Saturday, June 30, 2007

Changes are in the air

Plenty of changes here in Winter Harbor, Maine. We're starting to see more and more folks from way out of town and business at the cafe is starting to pick up significantly as a consequence. The cafe is also starting to get a bit of local press as well so I suppose that helps move folks to the quieter side of Frenchman's Bay. Click here for the story in the Ellsworth American.

Speaking of the cafe -- and why not it seems to be the core of our life right now -- there have been quite a few changes here in the past week as well. I will talk more about those when I update the blog in greater detail tomorrow.

Sunday is our day off and we have to drive to Douglas, MA to check out our shipment of household goods from Paris. That's right our stuff finally arrived and we think there may be one box missing. If that is indeed th ecase we need to know exactly which one. Most of the things we shipped back were not of great value except for my Nikon camera system and a couple of hard drives and Susie's knife kit. So we'll drive down and have dinner with Dick this evening and then return to Maine Sunday, stopping in Orono on the way back

Another big change here in WH is that Rosemary, the chef from Boston, finally arrived. She too will be here for the summer. Like susie she's been cooking up a storm, and already she's lenty of great food to go is now available: cole slaw and various other salads but also lots of specialty food items such as orzo salad, slow-braised grape tomatoes, mozzarella and basil in olive oil with kalamatas, and this morning she's working on several fish dishes. She and Susie have even put their heads together: yesterday Susie did several brioche and Rosemary made a wonderful crab salad to go inside the brioche, rather like a sandwich but so much more! Susie continues to produce the morning scones and muffins and coffee cake, in addition to daily specialties such as lemon tartlets with blueberry sauce, lemon creme brulee, and numerous other tarts as well as a variety of pies.

The weather has been quite nice here, with only a couple of days of heat and a bit of humidity. We enjoyed temps in the low 80s with sea breezes while inland they were sweltering in the mid-90s and sticky weather.

Anyway, hope to have at least a little time to bring you up-to-date on what has happened here at the cafe since Patrick left. Lots to talk about.

Gotta go. Guzel is here and getting ready to open. Alex just arrived and is prepping his sandwich board and steeling himself for the onslaught of hungry dejeuners!

Wish you were here,

Steve

Monday, June 25, 2007

Monday morning along the Maine Coast

It's a beautiful Monday morning here in Winter Harbor, Maine. Although today is supposed to be our day off, at least this week, Susie went in early to prep and bake the morning pastries. I can see it's going to difficult to tear her away from those ovens if and when we do get a "serious" day off. But hey that's what we came here for, right?

A few more notes about Winter Harbor. Directly across from Gerrish's is the "Winter Harbor 5 & 10." A good place to stop and pick up a newspaper, charcoal for your grill, light bulbs, a cooler, you name it and I bet Peter has it. And it's a great place to get information, directions and advice on what's happening around town.

The Island Explorer bus system is up and running -- it's long been a favorite on Mt. Desert Island and now there is one on this side of Frenchman's Bay as well. If you take the ferry over from Bar Harbor the bus will pick you up at the wharf and take you in to Winter Harbor for lunch or to stroll the art galleries and then out to Schoodic Point where you can spend the afternoon hiking the trails or just strolling along the ocean. Then grab the bus back to the ferry. Or just leave your car downtown and take the bus. Anyway it runs all day long from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is absolutely and utterly free.

Speaking of the ferry it leaves Winter Harbor at 9, 11, 1, 3 and 5, and leaves Bar Harbor at 10, 12, 2, 4 and 6. The cost is $29.50 per person (RT), $6.00 per bicycle.

Tomorrow I'll talk about the arts here in Winter Harbor. There are several art galleries right in town as well as Hammond Hall where you can often find some pretty good music in the summer. But more of that later.

Wish you were here,

Steve

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sunday in Winter Harbor

It's a cool, semi-overcast morning here in Winter Harbor. A few folks out to get morning coffee and pastries. And speaking of pastries how about rustic raspberry turnovers or blackberry coffee cake or maybe apple-cheddar muffins?

Elena is working this morning and so is Jessica, who just started this past week. She and her friend Natalie round out the staff here at Gerrish's for the summer. So now we're pretty much set to go for the Fourth of July kickoff!

Yesterday shortly after Susan and I drove out to Schoodic Point for our daily walk, I caught sight of the Cat ferry coming in to Bar Harbor from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Susan had already set out on her walk and I was futzing around with my iPod and getting out of the car when I looked up and saw this huge black hydrofoil churning up the water coming in from the northeast. Pretty cool to say the least. I've seen ocean liners leaving Bar Harbor and heading in the direction of Nova Scotia but this is the first time I've seen the Cat. Susie suggested maybe we would do Nova Scotia as a day trip on the Cat on one of our days off. That sounds good to me.

And speaking of Schoodic Point, while Susan was on her walk and I was gaping at the Cat she came across two fox kits and their mother right near the parking the lot! Now how cool is that!

Wish you were here,

Steve

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Breakfast notes from Winter Harbor

It's cool and overcast here in Winter Harbor this morning.

If you're up and on this side of Frenchman's Bay drop by J. M. Gerrish's for some of Susie's fresh-baked pastries. This morning you'll find pear-almond tarts, scones, muffins, a buckle as well as cheese danish and mini butter crescents right out of the oven!


Wish you were here,

Steve

Friday, June 22, 2007

Notes from Winter Harbor and Schoodic Point

Yesterday was the longest day of the year. Today, Friday, marks the first week anniversary of J. M. Gerrish’s opening for the summer season, the second week since it changed owners, and the fifth week since Susan and I moved to Winter Harbor. So much has happened in such a short span of time; we have come to learn so much new and fascinating bits of an industry that we’ve only seen from one side of the counter so to speak. Now we are peeking behind the curtain, marveling at the magician working the levers, all the while trying to find a path through all this complex, complicated new terrain without losing our way. (photo: Susan's coconut cake with toasted coconut frosting.)

The weather has been interesting to say the least: a phenomenal thunderstorm the other afternoon followed up by one of the most remarkable and beautiful skies I have ever seen. Later that evening we saw numerous lightning flashes to the northwest but little struck here along the coast.

Work has cut a bit into my daily walks around Schoodic Point, but I still get a chance to get out there more often than not. We both have found it to be a wonderful place to stroll, watch the waves, listen to the surf, gaze across the empty horizon and wonder what the future has in store for us – for all of us.

In fact most people come to Winter Harbor because of this most picturesque section of Acadia National Park; and to escape the frenetic pace and often overcrowded lifestyles of Mt. Desert Island and Bar Harbor. It’s an easy drive of about 45 miles or so, or you can take the ferry direct from Bar Harbor to Winter Harbor; the ferry is rumored to begin running early next week. Everyone says that the ferry, or water taxi really, gives you not only a beautiful view of the area from the seaside but also lets you travel to Schoodic and then take the local Island Explorer bus system which I believe is free.

If you are coming to Winter Harbor and want to spend a couple of days exploring this side of Frenchman’s Bay and need a place to stay check out Kathy and Bill Carpenter’s 3 bedroom vacation rental located right near the beach. You can walk to Gerrish’s or the Bar Harbor ferry and Schoodic Point is only a five-minute drive away. Plus they are very nice folks. You can find out more details by emailing Kathy at winterharborhouse@yahoo.com or phone 860-455-9335 or 207-963-7398.

And while you’re here check out Wendilee Heath’s “Whopaints” studio and gallery just a few doors down from Gerrish’s. Wendilee also provides lessons for both the beginning as well as the advanced painter. Check her website out at www.whopaints.com.

Well the weather has taken a turn for the dark side this morning, at least inland from here. Out to sea it looks bright and clear but I’m told that too can change in a heartbeat. Anyway I’ve clocked out for the morning. I’m making sandwiches today; Alex the regular sandwich maker is off today and I’m the swingman. I’ll clock back in at about 11:30 or so and get ready for the lunch crowd.

Today Susan is fixing her regular batch of maple walnut and lemon crème scones, with the addition of a blueberry buckle, orange almond cakes (melt-in-your-mouth) and apricot almond tarts.

Wish you were here,

Steve

Friday, June 15, 2007

Opening Day

Well it's about closing time, I've clocked out and I just wanted to say it's been a heckuva day here in Winter Harbor. Very busy, especially for lunch and lots of coffee -- but of course the big winner was the creations of the new pastry chef! Susie got lots of praise today for her wonderful tarts, scones, muffins, cookies, coffeecake and other deeeelicious baked goods. You should've been here!

But since most of you weren't, click here to see some photos (photo: Susie with her pear almond tarts -- yep two of them sold).

Hope you are all well and enjoying as beautiful day as we are here along the seacoast of Maine.

Wish you were here,

Steve

Kickoff

Susan left the apartment at aboout 5 am this morning (Friday) and I followed a little after six. She wanted to get a jump on her baking for the morning -- and in fact that seems to be her plan for at least the short term. She'll take a couple of hours off at about ten and then comeback for the afternoon. (Yeah, so far the muffins I've tasted this morning are deeeeeelicious!)

So Gerrish's opens it's doors at 8 am and for all intents and purposes we are ready. The Russians are more than ready and eager to start racking up the hours to be sure. We have little idea as to what the traffic flow will be like -- a beautiful morning here in Winter Harbor and on the cusp of the weekend it's quite possible we will see some heavy movement through here. Chi lo sa? Who knows?

Stay tuned.

Wish you were here

Steve

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Monday morning

Monday morning dawned clear and a bit breezy here by the Atlantic Ocean. At a little before ten Susan and I walked up to Gerrish’s to meet with the new owner and hopefully learn what the future held in store for us.

Upon arriving at the café Rosemary – who had just arrived this past Saturday from Boston to start cooking up some food to go for the café – was just finishing up prepping a number of dishes before she had to leave to return to Boston. She won’t be back until later in the month.

A few minutes after we got to the café the Russians arrived and a couple of minutes later Michael Boland, the new owner drove up.

The seven of us went inside and sat down to talk about what was going to happen now that the business had changed hands.

Michael dealt with the concerns of the Russians first and allayed their fears over their jobs. They were pleased to hear that not only did they still have their old jobs but that if Michael would also provide them with additional hours at one of his other restaurants in Bar Harbor if need be. Moreover, he gave them the OK to take on second jobs if they wanted. Winter Harbor is a very small community but this time of year it attracts a fair amount of seasonal work, particularly in the other two small eateries in town. The kids were very pleased with this turn of events to be sure.

After the Russians left the three of us talked at some length about our future here. Michael wanted Susan to know that he had every intention of following through on the pastry program as outlined by Patrick before the café changed hands. That was certainly good news.

Michael did speak a little to what he and his partners had in mind for the future of the café: some expansion of seating, a deck extension, table service in the evening at least, and quite possibly a beer and wine shop in the existing garage to the rear of the café. It was quite possible that I would still be utilized working out front, and even perhaps in the wine and beer shop once it was up and running next month.

Susan and I expressed our concern about the living arrangements and Michael told us flatly that they would remain as they are.

The plan, we were told, is to open the café Thursday or Friday of this week. Susan hopes to get back into the kitchen sometime today and I hope to hear from Michael in the next day or so what he would like me to do, at least early on in this adventure.

Patrick will be supervising the transition over the next two weeks. I know little else other than I might be tackling the front end chores while someone else handles the kitchen end of things, at least for the short term. So I’ll be spending quite a bit of time over the next couple of weeks trailing Patrick and culling as many tips and information as I can to be sure. He certainly has a handle on this business and there is so much to learn from him.

Our only other concern right now is what has happened to the payroll from the previous owner. Michael’s company uses a completely different payroll service so we also assume that we will be filling out more forms this week as well.

So lots more to come this week -- as we open the cafe and adjust to whatever the gods have in store for us all.

Wish you were here,

Steve

Monday, June 11, 2007

Russian dinner

Susan and I returned to Winter Harbor on Sunday morning after a quick overnight trip to Orono. We spent the rest of the day catching up on household chores and of course walking out to Schoodic Point. That evening we drove to where the Russians are staying. Earlier in the week the girls and Alex had invited Patrick and us for dinner before all the changes of course. Patrick showed up shortly after we did and had brought along Rosemary, a chef from Boston and the newest member of the café staff.

Anyway, we spent a wonderful evening eating and talking – at first the topic focused on Gerrish’s Café but we eventually moved on to more important topics like what our parents do (or did in some cases). A very curious approach to conversation but entertaining and illuminating. (photo: l-r - Alex, Rosemary, Susie, Patrick, Elena, Lydia and Guzel.)

The kids fixed a delicious meal of Russian specialties: blinis served with a scrumptious salad much like our potato salad I suppose but filled with what seemed a vast array of flavors. This was followed by another delicacy from central Russia, a beef soup. Of course we kept consuming the blinis (tasty little crepes) throughout the meal – they must have made four or five hundred of them!

A grand evening to be sure and a propitious way to start out the new week and, it seems, a new job.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Gerrish's Cafe sold

We learned yesterday (Saturday) that the cafe, J. M. Gerrish's Provisions, in Winter Harbor, Maine, has been sold to Michael Boland, a restauranteur from Bar Harbor, effective immediately.

We spent the better part of this past week preparing the foods, various soups and sandwich components, as well as filling all the deli and ice cream cases, getting ready for the big opening on Tuesday 12 June. Now it appears that the opening will be delayed but beyond that we know very little.

By the end of Friday we were pretty much ready to open so Patrick gave the staff the weekend off. Susan, however, wanted to do so more prep work, so she went into the cafe Saturday morning where she encountered one of the owner's personal staff who informed her of the sale. She was also told that there would be a meeting of all staff Monday morning, presumably with the new owner, to discuss the future of the cafe.

So beyond that we know nothing else.

A concern of major proportions of course is what would happen to our living arrangement. One of the attractions for us coming to Winter Harbor was that accommodations would be provided by the cafe's owner, and Susan was told that that would not change. In other words, the former owner would continue to let both Susan and I as well as the four Russians now working here, to live in her other buildings.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Gearing up for summer

It’s been only two and a half weeks since Susan and I first came to Winter Harbor, along the “downeast” coast of Maine. Yet somehow it seems as if we’ve been here much, much longer. It’s been very quiet in this small seaside village – and locals say it will pretty much remain so until about the Fourth of July. (photo: Joyce and her daughter Rachel.)

For the two of us, however, the action is at last starting to pick up.

I suppose Memorial Day weekend was a turning point of sorts. Susan’s sister Joyce and her husband Carl and two of their kids came down from Orono the Sunday before the holiday for a visit. (Orono is only about an hour away by car but at least two cultural zones apart from this section of Maine.) After we showed everybody around WH -- which took all of about five minutes and that was moving at a leisurely pace -- the six of us drove out to Schoodic Point to run around on the rocks. Although we didn’t see any whales from the natural world we did see a manmade whale heading east, toward Europe perhaps?
Anyway, it was nice to have family drop by to say hi and we look forward to more visits as the summer season picks up speed. Dick and Dorothy will be coming up next week shortly after the café opens and then in early August is a planned family get-together here for Susan’s mom’s 80th birthday!

On Tuesday, with the bulk of the Memorial Day tourist traffic pretty much gone Susie and I headed over to Mount Desert Island, Bar Harbor and the main section of Acadia National Park, an easy drive of less than an hour.

It was a beautiful day for a road trip and we had a grand time driving around the periphery of this truly wonderful part of the country. The mountains –large hills actually – were starting to green out and we explored some of the small villages that line the jagged corners of “MDI.” In fact we stopped at Southwest Harbor for lunch at a small wine bar called “Sips.”

We bypassed Bar Harbor – we are presently in no need of T-shirts that say “We heart Maine” in sequins and rhinestones -- and headed back to Ellsworth where stock up on groceries for the week before returning home.

On Wednesday Patrick, the manager of Gerrish’s Café, drove to Bangor to pick up the three Russian girls who will be working the “front” of the café during the summer, and the following day we met up at the café for our first day of orientation. From that point on the momentum has continued to build toward, we hope, a grand opening next week, 12 June.

While Patrick has been giving four of us (Lydia, Elena, Guzel and me) training sessions on the finer points of running a café in a tourist village like WH, Susan has started prepping the various items to go into the freezer for the launch next week. With the hands-on help of the “three Russians” on Saturday Susan probably put up about 140 scones. She is also starting to test various peanut butter cookie recipes as well as getting chocolate chunk cookies ready for the freezer. In addition she is preparing her “launch list” of items she hopes to try out the first week as well.

Yesterday, Monday 4 June, was the absolutely worst day of weather here along the coast: mid 40s, cold, windy and rainy with the town and surrounding water pretty much socked in throughout the day. Tuesday morning the sun broke free at last but the wind is still fresh so we’ll see whether a return to Schoodic Point is in store for me later on.

In fact I’ve been going out to the national park section there for my daily walks along the coast – it is so close -- and have also been trying out the handful of trails that run hither and yon near the end of the point.

The NPS has done a superb job on the trails in keeping them open, clear and well-marked with both blue slashings as well as rock cairns so that even an amateur hiker such as myself can easily find his way around. Plus the views are absolutely stunning from both the Schoodic head and East Trail overlooks.




(photo above: lobsterman off of Schoodic Point.)

Before I go I’d like to say a word about these Russian girls.

They are probably university age, from central Russia, in the Urals I think, and are incredibly motivated, hard-working, determined to do as good a job as they possibly can, eager to learn as much as they can and at the same time funny and engaging. They have taken an instant liking to Susan (why does that not surprise me) and seem to be excited about helping her with more baking projects. Naturally they have been willing guinea pigs as well in trying out each and every new recipe that Susie pulls out of the ovens at the café!

Word is that two more Russians will be arriving soon; two young men from Belarus I am told. (Belarus is generally referred to in English as “White Rus,” or "White Russia.")

We received a bit of good news the other day. The agent handling our household goods coming from Paris called us and said they passed the intensive customs screening with no glitches, and our part of the fee is only forty-eight bucks! (That’s right the government charges you for inspecting you. Quite a racket there, eh?) Now we wait to hear from the folks who will actually deliver our goods about setting up a delivery date.

Piano, piano as they say in Italy, “slowly, slowly,” step-by-step we make our way.

Toward what end who knows? A question hovering over our minds every day.

Wish you were here,

Steve