Maine Roots

A blog about all things Maine


1 Comment

Happy Memorial Day from Jekyll Island, Georgia

On this Memorial Day, I’m writing to you in a place far from hoME – miles and miles down the coast in Georgia.  This is a place steeped in history – like much of Maine and other coastal communities – and being surrounded by that history has, on this particular holiday, enhanced my understanding of this important day and my thankfulness to those who have given, or risked, their lives for our country and our way of life.

There are elements of this place that strongly call Maine to mind – particularly the ocean and marshes – although it’s a very different coastal experience from the rocky, rugged coast of Maine.  It has been soothing to be close to the ocean again – I miss it and the outdoor activities that go hand-in-hand, being so far inland in Charlotte.  And so today, I hope to share this place with you through my post, and perhaps you’ll be inspired to come, visit, see, and do.

Nick was asked to attend a conference for work over this holiday weekend, and since they were sending us to such a beautiful spot – Jekyll Island, Georgia – we readily agreed.  We followed a recommendation to stay at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, a lovely, luxurious hotel with a rich history.  In 1886, Jekyll Island was purchased to be a winter retreat for America’s wealthiest families – the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, Morgans, Pulitzers, and more.  The Club officially opened in 1888, and over time, some families built “cottages” for themselves on the property.

The Jekyll Island Club

The Jekyll Island Club

Today, we would not describe these structures as remotely cottage-like.  Intended to house both family members and servants, two of these large homes have been restored and are actively used for hotel guests.  Nick and I stayed in the Sans Souci, pictured below, which was built in 1896 and owned in part by J.P. Morgan.  The other restored home, the Crane Cottage, was built in 1917 for Richard Teller Crane, Jr., and is the largest and most lavish of the cottages.

The Sans Souci

The Sans Souci

This resort effectively combines the best of history and modern conveniences – our room was both spacious and charming, with a working fireplace and stunning crown molding.  The sensation of walking along the same halls as those individuals who played such a significant role in making America what it is today is both fascinating and sobering.

Although the island is small – about 7 miles long- there is much to do and explore.  On Saturday afternoon, shortly after our arrival and the set-up at the Convention Center, we enjoyed our first on-island dining experience – at the “Rah” Bar (I appreciate their humorous spelling) on the pier directly across from our hotel.  We enjoyed fresh, wild caught shrimp and two Pina Coladas – and while the shrimp were slightly overcooked (making the peeling a little challenging) they were still quite tasty, and the Pina Coladas were delicious – the bartender didn’t skimp on the rum, a welcome surprise, as that is often the case.

Mmm, seafood does not get fresher than this...

Mmm, seafood does not get fresher than this…

On Sunday, Nick headed off to play golf with the other conference attendees, and I decided to rent a bike and cycle around the island.  I must admit – I can appreciate the irony of my selecting this mode of transportation.  I used to actively protest cycling around Acadia National Park on family vacations, and I still don’t really like to bike.  Regardless, I thought it would be a good way to get some exercise and see the entire island.  Roughly 18 miles and two hours later, my seat was incredibly sore and I was exhausted, but it was worth it, and I’m better able to appreciate why my parents wanted us to get around that way in Acadia.

Every moment on the Club property is like a scene from Gone with the Wind – from the formal dining room, with its ornate carvings and columns, plantation shutters, and view to the lush scenery outside to being outside – surrounded by old, old oak trees that are heavy with the Spanish Moss that epitomizes the coastal South.

In the case of this old oak tree, its heavy branches have actually grown down and slightly into the earth.

In the case of this old oak tree, its heavy branches have actually grown down and slightly into the earth.

Most of the bike ride was breathtaking – from my ride along the Intercoastal Waterway to the striking views of the Atlantic Ocean on the eastern side – I was able to see and experience the island lifestyle in a way I couldn’t have otherwise.  Where the Club is quiet, with the soothing grace of the old South, the Atlantic side of the island, with its wide, flat beaches, has more of the bustle and activity that you’d expect from a modern vacation destination.

Beautiful, flat beach

One of my favorite things about this area is that it still feels a bit remote and rural – it has far fewer people than a vacation hot spot like Myrtle Beach, Charleston, or Savannah, and I love that.  Perhaps that also means fewer dining and shopping options, but that’s fine by me – I’m not high maintenance about those things (after all, I grew up with only the Maine Mall to shop in).

I hope, if you decide to vacation down south, that you consider visiting this idyllic, picturesque place.  True, it’s a bit further than some of the destinations I mentioned above, but I have to say – it’s well worth every extra moment in the car, plane, or boat.

A welcome sight at the end of my long bike ride - the backside of the Club property!

A welcome sight at the end of my long bike ride – the backside of the Club property!

Happy Memorial Day!


Leave a comment

Weekly Recipe: Chocolate Krinkles

Last weekend, we spent a laughter-filled Saturday evening with friends, and I was charged with bringing dessert (practicing those baking skills!).  This was both challenging and enjoyable for me.  Now that I’ve become more comfortable with baking, I see more recipes I want to try, and the challenge in this case was narrowing it down.  After much debate (raspberry brownies, lemon squares, pie?  Decisions, decisions!), I selected the Chocolate Krinkles from Recipes from the Maine Kitchen because the recipe met what you all likely now recognize as crucial criteria for me: a (relatively) brief ingredient list which includes primarily items I already have, the use of ingredients that are nearing their expiration dates, and (at least for baked goods) a pretty straightforward process.

Prepping!

Prepping!

You’ll need:

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 squares unsweetened chocolate, melted
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Powdered sugar

Mix oil, chocolate, and sugar.  This was my first time melting chocolate, so I did a bit of googling and found instructions online.  They recommended cutting the chocolate into small pieces (a step I actually forgot in my haste, oops!) and heating in a pan over very low heat, stirring almost constantly.  I was intimidated initially, but it turned out to be much simpler than I anticipated.

Mmm, melting chocolate.

Mmm, melting chocolate.

Add eggs and vanilla.  Mix dry ingredients and add to batter.  Chill several hours or overnight.  Roll a heaping teaspoonful of batter into a ball, then roll in powdered sugar.

Sugared and ready to bake!

Sugared and ready to bake!

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes, being careful not to overbake.

Pretty, nicely shaped cookies were the result!  I will be adding this recipe to my holiday baked goods list.

Pretty, nicely shaped cookies were the result! I will be adding this recipe to my holiday baked goods list.

These cookies, or Krinkles, earned rave reviews from our friends and from Nick, who kept snagging them off the cookie sheet when I wasn’t looking.  They were simple and speedy, with the exception of the time needed for chilling the batter, and they were delicious – just the right balance of sweetness and chocolate flavor.

On an upcoming recipe note, one of my good friends from college now eats a gluten-free diet – and checks out my blog from time to time – so I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for gluten-free recipes for both meals and baked goods.  It seems that Mainers must have an affinity for gluten, as so many recipes contain flour.  My patience has paid off, however, as I recently came across a blog post on The Gluten Exchange that is all about a gluten-free recipe for doughnuts that uses none other than Stonewall Kitchen’s gluten-free Cinnamon Sugar Doughnut Mix.  Talk about a match made in gluten-free heaven – Stonewall Kitchen is based in York, Maine.  So stay tuned for a series of upcoming posts – a weekly recipe featuring gluten-free doughnuts (and using my pretty new doughnut pan, pictured below) and one highlighting Stonewall Kitchen and their exceptional products.

Cooking goodies from Sur la Table!

Cooking goodies from Sur la Table!


1 Comment

Maine Made: Cold River Vodka

Since my first glimpse of an ad for Cold River Vodka, a brand owned by Maine Distilleries, LLC, I’ve been intrigued by their business and products.  Given my obvious pride in my Maine roots, I enjoy supporting Maine-based businesses, and only more so when those businesses have made a concerted effort to patronize other Maine businesses and/or make use of locally produced goods.

Maine Distilleries does both – and the concept for the business originated with a Maine farmer, Don Thibodeau, looking for an additional source of income from his potatoes.

One of the first things I noted about the brand was their bottle and label – elegant and classic – bringing to mind the look of other high-end vodkas like Grey Goose.  Following closely behind was that it was a potato vodka – made from potatoes grown in Maine – and, as we all know, I do love potatoes.

Cold River Vodka bottle with etched label

Cold River Vodka bottle with etched label

By following up on this initial interest, a family friend helped me gain the opportunity to speak with Bob Harkins, one of the owners of Maine Distilleries, and he shared with me how the business began and where they hope to go in the future. As he shared their story with me, it seemed to be one of connections, highlighting the best of Maine business and the relationships that so frequently drive it.  It began as I described previously, when one of the partners, Don Thibodeau,the owner of Green Thumb Farms, was searching for a response to the economic challenges facing the Maine potato industry.

Inspired by the idea of making a potato vodka, Don approached his brother, Portland-based neurosurgeon Lee Thibodeau, MD., about investing in a distillery business.  The Thibodeau brothers reached out to Lee’s college roommate and friend, Bob Harkins knowing he shared their appreciation for the Maine lifestyle and the common desire to preserve Maine’s farming heritage and open spaces.  Chris Dowe, today the Head Distiller, came to Maine Distilleries through yet another connection – Lee was describing the vision for a Maine-made potato vodka to his nurse anesthetist – and she suggested he talk with her husband, Chris, who had years of experience in the brewing industry.

It took the four men about two and a half years to get the business fully off the ground (proving that nothing comes without hard work and patience), and today they are producing about 5,000 gallons of alcohol a year and distributing to 17 states.  While the story of the business’ inception interested me, the tour of the facility and description of the distilling process fascinated me.

Cold River Blueberry vodka.. made with Maine blueberries from Wyman's!

Cold River Blueberry vodka.. made with Maine blueberries from Wyman’s!

Located on route 1 in Freeport, the distillery occupies the first floor and consists of a main room, which houses the fermenting tanks, and three smaller rooms – one that houses the potatoes, one for the distilling process, and one for bottling.  The space, with its very high ceiling, struck me as clean (a big positive) and starkly industrial, but not in an unappealing way.

Very high ceilings...

Very high ceilings…

Maine Distilleries is the only “ground-to-glass” distillery in the nation (yeah, Maine!), which gives them unmatched control over their small-batch production process, from the planting and harvesting of their Maine potatoes, to their triple-distillation process, to bottling.  From spud (potato) to glass, the fermenting and distilling process takes a total of 10 days for their classic vodka.  For vodka with infusions (like their blueberry vodka), add another 7 days.  Their commitment to local resources extends beyond just the potato – the Cold River brand takes its name from their source for water, as well – a local aquifer in the Cold River in Maine; the blueberries for their blueberry vodka are provided by Wyman’s of Maine; and they locally source as many other botanicals as possible.  The distilling process begins with steaming and mashing the potatoes in a massive kettle, until they are souplike.  Then, this “soup” ferments for 36-40 hours before entering the distilling phase.  Cold River performs three distillations, and during this process, the alcohol is vaporized to separate it from the water and solids.  After the first distillation, the vodka is 50% alcohol; after the second, it is 94% alcohol; and after the third, it is 96.2% alcohol.  The final step is proofing, when water is added to reach a target of 80 proof, or 40% alcohol content.

The "soup" is boiled in this kettle before fermentation begins.

The “soup” is boiled in this kettle before fermentation begins.

After our tour, we were treated to a tasting of the classic vodka, blueberry vodka, and gin.  I’m the first to admit I am not a big vodka drinker unless it’s mixed with a sugary juice (cranberry, anyone?), but one of the reasons potato vodka appeals to me is that the flavor of the vodka is much smoother than the more common grain-based vodkas.  This is because potato vodka retains some of its natural sugars, while grain vodkas utilize nearly all of their sugars during the fermentation process.  The vodkas did not disappoint, nor did the gin.  While I remain committed to mixing my vodkas in the future, both the classic vodka and the blueberry vodka were very smooth.  The blueberry vodka has the lovely fragrance you’d expect, but the nicest surprise of all is that the flavor was not overwhelming – just a light hint of blueberry.  Surprisingly, of the three alcohols, I enjoyed the gin the most.

The tasting room offers additional Cold River Vodka merchandise (including a variety of martini and shot glasses) and other products for sale including t-shirts, hats, and golf paraphenalia.

Getting my picture of the lovely, etched glasses

Getting my picture of the lovely, etched glasses

Whether you’re local to Maine or visiting Freeport on a vacation, I’d encourage you to stop in and visit this business.  Their high end vodkas reflect a quality well worth the price!


Leave a comment

Making Memories on Memorial Day

The upcoming Memorial Day weekend brings with it a rush of nostalgia for me – memories filled with Memorial Days spent in Maine, participating in parades or watching from the sidewalk, grilling hot dogs (the red ones, of course) and hamburgers with family, celebrating togetherness and honoring the memory of the servicemen and women who gave their lives for our country.

As we all know, summer starts slowly in Maine. Memorial Day weekend is often the real turning point to summer weather, making it a welcome milestone for Mainers. In preparation for this holiday, I’ve put together a brief listing of events around the state, as well as some opportunities to give back and support those who have served our country:

City of Portland Memorial Day Parade – May 27th at 10am, begins in Longfellow Square
(most, if not all, towns in Maine will have local Memorial Day parades – so keep a look out for news about yours.  I have fond memories of the Memorial Day parade in Gorham)

10th Annual Downeast Birding Festival (you may recall this from my post a week or so ago) – May 24th – 27th, Cobscook Bay area, Maine

Plant Sale at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens (NOW is the time to visit this lovely place) – May 25th – 26th, 9am – 4pm (members only on Saturday morning), Boothbay, Maine.  Admission is also FREE for Maine residents (with valid ID), 9am – 5pm this weekend for Maine Days.  How many more reasons do you need?

Barberry... one of my favorite shrubs!

Barberry… one of my favorite shrubs!

Guided Walking Tour of Historic Downtown Presque Isle – Saturday, May 25th, the tour begins at 10am and includes more than 30 historic sites and individuals (approximately 2 miles walking distance).

Embrace history with a tour of museums in Old York, Maine – Monday, May 27th, for just a dollar per building, from 9am – 5pm.

The Wounded Warrior Project is an excellent program committed to providing services to our returning servicemen and women. Their mission is to “foster the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded service members in our nation’s history.”

The Maine Military & Community Network strives to raise awareness about the challenges faced by military service members and their families, help to connect them to resources and support, and help them integrate in their communities.

Happy Memorial Day (in advance) – I hope you are able to spend it enjoying the company of family and friends!


Leave a comment

Weekly Recipe: Chicken Touraine

This recipe for Chicken Touraine gave me the opportunity return to the cookbook that is still my favoriteRecipes from the Maine Kitchen, by the Cancer Community Center.  This is another great example of a recipe from this cookbook that enabled me to use up some ingredients (sour cream and mushrooms, specifically) that would have otherwise gone bad.  I halved the recipe, which is for 6-8 people, and it made dinner for two, two nights in a row.

As I was cooking, I became intrigued by the name – Touraine.  It had the sound of a dish with a history, and so I dedicated a bit of time to research.  I didn’t find a single source for cohesive, definitive information, but I did find enough bits and pieces to logically assemble them myself.  On the most basic level, there is a breed of poultry historically raised in the Touraine region of France – the Geline de Touraine – and it follows nicely that this dish took its name because it was originally made in Touraine with this type of chicken.  The Geline de Touraine was nearly wiped out in World War I and again in World War II, but the dedication of breed enthusiast Jean-Baptiste Martin before and after World I, and of other poultry hobbyists after World War II, saved the Geline de Touraine.

The Touraine region in France (which is bordered by the Maine province to the north) has a long and colorful history, and today is known for its viticulture and the beautiful chateaux that are popular tourist attractions.  Tours is connected to Paris by the TGV (high-speed rail), which takes less than an hour, making the region popular for those who work in the capital but prefer a different lifestyle.  And now, to return to the business of making the dish…

You’ll need:

  • 2 lbs. chicken pieces
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 can (32 ounces) diced tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon flour
Chopping onion... with my glass of wine handy.

Chopping onion… with my glass of wine handy.

Brown the chicken in butter and oil, and remove and keep warm.

Browning the chicken.

Browning the chicken.

Brown the onion, then add tomatoes, wine, salt, pepper, and paprika.  Simmer 15 minutes.  Add chicken and simmer an additional 20 minutes.  Add mushrooms and cook 10 minutes.  Combine sour cream and flour and stir into the stew.  Heat thoroughly.

Preparing to dig in...

Preparing to dig in…

Recommended side dishes are crispy French bread and a simple salad. (Personally, I very much enjoyed a glass of Chardonnay with it).

While I made this stew in the springtime, I think it would be a great fall or winter dish because of its hearty nature.  I added a few shallots, just because I had them and was a little short on onion.  I can’t judge if they added or detracted from the dish, because this was my first time making it, but I will say it was delicious.  I devoured every bit of my serving and went back for more!

Happy Friday, all!


2 Comments

10th Annual Downeast Spring Birding Festival

Let me begin by saying – Happy Mother’s Day!  In a sense, this post about the 10th Annual Downeast Spring Birding Festival is a tribute to my own mother – who always seemed to be able to identify the many bird species around our home – or, if she couldn’t identify one, would reach for one of her “bird books” and figure it out.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

The Spring Birding Festival is held over Memorial Day weekend, May 24th – 27th, in the Cobscook Bay region of Maine, which has been identified by the American Bird Conservancy as “one of the important bird areas in the US.”  Why?  Well, the diverse habitats of the area provide a good home for a wide variety of bird species.  Of the 400 bird species that have been sighted in Maine, nearly three-quarters of them have been sighted in this area in Down East Maine.  But really, this is something you should go and experience for yourself.

Participants in this festival have the enviable opportunity to enjoy this picturesque part of Maine while birding during the spring migration and breeding season.  The festival offers guided hikes, self-guided explorations, boat tours, and presentations led by area experts.  Bird species that are likely to be seen include Atlantic puffins, bald eagles, nesting waterfowl, and, of course, many others.

Click here for registration forms, a full schedule of events, or more information.  Serious bird watchers may also enjoy checking out the Maine Birding Trail website.


1 Comment

Weekly Recipe: Cauliflower Macaroni and Cheese

Happy Saturday!  I enjoyed this recipe so much that despite this meaning two “weekly” recipe posts back-to-back in one week, I couldn’t resist.  I really like cauliflower, but we rarely eat it because Nick isn’t a big fan.  When I saw this recipe, I thought he could probably stomach it (and maybe even like it), if it was baked and covered in cheese.  After all, cheese really does make everything better.

This is the Cauliflower Macaroni and Cheese recipe found in my Maine Home Cooking cookbook on page 236.

You’ll need:

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 1 to 2 cups uncooked macaroni or shaped pasta
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • milk
  • cheeses of your choice (I went with 1 1/2 cups of cheddar, and a 1/4 cup parmesan)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • dill, parsley, scallions, or nutmeg (optional)
Chopped scallions and dill (this is my favorite method for chopping herbs - pop them in a cup, grab the scissors, and snip away!  It's so easy)

Chopped scallions and dill (this is my favorite method for chopping herbs – pop them in a cup, grab the scissors, and snip away! It’s so easy)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cut the cauliflower into bite size pieces and steam or simmer until barely tender.  Cook the pasta according to the package directions and drain.  Mix the pasta and cauliflower in a lightly greased baking dish.  Put the butter into a heavy pan over medium heat, melt it, add flour, and cook together until bubbly, then add milk (I used about 1 1/2 cups).  Whisk and cook until slightly thickened, and add the cheese.  If the sauce is very thick, add a bit more milk, and whisk until smooth.

Mmm, cheesy sauce...

Mmm, cheesy sauce…

Add seasonings, and pour the sauce over the pasta and cauliflower, stirring it a little to distribute evenly.  Top with a bit more cheese and bake until bubbly, about 30 minutes.

Time to dish it up!

Time to dish it up!

This was a truly delicious dish.  I loved it in every way – the pasta, the cauliflower, the cheese, the seasonings.. well, you get the idea.  If I made it again, I would probably make it as a side rather than a main dish.  I think it would complement roasted or fried chicken really nicely.  Nick liked it as well, and I didn’t see any pieces of cauliflower left on his plate, so I considered it a victory.

I hope you try it and enjoy it as well!