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.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Lure of the Moose and the Beautiful Mountains

View from on top of Mount Cannan, New Hampshire
with the Green Mountains of Vermont in the distance.
Betsy and I have spent a wonderful 3 ½ months in Maine and were very sad to leave. In order to avoid the culture shock that was to be expected by departing Maine, we parked ourselves in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We wanted to spend numerous days hiking in the thousands of acres of park and forest lands that were available to us.
As a wildlife biologist, I enjoy seeing wildlife in their natural setting so my hiking motivation was backed by my desire to see a moose in the wild. We figured our greatest chances were at Baxter State Park. Time and time again we heard, “everyone sees a moose at Baxter.” I went online to read park and trail reviews – what were people seeing, where, what time of day, etc. We talked to rv’ers and other hikers who had been there, interrogated the park rangers, and stopped at the visitor center to read the wildlife sighting reports. I researched moose feeding habits and habitat preferences and picked our trails according to our information (because as scientists we are trained to base decisions on data and not speculation). We set out early on our hikes with plenty of food and water, a trail map, and a fully charged camera that was always within reach in my pocket. We hiked for miles and saw some of the most awesomely spectacular scenery….mountain vistas, waterfalls, rushing rapids, dense forest, lakes, streams….everything the park has to offer except a moose. In fact, our most interesting wildlife sightings were red squirrels.

Looked like good moose habitat
to me.
We hiked the trail around this pond (Daicey Pond)
because many hikers reported seeing moose here.
Nope, not us!
I looked long and hard along the streams as we were
driving.....because "everybody" sees a moose
along Route 302.
But, I was not dismayed because there were still five days in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Another stunningly beautiful piece of this country that is preserved as state parks and national forest lands (in fact, the White Mountains National Forest is the most visited National Forest in the country). My hopes of seeing a moose were uplifted by the many moose crossing signs that were placed along every stretch of road. After the  “Moose Crossing Next 3 Miles” sign expired there was a “Moose Crossing Next 2 Miles” only to be followed again by another moose crossing sign. Things were really looking up and if we weren’t going to see them hiking, we certainly were going to see them along the road. Our campground neighbors saw one along the road every day they were there. So we hiked and drove; and hiked and drove; and never saw a moose. I was sorely disappointed. Betsy felt my disappointment and offered to take me to a zoo. Not a viable alternative. Our conclusion is that “Moose Crossing” signs are not to warn drivers of impending doom but simply erected to promote tourism. If you go to this region, we hope you have more success in spotting a moose in the wild than we did.
I am not sure why this sign is necessary!  Who in their right mind would not stop their car for a 500-700
pound, long-legged, large-bodied animal that may have a exceptionally large rack of antlers?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Maples Inn Blueberry Stuffed French Toast with Blueberry Sauce


This recipe is courtesy of the Maples Inn, Bar Harbor, Maine.  You may recognize the Maples Inn name from a previous post "Inn Keeping-101" when Betsy and I tried our hand at running an inn for a week when her brother Mark (the real Inn Keeper) was out of town for a week.

I was excited when Mark allowed us to share this delicious recipe with our blog readers for a couple of reasons.  One, it is really delicious!  Two, it is prepared the night before so you can visit with your guests instead of freaking out in the kitchen the morning of your brunch.  And third, it is a tried-and-true recipe that is a guest favorite at the inn; was requested and published in Gourmet magazine.  If that isn't enough...the recipe was requested by Bakers Square and Village Inn Restaurants to be a featured menu item in their "Legendary Recipes, Legendary Restaurants" promotion.  

This was the menu at Bakers Square when they were serving the French toast.

This recipe serves 9-12.  At the Inn, we serve it with maple sausage and fresh fruit.  It is a great way for people to get prepared for their day of sightseeing in Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.


French Toast Recipe

Ingredients

    12 slices of thick bread (Texas Toast)
    2- 8 ounce packages of cream cheese
    1 cup of fresh or frozen blueberries
    10 eggs
    1/3 cup maple syrup
    2 cups milk
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

     Spray the bottom of a 9x13" glass baking dish with vegetable spray.  Remove the crusts from the bread and cut into 1-inch cubes.  Place half the cubes of bread in the dish and reserve the other half.  Cut the cream cheese into small cubes and place on top of the bread.  (Note:  I find it easier to cut the cream cheese after it has been in the freezer for 1-2 hours.)  Evenly distribute the blueberries over the cream cheese.  Top with remaining bread.

     Beat the eggs.  Stir in the maple syrup and milk until well combined.  Pour egg mixture over bread and sprinkle with cinnamon.  Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

     Cover the French Toast with aluminum foil and place in the middle of a preheated 350F degree oven. Bake for 30 minutes.  Remove the foil, and bake and additional 30 minutes or until the center is set and golden. Let French toast sit for 7-10 minutes before cutting.

     Pour blueberry sauce (recipe follows) over French toast and serve.

Blueberry Sauce

    1 cup water
    1 cup sugar
    2 tablespoons corn starch
    2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (divided)
    1 tablespoon butter

     Combine the water, sugar, corn starch and 1 cup blueberries in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until it thickens. Add the remaining cup of blueberries and the butter.  Stir and cook for another 5 minutes or until heated.  (The sauce may be prepared ahead and kept refrigerated for 4-5 days.  Re-heat before serving.)


The way we serve it at the Inn...if you are still hungry after your first course of pastries,
 fresh fruit, and yogurt...then you'll be stuffed after this.

Above is the front cover of the menu at Bakers Square.  (There was also a Texas
steak house featured in the promotion.)

Click on the video below in order to see the television advertisement.
video
 

Monday, September 19, 2011

THANK YOU GOVERNOR BAXTER

Maine Governor Percival Baxter left a great gift to the state and country….Baxter State Park. His initial gift of 6,000 acres has blossomed to over 200,000 acres of beautiful Maine wilderness. Governor Baxter pushed for such a park throughout his political career in state government. With a lack of support from other congressionals, he decided to spend some of his fortune (earned from the sardine cannery business) to purchase Mt. Katahdin and surrounding lands.
Mt. Katahdin.  The clouds cleared late afternoon for a beautiful view of the mountain.
The star of the park is Mt. Katahdin – an awesome mountain rising through the trees and into the sky; a cathedral built by God to reflect the power, beauty, and awe that nature is. Flanked by age-old trees, granite boulders, and flowing streams, this mountain attracts all kinds. Mt. Katahdin is the terminus (or beginning, depending on how you look at things) of the Appalachian Trail. The trail stretches 2,178 miles from Georgia to Maine and crosses some of the most beautiful lands in this country.
A hike along the Appalachian Trail leading up to Mt. Katahdin.  One of the greatest
things about the park is that there are very few visitors - only 14,000 per year. Often
times we hiked and did not encounter anyone else. 
"Little Niagara" - a short hike that affords great views.
"Big Niagara" falls in the park.  Despite the attraction of this area there are few people.
"Big Niagara" flowing fast with the rush of high water.  Hurricane Irene
gave us spectacular views of the falls.

Abol Pond Trail leads hikers through a
dense birch forest.  We were there just as leaves began
 their Fall change 
Katahdin was named by the Penobscot Indians and means “Greatest Mountain.” We had hoped to see the mountain and the entire splendor that it shadows. Our hopes were fulfilled and we saw so much more. Climbing the beastly Katahdin was not in our plans as it takes 10-12 hours and is a serious mountain “hike” at 5,267 feet. (The mountain has claimed 19 lives since 1963.) Instead our common sense and legs  directed us through various other trails in the park. All of which were spectacular and unique. Some trails led us through dense forest while others guided us to waterfalls, rushing rapids, birch groves, and along cool mountain lakes.
Many trails have primitive
wooden bridge crossing water features.
Age-old trees growing around
even older granite boulders.
The park is a treasure for those who appreciate nature and its solitude. The roads are not paved and services are limited. Governor Baxter wanted it that way. His dream was to preserve a true wilderness. The park is funded through an endowment he left and gate admissions. Since there are no state or federal funds, the
park is run the way he intended it to be – “that it be kept forever wild.”

Growing up I have gained an appreciation for wildlife. This park reaffirms the need to preserve the fragile ecosystem that defines life on this planet - life which includes our  own. Our desire to conquer, alter, consume, and exploit will be our own demise, and worse yet, that of other species which we are entrusted to preserve.

Thank you Governor Baxter for your forethought, appreciation of nature, and gift to all of us.
The "Library" at Daicey Pond.
They really did have books in the library!
Cabins for rent at Daicey Pond.
After our hike, we enjoyed the rocking chairs on the library's back porch.
The canoes (in the foreground) are for rent...just drop a dollar in the coffee can and bring it back in an hour. 
Paddling around Abol Pond.  No moose sighting but a beautiful morning.

Keep an eye out for trail markers - some are hard to follow.
High water from Tropical Storm Irene made this crossing a challenge.  We finally
gave in and got our feet wet. 
Fall foliage is beautiful, especially for the maple and birch trees.
Still no moose sighting but a beautiful pond.
The cool damp forest floor is ideal for mushrooms.
Reindeer moss.
Hiking the Hunt Trail.  This is part of the Appalachian Trail that leads to the
top of Mount Katahdin (the terminus of the trail).
Hiking trail through an evergreen forest.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

CHIVE & BASIL

A few months back, I decided to grow an herb garden. This is nothing new for me except that now I am in a house that travels – which means the garden has to go too. I built a planter box, painted it, and planted chive, basil, rosemary, and thyme. The box was toted along in the car as we travel and placed lovingly in our “yard” when we arrived at a new campground. I watered, weeded, and flicked off the Japanese beetles when needed.


Proud gardener (I didn't want to have
to weed a lot).
What I had not planned on was that my garden would be decimated by domestic rabbits that run free in our last campground. For two days, the garden and the rabbits lived in harmony. I worked hard to have a trusting relationship with the rabbits – I would feed them oyster crackers and wheat Chex cereal and they would not eat my garden. So I was surprised when they took to refining their palates after two days. The two culprits soon became known as Chive and Basil. Even after eating the herb garden I forgave their furry little twitching noses and continued feeding them snacks. Oh, by the way, domestic rabbits do not like fresh rosemary so feel free to leave that outside.
Chive.
Chive seemed quite comfortable in the box.  Since she ate all the plants (except for the rosemary)
she just decided to lay on top of them.
Basil (the black one) would often come hopping over when he heard our door open.....pig!
I said goodbye to Chive with more oyster crackers.

Friday, September 16, 2011

INN KEEPING-101

Who would have thought! A quick lesson in Inn keeping from the Master (my brother Mark) and we were on our way. Mark and I bought The Maples Inn in Bar Harbor, Maine in 2005. This is a wonderful, small Bed and Breakfast with six rooms and an owners living area. Mark always wanted to run an Inn in Maine. I was just an investor wanting no part of running the business. He even went to B&B school and I went to RV school. He came to Maine every summer, ran the Inn for six months then went back to Chicago. I stayed in New Orleans and pursued my career and Nancy and I visited once in a while. This summer was his sixth year there and he needed a break. Enter Nance and me.


We volunteered to run the Inn for a week while Mark went to Chicago for some fun. Nancy thought it would be fun to cook breakfasts and be creative. I always liked people so thought it would be fun to mix with the guests and meet people from around the world. All of that sounded great until the reality of the work in this business hit us! Mark even typed out an operational schedule so we wouldn’t miss the details. It was ten pages long. And we had a chamber maid who took care of the rooms everyday. We knew we were in deep.

If any of you ever think that you want to own a B&B, I would advise that you work in one as an Inn-sitter first. We had a great time for one week but don’t know how Mark does it by himself. Nance and I had each other to do what the other didn’t want to do or didn’t have time for at the moment. Our day (Nancy’s) began at 5:45 am, getting coffee, tea, juice, milk and pastries out for the early rising guests. The table had to be set, lights turned on, paper fetched, and a host of other small chores that make the guests feel comfortable. Then Nance would begin preparation of the breakfast to be served at 8:30 am. Sometimes breakfast foods were prepared the night before, but there was always bacon, muffins, tomatoes and other items that were prepared in the morning. I visited with guests on the front porch with coffee, rang the breakfast bell at 8:30 and served the breakfast as fast as Nancy could plate it. We always had fresh fruit followed by something like blueberry stuffed French toast, the signature dish of The Maples Inn. Sometimes Nance got creative and made phyllo with orange custard, fresh fruit and blueberry sauce for a starter and then cottled eggs with baked balsamic tomatoes. Guests loved the food and Mark has developed wonderfully delicious and satisfying recipes over the years.


Blueberry French Toast.

Phyllo, orange custard, fresh berries, and
blueberry sauce.














After we gave guests advice on how to spend their days at Acadia National Park, whale watching, or etc, they would scurry off and we would begin house cleaning, vacuuming, laundry with lots of towels, napkins etc. I would then run credit cards and say good bye to guests leaving. Nancy would plan the next days’ breakfast and we would go to the little grocery in Bar Harbor and buy supplies. If a toilet broke (which it did) or a lock broke (which it did), we would head to the hardware store. Thank God for a chamber maid (Sharon) who was wonderful and made up the rooms to be spectacular. Then Nance made fresh baked cookies or snacks with tea at 4 pm as the guests began to return from their day. Enter me again as I visited with them to talk about their adventures. Then the next round of guests arriving for check in – sometimes not until 7 pm and often later. That always meant showing them their room and visiting with them on the front porch until we were exhausted from the days’ work. Then there’s all of the bookkeeping and answering the phone all day and evening long about calls wanting reservations. We only got to go out to dinner once that week because we couldn’t get away.

We welcomed Mark back with open arms and gladly turned the Inn back to him. But we made lots of new friends, learned a lot, had fun and got to spend another wonderful week in Maine; but, we loved going back to our home-the motor home and headed on down the road.


Maples Inn gorgeous garden and front porch.
The front porch is a great gathering point for morning coffee and
afternoon tea (and evening cocktails).
One of the most popular rooms - the Red Oak room with private balcony (pictured below).

 
The White Birch Suite and private sitting area (pictured below).



Thursday, September 15, 2011

A MONTH IN MID-COAST MAINE

Before embarking on this RV adventure, we knew we wanted to spend a lot of time in Maine. It turns out that we will have spent over three and a half months in the state. We decided to spend a full month in a small town called Warren because it was near Rockland where the Annual Lobster Fest is held. Warren is located in what Mainers call “Mid-coast.” The area encompasses the bigger towns of Rockland, Rockport, Camden, Thomaston, Lincolnville, Belfast, and a host of smaller towns. Our month flew by as we found so much to do.

The month kicked off with a stint volunteering at the 64th Annual Rockland Lobster Festival – it has been a dream of Betsy’s to visit for a long time. (Check out more information and photos in a previous post 64th-maine-lobster-festival)

Our lust for hiking in the Maine woods led us to Camden Hill State Park, a gem with hiking trails, picnic spots, a beach, and a few mountains to climb. One clear day we felt ambitious enough to climb Mount Megunticook. This challenging vertical climb rewarded us with some of the most spectacular views of Penobscot Bay and the surrounding harbors. After our climb that seemed like a three-hour session on a stair master, we discovered the auto road that summited nearby Mount Battie. Just a three minute car ride and we were up a mountain with equally spectacular views and far less taxing on the legs and buttocks. This park is a “don’t miss” if you are in the area and don’t worry there are easier trails. If nothing else, take a picnic lunch and enjoy the view.
Panoramic view of Camden Harbor and Vinalhaven Island from the top of
Mt. Megunticook.
One is rewarded with spectacular views for climbing to the top of Mt. Megunticook.
We were thrilled when our good friends, Sandy and Kim, called to say they were coming to visit us in Maine for an escape of the New Orleans heat. We promised them lots to do and see and started planning their short week. Since they wanted to hike and swim, we made the quick trip to Fernald’s Neck Preserve which sits on a peninsula surrounded by Lake Megunticook. The trails are pleasant and not too strenuous with vistas of the lake and nearby mountains. We found a spot down by the lake that was perfect for some fishing, swimming, and a picnic lunch. Kim enjoyed the cool lake waters while we tried desperately to catch something with fins. The day was perfect and we were glad we could share the beauty of Maine with our good friends.

Lake Menticook (as seen from our lunch spot).

Field of goldenrod at the Preserve.


Not even big enough to feed the cat!

The next morning started off with a visit to the Union Fair and Blueberry Festival. We found very few blueberries but lots of chickens, sheep, and cows (including the Belted Galloways). After our outing at the fair, we raced to the “Olson House” which was made famous in an Andrew Wyeth painting. The house was featured in Wyeth’s famous painting called “Christina’s World” and has been preserved as a museum. Betsy, Sandy, and I reluctantly went along with this little jaunt – as we are not the appreciators of American art that Kim is. Our hesitation was clearly displayed as we slowly climbed out of the car to venture inside the museum. When the tour started we plopped down in the hard chairs, folded our arms, and settled in for our fate (meanwhile Kim sat there with a grin on her face). After a few minutes, our enchanting tour guide captured our attention and transformed us slugs to eager students of art. We were juxtaposed to the time and place that was Andrew Wyeth’s art set for over 30 years and produced some 300 pieces. His work centered on Christina Olson and her brother Alvero and their daily struggles living in rural coastal Maine. The tour moved us so much that we raced back to Rockland to visit the Farnsworth Museum and see the collection of Wyeth paintings (which also included N.C. and Jamie Wyeth). The day was capped off with a spectacular dinner and a soothing bottle of wine. We thanked Kim for introducing us to an American art icon.
Too much art can really make a girl hungry (and thirsty)!
(From left to right: Nancy, Kim, Sandy, and Betsy)
Image of "Christina's World" - one of Wyeth's most famous paintings. Wyeth sold
the painting to the Museum of Modern Art for $1,400.
The Olson House in listed on the National Historic Register and
administered by the Farnsworth Museum.
The following day we found ourselves on a “mail boat” heading to Monhegan Island. The trip was a terrific way to spend a day in Maine. This adorable little island has galleries, restaurants, inns, gift shops, museums, and some of the most breathtaking views of the rocky coast of Maine. Just 100 year-round residents and only four or five cars make this a very unique island. Although hilly, it is definitely worth the walk up the hills to explore the island. The Monhegan Lighthouse and Cultural and Historical museums are located just outside of the village on a hill overlooking the harbor and downtown. The museums explain the islands past and life on the island. Old buildings have been converted to house modern exhibits, including one that features artists that paint on Monhegan. The back side of the island is very rocky and an extensive 11-mile trail system leads you through dense maritime forest that provides some of the best views.
Overlooking the "Village" and harbor on Monhegan Island.
Just one of the spectacular views from one of the trails.
The lighthouse and museum.
This is the central location for all happenings on Monhegan. 
Just a few of the galleries and boutiques on the island. 
We were so glad our friends came for a visit and got to share Maine with us. When we left New Orleans, people told us how much we were going to miss the food. We always said it was not the food we were going to miss, it was the friends. And that statement has proven true!
Of course, we had lobster!
More pictures from the fair....






More pictures from Monhegan Island....









More pictures of the Olson House.....