- Cape May NJ Travel Guide and Vacation Planner Blog

Month: March 2009

Bean there, done that

persnick_headerJack sold the family cow for a handful of magic ones. Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of stewed ones. What prized culinary treasure led to these bad economic decisions?  Truffles, Foie Gras, Kobe Beef? No. Legumes.

Legumes – that botanical family of plants that encompasses beans, peas, lentils, and even peanuts, has been a mainstay of the human diet since the earliest recorded histories. Their role in the survival of the human race cannot be overstated. Legumes are an important non-meat source of protein. This persnick-black-eyed-peasallowed poor hunters to survive, so much for Darwin. Legumes in the diet combined with rice to form an essential chain of amino acids that can make up for a lack of meat protein in the diet.

Although I have hugged a tree on occasion and sang a few verses of Kumbaya around the campfire, I will never be confused for a vegetarian. But legumes do not belong solely to the brown rice and Birkenstock crowd. In modern America, potatoes and rice are our starches of choice, but legumes were essential in Colonial times. A small piece of salt pork could add flavor and nutrition to a pot of beans. Sometimes the same piece of salt pork would be used for several batches of beans. They were used to feed the military as in, “Navy bean soup anyone?” And became synonymous with Boston. Beans do take a long time to cook. Traditional Boston Baked Beans can take upwards of five hours to make properly. Canned beans are readily available and are often substituted for the real thing. Don’t do it, take the time and cook beans from scratch. The flavor and texture is worth doing it right.

If time is a major factor, then lentils are the legume of choice. Requiring no pre-soaking, lentils can be cooked from raw in a short period of time. There are many varieties of lentils including the common brown lentil, tasty but lacking eye appeal. The French Le Puy Lentil is my favorite. With an earthy green color and firm texture, they retain their shape well. Lentils like most legumes absorb flavors readily. Smoky flavors contrast with the earthy but neutral taste of lentils. Think of legumes as a blank canvas that is enhanced by your palette of spices and flavorings. Smoked turkey necks or wings can be used if you shun pork products.

The Black Beluga Lentil is more expensive, but makes an eye-catching presentation especially with salmon or Chilean sea bass.

persnick-red-lentilsBeans are the base of many outstanding national or regional dishes

Pasta Y Fagiole from Tuscany, Hoppin’ John from the American South and Cassoulet from France with its regional variations.

Cassoulet is an earthy dish with goose, duck, pork and, or sausage changing slightly from region to region. This dish is not for the novice it is slow, time-consuming cooking at its finest, but the reward is worth the effort.

There are certain steps to take in preparing legumes. Rinse well and check for stones.  Pre-soaking is essential for success with beans. If you get caught in a time crunch try placing the unsoaked beans in cold water. Bring to a boil. Drain and repeat the process three times. On the third time, cook until tender. Use these precooked beans in any preparation.

This month try curried lentils. Great by themselves or with grilled fish. Celebrate Mardi Gras with Hoppin’ John. Or pour a glass of Chianti, pop in The Godfather and cook up some Pasta y Fagiole.

Until next month, Bon Appétit.

Hoppin’ John

  • ½ onion diced
  • 1 green pepper diced
  • 2 stalks celery diced
  • 1 ham hock
  • 2 cups black-eyed peas soaked
  • 1 cups rice
  • 1 piece cooked andouille sausage chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup bean cooking liquid
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 jalapeno pepper chopped
  • ½ teaspoon thyme
  • Salt, pepper
  • 3 tablespoons
  • 3 cloves of garlic

Cook black-eyed peas with ham hock and bay leaf until tender. Drain, reserving liquid. In heavy saucepan, heat oil and sweat veggies. Add sausage and spices. Add rice and lightly toast. Add peas and liquid. Bring to simmer. Cover. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes. Uncover, fluff with fork to release steam. Add meat from ham hock. Season. Garnish with chopped green onions.

Masoor Dal Red Lentils

  • 2 cups red lentils
  • 10 cloves garlic
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 3 tomatoes chopped
  • 1 tablespoon ginger chopped
  • 3 green chilies chopped
  • 1 teaspoon coriander ground
  • ½ teaspoon cumin ground
  • 1 teaspoon red chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon butter

Wash lentils. Soak 30 minutes.

Cook lentils in 7 cups boiling water. Bring back to boil. Add salt and all ingredients, but oil and two cloves garlic. Cook for 30 minutes. Add lime juice. Mash until smooth. Fry garlic in oil 1 minute. Add to dal. Serve.

Cucumber Raita

  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 1 cup cucumber peeled and chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • Cumin dash
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • Dash paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cilantro chopped

Mix all ingredients. Chill.

Pasta  y Fagiole

  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage
  • 1 cup diced onions
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 3 tablespoons garlic
  • Olive oil
  • 2 cups peeled, crushed tomatoes with juice
  • Chicken and veal stock
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Locatteli cheese
  • Crusty bread
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 cans cannellini beans
  • Escarole or spinach
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups cooked ditalini

Brown sausage in olive oil. Remove meat. Add onions, carrots and garlic. Sauté but do not brown. For thicker soup, dust lightly with flour. Add crushed tomatoes,  stocks,   beans and greens. Simmer. Add sausage meat back in. Season with herbs and cheese.  Adjust seasoning and texture. Serve in large bowls with bread and extra cheese. Drizzle liberally with olive oil.

Soup Terminology

Mirepoix: Mixture of celery carrots and onions (usually 1 part celery, 1 part carrot and 2 parts onion) used in soup and stock making.

Singer: To dust with flour to help thicken a soup.

Stock: Flavored liquid from bones

Broth: Flavored liquid from meat

Roux: Equal parts flour and fat cooked and used as a thickening agent.

Wildflower watch begins

Often the very first blooms of the spring go unnoticed in a secluded woodland spot.  Sometimes called ephemerals by gardeners because they are so transient or out for such a short time, wildflowers are tough and hardy to weather when grown in woodland conditions.

Skunk cabbage may be the first to unfurl near a swampy pond or creek and next hepatica may carpet a woodland area rich in humus, but often there is no one near to appreciate them. These early blooms are often subtle harbingers of thgarden-shadblowe season. Few are showy and they often take one by surprise in a spot lighted by a ray of spring sunshine.  A woodland walk in early spring often reveals delicate surprises tucked among the leaves.

Many gardeners who have a shady area in their gardens find that wild flowers are a joy in the early spring. One of the very first to bloom here is the delicate little hepatica (Hepatica americana). Evergreen in some areas, this plant frequently just pops up with snowy white blooms.  Sometimes it is seen with pink or even pale blue-lavender buttercup-like blooms. Called liver leaf, this gem is often the first wild plant to bloom in a shady corner. It will colonize under trees if the soil is moist and woodsy. One of the easiest wild ones to establish, it self-sows if there is enough moisture in the soil.

Most wildflowers should not be dug from the wild unless the area is about to be bulldozed. A serious lack of habitat in many eastern states has seen the demise of scarce native plants. Whenever seeds are collected, care should be taken to take only minimal pods so that they are not wiped out in the wild. It is best to either seed them or buy from nurseries that propagate by seeding or tissue culture and do not collect wild plants.

One of my most thrilling experiences propagating wildflower plants was successfully making cuttings from trailing arbutus. The botanical name for garden-rattlesnake plaintain_pinelands planttrailing arbutus is Epigaea repens and the common name is Mayflower. Cuttings made in summer and then rooted in a propagation bed with ‘mist’ are slow to grow, but what a joy when one grows and finally blooms in a pot in which it has been growing. It roots and will grow in pots in a shady area for a short time, but often disappears after growing in the garden for a few years if there is not enough decaying leaf mold. Because of this, arbutus never takes well to a garden setting. It needs an acid soil with no fertilizer other than a think layer of decaying leaves, preferably of the oak variety. It needs a very specific type of acidy moist soil with leaf mold and humus on top and moist sand beneath in a shady spot.

These plants are becoming very rare in the wild and are also a bit difficult to grow. Friends of ours here in Franklin Township have them throughout their woodland setting, with some coming up in a lawn area bordering the woods. They allow me to take cuttings in late June, when I try to root this garden-arbutusplant.

It is an elusive spring bloomer that often fills the air with fragrance. This one, however, must be sought out in the woods in order to get a whiff of its spring perfume. Arbutus is rarely available in nurseries. Most of the literature on this plant indicates it will not flourish in captivity. So you must go on a spring treasure hunt to smell the arbutus. It starts to bloom in mid-April. You must get down on your knees to find and smell it, as it is a ground cover and really does hug the ground.

Trilliums bloom in April and are a favorite wild flower that will adapt well to the shade garden. There are many kinds of trillium, ranging in colors from white to a dark red, yellow, purple and pink. They also like a moist woodsy soil in which to reseed. Some of our best clumps of trillium have surprised us and come up in very unlikely spots.

An April companion to the trillium is the Jack in the Pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum. This perennial, with its unusual funnel-shaped bloom, is so exotic looking it must be seen to be appreciated. There were manygarden-violets varieties at the flower show this year, and all were awesome! This one also needs a moist, woodsy soil, but again flourishes in my shady gardens under trees as long as I provide water when dry as well as oak leaf mulch. Like the others, it also needs a shady spot in which to thrive. Its red berries or seeds are an interesting feature that last all winter.

Another favorite that blooms so beautifully in late March and April is bloodroot, or Sanguinaria canadensis. The snowy white bloom pushes upward through the leaves as one of the first flowers of spring.

Considered a medicinal herb by some old timers, the root contains several alkaloids which are poisonous, most notably sanguinarine, which has shown antiseptic, anesthetic and anticancer activity. American Indians used it for rheumatism, asthma, bronchitis, lung ailments, laryngitis, and fevers. The red-orange juice from the root was applied to warts, used as a dye and a decorative garden-bloodrootskin stain.  But today we never use the plant and consider it dangerous to even think about it.

Bloodroot works great for the shade or woodland gardener and is among the showiest of all woodland spring blooms. The early white flowers are a welcome sign that spring is on the way, and the bold, green leaves will persist through the growing season. It is one of my favorites, and I love its early blooms in the herb garden.

There are hundreds more wild plants. A good wildflower book and an hour in the woods is the best way to meet and know them. To all things there is season and often a place called home. Sometimes you don’t have the place to grow a wild flower, sometimes you do. But there is no reason to go through life without ever kneeling in the woodlands to see and smell a delicate arbutus bloom. Happy Springtime!

Walk in the display gardens at Triple Oaks for a breath of springtime. Visit Garden classes and programs throughout the season.

Jackson’s Club House: A little controversy at Columbia and Stockton

A bit of controversy at Columbia and Stockton

This is an excerpt from the article Jackson’s Mainstay, which originally appeared in the July 2008 issue of Cape May Magazine.

For over a century this stately citizen of Cape May has stood on the corner of Columbia Avenue and Stockton Place like a grande dame; dignified in stance, erect in posture with pleasant, handsome features. These days the Mainstay Inn is recognized as an innovator and trend-setter in the bed and breakfast industry and from the beginning the structure was acknowledged as something special. mainstay-cardsAs the building was being constructed in the 1870s, the local newspaper lavished it with praise while simultaneously deriding other grand buildings in town as “mansions of the shoddy order.”

This was as it should have been. The Mainstay Inn, originally known as Jackson’s Club House in 1872, was welcomed to town like a friendly neighbor. The gambling, prostitution, heavy drinking and carousing male visitors the clubhouse hosted were just the sort of activities Cape May was hoping to attract during the Victorian era.

Or not.

The aversion Cape May had to rich people throwing around their money, liquor consumption and gambling really affected people’s willingness to even mention the place,” said Tom Carroll, former owner and innkeeper who, along with wife Sue, restored the Mainstay to grandeur in the 1970s and 80s. “Yet when it was under construction there were so many words of praise about the place; about Button’s beautiful design. It was so much in the news. But when it opened as a club house we couldn’t find another word about it. Obviously it wasn’t a welcome addition to Cape May.”

Those crazy Victorians may be remembered for their buttoned-up demeanor and straight-laced attitude, but they definitely had their wild and wooly moments.


It’s one of the best architectural gems the city has ever seen, despite its association with some dirty business – which ironically is back in full force at the Jersey Shore,” said Tom. It’s that “dirty business” that makes the story interesting. That’s not to say there are many historical accounts of what went on in the club house. As Tom said, it wasn’t really discussed in town. Gentlemen wanted privacy and it was afforded them. Much of the information about what went on in Jackson’s Club House has been gleaned from research into club houses in other towns.

“We couldn’t find information about any of the club houses in Cape May, which is why Joan Berkey and I started doing research in other towns where there was more information. We got the sense they weren’t such a moral problem for other cities. Cape May has always been a very conservative town,” said Tom.

mainstay-hatsJoan Berkey, an architectural historian from nearby Linwood, NJ, did some legwork and produced The Mainstay Inn, Formerly Jackson’s Club House; A Social and Architectural History 1872 – 2001, a five-inch-thick tome chronicling the Mainstay’s existence.

“It’s fascinating because gambling was never really talked about in polite society, but the fact that this was a gaming house – and a popular one at that – that really is a significant part of Cape May’s history,” said Joan. “Not only was it a gaming house but it’s a fantastic example of Victorian architecture.”

Tom and Joan found that men’s clubs were very much a part of 19th century life, along with social separation of the sexes. Women went to their tea meetings and men went to their clubs. There may have been many club houses in Cape May, but there are three that are most talked about. The Blue Pig, which was probably located near Congress Hall. The building that currently houses Cheeks clothing store on the corner of Ocean and Columbia, and Jackson’s Club House.

mainstay-outside“We researched other men’s clubs in Newport and Baltimore that suggests what might have gone on at the Jackson’s Club House,” said Tom. “As a club house it added a little controversy to the town. It broke from Cape May’s rather straight-laced reputation – you know, with all the churches in town – suddenly there’s a gambling house in the town. That’s recognized because it dropped out of the written history of Cape May when it existed as a club house.”

Jackson’s Club House appears to have been a first-class gaming house with fine furnishings. It was a place where gentlemen could escape the stifling responsibilities of Victorian life and relax – wives, not necessarily women, were forbidden. Men could gamble, enjoy a smoke and a good meal, and according to Tom, maybe make use of the services of “handsome women” if the mood struck them.

But let’s not dwell on the gambling and prostitution and such. The building itself is one of Cape May’s finest and best known edifices. “From the beginning, the building was recognized as a very important architectural gem,” said Tom. “I love the old quote from the Ocean Wave, that it was ‘unlike mansions of the shoddy order,’ (laughs). It’s always been a key building in the Cape May Historic District collection.”

The Mainstay remains one of the most popular places to stay in town, and many visitors to Cape May still stop and stare at the grand corner property. It’s a simple formula that keeps the Mainstay popular with visitors – the Mainstay Inn offers “pleasant accommodations,” just like the sign in front says.

Visit the Mainstay Inn at

To Keep an Inn

About 1980, I discovered an excellent exhibit in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. It was about the early years of automobile travel and the resulting development of the tourist home industry in America. It was especially interesting to me because I was part of the rapidly developing Bed & Breakfast industry, which was having a rather positive impact on the revitalization of Cape May’s economy. It also helped me realize the close relationship between travelers’ needs and interest and the tyinn-stagecoach2pes of overnight accommodations that became available for them during the course of America’s history.

For those of you who have visited Williamsburg taverns, the guides’ description of colonial tavern accommodations would make you want to stay home. Besides sharing the outhouse, one also shared the beds with bundling boards used to separate the sleepers. Only men “enjoyed” the taverns and plentiful food and liquor probably helped them collectively snore off the experience. Women travelers needed to make arrangements with friends or relatives along their travel route to insure they remained in a more protective environment. As railroad travel developed through the 19th century, hotels were built in close proximity to railroad stations and offered a wide variety of accommodations from basic to very luxurious. Old movies would give one the impression they were all luxurious, and most of them that have survived today represent the finest of their time.

The automobile changed travel completely, but not immediately. Cars were becoming commonplace before good road systems connected destinations, but by the 1930s, automobile road trips were giving the railroads and their hotels serious competition. Cars allowed travelers to explore places and communities relatively unavailable by trains and the railroad hotels. With typical Yankee ingenuity, homeowners started displaying signs offering “Rooms” or “Tourism Accommodations” and probably offered a wide variety of good and mediocre travel experiences. A whole new industry in America was born, thrived and slowly gave way to the roadside motel industry of the 1950s. Early motels offered “cabins” and worked hard to create a residential appearance. But as time moved on, motel chains found that uniform appearance of their buildings and guest units and proximity from door to car were very important to the traveler. The term “branding” might not have been in use but it was sure in practice.

My brother and I grew up with motel travel and, as long as there was a swimming pool, all was great! But by the time I married Sue in 1968, we agreed that this type of travel was becoming boring at best.

In our early travels together to then undiscovered places such as Charleston and Savannah, we found and enjoyed some of the remaining rooming houses, but recognized they were rapidly disappearing from America’s landscape. We didn’t realize at the time, but we were not the only travelers finding motels tiresome. Americans were weary of the sterile motel experience and were developing a growing interest in history travel; the birth of the American B&B experience was just around the corner.

Cape May also did not realize it would soon enjoy national recognition not only for its B&B’s but also for the development of the B&B industry. How did this come to pass? While Wildwood was booming and building in the 1950s and 60s, Cape May remained quiet and relatively undiscovered. Several new motels had appeared but historic hotels and numerous rooming houses dominated the town’s accommodations and their business season was as short as the summer. As we approached America’s bicentennial in 1976, a very strong interest developing in using vacations to discovery our country’s history. Historic communities from Bar Harbor to Key West enjoyed an influx of travelers. Victorian Cape May fell right in the mix and understood early on that these travelers did not just want to see history, museum style, but they wanted to stay, dine and shop in historic places. Our large, rambling Victorian houses were made for B&B conversion with sufficient space for 5-10 guest rooms, public rooms and verandas and at least one small back room for the owners.

In 1971 when Sue and I opened the Mainstay, we were sure there was less than a dozen B&B’s in America – we only knew of 4 others but did not have the luxury of an Internet search. Within 20 years, there were approximately 80 in Cape May alone and a report by PAII, the Professional Association of Innkeepers International, indicated that the number of B&B inns in the USA exceeded 30,000. Recognizing the value of our collective experience, Cape May Innkeepers offered to create a school for perspective innkeepers as a fund-raiser for the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts. Our tongue and cheek name of INN DEEP added to the appeal and we attracted up to 100 students each year in what use to be called, the “off season.” Many of our students shared our love for Cape May and decided to end their search for a great B&B location right here.

Today if you enjoyed a horse and carriage tour of Cape May during the summer or the Holly Trolley Tour of our town all decorated for the Christmas season, it would be hard to imagine this community in a state of disrepair. The B&B industry has been given ample credit for helping establish a sound economy for Cape May, but it has never received proper credit for its role in historic preservation in Cape May or in much of America. By the late 1960’s, Cape May’s Historic District was in sad shape. The Physick Estate was abandoned and over grown, empty storefronts were plentiful on Washington Street before the Mall, and several of our famous old hotels and homes were preparing for the wrecking ball. But by 1976, Cape May was awarded National Historic Landmark status and B&B owners were involved in all aspects of the community rebirth. One by one, residences that had escaped attention for many years found dedicated new owners for B&B conversion. Inappropriate white paint gave way to Victorian colors, remodeled exteriors were restored with the help of old photographs, antiques returned to Cape May rather than departed, and front porches enjoyed the social life they had missed for many years. Rocking on a veranda, enjoying breakfast or afternoon tea and watching people watching you became headlines in travel literature as it sang the praises of B&B’s in Victorian Cape May. It was a historic preservation dream come true.

I am often asked if I miss innkeeping. While retirement has provided time for other interests and travel, the time spent helping visitors enjoy our history and our wonderful community were truly some of my favorite moments in life so far. The interaction of innkeepers and guests is as old as recorded history and still as valuable to both. Would I do it all over? You bet!

Ten most important considerations for new innkeepers

So you think you might want to buy a B&B and become an innkeeper? We polled a few of Cape May’s finest innkeepers and here’s some “considerations” they come up with:

Location, location, location, just as they teach at Cornell. Does the considered location attract the B&B crowd? This cliental is usually educated, middle to upper income, sophisticated, interested in cultural and environment activities, and enjoy good food and very attractive accommodations. Are you in or near major tourist attractions, colleges, corporate business offices, hospitals, courthouses, etc. – Tom Carroll, former innkeeper of the Mainstay

Inns in Cape May are fortunate that Cape May and the Jersey shore in general are within driving distance of millions of people from so many major metropolitan areas. Being in an area that is a destination itself, makes marketing much easier than having to make your inn the reason for travel to a more remote location.

Is your business plan realistic? You should take your estimated start-up cost and see if you could afford to add 25 to 40 percent to it if you had too.

Do you or your partners have the right personality to be “on stage” much of the day? Would you find all this social time enjoyable or would it and the long hours grow old very fast?

Truly being a “people person” is an important consideration for a potential innkeeper. You will get asked the same questions many times and have your personal time and space invaded. Being able to remain friendly and helpful at these times is so important. If you read comments guests make about their visits, you will notice that there are more comments about how guests felt they were treated than the facility itself.

Do you and your partners have a plan for a fair division of responsibilities that match your talents and interest? This should be a long, sober, serious discussion before any decision is concluded. It should become part of a business contract, not unlike a marriage contract. Running an inn together and being married to a partner have very close parallels.

Be able to perform all tasks associated with innkeeping. As with any small business, finding and keeping good help can be hard. Even if cooking is your responsibility, you will probably need to clean and make beds when the help doesn’t show up.

Don’t think occupancy rate – think bottom line. If you are renting a room for $50 a night and are at full occupancy, that does not mean you are making money, as you will find out come December 31.

Work toward developing repeat customers. Guests who become part of your “family” will return many times and spread the word to their friends and family. I have one couple who have stayed with me 30 times in the 7 years that I have been here. I love it when the phone rings and the caller says they were referred to me by a regular customer. – Alison Bjork, White Dove Cottage.

Remember the days when you worked for someone, like IBM for example, and payday was a happy and regular happening? That’s not necessarily how it works when you are an innkeeper and you are self-employed. Part of your paycheck is the lifestyle you traded for getting out of the “rat race.” So, don’t worry. Be happy.

Tom Carroll and his wife Sue retired from 34 years on innkeeping in 2004. They remain busy with Restoration & Innovation Consulting helping others with projects large and small. They still enjoy being involved in projects without physically doing all the work.

Anita: Taking a chance on location

When Dave and I got engaged, we knew we wanted to have the wedding in a place where our guests could relax and enjoy themselves for the weekend. We chose Cape May because my parents have a house there and his parents have vacationed there over the years. Our wedding date was before the season began and was Mother’s Day weekend, so it was a wonderful time for our friends and family to be at the shore and experience the beauty of Cape May without having to fight the crowds.

We then chose Congress Hall as our reception site. It was currently under renovation, but was scheduled to be completed well before our wedding date. As the day approached, Congress Hall was close to complete – but not quite. My aunt told us that when she and my uncle arrived at the hotel the day before the wedding, the driveway in front of the hotel was not paved. They checked in and left for lunch and when they returned, the drive was paved!

Tracey, Curtis, and the gang from Congress Hall made everything very special for us. Our Honeymoon Suite was located in the wing that was not yet complete. So they placed a runner down the hallway, decorated each door, and made “our wing” look magnificent. And since the hotel was not open to the public yet, we (and our guests) had the entire hotel to ourselves to celebrate our special day. Dave and I also have wonderful photos of that day – with our favorite being one of us on the beach. Looking back, there is not one thing that I would change about that day. I can truly say that I had the perfect wedding – and it would not have been the same if it weren’t in Cape May.

Wedding Vendors

Father William Hart performed the ceremony at Our Lady Star of the Sea; Custom Bubble Cake by La Patisserie; Flowers by Karin Parker from Blooms at the Country Greenery; Transportation by Cape May Horse and Carriage and Great American Trolley Company; Wedding Coordinator was Tracey Martin of Seaside Occasions; Photography by Eric Zeller Weeks of EZ Memories.