So we left Boothbay Harbor after a successful puffin cruise and travelled along the coast up to Camden, a picturesque little town with a lovely marina for the affluent New Yorkers who holiday there. We had a wonderful meal in Camden of not-lobster. Kiera has a nose for good food and she led us to a superb Asian restaurant called the Long Grain for dinner. We ate delicious steamed pork dumplings which made us reminisce about Shanghai, plump fresh mussels in a spicy broth and a Thai beef salad (Nua Nam Tok) with melt-in-your-mouth beef and mixed greens including mizuna, rocket (arugula) and mint that were like a breath of fresh air on a jaded palate. (Are you jealous Alex?)
Before I left home, Peter and I had started to cut down on our somewhat excessive consumption of carbohydrates and add more “good” fat to our diet (à la Tim Noakes). Many years ago I did an online course on nutrition offered by Sally-Ann Creed, a co-author of the Tim Noakes book “The Real Meal Revolution”. So, in some instances we had already begun eating more healthily as a result of that. We reduced our sugar intake (I can’t cut it out totally as I’m not prepared to give up biscuits with my morning tea or an occasional nibble of luscious dark chocolate after dinner) but I have been substituting sugar with Xylitol for ages now and Peter is diabetic so he avoids sugar anyway. And just for your information: dry red and dry white wines are low in residual sugar levels weighing in at 0.1-0.3% sugar per litre (or 1 to 3 grams of sugar per litre of wine) as the process of fermentation converts the grape’s innate sugar to alcohol!
Ms Creed also alerted me to the horrors of trans fats (hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils) and highly processed foods and I have long since eliminated them from our fridge and pantry. However what has changed is the move away from “low-fat” products. Who would have thought that it could feel so liberating to tuck into high-fat and full-cream yoghurt, cream cheese, cream and milk, not to mention eating bacon fat, without any feelings of guilt whatsoever?
However, the difficulty with our new “healthy lifestyle” lies in the notion that the demons in our diet appear to be High Carb grains (especially wheat) and that includes breads, cereals, pastas and crackers and High Carb fruit and veggies which includes our staple (well, ex-staple) potatoes. This new eating regime proved interesting. I hadn’t realised just how dependent we were on grains (especially wheat) to provide us with quick and easy meals – toast or cereal / granola for breakfast, sarmie for lunch, a snack of crackers and cheese. I also discovered that having some form of protein and fat for breakfast gave me much more energy than cereal or toast ever did. And my friend the potato, which I thought I would pine for, has been quite easily sidelined by salads and low carb veggies.
This way of eating was easy to follow when I was at home and in charge of the menu. However it has proved to be quite difficult whilst travelling in America. Most of the meals on offer have included some form of high carb grains, be it bread, bread crumbs, batter, wraps, tortillas, pastry or pasta. And although you can often get gluten-free options for an additional $1, it is not really an alternative because they’re often loaded with similar amounts of carbohydrate as the original, gluten-containing version of the food.
So, apart from the fabulous Lobster Shacks which served excellent fresh lobster and crab (albeit mostly in rolls but I could usually get a green salad instead), it wasn’t easy finding low carb food on our trip. The Long Grain provided one of the best meals; the other was a French bistro called Petite Jacqueline in Portland’s West End neighbourhood, a short walk from our B&B. It had a bold menu which included Fricasse D’escargots with fennel butter; Moelle / Bone Marrow with parsley salad and Ris de Veau Grenobloise / Seared Sweetbreads with brown butter-caper sauce. However I opted for the less adventurous but absolutely mouth-watering roast chicken and since it wouldn’t be a French dining experience without wine, we splurged on a large carafe of rosé (the one and only time we ordered wine in a restaurant).
Portland, by the way, is a charming city and, although we didn’t spend that much time there, we did saunter around the cobblestone streets of the Old Port District. It was there we found the Le Roux Kitchen shop which is a treasure trove of kitchen and foodie stuff and I bought, of all things, a cast iron kitchen roll holder. Can you believe it? Well I suppose I did buy a salad spinner on a trip to Paris in 1980 so a precedent was set. On our way out of Portland we visited the Portland Head Light, which dates back to 1791, and is the oldest lighthouse still in continuous use in the U.S.
After Camden, we drove up to Bar Harbor, via the Acadia National Park. After a picnic on the beach we hiked up a mountain and I was reminded of a walk in the ‘berg when the end was always just around the corner. This time the top of the mountain was imminent on countless occasions – but the hike was well worth it (although I sat out the next day’s hike as the glutes were a bit stressed). I loved Bar Harbor; it felt down-to-earth and unpretentious. The B&B where we stayed was called Acacia House Inn and was run by a lovely couple. It really felt like a home from home. It rained and was quite cold while we were there but we holed up in a pub frequented by locals, where the band sang Joan Baez and Bob Dylan and that was good enough for me.
Heading back south we stopped at Rockland to eat one final lobster lunch. Across the road from the Lobster Shack, we spotted the Farnsworth Art Museum advertising a Shaker exhibition so we pottered around in there for a bit. We also visited the adjacent Wyeth Gallery. There is a picture of a dog sleeping on a bed in our vet’s rooms in Windermere Road in Durban. I always admired it but it wasn’t signed and no-one knew the artist’s name. Well, blow me down if it wasn’t there in the Wyeth Gallery, painted by Andrew Wyeth himself. That was weird. Master Bedroom
The last night of our road trip was spent in Portsmouth. Now that is a town I could live in. It reminded me of seaside towns in the south of England. We had lunch at the Portsmouth Book & Bar – isn’t this just the best concept ever, a bookstore that serves beer? Especially since the most delicious beer is brewed in Portsmouth. From Portsmouth we drove back to Boston and from there flew back to DC.
When Kiera asked me where I would like to go on holiday, I based my suggestion of Maine primarily on movies and John Irving novels set in New England. For some unknown reason I have always been drawn to images of clapboard houses on windswept beaches. Once the decision was made and plans for our trip were underway, I started to have second thoughts. What if it is nothing like what I imagine; would we be disappointed; why didn’t I suggest the west coast – I’ve always wanted to visit San Francisco and Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Santa Barbara County (anyone see where I’m going with this)? Yes, all wine country. Maine – not so much. I started thinking about movies like Sideways and Bottle Shock and all the books I’ve read on Haight-Ashbury and the hippie movement and I wondered if I had made the wrong choice. Well, I’m delighted to say I didn’t. Yes, the wine was bloody expensive in restaurants (nothing under R300 a bottle) but I discovered you can buy reasonably inexpensive, drinkable wine in pharmacies which we enjoyed in our B&B after dinner while playing scrabble. To accompany our meal though, we couldn’t go wrong with a locally brewed beer.
One of my favourite John Irving novels is The Cider House Rules. In the movie, Homer (the main protagonist) leaves St. Cloud’s orphanage, where he has grown up, with Candy and her boyfriend Wally and admits he’s never seen the ocean; they drive to a beautiful little cove which is called Sand Beach and is in Acadia National Park, on the eastern coast of Mount Desert Island. This is where we had our picnic before hiking up a mountain trail. On this hike we also had a view of Otter Cliffs, seen in Shutter Island, Martin Scorsese’s 2010 thriller.
Not far from Boothbay Harbor is Popham Beach at the tip of the Phippsburg Peninsula, where Paul Newman, Kevin Costner and Robin Wright shot the film Message in a Bottle. Belgrade Lakes in Maine inspired local screenwriter Ernest Thompson to write the film On Golden Pond (one of my favourite movies). Marshall Point Lighthouse in Port Clyde (between Boothbay Harbor and Camden) is shown in the film Forrest Gump. And Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth featured in the movie Snow Falling on Cedars. So there is good reason why I had the uncanny feeling, more often than not, that I was in a movie.
The coastline of Maine is like a beautiful collage – of inlets and islands, of hardy working harbours and pretty little marinas, of clapboard houses and lobster shacks just as I imagined; and lots of trees, mostly evergreens but also oaks, cedars and maples. It’s rugged and windswept and charming and quaint. And I may just have to invest in a pink Adirondack chair on my front lawn as a reminder of this lovely place.