A new festival in Cape May – The Craft Beer and Crab Festival will be this coming August 11 on the grounds of the Physick Estate. The café patio will be transformed into a food court with crabs (of course), pulled pork barbecue, corn on the cob, and lots of other food. There will be several local breweries represented and music on the outdoor stage, pony rides for the kids, a little Victorian “midway” with games of skill and chance. There will also be a crafts show on the front lawn of the Physick Estate. With all of the games, music, food, beer and crafts show on the grounds, the Physick Estate should be the fun place to be on Saturday August 11th. Make your Leith Hall bed and breakfast reservations now! The water is warmer than ever, the beach is beckoning, and the festivals are festing. Our guests are breakfasting on the porch and Elan is baking for tea
You may already know that Cape May is one of the top birding sites in the world. But, what if you’re not a knowledgeable birder? Those other people will know everything about every detail and you will be stuck like an ignorant lummox. Wrong!
The Cape May Bird Observatory has lots of informal walks and talks where the new birder will feel welcome and comfortable. For example, Tuesday June 26 at 10 am, there will be a relaxed photo walk around Cape May Point with Scott Whittle. He is a professional photographer and an instructor for bird photography workshops.
On Wednesday, June 27, at 9:30 am, Mike Crewe and a team of naturalists will lead a group around Cape May Point and the hawk watching platform to see both breeding birds and the visitors just passing through.
June 28, the program is called A Bird Walk for All People at 9:30 am, and they’ll guarantee that you’ll see at least twenty species – and they’ll lend you the binoculars. Contact us for reservations for any of these dates.
Recently one of our guests at Leith Hall b&b contacted me to request two recipes we serve at afternoon tea. This one, Leith Hall’s Cape May bed and breakfast Gingerbread, is for Donna. It has bits of crystallized ginger in it for an extra sharp bite. Sometimes I ice it with a bittersweet chocolate and butter icing (which I’ll put on almost anything) and sometimes I’ll sprinkle it with confectioner’s sugar through a paper doily laid on top of the gingerbread. We always have one chocolate and one non-chocolate treat at teatime. Suzie would never forgive me if I left out the chocolate, and we sometimes have guests who (sadly) don’t like chocolate.
Leith Hall Cape May bed and breakfast Gingerbread
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 cup molasses
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup hot water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F Line a 9 “square pan with cooking parchment and spray with cooking spray
In an electric mixer, cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in the egg, and mix in the molasses.
In a bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Beat into the creamed mixture. Stir in the hot water. Pour into the prepared pan.
Bake 1 hour in the preheated oven, until the gingerbread springs back when prodded with a fingertip. Allow to cool in pan before serving.
Did you know that wooden house trim is called gingerbread because gingerbread was once very heavily decorated? During the Middle Ages, ginger was fabulously expensive and gingerbread was a desert at Royal and Noble courts. Sometimes, it was ornamented with real gold leaf in elaborate swirls. When sawn wooden ornament was introduced in the nineteenth century, people started calling it gingerbread because it reminded them of Christmas gingerbread houses – which are the last vestige of great medieval gingerbread constructions. Architecture and dessert all in one, my favorite combination
A Victorian Flower Garden along the Sidewalk
When Suzie and I moved to Cape May in 1989, one of the first projects on our list was to replace the sidewalk in front of Leith Hall and plant a flower garden. Our neighbors have narrow sidewalks with planted verges between the curb and the pavement and between the pavement and the property line. We wanted to replace our sidewalk with a narrow one and plant the verges. It never happened. New bathrooms, new furnace, new water heater, new roof, new porch; all these intervened. This year, twenty-three years later, we finally replaced the front sidewalk. We’re thrilled.
The sidewalk was laid by Mike Mohr of Mohr Masonry. He did a great job, worked really fast and was very easy to deal with. He’s coming back in a while to give the sidewalk a coating to make it resemble the slates next door more closely.
Victorian and native flowers
We’ve just planted the verges with thyme and phlox, sage and snow-in-summer, daylilies
and hostas. It still looks like a sea of mulch with tufts of greenery, but the plants are spreading and will cover the ground soon. The plantings are low growing and low maintenance, which we need; but are also Victorian, which we want. Victorians called Hostas, Funkias, which sounds so much funkier, somehow. The daylilies we planted are the orange, old-fashioned Hemerocallis fulva which the Pilgrims
brought from Europe and have been spreading ever since. Thyme and sage are the kitchen herbs and phloxes (Phlox subulata) and snow in summer (Cerastium tomentosum) are natives. We’ll see how they all do only fifty yards from the beach and occasionally being stepped on.
Memorial Day History in Cape May
Suzie and I just got back from New York where we saw the new Broadway production of Porgy and Bess, which is set in Catfish Row in Charleston South Carolina. Many thanks to SK for the tickets. The show was wonderful and the music was, as always, spectacular. The show, together with Memorial Day fast approaching, reminded me of the first Memorial Day, which is a little known story. Just after the Civil War, freed black slaves in Charleston South Carolina wanted to honor the hundreds of Union soldiers who were imprisoned and died in the Charleston race course. The soldiers had been buried in an unmarked mass grave, so the freedmen cleaned up the site, built a memorial arch and landscaped the grounds. On May 1, 1865, they held a memorial service and supper to honor the Union soldiers.
Confederate groups held services to commemorate Confederate dead, also usually in May. In the North, (in Waterloo, NY) John Logan proclaimed May 30 as Decoration Day in his capacity as Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans’ organization. The holiday was quickly adopted all over the North, while the south celebrated competing memorials on different days.
Memorial Day had its name changed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day in 1967. It was moved to a Monday date along with many other federal holidays in 1968, and became an official Federal holiday in 1971. During Woodrow Wilson’s term, the emphasis of Memorial Day shifted from the Civil War to a more general national holiday, including the Spanish American War and WWI dead. Wilson was the first southern president elected since the Civil War, and was the president who imposed racial segregation in the Federal Government.
From the beginning, Memorial Day has been the occasion for
parades and barbeques, and the tradition continues in Cape May. Memorial Day weekend begins our season of band concerts and Crafts and Antiques Shows on the grounds of the Emlen Physick Estate. On May 28th MAC will offer the Atlantic Brass band in a free concert to round out the holiday.
We just had our third annual Spring Chocolate Championship yesterday and, once again, I didn’t win. You may remember that Chocolate Championship was my suggestion several years ago for MAC to start a new tour during Spring Festival. Any tour is improved by adding chocolate. Last year I made Julia Childs’ chocolate mousse, which is the best chocolate mousse ever, and yet I didn’t win. I consider it an insult to Julia Childs’ memory . (Maybe we can get Meryl Streep to protest.) This year, Anna Marie McMain won with with her Chocolate Delight. It must have been spectacular, ’cause my truffles were pretty darn good. Richard Degner wrote a very nice article in the Atlantic City Press about the contest and Leith Hall. You can have chocolate treats every day at teatime, if you make a reservation.
ROMANTIC GETAWAY TRUFFLES
I started making these chocolate truffles to include in our Romantic Getaway package. The basic recipe is incredibly easy, and depends on really good ingredients. The different flavors are created with extracts.
32 oz. (1 quart) heavy whipping cream
32 oz. by weight of bittersweet chocolate
1 Tbs. organic extract.
Melt the chocolate in the cream. Use 60% to 72% chocolate. Use a very good brand because the quality of the truffles is entirely dependent upon the quality of the chocolate. I use Valrhona, Valor, Green and Black, Guittard or Ghirardelli. Don’t use Hershey’s or Nestlé’s. You can microwave it for one minute at a time, stirring with a rubber spatula between minutes. Or you can melt the chocolate in an uncovered metal bowl over simmering water. Or you can melt it in a 200 degree Fahrenheit oven. It doesn’t matter. The important thing is not to overheat the mixture and to stir often.
Stir in the extract. I always use organic extract from the health food store. It really does taste better. You can use orange extract, peppermint extract, coconut extract, almond extract, or any other that you like. You can also double or triple the amount of extract.
Cool the melted chocolate mixture (ganache) in the refrigerator until it thickens. Whip it in a stand mixer. It will double in size and fluff in a few minutes. Scoop the ganache into little balls with a little scoop. Put the balls onto a cookie sheet and refrigerate. Decorate the truffles by tossing in toasted coconut for coconut flavor, or toasted almond slivers for almond. You can toss any flavor in a mixture of cocoa and powdered sugar.
Get Free Music Festival Tickets
The Cape May Music Festival is coming up soon. If you come visit us to hear one of the
concerts, we’ll provide you with a pair of tickets – free. May 29th, the New York Chamber ensemble will be playing a concert called Music by the Numbers, which will include both George Gershwin (Lullaby, I Got Rhythm, and Someone to Watch Over Me) and Joseph Hayden’s Surprise Symphony.
Sunday, June 3, the concert will be a tribute to George Mesterhazy, who was Cape May’s beloved jazz pianist. Several of his friends will be playing as well as special guest, Babatunde Lea. We are expecting a huge and enthusiastic crowd at the new Convention Hall.
Just give us a call at (609) 884-1934 or go to our website at www.leithhall.com to make an online reservation. Mention that
you’d like Music Festival Tickets when you make your reservation. Cannot be combined with other offers or discounts.
Cape May Beach Shortbread Cookies
These cookies look like the sand on the beach in Cape May. The sprinkle of sugar on top even gives them the texture of the sand on the beach in Cape May. The best things about them are that they are stunningly easy to make and the richest cookies you’ll ever eat. I usually make this recipe in a parchment lined 9”x13” pan and cut them into bars for serving at afternoon tea. You could halve the recipe and make them in an 8”x8” or 9”x9” parchment lined pan. Or you can roll he dough out (thick) and make cookie cutter cookies.
If you prefer, you can substitute lemon extract for the orange, or use vanilla extract for plain shortbread or even coconut extract. I use organic extracts from the health food store because they really do taste better.
1 ½ lbs. unsalted butter (3 sticks) melted
2 cups sugar
1 tbs. orange extract
7 cups white unbleached flour
½ tsp. salt
Turbinado or white sugar for sprinkling
Mix flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Mix melted butter and orange extract. Mix flour mixture and butter together with a pastry blender, a rubber spatula, or a whisk. The idea is to cut the butter and flour together into crumbles, not to press them together into a dough. Dump the mixed crumbles into the lined baking dish. Press into an even layer with your finger-tips. Dock the dough by piercing it all over with the tines of a fork. Sprinkle with sugar.
Bake at 350F/degrees for about 20 minutes. The cookies are done when they are very light gold around the edges. Remove from oven and cut into bars or squares with a sharp knife immediately. Allow to cool in the pan completely before turning out.
I often serve these for tea at Leith Hall b&b. The other treat will always be something chocolate. If my other cake isn’t chocolate, I’ll dip the end of each shortbread bar in melted bittersweet chocolate. During the Summer when we’re sitting on the porch under the awnings, I know that Suzie will stage a insurrection if there’s no chocolate at teatime.
Restoring our Bed and Breakfast
My last blog post was about the new exhibit at the Carriage House Gallery at the Physick Estate describing the restoration and renaissance of Cape May. That reminded me of our own restoration story at Leith Hall bed and breakfast. In 1989, when we bought Leith Hall, we had to decide what we wanted to make of it. A bed and breakfast is whatever the owners want it to be and usually reflects the owners’ interests and tastes. It is always better for the B&B to embody your real interests so that your enthusiasm shows for the guests’ sake and for your long term satisfaction, too.
Why an Authentic Restoration?
I used to work as an Historic Preservationist advising clients on restoring historic buildings. So, faced with a big 1880s house with 1960s furnishings and decorations, Suzie and I had to decide what we wanted our bed and breakfast to look like. We decided to make a Victorian period house. Since I learned what wallpaper, what furniture, and what objects were popular during any decade when I went to school, we decided that we’d make the house look like the 1880s.
Art Wallpaper at the Beach
The clues were in the woodwork. The baseboards, door and window surrounds and newel posts at Leith Hall have chamfered edges and bands of reeding. This style is part of the Aesthetic Movement that was popular in the 1870s and ‘80s, so we bought hand-made reproduction Aesthetic Movement wallpaper for the whole house. We bought Eastlake style (Aesthetic Movement) dressers and armoires, picture frames and decorations.
The Iris Room on the first floor is a good example. The wallpaper and ceiling paper are from a room-set by Bradbury and Bradbury called “Fenway”. The fens are swamps in Eastern England. All of the motifs in the wallpaper: the irises, cattails, fiddlehead ferns, whirlpools, and lightning bolts refer to the swamps. We thought of calling it the swamp room, but no one would rent it! So we called it the Iris Room. The dresser is made of walnut with burl walnut panels in Eastlake style and has a red marble top. The bedside table, rocking chair and side table, the mantelpiece and plates hanging on the walls – all date from the 1880s. Of course the television and the air-conditioning break with authenticity (not to mention the private bathroom) but even a b&b at the beach has to provide guests with modern amenities. Victorians after all, didn’t bathe much or change their clothes, so even I am not all for authenticity.
This Friday, a new show is opening at the Carriage House Gallery at the Emlen Physick Estate. It is about Cape May’s revival during the 1970s and comes from a book by Ben Miller, The First Resort. An article in the Cape May County Herald consists of an interview with Tom Carroll, who was there at the time. Suzie and I were the beneficiaries of the “Cape May Renaissance” since we moved to town in 1989. If Cape May had torn down the Victorian houses to build motels, by now the motels would be thirty years old and unfashionable. Instead, we kept our architectural heritage and can re-use it every time Victoriana comes back into fashion.
The latest Victorian Revival is Steampunk. It’s been around for a few years now and is based on the idea- what if technology had continued on the steam-powered, mechanical path of the 19th century, and hadn’t become the electronic world that we have today? Wooden laptop computers, time-machines chairs, lots of leather and lace; it’s a hoot.
The First Resort exhibit will be on all Summer. Come visit us and visit the Carriage House Gallery while you’re here.