Skiing, Cooking and Winter Fun in the White Mountains
Good food and good skiing — what better combination for a wintry weekend in the White Mountains?
I’ll admit that we chose our route via I-93 and Rte. 302 with dinner in mind … it took us past Notchland Inn at just the right time. We began with warming soups — creamy cauliflower-shallot with Gorgonzola and a savory Portuguese kale soup with smoked ham — and appetizers of spinach-pine nut ravioli and warm goat cheese with herb-roasted olives. The seared duck breast entrée was served in hazelnut-pink peppercorn cream and my lamb kabobs were skewered on grapevine and served with a pinot noir reduction. I’m not sure how we found room for maple pecan pie and tarte Tatin with caramel sauce and cinnamon ice cream, but we managed. Our B&B, The Bernerhof Inn, was just a few miles down the road. We were delighted to see that our spacious third-floor room included the inn’s distinctive round tower, a window-surrounded space occupied by a double whirlpool tub. Our queen-sized oak sleigh bed and two comfortable wing chairs faced a paneled gas fireplace, and the décor fit this elegant Victorian mansion.
We chose from several breakfast entrées, selecting the jalapeno-sausage omelet and Irish eggs Benedict, served over a meaty corned beef hash with a lime-based hollandaise. With my first cup of tea (brewed in a china pot) I sampled a light and flaky pecan Danish. We retrieved our boot bags from the warm closet where resident innkeeper Steve had stowed them on our arrival and headed to nearby Attitash Mountain to sample their new snowmaking improvements on the Bear Peak trails. Maybe it was the new snow guns or maybe it was Mother Nature — we couldn’t tell — but the snow was as good as it gets. Attitash catches the morning sun, and on this cold January day it felt good as we glided down Wandering Skis, Snowdancer and Trillium.
Several runs later, and after hearty bowls of hot chili in the large, sunny cafeteria at Bear Peak Lodge, we rode to the top again, this time following a series of trails that took us to Attitash Peak, where we savored the views of snow-covered mountains as we cruised down Saco. By now it was mid-afternoon, so I was ready to return to Bernerhof Inn — more specifically to its spa, the Serenity Studio. The warm-stone massage was just what I needed after this early-season challenge to my ski legs. Thus restored, I joined Tim at our own B&B’s après-ski spot, a cozy pub stocked with beers and ales representing 24 different New England breweries, behind the 80-year-old wood-paneled bar. We claimed cushy chairs beside the fireplace and discussed our evening’s planned dining adventure.
We were joining with two other couples for A Taste of the Mountains Cooking School class with Chef Steffani Adaska, right here in Bernerhof’s beautiful kitchen. We could choose from a number of cuisines and themes — pasta making, cooking with grains, a traditional New England clambake, vegetarian, sushi or cooking of Provence, some taught by Steffani and others by guest chefs. We selected Vietnamese because none of us was especially familiar with it, and in the course of the three-hour class we were introduced to several new ingredients —palm sugar, kaffir lime leaves, galangal — and learned how to select the best canned coconut milk and how to dip sheets of rice paper into hot water just long enough to make them pliable.
Dinner at A Taste of the Mountains Cooking School
During the hands-on workshop, we made Vietnamese summer rolls, a flavorful pad Thai, chicken satay with peanut sauce and a delicate coconut milk soup called tom ka gai. We ate right there in the kitchen, accompanying dinner with a medium Riesling and enjoying each dish and the new flavors and combinations. Most of all we enjoyed cooking with Steffani and learning new tricks and ingredients.
We chose apple pancakes and French toast for breakfast, before setting out to ski at Bear Notch Ski Touring Center, just up the road. This wonderfully laid-back place rang with cheery greetings as people set out through the woods, along frozen brooks, past waterfalls and across a valley filled with beautiful White Mountain views. The trails — some head into the woods toward Bear Notch and others traverse the open valley along the Saco — are groomed for both track and skating skiers. Dogs are welcome and we met a number of people skijoring behind them. About halfway through the morning we stopped in the warming hut for a bowl of hot soup, which we dipped out ourselves — this is the kind of place where the honor system works just fine.
Ready for another rest, and for lunch, headed north a couple of miles to Cabin Fever Restaurant. The wood interior is like a cabin, decorated with old tools and snowshoes on the walls. There’s a happy vibe, good-humored service and a passion for fresh seafood, which they source daily, direct from the coast. We had bowls of creamy fish chowder, a haddock sandwich with a dinner-sized filet of flaky fish and a hot lobster roll. I’d never had one served hot before, and it was perfect, with a rich, buttery flavor. We had a long ride ahead of us, so we indulged in slices of apple and blueberry pie, which Cabin Fever is known for throughout the valley. We chose a different route home, through North Conway, where we couldn’t resist checking a few January sales.