Thursday, June 30, 2016

Postcards from Maine: Popovers

So, as everyone in New England knows, when you're on Mount Desert Island, you must have popovers (and, traditionally, tea)  at the Jordan Pond House in Acadia National Park. It's a time-honored tradition that I've loved for years. My husband remembers running around the tables chasing butterflies 50 years ago, at the very first JPH that later burned to the ground. 

We look forward to going every year. Aside from driving around the park, it's the only activity that doesn't call for a trail map and bug spray (but bring it just in case).

The popovers at the JPH on recent visits have not been the transcendent experiences we remembered. They were rather tough and they didn't always arrive hot, but they were okay. For one thing, they are never as good in June as they are in August because the kitchen is still getting into its groove. But I remember that last August's popovers weren't so swell, either. The place has been under new management for a couple of years and, even though a lot of the staff remained, things are different. The previous concession, a local corporation, had run the restaurant for decades and there was shock, sorrow, and bitterness when they lost the contract to a lower-bidding parks outfit from out West.

But many things remain the same. The view across Jordan Pond of two almost-embarrassingly "bosomy" peaks called The Bubbles is always lovely. Also eternal, it seems, is the long circling and waiting for a parking spot (even in the outer lot, and even in June, the "quiet" month). It serves to whet your appetite, as will browsing in the gift shop as you wait for your reservation beeper to startle the heck out of you. When you get to your table, it and chairs are plastic now, not green- and gray-painted wood. The menu is simpler and more expensive — and liquor is available during the day now, which surely makes hiking off one's lunch more challenging. But the servers are still the same cheery, polite college kids who take their hard job seriously and do it well.

But I'm here to tell you that there are better popovers to be found on the island. In fact, there is popover nirvana.

The thing is, I can't bring myself to say where it is because the parking lot is very small and there aren't many tables, and the reservation list is rarely full. If you recognize this view, you will know. (If you are a friend of mine or a reasonably nice person, leave me a comment with your email and I will tell you. Maybe. If you're heading up in July and not in August when we're there.)

The tables and chairs at this other place are the former tables and chairs of the Jordan Pond House, so it feels like home. And the popovers are uniformly hot, tender, flavorful, and perfect. 

And then there's this: at the JPH, you have a choice of butter, strawberry jam, or strawberry jam and butter. At this other place, they introduced some enticing options this year. There's blueberry jam, for example. You would think the JPH would have that, since it must be Maine's state fruit: blueberry this, blueberry that.... But no. This other place also has lemon curd. And blue cheese sauce plus bacon bits. Chocolate and caramel sauces. Dulce de leche and Granny Smith apples. Or be a stick-in-the-mud and have boring old strawberry jam and butter.

We timidly ordered blueberry jam and butter (we were trying to be "healthy") but the server insisted on our trying the house-made lemon curd, too, saying it went too perfectly with blueberry jam. She was right; thanks to her, we are now lemon-curd junkies. The combination (with plenty of butter, of course) is outrageously good. It is the taste of happiness, I think. The two flavors also have better painterly qualities than strawberry jam, which tends to be thick. So one can also make bold abstract-expressionist swirls on the popover — very satisfying if short-lived:  

This place also has cheerful young servers, a beautiful water view, and a very good non-popover menu for those rare people who actually want to eat food rather than air, butter, and sugary fruit goo. But — listen — don't go there! Go to the Jordan Pond House for the legendary Acadia experience. Everybody goes there; people back home will look at you funny if you say you didn't go. Because you have to see the Bubbles. Because it supports the park. Because strawberry jam is historically correct. Go, have many beers, and then stagger up the Beehive Trail. Please.

Leave this other place to me.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Postcards in Maine: By the Water

In the summer, Southwest Harbor fills with pleasure craft, but it is primarily a working harbor for fishermen, lobstermen, the Coast Guard, and boat builders. There are also ferries to the Cranberry Islands:

I did not see an intense pink sunset on this trip but I was still happy with those I did see, especially framed by lupines:

I spent most of the trip enjoying this manmade body of water. By a few days into our visit, the innkeepers had heated to my liking, about 85 degrees:

In spite of my husband having a chronic headache for most of our trip (gone now, thank goodness), we went to the park and did park things, like sitting on the rocks along the Park Loop Road between Sand Beach and Otter Cliffs:

My husband has been doing this since he was about four. He and his older brother named a couple of these rock piles the Bat Cave and the Floyd Cave and we still visit them. He even has a souvenir scar on his head from taking a tumble here in the '60s.

We always walk to the historic Claremont Hotel to take in the water views from their wooden dock:

More water views are coming, but in the contexts of popovers and gardens.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Postcards from Maine: Lupines

Seeing the lupines was our excuse for our first trip to Maine in the month of June. We'd always visited in August and October, so we'd never seen them; we didn't realize what a dramatic impact they have on the landscape. But our innkeeper friend Fred told us we ought to come up earlier in the summer to see them — and also enjoy Acadia National Park when it's less crowded. 

When we're smart, we listen to Fred and do what he tells us. Thus, lupines, including these, which are growing wild with other flowers along the parking lot of the SW Harbor dock. Pretty spectacular "landscaping" for a parking lot, I'd say:

There are whole fields of them:

They're mostly purply-blue, but some are pink, or white, or blue and white.

They improve every landscape photo:

When they are finished blooming, they shrivel up and one would never know they existed. But midsummer fields of grasses, buttercups, and clover seem boring after you've seen them filled with lupines.

I don't remember these deep pink ones looking this saturated but the rest of the colors look right, so it's possible. I showed Fred a White Flower Farm catalog that sells red and yellow lupines along with the three standard colors. Maybe he'll decide to get some. They would probably be the first reds and yellows on the island.

There are only so many ways to photograph a lupine. Here's a shot looking straight down:

Postcards from Maine: Car Candy

We are back from Bethlehem and Brooklyn and — as you are my witness — I will never overpack like that again. I wasn't sure what to wear to the wedding so I brought three options and all the necessary shoes and so on, and any one of them would have been fine. It all fit into my usual travel bag (plus a big tote for my laptop and some overflow, like my Dad's birthday presents and car snacks) but I need to do better than that. As I unpacked last night, for the second time in a week, I looked at the last few items lying on the bed and realized that they would have been enough (along with a dress) to carry me through all four days. 

I am about to inundate you with postcards of Maine sunsets, lupines, park scenes, popovers, and so on, but first let's see some cars.

A collector of sports cars lives down the street from our inn. He stores them all in a garage somewhere in town, and but drives a different one nearly every day, so we are treated to a changing display of car candy (always "mint," hee hee) on the long strip of driveway in front of his house. It's always a treat to see what's out there as we walk back and forth to town for dinner and groceries. 

There is usually a vintage Porsche, like this one:

Note how the back seat is filled with a set of leather luggage that matches the saddle interior:

Here's a Spyder, very early, judging from the tiny taillights and that red Pegasus logo that was also Mobil Oil's trademark:

I was somewhat staggered to find this one evening:

It's a new McLaren. My husband is far less excitable over sports cars than I but he was impressed with this one:

 I mean, it looks like it can fly!

The owner saw me exclaiming over the car, and came outside and we introduced ourselves. We bonded over our mutual admiration for the car and he kindly showed us the interior:


And now for some lupines and sunsets and popovers, I promise!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

In Pennsylvania

Postcards from Maine are slightly delayed by yet another trip. We are in Bethlehem to celebrate my dad's 102nd birthday and meet his first great-grandchild, our great-nephew. Unfortunately my dad is in the hospital, since he fell earlier this week. He has a few bruises and will be evaluated for physical therapy and sent to a rehab center, which will help him with walking, balance, and strength, we hope. He is getting excellent care and is in decent spirits.

At the moment I'm lounging by the pool at our wonderful inn. I enjoyed this earlier today, too, after a substantial breakfast: berries and banana, cheddar cheese soufflé, toasted homemade bread, a sausage, and a cranberry scone.

I seem to like pools so much that just sitting by one can make me perfectly happy and relaxed — no need to get wet.

We spent most of the day with my dad. He needed to be spoon-fed his lunch but, when we got to the lemon meringue pie, he took the fork from me and ate it by himself, with gusto and finesse. That's my father. He has peanut butter cups for snacks and can handle those, too. Salad, rice, meat, soup... not so much.

Soon we'll head back to the hospital for a scaled-down birthday celebration with my siblings. I hear there will be cake. In the meantime, I think I might get wet. And there are homemade cookies nearby, the best ever. When we return to Boston on Monday (after a wedding in Brooklyn), we will get back on the nutritional straight and narrow, more or less.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Postcards from Maine: That Searsport House

Every summer we get nervous as we drive through Searsport, wondering if our favorite ruined Victorian is still standing or if it's been razed, with maybe another flea market taking its place. 

This year I'm happy to say the house is still with us, if just barely:

Compare this year's photo with one I took last year:

And here's another from about five years ago:

Clearly, that "skylight addition" that recently appeared in the roof of the wing was bad luck:

A close-up:

I could peer inside the opening but there wasn't much to see, just some sort of cabinet, I think. You can see that many planks — lumber or flooring? — have spilled outside.

I have to stay several feet from the house because the weeds are tall, my legs are bare, and I fear ticks and poison ivy. I'm always in a hurry to take these pictures as my husband is parked on the other side of the highway, worrying that I'll get flattened by a car when I dash across.

I love this house. It's interesting to study its warping, caving, weathering, and other decay. But it's so sad to see it growing ever more tilted and decrepit. I used to hope someone would rescue it but I think even the most foolhardy optimist would agree that it's beyond help now.

It must have been elegant and well-kept once upon a time. Along Route 1 in Searsport, there are several outstanding, beautifully maintained 19th-century houses. This one was probably a similar jewel, more modest but perhaps more charming, too.

When we first discovered it, I considered it a "haunted house." It haunted me, anyway. But upon reflection, I don't see why ghosts would lurk around there on a regular basis; what would be the point? Ghosts seem to like company and signs of life. This house is too lonely for more than a passing visit, the kind we make on our way to Southwest Harbor.

Maine in June: Getting There

Our annual June visit to Southwest Harbor got off to a rocky start. A few days before we left, I woke up at 4 am with a painful stomach. It felt like a severe case of "nerves," but I wasn't nervous. I tried to distract myself with a book. By early afternoon, it felt more like there was a barroom brawl in my stomach, with hundreds of tiny punches being thrown. It took me part of a day to recognize it as an IBS attack, since it had been years since the last one. For me, they last days or weeks, usually with no other symptoms besides a sore back, abs, and quads. When a cat jumps on me, it hurts. 

I switched to bland food but it didn't do much. I took probiotics. I packed for our trip. I figured I'd look for seaweed soup on Mount Desert Island. I'd had some there once, when I was similarly ill, and it helped.

On the drive north, we stopped at our usual lunch spot in Wiscasset, a lobster shack with picnic-table seating by the water. It's right across the street from the  nationally known Red's Eat's lobster shack, which always has a long line snaking around the block. We're interested in a quick meal, and were not impressed with Red's lobster roll the time we joined the crowd to see what the fuss was about. 

So we always go to Sprague's instead:

As you can see, the sky was ominous. It was unseasonable cold, with a damp wind whipping off the water. Not a day to sit outside and enjoy unwholesome Maine food; we were the only customers. That's me under the umbrella, trying to warm my hands on my iPhone.

We always order hot dogs with cheese. Sometimes we order fries. We are on vacation; we do as we please. They make good hot dogs, with buttered and toasted rolls. We eat our lobsters further north.

There was no bland food on the menu, so I ordered a hot dog and prepared for the consequences. 

While we waited, I dashed into a few shops nearby, mostly to warm up. There's a little antique shop on the same block as Red's with most of its inventory attached to the walls. It affects me the same way some of the surreal Brimfield displays do:

I walked out quickly, resolving to get rid of a lot of unnecessary stuff as soon as we were home.

I often see this handsome dog resting in the doorway of a stationery and book shop:

That shop's window boxes were the only summery thing going on in Wiscasset that day:

I returned to Sprague's, got my hot dog and snarfed it down. I expected the interior brawling to worsen as we continued up Route 1. Instead, I was instantly cured. I have not had one pang since.

My theory is that my family and I have evolved to thrive on highly processed food and sugar. My father, who will turn 102 on Saturday, is pretty sharp (despite a number of "odd" opinions and beliefs) and is slim and in decent health . . . for 101, anyway.

His diet routinely consists of candy ("Peanut butter cups have protein!"), cake, cookies, pie, brownies, soda, Hungry Man frozen dinners, Celeste frozen pizza, deli meat, and fast food. Every cup of coffee has six spoonfuls of sugar plus sweetened, condensed milk. I forgot to mention: donuts, nut roll ("Very good for you"), TastyKakes ("All I had for lunch when I went to the one-room schoolhouse"), ice cream, and milkshakes. His supper is usually provided by my sister and often contains actual nutrients.

My father scorns my own food choices; he warns me that fresh food can be contaminated with bacteria, for example. He seems to think his freezer also functions as a sterilizer. (He also uses it as time capsule, judging from the age of things we find in there.)

If I tell him about how that hot dog settled my stomach, he will roll his eyes and remind me that my grandmother, throughout her long life, refused to order anything in a restaurant besides a hot dog. She said it was the only food she trusted to be prepared by strangers.

So it seems that, for my genes, hot dogs are medicinal. Useful to know. All the same, I am my father's daughter, so it is my nature to be contrary. Therefore I will persist in my bizarre attachment to fresh, homemade, and mostly plant-based foods. But, being my father's daughter, there must be cake and cookies, too.

In Maine, our last stop before we went to our inn was Gott's Store, one of those remarkable little places that is open almost 24 hours a day (it closes for just a few hours in the morning, planned around fishermen's work schedules). It sells a little of everything from gas and groceries to fireworks, takeout pizza (meh), and fried fish dinners (good). It's also an ice cream stand.

We always got gas there since they were the only place in the region that we knew of that had 93 octane. We were dismayed to find that they only have 91 now, but it won't stop us from going there. They do a lot of baking on the premises: thicky iced cakes, huge cookies, pies, brownies, bulging whoopie pies . . . my dad would approve.

I am most partial to their carrot cake. Last week, I bought a piece, in a plastic take-out box. I shared it with my husband and we still made it last three days. As I ate tiny forkfuls, I could almost hear my father say, "Fruits and vegetables. . . good for you!"

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

But First, Some Silly Cat Photos

I didn't think we'd done all that much on our vacation on Mount Desert Island. I really didn't think I'd taken so many photos. I'm jut about done cropping and fixing them; now I need to choose some to post here to amuse (or possibly bore) my readers.

In the meantime, here are some photos of Harris and Possum, taken just before we left for Maine, which show what good chums they are. When we travel, it's good to know that my cats have plenty of companionship without us. I feel sorry for most one-cat households. While some solitary cats don't know how to be friends with other cats, I have seen for myself how much our cats enjoy having each other around for head baths, chasing, wrestling, "borrowing" from food dishes, getting into trouble, and snuggling for naps.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

I'm Back, and Unpacked. . .

. . . and I think I need a vacation.

Lots of Maine photos and stories will be coming, starting tomorrow, so please stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Maine in June

We drove up yesterday and we're so happy to be here! Lupines are everywhere, the lilacs are still out, the carrot cake they bake at Gott's Store is as good as always, and it's a good thing we brought plenty of warm clothes.

Slept like a log.

More later, including photos.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Kittenpalooze: Kittens Who Aren't Parzival

Here are the rest of my kitten photos, featuring the other kitttens, who are every bit as nice as Parzival. In fact, Connie thinks the other five are all more sociable with people than he is. (My husband and I thought they were all equally friendly and fun.)

In this photo, the two pin-striped "mackerel" tabbies are Shoto and Daito. The black kitten is Samantha, and the classic tabby at the bottom is Aech:

The kittens have a great time climbing up that ramp and sliding back down. Unfortunately all of my photos of this desperate maneuver were blurry.

Just look at this face:

Just look at this backside:

And check out that tiny foot:

This black shorthair is Evelyn. Black cats can be tough to photograph, but in person their coats often shimmer with a glossy sheen that no other, more colorful coat can rival. Some black cats practically sparkle. I consider black cats magical for this reason alone.

Here's proof that these kittens are super friendly. (I can assure you that this man does not smell like catnip or food.) Connie gets to have fun like this all the time:

If you know anyone in the market for a kitten — or ideally, two kittens, since everyone should have a friend of their own species to play with and discuss politics — send them to Connie's blog, Tails from the Foster Kittens.  And hurry: these kittens will be going up for adoption very soon.