Wild Camping – Take #1

“Let’s go camping!” – ok, great.

“I’ve mapped a route” – excellent, that’s super.

….“So it’s 30kms with 5 peaks on day one….” – uh-ohh.

………………………………………………….

Needless to say, I requested a route change.

So off we trotted, backpacks fully laden, into the hills and valleys of the Cairngorms National Park.

We began our route at the Spittal of Glen Muick car park, walking along the banks of Loch Muick before rising up and over into the next valley. The weather was mild and overcast, with occasional fine mists of rain – never heavy enough to require a jacket; ideal hiking weather.

Owing to the fact that we weren’t under any time pressures (and were feeling the strain of heavy backpacks) we navigated our route slowly and purposefully. Our springer spaniel led the way, bounding and lunging about the hillside with glee. Next time he’s getting a doggy-backpack to slow him down a bit too!

The scenery was eerie, with dramatic hues of greens and browns. Shadows and shades appeared furtively across the glens, with the sunshine ebbing and flowing through the clouds. This created some spectacular scenes, the like of which can only be fully appreciated in-person. Encountering the looming hills which edge the valley, feeling them tower over you and making you feel but 6 inches tall is a rare sensation for those of us more used to dwelling in towns.

We walked for the best part of the day, stopping occasionally for water-stops, or to take a few photographs. It was relaxing to escape from everyday life, knowing everything we needed was on our backs, except perhaps some additional water, which we would source from the river which we walked along. …I really did try my best to ignore the rubbing of my boots and the bruises forming on my collar bones, although sometimes even panoramic vistas and world-renowned landscapes aren’t enough to take away the pain completely!

With only a few kilometres until our anticipated camping spot, we stopped to explore some large rocky pools which had formed in the river. This provided us with an excellent excuse to remove our walking boots and socks, and embrace some fairly chilly paddling. Sitting on a rock, with feet dangling into the flowing water below, I watched one man and his dog explore the breadth of the river in more detail – jumping from one stepping stone to the next, egging each other on. It’s the simple things which bring us joy!

After some campsite-scouting we settled for a (relatively) flat area on the hillside, some 30 meters from the river, with gorgeous views of the valley below. Living in Scotland, wild camping is permitted under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. The general rule is that small scale camping is allowable on open/wild land, provided that campers leave no trace. (‘Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photos’ was what I was always taught!) This provides locals and tourists alike with the opportunity to connect with the landscape and embrace the idyllic peacefulness of knowing there’s no one else for miles around.

This was our tent’s first outing. It was slick to put up (and take down!), coped well in a flurry of rain showers, and was spacious enough inside for all our gear.

We’d packed a portable BBQ with burgers, spaghetti hoops, marshmallows and a few tinnies (that’s cans of beer to the non-Scots!). Quite a feast! Talking and eating, whilst trying to avoid the midges and keep the pup away from the fire at the same time meant that the evening flew by. Pity our tent pitch site turned out to not be quite as lump-free as we had hoped though!

The next day, after an early start and a double check of our site for any forgotten items, we headed back onto the trail. With a much shorter route and lighter backpacks, we found ourselves making good time back to the car. A quick stop at Ballater for late morning breakfast rolls, and then it was back to reality!

Hopefully camping take #2 will be even better, now we’ve had some practice!

#outdoors #fitness #blog #camping #wildcamping #tent #hiking #walking #hillwalking #dogwalks #BBQ #marshmallows #adventuring #Aberdeenshire #Scotland #scenery #springerspaniel #paddling #backpack

The Mama-Measure

My greatest annoyance when being taught to cook/bake by my mother was her blatant disregard for standardised measurements. “Just add some of this” or “keep pouring until it looks like that”; it was a first-timer’s nightmare! To make matters worse, she just could not comprehend my frustration. In her eyes this was a completely normal and rational system. Move over metric, on your bike imperial, there’s a new unit of measurement in town!

It is only now, as I’ve slowly increased my knowledge base, that I am starting to appreciate the now-dubbed mama-measure. Scales can be slightly off, eggs can come in different sizes, and that extra couple of drops of cooking oil can easily throw off the consistency of your mixture. Knowing the anticipated consistency of your mixture is key. Actually knowing how to fix the consistency of your mixture is even better. Too wet – add some more flour, too dry – add some milk, the solution will vary dependent on the recipe.

Developing the ability to go off-piste and deviate from the recipe can be tricky. You know at the back of your head that the recipe is tried and tested, it is intended to be executed verbatim. And yet, you know your little tweak will help improve the overall outcome of your bake. I would urge you to take that chance, add that extra dollop of cocoa powder, splash in that extra drop of milk; this is your opportunity to break the rules.

Many of my bakes don’t go according to plan. This is the real world. They don’t look poised and put-together, ready to be photographed for the front cover of a magazine. Instead, they’d require some heavy airbrushing and a good bikini wax before they’d even make it to page 56. However, I like for my baking to look home-made. A wonky muffin or an odd shaped cookie won’t make them taste any less delicious. In my eyes, these beautiful imperfections are what make a bake. (And what distinguish them from their supermarket preservative-laden counterparts!) No one expects you to attain the standard of a Michelin chef. I like to try new recipes, substitute ingredients with alternatives which meet my guest’s dietary requirements, or simply adapt an old recipe to use up whatever is sitting in the back of the cupboard! Therefore, it may take several dodgy attempts to uncover the perfect dairy-free substitute for that cake mixture, or determine the missing spice for those biscuits. I try not to get precious over using precise measurements. A gram or two either way on the scales is “close enough”. To be fair, “adding a bit of this, and some of that” might just be the right method after all.

Experiment. Have a go. It’s very rare that a bake goes so awry that it is no longer edible!

#mamameasure #realworld #learning #consistency #closeenough #blog #baking #Scotland #Aberdeenshire #Easydoughsy

Colossal Cookie

What’s better than cookies?….. uh, COLOSSAL cookies!

These cookies are fudgey and gooey, like a warm brownie. They would make an ideal desert for a casual kid-friendly dinner party.

This recipe takes around 8mins to prep and 25mins to bake.

Ingredients (Makes 1 very large cookie)

  • Baking margarine (200g)
  • Dark Brown sugar (230g)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Plain flour (275g)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 100g sultanas
  • 2 large handfuls of mini marshmallows!

Making the cookie batter

  1. Measure out your sugar and butter into a large mixing bowl
  2. Combine the butter and the sugar by creaming and beating them together using the back of a spoon. They should be fully blended with no signs of unmixed sugar or lumps of butter.
  3. Separate the yolks from the eggs.
  4. Add in the two yolks and vanilla to the mixture, then stir.
  5. Add the flour and baking powder into the bowl.
  6. Stir until it forms a stiff mixture.
  7. Add the sultanas and mix once more.
  8. Add in marshmallows and then stir for a final time!

Baking

  1. Next, prep your frying pan (make sure it is oven safe first!) by adding some margarine to a paper towel or section of grease-proof paper and rubbing evenly across the surface of the frying pan.
  2. Set your oven to 160degC (temp may vary for each oven)
  3. Bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on how gooey you would like your cookie.
  4. Leave to stand for at least 5 minutes, ideally 10, before serving

This bake is my version of a BBC good food recipe. The original can be found here; https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/giantcookie

#puddings #colossalcookie #baking #stepbystep #bakingmadeeasy #comfort #kidfriendly #blog #recipe #Scotland #Aberdeenshire #Easydoughsy

Gardening for Dummies

On Wednesday night we planted a little herb garden. We planted mint, thyme, parsley and chives. I’ll admit, I maybe didn’t take the task particularly seriously; standing in the garden in my silky PJ’s and a pair of untied trainers at 8.50pm, watering can in hand. I really want to enjoy planting and growing vegetables/flowers/trees in the garden, though I’m just not yet convinced that gardening is the hobby for me.

Gardening conjures up images in my mind of elderly ladies with lilac gardening gloves, foam kneeling pads and ankle high wellington boots. Or a braless Charlie Dimmock from the late 90s. It’s tit or tat really. Gardening needs a re-vamp.

Maybe it’s down to the fact that most people in their 20s and 30s are living in rented flats in city centres. Or perhaps it’s due to busy lifestyles and easily accessible supermarkets. Either way, there’s not a broad range of younger, more relatable gardeners in the media and/or the public eye. There are echoes of the longstanding phrase ‘you can only be what you can see’ about it. And as a result, it’s still not cool to be into gardening.

Putting the cool-factor aside, I’ve starting my attempt at embracing gardening with a pinch of The Good Life. Growing edible produce seems like a workable place to start. I like eating and baking, and therefore I should hopefully take pride in adding home grown ingredients from the garden into my recipes. Planting and harvesting seem manageable, I just need to work on that bit in the middle where I remember to water the plants…

And this here is my downfall. I confess, I am a notorious plant killer. I don’t do it intentionally – I just really struggle to remember to care for something that doesn’t pursue me daily, asking to be fed. To be honest, it’s a good thing that the dog isn’t the shy and retiring type or we’d have serious issues on our hands! A couple of months back we planted strawberries and potatoes in a section of land up behind the house. I dutifully assisted the day they were planted, casually forgot the plants existed for the next 3 weeks, avoided watering them for the subsequent 3 weeks, and then gleefully remembered they existed just in time for there to be actual strawberries to pick. On the upside semi-wilful neglect seems to have worked wonders for our strawberries – yielding well over 20 berries so far from the 9 little cuttings we planted. Most significantly they did bring me a touch of joy when I added them with pride to a lovely big jug of Pimms I was mixing up, so there might be hope for my gardening enthusiasm yet… everyone does love a good edible garnish, don’t they?!

#gardener #gardening #garnish #coolfactor #Scotland #Aberdeenshire #Easydoughsy

Wishing well

Living in Scotland, I never once expected to run out of water… Let’s face it – we’re not exactly renowned for our good weather! But, with the unprecedented heat-wave that we’ve been experiencing these past few months, those in the North East and South West of the country who are connected to private water supplies are now facing a water shortage.

Up until now, living off-mains and receiving our water supply from a well hasn’t been an issue. The water is fresh and filtered for impurities. There has been a constant supply and I’ve never had to monitor my water usage. In short, I’ve taken it for granted.

Suddenly, with having to watch the amount of water I use, I’ve come to the realisation that while I may not have been completely wasteful with this wonderful resource, I definitely should have appreciated it more. It’s a case of “you don’t know what you got, ‘till it’s gone”. In the meantime, I’ve taken various measures to reduce my water usage. Some of the ‘rules’ include; only fill the kitchen basin once a day to wash dishes, take shorter showers, use the ½ flush on the toilet and the washing machine can only be used twice a week. I’ve also bought in some 2 litre bottles of drinking water as back up. I hate having to buy water in plastic bottles – we’re so used to using refillable water bottles and coffee cups nowadays. However, I like the comfort of knowing that I can always provide us, and most importantly the dog, with drinking water if the well should run dry.

It has made me question the burden that sourcing water must present on others in hotter, dryer countries. It is no wonder that so many woman across the world spend their days walking miles, trying to obtain safe drinking water for their families. It really is an essential commodity. Think of all the time that could be saved by these women if safe drinking water was readily accessible to all. Think of all the time that could be better spent in education, in work, or on leisure. Reliable water supplies really are a game changer when it comes to equality. For this reason, I’ve chosen to make a small donation to WaterAid, with the hope that every little contribution helps!

For the moment, back here in North East Scotland, every small rain shower will be celebrated rather than greeted with the usual disdain. Most of us have never experienced a Scottish water shortage in our lifetime. It is so unusual, that earlier in the week the Scottish government announced that they will support local communities with the financial burden of supplying emergency water to homes. Though, with a bit of luck, it won’t come to that!

#water #savewater #appreciation #community #equality #offgrid #WaterAid #blog #Scotland #Aberdeenshire #Easydoughsy

https://www.wateraid.org/uk/

Butternut squash muffin-cakes

img_0448This is one of my favourite experiments. They’re a bit of a cross between a cake and muffin – with the butternut squash keeping everything moist. Preparing the butternut squash is a bit labour intensive – stick with it though, I promise it’ll come good!

This recipe takes around 20mins to prep and 25mins to bake.

Ingredients (makes 12)

  • Sunflower oil (175ml)
  • Muscovado sugar (175g)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Butternut squash (1 small, or 1/2 a large squash)
  • Sultanas (100g)
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • Self raising flour (200g)
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Prep the butternut squash

  1. Line a muffin tray with 12 paper cases.
  2. Peel the outer skin away with a vegetable peeler and then grate the butternut squash (this may feel like it’s taking forever, but is totally worth it).

Combine the mixture & bake

  1. Set your oven to 180degC (temp may vary for each oven)
  2. Pour the oil into a large mixing bowl.
  3. Next, add the sugar, eggs and vanilla.,
  4. Beat together (I like to use a metal spoon)
  5. Add the grated butternut squash and sultanas.
  6. Beat together (again, still using a metal spoon).
  7. Stir in the mixed spice, cinnamon, flour and bicarbonate of soda.
  8. Spoon into the paper cases using a teaspoon and then tap the tray to settle the mixture.
  9. Bake for 25mins until firm and springy!
  10. Transfer the muffin-cakes onto a wire rack to cool before eating.

These cakes are moreish. You have been warned.

Remember, baking doesn’t have to be difficult, it can be Easydoughsy.

#butternutsquash #muffincake #blog #baking #recipe #bakingmadeeasy #stepbystep #Scotland #Aberdeenshire #Easydoughsy

Soul Food

I’m a big believer that the making, baking and sharing of food is good for both the mind and soul.

When I need to relax, I bake. The mindless (or perhaps mindfulness!) act of following a familiar recipe provides me with space to park my emotions and focus on creating something beautiful… or, if not wholly beautiful, at least tasty! It’s a soothing and reassuring process, much like re-reading a favourite book, or visiting your Grandmother’s house.

Therefore, it is conceivably not surprising that the act of eating these favourite bakes with loved ones is an uplifting process also. All of our major life events incorporate food and baked goods at the heart of their traditions; weddings with their many tiered cakes, hot cross buns and chocolate eggs at Easter time, mince pies and steamed puddings to celebrate Christmas, birthday cakes, christening cakes – the list goes on and on. There’s something comforting about knowing which baked good is to be anticipated at each event. It delivers a warm combination of order and clarity, tradition and nostalgia.

The passing down of family recipes can be a bonding process. Knowing that your mum’s mum’s mum used to add 5 egg whites instead of 4 in her version of meringue, which then went on to win first prize at the village fete in 1963, might just nudge you into giving her method a go. Recipes can also remind you of a person, and give you that warm and fuzzy glow. Scottish tablet (fudge), for example, reminds me of my Grandfather who used to regularly make large quantities of the stuff after he retired. He would fill several large rectangular ice cream tubs with each batch, which would take numerous months to eat, and have to be handed out to various family members and friends in order to “use it up”. But we loved it.

Food, to me, is also a way of offering a token of gratitude, support or condolence. It’s often easier to express that you’re there for someone in edible form, rather than fumbling over your words or offering uncomfortable hugs. (This may be particularly pertinent for us British folk!) However, others may just class me as “a feeder”! So to the lady who I awkwardly gave a cheese and salad sandwich when she crashed her car on my street, to my sister who I presented with lopsided blue cupcakes after the birth of her first son (I had waited until after the birth to find out if I should pipe pink or blue icing), and to the friend whose fridge I filled with lasagne and sweet treats in time for their return from hospital; apologies if it was a bit much, I just wanted to show you I cared.

 

#sharing #warmandfuzzy #feeder #cake #baking #Scotland #Aberdeenshire #Easydoughsy