Otters Pond…Nature’s Gift to Share

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We discovered Orcas Island almost twenty years ago.  We, Sue and Carl, were living in Dallas TX at the time and leading very hectic lives.  We decided that if we had a B&B we could live anywhere we wanted. Since we both like to cook and Carl loves DIY projects, a lifestyle change to innkeepers seemed to be just what we needed.  We read about Orcas Island and decided to visit and look for a home that was suitable for a B&B startup. The ferry trip convinced us that we had to find a place in this gorgeous archipelago as the Orca whales have done for centuries. On the last afternoon of what appeared to be an unsuccessful search for a suitable property, our realtor said “I just remembered, there is one more property that may work for you.” otters pond fall We stepped into a lovely home and were mesmerized by the view of an amazingly beautiful and large pond with spectacular bird life.  It was January so there were no lily pads, just a beautiful stretch of water with cattails around the edges and the reflections of the surrounding trees.  We knew that this was the place!  We found a beautiful home, amazing pond and property and it is located within walking distance to Moran State Park on Orcas Island. The area is known as Otters Lair so the first question was “are there otters in the pond?”  That is always the question our guests ask too, within a few minutes of their arrival.  The answer is that there are river otters that inhabit the pond and the lakes in the area, so they can be in our pond at any time.

otters pond great blue heronAt Otters Pond B&B the pond and surrounding wetland can be seen from most of our rooms.  Bird songs fill the air each morning in the spring and summer when the most birds are here to nest and raise their young. The pond is a great habitat for a large variety of birds that nest in the cattails, vegetation and trees. The birds come to dine on fish, ducks, occasional geese, frogs, insects, seeds and worms in the garden.  American Bald Eagles, Osprey, Great Blue Herons, Red -Winged Blackbirds, Kingfishers,  Anna and Rufus Hummingbirds, Hairy, Downy and Pileated Woodpeckers, Steller’s Jay, Varied Thrush, American Robins, Goldfinches, and too many to name, are frequently seen at our feeders or garden. woodybeauty382014eaglelookback [800x600]We have heard and seen Virginia Rails, very secretive large birds wading and calling to each other in the cattails. The Night Hawks sweep over the pond at dusk as do bats and with the help of the other birds and frogs we have no problem with mosquitoes.  There are a variety of ducks; the most colorful is the Wood Duck.  The Hooded Mergansers’ and Wood Ducks arrive to nest in the trees and the Mallards and Pied-billed Grebes nest in the cattails and surrounding foliage after the water lilies appear.  The water lily’s leaves provide protection for the ducklings which can be seen following the momma ducks making their way across the pond.  The Wood Ducks and Mallards will actually bring their ducklings to our bird feeders for the seed that falls to DSCF0022 [800x600]the ground.  We were delighted to discover Hooded Mergansers’, Buffleheads, Mallards, Ring Necks, and American and Eurasian Widgeons. Each new duck and bird on the pond would send us scurrying to our bird identification books.

Aside from the abundant wildlife the light on the pond is another wonderful experience; Monet would truly love the view from our decks. One morning the rain was sprinkling down on the pond and a guest said “oh, I love it when rain dances on water.” That has become one of my favorite quotes and it can’t be described any better. In the late Fall and during winter the cattails and grasses turn a light straw color. After a rain the sun breaks thru with a golden polarized light and the grasses actually have a pale pink appearance.  When the pond freezes, we have seen an otter pop thru the ice to scan the pond, another ran across it.  One day we were staying warm by the fireplace and a huge bald eagle landed on the ice, feathers all fluffed up from the snow flurries landing on it. Carl dashed out with the camera and captured its photo to post on our Facebook page.

pond swans

As innkeepers we love sharing this property and the pond experience with our guests. Otters Pond B&B is the gift we gave ourselves, and it keeps on giving just like our gift certificates.

Apple Butter on Apple Pancakes

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Otterly delicious Apple Butter on Apple Pancakes

apple pancake with roasted walnuts2

Apple Butter on Apple Pancakes with toasted walnuts is one of our guest’s favorite breakfasts. Discovering a plethora of apple varieties is one of the many things I love about fall in the Pacific Northwest and I was on a mission to find the tastiest apples for my Apple Butter.  When we made the decision to open Otters Pond B&B on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands, and serve a 5-course sumptuous breakfast, my apple butter recipe was the first recipe that came to mind. This apple butter is a gorgeous color, tastes of apples, cinnamon and cloves and is amazing on apple and pumpkin pancakes, waffles, muffins, bagels, in yogurt, and on our steel-cut oats.   A dab of brie with apple butter on a cracker is a delicious appetizer; you can even enjoy it on sandwiches with turkey or ham.

We were attending a B&B conference in Bellingham, WA and Bellewood Farms in Lyndon, WA was close by; it has a u-pick orchard and tasting barn.  Visiting this orchard was a great way to discover different varieties of apples and each type had a story.  The Golden Supreme apple is a beautiful, sweet, crisp and juicy large golden apple with a blush of rose; it was a “chance” seedling discovered in an orchard!  The Tsugaru apple has a Japanese heritage and it was love at first bite. You may taste a hint of pear or pineapple in the Orin apple which is a beautiful pale yellow and also has a Japanese heritage. The Honeycrisp was developed at the University of Minnesota apple breeding program. It is red with a bit of green, has an “Explosively Crisp” texture” according to the Honeycrisp Apple official site and is delicious and juicy. All of these apples are versatile and can be used for any recipe or sliced and enjoyed. Now I had a problem!  These apples were too special to cook-up for apple butter.  We served them to guests, gave them to friends and savored every bite. Fortunately, I found a vendor at our Orcas Island Farmers Market who had a variety of island apples that were slightly imperfect and I did make my Apple Butter.  This year B&B friends gave me a box of Cameo apples for my apple butter from their organic orchard in Walla Walla, WA, and I now have another favorite apple! While in the making our guests commented ” Cooking this apple butter makes us swoon; it must be on the menu the next morning.”

Otterly Delicious Apple Butter

I double this recipe; the 7-quart slow cooker pot should be about 3/4ths full

Peel, slice and core 6 cups of apples

4 T. cinnamon

¼ tsp. ground cloves

¼ tsp. salt

3 c. sugar

Mix dry ingredients together. Stir spices into sliced apples and pour into a slow cooker; Cover and cook on high for 2-3 hours, then on low for 3-4 hours. The longer you cook it the thicker it will be.  After cooking use an immersion blender or food processor to obtain a smooth consistency.

Cool apple butter then pour into super-clean freezer- proof containers.  Keep the apple butter in the freezer until ready to use. Makes 6 -8oz. containers.

Apple Pancakes from the Great Northwest

Serves 3-4

1 c. milk

2 eggs

1 ¼ c. flour

½ tsp. salt

4 tsp. baking powder

2 Tbsp. sugar

5 Tbsp. melted butter

2 apples sliced about 1/8 inch thick

Toppings

Apple Butter

Maple syrup (if desired)

Toasted chopped walnuts

Mix milk and eggs together. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar.  Gently mix egg mixture into flour mixture, add melted butter, and mix only until moistened.  Thinly slice apples.  Grease and pre-heat griddle to 350*.  Use ¼ cup batter for each pancake. Place 3 apple slices on each pancake before flipping. Flip the pancake when air bubbles appear. Pancakes are cooked when it rebounds from being gently pressed in the center of the pancake.  Serve pancake apple side up with apple butter, toasted chopped walnuts and maple syrup.

For additional Orcas Island WA information our Chamber of Commerce is very helpful.