October 26th, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck
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.
August 17th, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck
The Gazebo – a space for guest to enjoy.
Earlier this summer I visited Olbrich Botanical Gardens, our award-winning city garden in Madison, Wisconsin. I discovered that they had created several small sitting areas throughout the garden where visitors could stop and rest and enjoy the views of the garden or perhaps become a part of the garden. I decided that guests might enjoy doing the same thing at The Speckled Hen Inn.
I often feel that some guests, with their desire for privacy, fail to take advantage of all the extra little places around our property where they can share a quiet conversation, relax and enjoy the natural surroundings, and disconnect from whatever it is that they need to get away from. Our rooms in the Inn are great places but we have more to offer.
So, Bob and I set out to create those spaces on the property for our guests to enjoy. One space that already existed is our garden gazebo. The Gazebo was constructed in 2002, just in time for a wedding on the property. It is made of Canadian red cedar and still carries that sweet smell when you step in the double doors. There is comfortable seating in the gazebo and the screen covered windows provide a panoramic view of the garden pond, pasture, gardens and the Inn.
To make the gazebo more guest friendly we added a larger top on the dining table so sharing a meal there is a bit less cramped or the scrabble board now fits nicely on the table. We installed a new CD player and stocked the collection of CD’s there with more relaxing titles. We also installed a wine refrigerator that has dual temperature sections for red and white wines. Of course, it is fully stocked with wines from our wine list and glasses, cork screw, and menus from a couple of local restaurants that will deliver right to the gazebo (or the Inn) are on hand.
Since the gazebo is right in the middle of the garden we also decided that it would be a good spot for our collection of books that will help guests identify butterflies, wildflowers, and birds. Of course the gazebo is a great destination for guests looking for a comfortable spot to settle in with a good book or their laptop. The gazebo gets a good strong wifi signal too.
August 8th, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck
Hummingbird has lunch in the rain
It has been a long hot summer in Madison, Wisconsin. There was hardly any rain at all during the months of June and July. All the ferns in the beds around the Speckled Hen Inn turned brown and crispy. It was a struggle just to keep up with the watering of the vegetable gardens, flower pots and new trees and shrubs that had been planted this spring. But now, it’s August and a few rain showers have turned the pastures green again. The lawn is recovering from dormancy and we are no longer stressing about how we will feed our sheep and llamas this winter. The gardens are providing lots of fresh veggies for the breakfast table and a few peaches even managed to ripen and find their way onto the menu.
Today this little hummingbird seemed to express our gratitude for the rain as she danced and darted about in the raindrops and was determined to have her lunch. Perhaps she was celebrating the return of the rain too as it will mean a more bountiful buffet of nectar bearing flowers for her to enjoy.
April 12th, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck
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.
March 9th, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck
Can I drive next time?
The boys at The Speckled Hen Inn Bed and Breakfast in Madison, Wisconsin have a new toy to help out with the chores around the Inn. The new UTV is great for getting the garbage cans to and from the curb. The many trips to the stable to feed the sheep and chickens, collect the eggs, find the needed tool or pick a fresh tomato will be a little bit easier now and of course, Happy can go along for the ride.
The chore list at the Inn for the warm season ahead seems to get a bit longer every day. One project always seems to spawn another. We will be constructing a new greenhouse on the end of the stable by the garden and using those great passive solar water tubes that we picked up at the Habitat Re-Store. If we have a greenhouse we can propagate pachasandra cuttings to use a ground cover when we re-design a part of the Japanese garden. Another construction project is a garden ‘shed’ just outside the cutting garden to provide a focal point for the garden and to give a home to all the garden tools that seem to scatter about the property. The design of this building is still in flux as we keep thinking of possible uses of just a little bit more storage space. It seems that we never have enough storage space. Of course, the garden surrounding the new shed will need to be expanded a bit for more flowers to use in the Inn and new raspberry beds and a grape arbor are on the planning list too. The final (at least at this moment) building project for this summer is a garden house very similar to our gazebo. We plan to locate this over by the pool and intend to use it as an outdoor sitting room. It will be a great place to relax with a glass of wine at the end of the day or maybe even a spot to sneak away with a good book and a friendly dog.
The ongoing project is the woodland restorations. The UTV will really come in handy for getting into the woods without doing too much damage to the woodland floor. The UTV is much lighter than our pick-up truck so we will not have to worry quite so much about compacting tree roots and trampeling wildflowers. The bed in the back will be great for hauling out brush and cut firewood as well as for hauling in the tools that we will need to use.
March 1st, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck
Wisconsin State Capitol Building
Folks who live in Madison, WI or who visited before know what a great city it is. It seems like there is always something to do. But visitors coming for the first time may not know what to do first so here is the list compiled by our staff at The Speckled Hen Inn. There are the Top Ten Madison Experiences inside the city. We will get to that long list of things to do, using Madison as a hub when you explore South Central Wisconsin, later.
- Take a tour of the Capitol. Madison is the capital of Wisconsin and the building is truly a treasure. Do take the tour because the wonderful guides know all those fun stories that bring life to the building and they also have the keys to all the locked doors that you will want to see behind. Tours leave from the info desk in the rotunda every hour on the hour. You will miss the school kiddies if you go late in the day. Take the elevator to the 6th floor balcony for a bird’s eye view of Madison. It is free, of course.
- Wander down State Street. This is the pedestrian mall that connects the Capitol Square to the campus of the University of Wisconsin. It’s a fantastic place for people watching and doing a bit of shopping. Our favorite shops are the gift shop at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Little Luxuries, Tellus Mater, the Art Poster Shop and University Bookstore. The little ethnic restaurants are wonderful too.
- Stroll through Olbrich gardens. Our public gardens are nothing short of amazing for a city our size or for a city of any size. There is a rose garden, a rock garden, herb garden and butterflies in the summer. In the winter the structure of the gardens shine and provide a serene spot for a bit of exercise. The indoor tropical dome will warm you to the core in the winter months. Don’t miss the beautiful Thai Pavillion. Everything but admission to the dome is free.
- You must have cheese. Wisconsin is The dairy state so it would be unthinkable to not try our finest cheeses. They are easy to find. Fromagination on the Capitol Square is a great artisan cheese shop featuring many different Wisconsin cheeses. Carr Valley cheese store in Middleton is goat, sheep, and cow’s milk cheese heaven. Why, even most of our local grocery stores have a cheese counter devoted to just the WIsconsin cheeses. Try, buy, and take some home with you. You will be back for more.
- Visit the Memorial Union on the campus of the University of Wisconsin and have an ice cream cone for lunch. The ice cream from the dairy at Babcock hall has a really high butter fat content that results in ice cream that is the smoothest and creamiest you will ever taste. I think it is a meal all by itself. Enjoy it on the Terrace overlooking the lake while listening to the musicians there and you have a memorable experience.
- Shop the Dane County Farmer’s Market. It’s reported to be the largest true farmer’s market in the nation. What is sold there has to be produced in Wisconsin and sold by the person who produced it (let’s not quibble about tropical plants). Every Saturday morning, rain or shine, year-round (check for location in the cold months) and again on Wednesday’s during the summer. If fact, during the summer months there is a farmer’s market somewhere near Madison every single day of the week. So, don’t despair if you can’t make it here on Saturday.
- Explore the Villas Zoo. It is free, too. Isn’t that amazing? It is a great little zoo with much more than you would expect to find here. Nice exhibits in great surroundings. You can spend an hour or two here or the whole day.
- OK, this one will take a bit of advance planning. Come go to a Concerts on the Square. The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra plays on the steps of the Capitol building on Wednesday evenings for 6 weeks beginning the last week in June. The music begins at 7:00 but guests start spreading their blankets on the capitol lawn around 3:00 for the largest picnic of summer. This is the essence of summer in Madison. Bring your own picnic or purchase a box supper from one of the vendors.
- Experience the UW Arboretum. An Arboretum is a collection of plants rather than a garden and you will find a wide range of plant materials at the Arboretum. The lilac collection in the Spring is amazing, a really fragrant experience. The nature walks on a moonlit night in the winter are inspiring. The natural diversity of grassy meadows, swamp, pine plantations, and the plant collections that the University has established combine to provide a great venue for biking , hiking, and exploration.
- Pedal your way around the city. Madison is a very bike-friendly city. A bike trail network connects all parts of the city. Several local vendors provide bicycle rentals and not just some old clunkers either. You can try out some of Trek’s latest developments at some rental places. Just ask us for information. City busses and Green Cabs have bike racks to help you out when the old legs are too tired to go another mile. Many of the Wisconsin State Bicycle trails come very close to Madison too.
February 21st, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck
A foodie visits Madison, WI and wants to know our Top Ten Foodie places. It’s hard to pare the list down to just 10 places and I’ll not even attempt to include places where you could eat. Here are my picks for the top 10 places for foodies to shop for things to eat, drink, and bless their home kitchens.
- Dane County Farmer’s Market. Yes, it is a year-round love affair with all that is fresh and local. The market is held every Saturday morning. In the summer months a Wednesday market is added. In fact, in the summer months there is a farmers market somewhere near Madison every single day of the week.
- Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier. Madison’s finest dark chocolate truffles can be found here. We love to feature them in the Romance Packages available at The Speckled Hen Inn.
- Fromagination. A cheese shop where you can taste before you buy. Lot’s of local cheeses and a cheese merchant who really knows the stuff. It’s right on the Capitol Square too.
- Penzeys. Two shops in the Madison area will overload your senses with spices and herbs and inspiration. Their Hot Chocolate mix is a favorite at the Inn. If you leave the store with just one item, let it be the double strength vanilla.
- Ale Asylum. Proof that beer is crazy good food. The distribution of their beers is getting to be pretty good and you will find it in several local restaurants and markets. But, it is a lot more fun to go to the source and maybe even meet the guys who make it.
- Orange Tree Imports. Cookware and all manner of gadgets for the foodie’s kitchen. There are also plenty of beautiful serving pieces. It is great place to shop for a wedding gift for foodies too.
- RP’s Pasta. Beautiful, delicious handmade pasta to pair with your cheese and veggies. They make great gluten-free pasta too.
- La Brioche. Fine Bakery items that you will never be able to create at home. The morning buns have long been a Madison favorite and they produce wedding cakes that taste every bit as good as they look.
- Yahara Bay Distillers. Go and be amazed. They make some of the finest Lemoncello I’ve ever tasted. It is almost worth taking Friday off from work so that you can be in Madison on Thursday night for their tastings.
- The Kitchen Gallery. The love of their buyer for fine kitchenware is so obvious. I can go in their shop and find things that I would swear they ordered just for me.
December 28th, 2011 by Pat Fischbeck
The crew from Good Oak Woodland restorations recently cleared a lot of brush and invasive buckthorn trees from the hillside behind the Inn. We thought that you would enjoy reading what they had to say about it on their blog and seeing the before and after pictures. We have already noticed how much easier it is to see the wildlife activitity in the woods. The wild turkey have been scratching around in the carpet of leaves for whatever it is that wild turkey look for. It is fun to sit at the breakfast table and actually see what is happening in the woods. The folks from Good Oak will be working with us next spring to identify our wildflowers and make recommendations for planting that will restore this woodland area to it’s original and native form.
November 11th, 2011 by Pat Fischbeck
Earlier this week the members of The Wisconsin Bed and Breakfast Association met at The Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin for their annual meeting and conference. The conference began with a special day of presentations for Aspiring Innkeepers. Sixteen future innkeepers learned about the profession from experts in business, financing, and insurance and received lots of advice from practicing innkeepers about marketing, policies, record keeping and websites. Tours of local B&B’s were enjoyed by many of the conference attendees. The keynote presentation was delived on Monday morning by Jay Karen of PAII. His message encouraged innkeepers to reach out to the next generation of guests by listening to their needs and desires. The rest of Monday and Tuesday were filled with interesting workshops, a trade show, and probably most importantly, time for the members of WBBA to share time with old friends and welcome some new ones into this family of innkeepers.
What does happen when innkeepers get together? Do they tell horror stories about bad guests? No, well maybe a little bit but innkeepers are really a positive group sharing the feeling that B&B guests are a very special group of people who make a conscious choice to be a guest at a B&B. So innkeepers time together is a time to share best practices, tidbits of vendor information, and recipes and breakfast menu plans. It really is a time to recharge and then go back to their B&B’s with a long, long list of ideas, projects, and concepts to explore during the slightly quieter months ahead.
So, a new year begins now before January even rolls around. There is blogging to do, facebook to do better, pictures to take (especially food pictures), rooms to refurbish or redecorate, a cookbook to create, new marketing techniques to master, and time management issues to resolve. You can share my journey on facebook, if you care to. It promises to be interesting.
February 3rd, 2011 by Pat Fischbeck
Up here in Frozen Tundra land most Packer Fans will be serving chili on Super Bowl Sunday. Do you need a special, perfect something to go with the chili? How about grilled cheddar sandwiches made with Wisconsin Beer Bread? Here’s the Bread recipe:
Wisconsin Beer Bread
3 cups of self-rising flour
3 Tablespoons of sugar
12 ounces of your favorite Wisconsin Beer (We will be using Spotted Cow from New Glarus Brewery)
3 Tablespoons of melted butter.
Mix the flour, sugar and beer. Scrape into a well greased loaf pan. Pour the melted butter over the top and bake for 60 minutes at 350 degrees.
Cool the loaf and slice into hearty slices. Make sandwiches with your favorite Wisconsin Cheddar cheese. Brush the outer sides of the sandwich with more melted butter and grill until golden brown. Cut into triangles (Think cheeseheads!) and enjoy with your chili.
The innkeepers at The Speckled Hen Inn will be serving the sandwiches with their Super Bowl Sunday Breakfast. Go Pack!