Recipe Wednesday: Malai Kofta

Brad made delicious malai kofta several months ago, and we both distinctly remember them having zucchini in them, and he served them in a tomato-cashew sauce. He thought he’d based it on a recipe he found on the internet, but when I got a hankering to have them again on the weekend, he couldn’t find it anywhere. So I tried to recreate them. They were good, I think, although next time I will make the kofta balls smaller – they were a little undercooked in the middle. You’re supposed to deep-fry them, but we always chicken out when it comes to deep frying. Even though you don’t actually consume it, it still seems kind of gross to put that much oil in one pan. So I fried them four at a time in a small pan with a shallow pool of oil – maybe half an inch deep. It worked fine.

Ingredients

  • plenty of vegetable oil
  • 2 medium potatoes, boiled and mashed
  • 1 medium zucchini (courgette), grated
  • half block of paneer, grated
  • 2 tablespoons of besan (chickpea flour – could probably substitute regular white flour here?)
  • a pinch of onion seeds
  • a pinch of coriander
  • mustard seed
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 thumb of ginger, minced
  • handful of cashews, ground
  • garam masala
  • red pepper flakes
  • 1 small can plum tomatoes, blended until smooth
  • a few spoonfuls of plain yogurt
  • basmati rice

Directions

  • Mix together the potatoes, paneer, besan, onion seeds and coriander in a bowl with plenty of salt.
  • Squeeze the excess moisture out of the zucchini and add it to the mixture. You can do this either by putting it in a sieve and pressing it out with the back of a spoon (Brad’s method), or just grabbing handfulls and squeezing them over the sink (my method).
  • Form balls from the mixture. As mentioned above, I made 8 balls that were about 2 inches across for the balls in the photo here, but I recommend going a little smaller and more numerous to make sure the middle is fully cooked.
  • Set the balls aside while you make the sauce.
  • Add a tablespoon of veggie oil to a pan and add the mustard seeds.
  • When they start to pop, add the onion and saute until soft (5 minutes or so).
  • Add the garlic, ginger, garam masala, pepper flakes and cashews. Saute for another couple of minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes, cook on high heat for another minute or two, and then lower the heat to a simmer.
  • Back to the kofta balls – roll each ball in besan to coat the outside.
  • Now, “deep-fry” the kofta balls. If you’re a bold embracer of the deep-fry, by all means go ahead. But if you’re timid about that part, I can assure you that they will turn out fine without full immersion. Put four balls at a time in a small sauce pan with about a half cup of oil in the bottom. Make sure the oil is good and hot before you add the balls, and then just keep them moving until they are browned all the way around. When they are done, drain the excess oil on a paper towel.
  • Turn the heat off on the sauce and stir in the yogurt.
  • Lay the koftas on rice, pour the sauce over, and serve.

Recipe Wednesday: Chickpea, eggplant and spinach curry

We’ve had one of those weeks where we haven’t had time to get to the grocery store. The one thing we seem to have a lot of is eggplant. Necessity is the mother of invention, and so we got inventive with eggplant.

 

 

Ingredients

  • vegetable oil
  • baby spinach (1 small bag or so)
  • 1-∞ hot peppers
  • mustard seeds
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, diced
  • a thumb of ginger, diced
  • cumin, toasted and ground
  • coriander, toasted and ground
  • 1 eggplant, cubed (aubergine, to some)
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 small can/box tomatoes, or 4/5 diced fresh plum tomatoes
  • cilantro, chopped, for garnish

Directions

  • Heat a splash of oil in a large skillet and add the hot peppers and spinach. When the spinach is fully wilted, blend in a food processor or drain and chop. Set aside.
  • Heat more oil in the same skillet and add the mustard seeds. When they begin to pop, add salt and onion and cook until they begin to soften.
  • Add the eggplant and saute until it begins to brown.
  • Add the spices, ginger, and garlic and saute for another minute or two.
  • Add the chickpeas and tomatoes and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Stir in the spinach at the end.
  • Serve garnished with cilantro.

Climbing Trips: Garbh Coire

Recently, Amelia and I headed into the remote Garbh Coire to climb the incredible Squareface Buttress (VD ***). This is all part of our (my?) mission to get Amelia leading regularly on rock and up to a point where we can swing leads on long mountain routes. She’s taking to it with a new found passion and I’m delighted that she’s enjoying it so much. She led the first pitch and the last pitch of this three pitch mountain classic. She almost backed out of leading the last one. Thankfully it didn’t take much encouragement to get her up there. Hearing her woop! after the last of the difficulties on the flake made the long trip in worthwhile. Oh, yeah, and the route is quite excellent too.

The next day we hiked back into the coire and met our friend Johannes at 10:00 on the dot. Quite a feat. We racked up and all three of us climbed the Cumming-Crofton Route (S***) in glorious sunshine and bitter winds. Johannes led pitch 1, the crux 4b pitch. I led pitches 2 and 3 together. Johannes got the rotten pitch 4 while I took the mega-exposed pitch 5. Johannes brought us to the top on the final pitch. Amelia didn’t want to lead any of these and I don’t blame her. Maybe it was just me having not been on a big mountain route in awhile but I found it wild with sustained 4a climbing and tricky route-finding.

Johannes was quite keen to have a go at the neighboring Slochd Wall (HVS 5a**) so we dropped back down into the coire and kicked steps across the 30 degree snow slope that guarded the base of the route. That snow slope was big and scary. The steps I kicked into it were shallow and icy and without gloves my hands became quite cold. There was really no alternative but to grab fistfuls of snow as handholds and not think about falling. A slip would’ve sent me to the bottom of the 200 meter slope in a hurry.

Once we reached the safety of the rock, we had to cut back up the gap between the cliff and snow. The first “pitch” had us scrambling out of the frozen gap in trainers onto the wall proper. From our tiny ledge we got a good look at the vertical wall above. It looked hard and intimidating. Thankfully Johannes was up to the challenge of the first real pitch of climbing, which also happened to be the crux pitch. I was happy to let him go first. It was his idea after all.

He pulled it off without much difficulty. The climbing was quite good actually, and the position was amazing. From the hanging belay I led out pitch two — a scrappy traverse, a pull up a corner and a large belay ledge that was quite small. I was not pleased with the quality of rock here. It was all quite hollow and we were standing next to a completely detached pillar. Johannes just shook his head at the shitty belay I had constructed, put some big gear in (brought up from the previous belay) and we eyed up the next bit.

I got to climb the next pitch as well which just happened to go straight up the detached pillar (excellent exposed climbing!) to a roof which was avoided on the left to some easy ground, another roof was avoided and I belayed on the slab above. Johannes led out the final easy slab. We were both quite pleased with the effort. I was in quite a good mood by that point and it left me wanting to do more mountain routes.

Coastal Climbing Update

Like last year, the outdoor season started strong. The coastal cragging has been great with some real stand-out climbs with various partners. The two hardest climbs on the coast this spring were Subline (E3 5c ***) with Amelia and Vespa Vulgaris (E3 6a **) with Ben. Some other stand-out ascents around Aberdeen include the adventurous Johnathan Livingston Seagull (E1 5c **), pictured below, and the superb Anger and Lust (E2 5c ***) both with Johannes.

Last year when the nice weather started, we emerged from the indoor climbing wall and hit the sea cliffs with a good degree of fitness. Then as the outdoor season wore on, we went to the climbing wall less and less and the fitness dropped off. I hope to avoid that this season, but it’s hard to go climbing indoors when the weather is nice. Ah well. It’s a good problem to have I guess.

Spring Update

It’s been a great spring here in Scotland this year. Like last year, the nice weather started with tiny bursts of warm days by the end of February and got more frequent around the middle of March. April I think, was a fantastic month weather-wise. Here it is almost the middle of May! The sun is now miraculously rising at 04:52 and setting at 21:19. Here is Atlas enjoying the moonrise.

Recipe Wednesday: Fettuccine with fennel and walnuts

We used to eat a lot of pasta back in university. I think we overdid a little, because we eat it only occasionally now. When we do have it, it’s heavy on the veggies and light on the pasta, like this one, which  makes a super easy and quick dinner. It’s best if the pasta finishes cooking just a few minutes after you’ve added the tomatoes to the pan, so you can combine them immediately without overcooking the tomatoes or having to rinse the pasta (pasta is always  better if you can add it straight to the sauce without letting it sit or rinsing it off).

 

Ingredients

  • fresh pasta
  • 1 head of fennel, quartered, cored and thinly sliced
  • a pinch of fennel seed
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • olive oil
  • 4-6 tomatoes, cut into pieces
  • 8-10 olives, pitted and roughly chopped
  • a handful of walnuts, broken into big pieces and toasted
  • chopped parsley
  • grated parmesan or a bit of crumbled blue cheese

Directions

  • put the tomatoes, olives, and a splash of olive oil in a bowl with some salt and pepper and set aside
  • Put the pasta water on to boil
  • In a large pan, saute the fennel for 7-8 minutes with fennel seed, salt and pepper
  • Add the garlic and saute for another minute or two
  • Add the marinated tomatoes and olives to the pan – reduce the heat to minimum and just warm the tomatoes through.
  • When the pasta is done, add it to the pan along with the toasted walnuts and parsley
  • Serve with grated parmesan or blue cheese

Squareface

While I was happy to get a long weekend out of it, the royal wedding did not interest me in the slightest. The closest we got to paying it any attention was turning on BBC radio while driving out of town. Several pundits were in the midst of a heated discussion about Victoria Beckham’s hat, which was pretty much what I assumed the coverage was going to be like. After about a 30 seconds the nausea started to set in and I turned it off.

We parked at Keiloch (near Braemar), shouldered bulging packs and started cycling up a long, steadily inclining landrover track.

  • Camping gear = kind of heavy
  • Climbing gear = kind of heavy
  • Camping + climbing gear = heavy!

After a while we were no longer on a nice landrover track, but pushing and sometimes carrying the bikes up a narrow rocky path. We came across a nice, level, tent-sized grassy spot and dropped the bags and the bikes there, but continued on to the head of the valley, just to make sure we knew where we were. We soon came across a ruined stone hut — a distinctive landmark noted in our climbing guidebook.  We hiked a bit further just to get a look at the terrain ahead for the next day, and then returned to make camp and have some dinner.

In the morning we packed up the climbing gear and pushed/carried the bikes out to where the path opened up again. The guidebooks say to leave your bikes at the ruin, but we’d been told that in fact the track would open up again on the other side and we’d be able to ride most of the way up the Slugain valley, and it did, and we did. It was a gorgeous ride in fact, up a huge open valley on a nice single track.

There were a few stream culverts to cross – some big enough you had to jump across, which was no easy feat carrying a bike and a big pack full of heavy climbing gear. Eventually the path degraded again and we were pushing more than riding so we ditched the bikes in some heather and continued on foot up another steeper valley to The Sneck, which is a weirdly-named high pass into Garbh Coire, a huge corrie on the northern flank of Beinn a’ Bhuird. Then down a scree slope into the corrie, and across the bottom of a steep snow field, and back up the other side to re-cross the snowfield at a narrow point at the top to get to the base of the wall. Or, at least that’s what Brad did. In an effort to take a more direct route I tried to stay on the near side of the snowfield instead of crossing- and re-crossing, and I ended up wasting at least an hour and scaring the crap out of both of us. ANYway, that embarrassing episode behind me, we eventually made it to the base of Squareface, which is a gorgeous huge square buttress of granite. Amazingly, there were two parties already on the route. Imagine cycling/hiking all that way to wait in line for a route! So we had to hunker down and wait in the windy corrie, in the shade, next to the snowfield. The party in the lead was moving very slowly and by the time we got to climb we were both chilled through.

I led the first and third pitches. The first pitch is 40m and consists of a long, rope-munching crack, and then a rightward scramble up a series of blocks. Brad led the second pitch, which wandered rightward across the face to a corner, up to a horizontal crack, and then back leftward to a three-star belay ledge – a perfect triangular platform jutting out over the valley. The third pitch was just spectacular – high up over the corrie, gorgeous gritty granite – make your way up and right into a lovely layback flake, up the flake and over to finish.

That single pitch alone was well worth the long journey to get to it. I’ve been working on getting more solid on the lead so Brad and I can do long mountain routes more quickly, and this was a good start – it was only VD, but it was very exposed so I felt pretty good about pulling it off with minimal hesitation, especially after the fiasco with the snowfield.

Then the long walk back down to the bikes, and the lovely ride back down the Slugain to our campsite. In the morning we biked and hiked all the way back to Garbh Coire – on a bit of a schedule since we’d arranged to meet our friend Johannes at 10am at the base of a route called the Cumming-Croften. When you arrange to meet someone that far into the wilderness at a pre-specified time you expect something to go wrong, but we could see him waiting at the base of the route as we clambered up the long scree slope underneath. When we finally reached him he immediately showed us his watch — and it was 10:00 on the nose! Not bad timing when you consider we’d left camp at 7:30am. Then we did the Cumming-Croften route. Six pitches, great views, very exposed – but some loose and rotten rock in spots, and very cold in the shade.  On the whole it was not a bad route, although quite hard for the grade (Severe 4b). Sadly, we forgot the camera when we ditched the bags at the Sneck, so no pictures of that, although I did get a picture of another party on the route later in the day.

When we got to the top of Cumming-Crofton it was 2pm. Brad and Johannes went back down into the corrie to do the Slochd Wall, which is another, harder (HVS) route near the Cumming-Crofton.

I hiked back down to The Sneck, where we had left the bags and retrieved the camera, which we’d forgotten there, and hiked back up and along the rim of the corrie to try and get some pictures of them, without much success. After a while I gave up on photos and just enjoyed the sunshine. They were still a few pitches from the top, so I headed back to camp on my own to tear down the tent and pack up. The trail back to camp was fun – my bag was light because I’d left all the climbing gear with Brad, so I got to cycle fast and light down the long single-track along the Slugain in the evening sun without a soul around.

By the time Brad and Johannes arrived at camp I had everything packed up and we cycled out. What had been a rather miserable uphill toil on the way in was pure joy on the way out – moving fast through forests and around boulders and through streams under lovely purple hills in the setting sun. I think we picked the plums of Garbh Coire on this trip, but I can imagine going back to repeat them someday. Squareface is a special route – all the more special for being in such a remote and rugged setting.

Not too late to post about the peak

It was nearly a month ago now that we spent three glorious days climbing in the peak district with Laurie, and the mild sunburn I got on my shoulders has long since faded. Brad’s tick list covers the basics but I’ve been wanting to fill in some of the gaps and post a few photos while I still remember it. I’m sure Brad will want to post a few pictures and route descriptions as well, when he can.

I was happy with the quantity and quality of routes we did. I’d gone through the guidebooks and flagged a lot of severes and HS’s I wanted to do, and I was a little disappointed in myself to have to downsize my expectations. But the rock is so nice and all the routes are so fun and plentiful that it was impossible to stay in any semblance of a bad mood.

Looking around the crags, you see families coaxing young kids up routes, groups of teenagers bouldering, and father-son teams on hard routes. There’s a long history of climbing here that has spanned several generations and you can see it in the confidence with which the locals move on grit. Lifelong gritstone climbers must build up an unconscious, reflexive faith in gritty feet and rounded handholds that, to the newcomer, feel very insecure. This also shows, I think, in the grades – the round and textured weirdness of gritstone can be puzzling/scary to the uninitiated even on the easiest of climbs. So you find yourself muttering “VDiff, my ass!” as you mantel over a rounded finish, several meters above your last piece. But in all fairness, the “easy” climbs really aren’t especially strenuous or technical, but just require a modicum of faith that comes from knowing the rock well.

That said, following Brad on the harder routes wasn’t at all easy. He climbed some HVS routes that I found impossible – on two, he had to rappel down to retrieve his gear because I couldn’t get up them (Flying Buttress Direct and Rhodren), and two others (Saul’s Crack and Ackit) I fell on repeatedly. I normally follow him on HVS/E1 without any trouble, so maybe the grades are just harder there overall. Or maybe I was just going through a weak spell.

And Laurie rocked. Having never led trad before, on day two she grabbed the rack and led the second pitch of Inverted Staircase with alacrity. And it was a weird pitch too, up a boulder-choked squeeze chimney. Then, on day 3, she led three more routes: two solid crack climbs, and one wild route with a crazy run-out on the bottom, and weird rounded awkward holds at the top — not for the faint of heart. Nice one, Dr. PLW!

We’d been to Stanage Edge last year, but this was our first time in the Roaches. Really nice spot, although we had our doubts after the first day there. It was hot and crowded and this was exacerbated by failures in basic etiquette among our fellow climbers, to put it mildly. I’ve never seen climbers be so dangerously inconsiderate. But we went back for a second day and avoided climbing near other people as much as possible, and had a much nicer time. But, with that minor complaint aside, two thumbs up for the peak! Fun routes, lovely views, good times. Thanks for a great trip, Laurie and Brad!

 

 

 

 

 

Recipe Wednesday: Sunday Dinner

I have never missed meat (I never liked it much to begin with), and I don’t usually go out of my way for meat-like substitutes. But I do sometimes miss those tripartite meals that meat seems to create around itself – protein, starch, vegetables. There is an aesthetic there that veggie meals can miss out on, and Quorn* is actually pretty tasty. Potatoes and a side of broccoli lend a nice sunday dinner atmosphere to a meal.

Ingredients

  • 4 frozen quorn fillets
  • olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced
  • splash of white wine
  • 1 veggie bouillon cube
  • dried sage
  • broccoli, cut into florets and steamed
  • roasted red peppers, sliced
  • olives, roughly chopped
  • 1 lemon
  • 4-5 potatoes, cut in half or quarters and boiled
  • parsley

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to a medium-high temperature. Put the potatoes on to boil. I normally steam the broccoli for a few minutes over the boiling potato water (just saves time and reduces the number of pots). Set both aside.
  • In an oven-proof pan, saute the onion in olive oil until soft (6-7 minutes). Add two cloves of the garlic, a splash of white wine, the quorn fillets, and salt. Cook on high heat until the pan is nearly dry.
  • Add about 3/4 cup of water to the pan and bring to a boil. Stir in the bouillon and sage and cook for another few minutes. Put the pan in the oven.
  • Brush the boiled potatoes with olive oil, add salt and pepper, and put these in the oven as well. Bake for 20 minutes or so, turning occasionally.
  • While the quorn and potatoes are in the oven, fry the last clove of garlic in a splash of olive oil for a minute or two. Add the steamed broccoli, red peppers, olives and the juice of half of the lemon to the pan and saute for a few minutes.
  • Serve the quorn, potatoes and broccoli together with lemon slices and fresh parsley.

*In case you’re not familiar with it (as far as I know it’s not available or at least not very common in Canada or the U.S.), Quorn is a protein substitute that comes in a variety of forms. It’s kind of in vitro-meat, grown out of some kind of fungus. It’s best not to think about it too much really.