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 • www.ferngleninn.blogspot.com

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.

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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.

Wednesday, August 4

Photo Contest 2 - "Day Trips"

We're having another photo contest and there are two ways to win... 

Enter a photo for your chance to win a Free Night at Fern Glen Inn plus a Fern Glen Gift Package! Every vote your photo gets will be entered in a draw. More votes means better chances to win!
Vote for a photo and be entered in a draw to win a Free Night at Fern Glen Inn!

Contest Theme: Day Trips
Photos of the activities, adventures, sights and scenery you enjoyed during day trips around the area while visiting the inn.

How to Enter

Read the Photo Contest Rules and Regulations (below). Email your photo to contest@ferngleninn.on.ca. Enter up to three photos, one photo per email submission.

In your submission email, include the following (don't forget to attach your photo!):
Your name:
Email address:
Phone number:
Approximate date photo was taken:
Location or Activity represented in the photo:
Name of attached file:
Title of photo (optional):
"I, (insert your name), certify I am the photographer of the attached photo; and I have read and agree to the Photo Contest Rules and Regulations."
Fern Glen Inn will post your photo(s) to the Photo Contest album on our facebook page within 24 hours of receiving a complete submission email. As soon as your photo is posted, it's available to start collecting votes—so enter soon!

How to Vote
Visit the Fern Glen Inn facebook page and Become a Fan by "Liking" Fern Glen Inn. View the Photo Contest 2 album. To vote for a photo, click to enlarge it; then click on the "Like" button.

Photo Contest Grand Prize
In addition to untold fame and glory, the winner of the photo contest receives a Gift Certificate for One Free Night plus a Fern Glen Gift Package. Valid for one night accommodation and breakfast for two at Fern Glen Inn; approx. $110 value plus a special gift approx. $30 value.
Some restrictions apply*. 

Random Draw Prize
One randomly selected Fan/Voter will receive a Gift Certificate for One Free Night. Valid for one night accommodation and breakfast for two at Fern Glen Inn; approx. $110 value.
Some restrictions apply*.

Photo Contest Rules and Regulations

  1. Photos must fit the current theme of the contest (ie. taken off the property during a visit to Fern Glen Inn).
  2. The contest is open to past and current guests and visitors of Fern Glen Inn who are 18 years of age or older. The inn proprietors and their immediate families are not eligible to win.
  3. The contest runs until October 31, 2010. Submit photos by midnight EST October 28, 2010 to be eligible. The winner will be announced on or about November 1 on the Fern Glen Inn facebook page, and will be notified by email that week.
  4. Submit photos by email to contest@ferngleninn.com. Entries will be posted by Fern Glen Inn to the Photo Contest photo album.
  5. Only digital submissions will be accepted. Photos should be in JPG format and should not be any larger than 4mb each.
  6. Determining the winner: Every vote ("Like") your photo gets as of 11:00 pm EST on October 31, 2010, will be entered in a random draw for the Grand Prize. The more votes you get, the better your chances of winning.
  7. By submitting a photo to the contest, you certify that you are the photographer and sole copyright owner of the photo. You consent to and give Fern Glen Inn the right in perpetuity to publish, display, post and otherwise use the photo for advertising, trade, publicity and promotional purposes in any media, worldwide, including on the internet, without review, notification or approval, all without limitation or additional consideration, unless prohibited by law. You agree that the photo may be cropped, edited, electronically manipulated or otherwise altered, and that whether or how the photograph is used is entirely for Fern Glen Inn to decide. You certify that any identifiable persons represented in the entry have supplied express permission for their likeness to be used for advertising, trade or publicity without consideration, in perpetuity.
  8. This offer is void where prohibited by law.
  9. Fern Glen Inn is not responsible for lost or misdirected entries, or for technical difficulties which may interfere with submissions and/or voting.
  10. Fern Glen Inn reserves the right to post or remove all/any entries.
Voting and Random Draw Rules and Regulations

  1. Fans of the Fern Glen Inn facebook page may vote for a photo by clicking on the "Like" associated with the photo. Each "Like" counts as one vote. Fans are invited to comment on photos, but only a "Like" will count as a vote.
  2. Fans may vote for multiple photos. Each vote is counted towards a photo's tally. Each voting Fan is entered once into the random draw, regardless of the number of votes they cast.
  3. Fans may vote for their own photo submissions.
  4. One voting Fan will be randomly selected after the contest closes on October 31, 2010. The winner will be announced on or about November 1 on the Fern Glen Inn facebook page, and will be notified via facebook.
  5. The Grand Prize Winner is not eligible to win the Random Draw Prize, nor are the inn proprietors and their immediate families. Winner must be 18 years of age or older to claim their prize.
*Gift Certificate is valid for one night accommodation and breakfast for up to two people in one room of the Coach House at Fern Glen Inn. Subject to availability. Minimum 2-night stays apply on High Season weekends. Not valid long weekends or holidays. Use by January 31, 2011. No cash value. Transferable with prior approval by issuer.