Friday, March 18, 2011

Moonlight Snowshoe Hike Builds Memories

By Eileen Alexander

BETHLEHEM — Tromping through snowy woods on a bright winter’s evening was exactly like a scene straight out of an old-fashioned postcard — or a Robert Frost poem, with a few tweaks to account for 21st century tastes. Crisp air, towering pines, the clack and creak of our snowshoes on the snowy trail, brightly colored ski clothes, deer tracks in the snow, nervous laughter when someone stumbles over the unfamiliar terrain, a little huffing and puffing on the uphills, and oohs and aahs when the clouds part to reveal a full moon.

I’m on a moonlight snowshoe hike with about a half-dozen other guests at the Adair Country Inn and Restaurant. I’ve been on snowshoes before, and I’m the only one in our group with any experience – not counting our guide, of course -- although experience is stretching the truth some. Years ago I’d done some snowshoeing using the old-fashioned wood and gut snowshoes, but this year I have a brand new pair of lightweight aluminum ones and I’m eager to try them out. The day before the hike I strap on my snowshoes and hike the field next to my house just to be sure that I can a) put on the snowshoes without falling on my face and looking like an idiot, and b) can make it around the field without keeling over from exhaustion. I manage to accomplish both without any difficulty so I figure I’m all set for my outing.

We’re a nice group of women, some of us young and some of us older. Everyone is keen to give snowshoeing a try under the guidance of Nigel Manley, the manager of the nearby Rocks Estate, a 1,400-acre conservation property that is managed by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. So, not only are we going to have fun on our snowshoe adventure, we’re going to learn a little bit about conservation, forest management, and the creatures that roam the woods and whose tracks we can identify in the snow. While we don’t see any moose, bears or turkeys on the trails we follow around the 200-acre Adair property, there are plenty of deer tracks to marvel over, as well as lots of fox prints – they always travel in a straight line, Manley tells us – as well as some teeny, tiny mouse prints that seem to evaporate into thin air. Not so, Manley says; the mice have burrowed into the snow at the places where the tracks end.

Adair is managed for multiple uses including recreation (hiking, snowshoeing, snowmobiling) and conservation (it’s a tree farm), to best enhance and preserve its fields, forests, soils, water and wildlife for future generations. During our hike we traverse some of this landscape – forested land along the trail opens into a small meadow; in other open areas downed trees have been left to provide food and shelter for birds and small mammals; we tramp along a snowmobile trail that crosses one edge of the estate; and stone walls are evidence of long-ago farming activity.

Innkeeper Ilja Chapman has filled us in on some of the property’s history. Adair, a beautiful, three-story Georgian-style building, was built in 1927 as a wedding gift for Dorothy Adair Guider, the only daughter of Frank Hogan, a famous Washington, DC trial attorney. Mrs. Guider lived in the house until her death in 1991, where she hosted everyone from presidential hopefuls and Supreme Court justices to actors (Helen Hayes was a lifelong friend) and sports figures. It became a nine-room inn in 1992, and is now owned by Nick and Betsy Young and managed by Ilja and her husband Brad Chapman.

We get to experience some of Adair’s legendary hospitality during the buffet that precedes our snowshoe hike. A hearty and appetizing buffet has been set out for us in the Granite Room, so called because of its stout, granite-clad walls. Dozens of photographs and newspaper clippings recall the career of Frank Hogan, but there are also plenty of comfortable couches and chairs, games, books and a pool table that could easily beckon guests to relax and linger in front of the fireplace on a rainy afternoon or after a day on the slopes. Tonight, though, we enjoy the food but are eager to head out to the main event. Guests are welcome to bring their own snowshoes or borrow the Adair’s. There are plenty to go around and not too many difficulties getting us all strapped in and set to go. The temperature is around 20 degrees, cold enough to be stimulating, but not so cold anyone wished they’d stayed home.

We set off with Nigel Manley, our interpretive guide, for an hour’s hike along easy to moderate terrain. I’ve brought my ski poles to help me balance (a good idea for the over 50 crowd!) and I lend one to another older woman who’s not too steady on her feet. There is a lot of laughter and camaraderie on the trail, we each find a pace that works for us, and many of us remark on the unfamiliar feeling of being outdoors under a full moon. We’re too used to going from the warmth of our cars to the warmth of our homes, and few of us spend any time outdoors at night.

The evening concludes back at the inn with s’mores and hot spiced cider around the flickering fire pit. Cameras come out and we snap photos of each other as the fire crackles and sparks add some interesting effects to our pictures. It’s the end of a memorable evening, and we’re all feeling cozy and a bit tired, but wanting the night to last just a little bit longer to savor all of the good sights, smells, tastes and new friendships.

“Committing to an activity in the cold was a challenge,” says fellow snowshoer Colleen Moritz, who was there with her sister. “However, we were pleasantly rewarded with a great fun evening. We can't wait to go again.”

One woman, who was there with her daughter as an early holiday present, noted that the evening was a reminder that the best thing to invest in are memories and that is why they had come.

Her feelings were echoed by Aliza Anvari, another guest. “My friend Ruth and I had a blast for first time snowshoers and visitors to Adair Inn. We vow to come back with more friends and family to create more lovely memories!”

I couldn’t have said it better.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Sweet Taste of Spring Is Upon Us!

Maple season is upon us here in the North Country and the clear sap will soon be turned into sweet New Hampshire gold. It is a wonderful time of the year — cold, crisp nights followed by warm days. The sugar maples need these ideal conditions to give up their sap. This is a tradition started by the Native Americans, who then taught the European settlers the art. It has turned into a multi-million dollar industry and New Hampshire produces some of the best syrup in the world. March Maple Madness Getaways are a perfect way to experience this season.

In brief — it takes a sugar maple 30 years to reach the proper diameter of 12 inches and it takes 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup. Add to that the high cost of fuel it takes to boil down the sap and that explains the high price of genuine maple syrup.

Back in Colonial times, wood was plentiful, as were sugar maples. Maple syrup and maple sugar were the standard household sweeteners, as they were much cheaper and much more readily available than refined sugar. Of course, that has all changed in modern times.

Cooking with maple is a wonderful way to add sweet undertones to any style of dish, from soups and salad dressings to meats, fish and, of course, desserts. As less maple is needed than white sugar, the flavor, rather than the sweetness, can come through nicely when used properly. When used with a light hand, maple syrup goes equally well with salty and strong flavored meats as well as milder tasting items such as chicken or scallops. Some different dishes to make include Maple Indian Pudding, Maple-Marinated Roasted Salmon, Roasted Apples with Salted Maple Cream, Sweet Pear and Gorgonzola Salad, and Warm Cabbage Slaw with Maple-Bacon Dressing.

One of the best things about Maple syrup is that it is 100% natural and contains calcium, zinc, antioxidants, riboflavin and niacin. Maple is graded according to a USDA grading scale:
Grade A — This is the best grade of syrup and is divided into Light Amber, Medium Amber, and Dark Amber. These terms refer not only to color, but also to flavor; the darker the color, the more intense the flavor.
Grade B — This is a dark, strongly flavored syrup with good maple flavor and overtones of caramel; generally used for cooking or in the production of other food products.
Grade C — This is a commercial-grade syrup, very dark and not generally for sale to consumers. This is used in commercial cooking and is often found in the "table syrup" blends.

Pure maple syrup contains a single ingredient: maple syrup; nothing added, nothing taken away, except water. It is mostly sucrose, with a small portion of glucose and fructose. A tablespoon of maple syrup contains 50 calories, 29 grams of carbohydrates, a negligible amount of sodium, and no protein, fat, or cholesterol.

You can use maple syrup anywhere you use ordinary white sugar. There are different ways of substituting maple syrup for white sugar depending on what you’re doing with it. The easiest way to use maple syrup in cooking is by using maple sugar. When substituting maple sugar for white sugar, use one-half the amount the recipe requires. This is because maple sugar tastes much sweeter than white sugar.

When cooking with maple syrup, I suggest using three-quarters of a cup of maple syrup for every one cup of sugar that the recipe suggests. Even though maple syrup is not in solid form it is still very sweet compared to white sugar.

Now, when it comes to baking it gets a little tricky. Maple syrup has a lot of water compared to white sugar. So, when substituting for white sugar, the dominant wet ingredient also needs to be reduced. For the main wet ingredient use three tablespoons less for every one cup of maple syrup used. For example, if the recipe calls for one cup of cream, you would only use 6.5 ounces of cream for every cup of maple syrup. When mixing maple syrup into the recipe, it is important to remember to add it with the wet ingredients instead of the dry.

Unopened syrup stores easily, un-refrigerated. However, prolonged storage may cause the color of maple syrup to darken and the flavor may deteriorate; thus it is recommended to store maple syrup in the freezer. This is the best way to prevent any chance of spoilage and to keep the syrup at its peak of quality. If a thin layer of mold develops on an opened container of syrup, it can safely be peeled off and the syrup re-sterilized by bringing it briefly to 180° (a brief, light boil) and then rebottling it. The syrup may darken, but the flavor should be unaffected.

As part of the New Hampshire Maple Experience, we will be serving the following dessert here at the Adair Country Inn & Restaurant each weekend in March.

Maple Crème Brulee — 4 servings.

1/2 cup New Hampshire Maple Syrup
3 large egg yolks
1 large egg
2 cups whipping cream
Granulated New Hampshire Maple Sugar


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Whisk maple syrup, yolks and egg in medium bowl to blend. Put cream in a heavy medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Gradually whisk hot cream into yolk mixture. Divide custard among prepared dishes. Set dishes into roasting pan. Add enough hot water to pan to come halfway up sides of dishes. Cover pan with foil. Bake custards until set in center, about 55 minutes. Chill custard uncovered until cold, at least 5 hours. (Can be made a day ahead. Cover; keep refrigerated.) Before serving, top with maple sugar and burnish carefully with a blow torch, or put under the broiler 2 minutes until sugar is melted.

— Orlo Coots is Head Chef at Adair Country Inn & Restaurant. Enjoy his cooking Thursdays through Mondays by making a reservation at 603-444-2600. Orlo can be reached at for questions about this recipe or any other food-. related questions. Remember — whether cooking for one or for a crowd, make every bite count