What I learned in my 7 years running a B and B (What have I learned in my first month running a B and B?)

I am going to add to this older post as I am wrapping up my 7th and last season at Highland Garden House B & B.

In review of ‘what I learned in my first month,’ see below, some is mostly still true, but there are some specific things I learned that I did not take into consideration, even after that first month:

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There is a lot of ‘hurry up and wait.’  Guests say they will arrive at 5 PM and they finally do arrive at 8PM.  You rush to get ready for them at 5, and it is all for naught!  It is not their concern, apparently.

You are never ‘off’ when guests are checked in.  It is a 24 hour job, even when they are sleeping, out for the day or even when I am out for the day.  It always hangs there, you are in charge, you have to be available.

Most people can be trusted to show up when they say they will when reserving, but those who do not reply to out Reminders, get cancelled.

You need clear policies and boundaries that are written, and you MUST stick to them.  anyone who tries to wiggle around them is not welcome.  Period.

One night guests are not worth the bother.  They are generally just looking for a place to sleep, they are not coming to the B and B on purpose.  This includes those who reserve in advance and walk-ins. (If the check-in, room turn and check-out process is spread out over multiple nights, it is more efficient and provides YOU with a higher ‘wage.’)

There are a lot of things you have no control over.  Lots of loud train whistles at night, late flights, late ferries, breakdowns, couples fighting, sick guests, it goes on and on and it’s always ‘something.’ (Most of these things are not your fault or responsibility to correct, anyway.)

Keeping the house and yard at the highest level of cleanliness and de-cluttered is a lot more work than day-to-day housekeeping you would deem adequate for just yourself and/or family. (Leave vac in dining room because you are going to vac the living room later today or tomorrow?  NOT.)

Shopping takes on a new life.  Mostly for fresh foods.  Something in the fridge that is ‘good enough’ for yourself is not good enough to serve to guests. (Tip:  only serve foods that you also eat yourself and never buy special foods for guests, let them buy their own, with their own money, and store in your fridge.)

After 5 years I decided to not take smokers, at all.  You smoke, find another place to stay.  This is part of my written, emailed, room Confirmation.  I did not want smokers sleeping in my beds and lose valuable repeat guests due to the smell that all smokers pass on to the bedding and mattresses.  They all stink. In addition, smokers, as a group, are the most inconsiderate and messy people.  They leave a trail of stink, ash, butts and trash everywhere they go.  Not welcome.

Have I lost some business with my rules?  Yes.  I lost a lot of potential guests that I did not want to have here in the first place.  I lost ALL the smokers.  I lost some who would only pay with a credit or debit card.  But, I kept control of my business and ran it under my terms.  I have also decided to quit the business, under my terms.  A refreshing feeling!

 

 

Original Blog Post made on June 29, 2012:

 

You wash your hands a lot more.

Your house and gardens are always neat as a pin, or could be made so in “15 minutes.”

You CAN do the other things in your life, between the guest needs: biking, artistic endeavors, napping, kayaking, day trading, etc.

Your guest rooms are ALWAYS ready for guests.

There are always plenty of ice cubes.

People on holiday are generally a gay and happy sort.

Any errant hair can be blamed on the cat.

People eat less for and of breakfast than I thought.

People do wait until the last minute.

Your seamstress skills take on a new importance.

The cookie jar is always at least half full.

You have a stream of interesting people flowing through your house and life, then they leave.

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Dennis’til next time,
Dennis George
Highland Garden House, 501 E. Highland Ave., Mount Vernon, WA 98273

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Pork Jerky

Another tool added to my arsenal of self-sufficiency.  Just knowing how to do something, even if you don’t need it or do it all the time, is power!

This process takes about 30 hours, start to finish.  Twenty-four hours for the meat to soak in the brine and another 6 for the prep and baking.

Sliced, brined, raw product

Sliced, brined, raw product

Making your own cured meats is one of those things for me, and this second in a series of curing meats is a winner.  See the post about my own home-cured ham.

Choosing the type of cut of meat is the first step.  I use boneless pork loin that is sold as a half, about 6 pounds, or whole, about 12 pounds.  These cuts are often sold as cheap as 99 cents a pound, but are list priced at about 3.99 per pound.  Buy on sale, use to make cured meats or freeze for later.

The boneless porkloin is a long sausage-shaped cut about 4 inches in diameter.  For jerky, you will be cutting WITH the grain to create that chewy, not tender, texture.  Begin by cutting the strip of meat into roast-sized pieces about 4-5 inches long.  You will be making strips about this length.  Determine the ‘grain.’ of the roast-sized piece.  It is the OPPOSITE of the direction that you would cut if you were making boneless pork chops!

Cut the roast in half with the grain.  Then keep cutting into slabs about 1.5 inches thick.  Now lay each slab flat and slice strips about 4 in by 1.5 in by 1/4 inch in size.  Some fat is acceptable.  Try to make uniform sized pieces so they cook up evenly. (Partially freezing the roast-sized pieces may help in this slicing step.)

 

The brine: (This is just enough for 3-4 pounds of slices.)

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp granulated garlic
1/2 tsp paprika
2 tsp pink salt
1 tbsp Wright’s Liquid Smoke
Dash of pepper flakes

Mix it all up first in a large stainless steel bowl, then add the meat strips turning to get some of the liquid on all the meat surfaces.  Make sure to choose a bowl that is large enough to make the turning process easy.  Weight down the meat with a small plate, pressing it down.  Top the big bowl with another larger plate.  Place in refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours, turning the meat strips a number of times, getting the strips all in contact with the liquid.

Make up your cooking sheets next.  I use cookie sheets, lined with cheap foil, topped with stainless steel cooling racks, which themselves are topped with parchment paper.  You can skip the foil and paper, but this makes cleanup WAY easier. (‘Dollar Store’ grade foil and parchment is fine for this.)

Ready to bake

Ready to bake

Dump the strips from the bowl into a large colander, allowing to drain into the sink.  Arrange the strips on the paper covered racks, spacing so none are overlapping, but as close together as you can.  See photo at left.  They will shrink by about half in the cooking process.

Pre-heat oven to 350.  Place pans in oven for 15 minutes, turn oven down to 200, bake for another 4 to 5 hours.  Strips that are done are very dark brown and very chewy, not tender.  Your ‘Quality Control Engineers’ around the house will be happy to make this determination!

Some of the slices will be done before the others.  In the final hour you will be checking and removing the done ones every 20 minutes.

 

Finished strips

Finished strips

Jerky properly dried out like this will last 2 to 3 months, in a cool place,  unrefrigerated.  But to be safe, just freeze it in sealed containers and take some out as you need to.  Since this meat does contain some fat and no sodium nitrite is used in the process, freeze to be safe.

Dennis’til next time,
Dennis George
Highland Garden House B & B
501 E. Highland Ave.
Mount Vernon, WA 98273
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Creamy Italian Salad Dressing

A nice tangy dressing for salads or dipping.

1/2 c. Rice Vinegar
1/2 c. Olive oil
1/2 c. Mayonnaise
1 tsp Whole Mixed Italian Seasoning
1/2 tsp Granulated Garlic
1/2 tsp Celery Seed
1/2 tsp Ground black Pepper
Dash of pepper flakes
1/4 c Grated Parmesan cheese
2 tsp Dijon or any other prepared mustard

 

Mix the wet together in a 2 cup measuring cup

Add all the dry and mix again

Store in a lidded serving container.
Alter seasonings to your own taste.

Dennis’til next time,
Dennis George
Highland Garden House B & B
501 E. Highland Ave.
Mount Vernon, WA 98273
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Homemade Pot Labels

Pot Labels

Pot Labels

Having been in the farm/garden/nursery business for many years, it always seemed to me that the buying of pot labels was a chore.  You have to buy specific ones for every item.  You have to buy in multiples of 100 or 1000.  Color photo ones make the pot more marketable.

Now that I am just an Innkeeper and have a backyard garden, my options are more fluid.  Finally found a material that is basically free, recyclable, lasts long enough, accepts a Sharpie marking, holds up in the sun and weather and is easy to make.

The photo shows how easy this is to do.  Take a 32 oz yogurt or cottage cheese container, this is the best size as shorter ones don’t leave enough room to write on and also stick into the pot or garden row.  Cut from the opening down to the base creating strips from 1/2 to 3/4 inch wide.  This gives you about 16 strips.  Now snip the strips from the bottom.  That’s it!

See sample label.  You may choose to ‘sharpen’ the end that gets inserted into the soil.  I don’t find that this is necessary, and could make a weak point in the label itself.  I have also found that the slight curvature in the strip in the long direction makes the strip stronger and more resistant to bending than flat strips made from other flat material.

Ok, now for the marking technique. I use either a Fine or Ultra Fine Black Sharpie, on the inside; the white smooth side of the strip.  Ultra Fine holds up for a few months outside or longer for pots that are in a greenhouse.  The ‘Fine’ holds up all summer, even outside.

Labels can be cleaned off and reused or recycled with the other plastics, as needed.

Dennis’til next time,
Dennis George
Highland Garden House B & B
501 E. Highland Ave.
Mount Vernon, WA 98273
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Our Neighborhood – The Far Northwest Corner

A satellite map of our area with just a few labels added.  Highland Garden House is at ‘HGH.’  For perspective, it is 60 highway miles from Seattle to HGH.  It is 35 miles direct to Mt. Baker, but via highway it is 70.

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Dennis’til next time,
Dennis George
Highland Garden House B & B
501 E. Highland Ave.
Mount Vernon, WA 98273
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Canadian Bacon/Cured Pork Loin

Brined and ready to cook

Brined and ready to cook

Making your own cured meats is a lot easier than you may have thought.  Mostly just choosing the right cuts, do a days-long soak in a brine, then slow cook or slow cook/smoke.

This recipe makes a salt cured pork loin that results in a Canadian Bacon-like meat.  It is suitable to be used like ham.

I buy what is referred to as a half boneless pork loin, it is 5-6 pounds and sold in a vacuum sealed package for between $1.69 and $1.99 a pound, on sale.

The brine:

1 gallon water
1 cup Morton’s Kosher Salt, available at most supermarkets
1 cup brown sugar
3 tbsp Himalaya Pink Salt, Costco sells in 3 lb container, more info here.
1 cup honey, pure Maple Syrup or any sweet syrup
2 tbsp dried whole Italian Mix Herbs
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 tbsp Wright’s Liquid Smoke

The meat:

~5 lb pork loin

I have found that making 1/2 this brine recipe will be enough for a 5-6 lb half pork loin, or you can make the full batch and freeze the unused portion for next time.

Mix the brine up and bring to a boil.  Cool.  Then chill.  Cut the loin into 4 equal roast size pieces.  Make sure they are all approx. the same size.  Ragged edges and excess fat layer needs to be trimmed off so you have nice neat pieces.  I use the stainless steel bowl pictured above.  Put the four pieces into the bowl and cover with the chilled brine.  The meat will want to float, so place a plate or bowl on the top of the meat to keep them all submerged. Place in refer for 3 days, check every day to make sure the pieces are submerged.

Fully Cooked

Fully Cooked

Remove from brine and wash off in cold water.  Discard brine. Place pieces on a rack that is sitting on/in a sheet pan lined with foil.  See photo above.  Place back in refer for 24 more hours, to dry off.  The drying and cooking pan are one and the same.  Place in a 200° f oven for 4 to 5 hours, the interior needs to be about 150 °f tested with a meat thermometer. (My oven needed to be set at 225 to result in 200.)

Cool, enjoy!  This is s fully cooked meat and can be used hot or cold.  After chilling, you can slice paper thin sheets across the grain for sandwiches or breakfast meats.  Re-fry like ham slices, dice for stir frys, etc.  Freezes beautifully.  I like to wrap each piece in foil to keep air away from the meat.  (You can use the same foil you lined the sheet pan with.) Then place in a gallon freezer Zip-lock bag and squeeze as much air out as possible and zip close.  This is a good way to freeze many things.

You will notice that this meat is not pink like bought hams.  This is because you have not used any sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite as a preservative.  See this link for more details on this.  But, the pink salt does lend a slight pinkish tone to the cooked meat.

After you have made this recipe once, you now will be able to alter the brine to fine tune your personal product.  Pure Maple Syrup with red pepper flakes and fresh sage anyone?

Dennis’til next time,
Dennis George
Highland Garden House B & B
501 E. Highland Ave.
Mount Vernon, WA 98273
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Ptarmigan Ridge Hike – Mt. Baker Area

Here’s a hike for everyone!  It is an out and back hike no matter how far you go.  End of trail is maybe 4.5 miles, but you can turn around at any point and feel that you have had a genuine mountain experience at any distance.

This trail is only available to access from about late June to Mid October, as the parking lot is at 5000ft and is a State Highway.

Mt. Baker looms in front of you while Mt Shuksan keeps an eye on your back.

If there is only one mountain hike you can do, this is the one.  It requires no special skills or equipment.  It is not a lot of elevation

Trail conditions

Trail conditions

change so hikers of all ages can participate.  It gives you a real above-the-timberline, rocky experience without having to hike through all that brush to get there. You drive to the Artist Ridge parking lot on the ridge between Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan, this is the major elevation increase that puts you at the timber line. (See photo to left of an example of the trail conditions.)

As always, I recommend trekking poles and a printed map of the various options and routes along this trail.  There are a few side trails that can be taken, even one that circles around Table Mountain, skirts Chain Lakes and returns you to Picture Lake.  But, if you have parked at the Artist Ridge parking lot, that is where you want to return to.

Detailed information on this trail can be found at Washington Trails Association.

More of my own photos below, click to view in larger size:

Dennis’til next time,
Dennis George
Highland Garden House B & B
501 E. Highland Ave.
Mount Vernon, WA 98273
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Posted in Day Trips-Driving, Family Friendly, Geology, Hikes & Walks, Mt Baker, North Cascades | Leave a comment

Bluff Trail – Coupeville Area

Bluff TrailThe Bluff Trail is a gem of a hike on central Whidbey Island, just a few miles from Coupeville.  We hiked this loop trail at the end of September, and also visited the Sunnyside Cemetery and some other historic buildings along the ridge.

Here is a complete article on this trail: Bluff Trail.

We parked at the top of the hill by the Cemetery, a Discover Pass is required here and also at the small lot on the beach.  Many people park along the beach road where no Discover Pass is required.

I was thinking that this would be a pretty easy stroll, but was wrong.  There is a steepness factor that is a bit disconcerting, at least to me.  The bluff itself is very steep and the trail is right on the edge, for quite a ways.  Everything is tilted just enough to make me somewhat dizzy!  As always, we hiked with our trekking poles, which helped immensely.   If you were to start to fall down this slope, it would be very difficult to stop.

Perego's Lake from top of Bluff

Perego’s Lake from top of Bluff Trail

Steep!

Steep!

Here is a detailed map of the Bluff Trail and all the trails in the

Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve

Dennis’til next time,
Dennis George
Highland Garden House B & B
501 E. Highland Ave.
Mount Vernon, WA 98273
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Posted in Coupeville, Day Trips-Driving, Family Friendly, Geology, Hikes & Walks, Local History, The Sea Shore, Whidbey Is. | 1 Comment

The Methow

Dry and Open Forest TrailI find it interesting that we call our area “The Skagit” and just over the ‘hill’ you have “The Methow.”  It is the same terminology:  it describes an area of great diversity, not a single place or town or famous beach or river or pub.  It is the state of mind of the locals and all who visit.  It is more the whole community and collection of all the things that make the two areas great.  Each area’s name is after the main river that flows through it.  We have a lot in common and a lot in uncommon.

Took a little one day visit in October 2014 to “The Methow.”  This was the one day that I picked off the calendar that was supposed to be better weather than what we have been having, on both sides of the ‘hill.’  (the ‘hill’ is the Cascade Range.)

A good two lane paved road connects us over the North Cascades.  This road is closed 3-5 months of the year due to heavy snow fall and extreme avalanche risk.  This is a Summer Road.  You go over two 5000 ft Passes on this road.  The long slow drive up the Skagit River is taken over by the extreme and fast descent from Washington Pass to “The Methow,”  on the east side.  The highway is generally closed from Nov to April.  But winters can be variable and in 1974 the road was not opened until June 14!  In 2003 it was closed on October 17.  In the winter of 1976-77 it did not close at all.

WinthropWinthrop is a tiny western-motif town that is a pleasure to stroll about in.  Wood sidewalks and all!

Winthrop is home to the oldest legal saloon in Washington state.

In 1883 the lure of gold brought the first permanent white settlers.

The North Cascades National Park with its pristine forests and stunning views borders to the west.

Winthrop (pop. 393 – 2009 census, elevation 1765′) is known for the American Old West design of all the buildings in town, making it a popular Washington vacation destination.

Additional photos taken in October of 2017 around Washington Pass:

Dennis’til next time,
Dennis George
Highland Garden House B & B
501 E. Highland Ave.
Mount Vernon, WA 98273
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Posted in Day Trips-Driving, Hikes & Walks, Methow Valley, Rivers and Lakes, The Mountains, Winthrop | 1 Comment

Fragrance Viewpoint Hike

This is a short up and back hike that is just north of the Skagit County line in Larrabee  State Park.  Round trip is about 3 miles.

Take Chuckanut Drive, SR 11, north out of Burlington and follow it until you just cross the Skagit County line, park in the first parking area to the right.  This is also the parking area for a number of other trails in this area.  Discover Pass required.

Walk north on the Interurban Trail for 1/3 of a mile.  The trail on the right, after 1/3 mile,  is the one to the Viewpoint.  After about a mile and 8 ‘medium switchbacks,’ you come to a fork in the trail and a sign:  right to the view point and left for another 1.1 miles to Fragrance Lake.  The view point is really worth the effort!  Gaze to the west over Samish Bay to the San Juan Islands.

Dennis’til next time,
Dennis George
Highland Garden House B & B
501 E. Highland Ave.
Mount Vernon, WA 98273
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Posted in Chuckanut Mtns, Family Friendly, Hikes & Walks, The Sea Shore | 1 Comment