A Rainy Trip to the Cottage

Our last trip to the cottage my parents are renting was cut short by some rainy, stormy days. Not that I’m objecting to the rain! But when you have access to a cottage for the entire summer, you don’t feel the need to stay even when the weather’s not great.

The first night we arrived late, and so had a very simple dinner of hot dogs and sliced watermelon. Yes, I like mayonnaise on my hot dogs, which I know some people find disgusting!

When we got up the next morning, my mother made us all some blueberry pancakes, one of my favourites.

Because the weather was not supposed to be so great (although it turned out to be just fine), we headed into Shawville for ice cream and a trip to one of our absolute favourite stores, Renaissance Variety. This store is in and old house and is stuffed to the rafters with used books, video games, and movies. I could spend hours in there happily although, as usual, the kids have less patience.

Next we went to Mill Damn Park, which has a great playground for the kids to run off some energy. I was most interested in the peace and quiet of the babbling brook…

But the kids were more interested in the splash pad. Thinking the weather was going to be bad, we were woefully unprepared and the kids ended up playing in the water fully clothed… Oh well. No harm done.

After going back to the cottage to get dry clothing, we went to a local gourmet chip truck for dinner, courtesy of my parents. Then, thanks to all the rain that week, we were actually able to have a campfire, toast marshmallows, and make s’mores for the first time all summer! All fires still had to be contained, though, so we built it inside an old washing machine drum and covered it with a grate.

Then we got to go down to the dock and play with sparklers! The kids really liked playing with long exposures on my camera.

Thing 1 even learned how to spell “hi” in the air.

That night and the next day chucked down rain as predicted, so we left by lunch on our last day. We still had a lovely time!

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!

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.

Weekend Recap

Manning my first stall at Russell Flea was a lot of fun, and it was definitely a learning experience! I learned that the lights that I bought (from Dollarama, since a lot of people have asked) don’t fit through the bottom slats of all of the display crates, so I’ll have to widen a spot for them. I learned that it takes a really long time to pack and unpack a table’s worth of glass and stoneware when you have to unwrap and wrap every single item to prevent damage in transit. I learned that paper is great for wrapping delicate items if you only need to do so once or twice, but it disintegrates really fast (you’re better off using old fabric — blankets and towels are best — if you’re going to do it repeatedly). I learned that an apron with a lot of change in the pockets which ties around your neck can make your neck really sore if you wear it all day. I learned that people have really fond memories of old Tupperware and Pyrex.

Oh yeah, and I learned that I should be careful not to cram all of my tablecloths as tightly as possible into one bag, so that they effectively have the wrinkles pressed into them by the time I arrive at the venue. Whoops.

But I did have a good time. I got to chat with some friends who stopped by, and meet the vendors around me with a great deal more experience than I. I may even have met someone who can teach me how to spin if I ever manage to get my spinning wheel repaired.

One of the nice things about working for myself is that I can knit and mind a stall at the same time, once it’s all set up. That’s not something you’re generally allowed to do in a traditional retail setup. I find that it’s a great conversation starter. I managed to get about a third of a sock done that day.

Since I was away all day working, my husband did have to make dinner which was, at the request of the kiddos, pancakes! Hubby had never actually made pancakes before, although I was sure that that was a basic thing that everyone around here knows how to make if they cook at all. My husband is an unenthusiastic cook at best, but he has learned the necessary skills. His pancakes turned out really lovely! Fluffy and delicious, and smothered with fruit and maple syrup.

Speaking of syrup, apparently the sap has been running since that weird warm spell back in February, so the local tree farms should be getting a great harvest this year. Note to self: I need to pick up some more local maple syrup when I’m at Russell Flea again two weeks from now. I’m pretty sure it’s McCannell Craftwork was the farm that brought the syrup on Saturday, and I hope they’ll be back again.

Pancake Tuesday

Mardi Gras isn’t really a thing around here, although I’d love to head down to New Orleans some day to celebrate it. However, my family does have British history, and hence strong cultural ties to the Anglican church. As such, when I was growing up we honoured Shrove Tuesday, which immediately precedes Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent) — although perhaps “honoured” is stretching things a bit. We never sought out the church in order to obtain absolution for our sins on Shrove Tuesday, and we didn’t give up certain foods for Lent. What we did do was make a point of serving pancakes on Pancake Tuesday. As you can see, the celebration for us, such as it is, was much more secular than religious. It’s kind of like how many people celebrate Christmas without ever going to church.

I’ve decided to keep the tradition alive with my children by cooking pancakes for dinner every year on this day (when I remember). It’s not like this is the only time we have pancakes, after all. This year I served it covered in a mound of freshly-prepared fruit salad that included green grapes, blueberries, honeycrisp apples, oranges, bananas, and strawberries. As winter drags on, these pops of colour and flavour are welcome additions to our diet. That being said, every single one of these items is an import (except maybe the apples, which store well), so the fruit commands a premium price.

I used my Spiced Pancake Recipe for the pancakes themselves, since they’ve become quite a hit in my household of late. There were all kinds of sweet toppings available: whipped cream and non-dairy whipped cream substitute, black currant syrup, elderberry syrup, maple syrup, caramel syrup, and icing sugar. I had mine with elderberry syrup and non-dairy whipped cream substitute. It was delicious! I made a bit extra for the kids to reheat in the morning for breakfast, too, which makes our morning that much easier — and tastier.

Spiced Pancakes with Apples & Caramel Syrup Recipe

Last night I had a very specific idea of what I wanted to make for dinner, and I really didn’t want to head out of the house again to buy ingredients, especially dragging the kids with me. It’s not really that big of a deal to get groceries with my kids, but it inevitably takes twice as long — or more — than shopping on my own. I looked at a couple of pancake recipes in my cookbooks, but nothing was exactly what I was craving. I wanted to make some kind of spiced pancake that paired well with chopped apples, which were the only fruit I had left in the fridge. Apples are a staple around here, since they winter well and can last months if kept properly. For those reasons, they’re also relatively inexpensive all year long. (Berries, which I generally prefer, get ridiculously pricey in the winter since they all have to be imported, and they begin to spoil after only a few days.) I started by combining about four different recipes; I made so many changes after a while that I knew if I didn’t write it all down, I’d never be able to duplicate my results.

In the end, I’m extremely happy with what I came up with: Spiced Pancakes with Apples & Caramel Syrup. We had it for dinner, but it would make an equally tasty breakfast or even a dessert. The pancakes are also great on their own and can be served with the more traditional butter/margarine with syrup (preferably maple), honey, or jam, or fruit butter (apple butter would be divine).

Here’s the recipe:

Spiced Pancakes with Apples & Caramel Syrup
Yields 10 to 12 five-inch-diameter pancakes (approx.)*

In a large bowl, mix together:
1 1/2 cups flour
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 1/2 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
In another large bowl, combine:
1 1/2 cups plus 2 Tbsp 2% cow’s milk OR almond milk OR soy milk**
3 Tbsp plus 1 tsp canola*** oil
1 egg, beaten

Whisk together wet ingredients until they become a smooth mixture. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Beat mixture with an electric or hand mixer until batter is smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula to remove lumps.

Cooking the spiced pancakes uses the same technique as my buckwheat pancakes. Lightly coat the cooking surface of a heavy, non-stick frying pan with cooking spray. Place the pan on the burner, turn the heat on to just a little bit higher than medium heat, and immediately pour a single ladle-full of batter directly into the center of the pan. (Never preheat an empty nonstick pan.) The batter will spread out without help to its optimal thickness. Watch the cooking pancake carefully for bubbles to appear on its surface. When the bubbles pop and leave little craters behind that don’t immediately refill in with batter, it’s time to flip the pancake. Have patience when cooking pancakes; better that they be cooked on a low temperature and finish slowly than to have them burn. Once the batter has started to solidify, you can peek underneath the pancake to check its colour. Cook each side until it is golden brown.

While the pancakes are cooking, core and roughly chop:
4-5 medium-sized eating apples****
Place the apples in a bowl to serve alongside your pancakes, if they are to be topped at the table. Beside the apples, place:
caramel syrup*****
whipped cream (optional)******
finely chopped walnuts

When the pancakes are cooked, serve immediately or stack on a warm plate which is covered by another warm plate when not being dished onto. To keep the pancakes warm, it helps to cover the top plate and edges with a tea towel or two.

My preferred way of plating the pancakes is to place one or two on a plate, mound with chopped apples, (optionally) dollop on a bit of whipped cream, and drizzle with caramel syrup. Lightly sprinkle each dish with chopped walnuts for added crunch and flavour.

Enjoy!

*This recipe can easily be doubled (or more) to serve a larger crowd. My family of four generally eats about a batch and a half of pancakes, and the leftovers go in the fridge to be reheated the next day.
**I used almond milk.
***Canola oil may be replaced by another light oil such as sunflower or vegetable oil.
****My favourites are Ambrosia and Honeycrisp, but whichever you like is fine. Use your best judgement about the size of the apples and how much the people you’re serving are likely to eat; my family likes their pancakes loaded with fruit, as pictured, but yours may differ. Since the apples are a topping and not a baking ingredient, having an exact quantity is not as essential.
*****Store-bought is fine, but you can also make your own. I got my recipe from the Joy of Cooking (page 849, 2006 edition, Rombauer & Becker), but you could just as easily use the Caramel Syrup Recipe from Martha Stewart, as they are virtually identical. They’re both essentially cooked sugar and water. Optionally, you can add a splash of vanilla for additional flavour. I’d recommend preparing this in advance, since it takes a while to cool down enough to eat. Also, I burned my first batch because I was trying to do too many things at once and forgot about it for about twenty seconds. That was all it took to make it completely inedible. The second batch was supervised nonstop and turned out well. Please learn from my mistakes!
******Real whipped cream, canned whipped cream, and non-dairy whipped cream substitutes are all grand.

Breakfast Visitor

Breakfast at the cottage this week (well, more like brunch) consisted of pancakes with fresh fruit. The pancakes weren’t from scratch; when traveling and cooking, commercial mixes mean that you have to bring along about half as many bulky containers. My favourite pancake mix since childhood is Aunt Jemima Complete Buttermilk Pancake — the kind where you just add water. We used to use this mix all the time when my family went camping when I was a kid, so the flavour and texture are very homey to me.

The fruit mix was grapes, apples, oranges, strawberries, and there might have been a peach there too. Of course, we had to serve it with real maple syrup. That’s Canadian cottaging/camping for you: the pancakes may be an instant mix, but the syrup has to be real.

We also had a visitor for breakfast this morning. A great blue heron stopped on the cottage’s dock, which we could see from the dining room. This large wading bird fished off of the dock calmly for a few minutes, courteously allowing me enough time to grab my camera and change my lens to a telephoto so I could snap a few pictures.

Patience exhausted (or possibly just not finding any fish nearby), the heron took off to make its rounds of the lake to hunt its own breakfast.