An Ode to the Jersey Shore @NJShorePatch

confluence in point pleasant beachThe most beautiful place I’ve ever been is the top of a mountain in the Austrian Alps. It was Easter Sunday 2001 after a rain storm. A group of us were in Austria for 18 days doing construction work on a church in the valley below and took a windy drive up, up, and up into the sky to have lunch at a country inn that rightfully belonged in a fairytale.

We were literally enveloped by clouds. I felt as if I could reach out and touch heaven with my hand. The physical and metaphysical worlds merged to a degree that I’ve never experienced before or since. Perhaps it was the altitude.

Men were dressed in lederhosen and women in colorful dirndls. There was homemade cheese, speck, and plenty of beer. Way too much beer for the Austrians. One man fell off his bar stool, hit the stone floor with a frightening thud, and was up drinking again before we fully comprehended what had happened. Our group was teetotaling, so we simply drank in the moist, clean air and the breathtaking sights. Those were intoxicating enough. It was the kind of place about which tourists say, “I could live here.”

I’m not sure I said that, but I did inhabit the moment, as I have many others like it when I’ve immersed myself in the particular beauty of a place. Whether I’ve been in Paris, or on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, or in the hill countries north of San Diego or San Antonio, I’ve given myself over to the charms inherent in every bit of earth I’ve traversed.

And each time I’ve come home to the Jersey Shore knowing more deeply than before that I am of this place. …

Read the rest at Manasquan Patch.

A Quarter Century of Jersey Shore HIV/AIDS Response @NJShorePatch

Tyler Alyxander and Ina Kaplan at "A Night of Illusion" fundraiser.

I well remember when the thought that I could have AIDS first occurred to me. It was 1986 and I was newly married. I had gotten pregnant by an East African man two years earlier and my husband had fallen in love with both me and my baby.

All seemed well, until I began paying attention to the news that AIDS had first appeared in sub-saharan Africa among heterosexuals. I dutifully got tested, then waited anxiously for the phone call that told me I was not infected.

Other people I knew heard different news. There were whispers that a high school classmate who had been an intravenous drug user and died of a drug overdose had taken his own life after getting the diagnosis.

It was a scary time, especially for anyone who had been anything but virginal. …

Read the rest at Manasquan Patch.

Family Recipe & Entrepreneur Program Help Baker Bounce Back after Lay Off @NJShorePatch

Seannee Harris combined a cherished family recipe with education to launch dessert business.

Dees Cakes at Dessert WarsSeannee Harris comes from a traditional family that places a high value on education, but when she was laid off from her auditing job at Merrill Lynch in 2008, she capitalized on a third generation family cheesecake recipe and took classes through the New Jersey Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to launch Dees Cakes in Freehold.

Although she’s only been in business for a year, Harris’s cheesecake was a judge favorite at the Dessert Wars competition at Branches Catering in West Long Branch May 24.

“We didn’t take the title, but we felt like such winners that day. It was an overwhelming positive response,” said Harris.

Entering Dessert Wars was part of a business plan that includes pursuing wholesale business first.

“The whole point of wholesale business first is for me to build capital behind the scenes until I can open my own retail store,” said Harris. …

To read more about this entrepreneur’s intelligent approach, go to Manasquan Patch.

Ginger Ice Cream Spices Up Dessert Wars for the Win @LongBranchPatch

Mr.Green Tea Ice Cream Company takes top prize.

It was a packed house last night for Dessert Wars at Branches Catering in Guiness Cupcakes at Dessert WarsWest Long Branch. The event was hosted by 94.3 The Point with proceeds going to the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties.

Mr. Green Tea Ice Cream Company’s Ginger Ice Cream confection took the top prize in a field of 23 desserts.

“The fresh ginger in the ice cream was the top one for me. It was in a martini glass with a nice balsamic wash on the inside of the glass, so when you scooped the ginger ice cream, you brought it up past the balsamic and they had little chocolate covered chop sticks. One of the chop sticks had like a chili sugar on it,” explained judge Bob Sickles of Sickles Market in Little Silver.

“It was creative. It was well presented. It looked great. They froze the glasses so the ice cream didn’t melt. There was something else going on that I can’t remember, but something underneath the ice cream, and it tasted great,” he said. …

My favorite was the cheesecake from Dee Cakes. Here’s a bit of the story.

Dees Cakes at Dessert Wars

Seannee Harris, owner of Dees Cakes, works out of a commercial kitchen to replicate her mother Dee’s recipe for creamy cheesecake.

“I used to tell her all the time when we were younger, ‘You should sell this; everybody loves it.’ So she did it locally, but my mom has 7 kids. I think it was a lot to do. …Everybody who’s tried it, even people who don’t like cheesecake, love this cheesecake. That’s how I know it’s special,” said Harris.

Dees Cakes can be purchased online at or by phone at 732.303.1332. Free delivery is available in Monmouth and Ocean Counties, said Harris. …

For more on the Dessert Wars deliciousness, go to Long Branch Patch.

Avenue Takes Top Prize at Chef’s Challenge @LongBranchPatch

Tre Amici Executive Chef Matthew Zappoli at Chef's Challenge, Long Branch,  April 2011

Chamber of Commerce hosts second annual Chef’s Challenge at Ocean Place Resort.

Seafood was the dominant theme at the second annual Long Branch Chef’s Challenge held last night at the Ocean Place Resort and Spa.

Executive Chef Dominique Filoni of Avenue took the top prize. His wild black sea bass with maitake mushroom, bok choi, and sesame oil in a lemongrass ginger fish broth won the judges over with its simplicity, texture, and flavor.

“It was perfectly cooked. You wanted to go back for more,” said judge Debbie George who is account director for Food & Wine magazine.

“Simplicity and flavor and texture were the three components to success,” said judge Chris Brandl, chef and owner of Brandl restaurant in Belmar.

“I’m not a big a seafood person. Even the fish had nice crispy ends and soft insides,” said judge Michael Sirianni, director of the Culinary Education Center in Asbury Park. …

For a taste of this fun event, go to Long Branch Patch.

My favorite city restaurant won, but the braised veal breast with porcini marascapone polenta from Sirena RistoranteSirena Ristorante entry, Chef's Challenge, Long Branch, April 2011 and the black grouper over Asian coleslaw with a smoked mango puree from White MarlinWhite Marlin entry, Chef's Challenge, Long Branch, April 2011 were delicious too. I also enjoyed a couple of beers from 21st Ammendment Brewery that were being featured by West End’s Court Liquors: the Back in Black black IPA and the Monk’s Blood Belgian dark ale. I’m generally not a fan of microbrews, but these were both delicious.

Eating in South Jersey Is Better Than They Thought

John and Lisa Howard-Fusco’s food blog helps locals and visitors find the best of the South Jersey food scene.

Eating in South Jersey isn’t what Forked River residents John and Lisa Howard-Fusco expected.

The blog they launched in 2008 grew out of their surprise at finding great food in South Jersey when they moved from North Jersey to be closer to their families. The couple never expected their hobby to catch the attention of The New York Times and New Jersey Monthly, but Eating in South Jersey has.

More importantly, the blog has become popular with local readers, many of whom look to the site to find out what’s going on in the South Jersey food scene.

“People read us. Let me tell you, we were pretty surprised,” said Lisa.

“A lot of the New Jersey media doesn’t give South Jersey its due at all,” she said. “We would go to all these wonderful places, but they wouldn’t stay open because nobody knew about them.” …

To learn about South Jersey’s hidden foodie gems, read the rest at Lacey Patch.