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Bannerman Castle Ruins. Hudson, NY.

 

It is always such a silly realization how even a few hours in a new place can be so refreshing. Travel is transformative for many of us but the word itself evokes ideas of far off places and long stretches of adjustment. How easy it is to forget about the wonderment of the weekend trip? The brief opportunity to step out of our routine into a new place.

Maybe that is why the idea of travel, even the briefest kind, is so alluring; because with each new discovery comes the ability to glimpse all our lives unlived.

For North Easterners, Hudson Valley is that magical escape so close to home; small provincial towns set against the storybook back drop of rolling farmland, thick forests, and ripening orchards.

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Streets of Saugerties.

 

Saugerties is where our weekend trip began with diners illuminated with neon signs and gleaming silver; strolling down a Main Street laced with boutiques, vintage book sellers, organic chocolate shops and antique stores. An art gallery had just been let out and a boisterous assembly of people spilled out into the street still sipping the last of their wine as they said goodbye and clapped each other on the back.

This town at night was twinkling with lights and playful window displays. One housed a miniture carnival and watching the tiny ferris wheel slowly turning round and round was peculiar and wonderous, as if something grand was about to occur.

And indeed, it just may. Saugerties is anticipating the dawn of it’s art scene with artists, gallery owners, and art dealers migrating here from the glamourous New York art circles.

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In the morning we headed east, to Hudson an elegant little town with quiet streets and European flair.  Massive buildings and gorgeous views of the river, we hiked to a viewing spot overlooking the Bannerman Castle ruins. (Shown above, 1st image.)

We made our way to FishKill through woods of evergreen pine and birch trees mapped out by trails, bike paths, farms and farmers markets. A quaint colorful town full of renovated 18th century farmhouses reminiscent of the Dutch that settled there.

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Tioronda, former showplace of civil war hero General Joseph Howland.

 

With castles, galleries and gardens, this New York community made for a charming and quite magical weekend. Check out some of my favorite photos from the trip below!

 

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Red tries his first croissant from La Perche, a traditional French bakery with a bar in the back.

 

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fairytale church.

 

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Hiking in style. Gracias ErgoBaby!

 

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Walking up to visit a friend’s restaurant, Mercado, we see broccoli rabe out to dry. Minutes later it showed up on our plates.

 

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Sharing.

 

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panini and kale ceaser like a boss.

 

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Mercato, Red Hook, NY.

 

 

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organic, gluten-free, vegan, whatever truffles from Lucky Chocolates in Saugerties, NY. They accomodate every allergy and neurosis, so there is no excuses.

 

 

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This little piggie is in Saugerties, NY.

 

 

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OUR Book Shop

 

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Night Circus. Lucky Chocolates. Saugerties, NY.

 

 

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Salted Caramels didn’t make it to the freeway.

 

A Weekend of Wonder: Hudson Valley

Can’t Be Tamed: A Day of Healing with Horses in Springfield, Vermont

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As Maggie sauntered away, I felt rejection, insult, abandon.

You aren’t listening to what you know in your heart is right. She had had enough of my denial.

Maggie, BTW, is a sassy young paint horse. We were paired up for an Equine Coaching session lead by EGCM healer Cindy Aldrich at her barn in Springfield, Vermont. This was my second session but the first with Maggie.

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Horses, wild or domesticated, in many cultures are celebrated as a symbol of freedom, power, virility, life-force. Native Americans believed that this wild freedom could be employed to benefit the tribe but only once a mutual respect is acknowledged and it is understood that man and beast are responsible to one another. (http://www.whats-your-sign.com/horse-symbol-meanings.html) Solidarity! *fist bump*

EGCM uses this connection between horses and their partner to facilitate an existential and experiential psychotherapy for self-exploration, awareness, relationship building, and healing

My first session with Bella I stood in the barn briskly answering Cindy’s questions with vague, text book answers. Bella promptly trotted away to nuzzle a stallion through the gate. (Can you blame her?)

A horse won’t waste their time if you aren’t there to do the work. As one of the most congruent and perceptive animals, they are able to feel a shift in vibrational energy from up to a mile away. So, they can feel insincerity.

This time, I was ready. Determined. Marching to the center of the arena,  I imagined being so unclosed and candid that my vulnerabilities would be on display like a trench coat full of watches.

I hope I do this right. I hope I can get this horse to come near me.

I was focusing so hard on trying to be “in the moment” that I spun on my heel and nearly collided with Maggie’s gigantic head as she raced up behind me.

She was right there (literally) with me on this. Let’s do this!

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Horseplay in the snow.

I opened up about my recent wrestling with the decision to become a full-time creative by giving up other commitments in my life. An idea as thrilling and terrifying as jumping from a plane trusting that your parachute will open. Maggie turned sideways aligning her heart “chakra” with mine. As I admitted my fear of regret, she came to me and bowed her head.

I thought about what Cindy had said during the introduction circle about how horses like to work once they find the right job. I envisioned the work horses I had seen at county fairs pulling cement blocks or wagons full of children. Or the race horses I bet on that dashed toward the finish line at the Hipodromo Argentino de Palermo. How very similarly, we all take on burdens and quest for something. That once we find what works for us, we too will work happily and tirelessly at it.

At this my stomach began needling with hunger pangs but my feet were shooting with energy. In a flash, I felt the sudden need to sprint, jump, take off.

But I stayed because, I don’t know, it seemed like I was supposed to. Maggie came over put her backside to me and leaned in. Obviously I moved out of the way so I didn’t get a horseshoe to the head. Then I realized I moved when I wasn’t going to. Fear can hold us back but it can also nudge us forward.

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She began shifting her weight on her back haunches, her way of sending me creative energy.

So what did comfortable, confident, Future Gaby do to get where she wanted? Asks Cindy.

As I turned over different options in my head; she worked hard. She focused. She got organized. She time managed.

Maggie walked away. Calmly, confidently, to the other side of the arena resting her head on the top tier of the gate, looking at the woman waiting for her turn with a welcoming tameness. Which brings us to the beginning of our tale; maybe I was insulted that she left me alone to conquer this final, major decision by myself. Or maybe, she was showing me how it is done. That all I need to do is simply walk away.

**Stay tuned! More images to come after the ones for publishing are chosen!**

Welcome to Austin

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Cactus flower spotted on a morning hike.

 

There are things I love about my first week in Austin;

Hiking through constellations of pink and blue flowers in the early morning to Barton Springs where fresh pecans scatter the ground and leaves hang down in thick, patterns of green crescent moons. The way the turquoise springs bleed across their limestone canvas. Young parents crouching at the waters edge feeding ducks and turtles with their children, bikers pedaling by, kayakers paddling by, dogs and their owners run by taking full advantage of a beautiful day under a bright Texas sun.

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“Philosopher’s Rock” a monument to glory, ideas, and the power of conversation. Barton Springs, Austin, TX.

 

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A couple enjoys a morning paddle in the Springs where swans, turtles, and many other wild life reside.

 

How the city has pioneered their own food and drink scene with boutique smoothie shops, patisseries, and distilleries. The empire of Tito’s Vodka, American-made and gluten-free, that swept across the country. The innovators that renovated the suburban Rainey Street neighborhood into chic cocktail bars or beer gardens. The embellished food trucks parked nearby where burned out bar-goers binge on tacos and tortilla chips. (Myself included.) Or the food trailers parked in lots feeding picnic tables full of patrons.

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Fresh pecans not far from the tree.

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Juiceland, Organic Juice Bar in Austin, TX.

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Fresh, local and Caffeinated. How can you deny that?

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Ginger Chili Oil Dumplings at Elizabeth’s Street Cafe, a cafe whose menu is heavily influenced with French and Vietnamese style street food.

Its conservation efforts, its buildings that look like animals, the millions of bats that migrate here just to breed and then swarm out each night in a big black cloud to feed.

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Egrets nesting for the night.

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A beautiful Austin skyline seen from Barton Springs.

How the whole city just thrums with ENERGY which could be due to the fact that it is the fasted growing city in the country for the past four years. It just doesn’t seem fair to the rest of us that people in this city are having so much fun. It is no wonder, Austin locals have developed into a rare hybrid of traditional southern charm mixed with bohemian grit.

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Crowds wait to see the Mexican free-tailed bats take flight at Congress Avenue Bridge where millions of bats migrate to this specific spot to give birth to their young. Each night they make their way into the night to feed in a black, fluttering cloud.

I love all of it. But we will get to that.

I wanted my first post about Austin to be about a different kind of Austin I was introduced to; which I quickly claimed to be MY Austin.

This second part of my trip was spent shooting Fireball with a bunch of bartenders and bouncers that keep most of 6th Street lubricated. Once my original plans got all busted up (I would explain but I am still not really sure what happened) and I was suddenly calling hotels to book last minute reservations for the night, I fell back into the arms of my kind. The restaurant folk, the outsiders, the wolves at the table.

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These crazies made me trip. Thank you and love y’all. xo

Meredith was a bubby, quick-witted brunette who bartended at Cain and Abel’s. I was introduced to her by her roommate, Connor, who also works as a bouncer there and is an old friend of mine.

“Your first time in Austin?” She asked. I nodded, bracing myself for the awkward silence or the polite cold shoulder women so often give to each other when males are present.

“Good. We’re gonna git you drunk.”

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Running into an old friend, Nick, at Black Sheep.

The girls ushered me from bar to bar. It was familiar to me; gritty, debaucherous, lovely. With them, I plunged into the underbelly of Austin. I had found my pack.

There were beer tastings at the craft beer shop On Tap, burgers and beers with the tatted up day crew of Cain and Abel’s at Black Sheep’s patio seating, some sort of pineapple drink while sitting in a beer garden watching elegant dancers hanging from harnesses in neon costumes pirouette across  buildings. Scarfing steak tacos from a nearby food truck as Natalie, leggy and inked out all over told me about her missionary work in Haiti and how excited she was for her upcoming trip.

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Street food is always the best food.

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Sam and Evan Gardner. Beautiful couple, creative spirits, wonderful friends.

Sitting by a fire drunk and exhausted, the night’s energy swelled once more with everything we had left in us to dance and spin on white couches of Rio’s roof top lounge.

We made it home with the help of the rideshare service, Uber, known for their low fees, punctuality, salary paid drivers and the ability to track the reserved car’s location.

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There was fried chicken for breakfast at Lucy’s and later the perfectly blonde, beautiful Sarah finished her shift and joined us for movies and sushi.

None of this is spectacular.

Well, actually, keeping me out past 1am and getting me to take shots of anything pineapple flavored is..actually pretty spectacular. (Well done.)

But it raises the question of what the word “vacation” means. Is it taking a break from your life, stepping out of your shoes to perhaps wander in someone else’s along the trails at Barton Springs or on a privately owned boat out to Hula Hut?

Or maybe one of the greatest things about vacationing in a new place is it allows you to be your truly, whole-souled self trading in boat tour for a foot soldier’s journey of a typical Friday night in Austin.

The Weekender: 36 Hours in Portland, ME

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Christian and Red looking sad and lost in Old Orchard Beach boardwalk.

Christian and Red looking sad and lost in Old Orchard Beach boardwalk

 

I looked out the rear window to see the tiny umbrella-ed buckets of the ferris wheel dip down out of sight into an electric haze of neon lights as we drove away from the Pier in Old Orchard Beach. The stench of cigarettes and fried food had finally faded giving way to delicious licks of crisp, salt air as we whipped up the New England coast toward Portland, Maine.

We were told Old Orchard was just a short trip away from Portland, our Memorial Day destination. We were told it was a nice, family beach.

It was not.

Now, I’m not a particularly domestic or maternal person and perhaps if I was A.) single B.) drunk C.) child-free I would have enjoyed hitting the steamy streets of Old Orchard packed with spray-tanned bros but my baby needs to be able to hang. (He’s with me.)

So, after traversing the seemingly endless racks of Ed Hardy shirts in search of Baby Sun Tan lotion, we made our way toward Portland, before the girl chain-smoking by the pool could even finish her pack. Red in tow.

Greetings Sinners!

Established as a fishing and trading village then famously surviving four fires, Portland is a city of craftsmanship and rebirth. You can see it in the architecture; cobble stone streets lined with revitalized warehouses and renovated commercial buildings. You can see it in their food with culinary breakthroughs continually topping national lists due to an ever-evolving restaurant scene including over 300 restaurants, food trucks, pop-up shops, and farmer’s markets. Everywhere bright, young things contrast the foundations of a hardworking New England seaport like a rose blooming from concrete.

As one Portlandian puts it; “I’ve never lived anywhere where people are more innovative. Everybody is so forward-thinking and always on to the next thing.” says Jacob Perry, Producer at WGME CBS 13 News. “I mean, they are about to ban plastic bags. They really care about the place where they live and everyone is constantly looking for ways to make it better.”

Like the storied “Hipster” of Millenial icons, a persona with which many of the tatted up, bespectacled locals bedraggled in their plaids can identify with, Portland is rugged yet designed, traditional yet cutting-edge. Or maybe, Portland is just HIP.

12pm. Brew Hop

I can’t think of a better way to end a long drive and kick off vacation than a cold beer overlooking the ocean.

Pick up a map from The Maine Brewer’s Guild here: http://www.portlandmaine.com/maps/beer-trails/.

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3pm. Walk around the Old Port

This 3×5 block radius of historic downtown is now more shopping than shipping. Wander through the mix of old shipping offices and warehouses turned galleries, bookstores, craft shops and eateries.

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5pm. Dinner and Drinks

Portland has earned major cred in the foodie world as being one of the top spots for local, simple, good food and drink. Kick cocktail hour off with a dozen from Eventide Oyster Co. paired with a mezcal Moscow Mule (mezcal, lime, gingerbeer). Then  Portland Hunt and Alpine Club for a craft cocktail whose menu ranges from a classic restoration cocktail like the Final Word to the tiki- inspired Jungle Bird. Finish out with a late night snack from the basement beer cafe, Navare Res. Binge on tuna tartar and a cheese board like an adult.

8pm. Jam out.

Visit Portland’s Art District for a concert at either of Portland’s music halls One Longfellow Square or Port City Music Hall. These venues have hosted the Phish-y deep-funk duo, Soule Monde; the psychedelic folk artist Lisa/Liza and the bluesy soul sounds of Ray LaMontagne. Both offer performances and events most days of the week.

12am. (respectively) Rest those tired bones, we still have another day!

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9am. Grab some breakfast.

For a savory, sit down brunch hit Hot Suppa, a creole joint on Congress St. known for their Bloody Mary’s and Mac and Cheese. Or grab and go at South Portland’s 186 Pickett Street a homey bagel shop with a backyard and nutella muffins.

10am. Spend the morning walking around Fort Williams Park.

Wander the 90-acre park checking out city landmarks like the Portland Head Light, the well-preserved Fort Williams and the former officers’ quarters at Goddard Mansion.

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12pm. Head back into the city to the most popular lunch spot in Portland, Duckfat.

They had me at fries and milkshakes.

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1pm. Spend the afternoon shopping:

Your heart will flutter down Exchange Street browsing handmade cards, boutique jerky (not a typo- JERKY) at Portland Trading Co., floral print wrap dresses and whimsy vintage novelties at Pinecone and Chickadee.

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3pm. Don’t forget to stop by The Holy Donut for some tasty treats like Sweet Potato Ginger and Dark Chocolate Sea Salt donuts for the car ride home. Just don’t promise anyone donuts, they won’t last the whole car ride! (You know who you are… ;)

5pm.  For dinner, go casual at Nosh Bar “where omnivores assemble”. The menu totes corn dog appetizers, fries with all the frills, and a French Dip that trades out the au jus for Pho broth.

And that concludes a successful weekend in Portland.

Christian and Red after a successful weekend in Portland.

Photo Friday: Miss Varela’s Best Practices

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There is nothing more intimidating than standing in front of a room full of teenagers. They have an incredible talent at looking bored. However, last week I was asked by the ever so inspiring Kara Waters of the art department at Hanover High School to guest speak on photography and storytelling.

Here is an overview of what I decided to fill those up-and-coming image-makers’ young minds with…My best tips for creating photos like a PRO (aka what I’ve learned the hard way):

1. A great photo is created. It helps to know what you want. What images are you looking to come back with? What do you want to communicate? Create a shot list, know where you need to go and who you need to see. Get there, set up, wait for your shot


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2. Know your exits and entrances. Every good spy knows their exit strategy. Likewise, since no one is going to stop the show for you (atleast they don’t for me…), it is important to be able to move quickly around what it going on without drawing attention to yourself. Go to rehearsals, get schedules, talk to the other people working it including DJs, announcers, anything that will give you a good idea of what will happen and when so you can be where you need to be at the right time.


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3. Don’t be shady. Too often I find baby photographers who want to hide their camera to “not look like a tourist” or “not stand out” as a photographer. But that is what you are: a photographer and tourist. I have found it is much safer to have open and honest body language. Stalking around, partially hiding your camera is creepy and counterproductive.

4. Ask permission. Continuing on my previous point, I have found that despite many people’s reluctance to be photographed, most are willing to be in an image if you just ask. It is always polite and professional, not to mention an opportunity to direct the shot. Stumble upon a bunch of chefs laughing together on their break before dinner service or a street musician polishing his saxophone between sets? Just ask: “Do you mind if I photograph you just like that?” Often just holding up your camera and raising my eyebrows gets me a nod or a shake.


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5. Be flexible. Leave room for error (because there will inevitably be some). Bring back up batteries, memory cards, Band Aids, tape, plastic bags  (instant water proofing!) and don’t take yourself too seriously. The best photos always come from having fun!


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6. Most importantly, know when to be a photographer. I once attended a dinner out in the countryside of Argentina. It was a private family event to celebrate Father’s Day to which I had the privilege of being invited. That morning, I walked through a small garden of clementine trees out to a yard that overlooked their vineyard. Smoke rose from a grill where two men heaved whole halves of animals on to the grates and I watched the women of the family file out into the yard carrying boxes of wine, salads, and bread to the table. I relented not having my camera with me to document a scene so sublimely beautiful. This was good stuff! But I wasn’t invited as a photographer. I was invited as a guest. On your shoots and locations, you can be Warrior Photographer but other times you need to be yourself. Don’t spend the whole time beating yourself up about all the “missed shots”, work towards creating opportunities for the best shots and that includes making real connections.

Seeing Red: The birth of my son and in a way, myself.

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Red in Slumberland.

Red in Slumberland.

Well he’s here. My son.

At 6:21am, Red Oliver Varela came into the world roaring with life. I screamed when I saw him. Not a painful scream, I had only phantoms of legs and nether regions thanks to a great epidural, but a surprised and startled (embarrassing) scream. Looking at him in radical amazement, he was the conclusion of everything I had felt during pregnancy, the push and pull of this sort of becoming.

My whole pregnancy I wanted nothing but to feel like my body was my own again. It was a small frustration at first, sparking in the extra motivation it took each morning to get going after I gave up my coffee ritual or as quick and passing as the momentary pains when I would bump into something behind the bar, unfamilar with my new volume and dimensions.

Then I started crying. In the beginning only while listening to sad songs or happy commercials. Then I started crying over watching music videos that reminded me of all my nights out in the city, the lights, the dancing, the potential for anything to happen, the defiance with which we all faced the world, the sunrise. (damn you Calvin Harris and David Guetta.)

I started crying over the work I couldn’t complete because I was just too tired or too unfocused. In all honesty, there was no point in trying. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing anyway because somehow I had become bad at all the things I was good at, even relaxing.

I realized I had not gone into the baby’s room the entire time we have lived here except to deposit gifts and things I collected for him. I’m supposed to be blissfully happy. I’m supposed to be glowing. I’m supposed to be a god damn goddess of nature and miracles and life!

But instead I was an anxious, fearful mess that couldn’t quite wrap my head around why I would possibly do this to myself. Why would I invite this little person into my life of too much coffee, too late nights, plane ticket roulette, spend it all, see it all,  defy tomorrow!

I wondered when I would become this mother. Maybe it took the time it takes to wear in a new set of heels or for the stiff spine of a new book to soften. At times, I was completely distraught that I may never accumulate the abundance of selfless love a parent has for their child.

Love at first sight.

Love at first sight.

They placed him in my arms and I was stunned by the intensity, the immediate shifting of things. All this time, I didnt realize the biggest part of me was growing inside. All of the things I searched and longed for about myself were being funneled into shaping this little being. To nourish him with life and personality so that when he came out he was immediately recognizable. Mine. Mine. MINE.

How natural.  This whole time I was afraid my greatest adventures were behind me, my wildest dreams extinguished.  But holding him; in the heat of the instincts, the hormones, the love, the hope, everything was made possible again. I was on a fast train to something exciting, something permanent: motherhood. What is a grander adventure than that?

My family, my loves.

My family, my loves.

The Maine Event: Eventide Oyster Co.

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“It’s not a very romantic story.” Said Christian of his start into the food industry. He is the Provisions International Specialty Goods Salesman and my adoring “Baby Daddy” (Is that the correct term? I’m new at this…)

One of the ways Christian and I connected when we first met was our mutual passion for food and great restaurants. Together, we continue to explore new eateries whenever we find ourselves with the rare opportunity to spend a day together. Which is what brought us to Portland: food. Because as a former chef, he has a lot to say and now that I’m pregnant, I have a lot to eat.

Portland’s gastronomic potential was first spotted when the Locavore Movement began to turn the tables on American cuisine toward food made with sustainable products found close to home. With an abundance of fresh fish and small town charm, Portland quickly rose to its fame as one of the “foodiest towns in America” (Bon Appetit, 2009).

Our traveling concluded at Eventide; the restaurant co-owned and adjacent to Portland’s culinary darling Hugo’s. The restaurant that also catapulted Christian into the industry. His first love.

“I worked at Hugo’s for Rob [Evans].” Christian explained wistfully of his motivation to begin his career in Hugo’s kitchen that later launched him into the sous chef positions at Vermont’s boutique destination Simon Pearce and New Hampshire’s Dartmouth retreat, The Hanover Inn.

“I walked in a week after he won the James Beard Award. He won, he took me on, I showed up a week later and fell in love with it. I loved the way he talked about food. I loved the way he ran his kitchen and I loved the food coming out of it.”

Evans has since left the establishment, leaving it to the direction of his three best knife-slinging successors; Arlin Smith, Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley who continue to transform New England fare with their inventive menus.

Eventide is their newest, solo venture. Here are some postcards from our culinary cruise.

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While guests grab a beer from the bar, they can browse a wide selection of locally and internationally sourced oysters on display.

While guests grab a beer from the bar, they can browse a wide selection of locally and internationally sourced oysters on display.

A not-so traditional lobster roll on a simple sub roll with big chunks of lobster. Light and fresh with house mayo and hints of dill. For a sweeter note, have it blended with hollandaise or brown butter vinaigrette.

A not-so traditional lobster roll. Light and fresh with house mayo and hints of dill. For a sweeter note, have it blended with hollandaise or brown butter vinaigrette.

Sweet and salty squash fritters.

Sweet and salty squash fritters.

Bonito potatos

Bonito potatos

Grilled octopus sliced to the thinness of pasta with kimchi, lemon grass and topped with garlic chips.

Grilled octopus sliced to the thinness of pasta with kimchi, lemon grass and topped with garlic chips.

Razor clam with uni hot sauce and bread crumbs.

Razor clam with uni hot sauce and bread crumbs.