Camp Cousin Concludes (and there was lots of chicken)

The sun set on Camp Cousins – a gathering we try to do every summer in the town where we grew up, Erie, Pennsylvania. My parents still live here, but my brothers and sister left and settled in New York, Virginia and Missouri.

My brothers, sister and I are 4 1/2 years apart, from the eldest to youngest. There are 8 cousins in all, and four of them are rising high school freshman. So we are a close-knit group in age, if not geography.

This year the New York Meads couldn’t make Camp Cousins and we missed them. My daughter and I caught up with the New York branch in Florida in April. And the Virginia Meads visited with them earlier in July. We are fortunate in that we all remain close, which is something we wish to pass on to our children.

In the beginning, it was mayhem. Toddlers. Nursing babies. Cribs. High chairs. Floaties. Schedules. No schedules. Meltdowns. You know, typical kid stuff.

As they have grown up, we have learned to let go. There is still adult supervision on the beach, but now they drive around the neighborhood in the golf cart. There wasn’t much Pokemon Go, which is good. But they were Snapchatting, etc., with one another and friends at home. The rising high school junior had lacrosse training to keep up with, including running, dragging three kayaks down the beach, and a trip to the gym. One cousin came late, after competing in a sailing race for the Junior Olympics on Lake Ontario.

pater and ice cream

Pater, center, with grandsons  William and James Hickey (Missouri) and granddaughters Emily (Virginia) and Nicole (Pennsylvania) Mead.

Some years there is the mandatory Waldameer trip, but this year was just too short (a long weekend) to manage it. There is ALWAYS a trip to Creamland in Fairview, Pennsylvania. The weather cooperated and they were in the lake for many hours at a time.

My daughter arrived during one Camp Cousins 14 years ago. The cousins arrived (there were only four then) and I went into the hospital. By the end of the weekend there were five cousins. Nicole was the first girl.

Camp Cousins has changed months over the years – lately settling in late July/early August – several weeks before Nicole’s birthday. With the departure of the cousins, one significant rite of summer has passed, with another major one (birthday) to go before Labor Day.

We plan to make the most of the remaining summer days. I hope you do, too.

beer can chicken

Beer Can Chicken

This is a favorite of mine. There’s debate as to whether it makes it more juicy or not. Or decreases cooking time. For me, it means an easy roast chicken that doesn’t burn or heat up the kitchen. I often cook 2 at a time so I have plenty of leftovers for summer sandwiches and easy dinners of salad topped with chicken, fresh fruits and veggies and some crunchy nuts.

1 whole roasting chicken, 4 to 5 pounds

Olive oil

4 tablespoons dry spice rub, divided (We like Grill Mates – McCormick – Applewood Rub)

1  can beer, root beer, ginger ale, lemonade
 Remove neck and giblets. Rinse chicken inside and out if desired; pat dry with paper towels. Coat chicken lightly with olive oil; season with 3 tablespoons of dry rub. This can be done the night before for maximum flavor. Refrigerate until about 30 minutes before cooking.

Build a fire or heat a gas grill. Use a can opener to remove the top of the beer can, pour out about 1/2 of the beer. Sprinkle remaining tablespoon of dry rub inside beer can. Sit chicken on top of the beer can, so it appears to be sitting. Transfer whole chicken to the grill, adjusting to make sure it does not tip over. I cook over a low direct heat in the Big Green Egg, maintaining a temperature of around 400 degrees. If you don’t have that kind of control with your charcoal grill, cook over indirect heat (moving the coals to one side and cooking the chicken over the side without the coals).

Cover and cook chicken for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until the internal temperature registers 165 degrees  in the breast area and 180 in the thigh. Carefully transfer chicken to platter. Allow to rest at least 10 minutes before carving. You can try to carve with the chicken still sitting on the can, but it is easier to transfer the chicken to the sink and remove the can before carving (it will still have liquid in it).


Happy August






Wednesday Musing: Class Reunion

reunionThe reunion of the Villa Maria Academy for Girls Class of 1981 reunion (and every other class that was celebrating a 5-year celebration of freedom from our alma mater) was this weekend. Despite living in the same town where I graduated from high school, I have never attended a reunion. Indeed, when I graduated I vowed never to step foot back into those halls along West Eighth Street.

Like most vows of 17-/soon-to-be-18-year-olds, this was not a promise I could keep. Various writing assignments over the years would take me back there, although most of the time I tried to find someone else to go. It was not a happy place for me.

I think high school is a largely divided time. There are those who love it and remain fond of their years there. I see this with the parents who eagerly sit on the sidelines at football games at Fairview High School even when they have no children playing. I’ve heard more people introduce themselves with, Prep Class of 19XX as a modifier.

It’s true I met a lifelong fried at Villa, which as all girls and independent of Cathedral Preparatory School at the time. We met through alphabetical happenstance – Mead and Miller – of seating charts. She was a tall, blonde, tennis-playing extrovert. I was a short, overweight, brunette who was a serious introvert. Somehow we became friends. She called me Watson to her Sherlock.

She went off to Smith College, and then to the University of Chicago Law School, where she settled. I went to Boston University and then to work for my family’s newspaper (with a stint at a newspaper in Peoria, Ill., during a 5-year break from Erie). I saw Claudette over the years more often than any of my classmates who lived in the same town as I did.

So, after 35 years, we decided to go to reunion. Or at least part of the reunion. We skipped the event on the patio at the school – I’m still not stepping foot in there if I don’t have to. Instead we went to an event hosted by Kristin Carnes Talarico and Laurie Balkovic Bretz at the Erie Club.

Claudette took the time to remind me, during the 20 minute drive, that we liked our classmates. It was the administration we didn’t care for. This is true. There were some teachers who changed my life, such as John Kupetz (English) and Sister Susan Doubet (Calculus).

So we walked into the Erie Club, where about 30 of our 140-some classmates had gathered. I caught up with Marcy Rahner, Sally Walker, Andrea Nagle Deveau, Dana Frazer, Mary Heise  Blatt, Mary Therese Bowen, Kerry Hughes, Paula Maus Cameron, Chris Weber Podufal and many others.

As we caught up, I mentioned that my daughter was going to high school in the fall.

“Villa?” Some asked.

“Fairview.” I said.

Heads nod.

Many of us agreed that Villa was not a particularly good school academically. Most of us noted when we went to college, our classmates – even from public schools – were better read and prepared for college than we were. My math skills were on the mark, thanks to Sister Susan, but engineering turned out not to be for me. At least not at a school as large as Boston University. Thanks to John Kupetz, my knowledge and reading of American authors was sound enough to get me into sophomore and junior classes. But my overall reading of English literature was sadly behind. There were huge gaps in my knowledge of world history and cultures. I had a lot of catch up to do. And I was in the advanced classes in high school.

But that’s ancient history. And now I’m caught up on classmates, and if I missed anyone, I now have e-mail addresses. But my focus is on the future, not the past. I have a daughter about to navigate those same grades, different hallways.

Claudette did remind me that plum season will be coming up and one of her favorite dishes is plum chicken.

roast chicken with plumsPlum Chicken

1 whole chicken, or 1 whole chicken cut up (about 4 to 5 pounds)
Olive oil
3 to 4 sprigs rosemary
2 cloves garlic, whole and unpeeled
1 quart plums, cut in half and pitted
3 tablespoons honey
1 cup chicken stock (for the cut up chicken, optional for whole bird)

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Pat dry chicken or chicken pieces and place in a roasting pan. Rub with olive oil and then generously season with salt and pepper. Place rosemary and garlic underneath the bird in the pan. Roast for 30 minutes.


In the meantime, mix plums with honey in a bowl.


Tuck all of the honeyed plums into pan with the chicken and return it to the oven to roast.


For the chicken parts, roast for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and stir in the stock. Return pan to the oven and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to rest 10 minutes before serving.


To plate, put a piece of chicken on each plate and spoon some juices over.


If roasting the whole bird, roast for 20 minutes and check to see if the pan is dry. If it is, add half the stock. Return it to the oven and cook for another 20 to 35 minutes (depending on the size of the bird); the internal temperature should be 165 degrees in the thigh. Allow to rest 10 minutes and then remove chicken to a cutting board to carve. Reserve any juices and return them to the pan with the plums. Stir and spoon plums and plum juices on top.


Note: Discard rosemary before serving. You can squish out the garlic from its paper shell and stir into the pan juices or discard.