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.

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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.

DSCN9318Serenity

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.

DSCN9265Restorative

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.

DSCN9251Moo

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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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.

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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!  •

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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 www.coffeebydesign.com

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. www.mainecraftdistilling.com

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. www.risingtidebrewing.com

Cupping

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.  www.tandemcoffee.com

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.  www.mainepieline.com

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. www.urbanfarmfermentory.com

 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.  www.swallowtailfarmandcreamery.com

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. www.bombdiggitybakery.com

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!  www.pure-pops.com

Conception to Creation

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

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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. •

stonewallkitchen.com

 

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.”  •

Mainefoodietours.com

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 Cakeswww.facebook.com/rockypointclamcakes

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.

www.thegothicrestaurant.com

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.
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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”

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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.

www.hartstoneinn.com  •

 

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!

saltwaterfarm.com. •

Coastal Cellars

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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.

www.mainewine.com  •

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 norumbegainn.com 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.”

www.norumbegainn.com  •

Norumbega antique image

 

 

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The Maine Cottage II: Living History

Bayside CottageMore tales of summer warmth for a cold winter, published in June, July & August 2014 © Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

Pioneer Cottage, Bayside MEMaine cottages of all shapes and sizes offer charm and comfort. Some also offer a sense of history. While tooling up and down the coast in search of the quintessential Maine Cottage, I hook a left in Northport just south of Belfast and end up in Bayside, a sleepy little seaside hamlet.

The modest summer “camp meeting” was founded by forward-thinking Methodists in 1849. Families camped in tents on small platforms, and later, erected small, gingerbread-style wooden cottages overlooking beautiful Penobscot Bay. Over 300 cottages were eventually built, and most still stand today.

^ Built in 1869, Pioneer Cottage was the first private dwelling erected in Bayside.

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Bayside is characterized by Victorian architecture, wraparound porches and colorful gingerbread trim in blue, green and yellow … and oh, the pinks! A pretty row of cottages along the park recalls the iconic “painted ladies” of San Francisco. Inside, some have been modernized, but many remain camp-style. My charming yellow cottage, Windy Corner, has a flight of narrow stairs to two small bedrooms whose open windows invite sea breezes and sound sleep.

DSCN1761A feeling of a simpler time prevails in Bayside, drawing visitors and summer residents year after year — some for over a century. For anyone with a sense of history, Bayside feels authentic and unfussed-with. There are no stoplights, and only one stop sign.  The town center is the tiny library, where bookish Bayside kids can likely read every volume in a rainy summer. Grassy parks and a town dock give children room to play and swim as they did a century ago. A small, shallow semicircular beach is perfect for small children, with its sandy bottom that protects protect little feet.

Walking is great in Bayside. Townies smile and wave — sometimes, even to those of us “from away.” Seaside diversions include beachcombing, kayaking or sailing along the craggy shore.  I’ll bet the birding is pretty good, too.  On a clear day, you can see Ilseboro in the distance, and sometimes even Mt. Cadillac.

DSCN1777Porch-sitting in Bayside is a time-honored, old-fashioned tradition — the way I remember summer. There is no hustle here: I couldn’t discern much commercial activity unless you count the lady who builds twig trellises or the little real estate office. I head a mile up the road to the iconic Belfast Coop for upscale local groceries like Sullivan Farms smoked salmon and Appleton Creamery chevre, camp essentials. But as much as I adore funky Belfast, I confess I couldn’t wait to get back to my cozy little seaside haven.

www.baysidecottagerentals.com

 

Grandeur and Gravitas

Cleftstone Manor in an early watercolor

Cleftstone Manor in historic watercolor

I decide to check out historic Bar Harbor, home of Maine’s iconic summer “cottages” by the sea. Although their numbers were diminished by the Great Fire of 1947, many of the surviving cottages now operate as inns and B&Bs. Cleftstone Manor is one such survivor, with 16 guest rooms named for luminaries like Joseph Pulitzer and James G. Blaine. This grand summer cottage also housed the likes of William Howard Taft, whose girth was so vast that he required the installation of a special bathtub.

Cleftstone - courtesy of innI learned this quirky fact from Cleftstone owner, Ann Bahr, a former schoolteacher and natural raconteur. This, I find, should be a prerequisite for any innkeeper of an historic inn — or in this case, “Maine Cottage.” Bahr gives me a window into the past with photographs and a memoir by my room’s namesake, Laura Blair, who summered at Cleftstone. I also learn that my room was part of the original ballroom. No wonder I sleep so soundly, dreaming of dancing. I’m steeped in history and lore. Thanks, teach.

inn_13_bgBreakfast at the Cleftstone is a yummy,  comfortable affair with house specialties like eggs Benedict and crème brulée French toast. Bahr, also a seasoned breakfast chef, turns out bennies and brulees like an old pro. There is plenty of hot coffee, juice, and daily smoothie. Homemade muffins and breads are graciously packed to-go, if you’re unable to eat another delicious bite. I particularly enjoyed Cleftstone’s BYOB “social hour” with homemade hors d’oeuvres. Bahr chats with guests and repeat visitors, and is generous with insider tips, local lore and recommendations. The conviviality is an unexpected plus for solo travelers. Guests are free to enjoy the main rooms of at Cleftstone — living room with fireplace, dining room with massive antique black-oak table, and the spacious, sunny enclosed porch.

Cleftstone Interior 1 courtesy photoThis sprawling summer cottage is old-style, not new-wave.  The décor is just this side of stodgy, and there are a few too many frou-frou touches. But this distinguished, old-fashioned Maine Cottage has enough provenance to lend it both gravitas and a real sense of history — thoroughly enjoyable.

www.cleftstone.com

 

Twee and Trendy

Sunset Cottage at Cabot Cove breakfast hook to the left of doorIf I ever run away from home, I will doubtless be found at The Cottages at Cabot Cove in Kennebunkport. Formerly a roadside motel typical of the 1950s and 60s, Cabot Cove is now an open circle of sixteen cottages, each with tiny cupola and soothing exterior palette. Inside, each is a 300-sq-ft jewel designed and appointed by a different interior designer. Experiencing them as an informal series is a gas—the way I see it, I can visit every summer for 14 years and never repeat the experience.

Cottage interior 2014Last year, I enjoyed the funky ambiance of Endless Summer cottage, with its eclectic jungle theme, animal prints and barefoot, beachy elegance. This year I chose romantic High Tide cottage, with whitewashed twig chandelier, white-on-white linens, bentwood rocker and cottage-chic ambiance.

DSCN1500Part of the beauty of a cottage stay is being able to “prepare” (not necessarily cook!) your own meals and picnics if and when you feel like it.  Although there is no shortage of restaurants, I enjoy the inspired take-out available at Kennebunk markets H.B. Provisions and Market Day, and from the sunny Cape Porpoise Kitchen next to that bastion of yummy summer breakfast, the Wayfarer.

DSCN1547These take-out standouts offer salads, soups and respectable chowders, Maine crab cakes, meats, and baked goods galore. I appreciate the selection of local wines and international cheese — a cocktail party in a basket. Whether you want a yummy clam or shrimp boat from the Clam Shack, or a do-it-yourself feast, you’ll have a lovely seaside spot to dine and a super compact kitchen to prepare it.  Cottages are remarkably well–equipped, starting with my go-to cottage necessities — reliable corkscrew and coffeemaker.

Croissant breakfastRomance gets a relaxed start each morning with a take-your-time breakfast delivered in a bright canvas tote hanging adorably on a nautical hook outside your door until you’re ready to retrieve it. Our bright green tote contains sturdy breakfast basics like yogurt, fruit, muffins, savory stuffed croissants and O.J.  Early risers can sip DIY coffee and nibble last-night’s beach picnic.

This is the upscale, fully “wired” Maine Cottage experience — a comfy-chic, compact and very romantic “Room with a View.”

www.cabotcovecottages.com

Commercial and Colorful

DSCN1502DSCN1504Just up the road in Kennebunk is another modern twist on the Maine Cottage, a string of tiny galleries and boutiques in old cottage units called The Galleries at Morning Walk. I visit with artist and proprietor of Fish House Designs, Holly Ross, whose colorful paintings recall carefree summers and sunny seaside days. The Galleries are a novel take on the Maine Cottage, a perfect little cluster of one-room boutiques and workshops.  Well done!

^  Galleries at Morning Walk manager and artist, Holly Ross, with her sunny, summery work.

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The Maine Cottage

More summer stories for a chilly season that originally appeared in the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram in June, July and August of 2014.

The Maine cottage is making a comeback. Originally designed as small vacation dwellings for working people, cottages now come in all shapes, sizes and retro-refurbs. Whether you’re looking for seaside chic, classic “camp,” a woodland structure to share with friends, or posh romantic getaway, you’ll find a Maine cottage that suits your taste and budget — and they all have their own magic.

ext-2_gallery_image-1Tidal Treasure

The Dunes in Ogunquit, 19 classic New England cottages with white clapboards, green shutters, hardwood floors and tidal river views, sit calmly regarding the famous Ogunquit dunes. Guests enjoy the beachy landscape from Adirondack chairs and oversized screened porches. On chilly, wet evenings, wood-burning fireplaces rescue soggy spirits and add a touch of romance.

If you appreciate a little Green with your getaway, The Dunes is for you. The 12-acre grounds and cottages feature wildlife habitat, linen exchange, LED lights, recycling, and eco-friendly pool. I didn’t see a plastic bottle anywhere. Walkability is also very green; we strolled to the busy center of Ogunquit each day, sometimes twice. The Dunes are also row-able: six small boats stand ready to carry guests to and from beautiful Ogunquit beach at high tide.

ext-44_gallery_imagePrivacy is often the ultimate luxury, and sometimes the beauty of a Maine Cottage is the option of dining in. With full kitchen, wine and cheese from nearby Perkins & Perkins and a glowing fire, we enjoy the serenity of our Dunes cottage. These traditional seaside gems are a great place to relax, recharge and and restore — any romance will flourish here.

Ogunquit Library 1899Of course, Ogunquit offers an outstanding bar and bistro scene, a distinguished art museum, plus shops and galleries. Don’t miss Bread and Roses for sweet and savory breads and muffins, or The Village Inn’s late-night happy-hour prices. We visit Bernard Langlois’ statues at the Ogunquit Museum of Art, and walk along Shore Road past the cutest little library in Maine. We stroll back through town to our homey Maine cottage and agree that The Dunes is a genuine tidal treasure.

www.dunesonthewaterfront.com

Beach RosesRetro by the Sea

cottageA stone’s throw off Route 1 in Camden, the unpretentious waterfront High Tide Inn and cottage complex rolls down a grassy knoll to a rocky, swim-able beach covered with warm, flat Maine rocks. Waves crash and recede, leaving lacy foam. The rhythm is calming and it’s a serene spot to dream in the lazy summer sun.

High Tide’s comfortably rustic cottages are an old-fashioned combination of quilts, wicker and whitewash. The décor is restrained — not an artificial flower in sight. I watch the light change through mid-century “picture windows” over piney Penobscot Bay, and admire a cluster of lazily turning windmills in the distance.

DSCN1258Don’t miss owner Jo Frelich’s legendary morning popovers, or make breakfast yourself in the tiny cottage kitchen whose compact “King” unit holds a small stove, sink and fridge. High Tide is clean and tidy but not precious, and the property is family-friendly. No one will be upset if your child has sandy feet.

On a rainy evening, I meet Jo at Shepherd’s Pie, Brian Hill’s gastro-pub in Rockport. A chicken-liver enthusiast, I never miss a chance for Hill’s unique bruléed version. Don’t miss his namesake Shepherd’s Pie, with braised lamb and rich potato — the ultimate comfort food.

hightideinn.com

cottage-exteriorCute and Cozy

A few miles up the road just minutes from Lincolnville Beach are the petite Bay Leaf Cottages. If you’re looking for upscale accommodations or hip amenities, keep going. But if basic comfort is your goal, these compact-but-not-cramped Maine cottages are cozy, clean and user-friendly.

Beautiful sky over Lincolnville Beach

Beautiful sky over Lincolnville Beach

DSCN1358An attractive pond and footbridge sits in the middle of the property, and every small cottage has a porch and “view.” The interior spaces are just this side of tiny, but it all somehow works. Cottage stays include an unfussy continental breakfast in the onsite “bistro” with yogurt, DIY toast, Umpqua oatmeal, and boiled eggs — enough to get you up and on your way. Or splurge up the road at Dot’s with “real” cappuccino, Maine Bear Claws and crazy-good blueberry muffins.

Bay Leaf is pet-friendly, and even has a dog-walking trail. There is a special area just for kids, with games, books and badminton. Coming attractions include six new touring bikes for guests. Innkeeper Jane is engaging, knowledgeable, and delighted to share insider tips on the in midcoast dining scene.  I took notes — you should, too.

www.bayleafcottages.com


Round Maine Cottage

DSCN1401I explored another kind of Maine Cottage on the rambling wooded property of Peggy and Bob Crowley — yes, that Bob Crowley — in Durham. Visitors come from all over to Maine Forest Yurts to snowshoe, cross-country ski, hike, or simply enjoy nature in this pristine woodland setting. Is a yurt a Maine Cottage? Yes, most definitely, and I can’t say enough about this well-equipped, snug and woodsy “glamping” experience.

Yurt essentials and fan mailOur yurt is clean and comfortable, with beds for six. Creativity rules, here, with clever curtains on bottom bunks; drying racks and door handles fashioned from tree branches; and mid-century modern furniture salvaged from the dump (Knoll, anyone?). And then there are the composting toilets. I never thought I’d wax rhapsodic about a toilet, but the Crowley’s windowed woodland outhouses are beautifully designed, with lots of lovely fresh air and majestic forest views.

Bob and Peggy CrowleyPart of the draw is “Survivor” winner, Bob Crowley, and his lovely wife, Peggy. As I tour the property with this intrepid duo, I am delighted to learn that these unique Maine Cottages “give back” by supporting vacations for veterans and their families.

A natural raconteur, Crowley recounts boyhood summers on tiny Stave Island in Casco Bay. Our Ranger tour (part golf cart, part Humvee) is relaxed and convivial, with family dogs Birdie and Hawsey in back.

When I decline their offer of a kayak tour, the couple is gracious and understanding. Heck, the water’s still pretty cold, and Bob, not everybody’s a “survivor.”

maineforestyurts.com 

Crowley’s first prototype, Treehouse Yurt, with its graphically appealing “skin” of recycled sails.

Crowley’s first prototype, the Treehouse Yurt, with its graphically appealing “skin” of recycled sails.

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