Speckled Hen Inn

Blog

Winter is for the Birds

Coopers Hawk watching the Bird Feeders at The Speckled Hen Inn

Coopers Hawk watching the Bird Feeders at The Speckled Hen Inn

Are you so tired of winter’s snow and cold that you have decided that winter really is for the birds? Watching our feathered friends at the bird feeder is one way to make the short winter days seem even a bit shorter and there are a few ways that you can expand that joy of bird watching in the winter months.  Read on!

If cabin fever hasn’t set into your home, there are many Wisconsinites that would like to know your secret. It’s the time of year when many have stopped watching the weather forecast knowing that one thing is certain. It’s going to be cold. The excitement of freshly fallen snow has disappeared. Winter sports have become commonplace. So, here is the lull of February and March – the never-ending winter months after the holidays have passed. What can you do to reinvigorate the fires under your bums?

When I start feeling the glum of winter I entertain contradictory thoughts. Initially, that gives me visions of flowered meadows, trees in full foliage and lawns ready to be mowed. Quickly, reality bites me with a nip of winters chill. How can I fuse the ideas together?

The birds of the winter months bring different qualities than summer birding. While witnessing the fortitude of the birds of winter against the elements, one can seemingly escape from their own reality. Most can get views of common birds near their home while a few with natural landscape acreage are able to witness the activities of more unique birds.

To get access to unique and stunning birds in their natural environment, visiting a Madison Audubon Society Sanctuary is the best bet. Not only can you get some great bird watching in, you can support a great cause and benefit from their efforts. Faville Grove  and Goose Pond Sanctuary  are within short driving distances of the Speckled Hen Inn  and are worth getting off the couch for. The two sanctuaries, each with their distinctive environments, are home to common birds like the Black-Capped Chickadee, snow bunting and the Lapland Longspur. If the stars align during your visit, you’ll be lucky enough to see some of the more rare fowl like the Snowy Owl, Short Eared Owl or the Tundra Swan. Even if you don’t get to see some of the unusual birds, it’s one more adventure, another check off the bucket list, one that staves off the ever-looming cabin fever.

Thanks to the spring fed stream on the property here at the Speckled Hen Inn, we’ve seen some noteworthy birding activities as well. As usual, the Cardinals continuously grace the property contrasting their scarlet color against the monotonous brown and white winter landscape. The Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers flirt with urban life, flittering among the trees yet maintaining a safe distance. As the temperatures wane and spring peeks through, so will the beautiful colors and markings of creepers and waxwings that make our property a stopover on their way to their summer home. You too welcome to visit for a night or stay for a week to enjoy the simple pleasures nature offers. It’ll make winter more than bearable.

 

Chocolate for Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine's Day from The Speckled Hen Inn

Happy Valentine’s Day from The Speckled Hen Inn

Are you looking for the best chocolate in Madison, Wisconsin for your sweetheart this Valentine’s Day?

It is the week before Valentines Day…in case you missed the wide array of candy spread near every entrance and cashier of every store and gas station. Sure, initially my mind says, “Oh…Yum, you should buy that” but very quickly my brain translates the message to, “Wait…I don’t think that stuff is even made with chocolate, I’ll pass”.

 

Similar to the masses upset over Cadbury’s recent decision to change the recipe of their famous crème-filled eggs, I’m a fan of authentic, creamy chocolate. Recently, I made my way into a small café on Atwood called Chocolaterian.  As I walked up, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would walk in to see a mystic behind the counter similar to the role Juliette Binoche played in the romantic comedy, Chocolat. Well, Juliette wasn’t there, but I did walk in to the wonderful aroma of freshly baked goods and a comfortably busy café-like environment. It was a Saturday afternoon and, although I would say it was busy, we didn’t have any difficulty finding a table for four.

While waiting in line and surveying the sweets, the artistry of the chocolatiers became obvious. If I think about it too long, it could almost make me feel terribly inadequate in the kitchen. Eh, someone has to be a consumer, right? The menu goes from macaroons and fondue to their delicious Ugly cookies (far more delicious than their name suggests). On this visit, we settled on the lemon tart (the idea of it now is making my mouth water) and I chose a Parisian Hot Chocolate – a choice others at my table were wishing they had made instead of the American hot chocolate. As mentioned in the blog a few weeks ago, European chocolate is much thicker and not quite as sweet as American hot chocolate. They continued to dip their spoons into my chocolate until it was…all…gone. Delish!

Madison Sweets has become a favorite stop for my daughter and I, a quick indulgence while window-shopping down State Street. Even if we don’t make a purchase, we have to walk through and imagine how all the goodies would taste. It’s more of a traditionally styled candy shop and, like the Chocolaterian, they sell more than chocolate but Madison Sweets only has sweets. Hmmm, surprised? I didn’t think so. You will however be shocked as you browse through what seems like every variety of candy possibly known to mankind. In macaroons alone, they offer more than 35 flavors including elderflower, bourbon pecan and basil. Those might seem bizarre to some people but to the confectioners working there, that’s what keeps their creative juices flowing and the customer returning. Bingo!

Although it’s impossible for us to compete with the craftiness of professional chocolatiers and confectioners, we welcome our guests to the sweet treats in our galley kitchen at the Speckled Hen Inn.  We always have homemade goodies for our guests, even in the middle of the night. Don’t worry, we won’t tell.

Where to Go Snowshoeing in Madison WI

Snowshoeing at The Speckled Hen Inn

Snowshoeing at The Speckled Hen Inn

Have you ever wanted to try out the sport of snowshoeing and wondered where to go snowshoeing in Madison WI?  We have some suggestions for you and now that we finally have enough snow to make this possible, give it a try!

A few weeks ago I heard someone say, “Spring is here!” What? February is just beginning. Clearly this person was a little delusional, as the rest of us understood that the unusually warm weather we were experiencing was just a lull in the typical winter pattern. Well, surprise! Winter has returned, and doesn’t it look beautiful? There are many that appreciated the warmer temperatures however, I always look forward to being able to enjoy the snow and ice throughout the winter.

When I think of the cold, snow and wind…well, really just the snow, it makes me think of sledding, skiing, ice-skating and snowshoeing. I love being able to get outside and having the sun shine on my face and feeling active, almost in defiance of the cold weather. Since most of my favorite places for winter sports are in the woods or in remote rural areas, it becomes almost therapeutic to slow my spirit to the speed of nature and let my body follow through. If you allow it, time can seemingly stand still.

If you’ve never been snowshoeing, I encourage you to give it a try, at least once. People had suggested it to me for years and, for whatever reason, I hesitated. When I finally went out for my first time, I was surprised at how simple it is to use the equipment and how much easier it is to get to more pristine areas without the challenge of maneuvering through knee-high snow.

As a guest at the Speckled Hen Inn, we always welcome you to use the trails throughout the property.  You can even borrow our snowshoes to try out the sport! Our trails will take you on a peaceful journey through the pines, winding around the acreage and down to Starkweather Creek. If you are discreet, there is a good chance you can see the deer that roam about or observe a few of the beautiful cardinals nesting on the property.

If you are looking for longer trails, there are several places to snowshoe around Dane County. For the most part, as long as there is snow, snowshoeing can be done, but there are some places that are more worth the while than others. Cherokee Marsh – Northern Unit  is one of my favorites primarily because it is an extensive natural area with several miles of trails. This makes it less likely to be crowded when I, like the rest of the Madison, have the time to appreciate nature’s gifts. With over three miles of trails and several observation decks, I find it an ideal place for solitude, reflection and just enjoying the outdoors. If you are snowshoeing Cherokee Marsh for the first time or would like some company, there are several groups that organize weekend evening family and group, moonlight and candlelight snowshoeing, often times with a fire and warm beverages to end the night. It’s been a great opportunity to meet future friends with similar interests.

 

 

What to do for Valentines Day in Madison WI

Every Day is Valentines Day

Every Day is Valentines Day

It may seem like you have weeks to prepare for it, but I assure you, it will sneak into your calendar view before you know it. What is it? Well, Valentines Day, of course. Many marketing companies have exploited Valentines Day for it’s commercial qualities and yes, we also agree that romance shouldn’t be forced or limited to a single day. There are many others that would argue its value in their relationship, that this is one of the few days they are admired with the passion adrift in daily regiments of daycare and bath time, career and commute, and health regiments and physician visits. Valentines Day, along with other romantic “Hallmark Holidays”, give a needed focus for many.

 

Celebrating the holiday can cause much stress and frustration, especially if you wait until the last minute. Starting early and preparing for the occasion thoughtfully will make a successful, romantic and lasting celebration of your love. One of the keys to a successful evening is dinner and considering Madison is a “food junkie” hot spot, there are endless restaurants with varying genres and price ranges to choose from.

 

We have two favorites that we reserve for special, romantic evenings. Our first choice would be Fresco located on top of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Its first attraction is the astonishing view. You can see nearly all of Madison’s beauty from the restaurant. The food is to die for, always cooked to perfection and presented beautifully. My favorite is the Seared Tuna Salad. I am not normally the “get a salad” woman but after being reassured by the waitresses that it was a fulfilling dish, I gave it a try. Flawlessly seared and served with kalamata olives, black sheep truffle cheese and champagne vinaigrette. Delicious! The only drawback you might face is that dinner and drinks can get a little costly, especially if you are working on a budget but I will tell you it. is. worth. it. Every penny.

 

Our other favorite is Nostrano on the Capital Square. On top of having superb food, eclectic spirits, a delicately chosen wine selection and prompt courteous staff, they also try to use many locally grown foods to keep their dishes fresh – a detail I must always mention. Because of this, the menu is short and seemingly complex making some people feel a little apprehensive. However, I encourage you to go boldly into the unknown and find a new favored dish. They kitchen staff have clearly spent many hours perfecting the choreographed waltz between texture and flavor for each dish. Maybe you will try the Grilled Sturgeon and ease into a tender fillet of meat cooked to perfection or possibly the Rabbit Boudin Blanc & Confit equally balancing the boldness of the meat with the mushrooms and olives and truly exquisite in presentation. I don’t have a favorite here – I haven’t had a dish I don’t love.

 

While inspirations of romance are dancing through your mind, booking a room at the Speckled Hen Inn Bed and Breakfast in Madison is the perfect choice for an all-inclusive romantic evening.  There are several options for romance packages making it easier for you to focus on the important things, your sweetheart.  And if an overnight getaway just doesn’t fit your schedule right now, there is always the option for a Speckled Hen Inn Gift Certificate because any night with your sweetheart could be special.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Creme from The Speckled Hen Inn

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cream

Mexican Hot Chocolate Creme

Mexican Hot Chocolate Creme recipe from The Speckled Hen Inn Bed and Breakfast in Madison

 3 Egg Yolks
½ cup sugar
2 Cakes of Ibarra Mexican Chocolate chopped into pieces.
1 Cup of Whipping Cream
1 Cup of Milk

 In a medium saucepan whisk together the yolks and sugar.  Add cream and milk and begin cooking over medium low heat whisking constantly.  As the milk begins to warm add in the chopped chocolate and continue cooking and stirring until chocolate has melted and the mixture thickens to the consistency of thick cream.  Serve warm topped with whipped cream and shaved chocolate or cinnamon sugar.  Serves 8 – 10 (demitasse cups).

_______________________________________________________________________

The source of warmth in the winter, conversations shared with a dear friend in a café, a gift during the holidays to let someone know they’re in your thoughts. Hot chocolate applies to all of these situations and has become an integral part of our lives. For many around the world, it’s a staple of morning or evening rituals. It gets me to thinking, how did it become so engrained in our society?

 

To discover the answer to that question, we have to go back through a brief history. Hot chocolate in its original state wasn’t the creamy chocolate as we know it today. It was a simple concoction of ground cacao beans and water, cold. Not appetizing. First used among the Olmec in Mesoamerica about 3500 years ago believing it to have extensive health benefits, the Olmec used the drink in many sacred ceremonies and, in many societies, it was reserved for the most powerful figures. The chocolate drink advanced from its simple state of cacao and water by adding other flavors like ground chili beans and vanilla. This isn’t the drink that we imagine present in households around the United States. However, during the Age of Exploration when the Spanish Conquistadors exploited the New World, they also discovered the exclusive drink and were proud to present it to the crown. It was also during this time that sugar production became a profitable industry of the colonies and readily available as an ingredient to offset the bitter taste of the cacao. Finally, a traveler to the Caribbean found that they preferred the addition of milk to the recipe giving it the creamy texture that we are so accustomed to. (And thank goodness for the milk and sugar! I don’t think the original recipe would fly in my house.) Although it remained an expensive commodity and therefore an elitist drink for many years, the popularity of the chocolate drink expanded and now has many varied recipes. It became widespread throughout the European continent and eventually around the world.

 

Being that it remained a drink of high society for much of its exposure in European culture, a culture that has diffused not only throughout the United States but also throughout most of the world, it’s no surprise that hot chocolate is prevalent around world and has become a staple of home comfort. The recipes vary by continent and, based on their recipes, it is clear they are a product of our individually acquired tastes. In the United States you’ll likely be offered a thin, sweet drink derived from a mixture of dried milk, sugar and cocoa topped with whipped cream or marshmallows. If you ask for a hot chocolate in most European cafes, typically you’ll get a much less sweet but thicker, frothier version. The thickness gives the appearance of authentic melted chocolate but most times it is because they add cornstarch to create a dense variation (Who knew?).

 

At the Speckled Hen Inn we have a favorite recipe of our own that remains true to the origins of hot chocolate. We invite you to try this one at home or cozy up on a window seat in one of our luxury rooms with a warm cup of hot chocolate overlooking the beautiful landscape of our farm.

Top Madison Coffee Houses

Top Madison Coffee Houses

Coffee Break Time

Our guests frequently ask us to recommend a couple of top Madison coffee houses.  There are several in the area that exist in spite of the plethora of national chain coffee vendors.  We hope that our guests will seek a unique local experience.

 

Sometimes, especially around the holidays, you just need to get away and lose yourself in a relaxing ambiance. The hustle of holiday shopping and the pressure of gift wrapping, preparing the perfect holiday dinner while happily entertaining guests while maintaining the regularly scheduled activities of daily life. All of this might require that, at some point, you find your serenity. Without doubt, finding your way to the Speckled Hen Inn  will provide the necessary peaceful environment. Take your time waking from your slumber while we prepare a full breakfast  ready to enjoy when you arrive at the table. Take in the beauty of nature on a walk through the wooded property or enjoy the frolicking behaviors of the sheep and llama from the comforts of the gazebo.

 

While in the area, enjoying the relaxed personality of Madison would be another recommendation of ours. There are many businesses in Madison that are perfect grabbing a cup of coffee, getting cozy in an oversized chair with a great read or just some incredible people-watching (this is Madison, after all). One of my favorite coffee shops to work or read is the Johnson Public House. You’ll see why when you visit. Johnson House is everything that you imagine; comfortable seating, non-intrusive staff and a creative energy filling the air. Of course, they have a wide range of coffee and food options including local (I am always thrilled to support local purchasing businesses) organic, fair trade and vegetarian – all at a very reasonable price. Yes, definitely one of my favorites.

 

Another noteworthy coffee shop is the Mermaid Cafe. (We love their hen logo too)

It’s a special treat to walk into a shop and feel like they were expecting you especially when sipping an amazing cup of coffee. Just like their style, the menu is fairly simple and has options for various diets. Yes, simple, yet delicious, vegetarian options. Mermaid Café also gets our vote as supports local farmers. Their menu and options vary by season because they are a member of a local CSA. It’s always nice to see what they’ve done with the seasonal ingredients and the comfort of knowing that they are healthy and fresh. If you are going solely for the food (and end up enjoying the atmosphere anyway), please note that all of the food is made fresh especially for you so it will take a little longer to be served. Also note, it is worth the wait.

 

When you return to the Speckled Hen Inn
 for the night, there are more perks to be enjoyed. Snuggle under the warm blankets on the couch to watch a movie in the theatre room or draw a hot bath in one of the Jacuzzi tubs – or do both. This is your vacation; we just provide the options. Although many times, the stress of the holidays can seem like too much to bear, the stresses are very real and deserving of some wonderfully relaxing solutions.

Favorite Apple Orchards near Madison WI

Apple Orchards near Madison WI

Lapacek’s Orchard

Guests at The Speckled Hen Inn often ask us about our favorite apple orchards near Madison WI and we are delighted to recommend a couple of our favorites.

 

The air of Wisconsin has grown crisp and soon the leaves with be dancing across the pasture. The cooler temperatures that fall brings open up the possibilities to get out and appreciate the beauty of nature. The Madison area has been truly fortunate to be experiencing some of the most ideal temperatures for outdoor activities. So, if you’re having any thoughts about coming to the area for a short getaway, now is the time. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, that getaway includes going to a local orchard and bringing treasures back to enhance the beauty of your home or incorporating them into your meals and desserts.

 

While you are visiting the Madison area, you’ll find that there are several simple and unique options to choose from but there are a few that we can recommend from personal experience that are within a short distance from the Speckled Hen Inn. The first would be a longstanding family owned and operated orchard just down the road from our Inn in Poynette.  Lapacek’s Orchard has made the announcement locals wait all summer for; that they are open for fall operations. Multiple generations are involved in the daily operations including picking the apples, preparing product for sale or working the cider press. While you’re out enjoying the sites, a caramel apple or baking with your sweetheart, know that the Lapacek’s dream of owning an orchard began as they spent their afternoons enjoying the same simple pleasures, years ago. In addition to the many apples, condiments and other apple products, Lapacek’s also has a wide variety of pumpkins, gourds, and nearly all the fall decorating provisions.

 

An orchard that has remained a constant for the Madison community for over 150 years and has earned a shout out on the blog is Door Creek Orchard. Basing their philosophies on sustainable farming practices, Door Creek has been able to produce a robust, quality harvest nearly every year. They’ve also been able to balance the desire for a practical income with creating an environment with little environmental impact and a focus on the escape from the urban and commercialized feel that dominates much of the orchard trade.

Favorite Things To Do on a Rainy Day in Madison WI

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

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

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.