Down East 2013 ©
Finding a dog with personality is not hard. Finding a dog collar or leash with a little character, however, is not the easiest. This is the only outfit your best friend typically has to express him- or herself with, so you want to get it right. At thetrumancollar.com you can do just that. The Hancock company sells literally dozens upon dozens of varieties of dog collars ($11 to $19). If your Irish setter needs an Irish plaid, you're in luck. If Fido is more of an orange gingham-type, you'll find it. Perhaps Bowser is particularly patriotic - you can drape him in the flag. Collars are eminently customizable, and you can even get a matching leash, if that's your thing. Best of all, the Truman Collar (207-422-3764) donates a percentage of each sale to the Morris Animal Foundation, which is working to find a cure for hemolytic anemia, an immunodeficiency that strikes down too many a hound (including Truman, the beloved Bernese mountain dog of the company's owners).
When chef Sam Hayward goes on and on about your product, you know you have something. Hayward, of course, is the talent behind Fore Street, one of the finest, if not the finest, restaurants in Portland and the guy Food & Wine magazine calls Maine's "Food Hero." The guy has taste. And he gave a ringing endorsement of Sewall Orchard's aged cider vinegar at Maine Fare, a celebration of local food, in September. The Lincolnville farm (259 Masalin Rd., 207-763- 3956, www.sewalls  orchard.com) has been a champion of organic harvests for ages, and its vinegar is made the way its more famous cider is made. Which is to say with fresh apples and no preservatives, chemicals, sweeteners, or artificial anythings - just the purest distillation of cider vinegar. That's what makes it so good for salads, stews, what have you. You can find it by the gallon, half-gallon, and smaller sizes at such outlets as the Good Tern Co-op and Sage Market in Rockland, and Megunticook Market in Camden - and you can be sure it'll be good.
Who knew the Arctic was such a noisy place? Certainly polar explorers Donald B. MacMillan and Robert E. Peary did. Many of the sounds the two Bowdoin grads came across in Greenland can now be enjoyed from the warmth of your own living room, thanks to the nifty podcasts set up by Bowdoin's Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and Arctic Studies Center. The thirty-five minute recordings take listeners on an aural journey through the museum's recent exhibit, This Extraordinary Paradise: Living in Northwest Greenland. The sounds themselves are fascinating - like the howl of polar winds, and the pounding of sealskin drums. Along with the pictures on the museum's site, this interpretation will make you feel like you've paid a visit - both to the North Pole and the Bowdoin museum it inspired. Listen for yourself at http://academic.bowdoin.edu/arcticmuseum 
Getaway: King of the Hill
You don't have to be a skier or snowmobiler to enjoy a winter weekend in Kingfield.
By Joshua F. Moore
Mainers know that the best way to handle winter is to embrace it. Most of the SUVs and station wagons heading north at this time of year have a couple of skis and a snowboard strapped to the roof or are towing a snowmobile or two. If those snow sport fans take the time to pause in Kingfield, though, they'll discover the streets of this upcountry town have as much to offer as the slopes.
LODGING It's tough to miss the Herbert Grand Hotel (246 Main St., 207-265-2000, www.herbertgrand  hotel.com), as its columned faA§ade pretty much juts right out into Route 27 in the center of town. This grand old lady of Kingfield has been playing host to guests since 1917, and its oak paneling, brass fixtures, and terrazzo floors are obvious signs of the quality that went into her initial construction. The hotel has been extensively upgraded in recent years and its twenty-seven rooms are decorated in period furnishings, complete with cast-iron steam radiators. It's even pet-friendly. If you're looking for something a bit quieter and cozier, try Three Stanley Avenue (3 Stanley Ave., 207-265-5541, www.stanleyavenue.com ), the bed-and-breakfast built around 1900 by the younger brother of the famous Stanley twins. Three of the six rooms include private baths and three share baths.
DINING Whether your winter toy of choice is a snowmobile, ski, or snowboard, you'll want to stop in at the log cabin that houses the Woodsman (Main St., 207-265-2561), a great breakfast joint on the north side of town. Don't bother stopping if you're trying to get first tracks - the home cooking here is prepared slowly and carefully - but the results are worth the wait. If you are in a rush, head just around the corner to the Old Schoolhouse Caf` and Bakery (266 Main St., 207-265-2323), where you can pick up pastries and a cup of java and still be first in the lift line. After your day at Sugarloaf or zipping down some of the ITS trails in this area you can stuff yourself with quality grub at Longfellow's Restaurant (Main St., 207-265-4394), a neat eatery just across the street from the Herbert Grand. And if you feel that you've earned something special try One Stanley Avenue (1 Stanley Ave., 207-265-5541, www.stanleyavenue.com ), where the hardest decision you'll face is choosing between the beef gorgianna, escalope of lamb Freeman Ridge, and the mignonettes mercurio. Kingfield may feel a bit like a frontier town, but there's no way people ate like this in the Wild West.
ACTIVITIES Kingfield is hardly a shopper's paradise, which makes the body oils, incense, clothing, and other gifts tucked inside Scent-Sations Gift Shop (239 Main St., 207-265-4560, www.kingfield  scentsations.com) such a pleasant surprise. Be careful of the reading nook on the second floor of this rough-hewn building - you may not want to leave! But if you can force yourself back outside you'll do well to wander down to the Stadler Gallery (225 Main St., 207-265-5025, www.stadlergallery.com ), where you might be lucky enough to find artist Ulrike Stadler showing both her own vibrant oil paintings and those of other local artists (call ahead if you want to be sure she'll be around). Finally, no visit to Kingfield is complete without a visit to the Stanley Museum (40 School St., 207-265-2729, www.stanley  museum.org), where the remarkable story of the Stanley Steamer automobile unfolds alongside the historic photographs created by the inventors' talented sister, Chansonetta.
Bookshelf: Maine Noir
In a new mystery a best-selling Irish novelist plumbs the Pine Tree State's heart of darkness.
By Elizabeth Hand
When I first moved to this state nearly twenty years ago, I heard a lot about the Real Maine, both from people I knew and in venues such as the late Maine Times and Portland's Salt Institute. As far as I could tell, the Real Maine was anywhere that I was not, at least as it was described to me by folks who had lived here longer than I had; the implication being that, as someone from away, the Real Maine would forever elude my grasp. However, one of its signifiers was [for the rest of this story and to read a review of a hot new restaurant in Kennebunkport, see the January 2008 issue of Down East]poverty, and as one who had elected for impoverishment (fortunately not permanent) in my decision to become a writer, I had more experience of the Real Maine than people imagined.
Yet other things defined it as well, or seemed to. The Real Maine's character was rural, wild, authentic, unpopulous; conversely it was gritty, urban, expanding, domesticated. It was as likely to be a salt farm as a factory; it could be embodied in a person as well as by a place, say Stephen King or Edmund Muskie, the Olson farm or the Porthole. And now, two decades after I first heard the term, it seems more difficult to get a handle on the Real Maine: its boundaries are always shifting, because Maine is a place with border issues. Borders with the sea, with the wilderness, with another country; with pockets of encroaching gentrification; with its own idealized sense of a historical past packaged and shrink-wrapped and sold to vacationers and second-home owners and retirees, all of them hungry for that bit of authenticity, of whatever it is that truly does make this place seem more authentic, more real, than other places, even as it makes it impossible to pin down what that elusive quality is.
To cop a term from my days in the anthropology department, Maine is a liminal place. And liminal places are as dangerous as they are seductive. People can become trapped in them, emotionally, psychologically, physically, something Stephen King has illustrated untold times in his fiction. If there's a writer laureate of the liminal, King is probably it; but I'll wager John Connolly is a close second.
Connolly's most recent book, The Unquiet (Atria Books, New York, New York; hardcover; 418 pages; $25.95) is a spare, unsparing tour-de-force that hovers on the cusp between a mystery and a supernatural novel without falling prey to the weaknesses of either genre. If it were a painting, it might be a work by Rothko, a creation whose outlines at first appear tangible and clear, yet upon closer examination grow blurred and, increasingly, disorienting.
The Unquiet's plot seems unadorned: Portland private investigator Charlie Parker is hired by a woman, Rebecca Clay, who wants to know why a mysterious stranger is stalking her. The stranger is Frank Merrick, a freelance "button man," a hired killer who's plied his trade for decades, done his time in Maine's Supermax facility, and is now free - or as free as a man possessed can ever be.
Merrick's fourteen-year-old daughter disappeared while he was in prison. He knows her disappearance is linked to a ring of pedophiles centered on Gilead, a long-disbanded religious community in northern Maine, and he believes that Rebecca Clay's father, a prominent psychiatrist who treated abused children before he himself disappeared, knew something about the girl's fate.
Merrick is a self-appointed Fury, intent on one thing: finding and killing the men who abused and killed his child. But the genius in The Unquiet lies in how it sets loose Fury upon Fury, not just Merrrick, but Parker himself, still traumatized by the death of his own child and wife years earlier; and other Furies as well, including one of the most sinister, gooseflesh-inducing fictional characters I've ever encountered.
Connolly's narrative is at once intricate and controlled; plot twists spill from his pages like pearls from a broken string, so I won't reveal much more. This is the first Charlie Parker novel I've read, and it's so extraordinary I'm almost (but not quite) reluctant to read the earlier ones, for fear this is the summation of the author's career. Connolly is Irish but has lived in Maine; he imparts an unsentimental but overwhelming attachment to this uncanny place and its inhabitants, from the South Portland suburbs to the violated wilderness around Jackman.
In its evocation of the fault lines of evil that, all unseen, fracture the stability of both a place and those who inhabit it, The Unquiet takes its place alongside William Hjortsberg's classic Falling Angel, one of the best noir novels ever written. And as a depiction of the Real Maine, it ranks significantly higher than the brochures handed out at our Tourist Info centers - but don't expect to see it stacked beside the postcards anytime soon.
"It was three a.m. and anything was possible - all he needed was a little luck." These are the first words of Terry Shaw's debut novel The Way Life Should Be (Touchstone, New York, New York; paperback; 289 pages; $14). Shaw knows something about luck, since it was this sentence - and dozens of subsequent ones - that won him a publishing contract through gather.com's inaugural First Chapter Writing Competition. The contest gimmick might be hokey and off-putting, but Shaw's novel is actually quite deft - a twisty tale of a Maine politician murdered at a gay cruising spot and the victim's friend, an intrepid newspaper editor, who's intent on cracking the case.
Dining: Where the Locals Eat
A Dock Square restaurant is not what you'd expect in Kennebunkport.
You can be forgiven for thinking of Kennebunkport as a Polo-shirt-and-SUV kind of town. In the summertime, Texas shopping mall developers and D.C.-area tech investors crowd the B-and-Bs. It's an eavesdropper's paradise as well-heeled visitors stroll the streets, comparing a boutique to the one on the Vineyard they liked a bit more, and wondering aloud if George and Babs are in town.
In the winter, though, like many coastal towns, Kennebunkport turns inward. Inns put up "no vacancy" signs that really mean "gone south until spring," and the bulk of the restaurants go dark for the season. But tucked away in a corner off Dock Square, Bandaloop's lights burn bright all year long.
"This time of year, it takes people twenty minutes to get from the door to their table," says W. Scott Lee, who owns Bandaloop with his wife, Bridget. "Everyone knows each other; it's a very homey feeling."
Lee's not kidding. The menu, which like many others these days includes organic and seasonal ingredients, is based on what he and Bridget like to cook for themselves. The d`cor is homegrown, too, with a clay sun in the entranceway that was made by local schoolchildren and a few funky, primitive pieces that are on loan from the Lees' own house. "Bridget wants to get those back at some point," Scott Lee says wryly.
Bandaloop's chief conceit is its mix-and-match approach to entrees. Diners choose one of eight "center of plate" items - organic tofu, free-range chicken breast, fresh haddock - then one of eight sauces to accompany it. (Everyone gets the same starch - typically garlic mashed potatoes - and simply seasoned steamed vegetables.)
There are possibilities for sheer disaster here: do you really want a blackberry-balsamic reduction on your haddock, or creamy roasted garlic gravy poured over your shrimp? But Bandaloop's servers, many of whom have been with the restaurant since it opened in 2003, offer gentle guidance about which pairings work particularly well. And, says Lee, "If someone orders the blackberry balsamic with the haddock, we'll just put it on the side."
Lee says he came up with the concept as a way to provide as many choices as possible given the restaurant's small kitchen. The approach doesn't work for everyone; some diners resist the invitation to create their own meal, feeling that it's the chef's job to tell them what would taste best. But with a few exceptions, the sauces do seem surprisingly adaptable. On a recent visit, the zingy pistachio-cilantro pesto perked up a pork chop, and the blackberry balsamic reduction complemented the ribeye.
ike Bandaloop's sauces, the appetizers run the ethnic gamut, from a Vermont cheddar quesadilla to egg rolls filled with red onions, walnuts, and Gorgonzola. Doing so many cuisines well is a lot to ask of a kitchen, so it's not surprising that the results can be mixed. Ginger-scented Maine shrimp cakes were studded with the tiny delicacies, and the sesame-lime-tamari glaze served alongside them was well-balanced and tasty. A fresh avocado timbale, on the other hand, was curiously bland despite what the menu describes as a "zesty lime-wasabi vinaigrette."
The portions at Bandaloop are large; after an appetizer and an entr`e, it's hard to find room for dessert. But a refreshing, house-made piece of orange poundcake with Maine blueberry ice cream proved well worth the effort. And specialty cocktails - including a well-mixed Dark n' Stormy, the ginger beer and dark rum drink - make the sweets go down even more smoothly.
Bandaloop is named after a fictional tribe thought to have the secret to a rich and eternal life in the Tom Robbins novel Jitterbug Perfume. If Robbins' brand of hippie mysticism seems a bit out of place in well-heeled Kennebunkport, well, you're on the right track. Though it draws its fair share of the tourist trade - reservations can be hard to come by in high season - Bandaloop is, at heart, a place where locals can cozy up to the bar, chat with their neighbors, and enjoy a down-to-earth meal. Meanwhile, the casually friendly staff seats out-of-towners on the wooden banquettes that line the walls, and conversations jump from one table to the next. From the open kitchen cooks summon a waitress with a firm "Krista, please" as an occasional flame shoots up from the grill. It's cold outside, but who'd know it?
Bandaloop is located at 2 Ocean Ave. in Kennebunkport. Dinner is served Tuesday through Saturday starting at 5:30 p.m. Appetizers $4-$10; entrees $15-$25; desserts $6.50. Full bar. 207-967-4994. www.bandaloop.biz