Traveling is a complicated thing for me. I have trouble leaving places. This includes my house. Which means that I have trouble starting my travels. But, once on the road, and active, I feel untethered from whatever it is that binds me to place. Traveling feeds me in ways that I forget when midwinter sets into my soul and spills melancholy into spring then trickles it into summer. And I don’t resist it. I hate the heat so that once summer hits and my teacher vacation begins, I’m fine wth cranking up the air conditioning and staying put.
Thankfully, a yearly conference forces me to New England. This year’s site was Portsmouth, NH, a tiny port town across the river from Maine. I’d never been to New Hampshire, nor Maine, and have friends scattered throughout New England. Which is all to say, VACATION!
From Richmond, I headed north with a quick stopover in DC to stay with a high school friend and her sweet family. The first day of big driving, I spent over nine hours in the car going from DC to Newport, RI, one of my favorite places on earth and current home to a friend and navy wife. Her husband spoiled me with home cooked dinners of fresh seafood, but we also snuck away into town to take a boat ride and Jaclyn snacked on a Black Pearl hotdog. The Black Pearl is famous for it’s clam chowder, but they serve this hotdog at a walk up window for those who need a walking snack. The next morning we ate at The Corner Cafe, one of Jaclyn and my favorites. They serve brunch everyday and it’s quite easily one of the best I’ve had. They know how to do their job and turn the tables quick. It’s worth the usual 10-20 minute wait.
A quick two hour drive through Boston brought me to Portsmouth and my conference. On the way out of town, I worked my way to Sanders Fish Market for my first lobster roll. I snapped pictures and I know the white haired locals as well as the staff where wondering what in the world was going on. One thing I forget until I don’t, is that having a business card with a nod to this here blog would be a great way to say, “Hey, I’m taking pictures and I’m gonna write about this place and the food. Here’s the site.” But, I have yet to do this so I just snap photos with my big Nikon camera, eat the food, and quietly leave. I mean, what’s the chance I’ll see these people again? Or that they stumble on this blog? Zero? That’s what I thought too.
I’m gonna confess that I wasn’t even hungry for this lobster roll as I had had a sandwich at the conference, but dang was it good and meaty and buttery and well, I was gonna eat it. And, so I did. Then, I hopped in my car and got lost in and around Portsmouth. On purpose. I had time to kill and the scenery was beautiful. So many nice homes on the water. I just drove slowly and looked around. And then, I saw a lot of cars outside of what looked like a roadside eatery. And…it was.
Again, I wasn’t hungry, but a walk up window gets me every time. Every time! This clearly was the summer hotspot and was never gonna be on any tourist map. It’s tucked into a neighborhood that is clearly frequented by those who “summer” here. Though not on the fancy side, The Ice House just isn’t going to draw those who don’t know about it down here. Thus, I was instantly in love. So, I walked up to the window and while looking at the plethora of choices for ice cream (realize that at first I was going to get the fish and corn chowder, because chowdAH) I saw “Maine Black Bear” and so when the very young teenage face popped in the window and asked for my order I said, “A teeny, tiny scoop of Maine Black Bear.” And this is what appeared…
Again, I ate it all. As you do when you’re a kiddie. It was a berry flavored ice cream (I think cherry) with dark chocolate cups and chips. It was divine. I wanted more. Instead, I snapped pictures. I asked strangers to show me their cones. I did not try to lick them. But, I thought about it. Then, off to Maine, for real.
Originally, I was going to glamp here. I was really excited about it. But, then I realize that my real job is teaching and that comes with a solid salary of loving children so I searched Airbnb and found a lake front room with a balcony and temper pedic bed. And, half the price. Mooooooove over glamping, momma’s got air conditioning.*. This was my view. In the morning. In the evening. All day, people, all day. This view made me change my itinerary just a bit.
Kennebunk and Kennebunkport. Did you know there were two? Me either. And where they end and begin and coexist is still up in the air for me (or really, in the water). Still, the Kennebunks are to Maine what Newport is to Rhode Island, posh. Also, home of the Bushes, 41 and Barbara. Here, I took a sailing cruise and two things happened: 1- I realized that I always want to be sailing and 2- I fell in love with lobster boats, lobster bouys, and the art of lobstering. But, first- breakfast. And coffee.
I stopped at HB Provisions for breakfast having read about their corned beef hash and their slogan, “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.” I love a general store and this one reminds me of the one in Siasconset, Nantucket, The Sconset Market, where the neighbors come for coffee and pastry and to read the morning paper. But, there is almost rose on the shelves and whoopee pies. There are always whoppie pies in Maine. Always.
The hash was delicious with big pieces of corned beef and the whole grain toast was even outstanding with the perfect amount of butter and seedy crunch. But, the blueberry coffee. Well, let’s says that I ended my day by coming back here and buying 2 lbs. to take home.
Our sail was perfection. There was enough wind to give us a good tour, but the sea was also like glass which made for a smooth and tranquil glide. I could live the sailing life given that someone else was manning, steering, hoisting, tacking, rigging, and just plain sailing the boat while I watched and that the sea was calm and smooth, but with wind to push us along.
We didn’t see the Bushes or whales or dolphins or purposes, but we saw a LOT of lobster bouys and a few working lobster boats.
Each lobster boat has their own patterned bouy which is also identified on the top of their boat. Traps commingle in the water, so this keeps the lobsterman keyed into their own traps. Here is the sequence of a lobsterman pulling a trap out of the water and deciding how many to keep.
After sailing, I was hungry from all the work I watched other people do. So, I went to the highly recommended Rococo’s for ice cream. They are known for their artisanal flavor like goat cheese and blueberry (which I got) and habanero mango. The ice cream is creamy, flavorful, and really shouldn’t be missed when in town. Warning, the lines can get long because it’s so dang good that everybody wants some.
Next door to Rococo’s was an adorable doughnut shop. The mini doughnuts lying out looked tantalizing and though I had just eaten (devoured) ice cream I needed these little precious circles in my life. You guys, they had a doughnut covered in potato chips and drizzled with chocolate. Stop. It. It was my favorite. I also got a blueberry jam stuffed one and their version of Maine’s whoopee pie. I hope these Satellite Doughnuts take off and she begins to franchise all the way to Virginia. Go, girl!
Planning a trip to Maine meant research which I did by internet and happily stumbled upon a clam festival set for the weekend I would be there. A clam festival sounded like a happy place of which I had never known. I drove the twenty minutes from my lake front stay and brunched on a whole lobster, steamed clams, clam chowder, and blueberry crisp. And yes, I ate all the things. Then I walked them off in the 80 degree heat that felt like suffering, yet I knew Virginia was sweltering in temps. close to 100. Still, A/C was calling.
LlBean’s flagship store has been a bucket list item for me for a long, long time. I love the brand and still have my high school backpack so getting to see the mecca of all things guaranteed for life (with free shipping) satisfied an itch that is a long, long drive from my real life.
For dinner, I scooted to Portland to try Eventide on the recommendation of Eating Bird Food. I’ll say it was one of the best seafood meals I’ve had. It was divine and exceeded my expectations. And, because I was a party of one, I got seated immediately to the chagrin of those waiting for tables for 2-3 hours. And, they sat me beside the pass. Behold the many and varied dishes. I oohed and ahhed and wished I had a fatter wallet. I would have ordered all the things.
What I did order: 1/2 dozen oysters, a mixed greens salad dressed in a nori dressing, and a browned butter lobster roll. The oysters were perfection with frozen, shaved horseradish and cocktail sauce (my favorite), but I also got a taste of a cucumber ginger mignette which made the oyster bright and crisp. Truthfully, I ordered the salad because I needed vegetables in my life. It was delicious and I ate every bit regardless that seaweed is not my favorite. The lobster roll was amazing. Served in a steamed bun and stirred with lucious, nutty browned butter, the lobster sang.
Saturday was what I changed my itinerary for. The lake was calling and need my attention. I started off with a breakfast sandwich from The Good Life. Basic and filling, it was the store that wowed me. A little gourmet heaven in a tiny lake community. After seeing a Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods in Portland, just 30 minutes away, this little specialty shop cemented for me the idea that I could live here. Even in Maine, through the cold, harsh winter, I could source all the foods. Heaven.
After breakfast, I promptly sat myself in a cushioned chaise lounge to read when Linda, my Airbnb host, jaunts happily down he lawn to sit beside me and ask if I was interested in getting lobsters to cook at home tonight. A lobster boil on the lake? In Maine? This is not a question. This is the answer. Of course, I offered to sweeten the deal by making steamed clams in a droppable broth. They accepted, thus my first recipe on the road. Maine Steamed Clams with Bacon**.
Sometimes, I can’t believe my life. I couldn’t have dreamed up this dinner in Maine, by a lake, with a sweet, sweet family who welcomed me with open arms. And even though I squirmed at the live lobsters moving in the boiling water, I ate every last one of the two that were served to me. And then I kayaked around a small island before jumping in the shower and calling it a night. THIS is the good life.***
The long drive to Virginia just couldn’t be done without a pitstop in Connecticut to visit an old teacher friend. She knows my love of food and for lunch, she took me to one of the most photographable place she could think of, The Note. It was midday and we had only had coffee so we over ordered, as you do when you go to any food establishment on a hungry belly. The asian meatballs were a great balance of savory and sweet shaped into a chicken meatball. The deviled eggs with pesto, pickled red onion, and bacon lardons satisfied my need for an egg a day while my friend’s chicken sandwich with waffle fries satisfied our need for good quality comfort food.
My favorite dish was the cauliflower wings, your choice of sauce- I got buffalo and garlic parmesan. After living through instagram food feeds, I was thinking that the cauliflower wings were whole florets, but these battered and fried babies came out and they were delicious. The blue cheese dressing was housemate and had a zing to it that I couldn’t quite place. The garlic parmesan were so flavored with savory goodness that I wished I’d ordered it for the whole plate.
This crab and avocado stack was as tasty as it is pretty, but after the fried cauliflower it was a jolt to come up close with such a fresh contrast. Still, you cannot go wrong with either crab or avocado and pairing them is a seafood lovers dream. The tomato vinegarette gave the dish it’s rounded and tangy flavor profile.
Remember when I said I have trouble leaving places. Well, when my Connecticut friend asked why I couldn’t stay another night, I could’t give a good answer. We thrift shopped all day after out meal and another day of cozy friend time sounded just fine by me. She’s got an amazing collection of thrifted things. The girl can curate like nobodies business. And, she indulged me a little prop styling for a Maine find of Blueshine, a moonshine made from blueberries that I sourced at the Good Life Market.
Connecticut was chilly. I loved it. I had to pull out my “just in case” jeans and a long sleeve shirt I had luckily just bought at LlBean. We slept in late and cradled out warm coffee and my brain kept telling me it was October. Truly, I should be an New Englander. The weather there feeds my soul. Watch, yankees, this southerner may be coming for you soon.
- 1 lb. package of bacon
- 2 lbs. clams, scrubbed of any grit
- 2 cups dry white wine
- ½ cup clam broth (or water)
- 2 large shallots, thinly slice (about a heaping cup)
- 7 garlic cloves thinly sliced
- 3 tbsp butter
- 1 tsp salt
- zest and juice of one lemon
- 1 loaf of crusty, rustic bread, sliced (french will do)
- Heat the oven to 350. Place the bacon on a rimmed baking pan in a single layer. Cook the bacon until crisp, about 30-40 minutes. Drain the grease into a bowl and set aside. Place the bacon on a paper towel or rack to cool. When cooled, chop and set aside.
- Heat a large dutch oven (or stock pot in a pinch) over medium high heat. Place 1 tbsp. of the bacon grease and the butter in the pot. When the butter has melted, place the shallots, garlic, and salt and stir until the shallots are transparent. Pour in the wine and broth (or water) and bring to a boil. Let it cook down for a few minutes uncovered. Let's say 2 minutes.
- Place the raw, scrubbed clams in the pot, sprinkle in the lemon zest, and cover. Let the clams cook until they open (anywhere from 5-15 minutes) stirring occasionally to get the unopened ones to the bottom and the heat.
- While the clams are cooking, place the slice bread the same baking sheet you used for the bacon in a single layer. Bake at 350 while the clams are steaming for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and brush with bacon grease then pop them back in the oven for 5 more minutes. Serve warm along with the clams and broth.
- When the clams are opened, remove them to your serving dish(es) then let the liquid reduce on a high heat for 3-5 minutes. Pour over your clams, add the chopped bacon, squeeze the lemon all over and devour with that crusty bacon bread.
*In real life, I still want to glamp in Maine. Heck, I want to backpack in Maine, but two things: 1- Glamping is expensive and 2- Camping is not succinct enough for me to traverse it and visiting friends and really, I wasn’t gonna spend a lot of time at the campsite so electricity wins! Also, #firstworldproblems #resist #itscomplicated.
**I learned the bacon fat toast trick from Vivian Howard. You should learn it, too.
***This lobster dinner is not part of the Airbnb and Linda told me to tell all of you that I was super special and you’re not. Just kidding, but for real, we had a bit of a bond and she welcomed me into her family as if it was normal that I would have a cookout with all her children and grandchildren and truthfully, it felt like a second family. Adore!