Taste of Tampa Bay – Gluten Free Can Be Delicious

In recent years, I have developed a sensativity to gluten. Sometimes I am able to eat an item made with wheat with little to no effect; other times there are painful consequences. I keep a mental list of what causes problems. I spend a lot of time seeking out gluten free options, especially when traveling since being sick when traveling no fun.

I was thrilled to discover a gluten free eatery close to my house called Grill Fresh. It was not lost on me that the restaurant’s initials are GF. All their ingredients and sauces are gluten free and they tout true organic healthy eating from farm to fresh. They even grow their own herbs in a garden next to the restaurant.

The place is a simple building located off US 19 North in Palm Harbor across from Sprouts Market. There is ample parkling. Enter into a spare modern sparking clean space. Consult the menu board for options based on size and number of bases, proteins and veggies. There are options for vegetarians and vegans as well as meat lovers. (My husband is a flexitarian with vegetarian leaning, so he is happy to eat here.) If you like eating healthy, this is the place for you.

Orders are made at the counter, where you can watch as they assemble your bowl. You order drinks at the register when you pay and then serve yourself at the drink bar. Seating is first come first served inside and out on the covered porch. More tables are high tops which are a problem for short people like me.

My choice is the small bowl with 2 Bases, 1 Veggie, 1 Protein – good for a smaller appetite. There are cold and warm bases to choose from. I have tried Forbidden Rice, a black rice for one of my bases. Surprised I liked it as I am not normally a fan of rice. On other trips, I have fallen in love with their Asian noodles which are crazy additive; so good that I could eat just noodles with one of their many tasty sauces and be satified. My second base is roasted sweet potatoes.

There are several proteins to choose from. Warm proteins are grilled chicken, Citrus cilantro chicken, BBQ chicken, Teriyaki chicken, grilled steak, Chia Teriyaki tofu, Vegan meatballs, Cuban Roast pork. Cold protein choices are Sesame Ahi Tuna Poke or Spicy Ahi Tuna. I have tried the grilled chicken and the Ahi Tuna poke at different times, both of which are delicious. My fav vegetable is the grilled garlic mushrooms.

The sauces are the highlight here. So nice to know they are gluten free – even the teriyaki. I have tried the Thai Peanut on grilled chicken and Creamy Ginger on the tuna poke. Both have amazing taste and compliment the ingredients of the bowls so well.

Drinks are probably the only part that are not what I would consider healthy. They have Stubborn craft sodas on tap and China Mist fresh brewed teas as well as bottled water and Kombucha. I am in love with the China Mist watermelon tea even though it is heavily sweetened. Would be nice if they would offer it unsweetened so those who prefer unsweetened to one’s own choice of sugar free sweetener like Stevia.

I love this place and will be eating here every chance I get.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Traveling in the Time of COVID – All Good Things Must Come to an End

It is always hard to leave Acadia and Mount Desert Island when our time there comes to an end. Why is it that on that last day the weather is almost always gray and rainy as if the island is crying with us at the sorrow of our departure. So it was with this trip. We are both sad to end our 5th trip that my husband who usually likes to drive the Park Loop Road before we leave nixed it this time. We packed the car, said our goodbyes to Matt & Kristi who own the Saltair Inn in Bar Harbor and drove off the island already thinking of our next trip.

We headed to the Marshall Point Lighthouse hoping the weather would clear. Sadly it did not and was actually worse than when we had stopped there earlier in our trip. Despite the drizzle, the place was also crowded. After a short debate, we decided to leave.

It was almost 2pm and we hadn’t eaten lunch yet. We spotted signs for Schoolhouse Bakery and pulled in. It always amazes me to find these small local businesses out in remote areas and how they manage to survive, most primarily because of tourism. The pandemic messed that up for so many of these businesses. This bakery however was also a favorite with the locals who know the pastries here are delicious treats. Overheard another customer saying the cream horns are the best. I met a lady in the parking lot who was there to get goodies for her husband’s birthday. She had a beautiful and rare Sable colored Husky she let me pet and love on while we waited for our sandwiches. The woman who owned the bakery seemed none too happy to wait on us as we came right before closing. I do apologize for that. Had a turkey sandwich which was just average. Next time, I’ll get the fresh baked baguette as a base for the sandwich and one or more of the desserts like the Whoopie Pies.

We arrived in Portland to stay at the Hampton Inn. I rarely encounter bad places to stay but let this be a cautionary tale of one. I usually patronize Hilton properties as I am a Hilton Honors member and their properties are clean, nicely decorated and well run. We had to surrender the rental car to packed valet parking. The lobby was crowded with other guests who were not practicing social distancing at check in. I was told no king rooms were available so had to accept a room with 2 beds as they are fully booked for the night. Odd considering less people are traveling.

We go up to the 3rd floor. There is a seal on the door which is suppose to indicate the room has been cleaned/sanitized and no one has entered since it was done. I see cleaning staff still in the hall – a result of short staffing caused by the pandemic. As a frequent traveler, I was already in the habit of performing inspection of any rooms I stayed in even before the pandemic. At first the room looks ok, but later I see the following – smudge on acrylic shower as if cleaning product had not been entirely wiped off and brown spots on both the bathroom door and on the wall under the full length mirror in the entry area. I used a disinfectant wipe to clean the door and those spots sure look like poop. Gross! A clean sticker means nothing at this hotel. It gets worse – the next morning when I go to use the hair dryer. The bag containing it has what appears to be vomit on it. How long had the bag been this way and why had housekeeping done nothing like swap out the bag. I spray the bag and dryer down with Lysol and wash my hands thoroughly. I do report all of this to the front desk when we check out where I am greeted with a meh! shrug of shoulders. I will never stay at this property again and if you value your health, you shouldn’t either. I did file a compliant with Hilton Corporate but only received a form email reply.

We had not made any dinner reservations. A walk to Eventide behind the hotel found a 5 hour wait to get a table! They had set up tables outside in tents. Calls to other restaurants also resulted in no availability. Popular DeMillo’s was not taking reservations for small parties. (?!) Portland seemed full of people, more typical of a normal Saturday night in the Old Port pre-pandemic. There were a lot of young people, some drunk and disregarding social distancing, crowded into outdoor seating outside pubs. We are able to get into the Sebago Brewing Company after a short wait. We were seated in a booth in what looked like a private dining space. My husband enjoyed 2 Frye’s IPAs, a bowl of clam chowder and a Korean Beef Bowl, while I had a Lobster Roll on lettuce instead of a roll.

We skip the greatly scaled back free breakfast offered at the hotel and head to Standard Baking Company, knowing they have awesome pastries. There is a line in the parking lot as no one is allowed in the bakery. Instead orders are taken at a table outside and then you are called when your order it ready. The line moves fast and we get an incredibly moist pumpkin scone for me and a blueberry scone for husband. We go back to the hotel and gobble down the delicious scones with coffee and Hot Chai that we also got at the bakery.

Even though we had a mid-afternoon flight, we had no need to stay at the hotel any longer. I really wanted to get a couple of donuts from Holy Donut to enjoy on the flight home. Unfortunately, their online order app was malfunctioning probably overwhelmed by the number of people wanting their Sunday morning donut. A call to the shop and assurance that they had plenty of the flavors I wanted, we head over there. There is a LONG line in the parking lot. They are only allowing 2 – 3 people in the small shop at a time. Those waiting are pleasant and we chat including giving a woman some tips on visiting Acadia as she is headed there. Are these donuts worth the almost 1 hour wait? You bet! I get one each of Dark Chocolate Sea Salt and Maple Bacon.

We head to the airport. The check-in counter is quiet. As we are walking to security my husband sees a sign that says “Boomerang – A resident of Maine who keeps returning.” Since I lived in Maine as a child, this describes me perfectly. I keep coming back. Can’t stay away from this beautiful state.

We have a long layover at BWI, so we eat a early dinner at the Silver Diner. Wonderful crab cakes. As we are leaving, a man at a table is grinning at me as if flirting. I am a bit disturbed by this as my husband is right behind me, then I realize while he is smiling – I am walking around without a mask on! I got so used to not wearing one while in Maine, I just forgot. Thank you sir, whoever you are for being so kind and not calling me out.

As we wait for our plane to arrive, there is a disturbance at the next gate. A man is refusing to wear a mask to board his flight and he is being denied boarding. He is screaming and swearing and chases the gate agent around the gate area yelling at her. Talk about feeling unsafe. The man gets more angry and I am hoping he doesn’t have some kind of a weapon that was missed at security. It takes 30 minutes and a combination of at least 6 airport security officers and sheriff’s deputies to get him to leave the area. What a scare! And that folks, is just one more thing you may encounter when traveling during the pandemic. Stay safe out there, but keep traveling.

Posted in Bakeries, Breakfast, Dining, Hotels, Maine | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Traveling in the Time of COVID – Afternoon on the Quiet Side of MDI

After visiting Little Long Pond, I doubled back to photograph two old churches in Seal Harbor – one on Dodge Point Road (which I have been told is now a private residence) and St. Jude’s Episcopal Church. St. Judes’ holds one service on Sundays during the summer season. Built in 1887–89, this shingle-style church is the least-altered surviving example of ecclesiastical architecture in Maine designed by the noted exponent of the style, William Ralph Emerson.

I find something so lovely about the old style architecture of churches. Surrounding by colorful fall foliage, they are pure magic. I imagine having a wedding in either of these old country churches would be something to remember.

We continue on driving to Somes Sound and Sargent Drive which I have heard so much about. We drive past expensive homes. One has a curved roof, making it look like a fairy cottage, Lucky folks who can afford to live or summer in view of such beauty, The road is only two lanes and since I am driving, I fail to see any decent pull offs, especially in the section that runs alongside the sound. Even on a gray day, it is break-takingly beautiful. I have since learned seeing the sound by boat is the best method so you can be sure we will do that on our next trip.

It’s close to 1pm, so we start looking for a place to eat. Abel’s Lobster Pound is already closed for the season, so add that to the list for the next trip as they serve more than just lobster and it is a prime place for watching the sunset. My husband wants to go back to Bar Harbor to eat (no sense of adventure) but I have other ideas and head to Southwest Harbor to find Sips, which has been highly recommended to me. (Thanks Janet B.!) We park on the main road, but don’t see the restaurant at first. My husband walks a short distance and sees the restaurant down a side street (Clarks Point Road).

We arrive at 1:45pm, making it in before their 2pm closing for a break before reopening for dinner around 4pm. During the break the coffee bar at the entrance serves take-out, coffee drinks and pastries. Tables had been removed to allow wide spacing for those that remain, so almost all the tables are taken. Wearing required masks, we take the last available table. Sips is an unpretentious place, but don’t let that stop you from eating here. The food is the star here. All the food is made fresh in house.

I got excited when I see White Chicken Chili on the menu. I order a cup and it is the real deal – white beans, chunks of chicken in a thick mildly spicy broth. So delicious and perfect on a cool fall day.

The menu offers a variety of dishes. Of course, there are plenty of seafood choices. My husband selects a Haddock Sandwich, which differs from Haddock you might get anywhere else in Maine as it was not breaded. Instead it was coated lightly with bread crumbs and seasoning. The crepe offerings with interesting fillings caught my attention. I love a good crepe. Several choices made me wish I could eat them all. I settled for the Greek, ordering just one and I am glad I did. It contained tender braised lamb shank meat with spinach and a feta cheese sauce. The crepe was delicate yet strong enough to hold all the ingredients stuffed inside. It was luscious perfection! For dessert, I ordered a slice of the daily cake, which was Blackberry filled to eat later. If there is a cake or dessert of the day on the menu, order it!

We head to Bass Harbor Lighthouse figuring on a gray day there wouldn’t be much of a crowd. On our way, we spot deer in yards along the side of the road. The parking lot was almost full but we got a spot. We walked down the path to the left of the parking lot. I note the stairs have been rebuilt with poly boards to replace the old wood ones. I walked very slow down the stairs. Once down, I realize two things – that it is high tide or close to it, leaving very little rock area to go out on and that I am still sore after all these days and don’t feel steady enough to walk out on the remaining rock area.

As we approach Seawall, the waves are crashing like crazy so I have to stop to capture it on film. There is a couple getting married with the crashing waves as the backdrop. Stormy times – what a metaphor for starting a marriage. I take a few photos of them as well as the waves. I chat with the couple for a minute – they are up from New Jersey. Their original wedding was cancelled due to the pandemic and they decided to come up here on the spur of the moment to come up to Acadia and get married any way. They videoed the ceremony for their family and friends.

Returning to Bar Harbor, I stop at Katahdin Photo Gallery. If you visit any of the Bar Harbor or Acadia related Facebook pages you will see his spectacular photography. Visit his website at: https://katahdinphotogallery.com/store/ Due to the pandemic (yes, that again!), small local businesses like his had really been struggling. I ordered some things online earlier in the year just in case something prevented us from making our trip. Business was finally picking up in August. His work captures the beauty of Acadia and MDI so accurately, that you will want to buy everything in sight. I purchased three more coasters made from his photographs to go with ones I already had. Check out his shop if you’re even in Bar Harbor.

Posted in Acadia National Park, Dining, Maine, Mount Desert Island, Photography, Restaurants | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Traveling in the Time of COVID – Little Long Pond

We got up so early that we were downstairs before other guests and before breakfast was ready to start. I went out on the back porch of the inn and settled in one of the rocking chairs to enjoy the coolness of the morning and the beautiful view of Frenchman’s Bay across to Bar Island.

After enjoying yummy blueberry & cream cheese stuffed French Toast, we head out to Little Long Pond in Seal Harbor. Even though I had been on Seal Harbor on previous trips, I always turned left rather than right, never knowing how close I was to this wonderful place. We parked off the road near the main gate entrance across from Bracey Cove. Even though it is a gray day, it is perfect for a cool fall walk.

We chose to go clockwise (a tip given to me by a friend) while everyone else goes counter clockwise (straight ahead as one walks through the gate). It is a wise choice, leaving us to enjoy that side of the pond alone for most of our walk.

There are other trails branching off the main gravel trail. We detour for a bit on the David & Neva Trail which runs close to the edge of the pond and find ourselves in a meadow across from the boathouse.

Returning to the carriage road trail, we see some good foliage color remains. I spot a small evergreen tree with colorful autumn leaves that had fallen from surrounding trees and got caught in its branches as if nature had chosen to decorate it as a Christmas tree.

The carriage road is level and easy to walk, taking one through a still beautiful forest which provides great shade. We reach the intersection at Post 34. From here one can continue on either to the right which goes to Cobblestone Bridge and Jordan Pond. Choose to go left and the trail takes you The Richard Trail and Harbor Brook Trail. We decided to return the way we came to walk the other side of the pond. After 41 minutes alone, we encounter our first people and a happy dog carrying a stick in his mouth walking ahead of his owner. Slightly wet and muddy, he seems to be having the time of his life.

We stop to rest on a bench at the gate entrance. I notice an overgrown garden across the path with bare apple trees and a lovely half timbered house. How lucky that person is to live so close to this beautiful place. If I lived here, I’d walk here every day.

Lots of birds are flitting in and out of the trees feeding on some kind of berries. I work a bit with my new camera (Nikon Coolpix P950) at capturing photos of them. A lady is yakking in the parking lot and it’s disturbing the birds and me.

We walk up the path to the boathouse. There are kayaks & canoes inside. Would be fun to kayak on the pond. Swimming is allowed during the summer by both humans and dogs. Dogs are allowed off leash here as long as they respond to voice commands and we meet two happy dogs running around, owners following close behind.

After photographing the boathouse and scenery in the area, I notice across the pond there is a woman who is sitting cross legged on the grass in the meadow and meditating. What a perfect place to be at peace and shut out the world.

Posted in Acadia National Park, Hiking, Maine | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Traveling in the Time of COVID – Another Great Day Exploring Acadia National Park, Part 2 – Duck Brook Bridge Carriage Road & Bubble Pond

After lunch at Jordan’s, I have to shop for a short sleeve shirt as the temperature had risen into the 60s; unusual for a late October day.

We drive to Duck Brook Bridge wanting to walk the carriage road since previously I had focused mainly on the bridge when we were here in 2018. Discovering that the latrine was closed and wrapped in plastic, a casualty if the pandemic as the park did not have enough stafft0 clean, we backtracked to Eagle Lake. When we returned, I sadly noted the brook is very low, due to a dry spring and summer. I try to photograph looking down at the brook as I had seen in other photos, only to discover I am too short to be able to aim my camera over the parapets. I am not crazy enough to climb onto the stone walls. (Note to self: Pack a folding stool for next time.)

There are still patches of bright fall color which is why I love this area and one of my favorite places to walk. The trees make for lovely shade in places and soft filtered light. It wasn’t crowded; a few folks whizzed by on bikes. I was still feeling sore from the Great Head hike so it was slow going. I had to stop and rest a couple times on Rockerfeller’s Teeth, so we only covered a little more than a mile before turning back. Two ladies felt the need to remark to me that I looked like I was in pain. I was. I am not in the best physical shape now that I am in my mid 60s, but I push on not wanting to miss the precious experience of enjoying the beauty in Acadia. I do wish people would keep their comments to themselves unless asking if I am injured and need help. Even a slightly decrypted old lady like me must have her pleasure.

We head to Bubble Pond to set up and wait for sunset and the blue hour when the whole pond will be bathed in a velvety blue. A woman who has been painting the pond kindly offers me her parking spot as there are only a few in the tiny lot. I photograph the bright orange leaves surrounding a carriage road sign and near the road.

I love this place. The reflections in the pond are amazing. I spot a canoe at the shore, a quintessentially Maine scene (see photo at top). Three fishermen return for their canoe and ask if I can take pictures of them with their cellphones of their catch of four beautiful brookies to prove to their friends back home that they caught them. They will enjoy a fine dinner tonight. The moon appears but I can’t focus on it properly. (I found out later that the new Nikon P950 I bought has a moon setting on it.)

When it seems like I might be waiting a long time for full blue hour and I hated to make my otherwise patient husband wait for dinner, we head to the car. I run into another photographer, Mike LeBlanc for the Boston area. We are kindred spirits and chat for quite a while as the light starts to dim. Mike says the blue light is best after the sun sets.

A lady with gorgeous silver hair comes by on a bike. We had seen her earlier on the Duck Brook Bridge carriage road. I marvel at her strength and shout “You’re Amazing! to which she shouts back “You’re amazing too.”

Posted in Acadia National Park, Hiking, Maine, Mount Desert Island | Tagged | Leave a comment

9/11 Memories & How That Terrible Day That Affected Travel

All of us that were alive on 9/11/2001 have memories of that day that we will never forget.

Like the day John F Kennedy was assassinated, we can recall where we were and what we were doing when we heard the terrible news. I myself was sequestered in my home office all morning working on a client’s web site – not listening to the radio or getting news feeds on my computer as I like to work with no outside distractions. It wasn’t until I took a break for lunch that I turned on the television. At first, it didn’t seem real as I watched footage of a plane crashing into one of the World Trade Center towers and no sound or voiceover. I thought it was part of the soap opera I liked to watch. When a newscaster finally spoke, I knew it was not a show. My husband worked in the old Walter Industries building near the Tampa International Airport. It was several stories tall and had a walkway at the top that connected the two towers, an inviting target for a terrorist controlled plane. I called but there was no answer. He was thankfully on his way home as they thought it best to evacuate the building.

I had a side gig picking up a young ice skater from a local high school in the afternoon to take her to the ice skating rink near my home as her Mom worked at a hospital and the girl was not old enough to drive. Her Dad worked for American Airlines. Her Mom called and said he had been on a flight from Dallas that morning and she had been unable to get ahold of him. I was not to say anything to her daughter. As is the way with teenagers, her daughter already knew by the time I picked her up. Her Dad was safely on the ground in Dallas.

Before 9/11, I had been traveling every few weekends up to Washington, DC flying into Dulles. Dulles is one of my favorite airports with its modern design. I had remarked to my husband that the security at Dulles seemed lax, too easy to get through to airsides without much checking. On 9/11, I could only wonder was this a harbinger of events to come?

I continued to fly to Washington, DC, sometimes on planes that were only a third to half full. I got used to the increased airport security and arriving at airports extra early as well as excising patience waiting in long screening lines. A couple of times I have been patted down. Once I was allowed to skip the long line and go through a shorter security checkpoint. I enjoyed having Pre-Check status.

In March 2003, I flew to Washington, DC to attend the 2003 World Figure Skating Championships as a practice ice announcer. The U.S. had just declared war in Iraq and city was on heightened alert. I was flying into Reagan National instead of Dulles. Stricter rules included no passenger being allowed to get up during the last 30 minutes of the flight (as well as 30 minutes after take-off as the plane approached DC. There were some military personnel seated in the row behind me. We chatted about recent events and why I was coming to DC. One of the guys told me he was Special Ops and if I needed a body guard while there to contact him.

Security was very high at the competition venues with ID checks, metal detectors, bag inspections, lots of security, even explosives sniffing dogs. I remember one dog kept stopping in front of one of the volunteers. Poor woman just sitting on her stool at ice side and this dog kept stopping in front of her, freaking her and us out. On another day, someone left their breakfast too close to the edge of the table we were at and one of the dogs grabbed a croissant off a plate. The handler was nonplussed about what his highly trained dog had done and said something about his grandkids feeding the dog people food.

When I was done with my duties at the championships, I went to see some of the great sights Washington has to offer. I especially love that most of the Smithsonian museums have free admission. I selected the National Museum of American History. Just like at the airport, there were line security lines and metal detectors. Once inside, I was stopped in my tracks by a most stunning sight – the huge American flag that had been draped at the Pentagon where the jet had rammed into it. You could see the soot and tattered edges of it. I continued on to see a couple of exhibits. One of the things I wanted to see was the 9/11 exhibit. The room seemed dimly light to set a somber mood. Some things that stand out to me even today – a twisted hunk of metal, a single shoe covered in soot. The thing I will never forget is the telephone. It was an old fashioned black telephone with a handset. I picked up the handset to listen. As I started to listen, a guard came in to tell us the museum would be closing in a few minutes. I don’t remember how I did this, but I made it so what I was hearing could be heard by the whole room – the recordings of people who have left voicemail messages trying to reach their loved ones. Everyone stopped where they were and grew silent as we listened. Even the guard said nothing. The anguish and desperation in those voices haunts me. A person would have to be cold hearted not to have been affected by what we heard. When the recordings ended, we all silently filed out of the room forever touched, forever changed.

Posted in Travel Commentary | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Traveling In the Time of COVID – Havana – Because Sometimes Certain Cuisines are Better in Your Home Town

In several visits, I have avoided dining at Havana in Bar Harbor. Why? We live near Tampa where we can have authentic Cuban/Latin/Spanish food anytime at numerous restaurants, so it makes me really picky about this cuisine. I finally made reservations to please my husband, who loves Paella. Reservations were a must as we traveled during COVID fall which affected staffing and state of Maine had capacity requirements reducing how many patrons could be in the restaurant at a time. Had a little wait upon arrival, but not overly long.

The small front of the restaurant is deceiving. What was once a house, dining is spread out in several rooms including a garden area and what looked to have once been a garage or workshop. We walked through several rooms to get to our table in the garage area. Despite the separate rooms and required spacing of tables, the place was packed! Our table was in front of the glassed in wine storage room, but open to the room with some plexiglass separating us from a large table to our left which was filled with boisterous young people celebrating one of their birthdays, but no separation from the table to our right, which was probably a few feet away (but certainly not the recommended 6 feet.). Be sure to take a look at the wine storage area – the sight is mind blowing. (Wished I had remembered to take a photo of it.) My wine enthusiast husband was amazed at their selections. My husband ordered a 2017 Altos Hermigos Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina, which I tasted and found to be full bodied and lush.

I love sangria and am a bit of a connoisseur, so I was hoping for some really good stuff. Believe me when I say I have had good and bad sangria. The best is made Spanish style – dry red wine, fresh cut up fruit (no fruit cocktail!), fresh squeezed fruit juice, a bit of grated cinnamon and absolutely no soda pop in it. The bonus is if it includes Spanish brandy in it. Imagine my shock to find that Havana’s sangria was non-alcoholic!!!! I opted for a traditional Cuban Mojito, another drink I am a snob about how they are made (mint properly muddled with sugar, fresh lime juice & slices, no scrimping on the rum and absolutely finish with club soda and not Sprite). It was an excellent choice, one of the best I have ever had!

Hubby’s starter was a beet and tomatillo soup followed by Paella entrée made with Maine seafood. My husband liked it but said it was more like a jambalaya.

Because I can’t eat very spicy food and I am allergic to mangoes and some other ingredients used in Latin dishes, it proved a challenge to find something on the menu. Our server was not accommodating to my dietary restrictions, wouldn’t ask if dishes could be modified and she didn’t offer any suggestions, except the Peruvian style roasted chicken without the jalapeno sauce.

I settled on a wedge salad. A tiny amount of cinnamon sprinkled on the tomatoes was a nice unexpected surprise. I let my husband eat the bread – herbed country style white & a blueberry cornbread, neither of which suggests Latin cuisine. They were served with a choice of dips, two of which were very spicy. I also ordered the Maine cheese platter – four different cheeses (2 of which were manchego and Bradbury Mountain Bleu), grapes (figs would have been more in keeping with the Latin theme), apricots and crostini. It was enough for 2 people so I could not eat it all and took some in a box.

I was not impressed by any of the desserts – No crème caramel or traditional flan on the menu that night. Husband was happy with good strong expresso.

Would I eat here again? Probably not. They do have an Argentine tapas outdoor dining area called Parrilla that is open during the warmer months so I might give that a try next time since I love tapas and grilled meats.

Posted in Bar Harbor, Dining, Fine Dining, Maine | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Traveling in the Time of COVID – Another Great Day Exploring Acadia National Park, Part 1 – Bar Island

Sunshine and a clear blue sky greet us this morning bringing the promise of perfect weather for today’s activities. We breakfast on rolled omelets – eggs whipped with heavy cream then poured into a sheet pan and baked. The eggs are then filled with shredded cheese and rolled up. Light, fluffy and delicious.

During breakfast, we meet Peter and Betty, a lovely couple who live outside Augusta and suggest walking over to Bar Island for a hike. Twice a day, the tide recedes revealing a sand bar making for easy access to the island. It is a bit surreal to walk on something that most of the time is under water. It is short but must-do hike. TIP: Remember to dress in layers. Even though the water has receded, it can be cold and windy walking across. We urge Peter and Betty to go on ahead as I am still aching from the Great Head hike which is causing me to walk slowly. I don’t want to impede their progress.

My goal on this trip is to locate the stone ruins of the foundation of an old house on the island. I remember the unmarked path (that used to be marked with a private property sign) branches off to the right of the main trail. It is a bit further up than I remember but we do figure out where to turn off. We wait until there are no others on the trail so no one notices the path or us going off so we have it all to ourselves.

We walk through a small overgrown meadow with some old apple trees. As we enter a more wooded area, we find the stone ruins. You can imagine how the house must have looked with what remains of the walls, one with a window looking through the trees and out over the water back at Bar Harbor. There is a step down leading to what might have been a patio. It is rustic with no electricity or modern amenities. What must it have been like to live here cut off from the mainland twice a day? For the answer to that, read “Finding Moosewood. Finding God” by Jack Perkins who was a great champion and voice of Acadia National Park and lived on the island for several years. His house was close to these ruins, but he had it torn down when he moved to Florida to leave no trace.

Standing there in the shade of the woods surrounded by all this beauty, I understand why Perkins and his wife lived here. There is such a sense of peace. I imagine a quiet laid back life. Maybe one day, I could live this type of life – one that brings me closer to nature allowing for seeing and appreciating the beautiful details of it and capturing it, freezing moments in time in photographs and written observation. It would certainly be good for the soul, providing joy gained from experiences. I do admit though I still desire at least the conveniences of running water, indoor plumbing and lighting. I could find the outhouse in the dark with a flashlight. I just chose not to have to.

We push further into the woods surrounded by trees robed in their gold fall finery. While the original goal was to make it to the far side of the island, our late start forces us to start our return across the bar before the tide comes in or being cut off could be a real experience. (Based on the tide times that day, the next low tide would have occurred well after dark!)

While walking back down the main trail, some guy comes by whistling very loud, ruining the mood. Idiot!

Once back to where the bar meets the island, we realize we have a bit more time so we sit on an old driftwood log to take in our beautiful surroundings. On the way back across the bar, I observe shells in the sand, a seagull resting on a seaweed covered rock that will soon be covered with the tide forcing him to find another perch or float on the incoming tide, a washed up lobster trap. As we walk on the beach at the back of the inn, I look down and see evidence of a an earlier visitor – deer tracks in the sand. It really is about the little details.

We walk up the sloping lawn and I settle in a rocking chair on the back porch overlooking the bay, taking it all in. I can’t bear to go inside yet. The breeze off the blue water is cool but caresses and comforts. I want to keep this wonderful feeling of pure bliss forever. A phrase leaps to mind to describe it – #Saltairhappy – after the inn we are staying at that affords us the view and experience. Reluctantly, I gather my camera equipment and go inside.

#Saltairhappy view

Posted in Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Hiking, Maine | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Traveling in the Tine of COVID – A Gloomy Gray Day Has Its Own Special Rewards

A lot of people freak whenever the weather isn’t perfect when they vacation in Maine and Acadia. From past experience, I know a gloomy day can have unexpected rewards for those who know how to find them. A proper attitude and raingear can make for an enjoyable day. Don’t have a plan; just let the day unfold and see where it takes you.

After a satisfyingly breakfast at the Saltair Inn of homemade waffles with cinnamon brown-sugar and fresh mixed berries (loving the sweet blackberries this year), we were off to explore.

The mist on a bog beckons me to stop and photograph. Another photographer is already working so I try to stay out of his way. (These images are as I shot them. Haven’t had a chance to work with them in Lightroom.)

Next we attempt to locate some hidden (abandoned?) trails off Schooner Head Road I stumbled across when doing research for this trip. Took a bit of searching but did find #4 on my map (hint: between High Seas and Low Seas). Most would not recognize the tiny pull off and the trail head hidden by trees. At the beginning of the trail almost buried in the fallen fall leaves are a stone foundation of a house long gone. The trail is not marked with blazes that I could see, was short and only lead deeper into the woods going towards but not terminating at the cliffs and ocean that could be glimpsed through the trees. Still it was a gift to be alone in the solitude and golden beauty of the fall foliage.

We stop at Schooner Head Overlook and walk down the trail to the rocky cliffs but don’t go far on the rocks due to the weather. Damp granite is not friendly.

Driving the Park Loop Road is always a good idea on a gloomy cloudy day. Pick your stops and be on the lookout for interesting views. I see that the wind is driving large waves at Western Point. I feel such a rush at watching and photographing hoping to catch the perfect crest. I realize I am now officially a Wave Junkie. I get such an adrenaline rush from watching crashing waves. I am even drawn to the interesting color of the water – sometimes pale green and other times gray. It begins to drizzle harder. Since I was using my recently acquired Nikon Coolpix P950 which is not weatherized, I retreat back to the car.

We return to Bar Harbor to have lunch at Blaze, arriving just as they open, so no problem finding close parking and no wait for a table. I have the wood oven roasted wings dusted with parmesan and truffle. BEST WINGS EVER!!!! This will ruin me for all other wings. Duckfat fries with aioli are the perfect side.

After lunch, we drive to Otter Point Road like we did back in 2013 when we visited during the government shutdown that closed national parks. Someone at a local hotel told us about this road. I want to see if I can get down close to Otter Cove as I saw a van there earlier in the day as well as locate a bridge I photographed with a Panasonic camera that produced disappointing photos. I fail to find the way to either, so we decide to walk on this portion of the Ocean Path. The crashing waves are putting on quite a show. We encounter very few people, but for the most part, we have stretches of the path to ourselves. In the direction we walk, there is a lot of uphill incline. The air is cool and fresh and filled with pine scent. As we walk, we realize fog is rolling in, feeling it was it wraps it’s misty tendrils around everything. We go as far as Otter Cliffs and climb up to the road to walk back to our car.

Next stop is Bubble Pond to scout it out for possible sunset or blue hour photoshoot planned for the next day. The fog has followed us, lending a shrouded mystic feel to the scene. I note that there is still a good amount of orange fall foliage in the area.

Next we do something completely wacky – drive up the road to Cadillac. The fog was now so dense that you could not see past the edge of the road. No expansive views of the harbor below. It was like the mountain was wrapped in thick cotton making one feel cut off from the rest of the world. It was eerie and a bit scary, but a unique experience at the same time. There were only a couple other cars at the top and no one at Blue Hill Overlook. Uncrowded Cadillac, who would have thought it!

I wanted to go to Sand Beach but my husband nixed the idea. I felt it was a missed opportunity as fog does interesting things to the landscape, especially near the ocean.

We went on to Thunder Hole, hoping for fog-shrouded cliffs, but it was more gray than foggy. We were also hoping for more wave action but since it was low tide, nothing was happening. (That’s what you get when you don’t check tide charts.)

A frightening thing happened while we were there. Most people are aware that people have been swept off the rocks by crashing waves. I have seen people climb to the every edge of the cliffs risking their lives to get that Instagram shot. This was a bit different but no less scary. A young couple was walking on the wet rocky cliffs with their infant daughter in a stroller. The father proceeded to take the baby out and toss her into the air several times as we all watched in horror. There were a fair amount of people who witnessed this and it like watching a car wreck, all of us were frozen, left speechless and powerless to stop this reckless act. I was thinking if he missed catching the baby this could easily have become a chapter in the next edition of the book “Death in Acadia.” The wife/mother never objected, just watched. (BTW, the baby was not laughing.) Makes you kind of wonder why people like this are allowed to pro-create. Eek!

As we climbed the stairs back to the parking lot, I got my biggest reward for the day – I saw a spider web bejeweled with raindrops. I have always wanted to photograph a dew drenched spider web’s beauty. How many people walked by it without seeing this natural treasure? A couple guys walked by asking “What is she trying to photograph?” as they didn’t see it at first. It took some analyzing to line the shot up as people were on the walk just below the web and yes, I did have to ask a couple that was staring at me and it to move out of the frame). The other problem is there was no solid color to frame behind the web to make it stand out – just asphalt path, gray sky, withering bushes and a few fall leaves. Still I captured it well enough to get a lot of good reactions from those who have seen the photos. Take a look and tell me what you think. Definitely made my day.

Posted in Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Dining, Hiking | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Traveling In the Time of COVID – Marking a Milestone Wedding Anniversary

The dining area of the Veranda Bar during the day. (There were less tables in 2020 due to the pandemic.)

We had started planning this special trip to Maine to mark our 25th Wedding Anniversary back at the end of 2019. Then the pandemic happened. One of the difficulties was selecting restaurants for special dinners to mark the occasion. Many were short staffed, operating at 50% capacity or closing early after a tough season. This was especially pronounced in heavy tourist areas such as Bar Harbor. Our first choice was CIAO, Kyle Yarborough’s new undertaking after owning Mache for many years and where we had celebrated for our anniversaries on past visits. The demands placed on the restaurant industry due to the pandemic convinced Kyle to close up for the rest of the season and take a well earned rest.

When we stayed at the Balance Rock Inn in 2018, we ate dinner at The Verandah Bar and were familiar with the quality of the food and dining experience. I love that they often have game on the menu and their creative approach produces amazing flavors. More than a bar, Verandah is a intimate dining space on what was an old porch/veranda, hence the name. Now enclosed and warmed by dark wood and low lighting, it is cozy and romantic. It is not a place for children, but a retreat for adult diners with discerning palates. (I won’t apologize if this sounds snobby. It is what it is.) It was a great choice for our special dinner. One thing we did miss on this visit, was Harry the bartender, an affable guy who is always a pleasure to chat with. He is from Jamaica so travel restrictions prevented him from coming to the U.S. to work this season.

Upon being seated at our reserved table, I noticed the lovely detail that the printed menu referred to our anniversary and we were welcomed with two glasses of Prosecco. The Amuse Bouche was a hit with this pumpkin lover – grilled pumpkin & mashed pumpkin. I had never thought to grill pumpkin, but I will certainly be trying this at home.

Amuse Bouche of Grilled Pumpkin & Mashed Pumpkin

Appetizers consisted of Reindeer Blood Sausage “Bolognese” with endive and pear selected by my husband while I enjoyed Quail Cipollini with mustard sauce. So much flavor in this tiny bird.

We selected entrees of Roast Cod with little potatoes and kale with grain mustard and leek powder and Venison Chop with polenta and a tiny roasted crab apple. The venison was tender & perfectly cooked medium-rare. The polenta however was cubes which were a little disappointing creamy style or cake style (think crunchy edges) polenta has better texture and taste. The bread was a house made Clover roll that reminded me of the ones my mother made for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. It made me think of my Mother who has passed away (not from COVID), a month before this trip. This roll went to another level with truffle dust & sea salt butter.

For dessert, I had Gingerbread with Vanilla Ice Cream made in house. I am a gingerbread fanatic but this was not as good as some I have had other restaurants – it had pears baked in it which I don’t care for & came as a slice from a loaf. The lush thick caramel sauce and creamy ice cream saved this desset. There were bits of roasted sorghum accent (like tiny pieces of popcorn) for interesting texture. Service as always was professional, yet friendly and well paced. One of our servers was from Machias where I had lived when I was growing up, so it was good to reminisce. It was a memorable meal to mark such a important occasion.

Posted in Bar Harbor, Fine Dining, Inns/B & B's, Maine | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment