A Victorian Flower Garden along the Sidewalk

flowers in the Victorian sidewalk garden at the beach
Sidewalk and Flowers at Leith Hall Cape May

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

Geraniums near the front steps at Leith Hall at the beach
Geraniums near the Front Steps at Leith Hall

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

Hemerocallis fulva

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.


Gaze into My Crystal Ball

Crystal Balls in the Parlor

This year we’ve moved our collection of crystal and mirrored balls from the mantle in the

Spiritualism, cryatal balls, mirror balls, mercury glass
Mirror balls and Crystal balls in the parlor at Leith Hall

Iris Room to the piano in the parlor. Lots of guests and tour-goers ask about them, and one of our guests suggested that we write this blog post about them.

No Witches at Leith Hall

First, they are not Witch Balls. Those were blue or green blown-glass balls used to catch evil spirits. These beliefs existed in Europe in the 17th century and before. They are sometimes ascribed to New England – probably because of the Salem witch trials – but without much evidence. Usually, fishing floats, which are also blown glass blue or green balls, are brought out as evidence.

Gazing Ball in the garden at Leith Hall in Cape May
The gazing ball in the front garden at Leith Hall b&b

Victorian Gardens

Our collection is of mirrored balls and crystal balls. Gazing balls are the big mirrored balls seen on pedestals in gardens. They were very popular in the 19th century. Then again, Victorians could never leave well enough alone and packed their gardens with statuary, sundials, urns, gazing balls, trellises and arbors, obelisks, cupids and gnomes. We have a gazing ball in the tiny front garden at Leith Hall.

In the parlor, we have lots more mirrored balls. Some are mercury glass which was very popular in the early and mid-nineteenth century. It contains no mercury, but is silvered on the inside, then sealed. It was called mercury glass because it looks like mercury.  One interesting use for them was to display one large reflective globe on the sideboard in a dining room. That way, the master or mistress of the house could keep an eye on the servants during a dinner party and make sure they were doing their jobs properly.

Victorian Spiritualism

The clear balls are “crystal balls” for communicating with the “other side.”  These became very popular after the Civil War, along with séances, Ouija boards, clairvoyants, and Theosophy. The explosion of interest in spiritualism probably resulted from the number of young men lost in the Civil War and their families’ reluctance to be cut off from them. Or, maybe being a clairvoyant was one of the few ways for women to be famous in Victorian times. Or, maybe it’s just another one of the new religions of the nineteenth century, like Mormonism, Christian Science, Seventh Day Adventism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.

Susan says, “We have lots of collections beside the mirror balls; Victorian Eastlake style silver, decorated Easter eggs, shells, and Japanese woodblock prints. Come visit us and see all of the Victorian stuff at Leith Hall.”





Chocolate championship at Leith Hall
photo by Edward Lea AC Press

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.



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 Romantic Getaway chocolate trufflesbecause 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.



Cape May Beach Shortbread Cookies

These will remind you of vacations in Cape May
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” teatime at Leith Hall bed and breakfastparchment lined pan. Or you can roll he dough out (thick) and make cookie cutter cookies.

chocolate teatime treats at Leith Hall b&bIf 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.




Now that spring is sprung in Cape May, we’re having some work done on Leith Hall this

Donkey Rides in Mijas
Donkey Rides in Mijas

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

View ovr Mijas
View over Mijas

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

Down the hill in Mijas
Looking Down the Hill in Mijas

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.

A Courtyard in the Alhambra
The Alhambra from the Generalife Gardens
In the Alhambra

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson Conquer Cape May

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.

Sherlock Holmes weekend at Leith Hall
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.

To find out more about the Sherlock Holmes Weekends (in March and November every year), you can look at the website for the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities or go directly to their Sherlock Holmes Weekends page.




Gelato in Rome and Cape May

Susan eating gelatoDuring 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 Rome ice cream  travel ItalyGelaterie 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).