Summer Holiday

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I was barely a teenage when I fell in love with the White Mountains. It was my first time at camp, the last summer before liking boys and caring what other people thought about me. We did a lot of hiking and the trail almost always ended with a spectacular view of those rocky peaks and the tiny towns in the valley below. My memories of this place and time are hazy, like the blue-hued ridge line in the final hours of  the day. I can’t remember the trails I took or the people I met, but I’ll always remember how at peace these mountains made me feel.

This summer, I got painfully homesick for the mountains. It had been a few years since I’d visited. After the birth of our daughter we stayed pretty close to home. Knowing my husband shares my fondness for the hills and peaks just a few hours north of us, I booked a quick Labor Day vacation for the family at the Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa. It looked beautiful on website and the reviews screamed family friendly, but because this is the White Mountains and you never know what you’re going to get up there, I worried it wouldn’t meet our expectations.

I vastly underestimated this place.

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The yellow clapboards pop from behind the trees as you round the final twist in the road to the hotel. Pulling up for check-in, a bell hop grabs your bags and helps you up the tall staircase to the Veranda. Don’t worry about them again. Staff whisks them of to your room in good time. This is old-school hotel service for a very old hotel.

The Sunday evening we arrived was rainy and miserable. The expansive porch and lobby bustled with families wrapping up their trip. We took a seat by a picture window, looking at only fog. My husband and I sipped cocktails while my daughter danced to jazz standards and Disney ballads played by an older gentleman at a baby grand piano. For a wash-out kind of night, it was pretty fantastic.

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Plenty to look at at Santas Village.

I envisioned Santa’s Village as one-part fun, one-part scary and two-parts depressing. I was happy to find it’s a clean, well-run, quirky and creative place to take young children for the day. We went on Labor Day and had plenty of elbow room; we waited in line for a ride twice. The food was surprisingly good, with plenty of kid favorites and healthy options. Admission includes the new water park, which we didn’t try but looked like a blast.

I rode the carousel with my daughter for the last ride of the day. She waved to my husband as we rode round and round, and I realized this was one of those moments parents of grown children talk about – you just never want to forget it.

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The dining options at the Mountain View are somewhat limited in the off-season, but largely good. Our first night, my daughter enjoyed chicken fingers, fruit and French fries from the free kid’s buffet. I had a seafood-stuffed baked haddock that was that good. Breakfast dishes included the regular favorites, and all that we tried was fresh and tasty. On a breakfast menu, fare like oatmeal can be tasteless afterthoughts, but my oatmeal was topped with nuts and fruit and real maple syrup. The table service overall was a little lacking, mostly just slow really, but we were on vacation. I sipped my coffee, looked out as the sun crossed over the mountains and was patient.

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Relaxing before dinner

The rooms are neat and clean, but the standard king we booked felt a little cramped. They were not designed for hanging out, but for crashing after a fun-filled day. This wasn’t really a problem for us. My daughter wanted to run around the grounds and my husband and I were drawing all we could from the last days of summer.

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The Mountain View’s onsite farm has a large barn with hens, rabbits, llamas, goats and cows. You can visit most days and the farmers welcome kids to pet animals when appropriate. My two-year-old showed no fear, walking right into the goat pen. The farmer guiding the tour said the goats must like her. They usually aren’t that nice to kids, she said.

Turning 37 isn’t one of those birthdays you’re texting friends about. It’s not a milestone. It’s just one day closer to 40. I could tell my husband wasn’t feeling the one-year-older thing, so when I saw there was an ax-throwing class the morning of his birthday, I pushed him to try it. He landed one. Not quite a bulls-eye, but close.

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Taking in the view

The Veranda is by far the Mountain View Grand’s best asset and where we spent the bulk of our time each afternoon. The long, wide porch has rocking chairs and sitting areas for taking in the expansive view of the White Mountains. In the summer, they serve drinks and small snacks on the Veranda, but in the off-season you must grab your own drinks at the tavern.

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Looking down the Veranda

When it came time to pack up the car, I took my daughter to the playground. A little exercise and distraction would help with the ride home. As I pushed her on the swing, I reminded her we would be leaving soon. “I don’t want to go,” she cried.

“I don’t want to go either,” I said.

Sunset behind the White Mountains

Sunset behind the White Mountains

 

Family Friendly Brewery

Four-beer flight at Tributary Brewing

Four-beer flight at Tributary Brewing

October in Maine is a bittersweet time of year. The sun is still warm, the trees are at their peak color, but the days are so short you feel like you’re going to cry when you think of the dark winter soon to come. I was feeling a little bittersweet on recent — and perfect — October Maine day when I visited Tributary Brewing for the first time. Sun crashed through the large storefront windows, brightening up the deep, steely blue that covered the place from floor to ceiling. People had told me the room was supposed to feel like you were underwater, but the atmosphere that Saturday was more airy than under-the-sea. It was like sitting lake side, sipping from a fresh beer, flanked by my friends on one side and my daughter on the other. The brew, the room, the band playing jazz standards were slowly curing what ailed me.

I’m not sure how it happened, but I’ve been writing a lot about beer lately. A few freelance assignments headed my way, and a few pitches about craft beer were picked up. The money was good and beer makes a good subject. I was thirsty for more assignments. I just needed to do a little research.

The problem is, visiting breweries is not an easy task for me. As the parent of a two-year-old who is also married to a craft beer lover, trips to a tap room can be tricky. Neither one of us wants to be Those Parents — pounding back pints while their toddler ruins everyone’s day drinking. I could ask my husband to stay home with our child while I sample fresh and interesting beers with friends, but that just seems mean. Instead, I scan news clips and beer blogs for  family friendly pubs where our daughter can stretch her legs without disrupting others in the brewery. Thankfully, there are more and more of those in New England these days.

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Tributary Brewing taproom bar

West Coast breweries figured out long ago that parents need a pint just as much as the childless. Even more so, on some days. Breweries in Portland, Oregon now offer kid’s menus and Hopworks Brewery even features a play area for the tots. As the number of tasting rooms has grown in the Portsmouth/Kittery area, I’ve appreciated their welcoming vibe when my daughter is in tow. Neither the bartenders nor the brewers at Earth Eagle Brewings blinked an eye when we brought our daughter in last winter to fill our growler. When Tributary Brewing opened, I heard former Portsmouth Brewery head brewer Tod Mott was doing great things with beer. I also heard that parents of well-behaved children need not fear the stink-eye from the establishment.

Plenty of room to stretch out at Tributary Brewing's picnic tables

Plenty of room to stretch out at Tributary Brewing’s picnic tables

Mott is best known in beer circles as the master behind the highly-rated stout Kate the Great. He owns and runs Tributary with his wife, Galen Mott, out of a storefront in small shopping plaza two doors down from the Kittery Post Office. Tributary Brewing is not located in the booming Foreside neighborhood, where you’ll find the beer-lover’s mecca, The Black Birch, but the little plaza is home to the summer farmers market and, for many, is on the way home from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

I ordered a four-beer flight, which included 4-ounce pours of all that Tributary had on tap that day. It started with a Pumpkin Ale, not a typical choice for launching a flight, but it’s October, so who cares right? At 5.2% ABV, this delicious ale was light on the pumpkin spice, allowing the hops to shine through. You say you’re not into the pumpkin beer thing? Well if any pumpkin ale is going to convert you, this one will.

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Next was the Oatmeal Stout, a smooth, chocolaty, far-too-drinkable beer. I tend to stay clear of stouts and porters before the snow flies, and then only in moderation, but at 6.2% ABV, I could cozy up with a few of these and a cribbage board on a Friday night and be perfectly happy. The odd-man-out in the flight was Tributary’s Bier De Garde, a bright, bubbly and tart light beer that left your mouth smacking after the first sip. Not my favorite of the bunch, it was the strongest at 6.9% ABV. Following two beers that signal the end of the year, the Bier De Garde seemed more fitting for April than October. My final sample was Tributary’s IPA. At 6.5% ABV, this beer was perfectly balanced and a little bittersweet. Overall a completely drinkable beverage for a Saturday with friends.

I was downing my last gulp of IPA around the time the jazz combo started packing up their gear. It was getting dark and my daughter had eaten all the snacks we had brought. As glasses emptied, we brainstormed about finding dinner across the Piscataqua. Tributary Brewing was an easy weekend meet-up for a group of friends both with and without kids, but now we were on to the hard part — dinner for seven in Portsmouth on a Saturday night.

Will Travel for Beer

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With the boom in small craft breweries, it seems like every small town has their own tasting room stocked with beer brewed fresh out back. State tourism boards have noticed too, and are trying to boost their appeal by promoting their locally made ales and lagers alongside other attractions, such as skiing, hiking, and even work conferences. It’s not that hard of a sell. Who wouldn’t want to throw in a craft brewery tour on their vacation? For the story, click the link below.

Will Travel for Beer,” Market Watch June 2014

About Kittery, killed it

IMG_1916 The following post was to be published elsewhere, but did not make the cut. Here’s the piece, aimed at an out-of-town audience.

Getting Out in Kittery

I had been suffering from a bad case of cabin fever, so I suggested to my husband we get a babysitter and do a date night. Not wanting to spend half the evening looking for parking in downtown Portsmouth, we took a quick drive over the Sarah Long Bridge and enjoyed an evening of beer drinking and eating delicious food in Kittery, Maine.

Up until recently, Kittery had been a sleepy town with a tiny downtown – known as the Foreside – that included few things to do at night. But in the past few years, an infusion of young entrepreneurial energy lured Kittery residents back to the Maine side of the bridge for their drinks, dining and entertainment.

Old Memorial Bridge looking from Portsmouth, NH to Kittery, Maine

Old Memorial Bridge looking from Portsmouth, NH to Kittery, Maine

My husband and I started at the Black Birch, a low-key and tiny space known for its small plates and a killer beer list. We started out with the deviled eggs, three halves each with their own twist on the summer picnic classic. The wasabi-spiced was the clear winner. For dinner, I had the duck with a sweet citrus glaze, which left me scoping the sticky yumminess up with my fork long after the duck was gone. My husband had the brick chicken – a dish that left me wondering how they could make plain-old-chicken taste so good. My husband sampled the darker beers on the list – of which there are plenty – while I started with the 2 Govt., a bourbon-based cocktail named in honor of the Black Birch’s address.

If whiskey is your thing, you’re sure to find something to make you happy here. Not only do they offer a solid selection of bourbon and rye, the Black Birch also has a constant rotation of seasonal whiskey-based cocktails on their menu that go above and beyond the seen-all-too-often twist on an Old Fashioned or Manhattan.

Next to the Black Birch is Buoy Gallery, founded by young artists looking for a space to showcase emerging art both local and from away. If the gallery looks like it’s having an opening or an event, stop in. Buoy focuses on innovative and captivating shows. If it’s not open, don’t worry. The Black Birch and Buoy are connected by a back hallway and you can usually take a peek in the gallery near the restaurant bathrooms.

Old Memorial Bridge, close forever

Old Memorial Bridge, close forever

Down the street is Anneke Jans, a fine dining restaurant with a casual yet classy bar attached to the main dining room. For nearly 10 years it’s been a trendy after work spot for Kittery’s professional class, and more recently inherited a top-notch chef to revamp the menu. If you’re going for cocktails, I suggest anything served in a martini glass. If you’re more of a wine drinker, there’s plenty to keep you happy on their list, too. Make sure to order the mussels, with bleu cheese. This once-weird combo is one of Anneke Jans’ signature dishes for its mix of briny and creamy tanginess.

The Foreside is not the only place of interest in Kittery. There are the shopping outlets on Route 1 which are easily accessible from Interstate 95. Here you’ll find Levis, Nike, Coach, and an entire building dedicated to the Gap-Banana Republic brand. There are your typical fried food restaurants along the strip, as well as the slightly upscale fish eatery, Robert’s Maine Grill, which is a must-stop for oyster lovers. For good food, good drinks and (slighty) less cost, drive north on Route 1 just past the outlets to the When Pigs Fly company store and restaurant. Here they elevate the classic pizza joint with craft beers, freshly made pizza, and oh-so-good sandwiches made on their own bread.

Lights over the Old Memorial Bridge

Lights over the Old Memorial Bridge

 

Kittery has long been the little sister to Portsmouth’s many great restaurants and was considered lacking when compared with the city’s art and music scene. But as rents climb and Portsmouth grows, young chefs, bartenders, artists and others from Seacoast New Hampshire are taking their ideas into Maine. This exodus has largely been Kittery’s gain and now those who come to visit Portsmouth have a whole new downtown to go to.

New Hampshire Fair Season, My Heaven

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Each year in March and early April, Miami-Dade hosts a fair and exhibition, one of the few times of year the weather is cool and sunny like a New England fall day. The Miami Fair is everything you would expect from such an event: food, lame shows, rides, bad art exhibitions. But of course it’s Miami, so everything is a little gaudier, a little more extreme.

When I lived in Miami in the late ’90s, there were a series of AV club-style commercials for the fair on the local television stations. Because I was always very broke and couldn’t afford cable, I was often watching some game show or syndicated sitcom on these local stations, which gave me ample exposure to the Miami Fair advertising strategy. These commercials featured flashing lights, quick shots of exciting rides and young people taking huge bites out of cotton candy and hot dogs. At the end, a chorus of cheesy singers would belt out in an ascending melody, “Be there, the fair, be THERE!”

Around the 10th time my roommate and I heard this catchy tune, it was permanently ingrained in our memories. We would sing it as often as we could comically fit it into conversation. If someone asked if we were going to a party, the response was, “I’ll BE THERE!” Or if I ran into my roommate on campus, we’d spontaneously break out our beloved fair song. I could still sing you this song today.

Now I live in New Hampshire, which is the heart of fair country. Each fall when my friends and I go over which fairs we want to attend, I annoy them to no end with this stupid song. Unfortunately, they didn’t get to hear how great it really was.

After a quick search, I found a toned-down modern version of the commercial, which doesn’t quite have the exuberant singing I remember, but it will give you an idea of what I’m talking about. I also wrote a Stay Work Play post about my secrets to successful fairing, which I sample below.

The Fair, Be There

The end of summer is such a bittersweet time of year. The hottest days are behind us, the swimming is a whole lot colder and everything seems to end earlier in the evening now that people are back in school.

But the end of summer and beginning of fall also brings us fried dough, the Tilt-A-Whirl and animal exhibitions. That’s right. I’m talking about the fair.

New Hampshire is lucky to have so many great agricultural fairs. I’ve done most of the fairs on the east side of Interstate 93 and a few in Maine and Massachusetts. For the past few years, my friends and I have invested serious time and money into studying the art of fair-going and I can confidently say we have perfected the trip to the fair. Here are my tips for maximizing your time this fair season.

1. Get full first

Many people will disagree with this, especially those who like rides. But now that we are all a little older and wiser, can’t we just admit we go to the fair for the food? Why torture yourself longer than you need to?

I usually go with a decent-sized group of people, maybe 5 or 6, all of whom I am comfortable with sharing food. This is the only way I have found you can make it through the wealth of so-bad-for-you-it’s-good cuisine each fair offers. Once you arrive, take a tally of what everyone wants to eat. Then get something right away that’s easy to share, like French fries or a bloomin’ onion. Snack on this as you stroll up and down the food aisles looking for the special fair treats you want. I get a turkey leg and give my friends take a few bites. Another friend gets deep-fried Twinkies, which everyone wants to try, and yet another friend buys a giant root beer with a keeper cup which we can sip to wash down the feast.