Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Harris Center...no hibernating allowed!

There is no doubt that the majority of our outdoor enthusiasts visit us in the Summer and Fall as the Monadnock region is a great place to hike, kayak and bicycle.  However, that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the great outdoors here in the Winter time.

One of the treasures of our region is the Harris Center, a non-profit organization that manages over 20,000 acres of conservation land, conducts conservation research and holds educational classes throughout the year.
Harris Center lands in the Fall
Another thing Harris Center offers are free "outings" all winter long.  These volunteer guided outings give you a chance to learn much more about the trails you are exploring with help spotting animals and identifying tracks you might see along the way as well as historical information about the lands you are enjoying.
Harris Center lands in the Winter
Harris Center's upcoming outings are listed below (any place it says "hike", they mean bring your snow shoes):

  • Jan 22 - 7 PM: Full Moon Family Outing at the Harris Center in Hancock
  • Jan 24 - 9 AM: Dark Pond X-C Skiing in Dublin
  • Jan 31 - 9 AM: Following the North Branch River in Stoddard
  • Jan 31 - 9 AM: X-C Skiing Snow Hill in Dublin
  • Feb 5 - 10 AM: Hike through Nicholas Woods in Sharon
  • Feb 7 - 10:30 AM: Hike in Hancock's Big Woods
  • Feb 21 - 10:00 AM: Hike Bald Mountain in Marlborough
  • Mar 4 - 10 AM: Easy hike along Souhegan River Trail in Milford
  • Mar 5 - 10 AM: Strenuous Mount Thumb hike in Hancock
  • Mar 19 - 9 AM: Fox State Forest hike in Hillsborough
  • Apr 1 - 10 AM: Craberry Meadow Pond hike in Peterborough
All of these outings as well as other events can be found on our calendar or the Harris Center calendar.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Cookie Tour 2015 - Raspberry Almond Thumbprint Cookies

The annual Currier and Ives Cookie Tour was a great success again in 2015!  Many thanks to all who participated!  The weather was warm (almost too warm), but it made for easy travel from stop-to-stop, and holiday spirits were high.  Our cookie this year was a Raspberry Almond Thumbprint Cookie... a yummy sugar cookie with a sweet/tart raspberry jam filling and a white chocolate drizzle.  We were thrilled this year to work with Grace Rowehl of Deer Meadow Homestead in nearby Antrim, NH who provided us with all the  delicious seedless raspberry jam we needed for our cookies.  Grace makes delicious jams and jellies, but also cookie mixes, biscuit and beer bread mixes, and granolas.  Her products can be found at local farmers markets and holiday fairs, but also at the Harvester Market in Greenfield, the Henniker Pharmacy in Henniker, and Hannah Grimes in Keene among other locations.  For more information, check out the Deer Meadow Homestead website or Facebook page.

As is typical for me, this year's cookie involved a bit of "product development" (yes, that is the former chemist/baking geek in me talking).  If you are just looking for the recipe, please feel free to jump ahead to the recipe below, or download the recipe as a pdf here.  If you are interested in the "development phase" of the recipe, please read along!

The idea for this year's cookie started with Pinterest and a shortbread thumbprint cookie I kept seeing over and over.  I really liked the idea of a shortbread cookie with its simple ingredients and straightforward recipe, and since there were lots of very similar versions available, I picked the recipe from ParentPretty blog to start with because the pictures looked nice.  I made up a quick batch of the dough and refrigerated the dough overnight because I didn't have time to finish baking them at that time.  The next day, I had to let the dough warm up quite a bit to work with it, but was eventually able to form the cookies and bake them.  The cookies tasted good, but spread out pretty flat in the oven, the jam seeped through the bottom and were a little too buttery (did I just say that???).  I acknowledge that all of these issues were likely due to operator error... I let the dough warm up too much before baking and possibly baked the cookies too long.. but I was hoping for a more robust recipe and figured there might be a recipe-fix to help. Some online research suggested cornstarch could help reduce spreading issues, so I found a King Arthur Flour recipe for “Shortbread” that used confectioners’ sugar (which has cornstarch in it) and baked the cookies at a lower temp. Although this recipe was primarily created for making a full 9” cake pan-size shortbread, there was a note regarding making the into thumbprint cookies… which I followed.  Unfortunately,  even with added almond extract, the taste of these cookies was pretty bland.  At the same time, I also tried another recipe from KAF for “Lemon Raspberry Thumbprints” which was more like sugar cookie dough (contained a whole egg, but otherwise pretty simple) and adapted the recipe to the almond flavor I was going for.  I also reduced the amount of flour a little bit, mostly because I was intentionally switching from unbleached flour to regular all-purpose flour which supposedly absorbs more liquid.  These were pretty good, but definitely had a different texture (more crunchy than chewy) and needed more almond flavor.  As a bonus, the dough was super-easy to work with… no chilling required.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t give up on the shortbread idea (especially since guests at the B and B who were helping with the taste-testing seemed to rave about them).  I decided to try a recipe with an egg yolk added (posted by Jennifer on Tastebook), but Rob didn’t care for the texture of that one as much as the no-egg yolk-shortbreads. (It didn’t really make sense to me, but the texture seemed drier and crumblier.)   I also tried a recipe with more flour (from Sally’s Baking Addiction) to see if that would help. Unfortunately, it didn’t. The dough was still fussy, wanted to crack around the edges, spread too much, and had jam seeping through the bottom.  I looked online for tips and tried it again with “better” butter (Cabot), did not soften the butter fully but cut into smaller pieces to be able to beat with mixer, did not chill dough before forming (to avoid excess cracks on cookies), placed the formed cookie dough in refrigerator for about 20 minutes before filling and baking at 325F (took about 22 minutes to bake each batch).  This batch of shortbread thumbprints did come out the best… it had fewer issues with spreading and cracking and the jam did not seep through, but it was a lot of fussiness and time to get it to work that way… and to be honest, by now Rob was sold on the sugar cookie version anyway.  So, I went back to that recipe and just upped the almond extract for a little more almond flavor and I was done!

Oh, did I say done? I did spend a little extra time working on alternate filling/toppings.  I tried:
1) straight confectioners’ sugar glaze – too sweet for me, and glaze would sometimes pick up a bit of the pink color from the jam,
2) melted dark chocolate – looked too stripey on the cookie and the flavor was not my favorite,
3) melted white chocolate – I liked this the best, added a bit of a rich flavor to the cookie but not overly sugary,
4) chocolate ganache in the thumbprint (added after baking) with a raspberry jam glaze – good, not for Cookie Tour, but was surprised at raspberry flavor from just a tiny bit of jam in the glaze,
5) sliced almonds added onto jam about halfway through cooking time, then topped with glaze – my second favorite, but probably not for Cookie Tour either.

Other variations could be made by using different flavors of jam (strawberry, blueberry, apricot), adding chopped nuts in the dough, or maybe add chopped maraschino cherries into the cookie dough and add chocolate ganache for a cherry-chocolate cookie.

So without further ado, here's the recipe and a few more photos too!

Raspberry Almond Thumbprint Cookies

1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 ½ teaspoon almond extract
¼ teaspoon salt
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup seedless raspberry jam
½ cup white chocolate chips
2 teaspoons shortening

Preheat oven to 350F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat liners.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer, scraping sides of bowl as needed.  Add egg, extract and salt and beat until combined.  Add flour and beat on low until fully blended (dough may seem dry, but will come together).

Scoop dough by rounded tablespoons, roll into smooth balls and place on prepared cookie sheets.  Using your thumb, the back of a small scoop, or even a clean wine cork, make an indentation in each cookie.  Fill each indentation with about ½ teaspoon jam.

Bake for 12 – 15 minutes until edges are very lightly browned.  Let cool slightly, then melt white chocolate in the microwave or double-boiler, add shortening, and drizzle over cookies.  Makes 2 ½ to 3 dozen.

Here are a few extra tips:
- The dough is quite stiff, so a stand mixer works best for making this dough.
- It is good to overfill the thumbprint indentations a bit since the cookies spread a little in the oven.
- I like Ghirardelli White Melting Chocolate for the drizzle. (I’ve tried Nestle White Chocolate Chips and they don’t seem to melt or drizzle as well.)
- Don’t refrigerate this dough before forming the cookies (it will get too hard).  If you would like to get a head start on these cookies, make the dough and form the cookies with "thumbprints" (but do not fill).  Freeze the formed dough on a cookie sheet and transfer to a airtight container or freezer bag when frozen.  When you are ready to bake the cookies, allow cookies to defrost in refrigerator, then fill with jam and bake as directed.

For links to previous year's blogs and recipes, click here:
     2010 - Mint-Filled Chocolate Fudge Cookies
     2011 - Granola Cookies
     2012 - S'mores Cookies
     2103 - Chocolate-Caramel Pretzel Cookies
     2014 - Peppermint Swirl Sugar Cookies


Friday, November 13, 2015

The Nubanusit River and its Mill History

The Historical Society in Peterborough, known as the Monadnock Center for History and Culture, hosts some great programs and events.  Last night, we went to an informal, but highly informative talk titled “The Nubanusit: Spoonwood to Peterborough” given by John “Chick” Colony. 

The Nubanusit behind the B&B 
From our perspective, the Nubanusit is an integral part of our lives, running right behind the B&B.  We see it every day and enjoy its ever-changing colors, sounds, and wildlife. Colony also has a lot of personal connection to the Nubanusit. Since the mid-1800s, his family has owned the water flow rights on the upper Nubanusit in order to manage water for their Cheshire Mills textile mills located in Harrisville.  Following the closing of the Cheshire Mills in 1970, Colony was integral in the formation of Historic Harrisville, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation, renovation, and adaptation of the mill and related buildings for modern reuse.  He also founded Harrisville Designs in 1971, making wool yarns for knitting and weaving, as well as carded fleece and weaving looms, in order to keep Harrisville’s textile tradition alive. 

Harrisville Designs - Mill #1
Historic Harrisville's Mill Building
 Colony explained that much of his talk came out of a project he did with students at the Well School about 15 years ago.  He thought that if he worked with the students to help them understand the characteristics of the river and the history of the communities and industries along the river, they would make the connection between the natural resources and economic opportunities… and they did… and so did we. 

Here is some of what we learned: 

  • The Nubanusit originates at Spoonwood Pond in Nelson and flows through Nubanusit Lake, Harrisville Pond, Lake Skatutakee, and Edward MacDowell Lake before joining the Contoocook River in downtown Peterborough and eventually flowing into the Merrimack River and to the Atlantic.  
    Kayaking at the Spoonwood Dam
  • It falls 700 feet over 15 miles and was once a highly productive river providing power for numerous woodworking and textile mills. The bigger the drop in water, the better the potential for power at that location. 
    Harrisville Pond
  • For industry on a larger scale, mills needed to be able to control the river’s waterflow to make sure there would be sufficient water flowing during work hours.  To accomplish this, mill owners negotiated with landowners to buy water flow rights for their properties. (These rights are still in existence today, along with the responsibility for any maintenance and upkeep needed on the dams.)  
    Macdowell Dam from the water
  • Historic Harrisville is looking to bring hydroelectric power back to Harrisville using existing equipment and hopes to significantly reduce energy costs at the Cheshire Mills by replacing purchased electricity with hydro-generated electricity. 

It was an interesting talk on a topic we only knew just a little bit about.  We now have even greater respect for the river, its mill history, and what it means to the region.

Nubanusit River with steam

Nubanusit River in Downtown Peterborough

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Hiroshi Trail: The New Trail in Town

Located on the West side of Peterborough nestled between McDowell Lake and and the Boston University Sargent Camp sits a 109 acre parcel of land that used to belong to Hiroshi Hayashi, a former successful restauranteur and chef in town.

Now under the management of The Harris Center conservation super sanctuary, Peterborough has yet another great new trail to enjoy.  The 1.9 mile long Hiroshi loop trail is an easy, scenic and serene walk through dense mature forests along nearly 2/3 of a mile of the Nubanusit River (yes, the same river that flows past Little River B&B).

I walked the loop this past summer with a friend of mine and we could see the potential in this trail.  It truly is beautiful, however, it is very buggy during the "wetter season".  We were all sprayed up but the skeeters were not deterred and we spent much of the time swinging our arms in the air and running through the trail.

I decided this trail would be much better suited for the fall when the colors were vibrant and the bugs were not.  My assumption was correct.  Paula and I walked the trail last week (October 4th) and the trail truly shined!
After parking in the open field that doubles as a parking lot, we walked down the trail head entry and were greeted by dozens of wild turkeys.  I suspect they were less excited to see us as they started running away but Paula snapped off a few photos before they were off in the woods.  They are pretty safe here...at least until we get closer to Thanksgiving :)
After about a half mile of level walking through the woods, we came to a fork in the trail which begins the loop.  During the summer I had "run" counter-clockwise so this time we went clockwise.  After walking for a while, we passed Dinsmore Pond which is a spot where the Nubanusit opens up and you are offered a wonderful view of what I can only guess is Bald Mountain in the background.
Continuing around the loop trail, you follow the Nubanusit finding several places to cross either on challenging cable bridges or rafts.  The other side of the river is the BU Sargent Camp and these bridges/rafts are in place for their outward bound camps they run but they are obviously there if you wish to risk/challenge yourself.  As you can see from our photos, both Paula and I scrambled out on the cable bridge and later on I pulled Paula out into the middle of the river on the raft.  It was fun!

The trail eventually broke inland away from the river and reconnected the loop bringing us back to the main trail and the parking lot.  This is not a physically demanding hike but it is very scenic and worth the time.  If you find yourself in Peterborough in the fall or winter and you want to walk, I would put this trail near the top of your list.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The word of the day: "Kettling"

Autumn is a wonderful time of year to visit the Monadnock Region to see the fall foliage and other sights.  One of those wondrous sights is the annual migration of the raptors (hawks, eagles, falcons, vultures, etc) from New England and Canada heading South.

Pack Monadnock, also known as Miller State Park, just four miles East of downtown Peterborough is considered one of the best places in New England from which to view this spectacular event.  Its such a great spot that the Audobon Society sets up a monitoring station at the top of the mountain from which to count them.
Counting hawks :)  I saw hundreds overhead that afternoon
Why is Pack such an ideal spot?

It was explained to us by one of the society's volunteers.  When migrating, raptors will travel as much as 50-60 miles a day.  To conserve their energy, the birds prefer to glide as much as they can...and fly as little as necessary.  The way the birds do this is that they "kettle".

"Kettling" is when the birds fly into a stream of air current that is pushing upward (updraft), ride it as high as it will take them (in a spiraling motion), and then shoot out of the upward spiral and glide as far as it will take them.  They will then repeat this system any chance they can.  Those vertical streams occur when horizontal air streams hit the side of a mountain and are deflected.  

Pack is near the very Northern terminus of a twenty-two mile ridge line called the Wapack Trail.  The ridge line creates a lot of updraft giving the birds a lot of opportunity to "kettle" and glide.  This means the birds can glide for nearly twenty-two miles without flying too much saving their energy...that's why they like it so much.

So why is it called kettling?  When a mass of birds hit these upward flowing winds, they spiral upwards en masse and look like steam coming out of a tea kettle.  Thus..."kettling" :)

For the record, the site usually counts about 10,000 raptors each season.  This season they are already over 18,000 and there is plenty of counting left to be done!  Over a two day period last month they counted over 7,000!

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Monadnock Region, a "lakes region" of its own...

Over the past few summers we have blogged several times about kayaking which has quickly become one of our favorite warm weather activities.  This summer we have added to our list or revisited Half Moon Pond in Peterborough, Silver Lake in Harrisville, Highland Lake in Stoddard and Willard Pond in Antrim.
What an awesome day to be on the water...with Mt Monadnock as a backdrop
When considering how many lakes, ponds and rivers we have already explored and how many are still on the "to-do list", it occurred to us that the Monadnock Region has a lot of great ponds and lakes for fishing, swimming and kayaking, canoeing, SUPing and boating.

  • There are more than forty significant ponds and lakes in the region that offer boat access
  • Ten of those forty lakes and ponds are more than 300 acres in size...
  • ...totaling over 8,000 acres of lakes and ponds to enjoy (unscientific research) :)
  • Within just a ten mile radius of the B&B we have access to over 4,000 acres of that water and that doesn't include the Contoocook River!

Whether you are looking for large open lakes like the 700+ acre Lake Nubanusit or something more intimate like the 100+ acre Willard Pond there are options to fit your desires.  We have been paddling for quite a few years now and are still barely scratching the surface of what the Monadnock Region has to offer.  So come on out, bring your "yak" or floating vessel of choice and start exploring.  You won't be disappointed.
Silver Lake had plenty of neat small coves to explore!
Silver Lake: we had a fabulous two hours exploring Silver Lake.  Silver Lake has plenty of homes dotting the Southern shorelines but the Northern half is less developed and there were several islands, rock outcroppings, and small coves/inlets to paddle in and around.  It wasn't until we were halfway up the Western shore that we looked back South and discovered a fabulous view of Grand Monadnock.  The Northwest shoreline of the lake is home to an Audubon Society conservation area and we crossed paths with a loon (I wasn't fast enough to get his picture).
Silver Lake views
We ended the excursion by taking a short dip in the lake to cool off.  I could not imagine paddling here on weekends when the summer homes are all occupied but if you are here midweek...this would be a great day out!

Highland Lake: I paddled here with our niece while Paula picked blueberries at nearby Pitcher Mountain.  It was a Sunday afternoon and I was shocked at how not-busy the lake was.  At seven hundred acres the lake feels huge and has tons of shoreline to explore because it is very narrow and extremely tall (perhaps seven miles tall).  I have now been on this lake twice totaling about four hours and have maybe explored sixty percent of the shoreline.  One of the lake houses has a small island off its shore and they have built a bridge across to it...we were able to paddle under it which was fun.
Rob going under a small foot bridge
Willard Pond: we paddled here this past weekend and it was a treat.  It is such a peaceful place where we spotted turtles and herons but stopped to watch a beaver for a while and then spent a long while watching a pair of loons with their two youths.  It was very exciting as the pair did not have any viable eggs last season and apparently two chicks in one season can be rare.  To end the day we had a sun shower with a rainbow as a highlight.  We never get tired of returning to this pond!
Rainbow after sun shower on Willard Pond
I know I mentioned swimming above.  Some wonderful spots open for swimming include Silver Lake in Harrisville, Willard Pond and Gregg Lake in Antrim, Contoocook Lake in Jaffrey, Otter Lake in Greenfield and Beard Brook in Hillsborough.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Shattuck Golf Course...without the golfing

I know avid golfers might cringe to hear this but...Paula and I are not golfers.  What this means is that we have never had the opportunity to explore The Shattuck, a beautifully scenic golf course at the foot of Mt Monadnock just fifteen minutes from the B&B.
The view of Monadnock from the course
That has all changed now as The Shattuck has now opened itself up to non-golfers like ourselves.  For a reasonable fee, the course is open for self guided golf cart tours.  The package includes drinks, a snack box for the ride, and of course the cart (can seat two people per cart).
Yup...me driving a cart...watch out!
From the moment we drove into the clubhouse parking lot I was taking pictures of the great views of Mt Monadnock.  Inside the clubhouse, we sat with a few golfers while Tony served us drinks (yes alcoholic if you want) and put together the snack box.  Our snack box had fresh strawberries, crackers and cheese spread, and some slices of deli meat.
It's like Jurassic Golf Course...very cool :)
Tony got us settled in the cart and gave us directions we headed out.  We started with the back nine which might be the more scenic side saving the front nine for later if we had the time.  We were told we would be sharing the course with golfers so that we should stay on the cart path and be considerate and not drive past while they are playing through.  It wasn't a big issue as we had planned our tour for later in the day when the course was quieter but it is something to keep in mind if taking the tour when the course is busier.
These boardwalks over the marshlands are sweet!
The tour is really scenic!  There are plenty of wetlands, wooden boardwalks to drive over, views of Monadnock and of course...some wildlife.  At one point the cart path winded through a densely wooded area and I thought we were in Jurassic Park...minus the Velociraptors...thank goodness :)
Did I mention the wetlands?
We took about forty-five minutes t drive the back nine stopping several times to enjoy our snack box and drinks and to take some pictures so we decided to proceed to the front nine: more boardwalks, we spotted a hawk close to us in the trees, and the best views of Monadnock.  If it were sundown it could have been spectacular!
One last view of Monadnock with wetlands in the foreground.
If you are not a golfer this is a great way to see some scenery you would normally miss and if you aren't a hiker this is a great way to get a close up with nature.  We had a fun ninety minutes and we think our guests will as well!