Archive for November 2008

More Risotto

Posted by on November 30th 2008 in Dehydrating

Last time we went shopping I nabbed a small pack of mixed fish from the "nearly out-of-date" shelf at the local supermarket, it seemed just right for knocking out another batch of dried food. The pack contained 4oz each of salmon, cod and smoked haddock, all in good condition. During a spare half-hour this morning I used it to make another variant of fish risotto, I had to adjust the standard recipe as follows:

  • 1 onion, finely chopped >>> 1 larger onion
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 stock cube (veg or fish) >>> 4 level tsp stock powder
  • 0.85L / 1.5 pints boiling water >>> 2 pints
  • 0.25kg / 9oz risotto rice (risotto, arborio and carnaroli are best, long-grain will do at a push but the results aren’t as good, any other rice just doesn’t work) >>> 12oz
  • 0.25kg / 9oz smoked fish, skinned and cut into chunks >>> 12oz as detailed above
  • 1 large cupful of frozen peas >>> added 1/3 cup runner beans
  • large knob of butter
  • 1 pinch of salt (optional)
  • Some freshly-ground black pepper (optional)
  • Cooking-times were extended by roughly 20% each

It's now in the dehydration stage, filling the kitchen with a wonderful hunger-inducing aroma. There should be enough for 4 large meals.



Posted by on November 29th 2008 in Rambling on...

Today I didn't:

  • go walking or camping;
  • go kite-flying;
  • go Christmas shopping;
  • test any outdoor gear;
  • attend the OBF meet in Cambridge;
  • do any DIY;
  • take any pics;
  • clean the car;
  • buy any outdoor gear;
  • buy any astro gear;
  • install any plugins;
  • lurk on any forums;
  • see the sky;
  • allow the cat indoors;
  • clean out the aquarium;
  • cook the dinner;
  • watch the telly;
  • shave;
  • find anything worth blogging about.

Observing Report 21st-22nd November 2008 (Shooting Unicorns)

Posted by on November 25th 2008 in Observing Reports

After the disappointment of being unable to observe the Leonid meteor shower earlier in the week due to rain and cloud, things were looking up (pardon the pun) for the alpha-Monocerotid shower on Friday night. The day had been cold and clear, and what wind there was had turned to a gentle breeze by 21:00.

I decided to make do without the hassle of setting up the mount, and made do with a static setup with the D50 on a fixed tripod, taking a variety of exposure-sets across a range of focal lengths. The MaxIm DL5 software on the lappy controlled the camera and downloaded the pics while I sat next to the tripod and watched events the good old-fashioned way. The only problems encountered were due to the cold, at -3C the D50's batteries don't perform well, only lasting for 200 shots before they needed to be warmed up or recharged. Having a couple of spare batteries is a godsend for such conditions. The cold didn't affect me, though - I was wrapped up in my Alpkit Filo, astrobreeks and Skee-Tex Original boots, nice and comfy.

The session began at about 22:00 and during the next four hours I observed 12 meteor trails (10 alpha-Monocerotids and 2 sporadics), of which 9 were fully or partly within the field of view of the camera, which took a grand total of 412 pictures.

At about 02:00 the clouds rolled in and ended the session. After clearing away the kit, I went through all of the photos, and guess what...  there's not even the slightest sign of any meteor trails on any of them, despite cranking up the enhancement levels to ridiculous levels! Typical.

So, I'm sorry, but there's no nice photo of the event to show to you. As a last resort, before binning all of the pics, I dubbed 77 of the 30-second frames together to make a small video showing Gemini rising, a few jet-tracks and the clouds that ended observations:


Get the Flash Player to see this content.


Hot Pants

Posted by on November 18th 2008 in Shiny new kit

So, did you look at the kit-list? If you did, you'll have noticed that I don't have a great choice of legwear. Montane Mojo shorts for the few days of summer (and for scaring kids and old ladies), and Lowe Alpine Schoeller trews (variant unknown - TKMaxx clearance stock) for the rest of the year. Together with baselayer LJs, windproofs and/or the shell-salopettes, they've been sufficient to cope with everything except the very coldest of the conditions that I encounter.

Well, now even that eventuality has been covered - after a renowned expert approved the choice, one pair of Mountain Hardwear Compressor Pants has been acquired.

I bought these to cope with several scenarios... I'll wear them while standing/sitting outside with the scope during the freezing hours of winter nights and mornings, I'll take them on colder wildcamps so that after-dark wanderings aren't so chilly, I'm even tempted to try them in conjunction with a belay jacket, sleeping socks and a 2-season sleeping-bag in the winter. I've been experimenting with them, and I've found that they're a quick and easy fit over the shell-salopettes with no loss of loft, so I'll try them as the leg-wear equivalent of a belay-jacket.

They're not over-specced, but they have almost all of the features that I wanted:

  • Outer: Superlight 15D Ripstop
  • Lining: 30D Micro Taffeta
  • Reinforcement (seat and knees): Taslan
  • Double Velcro® waist closures with laminated tabs
  • Deep handwarmer pockets - zipped, microfleece-lined
  • Adjustable Velcro® ankle-cuffs
  • Articulated knees
  • Elastic waist with drawcord
  • Front zip fly
  • Full 2-way side-zips with internal baffles
  • Thermic Micro™ synthetic fill
  • Drawstring bag included

Mine (size m/m) weigh in at 590g without the drawstring bag.

They're incredibly warm for their weight, and they don't restrict movement at all - the lining doesn't bind on midlayers, and is comfy over bare flesh. The only thing that's missing is a back-pocket, but I can cope without one.

And they really do make my arse look big!

Now all I need is a cold weekend wildie to put them to the test.

Thanks for your opinion, Petesy, it's much appreciated.


Posted by on November 18th 2008 in Shiny new kit

I wonder what's in that little bag...

A jigsaw piece, perhaps?

The final piece of the jigsaw puzzle

Posted by on November 17th 2008 in Rambling on..., Shiny new kit

On Saturday I bit the bullet and parted with some hard-saved cash in exchange for what may well be the one item that completes my outdoors kit-list. The stash has been growing for nearly three decades, some of the original bits expired or were outgrown and have been replaced, some bits are still going strong, some are past their best but still perform adequately, but there's nothing there that I don't trust, nothing that I won't use sometime, and no gaps now that the final item is installed (to be fair, that item still needs to be tried and tested before it gets listed). All I have to do now is keep replacing the stuff that wears out... although if somebody was to donate a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir, I wouldn't refuse to take it 🙂

For those that have a hankering for kit-lists, mine's been updated and posted here. Seekers of bleeding-edge hi-tech or ultralightweight stuff will be generally disappointed. I've not listed the family-camping kit or the stuff that we've bought for the kids.

And that final bit of kit? You'll just have to wait a bit longer before I tell you about it and put it on the list.

Get a grip!

Posted by on November 13th 2008 in Shiny new kit

More stuff to try out. Not the most hi-tech bits of kit, but light (106g a pair), simple to use and at £7.90 a pair they're way cheaper than the alternatives available from Petzl and the like. I was so tempted to nab some of the cheap snowshoes at the same time, but managed to resist.



Bob’s Honey Stove – first test

Posted by on November 13th 2008 in My reviews, Shiny new kit

OK, I found the last of the meths. Only 18ml, but it was more than enough to get the steel glowing and to provide sufficient raging flames to boil 0.5l of water in 3 minutes. I just let it rip, not bothering with the simmering ring, so a lot of heat was lost up the side of the mug, hence I'm fairly convinced that I could have been a fair bit more fuel-efficient. Here it is, sooting-up my nice shiny mug:


So, apart from the boil-time, what other info did you get? First, I can confirm the information provided in the instruction leaflet - the panels do warp when heated, but they do go flat again after they've cooled.  Even when warped, the top grill stayed in place. Second, in the temperate climate of my kitchen, the panels cooled sufficiently to allow handling within 2 minutes. Third, the tea's going down rather well 🙂

So, do you like it? Yes, very much. It's well-made, simple to use and very versatile. There's nothing to compare it with, as there's nothing quite like it on the market at the moment. I reckon Bob's onto a winner here.

Any more thoughts? Well, I've never had any need to take a shaving-mirror into the hills, but I'm sure that one of the nice shiny side-panels would suffice. Who knows, in dire emergency you could use one as a signalling-mirror. Oh, and those rows of holes in the side panels - they're ideally-placed for fitting a hanging-kit. I'll test the stove in a different fuel-mode as soon as I can spare the time.

Bob’s Honey Stove – first mods

Posted by on November 13th 2008 in My reviews, Shiny new kit

Right, before we start, I just want to say that these mods weren't necessary - it's just that I like to tinker with things to make them fit in with my personal intended use, and that use doesn't necessarily align with the intended modus operandi for the equipment. The unadulterated stove is clearly capable of being used with a Trangia™ burner, Bob's demonstrated that on his site, but I wanted it to work in a different manner, so I went out on a limb and did what I felt was in the best interests of what I wanted to achieve.

Anyway, I've wielded the tinsnips and the file, and now Podcast Bob’s new Honey Stove has been adjusted to suit my needs. Here's a summary of my mods:

What’s changed? I've notched the door panel and two of the five side panels as per the following pic:

Why? To allow the top grill to be removed without taking the sides apart. It can be lifted off quite easily, even when hot if you use a pan-grabber. The top grill had to be modded too.

Tell me more! In order to allow the top grill to sit inside the walls, I snipped off two of the five tabs, it now looks like this:

Will it still fit into the slots as per the original design? Yes, but with only three tabs it'll only lock into three slots. But you guessed that already, didn't you?

So, does it work? Yes. Remove the top grill and it's easy to access the Trangia™ burner'. Replace the top grill and it supports the mug. The top edge of the stove is still capable of supporting pans, and I've not altered the bottom edge.

Are there any other benefits? Well, the weight's been reduced by a massive 4g. OK, it's not much, but it means that I don't have to saw the handle off my toothbrush.

What next? It's time for a brew, if I can find the meths.

Bob’s Honey Stove – first thoughts

Posted by on November 12th 2008 in My reviews, Shiny new kit

Podcast Bob's been kind enough to let a select group of folk have test-samples of his new Honey Stove, and I'm one of the lucky ones. These are my first thoughts, and the results of my first attempt at testing it.

What's in the kit? A set of interlocking flat stainless-steel panels, comprising six side-panels (one of which has an aperture for accessing the interior), three grill panels (top, middle and bottom), a foil ash-tray, a cloth pouch and an A4 instruction sheet.

How much does it all weigh? The stove panels add up to 356g, the ash-tray is 10g and the pouch is 44g.

How much pack-space does it take up? Packed in the pouch provided, it's roughly 200mm x 140mm x 10mm.

And when it's assembled? 125mm high, 125mm A/F.

What's it look like? A bit like this:

Is it fiddly to assemble? Not really, I just slotted together the five standard side bits and held then in an open arc while slotting in the three grill panels. After that, I just slotted in the front panel to lock it all together. It takes 2 minutes tops, but I'd imagine that after it's been bent and dented a bit it would take a bit longer. If you can't figure it out, give it to some primary-school kids and be prepared to be embarrassed.

What about stability? Very good on a flat surface, not a hint of it wanting to come apart.

So, what fuels will this baby burn? It's primarily a wood-burner, but it's said to be versatile enough to work with a veritable plethora of fuels, see the product description for more details.

What's the difference between the three grill panels? The bottom one has small vent-holes and is primarily for supporting sticks etc. when using it as a wood-burner, but can be used for other solid fuels. The top one is a pan/mug support, so has plenty of holes to let the heat get through. The middle one is similar to the top one, but has the central section removed to allow a Trangia™ burner to sit inside. The three grill panels are interchangeable, as they each use that same tab/slot fitting. It's possible to get away with using just one grill panel if you wanted to go all minimalist, but if that sort of thing floats yer boat I suspect that you'll already have other options in your kit-stash. This stove is aimed at versatility rather than speciality.

That sixth side panel - does the aperture have to be at the bottom? No, just build the thing upside-down and you'll end up with the aperture at the top.

What about cleaning it? Eh? You clean your kit? Oh dear! Seriously, a wipe with a damp rag or through some wet grass ought to suffice. Of course, you'll have let it cool first, won't you?

So, what about that first test? I wanted to try it with my Trangia™ burner and Alpkit MytiMug, so I set it up like this:

So, how did it go? Not well. The front aperture's nowhere near big enough to admit the Trangia™ burner.  Bob's site has pics and a video where the burner's been put in from the top, and where the top grill is omitted. Fine for pans and large pots which would sit on the top edges of the side-panels, but a mug needs a support. I suppose the mug could be supported by two tent-pegs passed through some of the holes along the top edge, but I'm not in the habit of carrying extra pegs as part of a stove kit. The way around it might be to build the stove around the burner, but that's a faff which throws up more hard choices - sealing-cap off and risk spilling the meths, or sealing-cap on and be unable to reach in to take it off. Either way, if you want to use the Trangia™ simmer-ring, you'd be hard-pressed to access it through the aperture and you'd be at risk of getting blistered fingers.

What next? I was going to try it as a wood-burner next, but I want to get the Trangia™ issues sorted first.  Looks like my chosen test combi is a no-no at the moment. I'll post again when there's progress. Now, who's 'alf-inched me tinsnips?

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