Sunday, January 30, 2011

Winter Bird Watching!

Jamie had been wanting a new bird feeder since last summer, so this past Christmas I found an excellent one at Peaceful Valley Furniture, just west of Intercourse on Rt. 340.  We hung it in our winterberry bushes, for easy viewing from our kitchen, family room, and dining room, and filled it with wild bird seed and black oil sunflower seeds, as well as suet cakes on the sides.

While it's easy for B&B innkeepers to fill their days with inn-related activities (even on days when there are no guests at the inn), we've been taking some time to watch our feathered friends with a lot more interest this winter.  We bought a book called "Feeder Birds of Eastern North America" (one of the Peterson Field Guides), and also got a laminated card to keep near the window, called "Backyard Birds of the Mid-Atlantic" by Sibley's.  At this point we're not necessarily interested in knowing their Latin names or their mating habits, but trying to identify the many birds that frequent our feeder has been truly fascinating.  We even dusted off our old sports binoculars, and use them for an even closer view of each bird's details.  One type of bird food that we're looking forward to trying in the spring is crushed egg shells... not only are they plentiful at a B&B, but they reportedly attract Purple Martins, who help keep the mosquito population in check during warm months.

In the past few days our feeder has been a hotbed of activity, now that word has apparently spread among the local bird population.  We often have 10-15 birds of different varieties congregating around the feeder at any given time.  Some patiently wait their turn as others eat their fill, some hop in the snow below the feeder pecking at dropped seeds, and some hang around the branches of the winterberry bushes eating berries.

A few of the varieties we've identified so far are Black-Capped Chickadees, Cardinals, House Finches, Tufted Titmouses, Blue Jays, Song Sparrows, and Eastern Phoebes.  Being new to bird watching, we'll no doubt learn to better identify our winged visitors as we go.  Come spring, we anticipate adding a variety of new feeders around our property.  We can't wait! 

By the way, our two cats, Jessie and Buddy, are delighted that we are finally learning to appreciate a hobby that they have been enjoying for years!
Peaceful Valley Furniture - Rt. 340, Intercourse, PA

Monday, January 24, 2011

Delicious Winter Recipes!

With the slower pace of activity in Lancaster County during the winter, it seems a perfect time to talk about one of our favorite subjects... food!  Some recipes just seem ideally suited for these cold winter mornings, so we thought we'd share a couple of our guests' favorites here at the Apple Bin Inn.

Our "Pecan Caramel Baked Apples" have become one of our most requested recipes.  Why not make them a warm and cozy start to a special breakfast at your house...

4 Rome apples of equal size (Gala, Stayman, and Cortland apples also work well)
Butter, unsalted

8 heaping tbsp light brown sugar 
20 pecan halves, coarsely chopped
2 tsp golden raisins (optional) 
½ tsp cinnamon
dash of pumpkin pie spice (important)
3 tbsp Half & Half
Heavy whipping cream

Core and peel apples, leaving a ring of skin around the bottom quarter of each apple.
Cut a thin slice off the bottom of each apple (so they don't roll) and place apples in glass baking dish.
Into each core hole, place a thick pat of butter and a dash of cinnamon.
Cover baking dish with plastic wrap and poke several air holes.
Microwave apples on high setting for 1½  minutes.  Flip each apple upside down and microwave for 1 minute.
Turn apples right-side-up, and if necessary microwave extra time to reach the desired softness (poke with fork to test).  Note: Microwaves vary, so experiment with cooking times to achieve the apple softness you desire.

Combine topping ingredients (except the heavy whipping cream) in a small saucepan.
Heat on medium high heat for 3-4 minutes, until sugar is completely dissolved, then set on low to avoid burning.  Topping should be thick & syrupy. 

Place each apple into a dessert bowl, and spoon a generous amount of topping over each apple (try to avoid the core hole).
Fill each core hole with heavy whipping cream.  Serve hot, and bask in the glow of your family's smiles!

Our next recipe is "Baked Deep-Dish Strawberry French Toast".  A cross between french toast and bread pudding, it's an absolutely delicious winter breakfast!

16 oz loaf of French bread, cubed into ½” cubes
6 oz cream cheese (¾ of an 8 oz package), cubed into ½” cubes
6 large eggs
1 qt Half & Half
½ cup butter, melted
¼ cup maple syrup
16 oz fresh sliced strawberries (frozen sliced strawberries may be substituted)
10 oz strawberry jam

Arrange half of the cubed bread in a lightly greased, deep 9 x 13” pan. 
Sprinkle with cubed cream cheese, and cover with remaining bread cubes.
Whisk together eggs, Half & Half, butter, and maple syrup. 
Pour evenly over the bread cubes, making sure they all absorb the egg mixture.
Cover with foil and refrigerate for 8 hours (over night).
In the morning, keep foil in place and Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. 
Remove foil and bake another 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown.
While french toast is baking, combine and heat topping ingredients in a saucepan.

Cut french toast into 8–10 servings.  Plate each serving, then ladle heated topping generously over each serving.  Goes great with your favorite sausage.  Enjoy!