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 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)

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)
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.

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.

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.

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

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 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. 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 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'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 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 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,'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.