good reads | 11

havana cuba
I love a thoughtful link roundup as a way to discover the fantastic writing others are reading and sharing online. Here are my good reads from the week that was.

Good Reads

Menstruation: the last great sporting taboo.

From Lucky Peach: a guide to the regional ramen of Japan.

On that note: thanks for all you do, umami. 

Manterrupting. Bropropriating. Goofy words, but we’ve experienced it. Some advice to help make it stop.

It’s not yet a pressing matter for our family, but stories like this one make me really grateful to have a year of maternity leave if/when the day comes.

Mixing a classic cocktail with AutoCAD.

I used to be embarrassed to have Ivanka Trump as a professional role model — she grew up with a silver spoon in mouth, after all — is her success really of her own making? Interviews like this one remind me why I’m over it. 

Looks like my husband can (almost) join me on that trip to Cuba.

Insights from my day job: things media companies could learn from the roll-out of the State of the Union.

Other Roundups to Love

Molly Yeh’s Friday Links (updated Fridays)

A Practical Wedding’s Happy Hour (updated Fridays)

Elise Blaha Cripe’s Weekend Links (updated Saturdays)

101 Cookbooks’ Favorites List (updated infrequently, but excellent)

[lead image: Old Havana, Cuba]

Good Reads on Some Infinite Thing is updated every Friday morning.

planning a travel itinerary | a step-by-step guide

travel_itineraryRecently, I shared our Costa Rica travel itinerary with a colleague, and she was blown away by the amount of detail and planning it included. It never occurred to her to plan an itinerary before a trip — she just noted places to see and things to do and went from there. This sounded all too familiar, as it was how I traveled years ago when I was first starting to explore the world. I would just show up and let the travel happen…

This got me thinking about itineraries. Austin and I love them. We never travel without one. We have a whole shared google drive folder to store our plans, split out into completed, upcoming and potential trips.

I’ve noted before that, to me, an itinerary is freedom. By planning things out, we don’t waste precious travel moments with the hassle of just-in-time logistics, waiting in lines, or being disappointed because a restaurant or museum is closed.

There’s an art to creating a detailed but realistic travel itinerary — one that’s considered, but not over-planned. Here, I break down the steps we take and share our resources to help you plan a better holiday. It seems like a lot of work, but I say planning a trip is half the fun!

Aside: Austin and I share the task of travel planning in our family, but this is very achievable as a one-person activity!

the met rooftop new york cityPre-Planning

Before we start to think about building an itinerary, we’re taking care of the macro planning that lets us assess our travel calendar beyond one specific trip.

Blocking Travel Dates & Anticipated Expenses

To make the most of our travel planning, we keep two yearly travel documents.

The first outlines statutory holidays and tracks vacation days for the year (my husband works in academia with a flexible schedule, so my vacation tends to dictate our travel dates). We pencil in tentative destinations and trip lengths, always considering cultural events and local festivities to either avoid (e.g., Ramadan in a Muslim country or many European cities in August when everything is closed) or experience (e.g., Mexico during Dia de los Muertos or Nuit Blanche in Paris). I also have a good sense of my boss’ travel schedule about a year out (a perk of having a fellow travel-loving boss) and note those dates to avoid being away.

As much as possible, we research and all-but-book flights right before requesting vacation time to snag the best airfare, which sometimes means leaving on a non-standard day of the week. We also try to make layovers work in our favour, staying overnight to explore a layover city if fits our itinerary and doesn’t add significant expense.

We’re always seriously looking six to 12 months out, but right now we have calendars up to 2018 very tentatively sketched — mostly to remind ourselves of fixed travel dates like weddings and statutory holidays as we plan.

Aside: this pre-planning works whether you have two weeks or three months of vacation in a year, because seeing everything in one place helps to budget precious days more efficiently…  That way, it’s not suddenly November and you realize you’re out of vacation.

Here’s how our completed tracker looked for 2014:

Days Used  Days Remain Destination Dates
 -3*  28 Start: 28 Vacation Days
1  27 Windsor Jan. 31-Feb. 3
1  26 Dallas, TX (Family Day) Feb. 14-17
9  17 Riviera Maya, Mexico Feb. 18-Mar. 1
2  15 San Antonio, TX  (Conference) Mar. 20-23
4  11 Longboat Key, FL Apr. 4-9
0  11 Windsor, ON (Easter) Apr. 18-21
2  9 New York City, NY (Canada Day) Jun. 27-Jul. 1
1  8 Portland, ME (Civic Holiday) Aug. 1-4
0  8 Windsor, ON (Labour Day) Aug. 29-Sept. 1
6  2 Paris, France/Reykjavik, Iceland Oct. 3-14
0  2 days carryover Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON Nov. 8-9

*vacation days carried over from 2013

The second document is a spreadsheet tracks our estimated and actual annual travel budget. Because travel represents (by a wide margin) the largest portion of our discretionary spending, we track this much more closely than other variable expenses. For each planned trip, we note costs for airfare, accommodations, car rentals and excursions as they are paid for, and anticipated costs for things like meals out and incidentals. This document is SO helpful because it shows our year of travel expenses at a macro level (you always think you’ll spend less than you do!). If one trip is looking really expensive we will adjust elsewhere to keep our budget roughly in check.

Using Pinterest to Plan Traveltravel planning on pinterest

Pinterest has been essential to our planning process, especially because I process information visually. Before the days of this tool, pre-planning for travel was housed in a leather notebook with scraps and printouts and handwritten notes from travel magazines and articles about places I wanted to visit, divided by country and city. It was, in a way, my totally inefficient analog Pinterest, bolstered by 1001 browser bookmarks. I planned dozens of successful trips this way, but looking back, what a hassle! Today, a few Pinterest boards replace my old paper system:

First — an overarching future travel board. This hosts anything that catches our eye for future travel and has hundreds of pins.

Second — unique boards for planned trips, for example, this board for an upcoming trip to Marrakech, Morocco. These boards get created only once plane tickets have been booked and vacation days confirmed. I do a Pinterest search of all my boards for that location and move over existing pins (this process is now SO much easier!). From that point forward, any article read or resource found about a destination goes on this board. If a friend mentions a place or I read about something in magazine, I find a relevant pin and add it to the board. This way, everything is in one place. No scattered bookmarks, emails, paper scraps or stacks of magazines to sort through.

Thirda board that wraps up each year. 2014 was our first year using exclusively Pinterest to store vacation research. It’s a great resource for future trips to have everything we researched and did in one place.

reykjavik iceland

Building the Itinerary

I think a problem a lot of people run into is to stop at the information-gathering stage. A list of things to do or collection of pins isn’t helpful without researching locations, hours and other logistical miscellany. So, we build an itinerary. This is our trip bible and we take it everywhere.

Aside: today, there are a plethora of online itinerary building resources and apps out there such as TripIt and Tripomatic, but I haven’t found any that compares to the full control, customization and ease of a simple google doc.

Here’s our current master travel itinerary. This document has been refined over dozens of trips with new learning incorporated each time. The original version was what most of us probably start out with — a list of places to see and eat — but has evolved into a super-helpful living document! Here’s how it’s organized:

Technical Details

The top of every itinerary includes basic details about our destination: the currency conversion (to both USD and CAD), tipping customs, time zone, average temperatures and sunrise/sunset times for our month of travel. This helps us budget, know what to pack, and prepare to stave off jet-lag.

High-Level Itinerary

The first section is a little calendar that shows our itinerary at a glance — the city we’ll be in, our hotel/apartment and a rough outline of planned activities. Think of it as the refrigerator calendar summary.

Flights & Accommodations

We refer to this section 100 times during our travels. It’s shockingly helpful for filling out customs forms, catching flights, giving cab drivers directions and (sometimes) when we get lost, to have all crucial details in one safe place. Don’t forget the airport terminal number! We’ve done that once or thrice and had to shuttle between them.

A Google Map

Austin creates a google map for every trip we take. It helps us to visualize clusters of sites and restaurants to plan our days, and can be printed to keep back-pocket for navigation. Here’s a sample from a recent trip to Paris. We colour code restaurants, sites, museums, bakeries and other categories of attractions for easy reference.

Detailed Daily Itinerary

This is both the most and least important part of the itinerary. It’s where we do the work of planning. Austin and I pull up all our links, maps and notes and start figuring out what goes where, like a little puzzle.

Some questions we ask as we plan:

  • Are any museums or attractions closed on certain days? In Paris, many museums are closed on Mondays. 
  • What time do the locals eat? In most of Spain, you get funny looks if you try to eat dinner before 10 PM. 
  • Do any restaurants require reservations well before our visit? I like fine dining — many starred restaurants require reservations months in advance. 
  • What are our top sites/restaurants to see and try, if we have to choose just a few? This ensures we plan the most important stuff first.
  • Will we be staying in one city the entire time, or taking day/overnight trips from our home base? This may affect the accommodations we book, whether we rent a car, or whether we choose to stay in a hotel or private home.

As we ask these questions, we start to see patterns… A museum that is slowest on Wednesdays near-by a restaurant we want to visit for lunch. A day excursion that fits best on a Sunday when many things are closed in the city. An overnight trip to a close-by town that will change how we book our hotels… and so on. The itinerary begins to take shape.

Everyone’s travel preferences are different, but the below tips work for us:

  • Do not over-schedule! This is my biggest tip. Austin has a mantra that “we’ll be back someday,” which helps us to avoid burning out from trying to do too many things on too little sleep.
  • Spend at least a few days in each place. There’s a temptation to want to visit a ton of different cities when traveling — I resist it all the time as I research! But our approach goes back to Austin’s “we’ll be back someday” mantra. I’d rather spend a sustained chunk of time in one place getting to know its charms and quirks than two frenetic days rushing through each of four different cities just to say I visited them.
  • Limit “fine dining” meals (i.e., multi-course options) to one per day to avoid taste fatigue.
  • Limit museums or intensive cultural sites to one a day, to avoid burnout and allow enough time to appreciate the works.
  • Try to visit busy attractions (think: churches, museums, key tourist sites) on non-peak days to avoid crowds.
  • Keep activities clustered in a neighbourhood or area of town to avoid wasting time on transit and to walk as much as possible.
  • Try to schedule a couple interchangeable “free” days without any formal commitments to account for unexpected bad weather.
  • Build in down time. Leave stretches of time with nothing planned to recuperate and allow for spontaneity.
  • Account for 25% more travel time than google suggests. Roads are closed, you get lost, conditions are bad, stuff happens.

Once we’ve tentatively scheduled the itinerary, we split up tasks starting with the most important ones — making our coveted restaurant reservations, buying tickets to attractions we really want to see — and build out from there. If we start to feel information overload (it happens!) we step away and come back later.

Aside: We exclusively use a Skype subscription for our international calls in order to keep costs low.

park guell barcelona

Local Details

Part of the fun of a trip (I would venture) is getting familiar with a new (or reacquainted with an old) place before even stepping foot on its soil.

A few key local details that we always research:

  • How does local transit work? What’s the best way to get to and from the airport? Is there a subway? How does fare work? What are the main transit lines? Do people take taxis? Is it safe to walk after dusk?
  • Commonly used phrases and terms. I speak three languages, which helps us get around pretty well abroad, but even in foreign-to-us tongues, we like making the effort to learn a large handful of key phrases, however terrible our accents. It goes a long way to cultivate respect as a visitor of a new place.
  • Similarly, we look into local customs, such as standards of dress, the predominant religion and holy days, and any cultural taboos.
  • The local foods and specialties. The fun part! We make a list of local dishes to try and the best places to find them, crossing them off as we go. On a recent trip, my brother-in-law and I had a laugh going through a list of unusual fruits and trying to find them at the market (and got my mom-in-law hooked on soursop fruit!).

nuit blanche paris

Using the Itinerary

An itinerary is no use if it doesn’t actually help when you reach a destination. Ours gets printed and kept with us at all times as our at-a-glance reference guide. During the trip, usually in the evening before heading to bed, we take a look at upcoming plans and adjust as needed — moving things around, adding activities or cancelling as needed to fit our moods and preferences. We’ve been known to clear a whole afternoon for a siesta. That’s the beauty of vacation.

A tip: always include addresses! When abroad, we often don’t have internet access on our phones, so including a full address has saved us many hours of wandering to find a place, or expensive emergency data plan use.

The detailed itinerary is ripe to abandon if we’re in the groove of a trip and decide to change course based on spur of the moment decisions. That is key. The itinerary is just the start…

Printing

A few days before our departure, we call or email restaurants to confirm our reservations. At this time, we also print everything, including boarding passes, hotel confirmations, tickets, restaurant reservation exchanges, google maps and other pertinent paperwork. This has saved us so many times! For instance, in Costa Rica earlier this month, a company scheduled our rainforest cloud walk for the wrong day. Austin pulled out the email confirmation and the situation was quickly remedied.

We keep copies of our passports, travel visas and our marriage certificate stowed safely away from our other travel documents (in case we need proof of marriage, because we hold different citizenships, and in the rare and horrible case we were to lose our passports abroad).

san antonio texas

To Conclude

This process may seem like crazy over-planning (that’s okay, I get it!) or it may be totally helpful to you. I think at least some portion of itinerary building can benefit all travelers, whether travel is something you do frequently or just a couple times a year. We love the physical act of travel and exploring new places, and a big part of that love is the preparations we make to help ensure a happy, mostly-stress-free and adventure-packed trip, with room for sponteneity.

flags in bucerias

Resources

Our master trip itinerary planner on Google Documents (make a copy and use it!)

A sample google map for Paris, France.

My guide to our travel gear and minimalist packing.

good reads | 10

sea urchin pie noma japanI love a thoughtful link roundup as a way to discover the fantastic writing others are reading and sharing online. Here are my good reads from the week that was.

Good Reads

Cancun feels like a built up tourist destination… because it was designed that way.

California accounts for 80 per cent of the world’s almond production, but its water source is running dry.

Rene Redzepi explains why Noma uprooted to Japan. 

Doug Whitney should have died years ago. How helpful genetic mutations are changing our approach to fighting disease.

Joan Didion for Céline. YES.

A pretty printable calendar for 2015 by Coco and Mingo .

Other Roundups to Love

Molly Yeh’s Friday Links (updated Fridays)

A Practical Wedding’s Happy Hour (updated Fridays)

Elise Blaha Cripe’s Weekend Links (updated Saturdays)

101 Cookbooks’ Favorites List (updated infrequently, but excellent)

[lead image: Sea Urchin Pie by Rene Redzepi on Instagram.]

Good Reads on Some Infinite Thing is updated every Friday morning.

travelogue | midcoast maine | august 2014

travelogue_maineAbout a year ago, Austin got an idea in his head that we absolutely had to attend the Maine Lobster Festival. I didn’t initially meet this suggestion with great enthusiasm. Maine? When we could visit… somewhere else?

The more I researched Maine, though, the more I wanted to visit, so I told Austin I was on board. We ended up building out a four-day weekend in August 2014 to coincide with the annual Lobster Festival.

We opted to fly into Boston, versus directly into Portland (about a 100 mile drive north) because tickets were significantly cheaper, and it would let us catch up with some friends on our way out of the city. We took an easy Porter flight from Toronto City Airport (YTZ) into Logan International (BOS) on Friday morning, meeting a college friend, Eliza, and her boyfriend Phil, who flew in from DC for the weekend. We picked up our car rental, and were on our way.

An aside, on booking a rental car: We initially booked a car in downtown Boston, planning to take a cab from the airport, because the airport was quoting us almost $700 (!) for a four-day rental. A day before we departed, Austin rechecked the rates and found an airport rental for about half the originally quoted price. Because rental companies have lenient cancellation policies (up to 24 hours before the scheduled rental) he cancelled our Boston car and booked the airport rental.

A few weeks before flying out, I stumbled upon a piece about the best baked goods in America, which raved about Boston’s Flour Bakery sticky bun. We weaved through some serious mid-day Boston traffic to hunt one down. I’m happy to say it delivered… after a 15-minute wait, a new pan came out of the oven and we each dove into a caramel and pecan puddle covering tender and sticky dough. Lunch of champions.

flour bakery sticky bunAfter a drive along Highway 1 (I would regale you with the scenery, but I am an expert at falling asleep the minute I get into a car) we made it to Portland. We parted ways with Eliza and Phil, whom we would rejoin later that weekend in Rockland for the Lobster Festival.

We checked into the Portland Harbor Hotel, where Austin had booked us a charming room for the night. It was a perfectly nice hotel — well-appointed historical accommodations with traditional rooms. Upon return to Portland, we’d probably opt to stay at an Airbnb, but given our short stay, it worked well.

An aside (and word of caution), on parking: Portland Harbor Hotel has a seriously sketchy parking setup. You’re led via clearly marked signs to “Hotel Parking” and only once inside the underground garage, do you realize it’s valet-mandatory $18-a-day parking. Not cool. We learned chatting with other guests that we were not the first people caught by this practice. Save yourself with inexpensive street parking, or park in the garage next door.

We quickly dressed for dinner reservations at Hugo’s, a restaurant that came highly recommended in our research on Portland. The restaurant was a short walk from our hotel — about 10 minutes — so we set out on foot in the stunning Portland dusk, lamenting that we only had a day to explore the city before continuing our travels.

hugos portland maineWe settled in their lounge as we waited for our table to be prepared. Flipping through the small but smart wine list, we were impressed by the quality of selection and reasonable price points (such a shocking difference from Toronto’s overpriced wine lists!). We agreed on a stunning little 2007 Blanc de Noirs from Schramsberg in Napa Valley.

An aside, on branding: Hugo’s branding was spot-on — the menus packaged in beautiful dusty teal linen hardcovers, printed on luxurious cream paper and using just the right typefaces to convey their brand. My paper nerd was impressed.

hugos maine menuA glass of wine in, we were led to our kitchen bar seats in front of the garde manger. Eating at kitchen tables is one of my favourite ways to enjoy a tasting menu — I love being able to interact with the chefs, watch the food go out and see the course progressions for each table.

Hugo’s offers three set five-course tasting menus — Foraged & Farmed (meat), From the Sea (seafood), and Forest & Field (vegetable). We opted for the meat and fish menus, sticking with our usual approach of swapping dishes half-way through each course.

hugos portland maineThe meal was sublime. Austin noted, and I agree, that it stood up to $1000 tasting menu tabs — and he’d rather have this meal again three times over. I will make note of one spectacular dish from the Foraged & Farmed menu: my best restaurant dish of 2014. As someone who has enjoyed a lot of fine dining that tends toward modernist, it’s rare I am served a dish so completely unexpected that I’m not sure what to make of it. This happened at Hugo’s. I even emailed the restaurant after we returned to Toronto to ask about it; it so strongly stuck with me. Here’s the reply I received from Owner and Executive Chef, Mike Wiley:

RE: That Pushed Egg

Maria;

What a fine compliment it was receiving your email! Not only to learn that you enjoyed the dish, but that it resonated to the point that you needed to get in touch with us–all of it is quite flattering.
So, the dish then: it was a hard-boiled egg pushed through a potato ricer. We dressed the egg with a nasturtium vinaigrette, and garnished the egg with a changing array of fresh and crunchy elements, including but not limited to, grilled breadcrumb, bacon crumble, tomato water gelée, dehydrated prosciutto crisps, dehydrated black olive, radish micro greens, thinly sliced radish, and pickled shimeji mushroom. The thinking behind the dish was that eggs are delicious and the vinaigrette was tasty, so those baseline elements could support a whole host of crunchy, salty, and sour garnishes.
Thanks again for your kind email, we look forward to cooking for you again.
Hugo’s was a meal to remember and an occasion of its own to return to Portland. Sated and exhausted from a long day of travel, we walked back to the hotel and fell into a deep sleep.
holy donut portland maine
We hopped out of bed early (Austin and I can never sleep too late on vacation) with donuts on the mind. The Holy Donut, specifically, a revered donut shop in downtown Portland. They specialize in Maine potato-based donuts, which are tender, fluffy and decadent. As is often the case, we ordered way more than we could eat — one each of the Fresh Lemon (my favourite), Chocolate Sea Salt (Austin’s favourite), Coconut, Allen’s Apple Brandy, Sweet Potato Ginger and Old Fashioned. As a last minute “what the heck!” we also ordered a savoury filled bacon cheddar donut, which was the best of the bunch.
holy donut portland maine
Full of donut, we checked out of the hotel and made our way to the open-air Portland Farmer’s Market, held every Saturday morning from March through December.
portland maine farmers market
What a market this was! I’m a bit of a market hound — I like them open and covered and seasonal and year-round and this was a very good example of an outdoor version, focused on heirloom and organic produce. We ogled the veg and picked up a wildflower bouquet for our hosts in Waldoboro, who we would see later that evening.
portland maine farmers marketWe made our way to South Portland to begin an afternoon of lighthouse exploring. Our first stop was the grounds of the abandoned Goddard Mansion in Fort Williams Park, where we meandered through the woods and along the shoreline taking in the salty, overcast day.
portland maine waterfrontWe drove a short distance to our first lighthouse, the famous Portland Head Light. This lighthouse is not open for climbing or tours, so we quickly made our way around its periphery before making a bee line to the main attraction — our first lobster roll of the weekend!
portland head lightWe weren’t expecting too much of this food truck lobster roll from Bite Into Maine (Award Winning Lobster Rolls sign notwithstanding), but it delivered! Hunks of tender flesh, drippy butter and a sweet toasted roll. We washed it down with a Maine Root soda.
bite into maine lobster rollAn aside, on butter versus mayonnaise: Maine prepares its lobster roll with a mayonnaise dressing. Through and through, I am Connecticut-style — naked and drowning in butter has my heart. Thankfully, we didn’t get too many odd looks for ordering most of our rolls without mayo over the weekend.
Happily refueled, we headed to our next lighthouse and favourite of the weekend, Spring Point Ledge. One of the most memorable parts of our trip was skipping along the breakwater to this lighthouse, reaching for Austin’s hand, and squealing in fear as I tried not to fall into the massive crevasses between the boulders.
spring point ledge lighthouse maine
We climbed the three levels to the top of the lighthouse, guided by some sweet old Maine residents who regaled us with the site’s past and explained the logistics of its sleeping quarters and maintenance. We enjoyed a moment of solitude at the apex, looking out at the ocean and taking in the postcard-like views of the overcast day.
sprint point ledge lighthouse viewFull of lighthouses (for now) we returned to downtown Portland for some more eating and exploring before heading north. While I could have spent several days exploring Portland’s artisan and craftsman shops, a few standouts were Portland Dry Goods (I could build Austin and my wardrobes solely from that shop), Cabot Cheese’s Farmers’ Annex (delicious cheddars) and Chellis Wilson (beautiful ceramics).
j's oyster portland maine
We wandered through the harbour to J’s Oyster, a hole-in-the-wall seafood bar that came recommended over and again as the place locals went for their oyster fix. It was nothing fancy and totally hit the spot — a dozen just-caught briny oysters with a pint of Allagash washing everything down. We poked around some more shops along Fore Street as we made our way to Eventide Oyster Co. — Hugo’s sister restaurant — for their lauded lobster roll. It was swimming in a brown butter vinaigrette and piled high into a soft, steamed-style bun.
eventide oyster co portland maine
Knowing we had a couple hours of driving before us, we set north toward Waldoboro, where we were staying the next two nights. After saying hello to our hosts and enjoying a drink, we dressed for dinner with Eliza and Phil at Primo in Rockland.
primo rockland maine
Oh, Primo! Leading up to our trip, I had done some research about the restaurant and its Executive Chef, Melissa Kelly. With an impressive resume (two James Beard awards, stages at restaurants like Chez Panisse) she opened Primo in 2000 in her native Maine on a 4.5 acre farm that supplies about 80 per cent of the restaurant’s raw ingredients. With such an idyllic story, it was hard to imagine we wouldn’t love Primo, but it went beyond our expectations. The farmhouse restaurant was cozy and refined, the service warm and flawless and the food tasting of farm and ocean. We hear the term farm-to-table used so often (and carelessly) these days that it loses meaning, but Kelly’s restaurant was platonic form.
We ate until late in the evening, and as it was dark by the time our meal finished, we returned to tour the spectacular working farm the next morning.
primo rockland maineWe woke early for the drive to Rockland for the “maine” (sorry, couldn’t resist) event — the Lobster Festival. Eliza gave us fair heeding about this touristic phenomenon, but the kitsch was every bit wonderful. We ate giant lobster dinners, watched milk crate races, took some cheesy photos and ate more lobster. Was it the star attraction of the weekend? Hardly. But I’m so glad it’s what brought us to Maine in the first place.
maine lobster festivalBellies full, we were back on the road early-afternoon to seek out our final lighthouse of the weekend, the charming Owl’s Head Light. We arrived just as they were wrapping up tours for the day, and made our way to the top for some spectacular views of the Maine coastline.
owl's head light maineBack into Waldoboro, we stopped off at Eliza’s high school digs, Captain’s Fresh Idea, for — what else — more lobster, plus some strangely delicious deep fried string beans. We tucked a whoopie pie (Maine’s official dessert) into my purse to enjoy later, and made our way home for a bonafide Maine lobster dinner, complete with cheeky aprons.
captain's fresh idea waldoboro maineOur final day in Maine began with breakfast at Moody’s, an iconic American diner established in 1927. While most of us opted for a traditional American breakfast, we spent the meal staring wistfully at Eliza’s mom’s fresh strawberry pie.
moody's diner waldoboro maine
Back on the road, we drove about an hour south along Highway 1 through the town of Wiscasset, fondly known as the prettiest village in Maine. We strongly considered stopping off at Red’s Eats, one of the state’s most iconic lobster shacks, whose line was snaked around the block even given the hour! Alas, it was a bit too early for lobster, so we continued south.
Our next stop was Freeport, to visit the L.L. Bean Flagship Store and its infamous boot sculpture. While L.L. Bean is a reach from my usual aesthetic, I was happy to see how the hunter-type live and pick up a cozy sweatshirt to bring home.
LL Bean Flagship Freeport Maine
Over the course of the weekend, we debated breweries to visit, knowing we only had so much time with so many respected craft brewers along the coast — Allagash, Smuttynose, Oxbow, to name a few. Ultimately, we ended up at Shipyard Brewing Co.‘s Portland headquarters, where we sampled their lineup of brews with a hilarious and knowledgeable taster from Montreal. Our standout beer was the Double ESB, a bourbon barrel aged ale.
shipyard brewing portland maine
With one meal left in Portland, it was a serious debate over lunch at Duckfat versus Miyake Sushi. Duckfat is a local icon with an indulgent bistro menu. Miyake is consistently named one of the best sushi restaurants in America. Our group was divided. Ultimately, the wait at Duckfat led us to Miyake, where we were able to snag four seats at the chef’s bar. I immediately knew what I was ordering — the Daily Bento Box, which defied every preconception I have about bento boxes. This was a little jewel case of art: yuzu-steamed clams, perfect sashimi with fresh grated wasabi, delicate grilled and glazed eel and miso braised vegetables in earthenware.
miyake portland maine
Barely any room in our stomachs, we walked along Fore Street for a final Portland stop at Gelato Fiasco — home to some of the tastiest and best branded gelato in the States. Our charming server, Kristina, was happy to help us taste through the flavours and made Austin a delicious pour-over coffee. My dark chocolate sorbetto paired with their signature sweet resurgam gelato in a house-made waffle cone was out of this world.
IMG_6511It was time to drive to Boston for our flight home.
We met up with Austin’s old college friend (and our beloved wedding Master of Ceremonies!) Tarik and his girlfriend (now fiance!) Pat at El Pelon — Boston’s celebrated taqueria — for a bite before our flight departed. While I was sated from a day spent stuffing myself silly, I did enjoy a strawberry agua fresca and a taste of Austin’s top-notch El Guapo burrito heaped with grilled steak and fried plantains.
el pelon boston
Maine was a perfect extra-long-weekend trip for a group of food lovers who also love the outdoors and ocean air. Austin and I agree that when we return it will be for a week, with Portland as our home base and a rental car for day trips up and down the coast. One thing’s certain: we still have left enough restaurants to eat at, lighthouses to visit, breweries to explore and lobster shacks to cross off our list!
portland maine

Places to Visit

Shop & Stay

Portland Harbor Hotel, Portland, ME

Portland Farmer’s Market, Portland, ME

Portland Dry Goods, Portland, ME

Chellis Wilson, Portland, ME

L.L. Bean Flagship Store, Freeport, ME

Eat

Flour Bakery, Boston, MA

Hugo’s Restaurant, Portland, ME

The Holy Donut, Portland, ME

Bite Into Maine, South Portland, ME

Cabot Cheese’s Farmers’ Annex, Portland, ME

J’s Oyster, Portland, ME

Eventide Oyster Co., Portland , ME

Primo, Rockland, ME

Captain’s Fresh Idea, Waldoboro, ME

Moody’s Diner, Waldoboro, ME

Red’s Eats, Wiscasset, ME

Duckfat, Portland, ME

Miyake Sushi, Portland, ME

Gelato Fiasco, Portland, ME

El Pelon, Boston, MA

See

Goddard Mansion and Fort Williams Park, Portland, ME

Portland Head Light, Portland, ME

Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse, South Portland, ME

Maine Lobster Festival, Rockland, ME

Owl’s Head Light, Rockland, ME

Shipyard Brewing Co., Portland, ME

[Our complete Portland, Maine photo set on Flickr

2014 redux | best writing

Sailboat in Portland ME

It’s no great secret that I’m a fan of the retrospective. So I’m reflecting on my bests from 2014 as we count down to the New Year — and there were many! Best restaurant bites, dishes from our kitchen, travel moments, writing and reading… here we go!

Maintaining this online space is a way to wade through my days and reflect. But it would be disingenuous to say it isn’t also about the craft of writing and reading — toward honing my skill with regular practice. Over the decade-plus I’ve kept an online home, I’ve learned that consistency is key to the writing craft, and I’m grateful to have that reignited through Some Infinite Thing. To that end, here are the 10 best things I wrote and read this year.

magnolia blossoms

10 things I wrote in 2014

About grief

Grief threaded my narratives this year in different ways. I wrote a (first, final, only) public reflection on the death of a best-friendship and at last finding closure. When my mom was unexpectedly hospitalized, it surfaced hard memories from seven years ago and I found new ways to understand and get through, though it never gets easier.

Oh, Christmas Tree (December)

As we lifted the bulbs one by one, mom chose the best place for each and nestled it within the branches — her skill honed from years of experience. We sat back and admired our handiwork, this tree a bright light in a difficult time, a comforting anchor of familiarity and home and tradition as we prepared for a series of unknowns. The tree made so much sense.

Thanksgiving, unexpectedly (November)

Having a sick parent is the worst thing. As much as you grow through difficult times, and oh, how you grow — patience grows, love grows, humility grows — certainly, we become better — it does not make this all easier. It is never easier. Still I try to find that silver lining, to wrap myself within, to keep keeping on.

Grief (July)

One day he was there and the next he was gone, with little more than a handwritten letter that outlined the faults of our friendship and my being, mailed with an epistolarian’s precision to arrive on my 26th birthday, and signed with a flourish: with a demand never to contact him again.

About marriage

Surprisingly, I have been drawn to writing about my (nascent) marriage, as revealed by the quantity of posts in the past year that relate back to being a wife. I love being married to Austin, learning from him, adventuring with him, and teasing out what this newly-carved identity — wife — means to me. It is a domain in which I will never stop learning, growing and (hopefully) becoming better.

Marriage, one year (October)

As someone who never assumed I would marry, let alone be married this early in my life, co-creating a marriage that is supportive, respectful and just totally fun is a gift. The sum is greater than its parts is cliche, but true. At Austin’s side I am a better version of myself — I am kinder, smarter, more inquisitive and easier. I am softer. I make my husband better, too, and this knowledge is empowering.

Reclaim (October)

I will never (I hope) contend that it’s an inherently feminist choice to keep or take our husbands’ names. The act is replete with both obvious and unspoken truths, cultural and professional norms and historical weight, some that I understand and others that I don’t. I do understand that there’s too much nuance and depth to other women’s circumstances for me to judge or begrudge or applaud their choices.

Measure (August)

I’ve considered the many theses people offer about postponing the decision to marry. Waiting for something better. Needing to grow into commitment. Men taking longer than women to warm to the idea of marriage. These arguments strike me as concerning and even sexist (see: no woman should have to beg her boyfriend to “put a ring on it,” though this has become a societally-acceptable aphorism/rally cry).

Travel, together (June)

I always marvel at how much I thought I knew, and how much I learn in the meanwhile. I sit for awhile with the arbitrary badges I wore proudly that no longer serve me. I never imagined I’d be anything but a reluctant co-traveller. Who knew I would want someone at my side for each adventure, to sweeten it? Yes, it is a platitude that I love to travel with my husband. It’s also a startling and beautiful revelation.

Walk (June)

There’s a lot you learn walking, without distraction, five mornings and evenings a week with your husband, looking toward the same things. It’s different from being together in a car or on a subway or sitting across a table. Holding hands, taking in the air and figuring through matters big and small as you both take steps forward. It’s an act imbued with lovely symbolism. These are times for pondering the now and the future, the little and big ways we make our marriage and our days, walking down the roads of life.

About learning

I like to learn, and not in a passive way. I am (perhaps annoyingly) one of those people who will always seek out the life lesson, whether formally or through the quotidien. At twenty-eight, I am taking everything I can from this water around me to learn more, delve deeper and stretch a little further.

Grown-up (September)

Twenty-eight, by all manner of measurement, is still very young. But it’s also happily inside of adult, with many adult milestones behind me, and many still ahead of me. I hear a lot (too much!) that life gets harder as you get older. The responsibilities pile on, time speeds up, the occasions to grieve come with greater frequency, our days become much less ours, the mundane of the grind is the norm. All this is true. But what doesn’t come with this diagnosis is how much better equipped we are to handle both the petty grievances and crushing blows, and to embrace more deeply and appreciate the beauty and luck and wonder we experience.

Somm (September)

So last night, I went back to school. I donned my little backpack and packed my notebook and pens and walked to campus. I stepped into the sommelier lab for my first class in a very long process: the (I’m told) grueling, fascinating, soul-crushing, wonderful road toward becoming a certified sommelier, and maybe, one day, years from now, if I’m obsessive enough, a Master.

Carnations (June)

A lot like life: the carnations we love or don’t are particular to who we are and the biases we keep. What hidden spaces within cause us to love some things so deeply and other things not as much? What about fat and showy roses makes me recoil? Without the sweet memory of my dad’s weekly gesture toward mom, would I consider carnations so fondly?

my feet in Reykjavik

10 things I read in 2014

While there’s so much good writing online, these are the pieces that stood out through the year against all others, for their message, well crafted prose or subject matter.

No, I actually don’t have as Many Hours in the Day as Beyonce by Jessica Blankenship (January)

I like that Beyoncé has become a role model for “having it all”, and I don’t think there’s a lot to be lost by having talented, accomplished, powerful women held up as emblems of strength and an unwillingness to be slowed down. But I am officially calling off this whole “You have as many hours in the day as Beyoncé” thing that has suddenly become the rallying cry of motivated, caffeinated women all over the internet. Because not only is it entirely untrue, but even though it appears to be a message of encouragement, it actually only serves to make us feel shitty about ourselves.

Confessions of a Lifelong Eavesdropper by Margaret Hawkins (February)

I remember as a child, going to restaurants with her. She’d get that faraway look I was so accustomed to and, though she’d remain in her seat, she’d be gone for a while. Later her attention would drift back to our table and she’d smile and say, pleasantly, in the tone of a connoisseur who’d discovered a charming little artifact in an unexpected place, “he has a rash on his back. He says it’s murder.” Then she’d chuckle a little, maybe relieved that someone else had troubles, too, but also delighted at this turn of phrase, this bit of found language. I knew better than to look at the man at the next table, scratching.

The Art of the Epigraph by Jonathan Russell Clark (June)

You see, I love epigraphs. Everything about them. I love the white space surrounding the words. I love the centered text, the dash of the attribution. I love the promise. When I was a kid, they intimidated me with their suggested erudition. I wanted to be the type of person able to quote Shakespeare or Milton or, hell, Stephen King appropriately. I wanted to be the type of writer who understood their own work so well that they could pair it with an apt selection from another writer’s work.

This CEO is Out for Blood by Roger Parloff (June)

Still, he balked at seeing her start a company before finishing her degree. “I said, ‘Why do you want to do this?’ And she said, ‘Because systems like this could completely revolutionize how effective health care is delivered. And this is what I want to do. I don’t want to make an incremental change in some technology in my life. I want to create a whole new technology, and one that is aimed at helping humanity at all levels regardless of geography or ethnicity or age or gender.’ ”

Under the Volcano by Anthony Bourdain (May)

We love Mexican drugs. Maybe not you personally, but “we”, as a nation, certainly consume titanic amounts of them—and go to extraordinary lengths and expense to acquire them. We love Mexican music, Mexican beaches, Mexican architecture, interior design, Mexican films. So, why don’t we love Mexico?

Reflections on a Cookbook by Mimi Thorisson (October)

I’ve come to the conclusion that [this cookbook] wouldn’t mean anything at all if I wasn’t proud of it, and I am. It will be there for our children and their children as a souvenir of the life we had and the food we cooked. It will be there to remind me and my husband that once we were young and had dreams and hoped that our dreams might give wings to the dreams of other people.

Olafur Eliasson on How to Do Good Art by Ned Beauman (November)

One of Eliasson’s friends, the author Jonathan Safran Foer, told me over the phone that he found spending time with Eliasson “overwhelming, whether overwhelming in the sense of at times feeling almost too much, or overwhelming in the sense of being really moving. You sit down with Olafur for a meal and he picks up the fork and stares at it for a moment and you think, Oh my god, he’s either inventing a new fork or wondering how to get forks to people who don’t have forks. ” He added: “After I’ve spent an hour with him I feel like I need a nap, but it’s because he has more curiosity than anyone I’ve ever met, and a greater belief in a person’s ability to be useful and to change things. Somehow he lives his entire life with the urgency of someone who just walked out of the doctor’s office with a dire prognosis.”

Maintaining a Long-term Blog by Heidi Swanson (November)

Here’s how I approach this site, and have for a long time. I think of it as my practice. It’s something I’m committed to, and look forward to being committed to for years to come. Contributing something new each week helps me develop in areas that I find important creatively – cooking, writing, taking photographs – and the only way I’m able to grow is through experience, experimentation, and regular practice.

Noma’s René Redzepi Never Stops Experimenting by Howie Kahn (November)

Eleven years in, and the food at Noma is unmatched. After eating a dish of lobster and nasturtium, Sean Brock, of the restaurant Husk in Charleston, South Carolina, recalls thinking, “A dish like this should be the goal of every chef, a dish that appears innocent and kicks your ass.”

And, for number 10, a few of my favourite collections from the year, because fashion is storytelling of its own, and 2014 produced stunning runways.

Lanvin Spring 2015 Ready-to-Wear: Alber Elbaz created my single favourite look of all the collections presented in 2014. That’s saying a ton, because I adored so many from S2015 RTW. But the pure cerulean blue, the drape… everything reminded me why Lanvin is consistently one of my favourite houses.

Wes Gordon Spring 2015 Ready-to-Wear: an unexpected favourite. Perfect crepe, seams and draping that let the fabrics speak. This dress! This dress! This dress! And the styling was spot on.

A Détacher Spring 2015 Ready-to-Wear: I can’t even begin with this collection. Mona Kowalska has a knack for making clever, irreverent clothes for the intellectual woman — the patterns for this collection knocked out everything else from S2015 RTW.

Valentino Fall 2014 Couture: a heart-stopping collection from first to last look. I tried to pick favourite looks from this show, but ended up with 25 open tabs.

Gates of Versailles

Things I wrote & read, some time ago

The below annual retrospectives were published at my former online home, anthimeria.com. Sadly, 2013 and 2012 are missing, but it’s still fun to look down the rabbit hole of time (plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, right?).

2011 Edition

2010 Edition

2009 Edition

2008 Edition

2014 redux | best travel moments

It’s no great secret that I’m a fan of the retrospective. So I’m reflecting on my bests from 2014 as we count down to the New Year — and there were many! Best restaurant bites, dishes from our kitchen, travel moments, writing and reading… here we go!

Austin and I love (live) to travel, and we were fortunate to spend five weeks abroad this year, plus some weekend adventures closer to home.

I was chatting recently with a fellow travel-lover about plans for 2015, and the concept of itineraries came up. We both like building them. For me, the itinerary isn’t something prescriptive to follow to the letter, but a means to better understand a destination before I even arrive through the act of research and plotting the details. I afford myself the luxury of time and choice in my travels by sorting out the fine print and anticipated logistical hurdles before the plane touches down.

And as I reflect on many-an-itinerary taken (and abandoned) this past year, I realize that it isn’t standing before a famous site or carrying out the extravagant plan that usually sticks with me, but the small moment, diversion-on-a-whim or collapse into happiness when I least expect it. To that end, here are my top 10 travel moments from 2014. 

Spring Point Ledge

Skipping along the breakwater at Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse in South Portland, Maine

We visited a handful of lighthouses during our summer trip to Maine, but Spring Point Ledge was something special. I was a kid skipping along the massive rocks of her breakwater, and giggling with Austin as we tried not to fall into the deep crevices. 

The Luxury

An indulgent solo lunch as I strolled the Riverwalk in San Antonio, TX

I tagged along for the sunshine when Austin attended an urban planning conference in San Antonio earlier in the year. During a solo day of exploration, I stumbled upon The Luxury. I put my feet up, ordered a glass of icy pinot gris and blissed out in the 80 degree sunshine. 

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Sunning on the beaches of Longboat Key, Florida

This past winter was one of Toronto’s coldest on record and seemed to last forever. It felt so good to escape to Florida for a week in March and welcome spring a bit early with family. Lounging on the beach, taking in the sun and losing myself in a book felt glorious on my winter-worn skin and spirit.

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Making El Castillo sing in Riviera Maya, Mexico

We stood below this immense monument, an ad hoc group of twenty, clapping a call and response with the pyramid, and laughing as it sang back to us

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Sitting out a sudden rainstorm with Austin over beers in Cozumel, Mexico

As Austin and I sat enjoying a beer beneath a palapa on the ocean in Cozumel, we watched a massive storm roll into the island, overtaking it with curtains of rain. We said “what the heck” ordered another round and waited as the storm give way to sunny blue skies to continue exploring.

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Strolling along the High Line with my husband in New York City, NY

Austin and I managed to find ourselves on the High Line on a surprisingly quiet summer afternoon. We strolled along, hand in hand, pointing to the different development projects underway and talking about urban planning. It’s moments like this when I pinch myself that I have such an intelligent husband.

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Anniversary photos in the rain in Paris, France 

While in Paris celebrating our first wedding anniversary, Austin and I decided on a whim to have some professional photos taken around the city. We set out with our photographer on a rainy October morning to explore by foot, camera and umbrellas in hand. IT RAINED BUCKETS. But we had so much fun braving the weather and have sweet (if damp) photos by which to remember our anniversary.

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Lunches at our Le Marais apartment in Paris, France

While in Paris, we rented a perfect little apartment in Le Marais, surrounded by cheesemongers, bakers, markets, wine shops — the makings of a splendid lunch. For all the fine dining we experienced, sitting across Austin as we leisurely nibbled cheese and bread with a bottle of rose takes the top spot.

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Walking in solitude to the Trianon in Versailles, France

When we visited Versailles, we had no interest in taking the site’s train from the main palace to the Trianon and Petit Trianon. Instead, we walked for 20 minutes alongside the property facing the farm in near-solitude — our only companionship the palace’s sheep. It was surreal to be in such a crowded, frenetic place like Versailles with no one else in sight.

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Stepping into the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, Iceland

Visiting this Olafur Eliasson-designed building was high on my list for our visit to Reykjavik, but I didn’t expect to be so totally overcome by the space. I spent at least an hour ascending the structure, taking dozens of photos and marveling to Austin about the sweeping glass work that framed the ocean. 

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My first live NFL game in Buffalo, NY

Paris, New York, Tulum, Reykjavik… Buffalo? Indeed. Seeing the raw excitement on my husband’s face as we watched the Bills take on the Chiefs will remain one of my most smiling travel memories from 2014.

[Our 2014 adventures: Buffalo, NYNiagara-on-the-Lake, ONReykjavik, IcelandParis, FranceStratford, ONPortland, MENew York City, NYTwenty Valley, ONLongboat Key, FLSan Antonio, TXRiviera Maya, MexicoDallas, TX]