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More whirlwind adventure

Written by Chaz on 30 September 2012

The weather forecast for Tuesday morning was, for the first time since I arrived in Maine, rain. The thought of getting wet scared off all but the most hardy travelers, and my mother, Emmy and I left home very early on Tuesday morning for a hike up Mansell Mountain and around the Great Pond Trail. Mansell is one of the more scenic trails on the much quieter western side of Mount Desert Island, where a large section of the national park lies, and we did not see anyone on the trails for the first couple hours of our hike.

We climbed Mansell using the Perpendicular Trail, famous for its long granite staircase.

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Though it was barely raining for most of our hike, the mountain was entirely shrouded in fog, so there were no views from the top. But still, the different climate made a nice change from the full sun we had been having. (Not to say I wasn’t delighted when the full sun returned.)

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As we began descending the back side of the mountain into Great Notch, a small mountain pass, the fog swirled around us through a beautiful lichen-covered forest.

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We wound around the mountain through a damp, lush forest back to the shores of Long Pond, where the fog had barely begun to rise.

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We headed home for breakfast, where we waited for the last of the rain to leave the island before we headed out to Bass Harbor Head Light, a lighthouse that has become an icon of Acadia and is even now featured on a quarter. The view out to sea remained bleak.

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From the lighthouse, we drove just east to the Ship Harbor and Wonderland trails, which, both being flat and easy, made a nice change from all the peaks we had bagged a couple days earlier. The trails opened onto the rocky Maine coast, and we explored the tide pools a bit.

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For lunch, we drove over to Seawall, a long stretch of beautiful granite that anchors its section of the national park. We explored the rocks more and took the opportunity to take a few more inspired photographs.

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Lunch was again turkey, muenster and avocado with spicy honey mustard on rosemary bread, and it paired very nicely with the scenery.

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We also took the opportunity for one final shot of all of us in our T-shirts.

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Ben was leaving us that afternoon, and I had planned to drive him to Bangor. After lunch, I realized that we were relatively tight on time to get him to the airport. So we stopped at Sawyer’s Market, an adorable grocery store in Southwest Harbor that my family has been patronizing for nearly three decades, with items for each of us to grab already distributed. We high-tailed it from there back to Seal Cove Pond, where Joanna and I dove into the pond for an express swim that was refreshing by both its nature and its cadence.

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We went home and left Joanna, Seth and Emmy to enjoy cocktail hour on the porch while I drove Ben back to the airport in Bangor. From the looks of it, I missed a very nice afternoon.

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I returned just in time for the sunset.

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The parents of a college friend live on the island full-time and we see them whenever we come up here now. When my mother and I took a long-weekend winter trip, we stayed Rosemary and Charlie and spent time exploring the ice-covered park. On this much more summery evening, Rosemary came over for dinner, and we had an amazing feast. We began with a tomato, basil and mozzarella salad, and my mother reprised her homemade crab cakes that I had enjoyed in sandwich form on Isle au Haut, served with potatoes and string beans.

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As Ben’s departure left us with four people, I tried to teach the group to play spades, a Kelsh family favorite, which was only moderately successful but a still a very good time.

Emmy and I rose early on Wednesday, threw two bikes on the car and tried to take a bike road on Acadia’s beautiful carriage road, but due to technical issues with my mother’s bike, we barely got anywhere. We returned home before 7, and decided to do a bit of kayaking in the little inlet by our house. For reasons of safety — the camera’s, not ours — there are no photos.

Once the full gang was up and at ’em, we drove into Bar Harbor for one last meal as a group before Joanna and Seth had to return to the airport. We were able to be seated right away at Cafe This Way, which was a minor miracle. Cafe This Way, an island landmark in recent years, is perhaps the only restaurant I have ever known that serves only breakfast and dinner. Emmy, Joanna and I had omelets — Greek, trout and sundried tomatoes with mozzarella, respectively — while Seth enjoyed a veggie sausage burrito and my mother went for the eggs benedict.

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After breakfast, it was time for another chauffeur run up to Bangor. Emmy and I said goodbye to Joanna and Seth inside the tiny terminal, delighted at what a great time we friends had had together and sorry it had to end. Emmy and I stopped at Walmart on the way back to pick up some supplies, and by the time we made it back to the house, it was time for lunch. Emmy whipped up some tuna melts, which we enjoyed on the porch.

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Unable to rally ourselves for much physical activity, and not excited at the notion of doing something in the mid-afternoon sun, we settled for a quick dip in Seal Cove Pond. As we wove through the backroads of the park, we spotted some friends along the way.

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After an abbreviated cocktail hour, we drove back into Bar Harbor for the early showing of Headhunters, a Norwegian film about an executive recruiter who moonlights as an art thief. We didn’t know much about the film and had basically no expectations, which made it even better when we thoroughly enjoyed it. For dinner, we began with a nachos platter during the first half of the movie, and at intermission moved on to the High Plains Drifter pizza, Reel Pizza’s take on the classic barbecue chicken pizza, one of our favorites in Providence.

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We returned home full and happy, and got in bed early, ready to start the next day bright and early.

Icy cold water and red hot lobsters

Written by Emmy on 26 September 2012

Monday morning began early for half the group, as Ben, Chaz and I set off to conquer the Precipice Trail in the post-dawn sunlight. Precipice was advertised as a very steep ascent; parts of the trail are comprised of iron rungs stuck into rock, requiring you to hoist your full body weight up while sort of dangling in the air. We can’t say we weren’t warned.

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Truthfully, it wasn’t that scary. (I’d put it at comparable to Angels Landing and far less terrifying than the final moments of our Half Dome ascent, which I use as my barometer for holy-crap-I’m-nervous statements.) We gained height quickly thanks to the vertical ladders and iron bars, and before long our parked car was like a tiny ant on the ground below.

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By the time we reached the summit, the sun was already blinding overhead, making us all very glad for our crack-of-dawn departure time. The views both along the way and from the very top were positively stunning.

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After scrambling down a more rock-based and less iron-rung-reliant trail, we arrived back at the car and headed home to pick up the rest of the troops. The five of us and Chaz’s mother Liz set out for the Great Head trail for an oceanfront jaunt and the moment of the trip I was most excited about.

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We had been discussing the need to brand ourselves for quite some time, and in advance of the trip to Maine, I finally took the plunge and designed our 120 T-shirts. A note about this group: We were all, to some degree or another, friends before we took on the newspaper reins in early 2010. But while serving in our role and in the subsequent semester, we formed a bond that I have to believe is truly unique. It has its roots and its heart in our shared commitment to spending time at The Herald when we could have been in a million other places, though it has come to stand for far, far more than that at this point.

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Our shirts did inspire a bit of amusing confusion, as passersby inquired as to why we all had the same number on our backs. Call us a less-than-standard sports team.

From our perch atop Great Head, we could see Sand Beach, one of the island’s most popular sunbathing and dip-your-toes-in-the-ocean settings. We looked down on it from up above, but decided to bypass it in favor of installing ourselves somewhere quieter.

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IMG_0141We set up shop on rocks and picnic blankets (thanks Delta!) at Little Hunters Beach, a quiet alcove where we were the only picnickers in sight. We dined on sandwiches of turkey, avocado, muenster and spicy honey mustard, a checkpoint picnic lunch favorite.

We did dip our toes into the ocean, largely for the shock effect. The last time I visited Acadia, I was 14 and on a trip with my sleepaway camp. We visited Sand Beach and standing in a line, walked into the ocean. The wager was simple: last person standing would be exempt from cleaning the bunk (or something similarly lucrative). I made it to the final five, but surrendered when I lost the feeling in my toes and emerged with them slightly purple in color.

The water this time around was just about as cold as I remembered, but we braved it briefly as a group.

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Given our inability to get further than ankle deep, we relocated back to our personal swimming pond and lounged about in the significantly warmer water. We learned that despite being, in some senses, a professional swimmer, Joanna is terrified of touching the bottom. Thankfully Seth was willing enough to hold her upright. (And really, Chaz and I lost at a competitive game of chicken fight to the pair completely out of courtesy to Joanna’s fears; I’m less worried about hitting the bottom of the pond.)

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We returned to the house and began cocktail hour a bit early in anticipation of an early dinner to follow. The selection of noshes was quite generous, including 120’s absolute favorite, and fresh summer rolls from the cleverly named Chow Maine. Joanna had infused gin with cardamom in preparation for the trip up north and we splashed it into our drinks for a bit of fancy flair.

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We had one minor mishap during our otherwise calm and relaxed cocktail hour.

After cocktail hour, we squeezed ourselves into one car and made our way to Thurston’s Lobster Pound, a noted lobster shack poised right above the water.

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We walked up to the restaurant and took a quick look at the menu before walking in. Basically our options boiled (no pun intended) down to what size the lobsters would be.

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Hi friends!!

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With our sea beasts boiling in their pots, we picked out a picnic table on the roofed-in patio and settled down with crab dip and crackers and a pitcher of Bar Harbor Blueberry Ale. We switched tables a few times, concerned there wouldn’t be enough room for us and all of our clawed friends. But we finally committed to a table and before not too long, received a tray full of bright red lobsters, ready for the taking. I could barely contain my excitement.

 

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Because we had a few novices at the table, Liz provided an instructional lesson on how best to handle the whole lobster.

For some, her lesson created great success.

The before: 

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…and the after: 

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What was most exciting (or rather, a bit alarming) about the whole experience was Seth’s display. Seth has been a vegetarian for as long as I’ve known him, but a fresh Maine lobster left even him weak in the knees. Growing up as a Long Island lobster eater, I’m all about getting every last morsel out of the thing. Seth really did a number on his, extracting more meat than I think I knew possible.

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It was messy. It was aggressive. It was delicious.

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IMG_0456We returned home, covered in a combination of lobster juices and lemon juice to mask the lobster juice smell. Back at home, Liz produced a triple berry pie that she had picked up at the farmer’s market down the road that morning. Well, when in Rome…

With pie and port in hand, we decided to play a round of Celebrity, a game I learned from a good friend in college. The competition was fierce, but after a couple surprise moves by Liz, she, Chaz and I triumphed over our competitors, who sat watching in awe. (Or something like that.)

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Another wonderful day.

Beasts of the northern wild

Written by Chaz on 26 September 2012

I had planned for us to rise early on Saturday morning in Bangor and high-tail it down to Mount Desert Island for an early hike to introduce the newcomers to the park. But a canceled flight got in my way, and so our Saturday turned out to have a more relaxed cadence than I had originally envisioned. But no matter — we more than made up for that on Sunday.

We woke up at four, poured coffee into a thermos and piled into the car for the drive to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the U.S. East Coast, where the sun’s rays first hit the United States each morning. We made it to the top with plenty of time before sunrise, and were among the first to settle onto the granite ledges and hunker down under blankets to protect ourselves from the chilly morning. There was already a bunch of fire-red light on the horizon, and morning fog was rolling across Schoodic Peninsula and Frenchman Bay.

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Before long, the sun was peeking up over the horizon. It was a perfect, clear morning to watch the sunrise.

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The sunrise was one of many moments that I have loved all my life and loved even more as I shared it with some of my closest friends.

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We drove back down the mountain and over to Upper Hadlock Pond, where we left the car and began our morning’s hike, which one guidebook lovingly calls Peak Bagger’s Delight because you can summit four peaks with relatively low mileage. Sure enough, before long, we had make it to our first peak, Bald Peak.

We had made such an early start that we had the trails entirely to ourselves, and we were on our second summit, Parkman Mountain, by 8:00. We continued to have stunningly gorgeous weather, which we were very fortunate to have for almost all of our time in Maine.

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The troops began to tire as we approached the top of Gilmore Peak, but our hike was far from over.

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Another push took us to the top of Sargent Mountain, Acadia’s second highest peak, where there were more panoramic views, a bit of a rest, and, best of all, snack.

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From Sargent, we were due to head back down to the car. But it was still very early, much too early for lunch, and though there was a bit of dissent among the ranks, I guided us onward to the top of yet another mountain, Penobscot Mountain. The hidden benefit of this added effort was that we would pass one of Acadia’s few truly hidden gems, Sargent Mountain Pond.

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By the time we got to the pond, we were all hot and tired, and we peeled off our clothes and dove in to the small body of water (allegedly Maine’s first lake). It was unbelievably refreshing, and so quiet and secluded, and we swam and splashed for a while.

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From the pond, we bee-lined back to the car, where the scene was quite a bit more crowded than when we had left it before 6:30.

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By the time we returned to the car, it was noon, and we were all more than ready for a hearty lunch. So we drove down into Northeast Harbor to one of my oldest favorite places, the Docksider. Though the restaurant is world-famous for its lobster roll, I’m a relative newcomer to that menu item, as my seafood odyssey is much newer than my family’s Maine tradition. But lobster roll it was, except for Seth, our resident vegetarian. We each also began with a cup of chowder.

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Though I of course was overcome by nostalgia, temporarily incapable of rational analysis, and completely in love with the food, there was not overwhelming delight with the lobster roll at the table, unfortunately.

After lunch, we headed home for some much needed naps and relaxation after a quick grocery stop in Northeast Harbor. We drove back across the island for an early movie at Reel Pizza, my personal favorite movie theater. You order pizza in the lobby and are alerted that your order’s ready using a bingo board in each theater. Even better, the pizza is phenomenal. We went for the Babette’s Feast — chicken, avocado, roasted garlic, walnuts and sweet red pepper sauce — and the Five Easy Pieces — breaded eggplant, spinach, garlic, summer squash and tomato. Both excellent.

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Our film for the evening was “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” a fantasy based loosely on the real-life location of Isle de Jean Charles, where people continue to live on land that lies outside the levee system and is therefore sinking into the sea. The film, which had a mixed reception among the group, seemed to ask more questions than it answered, and for me personally, it was difficult to enjoy a story described as fantasy without desperately trying to understand how much of it pertained to actual lives in coastal Louisiana. We spent much of the drive home frantically researching the movie’s origins and the reality of the Louisiana bayou.

We continued the vigorous discussion over port when we arrived home, and before long, we were all heading off to bed, exhausted by the day’s agenda.

In which we reassemble and our adventures begin

Written by Emmy on 20 September 2012

On a Friday afternoon in late August, I triumphantly put my out-of-office auto-reply on my work email, grabbed my debatably excessive luggage and made my way to LaGuardia. It was a good dry run, for the flight Ben and I were set to board was canceled immediately upon our arrival at the airport. But we returned early the next morning, boarded our flight and by 10 a.m., were on the ground in Bangor, Maine, with Chaz, Joanna and Seth waving frantically at us from baggage claim. We all piled into a rental car — who Chaz had named Adrienne, which I never found as fitting as our dear Dorothy’s moniker, but never thought of a substitute — and off we went!

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Less than 90 minutes later, we were pulling into Acadia National Park. Chaz immediately went into tour guide mode, pointing out the various mountains, water views and trails. Our first stop was naturally the visitor center, where we watched a quick movie about Acadia and its history. I also picked up an official National Park Service passport; after playing assistant to Chaz’s stamping mission all last summer, I was jealous and ready to graduate to my own copy.

From the visitor center, we headed to the Jordan Pond House, an Acadia landmark where we had planned to meet Chaz’s mom, Liz, and her friend Maureen for lunch. We were a bit early, so took a quick walk around the pond. Eager to begin documentation of our reunion, we asked a nice looking man with a camera similar to mine if he wouldn’t mind taking our photo. Turns out he was an official photographer for the Friends of Acadia magazine; look for us on a cover near you soon.

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IMG_9392In the style of our favorite band

We sat down to lunch on the lawn overlooking the pond and the mountains, and eagerly ordered our first round of local seafood dishes. At the recommendation of the regulars, nearly all of us sampled the lobster stew.

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Compulsory at JPH are the popovers, which have made the restaurant famous. Everyone’s dish came with at least one of the fluffy, crunchy bits of deliciousness. Though at first perplexed by my photography, our waitress eventually got into it and came over with the basket to give me an opportunity for a close-up.

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Stuffed with our first Maine meal, we set out for our first group hike (following a scenic drive that allowed for a bit of digestion). We quickly ascended Flying Mountain, a short hike with spectacular views. It was a good way to get our aerial bearings of Mount Desert Island, which is home to the majority of the park. (Only one small piece can be found on the mainland of Maine, in addition to Isle au Haut.) Though it pales in size when compared to some of the western park locales — I was amused last summer to learn that Yosemite is larger than Rhode Island (most things are) — MDI is still pretty substantial, a land mass three times larger than Manhattan. And on a day as clear as our first in the park, we could see miles and miles of it from Flying Mountain’s low summit.

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After our hike, we made a quick stop at Chaz’s favorite swimming hole, a deserted corner of Seal Cove Pond with water far warmer and far less crowded than that of the ocean beaches on the island.

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We made our way to the home we would be staying in for the week on the southwest side of the island. Poised right on the water, it was a postcard-perfect setting. Chaz had sent out an advanced email about the trip with a pretty regimented “daily cadence” and we had all carefully noted the inclusion of a daily cocktail hour at home. With a view like the one outside our porch, we had no objections. (We would have had few objections to a cocktail hour regardless of the setting; but the view was an extra special added touch.)

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We sat outside with our drinks and a snack of spiced nuts imported from Joanna’s kitchen until the sun began to set. While Maine, as the easternmost state in the country, is generally noted for its sunrises, being on the western side of the island afforded us some pretty spectacular views over the course of the week.

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As the sun dipped below the horizon line, we piled back into the cars and made our way to Burning Tree, one of Chaz and Liz’s favorite local restaurants. Notable for both its seafood and vegetarian entrees, it was a perfect fit for our group.

Overwhelmed by all of the excitement on the menu, we settled on a game plan of appetizers for the table and individual entrees (on the condition that sampling would be permitted across the table).

Upfront, we ordered seafood fritters with a spicy aioli, clams with crispy kale, crab and mango salad, stuffed squash blossoms, and a gorgonzola and beet salad. (The latter two are not photographed below, possibly because I was last in the circular rotation to receive them and was too focused on making sure I didn’t lose out against anyone eagerly seeking seconds.) As a huge seafood fan generally, I was already thrilled about what the week ahead looked like it would offer.

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Our main courses were all gorgeous, in addition to being positively delicious. Depicted below: halibut and mussels in a coconut curry sauce, ordered by both Joanna and Maureen; Ben’s monkfish with eggplant in a Thai chili sauce; Chaz’s chicken, clams and chorizo pan roast, cooked in its own savory juices; Liz’s sole, one of the evening’s specials, served in cream sauce over spinach; Seth’s Indian stuffed cabbage (have you identified the vegetarian?); and my very delicious swordfish cooked with lemon, almonds and roasted tomatoes.

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We were all too full for dessert, but sampled the two most exciting options anyway: a blueberry lemon tart (which I loved, but Chaz called “too lemon-y”) and a peach ginger cake with Persian vanilla ice cream.

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With plans for a very early rise the following day, we returned to the house, dispersed to our respective bedrooms — Ben and I took the bunk beds with an epic water view — and fell into a restful slumber.

Beginning with the outer islands

Written by Chaz on 18 September 2012

We began this blog over a year ago, fresh out of our graduation robes. We set out immediately on a grand journey through southeast Asia, writing our first real post from the Detroit airport, where we later ended our second journey of the summer after climbing the highest peaks and exploring a canyon’s depths. We then started our jobs, and while this greatly restricted how much time we could spend gallivanting all over the world, we still managed to visit quite a few wonderful places.

But we needed more. And so, in late August, we embarked on our most ambitious adventure since the halcyon days of last summer. Since I was born, I have visited Acadia National Park in Maine almost every summer, and not infrequently, in the winter as well. I invited the members of the 120th Editorial Board to join me and my mother in Maine, and Emmy, Ben, Joanna and Seth all planned to make the trek (really, the short flight) up to experience my favorite place in the world. Though Ben, Joanna and Seth could only stay for part of the week, Emmy took the whole week off, and we planned a side adventure up into New Brunswick and far downeast Maine for Labor Day weekend.

But before anyone else arrived, I drove up from Boston a day early, on a Thursday evening. My mother and her friend Maureen had been staying across Blue Hill Bay from Mount Desert Island for the week, and we had figured that this would make a good starting point for a trip out to Isle au Haut, one of the so-called outer islands of Maine that contains the national park’s most remote, rugged and untouched section. Isle au Haut can only be reached by an hour-long passenger ferry from Stonington, a town that is itself far out on the island of Deer Isle. So we began our day with breakfast in Stonington and were before long cruising out into the Gulf of Maine, with ideal conditions for our day. Our voyage took us past lobster boats, wooded islands and a rock covered with seals, out to the adorable village of Isle au Haut. It was an extremely clear day, and the ferry driver pointed out that we could see all the way out to Matinicus, one of the farthest outer islands.

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We stayed on past the village and got off the boat in Duck Harbor, which is tucked into the park section of the island. A short but strenuous hike took us to the summit of Duck Harbor Mountain, one of Isle au Haut’s only mountains that offers a view, and what a view it was. We could see down to the harbor and across Penobscot Bay to the Camden Hills.

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Our hike then took us down to the water on Isle au Haut’s southern end, where my mother extracted a gourmet operation out of my backpack and created sandwiches of crab cakes and tomato on freshly cut bread.

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The rest of our hike took us around the island’s Western Ear, where the trail alternates between the top of rocky cliffs and smooth, tranquil stone beaches. The best part about visiting Isle au Haut is how utterly abandoned it is. For much of our day, we didn’t see a single other soul on the trails.

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Though we ended up having to make good time on the last section of the trail to make it back to Duck Harbor in time for the ferry, we still had time to put our aching feet in the cold ocean water before the boat pulled up to the dock for the trip back to Stonington.

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We stopped for dinner on the way back from Stonington, and I dropped my mother and Maureen off at the house they had been staying in. I continued on to Bangor, where I had gotten a hotel room at the airport in anticipation of the near-midnight arrival of the flights that my friends were on — Emmy and Ben from New York, and Joanna and Seth from Washington. Though the D.C. flight arrived with no issue, the New York flight was not quite as lucky — their flight never made it off the ground. Luckily, they were able to rebook onto a flight the next morning, so Joanna, Seth and I had a fun night catching up, awaiting the rest of our crew the following morning.

Open-air entertainment

Written by Chaz on 21 August 2012

The next morning, we met some of Erik’s friends at the natural history museum near Stockholm University, where I studied during my first visit to Sweden. We spent a few hours exploring the museum and had the “day’s menu” lunch in its cafeteria. Having had enough of the museum, we took the subway back downtown to Östermalmstorg, known for its food hall, which I also visited during my last stay in Stockholm. Erik and I stopped for a fika there.

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We walked from the food hall to the spårvagn, a trolley that connects downtown Stockholm to Djurgården, the lush island that holds the open-air museum of Skansen. As we had done a year before, we were planning to attend the evening’s broadcast of “Allsång på Skansen,” a nationally televised singalong, held on eight Tuesdays in the summer and hosted for a second year by Måns Zelmerlöw, who got famous after he was on the Swedish version of American Idol. The show, which features a mixture of traditional Swedish songs and more modern songs performed by each week’s guests, is a perfect example of something that’s culturally ubiquitous in Sweden but absolutely unknown elsewhere — in other words, world-famous in Sweden. I was especially excited to see the show again because among the guests were Markus Krunegård, one of the artists I’ve gotten to know from listening to Swedish radio at my desk — part of my strategy to keep my Swedish up; the Original Band, an ABBA tribute featuring members of the original backup band; and Miss Li, another Swedish artist.

Our trip on the spårvagn took us past the Royal Dramatic Theater in Stockholm, which was hosting a stage performance version of Ingmar Bergman’s famous “Fanny and Alexander.”

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After we bought admission tickets to Stockholm, Erik and I had a bit of time before the broadcast’s rehearsal, so we walked around the museum a bit. The museum is a combination of traditional Swedish architecture and a zoo of Nordic animals.

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The Nordic animals were much more present than on any of my previous visits to Skansen, and we saw reindeer, brown bears, red foxes, lynx, and buffalo.

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Heading back to the Skansen stage, we met Karin, a friend of Erik’s from high school, and a few Japanese exchange students, and found a place to watch the Allsång rehearsal.

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We got a few korvar, Swedish hot dogs which are vastly superior to their American counterparts, for dinner after the rehearsal, and hurried back to claim our spot. The show was fantastic, and we had a great view of the action. By this point in my visit, I had already figured out with delight that my Swedish was much, much better than it had been a year prior, so it was fun to be able to follow along with the show much more.

IMG_6627Above, Måns Zelmerlöw, the show’s host. Below, the Original Band perform “Dancing Queen.”
IMG_6642IMG_6638Above: Miss Li, and the crowd at Skansen. Below: A celebration of fifty years of the Svensktoppen list of hit music, and Markus Krunegård.

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We retired from a great evening at Skansen to a pub downtown for a few drinks before heading home. After sleeping late again the next day, we were re-energized and headed back downtown for my last full day in Stockholm. I spent a bit exploring some of the stores in the central shopping district, including the trendy new Weekday.

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Erik and I had an early dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant near Odenplan called Tang Long Pho that, despite being written up in the newspaper, was just mediocre. We took the tunnelbana down to Zinkensdamm, on Södermalm, and walked up to Skinnarviksberget, a rock outcropping that overlooks the lake Mälaren over to Kungsholmen and Gamla Stan. Erik’s friend Koppen met us again and we watched the sun set. Even though the weather wasn’t great, we were far from the only people who wanted to enjoy the view of the city.

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We retreated shortly after sunset to Koppen’s and not long thereafter to Spånga. Stockholm had once again been very good to me.

Presenting (and eating) the Great GoogaMooga

Written by Emmy on 21 July 2012

When work is a little slow or I’m feeling a little restless, my distractions of choice include an array of local food blogs. On one such day, I noticed a preview for the Great GoogaMooga — a food festival planned for a weekend in May with all the top restaurants of the city. Intrigued, I marked my calendar for the day free tickets were slated to be released and on a workday in March, I barely secured my “purchase” only five minutes after the tickets went up for sale. In the course of just a few weeks, GoogaMooga had blown up in foodie news and was now suggested to be the event of the year.

So two months later, on a very sunny day in May, I headed back out to Nethermead Meadow in Prospect Park with my roommate Dana and our friend Karen for a day of planned gluttony.

We set rules: any food item had to be endorsed by at least two of us; all items were to be shared; and when in doubt, skew ethnic. The 75 or so food stands included a whole area with the best pizzas of New York and another with the best burgers, but we collectively agreed to bypass both sections in favor of spicy noodles and unpronounceable dishes.

(We also bypassed the area dubbed “Hamageddon,” a piece of the dark devoted entirely to pork cooked in every possible way, including on a giant spit within a massive metal barbecue.)

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The Great GoogaMooga was actually a two-day festival, but we only had tickets to the Sunday proceedings. Saturday had been reported by friends and media outlets to be a sort-of disaster with absurdly long lines and stands that ran out of food. We came prepared on Sunday morning with sunblock, water bottles and a picnic blanket, but were pleasantly surprised to find that food was in reach.

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Each stand was hosted by a famous or up-and-coming NYC restaurant purveying the item they are best known for. We dug right in. The first set of stalls featured ethnic delight after delight and not knowing where to start, we just started everywhere.

From the new Cambodian lunch spot, Nam Pang Sandwich Shop, we sampled pulled pork sandwiches with pickled vegetables and cilantro and a side of spicy grilled corn…

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From Baohaus, a hugely popular though grungy-looking spot near my apartment, crispy chicken baos, topped with some more cilantro…

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Switching from Southeast Asia to a very different side of the globe, a spinach and cheese pupusa loaded with hot sauce, slaw and jalapeños from a new Venezuelan hotspot…

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Circling back to Southeast Asia (really, my palate never seems to stray for long), we sampled a spicy Thai sausage, which kind of reminded me of items I sampled at the highly authentic Ayada in Elmhurst

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We came up for air and realized we had plowed through all the ethnic delights near us that we wanted to try. We had set rules about not eating “common” food items, but there is one comfort food I am on occasion willing to break a whole host of rules for: grilled cheese. Grilled cheese is one of those foods that has suddenly become trendy in New York, with a slew of random restaurants popping up that serve nothing but the gooey goodness. One in particular has been on my to do list for a while, a Lower East Spot called Little Muenster. They had a booth, and so we decided rules were made to be broken and ordered the Oaxaca grilled cheese, filled with spicy peppers and drizzled in cotija cheese and salsa.

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While on the grilled cheese line, we spotted a man wearing a shirt with the state of Wisconsin on it with a tattoo of Wisconsin on his arm. For most people, this would be nothing more than a little oddity, but for Dana — proud Wisconsin native — this was worth exploring. Even more bizarre was when we discovered the Wisconsinite was peddling — yep, you guessed it — Southeast Asian sandwiches.

Though his restaurant serves next to nothing from his native state, it’s located in what the owner hopes will soon be considered Lil’ Wisco — a short block in the West Village that also features Kettle of Fish, an unassuming bar that becomes home exclusively to Packers fans during football season.

Sensical or not, we enjoyed another crispy chicken and spicy vegetable sandwich, topped off with a bit of sriacha.

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The sandwich was delicious, and my eating about a third of it put me over the edge. Not a bad way to end a day of dining.

Taking the subway to Singapore

Written by Chaz on 15 July 2012

In the middle of April, I went to New York to see a live broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion with my mother and a few friends, as we do nearly every April and December when the show is in New York. The show was great — in fact, one of the best I’ve seen — but for blogging purposes, the events before and after were more significant.

On my way down to New York from Boston on Saturday morning, I was trying to coordinate plans with Vernie, who was planning to come to the show with us. She revealed that she was planning to spend the day at Singapore Day, an event for overseas Singaporeans being held in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. The event even included chefs flown in from the most popular hawker centers in Singapore, Vernie said. I called Emmy right away and told her to scrap whatever she had planned for the day. This sounded like an event we couldn’t miss.

IMG_8892Singapore loses tons of its citizens to other countries, not least because it’s such a small country, and as a result, the government goes to great lengths to keep the diaspora connected to the homeland. And it appears to work. Vernie was super excited to go to Singapore Day, and as soon as we got there, it was clear she wasn’t the only one. People had come from all over the country for this event. In addition to hawker center chefs, the Singaporean government had also brought in Singaporean celebrities, who were performing on an enormous stage surrounded by exhibits about how great life in Singapore is. And lest you miss the point, the entrance gates to the event were modeled after the fare gates on the MRT, with big signs reading, “Welcome home.” Though Emmy and I were probably not their target audience, we nevertheless felt a bit like we were making a triumphant homecoming to our favorite tiny island nation.

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By the time Emmy, her roommate Dana and I made it to Prospect Park, the event was in full swing, and the food lines were already long. We immediately jumped in the roti prata line, which was one of our favorite foods in Singapore. Perhaps it was because it’s not actually a complicated food item, but it was just as delicious as I remembered it in Singapore, with a small fraction of the journey.

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Our next stop was at the penang laksa booth. We had only had this Peranakan dish’s cousin, katong laksa, during our time in Singapore. Penang laksa is more sour and less spicy than katong laksa, and even though I didn’t enjoy the flavor as much, it did take me right back to the plethora of noodle dishes we had in Singapore.

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Our next dish was rojak, which we had in Singapore as a side to the katong laksa. The rojak suffered the most from being 10,000 miles from home. I remembered it as crunchy in Singapore, but this was soggy at best, and rather than being spicy and sweet, it just tasted overwhelmingly of soy sauce.

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Our final dish, of course, was the mystery, the wonder: chicken rice. By this point in the afternoon, we were quite full, but we nevertheless recalled our professional training on assessing the quality of chicken rice and dug in. Simple in its elegance, chicken rice did not disappoint.

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After sitting for a while and enjoying the sun and entertainment, we headed back to Manhattan for a breather before heading to the show, where we met my mother. Afterwards, we made our way to Ngam, a new Thai restaurant that Emmy had chosen for us. At this point, we had been joined by Ben, Diana, her boyfriend, my mother, and a friend of hers, and had become a somewhat unwieldy group of eight — the benefit, of course, being that we could order more dishes. After a bit of an ordeal as we attempted to claim our reservation, during which we observed the open kitchen, we were seated.

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Emmy was quickly deputized with ordering for the entire table, and before long, we were showered with appetizers. Ngam is a Thai restaurant, but they take a bunch of liberties from tradition, which was immediately noticeable. Our appetizers included a crab cake, sweet chili chicken wings, a papaya salad topped with strawberries and cashews, “Chiang Mai fries” made from pumpkin and sweet potatoes, and spring rolls with noodles and mushrooms. Nothing was familiar, but everything was fantastic.

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After some ordering confusion with our main courses, we ended up with quite a selection. One of our favorite dishes in northern Thailand was khao soi, a spicy coconut milk curry that includes both soft noodles and fried egg noodles with which we had recently become reacquainted when we came across it in suburban Boston. Ngam had a new variation on the dish: instead of the more traditional chicken, they had prepared it with lobster. It was delicious.

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Our other dishes included curried vegetables, a curried duckling with lychees and pineapple, crispy chicken laab, and a shrimp pad thai that featured papaya instead of noodles. Everything was just one step away from a dish we were familiar with, making each dish a new, innovative twist on an old standby. For me, the lobster khao soi and the papaya pad thai were the real standouts. The duckling and crispy laab were a bit fried for my preference.

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We headed back to Emmy’s apartment for the rest of the evening, having reenacted a couple of the cuisines of our trip to Asia using only the New York City subway system.

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A little bit of love

Written by Emmy on 12 July 2012

Lest we leave you to believe all that happened when a group of ex-editors hit Boston was a well-documented drinking session, there was much much more.

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After our session at drink, we took in a quick movie followed by a very long dinner. Never a group to pass up a good ethnic meal, we headed to Addis Red Sea.

IMG_0195In my favorite movie, “When Harry Met Sally,” Harry tries to make a joke about a relatively bad date he had gone on:

“We’re sitting and we’re talking at this Ethiopian restaurant that she wanted to go to. And I was making jokes, you know like, “Hey I didn’t know that they had food in Ethiopia? This will be a quick meal. I’ll order two empty plates and we can leave.”

Our experience at Addis Red Sea: less quick. Though the food was delicious — a big plate of spicy and savory meats and vegetables on top of injera — I think they had to go back to Ethiopia to collect the ingredients. Several hours later, we emerged.

The next morning we combined two of our collective favorites — more omelets and a store full of books — with a bookstore cafe brunch. Just what the blog was missing: more images of breakfast eggs.

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I don’t want to give the misimpression that all we did on our weekend together was eat food; it’s just that it’s hard to photograph friendship and we favor photography on this blog. But jokes aside, it was a fantastic weekend and while we had a blast traipsing around Boston, we really could have been anywhere. After spending so much time trapped in a newsroom and so many additional hours together by choice, there is very little that this scrappy group could not enjoy doing together.

IMG_0200Note: This wine was named for a brigade of Chilean revolutionaries; we have appropriately adopted it as our own

The crew trickled out over the course of the afternoon, heading back to points south. I held out for a midnight train to Georgia (really, for a 5am train to New York, but same idea). Chaz and I still had one activity to get in. Can you guess? An authentic Thai dinner.

We headed out to Brookline to Khao Sarn, which our best internet sources claimed would be the best around. We walked in at nearly 9 p.m. and found ourselves to be essentially the only diners present. That on its own might have been disconcerting, but there were a couple delightful surprises on the menu.

Yes. Hello, betel.

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Okay, it wasn’t actually betel, but spinach leaves, a substitute that is more easily acquired in America. It nevertheless evoked our sidewalk picnic in Bangkok. The other appetizers were delicious, even if they did not cause such heartfelt nostalgia for the checkpoint. We sampled a spicy, crunchy papaya salad and a very refreshing summer roll.

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As we walked ourselves down memory lane, we were also blown away to see khao soi grace the menu. Many of Thailand’s wonderful dishes have made it firmly to the United States. Pad thai is nothing if not an American staple at this point. Khao soi, on the other hand, has not made quite the same exodus from its homeland. The spicy broth, filled with crunchy egg noodles and tangy vegetables, is a staple of Northern Thailand’s cuisine and we ate quite a bit of it up in Chiang Mai. It tasted spectacularly familiar. We also sampled a mango Thai curry, spicy and fruity all at once.

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The spice and authentic leaves made for the proper condiments on top of a lovely weekend.

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120 reasons to visit Boston

Written by Emmy on 26 June 2012

Chaz and I first met once upon a time as writers at The Brown Daily Herald. Then we graduated to being editors and along with a wonderful cohort of friends became the 120th Editorial Board.

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Post-graduate life has flung us up and down the east coast — well, Boston, NYC and D.C. — but we’ve done our best to keep in touch. And from time to time, we reunite up close and personal. I missed the D.C. version of the reunion back in December, but in mid-March, nearly all of us made the trek up to Boston.

Ben, Joanna and Seth made their way up on Thursday evening and Friday afternoon, but I wasn’t able to leave till after work on Friday. I boarded a train late afternoon and arrived in Boston in time for a late, late dinner. I walked into the restaurant and was immediately handed a wine glass and, in 120 tradition, a tequila shot. There is nothing I love more than a good tradition, even if the cheap shots are hard to swallow.

On Saturday we met up with some of Chaz’s local friends for brunch. A few of us threatened to board a train to Providence in order to eat omelets at our favorite dive diner, but we practically decided to settle for something a bit closer, paying a visit to Mike’s City Diner, which perfectly fit the bill of casual, diner and dive. We sampled a huge portion of the menu between the ten or so of us. As I snapped my way down the table, Chaz remarked, “How many pictures of omelets do we really need on the blog?” The answer: Quite a few.

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After lunch we walked the city and took in some modern art, applying a few of the skills we picked up as liberal arts students. But after walking through glass curtains and interpreting symbolic art, it was time for a new activity.

We had decided to make an afternoon event out of Drink, a trendy hotspot in Boston, where there is no menu — the idea is that you are at a cocktail party with your friends (albeit a much classier one than the kind we would throw for ourselves). You sample drinks based on the loose description of what you would like to be imbibing. We arrived only 15 minutes after the 4 p.m. opening, and there were already no seats available. But we were able to finagle ourselves into a little spot at the bar, and we settled in for a cultural experience.

The waiter asked us each what kind of drink we would like and we each responded with a poetic description of our ideal beverage, using adjectives like “light” and “minty” and “citrusy” and specified our favorite base liquors and mixers. Our waiter took it all in and returned with a selection of beverages, handmade to match each of our descriptions.

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The result was an array of exciting drinks, but we felt like we had given our waiter almost too much direction. Because we had each described — using a bevy of adjectives — our preferred drink, we each got our preferred drink. We had hoped for more surprise and so for round two, took a different tactic.

Instead of describing a drink, we each supplied one word — “mint,” “cucumber,” “orange,” and “fruit.” This time, the results were a little more unexpected.

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Not only were our drinks exciting, but they were new and unfamiliar. We started probing a waitress about what had gone into each drink (I mean, come on, we’re all ex-journalists); she did us one better and supplied us with printed receipts detailing the precise calculations that had gone into the delightful cocktails we were sipping.

Fully equipped with the knowledge of what had gone into our drinks, we took on new airs of sophistication around our fancy drinking. Chaz and I also invoked an old rule from a previous classy drinking experience and mandated that everyone had a chance to sample each beverage.

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We also ordered a few snacks, but given that the establishment was called Drink, the beverages were more the focus of the event. The french fries were a delight, but we found the cheese plate to be a bit stingy. (We have high cheese plate standards.)

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By the time we were ready for round three, the establishment was really hopping and there was a long line to get in. We briefly debated cutting our visit short, but our spot at the bar seemed almost too valuable to give up.

For our last round, we went the single-word route again: “creamy,” “caramel,” “nutty,” “gin” and “mint sour”. OK, so “mint sour” is two words, but that was intentional. I ordered “mint” in round two and had been delighted by my drink. So delighted that I wanted to experience mint again, but I wanted it to be sour. So I felt I needed to provide a directional nudge. My punishment — if you call it that — was two somewhat similar drinks, but with enough of a difference that they felt like two distinct rounds.

“Gin” had been Chaz’s word and upon receiving his drink, he remarked, “This is the alcoholiest drink I have ever loved.”

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Several drinks and several hours later, we emerged into broad daylight, and after taking a few moments to adjust, returned to reality outside of underground cocktail parties and fancy drinks with poetic titles and potent ingredient lists.

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