Double Chocolate Triforce Cake

Thing 1’s birthday was over the weekend, which of course meant that we had to bake a cake. Since, in my experience, kids love baking cakes, Thing 1 and Thing 2 helped. I also believe that even if it doesn’t turn out perfectly, kids really do benefit from cooking with their parents.

Thing 1 requested a “chocolate Zelda cake with chocolate icing”. Since I am not known for my beautiful cakes (my 16th birthday cake being a great example of my skills), I decided to keep it as simple as possible. We used the tried-and-true Amelia Bedelia’s Sheet Cake recipe, which is found at the back of the story book Amelia Bedelia Bakes Off (Herman Parish, 2010). (You can also find the recipe via Desktop Cookbook.) This makes a very rich, moist, dark chocolate cake — which, as a bonus, is tree-nut and peanut free, and can be made vegan (which is great when you have to make cupcakes for school, FYI).


It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.

The kids had gone to bed by the time the cake was cool enough to ice, so it was my turn. I used the Chocolate Satin Frosting recipe from page 796 of the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition). This recipe is ridiculously easy — since it’s mostly made in a blender or food processor, it’s only slightly more difficult than cracking open a can of pre-made frosting from the grocery store. It’s also a very dark chocolate icing, almost bitter, which is perfect for my little chocolate lover.

I made the Triforce design using a stencil. I went low-tech and drew the pattern with a pencil and ruler on a piece of card stock, then cut it out with scissors. Then I simply held the stencil very closely over the icing and sprinkled on the sugar. The result wasn’t completely perfect, but Thing 1 knew what it was supposed to be. As an added bonus, the coloured sugar added a lovely crunchy topping.

So happy birthday to my fabulous firstborn! I love you so much.

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 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.

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 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.

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.

In the Back Yard

This Sunday was Father’s Day, and our family had the chance to spend the day primarily out on the new back deck. You see, as of two weeks ago our back yard looked like this:

You see, we had a deck when we first moved in, but the previous owners had done everything wrong. They’d tied it into the house, they’d painted it with interior paint, they’d lined the ground underneath with plastic causing water to pool there… So much poor construction. There are all kinds of pictures of the original in my post about building a garden, when I took the old deck out to make room for my vegetable garden. But when that deck was gone, we didn’t have the funds to build a new one right away, so that section just became a mud pit for a few years (the ground here is mostly clay and is slick when wet). My husband used a few salvaged paving stones to keep the barbecues from sinking too badly, but that’s all we were able to do for a while.

Last week, though, my brother-in-law built us a deck. The actual work only took a couple of days, and with all of his experience in the trade he made it look so easy! (It would have taken me a month, and much frustration and swearing.) Not only did he build the deck, but he re-leveled the ground underneath so that now it drains away from the house instead of toward. He also put in gravel with a layer of landscape fabric underneath, creating better drainage and resisting weeds at the same time. (You would think that the lack of sun underneath would keep plants from growing at all, but I have been waging war against an ivy vine since I moved into this house.)

So no more mud pit, proper drainage, and a lovely deck upon which to spend the summer! We’re just waiting on the delivery of some new boards for the stairs so that they match, since I’d salvaged old stair brackets we wanted to use. But for now it’s totally functional, and still beautiful. I am so happy!

Having a brand new lovely deck encouraged me to get off my butt and plant my main vegetable garden, too. My tomatoes actually self-seeded this year — not in those nice straight lines, I picked the best ones and arranged them how I liked. Now we’ll have to see how well they fruit. I also planted white radishes, eggplants, onions, beets, and potatoes. The potatoes are where nothing has sprouted above-ground yet, but I find they can be slow starters.

The weather was so lovely this weekend that we ended up spending most of our time in the back yard. Sunday was especially warm, and I didn’t want to cook indoors, so my husband did the stereotypical thing of grilling up some hamburgers on Father’s Day. It was so nice to be able to just sit outside and enjoy the summer — although there was a fair amount of goofing around too, and my hubby playing soccer with the kids. All in all, it was a lovely, low-key Father’s Day.

Now to plan a nice barbecue for next week so that I can have my BIL over for a thank-you meal!