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 13, 2018

Anything For Friends

We have settled nicely into our Maine summer campground and are loving having our friends Pat and Debbie parked next to us for a month.  This mid-coast area of Maine is chock full of interesting things to do, see, and of course eat! There are world-class art museums, gorgeous harbors, nature centers, wineries and breweries, festivals, and plenty of lobster shacks.   It seems our friends are just as smitten with Maine as we are.  Pictures don’t lie.

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Debbie discovered a summer-long event called The Great Maine Scavenger Hunt.  The scavenger hunt is the brain child of Downeast Magazine who developed a “scavenger hunt” as a fun and entertaining way to get people to explore the state of Maine and discover quirky places, unique traditions, and iconic sites.  The scavenger hunt consists of 40 “tasks” spread across 2,000 miles around the state that guide participants to hiking trails and taprooms and paddling a lake to lobster at a lunch counter.

Debbie embraced this challenge with gusto and was loving the unique and interesting experiences and places.  The challenge had her sitting at an old fashion soda fountain in Bar Harbor drinking an “egg cream” (which has no egg or cream in it!) and touring a Shaker Village.  She loved the experiences and soon Debbie was hooked and decided that she was going to conquer Maine and check all of the scavenger hunt boxes.  Why accept the challenge?  Those who finish all tasks before Labor Day win a five year subscription to Downeast Magazine, get their smiling face on the wall in the magazine’s Rockland headquarters, and, of course, bragging rights!  All tasks require a selfie with specific instructions so there is no cheating and doesn’t cost a thing (except gas money).  Only 18 people completed last year’s scavenger hunt in its inaugural year, so she could be one of the elite.

We love supporting our friends so of course we agreed to participate in some of these events. We attended a bean supper – a Maine tradition dating back to the Wabanaki Indians who cooked their beans with syrup and fat and is very popular during the summer.  And, we put up no resistance when she reached #11 which was to “Visit the Old Port in a Glass” which meant we were going to Cellardoor Winery which happened to have free tastings and a delicious Brazilian food truck in the parking lot.

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But then there was #24 – “Run a Codfish Relay.”  Yes, that’s right Pat, Betsy, and I were enlisted as the three suckers she needed for a four-man team that was to run around the historic streets of Boothbay Harbor with two codfish in our hands while clad in deck boots and slickers.  Admittedly, we tried to get out of this event for the couple weeks leading up to it as running around with smelly, slimy dead fish were not our idea of enjoying the day.  I know what I said earlier about supporting friends in their quest to succeed at something … but really, a cod fish race? 

Alas, we were not going to let her down so we piled into the car and headed for the event which was part of the 56th Annual Boothbay Harbor Windjammer Days Festival which is a great summer event that swells the town to its gills for six days.  Betsy and I attended the event in 2011 and remember it as being a great time with lots of live music, pirates milling about, family-fun parades, dazzling fireworks, a lobster eating contest, and of course, a fleet of 17 windjammers that grace the harbor under full sails and wow onlookers.  

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Once we found out that the race carried a $100 cash prize, we started strategizing and planning our winning attack.  Keep in mind, this was done while sitting outside at a bar with margaritas and beer while watching the windjammers sail.  No cash prize for us as the boots and slickers proved a little difficult to get into for us slightly-impaired southern girls and the local high school track team was way more serious than us anyway.  Win or lose, we had a blast and thanked Debbie for getting us into such a fun and comical once-in-a-lifetime (we hope!) event. 

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But Debbie, can we stick to wine and beans next time?

All the participants had a blast and pictures show everyone smiling –o.k., maybe not at first but by the end of the race they were all smiles.  This woman's facial expressions say it all! 

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Now doesn’t that look like fun?





Saturday, June 30, 2018

A Little Time in Mystic, Connecticut

Mystic is one of my favorite New England coastal towns.  The downtown is really small but jam packed with nice stores, good eateries, boutiques, and galleries.  We have visited Mystic a few times before and always love coming back.  Each time we discover new things while still enjoying the familiar.

This time, we were with our good friends Pat and Debbie so it was great fun showing them around.  One of the biggest attractions in Mystic is the Mystic Seaport Museum – the largest maritime museum in the country.  The Seaport is a re-creation of an old seafaring village comprised of dozens of authentic New England buildings (that date back to the 1800’s) staffed with historians, musicians, storytellers and craftspeople who bring our seafaring past to life.  There are also historic vessels for you to explore or take a ride on, gardens, sailing programs, films, planetarium, summer camps and workshops and classes.  Whew, there is lots to do there so plan on at least a full day. Betsy and I spent time exploring the seaport a few years back so this time we decided to visit by water instead of by land. Betsy, Debbie, and I set out on our watercraft and paddled up the Mystic River.  We poked around the seaport for a bit and then paddled into town where Pat was nicely waiting for us and gave us a ride home.  Seeing the town from the water was a great experience and paddling under the historic Mystic River Bascule Bridge was cool.

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It was here in Mystic where we finally returned to the land of lobster and steamer clams after a year and a half hiatus. Pat is a lobster lover which meant double trouble for Debbie and I as Betsy now had an eating partner and there were two people now lobbying for seafood restaurants when it came time to pick a restaurant.  One of the first places we ate was Abbotts Lobster in the Rough which is always great fun and good food.  Like many lobster shacks this one is on the water which makes for a perfect setting while enjoying some great seafood.

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One diversion from eating seafood was enjoying lunch at the famous Mystic Pizza. Some of you may know “Mystic Pizza” as the 1988 American coming-of-age film starring Julia Roberts and the one that marked Matt Damon’s film debut. The movie is about the romantic lives of three young women who work at Mystic Pizza and their entanglement with a variety of men they encounter. The film title came about by a Hollywood Screenwriter who spotted the beloved local pizza joint that has been there since 1973. While the restaurant was “home” to the plot, the restaurant scenes were filmed in a converted home in Stonington. After the film's release, the real-life Mystic Pizza building in downtown Mystic was renovated to resemble the movie set.

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The weather was cold and rainy but didn’t keep us from getting out and about and wandering over to Stonington, which also ranks as one of the prettiest little New England towns.  And, of course, every pretty coastal town has a lighthouse.  The Stonington Harbor Light is an inconspicuous low stone building erected in 1823 and was the first lighthouse established by the federal government.  The slight stature of the structure is atypical for lighthouses and is almost dwarfed by the neighboring houses.  Stonington has always remained a quiet little town having first gained wealth in the late 1700’s from the seal hunting trade and later in the 19th century with a small fishing, whaling, and sealing fleet, whose direct trade was with the West Indies.  Today, you will recognize it as a pretty little town that welcomes many who have their second homes here.

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The final place we visited was The Velvet Mill to check out the shops and Farmer’s Market. The mill dates back to 1888 and has seen the transformation from a velvet-producing mill housing some 300 broad looms and 450 employees to a broad space for artisans, craftspeople, and restaurateurs to share their goods and provides office space for many small businesses.

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Downtown Mystic is so pretty and we love the shops and galleries that are packed into a quaint river setting. There are no tacky t-shirt shops selling junk, instead, you have amazing bakeries, boutiques, art galleries, coffee shops, and walkable streets. Seems every time we come to Mystic there is something more that we discover.

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Monday, June 18, 2018

Harpers Ferry, West Viriginia

Harpers Ferry is a town rich in history that lies in the picturesque confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers where Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia are joined.  Here, paramount pieces of American history unfold, from Civil War battles to slavery, this town provides you with a glance into our country’s past.  But Harpers Ferry appeals to more than just history buffs and is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise.  The Appalachian Trail literally runs through downtown, the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers are a lure for anglers and provide a wild ride for rafters and kayakers, and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park offers a beautiful setting for a walk or bike ride along a historic waterway where you are engulfed by tall trees.

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The town was named after Robert Harper who operated a ferry shuttling people and goods from one side of the Potomac River to the other.  What a clever name?  The rivers were an important conduit for moving goods and were key to operating the mills.  George Washington realized the strategic location of Harpers Ferry and chose it as the site of a U.S. Armory in the early 1800’s causing the town to swell as manufacturing related to the armory increased and the Industrial Revolution got underway.

It was at Harpers Ferry where a white man named John Brown altered America’s destiny.  In October 1859, Brown was determined to arm enslaved people and spark a revolution to end slavery.  With just a couple dozen men he stormed the armory in a lofty attempt to obtain weapons and gather an army.  While Brown and his men did capture the armory, the stand was short-lived and they were soon captured.  Brown was later tried, convicted, and hung to death in one of the country’s most famous trials.  But Browns' actions brought the divisive debate of slavery to light and propelled the nation toward civil war.

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park makes up about half of the town and is a huge draw to the area.  The park is an array of restored downtown buildings, surrounding battlefields, and trails that interpret the history surrounding the area. At the park, you freely wander around picturesque streets that take you back in time.  Housed in the historic buildings are museum exhibits, films, living history actors, a blacksmith shop, general store, John Browns’ original fort, and more.  It took us two days to see the majority of the park so plan accordingly.

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After saturating ourselves with history over the course of two days, we headed to the Virginia countryside to visit a distillery and investigate the wine scene we had been hearing so much about. We stopped at Bloomery Plantation Distillery to taste and learn about artisan cordials. The attractive tasting room and distillery is housed in a refurbished 1840’s slave cabin surrounded by 12 acres of farmland that produces the raspberries, lemons, walnuts, and various other fruits that go into making their hand-crafted spirits like lemoncello, SweetShines, Chocolate Raspberry and more. While tasting you will be entertained by the passionate staff that share the cordial making process from raw fruit to bottle. The moonshine-based lemoncello was too hard to resist and it ended up walking out with us in a paper bag. We had been reading a lot about Virginia wines and found out there were some dozen or so wineries scattered around so we had to stop by at least one.

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The nearby town of Charles Town (named for George Washington’s younger brother, Charles) is a pretty little town with a picturesque main street lined with historic buildings.  We were surprised to find one of the best Mexican restaurants where we have eaten at in a long time – Ortega’s Taco Shop. Ortega’s is a family-owned little spot on the corner with a handful of tables and the best street tacos and homemade chips you will find anywhere. Their secret is simple – everything they serve is homemade and made on-site, from queso to barbacoa, you will not be disappointed.  We were there five times during our seven night stay.  And Betsy claims to not even like Mexican food but went crazy for their tacos.

Just across the river from Harpers Ferry in Maryland is the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. The canal (also called the “Grand Old Ditch”) was developed as a conduit transporting people and goods to the west. Ground breaking on the 184.5 - mile long canal began in 1828 with much enthusiasm and fanfare. But before construction ended in 1850 the canal was more or less obsolete as the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad completed a link to the west.  Rail transportation overpowered the laboring lazy canal boats.  The canal operated until 1924 and still exists today despite sitting idle for years, suffering extensive flooding, and multiple attempts to pave it.  Today the towpath (which was used by mules assisting canal boats) is utilized by hikers, cyclists, and campers for an enjoyable recreation opportunity where history, wildlife, and geology come together.  Dotted along the canal are various visitor centers interpreting the history of the operation, importance, and innovations regarding the canal.  At various places, visitors can enjoy canal boat rides where you board reproduction boats with park rangers and get to experience what canal boat travel was like in the early to mid-1800’s.  Check out the park service video below for more information.



If you visit Harpers Ferry just know that campground options are limited. We stayed at the KOA which was definitely not a favorite campground of ours but it was literally just outside the entrance to the National Park and in a very convenient location.  We got excited when we heard there was a free wine tasting at their on-site wine house until we discovered it was super sweet fruit wines that did not fit our palates. 

History buffs will be wowed with this area. We certainly got a dose of civil war, slavery, and natural history while in the area and found plenty to do for the time we were there.











Saturday, June 9, 2018

Korean Bulgogi

Sometimes we get a craving for Asian food and this recipe is a go-to, no-brainer dinner. To be honest, there is not much authentic Asian food in Maine (much less Korean where this dish hails from). So this quick and easy dish is perfect to satisfy our cravings. I often serve this with steamed rice and snow peas (which I sauté in the same pan right after I take the pork out). This marinade is so versatile and works well with steak or chicken so feel free to use whatever protein you like. To mix it up a little, I have made this as an easy appetizer - just threaded marinated chicken thighs on skewers, grilled them and served them plain or with creamy peanut sauce.

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Ingredients

¼ pear, grated
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons grated peeled ginger
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon mirin
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 pound boneless pork loin
Sliced scallions (for garnish)

Directions

Make the marinade by mixing the pear, garlic, soy sauce, red pepper flakes, ginger, brown sugar, sesame oil, mirin, and vegetable oil in a bowl. Slice the pork very thin and add to the marinade and combine so all of the pork is coated.  Let the pork marinate for a minimum of 30 minutes or up to 8 hours.

Heat a skillet over medium high heat and add 1 tablespoon of oil. Without crowding the pan, add pork and sear on one side to get caramelization. Turn meat over and cook on the other side until cooked through. Garnish with sliced scallions. Easy, right?















Sunday, May 27, 2018

State Park Respite in Virginia

After staying in busy towns, constantly being on the go and sightseeing, we like to find a place to chill out.  For us, that usually means heading to a state park or forest where we can get away from the crowds and where we can spend time hiking and end the day with a lit grill and campfire.

So we headed to the mountains.  First up was Hungry Mother State Park.  Funny name, right? I’ve been called a “hungry mother” from time to time when “hangry” takes over but why name a state park that?  So the story goes a mother and child were captured by Native Americans when they raided several settlements on the New River south of the park.  The pair eventually escaped and wandered through the wilderness eating only berries.  The mother finally collapsed and the child wandered down to the creek where help was found.  The only words the weak child could mutter were “hungry mother.”  Unfortunately, the mother was dead when the rescue party found her.  After reading that we made sure we had plenty of food as to not repeat the scenario. 

The park and campground were just what we wanted – a nice site with a big yard and patio that yielded some privacy and the pleasant sound of a rushing stream nearby.  The park is 3,300 acres with the centerpiece being a 100-acre reservoir surrounded by 17 miles of hiking trails.  We were in heaven!  Spirit was happy to return to the water for some retrieving and energetically bound through the woods with us happily in tow.  The weather cooperated one day and I spent a few hours paddle boarding on the reservoir (which I think was a foreign site as I got strange looks from locals as I paddled past them in my bathing suit while they cast their lures towards the bass hotspots).  If you come in the summer, you may have a totally different experience as we’re sure this place fills up.  We visited during a quiet time when the weather wasn’t the most conducive to “camping” which became evident from the snow falling one morning. The park has a lot going on with three camping loops, a restaurant, conference center, swim beach, watercraft rental, playgrounds, large picnic areas and rental cabins.

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Next up was Shenandoah River State Park – which is also where I started humming John Denver’s Country Roads song every time I saw the Shenandoah River.  Much to Betsy’s dismay I didn’t stop until we reached Maryland.  Again, we had a beautiful site which was plenty long enough for our big rig and car and with a super large patio. By now, we were really digging Virginia State Parks.  The park overlooks a beautiful bend in the Shenandoah River and from a high vantage point one can only imagine how spectacular it must look when flanked by autumn foliage.  The trails (24 miles in all) were great and so under utilized we hardly ever encountered anyone on our hikes.

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One day we decided to venture out of the park and found that the tiny town of Browntown was having their annual Redbud Festival.  Ironically, we didn’t see one redbud in the town but we did get to see a performance by Amazing Grace the trick mule who entertains crowds by playing basketball, smiling for the crowd, giving kisses, and other antics.  And, of course, there was the Elvis look alike who also entertained the crowd.  From there we ventured into the town of Front Royal for a beer at Pave Mint Taphouse and Grille and were planning on sticking to the beer theme by going to the Virginia Beer Museum but decided that our peaceful campsite was where we really wanted to be.

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These two parks were a great find for us having never camped at Virginia State Park campgrounds before. The sites and roads were super big-rig friendly and had there been sewer hookups we can imagine spending more nights there. If you are looking for a nice get away these two parks are worth a stop.