Friday

Born To Run? Part Two

*This post first appeared on The Guardian Online

Every Saturday morning, I set out on my London Marathon training run. Every Saturday morning, I fall flat on my face.

Sometimes I slip on a wet drain cover. Sometimes I slip in mud. Sometimes I slip on soggy leaves, and sometimes I slip in dog shit. Quite often I don't need a slippery surface. Weary legs, uneven paving stones and rogue twigs have all caused me to fall, and I spend a lot of time on the pavement, with bleeding hands and grit in my knees. But I pick myself up, brush myself off, and keep going.

My reasons for attempting my first marathon aren't totally selfless. Of course it's a personal achievement, and I'm also raising money for the anti-poverty charity ActionAid. But as someone who writes a blog about burgers and Bruce Springsteen, I'm ashamed to say I have been known to eat five patty and bun combos in one day – giving a whole new meaning to that term "personal best".

Developing a bit of a burger belly, I really needed to shift a pound or two. "Run a marathon," I was encouraged, "you'll lose weight and get some killer abs." Lured by the prospect of a washboard stomach like those oily girls on the front of FHM, I decided to put my unsuspecting body through the training.

It's all lies. I have not lost a single pound. In fact, giddied by the permission to carb-load, I've managed to gain nine. I had visions of myself striding around London with a super-long and lean body, oozing positivity as endorphins pumped through me. Instead my thunder thighs have slowly wobbled past construction sites in head to toe, one size does not fit all lycra. My face has passed through all shades of red – a soft wine blush to a deep purple beetroot. When the exertions are too much, I lose all colour completely.

I was expecting a little more camaraderie in the training. Maybe I'm doing it wrong, but as I pass the same old faces on yet another lap of Hyde Park, I'm surprised when no one wants to return my thumbs up or give me a high five. Occasionally I spot someone who looks fit and healthy, but their face is pained with that all too familiar grimace. I'm secretly chuffed, taking a sneaky bit of pleasure in knowing someone seemingly fitter than me is also really struggling with this.

But it's not just other "athletes" (I've taken to calling myself this) that seem to run faster than me. My most mortifying incident was when a group of five-year-old scouts galloped past me with backpacks, maps and compasses, apparently on some sort of top secret mission. "Keep going!" they encouraged me without a glimmer of effort on their smug cherub faces. I barely had any air left in my lungs to breathe out a meek "thanks" and then a slightly quieter "bog off".

Marathon training has its highs and lows. As a huge Springsteen fan, his music makes up the majority of my training runs, the miles made marginally easier with a different live recording each Saturday. Psychologically, the distraction of a Springsteen set list has helped, but it is also reducing my stamina: jabbing my fingers to the sky, slapping my thigh to the beat and singing while running is not the best way to conserve energy. Plus, I think I'm starting to scare people.

The boredom is tricky, so I have to find ways to manage it. I load my bumbag with jelly babies, allocating myself a little sugary sweet every two miles. Isn't it sad when the best thing to happen on a Saturday is the anticipation of whether you'll pull out a green or yellow jelly baby? But staggering sweets is a good way to keep me calm and happy, because hell hath no fury like a burger-lover on a marathon training run. I apologise now to anyone who may have crossed paths with an angry, whimpering girl in head-to-toe purple lycra over the last eight weeks.

As I charge (OK, trundle) along the river Thames, accidentally photo-bombing pictures, tourists slowly back away in fear, smooching couples jump apart and doting parents dodge out of the way as they hear my heavy breathing and clomping feet coming up behind them. Rats have darted out in front of me. Dogs have chased me. Pensioners on mobility scooters and children on micro-scooters have raced me down the street, wheels spinning, burning rubber. They all leave me for dust.

That's why after each training run, I require the rest of the day to "reflect". This usually consists of collapsing, traumatised, on the sofa, watching Man v Food with my mouth hanging open, wearing a glazed expression and not speaking to anyone. My foam roller lies under my head, the only pillow within reach, as I daydream about that period of tapering.

On Sunday 13 April 2014 I'll be running my first marathon, and despite everything I've said, I am excited. 1% excited, 99% terrified. Apparently, when I cross that finish line I will feel like I can do anything. Right now, I'm not sure I can get to the kettle. But, taking advice from former marathon runners, the thing that will help the most is a positive attitude. Encouragement from other burger lovers, Springsteen fans and runners has been phenomenal, and has given me the will to carry on. And so, I'm not worried about falling over during the London Marathon – for me that's par for the course. With Springsteen in my ears and a burger at the finish line, I know that on the day, I'll pick myself up and keep going. Baby I was Born to Run … just very, very slowly.




Monday

The Ties That Bind...Thanks Dad

As a (relatively) young Bruce Springsteen fan, one thing I am always asked is how did someone my age get into his music. Depending on who's asking, the long answer is a gushing spiel about how every concert is different, the range of material, his live performance energy, his ability to relate to every turn in life with a thoughtfully penned lyric, and equally brilliant melody. 

But the short answer is "because of my dad". While some ill-informed, or clearly less intelligent people might dismiss Springsteen's music as "sad dad rock", my dad (am I about to do this - he is going to be SO smug), has always been pretty cool.

Whether it's genetics or through our time spent together, my dad has managed to pass on many "qualities" to me. An unhealthy appetite for pies. OCD tidyness. A penchant for snacking. A paunch (sorry dad, but it's true). Ability to fall of bikes. Premature greying. Fear of technology. Tea slurping (we both deny this one). The list goes on. But perhaps the most noteworthy point in all of this: I don't do shit music. Thanks to my dad I'm much more likely to be listening to The Clash, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop or Jonathan Richman than anything in the charts today. In fact, I struggle to name any artists in the charts. Miley who?

Our Springsteen journey began on our car drives to near Newcastle where my dad is from. When we'd finished off our pork pie, sausage roll and scotch egg picnic just 15 minutes into the six hour trip (well I am my father's daughter), we had a lot of time left for Bruce. Last year we were back on the road again. More than two decades after that picnic we were were driving to our first Springsteen concert together in Coventry. We ate some chicken balti pies. And then the band played Born To Run from start to finish, the album my dad used to play me all those years ago, when we were both much slimmer, and wore better clothes.


Yes, I look like a boy

All around me I see other dads share their love of Springsteen with their children and it makes me a little teary. In Cape Town I was stood next to a dad taking his teenage daughter to her first Springsteen concert. A father son combo the next night - Craig and his son Brandon - the enthusiastic dad willing his son to love the music. And he did. Maybe it's because I'm sensitive to it, but I spot the parent/children duos all over and feel compelled to head on over, stick my head between them, and bore the teen with tales of how I listen to Springsteen because of my dad too. And then I start using the words "Springsteen journey" too much.

But it's not just these youths that are at it.

Fans of all ages are mesmerised by Springsteen's music, and his biceps.

Johnny's parents know better than to mess with his bedtime routine

And when they are old enough, they ditch the You Tube footage for the real deal.

Millie at her first concert in Sydney, 2014

In Ireland, three year old Fionn sings the Darkness album to his little friends while they negotiate lego. His parents? Raging Springsteen fans of course. The fans get younger - babies with a collection of Bruce baby grows, being rocked to sleep to Devils and Dust. Toddlers across the world are plonked in their pram in front of the TV. Who needs the Disney channel when a Live in New York City DVD is more engaging and intellectually stimulating. 

Sound familiar? I hope so. Because if you have children you have a parental duty to pass on your Springsteen addiction to your children. Start them early. Think they should be independent and make their own life choices? Not on this one. If they're resisting it, don't fret. Send them my way, I'll have a word.

So if you are the daughter or son, with crazy Springsteen following parents, but you just don't "get it", please embrace how brilliant your parents are (and don't get me started on the Bruce bit). Humour them. Respect their passion and their Springsteen spirit. Go with them to that concert. Pretend you love that version of that song too, when really, they all sound the same.

I know how happy it will make them.


This slightly sentimental post was prompted by the below clip of a dad giving young daughter tickets to see "Brucey". I'm not the overly emotional type, but when I saw this I cried, partly from the shock and sheer joy I see in that little girl's face, and partly, strangely, for me. Although the deeper elements of love, struggle, heartbreak, despair, hope and optimism of Springsteen's writing might be lost on this little girl at the moment, the happiness it brings her is clear to see. We all know how she feels.

This little girl is me. And she's just starting her own Springsteen journey. 




Have you introduced your children to the joys of Bruce Springsteen's music? Share their "Springsteen journey" below... 




Sunday

London Marathon, ActionAid, Burgers

Some of the UK’s best burger restaurants and stalls are getting behind my London Marathon run for ActionAid and donating burgers galore to you guys!

Here’s how it works: as a thank you for donating to my 26.2 mile marathon attempt on Sunday 13th April, the burger peeps listed below have all very generously given me burgers to give away to my marathon sponsors - as a big thanks for your support. Any donations you feel tempted to make can be done quickly and safely on my Just Giving page here

So everyone who can spare a pound or two to sponsor my run for ActionAid will then be entered into a prize draw to win one of the below burger meals – anything from a pair of burgers to some £40 meal vouchers - if you have already donated you'll be entered, obviously! It doesn’t matter how much you sponsor, whether it’s £1 or £100 (!) – every single donation is appreciated and makes a huge difference to the incredible work the charity does. So please take a second to read more about ActionAid and where your money would be going. 

Massive thank you to the incredible burger and Springsteen loving community for your support on this, and of course to everyone who has already donated, and those who may donate over the next two weeks. Thank you also for your motivation and encouragement through this tough training period – you’ve all helped in your own little ways. I now own more pieces of lycra than Springsteen t-shirts. I never ever thought it would come to this...

So, the burger bit! The burger places donating to my London Marathon run include:

One of the north-west's best burger restaurants, this place is famous for it's consistently brilliant burgers, hefty brunches and unusual creations (parmo burger anyone?) There's a £40 voucher up for grabs here, you could be trying the new "Bang Thai D" special, pictured below. @SoLiTaNq 


Without a doubt one of my top burgers on London's streets, Zan, the brains behind Bleeker, flips blissfully juicy burgers from this van, which pops up in various locations across the city. @BleekerBurger 


Travelling across the pond from New York, for those keen on a quicky burger, the Springsteen fans at Shake Shack have kindly donated lots of vouchers to their conveniently located London restaurant in Covent Garden. @ShakeShack @ShakeShackUK 


From Reykjavik to London, this Icelandic burger joint is  spreading across the capital with the latest restaurant opening on Kings Road. Expect a simple and fulfilling burger fix in a relaxed setting, with a whole of load of burgers donated by these guys. @BurgerJointUK


Twisted Burger Company, Leeds and Sheffield
Well respected within Sheffield's burger loving community, the Twisted Burger Company have  just expanded to include a new site at Aire Bar in Leeds. The gooey menu includes favourites such as the Pig Daddy Kane (with double patty and chorizo and apple jam!) and the Super Supersize Me, pictured below. @TwistedBurgerCo


There may be a few more burgers to come, I'll keep you posted.

Huge huge thanks to the generous burger restaurants and those supporting me with donations, morale boosting tweets, emails, texts, phone calls and conversations. If anyone is coming down on the day to watch please let me know where you you'll be so I can give you a sweaty high five!

If you'd like to sponsor my marathon for ActionAid, please take a second to do so here.


Thank you SO MUCH!!



Little Social, London

How much do you think is too much to spend on a burger? A tenner? Fifty quid? Last week saw some write ups of a crazily priced US$250 burger at Beer and Buns in NYC, filled with caviar, foie gras, kobe beef and truffle. Even if I had that cash to splash I wouldn't over indulge on that one. I may love burgers, but I'm no crazy lady...

Luckily my hometown of London is crammed full of bargain burgers - not cheapo and nasty, but well priced street food burgers with high quality ingredients - Bleeker St Burger (post here) and Burger Bear (post here) are some of my most loved.

For pricier patty and bun combinations, Bar Boulud's famed piggie burger at the Mandarin Oriental hotel is a delicious, safe bet if you're looking for a slightly more lux burger and setting (£14). Over at expanding chain Burger and Lobster, the small percentage not ordering lobster can part with £20 for a burger. It's big, it's decent enough. But £20 for a burger? For me it's verging on too much.

That's why I keep my more expensive burgers for special occasions, or when work are paying, natch. But the burger at Little Social was a very special occasion, for it was to be my last burger before my London Marathon in April 2014.

Yes I was advised by my multi-marathon runner AND ultra-marathon running friend that I really should lay off the burgers and eat more healthy things like...quinoa. Now, I struggle to even pronounce quinoa, let alone eat it, so this made me nervous. I thought if this was to be my last burger for a few months, I'd shell out more dollar and make it a real goodie.

In this case, "shelling out" meant spending £15 on a burger, fries and side salad, which for a Jason Atherton restaurant, is a blooming steal. For all you tourists visiting London, this restaurant is in a prime sightseeing and shopping location, just a short skip from Oxford Street. It's got a bistro vibe, and as it's a restaurant as opposed to burger joint it's a little swankier (ie for me, less trainers, more lipstick). The other exciting thing about going here is that you can BOOK A TABLE. Yes enough of that queuing shit over at those places striving to be cool, at Little Social you can actually choose when you want to eat, and book in advance - which means no standing in the rain being spoken to like a child by rude doormen. How refreshing. 

This bacon cheeseburger is sublime. I can say this with full confidence, not because it was to be my last burger for two months so I was getting heavily involved, but because it really is the nuts. Served medium rare, the stubby little meaty bundle is a beautiful combination of aged Scottish beef, bacon, cheese, caramelised onions and pickles. Even the brioche bun is super rich, and to quote my friend "this bun does mysterious little things to me." I'm not entirely sure what she means, but what I do know is as far as seeded buns ago (which I tend not to like) this dusting of seeds is a triumph. Inside the medium rare burger is layered with the crispiest of crispy salty bacon. The cheese has glided down over the patty and is topped with soft and sweet oozy onions and tart pickles, all merging together in a flavour and texture combination that makes my eyes bulge in awe on every mouthful.

As you can see, Little Social is dimly lit

On the side the fries are thin and crispy, and even the salad is brilliant. Did I just say that? Yes really, the leaves were lightly dressed and a thoughtful addition providing a tangy burst of freshness in between each rich bite. 

Now my little heart stopped for a second when I first saw the burger arrive, as I was concerned it might be a bit on the small side. But I've come to realise that I am a) always complaining that burgers are too small b) a bit of a fatso c) always proved wrong - this super rich burger didn't need to be a single bite bigger. Not when you order the funky cheesy poutine special too! 

Admittedly it is towards the top end of what I'm willing to pay for a burger, but for a lovely relaxed restaurant vibe, great wine list, strong bread and butter (hey, the bread and butter is important) and for a fantastic burger, it was worth every one of my hard earned pennies.

One thing I will say to end this post is never trust someone doing a 70 mile ultra-marathon. Who on earth would recommend that I should eat LESS burgers when I am trying to run a marathon - albeit a normal 26.2 mile one. Trundling through all these bloody miles has been traumatic enough, it's hardly wise to make it even more difficult by denying myself one of my favourite foodstuffs.

And on that note, adios. I've jiggled around London on a very long training run this weekend, and I need to go and refuel... Little Social wasn't my last burger before the marathon. If anything it was just the one mile marker. 



Little Social, 5 Pollen Street, Mayfair, W1S 1NE
Tel: 0207 870 3730 - RING AND BOOK! 
OR BOOK ONLINE! www.littlesocial.co.uk 


Wednesday

Dirty Burger, London (Part Two - For The Veggies)


Vegetarians are always complaining. Not in general, but about burgers.

I get it. They get the bum deal. No veggie wants to head out for a burger with a meat loving friend to have the restaurant fob them off with a big grey watery mushroom in a bun. That's no burger, that's just fungus flopping around in bread. With lots of anti-mushroom folk out there (not me, I love them) I'm surprised that more restaurants haven't realised the need to be more creative with veggie burgers. Just because the mushroom is the right shape, it doesn't mean it's the right choice. It's the lazy choice.

Er, well that's what I thought.

I've never reviewed a veggie burger on here, and that's because I don't remember the last time I ate a veggie burger. But it turns out lots of Springsteen fans are vegetarians, as is Jake Clemons from the E Street Horns (I know, I was disappointed with him too).

The first veggie burger to grab my attention in a long time was the "Dirty Cop Out" burger from Dirty Burger. I look at pictures of burgers all day, so they really need to be striking for me to sit up and take notice. This veggie burger, with its bulging mushroom skulking around under all that cheese, caught my eye.


So I headed to Dirty Burger for another visit (the first write up is here). This time I went to Vauxhall to see how that compared to the first site in Kentish Town.The Vauxhall branch is less of a place to linger and more of a place to dip in and either takeaway, or perch on a stool for a few minutes. 

Anyway, my burger - the Dirty Cop Out. No floppy mushroom in bread here! Despite my initial thoughts, the portobello mushroom was great - and weirdly, quite a satisfying texture - it had some bite and worked well with the tarragon mayo and smoked applewood cheese, which to be honest was the main thing you could taste here. No bad thing, the cheese was tangy and delicious.

Fickle perhaps, but the reason this burger caught my eye was down to its good looks. All that rocket! Look at the all the cheese, a little bit crispy. The above is the picture of the Dirty Cop Out burger roaming twitter and press releases.

And here is a friend's picture from her visit a few months back:


And this is my burger:


No rocket, no sticky out cheese, no pickles and that mushroom is distinctly...flaccid.

You don't have to be the smartest person to see I was undersold here. 

I decided to ask another Springsteen fan @JenNorthy for her opinion on the burger. She's vegetarian, so knows her veggie burgers well. Her verdict: "I felt like they'd actually taken some time to find ingredients that went well together and offered something different - I felt cared for." In response to the big mushroom debate, she believes "if the fillings are well matched and tasty, and if the mushroom in question is massive, it's actually sometimes the most delicious thing."

And I agree. In this case it's what's on the inside that counts, and although my burger was lacking love (and pickles, and rocket) it was creamy and strangely comforting, and the best veggie burger I remember. OK, the only veggie burger I remember.

Obviously I wasn't only going to eat a mushroom burger, I had to try the new bacon cheeseburger too (£6.50). Very very nice. 


Great value, great burgers. One for the veggies, but for your meat loving friends too. 


www.eatdirtyburger.com 

Read more about Jake Clemons and his favourite veggie burger here


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