Thursday, May 28

Rhubarb-Strawberry Crisp

Rhubarb and strawberry: two flavours of spring that go beautifully together. And I do mean beautifully—just look at that gorgeous ruby colour!
There's an abundance of rhubarb growing in my garden and popping up in all sorts of odd places around the property; and shiny plump strawberries are starting to make an appearance at the grocery store. Toss the two together with some sugar and spice, top with a sweet crisp top, and you've got an easy, delicious spring dessert.

The latest issue of Food & Drink magazine has a lovely recipe for Individual Rhubarb Crumbles that I was tempted to try, but with a few tweaks.

I only wanted to make two servings (sometimes I just don't want leftovers) so I halved the filling. But I like a high crisp-to-fruit ratio so I kept the topping measurements as they were. I also replaced half the rhubarb with strawberries in order to add another layer of flavour, highten the colour, and temper the tartness of the dish.

These crumbles—
which we call crisps in my family—come together quickly; and because they're baked individually, they cook fairly quickly as well. Plus, individual baking dishes make a humble dessert like this look fine enough for company.

Rhubarb-Strawberry Crisp
adapted from the LCBO's Food & Drink magazine

Serves 2

1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 oz (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut in small pieces and slightly softened

4 oz rhubarb, cut into 3/4" pieces (about 1 cup)
4 oz strawberries, hulled and quartered (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon melted butter
dash each of ground ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg

Special equipment:
2 individual gratin dishes, about 1 cup capacity (I used 4" x 7" shallow oval dishes)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Generously butter two gratin dishes and place on a baking sheet.

Combine the topping ingredients in a medium bowl and rub together with your fingers until mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Refrigerate until ready to use. Can be made a day ahead.

Gently toss the filling ingredients together in a medium bowl. Divide between the gratin dishes. Sprinkle on a generous layer of topping. Don't worry if you don't use it all. I used about 2/3 of the topping mixture on mine*.

Bake, uncovered, until the filling is bubbling and the top is golden brown, about 30-40 minutes.

Serve warm topped with vanilla ice cream and finely diced candied ginger if you like.

Recipe can be doubled, tripled, or quadrupled. This can also be made in one large dish instead of separate small ones, but allow extra time for baking and cover with foil part way through if the top is getting too dark.

*Extra topping mixture can be sealed in a freezer bag and frozen for up to a month. Sprinkle the mixture onto muffins, cakes, bread or other desserts prior to baking.

Friday, May 22

Parry Sound Day Trip

Sometimes when a beautiful day beckons, you just have to jump in the car and go. So that's just what Jim and I did yesterday and had a great day trip to Parry Sound.

A charming little town to the west of us on Georgian Bay, Parry Sound is a popular day trip for guests, especially when they're staying a few nights and have time to explore in all directions. I head out that way a couple of times a year, but this was the first time Jim and I decided to play tourist and check it out together.
From Fern Glen Inn, the drive starts out right with a pretty view of Round Lake on our way to Sprucedale. From there, we follow Hwy 518 west past a few small communities, spruce bogs, fields, lakes, rivers, dense forest. The highway is in great shape, fully paved with lots of new sections where they widened it and straightened it out a bit, but it still has lots of hills and curves.

About half way along, we pass Old Nipissing Road, a colonization road used by early settlers in the region. If we were driving our Circle Tour route, we'd turn north here and head towards Magnetawan. If we were to drive south on Old Nipissing Road, we would pass through the ghost town of Seguin Falls.
Instead, we continue west and are treated to the sight of a moose grazing in the marsh alongside the highway! Unfortunately, this was also a "Honey, where's the camera???" moment, so alas, no photo of the great beast.
What we did get some nice pictures of were the legions of white trilliums that blanketed the hardwood forests along the highway. The official flower of Ontario, white trilliums are lovely, happy little flowers. We have the red variety growing throughout our property, but I have yet to see the white ones here at home.

We pass through the town of Orville, which boasts a restaurant as well as a gas
station, general store and LCBO agent. This is one of the handful of places where the Seguin Trail crosses the highway and provides access to services.
Continuing on, Hwy 518 comes to an end at Hwy 400/69, just south of Parry Sound. It's only been about 60km, but it took us about an hour to drive, including stops along the way.
We head into town and briefly check out the main street shops. We're not much for shopping, so instead we visit the Old Fire Hall museum on Mary Street. As a volunteer firefighter here in Emsdale, Jim was particularly interested to see the old engines. Hockey fans may prefer a visit to the Bobby Orr Hall of Fame located at the Charles W. Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts.
Top of our must-see list was the Fire Tower. There's also a museum on site but we didn't go in this time and just climbed the tower and enjoyed the gardens. No longer used for keeping watch for forest fires, there's still a great view from the top of this 96-foot tower (I counted 130 steps on the climb to the top!). We had a bird's eye view of Georgian Bay, the town, the docks and beyond.

We also snapped a photo of the Island Queen cruise ship. This 550-passenger vessel makes daily 3-hour tours of the 30,000 Islands throughout the summer months.
Guests who have taken the cruise have told us it was a wonderful time.
From Parry Sound, we headed home by another route, taking Hwy 124 north-east through more lovely countryside of lakes and small communities. This route feels more settled, less like wilderness than Hwy 518.
From Hwy 124 we took Hwy 520 into the town of Magnetawan. Here you'll find a small selection of eateries and shops, including Summer's Attic, where you're sure to find a souvenir or treasure for your garden.

With locks and lakeside parks, Magnetawan is a lovely day trip on it's own. From there we swung south on Old Nipissing Road, stopped at the Cornball Store (out in the middle of nowhere, really) for an icecream, then turn
ed east on Midlothian Rd for a drive by the Screaming Heads.
We came out at Burk's Falls, which has a few restaurants to choose from for dinner options, but instead Jim wanted to stop at the chip truck in Katrine for that authentic 'summer road trip' ambiance. We even took the back roads home from there in order to prolong the feeling.

With all our stops and our longer route home, our day trip was about 5 hours start to finish. We could have easily made it much shorter (by taking Hwy 518 home again) or longer by adding more stops. I think next time we'll try coming home by way of Rosseau and Huntsville for a southerly loop. The possibilities are endless.
If you'd like to enjoy a day trip to Parry Sound, Magnetawan, or other great gems of the region, we'll be glad to help you plan your tour.

Wednesday, May 20

Carpet of Moss

One of the things we often hear from guests as they return from a walk in our woods is they are amazed by the moss.

"So that's what they mean when they say 'a carpet of moss'!" I've heard more than one guest exclaim. And it's true, there are sections of forest where the moss stretches out lush and soft over clearings, under pines, around rocks and boulders. In places, you feel like you're going to sink in up to your ankles.

When you take a closer look—and you can't resist bending down to run your hand over it—you see there's not just one moss growing, there's a lot going on under our feet.

There are mosses that look like starbursts; lichens that look like brillo pads; ground covers that resemble mini palm trees, tiny shrubs, or long fuzzy pipe-cleaners.

The colours range from pale pastel green, to blue-grey, to brilliant lime to deep emerald. The forest floor is like a patchwork quilt.

All this is going on just a few minutes from our back door. In this section of the woods, around the start of our trails, the conifers are deep and dense, leaving very little room for leaf-dropping deciduous trees. It's perfect for the mosses and other ground cover.

Once we get further back on our trails we get into the hardwood section of the property where the moss doesn't have a chance on the ground under the thick cover of fallen leaves. Here, it clings to tree trunks and rocks instead.

As ever, I'm afraid pictures just can't do it justice, so you'll just have to see for yourself.

Visit Fern Glen Inn B&B for some hiking or walks in the woods. We'll roll out the green carpet for you!

Friday, May 8

How to beat the blackflies

Majestic forests, shimmering lakes, cool rivers, lush wilderness and beautiful weather.... there must be a catch, right? In a word, yes. The catch is the blackflies.

When spring days grow consistently warm, boasting a nourishing blend of rain and sun, and the fresh new leaves start to unfurl on the trees, we know the blackflies won't be far behind. Such is the case all over Ontario's famed Cottage Country.

Blackflies look like small house flies but, like mosquitoes, they bite. Fortunately they differ from mosquitoes in that if they end up indoors, they give up trying to bite you and just walk the windows trying to get out.

Another upside is they are relatively short-lived, with the season usually lasting from 3 to 6 weeks. And they have one truly redeeming quality: they pollinate the blueberry plants! No blackflies would mean no blueberries, and we can't have that.

So every year cottagers, residents and visitors to Muskoka and Almaugin defy the pesky bugs and enjoy our lovely spring anyway. We have our defenses, and so can you:

Go Unscented
When we first moved here, locals told us the blackflies wouldn't bother us if we were to stop showering. We figured they were just having some fun with us newbies, but it turns out there's some truth to it.

Blackflies are attracted to the sweet scents of most commercial hair and body products. So only use unscented deodorant, shaving gel and lotions. Leave your hair styling products at home (ponytails and hats do wonders for these 'au naturel' hair days!). Do not wear perfume, cologne or scented moisturizer.

Wear light-coloured Clothing
Blackflies are attracted to dark colours, especially dark blue, or so I've heard. Tan khakis and white or light tees and tops might be better options.

Cover Up
Long sleeve shirts and pants, socks, hats... If they can't get to your skin, they can't bite. We provide bug jackets for guests to use during their stay. These are
light-weight hooded mesh pull-overs to wear over your top.

Screen In

Put yourself where the bugs can't get (or at least not many of them). We have a screened gazebo for sitting outside regardless of the insects. We also provide guests with 5' portable screen tents that just pop up when opened and fold down for easy transport. Take it with you for a picnic if you like. You just have to demonstrate you can get it folded back down before you head out in your car!

Keep Moving or Sit in the Wind
I find the blackflies are not too bothersome if I'm walking at a good pace, especially along the Seguin Trail or other open areas. Also, windy days are great because it really keeps the bugs down.

Commercial Repellents
There are many insect repellent sprays and lotions available. Off, Deep Woods, Muskol are all common brands available at department stores. Any that contain DEET will keep bugs from biting. For non-chemical products, check out drug stores or local outdoor supply stores. Avon Skin So Soft bath oil is famous for it's ability to ward off blackflies. Just rub it on any exposed skin before venturing out.

What about Rover?
Your dog's fur is not sufficient protection against bites. The blackflies will target the tender spots like the lower belly and
in the ears. Products containing DEET and other chemicals are potentially harmful as your dog may ingest it while grooming. There are natural products available from your vet or some pet stores. We use something called G-Natural for our dog; it's a repellent spray designed for horses. We also put a bit of Skin So Soft on her ears where she can't lick it.

Last Resort
If all else fails, just stand near me. I am the favourite food of blackflies and they will choose to feast on me above all others!

So this spring when Cottage Country calls and you just have to get out of the city, don't let some pesky little flies kibosh your plans. Now you know how to beat the blackflies!

Monday, May 4

25 things to love about May

The natural world around us changes so quickly at this time of year, each day looks a little different than the last... something is greener, taller, louder, leafier. May is an amazing month at the inn and in the Almaguin Highlands and Muskoka beyond. Here are just 25 things to love about it.
  1. Birds singing at dawn.
  2. Frogs singing at dusk.
  3. Soft green grass and luscious carpets of moss.
  4. Afternoons warm enough for shorts and t-shirts.
  5. Evenings cool enough to enjoy a fire.
  6. Nights chilly enough to cuddle under a fluffy duvet.
  7. Woodland wildflowers.
  8. Fresh chives.
  9. Asparagus! Picked fresh from the garden day after day.
  10. Fresh-cut ruby rhubarb baked in a cake.
  11. Rubber boots in squishy puddles.
  12. Line-drying laundry, sheets that smell like sunshine.
  13. Open windows letting in fresh breezes.
  14. The drum beat of spruce grouse in the woods.
  15. The good chances for seeing moose from the road through Algonquin Park.
  16. High-running rivers and riotous waterfalls.
  17. Uncrowded roads and trails for exploring.
  18. Uncrowded shops for leisurely browsing.
  19. Great finds and bargains — it's yard sale season!
  20. Seeing the shape of the land before the foliage obscures it.
  21. Buds and blossoms.
  22. The lemon-lime greening of the hills as the tamaracks reawaken.
  23. Legions of candy-striped 'spring beauty' wildflowers poking up from the forest floor.
  24. Country drives just to see where the road leads.
  25. Lengthening days to soak it all in.