Big Family Cottage Trip: Day 2

Since cooking was off the table the night before, we started Day 2 of the big family trip to the cottage with a hot breakfast even though the temperature and humidity were already starting to get out of hand.

I fried up bacon and eggs over hard while Mom cut up fruit for a salad and toasted up English muffins. The end result was homemade breakfast sandwiches and fruit salad, with whipped cream and/or maple syrup for those who wanted it on the latter.

Then we all jumped — okay, cannonballed — one by one into the lake, being sure to keep away from the dock spider, who was still at her post…

Where, at least until the kids came down and started making the normal kid amount of noise, some of the adults got to swim with the lake’s resident loons.

We stayed in the lake for a good hour, but before we knew it there was thunder in the distance. Not soon after, the storm clouds rolled in…

And then the heavens opened up. This meant that we were cooped up inside for a while (I don’t object to playing in the rain, but I draw the line at thunder and lightning). We played cards and taught the kids the game of “Spoons”. Luckily the downpour also brought down the temperature, or we wouldn’t have had the energy for such a competitive game.

Then there was another cold dinner, which was a combination of cleaning out the fridge before we left and leftovers from the night before. I made myself a spincach, strawberry, and goat cheese salad with sesame dressing…

Followed by more of Mom’s potato salad (sans bacon).

For dessert we absolutely had to finish off the blueberry pie and coconut-based whipped cream substitute that Mom brought. Oh, the hardship.

Here There Be Spiders

I was lucky enough over the last few days to be able to make a family trip to the cottage my parents are renting — all of us this time! My husband, Thing 1 and Thing 2, Mom and Dad, my younger brother, and his friend B. We could only schedule the eight of us for a single overnight trip, which happened to be the hottest, stickiest time I’ve spent at the lake yet. The kids didn’t mind so much, except that they didn’t sleep very well that night.

Other than the heat, the first day’s weather was lovely. Thing 1 and Thing 2 spent a lot of time fishing with her Gramps; Thing 2 is finally mastering the patience required to catch little rock bass. And of course, when the kids weren’t fishing or otherwise playing on shore, they were in the lake itself burning off some energy whilst cooling down.

We all kind of avoided one part of the dock/retaining wall for all of these activities, though, because an enormous dock spider had spun a web there. Female dock spiders can get up to about 9cm long, and I think this particular specimen was a good example. It was fascinating enough to peek at and to take pictures — even the kids wanted to see it! But nobody wanted to get too close. Probably a good thing, actually, because according to a bit of research after the fact, dock spiders don’t spin webs to catch prey: they spin them to protect their egg sacks! My best guess is that her egg sack was down inside the crevice she was protecting. I’m glad we didn’t disturb her! (I mean, it’s also possible that the web was from another spider, but she was very assiduously sticking to one spot.)

Anyway, after all of the swimming and the fishing and the arachnid discovery, we had a cold supper (because who wants to cook on an evening that hot?). We spread out the breads and cheeses and cold cuts and salads at the table, but it definitely wasn’t a formal affair.

In my case, dinner consisted of a bacon, lactose-free Havarti cheese, and avocado sandwich on freshly-baked beer bread. (Okay, I lied, I cooked one thing, but cooking a loaf of bread in the bread machine on the deck didn’t warm up the cottage.) The bread was a new recipe that I’m currently testing, and everyone seemed to like it. I hope to post the recipe soon. I paired it with Mom’s Potato Salad (without the optional bacon, and actually made by my mom the night before), and a hard-boiled egg.

Algonquin Park Camping: Day 3

Day 3 of camping at Achray Campground dawned clear and sunny — the only truly summery day of our trip.

We strung up as many lines as we could to try and get everything to dry before we went home. I think it was a little bit futile, especially since the bottoms of the tents were pretty soaked.

We started the day with bacon and pancakes (Aunt Jemima Complete Buttermilk Pancake Mix) for everyone for breakfast.

I could only make one pancake at a time, but I just kept cooking until everybody was stuffed.

Then Thing 1 and I tool a walk along the lake shore while my husband and Thing 2 cleaned up.

There were a bunch of canoes pulled up on the beach, some of them day rentals, others belonging to people who had come in from the park interior. Some campers had cut their trip short due to the forest fires encroaching on their planned routes.

On our walk, we saw all kinds of small wildlife: frogs, tadpoles, and everything in between, minnows, small fish (but bigger than minnows), and even a water snake no thicker around than a pencil.

When we returned, Thing 1 and Thing 2 got changed into their bathing suits to play in the shallows while my husband and I struck camp. With the water only being knee-deep for at least a hundred feet, it was a perfect playground — and with our campsite being so close to the water, we didn’t have to worry the kids would be unsupervised.

After everyone was thoroughly cooled down in the lake, it was time for some hot chocolate and reading time as we tried to use up our camp fuel (an attempt which proved to be futile in the end).

We packed up the last of our gear and drove away from Achray, but it wasn’t long before we reached the entrance point to the Barron Canyon Trail (which is only 1.5km long, but is at a pretty steep pitch most of the time).

My husband had hiked this trail as a child, and he really really wanted us to see it too. The canyon is 100m (328′) deep at this point, and the top of the trail provides a fantastic view for miles around. It also is a straight drop down with no railings, which is a little bit vertigo-inducing. I kept a death grip on Thing 2’s hand whenever she even remotely neared the edge, since she has a bad habit of not taking safety warnings seriously. Heck, there’s even a sign at the beginning of the trail that reads, “Caution: This trail visits a cliff. Please keep children under control at all times.”

Thing 2 was very happy to sit for this photo, though, since she could see the Barron Canyon expanse without me freaking out (it’s further back than it looks).

I honestly didn’t know that we had terrain like this anywhere near home. It’s difficult to get an accurate impression of scale in photos.

Thing 1 was my husband’s responsibility, but her cautious nature meant that she didn’t tend to walk too close to the edge on her own. Actually, to get the best view she and my husband crawled on their bellies so that they could peek over the edge safely.

The best representation of scale I could get is when a canoe passed us by at the bottom of the canyon. That little line in the water is four people in a big fiberglass canoe.

It was a fantastic way to end a thoroughly enjoyable trip!

Algonquin Park Camping: Day 2

Day 2 of camping at at the Achray Campground on Grand Lake in Algonquin Provincial Park dawned rainy, but the precipitation quickly moved on. This left us with clouds in the morning, a brief rainstorm in the afternoon, and a mix of sun and clouds for the afternoon and evening. Unfortunately, there was never much of a breeze, so nothing we brought with us really dried out, but we had fun anyway.

The day began with cooking bacon, eggs, and toast (with bread machine bread baked in advance of our trip) on the old Coleman camp stove. I am particularly fond of the camp toaster, which was always my favourite part of the setup as a child.

It was a hearty and delicious way to start the day!

After cleanup we headed out to the lake, which is where we spent the majority of our day.

The shallow, sandy beaches meant that the kids were quite content to play and explore for hours.

We found teeny tiny catfish (at most an inch and a half long) in the weedy shallows, where they were industriously cleaning the lake bed.

There were also tonnes of tadpoles in every stage of becoming frogs — some had no legs, some had two, some had four, and some were basically frogs with tails — alongside full-grown frogs. A few swam by us while we were swimming, while others stuck to the weedier or rockier areas.

I honestly think that our favourite part of the day was all of the tiny minnows that swam around our feet and nibbled on our toes while we waded in the shallows. Video of that will have to wait until I can get it off of my other camera, but I think it’ll be what the kids remember the most from this trip.

When we headed away from the water we found wild raspberries, which was an unexpected and tasty treat.

I cooked dinner over the single-burner backpacking stove, since the old Coleman decided to act up for a bit. I basically made tuna noodle casserole, but with frozen corn instead of canned, and canned salmon instead of tuna. Also, having no oven, I couldn’t bake the dish.

I don’t think that my alterations improved the dish any; without the potato chips topping and baking to combine the flavours, it was pretty bland. I should at least have grated some cheese on top, but I didn’t think of it. But it was warm and filling and we were sitting somewhere dry, which sometimes is all you can ask for when camping. As a bonus, the only perishable ingredient was the frozen corn, which in its turn helped keep the other food cold.

Also, did I mention that there were butterflies? Well, there were a lot of butterflies. The monarchs in the area really like the milkweed blossoms, which were just coming out of bloom, and milkweed was everywhere. Apparently these monarchs are endangered, but you’d never know it from how plentiful they were around our little corner of the park.

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.

Friends at the Cottage

We were lucky enough to get to spend a few days with friends at my parents’ rental cottage this week! With a good friend of mine and her two boys, it was a happy kind of chaos.

The weather was clear and hot, so most of the days were spent outdoors, either in, on, or beside the lake.

We started the day with a hearty brunch of French toast and fresh fruit salad, topped with a generous drizzle of maple syrup and a dollop of whipped cream substitute.

Then my dad took the kids out fishing. I’m pretty sure that was their favourite activity of the trip!

We tried our hardest to keep the kids spaced far enough apart that they didn’t hook each other, but it was a challenge because of course they wanted to socialize.

At one point before my friend arrived, Thing 1 and Thing 2 were out fishing with Gramps, and Thing 2 took a tumble off of the dock and into the lake. She was soaked, shaken, and a bit scraped up, but overall okay. However, it wasn’t until the next day that my friend was able to retrieve Thing 2’s rod from the bottom of the lake.

On a trip into town we discovered a really awesome second-hand book and gaming store. The older two quickly learned how to share the manga they’d scored. They were so absorbed in their book that I’m pretty sure they don’t know I took this picture.

Dinner may not have been the most appetizing-looking, but it was delicious! My friend and I both set up our slow cookers at the start of the day so we could escape the kitchen. My friend made the pork chops are from this recipe, and I made mashed potatoes with garlic scapes and chicken broth (no recipe needed, just throw ’em all together in the slow cooker for 6 hours or so on low and mash it once the potatoes are soft).

And of course after dinner was done, it was time to go jump in the lake!

Spending Time at the Lake

I was lucky enough to spend a few days this week at the cottage my parents are renting. We had a delightful time. Mornings were lazy and, when we finally dragged ourselves out of bed, I cooked brunch.

That’s bacon, eggs over easy, apple slices, and whole wheat toast — made of store-bought bread, which is unlike me. I decided I needed to remedy that situation and so after we cleaned up from brunch, I started to throw together some homemade loaves. I didn’t have access to the internet or my plethora of cookbooks, so I used the White Bread recipe from page 596 of the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition). (Actually, I used the app since it has the whole cookbook on my phone and doesn’t need Internet access, but it’s the same recipe either way.) In the recipe I substituted olive oil in the same quantities for the lard and butter, which has worked in the past and did so this time as well.

That’s a horrible picture of the loons on the lake because my zoom lens isn’t spectacular. You’d think it’d be easier to get a photo of a bird that can grow to almost a meter long, but these ones had no interest in coming any closer. The loons were calling away while I was kneading my dough. I find it a very soothing sound, but I grew up with it. In understand that to some people a loon call, especially their mournful, echoing night call, can be kind of creepy. My father likes to tell us the story of going camping and being approached by frightened tourists in the next site over who were sure they were hearing the sobbing souls of the damned.

Anyway, after brunch and bread and loons, we all needed a dip in the lake…

Followed by a drive out to the ice cream parlour for a cool treat and some reading time.

It wasn’t too long before it was time to go back to the cottage to bake the bread, and then to make dinner. I made shrimp with garlic butter, jasmine rice with furikake, corn on the cob, and of course the freshly-baked bread.

Dessert was cherry drop biscuits baked the day before using the Rolled Biscuits recipe from page 638 of the Joy of Cooking (or the app again). I added a bunch of pitted, quartered cherries stirred into the batter and a sprinkle of sugar on the top of each biscuit before baking. I got lazy and just made them drop biscuits instead of rolled, and they turned out fine that way.

Then it was time for one last dip in the lake, followed swiftly by bedtime for the kiddos, who had had a long, fun day. I took the opportunity to bring my glass of maple Sortilège on the rocks out to the screened-in sun room (the mosquitoes are much too bad in the evening to simply sit outside) so that I could watch the sun set. It wasn’t the most spectacular that I’ve viewed from this spot, seeing as there wasn’t a cloud in sight, but I think I can live with that.