It’s summer vacation time and no matter where your travels may take you, it is nice to be given a warm welcome upon arrival at your destination.
Fredericksburg Texas, now there’s a town that knows how to welcome folks!
Some years ago, I went on a girls-weekend to A Place In Time B&B in Fredericksburg, TX. We chose the Ruby Bell Suite on the second floor as it was perfect for the three of us. We received a warm greeting from Jon (innkeeper/owner) as well as from the local shopkeepers and restaurant staff we met as we explored the area. In the intervening years I have continued to receive their newsletter, which highlights events going on at the B&B as well as festivals and activities in the town. The newsletter makes me feel welcomed all over again. While visiting this delightful town may not be in your immediate plans, I highly recommend a visit to Fredericksburg, TX because it’s a friendly and welcoming.
And why is this such a friendly and welcoming place? Because as the town points out…
Isn’t this a wonderfully creative idea? Now we can’t all rename the streets in our towns but we can all give a warm welcome to visitors. Hospitality always gives visitors and guests feel a warm feeling. Whether you are greeted in your own language; Welcome! !Hola! Aloha! Bienvenue! Willkommen! Ciao! Välkomnde! or perhaps Witja!, or you meet with helpful folks when you need directions, receive excellent service in a shop, are greeted with a cheery smile from a local or are welcomed by the names of the streets, it’s a good feeling.
In the 10 years we have owned West Hill House B&B we have welcomed guests from every continent (we counted the scientist who had been stationed for a number of months in Antarctica). Whether you come for romance, relaxation or recreation, we will be delighted to say “Welcome!” and extend the hospitality of West Hill House B&B to you. Come visit us and teach us to say “welcome” in your mother tongue!
Maple syrup and Vermont go together like, well, maple syrup and pancakes! Forty years are required to grow a sugar maple tree large enough to tap. A tree ten inches (25 cm) in diameter is considered minimum trappable size for one tap. A grove of sugar maples is called a sugar bush or sometimes a maple orchard. It takes 4-5 taps to produce enough maple sap (40 gallons – 150 liters) to produce one gallon of syrup. And right now the sap is being boiled down to make the world famous Vermont Maple Syrup with Maple Festivals happening here in the Mad River Valley as well as across the state.
Vermont has strict Maple Laws governing the production of maple syrup to ensure that you get the highest quality maple syrup. For such a deliciously complex flavor, maple syrup is surprisingly simple to make. Seeping spring-time sap from a maple tree is collected and boiled down to a golden syrup. Nothing is added in the entire process and only water is removed, leaving one of nature’s remarkably culinary gifts.
For years, Vermont maple syrup has been divided into one of four grades based on color and flavor. As consumer preference has changed over the past century, so too has the grading system evolved to provide a more accurate description based on consumer preference. The names of each grade, however, did not necessarily provide a meaningful description of the syrup. With the old system of grading, Grade B was often mistaken for being a lower quality than Grade A, when in fact the quality was just the same it just had a stronger taste.
Beginning in 2014, Vermont maple syrup producers started using a newly developed “Vermont” grading system that provides a better description of each grade, or class, of syrup. Each grade will state a color and a flavor descriptor:
Some interesting facts about this most luscious sweetener:
*it contains an abundant amount of naturally ocurring minerals such as calcium, manganese, potassium and magnesium
* it is a natural source of beneficial antioxidants
* it is more nutritious than all other common sweeteners
* it contains one of the lowest calorie levels
* it has been shown to have healthy glycemic qualities
* maple syrup and maple sugar can be used in all your cooking and baking
All 4 grades of maple syrup are of equal quality, density and sugar content so it’s just a matter of personal preference – what’s yours?
The Native Peoples of the Northeast were the first to discover that the sap of the maple tree could be boiled down to provide an addition to their diet. Vermont produces about 3.5 million gallons (about 13 million liters) of maple syrup annually, providing 40% of the US supply. Several other states produce maple syrup on a smaller scale. In comparison, Canada produces about 10 million gallons ( about 38 million liters) per year supplying the domestic market and providing about 75% of the world supply.
All that luscious maple syrup would look after a Paul Bunyan sized stack of pancakes with some maple syrup left over for your pancakes!
For more information check out vermontmaple.org, and to experience Maple Sugaring first hand come to the Mad River Valley Maple Festival weekend on April 1st through 3rd 2016—we have a special package just for you!
Serving it up
Lorne Sausage, also known as Square Sausage, Flat Sausage or Slice Sausage, is a traditional Scottish food made with beef and pork. It is said to have originated in Lorne, Argyll in Scotland. If you are in Scotland and ask for a full Scottish Breakfast you will see Lorne Sausage on your plate.
The following recipe is my version using turkey. It has received “thumbs up” from our guests who prefer not to eat beef or pork.
- 2 lb. ground turkey
- 1 1/2 c. Fine Bread Crumbs (seasoned or not as you prefer)
- 1 tsp. Pepper
- 1 tsp. Nutmeg
- 1 1/2 tsp. Coriander
- 1 tsp. Salt
- 3/4 c. of Water
- 1 egg lightly beaten
- 3 T. Maple syrup (optional)
- Mix really well by hand then place in a wax paper or saran lined oblong pan about 10″ x 4″ x 3″.
- Fold the wrap over top of the meat and place in the freezer until it’s just starting to set.
- Remove it from the pan and peel the paper away, it might be a bit sticky.
- Cut into slices to the thickness you like.
- Separate the slices with wax paper, wrap the whole sliced loaf in waxed paper and put it into a freezer bag and put it back in the freezer.
- When required, pop off a slice, defrost and fry it in a little fat or oil until crispy brown and cooked through.
If you make this using the traditional recipe, instead of using ground turkey, use 1 lb. of ground beef and 1 lb. of ground pork – neither being too lean or the sausage will be dry. You may wish to leave out the egg as these meats will have more moisture than turkey. Recipe can be doubled however use a very large bowl.
I serve this on half a lightly toasted English muffin or Kaiser roll or on toast and topped with mornay sauce. Next time I think I will make it with chicken instead of turkey and see how that turns out.
Dishing it out
When we travel in Scotland, if we aren’t staying with family, we usually stay at B&Bs as it is a real treat to have someone else make breakfast for us!
If you have never had a typical Scottish Breakfast, aka ‘Fry Up’, at a B&B or hotel (if you must!) here is a sample of what you will find on your plate and traditionally it is the same breakfast which is served every day. Ready? Going clockwise: baked beans, parsley (just for show), fried mushrooms, tomatoes -again the basil is just so you can say you had something really healthy, pork sausages, bacon, Lorne sausage or haggis, and tattie (potato) scone. OK, push back from the table now and you’ll want to loosen your belt about now – or maybe reach for something to settle your tummy.
If you keep eating these breakfasts belt loosening won’t help, you’ll need new clothing. I certainly don’t recommend eating like this every day of your Scottish holiday but you need to do this a few times just for the experience! We get smart after a couple of days and ask for the full breakfast minus whatever we have had enough of previously and often end up with egg (not fried), scone and Lorne sausage or haggis. Now the average family is not subjected to this high fat diet so oatmeal, breakfast roll with butter and marmalade, some fruit and tea are the main stays and greatly enjoyed.
Hello all, I’m Smoky, I usually help greet you when you arrive at the B&B and I am introduced to you as The General Manager.
When our humans bought West Hill House B&B nearly 10 year ago now, they knew that it was a house just calling out for a cat to complete the home-like feel of the place. Being thoughtful humans, they decided that two cats would keep each other company and lots of good things come in pairs so what could be better than two cats.
Thus we were adopted from Turner’s Simplicity Farm on the north end of Waitsfield. We moved from being B(arn) kittens to B&B kittens and we are quite at home here. We are indoor cats, we don’t go outside as there are nasty critters out there that just might like cat for their dinner—yikes!
In an earlier blog (May 24th, 2015) you met my brother Snowball, we’re great buddies and each have our jobs around the B&B. Since arriving, I made it my job to keep an eye on everything that was going on in the B&B. I undertook surveillance duties when I was quite young and became very good at doing this subtly so that no one would notice me. Sometimes I got down very low, under a table for example (I was better at this when I was a tiny cat) and now that I am bigger I hightail it, sorry—no pun intended—up the spiral stairs to get a good overview. Other times I just stretch out pretending to do my cat yoga just to get out there and take a good look around.
Please don’t think that I just a lazy lay-about cat, absolutely not. I help with many tasks for example, at Christmas I help to organize Christmas wrapping paper.
I know that in this B&B business it is important to stay up to date with the latest in technology so you can often find my helping Susan at the computer and I must say, as a cat I have become quite adept at using the keyboard. For me, 5 ‘finger’ typing is so last Tuesday, I have 6 toes on each foot which makes much more of an impact on typing emails and gets a good rise out of Susan too! And I try my darnedest to keep up with my reading, taking every opportunity to stick my nose into a good book.
While you are here at West Hill House B&B, please feel free to give Snowball and me a pat, we may even jump up onto your lap for a little snuggle or even a cat-nap. Remember though, we are cats and we have our own cat agendas which may include visiting, sleeping, eating, or being sociable. On the other hand, we might just plain ignore you but don’t take it personally because, if you are a cat, that’s what you do.
Stirring it up: Last week was the first week for our Community Supported Agriculture share for this year and it got me thinking about carrot greens. Carrot greens are most often thrown away during meal prep but I thought there had to be a use for them. I searched the internet, got some inspiration from a number of websites then opened the fridge and built a salad. I used various quantities of veggies untill it looked and tasted good. Quantities are to the best of my memory!
Carrot Greens Salad
- 1 1/2 – 2 c. cleaned & chopped carrot greens
- 1 c. black beans, pre cooked or canned
- 1 – 1 1/2 c. garbanzo beans (aka chick peas), pre cooked or canned
- 3 med carrots, diced
- 4-5 stems parsley, fresh & chopped
- 1 scallion thinly sliced
- 5-6 mint leaves, fresh & chopped
- 1 1/2 c. quinoa, cooked & cooled
- 4-5 green peas in the pod, fresh and thinly sliced
- 1/2 c. olive oil
- 3T. red wine vinegar
- 1 small clove garlic, crushed or 1/4 t. dry garlic bits (not powder)
- 2-3 T. lemon juice, fresh
- 2 t. sugar
Prepare all the vegetables and place them in a large bowl along with the cooled quinoa. Prepare the dressing by putting all the ingredients in a small jar and, with the lid on, shaking it well. Pour the dressing over the veggies about 10 minutes prior to serving and lightly toss the salad. Be sure to adjust the quantities and veggies to your liking! It tastes great the following day too and the carrot greens are still fresh looking. Bon appétit!
Next time I might add about 1/2 c. corn kernels and 1 med tomato, diced. I served this with a side of a couple of slices of Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar cheese. This salad was a great meal in itself.
Dishing it out: As a child I was sometimes called “carrot top” by those out to tease me but seriously, I had red hair and a carrot top is green. Obviously those folks had no idea what they were talking about and, thus far in my life, I’ve never seen anyone with naturally green hair!
That being said, we love the carrot greens we get from Muddy Boots CSA and we love being part of the Muddy Boots CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) which is a collaborative venture of Kingsbury Market Garden, Wood’s Market Garden and Burnt Rock Farm. It also includes dairy products from several of the local farms including Von Trapp Farmstead and Ploughgate Creamery at Bragg Hill Farm. Our week one share was a marvelous selection of absolutely fresh produce including brie cheese, luscious tomatoes, tasty shallots, crisp carrots and cucumber, crunchy kale, dried black beans, beautiful lettuce, pungent basil, deep red beets, and more. How could you not like any of it, or waste any of it which is why I wondered about the carrot greens. Carrot Greens Salad, what a perfect way to celebrate the wonderful farms and hard working farmers this 4th of July or on Canada Day if you are north of the border!
I’m Snowball, CPO, that’s Chief Purr Officer, I’m in charge of Purrs and Snuggles here at West Hill House B&B. You’ll meet my brother, Smoky, another day, but today is my day to shine. First a little history about us. My brother and I were born on the Turner’s farm, Simplicity Farm, just a bit north of where we live today.
Our mom was beautiful, she was pure white with one blue eye and one green eye. I look a lot like her except for my eyes, they are both a lovely shade of green, the color of an old copper roof. Our mom looked after us when we were very tiny and when we got a bit older she was soon off on her own adventures around the farm and we were moved into the farm house where we learned about litter boxes and eating from a bowl. We mastered both of these new challenges with flying colors by the way.
I knew we were off on adventures of our own when Susan and Peter came to pick us up and take us home with them. We were so little that we fit into the palm of their hands. We felt warm and happy there and we let them know with our purrs. The ride home was a bit strange as we were put into a carrier and strapped into the back seat of the car. We were safe though because the carrier didn’t move a bit and the nice clean towel we sat on was quite snuggly.
When I started to explore on my new home, I was a bit wobbly on my feet, maybe because I have so many extra toes, somehow I kept tripping over my feet and sometimes I just needed to go into my basket and do some kitty yoga to relax.
I like to do a lot of things like chasing light around the room, climbing on chairs, and of course rolling around on the red rugs and leaving as much white fur on them as possible!
You see, because I’m deaf it does not bother me that the vacuum is not far behind me making a big noise as it is clearing up my mess! One of my most favorite activities, well, perhaps not exactly an activity, anyway, I love to take cat naps. I have experimented with several different beds, here are some recommended and some not so much.
I look forward to having visitors at West Hill House B&B because when I’m up and around I’m always ready for pats and snuggles (on my terms of course) from guests. Please remember that because I can’t hear you coming, if you pat me when I’m napping, I’m going to be startled.
Smoky and I are waiting for you, meantime… yawn… I think perhaps a little nap.
Oh, and you know the most wonderful thing about having cat naps?
Whether sleeping alone or with my brother, our humans just let sleeping cats lie!
Stirring it up:
Our guests love this granola. It takes little time to prepare and packs a good measure of fiber into your daily diet. Granola is great sprinkled on fruit, eaten as breakfast cereal or used as a topping for a fruit crisp or ice cream!
Very Yummy Granola
- 4 cups oats (not quick oats)
- 1 cup corn flakes
- 1 cup grape nut flakes
- 1 cup coconut
- ¾ cup chopped walnuts
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- ¼ to ½ cup real maple syrup or honey
- ¼ cup oil
- 1 cup chopped dates
- ¾ cup golden raisins
- ¾ cup Craisins
Mix all dry ingredients together in big a bowl, except raisins, craisins and dates and any other dried fruit you use—they will be added later.
Mix liquids together and pour over dry ingredients.
Stir well until completely moistened.
Spread evenly on a large jelly roll pan which you have lined with parchment paper or very lightly sprayed with cooking spray.
Bake in 350°F oven for about 25 minutes, but keep an eye on it as it will go from toasted to burnt, quickly.
Stir 3 or 4 times during cooking – this is important so that the oats toast evenly, you want them to be golden brown.
Add fruits after baking is done and while the oat mixture is still warm.
Cool completely then store in an air-tight container.
Experiment with ingredient, more nuts, different dried fruits, chocolate chips, wheat germ, ground flax… remember to adjust the amount of syrup and oil when you add dry ingredients. Dice larger pieces of dried fruit such as apricots, peaches or the like, into raisin sized bits.
Have fun and enjoy the fruits, nuts and oats of your labour.
Dishing it out:
Growing up, granola was a staple in our home. My dad had his special recipe and for years I thought this was the only taste for granola. Not that Dad’s recipe wasn’t good, actually it was quite wonderful, it’s just that I guessed it was the recipe everyone used. I was soon set straight on that one, and when I cook, Dad’s words echo in my mind, “Be creative and never be afraid to experiment.” His granola recipe? He was creative and made it up himself. Thanks Dad!
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.
- 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.
- 3 1/2 c. all purpose flour
- 1 t. baking powder
- 1 t. ground cardamom
- 1 c. (two sticks) butter slightly softened
- 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
At this time of year many of us pause to remember Christmases past. Do you remember receiving a special dress your mother made for you, or a the doll you were wishing for, or a new book by your favourite author (and you still have that book today)? Perhaps you received a model train or Meccano set. Did you attend a Pantomime or the Nutcracker during the Christmas season? Do you remember hot cocoa with marshmallows and special baked goods on Christmas morning? Or perhaps a big family dinner after the presents were opened, did it feature ham, turkey, tourtière or haggis?
One of the fondest memories people have of this special season is of food, we bake (and eat!) cookies and special cakes, we bring out the eggnog, peppermint candy canes, ribbon candy, and oranges for the stockings. We prepare special meals and we invite friends to join us around the table. Food traditions are a big part of this season.
In Scotland Christmas Day didn’t become a public holiday until 1958. Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) was, and still is, the big public holiday. Today as Christmas approaches, the winter days are short, with sunrise about 8:30 in the morning and dark skies again at about 3:30 in the afternoon so Christmas celebrations help to brighten up the long wintry evenings. A fire is set in the sitting room, the drapes are pulled against the darkness of the evening and in the kitchen a flurry of activity takes place as mincemeat pies are popped into the oven, fruit cake with thick marzipan icing is wrapped for giving to neighbours, and preparations are made for the Christmas evening feast. Particular consideration is given to “pudding” (the general name for desserts of all kinds), would it be Sherry Trifle, Clootie Dumpling or perhaps Dundee Cake? Hmmm, this year for a memorable pudding, let’s try Cranachan, a lovely, creamy fruit and oat creation.
At West Hill House B&B this Christmas Dinner our guests will enjoy this scrumptious ‘pudding’ made following recipe I have used and adapted from the BBC Good Food. The number of servings depends on the size of the presentation glass but I’d say about 4 servings. The recipe is fairly happy to be adjusted according to your taste.
Cranachan, a tasty Christmas treat
- 3T original rolled oats (not instant oatmeal)
- 1 cup of whole raspberries, blueberries or strawberries,
- 1 t. white sugar (optional)
- 1 1/2 c. heavy cream, whipped or Greek yogurt
- 2-3 T. good whisky
- 3 T. honey, lavender honey is especially nice
Putting this together should take about 15 minutes.
Place the oatmeal on a jelly roll pan under the broiler and toast until it smells nutty. This may happen very quickly so keep a careful eye and nose on what’s going on in the oven.
Remove from the oven and cool the oatmeal on the pan.
Take about 1/3 to 1/2 of the berries and puree them, adding the white sugar if needed for sweetness.
Whip the heavy cream while slowly adding the whisky until the cream will hold a peak. Be careful not to over whip. If you are using Greek yogurt instead of cream, carefully stir the whisky into the yogurt.
Fold in the oatmeal until it is nicely mixed.
Present in clear glass dessert dishes alternating layers of the cream mixture with the whole and pureed berries.
Drizzle the top with the honey.
Cool for a few minutes prior to serving.
Where ever you are on Christmas day, what ever your Christmas meal, may you be around a table with special friends and wish them, as we wish you, Merry Christmas and all the best for the coming year.