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.

Friday, July 29, 2011

THE CRANBERRY ISLES OF MAINE

Recently, our good friend Ann from New Orleans paid us a visit.  While she was here for a week we ate lots of lobster, drank a few bottles of wine, and laughed until it hurt.  Ann is a great person to travel with and very agreeable to whatever is on the program.  Betsy and I had wanted to take a “mail boat” to the Cranberry Isles, just off the southern coast of Mt. Desert Island (where Bar Harbor is located) and Ann was agreeable to the adventure.  All we had to do is assure her lunch was involved and she came along eagerly. 
The mail boat.
The Cranberry Isles consists of Great Cranberry, Little Cranberry, Sutton, Bear, and Baker Islands and got its name from the wild low-bush cranberries that grow throughout the islands in the fall.  The islands are just a short 20- 30 minute boat ride which provides spectacular views of the harbors along the southern coast of Mt. Desert Island and the mountains of Acadia National Park.  Great Cranberry and Little Cranberry house a year-round community of lobstermen, boat builders, and craftsmen, as well as numerous “rusticators” who’ve been returning each summer for years, if not generations.
The waterfront at Little Cranberry which includes the Lobster man's Co-op, restaurant,
shops, and galleries.  
Historically, island residents would hitch a ride with the mail boat on its daily run of mail delivery.  Today, the mail boat is still a popular mode of transportation for residents and visitors to visit some of the many islands that dot the Maine coast.  Although the boat we were on was carrying more passengers than mail, they do still deliver mail and supplies to the islands. 

The ferry dock on Little Cranberry.
Since it was Sunday
there was no mail delivery
just newspapers.
We visited Great Cranberry and Little Cranberry (also known as Islesford).  The islands are very small (the longest being only two miles long) and most visitors get around on foot or bicycle.  Don’t look for a taxi at the ferry dock the island isn’t that big!  Instead, just wear comfortable shoes.  The islands were very charming and represented a peaceful, slow way of life.  The docks are scattered with lobster traps and buoys verifying that these harbors are working waterfronts and residents still make their living from the sea.  Once on Little Cranberry just walk 30 yards to your left and you will be in the “downtown.”  Located there is a restaurant, shops and galleries, and a National Park Service museum that depicted the history of life on the island.  We took a short walk up the main road in search of an island artisan gallery and gift shop.  Along the way we ran across a beautiful old church with patrons selling baked goods and a home-made putt-putt golf course that was raising money for victims of the Gulf oil spill and Haiti.  We all remarked, “where else would you find this?” 
Little Cranberry (a.k.a Islesford) post office and grocery.  One-stop shopping!
Island Girl Seaglass gift shop.
We hopped back on the mailboat and took the 20 minute ride to Great Cranberry.  Once again, the views from the water were spectacular and the cool breeze felt great.  Since it was nearing one o’clock, we made the hike up the island to a café I saw advertised at the ferry dock.  Turns out that this is where all the locals eat on Sunday after church (or maybe it is the only place to eat on the island).  After enjoying a leisurely lunch we stepped behind the café where there is a small historical museum.   With our bellies full and 45 minutes until the next mail boat, we continued to explore the island.  We saw the church, school, gift shop and just marveled at what a relaxing life these islands seem to provide.  Of course, none of us would want to be there in the winter!  The Cranberry Isles are definitely worth a visit if you come to Mt. Desert Island.  

Lighthouse on Baker Island.
The dockside restaurant with a great view of the harbor.
Putt putt golf course for charity.
The designers of this course really have a sense of humor.
Another display of humor in the bean garden.
National Park Service museum.
Museum exhibits depicting life on the Cranberry Isles.
Houses on Great Cranberry that have a great water view from the backyard.
Town church and garden.
The lunch we promised Ann.  Behind the cafe is the historical society museum
and gift shop.
Lobster buoys and traps
Island food truck selling what else but lobster.
Church bake sale.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

WHERE HAVE WE BEEN?

If you are asking that question because we have not posted anything in a while….then I will fill you in.  We are still in Maine and still in Trenton (just outside of Bar Harbor).  We have not moved for 20 days but yet we are still so busy.  Our reason for not writing is not because there is a lack of things to do and see; instead, it is simply because we have not had time.  Surprisingly, we have to make time to sit down to write; as well as, doing other “chores.”  There are motorhome needs like cleaning filters, filling batteries, checking fluids, running generators, etc.  And there are “house” chores like cleaning windows, laundry, mopping floors, etc. 
Taking a break during
a bike ride through Acadia. Too
beautiful of a view to pass up. 
Enough of what we have not been doing, here is what we have been doing……  Acadia National Park has been our playground.  We have biked the carriage roads, hiked the trails, and kayaked the lakes.  But the great thing about this area is that there is so much more to do.   I had the good fortune of taking to the sea with a lobsterman where I worked an 8-hour day instead of playing tourist.  Betsy has been busy helping her brother Mark at The Maples Inn.  We are trying to learn the ropes so we can inn-sit for a week in early September when Mark takes a much needed rest and heads to his hometown of Chicago.  (Please don’t forget to come back Mark!)

We have been able to spend time with old friends - and meet new ones - and had some of the most enjoyable meals.  Who knew that the Acadia park ranger Richard could make such delicious molasses gingerbread cookies and his wife Line is the queen of delicious salads.  Then there is Bruce, a neighbor who lives across the street from the Inn, who can run circles around Emeril in the kitchen and make the kind of pizza that makes your mouth water.  Our friend Bonnie brings us laughter, company, and a cute yellow lab, Ivy, that reminds us how much we love labs.  All of us have had several lobster bakes together, especially after I brought home a dozen freshly caught lobsters from my day at sea.

Another one of our great activities is to share Maine with our New Orleans friends who want to catch up with us.  We have been fortunate enough to get together with our dear friends Angela and Irwin who have a home in Belfast, Maine.  We camped at a park in Belfast for several days in late June especially so we could spend time with them, including appetizers, wine, and dinner overlooking Penobscot Bay.  Just one of the many special evenings we have spent with friends and family along the way.  We can’t wait until more of our friends join us this month and next.

Enjoying dinner with  Mark, Irwin and Angela at the RV park in Belfast.  It was
such a special occasion we bought a new picnic table cloth
Stay tuned because we have blog ideas in our heads and our fingers are still typing.  In the meantime here are some pictures to enjoy. 

Betsy and Mark walking over to Bar Island near downtown Bar Harbor.
While on Bar Island we came across three white-tailed deer that were obviously
used to seeing people.
Dennis my lobster man grabbing a buoy.
One of my jobs was to band the claws.  No fingers got pinched so I must have done it right.
Once the lobsters were banded, they went in the tank.
The tank filled up so fast that we had to start another, and then another.
My other job (which was less fun and much smellier) was to fill the bait bags
with herring.  After a few hours on the water in the hot sun, the fish was nasty.
Bruce (Dennis's Father-in-law) boiling up our bounty.
Betsy picking wild Maine blueberries on one of our bike rides in Acadia.
Enjoying the view of Frenchmans Bay from downtown Bar Harbor.  A great
place to eat ice cream and people watch.

Monday, July 11, 2011

STEAMED CLAMS - "STEAMERS"

In our motor home, lobster dinners usually start off with “steamers”.  Steamer clams are found along New England and go by many names including "softshells", "longnecks", "piss clams", "Ipswich clams", or "Essex clams".  Equal to the number of different names that they have are the ways in which they are prepared.  There are fried clams, sautéed clams, raw clams on the half shell, clam pizza, clam chowder, steamed clams…..sorry I am getting a little too Forest Gump here….but you get the picture.
A plate full of yummy, steaming, hot clams!
Clams are harvested the old fashioned way - through back-breaking hard work.  At low tide, one ventures onto "clam flats" with a rake and basket and starts digging.  Lots of work has to be done before the tide comes in so digging is constant.  We were fortunate enough to buy them right from the men harvesting them for only $1.30 per pound.  Seemed to me like a reasonable price considering the hard work that it took to harvest them.
Clam digger working hard.  

A wagon load full of clams.  We bought
our clams directly from him as he pulled them ashore.
Since clams live in sand/mud flats and are filter feeders, I recommend “purging” them first.  Place clams in a pot with a gallon of cold water, add 1/3 cup of Kosher salt, and a few tablespoons of corn meal.  Leave the clams in the water for two hours which will allow them to continue feeding and expel the sandy muck that was in their digestive system.  (Use kosher or sea salt as the iodine in regular salt will kill the clams before they hit the boiling water).  Discard any clams that are broken.




RECIPE

4          tablespoons butter
¼         cup onion, small dice
½         cup white wine
½         cup chicken broth (or clam juice)
½         cup water
3          pounds “steamer clams”
drawn butter

In a wide stock pot or large sauté pan melt butter over low heat.  Add onions and sweat for 5-7 minutes until soft and translucent.  Add white wine and chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Boil for 3 minutes and add water.  Once boiling, add clams and cover with a tight-fitting lid.  Steam over low heat for 7 minutes or just until clams open.  Do not overcook or they will be tough and rubbery.  Discard any clams that do not open.

Use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer the clams to large individual soup bowls with individual cups of melted butter.

Pour broth through a fine mesh or cheesecloth-lined strainer to remove any sand.  Dip the steamed clams into the clam broth to rinse then dip into melted butter and eat.


This recipe serves 2 very hungry clam eaters (Betsy and her brother Mark).  

Thursday, July 7, 2011

WE FINALLY MADE IT!

When we set out on this adventure (on March 15th), our ultimate destination was Maine.  To be more specific - Bar Harbor.  We didn’t know how or when we would get there, but we knew where we were going.  After years of structured life that revolved around work, we were glad to set off on an adventure that made us “free.”  Free to go where we wanted, stay for as long as we wanted, and do what we wanted each day. 

We wanted to be in the Bar Harbor region for many reasons.  First and foremost so we could spend time with Betsy’s brother Mark.  Bar Harbor is where Mark lives for eight months of the year running the Maples Inn, a wonderful B&B.  The second reason is so Betsy can eat lobster at will.  (She once ate 21 lobsters in 7 days!).  Another draw is just the plain natural beauty of the area – the rocky coastline, dense forests, and endless sky.  We have been to Maine many times before and always want to come back. 

So after 4 months, 18 states, and nearly 2,500 miles, we have planted our motorhome one town over from Bar Harbor for the month of July.  (We decided not to stay in Bar Harbor because of how expensive it is during tourist season).  The days in Maine are always jammed pack with activities and adventure.  There are small towns to explore, mail boats taking you from island to island, lobsters to eat, whales to watch, historic carriage roads to bike, coves to kayak, and trails to hike.  And then there is Acadia National Park, an 11,000-acre national treasure which is a blog in itself.

Along the way, we have visited wonderful cities that captivated our interest with their beauty, charm, and history.  We have visited many historic sites that define this country; including where the first shot of the Civil War was fired at Fort Sumpter, the U.S.S. Yorktown – an aircraft carrier that played a pivotal role in winning World War II (and where Betsy’s father served as a medical officer), the Liberty Bell, the U.S. Constitution, homes of presidents, and a slave mart where auctions were held.

Being from New Orleans, we never wanted to miss a festival.  There was the Azalea Festival, the Sheep and Wool Festival, the Windjammer Festival, the Cherrybration Celebration, and The 9th Street Italian Market Festival.  Festivals big and small provide great enjoyment with their parades, food, and fireworks.

Along the way, we have visited the quirky “off the beaten track” attractions, like the National Cryptologic Museum, the world’s smallest police station, a guitar factory, and The Mutter Museum of medical anomalies.  We have passed up places we’ve seen before in order to see more.  Often times we have to remind ourselves that we cannot do it and see it all.

Our love for the outdoors and nature has led us to many wonderful state and national parks and forests.  We usually try to squeeze them in between the many other sightseeing activities.  Many parks are free (or charge nominal entrance fees) and provide countless hours of enjoyment.  Unfortunately, the depressed economy and dwindling state budgets are forcing some states to close some of their parks.     

We have been fortunate to catch up with old friends and spend time with family.  We’ve enjoyed the hospitality they have shown, the familiar company, the food, and conversation.  It is always nice to see familiar faces since we are constantly surrounded by neighbors that are complete strangers.  Some neighbors have become instant friends, provided laughs, and great conversation.  So many have shared their knowledge and advice, and some, have even fixed things on our coach that were broken (even things that we did not know were broken).

Food has always been a mission for us so we could not pass up eating shrimp and grits in South Carolina, lobster rolls in Maine, Brunswick stew in Georgia, crabs in Maryland, cheese steaks in Philly, and shrimp in the Florida panhandle.  Campgrounds are full of wonderful smells that permeate the air.  There is usually a barbeque pit somewhere that makes us long for hamburgers and hot dogs and we hate the people who are cooking bacon as we eat our bran cereal.  Food brings people together and campgrounds are no different. 

Boothbay Harbor, Maine will always hold a special place in our hearts because that is where our dog Otter left the trip for another adventure on her own.  The sadness we felt about losing her was healed by knowing that she crossed “the rainbow bridge” and is in a place without suffering.  Her companionship is missed sorely and the nudge of her soft nose cannot be replaced.  She was our impetus for exercise and our ice breaker for meeting new people.  She helped keep the floor clean of food and reminded us that naps are needed daily. 

The trip has provided some challenges.  We have fled to the RV park bathrooms to ride out tornados, a broken awning prevented us from driving, and we have been lost and driven down streets that we should not have been on.  And yes, there are “yappy” dogs, uneven sites, dirty truck stops, and creepy neighbors.  Despite these challenges, we have never looked back and are glad we embarked on the adventure that has provided the freedom necessary to marvel at this great country.  Now that we have made it to Maine, we just have to decide where to go next…….

This sign sums up our feelings about our trip!
The "golden isles" of Georgia are named so for the gold color of the marsh in winter.
We stopped at the rest area for a quick break and a picture.  Then, off to our first destination - Pensacola
Beach, FL, a place we had been to many times before but still love.
Just so happened that the county fair was happening in Pensacola.  Time for
the all-American meal of funnel cakes and corn dogs.
A trail through the pine forests of the Florida Panhandle.

The deck of the U.S.S. Yorktown displayed flying machines throughout U.S. military
history.  
The Old Slave Mart in Charleston, South Carolina.  Now it serves as a hub
for selling tacky jewelry, cheap knock-off purses, and ugly sunglasses.
Fort Sumpter in Charleston harbor.  

Kayaking in the salt marsh of the Croatan National Forest.  The bridge is part
of a great trail that meanders through the forest and marsh.  
Nancy and the fire dog at the New Bern Fire Museum.  Just one of the many places
we found to visit in this gem of a town.  
Downtown Beaufort, North Carolina.  

 Betsy is addicted to Life is Good shirts and has
enough to wear a new one everyday for two weeks.  Seriously!
All the beautiful queens of the Azalea Festival, Wilmington, North Carolina.
Azaleas in full bloom at Airlie Gardens, Wilmington.  We followed spring all the way up
the east coast and were treated to spectacular colors from azaleas and dogwoods.

The Franklin Fountain in Philly provided cool treats on a hot spring day.
Hand-made guitars are born daily at the C.F. Martin Guitar Factory in Pennsylvania.
Factory tours and the museum are free, informative, and very interesting.
In Mt. Bethel, Pennsylvania our RV park had a pasture with goats - this was a first
and very entertaining for Otter.
We will forever be in debt to my sister and her family for their hospitality.  We
crashed there for 3 weeks while veterinarians were trying to diagnose Otter's illness.
Luckily the RV fit in the driveway and even provided shade for her beagle, Zoe.
Reading Market in Philly gave us our first cheese steak and many other tasty treats.
This place is a food-lovers paradise and on our list of "do not miss" places.
Otter took to traveling well and just resigned herself to her bed until the wheels stopped
turning.  When we stopped, she stood, stretched, and was eager to see what new sites were outside the door.
Sheep shearing at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.  The shearing used hand scissors instead of
electric clippers.  No nics were on the sheep or the shearer.
Betsy, the Capitol, and Pennsylvania Avenue at the "Newseum" in Washington, D.C.

The Newburgh/New York KOA (Kampground of America) had a sense of humor (and
a really good, free pancake breakfast).
When will it stop raining?  A few days of rain provided great book reading opportunities.
A chair made out of a lobster trap - how classy.  Just one of the many lobster pounds
we have visited in New England.
Another KOA bit of humor....
.... and a fun opportunity for us to goof off.  What a nice way to hide the dumpster.
Ah, beautiful Maine.  We never get tired of these views.
Betsy posing outside of a lobster pound.
Otter enjoyed many walks even when she was sick. There were always new smells, places to roll,
and spilled food to eat. She could not wait to get in the water and we always tried to find it for her.
Mark and Betsy waiting for 4th of July fireworks to start over the Bar Harbor harbor.
Kayaking in Maine.
The Blue Angels are based out of Pensacola Naval Air Station.  Their practices
are open to the public and are great fun.
Grayton Beach State Park....our favorite campground yet!  Wonder why?
Our first stop was at Gulf Islands National Seashore, Pensacola Beach, Florida.  We were ready for
our RV adventure.
Downtown Philly.
The Jeckyll Island Club, Jeckyll Island, Georgia.
One of the many lighthouses we have visited.  I can't pass up a lighthouse or
maritime museum.  
We were welcomed in Georgia, by what else?  A bulldog.