When I describe my Uncle Bob and Aunt Arleen to my friends I talk about the unbelievable adventures these two have been on first and foremost. They just do cool things, like taking a bus down to Georgia and walking home on the Appalachian Trail, or working as caterers for exclusive parties on Hawaii and hanging out on the beach for a winter, or even hitchhiking to Alaska and working in a fish cannery for a few months. Every time I hear a story about the two of them traveling it turns me green with envy and my travel feet get tapping below me. The last time Joey and I went on a road trip I called Uncle Bob just to tell him what I was up to, in sort of an attempt to impress him I guess, but he ended up telling me a story about when he and his buddies jumped in the car and drove across the country themselves. There’s no topping these two when it comes to journeying around and seeing all the coolest things there are to see. It’s a great standard to try to live up to.
The second thing I tell my friends about my uncle and aunt is about their farm. It has recently been named Brighton Farm (as opposed to Uncle Bob and Aunt Arleen’s house) and they are now a proud part of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
(MOFGA) which pairs farm interns with farms depending on their level of production and interest in self-sustaining farming or industrialized farming for a living.
As a kid I went up to Athens, Maine, where Uncle Bob and Aunt Arleen live, almost every summer for a long stretch. I would go up and meet up with my cousins Leslie and Ellen and sometimes even Roxanne. We would run around the vast backyard and I would avoid the responsibility of getting the eggs from the chickens because their beaks terrified me. We would pick blackberries from the patch all the way in the back of one field and when we brought a full bowl back to the house Bob and Arleen would make us organic pancakes with hot maple syrup infused with butter and with each mouthful you thought you would never taste anything better. At night we would go outside and dance around while my uncle and his band played or lay in the bed of his pickup truck at the drive-in movies.
Uncle Bob’s farm is so huge he can eat breakfast out of a field in the back of his house, eat dinner from a field a step over from the last and still head to the farmer’s market on the weekends to sell his tender greens and homemade granola. Watermelon and strawberries grow in his fields, along with lettuce, carrots, peas and beans. Beets, beat greens, rhubarb, even pumpkins I think. Anyway it’s incredible. And aside from the veggies they’ve always had chickens. Once they had a goose who was very mean but delicious, and recently have begun beekeeping for the honey. While we were there I found out they just started raising sheep too! How cool is that?!?!
When we drove up the final hill on the long stretch of single lane asphalt road and started down the curved gravel driveway both boys said, “Oh, wow,” at almost the same time. At first when you drive in you see a small one room cabin by the road and a brightly painted yellow and purple produce stand which reads Brighton Farm. Then you keep going down the gravel path and you find yourself in between a sparsely populated row of crab apple trees, and you can see beautiful green grass fields behind the trees. Then you pull up to the house. The hand made wood and stone home which has slowly been added on to as long as my uncle and aunt have lived there, evolving from one room to two stories and from outhouses to indoor plumbing and internet. This wood and stone house is next to the chicken coop on one side and the sheep pasture/field/backyard on the other side.
As soon as we got there my uncle had me squeezed into a hug followed quickly by my aunt and immediately after that they were back to work planting and feeding the chickens so Joey, Tom and I kept on their heels and asked them all kinds of questions about living on a farm.
Joey asked what happens when a chicken runs away, but Uncle Bob said they don’t because why would they? They get fed everyday and besides, once a chicken finds a place to roost they go there every night, so it’s not a problem the way an outdoor cat or dog would be. We asked about bee keeping and Uncle Bob showed us the working hive he has now and an old one which he pulled apart to show us the inside of. We asked if he ever gets overwhelmed or bored working on a farm and were all struck dumb with smiles when he said that everything was just about right and that’s how he kept it. What a life.
The boys and I headed down around the pasture and off along a path into the woods. I was barefoot so we didn’t make it that far down the path, but when we returned Jason and Lindsey were hanging clothes on the line. Jason and Lindsey hold the special titles of farm interns for this particular summer. When I called my uncle’s house to remind him we were on the way I got Jason on the phone and had a pleasant chat with him about our trip. When we met, I found out he’s from Sharron, MA which is an hour or so away from my hometown and which is where a good friend of mine moved for a while. Lindsey is from Hershey, PA which is right near where we all went to college, so right off the bat we knew we liked these guys.
They walked with us further into the woods down the same path we had been on earlier and we found a beaver dam and a cool brook into the woods. We hurried back for dinner which was almost entirely made up of farm foods (we had chicken, field greens and rice, the rice being the only outsider to this home grown meal) and then we sunk back into lazy wooden chairs around a fire and chatted until the stars stole our attention, everyone else went to bed and the three of us breathed easy, reflecting on how amazing the country side is.
Jason passed on an interesting tidbit as well. You know how when you go to the country you feel like the air is cleaner and fresher? It is! There are little hairs on the leaves of trees which trap dust and in the city, where there is no green life, there are no little hairs to catch the dust and dirt. Fresh clean air, beautiful blue sky tie-dyed with white clouds, great food, great people, peaceful noise and the most amazing grouping of stars you have ever seen, my uncle’s house has been the best stop on this amazing trek so far.
The next day before we headed toward Burlington, Vermont we headed out to the Farmers Market where Uncle Bob was playing guitar and singing- he sang us a traveling song which Joey had recorded and put up on YouTube and we bought a bunch of organic food for the most amazing campfire feast you can imagine and which I’m sure you’ll hear all about later. We got buffalo meat, homemade Italian herb bread, herbed organic goat cheese, organic chocolate milk and a whole bunch of fresh greens and granola from my uncle’s farm.
Thanks, Brighton Farmers, for a breath of fresh air and a much needed escape from the cities that beat down our resolve at the beginning of our trip. We had an amazing time and were all blown away by the beauty and serenity that surrounded us, if only for a little while.
There are two things that you should know before I describe our excellent experience with Stevie in Maine. First, the main street in any other state is called, appropriately “Main Street.” Guess what it’s called in Maine. Maine Street. Depending on my mood I either think this is quaint or absolutely in-fur-i-ating. However after visiting Maine and seeing how fun, easygoing, and sincere everyone is, I have to err on the side of quaint.
Photo by Megan Yuppa
The second thing is about one particular Maine resident and mutual friend to the three of us. Kimmy. I don’t know about you, but nowadays, when I read that name out loud I do it in a deep, angry voice, almost a growl, and when I am done reading I make a hissing noise. Read it with me. GrrKimmyissss.I’m getting ahead of myself. Kimmy called us a few days before we hit Maine and informed us that she would be in Tennessee. We let her know we were coming months in advance. She had us go to her place of work where she had left us some money to buy lunch and local beers to try to buy us off. The Sea Dog Blueberry Wheat was particularly good, and I don’t normally go for fruit beers. Ok. I’m not really that mad and it did work out, but Kimmy, consider this blog post a warning. You won’t get another.
Thankfully Stevie (and his family) swooped to the rescue, providing not only lodging in a beautiful home with beautiful surroundings, but four Maine lobsters for his and our dining enjoyment, and even gave us a step by step course for Tom and Sarah’s first full lobster experience.
It was a well needed refresher course for me; I hadn’t had a full lobster in years. The lobster was delicious. It was so fresh (live before we cooked it, which ended up being hilarious) and succulent that I could hardly stand it when it was finished.
What, you ask, made the live lobster so hilarious? Well I’ll tell you. The lobsters have two claws, one for pinching and one larger, blunter claw for crushing. They come from the supermarket with rubber bands on their claws. Real lobster enthusiasts, Stevie included, remove the rubber bands so that the lobster meat doesn’t have a rubbery taste when it is done being boiled.
Well you wouldn’t believe it (but its true) but Stevie was de-banding the claws of the very last lobster when it took its crushing claw and crushed right on to his thumb. At least the pincher didn’t get anything, right? Wrong! While Stevie was worrying about his thumb the Lobster took his pincher and gave Steve the worst purple nurple that I have ever seen. This, folks, is the stuff of nightmares.
I rushed to Stevie’s aid, concentrating on freeing his thumb from the crusher claw. Sarah, hilariously, cowered in the corner. Tom, more hilariously got out his camera and snapped a photo (shown here). Stevie freed his hand and, shortly after, nipple and slam dunked the lobster into the boiling death sentence that awaited it, getting the last laugh. By the time it was all over, there was a hole in Stevie’s shirt.
Thanks Stevie and family, for the excellent hospitality and comedy show.
Waking up after a Red Sox game is not easy, as I discovered on Thursday morning. Like slugs we slid out from beneath our blankets and lurched into the car for a short drive to our first attraction of the day – probably the best place we could think of to go and hide from the sunlight.
Ahh, the hair of the dog. We made the short drive over to Boston’s fabled Samuel Adams Brewing Company, which has garnered a sterling reputation for terrific craft beer in its 25 or so years of existence. And since last year’s sale of Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis, Sam Adams is currently the largest American-owned brewery, just ahead of ol’ Yuengling in Pottsville, Pa.
I brought the Hemchers
along, even though Chuckie (second from left) gave up the bottle years ago. I figured he wouldn't mind coming along to learn a little something about brewing.
Our first brew tour of the trip was a phenomenal one, well attended, well guided and terrifically informative. Our guide walked us into the factory and gave us all a rundown of the brewing process, though we were forced to keep sequestered to one section of the brewery while training sessions were being conducted in other areas that would otherwise have been part of the tour.
Our consolation prize, however, was a glimpse of the company celebrities who were on site that day – Jim Koch, the company’s founder (shown here, slightly blurred), and the brewmaster from the commercials with the giant beard. Celebrity sightings #1 and 2.
We were able to sample three different types of Sam Adams from the tap, beginning with their signature Boston Lager, which we were told accounts for more than half their production and sales. Before we could put any beer into our glasses, however, a guy at the table next to us lifted his pitcher to fill his glass, and instead proceeded to spill all 64 ounces of delicious beer onto his table and the poor young lady sitting across from him, who didn’t budge as the waterfall of amber goodness left her lap thoroughly saturated. Everyone in the room groaned and diverted their eyes, as the tour guide remarked that in her six or seven years on the job, “That has never, ever happened before.” I regret not taking his picture to further drive home that point that spilling beer is not okay.
This minor (or major, depending on your passion for beer) glitch only stood between us and our own table’s pitcher for so long, before we indulged in a glass of the Boston Lager, followed by Summer Ale and a specialty brew, Boston Brick Red, which is only available in Boston. All in all it was a spectacular visit, just what I'd hoped - and our only admission fee consisted of a donation that would go to local charities. By the end I felt privileged, relaxed, and had to go to the bathroom.
Satisfied with our time in Boston, we piled in and drove on, traveling about two hours before arriving in the next city, Portland, Maine – the namesake, of course, of our final destination in Portland, Ore. Keeping in stride, we drove directly to one of Portland's impressive assortment of microbreweries, at Allagash Brewing Company. This is a company with considerably less name recognition as Sam Adams, but quality and fame are two completely different things altogether.
This was the first time I'd been to a brewery quite this micro, and was pleased with the environment. This was a facility outside of downtown Portland, which from the inside reminded me almost of a winery before a brewery. The receptionist doubled up as our tour guide, greeting our group of seven interested visitors with samples of beer right off the bat, before we dove into the brewing and production process. This was reverse order from the Sam Adams tour, where we got the tour and then the beer. Three cheers to Allagash for thinking like us.
I've been around beer for a long time, dating back to my long term of employment at the late John Harvard's Brew House in Wayne, Pa., which began when I was just 18. This restaurant, which only served beer brewed on the premises, instilled in me an appreciation for good beer, beer brewed in little, lovable batches with plenty of heart and soul.
This carried over into my days as a drinker of legal age, of course. And Allagash's white beer has crossed my palate more than once in the past - but certainly never this close to the source.
As a general rule, most things are better closer to their origin. As another, most things are made better in smaller quantities, with love and pride instead of ruthless efficiency. These ideas brought us to Allagash, where their unique Belgian flair gives their beers a flavor we'd be hard pressed to find elsewhere.
After our samples, we got the factory tour, a walk-through of the company's only brewing facility. While we'd heard a lot of it earlier in the day, this place gave us a sense of a small, hard-working company that just wants to fill their customers with an amazing beverage. God bless 'em.
Without hesitation, we leapt into super tourist mode with a quick drive to nearby Yarmouth to visit "Eartha
" here - the world's largest globe. I felt genuinely bad for the people working inside this building, which seemed to operate as something more than just a building with a giant, spinning model of the planet and a gift shop. They weren't visibly bitter or anything but they definitely didn't make eye contact with us, as we were probably about the hundredth, 101st and 102nd irritating trespassers for the day.
Sarah snapped this photo of me, neglecting to notify me that the Hemchers were upside down. Sorry, boys.
A quick drive slightly northward brought us to Freeport, a nice area shopping hub with some good, cheap outlet stores. I, on the other hand, am not interested in such qualities - only in awesome things like the giant boot outside L.L. Bean
, the company's flagship store, which is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We took this picture and went in, despite having no necessity whatsoever to purchase more than a postcard for the Lovelaces. This, however, being of paramount importance, we stopped in, Sarah made her purchase and we moved on.
...But not before sampling the local dessert fare. This wouldn't be our last encounter with Ben & Jerry's
ice cream, so I won't let my jaw flap too much for now. Let me just say that I'll be writing their names in, come election season 2016.
Departing, we aimed for our good friend Stevie's, where an abnormal amount of hilarity would ensue. More on that from Joey, very soon.
Tuesday night after our Cape Cod adventures we rolled in just in time for dinner with Regina, my closest friend from home. She was starved and as soon as we arrived she walked us to her favorite pub, Atwood’s Tavern, in Cambridge, MA. Regina is the smartest person I know, and always in a great mood so a dinner out with her is a smiley happy time not to be passed up for anything. The three of us crashed in her living room, bogarted her shower (three separate times, mind you) and laughed into the night (hopefully not bothering her two roommates Andrew and Joe). Thanks for putting us up Regina – we had a great time! Good luck in Seattle! Can’t wait to see you out there in September!
After the night at Regina’s we had plans to meet up with our college friend, Marion. Right off the bat Marion engineered a rescue plan for Joey’s laptop. She dropped us at Quincy Market after the great laptop caper and pointed us in the right direction for the attractions we wanted to see. Later that night we were going to the Red Sox game with her and her boyfriend Scott and we were all super excited! Marion scored us the tickets, led us around the park and was a great guide to Fenway! We had an amazing time at the game which included a photo op with the Sox World Series trophies and a 6-5 win! I guess she’s good luck! Thanks Marion for letting us crash on your air mattress and couches and eat your tortillas.
Ladies, without you Boston wouldn’t have been nearly as fun – thanks again!
After polishing off Marion’s last three or four beers and getting ready, it was off to Fenway for what might be called the “quintessential American sport experience.” (I called it that in the office before leaving Merrill Lynch and got laughed at for a good couple of hours. Can you tell I’m not a sports guy?) Sox vs. Yankees at Fenway Park: the classic American game being played by biggest rivalry in the City with the most loyal, committed fans (even in the face of repeated, gut wrenching last minute losses over the course of eighty seven years; see also, Curse of the Bambino).
We quickly got through security and started “tailgating” Boston style, without tailgates or any other part of the car; I understand there is really no parking to speak of around Fenway. We had a couple beers each from the vendors. The local TV station was filming fans cheering and a couple of us ran up and helped fill out their shot, led by Tom and his Phillies hat. He thought it was hilarious and got great satisfaction from getting his hat on TV. I guess it was a little funny.
We watched the game, which turned out to be excellent. We didn’t eat any peanuts or crackerjacks, but we did have some sausages and burgers. During the fifth inning, we decided to get up and have a walk around. At some time between getting food and drinks and using the bathroom we ended up wondering past this room with the two Red Sox World series trophies on display. A man in a black suit asked us if we wanted a picture and we readily agreed: they took a picture and even printed it out for us, free of charge. We’ll share a copy with you the next time we’re near a scanner.
In the ninth Sarah got a little nervous that the Yankees were going to score and come back for the win, assuring me that upsets were the norm. I pointed out that the score didn’t change at all after the sixth inning and that the developing trend suggested that no one would score. She “politely” informed me that this wasn’t how it worked with the Sox.
I caught the crowd reaction of the last out and it (along with a wave that went around four times and some other random bits that I found amusing) is included it in the video below:
Provincetown was supposed to be our first day on the beach, but some gray and drizzly conditions made us change our collective mind. Before it got too late on Tuesday, we saddled up and moseyed into Boston, settling in neighboring Cambridge to stay with Sarah’s very good friend Regina. She took us to nearby Atwood's Tavern for some good local brews on tap, gave us couches to sleep on and fresh towels for the next morning. What a standup gal, that Regina. Cheers to her.
Photo © Yoshiki Hase
On Wednesday morning, we packed up and drove into Boston proper for a visit to the Boston Museum of Science. This museum is a local mainstay, with roots dating back to as early as 1830. We were struck by the sheer volume of visitors on the day we happened by, many of whom were giggling schoolchildren, trailed closely by their respective chaperones through a vast expanse of rooms and exhibits.
Photo © Museum of Science, Boston
These kids were having a great time. I felt terrible for the grownups responsible for them, because they were all over the place. And why wouldn’t they be? This place had a ludicrous amount of colorful, interactive gadgets to keep the kids entertained. Furthermore, every last item in this museum had some measure of intellectual value that the kids would understand, whether they knew they were learning or not. Whether learning about paleontology, optical illusions or (gasp!) the birds and the bees, this place was surprisingly accessible and lofty at the same time. And thanks to its sheer size, a handful of rooms were comfortably less populated than others – usually those which involved looking rather than touching.
As we climbed back into the car to drive to our friend Marion’s, I was sitting in the backseat with the door open, as Joey approached with two arms full of stuff to shove into the back of the car. He placed his laptop gently on the roof of the car, and said to me, “Don’t let me forget about this.” I nodded, immediately forgetting the instructions I had just received. Of all the people he could have told (me and Sarah), I was clearly the wrong one.
The moment we arrived at Marion’s house on Marlborough Street, Joey got a phone call from his friend and fraternity brother, Ryan Hubschmidt. Joey was shocked and elated to be fielding what he believed to be a random call from Hubby. Here’s my general understanding of how this conversation went:
Joey: Hey Hubschimidt, what the hell? How’s it going?
Hubschmidt: Yo man, did you lose your computer?
J: Uhh, I don’t think so…
H: Well dude, some guy just IM’d me from your screen name…
J: (face contorting in shock and amazement) …Oh man. I must have left it on top of my car before we started driving.
H: This guy said he saw a green Jeep do a U-turn on a bridge, and saw something go flying out of it, and when he picked it up it was a laptop, so he IM’d a bunch of people in your buddy list to see whose it was. I gave him your number so he can call you.
J: Oh man.
Sure enough, right then, Joey’s phone rang on the other line, and an unfamiliar voice came in on the other end, essentially describing what had just happened and where we could meet him. So we immediately piled into Marion’s car and booked it back to the scene of the incident.
We got out of the car and met Bo and Daphne. Bo had been riding his bike across the bridge when I yanked the car into a three-point U-turn (making it not actually a U, but some other shape altogether) and sent the laptop flying off the roof of the car. He picked it up and dusted it off – damage was aesthetic only and no passwords were enabled, so he had no trouble finding its owner. We gave him twenty dollars for his trouble and kindness, and handed him a business card to boot with our email addresses listed therein.Later, we got an email from Bo telling us that he was grateful for paying him, but that it wasn’t necessary whatsoever, and that he had donated our $20 to Relay For Life. Ridiculous! If more people were like Bo here, the world would be a much better place. If you see this guy around, buy him a beer. Marion and her boyfriend Scott waited patiently for us to complete this exchange, and then drove us into town to Quincy Market. We got to look around at the amply sized shopping area, and even caught a few moments of a street performance before we got a bite to eat. We jumped into gastro mode, which for us requires that we each go to a different vendor and purchase a different morsel of food. Sarah had eaten here before and highly recommended the pizza from Regina Pizzeria. There was no arm twisting involved in that decision.
Sarah got a bread bowl, chock full of more delicious clam chowder. Joey’s dish was the one that made me pause – raw clams on the half shell. This was something I’d never done before. I’d seen it done, most recently on Man v. Food when the host had to eat some fifteen dozen of the things.
Ever intent on expanding my boundaries, I dressed one with cocktail sauce and let it slide down my throat, and I found it to be far more unpleasant than not. I think I need more time and practice before I can come to terms with literally drinking a whole solid animal. This first time was just too weird for me.
Next, we took a stroll through Boston Common, spotting a swath of historical landmarks and bronze statues along the way. We had our GPS at hand for directions, and felt the better experience in Boston would come from walking around, rather than taking cabs or the subway. So we walked a mile or so to one particularly visible monument, the Bunker Hill Monument, which bears a striking resemblance to the Washington Monument in D.C.
Joey has the great idea to “just run to the top.” He’s usually not into that kind of thing – you know, physical activity. But he led the way, and so we all three made the trip up to the top. I came in first, Sarah second and Joey a sweat-dripping third. It took a few moments of deep breathing before we could move on from the top of that building, where, if they were smart, they’d have a full bar.
Though there was no bar, there were some fantastic views, as you can see here.
After our long descent, we found our way back to Marion’s to get prepared for our big night in Boston, which was so incredible that it requires its own entry. More on that from Joey very soon.
Let’s be honest here. The world doesn’t work like the U.S. Senate, where every state gets two senators for a total of 100. If the world was actually like the U.S. Senate, our planning for this trip would have been much less complicated – just spend two days in every state.
That would be a pretty terrible idea, however, for the fact that California, New York, Texas and other large states would be underrepresented. We’d be forced to miss out on a majority of what those states had to offer, in lieu of an equal two days in boring, unnecessary places with arbitrary names and borders surrounding them.
In fact, I think it would be fair to say that our trip more closely reflects the nature of the U.S. House of Representatives, where states are allocated a certain number of elected officials based upon the population of the state from which they hail. We can consider this system in comparison to our process of planning, during which we planned for the most time to be spent in the places with the coolest stuff to see and do. Granted, those aren’t exactly the most scientific of terms, but it’s worth looking at.
Here is a graph about the ten most populated states in the country. The first bar reflects their share of representation in the House, and the second reflects the amount of time we’re spending there.
And the bottom ten:
Though some instances see a bit of incongruity (thanks in most part to Yellowstone Park in Wyoming and Badlands Park in S.D.), and while we’ve underrepresented some states (sorry, Hawaii and Alaska), it had to happen somewhere. And I take these graphs to be a testament to our planning abilities. If it’s worked for America for the last 220 years, it can work for us for a summer.
In the meanwhile, I got a comment the other day from a reader telling us how he was excited to see our Rhode Island pictures, as he had grown up there. Sorry to disappoint, but…
Here is our picture (singular, picture) from Rhode Island. As you can see on the GPS, the dotted line is the state border, and this was us crossing it. We’d left South Hadley in a hurry to get to Provincetown, and in order to keep to our promise to our readers that we’ll be visiting all 48 contiguous states in some capacity, we drove about 45 minutes out of the way, as we left the Cape for Boston, in order to nip the corner of Rhode Island for just a few moments – about five, to be exact.
But we made it, and now it’s on to Boston.
I spent a lot of my time as a child driving my family to the brink of insanity with my terribly picky eating. I’ll never forget a day at my grandparents in New Hope when my grandmother, Oma, made the terrible mistake of cooking us turkey burgers. I would have eaten turkey off the breast without batting an eye, but for some reason, I just wouldn’t budge when it came in patty form. Oma was so sweet that she probably relented by the end of the night and fed me something else, but I know for a fact that I didn’t touch that turkey burger. Little jerk I was.
But nowadays, I’m a philosopher at heart – not that I have any published material out there. But I believe in a community of voices. It’s in our best interest to open our ears and our minds to any and all who wish to make their voice heard, regardless of any preconditions; if we do otherwise, we’re depriving ourselves of a perspective other than ours, which is inherently valuable in and of itself. If I choose to dismiss an idea before hearing it out fully, I’m either missing out on understanding some degree of merit that it might bear, or losing a chance to logically reaffirm my own contrasting views as the better perspective between the two. In both cases, an opportunity is lost. And believe you me, there’s nothing I hate more than a missed opportunity.
With that in mind, the last few years have seen me slowly emerge from my happy little shell of cheeseburgers and fries, and start eating foods that I would never have entertained in the past. And our trip is a golden opportunity to embrace exactly that philosophy, by eating whatever passes over my plate and deciding if it’s something I could allow as a part of my diet. Thanks to a comfortably speedy metabolism, I don’t give much thought to any long-term consequences of what I’m eating – which I’ll certainly regret in about 20 years. But for now, if it tastes good, it’s in. And already I’ve used this trip as a means for some spectacular culinary adventures, like indulging in a half-smoke in D.C., a crabcake in Maryland and New York pizza in Brooklyn.
Introduction aside, the next chapter in my palate development program lay right here in Provincetown, Mass. At the very tip of Cape Cod, where the roads are minimal and the accents are thick, lies this beach community with a colonial history dating back to even before Plymouth Rock. When the day’s activities had sapped us of our energy, we needed to replenish ourselves at a local seafood spot. At the advice of our friend Rob at Art’s, we walked about three blocks away to the cozy Mayflower Café.
New England, and especially the Cape, are renowned for their sensationally fresh seafood. It’s a necessary part of the menu at even McDonald’s around this neck of the woods. So as soon as we opened the menu, I was looking for seafood in any one of its many derivations. The atmosphere in the restaurant was very comfortable, not too busy, with numerous groups of satisfied patrons occupying the booths around us.
Between the three of us, we’ve gotten very good at picking out a handful of desirable items in these situations, to be shared somewhat evenly. Today, we went for a bowl of New England Clam Chowder to start, and believe it or not, this was the first time I’d ever allowed any concoction bearing that name to cross my lips. My god, I don’t know what I was waiting for. The soup was thick, hearty and piping hot, with large chunks of clam hidden beneath the surface. I swooned with every spoonful.
We followed with a fish burger, which wasn’t too unique – more of a fried fish sandwich than a burger – but certainly tasty in its own right. Along with this, we ordered a lobster roll; and until this day, I’d expected a lobster roll to look something like a pepperoni roll, which is just a ball of dough with cheese and pepperoni riddled throughout.
Dead wrong. It was a roll similar to a hot dog bun but with white sides, golden-browned on the outside and folded in half to accommodate a heavenly concoction of lobster meat and mayonnaise. It seemed small at first, but after a bite I realized that this was not the kind of food you shovel into your mouth simply to beat down an appetite. I chewed that bite until there was nothing left of it, savoring every fleeting tingle across my taste buds. By the end we were all full, and the sweat on my cheeks was the proof – this was one phenomenal lunch.
As we strolled through the streets of P-town, I snapped photos and reflected upon these new experiences, knowing full well that every clam chowder and lobster roll I eat in the future will be measured in the shadows of today’s trip to the Mayflower. And I let my mind wander ahead of us, to what might await my ever-growing appetite in the weeks and months to come. I’m sure it won’t be long before my next lesson in Culinary Curiosity 101.
P.S. Thanks to Dr. Coleen Zoller for the title of this post.
The rain didn’t stop us from enjoying a low-key tour of the sand dunes in Provincetown. I say low-key because it was not the adrenaline-fueled, four wheeling ride I had feared for (a la Jackass). It was rather modeled after a safari of sorts, easing over the dunes and learning about the history, with a few short accelerated dune climbs for effect.
The company who offers the tours, Art’s Dune Tours, is a Provincetown staple, enjoying their 63rd year in operation. A family-owned business, Art’s is run today by Rob Costa, who inherited the gig from his late father. This is the only company around that has driving access to the dunes, which are sequestered off for conservation. Here’s the short version of our experience:
The dunes started out as a forest, before being clear cut for their wood, which was shipped back to England to build pubs and false teeth (just kidding… or am I?). With the trees gone, the topsoil blew away, the sand was exposed, and the wind created the flowing dunes. Then a bunch of artists built shacks on the sand and people drove and rode on the dunes until they were decimated. JFK declared it a national park and the shacks were torn down, but a few owners held out. They got the shacks listed as national historic landmarks and are allowed to pass them down, but only to family. Most are still privately held but some are held in a trust to invite other artists out to practice their craft.
When there are no artists for a week, trust contributors get a chance to stay there through a lottery selection process. In the 70’s, the fashionable thing to do was plant grass on the dunes. It is everywhere, but the 90 year old thinks all the plant matter is “junk.” She is trying to give her shack to the trust because no one in her family wants it, so it doesn’t revert to government ownership. After several hundred years, the grass should provide enough topsoil to allow a forest to grow again – as long as nobody stands in the way.
I guess the part of the story that struck me the most is the fact that deforestation caused such a dramatic change in the ecosystem. The trees didn’t just grow back like I would expect.
Art’s Dune Tours also offers something else that sounded pretty cool. Aside from the drive we enjoyed, they have all of the permits necessary to transport a party of people over the dunes and to the beach, and host evening BYOB campfires and clam bakes. This sounds like a heck of a cookout. It is definitely going on my list of things to do.
Everyone quickly walked to the port side of the boat. We were on board the Portugese Princess, a handsome vessel operated by the Dolphin Fleet of Provincetown. A small Asian woman weaved her way in front of me, her arms and camera already up. I tried to squeeze myself over to the white metal railing near the bow but there was a solid wall of eager onlookers. I zoomed the lens in past their shoulders focusing on the dark blue water in front of us and held Joey’s camera firmly in my right hand even though the strap was tight around my wrist.
Everyone swayed gently with the boat, but otherwise did not move, each eagerly frozen with cameras at the ready. Suddenly, emerging from the depths of the watery blackness surfaced a large lumpy blue and white head with tiny eyes, which then turned, and as silently as it had come it was gone.
Earlier, at the beginning of our voyage, a giant whale a short distance from where we stood on the lower deck of the Portuguese Princess dove beneath the dark surface. It flipped its great white speckled tailfin up in the air, almost as if to say keep watching right here, then moments later it came hurling from beneath revealing its massive deep blue back and stark white underbelly. The waves violently erupted beneath the whale’s immense weight as it hit the water and exaggerated ripples slapped against the side of the boat begging for an encore.
There were five whales off the port side as the boat raced along after them who teased us by blowing great bursts of air and a spray of seawater up into the sky. It had begun to rain and everyone stood cloaked in plastic rain gear, holding their hoods in one hand and cameras in the other praying the shot would be steady but not tearing their eyes from the place the whales had just been.
The whale watch in Provincetown was a great way to kick off the second Tuesday in a long line of spectacular Tuesdays to come. Stay tuned America.