Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Curbing the Munchies

Why would an innkeeper post a tip on curbing the munchies? Aren't all innkeepers lolling around reading trashy novels and eating bon bons at this time of year? Well, frankly, no. This is the time of the year when my test baking for Chocolate Weekend has started and the not so pretty results might get consumed because they taste great even if they aren't guest ready. That leads to the not so pretty hips. (Today I played with chocolate fillings for puff pastry treats. I adore puff pastry.)

Obviously the most obvious tip - don't have anything around to munch on - really doesn't work in most households. You don't want to deprive the rest of the family but then those things sound a Siren's call every time you get a little bored. So what might work (WFMW)?

If you have things around put them in a cupboard that you need a step stool to reach. Put healthy snacks on the same shelf. Put the step stool in the basement or garage so you have to hunt it up to use it. The delay and aggravation involved in getting to the munchables might help you skip it altogether.

Next, allow snacking if you brush your teeth before and after the snack. Again, the forced delay might give you second thoughts about eating. (This is also a tip to apply to bored kids that want treats too close to dinner.) It also eliminates munching in the car since you can't brush.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hotels sing the blues so stay at a B&B instead

According to the esteemed Wall Street Journal , major upscale hotel chains are eliminating small amenities (like shower caps), reducing the number of towels placed in rooms, reducing food choices, charging for WIFI, reducing staff and anything else they can think of to save money.

We can sympathize with their problems but we are not going to follow their lead. We will continue to provide the small bath room amenities, free WIFI, luxury linens, air conditioning, cable TV, DVDs, beach towels and umbrellas, bountiful breakfasts (but still the Chef's choice of menu), the same staffing levels including daily maid service, and the other comforts our guests have come to expect. Heck, we might even come up with a few new amenities just for the fun of it. Despite the economic pressures we hope to avoid price increases this season.

If you don't plan to visit Narragansett this year be sure to check out B&Bs at your preferred destination. You may find that the atmosphere and amenities provided by B&Bs can be an excellent value for your money compared to local motels and hotels.

Let us know in the comments if there is an amenity you would like us to offer. We'd love some suggestions.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

More Snow in RI!!

Rhode Island is exceeding everyone's expectations for snow fall this year. Officially the total is at 36 inches for the season which is more than we normally get in a year. It's extremely annoying to some of us but the folks over at the Yagoo Valley Ski and Sports Park are enjoying some of the best snow boarding and ski conditions ever seen (or so I am told.) Cross country ski tracks have been seen in the snow on the beach too. If you plan to have a snow holiday I happen to know a friendly B&B with whirlpool tubs and fireplaces that won't break your budget....
Anyway, some snow deserves to be ignored because it will melt in our salt air. Some needs to be shoveled because the snow thrower refuses to start. The best snow is the light fluffy stuff that scurries away from a decent leaf blower. Yep, just blast away and soon you have clean and dry pavement. That's what works for me this Wednesday, that is, it would if I owned a leaf blower. Thank goodness for Dave.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

RI joins E-ZPass

WOOOHOOO! Rhode Island has finally joined the E-ZPass System. For those unfamiliar with this technology, automobiles are registered and fitted with a transponder device that is read by sensors at toll stops. No more fishing for change or tokens or hoping someone in the car has a small enough bill to hand over for change.

Many of our guests come from states that use E-ZPass. Those guests will be able to use it on the Pell Bridge over Narragansett Bay between Jamestown and Newport. No more long lines when you want to zip over for a Mansion Tour or to chill at the Music Festivals.

E-ZPass is just one more reason to stay in Narragansett for less crowded beaches and attractions, dining, and better value for your lodging dollar.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Blueberry on the Road

Every January for the last few years we have been invited to speak to the Small Properties Management class at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, RI. Now a lot of people think J&W is just for culinary arts. To be sure a lot of great chefs have sprouted from their curriculum but it offers so much more. Their degree programs in business, hospitality, education and technology are worth checking into if you know someone that wants to earn a very marketable degree. (It also gives you a chance to stay with us in Narragansett when you come to visit the school since we are only 35 min. away.)

Basically we talk to the students about the our reality of planning and executing a B&B without killing your partner. We also give them some very hard financial data about owning an inn. I think the two biggest shocks for the students are how hard we work to run this place without staff and how little profit there is when a 130 year old building makes old building repair demands. This year Dave was a huge hit with the class. (My financial discussion was a little boring, truth be told.)

Dave was really into the discussion this year. He even wrote points on the board that almost everyone in the class dutifully inscribed into their notes. My camera got stuck in video mode but it turned out so cute I just had to share:

The class is a lot of fun and very educational for us. It forces us to sit down and consider where the Inn came from and what we hope to achieve with us in the coming year. The students always pose a few questions that bring us to a "duh" moment which only makes us better innkeepers.

Thanks for inviting us to class and have stunning careers.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Stop dishpan hands

It's winter for most of us. Around here that means experimenting with new recipes because 1) I get bored with our menu, 2) it warms up the kitchen, and 3) it is just fun. The down side is that for food safety I wash my hands frequently while cooking. Y'all know how quickly that causes dry and painful skin. My solution is to slather on my hand cream and wear plain old disposable nitrile gloves while I am cooking. (Latex gloves would work too if you don't have allergies.) They sometimes come in fun colors like green or purple which could be used for some kind of monster costume if you get tired of chores. I still wash "my hands" a lot but I'm actually washing the gloves so my skin isn't roughed up. You can find boxes of 100 gloves for about $6 at drug stores or the big discount stores in the pharmacy area for a reasonable price. After you get hooked you will find lots of other uses for the gloves: mudding drywall, painting, cleaning bathrooms, filling suet feeders, and making plumbing repairs. And that's my Works for me Wednesday tip.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Perfecting meringue

Meringue is so easy to make when all the atmospheric conditions are perfect. Add in too much heat and humidity though and you might as well have skipped it altogether. I learned a tip many years ago while living in Houston from a friend from England. Apparently in the UK they make a meringue sugar, I think it is also called castor sugar, that is fine and puffy like our powdered sugar but does not contain cornstarch. This finely ground sugar melts instantly into the beaten egg whites. To make your own version place the amount of sugar called for in your recipe into a clean, dry blender. Pulse the blender to until the sugar powders. You may have to tilt it from side to side or stop and scrape down the sides once or twice. Voila! another tip that works for me.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

We should go where in January??

Narragansett, Rhode Island of course. We are a happening kind of place even if a few of the restaurants think this is a good month to close. I promise that you will not starve. First we will start you off with a hearty breakfast. Lots of nice lunch places will welcome you . Then you will have a chance to "go outside the box" and try new places for dinner. Don't be surprised if I force you to taste test some new treat that I am considering for Chocolate Weekend. If you plan to go over to Newport, I'll even tell you about a stunning Irish pub that I visited yesterday. (Plus RI is joining the E-Z Pass system later this month so you won't have as much congestion on the bridge.)

So beyond eating and sleeping and romancing, what will you do? This weekend you can check out the Bridal Show at the Towers, the Twelfth Night Celebration in Westerly and join the Audubon Society for a Winter Exploration. Have the beach almost to yourself. Join the surfers or just stay warm on shore and worry about their mental health issues. South County Tourism thoughtfully provides an events calendar that is updated frequently. Have a spa day, go golfing, go on a seal watch boat tour, indulge in some shopping (clothing is tax free), and just indulge in that thing called "relaxation."

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Cake Triumphant

My mother and sisters and I are recipe testers. Some of us follow the recipe as written the first time and then change it. Someone who can remain nameless changes things willy nilly from the get go. I must say I had to follow her lead and get adventurous.

Although Gourmet's 12 Layer Mocha Cake looked and sounded great, truth be told I don't like coffee flavored things or hazelnuts. The recipe is a bit of a challenge but fun to do. The layers come together fairly quickly but the classic butter cream takes nearly an hour to make. Most of the hour is just walking past the whirling Kitchenaid and cheering on the beaters but you can't rush things. But it is sooooo worth the time.

Imagine the look of warm, satiny smooth taffy. Such a sheen! The texture? Imagine ice cream stirred into a silky slush. I flavored one with melted white chocolate and one with melted semi-sweet chocolate.

So, assemble the basics: cake layer, chocolate souffle layer, meringue (with chopped toasted pecans instead of hazelnuts) and the butter creams.

Bush the cake layer with the Godiva liqueur instead of espresso. Cut the layers into rectangles. Begin stacking cake, butter cream, souffle, butter cream, meringue, butter cream and repeat. (Alternate the butter cream flavors of course.) The rough finish isn't so pretty:

Not to fear, after chilling for an hour you come back and slice the sides so it looks pretty. Unfortunately my camera phone won't let me have that photo. This is how the Gourmet gang finished their cake:

Then you find some guinea pigs and force them to consume the final product. I like to use the University of Rhode Island students that live with us in the winter and their friends. (If they object I point out the clause in their lease that requires them to attend taste tests.)

All's well that ends well, the modified recipe is a keeper. A little more work on presentation and it is sure to debut on Chocolate Weekend.

Friday, January 2, 2009

No sugar tonight in my coffee

Or in my tea (which I drink straight up) nor in my cupboard! (Plus Dave and the camera are out of town.) There I was, going gang busters on playing with the 12 Layer cake recipe when I discovered I was out of sugar. I had to open sugar packets from the dining room to make up the last cup for the cake but I couldn't face opening 2 cups worth for the frosting. What's that? why didn't I dash out for some? First I had guests in the house; second Narragansett was setting records for low temperatures and wind chill; third I was afraid the streets had iced up, and fourth, I'm just a lazy person. If Dave had been home I could have sweet talked him into going to the store. I promise to get more sugar today and let you know how it turns out.