Sandy’s Veritable Garden Tour across Dutchess County

Our own garden trail across Dutchess County starts in Amenia

Our own garden trail across Dutchess County starts in Amenia

Happy Spring. It’s getting here; so I’ve been searching ways to entice it along a little faster. I came to a great website that listed all the gardens one could visit in Dutchess County and decided that every few days, I was going to write up a portion of Sandy’s Veritable Garden Tour across Dutchess County, since Hilltop House holds the eastern-most border, it’s a dandy spot to start or finish. Or maybe start and finish? Our trip takes place across Rte 44, less than half a mile away, (for some reason, Rte 44 doesn’t show on this map, but just follow our red lettering and take our word for it, it’s there. Rte. 44 turns west in Amenia, having snuggled up to Rte 22 South from Millerton to our north, then chugs up a hill and lopes gently (after that hill which is not gentle at all) through horse and cow farms till it hits Millbrook which we’ll skip for now but is the second stop on our traverse. It ends its meandering through Dutchess County, at Hyde Park on this side of the Hudson River, where we’ll end our jaunt.
I’ll post the first of our garden visits in a few days, when we will tour Wethersfield Gardens, right here in Amenia. Come and visit us soon, we have lovely places to visit very close by!


As American as Maple Syrup

I recently heard a radio interview of an author who’d just written a book about maple sugaring. That’s a topic near and dear to B&B owners in the Northeast given a propensity for pancakes and French toast. Here are some of the interesting things I gleaned.

  • Maple is one of the few truly North American flavors. Maple does not come from other sectors of the world.
  • 75% to 80% of the world’s Maple Syrup comes from Canada, primarily Quebec. (Just imaging their national flag with that dominant maple leaf.)
  • The rest—1.32 million gallons– comes from the U.S.—Vermont being the #1 producer, followed by New York, Maine, Ohio and Wisconsin.
  • There is a new Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, called “the OPEC of maple syrup,” and maintains a “global strategic syrup reserve” containing tens of thousands of barrels of maple syrup. Canada in fact, sets pricing of Maple Syrup and is moving to change the labeling of grades
  • The bulk price for Maple Syrup has increased by 89% since 2000.

That’s a bummer. Unfortunately anything that good seems susceptible to getting roped in, controlled, doled out and makes me want to move into a grove of maple trees and make my own. But…

  •  It takes 30 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup! Or about one tree yielding a pint of syrup.

One of my friends was diagnosed with a kind of “fatigue syndrome” some years back and her nutritionist took her off all white foods—flour, sugar, pasta, rice—and told her to use only maple syrup as a sweetener. She got better, and she got very inventive with her maple sweetening. True maple doesn’t cause those spikes in glucose levels like most other sugars.

Of course, none of this has anything to do with artificial maple syrup of the Log Cabin type, which is mainly high fructose corn with maple flavoring. After this frigid winter, the maple season is not projected to be that great. The sap has yet to flow steadily—to do that, it must maintain 40 degrees in daytime, 20 degrees at night—and the weather doesn’t make it likely that pricing will get better. The narrow window of time between ideal sugaring weather and the budding of the maple leaves, which detracts from the flavor of the syrup, can get reduced greatly in a year of late storms like 2014.

Down the road in Dover, Madava Farms, the home of Crown Maple Syrup, opened as we reported back with our Red Chair sagas; their website touts 100% Certified Organic Maple Syrup.  It’s a remarkable operation; the site is worth checking out. MapleFactory


Here’s a quote from their site: “Visit Madava Farms on weekends to sample the week’s fresh cuttings for lunch in our selection of fresh sandwiches, grilled panini, composed salads, hearty soups, maple baked goods and specialty desserts.” They’re open 11am to 5pm most Saturdays and Sundays.

Oh, and by the way, it is officially spring in this hemisphere. Will someone tell the Big Guy?


Hudson Valley Restaurant Week— Bring Your Appetites!

There are seven counties north of the Bronx that claim the historic Hudson Valley as their own. (Hilltop House Bed and Breakfast is in Dutchess county, on the east side of the mighty Hudson.) So when they put together the Hudson Valley Restaurant Week and a .com loaded with delicious details, it’s well worth the gander.
First of all, HVRW is a misnomer since it runs for two weeks, 14 days, beginning March 10th through the 23rd. Nearly 200 top restaurants will spread their collective table clothes to offer up 3-course dinners for $29.95 (plus beverage, tax and gratuity). Some offer 3-course lunch fare for $20.95 (plus beverage, tax and gratuity). You must call the restaurant in advance, but no ticket is necessary—and most, but not all times (usually high traffic seatings of Saturday nights for example) offer the special pricing.





Don’t forget, Hudson Valley is home to the Culinary Institute of America [ CIA ] as we’ve pointed out previously—so the proverbial dart board of great chefs circling it is pretty packed.

The Valley is also home to fabulous apple orchards, wine vineyards, maple sugaring operations, and pure and simple historic tourist attractions. Saute that all together and there’s lots to do, lots to eat, and after this winter, mud season will be welcomed with open arms!

You can find a great listing on their website that maps out the restaurants, has menu listings, shows hours of operation and how to contact them:

And because the Hudson Valley is also flush with local produce and crafts, we’ve edited this list of indoor farmers’ markets in the Hudson Valley that coincide with the Hudson Valley Restaurant Week(s). Bon Appetite! and we hope to see you soon at Hilltop House.

Pier/dock by Sloop Club across from train station
open all year, Sun 11-3

Hudson Valley-Greig Farm
229 Pitcher Ln., Red Hook
open all year, Sat 10-3

Millerton Indoor
North East Community Center, 51 South Center Street
Jan-Apr, 2nd & 4th Sat: 10-2

61 & 80 E. Market St.
open all year, Sun 10-2

Pine Island
W. Rogowski Farm, 329 Glenwood Rd.
Mar 15 & 29, 10-3

Cold Spring Indoor
Philipstown Community Center in Garrison
Nov 24-May, Sat 8:30-1

Palisades Indoor
Palisades Community Center, 675 Oak Tree Rd.
Jan 18-May 17: Sat 9-1

Callicoon Indoor
8 Creamery Road, Delaware Youth Center
Mar 9 & 23; Apr 6 & 27: Sun 11-2

Kingston Indoor
Old Dutch Church, 272 Wall St.
Dec 7-Apr 19, 1st & 3rd Sat, 10-2

Chappaqua Indoor
St. Mary’s Church, 191 Greeley Ave.
Dec-Apr, Sat 8:30-1

Hastings Indoor
Library (Dec, Apr, May); James Harmon Community Center (Jan-Mar)
1st & 3rd Sat, 8:30-1

Mt. Kisco
St. Mark’s Church, 85 E. Main St.
open all year, Sat 9-1
(914) 666-8069

Pleasantville Indoor
Pleasantville Middle School, 40 Romer Ave.
Dec 7-May 10, Sat 9-1

South Salem
Gossett Brothers Nursery
year-round, Sat 9-1


Up in the Valley, The Valley So White


There are many blessings to being an innkeeper and given as many snow days as we’ve had here in the northeast this winter, staying home (staying inn–ha ha, couldn’t miss that) is one of them. It doesn’t make for great busing when people can’t drive, and my grand kids have missed a total of ____ days this year, and counting. (That’s four of them, so our combined play hours = )

Everyone is not so fortunate to have someone home to deal with these weather issues. So my heart goes out to parents facing this snow day dilemma; but we’re surviving. When we can, we try to get out and stay as involved though it can be a challenge. Here are some suggestions as to making the day speed by.

1/ Play outside. The snow is exciting and kids will exercise off that restlessness. Keeping warm burns calories too. Builds great memories…”When I was little, my sisters and I built the biggest snow fort…”

2/ Bake or cook with kids. Our girls are nearly pro. It comes with the B&B territory.  But all kids can benefit from learning a how-to from start to finish. What used to be taught step by step is sadly lacking in most homes.

3/ Play games that relate to school if they need those skills. Scrabble, Counting, There are good games on the web even, but you’ll need those screens for fall back when you’re exhausted from everything else.

4/ Watch a documentary that relates. Mine would be the pre-Hollywood movie on Apollo 13. In my day, we stayed home from school or got sent home early for Space Dilemmas, so that documentary was like reliving my youth! Try to find some relevancy that you can share.

5/ We have a working fireplace in our main guest living room. Make some popcorn (have you tried cooking with coconut oil yet? Delicious popcorn, and very good fats for you), and get out some great book that your kids will enjoy read out loud.

I guess the point of all this is, you’re going to have to give up some of your day with those little ones at home. So make it a good time for all of you. Negotiate shared time for playing alone. Walk outside with them on silent streets covered with snow. Build your memories as well. And remember, if the weather is truly dismal, almost everyone will cut you some slack. Use it in ways that build memories, create some smiles, and keep warm in the process. As the song goes.

“I wish you shelter from the storm

A cozy fire to keep you warm

I wish you health and more than wealth

I wish you love….


Whooppee for Valentine’s Day

ingredientsSo I see whoopee pies gaining in popularity for whatever reason. Maybe some famous chef or bakery started the trend or maybe like the droopy beltless pants that took off (I keep waiting for them to fall off some of the guys we see around), whoopee pies have their own appeal. LOL! When you have a bevy of young kids in the house, cupcakes are so much easier, but at least now I can say I’ve made whoopee pies!

Whoopee Pie.SingleWe decided to whip these up for Valentine’s Day: red velvet sandwich cookies with cream cheese filling (really frosting) but they call it filling. Here is the recipe I found on the web:

I saved myself the extra step of the white chocolate drizzle. They are delicious, but, again, a lot of work. I like easy: pure and simple is my motto. You can see, I did experiment with a nutty version too.
And by the way, there’s a tablespoon of red food coloring in this recipe, but with the cocoa powder and chocolate, it doesn’t look that red.
Happy Valentine’s Day from all of us at Hilltop House!


Why Don’t You Come Up and Cook Sometime?

From my class Chocolates and Confections

From my class Chocolates and Confections

CIA's beautiful dining room.

CIA’s beautiful dining room.

Don’t let this cold weather leave you land locked. A marathon’s run away—40 minutes driving—is Hyde Park, NY, where, nested on the eastern palisades of the mighty Hudson River sits the Culinary Institute of America, or CIA as it is called among foodies. Founded in 1946, CIA, as its HOME page on the web states: “is the World’s Premier Culinary College. Founded in 1946, … the proven path to an exciting career in the amazing world of food.”
You could use the following link to read more, but you’d miss the Google search quote that sits beneath its clickable .edu URL “called the Harvard of cooking schools by Julia Child and the best cooking school in the world”. I care less about the Harvard part, but the Julia Child part? Her opinion counts. ”
The pictures are ones I took in a Saturday class “Chocolates and Confections” I attended in 2011. It was tons of fun, culminating in a wonderful buffet lunch served by the students. I am really looking forward to participating in one of the BOOTCAMPS CIA offers. The webpage will explain more. And by the way, the campus and architecture are beautiful.
Since what we really hope for is you to stay with us at Hilltop, and find enticingly delicious adventures nearby, this blog focuses on the extraordinary Winter Dining Events that two of CIA’s eight restaurants have planned for the upcoming weeks.

The Bocuse Restaurant
Just before Valentine’s Day you might want to surprise your sweetheart with Bocuse, named for France’s famed chef, Paul Bocuse, which opened a year ago. To celebrate the first anniversary Monsieur Bocuse and other chefs (noted in italics below) will be recreating the exact opening day menu to include:

A Peach of Foie Gras
Louis Outhier (Dinner only)
Black Truffle Soup V.G.E.
Paul Bocuse
Lobster with Champagne and Caviar
Frédy Girardet
Filet Mignon of Beef with Marrow Custard
Frères Troisgros
Grapefruit Sorbet with Vodka
Craig Claiborne
Three Chocolates
Gaston Lenôtre

L’Anniversaire du Restaurant Bocuse!
Dinner: Tuesday, Feb. 11 at 6 p.m.
Course: B-102 Anniversary $95
Lunch: Wednesday, Feb. 12 at 11:30 a.m.
Course: B-103 Anniversary $55
Reserve Your Spot
Call 845-471-6608, Monday Through Friday, 8:30 a.m.–6 p.m

Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici
Dining at this grand Tuscan-style villa is a culinary escape to another world. You can also enjoy wood oven pizza and other simple rustic dishes in the more casual Al Forno Trattoria. We’re listing just the events, you can find out more about the details by visiting the website directly.

Journey to Jerez
Thursday, Jan. 30 at 6 p.m.
Course: C-100 Jerez
Flavors of Italian Wine
Wednesday, Feb. 5 at 6 p.m.
Course: C-101 Italy
For the Love of Wine
Wednesday, Feb. 12 at 6 p.m.
Course: C-102 Love of Wine
Between Two Seas—Castello Monaci
Thursday, Mar. 6 at 6 p.m.
North Meets South
Wednesday, Mar. 12 at 11:30 a.m.
Course: C-106 North Meets South
Cooking with Wine
Wednesday, Mar. 19 at 11:30 a.m.
Course: C-108 Cooking with Wine
Black Tie and Truffles
Thursday, Mar. 27 at 11:30 a.m.
Course: C-110 Truffle $55
Wine for the Ages—Tenuta Capezzana
Tuesday, Mar. 18 at 6 p.m.
Course: C-107 Tuscan
A Wine Tour of Italy
Thursday, Apr. 3 at 6 p.m.
Course: C-109 Vino

Reservations are needed for all events.
Popular events do get sold out, so plan accordingly.
Call: 845-471-6608, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m.–6 p.m.

We love the Culinary Institute and its sweeping—if not windy this time of year—views over the Hudson. It’s another great reason to come visit the Hudson Valley and Hilltop House. As Julia would say, Bon Appetite!



When the Cold’s got you Down—Think Cold Frames

COLDframeWow, cold weather can get to me, but I was thinking about our vegetable garden and the idea of cold frames came to mind. Funny how the mind works.
Whenever I see old windows being thrown out by the side of the road, I am half tempted to load them into the back of the van, take them home to Hilltop House and have my husband construct cold frames for me.
Cold frames are mini greenhouses usually installed on the south side of the house (our south side is our driveway and parking side, largely tree covered—not so great). The ground can be dug down within the pocket of the frame, but the house itself—if you have a cellar—might provide some heat to the cold frame.
Essentially, a cold frame is a garden season extender, where cool weather crops—lettuces, leeks, carrots, spinach, mache, herbs and other greens, can actually do their growing much earlier (and later) than possible as they are protected from frost, driving rain and freezing. Containing the plants keeps them less susceptible to rodents, and in cooler weather, bugs are less of a problem too. An added layer of hay when the season turns blustery serves as a blanket for the plants.
Another great use of a cold frame is to “harden off” young plants before you put them into the garden to grow. Seedlings sometimes can’t manage that transition from greenhouse nursery to the outside—due to coldness and wind, and providing a protected but less warm environment will get them through that stage of growth.
Best case scenario is that the window frame with glass and all, is large enough that you can hinge it to the frame beneath. The frame base should be higher in the front, and lower in the back so the window—or light as it’s called—picks up the sun’s rays more directly. During the coolest times, the frame stays closed, but gradually during warmer days, we prop open the window with a pole to allow the sun’s magical rays to move along the process.
If you’re into vegetable gardening, a cold frame is a great way to stretch your growing season, and ours, in the Northeast can be short.
There are many DYI instructions on the web if you google cold frames, and there are kits and ready-made frames if you have the budget for them. Right now, just wondering when this cold will be over; I’m about ready.


Happy End of Year Cookies!

BrownedPecanSandies1 Have you ever browned butter called for in a cookie recipe? Oh, my gosh, the flavor is amazing. I’m always reading all I can about baking—my true love; I read somewhere of someone “browning” the butter when they make chocolate chip cookies. The recipe below calls for “boiling the butter till it turns frothy,” though the name of the Cookie has the word Browned in it. I thought to myself, that’s strange. After baking up a batch, I get it.
As a matter of fact, that’s going to be my MO from now on :) Just the smell of the butter browning is fabulous! These taste like pecan pie in a cookie, a unique recipe, no eggs, nor baking soda, nor baking powder. Totally fabulous and wonderful and delicious! How could they not be? They’re callied Sandies.
Happy New Year to all of our friends and followers.

Browned Butter Pecan Sandies

BrownedPeacans2Makes: 36 servings Serving size: 1 cookie Yield: 36 cookies
Prep 45 mins
Cook 6 mins
Bake 350° 10 mins per batch
Cool 15 mins

• 1 cup unsalted butter, cut into chunks
• 1 cup chopped pecans
• 3/4 cup powdered sugar
• 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
• 3 – 4 tablespoons half-and-half or light cream
• 2 teaspoons vanilla
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
• Coarse sugar (optional)
• 36 pecan halves
• Molasses or maple syrup (optional)

1. Position a rack in upper third of oven; preheat to 350 degrees F. Grease baking sheets or line with parchment; set aside.
2. In a medium heavy saucepan bring butter to boiling over medium heat (it will be foamy). Adjust heat so it bubbles gently. Cook, stirring the bottom frequently, until fragrant and golden, about 6 to 8 minutes. Watch carefully to avoid burning. Stir in chopped pecans (it’s normal for mixture to foam up). Return to a gentle boil. Cook, watching carefully, for 1 to 2 minutes (if pecans begin to darken, immediately remove pan from heat). Transfer butter-pecan mixture to a large bowl. Cool about 15 minutes.
3. Stir powdered sugar, brown sugar, 3 tablespoons half-and-half, vanilla, and salt into the cooled butter-pecan mixture until smoothly incorporated. Stir in flour until fully incorporated. If mixture is crumbly, work in additional half-and-half until it holds together, but is not wet. If mixture is wet, let stand for 5 to 10 minutes more.
4. Divide dough into thirds. Divide each third into 12 equal balls. Roll each bowl in coarse sugar, if desired. Place balls about 2 1/2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets; press a pecan half firmly into each. if edges of the rounds crack, just push back together.
5. Bake one baking sheet at a time for 10 to 13 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to brown. Rotate baking sheet from front to back about halfway through.
6. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack. Let cool 5 minutes to firm up. Using a wide spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack. Brush pecans on top with molasses or maple syrup, if desired. Cool completely.

Store at room temperature up to 10 days.
Freeze up to 2 moths.

Recipe Borrowed from Better Homes and Gardens


Over the Hudson and Thru the Woods


Part of the wonder of being up in the Oblong Valley is our proximity to the beautiful Hudson Valley and all of its culture. It’s no wonder President Clinton’s daughter Chelsea was married in the Hudson Valley—there are numerous mansions—there with extraordinary heritages and traditions, Christmas being a big part of their seasons!

The ride from our house to Hudson Valley is a classic “Over the River and Thru the Woods” kind of drive. On the way you’ll pass equestrian farms, sheep and llama farms, quiet hamlets, some great gift and antique stores, and of course, at the end you’ll find Poughkeepsie, Vassar, and the mighty Hudson River.

This is a run down on just 8 of the great happenings going on this season, starting right now (and before now, but you know, here we are posting it)! So come on up and see what the big attraction(s) is. Many of these tours are free and have provisions for kids too. 

A blessed Christmas, is what most of these Anglo American houses are celebrating, so let us be politically open about it and just wish you all Merry Christmas.


VVictorian Holiday Tours at Wilderstein

Weekends from Nov. 29-Dec. 29.

Queen Anne Victorian mansion in Rhinebeck

enjoy self-guided tours of Victorian and modern decorations

Make reservations: special Yuletide Tea on Sat., Dec. 14,


Holiday Tours and Open House at the Home of Franklin Roosevelt

Holiday Open House on Sat., Dec. 14, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Mansion and Val Kill in Hyde Park, through Dec.

Admission free

Children’s Reading Festival in the Henry A. Wallace Visitor and Education Center Free

photos with Santa from 1 to 3 p.m., and children can make holiday cards for sailors

aboard the USS Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt beginning at noon.

Shuttles to Val-Kill for a holiday open house from 4 to 7 p.m.

For information, call 845-229-5320 or toll free, 800-FDR-VISIT

Christmas at Clermont

Celebrate Sat., Dec. 14, free Open House

Special candlelight tours this year starting at 3 p.m. on Dec. 15

After enjoy wassail and holiday goodies in the historic kitchen


‘Twas the Night Before Christmas at Locust Grove

Saturdays thru  Dec. 21, tours of the mansion’s 25 decorated rooms

Sundays Dec. 15 and 22


Best known as home of telegraph inventor Samuel F.B. Morse,

Original owner, Henry Livingston, Jr., is believed by some to be the true author of the

classic Christmas tale “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

feature Holiday House Hunts for kids, with clues from “The Twelve Days of


Thursday, Dec. 12, Holiday Sunset Sensations twilight tours and wines paired with

holiday nibbles prepared by Chef John Lekic of Le Express Bistro.

Tickets $30 in advance; $35 at the event


A Gilded Age Christmas at Staatsburgh State Historic Site

Thurs. – Sun. from Nov. 21 – Dec.29

In the hamlet of Staatsburg,

Formerly known as the Mills Mansion

If the snow remains–take the kids! They’ll love sledding with a Hudson River view

Mr. Dickens Tells a Christmas Carol at Lyndhurst

Dec. 13 – 29

Located in Tarrytown, this is a fortress-like Gothic Revival Mansion on the Hudson

90-minute, all-ages theatrical performances of “Mr. Dickens Tells a Christmas Carol”

Guests follow actor Michael Muldoon through the mansion as he weaves tales

Tickets are $35 adults / $15 children up to age 16 and can be purchased online


Joyeux Noel at Vanderbilt Mansion

Holiday season tour in Hyde Park

See sparkling, elaborate Christmas decorations regular tours

845-229-7770 to verify hours and dates.

Nights of 10,000 Lights at Boscobel

Fridays Dec. 13 and 20 -  5 to 9 p.m.

Saturdays Dec. 14 and 21 -  5 to 9 p.m.

Candlelit paths illuminating the gardens and grounds, optional twilight tours of the

federal-style mansion in Garrison, overlooking West Point

Advance tickets strongly recommended for those who wish to venture inside. Daytime

tours daily except Tuesdays and Christmas Day through Dec. 31

House Tour reservations are not required