Monday, February 05, 2007

The Maine attraction

After several weeks of subsisting on ramen noodles and a Dunkin' Donuts gift card from my mother-in-law, my wife finally got her first paycheck from her new job, so we thought we'd celebrate by driving up the coast to Maine for our first visit in months. It takes about forty-five minutes for us to get to Kittery from Cape Ann if we take the Interstate, but on the way up we almost always opt for the scenic route instead: Route 1A through Ipswich, Rowley, Newburyport, Salisbury Beach, then Hampton Beach, Rye, and Portsmouth in New Hampshire before crossing the Piscataqua River into Vacationland.

Although there isn't really one dull stretch on this entire drive, the most spectacular portion of the route is between Hampton Beach and Portsmouth, where you follow pretty much the entire New Hampshire coastline as it alternates between rocky headlands and sandy coves (can you believe that there were actually people out there surfing this weekend?). And Saturday was a perfect day to take in the view, even if it was a little too chilly to make our customary stop at Odiorne State Park, the site of New Hampshire's first settlement.

It's hard to go to Kittery without hitting at least one outlet store, but our favorite place to go by far is not any of the factory outlets but the Kittery Trading Post, which seems to have undergone a new renovation and expansion every time we visit! An honest-to-goodness real trading post -- yes, they still take deer hides for trade! -- the store has even branched out onto the Internet as well with a brand spanking new virtual marketplace.

Afterwards we went to Bob's Clam Hut for some fried clams and lobster stew. The former is something we always get and always enjoy, as you just can't beat Maine clams, but the latter was a new menu item that we ordered on a lark. It was delicious! The stew was really more like a chowder -- creamy, thick, and packed with fresh lobster meat. Perfect comfort food and a welcome antidote to the belatedly-arrived New England winter...

We followed this feast with yet more culinary treats. First we stopped at Yummies Candy and Nuts, which boasts a display of over 10,000 pounds of candy in its store. Yes, you heard me right: TEN THOUSAND POUNDS! And the best part of this is that Yummies specializes both in hard-to-find and nostalgia candies, from Clark's teaberry gum to those awful yet irresistable candy cigarettes. My favorites are the gummy lobsters and the dark chocolate-covered pretzels, whereas my wife is sweet for the non-pareils and my daughter won't leave unless we've bought her yet another PEZ dispenser from the wall of choices adjacent to the checkout counter (no, that wasn't shrewd marketing on their part!).

Finally, before heading back south of the border we made our required pilgrimage to Food Mecca, aka the Stonewall Kitchen Company Store in York, where you can sample practically everything they sell in a jar and then some. While we never leave the place without another jar of Wild Maine Blueberry Jam, this time around we picked up some Apricot Ginger Jam as well, along with some Maple Chipotle Mustard and a jar of Mango Chutney which didn't survive the weekend.

All in all, a well-deserved albeit all too brief visit to my favorite State in the Union. I'm pushing for an overnight trip up to the Camden Hills in the Spring, but the real goal would be to spend an entire week Downeast this summer -- something we used to do every year until recently. Well, here's to hoping!

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