Saturday, September 29, 2012

This Place Looks Brand New!

People are always telling us that the B&B looks new and that it is hard to believe it has been here for 15 years. I always beam (mostly on the inside).  It is always nice to have your work appreciated and we do work at keeping this place sparkling.

How do we do it? 

1. KEEP IT CLEAN.  Fabrics (slip covers, bedspreads, carpets, etc) last longer when cleaned regularly.  We can wash almost everything at the inn and the carpets get steam cleaned at least once a year. We spot clean weekly. Liquid enzyme cleaners work for most everything and it is amazing what just plain old soap & water will handle.

2.FLIP & FLUFF IT.  If your mattress was made to flip, do so quarterly.  Throw your down or fiber fill pillows in the dryer to fluff.  We do this for the bed pillows every time we change the sheets and a couple of time a year for the throw pillows on the couch, chairs, etc. They make dryer sheets for "dry cleaning" that I use on some things that shouldn't be washed.

3. AIR IT OUT. When the weather is perfect, open the whole house up and let the fresh air blow through. It is the best air freshener around! Occasionally I will take rugs and pillows out for a good shake and some time in the sun.

4. TOUCH IT UP.  I keep a basket, (see photo at top), of small bottles of all the different paints we used on the house as well as brushes, caulk, craft paints, colored pencils, tung oil, spackle and glue.  At least once a year, (and more often on the stairs and hallways),  I go around and caulk holes & cracks, and paint over any imperfections.  The colored pencils are to repair obvious scrapes on wall paper. (It doesn't have to be perfect - just enough to trick the eye). I use sharpies to hide scratches on black furniture and water colors to hide small wearing spots on fabric chair arms.

5. REPAIR IT.  You may not have noticed but, when one of the wicker slats on the front of the Common Room chair fell out, I replaced it with a cinnamon stick.  People rarely notice that as much as they would the gaping hole and the chair functions just fine! I keep wallpaper and carpet scraps and pieces for spot repairs.

When the caulk around baths, sinks, window, etc cracks or gets moldy, replace it. It really isn't that difficult - I promise.  It is best if you have a day or two when you don't have to use the area you are repairing. Scrape/peel off old caulk and wash out with water and a little bleach. Rinse it and let it dry for several hours. Or a hair dryer will speed things up.  My favorite caulk is Polyseamseal and my favorite hint is to smooth it out with your MOIST finger. Keep a wet rag handy to moisten your finger and to clean it off after.  Let it dry overnight. 

Re-grouting is trickier but it can be done.  I'm not as great at that, so refer to one of the many good sites on the web.  Or promise a steak dinner to someone you know who can do it for you!

6.REPLACE IT.  Sometimes it is the little things that make a room look tired.  A throw pillow that has been thrown too often or a lamp shade that has seen better days can be replaced for little money and bring life back into a space. There is not a room in this house that hasn't had small changes along the way.  Most people never notice.

I carry a zip-lock bag in my purse at all times that has samples of all the wall paper, carpet, fabric and paint samples attached to cards for each room.  There is also a picture from a catalog of the rug in the entry hall (that unifies all the rooms) and a photo of the matching stained glass windows.  There are bits of all the tablecloths and napkins as well.  When I am out and run across something that might work, I just pull out the sample bag and compare colors.  This one thing has saved me hours of "returning things."

7. HAVE SOMEONE ELSE LOOK AT IT.  When you look at something day in and day out, you can overlook that the slip cover is looking worn, the lace is turning yellow or the cobwebs are taking over a high corner. The friend that helped me decorate this place walks the entire house with me once a year to comment on what still looks good, what needs help or what just looks dated. We work on what time, money and energy allows.

A little time here and there can make all the difference.  And don't throw away those bits of paint, fabric or carpet!  You never know when it will come in handy!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Dill Eggs in Puff Pastry

When we lived in Dallas, we used to frequent a breakfast place called Le Peep (it may still be there) and we had a favorite dish called Country Cool. It was scrambled eggs, cream cheese, ham and dill. We have tried to recreate that and make it a little fancier by wrapping it in puff pastry. The eggs are great by themselves if you don’t have or don't want the pastry.

Dill Eggs

5 eggs lightly whipped, reserving 1 Tbsp. for egg wash.
1/2 tsp. dill
4 oz cream cheese
1 tsp. unsalted butter
1/4 c. finely diced shallots
1/2 c. diced ham
1 puff pastry sheet (found in frozen food section)

Egg wash
1 Tbsp. egg
1 Tbsp. Water
You can sprinkle on toasted sesame seeds, if you want.

Night Before: (This is optional, but the scrambled eggs are easier to work on the pastry sheet later if they have been chilled.) Lightly whip dill into eggs. Cut cream cheese into medium chunks. In large saucepan, saute shallots in butter. Stir in ham. Add dill eggs and stir until softly scrambled. Remove from heat and immediately stir in cream cheese until almost melted and blended. Set aside, or cover and refrigerate overnight.
 Final Preparation: Roll out pastry sheet on wax paper or cutting board to 14 inches by 18 inches. Spoon egg mixture onto center of pastry sheet leaving 2 inches of pastry bare at top and bottom and 4 inches bare along both sides.

Fold the 2-inch top and bottom over the filling. Then go down both the 4 inch sides cutting the bare pastry at 1/2 inch intervals from the edge up to the filling. This creates a series of 1/2-inch strips down both sides.

Beginning at one end fold one strip over filling from left, then one from right, alternating sides until all pastry covers the filling.  

Brush with egg wash. Place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or silicone mat. Bake 20 to 30 minutes at 400~ until golden brown.

Allow cooling 4 minutes before slicing.
Serves 4-6

We serve with fruit and homemade hash browns.  Sorry, forgot to take a picture of the plate when we were serving. Somehow when I am in the middle of breakfast, I get a little distracted.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Flora & Fauna 2012

I thought you might enjoy some of the Nature display we get to enjoy on an ongoing basis!  These are photos you have missed if you are not following us on Facebook. To follow us on Facebook, just click this link to our Facebook page and "like" us. That way you can see our photo updates week to week.

During Spring Cleaning we uncovered lots of fine specimens.  We had never seen this Spotted Salamander before, and I gather from research, it is somewhat elusive.  Lucky us!

        The Phoebes made their annual appearance in our makeshift nesting boxes. Here is a photo of the babies right before they fledged.

Walking Sticks are very common on our porch but we have never seen one like this.  The red and turquoise stripes made this one a real stand out from the regular solid green or brown variety.  He was much larger as well.

This year our wrens gave us a treat by laying their eggs in a nest snuggled down in a potted plant on the front porch by the porch swing. They are used to us and put on quite a show.  It was fun getting to watch the eggs appearing (one a day for five days) and then watching them hatch.   The chicks were hard to photograph as they would dart back in the recesses of the nest when we grew too close.

We have a Moon Flower plant we started from seeds we brought with us from Dallas.  It is finally getting mature enough to put on more than one blossom per night.  This picture was taken on the night we had six flowers open all at once...beautiful and fragrant!

My favorite photos of the year have to be these three of a cicada emerging from its shell.  We just happen to be out picking figs and this was happening right in front of us.  It didn't take much time and Mike wished afterwards that we had shot video instead.

I know some of you are never going to get on Facebook so maybe we can have an annual show-and-tell here for you.  Enjoy!

The rest of you  like  us on FB!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Fig Preserves

This really isn't an official recipe as I never measure anything, I just add sugar until it "looks right."  Thanks to pictures and the internet, I can show you what that looks like.

Our fig tree is very happy this year and even sharing with the Scarlet Tanager we pick a huge bowl full every day.  My friend Janie has a tree in her yard that is producing and she wants to try to make some for her husband - hence this blog.  But trust me, there is little simpler than making a pot of fig preserves.

Figs do not keep long so put them in the refrigerator overnight if you want to wait a day to cook them.  We have so many I am cooking every day, usually the ones from yesterday while a new batch we picked this morning cools overnight.

I start off dumping the bowl in my island sink and covering with cool water.  I pick up a handful at a time to drain next to the cutting board. I cut off the stems and then cut each one in half.  When the pot is 1/3 full  I cover that batch with sugar and cut some more.  I do another third and cover with more sugar. These don't boil up as bad as strawberries and some other fruits so I will fill the pot 3/4 full.  Note: if I have them, I will occasionally add a few diced strawberries.

After the last third is covered, I juice one lemon and put the juice and the rind in (filter out the seeds). Add a pinch of kosher/sea salt and you are ready to cook.

Turn the stove on low until you get the pot all stirred and the sugar starts to liquefy.  It will start off thick and hard to stir.

Then turn the flame up to a med/high until the figs start to boil and foam. At this point the mix will seem real soupy and you think you have added too much sugar...but that is just right. Stir it, turn the flame down to a low/med and cook for 2-3 hours until the juice cooks down and the fruit is mushy.

When the figs are done they will look like the picture below. Note how far they cooked down in the pan.  They are still very moist (but not soupy) and kind of leathery/mushy.  My mom like them in large pieces just like this but I take a hand blender and chop up the fruit a little while it is still in the pan.

I then put them in plastic screw top jars and freeze.  These are the preserves we serve at breakfast!

If you want to can your figs you will need to process the jars in a water bath for 20 minutes.  You can find lots of good sites on the internet for canning fruit.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Are you cut out to be an innkeeper?

People always tell me I must really be a "people person" to run a B&B.  I think that must be true for most any job that deals with the public. But opening your home to people on an ongoing basis, cooking and cleaning up after guests day in and day out requires a more precise set of skills.

More than anything, a well suited innkeeper must be a homebody. It is a career choice that will keep you reined in most days and nights. This was great for me as I used to plan out my weeks in my former life by running all the errands on one day so I could stay home the other six to clean, cook, garden and just piddle around. My idea of heaven would be to find someone who could be trusted to do all my shopping for me (including clothes...especially clothes!) Since Mike now does most of the grocery shopping and I can buy most everything else on-line, I am half way there.

It helps if you are good at putting people at ease, making them feel welcome in your home and creating a comfortable environment. I knew I was good at this as our house was where all the kids like to come hang out and where my friends loved to come to relax.

You need to be tolerant.  Tolerant of others habits, religion, politics, privacy needs, food issues and questions. If you grew up in a very large dysfunctional family you have been well trained for the life of an innkeeper.

People will ask you every day why you wanted to do this.  On good days I tell the whole story of how the inn came to be and on bad days I say I won it in a poker game.

You will use the older sheets, the older towels, the half used soap and toilet paper for yourself.  Your meals and naps will be interupted on a regular basis by check-ins, phone calls for reservations and guests who need help with everything from directions, reservations or information on how to work the DVD player.

Adaptability and a great live-in handyman are a must. If it is going to break, quit working or start smelling, it will do it when you have a full house. You need to be able to roll with the punches with a big old smile on your face and do the best you can to keep folks comfortable.  If all else fails, you may have to get them a room at the nearest place down the road.

The payoff for me comes in many forms. It can be as simple as the call, "We're home" from guests coming in the front door.  Or, people telling you they were wondering what the cookies would be today as they were driving in. It can be an admission that someone opens our web site when they are having a stressfull day because it helps them relax. I love it when the house starts off on Friday with a bunch of strangers and ends on Suday morning with lots of friends exchanging email addresses and business cards.

But my absolutely favorite story happened a few years after we had been open.  I was in the Common Room visiting with several guests and one of them noticed someone had left their shoes in the entry hall.  She asked me if it didn't bother me having people leaving their stuff all around. No, I said, to the contrary.  I love it when that happens as it lets me know that people really feel at home. 

I'm not sure who overheard or how the word was passed around, but the next morning when I came out to turn on the lights there were 16 pair of shoes all lined up around the entry hall.  To me it was like a standing ovation.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Strawberry Stuffed French Toast

A favorite here at the B&B is this wonderful, and easy, French toast breakfast.  The key is to prepare the first step the night before so the bread and cheese have a chance to meld together.

1 loaf French bread
8 oz cream cheese at room temp
3 Tbls butter at room temp
2 Tbls strawberry jam

9 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla

The night before:

Cream the butter, jam and cream cheese together. Slice the French bread length-wise like you are making a sub sandwich.

Flatten out the bread and spread on the cream cheese mix.

Fold the bread back together, place back in the store wrapper, and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning:

Mix together the milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla and place equal amounts in two 9x11 casserole dishes (or any shallow dish with a lip). 

Slice the loaf in 1/4 to 1/2 pieces and soak in mix (both sides). Depending on the size of loaf and size of slice, this will feed 6-8 people with two slices per person.

Grill in a slight amount butter/oil until brown on both sides.

We serve a couple of pieces on the plate topped with a spoon of strawberry syrup, a spoon of fresh diced strawberries and a sprinkle of powdered sugar. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Killer Deviled Eggs

The real name of this recipe is Curried Deviled Eggs but I wanted all of you afraid of  the word "curry" to give me a chance before discounting.  There is a spicy sweetness to curry powder that brings out the best in a deviled egg. Next time you make this or any recipe, put a pinch in the yolk mix.  I bet you put two pinches in the next time!

Note: Curry Powder is a blend of spices and the recipes for the blend are as varied and contested as the best recipe for Potato Salad in the South!  If you find you like using the store bought variety, check out the Internet for other blends to try.  Mom used to make up her own which is much better (but I have lost her recipe!)

6 hard boiled eggs (see previous blog on egg salad for great egg boiling technique) peeled, cut in half and yolks removed.

Blend with yolk:
2-3 Tbsp of mayo
1-2 tsp Wickles pickle relish (or any sweet relish)
1/4 tsp curry powder
pinch of salt

I don't ever measure out my recipe.  I just add stuff until it is creamy and spicy enough for my taste.

If you want to take these on a picnic, place the egg whites in a plastic container and spoon your yolk mix into a zip-lock baggie.  When you get to where you are going, snip off a small corner of the baggie and squeeze. It is an easy way to fill the eggs and you don't have to worry about messing them up in transport.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

(One of) My Most Embarrassing Moments

In the movie "As Good As It Gets," the character played by Jack Nicholson  is informed that one of his finer qualities is his willingness to humiliate himself.  I can really identify with that sentiment.  Over the years, as hard as I have tried to perfect my role as a gracious and hospitable innkeeper, that pesky quality occasionally escapes to the forefront. Those moments tend to make for great stories and some of you have heard me tell this one before.  It is still my favorite embarrassing moment.

One weekend we had a full house of folks that came as strangers but were now clicking.  It happens occasionally and always makes for a fun time.  The decision was made to gather in the Common Room and watch a movie.  Since no one had ever seen one of our favorite comedies (and a great parody of the old singing cowboy movies), Rustler's Rhapsody, we chose that as a "must see."

Early on in the movie, there is a scene in the saloon where a stranger walks up to the town drunk at the bar and, cigar in hand, asks for a light.  The drunk looks up, smiles and says, "Yeah, my face and your butt."  The stranger looks perplexed and then walks off.  After a moment, the drunk talking out loud to himself says, "Wait a minute...its not a light. Its a match. And it not my face...but your face...and my butt."

Fast forward thirty minutes and I have to come to the office to answer the phone. Just as I am about to re-join the group, one of the guests walks up to the desk and asks if I have a match.  I laugh and say, "Yeah, your face and my butt."

I just get silence and a perplexed look.

I shake my head and ask, "You aren't in there watching the movie, are you?"

Nope.  He just came down looking for matches to light the candles in his room. 

He was a good sport and laughed at my explanation.  I'm just not sure he ever came back.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Utillizing Fine Linens as Decor

I have acquired myriad hand embroidered linens over the years, some from family and friends and some from estate sales in anticipation of opening the B&B. Many come out for special occasions like Christmas and Valentines.  Others were not utilized  because there was just one (or a few) or the handwork was too precious to use.

One of my favorites is this beautiful tablecloth with these perfect roses and buds.  It was given to us by a guest and was sewn by a great-great somebody back when this kind of embroidery was more common place. I wanted people to see it but not be tempted to put coffee cups or wine glasses on it.  Solution?  Hang it on the wall.

Other pieces that are a little sturdier have made it onto table surfaces in the rooms.  I love these sweet little cocktail napkins that are the perfect accent for the pink & blue in Mimi's Room.

My grandmother's handkerchief sits underneath her picture and rouge box in Nana's Room.

Made for my mother's 65th surprise party, this tablecloth is the perfect accent for the blue & yellow colors in Hattie.

This "Pineapple" tablecloth, crocheted by my grandmother, hangs over the bed in Janie Lee's room.

I have other pieces that were framed (and difficult to photograph). If you haven't heard the story, the embroidery of the lady on the wall in Nana's Room was originally an apron. It was stitched by a friend that was coming to America after WWII to marry an airman she met in Australia.  She worked on it the whole time she was sailing here and presented it to her future mother-in-law on arrival to the states. Fortunately, the mother-in-law took one look at it and proclaimed it too beautiful to use and promptly had it framed.

I hope this post inspires you to bring out those treasures and enjoy them.  They like being admired and enjoy the light of day!