The desecration of a library

I’m all about the ports lately. Last week was Westport, CT for the birthday. This week was Freeport, ME to see Martin Sexton at LL Bean’s Discovery Park, a free outdoor concert series that would make me like the Bean, if I were on Facebook. Anyway, the “sex” in Martin’s name is no mistake; he’s one sexy folk singer. Just look at that swoop of hair and the way he sings, eyes closed in ecstasy. Lullaby, please.

Other than sexy Sexton and the campus that is LL Bean, complete with boot mobile, there’s not a lot to Freeport. A handful of outlets would disappointment me, if I were a tourist. But strolling down Main Street, my friend Kim and I, not tourists, just naive New Englanders, encountered this sweet brick library. She snapped a picture while I pointed out its quaintness—red and solid and stout amid the trees. A classic.

The chiseled bare-chested man peering at us from just inside the door did seem an incongruous entry to the little library, but who am I to judge Down Easters? Perhaps the image helps uh, circulation.

An art exhibit, I thought, puzzled. Until my friend pointed out the sign, in alarm, confirming the desecration of a most sacred space. Freeport, if it takes me 20 years, I will strike out your entry in all guide books from Fodor’s to Frommer’s.


Chase’s Daily: a vegetarian feast in Belfast, Maine

While vacationing recently near Belfast, Maine, a shop owner told me about the place to eat, a restaurant right next door to his photography gallery. Chase’s Daily is a high-ceilinged casual vegetarian space with large wooden tables that serves dinner just once a week. And people in town know that that night is Friday. Chase’s grows its own produce, sells it to the public during the day, and uses the bounty to construct its lunches, dinner, and weekend brunch. 

When I heard at lunch that the restaurant was full up for reservations until 8:30, I took the server’s advice and arrived for dinner early, at 5:30, to snag a seat at the counter. A friendly gentleman seated me and chatted a bit (Mr. Chase?) and we laughed when a couple sat down next to me, looked at the menu, and left. “Our menu scares some people off,” he said. I told him I didn’t know what was on the menu, but I’d been looking forward to it all day—and I’m the furthest thing from a vegetarian. 

My meal started with a simple linguini appetizer with three or four red and green varieties of tomatoes, chopped, their juices making a nice broth. I followed that up with a super-thin crust pizza with a nice mix of cheeses, homegrown tomatoes and spinach. Delicious, but I couldn’t finish it all, so I had it boxed up, then promptly forgot to bring home the leftovers. Sadness.

Food trip: Rockland, Maine

If I were a lazy headline writer, I’d say Primo, the charming restaurant in Rockland, ME, that sources its produce from its backyard, is primo. But that would be lame. Instead, let me take you through my meal and make you jealous. 

I love when restaurants are respectful to solo diners and I felt welcome from the start. Immediately, I had trouble deciding on the salad: arugula with a wood roasted peach, gorgonzola crostini and a honey vinaigrette or the farmer salad? I went with the farmer salad: bianca, romaine, and dandelion greens tossed with bacon, olive oil croutons, and a soft boiled egg with a lemon parmesan vinaigrette. Served in a big wooden bowl, it was hearty and delicious.

I tried to resist the bread, but the assortment was too good: a scali bread, a Tuscan bread, and a squishy bread (not its official name) with caramelized onions and a tasty olive oil for dipping. An amuse bouche from the chef came in the form of a warm cauliflower soup with a tiny fried cauliflower on top. Ah, vegetables can be so good.

I got the pappardelle bolognese for my main course with bits of lamb or veal in the sauce and roasted tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, and shaved parmesan cheese. When I hesitated over my choice, my server was nice enough to suggest getting a half portion so I could fit dessert. And I really wanted to fit dessert. 

I chose the warm chocolate “Budino” cake that came with a vanilla-based ice cream on a delicate wafer surrounded by dollops of caramel and a bit of praline. I almost ordered another one. My check came accompanied with a little tray of tiny homemade truffles and marshmallows, because hey, what’s a few more bites?

Dining solo you can’t help but eavesdrop, and my favorite conversation was a 12-year-old girl who confidently ordered the duck. “She has a very mature palette,” her mother explained. Who eats duck at 12?? I couldn’t help but be thankful I had come to appreciate good food later in life to avoid all that pretentiousness. Or maybe I was just sad to realize I could have been enjoying such a meal years ago.

Back from vacation and nothing to show for it, thankfully

I must say that a week of doing nothing in the wilds of Maine has left me thoroughly refreshed. You know those vacations where you come home and think, “Damn, I need a vacation after my vacation”? Yeah, I didn’t have one of those vacations. It was nice to come home with nothing, having done nothing. Even better, I had no stories to tell of my encounter with a bear or the myriad sites I saw, no photos to press on you.

Mostly, I sat by the water and read, which is the ideal, indulgent respite if you’re like me; if you’re not, then you’re likely thinking that sounds pretty lame and should probably stop reading. We wouldn’t get each other. There’s bliss in solitude and nothingness and I luxuriated in every minute of it. 

Typical day: wake up whenever, and stumble out in pajamas to munch on cereal at the picnic table overlooking the lake. Then come the big decisions: shower? Take a walk? Read? In what order? These questions of minutiae were taxing. By then, I’d need a nap. I don’t nap, but if I did, this would have been the perfect time for one. Time to eat again. Should I make lunch so I could remain sloth-like or drive into town? Town was reached via a long dirt road that made me wonder if this were Maine or an undeveloped area of Turkey. Searsport was small—only a couple of restaurants—so it was generally seafood or seafood. Exhausted by the 20-minute drive and the mechanics of eating, I’d wander back along the scenic route by the ocean or get lost on the farm roads that led back to the lake.

Dinner played out much the same way; then back to the cottage, more reading, snacking, listening to the loons, and bed at 9:00 or midnight, depending on my mood and the book. The next day, I’d do it all again. I can’t recommend it enough: you should totally go away and do nothing. Nothing is worse than going away and doing something. Trust me.

Vacation goals: none


SD Backyard Hammock

Originally uploaded by bowena

I know the cool thing to do this year is to take a staycation, but too late. I’ve booked a good, old-fashioned vacation-vacation. Plus, that word—staycation—destined to become the word of the year (last year’s was locavore: someone who eats locally grown food), is annoying.

So, I’m packing up and heading north today to a cottage in midcoast Maine to enjoy the opposite of a jam-packed week. No phone. No computer. First on the agenda, unload the stack of books I’ve been saving for vacation. This is no time to read classics, but I don’t go in for beach reads either. Cost by Roxana Robinson is first up, then Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, and Undiscovered Country by Lin Enger. Three books should do it, but if it rains every day and I finish them, well, that’s a perfect excuse to visit my favorite bookstore Down East: Rock City Books and Cafe in Rockland, Maine.

Next, I have to hit the farmers’ market in Belfast and stock up on good food to cook. At some point, I’ll take a drive along the coast, stopping for seafood or at an interesting coffeehouse. But I don’t want to tax myself. So, mostly I have to make sure the Adirondack chair or hammock is optimally placed for a view of the lake. Then I have to kick back with the stack of books within easy reach and not move for hours.

Those chips are foxy

I love a good day trip, especially if it includes exploring food specialty shops where you just might stumble upon a regional specialty. In Maine, you’ve got your abundance of blueberries in roadside stands. But on an exploration of Portland last summer, I stumbled upon a store with a product made from another staple that Maine has mountains of: Aroostook potatoes. The Fox family has turned those potatoes into the best potato chips I’ve ever had, and I’m one finicky customer.

Kettle chips are not for me and the conventional store brands are laden with stuff that is not good for the body (but is, admittedly, delicious). But the Fox Family Potato Chips are my ideal chip: solid construction, good potato taste, the perfect amount of salt, and no trans fats, cholesterol, or preservatives.

The founder still hand cuts each chip. I mean, come on! If that’s not enough, the silver bag features a skulk of red fox faces that are so cute you just want to eat them up.

Chip varieties include plain (my fave), salt and pepper, and BBQ, and available in select areas of Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, according to the website. I haven’t been able to find them though, so I just ordered a big ‘ole case and will be waiting by the mailbox for them to arrive. Thankfully, I have a mail slot so I don’t have to wait outside…