Maine Roots

A blog about all things Maine


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Tri-ing for a Cure

A little more than a year ago, my cousin Stephanie completed active treatment for breast cancer. Now, just one week from today (on Sunday, July 17th), she’ll participate as a survivor in Tri for a Cure, a triathlon fundraiser put on by the Maine Cancer Foundation. Despite my love of words, I can’t find the ones to adequately express how proud I am of her strength, how inspired I am by her willingness to openly share her journey, and how much admiration I feel for the person she is.

To support Stephanie in reaching her fundraising goal of $2,000 and the Maine Cancer Foundation in their important work, I encourage you to visit Steph’s page. The Maine Cancer Foundation leads a state-wide effort to foster and grow the most promising and effective cancer-fighting efforts available to the people of Maine. Personally, I appreciate that their goals reflect prevention practices as well as improving patient outcomes and increasing screenings.

Steph and family 11141165_139587419706313_7112191807333158378_n

Steph with her husband, Justo, and their two boys

Beyond Tri for a Cure, Stephanie is putting her entrepreneurial spirit, personal journey, and master’s degree in expressive arts therapy to work supporting those who have experienced or are experiencing a life-threatening illness or injury through Creative Transformations. Through sessions and workshops, Creative Transformations gives patients and survivors the tools to help process their emotional experience, supporting healing of mind, body, spirit, and self. I highly recommend visiting her website, following her blog, and contacting her if you feel so inclined – just by following her recent posts, I’ve gained new insights about myself and become more aware of how our experiences shape us.

Recent statistics show 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will develop cancer in their lifetime. It is an unfortunate truth that we all know someone who has been impacted by a cancer diagnosis, and I’ve come to believe there are many important ways to heal that go beyond medical procedures and the physical body. Our mental and spiritual selves need attention, love, and support, as well. Through artistic expression, our emotions come to life through action – physically translating what we can’t put into words, whether that translation is on canvas, paper, clay, or another surface. Creative Transformations supports the holistic approach to healing that truly enables patients to become survivors in every sense of the word.


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Bringing Back Books? Yes, Please!

The phrase, ‘look for a book and look behind it,’ was frequently employed in my childhood home to describe my bookworm tendencies; I have vivid memories of being caught devouring novels in math class (apologies, Mr. Caulfield); and to this day, if I’m deep in a story, people can say my name repeatedly and receive no response (particularly annoying to my husband, I believe). I love to read – it’s like a mini-vacation just for me, every evening, and even though I now have a Kindle, there is simply nothing like reading a book in print. The entire sensory experience is different – from the way my eyes process the written word, to the tactile experience of feeling and turning pages, to the crisp smell reminiscent of wood and forest.

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So while we may indeed be seeing the end of the big bookstore, I’m thrilled that both new and established independent bookstores are finding success. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend reading this article from the Press Herald about independent bookstores in and around Portland, Maine: http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/06/new-bookstore-opening-in-portland/

In conjunction with some statistics about childhood education I heard on the radio last week, this article inspired this post about bringing back the book. People may ask why, and how, these small, independent stores can be successful. Borders failed, despite their vast selection; Barnes & Noble struggles despite offering coffee and wifi – so how do the little guys do it?

First, as with all buying trends, this one too will change, but at the moment, we’re seeing a shift away from big box stores and rock bottom prices to a willingness to spend more for a great experience and support of local businesses (#buylocal, anyone?). I’d further speculate that like small tech startups, small bookstores can be more nimble than big stores with massive inventory. This agility enables them to respond more quickly to what their audience wants to read than a large, impersonal chain – which brings me to my second point: it is actually possible for them to know and learn what that audience wants (and no, I don’t mean by spending big bucks on big data analysis). This is the natural result of owners and team members being personally engaged in their communities and with their customers. These people know each other. They eat at the same restaurants, enjoy the same craft breweries, attend the same churches, etc etc.

From the expanding Gottwals Books here in Middle Georgia to Print, Longfellow Books, Sherman’s, and Letterpress Books in Maine (all referenced in the above article) – not to mention a charming, secondhand bookstore in Asheville, North Carolina that I can no longer remember the name of – these stores are listening and responding to what their communities need, and reaping the benefits.They may not be able to offer every book by every author that every patron wants, but the independent bookstore compensates for this with knowledgeable service and personal attention: if they don’t have exactly what you’re looking for, chances are they can help you find something similar – or possibly even better.

But to go beyond market influences and great customer service for a moment – the following summarizes just a snippet of what I heard on the radio recently:

  • Children comprehend and retain more of what they read from a printed book than an e-book (a big deal when you think about the fact that education is what gives us the power to change our lives)
  • People who read on screen take on average 10 minutes longer to fall asleep than those who read print – and are more likely to experience poor quality sleep (sleep is such an important part of your mental and physical health, and we are already too sleep-deprived as a nation)
  • The tactile and visual experience of turning pages and comprehending reading progress plays a role in both enjoyment and retention, and increases likelihood (in textbooks) of completing intermediate assessments of material

So I’m saying ‘hurrah’ to these independent bookstores, and good luck. Let’s bring back the books. Books have given me so many valuable adventures. They have broadened my horizons, provided escape, entertained and challenged me. Perhaps best of all, I can never read and experience one the same way twice. I’m constantly changing and growing, so the stories do, too.


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Fun in Maine: What to do this weekend?

After some snow showers on Friday, the weekend in Portland, Maine looks to be nice indeed for January – sunny, with temps in the 30s and even 40s. If you’re looking for something fun to do, here are a few ideas (thanks to mainetoday.com, The Frontier, and various other sites, for the event listings that contributed to this post!).  You can also check out Maine Today’s full listing of 11 events this weekend specifically, right here.

Portland On Tap Craft Beer Festival, Saturday, January 30th (where I’d be) – America On Tap brings you Portland On Tap this weekend with two sessions at the Cross Insurance Arena.  This event offers the opportunity to sample over 100 releases from the country’s top craft breweries, enjoy live music, and nosh on some delicious food.  The first session is from 1pm – 4pm, with the second session from 6pm – 9pm. Regular tickets are $35, and VIP are $55, but include a food voucher, t-shirt, and other upgrades (like an extra hour of festival fun).  For full details or to buy tickets, check the festival out here.  A quick look at the vendor list showed me a few Maine breweries like Allagash, Geary’s, and Gritty McDuff’s (among others), and I hope the Maine-based businesses are highlighted as they deserve to be!

Camden Winterfest, January 30th – February 7th – Camden brings you Camden Winterfest, a whirlwind week of winter events (how’s that for some alliteration?) that offer fun for the whole family.  The schedule of events includes Snow Sculpting Championships, a Polar Plunge, Snow Plow Parade, and US National Toboggan Championships – among many others!

Lost Valley Winter Duathlon, January 30th, 10am – noon – Do you love winter’s outdoor sports?  Looking to stay active and earn that Saturday night pizza and beer?  This is the event for you.  Lost Valley’s Winter Duathlon is a 10km course on which competitors nordic ski 5km, then snowshoe the remaining 5km.  Check it out here.

Oscar Nominated Shorts, Animated, February 2nd – 7th, various show times – The Frontier in Brunswick, Maine is one of my favorite entertainment venues.  Coupled with a restaurant serving exceptional food, you can’t go wrong.  Tonight’s Maine Short Film Festival is sold out, but don’t miss out on their upcoming series of showings of Oscar Nominated Shorts.

Located further Downeast?  Rockland’s The Strand Theatre features “West Side Story” this weekend, Sunday at 2pm!

Hit the Slopes: Outdoor Magazine named Sugarloaf one of the Best Winter Trips of 2016 (#truth).  If Sugarloaf is too intimidating, check out Mt. Abram Ski area – they even have a Full Moon Hike this weekend followed by live music.  Shawnee Peak night skiing is always a hit, too!

If you’re on a budget, there are still many great opportunities to get out and enjoy your community for free or at least on the cheap.  A few ideas, plus another listing gem from Maine Today:

Portland Museum of Art: Free on Fridays evenings from 5pm – 9pm – so go get some culture.

Portland Comedy Showcase: $5, 8pm on Wednesday nights at Bull Feeney’s on Fore Street.  Good for a laugh!

Trivia Night: Free, 7pm on Tuesday nights at Elements Books Coffee Bar in Biddeford.  I am loving the renaissance Biddeford is having these days – such a neat, historic town! (oh, and Elements serves beer!)

Free / inexpensive outdoor adventures abound in Maine in the winter: from snowshoeing, to cross country skiing, to sledding and ice skating – this is really what winter is all about!


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Harvest On The Harbor – Starts Tomorrow!

How did the middle of October get here so quickly?  That seems to be the theme of the year for me – it has simply flown by and I find it hard to believe we’re well into fall, harvest, and foliage season.

With this time of year comes Maine’s premier food and wine festival, Harvest on the Harbor.  Beginning tomorrow, October 21st, and running through Sunday, October 25th, this festival brings together exceptional talent from food and drink to entertainment.  The events are not cheap, but they sound incredible.  You can review the schedule at-a-glance here and buy tickets here.  A few that appeal to me the most:

Vines to Wines – Oct 23rd, 5:30pm – 7pm at Custom Home

Maine Marketplace – Taste the 8 Regions of Maine – two times, Oct 24th from 12pm – 2:30pm and 4pm – 6:30pm at The Portland Company

Harvest Hop Beer & Whiskey Crawl – Oct 24th, 7pm – 9pm – East Bayside

Get out and enjoy all the city and the state has to offer!


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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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A Cozy Caffeine Fix at Coffee by Design

I’m opening this post with my punch line right up front: Coffee by Design served up the prettiest dang cup of coffee I have ever seen.  I mean, really, take a look at this image of brewed perfection:

One lovely, photogenic caramel latte

One lovely, photogenic caramel latte

Oh, and it was delicious, too.

Admittedly, I’m far from a coffee aficionado.  I first began drinking coffee regularly at my first job, which stocked only regular old Folgers and perhaps even more appallingly, powdered creamer.  Sorry, but that stuff is disgusting.  Now I’d give serious consideration to drinking my coffee black before using it, and I’m a “I’ll-have-a-little-coffee-with-that-milk” kinda girl.

Incredibly, this taste-bud-offending introduction to coffee did not deter my venture into the benefits of the caffeinated state, and I’ve gone on to have many more coffee experiences – most good, a few less appealing.  Perhaps I have a much greater appreciation for good coffee now than I would have without that introduction.  For example, I recall my first Starbucks Vanilla Latte with glee.  My eyes were opened to an entirely new world of possibilities.

Our Coffee by Design experience was enjoyable from beginning to end.  We spent about an hour in the Diamond Street location before it was time for Nick and me to go to the Portland International Jetport for our return to Georgia (and warmth, and no snow – it has pros and cons).

Display and merchandise area

Display and merchandise area

Coffee by Design touts themselves as creating ‘handcrafted, micro roasted coffee,’ and I’d concur that the micro roasting of coffee delivers the same value we all associate with micro brewing (uh oh, I’m sounding a bit like a coffee snob).  Their location at Diamond Street is also a roastery, and large glass doors give the patrons a view from the coffee bar space into the micro roastery, where large steel tanks also call to mind microbrew tours.  There is something surprisingly beautiful and striking about clean, industrial spaces like this one.

While waiting for our coffees to be ready, both my husband and I wandered the space, enjoying the various pieces of art and the many posted anecdotes regarding the owners’ journeys to discovering the best of coffee (check out their “Travel to Origin” and “History” sections for more insight).  These images and descriptions were my favorite part of the decor – it humanized the business and made the owners (and staff’s) commitment to crafting superior coffees very evident.  Although I haven’t been to their other locations, I hope they also include these interesting stories that reinforce the business’s commitment to economic and social sustainability.

photo 2

While the latte was excellent and the atmosphere and decor attractive and welcoming, certainly the most special part of the hour or so spent in the coffee bar was the time it gave my family to simply visit.  We grabbed a table in the back corner, surrounded by four comfy leather chairs, and spent the remaining minutes before our flight talking, planning our summer vacation in the Sebago Lakes Region, and sharing new insights gleaned from the various Maine-based magazines scattered around – Down East (of course), Maine Home+Design, and more.  I left with a strong appreciation for the time and space we had the opportunity to enjoy there.

Coffee by Design is an impressive and admirable business.  Their story reflects the many special characteristics I’ve come to associate with Maine and the people who live there: a commitment to honesty, to doing the right things in the right way, and supporting other businesses, both local and international, who also uphold these values.

Go in and get a cup!  Or for Mainers far from home like me, visit the online shop.