Several years ago, Suzie and I spent a month visiting Sicily. We saw the cities of Palermo and Catania, several hill towns like Ragusa and Noto (which are as cute as hill towns anywhere in Italy) and stayed in beach resorts like Cefalù and Taormina. Siracusa was my favorite place in Sicily, combining great architecture, Greek ruins and very posh stores. It’s sort of the Upper East Side of Sicily.
One part of Sicily that Cape May folk can enjoy that other Americans can’t is Moscato di Sicilia. It is a dessert wine that is so aromatic that the whole room will smell like honey and flowers when you pour the wine. Yet, it isn’t dark and oxidized like Sherry or Port or Madeira. Almost unique among dessert wines, it is light and fresh yet sweet and aromatic. It’s more like Sauternes or Icewine than the caramelized wines that we are used to. Unfortunately, it isn’t imported into the United States. I once ordered some from a wine store in Rome, but I suspect they weren’t as law abiding as they should be. I was stumped, then I discovered that there is one place in America that makes Moscato di Sicilia, Cape May
The last post about our vacation in Spain reminded me that we have a painting of the same view of a courtyard in the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, hanging in the Turkish Suite in Leith Hall. I substituted a picture of Rashid Lamrani, who was our guide in Morocco for the young woman in the photograph. His friends had dressed him up in a traditional burnoose, so he looked very exotic. In reality, he was a very modern young man who had traveled all over the United States.
We also have a painting of the Todra Gorge in Morocco hanging in the bedroom of the Turkish Suite. If you look for the tiny figure riding a camel at the bottom of the painting – that’s Suzie. You too can see the paintings in the Turkish Suite by coming to visit us.
Now that spring is sprung in Cape May, we’re having some work done on Leith Hall this
midweek before it gets too busy. Easter is just over, and my mind turns to vacation. For us, vacation is always winter vacation, so I thought I’d share a few pictures of a trip we took to Andalucia, in Southern Spain, a few years ago. We toured most (or all) of the cities of Andalucia. One of these is Mijas, which is one of the “white villages” of Andalucia. It is very convenient to the beach resort of
Torremolinos and the other towns of the Costa del Sol, so it is often overrun with visitors. Not in January, however.
We’ve also been to the Alhambra in Granada a couple of times. I think that it may be the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen; oddly, in a completely different way than Western buildings. Instead of making the palace bigger and grander than a house, the designers made it more and more complicated. Instead of immense, like the palace of Versailles, it
has another courtyard with another set of rooms, and another and another. The result is a palace that is human scale and very pleasant to be in. Versailles is impressive, but not actually pleasant.
Today is Suzie‘s birthday, so I’m posting recipe for the densest, richest chocolate cake ever.
I often make it for birthdays and other special events. It is very short, like a French chocolate cake. It can be topped with some powdered sugar sifted through a paper doily and accompanied by whipped cream.
This cake resembles chocolate fudge when it’s done. You can make it more cake-like by adding 1/4 cup flour to the egg mixture. Of course, they it won’t be flour-less.
Flour-less Chocolate Cake
1 pound bittersweet chocolate, chopped
½ pound butter (2 Sticks ) cubed
¼ cup strong coffee or liqueur (Grand Marnier is good)
8” springform pan for 22-25 minutes or
9” springform pan for 18- 20 minutes
Line pan with parchment. Wrap the outside in foil.
Beat eggs with wire whisk attachment for 5 minutes. Melt chocolate and butter. Adding coffee or liqueur. Fold chocolate and egg foam mixtures together. Scrape into prepared pan and smooth surface. Bake in pan with boiling water half way up (this is a bain marie). Cool in pan then refrigerate overnight.
We wanted to share some pictures from the March Sherlock Holmes weekend in Cape May. This time we had one of the actors, Pamela Burke, stay with us. Our guests really got into the mystery and several brought wonderful costumes! Only in Cape May can a woman look perfect in a bustle and corset. Breakfast was fun with everyone discussing the clues and trying to get Pamela to cheat and give them some under-the-table help. She was good and refused to reveal the secrets.
Nancy and Jeff pouring sherry in Leith Hall’s parlor
Denise (in the middle in left picture) changed her outfit several times a day like a true Victorian woman – she looked absolutely wonderful. One of our guests, Jeff, was looking for a Victorian cane and found an entire Victorian morning coat outfit in his size. It looked great and fit perfectly.
During the winter of 2011, Suzie and I spent six weeks in Rome, writing a self-guided walking tour book to be called The Secret Streets of Rome. It will be out next Fall, published by Andover Press in New York. I’ll be posting lots of information about art and architecture, but first things first – Gelato. I don’t know how they do it, but Italians make ice cream so much better than we do. It’s actually much lower in fat than ours, but has much more flavor. The chocolate is very, very dark and extremely strong, the raspberry is dark purple and aromatic with raspberries. My favorite is stracciatella – which is Italian for fudge ripple (it means streaky) and is creamy vanilla with dark rivers of fudge. There are several great Gelaterie in Rome (of course) though aficionados insist that the best in Italy is in San Gimignano. Our favorite in Rome is the Gelateria del Teatro, located under a stairway to a tiny theater just west of the Piazza Navona.
Happily, for those of you who visit or live in Cape May, we need not despair. There’s a gelateria in Washington Commons (across Ocean Street from the Washington Street Mall) called Cione. For more ice cream, this one American, but organic, handmade, and really, really good, visit Bliss in the Carpenter’s Square Mall (that’s the little building behind Gecko’s in Carpenter’s Street).
Suzie loves Banana Bread and, of course, chocolate. So I like to serve Banana Bread for tea at the inn. Whenever we have some over-ripe bananas, I stick them in the freezer. To make Banana Bread, I move them to the refrigerator the night before and then just peel them directly into the mixer-bowl. All that slimy banana pulp just makes the Banana Bread better. If the bread seems too dry when it comes out of the oven – it has to be fully baked – just soak in some simple syrup ( ½ cup sugar dissolved in ½ cup hot water).
2 cups (10 oz) unbleached flour
¾ cup (5 ¼ oz) sugar
¾ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp salt
3 bananas, mashed (about 1 ½ cups)
¼ cup plain yoghurt
2 eggs, beaten
6 Tbs. melted butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups walnuts or other nuts, toasted and chopped (Suzie hates nuts, so I leave them out)
(You can reduce sugar to 10 Tbs. and add 2 ½ oz grated bittersweet chocolate (heaping ½ cup)).
350F., 9” loaf pan, lined with cooking parchment
Mix dry, Mix wet. Mix together. Bake about 55 minutes. Cool in pan then on wire rack.
This is Sherlock Holmes weekend in Cape May, so I thought I’d tell you the oddest Arthur Conan Doyle story. It is also a New Jersey connection for Sherlock. Sherlock Holmes was the ultimate reasoning machine, while his creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, was a gullible dope. In 1922, the
Harry Houdini and his mother
Conan Doyles and the Houdinis were vacationing together on the beach in Atlantic City. Conan Doyle was very proud of his wife, who claimed to be a medium or clairvoyant. As they were relaxing on the sand, she announced that she felt the spirits coming through. They rushed back to the hotel and Mrs. Conan Doyle went into a trance. She said that she was channeling the spirit of Harry Houdini’s mother, who had recently died. Harry had been very close to his mother, and wanted séances to be real, but wasn’t willing to accept nonsense.
They all went back to the hotel and Mrs. Conan Doyle went into a trance. She used automatic writing to transmit a note from Houdini’s mother. The note had three crosses at the top of it and was clearly written by an old Italian lady. The catch was, Harry Houdini wasn’t Italian, and wasn’t Catholic. He was Jewish. Houdini was his stage name and him mother only spoke Yiddish, not English. Clearly, Mrs. Conan Doyle was taking advantage of Harry’s grief to convince him of her powers. Harry pointed out to Arthur how unlikely it was that his mother had learned English in the short time since her death, and how unlikely an old Jewish lady was to head her notes with three crosses. Arthur Conan Doyle was furious that anyone would doubt his wife’s powers – and the two men broke off their friendship.