Friday, May 31, 2013

Glazed Gammon Steaks with Pineapple Salsa

Remember Gammon and Pineapple?
This recipe is by those lovely chaps The Hairy Bikers - they make cooking fun and I love their recipes too.

Can you remember gammon, pineapple, egg and peas from the 70's? I used to eat this at the Leicester branch of Berni Inn which served British classic food, I'm surprised pubs still serve this retro classic.

The Hairy Bikers have given this classic a twist and poshed it up, they have glazed the gammon with honey and grain mustard (I used Dijon mustard), the fresh pineapple salsa takes this dish to another level.

No chips this time round but potato wedges, fried egg and of course peas.

The recipe can be found on the BBC Food Website.

Eating Places APlenty Back in the 1970's in Leicester - I have very fond memories of some of these places especially the Pancake House.

Back Story | The Hijras of Ajmer

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

"My name is Maria...No, it's Anoushka".

The Urs anniversary of the revered Sufi saint Moin'Uddin Chisti attracts thousands of devotees and pilgrims from the four corners of South Asia, including Pakistan and Bangladesh...and whilst most are of the Muslim faith, there are significant numbers of Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and members of other religious traditions who visit the shrine during this fascinating event.

As with most religious festivals in India (and everywhere), the pilgrims to the Urs in Ajmer rub shoulders with a healthy share of charlatans, scam artists, beggars, pickpockets and other shady characters.

However, amongst the most interesting visitors attending the latter part of the event are the hijras. The hijras are India's transgendered who have a recorded history of more than 4,000 years, and are now a recognized political force in the country, assiduously courted by politicians come election time. It's an elusive subculture, involving cross-dressing and often-castrated figures.

On the penultimate night of the Urs, after experiencing the rather shocking experience of being robbed on my iPhone (and having it returned a few moments after I manhandled the presumed thief), I was in for another surprise. Walking within the confines of the shrine, Shuchi Kapoor connected with a group of these hijras who had wandered in to presumably take the sights. In fact, the hijras were the sights, as they were gawked at, stared at, photographed with cellphones, by masses of male pilgrims...some with lust in their eyes, others with bewilderment and the rest with amusement.

After a few moments of pleasantries, we were invited to their hotel room overlooking the main street leading to the shrine. A bare room, with no beds that I could see...dangling fluorescent lights, and wide open windows allowing the hijras to smile and wave to the throngs of people walking below. It reminded me of Fat Tuesday in New Orleans when young (and usually drunk) women bare their breasts and throw beads at spectators from balconies.

Spending about an hour amongst the hijras in such an ambiance wasn't particularly conducive to an intelligent dialogue, especially when I asked one of the hijras for her name, and she wasn't too sure what it was for that evening.  When another asked me if I found her interesting, I managed to evade the trap by replying that I was interested in everything.

What is interesting though is that the hijras were occupying the same 'hotels' lining the main street that the nautch (dancing) girls originally lived in during the times of the festival in the past centuries.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Anne-Marie Bernier | Lover of the Poor

Here's the very first audio slideshow of the annual Urs Festival commemorating the death of the Sufi Saint Khwaja Moinuddin Hasan Chishti as produced by Anne-Marie Bernier, a photographer and one of the group members in my just completed Sufi Saints of Rajasthan & Kashmir Photo Expedition-Workshop

It captures with complete realism the religious event which some 700,000 pilgrims are said to have attended earlier this month. Moinuddin Hasan Chishti is the most revered Sufi saint in South Asia, and for good reasons. He was reputed to have been a liberal religious figure, with numerous devotees amongst Muslims (Sunni and Shi'a), Hindus, Sikhs and others who consider his brand of Sufism and universal acceptance of all creeds as ideal.

Anne-Marie chose the title of her audio slideshow very well, as it was inspired by an interview given by one of the devotees at the festival. You can also see it on Vimeo.

Aside photography, Anne-Marie teaches at a university in Canada, and has traveled far and wide internationally. She spent weeks in Ethiopia, photographing the country from top to bottom, as well as Cuba, Namibia, Mexico, Iceland, and others.

Trip Report: Cook Forest State Park, PA 5/25/13 – 5/27/13

This past weekend my girlfriend and I went to an early 1900s lodge in Cook Forest State Park, near the Clarion River. While being in the woods is not her idea of a good time, she picked this particular vacation because she knows I like it. As it turned out, this area seems to have quite a few old cabins where people stay.


It wasn’t the type of trip where we would do any serious travel through the woods. We mostly hung out in the area and by the river.



We lucked out with the weather. While I understand it was raining in NY, we had sunshine the whole weekend. I took some pictures along the river for you guys.







It was good to spend some time in the woods without any particular goal in mind and without returning exhausted.


Anyway, that’s it. Not one of the usual trip reports, but it was a good bit of fun in the woods, so I figured I would share it with you guys.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Easy Food Recipe: Stilton Beef Burgers

Making your own burgers is really easy and home made are always best. I have always made mine because I like to know exactly what goes into them. For those moments when you crave a burger this freshly made easy food from the kitchen for a stay at home Friday or Saturday evening, is perfect. The melting Stilton Cheese in the burgers is simply delicious.

I like my bacon well done for this recipe but if it looks too well done for you, then simply cook for less time. Left over Stilton Cheese and the uncooked burgers will freeze perfectly.  To take this food to another level I would make the burger buns and the coleslaw but for fast food days Marks and Spencer is my one stop shop.

Serves: 2

250g best quality lean mince beef
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
50g cubed Stilton cheese
25g fresh breadcrumbs
1 tbsp chopped chives
1 tsp Worcester sauce
pinch chilli powder
1/2 beaten egg
2 rashers smoked back bacon
Salad leaves
2 Burger Buns

1. Preheat the oven to 200ºC.
2. Mix the mince beef, onion, breadcrumbs, chives, Worcester sauce, cubes of Stilton cheese and chilli powder together. Add half the beaten egg to the mixture. Season.
3. Shape into two burgers. Line a tray with clingwrap place the burgers on the lined tray and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to chill.
4. Remove the burgers from the cling wrap, grease the tray, place the burgers on the tray.
5. Grease a small tray and place the bacon rashers on.
6. Place both trays in the oven and cook for 20 minutes, turn the bacon over half way through the cooking time.
7. Cut the burger buns in half and toast one side only.
8. Spread mayonnaise over each bun half. Place a layer of salad leaves on the base, top with a cooked burger, take a bacon rasher and place on top of the burger.
9. Serve with potato wedges sprinkled with paprika.

Sufi Saints Photo Workshop: The Verdict

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."
That was the line that came to my mind the most frequently during my two weeks Sufi Saints of Rajasthan & Kashmir Photo Expedition-Workshop...and I had to remind some of the group members of it as well.

In comparison to the 10 days or so spent in Ajmer attending the death commemoration of the Sufi Saint Moin'Uddin Chisti (aka Nawaz Gharib), the initial days of the workshop were spent in Srinagar; the capital of Kashmir, and the experience was virtually placid. The group interacted with and photographed people of all walks of life during the walk-abouts the streets and alleys of the city, during the visits to the shrines and mosques, and with about everyone...from the shikara boatsmen to the flower vendors and even the elderly religious clerics who wanted to salvage our souls. I can confirm that the Kashmiri people are amongst the nicest and most hospitable people I've ever met...and if you haven't been already, just go. 

Seven of the group stayed in the stellar luxury of the Sukhoon houseboat (a truly magnificent houseboat which only had 5 bedrooms), while I and another group member stayed in another nearby houseboat...far from having the same quality of accommodation as the brand new sleek Sukhoon. I imagine Onassis' yachts would be of the same luxurious standard.

Traveling on Indian Railways from Delhi to Ajmer was a cinch, and was a pleasant experience...albeit one that took 6 hours to complete. I was looking forward to settle in the luxurious setting of the Ananta Resort near Ajmer, but was shocked to find it didn't have rooms for us because it had accepted the booking of an Indian wedding with literally hundreds of guests, and we had been moved to the Pushkar oasis of calm within 15 minuted drive. Having vented my spleen with the choicest of epithets directed at the Ananta management, I bowed to the inevitable and we moved to the Pushkar Resorts (in retrospect, a much better choice) for a few days until the wedding ended. We did get complimentary meals as compensation, which soothed our feelings a little. In case you seek hotel accommodations near Pushkar, do not go to the's more of a convention center and principally caters to noisy Indian weddings. 

As for the photographic experience during the Urs (Moin'Uddin's commemoration), it was mixed. Mixed not because of the lack of incredible subjects, but because of there being too many, and after a day or two, our eyes got used to them...and we became blase. We became understandably more choosy in what and who we photographed, and the buzz and the novelty decreased. That is the main difficulty in attending and photographing such events...after a while, it becomes repetitive and it becomes a struggle to find "new" angles.

The first few days at the Urs were enjoyable and full of  photo opportunities that most of hadn't ever seen.  The fakirs and the Sufi ascetics (the real and fake), the charlatans, the flag-waving pankiwallahs,  some maimed and others healthy...the vagabond self mutilating malangs, the venal khadims squeezing every paisa from the poor and gullible, the eye-popping rituals...some based on Hinduism, Buddhism and even on paganism,  the disturbing self-induced trances by mostly schizophrenic women and their attempts to exorcise jinns, the disparity between Sunni and Shi'a Islamic traditions, the welcoming kindness of pilgrims towards foreign visitors, and our being interviewed on Indian national television all made for exhilarating initial days.

I was thrilled my choice of Tahoor Chisti ( a khadim and descendant of the Saint) as a facilitator for the event proved to be extraordinarily fortuitous. He was instrumental in procuring camera permits for us, got us replacements when we need them...and was the go-to-man whenever we needed to. A dignified and an extremely affable and helpful young man...and certainly an asset to our photo workshop. Shuchi Kapoor, a freelance photographer and writer, who joined the workshop in Ajmer as my assistant, is also to be commended for her help and skills.

One of the highlights of the Urs was having our very own guelaf (a large velvet sheet embroidered with verses from the Qur'an) which we placed on the saint's marble tomb, along with a basket of sweet-scented roses. Doing so exposed us to the most chaotic part of the event since we shared the tight space with hundreds of other pilgrims/supplicants; some of whom gripped with a religious frenzy.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the failed attempt of my being being pick-pocketed. Surrounded by a mass of pilgrims, and sensing my iPhone had been lifted from my pocket,   I grabbed the nearest man next to me...shook him out of his wits and yelled "thief" at the top of my lungs.  A policeman swiftly grabbed the fellow and as if by magic, my iPhone was returned by some other guy claiming it had fallen from my pocket! Another highlight was to meet a bunch of transgendered hijras in their rooms overlooking the main street in Ajmer.

What would I do if I had to repeat the workshop? Well, I'd extend the Srinagar part of it for a couple of days  and attend the first half of the Urs...and skip its latter part with its claustrophobic-inducing crowds.              

Classic Camping – What Is It And Why Should You Care?

Heads up, this is going to be a rant. If you don’t like such things, avert your eyes.

Classic Camping is a term that has gained popularity recently. A main driving force behind it has been two men, Steve Watts and Dave Wescott. Both men are very accomplished in the field of primitive technology, and have been teaching on the subject for many years. Their expertise in the field covers everything from Neolithic technology, to early 20th century technology and skills.

So, what is Classic Camping? Since the definition of the term comes largely from Watts and Wescott, we have to look to their writings for the definition. According to an interview given by Steve Watts, Classic Camping, encompasses the camping methods and style of the late 1800s through the 1920s. It involves the use of iron tools, canvas tents, and wool clothing. As Mr. Watts explains, it is the time period when the woodsmanship skills of the past intersected with the technology of the early 20th century. In particular, it is the act of leisure camping. It is the point in our history where woodsmanship skills and camping stopped being necessary tools for explorers, hunters, soldiers, and loggers, but rather become a recreational activity for city folk with free time and money to buy a Ford to take them to the camp site.


Washington, D.C., or vicinity circa 1920. "Dr. A.A. Foster and family of Dallas, Texas, in auto tourist camp."

While Watts and Wescott use a lot of phrases such as “Modern camping is what you do to get some place, classic camping is what you do when you get some place”, and it being the “true way to camp”, the reality is much simpler and less full of flowery language. Classic Camping is RV/car camping early 20th century style. It usually involved huge amounts of heavy equipment, designed for comfort, not for travel. Camp was typically set up right next to the car, with a canvas tent in which “you could stand in to put on your pants”, cast iron pots, table, chairs, etc. The focus was to sit around the camp fire, cook large quantities of food, and I suspect partake in some good quality liquor.


The above picture is from last year’s Woodsmoke Classic Camping (and sadly, bushcraft) gathering.

Sounds like a good bit of fun. Granted, it is far removed from my practices in the woods, but to each his own. If that is what gives one enjoyment, why not? I certainly do it from time to time myself.

Well, for one, there is the annoying remarks about how this was the “golden age” of camping, or how this was “true camping”. I must admit, I find the assertions annoying, as I would hardly call the practice the “golden age” of anything. That's not the main issue however. I am sure I also make similar annoying remarks about my chosen style of camping.

What really bothers me, and the reason why I think you should care is that some people, including Steve Watts and Dave Wescott have been pushing to connect their concept of Classic Camping with woodsmanship and bushcraft. I have to say, the notion of equating Classic Camping with woodsmanship and buschraft, or for that matter even implying a connection greatly upsets me. It upsets me because I am very interested in woodsmanship and bushcraft, and in my evaluation, Classic Camping has nothing to do with either.

If you want to hang out in a huge canvas tent in the parking lot, and cook large amounts of food in a dutch oven so you and your friends can hang out by the fire and tell stories, that great; but don’t pretend like this is woodsmanship or bushcraft. It is not. It wasn’t in 1900, and it isn’t now. All that Classic Camping represents is a bunch of city folk from the early 1900s with disposable income, hanging out by the side of the road on the weekend cooking barbeque and pretending to be woodsman. I am quite sure that the actual woodsmen of the time, you know… the ones that actually were in the backwoods hunting, trapping, exploring and logging had very few good things to say about the city car campers that descended on the woods in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Or perhaps they weren’t upset at all because those woodsmen were actually in the woods and never managed to run into the parking lots where all this “classic camping” was taking place.


The above picture is from last year’s Woodsmoke Classic Camping gathering.

Bushcraft has suffered enough in the past few years. It has gone from being the pursuit of learning of wilderness skills, to a backyard barbeque by fashionably, yet retro dressed people. The implication that bushcraft has turned into nothing more than car camping does not need to be reinforced by outright making it so. Nor does the term “woodsmanship”, which many have started using in recent years to distance themselves from the car wreck that bushcraft has turned into, needs to get dragged into this. Let’s be honest, setting up a canvas tent in the parking lot and lighting the barbeque is as much woodsmanship as hooking up the RV to the sewer system. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many things one can learn at a Classic Camping gathering. The skills demonstrated there however are tangential and not directly connected to Classic Camping itself. They are remnants of what woodsmanship used to be before people decided that they want to play woodsmen without enduring any of the hardships of actually being in the woods.

All of this is even more troubling because of the commercial interests that have aligned behind it. For those not familiar, Steve Watts and Dave Wescott run the Woodsmoke gathering, one of the largest in the country, which in turn is backed by Bushcraft USA, the largest bushcfraft forum/store. The result is a focused and directed push to equate classic camping, bushcraft, and woodsmanship into a perfect money making, gear selling, $300 per person bargain basement priced ticket, ego fluffing amalgamation that can then be spoon fed to every armchair “woodsman” in the country. It almost brought tears to my eyes last year watching poor Tim Smith trying to give a tortured explanation about how the terms are connected.

Now, I am fully aware that I am powerless to stop any of this from continuing. I just beg those involved, please, please, just leave one term untouched, so that those of us who actually go into the woods, and try to live off of equipment and resources we carry under our own power, can use with some degree of pride. You can have bushcraft. The term has already become a parody, but do you have to take “woodsmanship” as well? It’s not going to make the barbeque in the parking lot any more woodsy. All it will do is force the rest of us to have to come up with yet another term which you will then try to co-opt in order to make your paying membership feel like “real” woodsmen.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying any style of camping. If that gives one the greatest satisfaction, then it is an activity equally worthy of pursuit as any other. However, we don’t need to pretend that Classic Camping is bushcraft or woodsmenship, let alone “true” woodsmanship. It is not. it never was, and as long as there are people who actually go into the woods and spend time there, it never will be. 

Alright, rant over. Back to scheduled programming.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Joseph Joseph Elevate Spatula Set: Review

Presented in a gift box
I have been sent this fabulous Joseph Joseph Spatula Set to review from the online retailer Find Me A Gift.  This is a very useful kitchen set, they all have weighted handles and a built in tool rest which elevates the spoon off the kitchen work surface to prevent the spoon messing the surfaces up.

They are made of polypropylene and the spoon/spatulas have flexible silicone heads. Easy to wash up but they will go into the dishwasher and are heat resistant to 340C. If you have lots of non-stick pans these are perfect for stirring.
Useful for stirring, mixing and serving.
The middle size spatula is perfect for removing all the cake batter from the mixing bowl.

The small spatula is useful for spreading out cake batter.
Great serving up spoon
The Review:

Trendy colours
Excellent Quality Product
They can be stored on wall hooks
No transfer of flavours
No discolouring
Easy to clean

Nothing obvious

Thank you to Find Me A Gift for the review sample.  Find Me A Gift price £19.99 for the set.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Sufi Saints Photo Workshop: Sacred & Profane

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Islam is monolithic...Islam is homogeneous...Islam speaks with one voice... and so goes on the nonsense we get from our media.

I wish the so-called pundits who speak of Islam's homogeneity with such authority would have been with me at the commemoration of Moin'Uddin Chisti's death anniversary in Ajmer (India).  

One of the largest Muslim religious gathering in the world; following the Haj in Mecca and the Biswa Ijtema in Bangladesh, the Ajmer Urs gathered approximately 700,000 pilgrims of various religious denominations over a few days.

Muslims (Shi'a and Sunni...Sufis and non Sufis), Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and non-believers congregated to pay homage to the most important Sufi saint of South Asia.

Circumambulating the shrine, throwing fragrant roses on the saint's tomb, tying orange ribbons on its jalis, women shrieking in their trances, vagabonds cracking whips and popping their eyeballs, vagrants and fakirs drawing deeply on their opium-laced chillums, and the transgender hijras taunting and teasing the pilgrims from balconies....yes, all very "Islamic" indeed.

Faith is what you make of it...not what others tell you it is.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Mykel Hawke and Ruth England Are Coming Back to TV in a New Survival Show, Get Lost

Remember the survival show Man, Woman, Wild, where Myke and his wife had to survive together in different locations around the world? Well, it seems like the show is coming back under a different title, Get Lost.


There is no clear release date, but it will start airing sometime in 2013 on the Travel Channel. Very few details have been released about the show, but it is definitely in the works. Here is what Myke Hawke released on his Facebook page:

“OK, it is Officially announced, The New Show for Travel Channel is called Get Lost with Ruth England Hawke & Mykel Hawke. Can't say more just now other than it is good stuff and the next level! Thanks to Travel & Bill, Tremendous & Colleen and Jeff & Crew! And of course to the Sergeant Major for being so brave and our lad for being so strong.”

I know people have different opinions about survival shows, but I have to admit, this was one of my favorites. I look forward to the release of the new one.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Wood Trekker’s Gear Wish List

My birthday is coming up in July, and I have had a few questions about what I want as a gift. It got me thinking about new shiny gear that I’ve been wanting. I figured I would share the list with you guys. The items are listed in no particular order.

Stone Glacier Solo Backpack


The Stone Glacier Solo pack is manufactured by a small company that specializes in ultralight packs. It’s primary purpose is to serve as a hunting pack. What makes it well suited for that task is the fact that while it looks like a regular internal flame pack, it is actually an external frame pack. Stone Glacier uses what they call Krux Frame system. To this frame, which forms the full back of the pack, you can attach different pack, the Solo being one of the configurations. Of course, if you are purchasing the pack, you would need to get it with the frame. This feature allows the pack to be pulled away from the frame, creating a load shelf where you can place a game bag.

krux solo loaded

The pack and frame together come on the expensive end of the price scale at $559.00. You can get the pack without the flame for just $274.00, but that wouldn’t be much use unless you already have the frame. The pack and frame together weigh only 3.63 lb. While that is not lightweight for a regular pack, it is extremely light for hunting packs.

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Sleeping Pad


Quite a mouthful, but the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm is the latest design from Therm-a-Rest. It is an inflatable pad designed for four season backpacking. It offers amazing insulation, at an R-value of 5.7, while at the same time coming in at just 15 oz for the Regular size. The mattress comes in sizes S, M, Regular, and L. I am 6 feet tall, so the Regular size fits me perfectly. The NeoAir XTherm costs about $190.00 for the Regular size, and can be purchased just about anywhere including REI.

Julbo Sniper Goggles


The Julbo Sniper goggles are an attempt to solve the ever present problem of fogging when using goggles in cold temperatures. Julbo has solved the problem by allowing adjustment to the lens so that air can freely circulate, thereby preventing fogging. I have wanted to try them for a while because I’ve gotten so frustrated with other goggles and glasses, that I rarely use them anymore. The Julbo Sniper goggles come in two configurations. One is the more expensive option with what Julbo calls a Zebra lens, which is supposed to adjust brightness according to the amount of sunlight available. They also offer a cheaper model which comes with three interchangeable lenses. I’ve been interested in the cheaper model, as I prefer simplicity. The lower cost model will set you back $120.00 while the top end model will cost $160.00. 

Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles


This past year I have been debating about whether or not to take the plunge into the trekking pole market. I’ve never liked using trekking poles because I like having my hands free, but this past year I have been having a very hard tile with my knee. Many people have recommended trekking poles as a way to solve, or at lease alleviate the problem.

From what I have been able to find the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork trekking poles are the ones that would probably suit me best. They are relatively light weight at 17.2 oz for the pair, while at the same time being strong enough for serous four season use. They are collapsible and have good locking mechanisms based on what I have read. Additionally, the locking mechanisms seem to allow for the removal of the lower section, which is a feature I plan to utilize for potentially replacing the center pole of my Shangri-La 3 with a combination of the two trekking poles. The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork cost about $160.00.

So there you have it; Wood Trekker’s gear wish list. All of them are items that I have been eyeing for some time, but have not bought any of them because of the hefty price tags. I’m sure that one by one they will make their way into my gear eventually.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ben & Jerry's Twitter Moosical

Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Fun!
Posting Courtesy of Kitchen Delights London Reporter

The Ben & Jerry’s Twitter Moosical graced London’s stage a couple of weeks ago, to mark a cool 35 years in the ice cream business.

Improvisational  Group Abandoman
Joining a group of other foodie bloggers, we were treated to lots of ice cream and improvisational group Abandoman, who crafted the worlds first Twitter Moosical based on audience tweets.

The night was really interactive with Tweet Deck projected onto the wall and any way you could milk a pun into a pop song or film – the better, as you might just see it featured in the Moosical.

Which one will you choose?
Now apart from all the yummy flavours they create, one of the things I love most about this brand is that the guys who created Ben & Jerry’s started out having spent just 5 dollars on an ice cream course and secondly, they really do care for their cows. Did you know they get moosoosed (massaged) to keep them happy cows?

As ever, Ben & Jerry's events are a lot of fun, check out the video below of the evening and you will get to see me being interviewed!

A huge thanks to Ben & Jerry's for a fabulous event.

Sufi Saints Photo Workshop | A Thought

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy. All Rights Reserved

Many Western pundits, talking heads and the like believe that Islam is more or less homogeneous and is monolithic...but nothing is further from the truth.

It's not my intention of going into details in this post, but the wide difference between the devotional expression of faith in Srinagar's various Sufi dargahs and at Moin'Uddin Chisti's Ajmer shrine could not have been more dissimilar.

In Srinagar, the devotees were calmer, more introspective, and more contemplative than their brethren during the Urs commemoration of Moin'Uddin's death in Ajmer. The latter expressed devotion to their faith in a very muscular fashion, noisily and did so unashamedly.

Granted, the Ajmer event was a huge religious event, and is hyped to encourage such manifestations of faith...the more the better kind of thing, while in Srinagar there was no special religious event.

It would be interesting to return to Srinagar during the public viewing of the Prophet Mohammed's relic at the Hazratbal shrine. I was told that it rivals the Ajmer Urs in its intensity.

I'm still editing and refining my photo essay of the Moin' Uddin's festival, but it will certainly include my views of the sacred and the profane from the event.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Council Tool Releases a Velvicut Boy’s Axe

Ever since Council Tool released their full size and Hudson Bay Velvicut axes, people have been asking about whether they will release a boy’s axe. They had promised that one was in the works, and it is finally here. Council Tool is calling it the “Bad Axe Boy’s Axe”. :)

The axe reportedly has a 2.25lb head, and a handle length of 28 inches. Now, I know Council Tool lists their handle lengths prior to fitting, so it it is like the other Council Tool axes, the fitted handle will probably end up being closer to 26 inches in length. The handle is made of hickory.

The Dayton pattern head is made from the same 5160 steel we have seen in the other Velvicut axes, and will be heat treated to approximately Rc 51-56.

The axe costs $140.00 and will start shipping out early June of this year. You can place your order now with Council Tool here.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Cherry and Almond Victoria Sandwich: Recipe

Today is World Baking Day - I didn't #bakebrave and step out of my comfort zone because I was drawn towards this lovely cake after seeing it on the front cover of Waitrose Kitchen May Magazine.

These days I'm not quite so keen on cakes slathered in cream, I prefer to whip up a small pot of whipping cream, then add an equal amount of natural yogurt to the cream and whip again until thick. Once you have tried the cream and yogurt filling I think you may well find you will always use this method.

A while back I was chosen to be a World Baking Day Ambassador and I chose to make a chocolate heart cake for this event. A couple of people on twitter have kindly sent me tweets with photographs of their chocolate heart cakes and I'm really pleased they had fun baking my cake.

Adapted Recipe

225g margarine
225g caster sugar
225g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 eggs
1 tsp almond extract
2 tbsp milk
2 tbsp flaked almonds

For the filling:

425g can black cherries in light syrup (drained and juice reserved)
Approx 1 tsp arrowroot
150ml whipping cream
150ml natural yogurt
Icing sugar for dusting

1. Preheat the oven 180ºC. Grease 2 x 18cm sandwich tins, base line with parchment paper.  Dust the inside of the cake tin with flour and tip out the surplus flour.
2. In a large bowl add the butter, caster sugar, sieved flour, baking powder, eggs, almond extract and milk.  Using an electric hand whisk, beat for 2 minutes until smooth.
3. Divide the batter between the two tins, scatter the flaked almonds over one of the cakes.
4. Bake for 25 minutes until golden.  Leave the cooked cakes in the tins for 10 minutes.  Turn out and place on a cooling rack.
5. To make the filling:  Put 1 tsp arrowroot into a small basin and mix to a paste with a few teaspoons of the reserved cherry syrup.  Place the drained cherries into a small pan with approx four tablespoons of the reserved syrup and heat gently.  Add the arrowroot mixture to the pan and stir to thicken.  If it is too thick add more of the syrup, or too thin mix more arrowroot with a few teaspoons of reserved syrup and add again to the pan.  Remove from the heat and cool.
6. Whisk the cream until floppy add the yogurt, whisk again until floppy.
7. On the base cake spread over the cherry compote.  Top with the cream mixture.
8. Place the cake sprinkled with almonds top.  Dust with the icing sugar.

Sufi Saints Photo Workshop | Back In Delhi

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Comfortably ensconced in a lovely room at the New Delhi's Claridges Hotel, raising my feet up and watching utter drivel of the television, while hoping for my nasty viral/bronchial infection to resolve itself, I decide to write this post in a rare moment of un-fevered lucidity.

What to write about the experience of photographing at the annual observance of the Sufi Saint Moin'Uddin Chisti's death...except to say that it was mind-blowing. Some parts of it were staid and commonplace such as the times of prayers (called namaz in India and South Asia), while others caused my jaw to drop almost to ground level. The all too short theatrical entrance of the malang, a group of very unusual characters, who crack whips and pop their eyeballs from their sockets to scare the bejesus out of people, was one of these extraordinary sights.

I intend to write more at length on the whole of the Sufi Saints Photo Workshop at a later stage, but I must say it was a uniquely memorable experience, even for someone like me who has seen and photographed weird stuff like that for quite a while.

My multimedia production of the Urs is almost ready, and subject to some fine tuning, will be made public in a few days.

I met a number of characters who were at the Nizam Uddin dargah in Delhi before the start of our workshop,  such as Bilal the pankiwallah, Junnaid the black-clothed fakir, and of course the awesome malang (below) with the unique style sense. Sadly, I didn't come across the latter, although some in my group photographed him in Ajmer.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved.

I have to thank Tahoor Chisti, a young khadim and a descendant of Moin'Uddin Chisti who was the epitome of grace and hospitality during our visits to the dargah, and made it possible for all of us to obtain photo permits that are normally only available to the media/press.

My thanks also to Shuchi Kapoor who assisted me on this workshop, making it much easier in so many respects, as well as introducing me to a group of hijras in Ajmer. I hope she gained some insight from this workshop that will help her progress in her career.

I should also mention the thrilling event of my iPhone being pickpocketed by a rather muscular thief,  and I shaking it loose off him without regards to my personal safety.

My lucidity is now it's best to close this post now.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Trip Report: Sundown Wild Forest Turkey Hunt 5/11/13 – 5/12/13

In the state of New York, May is spring turkey season. As such, when I had some free time this past weekend, I gave it a go in the hopes of filling one of my tags. Here in New York, hunting of turkey during spring season is only allowed from half hour before sunrise till noon. You can only hunt toms (well actually only bearded birds-some hens have beards as well), and you can only collect two birds total, and it can not be on the same day. Anyway, enough for background.

Most turkey hunting is done is rural areas, near open fields, power lines, or roads, where the birds like to gather, and where food is plentiful. Unfortunately, those areas are usually on private land, or are completely overrun by people trying to get a shot at a turkey. As an alternative, I decided to go to a location in the mountains where last fall I had noticed some turkey sign (actually a friend of mine noticed it). Hunting for turkey in the mountain is more difficult because they are more spread out, there aren’t any open areas where you can get long range shots, and you can not carry equipment like decoys up there with you. In my opinion however it makes for a more interesting experience. The mountain I chose is the Van Wyck Mountain which is located in the Sundown Wild Forest in the Catskills. You may remember the area from a trip report where the guys from Blades and Bushcraft and I searched for the crashed airplanes. You can have a look at it here. The plan was to go to the area on Saturday, bushwhack up the mountain for most of the day, so I can get to possible hunting locations deep enough in the forest so that the birds would not have been disturbed by people, spend the night there, and then set up for the hunt on Sunday morning.

So, on Saturday I got in the car and drove up to the forest. It was raining when I left. I had expected some rain, but by the time I got to the forest, and had taken a few pictures, the rain started seriously coming down. To make things worse, the trip started out with me having to cross a river, which had gotten quite large due to all the rain this past week.

Copy of 013

There was no clear way to cross. Even with rock hopping, I would still have to get submerged. I figured that it wouldn’t be a big deal because my GoreTex boots are waterproof, and quite high, so some water wouldn’t be an issue. Unfortunately, as I started trying to make my way across, I lost my footing and stumbled into the water. I got wet up to the knee, and my boots were filled with water. It would be wet boots for the rest of the trip.

On the other side the terrain immediately became very steep. For close to an hour, I had my face right over the ground. I wasn’t terribly happy with my shotgun sling. While it is comfortable to use on level ground, on the steep terrain it allowed the shotgun to swing too much.

Eventually I made it up the steep terrain and onto some more level ground. At the same time the rain started to ease up, and under the tree cover, you could hardly notice it. From the very beginning, I started seeing a lot of deer scat. In fact, it’s been a while since I’ve seen so much of it. If they ever open a spring deer season, I know where I will be.



Still no sign of turkey though. As the rain slowed down, I was able to take off my shell. They say GoreTex is breathable, and I’m sure it is on some level, but when it is this humid, it just can not move the moisture out quickly enough. That being said, there is no other material I would rather have in the rain.

Copy of 118

The terrain was starting to open up a bit, making it better suited for turkey. I continued to scan the ground. Hey Ross… why are you wearing hunters’ orange during turkey season? Because I want to make it very clear that I am not a turkey while traveling to the location. Between the orange hat and the yellow pack, I figured I had it covered.

For this trip I used my REI Flash 62 pack. I was carrying very little gear, which I will go over later, so the pack was mostly empty. I brought it because it serves as a good frame for carrying out any kill. The floating pocket in the front allows for secure attachment of bags to the frame of the pack, even though I’m sure it was never intended to fulfill that role.

After some scanning, I spotted some turkey scat. It was from a hen, and it wasn’t particularly fresh. I was starting to get worried that this area was just a feeding ground for turkey in the fall but that they had moved to a different location to mate.


I kept climbing up the mountain for a few more hours. All of a sudden, to my four o’clock position, I heard the familiar helicopter sound of a turkey flying off. I turned, and what looked to be a hen took off from the bushes no more than ten yards away from me. It shot up like a pheasant. Unfortunately it was after hunting hours, and I couldn’t confirm the gender of the bird while it was in flight. After it took off, I searched the area, and found some scat.


While the rain was making it hard to judge, this scat was a lot more recent, and there was a bunch of it in the area. My optimism started to grow. All around the area there were these green plants you see in the picture. I’m not sure what they are, but it crossed my mind that the birds might be feeding on it. It looked to have small tubers as roots. The one in the picture is the way I found it. It was not pulled up by me.


I kept going. I was keeping my eyes open for a nice clear spot where I might be able to hunt the following day. As I was searching, I spotted something through the trees. It was one of the airplane crash sites. By complete accident, I had stumbled across it.


If I had to navigate to the location, it would be a challenge, but I had stumbled upon it by dumb luck. I continued up the mountain, and eventually reached a semi-clear area where I noticed a good amount of turkey scat. I know, I know, it’s a very poop centered post. It was still hen scat, but I figured it was worth a try.


By this point the rain was coming down again pretty hard. I decided to stop and look for a place where I could spend the night.

For this trip I had come with very little gear. I had no tent or sleeping bag. In fact, all I had was my day kit, a water bladder, my Trangia stove, a box call, my shotgun and some ammo. Sorry for the poor quality of the picture; the camera had gotten wet.


In part my gear choice was made in order to create a challenge, and in part so I didn’t want to carry too much weight up the mountain. Other than what you see in the picture, I had my regular three season clothing. You can see more details about it here. My shotgun is a Mossberg 500 20 gauge. for this hunt I was using a Mossberg turkey choke and Remington 3 inch, number 6 shot, 1 /1/4 load shells. The box call is just a regular one I grabbed off the shelf. I still can’t use a mouth call, which would be a much lighter and more compact option. I’ll keep practicing. I had a small DIY pot support for the Trangia, and I didn’t bring any extra alcohol other than what was stored in the Trangia. The black bag you see in the picture is just my food (and spoon).

Since I stated that my focus in posts related to hunting will be backpack hunting, I feel I should mention that the shotgun I am using is not ideal for this type of hunting. The Mossberg 500 is cheap, and it is reliable. It’s a good gun. For turkey hunting, at least in New York State, you have to use a shotgun, and it has to be either 20 or 12 gauge, using shells with shot size of between number 8 and 2.

Wow, what does that mean? If you are not familiar with shotguns, the gauge is the size of the diameter of the barrel. The larger the number, the smaller the diameter. So, a 12 gauge shotgun has a wider barrel than a 20 gauge one. Gauge is determined from the weight of a solid sphere of lead that will fit the bore of the shotgun, expressed as fractions of a pound. So, 1/20 pound ball fits in a 20 gauge shotgun barrel. 

On the other hand, the size of the load represents the size of the pellets that are shot out of the shell. Unlike a rifle, a shotgun shell typically shoots out numerous small balls that spread out in a cloud, instead of a bullet. The larger the number, the smaller the balls, but the more of them there are.

All that being said, the Mossberg 500 20 gauge shotgun weighs 6 lb 11 oz. That is a heavy gun. It weigh as much as my tent, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag combined. It is not fun to carry. Unfortunately, there aren’t much better alternatives. It may seem like getting a single shot shotgun, something like the H&R Topper would be a much lighter option, but surprisingly, it is not. If we are looking for serious hunting shotguns, we have to start with a gun that among other things has adjustable chokes. A choke is the tightening of the barrel at the very end. The tighter the choke, the more it squeezes the shot pellets, allowing them to keep a tight pattern over longer distances. On most hunting shotguns, you can change the chokes by screwing in new ones. Well, the lightest H&R with adjustable chokes is the H&R Topper Deluxe, which weighs 6 lb, with the synthetic stock. Not much lighter. There is a lighter 20 gauge shotgun by Benelli. It’s called the Benelli Ultralight, and comes in at 5 lb. Unfortunately, it also comes with a $1700 price tag. I have not been able to find a good solution to the problem.

Anyway, the rain was coming down, and I was looking for a place to camp out for the night. I found a group of trees that blocked the rain quite effectively. I got to work, adding additional branches as cover, and some more on the ground. The result was a tiny shelter that would keep the worse of the rain off.


There would be no fire on this trip. I wasn’t planning on it from the beginning. My decision was made even more sure by the wet conditions. Making a fire in such wet weather will fill the forest with smoke, assuring that every animal in the vicinity will run away. Not exactly the best idea when hunting.

To cook I had brought my Trangia Mini. I chose it over my other alcohol stoves because I didn’t have to bring a separate fuel bottle, as the Trangia stores the fuel inside. I also brought a light DIY pot stand and an aluminum foil windscreen. The plan was to boil some water for a Mountain House dehydrated meal. That’s exactly what I did.


The night was cold. In fact too cold. I got very little sleep, and twice I had to light up the stove to make some warm tea. I was surprised that the stove had enough fuel to get the job done, but it did. Being wet is just no fun. It makes things much worse. Even though I had managed to keep my insulation relatively dry, a lot of my clothing was wet, and so was everything around me. Let me be clear, there is no clothing that will keep you warm when you are wet. The parts of me covered in wool were just as cold as the parts of me covered in fleece. Wet is wet, and wet is cold. I spent the night shivering.

In the morning, I picked out a spot, sat near a tree and started calling. I heard another hen clucking, but no toms. I sat and I sat, and then I sat some more; the entire time trying not to move. I didn’t have any decoys, nor did I have special clothing. The only thing I brought was my gloves to cover my hands and a face mask. Coincidentally, I used the face mask during the evening to keep the massive amount of flies that were in the area off my face, and then during the night for extra insulation. After many slow hours, noon rolled around. Before I packed up, I took aim and…


… boom…


That’s one dead turkey. At this rate I’ll have my tags filled in no time. Even though it wasn’t a successful hunt, I was happy with the trip at this point. I had managed to locate several areas where there were turkeys, I saw one in the woods, and heard several others. While the night was miserable and I didn’t get much sleep, I had made it through. Now it was time to head back home. This is when the trip turned into a humiliating fiasco. But, before that, here is a picture of some strawberry plants:


The weather had improved. It was still cloudy and there were some rain drops, but overall, the rain had stopped. Assured that I will be out of the forest in a few hours, I confidently set out down the slope. I knew that the airplane site I had encountered was a bit east from where I started, so I decided to keep slightly west in order to return to the same location. It turns out “slightly” is not a good measurement when it comes to navigation.

This part of the mountain is surrounded by rivers on three sides. On the bottom, running from east to west is the river I crossed at the beginning of the trip. On either side of the mountain are rives that run north to south all the way down to the third river. Well, after a few hours of walking down the slope, I started to hear a river on my left. That shouldn’t have happened. The only thing I could think of was that I had drifted too far east, and was getting close to the river running from north to south. I shifted my direction west, but again, started to hear water. Could it be that I was already back down to the river I crossed initially? I tried to find an area where I could actually reach the water to have a look, but the slopes dropped off abruptly. They were to steep for me to go down, especially since I wasn’t sure of my location. I tried walking in what I though was an east and west direction along the river to find a crossing point. No luck. It just made no sense, and now it was starting to get late in the day.

With me, I had a small button compass that I keep on my pocket kit. I know it sounds ridiculous when you hear stories about people not trusting their compass, but that’s exactly what I had been doing for the last few hours. I was trying to go south, but my compass kept telling me that south was to the east (according to me) and up the mountain. It made no sense, so I decided it was a cheap little compass and there was something wrong with it. At this point however, after hours of fumbling around, I decided that I must indeed be very wrong about what I thought was my location. I stopped, pulled out the map and compass, and started from scratch. After quite some time of thinking this through I figured it out. Here is the GPS recoding on my tracks that I downloaded when I got back home:


It confirmed that my new plan had been right. Let me try to make some sense of it for you guys. Below you can see a reconstructed map of the trip.

Copy of 1

The blue line is the route I took up the mountain and to the location where I finally hunted. It is also the way I though I was heading down the mountain. My real route down the mountain is shown in red. Due to carelessness, I failed to maintain my direction, and simply headed down the slope. Unfortunately, I headed down the wrong slope. As you can see, the slope from the southern side of the mountain converges with the slope form the west side of the mountain near the location where I had spend the night. A small deviation at that point set me down the wrong side of the mountain. Since I was not paying attention to my bearing, I didn’t think much of it. The green line is the route I took once I figured out what had happened. As you can see, I overshot my route up the mountain because I wanted to make sure I was on the southern slope. It unfortunately lead to a much tougher river crossing.

By the time I started on the proper route, the sun was going down. Soon it was completely dark. It’s a good thing I had a small flashlight in my pocket kit. Otherwise I would have had to spend another night in the woods. Navigation in the dark was very difficult, especially because of the steep terrain, but I managed it.

Eventually I reached the river, the one for which I was aiming. Unfortunately I had stumbled onto a portion that had a rock outcrop on one side and a swampy area on the other. I was way too tired to try circling around to look for better spots. I decided to cross right where I was. This is the best I could do in terms of taking a picture of the river with the flash on my camera.


I stepped into the water and moved forward. Suddenly, one of my legs plunged into much deeper water than I expected. I fell down to my waist. I lost my balance and got swept by the river. Fortunately, the deep portion soon ran out, and I hit some rocks. I was then able to stand up and cross the rest of the river without much of a problem. I’m not sure if all the rain the previous day had risen the level of the river, or if I had just selected a particularly deep spot to cross. Either way, the one right thing I did was to put everything from my pockets into my pack. Even though it is not technically waterproof, it kept everything dry when I fell in the water. That’s the reason you are now able to see the pictures.

I knew I was almost out, and I pushed through the brush. Something flashed in the distance and caught my eye. It was a sign by the side of the road.


Few more steps and I was out. Just by dumb luck, I could see the car from where I was standing. I was finally out…then I got lost driving on the way home.

Here is the elevation profile of the trip. The first bump is the one where I went up the mountain. Everything else is my misguided efforts to get out.


As you can see, I went up the mountain, then down the western slope to the river, then back up the western slope, and eventually down the southern slope.

So, lesson from all this… do as I say, not as I do. Don’t get complacent. It is the easy parts of a trip that will create problems for you because that is when you are paying the least attention.

Overall, not bad. I did hurt my right knee pretty bad, but I didn’t notice it until I was out of the woods. I’ve been hopping around for the last few days.