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Month: May 2008

Collecting Cape May Beach Tags

Oh, those pesky Cape May beach tags! Everyone complains about them. Some try to wrangle their way out of buying them. Still others go out of their way to buy them early. And then there are those who collect them. Beach tagcollectors can be easily spotted. Some, like octogenarian Karl Suelke, wear their collections. These are conspicuous by their attachment to baseball caps and sweatshirts loaded with as many past beach tags as space will allow. And some, like former city manager and ex-council member Fred Coldren, tuck them neatly away in one 1½-inch notebook, carefully preserved and organized according to year and type of tag and including artwork, posters and design options which were rejected at the time. He has even named his collection – How many do YOU have?, a reference to other collectors.

Beach tags, you say? What are they? For 30 years, Cape May has charged beach goers a fee for using the beaches. You can buy a seasonal tag. Many locals and cottagers make sure they buy them as soon as they go on sale in December for stocking stuffers and to save money. If purchased before March 31, they cost $15 each. After March 31, the price goes up to $25. Short term visitors can either buy a weekly or three day pass. And if you’re a day tripper, you can purchase a daily tag.

Every year, my boss walks down to city hall and buys his four beach tags. Every year I balk at the thought. I’m not going to buy a beach tag, I say. We don’t go often enough to justify the expense. Besides, I say, why should I pay to go on the beach? Wildwood is free. However, midway through the summer I find myself with four kids in town, ages ranging from 6 to 16 and I realize how perfectly ridiculous I look asking kids, chomping at the bit to hit the waves since about 7:30 a.m., to wait until 4 in the afternoon to go to the beach because that’s when the beach taggers go off duty. It takes just one instance of my lurking along the promenade scoping the sand looking for beach taggers, then looking over at angry, curious eyes of anxious kids, towels and boogie boards in hand, for me to see the error of my ways and end up buying the two seasonal beach tags anyway. I only need two because the under 12 kids go free, which yes, makes me look even more ridiculous.

The truth of the matter is Cape May has some really great beaches and an excellent beach patrol, and that costs money. But I was still curious about how all this came about and Fred Coldren was nice enough to tell me the story of beach tags.

In 1977, the City of Cape May was second in the state to adopt a beach fee ordinance. “I was a member of City Council at the time,” he said, adding that he, along with council member Arthur “Mickey” Blomkvest and Deputy Mayor Adrian S. Capehart voted for the ordinance (two council members voted against it) to establish beach fees in the city.

“Our three goals,” he said were to (1) raise revenues from beach users to help defray the costs of beach protection and maintenance; (2) ensure public access to oceanfront bathing beaches in Cape May; and (3) begin the process to restore sand to the badly eroded Cape May beachfront. Our first goal was reached successfully in the early years of the beach fee program; the second was accomplished within 10 years by 1986; and the final goal that turned into a $50 million beachfront restoration was accomplished in 15 years in 1991, with ongoing maintenance authorized through 2040.”

But why does he collect beach tags? “Well, I designed most of them up until the summer of 1989,” when he stepped down from his position as city manager. “And I helped pass the ordinance which I think did the city a lot of good. Revenue from the sale of beach tags was a major contribution to the financial stability of the city.”

Sitting in Fred Coldren’s living room, looking over his collection, I am fascinated with the assortment of plastic tags in front of me and it dawns on me that the history of the city can be benchmarked according to some of the seasonal designs.

The first design was a tiny sailboat which Fred said he came up with very quickly to get the program started. The next year, 1978, depicts a gaslight. “This,” said Fred, “was the first of two-color tags, designed to support a Cape May priority of keeping our 120 or so historic gaslights burning despite a natural gas shortage and a state order to turn them off. The entire Cape May community mobilized to fight the ban and eventually won the right to keep them operating to the present.”

The 1980 whale logo gave the nod to whale watchers and an acknowledgement of Cape May’s original settlement by whalers from New England. The next year’s yellow ribbon celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Washington Street Mall. Tulips the following year helped to support Cape May’s fledgling spring Tulip Festival which paid homage to Dutch Sea Captain Cornelius Jacobsen Mey, whose explorations of the Delaware River in 1620 led to the peninsula on the northeast side of the bay being named Cape Mey, later changed to Cape May.

Speaking of explorers, it was English Sea Captain Henry Hudson who in 1609 originally made note of the peninsula while sailing his small yacht the Half Moon between the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware River. To that end, Cape May’s 1984 beach tag celebrated the 375th anniversary of the discovery of Cape May. Does this mean we can look forward to another nod to Captain Hudson in 2009 when the 400th anniversary rolls around?

National events have also inspired beach tag designs. Grief over the January, 1986 destruction of the space shuttle Challenger and the death of all seven crew members reflected, according to Fred, “the hopes of the community and nation that the U.S. would continue to Explore Sea & Space Safely.” More recently, the tragic events of September 11th were remembered during the summer of 2002. The patriotic beach tag read simply: “Cape May Season 2002 Remembers Sept. 11th 2001.”

One of the most interesting beach tags, said Fred, was the 1987 limited edition Century Tag which sold for $100 apiece. The Century Tag was used to raise funds, according to city records, for the support of the Building Fund for the Cape May Beach Patrol headquarters. Fred recalls that about 600 Century beach tags were sold that summer raising nearly $60,000 to “help finance the construction, reduce the burden on the taxpayers, and give tag owners access to Cape May beaches for the entire 20th century…through the summer of the year 2000 A.D.”

“It was a bargain,” said Fred, “You got 12 years of beach access for $100, instead of paying the $10 original price (not to mention regular increase…$12, $14, etc. every year), but it also involved many residents and visitors in a worthy cause. Everybody who purchased a Century Tag got a special Certificate of Appreciation with a gold embossed city seal and an invitation to the dedication, as well as recognition.”

To celebrate the restoration of Cape May’s beachfront following completion of the Army Corps of Engineers’ beach replenishment project, the city issued a special souvenir beach tag in 1991. And, in acknowledgement of the Army Corps’ continued efforts to restore the beaches the regular seasonal pass depicted a beach scene with a sign next to the dunes which read Save Our Beach.

Fred is particularly fond of a third special beach tag issued the summer of 1986 in recognition of the Visit of Halley’s Comet, ironically the same year as the Challenger disaster. The tag reads Cape May, NJ, USA, Earth and was distributed as a souvenir to school children. “I designed,” said Fred, “distributed and personally paid for this special tag production for fun.”

So, now my question is – if I wanted to start collecting beach tags today, where would I look? Fred said he and other collectors find them at yard sales, flea markets and sometimes on eBay. Of course, I could look in the bottom of my desk drawer. I tried eBay but all I found were 11 beach tags from Cape May Point and that’ll never do because I don’t beach at Cape May Point. “I recall,” said Fred, “seeing one rare tag sell for $35.” Whew! That’s a lot of money to pay and still not be able to get on the beach. Speaking of which, I have seen the light and vow, beginning summer of 2007, to always buy a beach tag and whine about it no more. They do seem to have done more good than not.

A passionate collector and true believer, Fred Coldren sums it up like this. “Beach tags have played a very important role in Cape May’s history as a source of revenue, a fair allocation of costs of maintaining the beaches to those [who] use them instead of just the local property taxpayers, and to make possible the highly successful beach restoration project.”

And that’s the end of the story of beach tags. Make sure to buy yours either at City Hall or down on the beach. And tell me – How many do YOU have?


Seasoning and Flavoring

There are some unique aspects to being a chef. One is, when people discover your profession during casual conversation, They always want to pick your brain. One topic that frequently comes up is: What makes good food? I usually give my standard spiel on technique, but most people want black and white rules on cooking. This is the time for me to climb on my soapbox and blame the Food Network™ and Rachael Ray for making people think cooking is like completing a paint by numbers “last supper” and, that by following the rules, anyone can become a DaVinci. You may have the picture, but it lacks soul. Cooking like painting takes time, and trial and error. One area of my chosen craft that is particularly difficult to explain to people is seasoning.

The first step is to understand the difference between seasoning and flavoring. Seasoning means enhancing the natural favors of a food item without significantly changing its base taste. Flavoring is adding a new flavor to a food item thus changing or modifying its original flavor. The difference may be a matter of degrees. For instance, salt is mainly used to enhance natural flavor, but on a soft pretzel its presence actually changes the product’s flavor profile. Some dishes suffer when herbs or spices dominate the natural flavors of food. Too much tarragon can leave your mouth feeling like you ate a pound of black licorice. Yet some flavorings are welcomed to dominate – like sherry in a cream sauce.

So where does one begin when learning to season or flavor food?  The key is to understand the flavors that an item will impart and how it is released or absorbed in the cooking process in order to better understand how to use seasonings/flavorings.

Here are a few key Herbs and Spices and their uses:

Salt – No seasoning is more feared or more misused than salt. Salt is essential in enhancing flavors and accentuates the natural flavors of foods. Not all salt is created equal. My preferences are sea salt, expensive but healthier than table salt. When first using sea salt, use less than kosher salt due to a more intense flavor. Kosher salt is just slightly more expensive than iodized table salt and better for you since you will use less. Its crystalline structure cuts into food giving a better flavor release than table salt.

Pepper – Pepper is one of the most widely used seasonings in the world. Black, white and green peppercorns are all the same berry from the same plant.  Black peppercorns are picked unripened, white is ripened with the outer hull removed. This is why they hit taste buds at different points in the mouth. Black pepper hits the front of the mouth and finishes in the back of the throat, where as white pepper hits the back of your throat. I prefer back pepper except in cases where long cooking will cause it to discolor a white sauce. Since pepper, like most spices, contains volatile oils that harbor its flavor, grinding it fresh will cause you to use less and have a more pronounced flavor.

Garlic – This member of the lily family comes in many forms, but fresh is preferable. Garlic needs to be cooked since in its raw form it has a strong burning favor that overwhelms the palate. Low heat will help mellow the flavor. High will result in a bitter, burnt flavor.

Lemon juice – Always use fresh lemon juice. Reconstituted does not have the zip and power of fresh. Lemon juice works well in cutting through fats and oils, providing a contrast that enlivens most foods.  Try reducing the content of salt in your favorite recipes adding instead a squeeze of lemon that flavor will surprise you.

This month try the following recipes using garlic, lemon and pepper as central favors in a dish. Tuna Au Poivre and Avegelemeno (Greek lemon egg drop soup) and Forty Clove Garlic Chicken. Until next month, Bon Appétit.


Tuna Filet Mignon au poivre with Barley Rissotto

  •  4 6-ouncce tuna filets, center cut
  • 4 Strips bacon or pancetta, blanched 3-4 minutes in 350° oven and cool
  • Kosher salt and cracked pepper
  • ¼ Cup olive oil to sauté in

Method: Wrap tuna in bacon. Season generously with salt. Coat in cracked, black pepper.  In sauté pan, heat oil. Sear 3-4 minutes on each side for rare.

For red wine demi glace

  • 2 Shallots minced
  • 2 Cups cabernet
  • 2 Cups veal stock
  • 3 Tablespoons butter

In sauce pan, sweat onions in ½ tablespoon butter until soft. Add wine. Reduce to ¼ cup.  Add veal stock. Reduce by half until sauce easily coats back of spoon. Over medium heat, whisk in butter a little at a time letting each bit be absorbed before adding more. Season serve with tuna.

Barley Rissotto

  • 8 Ounces barley
  • ¼ Cup onion diced
  • ¼ Cup celery diced
  • ¼ Cup celery diced
  • 6 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped thyme
  • 4 Cups chicken stock

Cook barley until al dente, cool.

In saucepan melt 2 tablespoons butter. Sauté celery, carrots and onion until tender. Add thyme. Stir. Add barley. Warm through. Add chicken stock a little at time, allowing stock to be absorbed, then adding more barley. Should be loose, but not liquidy. Add butter 1 tablespoon at a time until absorbed. Season. Add parsley. Serve with tuna and red wine sauce.

Avegelemeno (Greek Lemon Soup)

  • 1 Quart, plus 1 cup strong chicken stock
  • 1 Cup water
  • ½ Cup long grain white rice
  • ½ Cup lemon juice plus zested peel
  • 2 Eggs
  • 6 Lemon slices thin
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley

In non-reactive pot, combine water, rice and stock. Cook 15 minutes until rice is tender.

In bowl, whisk eggs until foamy. Add lemon juice. Whisk temper into soup – tempering is equalizing the temperature by ladling a little hot stock into egg mixture and pouring the combined mix into the soup. Heat through, but DO NOT BOIL. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley and lemon slices.

40 Clove Garlic Chicken

  • 1 3-4 pound chicken
  • 1 Bunch parsley
  • ¼ Cup olive oil
  • 40 Cloves garlic
  • Juice from 2 lemons
  • 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 Teaspoons cracked back pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh thyme

With boning knife, cut small slits in chicken. Insert garlic cloves. In food processor, combine parsley, thyme, oil and lemon juice. Process until smooth paste forms. Rub over inside and outside of chicken. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Place on roasting rack roast at 375° for 45 minutes. Reduce heat cook until thermometer reads 160°. Rest 10 minutes. Carve.


Convention Hall is Closed

Convention Hall is closed. And, although it’s not the first time, it may very well be the last time for this particular structure. On Friday, April 4, city officials announced that a structural analysis conducted on the 46-year-old facility found that, “The present condition of the Convention Hall is structurally unsound. Due to the amount of deterioration observed, the structural integrity of the floor framing is severely compromised. It is our professional opinion that this building be closed to public use until repairs can be performed in accordance with the recommendations outlined in the RVWE reports.”

A Bethlehem, Pennsylvania firm, Pennoni Associates Inc, recently ranked fourth of the 25 best engineering firms by the Philadelphia Business Journal, performed the structural analysis based on evaluation reports previously prepared by Remington, Vernick & Walberg Engineers, who had found the structure to be compromised but still safe. Pennoni Associates’ findings were based “solely on our visual observations and field measurements made while at the site.” The last study conducted by Remington, Vernick & Walberg was in 2007. According to City Manager Lou Corea the past year has wrecked even more havoc on the structure.

The move left non-profit and commercial organizations scrambling to find alternative venues for events which have been months in the planning.

But Convention Hall has had a precarious existence since its opening in the summer of 1918. In Don and Pat Pocher’s book:Images of America: Cape May in Vintage Postcards, the Grande Dame is shown with a patriotic crowd standing in front, apparently waiting for the Fourth of July parade to pass by. According to the Pocher book, the city purchased the former Stockton Hotel’s 434-foot wide riparian rights [Riparian water rights – or simply riparian rights – is a system of allocating water among those who possess land about its source] in 1917 for $20,000 from the estate of the late Dr. Emlen Physick. The city hired a local contractor, Sherman Sharp, to build the entertainment pier.

It was a time when free concerts were held within Convention Hall on Sundays with the “Symphony Orchestra and Metropolitan Opera Artists.” Other evenings the municipal Dance Orchestra played ballroom music, but on Wednesdays and Saturdays one hour was set aside so the children could dance with the orchestra. Free dance lessons were given on those afternoons to young people wanting to learn the “skirt dance,” the Waltz or the Fox Trot. Friday evenings in the late 20s often featured a Children’s Review talent show.

Convention Hall, built as it was against the sea, has always been vulnerable to the forces of Mother Nature. In August 1933 a nor’easter hit the Jersey coast with a vengeance. Propelled by winds topping out at 90 miles per hour, waves literally picked up the 300-foot boardwalk in Cape May.

Another disaster occurred on September 14, 1944, while the city still experienced dim outs even though an end to the war was in view with the Normandy invasion on June 6. Remnants of the Great Atlantic Hurricane swept the island with winds packing 55 to 63 miles per hour. In its wake Convention Hall sustained considerable damage and its fishing pier was ripped away. According to an account in Emil Salvini’s book: Summer City by the Sea: “The musical instruments that had recently been used to serenade ocean lovers were scattered everywhere. It was reported that the orchestra’s baby grand piano was dumped into the Atlantic and pieces of it were later found as far as the Stockton Beach. Less than thirty feet of Convention Hall’s ballroom dance floor survived.”

Although the exterior of Convention Hall remained virtually in tact, the storm severely damaged the underbelly of all the piers and snapped the pilings.

But it was the Nor’easter of ’62 that completely destroyed the lovely elegance of the 1918 Convention Hall. Commonly referred to as the Ash Wednesday Nor’easter, the three-day blow leveled more damage than any other single storm in Cape May’s history. On Thursday, March 8 the Cape May Star and Wave reported: Cape May today reeled and staggered under the impact of the worst storm damage in its more than 300-year history as it began to dig out of the mass of rubble, debris, and wreckage that little more than 72 hours ago had been its normally calm and placid beachfront.

Damages were estimated in excess of $3 million. Beach Avenue was almost totally destroyed. Convention Hall was totaled. Save for two blocks, the boardwalk was destroyed. The current concrete walkway, now known as the promenade, is further evidence of how the city tried to protect itself from another devastating storm like that one. Virtually every hotel and motel along the two-mile beachfront was damaged or destroyed.

The present Convention Hall is a testament to what was built as a “temporary measure.” Now, 46 years later, that temporary measure has been condemned. City officials and concerned citizens formed a Convention Hall Committee as an off shoot of the Revitalization Committee, to study plans and designs for a new Convention Center. Demolition of the existing structure was slated to begin in December with the new facility opening in the summer of 2010. But in early February, Mayor Jerome Inderwies announced at a work session of City Council that plans for a new Convention Hall would be delayed for one year to investigate other architectural designs which might include better use of the “back” of Convention Hall facing the ocean.

Cape May Mayor Jerry Inderwies said the delay will not jeopardize a $300,000 Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) grant set aside for the project.

However, at another City Council meeting, the head of the Convention Hall Committee, Skip Laughlin, urged city officials to move foreword with plans to demolish in December of this year, predicting that the cost of delay may be high. Two days later the report came in advising the close of the facility.

No matter what design is finally accepted, the project is not to exceed $10 million. To that end, a bond ordinance for $10 million was passed by council April 14, following the condemnation of Convention Hall.

City Manager Lou Corea said the numbers are still not in regarding the possibility of band-aiding the center to allow its use for the summer months. Council would have to weigh the risks of spending money to fix a facility which is already reported to be structurally unsound.

One thing is certain, city officials certainly don’t want to repeat an occurrence of 1925 when a pier at a band pavilion along the boardwalk collapsed under a crowd watching a staged lifeguard rescue. Sixty victims sued the city.

UPDATE: Cape May, May 6 – It took City Council all of about three minutes to decide at Tuesday’s workshop session to not spend in excess of $300,000 to shore up Convention Hall to make it quasi-safe for the summer season. So it will remain closed for the season, pending possible demolition in the fall. Best case scenario, the new Convention Hall would open for the summer of 2010. Construction of anew facility will take an estimated 14-18 months.


Scents of the Season

On a warm, sunny May day, there are many wonderful fragrances in the air. May is the month of hundreds of blooming perennials, shrubs, and trees.  Wildflowers dot the ground in shady areas and old fashion perennials, such as iris and poppies bloom in the sun.

Often there is a fruity, spicy scent in the air in our backyard that sometimes mingles with the heavenly lilac and lily of the valley scents. The fragrance comes from an old shrub that we planted more than 35 years ago called Calycanthus floridus or sweet shrub. It is also known as Carolina allspice, strawberry shrub, pineapple shrub or colonial spicebush. Sweet shrub has many common names, all-alluding to the aromatic properties of its blooms, leaves, bark, twigs and roots.

When we planted it, it was just a small plant, but in our somewhat sandy,woodsy environment, this beautiful deciduous shrub has grown over the years to many clumps about 6’ high and has filled an area twice aswide. Every so often, we make root divisions to preserve this wonderfully fragrant parent shrub. Our sweet shrub suckers come from spreading roots that have vigorously grown to increase in width to form a magnificent thicket.

We love the wonderfully fruity scent produced by the unusual flowers. They are rusty red or burgundy and about 1-2 inches in size. The blossoms appear in quantities during the spring and sometimes intermittently thereafter throughout the summer. The leaves are oblong, about 4” long by 2” wide, and are rich deep green with lighter green underneath.  Soft and fuzzy to the touch, they turn bright golden yellow in autumn.

Calycanthus floridus is native to the moist woodlands of the southeastern United States, with a range that extends from Virginia, south to Florida, and west to Mississippi.  Sweet shrub is easy to grow in average soil and requires very little care.  This native is pest-free and usually adapts to most gardens.  They thrive in medium shade to bright sun and do best if in a moderately moist soil. Since our ground is quite sandy, we try to remember to water when there is a dry season.  This might only be a onetime long soak where the hose is left to run for several hours to really wet the soil all around and very deeply.

Our plant is part of a shady, woodland border where there are lily of the valley, May apples, bulbs, azaleas, dogwoods, magnolia, viburnums, and  other shade lovers.  It is often seen in the south growing near camelliaas they like similar conditions.  Sweet shrub is wonderful in natural areas and woodland gardens where it can sucker freely and assume its natural habit.

The lilac is usually as easy to grow and will grow in sun or part shade. Most of the lilacs in my garden are in semishade and do well.  They are usually full of blooms, but the shrubs in full sun are sturdier and often have many more large heavy booms. When adding a lilac to the garden, consider that you have an option with size, color, bloom time, and often fragrance. As I look at the bright green of the unfurling leaves of the lilac and the grapelike clusters of buds and blooms, I anticipate the joy of the bouquets of blooms and scent. We pick and pick them, filling vases all over the house. I always wish they bloomed for a longer time and look for the last bushes to bloom. That is why I suggest planting several varieties of lilacs in the landscape.

The smallest of lilacs are the Myers and  Miss Kim dwarf lilacs. They also bloom early in May. The common lilac orsyringe vulgaris is an upright shrub, often growing 8-15’ high, with extremely fragrant flowers. These old-fashioned favorites are at home in a border or as a centerpiece in a lawn or garden.  There are 100s of different kinds of lilac cultivars, with colors ranging from white and pink to many shades of blue, violet, lilac, purpleand magenta. At least one is a must in every garden.

I would sum up lilac culture by saying that the best soil is one that is on the sweet side or close to neutral and supplemented with compost or leaf mold. A good dressing of lime is in order in our acid soil.  (We have also listened to an old-timer who said to dump fireplace ash on the lilac.)  He also stressed that trimming or picking the blooming lilacs encourages better-shaped plants with an abundance of bloom the next season.

Remember, with all blooming shrubs, prune as the old blooms fade.

I have always enjoyed the short, but awesome bloom season of the iris and peony. They usually add color to the Memorial Day weekend. Iris were often called flags when I was a kid and I remember them lining the path at both the VFW and fire house where we often added pots of bright red geraniums. Peonies bloomed in both of my grandmother’s gardens and I loved their fragrance. Now many brides plan their weddings when there are peonies in bloom so they can have this fragrant, romantic flower in their bouquet.

Enjoy all the wonderful plants in bloom and drink deeply of the timeless fragrances of spring.

For more articles on timely garden topics check out under articles,www.tripleoaks.com.