers by the city council) and it was off to the next job: the finishing line.

The first to arrive were the runners of the 7km dash.

All the volunteers were armed with medals, ready to fling over their necks and herd them off as quickly as possible before the marathon runners arrived.

All the volunteers were armed with medals, ready to fling over their necks and herd them off as quickly as possible before the marathon runners arrived.

Some of the volunteers were enjoying the job less than others...

GodzillaPin’s job was standing around, looking beautiful.

But before they did…

There was the "fun" job of unpacking and unfolding the space blankets, because autumn in Metz = winter anywhere else in the world.

There was the “fun” job of unpacking and unfolding the space blankets, because autumn in Metz = winter anywhere else in the world.

One of the most awesome benefits of being a volunteer of course, is the chance to be up close to the action when the elites arrived. The duo had to wear special access passes because of the tight security. The duo got a view even better than some of the media guys.

The first four across the line were Kenyans, and the first French to arrive placed fifth overall.

The first four across the line were Kenyans, and the first French to arrive placed fifth overall.

One of the Kenyans collapsing upon arrival. Not to fear, he received first aid straightaway.

One of the Kenyans collapsing upon arrival. Not to fear, he received first aid straightaway.

The Ninja Turtle's fangirl face. Enjoy it, you'll never see another photo like it. She almost passed out from excitement when she got to wrap one of the Kenyans in a space blanket.

The Ninja Turtle’s fangirl face upon standing face to face with the winner of the Marathon Metz Mirabelle 2015, Mark Tanui. Enjoy it, you’ll never see another photo like it. She almost passed out from excitement when she got to wrap one of the Kenyans in a space blanket.

Of course, between the first arrivals and the next wave, there was a period of calm. The real work started from about 3 hours after the marathon flagged off, which was midday. The runners streamed in at an impossible rate, and the Ninja Turtle found herself running back and forth grabbing more space blankets to throw around these brave souls.

Quick quick, the runners are coming!

Quick quick, the runners are coming!

The finish line of a marathon is full of emotions. As the Ninja Turtle dutifully wrapped runners for a few hours (she finally ran out of steam around 2.20pm), she received several weepy embraces from overwhelmed men and women who’ve completed their first marathons, and no less than salty slobbering kisses from two cheeky, opportunistic middle-aged men.

The last runner to cross the finish line at 5h 51m 54s, a Mdm. Helene Schaff, was as commendable as the winner M. Mark Tanui, who finished in 2h 13m 35s.

Bravo, Madame!

Bravo, Madame!

After almost 8 hours of hard work, the duo went home and passed out.

Although it was the Ninja Turtle's first experience in volunteering at a marathon, it certainly will not be her last.

Although it was the Ninja Turtle’s first experience in volunteering at a marathon, it certainly will not be her last.

Standard
Arts and Culture

Art Around Town (Metz, France)

After taking four days off to recover from the Trail des Passerelles, the Ninja Turtle ventured outside for her first run as the weather was just too darn nice to stay indoors. Her quads are still incredibly sore from the downhills so it was slow going; she kept to a route close to home (just in case she needed to cut the run short from too much pain) which meant sticking to within the city.

Now that Europe is thrown into the height of summer, there are endless activities and free entertainment lined up. Metz Plage started two days ago; that’s the “urban beach” where a whole pile of sand is dumped somewhere to re-create a beach atmosphere for those who live only about 8 hours from the closest real beach.

There’s currently a series of open air art exhibitions displayed in various venues too – gardens seem to be a favourite exhibition spot. So as the Ninja Turtle shuffled towards the end of her easy 5-miler, she chanced upon this pretty cool series:

?

20150724_122320

20150724_122258

20150724_122306

20150724_122329

20150724_122340

Standard
Arts and Culture, Travel

It’s Summer in Europe – Festivals!!!

OK, so for about ten months a year, life in this corner of Europe is cold and bleak, characterised by grey skies, gusty gales and the type of rain that conspires to keep people indoors. Nobody goes outside unless they absolutely have urgent business to attend to, and even then, they stomp around with a miserable look of despair and reluctance, burdened by too many layers of clothes, determined to go back indoors as soon as possible.

But for two glorious months or so, everything changes. The sun comes out in full force, and the streets fill with folks with shortened hemlines, smiles and a swing in their step. The longer days also mean that one still has plenty of time to stroll the parks or hang out for cocktails after a full day at work. Best of all, summertime means one thing for the duo – festivals.

Stalking the streets in search for art.

Stalking the streets in search for art.

GodzillaPin is a festival freak. Back in their Adelaide days, the poor chap literally lost his mind in Mad March; between WOMADelaide, the Adelaide Fringe Festival, the Clipsal 500 (not to mention all the other events in the regions) all happening during peak surfing season, GodzillaPin desperately wanted to believe he could split himself up to be in 10 different places at the same time. It was GodzillaPin who’d cultivated the Ninja Turtle’s enthusiasm for festivals – it’s not to say that she doesn’t enjoy spending a lazy summer day reclined on the grass with a glass of cooler wine listening to amazing groovy beats, it’s just that she was never really raised to appreciate life this way.

So, the weekend started on Friday evening with the 6th edition of Hop Hop Hop!, the international open air street theatre in Metz. Over three days, various theatre troupes performed in public spaces, absolutely free of charge. More than just theatre, there was also music concerts, marching bands, little scenes, and surprise performances where people rendez-vous at a particular time and place with no idea what they’re going to watch. It’s all good fun, and free!

Qualité Street putting up a musical/acrobatics performance at Place St Louis - according to the duo, it was the best performance of the evening.

Qualité Street putting up a musical/acrobatics performance at Place St Louis – according to the duo, it was the best performance of the evening.

Here’s a short clip from the beginning of the performance by Qualité Street. For those who find themselves in Europe this summer and wish to catch their performances, here is their touring schedule.

The same weekend, there were the Festival World MeYouZik and the Rock Um Knuedler Festival, both free and open air performances in Luxembourg. They were highly billed events, with the likes of Winston McAnuff and Anastacia being the drawcards to the respective events. GodzillaPin had initially assumed that both the world and rock festivals were happening concurrently, but it turned out to be world music on the Saturday they showed up. This is just as well, as between the two genres, the Ninja Turtle prefers world music by a very large margin.

Debademba on the Lion Stage - their style of music is described as: Afrobeat, blues, with a nod at rock.

Debademba on the Lion Stage – their style of music is described as: Afrobeat, blues, with a nod at rock.

Next up was Playing for Change, not so much a band as a collective of musicians with the goal of Connecting The World Through Music.

Next up was Playing for Change, not so much a band as a collective of musicians with the goal of Connecting The World Through Music.

GodzillaPin came to this festival especially to watch Grandpa Elliot perform. That guy can really rock a harmonica.

GodzillaPin came to this festival especially to watch Grandpa Elliot perform. That guy can really rock a harmonica.

At the MeYouVillage, there were stands with information of non-profit organisations and non-government associations focusing on fundraising for various needy communities around the world. At the village, there were also some exotic foods and drinks on offer.

The Gangbé Brass Band performing at the MeYouVillage stage.

The Gangbé Brass Band performing at the MeYouVillage stage.

A short extract of the Gangbé Brass Band’s performance. It’s quite hard to describe the style of music but it’s a fusion of African beats with jazz/big brass band? At any rate, it was cool enough to get all the little kids off their bums and shaking their booties.

Winston McAnuff & Fixi on the Lion Stage. The programmes were running behind schedule and groups were starting a good half an hour after their scheduled performance times.

Winston McAnuff & Fixi on the Lion Stage. The programmes were running behind schedule and groups were starting a good half an hour after their scheduled performance times, but it was worth the wait.

The evening ended with the duo swinging to Alice Francis on the Holy Ghost Stage. The duo had first seen Alice Francis perform in Nancy back in 2013, and fell in love with the genre because of this amazing trio from Germany. They were enjoying the music so much they didn’t take any photos or videos, but here’s a clip from one of their better known songs.

Standard
Arts and Culture, Food, Travel

A Visit to the annual Salon du Chocolat

Last weekend, the Ninja Turtle and GodzillaPin spent a day suffering from sugar overload. It’s that time of the year again, when the Salon du Chocolat comes to the Metz Exposition, and the duo went armed with 2 credit cards and plenty of shopping bags.

There were 60+ exhibitors at the Salon du Chocolat this year. Of course, as the name suggests, it’s a world of chocolate.

Each year, there is also a chocolate sculpture competition, as well as a fashion parade, where the models wear creations made with/of chocolate. The theme this year was Asia.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Of course, it wasn’t ALL just chocolate. There were other types of confectionery on offer too.

One of the reasons for visiting a chocolate exposition, aside from tasting and buying chocolate of course, was that they got to speak with the experts. Two years ago, the duo had a nice chat with Mikael Azouz, who has won multiple international awards. This time, the duo chose to chin-wag with another chocolate master – Fabrice Dumay, the best chocolatier in Moselle.

M. Dumay was incredibly friendly, and knowledgeable. He explained to them how lecithin was used as an emulsifier, and consequently confectioners also cost-cut with this ingredient (by increasing lecithin by 1%, you can reduce cocoa butter by 10% in your recipe). He went into great detail explaining the various single origins, from Madagascar, to Sao Tome, to Venezuela, and the latest up-and-coming chocolate region in the world: Vietnam! Cocoa was first planted there 10 years ago, and harvest from the first 5 years were terrible, but they are slowly seeing improvements. The production, situated not far from the Mekong Delta, is currently very small-scale, and apparently 100% fair trade. M. Dumay also quickly briefed them on the crop to bean to bar process, and shared his favourite wine to pair with chocolate (if you must know, it’s the Modérato Nectar d’Automne Muscat from Casablanca).

 

All up, it was a fantastic excursion, and look at the bounty they lugged home that evening:

Just don't ask how much they spent on this (it's an eye-watering sum).

Just don’t ask how much they spent on this (it’s an eye-watering sum).

Standard
Running

Alternative Activities

Nothing is worse than not running for a runner.

At this time of the year, there are plenty of blog posts about running. In fact, it appears that the number of posts on running has multiplied a hundredfold, filled with selfies and 5K race reports and screenshots of running apps detailing stats of the morning’s run.

That’s brilliant; more people do need to get active, and choosing running as one of those activities undoubtedly makes the hearts of many runners swell with pride. See? Our sport is so easy and accessible to the masses, that come summertime, EVERYONE is doing it.

Much as the Ninja Turtle loves to waste an hour (or three) reading blog posts about running, one little issue is beginning to grind on her. A noticeable number of people seem to say things like “I hate running, but I love the results”, or “Running is great for these following 15 reasons” etc.

This makes the Ninja Turtle very sad. Sure, run for all the benefits it brings you, for there are plenty – clearer mind, a sense of camaraderie, a structure to your life – but to go back to Psychology 101, there’s intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. As soon as people start saying things like how they hate running, alarm bells start ringing. How long can someone keep running for years if deep down, they really detest getting hot and sweaty, the huffing and puffing, of the DOMS in the next 48 hours?

Running for the sake of running is not bizarre, strange, or alien. The Ninja Turtle cannot possibly be the only person in the world who runs because she loves running. Even without a GPS app that measures her splits, even if it’s pouring with rain outside, even if it’s running endless laps or on a treadmill without music, she’d still run. Of course, it’s far more fun to explore a new neighbourhood, or her newfound joy of mountain trails, but take those away and she’d still want to run.

Running 4 races of deceptively short distances has led to a situation where she now realises that there is a good reason why even the professionals train in cycles (meaning breaks have to feature somewhere in there). Two days after the Vosges she went out for a 5-miler, and noticed that the pain in her calf cannot be ignored. In fact, the pain persisted even during simple activities such as walking down the stairs.

So for the moment, she’s booked herself in to physiotherapy, and has been advised to lay off the running. *cue heartwrenching sob* It’s nothing serious, but running through the pain will probably result in a bigger injury that may put her out of action for months. So she’s trying to be smart about it, while her eyes grow big as she reads about adventure running.

And she’s limiting herself to really low impact activities like walking and when she cannot resist, hiking. It’s a great time of the year for these, really. The summer solstice two days ago, for instance, saw her and GodzillaPin traipsing the streets of Metz for four hours as they watched free performances.

Nothing better than sunset jazz, except a good cocktail to go with.

Nothing better than sunset jazz, except a good cocktail to go with.

Their upcoming travels will undoubtedly mean a lot of walking for sightseeing, but walking around one’s own city can sometimes bring exciting discoveries too:

The remains of an aqueduct constructed during the Gallo-Roman period. It's about 1800 years old.

The remains of an aqueduct constructed during the Gallo-Roman period. It’s about 1800 years old.

The Ninja Turtle is going to do her very best to respect this period of recuperation, but like most runners, being benched can be very difficult to handle. She just might have to consider getting herself a bicycle soon!

Standard
Arts and Culture, Running

This Week In Photos

Since Baby Turtle’s return from Hua Hin, Thailand a week ago, the Ninja Turtle has been spending a fair amount of time playing catch-up-over-Skype with her little sister. This makes for brilliant personal bonding, but lousy blogging material. As such, the following photos shall do some of the talking…

8 Mai a.k.a Victory Day celebrations in France, where American GIs (despite lack of actual proof, we highly suspect they are not really Americans, which kind of spoils the fun) in trucks roll through little French villages declaring liberation.

8 Mai a.k.a Victory Day celebrations in France, where American GIs (despite lack of actual proof, we highly suspect they are not really Americans, which kind of spoils the fun) in trucks roll through little French villages declaring liberation.

Meal of the week - an orange and fennel salad topped with sesame and walnut oil

Meal of the week – an orange and fennel salad topped with sesame and walnut oil

GodzillaPin's surprise gift to the Ninja Turtle, who has a serious tin box habit

GodzillaPin’s surprise gift to the Ninja Turtle, who has a serious tin box habit

Yet another producers' market the duo have been visiting; can one ever have enough of artisanal bread, cheese, honey, biscuits and wine?

Yet another producers’ market the duo have been visiting; can one ever have enough of artisanal bread, cheese, honey, biscuits and wine? (There is only one correct answer to this question.)

The Ninja Turtle was VERY bummed with the Rock 'N' Roll Edinburgh Half Marathon was cancelled, especially AFTER she had booked her flights and accommodation, which came to an obscene amount of tourism $$ for naught. However, the organisers have sent this through the mail, which brought very little consolation but at least it's pretty to look at.

The Ninja Turtle was VERY bummed when the Rock ‘N’ Roll Edinburgh Half Marathon was cancelled, especially AFTER she had booked her flights and accommodation, which came to an obscene amount of tourism $$ for naught. However, the organisers have sent this through the mail, which brought very little consolation because what’s a medal without a race? At least it’s pretty to look at.

Since it's almost impossible to find English books in Metz, mail order books = happiness. The Ninja Turtle bought one for each race of the season as rewards.

Since it’s almost impossible to find English books in Metz, mail order books = happiness. The Ninja Turtle bought one for each race of the season as rewards.

The best for last: a new running route discovered! Can't wait to explore this area on the next scheduled long run.

The best for last: a new running route discovered! Can’t wait to explore this beautiful area on the next scheduled long run.

To wrap up, here’s a wonderful link the Ninja Turtle’s discovered: http://www.runsmartproject.com/calculator/. It works out what your pace is “in an ideal world with perfect conditions”. Of course, training doesn’t occur in a vacuum (or else you would unquestionably die), but it’s nice to hypothetically isolate certain variables and see how your performance is consequently affected. When one has been running against headwinds of 25mph (40kph) like the Ninja Turtle, those watering eyes are less the result of the wind and more because the resulting average splits look unbearably awful…

Have a fabulous weekend!

Standard