Scones and Baby Cows and Fancy Cloaks and Other Vacation-y Things

We went to Boston for a convention, to Portland to eat every baked good we could find and to soak up the cool sea breezes, to Salem to buy witchy things and to be witchy people, to Connecticut to see Billy and fireworks and to eat the world’s best scones and chocolate chip cookies, and then home, to never go out to eat again and to, in fact, not go outside again at all. This post is all about our trip!

It’s a long one so let’s just jump into it, shall we?

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These kids got carried around Boston on the backs of any grown up willing to do it (almost exclusively Grandma Mary) because it was too hot (say the Texas boys!) and they didn’t want to move their legs. They did really like the baby ducks at the public garden though.

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Let me stop here and sing the praises of Grandma Mary, who traveled with us to Boston and let us abandon her with the children each and every time we wanted to. This is the first year since having kids that Andy and I got to do all of the convention activities without having to stop and head back to the hotel room to put kids to bed or put them to bed again after they woke up in the middle of the night. Mary did all of it! And she played approximately 400 games of Yahtzee with Henry too. It was so wonderful and freeing! Thank you for everything, Mary!

We went to the aquarium together on Friday afternoon because it was rainy and it seemed like our best option and every other family in the Boston area had the same idea. It was insane in there. Highlights included a 3D Imax movie about sharks and seeing a big giant sea turtle. Lowlights included walking anywhere for any reason because people filled every square inch of the space.

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A rare photo of Andy and I inside the National Puzzlers’ League convention, (we’re called Bonus and Expelliarmus while we’re there) taken by Randi Rosenblum. Here we’re working with one of our favorite people, Hathor, a lovely and charming beer goddess, on a packet of cartoon rebuses in the style of an old puzzle type from Games Magazine, created and drawn by Toonhead!, another one of our favorite people. If you’re interested in checking out the sorts of puzzles we tackle at NPL conventions, most of the puzzles from this year’s convention are available here. The Saturday night puzzle extravaganza was one of my very favorite parts of the convention this year. This year’s theme was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory(!) which meant lots of candy-related puzzles to solve. We had such a fun team and we worked together to solve every last puzzle and loved the whole thing. Here’s one of the extravaganza puzzles– the easiest one to link to and the most ear-wormy. I got to work on a cryptic crossword with Jeffurry, who I love, play Tablesaw’s hilarious 2000’s TV-version of Remote Control (do you remember that show on MTV?), solve Lambda’s Punana Split puzzle (a totally innocuous and fun wordplay mystery puzzle with a name that he warned us not to seek out in urban dictionary. I had to do it, so I’ll save you the googling, if you, like me, aren’t on the up-an-up on these things: punana can mean a funky vagina!), play Capital R’s brilliant Mystery Jeopardy and Saxifrage and Cazique’s also brilliant Last Minute Jeopardy, and lots of other things too, but no matter what I was doing, I reveled in that magical atmosphere that comes with being surrounded by 200 brilliant, creative, and kind people who we see once a year but who feel like a family.

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Cape Elizabeth. With the end of the NPL convention, we drove Grandma to the airport (we were all sad to see her go! the kids were morose the whole afternoon) and headed up to Portland, Maine. Which is, I guess, the greatest place in the world. It’s gorgeous! And temperate and lovely in the summertime and filled with good food too. Our first stop was to Cape Elizabeth, which has a lovely lighthouse that you can’t get close to without disobeying a lot of no parking signs. Andy and I are both ardent sign followers, so we didn’t get close and went to the nearby beach instead, which was thrillingly beautiful. Look at those rocks! They look like huge monstrous chunks of petrified wood. And the same kids who couldn’t walk a city block in Boston without breaking down in sobs ran for miles along the coast here.

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Fried Clams, Lobster Roll, a Burger, and a Fried Shrimp Boat at The Lobster Shack. We ordered these things more because it’s what one does while on the coast of Maine than because of actual inclination. In fact, I don’t love or even really like shrimp or clams or lobster. The texture, to me, ranges from objectionable to tolerable, and doesn’t ever move beyond that. This meal did nothing to change my opinion. I think everything was done reasonably well, but the lobster didn’t taste like much more than the glob of mayo on top of it, and the clams were just chewy fried things. And they’re so expensive. We paid $70 for this meal and I just don’t get what all the hype is about.

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On the drive home from Cape Elizabeth we stopped at a farm and picked a basket of strawberries and bought some fresh shelling peas too, that Henry and I ate for breakfast the next morning. Then we went to another lighthouse, the Portland Head Light cuz it was there, and when in Maine and all that.

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And then we got to drive across a drawbridge when the bridge part was up to let a ship pass through! It was neat- we got out of the car and sat on the median and watched it pass very slowly by. Then we got back in the car and waited. We waited a super long time, long after the bridge had lowered back down, until it became clear that something had gone wrong. The barricades that should have lifted after the bridge went back down did not, so the cars couldn’t move. Lots of folks got out of there cars again to wait. Henry was pissed at the inconvenience of it all (we were headed home to do nothing). He yelled at the cars and the bridge and the world. Andy and I talked to him about circumstances that are completely out of your control, and how you might as well take it easy and enjoy yourself if you can but he wasn’t swallowing our garbage and remained furious until the problem was sorted out an hour later and we were on our way.

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Yosaku. This was a real shit show. And the straw that broke the camel’s back for eating dinners out with the kids. Henry did fine- he loved his gyoza so much and will eat all manner of eel rolls. But he also eats rice by picking up big sticky handfuls and working them into his gaping mouth. Which stresses me out in a fancy restaurant setting. But George was the one who couldn’t cope. He was so excited to eat Japanese food, but when we got there he was screamy and wanted to rub his chopsticks along the wooden slats separating our table from another one, the way an old-timey cartoon prisoner would drag a metal mug along the bars of his jail cell, and he insisted that he only wanted rice, nothing else, and spilled most of it on himself, but didn’t want more, and I had to take him out of the restaurant because he wouldn’t stop yelling, right when my food came out and I was hungry and I just hated every second of it. George is three, and it was the end of a long, full day, and it was just too much. But I was sad, because I had so many restaurants I wanted to try in Portland and I saw that it just wasn’t going to be possible to do it. So we ate as quickly as we could and drove home, where George promptly burst into tears because he was hungry. Blaaarrrgggh.

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The Holy Donut. The next morning we made a quick run into this donut shop and I ate the best donut the world has ever known. I picked the dark chocolate sea salt and it was moist and dark and salty and I loved it so so much. Henry and Andy both got the blueberry lemonade and George got the fresh lemon, and they were all good but mine was the best. I’m the Best. (That’s from a Lucy Cousins book that my friend Candace gave us, which she bought because she liked the dog’s shorts. They’re pretty great shorts and it’s a good book too!)

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We drove up to Freeport, Maine, and spent the rest of the day at Wolfe’s Neck Farm, which has everything that is good in this world. We got to get licked by a 10 day old cow, meet goats and sheep, walk through a lush vegetable garden and orchard, meet a baby skunk (too young to spray!), and canoe through the bay and up a windy little river. Also pizza and ice cream (espresso toffee!) and hot dogs with onion jam.

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Blue Spoon. After we got back from the farm, we fed the kids (we were staying at a lovely airbnb with a kitchen), did their bedtime routine, and while Andy was lying in bed with the boys, I went out and explored the neighborhood. I got us a bloody steak and a trio of dips with flatbread from the restaurant right next door and brought it home for a late, but delicious, dinner to share with Andy.

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This is what happens to Henry when you put him in the sun. Poor kid! He ate an olive roll a few minutes later and perked right up. You can see George’s incredible pecan financier if you look real close. They were from Standard Baking Co., which is across the street from the ferry terminal.

Helen had been urging us to go on a whale-watching expedition while we were in Maine, but I looked into it and tickets were $50/person and it was a 4 hour boat ride. I didn’t want to spend $200 and I didn’t know how the kids would do on a boat. I decided to just do a quick ferry ride to a nearby island instead- tickets were $7 for a 20 minute ride to Peaks Island, and it was perfect. Meanwhile, Helen called our mom to suggest that she buy us tickets on a whale-watching boat, so my mom called me and offered to do just that. I said no thanks, and explained about the ferry ride instead, so she said, if you see something later in your trip that you want to do, but don’t want to spend money on, let me know. Oh, I did. More on this later.

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Peaks Island. We spent the day at the beach, watching the tide creep ever higher. I saved a lady’s shoes from being washed out to sea, so you might say I’m a hero. Henry made 40 identical sand balls which he lined up in rows and then did not throw. George threw sand at a lot of rocks.

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For dinner on our last night, we ate up all the odds and ends that had accumulated in the fridge over our four days in Maine, with a bowl of noodles for George and a bowl of rice for Henry, who wanted simple, empty calories.

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The backyard at our airbnb! (The price listed now is more than double what we paid, I don’t know why. That kind of bums me out because I was fantasizing about going back to stay there again someday and this knowledge is going to add an unpleasant dose of reality to that daydream!). We didn’t go into the backyard until the last day of our stay, what a pity. The house was great, in a neighborhood full of amazing restaurants and shops (Otto, LB Kitchen, Lolita) and a great tiny market with fantastic breads and whoopie pies right across the street. On the table you can see the remains of George’s ball, which he picked out at a toy store next to the donut shop the day before. Within 24 hours it was deflated and several shades darker.

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Duckfat. Before leaving town, we had to stop for an early lunch at this place, which had been recommended to me by everyone I knew who had spent any time in Portland. Happily, George and Henry were super into it, and, it being 11 in the morning, had fresh reserves of manners and patience. They did beautifully and we all loved our lunch there so much. George ate a mountain of fries, Henry ordered the tomato and fennel soup, but ended up loving the pressed cuban sandwich that I had ordered to split with Andy, so we traded. Fine by me- that soup ended up being my favorite thing we ate there. The drink is a wild cherry phosphate, and we all shared an order of the gorgeous lemony doughnut holes with a salted duck caramel dipping sauce. Amazing, top to bottom.

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Then we went to Salem! I love this town- it was the one place from my old days at Boston University that I really wanted to go back to on this trip. And we got perfect weather for our two days there too- it was chilly and overcast and made the whole town feel spooky and wonderful. We walked around and went in witch-y shops. This one was so beautiful and had bundles of dried herbs hanging from the ceiling and artfully arranged bowls of animal bones and it felt legit, y’all. We walked around the farmers’ market and the boys both found sticks that looked like magic wands and we dipped them in a magic fountain to make them really really magical.

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There was a table for kids to make art at the farmers’ market- here’s Henry’s. I loved it!

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The Lobster Shanty. We ate at a lobster shack and a lobster shanty on our trip to New England, so I feel like we can officially say we’ve done the thing up right.

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Red’s Sandwich Shop. Have you ever seen a kid look more serious in front of a plate with a giant Mickey Mouse-shaped pancake?

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Doesn’t Henry really and truly look like he’s been caught mid-hex?

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Witch Pix. On our wanderings in Salem the day before, we had passed this place and I had been more than a little intrigued. I floated the idea of actually doing the thing to Andy, who was politely but emphatically not interested in spending money on witch glamour shots. Aha! I thought. This is the perfect time to call my mom. She agreed right away! And honestly these pictures are now one of my most prized possessions. We got 77 pictures, in front of three backdrops. The broomstick one had a wind machine! And the costume part was so fun too. I picked the simplest black dress and cape I could find, and then I turned around to find that Andy had chosen the most spectacular bedazzled velvet cloak in the shop. He came around on the pictures after all! I’m going to get a few framed and bring them out every year on Halloween for the rest of time and I’m just so so happy we got to do that. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for buying them for us! And thanks to Helen for pushing for the whale watching trip and inadvertently making this happen!

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Mianus River Gorge. Here’s where I make a joke about my anus. After Salem, we drove to Connecticut to see our friend Billy, whose family has an annual summertime party which Andy and I have been invited to every year since meeting Billy in college. We had never been able to attend, but this year, with the NPL convention in Boston the week before, the stars aligned so we could go. We had some time to kill that morning though, so we went for a long hike to run some energy out of the kids.

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Billy!! Billy has a twin brother named Larry. When we first got to the party, Larry (who also knows Andy because they worked at Microsoft together for a summer) ran up from behind and jumped on Andy’s back. Andy crumpled a bit but managed to stay standing. When Billy showed up an hour or so later he ran at top speed and jumped onto Andy, like a bear hurtling into a telephone pole. This time Andy promptly crashed to the ground. I’m saying this to illustrate to you that Billy is fun! And his family is too. We ate a lot of food and rode a little kayak around the pond in their backyard and stayed for the deservedly famous fireworks spectacular at the end of the night. There are dozens and dozens of huge fancy fireworks, set up to detonate in time with some of the most wildly patriotic tunes I have ever heard. The kids got glowsticks and cupcakes and we got to talk to our old pal Billy, so everyone had a real good time.

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Blueberry Scones, Cinn-ful Cinnamon Scones, Chubby Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies. I have never in my life and probably never will again be handed a box full of things this delicious. A longtime food52 friend and personal hero, Liz (mrslarkin), lives right around the corner from Billy’s parents. Round those parts, she’s known as the Scone Lady, and for good reason- the scones she brought us- wild blueberry and cinn-ful cinnamon, were absolutely the best scones I’d ever eaten. So rich and moist and crunchy and soft and all the best things in the world in one sugar-encrusted triangular package. My mouth is watering now, thinking about them, and I’ve got the urge to leave the house to try to find a sack of frozen wild blueberries so I can make them and eat them post haste. The cinnamon scones, with a drizzle of icing on top, were every bit as delicious. And the chocolate chip cookies! Fuck, y’all. I think they’re the best I’ve ever had. I love that Violet Bakery version, that uses all egg yolks, but I think these were even better. I’m making them on Saturday for a bake sale that you should definitely come to. (I’m also making salted caramel almond bars!) Anyway, these treats sustained us during the long drive from Connecticut back to Boston and there were enough left over to serve as our very early breakfast in the airport the next day. Tiny George loved the giant chocolate chip cookies so much that he ate two of them. I am the model of a selfless mother.

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Liz met us at the Stamford Museum and Nature Center and I got to bask in her loveliness while we ate farmers’ market snacks and walked around the grounds of the farm, looking at pigs and woolly cows and giant horses. Henry, who is notoriously reserved when meeting new people, fell completely in love with Liz. He held her hand and shared every thought that came into his head with her. Thank you for coming out to meet us Liz! And for bringing your perfect scones and cookies too- we love you!

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And then we flew home and never went out to eat again. (For real, check out that sweet-ass cloak on Andy, though!) See you all next post, when it’s back to the reality of Texas in the summertime.

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