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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.

 

Wisconsin Cheese Curds Scramble

January 23rd, 2014 by Pat Fischbeck

Our Wisconsin Cheese Curds Scramble was inspired by a recipe from the Spring Green General Store in Spring Green Wisconsin.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA8 large eggs

½ cup half and half

2 Tablespoons butter

1 ½ cups Wisconsin Cheddar Cheese Curds

4 pieces of sun dried tomato diced

1 Tablespoon fresh dill chopped or 1 teaspoon of dried dill weed

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Baby Spinach leaves

Sautéed Asparagus

Toasted Beer Bread

 

Break or chop the cheese curds into ½ inch pieces and set aside.

In a blender combine the eggs and half and half.  In a ten-inch non-stick skillet melt the butter over medium low heat.  Add the egg mixture, tomato, dill, salt and pepper.  Stir the eggs and scramble them until they just begin to set.  Add the cheese curds and continue stirring.  When the eggs are done remove from the heat.  The goal is to have barely melted cheese curds at the point that the eggs have completed cooking.

To serve make a “nest” of baby spinach leaves in the center of 4 plates.  Arrange the sautéed asparagus over the spinach and the top with the scrambled eggs.  Add triangles of toasted beer bread to the plate and serve.  Serves 4.

Where to Celebrate an Anniversary in Madison WI

January 17th, 2014 by Pat Fischbeck

Bubbly and fireplaceAre you wondering where to celebrate an Anniversary in Madison, WI?  I have an idea for you.

Yes, by all means, do the traditional celebration dinner at your favorite special occasion restaurant in Madison Wisconsin (we will be happy to suggest one, if you don’t have a favorite).  Then bring the love of your life to The Speckled Hen Inn Bed and Breakfast for a special Anniversary Getaway evening.  Select one of the guest rooms with a king-sized bed dressed with soft fine linens, a romantic fireplace, and a relaxing jetted tub.  The intimate setting of the Inn allows you to experience a romantic escape without the required time and hassles of travel.  And you can actually celebrate on the date of your Anniversary rather than waiting for a weekend to get away.  The Inn is located just outside the city of Madison on 50 acres of woodlands, wetlands, and gardens surrounding the Inn.  Awake after a refreshing sleep to a magnificent breakfast expertly prepared just for the two of you featuring items from the Inns’ gardens and other local producers.  We will be happy to accommodate any special dietary needs.

Mention that you read this posting when you make your reservation and you will find a well chilled bottle of bubbly waiting in your room when you arrive for your special evening.  Flowers, chocolates, and other goodies are available upon request and for a minimal additional charge.  Just give us a call (608-244-9368) to discuss the ways that we can make your upcoming Anniversary Celebration truly unique and special.

Favorite Cranberry Recipe for the Holidays or Any Time

November 1st, 2013 by Pat Fischbeck

Our favorite cranberry recipe for the Holidays is Cranberry Cherry Chutney.  We are always looking for a way to put a little twist on the traditional.  This is a nice alternative to regular sweet cranberry sauce.  It goes well with your holiday Turkey or Goose (and the cold turkey sandwiches that follow) and we like it with roasted pork as well.  The recipe showcases those freshly harvested Wisconsin cranberries from the bogs near Wisconsin Rapids, dried cherries from Door County, an apple or two from Lapacek’s Orchards near Poynette and a bit of spice from Penzeys.  It is easy to make and will keep well through the holiday season in your refrigerator.

I developed the recipe for the 2008 Wisconsin Bed and Breakfast Association Cook-Off.  We featured the chutney on a Wisconsin Breakfast Panini.  We layered hearty Italian bread from a local bakery, slices of Wisconsin Havarti cheese, slices of crisp red apple, Applewood smoked bacon, and the Cranberry Cherry Chutney.  A few magic moments in the panini press and a fabulous sandwich is ready to enjoy.  The recipe proved to be a winner.

Favorite Cranberry Recipe from The Speckled Hen Inn Bed and Breakfast

Wisconsin Breakfast Panini with Cranberry Cherry Chutney

CRANBERRY CHERRY CHUTNEY

In a medium saucepan bring 1 cup of water and 1 cup of granulated sugar to a boil.  Remove from the heat and stir in 12 ounces of fresh or frozen Cranberries, 1/2 cup cider vinegar, 1 cup of chopped dried Door County cherries, 1 teaspoon of Penzeys Baking Spice (a blend of cinnamon, cassia, anise seed, allspice, mace, and cardamom), and 1 peeled, cored and diced apple.  Return to the heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until the apple is tender, the cranberries have popped and the mixture has thickened.  Cool and refrigerate.  The chutney will thicken more as it cools.

Enjoy on the Wisconsin Breakfast Panini, a turkey sandwich or with your Holiday feast

 

Eating Fresh, Eating Local in April

April 10th, 2013 by Pat Fischbeck

Eating fresh, local produce begins to become a real possibility now that the snow has melted away from the garden beds and wooded hillsides of our Madison Wisconsin Bed and Breakfast.  We look forward to serving fresh nibbles from our greenhouse pots and outdoor herb beds sometime in early April.

Already the pea shoots in the greenhouse are ready for snipping to add flavor and fresh color to breakfast plates.  They were so easy to grow.  Just simply pushing a pea seed down into a small container of potting mix rewarded us with quickly growing pea vines.  We may start more this week to keep a supply going until time for the outdoor gardens to supply us with more.

Chives in The Garden at THe Speckled Hen Inn in Madison WI

Chives in April

A few warm days will awaken our chive plants and then guests at our breakfast table can look forward to Wisconsin Cheddar and Chive Biscuits to accompany their farm-fresh scrambled eggs.

The ramps will be popping up in the woods behind the house soon too.  Ramps, also known as spring onions, ramsom, wild leeks or wood leeks, and wild garlic are an early spring vegetable.  They are a perennial wild onion with a garlic-like scent and a pronounced onion flavor.  They have become very popular with many local farm-to-table chefs and you will find dishes featuring ramps on many of their April menus.  We like to serve them fried with potatoes and bacon or sauteed and creamed to tuck into puff pastry shells then filled with scrambled eggs.

Here is a little tidbit for our Chicago guests:  The city of Chicago takes it’s name from the native tribe’s word for the ramps that were found growing in dense clusters near Lake Michigan.  They called the plant “shikaakwa” (chicagou).  The ramp is also considered by many folk medicine practitioners to be a Spring tonic.

We will also be watching our garden beds for the first shoots of asparagus.  What we find in the local markets now is tempting but just can’t begin to compare with eating fresh local asparagus especially when it comes right from our garden to our kitchen.  I’m dreaming of asparagus with poached eggs and lemony hollandaise sauce and bacon wrapped asparagus.

The first fresh local fruit of the season will also appear in April.  Hidden under the quickly melting snow we discovered that our rhubarb plants were all ready to unfurl their crinkly leaves and send up those tart juicy stalks.

Wisconsin Wildflowers at The Speckled Hen Inn

April 7th, 2013 by Pat Fischbeck

In spring the native Wisconsin wildflowers at the Speckled Hen Inn are amazing.  The property has a wide range of growing conditions from the hillside covered with oak, hickory and hackberry trees to the marshy grasslands that border the banks of Starkweather Creek.  Spring has finally arrived in Madison Wisconsin so the snow is slowly melting into the earth and soon we will be marveling at how quickly things seem to pop up.

Wildflowers at The Speckled Hen Inn in Madison WI

Bloodroot Blooming at The Speckled Hen Inn

One of the very first wildflowers we expect to see are the Bloodroots.  I’ll notice little clusters of white flowers on the hillside in the wooded areas.  If you break the stem on the flower, you will see where it gets it’s name.  The red-orange sap is quite bright.  There is a nice cluster of these that are really happy to be a part of one of the flower beds just outside my office window.  The soil must be pretty fertile there because these are always quite a bit larger than the ones up in the woods.  The flowers open fully on a sunny day and close at night or if it is really cloudy.  Sometimes I will notice tiny little black bees collecting the pollen from the flowers.  The length of time that the flowers last depends largely on the weather.  If it is cool, they will stick around for a couple of weeks.  The clusters of leaves last much longer.  But, eventually they just disappear into the overall carpet of green.

The next wildflowers we will notice come quickly.  Suddenly we will notice Spring Beauties, May Apples, Bell Wort, and Jack in the Pulpits popping up everywhere in the woods.

May Apple wildflowers at the Speckled hen Inn in Madison WI

Emerging May Apples at The Speckled Hen Inn

The May apples will look like little green thumbs poking up out of the ground when we first notice them and than before you know it you will notice and entire bed of little green umbrellas.  Under the umbrella there will be a single white flower that will develop  into the “apple”.  Large areas of the woodland floor are covered with patches of these plants.

Not all of our wildflowers are welcome even though they may be pretty.  We have to battle the invasion of garlic mustard and dame’s rocket just like most of our neighbors.  We try to encourage the native wildflowers to flourish and ban the non-native flowers that threaten to overtake the native guys.  It is a never ending battle although every year we hake a little progress.

The very first wildflowers we discovered on the property are the State Wildflower of Wisconsin.  Soon after we purchased the land we were exploring the areas along the un-named creek and found several clusters of wild violets.  We have, since that time, found them all over the property.  The seem to have a pretty good tolerance for a wide variety of growing conditions because we find them in the dry shade on our wooded hillside and also mixed with the wild sedges along the creeks.  They thrive in my rock garden.

Trillium wildflowers in bloom at The Speckled hen Inn in Madison WI

Trillium at The Speckled Hen Inn

 

Spring Break Getaway Road Trip

March 26th, 2013 by Pat Fischbeck

Spring Break time has finally arrived and the innkeepers at The Speckled Hen Inn Bed and Breakfast in Madison WI know you are just dying to get out of the house and enjoy some sunshine and fresh air.  What better way to do this than to take a little road trip.

Less than an hour’s drive out highway 12 from Madison you will find Wollersheim Winery in Prairie du Sac, WI.  Their winery is open daily from 10-5 and the historic winery offers tours, tastings and fun shopping and sight-seeing on any early spring day.  Select a few bottles to take home with you or become a member of their case club.

Carr Valley Cheese

Carr Valley Cheese

What pairs better with wine than cheese?  And right across the river in Sauk City you will find a Carr Valley Cheese store.  They are producers of some of Wisconsin’s finest Artisan Cheeses made from cow, goat, or sheep’s milk or combinations thereof.  Try a sample and ask about pairing a cheese or two with the wines you just purchased.  Your innkeepers will happily provide you a board, cheese knife and some wine glasses when you return to relax at the Inn.

 

 

 

But first, while you are in the area head back in to Prairie du Sac and make a stop at the Ferry Bluff Eagle Council Overlook to see the American Bald Eagles.  The overlook is just 2 blocks south of the Highway 60 and Highway 78 intersection in Prairie du Sac, right along the Wisconsin River.

What a great way to shake off the winter blahs and get out to enjoy some of the Best of Wisconsin.

February + Chocolate = Love

February 1st, 2013 by Pat Fischbeck

February is finally here and we are looking forward to putting something chocolate on the breakfast table at The Speckled Hen Inn every single day this month.  Our very first offering this month will be our Mexican Hot Chocolate Cream for desert after breakfast.  This little bit of comfort food provides just the right touch of chocolatey goodness to put a sweet finish on our bountiful breakfast.  A slightly larger portion would make a decadent desert after dinner or a late night chocolate splurge.  We serve it warm so the consistency is somewhere between thick sipping cream and a spoonable chocolate mousse.  Garnish the little cup of cream with a bit of lightly sweetened whipped cream and a sprinkle of chocolate or cinnamon.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cream from the kitchen of The Speckled Hen Inn

3 Egg Yolks

February Desert

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cream for Desert

1/2 cup Sugar

2 cakes of Ibarra Mexican Chocolate chopped into pieces

1 cup Whipping Cream

1 cup Milk

In a medium saucepan whisk together the yolks and sugar.  Add cream and milk and begin cooking over medium heat whisking constantly.  As the milk begins to warm add in the chopped chocolate and continue cooking and stirring until the chocolate has melted and the mixture thickens to the consistency of thick cream. Do not allow to boil.

Serve warm topped with whipped cream and shaved chocolate or cinnamon sugar.

Serves 10-12 (demitasse cups)

The 12 Treats of Christmas – #4 Spritz Butter Cookies

December 9th, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck

These pretty little cookies are second only to cut-out Christmas cookies in being the cookie that will really dress up a holiday cookie tray.  They are quick to make and only need a few sugar sprinkles or a candied cherry in the center to make them sparkle.

This recipe is a bit less sweet than most spritz cookies and the finely ground almonds make them very tender.  The almond and butter flavors develop as the cookie is stored so they really are one cookie that isn’t at it’s best just out of the oven.  Give them a day or two and they will be heavenly.

I used a cookie press to make mine.  They can also be piped through a bag with a tip.  I think that the press is easier.  Cookie presses are inexpensive but seldom used except at Christmas time.  You might want to borrow one from a family member, friend, or co-worker just to save storage space.  My mom is the only person I know who actually wore one out!

Cookie Press Christmas Cookies

Cooling Spritz Butter Cookies

Spritz Butter Cookies

1/2 cup blanched almonds

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup unsalted butter

1 large egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

pinch of salt

 

In a mini food processor chop the almonds to a fine powder.

Soften the butter slightly and place in the large bowl of an electric mixer with the almonds and the sugar.  Cream these three ingredients until fluffy.  Add the egg and extracts and beat until blended.  On low spead, gradually add the flour and salt and mix until incorporated.

Spoon the dough into the cookie press and following the manufacturers directions form the cookies using your favorite Christmas Cookie shape template.  I used trees and rosettes today.  Space the cookies about 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.

Decorate your unbaked cookies with glace cherries, sugar sprinkles, or dragees.

Bake for about 10 minutes at 375 degrees or until the cookies are a pale golden color.

Remove from the baking sheet, cool, and store for at least a couple of days before enjoying.