- Cape May NJ Travel Guide and Vacation Planner Blog

Month: March 2010

Culinary Hardware

Take a trip to the lumberyard for Cedar-planked salmon

When people find out I am a chef, invariably they ask me where I buy my tools. They want to know about the latest gadgets that will help them “cook like a pro.” People will wax poetic about their latest finds at Williams-Sonoma, J.B. Prince or any of the multitudes of culinary stores that have sprouted with the resurged interest in all things food related. I love the looks on their faces when I tell them I shop at the local hardware store.

It is partly heritage. Besides being persnickety, the Scots are also renowned for their proclivity to stretch a dollar. And, it is partly a matter of practicality. The pretty shiny gadgets at most culinary stores fail to hold up to the rigors of restaurant reality.

A favorite trick of chefs is using ring molds to shape foods into perfect circles. This works great for salads, bread puddings and even savory dishes such as Braised Short Rib Shepherd’s Pie. Metal ring molds are available in a multitude of sizes in most culinary boutiques. They tend to be of thin gauge metal which gets bent easily, leaving you less than perfect dishes. These types of molds also have seams that can rust over time. The solution is to head to the plumbing section for some PVC pipe. Pvc pipe can be found in all different dimensions and thickness. Buy a length of pipe and have the store cut it to the lengths you desire. These ring molds are dishwasher safe, durable and have no seams. Armed with these you can turn out flawless salads and bread puddings with just a little practice.

Our next stop is the lumberyard. A Pacific Northwest classic is cedar-planked salmon. Even with proper care, cedar planks only last a couple of uses. The planks available in most stores look fashionable but run $8-$12 a piece. At the lumberyard find a nice thick cedar board and have it cut into 10-inch pieces for single servings or larger for a whole fish. It is very important to specify that you want untreated lumber. Grills, chemicals and food can be a lethal combination. Soaking the boards for 3-4 hours prior to cooking will yield moist fish and be less likely to cause unintended flambé dishes. For repeated use, wash and soak lightly in bleach solution. Air dry before pre-soaking prior to next use.

Serious firepower - a blowtorch creates the signature crunchy, caramelized sugar shield of Crème Brûlée.

Our next dish requires some serious firepower. It is ironic that one of the most delicate desserts that comes out of a kitchen requires a blowtorch to execute properly. Crème Brûlée. That’s right. After the finesse of baking custard, we need a blowtorch to achieve the crunchy caramelized sugar shield that is the signature of Crème Brûlée. Culinary catalogs and shops feature special crème brûlée torches that look like something found in a science lab. If look and appearance is a priority, then these $50 torches with expensive refill cartridges are for you. I opt for the all-purpose blowtorch, cost between $12-$16 with refill canisters costing $2 or $3 dollars. While not as pretty, these torches deliver a larger, hotter flame that will yield the crunchy crust you are looking for. The torch can also be used for browning meringue pies or finishing gratin dishes.

For specialty kitchen equipment, thinking outside the box can save you money. Expensive is always better, sometimes it just costs more. Hand-held immersion blenders can run anywhere from $15-$80 dollars depending on durability, motor speed and attachments. Some hardware stores have a small appliance section where you can find good deals on culinary tools.

After your trip to the hardware store, head into the kitchen with these recipes for Crème Brûlée and Cedar-planked Salmon. Until next month, Bon Appétit.

Crème Brûlée

(serves 6)

Basic recipe

  • 8 egg yolks
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract DO NOT USE IMITATION
  • ¼ cup demerara sugar for top

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Use 4-inch round, ¾-inch deep custard dishes. Place in casserole dish and fill the dish half way with water.

In a stainless steel bowl, whisk yolks and sugar until sugar dissolves and mixture is pale yellow. Add cream and whisk until smooth. Strain, skimming off any foam or bubbles.

Divide into dishes. Bake for 40-50 minutes until custard is set and tooth pick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool to room temperature. Sprinkle with sugar and brown with blow torch. Keep torch 5 inches from custard, spinning dish to evenly caramelize.

Chef’s Secret If you like fresh vanilla beans, store beans in your sugar canister. This will scent the sugar and you can eliminate the extract from the recipe.


Frangelico: Add 2 tablespoons Frangelico with cream

Baileys Irish cream: Add 3 tablespoons Irish cream to cream

Kahlua: Mix ¼ cup Kahlua, plus 1 teaspoon instant coffee into cream

Grand Marnier: Mix 3 tablespoons Grand Marnier, plus zest of 1 orange. Let steep 20 minutes. Strain then bake.

Cedar-Planked Salmon

(serves 4)


  • 2 pounds salmon filets, cut into 8-ounce pieces

Sea Salt Mix

  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 teaspoons chopped parsley
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • Sea Salt

Sprinkle Sea Salt on salmon. Mix  remaining ingredients to create marinade. place in Ziploc bag. Add fish and let marinate 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place rack on top level.

Take 4 pre-soaked cedar planks and place a piece of salmon on each. Top each fish with 3 lemon slices. Bake for 12-15 minutes for medium fish.  Serve on cedar board.

persnicketychefJon Davies is a graduate of Johnson and Wales University of Culinary Arts. His work as a chef has taken him to Aspen, Colorado; Cape May, NJ; and the odd private jet for culinary gigs for the rich and famous.

The Dead of Winter

Craig McManus. Photo Credit: Susan Tischler

From the sound of this tape, one would think it was a summer night in July and I had the windows open to the noisy street. But, it was the dead of winter when the dead of Cape May are the only ones moving (or talking) late at night in the B&Bs – Craig McManus, The Ghosts of Cape May, Book 3

I don’t know about you, but if I were stuck in the house all winter, right about now, I’d be looking for any excuse to get away. And what better place to get away, than Cape May? But what earthly reason would possess anyone to come here with 20 inches of snow still very much visible on the landscape? Well, count on psychic/medium and author Craig McManus to find reasons other than the usual earthly ones. On the weekend of Feb. 19 and 20, four “haunted” B&Bs hosted “The Dead of Winter” ghost tour. The weekend included other ghostly activities, like a séance and capped the weekend off with dinner and a Q&A at the Mad Batter Restaurant.

Craig has written four books on the subject of hauntings in Cape May, appropriately titled The Ghosts of Cape May, Two, Three and 400 Years of the Ghosts of Cape May and I swear he could find a ghost under the door mat of the local rest area, still stuff happens when he’s around – with no apparent explanation. I think it’s helpful to understand Craig’s ghost investigator terminology, which he includes in The Ghosts of Cape May (One).

EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) – EVPs are collected by running a tape recorder in a haunted place [but not necessarily a digital one] The voices are not heard until the tape is played back.

Ghost – Most parapsychologists prefer to use the term “apparition.” A ghost is the soul of a person (or animal) who has died and has not “crossed over” to the Other Side, Heaven, the next plane, etc.

Haunting – Craig considers this terms pejorative. Ghosts are not trying to  scare us, as the term “haunt” denotes. They simply exist on a different plan from us. For some unknown reasons, the two planes often mix in time and space. It is during this merging of energies that we may encounter sights (rare) or smells or sounds (common) associated with a ghost.

Nighttime – Most haunting activity takes place between midnight and five in the morning

Residual Haunting – Energy embedded in the ether of the place, “tape loops.” The energy creates a “movie” that plays repeatedly in the ether. The ghost will do the same thing again and again, like walking up a staircase. Nothing more will happen and the ghost will not notice you.

Spirit – Spirits are souls at a higher level of being. They are more advanced and enlightened than ghosts. A spirit is a soul that has crossed over to the Other Side and has come back to help or guide someone here on this plane.

Third Floor Phenomenon – Added to the definitions because it comes up so often on these tours. Although it is true that the third floor was often the servant’s quarters, as Craig explains it, Often ghosts are sensed on the third floor not necessarily because they were servants, but because their energy rises and that’s where it ends up being trapped.”

All righty then – now armed with the proper vocab, we can do a virtual tour of the Dead of Winter tour which begins on one of Cape May’s most haunted streets, Columbia Avenue. Columbia is one of the few streets in Cape May which was unscathed by the Great Fire of 1878. Many of structures were built in the early 1870s.

Bacchus B&B – The Main Inn

719 Columbia
Formerly the Brass Bed B&B

Bacchus 2.

Our first stop is at the Bacchus B&B, which at one time was called the Brass Bed Inn. As Craig recalls, speaking before a room of 20 or more participants:

“I spent the night in one of the rooms at The Brass Bed/ Bacchus. Something jarred me from my sleep about 3 a.m. As I woke, I realized I had been dreaming about an older man and a younger woman walking down the hallway toward my room. He was looking at a clipboard or something she was carrying and they were discussing it. I wondered if the man in the image could have been one of the doctors who had previously lived in the house. Maybe his nurse was with him as well. Both Dr [Alexander] Arthur and Dr [Thompson] Wescott had offices in the house and saw patients downstairs.

Photo Credit: Macy Zhelyazkova

“I assumed she was a nurse and I was seeing residual image of something that happened in the past or I was psychically viewing ghosts moving through the corridor. I had no more than pondered the thought, when I felt a cold rush of air in the room as the bed slowly started to move. As I laid on my side, I felt the mattress depress behind me, as if someone or something were getting into bed with me. It was quite unnerving. Even the most seasoned ghost investigator can become scared when taken off guard by something paranormal.

“I called out to Willy [Craig’s companion] who was sleeping in the next room, but by the time he woke up the presence was gone.

“About a year or so later, [owner and innkeeper], John Matusiak told me he heard a story that Dr.Arthur had a mistress and she would stay with him at the summer house while his wife was back home in Philadelphia. After learning this added information, I rethought my theory on why the good doctor is still at the house. He and the mistress may have decided to stay and enjoy life by the seaside in the afterlife, or they could both be trying to avoid running into Mrs. Arthur in Heaven!

“Of course, without having the ghost offer a name or identify itself, I am only speculating that it is Dr. Arthur. It could very well be one of the other previous owners of the house. Some ghosts will want to communicate; others will remain aloof and distant. Whatever is haunting the Brass Bed/Bacchus is a positive energy. If it is the good doctor, he was well liked in town and his outgoing personality would transcend death. Maybe someday he will leave a business card and I can finally get to the bottom of this haunting.”

Bacchus Inn Cottage

710 Columbia Avenue
Formerly the Inn at Journey’s End

and tried to put out a psychic line announcing who I was and that I would like to speak with her. She did not respond. What she did come back with was very strange. She was muttering about a roast not cooking properly. I think it was a stove. What was stove – not to mention a roast – doing in her bathroom?“In a few moments, the mystery was solved. John told me that when he was renovating downstairs, he had discovered that what is now the bathroom was at one time a kitchen. Now we’re cooking with gas!“Fanny would not give me the time of the day. It was one complaint after another about that stupid roast. She would not respond to any of my questions, and I started to wonder if she were only a residual haunting. I felt like walking into the bathroom/kitchen, [and saying], ‘No wonder your roast doesn’t taste right – you’ve been cooking it for 70 years.’”Craig leading the tour. Photo Credit: Susan Tischler”]Craig also sensed a young boy looking through the windows. He channeled the name Brendan, a small child, maybe 9 years old carrying coal.

Craig said, “Brendan would not come into the house because he was told by his previous employers never to enter the upstairs of a home. From what I could gather Brendan worked in some capacity delivery coal. He also mentioned a passing horse cart had injured his legs, and he walked with crutches. I think he may have died as a result of those injuries. Unlike Fanny Conwell, this ghost was very interactive.

“I still haven’t been able to trace him to this house. He seems to be transient to the neighborhood – sometimes ghosts who have been killed nearby simply move into your house.”

“When we rented a house nearby on Columbia Avenue last summer, Stephanie Kirk from The Linda Lee and The Bedford had told that when they gutted that house, a child’s wheelchair from the Victorian era had been discarded on the trash. I wondered if Brendan had possibly lived in this other house during his lifetime in Cape May.”

One of the more common hauntings at 710 Columbia are footsteps going up to the third floor. Many people have reported hearing them. Phantom footsteps are the most common of all haunting phenomena and manifest in most haunted places at one time or another. One hint that these footsteps are particularly persistent is the fact that the previous owners, Fran and Joe Doris, who turned what was then a rooming house into The Inn at Journey’s End B&B, carpeted the stairs. Didn’t stop that ghost, whom Craig thinks might be a Mrs. Mason who lived on Jackson Street but had to “move” after the Great Fire. She climbs the stairs determined to settle in for the night.

The Linda Lee B&B

725 Columbia

Linda Lee.

The ghosts on Columbia are active, many in number and varied. While channeling at the Bacchus Cottage, Craig once channeled a ghost called Walter who walked through the front wall from across the street at the Linda Lee to complain about the wine cheese being served across the street.

Craig’s account of Walter from Ghosts, Book Three:

“My name is Walter…I am from the Linda Lee and have come looking for some decent wine and cheese,” said Walter to Craig interrupting his channeling session. Bacchus, if you don’t already know, was the Roman god of wine and the John Matusiak, the proprietor of both Bacchus Main Inn and Cottage, was a purveyor of wines, as is Craig when he isn’t channeling. So, I’m guessing Walter know exactly where to go to make his wants known.

“I was conversing with them [the Matusiaks] and their ghosts when though the front wall of the house burst a larger than life spirit who identified himself as ‘Walter.’ It was not the first time this wandering sociable ghost had made his presence known outside his abode – nor would it be the last.

“Each time I attempted to channel 710 Columbia, this pesky ghost from 725 would move into our space announcing his arrival; and inviting us to a wine and cheese party – that we were expected to furnish on his behalf.”

The Linda Lee. Photo Credit: Macy Zhelyazkova

Walter came out looking for “some decent wine and cheese” more than once. Finally, Craig cornered the new owners of the Linda Lee one day, Archie and Stephanie Kirk, and asked them about Walter. Archie, a skeptic, conceded that one of the owners on the deed was in fact a man named Walter. Craig had finally ID’ed his ghost.

Over the years Craig recorded many tapes of wee hours of the morning at the Linda Lee. He recounts one particular recording of EVPs.

“When the hiss was removed from the recording, a myriad of ghostly voices was heard in the background noise of the tape. From the sound of this tape, one would think it was a summer night in July and I had the window open to the noisy street. But, it was the dead of winter, when the dead of Cape May are the only ones moving (or talking) late at night in the B&Bs.”

At the Linda Lee Craig recorded a “plethora” of EVPs.

“At times it sounded like two women conversing and other times a man and a child were talking.” Craig asked if Walter was in and was informed that he was not. Fifteen minutes later, he reports asking the same question, “I told you he’s not in!” replied the ghost. Walter must have been “out for the evening” no doubt in search of some libation.

The Bedford Inn

805 Stockton Avenue

Bedford Inn. Photo Credit: Macy Zhelyazkova

Most of our visit to the Bedford Inn, also owned by Archie (the skeptic) and Stephanie Kirk (skittish of anything ghostly) consisted of the group of us gathering in the dining room and side parlor listening to Craig’s recordings of the EVPs in one of the rooms of the inn and also listening to the tales of some of those gathered who have stayed in the four B&Bs. We also listened to the EVPs and tried to “interpret” them.

All in all, whether you are a believer or not, this is one entertaining way to spend a wintry weekend and I’m just guessing, if you play your cards right, Dead of Winter will be offered next year and you can get up close and personal with the spirits of Cape May.

If you can’t wait that long – Craig is having another Haunted Weekend at the John F. Craig House, also on Columbia Avenue, this month – March 12-14. The event will include a Seaside Seance.  Happy Haunting.

Craig shares some EVPs

EVPs (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) are subjective. Some people hear one thing; others hear something completely different. Some hear nothing at all.

The first EVP was recorded in the Bedford. The question was: “Who is here with me?” The answer on the EVP was “Rebecca.”


When I later asked, “Who is Rebecca?” I received an answer that sounds like “My cousin.”

[audio:|titles=My cousin]

At the Brass Bed, I think Doctor Arthur says, “Who we got here? Just me and the lady.” I had asked if it was Dr. Arthur haunting the house.

[audio:|titles=Who we got here?]

At the Linda Lee, the first EVP was recorded right before a thunder storm hit. In response to my question, “Is there anybody here?” The answer sounds like “Take the wash in.” I am not sure if there was anything hanging on a wash line nearby or if I had encountered an old servant who still thought they were doing wash!

[audio:|titles=Take the wash in]

The second EVP says “We love you.” Which is quite interesting…maybe ghosts DO watch us shower!

[audio:|titles=We love you]

Art Between Heaven and the Dunes

This article originally appeared in the June 2008 issue of Cape May Magazine.

The allure of Cape May County and its surroundings is undeniable. Visitors and residents are in agreement about the charms of the Victorian town, and have been practically since the resort was established.

Artists of all kinds have been attracted to the coastal town almost from the beginning. That hasn’t changed one bit today as legions of creative types, each in their own way, translate their visions of the town and adjacent environs into works of art.

The following artists have been inspired by Cape May so much that they’ve each produced many different works, and they share their views on why they keep returning.

Stan Sperlak

Stan Sperlak

When Stan Sperlak was studying art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts the thrust of instruction there was with oil painting. Pastels, his area of choice, weren’t part of the academic setting; you had to pick them up on your own.

“I always played with pastels since probably I was a kid,” he says. “That’s why I went full-circle and came back to them.

“I think in the grand scheme of color theory, how you would work a painting from start to finish, pastels are much more related to oil painting than they are to watercolors. With oils and pastels you pretty much work from dark to light. You establish all your dark areas and then build yourself a painting that eventually brings in the bright colors. With watercolor you work exactly the opposite. You have to work from light to dark.

“I teach art … and I think the connection I’m always able to bring to the students as to why they’re drawn to pastel, or why I’m drawn to pastel, is because you actually just hold it in your hand. And it’s very primal, there’s a dexterity to it, and there’s a sculptural quality. When you’re putting it on the paper, you feel like you’re carving. You feel like you’re building. So, for me it was that type of primal urge,” says Sperlak, laughing.

“The Moon and Venus over the Shore” by Stan Sperlak

Sperlak incorporates those primal urges by working hand-made pastels he’s bought. In French, the word pastel means nothing more than “paste” with no reference to color. So he kneads the material until it’s a consistency close to caulk. He then foregoes all the traditional techniques of painting on paper or a smooth board by creating his paintings on sand paper. Far from the type you’ll find in a hardware store, it’s a 400- or 500-grit aluminum silica board that’s archival quality. It allows the pastels to spread and adhere better,

As for subject matter, Sperlak prefers to focus on the natural world around Cape May, often with low horizons and dramatic skies. “Somebody once said to me ‘Oh, you don’t paint the buildings in Cape May, You don’t like that stuff.’ It’s not that I don’t like it, I like other things better.

“There’s only so much time to paint. Often if you paint in a city like Cape May, you wind up talking to everybody. If I can go out to the beach or to a marsh I can spend several hours just painting and not really have to have a break. I love talking too, but if you’re painting, you can’t do both.”

“Surf” by Stan Sperlak

Sperlak has a deep appreciation for the natural gifts we have locally. “When I compare South Jersey regional art and artists to people working in Long Island, Michigan, the California coast, the Texas blue bonnet fields and all the different places in the country – well, we have things here that are every bit as interesting. We just have to kind of extrapolate them back and forth.

“We don’t have the Rocky Mountains, but we have some awesome thunderheads here. We don’t have these huge valleys and things like that, but we have the ocean waves. And I think that really helps people understand that Cape May County, South Jersey and the Mid Atlantic really are treasures for visuals.”

Patricia Rainey

In 1995 Patricia Rainey decided she wanted to paint. So she bought a bunch of brushes and paints, sat down and started painting. She doesn’t really know why she got the urge, but she began by copying post cards. However, Rainey realized recreating other artists’ images wouldn’t get her too far, so she began doing original work.

Patricia worked with oils back then, but found that the galleries she was selling to were only interested in watercolors. So she switched over to watercolors and found it not such a big change. “The reason for that,” she says, “is that I do not wet my paper when I work in watercolors. I work more in like an oil technique, so it really doesn’t spread out and so forth.”

During those early days, Patricia did mostly renderings of Maine landscapes and seascapes. She lived in northern New Jersey at the time and visited New England during the summer, taking many photos, and then creating her paintings in the winter using the prints as guides.

She hasn’t abandoned oil painting for watercolors, though. “I enjoy both, actually, and probably equally, as well. I like the fast cleanup of the watercolors, but I like the feeling of working in oils. The whole Cape May series – of which now there are now 85 – are all in watercolors. Basically, the New England series is in oil.”

She does all her work flat on a table – a trait she picked up before discovering that artists don’t work that way. Still, she embraces the vagaries of watercolors. “Things happen with watercolors that don’t happen with oils. Sometimes things that you don’t quite intend to happen.”

While being drawn to the community of Cape May, Patricia is also enamored of the architecture, like a lot of other artists. When doing paintings of nature, Rainey takes some liberties, but when it comes to recreating structures she’s more precise. She’ll take general photos of a house, say, and then shoot close-ups of various details, to get everything just right for historical purposes. “People really want something as they know it – as it appears. I do a lot of house commissions, also, and they have to be accurate, because that’s what people want.” Although a Christmas picture she did of the Cape May lighthouse does have a wreath hanging on it that wasn’t there.

“The Abbey” by Patricia Rainey

She prefers to photograph buildings in the winter because there are no leaves blocking the view. (They can be added later.) Then her paintings are done in the studio, due to the nature of detail required.

She usually begins a painting by sketching in the building and then washes in the colors, such as the sky and grass. Then she goes back and puts in the finer details called for. Patricia also works on four or five paintings at a time, claiming she doesn’t have the attention span to stick to one piece at a time,

Her creative output is limited to the months of November through March, devoting the remainder of the year attending shows in the area. The bulk of her current work is dedicated to commissions.

Summing up her work, she says “a lot of artists have a message in their paintings, and I really don’t. My paintings are just very happy paintings. And I’ve heard that over and over from the public. They’re just places you’d like to be, rather than trying to figure out what they mean. There are no surprises.”

Phil Courtney

Phil Courtney

Phil Courtney finds a freedom in working with watercolors, although he has dabbled in oils. “Right now when I get a little free time I run out and paint,” he says. “It’s just a lot easier to deal with watercolors that way. With oils, it’s more of a big project. You need a big block of time to actually get into it.”

A billboard artist by trade, Courtney considers his fine art work more of a hobby or part time passion. A hobby he’s been devoted to most of his life,

He’s been doing paintings of Cape May for about eight years. His family used to vacation here, and when his work moved to the area they decided to become residents. “We just love the town. It’s a nice year-round beach town, more than a lot of other towns.”

“The Wooden Rabbit” by Phil Courtney

Courtney’s done some commissions and illustration work, but he hasn’t taken that too far, preferring to pursue subjects of his own choosing. He has done some landscapes, but his work centers on the architecture of the town. The process he employs for choosing a subject is simple. “I think for me, it’s the overall look of the place. I look at a house and think I would love to paint that, and I just do it.

“I do an initial painting and I take photographs. Sometimes I’ll take photographs at different times of the summer and get different flowers. I’ll get different aspects of the seasons and pick a season that looks the best with the house. I’ll work in the studio on it for a while, or maybe go back out. But to get the details, you really need to sit in a studio. It’s really hard to do out on location.”

For a real detailed painting it might take Courtney 30 hours to complete. “It’s all that gingerbread takes a long time to paint. Also, with watercolor you have to be so careful not to go too dark. A lot of times I paint it a little too light and then I paint the rest of the painting. And then I realize that that area’s too light, you’ve got to make it a little darker. Because if you go too dark with watercolor you can’t go back – you’re done.”

“Before the Storm” by Phil Courtney

He takes advantage of some of the looser aspects that watercolors can provide when doing landscapes. But when doing buildings, it’s more of a precise approach.

Lately, Courtney has been concentrating on landscapes, finding subject matter in the marshlands along Route 47 near the Delaware Bay and at Cape May Point. It’s become a nice change from doing buildings.

He’ll eventually return to structures, though. When he was young he contemplated following a career path as an architect. He’s also done home renovations, which has given him a keener knowledge of perspective and scale.

Courtney works on billboards from Cape May to Atlantic City, often along the boulevards leading into shore towns. A couple of times he’s looked out over the wetlands and noticed some particularly rich subject matter. So his next creation might come from those musings.

Marie Natale


Marie Natale, from Egg Harbor Township, has been an artist since she was 12 when her teacher encouraged her to pursue her interest. Marie taught art in the public school system for ten years, garnering a Teacher of the Year award along the way. She now teaches privately in her home studio and at the Ocean City Arts Center. Her watercolors have won numerous awards.

She often drives down the parkway to capture Cape May. One reason, she says, is that “nowhere in South Jersey do you really find the colors of those buildings. First of all, it’s the architecture itself that is so beautiful and you don’t see that a lot. And the colors of buildings – purple buildings, pink buildings – you just don’t see that around. So that is what’s the real draw.”

Usually when Marie is doing a scene, she does her painting from life. She’ll arrive in the morning and stay all day. But she may only use part of that time in creative pursuit. “In watercolors you really need to paint light,” she says. “It’s very important that you’re able to capture the light. So, depending on where the building is, it might be morning sun, it might be afternoon sun, whatever. But I do try and get it where I have a strong difference between shadow and light.

“The Halcyon Days of Summer” by Marie Natale

“I also like getting the shadows on the porches. I like casting of tree shadows on streets and things like that, which I think also adds interest and gives a sense of dimension to the painting as well.”

She is attracted to watercolors because she feels they convey a freshness and transparency that other mediums don’t. Paintings in oil and other materials sometimes have a heaviness and opacity to them that she would rather not have in her work.

“The other exciting thing about watercolor,” she says, “is there’s no other medium that allows water and pigment and gravity to work together to capture these glowing, beautiful watercolors. Because [with] most paints you put it on the picture and it stays there. But with watercolors – because I stand with my watercolor paper straight up – all that gravity is also making the water run and flow, and that’s what creates an excitement about the direct painting technique.”

Natale paraphrases Picasso when she says, “you as an artist have to lie a little bit, stretch it a little bit, so the viewer gets to see the beauty you want them to see.

“Summertime Carriage Ride” by Marie Natale

“And that’s really kind of what I want to do. I’m not really interested in painting really emotional, deep heavy subjects. I want people to look at my paintings and say ‘Oh wow, I want to be there right now. Oh look at the light. Look at what a beautiful location that is. I want to be there.’ That’s more interesting to me than showing something emotionally gut-wrenching.

“I feel like I’m paying homage and giving respect to these buildings and these structures that have serviced people over the years, and honoring them in a way by showing them their beauty and letting people see what that is.

“That’s the other easy thing about Cape May – everywhere you turn around there’s another painting to paint. Everything is just so beautiful down there. Each building has its own unique architecture, and that’s exciting too.”

Making Your Garden a Birding Mecca

Wax myrtle often grows along the Delaware bay where birds enjoy the berries.

The Cape May area is a real Mecca for all kinds of birds. Birders come from all over the world during migration seasons to watch and count them. Besides songbirds, there are owls, hawks, waterfowl and many other unusual birds. Because of the variety of birds there are many plants that have been planted or seeded by the bird droppings. Although some of these plants are invasive, many are beneficial and provide food for the birds. There are many wonderful natural areas in which to hike and bird watch. There are often walks and events at the Nature Center of Cape May and other Cape May wildlife areas.

Do you have birds gobbling up seeds and insect pests in your garden? If not, you should consider adding a bird feeder and planning to plant some bird-friendly plants for next year. Birds are fun to watch. They add color, movement and song to the garden and they eat harmful insect eggs and larvae. We have been using a mix of white safflower and sunflower seeds. I am not sure why, but the squirrels didn’t bother the white safflower as much, or at least they ignored it for a while. It seems they are now beginning to eat the white safflower seeds too. Perhaps this is because of deep snow covering other foods. I find that it pays to buy good seed that does not have filler in it. Stores that specialize in birdseed will have many kinds of custom blends that attract numerous types of birds.

Holly trees provide shelter beneath their solid leaves and food with their berries.

As natural food becomes more and more scarce in late winter, birds are more apt to take advantage of feeders. Americans are avid birders, feeding the birds year round. This pastime is more than just amusement; it is beneficial for your garden because birds eat harmful insects and pests in addition to weed and left over flower seeds. As they snack on the seeds we put out they also clean up the lawn and garden for spring. I love to watch the wood peckers on the dead trees around our property. This year there are flocks of red wing black birds and grackles at our feeders. I do not remember seeing them in such numbers other years. I try not to complain about them as they eat a volume of gypsy moth larvae and other harmful pests in spring and summer when they have young in the nest.

If your attempts at feeding are not quite as successful as you would like you might evaluate your feeding sites. Is there nearby cover? I find that most of the birds that come to my feeders first sit in the red cedar, holly or spruce trees that naturally line our yard. They not only eat the berries, or pull the seeds from cones, but also find shelter from predictors among the prickly greens and protection from rain and snow beneath their cover.

Many birds love to eat bayberry. It grows in the dunes at the shore but will do well in most well drained yards that are not over watered.

If your yard is bare and the feeder sits out far from any trees or evergreens you must remedy the situation by planting some tall ornamental grasses, fruit bearing shrubs, trees and evergreens as a screen behind the feeders.

Make your first planting of the season an evergreen backdrop for the birds. Sometimes you can find balled and burlaped evergreens left from the Christmas season. Plant a spruce, a fir, a pine or a native cedar. This permanent cover within distance to the feeding area will insure a holding area for hungry but insecure birds on their way to your feeder.

All evergreens are a Mecca for wildlife providing both food and shelter, but the cedar is a very valuable native that should be protected more and planted in residential a well as public landscapes. It is plant that demands nothing of the environment and gives much back. Cedars are not always sitting in nurseries, but we often dig them in our fields for special orders. Watch for them in and among borders as birds often drop the seeds and they grow naturally. We have several very nice specimens that were here in our woodland setting when we built our house more than 40 years ago. There are gardens of shade tolerant plants under them and bird feeders near them. I am so glad these cedars were left to grow in all their glory.

Plants to plan on for attracting birds to your garden

This blue bird is sitting on my garden fence where he loves to eat beach plums from the many shrubs planted along the garden. A pair nests in the box also on the fence.

Ornamental grasses provide both quick cover and food for many varieties of birds. Low plants for ground cover include bearberry for dry shade, cotoneaster, cranberry, lowbush blueberry and spreading junipers. Other taller shrubs that have berries such as Pyracantha, bayberry, choke cherry, Rosa rugosa (large orange rose hips), raspberry, black berry, nandina, clethra and fruiting vines. Taller trees include hollies, cedar, dogwood, Amelanchier (shad blow), fruit, nut and berry trees that birds like for both food and shelter. The dogwood is usually at the top of the list with birds visiting them in the fall. Because of these numerous red berries in autumn, the dogwood is said to be a very good wild life tree. Many songbirds devour the pretty red fruits. Cedar waxwings can often be seen visiting them in fall especially when they are near the cedar trees like in my garden. These flocks also eat the black fruit of the sour gum in fall and the dried frozen persimmon in February.

As I look out my front window now I see towering pines, then many hollies, dogwood, cedar, gum and sassafras. There are various shrubs next, several with fruits and berries. The birds are everywhere, many making their way to the feeders close to the house. Jays, mockingbirds, and cardinals are all eating the numerous kinds of berries. The robins are here and beginning to strip the berries from the holly. There are still berries on my favorite nandina shrubs, but the birds will soon eat them. For some reason, they are eaten last. We enjoyed watching chick a dee pulling the seeds from white pines a while ago.

Chickadees love rose hips and are often in thickets eating and roosting in the safety of the rose thorns.

There are many good books and lists that can provide homeowners with detailed information. Email me at for more information on planting a bird watcher’s garden. Also contact the National Wildlife Federation in Washington DC for their packet for homeowners. We were among the first 100 to register our property as a wildlife habitat way back in the 1970s. Their publications have good ideas on making a garden for the birds. Having been working at this since the ‘70s, we see the many benefits of planting for wildlife. Join me to learn how to make your yard a bird and butterfly Mecca.

On April 10 at 1:30 there will be a Workshop for planting the garden for the birds. The $15 registration fee covers handouts, a one-gallon native plant for birds, a lecture, and walk. Sign up soon. Refreshments also included. Call 856-694-4272.

Mark your calendar for the winter interest, “looking for spring” plant walk and talk on March 14. Event is free and there is home made soup at the end. Please register now. Call 856-694-4272.

lorraine-kieferLorraine Kiefer has gardened all of her life. She is a garden writer, floral designer and professional horticulturist. Lorraine teaches many classes at Triple Oaks nursery and Herb Garden in Franklinville, NJ. Email for garden help or leave your questions below!