Homegrown Roasted Tomato Soup

It’s started – the polytunnel is producing fruit. As usual, we planted too many tomato plants. We got Shirley’s, Beef, Money Makers, the purple cherry etc. However, Mrs Hiker isn’t a big lover of them so we have a couple of months of lots of tomatoes. So, I have come up with a basic recipe for a soup. Here goes:

Ingredients:

A good handful of assorted tomatoes.

A glug of olive oil

Sea salt, ground pepper, mixed dried herbs

A vegetable stock pot

You’ll probably see I’ve thrown a green pepper and a courgette in for good measure too

All I do is get a roasting pan and pour some olive oil on the bottom. Chop the tomatoes etc in half and space out evenly. Season with the salt, pepper and mixed herbs. Whack in the oven for half hour on 180°c. Boil 500ml of water and make the stock. Once fruit is roasted blitz with the stock. Jobs a good ‘un!

Serve with rosemary focaccia which I’m sure I’ve blogged before!

Home Smoked Mackerel

I’ve got a mate, well I’ve got a few, who like to go fishing, in particular sea fishing and he text me other day asking if I wanted a few Mackerel as he’d had a good session out on the pier and had a few spare.  Snapped his hand off and he brought 3 decent sized fish over much to the dismay of Mrs Hiker who does not like fish, apart from fish and chips but she always complains about the smell…even when they don’t smell!

 

I put them straight in the freezer before Mrs. Hiker came home from work so she couldn’t complain.  She found them a few days later but couldn’t complain as they were frozen and smell free. 

A few days went passed and what I was looking for was a day of good weather, this was because I was wanting to smoke at least one of the fish and my smoker is at the allotment.  Now, I have usually looked at weather Apps in the past when I wanted to know the weather…obviously.  In fact, I might do a weather App blog one day as I do use them quite a bit.  

Anyway I digress, I checked the weather App that’s been pretty much spot on over the Virus period and decided the day after I would get a bit of fair weather.  So I had to cure the fish before I smoked it, now I use a very basic cure recipe and have done for some time.  Basically, I use half salt and half brown sugar and just a few turns of cracked black pepper into the mix.  I put the cure mix into a click lock plastic box and with the fish and give it a good shake, making sure the fish has a good covering.  Pop the lot into the fridge overnight to draw the moisture out.

 

Back to the cure mixture, like I said I’ve used this mix for a few years and not had any problems.  I have an old war buddy who lives in Japan who owns a curing and smoking business and I ran the mix passed him and he said it’s basically the same as his mix, apart from he uses some expensive sugar which smells like treacle, but apart from that, basic is best.

 

Next morning I retrieve the box from the fridge and open.  The mixture should have set firm with the moisture from the fish and the fish should be a little more rigid than when you put it in.  Wash the fish thoroughly to get all the salty mix off as much as you can.  Wrap the fish up in a bit of tin foil and Bob’s your uncle.   

Like I said, my smoker is at the allotment so I packed up the fish and some Jack Daniel’s smoking chips that I was just about to use the last of.  I’ve had a bag for some time and were still kicking out some great smoke.  I took, what I call my Bushcraft bag, and me and the dog walked to the allotment.   

My smoker is a very basic contraption.  I think I bought it from Aldi years ago, it’s one that is also a pizza oven and BBQ.  It’s bent to buggery with over use and from having roaring fires in it in the winter, but with a bit of brute force the doors can still be closed to keep in the smoke.  I set a small fire away in the smoker to get a good pile of embers going for me to sprinkle my smoking chips on.  I also threw a couple of apple wood split logs on for extra flavour.  I did a few odd jobs about the plot until the wood burns to nice silver and red embers then I sprinkled the rest of the bag of chips onto the smouldering pile.  I placed the fish onto the upper tray in the smoker and closed the chimney and the doors at the front of the smoker.  Almost immediately I could smell the chips smouldering away and hopefully smoke getting into the knucks and crannies of the Mackerel.   

After about ten minutes I struggled to open the vent on the smoker, I told you it’s bent to bits, and I could see the fish turning a lovely brown tint.  I left it a few more minutes and then open all the vents.  Oh the smell, the smell!!! The plot was full of a mixture of smoked mackerel and the apple wood, shame I couldn’t capture for smell a-vision!    

I carefully picked the fish of the rack and placed it into some fresh tinfoil.  By this time the dog was going crackers with the smell, he was almost humping me trying to get at the fish. 

I did a couple more jobs just so the rest of the embers were out and I didn’t miss one and burn the site down, the rest of the plot holders wouldn’t appreciate me cooking all their veggies in one go! 

Back at home I striped the fish away from the bone and skin, which was easy as it was nicely hot smoked and the flakes of flesh were dropping off.  Now I didn’t weigh the fish at the start so couldn’t really say how much meat I got off but it was a good old mug full.  I put the fish into my food processor and added about ¾ of a pot of Crème Fraiche and a squeeze of lemon and blitzed it, purposely leaving some flakes of meat visible for texture.  No seasoning need as the curing process does slightly season the fish.   

I pinched a half pound jar out of Mrs. Hiker’s preserve store and scooped it in.  To give you an idea of how much it makes, it covered 6 slices of bread spread thickly.  I cannot tell you how long it lasts for as I’ve usually eaten it all within the week…easily!    

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Scarpa Boot Cleaning!

After an odd couple of years which you may have noticed I’ve not managed to blog as much as I should, not just Covid but other personal issues, health etc I’m doing a quick blog just to try and get back into the swing of things.   

It’s been a long time since I’ve written about walking kit, or gear as some like to call it, so I thought a nice simple but none the less essential bit of advice of how I do things, doesn’t mean to say it’s the right way but after over 3 decades I’ve picked up a few things along the way. 

Boots! Or more accurately, our (me and the missus have the same boot make/model) Scarpa Terra GTX boots.  In previous blogs I’ve explained that I’m not a kit guru, I find a bit of walking kit and if it work’s I stick with it.  For crying out loud my base layer, a bog-standard Lowe Alpine short sleeve I‘ve had since 1995 and still use it when out and about.  I used to use Karrimor KSB boot for most of the 90’s but when the old boots gave up the ghost, I found the replacement update didn’t suit my feet, not because they’re a bad make, just didn’t suit me.  I tried a pair of Meindl’s which were a nice boot, but again didn’t suit my feet so after a few miles tried a pair of Scarpa’s after the missus had chosen a pair when I got the Meindl’s.   

I know exactly what I like about them, the leather is soft but durable.  They’re light and fit around my feet perfectly.  They’re made from a really soft leather; I’ve heard it called Buck leather or something but it is still hard wearing.  The only thing is they do need to be taken care of to get the maximum wear from them.  So, with that in mind for anyone out there I would like to pass on how I take care of ‘our’ boots, I say ‘our’ as the missus doesn’t even know where I keep the cleaning kit.

 

The first thing I do takes place on the last walk we do before cleaning, I find a stream or long wet grass and clean any dirt off.  Get home and the day after, or ASAP, take the laces out and get them over the sink and using an old plastic bristled pan scrubber I clean off any excess dirt.  I DON’T scrub them within an inch of their lives, the bristles are just useful for getting in the knucks and crannies.  Then while the boots are still damp, I squirt a grape size blob of NikWax leather cleaner onto a soft bristled boot brush.  Massage the cleaner with the brush all over the boot, into the tongue area and the stitching.  I then let the cleaner dry on the boot before putting the laces back in.  At this point some of the cleaner will have collected in the lace loops which the plastic part of the lace will push out, I just rub the little chunk into the leather. 

It isn’t a kick in the arse off the instructions on the NikWax tube but it works well for us, and unless you spend your next route trapsing through cow fields and farm yards, that clean should last about 4 or 5 walks without having to clean again.   

I have walking buddies who never clean their boots and I just don’t get it, they are replacing the boots every 3 to 4 years and complain after a year when the water starts to seep in!? 

Guys I’m not sponsored by these manufacturer’s and don’t sell for them, it’s just my opinion! 

‘And sow it begins!!!!’

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Following our relatively successful first year with our new allotment, we are starting the new year off with smiles on our face.  And to start off we sowed our first seeds today to be kept indoors until Spring .

Cauliflower, Brocolli , Shirley Tomatoes and some Sweet Peas all tucked up in compost ready for the Winter to finish, if we have one that is, and then up to the plot.

Just a short one this time but will hopefully remember to blog the progress of our ‘two’ plots! Continue reading “‘And sow it begins!!!!’”

Sausage and Mash Pie and Pan Fried Sprouts.

I really should do a blog about the progress of my allotment as if I do say so myself, it’s coming on grand!  One of the biggest triumphs is our sprouts which have supplied us with a bounty of the sweet little buggers.  We’ve got a glut, even after Christmas but they are all going to get used, I’m going to freeze my surplus.

But tonight, my missus suggested we revisit a recipe from Marcus Wareing’s book, sausage and mash pie, and pan fried sprouts for a crunch.  The pie basically is a lovely swirl Cumberland sausage (bought from The Northumbrian Sausage Company  who, apart from our local butcher, is the supplier of our meat related products) onion gravy and piped mash spuds on the top, finished off with grated cheese.  The sprouts are pan fried in garlic and Soy sauce, leaves them crunchy and not boiled to death.

First, fry off the sausage in a pan caramelising nicely.  Put them to one side in an baking dish and crack on with the mash.  I’m still using my spuds from the allotment which are Maris Pipers and mash really well.  All I do with them is peel and boil in salted water, then mash with a good old dollop of Olive spread, no milk or cream, just elbow grease, plus seasoning with salt and ground black pepper.  Put to one side.

For the gravy, slice a large onion thinly and fry off in a pan.  Add about 200ml of beef stock, tablespoon of plain flour and a good splash of Worcestershire Sauce and 2 finely chopped garlic cloves.  Fry until all mixed together, adding water or more stock for personal consistency.  Pour the gravy around the sausage in the baking dish and either spread or pipe the mash over the top covering evenly.  I should’ve said I used 4 decent sized spuds for this!  Preheat my fan oven to 200’c and put oven dish into top of oven for about 20 minutes, shouldn’t take much longer.

Grab a hand full of cleaned sprouts and half, fry off in a pan with the Soy sauce and garlic for as long as you want, obviously too long they’ll burn but if you keep and eye on them till caramelised they still have a crunch.

I’ve made some changes to chef Wareing’s recipe and I have no doubt his would definitely be more of a pleasant experience on the dinner plate, but I hope this version will make good eating.

Roseberry Round!

There are many areas around the North East where you can travel relatively few miles to find somewhere to have a nice, scenic walk.  One of these is the Cleveland/North Yorkshire Moors.  The area around Great Ayton, Stokesley and surrounding villages is one part of the NE where you can find a variety of surroundings in which to walk.

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There is a well-known place, Roseberry Topping is visited by school parties, families and just about everyone who wants the feeling of climbing a fairly big hill and taking in the views at the top.  To be fair, it is a bit like Catbells in the Lake District, as in gets a bit crowded and if you like a nice quiet walk out it probably isn’t my first choice, but we thought we’d have a look out but use the surrounding area to ‘beef’ up the walk a bit.

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I plotted a route which starts on a small lane called Dikes Lane, which you can get onto by going to Great Ayton and following the sign to Great Ayton Train Station then staying on that small road up into the hills and a carpark that conveniently has a picnic site.

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We arrived about 11am and there were a few cars already parked up.  This is a well-used car park as it is also an ideal starting point to visit Captain Cook’s monument.  It was just me, the missus and Alfie the Springer Spaniel walking today and apart from a very strong (annoying) breeze, the sun was making an appearance every now and again and no rain was forecast, which was good.

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I had planned this route so we could get our hill fitness back as we had been neglecting mountainous areas of late and the old leg muscles were getting a bit unworked, apart from the allotment that is.  I saw by the map, the route I’d marked out would have 3 short but steep climbs to work our hearts and legs, and one of these was at the very start.  The path is clear, it sets off north up the steep steps up onto Great Ayton Moor, hugging the wall/fence to the left.  This takes you up onto the top, the views in all directions are stunning, as long as you can block out Middlesbrough (just kidding, it’s a lovely place).  For about 2 km keep to the right hand side of the wall until you reach the junction in the wall which goes of in a number of directions.  We decided, even though we’ve summited it a few times, to go up Roseberry Topping.  It is quite obvious which path to take now, it drops down the hill into a dip with Roseberry straight in front of you.  At the bottom of the dip we turned left through a gate and stayed on the path until we saw the gate at the SE of the hill.  Through the gate and up a zig zagged path to the top and loads of people!

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The council have tried their hardest to sand blast the etched in graffiti which pretty much dominates the summit, to be fair they’ve done a good job as it doesn’t look half as bad as I used to.

Whilst on the top, we noticed a bit of a drama taking place.  We heard a lot of shouting coming from the start of the easterly decent down.  On further inspection, a bloke was shouting at a youth, about 15 years old, who was on his hands and knees gripping tightly to the rock surface.  Listening in, the young lad was scared the wind was going to blow him off the top, I mean it was a bit breezy but it wouldn’t have blown the dog off, near mind this lad.  Anyway, the lad clawed his way to shelter near some rocks and he eventually stood up.  It reminded me of one of our trips up Helvellyn and a young lass crawling the whole way across Striding Edge because she thought she might be blown off, it was about 25c and no wind (for once).  I didn’t know whether to piss myself laughing or feel sorry for the poor lass…I generally don’t feel sorry for people!

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Now, this is one of the things I try not to bang on about but it is one of my pet hates, OK, Roseberry Topping is very popular tourist spot.  It’s a hill or mountain which ever you want to call it or which ever way you define it.  For the purpose of this rant, I’m going to call it a big hill.  This hill is clearly pathed, nice stone steps in places but still places where you can fall and snap bones.  It stands 320 m above sea level, but even the 200m ascent from the car park in Newton Under Roseberry it still needs to be climbed.  Even looking at the map, the contour lines are canny close so you should expect a steep climb.  There are still people wandering up and down in shoes and trainers, unsuitable footwear!  A fall, even at this relatively small hill will need the emergency services to come to you, unless you have a day sack with a good first aid kit.  A good pair of walking boots will give you the extra support and stability you may need during a slip.

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While I’m at it, if you see me in the hills, you’ll know who I am, tall dark Yorkshire man with a North East twang.  I have what would appear to the average person a large day sack on my back.  I’ve been out with people who say, “You carry too much for a day out”, but I carry a good set of emergency equipment.  The reason I carry this is because unlike others, I realise that mountain rescue organisations are funded by charity, nothing else.  And I would be mortified if I had to call them if one of my party sustained an injury.  As a Leader I would expect to give first aid and evacuate a casualty, unless in extreme circumstances.  You see people up on hills with inadequate equipment who expect if anything goes wrong, mountain rescue have a right to retrieve them! It’s wrong, wrong, wrong!!

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Anyway, back to the route.  We decided to drop off the hill in a NE direction and take the clearly marked out path into Hutton Lowcross Woods.  This is a lovely forest area and the wildlife was teeming.  We followed the path to the open ground at the end where it joined a small minor road that goes SE into Hutton Village.  We took this route then joined a path just before the village on the right and started the climb up back onto the moorland through the woods.

As we emerged out of the wood-land we recognised the spot as part of the Cleveland Way, which we completed a few years ago.  Again, the views were incredible and with the path being wide enough to see it from the moon, I could concentrate on the view momentarily instead of reading the map.

RANT No 2 coming up!!

Roughly about 500m down this path there is what appears to be an old air defence bunker built from brick and the building itself is in good condition.  Being very interested in anything military I had a quick look inside.  It was littered with plastic and glass bottles!  Now this is what I can’t get my head around, people that would come across this building would generally be walkers or shooters, both kinds of people who look after the countryside and would not (I would hope) leave so much crap around, for god’s sake there was an old car seat in amongst the bottles!  Dirty, dirty gits!!

We carried on down the path until coming to an obvious junction with a track heading south down into Nab End Woods.  This is a steepish path downwards which is clearly been made for heavy plant machinery.  The countryside opens up on the right-hand side and a view into the farmland of Oak Tree Farm.  Halfway down this track my wife Kel, let’s out a god-awful scream as the dog picks something up in his mouth.  Both me and the dog jump out of our skin and he drops what he had put in his mouth.  The missus shouts, “it’s a giant caterpillar!”, prompting me and Alfie to look down at a Pine Cone lying between his front paws.  With my heart pounding out of my chest I painted the North York air with blue language before both Kel and me crying with laughter at her over dramatisation.

We plodded on down to the main road and turned right up towards the farm.  The last leg went up through the farm buildings and up to the car park.

Just over 7 miles of gorgeous moorland, woodland and farmland, all the boxes ticked!

I feel I need to take more advantage of this area, it’s 30 mins from my doorstep and there are some great routes waiting to be hiked!

 

Lowland Leader Assessment

Back in November last year, I attended a Lowland Leader Course which was ran by Cliff LOWTHER of Roxcool for Mountain Training.  This was a 2-day course to set me up in navigation and other outdoor skills so I could complete an assessment enabling me to take out groups for Lowland walks.  Well, a couple of weeks ago I did the assessment, another two days of intensive navigation and first aid and various other outdoor skills.

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The first day started with a meet at the village hall in Borrowby, near Thirsk.  The weather was sunny and looked to stay good for the day.  One of the other candidates was already there as I pulled up, he was one of the lads on the 2-day course in November so we had a chat and put our boots on.  Cliff, the instructor, turned up in his VW campervan, only to be met by my new purchase, my new T5 VW Campervan conversion and he was given a guided tour of my pride and joy.  We set up in the hall which didn’t take too long as one of the 3 expected candidates had cancelled last minute so it was two to be assessed instead of three.  The instructor had a smile on his face when he stated the smaller group would mean a more intensive 2 days, I was happy with that!

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The other candidate was called Chris, so Chris and I planned a route on a 25:1 map around the area and had it sorted in 10 minutes.  Cliff said the route had to take in woodland, farmland and road to keep the job right, so our 7 mile offering was accepted and we packed up our kit and drove to the start point.

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We had a good session over the route we planned, lots of ‘Distance, Direction, Duration, Description and Dangers’ thrown in and the weather gave us a nice soaking.  Overall the day went swimmingly and Cliff had no problems with our performance.  The drive home was with a head buzzing about any mistakes I might have made and the next day of assessment.

Day 2 we met in Swainby and what looked like an overcast day.  Chris and I knew this day would be the make or break to gain the qualification which to be fair, only had taken 3 days, but a very hard 3 days.  Using 50:1 maps (which I can’t stand due to fences/boundaries not shown) we set of into the Cleveland Hills and farmland.  We started off with ‘blind navigation’ from the start.  This is when only one candidate gets shown start/route/finish point, the other has to know exactly where they are when asked by the instructor at any point during the route.  Which means you cannot switch off no matter what!

The route passed by, changing navigator every quarter mile or so.  But during this, the instructor stopped the two of us and asked about flora and fauna.  This is an essential skill if you want to keep walkers interested during a day out and to be fair, it does make the route a bit more interesting.  So, you have to know your Sorrells from your Jack by the Hedge and your Swallows from your Swifts.

Our course joining instructions informed us to have a 5 minute informational talk ready for the final day, something relative to the outdoors and hiking.  Both Chris and I had discussed our topics and were forearmed and ready for the bombshell to be dropped by the instructor at any time.  Plus, we were braced for our first aid scenarios which were no doubt going to happen when we’d let our guard down slightly, and they did!

I don’t want to give too much info in case I ‘spoiler’ future courses but what I can say, what an enjoyable course and final assessment, well worth a go if you’re interested in walking outdoors.

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New T5 VW!

As reported in a previous Blog, I have retired at the age of 52.  This was due to ill health, nothing physical but certain issues ‘upstairs’, as in I’ve had a few tiles blow off my roof… if you get my drift!

Anyway, for about 30+ years I have wanted a Campervan.  I have camped in all sorts of tents in the past and enjoy the life outdoors, sleeping out in nature and the way of life that is achieved camping.  After 30 years of being under canvass I’ve decided to ‘upgrade’ to a Campervan.  Basically, I’m getting creaky and my old joints are feeling the effects of my years in the forces and the police.  So, my wife and I decided to use money saved up to have a look at what van we would be suited to.  I didn’t want one of the massive Motorhomes, you know the ones, with a shower, toilet and all the mod cons.  I’ve always fancied the T1 and T2’s but they are expensive, especially parts to repair, but after seeing the newer T5’s dotting about the area I wanted to have a closer look.  We paid a visit to a local(ish) dealer and van converter, the showroom was full of the T6’s and at a big fat price of around 52 grand, our budget was instantly squashed into insignificance.  The salesman/owner was speaking to us and I told him our budget and he giggled a bit.  Then he gave us a lifeline, he said that on rare occasions they convert older vans, you know, old builder’s vans etc.  he took outside and showed us a potential candidate that was outside of our budget, but pulling a few strings and turning a few knobs with our finances we could afford.  Hands were shaken and we were away to await our new Campervan, our very first!

The day came and we turned up at the dealer to collect our investment, I say investment because I have been assured that VW Campervan’s rarely lose a lot of value, especially with a high spec of conversion, which ours has!

We drove out of the dealers with big smiles on our faces sat in the start of our new adventures!