- Cape May NJ Travel Guide and Vacation Planner Blog

Month: December 2004

Holidays with the Coast Guard

On any given holiday, the Coast Guard Training Station in Cape May has about 800 recruits who would rather be home. In the spirit of giving, many residents from the Cape May area volunteer to host recruits for a traditional holiday dinner. recruites2

I’ve always wanted to have a couple of recruits at my house for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Two things have prevented me from picking up the phone and extending the invitation. Number one: Fear (Fear of ruining a holiday meal in front of strangers – homesick strangers at that) Number two: No phone number.

So, I was sitting around the office last month trying to figure out what to do for my “On Assignment” piece for December when I got the idea that this could be the year.

billcarsonI still didn’t know how to go about it, so I called the one man I knew at the base Bill Carson, the public affairs officer at Cape May’s U.S. Coast Guard Training Center. He sent me to the Cape May County chapter of the American Red Cross. After I answered three questions for them (Is it a smoking household? Do we have pets? How many recruits would I like?) “Operation Fireside Thanksgiving 2004” was in the works.

In about a week a letter arrived saying I would be hosting two recruits. They were to be picked up at the U.S. Coast Guard Chapel at 9am and returned to the front gate of the base no later than 8pm.

9 A.M.??!!!! What was I going to do with them from 9am to 8pm? We probably coastguardonphonewon’t eat until about 4 or 5 o’clock.

Panic sets in. This is when living in a small town really pays off. You can ask around. No worries, everyone said, “coasties” basically want to do two things – use the phone and watch football. Yeah, but what if I get two girls and they don’t like football? What if I get two guys and they don’t like football? What if..

OH I don’t have time to worry anymore about that – I have some serious cleaning to do. Because you know – there’s no cleanin’ like company cleanin’. And this is the military. I’ve seen “An Officer and a Gentleman.” I’ve seen “Private Benjamin” – like about 20 times. I know the drill. These recruits probably spend most of their day scrubbing bathrooms with toothbrushes and shining their shoes. I just know they’ll be looking for cobwebs and dust. Furiously, I start cleaning those #!%#* wooden slat blinds I have in the living room windows. I figure I’m ok so long as the sun doesn’t shine through them reflecting off the dust. After about a half hour of this cleaning, they still look dusty and yucky. I figure I have at least another hour to go – so, I opt for Plan 2 – close the blinds. Tell them it’s because the glare on the TV makes it too hard to see.

All righty now. What’s next? Ah. The rest of the guest list.

Well, I’m not exactly “Ozzie and Harriet” for sure. My boyfriend, Aaron, will be there and his 11-year-old daughter Megan, whom I’ve known since she was three. My two very best friends, Chuck and Lester who used to own a restaurant in Cape May, and my estranged husband Barry. That’s 6 men, Megan and me. I like the odds. Men never have opinions about how you cook, what you cook or where they’re going to eat. Their only concern is when.

Next? The menu. Well. the turkey. I’m guessing a 16-lb turkey. “Are you crazy?” asks Aaron “You’re going to need a 22-lb turkey just for Barry.” Right. Check one 22-lb turkey.

There’ll be stuffing of course.


Susan in her kitchen

“You’re going to cook the stuffing outside the bird aren’t you? Bacteria you know,” Lester advises. “I’m making it the old-fashioned way. I’m stuffing the bird. That would be the same way I’ve made it for the past 20 some years.”

So, it’ll be turkey, gravy, stuffing (stuffed inside the turkey), but I’ll make a side dish of dressing that’s not in the turkey. It’ll be like dry flavored bread, but it’ll be an alternative for the bacteria-phobes…. Now where was I? Oh yes, the rest of the menu – cranberry relish (thanks to Chuck) mashed potatoes, and praline sweet potato casserole – the recruits might be from the South. And succotash. I saw a great quick recipe for it on PBS.

Off I go the next morning to get the turkey. I plop it in the freezer and press on with the house cleaning.

On Sunday my real panic begins. I’m casually reading the The Press of Atlantic City and they have an article on turkey preparation including a chart on how long to thaw the turkey. There it is in bold letters. 20-25-lbs FIVE TO SIX DAYS. Oh my gawd. I’m going to be like that commercial with the woman standing over the turkey Thanksgiving morning with a hair dryer and then a blow torch. I rush to the kitchen and pull the turkey from the freezer. Thus, begins the four day turkey vigil. I check the fridge about every two hours to feel the package to see if it’s thawing. I ask Aaron every four hours what he thinks.

“I think you should relax.”

“Relax! We’re going to be eating stuffing (dry stuffing!) and succotash for footballThanksgiving. You don’t understand. These guys or girls or guys and girls will be homesick. I want this to be the perfect Thanksgiving!”

“It’ll be perfect,” he says.

“You’ve got turkey. You’ve got football. That’s a perfect Thanksgiving.”

Flash forward to Wednesday morning. I take the turkey out and put it in the sink and stand there looking at it. I feel like saying a prayer over it or something. Aaron comes into the kitchen and squishes the bag “It’s fine.”.

“How do you know it’s fine?”

“I can feel it. See?”

“Do you think it’s too thawed? Maybe I went too far?”

I have to focus elsewhere. Like moving the extra couch to the garage to set up the table. I’ve got to get a bigger house if I’m going to do this often!

By the end of the evening, the table looks great, if I do say so myself. I’m beginning to feel a little more confident. I mean, when have I ever ruined a dinner? Hhhmm, there was that standing rib roast that I decided to cook on the grill…

T-Day. Megan and I make sure we arrive at the Coast Guard Training Base ten minutes early. Of course about 15 or 20 other people made the same notion and the Coast Guard doesn’t open the base until precisely oh-nine-hundred.waitingforcoasties

Megan and I wait in the car line until we are ushered onto the base, passed the Chapel and into a parking lot. We see tons of civilians walking into the chapel and tons more walking out with recruits – young recruits – at their sides. I listen to hear every little word because these civilians seem to know the drill.

“I know you guys want to stop at a Wa-Wa so we’ll go right there,” I hear one man say.

Wa-Wa? I wonder why they want to stop at Wa-Wa.

“I know how you guys can eat so we made two turkeys this year.”

Two Turkeys? Two? Uh-oh…

As we’re standing in line inside the chapel, I’m handed a card which has my name and the words “non-smoking, one pet.”

Before we know it, we’re standing in the Chapel facing a room full of recruits. The officer at the podium is announcing the next civilian. “This is (the whatever) family,” he says “And they’re looking for (how ever many) recruits. Non-smoking, no pets.” And hands go up all over the room.

recruites3Holy mackerel! So this is how it’s done. What if they don’t like us? If this were junior high, no one would be picking me for their team. I hope this isn’t like that! I should have checked my hair and put more lipstick on. Too late. It’s my turn, our turn. Full disclosure.

“Actually, it says non-smoking but it doesn’t really matter,” I say to the officer.

“This is the Tischler family, smoking or non-smoking and one pet dog.”

I’m afraid to look but hands go up all over the room. Whew. They like us. Megan and I move forward toward two young men.

“Hi,” I say. “What do we do next?”

They shake their heads. Oh… They don’t know either.

“Well, let’s start by leaving.” A nice woman takes our cards, both mine and theirs and soon we’re outside in the sunshine walking toward the car.


Joe and Brandon

Recruit Joe Tankersley is 18 and comes from a small town in Indiana. He is one of 7 kids. (I think – I know there’s lot of Tankersleys somewhere out there in Indiana.) Brandon Yingling is 20 and is from the Harrisburg, PA area. Most of the units have 40 recruits in them but Bravo 170 has 85 recruits. Joe and Brandon like being part of a large unit.

As we’re leaving the Coast Guard Base, Joe asks if “we could please stop at a convenience store ma’am.”

“Sure.” We stop at the Wa-Wa on Texas Avenue which, it seems, is a very popular place for Coast Guard recruits.

“I wonder what they want in here,” asks Megan as we watch them disappear inside Wa-Wa land. Megan and I adopt a “don’t ask” mode but fortunately Joe and Brandon do tell all. They stopped to buy phone cards so they can call home.

They’re very curious about the town and I can’t figure out why because they’re half-way through their training. They’ve been in Cape May a month.

Well, the reason why is simple. This is the first time they’ve been off the base and they know nothing about Cape May.



When we get home, Aaron has had the foresight to secure Mandy, our three-year-old Cocker Spaniel. Unlike me, she’s a little high strung and is particularly smitten with men so it’s great that’s she’s been leashed. Aaron says something about doing the same to me if I don’t relax. I ignore him and show the guys the phone.

Brandon takes the wireless phone outside. Joe watches as I begin the stuffing process.

“You really take a lot of care with your stuffing,” he says. “You put apples and nuts in it and everything is freshly cut.”

“Oh yeah.”

“You like to cook?”

“I do yes.”

That’s when Joe tells me he’s been cooking since he was 11 and at one time thought of specializing in food service but he took a job as a baker and quickly burned out. If he were home, he would be cooking the Thanksgiving dinner.

“What’s going on in the news?” he asks.

I’m stumped. I can’t think of anything other than turkey and stuffing and getting it into the oven. I grab a newspaper – two of them in fact.

“Is Bush still president?”

I stop – my hand half way up – well, you can only imagine.

“Yes. George Bush is still president. You don’t know that?”

“We’re not allowed to watch television, listen to the radio or read anything other than the Bible or the Coast Guard Training Manual. On Sundays we can read our mail and we have about a half-hour to write letters back home. I arrived Nov. 2 and I haven’t heard anything from the outside since.”

“So no one from home has heard from you in four weeks?”


“Wow. What do you do all day?”

Train, of course, hence the title Coast Guard Training Center. Still, I’m floored. I would have thought they could at least make a phone call on the weekends. Brandon told me later, that phone calls from the base aren’t permitted until I think the fifth or sixth week.

As the turkey goes into the oven, the light bulb finally goes on in my head. This day is special for reasons I had never thought of. It’s not really about the food, or suestablethe table setting or whether the turkey is stuffed or not stuffed. It’s all about family – their families – and the fact that they won’t be with them on this holiday except by phone. They are off the base for the first time in a non-military setting. They can use the phone all they want. In a couple of hours there will be all the football they can watch. In 4 or 5 hours there will be all the turkey they can eat. The phone works. The cable TV works. I’m feeling a lot more confident about the turkey and besides Chuck and Lester will be over soon to help me. I think I can relax.

I sit on the rocker, Aaron has flipped the TV onto a channel showing the movie “Southern Comfort,” not my choice but hey it’s a movie about a unit of national guardsmen lost in the Bayou. Joe and Brandon seem to like it.

It’s Joe’s turn to use the phone. Brandon is sitting quietly on the couch with Mandy at his side. She’s being particularly good today. There is a calm about the house that will stay in place until… Barry, Chuck and Lester pull in the driveway.

They’re here.

As I’m about to go on overload again Chuck hands me a drink, “Have a Marguerite!” I knew Chuck would come through. Then I’m asked why I couldn’t find an easier way to do the meal like buy it ready-made or get pre-made stuffing or store-bought this and that…

“OK. Look, I stuff my turkey. I cook the turkey on Thanksgiving or on Christmas and I don’t ever let someone else do the cooking. I know it’s nerve racking. That’s why I do it. That’s my gift to everybody. The perfect turkey dinner.” End of speech. “Cheers.”

At this point I do give up control and the ridiculous assumption that I can do this without help. I put everybody to work except Joe and Brandon, who are busy watching TV and dipping and munching chips.

groupshot2As Aaron takes the turkey out of the oven – Chuck determines whether it is done or not – Lester reheats the side dishes in the microwave – Barry entertains the troops. It is my most perfect turkey, a glorious sight which in my panic I forgot to get a picture of – so you’ll just have to trust me on this.

I’m told that everything tasted wonderful. I, myself, have no recollection of it and indeed 22-lbs was just enough; 16-lbs would have left us wanting.

By the time the turkey has been carved, the temperature outside has dropped to about 40 degrees. As we launch into dinner, 50 MPH winds are howling around the house like a pack of banshees and I have visions of the roof coming off and the turkey attempting a final flight. No such thing happened.

Chuck’s famous carrot cake, attended by pumpkin and 2 apple pies were served around 6:30 and by 7:30 Joe, Brandon, and I had to get to back to base.


barryandcoastiesI hope Joe and Brandon had a good time. They certainly said they did. And I hope they have good and safe lives. I’m sure all the recruits are wonderful but for my first Coast Guard visit, I couldn’t have asked for better guests than Joe and Brandon. They will graduate Dec. 22 and be home with their own families for Christmas.

I learned two things from my experience. Never put off doing a good deed – the loss is yours. And men have just as many opinions about how to have perfect Thanksgiving as women.

And to Joe and Brandon who will not be able to read this until Dec. 23 – Merry Christmas from Sue, Aaron, Megan, Chuck, Lester, Barry… and Mandy!

If you would like to invite a Coast Guard recruit home for the holidays call the American Red Cross Cape May County chapter at 609-465-7382.

What Christmas in Cape May means to me

snowyphysickestate2Any beach town can pull off summer but few can compete with Cape May when it comes to Christmas.

Think Victorian, think Charles Dickens and enjoying Wassail at the Physick Estate. Where else can you experience all that? Cape May is just as special to those of us who live here and what better way to share with you the experience of Christmas in Cape May than to ask those who live here what it means to them.

book1The first person we thought of is Cape May Mayor Jerome Inderwies, who probably performs more weddings in town than any two ministers put together. For Mayor Inderwies a Cape May Christmas has an added spiritual quality:

”The warmth of the town during Christmas has always been a highlight for me. The true meaning of Christmas is always present in our churches around town. I enjoy bringing my family and friends to see the beautifully lighted B&B’s, private homes, the Mall, the Bandstand.”

Michel Gras

Michel Gras

Michel Gras owner of La Patisserie Bakery makes the wedding cakes for so many couples who choose Cape May for their wedding site. He said he often recommends that the couples come back to Cape May at Christmas to enjoy a more relaxing stay.

“Summer is about the beach. Christmas is about the town. Actually, I think it is the best way to see Cape May the first time. It is how Cape May should be all year round. The lights, the carriages… It’s not over done. Also for me, I have more time to look at it. It is not so fast going. It is a time to see our friends. I have more time to talk to other business people. I remember when we had the retail store, so many people came in for coffee on hospitality night and they were happy to be here… It’s very nice. It’s like a storybook.”

Jack Wright

Jack Wright

Scottish native Jack Wright is the editor and publisher of Exit Zero. This year he is looking forward to all the things Cape May has to offer at Christmas.

“It’s only my second Christmas in Cape May. Last year I was in Scotland for a month (and was sick the entire time). The year before, I sat in on my own in a basement apartment on Atlantic Terrace, watching the Godfather 1, II and III. I’m not sure why, but it wasn’t so memorable. Christmas in Cape May means, to me:

Standing freezing cold at the Christmas Parade, dreaming of hot chocolate and then some drinks by the roaring fire in The Brown Room.

Shopping for friends (and then keeping the things for myself) at some of my favorite places – Good Scents, Environs, the MAC Museum Shop, Simply Unique, Wanderlust, Madame’s Port, the Whale’s Tale, and Kaleidoscope come to mind.
Walking along Jackson Street, sniffing the aroma of fireplaces, taking in the beautiful buildings and the lovely lights, and having a romantic, candlelit dinner at The Ebbitt Room.

Taking the MAC Christmas tours and reliving the Dickensian Christmas experience – then going home and watching A Christmas Carol (the one with George C. Scott).
Strolling the mall and popping inside Carli’s Country Connection, the best-smelling shop in the universe.

Watching It’s A Wonderful Life, sipping a glass of sherry (it should only be drunk at Christmas), cuddling up to my puppies April and Friday, who are wearing Christmas hats, and bawling my eyes out (I know that has nothing to do with Cape May, but no Christmas could possibly be complete without it).”

bellsJenn Cupp, manager of Pearl’s boutique, on the Washington Street Mall thinks Cape May is the kind of town where people can come home again, especially at Christmas.

“At Christmas time it seems everyone comes back. It’s neat to see people you haven’t seen for a long time. And it’s a small town so you never know who‘s going to show up.. You can not see someone for five years and when they come back it’s as though they were never away. It’s a good time to see old faces. My favorite, favorite thing is the little white lights on the mall and first snow fall. It’s just magical.”

John Karapanagiotis

John Karapanagiotis

John Karapanagiotis, owner of George’s Place, on Beach Avenue is looking forward to not cooking on Christmas, at least not for those of us who regularly come to his restaurant. Of course, we could always come over to your house. Just kidding John.

“Christmas in Cape May means a day off. It means hot chocolate and marshmallows, family, friends & Charlie Brown Christmas specials. To watch the glow from children’s faces reminds me of what childhood is all about. I like to walk up and down Washington Street Mall admiring the lights (classy) and Christmas caroling around the town(not me personally). It’s a time of year when there isn’t a wait for chipped beef, and I actually get a chance to talk to my guests in the restaurant. Cape May Police Department is easier in the holiday season. All around Christmas brings out the best in everyone. A Christmas stroll along the boardwalk sounds good. Me and Fay(my wife) will have a glass of Riesling at the Pelican Club. I’ll take Michael (my son,2 1/2 years old,) to WaWa for his chocolate glazed doughnut. OK, one for me to. I hope he remembers Christmas in Cape May. It’s ok if he doesn’t. I have it on tape. I love my family. I love my guests in the store. I love Cape May. Merry Christmas! A quick thank you to all of the residents who have put up Christmas lights. They look fantastic! ”

Norris Clark

Norris Clark

Long time resident Norris Clark is the eldest of The Rev. Carl McIntire’s 13 grandchildren. Rev. McIntire at one time owned three of Cape May’s most historic buildings: The Windsor Hotel, The Christian Admiral, and Congress Hall (which is still in the family). Norris had these thoughts about the holidays.

“My Cape May Christmas memory begins with the mulled Swedish wine, called Glogg, that is sometimes served at the Swede Things in America shop, followed by a journey along the Washington mall to find some truly unique Christmas cards and tree ornaments. Finally, I take a stroll up Jackson street past the Virginia Hotel to see the holiday decorations.”

Jim and Laura Zeitler

Jim and Laura Zeitler

Laura Zeitler and her husband Jim bought Columbia House last year. They moved to Cape May with their two children this summer so this will be their first Christmas in Cape May. When we called, she was busy hanging Christmas decorations on the porch. We received this thoughtful reply the next day.

”When you first asked me to reflect on what the holidays mean to me, I didn’t have an answer. I actually went blank, as if it were the million dollar question. Then I realized how sad that actually was…what do the holidays mean to me? And I drove in my car that day I started to reflect on all the things that took place in my life over the last few years and realize that the holiday season is actually like a changing “season” within itself in one’s life. As corny as this sounds, as a child it was season about waiting for gifts. As a mother, it became a season I just needed to “get through” in order to get back to my hectic everyday life. That’s when I realized that this year, after experiencing so many major changes in my life and halting the roller coaster it seems like our family has been riding for several years, this holiday season (our family’s first in Cape May) is finally turning out to be the season it should be…one about spending lots of quality time with my family and being thankful for all that we have been blessed with in our lives. I hope it’s a “season” that I can stay forever…just like a beautiful summer in Cape May!!

Thanks for asking me this question. It made me realize how special this Christmas will be for my family. We’re really looking forward to the holidays this year.”

Bob and Linda Steenrod

Bob and Linda Steenrod

Billmae Cottage owner and newly elected Chamber of Commerce director Linda Steenrod, didn’t even hesitate to answer.

“To me,” she said, Christmas in Cape May “means organizing our Giving Tree. It means I can work with the Cape May Elementary School kindergarten children in collecting money and gifts for the Cape May County Animal Shelter and for Butch’s Fund.”

Butch’s Fund was started shortly after Butch, a Rottweiler was found nearly dead on Cape May’s Poverty Beach in July 1991. Butch needed extensive surgery to repair his broken jaw, legs and ribs. Funds were raised and Butch was adopted by a loving couple in North Cape May who had two other Rottweilers. Last year Butch development cancer and died but his legacy lives on. “Butch’s Law,” was passed by the NJ State Senate making New Jersey one of 40 states with legislation making intentional animal cruelty a felony. Animal abusers in New Jersey are subject to prison terms of up to 18 months and fines of $10,000. If the offenders are juveniles, they must get counseling.

holly1Butch’s Fund continues to help other abused animals in need of surgery or medical care. In addition to monetary contributions, Steenrod said the fund also collects old blankets and quilts for the dogs and cats to lie on in the shelter and bleach is always needed to clean the facility. Treats and food are welcome as well. Volunteers are busy grooming and bathing dogs preparing them for adoption for the holiday season.

Every Christmas she and her husband Bob put their Giving Tree on the porch to make sure all the doggies and cats have a Merry Christmas and that’s what Christmas in Cape May means to the Steenrods.

masemore1Barbara Masemore and her husband Chip, owners of the John F. Craig Bed and Breakfast on Columbia Avenue were busy transforming the outside of their Victorian house into a Christmas wonder when caught up with them – well – we caught up with Barbara. Chip was on the roof and conversation with him might have been a wee bit hazardous to his health.

”Christmas is a magical time in Cape May. It’ a fantasyland in which the innkeeper sets the stage,” said Barbara as she tweaked and fussed with the Christmas wreaths about to be hung. “In our lovely town, that’s what people come for. The wonderful sounds of the horses clop, clopping down the street and the ocean, the smells of cookies baking in the oven. A full cookie jar” sitting out poised for unexpected and invited guests.

chiponroofChristmas in Cape May, she said looking down Columbia House, which even on a grey and cloudy day looks like the perfect definition of pristine elegance, is “like any other time when you have affirmations – We behave better when we’re dressed up. We’re happier when we’re laughing. So that’s where the magic is. It is magic because that’s what we believe it to be. Christmas in Cape May is the way you’d want to remember” a Christmas.”

woodleigh Like a director, checking the stage, she looked up at her husband stringing lights across the second floor windows. She nodded her head in confidence, “By Thursday it will be ready, transformed.”

Even after a decade of innkeeping, Joe and JoAnne Tornabe’s still look forward to Christmas in Cape May. Owners of Woodleigh House on Washington Street, the Tornabes moved from a highly commercialized area to small town and found the change refreshing.

“Christmas in Cape May captures the child in all of us. Moving here 10 years ago, we were delighted by the fantasy of it all. Coming from the King of Prussia area (home of The Mall at King of Prussia) where Christmas is highly commercialized, we found Cape May to be a step back in time.

We love how the town comes out for the tree lighting in the square, the arrival of Santa and the reading from “The Night Before Christmas.” Decorated fire trucks from all over fill the streets for the annual Christmas Parade (Dec. 4th this year at 5pm). High School Bands and floats that remind us of the true meaning of Christmas put all of us in a festive mood.

We especially like to walk the mall when all the shops are bustling, the tree lights are twinkling and everyone seems to be in a jolly mood.

“Hi, how are you?” “Merry Christmas” and carolers singing are some of the sights and sounds on Hospitality Nights (this year Dec. 9th & 10th from 7-9pm) when the shopkeepers offer refreshments and everyone gets in a holiday mood.

Last but not least, the clip clop of the horses pulling the decorated carriages with riders bundled up in blankets. Sleigh bells ringing out into the night and if you’re lucky – a flurry or two – will decorate the scene.

Cape May is special year round but at Christmas, it is that little village under the tree. Except, you’re in it!”

Patricklouge2Patrick Logue is the Director of Sales and Marketing for Congress Hall and The Virginia Hotel and offers this poetic perspective.

December is so often associated with darkness, but I don’t see it that way. The majesty of the natural world is so much more apparent during the holiday season, since there are no crowds to contend with. The clear, brisk days end with spectacular winter sunsets that are unmatched by any place I have traveled in the world. There are colors in the sky you just don’t see at any other time of the year. The beach and ocean take on these colors and create a magical picture that’s unique to this time of year.

Walking around Cape May, you can hear the crash of the waves on the beach from almost any location, simply because the town is so quiet. And at night you can walk under starry skies, smell the air scented with the smell of fireplaces, and look in the glowing windows of the occasional guest house, hotel or restaurant that’s stirring with other people who enjoy the peaceful beauty the beach brings at the holidays.

billcarsonCWO Bill Carson is the Public Affairs Officer for the Cape May Coast Guard Training Center.

As I approach my 28th Christmas in Cape May I reminisce back to the days I led the Coast Guard Training Center Band in the annual Christmas Parade, kicking off the season. It seems thousands would turn out no matter what the weather, both young and old with enthusiasm, filled with the holiday spirit.

My family and I stroll through town admiring the Beautiful Victorian Homes decorated to the tee, and one can’t miss Hospitality Night at the Washington Mall. It gives us all a sense of warmth and community.

My highlight of the season is hosting Operation Fireside, organized by the Cape May County American Red Cross, hundreds of Recruits spend the day with local host families enjoying the holiday away from the hectic training curriculum. When the Red Cross first started this program we had to advertise in the local newspaper and even radio. Nowadays, the turn out by Cape May area families is phenomenal. Weeks before the holiday, the Red Cross has to start a waiting list. It’s an awesome time for both the Recruits and the Families, creating relationships long after the Recruits graduate from Basic Training.

Along with my Shipmates here at Coast Guard Training Center Cape May we wish one and all a very safe and Happy Holiday Season!

wreathMark Garland is the Senior Naturalist at Cape May Bird Observatory in Cape May Point.

Christmas in Cape May is a time for walking. Except for the weekends, when we have a modest influx of visitors, the town is empty, quiet, and peaceful during the Christmas season. I love to walk the streets of Cape May on December evenings, seeing the lights and decorations in the historic section of downtown, then wandering dark, nearly-deserted streets in other neighborhoods, bundled up against the chilly night and dazzled by the stars overhead. As a birder, I can’t help but think about the long tradition of the Christmas Bird Count, begun over a century ago. On Dec. 19th this year, dozens of us will gather to scour areas all around Cape May in search of birds. Most years we find more species than any other count on the east coast – you have to go to Texas or California to find counts with higher totals. It’s a wonderful celebration of the richness of bird life here, even during what’s considered to be the “off season,” and a great excuse for fellowship, a day a field, and a party at day’s end.

ThielxmasThe Thiel and Van de Vaarst families get together to celebrate Victorian Christmas each year dressed in period costume. John and Mary Van de Vaarst own a house in Cape May and the off season is the only time the families can take advantage of it.

“We stroll around town and take the Holly Trolley tour. The reaction from passers by is terrific and lots of folks want their pictures taken with us!

Later on we bundle up and head over to watch the West Cape May Christmas Parade.

Cape May truly gets us in the holiday spirit of an old fashion Christmas with family and friends.”

It’s hard to write about Christmas in Cape May without getting all mushy but it really is a special time for those of us who live here. While others, who live in the suburbs or the cities, rush about, it is a quiet time here. During the week, the shops generally close at 5 or 6 p.m., making Hospitality Night all the more delightful.

horseyOn weekdays there very people on the street and it is such a small town (population under 5,000) that we generally know everyone we pass. It is a time of year when we can actually stop and talk and catch up.

But it is on the weekends when the tourists return that we are reminded how delightful it is to live here. Work throughout the week is geared toward providing visitors with a taste of what life is like in a small town and what life was like more than 100 years ago. The town – restaurant owners, B&B and Guest House owners, and shopkeepers all pull together as a community to present a Victorian Christmas to our visitors. We pull together to take people to a place where they’ve never been before.

jfcxmasWe hope you’ll get a chance to visit us during this special time of the year so we can personally wish you a Merry Christmas but in the meantime from us to you – We wish you a very, Merry Christmas.

Would you like to tell us what Christmas in Cape May means to you? Please leave your comments below.

Cape May Christmas Recipes

I don’t know about you, but I love Christmas morning. Yes, the presents are nice – but it is breakfast that I crave. I need a hearty breakfast that’ll tide me over while I clean up the mess and get ready for a dinner which I’ll be too nervous to eat. And don’t think I’m a Stepford Wife – I encourage chaos. While everyone else plays with their toys – I gorge myself and drink tons of coffee appropriately laced with Bailey’s Irish Cream.

But here’s the question – what to make? It has to be simple, yet yummy, especially considerate of young people’s tastes and tummies.

So, I ask myself – what would the Victorians do? What better way to find out than to check our local Cape May Cookbooks. I personally have a fondness for former Mainstay Inn Bed and Breakfast owner, Sue Carroll’s Breakfast at Nine, Tea at Four. These are recipes compiled from the prestigious Bed & Breakfast.

I’ve chosen Eggnog French Toast with Cranberry Syrup. It’s festive, very naughty when it comes to calories, (consequently very yummy) and can be prepared the night before – then just pop it in the oven right before serving time. A fresh cold glass of orange juice served in a pretty wine glass (Kids love that it. It makes them feel so grown up) and you’re ready to go without having missed a single present opening.

The French toast must be prepared the night before, then baked just before serving.

  • 4 ounces softened cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries (1 ounce)
  • 1 (1-pound) loaf French bread, cut into 12-14 (1-inch) slices
  • 2-1/2 cups half-and-half
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 8 eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon rum extract

Cranberry Syrup

  • 1 cup frozen raspberry-cranberry juice concentrate, thawed
  • 1 cup whole-berry cranberry sauce
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Grease a 13x9x2 inch glass baking dish. In a food processor, combine the cream cheese and cranberries. Cut part way through each slice of bread to form a pocket. Fill with the cream cheese mixture and arrange in the baking dish.In a large bowl, whisk the cream, butter, eggs, nutmeg, sugar, vanilla, and rum extract. Pour evenly over the bread slices. Cover and refrigerated for at least 8 hours, or overnight. Preheat oven to 350°F and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Meanwhile, make the syrup. Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan.
Whisk over medium-low heat until dissolved and lightly thickened.

Serve immediately, with cranberry syrup.
Yield: 6-8 servings; 2 cups of cranberry sauce.

Another good source is Cape May Fare, compiled by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts.
Oven Omelette Brunch is the one I’ve chosen. Again, it’s quick to prepare and then pops in the over for 45 minutes. And honey – it feeds 12 – so, you needn’t worry about unexpected guests.

  • 1/4cup margarine
  • 18 eggs
  • I cup sour cream
  • I cup milk
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • I cup grated sharp cheese

Melt margarine in 13×9-inch baking dish in a 350ºF oven. Tilt to cover the bottom. With an electric mixer, beat eggs, sour cream, milk and salt. Stir in cheese. Pour into baking dish. Bake until set (approximately 45 minutes). Serves 12.

I would be remiss, if I didn’t include the Colonials as well. I picked a couple of recipes  – neither one of which you’re likely to make but they’re a fun read – from The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Marie Child, first published in 1844 and sold at the Country Store at Historic Cold Spring Village.

Pancakes should be made of half a pint of milk, three great spoonfuls of sugar, one or two eggs, a tea-spoonful of dissolved pearlash, spiced with cinnamon, or cloves, a little salt, rose-water, or lemon-brandy, just as you happen to have it. Flour should be stirred in till the spoon moves round with difficulty. If they are thin they are apt to soak fat. Have the fat in your skillet boiling hot, and drop them in with a spoon. Let them cook till thoroughly brown. The fat which is left is good to shorten other cakes. The more fat they are cooked in, the less they soak.

“If you have no eggs, or wish to save them, use the above ingredients, and supply the place of eggs by two or three spoonfuls of lively emptings; but in this case they must be made five or six hours before they are cooked,-and in winter they should stand all night. A spoonful or more of N. E. rum makes pancakes light. Flip makes very nice pancakes. In this case, nothing is done but to sweeten your mug of beer with molasses; put in one glass of N. E. rum; heat it till it foams, by putting in a hot poker; and stir it up with flour as thick as other pancakes.”

The Village also uses some of the recipes included in the book in their food demonstrations. My particular favorite is not one which many of us might make but it reminds me of Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  He’s in a restaurant having Gruel for dinner and he asks the waiter for more bread. The waiter, who has obviously waited on him before, tells him he’ll have to pay for it. And says; “No more bread.” Then later he tells Marley he’s not a ghost but just a piece of undigested Gruel. Well here’s the recipe. You gotta love it.

For those looking for help in creating a Victorian Christmas dinner, the following menu comes from Godey’s Lady’s Book, December 1890:

  • Raw Oysters
  • Bouillon
  • Fried smelts with Sauce Tartare
  • Potatoes a la Maitre d’ Hotel
  • Sweetbread Pates
  • Peas
  • Roast Turkey with Cranberry Sauce
  • Roman Punch
  • Rice Croquettes
  • Parisian Salad
  • Crackers and Cheese
  • Nesselrode Pudding
  • Fancy Cakes
  • Fruit
  • Coffee

Raw Oysters

Have blue-point oysters; serve upon the half shell, the shells being laid upon oyster plates filled with cracked ice; six oysters and a thick slice of lemon being served upon each plate.


Put into a pot three pounds of shin beef, one pound of knuckle of veal, and three quarts of water, and simmer gently. As soon as the scum begins to rise, skim carefully until it quite ceases to appear. Then add salt, two carrots, the same of onions, turnips, and a little celery. Simmer gently four hours, strain, and serve in bouillon cups to each guest.

Fried Smelts with Sauce Tartare

Clean about two dozen smelts, cut off the gills, wash them well in cold water, and then dry them thoroughly. Put in a pinch of salt and pepper in a little milk, into which dip your smelts, and then roll them in cracker dust. Put into a frying pan some lard, in which, when very hot, fry your smelts a light brown. Also fry some parsley, which place around your fish, and serve with sauce tartare.

Sauce Tartare

Put the yolks of two eggs in a bowl with salt, pepper, the juice of a lemon, and one teaspoonful of dry mustard. Stir with a wooden spoon, and add by degrees– in very small quantities, and stirring continuously– a tablespoonful of vinegar; then, a few drops at a time, some good oil, stirring rapidly all the time, until your sauce thicken, and a half a pint of oil has been absorbed. Chop one pickle and a tablespoonful of capers, also chop a green onion and a few tarragon leaves, and mix with your sauce.

Potatoes a la Maitre d’Hotel

Wash eight potatoes, and boil them in cold water with a pinch of salt. When thoroughly done, peel them cut them in thin round slices; put them–with three ounces of butter, a pinch of salt, pepper and a nutmeg, the juice of a lemon, and a tablespoonful of chopped parsley–in a saucepan on the fire, and, when very hot, serve.

Sweetbreads Pates

Boil four sweetbreads, and let them become cold; then chop them very fine, add about ten mushrooms, also chopped fine. Mix with these a quarter pound of butter, half a pint of milk, a little flour, pepper, salt, and a little grated nutmeg. Put upon the fire, stir until it begins to thicken, then put in puff-paste that has been prepared, and bake until light brown.


Open a can of peas, soak in clear water for half an hour, then put upon the fire in clean water, let them boil up hard, drain well and serve with butter, pepper and salt.

Roast Turkey

Clean and prepare a medium sized turkey for roasting. Cut two onions in pieces, and put them in a saucepan with two ounces of butter, and color them slightly. Grate a pound of bread into fine crumbs, add the bread to your onions, the turkey’s heart and liver chopped very fine, quarter of a pound of butter, salt, pepper, a pinch of thyme, and mix all well together. Stuff the turkey with this mixture, sew up the opening through which you have introduced the stuffing, and put it to roast, with a little butter on top and a wineglassful of water; roast an hour and a half; strain your liquor in the pan, pour over your turkey, and serve.

Cranberry Sauce

Take one quart of cranberries, pick and wash carefully, put upon the fire with half a teacupful of water, let them stew until thoroughly broken up, then strain and add one pound and a quarter of sugar; put into a mould and turn out when cold.

Roman Punch

Put in a saucepan on the fire three-quarters of a pound of sugar with three pints of water, boil ten minutes, then put aside to become cold. Put in a freezer, and when nearly frozen, stir into it rapidly a gill of rum and the juice of four lemons. Serve in small glasses.

Rice Croquettes

Take one cupful of rice, wash and boil it, and let it get thoroughly cold. Beat up with it one egg, a teaspoonful of sugar and the same of melted butter, salt and a little nutmeg. Work this mixture into the rice, stirring until all is well mixed and the lumps worked out. Make, with floured hands, into oblong rolls about three inches in length, and half an inch in diameter. Coat these thickly with flour, and set them in a cold place until needed. Fry a few at a time in hot lard, rolling them over as they begin to brown to preserve their shape. As each is taken from the fire, put into a colander to drain and dry.

Parisian Salad

Cut in small pieces six cold boiled potatoes, the same quantity of beets, and also of boiled celery–both cold. Mix the yolks of four hard boiled eggs with two tablespoonfuls of anchovy sauce, press through a sieve; add, little by little, four tablespoonfuls of oil, one tablespoonful of mustard, two tablespoonfuls of vinegar, a few taragon leaves chopped fine, two pinches of salt, two of pepper, and the whites of four hard boiled eggs, cut in pieces, mix all well together, and serve.

Crackers and Cheese

Place on separate dishes, and serve with the salad.

Nesselrode Pudding

Remove the shells from two dozen French chestnuts, which put in a saucepan with a little water, then peel off the skin, and put the chestnuts in a saucepan on the fire with a pint of water and one pound of sugar. Boil them until very soft, then press them through a sieve; the put them in a saucepan with one pint of cream, in which you mix the yolks of four eggs. Just before boiling put your mixture through a sieve, add an ounce of stoned raisins, an ounce of currants, two sherry glasses of sherry wine, and freeze it like ice-cream. When frozen, cut four candied apricots, four candied green gages, half an ounce of citron in small pieces, three ounces of candied cherries; mix them thoroughly into the pudding, which is put into a mould, a thick piece of paper on top, and the cover securely shut down upon it. Put some cracked ice, mixed with two handfuls of rock salt, into a bowl, in the middle of which put your mould, covering it entirely with ice and salt; let it remain two hours, then turn it out of the mould, first dipping it into warm water.


Put half a pound of almonds in boiling water, remove the skins, then put the almonds in cold water, then put them in the oven to dry. Pound them to a paste, adding the white of an egg; then add a pound and a half of powdered sugar, again pound well, adding the whites of two eggs. Spread on a pan a sheet of white paper, pour the mixture into little rounds somewhat smaller than a fifty cent piece, place them on top of the paper in your pan, about an inch and a half apart. Put them in a gentle oven for twelve minutes, the door of the oven shut; at the end of that time, if they are well colored, remove them from the oven, let them become cold, turn the paper upside down, moisten it with a little water and remove the macaroons.


Arrange grapes, apples, bananas and oranges upon fancy dishes, with gayly colored leaves and ivy branches around them.


Take one quart of boiling water, one even cupful of freshly ground coffee, wet with half a cupful of cold water, white and shell of one egg. Stir into the wet coffee the white and shell, the latter broken up small. Put the mixture into the coffee pot, shake up and down six or seven times hard, to insure thorough incorporation of the ingredients, and pour in the boiling water. Boil steadily twelve minutes, pour in half a cupful of cold water, and remove instantly to the side to settle. Leave it there five minutes; lift and pour off gently the clear coffee. Serve in small cups, and put no sugar in the coffee. Lay, instead, a lump in each saucer, to be used as the drinker likes.