Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Wapack Trail...twenty-one miles of scenic beauty

The Wapack Trail may be one of the more under-rated hiking trails in the Monadnock Region and is a fantastic way to get out and enjoy our local scenery.  There are plenty of vistas looking out in every direction.

Four facts about the Wapack

  • At ninety plus years it is one of the oldest interstate trails in New England
  • Its twenty one miles long spanning more than nine peaks between New Hampshire and Massachusetts
  • There are seven miles of spur trails
  • The trail includes hiking through the defunct Temple Ski Area
There are brave soles who hike the entire twenty one miles in one day in early September.  For those of us not quite in such great shape...cough cough...me...cough cough, we do it in sections :)  Paula and I often hike the most Northern section (that would be South Pack and North Pack) and it is a moderately challenging hike over two peaks.


Several weeks ago we decided to explore a little more of the Wapack and with our niece Casey and friend Paul we started in New Ipswich and hiked up the spur trail to Kidder Mountain.  Its a pretty easy three mile round trip hike that that only climbs 350' to the summit but the views at the top were quite nice and we did a little geocaching as well.


Then this past week Paul and I decided to get more ambitious and do a point to point hike on the Wapack starting at Berry Pasture Trail and then hike the ledges all the way to the base of Temple Mountain.  Its called Berry Pasture for a reason and when the blueberries are in season you can eat your way up the mountain.  This is also a trail that kind of smacks you in the face and makes you suck wind early.  800' of vertical in less than a mile is a pretty consistent upward climb.  Once at the top and heading North you are rewarded with views of Monadnock and a less intense path.


The last stop just before the old Temple Ski Area is an treeless area of bald rock sporting quite a few cairns and a handful of stone chairs to sit in and take a rest.

All in all this was an excellent hike and we have now covered about nine miles of the twenty one miles of Wapack but realize there is so much more to explore.  That's why this is such a great treasure to have here in Southwest New Hampshire.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Kayaking...even if you don't have your own...

Kayaking is a great activity you can do in the Monadnock Region and there are plenty of wonderful rivers, lakes and ponds you can enjoy but we realize not everyone owns their own kayaks.  Well, there are several options in the Peterborough area that still make it possible.
Kayaks ready to launch at Otter Lake
The first two options are to rent from either Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS) in Peterborough or Pelletiers Sports in Jaffrey.  Neither is actually on a body of water so you rent from them and they will help you mount them on your vehicle and point you in the direction of a nearby lake or river.  The advantage to this is once the kayaks are on your vehicle you have the option of going to quite a few different places.

The other option is Otter Lake at Greenfield State Park.  The advantage to Otter Lake is that they rent the kayaks right on the beach and simply them into the lake and go.  We decided we needed to check out Otter Lake for ourselves since renting kayaks there is so easy.
Paula in front and to my left checking out the shoreline
Otter Lake is a decent size...135 acres large with an average depth of ten feet and plenty of peace and quiet.  We paddled around for about ninety minutes spotting ducks and ducklings, plenty of fish and even one otter (makes sense being it is Otter Lake).

Sunday, June 1, 2014

What's happening in June 2014

Things are finally warming up in Peterborough and so are the events.  Every month we are trying to highlight three events we think are unique, new or cool and this month we would like to feature a cool arts/crafts fair, a music festival and the start of the Peterborough Players summer season.

Saturday, June 7th at the Peterborough Townhouse: OK, so what's so unique about an arts/crafts fair?  "*broke" has the philosophy that art should be for everyone.  Thus every item for sale by the artists costs less than $50.  I think that's pretty cool and at the last show we found the perfect gift for our niece...a hand-crafted ocarina necklace made by a local artist.  Walk around, there is something for everyone!

June 13th, 17th and 22nd: One of newest additions to the arts and music scene in the Monadnock Region is the Electric Earth Concert Series.  Now in its third season, EEC is a classical music series focused on bringing great classical music performances to our region.  In June alone there will be three concerts: one featuring a look at Bach's solo violinist works, a second featuring folk music artist Tim Eriksen and a third a concert on the "Green" in Jaffrey featuring the works of Schubert.

June 25th - 30th: This actually rolls into July as well but the Peterborough Players are opening their season with a one woman comedy called "Family Secrets".  This actress portrays five different family members hilariously revealing the family's secrets.  If you are interested in coming to one of these performances, check out our Peterborough Players Package.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Local Favorites in Yankee Magazine's "Best Of" Edition

It was a nice treat to look through the May/June 2014 edition of Yankee Magazine and find some of our local favorites listed in the "Best of New England" feature for New Hampshire.

Bowerbird and Friends
Bowerbird and Friends, in Depot Square, Peterborough was listed as Best Home & Garden Shop. This sweet little space, right along the Nubanusit River, is filled with antiques, gifts, and re-purposed items as well as live plants and garden items.

The title of Best Chamber Music went to Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music in Nelson. The mission of Apple Hill is to teach, create, and perform chamber music with musicians from around the world through their workshops and concerts. Some concerts are held in Peterborough at the Monadnock Center for History and Culture, but most of their summer concerts are held in Nelson on Tuesday nights, with some Open Coaching and Open Rehearsals on Sunday nights that are free to the public.

With its serene setting and spectacular views of Mount Monadnock, Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge was highlighted as the Best Natural Sanctuary. With their open-air cathedral and meeting space on 236 acres, the Cathedral of the Pines welcomes visitors from all over the world to participate in events, explore their grounds, meditate in outdoor chapels and gardens, and visit historic monuments that honor the service of American men and women—both military and civilian.

Monadnock from Cathedral of the Pines
In the "Outdoors" category, the honors of Best Blueberry Picking went to Pitcher Mountain on Route 123 in Stoddard. While this is a little bit of a drive from Peterborough, it is Paula's go-to place to pick wild blueberries! This is not a farm stand though... you've got to go prepared with your own containers and small bills to pay the $1.25/quart fee which is often on the honor system... not to mention water, sunscreen and a hat! And keep in mind, the season for blueberries varies, but is typically mid-to-late July and into August (depending on the weather).

In addition to the "Best Of" entries, the magazine also included two other local favorites. One was the monthly "First Light/Only in New England" feature on "New England Cuisine" by Ken Sheldon. Ken is a local who also brings his humor to life through his popular "Frost Heaves" shows presented at various time throughout the year. The second was a nice article on the Hilltop Cafe in Wilton, located at the Temple-Wilton Community Farm, one of the oldest CSAs in the country.

Friday, April 18, 2014

What's Happening in May 2014

May is when things really start to warm up around the Monadnock Region and the area starts buzzing with activity.  There are lots of great reasons to visit to the area in addition to all the fabulous outdoor activities.  Below are just a few of the more interesting ones.

May 3rd is the 7th Annual Greenerborough Festival, New England's Green Living Expo and Festival.  Walk through the exhibit hall learning about green products and cutting edge green technology, enjoy fantastic fresh made food from local organic farms utilizing green friendly processes and explore the rest of downtown Peterborough.

May 10th there will be a symposium called "Why Quilts Matter".  With keynote speaker Pam Weeks (click the link for her bio), the curator for the New England Quilt Museum, take a journey exploring both antique and contemporary quilts and their impact on American life.  There will also be an expansive display of quilts to view and enjoy.  Advanced registration is required.
May 17th is the 21st Annual Children and the Arts Festival.  Although children love this festival, it is definitely fun for all ages.  This year's theme for the "Parade of Giant Puppets" (a can't miss parade) is Fairies, Dragons and Other Mythical Creatures.  There will be other events all over town throughout the morning and afternoon.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Springtime Restaurant Week in the Monadnock Region

Eat and Be Merry and...Win a Gift Certificate to the participating restaurant of your choice.  All you have to do to enter is eat.  How awesome is that?


From March 21st - 30th, restaurants of the Eastern towns of the Monadnock Region (Rindge, Jaffrey, Peterborough, Temple, Hancock and Francestown) are hosting the inaugural Springtime Restaurant Week.  Dine at any of the participating restaurants during that time period and you are entered to win a $100 Gift Certificate to any of the restaurants that are participating.

There are lunch and dinner options and family casual to upscale options as well.  If you have been thinking about heading back to one of your favorites or have wanted to try something new, now is the time to do it.

Check out the Facebook page for up to date details.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cookie Tour 2013 - Chocolate-Caramel Pretzel Cookies


As the new year is rapidly approaching, I am trying to squeak this 2013 blog posting in under the wire!  If you've been waiting anxiously for this posting, I am sorry (and a bit surprised), but I will admit that the delay allowed me to try a couple of extra variations to the recipe that might be interesting to some (or at least I hope they will).  So here goes!


Cookie Tour 2013!  This year's Currier and Ives Cookie Tour was held on December 14th and was a lot of fun (as always)!  Although last year was a record-breaker for us (we baked 24 dozen (that's 288) cookies and still ran out!), this year's event was a little less crazy.  We actually planned to bake over 400 cookies, but as the date got closer and the weather forecasters issued warnings for the impending snowstorm, we worried if the weather might keep some from venturing out, and pared back to about 300.  Our recipe this year was... Chocolate-Caramel Pretzel Cookies ... and I will admit that I think this is probably my personal favorite of the four years we've been participating as a stop on the tour.  It is rich, gooey, chocolatey, and just plain yummy.  (For previous years' recipes, see our blog postings for the 2012, 2011, and 2010.)

The recipe started with a Turtle Cookie recipe I found on Pinterest, then followed to a number of blogs, the authors of which had adapted the recipe from an America's Test Kitchen recipe.  I was loving the idea... caramel, pecans, chocolate... but Rob wasn't (he doesn't like pecans) so he was trying to sway me in any other direction.  Fortunately, while looking through some of the blog comments, someone suggested crushed pretzels as an alternative to the nuts, for a sort of "salted caramel taste" that is so popular right now.  So, that was it... and I was off to the kitchen!

For the first batch, I pretty much made the recipe as presented, making only a couple of modifications.  I used Dutch Processed Cocoa, reduced the amount of egg white needed, and rolled the cookie dough in pretzel crumbs instead of pecans.   The cookies were delicious... and I was oddly disappointed.  It was too easy!  Luckily (yes, I said luckily), I didn't have any pre-made caramel candies on hand to finish off the cookies.  That meant I needed to see if I could make something from scratch that would work.  Yeah! 



So... back to the lab... I mean kitchen!  And with the help of Google I found a recipe for caramels that used only ingredients I regularly keep in my pantry and refrigerator (sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla, and butter) and for bonus points, the recipe was cooked in the microwave instead of on the stove (which can be a bit tedious).  A couple of batches later, I had reduced the size of the batch in half to better match up with the quantity of caramel needed for the cookies (the cooking time was critical here) and added just a little bit of heavy cream so that the caramel would be just the right amount of soft, but not sticky. 
So without further ado, here are the recipes for the cookies and the optional homemade caramel filling.  (If you like illustrated recipes, I've also added a bunch of photos below to help.)  Enjoy!


Chocolate-Caramel Pretzel Cookies 
(For pdf, click HERE)

2 c. all-purpose flour
2/3 c. cocoa powder
 (Hershey’s Special Dark works great!)
1/2 tsp. salt

1 c. (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 c. sugar
2 large eggs, separated
¼ c. milk or half & half
2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 c. pretzels, crushed
28 soft caramel candies (such as Kraft Caramels) *or try our version* 

2 Tblsp. heavy cream

Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg yolks, milk, and vanilla; mix until incorporated. With beater on low, add flour, cocoa and salt, mixing until just combined.

Scoop dough by rounded tablespoons onto cookie sheets. (If dough it too soft or sticky, it can be refrigerated, about an hour, until firm.)

Add a tablespoon or two of water to the egg whites in a bowl and whisk until frothy. Place crushed pretzels in another bowl. Roll scooped dough into balls, dip in egg whites (I only dip the top half), and then in pretzels. Place balls about 2 inches apart on a baking sheet and flatten slightly with the ball of your hand. Use a small measuring spoon to make an indentation in the center of each dough ball.

Bake at 350 degrees F until set and looking slightly crackled on top, about 12 minutes. When cookies come out of the oven, gently re-press the indentations.

For the caramel filling: Microwave caramels and cream together in a small bowl, stirring occasionally, until smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes. Allow cookies to cool a bit, then fill each indentation with about 1/2 teaspoon of the caramel mixture.

For the chocolate drizzle (optional): Melt ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips and 2 teaspoons shortening in a small bowl, then transfer to a zip-top plastic bag. Snip the corner of the plastic bag and drizzle chocolate over cookies.


Microwave Caramel Filling

2 Tablespoons butter, cut in 4 pieces
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 ½ teaspoons heavy cream

In microwave safe bowl (I used a 4-cup Pyrex measuring cup), combine butter, white and brown sugar, syrup, sweetened condensed milk, & vanilla. Stir and place in microwave, uncovered. Cook in microwave on full power for 3 1/2 minutes, stopping and carefully stirring thoroughly twice during the cooking time (every minute or so).* Carefully remove bowl from microwave and stir in heavy cream until well mixed. Allow caramel to stand for about 5 to 10 minutes to cool slightly. Use a spoon or small scoop to fill each cookie indentation with about ½ to 1 teaspoon caramel mixture. (Any leftover caramel can be poured onto a cookie sheet or other pan lined with foil or parchment and sprayed lightly with cooking spray. Cooled caramel can be cut into small pieces and enjoyed as candy.)

* Recommended cooking time is based on a 1100-watt microwave. If yours has a different wattage, you will most likely need to adjust the cooking time accordingly. If caramel is too hard, cooking time should be reduced. If caramel is too soft, cooking time should be increased.


PHOTOS
Making cookies:
Cookie dough, egg whites and pretzel crumbs... ready to go!

Dip cookie dough in frothy egg white...

... then crushed pretzels.

Place on Silpat, flatten slightly with hand, and make indentation with teaspoon.

Cookies ready to be baked.

Caramel filling.

Filling cookies.
Chocolate drizzle too!

Making caramel:
Ingredients mixed prior to cooking.

Partway through cooking process.

Finished caramel, waiting to cool slightly.


** Interested in variations?  I've made the "original" turtle cookie with pecans instead of pretzel crumbs (delicious!) and a peanut butter version where I rolled the cookies in chopped peanuts and added a big spoonful of creamy peanut butter to the caramel (also delicious, but less gooey since the peanut butter firms up the caramel filling a bit).  Still to be tried... a s'mores version where you roll the cookie in graham cracker crumbs and use marshmallow fluff as the filling (bonus: toast the top of the marshmallow filling with a kitchen torch) and a version where you roll the cookies in toasted coconut.  I could go on... but I won't, so you can let your own creative ideas flow!

And with the new year already being welcomed in parts of the world, I wish everyone a very happy, healthy and delicious 2014!

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