- Cape May NJ Travel Guide and Vacation Planner Blog

Month: April 2008

Is picking a place to stay giving you a headache?

It is officially spring, and many of you who are looking to come to Cape May for a visit are asking yourselves (we know this because we have keen mental telepathy skills), where should I stay?

Cape May has a variety of choices – B&B, Guest House, condo, condo-tel, full house rental, hotel/motel. But what are the differences? Well, is here to tell you – or at least try to. We polled a number of accommodations owners and asked them to discern the differences, beginning with Guest House owner Linda Steenrod.


Bob and Linda Steenrod of the Billmae Cottage

Linda, along with her husband Bob, are the owners of Billmae Cottage Guest Suites on Washington Street, and Billmae Cottage, Too on Lafayette Street, both of which are dog-friendly.

“I compare our suites to renting a whole house or apartment except that we do supply sheets and one set of towels per person – in other words, once you are in, you are in. We do not come in daily to make the bed, change or hang towels. Each suite has cleaning supplies and a vacuum, if guests want or need to use them and the suites are thoroughly cleaned between guests. We tell people when they reserve (if they are new guests) to bring any extra towels they may want for the dogs, themselves, the beach. Our focus is the dogs! We aim to be dog friendly, clean, and ‘homey.’ We give our ‘guests’ and their people some ‘treats’ when they arrive (such as dog scarves, dog toys, treats, canvas bags, or mugs as examples) and everyone knows, before they actually reserve, that we do not go in the suites while they are there – primarily because of the dogs – because we do not want to startle the dogs or take a chance on the dogs getting out, getting confused, getting lost. We want the dogs to have a good and happy vacation, too. Over the years many of our guests are not only repeat guests, but increase the length of their stay.”

Of course, we know for a fact that one of the main attractions of Billmae Cottage is Yappy Hour – where all the guests, both two-legged and four-legged, gather before dinner for cocktails and treats. So, the experience Billmae offers is unique to the normal definition of Guest Suite/House, but we found exceptions to all the rules in our search.


The Columbia House

Take Columbia House for example. They are considered a Guest Suite as well, but if you follow their stellar TripAdvisor® reviews, you’ll see they are classified as a hotel. That’s because TripAdvisor® doesn’t have Guest Suite as an option.

Laura Zeitler and her husband Jim are the proprietors of the 1886 Ocean Street Victorian. The level of service they provide as innkeepers is determined by the time of the year. “In full season,” says Laura, “Columbia House does provide linens for starters, but does not provide housekeeping for the duration of the stay. In the off season however, we do provide daily room service. We’re really in a grey area. We’re not a B&B and we’re not really a hotel.”


The Columbia House

They are child-friendly and that is their niche. Just as Billmae is known for their pet friendly accommodations, Columbia House has a reputation for being kid-friendly – something not always found in a Victorian-style house. “Most of our guests really don’t want to interact with the other guests,” says Laura. “They have reserved the suites to spend time with their family. But they want the Victorian experience – the house, the furnishings and an innkeeper nearby.” Laura considers herself an innkeeper based on the level of service she provides at the time of check-in and throughout the guests’ stay and the amount of time she spends on site.

What distinguishes the Guest Suite from the condo is again the level of service. In recent years some of the Victorian B&Bs have converted their suites or rooms to condominiums, so a house with four rooms could have four different owners. It might be confusing to book a room with a historic house like the Merry Widow and not realize that generally there is no breakfast, no daily housekeeping and no innkeeper. Keys are picked up either at the office of a realtor or at an on-site management office, such as is offered at The Tides or Regent Beach. And, just as though you were renting a house, you are primarily on your own. Unless otherwise stated, guests must provide all their own amenities from linens to beach chairs. You want to make sure you check all these details before arrival.

On the other hand, booking a room in a condo-tel is quite another level of experience. If you check into The Sandpiper or the Marquis de Lafayette, you’ll really never know that the rooms/suites are privately owned. The management ismarquis the same as though you were in a hotel like the Montreal Inn on Beach Avenue or the Victorian Motel, at the end of Washington Street Mall. There is a common lobby for check-in, daily housekeeping and the ambiance of a hotel – there is not the homey atmosphere generally found in a Victorian or historic house.

Innkeeper Ray Roberts of the Mission Inn B&B on New Jersey Avenue, is an engineer and serves as a consultant on planning boards such as West Cape May, which has just recently revisited their definition of a hotel. Ray tried to help us with our own definitions.

“Each town,” he explains, “has a description of their definition of a B&B, Guest House or Hotel/Motel. Think of a B&B as a home and you are a guest in their [the innkeepers’] home. And the people who run the B&B actually live on the breakfastpremises. A B&B, as its definition implies, serves breakfast to its guests and provides daily housekeeping. A Guest House/Suite does not provide breakfast. It often has an absentee owner, that is, one who lives off the premises.” Also the duration of stay is a key difference. In a Guest House the occupants generally stay longer or have an extended stay versus those who stay at a B&B. In a Guest House the amenities are often limited and this could mean taking out your own trash like you do at home. “So a stay” Ray says, “in a Guest House/Suite is often regarded as a more independent manner of accommodation, but still with some of the amenities of a B&B, like the fact that it is a home. The definition of a motel/hotel is that it has a common lobby which is open 24-7 with someone in attendance to wait on the guest at all times. The facility also provides conference rooms and meeting rooms” like Congress Hall or the Grand Hotel. A hotel is completely commercial, in other words, ownership is not parceled out as in a condo-tel.

But this is Cape Island and change is as dependable as the tides. Several historic lamerhomes in the area have been given “hotel” status as well as maintaining a B&B designation such as the Southern Mansion B&B on Washington Street and, most recently, the Wilbraham Mansion B&B on Myrtle Avenue. West Cape May’s definition of what constitutes a hotel was not well articulated until the owner Doug Carnes decided to bump out and expand. Under the definition of a Guest House, (West Cape May doesn’t recognize the term Bed and Breakfast) Carnes received a work-stoppage from borough officials maintaining he did not have the proper work permits. He maintained his permits were in order and went before the planning board for further review – the result is the Wilbraham Mansion will henceforth be classified as a hotel.

The proposed new building behind the existing inn would, if Carnes receives approval of his request for a use variance, add a separate three-story structure with 12 new guest rooms bringing the inn’s total to 22 rooms.

The moral of the story? Decide what level of service works for you and your family and ask questions before you book – it’ll make for a far more enjoyable stay. See all of our Cape May accommodations

Maximize your rental ads

I hear it all the time: “Everyone else is doing so well this season! I just bought a new coffee maker and put in a new disposal last season. Why isn’t my house renting?”

Sound familiar?

Let’s say your house is just a block to the beach on the outskirts of Cape May’s Historic District. You advertise it on multiple websites. The house has four bedrooms, three baths, and sleeps 12. You charge the same rates as the guy down the street – clearly, it’s a steal!

So why is your next-door-neighbor’s availability calendar booked solid while you’re fluffing pillows to pass the time? Why isn’t your inbox flooded with inquiries? Why can’t you book rentals in the off-season? What are you doing wrong? Hint: Maybe your photos are to blame.

Pictures are the most important selling feature of your online rental ads. Your potential guests are scouring websites filled with hundreds of other properties to choose from. If you want to land that guest, your house has to stand out from the competition.

You might be thinking, “My pictures are fine! I don’t have time to take new ones. Besides, people will call me if they want better ones.” But if the ad next to yours already has stellar photography, upgraded amenities, and comparable rates, why would someone waste time trying to get you on the phone?

Take a good, hard look at the pictures you’re using. Do they make your home look like a place you’d actually want to spend your vacation? If you’re not sure, ask an honest friend for an honest opinion. Actually, ask a friend anyway. Ask lots of them.

If you’re guilty of any of the following, it’s time for new photographs:

  • Pictures that are no longer current
  • Pictures that are crooked, blurry, or grainy
  • Pictures where you can see yourself in the mirror
  • Pictures taken on your camera phone
  • Stormy skies, trash cans, and cars in exterior shots
  • Shabby furniture, bedding, and accessories
  • Clutter

Maybe you like the pictures you took eight years ago, but you have to think from a potential renter’s point of view. Your online ad should showcase your home as a relaxing vacation spot, not a place where you store your old furniture. No one wants to spend precious vacation time in a time-capsule when they can find a nice, modern rental down the street.

Have I convinced you to take a few new pictures yet? Well, before you start snapping away, make sure you’ve done the following:

  • Lose the clutter! This includes refrigerator magnets, personal items, unnecessary countertop appliances, stacks of old magazines, soap dispensers, and anything on top of your cabinets.
  • Fix your curtains, hide cords, straighten bedspreads and hanging art, and arrange throw pillows. Pull your car out of the driveway for exterior shots.
  • Replace worn items, especially bedspreads. Donate used items to charity, and visit discount stores in Cape May, Rio Grande and Cape May Court House to find new bedding and accessories at low prices. Can’t afford to replace the couch? Try a two-piece slipcover. Picture frames looking tired? Hello, spray paint!
  • Touch up any obvious dents or scratches in furniture and walls. Clean fingerprints from stainless steel. Vacuum.
  • Consider your furniture arrangement. The couch doesn’t always have to sit against that wall. Watch a few design shows for tips.
  • Keep an eye on the weather. If it’s raining or gray,
    reschedule the exterior shots (or the whole photo shoot, if you
    have a lot of windows).
  • Use a digital camera, preferably with a wide-angle lens. Better yet, hire a local photographer. You’ll pay a little extra, but professional photographs stand out among your average point-and-click.

Maybe the idea of going out and buying new items for a rental property or paying for good photographs makes your eye twitch, but believe me, those small changes can make a huge difference in the number of inquiries you receive through your online ads, making it worth the cost in the end.

Fire up the grill

We sprang forward last month and Easter is already behind us. That means it is time to brush off the leaves and cobwebs and fire up the grill.

As much as I love bar-b-que pork ribs and brisket, I am really looking forward to grilling fish. There is something about fish on the grill. The slight char and smokiness plays off the inherent oiliness of fish. One of my favorite fish to grill is salmon. Because of its fatty nature, salmon lends itself to the dry heat nature of grilling.
In the Pacific Northwest where salmon is king, they have a unique cooking method that works equally well on a grill or in the oven. Cedar planked fish has long been popular with Native Americans from coast to coast wherever cedar trees grew. This cooking method capitalizes on the unique scent of cedar. Cedar planks are available in gourmet food stores, but save yourself some money and visit that bastion of gourmet ingenuity – the lumberyard. Make sure you get untreated wood. I like ½” or ¾” thick boards so you can get multiple uses out of one piece. Have the board cut into 8”-10” pieces for individual fillets or make it as long as your grill or even allow for sides of salmon. Make sure you soak the plank overnight. Weigh the board down so it stays submerged.

Marinate your salmon fillets for only 20-30 minutes. Fish will absorb the marinade quickly and over-marinating can make the fish mushy. Place the fish on the planks and roast according to the recipe that follows. If using the grill, make sure it stays covered and have a spray bottle of water on hand to wet the board if necessary. Hint: Shooting flames is an indication that the board needs more moisture. The fish is excellent as is or can be served with morel (edible wild mushroom) cream sauce.

Another treat to enjoy are sourdough pancakes. Sourdough was the lifeblood of our pioneer ancestors. Sourdough starter allowed pioneers to have breads or pancakes on their journey west.  Some restaurants and bakeries in the west have starters that have been kept alive for over 150 years.  Sourdough originally was made by using wild yeast before commercially cultivated yeast was available. If you feed your starter weekly or repay (put some mix back into your starter jar after each use.) you can keep it alive indefinitely.  Sourdough pancakes aren’t as light and fluffy as their buttermilk counterparts, but their distinct flavor and texture are a culinary treat from a by-gone era.  The same starter can be used for breads and rolls as well. Sourdough is still popular in the west today. The starter, once fermented at room temperature, takes about 3-4 days and can be kept in the refrigerator indefinitely – as long as you feed it once a week (it is a living breathing organism.)  Enjoy these treats from the left coast as well as Pacific Oyster Stew and Berry Nectarine tart. Until next month, Bon Appétit.

Cedar Planked Salmon with Morel Cream Sauce and Braised Lentils

  • 1 Cedar plank, soaked
  • 1 Side salmon, skin removed
  • 3 Shallots, minced
  • 4 Cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 Lemons, juiced and zested
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon parsley
  • 1 Tablespoon thyme

Soak cedar plank for 1 hour. Mix marinade. Rub over salmon. Let sit one-half hour. Place salmon on plank. Roast at 400° for 20 minutes. Brown under broiler. Serve with lentils and morel cream.

Morel Cream Sauce

  • 2 Shallots minced
  • 2 Cloves garlic
  • 1 Cup Madeira
  • 2 Cups morels
  • 2 Tablespoons parsley
  • 1 Teaspoon thyme
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 3 Cups cream

Melt butter. Sweat garlic and shallots. Add morels. Sauté over high heat. Deglaze with Madeira. Reduce by half. Add cream. Reduce until thickened. Season with salt, pepper, parsley and thyme.

Braised Lentils

  • 2 Cups cooked lentils
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 Cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Teaspoon curry
  • 1 Cup peeled crushed tomatoes
  • 2 Cups stock
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Teaspoons minced ginger

Sauté onions, ginger and garlic. Add lentils and curry. Stir well. Add tomatoes and stock. Season. Simmer until thickened. Finish with chopped parsley and green onions.

Pacific Oyster Stew

  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 4 Strips thick slab bacon diced
  • 4 Stalks celery finely diced
  • ½ onion finely diced
  • ½ Red pepper finely diced
  • Splash Worcestershire sauce
  • Splash Tabasco
  • 1 Pint oyster in liquor
  • 1 Cup sherry
  • 3 Cups cream
  • Fresh black pepper
  • Kosher salt

In saucepan brown bacon. Remove. Add butter, celery, peppers and onion into bacon fat. Sauté until soft. Add bacon, oysters, sherry and cream. Simmer until oysters curl. Season. Garnish with fresh parsley. Serve with oyster crackers.

Sourdough Pancakes Alaska Style

Basic Sourdough Starter

  • 2 Cups flour
  • 2 Cups warm water
  • ¼ Ounces active dry yeast

Add yeast to warm water. Let stand 10 minutes. Add flour. Cover loosely. Let sit room temperature three days and feed.

Repaying the starter: If you use 1 cup of starter, add back ½ cup water, ½ cup flour mixed.

Feeding the starter: Add 1 cup flour, 1 cup water once a week.

Pancake Recipe

  • 1 Cup starter
  • 1 Cup flour
  • 1 Cup water

Mix well. Cover loosely. Store overnight in warm place. In the morning stir mixture. Remove 1 cup and repay starter. To remaining mixture add:

  • 1 Egg
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • ½ Teaspoon salt
  • ½ Teaspoon baking soda

Pour ¼ cup batter onto hot oiled griddle. Cook until brown around edges. Flip. Cook until golden brown.

Huckleberry Nectarine Pie

Pie crust

  • 1 Cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 Teaspoon sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • ¼ Cup canola oil
  • 2 Tablespoon cold milk
  • 2 Tablespoon ice water

In medium bowl sift together dry ingredients. Stir in oil and mix with fork to the size of peas. Stir in milk and mix until dough starts to form. Add enough water to form smooth ball. Flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375°.

Berry Filling

  • 2 Cups mixed berries – huckle, blue, black
  • 4 Nectarines, pitted and sliced
  • ⅓ Cup sugar
  • 2 Teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 Tablespoon heavy cream

Mix berries, sugar and zest. Let sit 5 minutes. Add cornstarch. Mix well on lightly floured surface. Roll dough into 10” circle. Transfer to cookie sheet. Spread filling into center leaving a 2” inch border. Fold edges over filling overlapping dough into folds. Brush cream onto dough border and sprinkle with sugar. Bake 35 minutes. Cool for ten minutes. Serve warm.

Getting the most from your Sweet Peas

Well, spring and is officially here. Ted worked a lot of chopped leaves and all sorts of compost into our sandy garden. He made the rows and limed them well as we have very acidic soil. I did the fun part and dropped or sprinkled the seeds. We made a double row of peas, a thick patch of radishes and patches of the greens and a few rows of flowers.

I planted sweet peas, larkspur, calendula, and poppies along a section of the fence.  Hopefully the mild temps and moisture will encourage them to pop up soon.  It is important for the plants that need a cool growing season to develop and bloom before the hot weather sets in.

The hours of daylight are longer since March 21, which also encourages plant growth. Just remember that newly planted seeds need lots of moisture when they send out their first seed root to absorb moisture and then seed leaves to capture light and make food.
We planted both flowering sweet peas and the vegetable sugar peas. We love both!

Sweet Peas, If You Please
If you haven’t already planted your sweet peas, it is the time to do it now. I love the neon colors of these intensely fragrant flowers, but they also come in many pastel shades. The sweet pea or Lathyrus odoratus is a highly scented annual of the Leguminosae family. An individual bloom consists of three or four flowers (or florets) on a stem.
Almost all seed companies have some sweet peas from which to choose. Many heirlooms, heat resistant and cutting sweet peas are found in the Renee’s Garden seed line.  Just keep in mind these wonderfully sweet posies need a cool time in which to grow and bloom. They can be planted in our area any time from late March to the middle of April. Good mulch, frequent watering and soil rich with compost will help insure bloom for a much longer time.

In cool climates like New England, and northern European countries these flowers bloom all summer. In our area they often die out when it gets very hot in July and August, but a good soil and adequate watering, as well as picking the dead blooms off will lengthen their bloom time. If you manage to get them through the summer they will continue to bloom in fall as long as they are deadheaded, watered and fed.  I love their bright colors and sweet fragrance and try to keep them blooming in my garden as long as possible.
They were one of the first bouquets I was given on our initial trip to Poland in 1990. Imagine my surprise and delight when my cousins met us at the airport with sweet pea bouquets in mid summer!  On our second trip to Poland, Ted and I biked around the forest area of Bialowieza. Here we saw beautiful, quaint little cottages built of rustic wood where the gardens were an absolute riot of colors. The cool summer in this northern region allowed flowers that bloom only in the spring here in the Delaware Valley to blossom all summer there.

Most noticeable to me were the sweet pea vines on fences, trellises and porch railings. The colors were almost neon and the fragrances sweet and spicy. They were just everywhere along with poppies, hollyhocks, roses and also a great variety of other annual and perennial plants.

I have always tried to grow garden peas for eating and sweet peas for cutting flowers. Some years I don’t get them in the ground early enough, but this year we already have both planted. Although it is said by some to soak the seeds before planting, others say this stresses the seed, especially if left in water too long. Just plant and be sure the soil is kept moist and they will sprout well.
Next is good watering and food. I now use Osmocote® on most of my plants for continuous feeding. Organic matter is also of utmost importance with sweet peas. This is an easy-to-apply, time-release, granular fertilizer that is applied in small amounts to the top of the soil. Being a time-release fertilizer, it allows food to be released each time the plant is watered. Water often in warm weather and mulch to keep roots cool. Pick often to keep blooms from going to seed, as well as to enjoy as a fragrant cut flower.
Try to find old-fashion seeds for the best fragrance. Seeds named Cupani are said to be one of the oldest varieties. Father Francis Cupani, an Italian monk in the 1600s, was a botanist who discovered them and first collected the seeds. They soon became a favorite with the royalty. To this day, sweet peas are very popular as a cut flower in Europe.

There are many sweet pea seeds available in England and people grow them for entry in flower shows. Folklore suggests to plant sweet peas before sunrise on St. Patrick’s Day, but any time soon will do. Just be sure to do it soon or the warm weather will zap the plants before they get a chance to bloom.

For more articles on timely garden topics check out under articles,