Posts tagged ‘New England’

November 28, 2009

The Guilty Pleasures of a New England Island: Notes from a Labor Day Rendezvous 2008

I have confession to make.

 

As we headed down the path to the cliff-rimmed sand beach, I saw a white board scrawled with a quote from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. reminding us that every possession implies a duty.  We kicked off our L.L. Bean sandals at the end of the path.  Here we were on this New England island, so beautiful and varied in its 100 square miles that it attracts visitors from around the world.

 

But why feel guilty about this?  My confession is: I was on Martha’s Vineyard, not Mount Desert Island.

 

I know that harboring affection for “another” island isn’t exactly like cheating on your husband.  As a resident of Mount Desert, I have every right to spend Labor Day in Menemsha.  So, why did I feel so guilty? 

 

It was probably because I liked it so much.  The crushed shell driveways, ubiquitous beach plums, and stonewalls marking rolling meadows brought something back from my Massachusetts childhood.  With no projects for my 1890 Mount Desert home to worry about, I lounged carefree, albeit conflicted, on a second-story porch listening to the catbirds in the nearby scrub oak and the harbor buoy bell in the distance.

 

Mount Desert Island and Martha’s Vineyard actually have a lot in common.  They vie for second and third place as the largest islands on the eastern seaboard.  They are made up of a variety of towns with distinct and different characters.  While Bar Harbor and Oak Bluffs resemble each other in their Victoriana and commercialism, Bass Harbor and Menemsha attract visitors to their fishing villages for harborside photographs and lobster dinners.  White clapboard houses and iconic steepled churches adorn the streets of both Somesville and Edgartown.  And among these towns buses bustle too many summer visitors from here to there (though L.L. Bean makes it free on MDI).  While a fiord divides our island, Martha’s Vineyard has a state forest in the middle of hers.  We tend to think of our island in terms of the two sides, east and west. Similarly, the Martha’s Vineyard towns divide east and west, with the western villages on their “quiet side” known as “up island” not because they are north, but higher in longitude. This is a carryover characterization from the Vineyard’s nautical past, just as “downeast” is for Maine.

 

Both islands offer great dining as part of the summer recreation.  We bought lobsters from Menemsha Fish Market and ate them on the beach at sunset.  Let me just say that this is so popular (i.e., crowded) that I would be wary of doing it before Labor Day.  We also had wonderful “special night out” meals at Sweet Life Café in Oak Bluffs and the Beach Plum Inn in Menemsha.  The menu at Sweet Life, where we ate in the garden, was deliciously innovative – for example, we had a white gazpacho made with grapes and garnished with steamed clams drizzled in smoked paprika oil. I must admit, though, that at the Beach Plum Inn I opted for a salad starter because I just couldn’t bear to spend $20 for an appetizer of scallops or crab cakes and then $40 for a lamp chop or grilled salmon entrée.  We knew we were paying for the honeymoon-worthy view.  Make special note that the up-island restaurants, such as Beach Plum, are dry, but you may bring your own wine, which appeals to my thrifty side.  On MDI I generally opt for one of Elizabeth’s martinis at Red Sky or a mojito at Havana, but wine nicely sufficed up island on the Vineyard.

 

The greatest difference between MDI and the Vineyard for me is that I am able to work off all of the calories from my indulgences on Acadia’s 130 miles of hiking trails.  Alas, that is not the case on Martha’s Vineyard, but the biking is good.

 

Residents on the Vineyard strongly recommended the bike paths to me for safety reasons.  However, the paths around the perimeter of the state forest of scrub pine and oak were unappealing.  We took the bike ferry ($5 per bike for the 100 yards across the inlet to Menemsha Pond) and then biked along the road with only banks of beach plums separating us from Vineyard Sound.  It was Labor Day afternoon so even the lookout at Aquinnah Cliffs (formerly Gay Head) wasn’t crowded and the roads felt safe enough.  It wasn’t the same as Acadia’s network of car-free carriage roads, but this was a really lovely loop back past Menemsha Pond to Menemsha Inn where we were staying.

 

Massachusetts beaches make me euphoric.  To the white sand and grass-covered dunes, the Vineyard adds dramatic cliffs.  A refreshing plunge in the ocean soon becomes so comfortable that I stay in longer and longer, floating over the waves, remembering how my mom used to have to gesture from the shoreline, “It’s time to come in.”  It was a bummer to have to stop then and equally so Labor Day weekend on Lucy Vincent Beach when we were told by a security guard that we couldn’t continue our walk on the beach because it was private property.  “Even if we walk in the water?”  “Yes.”

 

It was at this moment that I thought again about the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. quote at the entrance to this beach.  For all of us who love Mount Desert Island – very loyally, if not exclusively – how fortunate we are that in 1901 a group of wealthy individuals began a trust of private land holdings that, combined with land from John D. Rockefeller, Jr., was deeded to create a national park in 1935.  That these individuals chose to preserve one of the world’s most beautiful islands for all to share makes Acadia truly a rare wonder.

 

If you love Martha’s Vineyard, you may want to learn more about Mount Desert Island.  OUR ACADIA offers tips for exploring, eating, and relaxing.

 

 

August 5, 2008

In Search of the Perfect Maine Lobster Roll: The Trenton Tasting Tour

My parents lived on Nantucket for fifteen years, and the trip from the mainland to the island was a significant three hours. It takes less than a minute to cross the bridge from Trenton onto Mount Desert Island. Still, for me it is significant. It’s the dividing line between “need to” and “want to.”

 

Therefore, I celebrate the crossing over. And I start with a lobster roll in Trenton.  Why not? Regardless of the time of day, I stop at one of the local lobster pounds and order some clam chowder and this most celebrated of sandwiches to mark the beginning of a vacation in Maine.

 

Up until this point where I stop has been more or less random. However, there are three lobster pounds that we have frequented over the years, all situated on Bar Harbor Road right before the bridge: Gateway Lunts, Down East Lobster Pound, and Trenton Lobster Pound. These rustic shacks have drawn us by the fragrance of the outdoor wood fires simmering barrels of water for the lobster boil and the pleasant picnic tables in view of the water or in a pine grove.

 

Now that I’m writing this blog, however, I thought I should get a little more scientific about my recommendations. Therefore, we removed the bias of the setting from the objects under examination and set up a taste test on my porch. All three samples of chowder and lobster rolls were similarly influenced by a nicely chilled sauvignon blanc. It was very surprising how much difference side-by-side comparison revealed.

 

The chowder at all three Trenton lobster pounds is full of tender clams and diced potatoes, served in a flavorful milky broth. None succumbed to an overly thick cream base. I’d bet anything that Down East’s broth began by sautéing onions in butter. It was easily deemed our favorite.

 

Both Lunts and Down East serve their lobster salad on a nicely toasted frankfurter roll. For Lunts that’s what you get for $12.99. At Down East you also get a bag of chips and fresh, tangy coleslaw for $13.99. For $13.99 Trenton Lobster Pound serves a lobster salad sandwich on delicious white bread topped with a grape tomato and pepper garnish, as well as a side of chips. Compared with the other two pounds, Lunts offers slightly less lobster in lieu of a layer of lettuce at the base of the roll.

 

Flavor? On the evening of our tasting, Trenton Lobster Pound offered the sweetest lobster meat. The tasty salad was created with the slightest amount of celery and a minimum of mayonnaise. By a significant margin, it was the best. However, the sandwich presentation doesn’t live up to everyone’s expectation of a classic lobster roll. If that’s the case for you, you’ll want to try Down East’s, not only for the value, but for the pure taste of the lobster salad itself.

Whichever lobster pound you choose, you’ll be thrilled that you’re now enjoying the best Maine has to offer and in less than a minute you’ll be on one of the world’s most beautiful islands. Foodies adore Mount Desert Island, with its great harborside spots for more lobster, wine and tapas bars, and comfortably refined restaurants that specialize in organic produce and other local ingredients. For more information visit OUR ACADIA … and have a great vacation!

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May 20, 2008

Where is Acadia National Park and why are you so obsessed with it?

Acadia National Park occupies about two-thirds of Mount Desert Island, which is 3-1/4 hours north of Portland, Maine.  You’ve heard of Bar Harbor, I’m sure, which is just one of the towns on the island.  Acadia is the only national park in New England and was established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, the first national park east of the Mississippi.   (You can find a lot more stats and key facts at www.ouracadia.com.)

I am passionate about it because of its incredible natural beauty.  It has the highest peak on the eastern seaboard and the only fjord in North America.  The mountains, dramatic coastline, glacial lakes, and boreal forests are breathtaking.  Most importantly, although there are over two million visitors to Acadia National Park each year, Mount Desert Island regularly ranks today as one of the most beautiful islands in the world.  It has benefited from the efforts of a long line of generous preservationists, most notably John D. Rockefeller, Jr.  Really, Acadia National Park is one of America’s best examples of effective, historic eco-tourism. 

May 18, 2008

Acadia on My Mind

It’s lonely. People are talking about Kim Kardashian, The Hills, and whether Santana is really worth what the Mets are paying. I’m thinking about the peregrines in Acadia National Park. I’ve noticed that when I’m around, people avoid any topics remotely related to New England, lobster, beautiful islands, kayaking, hiking, or biking — because the mere suggestion of any of these is enough to set me off and trap them for at least a half hour. Having my Maine Web site www.ouracadia.com isn’t enough. So, I’ve decided to do what every other obsessed American is doing. I’ll blog. And I’ll talk to myself about Maine, Mount Desert Island, and Acadia National Park.