Monday, December 20

No-Bake Butterscotch Noodle Cookies

Fern Glen Inn •

If the clock is ticking and you need to whip up a batch of sweets to have on hand for holiday visitors or to bring to a party, you've found the right recipe.

These cookies are a family favourite. More than that, they are family Christmas tradition. My mom has made these every year for the holiday season for as long as I can remember. They may not be as pretty or as festive-looking as many shaped, decorated and colourful cookies you'll find on many dessert trays and tins, but they are soooo good. Be warned: It's impossible to eat just one!

Quick and easy to make, these cookies require no chilling, rolling, cutting or baking. Just mix the dry ingredients, cook the wet ingredients in a pot, then mix together and drop by the spoonful onto waxed paper. They take a bit of time to set, but not long. They keep well so you can make them weeks ahead if you're one of those well-organized people; and they're quite sturdy, making them easy to transport.

Another nice thing about these cookies is they are great to make with kids (or grown-up kids). When I was home to visit my family recently, I pitched in with my mom, my nephew and his friend and we all helped make a big double batch of these. Mom sent a package of them home for Jim and I, but they didn't last long around here!

I asked Mom if she would mind sharing her recipe with the world, and she was happy to oblige. I hope you enjoy them as much as my family does.

: :   : :   : :   : :

Butterscotch Noodle Cookies 
The crispy noodles, sweet butterscotch and crunchy nuts are an addictive mix. For a chocolate noodle cookie variation, replace the butterscotch chips with chocolate chips. Recipe can be doubled.

3 to 4 cups chow mien noodles, broken so the pieces are about 1” long
1 1/2 to 2 cups chopped nuts (best are pecans)
2/3 cup solid honey (not the liquid kind)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 300 gram package butterscotch chips
50 – 75 grams pure chocolate chips

Place the noodles and nuts in a large bowl.
Place the butter, sugar and honey in a saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil.  Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla, butterscotch and chocolate chips until the chips have melted and the mixture is smooth.  Pour over the noodles and nuts.  Stir with a large wooden spoon to coat the dry ingredients.  Drop by spoonfuls onto wax paper and leave to harden up.  Place in an airtight container.  Enjoy.

: :   : :   : :   : :

Thanks Mom!!!

Wednesday, December 15

Secret to Winter Happiness

I have discovered the secret to a happy winter, and it can be summed up in just two words: fleece longjohns. (Or should that be three words?)

Actually, any kind of thermal underwear will do, but I find fleece is particularly high on the happiness scale. There's something about the feel of the soft, fuzzy fabric against bare skin that signals pure contentment. Perhaps it echoes the secure, snuggly nature of childhood pyjamas. In any case, fleece longjohns (or FLJ's, as I like to call them) are my new favourite winter gear.

If fleece isn't your thing, there are all sorts of light- and mid-weight base layers available in a variety of natural and synthetic fabrics. Choose something with warmth in mind but also in a fabric that will breathe and will wick moisture away from your skin. This means NO COTTON! Cotton kills, as the saying goes, because it absorbs moisture, holding it against your skin and leaving you clammy and chilled.

An extra layer of warmth means you can make the most of winter. People know to dress in layers for activities such as snowshoeing, skiing, and tobogganning; but for winter happiness all season long, don't just don your FLJ's (or other thermal underwear) when you're going out to play. They'll also keep you warm and comfortable as you go about your regular day... waiting for public transit, traversing a mall parking lot, walking the dog.

The lighter-weight technical fabrics aren't bulky or too hot, so you can wear them under your regular clothes and forget they're there. FLJ's can be worn under a skirt for the trek to work and are easily slipped off once you're at the office. Just because you'll only be outside briefly, en route to wherever you're going, doesn't mean you have to suffer the cold.

As I like to say (again and again): There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. If you add appropriate apparel when the temperature drops—as it has in many parts of the country lately—you can not only endure the season, you can actually enjoy it!

+  +  +  +  +  +

You can find thermal underwear at many department and chain stores, such as Canadian Tire and Mark's Work Wearhouse; and at specialty outdoor stores such as Mountain Equipment Co-op and from our friends in Huntsville at Algonquin Outfitters.

Find out how to keep your feet warm by choosing the right winter boots. Learn about how to dress for dog sledding and other winter activities, too.

Monday, December 6

Holiday Dog Sledding Schedule

 Fern Glen Inn •

Winter weather is off to a good start! Lots of snow and below-zero temperatures mean our local dog sledding ranch will soon be gearing up for guided dog sledding excursions near Huntsville, Muskoka. It's a popular adventure for our guests, and why not? There's nothing like mushing through the woods, driving your own sled and team of eager dogs.

Dog sledding is available throughout the winter season, usually starting in the last half of December and going through until the end of March or whenever the snow melts.

The Christmas - New Year's holiday is a particularly busy time for dog sledding, so advance bookings are strongly recommended. During the holidays, choose from guided 1-hour or 3-hour dog sledding excursions. For more information about what to expect, you can read my post on dog sledding in Muskoka here.

Add dog sledding to any stay at Fern Glen Inn this winter.

2010 Holiday Dog Sledding Schedule and Rates

Start Date:
To be determined. Often the season begins a few days before Christmas. It depends on amount of snow base and trail conditions. I'll post an announcement on our facebook page once the trails are open. You can Like us on facebook here to watch for updates.

Christmas Day:
No dog sledding tours on December 25th. However, the inn is open and rooms are available if you want to book your dog sledding for the 26th. 

Dec 26 thru Jan 2, daily:
11:00 am -- 1-hour guided dog sledding, $80/person
1:00 pm --  3-hour* guided dog sledding, $150/person

Jan 3 thru March (or whenever the snow melts), daily:
3-hour* guided dog sledding excursions are typically available at 9am and 1pm; however options may be available for 1-hour, 2-hour and 6-hour* excursions. Call or email to enquire.

*3-hour (half day) guided dog sledding includes break with hot chocolate and granola bars. 6-hour (full day) guided dog sledding includes trail lunch.

Taxes are extra. Rates are for dog sledding only and do not include accommodations. Dog sledding can be added to any stay at Fern Glen Inn.

Saturday, November 27

What about the chickens?

The question on everyone's mind is "what do you do with the chickens in the winter?". Okay, maybe it's not on everyone's mind, and it's not likely keeping you up at night, but it is a question we're frequently asked by friends and guests. And since this is our first winter with the ladies, we've had to do some leg work to figure it out.

Since our chickens are layers and not meat birds—ie. we got them for their eggs and not for the roasting pan—we'll keep them over the winter and not send them off to the local abattoir. Knowing this, we built the hen house with our heavy winters in mind. (Before Jim rolls his eyes all the way out of his head, I should clarify that when I say we built the hen house, I mean Jim and our neighbour, Bob, built the hen house.) 

It's a compact coop, the idea being that we could move it around to different parts of the yard, but it ended up being so heavy we can't budge it without Bob's tractor. The reason? It has more insulation per square inch than our own house! It's also positioned in a nicely sheltered spot, protected from the prevailing west winds and with some southern exposure. 

Insulation and location aren't enough, though. Chickens' feathers are great for keeping their bodies warm, but apparently their feet and crowns are susceptible to frostbite. Plus, the coop has to be warm enough to keep their drinking water from freezing. So we added heat with a simple 175w red heat bulb. It looks a bit like a club scene, but it makes for a nice warm coop and the ladies seem to be happy.

For now, we're still giving them access to their outdoor pen, and they're often outside regardless of the weather. Soon, though, the snow will be too deep and the really cold temperatures will settle in. Then we'll have to keep the girls in all day, every day. I guess this is where the expression "cooped up" comes from. We're thinking of getting them some cat toys so they don't get bored. Really.

They do have a window for some natural light, but Jim's planning on rigging up another light fixture—one with a plain, white bulb—that we can turn on during the day so the ladies aren't just in the dark red light all the time.

Egg production will drop and eventually stop for the winter. Partly due to the shorter daylight hours and partly to the stress of the cold, but for now we're still getting 6 eggs a day. That's one from each hen. Our neighbours up the road have 26 hens and they've already slowed down to less than 10 eggs a day. This could mean our ladies are spoiled, pampered chooks. But that's fine by me. You go girls!

Tuesday, November 16

Popular Picks

We have a rather eclectic selection of books available in the guest lounge and it's interesting to see which ones are popular with our guests. For instance, we often find the Book of Dog Breeds left out on the table or couch. Who knew it would be such a riveting read? 

I think because many visits are too short to start and finish a book from cover to cover (especially when readers are spending part of their time out exploring), the most popular books are those which don't require a big commitment of time. Collections of short stories, essays, anthologies, comic strips, poems, lists and how-to's.

Guests with a literary bent enjoy browsing through short stories from critically acclaimed authors such as Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, and Anais Nin. These we find on night stands and beside muskoka chairs. We also have some sci-fi/fantasy anthologies for short fiction to really take you away from daily life.

Some folks opt for lighter fare. The Calvin and Hobbes and Far Side volumes are popular and always good for a laugh. Non-fiction collections of lists and Canadiana must be great to read out loud and share as they're often found on the coffee table in the Coop. Books of lists and trivia are great to spark some interesting conversations with your travel mates. 

Bite-size reads can be the perfect way to unwind on a short getaway, but don't worry if what you're really craving is a good, meaty story. We tell our guests if they start one of our paperback novels while they're here, they're welcome to take it home to finish. Hopefully they'll pass it along to another reader when they're finished. Good books, like so may pleasures in life, are best when they're shared.

Tuesday, November 9

Recommended Reading for a Backwoods Getaway

Since November is the perfect month for a book-lover's getaway, I thought I'd share some of my favourite reads with you. The list of 'Books I've Loved Before' is far too long to trot out in its entirely, so I've chosen a handful that seem to me suitable companions for a quiet getaway here at the inn.

Bachelor Brothers' Bed & Breakfast
by Bill Richardson
An obvious choice since it is about a (fictional) B&B, the brothers who own it (Hector and Virgil), their "gentle and bookish and ever so slightly confused" guests, and a cast of local characters. Originally published in 1993, The Bachelor Brothers' Bed & Breakfast won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour. Author Bill Richardson spins his tales with a wonderfully Canadian warmth and wit. Every time I read about Hector and Virgil, I want to check in and spend a week under their roof.

Crow Lake
by Mary Lawson
Set in an agricultural pocket of northern Ontario's Canadian Shield, Crow Lake is the story of a family touched by unexpected loss and the ripples of that loss through their lives. Canadian-born author Mary Lawson captures the multi-faceted spirit of a stoic yet compassionate northern community, resisting the urge to paint with broad strokes. It's easy to forget the book is fiction; I saw glimpses of my own family roots and values in her story.

Under the Tuscan Sun
by Frances Mayes
The non-fiction memoirs of an American writer who buys and restores an abandoned villa in Tuscany, Italy. Author Frances Mayes takes us with her on her incredible journey and shares with us the challenges, triumphs and tastes along the way. The book resonates with anyone who has ever followed a dream that others might call a folly; and it inspires those who have yet to take such chances. Mayes also shares her love of food and some authentic Italian recipes.

The Day of the Triffids
by John Wyndham
I found this book here when we moved in and read it that same winter. Perhaps reading about walking, carnivorous plants while isolated and surrounded by vast amounts of trees is not the brightest of ideas, but it certainly made an impression on me. First published in 1951, some aspects of the story are perhaps a bit dated, but it still provides a fascinating "what if" scenario that is excellent fodder for conversation when you're sitting by a fire in a little cabin in the woods.

Through Black Spruce
by Joseph Boyden
A beautifully told story that belongs on any reader's list, I add it here for its rendering of the north. Author Joseph Boyden creates a vivid picture of Northern Ontario at the southern tip of James Bay and the people who call that land home. The characters and the landscape come to life, making me yearn to sit down beside protagonist Will Bird and learn what he knows, to share in his world. The story lingered long after I turned the last page.

Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw
by Will Ferguson
A wonderful, insightful, humourous collection of essays about this collection of places and people we call Canada. Author Will Ferguson shares his experiences from various outposts across the country, tying together the threads of our colourful national fabric. A great book for getting Canadians to look at ourselves, and a great look inside for visitors to the country.

All of these titles (and more!) are available to borrow during your bookish getaway. Or bring your own selection and recommendations for me to add to my ever-growing "must read" list!

Sunday, October 31

November is for Readers & Writers

Fern Glen Inn •

November. The colourful leaves have fallen. The lakes are too cold for swimming. If there's any snow at all this month, it won't be enough to play in. So what, pray tell, is one to do around here in November?

The simple, delicious answer is... not much. Oh, there are still trails to hike and sights to see. Most of the shops and galleries are still open, though their hours may be shorter. But the crowds have emptied out of the parks, stores, restaurants and highways now that the flashy, popular months have passed. And this is great news for those of us who appreciate the quiet pleasure of the written word.

More than any other, November is the month for readers and writers. It's a quiet, cocooning, reflective time, perfect for curling up in front of a fire with a good book. When you're ready to stretch your legs, an amble through the woods clears your mind and lets you gather your thoughts before putting them on paper.

Beyond simply offering a place away from the distractions and noise of the daily grind, we've got even more to offer readers and writers this month.

Book Swap
Bring a book to add to our eclectic collection and take one of ours home with you. We have all sorts of genres and authors; there's sure to be something for everyone.

NaNoWriMo Support
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this month? What do you need to achieve your word count? Extra coffee packs, a thesaurus, a self-serve lunch so you don't have to interrupt your creative flow, moral support or a figurative kick in the pants? Let us know and we'll do our best to help you reach your goal.
Learn more about National Novel Writing Month at 

10% Discount at The Bookcase
The Bookcase independent bookstore in downtown Huntsville is a great place to spend a lazy afternoon. With a large selection of books and categories, the two-story shop has cozy nooks—complete with fireplaces—and an inviting, rambling, browser-friendly layout. The Bookcase is offering guests of Fern Glen Inn a 10% discount off all regular priced books in store for the month of November.
Browse The Bookcase online at 
Solo Writer's Retreat
A popular quiet season package, the Mini Sabbatical is perfect for writers. Whether you're working on your memoirs, a collection of poetry, the great Canadian novel you know is inside you, or simply catching up on a personal journal, this getaway will free you to focus.
The Solo Writer's Retreat Package includes:
  • 2 nights accommodation for 1 person
  • breakfast both mornings
  • lunch and dinner on your full day
  • inspirational quotes served with breakfast
  • writing journal for you to keep
$235 + tax

Book Lovers' Romantic Getaway
Perfect for partners who need a bit of quiet time to just be together. Read, walk in the woods, play scrabble while taking turns choosing pretty chocolates from a box of truffles.  
The Book Lovers' Romantic Getaway includes:
  • 2 nights accommodation for 2 people
  • breakfast both mornings
  • box of 8 gourmet chocolate truffles
  • sturdy Fern Glen Inn book bag for trips to the library and book store
$235 + tax

Call , email or book online for your November readers or writers getaway.

Quote for a November Day:
For an occurrence to become an adventure, it is necessary and sufficient for one to recount it.~Jean-Paul Sartre

Monday, October 25

Ode to Calvados

Fern Glen Inn •

Autumn is a season to inspire poetry. In all times and all places, poets have been moved to capture the colour and beauty of the foliage in verse. Outdoor splendour aside, it's the flavours of fall that make me want to sing praises and put rhymes to rhythm.

The rich, deep flavours of late-harvest fruits and vegetables could fill stanzas, not just farm stands. Sonnets could be written about apples, which, when cooked until tender and mellow, are perfectly set against the brisk autumn weather. Odes could be penned to one of my favourite flavours of fall: Calvados.

In basic terms, Calvados is an apple brandy. It's a distilled spirit (or eau de vie) made from apple cider—which itself has been made from over 100 varieties of apples—and aged in oak casks, produced in Normandy, France, since 1825. Honey-coloured in the glass, velvety smooth over the tongue, warm in the belly, Calvados is best experienced in this golden season. The aroma is heady, earthy, intoxicating, apple. It is autumn in a bottle. 

Cooking with Calvados
Calvados is rather dearly priced—and worth every penny!—so use it where the flavour can really shine through, prepared with few other ingredients so as not to muddy the taste. While spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger go beautifully with the apple essence of Calvados, use a light hand as they can easily overpower the subtle nuances of the brandy. 

A splash of Calvados takes any kind of apple dish to new heights. But it's more versatile than just that. Some ways to use to use Calvados: 
  • Add it to custards when making creme brulée, creme caramel, or ice cream.
  • Spike whipped cream, creme anglaise or pastry cream to serve with apple, pumpkin or ginger desserts.
  • Stir into a pot of simmering diced apples to make a grown-up version of applesauce.
  • Add to fall fruit condiments such as apple chutney or cranberry relish.
  • Use it to deglaze your pan after searing pork tenderloin or chops, add minced shallots and heavy cream to make a delicious pan sauce for your pork.
  • Simmer a splash while sweating the aromatics when making a pot of butternut squash soup.
  • Serve it as a drink neat, over ice or mixed with tonic water, or in an apple martini.

Calvados-Glazed Apples
Few ingredients and simple preparation highlight the Calvados. Measurements are approximate. Use more or less sugar depending on the sweetness of the apples. Use more Calvados for a stronger brandy taste. I use white sugar for it's neutral sweetness instead of a molasses-toned brown sugar.
If you don't have Calvados use brandy, cognac or rum.

2 large apples*
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 to 4 tablespoons Calvados, or to taste

Peel, core and quarter the apples. Slice into 1/2" thick wedges. Heat a 10" skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butter and swirl to melt. Add the apples, stirring to coat with butter, then sprinkle the sugar over top. Leave the apples undisturbed for a minute or two so they can take on a bit of colour. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are tender but holding their shape, about 5 minutes. 
Take the pan off the heat and add the Calvados. If the apples have released a lot of juice, add just 2 tablespoons; if the apples are quite dry, you can add up to 4 tablespoons of Calvados. Return to the heat and stir until heated through and the apples are glazed and syrupy. 
Remove from heat and serve immediately. Apples can also be cooled and stored, covered, in the fridge for a day. Reheat in the microwave before serving.

* I used one Gala and one Granny Smith but you can use just one type for a single note of apple flavour. Be sure to use varieties that hold their shape or you'll end up with applesauce. Northern Spy, Empire, and Crispin are good choices.

Serving Suggestions for Calvados-Glazed Apples
  • Serve over ice cream (vanilla or butterscotch ripple), pound cake or gingerbread. 
  • Roll inside crepes. 
  • Top with crumbled amoretti biscuits and Calvados-Spiked Whipped Cream. 
  • Use with puff pastry to make simple tarts and galettes. 
  • For an autumn riff on strawberry shortcakes, split sweet flaky biscuits (add cinnamon to the dough if making from scratch) and fill with the apples and spiked whipped cream. 
  • Make Apple Clafouti (recipe below).

Apple Clafouti
What could be a better match for French apple brandy than this classic French dessert? Clafouti is a creamy, thick-set custard baked with fruit. It's traditionally made with cherries, but glazed apple slices are the perfect autumn twist.
This is an easy dish to make, but it needs a bit of advance planning. The batter needs to rest for at least an hour before baking, or it can be prepared a day in advance. Serves 6.

3 eggs
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup sugar
pinch salt
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons Calvados (or brandy, cognac or rum)
butter for the baking dish
1 recipe prepared Calvados-Glazed Apples
icing sugar for dusting

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, yolk, sugar and salt. Whisk in the flour. Slowly add the milk, whisking, then the cream and Calvados. The batter should be smooth and lump-free. Another method is to prepare the batter in a blender. Add all ingredients to the blender and process until smooth. Allow the batter to rest, covered and refrigerated, for at least an hour or up to 12 hours.

Remove the batter from the fridge. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9" round deep pie dish (or an 8" square by 2" high ceramic or glass baking dish). Prepare the Calvados-Glazed Apples according to the recipe above, then set aside.
With a rubber spatula, gently stir the batter to recombine it. Pour it into the buttered dish. Using a slotted spoon, distribute the apples over the batter—they'll sink and float as it's a runny batter; that's fine. Reserve any syrup from the apples in the skillet.
Bake the clafouti until puffed and golden and a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean, about 35 minutes.
Brush or drizzle the reserved syrup over the clafouti. If the syrup has thickened too much, warm it gently along with a splash of Calvados.
Dust with icing sugar and slice into six wedges. Serve warm, with Calvados-Spiked Whipped Cream if desired. Reheat any leftovers in the microwave and top with a ladleful of hot oatmeal for rich breakfast.

Calvados-Spiked Whipped Cream
1 cup whipping cream, chilled
1 tablespoon icing sugar
1 tablespoon Calvados

Using chilled beaters and a chilled bowl, beat or whip all the ingredients together until the cream holds soft peaks.

Tuesday, October 5

Autumn in our Woods

Fern Glen Inn •

It's that time of year again! The time when the woods are a riot of colour, the landscape around us is pure eye candy, and I am left floundering for words to adequately convey the awe it inspires.
So I'll abandon words today and simply share the photos I took earlier this week during a walk through our woods and up to the little lake. 

Thursday, September 30

An Afternoon in Burk's Falls

The natural setting and outdoor adventures may be the biggest draws for visitors to the area, but the towns and villages of the region offer their own charms as well. Huntsville, being the largest town in the region (pop. 18,500) is well-known to tourists and popular with our guests for shopping and dining. But it's not the only town within an easy drive of the inn.

The Village of Burk's Falls lies just north of us, 16 km up Highway 11. With a population of just 1,000, it is definitely a small town, and a lovely place to spend an afternoon. The Magnetawan River winds through the village. Houses, shops and churches perch on hillsides or cluster along quiet streets. Stores and restaurants are spread out, mostly along the main street, so driving between stops is more common than walking, but parking is free and plentiful.

Here is a selection—by no means complete—of some stops to include when you spend an afternoon in Burk's Falls.

Burk's Falls Welcome Centre & Cafe

Not just a repository of tourist information, the centre has public washrooms, a covered outdoor picnic spot overlooking the river, and an excellent cafe. This is the place for a great latte, cappuccino, or other specialty coffee. Plus their selection of fudges and baked goods are absolutely delicious. I highly recommend the butter tart muffins! Beside the centre is the covered footbridge which is the starting point for the in-town Heritage River Walk.
Hwy 520, just east of Ontario Street.

Circling Hawks Centre 
A retail store selling jewelry, books, crystals, drums and all things of various spiritual beliefs and faiths. A tarot card reader is sometimes available at the store for readings. Beyond the store, the back garden is open to visitors to enjoy a labyrinth, quiet gardens, teepee, bottle tree, peace pole and more (visiting is free). The barn out back houses an art studio showcasing works from local artists.
156 Ontario Street, Burk's Falls

Wooden Roo 
Located in a big old barn, this retail store offers two floors of giftware and home furnishings, many of them hand-crafted. You'll find things such as pottery pieces, solid wood furniture, framed artwork, jams & jellies, jewelry and souvenirs. 
311 Ontario Street, Burk's Falls

Burk's Falls Arts & Crafts Club
A gallery displaying various artwork and handcrafts of local artists. 
113 Young Street, Burk's Falls

Burk's Falls Flea Market
It bills itself as a flea market, but it's more like one mammoth, indoor rummage sale. Crammed into a big warehouse, you'll find all sorts of household and recreational pieces from years past. The first time we were in there, Jim and I were surprised to see a Flintstones car (barely visible under piles of everything else). There are crates of old vinyl records, stacks of books (fairly well organized, actually), housewares, hardware, appliances, furniture, boats.... stuff! Last time I was in, I found a table full of file boxes containing old magazine cover art and advertisements, each carefully protected in a plastic sleeve. I could've spent the entire afternoon just sorting through those.
I took a picture of one old ad for jello. It is a time capsule on paper, providing a glimpse back to a different era. The gist of the message is that if your cook quits, don't worry. You can feed your family jello until the employment agency can send you a new one. I love it! If you go, be sure to share your finds with us.
Young Street, Burk's Falls.

Burk's Falls offers a small selection of eateries, with something for everyone.

Dee's Bistro: Family and fine dining. Ontario Street.
Al's Diner: Classic diner fare. Ontario Street north of the bridge (beside the bowling alley).
Bakery by the Bridge: Baked goods, beverages, small but excellent lunch menu. Ontario Street.
British Boy Fish & Chips: hand-battered fish fillets, assorted menu, take out or eat at the picnic tables outside. Ontario Street.
Danny's Justa Pasta: this one is not in Burk's Falls but further north and very popular. On Hwy 11 between Burk's Falls and Sundridge. 

Around Burk's Falls
Other things to do and see when you're around Burk's Falls include...
Burk's Falls and District Museum 
Screaming Heads 
Magnetawan River Rapids 

Enjoy your visit to Burk's Falls!

Thursday, September 23

A Mighty Wind

 Fern Glen Inn •

A mighty wind blew through here recently, along with heavy rains and a thundering lightening storm. It uprooted trees, snapped trunks and left a mess of branches, limbs and pine needles to clean up. 

It also left us without power for a day and a half, but that's not as big a deal as you might think. We have a gas-powered generator we can hook up to our electrical panel and run all the essentials such as water, heat, lights, fridges, computers, coffee maker (essential!). We just can't run them all at the same time. And of course, we conserve our energy use. When we're the only ones here, and when there's no pressing need for electricity, we shut off the generator and spend the afternoon in the sunshine, or the evening in candlelight. 

After this particular storm, there was plenty to keep us busy out in the woods. A walk along our trails revealed many trees down, blocking the path in at least a dozen places. Some were small or dry-rotted and therefore light enough to simply lift and move out of the way. But there were also a number of big, mature trees down as well. Maple, cedar, beech, poplar. These would take a bit more work—and Jim's chainsaw—to clear out of the way.

So we spent two afternoons making the trails passable. Jim used the chainsaw on the big trees to cut them to manageable lengths. The thin leafy branches we just dragged into the bush. The trunks we set beside the trail to collect later.

The hardwood species will be put to use as firewood, but not this year. Most of the maples that came down were large, seemingly healthy, living trees. Their wood is too green for burning now and will need a year or two to dry out.

Maintaining the trails and getting enough firewood to see us through the winter is demanding physical work. But we love it! Especially at this time of year when there are no bugs and the air is cool and fresh. Plus there's enormous satisfaction to this type of work. The results are so tangible. The cleared trail that had been blocked by a massive game of pickup sticks. The fat logs of hardwood piled in the back of a trailer to be carted out of the bush. The piles of split wood ready to be stacked in neat cords by the woodshed. Real work. Simple pleasure. Bring on more wind!

Wednesday, September 8

Autumn Events in Muskoka & Almaguin

There are many reasons to treat yourself to a Fall Getaway in Muskoka and Almaguin... the colourful maple leaves, the perfect hiking weather, the fresh air (just to name a few). For the planned events and activities, see our list below. As ever, if you know of an event that we've missed, please let us know. Check back often for updates.

Ironman Muskoka 70.3
A challenging race through some of Muskoka's most beautiful terrain, including a 1.2 mile swim in bracing Peninsula Lake; a 56 mile bike ride through Lake of Bays including the hamlets of Dwight, Dorset and Baysville; followed by a 13.1 mile run. Visit Ironman Muskoka for details.
Sept 12

Algonquin Park Fall Workshop Series
The Friends of Algonquin Park are offering nine workshops (most of them one full day each) from mid-September to mid-October. There's fire-making, paddle-carving, animal-tracking, and five different photography workshops. Visit the Friends of Algonquin Park facebook page for dates, descriptions and registration details.
various dates from Sept 18 - Oct 17

Film North
Muskoka's first international film festival, held at Huntsville's Algonquin Theatre, showcases an eclectic lineup of films over three days. The focus is on the films and the filmmakers. Visit Film North for details. Peruse the program lineup here.
Sept 23 - 25

Muskoka Autumn Studio Tour
Two weekends for visitors to witness the artistic process at work through demonstrations and displays in the studios of Muskoka's diversely talented artists. Free self-guided tour. For printable map, brochure and more information, visit Muskoka Autumn Studio Tour.
Sept 25 - 26
Oct 2 - 3

North Words Muskoka Literary Festival
The inaugural festival featuring authors who have written about or been inspired by this breathtaking region. Two days of readings, Q&A's and book signings by such authors as Joseph Boyden, Roy MacGregor, Tish Cohen, Giles Blunt, John Ibbitson, Jeffrey Moore, Peter Robinson, Jack Whyte, Shane Peacock, Alan Pearson and Alayna Munce. Visit North Words Muskoka Literary Festival for schedule of events and ticket information.
Oct 8 -9

Thanksgiving Long Weekend
See the fall colours, walk in the woods, drive quiet country roads, relax and enjoy a long weekend away from it all.
Oct 8 - 11

Art After Dark
An open house for the Almaguin Highlands Arts Council. An evening of guest speakers, music, dance, poetry, and original art. Refreshments served. Hosted by the Burk's Falls Arts and Crafts Club at the Burk's Falls Arts Centre. Visit the Almaguin Highlands Arts Council for details.
Nov 3, 7pm

Huntsville's Girlfriends' Getaway Weekend
A weekend of shopping, pampering and culinary delights in downtown Huntsville. Giveaways, prizes, discounts and demonstrations. Get your holiday shopping done in one weekend (away from the big box stores!). Girlfriends get $25 off their 2-night stay at Fern Glen Inn for this Girlfriends' Getaway Weekend.
Nov 11 - 14

Tuesday, August 31

Summer Breaks and Almond Cakes

August is a busy month around here, with people coming and going in a steady stream. Some stay just one night, others for up to a week. One thing is pretty consistent though: whether they've crossed an ocean to get here or driven a couple hours up the highway, they make the most of the time they have amid the lakes and woods of this natural environment.

Perhaps it's because of this that Jim and I make time to enjoy it, too. Even though we've been here five and half years now, we don't take for granted all the simple pleasures the region offers. Our guests won't let us. By sharing their day's adventures and delights with us, they remind us how lucky we are to have beaches, rivers, hiking trails and vistas within easy reach.

So no matter how busy we are, no matter how long our own To Do lists get, we still make time for summer breaks. Sometimes that means just a 15 minute swim in a cool, clear lake (that's a 15 minute holiday!). Sometimes it means simply sitting on the upper deck, sipping a glass of wine, feeling the sun on our faces while we watch the clouds drift across a blue sky. We don't often have the slow pace that we thought would be part of country living, but every now and then we can stop the clock entirely and just be in the moment.

Of course the clock does start up again, but by then I'm refreshed and ready to get back at it. Plus, I have an arsenal of easy-yet-delicious recipes perfect for these hot and lazy August days. One of my favourites is this recipe for almond cakes. They're made with ingredients I always have on hand and they come together quickly and spontaneously (no need to wait for butter to come to room temperature). Because it makes a small batch, it's perfect for the times mid-week when I only have one room of guests. And I can bake them in the counter-top toaster oven instead of heating up the whole kitchen with my big oven.

These are a nice baked good with breakfast or make a lovely afternoon snack. You can also serve them as a simple dessert, perhaps with a bit of whipped cream and fresh berries on the side.

Jam-filled Almond Cakes
These are best—moist and flavourful—made a day in advance.
makes 4, recipe can be doubled or tripled

1/3 cup all purpose flour
3 tablespoons ground almonds
scant 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of table salt
3 tablespoons plain natural yogurt*
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract and/or grated orange zest (optional)
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
4 heaping teaspoons jam, any flavour
sliced almonds (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter 4 muffin cups OR line them with paper liners.

In a small bowl, whisk together the four, ground almonds, baking powder and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the yogurt, sugar, egg and almond extract and/or zest (if using). Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir to combine. Stir in the melted butter.

Divide most of the batter between the muffin cups. Top each with a heaping teaspoon of jam. Top with the remaining batter. Sprinkle the sliced almonds on top (if using).

Bake until the tops spring back when touched and a toothpick inserted near the centre comes out clean or with moist crumbs attached. Cool on a wire rack then store in an airtight container at room temperature or in the fridge for up to three days. If you like, drizzle with a simple icing made from icing sugar and a bit of milk or orange juice.

* Use plain, natural yogurt containing NO gelatin or pectin. Thick, balkan-style yogurt gives the richest results but lower-fat yogurts can be used as well.

Variation: use fresh or frozen raspberries, blueberries, blackberries or cherries in place of the jam.

Thursday, August 12

Starry, Starry Nights

Fern Glen Inn •

There are many things I love about living here: the fresh air, the abundant greenery, the uncongested roads, the plethora of outdoor adventures within easy reach. These are all things I would long for when we lived in the city, and savour sweetly on our brief escapes "up north". But perhaps what I relished the most—and still thrill to—are the dark, star-filled skies.

Away from the light pollution of cities, towns and highways, we are treated to a spectacular show of stars, planets and other celestial eye candy. And it's available year-round!

In summer, the Milky Way spills across the sky from the north-east to the south-west. The moderate temperature means you can get comfortable and star-gaze long into the night.

In the winter, there is perhaps less to see, and you can't really spend hours at a time watching, but the cold air makes for incredibly clear viewing. Plus, since the winter sun sets so early, you don't have to stay up late to get a good look at the heavens. We sometimes see a halo around the moon, which is caused by ice crystals high up in the atmosphere.

August, though, is perhaps my favourite time for star-gazing. The Perseid meteor shower starts in late July and reaches its peak in mid-August, around the 11th to 13th of the month. Known as the Perseid shower because the meteors appear to be coming from the constellation Perseus, it's actually made up of debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle. Some years are better than others for viewing, with a good year offering around 100 meteors per hour. That's a lot of wishes! If the sky is free of clouds and moon, we can see so many shooting star we lose count!

For watching meteor showers, get yourself away from light pollution. Time your gazing for the darkest hours possible. Some year's we've set our alarm clock to get up in the wee hours after the moon had set. Have a chair or blanket and get in as horizontal a position as you can to avoid neck strain. Dress warm as even summer nights can be chilly. And then hope for clear, cloudless weather.

Learn more meteor shower viewing tips and the 2014 schedule of meteor showers.

Of course, you don't need a meteor shower, fancy equipment, or any kind of astronomical knowledge to appreciate a starry sky. As long as humans have been peering upwards, we've been enthralled, awed and inspired by the majesty and mystery above. 

Lying outside on a moonless night, the sky an infinite dome above, I somehow feel both small and immortal, a minuscule part of a grand, unfolding narrative.

The vastness of the universe stretched out before us has a way of putting things in perspective. It reminds us not to take our lives so seriously, reminds us that our own time here is brief. That if we don't make the most of it now, when will we? For Jim and I, we'll make good use of our time this week by spending some of it under the night sky, casting wishes at shooting stars.

: :   : :   : :   : :

Thank you to our guests Bryan and Jessica for sending us the photos above, which were taken in our back lawn. They used a long exposure on their camera and a software program to rotate their tripod in time with the rotation of the planet in order to capture the detail of the night sky without motion streaks.