Roadtrip Revival: Maine

by Lisa Lombardi in ,

Back in 2011, the year of Ye Olde Life-Changing Roadtrip, I made a painful omission to my country-wide route: I didn't stop in Maine.

I know. Now that I live in New England, I'm sure I would get even more crap for that decision today. But in my defense, it was still early spring/practically-still-winter when I departed, and I would have hit Maine in the midst of its chilly, wet defrost. It didn't sound like the ideal time to fall in love with a place — and this seemed like a spot I could really fall for; something right up my outdoors-loving, crusty-old-sea-captain-smitten, low-population-👍  alley.

So I passed. And this summer, I made it my mission to get some Maine-exploring in.

The first toe-dip in the water was a weekend to celebrate my Aunt Barby's birthday (just a week after Momstravaganza weekend, so it was really a Momstravaganza month). First stop: the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. (What did I tell you about moms and gardens, people?!)

Sidenote: Living just an hour away from my Aunt Barby & Uncle Mike is one of the best things about being in Boston. My aunt is delightfully just like my mom, yet also nothing like my mom (read: she will go hiking with me), and my uncle is just like my dad (curse of being a Mike?), yet also nothing like my dad (read: won't try to convince me to buy a car with the same number of miles on it as my current car). It's Parents 2.0, just a short ride away, and I love it.

The gardens were followed by the main (Maine?) attraction: a Puffin-Watch Cruise. Let's add "birds" to the list of Things Moms Like, shall we?

A word of warning before you go and book your own spot on a Puffin Cruise, because I did zero research and had unreasonably high expectations. Puffins are tiny. They are not — as I assumed — the size of small penguins. And vast swarms of them do not cover the islands that they roost on. (Again, I was imagining penguins.) So... bring your binoculars, people. My camera's zoom lens barely did the trick capturing those orange beaks.

We stopped at Red's Eats in Wiscasset on the way home to try one of their famous lobster rolls. The evening stop was perfect timing, actually, because both times I passed Red's on my later Maine trip, the line was always snaking around the building and into the street. This place is popular. And for good reason, too: their lobster roll is the most gargantuan I've ever seen; a normal-sized bun spilling over with what must be a literal entire lobster's worth of meat. To be honest, it was a little too much after a day that had already been filled with lots of eating, but I totally get the hype.

So. That brings us to two weeks ago, the weekend before the Fourth of July. Because that first peek at Maine was nowhere near enough, I planned an entire road trip dedicated to it. (If you want to see concerning proof of my madness, just check out any Google Doc I create that has to do with travel planning. And prepare to back away slowly.)

I limited myself to just the coast — I only had four days, after all — and prioritized time in Bar Harbor and Portland, since those seemed to have the most things to do. There were some hits, some definite misses, and a whole lotta fog, but it was a beautiful weekend. 

Here was the route:



(That's the abbreviated version.)

I left Portland bright and early (with just ONE dashboard warning light illuminated in the Blueberry — ayyyye) and arrived in Ogunquit in time for a leisurely pre-breakfast walk along the paved Marginal Way cliffside path. It's a little over a mile from the start to the end in Perkin's Cove, where I grabbed an iced coffee for the walk back.

In Kennebunkport, just a half hour away, I had the most satisfying breakfast sandwich ever at H.B. Provisions. (Full disclosure: It's nothing special, but I was really hungry.) H.B.'s is apparently a staple for the locals and does, indeed, feature a framed photo of George W. Bush. on its walls. But I won't hold that against the place.

After wandering a bit more in Kennebunkport, I drove north to Cape Elizabeth to take in the famous Portland Head lighthouse...

...It was a little foggy that day.

The fog continued as I wove my way around the jagged coast, taking a detour to the tiny fishing village of Georgetown to visit an obscure yet highly praised lobster shack I'd read about.

Five Islands Lobster Co. consists of a couple shacks on a pier overlooking the harbor in Georgetown, Maine. I arrived well after lunch time on a foggy Saturday, but the parking lot was still packed. Cars filled the nearby municipal lot, too, so I was forced to leave my SUV on the edge of a residential lawn guarded by an overzealous poodle. No joke.

Is the lobster roll good? Yessir. However, as someone who arrived in Boston almost five years ago having never tasted real lobster — and later choked on one in front of her undying college crush — I've now sampled a decent number of rolls. Five Islands' is good, yes, but it was disappointingly small. I could have easily polished off two. But you can't really beat the ambiance, so... maybe just bolster that roll with any of the other delicious-sounding items on the menu.

YOU GUYS. This is where I stayed for two nights (in Surry, Maine), and I already want to go back. I initially looked for a campsite but was having trouble finding one where I could reserve a spot ahead of time, so I turned to Air BnB. In the end, it was between a teepee on someone's private property and this, the Morgan Bay Zendo.

(Morgan Bay won out because it had a shower, but I'm determined to sleep in a teepee in the future.)

The cabin was exactly as tiny as it looks, with only a twin-sized storage bed, rocking chair, and wood-burning stove inside. Yet as rustic as the accommodations were, I was blown away with how thoughtful and precise the design was. My crappy cell phone pics don't do it justice, but trust me when I tell you that these dudes know their interior decorating and architecture.

In case you couldn't tell, the Zendo is a Buddhist meditation retreat and consists of a main meditation hall, a meeting hall with communal kitchen and showers, and four small rustic cabins. That's not counting the grounds, which include several gardens, a pond inhabited by some very vocal bullfrogs, and the winding path through the woods from the parking lot. (The walk ensures that the location is extra peaceful and secluded, yes, but is also extra terrifying when you get back after dark and remember that you're 100% alone in the middle of nowhere with just the light of your headlamp.)

During my stay, I crossed paths with exactly three people. One was a fellow lodger who I saw for maybe fifteen minutes, and the other two seemed to be a local grandma showing her grandson the weird hippie commune down the road. It was awesome.

I also chose Surry as my home base because it was less than an hour from Bar Harbor, the front yard of Acadia National Park.

The fog was still in full force Sunday morning when I arrived in the harbor, but by the time I finished breakfast at 2 Cats (three words: homemade strawberry butter), it had mostly burned away.

I followed Aunt Barby's advice (she worked at Acadia last season, so she knows her stuff) and hit the Bar Harbor Land Bar first. At low tide, the sand bar connects Mount Desert Island to Bar Island, which is off in the distance in the above photo, hidden by the remaining fog. 

Once I checked Bar Island off my list, I hitched a ride on the shuttle into the park and tackled the Gorham Mountain Trail. During my previous visit to Acadia a couple years ago, I did Cadillac Mountain, Jordan Pond, and couple other well-known ones, so this was my chance to conquer something new and — more importantly — not too lengthy (I had only one day, okay?). The top of Gorham Mountain rewards with views like the above and the kind of sweat that's synonymous with well-earned accomplishment.

After my hike, I relaxed on Sand Beach for a couple hours and then wandered along some more trails until dinner time.

The evening began with a flight at Atlantic Brewing Company, which was followed by a refreshingly different dinner of enchiladas and mole sauce at Havana. (Vacation rule: always take the hot bartender's dinner recommendation.)

Dessert was a mandatory stop at my fave, Mount Desert Island Ice Cream. (Flavors so good, I got it again the next day in Portland.)

The next morning, after a detour to Big Chicken Barn Books & Antiques (oh yes, I did), I headed back south, eventually stopping in Brunswick, Maine, for my second lobster roll of the trip. Haunted by my puny lunch at Five Islands, I made sure to order the large lobster roll at Libby's Market, which looks like a glorified gas station convenience store. But that Yelp rating don't lie, folks. It was goooooood.

I rolled into Portland with enough time to stop at Foundation Brewing Company for a tasting before they closed. Alas, I didn't have the sobriety left in me to head next door to Austin Street Brewery, too, but it's earmarked for next time. (Hot bartender recommended it, after all.)

Dinner was a BBQ bahn mi hot dog from The Thirsty Pig. It's not blurry in real life and I would very much like another one, please.

I celebrated July 4th the best way I know how: with donuts, french fries, and beer.

At The Holy Donut (known for their potato-based donuts), I sampled the ginger-glazed sweet potato, blueberry with blueberry glaze, and dark chocolate with coconut and coconut milk-glazed donuts. Despite mixed reviews of the bakery from friends and fellow travelers, I was a fan. I'm also the farthest thing from a donut connoisseur you can find, though, so take that with a grain of salt.

After attempting to walk off some of the donuts, I circled back to DuckFat just as their doors opened so I could grab an order of their famous duck fat fries to go — along with a salad. (I like food, but I could feel this trip murdering my cholesterol with every passing moment.)

The final stop in Portland was a tour of Allagash Brewing Company, where I got to sample an excellent sour and saison. Probably should have bought a couple bottles, but at this point I was ready to swear off beer and junk food for the foreseeable future.


Hey Maine, let's stay friends, k?

Cooking for Lazy People: Breakfast Go-Tos

by Lisa Lombardi in

They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and for me, this has always felt more like a written-in-stone rule of life than a platitude. Maybe it's because I have been known to wake up at 3 a.m. simply because I was hungry. Maybe it's because I enjoy coffee, but it's always been food that actually gets me going in the morning. Maybe it's because my stomach is a bottomless black pit that doesn't care if I have to leave for work in ten minutes OMG FEED ME NOW.

No matter the reason, the only way I skip breakfast is if I sleep through it. But that doesn't always jive with my reluctance to get up early and my inevitable habit of losing track of time while I do my makeup and simultaneously watch TV.

My solution? Eat breakfast at work. Sounds simple, and it is, once you have a few go-to items that travel easily, keep well, and are quick to grab. Here are mine:


Granola truly is hippie food. It welcomes all, works best within a loose structure, and is usually a little nutty. This is the recipe I follow, but it's incredibly forgiving and allows for customizing based on what you have on hand and what you, personally, enjoy. No flax seed? Whatever. (That stuff took way too long to use up, anyway.) Want more orange flavor? Add a little zest in, along with the juice. It's allllll good, man.

4 cups of oats
1 1/2 cups almonds
1/2 cup pecans
3/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
2 tablespoons flax seeds
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup orange juice

Heat the oven to 300° F and cook for 30 minutes, pausing to stir the mix at the 15-minute mark so it cooks evenly. When you remove the batch, I find it best to stir once more before leaving it to cool; this way the granola won't stick to the pan.

Once it's ready, I dump the batch into a gallon Ziploc bag and keep it in my desk until it's all gone. Sure, I look like a weirdo, using my mug to scoop granola out of my top drawer and into my bowl of yogurt, but I'm usually too hungry to care.

Adapted from this original recipe.


The oatmeal I knew growing up was mushy, came from a pouch, and only tasted good if you got the brown sugar & cinnamon kind. I'll still eat it, but nowadays, I save those for camping and make my day-to-day oatmeal a bit more substantial.

Want to know why everyone's raving about steel-cut oats? Because they taste better, nerd. The fact that they don't have the consistency of homemade paste alone makes them superior to regular oats, but I admit the longer cooking time is a hassle. So, overnight, no-cook oatmeal is kind of the greatest thing ever.

1 cup steel-cut oats
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
2 tablespoons ground flax meal
1 tablespoon maple syrup or brown sugar (whichever I have around)
1 1/2 to 2 cups plain almond milk

Mix together and leave to set in the refrigerator overnight.

It took a little trial and error, but these are the ratios that I prefer. Following the original recipe produced something too spicy for my tastes; it required a lot more sugar to even out the taste, so I simply dialed down the spices. Also, the 1:1 ratio of oats to almond milk made it too dry and crunchy; adding more milk really makes a difference. (And serving with crushed pecans and coconut flakes doesn't hurt, either.)

You can make it in any container you'd like, but mason jars make you look extra cool and have the bonus of not exploding in your purse on the way to work. Unlike Trader Joe's chicken marsala with mashed potatoes. THANKS, TJ'S.


Taco Bell has given us many great things in life: cheap, filling food when you're drunk; a life-long hatred of Chihuahuas; and the perfect method for turning a tortilla into a portable carrier of deliciousness.

This one takes more preparation and planning than the other two, but some days, oatmeal and granola just won't cut it. That's when these these packets of deliciousness come in handy.

My friend, Leela, sent me this recipe when I was moaning about my lack of good breakfast options, but I honestly used it more for the assembly directions than the recipe itself. Where they mixed just scrambled eggs, hot sauce, and cheese, I prefer to fill mine with eggs, sauteed onion and red pepper, hash browns, and sausage. (I start with six eggs and just kind of eyeball the rest of the ingredients to make it an even spread.)

Be sure to take a look at the helpful instructional video to master the perfect folding technique. Or to laugh at the horrible video graphics that Taco Bell tortures all its new employees with.

Once you've assembled you're wraps, I recommend placing on a cookie sheet to freeze, and then storing them all together in (you guessed it) yet another gallon Ziploc bag. For best reheating results, first microwave for 1-2 minutes and then finish in a toaster oven or panini press for a crispy exterior.


Happy breakfasting, folks.



Hanging up my Apron

by Lisa Lombardi in , ,

My first kiss was sprung on me by a boy I'd pined after my entire senior year of high school. We were saying goodbye before leaving for our respective colleges in the morning, and all of a sudden his mouth came out of nowhere, leaving me feeling both terrified and confused.

I did not appreciate it. At all.

My second kiss came from an older gentleman who was watching a Syracuse sporting event from one of the upper-level suites of the Carrier Dome, where I was stationed as the Suite Manager/Suite Liaison/Suite Bitch/whatever they called it. I was in charge of getting the food and drinks to the suite at the right times, and just generally making sure everyone had a good time and that the buffalo wings weren't cold.

It soon became clear that my duties also included making polite small talk with guests who couldn't care less about the game and just wanted to hang out by the bar the whole time. So I did. And when the game was over and the stadium began to empty out, this man walked over, bade me goodbye, laid an efficient smack on my lips, and pressed a $70 tip into the palm of my hand.

This, at least, I appreciated.

It makes sense that the food service industry has played a part in some of the more formative experiences in my life: I've held jobs ranging from bored hostess to harried bartender at various points in my life from the time I was 17.

It all started with a part-time hostessing gig at an Italian restaurant franchise in my town, something to fill my summer days and then, when school started again, the odd evening or two each week. I was in charge of walking patrons to their tables, pre-slicing endless loaves of crusty bed, and telling every group — no matter how small or large, no matter how busy we were or weren't — that it would probably be no more than a 15-minute wait. Okay, if we were really busy, then maybe I'd predict a 20-minute wait. Max.

First lesson of the food service industry: hostesses are full of shit. At least, the teenaged ones making only $7.75 an hour are.

Second lesson of the food service industry: be wary of restaurant owners whose idea of appropriate business attire is a quarter-zip fleece pullover that fully exposes their yeti-like chest hair. Give your two weeks' notice the second said owner tells you that you're "looking foxy today."

The summer after my sophomore year of college, I graduated to a waitressing gig at a Middle Eastern place in the middle of our downtown. Its central proximity didn't do much for its popularity, though; when friends and former classmates learned where I was working, their first response was usually "Where? Never heard of it." That should have been my first hint that I would be making no money that summer.

At the time, it had the look of a dingy cafe — nothing terrible, but nothing particularly appealing, either. The menu options averaged $9 and there was no liquor license, so I quickly realized that I would essentially be making only $2.75 an hour. My "tips" were like puddles in the desert: juuuuust enough to keep me going.

I was also the only person working there who didn't speak Lebanese, something the assistant manager — a tiny, somewhat shriveled old lady with a permanent frown — seemed to hold against me, if her constant glare and muttering whenever I asked a question were any indication.

The restaurant has since acquired a liquor license and undergone a full renovation, turning it into a swanky-looking place that's packed every time I've driven by during visits home. 

I bet the tips are amazing now.

I curse its name every time I see it.

In college, I worked a variety of odd jobs, but the one that stuck all four years was slaving away for the Carrier Dome's catering department. I started out as a runner, literally running giant platters of food from the kitchen to the suites just before the mad rush of halftime. I then worked the hotdog concession stands on the lawn before football games, waking up Saturday mornings while it was just barely light out and walking to the Dome through grass that had begun to frost over during the night. When it switched to basketball season, I mastered the cash register at the Italian Stand, handing over endless subpar chicken parm sandwiches and overpriced meatball subs.

I soon graduated to Suite Master, and then some sort of vague senior role during my final two years due mostly to the fact that I was reliable and had been around long enough to know the ins and outs of most of the jobs. I started working during the week, managing the meals for the different sports teams after practices or helping with special event dinners. I stocked the suites in between games, riding pallet carts filled with cases of beer down the empty halls of the stadium and having endless pointless conversations with my coworkers about how much homework we had, how we longed for the free time our peers wasted, which events we hated working the most.

It was expected to bitch about the job, but I wouldn't have had it any other way. There was something eerie and exciting about working in that giant space when no one else was around, and I secretly loved it. My meals were more often than not provided by the events I worked, or simply care of the friendly kitchen staff who would feed us leftovers even on days when there was nothing going on. If I could change anything about my college experience, I wouldn't have worked less — I would have chosen to simply study less.


So that's how I ended up in Boston, nearly three years ago, applying to work for a catering temp service that hired out servers and bartenders to events that needed the extra help. That's how I worked my first wedding that was marked by a hysterical bride and three gigantic performing drag queens. That's how I slowly got to know each of the million universities within the city limits, serving re-heated bacon-wrapped scallops and mini quiche by the trayful to both alumni and prospective students. That's how I had my first visit to the Cape (summer wedding) and attended the very first Boston Calling concert (beer garden).

When I finally landed a real, full-time job, I continued to bartend on the weekends because I have never been one to turn down extra money. Time went by. Raises and bonuses happened for the first time in my life. I got another new job. And I finally realized a month ago, with a weird jolt, that I really didn't need to keep bartending.

Maybe, instead, I should, like, try to have a social life? We'll see.

Either way, it's time to hang up my apron for good; pack away my bow and bistro ties, my scuffed black wingtips, and my now-dingy white Oxford.

Goodbye, my friends. You served me well. Probably better than I served anyone else.

A few more friendly tips learned from the food service industry:

Lesson #3: When they put out coffee at the end of an evening event, it's all decaf — no matter what the sign says.

Lesson #4: If the hors d'ouevres look like the frozen stuff you can buy at Costco, they probably are.

Lesson #5: You can become — and remain — a bartender without knowing anything about mixing drinks as long as you're charming and hard-working.

Lesson #6: Everyone should work a food service job at least once in their life. At worst, it will teach you humility and appreciation for others. At best, it will bless you with endless crazy stories and experiences, as well as some impressive biceps courtesy of all the heavy trays, racks of glassware, and cases of beer.