August 2, 2012

TRAVELIN' MAINE(RS): 'Celebrate all things summer': Eat fresh food by the sea

George and Linda Smith

The message was tempting: “Celebrate all things summer and local overlooking the beautiful wildlife sanctuary and Crescent Beach. Chef Mitch will present a weekly fixed menu that features Maine fare from gardens and sea.”

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PICK YOUR OWN farm-fresh blueberries

The blueberries were ready 10 days earlier than usual at our favorite pick-your-own place, Steep Hill Farm in Fayette, where George and Brenda Joseph host a picking opportunity that is more like a family and friends annual reunion.

Joseph seems to know everyone, greeting them by name. As a bright beaming young girl gazes at a bush loaded with blueberries, he leans down and says, “Try one.” Those were the magic words!
Heading west on Route 17, you’ll turn left after passing the Fayette Country Store. Watch for the farm’s road signs and one mile down Lovejoy Pond Road, you’ll turn right and drive up a steep hill (hence the name!) to the Joseph’s charming home and barn.

Check in with Brenda Joseph in the barn, where you’ll have an opportunity to purchase everything from cold lemonade to attractive T-shirts. Check out the array of photos and displays before you select your containers.

We were captivated by the old wooden Folly Farm buckets — something Joseph purchased from our other farm friends, the Stevensons, whose Wayne strawberry fields always start off our fruit picking summer season. Linda grew up close to the Folly Farm in Monmouth, the first pick-your-own strawberry farm in the region (we think).

We noted the reasonable prices, $3.50 for a quart and $1.75 for a pint, grabbed a container and followed Joseph to the huge field of heavily laden bushes, where he’s been cultivating four varieties of high-bush blueberries since 1984.

He led us down a long row of bushes, stopped in front of one, and said, “This is your plant.” From that single bush, we filled our two quart containers without moving!

“There’s an art to this,” Linda instructed. “Pick those on the outside of the cluster. They ripen from the outside to the inside of the stem.” We did that and we left hundreds of blueberries on that bush for the next picker.

These were Patriot berries, large and sweet, a strain created by Professor Amr Ismail at the University of Maine and closely related to wild blueberries. Then we moved to another section of the field to pick smaller Northlander berries. George suggested we mix our berries because the large ones “explode” in muffins. And we’ve got to have blueberry muffins!

Joseph munched along the rows right along with us. “I eat all day long,” he confessed. “I lose my taste buds about the third week of the season!”

On this warm sunny afternoon, we spent a leisurely hour carefully selecting — and sampling — our berries, and visiting with other pickers.

Nearby was Nathaniel Sparling of Leeds with his wife and three adorable children. Nathaniel told me the first year they picked at Steep Hill Farm, their first child was a baby. The other two kids also visited the farm as babies, and now the two girls and a boy were eagerly picking on their own — and eating!

Pick-your-own berry farms offer a fantastic adventure for young, old and all of us in between.

The two berry strains we didn’t pick ripen later, providing a long picking season through late August.Since George and Brenda retired four years ago, they’ve opened their farm to pickers seven days a week, 8 a.m. - 7 p.m., when the weather cooperates.

You can call them for more information at 685-4155, and check out their website Go Blue!

Having visited Cape Elizabeth’s elegant Inn by the Sea last January and dined at its amazing Sea Glass Restaurant, we thought the advertisement sounded really good. But the Summer Garden Dinner was better than good. It was spectacular!


I didn't quite know what would be involved in a Summer Garden Dinner, but as it turned out, it was quite literally a dinner set in the garden. Now granted, it was not just any garden. The grounds at the Inn By The Sea are astounding.

When we visited in January we met Derek Daly, the inn's gardener. He'd cultivated specific plants to attract birds in the winter and we were both excited to see a large flock of bluebirds feasting on the bush's berries. Even the waitresses told us we must come back in the summer because the gardens were so incredibly beautiful.

Now that it's July, the yard is full of color. Patches close to the buildings are blooming, adding splashes of color to the gray façade of the inn. Small gardens accent walkways, and sitting areas are tucked near the riot of color. And this is where we found our table -- complete with a white tablecloth, potted herbs and candles -- set for two.

When there are more people for this dinner, they sit at a long farmer's-style table right on the lawn, still affording a view of the gardens. But tonight it turns out to be just George and I, and we sit down to enjoy the surreal experience of being doted on by our fantastic server, Chris Reiling. Chris actually picked the cherry tomatoes and basil that was incorporated into our meal.

A Summer Garden Dinner includes frequent visits from the chef. Chef Mitchell Kaldrovich, a native of Argentina, came out between courses to tell us about our food. With his charming accent, he carefully explained how he has prepared each course. For someone who enjoys watching cooking shows on the Food Network, this was an extremely cool experience.

I'll tell you about the first and last course, and let George fill you in on the two middle courses. I doubt anyone enjoys fresh tomatoes more than me, so Chef Kaldrovich had me at the start -- a duo of local tomatoes. A mini caprese salad of red and yellow tomatoes layered with fresh mozzarella and basil was paired with a most amazing gazpacho served in a glass. That first course was exactly what garden season is all about.

We finished our meal with a Chocolate Mousse Cake. Now I don't really enjoy cake, but with a mousse layer atop a small slice of cake, served with raspberry sauce and a small scoop of strawberry sorbet, this was simply incredible.

The creativity of this kitchen, along with a topnotch knowledgeable staff, makes dining at the Sea Glass restaurant a memorable experience. The Summer Garden Dinner celebrates food at its freshest, and is a dinner you will remember for a very long time.


"Now that's a nice idea." That comment, from a guest of the inn who walked past our table as Lin and I were dining among the flower gardens, summed up our experience -- well, very nicely.

We started out with a blueberry martini -- shared -- and enjoyed a glass of Sangria each during dinner -- nice, cool and full of fresh fruit. We gazed at the sea, indulged in long discussions with the chef and our server about the food, and felt pampered and special -- just what you'd want and expect when you reserve a place at one of these wine, garden and chef's dinners. This is an experience far beyond simple dining at a fine restaurant.

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