Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Canoe Wedding?!

Awenda Provincial Park - a beautiful place where both
Anita and I camped at when we were young.  

Planning for canoe trips is unfortunately going to take somewhat of a back seat to wedding plans this year. It was to be expected for sure, but at the same time, it's an adjustment for me. I don't have free reign over the paddling season any more, maybe even from this year hence forth! Besides dealing with vacation requests/approvals at work or navigating around family functions/important dates, now I have to contend with one more layer of bureaucracy - Anita, my new boss and soon to be wife. (I'm oft reminded of this saying about, "Happy wife makes for a happy life". I'm convinced it's a conspiracy!) Attempting to take off on a canoe trip may now require some deft wrangling. Submission, consultation, negotiation, and then finally approval (or denial). Talk about red tape. Okay, okay, I admit, I'm being a bit facetious, but I think you get the idea. It won't be the same as it use to be.

I love my fiance and really do look forward to a life together, both on the water and off. In reality, I know much of what I stated earlier needs to happen in order to maintain a happy respectful relationship, so really, I am not that far off. Nonetheless, I'm sure I will still pay for those statements in the opening paragraph. (What, I'm getting a 'time-out' from canoeing?!!) She is very much unlike a stern administrator at home. In fact, she is quite reasonable to deal with when it comes to my yearning for canoe trips. She was well aware of my passion for canoeing before we got together, so it's not like she is being blind-sided. Although, she did say that if I head out on a canoe trip without her, her only stipulation was for me to leave my credit card with her. (Why?!,....ok.)

Looking for back-up locations just in case
it rains on the day of our marriage.

So how easy is it to compromise with Anita? Well, how about a canoe wedding! At the beginning of the year, I had to accompany Anita, her sister and her mom to a huge bridal show in Toronto. I honestly felt like a fish out of the water. Glitz and glamour, lights and sounds, and most importantly big promises that had even bigger prices. As I walked behind all three ladies, I was perpetually being passed all the brochures, magazines, and cards that was being handed to them. The multiple bags I carried in both hands immediately swelled to contain these endless handouts I was trying to stuff them in. If you thought portaging was tough, let me tell you otherwise! I have to say, I was quite relieved when the ordeal was all over. Later that evening when Anita and I were resting comfortably at home, I asked her what she wanted for a wedding. Surprisingly, she said she would be more than happy to just go to a JP (Justice of the Peace) and get married. That was unexpected, but I was pleased she saw the folly in the extravagance of what weddings have or can become. I'm not here to judge and criticize what others want for their weddings, but I was glad that Anita and I were both generally on the same page. 

Now, I could have easily obliged her request as it was simple enough. But I, (this is the ironic part) yes, I'll say it again - I wanted a wedding. One that was small, intimate and not over-the-top, especially one that our friends and family could enjoy with us. Anita didn't need any convincing, she was fine with my request on one condition, that I plan it. Okay, so I knew right off the bat that I wanted an outdoor wedding. But when I started thinking, (how novel) I day-dreamed about a canoe wedding on the water. At this point, I wisely thought I should seek her approval. She was naturally humoured by the suggestion, but then she also did state it wasn't surprising coming from me. (Am I that predictable?!) The more we talked about it, the more she liked the idea as it would be unique and merge perfectly into our honeymoon plans. (Which I will blog about later.) Of course she had some concerns, but as we worked through the details in our head and on paper, it actually seemed feasible. She was sold, phew!

We really contemplated getting married on the Bay, but
we found a more suitable location elsewhere.

A traditional wedding would hardly raise an eyebrow. A canoe wedding on the other hand, that's another story. I convinced the most important person, but as you all know, we don't stand on an island all to our own. Let me tell you, it got reactions all right. Let's just say it was all 'positive'. Despite it all, Anita and I decided to stick with the original plan. Deciding on the location was difficult, because it had to be suitable for a myriad of reasons. After searching the web, checking out various venues/locations, we were still unsatisfied and undecided. Time was running out and we were starting to lose hope. We then decided to check out a lake at Awenda Provincial Park on the advice of its park superintendent. So last month, Anita and I trekked to the lake to scout it out. Needless to say, we were totally thrilled by what we found. We knew it would work out great for our plans! What a relief it was to finally find a place. Of course there is still lots more to do and figure out, but we are now one step closer to our dream canoe wedding. Stay tuned!

Once we found the perfect location for the 
canoe wedding, we were all smiles!


PS. I've finally managed to get some time off work. Heading out paddling this weekend - finally!

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Swedish Reflector Oven - Part 2

Bannock bread can be made many ways, but have you
 had it from a reflector oven? I did.
Trust me, it's delicious!

I know I raved about how ingenious and slick this reflector oven was in Part 1, but more importantly, does function follow form? I have enough gadgets and equipment to outfit several canoe trips, so is it really worth lugging around another piece of gear? With all the portaging I tend to do on trips, it certainly better be worth it. I can easily summarize in a statement what I think about this oven, but let me elaborate on what it can do. You may come to the same conclusion I did.

First off, let me just say a reflector oven is not a necessity on a canoe trip, nor is a tent. See, you can sleep under a tarp with a bug net over your head and it will provide roughly the same comfort as a tent. Just like you can have macaroni and cheese or instant noodles as your main staple rather than fresh baked bread or pizzas. It basically comes down to what priorities you set as being important to your enjoyment on a canoe trip. Whether the item is for comfort, ease of use, or maybe just entertainment, it is usually considered carefully because of a tripper's biggest caveat - weight. When it comes to adding more weight and bulk, the benefits better out weigh the burden or it's often not coming. Ultimately, like this reflector oven, this will be a personal decision.

Like who needs cake on a canoe trip, least
of all a reflector oven?

Last year, I took this reflector oven on 4 trips, from as short as 3 days to as long as 2 weeks. Each and every time it was used, it generated lots of conversation, excitement and anticipation. Who wouldn't get worked up when you know fresh bread is going to be baked? (I guess if you weren't going to get any?!) It's all fine and dandy that I have a shiny new gadget to show off, but people want results, especially when it's an oven. Let me tell you, those results can easily alter the mindset of that 'optional extra weight' in the pack to literally becoming essential gear. Admittedly, a lot rides on the actual person using the oven, but a bit of practice will quickly have you on your way to developing another camp-side culinary skill-set that you and your fellow paddlers will love. Now, who doesn't enjoy good food?!

What could possibly interest anyone in getting a reflector oven?
Probably not these fresh, hot, hardy tea biscuits.

In the relatively short time that Anita and I got to use the reflector oven, we baked a variety of things. Not only would this validate the oven's efficacy, but demonstrates the possibility of what the oven was capable of. Bannock bread is often a common staple on canoe trips, so we used this as a spring board. I've made bannock bread twisted around a stick over a camp fire, with an Outback Oven atop a stove, and even with a Dutch oven over coals. I can't ever recall not enjoying any of those types of methods, but I can definitively say the one that came out of the reflector oven easily took the cake. The results were superior as we got a nice firm outer crust, the insides were soft and moist, and surprisingly, there was a lightness to the texture (compared to the other methods). As most of you already know, bannock is naturally dense because it is not made with yeast, so baking powder is often used to lighten it. Besides the baking powder, Anita modified the traditional bannock recipe with a bit of sugar and egg powder and the results were amazing. Let's just say, there was never a lack of eager mouths to devour the bannock!

 As you can see, I was subjected to taste test the results from
the reflector oven. Here chocolate cake,...
Photo: Anita DeVries

...then bannock bread another time. It was tough work,
but somebody had to do it.
Photo: Anita DeVries

Really, once you've master how to use the reflector oven, the possibilities are only limited by your creativity. We experimented with a few different flavours of bannock, tried baking a cake, some tea biscuits and even pizza - which ended up being my favourite. The pizza was so good, I have to say it ranks as one of my most favourite meals on a canoe trip. We are looking forward to trying some new things this season, but as you can see, the results for us was no less than spectacular in its inaugural year. This reflector oven will no doubt add weight to your pack, but if you take pleasure in good food and cooking/baking, it will more than make up for it when you get to camp - both from the enjoyment in using it and especially in your stomach. I assure you, when the reflector oven comes out, it quickly becomes a conversation piece and a major gastronomical distraction. Once that aroma starts to pervade throughout camp, even the most hardy will not be able to stay away!

Advantages and Disadvantages

There is much to say about this reflector oven that is positive. Besides the level of craftsmanship, it is completely made of aluminium which is both light and very corrosion resistant. Others I've seen and read about are made with tin or galvanized steel, which are not as light or corrosion resistant. The one-piece construction (other than the wire rack) is ingenious and very compact when collapsed to transport, opposed to all of the others that come in multiple pieces, need assembling and are definitely not as compact. It has a handle to easily move (to and from the fire) when opened for use, while some don't and are therefore more difficult to move. It's 'concave' design effectively reflects more radiant heat than all the other typical reflector ovens out there that angle in only from above and below. Lastly, no sharp edges, which most designs have emulated, while a few have not. Oh, and maybe most importantly, cost-wise, it seems fair and in the range 
of other similar reflector ovens.

The biggest advantage of the reflector oven is what comes out of
it. This delicious pizza was my all time favourite!
Photo: Anita DeVries

Of course, you would think by how much I raved about this oven, there could be no wrong. However, despite not many, there is a few things that can be regarded as a disadvantage. First off, when this reflector oven is set up, it has to be propped up due to its unique shape. The concave design may work well for heat reflection, but that means you don't have a flat base. It is easily remedied with a rock underneath to level it, but there is always the chance it can slip. It hasn't happened to me yet (and may never), since aluminium sticks well to rocks, but it still has to be levelled. Another issue due to its shape means the cooking area is not as large compared to a rectangular oven of the same size. For Anita and I, it was more than adequate, but if you have 4 or more people that you have to cook/bake meals for, people will unfortunately have to wait. It's easily resolved by getting another oven, but I think you know what I mean. Other than these two rather innocuous issues, that's it.

Note: A wider/larger oven needs a wider fire, (not usually how fire pits are built) but 2, 3 or even 4 of these reflector ovens situated around a camp fire can efficiently use a smaller fire pit better than one long one.

Ready to bake again - all you need is an oven, a pan, and
gloves. Besides some firewood, all that's left 
to decide is what to bake!

Other than this reflector oven, all you will need is a pan(s), insulated gloves, and of course implements to obtain firewood. Once you get the fire going, the only thing you will have to do is rotate the pan every so often because the primary area of focused heat is closer to the rear of the oven. Besides stoking the fire to keep it going, all you have to do is keep an eye on what you are baking/cooking. As simple as it sounds, that is pretty much it. Once you figure out the nuances of cooking/baking with the reflector oven, in no time you will be an expert. If this reflector oven really interests you and is something you may enjoy on your paddling excursions, there's information below of how to get one. As to my opinion on this oven, I think you know where I'm leaning. I can say with certainty that this is one piece of gear I fully recommend. I truly believe you will enjoy using this oven out on trips as much as I did. 

The bounties of a baking in a reflector oven. Cinnamon raisin
 bannock to the left, and Italian herb seasoned
 bannock to the right.

Rob Stevens is the exclusive distributor of this reflector oven in Canada. He can be contacted by email at paddlepower7777@shaw.ca if you like to order from him directly. It will cost you $85 CDN plus $10 for shipping. Also, The Canadian Outdoor Equipment store sells them at their 2 locations in the GTA. It is priced there at $88 CDN plus shipping, based on where it is to be sent. Their web address is www.canadianoutdoorequipment.com. Svante Freden, (the inventor) has his own website too (in Swedish) , so if you are anywhere other than in Canada, you can order from other dealers listed on his site: www.sf-canoe.se/reflector-oven/. Lastly, if you are handy with building things from metal, Svante has generously put instructions of how to make the oven on his site as well. If you do build one yourself, please remember that this is his intellectual design and to be respectful of that.

Many thanks to Svante Freden and Rob Stevens for sending me this amazing reflector oven to test, use, and write about on my blog. I know I had fun using it and putting together this review to share with all my readers. I also like to thank my fiancĂ©e Anita for putting together some great recipes, providing  input/knowledge from all her years of baking and agreeing to field test this reflector together with me. It truly was a pleasure baking/cooking with this oven and I look forward to many more delectable dishes on upcoming trips!

Using a reflector oven is guaranteed to bring fun and
enjoyment to your trip, not to mention
your stomach!

PS. Depending on time and opportunity this year, I will post a video on baking with this reflector oven.