Sturgeons in Casco Bay?

June 8th, 2013

A researcher with the University of New England recently caught a 7 foot long sturgeon in the Saco River.

Seeing the photos that went along with this article reminded me of something that happened to me 3 years ago on the Presumpscot River in Portland.

I was kayaking in the Presumpscot River in Portland/Falmouth in the area between the 295 bridge and Route 1 bridge. I heard a huge splash about 100 feet from me, but didn’t see what made it. A few minutes later, there was another large splash, this time close enough to wet me.

The thought of something so big being so close to me scared me, so I decided to head back to the boat launch at Walton Park. As I was paddling back, I noticed something moving about fifty feet away from me, parallel to my kayak.

At first I thought it was some sort of buoy. It was large, with trash or netting dragging along behind it. It took me a minute to realize that the thing was moving upstream, against the current and against the outgoing tide. Whatever that thing was, it wasn’t floating — it was swimming!

Now I was REALLY scared. I paddled back to the boat launch as quickly as I could.

Based on my description, a friend said it sounded like a bluefin tuna, but we didn’t think that was likely given where I was. I referred to the creature as a Loch Ness Monster, not having any other idea what it could have been.

After reading that article, I wondered: could what I saw have been a sturgeon? I emailed the researcher working in the Saco River and described the incident. He thought there was a good possibility that what I saw was a sturgeon!

Avoiding and Surviving Rip Currents

June 8th, 2013

I thought this was great information for ocean swimmers.


The water looks ready for a swim, but there may be a danger awaiting those who enter.

This potentially deadly force is the #1 safety threat at beaches – it’s called a rip current.

Rip currents are fast, powerful channels of water flowing away from the beach and out past the breaking waves. And before you realize it, you can get dragged out far from the shore.

They can be really hard to spot, so exercise caution fi you see the following:

  1. a channel of churning, choppy water;
  2. an area with a noticeable difference in color;
  3. a line of foam, seaweed, or debris moving steadily out to sea;
  4. and/or a break in the incoming wave pattern.

If you get caught in one:

  1. Stay calm, don’t fight the current.
  2. Swim sideways out of the current and parallel to the shore, then at an angle back to the shore.

If you can’t escape it:

  1. Float or calmly tread water. The rip current will eventually fade.
  2. Try to face the shore, wave your arms, and yell for help.

If you see someone caught in one, DO NOT try to rescue them yourself, instead:

  1. Get a lifeguard or call 911.
  2. Yell instructions.
  3. And if possible, throw a life preserver or floatation device.

These things may help you save a life.

The ocean can be a source of fun and excitement, but you should always be careful of hazards that exist. Only swim at lifeguard protected beaches. Before your next trip to the beach, know how to spot a rip current and how to break the grip of the rip.

Source: From the Grip of the Rip

Biking the Park Loop Road in Acadia National Park – Without Cars!

June 1st, 2013

Many people come to Acadia National Park to ride their bikes along the 50+ miles of carriage roads.

I’ll admit it.  The first time I biked the carriage roads,  I was disappointed.  No pavement makes for a tougher ride… and none of the carriage roads seem to have much of an ocean view.  My expectations were too high.  I was looking for the luscious ocean scenery of the 20 mile Park Loop Road without the traffic and cars. The carriage roads are scenic in a well-treed sort of way.

Every year around November most of the Park Loop Rd. closes to vehicular traffic for the winter, reopening in late spring.  Due to federal budget cuts this year, the road open even later than usual.  We decided to take advantage of the lack of cars and ride our bikes around the paved portion of the road.

We arrived at the Blackwoods Campground in the late afternoon on a Friday and were surprised to see the number of available campsites, especially given the warm, beautiful weekend.  On another visit a few Novembers ago, the campground had been just about full.  The campground looked full the next night.

When we left Portland, we weren’t sure just how open the Blackwoods Campground would be. The campground is open to free winter camping from December-March in most years. Did the sequester mean the campground was closed until April this year? Free camping would be nice but would require about a mile’s hike to the campground. The gates were open and we were able to drive to our campsite. Water and toilets were available (no showers).

There aren’t any water views from Blackwoods, but a five or ten minute walk down a short path will lead you to the Park Loop Rd. and some ocean cliffs.

During an evening hike, we happened upon some sort of gravel pit area and saw a porcupine waddling around.  He climbed a tree when he saw us.  I’d never seen one in the wild before, so it was a great treat.  Too bad my camera was at the campsite!

We started biking the next day. Just to get this out of the way – I am NOT a regular biker. This trip was the first time we’d gone biking that year. I took my bike (a hybrid, more mountain than road) out a grand total of two times last year. Oh, it turns out that it’s a good idea to thoroughly look over your bike before you decide to ride it on a 20 mile road closed off to vehicular traffic. My gears weren’t properly adjusted. Luckily, John identified the problem and fixed it!

Anyone who plans to bike in Acadia, on the carriage roads or the Park Loop Rd. — be prepared for hills. Lots of hills. Small hills, big hills. Cadillac Mountain is the highest point in the Atlantic north of Rio de Janiero in Brazil. You’ll be riding on it, even if you don’t go to the top. You can do this even if you don’t like riding up hills — I walked up most of them. All of them.

Near the end of our loop, we took a break at Sand Beach, where I drank my Moxie and ate an apple. This section of the road and the next few miles were open to cars, which was a little nerve wracking. I can’t imagine riding during the height of the season when the park is full of cars.

This was a great, cheap trip. The park was free and camping was only $10 a night. I was surprised that more people weren’t taking advantage of the car free Loop Road and gorgeous weather.  The park was mostly empty and peaceful.  Bar Harbor was a ghost town and traffic was light.   If we do this next year, I’d like to skip the bikes and try some of the hiking trails.

Larry’s Firecracker Latkes (with Maine Potatoes, naturally)

May 31st, 2013

This I first made this recipe from Saveur two years ago.  Take note: much like Little Lad’s Popcorn, it’s addictive stuff.  I finally learned to cut the recipe in half.  Not having these jalapeno popper potato pancakes around in the first place was the only way I could stop eating them.  These are best fresh out of the frying pan.

The original recipe is here.  What follows is my variation, which involves fewer steps:

1⁄2 cup grated cheese, your choice (cheddar, jack, or something that melts similarly)

3⁄4 cup queso fresco.  Smiling Hill Farm’s Queso Verano is perfect.  If you don’t have queso verano, substitute 1/2 cup cream cheese or ricotta and 1/4 cup cheddar.

4 medium Maine potatoes
2-3 eggs, beaten
2-3 jalapeno peppers, stemmed and seeded
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil

2 tablespoons matzo meal or bread crumbs (optional)

1. Put cheese and peppers in a food processor or blender and process until the pepper is finely chopped and mixed in the cheese.  Set cheese aside in fridge until ready to use.

2. Grate potatoes on the large holes of a box grater. Working with small handfuls at a time, squeeze out moisture from potatoes into a vessel and transfer potatoes to a large bowl. Add 2 eggs and  matzo meal.  Stir well.

You may want to dig out the starch at the bottom of the vessel used to contain the potato squeezing liquid and add that to your potato mixture bowl.  It will help the pancakes stick together better.  I sometimes find that I need to add another egg as well.

I use my food processor to grate the potatoes, but these pancakes stick together better if you use the box grater.   I don’t know why.  It must have something to do with starch?  There are threads on chowhound devoted to this topic, if you’re interested 🙂

3. Pour oil into a large deep skillet to a depth of 1 inch and heat over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Working in batches, take 1-2 tablespoons of cheese mixture and roll it into a ball.  The ball should be about an inch in diameter.

4. Take 1⁄4 cup of the potato mixture and smash it flat into the palm of your hand into a disk that’s about 1/2 inch thick and 3 inches diameter.

5. Put the cheese ball into the disk and gently flatten it a bit.

6. Cover the exposed side of the cheese ball with the potato mixture.  The cheese should be completely covered.  If you need to add some more potato, go for it.

7.  Gently flatten the potato ball a bit.

8.  Add your potato ball to the hot oil.  When the bottom turns just a bit darker than golden brown, flip.  If you want to skip the flipping, use more oil.  I deep fry in olive oil and generally use just enough to cover one side of whatever I am cooking.

When done, transfer the latkes to a paper towel covered plate to drain.  Season with salt to taste.

The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome’s Maine Connection

May 31st, 2013

While on a roadtrip last fall, my boyfriend and I stopped at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in Rhinebeck, NY.  The Aerodrome has been a Hudson River Valley institution since it was founded by Cole Palen in 1960.

The Aerodrome has a fantastic collection of (mostly) WWI era planes and related memorabilia.  Cole Palen was a visionary – he believed that planes were meant to be flown, not just displayed.  The planes are flown every weekend, weather permitting.  Seeing a plane from the early 1900s in the air is pretty unique.  If you’re anywhere in the Hudson Valley area, I highly recommend a visit.  My boyfriend recommends the biplane ride (I think!).

While viewing the collection, I was surprised to come across an exhibit relating to Maine.  Designed in 1917, the Aeromarine 39B was used for flight training.  The Aerodrome purchased a fine example of this plane in the late 1960’s.  Most of the plane was destroyed in a fire but the parts were saved with the hope that it could one day be restored.

A Maine man named Percy Hyde took the rudder from the burnt plane from Rhinebeck, NY to Maine in the 1970s in order to restore it as a favor to Cole Palen.  Unfortunately, Percy passed away and no one has seen the rudder since.

The Rhinebeck Aerodrome is still looking for the rudder.  It’s pretty big and hard to miss — about six feet tall and over three feet wide.  If you come across it in your travels through Maine, please let them know!

The Maine Book Arts Bazaar (and now defunct Maine Festival of the Book)

April 9th, 2013

For a few years, one of my favorite free events in Maine was held in Portland at the beginning of every April:  the Festival of the Book put on by an organization called Maine Reads.   The event featured three days worth of talks and readings given by 40+ published authors– mostly from Maine, but quite a few from away as well.

E.B. White’s granddaughter, Martha, shared slides and stories of her grandparents, parents, and childhood.  Science writer Hannah Holmes was paired with fiction author Shonna Milliken Humphrey for a lively panel discussion – I can’t remember the topic, but I know I enjoyed their chemistry.  I heard Tony Horwitz, one of my favorite authors, give a talk on his latest book about John Brown.

While walking around Mackworth Island with a friend who has recently published a book, I asked her if she had thought about speaking at this year’s festival.  She had not only thought of it, but had asked the organizers for a spot in the schedule.  Unfortunately, no – there wasn’t going to be a festival this year.

I didn’t believe it.  I went to the Maine Reads website.  It hadn’t been updated in a year.  Neither had their Facebook page or Twitter account.  I sent messages, but received no response.

I ran into an acquaintance this weekend and learned the sad truth.  No more Maine Festival of the Book!  If my understanding is correct, the Maine Reads nonprofit was run by the wife of our last governor.  Once he left office, I guess funding dried up.

Part of the festival continues as the Maine Book Arts Bazaar, a sort of craft fair for print and book artists.  I attended this Sunday at the Wishcamper Center at the University of Southern Maine.  There were probably fifty tables where craftspeople displayed their art.  Some people sold tools, paper, and supplies to people creating these works.  Quite a few vendors had blank books for sale.

It was a nice event, but it seemed targeted towards serious print art fans or producers rather than readers.

You can find some of the panel discussions from previous years of the Maine Festival of the Book here:

Maine Food: Recipe of the Week: Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins

April 8th, 2013


Blueberry Muffins!

Blueberry Muffins!

My aunt introduced me to these muffins from Cooking Light a few years ago. They were the perfect thing for a warm August morning on Gardiner Lake in Machias, ME. They’ve since become my favorite blueberry muffins. I use fresh berries in this recipe and don’t bother coating them with flour. I also usually use sour milk (and sometimes a bit of yogurt) instead of buttermilk.

1 2/3 cups quick-cooking oats
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
1/4 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
2 large eggs
2 cups frozen blueberries
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Cooking spray
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1. Preheat oven to 400°.
2. Place oats in a food processor; pulse 5 to 6 times or until oats resemble coarse meal. Place in a large bowl.
3. Weigh or lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add flours and next 5 ingredients (through salt) to oats; stir well. Make a well in center of mixture.
4. Combine buttermilk and next 3 ingredients (through eggs). Add to flour mixture; stir just until moist.
5. Toss berries with 2 tablespoons flour, and gently fold into batter. Spoon batter into 16 muffin cups coated with cooking spray; sprinkle 2 tablespoons granulated sugar evenly over batter.

Bake at 400° for 20 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. Remove from pans immediately; place on a wire rack.

Jennifer Martinkus, Cooking Light, AUGUST 2010

Photo from

Edible Book Festival at the Portland Public Library

April 8th, 2013

After years of seeing the signs and forgetting to enter, this year I finally managed to get myself organized in time to enter the Edible Book contest at the Portland Public Library.

The Edible Book Festival is a nationwide event, usually held on April 1st. Participants create an edible item which represents a book, story, or poem. The creation can be based on a character, title, or pun relating to the literary work.

For the past two years (at least), the Portland Public Library has hosted the Edible Book Contest during First Friday.  At the end of the night, after a winner has been announced, everyone digs in with fork and spoon.

This year’s event featured quite a few tasty creations.   The most gruesome was a girl’s strawberry/rhubarb pie representation of the Lord of the Flies.  It included a bloodied marzipan pig head on a spike.  The tastiest, I thought, was one based on a poem about a dinosaur: hummus, a veggie forest, and artichokes.

My entry was a Literary Fruit Salad.  My boyfriend had inspired me weeks earlier when I saw the flyer and started coming up with ideas.  He immediately suggested The Cantaloupe of Ezra Pound.  We talked about making melon balls and setting them on top of a kitchen scale.

The only problem is that I really don’t *like* Ezra Pound, so I didn’t want my piece to represent his work alone, in case people got the wrong idea.  I decided to do a fruit salad (with a pound of cantaloupe, of course).  I spent the two days before the event brainstorming books with fruits in the title.  I included a recipe so people could guess what book each item represented, with answers on the back.  It was pretty rewarding to see so many people interacting with my piece.

Here’s a video of the event from a few years ago:


And here’s my recipe:

Fruit Salad Recipe:

1 Pound of Cantaloupe (Ezra large).

½ cup strawberries I picked while lost on a mountain in Maine.

1 sun dried raisin

½  cup California grapes (imported from Oklahoma)

5 small peppers

3 blueberries, picked in Maine (may substitute huckleberries if someone has eaten all the blueberries)

1 diced mango from South America


Peach jam made from extra large peaches

Juice of 1 orange, peeled clockwise (reserve 5 orange seeds)

Mix fruit for salad in medium sized bowl.  Mix dressing separately.  Toss dressing with salad.

Mini Maine

April 3rd, 2013

This is too good to miss:

Update: The Portland Press Herald has a good story about this artist.

A tilt-shift film by Joerg Daiber shot in Portland, Maine, USA.


Shot with Lumix GH2, Gorillapod, 14-140mm and 7-14mm Lumix Lenses. Postproduction with Adobe Creative Suite Production Premium.

Music: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart

Maine Maple Sunday

March 25th, 2013

For the past 30 years, Maine sugarhouses have opened their doors to the public on Maine Maple Sunday.  Maine Maple Sunday is an event which takes place across the state of Maine on the fourth Sunday in March.   You can learn more about the process of making maple syrup by touring a sugarbush, watching syrup as it is boiled down in a sugarshack, or eating any of the many maple goodies made by members of the Maine Maple Syrup Producers.

Some farms hold events all weekend, with music and animals to see and pet.  We visited Goransan Farm in Dresden at around noon on Sunday and it was hopping.  After patting the three month old cow, we stopped in at the main hall where people were selling syrup, sundaes, baked goods, jams, and produce as two fiddlers played to an audience of enraptured children (and parents).

Next we went to the Mitchell and Savage farm where we saw the syrup being boiled over wood and ate an absolutely delicious potato roll with maple butter.  Oh boy.  The roll was soft and slightly sweet and the maple butter was as smooth as silk.

Check out Maine Maple Producers for a map and details about Maine Maple Sunday events next year!

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