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.)

Week-ending

Working retail (and retail compounded with food– two industries known widely for their super fun hours of operation), neither Mike nor I ever counted on a weekend.  Two days off in a row, even in the middle of the week, was the unicorn of scheduling.  Once our roles shifted, and we routinely found ourselves free on the same days that much of the rest of the world is off work, it felt like we were getting away with something.  Nearly every weekend, it *still* feels like we’re getting away with something– something wonderful and not to be wasted.  While we spend a good number of hours lazing about, we try to shove out the door on a regular basis, and we’ve had some pretty excellent adventures this way– scrambling over rocks on the coastline of Rhode Island, sledding down hills in Vermont, eating our way down Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, or exploring decommissioned artillery batteries on the beaches of Queens (where we also stumbled on some pretty angry bees, so I don’t really want to talk about this last one).

Last weekend, we were treated to a sunny day wedged between some cold, wet ones, so we took full advantage.  Winnie zen’d out on Mike’s lap at Eucharist while I served as a lay Eucharistic minister (something I am absolutely LOVING– looking forward to during the week with such joy and anticipation) with nary a request to roam the aisles (a first!), so we jumped on the opportunity to pack a sleepy babe in the car after church and head out to the Queens County Farm Museum, a working farm within the city, where Mike and I were married.

Full disclosure: I saw this picture on the farm’s Instagram feed before we headed out to church that morning, and was determined to have those eggs (I was/am also completely obsessed with re-creating the eggy, vanilla-bombed White Cow Dairy custards I ate constantly when pregnant with Winnie, and I felt like these eggs were calling out to me).  Winnie fell asleep on our way up to the farm, which we’d expected, and Mike and I were perfectly fine with sitting in the car and reading while she finished her snooze.  Egg sales opened at noon at the snowy, nearly deserted farm, but when we pulled up at a few minutes before one p.m., I had a feeling we should get moving on those eggs, so I sent Mike in.  He laughed at me, looking at the complete lack of any human presence on the farm’s grounds, and offered to fight the crowds for the eggs.  He returned with the last half dozen eggs, so, you know, good thing I’m an insane person about eggs is all.

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Winnie’s new favorite word is alpaca, shortened for efficiency to “paca!”, of course.

 

In front of the barn where we were married. Winnie doing her best Blue Steel.

 

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After we’d visited every animal (cows, sheep, alpacas, and the chickens twice), talked about the resting fields, explored the greenhouse, and ducked into the gift shop for cocoa and dried apricots, we left to do some more Queens exploring.  We ended up at Ben’s Best Deli for a late lunch of matzo ball soup (so much dill!), pastrami and tongue sandwiches, half sours, and cole slaw. Winnie was particularly excited about the tongue and pickles, because that kid just is who she is.

We popped into Carmel Grocery to stock up on dried sour apricots (which Winnie and I destroyed in a matter of days), za’atar, citric acid (for cheese), chickpeas, and to try out some Cornelian Cherry jam (there’s a Cornelian cherry tree just inside the entrance we take to Prospect Park) and Russian honey harvested on the taiga.

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By that time, we’d put enough distance between us and the pastrami to consider ice cream.  Clearly, this trip into Queens was pretty heavily motivated by well-cropped Instagrams (see:eggs) and this ice cream stop was no different– I’d been drooling over a friend’s shots of old-fashioned sundaes and mounds of freshly whipped cream at Eddie’s Sweet Shop, so we meandered through the ridiculously charming tudors of Forest Hills (seriously Forest Hills, you are out of control with your charm), stepped back a few decades into a spot where I could imagine my Poppie as a teenaged soda jerk, and ordered one of everything.

Not really, but the hot fudge sundae, vanilla malted, and sweet little Winnie-sized dish of ice cream nearly put this family over the edge of a sugar-butterfat cliff (the very best cliff there is).

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You would have thought that once Mike went back to work on Monday, the weekend was over, but you would be wrong, my friend!  Tuesday brought, if not the century’s greatest blizzard, a healthy heaping of six inches of powdery snow and a day off of work for all of us.

We headed to the park, sled in hand.

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The day before, as the snow started to fall, I somehow had the presence of mind to sear a giant beef shank, start a broth, soak some chickpeas, and toss everything together with a heap of leeks and kale (and a ton of za’atar, obviously), which we’re still eating on a week later.

Pretty good week-ending, if I do say so myself.

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.

Winifred, the Goat Baby

For my birthday/Labor Day, we went camping in Maryland, headed to DC to check out the National Zoo, Museum of the American Indian, and the National Gallery, and drove out to Charlottesville, VA, to visit Winnie’s grandparents, drink cider, and sleep in (the beauty of grandparents!).  We also met some goats at Caromont Farm while on the Meet Yer Eats farm tour and I have to say, Winnie has a pretty spot-on goat call.  Makes her momma proud.

A Weekend, with too many parentheses and just enough sunshine

On Saturday, we:

  • woke up to a sunny day
  • ate eggs + bacon + spinach + onions to make way for this week’s CSA pickup 
  • ran (RAN) out the door to get to that CSA pickup,a bounty of garlic scapes and arugula and red leaf lettuce and zucchini and radishes and more spinach and broccoli rabe and my new very favorite, salad turnips (have you ever eaten a salad turnip?  If not, get ye a salad turnip and some fleur du sel and call to thank me later.)
  • drank sour beers and watched Argentina v Iran and tried to yell when everybody else did
  • took a nap (just Winnie, I swear) 
  • took the train to Coney Island
  • caught the tail end (ha!) of the Mermaid Parade, ate Mr. Softee because summer, and headed to the aquarium
  • met walruses, stingrays, seals, an otter, some penguins, lots of very cool fish and coral and the two greatest sea lions possibly in the history of the world (aside: Winnie couldn’t believe her eyes when she woke up from her nap in the aquarium, and she ran from tank to tank shouting and pointing at the fish, looking around to see if anyone else was noticing how so completely awesome this place was.  When we took her to the sea lion show [aside aside: you can see THE OCEAN from the sea lion show— like, beach views from the bleachers] she sat, rapt, mouth agape, utterly transfixed, until she began to slow clap at a time when no one else was clapping, which grew into a much faster clap accompanied by squeals [not to be confused with seals])
  • walked down the boardwalk to the beach, where we lugged a stroller across the sand (not recommended) to give Winnie a second shot at loving the beach (first shot, in Portland, she declared it [via yells and tippee-toe-standing] to be The Worst).  She loved it.  She love love loved it, and wanted down to splash in as the waves rolled in, and wanted to dig in the sand, and generally proved herself to be her father’s daughter. Phew. 
  • came home to find our dear friends were now our dear friends AND neighbors, and shared chicken tikka masala around our coffee table amidst our very messy apartment and were not, I don’t think, judged.  It’s a magical feeling.
  • all passed out, with just the right amount of sand between our toes

On Sunday we:

  • ate blueberries and yogurt and bagels and cream cheese and coffee
  • read the paper
  • hurriedly turned the house from “is this even legal to inhabit?” to “Just normal parent-of-a-toddler messy”  
  • welcomed my mom and her friends after their three-day trek to Brooklyn
  • ate brunch like I hadn’t already eaten a whole giant breakfast, because French toast and mimosas don’t count (made up rule)
  • walked to Prospect Park 
  • walked in Prospect Park
  • walked some more in Prospect Park 
  • rode the carousel in Prospect Park
  • toured the Lefferts Historic House in Prospect Park, where we: carded some wool, mimed some butter churning, learned about flax processing, and let Winnie peruse a potato patch
  • walked to the Lakeside water feature where we decided we would let Winnie play in her only dry clothes rather than the two swimsuits we had packed 
  • decided to face the water spray head-on, literally (just Winnie)
  • got nekkie (just Winnie) and changed into a dry swimsuit and out of wet clothes, because sometimes parents make bad wardrobe decisions
  • walked home (stopping along the way for Pimm’s Cups and beers, because three blocks is a long way and watching Algeria get their first World Cup win in 32 years is kind of great) 
  • cooked more of those CSA veggies for dinner than I thought we’d eat in a week— hooray for no food waste!
  • all passed out, with just the right tired in our bones

And I didn’t take a single picture.

Thanks, weekend.  Come again soon.

Upstate

Meet your new BFFs, the Bean:  Uncle Franklin and Auntie Eleanor.  We were just reading some books about infant sleep when your papa hopped up from the cushy bronze bench to snap a quick pic.

Also note that your mama hauled you up a snowy, icy incline to catch a peek at a frozen mountaintop lake— but she wore appropriate footwear to do so.

Finally, know that your papa plans the best weekends away, where the three of us can snuggle up in stocking feet with heaping plates of steak, kale, and citrus-fennel salad and read the Little House Cookbook while it rains, like a gaggle of goofs.