Dreamers, artists and doers have long been drawn to the Maine coast; the author E.B. White wrote his 1952 children’s classic “Charlotte’s Web” on a saltwater farm in Brooklin, and the painter Andrew Wyeth made his famous work “Christina’s World” (1948) in Cushing, some 80 miles southwest. Among a newer generation are Jay and Alison Carroll, the couple behind Wonder Valley, a line of olive oils, skin-care products and home goods, who’ve made a home for themselves on Bailey Island, a rocky spit of land in Casco Bay an hour’s drive from Portland, where Jay grew up.
After purchasing the property (which they refer to as B.I.B.S., short for “Bailey Island Beach Shack”) at a foreclosure auction in 2020, the pair, who also own El Rey Court, a boutique hotel in Santa Fe, N.M., and the newer Waymore’s Guest House and Casual Club, in Nashville, set about renovating the small, shingled cove-side cottage. But before work on the interior was finished, they prioritized some coastal Maine essentials: buying a boat and, with the help of a neighbor, building a wood-burning oven in the backyard.
Unlike those in Joshua Tree, Calif., where the couple also have a home, summers in Maine are blink-and-you’ll-miss-it short. If the dark, colder months give Mainers reason to hibernate (or leave town), the long, hot days of July and August are cause for celebration. “There’s a sense of needing to make the most of it,” Alison says. “So we take every opportunity to get together with friends.” On a recent Saturday, though, there was another impetus too: superstition. Their boat, a sturdy fiberglass 20-foot Eastern Center Console, came with the name Looking at Lucky. The couple wanted to change it — and avoid bad luck by performing a proper renaming ceremony.
And so, at high tide on a brilliant, blue-skied Saturday afternoon, Alison and a dozen of the couple’s friends stood on the beach beside the house, tumblers of wine in hand, to bear witness as Jay carried out the rituals necessary to please Poseidon, asking for “fair winds and following seas,” and revealed the boat’s new name: Moon Snail. (Jay had seen a moon snail, a predatory marine mollusk with a large whorled shell, on a recent camping trip, he explained, “and for some reason I latched on to that.”) A celebratory cruise around the bay followed the rechristening, along with some unsuccessful efforts at fishing for mackerel, and then it was back to dry land for a Maine-style feast cooked in the wood oven and eaten as the sky turned from blue to blush.
Attendees: Jay and Alison Carroll, 43 and 36 — along with their 9-month-old daughter, Bo — hosted friends including Sharon and Paul Mrozinski, 79 and 78, the owners of Marston House, a shop specializing in French antiques on Vinalhaven Island, roughly 60 miles northeast; Sarah Xiao, 30, a shellfish procurement specialist for the Duxbury, Mass.-based company Island Creek Oysters; Kate Jones, 41, the owner of the jewelry line Ursa Major, and her husband, Chris; Zinzi Edmundson, 38, a writer and creative director, and her two children, James, 8, and Russell, 4; Carter Smith, 51, a horror filmmaker and fashion photographer; Adam McPherson, 45, an artist and woodworker; and Marjory Sweet, 37, a cookbook author and baker.
The Table: Guests dined at two long tables, set under the backyard arbor, that had been decorated simply with a mix of printed tablecloths, leather place mats and napkins from the couple’s collaboration with the Oregon-based textile company Madre Linen. Realizing she didn’t have enough tableware for all her guests, Alison asked Edmundson to bring some from her home. On one table, empty Wonder Valley olive oil bottles served as candlesticks; on the other, a mismatched pair of sturdy French antique pewter candlesticks, a housewarming gift from the Mrozinskis, held tall tapers. Rustic ceramic pitchers were filled with high-summer arrangements of blooms including sunflowers. Bo was passed from lap to lap, firmly clutching a silver Elsa Peretti bubble wand, a gift from Smith that he was using as a teething toy.
The Food: Before the rechristening, guests enjoyed snacks — including icy trays of New England oysters on the half shell — on the home’s front porch, overlooking the water. Jay opened tins of smoked mussels that he’d sourced on a recent trip to Portugal and Alison crushed raspberries into a bowl of Wonder Valley olive oil, serving the mixture with grilled sourdough bread. Before everyone sat down to dinner, she quickly fired some pies as an appetizer. “Entertaining is in our DNA,” said Alison, “and now that we have the pizza oven, we all gather around that.” Fresh scallops, shucked by Xiao and quickly grilled in their shells, were also passed around.
Once seated, guests feasted on wood-oven-roasted lobsters, pulled from a Bailey Island fisherman friend’s trap just hours before they were cooked, topped with butter and gremolata; a green salad with nectarines, cucumbers and nasturtium flowers from the couple’s raised garden beds; a wood-oven-roasted tomato-and-Romano-bean salad; and roasted potatoes. Dessert was provided by Sweet, who sells her breads and pastries at the Rockland farmers’ market under the name Double Grazie; for this party, she made two sugar-dusted rhubarb galettes which were served with homemade chamomile-and-olive ice cream (made, of course, with Wonder Valley oil).
The Drinks: On the front porch, an oversize copper vessel held bottles of rosé and sparkling water; Alison also served guests pint-size martinis garnished with toothpicks bearing Castelvetrano olives. Guests celebrated the rechristening itself with glasses of Domaine Carneros brut rosé, though a less prized bottle was chosen to be smashed on the craft’s hull. At dinner, Jones opened bottles of light-bodied Massimo Ronca Bardolino and Billecart-Salmon Champagne; other guests opted for ginger kombucha.
The Music: Portable speakers brought the tunes from the beach to the backyard. Hawaiian slack-key guitar accompanied snacking hour. For dinner, the playlist shifted to one that included Talking Heads’ “The Big Country” and songs by the Cuban singer Celia Cruz.
The Conversation: Even in the heart of summer in Maine, talk invariably turns to winter. Sweet made an impassioned case for winter swimming — “it fixes everything,” she enthused — and Maine surfing to Edmundson, who revealed that she had once been an editor of a surfing magazine. A discussion of full-time Mainers (those who brave the winter here) and part-time Mainers (those who only spend the summer) followed. Other guests discussed their favorite local spots for antiquing, including Samuel Snider Antiques, in nearby Wiscasset, and Modern Underground in Waterville, which specializes in midcentury modern furniture.
Tip: Jay and Alison share a love for outdoor dining, and their beloved Fire Sense yakitori grill is a fixture of their home in Joshua Tree and the one on Bailey Island. “You get the binchotan charcoal going early in the evening,” said Jay, “and then just spend the whole night gathered around it. Every meal becomes a sprawling three-hour thing.”