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Month: January 2011

7th Annual Burns Supper

The 7th Annual Burns Supper was held at the Ugly Mug Thursday, January 27. Kilt-clad Scots and wannabe Scots gathered to enjoy a dish of haggis, both traditional and…Dare we say it?…vegetarian. For the meek at heart, commonly referred to as the English, a platter of fish-and-chips was also on the offering. Dancing and, of course, bagpipers highlighted the evening and a good time seems to have been had by all. As best as we can recollect. Proceeds from the benefit went to Cape May Stage.


Can I Get a Witness Opening

On January 17th, Martin Luther King Day,the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities held an opening reception for the new exhibit “Can I Get a Witness!” at the Carriage House on the grounds of the Emlen Physick Estate. The collection of artifacts, photos and documents reveals the history of the black church in the 19th and 20th centuries. Present at the reception were Dr. Edward Mahaney, Mayor of Cape May and Pam Kaithern, mayor of west Cape May. Bernadette Mathews, president of the Center for Community Arts opened the reception with remarks calling attention to the contributions by many of the congregations whose churches were represented in the exhibition. The exhibit is free and open to the public through April 17th. The exhibit then moves to West Cape May Borough Hall through August 31st.


Cove Beach Replenishment

A $9 million state-funded beach replenishment project began this week. The project will pump 140,000 cubic yards of sand onto the severely eroded Cove Beach. The project initially was shot down by City Council in a 3-2 vote. Those opposed to the project objected to demands by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that the endangered piping plover nesting grounds be protected. This is usually done by roping off the nesting area. Opposing council members feared that the very popular bathing beach might, in fact, be closed during nesting times. The dispute was later resolved with a single sentence:
“The (DEP’s) Office of Engineering and Construction recognizes the city of Cape May’s desire for Cove Beach to remain a municipal beach which is open to the public and recognizes that Cove Beach is expected to remain so, subject of course to all federal, state and local requirements.”
Approval of the project the second time around was 5-0.


Making Your Backyard a Birding Mecca

Persimmon tree

People come from all over because Cape May is a bird mecca!  A great location on the migration paths as well as lots of natural food and cover draw the birds as well as the bird watchers. Often rare birds are sighted as they move through Cape May Point. There are song birds as well as raptors of all kinds. There are water fowl and many other migrants that make bird watching very exciting.

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 this spring. Birds are fun to watch as they add color, movement and song to the garden and they eat harmful insect eggs and larvae.

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 weeds and leftover 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 woodpeckers on the dead trees around our property.

Blueberries provide low ground cover and berries

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 predators among the prickly greens and protection from rain and snow beneath their cover.

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.

Winterberry

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 set within the 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 important 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 a 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.

Rusa rugosa (large orange rose hips) are taller shrubs with berries

Plants to plan on for attracting birds to your garden

  • 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.

Rosa rugosa berries

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 the last that they eat. We enjoyed watching chick-a-dee pulling the seeds from white pines a while ago.

There are many good books and lists that can provide homeowners with detailed information. Email me at Lorraine@tripleoaks.com 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  1970’s . Their publications have good ideas on making a garden for the birds.  We have been working at this since 1970’s and see the many benefits of planting for wildlife.

Join me to learn how to make your yard a bird and butterfly mecca. On March 13 see bird plantings in our display gardens at our winter interest plant talk Taste delicious homemade soup after the program. Please RSVP.  There will be a Workshop for Planting Native Plant for birds, a lecture, and walk on April 10 at 1:30. Sign up soon. 856-694-4272 for details.


Your Favorite Pictures from 2010

Every day, we post a Picture of the Day, our ongoing photo blog of Cape May, New Jersey. All year, we’ve been collecting votes on your favorite photos. (You know that red heart you’ve been clicking next to your favorite photos? That’s the one!) Now, we present to you, your favorite pictures from 2010. Buy a print of any image in our online photo store

January – Snowfall

February – Overnight Snow

March – Amaranthine Reflections

April – Quiet Show

May – Looking West

June – Water’s Edge

July – Splash!

August – Felicity

September – Ocean View

October – Quiet Wonder

November – Last Light

December – Snowy Queen V


The Ghosts of the John F. Craig House

The Craig House is actually two houses in one. Two haunted houses, that is. We don’t know much about the older rear section of the house, built prior to 1850. We do know it was probably moved to its present location around 1866 when the front section was added. The first owner of that house drowned at sea and never made it back home. The second owner, a wealthy Philadelphia banker, lost the house after one of the financial crashes and later died. The third owner, John Fullerton Craig, a wealthy Philadelphia sugar baron, still roams the halls, and he died in 1926. The living and the dead coexist peacefully at the Craig House—as they do in most of haunted Cape May.

The John F. Craig House is one of Cape May’s top attractions on the B&B scene. Owners Chip and Barbara Masemore have added many beautiful and whimsical touches to the old seaside cottage. They have also maintained the Victorian integrity of the home, something the original owners would be very proud of―or should I say are very proud of. You see, the Craig House, like so many other homes in Cape May, is haunted. While the former owners may be dead, it does not stop them from having a good time―and that is exactly what they do, which is why the Craig House is such a great haunt. You never quite know what will happen next.

I first met the Craig House on one of the walking ghost tours back in the early 1990s. Its ghosts had a bit of an identity problem back then, their mysterious identities had yet to be determined. It was thought that Lucy Johnson, a former servant of the Craig family, was still sewing in the afterlife and would sew buttons back on the pants of visitors. While the story amused me, I felt there was much more to be unearthed in the ghostly realm behind the walls of the old 1866 cottage on Columbia Avenue.

As I have mentioned many times, it is difficult for me to probe psychically the inside of a building from the outside. I really need to be at point blank range with a haunting to get all the details, and even at close range, there is no guarantee the ghosts will be there. Standing outside of the house and hearing about the ghostly activity only gave me a fragment of the material I needed to understand the house from a paranormal point of view. Years later, I had a chance to get in and get psychic. The Craig House was on the local house tour circuit, and I was able to get to know it up close and personal.

Barbara and Chip had just purchased the home and had called in the previous owners to help them answer questions about the house for tour goers. My question was simple: Is the house haunted? I received a guarded, yet positive answer to my question, and then in my typical rambling psychic manner, I started to tell them what the ghosts wanted me to tell them. It was the beginning of a long and wonderful relationship between this psychic medium and a very special haunted house.

With any haunted house, the ghosts are not always active. They may be active and on the go, but they may also just be gone. A house is only haunted when the ghosts are at home. Ghosts move around. They exist in a different dimension of reality that overlaps our own reality. They seem to be able to see our surroundings and us. Sometimes they can even communicate. The Craig House has several ghosts and none of them seems to have any trouble communicating!

The house also has a very unique characteristic. The front section that faces Columbia Avenue was built after the Civil War, in 1866, when Columbia Avenue was first laid out. The rear section of the house was built earlier, in the early part of the 1800s. It was either moved to its current location from another spot in town, or it stood on the property prior to the main house being added to it. I personally think it was moved. In those days, labor was cheaper than lumber and they tended to move old buildings rather then demolish them.

The dual architecture has also given the Craig House dual citizenship in the Spirit world; with ghosts from two different times haunting their respective sections. In the older, rear section, disembodied footsteps are heard on the stairs, late at night after all the guests have gone to bed. Men’s voices can also be heard, carrying on as if returning from sea after a long fishing trip. The voices are always distant and never seem to have an exact point of origin. This is very typical of this type of haunting. If the voices are bleeding through from another reality, they would not have a specific point of origin in our world, they would just echo in and out with the flow of energy.

While the ghostly energy in the rear of the house is always interesting, I think much of it is residual, meaning it comes with the house and repeats like a tape loop for those sensitive enough to hear it. The real barrel of fun in the Craig House’s ghostly repertoire is the ghost hostess of the house, Emma Craig, and she wouldn’t be, excuse the pun, caught dead in the back servants quarters, at least not these days.

“Emma” was the first name I sensed when I took the Craig House tour back in 2003. Barbara told me Emma was John F. Craig’s second wife. The story was that John Craig had bought the house after his first wife died and he, Emma, and the children summered in Cape May. Emma’s energy kept leading me back to the servant’s quarters, and I assumed I had the wrong ghost. Maybe another Emma worked for one of the owners of the house. Barbara thought it would be odd for the head of the house to hang out in the servants wing, but who was I to argue with the ghost?

We later found out from John F. Craig’s great grandchildren that Emma (pictured left) was not always the head of the house, at least not legally. She ran the house with an iron fist and the children always feared her…when she was their nanny. After the first Mrs. Craig died, Emma stayed on with the family. The children were never allowed to go into the back section of the summer home. Only John Craig could make regular visits to the back, to make sure all was well with Emma. I guess he was checking to make sure her plumbing was in working order. You know how old houses are…

It wasn’t long before Emma and John got married. It was quite a scandal for a well-to-do person of Philadelphia high society (Craig made his fortune as a sugar baron) to marry his maid, but marry they did, and Emma became the new Mrs. John F. Craig—and has ruled the house ever since.

We die because the body ceases operating. The soul just keeps going. It came into the body and it leaves the body. The soul is the essence of who we are. Typically, the soul crosses over to another dimension, a place called Heaven or the Other Side. Sometimes a soul has unfinished business or a strong will to stay put. That soul becomes a ghost, a disembodied energy with a consciousness. Emma Craig is very strong willed and I have no doubt she will cross over when she is ready― not a moment sooner.

Emma’s presence is very strong in the house. She does not seem to interact with the guests as much as she watches over the house. When we die we take our personality with us and she was definitely an “in control” personality. One thing of interest that Emma does not seem to be able to control is the cat ghost that runs about the B&B. I have seen this ghostly feline out of the corner of my eye several times. So have other guests. Barbara thinks it is a former owner’s cat still lingering about. People who stay on the third floor have sometimes felt their hands touched or their face lightly brushed, late at night as they sleep. I think our phantom feline could be the culprit.

Dogs are people centered, but cats are place centered and this cat seems to be right at home here. If Spirits do come and go between plains of existence, then cats, being the eternally inquisitive creatures they are, would probably do so even more. The Craig House cat could be the main culprit behind many of the “bumps” in the night. Cats being nocturnal can make quite a racket when they are alive, imagine what they can do when they are dead!

Emma does not walk the corridors of the Craig House alone. I have also sensed head of the house John Fullerton Craig’s ghost, although less frequently than Emma. Craig was quite the entrepreneur. Both a sugar baron and an investment banker, I would imagine if ghosts can travel, John Craig (pictured left) moves back and forth between Cape May and his old stomping grounds in Philadelphia. Maybe he keeps one wife haunting in each house. While John Craig’s ghost is frequently at the B&B, I often sense a “Frank.”  The personality is quite strong and he feels like he is right at home in one of the front bedrooms.

It could be the ghost of John Craig’s son, Dr. Frank Ardary Craig. Dr. Craig was a prominent physician in Philadelphia and a longtime professor at the School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He died in 1959 in Philadelphia at age 83 after complications from colon surgery, he was not in Cape May at the time of his death, and by 1959 the house had left the Craig family. I am not quite sure why the good doctor would choose to haunt a former beach house that was no longer in the family, unless of course the “family” was in fact still there in spirit.

I believe that souls have the ability to come and go from Heaven. These souls I call Spirits. Could ghosts also be able to come and go from Heaven at their leisure, instead of being earthbound? Do ghosts and Spirits mix in a haunting? Are ghosts and Spirits one in the same? If the Frank is Dr. Frank Craig, could the good doctor be back as a Spirit to enjoy his old childhood “haunt” by the seaside, or is it simply another “Frank” is haunting the house? With the location of the Craig House being on one of the oldest and most haunted streets in town, anything is possible.

One of my most interesting (and startling) experiences occurred in the back section of the house. I was quite sure when I woke up on a quiet fall morning and found the room to be a frigid 50 degrees, that the ghosts had been playing with me. The heat was set at 68 and when I went to bed the room was perfectly cozy. I made the mistake of commenting aloud that the least the ghosts could do was to warm up the room in the morning for the guests. I then left, had breakfast and went for a walk. Upon returning to the room about an hour later, I found the room to be a balmy 87 degrees!  The heat had been turned up to 87, the fireplace turned on and the bathroom heater activated for good measure. While the climate was perfect for tropical plants, I was not so amused. Questioning Barbara and Chip I realized no one (living) had been in the room since I had left. Well, you get what you ask for, especially with ghosts!

A few years ago, Barbara asked if I would be one of her “Cape May Stars” and host a winter weekend at the Craig House. We decided the weekend event would focus on the ghosts and I would hold a group séance on Saturday night by the fireplace. As the group gathered and began to listen quietly as I went into trance, the house began to come alive. A door upstairs slammed and bangs and footsteps could be heard coming from all over the house. Everyone (living) in the house was present in the parlor.

Soon the ghosts made their presences known and I relayed the information they gave me. Ghost communication is a form of mind-to-mind energy exchange. They send me thoughts, pictures, and often names. Soon after we started I got more than I bargained for. Ghosts from outside the house, those residing in other homes, started to come through the walls and attempt to communicate with us.

A ghostly child made his presence known to me and as I informed the group, a raging cold spot moved around the legs of a few of the participants. The child was particularly drawn to a young couple from Mount Laurel. He was an orphan and he thought they were his former parents. The child would appear to us on other occasions as well. Several cold spots, often a calling card for ghosts, moved around the room. What started out as a warm, toasty gathering by the fire changed into an icy mix of the living and the dead…and the living loved it!

We now repeat the Craig House Séance weekends each winter. I will be hosting two weekends this season, on February 4 and 5 and again on March 18 and 19. For more details or to make reservations visit the John F. Craig House B&B online by following this link. If you want a chance to get up close and personal with the paranormal, while enjoying a great weekend getaway by the seaside, come join me for this spooktacular event.

The ghosts of the Craig House have made themselves known to guests for many years and they will probably be enjoying their old seaside cottage for many years to come. The energy at this house is very positive. Just don’t ask them to warm up your bed for you, or you may get more than you bargained for! You can read more about the house in my Ghosts of Cape May Book 1. Of course, the best way to get to know the ghosts is to stay there.

I also want to mention, for those of you on facebook who are also ghosts of Cape May fans, I have a group page devoted to just that. Come join the group by following this link, or search for “ghosts of Cape May” next time you are on facebook. The more the spookier!

Wishing you all the best for the New Year.

In Good Spirits, Craig McManus


What You Thought of 2010

These were some of the biggest news items to hit our Facebook page in 2010. You told us what you thought then. What do you think now?

New white plastic railings line the Cove beach ramp. March 9

Wild and crazy knitters strike Higher Grounds. March 11

Two welcoming beacons (one pictured) were put up two weeks ago at the base of Schellenger’s Landing. March 17

So the Cape May Library has a new blue roof. April 12

Cape May Point’s General Store to reopen. April 13

Day Glow benches – are they for you? April 16

It started!! November 29

Once again, we want to know, what do you think?


The Year in Review

There was only one headline that dominated Cape May newspapers this year – Convention Hall.

It’s that magic time of year that reporters love to write about – the Year in Review and this one was a corker. It was definitely the year of governing by referendum.

Snow began and ended the year’s headlines – a February snowstorm hit the county leaving over 5,000 without power and many stranded. Here on the island, those without heat or electric took themselves or were transported to the West Cape May Fire Hall to wait out the storm until power was restored. A more recent Dec. 26 storm dumped 18 inches on the island, but residents were seen digging out this week and with weekend temperatures hitting the 50-degree temperature mark – the final storm of 2010 was a distant memory once the New Year rang in.

But there was only one headline that dominated Cape May newspapers this year – Convention Hall. How much will it cost? When will it come down? What will it look like? How much revenue will it generate? How much space will it take up? And by the way, how much will cost?

Apparently it will cost $10.5 million. In 2010 voters again expressed their opinions in the voting polls on two separate occasions. Three new council members were elected in May – Deanna Fiocca, Jack Wichterman and Bill Murray – all ran on a slate promising not to exceed the previously approved $10.5 million which passed in a 2008 referendum. At the time, the projected opening date was spring of 2010. The building was condemned in the spring of 2008.

In a July 2010 referendum on the question, voters rejected an attempt to up the ante another $3.15 million to cover the original project design which included a main hall that would accommodate 1,151 seats with a soundproof partition to divide the room in half with a floor allowing multiple uses. Three community rooms were slated for the ill-fated second floor, one room with a capacity for 75 persons and two other with a capacity of six persons. Three retail stores would have occupied the front of the hall.

The Solarium was demolished in early December.

The referendum came after two failed attempts to bid out the contract. In both cases bids came in excess of the $10.5 million originally approved in 2008. Plans for a second-story edifice jutting out across the Promenade into Beach Avenue were scrapped for a far more modest one-story building with a main opening facing the now-defunct Solarium. In addition, because of redesign costs, bids for the scaled back Convention Hall must actually come in at $7.5 million. The jury is still out on whether or not that will happen until bids come in sometime in March of 2011.

Both Convention Hall and the Solarium faced the wrecking ball in early December. A last-minute plan to Save the Solarium (SOS) by a would be non-profit group failed quickly when the key to saving the 1993 building included funding by City Council to the tune of $350,000.

A spring 2012 opening is planned. Work is expected to begin in the spring and continue throughout the summer months.

City Council occupied the hot seat for much of 2010 – when they weren’t in an often contentious meeting regarding the fate and design of Convention Hall; they were busy fighting East Enders who took up arms over a proposal to generate more parking revenue by adding 80 parking meters to Beach Avenue’s now meter-free concourse, and by allowing motorists to back into their parking spaces, thus creating 334 more metered spaces, along the more congested area of Beach Avenue.

A proposal to add parking meters caused an uproar in East Cape May

Homeowners affected by the plan, calling themselves Friends and Neighbors of East Cape May (FAN ECM), filed petitions for a referendum, effectively suspending the two ordinances which passed in March. Council unanimously passed the ordinances despite vocal protests at a standing-room only meeting of City Council, led by Beach Avenue cottager Jim Testa. Undaunted, council countered the petition and filed an action in April with Superior Court of New Jersey seeking a ruling from the court as to whether traffic parking regulations are subject to referendum vote. Meanwhile, back in City Hall, the City Clerk rescinded the certification of the petition calling for a referendum on the two parking ordinances. FAN ECM got back in the saddle again and re-solicited signatures for the petition– this time successfully. In June the city’s effort to stop the referendum was denied by Superior Court Judge Valerie Armstrong. The issue went to the voters in a special referendum held on Sept. 8. Both ordinances were soundly defeated and motorists can park free along the East End of Beach Avenue and continue to parallel park along the West and Central section of the busy road.

And speaking of parking meters, visitors and merchants inundated the city with complaints about the former City Manager Lou Corea-inspired “user friendly” parking meters which were installed about The Washington Street Mall and Jackson Street in 2008. If visitors could find the meter to feed it, they couldn’t get it to work.

So, what else plagued City Council? Well, there’s them light piers City Engineer Jim Mott installed along either side of the little bridge coming into town near Schellenger Landing. Some say they’re puurrrty, others say they’re tacky. Some think they look like miniature golf decorations, others say they’re a beacon of warmth as they make their way across the bridge. Whatever they are, they sure caused a raucous and led to the formation of Blue Ribbon panel to look into changing them. And the panel, in their due diligence, did just that. Only problem? No money, honey. The light piers were installed with funds obtained by a special grant and the mayor said he would not use city money to have them removed and something else installed in their stead. If the Blue Ribbon panel, headed by former Mainstay Inn and Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts board member Tom Carroll, wanted something else – the group would just have to find the money to pay for it. And that, my friends was that.

The three new council members got a little egg on their collective faces in November when they – in a 3-2 vote decided to throw out the new city engineer, Jim Mott (new as of 2008 that is) and bring back the old engineering firm (Remington, Vernick and Walberg) which the city sued in ’08 over allegation of poor performance and contract issues. The lawsuit was settled shortly after the three new council members were elected in May.

The new council members said no to the Army Corps of Engineers’ selecting the eroding Cove Beach for a sand-replenishment project.

Egg was still not quite off when – whoa Nelly – in another 3-2 vote, the new council members said, ‘no way’ to the Army Corps of Engineers’ selecting the eroding Cove Beach for a sand-replenishment project because of project restriction with regard to the piping plover nesting turf. The question of whether or not sunbathers take precedence over the piping plover was settled a few days later when council members reached an agreement on the language in the contract. The project is mostly funded by federal and state governments and the money is expected to run out in the near future.

Over in Cape May Point, the dog days of August must have really gotten to Commissioner Joe Nietubicz who abruptly called it quits after six years of service in that position, citing “I’ve had enough.” The tiny community of Cape May Point got a new commissioner in November. John Henderson ran unopposed and hopefully will not have “had enough” in the coning year.

Lest they not be left out of the fray, West Cape May had a little political tittle of its own going on in the spring when a certain commissioner, let’s call him Ramsey Geyer, posted questions anonymously – or so he thought – on the Cape May County Herald’s online Spout Off “column.” The questions included whether residents should vote out the mayor. Some clever wag figured out the identity of the mysterious spouter offer. Ooops.

Also in the spring of the year – must have been something in the air – the Borough of West Cape May misplaced, lost, could not account for as much as 121 million gallons of water. That’s a lot of water. Cape May County Prosecutor Robert Taylor was on the hunt to help the borough find and prosecute the H2O Thieves. We’re not sure if they ever did catch the thieves, but by November the water record for the third quarter showed the highest water consumption ever on record for the borough, and also showed a drop of unexplained water loss. It’s a mystery wrapped up in conundrum.

In ongoing stores, the fate of Ponderlodge has wavered throughout the year. The State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) took over the 253-acre property in 2006 for $8.45 million, renaming it the Villas Wildlife Management Area. At that time, DEP drafted an ambitious plan to return the tract to nature. That plan was put on hold when Richard Stockton College expressed interest in 12 acres of the property, including the lodge, to create an environmental center. In July of last year, DEP agreed to lease the land to the college. But hold on there cowboy. Not so fast. In October, Stockton College backed away from the deal after the National Park Service said the lease violates conservation restrictions on the site. On Dec. 21, DEP announced plans to go back to its original idea of returning the land to nature making it a handicapped-accessible fishing site and demolishing the already deteriorating buildings, which include razing the massive 16,000-square-foot lodge (the mansion William “Billy” Pflaumer owner of the Christian Schmidt Brewing Co. in Philadelphia, who purchased the Ponderlodge site, better known as Beer World.), two swimming pools, a snack bar, pro shop, tennis court and basketball court.

Hearings on the fate of the Beach Theatre are scheduled to resume at the end of January.

And then there’s the ongoing saga of the Beach Theatre on Beach Avenue. This is a story which has been in the Year End Review for four years now and still there is no end in sight.

The beleaguered Beach Theatre Foundation (BTF) had its share of downturns this year. In February, Frank Theaters, owner of the Beach Theatre, sued the foundation for $50,000 for an alleged breach of contract for common area maintenance area fees for the theater complex here. The BTF leased the movie theater in 2008 and part of 2009.

In October, the city of Cape May called in a $100,000 loan made to the foundation so they could lease the 1951 movie theatre for the 2008 season, which, though payable in 2012 came due when the lease was terminated in 2009 by the Franks Investments, owners of the property. City Solicitor Anthony Monzo sent letters to 33 persons who signed pledges to make a donation to the BTF “for the purpose of collateralizing and partially guaranteeing a loan from the City of Cape May” asking them to sign promissory notes.

The Franks are trying to demolish the theater to make way for beachfront condominiums. However, their demolition permit ran out, forcing them to reapply to the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) for a new permit. The HPC denied the permit. The Franks challenged the decision and the matter has ended up in the Zoning Board where it has languished since July. Both the BTF and the HPC maintain that the theater is of historic significance and thus cannot be demolished. Hearings are scheduled to resume on the matter at the end of January.

Our Lady Star of the Sea Elementary closed its doors in June.

A shrinking population has also caused the closing of Our Lady Star of the Sea Elementary School in June. More school closing could be on the horizon for island schools. The results of a study done by Richard Perniciaro of Atlantic Cape Community College were revealed in a town meeting in November. The study citing a conservative estimate of savings to be in the neighborhood of more than $700,000 per year and a reduced tax rate for two the island towns – West Cape May and Cape May Point.

Okay – that pretty much wraps it up. Next week we’ll be Looking to 2011 and give you an idea what will make the headlines next year.

Until then, Happy Trails and a Happy and prosperous New Year.


Winter Refuge in the Kitchen

Cooking alone is therapeutic. Sharing it with friends and family is sustaining.

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season dissipates and gives way to the slow-paced days of the dead of winter. When there is a chill in the air and frost coats the windows, these are the perfect periods to seek refuge in the kitchen. Every being has that activity which helps them recharge and rejuvenate their inner self. For me that pursuit, for as long as I can remember, has been cooking. Spending a day concocting a complex cassoulet or perfecting the iconic chocolate chip cookie is the culinary equivalent of climbing Kilimanjaro. To prepare oneself for this epic expedition, there are a few necessities required. A willing group of tasters at base camp makes the journey worthwhile. Cooking alone is therapeutic. Sharing it with friends and family is sustaining. Also needed are the right tools and ingredients for the job. Cooking without the right supplies makes as much sense as hiking in Bermuda shorts and flip-flops.

A good wintertime project would be making soups. You can make several different varieties and throw a football party or freeze several varieties for later use. My next statement has a tendency to push the novice cook into apoplexy. Don’t be so wedded to the recipe, that it constrains you. Set your goal of what dish you want to make and focus on the techniques needed to achieve that goal. I make all my cream soups following the same basic steps, whether it is New England clam chowder, cream of broccoli or potato leek soup. Gather and cut all you ingredients. In making a soup, you want to meld all the flavors together. Have a good thick-bottomed soup pan. Don’t use stainless steel as it has a tendency to stick and burn.

Sweating is cooking over medium heat in fat to soften the vegetables and release their flavors.

The first step is sweating. This is cooking over medium heat in fat to soften the vegetables and release their flavors. If using dried herbs, sweat them with the vegetables to rehydrate and release flavors. Fresh herbs can also be added here if using hearty ones such as thyme or rosemary. Softer more delicate herbs like basil, chives and tarragon should be added at the end.

The next step will provide our thickening for the soup. Rather than make a separate roux, my preferred technique is to add flour to the sweating mixture. How much flour? Enough flour to absorb all of the fat. When adding the flour, lower your heat slightly and stir thoroughly making sure the fat and flour combine to form the roux. Cook out lightly, but do not brown. Here is where you can add wines, such as sherry, for mushroom soup.

This is also where the stock or liquid, which will make the body of your soup, is added. Whisk in small amounts of liquid at a time. Whisk to thoroughly incorporate and avoid lumping. Increase heat to bring soup to a simmer. this will allow the roux to gelatinize and expand thickening your liquid. Continue adding liquid until the mixture coats the back of a spoon evenly. At this juncture potatoes can be added. Note that the starch in the potato will thicken your soup slightly so have your mixture on the thin side. Adjust your seasoning and let the mixture simmer.

To achieve a full rich flavor cream can be added or milk for the calorie conscious. If you desire a cheese soup, bring the mixture to a boil and whisk in handfuls of cheese at a time allowing it to fully incorporate before adding more. If your soup is too thick, thin with stock. If too thin, simmer lightly to evaporate out excess liquid. For a smoother textured soup, puree with an immersion blender.

Learning how ingredients function and react will allow you to expand your culinary repertoire. Even when baking, you can tweak things if you know how the ingredients function. A good starting point for this experimentation is the Classic Chocolate Chip Cookie. Even if your cookies look strange or misshapen, people will still gobble them up. Here are some cookie tips:

  1. For crispier cookies, use less liquid, more sugar and fat higher cooking temperature.
  2. For softer cookies, do the opposite – more liquid, less sugar and fat and under bake the cookie. Additionally, honey, corn syrup or molasses in your batter will make for softer cookies.
  3. Some folks prefer chewier cookies. For this result it is necessary to use a larger proportion of sugar and liquid, but less fat. A larger ratio of eggs and more mixing will also yield a chewier cookie.
  4. Another variable that will shape your final product is the spread. How much a cookie spreads out depends on oven temperature – the lower the temp, the more spread – and how much you grease the cookie sheet, more grease more spread.

Knowing the function of the ingredients allows the cook the opportunity to control the final product. Using a mix of different chocolates will also allow you to custom design your flavor profile.

This winter experiment with cooking and creating your own recipes can be exciting and rewarding. This task is made simpler by understanding techniques and ingredients. The following recipes will be a good starting point for your culinary journey. Feel free to e-mail me with questions or just to brag about your awesome results. Until next month, Bon Appétit.

Basic Potato Soup

  • 1 onion diced
  • 1 leek diced
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 4 Yukon gold potatoes diced
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup cream
  • 4 tbsp flour

In soup pot, melt butter. Sweat onions and leeks until tender. Add thyme. Sweat 2-3 minutes more. Mix in flour. Slowly incorporate stock. Season with salt and pepper. Add potatoes. Cook until tender. Finish with cream.

Variations:

  1. Add cheddar cheese, bacon and rosemary for a heartier chowder style soup
  2. Omit cream and add cooked sausage, broccolirabe and parmesan for an Italian flair
  3. Puree and garnish with chives and sour cream for an elegant touch

Remember the mantra: THE INGREDIENTS MAY CHANGE, BUT THE TECHNIQUE REMAINS THE SAME.

Base Chocolate Chip Cookie Batter

  • 10 oz. butter or butter/shortening combination
  • 8 oz granulated sugar
  • 8 oz brown sugar
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 lb 4oz of pastry flour
  • 1½ tsp baking soda
  • 1¼ pounds chocolate chunked
  • 8 oz pecans, walnuts,
  • Macadamia nuts, cashews optional

Cream sugar and butter until pale and fluffy. On low speed, mix ingredients in sequence. Remove from mixer. Fold in chocolate and nuts. Drop on lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375° for 8-10 minutes.

Chef’s Tip: Play with the sugar/fat ratio and types of sugar and flour. Share your results with me! Email persnicketychef@capemay.com

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.


Winter Holidays – A dangerous time of the year for pets

Guinness and Bailey from Billmae Cottage

Believe it or not, the holidays can be the most dangerous time for your pets. The two greatest dangers are losing your pet and pet poisoning.

When the winter holidays are upon us, many new people are in and out of your home – guests, dog sitters, relatives…. And with each new person entering the home, the door is opened and shut with much more frequency. Although some pets are locked away when guests are in and out, some are allowed to roam the home freely. Make sure to warn your guests and visitors to be ever careful of your pets so that there are no escapes!

Be sure to pay just as much attention to your pets during the holiday season as you do regularly. Try not to skip walks or just a pat on the head occasionally. This will help to create less stress for them.

Be very very careful of feeding your pets extra “stuff” during this time of rich food and special dishes. Try to keep pets on their regular diet. Never, ever give them chocolate and be careful with chicken or turkey bones. They can splinter and puncture their intestines. Chocolate makes pets very sick – causing severe cramping, diarrhea and vomiting.

Christmas cactus - pretty but poisonous!

Also during the holidays and even after, be very, very careful and cover your electrical cords. I just heard a horrible story about a woman who was hot gluing her Christmas decorations and her puppy started chewing her glue gun cord while it was plugged in and electrocuted herself! Luckily the owner was right there and was able to remove her and got her immediately to the vet and saved her life. She had to give her CPR before she got her to the vet though! It was just a matter of her standing right there talking to her friend while they were making decorations; she turned her head for literally a second and the puppy got a hold of the cord. So please cover up your electrical cords, especially if you have a curious teething puppy!

Don't let your pets chew on power cords.

Be cautious around plants with animals as well. Holiday plants like the poinsettia and Christmas cactus are among many which are poisonous to our four-legged friends. And never try to make your pet vomit. Sometimes the vomiting can cause just as much damage going up as it did going down. If you suspect your pet has been poisoned, get him/her to a vet immediately. Some signs of poisoning are vomiting, diarrhea, and shortness of breath. If your pet appears to be stumbling about or his/her pupils appear to be dilated, it’s best to have it checked out. These could also be symptoms!

Since it’s getting colder, just make sure your pets are always warm – make sure that if they do go outside, they don’t stay out for long periods of time.

Some of these tips may aid in a happier, healthier holiday and winter season. Enjoy!

Joanne McCullough is the owner of McCullough Pet Sitting, a pet-sitting service for the Cape May area.

Editor’s Note: This article comes to us by way of Linda Steenrod, who owns the pet-friendly Bilmae Cottages here in Cape May. Her dog Jameson innocently ate a plant he shouldn’t have and was seriously ill and still recovering.

Poinsettias survive past the holiday season and can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Keep them away from your pets!

Fall and Winter Holiday Plant Toxicity in Dogs

By PetPlace Veterinarians

Flowers and plants add beauty to any holiday, and they make great holiday gifts. But if your family includes pets, you may want to learn which plants are safe and which ones you need to avoid.

Here is a list of plants to avoid. Remember that ingesting bulb plants often cause the most severe illnesses.

  • Holly (Ilex sp.). This plant, commonly found around Christmas time, can cause intense vomiting and diarrhea. Mental depression can also occur.
  • Amaryllis (Amaryllis spp). Ingestion can result in vomiting, diarrhea, depression, lack of appetite, tremors, drooling and abdominal pain.Mistletoe (Phoradendron spp.). This plant, another Christmas plant, can also cause significant vomiting and diarrhea. In addition, this plant has been associated with difficulty breathing, slowed heart rate, collapse and, if a lot is ingested, death has occurred. Some animals may even show erratic behavior and possible hallucinations.
  • Poinsettia (Euphorbia). This plant can cause irritation to the mouth and stomach and sometimes vomiting. It has a low level of toxicity and is overrated as a toxic plant. Many people consider it basically non-toxic.
  • Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus, Easter cactus (Schlumbergera or Zygocactus). In dogs, if large quantities of this plant are ingested, vomiting, possibly with blood, diarrhea, possibly with blood and mental depression have been reported. With small ingestions, typically there are no signs of toxicity. These plants are considered low toxicity plants.

Some less common toxic winter holiday plants include:

  • American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens). Ingestion results in weakness, vomiting and seizures.
  • European bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara). Ingestion results in drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, depression, lack of appetite, weakness, confusion and low heart rate.
  • Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium). Ingestion results in vomiting, diarrhea, depression, drooling and lack of appetite.
  • Christmas rose (Helleborus niger). Ingestion results in abdominal pain, vomiting, bloody diarrhea and delirium.
  • Jerusalem cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicuni). Ingestion results in vomiting, diarrhea, mouth ulcers, seizures, mental depression, respiratory depression, shock and death.
  • Autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale). Ingestion of the bulbs results in mouth irritation, blooding vomiting, diarrhea, shock, kidney failure, liver damage and bone marrow suppression.
  • Thanksgiving cactus (Zygocactus truncactus). Ingestion results in vomiting, diarrhea and depression. Cats also can develop staggering.
  • Christmas palm (Veitchia merrillii). This plant is considered nontoxic.
  • Christmas orchid (Cattleya trianaei). This plant is considered nontoxic.
  • Christmas dagger fern (Polystichym spp). This plant is considered nontoxic.
  • Mistletoes cactus (Thipsalis cassutha). This plant is considered nontoxic.
  • Burning bush (Euronymous alatus). Ingestion can result in vomiting, diarrhea, depression and lack of appetite.