Hands on in Ontario’s Lake Country

During our recent #LetsGoMaple Winter retreat we also got our hands dirty with some maker-style activities.

Pizza making at Rustica Pizza and Vino

After a fun-filled day of physical activities, what is better than a hot pizza fresh from a wood-fired oven? Not much.

Rustica Pizza Vino PIzza - LetsGoMaple

And if you get to learn some tips on perfecting your pizza game, even better. As you know, we make pizza at home regularly and we’re pretty good at it. We’ve even evolved to making it on the bbq and the Big Green Egg. The egg actually can emulate a proper pizza oven, so the tips and tricks I learned at Rustica Pizza will serve us well.

Generally, their oven sits their oven sits between 800°-1000°, with the ideal temperature of the dome of the oven being 900°, and the pizza cook in 90 seconds. Sometimes less!
[updated – the folks at Rustica Pizza contacted me with corrections to the temp and timing details.]

Very impressive and very good.

What I learned about pizza making at Rustica Pizza

To form the crust, stretch and then starting in the middle, work the dough outward using your fingers.
making pizza - crust-001
Then, use centrifugal force (aka spinning) to even things out and push the dough to the edges to form the oft under-appreciated crust.

making pizza - thin-002

Why do I say that?  Well, so many people don’t eat the crust. Or put topping ON the crust rather than embracing it for the lovely goodness it is.
For even cooking, rotate the pizza in the oven. Because all ovens have hot spots. Especially wood fired ovens.
Rustica Pizza Vino PIzza Oven - LetsGoMaple

And finally, I learned to let Julie and Marc make your pizza because they have so much fun!


Print Making at Orillia Museum of Art & History

The Orillia Museum of Art & History has a rich history of its own, starting out as a federal post office and customs house, then being for a time the police station and court office. It currently houses an art gallery and shop, functions as a historical site, and on the top floor is an art studio where they hold art classes for adults and kids alike.

During our visit and tour, not only did we get the history, but we got a quick art lesson.

We learned to do transfers, something I’ve been attempting to do successfully for a couple of years.
making art
It’s a simple process using a laser print, some gel medium, water and a damp cloth.

While it cured we visited the gallery, shop and the dungeons. (Okay, jail.)

What I learned about print transfers at the Orillia Museum of Art & History

I had the same problem this time as most of my attempts at home. So the problem must be me.

Truffle Making at the Grape and Olive 

This was really more of a demo than a hands-on activity, but we got our hands in when it came to sampling!

One of my longest lingering questions about commercial truffles was answered in this session.

What I learned about chocolate truffles at the Grape and Olive

I learned that part of the reason soft ganache is used in chocolate coated truffles is financial. Aha! It’s actually slightly cheaper to produce the softer ganache fillings because they use less chocolate solids.

Thanks for catching this video Cyn!

Maple Syrup production at Shaw’s Sugar Bush

I’ve never visited a sugar bush before – shocking I know! Especially when you know I’ve been making our own maple syrup for 4 years. But I never have had that experience of visiting a sugar bush, eating the pancakes, making maple taffy on snow (except at some urban maple taffy pop-up). So it was a joy to get to Shaw’s where the Shaw family has been tapping trees since 1904.

What I learned about maple syrup production at Shaw’s Sugar Bush

What did I learn? A lot.

I got a little one-on-one time to talk to Tom Shaw and found out a couple of things that will educate my syrup making in the future.

For example, while most production quotes 40:1 ratio, we’ve noted our at home production operates more around  30:1 (sometimes better). Turns out that’s because of the size of the trees we are tapping. The larger the canopy, the higher the sugar content in the sap. Commercial productions would have a hard time managing 4000 trees the size of the ones we tap, but the difference is noticeable in home production.
sugaring - maple tree in early spring

It was also interesting to learn that the reverse osmosis process used to do the initial reduction of water out of the sap doesn’t have to be as closely monitored as the boiling process. Which needs constant tending, which I’ve pointed out before, or you get this: <oops>
Object lesson on staying alert and paying close attention when making maple syrup

I also got to see the tube technology up close.  There are some interesting pros and cons to both techniques.


One of the obvious pros of the tap-and-bucket approach is that you can still walk through the trees! One of the cons is that things can fall into your sap – leaves, bugs, stuff. So straining and filtering is critical, whereas the tubing method eliminates that.

And this year we learned that the wind will blow your buckets right OFF THE TREE. And you lose sap. No risk of that with tubes. I think we might start looking into a hybrid method for next year.

Both methods require a new tap each year. And I now know exactly why: the cells around the tap die. We were shown a cross section of a working tree and you could see the remnants of multiple tap holes. It explains why you want to move around and up and down, or you’ll be tapping a dead zone. Very interesting.
Thanks again to the sponsors of #LetsGoMaple for these fun learning opportunities.

Ontario's Lake Country

Note:  this experience and post were sponsored by Ontario‘s Lake Country and our stay was sponsored by Casino Rama. For more information on my relationship with organisations and brands please, read my disclosure statement

Thanks to my fellow #LetsGoMaple attendees for letting me use your photos: Cyn Gagen

Alexa Clark

Alexa is a digital marketer and author with over 20 years in digital & interactive communications in the food and tech industries. Alexa's CheapEats Restaurant Guides, for both Toronto & Ottawa, were Canadian best sellers. She is a recognized authority on social media and has been named one of Canada's 20 Leading Women in Social Media.

2 thoughts on “Hands on in Ontario’s Lake Country

  • April 19, 2017 at 10:37 am

    wow. you do the coolest things when you go away on adventures!

    it sounded cool when you were telling me, but it’s even better with pictures!

    and… i think it’s time to get going on pizza in the Big Green Egg again!

    • April 19, 2017 at 3:44 pm

      I do. But they are more fun when you can come with me. Usually.
      You are TOTALLY right, it’s time to fire up the BGE soon and use those new skills!


What do you think?

%d bloggers like this: