Tuesday, March 19, 2013

All things "maple-y" in March...

It's maple sugaring time again at The Buttonwood Inn.  During March, we tap a few of our maple trees to boil the sap making our own maple syrup.  Bill drills five holes into three maple trees and then inserts his handcrafted spiles that are connected to empty, clean plastic milk and orange juice bottles to collect the sap.  The sap looks like water but has a slightly sweet scent and tastes slightly sweet.  Over the past two weeks, we've collected 15-1/2 gallons of sap and are hoping for more.  It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup.  We boil it on our stove.

Our neighbors have a different method of collecting the sap from their maples.  They hook up a long, plastic hose line to the spiles running it from tree to tree downhill where it drips into a large vinyl drum.  Other neighbors still hook up the traditional New England covered metal sap buckets of yesteryear. 

During a recent snow shoe trek on the Buttonwood Trail, I spoke with neighbors who were pulling their daily yield of sap in a sled holding about 8 plastic gallon jugs.  Their maple syruping operation is a bit larger than ours because they have about 30 jugs collecting sap in the forest.  They are hoping the forest will be kind to them this year because their yield last year was half compared to 2011.  The winter of 2012 was unusually warm for New Hampshire and we also didn't have much snow!

As I write this blog, I'm watching the snow fall very heavily at times with an accumulation of one foot so far and we're just halfway through it.  Tomorrow morning is the first day of Spring!  I'm not complaining because as long as it remains wintry cold, the sap should continue to flow and we can make more syrup.

The maple syrup we make is for our personal consumption.  We purchase the best quality Grade A Amber from award-winning maple producer, Fuller's Sugarhouse, in Lancaster, NH.  They have a huge maple sugaring operation and supply their customers all year around.  They  conduct tours of their maple sugaring operation next to their store and fill internet orders shipping anywhere.

This weekend some of our guests will be participating in our annual March Maple Madness tour to other inns in Mt. Washington Valley.  They will sample maple treats while gathering points for a chance to win a $200 gift certificate for a future stay at any one of these inns, including other prizes.  You still have to time to reserve with us and join in on this fun and "maple-y" event!  Call us at 1-800-258-2625 or book online today.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Upcoming Valley Chili Cookoff and My Chili Recipe!

Come stay at The Buttonwood Inn and sample our local restaurants' chili and judge for yourself which one is the best!  Check out our special Chilly Chili Cookoff deal located on The Buttonwood Inn home page. 

For Super Bowl fare, I made a delicious beef and bean chili that incorporated a complexity of flavors and spices.  After researching several chili recipes on-line, I modified one substituting ingredients from another recipe to produce the best chili.

If you read through the recipe, gather your ingredients for food preparation, and follow the cooking instructions exactly, you'll impress your family and friends with a rich, thick, and comforting chili.  ENJOY!

Beef and Bean Chili

3 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more as needed
3 pounds 85% lean ground beef
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 large onions, chopped
8 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons of chipotle peppers in Adobo, pureed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 cups low-sodium beef broth
1/2 cup brewed espresso or strong coffee
2 15-ounce cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, sliced scallions, and/or diced avocado, for topping


Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add half of the ground beef and season with salt and pepper. Brown about 4 minutes, adding more oil as needed. Transfer to a plate; then brown the second batch and remove from pot. Discard leftover oil from the pot.

Reduce the heat to medium and add 2 tablespoons of oil to the pot. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes. Then add minced garlic for 1 minute. Add pureed chilis in Adobo, oregano, and tomato paste; cook, stirring, 30 seconds.

Return the meat to the pot and stir in the tomatoes with their juices, broth, espresso, and pinto beans. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the chili is thickened about 2 hours.

Stir in the Worcestershire sauce and cook 5 minutes. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if needed. Divide among bowls. Top with cheese, sour cream, scallions, and/or avocado.

Chocolate Festival Weekend at The Buttonwood

The Buttonwood Inn was full last weekend during the Chocolate Festival held annually on the last Sunday of February.  Ten of our guests toured various inns and businesses sampling chocolatey treats of all kinds. 

As a non-recovering chocoholic, I decided to bake chocolate treats all weekend for the afternoon tea service.  On Friday, I baked my all-time favorite cookies, Chocolate Chippers.  Not only are they easy to make, but I enjoy the buttery and vanilla flavor of the moist and tender cookies loaded with semisweet chocolate chips.

My second favorite treat is Chocolate Malted Cupcakes topped with Fluffy Vanilla Frosting that I served for the Saturday tea service.  Again, a simple recipe which yields a moist, tender, and chocolatey cupcake with a light and sweet vanilla flavored frosting.  Check out my recipe below.

For the Chocolate Festival tour on Sunday, I baked a Texas Sheet Cake which is a thin layer of chocolate cake iced with a chocolate ganache topped with chopped pecans.  It's similar to an iced brownie and very chocolatey. 

If you enjoy chocolate treats as much as I do, consider coming to The Buttonwood Inn next February for three days of chocolate, chocolate, chocolate!  Call us at 1-800-258-2625 to reserve your Chocolate Festival Tour or book on-line.

Yield: About 28 cupcakes


2-1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
1-1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1-1/4 cups malted milk powder
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sour cream, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk together flour, cocoa, both sugars, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl, whisk together milk and malted milk powder until dissolved.

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat flour mixture, milk mixture, and oil until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl. Add sour cream and vanilla, and beat until just combined.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each two-thirds. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes.

Fluffy Vanilla Frosting

3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

With an electric mixer, beat butter on medium-high speed until pale and creamy, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and add the confectioners’ sugar, ½ cup at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of the bowl. After all the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla is added, continue beating for 5 minutes to aerate the frosting making it very pale and fluffy. Frost cooled cupcakes and top with sprinkles, if desired.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The snowshoes are lined up on the front porch...

...waiting to be strapped onto your boots to hike the Mount Surprise and Buttonwood Inn trails on Bartlett Mountain in Merriman State Forest.  Our guests hike and snowshoe these trails by heading out our back yard through the field to the trails.  You can hike for 30 minutes or for hours on the many intersecting trails. 

The trail to the Bartlett Ledges can be reached in the warmer months because there is a steep trail towards the top and not easily accessible through snow and ice.   The Ledges is a wide rock outcropping affording views of the Moats, Cathedral Ledge, and The Presidentials.  You can also see the back of the Buttonwood Inn, Route 16/302, and the properties along it in North Conway.

Though we had two 50 degree days with rain one night this week that melted some of the snow, we are back to frigid temperatures due to a cold front yesterday.  Snow is also forecasted this weekend through next Tuesday, YES!  Mother Nature played a trick on us at the end of January, but it's back to wearing silk underwear and fleece to brace against the wintry weather.

So come on up and strap on our snow shoes to play in the snow, or check out our ski packagesBook online or call us at 1-800-258-2625.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Last Polar Express Weekend at The Buttonwood Inn…

Beginning the Friday after Thanksgiving, we’ve had many families stay at The Buttonwood Inn for five weekends, ending just before Christmas. Bill and I had so much fun observing the delight in the children’s faces as they expressed that they were going on the Polar Express to visit the big guy in red, Santa!  One family, in particular, kept it as a surprise until the children dressed in their pajamas as they headed out the door to the train station beginning their magical journey to the North Pole.

The Christmas lights and decorations beckon the families who merrily enter our check-in area where their eyes are drawn to dozens of ornaments hanging in the window and the twin polar bear cubs staring outside. Bill proceeds with a tour of the inn first to the Mount Surprise Room where the Polar Express movie is playing on the big screen TV.  The families pass by the small lighted Christmas tree with wooden ornaments, fireplace mantle displaying lights and holiday figures, and a New England village display.  The cupboards are packed with games and books for all ages, including many other holiday movies.

In our Dining Room, the children immediately ask to take one of the mini cupcakes decorated in colored frosting with sprinkles that I baked for the afternoon tea and hot chocolate service. The mothers usually notice the many whimsical Christmas ornaments watching everyone from their perches on the windows and window sills.

The Living Room has a large Christmas tree decorated with ceramic ornaments that I painted when our children were babies. There are whimsical mice, a children’s nativity creche, and Sesame Street characters. Does anyone remember Strawberry Shortcake? That was a favorite of our 30+ daughter, Alexandra. Our son, Tom’s, favorite was Oscar the Grouch. Three decades ago seems like yesterday when you recall the fond memories of raising your children.

After breakfast on Saturday mornings, I bake and decorate the sugar cookies of holly leaves, candy canes, and snow flakes for the children to eat either before or after the Polar Express train adventure. I pipe various colored icings on each cookie sprinkled with a variety of crystallized sugars and holiday-inspired sprinkles. I also make the “big kid” Triple Chocolate cookies that their parents and grandparents cannot resist.

While we serve our guests a savory gourmet breakfast, I also make Buttermilk Pancakes with or without chocolate chips for the children. Sunday morning breakfast consists of fresh fruit salad followed by Yeasted Belgian Waffles with warm award-winning Maple Syrup from Fullers Sugarhouse and thick-sliced bacon. For the very young children with smaller appetities, I plate half of the waffle as angel wings dusted with powdered sugar  topped with a butter flower.  When Bill serves breakfast to the families, he derives real pleasure from seeing the children sitting at the tables and asks them about their experience seeing Santa the previous evening. 

When it’s time for the families to depart, we often bring our two dogs, Britt and Clyde, outside to meet them. Some children have been reluctant to leave which tickles us pink. So Bill usually gets a parting photo of them with the dogs and we give them a hug goodbye.

Here’s what one family wrote in our guest room booklet:

“Thank you so much for your wonderful hospitality. We had a magical Polar Express experience. The inn is so charming and the room worked amazingly well for our family of five. The food was delicious and I loved all the homey touches such as water pitchers in the room and tea and cookies in the evening. We hope to be back next Year!” – North Reading, MA

We are now accepting reservations for the 2013 Pola Express.  If you are interested in reserving your families' magical adventure, please call us at 1-800-258-2625.