Friday, March 27, 2015

The Life of an Aspiring Innkeeper ....

So here we are six months into our new life as "Innkeepers". How are we feeling - well pretty good to date I must say! I shall need to re-read this blog at the end of the next six months I think.  Today I am sitting on the front porch of Abigail's watching the world go by and trying to put "pen to paper" or in this case "fingers to computer". It is such a wonderful day today. The sun is shining, the mountains in the distance are turning green and have a faint haze upon them. I heard a bird singing outside my window this morning at 6 am, the first I have ever heard so all my bird feeding must finally be paying off. The trees are now beginning to sprout their greenery and the cherry blossom has gone only to be replaced by russet colored leaves. Our spring bulbs have blossomed and the tulips are lifting their heads. Lets hope the "pesky" deer do not eat them before they have chance to realize themselves. The wild poppies are bright yellow in the sunshine. I always knew that this front porch would be a great place to sit one fine day and just wallow in the fact that Abigail's is all ours! What a great feeling. I look across the street to Big Al's diner and the Bayberry Inn - mmmm competition? I have to tell you that since we have met our friendly competition we have both agreed upon seeing that we are in a similar situation to that of the film "The Hundred Foot Journey" -  that Adam and I are the "Indians" having been ousted from Zimbabwe and political strife to run a Bed and Breakfast and whilst Francesca is the 3 star Michelin Bed and Breakfast but as I say to her Francesca: "Indians are known to be vibrant, colorful people with interesting food".  Well that being that and today being Friday Mario and Lorenzo have come to top dress our beautiful garden with lovely thick black, fresh smelling, organic topsoil so that in another month or so our garden will be a sight for sore eyes and a great place to relax and enjoy Ashland.

No more cherry blossom - just russet leaves..

Lorenzo hard at work  - L &  M Lawn Services


Summer on the verge.....

Well although we re-opened in February after a two month shut down for us to titivate we had a fairly quite start to the season. The odd guest here and there but not much going. Maybe a good time for us to start adjusting to getting up at 6 or 6.30 am depending on the amount of guests we have staying over or just how experimental my breakfast is going to be. March on the other hand has been a completely different month. We anticipated a few bookings but certainly not as many we have had and to be honest it has been a delight to have the house filled once again with laughter, life and people. I thought I might give you an insight to our day which at times can be filled with humor and at others stress. But would I change it definitely not!

I "burst" out of bed (ha,ha) at 6 am or maybe 6.30, again depending. Stumble through to the kitchen put the coffee on and then head back to get ready for the day! Lemon lies languishing in bed until I rush back through to the kitchen. The one good thing about this fact - is that he gets to make the bed. I open windows, pull up blinds, turn on lights, wish Abigail's good morning and then turn my hand to cooking. Now this can be a good day or a bad day - my food is like my mood very temperamental. I have days like today when I just knock it out of the kitchen and then other days when I look at what I have prepared and find the meal wanting. Needless to say that by 9 o'clock I am ready and waiting for our guests. Today was a great day - I baked croissants as a back up plan for my first ever Crustless Coconut Tart, which I might add was a winner. I served this with fresh sweet, plump raspberries and a cream cheese parfait and toasted coconut. My main course was a beautiful light, fluffy golden brown Goats Cheese Souffle topped with Creme Fraiche served with Chicken Maple Sausages wrapped in Bacon along with a small Arugula, Tomato Salad drizzled in Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar. Oh my souffles played to my tune this morning - they rose and burst with a small pop in the oven and then stood proud and plump whilst I served them. So with some beautiful teas to choose from and the wafting smell of freshly brewed coffee Abigail's awoke. As for my bad days and little flops, well just lets say that what happens in the kitchen stays in the kitchen.

Breakfast Frittata..

Homemade Museli made with Gluten-Free Oats, Pumpkin Seeds, Chia Seeds
Cranberries, Sunflower Seeds, Honey & Olive Oil

Breakfast Hash topped with a Baked Egg, Cranberry&Bacon Jam.

Crustless Coconut Tart with Fresh Raspberries.
Goats Cheese Souffle.

Goats Cheese Souffle with
Chicken Mapple Sausages
Wrapped in Bacon
Arugula Tomato Salad
with Balsamic 

Our guests sit at a communal table unless they specifically request otherwise. I thought that when we first started at Abigail's I might do away with this seating arrangement, but after much researching and questioning of our guests it would appear that the attraction of a communal table is what draws people to stay at a Bed and Breakfast Inn. People who come to Ashland come with the intention to go to the Theater and this then leads to conversation at breakfast. It certainly makes for a lively start to the day and over the course of the next few days the house definitely seems to get friendlier the more that people meet and mix at that communal table. So once breakfast is over our guest go their merry ways, either home for some and for others a days outing to the theater, town or one of our many wineries in the area. Of course hiking, rafting, shopping and so much more keeps them busy throughout their stay!  Once we have bid them all adieu Adam and I get down to the chores. I finish the kitchen cleaning, put the dishwasher on. Rush up to the rooms and depending on how many "tidies" we have or "changes", I arrange with Mariah our SOU student for the season to come and help me. We strip beds, open windows, make beds, clean bathrooms, fluff and puff, hoover and leave the rooms spruced and waiting for our next guest. I love to leave a room waiting and ready, often I will stand at the door to one of the Abigail's and just hope that the next guest gets the same feeling of satisfaction that I get when I see the room set. I then head on down to do the laundry. Meanwhile back at the "ranch" Adam sorts out the downstairs area for me and then attends to the gardens needs for the day. If I have any plumbing problems or any such issues that's for Adam to deal with. Not a natural born handyman I have to take my hat off to him - he faces each problem or challenge with enthusiasm and bluster. Sometimes he beats the odds and wins and at others well what can I say - we have signed up to Angie's List. I am dreading the days when we have five rooms to turn over as well as our 2 bedroomed cottage and trust me they are coming. Well, that day is going to go down in our history book for sure. Adam will have to add these days to his job list I am sure. We normally finish our morning at about 1 pm / 2 ish, again depending on our rooms and turnovers. Once all is done we put on our walking shoes then and take a brisk walk into town. I am happy to see what is happening in town, already I see the tourist crowd growing, the plaza is getting busier, the restaurants have put out their "outside tables,chairs and umbrella's". The line grows daily at Zoey's as more and more people want an ice cream treat. The backpackers are growing in numbers and the buskers are out and about performing arts or playing instruments. Lithia park is a meeting place for passers by. What a buzz and what a lift to my day I get on these outings. We head on back to Abigail's for an hours feet up and then wait for our new guests to start arriving from 3 pm. I love to fill the house at this time of the day with the smell of baking - fresh scones, chocolate brownies, cranberry cookies, tea cake - whatever takes my baking whim that day. Adam checks our guests in and I have to say that I am shocked at his greeting abilities. I would have never have taken him for a guest greeter, but now that I have seen him in action, I take it all back. He loves it. He loves the opportunity to meet people, chat to them, let them know all about the house policies and idiosyncrasies. He talks about Ashland and what it has to offer as if he has lived here for years and not just the last six months. The menus come out, the latest brochures are paraded before eyes and directions are given in a whirlwind. You need to see him in action to believe it. Before we know it its six o'clock and most of our guests have checked in. We may have the odd late check in but fortunately it does not happen too often. Time to do one last check before I cook dinner and finish the laundry. Make sure that all is fine with our guests for the night, before we put our goodnight sign out and check out for the night! Adam does a final check at about 10 o'clock, refreshes the hot water for tea, turns off lights, draws the shades and chases the "pesky" deer from the garden before we both head off to sweet dreams and deep slumber. Ready to wake for another busy day at Abigail's.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Across the line - Ashland to Medford, in-between and on the other side ......

I used to think of  Ashland as being rather an isolated town of 21 000 people with another 300 000 plus visiting during the summer months just for the Oregon Shakespearean Festival . However having been here for the last five months I have learnt otherwise. Not only is Ashland home to the Oregon Shakespearean Festival but it is also a corridor to so much more than one would think.

To the north-end of town just on the outskirts of Ashland is Emigrant Lake The park itself offers a host of activities for the entire family. There are some beautifully situated picnic areas at Emigrant Lake and I suggest that you head out for the day. Stop off at the Ashland Food Co-op  to purchase some of the amazing fresh and organic produce that they stock  and then head out towards
Weisingers Winery to purchase some wine for a relaxing picnic in the sun. Fish for bass,crappie, trout if you are a fisherman or do some boating, canoeing/kyaking, waterskiing, swimming or hiking. Children can play on the playground, or slide down the refreshing 280-foot twin flume water slide all day. Day Use park Fees are $4.00 per vehicle.

To the North as well is the fabulous Mt Ashland and its hard working staff. During Winter when the snow does visit the North the mountain is turned into a hive of  fun activity. Skiing come to Town!
One of our recent guests to Abigail's and Ashland had the opportunity to spend some time on the mountain learning how to Ski for the very first time. Although the snow has been a bit sporadic, there has been more than enough to cover the slopes. Our guest and his partner used the Ski Hopper which they booked on-line through (no wine drunk mmmm.)  - the collection time from Ashland near the SOU is at 8.20 am and drop-off time back to Ashland is at 4.45pm. The couple booked an extremely reasonable package -  "My Turn - 3 day learn to ski or ride" - for $124.00 per person. This fee includes 3 days, rental of boots and skis', lift and instruction. My Turn Graduates receive a further 7 visit lift ticket punch card, free rental equipment and 25% off for the rest of the season. Wow, this is an incredibly well priced package for first time visitors to the mountain. I need a refresher course..... The lodge on site offers a bar,live weekend music, food and shop facilities for both visitors and participants. The mountain is hoping to offer a whole lot more in the coming summer months so keep an eye on our events page for new postings! A great place to hang out - Apres Ski time!

Heading back into Ashland and out again on Hwy 99 we drive through Talent, home to the Camelot Theatre Company who offer plays, musicals and musical events in the intimate 164-seat theatre - "Broadway Quality in an Intimate Setting -".

Visit Jacksonville a small town that has been designated a National Historic Landmark. A town preserved from the 1850's goldrush era, with loads of charm, history, quaint shops and various restaurants. As you stroll through the streets you can feel the ghosts of the long forgotten cowboys, saloon girls and mud covered boots! Honky Tonk music, swinging saloon doors, dogs barking in the streets - dusty covered men heading to Beekman Bank to deposit or cash in their gold. Gun fights in the street ? Jump forward to 2015 Jacksonville is now home to the respectable Jacksonville Inn and Gogi's Restaurant , cowboys (not guns) and saloon girls long gone.  Jacksonville is also home to the Britt Festival  - a premier open air performing arts festival that runs from June to September. The venue is a naturally formed amphitheater with a casual and relaxed beautiful hillside setting. Jacksonville is also the heart of the Applegate Valley and Rogue Valley Applegate Valley Wine Trail The wineries in this area remain largely unknown, yet have become a home to some well known Pinot Noirs and other varietals. A lot of the wineries in the area local to Ashland also offer year round wine tasting, music and food. So add an extra day or two to your visit and set out to sample what our wine area has to offer.

Medford itself is a twenty minute drive from Ashland and has a lot to offer the day visitor. Driving back in the early evening, you can be bemused by stunning sunsets, the likes of which make one think of fires in the hills - only they are nothing thank goodness, but glorious early evening skies.

 For all visiting foodies, especially with a sweet tooth, a visit to Harry and David Country Village is not to be missed. Difficult for some to find it is on Center Drive. I always know because it's a road right in the middle of Hwy 99 and the I5 by Walmart. A famous landmark on Center Drive, made so by its various types of Moose Munch (you name it they have put it in it), Fruit Gift Baskets and awesome decadent chocolate truffles. The shop itself urges one to splurge money on organic produce, locally grown, candies, truffles, fruit, wine and so much more. A gorgeous shop filled with Gourmet Delights.

Medford itself is a 20 minute drive from Ashland - filled with Antique Shops for those with a discerning eye for turn-of-the century furniture and more. Some great bargains to be had as I have learnt from experience and some of those" bargains" can be found in and around Abigail's. It is home to the Rogue Valley Mall with big department stores and clothing shops that seem to have year round sales, especially on the weekends. You know they are famous for "buy one, get one free???" mmm. Lately Medford is being discovered for its secret foodie areas. I have found some surprisingly interesting food trucks on South Riverside Ave going into Medford next to the Antique stores. Stop and sample some of their delicious food on the street. You can always get parking! Then there is the Downtown Market know for its open kitchen so that you can actually watch the Chef's cooking with locally fresh sourced produce.

Patatas Bravas!

 I found another delightful food stop for that late morning brunch whilst shopping, called the Buttercloud Bakery and Cafe . I have seen it often during my wrong turns trying to find my way around Medford and finally I talked Adam into giving it a try. Wow what a find! They make the most "moresome" biscuits (we call them scones - very British) that are moist, large and just great. The Chefs toast the scones and fill them a marriage of food made in heaven. They call them Biscuit Sandwiches - Green Eggs & Ham, Chipotle Porker Pulled Pork, Beef & Blue, Zuke & Bell, Chicken & Chilie, Peanut Butter, Bacon & Honey - they have sides such a Veggie Hash, Mac & Cheese with smoked Gouda and Cheddar, Braised collar Greens and so on it goes. They also serve great coffee and the most decadent of cakes!

 We also discovered a "hamburger joint" whilst on our way back from the Rod & Custom Car Show held at the Jackson County Fairground on the 14th & 15th February. I have to add that the cars on show were beautifully built, maintained and presented. They gleamed and sparkled and just oozed glamour of a long-gone era! Well to go back to the "burger joint" - it is called Jaspers Cafe a tiny hole in the wall off the main road that has been in business for the last 35 years. Some history there - well this place boasts Classic Burgers, Gourmet Burgers and Extreme Gourmet Burgers. They have it all. Try the "Hawiian Cowboy" - Honey Bourbon chipotle BBQ Sauce, tomato, pineapple, grilled onions, Memphis BBQ sauce, bacon & Cheddar cheese or the "Portabella Burger" with fresh portabella slices, grilled onions, provolone, on a bed of arugula and garlic mayo and so it goes on. The choice is incredible and it will take you a good half hour to decide I reckon and then ten minutes to wolf down because they are so good.. as they say "a minute in the mouth and a lifetime on the hips." Oh well.

Medford is also home to the Collier Center - Southern Oregon's Center for the Performing Arts - Craterian Performances for the 2015 season include the likes of Ladysmith Black Mambazo (from my part of the world), the Rogue Valley Chorale: Festival of Choirs, Educating Rita - Theater, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Theater and much, much more. Something for everyone to enjoy!

So to all of our "would be visitors" to Ashland as you can see this little town is a whole lot of LARGE with more to it and its surrounding areas than meets the eye! We look forward to your visit this year.....