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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.

 

Madison’s Top 10 Things to do in Fall and Winter

October 26th, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck

Yahara Channel in Winter

The Yahara River in Winter

Madison Wisconsin is a lovely place for a spring or summer getaway but don’t forget just how charming this city can be in the cooler, even frigidly cold, months of the year.  Here is a list of the top or first 10 things that the innkeepers at The Speckled Hen Inn recommend to their visiting guests.

1.   The Dane County Farmers Market  The largest producer-only farmers market in the nation is a year-round affair.  In mid-November the market moves indoors to the Monona Terrace Convention Center and then after Christmas you can visit the market at the Mifflin Street Senior Center.  You will be amazed at the bounty of the market while the gardens sleep.  The markets just before Christmas are a wonderful source of supplies for decorating, gift-giving and holiday feasts.

2.   Madison’s Restaurant Scene  Creative chefs, farm-fresh ingredients, and the quirky spirit of Madison combine to present a dazzling variety and abundance of really fine eateries.  Visit one of the tiny ethnic cafes on State Street or one of the big boys with stars after their name and you will be very well fed.  This is why we always ask guests what they want to eat before we start recommending restaurants.  Guests could starve to death before we get to the end of the list of Madison’s great places to eat.  A favorite dining scene for us is a window seat at a restaurant on the capitol square on a snowy evening.  It’s pure magic.

3.   University of Wisconsin Campus  UW keeps things lively in the winter seasons with their sports and cultural offerings.  Take in a basketball or hockey game, men’s and women’s for both.  The Hall of Fame in the Kohl’s center is worth a visit even if the team is on the road.  Recitals, concerts, and theater really get going in the winter months and Sunday afternoon at the Chazen Museum is a seasonal delight.  Stroll through the galleries while listening to the live music performed in the atrium.  That famous ice-cream is available all year round at Babcock Hall or the Memorial Union.

4. State Street  Madison’s well-known pedestrian mall that connects the capitol square with the UW campus is always a lively place to enjoy a cup of coffee, ethnic dining, or browsing the bookstores, boutiques and galleries.  During the holiday season it twinkles with thousands of white lights.  State Street Posters is one of our favorites and is the source of much of the art work in the Madison Lakes room at the Inn.

5.  University of Wisconsin Arboretum  1,200 acres of nature right in the center of the city provide residents and guests with ample space to walk off some of that fine dining.  The prairie and woodland areas and Lake Wingra attract abundant wildlife.  Occasional night-walks conducted by the naturalists on staff introduce participants to the wonders of nature that we seldom experience during our daylight encounters with the world.  Can you identify an owl by its hoot?

6.  Madison’s City and County Parks  Golf, picnics, and tennis give way to sledding, skating and skiing in the coldest months.  Most parks remain open in the winter and are a great spot for walking and admiring the city without the crowds of summer.  The lakeside parks are occasionally decorated with nature-made ice sculptures and the ice-fishing huts on the lakes themselves are, at the very least, a photo-op that proves how crazy those folks in Madison really can be.

7.   The Lakes  There are 5 of them here.  Two of the largest are right in the center of the city and we managed to just squeeze the downtown area between them and then spread the rest of the city around the perimeter of them.  What is more relaxing than watching the sunset across the water?  Hearty fishermen bobbing about in their boats under the sometimes stormy fall skies amaze us.  Ice boats flying across the frozen lakes are awesome.  Locals judge the ‘coldness’ of the day by the width of the open water under the Yahara River bridge on the Beltline Highway.  The waterfowl there are beautiful.

8.  A Wright Place  Frank Lloyd Wright spent much of his youth in Madison and designed a Convention Center that was the inspiration for the one that the city actually constructed years after his death.  Wright also designed the Unitarian Society Meeting House, which is open for tours, and several area homes.  A concert at the Unitarian Society Meeting House is a treat for the senses.

9.   Wisconsin State Capitol  It’s simply a must see.  The architecture, the art, the history, or even the grandeur would be reason enough to go.  Tours are free and leave on the hour from the visitor info desk in the rotunda.  The tour guides have the keys to take you into the Supreme Court, The Legislative Chambers, and the Governor’s Conference Room but most importantly, they know all those fun little stories that bring the building to life.  Before the holidays local choral groups perform around the holiday tree in the rotunda.  The tree is lovely as it rises up three or more stories high and the acoustics of the performing musicians will give you goose bumps.

Overture Center in Madison WI

10.   Madison Civic Center  This is the Cesar Pelli designed home of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and the Overture Center for the Performing Arts.  It seems like there is always something going on.  The museum has rotating and visiting nationally acclaimed exhibits (and a very nice gift shop).  The Overture Center hosts everything from Broadway Shows, The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and opera to brown bag lunch performances.

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.

 

Things To Do In Madison

March 1st, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck

Capitol Square in Madison Wisconsin

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. UW-Madison Arboretum 11-03-2011 207Experience 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.
  10. 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.

A Foodie Visits Madison

February 21st, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck

A foodie visits Madison, WI and wants to know our Top Ten Foodie places.  Fine Cheese in Madison WI  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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.Spirits From Yahara Bay Distillers in Madison WI
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. RP’s Pasta.  Beautiful, delicious handmade pasta to pair with your cheese and veggies.  They make great gluten-free pasta too.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Start Your Saturday in Madison Right

June 10th, 2009 by Pat Fischbeck

When my guests at The Speckled Hen Inn ask me what there is to do on Saturday morning in Madison, my automatic response is, “Go to the Farmers Market!”  The Dane County Farmers’ Market is the largest producer-only farmers’ market in the country.  All the items are produced locally by the vendor behind the table.  The market is back on the Capitol Square for the summer months and thousands of locals as well as and tourists and market lovers from far and near flock to the brightly colored vendor stands to fill their shopping baskets with the freshest fruits and veggies imaginable.  You will also find meats, baked goods, specialty food items like honey and pesto, and, of course, lots of Wisconsin cheese.

Honey and Plants at the Dane County Farmers' Market

Honey and Plants at the Dane County Farmers

If you have ever considered eating seasonally or locally, the farmers market is a great resource.  Vendors will often let you sample their products and are eager to share preparation instructions and sometimes even recipes with their customers.

One of the favorite breakfasts served at The Speckled Hen Inn is the Farmer’s Market Strata.  It contains sourdough bread, cream and mozarella cheeses, fresh eggs, basil pesto, tomatoes, and smoked ham or turkey.  All of the ingredients can be found at the farmer’s market.  Please help yourself to the recipe and share the bounty of Wisconsin with friends at breakfast or brunch some beautiful summer morning.

Farmers' Market Strata served at The Speckled Hen Inn

Farmers

Dane County Winter Farmer's Market

December 17th, 2008 by Pat Fischbeck

Many of the guests at The Speckled Hen Inn enjoy the Dane County Farmer’s Market in the warmer seasons but few realize that the market is open in the winter also.  From January 3 until April 11, 8:00 AM to noon, the market is indoors at the Mifflin Street Senior Center.  Listed below are the things that you can find and enjoy at the winter market.

 

Wondering what you can find at the DCFM Winter Market? Here’s a listing to help guide you.

Fruit
Apples; Cider; Jams, jellies, and preserves; Pears; Pear and apple butters; Raspberry products

Stored Vegetables
Carrots, Garlic, Potatoes, Shallots, Turnips

Fresh Vegetables
Chard, Greens, Kale, Lettuce, Micro-greens, Radish, Spinach, Tomatoes

Meats
Beef, Bison, Brats and sausage, Chicken, Conventional and special cuts, Emu, Ground beef, Highland beef, Jerky, Ostrich, Pork, Roasts, Turkey, Steaks

Decorations
Bison products, Emu products, House plants, Orchids, Ostrich products, Potted flowers

Cheeses
Flavored cheeses, Goat cheese, World-class aged cheeses, Fresh cheese curds

Baked Goods
Flat breads, Biscotti, Cheesecake, Pastries, Cinnamon rolls, Sweet breads, Torts, Cookies, Muffins, Panettone, Sourdough bread

Specialty Items
Mushrooms, Maple syrup, Wool products, Candles, Honey, Pesto, Vinaigrettes, Eggs, Hot sauces, Flavored sea salt, Goat milk soap, Salsa, Yarn, Sheepskins, Hides and leather, Soups, Pasta sauce, Fresh-ground whole wheat flour, Herbal vinegar

The market vendors are also a great source for recipes using their products and many offer delicious samples.

Farmers' Market Strata

Farmers