Sunday, March 28, 2010

Keep A Goat Employed

Before we opened the B&B we had lots of ideas on what it was to be. It had to be a place where we would like to stay. A home that reflected not only our tastes, but who we are. A home where the innkeepers share their stories, converse over breakfast, help with travel details, but leave you to your privacy. The location of our house, rural and bucolic, is attractive to travelers who want to get away from the city but we also see guests who simply want to experience something different. 

The smallest details often make the biggest impressions.  And for us, that is our guest soap. I never thought much about soap, I suppose, but as innkeepers we considered the following: What if someone has allergies? How could we choose one standard scent? Do we want bars or liquid soap? Which is easier to clean up? Is there a way to incorporate something local here and help a small business? Enter, serendipitously, our friend Marty. Turns out his cousin Charleen raises goats on a farm in Darien Center and (you guessed it!) makes goat milk soap. I called her. Guest sized bars, she said, are no problem. I'll send you some samples.
Shortly thereafter, we received a small, sweet-smelling package from Harper Hill Farm containing little paper envelopes of beautiful scents.  Oh. My. Goodness. The variety of colors and aromas was overwhelming, but we managed to choose about 8 of our favorites. Even better, however, was how these soaps felt when you put them under water. They almost melt. Aromatherapy and moisturizer in one small little bar. 

The thing about small-batch soap is it's REAL soap, rich in natural glycerin. No detergents, synthetic colors, artificial foam boosters, petroleum or alcohol. An added bonus for us? She uses lard and milk from her own pigs and goats, herbs from her garden and as many local ingredients as possible. Perfect. 

Guests will find in their rooms a variety of scents from which to choose, and we encourage them to take their bar home with them. They may also purchase full size bars here.

As innkeepers, these unexpected friendships we make along the way become part of our home, to be shared with those who stay with us.  Small businesses have a friendly face behind them and most likely a good story as well.  So we help keep a goat employed. Buy goat milk soap!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What's for breakfast?

Here at our house we are committed to using as many locally produced ingredients as possible. It's is easier than you might think, really, because our region is abundant with small, family-owned farms that promise free-range, Farmer's Pledge, or Certified Organic wares. We enjoy the challenge of creating tasty items that guests will find unique and memorable.

Depending on the day of the week, breakfast is either four courses (weekends) or serve-yourself continental style (weekdays). Our weekend breakfast features fresh fruit, local yogurt, a savory entree, and dessert (yes! dessert for breakfast!). Many venues in the area will offer strawberries, cherries, currants, apples, pears, plums, berries and a few surprises. During blueberry season, we head down the road and load up our buckets with the best blueberries around. We find freshly picked berries to need little enhancement, and so we feature them drizzled with blackberry sauce or with a dollop of whipped cream. When fruit is in abundance, jam making takes over the kitchen, providing the fresh taste of summer for us and our guests all year round.
Our property, too, provides a limited yet useful source of fruit, herbs, and flowers for the breakfast table. I'm an early riser, so each morning I put on a pot of coffee and step outside for snippets of posies and herbs while the birds are chirping and the guests are still asleep.

Quite often guests will rave about the yogurt, which is produced about 2 miles down the road. Jersey cow milk, which has a higher fat content than Holstein, gives it a smooth and creamy texture. We add a topping of granola or grapenuts from the local market and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup. Yum.

Breakfast entrees are savory, rather than sweet, and feature happy hen brown eggs with yolks the color of ripe apricots. We are always on the lookout for flexible recipes we can adjust according to the produce available, but our vegetable custards, herb crepes stuffed with spinach and feta, bacon-onion tarts, and shirred eggs have become our signature dishes.  No-nitrate bacon, Canadian style or thick-sliced from, share the plate along side goat cheese (chevre) medallions or straw potato cakes, both golden brown and crunchy.  The feta and the chevre come from Lively Run Goat Dairy in Interlaken. This small farm, and others in the area, are making wonderful, small-batch cheeses rich with freshness and aged to perfect sharpness. We hear the cheese makers may be developing a Cheese Trail. Wouldn't that be cool? We think it could be the next big thing in the Finger Lakes.
Last, but certainly not the least, is dessert. We keep it fresh and seasonal. Strawberry cake, blueberry cobbler, buttery little tarts and pies...we love serving this part of breakfast. This time of year, while fruit availability is lean, we'll be baking local maple syrup into a walnut pound cake glazed with more maple syrup. Our testers (friends, neighbors, etc) gave us a thumb's up on this new recipe.

Weekday breakfasts are just as substantial and fresh but with a few changes. Self-paced and casual, guests enjoy toasted home-made English muffins and jam, fresh fruit of the season, and muffins or sweet cakes.  Our lemon pound cake with its rich, dense crumb is one of our favorites for weekday guests.

Whether guests will be wine tasting, hiking, or traveling to their next destination, our breakfasts will fortify their journeys and sustain them until dinner. Often is the case, however, where they go no further than the front porch, sitting down and listening to the birds, enjoying the garden, or catching a cat-nap. We hope they are satisfied enough to wonder "What's for breakfast....tomorrow?"

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Boys of Spring

How far would you drive to see a particular bird? Tonight, just before dusk, I put on my red tassel cap, tossed my binoculars into the car, and drove about 6 miles hoping to catch the courtship display of the male American Woodcock. I know it sounds nerdy, but conditions were perfect:  Both the wind and rain had stopped, and the sky was white with cloud cover. I arrived at my destination cold...muddy...but full of hope. Lover-boy did not disappoint.

I am a birdwatcher. I can't help it. Watching birds is fascinating. They are amazing creatures. Some travel hundreds, even thousands of miles, twice a year, no matter what. Some feast on early berries for the long flight south, some feast on later berries when they arrive famished and exhausted. And finding a particular species is not as random as I once thought it was. If you had bluebirds in your yard last year, you will probably have bluebirds again this year and next.  Barn swallows? They return every year, probably the same birds or their offspring. A couple of years ago, one particular barn swallow--we call him Bebo--decided that our porch is much nicer and less crowded than the barn, so he found a mate and built a nest. Our guests enjoyed watching the babies fledge one by one and seeing the whole family roosting all in a row at night.

There are times, however, when a storm will blow a bird off-course or something goes wrong with its navigation system, or it passes through just briefly, and we get to see an uncommon bird in our local habitat before it perishes, as is sometimes the case, or moves on. Last Christmas we were lucky to have a visit by a Snowy Owl. He stayed until May.  Once word is out, generally via a posting by someone in the Cayuga Bird Club, people drive good distances to see the birds in the local habitat. You know you have found it when you turn the corner, and there are a dozen cars and giant camera lenses poking out from the windows. You walk over to the first person you see, they ask "Are you here to see the 'fill in the blank'?" and then they point. There it is. We all stand in silence and awe, saluting with binoculars raised. 

Back to the American Woodcock who is, by the way, one of the first spring arrivals.  It's a funny looking bird, brown spots and long bill and a waddle when it walks.  But when attracting a mate, this birds goes all out. I heard the peent...peent...peent and I waited. I was hearing at least two different birds. Without warning, he flew out from the brush in a diagonal trajectory making fast chirping sounds. He climbed higher and higher, spiraling with wings fluttering rapidly. The chirping continued until he was just a speck against the sky. Just as quickly, he dove towards the ground, spinning and zig-zagging nose first, a more melodious chirping marking his descent. Then silence, followed by peent....peent...peent.  I kept watching and listening as he repeated this sky dance three times before the darkness made further seeing impossible. Wow. I can't believe I finally saw it. Funny thing?  Lover-boy will keep doing this even after he's got the girl! 

(photo credit Michael J. Hopiak/CLO) 

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Beginnings of Spring

With spring just around the corner, the snow drifts are subsiding and our front yard has come alive! Not only are the green shoots of crocus popping up, but the migration has begun. Geese, both Canadas and Snow geese, are passing through in a constant stream of honking, sometimes flying so low you can hear the flapping of their wings.  If we are lucky, and often we are, they rest and feed in the field across the road.

No matter the temperature or the weather, the birds return and get right to work. This week's arrivals are the killdeer, bluebirds (usually here year-round but not this year), common grackle, and robins all of whom are marking out their territories ahead of the next wave. Also back, and in large numbers, are the red-winged blackbirds. The male house finches, now bright pink, are carrying nesting materials. The house sparrows fight the bluebirds for the nest boxes.  Our resident kestrel munches on his dinner of vole as we arrive home from work.  Soon we'll be saying goodbye to the snow buntings and horned larks who fed in small flocks at the sides of the road.

Spring not only feels different, but it sounds different. My amazement and respect for it will never cease. I don't know whether to look down at the ground for new green growth or look up in the trees for birds. It's invigorating. And it's just the beginning!

**bonus sighting:  We saw a red fox crossing the road last evening. In a very cat-like manner, it stopped, turned, and looked at us.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Green In Winter

What's fresh at the market?

Sprouts--alfalfa or broccoli or radish--a nutritious "crunch with a kick" for topping just about anything. Spinach--lush and dense and grown in real dirt, under real sunlight. Not the paper-thin, hydroponic leaves of the type generally available at the grocery store this time of year.

One of our favorite local markets, just
down the road and around the corner from us, is Country Side Produce. These farmers always manage to surprise their regular customers with something new. We stop in for happy hen eggs, jersey-milk yogurt and cheese and we find little bags of freshness, so unexpected yet so welcomed in these snowy and cold winter months. In December, we gave up on seeing anything but squash, potatoes and garlic - when suddenly there appeared greens of a variety that are (as the owner explained) grown right there on the farm and able to withstand a freeze or two. Then, just as suddenly, they were gone. No apology for the short supply. No promise of more. A few weeks later, spinach appeared and it, too, disappeared quickly. This week we have sprouts, and baskets of sweet, juicy organic citrus from California (okay, not local, but a taste of sunshine and worth every penny.) Today, there were jugs of maple syrup made at a nearby farm.

Sure we can go to the supermarket and get any thing we want, any time we want it. But this is more fun, probably more nutritious, and it definitely tastes better.
We eat what's in season and what's available. We know who grows our food and how they grow it. By doing this, we support our local economy and our neighbors in the process.

Upstate New York winters are snowy and gray. But with local farmers who are willing to be creative and productive for their devoted customers, this year we have some green (and orange) mixed in.