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Favorite Things To Do on a Rainy Day in Madison WI

September 16th, 2014 by Pat Fischbeck

Crab Trees at The Speckled Hen Inn

Crab Trees at The Speckled Hen Inn

It might not be spring showers here in Madison but fall brings with it a whole different type of rainy weather; the kind that can make you want to cozy up on the couch with a book and a mug of hot chocolate. Fortunately, regardless of the weather, this city always seems to have something to do. So here are a couple of our favorite things to do on a rainy fall day in Madison WI.

Being the state capital has advantages, like housing some of the most treasured artifacts of Wisconsin and beyond. Because of this, and the fact that many of them are free of charge or donation, if you have never been, the museums of Madison should be a definite stop on the itinerary. The Wisconsin Historical Museum is one of Madison’s treasures where you can find over 110,000 historical objects and almost 400,000 archeological artifacts. Another fascinating museum is the UW Madison Geology Museum  with exhibits featuring fossils, meteorites and dinosaurs including a 33 foot Edmontosaurus skeleton. There are too many to list here but you can find a list of many other specialized museums by clicking on this link.

If museum hopping isn’t your idea of fun but shopping and movies are, Hilldale Mall is the place to be. If you aren’t familiar with Madison, you may not know that Hilldale isn’t your typical mall. Sure, there is a Macy’s but that’s just the beginning. What you’ll find here are unique fashion clothing and boutique shops for that perfect outfit, pair of shoes or a rare kitchen gadget. If you can’t find your one-of-a-kind here, it may not exist. Once you’ve perused the stores, you can relax for a drink and movie at the elite Sundance Cinema. (yes, you read that right – a drink and a movie at a theater) One of five theatres across the nation, Madison was chosen by Robert Redford as one of the locations to implement his vision for high quality entertainment. Isthmus readers have repeatedly voted Sundance Cinema in Madison the best place to watch a movie in Madison. In addition to the 6 theaters, you will find an art gallery, rooftop bar and bistro and reserved ticket seating. Movie watching has never seen such luxury.

If you’d rather stay curled inside with your hot chocolate and book, the Speckled Hen Inn can provide all of the essentials plus more. Several of our rooms have window benches ideal for viewing the sheep and the llama while they graze and dash around the pasture. There is also a gazebo from which you can have a better view of the property while bird watching or just enjoying the peace and tranquility of the Inn. Whatever your rainy day desires might be, Madison’s got you covered.

Best Biking in Madison WI

September 16th, 2014 by Pat Fischbeck

Guests at The Speckled Hen Inn on Bicycles

Explore Madison by Bike

It’s true!  This is the time of year to enjoy the best biking in Madison WI.

The time of the year has finally come in Madison, Wisconsin that you can go for a bike ride without worrying if it’s going to be too hot and humid for a comfortable ride. Madison has one of the most complete system of bike trails in the state, they are easy to use and they well maintained. If you are in the market for a new bike or need to get the old one tunes up, Madison also has some of the most reputable bike sales and maintenance shops.

As a newcomer to Madison, it doesn’t take long to discover Madisonians infinite love for the bicycle. Throughout the city you see people running, walking and biking on the complex system of paths throughout the city. Despite the size of Madison, there is a bike route that will get you nearly anywhere you desire. Yes, it makes it easier to navigate through heavy traffic, it definitely saves money on gas and is a great form of exercise, too. But even more than that, it gives a lens to Madison that you just can’t get in the car. Just as in any other large city where the culture is found on foot, the culture of Madison is found on the bike trails. Some of the best restaurants, shops and parks are found via the bicycle making it a do-not-miss adventure for any visitor.

 

Before you head out to discover this great city, you want to make sure that you have all of the right equipment for the venture. Whether you want new, used or rented, there are a couple of places that can get you exactly what you need. For easy access to a trail, Machinery Row Bicycles is right on the bike trail along scenic Lake Monona. Their shop is one of the largest in Madison meaning they almost always have whatever you might need. Don’t let their size fool you though. They have always given professional, personalized service every time I’ve been there.

 

Revolution Cycles is a small shop that will get you the bike you want whether that be a brand new bike, a custom made bike or one made from recycled parts and materials. From my experience, they consistently exceed customer service expectations with product, Professionalism, and kindness.

 

 

The guests of the Speckled Hen Inn have the utmost advantage. We are located just off of the Madison bike trail system giving you access to nearly every location within Madison from our front door. In addition to that, we are also near a trail leading to Sun Prairie, a small neighboring community within the greater Dane County with access to additional bike trails. Come relax at the inn and soak yourself in a jacuzzi bath after discovering one of the great joys of Madison; our bicycles.

 

Grape Harvest in Wisconsin

September 5th, 2014 by Pat Fischbeck

Warm days and cool nights signal the beginning of the Grape Harvest in Wisconsin.

Grape Harvest Time in Wisconsin

Grapes at The Speckled Hen Inn

The grapes, hanging heavily on the vine, have soaked up the rays of the sun throughout the summer turning plump and juicy meaning it’s time to begin harvesting them.  What an ideal time to visit the local wineries, like Wollersheim Winery just down the road from the Speckled Hen Inn, located in Sauk City. They’ve begun their collecting the fruit and will commence creating some of our favorite blends including their best seller, Prairie Fume. Among some of their other awards and praises, in 2012, Wollersheim won the “Winery of the Year” award at San Diego’s International Wine Competition.

 

Another winery nearby is the Fisher King Winery in Mount Horeb. Like Wollersheim Winery, the Fisher King has also developed grape varieties able to withstand the unsympathetic Wisconsin winters to design distinctive wines. The Fisher King has taken great care to make your visit a thorough and fulfilled one. Like many local breweries, you can view the wine production area while sampling the wines in the tasting room and on Friday nights there is free live music and sampling of gourmet foods. The staff here at Fisher King ensures that you have no desire to seek out another scene.

 

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to create your own wines; crafting something unique and delicious? Well, wait no more. Even if you don’t have your own vineyard to harvest, you can pick fresh grapes at Mitchell Farms in Oregon, Wisconsin. They have taken great care to provide a wide variety of 13 grapes including reds, whites, pinks and purples. Even if you aren’t confident to endure the task of winemaking on your own, they also have classes during the month of September.

 

Among the many other fruits coming into harvest at the Speckled Hen Inn, we are also harvesting grapes. We are very fortunate to have a variety of grapes as well and have been serving fruits of the vine in our breakfasts. Below is a favorite recipe of our guests for our grape sorbet served regularly as a dessert after breakfast.

 

Grape Sorbet

Grape Sorbet from The Speckled Hen Inn

Grape Sorbet
to finish breakfast

2 cups grape juice

½ cup cranberry juice

½ cup simple syrup

Have all ingredients well chilled.  Combine and process in ice cream freezer (I use a cusinart) for 20 minutes or until slightly firm.  Place in freezer until firm.

Simple syrup:

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

Combine in a saucepan and bring to a rolling boil.

Chill and use as desired.

 

Civil War Sites in Madison WI

August 27th, 2014 by Pat Fischbeck

As we are in the midst of the sesquicentenial years of the American Civil War, we have had a number of recent guests inquiring about Civil War Sites in Madison WI.  Many people are very surprised to learn that there are a number of Civil War Sites in Madison and there are a few that we pass quite frequently.

While reading through my grandparents autobiographies, I’m reminded of how fortunate I am that my family has remained dedicated to preserving our history. One of the many pieces of information that I found was that my great grandfather was a member of Sherman’s Army on their famous “March to the Sea” contributing crucial victories to the northern cause. Not only did it create an interest in the experiences and battles of Sherman’s Army, but also in finding out more about the Civil War, itself. Why? Because regardless of your position regarding the war, it has turned into one of the most defining moments in the history of the United States.

Camp Randall Arch

Camp Randall Arch

So, you might be asking, “What does this have to do with Madison, Wisconsin?” I am sure you will be shocked to know that Madison has a great deal of Civil War connections and historical sites. For example, Camp Randall, the stadium of the Badger football team, played an integral part for the Union Army. It was named after Alexander Randall, governor of Wisconsin at the beginning of the war and was a training facility for over 70,000 Union soldiers, a Union hospital and eventually a prison for 1300 Confederate soldiers.

The people of Wisconsin didn’t  just train and send their soldiers off to war; they also set aside distinct areas for their fallen soldiers. The local cemeteries provide constant reminders of Wisconsin’s dedication to the war efforts. One of the many is Forrest Hill Cemetery where many of those tho passed while at Camp Randall hospital are buried. You will also find the graves of 8 children orphaned during the war and several of the deceased Confederate soldiers that were held in the prison camp.

While you are visiting the Speckled Hen Inn there is another veteran cemetery destined to be on your itinerary. The Token Creek Conservancy and cemetery houses the graves of several Civil War soldiers in addition to soldiers and veterans of other wars. Since it is a short ride down the road, it is a convenience place to visit when working on a tight schedule.

In addition to the abundant Civil War structures Madison has to offer, another favorite place to visit is the Wisconsin Veterans Museum where you can find some of the most eclectic Civil War memorabilia.  Although the exhibit is small in scale, it focuses on the fundamental concept that led to a Union victory. Total War, a war tactic that reduces all civil limitations, was the hope that kept the soldiers fighting and has become known as, “The Last Full Measure”. This was Wisconsin’s decision to concentrate all energies (human and industrial) to winning what seemed an unwinnable war. The exhibit includes everything from gifts between soldiers for honorable acts during battle to grave markers, camp utensils, uniforms and medals.

Best Outdoor Dining in Madison WI

August 21st, 2014 by Pat Fischbeck

Our guests at The Speckled Hen Inn often ask us to recommend a venue for the Best Outdoor Dining in Madison WI.  It’s a tough call because every year the list of possibilities grows.  Here are just a few of our favorites for the best outdoor dining in Madison WI that are pretty close to the Inn.

doolittles-woodfire-grillSummer vacations consist of lazy days: tanning on the beach, shopping down the boulevard, hiking through the woods or maybe even taking in some biking around town. To finish off the day, there is nothing better than a delicious dinner out. The problem? You have to make the choice about where to go and, considering the overabundance of Madison’s restaurants, that can be an intimidating decision. As a person that loves food, patio dining and well, food, let me shed some light on the subject. Madison offers some of the best dining Wisconsin can offer and many of them have outdoor seating allowing you to continue your Madison experience throughout the evening.

Of all the restaurants that Madison has to offer, the very first patio I would check out is the Ale Asylum.  Whether you are there for dinner or beer tasting, the atmosphere won’t disappoint. Where do you start? Beer. Given that it is one of the many local breweries in the Madison area, it has an assortment of craft brews including a delicious, thick porter, an IPA hopped to perfection and a smooth pale ale. With beer in hand, you can begin to scan the menu. It may not be extensive but they’ve taken great care to give a variety of quality appetizers and entrée’s.

If something more quaint is what you are looking for, Erin’s Snug Irish Pub might be your place.  While dining in one of the most prominent Irish pubs in Madison, you will not be disappointed by their traditional Irish fare. Every day, both new visitors and regular patrons relish in the robust flavors of Shepherds Pie and Erin’s infamous Guinness Stew. One of my favorite features of this restaurant is that, between the atmosphere and staff, everyone is made to feel like they are at home among friends.

Want a little history with your meal? Doolittle’s Woodfire Grill abounds in historic details throughout the restaurant. Located near the East Town Mall, it is a convenient destination but that’s just the beginning. The patio dining area was created with comfort as the primary concern spacing the luxury furniture for optimal relaxation. Much of the food here at Doolittle’s is cared for by quality professionals and cooked to perfection by rotisserie. How are the barbeque ribs? Falling off the bone. How about the prime rib? It melts in your mouth. And the list goes on and on through the remainder of the menu. Yes, this is the perfect place to finish a long day of fun in the sun or shopping until you drop.

It is nice to know that no matter what kind of food and atmosphere you are in the mood for, you can find it within a short drive from the Speckled Hen Inn.

 

Where to go Hiking near Madison WI

August 13th, 2014 by Pat Fischbeck

Are you wondering where to go hiking near Madison WI?  We have some great suggestions for you.

Where could there possibly be hiking in the Madison area? When people visit Madison, they expect the urban landscape of the university, the well-known restaurants gleamed about in magazines and the water sports the Madison lakes provide. One aspect that is often overlooked is the wide variety of best walking and hiking trails enjoyed by thousands every year.

Where to go hiking near Madison WI

Devil’s Lake State Park

 

 

One of the best-known and highly anticipated hiking spots is a short drive to Devils Lake.  Whether you are a novice or advanced hiker, you will find trails to fit your experience level and remarkable beauty in the views here. The glaciers that dominated most of the Wisconsin landscape left rare geologic formations such as this for us to enjoy. From high peaked bluffs and rocky outcrops to grotto’s and wooded landscape, Devils Lake truly has everything to offer with trails ranging from .1 miles to 13.7 miles. After you have enjoyed your hike, you can save the afternoon for a cool down in the lake or even rent a boat or canoe.

 

For those that don’t have the entire day to spend out frolicking in the woods but still want to get some nature-time in, Madison also offers some shorter trails within its urban scenery. For example, Lakeshore Nature Preserve of the University of Wisconsin offers a variety of excursions that can be tailored to fit your desires. One of the possibilities is a favorite of Madisonians, Picnic Point.  It’s a short 1-mile walk on a peninsula out to the beautiful scenery of Lake Mendota where you can sit and enjoy the view or you can continue with your walk and add a few of the other preserve destinations to your route.

Here at the Speckled Hen Inn, the soft petals of the blossoming flowers, the blooming orchards and the thriving gardens are beckoning for you to come walking down our trails as well. Within our property, there are several trails that will accommodate a short stroll around the acreage including trails leading to Stark Weather Creek. We have the privilege of keeping our property private, which gives greater promise of wildlife viewing.

As you can see, even though we are nearing the end of summer, there is still time for some relaxation. Now is the perfect time to get one more trip in before the first day of school. There is plenty left to see, especially in the great outdoors of Wisconsin.

Hiking at Devil's Lake near Madison, WI

Hiking High above Devil’s Lake

hiking at Devil's Lake State Park near Wisconsin Dells and Madison, WI

View from the Bluff at Devil’s Lake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raspberry Chocolate Muffin Recipe from the kitchen of The Speckled Hen Inn

August 4th, 2014 by Pat Fischbeck

Raspberry Chocolate Muffin Recipe from the kitchen of The Speckled Hen Inn

Raspberries for Raspberry Chocolate Muffins at The Speckled hen Inn

Red Raspberries Ready for Muffins

Raspberry Chocolate Muffins

1 2/3 cup flour

3/4 cup oatmeal

2/3 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 egg lightly beaten

3/4 cup milk

1/3 cup canola oil

2 Tablespoons orange juice

1 teaspoon vanilla

3/4 cup fresh or frozen raspberries

1/2 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a medium bowl.  In another bowl combine the egg, milk, oil, orange juice and vanilla.  Add the chocolate chips and raspberries to the dry ingredients and toss lightly to combine. (If you are using frozen raspberries,do not thaw them). Add the wet ingredients and stir just until all are moistened.  Spoon into 12 paper lined muffin cups.  Sprinkle tops with coarse sugar if desired.  Bake for 20 minutes at 375 degrees.  Enjoy your Raspberry Chocolate Muffins for breakfast, coffee break or anytime.

A Wisconsin Summer favorite is raspberries straight off the bush and their tiny thorns are usually no challenge for someone on a mission for their unique flavor. Since the crop is now in harvest, it is the perfect time to come enjoy some for yourself.

Because many berries, including raspberries grow wild, many of the locals, including myself, have nostalgic memories of picking raspberries while camping or hiking as children. If seeking the wild berries isn’t in the cards for you, you can still get fresh Raspberries. One option is the famous Dane County Farmers Market on Madison’s Capital Square.  In addition to the selection of fresh berries, you will find a broad assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables, houseplants, organic meats and the best bakery the area has to offer. Like most things Madison, this farmers market isn’t just about the food, it’s about the experience. While you are wandering around the square, you will find locally handcrafted jewelry and gifts, professional and amateur musicians, and food carts and cafes. Truly, it’s an event to behold.

Raspberry Chocolate Muffin Recipe from the kitchen of The Speckled hen Inn

Raspberry Chocolate Muffins

It might not equal the magic of childhood, but you can pick your own raspberries at the certified organic Blue Skies Berry Farm. It is a family owned and operated farm that has achieved the goal of producing a quality product with sustainable integrity giving their produce and sales a personal touch. Similar to the farmers market, you can find other pre-picked fruits and vegetables that are in season at the same time. Similar to most small family farms, here at the Speckled Hen Inn we have planted and cultivated several varieties of raspberries for optimal flavor and bounty. We’ve been fortunate enough to have a continual harvest allowing us to include them in our breakfasts and baked goods.  This is one of our favorite recipes evoking fond memories. Hopefully, it will bring a similar sense of comfort to your home and loved ones.

Outdoor Live Music in Madison Wisconsin

July 31st, 2014 by Pat Fischbeck

Are you wondering where you can find some outdoor live music in Madison Wisconsin?

Outdoor Live Music in Madison, Wisconsin

Orchesta De kache at Monona Terrace

Out of the many reasons one would visit Madison Wisconsin, live music ranks among the most notable. What makes Madison a repeated destination for live outdoor music, you might ask? I can tell you from personal experience that once you’ve been witness to the magic, it’s impossible to resist a return. Let me entice you with this imagery: a blanket on the grass, a bottle of Wollersheim Prairie Fume wine coupled with a few local artisan cheeses while taking in the sweet sounds of live outdoor music. No, this isn’t a dream. This is one of the many indulgences Madison, WI has to offer nearly every evening throughout the summer months. Madison has one of the most eclectic outdoor live music scenes ensuring you’ll find a venue to suit your style. It may be that you’ll need to plan a stay at the Speckled Hen Inn so you can take in several venues in a single visit.

 

A country setting provides more than the lofty smell of sweet green grass and cowboy boots and if this is what you’re looking for, the Dean House, maintained by the Historic Blooming Grove Historical Society, invites folks to their back porch for concerts on Thursday evenings. You are welcome to relax on your lawn chair or join in the jubilee of the diverse genres including Cajun, bluegrass, brass band or swing music while the fireflies glow in the distance.

 

For those wanting a more urban environment, no one entertains like the Monona Terrace or the UW-Madison campus. On Thursday or Friday evenings, local musicians entice spectators to dance the evening away on the terrace rooftop overlooking Lake Monona. You can bring a picnic basket filled with your favorites delicacies, however it isn’t necessary.  The Terrace meets every challenge to please its guests serving foods that meet your desires including brews from the local brewing company The Great Dane.

 

Not only does the infamous State Street on the UW-Madison campus provide many diverse options for window-shopping, unique gifts and wide variety of restaurants and café’s, it also is the location of Wednesday evenings Jazz at Five. Local performers offer pleasant background ambiance while taking in the sights and smells.

 

In addition to these ongoing events, there is always an ample supply of different festivals typically featuring several stages with varied local artists. For example, the Potosi Brewfest, Middleton Good Neighbor Festival, and the Merrimac Community Festival are just a few of the upcoming events with live, outdoor music.

At every turn, I have been pleasantly surprised by chosen viewing locations as well as those found accidentally. I promise you will find entertainment sure to fit your needs. Now, really, how can you continue to resist the desire to come witness it for yourself?

 

What’s Happening in Madison WI at The Speckled Hen Inn

May 2nd, 2014 by Pat Fischbeck

Katahdin lamb at The Speckled Hen Inn

I’m lookin’ at you lookin’ at me!

Check out what’s happening  in Madison WI at The Speckled Hen Inn right now. Our little flock of Katahdin Hair Sheep attract a lot of attention especially at this time of year when the new little lambs are so much fun to watch.  We have 8 little lambs this year and there is a video of them with their moms on our Facebook page. The first question that most folks ask is ,” What are those animals in the pasture? Are they goats?”  No, they are sheep but they are a different kind of sheep than you usually see.  Katahdin Hair Sheep are a breed that was developed in the 1950’s by a fellow from Maine whose goal was to develop a breed of sheep that didn’t require shearing.  He imported some African Hair sheep from St Croix, Virgin Islands and crossed them with several wool producing breeds.  In addition to not requiring an annual shearing his goal was to produce vigorous animals that didn’t require a lot of maintenance.  We think that he succeeded. Guests frequently ask us what we do with the wool.  Well first, it isn’t wool.  It is hair and it is a pretty coarse fiber, similar to the hair on a German Shepherd dog.  It is too coarse to spin to make yarn although it is possible to make pressed felt from the fiber.  The sheep will begin shedding as soon as the weather begins to warm up in the spring and they will rub against the fence posts and anything else they can find, including each other, to get rid of that itchy coat.  We do not collect the hair that they shed but we often see birds pick it up to build their nests.   It makes it easy to spot those nests in the fall when the trees lose their leaves.  What the birds leave on the ground quickly disappears when we mow the pastures. It is also standard not to dock the tails of Katahdin sheep.  They may also be any color.  Our flock has white, tan, and thanks to the introduction of a brown ram last fall, brown sheep.  Some of this springs’ lambs have patches of color.  It will be interesting to see if this changes as they mature. Katahdin sheep frequently have twins or even triplets after their first lambing and lambing for Katahdin sheep is nothing like the tales in James Harriot’s books.  Our ewes just go off to a quiet corner of the pasture and give birth without any assistance from humans.  The only problem we ever seem to encounter is that Mom will occasionally forget where she left the first lamb when she gives birth to a second one.  We sometimes need to intervene to get the family back together.  The ewes and lambs rely on scent to identify each other.

Sheep and Lambs at The Speckled Hen Inn

Katahdin Hair Sheep at The Speckled Hen Inn

The best rooms at the Inn for watching the lambs in the pasture are The Starkweather Creek Room, The Token Creek Room and the Rising Sun Room but no matter what room you choose, you are always welcome to stand by the pasture fence and let the sheep work their soothing magic on you.  “Hoppy Hour”, just before sunset seems to be the time that the lambs are most active and entertaining.  They play tag and chase each other around the pasture until their moms call a halt to the foolishness.  You can’t help but smile as you watch.

Four Sure Cures for Spring Fever in Madison, WI

April 14th, 2014 by Pat Fischbeck

Scarlet Tanager in a Hickory Tree

Scarlet Tanager in a Hickory Tree

I have Four Sure Cures for Spring Fever that you can find in Madison, WI.  I’m sure that this is just what you need after a long, rough winter.  It’s time to get out of the house, get a little exercise, and bring a little color back into our lives.

Beginning on Saturday, April 19, the Dane County Farmer’s Market will move back onto the Capitol Square.  Go to seek out fresh spring veggies, herbs and bedding plants for your own home and garden or go just to be a part of one of Madison’s greatest traditions.

You can also go visit The Allen Centennial Gardens on the UW campus.  The spring bulbs always put on a bright show of color and this compact garden packs a lot of inspiration into a space that easily translates into projects for your home gardens.  The gardens are also celebrating their 25th birthday this year.  If you have never strolled their paths, it is time to do so or maybe even take one of their classes.  Information is on their website.

The other sure Spring Fever cure that the UW Madison provides visitors is our UW Arboretum.  Walk or bike your way through the trails and enjoy the spring flowering trees or later the magnificent lilac collection .  But don’t rush!  Take your time and enjoy the scents and sounds of spring.  Listen for the call of the red-wing blackbirds, and the spring peepers, and the buzz of bees.  They also have classes, lectures, and walks to enhance your enjoyment of this outdoor treasure.

And finally, number 4: You must go visit Olbrich Gardens.  Admission to the outdoor gardens is free (as is everything listed above) but I’m sure that you will wish to leave a little contribution in the collection box.  I’ve often used the garden as a resource for inspiration of things to plant for a whole season of garden color.  It does begin with the spectacular show of bulbs in the spring.  I’n especially fond of the areas where there are naturalized tulips and daffodils.  The addition of small seating areas throughout the gardens make this a place where you will want to go to relax and spend some time either with a special friend or your own thoughts and dreams.

If that doesn’t cure your spring fever please book a visit with us at The Speckled Hen Inn Bed and Breakfast.  From the chives poking up in the cutting garden to the wild flowers on the hillside, lambs in the pasture and robins everywhere, Spring is finally here.