REFLECTIONS ON CONNECTICUT (food, images, gratitude… with a side of Cowboy Caviar)

It’s safe to say we’ve travelled more this year than we ordinarily do (and we ordinarily travel quite a lot!). From our several thousand-kilometer Aussie road trip, to our last Royal Caribbean cruise in the Bahamas, and our most recent trips to Swedish Storsjön and Turku in Finland, it’s been a year of discovery… both internal and external. For this edition of Wellness & Wanderlust Wednesday*, I thought I’d share some personal reflections from one of the stand-out family trips we’ve done along with a recipe inspired by it.

I can’t count the number of pleasant surprises we have had in amongst all the meeting of new people/making of new friends/having of new culinary experiences/immersing ourselves in new environments. But somewhere near the very top of the ‘pleasant surprise’ list is Connecticut. I’ll admit, my geographical knowledge of areas of the U.S. I’ve not previously visited is limited. And, having never ventured to New England before, I knew absolutely nothing about Connecticut. Rather than hoping for big things of the place itself, I concentrated my pre-trip thoughts on being up to scratch in terms of the work I was there to do.

We arrived in Hartford in an exhausted daze after a connecting flight from Detroit (via Amsterdam) at around midnight. By the time we came to our hotel it was 1:30am and we’d been traveling for close to 24 hours. It was cold. Very cold. And we were beyond tired.

I cannot tell you what a comfort it was to enter the lobby. The warmth and charm of Saybrook Point Inn was not lost on my tired eyes and our room was picture perfect, with its open fireplace and invitingly sink-inable beds.

 

I am still a little mystified as to how we mustered motivation to head out on the morning of on our first day rather than stay in and rest. I can only assume it was the sound sleep we’d all had combined with a hearty room service breakfast, an enticing view from our window and crisp Connecticut air. Our first stop was Food Works, a local answer to Wholefoods with an impressive selection of healthy and free-from foods, fresh produce and organic products. We then drove to Overabove to ensure we’d be able to locate it easily the next day.

We ate lunch at Mystic Market, a drive-by discovery that my intuition told me would make for a worthwhile stop (thank you, intuition!). High on my list of recommendations are their Falafel & Hummus Roll, the Eggplant Hero, the Roasted Portobello Panini… And, lest I forget, the outstanding Cowboy Caviar!

Fuelled and energised by our wholesome, ample lunch, we embarked on an easy afternoon trip to Gillette Castle State Park, located between the towns of East Haddam and Lyme. Originally a private residence, the castle was commissioned and designed by William Gillette, the American actor most famous for his stage portrayal of Sherlock Holmes.

We didn’t stay long, but the outing was enjoyable, giving us an enticing overview of the magnificent countryside of the area and some absolutely charming towns en route from Old Saybrook. Back at the hotel, the children made good use of the indoor pool. The pool area was a highlight of our stay, of course, and time spent relaxing in the warmth evoked serious summer holiday feelings… despite the fact that it was January and at times snowing heavily outside.

Monday rolled around and we headed off with excitement to the Overabove studio in Essex. I can’t speak highly enough about our experiences with the Royal Caribbean team, Ralph Guardiano and the crew at Overabove (including make-up squad Linda and Valerie Gengras). Their professionalism and their kindness (and the amazing catering, thanks to Coffee’s!) was so appreciated by all of us.

Having not worked on a project of this scope and nature before, I’ll admit to walking into it with some trepidation. However, when you are in the hands of consummate professionals, working with something that you genuinely love, in the very worst case you’ll have a fun experience. And in the best case, you’ll be part of something over which you end up proud. 🙂

Most of our days at the studio began in the morning and ended after lunch. The children were kept entertained by my husband, volunteers from the Overabove crew and our beloved Von Family when they were around. Afternoons and evenings were largely free for us to rest and explore. And this meant more visits to Mystic Market, pizzas from Pizza Works, a spot of shopping in Old Saybrook, and time spent in the pool, spa and gym.

We took advantage of the offer to have fires lit in our room too. Such a luxury! There couldn’t possibly be a cosier end to a busy day than one spent enjoying the warmth of a crackling fire after a bubble bath.

I have a confession to make. I have been more often disappointed than impressed by the salon/spa experiences that I have had over the years. And yet, being the diehard optimist I am, I still persist in making bookings and hoping for the best, especially when visiting a new locale. I am thrilled to report that my massage at Sanno Spa did not disappoint. In fact, I count it amongst the better experiences I have had. My massage therapist (Sarah, I believe) was excellent, the staff at the reception desk were very friendly, and spa premises themselves were wonderful.

On one occasion we were generously given the opportunity to experience a private banquet room for a spontaneous pizza party organised with our good friends, the Von Family. On several mornings we put the room service menu to good use, and I can heartily recommend everything that we tried (most of the menu, I believe!), but especially the granola pancakes.

The staff at Saybrook Point Inn’s restaurant, Fresh Salt, went above and beyond to accommodate our family, cater to our children and make us feel welcome. If you dine there, do yourself a favour and order the sweet potato fries!

On our final free day in Connecticut we visited fabulous Mystic Seaport, America’s leading maritime museum meets research and education centre. Located by Mystic River in Mystic, Connecticut, it features a working shipyard, exhibit halls and more. With more than 500 historic watercraft and lovely recreated New England coastal village, visitors can experience maritime history in an immersive and interactive manner, and our own mini historians loved the Children’s Museum, where they played ‘swab the deck’, cooked play food in the galley and asked questions about ship life.

We ate brunch at Somewhere in Time, a thoroughly unpretentious cafe diner with an extensive brunch selection that is clearly hugely popular with locals. I can recommend the veggie sausage, waffles, pancakes and banana bread French toast (all delicious). Despite being very full and not particularly buggy-friendly, it most definitely is a family venue, and the children loved choosing from the incredibly appealing menu options and colouring the activity sheets they were given while they waited for their food to arrive.

After a little more exploring, we returned to the hotel to get ready for the wrap party at fabulous Cafe Allegre, owned and operated by award-winning Executive Chef, Silvio Suppa. As popular with locals and families as it is with celebrities, Cafe Allegre offers a true farm to table experience starring delectable, authentic Italian dishes. The restaurant itself is charming and elegant, and the service welcoming and warm. It’s everything you could want in a dining experience, especially if you appreciate true Italian flavours!

Hearing that Lillian’s 4th birthday was a few days away, Nathalie most kindly organised a cake and present for her, and the entire gathering sang happy birthday for her. Ralph made a thank you speech which was incredibly generous, and humble Chef Silvio made a heartwarming appearance. The food kept coming and the celebration rolled on into the night. As a gift, I received a copy of Chef Silvio’s book (as if I wasn’t emotional enough already!) and I am waiting for a special occasion to try out one of the truly delicious looking recipes in our new kitchen.

We said goodbye and thank you to our new friends and drove back to the Inn knowing that 3 hours of sleep awaited before we’d be heading to the airport and ultimately California. Abby Von had made farewell gifts for us all. Rachel Von and I promised to stay in touch (and we have!). As I packed our belongings and watched my children sleeping in their cosy beds, I was struck by a deep sense of gratitude for our time in Connecticut, the people we’d encountered and all our experiences (both with and without food involved!). We truly had the perfect home base in Saybrook Point Inn. With its unpretentious yet luxurious appointments, excellent service and stellar location, it offered us what I imagine to be the quintessential New England shoreline experience. Every sunset and sunrise framed by the marina (with the sweetest lighthouse ever in the foreground) was a work of art.

Who could ever tire of this view?

And we’d recommend Connecticut heartily to anyone interested in visiting New England. To quote John Mariani, “Connecticut is Hollywood’s ideal of New England at its prettiest, its richest and its smartest—rather like Hepburn herself… Such idealization is not without foundation, most beautifully evident in eastern Connecticut towns like Essex, Old Lyme and Old Saybrook…”

Have you visited Connecticut? Or would you like to?

If you have no immediate plans to travel there, here’s a recipe that teleports me back to Mystic Market and maybe you’ll like it too…

❤ Marisa xx

COWBOY CAVIAR

Dip meets salad in the best way!

Inspired by one of the tastiest yet most simple take-away meals I have ever eaten, I decided to attempt a recreation of Cowboy Caviar. Delicious with corn chips or sweet potato fries, perfect in place of salsa, a fabulous side dish and a great addition to any buffet table, this humble dip-meets-salad is a new favourite at Marzipan HQ!

INGREDIENTS FOR SALAD

2 ripe avocados, diced
2 large ripe tomatoes, diced
250 ml sweetcorn kernels
1 tin black beans, drained and rinsed well
1 tin black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed well
2 spring onions, sliced finely
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
80 ml parsley (or coriander), finely chopped

INGREDIENTS FOR DRESSING

60 ml olive oil
2.5 tbsp apple cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
A squeeze of lime juice
A squeeze of lemon juice
A dash of maple syrup (optional)
1/4-1/2 tsp garlic salt
Pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

  1. Combine all salad ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Combine all dressing ingredients in a small bowl.
  3. Pour dressing over salad and toss. Serve immediately or keep for a day or two, covered and refrigerated and serve as required.

 

*For a baked version of sweet potato fries, check out this old post for Crisp(ier) Sweet Potato Fries

 

THANKS & CONNECTICUT LINKS

We’d like to extend our thanks to our talented and amazing friends at Royal Caribbean for the opportunity to visit Connecticut in the first place, to Overabove for being the generous, professional and excellent people they are, to Saybrook Point Inn for exceeding every expectation, and Mystic Seaport for offering us the perfect day out and some fascinating lessons in local maritime history.

This post is unsponsored and all views expressed are my own, as always. As I have mentioned several businesses, I’ll include links to them below:

Saybrook Point Inn: 2 Bridge St, Old Saybrook, CT 06475

Overabove: 8 Railroad Ave, Suite 110, PO Box 8 Essex, CT 06426

Food Works: 940 Boston Post Rd, Old Saybrook, CT 06475

Mystic Seaport: 75 Greenmanville Ave, Mystic, CT 06355

Cafe Allegre:  725 Boston Post Rd, Madison, CT

*It’s now officially Thursday here as I post this, though it’s still Wednesday in Connecticut 😉

5 thoughts on “REFLECTIONS ON CONNECTICUT (food, images, gratitude… with a side of Cowboy Caviar)

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