Lazy Days at the Lake

My daughters and I were able to spend some more time at the cottage that my parents rented for the summer, and we’re just loving it there. Well, okay, we could do without the occasional bold-as-brass mouse, and the scourges of mosquitoes that try to take over every day at dusk, but all that’s really to be expected when you’re out in the country. I count myself lucky that the black flies haven’t been swarming where we have been.


Thing 2 and Thing 1 fishing off of a friend’s dock further down the lake.

The girls have really developed a passion for fishing this summer, much to their grandfather’s delight. Not only that, but Thing 1 at least has caught a few pan fish, mostly sunfish, which has spurred her interest. Thing 2 hasn’t been so lucky, but I think some of that is just because she doesn’t have the patience of her older sister — and fishing is really an exercise in patience.


Gramps fishing off the same dock.

Gramps, of course, will keep fishing long after the girls have run off to explore. Accordingly, he has reeled in quite a few more fish, but we remain lucky that we don’t have to rely on any of us to fish for our dinners. Like Thing 1, his catches have mostly been small pan fish.


Thing 1, Thing 2, and Nana walking DeeDee and Cici.

I think that the highlight of the latest trip for the girls was getting to walk a friend’s dogs while the friends were out of town for the day. Deedee, an elderly black lab, and Cici, a very friendly white terrier, both really like my kids and are just very friendly animals in general. (I may have spelled their names wrong, I’ve never seen them written down.) The girls were also happy that the friend’s two cats were back in residence at their cottage; George was clamoring for attention, and Olivia, who is generally very timid, even conceded to be petted very gently and slowly for a minute or two.


Thing 1 jumping into the lake while Thing 2 looks on.

It wasn’t nearly as hot this trip, so we only went for two quick dips in the lake. While the kids had fun jumping off the dock over and over again, they didn’t last much more than fifteen minutes for each swim before their lips turned blue.


Thing 2 climbing out of the lake for another jump, while Nana treads water in the background.

We owe our ability to jump off the dock directly to our friend Randy, who is owed a huge thank-you for fixing the dock after a few close calls with rotten boards meant that we worried about stepping right through. Randy even managed to go knee-deep through the worst part of the dock during his repairs, but luckily didn’t injure himself. Not only that, he scrounged an old wooden ladder that he screwed directly to the dock, replacing the aluminum one that we had tied on previously. I’m so much happier to take the kids out swimming or canoeing when I don’t have to worry about the boards snapping underfoot!

Roadside Stands

I’ll admit it, I have a hard time passing roadside fruit and veggie stands without stopping in to see what is on offer.


Signs advertising tomatoes & strawberries on Route 366 in Québec, just north of Gatineau Park.


Brisebois Fruits & Légumes (Brisebois Fruits & Vegetables), at the intersection of Route 366/Route Principale E & Chemin Brisebois (Sainte-Cécile-de-Masham, Québec).

Recently I visited Brisebois Fruits & Vegetables, which is located just north of Gatineau Park. It’s easy spotted from the main road due to its generous signage, orange roof, and, oh right, the two smaller-than-life moose statues out front. The stand carries local produce like strawberries, carrots, and garlic scapes, as well as imports like lemons and oranges.


Multicoloured carrots purchased at Brisebois Fruits & Légumes.

I purchased multicoloured carrots at this stand, as well as a pint of blueberries and a half-pint of cherry tomatoes. The carrots are the only things that made it home; my kids can eat their own body-weight in berries when so inclined, I’m sure.


Sign for Orleans Fruit Farm

I stop by the Orleans Fruit Farm on a regular basis, as well as occasionally visiting their U-pick fields for strawberries, raspberries, and apples when they are in season.


Orleans Fruit Farm fruit and veggie stand at 1399 St Joseph Blvd, Orléans, Ontario

This farm stand does a brisk business, located as they are off a main road leading from downtown to a decent-sized suburb. It’s a simple thing for residents to pop in and pick up something for dinner on their way home from work. The stand is always staffed with helpful, friendly employees and, as a bonus, they take debit as well as cash.


Under the Orleans Fruit Farm red-striped tent.


Summer squash.

These odd-shaped summer squash were grouped with the zucchini, and a sign proclaimed that they taste just like regular zucchini, but were shaped better for stuffing. I had to buy them since I’ve tried anything that looks like this.


Steamed multicoloured carrots and sauteed summer squash with curry powder.

And what do you know, the sign was totally right. They’re just differently-shaped zucchini. I want to try stuffing them at some point, though. The yellow one, especially, would plate fantastically.

At The Lake

I spent the weekend at the lake again — but a different lake this time. My parents have rented a cottage for the summer, and I’m taking the kids up whenever I can.


The view from the dock.

Of course, every trip to a cottage comes with hearty breakfasts… Okay, well, brunches… Okay, sometimes lunches. It all depends on how early the kids get me up, and how lazy I’m feeling when I first get out of bed. A beautiful day at a cottage often makes me want to sit on the deck or the dock with my morning beverage of choice and just relax.


Cottage breakfast with French toast, bacon, and fruit salad (asian pear, cherries, and banana).

Of course, once I’ve had something to eat (and okay, sometimes before), it’s time to jump in the lake. This particular lake is really clear and actually quite warm for a Canadian lake, which means that you still don’t want to stay in there all day, but it’s not breathtaking to jump into.


Thing 1 practicing her cannonball.

My kids would spend all day in the water if their lips didn’t turn blue, which happens even in a heated pool, eventually. Their favourite part is launching themselves bodily off of the dock


I think Thing 2 doing her “starfish” jump.

Also, I’m pretty sure that Thing 2 believes that she can fly.

The Country Garden

I’m a city girl, but I’ve been in and out of farmland since childhood. Ottawa’s a pretty small city, and it is surrounded by (and encompasses) a great deal of agricultural property. You’d be hard pressed to find anywhere in town that is more than a 45-minute drive from planted fields (traffic aside, of course).


Sign at the farm at 1900 Kerr Line, Foresters Falls, Ontario

Once you get out of the city proper, you start seeing lots of signs like the one above for home-based businesses selling produce and goods that were grown, raised, or made on the property. However, there has been a sharp decline in the number of little sheds that I saw as a child at the end of just about every farm lane. I don’t know what has changed that caused them to become unused; did they become unprofitable to staff? If the booths were unmanned and ran on the honour system, was there just too much theft to make them profitable? Too much spoilage? Was it caused by the change over years in how farms are being run (increasingly, one large farm produces only a few select things and brings everything else in based on the profits, versus the older model of many smaller farms that fed their residents first and then sold the excess, if there was one)? Is it just because there are fewer people living on farms overall, as machines replace manual labour? Or is it because as the larger farms buy up their neighbours’ land, they leave the homes on the property to sit empty? A combination of all of the above, possibly in addition to factors I know nothing about?


Roadside sign for The Country Garden.


The Country Garden’s main area.

However, there are still a few roadside booths going strong. The Country Garden on Queen’s Line is the best example of a successful booth that I know of. The farm itself appears to be tended with a great deal of care. The grass is mowed up to the road, the fruit trees are neatly trimmed, there are flowers planted at the base of all the signs and hanging baskets wherever they’ll fit, the dirt road is without major potholes. And the food, oh the food… I make a point of stopping there every time we’re in that neck of the woods, and I’ve been going for almost ten years now.

The Country Garden is unmanned unless it is being stocked, and hence it runs on the honour system. There is some security in the shape of a lock box and a security camera. This seems to work out well for them overall, although there have been hiccups. Inside the shed there is a board with photos of people who have stolen from the Garden before, along with pictures and a written request for people to help in identifying the thieves. I don’t have a lot of patience with thieves in general, but I think it’s pretty despicable to steal from a small business like that.

The shelves on the outside of the main booth (shed?) are stocked up every day with fresh-picked produce from the farm (which I believe is run by the Martin family). This time of year there is a plenitude of tomatoes, peas, garlic, potatoes, lettuce, and green onions. Of course, this varies by season; I’ve been by in the fall when there are literal trailer-loads of squash for sale.


Inside the shed/booth.


Of course I had to buy a blueberry pie.

Inside the shed (booth?) are shelves lined with preserves, some of which come directly from the farm and others from Horst Homebaking (another local business, which is run by Noreen Horst at 74 Government Road (Foresters Falls, Ontario)). All of the preserves I’ve bough from The Country Garden have been bursting with flavour and not over-sweet, which is exactly how I like them. There is also a fridge that is re-stocked daily with eggs, fresh-baked pies and tarts that would make Dean Winchester weep, pepperettes, and sausages. The freezer is regularly refilled with cuts of beef and homemade ice cream bars.

There are photos on display of the family working on the farm; by their garb I would guess they are Mennonites, but I am not 100% sure. Most of what I know about Mennonites is based on the food I have bought from their booths at farmers’ markets — which has invariably been delicious.

Occasionally there are crafts for sale, like the above ride-on toy digger.

And there are often ornamental plants and hanging plants on offer as well.

If The Country Garden is still running for another ten years, as I hope it will be, I plan on buying fresh local produce and goods from them for all of that time. They don’t exactly have a web presence, but I can tell you that they’re open seasonally Monday through Saturday. They only take cash and, as you’ll have to deposit your payment in the lock box, you’ll need exact change. The Country Garden is located at 3024 Queens Line (Foresters Falls, Ontario), just down from the intersection of Queen’s Line and Acres Road, and close to Queen’s Line United Church (currently not in use). I highly recommend stopping by if you’re in the area. You won’t regret it. Come early if you can, as their stock can run low later in the day.

Tulip Festival

Yesterday was lovely, if hot (30°C with a humidex of 36°C), so I headed out to Dow’s Lake to check out the gardens that were planted for the Canadian Tulip Festival. If a tulip festival sounds like something more apropos to the Netherlands than Canada, that’s kind of the point.


Canada 150 tulip.

There is a strong bond between the two countries, primarily because in 1945 Canadian troops participated in the liberation of the Netherlands and then helped to rebuild the country after the war. Not surprisingly, some 1,800 war brides and 400 children came back to Canada following the troops. Additionally, in 1940 Princess Juliana (who later became Queen of the Netherlands) and her two daughters, Princesses Beatrix (who grew up to be Queen for 33 years) and Irene fled from the Nazis to take refuge in Ottawa during the second World War. Prince Bernhard and Princess Juliana’s third daughter, Princess Margriet Francisca, was born in the Ottawa Civic Hospital during this period of exile. The “Canadian” princess was later baptized at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church on June 29th, 1943, with the Governor General of Canada as one of her godparents.


Canada 150 tulips.

After the end of the war and the return of the Dutch Royal Family, Princess Juliana and the people of the Netherlands sent, among other things, 100,000 tulip bulbs to Canada in thanks. In 1946, Princess Juliana gave an additional 20,000 bulbs, and since 1958 the Royal Family has sent 10,000 bulbs annually. The Canadian Tulip Festival has been running since 1951 and obviously not all of the nearly one million bulbs planted each year in the capital region are gifts from the Netherlands, but all of the flowers are a symbol of international friendship.


Canada 150 tulips, with the Rideau Canal and Carleton University in the background.

This year is particularly important, as it is Canada’s sesquicentennial — the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Basically, the year has been planned as a giant birthday party for the country, and the Tulip Festival is part of that celebration. Specifically, a Dutch grower was commissioned by the Government of Canada to breed a tulip especially for the occasion, with red and white petals meant to mimic the Canadian flag. I’ve read that when some people planted these bulbs privately, they came up orange or pink, but the ones planted by the National Capital Commission came up in the promised red and white. Perhaps the variation available for public purchase in garden centers was a different cultivar?

At any rate, when the weather is fine, a walk through the gardens for the Tulip Festival is definitely worth fighting the traffic downtown. My favourite spot is Commissioners Park at Dow’s Lake, although I’m told that Parliament Hill and Major’s Hill Park are also planted beautifully for the season. Of course, you can check out the art installation of 5-foot-tall painted tulips at Lansdowne Park as well.

Lobster Rolls

The weather is finally changing to something vaguely resembling summer, and this is the time of year that I start thinking about all the summer trips to the Maritimes that I made as a child, and then again as an adult. We would drive there from Ontario, and it seemed that as soon as you crossed the border between Québec and New Brunswick, the food culture changed from land to sea. Just pop into a New Brunswick fast food restaurant in order to compare: McDonald’s in New Brunswick serves (very poor) lobster rolls, and Subway serves a (reasonable) seafood sub. The culinary transition is rather abrupt, because it’s not like the terrain and agriculture of eastern Québec and western New Brunswick are at all different. But New Brunswick is a maritime province, and this is reflected in the culture and the cuisine. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a strong agricultural foundation in the province as well; with an area almost the size of Ireland with one sixth the population, there is room for multiple local industries.


Golden Fry, Shediac, New Brunswick.

Most people who visit New Brunswick head for the coast. The best value for money as a tourist is generally to rent a cottage within walking distance of the sea, or if that’s not possible, to stay in an inn or B&B within a short drive of the beach. The town of Shediac (the self-proclaimed Lobster Capital of the World) has capitalized on its proximity to the gorgeous Parlee Beach Provincial Park and has, over the years, become somewhat overdone, over-hyped and overpriced. The town almost shuts down except for the months of July and August. There are some good seafood restaurants there during tourist season — but some of the best food in town can be found at the Golden Fry (560 Main St, Shediac).


Lobster roll and fries at the Golden Fry.

The place doesn’t look like much; it’s just a small building off the side of the road, with a gravel parking lot and some plastic tables and chairs out front. It’s takeout, pure and simple — it makes me think that a french fry truck grew roots and decided to stay in one place. But oh my goodness, their food is so good! Take the lobster roll, for example. It’s a toasted, buttered New England roll stuffed to bursting with chunks of fresh, cold lobster meat. Their their fries are fresh-cut, their poutine uses real cheese curds, their fried clams are crisp on the outside, soft in the center… A lot of the fancier restaurants in town could take lessons from this place, especially since “lobster roll and fries” is a standard menu item in the area no matter where you dine.


Bouctouche Beach.

To me, though, Shediac has been done to death. The town is packed to the gills during tourist season, the traffic can be gnarly, everything is overpriced compared to the same things just out of town, the cottages are so close they’re practically town houses… For my seaside vacation, I prefer something a little calmer. This is why I’ve fallen in love with the town of Bouctouche, which is a short drive up Highway 11. Like Shediac and Pointe-du-Chêne (which also has some lovely beaches), it is on the Northumberland Strait, and as such boasts some of the warmest ocean water temperatures on the Atlantic coast north of Virginia. Unlike Shediac, it hasn’t become a tourist trap, although Bouctouche does boom in summer. It’s a little further away from Moncton, and hence from the Moncton airport, so people aren’t as likely to make the effort.


Irving Eco-Center, La Dune de Bouctouche boardwalk.


Irving Arboretum.


Irving Arboretum.

The town of Bouctouche has benefited from being where James Dergavel Irving founded J.D. Irving Ltd. (the company most well-known these days for Irving gas stations) in 1882. The company/family has funded a big chunk of the most beautiful spots in town, like the Irving Arboretum, which is packed with scenic walking and biking trails, and the Irving Eco-Centre, La Dune de Bouctouche, which contains the local saltwater beach as well as a boardwalk and hiking trails.


Buctouche river.

In addition to the coastal attractions, the Buctouche river flows through Bouctouche and neighbouring towns, emptying into Buctouche Bay in the Northumberland Strait. This means that the town also has freshwater angling, boating, and scenery.


Banana split at Le Petit Crèmier, Bouctouche, NB.

One of my kids’ favourite places in Bouctouche was Le Petit Crèmier (103 Irving Blvd), which is the local ice cream parlour. Once again, it’s take-out only, but their ice cream is great, their portions generous, and the sheer variety of what they serve is mind-boggling. It’s totally worth a stop on a hot day (or, if you’re like me, any day).


Pirate de la Mer restaurant, Bouctouche, NB

The hidden gem of Bouctouche, food-wise, is Pirate de la Mer (10 rue Industrielle, across the street from the small mall containing the Co-Op and the liquor store). There’s nothing much to the restaurant when you see it from the outside. It’s in a plain red industrial building, with a couple of picnic tables out front, and a gravel parking lot. But if you head there on the weekend or at dinner time, be prepared for up to a half an hour wait in line just to place your order, with another half hour before your food is made. The place is popular with the locals and with tourists. It is not uncommon for there to be not enough seating for everybody, which is why a good portion of their clientele orders their food to go. The amply-sized parking lot gets full fast, with overflow parking on the road. After my first visit, I would order my food a half an hour in advance or so, giving them lots of time to prep while I headed over and then waited in line. This way the food was hot and ready to go as soon as I paid.


Double lobster roll, fries & coleslaw at Pirate de la Mer.

The lobster rolls at Pirate de la Mer are mouth-watering — enough so that I make a special trip to Bouctouche to order them, even when I’m not staying in town. Their fries are crispy deliciousness, and I’m told that their coleslaw is first rate (I don’t like coleslaw). In addition, they make their own tartar sauce – they’ll give you the option between their version and pre-made Kraft stuff. Go with their version. It’s definitely not a fancy restaurant, but I haven’t had better seafood at anywhere that charges four or five times more for “gourmet” and “ambiance”. If you want to eat somewhere prettier, you can always get your food to go and head up the road to the Arboretum or the beach.


Lobster roll at Pirate de la Mer.

There is no excuse for visiting the Maritimes without indulging in seafood. Unless you hate the stuff, I guess. Or are allergic. Or vegetarian. Or your religion prohibits it. Other than that, though, there is no excuse. If you can afford to travel, then you can afford at least one seafood meal — especially since, in New Brunswick, a lot of seafood dishes are on par or cheaper than any other kind of meat. So indulge! You won’t regret it.

The Sugar Bush

Here in Canada, early March is when we start to see the first signs of spring. Generally, the snow hasn’t melted back much, so nothing green is growing, and even if the days peek above freezing, the nights are cold and bitter. There will still be a few good snowstorms. So how is it different from the rest of winter? The maple sap starts running.

It’s less obvious in the cities, where less of the economy is based on maple syrup, but a lot of private land-owners still tap their trees — even if they only have one or two. If you’re not from around here, you may not recognize the silver buckets with lids attached to the maple trees. A single tree may not yield much (it takes 40L of sap to make 1L of syrup), but home-made maple syrup is enough of a lure even for city-dwellers. Restaurants and coffee shops suddenly start featuring maple-flavoured everything, in much the same way the pumpkin spice craze happens in October.


Left to right: my Nan, the host family’s child, me, and my little brother, at the sugar bush.

One of my fondest childhood memories is of visiting a sugar bush. I couldn’t tell you if we did it once or many times, or if I even seemed to appreciate it at the time — but it’s an event that stuck in my memory.

Now, a sugar bush is not the same thing as a sugar shack, which is a rough translation of the Québecois cabane à sucre. From page 10-11 of Anita Stewart’s Canada:

In the maple forests, les cabanes were the quarters for those harvesting the sap. There was a wood stove for cooking and keeping warm. With cast-iron frying pans, the traditional foods of les cabanes à sucre evolved to satisfy the enormous appetites. Fèves au lard (pork and beans), liberally sweetened with maple syrup, simmered on the stove-top. Potatoes were fire-roasted, and eggs were poached in syrup. There were thin crêpes made form sarrazin (buckwheat flour). Ham and bacon, both requiring little refrigeration, were fried, and omelettes were cooked to go with them. Syrup was poured over everything. And the workers didn’t just make syrup — they boiled down sugar, fermented partially boiled sap into maple vinegar and even made maple wine.

The tradition of visiting a cabane à sucre is still going strong to this day. Not surprising, as maple syrup is one of our biggest crops — according to Wikipedia, Canada produces about 80% of the world’s maple syrup, and the province of Québec accounts for 85% of that total. Here on the Ontario/Québec border, many of us cross the river to visit Quebécois cabanes, although there are a number of them on this side as well.


Left to right: my Nan, the host family’s child, me, my little brother, the host mother, my father, and my mother at the sugar bush.

However, there is a great deal of difference between a cabane à sucre and a sugar bush. I visited many cabanes as a child, mostly as school field trips, and they didn’t stick with me the same way my visit to the sugar bush did. A modern cabane (especially one open to serve the general public) is part of a commercial maple syrup enterprise. The building is large, snug, and well-appointed. Often you can pay a flat rate and eat as much maple syrup, pancakes, baked beans, breakfast sausages, and bacon as you can stuff into your face. They are used to having a huge number of people cycling through the place in the spring. If you are lucky, they will offer tours of the facilities.

A sugar bush, on the other hand, is just the actual forest with the tapped trees. There is no fancy building with extensive cooking facilities. If you’re invited to one of these, you have to know the owner. They are often on private land and are not part of a commercial enterprise. Any food cooked is over a campfire or on a camp stove. A sugar bush is rustic, outdoors, and, to a kid, much more interesting. I remember getting to wander the woods, peek into the sap collection buckets, build things out of sticks, and tromp through the mud and slush. Then it was time to eat fresh-cooked pancakes and bacon and sausages doused in fresh-made syrup. Then we explored some more. We came home that night filthy, stuffed to the gills, and absolutely exhausted. It was wonderful.


Thing 1, Thing 2 and I making tire in the quickly-melting snow.

Unfortunately, we no longer know anyone who owns a sugar bush, so bringing my kids to one is not an option. To my surprise, their schools have never arranged for a field trip to a cabane à sucre, so I think I will have to take them to one sometime soon. But with the snow on the weekend (hopefully the last one of the season) I was able to at least make tire with them this year.

Tire (from the French word le tire meaning taffy pull) is pronounced pronounced like “teer”, not like the rubber things you put on wheels. It is the absolute simplest way of making maple candy. Basically, you boil the syrup, then pour it over clean snow. (Full instructions at TheKitchn.com.) Now, I don’t actually own a candy thermometer, so I had to straddle the line between “not hot enough” and “burnt”. I think I came down a little bit too much on the “not hot enough” side, so the tire didn’t end up as solid as I’d like. Also, the day had warmed up a bit and the snow I’d set out plates for the night before was more slush than anything else. The kids didn’t care. It was still maple syrup deliciousness.


Thing 2 holding her tire.

It’s not necessary to use a wooden craft stick to eat the tire, but it’s much less messy that way. Just roll the candy around the stick when it’s still a little bit warm, and ta-daa! Instant lollipop. Oh, and you can totally used shaved or crushed ice if you don’t have clean snow. The fresh snow part is tradition, but it’s not 100% necessary.