Thursday, December 27, 2012

Not as cool as I'd thought...

So, a month ago, I saw bags of heirloom carrots in the grocery store...you know, the ones that come in colours other than the normal orange?  I thought it would be awesome to dehydrate them and add them to the kid's ramen noodles along with dried corn, celery etc.  This way at least there's some vegetables in the meal,  plus, I love the purple carrots.

In theory, a cool idea...but when you rehydrate them, some of the colour comes out of the purple pieces and turns everything you cook with them a gross blue-grey colour.  It doesn't change the taste or anything, but ramen ends up looking like zombie brains or something.  Ugh.  Lesson learned.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Three Sister's Soup

I apologize for not posting this sooner.  I've had a few days of internet issues, and the hamster escaped...in my office.  The whole room got torn apart as we chased him down, so until I got it all reorganized, I couldn't get to the computer.  I still have a narrow path through boxes, it's sort of a treacherous journey getting over here, but since all the kids' unwrapped Christmas presents are hidden under my desk, I couldn't let anyone else help.

Anyway, I did try this recipe from The Complete Trail Food Cookbook and it was alright.  I think I'd go a little lighter on the thyme and add a tsp of vegetable soup base  (without any MSG) and see how it works.

My only issue with it is that it tells you to let the ingredients soak for 20 minutes then simmer for another 10-15.  I'd like to try it with a cosy (when I make one) and see if it works that way simply for fuel conservation.

THREE SISTER'S SOUP

2 tbsp dried corn kernels
2 tbsp dried green bean pieces
2 tbsp dried winter squash pieces
1 tbsp dried potato slices, crumbled
2 tsp dried onion pieces
2 tsp dried celery slices
1/2 tsp dried parsley, crumbled
1/4 tsp dried minced garlic
1/4 tsp crumbled dried thyme
1/4 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper

2 cups water

Soak the ingredients in the water for 20 minutes than bring to a boil and simmer 10-15 minutes.  The book says once you mix the ingredients, they only have a shelf life of a month (I imagine freezing them would give you more time.)

For anyone who's interested, the dried ingredients weighed 1.1 oz and fit easily into a snack size zip top bag.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

What experiments to try next

I've been busy drying ingredients so I can try out a few of the recipes from The Complete Trail food Cookbook and have finally managed to get a good basic assortment of dried vegetables.  My goal today is to try making Three Sister's Soup.  I'll post later with my thoughts on how it worked out.

I've also been busy browsing my recipe books in search of meals that can be adapted for camping, whether that be something with minimal prep for car camping, or something that can be dehydrated and taken canoe camping or backpacking.

The first step will be to try the recipe as is, at home, and see how it passes the kiddy test.  If that goes well (and I don't get my hopes up...you may have noticed Bubbie is a bit picky) then I'll break it down and see if its better to make the recipe as a whole and dry it, or dry the ingredients individually.  I haven't really gotten to this part yet, which really depresses me.  I'm starting to think I never will.  So far I've tried three recipes that looked like they had a lot of potential for camp food.  One would have been awesome in the dutch oven, and the other two I'm pretty sure could have been modified for backpacking.  As always, three out of the four of us liked it, and one merely nibbled a bite smaller than a mouse would eat and pushed it away.  Something tells me she'll be eating a lot of instant rice and spaghetti on camping trips.

On the other hand, last year on our Mew Lake trip, she ate things I didn't think she'd eat, and not only ate them, but went back for seconds and thirds.  I don't know if the trick is to only let her try things at camp, or if that was a fluke.  I know there's that magic "all food tastes awesome at camp" phenomena....hmmm

Anyway, lots of drying going on here, and there should be some good experiments over the next few days.  One recipe I want to try modifying this week is called Caribbean potato and kidney bean curry.  The picture looked good anyway...but then they always do, don't they?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Experiment #5: Curried Pumpkin Soup

Last night I made up a pot of soup with the intention of drying it to see how it 1) dehydrated and 2) rehydrated.  This is a recipe I make for myself for lunches often when I'm home alone because it's fast and easy...and Chris doesn't like it because he doesn't like curry, so I can't make it for dinners.

Curried Pumpkin Soup

1 small onion, chopped (you want fairly small pieces)
1 tsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup (half a large can) pureed pumpkin
1 potato shredded
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of red pepper flakes

Saute the onion in the oil for about 2 minutes.  Add the seasonings and stir to coat.  Add broth, pumpkin and potato.  Simmer 8-10 minutes.

Usually when I make this for home, I cube the potato, but for the sake of even drying and faster rehydrating, I shredded them.  You could use cubed and then puree the whole thing after it's cooled I suppose, if you like a smooth texture.

This makes a bit more than 2 cups worth of soup, which is one generous serving on the trail or 2 lunch size servings for me at home...okay I'd probably eat it all at home too...

Dehydrating: Ladle the soup onto a fruit roll tray, it should all fit on one, and dry for about 8 hours.  I slept in and mine went about 12 hours and it was over dried.

Rehydrating: Because I was doing this at home, I put 1/2 of the dried soup into a pot and covered water, brought it to a boil and let it sit with the lid on for about 20 minutes.  It didn't seem to be coming back fully so I added a bit more water and let it simmer for a few more minutes.  It might have been the pieces of onion and potato holding their shape that looked like unrehydrated bits though, but I wasn't sure.  It tasted the same as last night when I sampled a bit.

While this isn't a fully accurate test of the recipe (normal kitchen conditions rather than trail conditions) I'm convinced this will work well.  Next time I won't let it dry so long.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Experiment #4: Raspberries and cream oatmeal

My inspiration for this came from a really yummy looking recipe for raspberry cheesecake oatmeal.  To be honest, I was going to make it with cream cheese, even though I wouldn't be able to make it that way when camping, but to my disappointment, I didn't actually have any cream cheese in the fridge.

This recipe calls for large flake oats that cook in 4-5 minutes.  I did this because I wasn't sure how long it would take for the raspberries to rehydrate, and figured a few minutes of cooking would be better than eating berries with the consistency of styrofoam. (If you've never eaten a dehydrated raspberry, it's kind of nasty)  Also, I made this for 2 people, where normally I've been making a 1 serving sample.

Raspberries and Cream Oatmeal (2 servings)

1 2/3 cup water
2/3 cup oats (large flake)
1/2 cup dehydrated raspberries
1 tbsp powdered skim milk
1 tbsp granulated sugar

Put the raspberries into the water right away.  Once the water comes to a boil, add the oats and stir until cooked (should be 4-5 minutes) then stir in the powdered milk and sugar.  The raspberries will break up into individual little pieces, but that actually makes it better because it means you get berry flavour in every bite.

Conclusion:  I'm pretty picky about my oatmeal.  I can't even get through a packet of the instant stuff because the last few bites worth make me want to puke but I scraped the bowl of this.  Chris liked it too.  It starts off kind of tart, but as you eat it, it seems to get sweeter.

When I calculated how much water (okay there was no calculating. I totally guessed)  I figured the recipe on the oats calls for 2/3 cup water for 1/3 cup of oats (1 serving.) I doubled that and added another 1/3 cup for rehydrating berries and for the milk.  It seemed to work well and the end result was neither too runny or a thick glue-like glob, so yay me!  As to using large flake oats, yes it will increase fuel use to boil the oats for that long.  I'm not sure if letting them sit in a cosy for a few minutes would work, I imagine it would.  I don't have a cosy, but once I make one, I'll give it a try.  I prefer large flake oats over the instant stuff anyway, so I'm hoping it works out.

Tomorrow's experiment...Curried Pumpkin Soup...it's on the dehydrator now, so I'll let you know how it turns out.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Winter Prep for Next Season's Camping

We've been packing all of our camping gear up and putting it away for the winter.  It's my least favorite thing to do, because it means there really isn't a chance we'll try and get out one more time.

To keep myself from getting depressed, I've been thinking of things I can do to prepare for next summer, and there's actually quite a few things you can do.

1) Try out potential recipes.  Whether this means dehydrating something and seeing how well it comes back, or pulling out the camp stove in the back yard and seeing how easy it is to prepare a particular recipe with limited tools and space, winter is a great time to test drive a meal that you'd like to add to your camping menu.  Sometimes a recipe that you think would be easy to make at camp, is either a lot more work than you thought, or it just doesn't come together right on a less precise stove.  Things I've made at home that were simple, burned in seconds on the lowest setting of our camp stove, or boiled over on the lowest setting because I don't take big pots with me when camping.  It's always better to find out something won't work when you can easily find another dinner option (or head to the drive-thru.)  Also, I've made recipes that worked out well at camp, but the cleanup was a nightmare!  I'd rather not be scrubbing scalloped potato goo off a pot for twenty minutes, so over the winter, I might experiment with making them in a foil pan on the barbeque.  Red River cereal is another one that is easy to make at camp, but by the time we're finished eating, the seeds have cooled and hardened, stuck like glue to the pot.  I never remember to dump hot water in as soon as I dish it up so it can soak while we eat.

2) Stock up on camping foods you know you'll use.  I'll write another post on some of the things I'm going to watch for sales on.  The more camp-friendly things you have on hand, the easier it is to head out or a last minute trip.  If you have to head to a store and buy all your food, or spend two days dehydrating things, you could miss out on a great one or two night trip.

3) Treat yourself to a piece of gear you've been wanting/needing as a Christmas gift, or drop a few hints to your significant other. Even just making a "dream list" of gear you'd love is great for lifting the mood.  Then, if you've got some extra money and looking to treat yourself, you've got a list already prepared.

4) Book your trips early.  Few things get me as excited as knowing I've got a trip confirmed.  It gives me something concrete to look forward to, and when I'm feeling the winter blues, I can do some pre-trip planning like working out a menu.  Chances are I'll lose the notebook I made that menu in, but it gives me a bit of giddy-joy to do it.  Also, if you've always envied the people at one awesome site, you can book it and get to experience it for yourself since Ontario Parks lets you book up to 5 months prior to your arrival date. We try to do this when we have our hearts set on a particular site, or when we are camping with others and want to ensure we get side by side sites.

5) Browse the internet for potential new locations to try out.  If you've always wanted to try out a particular park or area, see if you can find someone's online trip log detailing their time there, or even better, if someone posted a video of their trip on YouTube.  (I waste  spend way too much time doing this, but it never fails to inspire me to see it for myself) You can also try your hand at using the MNR's land use atlas to find crown land for some free camping.  If you have a few potential places to go already found, and the maps printed out, you'll be ready to go without having to spend hours searching at the last minute.

So although it's depressing to count how many months until I can break the gear back out, I have lots of ways to keep the camping spirit alive over the winter.  There's always the option of hauling your snowshoes or cross country skis out and travelling around a nearby park, and trying to see what sites are the best.  I warn you, it's really hard to judge when there's a few feet of snow on the ground, but it's a good excuse to get out and get some fresh air.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Experiment #3: Peanut Butter Cup Oatmeal

Super simple.  The kids said it needed more sweetness, but I don't think adding more sugar to something that already has chocolate in it is a good idea for breakfast.

2/3 cup water
1/3 cup one minute oats
1 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp miniature chocolate chips

Bring the water to a boil, add oats.  Cook and stir for one minute.  Remove from heat, stir in peanut butter and chocolate chips.

I really like this one, but then I'm pretty much sold as soon as someone says chocolate.  Squatch agreed with me and ate his whole sample serving.  Bubbie ate about 1/16th of a teaspoons worth and said it was too bland.  I was watching her like a hawk and noted she had no chocolate in her nibble (it was way too small to call it a bite) and tried to get her to eat more.  You'd think she was two rather than almost twelve.

I tend to like my oatmeal a little less thick, and the peanut butter makes it almost pasty.  If you like your oatmeal on the runnier side, add a bit more water.

Yet again I didn't take pictures...but to be honest, it just looked like a bowl of brown goo with darker brown spots so you aren't missing much.

This was originally printed on the Better Homes and Garden's website.  Their picture is actually very nice...

Experiment #2: Noodles and vegetables

I've been having some good luck with my dehydrating attempts, but hadn't yet tried to rehydrate anything.  Today I finally gave in and threw a mixture of dried veggies into a bowl and covered them in boiling water.  They came back perfectly, and a lot faster than I had anticipated.  From everything I've seen and read, I thought it would take 15-20 minutes, but they were mostly ready in about 3.

I didn't do anything too exciting with them because I wasn't really prepared for it to actually work, so I just cooked up a small amount of rice vermicelli (takes 3 minutes) and added about 2 tsp of soy sauce and a drizzle of sesame oil.  As far as camping goes, the only thing you probably wouldn't take would be the sesame oil, unless you had a really small squirt bottle and planned to use it in a few dishes. (I love the stuff, but the rest of the family isn't quite so enthusiastic)

This is something that is pretty simple though, and quick, so I'm going to work on ways of making a better sauce for it, maybe a thai curry sauce.  You could also drizzle a bit of olive oil over it, and sprinkle some parmesan cheese on top.

The dried vegetables I used were:
broccoli
orange pepper strips
shredded carrot
tomato slices, broken into small pieces

The other day I made a really beautiful stir fry.  It was super colourful and I really wish I'd taken a picture.  Because I'd boughten some heirloom carrots, I changed things up and used a pale yellow carrot, an orange pepper, some broccoli, and some really pretty ruby chard.  The stems were bright red and the leaves dark green with lots of dark purple.  Of course, once I added the sauce, it wasn't so pretty, but still...  I know it's possible to dry chard leaves, but wasn't sure about the stems.  I'll have to look into that today and maybe do up the last of the bunch of chard before it goes bad.

More experiments coming soon.  There's a pot of soup on the stove I'm going to dry a serving of, then rehydrate and see how that works out.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Day HIke: Pigion River Headwater Conservation Area

Yesterday, Chris and I made a second attempt at finding this conservation area.  As per usual, whenever I am using my backwoods map book, where I wanted to go fell on the border of two pages, which makes it hard to use.  Thankfully, Chris's love of narrow dirt roads (almost an ATV trail) led to us finding the entrance otherwise I would have given up.

To get to the parking area, go south on highway 35 from Lindsay.  You want to turn right onto Gray Road, which is after 7A by a few minutes.  It will look like the road turns into a private driveway, but it's actually just a really narrow, bumpy road....so stick with it.  You can also turn right onto 7A, the left at Century farm road, then left at Gray Rd. You'll see the big sign for the conservation area after a few minutes.

There is a nice picnic shelter and an outhouse at the parking area, and a large board with a map.  Currently, you can't complete the main trail loop (2.9km) because the boardwalk section has been removed.  There is another option.  Head down the trail head just to the right of the picnic shelter, and when it branches, turn right.  I'll warn you now, it was really mushy in spots.  I'm talking spring run off muddy where you have to hop from log to log over black ooze and small streams.  There are lots of boards and logs thrown into the worst spots, but be aware of where you are putting your feet.  I can't imagine what this place would be like in spring, if it's this bad in late November.

Eventually the trail will come to a point where it juts back, or you can go a bit further towards a red gate and take one of the side trails, the Oak Ridges Loop.  This will take you to a 4 way intersection in a field where you can go to a really rustic outhouse (the doors had been ripped off), or you can get back on the main loop.  If you go to the right, you can go to where the boardwalk would have started (there's a rustic shelter overlooking the river) or you can turn left and head back to where the Oak Ridges trail and Pigeon river trail met and head back to your car.  We explored all these options, and the total hike was 4.3km

The trail itself was nice other than the mushy areas.  I liked walking in the open field part, except for the odd piles of animal scat.  It looked like a dog or coyote had done it's business smack dab in the middle of the trail, three times along this section, so watch your step.  There were also no garbage cans at any of the shelters along the trail.  This might be due to the late season, and wasn't that big of an issue, but carrying our Tim Horton's cups all along the trail was kind of annoying.  Normally we would have taken a bag with snacks and bottles of water, or a thermos of tea, but we didn't really think ahead this time.

For more information and for a map of the trail, click here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Recipe experiment #1 PB&J oatmeal

As I stated in my last post, I'm hoping to try out some recipes I've found for camp meals over the winter...and hopefully make a good list of things to take with us next summer.  This first experiment was from a comment I saw on a home economics blog about making your own oatmeal packets similar to the store bought ones, only for less money. I love this idea because you can also control the sugar, and you can try other flavours that aren't available any other way.  The author said her kids loved adding a dollop of peanut butter and a dollop of jelly to their oatmeal and I thought, well that would be easy to make at camp, even when back country camping.  If you have a wholesale supply store in your area, you can buy those individual serving packets of jams and peanut butter like you get in a restaurant.  If not, next time you go out for breakfast and get toast, keep the jam packet they give you.  Restaurants aren't allowed to reuse them even if they aren't used, so it would just get thrown out anyway.  You can take peanut butter in small containers, but I'm not sure how well jam lasts at room temperature.  Of course if you are car camping, you can keep a small jar in your cooler.

PB&J Oatmeal - 1 serving

1/3 cup quick oats
2/3 cup water
1 packet peanut butter
1 packet jam or jelly of your favorite flavor.

Boil the water and add oats.  The recipe on the package of oats calls for salt, but I never add it.  It takes like 30 seconds for them to simmer to completeness, or let them sit for a minute.  Add in the jam and peanut butter, stir well.

Conclusion:  Squatch, not surprisingly, loved it, but Bubbie isn't a big fan of jam so took one tiny bite and handed me the bowl.  I think she might like it better with just peanut butter.  I will also try it with Nutella for her.  As for myself, I thought it was alright.  I wouldn't want to eat a huge bowl of it, I don't think, but it wasn't horrible.  It was easy to make, and would be easy to pack for either car camping or back country.  I also like that you don't add extra sugar, just the jam.

The great thing about taking oatmeal for breakfast is that you can easily let everyone have their own flavour choices.  I have a big list of ideas for oatmeal and how to mix it up, so keep watching for more.

If you can't find a restaurant supply store, and feel weird about smuggling jam out of a restaurant, you can order them online. There are places that sell them individually, and some that sell in bulk.  I'm trying to find one that's in Canada so the shipping isn't astronomically expensive and will post links when I come across some good sites.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

November means...

...I probably won't be blogging much.  Not because of the weather, though I gotta say, it's not looking like this month will be any better than the last.  The reason I won't be around much is that I'm one of those crazy people who participates in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and hopefully will spend a fair bit of my time writing rather than hiking or exploring the wilderness.

This winter we are hoping to get the whole family cross country skis.  Chris has never tried this, having grown up within biking distance of a downhill ski hill, and he's really excited to see what the hype is all about.  I, on the other hand, did a fair bit of cross country skiing as a kid...and I pretty much sucked at it...but that's okay because it's not about technique or speed.  It's one of the best forms of exercise you can do, it gets you out exploring areas you might not be able to go with just boots on, and lets face it, it's pretty fun.  I can remember a bunch of aunts, uncles an cousins heading out on skis, and building a small fire to heat up soup or chili, and making hot chocolate.  As a kid, this was a wonderful way to spend a day.  It's not always possible to build a camp fire, especially when on a public trail, but a small camp stove would work just as well.

Finding equipment can be a little challenging, but that's one of my goals for the next two months.  If anyone has any ideas for where to shop for skiis and boots, I'd love some advice.  My mum has been buying some at yard sales, but it's a bit hard to find boots for the kids.

As I look into good trails for cross country skiing I'll post more.  I'm really excited to teach Chris and the kids, and to add another fun family activity to our winter agenda.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fall Weather

Back in September, we were told October was supposed to be unseasonably warm...like in the 30's.  I admit, I was already planning some fall camping trips but held off booking because, well, you can't always trust a weather report for the following day, let alone the following month.

Can I just say I'm glad I didn't book any sites?  Wow.  October, at least where I am, has been wet, windy, and cold!  We had snow on Thanksgiving weekend. It melted as soon as it landed, so there were no chances to get awesome pictures of fall colors mixed with a blanket of fresh snow, but yep, it snowed.

It hasn't even been possible to go on day hikes.  I think it's actually rained at least a little, every day of October so far, and with all of us having gotten the requisite beginning-of-school-colds that go around, I wasn't keen on taking the kids out in a cold drizzle to hike. Blech.

Fall is generally a great time to hike.  The colors are the big reason, but as a general rule, the weather is cool enough that you aren't sweating like crazy, but not so cold that you need to bundle up.  Usually.

On the off chance we do get some good weather, I thought I'd share a good resource for finding hiking trails.

The Ontario Trails Council website is a little overwhelming to navigate.  It has trails for multiple uses for the entire province and let me tell you, that's a lot of trails.  To make it easier to find something in your area, there are three drop menus in the top left corner.  Put in your city (or the city you are thinking of travelling to) in the bottom menu.  You can also set the second one to walking and hiking, which will cut out all the ATV trails etc.

I'll be honest with you, it's not going to give you only hikes in the town you specify.  It will give you a long list of ones within a reasonable distance.  For example, I put Lindsay as the town and got some trails as far away as Algonquin Park and Muskoka.  However, there is a column on the list that states the nearest town, so you can scroll quickly through and find ones where you want to go.

Each hike/trail has a page of it's own with info on access, GPS coordinates, length, difficulty etc. as well as links to a website where you can get more information (or a map if you are lucky)

My only issue with the website is that camping and backpacking are lumped into the same activity on the drop down menu.  When I first went to the website I was so excited that there were so many places to backpack camp, until I realized 9 times out of 10, it was a trail inside a park where you can camp, or it's close to a privately owned camp ground. Example, Peck Lake Trail in Algonquin states camping and backcountry camping in it's activities, but I know you can't camp on the trail.  Kind of misleading.  I'd hoped to be able to use that filter to find longer trails where you can backpack, like in the Queen Elizabeth II Provincial Park, or trails through crown land where you can camp for free.

Still, it's a great resource for finding a good day hike or a bike trail.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Hike Haliburton Festival

I meant to post about this event last week, before the actual festival, but there were some computer issues.  Sorry about that.

Hike Haliburton is a weekend full of guided, educational hikes through out all of Haliburton County.  It was tons of fun, even though the weather wasn't great, and we only got to do a few hikes.  There was something for everyone on the schedule, everything from learning about mineral deposits, to ghosts, to sled dogs.

The hikes have a registration system, which was a little complicated when I tried to do the online one, but calling was easy.

We kept the kids out of school so we could get to the Can You Dig It? hike in Tory Hill since it's all about minerals and the kids could find samples to take home.  We got there a few minutes late thanks to construction on main street in Haliburton, and when we got to the meeting place, there was nobody there.  Not sure if they just didn't wait, or if there was no one registered except us so the guide didn't come. (we called that morning, so maybe he didn't get informed there were people coming?) Anyway, that was disappointing for the kids but we made it up to them by going to Jake's BBQ Shack in Gooderham, then hit the Ghost Walk hike in Haliburton.

I grew up in Haliburton and was happy to learn so much about the history of the town.  The tour guides were interesting, good speakers and shared lots of interesting highlights from the town's past.  Not all of it was about ghosts, but still very interesting.  I thought the kids would be bored, but they weren't and when we quizzed them afterwards to see if they'd actually paid attention, it was clear they had.

The next day, we went on the Sciensational Snakes hike and wow, so much fun.  Weather was crappy, but the kids are now set on getting pet snakes, and are spending lots of time researching everything they need to know to take care of them.  The guide for this hike had lots of captive bread snakes that the kids got to hold, and I don't think a single child there was afraid to get their hands on them, even the fairly large fox snake.

Next year, I'm hoping to take in more of the hikes.  There were some really interesting ones that we just couldn't get to including one where you ride horseback for part of the way.  How fun would that be?  Or a canoe trip?  There were celebrity hikers, including Kevin Callan, but we didn't see any of them.  Hopefully I'll manage to get the info up early so if anyone is interested in attending next year, they won't miss it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Random find in the garage...

Chris spent the day cleaning out the garage...actually he's still at it and it's well past dark.  There were a lot of things out there I'd forgotten about, but the one thing he came across completely had me floored.  There was a rusty cast iron frying pan hidden among the junk and I have no memory what so ever of buying one before this spring (which is not rusty)

So, this week I'll try researching ways to de-rust it, and will try to re-season it.  I'll take pics and show you the progress or lack there of as I go.

Sort of jealous...

My parents bought a pop-up trailer last week and are taking it on a maiden-for-them voyage as we speak.  The kids and I really wanted to go too but they went on Sunday night, and won't be back until today so the kids would miss 2 days of school.  While I normally wouldn't have a problem with this, pulling them from classes for camping on the second week?  Probably not a good idea.

This morning, with the temperature having dropped a fair bit, I asked the kids how they thought Papa and Lala were doing.  They were hopeful that there would be less annoying people around since it's after summer.  They also wondered what they'd be doing to occupy themselves without us there.

Camping without the kids can be hard to get used to when you are used to having them there.  There's no one to keep entertained, you can nap when you want, eat whenever you feel like it, and if all you do is hang out around the campsite and read, well that's your choice. Also, you can try recipes for meals the kids are likely to turn their noses up at, or go on hikes that would have them complaining about being tired. Like I said, I'm kind of jealous.  We tried a few times to get out for a romantic trip for just Chris and I, but having a sick dog kind of put a stop to those plans.  Next year for sure though.

Monday, September 10, 2012

First Day of School

Summer is officially over.  Very sad.  While there is a good chance we might get a weekend or two of camping in before it's too cold, it's not guaranteed.

What this does mean, is more hiking trips and after school activities.  I'm not sure if I mentioned the kids want to train to do a few triathlons next summer, so swimming lessons are going to be a priority.  They both do okay, but not good enough to be in a competitive race...okay they can't really do any more than doggie paddle.  Also, they try out for the school's cross country team every year, and usually make it to the big county meet up, so we'll be working on their running a lot in September...I hope.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Warsaw Caves

Looking at all my latest posts, you'd think this blog was all about camping.  I guess we did so much of it this year we didn't have time to do smaller day trips like the one we did today with some friends to Warsaw Caves Conservation Area, just outside Peterborough.

Chris and I took the kids here last summer and they loved it, and they were eager to show it to their friends.

Now, first off, I should warn you, if you are expecting caves that are tall enough for you to walk through, with lights on the walls and a set pathway, you are going to be disappointed...or surprised.  Warsaw Caves are more like a series of crevices you can manoeuvre your way through, created by the glaciers retreating and leaving big slabs of limestone in a jumbled pile. The Indian River, which you can spend some time paddling around on, disappears for a while, flowing underground for several hundred meters, before reemerging near the seventh cave. It's really kind of cool.

There are seven caves in total offering a few hours of exploration.  No helmets, ropes or climbing gear are required, just a flashlight and a willingness to climb, crawl and get a little dirty.  If you aren't fond of tight spaces, even just walking around the area where the caves are is pretty cool.  In certain lights, and especially after a bit of rain, it reminds me of something out of a fantasy movie, like fairies and sprites could emerge from the caves at any moment.

There is also a nice beach, some interesting hiking trails where you can spot some large kettle formations, a good canoeing day trip, and a campground at Warsaw Caves, so there's lots to do to justify the small park admission fee.  Bring a picnic and spend the day exploring.

Oh! I should mention the poison ivy!  There is some scattered around the cave areas, mostly around the last few caves, but by the parking lot, near the outhouses, and along the path leading down to the river there is a fair bit.  Stick to the path and keep your eyes open.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Some things I've learned this camping season

We did a lot more camping this year than we usually manage to do, which was awesome.  A lot of it was in Algonquin Park.  Don't get me wrong, I love Algonquin, but I wish we'd had the chance to do some back country trips, or check out a few parks we'd never been to before.

Every camping trip is a learning experience.  You'll see things you've never seen before, go to a place you've never been, or learn a new skill.  It's one of the reasons I don't feel guilty about pulling the kids from school to do a few days of camping.

So what are some of the things we learned this summer?

1) I learned that I can survive a night camping alone with the kids.  This is a big one because if we'd had more opportunities this summer, I know I could have gone with them again.  I might still go for one last trip with them even though Chris won't be able to go.

2) We pack way too much stuff.  I'm not sure why this hasn't gotten any easier, but we still manage to cram the car so full we can barely fit the kids in there.  Usually people begin to reduce the things they bring based on what they do and don't use...I guess we haven't gotten there yet.  Or maybe we just don't use our space efficiently.

3) We still haven't gotten the knack of organizing ourselves before a trip.  On the morning we leave, we're still running around in a panic trying to think of the things we'll need.  This is something I'll be working on this winter: proper lists, better storage solutions, and menu planning.

4) I added 5 species of bird to my list of ones I've seen.

5) I'm horrible about remembering to bring things for the kids to do.  Then Chris brings them too much...I think designating that job to the kids would be a good idea.  Then again, when I told them to put any books or little games they wanted into their bags, Squatchie brought a roll of yellow electrical tape.  God only knows what he planned to do with it.

6) If you plan properly, you should have hardly any food left.  Usually on the last day of a trip, we will grill up all the leftover hotdogs or sausages and pig out.  I've gotten better about not having a huge pile of snack type foods left over in the food bin, which means we can consolidate things into one bin and save space in the car.

7) Trying to organize a trip with a large group can be hard.  You have to be prepared for plans to change or that trying to get everyone gathered for an activity will take longer than you might wish for.  If there are little kids involved, it's going to take even longer.  It's probably easier for your sanity to just plan on a trip where everyone sits around and chats or do things close to camp.

8) Cooking with cast iron isn't as scary as I thought it would be, in fact, it can be really fun.  I was leery of getting a dutch oven because I thought I'd end up not doing something right and it would get rusty.  I was also pretty sure I would screw up the cooking method and either burn everything or never get it to cook.  I was wrong.  It's so easy and clean up is actually easier than when you use normal pots.

9) Every camp site has merit.  I spend so much time agonizing over picking a site that will be perfect, but it's nearly impossible to properly judge them based on the pictures on line.  Sites I've thought would be horrible turned out to be nice, and sites that looked amazing online turned out to be less than ideal.  It's kind of like picking out a hotel for a holiday.  You mostly want a place to sleep and cook...and will probably be off doing other things like swimming or hiking the rest of the time, so really, as long as it's not in the middle of a flood plane, it's going to be fine.  I've learned to base my choice on other criteria...is it close to an outhouse so I don't have to walk a long way in the middle of the night?

10) Camping with dogs isn't as frustrating as I used to think.  Usually, we would bring the dogs for the first day, but after tripping over them and listening to them whine because they don't like being tied up, we end up driving them home and asking the neighbor to watch them.  This worked when we camped close to home, but this May when we stayed at Presqui'le, it was too far to bring them home.  Other than the inevitable smells that can quickly fill a small camper or tent, its not so bad.

I'm sure there are other things but at the moment those are the ones that stand out.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A few camp recipes

I was just going through some of the unpublished drafts I had on here, and I saw I hadn't posted these recipes from our trip to Pog Lake earlier in the summer. Be warned, I don't measure, especially when I'm camping (I don't generally pack anything to measure with)

SMURF CAKES
Best suited for - all types of camping.  With modifications you could make this in the back country - take dehydrated blueberries and rehydrate them before adding them to mix.  You could leave the fresh berries out of the syrup, or if you are lucky enough to be camping near some wild blueberries, pick your own.

just-add-water pancake mix
1 small container of blueberry baby food
about 1 cup frozen blueberries (throw them in your cooler, they'll thaw by morning and be ready to use)
water
maple syrup (real works best but table syrup works too)

Like I said, no measurements.  I just dumped enough pancake mix from the bag into a bowl, guessing at how much I needed.  It was probably a bit more than a cup and made about 8 medium sized pancakes.  Put 2 or three heaping spoonfuls of the baby food into the mix, then the frozen blueberries and the juices from them thawing.  Add enough water to make the pancake batter to the consistency you like.  If you've made lots of pancakes in your life, you don't really need to measure.  If you want to be precise, you can calculate how much water you need by checking the instructions on the back of the box.  1 cup of mix makes 6-7 pancakes and requires 3/4 cup of water.  Put the baby food and the juice from the frozen berries into a measuring cup and add water until it reaches 3/4

Heat your frying pan and grease however you choose, I had vegetable oil on hand, though I prefer the taste of pancakes cooked in a buttered or margarine greased pan.  Cook your pancakes the way you normally would.

Meanwhile, pour about 1/3 cup of syrup into a small sauce pan and add the fresh blueberries.  Turn on medium heat and simmer.  Use the back of a spoon to break up the blueberries a bit.  Let them simmer about 5 minutes, then let the mixture cool a bit while you finish cooking the pancakes.

If I'd realize how the colour would come out, I'd have made small, silver dollar pancakes to go with the Smurf theme, but I really thought they'd end up a dark purple.

DUTCH OVEN APPLE SPICE DUMP CAKE
Best suited for: Car camping

You'll find recipes for similar desserts all over the internet and in pretty much every dutch oven cookbook on the market.  These types of cakes are perfect camp fare - nothing requires refrigeration, they only have 3 ingredients and they are super satisfying...

2 cans apple pie fill
1 box spice cake mix
1 can Sprite, 7-up or Mountain Dew

So easy.  Spray some non-stick spray in your dutch oven, or however you choose to oil your oven.  I lined mine with foil, but it was a nightmare to unglue it, so next time I'll just use vegetable oil.  Dump the pie fill into the bottom and spread it around to cover the entire surface.  Sprinkle the cake mix over top evenly, then pour the lemon-lime soda around.

Bake for about an hour at 350.  I had a 10" dutch oven so I used about 8 coals on bottom and 12-14 on top.  You'll want to add more charcoal briquets at the halfway mark if the first ones are getting too small.  Rotate the dutch oven, and turn the lid a 1/4 turn about every 15-20 minutes to avoid hot/cold spots.  To test for doneness, stick a knife or fork into the cake part.  It shouldn't be gooey like raw cake mix.

DUTCH OVEN VEGETABLE LASAGNA
Best suited for: Car camping

I'm of the firm belief that if you can do part of a recipe at home to make prep at camp quicker and easier, then you should do that.  For that reason, I made up a big pot of sauce for the lasagna at home, and froze it.  By the time I was ready to use it, the sauce was thawed and I cut about 1/2 an hours worth of work.

For the sauce I sautéed onion, carrot, celery, green pepper, zucchini and mushrooms, along with a bit of garlic and a tbsp of italian seasoning.  I then added 2 cans of spaghetti sauce, as well as half a jar left over from dinner the previous night.

You'll also need
oven ready lasagna noodles
a 500ml carton of cottage cheese
about 3-4 cups of shredded mozzarella. (You can buy pre shredded, or get a small box shredder for at camp)

Dump some of the sauce in the bottom of the dutch oven.  I didn't grease mine at all, but you could.  Make a layer of noodles.  You'll have to get creative and use pieces to cover the area.  Spread a layer of
cottage cheese onto the noodles, then sprinkle a layer of mozzarella.  Repeat the layers at least twice.  I managed a total of four layers but ended up having to break open a can of sauce I'd brought just in case I hadn't made enough.

Bake for about an hour and a half with about 8 briquets on bottom and 12-14 on top.  You'll definitely have to replenish your charcoal half way through.  You can test for doneness by poking the noodles with a fork.  There will be some bubbling around the outside edge.

FOIL WRAP PINEAPPLE UPSIDE DOWN CAKES
Best suited for - car camping

6 small dessert shells (or torte shells) they are little sponge cake circles that have a bit of a lip for serving fresh fruit in
1 can pineapple rings
brown sugar
butter

On a sheet of tin foil, scoop about 1 1/2 tbsp brown sugar and top with about a tbsp of butter.  Place a pineapple ring on top, then add the dessert shell, upside down.  Wrap the foil into packet and cook on the BBQ or a grill over a fire for about 12 minutes.

The butter and brown sugar soak into the shell and the pineapple is warm and sticky.  Be careful not to let them burn.


Dutch Oven Recipe: Orange Chocolate Pudding Cake

This is the original attempt at making an orange chocolate cobbler type dessert in the dutch oven. As you can see from the picture, it made a kind of sauce like in a pudding cake.  It wasn't what I'd planned to do, but the kids liked it so much they want me to make it again now that we're home from camping.

Orange Chocolate Pudding Cake

2 cans mandarine oranges, drain most of liquid from one can
1 pkg chocolate cake mix
2-3 cups orange soda (I used 2 Chubbys which are 1 cup each, I think but I think it could have used a bit more.  There were a few dry spots.)

Pour the oranges into the bottom of a greased 10" dutch oven (we used a 12 inch, but it was way too big for the amount.  If we hadn't been using the 10" for something else, I'd have use it for the dessert) Sprinkle the cake mix on top and pour the soda over top.

Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the cake part is done.  It'll be bubbly and browned on top.



I still plan to come up with a way to get it to be more like the cobbler I made, but for now, the kids liked this version, so I'll make it again.  It was easy..and with nothing requiring refrigeration, it's a good recipe for camping.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Trip Log: Mew Lake, Aug 20-22, 2012

This trip was supposed to happen at the end of July, when my brother was home from California, but we had to reschedule, and unfortunately, he didn't get to go.  He missed out.  We had a really great time, and we ate so much food, I think I probably gained ten pounds, if not more.

Because we weren't very organized, we didn't get to the park until after four.  We had two sites, both on the water and while we weren't expecting them to be great, we were pleasantly surprised.  There wasn't much shade, but they were large enough and we had fun stargazing while we sat around the fire.  We set up our tents, then started on dinner.  Now, I should tell you, this trip was all about the dutch ovens.  Mum and I each took a dinner and a breakfast and had to come up with a meal.

Dinner for night one was spiced pork tenderloins, cheesy au gratin potatoes and orange chocolate dump cake.  The dessert was a complete experiment.  See, I've read tons of variations on the "dump cake" for a dutch oven...and made an apple spice one for my oven's maiden voyage, but I wanted to try one with chocolate cake.  I think all I ever saw were ones made with cherry pie fill, then chocolate cake mix and sprite or butter pads on top.  I don't like cherry pie...hate the stuff.  But I do like orange flavoured chocolate so I started to think....hmmmm....I'll post the recipe and results in a separate entry.

While mum and I cooked, Chris and the kids played baseball and Chris worked on untangling the fishing rods. He also made an attempt at fly fishing from the beach at our site, mostly just to work on his casting technique.

8", 10" and deep 12" ovens, making dinner

Now, I should confess, I was giggling a lot while we made dinner.  We had three dutch ovens going, and had them stacked...it made us look like we really knew what we were doing.  I refused to believe the food would suck. How could it, when the pots looked so cool stacked up like that?  Lucky for us, everything was yummy, even the kids went back for several helpings and pretty much scraped the pot of potatoes clean.  As for the cake?  It sort of became like a pudding cake, you  know, the kind that makes it's own gooey sauce?  It tasted good, and the kids scraped the pot clean of dessert as well.

Chris and I saw a rabbit when we biked the garbage down to the bins.

Dad had gotten a fire going, while we were cooking dinner, so the kids toasted a few marshmallows and went to bed.  It should also be mentioned that we had three dogs with us on this trip.  My parent's dog, Lucky, hates people on bicycles...not sure why, but he goes nuts when he sees them.  Also, he barks every time someone walks by our site.  In this we were lucky because there was hardly anyone in the section of Mew Lake where our sites were, so there wasn't many people out at night.

Our dogs are old, and don't bark at anything.  Dixie has been pretty frail lately, but she loves to camp because she can spend all day with Chris, and sleep beside him at night too.  Kenobi just likes to be in the back of the SUV or in the tent.  We were sort of worried that a camping trip might do Dixie in, but she was fine.  She mostly slept in the tent, but a few times she ventured down to the water to splash around.

At about 2 in the morning, we heard a commotion from the people to the left of our site.  Dad got out of the tent and scanned the area with the flashlight, and saw several raccoons trying to get into the other camper's truck.  He had one of those soft covers on it.  We didn't give it much thought because two of the raccoons had come to sniff around the tent Chris and I were sharing with the dogs (the kids were with mum and dad in the big tent next door) The dogs had spilled a handful of kibble on the ground and the raccoons were cleaning it up.  Lucky was barking like crazy at the sound of animals outside the tent...Dixie and Kenobi didn't stop snoring.

Half an hour later, the park warden pulled up to our neighbours and asked if they'd called in a bear.  The guy said he had, and I lay there listening to them talk for about ten minutes while the second ranger did a walk around to see if the bear was still there.  Now...dad had seen raccoons on the truck...I can't imagine them being there if a bear was there too, but the next morning, I talked to our neighbour and he said the rangers had said it was definitely a bear.

Who was right?  Well, the other camper hadn't seen a bear, and for an animal that had been ripping and tearing at the soft cover of a pick up for half an hour, it didn't do much damage (bears will rip one to shreds pretty quickly) Also, it didn't eat much, just some bread and a few nibbles of dog kibble.  Did the ranger tell the guy it was a bear to scare him into storing his food in the cab of the truck? (please note, a soft cover on your truck isn't considered bear proof, so don't count on it to deter a scavenging animal, even smaller ones...)  Or is my dad's eyesight really bad and he mistook 3 raccoons for one small bear? I know it was racoons outside our site.  Chris and I saw watched them eating for a while. I guess we'll never know. Either way, the guy and his two daughters will have a story to tell their friends about their trip to Algonquin.
Early morning at Mew Lake

The next morning, it was chilly and there was a bit of fog on the lake when I got up at around 6:30.  Since nobody else was up, I took Kenobi for a little walk, then sat on the picnic table and watched a few early risers paddle their canoes around the lake through the fog.  This is something I've always wanted to do, but whenever I get out there, the fog seems to disappear.

Mum and Dad usually don't sleep in, and we had breakfast on the go by 7:30.  The original recipe for my breakfast was called "Girl Scout's Breakfast" and was basically a frittata made in the dutch oven.  It was yummy and very filling.  The kids didn't have any, they don't like eggs, and had Cheerios instead.

Chris took the kids fishing while breakfast was cooking, then after we ate, he cleaned up while I took Mum, Dad and the kids to the water fall where Chris and I had hiked to during our yurt stay in April. The water is much lower now, as expected, and rather than one large water fall, there are two smaller ones with a nice sitting spot in the middle.  Squatchie immediately took off his shoes and started jumping from rock to rock, exploring the other side of the river.  He's like his father that way, nimble and adventurous.  Bubbie is like me...a little more cautious.  Her explorations were less rock hopping, and more like an imitation of Smeagol from the Lord of The Rings movies...so we have now dubbed Smeagolling a new word, defined as the act of crawling your way over rocks in the middle of a river.

When we got back to camp, Chris was standing waist deep in the lake, fishing and not having much luck. Chris and I made lunch, pizzas in the dutch ovens, while Mum, Dad and the kids went to the Two River's Store for treats.  The kids had pepperoni pizza while the adults had chicken fajita pizza.  The kids both picked off the pepperoni because they said the kind I'd gotten was too spicy.  If they'd told me that after I made them pizza with it a few nights ago, I wouldn't' have bothered packing it along.  Along with our pizza, Mum had made a chickpea salad which was very good. I'll have to get the recipe for it before she forgets which book she found it in.

Add caption
Mum and I biked the garbage out and went around to the far end of the radio free/pet free section of Mew Lake to take a picture of our sites from across the lake.  We told the kids to watch for us and wave.  The canoeist nearby thought the kids were waving at them, so kept waving back.  Then Squatchie started dancing and wiggling his butt.  I'm not entirely sure the canoeists knew what to make of that.

The plan was for Chris and I to hike the main loop of the Track and Tower interpretive trail but after eating so much food, my stomach was a little upset and it was raining off and on, so Chris ended up having a nap.  The rest of us went to check out the Opeongo Outfitters and get ice cream (I know...but my stomach felt better by the time we decided to leave...) I got the kids Algonquin Park buffs, and they had fun figuring out all the ways people wear them on Survivor. When we got back to the site, Chris was awake and was attempting to carve a gnome from a piece of wood.  The current result looks slightly demonic, not at all the result he was going for.

For Mum's turn at dinner, she made Chicken and Rice casserole. It was a really simple meal to put together, and though it doesn't look stunning in the pot, it's very yummy.  The kids took one look at it and asked if there was anything else, but we made them try at least a little, and if they didn't like it they could have a hotdog. They ended up fighting over the last half of chicken breast, and again, scraped the bottom of the pot to get the last of the rice. Chris and I did bike to the water falls while mum's dinner cooked.

Mum also made a pie for dessert.  It was a simple- canned pie fill and frozen pie crust but she fancied it up with a little decorative cutting to the top crust.

Mum's apple pie. Yum!
The stars were really amazing the second night.  The skies had cleared and we saw several shooting stars.  We also saw a really bright light move really quickly across the sky, about 10 times faster than a plane, then it would get dim and disappear before reappearing and heading back the opposite way.

There were no bears or raccoons the second night, of course we were all pretty tired from being awake listening to them the night before, so maybe there were and we just didn't hear them. We did hear coyotes across the lake though. I woke up to the sound of a fire going in Mum and Dad's site at around 7:30, so I went to investigate and get some coffee going.

Very foggy on the lake the second morning
The fog was a lot thicker than the previous morning, even though I'd gotten up an hour later. It was also pretty chilly.  The kids fished from the shore (right behind where the little blue and white tent is, there's a small beach) but didn't get any nibbles.  In fact, they didn't have much luck at all the entire trip.

By this time, we'd all pretty much glutted ourselves on food for two days and weren't all that excited about breakfast.  The kids had Cheerios and rather than the recipe Mum had planned to make, we inverted the lid for her dutch oven on the grate of the fire and cooked up the sausages, then some canned, sliced potatoes.  We used the pot part of the dutch oven to cook scrambled eggs with some onion and green pepper, then made breakfast burritos with a little salsa.  Despite us all being so stuffed, there was only a little bit of leftovers to share with the dogs.

The kids were really excited to rock hop with their dad since he hadn't been with us the last time, so we biked back after breakfast.  Squatchie fell in...then had fun sitting on the ledges in the waterfall.  He ended up wearing his buff like a tube top, like the women on survivor do, and Bubbie was doing the same thing...Chris kept joking about how pretty our two daughters were.

It didn't take us long to pack up.  We stopped at the Portage Store on Canoe Lake to get ice cream and check out their store.  The restaurant there is very cool, and we will definitely head there for a lunch on our next trip.  Also, it was really neat seeing just how many canoes were on the lake.  I'd read that it was the busiest canoe launch spot in the park, but I hadn't really imagined it being like that, and that was on a Wednesday!  I'd love to be there around noon on a Friday to see all the canoes heading out for the start of a back country trip.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Camp Recipe: Dutch Oven Lemon Herb Roast Chicken

Last night I decided it was silly to wait for a camping trip to pull out the dutch oven.  I had a small whole chicken that I wanted to roast, so I set up in the driveway.

First of all, I have to admit, I hate raw chicken.  I hate touching it, I hate the smell of it...it's just gross.  I rarely make whole chicken because I can't use a fork to pick it up like I can with chicken pieces.  Second, I couldn't for the life of me, find a dutch oven recipe for roasting chicken, let alone one for lemon herb chicken. (I had some lemons in the fridge I wanted to use up)  Third, it was windy as all heck last night and chilly, which had a big impact on the cooking time. A 1.2kg bird should have taken about 1 1/4 hours..it took 2 1/2 but the chicken was juicy, tender and really flavorful.  Here's the recipe I came up with after piecing together bits of traditional recipes and adapting them for the dutch oven.

Lemon Herb Chicken
10" dutch oven (cause that's the only size I have...)

1 small chicken
1 lemon
3 gloves of garlic, peeled but left whole
1 chopped onion
1 tsp each  dry basil, oregano, fennel seed, rosemary and garlic powder.
olive oil

Start your charcoal.  I ground up the herbs a bit in a mortar and pestle to release more their flavor.  Rinse the chicken and pat dry.  Make sure all the inside stuff is gone.  Place the garlic and half the lemon inside the cavity of the chicken.  drizzle olive oil over the chicken and rub the herbs into the skin.

Place 8 coals under the oven and about 12 on top.  Let it warm up for a few minutes.  Put the onions in the bottom as well as the other half of lemon.  Set the chicken on top.  Cover and bake.  Baking time will depend on size of the bird.  (about 20 minutes for each pound, plus an extra 15 minutes.) Remember to rotate the lid and pot every 15-20 minutes to avoid hot spots.  You'll probably have to replenish your coals after 45 minutes.  The chicken is done when the internal temperature gets to 180 degrees. (poke a meat thermometer into the breast but not so it's touching any bones)

I'm not a great cook, especially when it comes to meat...I tend to err on the side of caution and, as my grandmother likes to do, cook the hell out of it rather than risk serving it underdone and getting my family sick.  I'm also not that great of an experimenter in the kitchen, something I'm trying to change.  Chris can look in the cupboards and see lots of potential meal ideas...I like to have a recipe.  Besides that, I was pretty happy with the way this turned out.  I've never managed to make chicken that juicy and tender in my normal oven.  I think this would be pretty easy to make while camping as well, which is a bonus!

On a side note, I took my camera out to snap a picture of the finished product, then completely forgot to  use it.  I swear, senility is setting in and I'm only 36.

Dutch Oven Pizza

I had so much fun last night cooking in the driveway, that I thought I'd be a bit more adventurous today.  I've never had luck with bread.  If I make dough in the bread machine, then bake it in the oven, I have sometimes gotten it to work...usually if I make baguette style loaves.  When I tried making a traditional loaf that way, it overflowed the pan so much that it reached the element and burned...very badly.

But you never learn if you give up, right?  So I bought some regular yeast and gave it a try.

Here's the recipe for the crust I used: (I found it here)

Finished pizza
1pkg yeast (2 1/4 tsp from the jar is what I used)
1 cup warm water
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar

dissolve the yeast in water, add remaining ingredients. let rest 15 minutes.  Heat the coals, and once they are ready, heat the dutch oven.  Now here's where I screwed up.  I didn't read that this makes 2 pizzas...in 12" dutch ovens.  I had one 10" oven...and didn't divide the dough.  It turned out more like a pizza fococcia, but the kids really liked it.  I spread the dough in the bottom and let it bake for about 7 minutes, then added the sauce and toppings (just cheese and pepperoni)

So, it was supposed to bake with 8 coals under and 12 on top for about 18 minutes, but it took closer to 30 because the dough was so thick.  I'll have to try this again after I get a second dutch oven so I can do it properly.

I think this would be pretty easy to make while camping.  I'd take the little packet of yeast rather than have to worry about keeping the jarred stuff cool until ready to use.  I did try and look for frozen or refrigerated dough, but the store I went in to didn't have any.  This was easy though, so I don't think I'd bother.

Friday, August 17, 2012

My Newest Camp Tool - Dutch oven and Cast Iron Frying Pan

A dutch oven is one of the most traditional camp cooking tools you can get.  People have been using these heavy pots to prepare meals in the back country for hundreds of years.  They are incredibly versatile, durable and when you're cooking with one, especially while camping, it adds an element of traditionalism that is often missing when using the more modern cooking tools.

My mum bought one last fall and while I thought it was pretty cool, I kept thinking it was a lot of work to keep it conditioned, and with my luck, I'd screw it up and ruin it.  They also are heavy and take up a fair bit of space. There's no way I'd want to haul 20 lbs of cast iron over portages either, so really, would I use one if I got one?  But after having lasagna in it while camping at Canisbay Lake in Algonquin, the temptation grew.

Then, while planning our yearly camping trip to Pog Lake with our friends, and trying to sort out who would bring what to the potluck dinner, I realized this would be perfect.  Everyone else was bringing salads, but no entree type dish, so I talked Chris into getting one.

Want to decide if a dutch oven is a good choice for you?
-  Do you do a fair bit of car camping and have room for another piece of gear?
-  Are you patient about cooking your meals?  It can take a while to cook, just like in your oven at home
-  Do you like to be creative with your food while camping, and want to add a whole new range of possible meals to your camp menus?

If you answered yes, then give it a try. A cast iron dutch oven will last a life time, and beyond (I know some that are serving a third generation)  if you care for it properly and despite my initial fears, it's not that difficult to do.

The same goes for the cast iron frying pan.  They are heavy, true, but do a much better job than the cheap non-stick frying pans we'd been using.

I made a lasagna on that trip and it turned out really well.  Before I could use it again, the lack of rain brought on the inevitable fire ban, so I haven't had another chance to use it, but tonight, I'm going to try my hand at roasting a chicken.  We aren't camping.  I'll just be sitting in the driveway, probably making the neighbors wonder what the heck I'm doing.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share links to some of the dutch oven books I've found especially full of yummy ideas.

The Wilderness Guide to Dutch Oven Cooking - This book is my favorite.  It's got a lot of really tasty looking meals, and actually uses more than just a 12" dutch oven.  I've found that's pretty rare.  Most books don't provide recipes for smaller ovens, or the biggest ones.

 101 Things to do with a Dutch Oven - Lots of easy recipes, mostly for 12" ovens with a few 10" ones as well.  It's also small and easy to pack for easy reference.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Provincial Park Review: Restoule

View from lookout on Fire Tower Trail
Our recent trip to Restoule was only for two nights but we very much enjoyed ourselves.  The park is off the beaten track, with fairly private, woodland type campsites, and several options for activities to keep you occupied.

We stayed in the Putt's Point campground, near to the beach.  The site we had was large enough for our two tents, but the slight pad slope made it difficult to find good spots to set them up.  There was a good distance between us and the next row of sites behind us, and probably 20 feet of wooded area on either side.  You could see your neighbour, but they weren't so close you felt like they could be staring at you all the time.


We were also two sites down from a vault toilet, coming off a holiday weekend.  In some places we've been, the odour from the outhouses would waft a good distance but these didn't.  While they did smell (it's an outhouse, what can you expect) once you were inside, they were also clean and mostly free of bugs.  The comfort stations, on the other hand, smelled bad from a good distance, but were fine once you got inside.

Standing at the base of the Fire Tower
Restoule offers several trails for hiking, three of which allow bicycling as well.  We didn't have our bikes, though next time I think I'd take them.  Two of the bike trails are rated easy, and perfect for young children (or those of us with bad knees) while the third, Gibs Trail is unmarked, unmaintained and considered challenging.  We did the Fire Tower Trail, which is 7 or 8 km (depending on which sign you are looking at) and though it starts off very flat, gets quite difficult.  There are several sections where you are picking your way up or down steep hills and jumbled rock cuts.  I made the mistake of wearing flip-flops because I hadn't packed socks and knew my shoes would rub my heels raw.  Not exactly easy.  The view from the lookout was worth it, as was poking around the old fire tower high on a rocky plateau.

The park also offers excellent canoeing.  Being park of the Upper Restoule-French River canoe route, you can use Restoule as a jumping off point for the back country route, or chose to take day trips.  It's a beautiful area, and if we go again, I'd take my canoe for sure.

The only disappointing thing for us was the beaches.  With water levels being so low, there wasn't much actual good swimming area.  The water stays really shallow (maybe 6-7 inches) then drops down into a mucky, stick-filled ooze that the kids wanted nothing to do with.  We did check out the visitor's centre, which is very small, but a good way to kill half an hour.  There's no park store either, but the town of Restoule, about 9km away, has a good general store that has, literally everything...gas, food, tools, dishes, camping gear, rope, chain...it's an old fashion general store, something you don't often see anymore.

In all, Restoule was nice.  There were some noisy campers, some singing Disney songs like they thought they were Celine Dion, and some who were whooping it up like they were in a bar watching play off hockey.  None of the sites stood out as being "best in the park" sites, nor were there any that we saw that made us say "That site would suck" That's pretty rare, in my experience.  Other than some of the pad slopes being annoying for levelling a trailer, or finding a good place to put a tent, the sites were all acceptable. (that we saw...we didn't manage to drive down every little path) Also, all the sites were fairly open to the roads.  It was like someone went by with a giant, rectangular cookie cutter to make them.

If anyone else has been to Restoule, I'd love to hear your thoughts.  I'm curious if the beaches would be better earlier in the summer, and if the lookout is even better with the fall colours.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Another day exploring Kawartha Highlands

Chris and I had a day with no real plans so we decided to head out in the canoe and explore another of the routes in the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park.  We didn't do the entire route, there wasn't enough time, but we did manage to find some nice camp sites and a potential day trip for the kids.

The route we did is known as the Serpentine Lake Route and is written up in Kevin Callan's Cottage Country Canoe Routes.  I've always wanted to try this area because of the picture in the book of a water fall.

You start by heading up highway 28, to just south of Apsley, and turn onto Anstruther Lake Road.  Now that the park is officially an operating park, there are a lot more signs indicating which access points are down each road, making it much easier to find your way.  About 8 kilometers down that road,  you'll come to the sign for the boat launch.  If you get to the marina, you've gone too far.

After putting in our canoe, we realized just how much boat traffic is on Anstruther on a sunny July day.   It was a little tense at times, with half a dozen boats zooming past us and multiple wakes hitting us from every side.  Of course, it didn't help that we didn't know where the portage was, and we kept angling directly across the lake.  I would recommend staying to the right until you pass through the narrows between the right shore and a large island, then hug closer to the left shore of the lake, but to the right of the other islands. (One of the islands has a long wall of rocks that you wouldn't be able to get around if you try to stay to the left.  As it was, it was almost impossible to point yourself into the wake, and with the wind blowing against us, it felt like we were going backwards at times.

The portage is past the bigger islands, and sort of behind a jumbled pile of rocky islands.  You'll see a small beach, which we had thought was the portage because we saw canoes parked there.  The sign is actually about a hundred feet to the left, where there are a bunch of small docks.

Why so many docks on non-privately owned property?  I didn't know either until I got to the end of the portage which takes you into Rathbun Lake.  At the end of the 165 meter trail, is a small cliff where people were jumping into the water.  I don't know how safe it is, not having taken the time to check the depth myself, so if you do decide to try this, always scope out the landing zone first.

Normally Chris would have taken a turn jumping, but the put in is right at the base of the jump, and our canoe being there meant all the jumpers had to wait for us to move.

The put in was a bit of a pain as well.  There are some big rocks in the water, and when Chris went to put canoe in, he ended up dropping the stern onto one of them.  I cringed and might have cursed a little.  Just like he would have if I'd gotten a scratch on his car.

Rathbun Lake was pretty.  Lots of granite cliffs rising out of the water, just like on Anstruther, but with only a few scattered cottages.  Actually, that was kind of disappointing for me.  I'd hoped there would be no permanent dwellings once we got past the first portage.  We only saw one camp site being used, but then we were only a little way in on the route.

We paddled to a nice campsite (number 200) and had a snack, then headed out to explore a bit more.  Eventually we came across the portage into North Rathbun, but decided against going any further because it was getting late.

I really wasn't looking forward to the trip back across Anstruther Lake, but by sticking to the route I described above and not going straight up the middle of the lake, it wasn't so bad.  It certainly seemed to take a lot less time.

This area is pretty, and I'd enjoy camping here.  I'm hopeful the further you go away from Anstruther, the less populated it would be.  I don't think it would be my first choice though.  Anstruther was nerve wracking for me, not to mention how exhausted I was paddling over the waves and wakes.  I don't mind long paddles, but I'd much rather be paddling in quiet lakes and rivers where there aren't dozens of boats that look like they are speeding right at you.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Trip Log - Pog Lake - Algonquin Provincial Park, July 13-15 2012

Several years ago, friends of ours invited us to share a campsite with them while they were attending Bolerama, a gathering of people camping in fiberglass campers.  On average there are about 110 of the light weight campers at the annual gathering, most of which were ranged around the group camping sections of Emily Provnicial Park outside of Peterborough, Ontario.

We were hooked and within the year, we'd bought our own little fibreglass egg.  For the next few years, we attended Bolerama, until the event was no longer being held at Emily Park, but rather in the Waterloo area, which was too far for us to travel.  Instead, on the weekend Bolerama is held, we get together with our friends and head to Algonquin.  This year, we invited a few other friends from high school along and had a wonderful weekend at Pog Lake.

We started planning this trip back in January, heck maybe even before them.  We already knew we wanted to go back to Pog Lake, but we really wanted sites closer to the beach, on the water so the kids can fish whenever they wanted, and of course sites that were next to each other because the kids basically treat it like one large campsite. We spent a long time deciding on which sites would be perfect and then when the day came where we could reserve them, they were already taken.  After a bit of a scramble to pick the next best of the available sites, we settled on 119, and 180 in Campground A.  Our other friends booked site 181, which was kitty-corner to our site.

We arrived just before two, and had to wait for the previous campers to finish packing up. While we hung out at our friend's site waiting, we spotted a species of bird I'd never seen before.  I looked it up on my iPhone and quickly identified it as a Brown Creeper.  These birds are really small, and move up and down tree trunks in the same manner as nuthatches.

It didn't take us long to set up (haul out the camp chairs, and take the coolers and food bins out of the camper....that's about the extent of setting up for us) and made a quick lunch of grilled cheddar sausages, then took the kids swimming.  I could sum up this whole camping trip by saying we swam...a lot.  It was hot and sunny the whole time we were there, perfect camping weather, especially when there is a beach close at hand.

Okay, we did other stuff too.  After the beach, I pulled out my brand spanking new 10" dutch oven and  made an apple spice dump cake.  It smelled amazing and tasted amazing too.  Unfortunately, after dinner, everyone wanted to go for a swim again, so it was dark before we got to eat dessert, and the cake wasn't warm anymore, and I couldn't take any pictures of it.  Also, I'd lined the dutch oven with tin foil so clean up would be easier, and it must have bubbled over the top of the foil.  There was a perfect circle of tin foil glued to the bottom of the pot.  It took Chris ages to scrape it clean with the little Lodge scraper tool I bought (which he told me I didn't need...he changed his mind.)  To make it worse, the mosquitos were out by then and were attracted to the flashlights as we tried to clean up so we got bit a million times.

The next morning I tried out something new...originally I'd intended to call them ultimate blueberry pancakes, but ended up changing the name to Smurf Cakes.  What I did was take just-add-water pancake mix, add a few scoops of blueberry baby food as well as thawed, frozen blueberries along with the juices that formed as they thawed.  Add enough water to make the batter to the consistency you like.  The inside of the pancakes were a perfect Smurfy blue.  For the syrup, I poured table syrup into a small pot and added about a cup of fresh blueberries and let it boil down a bit.  It was super yummy.

After breakfast, I let everyone else go to the beach while I cleaned up.  Now, I should mention that each family does their own food, so I wasn't cleaning up after 16 people, just our family.  By the time I got finished and headed to the beach myself, it was almost lunch time. (Not because there was a ton of dirty dishes, but because we'd slept in.)  We had quick grilled cheeses made in my pie iron, then all the families got together and did the Spruce Bog Board Walk Trail.  I've only done this trail in the winter, and didn't realize the boardwalk extended almost the entire trail.  It was very neat, and very easy for the littlest members of our group since there were no roots or rocks to trip them up.  Usually, Chris will climb any large rock or rock cut we come across on a hike, but this time he was carrying one of the toddlers, so our son took over the tradition.  Once up there, he proceeded to pretend he was a super model...he gets that from his dad, I swear.

In the picture, you can see the button on his shirt.  The older kids gathered up bags of recycling and took them to the Pog Lake gatehouse and got these buttons.  They could also get them for joining in organized beach clean ups and other things, with a total of six buttons available to earn.  If you get all six, I think their name goes into a draw for a free camping trip for the whole family.

After that, it was back to the campground for a quick swim, then we started getting ready for the pot luck dinner.  I made a lasagna in the dutch oven and it turned out really well.  There were lots of salads, chips, veggies and dip and I grilled texas-toast garlic bread on the little BBQ as well. We were all stuffed and there was enough food left over we could have invited a few other sites over for the meal.  The guys took the older kids fishing (they caught a few small rock bass)

Breakfast the next day was basic eggs and bacon,  Then at lunch we ate up some of the left over sausages, cookies, and made individual pineapple upside down cakes on the BBQ.

Pog Lake doesn't have the same level of privacy as Canisbay does, but it certainly has more character.  The campsites are set in a grove of tall pines and it just has a more rustic, northern feel to it. Where Canisbay's woodland is made up of mostly deciduous trees, Pogs were mostly coniferous  I will say, at Pog, the vault toilets are few and far between, and the comfort stations always seem to be full of women doing their make up, or blowdrying their hair.


Tips for camping with younger kids

A few weeks ago, we went camping with some of our friends from high school, and their kids.  While my kids are at an age where they don't need me constantly watching them, our friend's kids were all much younger and it made me remember just how challenging it can be to go on camping trips with toddlers.

The first time we took our daughter camping, she was about 15 months old, and at that stage where she didn't want to be held, and didn't want to hold my hand.  She could walk perfectly fine, thank you very much, provided there were no obstacles in the way.  Our camp site was littered with roots, big rocks and was on the edge of the lake, not exactly a safe place for a toddler to be left wandering on her own.  The flies were insane that trip as well.  To sum up, the trip was a huge stress-out for me, but that was because I wasn't prepared.

Here are some basic tips on having a successful camping trip with your little ones.

1. Pick a time when the bugs aren't bad if possible.   Since most insect repellants aren't safe for babies, you'll spend a good deal of your time sweeping mosquitoes off your child, which pretty much means you have no time to enjoy the trip yourself.  It's bad enough being stuck inside a tent when it's just adults, but being confined with a cranky baby?  Not fun. Planning a trip for later in the summer usually means insect free days, and a far more pleasant trip for everyone.

2. Take lots of toys, preferably quiet ones.  We made the mistake of not taking more than a few stuffed animals on that first trip, and to be honest, we don't take a lot of things for our kids even now.  Our friends though, bring a huge bin of beach type toys, water guns and lawn type games.  That bin saved our sanity more than once during the weekend.  My own kids are perfectly happy with a camera, a few guide books and their bikes, but they had lots of fun joining in on a big water fight with the little ones.  If you can avoid taking toys that make noise, your neighbours will thanks you.  Travel size board games are perfect for older kids on rainy days.

3. Pack snacks that don't require preparation.  Having things you can set out at a moment's notice is a great way to distract kids if they are being whiney. On our trip, all the kids would often hang out at one site, with one or two of the adults to watch them while the other parents went for ice or fire wood.  When a three year old starts throwing a fit, often, a yummy snack will derail a complete tantrum long enough for their parent to take over. Healthy snacks are best, especially if you are camping with a group and don't want to hop your friends kids up on sugar just to get them to stop screaming. Also, for early mornings, if your kids are up but the rest of the group isn't, and you don't want to make breakfast until they all wake, having things like fruit cups, small boxes of cereal or yogurt can keep little ones happy and quiet.

4. Don't be too ambitious.  Lets face it, when our kids are little, they are going to dictate a lot of what we do, and that doesn't change on a camping trip.  You probably won't be doing that 10K hike with a three year old.  You want your kids to grow up loving camping (at least I assume you do) and forcing them to do something they don't want to or aren't ready for, isn't the way to go about it.  When it comes to hikes, swimming or canoe rides, be sure what you have planned isn't going to exhaust them, or bore them.  For example, at Algonquin, two great options for hiking with little kids are the Spruce Bog Trail which is mostly flat and short enough that they won't lose interest, and the Logging Museum Trail, which has things for kids to explore and climb on, and is also short and easy.  Some of the other short trails, like Peck Lake, should be avoided if you  have a child at that age where they want to walk on their own, but aren't quite steady on their feet.  Skinned knees, bruises and bumps on the head are no fun for anyone.  We have been dying to do the Track and Tower Trail for years now, but we also know that attempting it with our kids when they aren't ready for it would just mean everyone would be miserable.  Better to wait, or plan a getaway for adults only.

5. Start small.  This is a pretty obvious one.  For your first trip out, plan for a one or two night stay, and try to pick a park or campground close to home so if it gets to be too much, you can cut the trip short.  It would suck to have driven five hours, for a week long trip, and on the second day, have to cut the trip short because of a sick child, or because your child panics about sleeping in the tent or on the ground.   On our first trip, our daughter got up at six am and was only happy if she was banging on the mess kit with a spoon. She'd also gotten a fly bite in the corner of her eye and the whole side of her face was swollen up. Needless to say, our neighbours wouldn't have been happy about the noise, and we were worried about the swelling so we packed up and left.  We'd only booked one night, so no money went to waste.

If anyone else has advise on camping with kids, or would like to share stories please leave a comment.  Teaching our kids to love the outdoors, and creating those memories with them is a wonderful gift, it would be a shame to lose it because of a bad first experience.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Summer Clearance Sale at Bass Pro Shops

basspro.com


 There are some really good deals here, like Fila sport shoes, the kind with the toe spots (we call them footie shoes) for $29.99!

A Little Behind...

I'm falling behind on getting all my posts up.  We went camping at Pog Lake in Algonquin, did a day paddle in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, and I tried out several new recipes I want to share.  In the next few weeks I'll be heading back to Mew Lake at Algonquin, possibly going to the Wolf Sanctuary at Haliburton Forest and doing the Walk in the Clouds, attending a family reunion type thing at Chris's parents place, then going camping at Restoule Provincial Park with his sister.

I realized as I was doing the recipe write ups that I didn't take pictures of the food when I made it!  Doah!  I'd hoped to make little videos to demonstrate how to make some of the recipes, but I never had anyone there to hold the camera while I cooked.  I guess I'll have to haul out the tripod for my next trips.

Also, there's a fire ban now in effect for Algonquin.  No fires at all in the back country and the only time you can have a fire in the organized campgrounds on highway 60 is between 7pm and 10pm.  Also, you aren't allowed to use barbecues where you add charcoal briquets, so I'm guessing that means no cooking with a dutch oven either.  That's to be expected.  We've had hardly any rain this summer at all, and I'm kind of surprised Algonquin waited so long.  Gotta love the need to keep tourists happy, eh?




Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Camp Recipe: Fruit Crisp

On our trip to Presqu'ile, I had two desserts planned, fruit crisp for the first night, and apple hand pies for the second.  We didn't manage the second, mostly because Chris went for a run, from our site to the lighthouse, which was approximately 8km.  To prove he'd done so, he left 2 rocks on the ledge of the lighthouse for the kids to get, so after supper, we drove down to get his proof.

Anyway, the fruit crisp was super easy.  We made it in our Weber camp BBQ but you could make it on the fire or with a reflector oven as well...(still waiting for my handyman to make me one...)

This recipe is customizable and to be honest, I didn't measure anything, just threw topping ingredients into a bag.  I just grabbed some frozen fruit from our smoothie stash, and dumped it all into one bag.  My mix included peach slices, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries.  You could take along some fresh apples to add to it if you want...I had planned to but in the rush of packing up, forgot all about it.

Camp Fruit Crisp
about 1 cup large flake oats
about 1/4 cup flour
about about 1/2 cup brown sugar
about 1/4 cup white sugar
about 4-6 cups frozen fruit
a few globs of margarine

At Home: Measure the oats, flour and brown sugar into a ziplock bag.  I didn't pack the white sugar separately, just took it from the container I have for tea and coffee.

At Camp: Pour the frozen fruit into a disposable square baking pan (I got mine at the dollar store, 3 for $1) Sprinkle with sugar (you can use as much as you want, depending on what kind of fruit you used.  Tarter fruit will need more sugar.)  Drop the gobs of margarine into the bag of topping mix and mush it around to work the margarine in, or you can dump it all into a bowl and use a fork.  Obviously you won't have a pastry cutter but you can use two butter knives or the back of a spoon to blend it in, or use your hands.  Sprinkle on top of the fruit.  Take a piece of tin foil and put it onto the BBQ rack, then put the pan on top of that.  Cook at a medium heat for about 15 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling.  You might want to let it cool for a bit.  We baked ours then left it in the BBQ, with the heat off while we went for our drive. (Keep the lid down though so bugs and wildlife don't get into it.)

On our trip to Canisbay, I left out the flour from the topping mix because Dad was cutting back on gluten.  Also, before I left home, I peeled and sliced a few apples and pears, put them in a freezer bag and put a few squirts of lemon juice in. swished them in the bag, then froze it along with some frozen blueberries and frozen mango.  I ended up with enough fruit to half fill a large freezer bag, but I never measured it.  The pan shown above fed five people, with some going back for seconds...and thirds.  Whipped topping would have been a nice addition but we didn't take any.