Monday, 26 August 2013

Back to school


Unlike January, I think September is one of the best months to start something new. Maybe it's the back to school feeling ingrained into what the start of autumn means, but I love making a new beginning at this time of year. With three months to go until the New Year and the warm nights still here, I feel like it's an ideal time to start a good habit or research a change you want to make.

I've had some amazing conversations with a load of people over the past few days that have really got me excited about being vegan and making further changes to my lifestyle. I've also been able to change my work balance specifically so I can spend what currently feels like an AMAZING amount of time working on all things Guac & Roll, and devoting way more time and energy to researching and making vegan food for me and the people around me. 

                      

So I thought it would be a great time to post the two things that got me here in the first place- Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals, which I cannot recommend enough, and have talked about here. Along with Foer's book is the interview above with Ellen DeGeneres, where she discusses why she turned vegan. It was these two pieces of information that made me make a decision to try being a vegan, and I still end up in tears every time I watch this video, Ellen is such a babe.

Finally- for all my friends trying out veganism over the next few months- here's a link to how Guac started out, as a tumblr diary of my first few months as a vegan- which included a disastrous mac and cheese, a lot of fry ups and marmite on toast before things started to get easier! 

Good luck everyone! I know there's a ton of resources and books out there to help vegans just starting out- if any of them speak as clearly to you as these did to me then please let me know, I always love some new inspiration! 

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Vegan potato croquettes


There's a semi-joke among my friends that my portion control is out of control. I say semi because I think everyone now knows and expects there to always be at least third helpings at any dinner at Casa del Guac, and also because leftovers are no laughing matter, and out of control portions mean a lot of these.

Too much mash is one of my favourite problems to have, which is precisely where a vegan potato croquette starts its life. You can make them from baked potatoes but as I make vegan mashed potatoes with vegetable stock and olive oil, by the next day the mash has usually developed its flavour a little and is perfect for a filing for croquettes.

I chose to add a salad and a wedge of lemon to mine, to cut through the stodge of the potato. But then again, I made this after a sober evening and I think with hungover eyes they'd go equally as well with as many other carbs as you can fit on a plate. Your call.



Makes enough for 4 with other breakfast things or 2 very hungry people!

Ingredients
400g leftover mash potato
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp paprika
Squeeze of lemon juice
Seasoning
2 handfuls of bread crumbs or a hunk of stale bread that has been grated into 2 handfuls' worth
1/2 cup of soy or almond milk

In a large mixing bowl, combine the mashed potato with the olive oil, paprika and lemon juice, and season to taste. You don't have to add these extra flavours- but I find the paprika is a great match to the smoky fried taste of the breadcrumbs, while the lemon juice freshens it all up a little.

Set aside the potato, and then get to work on your breadcrumbs- I would grate and then use a hand blender to make them extra fine- or if you have a mixer this can sort them out too! I used the stale end of a wholemeal, seeded loaf, and the seeds tasted amazing after they'd gone chewy from being fried, but whatever bread you have in will work well as long as it is a few days old.


Once your breadcrumbs have a fine, even consistency and no major lumps, pour the soy or almond milk in to a dish and arrange so you have the mashed potato ready to go on one side, then the milk, then the breadcrumbs, and a plate to pop all the prepared croquettes on, like a factory line.

Using two tablespoons, shape the potato croquettes into fat rolls and then quickly dip into the milk so they are covered all over. Then roll in the breadcrumbs, making sure the ends are covered. Leave on a plate and start the next croquette. They don't need to be perfect as you can add a few more breadcrumbs to them all once all the potato is used up, just make sure they are firm.


Heat a little oil in a frying pan and then wait until the pan is almost smoking hot before frying two or three at a time- any more and they start to bump in to each other and knock the breadcrumbs off. Once the breadcrumbs are totally brown all over, carefully remove and plate up with the rest of your breakfast. I find it easy to make beans in this time but anything else might need a bit more preparation, in which case you could set the croquettes aside and then heat them up in the oven once they're ready to go.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Summer nights: The Joy of Seeds



I picked up a hankering for seeds from my best friend Heather. The taste of that seeded bread I couldn't get enough of in Berlin followed me right back to London, so that when I returned I realised I, like many before me, had finally discovered THE JOY OF SEEDS.

No, I am not Gillian McKeith incarnate, I just think seeds are amazing; they're little but they pack a punch. You can top off most meals with them and they'll add protein, vitamins, fibre and iron to your food without you realising they're there.

I've tried munching on all manner of seeds at my desk before and it's ended in what a stranger would think were drawers full of abandoned bird-feed.  However, I've found that by adding a handful of different seeds to my meals each day, I've begun to crave them and now miss anything that doesn't include a bit of seedy goodness. So if like me, you're not someone who's easily wooed by seeds at snack time, I suggest adding some to breads, salads, porridge, museli, flapjacks, roast dinner stuffing, burritos.... well, anywhere. Here's a few of my favourite seed-embracing recipes for summertime. Yes, they're super easy, but it's a start...


For another summer night dinner I made a giant couscous salad with sunflower seeds, which are a good source of vitamin E, protein, and minerals, and broccoli with sesame seeds, which are a great source of calcium, magnesium and iron. Along with these two recipes I served marinate aubergine, toasted wraps, salad leaves, beetroot hummus and homemade falafel.



Giant couscous salad with grated carrot, spinach, radish and sunflower seeds
Makes enough for 4

Ingredients
300g giant couscous
Olive oil
1 large carrot
Handful of washed spinach
Handful of washed radishes
Handful of sunflower seeds
Seasoning
Juice 1/2 lemon (optional)

Heat the giant couscous in a pan with a little olive oil, before pouring in around 500ml of boiling water. Allow to simmer for around five minutes, stirring occasionally.

In the mean time, grate the carrot, chop the spinach if it is a larger leaf and slice the radishes. Once the coucous is softer (it has a totally different consistency to regular couscous, so instead you're just tasting to see if it is no longer hard as opposed to fluffy), drain, allow to cool a little, and mix in a bowl with the vegetables and the seeds. Top off with some seasoning and the juice of half a lemon if you like it.



Broccoli, sesame seed and soy sauce salad
Makes enough for 4 as a side dish

Ingredients
One medium head of broccoli
1 tbsp soy sauce
1tbsp sesame seeds

Chop the broccoli into florets, and boil in salted water until just al dente. Drain, then back in the pan add the soy sauce and sesame seeds and heat for about 30 seconds, just so the flavours can mix at a high temperature.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Black coffee, watermelon and the best seeded bread you ever tasted



The two flight attendants stared at me cluelessly.
"No milk? No sugar?"
"No, just black please."
"Oh, isn't she continental."

I handed over the last of my pound coins in exchange for a simple black coffee and went back to my book while Gatwick receded into the afternoon sky and the white cliffs of somewhere slid into view. I hoped Berlin wouldn't be as bad as this. It couldn't be.

It wasn't- I'm beginning to think it may just be London that is bad.

I was lucky enough to stay with one of my best friends in Kreuzberg. Heather is a dab hand at every bit of cooking. By 11am on our first morning we'd flirted our way to free watermelon slices at the greengrocer (I say flirted, all Heather really had to do was ask some prices in German) and stocked the fridge full of berries, radishes and ripening avocados.



As the resident chickpea obsessive, I was put on hand to make hummus, while Heather concocted salads from beetroot, seeds, rocket and lemon juice. Turkish bread fresh from the market had to be kept folded in half because it took up the whole table otherwise. I think one of us managed to find some olives and Luci, another friend from London, tracked down some balsamic vinegar. Once again, we'd made a feast.

Berlin has its own chain of vegan supermarkets called Veganz (great name guys) which I heard on a Radio 4 programme is reportedly expanding into London soon. As with Barcelona, from the small section of the city I got to see, everything felt pretty geared up for vegans or anyone with a dairy-free diet- most cafes will offer soy milk with coffee or tea, and the restaurants will try their best to accommodate you if you're patient. Not expecting this to be the case, I got to try an amazing vegan burger at White Trash, where instead of just offering one vegan or vegetarian option for a burger, lets you add the vegan burger, which is made of nuts, beans, tofu, vegetables, herbs and spices, to one of the eight burger options. LONDON TAKE NOTE!



My trip happened to coincide with a crazy heatwave in which the numbers 33 and 35 degrees Celsius got flung about way too much and in the end it got too hot in the daytime to do much more than drink iced coffee and eat more slices of melon. But in the early morning and late at night we ate toasted seeded bread just with olive oil, pepper and salt, couscous and rocket salad with yoghurt for Heather and her flatmate Petra, blueberries, raspberries, and fresh mint in hot water.



On the final day, after meandering through a flea market, too hot to speak let alone barter, we ended up in a Turkish cafe, Zimt und Mehl, in Neukll├Âlln for breakfast. I spotted 'vegan special' in German on the menu, and ten minutes later was presented with the sight above. If you go to Berlin any time soon, get to Zimt und Mehl as early as possible to grab a canal-side table, order the vegan special and for 8 euros you'll also get amazing coffee and all the bread you can fit in. You won't need to eat again until you get back on home soil.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Summer nights: In a jiffy roasted vegetable wraps


I love what weeknights become in the summer: corners of the weekend that fall into Mondays and Wednesdays that are way too cold to do anything with in winter. Summer is tinnies in the park, night buses home way too late, and good food before grabbing every bit of sunlight you can. 2013 has finally turned me into a serious serotonin chaser. I didn't think it could happen either.

This dinner is perfect for pre-going out, making a bit of a fuss of a friend before heading off, and it would also make a very easy Sunday lunch. Just call me Lionel. You could also easily adapt this for a vegan barbeque by skewering the vegetables into kebabs and grilling instead of roasting.



Refried chipotle beans form the glue for these wraps, the recipe for which can be found here. I added tomatoes and salad to mine, with a squeeze of lemon. They also last really well in lunchboxes- (If you want to be extra kind to your hangover the next day, wrap up yours while you serve your dinner so the hard work is done for the next morning!)

Makes enough to serve 2 generously, multiply up for more
Ingredients
2 peppers
4 small onions
1 courgette
Handful of mushrooms
Olive oil
Seasoning

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Chop the vegetables into chunks- I like to leave the onions whole as they retain their juices and then break them up once roasted.



Place all the vegetables in a large oven-proof dish and drizzle with a good amount of olive oil and seasoning. I don't think you need to add too many herbs or other flavours here because of the refried beans and lemon juice, but maybe some thyme, rosemary, or oregano could work well.

Cook for 30 minutes, in this time you can prepare the refried chipotle beans and salad.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Vegan chocolate birthday cake


Baking a cake hasn't given me this many smiles in a long, long time. I usually find the whole process pretty traumatic and steer well clear of things you can't properly taste as you make, adjust the seasoning for or make it up as you go along. But this cake was FUN.



From making a gazillion batches of this vegan brownie recipe for my boyfriend and my birthday earlier in the year, I figured the texture would work quite well in a cake: it's spongey and gets stickier and richer the longer you keep it. So I doubled the recipe I'd been using for brownies and the result was this supersize cake that I then had to recruit best friends and neighbours (also bezzie ms!) to help me eat. We only managed half before I had to stick it in the freezer, this cake really is GINORMOUS. Perfect for a birthday or summer party, not so much a solo mission.



Serves 10
Ingredients
3 cups of plain flour
1 cup cocoa
3 cups organic brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 pinch of salt
1 1/2 cup fresh brewed coffee
1 1/2 cup soy milk
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup plain dark chocolate chips (about two small packets' worth)/ broken chunks of plain dark chocolate


For the icing and fruit topping

1 tbsp cocoa powder
Around 200g icing sugar
Around 3 tbsp vegan margarine such as Vitalite
200g strawberries
100g raspberries
1/2 peach or nectarine



Grease and line your baking tins. I used one large springform baking tin, and two smaller tins to go on top. You could make this cake with four layers, there's enough mixture- but I fancied making it look a little OTT with one bigger layer at the bottom.


Preheat oven to 160 °C.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt. Then in a separate bowl, pour and mix in the coffee, soy milk and oil. Add the liquid to the dry mix, stirring in the chocolate drops. 

Pour the cake mix into the tins. It will be quite runny at this point, but they do stodge up.

Leave in the oven for at least 25 minutes, checking back after that point to see if a tooth pick will come clean when inserted in the middle of the cake. 

Once the mixture springs back from light pressure when you touch it gently, it's ready. Take out and leave, in the tins, to cool for about five minutes initially. Then tip over and gently remove the baking paper, before leaving on cooling racks to cool down completely.


When the cakes have just about cooled, begin making the icing so they will be totally cool by the time it's all ready to assemble. I've kept the measurements between icing sugar and margarine vague as it often changes for me depending on heat or how stiff the icing goes, but I would stick to the rule that the less margarine you use the better, so the icing remains stiff and not too gloopy. Sift in the icing sugar to get rid of any lumps, and then use a fork to mix it into the sugar, using bit by bit, adding the cocoa as you go too.

Once you're happy with the consistency, begin assembling your cake. I chose to do one thin layer of chocolate icing with slices of strawberries for the base layer, then a layer of icing between bases 2 and 3, before topping off with a thicker layer for the top and chopped fruits. 


Remember once you've added the chopped fruit, it won't handle the heat very well, so clear some room in the fridge for this! I found myself laughing away once it was all ready, I couldn't quite believe what I'd managed to make with vegan ingredients. That's some magic right there!

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Summer nights: Two tarts, two pestos, easy dinner

Here's two different tarts with two different pestos as a base. Plus a recipe for vegan potato salad which isn't too late to change your summer. This post is dedicated to a friend of mine who has served as inspiration to me over the years to follow my own heart, and who told me yesterday she is going to try a vegan diet- I hope it goes really well! Xx


Grilled courgette, pepper and onion tart with spinach and garlic pesto
Serves 4
Ingredients
1 medium courgette
1/2 white onion
2 small or 1 medium red pepper
2 handfuls of spinach
Olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped small
Juice 1/2 lemon
Seasoning
160g Jus-roll Puff Pastry (half a pack of pre-rolled pastry)
10g plain flour (to aid rolling out)
10ml soy milk

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line an oven tray or dish for your tart and set aside.

Chop and prepare the courgette, onion and pepper so they're ready to use as toppings and set to one side. Remember to keep things like courgettes thinly sliced so they will bake easily and won't weigh down the tart with juice.


Using a hand blender or mixer, blend the spinach, garlic cloves and olive oil into a fine paste, adding lemon juice and seasoning to taste. (This smells AMAZING when it's just been done. I nearly stopped cooking and just ate this for dinner.)

Roll out the puff pastry onto the tray (you may need a little plain flour to aid this, especially in hot weather!) and add on the spinach pesto straight on to the pastry. Then top with the vegetables, a little more seasoning or maybe some more olive oil. Brush the edges of the tart with soy milk so it will brown and place towards the top of the oven for around 20 minutes.

Tomato, onion and caper tart with basil pesto
Serves 4
Ingredients
4 ripe onions
1/2 white onion
2 tbsp capers
Handful of basil leaves and stalks
Olive oil
Seasoning
160g Jus-roll Puff Pastry (half a pack of pre-rolled pastry)
10g plain flour (to aid rolling out)
10ml soy milk

Follow the directions as above, using tomatoes and onions as the toppings. For the vegan pesto, blend the basil, olive oil and seasoning together, and add anything extra to taste. I left out the garlic as I thought there were enough flavours with the onion and capers- but by all means add it in if you feel like it.


Amelie's potato salad
Serves 4
Ingredients
200g potatoes, chopped into quarters and boiled
Seasoning
100ml soy cream
Handful of dill, chopped

Boil the potatoes in salted water and drain. Once they've cooled a little, mix in the soy cream and dill, and serve with plenty of salt and pepper.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Vegan pizza at the Crate Brewery


As far as hard sells go, the Crate Brewery isn't one. Sat bang on the edge of the canal and billed as Hackney Wick's first craft brewery and pizzeria, you wont want for much once you've tracked this place down.

I cycled from Islington along the canal in blistering 30C+ heat last week, and was still able to grab a bench by the water for a bottle of Kernal beer before stone-baked pizza. Veganised, this meant a generous helping of finely chopped mint, pine nuts, red onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, courgettes and shredded white onions, a mix I never would have put together myself and yet it made for one of the tastiest and pseudo-refreshing pizzas I've had this summer. What was especially great was that it wasn't just a topping minus cheese or meat, but flavours that worked pretty nicely just by themselves, sort of exactly like what Guac & Roll tries to do.

Ordering was easy, no fuss from the vegan front and everything tasted great (apparently the salami-topped pizza was 'molten goodness'!) All in all, pretty mint!

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Dun Run vegan flapjacks


These powered me through 90 miles of overnight cycling on the Dunwich Dynamo and are a force to be reckoned with. Golden Syrup is the major player here. I didn't bother with sugar, instead going straight into the real stuff.

Makes enough for about eight-ten people 


Ingredients

Vegetable oil or vegan margarine to line baking tins
250g porridge oats
1 pinch of salt
150g Pure soya margarine (or another vegan spread)
4 tbsp Golden Syrup
Handful of chopped cherries, cranberries or nuts like macadamia

Preheat the oven to 180C. 


Line one or two baking tins with greaseproof paper and/or vegan margarine or oil. I prefer my flapjacks to be crazy dense so usually squash them all into one tray.


In a large bowl, pour in the oats and salt. In a pan, melt down the margarine over a low heat and then add this to the bowl. Stir in with the oats and salt, before adding in the syrup and finally the chopped fruit or nuts.


Pour into the lined baking tray and bake for around 25-35 minutes.


If you like your flapjacks soft like I do, then take them out of the oven as soon as the mixture starts to go golden at the edges. If you like them a littler harder, wait another ten minutes until the tops are brown all over.


Take out of the oven and while still in the baking tray, divide into pieces with a knife. Leave in the tray to cool completely before beginning the demolition process!

The Dunwich Dynamo, veganised

London Fields pre-Dynamo

There's a hill on my journey home from work I've never been able to cycle up. I can cycle down it no problem at 7.20am each morning, but up just never happens. Instead I grit my teeth and bear it, pushing my bike on foot.

Cycling is something I turned to after becoming vegan- I believe I wouldn't have chosen one without the other. Twelve months after becoming vegan in January 2012, this year I wanted to do something else that both scared and intrigued me, and that I knew would change my lifestyle for the better. When my boyfriend, K, first mentioned doing the Dunwich Dynamo, I hadn't even completed the seven mile one-way commute to my work. 120 miles overnight seemed like an impossible, all-out ludicrous thing to attempt. I wouldn't even say target, because in January, it just didn't seem do-able.

I didn't decide to do the Dunwich Dynamo until 7th June, when I read this article by the Guardian, and realised I wanted to achieve something from my new choices. Against people saying vegan diets are unsustainable, can't be healthy, and also don't lend themselves to an active lifestyle, I wanted to commit myself to something I would never have given a realistic thought to a few years ago, powered on vegan food.

The Dynamo, or Dun Run, takes riders from London Fields to Dunwich, in Suffolk, overnight in the weekend closest to a full moon in July. It's not a race. There's Brompton Bikes, penny farthings, even one year a Boris bike. There's a man with two spaniels that travel in the front basket of his bicycle, teenagers, couriers, an older man with an amazing billowing white shirt (the sight of which got me through an awful few miles at 4am) and, of course, a lot of lycra. I did it vegan.

On Saturday 20th July, at about 8.30pm, I set out to cycle 120 miles on the Dunwich Dynamo. I cycled with K, who has been cycling every day to work for two years and before that was obsessed with BMX. With us came two of our best mates who had completed the Dun Run a few times before- B, who works for a cycling charity, and J, who works in a bike shop. We were also joined by M, who works with J. Basically, a lot of very proficient riders plus me.

The thing that is impossible to downplay is how magic the Dunwich Dynamo is. It is enshrined in urban myths involving a group of couriers that set out for the sea one Saturday night and ended up in Dunwich. In reality, it was probably organised from the start, but no-one really thinks about that as you begin to set out. The blogs I read in preparation said villagers put out jam jars with tea lights to light up the route on the way. Again, in reality, this is the meticulous organisation of the mysterious organisers- members of the Southwark Cyclists; people no-one seems to know the specific names of but who everyone talks about in a hushed respect basically reserved for no-one else in the dry, cynical zone of cyclist humour.

(Me, plus a lot of flapjack...)


I made a lot of mistakes. The first major mistake I made was packing too much. I rode with panniers for the first time and literally could not lift my bike out of my flat when we set off to go. Pretty sure that the cafes and pubs we'd find on the way wouldn't be vegan-focused, I'd made 24 flapjacks to share around and two rounds of peanut butter and jam and marmite sandwiches for me and my boyfriend. Me and K also packed two litres of water between us. The flapjacks alone felt like a brick.

As we approached Hackney I began to see the roads fill up with hundreds of cyclists. More cyclists than I'd ever seen before in my life. The air was heavy from too long without rain. I was only when we rolled up to London Fields that I could appreciate just what we were heading out with: over two thousand cyclists making last minute checks, meeting friends, first pints of the night. There's no forms, race numbers, official starting point or time. So the spectacle of this word-of-mouth tradition is something to behold in itself.

B gave us each a nip of whiskey and we attached blue neon lights she'd found to our wheels so we could spot each other in the pitch black. These turned out to be so useful later on, when you couldn't even tell who was cycling next to you let alone behind.

We started out on what many people say is the worst part of the journey, through London Fields, up through Clapton and in to Walthamstow. I loved this part. Traffic at an absolute standstill as more than a thousand cyclists passed though streets we usually struggle to pick our way through. Buses letting twenty cyclists go at a time, van drivers furious. I told B I wished this was how rush hour was every day. I was already finding the load on my bike heavy but I decided to ignore it.

It got dark as we entered Epping Forest, which really throws you in at the deep end of the route. I soon realised if I had gone with just K, we wouldn't have been well equipped enough. We needed someone with knowledge of the route before and J's bike's lamp to light up the road. If we hadn't ridden with this we might have fallen in one of the pot holes like I sadly saw and heard other cyclists fall in to. I believe the Dun Run is harder than it has been billed in the past. I do not think you could safely do it alone without the experience of someone else that had done it before.

My other major mistake, and I mean this is one of those massive, so ridiculous mistakes that it went from serious to funny within a matter of seconds, is that I didn't realise I could change the gears on my bike. It became apparent somewhere near Epping that I had been commuting in the highest gear for four months. This is why I couldn't do hills, and this is why my legs had developed crazy muscles nothing like my boyfriend's. Yep, vegan muscles. Deal.

We arrived at our first stop, twenty miles in, and cycled up to the second pub in the village. I had a whiskey and coke, the others a mix of larger and Guinness. We started on the flapjack to try and lighten my bike. I couldn't believe we were only 20 miles in.

We didn't stay long at the pub and set off the minute everyone was ready. It was at this time the reality of what we were doing set in. The darkness took over. J stayed behind us as much as possible to light the way, but without J's light I couldn't see the two metres ahead of me that I had cycled in to. People overtook us only to stop ahead to say they were lost, and that they had been following us. The jam jars I read about lit our way through the endless stream of villages that ensued. Thank god for the organisers, I thought, as I spotted a lone jam jar while the others tried to work out where we were on the directions. The journey went on for what felt like eternity. Finally, we turned down a lane where a woman was telling us it was the wrong way. It was in fact the half way pit stop.

It was a surreal sight as we got off our bikes to come down the hill to the hall. It must have been four hundred cyclists laid out on the ground in a deserted village. The food and coffee ran out while we were there, the tea as we were leaving, as a man with a megaphone apologised. I ate a sandwich and tried to catch five minutes' sleep. K said I was being very quiet and asked me what was wrong, at 54 miles in to the trip and two in the morning, I think I was beginning to see just how hard the road ahead would be.

We pressed on, now passing the same people over and over, the headwind coming into its own entity. Damn headwind I would say as we approached the base of another hill, I hate you so much. Truly, go to hell. I got caught talking to the wind like this quite a few times- but I also heard the same swearing from the others we passed, choosing profanities to fuel their up-hill struggles.

Apart from swearing, it's the tiny red lights out in front that literally tail off for miles into the distance that power you through. Practically, you don't want to lose sight of them, and they also show you what's ahead. When they are at eye height, you know it's time to curse another hill. When they dip beneath the road it's time to stop peddling.

We cycled on through to daylight. This was another favourite part- I saw a light I hadn't seen since being 16 at camp outs and talking straight to sunrise. It's just before the sun is up and it lingers around the ditches and hedgerows of the fields, heavy on the horizon that now stretched out in front of us.

On we went, for another thirty miles. Now I was peddling for the promise of coffee and coffee alone. It was five in the morning when I think my problems started. I found myself having to push up every hill, while even flat lanes, the type I couldn't wait to hit when we were in Essex, now became virtually impossible. I'd had enough sugar, I'd had enough water, but it felt like I was getting near my breaking point. As someone who has never done anything as intense as the Dun Run, (I skipped every sports day) I had no idea where my will to succeed had to be balanced out by a sensible decision to stop. I didn't want to let anyone else down that I was cycling with, but I was beginning to feel really, really sick. We cycled through Needham market, 82 miles in, past a huge queue for coffee as we decided to stop at somewhere quieter instead of wasting time waiting for a drink.

Here, K pointed out that his house was only 3 miles down a country track off the route. As we hasn't booked coaches or trains in time we were set to hit Dunwich at 120 miles in, before turning back along the same route to this point, thirty miles away, to stay at K' s house, in other words 150 miles for us, in total. The rain set in, the headwind continued, and I carried on peddling, my stomach now churning with nausea as the others rode easily ahead. I did something I would never do on my commute: I hoped there was something wrong with my bike. Anything to give a reason to the physical wall I had hit that didn't seem possible.

It was just after six in the morning on a drizzling, freezing cold dual carriage way coming out of Needham Market, K suddenly asked me to cycle in front of him. "I just want to check something on your bike" he told me, as I overtook him beneath an underpass. It was only a few seconds before I heard those magic words: "You've got a flat."

I tried to shout for J, B and M, but they were way ahead, and at that point I decided it was better for us to make up the ground later. I didn't want them to feel like they had to stop. K and I cycled to the side of a road to fix the puncture. It didn't take long, but after ten minutes J and B came back up the road. It was half six in the morning by now, and I'd spent the last hour or so trying not to think about how much longer I'd be sat on a saddle that day. While our friends approached our curb-side spot, K told me I'd been cycling flat out, for what must have been the last two hours or so, with two full panniers and a flat tyre. No wonder I could barely stand.

B skidded to a stop in front of my deconstructed bike. "Guys, it's another seventy miles."

As we hadn't sorted transport home, the 35 miles plus the remaining 35 we still had to go, meant at least another 8 hours on bikes. There was no sun, the beach would be wet, miserable and endlessly grey. B said the one thing that actually hadn't crossed my mind since starting the Dun Run: she thought we should stop.

The minute she suggested it I realised it might be the only sensible thing to do. K's house was still only five miles away, and with it the promise of wholly exotic things like a kettle, a shower, a sofa. So we did something I would regret only a few hours later, we turned back to find that country lane, and cycled on to K's house.

At 90 miles in, that was the end of my Dun Run for 2013- incomplete and infuriatingly so, and not through anyone's fault but mine. But even on the meandering cycle to K's house, I realised I would be back on the ride next year, and I would know exactly what I was in for.

Before we set out from London Fields, B told me the Dun Run was like how she imagined childbirth- painful, a total ordeal, but shrouded in romanticism for the 364 days a year you aren't cycling it. At 2am on Sunday morning I'd rued the day that lost port's name had ever been mentioned to me. But by 11am the same day, I was ready for 2014.

I got back to London on Monday night, and Tuesday morning I cycled to work. I sped down the hill I suffered walking up for four months, switching into a higher gear for the descent. At 5.20pm I began the ascent. I put my bike in a low gear, worked up some speed before the approach, and took it steady. I managed it easily, barely breaking a sweat in the summer heat.