John’s Birthday Weekend in Maine

In July John celebrated his 33rd birthday and I planned a surprise weekend away as his present. I had a few different locations floating around in my head but ultimately settled on Maine (we love Maine so much). Here’s how we celebrated!

We left Boston early on the morning of John’s actual birthday and got to Portland just as our lunch location, Central Provisions, was opening. We always try to go to Fore Street in Portland when we visit (especially to celebrate a special occasion) but they were all booked up on this particular weekend. Since we were out of luck with Fore Street, I searched Yelp for the #2 rated restaurant in Portland and landed on Central Provisions

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The restaurant is small with limited seating (and no reservations) so getting there when they opened was clutch. We sat at the bar and got a great show with a perfect view right into the kitchen. The chefs worked deftly and meticulously. I loved watching them work. The food was beyond excellent; we had a delicious chopped salad smothered in bacon and I had a perfectly cooked fish sandwich. Simple, beautiful, delectable.

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After lunch we spent a few hours shopping downtown, walking around the shops, and enjoying the bustle of Portland’s Commercial Street. We made sure to stock up on wine from Maine Mead Works.

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From Portland we drove 20 minutes north to Freeport, Maine. Freeport is the home of L.L. Bean so we went to their flagship store which was amazing and massive! Each L.L. Bean division (clothing, home, outdoors, fishing/hunting, etc) had it’s own building so the entire place was like an enormous college campus.

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We also walked around downtown Freeport which was adorable and full of great shops. I can’t wait to come back to Freeport again, there was so much to do!

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From Freeport we drove another hour and a half north to Camden, Maine and checked into our B&B. This inn was the thing I built this whole trip around – I knew John would totally love it. We stayed at the Norumbega Inn, a castle built in 1886.

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We stayed in the Norumbega’s Library Suite which was the Castle’s original library. The room features a beautiful mahogany balcony full of  books and a giant stained glass window. The lower level of the room has the bed, a sitting area, fireplace, bathroom, etc.

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A panorama of the library’s balcony!

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We hung out in the room for a while enjoying its’ splendor and then headed out in search of dinner. We ended up at 40 Paper and had a wonderful italian meal there.

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After dinner we walked around downtown Camden a bit and then got the birthday boy some celebratory ice cream.

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The next morning we headed downstairs early to enjoy the B&B’s breakfast prepared by chef Phil Crispo. We had a watermelon amuse bouche and I had the french toast and bacon. The meal was delicious, the best breakfast at a B&B I have ever had!

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We spent a little time after breakfast exploring the first floor of the Norumbega. It is a gorgeous place and all of the rooms are maintained beautifully. The grounds are lovely too with a lush green lawn and pretty gardens in the back.

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We went back to our room to pack up and enjoy it for a few more moments.

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Before leaving Camden we walked around downtown and did some shopping.

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Camden is so quaint and is truly quintessential Maine. We loved it and definitely plan to go back soon.

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We had a two hour drive south ahead of us so we hopped in the car and got going. We stopped for lunch in Woolwich, Maine at Taste of Maine. Great seafood and a lovely view from the back deck!

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After lunch we drove another hour south to Bath, Maine. After the B&B, this was the main (MAINE, haha) event of John’s birthday trip. I had booked us two tickets to tour Bath Iron Works, something John has wanted to do for years. More on that in a bit.

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Our Bath Iron Works tour was out of the Maine Maritime Museum, and we had time to spare before the tour, so we checked out the museum for a bit.

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Maine has a long and rich maritime history and the museum captured it beautifully. I would highly recommend it, their exhibits and artwork are really nice.

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You can see Bath Iron Works from the museum and they offer a little overview from this vantage point.

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Finally it was time for our tour! Since the 1890s, Bath Iron Works has built naval and commercial ships (full list here). From the beginning, BIW established a reputation for quality construction and became an industry leader in innovative maritime engineering. BIW has been making military vessels for the US Navy since it opened, most notably WWI, WWII, and Vietnam war destroyer class ships. Right now BIW is currently building a Zumwalt class destroyer for the US Navy and has also recently built an Arleigh Burke class destroyer for the Navy. We couldn’t get any closer for security reasons but here’s the enormous warehouse where they build each section of the ship before putting them all together to get the finished product.

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This is the view of Bath Iron Works from the Sagadahoc Bridge. The multiple cranes move pieces to and from drydock and well as to and from the build warehouse.

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Our BIW tour was run by a former employee, an engineer actually whose job it was to liaise between the iron workers and the military (since they apparently don’t always speak the same language, figuratively that is). The tour was excellent, we learned a ton about BIW and the impressive portfolio of military ships that have been built here at their headquarters. John is a huge military history buff, and naval history buff as well, so he was thrilled. I knew he’d love it and we’d been meaning to get to Bath for years for this tour. I would highly recommend it.

From Bath we had another two and half hours to drive home. Our last stop, to break up the ride, was at the DeLorme Map Store in Yarmouth, Maine to see Eartha: the largest rotating globe on Earth (totally something I found on Atlas Obscura).

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Eartha was built in 1998, is 41 feet in diameter, weighs 5,600 lbs., and is covered in 792 map panels. Very cool roadside attraction that you should definitely stop and see if you’re ever in the area!

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We finished our drive home and immediately began planning a return trip to Camden, Freeport, and, of course, Portland. Until next time, Maine!

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Recipe: Chai Latte Ice Cream

I love going on vacation and tasting something so delicious you can’t wait to get home and recreate it in your own kitchen. On our Alaska cruise in June our final stop was Victoria, British Columbia where we had some amazing gelato. Mine was chai latte gelato, a flavor I had never seen or had before. I am obsessed with tea – any kind! – and I love a chai latte, so I had to get it. It was amazing and I vowed right then that it would be the first thing I made when we got home.

Domestocrat’s Chai Latte Ice Cream (makes 6-9 servings)
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
8 chai tea bags (any kind you like)
1/2 cup Egg Beaters
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon (I use King Arthur’s Vietnamese cinnamon)
Pinch of ground clove
Pinch of ground nutmeg

Combine all of the ingredients and bring to a simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally. When the sugar has dissolved, turn off the heat and let the tea bags steep in the mixture for 20 minutes. Cover the mixture (or transfer to an airtight container like a mason jar) and chill for 1 hour. You can do this step in advance and leave the mixture in the fridge for 1-2 days prior to turning it into ice cream.

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When the mixture has fully cooled, add to your ice cream maker/machine and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to make ice cream (for my KitchenAid attachment bowl, this takes anywhere from 15-25 minutes).

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Once the ice cream is done churning, transfer to an airtight container and freeze until it has hardened (4-6 hours or overnight).

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This ice cream is perfection. Sweet, creamy, and full of warm spices – just like your favorite chai latte!

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Five More Documentaries Worth Watching

I can’t believe it was three years ago (!) that I posted my original Five Documentaries Worth Watching blog. So here I am, back with five more excellent films!

I’m an avid documentary consumer and love to discuss them with people. Some of my favorite conversations start out with “So, I watched this documentary last night…” Documentaries are great because even if you know nothing about the subject matter, you can still watch and walk away entertained. Learning about something new is usually my main goal when watching documentaries but I also just love really good story telling. The following five recommendations are all on completely different subjects but are of superb quality. Enjoy!

chasingice1) Chasing Ice (2012), directed by Jeff Orlowski (watch the trailer here)

This was one of the most compelling, yet sobering, documentaries I have ever seen on climate change. I took a particular interest in glaciers after our recent vacation to Alaska – they are commanding and magnificent, but also finite and fragile, their fate resting on global climate change. Chasing Ice is a heavy documentary about a very serious, very bleak subject – yet it is told so artistically. James Balog, acclaimed environmental photographer, is the visionary behind the Extreme Ice Survey. EIS is the photography project featured in the film that placed cameras on over 40 glaciers around the globe to capture a time-lapsed view of their retreat. Balog is the heart and soul of the film; his commitment to telling this story and educating the world about climate change taking priority over his career, his family, and even his own health.

generaltso2) The Search For General Tso (2014), directed by Ian Cheney (watch the trailer here)

Who doesn’t love American Chinese food? This clever documentary delves into an extremely important historical question – who invented the iconic dish, General Tso’s Chicken? It’s certainly not a dish you’ll find in China and General Tso himself didn’t invent it, yet the world at large is obsessed with it. The Search for General Tso may seem like a hackneyed quest but it is actually a rich culinary tale told through extensive research and entertaining characters.

goingclear3) Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015), directed by Alex Gibney (watch the trailer here)

You may have assumed that Scientology is just a weird cult that believes in aliens, but there’s actually so much more to it than that. I watched this documentary more for educational purposes than anything else. I don’t really care what celebrities are in to it or about all the controversies; I honestly did not actually know the beliefs and tenets behind the faith until I saw Going Clear. Now that I know I can categorically say that it is bonkers but the psychology of cults and the loyal followers of Scientology remain fascinating to me. This documentary is not analogous to a gossip rag, it profiles eight former church members who recount the origins and nuances of the religion in a compelling and authentic way.

hotgirlswanted4) Hot Girls Wanted (2015), directed by Jill Bauer & Ronna Gradus (watch the trailer here)

The main reason I watched this documentary was because it was produced by Rashida Jones, who I love, but I ended up finding it to be fascinating. Hot Girls Wanted is an expose of the amateur porn industry, emphasizing the widespread accessibility and consumption of it in the digital age. The stories of the women in the film are typical – girl next door needs to pay for college. However, as the industry loses interest in them (it is a fickle business, constantly demanding younger, hotter, cheaper girls: “everyday a new girl turns 18”), they have to resort to appearing in films that are increasingly disturbing and exploitative just to make money.

tignotaro5) Knock Knock, It’s Tig Notaro (2015), directed by Michael LaHaie & Chris Wilcha (watch the trailer here)

This documentary follows Tig Notaro and Canadian comedian Jon Dore on a small scale, low budget comedy tour held in backyards, farms, abandoned buildings, porches, etc. Tig hits the road, post-cancer diagnosis/treatment, to deliver her deadpan act to intimate crowds of loyal fans. She is, of course, hilarious but the reason to watch the documentary is to watch her move on in real time. With the help of Jon Dore, who is the perfect sidekick in this film because he is insanely funny and uses his talents to illuminate Tig’s greatness, Tig goes on a journey of normalizing what has happened to her. She accepts that she has cancer and chooses to continue with her passion: comedy. It’s encouraging and impressive to watch her thrive, not curl up in a ball, in the aftermath of her diagnosis. Knock Knock is a story about hope, friendship, and comedy that will make you think, laugh, and cry.

Where to Watch: Chasing Ice, The Search for General Tso, and Hot Girls Wanted can be watched on Netflix, Going Clear can be found on HBO, and Knock Knock can be found on Showtime.

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Recipe: Chocolate Truffles (Topped with Bacon, Sprinkles, Coconut, and Cocoa)

Today I’m going to ask you to consider candy making. Hear me out! Right now you’re looking at these pictures thinking I did something fancy and difficult. But I didn’t really. These truffles are insanely simple. So much so that I actually don’t want to show you how, because I like the thought of these truffles looking hard won. But, let’s be real, you could do this in your sleep.

Onward, to candy!

Domestocrat’s Chocolate Truffles (makes 25 truffles)
1 cup semisweet chocolate (I used chocolate chips)
1/2 tsp. espresso powder
1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. Lyle’s Golden Syrup
Toppings of your choice – I used bacon, coconut, chocolate sprinkles, and cocoa powder

All you need to make truffles is chocolate ganache. And all you need to make chocolate ganache is this recipe.

To begin to make the ganache, melt the chocolate chips over medium heat in a double boiler. When the chips have melted, remove the bowl from the heat. Next, add the espresso powder, cocoa powder, cream, vanilla, and golden syrup to the bowl.

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With the bowl off the heat and the rest of the ingredients added, stir slowly to combine until the ganache is uniform and smooth. Cool on the counter for 20 minutes or so then place the chocolate ganache in the fridge for 5 hours or the freezer for 3.

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You’ll know when the ganache is ready because it will be set and hard; it will be firm to the touch and will hold its shape when scooped.

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Scoop out 1 teaspoon ganache pieces and place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. When all of the ganache is used up, roll the pieces into uniform balls. I like to dip my fingers in cool water before rolling in my hands that way they won’t stick as much and won’t melt the ganache as quickly.

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At this point you are ready to roll the ganache balls in whatever toppings you like! Because they are slightly damp the toppings will adhere easily. The toppings I used were bacon, coconut, chocolate sprinkles, and cocoa powder. While rolling be sure to use your fingers to press on the larger pieces like bacon and coconut. An assembly line set up works best here.

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Eat immediately (because how can you not) or store in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 5 days. These truffles are a must for your next party (also because they are a total make-ahead). Everyone will think you slaved over them but I will keep this our little secret!

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Recipe: The Best Ever BBQ Beans

Beans are one of my favorite foods, not to mention go-to side dishes. They are obviously very good for you – what with all the protein and fiber, as well as macronutrients, vitamins and minerals, and phytochemicals. I also love beans because they are so versatile and there are so many kinds! I love black beans in tacos, cannellini beans in soups, garbanzo beans in salad, kidney beans in chili, a blend of beans in homemade veggie burgers – the list goes on and on!

Here is my latest bean creation – a new side dish staple in our house and instant summer BBQ classic.

Domestocrat’s Best Ever BBQ Beans (adapted from Bobby Flay’s recipe, makes 6 servings)
12 oz. package of bacon
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1.5 cups shredded carrot
1.5 tsp. crushed garlic
Two 15 oz. cans of pinto beans
1 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce
1/2 cup water
3/4 tsp. dried italian seasoning
Salt & pepper

Begin by heating a large pot over medium heat. Cut up the bacon into 1″ pieces and cook until the fat begins to bubble and the edges start to brown. Toss in the onions, carrots, and garlic and cook until the onions are translucent, the carrots are tender, and the bacon is all browned up.
Sidenote – If you want to make this recipe with less bacon fat I have two alternatives before you add the veggies to the pot: 1) Carefully skim as much fat as you want out of the pot with a large metal spoon, or 2) Cook the 1″ bacon pieces in a separate saute pan until they begin to bubble/are just starting to brown, then with a slotted spoon add the bacon to the large pot, and then augment with any additional bacon fat you want to use.

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While those ingredients are cooking together, rinse the beans. You can also add the spices/seasonings to the pot at this point as well.

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When the veggies/bacon are done, add the beans to the pot. Pour in the BBQ sauce and the water. The water is used to loosen up the BBQ sauce so if yours is particularly thick or thin, feel free to adjust to use more or less accordingly. Drop the heat to low, cover with a lid, and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the beans are done give them a taste to gauge the seasonings and adjust to your preferences.

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Eat immediately or store in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days. These beans actually get better as they sit so you can totally make them a day ahead of a party or barbecue. I love this recipe because it’s hearty, sweet and savory, filling, and a great compliment to classic summer dishes like burgers and corn on the cob.

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Recipe: Classic Blueberry Muffins

Summer means berry season! Time to get your fill of strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, boysenberries, gooseberries, huckleberries, marionberries, and raspberries. I really don’t enjoy turning on the oven when it’s 90+ degrees in late July but I would do it for these muffins. They are moist, sweet, and filled with delicious blueberries.

Domestocrat’s Classic Blueberry Muffins (adapted from Cooking Classy, makes 9 muffins)
1. 75 cups flour (I used King Arthur’s White Whole Wheat)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. ground flax seed
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 up canola oil
1/4 cup milk (I used 1%)
1/4 cup greek yogurt
2 eggs
1.5 cups fresh blueberries

This recipe couldn’t be simpler. Using the muffin method, combine all of the dry ingredients in a bowl, combine all of the wet ingredients in another bowl, and then slowly mix the wet into the dry until the batter comes together.

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Scoop the dough into a muffin tin that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Take a few extra blueberries (or reserve some at the outset) and top each muffin with them. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-18 minutes.

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Cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then remove the muffins from the pan, and cool completely at room temperature on a wire rack.

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Enjoy for breakfast with a mug of tea or for as a snack with a glass of milk. Really, these muffins are delicious and hearty at any time of day. They are also totally portable and can be made ahead of time. They will keep in the fridge wrapped in plastic wrap or in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

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Working Port Cruise of Boston Harbor

Boston is one of my favorite places of all time – and I’m not just saying that because I have lived here all my life! It’s full of history and culture, has gorgeous weather, is super walkable, mixes green space with waterfront with parks and city life all in one, has excellent restaurants, and is just a beautiful place to call home.

One of the best places to see all of the splendor, appeal, and style of Boston is from Boston Harbor. In June the Boston Harbor Association hosted us members on their free ‘working port cruise’ which went through Boston Harbor, Chelsea Creek, and the Lower Mystic River. We learned all about up and coming industry, property and real estate development, and environmental preservation from local advocates and key stakeholders in Boston.

All aboard!

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A view of the Tobin Bridge from the Inner Habor:

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The skyline views of Boston from the Inner Harbor are some of my favorite vantage points of the city:

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The Coast Guard patrol flew over head which was pretty cool.

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The Coast Guard has a base in the North End, right in the Harbor, that supports all Coast Guard stations and personnel in New England, New York, and northern New Jersey.

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A beautiful view of downtown including the Customs Building and Old South Meeting House:

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It just so happened that on the day of this tour the first of three tall ships visiting Boston this summer was docked in the Charlestown Navy Yard. This is the Spanish Navy’s Juan Sebastian De Elcano ship – it is a four-masted ship, a topsail schooner, and is the third largest Tall Ship in the world. The ship serves as the official training vessel for the Spanish Navy.

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Of course the main attraction in the Charlestown Navy Yard has always been the USS Constitution (see on the right below), however it’s dry docked for repairs and restoration until 2017.

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We saw plenty of really cool ships and sailing vessels while we were out on the water. I love the style of these boats, they are so classic.

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As we headed down into Chelsea Creek a representative of the Chelsea Creek Action Group narrated with information about what the group is doing to turn the creek into a thriving, environmentally friendly, and economically prosperous waterway. This group of residents has worked tirelessly on community clean ups, creating more green spaces, and fighting against pollution.

For decades, Chelsea Creek has been, and continues to be, the region’s energy corridor, with tankers bringing home heating oil, transportation fuel, and aircraft fuel to storage facilities along the waterway. Ships also bring road salt (see below on the right) which is used by more than 200 municipalities and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

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In 2012 the Chelsea Street Bridge underwent a huge $125M renovation, replacing the previously unsafe bridge with this modern, 450 foot vertical lift bridge. It was amazing to see this bridge in action – it just lifts straight up when ships need to pass underneath!

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There was a huge oil tanker unloading petroleum in the Global Revere Terminal on Chelsea River. This thing was massive!

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In 2003 the Condor Street Urban Wild park in Chelsea was converted from an old industrial site to an urban wild with walking trails and green space.

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From Chelsea Creek we turned around, sailed under the Tobin Bridge, and headed down the Mystic River.

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On the Mystic River, there are several industrial work sites: Distrigas’ LNG terminal, Schnitzer Steel’s metals recycling facility, Massport’s Boston Autoport, and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s Wind Technology Testing Center.

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A massive GDF Suez tanker was unloading at the Distrigas’ LNG terminal, so our trip down the Mystic was cut short for security reasons.

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The boat turned around and headed back into Boston Harbor.

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Lovely view of the ICA from the Harbor:

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The two hours on the tour went by super fast. We learned so much about local restoration projects, environmental preservation, burgeoning industry on the waterfront, and the investment in infrastructure going on in this area. The local representatives narrating the tour were invaluable. It was definitely one of the best tours I have been on in Boston and it’s not even open to the public. I kind of love that though, the event was attended by residents and locals who are invested in the Boston Harbor Association and being part of the community supporting these changes.

After the tour we got off the boat and walked around a bit in the Financial District on our way back to the train.

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We stopped in the new Kane’s Donuts downtown location. What better way to end this adventure then with a delicious donut!

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