Wherever the Music Takes Us, Kitten…

I’ll warn you now…..this is going to be a packed post.  I’m going to try to tell you all about our trip to Maine in one sitting – a big undertaking, but one that will give you all the highlights about where we stayed, what we did and – most importantly – where/what we ate!

My last post was about the beginning of the trip – the first part of Day 1.  But it didn’t give you any insight into the end of Day 1; so I will start there and continue through the end of the trip!

Day 1 (halfway through):

  • after we picked up Jeff in Nanuet we hit the road and made our way to Darien, CT and dinner at Estia’s Back Porch Cafe.  The decor at Estia’s is funky and comfortable and the food is DELISH.  Nate ordered French Onion Soup and a side  of French Fries – he was obviously in a French mood!  Jeff, wanting to recreate the superb meal we had at Estia’s Little Kitchen in Long Island last summer, ordered fish tacos.  And I ordered the MTK Tuna “Burger” that came with a side of spicy Asian slaw.  I didn’t taste anyone else’s food; but I was incredibly happy with my choice.  My sandwich was served on a toasted English muffin and included an enormous tuna steak, crusted with sesame seeds and cooked to a perfect medium rare.  It was so big that Jeff had to finish it for me, which I’m sure didn’t disappoint him.  The spicy Asian slaw was the perfect accompaniment to my sandwich.

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  • After dinner we drove to and checked into the Hyatt House in Shelton, CT.  Because we were full and it was on the early side, we needed a walk.  So after a few minutes of settling into our room (which included a bathroom, bedroom and a living room/kitchenette combo with a pull out sofa), we got back into the car for a short drive to the campus of Yale.  We walked around campus and New Haven for about 2 hours – happy to stretch our legs and digest a bit.

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  • My dad has often joked that Jeff needs to eat approximately every 15 minutes, so it wasn’t surprising to me when he wanted to pick up a pizza at Frank Pepe’s on the way back to the hotel.  His reasoning – “I only had fish tacos at Estia’s.”  Clearly he had forgotten about eating half of my sandwich!  But I love his enthusiasm and couldn’t turn him down.  So he went into Frank Pepe’s while Nate and I stayed with the car.  I tasted the pizza, which was lukewarm by the time we got back to the room.  I’d definitely be interested in trying the wood-fired pizza at Frank Pepe’s when it’s right out of the oven – based upon the coolish taste I had, I’ll bet it would be amazing!  After our quick “snack” we dropped into bed with a plan to be on the road between 8:00 and 9:00 am.

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Day 2:

  • Although I am usually hassled for sleeping late, I was up and ready to go by 7:30.  We had a quick breakfast at the hotel and got on the road.
  • We drove through Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire (for about 5 minutes) and finally arrived in Maine around noon.  Our first stop, Bissell Brothers Brewery.  Don’t worry, we weren’t corrupting a minor – Jeff just wanted to get some beer to bring back to PA to share with his BFF, Craig.

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  • After a short stop at BBB, we made our way to hotel (The Hyatt Place – downtown Portland) and, although our room wasn’t quite ready, we dropped off our bags and made our way to Commercial Street to wander through Portland.  We strolled through some shops, made a stop at Harbor Fish Market to order some fish to pick up on Tuesday before leaving Maine, and a stop at Nine Stones Spa for me to pick up my birthday gift from my mom and dad.  Thanks for the Kai perfume, Mimi and Pop-Pop!!!!

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  • Next we walked to the Portland Fire Department to see if Nate, a volunteer fire fighter, could get a shirt for his collection.  He struck out on the shirt, but was able to talk with the chief and see the FD.

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  • In need of a reprieve from the heat, we made a stop at The Thirsty Pig for a beverage and a nosh.  Our bellies were getting hungry, but we didn’t want to ruin our appetites for dinner at Fore Street.
  • After a quick snack, we checked into the hotel, showered, changed, relaxed and walked to Fore Street on Fore Street for dinner.  We were a few minutes early for our reservation so we started with a drink in the bar…..Nate had a fizzy blueberry juice, Jeff a Manhatten and me a glass of Albarino.  After being shown to our table and taking a quick look at the menu, we ordered appetizers.  Nate had a salad of mixed greens with a yummy vinaigrette and over the top croutons made from homemade bread crisped to perfection.  Jeff had Wood-Fired Pork Belly with Allium Hush Puppies, Horseradish Mayo and Sunflower Shoots.  I had the dish of the night – Jet Star Tomato Tart with Herbed Goat Cheese & Butter Pastry.  We shared our appetizers with one another, ooh’ing and aah’ing as we ate.  Although I could happily have stopped after my appetizer, I just had to listen to all the recommendations I received from students to try the Wood-Fired Mussels with Garlic Almond Butter – so I ordered those for my entrée.  Nate ordered the Marinated Natural Half Chicken with Duck Fat Fried Sourdough and Wilted Greens, which we all agreed was incredible and still talked about days later.  And Jeff ordered Garlic Scape, Sweet Corn and Ricotta Salata Ravioli with Hen of the Woods Mushrooms and Smoked Squash, which he billed as very good but not excellent.  He has since told me, “I was jealous of Nate’s chicken to be quite honest with you.”  Because our meals had been so good, we had to try dessert.  Jeff ordered the Mini Ice Cream Sandwich with Hazelnut Coffee Ice Cream and Nate and I shared the Chocolate Custard Tart with Raspberry Coulis and Basil Ginger Ice Cream.  The tart was incredibly rich – just what you’d want when you have a chocolate craving – and the ice cream was a wonderfully interesting combination of basil-y freshness and gingery warmth.  It was a darn-near-perfect meal – the food was inventive and delicious and our waitress was friendly and attentive.  The only thing that bothered me was that our waiter in the bar used phrases like “what are WE having to drink” and “OUR table’s not ready yet.”  That’s just too touchy-feely and a bit condescending for my taste.  But, as Frasier and Niles would say, the only thing better than a perfect meal is a perfect meal with one tiny flaw you can pick at all night!!!!!

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  • After dinner we set out for a walk to aid digestion, but decided to cut it short when it began to rain.  We hit the hay in preparation for another early morning – the start of our kayak/camping trip.

Day 3:

  • After a quick breakfast at the hotel and a quick checkout, we loaded the car, stopped for Jeff’s beloved ice block, made a quick stop for fizzy juice at Bow Street Market and made our way – with much enthusiasm – to LL Bean’s Outdoor Discovery School for the start of our kayak/camping trip.

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  • We met our guides – Ros and Pete – and our fellow islanders for the weekend, including (I apologize if I spell any names incorrectly):
    • 4 members of a family having a boys weekend – Terry, Bryan, Kiegan and Brendan
    • a couple from the Allentown area (near where I grew up) – Andrew and Angie
    • a couple from New Brunswick – Andre & Johanna
    • three brave women flying solo – Lorri, Ennie & Laurel
  • Including Jeff, Nate and I we made a group of 16 who would partner up and paddle tandem for the weekend
  • We had our orientation, packing session, lunch-making, lessons, stretching and finally headed to the dock to embark on our adventure.
  • After leaving Flying Point we paddled around Sister Island, Upper Goose, and Lower Goose and finally made our way to camp on The Goslings.
  • We chose our campsites, set up tents and “the restroom” and began exploring the island while we waited for dinner.  We had wine/beer/fizzy juices and got to know our travelling companions.  Then we sat down to a yummy lobster and steak dinner – Nate’s first lobster experience.  Except for someone touching his food – he seemed to enjoy it!
  • After dinner, the dishes were done and we trickled, one-by-one, to the beach for sunset and dessert – Pete’s specialty – Pineapple Upside Down ?Pudding?  It was supposed to be a cake baked in a cast iron Dutch oven; however the mix was gluten-free, which if you’re not used to it, can mess up your camp cooking skills!!!!  However it tasted great and less-than-firm-texture didn’t stop anyone from eating it! Of course, having it served at sunset on your own private island didn’t hurt either!

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  • Then one-by-one we trickled off to bed – tired from the sun, the wind, the paddling and the early start.

Day 4:

  • Jeff and Nate (and perhaps others) got up early to watch the sunrise.  Except for the pics Jeff shared with me I missed it, but was glad for a little disco nap.  As those who know me might expect, sleeping without air conditioning isn’t my thing.  Combine that with Jeff’s snoring and it’s a recipe for not much sleep.
  • The blueberry pancakes Ros and Pete made fueled us for a long day of paddling.  After breakfast we did the dishes, played some cards, had a little island time, packed our lunches and got ourselves prepared to hit the water.
  • It was a hot, but gorgeous day for paddling.  We left the Goslings, paddled around Little Whaleboat and then made our way across the channel to Whaleboat, where we stopped for lunch.  After lunch we polled the group and decided to paddle all the way around Whaleboat, which is a long, beautiful paddle!  For our hard work, we were treated to an eagle sighting and Nate got some great pics of it!!! After conquering Whaleboat, we took it easy paddling back to the Goslings.

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  • Somewhere along the line, some of the group members started playing cards – Golf – while others hiked the island, hung out on the beach, got to know one another, swam or napped.  Dinner – chicken fajitas – was served, dishes were done, sunset was watched on the beach, brownies were eaten “in the kitchen” and one-by-one we trickled to bed – exhausted from a hot day in the sun paddling our little hearts out!

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Day 5:

  • It was a dark and stormy morning…..well it was!  So dark and stormy that we were instructed to batten down the hatches and stay in our tents until the storm blew over.  After the wind and rain subsided briefly, we broke down our tents, packed our equipment and personal belongings and headed to “the kitchen.”  Pete and Ros served coffee (hallelujah) and began making breakfast.  Some of us played cards while we waited.  Others enjoyed the beach and a swim for the last time on this trip and others sipped their coffee.  Somewhere along the line it started to pour again so we all tried our best to fit under the tarp and stay dry.
  • After breakfast, still riding the storm out, the dishes got done, cards got played (and soaked), camp was packed up and we all readied ourselves for our paddle.  We wanted to be ready to jump  into our boats and paddle like crazy once the rain stopped so that we could make it back to Flying Point before the rain began again.
  • Once the rain ceased, the last step before leaving the island was to dismantle “the restroom.”  That done we all headed for the beach, quickly packing our boats and getting into the water.  By the time everyone was settled and on the bay, the sun was shining brightly so Pete and Ros decided we didn’t have to rush back to Flying Point.  We would keep our eye on the sky and paddle as much as we were able.  We left the Goslings and headed between Upper and Lower Goose Island, then toward William’s Island, detouring around Sow & Pigs to Pettingill for a brief stop, and back around William’s Island to see the eagle’s nest. Finally, we headed back toward Flying Point – the weather still cooperating.  As everyone else was making their way into the dock, Jeff and I stayed further out with Ros and, in the quiet, were able to see a seal pop up very near to us.  He was so close we could see his whiskers.

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  • Just as we were pulling up to the dock at Flying Point, Jeff and I got a terrific surprise!  Kevin, one of our guides from last year’s trip, was paddling near the dock.  We had hoped to meet up with him at the Bath Fire & Rescue, where he works; but weren’t able to make the timing work.  So being able to talk with him for even a few moments was a gift.
  • The folks on the dock who helped us out of the water waited patiently as we caught up with Kevin for a few minutes.  Then we unloaded our kayak, made our way up the dock and back to the Outdoor Discovery School, turned in our borrowed equipment, had our team debrief and ate a quick lunch for the few folks who weren’t rushing to get on the road to home.
  • Finally, happily exhausted and ready for a shower, Jeff, Nate and I began our short trek to The Embassy Suites in South Portland – our home for the next two nights.

While I thought I could get through the whole trip in one post, I am tired from reliving the first part of our grand adventure.  If I got any of the paddling routes wrong, I hope Ros or Pete will correct me in the comments below.  When you’re doing the paddle you think you’ll remember; however we were able to cover so much “ground” (and frankly, I just turned 48 so the memory isn’t as sharp as it used to be) that I may have gotten some of it wrong.

I will catch up on the end of Day 5 and finish our adventure through Day 8 in my next post!  Thanks for reading!!!!!

Vacation Part 2

I’ll give you a minute to catch up on Part 1 if you need it………….OK, so we arrived in Connecticut via the Cross Sound Ferry , found our car below deck, waited our turn to disembark and set out on the highway for Maine!!!!!

It was so nice to take the ferry…..we could stretch our legs, soak up some sunshine, breathe in the salt air, feel the wind in our faces, and enjoy one another’s company.  The weather was beautiful so we spent the majority of the 80-minute ride on the top deck taking in the sights.  I realized as we rode that taking the ferry levels the playing field of travelers…..how so, you ask?  Well, there’s no first class on the ferry.  Everyone travels at the same speed; everyone’s vehicle, if they brought one, is below deck so there’s no posturing; you all have access to the same concessions with no reservations; and everyone arrives at the same time!  It’s kind of nice.

In addition to enjoying the scenery, I enjoyed people-watching and listening to snip-its of the conversations of other travelers.  There were people who were obviously commuting for work, other vacationers, folks out for a day of fun with their grand kids, a group of folks travelling by motorcycle who were obviously enjoying the time for face-to-face conversation and the common denominator was the everyone looked pretty darn relaxed.  I wish I could travel by ferry more often!

While enjoying the ride, I also had time to slow down and think – without worrying if we were going to miss our next turn or find the right route.  For a while I was mesmerized by the wake behind the boat and realized that memories are like that wake.  When events, good or bad, are directly behind you they’re still obvious – you can almost see them like the distinct pattern in the water the boat has made.  But as time passes and you get further away from the event(s), the edges blur a little – you can still see them in your mind, but the edges become fuzzier and they begin to blur into other past events.  And when you are far enough away, you can no longer see them.  You know you were once there, but the evidence is gone.  I got to thinking how handy that is – especially when the events are not-so-pleasant ones; but the sad thing is it happens with the happiest of memories too.  You know you were there but you can no longer remember all the details and you can no longer see the evidence of them……but in the end, I concluded that it all balances out and that although all memories, happy or sad, fade it doesn’t change the fact that we were there and that the wake of the best memories stays with us, even if we can no longer see it!

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Anyhooo……..not surprisingly, I digress!

Back to the trip….at some point, after driving for a while through Connecticut, I needed a rest stop and we got off the highway.  We drove for a little bit and passed a DSW – you know, the shoe store.  I’m sure it seems strange that I mention a shoe store in the midst of this post; but just that morning before we left the hotel to catch the ferry, Jeff had to say a sad goodbye to his favorite flip flops.  He reluctantly left them in the trash can as we rolled our suitcases out the hotel room door.  Those flip flops had served him well for 3 or 4 years and he was sad not to have them for the duration of trip.  So after we had our potty break, I suggested we go into DSW to look for some replacement flip-flops.  I could only imagine how badly his feet needed to be liberated from the Vans he wore.

The End of the Flip Flops

On our way through the sliding doors into DSW, Jeff looked a bit forelorn, like Eeyore…..but amazingly he found exactly the same brand and style of flip-flops that he’d discarded just hours before!!!  He IS Even Steven! Let me tell you, this NEVER happens to me.  And I’m shocked that after 3 or 4 years he was able to find an exact replacement.  But on the way out the door, Eeyore was gone and there was a big smile on Jeff’s face!  Mission accomplished.

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Bladders empty and feet free, we got back on the road determined to make no more stops until we reached the state of Maine.  We were both expectantly awaiting our arrival at the next destination – Red’s Eats in Wiscasset. On our last trip to Maine – for our 10th anniversary back in 2003 – we ate at Red’s on the last day and we vowed that we would return!  And although it took 12 years, we were headed there next!  Our bellies were getting empty and our our excitement was mounting.  You see, Red’s Eats makes THE BEST lobster rolls ever!!!!  I can be a stubborn girl at times, but often I come around to someone else’s way of thinking with enough persuasion.  On this matter you can debate me all you want , but if you think anyone makes a better lobster roll than Red’s Eats you are wrong!  Period.  Case closed.  No more to be said.

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OK, maybe a little more to be said about Red’s.  The line is usually long and Day 4 of our trip was no exception.  Below are some photos and tweets from my time in the line!

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“Words cannot express how flippin’ excited I am right now….”

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“Quivering with excitement….”

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“Feeling sorry for the people eating across the street….”

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“Considering hurting the people in front of us in line….I’m sure they’re perfectly nice people, but they’re standing between me and my lobster roll….”

We waited patiently….or not so patiently….for our turn.  And when we were just a few people from the front of the line, I went around back to get us a table on the deck.  As I waited for Jeff to arrive with our food, I drooled a little while looking at what other people were eating.  Fried clams, lobster rolls – some with melted butter and some with mayo, fish and chips, crab cakes….the list is endless.  While I peeked around not-so-subtly at other people’s food, it began to drizzle.  But there are umbrellas over the tables so I wasn’t worried.  Jeff came around the corner and asked if I wanted an umbrella from the car, which was parked just up the hill from Red’s. I said, “sure,” and was glad for that decision when the rain picked up a bit.  Just as Jeff arrived with the umbrella, our number was called and the sky opened up and started to dump rain on Wiscasset and on us.  He grabbed our food (which they had lovingly packed in to-go containers even though we had indicated we would eat out back) and we ran for the car.

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We were soaked, but thrilled as we ate.  We shared an order of fried clams and we each got a lobster roll.  O…….M…….G…….we were in heaven.  The fried clams were huge and juicy and sweet……mmm mmm mmm.  But the lobster rolls were the stars of the show.  Each sandwich contains more than one whole lobster that has been cooked with precision and chilled until it is perfection on a buttery, toasted bun.  Then, as if the lobster needs anything more, the lobster rolls are served with either drawn butter or mayo – we got one of each and shared.  There wasn’t much conversation going on in the car as we ate, but there were a few mmm’s and ah’s and yeah’s – what Jeff and his buddies would call “audible eating!”

When we finished our amazing lunch/dinner (linner?), we wiped off our hands and arms, wiped as much of the butter off the center console of the car as possible and pointed the car in the direction of Portland, which would be our home-away-from-home for the next two nights.  We made one quick stop to buy some tiny, flavorful Maine blueberries for our breakfast the next morning and arrived in Portland in no time.

We checked into the hotel and were pleasantly surprised to be upgraded to a suite.  The room was modern and spacious and clean and we were sure it would be a fine home for a few days!  After a bit of unpacking, we decided to stroll around Portland for a while to work off some of the food we had eaten.  After a bit of strolling, we would up at The Thirsty Pig for some beers and WiFi.  I spent some time making notes about the first few days of our trip and downloading pics off my camera while Jeff surfed the web.  It was a mellow end to a mellow day.

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Day 5 – I awoke in our spacious room to the sound of Jeff coming through the door – he went and picked up a Starbucks’ coffee for me….the man knows the way to my heart.  I brushed my teeth, scrounged up some clothes, threw on a hat and we left to explore Portland….it was a No-Makeup Monday, only it was Thursday! We had a great time being out of the car, wandering through shops, gazing out at the water and enjoying our time alone together.  Of course, we had to make a quick stop at Holy Donut to try the donuts Jeff had read about.  Jeff ordered a Cheddar Bacon Donut – yes, you read that right – and I ordered a Sweet Potato Ginger donut, which I ended up sharing with Jeff.  It was delish, but I knew good things were coming later in the day so I didn’t want to eat a whole donut.

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After a few hours, we were a little parched so we stopped at Sebago Brewing Company where Jeff ordered a beer sampler and I ordered a cucumber cooler from the non-alcoholic beverage menu.  The bartender – a smart gal – told me the cucumber cooler is great with a shot of Hendrick’s gin in it.  She explained that Hendrick’s is infused with a bit of rose and cucumber and therefore was a nice complement to the drink.  Well heck, I was on vacation, so how could I refuse?  She was not wrong…..it was delicious.

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After re-hydrating, we wandered the town some more and then began to think about dinner.  We knew we had to wake up early for our kayaking trip the next morning and we didn’t want to be out too late. So we walked back to the hotel where we noshed on some snacks from our cooler, read for a little while, showered and got dressed for dinner.  We strolled through town to The Top of the East (in the Westin Hotel) for a cocktail. Our timing was perfect – the sun was just beginning to set and the view was incredible.  It was a great place to toast 22 years of marriage, which we would be celebrating the next day.  We lingered over our drinks and then decided to find a spot for dinner.

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Not knowing what we’d be in the mood to eat, we didn’t make a reservation, which made finding a spot for dinner a bit challenging.  But we persevered!  We tried a few of our top choices including Fore Street, Eventide, and Honey Paw – all of which had very long waiting lists.  Knowing we needed to be up with the sun, we opted for The East Ender and were not disappointed.  Jeff ordered a cold-smoked burger which was sensational and I order soup and an appetizer.  The soup was not only delicious, it was also a work of art!  It was Chilled Spring Pea Soup with Parmesan & Pickled Red Onion.  Bright green with spots of pickled onion and a floating cloud of parmesan foam – stunning!  I should have known better than to order the appetizer I chose – Maine Mussels with Ginger & Anise.  While it was good, it wasn’t great and I only ordered it because what I really wanted to try was Fore Street’s Wood Oven Roasted Maine Mussels with Garlic Almond Butter. A student in one of my recent classes had recommended Fore Street to me and specifically had recommended the mussels.  I should have held out, which is not to say that we didn’t enjoy our meal at The East Ender.

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As we made our way back to the hotel, we were tired – both from a long day of walking in the sea air, from the cocktails we drank and from our full bellies.   So we hit the hay and dreamed of being in our kayaks on the bay……