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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).

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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.

 

Civil War Sites in Madison WI

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

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

Camp Randall Arch

Camp Randall Arch

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

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

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

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

Best Outdoor Dining in Madison WI

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Where to go Hiking near Madison WI

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

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

Where to go hiking near Madison WI

Devil’s Lake State Park

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

Hiking at Devil's Lake near Madison, WI

Hiking High above Devil’s Lake

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

View from the Bluff at Devil’s Lake