I’m passing the remaining waning days of summer in Maine, a state where I attended college, but have never had the chance to enjoy a proper summer in. July and August were often spent interning in Vietnam, Canada or New York, so this is the first time in my life that I’ve felt the idyllic August days of Maine. We’re on a lake, in between Ellsworth and Bar Harbor, and the weather here is so reasonably temperate. There’s enough sun to jump in headfirst into the freshwater current, but just enough of an optimal drift of wind causing the canopies of the trees to sway ever so slightly. In the mornings, I brush my teeth out on to the balcony, which overlooks the breathtaking “stairway to heaven” that is our lifeline to the lakefront.
While 2020 has been a year of incessant changes and uncertainty, I don’t recall the last time that I’ve spent a prolonged amount of time looking at so much green: green leaves of every shade and texture, wild blueberry bushes, bucolic rolling pastures. I love driving by roads of evergreens lined with yellow mustard flowers and fuchsia wildflowers. There’s something about this landscape that is so nostalgic for city dwellers. To be anonymous amongst the trees and waves is very different than being anonymous amongst a sea of faces and concrete. As a young girl in Canada, my family would often go camping in the summers by the Okanagan or Shuswap Lakes. In my teenage years, we’d often hike in the shade of Grouse Mountain or Lynn Cannon. Time and daylight stretch when you spend time outdoors – I didn’t even pack my watch for this trip!
We arrived on the tail end of the wild blueberry season this year. Wild blueberries grow on lowbushes and they’re tinier than a child’s pinkie nail, but outrageously sweet. Most people pick them by raking the bush since it’s so terrestrial, but this year’s wild blueberry season was extremely challenged by COVID and weather conditions which meant that the U-Pick fields were closed earlier on than usual. However, never to be deterred by a “no” after calling on several farms, I found in the deep recesses of the web the Cooper Farm at Caterpillar Hill. Conserved by the Blue Hill Heritage Trust, the land is open to the public for wild blueberry picking and ample hiking trails. A. and I spent the first 20 minutes picking these deep blue berries which we thought were the wild blueberries, but they tasted a bit tart and weren’t quite as miniature as the wild blueberries that we had purchased from Linda’s Farm. After going out of our way to fill half a pail of these imposter berries, A. looked downwards and saw that the wild blueberries were underneath our feet the whole time nestled in these low-lying plants. We laughed at our city selves and realized that perhaps the supermarket or a farm stand might be a less romantic but more efficient way for us to have a taste of the wild blueberries. We managed to fill a quarter of a Tupperware with berries before deciding to turn back to hike the Blue Hill Mountain Trail.
When we finished our hike, we stopped by for our first-ever funnel cake and dough boy right off the left turn on the drive out. For those who’ve never had them, these sweets are deep fried dough with toppings of your choice on top. The American imagination when it comes to fried desserts is quite hard to compete against. The fried batter sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon reminded us of fair grounds and carnival rides. With the pandemic of 2020, there were no fair grounds and customers stood 6 feet apart with their masks on, but the parking lot was full of those craving some doughy delight.
On the drive up to Blue Hill – home to many galleries and trails, we saw a parking lot full of cars in front of Josie’s Country Store & Café. This is a must stop for lunch, a snack, or dinner. The Asian girl in me was tickled by all the Asian groceries and the fact that they had bubble tea and a pork belly banh mi on their menu in a place where I might turn my head if I saw another fellow Asian. A family business, Josie and her husband are cooking up some of the best tastes of home for locals and those passing by. Give their banh mi and lumpias a try, but I hear that their pulled pork sandwiches are delicious too! The family can be seen in the open kitchen cooking away and Josie is full of stories and good humor.
One of my favorite things about a Maine summer is the quaint roadside shacks and stands that line the roads serendipitously. The day after we arrived, we stopped by Jordan’s Snack Bar for a fried haddock sandwich and some fried clams (As you may guess, the COVID 15 is real. We subsist on salads on the weekdays as penance for the indulgent weekend food tours). We wanted to stop by Trenton’s Lobster Pound for a lobster roll, but they were closed on Sunday’s so we opted to order a lobster dinner from Gateway Lunt’s Lobster Pound instead. They boil all their lobsters in a wood-fired oven on the side of the stand and it was popular with the Bar Harbor airport crowd and those stopping by on their way to and from Bar Harbor (a Mercedes sprinter van unloaded behind us with an entire Amish family clan in tow ready for lobster rolls). In Ellsworth, the Dorr Lobster Pound serves up generous servings of lobster rolls and they’ll also ship lobsters directly to you!
In Acadia National Park, we visited Cadillac Mountain and stopped by Jordan’s Pond House for some popovers (these rival the Polo Bar’s popovers served as bread appetizers in New York). We plan to spend more time in the park in the coming weeks.
The last time I was in Bar Harbor was during a family reunion 5 years ago. We stayed on a beautiful home built in the 1800’s on Little Cranberry Isles. Recently, we did a quick saunter around town, stopping by the Mount Desert Island Ice Cream Shop (they have unusual flavors such as ‘Bay of Figs’ and ‘Miso Butterscotch,’ but I found the ‘Lemon Coriander’ flavor to be quite refreshing).
Other favorites not highlighted:
Blueberry Hill Dairy Bar
Trenton’s Lobster Pound
I’ll be back soon with more updates! I hope you are also making the most of time at home. Being here in Maine has been a balm for the soul!