Finding Solace (and Seafood) on Smith Island

A small crowd gathered by the boats where MD Route 413 dumps in to the Chesapeake Bay. Proclaimed by locals as the “Crab Capital of the World”, Crisfield, Maryland sits at the southern most point of Maryland and is where our sojourn starts.  Sandwiched between a gray-faced Golden Retriever and a stack of banana boxes filled with groceries for the locals, my husband and I grasped the peeling white ledge of the ferry as it lurched out into open mouth of the bay towards Smith Island, Maryland’s only remaining inhabited offshore island. We skirted past dry land overwhelmed with tall grasses being swallowed by the surrounding salt marshes. Remaining relics made of brick and splintered oak, now provide perches for gulls and pelicans, remind witnesses of the bay’s more prosperous past.

White-knuckled and sticky with salt, Smith Island slowly emerged; A steeple sliced into the skyline, the thin cross towering above the decaying docks and humble homes of locals. Crab shells crunched underneath our feet as we made our way down the long dock that stretched to the center of town. Drawn out docks radiate off the 4.4 square mile island, weathered tawny woodgrain stained by towering stacks of crab pots. The modest size of the island limits land transportation to walking or gold cart; waving at passerbys isn’t optional – hospitality is a requirement for a community that boasts a population of 167 households. Congeniality isn’t reserved just for the locals we learn, as we stop to pet every welcoming cat that wraps around our ankles as we walk to the cottage we will call home for the evening. We let ourselves into the Fishermen’s Rest Cottage, locks being a foreign concept in this friendly community. A note on the fridge reminds us that the Bayside Inn, the only year-round restaurant in Smith Island, closes at 6PM encouraging us to an early dinner.

Quarter to five is prime supper time, the small dining room is filled with three large families, many of their faces already recognizable from our brief time on the island. We sit at a small table with a stunning view of the bay and order everything that featured crab on the menu: crab balls, crab dip, cream of crab soup, Maryland crab soup, crab cakes, and a softshell crab sandwich. As we waited for an ocean’s worth of crab items, we listened to the locals talk. Their sonorous brogue filled the room, a 400 year old heirloom from Smith Island’s Welsh and English settlers. Their liguistical lilt seems impossible to pigeonhole: slow and syrupy like a southern inflection with a mumbled cadence that pays homage to their ancestors. It takes two waiters to bring over our seafood spread, each dish containing generous lumps of crabmeat. As my husband begins to take a bite of a softshell crab sandwich, one man seated by the kitchen tells us that “that sandwich was swimming in the ocean yesterday.” Despite being stuffed to the gills with crabmeat we completed the meal with a slice of Smith Island cake, an obligation given that this 9-layer delicacy is the state cake of Maryland.

The show began shortly after supper ended, the big yolk sun dipped down the skyline. Pastel pinks and purples gave way to saturated goldenrod and fuchia that echoed off the water onto the faces of folks seated on the docks soaking in the solace. The last notes of pink clung to the clouds right before nightfall, and we finally took our eyes off the horizon to make our way back to the cottage. Mosquitos greeted us along with the moon, the tiny bloodsuckers hung in the air in large clumps attacking with voracity as the stars twinkled and shone with vigor.

The ferry leaves late on Sundays, as every local (including our boat captain) spend the morning in church. We hung on to every small detail as we prepared to leave the island. We said our goodbyes to the gulls, and the cats, and every local who strolled or rolled by slowly in their golf cart. Characters weren’t limited to human or feline, each boat was lovingly named and touted its own chipped charm and dented details; so we bid adieu to Miss. Mickey, Carol Ann, Miss. Mikayla, Miss. Sherry, and Debra Lou Lynn. The last goodbye was saved for our boat captain, who we had the pleasure of spending the beginning of this journey with on the ride over, the satisfying seafood dinner that night, and the last few hours as he took us home. I left that island feeling so honored that I was able to spend some time immersed in the rich rural history surrounded by affable and authentic people. This journey on that island frozen in time has changed my view of community as a whole, the Chesapeake Bay, and how to make a good crab cake; and I can find solace knowing that on Smith Island things will never change.

 

 

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Summer’s Made for Markets: Flea & Farmer

“Collect things you love, that are authentic to you, and your house becomes your story.” – Erin Flett

Summer is signified with the pungent smells of pollinated buttery corn silks and perfumed pages of old books. As a child, Thursdays meant heading over to the Westminster Livestock Auction to spend the evening at the junk sale. I would tag along with my grandfather as we sifted and dug through boxes of treasures: an old Avon bottle in the shape of a Dalmatian; a gold-leafed novel dog-earred and underlined with love; a palm-sized brooch sparkling with the finest costume crystals. These riches, relinquished to cardboard boxes, sparked my love relics with a past.

I may be thrifty, but I'm not that thrifty...

I may be thrifty, but I’m not that thrifty…

My taste for thrift has matured, I now pass up the perfume bottles and costume jewelry for stained glass windows and snakeskin suitcases. Upon moving to Connecticut I discovered that New England’s best flea market (and frequently seen on Flea Market Flip) is less than an hour away in New Milford. The Elephant’s Trunk Flea Market is the perfect place to spend a summer Sunday. Just $2 at the gate, and you enter a massive field loaded with menagerie of miscellany.

During a recent road trip down the East Coast I stumbled upon Black Dog Salvage, a vintage nirvana located in Roanoke, Virginia. A hodgepodge of housewares: a cluster of clawfoot tubs; a multitude of fireplace mantels; scroll columns and crown moulding; and the STAINED GLASS! The selection of gorgeous stained glass church windows made me wish I had brought a flatbed trailer instead of a Forrester.

 

“I know that if odor were visible, as color is, I’d see the summer garden in rainbow clouds.” –Robert Bridges

I grew up on a farm so my love of farmer’s markets was cultivated later on. Life in the city made me long for a taste of my rural roots, and farmer’s markets nursed that nostalgia. When I lived in Gettysburg I was lucky enough to have the farmer’s market located a few feet outside my front door. I’d spend each Saturday collecting local produce, milk, coffee, flowers and baked goods for the week. Since moving up north, I’ve spent each weekend exploring markets in neighboring towns – an ideal way to spend the summer.

Growing up a farm girl, I’ve never met a vegetable I didn’t devour, but I have a great fondness for tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes are as alluring as they are appetizing. The most photogenic of produce, heirloom tomatoes are a conglomeration of colors and contour, tasty gems just begging to be sliced and salted.

Wedded Wanderlust: Honeymoon Part 2

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”     -Virginia Woolf

Poutine

With the coastline behind us, the pine laden Pacific Coast Byway carved through valleys and pastures. Leaves arched towards the clouds showing off their silvery undersides. Contented cows curled up in piles upon the grass as they primed a dry spot before the rain gave way. More miles passed, bovine began to greatly outnumber Ponderosa Pine. The Tillamook Cheese Factory, an appropriate explanation for the copious amount of cows, came into view. This massive cheese citadel foreshadowed our first dinner in Portland; hours later we would be sampling their delicious cheese in the form of poutine.

My affinity for food is only eclipsed by a few things: my husband (saying that never gets old! ❤ ), travel, and BOOKS! Powell’s Books, a bastion for a bibliophile like myself, is the largest independent new & used bookstore IN THE WORLD. Needless to say, I made multiple trips and spent multiple paychecks in this literary nirvana; my carryon luggage carrying the brunt of my book binge with 50 pounds of pages and spines.

I spent a good chunk of my childhood surrounded by Beverly Cleary’s characters: Ramona, Beezus, Henry Higgins, and (my personal favorite) Ribsy. I read, and re-read her books so much that I had Yamhill mapped out in my mind. When I discovered that there was a Beverly Cleary statue garden in Portland, I dug out my heavily loved copy of Ramona the Pest and flipped through the dog-eared pages nostalgically. Seeing their familiar bronzed faces was a joy, and something I totally recommend to all those who grew up with the Quimbys.

While in the neighborhood, Walker and I made our way in the pouring Portland rain to Por que no? a charming, chromatic Mexican restaurant that was as visually appealing as it was appetizing. Authentic ingredients and mesmerizing adornments made this place a must for anyone with great taste.

After the rain cleared, we walked the tacos off at the Portland Rose Garden and Japanese Garden. The afternoon rain made everything all the more vivid; the foliage gleamed emerald and the roses blazed with multi-colored hues. The lush ambience muted all the commotion coming from the hundreds of tourists who shared the space, inspiring introspection and hushed tones. Walker once again proved his unwavering patience as I spent hours sniffing flowers and snapping pictures.

Rain couldn’t dissuade any doughnut lovers as we stood in line at Voodoo Doughnut, an intuition in Portland. The wet wait gave us time to compile a list of prerequisite pastries. Walker and I emerged prosperous, pink box in hand, brimming with chocolate and and icing and cream filling. Sprinkles and sticky fingers affirmed that they were well worth the wait.

We paid homage to history over dinner at Portland’s oldest restaurant, Huber’s Cafe which was established in 1879. The architecture didn’t disappoint; we were greeted with a vast stained glass ceiling and arched doorways. We happened to be in Portland during Fleet Week. Sailors filled the dining area enhancing the feeling of eating in our own little time capsule. Huber’s specialty is turkey, so we filled up on Thanksgiving dinners and drinks strong enough to carry us back to the hotel.

Once the tryptophan wore off we made our way to the Portland Rose Festival for our last night. Filled with the essential carnival components, we passed loud games and greasy deep-fried food on our way to the ferris wheel. Twenty dollars in tickets later, we were swaying on top of the city, taking in as much landscape as possible as we churned in an endless loop.

Wedded Wanderlust: Honeymoon Part 1

“Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking
outward together in the same direction.”
-Antoine de Saint-Exupery

After 8 years of friendship and 4 years of dating, I’ve finally become Mrs. Wright! Following the ceremony and celebration filled with family, friends, rainbow cake and heirloom tomatoes, Walker and I had set our sights towards the West Coast.

Choosing a honeymoon destination proved more difficult than planning a wedding – our sightseeing standards being quite high:
1. It must be a place neither of us has been before
2. It must be a photogenic excursion
3. Mountains are a must
4. Oceans are a bonus
5. And finally, the food must be phenomenal

We determined that Oregon was the dream destination, starting out in the sleepy beach town Cannon Beach which is tucked between colossal mountains and the crashing Pacific, and finishing the week in foodie paradise Portland.

Bonfires sparkled through the heavy fog as we pulled up to the Hallmark Inns & Resort, located directly on Cannon Beach. Our room overlooked Haystack Rock, and the adjacent rock formations known as “needles”, which rose up out of the Pacific Ocean nestled by fog and whitecaps. I recognized this geographic stunner from The Goonies, but standing witness to this 235 foot sea stack was astounding. Each night’s sunset ended with thick fog rolling across the coast along the water.

Low tide reveals tidal pools that shine like mirrors along the base of Haystack Rock. A closer look reveals an entire ecosystem of candy colored anemones, crabs, and starfish. Seagulls and Puffins roost atop the rocks, making it look in constant motion.

The town of Cannon Beach is a complete gem – charming, walkable, and untouched from commercial businesses. Flowers thrive in the cool ocean breeze and line the streets like a colorful brushstroke of blooms.

With a line of people spilling out along the sidewalk, Sleepy Monk Coffee Roasters appeared to be the place to get coffee among locals and tourists alike. One sip of the Druid Delight with homemade whipped cream and I was hooked, spending each morning in line for a cup became our blissful morning ritual. Late mornings were spent making our way to Pig ’n Pancake, where our biggest dilemma was choosing between a sweet or a savory breakfast. Why not both? 🙂

I knew that flying a kite was part of the itinerary the minute I laid eyes on the Kite Shop in downtown Cannon Beach. Filled with kites begging for a breeze and even a “Kite Hospital” this charismatic shop was made for an impulsive beach buy. The kite may have been $20 but finding out that my husband was a master kite flyer was priceless!

We treated ourselves to a fancy dinner an drinks at The Wayfarer Restaurant on our last night in Cannon Beach. We watched the sun sink into the sea as we sipped cocktails and ate chicken stuffed with Dungeoness Crab.

Sad to leave, we clung to the Oregon Coastline ambling along the Pacific Coast Highway 101, creating our own scenic route to Portland. Each mile marker was prettier than the last, turning our 30 minute jaunt to Manzanita Beach into an hour and a half tour of Rockaway Beach and Tillamook Bay. Walker proved to be the right man for me as he expertly navigated spots for me to hop out and take pictures each time I shouted “ohmyGod it’s so beautiful – PULL OVER!”

All it took was four days to fall in love with this place – we promised each other that we’ll make our way back. ❤

Next Up: Walker and I Eat Our Way Through Portland

Behold the Beauty of Barcelona: Sights, Sunsets, and Sangria

Of all the places I’ve ever traveled (which is quite a lot), Barcelona has been my favorite by far. The locals are warm and genuine, the weather is a dramatic mix of sunshine, storms, and rainbows, the food is fantastic, and the sangria is superb. As someone who has an affinity for architecture and a love of late nights, Barcelona is my paradise. My stay there was only a handful of days but in that time I tried to soak up as much of the Spanish life as possible.

 

Here are a few of my recommendations:

Casa Milà

Casa Milà was the last civic work designed by renowned architect Antoni Gaudí. The unique Modernist building was built between 1906 and 1910 and features continuous stone curves, twisted wrought iron windows and balconies, and a stunning rooftop that overlooks the city. Natural, religious, and geometric aspects fuse together to create an eclectic mix of architectural elements.

Casa Batlló

Located in the center of the city, Casa Batlló was redesigned by Antoni Gaudí in 1904. Known locally as Casa dels Osso (House of Bones), this stunning architectural masterpiece features skeletal shapes, colorful broken tile mosaics, and a striking roof that resembles an animal’s spine. Casa Batlló is just as impressive inside with a fluid floorplan, spiral ceilings, vibrant stained glass, and lots of natural lighting.

Park Güell

This garden gem overlooks the city on Carmel Hill and was built by Antoni Gaudí between 1900 and 1914. Park Güell is filled with lush gardens, undulating walls, and geometric designs; due to its sprawling size, I would recommend devoting several hours to explore this “garden-city”. Amidst the brilliant flora are the prominent mosaics that envelop many of the architectural features.

La Sagrada Família

Creation of this colossal Roman Catholic church commenced in 1882 (Gaudí took over in 1883) and is still under construction to this day, over 130 years later. Gaudí dedicated the last years of his life to this architectural endeavor; at the time of his death in 1926, less than a quarter of the development was complete. 2010 marked the midpoint of La Sagrada Famíla’s construction, with a tentative completion date of 2026, the centenary of Gaudí’s death. Words fail to describe the magnitude and magnificence of this church; the spiraling steeples and kaleidoscopic stained glass must be seen to be appreciated fully.

Las Ramblas

Popular with tourists and locals alike, this tree-lined street carves through the center of Barcelona. Street vendors, shops, markets, and restaurants populate the area day and night. The entrance to La Boqueria (Mercat de Sant Josep), a large public market full of produce and products that has been dated back to 1217, can be found via Las Ramblas. Sculptures and citrus trees saturate this popular street.

Quimet & Quimet

I journeyed to this tapas bar at the suggestion of a local who claimed that Quimet & Quimet was the best place to experience authentic Spanish food and drink. This local gem was tucked away from the bustle of Las Ramblas, and was charming and congested. Slipping in seconds before they shut the doors to further patrons, I squeezed up to the bar and selected a sampling of tapas and a glass of sangria. Not only was the food authentic, the dining experience was as well. The owners who were siblings, were friendly, genuine, and offered recommendations off their extensive menu.

 

 

 

 

 

Covered in Cat Hair: The Creation of a Cat Lady

“Time spent with cats is never wasted” – Sigmund Freud

If Freud’s quote holds true, then no moment in my life has ever been squandered. I have been captivated by cats for as far back as I can remember. I grew up on a farm which granted me the luxury of owning many cats throughout my childhood. As an only child they were the best companions; they endured countless cuddles, always answered to all the silly names I allocated them, and listened to me lovingly without so much as an eye roll or a tail flick. Looking back, my lifetime is marked by the many cats I’ve owned. Their names often encapsulated my life at the time: Stormy, Sunshine, Ginger, Siam, Zelda, Tweak, Pong, Zoe, Poet’s Muse, Alvy, Waffles…the list goes on. Though some have sadly passed with age, many familiar feline faces greet me whenever I visit home in Maryland.

 

I was inspired to write this blog yesterday after I read a delightful article on Brain Pickings titled “Literary Pets: The Cats, Dogs, and Birds Famous Authors Loved.” After reading, my fondness for Mark Twain, Gertrude Stein, E.B. White and many more amplified that much more.

Here are some highlights:

  • Mark Twain once took out an ad in the New York American offering a $5 reward for his black cat Bambino.
  • Ernest Hemingway’s wife Mary referred to cats as “purr factories” and “love sponges”. (How cute is that?)
  • Charles Dickens owned a pet raven named Grip.
  • William S. Burroughs’ soft spot was for his cats. He once said, “Only thing can resolve conflict is love, like I felt for Fletch and Ruski, Spooner, and Calico. Pure love.”

When I moved to Connecticut, I brought my Bengal cat Dinah with me. I quickly discovered when she was a kitten just how unique Bengal cats are, with her chatty, water-loving, large personality. Her cleverness amazes me, especially when she plays fetch for hours at a time, always bringing the toy (or whatever she perceives as a toy at the current moment) back to me. She has learned to accommodate her photography-loving owner by posing for various pictures without a hint of indifference. She has made my move from Maryland so much easier just by being a familiar feline face.

 

Revitalizing Relics: Turning an Old Spring House into a Bohemian Hideaway

Earlier this week I posted pictures of rainbows that were discovered dancing around the walls of a newly renovated spring house. The 1000 square foot, 2-story spring house was built in the early 1800’s,  and even features a working fireplace! This magical relic has incited many musings. As a child I would peek through the windows at the dusty treasures that lined the walls and envisioned an enchanting playhouse.

Years later my mother has transformed this historic spring house full of potential, into a charming retreat full of vintage goods, treasured possessions, and rainbows that infuse the small space with color. My mother instilled in me a love of old things, to find the beauty in the antiquated. This notion is evident in all the details (large and small) that make the spring house special. Glass bottles and marbles are used to fill the small voids found in the old American Chestnut wood walls, a unique way to add some extra color and light. Area rugs of varying colors and sizes, and mismatched furniture add a bohemian ambiance. Words really can’t do this gorgeous space justice, check out the pictures below.