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As a baker, there is a point when you realise people are not only being polite to accept your delicacy but are genuinely, absolutely crazy about your creation.
When you reach this point, don’t take it personally. Instead, take pride in knowing that you have found a keeper of a recipe.
When I turned mostly vegan in July, the first food I set out to vegan-ify was my sister-in-law’s bran and cream rusks. What I thought would be simply: “Replace the 1 litre of cream with a plant-based cream”, turned into months of experimentation and countless rusk batches.
South Africans love rusks. There is no doubt that this plant version would be a hit with Safas no matter what it’s made of. Despite the approval of my countrymen, I only really knew I nailed it when I noticed dozens of rusks disappear over three days in the house I shared with Italian and Romanian colleagues. The number of rusks consumed was impressive even by South African standards.
I consider these rusks a healthy treat because they are packed with nuts, seeds, plant fats and bran (fibre), but take care since they do have sugar and are easily overindulged.
I have these for breakfast on the train before a day in the Alps. They taste great dipped in a train station bought almond-milk cappuccino. In South Africa they work well for the times I left the house at 5 am for a 7 am race start. Simply make a quick coffee for the road or cross your fingers for a gourmet coffee truck next to the registration tent.
It’s also perfect at the office for the days following a very long run when your stomach starts to growl at 9:45 am.
Let me know below how you got on if you make them!
A few notes on the recipe:
This recipe is extended family sized. Even the biggest mixing bowl you own might not be big enough to fit all the ingredients. Though each batch is a lot of work and keeps the oven on for 10 hours, I recommend making half the recipe the first time to get a feel for it.
When you line the pan with baking paper, it’s easier to get the paper in the shape of the pan if you thoroughly wet the paper first.
The original recipe had 1 litre of cream. You cannot replace this with the same amount of plant cream since plant-based creams generally have a lot less fat in them. Less fat makes the rusks fall apart when you cut them, so I mix the soy/cashew/coconut cream with oil to get the right fat percentage.
If the rusks make a lof of crumbs as you cut them, put the crumbs in a pan in the oven to dry too; this makes for delicious nutty granola.
If you are in a part of the world that has self-raising flour, definitely use that. If not, the alternative below works well too.
These rusks are packed with proteins and fibre! The recipe contains bran and nuts, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds. Ideal as a pre-run snack when the race starts at 7 am, in the train to the alps or for a bite out on the trail!
Cuisine: South African
Keyword: Nuts and seeds, Quick Breakfast, Rusks, Vegan snacks
Servings: 7dozen rusks
Author: Tina van Heerden
1kgSieved self-rising flour (or 60 ml baking powder, 940 g flour and 15 ml salt)
4cupsWheat or oat branI usually use wheat
500gMargarine (I've also had success with vegan butter)
1cupRoughly chopped pecan nuts
800ml Plant-based cream I have used soy, coconut, cashew or Orley whip. Just make sure it’s thick and preferably intended for baking, not cooking.
200mlOil of choice I use Canola; most oils should work but not coconut oil.
Preheat the oven to 180 C.
Line a large metal pan (35 x 28 x 4 cm) with baking paper sprayed non-stick baking spray.
Combine the flour, bran, sugar and salt in a giant mixing bowl.
Add the margarine and use your fingertips to rub the flour and margarine together until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until well combined.
Add the cream and oil and stir until thoroughly mixed.
Pour the mixture into the pan and put it in the preheated oven.
After 45 min, test to see if the rusks are cooked through by inserting a skewer or a knife in the cake. Place it back in the oven 10 minutes at a time until the skewer/knife comes out dry.
Let the rusks cool down completely so that they are easier to cut.
Cut into rectangles not bigger than 9 x 3 x 2 cm. Don’t worry if they are slightly different sizes but keeping them uniform, keeps the drying time the same.
Lay the cut rusks on an oven grill and put them back in the oven at 100 C. I prop the oven open with a wooden spoon through the night to make sure they have enough ventilation. They will need about 6 to 8 hours.
Once the rusks are dried throughout, allow them to cool before packing them in airtight containers.
Enjoy dipped in coffee or tea.
The recipe makes a lot of rusks. Depending on how big you cut them, you will have between 60 and 90 pieces. The recipe can easily be halved or mixed on two batches.
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It makes sense that I do many more training runs than posts, but what I mean is that I run epic, stunning races and then never pen the experience.
My first marathon? I have pictures but no first-hand account. For the Lucerne half marathon, my first race in Switzerland, I have a draft, but I never completed it. I also never wrote about an amazing running retreat in the Austrian Alps.
This doesn’t happen because I don’t make time or don’t feel like writing, but because I fear my words won’t live up to reality.
I also worry that people who shared the experience with me might think my writing does not really do it justice.
The Carsington water half marathon
This race was in major danger of not being put to paper since it was simply fantastic.
For fear of never, ever writing about it, here is a simple report that cannot, and does not try, to do the day justice.
The race was held at Carsington water reservoir in Derbyshire in the UK. It was a lovely hilly loop around a lake.
I listen to a podcast called Marathon Talk and attended their annual run camp weekend in February. The half marathon race was part of the camp’s many running activities and for me, it meant running on tired legs.
Since I’m training for an ultra marathon, this race fitted well as a long-run between a marathon and a 30 km training run. Ever cautious, I decided to not go out too fast an instead focus on chatting to known and newly acquainted Marathon Talker listeners.
The 10 km was an out and back, while the half marathon was out, lap around the lake, out and back.
If that sound confusing, just bear with me for a paragraph: From the start 1), you run clockwise around the lake 2). When you pass the start at 12 km, you continue for a second lap 3) around the lake, but do a U-turn at 16 km 4) and run back 5) to the start/finish 6).
While this might sound overly complicated, it was extraordinary. When I passed 12 km and started my second lap, the first man passed me on his way to the finish. This meant from there I faced every single person in the race in front of me. Then I got to the turnaround point and ran past everyone behind me.
In a normal race that would be quite interesting, but in this race, it was especially special. I knew dozens of people from the camp, and the ones I didn’t know personally were recognizable by their Marathon Talk shirts, so even if I couldn’t cheer them on by name, I could by association.
My race strategy of chatting to likeminded podcast listeners worked out much better than expected. I ran the first 6 km with an Austria Alps run camper and my only regret is not getting to know her better, sooner.
I then caught up with another runner who came over from Europe. She felt sick and had to pull out at the end of the first loop so I continued on my own. As soon she pulled out and I passed the start, I saw the race leader finish and then could watch every other runner race while I was still running. I could see the female race unfold, cheer and be cheered on and get feedback on my position.
One runner shouted that I was just behind the show’s comedian, so I made an effort to catch up with him and one of the host’s wives. It was surreal to run behind them and listening to the show’s normal banter, without headphones. By then I was feeling hot in my weather inappropriate leggings, but luckily he was an actual British celebrity and stopped by the volunteers for selfies. This helped me catch my breath now and then, and allowed me to hang on to this little group untill the finish.
This fuss-free, barefoot report cannot express the sentiments of hanging out with similarly obsessed people for the last 21 kilometers of a wonderful running themed weekend, but hopefully, it gave you a glimpse of what it is like to be part of this wonderful Marathon talk community!
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Was it Shakespeare who said, ‘expectation is the root of all heartache’?
When I registered for three half marathons over three weekends in October, I had fully expected to be 100% Achilles pain-free. Seven weeks of heel raises, supplements, and reduced running and I am still left with morning stiffness and pain during daily activities. While I am nowhere near where I expected to be, I am also determined to look on the bright side. I am truly happy that I can still run at all.
I was scheduled to arrive on the outskirts of Bucharest at 18:00 on Saturday night and had to get my racing bib in the city center before 20:00. This challenging feat became near impossible when my flight came in 20 minutes late. While Ubers in Bucharest are convenient, reliable, and fast, there seems to be an invisible force field around the airport that turns them into quite the opposite: inconvenient, unreliable, and slow. I am used to multiple canceled rides and long waits next to the terminal. At least once you finally secured a driver, and met up at the correct section, you can sit back and relax in the car while the driver queues endlessly to pay the airport parking ticket.
It would be a stroke of pure luck if I could reach the city center before 20:00. The organizers threatened to deny bibs to people on race day that could not prove that they arrived in the city the same day. I also considered changing my entry to the 10 km but was not entirely sure if they had a 10 km and what time it would start.
Unexpectedly there was no one in front of me in the passport queue and I found my Uber driver within minutes. Like all Bucharest drivers, he wasted no time on the road and got me to the expo at 19:40, including a stop at my hotel to drop my bags. (It later turned out I dropped my bags at the wrong hotel, but they were still friendly enough to keep them while I rushed to the city center.)
When I signed up for the Bucharest half marathon, I had the chance to select custom text for my bib. I registered after the deadline for customized bibs and was pleasantly surprised to find The Heelstriker’s number waiting for me.
Unfortunately, I had to immediately return it in exchange for a nameless 10 km bib. At this moment I was beyond disappointed that I would only run half of what I had set out to do. I tried to look on the bright side: I would still get a shirt and goody bag.
I expected quite a bit from the goody bag. “Personal care products in the registration kit bag” was one of the reasons the website named for signing up for this race. Another reason was a “safe street running track for 33 km” (I can only assume the other 9.12 km was shared with ever hazardous Bucharest Ubers?)
With high hopes, I opened my bag to find 1 liter of unsweetened, unroasted almond milk, a magazine, and a roughly cut sponge. While I am not an expert in ‘personal care products’ in Romania, it would be an understatement to say I found this slightly unexpected.
I was still trying to look for silver linings but there was nothing sparkling about getting up at 6:40. While I was prepared to toe the line of the half at 9:30, I was now expected to race at 8.
I had to leave so early, that the hotel’s breakfast was only open for 5 min before I had to head out. Fortunately, I could grab and sneak a coffee in my uber to sip while I woke up.
I reached the race village at 7:30, which should have given me 3 min to drop my bag, 25 min to queue at the porta-potties, and 2 min to walk to the start.
To my great surprise, there was not a single runner standing uncomfortably in line and I had instant access to dozens of unused loo’s. The result was that I now had 24 minutes in the freezing cold until the start.
To pass the time, I decided to have my picture taken by a reluctant stranger at a poster of the Palace of Parliament. I was still gesturing which parts of the scene to include when she snapped the photo and hurried away.
Then I headed to the expo to see what unnecessary sports gear the three stands had on offer.
Inspired by Sir Farah’s recent achievement at the Chicago marathon, and to a greater extent the freezing weather, I settled on a pair of white Swiss arm warmers.
The race itself was loads of fun. While the streets were still deserted, there was a sense of calm and unity among the runners. Dozens of wheelchairs participated, who seemed to have simply started among the other runners instead of as a separate starting group. It struck me that most wheelchairs were simply normal everyday use chairs and not the sporty type you see racing at big city marathons. I jogged past them on the inclines, and they squeaked past me on the downs.
I had hoped to finish under an hour and managed 56:13 while smiling and running steady and controlled.
After the race, I took advantage of the very short massage queue before heading back to the start to watch the half and marathoners go off. I strolled around town with the course map in hand, somethings crossing paths as the elites flew by and other times stopping to cheer Santa or a Flintstone. There should be a word for the kind of joy and relief that you experience when you get to watch a marathon and not run it. There’s nothing like witnessing great feats of endurance without having to suffer it firsthand. I took pictures of the runners and had a celebratory cappuccino and banana bread.
I feared that I would aggravate my Achilles and put a stop to my running for a few weeks. After all, I did sign up for not one, but three back to back half marathons. The Achilles is not much better, but on the bright side, it’s also not much worse.
All in all, this was not a wasted day out. I enjoyed running the 10 km and had a great relaxed Sunday soaking up the marathon atmosphere in Bucharest.
Not only am I a warm memory richer, but also a nice medal, fantastic arm warmers, and a roughly cut sponge.
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