The foliage is transitioning, and it's finally turning into summer here in North Garden. The assorted buds and colorful floral trees are now glowing in viridescent tones, green and lively, and the late-blooming flowers are displaying themselves in the liveliest of manners. Although autumn is most often credited with displaying pigmentation and unique aesthetics, spring and summer bring, without a doubt, the most amazing foliage of all the seasons. If you are yearning for an escape within your escape, hop in the car, roll down the windows, and drive west high into the mountains. You won't regret the truly jaw dropping views, no matter what time of year. The Skyline Drive holds some of the most scenic views in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and we're only ten minutes away!
Spring has sprung and with it comes the urge to get back to work outside. In between the cold and wet and sometimes snowy days, we continue to work on the cottage and the accompanying landscaping project. We are finally finishing up the siding on the back of the cottage and have also fixed the drainage around the base of the cottage, channeling water around the cottage and back porch. This involved digging down a couple of feet in some areas and removing large chunks of tree roots. We are also close to finishing the second private sitting area. From the front it doesn't look like anything has changed but if you look at it from the back side, you can see where we added dirt and flattened it down. Next comes the patio pavers. And then finally we can get back to the actual water feature! Max loves working outside with us and although he is not much help with the digging he loves rolling around in the fresh dirt. It's a good thing he is ruby colored; the dirt blends in nicely with his fur until bathtime.
Meet our newest Innkeeper, Max. Max comes to us as a puppy from the animal rescue and is learning to be a junior innkeeper. Currently he is being trained to accompany us to and from the Inn and to greet guests as they arrive. He gets quite a bit of practice. As our children get older and move on to college and beyond, we decided the time was right to add to our family. It's nice to have company on days when there are no guests and even when we are full. Max does not live in the Inn; he happily stays at the house but you may see him with us when we are on the property. Please say hello! to Max when you arrive. We're glad to have you stay!
After a few months of perfecting, I've come up with a yummy banana bread recipe that's been a hit with our guests!
Extreme Banana Bread
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 cup vanilla greek yogurt
1/2 cup buttermilk
4 large bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla
3 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup mini dark chocolate chips
1 cup frozen raspberries
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray 2 loaf pans with cooking spray.
Cream butter and sugar then add eggs one at a time. Beat in yogurt, bananas and vanilla. Mix together flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon then add mixture to the wet ingredients. Add up to 1/2 cup buttermilk to make a thick batter. Hand stir in the chocolate chips and raspberries.
Spoon batter in prepared pans then bake for 60-65 minutes until tester comes out clean. Allow bread to cool completely before cutting. This bread tastes best 2 days after baking!
As autumn draws to a close and daylight savings time joins us for a while, we are working diligently to winterize the Inn and prepare for our off season projects. Those of you who are keeping up know that the koi pond was a major focus for the summer. While we got a good start, we did not have enough time to complete it. So it will be winterized until the warmer weather arrives. This season, we will revisit the dining room french doors which were an add on many years ago. The weight of the bricks are causing the door frame to sag and so support must be added. This will also help the main entrance and front door which sometimes does not want to close properly. But it is a slow project since you can only jack up your support 1/8" per month! The third floor will also get a makeover to make it more usable for the family. Painting is always in the plans - every room gets a touch up! The cottage will also get a back porch makeover. Hopefully all will be done in time for the start of our busy season in 2015. With the smaller amount of sunshine each day, it will be a challenge.
This past weekend we had our 25th couple get engaged at the gazebo on our property. It's so lovely to see the love and happiness as young couples begin a new life together. We reflect on past weddings at the Inn and remember some of the more memorable moments. Now that Pippin Hill Vineyard has come on the scene, we don't do many weddings, just the occasional small ceremony with 25 guests or less. But that's ok, because we often get to see weddings every weekend from our upper property. To all of our couples, Happy Anniversary! We hope you'll come back to visit us!
This weekend marks the second annual Lockn' Festival in nearby Nelson County. There was so much good music at this year's festival. The major headliners will be playing tonight and tomorrow night. Because we are close enough to the festival we can enjoy some of the music and then come home to the Inn. We are looking forward to the next music festival, the Festy which happens in October. These festivals are a definite reminder of the thriving music scene here in Charlottesville. In the 12 years that we have been here, we have listened to our fair share of great music at several of the local venues. Maybe we'll see you out there on the scene!
Take the time to enjoy what's around you. Case in point, this year I have been watching petunias of all colors spring up all over the property. It's been a rather wet summer and conditions are ripe for good blooms. I'm not sure where they all came from but I'm glad they are there to brighten the day. Although, I have had to mow around all of these random flowers because I can't bear to cut them down. The garden is the best it has ever been - tomatoes galore, beans plentiful and melon vines everywhere just waiting to fruit. The herbs are also growing like weeds, basil, mint and spring onions are ripe for the picking and I have been using them in creative ways at breakfast time. They say this year we will have a bumper crop of peaches and I am looking forward to hitting the local orchards to enjoy this most awesome fruit and share it with the guests at breakfast time. What's growing where you are?
Last month we broke ground on our kitchen garden and private sitting area next to the cottage. As most projects do, this one has expanded since we started. Originally we designed the area to provide much needed water diversion and drainage away from the Summer Kitchen Cottage. After a couple of extremely heavy rainfalls, we discovered that we needed to rework some of the drainage. And with that change, came the addition of a koi pond and running stream and a second seating area for Inn guests. This is in addition to the private seating area for the guests of the Summer Kitchen Cottage and the kitchen herb garden. We also decided to finally, after 8 years, finish the sidewalk that goes nowhere and incorporate it into sitting area. We are eagerly awaiting the end of the school year so the kids can begin helping us to complete the project. Our youngest is particularly excited about her new fish pond! Stay tuned as we update you on our progress.
The grading work continues around the Summer Kitchen Cottage to improve drainage. Jim continues to pick ax through the marle, which are the hard packed clay chunks that resemble rock. Unfortunately, underneath the marle are remnants of an old coal pile which is almost as tedious to dig through. This pile suggests that the cottage may in fact have been used for blacksmithing as was told to us by several people who lived in the area a long time ago. In any case, once the digging and grading is complete, we hope to put in a kitchen herb garden and private seating area for the cottage. We have several ideas for the layout and design of the garden and planting area. As we get farther along, be sure to check back for pictures of our progress!
It may be spring, but the weather is still chilly. Why not bake up some delicious scones to savor with your coffee, tea or hot cocoa? This is our most requested scone recipe.
Preheat oven to 400F. Add the following to a food processor fitted with blade:
2 1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon baking powder
zest from 1 lemon
1/2 cup crystallized ginger, broken into small pieces
1 stick butter cut into tablespoon size pieces
Blend until dough looks like course sand.
Add 2/3 cup heavy cream and continue blending until dough just comes together. Add additional cream by the tablespoon if needed.
Shape dough into triangles and place on baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven until tops are golden, about 14 minutes. Serve warm with butter.
Triangles can be frozen and baked as needed.
This winter we are hard at work with renovations in the Inn. We have recently updated the living space in the Americana Suite. The bathroom in the Sarah Gillocke room also got a color makeover. The original flooring exists in the Inn and over time, the boards have loosened. We've spent quite a bit of time fixing squeaky floors. While some may find the floor noise charming, others may not so now you can walk most of the Inn without making any noise! Our dining room is also getting renovated. This is a great time to take everything down and do some rearranging. New pictures will be posted soon on both the website and Flickr. Better yet, why not make a reservation and see what we've done firsthand!
No, it's not Christmas but the day the Burpee seed catalogue arrives in the mail. I can spend hours looking at all of the options and planning what I will plant come spring. It's hard not to get captivated with the colorful pictures and sometimes I don't make the best planting choices for our area. Once I decide what to plant I begin mapping out where everything will go. Come spring I can see what has survived the cold winter months. I have had to replace shrubs and even a tree or two. It's sad to see a plant go, but it often gives me the opportunity to replace it with something better. I have planted quite a few perennial beds in our 11 years here and it is a joy to watch them bloom. It always inspires me to create yet another flower garden. I am lucky that we have so much space to do so. Now if I can just come up with a way to prevent the wildlife from enjoying my gardens...
The weather has gotten decidedly colder here! Today we received our very first snowfall of the season. This is definitely the time to cozy up to the fireplace and enjoy the warmth of the fire. Did you know there are plenty of winter activities in the region? Wintergreen offers plenty of skiing and snow tubing and Charlottesville has its own ice park which is open for public skating. Or, if skating isn't your thing, enjoy an ice hockey game; both UVA and JMU utilize this facility for their ice sports. As for the Innkeepers, we spend our winter months doing repairs and freshening up the paint and bathrooms in the Inn. All must be done before the busy season arrives again in just a couple of months.
Please check out our rates and specials page to take advantage of our BOGO gift certificates! This special comes just in time for the holidays. We're giving you the chance to purchase a great gift for someone in your life while rewarding yourself at the same time. Hurry, offer only lasts until Christmas!
A question we often get asked is "Where can we find antiques?". Fortunately, the area has several places to shop for things old and treasured. Just down the road from the Inn there is a nice shop called Covesville Antiques in none other than the town of Covesville. Look for the old yellow house on the right with lots of stuff out front. There are also plenty of antique shops in the town of Ruckersville at the intersection of Rt. 29 and Rt. 33, north of the Inn. Be sure to check all corners of the intersection! In Charlottesville, visit Circa which has an eclectic variety of merchandise. Of course, enjoy all of the antiques we have on display at the Inn. We are former antique shop owners and have amassed quite a large collection over the years.
One of the perks of having a National Historic Register designation is getting your very own Wikipedia page. In May 2013, our residence was listed by a Wiki user with an interest in historic landmarks. We are so grateful to this person for starting this "stub". Now it is up to us to fill in the blanks. We have plenty of history, both oral and written, to add to the page. Be sure to watch our progress with Wikipedia and learn why our property received this important designation.
Our Sweets and Treats package has been a resounding success! Guests love it as an add on to their stay and I really enjoy baking the goodies that go inside. The brownies are so popular that I decided to post the recipe since I get so many requests. Enjoy!
Best Ever Dense and Fudgy Brownies
Serves 8 or 4 depending on your sweet tooth...
1 stick butter, melted
1.25 cups sugar
3/4 good quality unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/3 cup all purpose flour
Preheat oven to 325F. Spray 8x8" glass baking dish. Line dish with parchment paper, leaving overhang. Spray parchment.
Add sugar, cocoa powder and salt to melted butter. Whisk to blend. Add vanilla and eggs, whisking vigorously to blend. Add flour and stir gently but don't over mix. Scrape batter into prepared dish and smooth top. Bake in preheated oven for about 30 minutes. Top will crack and tester will withdraw clean when fully cooked. Allow to cool completely before removing from pan and cutting.
It's that time of year when the gardens begin going dormant, that we start to think about what to plant next year. This year we are focusing on the old fruit trees. Most of the trees were planted well before we arrived 11 years ago. Time, bad pruning and rough weather have taken their toll on these trees. Not only have they become unsightly, some are dying and none are fruiting. It would be lovely to plant new fruit trees and grow an actual orchard which would supply fruit for both our guests and our family. The first consideration is where to plant the trees. Even if we take out the existing trees, the new trees would not fare well in that location. The new orchard would likely go between the garden and the gazebo. The next consideration is what types of trees to plant. Apples of course, are a must and we should plant several varieties, both modern and heritage. Peaches would also be nice. I like the idea of cherry but I wonder how difficult those trees are to grow and if the birds would beat us to the fruit. Certainly we have a lot to consider but we have until spring to make any decisions. Visit us in 2014 and see what we decided!
If you've stayed with us recently, you had the pleasure of witnessing the restoration work we are doing around the front door of the Inn. Much needed repair of the mortar around the door frame and the door frame itself took us about a month due to the less than optimal weather. As a consequence of all the moisture, the door itself would not sit right in its frame and wouldn't close properly. We waited several weeks for the moisture to evaporate but still the door would not close. Of course, we did not want to trim away any wood from the original door - once the wood is gone you can never put it back. After this frustrating time period, we were finally exasperated enough to get down on hands and knees and take a closer look. And we found the source of the problem. It was a single home staple that someone had used way back when to attach foam trim to the inside of the door frame. Only a few bits of foam were left but the moisture presumably pushed the staple out enough that it was preventing the door from closing properly. The offending staple was removed and now the door closes the way it is supposed to.