Cape Elizabeth in Twin Lights State Park.
Thrilling as it may be discover a new destination, to stumble across unexpected corners of a foreign city, there’s something equally rewarding about returning to the same spot year after year. You build up a relationship with the place, internally noting how it changes with the passing of time. Favorite finds become familiar haunts and neither map nor smartphone is required to navigate them. Eventually, you develop an irrational sense of ownership, as if this town or seashore or patch of woods somehow belongs more to you than to other travelers who know it less intimately.
I do not have many places like this. Part of me is anxious about all the things I haven’t seen and feels guilty about returning to one in particular. It’s the moral equivalent of rereading a beloved book when I could/should be tackling that new nonfiction paperback on my desk.
The exception to the rule is Maine. My family's annual road trip through the state has been repeated so often as to verge on ritual. And while I’m excited to try the new restaurant in town or to see how certain areas have blossomed, I’m also content to stop at the same stretches of coastline that haven’t changed in eons. It feels like a homecoming of sorts, even if it’s to a place I have never lived.
For this past Christmas, at a time when no one in their right mind goes to the beach, my family took a drive up to the shimmering sand flats and bramble-blanketed dunes. We stayed in Portland, which retains a small-town vibe, despite being the largest city in Maine. It’s one of the more delicious places on this planet, with a restaurant-to-population ratio that would shame Paris. And while bare Edison bulbs, exposed brick, ironic tattoos and beards may be in abundance, it’s hard to scream about Brooklynification when the results are this good. Unlike a many places with these trappings, Portland never feels self-conscious about its coolness. There’s a lingering warmth, a refreshing lack of pretension, and a sense of community that makes it all feel genuine rather than trendy.
Even in December, Maine's coast is shamelessly photogenic.
The fact that a great many Bostonians will drive to this restaurant for dinner tells you a lot. That virtually all of the staff have stuck around since the joint launched more than a decade ago says even more. Seasonal, local and mostly cooked in a roaring, open hearth, meals here are the kind that guests end up gushing over months or even years later. On this latest visit, duckling cooked two ways—rare seared breast and confit leg—and a deceptively simple-sounding bluefish with potato gratin were standouts. The roasted mussels swimming in lemon-almond butter never leave the menu and they never should.
Standard Baking Co.
Savory loaves like these at Standard Baking Co. also feature at Fore Street.
These people work miracles with butter, sugar and gluten. Artisanal breads with crackling crusts, ethereal morning glory buns, crumbly scones studded with tart blueberries—I dare anyone to walk in the door and not leave cradling bags of carb-laden goodness.
All interior shots were too much of a blurry, grainy, whiskey-soaked mess.
Though this list is mostly dedicated to old favorites, I liked this newcomer so much that I decided to add it. The inventive small plates earned it a recent James Beard nomination and the drinks are pretty perfect. What won me over though was the staff, who were as friendly as could be despite the line out the door.
I want everything.
I’m more likely to splurge on a Le Creuset or a Japanese rice cooker than shoes, and this store is my kryptonite. They have every kitchen gadget a cooking geek could ever want and I’ve never, ever managed to leave empty handed.
Sherman’s Books & Stationery
Creative genre titles include this and and "not nonfiction."
Independent, well-run English-language bookstores are one of the things I miss most about my country. Sherman’s, both here and in Bar Harbor up the coast, is the kind of place where the staff have extensive recommendations on just about any genre.
Absurd as its premise might sound, this shop dedicated exclusively to salt is fun to browse. Aside from every sort of flavored salt imaginable, there are salt-centric cookbooks, salt slabs for cooking, sculptures, knick-knacks and an entire room full of glowing salt lamps. Should you need a gift for the amateur chef, yoga teacher or weird aunt (or yourself. Some of this stuff is pretty cool) in your life, but aren't planning a trip to Portland, you can always check out their online store.
The Holy Donut
I should preface this by saying the last time I ate doughnuts for breakfast was over a decade ago. These tender potato fritters are a far cry from your standard Krispy Kremes though. We ordered sweet potato-ginger, toasted coconut, cranberry-glazed and maple-bacon (my personal favorite)... which lasted less than 15 minutes. The doughnuts themselves are barely sweet, which helps balance out the sugary glaze. Though the place was absolutely mobbed when we visited, the staff couldn't have been friendlier. I wrote more about this here.
2015 in (mostly) pictures
I’m going to come right out and say it: 2015 was a hell of a year. I traveled farther and experienced more than I ever have in such a short span of time. Here’s hoping 2016 has this many adventures in store.
Nairobi and Masai Mara, Kenya
On the savannah in Masai Mara.
The year started off with my first of what I hope will be many trips to this beautiful country. Eating bites of salty, blistering-hot grilled goat and sailing over herds of elephants in a hot air balloon was definitely a new way to kick off the year.
Thailand (through the end of April)
For three months, I went back to a very familiar office in one of Asia’s fastest-paced and occasionally absurd cities. During this time, I traveled, I worked, I helped out, I played, but mostly I ate. I went everywhere from vegetarian hot spots to the fanciest table in town to old-school street food icons.
Ngapali Bay, Myanmar
Although the chant of “see Myanmar before it’s spoiled!” is starting to wear thin after several years, there are still patches of the country where food trucks and espresso bars have yet to invade. Though the boutique resort I stayed at was plenty plush, the surrounding fishing villages and beach-shack restaurants remain unmarred by tourism. Let’s hope they stay that way.
The Bukit Peninsula takes the trappings of ultra-luxe travel to their logical extremes. The results are sometimes bizarre, usually over-the-top, and almost always enjoyable. What surprised me most though weren’t the futuristic spas and sky pool villas, but the surviving patches of local culture stubbornly hanging on in the spaces between.
Boston, Massachusetts and Connecticut, USA
Boston’s a beautiful, old city and I appreciate it more each time I visit. In between everything, I managed to stop for what is, without any exaggeration, some of the best pizza in the universe.
Ibiza, Spain (twice)
This little island tends to evoke passionately positive or negative reactions in people. For all its quirks and less-than-savory aspects, it’s still a jewel of a Mediterranean isle with stunning landscapes, an incredible food scene, and a tenacious, bohemian spirit that has nothing to do with all the mega clubs. I spent the better part of the month here over the course of two trips and was discovering new sides to the place up until my final flight.
Technically more of a long layover than a full-blown trip, but I managed to pack a lot into my day in Zurich. I had a chance to thoroughly explore Geneva, Interlaken and Bern last year and it was nice to wander the streets of one of the major Swiss cities I had missed.
This culturally rich city is more or less my second home in Germany and I never tire of visiting it. From waterskiing on Ammersee to visiting the stellar art museums to fueling up on hearty Bavarian staples, this trip was particularly packed.
I can think of few better places to do unwind than Sarti. For about a week, we were part of big, boisterous Greek family at this sleepy, seaside town.
Much as I like Ibiza, it seemed a shame to have it be my only Spanish sojourn for the year. I teared up at Guernica, ate all of the tapas, and instantly regretted not being able to stay for another couple months.
Having never been to Oktoberfest, I snobbishly assumed I would hate it. I was wrong.
Amsterdam just keeps getting cooler, but it’s hardly known for being cheap. On my first of two trips to the country in 2015, I tried to tackle the capital on a shoestring.
Even the oppressive November weather couldn’t render this place boring. Ai Weiwei’s exhibition stole the show, but eating Thai-style grilled goat, grabbing a very posh drink at the Shard, and losing a few hours in a beautifully curated English-language bookstore (the things you miss) came close.
Arnhem and Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Though I’d visited the city a couple times before, Arnhem wasn’t really on my radar (or anyone else’s) before this trip. A quick stop lead to a fascinating conversation about the power of urban design and a newfound respect for this place. I also had a chance to peruse one of the world's coolest gift shops before catching a plane.
I’ve waxed poetic about Bologna quite recently on this blog, so I’ll keep it short. Suffice it to say, it’s an incredible place to return to again and again. Keep an eye out for my upcoming guide.
Portland, Maine, USA
Portland, Oregon tends to hog all the attention, but I’d argue that the East Coast city of same name is equally worthy of a trip. I’ve been visiting for years and each time for years and each time the restaurant scene just gets better and better. Plus, the drive up along the Atlantic couldn’t be more photogenic.