Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I am trying to get back into my previous running routine.  When we lived on Nantucket I trained for  and ran half-marathon races.  After moving and learning so many things we needed to know in order to be successful B&B owners, my running routine "hit the wall". But after this past month of regular running I am readying myself for the Out of Hibernation 5K race to benefit the Food Pantry.  Assuming I finish upright I will train for a 10K - then a half-marathon - then consider training for marathon.  It is all about having enough training time,  and we'll see if I can create that.

Among the many benefits of running, I am finding new and wonderful places around Portsmouth.  Lately I have been running along the harbor - taking side streets off of Marcy - and it often feels like I've been transported to the narrow lanes and beautiful old homes on Nantucket.  I find there is a lot of similarity running in Portsmouth and running in Nantucket.  Beautiful vistas, smell of salt water, friendly people, lots of wind - though Portsmouth is more "hilly" than Nantucket.  

I have noticed more activity around Town.  Groups of carpenters and contractors, renovating and sprucing things up.  On a nice day I usually hear the sound of saws and hammers.  One surely gets the sense of things to come.  I can't wait to get out into our garden.  I have big plans!

Russ and I have been to about half of the restaurants we need to visit in order to make helpful recommendations to our guests.  You know the saying - Tough job but someone's got to do it! Well - it's been anything but tough.  We have had nothing but great meals around Town.  I am glad we still have more research to do.

Gotta go - breakfast duty calls.  Wish me luck on race day - April 12th.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Real Pancakes

We had a full house and the dining room was hopping.  The noise level was somewhat higher than usual but most of what I was hearing was laudatory.  "Best pancakes ever" greeted me as I bussed the dishes.  Now our Kizmet is a fine cook and deserves all the praise she gets.  But pancakes are the easy breakfast that she can make in her sleep.  Why the raves for a breakfast that did not tax her talents?  Then it occurred to me: these people had never had a real pancake.  And there is one word that explains why.  Bisquick.

Now before we get a visit from the nice lawyers at Bisquick let me say that it is a fine product.  Easy to use, virtually foolproof, and it makes a good pancake.  Good enough for most people.  Good enough for the large breakfast chains.  We have a box in our pantry.  Chances are all the pancakes you have ever eaten are Bisquick pancakes.  But for our guests at the inn we are aiming higher so we make our pancakes from scratch.  The recipe is below.  It is fussier.  If it seems like too much work too early in the morning you can prepare the wet and dry ingredients separately the night before and combine them when you get up.  Resist the temptation to beat the heck out of the batter, and be gentle when you fold in the blueberries.

So try it!  Be warned that after trying these it can be hard to go back.

Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes

Serves 12-14

3 3/4 cups flour
3 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
6 eggs, slightly beaten
1 1/2 sticks butter, melted and cooled
3 cups buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon oil or zest
2 cups frozen blueberries, thawed

Whisk together dry ingedients
Mix together wet ingredients
(Note: stop here and refrigerate if preparing the night before)
Combine wet and dry together until incorporated, some lumps OK
Gently fold in berries

Monday, February 10, 2014

Tea Drinkers Rise Up!

Back in the day, well, WAY back in the day, I attended a three-week scientific conference in Les Houches in the French Alps.  It was perhaps the best perk in a fifteen year career in science.  During breaks between sessions we would queue up in front of this massive machine run by a cute little French girl.  The machine dispensed coffee and espresso at the touch of a button.  But ask for tea and the world would darken just a bit.  The cute little French girl would roll her eyes, then turn to the machine, turning handles and pushing buttons in a blur of motion.  The machine would huff and puff and finally dispense a weak trickle of hot water into the cup.  Another roll of the eyes and a hastily dunked teabag and it was clear that you were dismissed.

Beyond the problems of holding up the line and having a cute little French girl roll her eyes at you a fundamental truth soon became evident: tea drinkers are second class citizens.  If you have ever watched your host scrabble in the back of the silverware drawer for a dusty old teabag you know I am right.  It is not fair and here thirty five years later we are doing something about it.

Here at the Martin Hill Inn we do tea right.  The former owner, Margot Doering, was a tea fanatic, and we are happy to carry that particular torch.  We have 23 different varieties of loose leaf tea (the only proper way to make tea), tea strainers that actually work, a specialized hot water dispenser.  Our teas are from the Portsmouth Tea Company (now Teasy Teas), White Heron Tea, and Upton Tea Imports.

So if should ever visit our bed and breakfast please give our teas a try.  We promise not to roll our eyes.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Fall Head Over Heels for Portsmouth Restaurant Week

It just keeps getting better and you have more reasons to fall in love with Portsmouth than ever before.  What am I talking about?  Restaurant Week, of course.  Only twice a year can you enjoy a three course meal at some of the Seacoast's best restaurants for just $29.95.

Featuring 43 restaurants, this fall's Restaurant Week begins November 7, 2014.   You can enjoy your meal in dowtown Portsmouth, just a 10 minute walk from the Inn.  Or take a scenic drive to Durham, Rye or Hampton, NH or try Kittery or York, ME.   For $29.99 for dinner and $16.99 for lunch, you can eat the fixed price menu at any one of the participating restaurants.  Or you can order a la carte if you see something you prefer there.  This year, there are some new places to explore this year.  Or you can visit an old favorite.

Here are some of the new kids on the block.  Salt Kitchen & Bar is located at the Wentworth by the Sea Resort and features local foods in a contemporary atmosphere that has not forgotten its historic roots.  Located in the newest buildings in downtown Portsmouth, the British Beer Company offers classic pub fare with an amazing variety of beers and lagers.  A short walk off the beaten track in the West End of Portsmouth (where the locals enjoy MoJo's BBQ) is the newest dining option called Tavola.  Enjoy this fun Italian eatery with great brick wall ambiance and friendly staff.  And while not a new name to Portsmouth, The Rosa Restaurant is at its old location but all new inside.  There are just too many to list here, so see all the options at the Restaurant Week website.

Restaurant Week wraps up on November 16th, 2013, so make a reservation to stay at the Martin Hill Inn and you will be just a 10 to 20 minute walk to all the downtown Portsmouth restaurants.  Other seacoast locations are a 15 to 25 minute drive away.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Enjoy Art with a Splash and find your inner painter

Honestly, I have not painted since I was in elementary school (except one attempt at watercolors with my aunt about a decade ago).  So when I decided to try out the "Art With a Splash" shop on State Street in Portsmouth, I was not sure what I was getting into.

I took a while deciding which night to try my hand at painting with acrylics on canvas.  You see it was not just a matter of finding a night when I was not already busy, but also a night when the subject painting looked appealing (and not too hard).

So one quiet Thursday night, I joined about 15 other intrepid, budding painters to try my hand at a lovely seascape with mountains, sailboats and lovely flowers in the foreground.

Everything is waiting for you, all the paints, palates, smocks, brushes and canvases.  All you have to bring (if you want) is some wine or other favorite beverage and maybe some snacks.  Give this some thought, because you are going to be there for at least two fun hours creating your masterpiece.

So we get settled at our table with easels and canvas.  All eyes are turned to the back of the shop where Jim, our instructor, stands ready with his blank canvas and the original that we will be working from.  Mind you, I don't say "copy" because everyone's will be different and that's the way they like it at Art With a Splash.

Over the course of the evening, I mix colors, try different brush techniques, get bailed out of a bad bit of prospective rendering and generally have a great time.  My neighbor has a much bolder style with her palate and she has broad strokes running through her sky and seascape.  Across the way, another customer has a way with the mountains, giving subtle depth to the valleys between the hills.

And here it is, my masterpiece!

By the time I walked home that night with painting in hand, I was decided that a return visit was certainly in order.  I'll have to keep my eye on the works of art coming up in the next few months until one grabs me.

Look at the calendar of paintings for yourself and see if an evening with wine, cheese and art may not be just the memory to paint for your Portsmouth vacation.

Art With a Splash is located at 222 State Street, Portsmouth, NH and can be reached at 603-427-8251 to make reservations or book through their website.  You can walk back to the Martin Hill Inn after your moment of artistic expression in just 10 minutes.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Peach Pancakes, a taste of summer anytime

Nothing says summer more than peaches, warm and ripe enough to send sweet juices running down your hands as you eat them.  While we often take advantage of the season to make these peach pancakes at the Martin Hill Inn, we also love to enjoy a bit of summer on the off season.  So here is a simple recipe for that bit of peach sweetness anytime.  If you are in Portsmouth, NH, we hope you will come try these and some of our other yummy breakfasts.  Enjoy!
Peach Pancakes
Serves 6-8

2 1/4 cups flour
4 Tbs cornmeal
2 Tbs sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 large can peaches, drained
2 eggs, beaten
4 Tbs vegetable oil

1 Tbs peach liqueur (optional)
plus enough milk to equal 3 1/2 cups of liquid

Put all the dry ingredients in a large bowl, stir to combine.

Put the peaches, eggs, vegetable oil and peach liqueur in a large quart measuring cup.

Blend with a stick blender until the mixture is smooth (unless you want a few peach lumps).

Add enough milk to equal 3 1/2 cups of liquid, if needed.

Add the wet to the dry ingredients, stir to combine but be sure to leave some lumps which are the sign of a good pancake batter.  Let rest while the griddle heats.  Give the batter a quick stir or two before using.

Cook on a hot griddle.  Serve with butter and maple syrup.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The most romantic Italian restaurant is in Portsmouth, NH - Ristorante Massimo

As the owner of a romantic B&B in a town with loads of great restaurants, I am often asked about where to have dinner in Portsmouth for a special occasion.  I am always happy to recommend Ristorante Massimo because it has the three most important qualities of a top romantic dining spot: atmosphere, service and great food.

When you enter Massimo's you are greeted by warm colors and soft wood paneling before you get a big smile and friendly hello from Massimo himself.  The dining room has brick and wood walls adorned with oil paintings of beautiful scenes of Italy gently illuminated with small gallery lights.  The whole room radiates love, comfort and elegance without a bit of stiffness or pretense. 

Located in the lower level of the historic Custom House building, the restaurant takes full advantage of the architecture which creates nooks and alcoves for tables of two or four without separating you from the hum of the dining room.  If you are planning a private party, these is a separate room for up to 20 of your friends.  Massimo or Davide will help you with all the details.

After you are settled in, the staff will acquaint you with the select wine list and you can pour over Chef Jericho Loichle's latest offerings.  Tempting anti-pasti lead you into small plates of hand made pastas most available as appetizer or main course.  Sauces you will recognize such as Carbonara and Bolognese sit alongside Carne di Maiale Affumicata, or smoked and braised pork served with house-made chickpea gnocchi, sautéed dandelion greens and ricotta salata.

Soups, salads and main courses follow with the emphasis moving from pasta to meats and seafood.  Duck, veal, beef, lobster and salmon all find their places on the Secondi menu.  Many of the servers have been with Massimo for years.  So if you are having trouble deciding, they are ready to help.  But you are never rushed through your dinner here.  Everything is well paced and beautifully presented.

I recently visited Ristorante Massimo for April 2013 Portsmouth Restaurant Week.  The special fixed price menu offered many tempting items, but I settled on the Torta di Verdure followed by Capesante con Risotto - porcini crusted day boat scallops over a locally grown king trumpet and blue oyster mushroom risotto; finished with a saffron lemon emulsion.  To round out the evening, I had Torta alla Cioccolata - Valrhona chocolate mousse tart served with amoretto flavored raspberries and toasted salted walnuts. 

For a limited time, Massimo's will be having Bistro Night each Thursday evening featuring a menu of three tantalizing courses for $29.95 per person.  Each dish is created with fresh seasonal foods.  Don't miss out on this opportunity as I'm sure it will be gone in a few months, chased off by the visitors from far and wide who hear about Ristorante Massimo from critics and locals alike.

Ristorante Massimo is located at 59 Penhallow Street, Portsmouth, NH.  Reservations are highly recommended and can be made through the internet or by calling 603-436-4000.  The Inn is located just a 15 minute walk from this little bit of Italian dining heaven.