CHOCOLATE!

This area of New Hampshire seems to attract chocolate. Nearby we have the international chocolate company, Lindt & Sprungli, located not more than a mile from me, their retail shop just a mile in the other direction, and we have two other chocolate companies on main street in this town of Exeter.

I’ve been lucky enough to participate in sensory panels for new flavors Lindt is developing and that has been a real treat. Plus I am rewarded with more sweet treats when we finish! It doesn’t get much better….

Then we have The Chocolatier located on the main street in Exeter, also about a mile from me in another direction. Stepping inside and inhaling the aroma and seeing the huge assortment of candy is mind blowing. I stop in occasionally for a truffle or two (or more) or a small box of snowcap nonpareils.

nonpareils

The latest sweet tenant in dowtown Exeter is La Cascade du Chocolate, a handcrafted chocolate company that opened last summer. It is located about a block from The Chocolatier. This new business, co-owned by chocolatier Tom Nash and Master Chocolatier Samantha Brown, made local headlines by being awarded gold medals in four categories and silver and bronze in two other categories by the International Chocolate Salon. I recently made my first visit and I was beyond excited.

Every item is handcrafted right there and they are proud that they source ingredients from local suppliers when possible and explained that their chocolate is responsibly sourced from all over the world, each a very unique flavor.

cocoa map

Bon-bons, chocolate bars, truffles, petit torte au chocolat, chocolate covered cacao beans,  and lots of exotic and creative flavors made my decision a hard one, but….

cacao beans

candy

Signature Bars

….I ended up choosing 8 truffles and a petit torte au chocolat, a tiny cake with dark chocolate, all to be served when I host my book club tonight….. like in 20 minutes!

my choices

I know my little book group will have as much fun sampling the chocolates as I had picking them out. How lucky we are to have all three chocolate companies nearby!

Incredible Incrediball!

Crazy weather. After two days of record setting warmth we have been plunged back to into the depths of winter tonight with a wet snowstorm covering the landscape. Yesterday the temperature reached a toasty 77° on our New Hampshire Seacoast, a record for the books!  Of course, the ground was still frozen solid with piles of snow everywhere, but it was warm enough for mister gardener and me to take our meals outside for two days without coats….or sweaters!

Yesterday was also a good day to do a little yard work. Too soon for cleaning up borders but perfect time for pruning our 3-yr. old hydrangea arborescens ‘Incrediball’ shrubs. I left the flower heads on the shrub for visual interest in the fall, but they had become frazzled from winter weather.

The ‘Incrediball’ is an improvement of the old favorite ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea or the smooth leaf hydrangea because the stems are sturdier and the white blooms are much larger. (I am withholding judgement for one more season) Because it blooms on new wood, pruning can be done anytime from from the first frost to late winter so now, on this warm winter day, I chose to prune these shrubs.

Incrediball.jpg

I removed sick, dead, and crossed branches and shaped the shrub a little. Some experts advised cutting ‘Incrediball’ to the ground but I chose to leave about 2′. I cut out many of tiny branches, leaving the sturdier branches for support.

pruned

Looking at the same shrub through our screened window this afternoon, a whole different scene greeted us. It’s 27° now and that’s okay because it’s winter in New Hampshire and this is our norm. The unusual 77° we experienced yesterday was an anomaly but a sweet hint of spring, a gift that we greatly appreciated.

incrediball.

 

Just when you thought it was safe….

… Mother Nature’s blast of white let us know who was in charge this morning.

snow

It’s a fairly deep snow but with rising temperatures it should melt quickly. I filled the bird feeders last night and threw out some feed this morning for the ground feeders. The seeds and berries and nuts quickly disappeared deep into the fluff. That’s no problem for the ground feeding juncos, the most numerous of the birds visiting us this winter.

These medium-sized sparrows fly in a flock to feed. They land together and they hop, fly, scratch, dig, and flit in and out of shrubbery. Although they move quickly, one or two have become meals for the neighborhood’s ever-observant Cooper’s hawk. We simply find the telltale pile of grey and white feathers on the ground.

junco

junco

Junco.

The juncos dig for seeds and toss snow, fuss constantly among themselves, and jockey for dominance. Although they primarily dine on our shelled sunflower seed on the ground, they don’t hesitate to feed from any of the feeders…. loving the bluebird’s mealworms, the tube feeders, and the suet cake.

suet

The little juncos are among the most common songbirds at the winter feeders in many areas. In Virginia, they were only winter visitors. However in New Hampshire, we have plenty of preferred coniferous forests with lots of evergreen, so we’re lucky to have them as year-round residents.

 

Great Backyard Bird Count 2018 (GBBC)

Binoculars? Check. Pencil and bird list? Check. It’s the 21st annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) weekend where you’ll find me counting birds for at least 15-minutes a day for four days starting today, February 16 until Monday, February 19.  Last year, over 160,000 folks participated and logged their findings online.

It’s not hard to do and it ends up being a lot of fun for adults and children. Citizen scientists can count birds on any one day or on all four days. Pick the time of day. Pick the same site or different sites. On the website GBBCbirdcount.org, you will post your findings and the accumulated data will help researchers at Cornell and the National Audubon Society find out how the avian population is doing and steps needed to protect birds.

To make it even easier, you can print out a checklist of birds that are in your area from the website. Check out the GBBC site above and to follow the easy directions, then post your findings.

bluebird

“Spring is coming. Spring is coming. Spring is coming.”

From NICE to ICE

“Welcome home,” said Old Man Winter. After a much warmer and dryer stay south of the Mason-Dixon line, we were greeted in New Hampshire by a snowstorm followed by freezing rain, sleet, and a thick coating of ice. It was not much of a warm welcome home.

dragonfly icicle

Multi-car accidents yesterday and pedestrian falls on the ice caused our local emergency room to fill with the injured last night. We can handle the snow. It’s the ice. Always the ice.

ice

bird feeder ice

We’ve decided we will stay home today, fire in the fireplace, music on, and I will start on my needlepoint. I have had the canvas of a Japanese Imari design for a year and finally picked out the wool in a wonderful needlepoint shop on Hilton Head Island. It arrived by post yesterday. How divine….

 

It’s Time

All good things must come to an end and that goes for our winter break to South Carolina. We hoped to escape the cold northeast but cool weather followed us…. at least in the mornings. We enjoyed a few 70° afternoons and lots of 60-something afternoons, but it was brrrrr brisk at dawn. We’re talking temperatures in the 30’s!

We are happy to be home tackling chores like the mountain of mail, pending commitments and greeting the grandchildren. All need immediate attention.

Over morning coffee, we talked about working off the extra padding we both added to our waistline from tempting southern cuisines. Too many BBQ sandwiches and fried hush puppies was my downfall. Lots of seafood and sauces for mister gardener. There was one restaurant all three of us agreed was the best of our gastronomical journey…. The Santa Fe Cafe, billed as Innovative Southwestern Cuisine. And, yes, it was.

Our son enjoyed the BBQ Chicken Taco and mister gardener tackled the Ribeye Burrito….both out of this world, they managed to say between bites. Unique, generous, and tasty.

On the other hand, I had possibly the best soup and definitely the most artistic soup I’ve ever been served. It was almost too pretty to eat. Take a look at the Painted Desert Soup, half red pepper and corn soup with ancho chile cream. We recommend this restaurant and anything served on the menu.

I really do think folks in New England eat a lot healthier than what sustained me in my southern upbringing. Sweet tea, something I had plenty of in SC, is not a thing up here.  Good thing, really. Lots of fried foods, like all those hush puppies or all the calories in those grilled pimiento cheese sandwiches I ordered a few times won’t be served around these parts. Collard greens was generally on the menu in SC, always infused with the tasty grease from bacon. Yep, bacon, butter, salt. Oh, and Hellmann’s REAL mayo. Lordy….

No need to speak French..

…to relax at the Parlez-Vous Lounge with light libation while you wait. Or you can wander over to the Ciné-Café for appetizers, entrees, gourmet coffee, and locally made ice cream. Or maybe put in an order and have it delivered.

Wait for what? Delivered where?

Delivered right to your theater seat in the funkiest, most fun movie theater I’ve ever experienced. And, lucky for us, the amazing south-end Park Plaza Cinema is just minutes from us on Hilton Head…close enough for repeat visits.

Park Plaza Cinema is a boutique theater, independently owned by Lucie and Larry Mann. Their creation, this wonderful theater, plays mainstream new releases and has luxurious reclining seats…. all powered by the touch of a button.

Lucie, an architect designer, and Larry, a builder, and their two adorable mini canines (dressed in their finest) all greet you at the door and welcome you as a guest into their domain. After refreshments you’ll want to order a little popcorn since it’s been voted #1 on the island.

Mann

Park Plaza Cinema makes going to the movies fun and if you go, you will be guaranteed to have a smile when you leave.

Cine-Cafe

According to Cosmopolitan Magazine, Park Plaza is the “coolest movie theater in South Carolina” in a 2017 article naming the coolest theater in every state. I do agree. It’s all thumbs up on this gem.

Stoney-Baynard Ruins

From Paleo-Indians and semi-nomadic Native Americans, to European explorers, and African slaves, to soldiers of several wars… all and more are a part of the history of Hilton Head Island.

During the plantation era, cotton and indigo were the major crops that grew on the island. I visited the site of one early cotton plantation very near me in Sea Pines, the Stoney-Baynard Ruins.

The one and a half story home was built with a fascinating technique called ‘tabby,’ masonry made by mixing burned crushed oyster shells with sand, whole shells and water that was then protected with a coating of stucco.

Tabby

Most plantation owners did not live on the island full-time due to the threat of diseases such as yellow fever and malaria. During this time Hilton Head was mainly populated by slaves who lived in quarters on the property.

Two slave families lived here in the cramped quarters below built on a tabby foundation, a sober reminder of our country’s past.

The tabby chimney below is all that is left of the plantation kitchen outbuilding. What happened to the tabby foundation blocks of the kitchen?

They were moved! Archeologists have found evidence that Union troops moved the kitchen foundation blocks to higher ground to serve as footings for their tent.

The stories I heard about ghosts of previous owners roaming the site or witnessing a funeral procession is overstated. I saw nothing ghostly nor heard a thing but singing birds, but then I might change my tune if I visited after dark, flashlight in hand when you are most likely to encounter them. No thanks…

To learn more about the ruins and the history of the families who owned the plantation, visit this site.