Monday, April 30, 2012

Mini Carrot Cakes

I think it is a given that I love kitchen kit and gadgets. A new addition to my bakeware collection is my 12 cup loose-based mini sandwich tin from Lakeland. I had only just purchased it at full price when I saw them advertising it in the sale - just my luck. The tin has push out bases and you can remove the cakes easily without damaging them.  If you grease the tin with Cake Release the cakes will come out very easily. 

You can make lots of mini sweet treats in this tin, and in one of their mini brochures that come with a million other brochures inside my Sunday magazine, I saw this recipe for mini carrot cakes. I adapted the recipe and used only half the walnuts suggested and replaced them with raisins. The cakes get lovely and sticky after a day or so and although mine didn't make the freezer, I can't see any reason why they shouldn't freeze successfully.

You will need:  150g plain flour, 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp all spice, 150g light brown sugar, 250 grated carrots, 50g finely chopped dried apricots, 50g finely chopped walnuts, 50g raisins, 150ml vegetable oil, 2 beaten eggs, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract.  

Lemon cream cheese icing:  50g butter, 75g full-fat cream cheese, ¼ tsp vanilla extract, 100g sifted icing sugar, 1 tsp lemon curd.

1.   Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease the tin, preferably with Cake Release.
2.   Sieve - flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and all spice.
3.   Add to a mixing bowl.
4.   Stir in the sugar, carrots, apricots, walnuts and raisins.
5.   Pour in the vegetable oil.
6.   Add the eggs and vanilla extract.
7.   Beat until combined.
8.   Scoop into the tin.
9.   Bake for 30 minutes until risen and set.
10. Leave in the tin for 5 minutes.
11. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.
12.  Make the filling:
13.  Beat the butter.
14.  Add the cream cheese, lemon curd and vanilla extract.
15.  Stir in the icing sugar and mix.
16.  Slice the cakes in half.
17.  Spread with the cream cheese filling.
18.  Dust with icing sugar.

Worlds Toughest Expeditions with James Cracknell

Interesting premise, catchy title, possibly interesting content, but this is another show that only our UK friends will be able to watch due to the mysteries that govern the operation of the Discovery Channel.

In this series, James Cracknell, endurance athlete, rower, and two times gold medalist, retraces the footsteps of some of the great expeditions. The show premiered on April 22, 2012 on Discovery UK. For some unexplainable reason however, it doesn’t appear on any of the Discovery channels we have here in the US.

I’m sure the show will have it’s flaws, but is something I would love to see. People in the UK have already managed to watch several episodes. Hopefully Discovery will decide to show it here in the US, rather that another Mythbusters marathon.

If you guys can find some place where we can watch the show online, or better yet, want to send an email to Discovery, maybe the rest of us will be able to watch soon enough.

Charlotte Rush-Bailey: Blood & Turmeric

Charlotte Rush-Bailey is a photographer who migrated to the world of photography from a corporate career that covered three decades of marketing and communications positions in a variety of global industries including energy, financial services, media, conservation, technology and professional services. This gave her opportunities to work with people all over the world, and to learn to appreciate cultural nuances and the influences of socio-political forces.

She has just produced her audio-slideshow Blood And Turmeric of her stills and ambient sound recordings made during the festival of the Oracles in Kodungallur whilst participating in my The Oracles of Kerala Photo Expedition/Workshop™.

So hold on to your seats, you'll get sweaty palms perhaps...but I'm certain you'll be bowled over by it.

The festival is called Kodungallur Bharani, a wild and unusual localized religious festival near Kochi. It is here that once a year the so-called Oracles of Kodungallur meet to celebrate both Kali and Shiva. By their thousands, these red-clad oracles arrive in this area of Kerala, and perform self mortification acts by banging on their heads with ceremonial swords repeatedly until blood trickle down their foreheads, and daub the wounds with turmeric.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Dougie Wallace: Road Wallah

Here's a movie -or what photographer Dougie Wallace calls- a "photo film" on Kolkata's unorganized (aka chaotic) transport modes. He has chosen to show us the tram drivers, the rickshaw pullers, the yellow taxis, the passengers, the pedestrian and vehicular traffic that criss-crosses this teeming city along with a soundtrack (produced by Rosie Webb) that just pulsates and throbs.

The buses, the most commonly used mode of transport, are run by government agencies and private operators, and as the photo film describes them, are haphazard to say the least. Kolkata is the only Indian city with a tram network, which I've greatly enjoyed when I was there last October. Almost all of Kolkata's taxis I have seen were old Ambassador cars, with little if any modern amenities. Hand-pulled rickshaws are extensively used by the public for short trips.

 Dougie Wallace is London based but grew up in Glasgow. He lived in east London for 15 years but spends a lot of time travelling abroad. I suggest you view his project titled Reflections On Life which features scenes from the daily commute in a number of cities ranging from Lisbon, Egypt and Eastern Europe, including Sarajevo, Ukraine and Albania.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Wotancraft's Camera Bags

Photo Courtesy Wotancraft Atelier

I'm more of a simple canvas Domke F-8 camera bag (and a cheap canvas shoulder bag from a US Army Surplus store) kind of person, but having chanced on Wotancraft Atelier's website, I have to admit that its camera bags are just gorgeous...and yes, quite expensive.

Its bags are constructed from top quality materials, and manufactured by experienced artisans, their bags are strong, reliable and beautiful. It appears that the Wotancraft products are handmade by only 4 artisans in Taiwan, and are rigorously inspected before they're shipped to buyers.

The smoky photographs on its website are just magnificent. Those that accompany the Urban Classic 005 Safari bag (shown above) feature Leicas, and another rangefinder to impart the sense of quality, Old World attention to details and high quality manufacturing. This is a well thought out pictorial layout; perhaps in the smilar vein as the ads for Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren products, but aimed at owners of Leicas and other high-end cameras.

The Scription blog has a full story on Wotancraft, which makes for interesting reading.

As a footnote, I have a Billingham camera bag which is equally well made, and resembles in some way the Safari bag, and is a classic for many photographers for its durability and functionality...but it also requires a long lead to be broken in, and I just didn't have the patience.

Note: I have no direct or indirect relationship with Wotancraft and/or its distributors.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Trip Report: 4/21/12 – 4/22/12

Well, I was in the woods this past weekend. To be honest the trip was rather unplanned. I had indeed planned on going into the woods, but my plan was for a completely different trip. At the last moment something came up which required me to drive to a location on the opposite side of the mountain where I had intended to go into the woods.

As I didn’t have time to get to my planned location, I had to re-plan my trip on the other side of the mountain. I had planned out a route in that area before, but I had intended it for a later date as a three day, two night trip. It is not an extremely long route, about 10 miles, but the elevation changes from almost sea level to 1,200 feet in under five miles. From experience, I know that doing a trip like that would be pushing my abilities. However, I figured I would try it. Worse case scenario, I wouldn’t reach the mountain I was aiming for and would have to camp earlier and then turn back without achieving my end goal-still not a bad weekend in the woods.

The beginning of the trip crosses an area where in 1890, building began on the Dunderberg Spiral Railway, which was intended to take people up the mountain. The project was soon abandoned and never completed, but remnants of the work can still be seen. It was my intention to check out some of the areas where the railroad was intended to pass. Soon after starting the trip, I saw one of the tunnels built for the train.


The area is overgrown now, and it is clear to see from the other side of the tunnel that it was never finished.


Even after a short way up the mountain, the views were quite impressive. I can see why they planned the train track there.


You can probably see the clouds in the picture. The weather forecast was for rain all weekend. I used to avoid going out in the rain, but these days I rather enjoy the challenge. It makes the trips more interesting. Despite the forecast though, the weather was warm and sunny. It was in the 60s (F) most of the day, making me rather annoyed that I was carrying two fleece tops in my backpack.

After a good amount of climbing, I saw another tunnel that was started and never finished. This one was in the earlier stages of construction when the project was canceled.


In some areas, you could actually follow the graded area where the tracks would have been placed. If I had more time, I would have followed the proposed line, but because I was in a hurry, I had to push on with the planned route.


If you look closely at the picture, you will see that an elevated, leveled path has been created with rocks for the train tracks.

Around 2 pm I stopped for some lunch. When moving fast, I need food, or I burn out quickly. Lunch was a granola bar and some cheese, which unfortunately had melted because of the heat.


I have mentioned this before, but in this area, finding water is a big issue for me. These mountains are mostly rock with a very thin cover of soil. Because of that, any rain water runs off very quickly. In warm weather, after a few weeks without rain, water becomes very difficult to find. I had started out the trip with 2 1/2 liters of water, and by lunch time had already finished one liter. Luckily, I ran across a small stream, and decided to fill up.


For this trip I decided to bring only one Nalgele bottle, and rely more heavily on my 3L Platypus bottle. It worked just fine and saved me 8.2 oz (including the neoprene sleeve). I was also very happy with the Sawyer Squeeze Filter. I was skeptical when I first started using it, but the more I use it, the happier I am with it. I will stress again, the need for a pre-filter. After each use, it is covered in dirt, which would otherwise clog up the filter itself.

From there on, it was just climbing, and more climbing.


It is a beautiful area, that sees very few people because of the quick change in elevation.


By this point I was getting rather burnt out, and I was still in the middle of nowhere. I found myself stopping and taking pictures, just so I can give my legs a chance to rest.


I still had two peaks to climb if I was going to stick to the planned route. I decided that the only way I can do that was to try to catch and follow some of the trails. Besides, some of the best passes through the mountains are marked as trails anyway.

This brings me to one of my biggest problems when navigating in the woods, both on this trip, and in general. I do fine when I am navigating without trails, but once I get on trails, unless it is some type of brain dead loop, I get complacent and get lost easily. This is what happened here. Once I got on a marked trail, I stopped paying close attention to the topographical features, and just started walking. I reached what I though was a clearly marked area on the map along side the trail, and calculated my distance from there accordingly. Unfortunately, the marker I saw did not correspond to that on the map, and as a result, my distances were completely off. Consequently, when I left the trail to follow a valley, it turned out to be a different valley than the one I though I was entering. Within half an hour, I was completely lost.

My solution was to roughly orienteer towards the highest mountain in the area, after all, that was the intended destination of my trip, and head directly there. From the map, I knew that near the top there was another trail. If I bumped into it, I would know my exact location. After quite a bit of uphill climbing, I reached my destination around 6 pm. In retrospect, if I knew how to properly use my GPS, I might have been able to figure out my location more easily, but as of now, I only know how to use it to track my route. I’m not accustomed to using it, and forgot about it completely, until i started writing this.


This was the time I had given myself to try to figure out my location, before I had to start making camp. As expected, I saw the trail markers, and I knew my location. Now my goal became to get below the tree line before I made camp. This was made more difficult by what appears to have been a forest fire, which had burnt most of the vegetation.


I saw what looked to be a good area, that had been spared by the fire, but when I got there, there were some animal remains.


I looked like the winter coat of an animal that had shed, but since I know very little about any of this stuff, I figured I better find a new area. After some more walking, I got into a gulley where I decided to set up camp.


Thanks to Tobit from Blades and Bushcraft, I finally figured out how to attach the tent door open. As he explained, there is a doohickey that attaches it open.

I decided that because of all the burn damage and charred material on the ground, a fire would not be a good idea. On top of that, I was exhausted. I decided to just stick to the stove.


As you might have noticed, this is not my usual MSR Whisperlite. I was indeed using a canister stove. Other than removing one of the Nalgene bottles, this was the only other gear change from my last trip. I will have more on the stove next week.

As an added benefit of the location, some water had gathered in a puddle at the bottom of the gulley, so I filled up my water for the next day. Around 8 pm I turned in for the night.

I woke up around 11 pm because of a very loud noise. The noise was a heavy thunderstorm that had moved in. For some reason I was not bothered at all. I have been in this shelter in much worse conditions, so it didn’t cross my mind to worry, although it probably should have. In a half asleep state I planned out how to pack up my gear if it was still raining the next day, and went back to sleep. I did have a passing worry that there might be some runoff that wound flood the area under the tent, but all the burnt ground absorbed the rain well. In turn, that created a very sticky and nasty mud that got on everything the next day.

Luckily though, when I got up at 6 am, the rain had stopped. The storm however had brought a cold front. The temperature was in the low 40s (F), and stayed that way all day. I made some oatmeal and started packing up. At that time I noticed that the rain had washed up some bones. I am not sure what animal it was.


After I packed up, I figured I would follow the trail I had intersected for as long as practical. As it turns out, the trail quickly started climbing. Unless I wanted to go all the way around the mountain, the only way was up. You can see the trail markers on some of the trees in the picture.


This brought me to the highest point in the trip, about 1,200 feet above my starting point.


The trail soon dipped down. At another, lower peak, I was able to see a group of hawks (I think) hunting.


The sky was as dark as it appears in the picture. It kept drizzling on and off the whole day, but fortunately, it never turned into heavy rain. While I brought my rain gear, I never ended up taking it out.


After a few hours, I recognized an area where I had passed the previous day, and decided to trace my steps back. The terrain was very frustrating, constantly going up and down. I was exhausted by this point, and was not in the mood to drag myself over rocks any more.


I stopped for lunch, and had to stop a few more times for snacks. This is the first time in a while that I finished all of my food. My energy level was so low, that I had to keep eating constantly for the energy boost.


Eventually I made it back to the car. The trip was more tiresome than I like. I don’t mind distance, but the constant up and downs of the terrain were killing me. I knew that when I started. That’s why I had planned it as a longer trip, but I’m glad I managed to finish it.


I finally figured out how to do the elevation graph of the trip on the GPS, so here it is:


The small changes in gear brought the base weight of my pack, without clothing, to 17 lb 2.3 oz. With food, water, and fuel, my pack weight was about 23 lb.

The trip was stressful at times because of the time limitations, and it was certainly exhausting, but I’m glad I was able to do it. You know how people say that when you get lost you should just stop and make camp? Well, it’s hard to do when you have to be back at work on Monday. :) I might go back there another time to just follow the proposed train track and see where they lead.

Mitchell Kanashkevich: Ethiopia

Photo © Mitchell Kanashkevich-All Rights Reserved

“Will I ever come back to Ethiopia?”

A question asked by Mitchell Kanashkevich after spending over four months in that country, crisscrossing it on a motorbike.

He doesn't ask it because of logistics, or because of practicalities...but rather he wonders if he would want to ever come back to Ethiopia. I chose to feature his post to counter balance my earlier post on Holland Cotter's Ethiopian experience because they are so divergent.

I won't go into the details of Mitchell's reasons for his largely negative personal experiences in Ethiopia since you can read it directly on his blog, but these range from onerous restrictions and regulations imposed by authorities to make some money off foreign visitors to "money hungry scheming locals" in Lalibela and other religious towns.

Mitchell Kanashkevich is amongst a handful of travel photographers who are truly intrepid, experienced and who produce consistently excellent imagery, so his experiences in Ethiopia ought to be heeded by independent travelers who want to visit Ethiopia the way he did. I'm not suggesting that travelers ought to be put off by his current mindset, but they certainly ought to pay attention to what he tells us...and prepare themselves for potential difficulties.

It is one thing to travel to Ethiopia (and wherever else) on assignment with The New York Times, and quite another to travel the way Mitchell did. Fixers, hotel accommodations, transportation are a world apart between these two.

As for the obnoxious and puerile comments that Mitchell's post seems to have generated, it's unfortunate. Some people don't realize the service that Mitchell has provided...they may disagree with it, they may not like it...but he related his personal experience, and he's free to express it as he sees fit...wherever and whenever he wants.

I traveled to Ethiopia in 2004, and my experience was different. But that was 8 years ago, and I traveled differently. However if I were to return to Ethiopia, I'd reread Mitchell's post very carefully.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Zabu Coffee - Review

Zabu Coffee are an online coffee company who deliver selected freshly roasted coffee beans direct to your door. They have a great value introductory offer - 2 bags of freshly roasted coffee beans for £12.97 and a free electric grinder worth £19.99 which includes free delivery.  All you need is a cafetiere and you are on your way to that perfect cup of coffee.

The grinder has a retractable cord and grinds your beans quickly, efficiently and fairly quietly too. My pack included the Coffee of the Month - Colombian Medellin Excelso coffee beans, 1 bag of Zabu House Blend and the free grinder. There are tasting notes on the back of every pack of coffee sent to me which is really helpful.

There is also a note on the back of the packs of coffee to say the coffee has been perfectly roasted for cafetieres and filter coffee makers. I appreciate not everyone wants to go to the expense of buying an espresso machine but this is my preferred method to make coffee, which in my case is always a latte, and so I had quite a few fabulous cups of coffee.

The Zabu House Blend 227g bag is Rainforest Alliance Certified is a 100% Aribica blend of Brazilian, Colombian and Costa Rican beans. Mild sweet and nutty with subtle fruity acidity and notes of caramel, peanut and hazelnut. Medium bodied with good levels of sweetness and acidity.  I made a cafetiere of coffee, Bailey's coffee and a latte, all coffees were excellent.

The Coffee of the Month - Colombian Medellin Excelso 227g bag is Fairtrade Certified. 100% Arabica beans. Mild, smooth medium bodied with subtle butterscotch sweetness, notes of hazelnut and winy acidity.  Yet another delicious cup of coffee......

 Decaffeinated Swiss Water Process 100% Arabica.  Ethopian Sidamo decaffeinated by consistent washing in pure Swiss water. Fruity acidity and soft berry notes. The lack of caffeine smooths the taste and lends a subtle flavour to the coffee. I was keen to try this coffee because I often buy fresh decaff coffee and always buy beans that have used the Swiss Water Process. I couldn't tell the coffee was decaffeinated, it was totally delicious with an acidity and lots of flavour.

Sumatra Blue Lingtong 227g bag is 100% Arabica. Bold, rounded and full of flavour with notes of earthy spices, ripe fruit and liquorice, full bodied with muted earthy sweetness. The coffee beans are very black and so was my shot of coffee. I know if I had tamped the grinds correctly there would have been more crema.

Zabu roast your coffee to order, the coffee beans are packed in vacuum bags, they will even grind the beans for you, if you so wish.  If you don't like any of your delivered beans they will replace them or provide you with a full refund and they can't be any fairer than that.

For £12.97, every month you can have a Zabu Coffee House Blend plus the Coffee of the Month - tasting notes are also included, and you are able to stop or change the delivery at any time.

Forget those bags of ground coffee you buy in the supermarket, once you have tried freshly roasted coffee beans you will wonder why you didn't buy fresh before.  I have bought freshly roasted coffee beans for many years now and grind them only when I am going to make a cup of coffee. We like decent coffee and these coffee beans are comparable to my regular supplier.

Thank you Zabu and Emily for the fabulous coffee.

FujiFilm X Pro-1: A Few More Quick Thoughts...

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy- Click To Enlarge

Well, I've shot a couple of hundred images with my newly acquired FujiFilm X Pro-1 so far, and I thought I'd post a few more of my brief impressions about its performance so far.

Firstly, FujiFilm updated the firmware of the X-Pro1 and the three X-mount lenses that accompany the camera. The updates reduce the aperture 'chattering' that was experienced when using the camera. I updated yesterday, and the "chatter" was eliminated.

My pet peeve with the X Pro-1 is this: when I shoot at the 6 frames per second mode, the resulting frames do not appear in sequence on the display. The first frame appears with a small thumbnail of the remaining frames. I consulted the manual and haven't found any mention of this, or how to cancel it so that I can review the frames on the display as in other cameras. From my reading of other reviews, it seems that frames shot in continous mode are numbered differently and won't be directly accessed on playback review. FujiFilm engineers ought to come up with a solution to this crazy irritant.

Note: Magnus H. Amundsen, based in Oslo, was kind enough to tweet me and guide me to page 64 of the X Pro-1. Viewing the frames shot in continuous mode can be seen in sequence by pressing the selector down, then either right or left depending of the order chosen. Problem solved. It's counter-intuitive, and in my opinion an unnecessary step...but it works.

The other possible issue with the camera seems to be the life of a single battery charge. I read that it's sufficient for 350 images, but it certainly hasn't been the case. However, I'll keep an eye on it in the coming weeks. Its auto focus is not infallible, especially when I use the camera to shoot from the hip. It missed on a few occasions but generally speaking, it nailed a lot more than it missed. The click of the shutter is virtually imperceptible.

Something else I didn't like is the placement of the exposure compensation dial. I found that I inadvertently move it with my thumb when I shoot from the hip. I'm thinking of taping it to the -2/3 mark. I am also thinking of ordering the Thumbs Up CSEP-2 for it instead of the Fuji hand grip. I have a Thumbs Up for my M9 and it makes a huge difference.

The Fuji RAW converter (SILKYPIX) that comes with the camera is clunky and sort of primitive. Fujifilm has another so called professional converter which can be downloaded free for a 30 days trial. It's also clunky. I can't wait for Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop to soon come up with an update for the X Pro-1.

I read that some photographers find that having the battery and the SD card at the bottom of the X Pro-1 is a design flaw. However, it's identical to a Leica in that respect. Exactly.

Having now looked at a couple of my good images from the X Pro-1, I believe their quality to be really stellar. I use the Fujinon 18mm f/2.0 XF R lens which I'm very comfortable with. It's the equivalent to a 27mm and fits my style of shooting, especially in the streets of New York City. But I would prefer a lens equivalent to a 24mm f2.0. I explored the various film simulation modes it offers, and was especially impressed by its Velvia-like mode...a vivid high saturation mode. The image accompanying this post was made using that film mode.

So far so good.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tool and Symbol: The Success of the Double-Bitted Axe in North America, by Ronald Jager

This is an article published in 1999 in Technology and Culture. In the article Jager discusses the ascent of the double bit axe in America and some potential reasons for its popularity. He makes a few brief guesses as to potential practical advantages, and while he makes a technically correct point about the aerodynamics of a double bit axe as compared to a balanced single bit axe, I am not sure it translates to any practical and therefore competitive advantage. I found his discussion of the social forces behind the transition however very interesting. I think he makes a good point that the choice of even something as practical as a tool can have nothing to do with practicality. I think we see that a lot today in our own outdoor community.


The article is available on JSTOR if you have an account, or you can get a copy here. I want to thank Joe from Woods Monkey for providing it to me. 

The New York Times: Aksum & Lalibela

Photo © Damon Winter-Courtesy The New York Times

Here's what I found to be a very well made (and thoroughly researched) feature by The New York Times titled Aksum And Lalibela: A Pilgrimage with the prose of Holland Cotter and the photography of Damon Winter.

"Lalibela was conceived as a paradise on earth."

Cotter tells us that he had longed to see two holy cities in Ethiopia: Aksum, the country's center of Orthodox Christianity, and Lalibela, a town of extraordinary churches carved from volcanic rock in the 13th century, for a long time and he did visit it recently.

The treat in this interactive feature are the panoramas of Gondar, the monasteries of Lake Tana and Lalibela. I was in Ethiopia in 2004, and these panoramic views brought it all back to me as nothing else could. I wasn't very impressed by Gondar then, but the majesty of Lalibela churches and the beauty of the reclusive monasteries of Lake Tana made my experience in Northern Ethiopia exceptionally memorable.

An exceptionally engaging article by Holland Cotter is here. He has been a staff art critic at The New York Times since 1998. Don't miss Damon Winters' dozen photographs of Lalibela, Aksum, and Gondar which accompany the articles.

And since I mentioned that I've been in that region some 8 years ago, drop by my own gallery Footsteps In Abyssinia. Oh, how I wish I had my multimedia knowledge and tools then!!!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cartmel Summer Fruit Pudding: Review

The lovely people at Cartmel Village Shop have sent me two puddings to review, Lemon Drizzle and Summer Fruit Pudding

It was difficult to choose which pudding I should try first, I tossed a coin and it landed on heads for Summer Fruit Pudding. I know the Lemon Drizzle Pudding should have been reviewed first, but hey ho, sometimes it's good to be different.  The sun was shining yesterday, my fruit bushes are all in bud, and Summer Fruit Pudding definitely has the feelgood factor.  It is a healthy pudding, with no fat, full of fruity goodness and even those who don't normally eat pudding will be won over.

Whilst the summer fruits are infused with Belvoir Elderflower Cordial, it doesn't overpower the fruit. The bread layers are soaked in raspberry, strawberry, redcurrant and blackcurrant juice.  The pudding cuts well and is neither too tart or too sweet.  All of the fruit is tasty, plump and excellent quality.  I served my pudding with pouring cream. Today, on recommendation from Cartmel Village Shop,  I served the other half of the pudding with creme fraiche - delicious.

A transportable pudding for picnics, a great pudding to eat after a hearty meal, and can be bought in advance and stored in the freezer.

This beautiful summer pudding serves 4 people and weighs 450g. 

Thank you to Cartmel Village Shop for another perfect pud. My Lemon Drizzle pudding review will be on here very soon.

Poll: Which Do You Prefer M9, 7D, 5DMK2, XPro1, GF1?

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy (Canon 5D Mark II)
Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy (Canon 7D )

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy (Panasonic GF1 -20mm)

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy (Leica M9)

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy (FujiFilm X Pro-1)
It's been raining in NYC for a couple of days, so I thought I'd have some fun with my photo gear and compare interior shots from the Canon 5D Mark II,  the Canon 7D, the Panasonic GF1, the Leica M9 and the FujiFilm X Pro-1. All of these images have not been processed in any way (except for being resized) and are jpegs out of the cameras.

While all of these have been shot at f2.8 and at an iso of 200 (the exception is the GF1), and at roughly the same time, there's obvious difference in many aspects between all of them. Another factor is that I had a 28-70mm f2.8 for the Canons, a 20mm for the GF1, a 28mm prime Leica lens for the M9, and a 18mm (equivalent to 27mm) on the X Pro-1.

This is hardly a scientific or a technical experiment, or an attempt to portray my preference...but just a quick look at what these different (in quality, price, type, etc)  cameras and lenses can produce, using an off-the-cuff methodology. In particular, take a good look at the images produced by the M9 and the X Pro-1.

So have some fun as well, and take the poll!!!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Has “Bushcraft” Missed the Point?

Let me start out by saying that for this post I will be using the term “bushcraft”, not in the way that I ordinarily do to designate wilderness skills, but rather in the way it is usually used these days, to designate the activity itself.


I have to be honest, when I first started my blog, I wanted to make it clear that I am not a pure bushcrafter as I saw people use the term. I am a mix of a lot of things. I don’t pretend to live off the land. I carry what I need, and have nothing against technology. Once I started writing however, I found myself pulled in the direction of what is typically called “bushcraft”, largely because I found the prospect of using natural resources rather than gear enticing. Because of that, I joined all the forums, started going to meetings, and tried to learn what bushcraft is really about. What I write about here comes from those experiences.

Well, I quickly became disillusioned with “bushcraft”. It hit me at one point last year when I realized that I was going into the woods almost every weekend, practicing skills, and then coming home, while the whole time rarely being more than an hour from the road. It struck me that I was practicing and preparing for some event that never seemed to come. Yes, it’s fun practicing to start a fire using different methods, but what was the point if I just went home afterward. I remember spending a lot more time in the backwoods before this “bushcraft” thing.

Then I started looking around and what I saw with other bushcrafters seemed to follow the same pattern. We would sit around a camp fire, not too far away from the road, split a stick or two with the latest $500 knife we got, cook some bacon and then exchange stories. I can not recall a single instance where someone said something along the lines of “Let me tell you about this trip I did crossing the Sierras with just an axe and a blanket”. The stories were always about who can light a fire the fastest, or has the best knife, or can make a fire from one stick, etc, etc.

I started wondering, what’s the point? As bushcrafters we spent a lot of time talking about living off the land, thriving in nature, relying on the resources around us, and so on. We naturally stick up our noses at those people who are “just backpacking”. After all, they are just passing through nature, while we have this deep understanding that allows us to live in harmony with it.

The reality however did not match our words. Sure, we can light a fire with a bow drill while the average backpacker can’t. However, I would look at backpackers who did extraordinary things in the woods under extreme conditions, climbing mountains and crossing forests, while we sat around the campfire talking about from where each of our wool blankets was imported. We seemed to prepare for all these extraordinary trips and adventures that those “mere backpackers” were doing; we talked about how much better we would be at it because of all our knowledge; but the trips never came.

This made me question everything I was doing. I decided to stop practicing and start doing. It seemed that we were all practicing these skills with the only end goal of impressing the other people at the next meeting. We had gathered all this knowledge that we never used other than to show others that we had it.

In the pursuit of skills, I had lost the spirit of adventure that originally drew me to the woods. I didn’t start this so I can barbeque in a camp site, carve spoons, or coordinate my wardrobe, so it looks more “authentic”. I got into it because I wanted to be like the explorers of old; travel through the woods; living with the gear I had on my back; discovering places I had never seen. I love the feeling of freedom when I know I can go wherever I want in the forest with the gear I have on my back. What I love even more than that however is actually doing it.

What good were any of those skills, if they were never used to support any meaningful experience in the woods? What good is having all that knowledge if someone else without it is doing more backwoods travel than I am? What good is being self sufficient in nature if we are always in sight of our cars?

There is no reason why bushcraft can not be used differently. For some reason, at least from what I have seen, it is not utilized in that way at the moment. And to be fair, there is no need for it to be anything other than what it already is; it just wasn’t what first inspired me to go into the woods.

Roasted Tomato, Basil and Parmesan Quiche

We have had a lovely outing to Liverpool to see a beautiful new born baby girl and her proud mummy and daddy.

I enjoy wandering around Liverpool and didn't need any persuading to revisit Delifonseca in Stanley Street for lunch.  There is a wonderful deli downstairs and upstairs they serve freshly made food. It is close to The Cavern and if you are nearby and need lunch/dinner which is made to a high standard, you can't go wrong, they also have a restaurant at Dockside, Liverpool. When I go out for lunch, I mostly choose the vegetarian option, and Delifonseca served me a fabulous quiche.  I hadn't made a quiche for some time and found this delicious recipe on the BBC GoodFood website.

   To go along side the quiche I made this crunchy rice salad.

The Oracles Of Kodungallur

The Oracles of Kodungallur celebrate their festival in the Bhagawati temple, which usually occurs between the months of March and April. It involves sacrifice of cocks and shedding of the Oracles own blood, to appease the goddess Kali and her demons who are said to relish blood offerings.

"It was one of the most intense photographic experience I've had in a long while."

The festival is overseen by the aging King of Kodungallur where hordes of Oracles (Vellichapads in local Malayalam) stampede around the temple waving their curved swords while chanting abuse at the goddess.

This 4 minutes movie (using SoundSlides for the still photographs and Audacity to edit its audio, and then converted to a movie file) was made of material gathered during my The Oracles of Kerala Photo Expedition/Workshop™. I struggled with putting its audio all together, and it's still far from perfect, and I intend to refine it in weeks to come, but it will do the time being.

It was one of the most intense photographic experience I've had in a long while, even surpassing the intensity of the Maha Kumbh Mela in 2001. The seeming abandon with which the Oracles injured themselves by repeatedly striking their foreheads with their swords was disturbing at first but, in due time, I realized that their companions made sure that it didn't go too far, and took care that in the heat of their trances, the Oracles didn't injure anyone else.

Not for the fainthearted, it was also a draining experience over two long days for all the participants in my workshop, and I admired the women in our group who immersed themselves in photographing and documenting this event...not an easy task in view of the density and raucousness of the crowds. We returned every night to our hotel, exhausted, filthy, sweaty, thirsty and covered with turmeric powder...but exhilarated by what we saw and photographed.

And that's the image of the SoundSlides' interface. I print and use it as a scratchpad/storyboard...jotting down timings etc.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Walk About With The FujiFilm X Pro-1

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy (Shooting From The Hip/Crop)
Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy (Shot Thru The Viewfinder)

Well, I've had the FujiFilm X Pro-1 equipped with a Fuji 18mm f2.0 lens for about 48 hours, and I thought I'd jot my initial impressions down in a brief blog post. First off, I only skimmed the manual very quickly so don't expect any in-depth review. These are merely impressions from using it during a walk about on 14th Street in New York City, then a few moments in Washington Square. Some of the photographs were made shooting from the hip, while others were made by peering through the viewfinder.

Interestingly, I had a conversation with a photographer in Washington Square who asked me if it was a Leica. It certainly looks quite similar, but it's not a Leica in more ways than one.  Superficially-speaking, the Fuji X Pro-1 has much more to offer in terms of digital enhancements than the M9. Apart from its auto-focus, it has a plethora of options that purists may not particularly find useful...its shutter is softer and much more discreet than the's much lighter but is still a handful...its lenses are also much lighter than those made by Leica or Voigtlander.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy (Shot From The Hip)
Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy (Cropped. Shot From The Hip)
I had no difficulty whatsoever in adapting the X Pro-1 to my style of shooting from the hip. It's as unobtrusive as the M9, and the success rate is much higher with it than with the M9 because of its auto focus, which I chose to keep on single shot mode.

It seems to have a number of (possibly irritating) quirks, but I'll have to work with it a few more days before deciding if these are really camera quirks or whether they are caused by my inexperience.

As for the quality of its images. There's no question the quality of images made with an M9 equipped with Leica glass is really stellar, and their "feel" is different...I guess that's the renowned "Leica feel". The images from the X-Pro 1 are excellent, but they're more akin to the images by the Canon 5D Mark II (as an example). The images I've captured so far are very impressive in terms of quality especially from a crop sensor APS-C camera, but they can't be mistaken for images made with an M9.

Once again, this is not a scientific analysis nor an in depth review at all...just an initial impression when using the X Pro-1 and looking at the images I got from using it for a couple of hours. I did not intentionally choose specific scenes, but did what I usually do when I have my M9 around my neck.

What I didn't particularly like is that the X Pro-1 has the tendency of overexposing, so I dialed down by as much as half a stop and sometimes by 3/4 of a stop. And, there's isn't Lightroom or Photoshop RAW support for it yet.

I have found that I am shooting more and more wide angle, so the 18mm f2.0 lens is just perfect. It's perhaps early to say, but so far I like that lens a's fast and accurate.

As I said, this blog post is only partially peeling away the first layer of the X-Pro 1 "onion".

I've been asked what will I do now with the M9.  Already! I'm not a Leica fan-boy nor a X Pro-1 fan-boy either, so my answer is simple...I wil continue to use it along with the X-Pro 1. I can easily see myself using both in Vietnam and Thailand in the coming few months.

As I'm fond of saying....cameras are nothing but tools for the photographer. Exactly like a claw and ball-peen hammers are tools for carpenters who use them for different jobs...the M9 and the X Pro-1 will be used for different styles of photography. When everything is spot on, the Leica excels. Otherwise, it's not a forgiving tool. In contrast, I think the X Pro-1 will be much more forgiving.

More to come next week.

Poachies - Egg Poaching Bags: Review

Poachies are a new product to help all of us who struggle to poach an egg using conventional methods.

The Poachie is an egg poaching bag made from paper. All you have to do is fill a saucepan threequarters full with water, bring to the boil then turn down until the water is gently bubbling. Simply take a drinking mug and place the opened Poachie bag into it, crack in the egg (preferably fresh), bring both of the flaps together to close the Poachie, place vertically into the water. Put the timer on for 5 minutes then remove the bag with a slotted spoon, and drain on a kitchen towel for a few moments. Remove the poached egg from the bag by shaking the bag gently.

The above is a brief overview of how to use the product. I'm not a poached egg eater and so had to rely on my husband to do the tastings. There is no need to put any vinegar in the water or swirl or twirl the water in the hope of producing a decent poached egg.

The recommended poaching time is 6 minutes but this produced an egg, which according to my husband, was like a hard boiled egg but minus the shell. Perhaps the water was boiling too vigorously, but a conventionally poached egg wouldn't take this long to cook. I also had to tear the bag away from the egg and shaking it wouldn't release the egg.

I cooked him another poached egg, but this time for 4 minutes, he said he was so used to eating poached eggs which tasted of vinegar he was missing his hit of vinegar. He wasn't sure I had cooked the egg very well. I still couldn't get the egg to slide out of the bag.

This weekend I bought some fresh eggs and made a granary loaf to serve the egg on. I decided to cook the egg for 5 minutes with the water gently bubbling, and the poached egg was perfect. I still couldn't get the egg to slide out of the bag, but the bag tears away easily and it didn't really seem to matter. As with a conventionally poached egg, it is always going to give a better result if the egg is fresh.  The poached egg in the photograph looks lovely and it isn't very often I have been able to say that.

My husband said 'I've cracked it' and he is looking forward to more well cooked poached eggs. Hard yolks, yolks that have separated from the whites, frothy eggs whites, poached egg pans should all now be history.......

The Poachies come in a pack of 20 poaching bags and there is a demonstration using the bags on the Poachies website.

Thank you Eleanor.