Sustainable Urbanism By Design

Cumberland5Originally published © the Portland Press Herald 2012, photos by Derek Davis

Intrepid homesteaders ascend Portland’s Munjoy Hill reviving once-neglected neighborhoods with creative housing concepts.

Sometimes it’s co-housing. Sometimes it’s a condominium.  It’s often collaborative living, but doesn’t quite conform to that definition. And it’s not an “intentional community,” a term that Portland architect Dick Reed would eschew as too precious, anyway.

Separate But Equal

When Dick Reed and his wife, Gunnel Larsdotter, decided it was time to consolidate their Peaks Island summer place, in-town home and architectural offices, their journey took them to Cumberland Avenue on Munjoy Hill.  Part of the quest was a parking spot for their beloved yellow motorcycle.

Yellow Motorcycle REEDReed’s friend Chris Roberts was seeking a site for an art studio, workshop and garden with his wife, Mere. Reed describes the goal as “do-it-yourself condo – you preselect the company and make your own rules.”

When Mere and Gunnel found a hidden green space with antique brick wall behind the run-down urban property, the “secret garden,” they declared the site perfect.  With their enthusiastic stamp of approval, the two couples purchased the property together.

Original cinderblock walls from 1945 are recycled from the building’s humble origins as a cement one-story garage. “I like the cinder block,” says Reed. “I was told it was made right here on Munjoy Hill.”

Original cinderblock walls from 1945 are recycled from the building’s humble origins as a cement one-story garage. “I like the cinder block,” says Reed. “I was told it was made right here on Munjoy Hill.”

The families appreciated the urban setting midway up Munjoy Hill, a working-class neighborhood of modest homes, apartments and tenements. The Hill’s legendary rough and gritty reputation persisted until gentrification began its relentless creep up the Eastern Prom in the 1980s and 1990s.

Reed rebuilt the existing five-bay cinderblock garage into a three-story residential space with office and guest quarters.  Chris and Mere rebuilt the former “carriage house” as an artist studio with living space overlooking the garden. The Reed home has ground floor entry, studio-office, guest quarters and garage. It opens onto a beautiful brick-walled courtyard with elegant Asian-style garden – an urban oasis.

Urban Tree House

Cumberland2The soaring, multidimensional space has salvaged walls of original cinderblock from the former garage, echoing the structure’s original use. On the exterior, the home is a warm shade of salmon, nearly identical to the historic Portland Observatory, combined with slate shingles in soft gray-green.

Inside, abundant windows give an open, loft-like feel.  The Reeds’ living/working space is a soaring 2,200 square feet, with open living room, dining room, and small but very efficient European kitchen, much of which was sourced at IKEA. Upstairs, their 3rd floor bedroom feels like an urban treehouse. Bath, laundry and exercise spaces flow seamlessly. The stairway features graceful wooden hand-rails for safety – smooth and round – each with a hand-finished ball at the end. Low lights illuminate the steps at night for safety.

Cumberland6Sweat Equity

Reed installed the glowing floors of recycled bleacher-seats himself, a Herculean effort. Reed’s DIY sensibility and elbow grease created both room in the budget and a feeling of accomplishment — the best combination of savvy, sweat equity and sustainability.

The couples incorporated sustainable building concepts like highly insulated SIP panels to minimize heat loss, LED lighting, and recycled flooring and original cinder block in the garage. The couples future plans include a green roof.

The views from the home are enviable — the soaring triple-decker has dramatic vistas on three sides. The Reeds enjoy the Munjoy Hill Observatory from the living room, plus twinkling lights of Back Cove from the lofty 3rd floor bedroom.  On clear days, they have a stellar view of Mt. Washington.  “It’s beautiful up here at night,” Gunnel says.

Although they laugh at being in their “Golden Years,” the Reeds have thoughtfully installed a residential elevator to enjoy the vertical life they have created.  I’m impressed — this romantic couple has done some serious forward-thinking. “Two couples together make it work — we couldn’t have done it on our own.”

Downsizing Up

Waterville_1The Reeds are not alone in seeking alternative forms of sustainable urbanism. Others on the Hill are making similar choices.

Developer Peter Bass and two architects, David Lloyd of Archetype and Jenny Scheu of Redhouse Architects, plus builder John Ryan of Wright-Ryan Construction, teamed up to build a three-unit on a vacant lot at on Waterville Street in the East End. “We can do this — we can downsize to a single story,” said Jenny Scheu, who with her husband John Ryan, downsized-up on the top floor.

David Lloyd by LibbyArchitect David Lloyd, left, and his wife Nancy Adams took the ground floor, and Peter Bass and his wife, artist Lin Lisberger, took the second. Now the “Waterville Triad” occupies three stacked modern condo units. “We knew it was a group that was fun and good humored. Everybody was on the same page. None of us wanted fancy place, we wanted the building  to be practical – not an ‘Architectural Statement.’”

Good Neighbors

With architects, developer and builder in the mix, the building was an obvious “go.”  Scheu says the vacant urban property was love at first sight. “I love the way the Hill falls away, overlooking the city. We love to watch the boats in the harbor coming and going.”

This accomplished, cooperative design-build group has common sense to spare. After careful consideration, a condo-model seemed the best way to go. The trio drew up documents and scheduled an annual condo meeting. Common spaces include hallways that also function as informal art galleries.  There is an elevator, and below, a handy multi-car garage. Outdoor common gardens are left up to artists Adams and Lisberger.

Waterville_4“The design process was a nice balance,” says Scheu.“shaping the overall vision of what the space would be – a lot of back and forth.”

Part of the goal was protecting the environment. The result is a tight building with thoughtful insulation and smart details that minimize heat loss, like triple glazed widows. “Wright Ryan gets the credit for knowing that these details don’t have to be too expensive,” said Scheu.  The Waterville Triad also walks the walk – literally. “We love being able to walk everywhere,” and there are 12 bicycles in the basement. “Our heating bill is less than our cable bill – by quite a bit!”says Scheu. “It feels great to have a lighter footprint. It’s resoundingly pleasant for all of us.”

Waterville_PanMulti-Generational Homesteading

Housing costs, a struggling economy and aging parents have inspired some urban homesteaders to join forces across generations. Studies show the number of multi-generational households has recently risen dramatically. Some urban homesteaders find that creating separate-but-equal multigenerational households under the same roof can both bring rewards and create new bonds.

Pam and Peter Macomber on share their building on St Lawrence St. with Pam’s mother. With separate apartments in the same building, there is both privacy and closeness. “It’s a delicate balance with Mom’s space on the first floor and our space on the second and third – but we all make it work. Boundaries!” says Pam.

Co-housing with an aging parent can have unexpected benefits. “Mom always knew we were looking out for her best interests,” says Pam, “now I she really believes it. She even offers to dog-sit!”

Portland Maine Rooftops

The upscale renovation features all new windows, decks, private parking and a residential elevator. A small outdoor green space admits light, but with nothing to mow. “Maybe a few potted plants.” says Pam. “We want Mom to be able to come and go, and not struggle with stairs, snow or parking. She has nice views and no fuss.”

Upstairs, the Macombers enjoy private panoramic views of Portland Harbor from two levels, with lots of glass and multiple decks facing the water. “We loved our home in Deering, but this is a lot more convenient to our work and downtown,” says Peter.

“And a lot more fun,” says Pam.

Walk The Walk

Walkability is key to sustainable urbanism, and a major factor in all the couples’ housing choices. You will see Peter Macomber rollerblading along Fore Street; Lisberger and Bass dog-walking on the Eastern Prom; and run into Scheu at Rosemont Market. The Reeds enjoy walking to films and exhibitions at Portland Museum of Art.  It’s a chorus: “From here, we can walk anywhere – we love it!”

Something wondrous is happening as urban homesteaders create old-fashioned communities using sustainable building concepts, upcycling, and contemporary design ideas, one unpolished gem at a time.  •



Posted in Maine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nor’easter: Survival Fare

DSCN3920A blizzard is coming. My first thought is, “What can I not live without for 48 hours?”  I head for 171 Cumberland Avenue, early, for some savory, soul-satisfying 10-10 pié.  I go for the Kale Feta Savory with carmelized onion, leeks, pumpkin and feta. They’re hand pies, right?  So I get one for each hand.DSCN3914

DSCN6502bottle_rb-grigioAt Hilltop Market, I grab a bottle of light, crisp pinot grigio from sunny California that distills coastal climate, fertile soils and enviably WARM weather into a crisp, hand-pie friendly bianco-rosso. Cheers! I conjure tropical thoughts of a trip to Nevis with my writerly pal, Necee Regis.  Let it snow!  •

DSCN6963Beach shacks Nevis copy


Posted in East Coast Travel, Food and Wine, Maine Travel, New England Travel, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Maine: Mother-Daughter Blue Highway

Bright blue sky and sunny tales of summer, originally published in the Maine Sunday Telegram/Portland Press Herald in June, July & August of 2013.

I hear there’s a street called Pineo Court in Bar Harbor. “Roadtrip!” says my daughter Sarah, who’s visiting from Portland, Oregon. Our mother-daughter Blue Highway zig-zags from Portland to Belgrade, through Damariscotta and Rockland, and all the way up to stunning Deer Isle, then Downeast to Bar Harbor.

DSCN9300Homegrown and Homemade

DSCN9411Our intergenerational ramble starts just north of Augusta at Wings Hill B&B in Belgrade Lake. A recent rain soaks the garden and everything is lush and green. Tall trees form a leafy canopy overhead. Fragrant herbs grow in terra cotta pots. Chef-owner chef Chris Anderson is hip and welcoming in his kilt and clogs. Part supper club and part B&B, locally sourced fare rules at Wings Hill. Seasonal produce comes from Flying Point, Buttermilk Hill and Songbird Farms. The Andersons insist on sustainable fish and Mercer free-range chickens. Wings Hill is blessedly BYOB, and we toast our adventure with Tree Spirits apple sparkling wine, dry and bubbly. From the York Hill goat cheese starter right through to the succulent roasted Anson pheasant and rhubarb cobbler, our meal is farm-to-table fabulous.

Green Spot in Oakland

DSCN9415We hit the road and spot a seasonal yellow roadside store, almost a shack, the Green Spot in Oakland. Savvy sisters Brenda and Tanya Athanus lure passersby with exquisite cheeses, homemade pasta, breads and baguettes, fresh produce, artisanal beer and great wines, lobsters and fish, elegant sauces and savory pestos, roasted vegetables and prepared foods and salads … all with a hit of Provencal flair. Well worth the U-turn.

N.C. Wyeth, The Hunter (detail), 1906; oil on canvas, 38 7/8 x 26 5/8 in.; collection of the Brandywine River Museum

N.C. Wyeth, “The Hunter” (detail), 1906; oil on canvas; collection of the Brandywine River Museum

Wondrous Wyeths

On the road again, we indulge in a ramble through the venerable Farnsworth in Rockland for “Every Picture Tells A Story.” The exhibition of 30 paintings by N. C. Wyeth spans four decades of his book and magazine illustrations. Viewers get the backstory for each work – an intimate and enlightening museum experience. My daughter agrees, “it’s a gas.”

OystersBountiful  Bivalves

Our journey continues north on Route 1 to Damariscotta where the humble oyster reigns. My bivalve buddy Bill Thomas recommends Damariscotta River Grill on Main Street as a great spot to savor a half dozen (okay, a dozen) Pemaquids on ice, briny and sweet.  Later, the Thomases prepare a lakeside feast of local Maine lamb and grilled vegetables. We sleep like babies despite the haunting cry of the loons.

Sarah at HaystackCoastal Craft

DSCN9487Sarah has always wanted to see Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, the coastal school and artist’s retreat in Deer Isle. Why not? This wooded Maine treasure nurtures artists local and “from away,” with studios open day and night to support the intensely creative process. A summer auction features works by faculty and students, and tours are offered to the public Wednesdays at 1:00 p.m. in summer, and studio tours for a small donation. Otherwise, studios are closed – no peeking.


Another sweet treat on Deer Isle is Nervous Nellie’s Jams and Jellies. Sarah likes the strawberry rhubarb conserve; I dig the Blue Razz. Don’t miss the whimsical outdoor sculpture and signage by Nellie’s husband, artist Peter Beerits.

Vintage Sign AcadiaTransformative

Ah, Acadia.  Follow the Park Loop Road and meander to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the Eastern Seaboard, topped by incomparable ocean views. Rent bikes and explore the 27 miles of paths and carriage trails through wooded pine groves. The people-watching at is pretty great, too.


Or seek out Bar Harbor’s serene Asticou Azalea Garden with its artfully composed plantings of pines, hemlocks, firs, Japanese maples, and of course, azaleas around an elegant reflecting pond. Blocks of pristine Maine granite glow on raked white sand. The mood is Zen, exquisitely free of crowds.

DSCN9498Farm to Vine

We love farmer’s markets, and Bar Harbor’s outdoor Eden Market is no exception. The array of dewy vegetables, fruits and flowers, fresh seafood, smoked meats, goat cheese and local wild berries is a sensory feast. Go early to catch the aroma of 44 North Coffee whose artisanal flavors mix with salty Maine air to outstanding effect.


Visit College of the Atlantic, an expansive Maine gem nestled on the craggy coast.  After graduation, the college is serenity itself, another great spot for a picnic or seaside stroll. Originally the headquarters of Acadia National Park, the little onsite Museum of Natural History displays the natural world of Maine in exhibits designed by college students.  Call ahead to make sure they are open – hours are quirky.


Our favorite off-the-beaten-track breakfast is at Café This Way. Hang out with locals under paintings of cows by Monmouth artist Neiley Harris, moo. Try the smoked trout eggs Benedict  or The Harney, corned beef hash with poached eggs. The café’s enormous breakfasts will cure whatever ails you – just show up hungry.

Fiore IITasteful Tides

Lined with small steel casks of extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegars, Fiore offers samples of artisanal blends and infusions. Choose a favorite – my newest passion is the cranberry pear white balsamic vinegar, sweetly aromatic – a bright, tasty mixer or “shrub” for vinegar cocktails.

Northeast Harbor’s Fiore outlet has added a gourmet shop, Tasteful Tides, where we sourced a beautiful picnic of crusty bread, smoked bleu cheese, robust lentil cakes and briny olives. Nothing beats a beach picnic on a summer afternoon. Northeast Harbor can also be a soothing respite from the sometimes-overwhelming Bar Harbor crowds.

stay_suite800600Nautical and Nice

When Sarah and her sisters were little, we camped at beautiful Mount Desert campground. Times change, and sleeping on the ground no longer has the same appeal. Fortunately, there is a wide range of accommodations in the area — from the elegant downtown West Street Hotel, with its unique rooftop pool and views of Frenchman’s Bay, to self-catering “green” cabins in lovely Southwest Harbor. The beauty of being a Mainer is the off-season, when out-of-reach accommodations become affordable, and Main Street is ours again.

DSCN9227Sip and Savor

Enjoy a true Downeast feast at Stewman’s Lobster Pound. Although there’s nothing amazing here, Stewman’s offers an authentically messy Maine lobster feed – imagine lobster juice dripping from your elbows and a view of lovely Frenchman’s Bay. Put on your lobster bib and go for it.

End the day under the romantic twinkling lights in the garden of McKays pub. If you’re feeling very brave, taste the jalapeno infused vodka and wait for the delayed reaction.

DSCN9243Yep, it’s right there, Pineo Court, behind the China Joy on Main Street – a great excuse for a memorable intergenerational roadtrip. •

Posted in East Coast Travel, Farm-to-Table, Food and Wine, Lobster, Maine Travel, New England Travel, Retro-Travel, Sustainable Travel, The Other Portland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Savor the SoPo Strip

DSCN2676Another tasty summer DIY tour was an afternoon stroll of SoPo’s Cottage Avenue “strip.”

Terra cotta CapreseOur mostly-walking tour begins at Terra Cotta, a gourmet market and take-out mecca saving busy people from Ramen and Lean Cuisine one delectable meal at a time. The menu features handmade pastas and prepared foods like lasagna, alfredo, picatta and parmegiano, plus creative veggie-driven indulgences like eggplant napoleons. Tasting is encouraged — we sample velvety balsamic vinegar and dark green olive oil.

20140327_893138.xml-otto3We pop into a refurbished gas station just up the road to find beloved Otto’s Pizza. The butternut squash, ricotta & cranberry pizza, above, tastes just as good across the bridge as it does downtown. The potato-rosemary is also a bridge-worthy favorite. Otto-SoPo’s filling-station ambiance is hip and retro, and it’s fun to sit semi-outside with the “garage bays” rolled up.

elsemere BBQAcross the road is Elsemere BBQ with tasty pulled pork, chicken and brisket. My clever daughter theorizes that barbecue is perfect recession food — flavorful, abundant, feeds a family. I would add that it’s satisfying and decadent — right up my alley. Elsemere’s creators, native Mainers, have nailed recession-buster fare beautifully — a great addition to the So-Po strip.


Or settle in for a wine-soaked dinner at Enio’s (formerly Rachel’s in Old Port and Woodfords incarnations). Owners Bob and Laura Butler have created a familiar yet surprising menu. Don’t miss the silky chicken liver in a jar. Their calamari sauté is my long-time go-to — comforting, and cheaper than a therapist. Laura’s orecchiette with sausage is generous and robust. Bob’s a real “wine guy” and delights in sharing his savvy, table side — he is the relaxed, anti-sommelier. I am so glad this dynamic duo is back!  •


Posted in East Coast Travel, Farm-to-Table, Food and Wine, Maine Travel, New England Travel, Sustainable Travel, The Other Portland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Innovation Destination: East Bayside

My sunny summer travel series continues on this snowy day, originally published in the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram in June, July & August of 2014.Maine Craft Distilling 1

After a formal “foodie tour” of Portland, I’m feeling restless. As a local, I know there are fresh, fab and funky finds a little farther off the beaten track. I decide to sip, savor and explore my own way through Portland’s East Bayside, where roasters, brewers and bakers are doing their own gustatorial thing with outstanding results.

Rebel Blend

DSCN2450We head down Fox Street for a wake-up taste and tour of the majestic new Coffee By Design roastery, café and world HQ on Diamond Street. Alan Spear shows off his shiny new “green” roasting machines as we sip the new Independents Blend, created to support local businesses. These guys make me so proud — as always, CBD does well by doing good. Altruism is alive and well in East Bayside at

Indie BotanicalsDSCN2472We head a short block to Maine Craft Distilling, home of our newest obsession — indie botanical spirits. We first taste their Alchemy gin in a tasty Negroni at Lolita. Here at the source, served as a naked sip, it’s even better.  We continue with Chesuncook, a divine distillation of carrot and barley infused with mint, basil and cucumber. We blaze through tiny sips of Black Cap vodka, triple-distilled through local maple charcoal — as clean and clear as Cold Stream Pond with a tasty wallop.

Maine blueberry “Blueshine” is a little sweet, but hey, along with cleverly named Queequeg and Ration rums, we decide that Maine Craft distills something for everybody over 21. My companion brings home three bottles of delicious indie spirits which ought to keep us entertained for what’s left of summer.

Call Me Ishmael

Rising TideNext door, Rising Tide Brewing Company epitomizes the new wave of craft breweries. For someone whose beer knowledge stops at red, brown and yellow, Rising Tide definitely lifts my boat. My seafaring companion and I sit in their casual tasting room and enjoy a flight of 4 oz. tastes. I discover two new favorites, Ishmael and Spinnaker, yum. While refining our tasting chops with another flight, I detect a flavor that can best be described as cat-whiff. True to form, I blurt my discovery as my companion turns a hoppy shade of pink. “Go to the head of the class,” the counterman says, “the Simcoe hop does have a distinctly ‘catty’ taste.” Score!

Rising Tide’s beer-and-cheese hour is one of the best deals in town at $15, with artisanal brews and pairings by cheese maven Ruth Miller. Portland’s venerable food trucks raft up here on weekends, including Fishin’ Ships, Small Axe and the Good Shepherd Food Truck. Get there.


Tandem coffee LPSagging? Not us. We tumble into Tandem Coffee Roasters café for a little pick-me-up. Their “Time and Temperature” espresso grabs our attention, flavorful and rich with deep, dark aroma of Italy. These guys honed their skills at Blue Bottle in San Francisco, and were kind enough to switch coasts and share their prodigious gifts with us here in East Bayside. We love Tandem’s hipster ambiance and collection of vinyl — the music is as densely flavorful as the coffee. Look for the white bicycle sculpture / bike rack out front.  And hey, I learned a new word: Tandem holds free “cuppings” every Friday.

Rethink Pie

DSCN2506Down here in the innovation district, handcrafted baked goods are a natural. Here at Maine Pie Line, Briana Warner’s nifty and tasty hand-pies are elevating the art of the simple British pastie to a straight-up art form. Her savory, palm-sized pies are filled with home-grown Maine ingredients like kale, Portobello mushrooms, turkey, goat cheese, caramelized onions, dried cranberries and much more.  Warner’s sweet pies are equally inspired, with combinations like green tea in chocolate shortbread with a sprinkling of sesame seeds.  She’s right — these are pies like my mother never made.

NEWS:  Since publication of this story in August, Maine Pie Line has merged with the venerable Two Fat Cats Bakery on India Street. Originally part of the innovation destination in East Bayside, I include them in this post.

Imbibables and Fermentables

2014-07-30 12.58.37We take our golden-crusted indulgences next door to Urban Farm Fermentory for beverages to enhance our feast. We choose fresh pressed Maine apple cider that is, as promised, wildly fermented and dry. UFF has an outdoor perch for a sipping, and adheres to a freewheeling bring-your-own-hand-pie policy. Sweet. This magical laboratory offers a combination of imbibables and fermentables plus sniffable spices, pods and herbs. They can talk about yeast for hours. Their tasting room has 12 tap lines and features afternoon tours with experimental batches of kombucha (fermented tea) and hard cider. My Rachel

< My daughter Rachel takes a hit of Urban Farm’s potent probiotic kombucha each morning and swears by it — digestively and spiritually.

Rock on, Urban Farm.

 Herbs and Flowers

DSCN2424Take a break from sipping and savoring at Swallowtail Farm and Creamery, a leafy, fragrant retreat. Swallowtail sells herbs, herbaceous products, holistic elixirs and salves in a tiny corner shop that smells like a garden and feels like a sorcerer’s cave. They also offer fresh and foraged artisanal cheeses, yogurt and kefir.  An old fashioned new-age combo of farm, fragrance and forage — check out this nifty little healthful oasis.

Y/East End

We check in with Bomb Diggity Bakery’s Rob Hammond whose early-morning handiwork supplies English muffins for breakfast sandwiches to the iconic Holy Donut and Whole Foods by the Bay — more yeasty local sourcing. They are bomb diggity.

Sweet Treat

203474_292604070842157_1148266634_nWe end our three-hour homegrown tour with a Pure Pops popsicle, made in small batches with organic sugar and lots of local fruit. Eclectic flavors include Apple Cranberry Crisp, Avocado Lime, Blueberry Lavender, Peach Rhubarb, Pineapple Ginger, Strawberry Basil, Watermelon Cucumber Mint and more. I adore the Grapefruit Tarragon. Get there early for best selection, and remember, it’s a self-serve honor system!

Conception to Creation

Explore East Bayside at the crossroads of invention and innovation and see what’s new under the Portland sun. •


Posted in East Coast Travel, Farm-to-Table, Food and Wine, Maine Travel, New England Travel, Retro-Travel, Sustainable Travel, The Other Portland | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Maine Culinary Travel Three Ways

More sunny tales of summer originally published in the Maine Sunday Telegram/Portland Press Herald in June, July and August of 2014.

There are many ways to enjoy culinary travel here in Maine. Take a cooking class with an expert. Take a “foodie tour” of a city, marketplace or specialty food producer. Or do your own thing — do-it-yourself touring. This summer, I’ve had fun with all three.

Side Door MargaritasHail to the Chef: Stonewall Kitchen School

Braised_Chicken_maple_brussel_sproutsI’m on a high stool in a shiny teaching kitchen. There’s just enough here, hi-tech and low, to get the job done. There are 38 enthusiastic cooking-class participants, mostly women, and a sprinkling of men. Participants come from all over New England, although today, most are from Maine.

Today’s chef is Scott Jones and this is his “Love of Lemons” class. The fragrance of today’s lesson is definitely in the air, along with artichokes, berry cakes and several whole cooked chickens sending wonderful aromas into the large sunny room.

scottjones_largeJones, a Mainer, studied at the venerable Johnson and Wales where he was awarded the prestigious Cordon Bleu Medal — classy guy. He tells me that this is the 6th anniversary of Stonewall cooking school. “This is an exciting time,” he says, “we will have taught as many as 50,000 people by now.”

Today’s lesson begins with artichoke and lemon fritto misto. The fried lemons are a crisp surprise.  A pistachio and lemon pesto follows along with a peppering of foodie questions, like, “Does anybody know what ‘fritto misto’ means?’” I keep my mouth shut, but honestly, the questions are light and friendly as an airy tempura.

Wineglass - weblogThere will be spatchcocked chicken with garlic, thyme and, you guessed it, more lemon. It smells amazing in here. Nice touch: The handsome sous chef, Mike, is shredding the chicken — a thoughtful touch, since 88% of the assembled are women, coo coo ca-choo. I wonder where Mike got that tan.

Wine by the glass is also a convivial touch, and the wine selections are respectable — three whites, three reds, four beers and one sparkling Chandon. Saratoga sparkling water seems an odd choice, hm. I would politely suggest that Stonewall consider stocking some Maine wines and Maine sparkling water. Why not?

579132Stonewall is a teaching-and-eating kitchen, set with attractive flatware, dishes and serveware. Nice. You do not forget for a minute that this is part of a vast commercial enterprise, but you don’t care—there is no pressure to purchase anything.

Stonewall cooking school is a watch-and-learn experience, not a participatory one.  But it is friendly, instructive and I learned a lot. I proudly confess that Stonewall’s spatchcocked lemon cafecollectionchicken is now my go-to, show-off dish.

“Succulent!” says my brother-in-law, Willie. And he’s right. •


Maine Foodie Tours: Bar Harbor

Shell middensThe Wabanakis, original foodies, discovered that this beautiful place was perfect for clam harvesting and clambakes. They left enormous shell piles or “middens” as evidence. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Della SaintyA foodie tour is a great way to get to know a place. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a great guide like Della Sainty, who manages to infuse local history and food lore with modern trends and local products. We begin at the central coffee shop where we sample an Acadia smoothie made with Coffee By Design coffee, Ghirardelli chocolate and ice cream, buzzed up with a handful of ice. “Buzz” is the right word — Acadia packs a double wallop of caffeine and chocolate. Good morning, Bar Harbor.

ivy-manor-frontDella guides us to one of my favorite chef-owned inns, Ivy Manor, in the heart of downtown.  Their intimate farm-to-fork restaurant, Michelle, stresses the upcycled old-fashioned concept of local sourcing, with Sunset Meadow meats, farmer’s market produce and plenty of Maine berries.

DSCN1707At the Side Street Café we “taste” (read: wolf) an outstanding lobster roll and sample three of their signature margaritas: strawberry with local rhubarb; blueberry-basil; and apple-cinnamon infused tequila—really.

We pop into venerable Galyn’s for a luscious bite of crabcake and a peek at their quirky art collection. We wander across the street to Bar Harbor Inn’s relaxed waterfront café for a tasting portion of lobster bisque, a very pleasant last bite with an incredible view.

After our fascinating and filling three-hour tour, I leave with tips for tasty things to sip, Ice Cream Mother Shipsavor and explore on my own once I recover my appetite. I continue my own mini-Della Tour with a stop at Mount Desert Ice Cream to sample Maine flavors like sea salt caramel and blueberry basil. Their fresh strawberry captures the essence of summer in Maine.

Della rocks the tour with a winning combination of street savvy and local history. Highly recommended for culinary travelers “from away.”  •

Best Bite: Ellsworth

ROCKY POINT CALM CAKES ELLSWORTHOkay, food trucks are not allowed in Bar Harbor, but I stop en route in Ellsworth at food truck extraordinaire, Rocky Point Clamcakes. Rocky Point’s surprising clam cakes resemble airy fritters. URGENT: Do not pass this food truck!

Rocky Point Clam

Bountiful Belfast: DIY by the Bay

DSCN2338Belfast is also a natural destination for culinary travelers. Its brick Victorian downtown is so compact, you can do-it-yourself in an afternoon.

DSCN2239Wander along Main Street and nip into the Chocolate Drop for handmade ice cream flavors like Moxie and Maine Blueberry. Sail into the smooth organic serenity of Chase’s Daily — part farm-stand, part café, and part art gallery — for great vegetarian fare made with their own heirloom tomatoes, fingerling potatoes and a bouquet of herbs. In back, the colorful produce and plants are for sale along walls hung with local art.

Eat More Cheese - local and from awayMain Street producers and purveyors include “Eat More Cheese,” a cheese & specialty food shop where tasting is encouraged. Vinolio is a wine and vinegar boutique whose philosophy is the same. Ask to taste their oldest, sweetest balsamic vinegar — dense and delicious. Vinolio’s weekly summer wine tastings include Chilean, South African and U.S. wines through August. Main Street’s rambling kitchen emporium, The Good Table, stocks everything from cookie cutters to cocktail shakers.  If they don’t have it, you probably don’t need it.

The GothicThe Gothic restaurant in Belfast’s historic flatiron building is legendary for chef Matthew Kenney’s creative take on raw (and very lightly cooked) cuisine. Imagine a colorful dish of local asparagus, nasturtium pesto and a beautiful egg yolk — simplicity itself. The inspired Mr. Kenney conducts classes year-round … if you can catch up with him.

Or source a picnic lunch from the iconic Belfast Coop with its Delvinos doorwayabundant reasons to eat local and organic. Or share a recession-buster plate of pulled pork, beans, turnip greens and corn bread for $11 at Pig Out BBQ. Enjoy Delvino’s “Good Things Come in Threes” Happy Hour, with $3 appetizers and drinks from 2:30-5:30. Their sangria is refreshing ruby red with a hit of St. Germain. Another 3-for-$3 participant is the Front Street Pub where we enjoy fried fiddleheads and infused spirits. Don’t miss the chili-pepper vodka—my lips are still happily numb.

DSCN2311We stay oceanside at Colonial Gables cottages, and discover we’re next door to funky former biker bar, Papa J’s. We share his littleneck clams casino with chorizo, gaze at the ocean and dawdle through the surprising wine list. We learn that “Papa” gets his lamb and beef from the 4-H Club —  talk about local sourcing. Don’t miss the quirky restroom décor.

DSCN2334Belfast is a favorite edible destination — an eclectic mix of art and culture, funk and farmland, fine dining and, well, BBQ. For epicurious travelers, Belfast is the best. •

DSCN2331Epicuriosity: Mick Jagger rules the rest room at Papa J’s.
Posted in East Coast Travel, Farm-to-Table, Food and Wine, Lobster, Maine Travel, New England Travel, Sustainable Travel, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Edible Destinations: Midcoast Maine

More sunny summer adventures originally published in the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram in June, July & August of 2014.

Midcoast Maine is a knockout for culinary enthusiasts with edible destinations like Salt Water Farm, Cellardoor Winery, and chef-owned inns like The Norumbega and Hartstone.  The Camden, Lincolnville and Rockport area is a foodie mecca with tastings, classes and chef’s dinners for locals and tourists alike. “We don’t eat to live,” says local cookbook author, Dana Moos, “We live to eat.”

Hartstone Inn
“Hold ‘Em By The Knuckles”


When looking for a food-centric getaway, I head for the godfather of culinary travel in midcoast Maine, Michael Salmon at Hartstone Inn in Camden. This friendly and accomplished chef attracts travelers from all over. My classmates include a chef from New York, couples from Massachusetts and Connecticut, and a pair of New Hampshire sisters attending their 4th gustatory getaway with a 5th planned for later this summer. “We love it,” they say, “we always learn something new!”

DSCN1062Today is Hartstone’s popular Lobster Lovers class.  We’ll prepare Lobster with Vanilla Beurre Blanc; Lobster and Asparagus Salad; Avocado and Lobster Cakes; and Lobster-Gruyere Souffle with Grilled Corn Cream. Hungry yet? Best of all, participants enjoy a generous serving (or two!) of each divinely decadent dish, and will leave with a fistful of recipes.

The Hartstone kitchen accommodates groups of 12, plus chef Salmon and his hard-working sous chef, Tim Biderman. To get things started, everyone is served a glass of chilled chardonnay. Lovely. One sheepish participant announces, “I’m allergic to diary.” Chef Salmon is unfazed, despite the fact that today’s menu includes a soufflé and a beurre blanc. “Don’t worry,” he says, “I can work with that,” producing individual portions that are delicious and dairy-free — he is unflappable.

Chef Salmon and friendsThings move quickly, here, with tips, tricks and a soupcon of technique. Salmon demonstrates how to peel asparagus and better still, tells us why. He shows us how to use a microplane — I’ve been holding mine upside-down for years. He reveals the simple secrets of his go-to dressing, an unfussy emulsion of oil, tangerine juice and a bit of sweet Vidalia onion. Mm.

By the end of the afternoon, we’ve learned how to safely remove rubber bands from live lobsters (“hold ‘em by the knuckles”), how to roast a perfect tomato, and what it means to “know your salt.” We’ve also eaten four densely delicious courses. The fare is rich and fragrant, the chef and staff are gracious, and I never want to leave.  •


Corncobs in a wicker basketFarm to Union Hall

Rockport’s historic Union Hall houses Salt Water Farm Café & Market, an airy windowed space with exposed brick and central “stage” kitchen. On my first visit, the chef was deconstructing a man-sized halibut for the evening meal. I sipped a Moxie Tonic and watched, riveted, as servings were herbed, seared and delivered to diners — hunks of fresh ocean. The scene made an indelible impression as the ultimate in “dinner theatre.”

Today, the chef is wrangling beautiful farm-fresh produce into tasty meals. The atmosphere is convivial and fuss-free. Dilemma: cheddar-chive biscuit or fig and anise scone? Fig and anise, definitely. Dusted with powdered sugar, it arrives on a rustic enamel plate edged in cobalt blue. With a sweet clotted cream and a cup of chamomile tea overlooking Penobscot Bay, this is bliss with a view.

Annemarie Ahearn on the farmSalt Water Café’s creator is the inspired Annemarie Ahearn, whose farm and cooking school in Lincolnville produces endless varieties of vegetables and an astonishing array of herbs.

The saltwater farm is planted right to the to ocean’s edge, where mussels, sea urchins and periwinkles are harvested as part of Ahearn’s hands-on cooking classes.  “We focus on fundamental skills here—it’s so gratifying watching people learn to trust their instincts and use their senses. We tear off a piece of every herb, get to know its smell, touch and taste.” The farm’s modern teaching kitchen opens onto the vast garden, ocean views, blue sky and a long gathering table for lovely communal meals.

Interior Salt Water FarmThe takeaway from Ahearn’s cooking classes is profoundly simple: “Trust yourself.”       Check out her cooking classes and events! •

Coastal Cellars


East End Cupcakes baker-owner Alysia Zoidis at Cellardoor Winery.

East End Cupcakes baker-owner Alysia Zoidis at Cellardoor.

Cellardoor Winery in Lincolnville blends grapes, local and from-away, to make wines like my favorite crisp white, Viognier. Reds range from robust to jammy with clever names like Urbane and Ned Said Red. I leap at the chance for an extended wine tasting and cupcake-baking workshop at Cellardoor with Alysia Zoidis, creator of East End Cupcakes. “It’s cupcake in one hand, wine in the other,” she says. I’m in.

I sip a small glass of Perfect Stranger wine as Zoidis demonstrates her basic cupcake batter and go-to Italian buttercream. The industrial mixer is humming and the soaring barn-space begins to smell of butter and sugar. There are several couples the class, and it occurs to me that culinary travel can be pretty romantic. We sip, observing the art and science of cupcakes, in the changing afternoon light off Levenseller Mountain.

DSCN1632>  Colin Coor from Union, Maine, scoops cupcakes as his wife looks on. “This isn’t something I see every day,” she coos, “I love it!”

Participants sample East End’s red-velvet cupcakes and taste four flavors of buttercream using little sticks. I confess it’s hard not to use your fingers like a four-year-old. Then it’s on to bacon cupcakes with maple frosting, a wonderful breakfasty blend of salt and sweet. Blueberry cupcakes with native Wyman’s berries, topped with vanilla buttercream, are paired with Clary Hill Blue dessert wine for a sweet blue immersion. Wow.

I’m a little light-headed, but I guess that’s the idea. I’d welcome a palate cleanser of raw steak right about now. “Sugared out?” asks Zoidis.  Yup. But it’s so worth it.

cellardoor 1Cellardoor owner Bettina Doulton gives back to the community with seasonal fundraising events. Tastings, events and classes run all summer into fall, including wine-and-food pairings and celebrations for a cause.  •

That Sense of Place

DSCN1361Norumbega "castle" detailsAnother culinary gem is found up the road at Camden’s Norumbega Inn. A graceful grand dame, this turreted stone castle is now in the capable hands of Chef Phil Crispo and his partner, Susan Walser, who runs the front of the house.  Their tiny dog, Rocco, is official greeter.

I safood-11-2684682370-o1.jpg.1024x0vor a Norumbega breakfast of smoked-cheddar corn muffins, ricotta-plum pastries, and addictive blueberry-lavender shortbread made with Kate’s organic butter and local Glendarragh Farms lavender. With a cup of Seacoast Norumbega blend coffee, this hunk of rocky coast offers up a piece of organic, fair trade heaven.

Holiday InnsCrispo refers to midcoast as the “Napa Valley of the East,” and celebrates the diversity of area farmers and purveyors daily as he sources inspiration and ingredients for evening meals. His cheffy-banter is lighthearted, but there is an unexpected heft to his ideas and no mistaking his deep sense of place. “It’s terroir,” says Crispo. “If it grows together, it goes together.”

If you’ve never indulged in a chef’s tasting menu, it’s probably time. Each exquisite bite — aroma, taste, color and garnish (what my husband calls the “squiggly flourish”) — builds on the next. Imagine unctuous asparagus soup at its silky, seasonal best with a drizzle of white truffle oil. Robust Maine venison fajitas. Then maybe a bit of firm native cod with unexpected hints of masala, turmeric and coconut milk, followed by Raven’s Crossing greens kissed by wildflower honey.

food-6-2684682095-o1.jpg.382x286_defaultCombine this epicurean alchemy with expert wine pairings for a memorable, one-off taste of Maine. In addition to daily kitchen magic, the Norumbega has tastings, pairings and culinary events — check for information. In the meantime, if you ask nicely, perhaps you can join chef Crispo in the kitchen and, as he says, “Rattle a few pans together.”  •

Norumbega antique image



Posted in East Coast Travel, Farm-to-Table, Food and Wine, Lobster, Maine Travel, New England Travel, Sustainable Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment