Monday, March 16, 2009

Brunch and maple sugaring at Parker's Maple Barn

Since we had no guests this morning, we decided to take advantage of the warming temperatures and maple sugaring season. We headed out to Parker's Maple Barn for breakfast and then to their maple sugar house to watch them boil down the sap into syrup. Parker's Maple Barn is a bit of a drive (about thirty minutes away) and it can be tricky to find but the food is good, the atmosphere is casual, and of course they make their own maple syrup right on the property.

We think we are officially in "maple sugar" season: when the maple trees are tapped and the sweet sap is collected and boiled down into maple syrup. There are quite a few maple sugar houses in the Monadnock region from which to buy maple syrup, they are easy to spot because you can see the light colored and sweet smelling smoke rising from the peaks of the buildings.

The last weekend of this month, March 28-29 is NH Maple Weekend when the maple sugar houses open their doors and invite the public in to learn about the process of boiling down the sap. It's a fun and informative weekend for all ages. Stonewall Farm is even having a maple sap gathering contest with teams of horses racing around the farm while their drivers gather the sap.

To celebrate this weekend, we have put together a special package.

March Maple Sugar Madness - March 27-29
Come join us in celebrating the sweet taste of spring during the NH Maple Producers' Open House Weekend, March 28 & 29, 2009. Enjoy a special maple-themed breakfast, then venture out to visit some of the local maple sugar houses and learn about how their syrup is made. Stay for two nights, double occupancy, for a special rate of $189 (plus tax). Single night stays
available for $105 (plus tax).

Friday, March 6, 2009

"Blitz Puff" at the King Arthur Baking Education Center

I’d been looking forward to taking a class at the King Arthur Baking Education Center in Norwich, Vermont for a long time, so when I saw the description on this class for a quick and easy puff pastry, I knew I had to make time to get there… and yesterday was the day.

Norwich, Vermont is a great day trip from Peterborough. It is just about an hour and a half away, with plenty to explore when you get there. First of all, there’s the King Arthur Store. The size of the store is deceptively small, but for the baking enthusiast, it is packed with tools, products, ideas, and inspiration, not to mention the on-site bakery to tease your senses. Back across the river is Hanover, New Hampshire and Dartmouth College. Nearby, you’ll also find the towns of Quechee and Woodstock, Vermont with covered bridges, Quechee Gorge for hiking, shops, antique stores, and the home of Simon Pearce Glass workshop, store, & restaurant.

This time however, we headed straight for the King Arthur Store in Norwich, stopping only at the nearby Allechante, a small bakery and cafĂ©, for a sandwich to-go. Allechante is a bright and cheery space with beautiful pastries, gourmet salads, prepared entrees and side dishes, and a nice selection of sandwiches. If we had more time, we would have liked to explore some of the other shops in Norwich, but we were on a mission and I needed to get to the King Arthur Store with enough time to take care of business (in other words… shop) before my class started. At the store, I got to “work”. Because there are so many products in the store, I’ve developed a system. I walk the aisles in the forward direction, then turn around and walk back the opposite way. It may seem a little silly, but I never fail to find something interesting that I “missed” the first time.

The three-hour class was attended by eleven students, with some coming from as far away as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Buffalo, New York. The focus of the class was a quick and easy puff pastry dough that could be transformed into appetizers, desserts, rustic tarts, and much more. In class, we each made our own pastry dough, then transformed it into a maple-glazed apple galette as well as sweet (demerara sugar) and savory (pesto) palmiers. Granted, it isn’t a classic puff pastry, but we never could have achieved that in three hours. Instead, we learned a delicious, versatile recipe… and got to take home our yummy creations. As a bonus for the geek in me, I got to talk with the instructor about the differences between bleached and unbleached flours, salted and unsalted butters, and other baking-related things. I can’t wait to put some of my new-found knowledge to work at the B&B!

Blitz Puff Pastry Creations

As some of our guests were departing yesterday morning, I mentioned to one of them that I was taking a class at the King Arthur Baking Center that evening. Her response was something to the effect of “you must really enjoy baking”. My answer: “Yes, I do!” Baking really feeds so many parts of my soul… the geeky, former-chemist part that enjoys understanding how all the ingredients work together… the more-creative craftsperson that likes making beautiful and delicious creations… and, well, the basic human part that likes to eat good food. The class at King Arthur really met all of my expectations! Now, I just need to figure out how to add some chocolate!