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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Big Schlep

I've decided to finally concede and start schlepping.  No, no, I'm not moving to Florida, don't worry.  But I need to schlep this blog.  I've really enjoyed posting here, but there is a problem that has been present from day one - this is not actually my website.  It's Blogger's website. And therein lies the dilemma.

You see, when I post here my aim is to give the reader little updates about things that are going on around our area and news about the Inn.  I often include photos and links.  What I produce is "content".  When you ask consultants and marketing gurus how to create a successful website, having plenty of good content is always on the short list of suggestions.  However, all my content is essentially being written and submitted for Blogger's website, not mine.  When people click on the link for my blog, they are actually directed away from my own website.  This is a major marketing no-no.

Having a good website with plenty of fresh content is more important than ever.  OTA's (Online Travel Agencies) are squeezing small independent inns like mine more tightly than ever.  TripAdvisor.  Expedia.  Kayak.  AirBnB.  All of them.  They have millions and millions of dollars to spend on marketing, and they spend it to make sure that when you do a search for lodging, only their websites will come up on the first page.  They have virtually taken over the industry.  Even guests that have stayed with me before have recently booked again through an OTA, simply because it was the first thing that came up and they did not even realize that they were not on my website.  Sometimes people even pay a higher rate through the third party - it does not occur to them to go directly to the provider to compare.  All of this means that if little guys like me want to even have a slim chance of booking rooms, we need to sign up with the OTAs.  Which means a 15 - 20% commission.

And you might already know who pays that.

Improving my own website just might get me a bit more traffic.  Which just might get me a couple more direct bookings.  Bookings for which I don't have to pony up a precious 15 - 20%.  So it's time to start schlepping.  I will try to recreate most, if not all, of this blog on my own website, and from this point on, I'll only be publishing new posts on my own website,  See you there!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Improving the Inn and Our Guest's Experience - One Step at a Time

Water damage is visible along the lower sections.
This Spring is an exciting time for us as we have just completed our biggest improvement project yet.  As many of you know, three of our guest rooms, The Cottage, The Sapling, and The Lower Lodge, are all on the back side of the Inn.  Because this is the north facing side, it doesn’t get much sun, and nearly twenty years of shade and rain have taken their toll.  Some of the siding was starting to go bad, and even a couple of the wooden window sills were starting to show damage.  It's a real challenge trying to do work like this without disrupting our guests, but the timing was right to nip things in the bud and improve the rooms while we were at it. We blocked out the rooms for three weeks and got to work.  I think we pulled it off - no seemed to notice - so I figured I'd better take an opportunity to brag about it all here!

 First, we replaced all the siding with a product called Smart Side which is specifically formulated for resisting water damage and decay.  We also replaced all the windows along the back of the building, eight in total.  The new windows still have wood frames on the inside, which we were able to paint to match the existing trim, but unlike the former windows, these are vinyl on the outside – again, a great solution for the north side of the building where rain water might sit for longer periods without the sun to dry it out. The new windows are well insulated and very slightly larger than the old ones.  

Air Conditioner mount in The Sapling.
Lastly, we removed the wall unit air conditioners and replaced them with brand new ductless mini-split air conditioners mounted high on the wall.  The old air conditioners were working just fine, and replacing them was an after-thought once the project was started.  I'm glad we thought to upgrade them!  These new units are more energy efficient, quieter, and also do not let cold air seep in through the ducts during winter.  The entire air exchange happens through a small duct that passes through that tiny opening to the outside wall.  

All new insulation and a fresh coat of paint in each of the rooms and outside and . . . voila!  

This new siding will hold up better than the original wood batten board, and we think it looks great!
We even got our dedicated crew to tackle a couple of other little issues around the place, touching up paint and replacing and repairing some window sills.  Have you ever seen anyone balance on a ladder like that?!  We are thrilled with the outcome and hope our guests will be too!

Even The King Room got a little TLC!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Coffee, anyone? It’s all set up on the new Barnwood Table.

We are excited to show off our new barnwood coffee and tea counter!  Many of you know that ever since I first purchased the Inn, I longed to replace the square butcher block coffee table.  It’s not that I do not like the butcher block - quite to the contrary, I absolutely love it!  However, I felt it was not the best fit for its purpose and wanted to find something that would provide a little more space for the guests fixing their morning coffee.  Finding that perfect piece is never easy- it takes time, patience, money, and perhaps trickiest of all, countless hours browsing through different shops in search of that one perfect piece! Sometimes it seems that you will never find the right fit, so you can imagine how serendipitous it is for us each time we do! 

This new barnwood table was discovered at one of my favorite antique shops right on the border of Great Barrington and Sheffield, Great Finds.  The minute I saw it, I knew it was right for us, but it was a few weeks before I could get a hand moving it to the Inn and also moving the butcher block, which was so heavy that we actually needed four adults and one child to get it moved!  Glad to have great friends around to pitch in and lend a hand when we need one, and we are thrilled with the new coffee counter!


Friday, December 27, 2013

The Holiday Tree - Our Gorgeous Solution to an Annual Challenge

2012:  Charlie Brown-style real tree
It is hard to imagine a winter stay in an upstate country bed and breakfast without a magnificent Christmas or Holiday Tree.  Regardless of religious beliefs, decorated trees have come to be expected and appreciated as one of the visual treats of the season.  The last couple of years, we have had real trees, which have posed quite a few problems.  For one thing, it is difficult to find trees big enough to stand regally in our huge Great Room with it's thirty-five foot peaked cathedral ceiling.  Plus, even if we can find a tree that big, we don't want it cut down!  Then there are the difficulties of transport and mounting, which I will spare you the details of.  Of course, we must note that real trees are REAL, and natural, and do not always grow perfectly symmetrically.  The term "Charlie Brown" has become synonymous with these beautiful, albeit, natural looking trees, which are breathtaking in a field, but not so much when they are supposed to be the seasonal focus of your showcase home.  Case in point, our tree from the 2012 season.  Lastly, there is the removal and disposal of the tree.  Suffice it to say that your innkeeper has faced numerous holiday tree challenges these last two years.

The NEW TREE!  At twelve feet, it barely fits into this frame!

But all that has changed.  This year, it is my supreme pleasure to introduce our NEW tree.  It is twelve-feet tall, and weighs 138 pounds!  I even had to purchase a ten-foot stepladder in order to assemble and decorate it.  In celebration of the new tree, we threw a big tree-trimming party this year, which was a wonderful way to kick off the holiday season.  Week after week our guests praised the beautiful tree, some even mistaking it for a real one, so I guess we finally got it right.  In fact, long time guest Fred B. spent considerable effort trying to convince me to leave it up all year round.  We think that would be a bit much, but rest assured, you can all enjoy it from mid-December through Martin Luther King Day! 


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Apple Season is Here - Enjoy One of Our Favorite Recipes!

One of our favorite parts of Fall Foliage season is all the great harvests we get to enjoy.  Between apples and wine and pumpkins, each crisp, cool day is a day to feast.  Fresh local apples are the central ingredient in one of our most popular breakfasts, the Apple Pie Pancake.  As many of our guests have learned, it is not a pancake in the traditional sense, but rather a light pastry crust baked over simmering apples and cinnamon.  It is by far my most requested recipe, so now seems a great time to share it with all of our readers and guests!  Fresh apples are available at Hilltop Orchards, just five miles up the road from us, and fresh eggs and local maple syrup are available at numerous farm stands in the neighborhood, including Ioka Valley Farm in Stephentown.  Excellent quality vanilla extract and cinnamon can be sourced at Baldwin Extracts in nearby West Stockbridge.

  • One large apple - we like Granny Smiths
  • Two extra-large eggs
  • Two tablespoons of sweet butter
  • Three of four heaping tablespoons of brown sugar
  • A sprinkle of ground cinnamon
  • One third cup of flour
  • One half cup of whole milk
  • A shot of pure vanilla extract
Melt the butter in two small five-by-seven Pyrex baking dishes.  You can usually find them in the cooking gadgets section of the supermarket. While the butter is melting, peel the apple and slice it in half - then core it and slice each half into small lengthwise slices as pictured.  Each half apple will be for one serving.  Once the butter has melted, arrange the apples slices in an overlapping pattern as shown.  Then sprinkle with the cinnamon and brown sugar and bake at 350 degrees for about twenty minutes.  This recipe can be prepared up to this point several hours in advance.  If preparing the night before, after cooled, cover the dishes and refrigerate.

Next, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Whisk the two eggs well, adding the milk and then the vanilla.  Whisk in the flour until smooth and pour equal portions of the batter over each baked apple dish.  Bake for 15 to 17 minutes - the pastry will rise when baking, but will then drop once removed from the heat.  Transfer to dish, garnish, sprinkle confectioner's sugar, and serve immediately with warm maple syrup.  Enjoy!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Oh, Olana!

There is so much to see and do in our little slice of heaven here in the Upper Hudson Valley that sometimes it is difficult to fit it all into one weekend.  Fortunately, a visit to Olana will satisfy your hunger to enjoy a tour through a unique historical mansion, learn about the lifestyle of one of the most influential painters to emerge from the Hudson River School of landscape painting, view a generous sampling of fine art, and walk around the beautiful grounds and even enjoy a picnic!

View of the Hudson from the bell tower.
Olana was built by the painter Frederic Edwin Church in 1870, on two parcels of land that he long coveted and had to purchase separately several years apart.  Church was the pupil of Thomas Cole, who is generally considered to be the founder of the Hudson River School and whose preserved house is located right across the river.  Church valued the beautiful landscape and the breathtaking view of the Hudson River and Catskill mountains.  It is notable for its striking Persian and middle-Eastern influences, that can be admired throughout the custom designed structure, as well as in its interior finishes.  Most of the furnishings and objects within the mansion are original, and the artworks displayed in the formal dining room, affectionately referred to as his "masters" by Church himself, are all of his own original collection. 

Olana offers tours, exhibitions, educational programming and events throughout the year.  We love it so much that we are now Members of Olana, and our membership entitles guests of the Inn at Silver Maple Farm to a complimentary admission and tour.  If you'd like to take advantage of this great opportunity, please schedule with us in advance, as this offer is limited to six guest per day!

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Creamery at Twin Maple Farm - Local Cheese on Location!

This week I had the pleasure of getting an insider's look into the complicated process of making prize-winning artisan cheese at The Creamery at Twin Maple Farm.  As a local food enthusiast, I love discovering new producers and small batch artisanal products being made right here in the Upper Hudson Valley and Berkshire region.  I share these gems with my guests, who relish opportunities to bring some authentic country fare back to the city to share with their family and friends.  However, in the case of Twin Maple cheese, the thrill is being able to get this world-renowned cheese right from the source, rather than from Whole Foods, Daniel, or any of the other fine restaurants and cheesemongers around the world who vie for their share of these small batch treats.
As the Localvore movement continues to gain ground, there is an opportunity for folks like Matt Scott, Dan Berman, and Doug Ginn to preserve historical farmlands by producing an outstanding product that supports and promotes the farming heritage of this region. Twin Maple Farm was established in an old dairy barn in 2009, continuing the two-hundred year old tradition of agriculture on that land.  In fact, a commitment to preserving the beautiful bucolic farmlands of Columbia County played a major role in bringing the dream of The Creamery to fruition.  All the milk used to make the cheeses is sourced from local farms, and even the whey goes back to a neighboring farm to be fed to the pigs, strengthening the cycle of sustainability. 

Isn't it great when when a superb product also has a great story?  And this cheese really is superb!  The Hudson Red is a washed rind, semi-soft, funky cheese - smooth and pungent - really just a savory treat!  Hudson Red was the Gold Medal winner of the World Jersey Cheese Awards!  It is made of raw Jersey milk and aged from 60 - 90 days, with the rind being washed in brine every day.  Some liken it to a Tallegio.

And let's not forget about the zesty Hudson Gold. These little cheddar nuggets will have you swooning!  Also made from Jersey milk, the Gold is aged for a minimum of 60 days, rendering it flavorful and smooth. The third cheese is really a sneak peek since it has not even officially been brought to market!  I had an opportunity to try Head Cheesemaker Tim Merante's newest creation, Hudson Truffle (pictured below), which will be well received by cheese aficionados.  It is simply sublime!  If you would like to try some of these famous local cheeses, why not stop by the Creamery?  There is an open house on May 26th, and this summer there will be a retail cooler where visitors can purchase these cheeses on their way home.  The Creamery is conveniently located right off the Taconic parkway at 416 Schnackenberg Road, Ghent NY 12075.  Enjoy!

Hudson Red, Hudson Truffle, and Hudson Gold. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Spring Projects Abound Around The Inn at Silver Maple Farm

This is one of my favorite times of year here.  It is finally consistently warm enough to embark on some outdoors projects, and I still have time to schedule and carry out some indoor projects too.  Ah, so many projects!  Where to start?  Some think it's best to start at the beginning, so this week we focused on the front porch. 

First we used a putty knife to scrape the all the window sills.  Next,  we used a palm sander to smooth the surfaces - we repeated this two more times for each sill since each time you sand, a little more paint gets loosened up and can be scraped off!  Then we repainted the window sills with a couple of coats of fresh white paint.  This somewhat time consuming project actually yielded a beautiful result. 

Over the next couple of weeks, we will do most, if not all, the windows in the Inn.  We also replaced the porch runner with a nice fresh sisal weave which looks really nice. The handrails up the back steps have been freshly sanded and are smooth to touch.  As usual, the front garden is being weeded, and we expect this project to continue indefinitely!

However, the most exciting project this week was the installation of the new carpet in The Loft Suite.  Although many of guests really loved the white wool carpet in that room, the time had finally come to retire it.  The color of the new carpet is called Crusty Bread!  I imagine it gives the effect of a sandy beach after the waves have receded.  We hope you will like it!

Monday, April 29, 2013

My Date with Natty Bumppo - Dinner on Glimmerglass

It was just as I had imagined it - well, except that Hawkeye wasn't actually there.  Instead, I enjoyed a lovely evening repast at the foot of Glimmerglass with my good friend Deborah of the Inn at Green River.  While chatting over a lovely lakeside dinner at the historic Otesaga, I found myself incessantly scanning the surface in an effort to detect the precise spot where Muskrat Castle would have stood!  I imagined that I could identify the little coves where the ark was hidden from the Hurons.  It was a fun meal for literary buff like myself! 

View of Otsego Lake from the Otesaga Resort Hotel in Cooperstown NY (photo by Eric)
Courtesy of the Farmer's Museum

Although well-known for the Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown really does have much to recommend it.  

The Farmer's Museum, with it's impressive stone architecture, gives visitors an inside look at rural life in early nineteenth century New York.  Walking through a recreated historic village and exploring a working farm using historic agricultural tools and equipment, the museum offers interactive education for visitors of all ages.

Courtesy of Fenimore Art Museum
Across the road, visitors will enjoy a stroll through the Fenimore Art Museum, which features numerous genres of American Art that also speak of the history of America.

Additionally, there are many breweries and wineries on the Cooperstown Beverage Trail, which offer opportunities to take a refreshing break while exploring this gem of a city.  In sum, Cooperstown hit all the right notes with this innkeeper, and I look forward to my next visit!  

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Morning at The Clark

The Sterling and Francine Clark institute is a world-class fine art museum, right here in the Berkshires.  Situated in quaint Williamstown, The Clark is an easy countryside drive away from the Inn at Silver Maple Farm.  Open year round, admission is free from November through the first week of June, and children under 18 are always free.  

Although the campus is currently undergoing significant construction and expansion, the main galleries are open with several fresh and exciting exhibits throughout the year, and the Stone Hill Center Gallery is also open.  

A trip to The Clark is always exhilarating, as the permanent collection is astounding and features sculptures, metalworks, and other objets d'art, in addition to sketches, drawings, photographs, prints, and paintings.  The Clark regularly exhibits paintings by American masters such as John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, and Winslow Homer.  It also boasts a fine collection of nineteenth century impressionist and post-impressionist works by favorites such as Van Gogh, Monet, Gauguin, Pissarro, Manet,Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, and Degas.
The Clark also houses an impressive collection of fifteenth through eighteenth century Renaissance works by notable Italian, French, and Flemish painters, as well as a gifted collection of British art.  

Enjoy the fine art, take a leisurely stroll along the woodland paths, and perhaps enjoy a picnic lunch in a sunny spot on the 140-acre campus. Alternatively, you can head into Williamstown for lunch - the Indian restaurant Spice Root is a local favorite!

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
British, 1836-1912
Sir Edward John Poynter
Steinway & Sons

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Divine Duck Confit - John Andrews Knows Chevre!

Finally made it down to South Egremont for a visit to the highly acclaimed John Andrews Farmhouse Restaurant.  This place is the quintessential localvore's heaven.  Having grown up with a strong commitment to the farming heritage, as well as an educational background in agriculture, chef and owner Dan Smith not only grows many of the restaurant's own provisions on the property, but also features a different local farm every week for it's prix fixe menu ($30).  It was our good fortune that this week's Featured Farm was Rawson Brook Farm in Monterey, Massachusetts.  Rawson Brook is a small family-operated farm known for producing fine Monterey Chevre since 1983.  During our visit, we learned that the restaurant has not has chevre for nearly six weeks, and that this batch, labeled No. 001, was the very first of the season!  

We started with this beautiful appetizer of chevre flan, kalamata olive puree, shredded scallions, and grilled focaccia.  The flan was light and creamy in texture, with a savory sharp and smooth flavor.  The olive puree was a exquisite complement.  

For the main course, we selected this gorgeous Duck Confit, accompanied with a creamy chevre polenta and local kale.  The skin was tantalizingly crisp, and the meat was so tender it simply fell off the bone - truly prepared to perfection in this innkeeper's opinion.  What a delectable treat!

In keeping with this week's theme, dessert also featured Monterey chevre - in the form of lovely fritters drizzled in local Berkshire wildflower honey.  Paired with friendly service and a country chic atmosphere, this was one dinner to remember!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Signs of Spring - Perennials Push Through the Soil

Violet Crocuses at Silver Maple Farm
Despite the fact that we had a little sleet a couple of mornings ago, it seems that Spring has arrived here in our little valley.  The surest sign is the appearance of cheerful crocuses.  Last week we posted some photos of the first purple crocuses on Facebook, but today we discovered nineteen different clutches scattered across our front lawn, including a yellow bunch and this rare white one. 


 Other spring perennials are also showing themselves.  Several bunches of yellow daffodils have pushed their way up through the leaf litter and are getting ready to show their vibrant blooms over the next few days.  Bunches of wild alliums are also standing tall, perhaps offering a tasty spring treat to some of the wildlife in our woods. 

A nice patch of delphiniums have made their appearance as well.  The innkeeper planted four starts of these rich violet flowers in June 2011.  They did not do much then, and became shaded by a large shrub last season, also not showing much.  The shrub was heavily pruned back in autumn, and these delphiniums are off to a good start.  Clearly, they have become well-established, and we are looking forward to their late season display. 

In our front garden, the one that is surrounded by the low stone wall, lupines have started their ascent.  These tiny little star-shaped leaves tinged with purple will grow into thigh-high conical flowers in vibrant purple and pink hues through the front garden.  Later, we will see the beginnings of peonies and a nice patch of red poppies

And of course, we can't forget the classic tulips, which reminds us yearly of the rich Dutch heritage of this region.  We look forward to the arrival of each of our perennials families, in turn, throughout the coming season.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

In the Galleries: Mass MOCA

Did you know that one of the world's most renowned museums is right here in the Berkshires, just a short drive north of the Inn at Silver Maple Farm?  Mass MOCA, located in North Adams, is a scant hour’s drive through the beautiful mountains and countryside.  Once a complex of twenty-six old factory buildings, its thirteen acre campus has been transformed into a veritable mecca for contemporary art.  Featuring sculptures and installations of all shapes, sizes, and mediums, the galleries are tactile and quirky.  Film and audio media are well-represented, including the current One-Minute Film Festival
The institution proudly boasts that, “[b]y coupling the versatility and size of its spaces with the latest digital, fiber optic, and new media technologies, MASS MoCA is able to present and catalyze the creation of works that can be shown nowhere else in the world. These facilities serve as a testing ground to expand and redefine the nature of contemporary art.”   For example, the two birds of Xu Bing's controversial Phoenix weigh twelve tons.  
Xu Bing's majestic Phoenix

You can find numerous theater performances, dance parties, music festivals, artists talks, and other live events throughout the year.  
Innkeeper Inncognito
While no two visits will be ever be the same, there are some long-term installations, such as the Sol LeWitt exhibit, which will be on display for visitors to enjoy for the next twenty years.  Our recent visit to the space was thought-provoking, at times mesmerizing, and ardently inspiring.  

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Truly Rustic Retreat in the Berkshires - just ask!

We were absolutely thrilled to be named as one of the Berkshire’s not-to-be-missed Rustic Retreats in Lisa Green’s article, Reveling in the Berkshires’ Rustic Retreats.  Although they say “any press is good press”, what we really like about our mention in this particular article is that we also feel that one of the features of our Inn is our rustic charm. 

So, what is it exactly that makes our Inn, or any inn, rustic?  Merriam Webster lists four specific entries for the word “rustic”, including: of, relating to, or suitable for the country; made of the rough limbs of trees; characteristic of, or resembling country people, and; appropriate to the country (as in plainness or sturdiness).  The Inn at Silver Maple Farm falls squarely within this definition.  The term “country” evokes visions of green pastures and rolling hills, farmland and animals, trees and singing birds, and a harmonized balance between man and land.  Our Inn is nestled in a beautiful green valley, set back from the road with a lovely avenue of maple trees lining the long driveway.  Our rural ten-acre property was historically farmed until recent decades.  Although cattle and sheep have been replaced with wild rabbits and groundhogs, the grounds are teeming with birds, bees, and other wildlife – exactly what one would expect to find in a country setting.  The owner’s home is the original farmhouse, and part of the Inn was actually built in the footprint of the old barn – you can still see some of the original slate roof!  The post and beam construction featured in the Great Room, Library, Loft, and Pines Suite is notable in that the beams are hand-hewn logs, and are pegged in the traditional fashion reminiscent of nineteenth century timber framing.  This tried and true method of sturdy construction has been use for thousands of years.  Several of our rooms, like the Upper Lodge, feature twig lamps and furniture.  These details, complemented with white pine floors throughout, several pine paneled ceilings, an abundance of windows to let in the natural light, and simple, clean d├ęcor, make the Inn at Silver Maple Farm a quintessential country inn.  And we simply revel in our recognition as a great rustic retreat!