Monday, February 28

There's Not a Word Yet

This month Jim and I marked our sixth anniversary of innkeeping. Six years since we left our city life behind, bought a bed and breakfast "up north", and embarked on this wonderful adventure.

We knew we'd love living here in an area where people come to play. And I was confident we could be good hosts, providing a comfortable place to relax while helping visitors experience the best of the region. I also knew I'd love feeding people!

What I didn't realize was just how much we would enjoy meeting our guests. We welcome people from all walks of life, of all ages and vocations, from (literally!) around the world. They come in singles, couples, families and groups. Some come to relax and unwind, escaping for a bit from "real life". Others come for adventure, heading out each day to discover and explore. But they all have interesting lives and—here's the neat part—they share a part of those lives with us.

Our guests often tell us about where they've been or where they're going, what peaks their interest or what gets their goat. They share the silly, sappy and sensational vignettes that make up their personal history. Even the things that seem mundane to them are interesting to us (who knew that England had television police?).

Whether we're entertained, enlightened or inspired, we always feel lucky to meet these people. It's one of the perks of doing this job that I never expected: we get to see people at their best, when they're relaxed and happy on their holiday or little getaway.

Some guests we only see briefly over a coffee as breakfast is winding down; others we have the chance to sit with around a bon fire, starry sky overhead. It's amazing how many of the worlds problems can be solved (in theory, anyway!) over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. I don't know how it came to be, but we get the best guests here!

I guess this is why I often find a certain song in my head, especially after a busy spell. The song is from my favourite movie of all time, the original Muppet Movie, and is sung by that little blue weirdo, Gonzo. The lyrics, I think, are perfect for this place but one line in particular sums up how I feel about so many of our guests.

There's not word yet for old friends who've just met.

I hope you know who you are. And that you enjoy this song as much as I do. :)

Thursday, February 17

Snowshoeing the Great White North

One of my favourite things about winter is snowshoeing through our woods. It's a great way to get outdoors, get moving, and enjoy good company.

Our dear friend, Ed, was up to visit for a few days this week. He and Jim went cross-country skiing at Arrowhead Park one day, and the next the three of us (four if you count Saba) went snowshoeing through our private trails. 

We were breaking fresh ground so the snow was deep -- we were sinking up to our knees in some places even with the snowshoes on! This made for a good workout and had us taking turns in taking the lead. The poor guys were already achy from their day on the ski trails but they managed to keep up with me. :)

The good news for snowshoeing newbies is that it's easy. If you can walk, you can snowshoe. We provide snowshoes for guests to use on our trails -- complimentary with every winter stay. We show you how the bindings work and can give you a mini lesson if you like. Depending on our schedule, we can even take you on a guided tour through the woods.

Our trails are marked and they become well-trod as the season wears on, so we highly recommend going off-trail and exploring the thick of the woods. The great thing about snow is that if you get lost, you can always just follow your tracks back to where you started.

Snowshoeing season usually lasts until late March, so there's still plenty of time for a winter getaway in the Great White North. Hope to see you on the trails!

Thursday, February 3

Cheesecake Tarts

We recently had guests ask if they could have their after-dinner dessert in the Coop instead of in the dining room; that way they could sit by the fire and take their time over a glass of wine and a game of Scrabble. We thought that was a lovely idea! 

I just had to choose a dessert that could sit unattended for an hour or so if necessary without worrying that it would get too cold, or too warm, or fall or melt or run. It also had to fit two servings under my glass cake dome. And, of course, it had to look and taste like a special treat.

I came up with individual brown sugar cheesecake tarts and topped them with butterscotch, pecans and chocolate. I think it did the trick, because the guests have asked for the recipe so they can make it again for Valentine's Day.

So here it is...

Cheesecake Tarts with Butterscotch and Pecans

These tarts are simple to make, freeze well, and are infinitely adaptable to a variety of toppings. Instead of butterscotch sauce, try topping them with fresh or cooked berries, roasted winter fruit, or a drizzle of chocolate fudge sauce.
Serves 6.

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans 
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
4 tablespoons butter, melted

Filling 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1 egg
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

To Finish
butterscotch or caramel sauce** (homemade or store-bought)
toasted pecans, coarsely chopped 
dark chocolate curls or shards
lightly sweetened whipped cream

Special equipment: six 4-inch tart pans with removable bottoms*

Preheat oven to 350°F. Set six 4-inch tart pans with removable bottoms on a baking sheet.

In a medium bowl, mix together the crust ingredients. Divide mixture among tart pans, about 1/4 cup per pan, and press into the bottom and up the sides of each pan.

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and light brown sugar with an electric mixer until smooth. Beat in egg until just combined. Beat in sour cream and vanilla extract. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared tart pans.
Bake until the edges are firm and the surface looks dry but the centers are still slightly jiggly, about 10-15 minutes. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack then refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Make ahead: At this point, the cheesecake tarts can be covered loosely in plastic and refrigerated for up to one day or frozen for up to one month (place un-covered tarts in the freezer until frozen, then wrap in plastic and foil and transfer to a thick freezer bag).

To Finish

Heat butterscotch sauce just until it pours freely. Spoon a puddle of sauce on a cheesecake then tip and rotate the tart until it is evenly glazed with a thin layer of sauce. Repeat with remaining tarts. Chill for 5 minutes.

Remove tarts from pans by lifting up from the bottom. Then slide a thin metal spatula between the pan bottom and the crust and slide the tart onto a plate.

Top each tart with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream. Garnish with chocolate curls and toasted pecans. Or, top the tarts with just the nuts and chocolate and serve the whipped cream on the side.

* 4-inch tartlet pans with removable bottoms are available at specialty kitchen supply stores (I got mine from Golda's Kitchen in Mississauga, Ontario). If you don't have them, you can use 4-inch ceramic ramekins lined with foil (use the foil to lift the cooled cheesecakes out); or use one 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom and slice the finished tart into wedges for serving.

** I used my homemade brown sugar butterscotch sauce -- which includes a generous splash of 18-year-old single malt scotch whiskey. You can make your own or use a good-quality store-bought caramel sauce.