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Maine high school sweethearts pen Costa Rica travel guide

Matt Houde and Jennifer Turnbull met more than 20 years ago at Marshwood High School. It was a freshman algebra class, and House didn't recognize the student across from him. "I thought she was a junior," he says now, looking back on it.10-23-costa-Jenn-and-Matt
"He thought I was stupid," Turnbull says, laughing. She had just moved to town from North Hampton, N.H. and was also a freshman.
After high school, Houde went on to Western New England College in Springfield, getting a degree in environmental science. Turnbull went to Stonehill College in North Easton, Mass., and acquired her degree in political science, with a minor in environmental science. Separate schools didn't threaten their relationship.
"We started dating junior year and have been together ever since," said Houde, a landscape manager in Boston area. Turnbull is a lawyer, who works for the state's Department of Public Utilities, which regulates electric and gas companies.
Despite their hectic schedules, they find time to travel, and have recently written a book together. "Two Weeks in Costa Rica" is part travel guide, part detailed narrative of a land not so far away, in terms of geography and financial possibility.
"We were both always into nature and science, and both enjoyed writing," Turnbull said. "Marshwood also had a strong writing program, and I think that probably helped us a lot."
The book offers an engaging storyline as they traipse from one environmental wonder to the next, including a section when they head to the mountains surrounding the Gulf of Nicoya.
"It's amazing how you go from water to mountains with pine trees," Turnbull said. "It seemed a lot like Maine." She was born in Presque Isle, "which is basically Canada," she said. "I moved to New Hampshire when I was young, and then to South Berwick for high school."
The book tells the story as one trip, but they incorporated stories from other vacations. "Matt was sort of joking. He said let's just type out my journal and go from there," said Turnbull. "We would take turns. One would elaborate on a certain section, and then the other would add more to it."
It went from a short journal to a 40-page document, then 60 pages, then a full-length book telling their fortnight story.
Houde's family is from Eliot. "I grew up there, except for a five-year period in Bermuda, when my dad was stationed on a Navy base. I kind of fell in love with the beach and tropical environment."
Hampton Beach and the Berwick countryside combined in Turnbull's early memory, and she considers Costa Rica a fitting counterpart.
"New Hampshire and Maine are really great for outdoor activities," she said. "We both grew up hiking, swimming, and playing outside. Costa Rica has some similar activities to do."
A co-authored non-fictional work, "Two Weeks in Costa Rica" is actually told in the first person. "Yeah, I'm a little sad we didn't explain that to our readers in the intro," Houde said, "but we felt that if you read a book with more than one voice, it can get confusing."
The next book they're planning is a travel guide to Panama, told in Turnbull's voice. Their next vacation has them heading to Florida; Matt's sister lives there.
"When we head back to Costa Rica early next year, we'll visit Panama while there," Houde said. "It's really easy to cross the border."
Regarding the reception for their book so far, from family, friends, and locals, they say they're really happy with how everyone has responded. "We have complete strangers liking our Facebook page," Turnbull said.
They said that, because in Costa Rica, 25 percent of the land is in protection status, the sites to visit are clean and pristine.
A friend of theirs named Roy lives there, and is a native Costa Rican. "He really helped us explore the non-tourist side of the country," Houde said. "We met a lot of people who either lived there or travel there a lot. We ran into a lot of people from New England."
They say the goal in writing the book is to bring the reader there, and also to provide some help for people traveling there. Asked about the dangers of traveling in Costa Rica, they said the "overall attitude of whole country is so laidback and relaxed. They take everything in stride. In the middle our vacation, we were completely relaxed."
"That's what we like about it, why we travel the way we do, " Turnbull said. "We don't make reservations, we just go with it."
"We plan the next day the day before," Houde said. "It's not necessary in smaller towns to make reservations. There are so many beaches and so many little towns that sometimes we feel like we have the whole beach to ourselves."
Asked if they have any children, they said "not yet," adding that they will travel with them right away. "We might change a bit in terms of making reservations and make our plans a little more solid while we go," Turnbull said.
They were in Maine recently, at a parents' house on the Piscataqua River, and while they miss their high school home, they were more anxious to head back to the "rich coast" of Coast Rica, and into Panama to work on their next book.
They enjoyed collaborating on the book. "It was really interesting to see how we both remembered a certain scene or situation," said Turnbull, pointing out that they would work on scenes separately, then get back together and "give it a look with fresh eyes."

Last Updated on Monday, 22 October 2012 23:35

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Travel Local: Savoring Maine's 'Top of the Crop'

Ah, Portland. Our own little sustainable, all-season banquet.10-23-harvest-Lobster-at-Harvest-on-the-Harbor
Although I detest the word "foodie," Portland has developed an international reputation for outstanding farmed, fished and foraged fare. From foie gras gorge and tartare tours to Joe Ricchio's legendary Deathmatch, Portland's food scene has grown from a two-restaurant backwater to Bon Appetit's 2009 "Foodiest Small Town in America." Portland's culinary fame continues to grow as chefs, diners and restaurateurs arrive "from away," adding to our ever-burgeoning local food scene.

Top of the Crop

I am happily anticipating Harvest on the Harbor this week, Oct. 24-27, a celebration of food with sweeping views of Casco Bay and an array of food and wine events and tasting opportunities. I am especially eager for Top of the Crop on Thursday, Oct. 25, when four outstanding Maine chefs will vie for Maine's Best Farm-to-Table
Restaurant. The fab four were selected based on their farm-to-table philosophy, relationship with local farms, and how well their restaurant menus reflect the farm-to-table movement year-round — not an easy task. The event will host a diverse international crowd with attendees from 48 states and the Netherlands, UK and Canada.
The who's who of Chef all-stars include Harraseeket Inn's Executive Chef Eric Flynn whose refined style, contemporary New England flair, and French flamboyance has put him on the culinary radar; Jeff Landry, executive chef and owner of The Farmer's Table, formerly at Portland's Cinque Terre and Freeport's Harraseeket Inn, and Maine Restaurant Association's 2007 Chef of the Year; Shannon Bard of Zapoteca Restaurante Y Tequileria who grew up in Oklahoma where her grandmother owned a Mexican restaurant; and Chef Kevin Walsh of Earth At Hidden Pond, formerly of Baldwin's on Elm, Radius in Boston, James Beard-nominated Flour and Water in San Francisco, and Deuxave in Boston.
"As our name implies, we feel strongly about supporting the local farm to table movement," said Landry. "Also, we embrace every opportunity to use organically farmed vegetables and fruit. We believe in simplicity of our food and commend those who raise it that way."
"Doing business with local purveyors helps the community by keeping its economy strong," said Flynn. "Our first priority is purchasing locally grown and harvested foods. We purchase organically grown produce whenever possible because we believe it is a healthier choice for our customers and our planet."
Top of the Crop will be moderated by international chef and restaurateur Elliott Prag, who specializes in natural foods and healthy world cuisine. He is creator of Kibea Restaurant in Sofia, Bulgaria, the first health-supportive restaurant in the Balkans. Prag worked in numerous New York natural food restaurants before developing his private chef business, Siegfried & Prag Caterers, and is a frequent contributor to Vegetarian Times.

Sustainable Showdown

The four chefs will prepare a dish using local, organic, farm-raised, beef, lamb, chicken, pork or venison. The lucky Harvest on the Harbor audience will nibble on bread, cheese and olive oil as they watch the talented quartet demonstrate their cheftastic techniques, then taste what is sure to be four amazing dishes in small-plate portions. Complementing the chefs' creations will be wine pairings selected by a sophisticated wine-guy type. Yum.
The event wraps on a sweet note with a dessert demo and tasting, caffeinated by Portland's favorite micro-roaster, Coffee by Design. Those guys at CBD and their socially conscious philanthropy make me so proud, I can't think of a better way to end a fabulous meal.

Where and How Much

Where: Thursday, Oct. 25, from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Ocean View Room at Ocean Gateway in Portland. How much: Tickets are $75 — yes, it's pricey, but you get a whole lot of tasty bang for your buck.

Cooking for a Cause

I will also attend this year's new Cutting Edge: College Culinary Competition, with gravel-voiced Michele Ragussis from TV's food network welcoming the next generation of Maine culinary all-stars with student teams from Maine's best culinary programs who will compete for the title, and hefty scholarships to help them reach epicurean success. The $65 admission fee will help these young chefs reach for the stars.

More, More More

Top of the Crop is just one of many tastings, savory samplings, and culinary events at this year's Harvest on the Harbor festival. Learn about Maine's farm-to-table movement, taste the difference growing organically can make, and rub elbows with famous and not-so-famous foodies while listening to some great music and sampling some wicked good food at Maine's premier food and wine event. Check out why Portland is the foodiest town in Maine.

(Elizabeth Margolis-Pineo is a freelance writer and creator of EpicuriousTravelers.com.)

Last Updated on Monday, 22 October 2012 23:33

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My Funny Valentine: Bob Greene

My friend Bob Greene is a very cool guy. He is tall, suave, and an excellent cook. Bob is a tennis writer who travels the world to watch famous and not-so-famous athletes whack a fuzzy yellow ball across a net at 100 mph. See what I mean? He even has a cool job.
Bob and I share two key interests: booze and jazz. Sometimes we enjoy them simultaneously. There's nothing better than sitting in Bob's basement with a hit of slivovitz listening to Chet Baker or Sonny Rollins.9-27-travel-1
Bob loves unique hooch like slivovitz, a fiery plum wine from Eastern Europe. "In other words," he says, "I'm a lush." He also likes an aperitif called Becherovka from Prague. The "bottled gasoline" he brought back from Belgrade wasn't a hit, although he says it might work fine at removing paint. He has standards.
Bob's family dates back in Maine to the 1700s and relatives are buried in the ancient Eastern Cemetery on Congress Street. This pretty much makes him Portland royalty.
Like Princess Beatrice of York, Bob had piano lessons as a child. But in high school he had a music review column in the Portland High newspaper, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Bob's birthday is on Valentine's Day. Every year he throws himself a slammin' party packed with musicians playing jazz all day and all night — a rockin' once-a-year musical happening. Guests mingle, sip and savor in Bob's packed "jazz club" in SoPo with all-stars like Bill Byrne, Tony Boffa, Flash Allen, Tony and Richard Marsters, Willie Johnson, Marc Chillemi, Ralph Norris, with vocals by Shawna Haley Bear and my crush Phil Divinsky ... and many more.
To alleviate the boredom of yet another year waiting for his birthday, Bob compiles a weekly list of jazz happenings — who, where, and what time — that he sends to his friends. "The Music Scene" is a good list to be on. We've seen and heard some mighty fine stuff by virtue of being on this list.
Bob's got our end of Maine pretty well covered with an eclectic and ever-expanding list of venues and musical choices, from The Dogfish Bar and Grill, The Big Easy, Blue, and Ginkgo Blue in Portland; Point Sebago Resort in Casco; Frog & Turtle and Avant Dance and Event Center in Westbrook; The Local Buzz in Cape Elizabeth; Old Village Inn and Admiral's Inn in Ogunquit; Schooner Landing in Damariscotta; The Whaler in Old Orchard Beach; The Olde Post Office Café in Mount Vernon; York Harbor Inn in York Harbor; Suds Pub in Bethel; Fresh in Camden; Savage Oakes Vineyard & Winery in Union; Iron Tails Saloon in Acton; and as far afield as The Press Room in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
I caught up with Bob at the Admiral's Inn in Ogunquit for a performance by Kim Kuzma, a soulful sassy siren with a big voice. Bob has an unabashed crush on Kim, and I don't blame him. Her vocal stylings are lounge-y and fabulous, and she can rock a soul tune like nobody's business — I love her take on R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Kim can go deep, too, dedicating "Bridge Over Troubled Water" to Bob Greene. He beams. As we nurse our Kuzmopolitans, enjoying the toasted coconut around the rim ("It's a whole meal," says Kuzma), Bob and I agree that her smile and sassy patter are infectious, the real deal. Kuzma's last concert of the summer is Friday at Grissini Bistro in Kennebunk. Bob says he's in the mood for Italian food. I say, see you there, man.
The guy has an amazing appetite for living a soulful life — cheers!
(Elizabeth Margolis Pineo is a freelance writer and creator of EpicuriousTravelers.com and a frequent contributor to UntappedCities.com.)

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 September 2012 01:29

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Dogs days of summer

Another Maine summer is coming to a close. I already miss the warm breezes, watching sailboats on Casco Bay, and concerts in Fort Allen Park. And somewhere near the top of the list of things-I-will-miss is Maine's summer staple, the hot dog.9-8-hot-dogs-2
New York has Nathan's. Chicago has George's. Michigan has redhots and Fenway has franks. Here in Maine we have red snappers, the bright red dogs known for that special "snap" when you bite into them.
I met up with a genuine hot dog connoisseur at Flo's, the iconic hotdog stand in Cape Neddick, just south of Ogunquit. Rob Merlino, self-proclaimed "Hot Dog Man" from Natick, Mass., has been touring the country, one hot dog at a time, for a year. I caught up with him while he was in Maine. "What I like to do," he said, "is celebrate the uniqueness of each [hot dog] joint I visit." Flo's is all that and a bag of salt and vinegar chips.
Flo's Hot Dogs is a rustic little shack that has been serving steamed hot dogs since 1947. My husband grew up in Ogunquit and swears by the dogs' restorative powers. The quirky spot is a bit gritty, okay, but it's a hot dog stand, not an operating room. The current proprietor is Flo's granddaughter, Kim. Like her legendary grandma, Kim can dish up some salty abuse when a grown-up requests ketchup. Flo's policy states that the cut-off for ketchup on dog is 15.
Hot Dog Man says, "It's real easy to see why Flo's has endured over the years. It's a simple place — just six stools at a counter with a few picnic tables outside. The menu is simple too." Hot Dog Man orders up the house special — a boiled Old Neighborhood frank on a steamed roll with Flo's trademark red relish, mayonnaise, and celery salt. I order one, too.
This famous flavor profile didn't do anything for me. "Bleargh," I think I said, and mumbled that it was an acquired taste. This provoked a lively discussion with Hot Dog Man, a really good-natured fellow, who nailed the last word: "Okay. Flo's is off-the-chart when it comes to the topping [mayo and Flo's relish]. And maybe it is an 'acquired taste.' But I've definitely acquired it!" I admire Hot Dog Man's diplomacy.
Hot Dog Man and I may disagree on the mayo and relish topping, but we agree that Flo's is a timeless hot dog joint and a total Maine classic. "I don't rate, I celebrate," he says, smiling broadly.
His Maine Hot Dog Tour continues north to Portland and an adorable hot dog cart at Dana and Commercial streets called "Wieners," whose specialty is the legendary Maine Red Snapper. Jess Cady, Wieners' bubbly owner, chats with Hot Dog Man about the hot dog biz, the challenges of dishing mobile food, and the origins of the beloved Maine Red Snapper (W.A. Bean and Sons in Bangor, in case you're wondering).
Next, Hot Dog Man heads Down East to Winter Harbor ("pronounced Wintah Hahbah," he says, very funny, Hot Dog Man) to visit Carl Johnson at Fisherman's Inn. Carl has a few nifty hot dog moves up his sleeve, including a "Lobster Dog" — a baked stuffed lobster with Maine Red Snappers served on a hot dog bun. Talk about an acquired taste. Naturally, Hot Dog Man loves it. Chef Carl also turns out a "Hot Dog Roulade," a quarter-pound Pearl frank stuffed with Brie, wrapped in bacon, and served on a bed of homemade chili. Okay, this is officially where I draw the line, but Hot Dog Man is duly impressed.
Hot Dog Man also enjoyed a few iconic dogs at Wasses' in Belfast, where he downed several and pronounced them, "yummy." Wasses' grills their dogs and onions in peanut oil for unique mid-coast flavor and hotdoggin' style, and locals can't get enough. The indomitable Hot Dog Man's last stop was Hoss and Mary's in Old Orchard Beach for some spectacular grilled dogs, and for Missus Hot Dog Man's (aka Chantal Merlino) favorite, poutine! Yes, the spectacular French-Canadian hangover cure is Missus Hot Dog Man's go-to here in Maine. It's rumored that Hoss and Mary even sprinkled a few hot dogs on top — you go, Missus Hot Dog Man.
Hot Dog Man loved his 2012 Hot Dog Tour and can't wait to come back for another "great Maine experience" in 2013. I promise to take him to Stacy's on East End Beach where they offer hipster meatless vegan dogs. And thank goodness, they also have Hebrew National all-beef classics — my hot doggin' go-to, the "best on the beach."
As the season comes to a close, and as much as I will miss the dog days of summer, I can safely say that this year I am a little hot-dogged out.
A bientot, Hot Dog Man — same time next year!

(Elizabeth Margolis-Pineo is a freelance writer and creator of EpicuriousTravelers.com and frequent contributor to UntappedCities.com.)

Last Updated on Saturday, 08 September 2012 01:39

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Coffee shops worth visiting

Travel Local: Six Cozy Coffeeshops

Traveling, local or otherwise, is not always sunny. You don't always want to spend quality time with your family at the beach or at the hotel pool. Sometimes you want a friendly place to read the paper and have a little downtime, alone. Portland coffeehouses meet the criteria for cozy, cool and neighborhoody, and here are six of my all-season favorites within shouting distance of downtown.Coffeeshops-Coffee-Art-at-Bard
At 90 Congress St., Hilltop Coffee is my neighborhood go-to, at the top of Munjoy Hill, where I now live. They play groovy music but not too loud. The servers are wicked nice and don't mind messy kids or idiot dogs. I love how the liquid sugar bottle says, "Squeeze gently, I leak," like those tee-shirts that say "Kiss me, I'm Irish." Plus, they make a simple and uncluttered breakfast sandwich, a take-away or eat-in fave that can be safely devoured in three minutes. Hilltop is comfy and breathes tolerance, and I'm proud to call it my second home. And yes, it resides in close proximity to Rosemont Market, but hey, I moved here from Deering Center.  Can I help it if those guys pitch a tent wherever I go?
At 9 Commercial Street, Crema Coffee Company's cappuccino is outstanding with mysterious hints of caramel, yum. Since opening, their WiFi has steadily improved – a definite plus. The ambience is brick-warehouse hip with a clientele that seems "from away" but may be (I hope) increasingly local. Enormous front windows afford expansive views of Casco Bay and the South Portland tank farm, and the large, airy space is capacious enough to hold more than one cluster of like-minded souls. Today there's a baby-centric group in back, jiggling and swaying in animated conversation over the heads of their dozing infants. Instinct tells me that what they're talking about is not breakfast fare, so I don't even try to eavesdrop. In keeping with the prevailing milky mood, I try a house-baked cheddar-yogurt scone. Some things just don't want to be scones, but this is pretty savory and good in spite of itself, with a thick eighties swoosh of butter.
Part of the beauty of Crema is its proximity to yet another Rosemont: Rosemont Produce, a nifty indoor farmer's market-style space at 5 Commercial Street that is full of gorgeous vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers.
Some coffeehouses draw us in for the ambiance, like beautiful Arabica at 2 Free Street, with its old-world tiled floors, high ceilings, and enormous still-life pears. This place is supremely dignified with a cool, relaxed vibe. The cappucino tastes suspiciously like Crema's, which is, surprise!, their sister coffeeshop, and where the bulk of their baked goods are made. The rest are from Standard Baking, always a good thing. We try to share a sweet cinnamon roll covered in sticky nuts, and it's a problem. See, I don't really support in the concept of sharing baked goods, so we end up getting another. Much better. We enjoy our private corner with reliable WiFi, laid-back baristas, shiny Italian machines, and excellent proximity to Nickelodeon. In my world, it doesn't get much better.
Other coffeehouses are world-class forces for good, like Portland's pride and joy, Coffee By Design. CBD approaches the business of coffee with an affirming hit of altruism. They're always sponsoring or supporting something, locally and worldwide, and their commitment to environmental and economic sustainability is the real deal, not just chatter. The Buy Local movement has a home here, with bags and stickers for sale, and a container of dog biscuits suggests CBD is canine-friendly, too. Me, I like the CBD at 43 Washington Avenue. The breakfast paninis are hot and wavy from the press, a nice accompaniment to the morning paper (Daily Sun of course) and a robust cup of joe. The ambiance is is pretty much pure Portland, across from Silly's and the Discount Halal Market. If you're early enough, you can actually get an outside table. Washington Avenue isn't picturesque, okay, but it's authentic. And it's easy to feel good about doing business in a place that does so much good in the world. Seriously.
Even though it's a little nerdy and touristy, Bard Coffee at 185 Middle Street, like the best coffeehouses, is fundamentally a living room. Patrons can be alone or sit with friends, and visitors can imagine that they blend with locals. I had a great breakfast of "affogato"– gelato with a shot of espresso poured over — my new hot-weather breakfast of champions. I don't care when the rest of the world drinks it. Or try an artful cappuccino or macchiato topped with a foamy heart or olive wreath – clever. Drinks are served in bright red cups that are the coffee-equivalent of Jimmy Choos, a sexy and vivid, "hello!"
And last but not least: Since the winter of our discontent on Thomas Street, I have a very soft spot for Aurora Provisions at 64 Pine Street. Many mornings would start with a frothy cappuccino and my wintertime breakfast of champions, their incomparable cinnamon toast balls. How something so small could provide so much comfort and joy I will never know. I will always remember my No-WiFi quiet time at Aurora, drinking coffee with snow gently falling and West-End book ladies discussing Fifty Shades of Gray in hushed tones.
The best legal stimulant, a cup of good coffee in the right place can brighten your day — and if you're at Coffee By Design, brighten the world. Portland has this stellar six and many more, so make up your own mind, and remember to Travel Local.
(Elizabeth Margolis Pineo is a freelance writer and creator of EpicuriousTravelers.com and a frequent contributor to UntappedCities.com.)

Last Updated on Friday, 17 August 2012 23:23

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