Friday, December 6

2013 Holiday Season Getaways

Meadow and toboggan hill in front of the Coop guest lounge.

What can be more magical than spending the holidays in a winter wonderland? Imagine fresh snow sparkling like diamond dust in the moonlight, a mug of hot chocolate in front of a toasty fire, the crunch of snowshoes on a forest trail, a cheeky little chickadee pecking a seed from the palm of your hand, a glimpse of a deer in a snow-clad meadow.

Fern Glen Inn is open throughout the Christmas / New Year's holiday season. Guests are welcome to arrive on any day, even Christmas, and stay for short getaway or the whole week.

'Winter in the Country' is the theme of a getaway here. If you're not into a commercial Christmas or big parties, this is the right place for you. While we do put out a few winter-themed decorations, we let mother nature deck the landscape outside and keep things low-key inside.

The Coach House with four guest suites.

Do as much or as little as you like. You can stay on the property, enjoying our snowshoes and trails, toboggans and hill, or just unwinding in the Coop guest lounge or in your room. Snowshoes and toboggans are FREE for guests to use on our 120 acre property!

For more excitement, venture out to Arrowhead Park or Algonquin Park and enjoy their trails by boot, snowshoe or cross-country ski. Arrowhead Park's iceskating trail and tubing hill are popular ways to enjoy a winter day outside. Don't worry about the weather, you can warm up at the warming hut!

For a faster pace, go down-hill skiing or snowboarding at Hidden Valley Ski Area in Huntsville, or book a guided dog sledding excursion at a local ranch. See the 2013/14 Dog Sledding Schedule and Rates here.

Holiday Rates at Fern Glen Inn

  • B&B holiday getaway: $128/night/couple
  • Country Winter Getaway Package: $325/couple
  • Chili-Dog Dog Sledding Package: $295/person
  • Add a third night with breakfast for $118/couple

Every stay at Fern Glen Inn during the winter includes:
  • Delicious, full served breakfast each morning
  • Free use of snowshoes on our 120 acre property
  • Use of rustic cabin guest lounge with wood-burning stove
  • Directions and suggestions for enjoying the region
  • Every room has a queen bed and private ensuite bathroom

Private snowshoe trails at Fern Glen Inn.
Learn more about winter getaway packages here.
Learn more about Fern Glen Inn here.
Book online here.

Fern Glen Inn Holiday Dinner Schedule

Breakfast is included with every stay and dinners are available at the inn with advance notice. While meals are "cook's choice" and not selected from a menu, there are a few options for types of meals: Country Dinner (homemade bread, main course, dessert, tea/coffee); Chili Dinner (cornbread, chili and all the fixings, dessert, tea/coffee); Soup in the Coop (packed for self-serving homemade soup, bread, simple dessert).
  • December 24: Chili Dinner, $24/person
  • December 25: Country Dinner, $28/person
  • December 31: Country Dinner, $28/person
  • All other dates: open

Add 13% sales tax to all rates.

Visit the Fern Glen Inn website for more information.

Check available dates or book online here.

Snowshoe angels in front of the Coop guest lounge.

Saturday, November 30

Deer Tracks

Lunch interrupted!
 One thing I love about snow is the way it records—though briefly—the comings and goings of furred and feathered friends around the property. This means I can tell when our local deer have been here, even if I don't get to see them directly.

Some mornings, their tracks snake all around and across the lawns, weaving around flower beds and garden benches. When the snow is a bit wet and the visit quite recent, their hoof prints are most clearly defined.

A double set of hoof prints.
Tracks aren't the only traces left in the snow. We knew the deer had been grazing in the middle lawn between the Coach House and the Coop because there were numerous little clearings where the deer had scraped the snow away to get to the tasty grass and clover underneath.

Deer clearings: the northern version of crop circles?
We always love watching the deer when they happen to come around during daylight hours while we happen to be outside or looking out the right window. Sometimes we'll see them every day for a week! Then we'll go days or even weeks without catching a glimpse and we're glad to at least see the signs of their activity and know they still share a home with us.

Wednesday, November 20

Iron Skillet Restaurant

Pig tails, fries and slaw

Fresh food, made from scratch with local ingredients, nicely presented in a warm atmosphere with genuine care. That's how we roll around here so I was delighted to discover a new (to me) restaurant in the nearby town of Kearney that utterly embraces the same principles.

The Iron Skillet Restaurant and Custom Catering has been around for a couple of years now, but it's just recently settled into a new location and word of their new digs and incredible menu has been spreading.

They source their meat from the same local abattoir we love to buy from (Sprucedale Meats). They often braise some of that meat in locally-crafted ale (Highland Brewery) and brew coffee from beans roasted in Muskoka (Diesel House Roasters). The food is prepared fresh; it's flavourful and generous, and the price is lower than you'd expect.

The first time I was there was just to meet a friend for coffee, not for a meal. I should have brought my appetite! While I sipped my coffee I watched beautifully laden plates en route from kitchen to hungry diners and I felt a deep pang of food envy. I told Jim about it and a couple of days later he took me there for my birthday lunch.

Jim had the pig tails. Before you you wrinkle your nose at the thought of this particular part of the animal, let me say this: if you love pork ribs, you owe--yes owe--it to yourself to try the pig tails. They are that good. I had the highlander chicken sandwich made with pulled chicken braised in Highlander ale and served with the house-made slaw and smoked mozzarella. YUM! We both had the fries (a treat for my birthday) but soup or salad were options as well. The fries were worth the splurge--more like bistro style 'frites'-- but I have to try the made-from-scratch soups next time, they smelled so good!

Highlander chicken sandwich
For now the restaurant is open from breakfast until 4pm. They plan to be open for dinner over the winter and will likely have a liquor license by then, too. If you want to follow along with the Martin and Justin, the fine fellas behind the skillet, find their facebook page here. Just be prepared to wipe the drool off your screen from time to time as they post some mightily enticing photos of their craft.

The Iron Skillet
1734 Highway 518 East
Kearney, ON

Monday, November 4

Quiet Season Discount

The Quiet Season is here. It's the time between the fall foliage and winter wonderland when the forest is stark and there's no snow (or at least not enough to play in).

The upside? No crowds on the hiking trails, no long waits at the popular restaurants, and more peace and tranquility for those who do come to enjoy it.

It's a great time to relax on a solo retreat, catch up on reading, put thoughts to paper or just quiet the mind. For couples, it's the opportunity to reconnect without distractions or busy-ness, to wander the quiet woods or linger at a favourite restaurant unrushed.

If that's not reason enough for a Quiet Season getaway, it gets even better with our seasonal discount:

Stay two nights or more between November 1 and December 15, 2015, and save $10/night. That makes a two-night getaway for two people just $220 + tax.

Like every stay at Fern Glen Inn, the price includes delicious served breakfast each morning, use of the rustic cabin guest lounge with wood-burning stove, private forest trails to hike at your own pace, and suggestions for things to see and do around the region.

Call, email or book online and choose "Quiet Season Discount" from the package selections on the second screen.

Wednesday, October 30

Innkeeper Pudding

"Do you eat like this all the time?" It's a question we often hear from guests. It might come as they work their way through a satisfying breakfast or as we present them with a plated dessert at the end of a dinner. 

Breakfast is "the second B" as we say in the Bed & Breakfast world, and it should be something special for our guests that they wouldn't normally make for themselves at home. That's how I feel about all the meals we serve which is why, I suppose, our guests pose the question.

The answer, in short, is no. As much as I enjoy cooking and baking, I can't do a company-worthy meal every day for just the two of us. When it comes to feeding Jim and I, it often comes down to this: what's quick, what do I have on hand, and what in the fridge needs to be used up pronto?

That's where this recipe comes in. I had leftover pears and plums from breakfasts earlier in the week that were getting soft. Jim and I had worked up appetites while out cutting firewood, and it was getting late in the day (and chilly, too!) so I needed something quick, craved something sweet, and wanted to have the oven on to heat up the kitchen.

I remembered a dessert my mom made when I was a kid. It was called cottage pudding and had a layer of fruit baked below a moist cake batter. There's also a similar dish, sometimes called pudding cake or poor man's pudding, which has a sugar-and-water topping that somehow migrates to the bottom of the pan and creates its own sauce as it bakes.

I whipped up my own conglomerated version of these dishes while dinner cooked and it was ready for us by the time we were ready for dessert. The result was exactly what we needed. It doesn't look like an impressive dish and has none of our usual flare--just scoop out piles of tender cake and saucy fruit into shallow bowls--but it's unbelievably satisfying after a good day of work. 

It's not a dessert you'll be served if you eat here. It's too homey. It's a family dish, not a company one; an innkeeper dish, not a guest one. But you can make it for yourself at home and if you care to take my advice--and I speak from experience--it's best enjoyed while cuddled up in the comfort of your fuzziest pajamas.

Innkeeper Pudding
aka Self-saucing Fruit-bottom Cottage Pudding Cake
Makes 6 servings

The term pudding is used here in the British fashion, where it means dessert; not the North American usage which refers to a stirred custard or pastry cream. Whatever you call it, this is simple comfort food. It mixes together quickly with everyday staples but adapts easily to whatever ingredients need to go. I think of it as "farmhouse cooking", though perhaps I should call it "innkeeper cooking" since I'm not actually a farmer.

For the fruit, I used a mixture of poached pears, sliced plums and a handful of raspberries. The plums had been tossed with a pinch of sugar two days earlier and had been sitting in the fridge ever since, leaving them nice and juicy. I included the plum juice along with a spoonful of poaching liquid from the pears.

3 cups soft fruit with their juices (see Note)
1 egg
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted, plus more for the dish
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk (or regular milk that's on the turn or soured with a splash of vinegar)
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour (replace 1/3 with whole wheat flour if you like)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup brown or golden yellow sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350°C. Butter a deep 8-10 cup capacity casserole dish (mine is about 8.5" diameter and 3.5" deep). Place fruit and any juices in the bottom of the dish.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg and granulated sugar. Whisk in melted butter, vanilla extract and salt. Whisk in buttermilk. Sift flour, baking powder and baking soda over batter. Stir with the whisk until combined. Scrape batter over fruit and spread evenly.

Mix brown or golden yellow sugar with cornstarch and sprinkle over batter. Gently pour boiling water over top. Do not stir.

Place casserole dish on a rimmed cookie sheet in case of boil-over. Bake until cake is golden brown and springs back when pressed, or when a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs attached, about 45-50 minutes.

Cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes. Serve warm, spooned into shallow bowls. Dust with powdered sugar or top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream if you like.

For the fruit, use naturally soft fruit or firmer fruits which have been cooked just until tender. You can use just one type or a mix of two or three.

Suitable fruits include poached or canned pears; apples sauteed in a bit of butter and brown sugar; ripe plums, peaches, nectarines and mangos. Canned or frozen peaches and mangos will work and are convenient in the winter months. Include up to 1 cup of berries such as raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, or chopped cranberries. Roasted rhubarb, on its own or with apples or strawberries would also be good.

For fresh fruit: Peel (if necessary) and chop the fruit over a bowl to catch any juices. If dry, toss the chopped fruit with a teaspoon of sugar and let sit, stirring occasionally, for half an hour to release the juices.

For poached or canned fruit: Don't shake the poaching liquid off the fruit; chop over a bowl to catch some of the liquid or drizzle a spoonful over the chopped fruit.

For frozen fruit: Defrost stone fruits, tree fruits, and large berries such as strawberries, blackberries and cranberries. Include a couple spoonfuls of juice from the thawed fruit. Leave blueberries and other small berries frozen.

Monday, October 14

October Flowers

One thing I love about June -- yes I said June -- is the wave of pink and purple lupines that bloom in proliferation in meadows and roadside ditches. These tall spires herald the arrival of summer and the onset of hot sunny days. Which is why I was surprised to see one blooming in October!

I guess that's what happens when we have unexpected t-shirt weather when we should normally be digging our wooly sweaters out from the back of the closet. Nonetheless, the purple flowers of the lupine made for a lovely contrast against the brilliant red maple leaves in the background.

All is not wonky in the "autumn flowers" department. This pumpkin-coloured bloom in our deck planter does a fine job of representing the season!

Friday, October 4

Centennial Ridges Trail, Algonquin Park

Jim and I recently celebrated our wedding anniversary with a hike on the Centennial Ridges Trail in Algonquin Park. Although we've been to the park countless times, neither of us have hiked this one before. It's one of the longest day-use trail in Algonquin, and while the length has never deterred us, we don't often have a spare six hours (the recommended time to allocate for the hike) to spend at once. We made time this time and were so glad we did!

The park guide describes the trail as 10.4 km long, however we've had guests tell us their GPS's and pedometers put it closer to 13 km in length. Either way, it's a challenging hike not so much for the distance but for the many ups and downs as the trail visits multiple cliff-top lookouts. According to the guide booklet, "At the highest point you will be 170 metres (560 feet) above the parking lot but, because the trail has several major rises and descents, the total vertical distance you will have to climb during your outing is approximately 360 metres (1,200 feet)".

We passed a number of small lakes and ponds along the lower sections of trail.

It took us just under four hours to complete the loop, including stops for photos and food. Don't forget to bring food -- you'll work up an appetite! Also bring water, of course, as well as the appropriate clothing for the time of year including sturdy hiking shoes/boots. Go prepared for the weather and prepared to work up a sweat and you'll be rewarded, as we were, with spectacular views and breathtaking vistas.

This was the first time we ever looked DOWN on a flying hawk!

The colours in late September were stunning.

Seeing far and wide.

An old beaver lodge in a meadow that used to be a pond.

Almost to the top of this cliff (more to come!).

Whitefish Lake near the end of the trail.

Perched on the edge.

Monday, September 30

September at the Little Lake

Many of our guests enjoy a morning walk up the Seguin Trail to a little lake which we simply call "the little lake". It's about 25 minutes each way depending on your pace and how often you stop for photos, and you could certainly go farther if you wish. As a former railway bed, the trail goes all the way to Parry Sound!

Recently, one of our repeat guests, Brenda, rose early on a misty morning while her travel mate slept and was rewarded with some beautiful images of the lake and trail. She was kind enough to share them with all of us...

.: Thank you, Brenda!  :.

A week later, I followed suit and set out to capture the play of morning mist and light over the water and trees. I didn't have as much mist, but that's okay because the fall colours by then had started to really pop. This is what made it worth the early morning for me...

Do you have photos from your visit with us that you'd like to share? Post them to our facebook page of send us a link to your gallery. We'd love to see them!

Monday, September 9

Discovery Routes Sprucedale Trail

View from the boardwalk.

It was a sunny September afternoon so we decided to finally check out the Sprucedale Trail. We've been meaning to for over a year now but, perhaps because it's so close to home, it just hasn't been a high priority for us. Well, I'm glad we finally did!

Jim, Saba and I took a short drive up over to the town of Sprucedale, just 14 km north-west of the inn, to the trailhead located just behind the skating rink and soccer field by the township office.

The trailhead is well-marked and most of the trail is as well, though we did get a bit off-track at one point. It's not a single loop, so I recommend taking a photo of the trail map before you start and have it with you for reference along the way. That said, it's only a 2km trail so getting a bit lost is not a big deal knowing you can always turn around and follow your path back out the way you came.

The trail starts off with a floating boardwalk across a beaver pond. Photography enthusiasts will find it worth their time just to go for this leg alone, even if they don't bother to hike the rest of the trail.

The trail starts with a scenic boardwalk over a beaver meadow.
While most of the trail is dry, climbing through hardwoods and rocky outcrops, be prepared to get your feet wet or muddy. There was a stretch of trail that was like a wet sponge. It was springy and watery, with the occasional patch of deep black mud. This was not a big problem for Jim and I. We humans could walk around the mud for the most part or stay above it by stepping on fallen branches and stumps.

The dog, however, delighted in barreling right through it, sometimes sinking knee-deep in it. The odour of bog-dog was... have you seen the movie Labyrinth? Remember the Bog of Eternal Stench? Yes, like that. Thankfully, this section was near the beginning of the trail and by the end, Saba's legs were dry and brushed clean by the grasses and scrub along the way.

From low wetlands to high-and-dry scrub.

The trail description on the Discovery Routes website mentions "the talking rock". We saw plenty of big errant boulders and rock ridges, but we weren't sure if any of them spoke. If you know what the talking rock is, please let us know or send a picture!

What was that? Did this rock just say something?

All in all, a nice trail for an afternoon hike. We followed it up with a scenic back-road drive up to Katrine for some fish and chips (best chip truck ever!) which we enjoyed back here on the "upper deck" by the Coop.

Don't forget to look up.

The Sprucedale Recreational Trail is part of the Discovery Routes network of trails. Discovery Routes is a volunteer-run not-for-profit organization dedicated to maintaining and promoting trails in the Almaguin Highlands, North Bay and Mattawa area.

Beaver route.

Dry, open clearing.

Close up.

Hardwood hills.

Nothing like a good hike to put things in perspective.