Saturday, August 31, 2019

Guest Post - Libby Klein

Please welcome Libby Klein, author of the Poppy McAllister series, to Type M. I first met Libby at Left Coast Crime in Reno where her appearance on a panel kept me in stitches. You can visit her online at Take it away, Libby...

My Annual Pilgrimage to South Jersey


by Libby Klein 


Cape May is the birthplace of the Poppy McAllister series. Victorian charm meets tourist hell in all its beachy glory. Readers can take a virtual tour through my series that visits every landmark and experience that I treasure, and / or that keeps me awake at night filled with regret.

I grew up in beautiful Victorian Cape May, NJ and absolutely hated it. Rural living was not for this girl. Like Zsa Gabor, “Darling I love you but give me Park Avenue.” This plus sized, fair skinned, blonde had no ability to tan or look good in a bathing suit. I wanted a life far more exciting than picking out tomatoes at the farm stand for tonight’s dinner – although now I miss that terribly. I moved away more than thirty years ago in search of excitement, but there are two things that bring me back every year in spite of the mosquitoes, the humidity, and the crushing summer prices.

The first thing is the lure of the ocean. There is nothing more relaxing than sitting by the surf as the sun goes down. The crash of the waves. The golden glow of the sunset glittering off the water as it disappears over the horizon. The beach is near empty and peaceful. Most of the tourists have gone to meet dinner reservations or head to the thrills promised by the Wildwood boardwalk. Sea planes, retired from the never-ending drag of their advertising banners, park in hangers until tomorrow morning’s run. Even the seagulls calm their aggression by fifty percent as day turns to night.

Then there is the nostalgia, and specifically – food pining. Yes, the high school is bigger and the shops on the mall have all changed, but the fudge is exactly the same that you remember from when you were a kid. I’m not a seafood person so all my favorite spots are of the low budget inland variety. Every trip I have to hit the trifecta: Cheesesteak, Pizza, Frozen Custard. The best cheesesteak I ever ate was at a little country store in Green Creek. You probably don’t know where that is if you’re not a local because there are no touristy things to do or see over there. I also can’t give you a recommendation for it because the cook is retired, and the grill is closed. So, I’m pretty much just rubbing it in at this point. But I can tell you an excellent second choice and where I go now is Russo’s Market in North Wildwood. Be careful though, they make a cheesesteak the size of an elephant trunk. I can’t even finish a small by myself and I’m only eating the filling.

The second stop on my culinary tour of South Jersey is Mack’s Pizza on the Wildwood boardwalk. There has long been a vicious contention that the other place has the better pizza. That’s a ruse, but you want to keep the rumor going strong so you can still get a table at Mack’s, eh? This is not gourmet pizza. It’s summer pizza. Childhood memory pizza. It’s the pizza you eat as a teenager when you wander up from lying on the beach. I mean, not me – but the teenagers who don’t burn when the sun touches their skin. It hasn’t changed in fifty years, and it’s the one thing I will ignore the repercussions of and take an emergency gluten pill for. Hey, pizza emergencies are real! Don’t judge me.

The last stop on my ode to summer is in a little burg called the Villas. There is a frozen custard stand that’s barely more than a shack with a window, and a tiny miniature golf course behind it. It’s called Milky Way and there are only four parking spaces. The Milky Way is in a residential neighborhood - right in the middle of Lower Township government buildings, a hardware store, and a fish shack. Was there no zoning fifty years ago? If you should find it, ask for a small vanilla cone. Trust me – they don’t know what small means. It will be huge! And get it with crunch coat. Crunch coat is the stuff that dreams are made of. If someone chopped up a bunch of peanut brittle and tossed in some rainbow jimmies (sprinkles for the rest of the country) that would be crunch coat. It took me forty years to come up with the brilliant idea to get extra crunch coat in a bowl for dipping after the outside layer was gone.

There is so much more that you need to complete your visit for South Jersey authenticity, but there is no time to go into skee ball, the boardwalk, water ice, Italian hoagies, saltwater taffy, and funnel cake. For that you’ll have to make your own pilgrimage or read my Poppy McAllister Mysteries for a virtual vacation. All you’ll be missing is the very tiny sample of fudge that comes with a coupon for your next visit that you will never redeem. If you need one, let me know. I have thirty.

Libby Klein graduated Lower Cape May Regional High School sometime in the '80s. Her classes revolved mostly around the culinary sciences and theater, with the occasional nap in Chemistry. She loves to drink coffee, bake gluten free goodies, and befriend random fluffy cats. She writes from her Northern Virginia office while trying to keep her cat Figaro off her keyboard. Most of her hobbies revolve around eating, and travel, and eating while traveling.


Sybil Johnson said...

Frozen custard is something that's not really available here on the west coast. There was a frozen custard shop in a nearby mall awhile back. I guess it wasn't that popular because it went away fairly fast. Seems like it's popular in the midwest and east, though. I never did get around to trying it.

Anonymous said...

Actually I think it was Eva, not Zsa Zsa Gabor who said that. But thanks for introducing us to your series - I'll have to check it out!

Libby Klein said...

Oh, you are so right! It was Eva. I was a child watching re-runs of Green Acres and never did master telling the two of them apart. Thank you for letting me know.

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