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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.

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

 

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

 

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 – #3 Rosettes

December 8th, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck

We saw a few flakes of snow this morning and more is predicted tomorrow…finally!  It wouldn’t be Christmas in Wisconsin without snow and it wouldn’t be Christmas at The Speckled Hen Inn without a batch of Rosettes on hand to garnish the morning fruit plates.  We make them to resemble snowflakes but dust them with spiced sugar to pair nicely with winter fruits.  We always have to save a few for our friend, Jay.

Making Rosettes does require some special equipment.  You will need a Rosette Iron.  They come in lots of fun shapes but the snowflakes are my favorites.  You can find them at specialty cookware stores especially in areas that have a Scandinavian heritage population.  You can also buy them online at Fantes.  Rosettes are fried in oil so having a deep fryer with a thermostat to keep the oil at a constant temperature is important.

It does take a bit of time to make a batch of Rosettes.  So, put on some Christmas carols and some comfy shoes and let’s get to work.

Rosettes

Rosette Snowflake Cookies

Rosette Snowflakes

1 cup flour

1/2 cup evaporated milk

1/2 cup water

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg

Mix milk, water, sugar, salt, and egg together with a whisk until the sugar has disolved.  Sift in the flour gradually whisking frequently (Yes, it would be nice to have 3 hands).  Let the batter rest for an hour or two in the refrigerator.

Heat at least 2 inches of oil in a fryer or pan to 365 degrees.  Place the rosette iron in the heating oil so that it seasons and gets hot too.  Lift the iron out, shake off the excess oil.  Dip the iron into the batter but only until it covers 3/4 of the iron. (Do not cover entire mold with batter…there won’t be a way to remove it from the mold!)  Hold the iron in the batter for a few seconds, lift it out and shake off any excess batter.

Dip the batter-coated mold into the hot oil.  As soon as the Rosette begins to brown slightly, lift the mold, and let the Rosette drop gently into the hot oil.  If the batter sticks (and it probably will the first time) try using a wooden chopstick to “help” it release.  Turn the rosette over to cook for an extra few seconds.  Using tongs or a spider lift the finished rosette out of the oil and let it drain on paper towels.

While the Rosettes are still warm, sprinkle with a mixture of 1 cup granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon of Penzey’s Baking Spice or just cinnamon.  Let cool completely.  Store in air-tight containers.

The 12 Treats of Christmas – #2 Mexican Wedding Cakes

December 7th, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck

Think about Christmas foods and the first thing that pops into your mind is a Christmas cookie.  Sweet, buttery, nutty, chocolate bites that transport us to our childhood days and fill a kitchen with the smells, sights and sounds of holiday preparation.  The great personal reward for a busy day of shopping, wrapping, or making last minute gifts is a cup of tea and a couple of cookies.  The perfect thank you gift for a holiday hostess is a tray of cookies.

Cookies come from the heart and the hearth.  Some are treasured family recipes, reminders of holidays at Grandma’s house.  Others are from ratty looking clippings from a newspaper or magazine that sits in the recipe file until December every year.  Or they may be a healthy bite filled with the trendiest ingredients to keep you fueled through the holidays.  Whatever your idea is of a perfect cookie and IF you need an excuse to tie on an apron, Christmas time just has to be the time to preheat the oven and create some cookie magic.

Here is my recipe for Mexican Wedding Cakes.  They also go by many other names.  You will recognize them when you see them.  These small powered sugar covered, tender discs are so worth the minimal effort required to produce them.  The recipe calls for toasted pecans but I’m going to experiment with making them with the black walnuts that we collected from our land this year…I’ll let you know how it goes.

Russian Tea Cakes

melt-in-your-mouth Mexican Wedding Cakes

Mexican Wedding Cakes

1/2 cup pecan halves

1 cup powered sugar

pinch of salt

1 cup unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups powered sugar for topping

Place the pecans on a cookie sheet and bake, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool completely.

In a food processor with a metal blade, process the sugar with the pecans and salt until the pecans are powder fine.  Cut the butter into a few pieces and add it to the work bowl.  Process until smooth and creamy.  Scrape the sides of the work bowl.  Add the vanilla and pulse in.  add the flour and pulse in until the dough starts to clump together.

Scrape the dough into a clean bowl, cover tightly, and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

Measure the dough into 1 -inch balls and roll between the palms of your hands.  Flour your hands lightly of necessary.  Place the balls 1 1/2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees or until the cookies barely begin to brown.  Rotate the cookie sheets if necessary to assure even browning.

 

Cool the cookies on the sheets for 2-3 minutes.  Using a small metal spatula, lift the cookies from the baking sheet and roll them in powered sugar while they are still hot.  Roll them several times to achieve an even powdery coating.  Place the cookies on a wire rack to cool completely.  dust again with powdered sugar and store in a airtight container at room temperature.  They will keep for about a month (but they probably won’t last that long!)

The recipe makes about 4 1/2 dozen cookies.

The 12 Treats of Christmas – #1 Caramel Peanut Butter Popcorn Balls

December 6th, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck

Back in the days when middle school “Family Living” class was a little more like my high school home-ec class, my daughter came home with a recipe that has become a family favorite during the Holiday Season.  I’ve made these special popcorn balls for family Christmas stocking-stuffers, for holiday fund-raising auctions, and for the treat bowl at The Speckled Hen Inn.  I hope that you enjoy them as much as we do.

Popcorn Ball

Our Favorite Popcorn Balls

Caramel Peanut Butter Popcorn Balls

10 cups of popped plain popcorn

12 caramel candies unwrapped

24 regular marshmallows

1/4 cup peanut butter

1/4 cup butter

Pop the popcorn and keep warm on a non-stick rimmed cookie sheet in a 250 degree oven.

In a large saucepan melt butter, peanut butter and caramels together over low heat stirring constantly.  When the caramels are almost completely melted add the marshmallows and stir until melted.

Pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn and mix together.  Oil your hands and shape the mixture into 8 round balls.  Be very careful.  The caramel mixture is very hot and will stick to your hands.  I’ve found that wearing food-service gloves sprayed with Pam works very well for this task.  When the popcorn balls are cool, wrap individual balls in plastic wrap tied with holiday ribbon.

Enjoy and check back with us for 11 more Christmas Treats.

 

 

The End of Another Season

October 26th, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck

Dane County Farmer's Market supplies The Speckled Hen Inn

Dane County Farmer’s Market

There are only three more Saturday Farmer’s Markets before the market moves indoors for the cooler months.  Now is a great time to stock up on all the great winter squash and pantry staples to see us through the winter months.  My fall shopping list always includes honey and baby rice popcorn even though I know I can buy those in the later months.  This just seems like the right time to stock up and fill the shelves.  It is also the time of year when I feel the need to put together a hearty soup and let it simmer in the slow cooker while I tend to clearing off gardens and composting leaves.  But the project du jour is going to be a potato and leek tortilla.  Leeks should be harvested well after a frost to allow their natural sugars to develop.  The best way to test this is to make something delicious.  So, I guess our guests now know what will appear at the breakfast table at The Speckled Hen Inn tomorrow morning.

 

Addition to the Garden at The Speckled Hen Inn Bed and Breakfast

April 12th, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck

New Garden Shed at The Speckled Hen Inn

Squaring up the building site.

Today it really begins.  The carpenters arrived at The Speckled Hen Inn around 9:00AM, just as the lumber delivery truck was departing.  Their mission is to build the garden shed of my dreams, Pat’s Playhouse, another Fischbeck Folly.

The plan has been developing all winter long.  We spent hours pouring through folders of saved magazine clippings.  We consulted our library of garden design books.  We clicked our way from one end of the internet’s photos files to the other and finally came up with a design simply sketched on a pad of graph paper.  There is an air of finality about a design finally drawn using a straight edge.

Then there were endless debates about where to put the little building.  It should be near the garden, of course.  But, it can’t block the view of the pasture from the cottage or, more importantly, the Inn.  And it shouldn’t be where it would shade the garden.  Heaven knows we already have enough shade on the property.  It had to be somewhere that a 16 x 12 building wouldn’t look lost on the 50-acre property.  After exploring several possibilities, we decided on a spot.  Jerome, our builder, drove a few stakes in the ground and we all decided that the spot that we had selected had problems with elevation and proximity to our parking area.  So, we moved it.  Decisions are much easier to make when your builder is standing there snapping his measuring tape out and back.  The new garden shed will be just outside the gate of the cutting garden and will snuggle against the pasture fence.  A couple of guys came and dug the holes for the posts that will support the building and it has been a mad scramble to pick out windows, a door, and flooring.  But, I think that most of the major design decisions are behind us and we are thrilled to see the construction begin so early in the season.

I have great plans for my little building.  It is inspired by the shed/smokehouse that was in my grandparent’s back yard.  That was a rather rustic building with a tidy row of well cared for tools on one wall and a long workbench under a dusky window opposite it.  There was always a galvanized steel bucket filled with sand saturated with used motor oil for cleaning and protecting the blades of shovels and hoes.  Two smooth wooden stakes with heavy cotton twine leaned in the corner when they were not being used to mark out straight garden rows.  There were rolls of wire pea fence amd an old nail keg full of stakes for tomato vines.  A bale of spagnum moss usually rested in the wheelbarrow and it was the winter home for a family of plastic ducks that spent their summers in the rock garden.

I envision my garden shed as having all those features plus being a place where I can hang a few herbs to dry.  It should be a place where I can hang my gardening hat and change from my Innkeeper shoes to my garden clogs. Imagine, if you will, a portal from my role as Innkeeper to my role as gardner.  I can arrange the flowers I will gather from my garden or pot up a little slip of a plant for a friend.  Veggies from the kitchen garden can shed their excess soil and compostable parts there.  And when I’m tired for weeding there will be a spot to sit and smell the roses or a shady place for Happy to watch what is happening in the garden.  The garden shed will also be the backdrop for a nice stand of Hollyhocks.  I’ve started them from seed, again.

Another dream moves toward reality.  I’m smiling as I write and feeling guilty because I should be outside helping paint the siding for my little gem.