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How To Look For Bed Bugs

Simply stated, we are losing the war on bed bugs. Pest control companies all over the place are converting their business to a bed bug specific company, and with great success. The stigma that bed bugs are a low income issue is false. Plenty of high end hotels and rental properties have battled bed bugs and unfortunately the busier a rental unit is, the higher the chances that someone will leave bed bugs behind. Bed bugs can survive months without feeding so a less frequented rental destination may not be the answer either.

As with most pest issues, at Eco-Choice Pest Control we believe that education and prevention are key to protecting yourself. Our preventative maintenance programs help detect bed bugs before the embarrassing phone call from a renter. Preliminary market research results show that 100% of travelers would prefer a unit with regular, professional bed bug detection, and most are willing to pay a little more for this peace of mind. Increase your listing’s competitive advantage by addressing this safety concern.

Education is paramount to prevention, so we’d like to share our inspection ritual. Follow these steps before you get comfortable in any hotel room, timeshare or cottage rental, and perform a check regularly at home too, especially if you live in an apartment building.

If you suspect you’ve found evidence of the creepy little bloodsuckers, take some photos and email them to us at ecochoice.pestcontrol@gmail.com. We’ll help you figure out what to do next.

– Leave your luggage and belongings in the car until after you’ve performed the check. If using a taxi service or public transit, place luggage by the door, preferably on floor rather than carpet.

– Carefully peel back the layers of blankets and sheets until you reach the fitted sheet.

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– Pull up the corners of the fitted sheet and examine the seams.

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– Separate pillow top and inspect any seams or folds.

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– Follow the same process for the boxspring cover and boxspring. There tend not to be as many folds, but this darker area is a preferred bed bug hangout.

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– A flashlight will be handy for this next step. Not only do bed bugs like the dark, they also like small spaces, like the cups on the corner of the boxspring. Look very carefully around the edges of these cups and try to detect any movement.

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– Another great place to check is the back of the night tables, especially along the seams as shown here:

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– Unpack your stuff, kick back and relax! That’s an order!

We can’t say with absolute certainty that you’ll avoid all bed bugs by following these steps. The eggs and nymphs are teeny tiny and very difficult to see with the naked eye, but the adults are big enough to spot quickly, if you are able to uncover them. Careful inspection will find the critters in most cases, though, so rest easy if you’ve found no evidence. Speaking of evidence, let’s go over what you’re looking for!!

As we know by now, we can’t expect to see the eggs. What we will look for are adult bed bugs and fecal smears, which is as gross as it sounds. Remember how they like small spaces? They like spaces so small that they will jam themselves in until their droppings squeeze right out of them, where they get smeared along whatever surface they land on. Should we have warned you not to read this while eating? Our bad.

Anywho, adult bed bugs look like this: (photo not to scale)

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And fecal smears look like this:

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Well now you know where to look and what you’re looking for. All that’s left is to hope you don’t find anything!!

When booking your vacation, we encourage you to ask about the facility’s bed bug procedure. Most reputable tourism destinations will have some sort of program in place but prefer to keep quiet about it. We’d like to change that. This is a significant problem that doesn’t seem to be getting better. Let’s talk about it, let’s discuss prevention and increase awareness. Maybe, just maybe, that will give us the edge we need to start winning this war!

Get Creative With Your Coffee

Coffee is known to be a great part of any bonding moment. It could be a first date, catching up with old friends, or entertaining family at home – coffee adds to the atmosphere. We are here to find a way to creative enjoy a good batch of coffee outside of a cup, just like there are many creative ways you get together with those you care about!

CottageLife and Muskoka Roastery Coffee Co. are celebrating those special times when friends and family get together, often in unexpected and memorable ways. Share a picture of one of your unique get-togethers with us using the hashtag #WordGetsAround on Instagram, Twitter or Cottage Life’s Facebook Page, and every two weeks we’ll pick a winner that will receive a Cottage Life and Muskoka Roastery prize pack! You can see more details and the Rules & Regs HERE.

Check out these three great recipes we have found that are a new and creative way to enjoy your coffee!

Mocha Popsicles – From A Cozy Kitchen

Brewed & Braised Cherry Chicken – From Food52

Molasses-and-Coffee Pork Chops – From the Food Network

Enjoy, and good-luck!

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http://cottagelife.com/muskokaroastery/

March Break in Three Smaller Canadian Cities

With the arctic cold just starting to let up in eastern Canada, and blossoms already in bloom in BC, there is no doubt that this winter has been full of ups and downs.  However with March break on the horizon, it’s a clear sign that spring is around the corner for everyone. Some of our smaller cities go to great lengths to make sure you and your family are well entertained for the week, and beside the usual attractions, they host special March Break activities that are sure to be crowd-pleasers.

Halifax:

Halifax is filled with maritime history, and this March Break, there are enough activities to make this week go down in your family’s history. The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is hosting a number of hands-on events like building model frigates and other navel ships out of recycled materials. You can also join their crew as they explore the rich pirate history of Nova Scotia, travelling along for a life at sea while learning about pirate navigation tools and weapons.

You’ll also want to visit The Discovery Centre and take part in fantastic science demonstrations; enjoy hi-def films and a spectacular LEGO exhibit. Be sure to drop in on their chemistry workshop titled “Yuck and Other Stuff”; it’s sure to have the kids fascinated.

Ottawa:

If you’re in the Ottawa area with kids, be sure to visit the Aviation and Space Museum to learn how helicopters fly. There will be demonstrations and workshops on these whirling, hovering machines, and special tours of the Museum’s helicopter collection.

The Museum is also hosting their 23rd annual LEGO contest. Bring in your aviation-inspired creations made of LEGO for the chance to win some awesome prizes. Or spend some time discovering outer space with their Zoom to the Moon! Program where you can try on a spacesuit and blast off in your “space box” to see the stars!

When you’ve had your fill of all things aviation, grab your skates and head to the famous Rideau Canal Skateway, the world’s largest skating rink, and skate the 7.8 kilometres, taking hot chocolate breaks along the way. With no signs of spring yet in the air, this might be the last chance to participate in one of Canada’s most memorable winter highlights.

Winnipeg:

Now we know that spending a week off of school at the library doesn’t sound like much fun to kids, but the Winnipeg Public Library is branching out this March break from just books. There will be activities for all ages that include music, crafts, creative writing, and workshops on everything from collages to jewelry making. And with specific programs aimed at kids, tweens and teens, there will definitely be something for to please even the most discerning child.

One of the most exciting exhibits to visit Winnipeg in the last 45 years has just made its debut at the Manitoba Museum. “Real Pirates” tells the true story of the Whydah — a real pirate ship that sank off the coast of Cape Cod nearly 300 years ago — and showcases treasure chests of coins and gold, jewelry, weaponry such as cannons, pistols, and knives, and a replica of the actual ship that visitors can board.

Visit the recently renovated Children’s Museum, and take advantage of their daily theme with special guests and activities taking place daily between 11am and 3pm. There will be magicians, artists, exotic animals, and musicians through the week to keep your little ones entertained.

Ants in winter?

It’s been bitterly, miserably cold out there. In true optimist form we tell ourselves that spring is on the way, we plan for our gardens, for opening the cottage and we rejoice that there is still (some) daylight at 6 pm! Unfortunately though, we aren’t the only ones rejoicing.

Ants typically start moving about in February-March as the days lengthen. The photos here were snapped last week while temperatures hovered around -25°C. Pictured here are acrobat ants, named after their tendency to hold their abdomen (or rear section) above their head, especially when disturbed. If you’re seeing small ants in the kitchen, try poking at them gently and see if they elevate their rumps as they scurry away. If you have acrobat ants inside now, you can expect their numbers to multiply throughout summer and fall.

Larger ants which appear all black are typically carpenter ants (in Ontario at least). Carpenter ants are very common structural invaders in cottage country and are the insect that has the highest potential to damage our homes, cottages and other buildings. They do this by chewing galleries for shelter and nesting, much like a comprehensive road network. Carpenter ants search for different types of food throughout the year and tend to become nocturnal in the ‘dog days’ of summer. This explains why they’re around sometimes but then we don’t see any for a long while. This is misleading because we think the problem has sorted itself out. In reality, a carpenter ant colony is usually in a structure for 3-4 years before a single ant is ever spotted. By this time, alarming damage could have occurred. Early warning signs you can watch for are piles of wood ‘frass’ which resemble pencil shavings.

If you’re seeing ants inside, snap a photo and email it to us ecochoice.pestcontrol (at) gmail (dot) com. We can help you identify the species and put together a solution to get them out and keep them out, so all you have to worry about is keeping warm!

Rental Safety and Security Tips

 

Now that the mad rush around the holidays are over, it’s time to start planning your vacation calendar. Starting the year off with a blank slate provides an opportunity to brush up on some travel tips that will keep you safe and happy while renting a vacation home. After all, you’ve worked hard for your holidays, and relaxing at your ideal vacation home is the only thing that should be on your agenda when you finally get there.

1. Research the Owner.

Get a name and phone number for the property owner and look them up on the Internet. You should be able to find them on Facebook, LinkedIn or some other social media site. You can also google their name to see all of their online profile, and do a reverse look up on their phone number to see if they match.

2. Talk to the Owner.

It’s important that you get a sense of who you’re renting from so pick up the phone (or better, Skype, FaceTime or iChat) and have a conversation. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the property, their motivations for renting, the financial requirements, ask for references, and anything else you need to know before you confirm your rental.

3. Research the property.

You can check the online footprint of a property by searching for it on the Internet. You should look for properties that have been in the rental business for at least a year, read reviews if there are any, and compare the photos on the listing to what you find on google maps because they should match.

4. Get a rental agreement.

Protect yourself by getting a Rental Agreement. A rental agreement states the terms of your agreement in black and white, provides you with important information about the property you are renting, sets expectations on both parts and gives you some recourse if things don’t go as planned. It also adds an element of credibility to the property owner and makes it feel like a real business.

5. Pay by credit card.

Protect yourself by paying by credit card. Sending cash through the mail is definitely not the way to go for obvious reasons but sending a cheque, or paying by paypal or electronic transfer leaves you no legal way to recover your money if things don’t go according to plan. The only guarantee you have to challenge the charge is by using your credit card.

Reducing Mosquitoes

Is your vacation property protected against a mosquito invasion? While a vacation in the mountains or on the lakes of Canada can provide a most welcome escape from the daily grind, you may not be able to escape the threat posed by bloodsucking mosquitoes. These annoying and disease-carrying insects can be found everywhere and can quickly turn a much-anticipated vacation into a pesky nightmare. Taking a few essential steps to mosquito-proof your property can decrease the mosquito population and increase your chances of having a relaxing and enjoyable adventure.

Remove standing water – Mosquitoes need access to standing or stagnant water to breed, and even a one-inch-deep puddle can suffice. That means you have to remember to look at old tires, buckets, clogged rain gutters, birdbaths, wading pools, drainage ditches, pets’ water dishes and wheel barrows. By properly maintaining and/or eliminating these potential mosquito breeding grounds, you can greatly reduce the likelihood of an infestation.

Keep swimming pools clean – While swimming pools meet the definition of standing water, keeping them cleaned and chlorinated will make them less appealing to mosquitoes. If you use a cover for your pool, be sure to drain any accumulated water, especially after a rainstorm.

Keep grass cut short – If you’re responsible for maintaining your property’s lawn, be sure to keep the grass cut short at all times. Tall grass and weeds can hold moisture that is attractive to mosquitoes and provide them with a hiding place during the daytime hours when they are looking for a place to rest and escape the bright sunshine. Regularly trim all shrubs and vegetation to prevent overgrowth.

Check your screens – Tightly sealed insect screens on doors, window and porches can prevent mosquitoes from entering the home. However, even a tiny hole or tear can provide all the space mosquitoes need to get inside. Check your screens regularly for possible breeches, and promptly repair or replace any damaged screens.

Use LED lighting – You might think that using LED lighting to repel mosquitoes is counterintuitive given how much insects tend to gather around lighting. But it’s not the light they are attracted to – it’s the heat they emit. LED lights are much cooler so they won’t lure mosquitoes the same way that traditional lighting does.

Burn citronella candles – Citronella oil contains some mosquito-repelling properties, so burning citronella candles can offer a certain measure of mosquito protection. For best results, burn several candles that are placed closely together in an area where people gather outdoors such as a porch or patio.

Get the property owner and neighbors involved – If you are renting your vacation property, find out what, if any, mosquito control measures the owner plans to implement during your stay. It may even be worth your while to volunteer to take on some of the maintenance duties such as cutting grass and trimming shrubs in exchange for a reduction in your rent. If your property adjoins another, discuss mosquito prevention techniques with the owner or renter.

Install a mosquito trap – An effective mosquito trap can help reduce the mosquito population without having to resort to using potentially harmful chemicals or pesticides. A Mosquito Magnet® trap can disrupt the mosquitoes’ breeding cycle by luring and killing these pests instead of temporarily repelling them. To ensure maximum effectiveness, the trap should be installed when the temperature consistently rises above 50°F (10°C) and remain in continuous operation throughout the season.

Top 10 Vegetarian Lunches

Whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, part of the global Meatless Mondays movement, or simply want a few plant-based meal ideas for your cottage getaway, we’ve got you covered. These 10 vegetarian lunches are delicious, healthy and, best of all, quick to whip up in a cottage kitchen.

1. Easy Chickpea Coconut Curry

Coconut: you either love it, or you hate it. For all the lovers out there, this chickpea coconut curry will fill the cottage with the most enticing aroma as it cooks, and then fill your senses with delight as you eat it. You can also make this in advance in the city, freezing and then transporting it with you in a cooler for a whizz-bang no-effort cottage lunch. (P.S. This one is gluten-free, too.)

How do you make it?

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then add 2 tablespoons red curry paste (or green curry paste; use your favourite) and cook for 2 minutes until fragrant. Add a thinly sliced red onion and red bell pepper plus 2 cloves crushed garlic and cook for 5 minutes until onion is slightly softened. Add a cup of chopped green beans or sugar snap peas, 2 cans of drained and rinsed chickpeas, and a 14-ounce can full-fat coconut milk. Simmer for 10 minutes, then serve with cilantro, rice, or naan. Serves 4.

2. Spinach, Cheese and Artichoke Strata

Strata is a layered casserole-type dish made with bread, eggs, and cheese, and is a perfect make-ahead lunch or brunch dish for the cottage. Put it all together and leave for a few hours or overnight then, when everyone is back from hiking or swimming, pop it in the oven to heat through. By the time your crew is showered and hungry, the perfect hearty vegetarian strata will be waiting.

How do you make it?

Thaw and squeeze excess liquid from a 10-ounce package of frozen spinach. Soften 1 large chopped onion in 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat in a large skillet, season with salt and pepper, then stir through spinach and 1 can drained chopped artichoke hearts. Using 8 cups cubed day-old Italian bread and 2 cups grated cheddar, Havarti, or Gruyere cheese, layer one third of the bread, one third of the spinach mixture, and one third of the cheese into a 3-quart baking dish, repeating twice more. Whisk together 8 eggs, 2 ½ cups milk, salt and pepper, then pour evenly over strata. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in fridge for at least two hours or overnight. Sprinkle over a little parmesan then bake at 350°F for 45 minutes, until golden. Serve 6-8.

3. Mushroom and Feta Risotto

On a cozy and rainy (or snowy!) day at the cottage, there’s nothing more therapeutic than slowly stirring together a big pan of creamy, thick, vegetarian mushroom risotto. If serving this to kids who find feta too strong, use cheddar instead and stir to melt it through.

How do you make it?

Sauté one small chopped red onion in 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat in a large pot. Add two cups chopped fresh mushrooms and cook until browned. Sprinkle in 2 tablespoons fresh thyme, then add 2 cups arborio (risotto) rice and stir for several minutes to coat rice evenly in butter and vegetables. Pour in ½ cup of white wine and cook until liquid has mostly evaporated. Working with half a cup of liquid at a time, gradually add 5 cups of hot stock, stirring between each addition and only adding the next ½ cup once the previous has almost completely absorbed into the rice. Just before serving, season with salt and pepper and stir through ½-3/4 cup of crumbled feta. Serves 4.

4. Stuffed Squash

Make the most of in-season squash in Fall by roasting small varieties until tender and then stuffing them with a vegetarian mix of seasoned rice, quinoa, or the grain of your choice. Try acorn squash, sweet dumpling squash, delicate squash, or whatever you find at the farmers market on your way to the cottage.

How do you make it?

Halve and deseed one small squash per person, then place face-down on an oiled baking dish and bake at 375°F until tender with pierced with a knife, about 30-40 minutes. Meanwhile sauté onion, celery, carrots, and garlic in oil until softened, then stir in cooked rice, quinoa, farro, or any grain you have leftover. Splash with a little soy sauce or season with salt, then stir in a few handfuls of chopped pecans or pine nuts, dried cranberries, and your favourite fresh herbs. Turn over the cooked squash and stuff with your grain mixture, then bake for another 10-20 minutes until heated through.

5. Spiced Red Lentil Soup

Soup is always a welcome lunch during late fall and early winter cottage days. Warm and comforting but light enough not to weigh you down during an afternoon hike, this red lentil vegetable soup is packed full of satisfying goodness.

How do you make it?

In a large pot over medium heat, sauté one chopped red onion and 2 crushed garlic cloves until onion is softened. Add several sprigs of fresh thyme or rosemary, one teaspoon each of chili powder, smoked paprika, and cumin, and sauté until fragrant. Add a 14-ounce can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes, 5 cups of vegetable stock, and 1 cup of rinsed red lentils. Bring to the boil then simmer for 15 minutes. Add several handfuls of chopped vegetables (such as green beans, zucchini, or broccoli, and simmer for another 10 minutes until cooked. Serve with garlic bread or fresh rolls. Serves 4.

6. Tacos

Kids love tacos, and adults do too. Tacos are a perfect vegetarian lunch for a crowd, as all you need to do is lay out the different ingredients then let everyone build their own tacos from the “taco buffet”.

How do you make it?

Create a taco buffet of different vegetarian options and let everyone build their own taco. Try the following: taco shells, soft corn and wheat tortillas, refried beans, tofu sautéed in chili powder, black beans, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes and red onions, grated cheese, sour cream, guacamole, and jalapeno peppers. A little sangria on the side wouldn’t hurt either!

7. Clean-Out-The-Cottage Stir Fry

If you’re coming to the end of your cottage vacation and find yourself with a carrot here, some broccoli there, half a packet of marinated tofu in the fridge and some noodles or rice in the cupboard that you’d rather not ferry back home, whip up a quick and easy vegetable stir-fry for lunch. No one will know that your Clean-Out-The-Cottage Stir Fry wasn’t planned from the beginning!

How do you make it?

To make this Clean-Out-The-Cottage Stir Fry, all you need to do is fry up some onion with crushed garlic and ginger, throw in whatever vegetables (chopped) that you have hanging around, starting with those that take the longest to cook, and then some sort of vegetarian protein like tofu, beans, or even leftover vegetarian sausage or hot dogs from last night’s cookout. Splash in some soy sauce and honey to taste, or a premade stir fry sauce if you have some, and serve over rice, noodles, or with bread.

8. Pita Pizza

Everyone loves pizza, but it’s not as easy to order home delivery from your family’s favourite pizzeria when you’re in the backcountry! If you aren’t one to whip up pizza dough from scratch (don’t worry, we aren’t either), then make sure to take some pita bread with you to the cottage. Pita makes for super easy and delicious individual pizza bases, which means everyone can build pizzas with exactly the toppings they want.

How do you make it?

Give everyone a large pita to start with, then lay out a selection of vegetarian pizza toppings. Pizza sauce, sliced bell peppers and onions, mushrooms, olives, spinach, artichokes, pineapple, mozzarella, and some shredded cheese are good starting points. If you have vegans in your midst, there are good vegan cheese alternatives out there now, so check your local supermarket or health food store before leaving the city. Once your pita pizzas have been built, bake in a 450°F oven for 8-12 minutes until base is crisp and cheese is melted.

9. Campfire Baked Potatoes

S’mores aren’t the only things that taste best when cooked over a campfire; throw some foil-wrapped potatoes in the hot coals and, an hour later, you’ll have baked potatoes. Top with cheese and sour cream and these may be the best baked potatoes you’ve ever eaten.

How do you make it?

Poke medium-sized baking potatoes all over with a fork, then wrap in two layers of heavy aluminum foil, sealing well. Place over warm coals, but not directly in the flames. After about an hour check potatoes for doneness, then split them open and serve topped with butter, cheese, sour cream, refried beans, vegetarian chili, chives… or anything that sounds good!

10. Tortellini Pasta Salad

As much as from-scratch meals can make cottage getaways more magical, there are times when the most important thing is being outside, reveling in the crisp fall days and squeezing in as much swimming, hiking, and exploring before winter hits or you’re back in the city. Make a big batch of pasta salad from storebought tortellini and bring it outside at lunchtime so that everyone can scoop a plate and fuel themselves for an afternoon of playing.

How do you make it?

Cook and drain 2 x 8-ounce (1 pound total) packages of cheese tortellini, then dunk in an ice bath or place in fridge to cool. Once cool, combine with one chopped red bell pepper and finely diced red onion, one cup each cooked shelled peas and corn kernels, 4 cups baby spinach leaves, and a handful of toasted pine nuts (if no one is allergic). Make a dressing of 1/3 cup good-quality red wine vinegar and 3 tablespoons good-quality olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss dressing through pasta salad, garnishing with parsley, chives, and feta or goat cheese if desired. Serves 6-8.

How To Make Your Own Board Game

One of the wonderful things about cottaging in Fall and Winter is that you can spend all day outdoors in the crisp air, hiking, skiing, icefishing, or snowboarding, without overheating or being swarmed by insects. However, there are days that are too rainy, too snowy, or just plain uninviting to spend outside. Cozy up indoors with the family and spend a fun afternoon creating your own personal boardgame. Draw the board, make the rules, and before you know it, you’ve created cottage memories as well as a new family game.

How To Cook Just-Caught Fish

You’ve spent the day on the ice with your fishing line, and wonder of wonders! You’ve caught enough fish to serve everyone a delicious fresh fish dinner. But wait! How do you cook it? Well, first you need to clean, scale, and gut your fresh fish, then you need to decide how you want to cook it…

Grilled Whole Fish

There are some who’d argue that doing anything other than grilling your just-caught fish whole is a travesty. When fish is this fresh, throwing it on the outdoor grill with little more than salt, pepper, and maybe some sliced lemon and herbs is a taste sensation like no other.

How do you cook it?

Take your cleaned, scaled, and gutted whole fish and cut a few diagonal slashes on each side. Brush the skin with a little oil, then season with salt and pepper. If you’d like, pop a few slices of lemon, thinly sliced fennel, fresh herbs, and/or chili into the cavity of the fish. Preheat the grill to medium high and clean it well then, just before cooking, oil the grill grate. Cook the fish for 5-15 minutes per side, depending on the size and thickness of the fish, flipping over once a small knife enters the thickest part of the fish with no resistance.

Grilled Fish Fillets

Got someone at the cottage handy enough to not only clean and scale your just-caught fish, but fillet it too? Brilliant! Can we borrow him or her?

How do you cook it?

“Meatier” fish are particularly well suited to being grilled as fillets, so if you’ve got fresh swordfish, tuna, or salmon steaks on hand, lucky you! Very lightly oil each side of the fish and season with salt and pepper, then place on a preheated, cleaned, and lightly oiled grill. Leave the fish alone for 3-4 minutes so that it develops a bit of a crust, then turn and cook for about the same time, until cooked to your liking. For lighter, more delicate fish, handle carefully on the grill and be aware that, the thinner the fillet, the less time it will take to cook. Serve simply with fresh lemon, a lime butter sauce, or tartar sauce.

Foil-Baked Campfire Fish

Combine the delicate flavour of just-caught fish with the slight smokiness that comes from cooking over a campfire and you might just find this is the best meal of your entire cottage getaway.

How do you cook it?

For every cleaned fish fillet, layer two sheets of foil on top of each other and lightly grease with olive oil or butter. Place fish on top and season with salt and pepper. Top with sliced lemon, fresh dill (if you have it), and dot with a little more butter or oil. Fold in sides of foil and make sure to seal the packet well. Place packets on grate over hot coals for about 15 minutes, or until cooked through. To make a more balanced meal, add some sliced zucchini and bell peppers to the foil packets before sealing, too.

Super Simple Fish Stew

Just say you caught a fair few fresh fish but your filleting skills leave a little to be desired, and instead of thick single fish fillets, you now have a pile of oddly-sized fish pieces. Never fear, campfire fish stew is here!

How do you make it? 

In a saucepan, sauté a chopped onion with 2 crushed cloves of garlic in 3 tablespoons olive oil. Add ½ cup fresh chopped parsley and a can of chopped tomatoes. Simmer for 10 minutes. If you have it, tip in ½ cup white wine (share the rest of the bottle between guests) and 1 ½ pounds of fresh fish, cut into 2-inch pieces. Sprinkle in your favourite fish-friendly herbs and spices, such as oregano, thyme, lemon juice, chili flakes, and salt and pepper. Simmer for 8-10 minutes, until fish is cooked through. Divide between four bowls.

Best Twists on Hot Chocolate

Yes, winter is here. (Technically there are four seasons in each year, but who are we kidding? This is Canada.) While there are many options for making the colder months bearable, such as skiing and snowshoeing during a cottage getaway or buying tickets to The Nutcracker, one of the easiest ways to create happiness in minus temperatures is also the most delicious: hot chocolate. Try one of these inventive twists on hot chocolate and you’ll almost wish winter lasted longer (not really).

1. Aztec Hot Chocolate

The Aztecs and Mayans were the first to discover the energising nature of cacao and hot chocolate, though their xocolātl was unsweetened and often mixed with spices such as chili. Pay homage to those who brought chocolate into our lives by making a spiced Aztec Hot Chocolate. It will warm up more than you thought a drink ever could.

How do you make it?

In a small saucepan, combine 4 cups milk, 8 ounces chopped dark chocolate, ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon cayenne or ground chipotle chili pepper, ¼ teaspoon cardamom (optional), and a pinch salt. Whisk over medium-low heat until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is steaming hot, about 5 minutes. Serves 4-6.

2. Vegan Hot Chocolate with Coconut Milk

Can’t have dairy? No worries! Use coconut milk and vegan dark chocolate to create the rich and intense hot chocolate you thought you’d said goodbye to forever. Note: High-quality dark chocolate should be vegan, but make sure to check the ingredients list before purchasing. The brand Enjoy Life makes vegan chocolate, while Lindt 70% and 85% in your local supermarket or drugstore is also dairy-free.

How do you make it?

Place 3 ounces chopped vegan dark chocolate, 1 ½ cups coconut milk (full-fat from a can will make the richest hot chocolate) and 1 teaspoon vanilla in a small saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until chocolate is melted and mixture is warm. If you’re using a high percentage (70% or over) cacao chocolate, you may want to add a tablespoon or two of sugar, to taste. Serves 2.

3. Spiked Hot Chocolate

Spiked Hot Chocolate. Have more winter-appropriate words ever been spoken (to adults over the age of 19, that is)? Try adding a little rum, Kahlua, Baileys, or Frangelico to your hot chocolate… after the kids have gone to bed.

How do you make it?

Stir 2 cups milk, 3 ½ ounces chopped bittersweet or semisweet dark chocolate, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 2 teaspoons honey in a saucepan over medium-low heat until melted. Add 2 – 3 tablespoons of rum, Irish whiskey, Baileys, or your favourite liqueur, to taste, just warming through. Serves 2.

4. White Hot Chocolate

White Hot Chocolate is perfect for sweet tooths and those who don’t want to drink caffeine late at night.

How do you make it?

Pour 3 cups milk and 1 cup cream into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and stir over medium-low heat until warmed through. Add 8 ounces of chopped good-quality white chocolate and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, stirring until melted and heated through. This is lovely served with peppermint sticks (candy canes) at Christmas time. Serves 4.

5. Malted Hot Cocoa

Made with cocoa instead of dark chocolate and a generous dose of malted milk powder to boot, this malted hot cocoa will remind you of childhood in the best possible way.

How do you make it?

In a saucepan over medium heat, stir together ¼ cup sugar, 2 tablespoons cocoa powder, 3 tablespoons water, and 3 tablespoons malted milk powder until smooth. Slowly add 2 cups milk, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Heat through and serve topped with marshmallows. Serves 2.

6. Nutella Hot Chocolate

Two ingredients are all you need to make yourself a rich, decadent mug of Nutella Hot Chocolate in minutes. Go on, try it.

How do you make it?

In a small saucepan on the stove or jug in the microwave, heat 1 cup milk with 2 tablespoons Nutella, stirring until melted and warmed through. That’s it. And it’s delicious. Serves 1. (Want to make your drink even more intense? Serve topped with whipped cream.)