Algonquin Park Camping: Day 1

Last week I had the pleasure of camping with my family at the Achray Campground on Grand Lake in Algonquin Provincial Park. I’ve been camping most of my life (my first camping trip was when I was only a couple of weeks old, and apparently it was the only time I wasn’t colicky for quite some time), but somehow I’d never been to Algonquin Park, which is one of our most famous. At 7,653km², the park is larger than the entire province of Prince Edward Island (5,660 km²), and it was perhaps made the most famous for being the main inspiration for the Group of Seven. In fact, the Jack Pine Trail, which begins and ends in Achray, takes you to the location where Tom Thomson was inspired to paint The Jack Pine.

We arrived around 5:00pm the first night, despite every effort to get out earlier. We had originally planned to take my parents’ Sportspal canoe with us, but it really got to vibrating on the top of our car when we hit 100km/hr, despite having it tied down so tight that it actually dented the roof of the car. So before we even got across town we had to head back home and drop off the canoe, putting a bit of a kaibosh on that part of the plan. The Weather Network was predicting one heck of a thunderstorm that night, so we desperately wanted to arrive before it. Luckily we weren’t planning on hiking or canoeing to our campsite (we were just car camping), which shaved off some time. We checked in, got our tent put up…

And the kids’ tent put up…


(That’s the view of the lake from our campsite before the clouds rolled in, by the way.)

And the cook tent put up and dinner started, and then with a CRACK-BOOM! the skies opened up. I was so thankful that we managed to get a roof over our heads before the rain started, because there is very little that is more miserable than setting up in the rain. As it was, despite all our rain gear we were all drenched as soon as we stepped out from under cover, and the Coleman tent and the cook tent leaked despite bringing extra tarps to protect them… But at least we slept dry.

I cooked dinner that night on a combination of camp stoves. If the yellow one looks like an antique, well, it might very well be; it’s from the 1950’s at the very latest. My dad used to pick up old Coleman stoves at garage sales and Frankenstein them together until he had a stove for me, one for my brother, one for my mom and dad, and then I think even a few extras. He also painted mine yellow so I could tell it apart from everyone else’s (this was a bit of an issue back in Pathfinders when every camping group brought their own gear, and things could get mixed up). The little stove on the left is one that my husband used to use when he went canoe camping with his brother and father in the Algonquin interior, and it’s much newer and much more compact. Given how long it had been since either of us had fired up our respective stoves, I think it’s fantastic that they both still worked with no repairs needed. In retrospect, we should have tested them in advance of our trip… Just as we should have tested the waterproofing on our tents beforehand. Hindsight is 20/20.

Our first meal while camping was spaghetti. The sauce was canned, and I fried a package of lean ground beef the night before, so once we were on site it was more a matter of reheating than cooking. Even so, Thing 1 declared that it was the best spaghetti she’d ever eaten (although I think hunger and fresh air may have contributed to her opinion).

I would highly recommend pre-cooking any food that you can when camping, by the way. It saves so much time and mess. I mean, sure, if I’d been cooking over the fire I’d have loved to have the juices from the meat to work with, but we knew in advance that there was a total fire ban in place. No campfires, no sparklers, no propane lanterns, no charcoal barbecues, no candles. Nothing but portable stoves/barbecues with a control valve, and only that permitted I think because otherwise nobody would be able to cook their food. Fire is a huge part of camping, at least the way that I was brought up, but we had had so little rain and everything was so darned dry that it just wasn’t safe. As it turned out, there was actually a a small forest fire about 4km away from our campground — of which we were completely unaware until we returned home and checked out the Ontario Forest Fire Info Map.

According to The Weather Network, Over 800 wildfires have been recorded this season, far higher than last year’s 221 fires at this time of year, and well above the 10-year average of 458. Fires this year have consumed more than 180,000 hectares of the province.

First Harvest of the Year

I’m happy to report that there are finally fruits and veggies in my garden that are ready to harvest! It’s been a very dry summer for the most part, and although I’ve been watering my garden religiously, I think it’s having an effect on the garden. However, over the last week or so we have had a storm almost every day, alternating with sunshine, and my plants have loved it.

My tiny cucumbers and zucchini have swelled up remarkably in the last week and a half! The largest of the cucumbers is about 7″ long (18cm) and is so thick that I can’t wrap my fingers entirely around it. The three cherry tomatoes (and now I’m sure that the self-seeded tomatoes were the little ones since they’re ripening at such a small size) were sweet and delicious straight off of the plant. I know the zucchini would have grown larger, but they’re more tender at a smaller size. Some of the absolutely enormous zucchini gifted by friends last year had a really tough skin that had to be peeled before it could be eaten. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still ate every last squash, but the bigger they are, the harder the skin. (Also, the really big ones you have to scoop out in the middle like you would a pumpkin, because the seeds are quite tough too.) Also, I’ll admit that I wanted to get to the zucchini before the animals or bugs did. I know that it’s supposed to be one of the easiest things in the world to grow, but between insects and squirrels/chipmunks and just plain bad luck, I’ve only ever managed to grow a single zucchini before, and it was a tiny one barely worth harvesting.

I would be writing about the size of this first zucchini right now except for the fact that we ate it almost as soon as it was off of the vine. My husband fired up the barbecue yesterday and we had chicken thighs with the skin on, topped with a sprinkle of herbs (my usual sage, thyme, garlic powder, summer savoury, and sea salt; there would have been rosemary too, but I had run out). As a side dish, I sliced the yellow zucchini and threw it in our non-stick grilling bowl with a sprinkle of salt and a drizzle of olive oil. As it couldn’t possibly have been fresher, it was oh-so-tender and light-tasting. I didn’t even have to fight with the kids to get them to eat their vegetables, which is quite the feat at dinner time around here these days.

Taro Jelly

I think I’m still compensating for the lack of food in the house the other day, because I’ve felt the need to whip up more sweets. I don’t generally make desserts unless it’s a special occasion. I think it was that strong craving for Two Bite Brownies that undid me. At any rate, I found some Taro Flavour Jelly Powder in the back of my pantry that I’d forgotten about, so I figured it was time to give it a try.

I’d picked this mix up at T&T some time ago with the intention of making it up for my girls. (Generally, I’m not a big fan of moulded jellies.) I do love taro root, though, especially in Japanese sweets, so I thought I should give it a try too.

I used my vintage Tupperware Jel-Ette Moulds, which make single servings. I wasn’t sure how much the package would yield, since the instructions in English weren’t very detailed. It turns out that you can get five 1/2 cup servings out of one package.

I was a little afraid that it wouldn’t set up right, but I followed the instructions to the letter, and it turned out perfectly! I love the colour and the smell. The flavour was okay, but I think that the texture might have been throwing me off since I’m just not a huge jelly fan. Thing 2 didn’t finish her dinner and hence didn’t get to try, but Thing 1 was excited that she got to taste. She said that it was so different from anything she’s used to that she’s not sure if she likes it or not, but she’s willing to try it again at a later date to figure it out. That’s a very well-considered opinion, if you ask me.

Shrimp and Eggs on Rice

I have been terribly busy lately, so I needed another super-easy meal again last night. Once again, I also wanted a dish that helped clean out my freezer, so I grabbed a bag of shrimp and threw together shrimp and eggs on rice.

I pan-fried the shrimp in garlic butter, which my family always loves. I mean, they like anything with garlic butter, I think. I also sprinkled a tiny bit of furikake on top at the time of serving. While the basmati rice was cooking, I soft-boiled some eggs and set them aside to put on the rice at the time of serving as well. Honestly, this was one of the simplest meals I’ve made in a while, but everyone scarfed it up, so I’m not complaining.

Nasturtium Pesto on Cod

We’ve been getting a lot of rain over the past few days, after getting practically none all summer. This means lots of hot, humid days, with really no chance to cook outside. I mean, I’m all for barbecuing in the rain, but I draw the line at thunderstorms.

So I dug through my freezer (which I am trying desperately to free up so I can defrost it) and found a lovely package of cod that I’d been meaning to use. I baked it in the oven with a coating of nasturtium pesto that I’d made last summer. (I learned last year or the year before that nasturtium leaves are totally edible, and they make a lovely, slightly-peppery pesto.) I paired it with mashed potatoes — the last of the bag that had frustrated me so over the weekend — and steamed carrots. It was a deliciously light meal to eat while watching the sky open up outside.

When Hunger and Exhaustion Collide

So I had kind of a mini food crisis the other night. I was home alone with my sleeping children; my husband was out visiting some friends. Since I hadn’t been home much lately, the fridge had become very empty, and the pantry wasn’t faring much better. I’d been up since 5:30am that day doing all kinds of lifting and lugging out in the heat, and I was exhausted. However, I couldn’t go to sleep yet because I had time-sensitive tasks that had to be completed. But I was just so exhausted that I couldn’t even think of cooking. I’d left it too late to order delivery, unless I wanted pizza, which my gut just can’t handle. (My friends told me afterwards that there is a local place that makes vegan pizza, i.e. it’s dairy free, and I may try that next time. Or order chicken wings from a pizza place, which didn’t even occur to me.)

In the end, starving but too tired to cook much from scratch, I tried making a microwaved baked potato, but even then I was thwarted: upon cutting it open, I discovered that it was rotten inside. I only got to eat a potato on my second try. I was so tired and frustrated that I was brought to tears over this stupid potato.

And all that time, all I could think about was how good Two Bite Brownies would taste.

So! I finally am able to go to bed, tummy actually full, but when I woke up the next morning I was absolutely determined that the same kind of thing wouldn’t happen the following night. Hubby home and children awake, I popped out to the grocery store and purchased the ingredients for one of my favourite easily-baked items: banana nut bread (or muffins, in this case). They’re filling and more or less healthy and very difficult to mess up. No was was I going to be exhausted and hungry and frustrated to that degree if I could help it.

I did buy a bag of Two Bite Brownies as well, though.

Cooking for a Crowd at the Cottage

Another lovely day with friends at the cottage started with eggs (over easy or scrambled), toast (not homemade for a change because we ran out), breakfast sausages, and left-over fruit salad.

Then there was more fishing. My girls usually love fishing, but with friends along they developed a great deal more patience than usual! I think everything’s just more interesting with friends.

All this despite the fact that Gramps was the main one who caught the fish (unusual, that, since with all the kids around he spends most of his time baiting hooks and untangling lines). Friend 1 did manage to catch a small rock bass, and my friend caught this tiny little sunfish and a slightly larger rock bass. She did get one good-sized fish on that tiny little hook, but didn’t manage to land it. The water was so clear that we could all watch it and its buddies swimming away…

Of course, there was also lots of swimming fun to be had, especially since it was even hotter that day than the day before.

For dinner on the last night I made curry and rice, not Glico this time by S&B Tasty Curry Sauce Mix (mild, of course, since the kids have no tolerance for spice). The veggies were potatoes, carrots, and garlic scapes. My kids ate a fair portion, but I’m pretty sure that Friend 1 and Friend 2 weren’t so fond. I get the impression that they’re pretty darned picky eaters, though.

We all had a really great time! I hope that we can do this again.