West Hill House B&B

Category Archives: Global Travel

Icelandic Vínarterta – A Shortbread Style Cake

January 14, 2015 by Susan

At breakfast on January first I presented our guests with my variation of  the Icelandic dessert Vínarterta, a Shortbread and Prune Jam Layer Cake. If you want to learn more about our amazing Icelandic Experience check our January 5, 2015 blog.

So, with thanks to the Icelandic cooks for the inspiration which I gained from the Vínarterta recipe and apologies to Icelandic cooks for the changes I made to their much enjoyed special occasion cake, as promised, here is my recipe.

The Spread

  • 5 oz dried apricots,  finely chopped
  • 7 oz, dried figs,  finely chopped
  • 3/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 1 T. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. ground cloves
  • 3/4 c. cranberry juice

Put these ingredients into a blender and puree. Add a bit of water or more cranberry juice if this seems too thick to puree. The resulting spread should be on the thick side. This will make enough spread for the dessert as well as a good amount which can be kept for toast, muffins or filling for a small genoise cake.

The Cake

  • 3 1/2 c. all purpose flour
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. ground cardamom
  • 1 c. (two sticks) butter slightly softenedThe West Hill House version of Vínarterta.
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 c. whole milk

Mix the flour, baking powder and cardamom together in a bowl and set aside.  In a larger bowl, by hand or with a mixer, cream the sugar and butter until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the dry ingredients and milk alternately, mixing between additions. Transfer the dough to a floured board and knead for about one minute. Break dough into balls about the size of a large walnut. With a floured rolling pin, roll out each ball on the floured board, to a thin circle (about 1/6″ thick) and about 4″ across. Carefully lift the dough and place it on a parchment covered jelly roll pan and chill for at least one hour. I  covered my pans with plastic wrap and chilled them overnight. This dough is not like a cake dough, it is more like we’d call shortbread.

Bake chilled dough on the parchment lined pan in a 375° oven for about 20 minutes. Keep an eye on it though!

Cool then spread with the fig and apricot jam and top with a slice of pear and enjoy.

Icing  (I didn’t use icing on my presentation)

  • 2 c. icing sugar
  • 1/4 c. brewed coffee, chilled

The traditional method of preparing this cake is to baking circles 7″ across, cooling them then spreading a very thick jam on each layer except the top layer. Stack the jam covered circles and pour the icing over top of the whole thing and chill it until the icing is firm. Slice and serve. Friends in Iceland tell me that using a thick jam between the cake layers should make the cake pretty sturdy and able to be cut neatly. My next try at this will be to make Vínarterta in the traditional way. Wish  me luck!

An Icelandic Experience

January 5, 2015 by Susan

Iceland , ‘The land of Ice and Fire’. If you have ever dreamed of an Icelandic holiday, stop dreaming and go!

As we have in past years, we kicked of 2015 by watching and listening to, via a live web cam , the midnight fireworks from Reykjavik, Iceland.  The closer it got to midnight the more fireworks lit the dark sky Icelandic. It seemed as though every family in the city was illuminating the sky with their own fireworks display.

Why, you might ask, do we do this? In April of 2002 our family explored Iceland and had an absolutely amazing time; even our teenaged son had a wonderful experience! From the moment we spotted Iceland from the plane till the moment it disappeared from view when we flew home, we were captivated.

In researching travel to this island country I discovered Isafold Travel which operates out of Reykjavík. After correspondence with the owner, Jón Baldur Þorbjörnsson, we booked a private tour and were all set to start out on an Icelandic adventure. The people we met were very friendly and their English was waaaaaay better than our (non-existent) Icelandic! The landscape seemed to change with every kilometer we traveled, the waterfalls were spectacular, the views breathtaking, and, because we were there at the end of winter, every spot of green grass was a sign of spring and greeted with exclamations of joy.

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon

Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon was our first stop and shouldn’t be missed by anyone traveling to Iceland. The geothermally heated water is a comforting 38°C (100°F). The turquoise blue colour is a result of  the silica which the water picks up on its way to the surface and the way the sunlight reflects off it. Enjoying the many spa related facilities there or just enjoying the water makes a good start or finish to any Icelandic adventure.

Water from rocks!

Water from rocks!

Of the many waterfalls we stopped to gaze upon, Gullfoss, Skógafoss, and Hraunfossar were our favourites. Each spectacular in its own way and each with a captivating legend. Hraunfossar was perhaps the most geologically interesting as it flows underground from between the layers of lava then spills into the icy Havítá River.

Þingvellir was another stop on our adventure. Here marks the meeting of two tectonic plates, the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate, and a rift is clearly visible. In places it is very wide and in other places along the rift anyone with a good wide step can have one foot on each plate. It also marks the location of Althing, Iceland’s original parliament, the oldest parliament in the world, where for hundreds of years people of this nation would gather to discuss issues of concern and make laws to govern.

Icelandic Lobster

Icelandic Lobster

The food was delicious! We enjoyed langoustine (Icelandic lobster), wholesome multigrain breads, thick stews, skyr, bananas—grown in Iceland by the way!—and yes, a taste of rotten shark meat, which wasn’t really that bad.

The country is dotted with sites and sounds which in various ways record the history of Iceland:  historic turf homes, small country churches,  original farmsteads, museums illustrating early domestic life as well as detailing the life of Icelandic folk who emigrated to North America, The Great Geysir, volcanoes, glaciers, music, the list goes on.

Guests at West Hill House B&B have come from all around the world (including from Iceland!) and many have traveled the world bringing back special memories of their adventures. Doubtless there will be a time, perhaps in the morning around the breakfast table or in the evening in the living room, when adventures are recalled and shared. We might hear of driving in Australia with kangaroos hopping across the roadways or a trip to Europe to hike in the Alps, or a journey to China to see the Great Wall and the Terra Cotta Army.  All who listen travel vicariously as a stories unfolds. If asked about a favourite adventure of ours, we are always happy to recount highlights of our wonderful time in Iceland.

At breakfast on January first I presented our guests with my variation of  the Icelandic dessert Vínarterta, a Shortbread and Prune Jam Layer Cake which was enjoyed by all. As promised, you’ll find my recipe if you check West Hill House B&B recipes.

 

Happy Chinese New Year!

February 1, 2013 by Susan

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Welcome to Chinatown, Ottawa, Canada

The magnificent 11 meter tall Royal Arch,  a symbol of Bejing-Canada friendship, welcomes visitors and residents alike as they explore Chinatown in Ottawa, Canada. Built entirely of reinforced concrete and stone it is in the style of the wooden arches found in China. Artists from China undertook the detailed hand painting and finishing work.  The Royal Arch glistens in the sun and even on a snowy day like the day we took this photo, the colours are outstanding and the size quite amazing. After many years of planning and fund raising by the local Chinese business community, the Arch was officially dedicated in  2010.

Many Asian cultures including Thai, Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese are represented in this area of Ottawa which is replete with shops, markets, restaurants and residences. If you are in Ottawa it’s a “must see” –  you will find the Arch at Cambridge St N and Somerset St. W.

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Canada Day!

July 1, 2012 by Susan

Wishing all our Canadian friends around the world,

“Happy Canada Day! Joyeus Fête du Canada!”.

Canada Day or Fête du Canada, is a great day of celebration in Canada. Commemorating the anniversary of the July 1, 1867 enactment of the British North America Act, which united the three British colonies into a single country called Canada. Canadians around the world celebrate this holiday with family and friends, parades, and of course fireworks.

To Cape Cod and Beyond

May 21, 2012 by Peter MacLaren

Cape Cod

Heading to the endless ocean at Nauset Beach

Heading to the endless ocean at Nauset Beach

Just a few weeks ago we headed off to Cape Cod to attend the PAII Northeastern Regional Conference. As our program did not start until late afternoon we decided to drive up the Cape and explore along the way.

We started our exploration in the town of Hyannis and by making a welcome stop for homemade ice creams at Katie’s, so many imaginative flavors it was hard to choose.

Peter loves the ocean so of course beaches and lighthouses were on the agenda. We stopped at the Veterans Beach in Hyannis and saw the Kennedy Memorial and the Cape and Islands Korean War Memorial, we walked the grounds at the Higgins Farm Windmill, stopped at The Cook Shop (yes, Susan bought a few items and could have stayed there for ages), enjoyed the view from the Highland lighthouse and read of the beach erosion which precipitated the moving of the lighthouse back several hundred feet from its original 1797 location. The view of the ocean from Nauset Beach near Orleans took our breath away and Peter could have sat there for ages. No land as far as the eye could see, no wonder early sailors were worried they would fall off the end of the earth.

So back to Hyannis for our PAII conference.

PAII? It stands for the Professional Association of Innkeepers International, which is a great organization which speaks on behalf of its member innkeepers on issues that affect this sector of the hospitality industry. Annual and regional conferences offer innkeepers and aspiring innkeepers a chance to meet others in the industry as well as meet with businesses which provide services and products to the industry. The focus of the conferences is offering workshops covering many topics from decorating (with or without doilies), to bread making, to website design to social media. Innkeeers also get a chance to be updated on the Better Way To Stay  program which promotes B&Bs as a great alternative to the traditional hotel/motel accommodations.Parked Car

Theme speakers, whose messages touch each innkeeper in some way, set the tone at both the opening and closing sessions and get us charged up for the coming year.

We’re home now recharged after a few days of relaxation and an action packed conference.

Thanks for a great conference, PAII!

It’s the money, not the principle of the thing!

May 21, 2012 by Peter MacLaren

So we were on our way to Cape Cod for the New England PAII conference and decided to break the trip with the night at one of Boston’s luxury downtown hotels. The entrance was grand, the staff was friendly, the room spacious and a nice treat for us but my gosh, I do believe that a B&B is a Better Way to Stay.

We were serenaded to sleep (not) with the sound of roaring traffic along with police and firetruck sirens oh and a couple of ‘rice racers’ trying out downtown streets. Boston night traffic seems to calm down about 3AM and start up again around 5AM so not much sleep to be had – and we were more than 12 floors above street level.

I know life in the big city is expensive – if we weren’t blown away by the $12.50 per device charge to connect with the internet, and the $25 per person buffet breakfast (which we opted not to indulge in) we just about had to pick our jaws up off the floor and mortgage the farm to pay the $46 per night valet parking, which we were informed about only at check out! (Valet parking was the only option if you had a car.) Do we not get out enough or does something not seem quite right?

A Better Way to Stay? You bet…We encourage anyone from Boston, New York, Hartford, Toronto or any other big city to come enjoy the peace and serenity of West Hill House. Quiet nights (unless you count the peepers down by the pond), free phone calls and internet, free parking even if you are here for an event and we have valet parking, and our hallways don’t disappear into a vanishing point. Oh and of course, breakfast is included!

Need a break from the hectic life of the city? The Rx is a trip to Vermont.

National Parks Week April 21-29

May 21, 2012 by Peter MacLaren

In Vermont we are proud of our woodlands, our mountains and our waterways. In fact, the mission of our Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation is to practice and encourage a high quality of stewardship of Vermont’s environment by managing forests for sustainable use and by providing and promoting opportunities for compatible outdoor recreation. This mission echos the concern for the environment expressed by John Muir in the late 1800′s as he explored the vast magnificence of the natural wonders of the US west.

John Muir, a Scottish born American naturalist was an early advocate of the preservation of the American wilderness. His many writings tell of his adventures in nature and especially his love of the Sierra Nevada. An outspoken supporter and active defender of  nature preservation,  his enthusiasm for nature was boundless.

An early advocate of the idea of national parks, Muir petitioned the US Congress to pass the Nation Park bill which, when passed in 1890, brought about the creation of both Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. Today the name John Muir graces numerous trails, glaciers, camp-grounds and monuments in national park lands. Founded by Muir, The Sierra Club continues to be one of the most active and important conservation groups today.

If you watched the Ken Burns documentary on the National Parks you will remember the first part focuses on the life of John Muir.

Today in the United States, this Scottish born naturalist is referred to as the “Father of the National Parks”. Thank a Scot and go out and enjoy a national park this week.  April 21-29 is National Parks Week.

Father of the National Parks John Muir

“Father of the National Parks” John Muir April 21, 1838- December 24, 1914

 

Quaich Single Malt Bar

May 27, 2011 by Peter MacLaren

West Hill House B&B Quaich Single Malt Bar

Quaich Single Malt Bar

A Quaich Drinking Cup

A Quaich

We invite you to enjoy our Quaich Single Malt Scotch Bar.

Just in case you are wondering, a Quaich is a traditional Scottish drinking vessel that was used to offer a guest a cup of welcome and also as a farewell drink, usually a dram of whisky. The inspiration for the name came from the gift of a Quaich to Peter, during our visit to Scotland, from his university class mates at the 40th reunion of their graduation, which Peter helped organize.

Our Quaich bar is now open for resident guests after dinner each evening, nominally from 8 till 10 PM. We are featuring a variety of malts from Speyside and the islands, and for those whose preference does not run to a fine single malt we also have a nice selection of liqueurs. All are available at very reasonable prices.

We hope this new feature will be just one more reason why you will want to come and visit us (again) at West Hill House, where we don’t compete with other B&Bs, we simply surpass them with our service, our comfort, our beautiful location, and our unique breakfast desserts!

Une visite de France

January 13, 2011 by Peter MacLaren

Three cousins visiting from France delighted us with this guest blog about their visit to the Mad River Valley. Nous disons, “Merci, Fanny, Audrey, et Valerie pour votre visite.”

Nous avons passé quelques jours au West Hill House chez Susan et Peter en août 2010. Et quel séjour au coeur des Green Mountains, dans le Vermont. Les hôtes sont charmants et très accueillants, heureux de nous faire partager leur passion pour leur magnifique région. La maison est très jolie et confortable, rappelant les maisons Américaines (exterieur), Canadiennes et Ecossaises (intérieur). Quant aux petits déjeuners de Susan : exquis !! Et en tant que Français, tout le monde sait à quel point nous aimons les mets de qualité!

Et pour finir deux grands chats adorables : Smoky et Snowball!

La région du Vermont vaut le détour : de belles randonnées dans les Green Montains, des baignades dans la rivière, beaucoup d’expositions d’artistes et artisans d’art, The Warren store à voir absolument (Magasin qui rappelle le magasin de Mr Olson dans la petite maison dans la prairie!!), vous pourrez y déguster de délicieux petits plats et trouver des objets insolites, The Store à Waitsfield (petite ville à quelque kilometres de Warren) où l’on vous accueille avec une tasse de thé ou de café, vous y trouverez tout le necessaire pour cuisiner : des ustensiles aux condiments. Cette région regorge de “red barn” = fermes typiques rouges, de ponts couverts, et de restaurants où nous avons toujours très bien mangé.

Bref, je gardais du Vermont un souvenir exceptionnel, 15 ans après mon premier voyage, j’ai retrouvé la même authenticité et le même accueil chaleureux.

N’hésitez plus, West Hill House et le Vermont sont des lieux que l’on n’oublie pas ! Pour ma part, je reviendrai en automne ou en hiver, cela doit être magique!

Be Scottish for an Evening: Burns Supper

January 4, 2011 by Peter MacLaren

Robert Burns

On January 22nd 2011 we will be holding a Burns Supper to celebrate the 252nd anniversary of the birth, on January 25th 1759, of this great Scottish Poet.

A Burns Supper is a significant tradition in Scotland and among Scots around the world. The evening will consistent of traditional Scottish fair including Haggis (which really is worth trying!) and Scottish Trifle.

The Haggis will be piped in by local piper Amos Horn and will be addressed in the traditional manner by Peter:

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang’s my arm. …

Scottish Dancing after dinner will be led by dance instructors Martha & Don Kent.

This year the Burns Supper will be held in our newly renovated handsome Red Barn so we have room for a total of 30 guests. We expect a sell-out so don’t wait till the last minute to book. Tickets must be purchased by January 14th.

The Burns Supper is just $39 per person (plus tax), and it is sure to be a memorable evening. Stay two nights and we will include the supper at the reduced rate of $60 per couple.

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