Maine Roots

A blog about all things Maine


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Portland’s ‘Polar Express’

Who doesn’t love The Polar Express?  Deep down, we’re all children who want to believe – in magic, in Santa Claus, in the impossible.  Published in 1985 and made into a feature film in 2004, The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg, offers a chance to suspend reality as you join the main character, a young boy, on his journey to the North Pole aboard the Polar Express.

Each year from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Company & Museum brings the Polar Express experience to life by transforming their train ride around the eastern waterfront into an adventure to the North Pole.  The journey begins at the Ocean Gateway and ends at the “North Pole” (in this case, a location just past the East End Beach).  It even includes a stop for hot chocolate along the way!  Check out this article from the Portland Press Herald Maine Sunday Telegram for feedback from the riders themselves – children and adults alike seemed to embrace and enjoy the experience.

For those unfamiliar with the story (in which case you should certainly read it – it’s a favorite of mine), the boy, who feels the magic is gone from Christmas, hears a train whistle roar outside his window at night. To his astonishment, he finds the train is waiting for him. He runs downstairs and opens the door. The conductor asks him “Well? Are you coming?”  He asks, “Where?” and the conductor replies “Why, to the North Pole, of course!”

As the train reaches the North Pole, the boy and the other children who were also on the train, see the elves gathered at the center of town waiting to send Santa Claus on his way. The boy is handpicked by Santa to receive the first gift of Christmas. Realizing that he could choose anything in the world, the boy asks for one bell from one of the reindeer’s harnesses.

On the train ride home, the boy discovers that the bell has fallen through a hole in his pocket. The boy arrives home and goes to his bedroom as the train pulls away. On Christmas morning, his sister finds a small package for the boy under the tree, behind all of the other gifts. The boy opens the box and discovers that it is the bell, delivered by Santa who found it on the seat of his sleigh. When the boy rings the bell, both he and his sister marvel at the beautiful sound. His parents, however, are unable to hear the bell and remark that it must be broken. The book ends with a famous quote:

“At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who
truly believe.”
Ticket prices for the train ride range from $20 – $40 – a real bargain for the long trip to the North Pole.  For $40, you can enjoy first class seating, which includes hot chocolate served in a ceramic mug that is yours to keep as a souvenir.  The entire atmosphere is festive – including decor at the Ocean Gateway and in the train cars – as well as holiday music, a visit from Santa, and carol singing.

This event is the year’s major fundraiser for the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Company & Museum, a non-profit organization committed to the preservation of Maine’s two-foot gauge railway for the education and enjoyment of the public (per their website).  They are open from May 1st – October 31st and seasonally for the special events – like The Polar Express!  Please visit the event page for more information: http://www.mainenarrowgauge.org/polar-express/ or contact the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co at 207-828-0814.  They are located at 58 Fore Street, Portland, ME 04101.


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A Maine Thanksgiving in North Carolina

Happy Thanksgiving!  I hope you all have a wonderful holiday full of family, friends, and of course, food.

The idea for this post occurred to me while dogsitting for our neighbors last weekend.  Our neighbors are wonderful people, a good ol’ Southern boy and girl.  I happened to notice her Thanksgiving menu sitting on the counter, and I couldn’t resist snooping.  Imagine my surprise – I saw collard greens, sweet potato souffle, candied yams – and while these dishes certainly aren’t foreign to me, I’ve never eaten them on Thanksgiving (or, in some cases, ever).  I can admit that before that moment, I’d never given much thought to how different Thanksgiving menus might be across the country.  Perhaps not the staples – the turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce – but the sides – and even the process for making the staples – certainly, vary from region to region.

In honor of Thanksgiving (and my own culinary education), the following is a breakdown of popular Thanksgiving dishes from New England and North Carolina / the South (along with a few of my favorite recipes).  My research for this post has taught me things I didn’t expect – for example, though I’d never had collards at Thanksgiving, they were one of the dishes at the First Thanksgiving.  And, collards are still a side dish at some tables in New England, they’re just not as wildly popular as here in the South.

Today, my husband’s parents are here to spend Thanksgiving with us.  Our menu consists of: turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes, creamed onions, roasted carrots, sweet potatoes (in honor of my father-in-law, who’s from Tennessee), creamed onions, and apple pie.  Both myself and my mother-in-law are from Maine, which naturally makes the potato dish very important to us (for those of you who don’t know, Maine is the second largest producer of potato crops in the country – Idaho is the first – stay tuned for an upcoming post about the Maine potato).  I like my mashed potatoes jazzed up with sour cream and some other extras – delicious!  Here’s my recipe – taken and modified as needed from a close family friend:

  • 10 medium potatoes
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons onion salt
  • Garlic to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Paprika or grated cheese to sprinkle on top near end of baking time
Peel and cut the potatoes in 1 1/2 inch pieces.  Boil until mashable, then mix in all other ingredients… adding more or less as you like.  This is a great make-ahead dish.  Today, I’ll add a little cream and pop it in the oven until warm, topping with paprika.  Mashed potatoes, it seems, are a big hit everywhere – so let’s revisit collard greens and the sweet potato souffle.
I found this recipe for ‘Gina’s Best Collard Greens’ on foodnetwork.com.  It looked pretty tasty!  Perhaps one of the reasons collards are so popular in the South is because barbecue and smoked meats are popular, too, and the collard green has enough flavor to stand up to these meats – in fact, it pairs very well with them.
  • 5 bundles collard greens
  • 4 cups salted water
  • 3 large smoked ham hocks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Salt
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Thoroughly wash collard greens. Be sure to pull leaves apart and remove any sand. Chop collard greens.  In a medium saucepan, bring 4 cups of salted water to a simmer. Place smoked ham hocks in salted water and cover for about 90 minutes. Cook ham hocks until slightly tender. In the same saucepan, add remaining ingredients and collard greens.  Cover and cook greens for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
To touch quickly on cooking techniques – growing up in New England, we always (and I do mean always) roasted our turkey.  Since moving to SC to attend Clemson University, I’ve become familiar with the fried turkey (at tailgates as well as Thanksgiving) and the smoked turkey.  Both are delicous, but uncommon in New England.

One thing I’ve learned, having spent Thanksgiving in both regions – all cooking methods and sides hit the spot, regardless of locale.  Not to mention, the world is a shrinking place due to the internet, and I believe this exchange of information and traditions holds true for cuisine as well.  Maybe next year I’ll give a smoked turkey and collard greens a whirl!


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Monument Square Christmas Tree Lighting

I’ll be providing brief posts, like this one, from time-to-time about upcoming events in Maine.  Because I love the Annual Christmas Tree Lightingin Monument Square, and it’s coming up this Friday, I thought it a good first ‘event’post.

The holidays in Maine are incredible – I’d say it’s my favorite time to be there, but the truth is that every time is my favorite time.  There is something different about the holidays, though – how can a place be so cold and so warm at the same time?  That’s what I think, when I think of the holidays in Maine.  It is such a time of joy and celebration – the frigid air can’t touch it, and arguably only enhances it.  The Tree Lighting at Monument Square is one of the events that symbolizes the holiday season to me.

This year, the 55-foot blue spruce tree will be lit by a local Make-A-Wish, and the event is this Friday, November 23rd, at 5:30pm.  Best of all –  it’s free!  There will be entertainment, including music and horse and wagon rides (also free).

For more info on the event and to see HOW they get a 55-foot tree into downtown Portland, check out these links:
http://www.portlandmaine.com/cornerstone-events/annual-christmas-tree-lighting/

http://www.visitmaine.com/search/list/event/?real=0&tag=243&centroid_class=event

I only wish I could be there!


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Gritty’s: for those who enjoy a good, local brew

Gritty McDuff’s is a brew pub and restaurant in southern Maine and an Old Port staple.  I have a sentimental  attachment to Gritty’s, so I felt it only fitting that it be featured in my first “real” post (and no, my “sentimental attachment” is not due solely to the fun I had there once I turned 21).

There is something about Gritty’s that, it seems to me, embodies the spirit of Maine.  Maybe it’s the wide, scarred tables that invite you to sit down with friends and strangers alike; maybe it’s the way it manages to seem like a rough, tough brew pub and still be welcoming; maybe it’s the way it represents the entreprenuerial spirit of the people of Maine; or maybe it’s a combination of all of these.   Regardless, Gritty’s is special and unique – even among the many and varied bars along Fore Street in the Old Port, the original Gritty’s location stands apart with a character all its own.

Gritty’s has been serving fine, handcrafted ales and traditional pub fare since 1988 – when I was just two years old. Today, they have three locations, with breweries in Lewiston-Auburn and Freeport, Maine.  All three of their locations are done in the traditional style of an English brew pub, and the original brewery in Portland was actually designed and manufactured in England by Peter Austin & Partners.  Their beers include: Maine’s Best IPA, The Original Pub Style (my personal favorite, “a fresh, classic pale ale… a beer that captures what made people fall in love with craft brewing in the first place”), Best Bitter, Red Claws Ale, and Black Fly Stout.  They also brew a number of seasonal beers, their Halloween Ale, Christmas Ale, and the Vacationland Summer Ale, as well as their Scottish Ale, a nod to the robust brews of Scotland.

While their various craft brews are their focus and have won multiple awards, what I love about Gritty’s is not just the beer or the food, it’s the atmosphere.  As a little girl, we frequently met family there for a meal (and for the adults, a brew or two), and so I have fond memories of devouring chips and salsa with my brother, sitting at one of those wide, scarred tables by the window that overlooks Fore Street.

Gritty’s chip & salsa

Why did we eat there so often, you ask?  Well, for many years, my father and my uncle owned the building that Gritty’s occupies in the Old Port, and one of the perks was eating for free.  As an adult, my fondness for Gritty’s chip and salsa hasn’t faded, nor has my appreciation for the atmosphere at Gritty’s – it has a comfortable, broken-in feel, and is stocked not only with great beer, but also with friendly bartenders ready to serve up your favorite of their craft brews.

I hope you’ll visit them soon!  Their locations’ addresses – and a few links to neat spots on their site – are below.  Be sure to check out their Mug Club!

Old Port – 396 Fore Street, Portland, ME 04103 P. 207-772-BREW

Freeport – Lower Main Street, Freeport, ME 04032 P. 207-865-4321

Lewiston-Auburn – 68 Main Street, Auburn, ME 04210 P. 207-376-BREW

Gritty’s Blog

News & Events Page

Beers List


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Welcome to Maine Roots!

Thank you for stopping by Maine Roots!  I hope you enjoy your time here.  It may surprise you to learn that I found this first post the most challenging of all to write, but it’s true.  There is so much about Maine that I love, and I found myself struggling with what to share and how to share it, and so I’ve decided to keep it brief and get on to the good stuff.

My roots are firmly planted in the great state of Maine.  Although I live in North Carolina now (for now?), I’m a Mainer at heart.  Born and raised in southern Maine, not far outside Portland, I firmly believe this place has a spirit that stays with a person, and I know the values I learned growing up there continue to define me.  As a result, I feel compelled to share stories about the places and people who have had such an impact on my life.

On this blog, you’ll find posts on topics focused not only on tourism (because of course, Maine has some incredible places to visit, stay, and dine), but also on interesting local businesses, current events, and more.  If you are a native Mainer, I hope these posts bring a smile to your face – if you have never visited Maine, I hope they make you want to – and if you simply love Maine, and wish you could be there more often, then I hope they remind you what makes it so special and build excitement for your next trip.  Perhaps you’ll even learn about new places to see and things to do!

Happy reading!