Another Day of Cottage Cooking

Another day at the cottage meant more adventures and more cottage cooking! I started the day by making a family brunch of pancakes smothered in fresh fruit salad and maple syrup.

I have no problem admitting that I used boxed pancake mix; that’s a family tradition when cottaging or camping. No point in buying that “add milk and eggs” kind, either. I mean, if you’re doing that you’re essentially buying a pre-made mix of flour, baking soda, and maybe a bit of sugar and salt. I can buy those ingredients (and even pre-mix them) separately for much cheaper overall — and it’s just as non-perishable. No, we buy the “just add water” type, which is perfect for camping and cottaging. It’s not fancy, but it’s easy to transport and it’s really hard to make it go bad. Even the cheapest, non-brand-name kind usually works just as well.

The weather was beautiful and sunny, hot enough to enjoy swimming but not too hot. We did have a bit of a problem with deer flies when out of the water and horse flies when we were in the water. It was a bit of a pain in the patoot, but we had a good time hopping in and out of the water anyway.

My dad took the girls fishing, and while they caught a bunch of little rock bass (max 6″ long), Dad caught three good-sized smallmouth bass. Pictured above was the smallest of them. Dad had had very little luck previously with artificial bait, but taking the kids out with simple spinners and real worms to go after little fish netted him three big ones. He really wasn’t expecting it, and since he only had a rod intended for small fish and a six-pound test, his rod was bent double and one of the fish snapped his line and swam away with his bobber and lure. Thing 1 managed to rescue the bobber with her net, since it floated away, but the lure was gone.

Sadly, I haven’t the slightest idea how to fillet a fish, so all of Dad’s catches were released back into the lake. One of these days I hope that I’ll be able to find someone who can teach me how to make a proper meal with one of Dad’s catches. Or one of my own (although I don’t fish nearly as often as Dad, so the likelihood of me catching anything big enough to bother cooking is pretty darned low).

Instead of fresh fish, for dinner we used up the remainder of the food we’d brought to the cottage for that stay. I used up the majority of the bread I’d made the day prior (White Bread from page 596 of the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition)) to make grilled cheese — with lactose-free cheese for me and goat cheddar for Dad, as usual. On the side we had the rest of the morning’s fruit salad with a bit of maple syrup, and the last slices of summer sausage from the farmer’s market.

Then it was time to pack everything back into the car and drive back into town, away from the peace of the lake but back to the convenience of WiFi and cell phone service.

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 Sortil├Ęge 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.

Spelunking

We started Sunday with a hearty brunch eaten out on the porch at my in-laws’ cottage. I had bacon, eggs over easy, an everything bagel, apple slices, and a banana.

With this fuel under our belts, we made the drive out to the Bonnechere Caves, which are caves carved by the Bonnechere River into limestone deep underground. I’d been there once as a child, and again as an adult bringing my eldest along, but this was the first time that both kids had been old enough to partake in the tour. I think that it was an experience that they won’t soon forget!

The tour started outside along the Bonnechere River (you can actually see the natural entrance to the caves on the left).

Then you take a man-made staircase down into the bowels of the caves as part of a guided tour. We’d been to the Lusk Caves a few years ago, where the caves are left au naturel (although there is a trail leading to them) and there is no guide, so this was a very different experience. There is a boardwalk over the naturally jagged stone floors, and the caves are lit.

Despite the somewhat staged air that the man-made additions add, they did allow me to get a much clearer look at the rock formations.

For the last section of the tour, the path runs under the water table, so concrete barriers and pumps are put to use to make the area dry enough to walk through. This lets you see exactly how deep these caverns really go. Although if you’re claustrophobic, I can see how the idea of all of that ground above your head would be difficult to deal with. One lady kept making comparisons to The Cave…

It was a very neat experience. Maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to take yet another generation of children to explore this enthralling natural formation.

Of course, after all of our spelunking we were ravenous, so we headed back to the cottage for dinner. We chowed down on grilled chicken legs with hot sauce, roasted fingerling potatoes, and a salad of mixed greens, red grapes, and ground cherries. What a great way to round out the day!

First Weekend of Summer

We spent this past weekend at my in-laws’ cottage, enjoying the fact that the weather had finally warmed up a bit. We spent the days looking out the window to views like this:

And enjoying the lake like this:

And partaking in meals on the porch like this:

It’s a good time.

When we arrived on Friday evening, my in-laws had supper waiting. We dined on smoked salmon, corn chips, fancy crackers, pickled beets, grapes, grilled pineapple, salad, and coleslaw. It was a truly eclectic meal, but a healthy one, and it was conducive to lingering to have conversation and laughter.

A Walk in the Woods

A few days ago at the cottage, the rain started at something like 6:00am and didn’t let up for another twelve hours. This wasn’t a warm, soft, summer rain that invites you to go puddle stomping. No, it was a cold, drenching downpour complete with thunder and lightning; it was a preview of fall. There were a few short breaks throughout the day, but the storm didn’t let up entirely until just before sunset. After a long day inside, my parents, my kids and I couldn’t wait to get out for a walk.

Small streams and even miniature waterfalls had sprung up in the aftermath of the storm, draining all of the water that the ground couldn’t absorb towards the lake. It’s been such a wet summer that the ground became saturated extremely quickly. The girls couldn’t have been happier, though, because this meant puddles and rivulets to splash in. Frogs were out in force, coming out into the damp after the rain to catch the evening mosquitoes.

Of course, monkey see, monkey do. Thing 1 and Thing 2 insisted on bringing along some of my old cameras so that they could take pictures on our walk as well. I can think of worse things about me to imitate.

Note that the girls are covered as much as physically possible by clothing. The bugs were really bad on that walk, what with a combination of the sun going down and the rain letting up.

As so many of our nature walks do, this turned into an educational session. We identified as many birds as we could, even though I’m no birder. The bluejays, chickadees, and wrens flitted from tree to tree in front of us, and a flock of wild turkeys crossed the lawn in front of someone else’s cottage. We identified as many plants as we could as well, in my case focusing on the edible wild plants that I recognized. I’m not an expert on the subject by any means, but I am eager to learn. We did find a whole bunch of what I had always been taught were a variety of wild raspberry along the side of the road, and we picked a few ripe ones to eat. I’ve learned that these are actually called thimbleberries. I mean, I knew that they were edible, but for years I had been giving them the wrong name.

We also found a small blackberry thicket, and of course we had to pick every ripe berry we could reach. It ended up being only a couple of handfuls, but I wasn’t wearing the right gear to venture into the center of the patch. I was pricked enough by the thorns just reaching in past the edge. It was totally worth it, though, and I have mentally marked the area for future pilfering.

As we walked back to the cottage, a mist began to rise from the clearings and low-lying areas as the temperature rose very briefly before sunset.

Cottage Supper

Supper at the cottage is always an informal affair. We often come to the table in bathing suits (if we’re not freezing after coming out of the lake), or wrapped up in sweaters and woolly socks when the evening turns chilly.

Food is often served directly from the stove, but this day we were feeling especially fancy, so we placed on the table in the dishes they were cooked in.

The main part of this dinner was an easy dish that my family has always tongue-in-cheek called “slop”. Basically, you fry up some onions and garlic (or in this case, garlic scapes), add ground beef (or a ground beef/ground chicken/ground turkey mixture, depending on what we have on hand), frying until browned. Drain off the grease, add a can of cream of mushroom soup, and a can of water. Optionally, you may add cooked frozen vegetables to the mixture at this point. Boil down the soup mixture until it has the consistency of a thick gravy. Serve the meat mixture over mashed potatoes or rice.

This time we served slop with a number of vegetables on the side; I had cherry tomatoes with basil, topped with goat cheese, as well as steamed spinach. We also served Brussels sprouts and broccoli, both steamed.

Still Waters

Some days begin with a jolt, a jump out of bed, a hustle to get out the door. On the other hand, some days begin with reading in bed, a relaxed breakfast, and a trip down to the dock.

Breakfast at my parents’ rented cottage this day was eggs over easy, fried mushrooms, sliced avocado, and leftover fruit salad with a bit of maple syrup (slightly mushier than fresh, but still very tasty).

After breakfast, while the dishwasher ran (and I cannot tell you how much I appreciate having a dishwasher at the cottage, what a luxury), I strolled down to the lake to take in the view. The water was like glass, reflecting the clear blue sky.

The water was so still and clear that I could watch the small fish (probably rock bass) that enjoy the shelter of the dock and the retaining wall.

Even the canoe that passed by left barely a ripple in the lake. The canoeist waved a quiet hello to me as he passed by, and we both continued to enjoy the calm of the morning.