Maine Roots

A blog about all things Maine

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Handling Holiday Leftovers

Ahh, the holidays.  This joyful time of year when the air is practically tinged with excitement and merriment; when our time is filled with gatherings of friends and family; and when the tables are literally groaning under the weight of holiday ham, turkey, butter-laden vegetables, and rich desserts.

Our Thanksgiving table for two!

Our Thanksgiving table for two!

After we stagger from the table and clean up commences, my thoughts always shift to handling the leftovers.  Some solutions are readily available (leftover mashed potatoes?  Corn?  Add some ground meat and it’s shepherd’s pie to the rescue!) while others require some research.  Because I really hate letting any food go to waste, I tend to diligently search for recipes and improvise as needed until the turkey, ham, beef, and leftover sides have been incorporated into casseroles, soups, and sandwiches.  Your freezer is your best friend in this case – soon to be happily stocked with meals for future winter nights.

The following recipes were winners in our house – from various sources.  I hope they help you make the most of your Christmas leftovers!

Roast Turkey and Prosciutto Pizza
Nick and I really enjoyed this pizza after Thanksgiving.  It jazzes up turkey after a few days when the kiddos are sick of leftovers.  The downside: it doesn’t really use up that much turkey.

White Bean and Turkey Chili
A flavorful turkey chili that serves a soccer team!

Ham and Scalloped Potatoes
Uses two leftovers!  I’d happily add peas, green beans, or other leftover veggies for a well-rounded, single-dish meal.

Creamy Pasta with Ham and Asparagus
As a pasta lover, this dish was a shoo-in.

Wild Rice and Ham Chowder
I haven’t made this one, but it sounds like an ideal winter comfort food – and it uses potatoes, carrots, parsley, and other ingredients that are likely to be lingering.

On this Christmas, I hope you are celebrating with friends and family and feel surrounded by love and peace.  Happy holidays from Maine Roots… and happy holiday leftover-ing!

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Weekly Recipe: Homemade Tomato Soup

This tomato soup recipe is one that I first learned from my cousin’s wife’s blog – which you can check out at  Ann is a Master Nutrition Therapist, and this is originally one of her family’s recipes.  My mom and I modified it a bit when we made it on Christmas Day, but it’s great just as it is.

I like it because it’s homemade, healthy, and easy.  It was also a good lunch option for a busy Christmas in Maine – warm and tasty without being labor-intensive.  You’ll need:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced

1 fennel bulb, trimmed and diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup dry vermouth

2 lbs. heirloom tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped (I have used regular tomatoes, and I also skip the peeling – the skins make it healthier)

3 tablespoons tomato paste

4 cups vegetable broth or chicken broth

2 tablespoons of mixed herbs (parsley, chives, tarragon)


In a large pot, warm the olive oil.  Add the onion, fennel, and garlic.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender.  Add vermouth and cook until evaporated (in this case, we didn’t have any vermouth – although dear old Dad swore that we did until the moment of truth – we supplemented by adding roughly a 1/2 cup of sherry at the very end of cooking, and it truly made the soup something special).  Add tomatoes and tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes begin to break down (8-10 minutes).  I didn’t cut the tomatoes into small enough pieces this time around – I usually cut them in eighths, and quarters isn’t quite enough.

Tomatoes, breaking down

Tomatoes, breaking down

Add broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer 20 minutes.  Wait until the soup has cooled, and, using an immersion blender (also known as a stick  blender), puree the soup, leaving some chunks for texture.  If you don’t have one, you can use a regular blender or food processor (you should wait to do this until the soup has cooled, but when I’ve been in a rush, I have done it while the soup is still quite hot, and it didn’t cause any problems).  Season with salt and pepper, and stir in the herbs when ready to serve.

In this case, as I mentioned, we substituted a 1/2 cup of sherry for the vermouth, and we also added about 3 tablespoons of butter, which smoothed out the flavors nicely.

When I make this at home, I usually make grilled cheese sandwiches as well – the perfect complement to this soup on a chilly day.

The end result:

Truly - good enough to eat!

Truly – good enough to eat!

Try and enjoy!  Happy Holidays to all.


HoME Grown: Blueberries!

Welcome to the first post in my HoME Grown category!  Through this category, I hope to bring recognition to the agricultural industry in Maine and to some of the local farms themselves – one of the characteristics I love most about this state is the pride in local business and the commitment to entrepreneurial endeavors.

It seemed only appropriate to begin with the blueberry, as it is the state fruit of Maine, has many health benefits, and is a major contributor to Maine’s economy.  There are two types of blueberries – lowbush blueberries, which are wild, and highbush blueberries, which are cultivated and are frequently hybrids, enabling them to be more easily grown in other parts of the world.  Maine is the leader of lowbush blueberry production in the United States.  In fact, 90% of the nation’s wild blueberry crop comes from Washington County alone.


There are many blueberry farms in Maine – the state has over 60,000 acres of blueberries – and some farms are open for you to “pick your own.”  I’ll highlight a couple of blueberry farms below, but for a more complete listing, visit the Maine Living site on wild blueberries.

Merrill Blueberry Farm is located in Ellsworth, Maine, and has been growing and selling wild blueberries since 1925.  Through four generations, they’ve remained committed to growing and harvesting a high quality crop for their customers.  Today, Merrill Farm’s wild blueberries are frozen using the Individually Quick Frozen
method to ensure their long-lasting healthfulness and flavor.

Worcester’s Wild Blueberry Products, in Orneville, Maine, has been selling wild blueberries for over 30 years at local stores, farmers’ markets, and their own roadside stand.  In 2003, they branched out into other wild blueberry products including jams, jellies, syrups, and more.  Their emphasis is on small, high quality batches rather than large scale production.

Wild blueberries are smaller and have a more intense flavor than cultivated blueberries.  Blueberries have gained recognition for being high in antioxidants, which provide a great health benefit by combatting free radicals, particles that damage your cells and can lead to diseases like cancer and heart disease.  In addition, blueberries contain Vitamins A and C, zinc, potassium, iron, and magnesium.  So eat up!

This post will also be the first to be featured on my ‘Weekly Recipes‘ page.  Once a week, I’ll make a recipe from one of my Maine cookbooks and write a blog post about it – links to posts and recipes can be found on this page.  Today, I’m making a blueberry muffin recipe from my favorite cookbook (click here to see my favorite cookbook post), Recipes from the Maine Kitchen.  This recipe can be found on page 213 and is called “Barbara’s Blueberry Muffins.”  These muffins will become our holiday gifts to our mailman and garbage collectors, as well a snacks for us here at home.  Yum!

The recipe makes 1 dozen muffins, I doubled it.  You’ll need:

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened

1 1/4 cups sugar

2 eggs

1 cup nonfat plain yogurt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups wild Maine blueberries

Blueberry Muffin Ingredients


2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Sift flour, soda, baking powder and salt together and set aside.  Beat or stir butter for 30 seconds and add sugar, then stir to combine.  Beat in eggs, yogurt, and vanilla (this can be done with a mixer or by hand – I did it by hand, and it’s a heck of a workout).  Stir in flour mixture.  Fold in blueberries carefully, so as not to break them up, and spoon into muffin cups.

Mixing Ingredients

Combine topping ingredients and sprinkle over muffins.  Bake at 400 degrees for 18 – 20 minutes.

The end result – time to enjoy- yum!

Blueberry Muffins


Christmas Lights, Old Houses, Holiday Spirit

It’s no secret that I love the holidays – which may make me unoriginal, because most people do – but I don’t really care that much about being ‘original.’  What I love about the holidays isn’t the trappings (the gifts, meals, twinkling lights, sometimes gaudy decorations), it’s what they represent.  For me, the holidays mean time with family, and the bustling energy and excitement of these weeks do fill me with joy.

In particular, I adore Christmas lights – it surprises me (although it shouldn’t), each year, how those glowing, twinkling lights lift my spirits.  I remember riding around Westbrook and Portland in the backseat of my dad’s truck to look at the Christmas lights decorating local neighborhoods.  My grandmother sometimes joined us for these outings, and we would remark on the outrageous (Clark Griswold, anyone?), the religious, the classic, the subdued, and many more approaches to outdoor Christmas lights.  As a little girl, I particularly liked the colored lights and would do battle annually with my siblings and parents to get the tree inside, and the ones outside, decorated in colored lights.  Today, however, I love the classic, elegant glow of white lights.  Ironically enough, my parents’ tree this year is decked out in colored lights!  (photo below).  My mom actually emailed, “I know, colored lights… too many of the white light strands bit the dust this year.”

Mom & Dad's tree

I also really love old houses – their charming features, classic architecture, and how each has its own unique personality.  So today I’m bringing you an old house you can tour!  Each year, the Victoria Mansion in Portland, Maine offers tours and celebrates the holiday season with a theme.  For 2012, their theme is The Gilded Age.  The house is open for self-guided tours from November 23rd, 2012 – January 6, 2013 (closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day).  The hours are 11am – 430pm. The rates range from free (if you’re under 6 years old) to $15 for adults, and they have a family package (which I thought was a great deal) of $35, for groups with two adults from the same household and up to 5 children, ages 6-17.  They can be reached by phone at 207-772-4841.  Not only is this a great opportunity to experience the past splendor of The Gilded Age and see a beautiful old home, it’s an educational opportunity as well.  Go, enjoy, embrace the holiday spirit!

The Gilded Age is the period following the Civil War from 1877 – 1893 (at which point the Progressive Era began).  The term was coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today.  They believed this period was truly an era of serious social problems covered by a thin layer of gold.  During this time, there was extraordinary growth and advancement in technology, and the belief was that any man could become a Carnegie, a Vanderbilt, a Rockefeller.  Those few who pioneered specific companies and advancements became enormously wealthy, and one demonstration of that wealth came through the design and construction of massive, elaborate homes.  The two pictures below are of Nick and me on our first anniversary at the Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina.  The Biltmore is America’s largest home and an exceptional example of the architecture of The Gilded Age.  Photography isn’t allowed inside, so I don’t have images to share, but we were both amazed by the opulence (and beauty) of this home.

Nick & Eliza at the Biltmore

Nick at the Biltmore

A bit about the Victoria Mansion – The Victoria Mansion is located at 109 Danforth Street, Portland, ME 04101 and was built prior to the Civil War, between 1858 and 1860.  The Mansion is also known as the Morse-Libby House.  An excellent example of pre-Civil War grandeur, the home changed hands once or twice before being seriously damaged in 1938 by a hurricane.  It was scheduled to be demolished in 1940, when a retired educator stepped in and saved it – Dr. William H. Holmes – and with his sister, Clara, turned it into a museum to honor Queen Victoria.  Now operated as a historic house museum, the Victoria Mansion was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1970.

Thanks for indulging me in that brief history lesson!  I love history and traditions – and the holidays present an opportunity for me to embrace those interests.  I can think of nothing better than getting into the holiday spirit by touring a historic landmark all decked out for the festivities!

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Merry Madness!

With a name like that, who could resist?

There are so many interesting, holiday-related activities in Maine this week and next – so brace yourself to see posts on several of them!  Today is a quick post about Merry Madness.  I’ve never participated in this ‘insanity,’ but I wish I could.  Merry Madness is a shop-til-you-drop event and a great opportunity to check out some of the fantastic stores I mentioned yesterday.

The event is this Thursday, December 13, 2012, and kicks off at the Portland Regency Hotel, located at 20 Milk Street.  From 5pm – 6pm at the Regency, enjoy free hors d’oeuvers, raffles, and music, before venturing out to shop.  You can also purchase souvenir 2012 Merry Madness wine glasses & mugs.  Stores participating in the Merry Madness event will remain open until 10pm.

The Regency is offering a special package to stay the night in their boutique hotel following the event.  The Merry Madness Package includes Deluxe Accommodations for two, two “Merry Madness” keepsake wine glasses, a bottle of sparkling wine (per room), and includes access to Portland’s Downtown District Event on Dec.13th from 5-6pm.  Rates from $129.00.


I can personally attest to how phenomenal the Regency is – my husband and I had our wedding reception there and spent the night in the Honeymoon Suite.  From the planning to the night itself, everything was executed smoothly, the food was delicious, and the atmosphere of history and luxury was superb.

This is the 10th Anniversary of the Merry Madness event, which effectively promotes local Portland shops, restaurants, and hotels during the holiday shopping season.  Please visit the event website for a full list of sponsors and participating stores (also listed below).  Merry Shopping!

Participating Stores:

Adorn Salon 1 Union St
Alex and Ani 215 Commercial St
Arcana 81 Market St
Asia West 219 Commercial St
Cabot Farmers’ Annex 163 Commercial St
Carla’s 414 Fore St
Casablanca Comics 151 Middle St
Coast City Comics 634 Congress St
Company C 123 Commercial St
Constellation Gallery 511 Congress St
Cool As A Moose 388 Fore St
Country Noel 57 Exchange St
CS Boutique 424 Fore St
D. Cole Jewelers 10 Exchange St
Daydream Bodyworks 164 Middle St
Designs by CC 7 Pleasant St
Dobra Tea 151 Middle St
East End Cupcake 426 Fore St
Edgecomb Potters 49 Exchange St
Fetch 195 Commercial St
Fit to Eat 164 Middle St
Fore River Gallery 87 Market St
Freak Street Imports 10 Exchange St
Harbor View Gifts 4 Moulton Street
justkim 615A Congress St
K. Colette 100 Commercial St
LeRoux Kitchen 161 Commercial St
Liberty Graphics 44 Main St
Life is Good 428 Fore St
Lisa Marie’s Made in Maine 35 Exchange St
Longfellow Books One Monument Way
Lovell Designs 26 Exchange St
Lovely Things 332 Fore St
Maine Potters Market 376 Fore St
Mainely Frames 541 Congress St
Maxwell’s Pottery 384 Fore St
Mensroom 8 City Center
Mexicali Blues 9 and 10 Moulton St
Motifs 221 Commercial St
Mount Desert Island Ice Cream 51 Exchange St
Nomads 100 Commercial St
Nomia 24 Exchange St #215
Old Port Candy Co. 422 Fore St
Old Port Card Works 3 Moulton St
Old Port Wine Merchant 223 Commercial St
Ollo Hair Salon 41 Wharf St
Pandamonium 2 Exchange St
Pinecone + Chickadee 6 Free St
Port Boutique 2 Wharf St
Porte 4 366 Fore St
Portland Rock Lobster 8 Exchange St
Portland Trading Co 157 Middle St
Portmanteau 3 Wharf St
Salt Cellar 172 Middle St
Se Vende Imports 4 Exchange St
Second Time Around 28 Exchange St
Shine Salon & Barber 9 Union St
Siempre Mas 377 Fore St
Simply Home Studio 75 Market St
Somethings Fishy 32 Exchange St
Stonewall Kitchen 182 Middle St
Swiss Time 86 Exchange St
Tavecchia 52 Exchange St
Ten Thousand Villages 33 Exchange St
The Alpaca Shed 23 Temple St
The Black Dog 215 Commercial St
The Blazin’ Ace 432 Fore St
The Leather Exchange 38 Exchange St
The Mind Gift Shop 399 Fore St
The Paper Patch 17 Exchange St
Treehouse Toys Ltd. 47 Exchange St
Twist 425 Fore St
Vervacious 227 Commercial St
Videoport 151 Middle St
Waterlily 26 Milk St
White Cap Grille 164 Middle

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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: or contact the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co at 207-828-0814.  They are located at 58 Fore Street, Portland, ME 04101.