Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Camping at Sebago Lake State Park

Growing up, I spent a significant amount of my summer camping with my family. My family would go to a camper show every spring and we would collect pamphlets from various campgrounds across the state. Once summer arrived, my dad would draw a circle around our home town on a map and said that my sister and I could pick a campground, as long as it fell within that circle. It seemed as though we would go camping a couple times a month, but of course, that was a long time ago when summer seemed endless. If that wasn't enough, I also pitched a tent in the backyard and would spend the majority of nights in my tent, rain or shine. To put it lightly, to state that I am a fan of camping and the outdoors is a bit of an understatement. Which is why it may come as a surprise to say that in Tom and I's nearly four year relationship, this past weekend was our first camping trip together. The reason for my four year camping hiatus? Life as a grown-up is hectic.

The entire plan of going camping this past weekend occurred during a moment of brilliance while I was walking my dog one evening. Tom and I are going camping for three nights in Acadia National Park during the second weekend of September, and I was kind of bummed about having to wait so long for our first camping adventure. Then it dawned on me that Maine's Lake Region was only about 45 minutes from Portland. In other words, close enough that we could easily work a full day on Friday, hop in the car, get to the campground, and be fully set up before sunset. After a search on the internet, and scoffing at the prices of some of the private campgrounds, I discovered Sebago Lake State Park. The campsites are a flat $15 a night for a campsite with a picnic table and a fire ring. I have a tent, so electric and water were of little concern to me. A couple of clicks later, Tom and I had reservations.

Overall, I am very impressed with the campground. I had never camping at a state park in Maine, and I was expecting very primitive conditions. Much to my surprise, the campground had very modern facilities (e.g. flush toilets in the bathhouses and free hot showers). The campsites were absolutely huge, albeit a bit close to the neighbors, but at $15 a night, I really can't complain. Upon check-in, the park ranger was able to upgrade our campsite to something a little closer to the water. Tom estimates that we had about a 50 foot walk from our camp site to the beach. We spent the weekend relaxing by the campfire, solving crosswords, and, of course, swimming in Sebago Lake. We filled our tummies with food cooked over the campfire, and lamented that we had to go back to the real world on Monday. Overall, our first camping adventure together was a huge success, and we will definitely be making reservations at Sebago Lake State Park again next year. I don't think I truly realized how much I missed camping until I got back into again, now I am definitely counting down the days until we get to set up the tent again at Acadia.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Restaurant Review- Ri Ra Irish Pub

August is certainly the month for birthdays in this family. Tom's birthday is on the 9th, grampa's was on the 12th, and my birthday falls on the 14th. I turned 31 this year, and to celebrate the occasion, Tom offered to take me out to dinner anywhere I wanted to go. The Portland area has several hundred restaurants. Regardless, I did not even have to think about where I wanted to go. I chose Ri Ra Irish Pub in Portland's Old Port. Ri Ra has always been one of my favorite restaurants to visit. The downstairs is a traditional Irish pub, they have live entertainment practically every weekend and serve traditional pub fair. There are actually two bars downstairs, a main area where the band performs, and a smaller bar that is more intimate. I actually celebrated my 30th birthday there with a series of Irish car bombs. While the downstairs is definitely a great evening hang out, my favorite part of Ri Ra is actually the upstairs. First you pass through a whiskey room with couches and another bar, then you reach the restaurant, a moderately sized space with a wall of windows overlooking the ocean and a fireplace on the wall. The menu is made up of traditional Irish cuisine along with some Irish-American fusion dishes. Overall, the restaurant presents the perfect ambiance for an intimate dinner for two, or larger tables for a family gathering.

My birthday dinner started with a glass of reisling. These days I am only allowed an occasional glass of wine, so I make the most of it. Tom had a pint of beer. We ordered potato cakes as an appetizer, these are an absolute must have. Ri Ra has mastered the potato cake to the point of an art form. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and perfectly seasoned. They garnish the potato cakes with baby greens and balsamic vinegar, simple and elegant all at the same time. Tom's dinner happened to come with a salad as a starter, so I opted to have a cup of the potato and leek soup. Again, another must have when you visit Ri Ra. The soup has a nice thick consistency from the potatoes, perfect for dipping Irish soda bread into. For the main course, I had potato wrapped haddock with sauteed baby carrots and a lemon caper beurre blanc. The potatoes were nice and crispy while the haddock inside was moist and perfectly cooked. the lemon caper beurre blanc went right through the potato and pulled everything together. I would highly recommend this dish. The main course was followed by dessert. Tom's dinner included a slice of blueberry cheesecake, which I was more than happy to share; however, the server offered me a free dessert in celebration of my birthday. I chose the creme brulee, and I am very happy that I did. I love shattering the sugar top, and the underlying custard was the perfect ending to a perfect meal.

If you are ever in the Portland area and you are looking for a nice place to share a meal, I strongly recommend Ri Ra. In addition to dinner, they serve a pretty amazing Sunday brunch as well. They are located right on the corner of Commercial Street and Franklin Street next to Casco Bay Lines. The prices are in the moderate range, and the menus are available on the web site.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Happy 80th Birthday in Heaven, Grampa

On August 2, 2012, my grandfather passed away. My sister and I were always close to grampa. I remember growing up visiting the farm and spending hours playing outside in the fields and surrounding woods. My grampa was always one to tease, he would refer to my sister and I as "pests" and threaten to feed us to the coyotes if we did not do as we were told. Everyone knew that teasing was grampa's way of telling you that he loved you. I come from a good French Catholic family, my mom is one of five children and I am one of twelve grandchildren. Every single one of us took grampa's passing hard.

My grandfather passed exactly 10 days before what would have been his 80th birthday. After a long a difficult couple of months, my mom thought it would be a good idea to celebrate my grampa's birthday anyway, so that my family could gather together again with happier circumstances. My grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins agreed and over the course of a day or two the event was planned. It was a simple, nothing fancy, a family barbecue with burgers and hot dogs, everyone brought a dish to share. Country music was playing and horseshoes were thrown. We also had a balloon release, as a means of sending our birthday wishes up to grampa in heaven. My grandmother, along with each of their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren each wrote birthday wishes on a balloon. After the count of three, and a big "Happy Birthday" the balloons were released to the sky.

Following the balloon release, we had birthday cake. My cousin Ashley managed to get a photo cake put together with less than 24 hours notice. The cake was perfect, complete with a pipe. My grandmother and the original five posed with the cake before we cut it. Notice all the orange, that was grampa's favorite color.

Overall, it was a wonderful day. It was nice to spend time with family, and we all needed something to smile about. I think grampa was happy that we had the party as well, because shortly after the balloon release the sky cleared and the sun came out. My mom saw a rainbow her drive home. Grampa, let it be known that words will never describe how much you meant to our family. You will be forever in our hearts and sorely missed. You were a wonderful husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, and I am sure that God has set aside a farm in heaven, just for you.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Tom turns 30, Superhero Style

On August 9th, Tom turned 30. It was only fitting to have a party to mark the occasion. Tom and I are nerds at heart, and Tom is a huge comic book fan, so it was only fitting to have an Avengers themed party. I wish I took more pictures of the event, but unfortunately I was not yet blogging at the time and I was hosting the party so, you know how it goes.

I will begin by saying that I put special care into making sure that the party stayed adult, and appropriate for someone turning 30. This was not the easiest task, every time I searching Pinterest or Google for superhero birthday themes I would find stuff for little kids but never for big "kids." To create a cohesive theme, I purchased Avengers plates, napkins, and a birthday banner from the local party store. Then I went to the dollar store and purchased a solid red table cloth and silver tinsel to create a tablescape. This was because I was not willing to pay $7.00 for an Avengers tablecloth that I was just going to throw away, I also did not want to overdo the Avengers gear. I also purchased the classic red Solo cups, because the kids size paper cups are too small. I finished the decor with red and silver balloons scattered around the apartment and red, white, and blue streamers. It's not a birthday party without streamers.

The menu was a simple collection of some of Tom's favorite foods; pulled pork, kielbasa, terriyaki burgers, potato salad, and cole slaw. I also served fruit punch to drink. Tom and I are trying to start a family, so we are on alcohol restriction. Guests were more than welcome to bring their own if they wanted. The centerpiece of the table was the cake. I based the cake off of scene from the movie "Thor" in which Thor's hammer was stuck in a mound of dirt. Tom wanted a chocolate cake, so chocolate is what he got. The bottom of the cake is a two layer chocolate fudge cake filled with chocolate butter cream. the top layer is actually a double fudge brownie, and then I frosted the whole cake with more chocolate butter cream. I used  more brownie pieces to resemble dirt and surrounded the whole thing with brown sugar "sand." The topper is a Nerf Thor's hammer that Tom had been eyeing for quite a while. It was a fun cake to make in that it was essentially impossible to mess up. The finished product looked as though I made a chocolate cake and the hammer smashed into it. Just the look I was going for.

Overall it was a great evening of good company. We had a good group of friends over, and we enjoyed playing various board games until late into the evening. Tom absolutely loved it and was still smiling the next day. To go along with the theme, I gave Tom an Avengers comic book. Later on, on his actual birthday, I took him shopping for some camping gear for our upcoming camping trip, but more on that later.
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