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.

Mushroom-Free Loco Moco

I’m still trying to get back into cooking proper meals, instead of fast food or whatever I can throw together in a pinch as I was during con crunch. Tonight I made Loco Moco, but my own version which basically uses ground beef instead of hamburger patties, but keeps the rest of the recipe more or less the same. I just find that it’s easier to eat that way — and, more importantly, that my kids make less of a mess if they don’t have to cut up the burger.

My brother-in-law was over for dinner, and he vehemently abhors mushrooms, so I had to make further changes to Guy Fieri’s recipe in order to make it palatable to everyone. Basically, I just skipped the mushrooms, and it was all good (if not as flavourful). I also wanted to make it a bit healthier by adding more veggies in the form of additional tomatoes and stalks of asparagus — it’s much easier to persuade my kids to eat their greens if they’re covered in sauce of some sort.

Crock Pot Sloppy Joes

I need to defrost my freezer at some point in the near future, so I’ve been trying to use up the remaining food that I stored there for winter. At the same time, I’m trying to use my slow cooker more often in order to give myself more time to work on ComicCon costumes. A quick Googling for recipes showed me that I had all of the ingredients to make Crock Pot Sloppy Barbecue Beef Sandwiches from The Spruce Eats, or, as my family has always called them, Sloppy Joes — which we’ve always served open-faced, I don’t know why.

Instead of buns, I let my trusty bread machine do most of the work and whipped up some Bread Machine Fluffy Herb Bread, this time using dried rosemary instead of fresh dill. I found that the robustness of the rosemary went really well with the vinegar tang of the Sloppy Joe sauce. If you like crusty buns for this dish, the ends of the loaf are great. Or you can always use the dough setting on your bread machine, then shape the dough into rolls, proof, and bake them in the oven instead. I went the easy route on this one.

As is my wont, I had to alter the meat sauce’s ingredients a bit. I omitted the sweet peppers because I’m not terribly fond of them, and I didn’t have any celery. However, I liked how the recipe had lots of hidden vegetables, so I upped the number of grated carrots to four. I also used about a cup of chopped frozen, thawed rainbow chard stems left over from last year’s garden crop.

Despite all of the changes, this dish turned out really well. The kids hoovered up their dinners and kept saying how much they liked it. I really think that you could add just about any vegetable to this dish if you want, so long as you cut it up small enough that it blends well with the meat and you give it the appropriate amount of time to cook. I will definitely be making this recipe again and I highly recommend it.