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February 15, 2019

Our Weekend at Blackberry Farm

Last week, Mike and I stayed at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee.  It's been on my list for a couple of years, but we've had a hard time finding the right time to go.  The weather in the midwest is the best in the Fall and the Spring, so I usually don't like to travel during those months.  In the summer, I really prefer going to locations that are cooler than home to get a relief from the heat.  I wasn't sure if winter was the ideal time to retreat to Tennessee, after all, the weather is pretty similar to what we have at home.  However, the more I looked at photos of the property and imagined us cozied up in a cottage with a wood fire roaring, putting our boots on and exploring the grounds in their dormant state and treating ourselves to special dinners each night, I decided that maybe the winter was just the perfect time for us to go.

To our delight, the weather was a gorgeous 65 degrees for the three days and two nights we were there - a peak of spring.  There were crocus and ferns pushing up from the ground and buds on the shrubbery - about a month from where we are at home.

We walked, we explored, we went fly fishing, we drank, we ate, and we relaxed.  It was a wonderful escape from the real world in a place that felt very much like home.  

The property is spread out with features at far corners, so you have to venture out to various spots during the day.  This is The Barn where dinner is served and the white farmhouse is a guest house.

The cornerstone of the entire experience is the hospitality.  Every single staff member was so gracious and warm.  There were little touches all over the property that made it so special - like a fresh pile of lavender buds and sea salt by the bath each night, a black towel in your golf cart (how you get around at night!) to dry the seat and/or your boots, boxed lunches packed for you to take on picnics or activities, a fire built for you while you are at dinner so you come back to a cozy cottage with a roaring fire.  All of these things left us feeling completely pampered and spoiled at the end of our stay.  

This boat house was one of our favorite spots.  We decided that while the Smokey Mountains were an excellent backdrop, we could create our own version of this at home on a farm - near our future farmhouse (of our dreams).  

Fresh seasonal florals everywhere - even outside in the winter.  The attention to detail was apparent in every nook of the property.

On the other side of the property there were a cluster of cottages that served as check-in (the Main Inn House was under renovation), a spot for coffee and wine and guest cottages.

I took lots of photos just for my own memory of many of the details.  This carriage house was a favorite.

I gathered inspiration from everywhere, like this simple winter arrangement.  I think it is gorgeous.  Rhododendron greens (I think?) as the base with some blooming Quince.  I have an oblong basket in which I'd like to make something similar. 

Guest Cottages

This barn is The Wellhouse where the Spa and Fitness facilities are.

Taking notes of pea gravel, granite curbs and big boxwoods.  Also the stone foundations everywhere.  Love.

This was our cottage, a Singing Brook Cottage.  

Our room was so elegant and comfortably appointed.

The TV was behind those botanical panels - two folding panels that folded open when you wanted the TV.  Genius.

If you go to look at reservations, you might be shocked by the prices (as many of you messaged me on Instagram).  It is expensive.  However, the meals are all included - fine dining each night (wine is additional), breakfast and lunch.  We've been holding back on the splurge for a couple of years, but decided to do 2 nights (instead of 3 like we would at another destination), and with an inexpensive flight from KC, we made it fit within our budget.

It was so worth it for me to just set eyes on the place.  I got so much inspiration for the store, for our home and our future dream farm.  

We went fly fishing on morning after breakfast.  I loved it.  It was much more interesting and active than 'normal' fishing.  It was so nice to just be standing in the moving water and watching the ripples and the current.  I loved looking down at the rocks below.

I loved getting out of our daily routine and experiencing everything.  But, since we do spend a lot of time in the country, we felt at home, too.  It gave me so many ideas of activities we can incorporate into our time at the School House and my family's farms.

To be 100% honest, catching the actual fish wasn't my favorite part.  I loved being out in the stream with the water flowing and the casting is quite fun, but I didn't really love the game part of the fishing.  Next time I'll let Mike do most of the fishing and I'll just walk around and wade through the water.

Signs of spring.

Each night we went to The Barn for dinner.

It is a fine dining experience with multiple courses, all locally sourced.  It was such a treat every night to be pampered like this after a day spent outside exploring.

When we woke up each morning, we tried to get outside early enough to catch the blue smoke hovering over the mountains.  It was ethereal. 

Another lovely winter arrangement out of simple flowers.  I think my grocery store carries all of these - but how nice do they look arranged this way together.

This was one of my favorite buildings - no surprise, an old school house originally.

Thank you for the wonderful weekend, Blackberry Farm, we won't soon forget our time there.

February 02, 2019

Homemade Eclairs, Chocolate Glazed with Vanilla Custard

Homemade Eclairs

Yesterday I went down to The School House and made lunch and eclairs for the girls.  It is fun for me to get out to the country once every couple of weeks to pop-in and enjoy the fun work environment.  It is also fun for me to put the blue kitchen to work.  

Emma and I first attempted the eclairs a couple of weeks ago before she went back to school after Christmas break in preparation for the Valentine's Collection.  We'd been watching The Great British Baking Show and been drooling over the eclairs they'd made.  We whipped these up and they were some of the best things I've had in months.  The luscious pastry cream filling, the chocolate glaze, the overall gooey-ness.  Just so yummy and not as heavy as our typical treats - brownies and cookies.  

They hug the line between breakfast and dessert, so would be a great choice on Valentine's Day as a special treat in the morning.  Make the shells and custard the day before (shells can be kept in a ziplock and custard in the refrigerator), then fill and glaze them in the morning.  

Supplies Used :

Vanilla Pastry Cream Custard

I make this first, then let it cool in the refrigerator while I made the eclair shells.

5 egg yolks
3/4 cups of sugar
1/3 cup of cornstarch
1 1/2 cups of scalded milk*
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla

In the bowl of a mixer, beat egg yolks and sugar for 4 minutes, then add cornstarch.  *Pour milk into a glass measuring cup and heat in the microwave for 2 minutes until steaming.  With the mixer on low, slowly pour in the hot milk mixture a little at a time.  Transfer the milk and egg mixture to a saucepan and cook on low heat for 5-7 minutes until the mixture thickens.  It should be bubbly and thick.  When it thickens, use a whisk to mix and cook for 2 more minutes while whisking.  Stir in the vanilla.  Pour into a glass bowl, cover with plastic wrap directly onto the custard (so a skin does not develop) and put in the refrigerator to cool for 1 hour.

In the meantime, prepare the shells, below.

Pate Choux Dough*
This is a universal dough that can be used to form cream puffs or eclairs.  It comes together quickly and is fairly fool-proof.

1 cup of milk
1 stick of butter
pinch of salt
1 cup of flour
4 eggs

Heat the milk, butter, and salt over medium heat until scalded. When the butter is melted, add the flour all at once and beat it with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together and forms a dough. Cook, stirring constantly, over low heat for 2 minutes. The flour will begin to coat the bottom of the pan. 

Dump the hot mixture into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the eggs one at a time and mix until the eggs are incorporated into the dough and the mixture is thick.

Spoon the mixture into a Pastry Bag.  Pipe 4-6" pieces onto a Large Baking Sheet lined with Parchment Paper

Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned, then turn off the oven and allow them to sit for another 10 minutes, until they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.  Set aside to cool before filling.

*adapted from The Barefoot Contessa

When they have cooled, put the pastry cream in a 18" Pastry Bag with the end cut off.

Carefully separate the eclairs and pry open (this will be easier than you think - they are naturally hollow) and pipe in custard.

Chocolate Glaze

2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
2 tablespoons of milk
1-2 cups of powdered sugar

In a pourable glass measuring cup, microwave butter and milk for 1 minute.  Add cocoa powder and microwave for 1 more minute until it is bubbling and thick.  Add powdered sugar, mix well until the sugar is melted in.  Add as much powdered sugar as you would like to get consistency that is pourable/spoonable, but thick. 

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