After about three weeks of being mostly home-bound, we were feeling ready to get out and experience a bit of New England. Lucky for us, our campground is located within reasonable driving distance of numerous beautiful, interesting, historic places.
In Search of Seafood
There are a lot of things you can’t do with a broken leg. One thing you can do? Shovel food in your face. And shovel food we did.
Massachusetts is chock full of seafood places. Fancy places, hole in the wall places, tourist places, local places, everything. We took some suggestions from my brother and headed out for some serious eating. We started with JT Farnham’s, a local clam shack that won us over with its seafood chowder, overflowing with heaps of delicious shellfish, and their fried clams, perfectly light and crispy.
Less impressive for us was their clam chowder. Apparently there are variations of New England’s namesake soup – some using a thicker broth (also known as “the right way”) and some using a thinner broth (also known as “the stupid way”). Unfortunately, the prevalent kind in this particular area of Massachusetts seems to be the stupid version, so we were a tiny bit disappointed in it.
But not disappointed enough to stop the shoveling. Onward we soldiered!
We headed to another well known roadside place, Woodmans of Essex, for hot boiled lobster with drawn butter and fresh lobster rolls – with zero disappointment. They were goooooooooooood. When we were done with all of that, we headed to a chocolate shop – which had nothing to do with anything… we just wanted some chocolate. It was a great day and proof positive that where there’s a will to stuff your face, there’s a way to stuff your face.
Another day we went to a local dive bar/restaurant that I ran into online. The bar is known for their great seafood at ridiculous prices. And we were unquestionably impressed as we looked at the menu. In fact, we were so impressed we tried to order one appetizer and two entrees, a pretty standard order for the two of us. That was when our waitress, who reminded me of Carla from Cheers, stopped, stared at us, and said: “Do you realize how much food that is?” Surprised by her question, we admitted that we did not. We explained that we’d never been there before. Recognizing that she was dealing with two amateurs who had no idea what they were getting themselves into, she said, “How bout I bring you about half of what you just asked for?” Seeing few other options (no one messes with Carla), we agreed.
Here is the one entree that we tried (and failed miserably) to finish:
It was a full fried filet of Haddock, fried shrimp, fried clams, fried scallops, cole slaw, fries and onion rings. We gave it our all, but when all was said and done, it seemed we barely put a dent in it. I asked Carla if anyone actually ever finished it and she said: “one guy came close.”
After that, Carla (whose name is totally not “Carla,” but I never got her real name), became our new hero.
Meeting Our New Friend, Mead
While researching the area, I found the well reviewed 1634 Meadery in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Since we’d never tried mead before, and since I am, thankfully, off my heavy duty painkillers, off we went.
Mead is an ancient alcoholic beverage created from fermented honey. As the proprietor of 1634 figured out, it’s come into favor again recently:
Ignoring the puzzled look on his face as he watched me hobble into his booze-focused establishment on crutches, we settled in for a tasting of several of his hand brewed meads. And since we knew nothing about this lovely beverage, he kindly detailed how the drink is made and took us on a tour of his operation.
The mead making process starts with the owner pouring hundreds of pounds of honey and hundreds of gallons of water into large temperature controlled vats. He’ll then add yeast and carefully monitor the mixture for several weeks, adding substances to control for various unwanted naturally occurring byproducts. After about two weeks of fermentation, he’ll transfer the liquid to stainless steel barrels and add whole crushed fruits and spices, before allowing the mixture to age for several months. When ready, he’ll filter the liquid to remove various impurities and sediment. Finally, he’ll carefully fill, cork, label, and wax each bottle.
The process, from start to finish, takes about six months. The shop is run by the owner and his wife, along with a small crew of part time employees. Yet, in less than two years of commercial production, they’ve gotten their product onto shelves in 30 shops around the state. Pretty impressive.
We tasted six meads, from drier varieties made with local honey to the more traditional sweeter versions.
Having long been turned off by super sweet, almost medicinal, dessert wines, it was nice to find an ‘after dinner drink’ that was sweet without being syrupy. We bought a couple bottles to take home and vowed to return once his fall seasonal mead – made with everything that is good and right about fall – is available.
And also, because we need to devise a plan to kidnap this dude so he can stand watch outside Barney:
A Tiny Taste of New England Charm
As we drove around the old Massachusetts towns of Ipswich, Essex, and Gloucester, we got to see many of the things that make New England, New England: Old homes weathered by the sea, fishing trawlers at the dock, tiny clapboard churches, and centuries old cemetaries. It would be wonderful to go back when I am more mobile to really get out and explore on foot, since these old towns are undoubtedly worthy of an extended tour.
While in Gloucester, we did take advantage of the fact that tourist season has ended and easily found parking on the main scenic boulevard. The boulevard faces the ocean front and features a memorial to fishermen lost at sea over the last several hundred years.
The memorial lists thousands of names of those lost in accidents, storms, and to the unknown. It was a simple, beautiful tribute appropriately located in a town long tied the sea.
Having had some success with our travels, and recognizing the benefits of just getting out and about, we’re planning a couple more day trips in the coming days and weeks. As things progress and I feel more confident in the long term durability of my new and improved tibia, we’ll venture into Boston and attack some of the more challenging locales. The problem is, inasmuch as the age of these locales make this region appealing, it also creates numerous challenges for me while on crutches. (In other words, cobblestone streets and uneven brick sidewalks are a real pain in my ass right now.) So, we’ll take things slow and steady. The last thing I want is a setback necessitating another surgery. But, there are plenty of things we can see and do while I continue to heal.
Next on the list: Newport, Rhode Island.