Acadia National Park, Maine

In mid-July John and I headed up to Bar Harbor, Maine – a place that we’ve wanted to visit for years. We’d planned a long weekend to celebrate John’s birthday and have a relaxing getaway. Acadia National Park has been on the Bar Harbor bucket list for a long time; we were really excited to finally visit! And, to make the trip even better, we just so happened to visit right on Acadia’s 100th birthday!

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We decided the best way to see Acadia National Park was to take a tour so we booked through Acadia National Park Tours. The tour is a narrated 3 hour bus ride with stops all along Park Loop Road (Cadillac Mountain, Thunder Hole, Jordan Pond House, etc). I took a ton of pictures and learned a lot about the park.

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Highseas is a historic summer estate in Bar Harbor built in 1912. It is one of only a few summer estates to survive the island’s devastating 1947 fire. It is now owned by the Jackson Laboratory and used as housing for its workers.

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Our first stop in the park was at Thunder Hole – a small inlet where, when the waves crash inside, it makes a booming noise that sounds like thunder. We caught it at low tide which was still pretty cool. I definitely want to see it at high tide someday!

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Our second stop was at the Jordan Pond House – a restaurant serving tea and popovers in the park since the 1890s. You can enjoy afternoon tea inside in the lovely cafe or outside overlooking The Bubbles (two mountains next to each other).

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And speaking of Bubbles, we also caught a glimpse of Bubble Rock from the Park Loop Road. Bubble Rock, or Balance Rock, is a piece of rock that was deposited by glacial activity and precariously balanced here atop South Bubble Mountain.

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From there we made our third stop atop Cadillac Mountain. The views of Frenchman Bay and the Porcupine Islands from here was breathtaking.

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Cadillac Mountain is located on Mount Desert Island within Acadia National Park and stands at an elevation of 1,528 feet.

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A panoramic view from the top:

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Also worth a stop in the park is the Acadia National Park Hull’s Cove Visitor’s Center.

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It’s about 50 steps up to the Visitor’s Center but worth the trek (even in the rain, for us anyway).

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A note here about the Island Explorer – the Island Explorer features 8 bus routes all over Bar Harbor and the surrounding areas that link to downtown, Acadia, campgrounds, hotels, the waterfront, etc. It’s free (thanks to a $3M grant from LL Bean) and environmentally friendly (the buses run on clean propane).

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Last but not least, I highly recommend seeing Acadia National Park and the Bar Harbor coast from the water. We booked a boat tour through Acadia Sightseeing Nature Cruises and it was fantastic! Highlight of the trip for me.

We boarded the boat just as the morning rain was clearing out. The rain stopped and we had blue skies for exactly 2 hours while we were on the tour. On the way back to shore it was almost as if we were being chased by the returning the clouds. The timing couldn’t have worked out more perfectly.

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Maine has a long and inspiring history. Speeding across the bay, admiring the rockbound coast – it’s hard not to get lost in the majesty and the tradition of this place. Acadia National Park is a perfect example of all of the national parks we’ve been to and loved; a place of solitude, reverence for nature, and enormous beauty that cannot be contained in a photograph, or even in my mind.

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At Egg Rock Lighthouse we slowed down to check out the seals and four bald eagles hanging out there!

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Just before the end of the tour we were treated to one more up close and personal bald eagle sighting.

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In the Acadia Visitor’s Center there is a movie that plays called Acadia Always: The Story of Acadia National Park (click to watch the full movie). In it they speak of wanderers and wonderers who travel in search of the beauty the world holds. Like any place I’ve ever traveled to and fell in love with, Acadia National Park reminded me what it means to be curious and in awe of the world outside my door. It reminded me that there have always been wanderers and wonderers like myself who have kept these beautiful places thriving, and to them I am indebted. But mainly, it reminded me that nature is for all of us and it’s our duty to respect it, preserve it, and share it. I can’t recommend going to Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor enough. I hope these photos provide just a small glimpse of this incredible place and encourage you to go see it with your own eyes.

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Recipe: Caprese Salad Pizza

It’s summer so naturally I’m eating a lot of caprese salads. I love having a little basil plant in my kitchen in the summer, they are pretty to look at and the smell is insanely good. That said, my craving for pizza never let’s up no matter the season, so I decided to combine the two to create this awesome summer pizza.

Domestocrat’s Caprese Salad Pizza

For the pizza dough: (makes 2-3 pizza crusts)
2.75 cups bread flour (I use King Arthur’s Sir Lancelot high gluten flour)
2.5 tsp. (or 1 packet) active dry yeast (I use SAF Red Instant Yeast)
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup warm water
For rolling out the dough: 2-3 tbsp. coarse cornmeal

For the toppings:
1/2 pint rainbow cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup mozzarella balls
7-10 basil leaves
1 tsp. pizza seasoning (I use King Arthur’s Pizza Seasoning)
Marinara sauce or olive oil, whatever you prefer

In a stand mixer outfitted with the dough hook, combine all of the dough ingredients and mix together for 3-5 minutes. If you don’t have a stand mixer doing this the old fashioned way with lots of kneading works too. Knead by hand for 1-2 minutes and then store the dough in a big bowl covered in plastic wrap in a warm spot for at least an hour. You’re looking for the dough to double in size.

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While the dough is proofing, prep the pizza toppings: slice the tomatoes, cut up the mozzarella, grate the parm, and chiffonade the basil.

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When the dough is ready, sprinkle the cornmeal on your work surface and roll out to your desired shape. Top with marinara sauce or olive oil for the base (whichever you prefer) and then load on the toppings! You can add the basil before or after baking – I add it before because I find it mellows in the oven and I prefer that on pizza.

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I top the whole thing with King Arthur’s Pizza Seasoning but italian seasoning paired with crushed red pepper flake and salt and pepper do the job too. One additional note: this dough recipe will yield enough dough for 2-3 pies – this pizza uses 1/3 of the dough and I put the remaining 2/3 in a ziptop storage bag in the freezer for a later time (just thaw in the fridge that day before you want to use it).

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Bake the pizza at 450 degrees for 15 minutes.

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Cool for 5-10 minutes before slicing. Then dig in to this perfect pizza: cheesy, rich with delicious summer tomatoes, and studded with sweet basil. So good, I guarantee you’ll make this over and over.

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Recipe: Peanut Butter Pie with Chocolate Ganache

My husband is a peanut butter fiend! Lord help me. All we need is an Oreo pie crust in the house to get him in a psychotic frenzy about peanut butter pie. That said, I’ll make any excuse to top something with homemade chocolate ganache so here we go!

Domestocrat’s Peanut Butter Pie with Chocolate Ganache (makes 1 pie)
1 8 oz. package of cream cheese
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 container of whipped topping (I use Truwhip but CoolWhip is good too)
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream (optional)
1 batch of my hot fudge/chocolate ganache recipe (or a jar of store-bought is fine too)
1 Oreo pie crust

Start by making a batch of my hot fudge/chocolate ganache recipe. Cool to room temperature and then cover until you’re ready to top the pie (I’ve found a mason jar works best). You can totally use a jar of store-bought hot fudge or the kind in a squeeze bottle if you want. I recommend homemade because it’s fudgier and richer, but you do you!

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The pie filling couldn’t be simpler. In a big bowl, beat the cream cheese, sugar and peanut butter together with a hand mixer until thoroughly combined. If you opt to use the heavy whipping cream in this recipe, whip that in a separate bowl now too until you have soft peaks.

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Add the whipped topping (and whipped cream if you’re using it) to the peanut butter mixture and whip on high until it’s soft and fluffy.

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Spoon into the Oreo pie crust and smooth the top to ensure you have a nice level pie.

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Chill for at least 4 hours before putting on the ganache. You can swirl it on in any pattern you like. I went with this spiderweb design. Once that is done put the pie back into the fridge to chill for at least an hour before serving.

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Cut into slices and enjoy! (feel free to add more ganache on top too, just saying)

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Recipe: Baked Corn & Leek Risotto

Pay·off (noun, informal):

  • the advantage or benefit that is gained from doing something
  • the return on an investment

To me, risotto is the one recipe I make with the biggest payoff. You spend hours stirring, adding chicken stock, adjusting the temperature, testing the rice, etc. And, if you practice the dish a million times and get it just right, the end result is worth all of the time and energy you’ve put into it.

And then I tried Shutterbean’s Baked Corn & Tomato Risotto and all of that went out the window.

You see, this recipe is genius. It takes all of the heavy lifting of making risotto right into the oven. You can literally set it and forget it; throw the whole thing in the oven and walk away. And it will be just as perfect as it would be if you stirred until your arm fell off. My definition of payoff just shifted from hard labor to oven delegation.

Baked Corn Risotto (makes 8 servings, adapted from Shutterbean’s Baked Corn & Tomato Risotto)
2 cups fresh corn (about 2 cobs)
1 small yellow onion
1 leek
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flake
2 tbsp. butter
2 cups Arborio rice
32 oz. low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
1.25 cups water
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
A few tsp. of olive oil for sauteing
Salt & pepper to taste

Start by sauteing the onions with a bit of olive oil over medium heat. When they are translucent and the edges have browned, add the corn and the garlic. Season with salt and pepper.

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While the onion and corn are cooking, slice the leek into half moons, let sit in a big bowl of cool water for 1-2 minutes so all the grit falls away, drain, and saute in olive oil over medium heat until browned. This can be done in the same pan as the onion/corn, I just have small pans so divided them up.

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While the veggies are cooking, measure the rice and then pour into a large baking dish. A big casserole sized dish (9×13) should do nicely.

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When the veggies are done (soft and browned), scoop into the baking dish on top of the rice.

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Pour in the stock and water.

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Add 1 tbsp. butter, parm cheese, and all of the seasonings. Stir to combine as best you can.

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Bake on 350 degrees for 45 minutes. At the halfway point give the risotto a stir and add the second tablespoon of butter. The risotto is done when all the liquids have been absorbed and the rice is cooked through. If after 45 minutes the texture of the rice still hard, add in a bit of water and return to the oven for a few minutes.

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This risotto will come out of the oven perfectly al dente, creamy, and full of flavor.

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Top with an extra sprinkle of parmesan cheese and serve. This risotto is perfect right out of the oven or stored in an airtight container for 3-4 days.

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Recipe: Six Ingredient Strawberry Shortcake

When I think of homemade strawberry shortcake I don’t usually think easy or simple; I think pastry dough, lots of lamination, kneading, cutting in butter, etc. After some research I found a few reputable recipes that were way simplified vis-à-vis the invention of all purpose baking mixes in the 1930’s (King Arthur, Serious Eats, Betty Crocker). Though skeptical, I gave it a try. I can confidently say this six ingredient strawberry shortcake is completely legit and will definitely be my go-to recipe from now on!

Domestocrat’s Six Ingredient Strawberry Shortcake (makes 6 shortcakes)

  1. 2 cups all purpose baking mix (not to be confused with all purpose flour; I used Jiffy’s version but King Arthur has one, Bisquick would work, etc)
  2. 1 cup heavy cream (you can use a second cup to make homemade whipped cream to top the shortcake, or just buy the kind in a can like I did)
  3. 2 tbsp. sugar
  4. 1 tsp. vanilla
  5. Pinch of salt
  6. 1 lb. strawberries

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Getting the dough together couldn’t be easier…

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Combine the baking mix, cream, sugar, salt, and vanilla in a big bowl or stand mixer and mix until the dough is thoroughly combined and smooth.

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You can roll out the dough and use a biscuit cutter to get a more clean look. I like my shortcakes rustic so I just formed even-sized flattened discs with my hands (about 1/2 inch width). Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.

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Brush each shortcake with a little cream and sprinkle the top with sugar. Bake on 450 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until the bottoms are brown and the center is cooked.

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While the shortcakes are baking, rinse and slice the strawberries. The shape and size is up to you!

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These biscuits won’t be too brown on the top so don’t let that be the indicator of doneness here. A golden brown bottom is the best way to tell when these shortcakes are done.

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Cool the shortcakes for 5 or so minutes. Slice the shortcakes and top with the strawberries and whipped cream in whatever combination you like (I like a layer of whipped cream, strawberries, and then more whipped cream).

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Put on the top and add more whipped cream and thinly sliced strawberries for garnish. There you have it: a perfect, simple, 6-ingredient summer strawberry shortcake!

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Restaurant Recreation: Fogo de Chão’s Pão de Queijo (Brazilian Cheesy Bread)

Have you been to Fogo de Chão? It’s one of our favorite restaurants! Fogo de Chão is a Brazilian steakhouse with 20+ locations across the US and Brazil. Their claim to fame is their “gaucho style” meats which are fire roasted and served table side on swords. In addition to the delicious meat and abundant and fresh salad bar, I am obsessed with their pão de queijo. It’s their signature warm, soft Brazilian cheesy bread. Photo taken at the source:

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I have been wanting to make this recipe at home for ages but assumed it was way too complicated. I was so wrong; this recipe couldn’t be simpler or easier to make. What a fool I’ve been!

Domestocrat’s Restaurant Recreation of Fogo de Chão’s Pão de Queijo (makes 24 rolls)
1 cup tapioca flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup shredded cheese of your choosing – I recommend something sharp; I use either parmigiano-reggiano from our local Italian deli or Cabot Catamount Hills cheese from Whole Foods

The key to this recipe really is the tapioca flour. First of all, it’s made from cassava root so it’s gluten free and grain free. The consistency is the same as cornstarch and is used in similar applications (thickening soups, sauces, and pie). In this bread it’s perfect since it’s super light and very chewy.

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When researching this recipe I found two methods to make this bread: 1) the pâte à choux method which requires cooking the dough on the stove and then baking and 2) mixing in the blender then baking method. The recipes were identical so I favored the simpler one with less steps (aka the blender method).

Combine all of the ingredients (minus the cheese) in a blender and blend together. I used my Ninja Professional blender (the single smoothie cup was super handy for this recipe!).

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Shred the cheese if you can, it’s so much fresher and flavorful that way. Add the cheese to the blender and give 2-3 pulses. You want to incorporate the cheese without obliterating it.

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Using a measuring cup that you can pour from, pour the bread batter into each cup in a greased mini muffin pan. Fill up each cup 3/4 way.

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Bake on 400 degrees for 11-15 minutes depending on your oven. It takes 11-12 in my powerful gas oven. You want a golden brown bottom, the tops will look puffy but won’t be browned.

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The middles might sink a bit but it’s totally normal and won’t affect the bread’s flavor or texture at all.

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These are best eaten freshly baked and just cooled. I don’t recommend reheating them later, trying to store them, making them ahead of time, or bringing to a summer cookout outdoors (yep, tested all of those scenarios and it wasn’t good).

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If you are a Fogo fan, try this recipe. You will impress everyone you know for perfectly replicating their recipe. And even if you haven’t been to Fogo, try these! Because cheesy bread! Perfectly crispy, savory, soft, warm, heavenly, pillowy cheesy bread.

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Recipe: Macaroni Pasta Salad

I’m obsessed with deli pasta salad. You know the kind – perfect little elbow macaronis, thick with creamy dressing, studded with goodies like veggies and cheese. I have a few pasta salad recipes in my repertoire but the aim of this one was to recreate the classic deli version that I can’t seem to get enough of every summer.

Domestocrat’s Macaroni Pasta Salad (yields 10-12 servings)
2 lbs. elbow macaroni
2 broccoli crowns, trimmed into bite sized pieces and blanched
2 red peppers, diced
1.5 cups shredded carrot
1 small red onion, minced
For the dressing:
3.5 cups mayo
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. dijon mustard
2 tsp. hot sauce (I prefer Cholula)
3 tsp. red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Pinch of garlic salt

Start by making the dressing. Mix all of the ingredient together in a big bowl and store in the fridge so the flavors can jive while the rest of the recipe comes together.

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Cook the elbow macaroni to just before al dente. It’s going to soften in the dressing and in the fridge, so keeping it toothsome is ideal. When the pasta has cooled, pour in the dressing and stir until each piece is coated.

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Mix in all of the goodies you plan to put into the pasta salad. It could be veggies, cheese, olives, pepperoni – the sky is the limit!

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This macaroni salad is best after it has sat in the fridge for an hour or so. That way, all of the flavors have time to come together and the pasta absorbs some of the dressing. It can totally be eaten right away too.

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This might be my new go-to pasta salad recipe – it’s fresh, sweet, savory, and full of flavor. It also has great texture too, I love the combination of chewy pasta and fresh, crisp veggies. Enjoy!

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