The Official Jersey Bucket List

As we all continue to wait to be paroled from Coronavirus jail, many of us are making plans of what we would like to do once we are free to go anywhere and do anything. Well, this had me start to make a “Jersey bucket list;” all the things Jersey-related someone should do at some point.

I hope you consider checking out some of these ideas once we are turned loose. Whether you are a foodie, a shopper extraordinaire, or someone who loves the outdoors, there is something on this list for everyone.

Visit High Point: At 1,803 feet above sea level, High Point State Park is the highest spot in the state. High Point is also the highest peak of the Kittatinny Mountains. The view is simply spectacular, as you can see New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. The land for High Point State Park, donated by Colonel Anthony R. and Susie Dryden Kuser, was dedicated as a park in 1923. You can hike, swim, fish, and camp.

Hike the New Jersey Section of the Appalachian Trail: While you are checking out High Point, get on the Appalachian Trail. The “AT” as it is often referred to, is a non-governmental, independently managed recreation facility of the national park system and is the nation’s longest marked hiking trail at 2,180 miles. The AT runs from Maine all the way to Georgia. The New Jersey section is 74 miles long. If you are a serious hiker, many can complete the entire New Jersey section in less than a week. It can also be traversed in shorter day hikes. Hiking the Trail is a great way to see some of the most beautiful parts of the state.

Rutt's Hut

A typical meal at the Jersey famous Rutt’s Hut.

Complete the Hot Dog Trifecta: In Jersey we have opinions about EVERYTHING. Including who has the best hot dog. For many, it comes down to three: Rutt’s Hut in Clifton, Hirams in Fort Lee, and Hot Grill in Clifton. I know some who would argue River View East in Elmwood Park or Maui’s Dog House, North Wildwood. We certainly have a ton of great options!

Decide which is the Best Italian Hot Dog: Just like everyone has their favorite hot dog joint, there is always an argument as to who has the best Italian hot dogs. It comes down to two places: Dickie Dee’s in Newark and Jimmy Buff’s in West Orange. Try both and decide for yourself.

SunsetBeach

The rocks at Sunset Beach

Visit Sunset Beach in Cape May: This is one of my favorite places in the entire state. I could easily spend an entire day at Sunset Beach. Take the kids to play miniature golf, grab a bite to eat the The Grille, or do my favorite thing of all – dig for Cape May diamonds on the beach. The most touching moment of the day takes place as the sun sets. At the end of each day at Sunset Beach during the summer, make sure to stay and watch the flag ceremony. All of the flags flown at Sunset Beach are veterans’ casket flags that families bring with them from their loved one’s funeral. It is a truly moving event.

Shop the outlets in Atlantic City: As you leave Cape May, check out the great deals at the outlets in Atlantic City. From Calvin Klein, to Coach, to Cablea’s, there’s something for every member of your family. It is definitely worth the ride!

Visit Morristown National Historical Park: One of my first dates with my now husband was a visit to Jockey Hollow. It is a great place to see “where America survived.” The entire area is known as Morristown National Historical Park and includes multiple interesting places to explore and commemorates the sites of General Washington and the Continental army’s winter encampment of December 1779 to June 1780, where they survived through what would be the coldest winter on record.

Plan a Wine Tasting Event at One of Jersey’s Wineries: The Garden State is home to over 40 wineries. It’s history goes all the way back to 1758 when Great Britain’s Royal Society offered £100 to any colonist who would produce red or white wine “of acceptable quality,” meaning the wine was of the same caliber as that being purchased from France. While New Jersey’s wine history has experienced challenges, it is now flourishing!

Visit all of New Jersey’s Lighthouses: There are over 20 lighthouses still in existence in New Jersey and they are from the top of New Jersey to the bottom; not just down the shore. About half of those are open to the public.

Catch a Wild Brook Trout on a Dry Fly: When people talk about fly fishing they usually think of two things: Montana and the movie A River Runs Through It. What you might not know is that there’s plenty of great places to fly fish right in New Jersey. As someone who has been fly fishing for over two decades, there is nothing like catching a fish – any fish – on top water. To me, the most perfect catch is a native wild brook trout on a dry fly. For me that would be on one of four of my favorite dry flies: an Adams, a Royal Wulff, A Blue Wing Olive, or an Elk Hair Caddis. And not your standard 12 or 13 inch brook trout; a serious brookie. In case you didn’t know, the brook trout is the state’s official fish.

Go to Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart: One of the most beautiful churches in the state is the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark. During Pope John Paul II’s visit to the United States in 1995, he celebrated evening prayer at the Cathedral. At this occasion, the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart was elevated to a minor basilica to become the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

Enjoy Dinner at The Belmont: Growing up, I had two favorite restaurants: The Finish Line and The Belmont and I had favorite dishes at each place. At The Finish Line, I loved their zuppa di pesce. At The Belmont, I know many people go for Stretch’s “Famous” Chicken Savoy, but for me it was always their Scrod “Di Giacomo” Oreganato.  I haven’t been to The Belmont in a long time, and I am way overdue.

Lemonade and a Cheese Steak at The Midway: Like many others, I have great memories of going “down the shore.” I’ve learned your shore stop has a lot to do with you age. When I was a teenager, like many others, my stop was Seaside. A favorite practice of mine was to grab a cheese steak and lemonade at The Midway, sit on one of the many benches, and people watch. It was always fascinating. Sadly, Sandy and the boardwalk fire took away the “shore of my youth” as Governor Christie put it. What hasn’t changed is the opportunity for cheese steak and lemonade at The Midway while people watching.

Visit the Pine Barrens: The Pinelands is the largest remaining example of the Atlantic coastal pine barrens ecosystem, stretching across more than seven counties of New Jersey. Congress created the New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve, the country’s first National Reserve, to protect the area under the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978. The reserve contains Wharton State Forest, Brendan T. Byrne State Forest, Bass River State Forest, and Penn State Forest. It is approximately 1.1 million acres and spans portions of seven counties. The reserve occupies 22% of New Jersey’s land area and it is the largest body of open space on the Mid-Atlantic seaboard between Richmond and Boston. The Pinelands was designated a U.S. Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1983 and an International Biosphere Reserve in 1988. It is also known as the home of the legend of The Jersey Devil.

I’m sure there’s a lot I am missing. What is on your Jersey bucket list?

Five Tips to Surviving Coronavirus – Jersey Style

So we’ve all been hearing about the expansion of the Coronavirus around the world on a minute-by-minute basis. A lot of people are in quarantine – either by choice or government mandate; others are following curfews. We are all social distancing and every school in New Jersey has been switched to remote learning.

For the next few weeks (or longer, possibly), what are we going to do? Here are five suggestions on how to survive Coronavirus with a Jersey flair.

  1. Binge Watch: There are plenty of great Jersey movies and television shows to watch while you are cooped up in the house. Need some suggestions? How about some of my favorite shows and movies with a Jersey theme:
    1. The Sopranos (I mean, do I really need to explain this one?)
    2. Cop Land (a great movie starring Sly Stallone)
    3. Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (when you need a good laugh)
    4. Eddie and the Cruisers (think Bruce in a movie)
    5. Garden State (a home-grown cult classic from Jersey’s own Zach Braff)
  2. Tick-Tock

    Coffee at the Tick Tock

    Grab a Bite: Even though we are no longer allowed to go to our favorite diner, you can still enjoy disco fries – just at home. Place an order to go bring home a hamburger deluxe or a TEC (that’s taylor ham, egg, and cheese for you non-North Jersey folks). Not only will you avoid cooking one night, you’ll be supporting small business owners in your community that need your help so they will still be there when life gets back to normal. My favorites? The Jefferson Diner in Jefferson, the Tick Tock in Clifton, and the Roxbury Diner in Roxbury.

  3. Go for a Walk: There’s going to come a point when we all need to get out for some fresh air. While some towns are closing down their parks, the Morris County Parks Commission still offers plenty of great locations to get out, stretch your legs, and clear your mind. They are keeping their website up to date with what parks are available.
  4. Turn off the News and Grab a Beer: While I appreciate the media working to keep us up to date on all the latest updates, over time it can really get on your last nerve (I know it is for me). Turn off the television and try and to get it off your mind. Enjoy a brew of the deck instead. I suggest picking up some Angry Erik.
  5. Be Jersey Tough: At the end of the day, let’s face it. There’s no one tougher than people from New Jersey. We need to put up with traffic on the Turnpike and corruption from our politicians. Not to mention all the abuse from residents of other states who think they know what New Jersey is all about. But remember, we know better. Just hang tough. It will all be over soon.

Fall Festivals: Jersey Style

Van Ripers Farm

10/22/1975 Woodcliff Lake. The witches, ghosts, and goblins are making a return visit at Van Riper’s Farm in Woodcliff Lake as Holloween draws near. Photo Credit: Peter Monsees

Many people look forward to fall. The turning of the leaves. Picking pumpkins. Apple cider donuts. It helps make the thought of the cold winter on the way much more tolerable. As a child, I fondly remember going to Van Ryper Farms in Woodcliff Lake, carefully passing the scary witch, to pick the perfect family pumpkin and bring home a bag of hot cider donuts. Sadly, as Joni Mitchell laments, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

Thankfully, there are still many great fall festivals up and down the Garden State. From the food and drink to pumpkins and cider, New Jersey has something for everyone! Here are some to wonderful events for everyone in the family.

Fall Fest Food Truck and Music Festival, Wildwood

Many times I have shared stories about my love of Wildwood and Wildwood Crest. Well, the fun “down the shore” doesn’t end on Labor Day. The Fall Fest Food Truck and Music Festival takes place on September 21st. This years Fall Fest will take place in Fox Park, from 11am – 4pm. There is a “kids zone” for the little ones and plenty of great food and music!

Fall Festival & Classic Car Show, Union

Enjoy some chili while checking out beautiful classic cars at the Fall Festival & Classic Car Show in Union. This is a relatively new event and takes place at Stuyvesant Ave from Vauxhall Rd. to the Cannon and it sounds like a lot of fun!

Cranberry Fest 2019, Bordentown City

The history of cranberries is older than the recorded history of America. Long before the first European settlers arrived, the Indians not only ate cranberries, but also used them as medicine and clothing dye. New Jersey is one of the top farming locations in the country for our this little tart berry. The Cranberry Fest in Bordentown City is in its 30th year and offers over 150 crafters, artists and vendors, and 40,000 visitors annually.

Bloomfield 2019 Harvest Fest

Right nearby my beloved home town of Belleville is the Bloomfield 2019 Harvest Fest. This wonderful event includes the best food from local restaurants, rides, and even a petting zoo for the kids!

So what are your favorite festivals?

 

 

Remembering the Haunts of my Youth

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got til its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

We all have favorite places from our youth. For me there were several. One favorite of mine was Mickey Music – a record store. One of my high school jobs was at a cigar store in the same strip mall as Mickey Music. I would work all day Saturday and was paid in cash. During my 30 minute lunch, I would walk down to Mickey Music and each week pick out a new album. I think it’s a GNC now.

Then there’s Muscara Music that used to be on Washington Avenue. It was down the

Muscara-Music

Credit: Ralph J Barone

street from Belleville Middle School (which was the original High School). Mr. and Mrs. Muscara started the instrument shop in 1951 and was visited by the likes of Connie Francis and Frankie Valli – two of Belleville’s own, by the way. I would go in and check out all the instruments as I would walk home from school and sometimes pick up some new sheet music.

It’s a Walgreen’s now.

Then there’s Jackie’s Lemon Ice. It was the BEST lemon ice. Period. I used to ride my bike down to Jackie’s on Union Avenue in the summer. The parking lot was the official hangout. You would always run into someone while you were there. Once I had my license, my friends and I would head there by the car full. You could get almost any flavor you could dream up, but I really only ever wanted lemon. Giacomina “Jackie” Rega’s lemon ice stand was open from 1951 and until his death in 2001. After that it became a Rita’s – common lemon ice. Nothing compared to Jackie’s.

 

Jackies-Lemon

Credit: Matt Kadosh/NorthJersey.com

Well, this past week, Jackie’s building was torn down. And when that building was torn down, there was a lot of sadness felt by the decades of fans of Jackie’s special recipe of lemon ice, complete with lemon zest. At least we all still have our memories. What will go up in its place you ask? A 7-Eleven.

And there goes another paradise.

 

New Jersey and the Cranberry

As I have always said, New Jersey has many things to offer. One wonderful taste of Jersey is the cranberry.

New Jersey is the third largest cranberry producer in the nation, behind Wisconsin and Massachusetts. Agricultural cooperative, Ocean Spray, was founded by three growers in 1930, two from Massachusetts and one from New Jersey. Ocean Spray still grows cranberries in New Jersey.

Out of the roughly 700 farms overall that grow cranberries for Ocean Spray, about 20 are in South Jersey and they produce between 500,000 and 600,000 barrels of cranberries a year.

According to PineyPower.com, the North American cranberry industry has a long and distinguished history. Native peoples used cranberries as food, in ceremonies, and medicinally. They mixed cranberries with deer meat to make pemmican, a convenience food that could be kept for a long time. Medicine men used them as poultices to draw poison from arrow wounds, and women used the juice as a dye for cloth. In New Jersey, the Delaware Indians used them as peace symbols. They got their name, “crane berries,” from the early German and Dutch settlers who thought their blossoms resembled the neck and head of a crane.

So when you enjoy your cranberry sauce today, those berries may well have been harvested in New Jersey!

Why I love New Jersey

My husband and I were watching a television show about real estate in Montana. One couple was planning a move from California to Montana. Now, when most people think of Big Sky Country, they imagine the open prairie, cowboys, and wood cabins. Instead of embracing the lifestyle, they were trying to shoehorn California living into their new house. They obviously shouldn’t have left California. That’s where their heart is.

That’s kind of like how I feel about New Jersey.

Frankford-Cemetery

Frankford Cemetery in black and white by Lisaann VanBlarcom Permunian.

I am often asked a simple question. “Why would you EVER want to stay in New Jersey?”

When my husband and I were married there very were few things that were non-negotiable. One of those non-negotiable items is that I would NEVER move out of New Jersey.

“Why?”

New Jersey is my home. I was born in Columbus Hospital in Newark and spent over 30 years in Belleville. When a move needed to take place, we stayed close by in Nutley until we could decide on our next move. While it may sound crazy, going to the next town over from Belleville was tough. I also felt like I had betrayed my beloved Belleville by moving to our rival town. Two years later, we moved again. Instead of town-to-town, we moved county-to-county. Again, I almost had a nervous breakdown.

As my regular readers know, I don’t deal well with change. I know people who have moved across the country and half-way around the world. Me? I move from Essex County to Morris County and I could barely handle it. I’m a Jersey Girl through and through. I would’ve been very happy to stay in my house on Irving Street for the rest of my life.

Where else can you be at an awesome beach and then the mountains within a two hour drive

Rutt's Hut

A typical meal at the Jersey famous Rutt’s Hut.

in the same state? Have the best REAL Italian and REAL Portuguese cooking in the same city? I can go fly fishing in Walpack or grab a cheese steak at Seaside Heights. You want a great deep fried hot dog? I know the place. Oh, and I don’t pump my own gas.

Some people see Newark Airport and the Turnpike. Me? I see important places that played key roles in the birth of our nation. We are tough. If you are from Jersey, you need to be tough to fight off all the stupid stereotypes from those horrible television shows which I will not name.

So will I travel? Sure. But I will always come home to my New Jersey.

Jersey Icon: Rutt’s Hut

As part of my blog, I am going to include posts about “Jersey icons.” These are locations that are of cultural, historical, and popular importance. Today’s Jersey Icon? Rutt’s Hut.

Rutt's Hut

A typical meal at the Jersey famous Rutt’s Hut.

There are lots of great hot dog joints in New Jersey. My favorite, by far, is Rutt’s Hut. Since 1928, Rutt’s Hut in Clifton has made what patrons call “rippers;” hot dogs deep fried until they split open. For generations, this place has a deep-fried spot in many a Jersey heart. They have a language all their own – if an order is to go, it is “travelin.” You want an order of fries? It is a “frenchie.”

Since I was a child, this was a usual spot. Most of the time, I would be on the “to go” side, picking up huge orders for everyone at the house on a Saturday night. Nowadays, my husband and I go to the “sit down” area since we don’t live nearby anymore. They have a menu, but no one I know has ever even looked at it. Your choices are:

  • Wellers (with their famous home-made relish)
  • Fries
  • Rings
  • Burgers
  • Birch soda
  • Chili (with or without beans)

If you are going there for anything else, you are missing the point. Needless to say if you are a vegetarian, watching your cholesterol, or focused on healthy eating, then this is not your place. If you do decide to go, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. This is true Jersey Icon.