Explorer Chef is back!

Goat’s Cheese, pesto, olive oil and walnut salad followed by pasta carbonara and apple strudel for dessert. No, I haven’t started a new career as a food critic, this is the menu that was very well executed by Jack, Louis, James and Emilia at Southgate District Explorer Chef last night.

Last night was the rebirth of a competition that used to be very popular and it was a successful start. The aim is to plan a good and straightforward three course menu to cook over an open fire with just three hours to build, prep, cook, serve and wash up. The competition were two teams from the Winchmore Hill Unit.

‘Don’t Judge Our Fire’ (Jack, Louis, James and Emilia) got off to what can only be described as a stuttering start with a level of faffing that Dave Preece would be proud of as they started their fire but once they had something resembling a fire on the go and had started to prep their main, the cooking took over – and they’re pretty good cooks!

They were up against another well prepared salad and a bowl nachos when the starters were served and in truth, there wasn’t much between the salads (no comment on nachos). The three main courses were the carbonara, a stir fry and some chicken kebabs served with satay sauce, rice and corn on the cob – all three, very tasty.

Finally, the desserts; a lovely Eton Mess, some marshmallows covered in melted chocolate and ‘Don’t Judge Our Fire’ made a very good apple strudel from scratch. There was a slight hiccup in the cooking process – I heard from a distance Louis exclaiming that ‘the foil [was] open’ which meant that one specific area of the strudel was very, very black.

I filled with pride as I occasionally glanced over my shoulder to see a fire that was far too big and unfortunately for ‘Don’t Judge Our Fire’, the slow start and delayed finish meant they didn’t get the bonus points for timekeeping that would have seen them victorious. I imagine that when we run this competition during the lighter evenings of spring that this team will be expert Explorer Chefs!

What is it with us and minibuses?

What is it with Hatters weekends away and minibuses refusing to start? This is becoming as inevitable as climbing into my sleeping bag to find some fruit at the bottom of it. This weekend, we stayed at the 1st Stokenchurch HQ, a lovely building with everything that an Explorer Unit might need from showers to space hoppers. The explorers walked from here to Mill End and then then a little way along the Thames Path before being collected and taken back to base for dinner on the Saturday but that was only part of the tale.

On Friday night, there was a ‘no sleepover’ feel to trip with some snacks and films – we even lay in until nine o’clock. Dave ran a ‘Module 32A’ workshop so that one more Explorer could be authorised to use the whisk and as punishment for hiding the whisk, Rachel will not be allowed to become a qualified whisker until a much later date. After a full English breakfast the Explorers prepared themselves for a long day of walking in some pretty horrible conditions.

Drizzle turned to rain and with a chilling wind thrown in, we were surprised to find so many smiling faces when we collected them and feeling a little guilty, the leaders didn’t make them cook their own dinner. Instead, Rachel, Dave, Brian and Michael stepped up and it was only a little too much S Club 7 that finally drove Michael and Brain from the kitchen. Meanwhile, the Explorers were once again enjoying the space hoppers… Things went awry in the morning after breakfast.

On Sunday at around 10.15, we left for home and the fun started at around 10.30. With almost everyone in the blue bus, Brian, the equipment and me were in the white bus and we decided to fill it with diesel a minute or so into the journey. After filling up, we couldn’t start the bus so heroically, the blue bus returned without any Explorers actually noticing that it had turned around. We spent twenty minutes trying to jump start the bus before Jack started directing traffic and we had several attempts at a bump start, the last of which included most of us (less photographer) in florescent jackets pushing the bus down the A40.

Brian pulled in after this latest attempt and noticed a recovery vehicle parked just down the road. So, I put on my most pathetic of faces, straightened up my scarf and picked up my wallet. The very kind man gave us a short, fast tow to bump the minibus into life and an hour and a half after setting off, we were into the second mile of our journey.

I would be lying if I claimed that the weekend had gone entirely to plan but the Explorers will certainly have a story or two to tell. Thanks go to Brian for lending us a hand over the weekend, the 22nd for lending us a bus, the 1st Stokenchurch for their great facility and the anonymous recovery person who is hopefully sitting somewhere enjoying a few quick pints on us.

Hatters Conservationists

A small group of us spent the morning at Coppetts Wood on Sunday helping Ollie and his team to clear the Hatters Meadow. Coppetts Wood and Glebelands local Nature Reserve was once part of Finchley Wood and famous for its use by Highwaymen but is now a Site of Borough Importance for Conservation and the conservation is managed by our friend, Ollie Natelson, and The Coppetts Wood Conservationists who volunteer there on Sunday mornings.

Fortunately, the highwaymen are long gone and we weren’t reliant on a shear wielding Giselle to protect us (I should point out that Giselle was wielding her shear in a perfectly safe manor with all of the correct clothing and not running) and it was just a 3 hour shift in glorious sunshine with a couple of snack breaks thrown in.

The Hatters Meadow goes back to the first visit from the Hatters to help Ollie in 2008 and due to the early efforts to clear the area and cut down the trees that were starving the area of light, every spring the meadow flourishes with wild flowers. This however, relies on some more work on the site every autumn.

On Sunday, the work consisted of clearing the bramble and nettles – expertly performed by Gideon, Adam, Sarah and Giselle throughout the morning while Rory walked backwards and forwards to Tesco (an equally important job). Dave performed wonderfully in his role as chief photographer and ‘faffer’ while Steve and Drea got stuck in and covered in seeds.

Overall, the morning was a success, right until somebody dropped my sandwich in the mud. We’ll be back again to see the fruits of our labour in spring.