Snowy, Snowy Days

February in New York can be cold and gray, sludgy ex-snow lining the sidewalks, so you’d think a February vacation to someplace warm, with sun and beaches, places that don’t require wool clothing or a can of de-icer carried on your person, might be in order.  Or you could be like us, and drive five hours north to find more snow!

 

Yes, the snowbanks are tall, but the sidewalks are all so clear! And the streets are a dream!

 

 

We took the second half of Mike’s vacation time to head to Portland, Maine, where we’ve been going every chance we get over the past year. Sure, it’s cold, but the snow is gorgeous, and quickly plowed and shoveled, and we’re really into wool and Bean boots and tea and the like, so we’re having a great time.

We’re spending lots of time with each other and eating and drinking all things good.

 

These two.

 

 

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Foccacia as big as her head.

 

 

 

 

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Vacation master cleanse.

 

 

We attended a packed midday Ash Wednesday mass at the Episcopal cathedral here, where Winnie promptly fell asleep after the imposition of ashes (she also slept through her baptism, so there must be something about that forehead spot!).

We’ve got sledding on the docket, and few James Beard semifinalists on the list of spots to visit.

Also: hey! new hobby!

 

 

More to come about the new spots we checked out and the massive haul of Maine foodstuffs we’re bringing back with us (you would not believe the amount of fresh dairy we can purchase when given the opportunity– or maybe you would.)

Hello again, Maine

Golden, dreamy September, I remember you.  Your days were longer than your ol’ pal December’s (heyyy there pineal gland— joke’s on you!).

After our inaugural trip to Portland, Maine, this summer, we were itching to get back up north.  On our way out of town in June, we stopped in at the inimitable Rabelais Books and picked up some incredible tomes/life-advice/lunch recs/suggestion to attend the Common Ground Fair, produced by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

And that is how, being not a farmer nor much of a gardener nor a Mainer, I ended up as a card-carrying member of MOFGA.

Not all that sure what we were getting ourselves into (I signed us up for talks on working cattle in a woodlot, goat hoof trimming, backyard grain growing, foraging wild plants, and a whole heap of cider chats), we packed up our camping gear, bundled up the babe, and hit the road.

We planned on hitting the road a little later in the day, and so we booked an Airbnb for our first night, rather than trying to set up a campsite late at night.  We lucked into a spot in an old farmhouse on a working farm, where Winnie met goats, chickens, a couple of calves, some horses, pigs, and her favorite— the turkeys!

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It turned out that our hosts were pals with fermentation guru Sandor Katz (known to our hosts as Sandy, because duh), and that Katz wrote a good portion of his wildly important (get it?!) fermentation book at the farm.  MAYBE EVEN IN THE ROOM WHERE WE STAYED, Y’ALL.  Also, there was a composting toilet (which made Mike unspeakably happy, marital surprise number 37), the first of MANY on our trip (traveling surprise number 426).

We sat in the most delightful traffic jam of my life (somehow the folks on their way to see blacksmithing demos and friction fire classes were way less aggro than Brooklyn drivers), inching down winding roads tucked in fields of wildflowers (the number of Priuses sent it into twee overdrive) before parking the car and starting the picturesque walk into the fair through a low-impact common woodlot (also there were really cute composting toilet outhouses on this walk—no joke).

I’m pretty much living my life on the lookout for draft animals, so this was no big stretch:

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Just outside the path through the woodlot stood a coffee cart that served one kind of coffee (hot, no decaf, correct), brewed using a stockpot of boiling water set on a burner built into the cart, ground by hand over the cart’s tire, and brewed via no-fuss no-frills pourover system.  Not pictured: the ring of mismatched chairs next to the cart with a sign defining them as the “Euro-style café”.

In case you’re wondering, Coffeeman is relegated to the area just outside of the fair, as the fair only allows the sale of goods grown and produced in Maine.  A coffee climate, it is not, and man cannot live by roasted dandelion root and hot cider alone.

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A note:  naturally, since we were headed out on a vacation with tons of natural light, a cute kid, and furry animals, we forgot the camera at home.  You’re going to have to trudge through over-filtered iPhone snaps, and for that I am truly sorry.

Winnie was over the moon with all of the snacks and plants and grass in which to run around in.  Also, kid can rock a double layer of fleece like no one I know.

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Given that I was deep in Cider Week planning mode, the weekend was heavy on apples, so as to assuage my guilt for working remotely from a foresty wonderland.

See!  Tiny tots working the apple press.  Watch those little fingers, kiddos, and drink that stuff before it’s bubbly.

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One of the major highlights of the weekend was meeting the legendary preservation pomologist (how’s that for a job title?) John Bunker.  I had heard whispers of Bunker as the “apple hunter”, identifying wild and rare apple varieties found growing in backyards, on abandoned farm plots, and the like.

Bunker’s booth at the fair was incredible— a visual illustration of the biodiversity present in apples, alongside what must be the world’s greatest wanted posters.*  People approached the apple hunter with apples bundled in handkerchiefs, noting they had just bought some land downeast and had noticed the gangly fruit borne on what appeared to be apple trees— had John seen this kind before?  After a visual inspection and a taste, of course, he pegged the variety, and grew the greenhorns’ knowledge base a little more.

*Each of those four words links to a different wanted apple poster, which you can’t tell with this quirky layout, sorry!

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Winnie was most excited about animals at a distance, particularly large ruminants, at whom she was more than happy to shout “MOOOOOO!  BAAAA!  NEIGH! MEGGHRRRHHHGG (goat)!” from about 10 yards away, but whose size rendered her speechless any closer.

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But when it came to poultry, of course, Winnie was game.

(I’m sorry.)

This gal loves her chickens.  She squatted down beside these ladies for at least 20 minutes, quietly bock-bocking in conversation, monitoring the behavior of other young ones around their pen, and then requesting that we visit the rest of the chickens, turkeys, and ducks inside the poultry barn (this request went like, “mo’ bock bock, mommy? mo’? mo’?”)

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We stopped off to buy provisions near our campsite in Freeport (aside: we camped at a spot called Desert of Maine, which is basically like a historical monument to the dangers of monocropping and overgrazing), and while I got a forgotten prescription refilled (WTG, mom), Mike spent some pretty quality time with our babe.

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Our little campsite with our little camper:

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Thing we knew about our baby before we went to Maine: gal loves beans.  Thing we did not know about our baby before we went to Maine: OH MY GOD DOES THIS GIRL EVER LOVE BEANS.

On our way to the fair the next day, we stopped at Rolly’s Diner in Auburn, a really delightful diner with a colorful early-bird crowd and the Platonic ideal of diner food with some French Canadian flair thrown in.  We ordered Winnie pancakes with Maine blueberries and Maine maple syrup (because duh) but she wasn’t interested because I had something far better on my plate— a cup piled high with steaming baked beans.  Winnie finished the entire thing before moving on to a few pancake nibbles.

Throughout the weekend, Mike and I were continually impressed with the food culture of Maine, and not just in a new-American-farm-to-table sort of way (though certainly there are excellent pockets of that culture) but also with the foodways of Maine.  The iron cauldrons full of simmering beans then buried in a stone-lined pit under glowing coals, a tradition known as beanhole, was among the most heart-and-gut-warming of the weekend.  The next day, a couple of burly dudes dug those pots out, hoisted them up, and began dishing out tiny, hot cups of porky, maple sweetened beans.

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When we walked by the smoldering coals earlier in the weekend, we explained to Winnie that beans would be buried there, and while she slept through the unearthing, she woke up immediately after we got our hands on those sweet, sweet beans.

She was so overwhelmed when she woke up with the prospect of beans (and also, daylight, consciousness, the rain, etc) that she immediately burst into tears and sobbed for a solid three minutes before silently digging into her beans with singular focus.

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What an adorable little weirdo.

There were tons of families and educational resources in each section of the fair, and I fell in love with these books:

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Mike and I will always be cheese people, forever and ever, and it turns out so will the folks at the Common Ground Fair.  We stood in a long, snaking line to gain entrance to the “cheese tent” and saw tons of incredible fresh and fermented dairy products all over.  We were particularly enamored with the Balfour Farm cultured cream and yogurts (we fed Winnie cultured cream in place of yogurt for a week, which was really hard because I had to taste it and make sure it was, ya know, up to par every time I made her breakfast), as well every single cheese from Tide Mill Creamery, whose sweet little bloomies boasted delicate, paper thin rinds encasing a supple, custardy paste with all the cruciferous funk of Camembert, but clean-clean-clean as could be on the finish.  With every bite I blurted out, “Seriously.  Seriously, Mike.  Seriously,” which I can only assume means they were seriously, seriously delicious.

Also of note: Thirty Acre Farm’s lacto-fermented veggies, which might be the best fermented thing I’ve ever put in my mouth, which is saying something since the best things I put in my mouth are always fermented.  So, you know, lots of competition.

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We left the fair laden down with gallons of maple syrup, pounds upon pounds upon pounds of wild blueberries, several kinds of sauerkraut, several cheeses, raw milk and fresh cider, and a bunch of books.  Also, we all knew a lot more about blacksmithing than we did when we arrived.

The Monday after the fair, we decided to hang around in Portland for the day to catch Rowan Jacobsen chat about the biodiversity of apples and his book Apples of Uncommon Character at Space Gallery.  During the day, I worked from a coffee shop in Downtown Portland while Mike and Winnie packed up the campsite.

I took a break for oysters, naturally.

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We managed to squeeze in a few other meals and tooling around, and we took Winnie to the Portland Public Library to play, while I worked in the afternoon. If you know me, you know I LOVE PUBLIC LIBRARIES SO MUCH and the Portland Public Library is like, top five public libraries of my life and THAT INCLUDES PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARIES IT IS THAT GREAT.  Here are some other spots we loved on this trip and last that I didn’t manage to work into either of the Maine posts:

Pai Men Miyake— Killer ramen, great beer selection, prices that reminded us that we weren’t in New York anymore, in the best way possible.

Urban Farm Fermentory— Delightful kombucha, cider, and mead, housed in a super cool food collaboration center.

Novare Res Bier Cafe— I cannot overstate how great this spot is, from the incredible bottle list to the well-curated rotating draft list to the massive outdoor deck to the CORNHOLE housed on said deck.  I took more than one conference call on that deck, and they were the best conference calls of my life.

Fore Street— EVERYTHING HERE IS THE BEST.  Really, every bite I took was like a standing ovation to Maine’s farmers and fishermen.

The Standard Baking Co.— The bakery outpost of Fore Street, above. Chewy, crackly-crusted loaves and decadent baked goods, so obviously you should live here.

Portland Farmers Market— Right, so, of course the most populous city in the state whose food culture I’ve been raving about has a great farmers market.  Also, year round!

Rosemont Market— It’s not a vacation for Mike and me unless we manage to visit some grocery stores, so Rosemont was on our must-do list.  We loved these little markets around town.

Maine Beer Company— Obviously.

The Holy Donut— Maine potato donuts with flavors like Allen’s Coffee Brandy, Dark Chocolate Sea Salt, and Ginger Glazed Sweet Potato.

J’s Oyster— The day we visited J’s Oyster (which is literally on the harbor, as in, you can probably see the lobster that’s about to go on your plate swimming in the ocean when you walk up) they were being featured in a lobster roll throwdown on the Steve Harvey show.  Boy, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard a bunch of Mainers say “Harvey”— excuse me, HAAAA-vey— about three dozen times.

Susan’s Fish And Chips— I want to eat everything fried from here all day, every day, but that would require way more cardio than I am currently willing to commit to.  But oh, those fried clams.

Treehouse Toys— Fantastic selection of what I’d deem “play focused” toys— that is, toys that require that children play with them rather than doing the playing on their own (in other words, lots of pretend play, puzzles, instruments, puppets, and then like).  Mike and I were both really impressed with the merchandising, and Winnie was really impressed with the fact that a thing called a toy store exists.

Portland Head Light/Fort Williams Park— On our first trip, we stayed in South Portland, just down the road from Cape Elizabeth and the Portland Head Light.  Fort Williams Park is gorgeous, and the head light is so picturesque.  We were stuffed when we arrived, and thus missed out on Bite Into Maine, the lobster roll food truck located in the park, but we heard raves about it for the remainder of the trip, so I consider it to be a major life regret.

Anyway, we’ll be back again, southern Maine— before the lupines bloom next, I’d say.

This Family Vacation

It’s been over a month two and a half months (I maybe abandoned this post last month) since we came back from our vacation to Portland, Maine, and not a day has gone by that we haven’t talked about it— it was the perfect vacation, the perfect balance of going-and-doing and staying-and-not-doing.  What follows are maybe, kind of, approximately just under 100 pictures, so if you’re not my mom, you might not be that into them.  But maybe you are into pictures of ambling toddlers and blue skies and green grass and lots of lobster?  If so, click on through!

We decided to take two days to drive from Brooklyn to Maine, as what would be a five hour drive without the babe was sure to be a ten hour drive with her (and with our incessant need to pull off for every roadside everything).   Because we are insane, we decided to test out Winnie’s first camping experience as a stopover between those two driving days.  Because I am super-extra-nuts, I decided that on our way out of town, we could just swing by a dozen cheese shops in three boroughs to drop off some posters.  You know, on the way.

We’d reserved a campsite in Massachusetts, but needless to say, we didn’t quite fly out of town lickety split, so we ended up only making it about 90 minutes outside of town before we need to stop to set up camp and start dinner.  Luckily, we were just a few miles away from a totally workable campground in a gorgeous state park where we had camped before.

(Oversharing side note: the last time we camped here was the weekend following the loss of our first pregnancy.  After my D&C, I had wanted nothing more than to be away, with my husband, someplace still and quiet but not too still and not too quiet.  It was exactly what we needed (insofar as anything could be). We walked and hung out with deer, ate pancakes and bacon and hot dogs and s’mores and stopped to cry every now and then with no one looking on.  We didn’t intend for this trip to be some big, symbolic homecoming, but Mike and I couldn’t help but give each other one of those big knowing smiles, acknowledging that we’d made it through.)  Okay, enough oversharing, now onto pictures of my bedhead!

We set up our little four-person tent, which was able to hold both Win’s pack and play and a queen sized airbed, because—did I mention?— car camping, y’all.

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As soon as the sun dropped, Winnie did too, because apparently nature is its own white noise machine.  She woke up bright and early on Sunday, ready to protect me from bears.

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They have really fascinating dirt upstate.

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We walked down the road to the shore of a small lake near the campground, waving at the other early-bird campers and marveling at the people who were still sleeping in their hammocks.

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After we realized we had used all of the firewood on our post-Winnie’s-bedtime fire and thus wouldn’t be able to fry up that Benton’s bacon without lugging back another half a tree, we decided to down some granola bars, pack up, and hit the road.

Winnie surprised us with her keen ability to put on her own hat.

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Those cheeks!

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After a few stops along the road (it wouldn’t be a trip north for us if we didn’t stop in some random town’s REI), we made it to Maine, where we were rewarded with this:

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We drove along the coastal highway for a while, until our impatience got the better of us and we zipped up the Interstate to Portland.

We settled into the rental house, greeted Grandma, Grandpa, and Aunt Jenny, and headed into town in search of lobster rolls, oysters, and beer at Eventide Oyster Co.  Winnie opted for the asparagus.

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Because Portland is a town of wonders in a state known as Vacationland, there is approximately one ice cream shop for every two residents of Portland, or at least that’s how it seemed.  We visited Mount Desert Island Ice Cream (note the amazing logo) a ridiculous number of times that week (I ate my fair share of Bay of Figs and Sweet Cream cones, that’s for sure), where we discovered that our kid is a NUT for ice cream.  We also discovered that we have the same taste in ice cream as the Commander in Chief.

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With three over-qualified babysitters at the house (also known as The Grandparents and Aunt Jenny, MD), Mike and I managed to slip out more than once on such exciting trips as: Bagels!  Coffee!  Buying up baby food pouches by the case because holy crap Maine, you are dramatically underpricing these things!

We visited the bagel place (which also doubled as the sea salt shortbread place, the yeasty, buttery cinnamon roll place, the perfectly toasty coconut macaroon place, and the oh-my-god-this-cookie-is-so-chewy-and-this-bread-is-so-perfect-I’m-going-to-crawl-inside-it place) for the first time at nine a.m. at which point they had already SOLD OUT OF BAGELS.  South Portland, we have traveled from Brooklyn, land of selling out of food things, and you have shown us.  Well played.  Except we’re hungry.

Luckily we managed to find a whole heap of things to sate us (see list above), and we managed to make it back a few other mornings for what might be my favorite bagels ever, which would most certainly get the New Yorker Card I have not yet earned revoked.  Because these bagels were not at all like New York bagels, instead hewing closer to a crackly, chewy baguette in bagel form.

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We found the perfect little public beach on one of our morning jaunts, and we took Winnie back with John and Jenny while Mary was in meetings.  We’re still sorry, Mary!

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Winnie’s first sand experience was a success vaguely traumatic experience for her, though she’s since gotten over it on the overcrowded, kind of schmutzy beaches of NYC.  City Baby loves city beaches, I guess.

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Note tiny feet trying to take flight off of the most horrible substance they had touched to date, the beach.

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Jenny and I have a lot of talents.  She saves lives for a job, and I have really excellent handwriting.  We are not, turns out, super great at coordinating a simple jump off a giant piece of driftwood.

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There we go!

We picked up some Maine lobsters (because MAINE) from the seafood market of my dreams— drains in the floors, rubber aprons, and heaps of ice piled high with bivalves.  We skipped letting Winnie play with the lobsters on the kitchen floor and queued up for a turn to (somewhat) humanely kill a lobster and shuck some oysters.

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+ ramp pesto, pickled ramps, roasted asparagus, and Maine Beer Co Peeper Ale = dinner

Did I mention it was someone’s birthday?  Her very first one?  We wiped the dollar store out of birthday supplies, picked up some pizza and wild Maine blueberry pie and celebrated that little love.

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She comes by her pie-love honestly.

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HEY!  DO YOU GUYS KNOW ABOUT PRESENTS?

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I know it’s traditional to wait until the 16th birthday, but we gifted Winnie the Fit a little early.  The oil needed to be changed, anyway, and she’s better at stuff like that.

We hauled the family out to Allagash, to geek out over beer, and it didn’t disappoint.  Winnie was particularly impressed with the barrel room, containing precisely the amount of sour beer her mother will likely drink in her lifetime.

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Our last day in Portland, we hopped on a ferry to Peak’s Island, a magical land where bicycle rentals work on the honor system, there are more golf carts for transport than cars, and there is, for whatever reason, an Umbrella Cover Museum.  It was closed.  Bummer.

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(Oh, ps, the Andersons sans our trio walked this whole jetty out to the mini-lighthouse at the end, Bug Light.  I may have encouraged them to do this.  I’m sorry.)

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We reached Portland right as the seasons shifted between late spring and early summer, and thus were treated to the last of the lilacs and tulips when we arrived.  By the end of our week there, they started to fade and the irises and azaleas stepped in.

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We went to L.L. Bean because I am my grandparents’ granddaughter.

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And then a parrot showed up on the windowsill.  Don’t worry, a police officer came to rescue it and he drove off in his cruiser, bird perched on his shoulder.

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On our way out of town the next day, we stopped at the most amazing place I have ever been in my whole life, Rabelais Books, focused on fine books on food and drink.  Every book I could have ever wanted was there, and the owner was tremendously warm and welcoming, giving us the lay of the Maine cheese-scape, the small business scene, his expatriation from Brooklyn, pulling out rare books on cheese and a fragile map showing milk production in New York State over a century ago.  Armfuls of books later, we took his recommendation for Palace Diner, a tucked away diner car (Maine’s oldest) serving up perfectly executed diner staples made with ingredients that you know help someone else put food on the table, too.  And this is the crux of our Maine trip, where it all comes together— our family, doing what we do, seeking out the culture that wants to know where its inputs go and where its outputs come from.  It’s not just agriculture or local/regional or access or good work or family— though it is all of those things— it’s also about knowing, and caring, and doing the right thing.  And really, really good homefries.

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Thanks for the vacation, Maine.  We’ll see you again soon.

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