Behind the Blueberry

The innkeepers at Blueberry Cove Inn, Narragansett, RI invite you to their world of innkeeping. This is a behind the scenes look at their version of innkeeping.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Where do you get your recipes?

Because I am strictly a self-taught cook, most of my breakfasts are borrowed or appropriated from various sources. Magazines like Cooking Light, Gourmet and Southern Living have all made contributions. The innkeepers on our web group are also very generous about revealing their creations.

Like most cooks, I do have a tendency to make small modifications geared either towards my own taste or based on what I hear from guests. Because of my own insecurities about my culinary skills, once I fine-tune a recipe to the point that I'm getting regular good response, I tend to stick with it. I have 6-8 recipes that are reliable standbys -- easy to prepare, can be cooked within a half hour and will hold for 20 minutes if the diners show up late.

For guests with special needs like diabetics, vegans and those with allergies, there are a number of good websites that offer suggestions on substitutes for existing recipes or specific entrees for those who can't tolerate our regular dishes. Seely often gives me a hard time because she wants to offer guests more variety, so we fine tune a new recipe or two every winter.

Here's one of recipes that we did create on our own:

Irish Jack Eggs

8 large eggs
1/2 cup of half and half
4 oz grated pepper jack cheese
1/2 cup shredded hash browns

Beat eggs and half & half in a mixing bowl, then pour into 4-6 oz. greased ramekins, filling each about 2/3 of the way. Sprinkle in the hash brown and pepper jack to taste. Depending on the size of the eggs, it usually makes about 8 servings.

I do the prep the night before and refrigerate it. In the morning pop as many as needed for a sitting into the oven at 350 for about 25 minutes. The mixture will rise like a souffle and, if served immediately, will have a fluffy texture with a spicy kick.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Who Does your landscaping?

This is an example of a question that caught us completely off guard. Most of what we've done with the grounds has been piecemeal, one project at a time work that gets squeezed in during the few spring weeks when it's warm and dry enough to be outside but not yet hot enough to attract beach-goers to the inn.

Seely's mom, Gert, gets the credit for most of the front gardens and the line of blueberry bushes that helps screen the parking lot. When you drive by the front of the inn or come into the driveway, the first flora you see has mostly been selected and organized by her. Gert comes for visit every other spring and, after a day or so of brainstorming, takes the truck and heads out for a full day combing the garden stores for decorative shrubs. It helps that she is a life long gardener,a former volunteer at the Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis, MO, and that St. Louis is actually in the same planting zone as Narragansett.

We have also planted a number of trees (walnuts, cherry, pear, birches and a few evergreens). The original idea was that someday the nut and fruit trees might provide actual breakfast fare for the inn, like the blueberry bushes. However, we forgot to factor in the effect of our year-round residents with the bushy tails. Since the squirrels are much more limber and skilled at scaling tree trunks than we are, they get the lion's share (99.6 percent) of the nuts.

Our most ambitious recent project is the nature preserve in the side yard. When we had to remove a buried oil tank from the premises, we discovered to our dismay that it had been leaking for years, thus contaminating the soil and forcing us to remove all the dirt down to a depth of eight feet from the inn's foundation all the way to the hedge. The company that did the excavation filled the massive crater with the cheapest, sandiest, rockiest fill dirt imaginable. Clearly, we needed to come up with something to make this barren looking quadrant at least respectable.

Seely's solution evolved into what we now call the nature preserve. Seely caught the back hoe guy in a good mood and asked him to dig the pond. Well, if you have a pond you need moving water. The next winter we rebuilt the front porch and salvaged the large rocks from under the porch to build the waterfall. Being totally clueless on how to line a waterfall a salvaged child's slide became the water chute. (The next phase is to cover the slide with rocks and shells to create more turbulence.)

So once you have a pond and a water fall and ten cent gold fish growing into 6 inch beauties you have to put in a patio. Dave was sent out to salvage paving slates from a guy that was tearing his patio out before the state put a highway ramp through his back yard. Presto! a paved apron for the pond plus path of paving stones leading from the front porch to the Hideaway Suite leading right past the goldfish.

We put some bird feeders in the area and now when the guest are at breakfast they can watch the birds feed and hear the soothing sound of running water from the pump.

By now you are are wondering why this post lacks photos. Quite frankly, we completely forgot to take any while the gardens were in full bloom. If anyone has any I would be happy to post them with photo credits. Until then (or next summer) you'll just have to visit to see the grounds.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

People visit Narragansett in February??

Many of our peak season (summer) guests are surprised to find out that we're open year-round and ask who stays here in the wintertime. Because they have come for sun, surf and sand, they can't imagine why anyone would be here for anything else.

Rhode Island stopped rolling up the sidewalks after Columbus Day. The beaches are open (free) and are completely different than what you see in the summer. Non-beach activities could take up an entire blog. Most of the local restaurants stay open and are happy to see you.

For a start, there can be weddings here at any time since it's easier to get a church in December than in June. Because we have whirlpool tubs and electric fireplaces in some rooms we are an easy (and affordable) weekend get-away for the romantically inclined. But, if you want the wood burning fireplace in front of the whirlpool in the Hideaway Suite you'd better book well in advance.

One of our most popular winter events is our Chocolate Weekend which is held the weekend after Valentine's Day. Lots of chocolate and snuggles with your sweetie are good reasons to visit but there are always things to do during the day like museums, mansions, festivals, beach walking, and seal watching.

The holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's) usually bring folks to town for big family gatherings where the host house may be a few bedrooms short. And sometimes (don't tell grandma) an aunt or an uncle just needs a few hours away from all the noise and stress that a large celebration with relatives can generate.

The most reliable source of off-season business for us is the University of Rhode Island, located about eight miles from the inn. We take student boarders on the third floor from Sept. to May, and the six rooms that stay open to nightly visitors are often used by parents making a quick visit to see if they're getting their money's worth for their offspring's education. Our Rhodey Ram Special is an added incentive to visit often.

We also get customers coming in for university events (concerts, athletic contests, lectures) and once in a while a visiting professor will stay with us until his term or project is completed. The NOAA research station at the URI Bay Campus frequently brings in coastal management consultants who stay at the inn.

We have enough guests to keep us occupied on the weekends, but not so many that we can't sneak out for a winter getaway of our own when our batteries need recharging. We are never idle though as we tackle big messy renovations when we aren't enjoying guests. There's no rest for the wicked or for innkeepers.

So book early and book often to see what winter at the beach is all about.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Why does Narragansett have such good waves?

Narragansett, RI has long been a beach and surf town. It has some of the best surfing in New England because of its unique location.

The shoreline of the Narragansett Town Beach south to the Point Judith Lighthouse faces the open ocean. The shore north of the Town Beach faces Narragansett Bay. Beaches to the west of Point Judith face either the Block Island Sound or the Long Island Sound. Rodger Wheeler State Beach which faces the Sound is also protected by the Galilee break water which protects the boats coming in and out of the port.

Since Narragansett is on the ocean at the mouth of the bay there is a wicked potential for cross currents and undertows which in turn creates beautiful waves. When an off shore storm is brewing, say Hurricane Bill, surfers from far and wide show up to catch the waves.

So watch for our beach to be on TV as it is a favorite spot for the local news stations to catch the waves and the wave seekers alike.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday FAQ: How do I get out on the water?

Narragansett, RI is a beach town that offers more than the beach for your amusement. Many people would like to get out on the water but neglected to bring their personal yachts from their land locked home towns. No worries, we have more options than just taking a long walk off of a short pier.

If you are the have-to-be-in-charge type, you can rent your own jet ski or kayak. We have had guests circumnavigate Jamestown Island by jet ski. They slept very well that night. Bring lots of water and sun screen if you plan to duplicate that feat. For the more natural trip, kayaks can travel either in the ocean or through the many beautiful ponds and rivers in the area.

Surfing and SCUBA diving are popular activities in the area so of course there are several shops willing to hook you up with the waves or undersea world. Bring a wet suit if you have one (or plan on renting one) as the water is a bit more chilly than tropical reefs.

One of the easiest ways to get onto the water is to take a ferry to Block Island. The regular and the high speed ferry both leave Galilee frequently and offer different types of experiences. If you are very ambitious you can take a high speed ferry to Martha's Vineyard for the day. (That would be a very long day though.)

If you are more into sightseeing while cruising hands down one of the best bets is the Rhode Island Light House Cruise based out of Quonset Point (about 20 min. north of the inn.) Make reservations on line as they frequently sell out.

More locally the Southland has been cruising Narragansett waters for many years. Smaller, comfortable boats take you out on the ocean to see the Point Judith Light House and then back up into the Great Salt Pond. It is a delightfully relaxing trip and gives you a glimpse into areas you would never find by car.

Mix a bit of history with your cruise on the Bandarias based in the historic village of Wickford (just seven miles north of the inn.)

Are you more interested in fishing? The Narragansett village of Galilee hosts the third largest commercial fishing fleet in New England. You can join day trips or overnight trips with a little advance planning. Surf fishing is popular too. You can store your catch in our guest fridges (after the boat crew has gutted it for you) or your B&B hosts will be happy to take it off of your hands if you don't want to drag it home

Although the Frances Fleet offers whale watching trips as well as fishing, we haven't had a guest yet that actually saw a whale. They had fun on the water anyway.

Yep, that's Narragansett, something for everyone, rain or shine. Come join the fun!

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Friday FAQs: What do Innkeepers fear?

What do Innkeepers fear? Some consumers would immediately say "a bad Trip Advisor review." That would be regrettable, of course, but it is not our biggest fear.

The loss of your phone service for 24 hours is pretty horrible. We survived that last Monday by forwarding to our cell phones so it certainly can't be the worst thing.

Experiencing cable and Internet outages for three days? Well, that certainly bothered both the guests and the Innkeeper. Dragging off to an Internet hot spot to check email and reservations is a big drain on time.

No, the piece de resistance has to be electrical problems. Brief outages are bad enough but when the cable repair person tells you to kill the power to the whole building because the electical lines from the pole are sending uncontrolled power surges that could cause a fire (and seriously hurt him as he worked on the cable line) you have met your greatest fear. The smell of electrical circuits shorting in the kitchen speeded my feet toward the power panel.

Something totally out of our control that can harm humans and our livelihood.

Especially when it happens on the busiest Friday of the year when I would need to relocate a whole houseful of guests if the power can't be fixed pronto. And there isn't a B&B, inn or motel in the county with an open room because of a perfect storm of Newport Music Festival, weddings and great beach weather.

I must applaud the National Grid for responding within 15 min. to my panicked request for emergency service. I don't know who the workman was, but he ran a new line from the pole to the house in less than an hour.

Thanks to John the Cable Guy for giving me his cell number so I could call him back as soon as the power issue was settled. (I was too rattled to take his photo. He looks like a teddy bear though.)

Our guests were very understanding about the situation. Most people will accept some inconvenience if you can show them you are doing everything possible to fix the problem. And seeing three workers scurrying around, pulling cables and climbing poles gave me credibility when I told them I thought we'd have everything working within hours.

The crisis is over except for repairing the handicapped lift and replacing a few appliances that fried from the power surges.

And that is my excuse for posting Friday FAQs on a Monday. Monday Memories should be out tomorrow.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday FAQs: Which is the nicest room?

One of the trickiest questions that guests who are unfamiliar with the inn ask is: Which of your rooms is the nicest? Since we have reshaped and redecorated every space on the property, this is a little like asking a parent which of their nine children is the favorite. They probably have one, but they’re unlikely to go public with the information.

We think all of our rooms are nice. If you’re budget conscious, the Seashore is the least expensive because it has a private bath down the hall and the least floor space (cozy as we marketing professionals like to say). But it has beautiful shorescape wallpaper, attractive wainscoting and an electric fireplace for those who like to snuggle up on fall or winter nights. It also offers a view of the fishpond and is the quietest room since it faces a side street.

Many of our female guests gravitate to the Rose Garden Room, because of the floral bedspread, curtains, and lace canopy over the bed. Seely’s mom had a major role in designing this room and I’m fond of the rose-colored, beveled tiles in the bath (probably because I found them at a closeout sale).

If you crave extra sleeping space, the Shells and Meadow Rooms or the Hideaway and Whirlpool Suites all offer king-size beds. The Whirlpool tubs in the two suites and the Lighthouse Whirlpool Room pretty much sell themselves no matter what the season is. The Hideaway’s whirlpool in front of our only wood burning fireplace is the most popular choice during the cooler months.

Seely is very partial toward the Shells which despite being on the third floor feels light and spacious. The Crow’s Nest (which is begging for a new name) is on its third decorating scheme in 10 years and its décor is a bit more modern than the others. We have a couple that consistantly books the Glen Room for their get-aways and are disappointed if it is already booked.

The idea when we started out 11 years ago was to provide different levels of accommodation so we had something to offer all income levels and so each room has a distinct character and feel of its own. But when it come to picking a favorite, we’d rather let you decide based on what features are most important to you.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday FAQs: The water's just fine

Is Narragansett's water OK to drink?

I can appreciate this question after living in Houston for 18 years. You could walk on the tap water down there. When I first came to Narragansett I continued to buy bottled water. It had never occurred to me to drink from the taps! The tenants in residence while we remodeled laughed openly at my big city ways until I finally relented and tried the water.

It is pure heaven! Clear, cold year round, no sediment and no fluoride. (I know, the fluoride issue has two sides.) It makes astoundingly good coffee and tea. Not too hard, not too soft, it is perfect for bathing. (And the endless supply hot water heater comes in handy too.)

Forget buying bottled water. Bring your sports bottles for the beach. We provide ice buckets, water pitchers, ice and water 24/7. We hope to have Blueberry Cove Inn sports bottles available for use and sale soon. (There are an astonishing the number of sports bottles available from the local logo store. I'm having trouble picking one so pipe up if you have an opinion.)

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday FAQs

Many guests want to know if the house is haunted. It all depends on who you ask.

When we first purchased the building it was a cheap, run down boarding house with tenants that were often indulging in recreational medication. They swore that the house was haunted. They said that on a stormy night the house would suddenly get stone cold and the ghost would making clanging noises. They were sure there had been a triple murder on the third floor. (Not that the town kept any record of it of course because it was covered up.)

Sure enough, late November brings a Nor'easter (everyone hum "The Edmund Fitzgerald"). Around midnight the lights flicker but the power comes back quickly. The building suddenly chills, banging and clanging ensues! Great Cesar's Ghost, Superman!

Dashing to the third floor to see the ghost revealed the flimsy plywood fire escape door banging against the iron fire stair rail. The wind had wiggled the door off of its latch. The sudden chill was the feeling of all the heat in the building gushing out of the open door. Bummer.

The door has been replaced so that "ghost" has never returned. Some guests have claimed to see entities on the second floor landing or in the front hall. One claimed to have seen five ghosts in one night. She reminded me of my crazy Aunt though so I don't know that I believed her. A self-described "professional ghost hunter" stayed with us and said that the house was disappointingly empty of "activity" whatever that means.

So who knows if there are ghosts. If you want to see them maybe you will. If you don't want to see them you probably won't. I'm open to the possibilities.

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Friday FAQs: Questions asked by guests

Over our ten years we have had a lot of questions from guests. We should probably have a hand out of numbered answers to refer them to, sort of our own FAQ sheet so to speak, but that wouldn't seem very friendly.

The most frequent questions are about check in and out times. Check out is at 11 a.m. Check in starts at 4 p.m. and we hope everyone is here by 10 p.m. The closer it gets to midnight the the less sentient the innkeepers become. Early check out or check in is sometimes possible but we charge $25 per hour. Why a fee? Why those hours? Can't we make an exception?

To understand the policy it helps to understand the innkeeper's work day. Unlike many properties we do not have hired help other than the guy that cuts the grass. Breakfast prep usually starts at 7 a.m. The dining room is open from 8 to 10 a.m. which means meal service is over around 10:30. Dave waits to handle check outs while I play the coveted role of Scullery Maid. By noon we begin cleaning rooms, diving into laundry, making repairs, catching up on paperwork, answering phones, and the other unending, less than glamorous tasks that keep this place going. Some days we actually eat lunch. Depending on the number of rooms that need to be prepared we may not finish until nearly 4 p.m. On one particularly memorable day I had guests waiting on the porch at 3:45 p.m. while I dashed to the hardware store to buy three new toilet seats. (Why four broke in one night is a question I refuse to ask. I was still three short.)

Quite bluntly, the fee is to discourage early check ins and check outs. We have learned the hard way that making exceptions often back fires. Stopping the day's work to greet and help guests with their questions also means that another room might not be ready for the guests that show up at the stroke of 4 p.m. for their room.

Of course a hotel or another property might not have this policy or our fees. More power to them! (They also have the added expenses of a desk clerk, concierge, housekeeping staff and price their rooms accordingly.) We have learned over the years how to provide a quality experience for our guests by fine tuning our routines and recognizing what we can't provide.

If you are in the area early you may leave your car in our parking lot. Hang out on the lawn swing or walk to the beach or around town. (Unfortunately we do not have a public restroom or changing area at the inn. There are public facilities two blocks away next to the library.) Then come back at four to be welcomed with a smile.

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