Archive for July, 2010

July 17, 2010

Why the Obamas Will Love Acadia National Park

The Obamas went to the top of Cadillac, but they didn't get up for sunrise

The Obamas are in Maine today enjoying a family vacation to Acadia National Park.  Here are four reasons why I think it’ll make them forget all about Martha’s Vineyard. 

Let’s give a hand to our national parks 

Craggy Maine coastline

Acadia has spectacular scenery.  The national park occupies about two-thirds of Mount Desert Island, the third largest island on the East Coast, about the same size as Martha’s Vineyard.  But with 24 mountain peaks, it’s where the sea and mountains meet – a key reason why travelers consistently name it one of the most beautiful islands in the world. 

Let’s move and get outdoors 

Atop Acadia Mountain

The First Lady’s campaign against childhood obesity is called LET’S MOVE.  To do just that, the park offers 120 miles of hiking trails and 57 miles of car-free carriage roads that wind among glacial lakes and around spruce-covered mountains.  The Obamas have  already biked to Witch Hole Pond, a secluded spot even on holiday weekends.  One of my favorite hikes is to the top of Acadia Mountain which can conclude with a dive from a granite promontory into Echo Lake.  Since the Obamas are accustomed to beaches in Hawaii, they may want to opt to swim there in Echo Lake instead of the chillier ocean waters of Sand Beach! 

Let’s see the science behind things

Park Ranger at Jordan Pond

The National Park Service rangers host daily walks, talks, amphitheatre programs, and cruises – most of which are free.  The President and First Lady would become as engaged as Malia and Sasha to learn about birds of prey, insects in a stream, and the stars over Sand Beach.   In addition to the National Park Service, educational programs are also sponsored by independent nature cruises, a natural history museum, whale museum, and oceanarium.

 Let’s see where food comes from 

Lobster and blueberries -- classic Maine fare

There are 60,000 acres of wild blueberries that grow naturally in Maine, so it’s no surprise that you can pick and eat them throughout Acadia National Park.  That, after all, was what happened in Robert McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal.  Restaurants throughout the island also provide ample opportunity to sample not only what comes from the farm to the table, but also from the dock– including lobster, of course.  A harborside restaurant was on the Obama’s agenda yesterday after a boat tour of Frenchman Bay.

 Planning Your Own Trip

 OUR ACADIA is a great way to plan a trip, starting with the best time to visit.  You’ll find restaurant tips, recommendations for kayaking trips and family rock climbing guides, and even ideas for what to do if it rains. 

 If the First Lady reads the list of 22 great things to do with your kids in Acadia National Park, she’ll probably decide they need more than three days there.

July 9, 2010

Second Life as an Innkeeper in Maine

In the movies the harried corporate executive buys a B&B in New England, starts a successful mail order business, and lives happily ever after. 

If you have ever visited a B&B on the Maine coast – or plan to this summer – you may wonder if innkeepers’ lives are as sweet as the chocolate-drizzled banana French toast they serve for breakfast.  For one couple, the route to Mount Desert Island, which annually lures over two million visitors to Acadia National Park, had as many switchbacks as a park hiking trail.

Alan Feuer, who today owns Ann’s Point Inn on Bass Harbor, says,  “I taught computer science at Northeastern and ran a company that offers specialized search engines.  My wife Jeannette worked at the Museum of Science in Boston.  When our youngest finished college, we decided it was time to sell our 120-year-old Victorian in the city and try something different.” 

The couple commenced a nationwide search to meet an exacting set of standards for a property.  According to Alan, they wanted a spectacular setting in an interesting community with high-quality amenities like excellent grocers and restaurants.  Because they had already had an old house in Boston, they decided to look for a property of contemporary design and construction.  They focused on inns with fewer than five rooms so that they could really meet their guests.  And they wanted a seasonal enterprise that would give them time to themselves.

 The search for the ideal property took the Feuers to the central California coast, the Southwest, islands off the Southeast, and Cape Cod.  They spent a year looking, then they saw Ann’s Point Inn on Mount Desert Island.

 Sitting on two acres at the end of a peninsula on Bass Harbor, this lovely B&B had four luxurious guest rooms with water views, an indoor heated pool, a Finnish sauna, a jet-filled hot tub, and nearly 700 feet of private shoreline.  And there wasn’t a fussy Victorian wreath or lace pillow in sight.

 Not only did it meet all of their criteria, but, as Alan said, “MDI had always been in the back of our minds.  We’d been going there on and off for 30 years.  Acadia is one of our favorite places.”

 Finding the property was only the beginning.  Alan’s dream was “luxury with a low-carbon footprint.”  That meant adding a solar pool heater and 3500 watts of electricity generation using solar panels.  They also redesigned their central courtyard and built three new decks and patios.

 The Feuers approached innkeeping with confidence because they’d always done a lot of entertaining.  Alan hooked up a Quickmill espresso machine to perfect his cappucino technique.  Jeannette began preparing breakfast not once, but three times a day to test recipes. 

Foodies flock to Mount Desert Island because of its inventive restaurants that focus on seasonal ingredients, seafood, and local produce. Jeannette started experimenting with some of these for her three-course breakfasts, which include herbs and produce from her garden as well as local eggs and seafood. Alan has added a refreshment hour in the late afternoon featuring Seal Cove goat cheese, a favorite mead from Bartlett Winery he pairs with roasted apricots, and honey ale from Atlantic Brewing.   

Does Ann’s Point Inn attract any particular type of visitor?  “Many are celebrating some special occasion.  That puts them in a wonderful state-of-mind.  I think everyone is enchanted by the beauty of the island. Hiking, kayaking, and eating lobster are among the most popular activities.” 

With satisfied guests and the perfect setting, it seems the one final element of the equation for innkeeper happiness is the mail order business.  “I still run the search engine business that I started in Boston,” Alan grins, “I guess that qualifies as Web mail order.”

To learn more about things to do in Acadia National Park and the best times to visit Mount Desert Island, visit OUR ACADIA.

July 6, 2010

What New Yorkers Don’t Want to Know about the Maine Lobster Glut

I’m a lobster fanatic.  I do side-by-side taste tests in search of the perfect lobster roll.  I comb scientific research to find a hypothesis for why soft shell lobsters are sweeter than hard shell.  And every New Year’s Eve I pay four times the market price in New York City to get lobsters shipped overnight from Maine.

That’s why I was so interested in New York Magazine’s recent feature “On a Roll” about how a lobster glut in Maine has spawned a new class of New York entrepreneurs selling lobster rolls out of their apartments and at flea markets, pop-up stands, and storefronts.  As a business venture, it’s seems particularly to have caught the attention of frustrated young lawyers and i-bankers who see a new “buy low-sell high” opportunity here.

Their business case centers on how two “E’s” – environment and economy – dramatically impacted the supply of and demand for Maine lobster.  As New York Magazine writer Benjamin Wallace aptly explains, an over-fishing of cod diminished one of young lobsters’ key predators and strict fishing limits on the size of each lobster taken defeated another. 

As the supply of lobster reached historic levels, demand for it was dealt a double blow.  The first hit is easy to guess – diminished orders from recession-hit restaurants.  But what Wallace also tells us is that more than half of Maine’s catch had been sold to Canadian processors who lost their credit lines in 2008 when the Icelandic banking system crashed.  According to New York Magazine, “The price of Maine lobster at the dock dropped from $5 to $2.50 a pound.”

In stepped the NYC lobster roll entrepreneurs.  They saw the opportunity to buy lobster meat at affordable prices and then sell it in sumptuous rolls that appeal “to the foodie trend of wanting to get back to artisanal food and its source.”

Now here’s the sad truth. 

New York foodies love the lobster roll debate: what type of roll, should it be toasted, the merits of celery, how much mayonnaise, the sinful deception of using lettuce as a filler.

But it’s all about the flavor of the lobster meat.  And lobster never tastes as good in New York as it does in Maine.

Talk to Dane Somers, Executive Director of the Lobster Council of Maine about why even live lobster from, say, Fairway doesn’t taste as good as what you get in Maine. “Everyone thinks that if it’s alive, you can’t get any fresher than that.  But there is a subtle difference.  It’s like fresh-cut flowers.  One-day-old flowers are not as fresh as those cut this morning.”

I don’t want to sound like rotten tomatoes, but that’s the analogy that comes to my mind: the flavor of tomatoes shipped from another continent versus picked from your garden. 

Before you agree with the “artisanal food” label, you have to ask how the lobster roll entrepreneurs get their lobster from Maine to New York.  One cooks the lobster in Maine and ships it down in pre-portioned 4-ounce Saran-wrapped packets.  Another bought a van for better conduct of live lobsters that had been dying on the BQE during the weekly trips in the back of his Chevy Avalanche.

Even lobsters transported live for high-volume seafood enterprises deteriorate in flavor. In transit and then in tanks for two or three days, they are not fed and obviously under stress.  Believe me, it affects the flavor.

Now we shouldn’t deny ourselves a good lobster roll here in NYC.  I’ll have mine at Pearl’s or the Mermaid Inn with a gin and tonic and praise the fries.  But I’ll recognize that, unfortunately, a lobster roll in New York is more about summoning summertime’s consummate symbol.  Not flavor.

If you are truly interested in food and want to taste the real thing, you have to haul yourself up to Maine.

It’s a long haul.  That’s why everyone defaults to the Hamptons or Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.  But those in search of the perfect lobster roll will go to Maine.

Right now you can get a round-trip ticket from JFK to Portland for about $300.  From Portland drive 3-hours-plus to Mount Desert Island, which has been ranked by both Travel and Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler as one of the most beautiful islands in the world.  About the same size as Martha’s Vineyard, but with 24 mountain peaks, it has the mesmerizing scenery of where the mountains meet the sea.  In addition to scouting your personal favorite among the lobster pounds, you can visit Acadia National Park.

  • Watch the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain, the first place from which to witness dawn in the United States.
  • Drive the Park Loop Road, the 27-mile masterful collaboration between John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.
  • Bike some of the 57 miles of car-free carriage roads…or explore them as originally intended, on a horse-drawn carriage.
  • Stroll, hike, or climb among the park’s 130 miles of hiking trails that present unsurpassed views of a fiord, glacial lakes, and mountain peaks that repeat to the horizon.
  • Visit Sand Beach, a sandy crescent with cliffs rising on each side.  The views won’t disappoint, even if the chilly water does. 

You may go to Maine with the intention of eating lobster rolls every day, but be prepared to be tempted otherwise.  A group of creative restaurateurs take true pride in their craft and will offer you the best in seafood, locally grown produce, and local cheeses.  You’ll also find French bistro, authentic Mexican, tapas and Cuban cuisine – all influenced by local ingredients.  Three award-winning micro-breweries, a shop featuring tastings of artisanal vinegars and olive oil, and an organic farm run by the local college round out the itinerary for foodies.

For the best places to eat on a visit to Mount Desert Island, the Web site OUR ACADIA offers detailed reviews.  You’ll also find tips on the best times to visit, the best kayaking guides, and eco-friendly inns.

But if you go, remember this warning: lobster in New York will never be the same.