Maine Roots

A blog about all things Maine


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Wine in Maine: Sweetgrass Farm Winery and Distillery

When I think about our visit to Sweetgrass Farm Winery & Distillery, the image that instantly pops into my mind is that first moment, as we pulled into the gravel driveway and had our first glimpse of a sweeping view of field, forest, and mountains.  The driveway itself is edged closely by both the road and the winery, as so many other old farms now are – pressed up against our modern roads.

The view at Sweetgrass

The view at Sweetgrass

The winery structure is charmingly, classically Maine.  A pretty, shingled building that has been updated to combine traditional elements with other, more modern influences like the wraparound deck and railing.  I found this combination of styles to be a theme throughout Sweetgrass – and it’s been executed so seamlessly that it enhances the experience without feeling too “perfect” or “untouchable.”  Inside and out, from the restored old truck and the gleaming copper Alembic still to the classic, white Adirondack chairs on the lawn, Sweetgrass hit all the right notes. “Sweet” indeed.

One of the most appealing aspects of Sweetgrass for me personally was how integral Maine traditions and products clearly are to the business.  I even feel the combination of the historic and the modern design elements and decor reflect this – generally speaking, Mainers hold on to a deep respect for the way things have been done for generations, while still moving forward themselves.  For example, in addition to operating as a winery and distillery, Sweetgrass is still a working farm.  They raise and sell Friesian and Friesian cross sheep for both meat and fleece; they have laying chickens and meat chickens; turkeys; pigs; and two cats.  They grow some of the fruit they use in their wines and liquors, and buy the vast majority of the remainder from other Maine resources, and they also grow grass (hay) for feed.  Sweetgrass sums up everything I felt about the experience there on their website, when asked about their philosophy: “to be a family run business preserving Union’s rich farming tradition, firmly rooted in the community, supporting local sustainable agriculture, local business, and donating 10% of profits to organizations which support families, children, and rural life.”

Philosophy and setting aside, the wines and liquors we had the opportunity to taste were exceptional on their own.  While my favorite, by a large margin, was their apple wine – delightful and crisp and pairs beautifully with lobster – I also enjoyed the sparkling cranberry apple (after all, what could be more holiday-appropriate than this flavorful, bubbly treat?) as well as the rhubarb smash.  Nick particularly enjoyed their renowned Back River Gin, which ended up being one of three bottles we purchased and brought home with us.  During our tasting, we had the opportunity to chat a bit with one of the owners about the business and what they’ve strived to accomplish.  I walked away understanding that vision, experience, and commitment have been critical to their success, which now includes an Old Port location and many accolades and awards, in addition to the Farm itself.

From beginning to end, this is a must-visit Maine winery. It was just our second of three winery stops during our cross-Maine trek from Crescent Lake to very nearly the Camden area, and it is the one I would most like to visit again.  Next time, though, I’d pack a picnic lunch, plan to stay a while, and indulge my wish to sit in one of those Adirondack chairs, soak in the view, and sip a Sweetgrass wine.

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That’s how I recommend you experience it!


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Wine in Maine: Savage Oakes Vineyard and Winery

I’ve struggled to write this blog post with each attempt – multiple attempts made over multiple months – and I don’t know why.  Here, today, I’m forging ahead and doing my best to introduce you all to Savage Oakes Vineyard & Winery, a truly unique winery experience that can be found in Union, Maine.

Perhaps my struggle to find the right words is borne of the very nature of Savage Oakes.  At its core, this is a family farm that represents the proud history of local farming and continues to raise pork, beef, and chicken today.  But beyond the core, necessity has driven Savage Oakes’ owners to find additional revenue opportunities, a situation many local farmers can relate to.  Savage Oakes Vineyard & Winery is the ingenuity borne from necessity – a new business line at the family-owned operation that is still known as Barrett Hill Farm.

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Both businesses are owned and operated by Elmer and Holly Savage and their two sons, and while I haven’t had the opportunity to try any of their meat products, I have enjoyed two tasting room visits to sample a variety of their wines.  My first visit was on a chilly, early winter day complete with a dusting of snow, as my mom and I dashed in during a day trip that also included a stop at the nearby Morse’s Sauerkraut.

I found myself charmed by the farming roots of the business and by the sheer authenticity of the experience.  This is the type of winery you ought to find in Maine – and not in Napa.  The tasting room (although a new one is now under construction) was warm, with polished plank walls, and decorated with pieces of the farm’s history, such as an old yoke once used for oxen working the land.

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The wines were refreshingly authentic, too.  While the varietals may be unknown to many, I was familiar with the cold-hardy grapes they’d chosen to grow, many of which have been developed by the University of Minnesota.  These wine grapes are meant to grow in cold climates, like Maine, while still producing flavorful, appealing wines (so don’t mind the wine snobs who turn up their noses). Many of their wines have clever names, also tied to the farm’s rich heritage, such as General Knox (a white wine from LaCrosse grapes) and Come Spring (a light-bodied red wine that is a blend of estate grown Leon Millot, Marechal Foch, and St. Croix grapes).

I enjoyed both the Barn Red and Come Spring during our winter visit, and when we returned just last month with my husband (who I knew would appreciate the dual agricultural and viticultural focus), I was pleasantly surprised by how much enjoyed their white wines.  First Kiss, which is now sold out, was very good, as was Georges River.

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These wines are different – you need to allow your palate time to adjust, as they won’t (and shouldn’t) taste like the French varietals we are all so familiar with.  Once you learn to appreciate them, you may even find you prefer these wines and the way they complement various dishes.

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But all differences aside, Savage Oakes has done an excellent job of blending Maine tradition with new business opportunity, and they’ve created an atmosphere that is both welcoming for locals and unique for tourists.  I certainly recommend a visit and a tasting, and if you have the time, check out the final event in their Summer Concert series.  Cheers!


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Wine Coast to Coast

Wine has been on my mind.  My husband and I often talk about our dream of owning a vineyard and making wine (I’m more interested in the farming, back-to-the-earth, nature-centric aspects; he’s truly passionate about the chemistry behind great wine and how to craft it), and we talk nearly as often about where to make this dream a reality.  But that’s a post for another day.  It is easy to be swept away in the romanticism of wine and wine making.  It’s a drink that makes you dream (or daydream).

Just one short week ago, I returned from my very first visit to the Napa and Sonoma Valleys – a trip that was stunning from the scenery to the wine and beyond.  It was also a striking contrast to many of the charming vineyards and wineries I’ve visited in North Carolina, Virginia, and, yes, Maine.

It reminded me that I owe you all posts on three Maine vineyards and wineries in particular: Savage Oakes Vineyard & Winery, Sweetgrass Winery & Distillery, and Cellardoor Winery.  Consider this the first post in a series, as I share a little bit about my experience with wine on the other coast before bringing you back to the Down East and sharing my experiences enjoying the authentic, family farm setting of Savage Oakes; the more polished-yet-rustic, hip vibe of Sweetgrass; and the upscale, glamour-meets-country appeal of Cellardoor.

The view at Sweetgrass

The view at Sweetgrass

In celebration of a dear friend’s 30th birthday, I traveled to northern California for a girls’ weekend in wine country.  I was picked up from the airport by the other ladies and immediately whisked off to Napa, where we began our fun with Oxbow Public Market – a fascinating and appealing conglomeration of food vendors and shops, and where I enjoyed a positively delicious salmon ceviche.  From there, we proceeded along the Silverado Trail as it winds through many of the most widely recognized names in American wine.  I’ll tell you, it was a special thrill to see, in person, the places where many wines we love were grown, crafted, and aged.

Wisely, we shared a number of tastings throughout the weekend, otherwise I hesitate to imagine how tipsy we may have become.  Our first stop was Miner Family Winery, where we enjoyed a truly excellent Viogner and an unusual Chardonnay fermented only with the wild yeast on the grapes (which I liked – very different) before transitioning into dryer reds.  Perhaps the most memorable part of that visit, though, was the consultant who handled our tasting.  A native of Sonoma whose father is a grower,  his knowledge (and willingness to take our picture) made the tasting enjoyable and engaging.

At Miner!

At Miner!

From there, we made our way to Charles Krug, which houses its tasting room in a stunning 1872 building, an atmosphere that contributes effectively to the tasting experience.  Taking in the high ceilings, the rustic charm, the old, deep window wells, all while sipping their Family Reserve Generations – a blend of 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Malbec, 5% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. It is an experience in and of itself, and precisely as they describe on their website, with spice and lovely fruit flavors of blackberry and red currant.  That entire afternoon was a blurred combination of exhaustion (i.e. jet lag), wine, and laughter, which all culminated in a giddy patio dinner at Francis Coppola, complete with stunning views of vineyards and mountains.

The following day, a car service took us around Sonoma Valley, where we made it to five – five! – wineries, including Ledson, Landmark, Kunde, Imagery, and Chateau St. Jean. In my opinion, Kunde stood head and shoulders above the rest for a number of reasons.  From the wine, to the cave tour (where they age their wines – and have an event space!), to the consultant who handled our tasting, the entire experience was exceptional.  I also knew Nick would like the fact that they grow all of their own grapes, which seemed rare, at least among the wineries we visited.  What surprised me was how much I appreciated that fact, too.  Sitting in our home in Georgia, I didn’t feel particularly concerned with whether the wine I was consuming was made from grapes grown by the winemaker, but when I was there – among the vines – it became much more significant.  So I ordered four bottles (naturally).

It was a truly incredible weekend.  By the time I journeyed home on Sunday, I felt I’d seen (and consumed) more than I imagined possible in two days.  Napa was glorious, and Sonoma quieter, but no less impressive.  I’m looking forward to thinking about how very, very different these experiences were from Maine wineries and sharing my perspective with you.  Differences aside, this was a trip not to be missed!


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Skiing Saddleback

This is just a brief post to highlight the special qualities of Saddleback mountain, a ski resort in Rangeley, Maine.  Many of you may now have heard or read about the financing challenges facing Saddleback’s owners in order to replace the Rangeley Double Chair – a $3 million investment that, if not possible within the next week or two, will mean the mountain will not operate for the ski season this year.

While I completely concur with the ownership’s decision to replace this 51-year-old lift, I have fond memories of that slow, cold, creaky ride up the mountain.  On particularly frigid days, you’d practically need another visit in the lodge to warm up after just one ride up the Rangeley Double Chair.  It allowed ample time for conversation with whomever you were on the lift with (hopefully a friend, given the duration), or time for reflection if alone.

The long-tenured Rangeley Double Chair is representative of the authenticity that has charmed Saddleback’s patrons over the years, and I was saddened to see the headlines about the resort’s potential closure.  I sincerely hope the financing needed is secured, enabling the mountain to operate this winter.  Saddleback is unique among Maine ski resorts in its sense of community and family-friendly environment – it fills a special niche that made it a favorite destination for my family and many others.

In case you haven’t seen them, below are a few news articles about this announcement:

http://www.pressherald.com/2015/07/20/saddleback-maine-wont-reopen-unless-it-gets-3-million-financing/

http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/wireStory/maines-popular-saddleback-ski-resort-season-jeopardy-32581099

http://www.mynews13.com/content/news/cfnews13/on-the-town/article.html/content/news/articles/ap/2015/07/20/Maine_s_popular_Saddleback_ski_resort_season_in_jeopardy.html


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Hot Doggin’ with Snappy’s Tube Steaks

A unique new hot dog ‘truckster’ has hit the Portland, Maine food scene.  Already vibrant, this business brings its own snappy personality to the growing number of food trucks and carts providing speedy and delicious food to locals and tourists alike. This is the hot dog cart to visit for dogs with a Maine flair and specialty toppings, featuring creative names like ‘The Salty Dog,’ ‘The Grange,’ and ‘Born to Brie Wild.’

Snappy manning the cart!

Snappy manning the cart!

Owned and operated by Ed Shevenell and Kari Williams, Snappy’s Tube Steaks stands out in its appearance, too.  The cart is a 1961 Cushman Truckster with a hot dog vending unit mounted on it. Ed has never been one to settle for standard when unconventional is possible, and Kari has long recognized the value of a strong brand, which Snappy’s is focused on building.

But the real highlight is all about the flavor. Drawing on their years of experience in the culinary industry, including time at some of Maine’s most renowned resort destinations such as Sugarloaf, Migis Lodge, and the Black Point Inn, Ed and Kari have created clever topping combinations that take your standard red snapper or all beef hot dog and deliver an entirely new and unique experience.  I’ve never had a hot dog quite like these. Take the “Don’t You Forget a Banh Mi” dog, for example – my choice largely for the addition of jalapenos – which features a special Banh Mi slaw, hoison mayo, and lime juice. I honestly could have eaten the topping all by itself – it was that good. In combination with the Pearl casing all beef hot dog, a smooth base for the tart and tangy flavors of the slaw, it was truly outstanding.

Simply stupendous 'Don't You Forget a Banh Mi' dog

Simply stupendous ‘Don’t You Forget a Banh Mi’ dog

Similarly, many people love the Salty Dog, which features savory sauerkraut, and the just launched ‘Born to Brie Wild,’ which I plan to try as soon as possible.  Snappy’s offers the Pearl casing, all beef hot dog I mentioned as well as the classically, fantastically Maine red hot dog.  Frankly, if you’re Maine-raised like me, you probably have fond memories of biting into many a red snapper at family cookouts, at fairs and festivals, and for dinner when Mom was away and Dad manned the grill.  A red snapper from the aptly-named Snappy’s will deliver a wave of flavorful nostalgia for you.  Stay tuned for a forthcoming blog post all about the history of the red hot dog.  It’s fascinating and not to be missed.

Most days, Ed, Kari, and the Snappy’s Tube Steaks truckster can be found on the Eastern Promenade in Portland from approximately 11am – 5pm. In addition to a stunning ocean view, this spot offers open space, a playground, and picnic tables, making Snappy’s a perfect lunch out with the kiddos.

Picture perfect setting for a classic hot dog delight!

Picture perfect setting for a classic hot dog delight!

In addition to the daily gig, Snappy’s is available for special events and can often be found at a craft brewery or festival over the weekend days. Keep your eyes peeled for your opportunity to experience tube steaks like never before!

Find them on Facebook or follow them @snappysmaine on twitter!


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Best Baking: Two Fat Cats Bakery

Bakeries abound in the bustling foodie city of Portland, Maine, sending tempting sweet and savory smells out into the street air to mingle with pedestrians and lure them in. I’ve had the very good fortune to visit a few of them recently, including Bam Bam Bakery, Holy Donut, and Big Sky Bread Company, while others include Rosemont Market, Foley’s Cakes, and more. While I found Bam Bam’s treats delightful, and Big Sky warm and welcoming with a gratifying approachability, my visit to Two Fat Cats just the other day was completely charming.

We ducked in briefly to wrangle some pastries and desserts for a brunch at my aunt’s home, but the few minutes we spent inside (not to mention the treats we enjoyed later) were sufficient to win me over. The space inside for customers is small, as if to say, “our focus is baking, after all,” and I found this very appealing.  This isn’t a place you go to take advantage of free wifi – it’s a place you go for excellent baked goods.

We were greeted by the sight of  a tall rack stacked with cooling pies.  Pretty, picture-perfect pies.  I couldn’t resist a little on-the-spot photography:

Oh yum...

Oh yum…

After descending a small set of stairs, we moved to the glass counter to make our selections, which showcased frosted cookies, fluffy scones, tidy turnovers, and other delights, and ended up with a colorful assortment:

Delicious!

Delicious!

I specifically chose two blueberry scones because they looked so good, but I’ll be honest, I was prepared for disappointment.  I’ve been excited about scones far too frequently only to be let down by dry, crumbling, flavorless bites.  I am so happy to report that Two Fat Cats’ scones are an outstanding exception.

Hands down, this is the best scone I’ve ever eaten.  Just moist enough, with a little drizzle of icing, it was spectacular.  Between the atmosphere and the product, I was and am completely sold on this bakery.  While I can’t speak for the other goodies personally, I can say the frosted sugar cookies were a big hit with my kiddie cousins, and my aunt couldn’t keep herself away from the peanut butter cookies, so I’d rank it a success all around.

If you are in the greater Portland area, this is a must-visit for any bakery needs!

Two Fat Cats Bakery
47 India Street
Portland, Maine 04101
207-347-5144


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Clam It Up in Yarmouth

Oh boy!! Next weekend brings to you my very favorite Maine summer event, the Yarmouth Clam Festival. Kicking off on Friday, July 17th, the Festival ushers in three days of fun and food, great for all ages.

I may actually squeeze in a visit this year (which is VERY exciting), before a big 50th anniversary celebration for my aunt and uncle at the beautiful Black Point Inn. In case I don’t, let me reminisce and share a few and recommendations now:

The arts and crafts show still stands as one of the best I’ve attended. Rows of original artwork and quality home craftsmanship stretch across the North Yarmouth Academy Lawn and are well-worth a visit, Friday and Saturday 10am – 9pm and Sunday 10am – 5pm.

Ladies, I’m thinking of you when I recommend the Firefighters’ Muster (wink), held on Saturday from 1pm – 330pm on Main Street at Memorial Green.

Naturally, there’s an impressive and varied selection of clams, other fried foods, and I imagine somewhere in the mix, something ‘healthy.’

There are road races, fun runs, live music, cooking demonstrations, carnival rides, and much more. Bring the sunscreen, family, and friends and be ready for a great time!


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Getting Out with the Kids (or by Your Lonesome)

It’s getting to be that time of year in Maine (yes, I mean the 2 or so days of summer – RUN – seize the day!) when the days are longer, the sun is out, the temps are up, and you want to be out and about with your children, if you have them, or just out and about period.

Courtesy of my Down East mag emails, I’m pleased to share Kid-Friendly Maine Day Trips, as well as a few of my own thoughts.  On the Down East list, I’d be particularly interested in Pemaquid Point and Wolfe’s Neck Farm.

There are so many wonderful opportunities in Maine to get outside and do something enjoyable – whether it’s active, educational, relaxing, or some other nice ‘ing.’  A few on my list:

Before we lived on the lake, my mom and my best friends’ mom would often pack us all up and make the drive to Tassel Top Beach on Sebago Lake in Raymond.  Hands down one of the best beach areas on Sebago, it offers about 900 feet of sandy beach, bordered on the land side by tall pines.  Grills and picnic tables are scattered along the beach and the trail behind it, and the beach also offers a Snack Shack.

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens are a fun and interesting good experience for the whole family – walking the grounds is good for you and informative for kids and adults alike.  Check out my post here.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention spending time by the sea… any oceanside beach at all would do.  You can choose to catch some rays, build a sand castle, or depending on time and opportunity, catch your own dinner.

How will you be spending time outdoors in Maine this summer?


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Cooking for Memorial Day: Maine Cookbook Recipes

With all of the excitement that Memorial Day brings (the start of summer!  Barbecues!  Long weekend!), it is important to reflect the true purpose of this holiday: it is a somber day of remembrance of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country.  Having had a number of family members and friends who have served, the significance of this day is not lost on me, and I offer thanks and prayers to all of those whom this holiday is truly about.

I was incredibly fortunate to grow up as part of a close, large family.  This has instilled in me a love for holiday weekends because of the opportunity they present to gather together, and to enjoy good food, good drink, and good conversations with each other.  While these often potluck meals do tend to feature some high calorie, unhealthy menu items (burgers laden with cheese come to mind), in general, home cooking is much better for you than a meal eaten out.  The following sides and salads tend toward the healthy, with one final dessert recommendation that is decidedly unhealthy (but delicious!).

Here are a few possibilities for inclusion in your Memorial Day festivities:

Strawberry Spinach Salad, Maine Home Cooking, page 220
I’ve shared this salad in a weekly recipe post before, and it truly is delicious.  I recommend adding some goat cheese and going with balsamic vinegar for in the dressing – the combination of sweet, tart, and creamy really complements the wholesome spinach.

A Dilly of a Pickled Beet Salad, Dishing Up Maine, page 69
Nick loves beets, and ever since we joined our local CSA, The Dirt Farmers, I’ve been including them in our order almost weekly.  I haven’t made this one yet, but it’s a guaranteed hit in our house:

For 4 servings, you’ll need:

  • 1 1/2 lb beets of uniform size, trimmed
  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dill seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons Simple Shallot Vinaigrette (recipe below this one)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

Cook beets in a pot of salted water until tender when pierced with a sharp knife (30-45 minutes, depending on size).  Drain and allow to cool, then peel and slice into a bowl.

Bring the vinegar, water, sugar, dill seeds, and salt to a boil in a medium-sized sauce pan.  Cook, stirring until sugar is dissolved, and pour the hot liquid over the beets, stirring gently to combine.

This salad is meant to be served at room temperature or cool, so refrigerate for at least one hour, or up to one week.  Before serving, remove the beets from the pickling liquid, drizzle with vinaigrette and sprinkle with dill.  Enjoy!

Simple Shallot Vinaigrette, page 58

  •  2 shallots, minced (3 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons whole grain Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup olive oil

Whisk ingredients together, adding oil last.  Refrigerate and use as needed, up to one week.

Salad of tomato, feta, and basil with kalamata vinaigrette, Maine Summers Cookbook, page 159
Coming appropriately from my summertime cookbook, this salad looks right up my alley… easy, quick, and tasty:

For 4 servings, you’ll need:

  • 2 cups cubed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/3 cup kalamata olives, pitted and minced
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Mix the tomatoes and basil by hand in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, sugar, and olives until well blended.  Pour the oil mixture over the tomato mixture and toss to coat.  Toss in the feta cheese and serve at room temperature.

Whoopie Pies, Maine Home Cooking, page 70
The whoopie pie is a classic Maine dessert guaranteed to make you the hit of the party.  And they’re really not as hard as they look to make!  This is another recipe I’ve previously blogged about: Whoopie for Whoopie Pies

Here’s to a Memorial Day weekend of delicious food and even better company!


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Summer is Coming!

With Memorial Day weekend a mere five days away, summer is marching ever closer in the great state of Maine (although as Mainers, we all know how unpredictable the next 2-3 weeks can actually be in terms of summer weather).

Personally, I am incredibly excited for my first summer vacation in Maine in close to, maybe more than, five years (wedding planning trips don’t count – hard to believe that was almost five years ago).  But my trip is still more than a month away, while yours may be just around the corner, so this post will be the first of two Memorial Day themed posts.  Today we’ll focus on what to do… then, in another post in the next few days, we’ll focus on a recipe or two that will make a great addition to your Memorial Day feast.

  • Go for a ride at Old Orchard Beach’s Palace Playland: http://www.palaceplayland.com/
    (just remember to eat your Pier Fries AFTER… unless you have a stomach of steel)
  • Get your golf game on at Sugarloaf, opening May 22: http://sugarloaf.com/summer
  • Visit York Beach, Maine: named the number one New England vacation spot for Memorial Day, it offers lots to do (zoo / amusement park, two beaches, shopping and dining) all while surrounded by quintessential Maine charm.
  • If you like a few less people (as I tend to), I suggest a hike or a picnic (or both): if you venture to Northeast Harbor, Maine, you’ll be within moments of the hustle and bustle and amusements of Acadia, but distant enough to enjoy some peace and quiet.  Other options include: Evans Notch Road, Blueberry Mountain, and many more.
  • Visit a working lighthouse in South Portland: Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse is offering the rare opportunity to step into history and tour an active lighthouse during their open house, 11am – 3pm, Saturday, May 23rd.

There are many, many more things to do in Maine than can be captured in one list or even twenty.  One of the reasons I’m most grateful that I grew up there is all of the experiences I was exposed to.  If you’re an outdoorsman (or outdoorswoman), there are multiple sports for every season; if you’re an art and culture lover, there’s no end to the history and creativity you can find; if you like to eat… well, we all know there’s plenty of good eatin’. Ahh, happy summer.

Enjoy your time in Maine, and drop me a line to tell me about it!