The Sweetest Day: Maple Sugar Bush Hike at The Jack Smythe Field Centre (with photo album)

March Break has long come and gone, and now that we’ve had a while to get back into our groove and sift through the photos of the kids’ annual Spring reprieve, it’s official: The sweetest day was our Maple Sugar Bush Hike at the Jack Smythe Field Centre. Yep, we hit up the tried and true traditional, Canadian sugar shack and it was grand!

Français : « Une érablière » par Allan Edson, ...

"Sugar Shack" by Allan Edson (1872)

“Sugar shacking” is a well worn Canadian tradition, but I’ve only ever been during the winter months. I wasn’t sure what to expect as we drove up and down the huge hills to get there. The weather had been wonky for a few weeks (huge ups and downs in temperature) which left all of Spring’s new greenery and flowers in my area frostbitten, dead, half bloomed, or just plain pathetic looking (some of you may recall my Magnolia lament ;)).  I worried that the maple bush would be brown and withered, that the promised “friendly chickadees” would be holed up in their nests, and the kids woefully disappointed with the whole thing. I didn’t want their first maple sugar bush experience to stink – they’re half Canadian for goodness sake!

As you’ll see, however, Mother Nature pulled out all the stops and gave us a truly splendid day. I put up a teaser a while back promising this post would include “a sugar shack, mammoth teepee and some funkaliciously weird mossy rocks”.  Well, read on! Funkalicious – and delicious! – are right around the corner…

(Just a few of my favourite shots below, followed by the full slideshow/thumbnails with lots of additional pics!  Captions on my photos should tell the story :))



No idea what kind of trees these are but the buds were remarkable


Bud on tree


Ava, Ben and Daddy entering the trail


Spring was beginning to paint the place with some new life and colour...trees were beginning to green-up again


Looking into the wood


Tree that had recently been felled


Mock up "person" with two cans for hands. The cans held bird seed that the kids could put in their hands and raise up in hopes of a chickadee landing, in palm, to eat. (I thought the scarf was a nice touch) We saw many chickadees, but none seemed hungry.


Our first encounter with trees that had been tapped and were set up with buckets to catch the sap. It takes 40(!) of these buckets full of sap to make 1 small, glass bottle of maple syrup!


Clear drop of sap about to fall into the collection bucket


Finally, we made it to the back of the Sugar Shack! (Yes, that really is moss on the roof)


Syrup is released through the tap and into a cheesecloth-type bag lined bucket. The cheesecloth removed any leftover impurities (or tree "stuff") from the syrup.


After the presentation on how maple syrup is made, we were given popsicle sticks to dip into the fresh maple syrup....DELICIOUS! (Unfortunately, we were all too busy tasting to get a good shot of our "oh yummy!" expressions. With the exception of some syrup in the hair, all parties were impressed with the flavour :)


The most funky moss rock we saw. At least 3 different kids of moss (completely different texture and shape!) all growing in different directions on the same rock. Each one of them even felt unique!


The teepee is actually much larger than it would have been when the Aboriginal people lived in them (my husband, pictured, is just over 6"2 to give you an idea of it's size). It's been made this big so that visitors to Jack Smythe can enter and see a demonstration inside


Looking down: More moss, foliage and my feet.


Looking up...trees and light


Moss growing up tree trunk

The full slideshow is here:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


To enlarge any thumbnail, click on image

All that sweet, mapley goodness got us in the mood for waffles and pancakes! Fortunately, I was able to find an absolutely wonderful recipe for egg free pancakes that my kids could eat (See my Eggless, Vegan Pancakes post).  As you can imagine, we all ate, breathed and oozed maple for many days after!

Coming home from Jack Smythe, we stopped into Montana’s Cookhouse for my favourite veggie burger…but that’s a story to be saved for another day :)

In the meantime, if you ever have the opportunity to visit the Jack Smythe Field Centre, I’d highly recommend it! It’s located at 14592 Winston Churchill Blvd., Terra Cotta, Ontario  N0B 1H0. Telephone number (905) 877-7771. Rates were $5 per adult and $4 per child 12 years and under.

Which of the pictures did you enjoy best? What did you do on your March/Spring Break? And (most importantly) does anyone know what the heck kind of tree that was with those huge, gorgeous, red buds??



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Perfect Eggless Pancakes (with full vegan & topping options) (Recipe)

Team Offutt kicked off the Air Force Assistanc...

I love breakfast. Love love love it. Who doesn’t?

But when my little ones were diagnosed with anaphylaxis* (life threatening food allergies) to eggs and nuts, my breakfast bliss tanked for awhile. I didn’t want to my kids to end up in the hospital on a ventilator – but I also didn’t want them to miss out on anything, least of all, the warm, syrupy goodness of a homemade stack of pancakes.

Since the kids’ diagnoses, I’ve been on the prowl for a great egg free pancake recipe. One that doesn’t look (or taste) like those horrendous “health food store” options of the 90’s, one that can be made vegan on occasion, and one that is fluffy, normally textured and can pass as a real, honest to goodness, home style – like – your – mama – used – to – make, pancake.

Yeah, I’m demanding like that. I wanted a blasted pancake that looked and tasted like (you guessed it) a pancake. You’d be amazed at how many awful recipes I have tried. You’d be flabbergasted by just how B-A-D they really were.

Enter this absolutely perfect recipe from The Art of Dessert.  Problem solved! Nostalgic, maple-memories and breakfast bliss have been restored :)

These pancakes are even better than the “real thing” because they are so darn adaptable!  I’ve made them egg free, and also completely vegan, added toppings, stuffed ‘em – even eaten them all on their own, cold as a snack. Delicious all around.

(Note: my variations on the recipe are bolded below the original)

Eggless Pancakes (with full vegan variations)

(courtesy of Art of Dessert)

Makes about 8-9 pancakes, 5 inches in diameter


2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups milk (or see substitutes)

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup orange juice

1/4 cup melted butter (or see substitutes)

*Vegan substitutes: Instead of milk, you can use soy milk, rice milk, almond milk or fruit juice. You can replace the melted butter with vegetable oil, applesauce, coconut oil or vegetable shortening.

What you’ll do

Sift together flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, oil and orange juice. Slowly add in the melted butter. Combine the wet and dry ingredients and mix until almost smooth (a few small lumps are ok). Pour about 1/2 cup of batter onto a hot nonstick pan. (This batter is tends to bubble up and thicken due to the baking powder. You can gently stir it to break down some of the bubbles to bring it back to a pourable consistency.) Cook until you see a few bubbles rise to the surface and it’s dry around the edges, then flip over to cook the other side until lightly browned. Serve with butter and maple syrup or whipped cream and fresh fruit.

Great Variations I tried:

  • Substitute 1/4 of brown cane sugar for the white – it adds a delicious, deeper, more “caramel-like/molasses” flavour
  • I have tried both organic, skim milk and soy milk.  Both worked very well. We (obviously!) couldn’t use the nut milk substitution, but I’d love to hear how it (or the fruit juice)  worked out for you!
  • Substituting applesauce for the oil/butter seemed to detract from the “authentic pancake texture” when I tried it – I now stick to the original butter or vegetable oil
  • Add 1/4 teaspoon of maple or vanilla extract for a little extra, subtle flavour in the finished pancake. A nice touch if eating the final product without a heavy syrup, or stuffing with a complimentary ingredient
  • Adding “bonus” ingredients works well with this batter. To do this, drop your batter into the pan, and immediately sprinkle or gently place your “extras”.  Chocolate chips, banana slices, blueberries (frozen and fresh), strawberries and couple small dollops of “freenut butter” (soy nut and sunflower seed peanut butter substitute) were all fantastic.
  • Toppings that tasted great: maple syrup (naturally!), light agave, freenut butter (I’m sure peanut butter would be wonderful too), preserves, honey, cinnamon, and fresh fruit.
  • Tip: These pancakes freeze really well.

My entire family couldn’t be more thrilled with this recipe! I hope you all enjoy it as well – and please do share any variations that work for you in the comments :)


*For more info on my family’s food allergies and food lifestyles, check out the “More Juicy Bits” portion of my About Me page.

**A post on food allergies, intolerances, anaphylaxis, oral allergy syndrome and ingredient sensitivities is in the chute (along with a couple of new, related resource pages)…stay tuned! :)


Serving pancakes image courtesy of Wikimedia commons

Stack of pancakes image courtesy of pancreaspancakes



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March Break, Maple Syrup and the Final Countdown to Spring!

What fun and excitement this week!  I didn’t expect to be away from here, my precious nook, for so long! But it was time well spent and very productive, indeed!  There were a few notable things that made this past week so special:

Trail Head at Jack Smythe Field Centre Maple Syrup Days

1) Maple syrup madness.  It was March break (so my two kids were home from school all week).  Good times and good memories made! My husband even took Thursday and Friday off of work so we could all hang out together (and enjoy some of the annual March Madness of U.S. college basketball!)   The highlight of our break was a trip to the “March Break Maple Syrup Days” at the Jack Smythe Field Centre (above is the entrance to the Centre’s forest trail).  We all had a blast and enjoyed a full day outdoors.  More on that in an upcoming post! (Teaser: expect to hear about a sugar shack, mammoth teepee and some funkaliciously weird mossy rocks :P)

2) Z & G got some TLC!  Zen and Genki had a great first week - thank you! I was so surprised and so utterly humbled by the lovely feedback and support.   I send you all a huge wave of love and gratitude.

Guess what? There is a wide variety of content in the pike that is going to knock your socks off!  Over the next few weeks and months, you’ll be introduced to awesome people, projects, inspirations, recipes and how – to’s.  I’ll be rolling out heaps of cool stuff , splendid series and nifty new features that I know you’re going to love as much as I do. Some of these are already firmly in the making, while others will take a little longer to finalize.  On all fronts, I am super stoked to share with you…Stay tuned!

3) Spring’s almost sprung…finally! Only three more days until it officially arrives. You may have noticed the nifty, new countdown clock under the “Quick Shot of Z & G” on the right hand side of the page.  Moving forward, this is one of the ways I will share the things I’m most looking forward to. Early Spring is one of my favourite times of year, and in my neck of the woods, the weather’s been freakin’ fabulous already. These flowers in our front garden started peeking out to soak up some of the sunshine early last week…..

…and they just kept coming…..

and coming!

Hello, gorgeous!!!

Within mere days the cold, hard ground has begun to breath. The magic and renewal of Spring never ceases to amaze me;  a reminder that life perseveres – and returns even more radiant! – in even the harshest of conditions. There have been other stirrings in our garden as well, but that’s a different post altogether :)

What did you do for your March/Spring break? I’d love to hear about your favourite things to do and check out!

Thank you image courtesy of Soda Head