Fabulous fare

These last couple of days I have been perpetually hungry. I ate so much (and so well) over the weekend, I think my stomach expanded and now won’t return to its more modest size.

Cherisse and I have just returned from the Common Ground Fair, in Unity, Maine. Unlike past years, we went only for the weekend. We stayed in Belgrade Lakes (inland, less than an hour from Unity) at one of the most comfortable inns I have ever stayed at—Wings Hill Inn. Run by a husband and wife, who do everything from greeting guests to preparing and serving outstanding meals, the inn is filled with thoughtful details.

The meals, though, are the principle reason I am already thinking of reasons to return. The menus change depending on what fresh (mostly local) foods are available. Breakfast comes with the room and is as good as I’ve had outside my own house. Saturday we had a baked apple so delicious I want to experiment with a few recipes at home. This was followed by a perfect omelet with Swiss chard, cheddar cheese and heirloom tomatoes. Sunday we enjoyed honeydew melon and multi-grain pancakes (only Cherisse’s are better) with plenty of real maple syrup.

Dinner is open to the public, with two seatings a night. Friday we arrived just in time for our 8 pm reservation. Tired from a busy work day and a really long drive, we were quickly revived by the five-course (beautifully paced) meal, served by the interesting and charming chef and innkeeper, Chris. Wonderful squash bisque (I used a piece of bread to get the last of it out of my bowl), and then a salad with greens so tender we knew they had just been picked. By the time we’d gotten to the entrees we’d begun to falter, but that didn’t stop us from devouring an incredible risotto with Swiss chard and tomatoes, and a twist on a coq au vin, using chicken thighs and legs (from local free-ranging chicken) served in a wonderful sauce over a truffle polenta. Tiny, perfect carrots rested on top of the dish. By dessert (which really deserved to be enjoyed on an empty stomach), we had already decided to dine at the inn Saturday night, and had made our menu selections.

The Common Ground Fair is also known for good food—the vendors go through a rigorous application process and must use local ingredients. (Coffee was not available until a few years ago…now locally roasted beans are served to thankful fair goers and vendors.) But the workshops and displays are the main attraction for us. This year we focused on our orchard which, with the exception of some peaches and two perfect Asian pears, has made a poor showing. Michael Phillips, an organic apple grower from northern New Hampshire, and author of a number of books, led two workshops that Cherisse attended (I went to the second only). We also listened to the head of MOFGA’s orchards who talked about “What We Do and Why” which was very helpful, since we have done so little for our fruit trees. I went to a great workshop on poultry health. My big regret was missing “Growing Heat Loving Plants in a Cool Climate” because I was looking through all of the vendor tents.

We bought a new clothes drying rack—this one has far more space than our old one, with an accordion-like top—and stocked up on maple syrup for the year (we buy two gallons from Strawberry Hill Farms, which usually carries us through until the following September). Cider and apples were in short supply because parts of Maine suffered the same weather fluctuation we had—early warmth which budded out the trees, followed by several days of freezing temperatures.

Somehow we never made it to the livestock tents this year—another disappointment. Yet we spent a very full day at the fair on Saturday. We were tempted to go back on Sunday, but opted instead for an early start home. We returned to happy animals (our—and their—friend Kris had stayed with them). As with everything to do with the outdoors, there is always next year for what we’ve left undone.

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