A few more years ago than I’d like to admit, we were enjoying a special dinner in Portland, Maine, where our waitperson recommended a bottle of wine to accompany our dishes. We trusted her enthusiasm and agreed to go a few dollars higher than our usual ceiling.
It was well worth it and, as we learned later, the restaurant was pricing the bottle at retail rather than the usual three- or four-times any store tag. More points.
We took one sip and knew this was like no other white wine we’d had before – or, for that matter, since, not even from the same winery. It must have been a superfine vintage. It had an edge we could only describe as stony – something crisp, clear, sharp. And it did, indeed, enhance our five-star experience.
Trying to find that edge again has become something of an ongoing challenge. We’ve had some fine sauvignon blanc bottles since, but the holy grail remains a quest.
The city where I live is basically a family-friendly kind of place. We don’t have much of what tourists might expect as a big-time destination. Still, there are times when my wife and I are having breakfast or lunch or an early repast downtown when we realize people travel halfway across the country for a taste of this – tranquil New England.
Here are ten things to see and do if you visit the seventh-oldest permanent settlement in the U.S.
- Cocheco Falls. Whether the flow’s near flood stage or merely a trickle, I can spend hours watching the river cascade to the tide right in the center of downtown. The stream exits through an impressive arch in the mill. In season, you can dine or enjoy cocktails a deck beside the water. I think that’s pretty impressive.
- The historic textiles mills. In the 19th century, Dover was famed for its calico, and two of its big riverside mills have survived. Today they serve as incubators for new enterprises, including some adventurous cuisine, plus displays, boutiques, artists’ studios and galleries, apartments, a function hall, and even a church or two, should you choose to explore. Of special note are Noggin’s toy store, with its special events, Lickees and Chewies candies and ice cream chamber and gathering space, and the Smuttynose brewpub. Need I say more?
- The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire and its Adventure Playground. Nestled amid the old mills, this small but imaginative and active museum attracts nearly 100,000 visitors a year for good reason. It’s gained a loyal following from all over the country.,
- Woodman Museum. Just up the street, this old-fashioned and unabashedly eclectic “cabinet of curiosities” collection reflects the range of Dover history, natural history, and arts. The centerpiece is its 1675 William Damm garrison house, now under protective cover. The rough-hewn structure survived the 1684 massacre when Indians attacked the frontier settlement in retaliation for atrocities committed by Major Walderne (or Waldron). Its most popular attraction, though, is the two-headed snake, now badly deteriorating, or maybe the four-legged chicken. And then there are the dolls.
- Garrison Hill observation tower. Tucked away on a small hill just north of downtown, this green metal lookout has fantastic views of the classic downtown and the forests and mountains around us. Supposedly you can see the Atlantic, but for me, that scene always blends into the eastern horizon. The short hike from our house, up through a small forest, always impresses our guests.
- Strolling. It’s a pedestrian-friendly town. Around the downtown, the old neighborhoods, with their blend of architectural styles and history, are fun to wander. Add to that the community trail, with one leg following an old railroad line through backyards and over the river, where there’s an impressively redesigned bridge, and another leg leading up to Watkins Falls through scenes that could easily be in the White Mountains further north. Can’t complain about getting exercise when it’s like this.
- Pub crawl. I’ve already mentioned Smuttynose, named for a variety of mottle-faced seals that lend their moniker to one of the Isles of Shoals, but with Dover’s large proportion of University of New Hampshire students also living in town, our small city does have a lively bar scene. Key stops to hit are the Brickhouse and Cara Irish Pub, for live music, and Sonny’s, for a Brooklyn kind of buzz. Fury’s Publick House, Thompson Tavern, the Farm (with a lovely deck overlooking the river), 603 (named for our telephone area code), and Thirsty Moose Taphouse (for sports fans or a wide array of draughts on tap). Chapel and Main also brews its own, while presenting some fine cuisine. The Garrison City Beerworks, a sampling house for brews they’ll happily can for you to take home, is open on a more limited afternoon schedule, and it’s often crowded, meaning you can easily join in on some animated conversations.
- Dining. Food is always part of travel, and I just mentioned some fine dining options. Now let’s add Dos Amigos, for good inexpensive Mexican; Kaophums, for amazing Thai; and Embers and Blue Latitudes, both on the upscale side, all in a close orb around downtown. For breakfast or lunch, Two Home Cooks is awesome.
- Tendercrop Farm. Until recently, this was Tuttles, America’s oldest family-owned farm and locally known as Tuttle’s Red Barn, a prompt for the title of this blog. In addition to the store in the barn, the farm has expanded into something of a destination, with animal exhibits, picnic areas, trails, and special events. The fresh corn on the cob and eggs are the focus of our regular visits.
- Red’s Shoe Barn. It’s not really a barn, but the exterior is painted bright red – another local prompt for the name of this blog. The place has more footwear options than all the stores at the mall put together and is a back-to-school tradition for many families in much of New England. It’s just around the corner from our place.
Since this list aims at year-’round options, I’ve neglected special events like the Labor Day weekend Greek Festival (opa!) coming up or the big Apple Harvest Day the first Saturday in October or all the things happening at the University of New Hampshire one town over.
What’s something special to do where you live?
We don’t dine out all that often, but when we do, we want to get our money’s worth. It’s not that we’re afraid of the bill, but rather that we eat well at home and expect something that can at least match that standard.
On one hand, we’ve come to admire inexpensive menu items done precisely right. French fries or cole slaw can be especially telling, as can an amazing vanilla, as in ice cream or gelato. Freshness also is crucial, and attentive service is always a plus. That sort of thing.
Steak or lobster aren’t hard to cook, so we don’t expect to be impressed there. Scallops, on the other hand, can be tricky. And then we get to selections that require technique. That’s where we really pay attention.
What does irk us is pretentious, pricy dishes that seriously miss the mark. The stories we can tell!
Our biggest test is what we call the Oh Wow factor. You know, one bite and you’re amazed. It’s not always at the fanciest restaurants, either, so it’s not a matter of cost. Some of our favorite examples have come in storefront operations in the sleaziest parts of a town – the kind where you want to keep an eye on your car at lunchtime. Some have even been takeout only or a food truck.
I have to admit we’re more critical as the menu price escalates, but if they deliver with mastery and attention to detail, we pay gladly – and then some. Best of all, in our positive experiences, the great cooks in my family come away inspired, and I look forward to all that will follow.
What delights you the most when dining out?
Now that I’ve been posting about some of the ebooks I’ve been reading, I’d like to hear about your experiences in digital browsing.
Are you among those who are books sold in digital formats, which now fill a fifth of the market?
What platform do you use? Kindle, I assume, is most likely, but there are more? What do you like or dislike about the various platforms?
What are your reasons for going digital?
I have to admit I still love paper and typography, but the economy and lack of clutter in ebooks have their appeal. So, yes, how about you?
How about Facebook?
What’s your primary social medium? And why?
I was long overdue for a reading orgy — you know, an indulgence in books — and a little while ago, before the quarantine, in fact, I immersed myself in ebooks by other authors at Smashwords. Some of the volumes are even free.
If you’re curious about what I was reading, zip over to the books reviewed by me at the bottom of my Jnana Hodson page at Smashwords.com. Yes, I thought about posting the reviews here, too, but there was already a lot on the agenda.
Most of the ebooks touch in one way or another on topics in my own novels. It’s lovely finding kindred spirits. Well, it’s a lot like the ways we here at WordPress connect, too.
So here we are, spending too much time online digging for the latest in the Covid-19 deluge. I know I’m not alone there. The mere fact that so many sources for updated reports from around the globe are available only a few keystrokes away feeds our obsessive googling and scrolling – for many, a morbid fascination, for sure.
Having pretty much self-quarantined (in part at my wife’s nudging), I’ve been trying to continue generally as much life-as-usual as possible, which you’ve seen reflected in the posts here at the Red Barn. Admittedly, my life since retiring from the newsroom and turning my attention fulltime to a writer’s discipline has meant generally limited face-to-face social interaction anyway, but even I’m getting a bit antsy without my Quaker gatherings or daily swims at the city’s indoor pool or even dashes to the bank or grocery.
Still, I sympathize with those who have never undergone a discipline of doing without – as in fasting, leaving electronics behind for a backpacking or camping expedition, or even enduring an extended power outage. (As for the toilet paper, don’t get me going. That’s truly a First World problem!)
So while I’m treating these restrictions as an opportunity for reflection and renewal, here are ten things to make the best of it. And remember, if you’re sharing this hunkering down with a mate and/or children, try these together.
- Starring in the kitchen: Usually we’re too busy running around to actually take the time to cook attentively. You know, maybe from scratch. So reach into the backs of your cupboards and actually use ingredients you put aside for someday. When you don’t have everything a recipe calls for, be inventive. How does homemade bread sound right now? Pancakes? Your own pretzels? (Oops, I’ve got to check on that pork broth simmering on the stove!)
- Guilty reading: Got a pile of books or magazines gathering dust? Kick back and open a page. Don’t overlook ebooks, either. They’re easily downloaded … I have a few I’m recommending.
- Arts and entertainment: You might be surprised what’s being streamed, not just on Netflix or Amazon Prime. I’ve been watching a different Metropolitan Opera production for free at dawn every morning. (Often while I’ve been doing one of these other activities.)
- Deep cleaning and reorganizing: Revisiting old files in my cabinets or on my laptop and purging many of them is feeling so liberating. It’s allowing me to refocus, too. Think about your closets and drawers. Parts of the barn are going to be next, weather permitting.
- Seed planting and yard work: Hey, you can’t stay inside all the time! And when you do, you can get some of those seeds started.
- In-house exercise: The gym and indoor pool may be closed, but you can still go for walks or clear a space on the rug for yoga or pushups. I had forgotten we have hand weights, which I found while cleaning. Inhale, one, exhale, two …
- Games and puzzles: Get out the decks of cards or a board game. How long’s it been? Puzzles can keep you busy, too, solo or with everyone’s help.
- Phone calls and emails: Yes, keep in touch. I’m really behind here!
- Rest: What’s wrong with napping or staying abed longer? How often do you get a chance to do THAT? A deep, long hot bath is another soothing option.
- Prayer, meditation, and reflection: Many churches have mobilized streaming events on this front. Check out their websites.
Here’s hoping you and yours aren’t showing any virus symptoms.
What would you suggest adding? What are you discovering … or rediscovering?