Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

It's Portland, Maine ... Let's eat!

Portland, Maine is one of those cities we keep coming back to time and time again.  It seems every time we are here we keep extending our stay longer and longer.  Portland appeals to us for lots of reasons and with a population of around 67K people it is a perfect size “big city” for us.  There is always lots to do with summer festivals and events, the food scene is amazing, there is a picturesque waterfront, and plenty of historical beauty and quaint New England charm. 

Portland sits on a peninsula jutting out into Casco Bay and features a true working waterfront with fishing vessels and wharfs a buzz with Maine’s aquatic bounty.  Venture uphill from the water and you find cobblestone streets tucked at the base of beautiful historic buildings now occupied by a myriad of eclectic shops mixed with amazing restaurants, galleries, antique shops, and bars.  Another beautiful place to go is the Western Promenade which is a public park atop a bluff offering endless water views dotted with distant islands to one side and mountain views on the other.

When it comes to food, Portland excels and that is why Bon Appetite Magazine named Portland “The Best Food City in America” in 2018.  And with five nominated Chefs, restaurants, and a brewery up for James Beard Awards in 2019, how could you not be impressed?  Restaurants run the gamut from places with elegant tweezer food restaurants, perfectly executed ethnic foods, BBQ joints, and don’t forget seafood restaurants serving up Maine’s most recognizable crustacean and all other aquatic bounty. Portland has it all. 

If you are looking for a great way to delve into the Portland food scene and get the backstory on chefs, farmers, and Maine’s farm/sea to table movements, check out a tour with Maine Food for Thought.  We signed up for the Land, Sea, to Fork tour which is a fascinating three hours of eating and learning about where Maine food comes from, challenges farmers and fishermen are facing, and how restaurants are staying true to sustainable practices.  Our super knowledgeable guide led us around town so we could sample foods at five of Portland’s great restaurants that locally source sustainable foods.  If you are a foodie in Portland, this tour is a must.  In fact, even if you are not, it is a great tour.  We loved it and quickly realized why it is Trip Advisors #1 rated Tour, the #1 Food and Drink Attraction in Portland and gets five stars. 

Some other notable restaurants we have visited in the past are Duckfat (which serves amazing hand-cut fries cooked in, you guessed it – duckfat), Eventide (known for their amazing selection of oysters), Nosh Kitchen Bar (an amazing sandwich joint with creative creations like a hamburger patty stuffed between two fried mac and cheese patties as the buns, and Noble Barbecue (which piles wood and smoked meat high and serves it up juicy).  We recommend all these restaurants!

Our 2019 spring road trip from Florida to Maine involved eating at a lot of James Beard Foundation winners and nominees and the Portland area was the culmination of the trip.  On this trip we ate at a few new places – Fore Street, Drifter’s Wife, and Palace Diner.  Fore Street, the highly-touted, long-running downtown restaurant has been around for 23 years and is considered by many to be the originator of today's food obsession in Portland.  The list of accolades for Fore Street is well-deserved and extensive so I won’t bore you with all the details.  You can goggle it.  The space is as appealing and good looking as the food with exposed brick walls, enormous windows, and an open kitchen.  A wood burning oven plays front and center stage turning out amazing food like delicate roasted seafood and tender meats.  Their modern American menu changes daily and revolves around what is fresh and in season from their providers that encompasses farmers, shellfish gatherers, woodland foragers, day-boat fishermen, and more. 

Drifter’s Wife is a restaurant that came on the scene in 2015 as a wine shop.  In order to get people in, the owners decided to pop open the bottles and pair them with some snacks.  The space is small which makes it warm and welcoming with a chic style of wood tables and bold black furnishings.  We sat at the bar to enjoy some happy hour libations and quickly decided to abandon our reserved table when we realized the fun of sitting at the bar with a charismatic bartender and interesting fellow bar stoolers.  The food is kept simple and local.  I opted for their chicken and turnips which is a dish that can’t seem to leave the menu because it always gets requested and put back on.  If a restaurant can be known for its chicken, then they are doing something right.  Betsy went with the lightly fried softshell crab with wilted greens.  Their menu is simple and elegant accompanied by excellent service.

The Palace Diner is a Biddeford, Maine institution with great comfort food that earned them a 2019 James Beard Foundation Award nomination for “Best Chef – Northeast.” The dining car was built in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1927 by the Pollard Company and has been in Biddeford, Maine for its entire life and is one of two Pollard cars remaining in America.  The Palace Diner came to fruition in the days when dining cars were placed next to mills so hungry workers could get hearty meals when breakfast and lunch rolled around.  And this diner still serves up those comforting and hearty meals.  Not a lot has changed from the fifteen-seat counter to the stainless steel back splash to the menu choices.  The waft of coffee, cooking bacon and sweet maple syrup greet you as you walk in where a friendly voice welcomes you to the establishment and guides you into a seat (because this place will be busy and crowd control can be important in this tiny, efficient space).  The menu is what you want and expect from a diner.  Think tuna melt, cheese burger and fries, pillowy buttermilk flapjacks, and savory corned beef hash.  We opted for the whole breast fried chicken sandwich, which we shared, with cabbage slaw and jalapenos served with a side of wedge salad.  Oh my, was it good!

When you are tired of eating, head over to one of Maine’s most famous attractions – the Portland Head Light.  This iconic 80 – foot cylindrical tower has graced the rocky shore since 1791 and garners the title of Maine’s oldest lighthouse and the first in the country built by the federal government.  Seafaring stories of shipwrecks and lifesaving decorate this lighthouses’ past but one of the most colorful stories is of the keeper, Captain Joshua Freeman, who supplemented his government income by selling rum to visitors for three cents a glass. Pretty clever guy. 

Every time we come to the Portland area we stay at Bayley’sCamping Resort in Scarborough.  The campground is in a great location being about nine or so miles from downtown Portland yet close enough to other towns fun to explore like Old Orchard Beach, Saco, and Kennebunkport.  The campground is super huge with over 700 sites and has lots of amenities as in three swimming pools, five hot tubs, a cafĂ©, rental golf carts, fishing ponds, putt putt golf, baseball diamond, canoe/kayak launch (with rentals) and lots more

A short drive south is Ferry Beach State Park which served as a great place to take Spirit for a walk and enjoy the outdoors.  The park has a few trails that wind through the woods and lead you to a sandy beach area that would be nice to enjoy on a warm summer day.  

For us, cold weather early in the season meant we would appreciate the view but not dip our toes in the frigid Atlantic.  Another place we enjoyed walking spirit is on a trail that bisects the Scarborough Marsh – a 3,100 acre estuarine environment that is Maine’s largest saltwater marsh ecosystem and a phenomenal place to bird watch.  There is also a nature center operated by Maine Audubon Society that offers naturalist-guided and self-guided tours, has interpretive exhibits, canoe/kayak rentals, and a small gift shop.

Portland and the surrounding area hold lots to do.  This blog focused a lot on food but here are some links to other blog posts written in 20162014, and 2011 that describe previous visits to the area.  There is no shortage of things to do in and around Maine’s largest city. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Admiring the Beauty, History and Food in the Catskills Region of New York

About two hours outside of New York City in the southeastern part of the state lies the Catskill Mountains.  The Catskills region of New York has long been a destination for travelers with its rolling hills, lush valleys, pleasant streams, and tumbling waterfalls.  From its first hotel built in the 1820’s to the free spirited 1960’s, folks eager to escape bustling dirty cities flocked here in search of fresh clean air and to commune with nature and appreciate the natural beauty.

A large portion of the Catskill Region is protected lands meaning there is plenty of rustic beauty and room for hiking, fishing (fun fact: the region is where fly fishing first began), biking, and more.  The area was coined "a land of streams" because of the plentiful and magnificent waterfalls, nearly 150 in all.  One of the most popular is the Kaaterskill Falls in the Catskill Forest Preserve.  A short hike takes you to the top of falls which is the tallest two-tiered waterfall in New York State rolling in at 260 feet.  We visited in spring so the falls were at their tumbling splendor.  The most impressive view is just a mile or so away at the bottom where cascading cold water dazzles you with a thundering roar and refreshing spray before it continues on through a shady ravine.  

We thoroughly enjoyed the hiking in the Catskill Forest Preserve and loved the wide range of trails with varying lengths and degrees of difficulty.  One morning we made the pleasant walk to the site of the Catskill Mountain House.  This splendid old hotel was built in 1824 and became America’s first grand resort hotel and was visited by three U.S. Presidents and the elite wealthy of the day.  

Nothing remains of the old hotel but from where it stood you get an amazing view of the expansive Hudson Valley and River.  When here, you can easily imagine how guests must have loved this lap of luxury as they lounged around soaking up the sun and fabulous views.

Interestingly, the many hotels and vacation resorts located in the Catskills today are notable in American cultural history for their role in the development of modern stand-up comedy.  Comedians such as Rodney Dangerfield, Jackie Mason, and Don Rickles all got their start performing in Catskill hotels.

Another man’s name that has ties to the Catskills is Rip Van Winkle.  Rip Van Winkle is a short story about a Dutch-American villager in colonial America who left home to go hunting and ended up falling asleep in the Catskill Mountains and wakes up 20 years later, having missed the American Revolution.  Ironically, the author Washington Irving (who also wrote the Legend of Sleepy Hollow) had never been to the Catskills before.  You will find Rip celebrated everywhere and in every fashion as in needlepoint belts, pillows, cookies, and a brewery named after him. 

The hiking and scenery in the Hudson Valley were great but we actually came here for another reason.  To Eat!  We have been making it a point to eat at 2019 James Beard Award nominated restaurants on our way from Florida to Maine and an artsy funky restaurant caught our eyes and was the real reason we were in the area.  Lil’ Debs Oasis is a colorful establishment, to say the least, that pumps out some fun cocktails and delicious food by two amazing chefs that have a loyal following.  

The menu is small but constantly changing and appealing.  Betsy settled on the traditional dish gambas al ajillo (shrimp) with garlic, chili, lime and rice and I ordered the mojo chicken with creamy and refreshing green and yellow salsas complimented with hearty rice and beans.  The diners next to us ordered the yucca “fries” with salsa verde appetizer and we must have been starring at them a little too long because they asked us if we wanted some and passed the plate our way.  Thanks nice people.  When the kitchen closes at 10 pm this place becomes lively as the drag show (also known as Queer Performance Night) starts and the tiny restaurant becomes even smaller as the crowds flood in.

One thing we love about the Hudson Valley are all the little towns that have their own charm and allure.  Lil Deb’s Oasis is located in the town of Hudson so we decided to go early and walk around the town which is quite pretty.  Oddly, we were there on a Wednesday around 5 pm and most of the businesses were closed.  Seems Wednesday is when town merchants decide to take the day off. 

Another day we ventured down to the little town of Saugerties where a lighthouse was calling us.  Plan on visiting this lighthouse around low tide as the path is along the riverbank otherwise you will be borrowing a pair of boots to get there (which you can do).  

The lighthouse was built in 1869 and still stands proudly as a living part of the Hudson Valley’s maritime history and in its more recent role as a bed and breakfast.  Yep, for $250/night you can sleep and roam where lighthouse keepers resided for years.  If you are interested in staying overnight book early as this place is popular and the next available opening wasn’t for six months.  Another option is to pack a picnic and enjoy the outside seating area behind the lighthouse where you can watch boats and birds come and go in a pleasant setting.

There certainly is a lot to explore in the Hudson Valley and we have really liked our stay each time we’ve been there.  Years back we stayed farther south and found it rich in history, beautiful in scenery, and a great food and drink destination.  So if you are looking for a nice quiet mountain getaway give the Catskills a try. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

RV Park Review - Delaware Seashore State Park (Bethany Beach, Delaware)

The really great aspect of Delaware Seashore State Park is your close proximity to the water.  The park is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian River, and Indian River Bay.  The park has two separate campgrounds divided by the Indian River Inlet.  We stayed at the southern campground but both are similar with regards to the hook-ups, sites, and proximity to the water.  Both campgrounds are wide open with no shade.  Pads are paved but patios and area between sites is sandy with a little bit of grass.  If you don’t like sand, this is not the place for you.  We were there in April so it wasn’t very crowded and temperatures were cool so we didn’t mind the lack of shade. 

Some campsites are open year-round and can accommodate various camping units from tents to 45’ RVs offering back-ins and pull thrus.  Roads are fairly narrow and paved campsites barely fit big rigs as we had just a few feet to spare but were able to park the car in the sand/grass so it was not a problem.  Most campsites have 30- and 50-amp electric, and water and sewer hook-ups.  There are also no hook-up and tent sites. 

There are bathhouses with free showers scattered throughout the park and laundry facilities.  Since we were there in the off-season only one bathhouse was open.  There are no fire pits at your site but two community fire pits are located on the outskirts of the campground.  Our over the air antenna picked up a dozen or so television channels and we had no problem getting cell or internet service with our Verizon phone.  Full hook-up sites range from $30 - $55/night depending on if you are a resident and what day of the week you are there.  No hook-up sites are available from $25 - $50/night and tent sites range from $20 - $35/night.  We inquired about a senior discount and received it after a phone call to them.  

The south campground is about a half mile from the ocean access where there are two full-service restaurants (which were both closed when we were there).  The beach is wide and great for walking on and dogs are permitted during certain times of the year. 

If you like to fish this is a great place for surf fishing in the Atlantic and bank fishing in the Inlet River.  If you have personal watercraft, there is access to the marsh and bay directly from the park.  Near the north campground is a full-service marina with a bait and tackle shop, fish and seafood sales, and a short hiking trail. 

Just up the road is the Indian River Life Saving Station with a visitor center, museum and gift shop.  Continue on up to the road and you will pass through the small town of Dewey Beach.  Keep going another mile or so and you enter Rehoboth Beach where you will find everything you need (and don’t need).  Rehoboth Beach is a typical beach town with everything from t-shirts to taffy and a mile-long boardwalk.  If you are a beer lover there are plenty of breweries to choose from ranging from the smaller craft breweries like the Dewey Beer Company to the larger producer Dogfish Head. 

Another camping option nearby is Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes.  Click here for our review of that campground.  

Saturday, April 27, 2019

RV Park Review – Cape Henlopen State Park (Lewes, Delaware)

This is a great state park with nice campground and lots to do within the parks' 7,000-acre boundary.  And, we do mean LOTS!  Yes, there are the standard 13 miles of hiking and biking trails but there are also basketball courts, disc golf, boat launch with kayak rental, ranger-led programs, a nature center, food concessions, camp store, playgrounds, fishing pier (with a bait and tackle shop), and miles of Atlantic Ocean beachfront to enjoy.  The property was historically a military instillation (the largest one on the east coast during WWII) so there are many bunkers, observation towers, and other structures some of which are museums open to the public.

The newly renovated campground has 162 RV/tent campsites with 50/30/20 amp electric, fire rings and picnic tables.  There are also rental cabins for those who do not have camping gear.  Sites range in length from a 15’ back-in to a 105’ pull thru and are paved as are the roads.  Not all sites are level so this may be a problem for some and the availability of big-rig friendly sites is limited.  Roads are fairly tight and there is a one-way traffic flow to alleviate congestion so you’ll have to be patient if you are behind someone who is backing into their site.  We were able to get plenty of antenna over the air television stations but those with satellite may have trouble with the shade trees.  Our Verizon phone and internet service worked great.  The showers and bathhouses were clean but were heavily used since no campsites have sewer and there are a number of tenters.

Reservations can be made online and you can book a site for up to 14 days.  For the dates we were interested in there was only one site available and it was an ADA site.  I called the park and asked if being disabled was a requirement for occupying an ADA identified site and they said no so we were able to book it.   We really could not figure out why it was classified as ADA in the first place but were glad to get the reservation since only 13 of the 162 campsites can accommodate an RV 40' and over.  

Camping in state parks does not mean they are at the bargain basement price and this was no exception.  Depending on season, residency, and site the nightly costs range from $20 (for a tent in off-season) to $59 (for a water/electric site in peak season). 

There is plenty to do in the area.  Lewes is a charming town with a few museums and historic buildings and a great restaurant Heirloom.  The nearby town of Rehoboth is a beachy town that is fun to stroll the streets and mile long boardwalk.  Rehoboth is quite a bit larger than Lewes with more shopping, restaurants, and activities and numerous breweries. 

We really liked this campground for a number of reasons – our site was nice, there are plenty of hiking trails, you can walk to the beach, and it is close to downtown Lewes and things to do.  The only downsides would be the cost which was $47/night and that there was no sewer but we would definitely stay here again.