Surf and Turf

Not yet 8 a.m.  Vacation Man heads to the beach to set up camp for the day.  He’s not the first.  He has been spurred to action by another Vacation Dad hauling beach gear down the street.  Yesterday, he set out after eight and barely found a good spot. Today, while he claims his turf, the procession of Vacation Dads begins, probably spurred on by seeing him. Half a dozen WonderWheelers lumber down the street.  Not on the sidewalk, mind you, but down the middle of the street.  It is that early. They rumble and creak, piled with chairs and umbrellas and boogie boards.  

Toys and towels will come later, with the women and children.  But we are hours away from that. Lifeguards won’t report for duty for another two hours.  Sleepy-eyed children are still slurping cereal while watching cartoons. Comatose moms nurse their coffee.  Early risers are just now coming home from their runs, coffee and even newspapers in hand.

But Vacation Dads are out providing for their families.  

A good beach position is important.  You want to be juuuuuuust beyond the high tide line, at the crest of the rise of soft, fluffy sand.  Not only does this put you in front position, but this is where the breezes are best.  For families with young children, this position enables parents to supervise children from their beach chairs.  If they are too far back, some parents will still try to supervise their children from their chairs, but their cries of supervision can only be heard by the annoyed adults sitting around them.

Yesterday, it went something like this.  Little Dillon (never saw the boy in my life but I know his name now like I know my own) wanted his cousin/aunt/young female adult person who was used to doing his bidding to come out of the water and tend to him.  He is maybe four years old.

“Emma, I need you!…Emma, I need you!…Emma, I need you!”  He shouted this over and over and over and over again.  Louder and louder and louder.  But still, his little voice did not reach Emma, who was rolicking in the waves with other young ladies her age.  We (and the couple next to us) could hear him because he was sitting in front of us. Mom was behind us, in her chair.

“Dillon!  She can’t hear you!”  Yeah, well, Dillon couldn’t hear Mom either.  “Dillon! Dillon! Dillon! She can’t hear you!”  This went on like a recording on repeat.

Oh. My. Gosh.  It was all I could do to stay in my seat.  I wanted to tell the mom to get off her butt and talk to the boy quietly.  Or tell Dillon to quietly wait for Emma to come out of the water.  Or even go into the water myself and tell Emma that Dillon needed her. 

No, one does not correct other families at the beach, anymore than one gives unsolicited advice to people being attacked by seagulls while eating.  It is, however, perfectly acceptable to laugh when a teenage girl’s cry of “Gack!” is followed by “And this is why I hate the beach!”

Beach rules: Don’t correct other families.  Don’t give unsolicited advice.  Stake out your spot early.

I don’t know that other beaches adhere to the early stake-out rule.  It might be unique to the Cape May neighborhood we frequent, where families rent by the week or month and have routines.  It reminds me of Baltimore rowhouse neighborhoods during snowstorms.  There is no law that says you can stake out your parking spot with lawn chairs just because you shoveled it out.  But woe to the obnoxious neighbor who parks in a spot that someone else shoveled.  

Like parking spots after snowstorms, people at our Cape May beach generally accept that the early bird gets the prime location.  Even if the early bird won’t sit in it for hours.  It’s part of the beach culture here.  And astute Vacation Dads pick up on this quickly.  Is it a desire to keep the Woman happy?  Or is it a testosterone-driven competition?  Whichever, with every successive day, the WonderWheeler parade gets an earlier start.

Based on the number of prime spots already taken by 7:45, today’s parade must have started at dawn. 

In summer we gather, but we don’t gather chocolate

Cucumber Pear Gazpacho with Mint

Cucumber Pear Gazpacho with Mint

My daughter asked her two year old for dinner ideas because she was, yes, that desperate for help.
“Emily, what would you like for dinner?”
If it were the middle of the hectic teaching year instead of the middle of summer, my daughter might have gone along with it.

Ah, but it is summer.

What I am loving about food planning right now is that it is based on what is growing at Maywood. (Or hereabouts!)  Instead of pondering all the choices of all the foods from all over the world that are all on display at Wegman’s, I start with the mound of produce on the counter and in the fridge.

It’s so much easier! Give me three little choices. I can handle that. Even a two year old can handle that.
“Emily, what would you like for dinner: zucchini, pickles, or roasted beets?”
And her answer will be, “Chocolate!”
(Ok, I made that up. Emily would totally eat any of the above, but we discovered Emily’s fixation with chocolate when she spied a closed box of fudge at our house.  She can’t read.  There were no pictures of candy on the box.  “Is that chocolate,” she asked.  “I looooove chocolate!”)

Emily looooves chocolate.

Emily looooves chocolate.

Admittedly, I will not be so optimistic about meal planning when my choices are limited to butternut squash, acorn squash, or pumpkin, and I may be tempted to add chocolate to all of them, but for the moment we are eating really well.
Last night’s meal was as good a meal as one we experienced at an upscale farm-to-table restaurant on vacation recently. In fact, the search for gazpacho recipes came from a delightful Cucumber Pear Gazpacho that was served at the Ebbitt Room in Cape May.  The one I made is not their recipe and I would love to have it!  In the meantime, I will search and tweak.

Here’s what we ate last night:

First Course:

Cucumber Pear Gazpacho with Mint


Grilled Pork Tenderloin

 Roasted Beet Salad with Feta,

Corn sautéed with White Wine, Dill and Lime.


 Fresh Blackberry Tart

The cucumbers and mint came from the garden. The pork was already in the freezer. The corn was leftover from a grandkid cook-out/bonfire the night before. And the beets (already roasted!) were from my daughter’s garden. I picked the blackberries in the back yard. My grocery run for that meal was for Greek yogurt and almonds, and I’m thinking I could have used the non-Greek yogurt I had on hand and maybe eliminated the almonds.

Summertime at Maywood brings out the little pioneer woman in me. John hunts and plants while I gather. I gather berries and gourds and then gather recipes online. Instead of scouring the limitless possibilities of “what should we eat?” I ponder “what do we have?” and “how should we eat it?” It’s so much fun to see the abundance of what we already have and make something of it.

And I delight in the time to do it. Once the hectic school year starts, if I do not have summer stored in a jar or a freezer bag, I am likely to join little Emily in eating chocolate for dinner.

Here’s the recipe for Cucumber Pear Gazpacho from


1 cup blanched, unsalted almonds, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup water
3 medium cucumbers, chopped
1 cup Greek yogurt (preferably 2%)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
10 mint leaves, sliced
1 Bartlett pear, diced

In a food processor (or blender), pulse the almonds, garlic and salt until finely ground.  Then add the water, cucumbers, yogurt, lemon juice, mint, and all but 2 tablespoons of the pear.  Pulse until combined.  Top each bowl with diced pear. 

The gazpacho really needs to be served COLD. The leftovers I had the following day for lunch had the benefit of a good chill and blended flavors. So, even though it is quick to make, it is best not made at the last minute.
I bought non-fat plain Greek yogurt but had whole milk regular yogurt on hand. I might try that next time. The recipe called for almonds chopped in the blender. They chopped into a nice fine powder but still gave a gritty feel to the soup. I didn’t care for that, so I wonder about eliminating the almonds altogether or maybe substituting almond milk for the almonds and the water.
Who wants to experiment and get back to me on that?

Gotta get away

October afternoon in Cape May

In  fourteen hundred and ninety-two

Columbus sailed the ocean blue…

In honor of the intrepid explorer I’ve gone to…no, not Columbus, Ohio.  I’m checking out the ocean blue in south facing Cape May where last night at sunset we watched the sun slip into the ocean to the west and then saw the moon rise over the ocean in the east.  It was so nice of Columbus to arrange this for October.  Oh wait, I guess I have to credit an act of Congress for this holiday.  Well, there’s at least one thing I can thank Congress for!

Columbus Day used to be a bigger deal.  I have off from school only because I teach in a private school.  Public schools around here lost Columbus Day when they gained the Jewish holidays.  That’s ok.  Some years back I taught at a Jewish school and thoroughly enjoyed the Jewish holidays.  (I didn’t enjoy taking personal days at Christmas time, though.)  At any rate, we need the break that holidays bring.  And by break I don’t mean a day off to hit the Columbus Day sales.

A few years ago the headmaster of our school removed Columbus Day from the calendar.  Nothing against Columbus, he was just trying to do a schedule.  No one noticed the deletion  early enough to prevent it, but the teachers went berserk.  By Thanksgiving our nerves were shot and misbehaving students took their lives in their hands. 

We all–and not just teachers–need these little breaks that don’t involve the stress of gift-buying, meals for  crowds, and family drama. Columbus Day is a pause in the busy routine at a beautiful time of year.  It provides a chance to press the reset button on one’s inner calm.   Usually, I can press my reset button drinking my morning coffee on the porch, but there’s something to be said for leaving town. 

Horseshoe crabs attack Cape May!

Packing for this little get-away at the end of the work week nearly put me right over the edge.  We brought eight gazillion power cords to charge all our electronics, but I forgot basics like the hair dryer and toothpaste.  Yet now I listen to the nasal quack of a gull and think Stress?  What stress?  Granted, there’s probably an element of forgetfulness going on here, and the gull is starting to bore into my brain so that I can’t think of anything at all, and I’ll get back to school on Tuesday and be hit with the avalanche of things I’m not thinking about right now, but it’s so good not to be thinking about them right now! 

Find the a butterfly

It’s  undoubtedly a stunning day at Maywood with the leaves beginning to turn.   Instead, I look out over the ocean blue thinking fond thoughts of Chris Columbus, Leif Erikson, Amerigo Vespucci and my various ancestors whose courage and wanderlust resulted in my sitting on this side of The Pond.


While most of the country sweltered in the heat, we spent the past week in Cape May keeping an eye out for flying beach umbrellas.  The flap-flapping of a beach full of umbrellas is relaxing until one decides to take off à la Mary Poppins.  A suddenly launching umbrella can be like a jousting pole when it is headed right for you.   Everyone leaps to the rescue, as much out of neighborliness as in self-defense.  It gets you wondering about the types of emergencies a shore hospital deals with.

Laughing Gull

The wind was sometimes problematic for umbrellas, but a delight to seagulls.  One afternoon a group of Laughing Gulls played in the breeze.  At first, they looked like little white aircraft with black nosecones and black wing tips divebombing the beach.  Little stealth bombers they might be to their airborne predators and seabound prey.  From below, except for face and wingtips, they were pure white.   But the tops of their wings were grey artfully shading to black.  They would blend in with the slate grey ocean.  The artistry of their coloring was most appreciated when they were in flight.

This afternoon, they were not fishing or out for a toddler’s sandwich; they were playing in the wind, leaning into it and trying to stay still, motionless in space.  Then, they would let go and let the wind carry them wherever, just soaring.  They weren’t flying so much as floating, delighting in the air.   Watching them felt like floating in the ocean, rising and falling with the water, making minimal body adjustments to stay put without drifting, or riding a wave all the way to shore.  Oh, to be as free in the air as those gulls!

Seagull negotiating for Hanny's breakfast

One morning a gull perched on the railing of our ocean-front porch.  We were eating breakfast–eggs, bacon, English muffins.  He clearly wanted some and was willing to patiently wait for an unguarded plate.  My mother was so impressed with his patience that she wanted to reward him with a piece of muffin.  Was she crazy?  Did she want that bird there every morning?  She grew up at the shore.  She knows that a gull will steal the food right out of your hand if you’re not careful.  After sitting there long enough for me to take a bazillion photos of him, he took off.  Without breakfast.

A couple of days later, I prepared my post-beach snack to enjoy on the porch.  As vacationers next door sipped cocktails on the porch of the elegant Peter Shields Inn, I set out my cheese and crackers and stepped inside to retrieve my gin-and-tonic.  Suddenly, a flapping of wings caught my attention.  That daggone bird had sent invitations to all his friends and they were descending on my snack!  In a flash, I ran onto the porch, squawking and flapping my arms.

“Hey!  Hey!  Get out, you stupid birds!  Shoo!”

One of them took off with a cracker.  The rest flew away to perches on street lamps and laughed at me.

“Arrh!  Arrh!  Arrh!”

I may not have let them have breakfast, but I provided them with some entertainment, and probably entertained the guests at Peter Shields, too.

So now I’m home in my air-conditioning while catydids chirp in the heat.  Back at the shore the seagulls are soaring, and thieving, and laughing their way through the tourist season.