Wintergreen Winter 2011 Update

Contributed by Tim Merrick

What happened to to the holiday season this year? It came and went so fast, all I remember was Christmas Day. I hope you and your family had a wonderful holiday season. It was fun and wild on the mountain with family and guests enjoying all the slopes being open and we were very busy. A great start to the ski season.

The winter weather is certainly cooperating and the resort seems to be doing well. There is a new vibrant attitude at Wintergreen and I think it is due in large part to Hank Thiess and his staff and how welcome they have made owners, guests, and visitors feel. It is a big change. The old Wintergreen is coming back. At Wintergreen Real Estate, we are having fun with our Black Bear promotion, giving away stuffed bears, with our mascot, Blizzard the Bear helping us.

Stop by our mountain office with the kids and your friends and guess the pennies in the 5 gallon plastic water jug, and get a free stuffed bear. When someone guesses the correct number of pennies after they are counted May 31st, 2011; the winner will win a week’s accommodation in a three or four bedroom house at Wintergreen with lots of free fun activities and passes for things such as golf green fees and carts, dinners, tennis, wine, massages, etc. Stop by the Black Bear Café. We are next door.

What is happening in our markets at Wintergreen? Recovery is local as you know. Condo sale prices are still sliding as we see repos coming to market which compete with the standing inventory. House prices seem to have stabilized somewhat. Sales seem to be getting stronger but are still not in what I would describe as a recovery. We have set some records, especially at the higher levels, with four homes over $1,000,000 sold recently. Several of us think we are going to be bouncing along the bottom for another year or two. However, last week was packed with national housing market data and the news keeps getting better even though the media hasn’t caught on quite yet. One of the national financial news gurus, however, is taking notice of the resurgence of the second home market and the opportunities it offers. According to Clark Howard, it is the perfect time to buy as shown from this clip from CNN News which aired last week. It is safe to open and paints a picture of great opportunities in the second home markets across the nation. Worth watching! Click here to see what Clark Howard has to say about great deals on second homes.

Last year was an improvement for our real estate group, WREC. We did a little over 45% of all the home listings and sales on the mountain with an average home price of $418,852.00. Our group led all other real estate companies in volume of condo sales as well. In Stoney Creek, WREC also led the other real estate companies in listings and sales. In regard to the lot listings and sales statistics, we controlled over 62% of the sales on the mountain and 50% in Stoney Creek. But, the markets are still flat and many properties are overpriced in relation to true market value and evidenced by pace of sales. Buyers are still driving the market. No new news. Properties which are priced correctly will sell and in many instances have multiple offers, sometimes exceeding asking price. The Internet has made very calculating and informed buyers out of those taking the time to do the research. There is a lot of competition and there is a large inventory and these buyers know where the values appear to be. We are quite fortunate in that I have been able to find financing which will fund as high as 90% LTV (loan to value) for shelter products which is helping the condo market especially. We also have good local funding for lots. The collapse of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has so far cost taxpayers nearly $150 billion and that number could get much higher, depending what happens going forward. Our problem is that every sale we make, especially condos, has to meet the approval of these institutions, which buy mortgages from banks, bundle them up into securities and sell those securities off to investors. Fannie and Freddie and their top executives made bad investments and bad decisions. We have paid the price and will continue to as they have become the responsibility of U.S. taxpayers. In order for this housing market to recover, I believe the government has to have a smaller role in the housing market, with private capital coming back in and taking a larger share. However, we are seeing the banks beginning to lend more led by the 25 biggest banks that Americans love to hate. It is the smaller banks, more in tune to the market, which is providing some of the best financing and that is where we are also going for funding for our buyers. We all watch the Fed in this industry and basically, the Fed seems pleased with the recent signs of strength in the U.S. economy, but most don’t think the economy is in full recovery. They should keep interest rates at zero where they’ve been for 25 months. For most of this coming year they’re going to finishing buying the $600 billion worth of long-term treasuries that they agreed to buy in order to lower long-term interest rates. Inflation which is always spurs sales in the housing markets is still stagnant in the US, kept at bay by The Fed, but inflation is picking up overseas. They are worried about food, oil and raw material prices going up. Being a true global economy, it will not be long before it comes here. The historically low rates we have now are still a blessing to the housing market and a prime motivator for the home buyer. There is also ample inventory and great selective values. It is an excellent time to mention Wintergreen as a place to invest and enjoy to a friend. Please feel free to have them give me a call and I will be pleased to guide them and find them a great deal.

On another note, some quick news! I spoke with Fred Biggers, Superintendent of Golf, that the fairways of the Shamokin Nine are being irrigated down the middle of the fairway this spring and it will make a big difference in the look and play for one of my favorite nines in Stoney Creek.

Finally, allow me to share a recipe I heard while driving to the mountain a few weeks ago on NPR. I bought the cookbook. It was also posted on line so I guess it is OK to send it to you. It is outstanding and whoever eats it will ask for more and the cook will be greatly praised. Tim Hess, our resident gourmet chef, does this with wild game and it is incredible. It is worth the effort and a great wintertime dish, I promise!

Hachis Parmentier is a well-seasoned meat-and-mashed-potato pie that is customarily made with leftovers from a boiled beef dinner, like pot-au-feu. If you have leftover beef and broth from anything you’ve made, go ahead and use it.

Or, if you’d like to shortcut the process, make Quick Hachis Parmentier (see instructions below). But if you start from scratch and make your own bouillon, and if you add tasty sausage (not completely traditional), you’ll have the kind of hachis Parmentier that would delight even Daniel Boulud, a chef from Lyon who lives in New York City. You can use chuck, as you would for a stew, but one day my stateside butcher suggested I use cube steak, a cut I’d never cooked with. It’s an inexpensive, thin, tenderized cut (its surface is scored, almost as though it’s been run through a grinder) that cooks quickly and works perfectly here. If you use it, just cut it into 2-inch pieces before boiling it; if you use another type of beef, you should cut it into smaller pieces, and you might want to cook it for another 30 minutes.

Picture courtesy Alan Richardson

Hachis Parmentier or Sheppard’s Pie Makes 4 generous servings

For the beef and bouillon

1 pound cube steak or boneless beef chuck (see above), cut into small pieces

1 small onion, sliced

1 small carrot, trimmed, peeled and cut into 1-inch-long pieces

1 small celery stalk, trimmed and cut into 1-inch-long pieces

2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

2 parsley sprigs

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns

6 cups water

1/2 beef bouillon cube (optional)

For the filling

1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 pound sausage, sweet or spicy, removed from casings if necessary

1 teaspoon tomato paste

Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the topping

2 pounds Idaho (russet) potatoes, peeled and quartered

1/2 cup whole milk

1/4 cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus 1 tablespoon butter, cut into bits

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup grated Gruyere, Comte, or Emmental

2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan (optional)

To make the beef: Put all the ingredients except the bouillon cube in a Dutch oven or soup pot and bring to a boil, skimming off the foam and solids that bubble to the surface. Lower the heat and simmer gently for 1 1/2 hours. The broth will have a mild flavor, and that’s fine for this dish, but if you want to pump it up, you can stir in the 1/2 bouillon cube — taste the broth at the midway point and decide.

Drain the meat, reserving the broth. Transfer the meat to a cutting board and discard the vegetables, or if they’ve still got some flavor to spare, hold on to them for the filling. Traditionally hachis Parmentier is vegetable-less, but that shouldn’t stop you from salvaging and using the vegetables. Strain the broth. (The beef and bouillon can be made up to one day ahead, covered and refrigerated.)

Using a chef’s knife, chop the beef into tiny pieces. You could do this in a food processor, but the texture of your hachis Parmentier will be more interesting if you chop it by hand, an easy and quick job.

To make the filling: Butter a 2-quart oven-going casserole — a Pyrex deep-dish pie plate is just the right size for this.

Put a large skillet over medium heat and pour in the olive oil. When it’s hot, add the sausage and cook, breaking up the clumps of meat, until the sausage is just pink. Add the chopped beef and tomato paste and stir to mix everything well. Stir in 1 cup of the bouillon and bring to a boil. You want to have just enough bouillon in the pan to moisten the filling and to bubble up gently wherever there’s a little room; if you think you need more (a smidgen more is better than too little), add it now. Season with salt and pepper, especially pepper. If you’ve kept any of the vegetables from the bouillon, cut them into small cubes and stir them into the filling before you put the filling in the casserole. Scrape the filling into the casserole and cover it lightly; set aside while you prepare the potatoes. (You can make the dish to this point up to a few hours ahead; cover the casserole with foil and refrigerate.)

To make the topping: Have ready a potato ricer or food mill (first choices), a masher, or a fork. Put the potatoes in a large pot of generously salted cold water and bring to a boil. Cook until the potatoes are tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife, about 20 minutes; drain them well.

Meanwhile, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil or a silicone baking mat (you’ll use it as a drip catcher). Warm the milk and cream.
Run the potatoes through the ricer or food mill into a bowl, or mash them well. Using a wooden spoon or a sturdy spatula, stir in the milk and cream, then blend in the 3 tablespoons butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spoon the potatoes over the filling, spreading them evenly and making sure they reach to the edges of the casserole. Sprinkle the grated Gruyere, Comte or Emmental over the top of the pie, dust with the Parmesan (if using), and scatter over the bits of butter. Place the dish on the lined baking sheet.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling steadily and the potatoes have developed a golden brown crust (the best part). Serve.

Bring the hachis Parmentier to the table and spoon out portions there. The dish needs nothing more than a green salad to make it a full and very satisfying meal.

It’s easy to make this dish in stages: the beef and bouillon can be made up to a day ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator, and the filling can be prepared a few hours ahead and kept covered in the fridge. You can even assemble the entire pie ahead and keep it chilled for a few hours before baking it (directly from the refrigerator if your casserole can stand the temperature change) — of course, you’ll have to bake it a little longer. If you’ve got leftovers, you can reheat them in a 350-degree-F oven.

Quick Hachis Parmentier. You can make a very good hachis Parmentier using ground beef and store-bought beef broth. Use 1 pound ground beef instead of the steak, and when you add it to the sausage in the skillet, think about adding some finely chopped fresh parsley and maybe a little minced fresh thyme. You can also saute 1 or 2 minced garlic cloves, split and germ removed, in the olive oil before the sausage goes into the skillet. (The herbs and garlic help mimic the aromatics in the bouillon.) Moisten the filling with the broth, and you’re good to go.

Recipe from Around My French Table, by Dorie Greenspan

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