Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Wall of Fame

Years ago, when I worked at The Greenbrier, there were photographs of the politicians, dignitaries, and celebrities who visited the hotel throughout the years. I wish that I had started my own wall of fame back in 2009. We may not have sitting presidents here at the Inn, but we've had some excitement of our own. Bill Fichtner is the first one who comes to mind, mostly because I can now call him a friend. Madeleine Albright is a hero of mine, and it was an honor to meet her. Adam Driver set some hearts aflutter around Brunswick when he was here a couple of years ago, and for me it was a bit of a miss--I didn't know at the time what a rising star he was. Mira Nair has graced our steps a few times, as has Richard TuttleLiang Wang, Dana Cowin and Bela Fleck.

This past Sunday, however, was really special for me personally. Sam Hayward was here at the Inn cooking for a small group, and I got to hang around the kitchen while he worked. I admit to being a little starstruck, but I was immediately put at ease. What a lovely guy. Humble, easy to talk to, low-key. Sam has done wonders for the food scene in Maine over the course of the last 40 years, working to support Maine farmers and producers as exclusively as he can. Winner of the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Northeast in 2004, Sam may not be a household word in too many circles outside Maine, but to me, he's wall-of-fame worthy.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Winter of our Discontent

I know there are reasons to be cranky about all this snow. It's heavy and expensive and dangerous to drive in and it's dangerous to be up on your roof trying to shovel it off and it's bone-cracking cold and the furnace is cranking and the kids are home from school which means they'll be in school during vacation(s) and it just keeps coming and coming and coming.

And I say I love it. I am lucky because I have a warm home and a cozy place that is safe from the elements. For these things I am humbly grateful. When I get in a hot shower each morning, I think of what a luxury it is. I do not take my warmth for granted.

But I have always loved snow, and I love it this winter, too. There is a feeling during a tough New England winter that is paradoxical, and it is appealing to me on both sides of the paradox. On the one hand, there is a fight for survival, warmth, and safety that brings people together and creates a wonderful feeling of communal energy and purpose. On the other hand, there is a wonderfully quiet "coming inside-ness" that I love even more. I sometimes get tired of always having to be on the go, and a blizzard is about the only thing that provides a reason to just do nothing. Nobody I know does nothing without feeling guilty. We should be checking our email and finishing that project and cleaning up and working out and running errands and organizing our lives and balancing our books and walking our dog. I even feel guilty if I don't keep going while I'm sick. "I should just take some medicine and get on with it."

But I don't feel guilty if I do pretty much nothing during a blizzard. I feel completely justified reading, napping, doing crosswords or playing backgammon with my son. I paint my daughter's nails. I snuggle with Augie the doggie. I stoke the fire, then I take another nap. I feel like I'm insulated from the world, and sometimes that's just a good way to feel.

So I know I'm in the minority, but I say "bring it on, Mother Nature."  Most days I work really hard, and I could use at least one more snow day and another cup of tea.

Friday, January 30, 2015

What's In a Name?

It is with a heavy heart that I send Plain Jane to her trademark grave. Nuts About Granola, a company in Pennsylvania, has a Plain Jane variety, and I for one have had enough trademark issues to last ten lifetimes. Can anyone say "Inn at Brunswick Station"?

And so, I have become a crazy woman. I think of nothing else but potential new names. I mutter and talk to myself. I am distracted. I am preoccupied. I asked everyone I talked to until my cousin suggested Bearded Dragon Granola. Now I don't ask anymore. I simply lie awake at night, playing with rhymes and alliteration and have even started in on foreign languages. Petite Helene Granola?  And speaking of Helen, I didn't spend this much time choosing names for my children.

I am an inch away from being licensed to wholesale. My nutritional label is done. And, most importantly, more and more people want more and more Plain Jane every day. They need it to go, they need 10 bags, they need it wrapped and they need it shipped. My movie star friend Bill Fichtner is eating his in Prague. We are growing and yet we are having a major identity crisis. How do you settle on a name when the importance of it can't be overstated? How can we find a name that's catchy and memorable, that taps into the idea that this granola is The Way Granola Should Be, kind of like Maine is "The Way Life Should Be"?  Anyone who answers satisfactorily wins a lifetime supply of this delicious stuff. Until then, I will pace and mutter and lie awake, and then, if this works like so much of the other stuff in my life, it will hit me like a ton of bricks when I least expect it, and I will wonder why I didn't see it sooner. What a relief it will be.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Ina Here We Come!

In 1999, in what seems like another life, I enrolled at The French Culinary Institute in New York City. To help me prepare, I bought the professors' cookbooks: Alain Sailhac, Andre Soltner, and Jacques Torres had all published best-selling books, and it seemed like a great idea for me to learn their secrets and techniques. I was excited, intimidated, and busy practicing when my then-boyfriend proposed. Would I move to West Virginia with him?  

What about hanging out with the best of the best in the culinary world? What about that?? Well, I will always have to wonder, because off I went to West Virginia, and my husband and I are still happily married with two beautiful children and a puppy. No regrets, although I think Jim might regret not having a wife who is professionally trained in French cuisine.  

Now I am older, wiser, and firmly grounded in the belief that since I have Ina Garten, I don't need Jaques Torres and company. My sister's mother-in-law, whom I have known almost my whole life, gave me my first Barefoot Contessa cookbook, and I will forever be grateful to her. Ina Garten shaped the way I cook more than any other single force. From her, I learned that a wonderful dish does not need to be complicated; it just needs to be prepared with the freshest ingredients and a firm understanding of basic culinary techniques.  

Tomorrow, I am off to see Ina in person. She will speak at Boston's Symphony Hall, and if I can wrestle my way to the front of the line, I will get my picture taken with her. I'd like to hang it in the front hall of the Inn, where I have put into practice everything she has taught me. About a year ago, I overheard someone in the front parlors say, "I can't wait for dinner. I hear the food here is amazing."  It was one of my proudest moments. Thanks, Ina.

Monday, September 15, 2014


The Summer of Augie is coming to a close. Our now-5-month-old puppy defined the summer of 2014 for my whole family, and we have loved (almost) every second of it. Everything we did and didn't do was determined in large part by where Augie would be while we were or weren't doing it. So, no long, luxurious days at Popham Beach; Augie couldn't stay home alone for that long. No long weekend at The Claremont Hotel; they don't allow dogs. No sleeping in; Augie needs to go out.

But Augie makes us smile, and he makes everyone else smile, too. We love that even the most dour-looking, passerby softens and smiles with Augie's wag.  Now he is becoming a fixture on the quad at Bowdoin, where I take him on early afternoon walks to keep him from wondering where Helen and Charlie have gone. My 9- and 11-year-olds have gone back to school, and Augie is feeling a bit blue. The oohing and ahhing of the Bowdoin students has made him feel a little better.

As we transition into the start of yet another new school year, which resonates particularly strongly for those of us who live and work in a college town, Augie is a good reminder of how to approach life: be full of joy when you wake up in the morning--it's another day!  

And it's another day and another season at The Brunswick Inn. We are happily getting to know the Bowdoin freshman class and their families; our event business, both on- and off-site, continues to grow; our Plain Jane Granola, which has been such a successful part of the Inn for more than 5 years, will hopefully be coming to a market near you in the next couple of years; and The Brunswick Inn Provisions, a spark of an idea, is coming into clearer focus.  We will keep you posted!

In the meantime, I'm trying to smile and wag when I get up each morning.

Monday, August 4, 2014


There's a lovely St. Louis couple who stay at the Inn frequently--their daughter is a student at Bowdoin.  Almost every time they come, they make the journey north on Route 1 to Rockland to dine at Primo.  I would be amazed by this dedication if I were not a restaurant junkie. After all, it's almost two hours each way.  Instead of being amazed, I've always just been jealous.

Well tonight it's my turn!  To celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary, my husband and I are headed north ourselves.  It will be our first Primo experience.  Chef Melissa Kelley is the 2013 James Beard Foundation Award winner of the American Express Best Chef: Northeast Award. She also received this award in 1999, making her the first 2-time winner of the same award. Her farm-to-table dining is recognized nationally, and I am somewhat ashamed that I have lived in Maine since 2003 and have never gone.  One more piece of evidence to show how tough it is to get to all the jewels that Maine has to offer!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Live Well

When you live in Maine, you live well.  Life here is solid and simple, and the pace is slower than most places.  Sometimes there are moments when I feel this sense of wellness very palpably, and the most recent moment happened at Live Well Farm.  For Grey's Anatomy fans, this is significant: Patrick Dempsey's mother owned Live Well Farm not long ago.

The new owners have transformed the property, which is just a quarter of a mile from our home in Harpswell, into an event venue with sleeping accommodations for about a dozen people. Both the barn and the house can seat many for a meal and celebration.  My favorite feature in the barn is a piece of driftwood lovingly reclaimed from Popham Beach and transformed into a twinkly chandelier.
My kids, my new puppy, and I went to the farm for the Harpswell Fire and Rescue Full Moon Barn Dance a few weeks ago, and that live well feeling was palpable.  The evening air was clear and cool as dogs and puppies leapt joyfully and got into a fair amount of mischief concerning potato chips and hot dogs; fiddles played as the moon rose; friends and neighbors sipped icy beer and plastic cups of red wine and caught up on the local gossip; kids ran through fields and tried their hands at badminton.
Patty and Scott Ruppert have done an amazing job with Live Well Farm, and we wish them well as they grow their new business.