“I would really like to get into your nutrition.”
Those words, from a local business owner I’ve begrudgingly saddled with the task of building me a new workout program, were enough to send shivers up my spine. Even the implication that I might be cajoled into a caloric change made me want to clap my hands over my ears and sing loudly, like a 5-year-old kid, to drown her out.
To be fair, I’m normally pretty good about my diet to begin with. My folks raised me well and with a no-nonsense attitude to clearing my plate and eating all my vegetables, so I’m not a fussy eater, and there aren’t many foods that I avoid (just ask the staff at the Chinese buffet near the office).
But the problem with a fitness professional wanting to tweak my food intake is this: Maine’s just brimming with treats. How am I supposed to stop?
Since my last column hit the press, my already-sweet tooth has gone practically saccharine. I’m getting more comfortable behind the wheel now, after a couple of months of licensed driving, so I’ve begun to venture out from Augusta a little farther each time in search of central Maine’s gems.
One of the gems in question, of course, was Maine Maple Sunday.
Now, when I first found out about these festivities, I was a bit surprised. My mildly clueless self was under the impression that Vermont was the primary producer of delicious processed tree sap, but here I am right in the thick of syrup country.
And to be perfectly honest, while I was aware of the fact that the maple syrup I was eating at home on my pancakes wasn’t the real deal, I didn’t believe I’d be able to tell the difference between the imitation and genuine products.
Some more honesty: I was wrong.
I made plans with a friend to meet at a sugarhouse halfway to Belfast, and I had the foresight to stop at an ATM before I left Augusta. I also had the foresight to withdraw only $20, and I’m glad I did, because I’d have come home towing a trailer of maple syrup-related foodstuffs if I’d taken more cash with me.
The minute I arrived, I was immediately stoked (Australian for “excited”) that I’d made the drive out there.
The wooden sugar shack was like something on a postcard, the sweet-smelling steam lured me inside, and the free cup of vanilla ice cream drowning in warm syrup sealed the deal.
I was an instant believer. And that was even before I made it to the next building over, which housed the finished product in all shapes and sizes.
There was syrup in containers from small gift-sized plastic jugs to glass quart-sized Mason jars and the big-dog gallon jugs, which were sold out by the time I got there around noon.
You could also get freshly spun maple cotton candy (which I haven’t had since before my awkward teenage days with braces on my teeth), maple whoopie pies, hard candy, scones and other baked goodies.
But I’m a big guy, so sweets were only going to sate me for so long. Thankfully, there’s such a thing as maple hot dogs. I all but died and went to heaven.
The grill man, who incidentally was a friend of a friend, explained to me that he was boiling the hot dogs in a mix of maple syrup and water, then grilling them.
And let me tell you, they were incredible. I had no idea a hot dog could taste like maple syrup and be good.
They were $2 each or two for $3, and stupidly I only paid for one because I figured one would be enough. Wrong. I ended up spending $8 on four, because every time I swore it would be my last. Why must I lie to myself?
I managed to escape with a reasonably sensible amount of take-home products: a quart of syrup and my first ever whoopie pie. Now I can see why it’s the state’s official treat.
So, to recap: syrup on ice cream, followed by syrup-boiled hot dogs, which preceded the purchase of maple whoopie pies and a quart of syrup. I’d driven my Subaru to a Maple Sunday event, in my mud-covered L.L. Bean boots, and I even saw “North Woods Law” being filmed — it doesn’t get much more Maine than that, right?
And it’s not just the food that’s tempting me in Vacationland. I’m sure you’re all very well aware of this fact, but in case you aren’t, I’ll let you in on a little secret: Maine makes some impressive beer, too.
My new resolve is to try and visit a local brewery every couple of weeks, both to see some more countryside and to try the local drop. I mean, I’m Aussie. It’s in my blood.
The catch is, of course, that beer — while the nectar of the gods and a cornerstone of the Australian nutritional pyramid — isn’t for the calorie-conscious, either. I’m beginning to notice a pattern here.
It might be a little easier to control what I’m eating if I was getting some moral support from home. Instead, I’m receiving good-intentioned packages of Tim Tams, an Australian cookie/candy hybrid that has proven to be just a tiny bit popular with my co-workers. Case in point: Three packages of them were devoured in the space of one evening two weeks ago, mere hours after I’d taken delivery of them on my front doorstep. I had squirreled two away for myself before I left home, but they disappeared shortly after I finished work.
But the sad reality is, winter is officially over, although whether the mercury understands this is another matter.
Already I feel less and less need to wear multiple layers when I leave the house, which means I haven’t got much longer to disguise any extra padding under a couple of jackets and sweatshirts.
I guess I’m going to have to earn my whoopie pies and beer this spring. Hopefully the weather warms up enough to be conducive to more exercise, and hopefully Maine’s vegetables are as good as its desserts and libations.
Adrian Crawford is a Web editor at the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Email him at [email protected]. Maine Walkabout is published the first and third Sundays of each month. More of his adventures in Vacationland can be found at www.crawfinusa.com.